Review: I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

i want my hat back

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Published September 27, 2011.

I don’t think I can express how much I love this picture book.  It happily breaks all picture book rules by using a very muted palette with punches of color, not having much action at all, and ending with a dark twist.

The bear, who narrates the book in first person, is searching for his hat.  He asks one animal after the next about his hat and no one has seen it.  The only exception is the rabbit who is wearing a distinctive bright red pointy hat and seems to be protesting too much.  The bear continues past him though and on to several more animals until suddenly he realizes that he HAS seen his hat!  He rushes back past all of the animals until he reaches the rabbit.  And to find out what happens next, you will just have to read this humdinger of a picture book.

The illustrations are subtle, clever and in their understated way, hilarious.  The deadpan of the animals, the grasses and rocks near each of them on a tan page, all add up to the perfect background for this surprising story.

Klassen’s wording is perfection.  Each animal has a straight-forward response except the rabbit, so readers will be sure to notice the frenzied excuses being made.  He also incorporates plenty of repetition into the book which makes it flow like a book for preschoolers, but the humor will be enjoyed by older readers most of all.

Get your hands on this one, it is a clever, funny read with a dark twist.  What more could you ask for?  Appropriate for children ages 4-6, but most appreciated by children 7-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.

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Review: Little Pig Joins the Band by David Hyde Costello

little pig joins the band

Little Pig Joins the Band by David Hyde Costello

His family all call Jacob, Little Pig, and he is the smallest in his family.  So when his siblings get out his Grandpa’s old marching-band instruments, Little Pig has trouble finding one that fits him.  He’s far too small for the drums, too little for the trumpet and trombone, and don’t even ask about the tuba!  All he can do is watch as his older brothers and sisters march around the room.  But when they come to a crashing stop, Little Pig knows just how he can join the band after all.

This simple story speaks to everyone finding their own niche and value in a family.  Here, Little Pig finds the special place for himself rather than the older children or adults helping him.  It makes for a very powerful message for young children, that not only do they have value but they can discover it on their own. 

Costello writes with simplicity and a solid feel.  His story has small, clever asides that are filled with puns as well.  His art is friendly and cheerful.  Little Pig has an oversized snout, small eyes and expressive ears.  Even the older children are treated as individuals in the art, with one decked out in hat and a boa.  I can see more stories about the children in this family.

A strong story about finding your place and becoming a leader, this book has a cheery feel that is very appealing.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

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Review: The Umbrella by Ingrid & Dieter Schubert


The Umbrella by Ingrid & Dieter Schubert

A wordless story told in vivid images, this book will whirl readers into an adventure.  A small dog finds a red umbrella and sails up in the autumn breeze into the air.  He walks on the clouds, visits Africa with its elephants and alligators, yikes!  Off he heads into the air again, carried this time to the expanse of the ocean where his umbrella serves as a boat.  Until that is, he sinks down below the surface only to be blown high from a whale’s spout.  He is carried into the jungle in a strong breeze and then caught by a pelican and lifted higher.  Then down onto the snowy peak to be met with the applause of seals.  His umbrella becomes a sled, sweeping past polar bears and then up into the air again.  Bats join him in flight until down below amid the autumn leaves, his house appears.  He puts the umbrella back where he found it and where a cat who has watched him come and go just might have an adventure too.

There is a wildness to this book that is as refreshing as a strong autumnal wind.  It comes from the wandering of the breezes and the wildlife that the little dog experiences.  The book captures his emotions with great skill from the delight of sledding down snowy hills to the utter exhaustion at the end of his travels. 

This is a book that does not need words.  The images capture the story fully, allowing readers to create their own story from the expanse of world that they get to see.  Children will revel in walking on top of clouds, of meeting elephants, of escaping arrows, and of finding the way back home. 

A perfect read for fall that will inspire imagination, this book opens and closes with gusts of wind and swirls of autumn leaves.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Lemniscaat.

Review: My Name Is Elizabeth! by Annika Dunklee

my name is elizabeth

My Name Is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklee, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe

Elizabeth really likes her name, her full name.  She likes its length, the way it feels when she says it, and also that there is a queen named after her!  But she doesn’t like it when people shorten it to things like Liz, Lizzy, or Beth.  So she announces that her name is ELIZABETH Alfreda Roxanne Carmelita Bluebell Jones.  But you can just call her Elizabeth.  Now everyone has it right, except for one little person, her younger brother.  It’s close enough when he calls her “Wizabef.”

Dunklee captures the joys and pains of having a name that can be shortened in this book.  Children with a variety of names will understand the conflict of having a name they love but that others feel free to change.  My own name, Tasha, is already a shortened version of my full name, so I choose to go by a nickname.  Only the DMV calls me by my full name.  😉

Forsythe’s illustrations give this book a distinctive feel.  He uses a limited palette of blue, orange and black.  Throughout the book, Elizabeth is accompanied by a friendly duck.  The duck is never mentioned in the text, but offers a unique vibe to the book and to the central character.  The illustrations have a vintage feel thanks to the palette, yet the colors are modern and so is the art itself. 

Highly recommended, this book will speak to boys and girls with names that they feel strongly about.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.

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Review: A Stranger at Home by Christy Jordan-Fenton

stranger at home

A Stranger at Home: A True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes

This sequel to Fatty Legs takes place after Margaret has spent two years at a residential school.  As Margaret finally returns home to her family, she does not expect her mother not to recognize her or for her transition back into the family to be so difficult.  She can’t eat the food her family eats because her stomach rejects it.  She has forgotten how to speak their language and can only talk in English.  The mukluks hurt her feet and she returns to wearing the canvas shoes she was given at school.  Slowly, she begins learn once again the culture that she had lost.  But then she faces the heartrending choice of whether to return to school with her little sisters or allow them to go alone.  This true story speaks to the tragedy of residential schools on Native peoples, an impact they are still recovering from.

A large part of the success of these books comes in their writing.  It is simply written with large, welcoming print.  The writing is matter-of-fact, not laden with imagery.  It is that straight honest writing that truly captures the loss and the pain.  It doesn’t allow a reader anywhere to hide, nowhere to duck away from the truth. 

The book does deal with subjects that are large and complex.  Yet the writing makes them infinitely readable and relatable.  Seeing the situation through Margaret’s eyes allows it to be personal and very effective.

The illustrations are an intriguing combination of historical photographs and drawings.  Where the photos are often in black and white, the illustrations themselves are done in deep colors that show the beauty of the landscape as well as the conflict within Margaret’s family. 

A strong sequel to the original, this book shows very clearly the lasting damage created by residential schools.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Annick Press.

Review: Binky under Pressure by Ashley Spires

binky under pressure

Binky under Pressure by Ashley Spires

Released September 1, 2011.

Binky is still a space cat and still protecting his humans from the alien invaders.  His life has become rather dull.  Then one morning, Gracie arrives.  She’s a new kitty his humans have adopted.  Binky tries to explain that this is HIS space station and these are HIS humans.  But Gracie doesn’t seem interested in giving up her new home or even Binky’s favorite toys.  It’s not until Binky spots Gracie defeat an alien with incredible finesse that he starts to wonder if maybe she isn’t what she seems to be.  This new Binky book will thrill fans of the series as Binky faces his biggest challenge yet.

Spires has created a series of books that have a strong sense of humor and great storylines.  She writes with dexterity and ease that readers will enjoy.   The illustrations in this graphic novel use many interesting perspectives and incorporate plenty of humor visually as well.  The palette for the books is subdued, giving it a signature look.

Highly recommended for fans of the series.  If you haven’t enjoyed the Binky series yet, start at the beginning.   I envy those lucky enough to read all three of the books in quick succession.  They are such fun!  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.

Review: The Crossing by Donna Jo Napoli


The Crossing by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Jim Madsen

A gorgeous retelling of the Lewis and Clark story, told through the eyes of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the infant that Sacagawea carried on her back during their explorations.  Readers will see mountains, rivers and forests.  They will also meet bear, elk, cougars and more.  Napoli’s poem captures the rhythm of the journey, the stroke of the oars, the moments of quiet.  It is an immersive book where readers get to see the glory of the land that makes up our country, unspoiled by man-made structures.

Napoli’s verse incorporates many senses.  There are the sounds of the animals and humans that work to bring the entire setting to life.  There are the views that the baby sees, a wildness that is a large part of the story, a sense of expanse and freedom.   The author’s note adds much to the book, including the duration and length of the journey.

Madsen’s illustrations have a depth to them that adds much to this title.  He uses deep colors and uses the beauty of the land as the perfect inspiration for his work.  There are small moments of a child growing from infant to toddler, but also moments where the world is spread before them and reveled in. 

A beautiful and creative look at Sacagawea’s journey with Lewis and Clark, this book is a luminous look at the origins of our country.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Also reviewed by The Fourth Musketeer and Kiss the Book.

Review: Cows to the Rescue by John Himmelman

cows to the rescue

Cows to the Rescue by John Himmelman

This third book in a hilarious series follows Chickens to the Rescue and Pigs to the Rescue.  It’s time for the county fair where there will be plenty of opportunities for the cows to save the day.  They help when the truck won’t start by carrying the family, the pigs and the duck to the fair.  They fill in during the three-legged race so that Jeffrey would have someone to race with.  They help the duck win the Handsomest Duck contest by getting him cleaned up.  They filled in for family pictures at the fair.  In the end, they have done so much that they can’t make it home.  So it’s up to the duck to try to get everyone back to the farm.  Look out for the next book, which just might be Duck to the Rescue.

Himmelman has a great touch for humor, painting it in broad strokes without holding back.  His words may be simple, but they have a jolliness that make it a pleasure to read.  His use of page turns to delay the cow’s solutions also adds great timing into the book. 

His illustrations have a pleasant cartoon quality to them, which definitely adds to the humor of the title.  From the duck that gets caught up in the action to the tiny pig who has a great personality of his own, this book has so much to look at and enjoy.

If you enjoyed the first two books, make sure to check this one out.  And if you haven’t read the first two, you can start at any point.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Company.

Review: The Bear Who Shared by Catherine Rayner

bear who shared

The Bear Who Shared by Catherine Rayner

Norris, the bear, knew that the plorringes were the best fruits.  So he waited under the plorringe tree because he knew something special was going to happen.  Tulip and Violet, a mouse and a raccoon, knew that plorringes were the best too.  They were able to climb up in the tree to get closer to the single hanging plorringe.  They could see how delicious it looked and smell its delicious scent.  They listened to it and hugged it too.  They were just about to lick it when it fell off of the tree and down right onto Norris’ head.  Now Norris was closest to the plorringe and had it all to himself.  But just as Norris was patient, he was also a very nice bear.  The type of bear who would not only share but would make some new friends doing it.

The story here is one that has been shared in many picture books.  Rayner’s writing has a gentle repetition that is almost not noticeable.  She has a playfulness and a warmth to her writing that makes it a pleasure to read aloud.

It is the illustrations that make this book something extraordinary.  There is the brawny brown of the bear done in overlapping paint that show his girth and weight, but also his sturdiness and steadiness.   Then the raccoon is a mash of black and grays, blending and merrily mixing, capturing the dynamic movements.  The mouse is all delicate line and a whisper of pink expression for the tail.  The plorringe is yellows, reds and pinks, a mix of mango, plum, and guava.

A book about sharing and friendship that will be loved due to the illustrations.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books for Young Readers.