Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Jean Jullien
A very hungry owl uses a unique approach to find his dinner in this silly picture book. Hoot Owl is a master of disguise, so he as he hunts in the dark night, he switches into different costumes to trick his prey. First, he sees a rabbit and so he puts on his carrot disguise. It doesn’t work to tempt the rabbit, so he moves on to a lamb. Hoot Owl disguises himself as a mother sheep to lure the lamb closer, but that doesn’t work either. Maybe a pigeon will be fooled by his clever birdbath costume? Nope. Then finally, he finds something to eat that can’t move away – pepperoni pizza! But will his waiter costume work?
The voice of owl as the narrator for the story is so much fun to read aloud. He is brazen, confident and sure that eventually his unique approach to hunting will work out. Never daunted by disappointment, he moves on to the next meal quickly and eagerly. Throughout, Hoot Owl expresses himself in metaphors and playful language. The night is “black as burnt toast” and his eyes “glitter like sardines” when they see the pizza.
Jullien’s illustrations are bold and gorgeous. The colors are bright and fun, the orange of owl popping against that black night sky. Hoot Owl’s personality shines on the page, his head peeking out from various angles as he hunts his prey.
This playful picture book is a great read aloud, bright, funny and impressive. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Room for Bear by Ciara Gavin (In InfoSoup)
Bear visited the Duck family one spring and then never left. He fit in perfectly in many ways, except for their house which was not designed for someone Bear’s size. So Bear set off in search of a perfect space for all of them. But it was hard to find a place that worked. Places that fit Bear perfectly did not work for the Ducks. Where the Ducks were happy, Bear was not. Then Bear thought that maybe it was because HE did not fit in with the Ducks after all, so he went away to find a home just for him. The Ducks missed Bear horribly, and Bear missed the Ducks. Finally, Bear found just the right huge cave for himself and then came up with a clever Duck-sized solution that would let them all live together happily.
This picture book is about families and what makes a family. Told from the point of view of animals, it speaks beyond cultures and skin color to a feeling where differences in general are embraced and honored. At the same time, the book honors the feeling a person can have of fitting in just fine sometimes and in other situations feeling that they are an outsider. These complex feelings are caught on the page without over dramatizing them. The result is a book the embraces adoptive and blended families of all sorts without making the picture too rosy and uncomplicated.
Gavin’s illustrations are done with a whimsical sense of humor. From Bear trying to fit into a tiny and tippy Duck boat as a home to the unhappy Ducks sitting around the table forlornly missing Bear, she captures emotions clearly on the page as well as the dilemmas of differences. The illustrations are softly painted with fine ink lines that allow both the big bear and small ducks to have personality galore.
A winning read that speaks to all families and particularly adoptive and blended families. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
You Can Do It, Bert! by Ole Konnecke (InfoSoup)
Bert is ready, he knows just what to do. He approaches the end of the branch, and… decides he needs a running start. Here he comes! Wait, he’s got a banana for a snack. He looks over the edge again and after a little yelling from the narrator in encouragement, he dashes right off the end of the branch! He’s worried on the way down, down, down until he hits the water. The other birds are right there saying they always knew he could do it and together they head up to jump off again.
This wonderful twist on a first flight book will take children by surprise. The book captures the dread and then the wonder of taking a plunge in life, literally. Children who are trying new things will find encouragement in this little orange bird who has enough personality for multiple books. Throughout the text is spare and told in the voice of an observing narrator, who uses all sorts of tones to encourage the little bird on his way. This makes for a great read aloud.
The art too is simple and bright. Most of it is Bert alone on the one branch, with plenty of white space around him. Readers will envision right from the beginning Bert launching into that blankness and flying off. It is the space around the illustrations that help with the subtle deception and assumptions. It’s cleverly designed and will work well with groups of children thanks to its large format and clarity.
Great read aloud and a great addition to story times and units on taking risks. It will also make a great one to mix into books on flying! Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown
Stella’s class is going to be celebrating Mother’s Day and all of the kids know who they will bring as their special guest. But Stella has two dads and no mother, so who can she invite? Stella worries and worries about who to bring, and the other kids in her class start to ask her how she manages without a mother to do so much. Stella’s dads take great care of her along with a big extended family who give lots of love and kisses. When Stella talks to her dads about who to bring, they come up with a perfect solution and soon Stella has the largest group at the Mother’s Day party even though none of them are her mother.
Perfect for families of all sorts who may not fit the traditional stereotypical family, this picture book shows how a loving family can create their own unique solutions and fill them with their own joy. Schiffer clearly conveys the worry and stress that a child can feel in this sort of situation, not minimizing the emotional impact. At the same time, she also demonstrates how that can be so easily eliminated by a family that listens to concerns and solves problems in positive ways. This is one empowering story that many families will relate to.
The illustrations are filled with children of all races and the story also includes a family with two mothers. On the day of the party, there are also grandmothers there, speaking to that issue of working parents who may not be able to be there either. The inclusive art has a warmth to it that is conveyed by the caring adults and the brightly hued illustrations.
All public libraries need more picture book that embrace gay families, so this is a great pick for strengthening those collections. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Counting Crows by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey (InfoSoup)
This playful picture book comes from the author of The Underneath and other novels for older children. This counting book does not move from one to twelve, but instead starts at three and allows a merry amount of counting along the way. Throughout the action is led by the crows who climb around on trees, sit on lines and find all sorts of treats to eat, including spicy ants. The story moves forward with counting until there are twelve crows who then discover one cat!
Appelt proves that she can be a very successful writer for any age of child with her first picture book. Her rhyme reads aloud so well that it’s impossible to read it silently to yourself. It has a great rhythm and buoyancy to it, giving the book a really dynamic energy and feel. I also enjoy a book that has counting in it, but isn’t solely a counting book. This one tells a full story in a cheery way and allows you to share it either as a story book or a concept book.
The illustrations truly make the book unique. Using light drawings with touches of red, the book pops. Readers may notice the one scarf-wearing crow who appears in each scene and then they can see what happens to the scarf after the cat appears. It’s a nice touch that may have some readers turning back to trace the scarf from the beginning of the book.
Bouncy, rhyming, fun and jaunty, this picture book has its own unique tone and feel that readers will appreciate. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman
Released April 14, 2015
Mouse wakes up early to start work on the new story she wants to write. It is a quiet story about a mouse who is setting the table. But before she can get any farther in her story, exuberant Frog hops in and starts adding new elements to the story, including cake, a king, and lots of ice cream. Meanwhile Mouse is trying to mop up all of the mess of the spilled tea, melting ice cream, while Frog gets completely out of control and takes over entirely. Finally Mouse has had enough and yells that Frog is not listening at all! They erase the entire mess of Frog’s story and start again with just Mouse’s ideas of morning tea. Frog is forlorn, unable to help until Mouse realizes that there is room in the story for her quiet ideas and Frog’s wild ones.
Freedman shows without any didactic tone that collaboration on stories and art is possible, as long as everyone listens, communicates and compromises. In fact, the end result is a lot more lovely! Showing that wild ideas are not the best way to come up with a story, but that also quiet thoughts have value, is a wonderful show of support for quieter thinkers. At the same time, that wild moment of Frog’s makes the entire book work, showing how out of control and wonderful some ideas can be. It’s a balanced look at creativity and collaboration that is welcoming and inclusive.
As always Freedman’s art is exceptional. Once again she does washes of watercolor that are gorgeously messy and free. The spilled tea and other elements of Frog’s story embrace all of that. Mouse’s story is shown in pencil drawings that are childlike and rough while also being very neat and structured. They show each characters personality clearly. At the end, it is a lovely marriage of the two styles, filled with bright colors and yet neat as a pin.
Creative and great fun to share aloud, this picture book demonstrates how teamwork and collaboration should work. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.
Blown Away by Rob Biddulph
Penguin Blue has a brand new kite but when he flies it, it lifts him right off the ice and up into the air. Two other penguins try to help and get swept along too. Wilbur the harp seal tries to catch them and joins the group flying along. Blue calls out for help from a polar bear and then Clive is riding along too, his boat and all. They are finally dropped on a lush warm jungle isle where they all agree it is way too hot. Blue has a great solution though, it will just take Clive’s boat, leaves and vines and one good gust of wind that is provided by the elephants on the island. Soon the group are back in their icy home, but there is one stowaway from the island who now needs to figure out how to get back to the warmth of the jungle.
This romp of a picture book is filled with a positive feel throughout. Each new challenge is playfully presented and merrily dealt with through clever solutions. The text rhymes and creates a jaunty cheer that makes this book great fun to share aloud. The rhyming story is written very strongly with a great story arc that solidly supports the humor. This is a book that is immensely satisfying to read.
The design of the book is stellar with playful word design and placement that enhances the strong illustrations. The book is beautifully illustrated with images filled with strong graphic elements, deep colors and also small playful touches. Children will enjoy lingering over the illustrations and spotting the penguins waiting for the bus on an ice floe and the bear losing his map immediately. The combination of strong vivid illustrations and small details make for a book that has its own unique vibe.
A great read-aloud for any penguin story time, this picture book will be enjoyed by preschoolers looking for a complete and playful story. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson
Award-winning Nelson tells a story about the power of sharing in this simple and striking picture book. The story begins with a rabbit and a mouse planting a tomato seed, a carrot seed and a cabbage seed in their garden. Then the two wait through all kinds of weather for the seeds to sprout and grow. Until finally, they have three lovely plants and are able to feast on their bounty. Then the birds arrive and silently ask for the rabbit and mouse to share. But no sharing happens and instead there is a struggle and the plants are destroyed. One small red tomato survives and the mouse offers it to the birds. The birds in turn repay that kindness with seeds of their own which then sprout into a much larger and more diverse garden for them all to enjoy, along with even more animals.
Nelson’s writing here is simple but also to the point. He shows young readers what is happening in the story. Using the symbolism of the garden throughout, he explains the importance of sowing the seeds of kindness rather than selfishness and finally how beautiful it is in the end when you do that. There is little subtlety here and the symbolism is beautifully integrated into the story as a whole.
As always, Nelson’s illustrations are pure delight. His animals shine on the page, showing emotions clearly and beautifully both in their eyes and the positions of ears and tails. Other details bring the entire scene to life. Perhaps my favorite page is the birds silently watching the rabbit and mouse feast on the produce. It’s funny and yet the tension is clear too. The entire book is filled with small lovely moments like this told in images rather than words.
Community, sharing and kindness come together in this splendidly illustrated picture book that is sure to be enjoyed along with other spring gardening books. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Good Night, Knight by Betsy Lewin
When Horse and Knight are falling asleep, Knight has a dream about golden cookies. So he wakes up Horse and sets off on a quest to find the golden cookies. They search everywhere, in hollow tree trunks and under water and in the bushes, riding from one place to the next at a brisk trot. It isn’t until they return home and Knight has collapsed from exhaustion that Knight realizes that the cookies were right in their castle all along. The two have a golden cookie feast and then go to bed, but it’s not long before Horse has a golden dream of his own!
Written for emerging readers, this picture book is written with a limited vocabulary and words that repeat on the page and from one section of the story to another. The picture book format will invite reluctant readers to give reading a try. Lewin also wisely incorporates plenty of humor and galloping around, giving the reader reasons to turn the page to see what will happen next. It’s a good mix of action and silliness.
Lewin’s illustrations break the text into nice readable chunks appropriate for beginning readers. Plenty of attention is paid to the illustrations, offering humor beyond the text itself. For example, Knight never removes his armor, even to sleep! The art is simple, funny and inviting.
Head out on a quest with your beginning reader and this simple picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Holiday House.
The New Small Person by Lauren Child
The creator of Charlie and Lola returns with a new picture book sibling pair. Elmore Green has always been an only child. He has his own room, no one moves his toys around, and no one eats his jelly beans. But suddenly a new baby enters the picture and soon Elmore finds himself sharing a room, unable to leave any of his toys unattended, and no one pays him attention. Perhaps worst of all, his jelly bean collection is licked by his little brother! Just as all seems to be falling apart, Elmore discovers that there are some parts of having a new sibling that aren’t so bad after all like laughing at TV shows together, sharing toys, and even sharing jelly beans (maybe).
Child has a wonderful way of understanding what children are thinking. While other new sibling books have more focus on the loss of parental attention, Child shows exactly how a small sibling can bother an older one. She merrily skips quickly past the baby stage and directly to toddlerhood where the most disruption can take place. Young readers will enjoy a book that has plenty of humor but also is realistic too.
Child’s art is done in her signature style. Her collage work incorporates pieces of cloth and patterned paper. I appreciate that her new family are people of color and also that it is not a focus of the book but just a visual component, natural and not remarked upon.
Perfect for Charlie & Lola fans and also for older siblings experiencing their own toddlers at home. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.