Review: Harold & Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat

Harold & Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat

Harold & Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat (9781368027168)

Harold and Hog decide to pretend to be Elephant and Piggie in this easy reader that pays homage to the genius of Mo Willems while making something entirely new.  The two characters put on Gerald’s glasses and Piggie’s nose to help them pretend. Harold starts to describe what Piggie is like with Piggie’s carefree exuberance. Harold can’t wait to try to be Gerald with his carefulness too. Harold wants to be careful as he dances, flies and does so many things! Suddenly Harold realizes that he can’t be Gerald and Hog can’t be Piggie, they just can’t pretend that much. Perhaps though there is a solution!

Filled with exactly the right dialogue and humor, this is a very clever take on the classic Elephant and Piggie. The art itself pulls the story far enough away from Elephant and Piggie to make it clear that this is different. Add to that the juxtaposing attitudes of Harold and Hog and you have a set up for pure delight. The book even includes a touch of Pigeon to round it all out.

Smart, funny and just what Mo would want. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Goose Egg by Liz Wong

The Goose Egg by Liz Wong

The Goose Egg by Liz Wong (9780553511574)

Henrietta is an elephant who loved quiet. Most of all, she loved the lake and sinking below its surface into silence. She would get lost in her thoughts and just swim. But one day, she got too lost in her head and she banged it on a pole! She went home and discovered that she had a big lump, a goose egg, on her head. She bandaged the bump and stayed quiet until something on her head hatched open! She reached up and found a gosling. She tried taking the baby goose back to her nest, but the mother goose never returned. So now quiet Henrietta had a very noisy gosling to take care of. Goose got louder as she grew bigger. By then, Henrietta realized that she needed to teach Goose to be a goose. So she taught her how to look for food, how to swim behind, how to flap her wings and more. Eventually, it was time for Goose to fly south. Henrietta was able to return to her quiet life again, but it wasn’t the same. Henrietta dreamed of Goose’s honking and longed to hear it again, until one day she did!

Wong takes a one-liner joke about a goose egg on the head being a real goose’s egg and turns it into a completely charming picture book. Readers who enjoy a bit of quiet will find a kindred spirit in Henrietta while those who enjoy a more raucous life will relate to Goose. The pair of them are opposites and manage to teach one another things along the way. The book has a gentle tone, allowing the story to unwind before the reader at its own pace.

Wong’s illustrations are done on a white background that nicely frames the drama of the bumped head, the goose egg and then the hatching. The images have subtle coloring until Goose appears in his bright yellow feathers, showing visually how he change Henrietta’s life. The illustrations take on a vaudeville humor as Goose and Henrietta interact. Then Henrietta’s solution for teaching Goose is a lovely visual as well.

A sweet and gentle tale of adoption, letting go and returning home. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf.

Review: Zola’s Elephant by Randall de Seve

Zola's Elephant by Randall de Seve

Zola’s Elephant by Randall de Seve, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (9781328886293)

In this exceptional picture book, Zola moves in next door to a little girl. The two mothers have already met and decided the girls should be friends, but the little girl knows that Zola already has a friend. After all, Zola has a box large enough for an elephant and the girl knows that elephants make wonderful friends. As the girl heads different noises, she also thinks about the fun that Zola is having with her elephant. They are taking merry baths together, playing hide-and-seek, and building a lovely clubhouse together. But the truth is shown in the illustrations, explaining the noises that are being heard as much more mundane and downright lonely. Will the little girl have the courage to head over and meet Zola for real?

The text here is rich and evocative. It displays the wealth of imagination that the nameless narrator has as she builds entire worlds of play and merriment from seeing one large box and hearing some noises. It is a book that explores shyness and loneliness and how they live side-by-side and how they can be fixed by one act of bravery. Beautifully, the lonely new neighbor’s pages have no words on them, allowing the image to simply tell the truth.

With illustrations by a two-time Caldecott honoree, the illustrations are detailed, deep and beautiful. Zagarenski manages to create two parallel worlds, one of imagination and brightness and the other stark and blue with isolation. She then captures the moment when those two worlds meet. Done with a circus theme that is embedded in all of the illustrations, she pays homage to the elephant fully even though it doesn’t actually exist.

Beautiful and rich, this picture book is unique and imaginative. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 Picture Books that Celebrate Community

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan

Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (9781452155418)

A superb concept book that has a definite Muslim flair that is very welcome. The rhyming story opens with the cone-shaped tops of the minaret. Rectangle is the mosque’s door. Then readers get invited in to see octagon fountains, arches, triangles formed by stairs. The book moves on to gardens, a shared meal at an oval table. It ends with a crescent moon in the sky.

I appreciate that this concept book about shapes offers many shapes that are not the expected ones like cones and crescents. Add in the focus on diversity that is inherent on each page, and this book is certainly something special. The book includes Muslim terms that are used in the text and then defined in the glossary at the end of the book. The illustrations are modern and bright, a mix of tradition and modernity that shines on the page. The shapes are clear and easily found in each image. A gem of a picture book that belongs in all collections. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Pie Is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard

Pie Is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illustrated by Jason Chin (9781626725621)

Join a family on their Fourth of July celebration at the lake, complete with pie for everyone to share. There are other things that are perfect for sharing too, like a book, a ball and a tree. How about sharing a jump rope and a rhyme to skip by? As the book progresses, more and more children play together along the shore and even more things are shared. There are stick and stones, boats and water, stories, hugs and hideouts. And in the end, fireworks and another slice of pie!

This Fourth of July book truly looks at the holiday through the eyes of a child. It is lit by sparklers and fireworks as evening comes, but the day itself is brightened by all of the time spent as a family and a community. New friends are made; old friendships are strengthened. The illustrations are particularly lovely. They use child-height perspectives as well as other inventive ones to really see the holiday from a little-one’s point of view. The illustrations are realistic, sun filled and pure summer on a page.

Share this one any day of the year! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

You_re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar

You’re Safe with Me by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry (9781911373292)

On a dark and stormy night, the little animals could not call asleep. Mama Elephant stayed with them. She rocked them in her trunk, repeating “You’re safe with me.” The wind moaned in the trees, awakening the little animals. Mama Elephant explained that the wind carries seeds from faraway into the forest. Thunder sounded startling the little animals. Mama Elephant explained that with thunder comes the rain that waters the seeds from the wind. Lightning flashed and Mama Elephant soothed the little animals with tales of the stars coming back to the sky. Finally, the river burbled and the little ones fell asleep with Mama Elephant’s refrain of “You’re safe with me.”

Told in a folklore-like style with repeating refrains and a firm story structure, this picture book carries the feeling of India with it. It carries a traditional feel, the warmth of Mama Elephant and the comfort she brings with her simple presence almost erases the storm. She uses the cycles of life, plant and animal, to reassure the little animals which makes for a rich story.

The illustrations are amazing and also have a traditional feel to them. Filled with small dots, they are deep with spice and jungle colors. Their richness creates images that children will love to look at, discovering the animals almost hidden on the pages between the leaves of the forest.

A superb bedtime book just right for stormy nights. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Lantana Publishing.)

3 New Picture Books to Explore Together

Here We Are Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (9780399167898)

With a gentle tone and a comprehensive eye, Jeffers welcomes someone newly born to our planet. He does a quick tour, whisking past the land, the sea and the sky. He mentions being careful of your body, since the part don’t just grow back. Jeffers celebrates life on earth in all of its diversity, both human and animal. There is night and day, slow and fast. The book ends with a message to share the earth with others, since there is enough for everyone. It is the tone of this picture book that is particularly effective. Jeffers embraces the contradictions of our world, the beauty of life, and the spectacular nature around us. His illustrations show the vastness of the universe and the wonder of our planet. Meant for older children who will enjoy the tone and the joy of exploration. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

How to Find an Elephant by Kate Banks

How to Find an Elephant by Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (9780374335083)

Cloudy days are the best days to look for elephants. You will need to head into the wild, so make sure to pack some food and supplies like a flute, blanket and binoculars. You will need to enter the jungle and search. Look for footprints, but don’t expect to hear footsteps. Ask at any houses you find, drink at waterholes and take shelter from rain under large leaves. Have lunch, swing with a chimpanzee and fly with an eagle. You will probably find an elephant when you least expect it, so keep your eyes open! This picture book is written with lovely details that invite young readers and listeners deep into the story. There is a sense of adventure throughout, particularly due to the illustrations that cleverly hide elephants on each page. Sharp-eyed children will suddenly glimpse them and you may need to go back and find any that they may have missed. Beautifully illustrated, this book makes a great read-aloud but make sure that everyone can see the images up close. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.)

Somewhere Else by Gus Gordon

Somewhere Else by Gus Gordon (9781626723498)

George Laurent is not like other birds. He doesn’t go anywhere, not flying south or north, just staying at home. He always had something delicious cooking in his oven and the other birds would come and visit. They would invite him on their next adventure, but George would always decline and have some kind of excuse. When winter arrived, George met Pascal, a bear, out in the cold. George tries a series of excuses to explain why he is still there and then finally admits that he doesn’t know how to fly. Pascal decides to try to help George learn but they keep failing. Then they discover the hot air balloon that just went up in France. Can a goose who loves staying home love to travel too? This picture book balances a strong story line with simple text that is very inviting for young children. The book is fast paced and yet tells a deeper story of being ashamed of not knowing how to do something and how friendship can create new opportunities to learn and grow. The illustrations are a warm mix of watercolor, pencil, crayon and collage. The collage offers vintage papers that add an additional level of interest and flair. A great book to offer alongside others about learning to fly. This one just takes a very different route! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

 

Explore Nature with These 3 Picture Books

How to Be an Elephant by Katherine Roy

How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy (9781626721784)

This picture book celebrates elephants in a way that invites readers deeply into the life of a newborn elephant calf and all that that baby has to learn. The book opens with the birth and then the family of female elephants that will raise the infant together. The elephant’s body is explored from the way it walks and balances to the way its ears help handle the heat to the dexterity of the trunk. Sounds and food are also explored along with the habitat the elephants live in. Throughout, the book offers scientific information in a conversational way. The book is almost like a readable version of nature documentaries where facts celebrate and delight. The art of the picture book is rich and warm showing the elephants in their habitat. It also shows scientific information about structure and sound that is presented graphically and with just enough detail for young readers. An exceptional science and nature nonfiction picture book, this is one stellar pick for library collections. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Roaring Book Press.)

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna (9780062657602)

A child and their mother head back to a small cabin on a rainy day. The child just wants to play their video game, but their mother insists on them heading outside. It is bleak and raining out but as they head into the woods, the rocks in the pond beckon them forward. Leaping from rock to rock, the video game falls into the water and is lost. The child is devastated by the loss but is soon distracted by some of the wildlife around from glowing snails walking in rows to mushrooms. The beauty of the rich earth below and the sun coming through the clouds above. There is rolling down hills, quiet time in the woods, and getting soaked through. Once back home, the day is transformed entirely into something new.

This picture book is an interesting look at the tug between technology and spending time outside. I enjoyed the child realizing that the world is fascinating and a place to explore that is far better than the small world of the game that they have already played. The warm little cabin and the isolation also add to the appeal of the book and the pleasure of a newfound way to spend time outdoors. Throughout the book there is a sense of quiet and wonder. That is emphasized by the images that fill the pages with trees, water, dirt and plants. It is rather like being immersed in a rainy day yourself. A great book to read and then set off on outdoor adventures together on a rainy day. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Pond by Nicola Davies

The Pond by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Cathy Fisher (9781912050703)

Told in the voice of a boy who has lost his father, this book shows the connection of people to nature and through that connection to one another. The boy’s father had always wanted a pond in the backyard, but when he died all he left behind was a muddy hole. Ducks tried to land in the mucky hole and the boy tried to fill it with water, but it created an even larger mess. Then one day, his mother lined the hole and surrounded it with rocks. Soon there was an ecosystem forming with tadpoles, insects, algae and newts. When the water lily finally bloomed, it was time for the family to move to a new house, but the memory of the pond would stay with them forever and they would create a new one in their new place. Written with deep emotion both about grief in a family and also about connection to nature, this picture book shows rebirth in a very organic way. The illustrations are rich and lovely, celebrating the transformation from a hole to a pond with life. A touching and hope-filled book. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Pete with No Pants by Rowboat Watkins

Pete with No Pants by Rowboat Watkins

Pete with No Pants by Rowboat Watkins (9781452144016, Amazon)

Pete is a little elephant who prefers not to wear pants. He likes to pretend to be other things that are also gray and also don’t wear pants. Maybe he’s a boulder? But the boulders don’t like his knock-knock jokes and never respond. Maybe he’s a squirrel? But he manages to scare the squirrels away. A pigeon? A cloud? Or maybe, he’s exactly who he knows he is, a little one who doesn’t want to wear clothes.

I love that there is a moral here, but it’s for the parents not the kids. That is to let your little one be who they truly are. The ending has the mother elephant who is dressed quite conservatively and has been watching with a worried expression finally just accepting Pete for who he is. The writing is mostly done in asides spoken by Pete and the other animals. It’s wry and great fun, just right for reading aloud.

Watkins’ illustrations have a great softness to them, colors that are subtle and smear on the page. The background isn’t a pure white but a soft textured gray. The pages move from full double-page spreads to smaller comic-book framing that plays in tune with the speech bubbles on the pages. Don’t miss the denim end pages too, and notice the difference between the front and back ones.

A joyous call to support our children, whoever they are. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: Thank You and Good Night by Patrick McDonnell

Thank You and Good Night by Patrick McDonnell

Thank You and Good Night by Patrick McDonnell (InfoSoup)

Clement, Jean and Alan Alexander were having a pajama party at Clement’s house. The three bounce on the bed together, do the chicken dance, and have a funny-face contest. They played hide-and-seek, had a snack and watched the stars. They all started to get sleepy, so they got ready for bed but still had enough energy to listen to a bedtime story. They ended their party with a list of the things they were thankful for, a very long list.

McDonnell channels the energy and feel of every great classic bedtime read in this new book. He lets us in on the fun of a sleepover, focusing on all of the small things that make for a wonderful night with friends. His recap of the day with gratitude is something that many families can incorporate into their days, whether they are having a pajama party or not. It again returned the focus to those simple joys of life and time spent with one another.

The art has a gorgeous dreamy quality to it at times and other times has a zesty playfulness. The pleasure of the small animals playing with one another and not being sleepy at all transitions beautifully to sleepy creatures headed for bed. The final scene where they are revealed to be stuffed animals belonging to a little girl is particularly lovely.

A gentle bedtime story filled with lots of play and then bedtime for everyone. Yawn! Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Small Elephant’s Bathtime by Tatyana Feeney

small elephants bathtime

Small Elephant’s Bathtime by Tatyana Feeney

While Small Elephant is happy to play in water or drink it, he doesn’t like taking a bath at all. His mother tries all sorts of thing to entice him into the bathtub. She fills it with plenty of toys. She blows bubbles in the air. But nothing works. Small Elephant tries to be too busy to take a bath and gets very mad when his mother insists on a bath. He has a tantrum and then hides from the bath. Then his father gets involved and makes Small Elephant giggle enough to try out the bath after all. But who will be able to get him out when he discovers how much fun he is having?

The author of Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket and other picture books has a winner with this title. Just the right playful tone is set here for toddlers who are also reluctant to stop what they are doing to take baths. The gentle approach of both parents is great to see, offering options towards tantrums and reluctance that are inventive and filled with humor.

As always Feeney’s art has a refreshing looseness about it. Line drawings with splashes of watercolor color, the book has an aesthetic that will appeal to children and adults alike. It uses limited colors to great effect, creating a cohesive and playful feel.

Soapy, sudsy, bubbly fun for small children who will relate to the emotions Small Elephant feels.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.