Lots of Dots: Plenty of Colorful Fun


Lots of Dots by Craig Frazier

This bright and fanciful book takes dots to a new level, celebrating all of the ways that dots and circles are in our life.  There are dots that are buttons, dots as flowers, dots as scoops of ice cream!  All in bright, vivacious colors that add to the joyful nature of this picture book.  The rhyming text is very simple, allowing the emphasis to be on the illustrations that are colorful, graphic and very fun.  This is a book that will have readers and listeners smiling at every page.

Frazier’s illustrations here have a great style that is very modern and still warm and friendly.  The humans in the illustrations are shown as a single color, eliminating any racial context and creating a book that is welcoming for any child.  Done in crisp white with bright colors, the pages almost shout with energy. 

Perfect for sharing with a group of toddlers or preschoolers, this book would  make a great jumping off point for crafts using round stickers or stamps.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Pirate of Kindergarten


The Pirate of Kindergarten by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Lynne Avril

Ginny could see two of everything.  She loved Reading Circle at school, but it was hard to get there because she saw double the number of chairs, so she always ran into some of them.  To read her own book, Ginny had to put her nose down close to the pages and even then she saw two of each of the words.  She could tighten her brain to remember to read each word only once, but even then she quietly said them a second time to herself.  Squinting at the pages helped, but her teacher asked her not to.  She had trouble cutting with scissors and ended up with a rabbit with three ears.  Everything changed the day that vision screening happened at school.  When it was Ginny’s turn to read from the chart, she read each letter twice.  The nurse there told her that she had to go to a doctor to see what could be done for her double vision.  And that’s how with an eye patch, Ginny became a pirate at Kindergarten. 

Lyon’s writing has a natural ease about it combined with a skillful pacing.  Readers are shown the way that Ginny sees the world through tangible examples that young children will understand and relate to easily.  The amount of text per page is just right for sharing with preschoolers and Kindergarteners.  Avril’s illustrations are bright and vibrant.  The pages filled with double vision allow readers to see through Ginny’s eyes.  The confusion of the jumble of chairs, the struggle with lines and scissors, and the doubling of words when she reads.  These are all demonstrated directly on the page. 

A cheery view of a child who sees the world differently than most, this book is appropriate for ages 4-6. 

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

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Just One Bite: A Big Gulp of Fun Science


Just One Bite by Lola Schaefer, illustrated by Geoff Waring

Explore the world of eleven animals through how much they can eat in one bite.  Filled with fascinating facts, this book offers just enough information in the body of the book to entice readers to read the longer versions in the back.  Readers will marvel at the tiny amount of food a worm eats, the amazing tongue of the giraffe that eases around thorns, and the tremendous size of a whale’s meal.  This is a book that makes science friendly and great fun. 

Cleverly written, this book will appeal to a wide range of ages.  Thanks to the simple text and large bright illustrations, preschoolers will enjoy the book, and older children will also find plenty of depth to keep their interest in the final pages.  Schaefer’s simple text is welcoming and warm, inviting readers to wonder along with her about these creatures and their meals.  Waring’s illustrations are large, expansive and charmingly simple.  His use of bright colored backgrounds make the illustrations really pop.

With its large size, this book will shout to readers to pick it up and take a look.  It is a book that is sure to find its way easily into children’s hands, but it will also be welcome in story times as a great nonfiction pick for reading aloud.  Appropriate for ages 3-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Nibbles: A Green Tale


Nibbles: A Green Tale by Charlotte Middleton

The guinea pigs of Dandeville loved eating dandelion leaves.  Nibbles loved eating them even more than he loved playing soccer.  He ate them for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.  But then dandelion leaves started to run low.  Cabbage began replacing it on restaurant menus and dandelion leaves became a hot commodity on the Internet.  Eventually, there were no more dandelion leaves because they had all been eaten.  All but one dandelion that was growing outside of Nibbles’ window.  Even though Nibbles wanted badly to eat the leaves, he didn’t.  Instead he started to do research on dandelion and began to take very good care of his dandelion.  He waited patiently until it grew seeds and then headed to a tall hill where he blew the seeds into the air.  Soon the fields were filled with dandelions again, and Nibbles had found something besides eating dandelions that he loved.  Growing them!

This is a very appealing book that takes the lesson of renewable resources to a level that even small children can understand.  Middleton’s brilliant choice was to use dandelion greens as the scarce resource, because we all have dandelions taking over our lawns and gardens.  In this way she made something that we see as a nuisance into a commodity.   Middleton’s mixed media art is friendly, filled with round-bellied guinea pigs and plenty of green.  The hair tufts and whiskers done in real fuzz and string make the illustrations engaging and interesting. 

A great choice when talking with preschoolers about going green or gardening, this book will be a welcome addition to units and story times.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Marshall Cavendish.

Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly: Serving Up Imagination


Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly by Carolyn Parkhurst, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

Henry is doing a pretend cooking show with his 2-year-old little sister Eleanor, whom he calls Elliebelly.  They have plans to demonstrate the incredible-sounding “raspberry-marshmallow-peanut butter waffles with barbecued banana bacon.”  But first they have to do their theme song.  And then they need to put on their chef hats.  That’s where things start to go awry, because Elliebelly insists that they must wear pirate hats instead.  In the argument that follows, Henry doesn’t get any help from his off-page mother, so he copes as best he can.  Now wearing pirate hats, next incorporating dolls into the hosting and then the recipes, and finally trying to explain that all of their effort was for pretend waffles.  Luckily, their mother has some real waffles waiting for them, but probably not any barbecued banana bacon on the side.

Parkhurst has captured the interplay between siblings perfectly here.  There are the moments where everything is going fine, and then those bumpy patches, and finally when it all falls apart.  The interjections from the off-page mother are funny, well-timed and not very helpful, as mother interjections tend to be.  The characters of the two children are well drawn.  Henry is a great big brother but is not above complete exasperation as his plans fall to bits around him. 

The emphasis on pretending and the flexibility of ideas is a pleasure to read.  I love that there is no frantic notion of cleanliness here, the children are allowed to play, allowed to work their way through disagreements, and yet there is an adult right there if needed.  And yes, they make a splendid mess as most children do. 

Yaccarino’s art lends a great modern vibe to a book that could have skewed differently.  His visual interplay of the two children adds to the appeal.  He also supports the humor of the text, as with the first picture of Henry after putting on the pirate hat.  Pure misery, but oh so funny!

Funny, clever and imaginative, this book reads aloud like a dream.  If you are doing a unit or story time on cooking, this will make a great addition, especially for slightly older children who will relate best to the humor of a younger sibling.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel & Friends.

Rooster Prince of Breslov


The Rooster Prince of Breslov by Ann Redisch Stampler, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

When the prince decided to leave the splendor of his life as royalty behind and become a rooster, only one man could save him.  The king and queen had tried doctors and magicians, but nothing worked.  Only one old man was left to try.  The old man joined the prince in his fantasy, also acting like a rooster by removing his clothes and pecking at the floor.  This went on for a day.  At the end of the second day, the old man pointed to two mattresses that had been placed in the room and asked the prince what they were.  The man then asked why people should be the only ones to sleep comfortably and the prince agreed.  They both slept on mattresses that night.  The next day, black bread arrived.  And through similar persuasion, the man got the prince to eat.  This progressed until there was a table and chairs and a warm blanket.  On the sixth day, they wore clothes again.  And on the seventh day, there was the Sabbath feast.  In the end, the prince returned to being a prince, but always remembered that he had once been a rooster.

Stampler has taken this beloved Yiddish folk tale and tuned it for modern audiences.  She allows the humor of the situations to stand on their own, not overplaying it at all.  Her writing has a nice arc that speaks to the overwhelming nature of indulgence and the need to sometimes throw it all away.  She also honors the teachers of the world, those that listen and understand, those that join us right in the trenches of life and help us navigate them.  The book reads aloud nicely with each day carrying repetition from the first, underlining the folk tale heritage of the story.

Yelchin’s illustrations are wonderfully peculiar, suiting the story well.  He uses interesting perspectives to show the man and the prince together, sometimes from above, sometimes from behind, sometimes from the side.  It lends a lot of dynamism to the book.  The illustrations are brightly colored and unique.

A book about finding wisdom and learning to be a man by becoming a rooster, this folk tale is a delight to read.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Mr. Putney’s Quacking Dog: Word Play Fun


Mr. Putney’s Quacking Dog by Jon Agee

I love puns.  Frankly, I couldn’t have groan up in my family without loving them.  Winking smile  So this book is write up my alley!  Mr. Putney has a lot of animal friends, but you have to guess their names.  The word play is a combination of illustrations and words with half of the joke coming from the text and half from the pictures.  Some of the word play is easier than others, but all is amusing and some will have you laughing out loud.  This book would be a stitch with a group of kids who enjoy reading and words.  In fact, it would make a great basis of an art project or for a writing project to create their own puns. 

Agee’s illustrations are in his signature style.  Outlined in thick black lines, they are disarmingly simple and filled with a sly humor.  An ideal companion to the book’s concept, they add appeal to the word play.  Mr. Putney is a straight-laced character whose reactions are satisfying and funny as he deals with each of the unique animals in the book.  There is a certain delight in seeing him doused, thrown into the air, or just shocked by a loud noise.

Get this into the hands of kids who love guessing games and word play.  Or just into the hands of any punny folks you know.  Appropriate for ages 5-8. 

Reviewed from library copy.

Crazy: Compelling and Hopeful


Crazy by Han Nolan

Jason is trying his best to cope.  His mother died of a sudden stroke, leaving him caring for his mentally-ill father.  With no money coming in, Jason struggles to feed them both and heat the house.  There is no time for caring for the house itself or even for himself.  Jason has no friends and is spending a lot of time with the imaginary friends in his head.  He can’t tell anyone about them though, because he’s afraid that they are proof that he is crazy like his father.  He is also very frightened that if anyone finds out his father’s condition, they will put him away and Jason will have no one.  After another run-in with a teacher, Jason is required to spend his lunches with the school’s counselor and a small group of students.  Jason finds himself slowly opening up to them, and even allowing them to help him when his father disappears one wintery night.  But his fears may not have been unjustified as Jason’s carefully constructed world falls apart around him.  Written with great humor and warmth, this is a compelling story about a boy struggling under the tremendous weight of mental illness.

Nolan writes in punchy sentences that carry so much more emotion than one might expect.  Jason’s imaginary friends add a large amount of humor to the book, despite the fact that they may be a symptom of mental illness.  Readers will related to Jason as a character, understand his motivations immediately.  He is a likeable and believable protagonist who has survived amazingly well.  The three friends he makes are also very interesting characters, a girl dealing with her mother dying, a boy trying to handle his parent’s brutal divorce, and another boy dealing with a parent’s addiction.  Each gives readers a glimpse of their own situation.  Nolan nicely equates mental illness with other issues, exposing what can be considered a shameful secret alongside those that are more accepted in our society.

I don’t want to give much of the story away, but Nolan deals very well with the aid that Jason receives both at school and outside of school.  This book offers a view of the system that is often lacking: it is a system with rules but that can also work to remove a teen from an impossible situation into a much improved one.  She offers hope here.  Both a hope for true friends and a hope for family.

Highly recommended, this is a book of despair and hope.  Pair this with another great read about parental mental illness: A Blue So Dark.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from NetGalley digital galley.  Read on the iPad.

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It Gets Better

I’m sure many of you are aware of the incredible It Gets Better campaign.  Take a look at this beautiful and heart-felt video from author Cheryl Rainfield.