Category: Picture Books

The Pros and Cons of Being a Frog by Sue deGennaro

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The Pros and Cons of Being a Frog by Sue deGennaro (InfoSoup)

Told from the point of view of a boy who loves to dress as animals, this lovely picture book embraces differences between people. The boy first tried to dress as a cat, but was chased by a dog. Then he tried a variety of other animals before Camille gave him the idea to try being a frog. He loved it, but frogs are not solitary so he asked Camille to join him. Now Camille is very different from him. She speaks in numbers and science. She agreed to try and was very helpful with measuring for a costume. But soon, she was unable to stand still and the boy yelled at her to stop moving. Camille left. Now it is up to the boy to figure out how to make amends with a girl who is very different from himself.

There is something enchantingly quirky about this Australian import. Just having a boy who dresses as animals and a girl who thinks and speaks in numbers is unique. Then add in the way that the girl uses specific numbers to show her distress, other numbers to say yes and no. This book has lots of levels to it with plenty of room for discussion about friendships, accepting one another’s differences and the importance of communicating even if it’s not easy.

The illustrations add to the appeal. There are the interesting costumes the boy creates for himself. Then there is the language of Camille, which appears as numbers that balance on her hand, fall to the floor, tip and overwhelm, prickle and hurt. The graphic strength of the numbers plays against the softness of the other illustrations, the fine lines swirling into deep colors.

An intriguing picture book that will suit some readers perfectly, rather like a frog suit isn’t for everyone. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak

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Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak (InfoSoup)

A child wearing a flowing red scarf heads out into the woods on a late summer morning. Branches sway in the cool wind. Animals are out and busy looking for food while others are heading south for the winter. Cozy nests and dens are being crafted too. The flowers are catching the last rays of warm summer sun. There are rumbles of thunder and clouds rolling in. Breezes and drizzle and chill enter the air. Leaves are starting to fall too. The child heads out the next day, into autumn.

Pak’s writing is poetic and simple. He allows nature to have a voice in this picture book. The trees talk about the wind, the animals speak to what they are doing to prepare for cold weather, etc. It’s a lovely way to capture the changes through the living things that are experiencing it first hand. The child too is experiencing the changes in temperature, the clouds, the rain and the winds. There is a sense of being immersed in nature and experiencing changing seasons directly as they change from one to another.

Pak’s illustrations truly make this book spectacular. From the flow of the child’s scarf on the page, marking the wind as it blows to the woods itself filled with strong trunks and tall grasses. The tops of the trees shine with the light of late summer and start to change to early autumn as the book progresses, still filled with the same light and air.

This book is a testament to the beauty of changing seasons, the natural aspects of those changes and the vitality of being outside and being part of it. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Rules of the House by Mac Barnett

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Rules of the House by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matt Myers (InfoSoup)

Ian loves to follow the rules while his sister Jenny breaks all of them. So when they go on a trip with their father to a cabin in the woods, Ian loves that there is a list of rules on the wall. Jenny though, ignores the rules, breaking each one of them. The final rule is not to open the red door, which Jenny does. Nothing happens. Until later that night, when the mud-tracked bear rug, the dirty bathtub and the empty woodstove come into the children’s room. At first, Ian flees while his sister is captured by the monsters. But he returns to try to help her. But it may mean breaking the rules!

This book is a delight. It’s a riff on classic horror movies as well as Bluebeard with the forbidden door in an isolated house. Barnett keeps the tone light at all times, making sure that the book is just frightening enough to give shivers but not too frightening for young readers. The focus on following rules is turned on its head with the culmination of the story and learning that sometimes rules are meant to be broken in the right circumstances.

The art by Myers is dark and atmospheric. It plays up the horror motif with long shadows, a scratched up red door that looks like things have tried to break in, and objects that look like monsters even before they fully emerge as monsters. The long moment after the door is opened is drawn out even farther by the full double page spread, showing the quiet house. Wonderful timing!

A great just-right scary read for Halloween that is just creepy enough to enchant. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

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They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel (InfoSoup)

A cat walks through the house and the backyard and is seen by different people and animals in their own unique way. The child sees a very friendly cat, the mouse a terrifying creature with huge teeth, the fish sees a watery figure, the bat sees the space the cat takes up, and the worm sees the vibrations of the cat through the earth. Each creature perceives the cat in a different way. Even the cat itself, as it heads to the water, is about to see itself in a personal way.

This very simple book offers a fascinating look at perception and the ways that each of us sees and views the world around us. The repeating first line of “The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears and paws…” keeps the book clearly focused and adds an important stylistic component. The book also celebrates imagination as children can start to see the unique ways not only they view the world but can imagine the ways that other creatures see the world in such a different way. The idea of perspective is also introduced, particularly from the cat itself, a flea riding in the cat’s fur and the bird flying high above. There is plenty to discuss in this book and it invites investigation and learning.

The illustrations are a critical part of the concept, showing how an insect’s eyes see the world in a very different way. They also capture not only how an animals sees but their relationship with the cat. The dog sees a lean and almost whiplike creature. The fox sees a juicy round animal. This use of both physical perspective and personal perspective is very cleverly and clearly done.

A book to generate discussion, I can see this being used in conversations about differing points of view as well as art classes on perspective. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

 

Lucy by Randy Cecil

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Lucy by Randy Cecil (InfoSoup)

Lucy is a dog living on the streets. She has a routine each day where she dashes through the neighborhood and straight to an apartment building with a red door where she waits. Inside Eleanor lives with her father who dreams of being a juggler. Meanwhile Eleanor lowers breakfast on a string to Lucy waiting below her window. Around noon, Lucy settles in for a nap and dreams of the days when she lived in a grand house with her favorite stuffed toy. As the days go on, Lucy’s father tries to perform his juggling before a crowd but gets disastrous stage fright, Lucy continues to gather things to feed her new friend, and Lucy dreams more and more of her past life. As their lives converge together, one thing is certain that one small white dog can change your life!

Cecil’s book comes in four acts, each one building upon the next. The book has a lovely rhythm to it, ordinary days stack upon ordinary days, routines support other routines. It is a gentle way to build a story, a natural progression. And yet this book has a theatrical quality to it as well with each act building on the next, the juggling and subsequent disasters, and the drama of dangling breakfasts. It is a story that is uniquely told in its own time.

The illustrations are a large part of this book with the gangly humans and the compact little white dog that glows on the page. The illustrations have rounded edges, almost as if the reader was looking through a telescope to watch the action. This creates a sense of intimacy in the black and white illustrations.

A very special book about one little dog who seems to have lost everything but still has plenty to offer. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick.

 

Home at Last by Vera B. Williams

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Home at Last by Vera B. Williams and Chris Raschka (InfoSoup)

Lester is adopted by Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert, who pick him up with their dog Wincka once the adoption is formalized. They head home, put Lester’s new clothes away. But when Daddy Albert tries to put Lester’s suitcase in the attic, Lester shows them that it is full of his action figures and insists that they have to stay right in the suitcase in his room. Lester is happy during the day, playing with his toys and spending time with his new fathers. At night though, he packs up his suitcase and stands near his fathers’ bed. This happens night after night, despite cocoa and toast, singing songs, and explanations that Lester is safe. Finally, one of the fathers loses his temper with the situation and then Lester really opens up about what he is worried about. A solution to the problem is found by Wincka, the dog, who was listening to Lester’s story too.

This was the book that Williams was working on when she died. Raschka had been involved from the beginning with the book and completed the vision that Williams had shared with him. Williams captures the deep-seated fear that adopted children can have, the understanding at one level of newfound family love but also the change that comes at night where fears become larger. Williams also shows two loving gay men, both delighted to be fathers and each different from the other. The two of them together parent Lester with kindness and concern and deep love.

Raschka finished the book, basing his art on sketches by Williams. His large colorful illustrations have a loose feel that ranges across the page, capturing both the mayhem of a family short on sleep but also the warmth of that family too. His watercolors convey deep emotions from the frustrations of sleepless nights to the power of coming together afterwards. All is beautifully shown on the page.

A tribute to adoptive families, LGBT couples who adopt and the importance of love and patience, this picture book is a grand finale to the many books by Williams. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

 

 

What a Beautiful Morning by Arthur A. Levine

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What a Beautiful Morning by Arthur A. Levine, illustrated by Katie Kath (InfoSoup)

When Noah visits his grandparents, Noah and his grandfather start the day with a song. They head outside with the dog even if its raining, singing all the way. At breakfast they made plans for the day. But lately, Grandpa has been forgetting to ask about making plans. Then one day when Noah woke him from a nap, Grandpa didn’t know who he was. His Grandma explained that sometimes Grandpa got confused and that it was better to focus on what he still had rather than what he lost. So Noah set out to do the things alone that he had done with his grandfather, until he discovered that Grandpa still responded to music and songs. It was a way to start once more having special mornings together.

This book is so beautifully done. It is about the very special relationship that children have with their grandparents, the delight of staying with them, and how each morning can be special just because someone cares for you and spends time with you. It is also about the power of music to connect people and experiences as well as its special quality with those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Throughout, the character of Grandma is there, at first secondary to the strong relationship between grandfather and grandson and then stepping up to fill some of the gaps left behind. She is warm and loving and very special.

Kath’s illustrations are bright colored and friendly. When Grandpa is confused or feeling separate, she uses a visual device to indicate the change by having his face lose color. If he is particularly confused, the colorlessness spreads on the page, taking up his entire body. In this way, children will see visually the change coming over Grandpa and understand that it is deeply affecting him and his personality.

It is rare that I tear up when reading a picture book, but this book is particularly moving. Have tissues ready. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.