Hare and Tortoise by Alison Murray

Hare and Tortoise by Alison Murray

Hare and Tortoise by Alison Murray (InfoSoup)

This picture book is a retelling of the classic Aesop fable. The story is much the same with the added tantalizing feature of a carrot patch to get Hare to slow down and eat and then take a nap. As always, Tortoise simply walks along, not zipping at all. Hare awakens from his nap just that critical second too late and misses winning by a hair. The entire book is wonderfully accessible and readable with humorous touches added like diagrams of both Hare and Tortoise and their advantages and disadvantages. It reads aloud nicely, the pace happily more like Hare than Tortoise throughout.

Murray’s illustrations are large and will work well when shared with a group. Hare is a bounding and lean while Tortoise is rounded and with a determined set to his jaw. The illustrations show clearly that Tortoise is behind and the long walk he has to the finish line. While the snoozing Hare has the setting sun behind his full belly after leaving a trail of munched carrots.

Clever and jolly, this enduring tale is brightened by a fresh take. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.


Review: The Fox and the Crow by Manasi Subramaniam

fox and the crow

The Fox and the Crow by Manasi Subramaniam, illustrated by Culpeo S. Fox

A new version of a classic Aesop fable, this picture book explores the tale of Fox and Crow.  Crow is all set to perch with his fellows on a wire but then smells the bread cooling in a window below.  Down he swoops and heads into the woods with it.  But Fox is there too, sneaking along.  Fox howls, singing beneath Crow.  Crow must respond in song, opens his mouth and down falls the bread into Fox’s waiting mouth below.  It’s a tale we all know, but told in such a masterful way that it is made new again.

Subramaniam’s text adds to the drama of this short tale.  This is writing with lushness and body, using words that will stretch young children in just the right way.  Words like raucous, wafting, twilight and temptress fill the story and enrich it.  They cleverly play up the darkness, the wildness and the tricks that are being played.

Fox’s illustrations are just as rich and dark.  Each illustration is a painting that stands on its own in composition and beauty.  Fox uses spatters to add texture to his deep color palette that evokes the encroaching twilight and evening.  On some pages the colors of the sunset enter, adding more drama.

A reinvention of an old tale, this is an incredible new telling.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Second Life of Abigail Walker by Frances O’Roark Dowell

second life of abigaiil walker

The Second Life of Abigail Walker by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Abby has always been on the outskirts of her group of friends, considered the fat one who could be teased endlessly about her weight.  She has to be careful not to give her real opinion and to always toe the line set by the group leader.  Privately, she considers them to be “medium girls” and nothing special, but they are her friends.  As Abby starts to investigate the abandoned lot across from her house, she gets gently bitten by a fox.  It is from that point on that she is no longer content to be a medium girl herself.  Following the fox and then a dog, Abby discovers a creek she never knew was in her neighborhood and then a farm on the other side.  A boy lives there with his grandmother and his father who is recovering from battle in Afghanistan.  As their friendship grows, Abby gains self confidence and is able to give a lot back too. 

This book had me from the very first page.  Told from the point of view of the fox, the first short chapter invites readers to speaks to the power of story, the role of fabled characters in our lives, and moments when the real world and myths intertwine.  It sets the stage perfectly for what is to come.  This is a realistic story that has magic and myth moments.  The writing is outstanding, bringing magic into our world through empty lots filled with weeds, foxes who live in urban settings, edges of suburbs, and newfound friends.

Abby is a great character.  She is chubby and ridiculed for it by not only her friends but her parents.  Yet she has a quiet strength, an underlying confidence, that allows her to withstand those opinions and grow into the person she really is.  She is a wonderfully normal child, not the brightest, not the strongest, but one who is willing to see beyond the weeds to the flowers.

This is a radiant book that celebrates the quiet, the mythical, the connections that are too often missed in our rush.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Review: The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse by Helen Ward

town mouse and country mouse

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse by Helen Ward

Never has there been such a beautiful example of this Aesop Fable.  This is the classic tale of the county mouse who is happy in the simplicity of the country until his cousin from the city comes to visit with his claims of the wonders there.  The country mouse goes to visit, discovering things like elevators, electric lights, and enormous banquets.  But when they are both chased by a city pet, in this case a little dog, the country mouse realizes that while the city is fast-moving and filled with bright lights, he misses his quiet life in the country.  Merrily, the book ends with an image of the city mouse asleep in a wheel of expensive cheese.

It is the illustrations here that make this such a noteworthy book.  Ward takes special care in depicting the beauty of the countryside and the country life.  She moves between seasons, the apple tree decked in pink blossoms and then hearty with ripe apples.  The two mice are shown without any little clothes or any anthropomorphic touches.  Instead these are two sleek and life-like creatures. 

The illustrations are sumptuous, rich and superb.  They invite you to explore the county and the city and see beauty in both.  They bring you into the cozy winter nest of the country mouse.  They linger on the many blossoms of the country landscape.  They focus you close in from a mouse point of view. 

Highly recommended, this book belongs in library collections for both its beauty and the simple way it is written.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Mouse & Lion by Rand Burkert

mouse and lion

Mouse & Lion by Rand Burkert, illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert

This classic Aesop fable is told with exceptional ease.  The story focuses more on Mouse than other versions, even giving him top billing in the title.  Mouse scampers right over Lion before he even realizes he is not a mountain.  And as the tale goes, Lion grants Mouse a reprieve from being eaten and sends him on his way.  In this story, Lion is captured in a hunter’s net and Mouse gnaws him free.  Set in Africa, this story features a four-striped African grass mouse rather than the expected little brown mouse.  Combined with the baobab trees, it all works to evoke Africa completely. 

Burkert’s text is beautifully done.  At first blush, his writing reads aloud so well that it seems simple.  But instead it is just written by a storyteller, who realizes exactly how words play and how to create a mood.  When Lion has captured Mouse, there is a gorgeous moment when Burkert leaves Mouse literally dangling:

Mouse spun slowly as he dangled.  He dangled as he spun.  He squinted into Lion’s mouth, feeling his warm breath, noting his yellowed teeth.

This is just one of many such times when the writing sings, the moment stretches, and the story is illuminated. 

Add to this skilled writing, the illustrations and you have quite the book.  The illustrations are strong at the same time they are delicate.  Done with fine lines, each hair on the animals is individual.  Mouse’s nose and whiskers seem to twitch.  Lion seems to snore.  There is life here in these illustrations, life that moves and breathes.  The illustrations are captivating.

Who would think that after last year’s Caldecott Award winner, libraries would want another version of Aesop’s fable.  They definitely should get this one with its beautiful combination of writing and illustration.  It too is a winner.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.

Also reviewed by Cracking the Cover.

The Lion and the Mouse

The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

In this almost wordless book, readers revisit Aesop’s tale of the lion who spares the life of a mouse only in turn to be rescued by the mouse.  The only words on the page are animal noises that bring the African setting to life.  Readers follow the mouse right into the lion’s paws, sigh in relief at the release, and will be riveted as the capture of the lion plays out. 

Pinkney shows readers the world in focused images, revealing the view of the land the mouse has, the perspective of the lion, and foreshadowing the capture of the lion in the poacher’s net.  Each image is beautifully done, filled with details that bring the story to life and invite you to linger over them.  His pacing is done with such skill that he can create suspense with a single page turn.  From the moment of opening the cover, readers are in the hands of a master story teller who speaks through his art.

One of the best wordless picture books I have ever read, this book should be on every library’s shelf.  And with that cover, it is not going to sit there long!  Make sure you face this one out!

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.  Copy will be placed in library collection.

Also reviewed by Collecting Children’s Books, 100 Scope Notes, A Patchwork of Books, Pink Me, and Fuse #8.

Lousy Rotten Stinkin’ Grapes

Lousy Rotten Stinkin’ Grapes by Margie Palatini, illustrated by Barry Moser

The pair who collaborated on The Three Silly Billies is back with a twist on Aesop’s fable this time.  When fox can’t reach the grapes on his own, he asks bear to help.  Fox stands on bear’s head, but that doesn’t work either.  Beaver is added to the quest for the grapes, but his tail flip doesn’t help.  Porcupine arrives and joins the stack of animals to no avail.  All of the animals try to offer advice, but fox will have none of it.  Possum is finally added to the tip of fox’s nose, but that doesn’t work either.  In the end, the other animals are full of ideas of they alone could have gotten the grapes.  But fox is such a snit by that point that he marches off, leaving the others to enjoy the “lousy, rotten, stinkin’ grapes” without him.

Palatini’s tone is spot on.  The lumbering bear is written in a way that makes him a delight to read aloud, the voice bumbling along slowly.  Fox is frenzied, the other animals befuddled.  The juxtaposition of all of the voices is great fun to read aloud.  The writing is perfectly paced as well with each idea building on the next and the anticipation of success a great tension builder.  Moser’s illustrations are large and funny.  Fox being launched into the air again and again is a real hoot, as are the doubtful looks on the other animals’ faces. He uses white space with great effect to emphasize the distance between fox and grapes.

A read aloud with action, humor and animals!  What more could anyone want?  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.