The Story of Fish & Snail by Deborah Freedman
This is the story of Fish and Snail who were great friends. Every day, Snail would wait for Fish to return with a new story. This time, Fish returned with a great story, one so wonderful that Fish wanted to show Snail instead of tell about it. But Snail doesn’t want to leave the book they are in. Snail wants to stay right there and play kittens instead of pirates. The two start to argue and finally Fish declares that it is THE END and leaves the book. Snail was so sad. This was not the way the story was meant to end. So Snail leans farther outside of the page and sees Fish in a watery book below. Will Snail leave his safe book and dare to tumble down to the other ocean below? Will Fish return with more stories?
Freedman captures a story-within-a-story here with her setting of two characters living not just in one picture book but many. It is the story of two opposite characters who still manage to be friends, most of the time. There is the sedentary Snail who longs for the stories but not the real adventure. Then there is the irrepressible Fish who jumps and leaps literally off of the page. The pair make for a balanced friendship but also one with plenty of room for misunderstanding too. Their conversation and fight are written strongly and honestly.
Freedman’s art is gorgeous. Readers will recognize her as the author and illustrator of Blue Chicken. She uses similar splash effects in her art here. The blues are gorgeously green and filled with light. When Fish swims the bubbles take on a stronger form as Freedman lets the watercolor dapple the page. There is one beautiful image of Snail looking down to the other book that plays with perspective cleverly.
I’ve heard Caldecott rumblings for this one and with its playful yet artistic illustrations, I’d love to see that. In the end though, it’s also a great story about friendship, books and being willing to take risks. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
Toys in Space by Mini Grey
A group of toys are left outside overnight for the first time. There is Wonderdoll, a robot, a cowboy and horse, a dinosaur, a sheep, and a rabbit. All of them left in the dark, gazing up into the starry sky. They are all scared, but then Wonderdoll starts to tell a story. It is a story of seven toys left out at night under the stars, but then one star gets bigger and bigger until they can see that it is actually a spaceship! The seven toys are beamed aboard the spacecraft and meet a glove-shaped alien who is missing his own favorite toy. He has gathered toys from all around the world and kept them, but has not found his toy yet. The seven toys help the alien figure out that he has to return the toys to earth and even throw him a party to cheer him up. But will the alien ever find his own Cuddles again?
This picture book has the winning touch of Mini Grey. She is always fearless in her storytelling and deeply understands the connection between child and toy as shown in her Traction Man books as well. It also has the great combination of toys and aliens! The story is wonderfully playful and children will wonder if it really happened right up to the very end.
Grey’s art adds to the playful feel. Each toy has its own personality visually but the seven together make quite the team. She nicely incorporates speech bubbles into the story, giving it a comic feel that works well with the light-hearted art.
Sure to be a hit with its combo of aliens and toys, this book will work well at a story time, or for cuddling after all the favorite toys are tucked in too. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
Again! by Emily Gravett
It’s nearly bedtime and that means a bedtime story. Mama dragon and little dragon curl up together to share the story of the bright, red dragon Cedric who has never gone to bed. When they finish, the little dragon asks for it “Again?” Mama dragon agrees and readers will see another full page of the book that tells more about Cedric and his not sleeping. Mama reads it one more time before falling asleep herself. Readers will notice the little dragon getting redder and redder just as Cedric in the story is turning back to green. But this little dragon has a burning desire for one more story that leads to a fiery ending.
Gravett cleverly reaves two parallel stories together here. There is the main story of the little dragon who wants to be read to over and over again. Then there is the story of Cedric in the book that Mama dragon reads. The two play off of one another, with tension in one ebbing as the other picks up.
The art is just as clever. Towards the end, the little dragon shakes the book in disgust and the characters take a tumble across the pages. This leads to the surprise of the ending, which is sure to delight young readers.
A perfect ending for a story time, this book is one that young children (and dragons) will want to read AGAIN! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Tell Me about Your Day Today by Mem Fox, illustrated by Lauren Stringer
This is the story of a little boy who looked forward to bedtime. He loved the kisses, the stories, the good night. But most of all he loved the conversations he had with his stuffed animal friends. Each of them took a turn telling about what happened during their day: “the who, the what, the why, and the way… the whole wild thing…turned out okay.” As each character describes their day, it is told solely in pictures with the refrain above as the only words. And each one builds on the last, creating a picture of a complete day together. Then the little boy went last, describing his day and filling out the last of their day spent together.
This is such a warm and friendly book. While it may be unusual for a child to look forward to bedtime, it’s great to have a book that celebrates that part of the day so fully. Even better, it’s a celebration of a very busy day spent in wonderful play. Fox’s use of a repeating refrain in each character’s story makes for a book that is gentle and reassuring.
Stringer’s illustrations tell a lot of the story. Each character had a slightly different day, told from their point of view. When the boy’s part comes, they all reach a cohesive whole. Stringer’s art is done in bright and warm colors, with the deep blues of night a welcome part of the book. The characters glow on the page, some even seeing to shine light themselves.
What a great bedtime read! This book is best shared with your own stuffed friends gathered around and listening too. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Fall was ending and winter was coming, but before he hibernated, Bear had a story to tell. Unfortunately, the other animals were too busy to hear the story. Mouse was gathering seeds and when Bear helped Mouse find lots of seeds, Mouse tunneled underground for the winter. Duck was getting ready to fly south and all Bear had time to do was check the wind direction for him and say he would miss Duck before he flew off. Frog too was looking for a warm place to sleep. Bear helped dig a hole for him to sleep in. Mole was already way underground and asleep. So Bear too headed off to sleep. When spring came, Bear still had a story to share. Soon his friends were gathered around him to listen, and you will have to read the book to find out what story he shared!
The husband/wife team behind the Caldecott winning A Sick Day for Amos McGee have returned with a book that has a quiet, contemplative beauty that is haunting. It’s one of those picture books that can be read as a quick bedtime story, but has so much more depth than that. Bear’s rather lonely start to his hibernation also has a series of close connections to friends. His spring wake up is filled with a warmth that echoes the seasonal change.
The writing is gentle and filled with small details that really show the slowing nature of the start of winter. There is time to count the clouds and look at the color of the leaves, at least for Bear. The connections between Bear and his many friends are also written with a richness that adds much to the story. The circular nature of the ending is also an invitation to start the book all over again. One that readers will be happy to accept.
Erin Stead’s illustrations have a beautiful delicacy to them. The rounded shoulders of the very furry Bear show a patience and yet a weight too. There are moments of celebration, when Bear is rolling in the newly lush grass that are filled with cheer. It is especially remarkable near the lonely and poignant image of Bear alone as the first snow begins to fall. Lovely.
It’s the perfect time of year to read this book, ease yourself into the winter months and quietly wish autumn farewell. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Lonely Book by Kate Bernheimer, illustrated by Chris Sheban
When the book first arrived at the library, it was shiny and new. It was placed on display and a long list of children waited to read it. Then the book was moved to the regular children’s shelves with other books that were not so new too. It was still happy, since it got checked out often. But as the book grew older, it got checked out less and less. It had a tear and was missing its last page. Then one day, a girl found the book, read it and loved it. She took it home, carried it to school with her, and even shared it at show and tell. The book felt loved again. But the next story time, the girl chose a different book and forgot the special book. She remembered when she got home, but the library was already closed. Then when she got to the library a week later, the book was gone, withdrawn and meant for the book sale. This is a sentimental but gorgeous book that every person who has ever loved a book will enjoy.
When I started this book, I was not a fan. I worried that it would tip into the saccharine and overly sweet. It is sentimental, as I mentioned above, but it never tips too far into that mode. Instead I found myself reading a book that brought me back to the joy of discovering books as a child and finding myself closely attached to them. I still can’t have a logical discussion of the Little House on the Prairie series, since I read them to tatters as a little girl. I love this book for bringing me back to that.
Sheban’s art is soft and dreamy. There are often books that glow with the wonder inside of them, something that book lovers will really appreciate. This is a quiet book, and the art supports that, depicting quiet time reading and bonding with a story.
A great gift for any book-loving child, I think this book will speak most to adults who look fondly back on the books of their childhood. Perhaps a holiday gift for your favorite librarian or reading teacher. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.
When I Was Small by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Julie Morstad
Henry asks his parents what they were like when they were small. The book starts out normally enough with his mother explaining that she was called Dot because her full name, Dorothea, was too big for her. But then things get creative! Dot was so small she wore the same shoes as her doll. She swam in the birdbath. She jumped rope with a piece of yarn. Her bed was a mitten. Her father built her a doll house, and she lived in it. At the end of this story from his mother, the two of them agree that one of the reasons that his mother looked forward to growing up was to share stories with a child of her own.
O’Leary writes with a quiet joy that infuses the entire book. There is a gentle playfulness throughout and children will immediately know that this is a story being told and not the truth. Morstad’s illustrations have a delicacy to them that works particularly well with the more tall tale parts of the story. The illustrations have a sweetness to them that make me think of the old Golden Books. They are never saccharine thanks to their whimsy.
This is the third in the series about Henry, but the first one that I have read. The first book in the series won the 2007 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award in Canada, so that one is definitely worth seeking out too. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from pdf received from Simply Read Books.
You can also view the trailer below:
Mooshka, a Quilt Story by Julie Paschkis
Karla loved her quilt that her grandmother had made for her from scraps. Karla had named the quilt Mooshka. Mooshka kept her warm at night and smelled just right. But the most special thing that Mooska could do was talk. Mooshka would wish Karla sweet dreams and in the morning invite her to pancakes. If Karla couldn’t sleep at night, Mooshka would tell her the story of any patch on the quilt. There were playful stories from tablecloth scraps, romantic stories from a bandana, exciting stories from a red scrap. When baby Hannah moved into Karla’s room, Karla was upset. She tried to get Mooshka to soothe her with a story, but Mooshka would not speak. Then when Hannah woke up crying and could not be settled, Karla found that Mooshka might be able to share stories with other people too.
Paschkis has created a book that speaks to the power of story and family. There is a wonderful spirit of discovery and sharing throughout the book as family stories are shared. The book has a circular feel, coming to a satisfying close that makes the circle complete. This sense of place, history and story brings a richness to the book.
What is most distinctive about the book is its art. Done in ink and gouache, each page is bordered in patchwork, giving the entire book a warm and cozy feel. The patterns also offer a lot of color, making a feast for the eyes as each page is turned.
A warm book about quilts, family and stories, this book is ideal for reading under your own quilt and sharing your family stories there. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.