Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matthew Myers
Gran Gran has given Alex a very saccharine sweet birthday book filled with bunnies as a gift. But Alex is clearly not a fan of the original book since he takes his pencil and makes lots of changes so that it’s a book that he wants to read. Birthday Bunny is turned into Battle Bunny, complete with helmet, utility belt and walkie talkie. His goal is to unleash his evil plan on the forest and the world that only a boy named Alex can prevent. Expect danger, cut-down trees, epic battles and much more as Alex tries to defeat the evil that is Battle Bunny!
Told and drawn in layers, this book is something very special. First you have the rather sickly sweet story underneath that celebrates Birthday Bunny’s birthday with lots of dancing and balloons. It’s silly, friendly and pure sugar. Over the top of that comes the brilliance of the writing of Scieszka and Barnett who manage by changing a few words in every sentence to make an entirely different story. Most sentences just have a few words changed, but others towards the end are more edited to really let the story flow. It works so well that one can forget the words underneath until you eye snags on one and you just have to read a bit of the silly story that has been edited.
Myers’ art is equally successful. He takes a dance scene and deftly turns it into an epic battle but one where you can still see the dancing underneath. On some pages little comics are added in the white space so that more story can be told. The cutesy nature of the underlying story is captured in his illustrations and one can feel the glee with which he reworked them just as a little boy would.
These three gifted book creators truly channeled their inner children to create this book. It is funny, smart and immensely creative. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
The Tortoise and the Hare by Jerry Pinkney
Wow. This companion book to Pinkney’s Caldecott Medal winning The Lion & the Mouse is another outstanding book. Set in the deserts of the Southwest, the story has all sorts of animals gathered to watch the race, including badgers, lynx, mice, and vultures. All of them wear at least one piece of clothing, from hats to bandanas to pants. As the pages of the book turn, readers will get to see how each of the animals approaches the race, from the frenzy and then sloth of the hare to the steadiness of the tortoise. Readers will get a sense of the slowness also from the words on the page that every so tantalizingly make out phrases as the pages turn.
Told in few words, the book is all about the illustrations which are magnificent. Filled with tiny details to linger over, each illustration is beautifully composed and helps move the story forward. Pinkney stays true to the classic tale, not changing any of the storyline. He manages to take stories that can become overly wordy and with images alone tell their story and make them appropriate and thrilling for a young audience. I will always see his illustrations when I hear this story. That is talent!
Quite simply, this is another masterpiece by Pinkney. A must-have book for every library serving preschoolers. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale by Duncan Tonatiuh
Released May 7, 2013.
Papa Rabbit had traveled north to find work when the rains didn’t come one year. Finally, after two years, he was returning home to his family. A party was planned with food and music, but Papa Rabbit didn’t come back. When the other rabbits went to sleep, Pancho Rabbit set out to find his father. He took with him his father’s favorite meal of mole, rice and beans, tortillas, and a jug of aguamiel. As he traveled, Pancho met a coyote, who offered to help him reach his father. The coyote demanded payment of the mole up front, then taking Pancho to the train tracks where they jumped a train. As the journey continued, the coyote demanded food after each part of the journey until Pancho was out of food. Then Pancho himself was the only food for the coyote to demand. This allegorical tale of migrant workers coming to the United States is a powerful look at the dangers they face and the love that drives them.
Tonatiuh writes with a strength here, each word seemingly chosen for its impact and power. The importance of this sort of story for young children cannot be ignored. This book carefully dresses the horrors of the story in folktales, but the purpose is still clear. Those folktale devices are particularly effective in a story such as this, allowing the reader to see the dangers but not be overwhelmed by them. The use of the different pieces of food as payment is particularly clever as is the character of the coyote being that animal.
The illustrations convey the folktale structure as well. Done in a flattened style, they have strong lines and shapes. Tonatiuh makes clever use of textures like jean material, tires, fur and textured paper. This added touch ensures that readers recognize the modern nature of the tale.
This book belongs in every library since it deals with a current issue that affects many in our communities directly. Teachers will find this book especially useful when discussion immigration as well. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.
Ten Things I Love about You by Daniel Kirk
Rabbit and Pig are great friends. So Rabbit decides to make a list of ten things that he loves about Pig. Rabbit comes up with the first one all on his own: Number 1 – I love Pig because he is very pink. Then he turns to Pig for help, but Pig is busy doing something else. Rabbit figures out Number 2, I love Pig because he knows how to keep busy. As time goes by, Rabbit continues to fill his list as Pig reacts to Rabbit’s visits and questions. But Pig is getting more and more frustrated with the interruptions. Finally, Rabbit’s list is complete and Pig has a surprise in turn for Rabbit.
Told entirely in dialogue, this is a picture book that begs to be read aloud. Because of the way it’s written, the humor is highlighted clearly for young readers. The pacing too is impacted by the format with a dashing briskness that is very refreshing. Kirk’s illustrations are very modern. They were made by scanning ink drawings and painted plywood panels into the computer and then texture and color were added with Photoshop. They have a wonderful rustic edge to both the images themselves and also the edges of the plywood. It adds an organic warmth to the story.
Add this one to your friendship story times, Rabbit and Pig are sure to get along well with Frog and Toad as well as Elephant and Piggie. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.
Bunnies on Ice by Johanna Wright
This icy read is just right for a very cold winter day, like we have been having here in Wisconsin. One little bunny thinks that she is a champion ice-skater. As a champion, she has to wait for conditions to be just right, even if it means waiting through spring, summer and fall! When the waiting is finally over, she has to eat a big breakfast to prepare. Clothing selection is also important, enough layers to be warm, but not too many. Finally, it is time to skate her adoring fans. She demonstrates her high level of skill, well, almost. The day ends with hot chocolate, a warm bath and a cozy bed. The perfect ending for a champion day.
Wright has created a cheery book about not only ice skating but the wonder of big dreams. It is a delight to find a picture book with a young girl exhibiting such strong self-esteem with no hesitation. Wright nicely weaves in the truth behind the little girl’s dreams. This happens particularly when the actual skating begins and readers discover that she’s not really a champion ice skater.
In her illustrations, Wright creates a cozy world. There is the rabbit’s home inside a large tree that is filled with deep colors that evoke a warmth. This contrasts nicely with the blues of the outdoors and the white of the snow. The entire book exudes a cluttered friendliness and family-centered cheer.
Sparkling with ice and plenty of bravado, this picture book will inspire children to dream big themselves. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Too Tall Houses by Gianna Marino
Rabbit and Owl live right next door to one another at the top of a hill in separate small houses. Rabbit likes growing vegetables and Owl likes the view of the forest. They were good friends. Until one day, Rabbit’s vegetables got so tall that they blocked Owl’s view of the forest. Rabbit refused to cut his vegetables down, so Owl built his house taller. Then Owl’s house was blocking the sun from reaching Rabbit’s garden, so Rabbit built a taller house and put his garden on the roof. So started the competition to have the tallest house. And my, do the houses ever get taller and taller!
Marino does a great job of telling a story that has the heart and soul of a classic folktale. The friendship and competition between the two animals carries a subtle lesson that is masked effectively in humor. She doesn’t back away from carrying the tale to its very funny extreme ending. The story is kept simple, allowing the illustrations to carry much of the story forward.
Marino’s illustrations have the colors of fall and warmth. From the orange branches Owl uses to create his home to the terra cotta bricks of Rabbit’s, the colors are bright and autumnal. As the houses grow into the sky, the colors are cooler, emphasizing that they are leaving the comfort of their warm homes and creating homes simply to beat someone else.
This is a funny, warm and memorable read that will get your audience laughing. Perfect for reading aloud any time of year. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare by Sam McBratney
In this follow-up to the classic Guess How Much I Love You, McBratney gives us four new stories about the beautiful relationship between Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare. In the first story, the two wake up to discover that the Hiding Tree has fallen over during the night. Big immediately climbs the fallen tree, but Little is much more cautious until he’s playing hide-and-seek. The second story has the two rabbits climbing Cloudy Mountain. Little has a lot of fun finding dandelions and blowing them. So when the clouds start coming and making it hard to see, he gets cross when Big insists that it’s time to go. The third story has a lot of danger that Little seems to find and Big is always watching to keep him safe. Soon though, Little’s own inner voice is showing him the right choice. The final story returns the rabbits back home as they discuss Little’s favorite place.
All of the stories carry that same loving warmth as the original book. There is the ever-present but not smothering parental character and the mischievous child character. McBratney has managed to incorporate situations that human parents will face into a cloudy mountain and a large field. Children will recognize their parents’ efforts to keep them safe, redirect them, and be forced to change plans sometimes and spoil the fun.
McBratney’s The art is a large part of the charm here, but so is his writing style. He keeps it simple but sunny, always giving a cheery outlook in both images and text. Perhaps my favorite image is when Little is caught thinking of going into a big hole. His odd leap away from the hole when caught captures exactly the body-language of a child in the same situation.
This is bound to be embraced by parents who loved the first book. They will find themselves happily right back in the same loving, warm place. Expect plenty of bedtime repeat reads. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Hit the Road, Jack by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Ross MacDonald
Opening this book, I was surprised that it was not based on the song at all. Instead, this is a tribute to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Jack in this picture book is a jackrabbit who longs to travel America. So he leaves New York and rides his bicycle to Boston and then Buffalo. Pennsylvania and Cleveland are next with Detroit too. Jack spends some time in Chicago before heading back into the countryside and hopping a train. A car carries him to the Great Plains and Mount Rushmore. He sees the Rockies and the desert mesas before arriving at the Golden Gate. Jack has reached his west coast destination, but the road still calls.
Burleigh takes the picture book done in verse to another level here. Never forced, always brimming with honesty and joy, this verse rhymes but does so in a sophisticated way. It has all of the rhythm of the beat poets inside of it too, paying double homage to Kerouac both in subject and style. Young readers will explore the United States in this book, but even better, they will get a feel for what makes America great.
MacDonald’s illustrations have a playfulness and joy that matches the text well. Done with a vintage feel, Jack has huge ears but is more human than rabbit most of the time. Shown in his leather jacket and rolled-up jeans, Jack is the ideal companion on the road.
This is a special book where subject matter and form combine to create something all the more amazing. It may be difficult to get this into the hands of the right kids, but it is worth the challenge for a book this good. It will also make a great book to share with elementary classes studying the United States. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket by Tatyana Feeney
Small Bunny did everything with his blue blanket. He took it everywhere with him. His blanket helped him read hard words, swing higher on the swings, and paint the best pictures. But one day, Small Bunny’s mother thinks that Blue Blanket should be washed. Small Bunny tried to hide, but his mother found him. So after Small Bunny’s bath, it was Blue Blanket’s turn. Small Bunny stood and watched the washer for the entire 107 minutes that it took to wash. Then Blue Blanket had to dry on the line. Small Bunny’s mother was sure that the blanket was good as new, but Small Bunny did not want a new blanket, he wanted his good old friend back.
There is such charm in this very simple book thanks to the illustrations. Done in a limited palette of blues and small touches of pink, the minimalist lines give a sense of space and movement. Somehow this simple rabbit illustration manages to convey deep emotions, including joy, impatience and deep worry. The sweep of the blanket through the pages adds motion.
The playful illustrations offer a lightness to the book that elevates it nicely. The writing is simple and basic. I enjoyed the touch where Small Bunny’s mother told him it would take only a minute for his blanket to be washed and it took 107. Lovely. I also enjoyed the fact that this book was not about getting a child to let go of a beloved blanket, but instead just getting it washed. The ending is satisfying too.
Playful and fun to read, this book will be enjoyed by the preschool audience. The simple words and illustrations will work well with a toddler story time. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf.