Review: Leo Loves Baby Time by Anna McQuinn

leo loves baby time

Leo Loves Baby Time by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Ruth Hearson

A follow-up to the wonderful Lola series, this new book aims for a slightly younger audience.  It focuses on Lola’s little brother, Leo.  Leo loves going to Baby Time at the public library.  He gets to play games, sing lots of songs, play with animals and make friends.  The book also focuses on Leo getting ready to go.  He has breakfast, sits in his stroller and heads to the library.  Families who go to similar programs at their public library will enjoy seeing the familiar games and songs here.  Those who haven’t tried it yet, may be inspired to climb into their strollers and head on over.

As someone who works in a library, McQuinn clearly understands how programs for babies work.  She highlights all of the positive things that the programs do.  She also limits the words on the page to make this book ideal for very young children who are just heading to their first library programs.  Hearson’s illustrations have a cheery warmth to them that really capture children interacting in a program and connecting with one another too. 

Printed on sturdy pages, this book is safe to hand to very small children who are progressing past board books.  It would also be a great one to use with families just starting to use libraries in your community.  Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

Review: Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

five six seven nate

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

This sequel to the award-winning Better Nate Than Ever is one of the strongest second books in a series I have read.  After getting cast as ET in the upcoming ET: The Musical, Nate is now living in New York City with his aunt who is also an actress.  But Broadway isn’t everything that Nate has dreamed it would be.  There seems to be a feud between the video-game creator who is their director and the choreographer.  Nate is an understudy and a member of the chorus but he can’t tap dance and is put into extra classes to improve.  But there are also high points.  Nate has a secret admirer who leaves notes and gifts, and he certain he knows who it is.  Nate is also secretly helping another of the ET actors with her lines and they become close friends over manicures.  Like any great Broadway story there are twists and turns and some romance too.  It’s one hell of a second act.

Federle writes in a way that is so easy to read and creates books that are impossible to put down until the final curtain falls.  This ease of reading though is because he is really writing directly for children in a way that is open, honest and speaks to all children whether they are actors or not.  Add in Nate’s questioning his sexual identity and you have a book with plenty of depth.

What Federle does best is to create characters who surprise and delight.  Nate himself captures this.  Nate could come off as a stereotypical actor, but instead because the book is in first person, Nate reveals all of his inner dialogue.  Much of which is screamingly funny.  But Nate is not the only deep character here.  Even tertiary characters are interesting and offer glimpses of how unique they are.  Among the secondary characters, there are many who would make great books all on their own.  Federle is a master of creating characters and making us care for them.

Bravo!  This is a smash production filled with humor and delight.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Review: Little Monkey Calms Down by Michael Dahl

little monkey calms down

Little Monkey Calms Down by Michael Dahl, illustrated by Oriol Vidal

This is the latest in the Hello Genius series and is a nice addition.  Little Monkey is having a very bad day.  He has an ice cream cone, but it drops on the floor.  Little Monkey throws a tantrum but then uses some coping techniques to calm back down.  First, he lets himself cry a bit, then snuggles with a blanket.  He takes deep breaths, sings quietly and is still and relaxed.  Once he feels calmer, his parents give him lots of loving attention and they are set to have a good day.

This book handles toddler tantrums in a very positive and child-centered way.  It offers ideas for even the youngest children to model.  The narrator voice sounds like a parental voice, so its advice is offered lovingly.  I particularly appreciate a book that tells a child it is fine to cry after a disappointment.  The entire book exudes warmth and love for this little monkey.

Vidal’s illustrations are invitingly cartoon-styled.  Little Monkey’s tantrum is really something to behold but so is his final quiet time where the page shines with bliss. 

A great pick for toddlers, this book will be appreciated by parents using gentler parenting techniques with their children as well as schools and parents looking for mindful books for young children.  Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Hello Genius and NetGalley.

Review: How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson

how i discovered poetry

How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson

A celebrated poet and author of books for children and teens, Nelson tells the story of growing up in the Civil Rights era and her connection to poetry.  In fifty poems, several of which have been previously published, Nelson reveals her growing up from age 4 through 14 during the 1950s and 1960s.  The poems show her progression from child to a self-aware teen who is directly impacted by the changes in civil rights.  Nelson also touches on the Cold War and feminism along with race in these poems.  Each poem here is a gem, carefully crafted and firmly placed in its setting in the book.  Beautiful.

In her author’s note, Nelson mentions that she prefers not to see the character in the book as herself but rather as “The Speaker.”  The first person perspective though will leave readers assuming that this is Nelson’s personal story and journey and it’s difficult to change that perception after reading the entire book.  Perhaps even more than the historical period it is The Speaker’s love of poetry and writing that makes the connection to Nelson as that person ring so true.  It is that love of poetry and words that makes each poem so beautiful, but also makes the narrator come alive.

Beautiful and worth rereading and revisiting, this collection of poems that forms a story is deep and worth submerging yourself in.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

This Week’s Tweets, Pins and Tumbls

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

-Madeleine L'Engle

CHILDREN’S LIT

6 Life Lessons from Laura Ingalls Wilder| Bich Minh Nguyen | http://buff.ly/1eELQfM #kidlit

Anne Ursu on ‘The Real Boy’ and writing for kids | MinnPost http://buff.ly/1cprRgR #kidlit

Children reading books to cats | Metro News http://buff.ly/1dCVMBS #reading

Downtown Books: Five great children’s books about Harriet Tubman http://buff.ly/1dCWrTP #kidlit

Glenn Close, Sophie Nelisse, Octavia Spencer Join ‘The Great Gilly Hopkins’ | Variety http://buff.ly/1dvLLGm #kidlit

Happy birthday, Charles Darwin! – The Horn Book http://buff.ly/1cxj0tu #kidlit

J.K. Rowling Did Make a Mistake, But It Wasn’t the Ron-Hermione Pairing | BOOK RIOT- http://buff.ly/NDvPgA #kidlit

Pictures Of Babies As Book Characters Are Worth WAY More Than A Thousand Words http://buff.ly/1g1SLiB #kidlit

Zita the Spacegirl faces her toughest challenge yet: Space Prison! http://buff.ly/NyiMgd #kidlit

EBOOKS

As the line between platform and publisher continues to blur, who wins and who loses? http://buff.ly/Nyj9Yk #publishing

My favorite winter activity is going back inside and reading a book in my pajamas (and spring, summer and autumn...)

LIBRARIES

12 Jobs on the Brink: Will They Evolve or Go Extinct? http://buff.ly/1eEFMDP See a smart take on libraries! #libraries

Best College Libraries: 12 of America’s Most Magical http://buff.ly/1lM9Kv4 #libraries

Kyle Cassidy photographs librarians at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting (PHOTOS). http://buff.ly/1orF417 #libraries

tumblr_n0z2uhQ3i61qd206po1_500

TEEN READS

Beth Revis: Why is Diversity Important? http://buff.ly/1gpI7T8 #yalit

The Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2014 http://buff.ly/1orFSD2 #kidlit #yalit

Pete Hautman on the Book that Will Save Us (Writing for the Long Haul series)/ Desert Dispatches http://buff.ly/NyirKB #writing #yalit

YALSA’s 2014 Hub Reading Challenge Begins! | The Hub http://buff.ly/1dvLX8x #yalit

Review: What’s Your Favorite Animal?

whats your favorite animal

What’s Your Favorite Animal?

Eric Carle and many other well-known illustrators offer their personal favorite animals complete with a short piece about what animal they love and why.  Turning the pages is rather like visiting a gallery of some of the top picture book illustrators working today.  Turn the page and see Lane Smith’s choice of elephant, then Jon Klassen’s ode to his love for ducks, and Susan Jeffer’s beautiful look at horses.  This work is fantastically lovely and personal to the illustrators.  It is a pleasure to turn each page and take a journey through this book.

Readers may discover new authors and illustrators and seek out their work.  But best of all, this is a wonderful look at well-known illustrators on a personal level.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.

Review: Florence Nightingale by Demi

florence nightingale

Florence Nightingale by Demi

This picture book biography shines thanks to its rich artwork.  It tells the story of Florence Nightingale’s life beginning with her wealthy childhood in England.  Florence’s mother was known for her parties, but Florence liked to spend time by herself and even as a child pretended that her dolls were sick and needed to be in a doll hospital.  Florence traveled in Europe as a teenager and realized that she was called to help people.  Her parents were dismayed when she declared that she wanted to be a nurse.  Then later Florence got a chance to help in an orphanage and her parents allowed her to choose her own way.  Florence excelled at organization, documentation and hygiene.  She transformed the different places she worked at, eventually going to Turkey to help the soldiers during the Crimean War.  Florence grew ill later in her life, but never stopped working on improving nursing and patient care around the world.  She was an inspiration for many both as a nurse and a woman. 

Demi writes with depth and detail in this biography.  She paints a clear picture of Nightingale from childhood through her development as a nurse and finally as a world-renowned expert in nursing.  It was fascinating to learn of Nightingale’s wealthy background and her unwillingness to turn her back on her calling. 

Demi’s art is as rich as ever with her saturated colors that give way to other pages with rich yet delicate texture.  Nightingale appears wearing her deep blue dress that somehow shines on the page even though it is often the darkest color there.  Ones eye just travels straight to her and the heart of the story.

Rich and detailed, this is a winning picture book biography to introduce children to a major female figure from history.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.

Review: Peek-a-Boo Bunny by Holly Surplice

peek a book bunny

Peek-a-Boo Bunny by Holly Surplice

Bunny and his friends are playing their favorite game, Hide-and-Seek!  Bunny gets to seek first and all of his friends hide.  He counts to ten.  Then he bounces and rushes around, moving way too fast to notice the others hiding.  As Bunny races from one page to the next, another friend is revealed in their hiding place on each page, making it a real game of hide-and-seek for the reader.  Eventually, Bunny does slow down, but he still can’t find the hidden animals.  Bunny sits down under a tree, saddened by not finding any of his friends.  But don’t worry, they can find him!

A jolly picture book where the game is made real for the reader, Surplice infuses her book with humor but also with a gentleness toward Bunny too.  The story itself is simple and linear, offering space for the illustrations to carry the full story for the reader.

The illustrations are lovely.  They offer collages of cut paper grasses and flowers in a rainbow of colors that pop against the pastel backgrounds.  Bunny and his friends all pop out as well with their firm lines dark against the flowing colors of the forest. 

A sparkling spring pick, this book is great for preschoolers and toddlers.  I could see it making a great board book too.  Appropriate for ages 1-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: A Dance Like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey

dance like starlight

A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Told in the first person by a young African-American dancer, this book shows how dreams can come true with lots of hard work and plenty of hope.  Set in Harlem of the fifties, this young dancer dreams of becoming a ballerina.  Her mother works hard to pay for her dance lessons.  The ballet master saw her pretending to dance and offered her lessons.  She isn’t allowed to dance onstage with the white girls, but can take lessons each day in the back of the room.  Then she learns about Janet Collins, the first colored prima ballerina.  Now she is going to the Metropolitan Opera House to see Collins dance and feast on the hope that that brings to her.

Dempsey’s picture book is in verse that not only shows what the little girl is feeling but also speaks to the time before Civil Rights and the separation that came with it.  It is much more the story of the young girl than of Janet Collins, though it is her inspiration that led a generation of non-white girls to realize that they too could be dancers. 

Cooper’s illustrations are gauzy and beautiful.  When the young girl is up on the rooftop dreaming, his image is breathtaking with the color of the sky shining upon her face.  He unerringly turns her toward light, speaking with pictures of the hope that sustains her.  It is beautifully done.

Inspiring and exquisite, this picture book belongs in the hands of all little girls dreaming of pirouettes and tutus.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Philomel.