Review: Too Tall Houses by Gianna Marino

too tall houses

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.

Review: Kel Gilligan’s Daredevil Stunt Show by Michael Buckley

kel gilligan

Kel Gilligan’s Daredevil Stunt Show by Michael Buckley, illustrated by Dan Santat

Kel is a daredevil, willing to take on enormous challenges and risk his own safety!  He took on the challenge of eating broccoli and survived without a scratch.  He had the courage to face down “The Potty of Doom” though it did take longer than he expected.  He even managed to get dressed by himself without a net.  He has tested his underwater skills by taking a bath with only one assistant.  And has even survived his mother being on the phone without interrupting, though it was close.  When Kel faces his final challenge of the day, you may have to avert your eyes, because he will be trying to go to bed without checking for monsters first!  This is one picture book only for the bravest of readers.

Buckley’s language is over the top in the best possible way.  Kel speaks as if he is announcing his challenges to a large crowd, all rooting for him.  Buckley even gives that crowd a voice, interjecting amazement at this brave young man and what he is trying to do.  The language alone is enough to get you laughing.

Combined with Santat’s illustrations, this book will actually make you laugh out loud.  The incredulous faces of those in the crowd, the bare buttocks that you glimpse occasionally, and the pride of Kel as he defeats another obstacle, all add to the humor here. 

Give this one to kids a little older, since they will appreciate looking back on their own accomplishments in a humorous way.  Expect a cacophony of laughter when the The Potty of Doom appears.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.

Review: Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems

goldilocks and the three dinosaurs

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems

Willems never seems to miss with his books and this one is a real treat.  Think of chocolate-stuffed little girl bonbons sort of treat!  Here the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is changed so that you have three dinosaurs instead.  But there’s another really big difference, the three dinosaurs are most certainly NOT setting a trap for Goldilocks.  And those three huge bowls of chocolate pudding are just a coincidence, as well as the open front door.  The ladder to help her reach the pudding is not part of the trap either.  All of those noises in the woods are also not dinosaurs arguing about when to pounce, they are the wind.  Even Goldilocks, who never notices anything, starts to realize that something odd is going on in her story, but not before the trap is sprung!

The tone of this book is really what makes it work so very well.  It’s the narrator explaining what is happening by using a sarcastic tone and explaining what is not happening.  Thanks to the tone, children will immediately understand that something is afoot, though the book is insisting that nothing at all is wrong.  It’s a delight to read aloud, because as always Willem’s books have the perfect pacing for sharing.

The illustrations are classic Willems as well.  Pigeon and Piggie would be right at home in these pages too.  The illustrations too have small touches.  Make sure you read the welcome mats and the end pages. 

Another fantastic read from Mo Willems.  Add this to your dinosaur story times or units on twisted fairy tales.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Balzer + Bray.

Review: The Wild Book by Margarita Engle

wild book

The Wild Book by Margarita Engle

Told in poems, this is the story of Engle’s maternal grandmother and her struggle with dyslexia.  Known as Fefa, her grandmother was diagnosed with “word blindness” and told she would never read or write.  Luckily, Fefa’s mother has an idea.  She gives her daughter a blank book to fill with words, as if she is scattering wildflower seeds on the ground.  At first Fefa’s words are hesitant and stilted, like seedlings.  But steadily her writing and reading improve as she learns to take her time and gains confidence.  And that reading is what saves her and her siblings from being kidnapped in the chaos following Cuba’s fight for independence.

Engle writes a gripping series of poems that range from celebrating the written word to the difficulties of dyslexia to the triumph of overcoming.  Over the entire book the threat of violence and kidnappings hangs low and dark.  It is clear that this is not a modern story from the very beginning and Engle cleverly reveals the extent of the chaos the family is living in the midst of through Fefa herself and her own growing knowledge.

As always, Engle’s verse is exceptional.  Often her individual poems could be read one their own.  Yet it is as one complete story that they really show their beauty.  There are many exceptional stanzas to share, but one of my favorites comes early in the novel:

Frog Fear


My little brothers love

to frighten me

by hiding lizards,

bugs, and spiders

in my bloomers.


Today it’s a frog,

but they tell me it’s a snake,

so I scream and tremble

until I can clearly see

that the little creature

jumps around

like jittery letters

on a blinding



The skin of a frog

feels just as slippery

and tricky as a wild

inky word.

Engle traces the love of words and poetry Fefa’s own mother, who shares poems with her family.  It’s a beautiful celebration of that history and those words.

This novel in verse is a powerful look at Cuba’s history and also at dyslexia and overcoming challenges.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Nightsong by Ari Berk


Nightsong by Ari Berk, illustrated by Loren Long

Chiro is a very young bat whose mother tells him that it is time for him to head out on a solo flight for the first time.  Chiro is very worried about how he will see in the dark, but his mother encourages him to “Sing, and the world will answer.” So Chiro heads out on his own.  At first, he tries to fly without singing, but it is too dark.  Then when he sings, he suddenly sees in color.  Chiro explores and sees all sorts of things through his song.  When he gets to the pond and all of its insects, their songs sound like breakfast to him.  His mother had warned him not to go too far unless his song was strong.  But Chiro is confident and heads out across the pond to see even more of the world through his song.

Berk’s writing is lyrical and lovely.  He captures subtleties and beauty in his words, offering insight about what Chiro is seeing through his echolocation.  When Chiro uses his song for the first time, Berk writes about it like this: “Tall trees called out to him, chanted the length of their long branches and the girths of their rough trunks.” As you can see, he asks children to reach higher with their language, inviting them to explore like Chiro does.

Long’s illustrations are a study in dark patterns and then bursts of color.  Chiro is an exceedingly cute little bat, flying against haunting branches of shadow.  When he sings, children will see the world come to life too, strengthened even more by Berk’s language.  This is a beautiful book, perfect for a summer pajama story time.

A dark delight of a bat’s life, this book is lush in both language and imagery.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

Everything Goes by Brian Biggs

everything goes in the air

Everything Goes in the Air by Brian Biggs

Brian Biggs has several new books out which is great news for youngsters who love cars, trucks and airplanes.  Everything Goes in the Air takes Henry and his family on an airplane ride.  Readers get to  visit a bustling airport, where they can search for lost babies.  From vintage airplanes to modern ones, we learn about the different parts of a place and the various types they come in.  Modern airport security is explained, then the book turns to helicopters and hot air balloons.  Just before takeoff, children get to see inside the cockpit and marvel at the crowded airspace.  Then it’s up, up and away!

Biggs’ crowded pages show the hustle and hurry of an airport.  His friendly art and seek-and-find activities will keep children busy exploring the pages.  Information is given in small bits, mostly through conversations that are shown in cartoon bubbles.  This is a marvelously fun and exciting way to explore airplanes and airports.

A great pick for a plane ride, or to help prepare children for an upcoming flight, this book has such detailed illustrations that it is best shared with just one child at a time.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

everything goes 123 everything goes stop go

Everything Goes: 123 Beep Beep Beep!: A Counting Book by Brian Biggs

Everything Goes: Stop! Go!: A Book of Opposites by Brian Biggs

These two board books simplify the busy style of Biggs into books that are more appropriate for toddlers.  Here the bright colors and cartoon-style illustrations pop.  The counting book goes up to ten, each page offering a different sort of vehicle to count.  They range from RVs to busses.  The opposites book again uses vehicles to show things like dirty and clean, old and new, ending with stop and go. 

Very young children who enjoy cars, trucks and other vehicles will love these board books.  Expect the basic text to be accompanied with lots of motor sounds from the audience!  Appropriate for ages 1-3.

All items reviewed from copies received from Balzer + Bray.

Review: The Day Louis Got Eaten by John Fardell

day louis got eaten

The Day Louis Got Eaten by John Fardell

When Louis and his big sister, Sarah, were out in the woods, Louis got eaten by a Gulper.  Sarah didn’t panic, she got something she thought she might need and rode after them.  But just as she had almost caught them, the Gulper was eaten by a Grabular.  Sarah continued to follow but just as she almost reached the Grabular, it was eaten by an Undersnatch.  The Undersnatch was eaten by a Spiney-backed Guzzler.  The Guzzler was eaten by a Yumper.  Sarah approached the Yumper as it slept, but how in the world was she going to save Louis? 

Fardell delights in the ridiculous here and young audiences will too.  The series of monsters that feast on one another makes for a very silly read, each monster more strange than the last and larger too.  Sarah is a wonderful heroine and really the main character of the book.  As she chases the monsters, she slowly converts her bicycle into a new and amazing contraption that can paddle on water, run underwater, zoom with the wind, or even walk on stick legs.  She’s not only resourceful but she remains calm too. 

Fardell’s illustrations are detailed and wonderful.  He makes each monster unique and intriguing.  The illustrations are done in pen and ink and watercolor.  Fardell manages to get such detail in his illustrations that it’s a real surprise when the monsters appear against such a realistic background.  At the same time, the detail doesn’t remove any of the playfulness.  It just makes the illustrations all the more fun to linger with.

An ideal read-aloud, this book is one of those that you can use to settle wiggly kids.  They won’t be able to resist the storyline, the monsters, and a great ending.  Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Seed by Seed by Esme Raji Codell

seed by seed

Seed by Seed: The Legend and Legacy of John “Appleseed” Chapman by Esme Raji Codell, illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins

Two modern children are transported back in time from the busy highways filled with cars to the quiet woods of the late 1700s.  From there, the story of Johnny Appleseed, really named John Chapman, is told.  The differences between the world back then and our modern world are explored.  Then the way of life that Johnny Appleseed embraced that of using what you have, respecting nature, sharing, making peace, and reaching your destination in small steps is tied back to how important those things are still for us today.  His planting of seeds changed the landscape of our country.  The book ends asking what seed you will plant.

Codell writes with a wonderful lyricism paired with a directness.  It makes for a book that is straight-forward but also written with care to create a specific mood.  Chapman’s story is filled with legend, especially in his relationship with nature and animals.  While some of it may be tall tales, it contributes to the wonder that surrounds this man.  Codell made a choice to have some of that in her book and it works very well, distinctly noted as legend rather than fact.

Perkins’ illustrations vary from page to page.  Most of the art is done in watercolor and gouache, creating bright colored images that embrace the natural and feel clear and crisp.  Other pages incorporate burlap bags and needlework.  It’s a clever use of materials of the period that really add another dimension to the illustrations.

A beautiful look at a man who stand for much of what we are seeking in modern society.  This book reaches beyond the legend and finds the real Johnny Appleseed.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

This Week’s Tweets and Pins

Here are the links I shared on my Twitter and Pinterest accounts this week that you might find interesting:


Best of the Best Children’s Books Reading List – Chicago Public Library


New York Public Library Offers Peek at Renovation –

Writers and Their Books: Inside the Personal Libraries of Famous Authors | Brain Pickings


Guardian kills its Facebook social reader, regains control over its content — Tech News and Analysis

Instagram says it now has the right to sell your photos | Politics and Law|CNET News

Twitter Now Has More Than 200 Million Monthly Active Users –

Twitter’s Giving You Your Data Back, Enables Archiving | Fast Company


Wall of Books: 140+ Books for the Boys of YA – The Readventurer – #yalit