Fraidyzoo by Thyra Heder
It’s the perfect day to go to the zoo and the whole family is excited. Well, maybe not the whole family. Little T certainly is not, in fact she is frightened of the zoo. But she can’t remember what in the zoo scares her. So her family set out to find out what might be scaring her. They start out at the beginning of the alphabet and acting out the animals. It’s not alligator, bat or camel. As they go on, the costumes they use become more and more elaborate and they all help act them out with plenty of laughter and silliness. They make it all the way to zebras and still Little T can’t remember why she is scared of the zoo. So they decide to go the next day. But there is something very frightening at the zoo, and her older sister might just find it a little too scary.
Heder does a superb job here of creating costumes out of boxes and ropes that look like they just might work in real life. As the costumes grow more and more outrageous and complex, they also get more beautiful. Along the way, Heder does not name any of the animals being portrayed, so the book has a guessing-game element to it as well. The ending is funny and satisfying.
Heder’s art really is the majority of the story here. The text is almost secondary to the full-page images that gallop and dash across the page. They are filled with motion, color and smiles. This is art that will inspire children to play with boxes and rope. Expect your living room to be strewn with cardboard and ideas.
Creative and a joy to read, this is much more fun than any visit I’ve had to the zoo. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Musk Ox Counts by Erin Cabatingan, illustrated by Matthew Myers
The characters from A is for Musk Ox return for a counting book this time. A counting book should be fairly straight forward, it’s counting after all. But Musk Ox has different ideas. Must to Zebra’s dismay, he doesn’t even make it to number one at the beginning of the book to be counted as one Musk Ox. Instead he is on the page with 2 yaks. Musk Ox offers to fix the problem on the page for number one, but still messes up the 2 yaks page. Zebra is beside himself and a sulky Musk Ox heads back to page one on his own. But he doesn’t stay there for long! Expect plenty of counting chaos throughout the book though there is also some easy addition thrown in too.
I enjoyed this book almost as much as the first one. This one has the joy of returning to two engaging characters. As with the first, you never know what is going to happen on the next page, making it very engaging reading. Cabatingan writes the two characters with zingy dialogue and the book is a must for reading aloud.
Myers’ illustrations add to the zany book. He manages to keep crowded pages from being confusing as the number mount. He also uses the effect of Musk Ox and Zebra peeking through from other pages very nicely.
The result is a counting book worth sharing aloud to a group of preschoolers, and there aren’t many counting books that you can say that about! Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
A Moose That Says Moo! by Jennifer Hamburg, illustrated by Sue Truesdell
Sitting near the laundry drying on the line, a little girl is reading books about animals. She starts to think about having a zoo of her very own and what sorts of animals it would have. It’s guaranteed that no other zoo has animals like hers! There is a moose that says “moo,” bears that drive cars, tigers that swing in the trees, and sharks that read books. At night, the animals have a big pillow fight that turns into one silly brawl with awakened goats, tap-dancing pigs that startle easily, tripping turtles, and even groundhogs that protest. It will take one smart young girl to get everything put back together again even in this imaginary zoo.
Written in a rollicking rhyme, this book really celebrates the ridiculous and the silly. Hamburg manages to create zoo animals with wild qualities that make the book a surprise on each page. The result is a book that dances on the edge of losing control, but the firm hand Hamburg takes with the rhyme and rhythm keeps it within control and makes for a book that begs to be shared aloud.
Truesdell does an amazing job of managing to take all of the wild chaotic silliness of the book and turn it into illustrations that help it all make sense. At the same time, she too revels in the silliness on the page and adds to it with small touches like a reading shark accidentally eating a book, the offer of many tissues to a sneezing tiger, and goggled bears in cars.
Pure silliness, this book could merrily be wedged into many storytime themes. Use it as a finisher since even antsy children will sit still for this wild ride. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Xander’s Panda Party by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Matt Phelan
Xander is planning a party just for pandas, but soon realizes that he is the only panda at the zoo. So he changes the invitation to include all sorts of the bears at the zoo. Then Koala is left out because she’s a marsupial, not a bear. Xander chewed some bamboo and thought a bit, then changed the party to be for all mammals at the zoo. After going through several more versions, Xander’s party changed to invite all of the animals at the zoo. It was almost time for the party to start, when a truck and a crate arrived at the zoo. It was a new creature for the zoo! But would it ruin Xander’s updated party plans?
Clever, clever, clever. This book carefully offers information on animal taxonomy to readers who will not even realize they are learning it thanks to the party-theme of the book. Park’s writing is so impressive. When I opened the book to see it rhyme, I must admit that I sighed. But Park managed to created a rhyming book that is not written in stanzas. She instead builds whole paragraphs that read like rhyming poems and make the rhymes work throughout the sentences. It is a smart way to approach a book that harnesses the rhyme rather than galloping away with it.
Phelan’s art is entirely brilliant. His lines have a looseness that really works, creating whole settings in just a few lines. All of the animals have their own unique personalities. I particularly enjoyed the rhino glaring from behind his wall and the montage of the different types of bears. There are small touches throughout that add humor and coziness to the story.
A book that has science mixed with a message of inclusiveness, this is one has mass appeal. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives by Lola M. Schaefer
Take a unique look at what animals will do in a single lifetime in this book that combines counting, math and fascinating scientific facts. The book focuses on how many times a single animal will do a behavior during their life. The facts are based on estimations and opens with a description of how the numbers were figured out and explaining that each individual animal will be different than the estimate. The book opens with one spider’s egg sac, the sole one she will create in a lifetime. It then goes to the ten antlers that a caribou will grow and shed and moves on by tens. The book ends with one thousand tiny baby seahorses, the number a single male seahorse will carry and birth.
This is a spectacular way to introduce averages to children and estimation. It is a celebration of the information that mathematics can provide to us about nature. Schaefer has selected a wide variety of animals and intriguing facts about each of them. Readers can find more in-depth information on the animals at the back of the book. They will also find more information on averages and math there.
Schaefer’s art adds to the appeal of this book. Her illustrations have a boldness to them, a graphic quality that really works. They are flat and vibrant, clearly laying items on the page for counting. The book is a joy to page through since each page offers a new animal, a new habitat to see.
One of the most visually stimulating and smart concepts for a nonfiction picture book, this one is sure to beat the averages and be read more than once. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears by Jill Robinson and Marc Bekoff, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen
Held captive for years by bear “farmers” who kept him in a too-small cage and harvested bile from his body, Jasper’s story is representative of many captive moon bears. Now Jasper has been rescued by Animals Asia, an animal welfare organization. He is taken to their Moon Bear Rescue Center where his medical needs are attended to and he is put into the sanctuary. There, Jasper walks on grass for the first time in his life. Caregivers work to teach Jasper how to find food on his own, hiding food in toys and places to dig. In time, Jasper’s life starts to change. He begins to play more, get stronger, and make friends. Jasper is one success story among many, a testament to what rescue can do to save animals that might have been considered too damaged to rescue.
Robinson and Bekoff write in a very engaging way in this nonfiction picture book. They invest time in telling the story of the abuse as well as painting a beautiful picture of moon bears in the wild: “Far away in the mist-covered mountains of China, the moon sends yellow arcs of light across the hills, softly painting the forests with a luminous glow.” They describe the way that wild animals sleep with a sense of freedom. The prose is beautiful, clearly painting the value of these animals and the importance of their rescue and rehabilitation.
The illustrations are equally evocative. The paintings have a wonderful sense of place, showing the workers at the sanctuary and the horror of the small cages with equal attention. I particularly like the way that the opening image relates to that at the end, showing that Jasper is once again more like the wild moon bears than the abused ones.
A great book on the importance of animal rehabilitation and rescue, this book will speak volumes to every child who picks it up and meets Jasper. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Neighbor Is a Dog by Isabel Minhos Martins, illustrated by Madalena Matoso
Originally published in Portugal, this book is a charming import. It is the story of a young girl who gets a new neighbor who just happens to be a dog. The dog is very friendly and kind, but the girl’s parents are not impressed, thinking that he would quickly start acting like the dog he was. Soon after that, more new neighbors arrived, this time a pair of elephants. The girl’s parents complained about them too, but the girl thought they were very nice. Finally, a crocodile moved in. That proved to be too much for her parents and they moved away. But before they did, the little girl finds out that her parents are considered the odd ones in the neighborhood. The final clever twist at the end shows exactly why.
Martins writing is just as vibrant as the bold illustrations. She tells the story with wonderful little touches like the elephants helping with washing cars and the crocodile giving purses and shoes as Christmas gifts. All of these details add to the world that she cleverly building and that wonderful surprise twist at the end. Done in vibrant colors, the illustrations are created in hot pinks, deep blues and bright reds. It is a modern world, with the pop colors adding to that feel.
A look at acceptance and diversity through the eyes of a child, this book will speak to all children about preconceptions and tolerance. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lulu and the Cat in the Bag by Hilary McKay
This third Lulu book continues the story of Lulu’s love affair with any type of animal. In this story, a cat is dropped off on Lulu’s doorstep in a bag. Lulu opens the bag over her aunt’s objections. Her aunt is watching her while her parents are on vacation and is not fond of animals at all. When the bag is opened, the cat goes running off and disappears. Though Lulu searches for it, she is unable to find it. When she returns to her room later, the cat is there on her bed, having climbed in through her open window. Steadily, the big orange cat starts to become part of the family, even changing Lulu’s aunts thoughts on cats in general. It dominates the two dogs, scares the bird and even gathers flowers from the garden to scatter about the house. Then the cat simply disappears, they search for it with Lulu’s aunt’s help, but no one can find it. Until Lulu makes a surprising discovery!
I’ve enjoyed all of the Lulu books so far and this just adds to the delight that is this series. Lulu is a wonderful protagonist. It is a pleasure to see a child character so into animals who does her chores and takes good care of her animals with no complaining. Lulu is also quite a scamp, so the book are filled with a natural childhood zest and Lulu’s own special take on things. This is another great treat of a book from McKay.
A series to rival Clementine, get this into the hands of those readers and they will find a new feisty young heroine to love. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from digital galley received from
Wait! Wait! by Hatsue Nakawaki, illustrated by Komako Sakai
Translated from the Japanese, this little book is perfect for busy toddlers. It follows some time in a toddler’s day when they move from one distraction to the next. First, there is the butterfly fluttering past that won’t wait. Then the lizard on the sidewalk slithers off without waiting. Then come pigeons and next cats. Finally, the little child is scooped up by a grown up and carried off on their shoulders with obvious delight.
This simple little book captures so nicely the speed of a toddler’s thoughts and the way that they can keep so busy with new discoveries in their day. There is a wonderful gentleness to the book, where the animals and then the adult are just as much fun and intriguing as one another. At the same time, there is a sense of discovery and awe as each new creature is found.
The text is very simple with the title repeated throughout and then one additional sentence added for each creature. The illustrations shine. They are wonderfully organic with textures while the colors remain subtle and natural.
This book begs to be shared with one little child at a time, so that the animals can be identified and new discoveries of their own can be shared. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion.