Review: Bear Is Awake: An Alphabet Story by Hannah E. Harrison

Bear Is Awake An Alphabet Story by Hannah E. Harrison

Bear Is Awake: An Alphabet Story by Hannah E. Harrison (9780399186660)

When bear wakes up in his den under a tree, he heads down the road to find a cabin. He rings the doorbell and meets the little girl who lives there. After he devours all of her food, she is rather grumpy, but she has an idea. She gives the bear a hat and they head to town. They first go to the library to listen to stories. Then to the market where the bear must learn to be nice. They head back to the cabin and feast on pancakes together. After some quiet time, the little girl and the bear head back to his den. He is sulky and uncertain, but she helps him along. In the end, he is happily back asleep under a new quilt and with some treats ready for spring.

As with most alphabet books, this one is not about the writing really and features words that match each of the letters of the alphabet. The design of the book is more inventive than one might expect with sometimes multiple words being used or the same word over and over again to convey excitement. The real treat here are the illustrations which are completely winning. The relationship between bear and girl develops quickly with the bear far more hungry than frightening in any scenario. His hesitation to return home at the end also makes him a character children will love rather than fear. The huge bear is drawn realistically and dominates the pages, add the yellow hat with pom poms and he quickly becomes more approachable, though many in town don’t see him that way.

A wintry alphabet book about making new friends. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.

Review: A Visit to Grandad: An African ABC by Sade Fadipe

A Visit to Grandad An African ABC by Sade Fadipe

A Visit to Grandad: An African ABC by Sade Fadipe, illustrated by Shedrach Ayalomeh (9781911115816)

On an alphabet adventure, Adanah heads out to visit her grandfather in Modakeke, Nigeria. The book starts in school with Adanah heading on break. She packs her bags and camera. Her Dad drives her to her grandad’s house out in the country with lots of animals around. The two of them spend time together, having lunch that is invaded by insects, drinking juice, and cleaning the kitchen. At night, Adanah sleeps under a mosquito net. Water is fetched in kegs, more work and cooking is done, and stories are told in the evening. Finally, Mom is there to take Adanah back home to share her adventures with her little sister, Zainab.

This alphabet book works really well as it shows life in modern Nigeria. It is that exploration of Nigeria that really shines in this book, allowing readers to see a fascinating mix of modern and traditional parts. The strong structure of the alphabet helps keep the book focused and while X will always be for something like xylophone almost none of the other letters are a stretch at all. The text feels free and unforced, which is impressive in this sort of book.

The art is bright and fresh, filling the pages with color and glimpses of home life and the landscape. On each page, there are other items that start with that same letter of the alphabet. The art is structured so well though, that it is easy to miss that these elements are even there until you are encouraged to look for them at the end of the book.

An alphabet picture book focused on family and Africa. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Cassava Republic Press.

Review: Animalphabet by Julia Donaldson

animalphabet by julia donaldson

Animalphabet by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Sharon King-Chai (9780525554158)

Immediately upon opening this book, young listeners are presented with flaps to lift. It invites them to explore and find out what is going to happen. The book is an alphabet book presented as a guessing game where flaps and page turns reveal the answers. The book begins with ant for A and moves all the way through the alphabet using animals for each letter, ending with the logical zebra. As each animal enters, the book asks a question of the reader. Moving on from ant, the text asks “Who is fancier than an ant?” The answer of butterfly is hidden by a bouquet of flowers that has tantalizing cut outs.

The book is a journey and a quest, from the answering of the questions with animals that start with a specific letter to the turning of each page to reveal a new creature. The questions are helpful at times, jumping high cues the kangaroo’s entrance, for example. Other times, readers will need to think a bit before guessing. The book forms an entire circle, moving from zebra right to ant as the answer for the final question in the book.

The illustrations play a huge role in the pleasure of this book. They are filled with peep holes, flaps to lift, pages to open and much more. The illustrations are full of bright colors, entire habitats, and jaunty animal figures. The joy here is a tactile and mental one combined, making it a very successful and never-dull alphabet book.

Beautifully designed and executed, this one will be a favorite. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

3 Fun-Filled Picture Books

These three picture books are wild romps of fun:

I Love You Like a Pig by Mac Barnett

I Love You Like a Pig by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (9780062354839)

This picture book celebrates all the different forms that love can take, beginning with being loved like a pig and moving to other unique ones as well. At first they may seem silly or unlikely, but the book shows what each one means through the illustrations. The text stays very simple, offering new ways of loving: I love you like a window, I’m smiling like a tuna, and You’re sweet like a banker. Then the illustrations shows how each analogy works and brings it all to life. Barnett comes up with far-fetched analogies that then are transformed into meaning. The selections are clever and will appeal specifically to children and their experiences. Pizzoli’s bright illustrations invite readers to explore the words and find the meaning too. An ingenious book about love and delight. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABCs (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABCs (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell (9780316502467)

When the little red cat heads outside, he discovers a world of surprises and dangers that follow the ABCs. Readers will have to puzzle out what matches each letter along the way (though there is a key in the back of the book to help if you get stuck.) With a merry chase throughout the book, it has the feel of a Gingerbread Boy gallop across the pages. The book is wordless, offering only the letters along the way, providing a visual treat as the cat is joined by an alligator, a bear, a chicken, a dragon and an egg on his adventure through the alphabet. Filled with moments of humor, like the stop at the rest room for R and the lovely use of N and O, this picture book is a delight of an alphabet book that is great fun to share. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Nibbles The Dinosaur Guide by Emma Yarlett.jpg

Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide by Emma Yarlett (978-1-61067-643-4)

This is the second Nibbles book where the little yellow monster invades a book by munching his way right into the pages. Here a serious informational book about dinosaurs is what he enters and causes all sorts of mischief. The book names beloved dinosaurs and explains facts about them before being interrupted by the chaos created by Nibbles as he chews through the pages. Nibbles flees from Triceratops charging him. He has an eating contest with a family of Diplodocus. He is surrounded by Velociraptors and then runs right into a Tyrannosaurus Rex before escaping the book.

Yarlett has a real feel for what children love in picture books. She includes poop and fart jokes along the way, and offers lift the flap and die cut pages. Along the way, various side characters offer puns and jokes that will have readers giggling. Still, there is real information on the various dinosaurs offered as well, creating a book that combines silliness and seriousness into just the right mix.

Yarlett’s illustrations work to combine the serious and silliness. The pages on the dinosaurs are done in serious muted colors, sepia tones. But when Nibbles is around, those colors burst into fuller colors with oranges, greens and yellows. The die cuts are cleverly used to move through the book, some of them appearing through multiple pages for even more effect.

Another delicious Nibbles book that combines interactive elements and dinosaurs for what is sure to be a popular pick. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Kane Miller.)

Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! by Mike Twohy

Oops Pounce Quick Run by Mike Twohy

Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! by Mike Twohy (InfoSoup)

This fast-paced picture book is built entirely around the alphabet with one word per page. The book starts with a mouse happily “Asleep” in his chair when in comes a “Ball.” Soon a “Dog” is poking his nose into the mouse hole and putting his “Eye” up to it to peek inside. Then the chase is on filled with jumping around the “Kitchen” and “Living room.” The mouse eventually returns the ball to the dog in a wrapped present and the two happily fall fast asleep side by side.

The appeal of this picture book is in its zany energy level that keeps the pace flying along. The chase is a merry one throughout filled with moments of slapstick comedy. It has a sort of Tom and Jerry feel to the entire book made all the more fun by the alphabetic structure of the tale. Simple and fast-paced, this book may have to be read again to slow down a bit and enjoy it.

The illustrations are just as simple as the story itself. Done in a style that will work well when shared with a group, they will project right to the back of a room. The illustrations add to the fast pace with plenty of images of running, dashing, jumping and lines that create more motion on the page.

A dynamic alphabet book that is filled with cheerful energy. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from library copy.

ABC Dream by Kim Krans

ABC Dream by Kim Krans

ABC Dream by Kim Krans (InfoSoup)

This wordless alphabet book is a wonderful mix of concept book and also guessing game. Each double-page spread is dedicated to one letter and filled with natural elements that demonstrate that letter being used. The detailed illustrations invite readers to look closely and explore what other items they can spot that start with that letter. Nicely, the book ends with a list for each letter so adults can help make sure all of the details are noticed. This alphabet book is a unique and wondrous book that invites whimsical dreaming even as young ones learn their alphabet.

The illustrations are the entirety of this book. They are a gorgeous mix of pen and ink fine lines and watercolor washes. This combines black and white detail with touches of color that enliven the pages. Each illustration is its own fine composition with colors that complement one another and invite you to lean in and look even closer.

One of the more unique alphabet books around, this picture book will delight adults and children alike. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Books for Young Readers.

Review: Beautiful Birds by Jean Roussen

beautiful birds

Beautiful Birds by Jean Roussen, illustrated by Emmanuelle Walker

This alphabet book features one amazing bird after another shown in both playful and gorgeous illustrations. The book is told in rhyming couplets that feature a little information about each species of bird. The birds are exotic, featuring jacana, kakapo, and quetzal. They are mixed with backyard birds like robin, geese, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Each one is given their own page on which to shine.

The rhyming couplets create a book that has a jaunty swing to it, moving swiftly from one bird to the next. The rhymes are well done, neither filled with sing-song tones or too forced. Instead they add a touch of humor to the book, a feeling of not taking themselves too seriously. The result is a light-hearted mix of silliness and feathers.

The illustrations by Walker form the heart of this book. Each page displays plumage with a grand style. Done with a modern feel, the illustrations are stylized and strong. One of my favorite pages has the color of doves changing to ducks along the page break.

Stylish, jaunty and fun, this alphabet bird book is no feather weight. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Flying Eye Books.

Review: Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

once upon an alphabet

Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers

This unusual and equally marvelous alphabet book surprises and delights with its 26 short stories, one for each letter of the alphabet.  From the very beginning at “A” readers will know they have entered a rather quirky and surreal world.  A is for Astronaut, but Edmund is an astronaut whose afraid of heights.  Even climbing the ladder to the rocket is a bit much for him.  B comes right in afterwards with a tale of a burning bridge where Bob and Bernard cannot get along and so burn the bridge between their houses, but oops, one of them is on the wrong side when he does it.  The book continues, one letter after another and one story after another each with funny, intriguing characters and situations that are snapshots of the oddities of this amazing world. 

Jeffers has created some of my favorite picture books for children and this new alphabet book completely revolutionizes the sing-song of other alphabet books for children.  It’s not exclusively for preschoolers, since elementary-aged children will adore these strange little stories and the quick journeys they take you on.  Rather like potato chips, you can’t read just one but find yourself going on and on.  Jeffers also ties in previous stories to later ones.  You have to be watching, because he does it with subtlety, but it’s a lovely touch.  I admit to cheering aloud when the Lumberjack for the Letter L appeared again.

Jeffers’ art has a loose feel that works well here.  He also has a quirk to his art that matches the tone of the story very nicely.  The line drawings combine with touches of color and watercolor.  He also plays at times with the page itself, showing characters turning the page or popping out from behind. 

A delight of an alphabet book, Jeffers has revolutionized the genre with his impressive, surprising and funny work. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Philomel.

Review: Take Away the A by Michael Escoffier

take away the a

Take Away the A by Michael Escoffier, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo

A delightful new approach to the alphabet book, this picture book goes through the alphabet and offers words where you take away a letter and get a new word.  So, for example, for letter A, “beast” becomes “best” when you take the A out.  The concept is a simple one, but handled superbly throughout so that it never becomes repetitive or dull.  Instead there is a wonderful humor that pervades the entire book.  Look forward to the end of the alphabet where the simple premise of the book becomes much trickier to pull off, and of course the Z is not to be missed. 

This is the first book by this French author/illustrator team that was not translated from French.  This book with its word play was written in English and offers art and text that is entirely original.  Still, the book has that certain French flair to it that marks their collaborative work.  Escoffier’s word play makes it all look so easy, but young readers will quickly learn that it is not as they try to come up with their own, particularly certain letters.

Di Giacomo’s art is a large part of the European feel of this book.  Her illustrations here tell a story on the page, as if the reader has interrupted a scene in motion by opening the book to that page.  The animals seem to be relating to one another more than to the reader, just waiting for them to go away so that they can begin speaking again.

Clever and deceptively simple, this is a great alphabet book for youngsters who have been read too many as well as elementary children who enjoy word play.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books