Big Bug by Henry Cole
Start with a close up of a ladybug in this picture book and then everything is put into perspective. If you step back, the big bug on the first pages is not so big compared to the big leaf it is sitting on. That leaf turns small when seen as just a part of a flower. Then a big dog appears only to be dwarfed by the big cow on the next page. This continues until the reader is looking at the big sky. Then the book reverses and the perspective gets closer and tighter, returning in the end to that same dog now sleeping inside.
This is a very simple book that is superbly done. Cole plays nicely with perspective and with concepts. The book can easily be used as a way to show the differences between big and small, but I think the real treat is showing children that perspective is important and understanding size is too. With only a couple of words on each page, the book is imminently readable, especially by a child just starting to read on their own.
Cole’s art is clear and lovely. The perspective changes are done vividly and the page where you linger with the big big sky for a moment is particularly lovely with its little farm and little tree. It also serves as a very clear pivot point in the book thanks to the design of the page.
Show this one to art teachers, preschool teachers, and kids who enjoy a huge insect. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Little Simon.
Henry’s Map by David Elliot
Henry was a pig who believed in being neat and tidy with everything in its place. So when he looked out from his very clean sty, he was bothered by the messiness of the farmyard. He decided to make a map, so that everyone could find things on the farm. That meant he had to travel around the farm and write things down. He included the sheep and the woolshed, Abigail the cow with her tree, Mr. Brown the horse and his stable, and the chicken coop. Then all of the animals climbed up a nearby hill to look down on the farm and compare it to Henry’s map. But when they looked closely, none of them were where they were marked on the map! Luckily though, they all knew right where they belonged thanks to the map and back they all went, even Henry.
Elliot has a feel for writing picture books. His pacing is delightful, the storyline is dynamic but not frenetic, and the characters are personable and ones that you want to befriend. Henry is a little pig with a big vision, and there is satisfaction in him completing a big project on his own. Elliot also nicely navigates having just the right amount of text on the page, enough to tell a full story but not too much to overwhelm or bog it down. Add the twist of the animals being alarmed at not being in the same place as the map tells them they should be, and you have a very strong read.
Elliot is the artist behind the Brian Jacques series of books. Here his art has a wonderful playfulness but also a timelessness. This book is beautifully illustrated with lots of jolly characters and one very serious pig. The map itself looks like something a child would make complete with drawings and misspellings.
A top pick, this picture book is perfect for map units in preschool and elementary school. It also makes a fun addition to any farm or pig story time. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Philomel.
The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
Summer Miyamoto is positive that her family is completely out of luck. Nothing is going right for them at all. Her parents had to return to Japan because of a family emergency, leaving her behind with her grandparents and little brother, Jaz. Now the four of them are heading out to do harvest season for the first time without her parents. Summer and Jaz have to get all of their homework assignments, so they really don’t have the time off. Summer is also expected to help her grandmother cook for the others working on the harvest, so she is very busy. But she isn’t so busy that she doesn’t notice the very cute son of the people they work for or the problems that her brother has making friends. She is also worried about her grandparents from the pain in her grandmother’s back that incapacitates her at times to the exhaustion that her grandfather seems to be suffering from. All of this weighs on Summer who just wants the bad luck to end but it may take Summer being something her grandmother would not approve of to save the family in the end.
Kadohata has created a very compelling story of a family who travels the United States harvesting wheat with giant combines. She offers just enough details about the machinery and the process for readers to understand it which helps make the work much more understandable. But this book is far more about this particular family and its dynamics. The grandparents offer a unique mix of sage advice and confusing world views. Jaz, the younger brother, is a great example of a very smart child who has almost no social skills. All of these characters are written as complete people, not ever stereotypical.
Summer herself is equally well drawn. She is at a confusing time in life in general, being a pre-teen who is starting to notice boys. That is complicated by her grandmother’s old-fashioned take on boys and girls as well as her own responsibility for her family that puts her in situations that require her to be more adult and less child.
A beautiful and intense look at a Japanese-American family struggling with an interesting lifestyle and just surviving a year of bad luck. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
The Passover Lamb by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss
Miriam has been selected to sing the Four Questions at the seder, the special Passover meal, at her grandparent’s house. She has been practicing over and over again. When she discovers that Snowball, one of their ewes, is going to have a baby, the family wonders if it will disrupt their Passover plans. Snowball has her lambs in time, but her third lamb is ignored and she refuses to nurse him. Miriam is very worried for the little lamb, but also wants to head to the seder and sing her part. So she comes up with a clever plan to care for the newborn lamb and be able to be with her extended family. This Passover story is a gentle reminder about compassion and a beautiful introduction to Passover.
Marshall writes with a gentleness that weaves throughout the entire story. She allows Miriam to really be the center of the story, her family members are important but Miriam is certainly the lead. She is the one who discovers that the ewe is going to have a baby, bottle feeds the newborn lamb and figures out the solution, all on her own. This is child-led compassion that comes from a deep and natural place.
Mai-Wyss’ art is done in watercolors. The results are rich and colorful, nicely capturing a small family farm. Just as with the text, Miriam is often front and center in the illustrations.
A superb book about caring and compassion, this is a strong addition to any public library. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Books for Young Readers.
Life-Size Farm by Teruyuki Komiya
This fourth in the “Life-Size” book series takes on farm animals in glorious full-size photographs. Just like the others in the series, there are panels that offer more detailed information, including the animals name, age, and scientific name. There are details about physical characteristics that are explained further as well as a list of facts. All of these are presented in bright colors and with a playful feel. But it is the photographs in their large size and with the clarity and detail that they offer that will have children taking this book home and lingering over it.
Several of the pages unfold to show even larger images of animals. The huge furry alpaca and the enormous cow will generate lots of interest. What is most amazing here is that the size of all of the animals is surprising and fun. Even better, the quality of the photographs is always high and offer lots of small details to pay attention to.
A great pick for library shelves, though the size is large enough to make them not fit on shelves easily! This is an excellent addition to a popular nonfiction series for children. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Seven Footer Kids.
It’s Milking Time by Phyllis Alsdurf, illustrated by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher
This picture book looks at milking time on a modern dairy farm. A little girl works alongside her father. She helps to bring the cows in from the field and then into the barn. She scoops feed into their stalls and helps get the milkers ready. Then she opens the big barn doors and the cows enter the barn and line up in their stanchions. The little girl goes around and locks them. Milking starts, and there are quiet moments to look out at the growing corn, but then milk is ready to be carried to the milk house, a pitcher filled for the family. Then the calves must be fed, the manure shoveled, and finally the two walk up to the house in the twilight.
Told with great detail and a loving tone, this story shines with love for the heartland and dairy farms.
While the farm is clearly modern, there is a great timelessness to the story with the interaction of farmer and cows, the buckets of milk, and even the pitcher of milk for home use. Alsdurf uses a refrain throughout the book, “Every morning, every night, it’s milking time.” That repetition works well, reminding readers that this same activity happens over and over again on a farm.
The illustrations add to that feeling of timelessness. They are done in soft colors with late afternoon light flowing golden over the images. They also have soft edges, like favorite jeans that have been washed many times. They are pure comfort.
For librarians in Wisconsin, this book is a natural fit. It’s good to see a farm setting that is not historical but keeps that pastoral feel. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
Blue Chicken by Deborah Freedman
This vibrant picture book plays with color and perspective as well as characters who leave the flat page and enter the real world. The picture is almost finished when one of the chickens in the picture pops her head out. She then stands up and walks over to the paint pots that are waiting to finish the picture. When the chicken peeks into the blue paint, she accidentally tips it over and ends up painting herself. She is joined by a little duckling and then more who splash around in the new blue puddle, turning themselves and the cat who walked past blue. Soon all of the animals are blue. Now what can be done to turn them all back to normal?
There is a wonderful playfulness about this title. Even the grumpy animals end up enjoying the escapade. At the same time, there are lots of options to discuss colors, perspective, and art. The book has real depth to it, allowing it to be read just as a cute story, or used more seriously with children.
The words are simple and try to stay out of the way, allowing the art to really shine here. And shine it certainly does. It dazzles and glows, inviting young readers into the humor of the book and revealing a magical quality that is lovely. From the freshness of the first spill of the blue to the sogginess and flatness that results, there is an exploration of the media here right on the page.
Highly recommended, this is one of my favorite picture books of the year. It is a charming jewel of a picture book that is fun, silly, yet offers plenty to learn. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking Books.
Also reviewed by Fuse #8.
Can Hens Give Milk? by Joan Betty Stuchner, illustrated by Joe Weissmann
Shlomo and Riva live on a farm where they have five children, twelve hens and one rooster. Rivka wishes that they had a cow to give the family milk and cheese. That night, Shlomo had a dream that showed him what they could do. Cows eat grass and give milk, so he reasoned that if the hens were fed grass, they would give milk too. But the hens refused to eat the grass. One of the daughters, Tova, came up with the idea of rolling the grass into pellets that look like the grain that the hens usually eat. But even then, the hens would not eat the grass. There was only one thing to do, and that was to force the hens to each eat one pellet of grass. The family then left them to lay eggs and give milk overnight. What do you think happened next? All I will say is that in the end, the family had eggs AND milk. But how?
This story of a fool and his family is written with great humor. Children will immediately recognize the nonsense of the logic that Shlomo and his family are using, so they will enjoy seeing the story play out. There is plenty of opportunity for laughter as new solutions are generated and then also proven to not work. It’s a story that will have you grinning just because of the silliness of the entire book.
Weissman’s art is bright and silly as well, reveling in the humor of the text. The dreams of milk and cheese are brought to life as are the hiccupping and indignant hens.
A silly book that will lend a lot of laughter to a unit or storytime on food, this book reads aloud well. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Also reviewed by
Moo, Moo, Brown Cow! Have You Any Milk? by Phillis Gershator, illustrated by Giselle Potter
An extended version of Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, this book adds new verses with additional animals. It begins with the traditional rhyme which then changes a little with the wool becoming a blanket for the little boy’s bed. The goose provides down for a pillow. The hen has eggs, the bee honey, and the cow milk, which all make a perfect bedtime snack. The animals then all head to bed too, and readers are left with the boy fast asleep in his bed with his stuffed animals tucked in close with him: a sheep, goose, hen, and cow.
Gershator has used the same rhythm as the original and it all fits nicely into the song pattern as well, so this book can be sung too. With each new animal, she gently offers up the noise the animal makes, what that animal provides, and then a use for that product. It’s a pleasant look at animals, farming and the connection between farm and end product.
Potter’s illustrations have a wonderful folkart aspect to them that adds a timelessness to the entire book. For a new version of a beloved nursery rhyme, this is just the right art to set the tone.
This book is a solid addition to nursery rhyme collections. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.