Review: The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson

highway rat

The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The creators of The Gruffalo return for an uproarious version of a beloved poem.  Beware, for the Highway Rat is coming and he’s out to steal everyone’s snacks.  He rides along with food dropping out of his saddlebags, accosting poor travelers at sword point, demanding their goodies.  He steals clover from a rabbit who has nothing else, a leaf from some ants, even hay from his own horse.  Eventually though, the Highway Rat meets his match in a juicy-looking duck who directs him into a cave where the echo seems to promise food.  Then the Highway Rat rides no more.

I love a good riff on a traditional poem, and this one is very clever.  Those familiar with The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes will particularly enjoy the play Donaldson makes with its form.  She incorporates familiar phrasing like “And the Highway Rat went riding – riding –riding – riding along the highway.”  Somehow her other words which are quite different from the poem have a similar rhythm and evoke the poem effortlessly.

Scheffler’s illustrations have a wonderful bold quality to them.  The Highway Rat is truly a bad guy and his naughtiness is clearly shown in his actions and his aspect.  His googly-eyed horse is a pleasure, almost always making eye-contact with the reader and sharing the joke of this evil rat riding on his back.  The rich colors of the landscape add a depth to the illustrations that is very welcome.

The tale of an evil highwayman (or rat) makes for a great read.  Add in strong illustrations and the play on a well-known poem, and you have picture book magic.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

Review: Who Put the Cookies in the Cookie Jar? by George Shannon

who put the cookies in the cookie jar

Who Put the Cookies in the Cookie Jar? by George Shannon, illustrated by Julie Paschkis

Lots of hands can take the cookie from the cookie jar, but even more are involved in getting the cookies there in the first place.  There are the hands that mix the dough and put it on the cookie sheet.  Then there are the ones that made the cookie sheet and oven mitts too.  Hands feed and milk the cow that makes the milk. Hands churn the butter.  Hands plant and harvest the wheat.  Hands feed and gather the eggs.  Many hands doing important work, make that cookie arrive in the cookie jar.

This is a great spin on a traditional song.  I’d pair it with the more traditional version in a program to get kids to see it from both sides.  Shannon celebrates all of the hard work that goes into things that we take for granted.  He focuses on their efforts but also on all of us being part of a larger global community that really matters. 

Paschkis’ illustrations have a warm feel to them.  They hearken back to more traditional images yet depict a modern and multicultural world.  Their bright colors really make the book pop and will work well with a large group.

Perfect for a cookie story time, I’d advise having some cookies to share when reading this and other cookie books.  Yum!  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Company.

Astrid Lindgren Award Winner

The Argentinian illustrator Isol has won the 2013 Astrid Lindgren Award.  The award is the largest award in children’s literature with around $780,000 in prize money.  According to The Guardian, Isol is the author and illustrator of ten books on her own as well as collaborating with the poet Jorge Luján. 

The jury praises her work:

"With a restrained palette and ever-innovative pictorial solutions, she shifts ingrained perspectives and pushes the boundaries of the picture book medium," they wrote in their citation. "Taking children’s clear view of the world as her starting point, she addresses their questions with forceful artistic expression and offers open answers. With liberating humour and levity, she also deals with the darker aspects of existence."