Review: Vernon Is on His Way by Philip C. Stead

Vernon Is on His Way by Philip C. Stead

Vernon Is on His Way: Small Stories by Philip C. Stead (9781626726550)

Vernon has returned for a second book following A Home for Bird, along with his friends Skunk and Porcupine. In three short stories, readers get to delight in even more time with these characters. The first story is told almost entirely in images since it’s about waiting. Vernon waits and waits until he suddenly realizes that he’s under way already! In the second story, the three of them head out to go fishing. Porcupine though worries that he is ruining the trip for everyone because he’s never been fishing before. As the story goes on it becomes apparent that none of them know what fishing trips actually are, but their version is a huge success for all of them anyway. In the last story, Vernon creates a special garden for himself filled with things he loves and that remind him of Bird. Porcupine and Skunk want to help Vernon feel better about missing Bird, but they struggle to find the right thing to bring him. Along the way they accidentally find exactly what he needs.

As always, Stead hits just the right notes with this book. The three characters are each unique and interesting. Vernon stays as the focal point of the stories but shares the limelight particularly with the worrying Porcupine this time. These books feel like instant classics, the characters will remind readers of Pooh and Eeyore. They are characters you want to spend more time with as they head out on their small adventures together. The illustrations are classic Stead where he uses the white space on the pages very effectively to create space and sometimes longing.

Another winner from Stead that belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.

3 New Picture Books to Get You Moving

Dance, Dance, Dance!

Dance, Dance, Dance! By Ethan Long (9780823438594)

A great mix of picture book and beginning reader, this story features Horse who loves to dance. Buggy is a little concerned though because there isn’t any music, so is Horse really dancing? Horse invites Buggy to join him, but Buggy just isn’t sure. When Horse tries to make Buggy feel better about not being able to dance, he manages to insult her. So Buggy starts dancing too. They add some great music. Soon Buggy is dancing but now Horse is doing something else: resting.

Long has a great touch with humor in picture books. He makes it broad enough for children to immediately relate to it but not so much as to lose the appeal of discovering the humor for yourself. Horse and Buggy make a strong pair, with the exuberant Horse doing his own thing and Buggy reflecting more of what the reader’s reaction is. The illustrations are large and vibrant filled with bright-colored backgrounds and the gyrations of Horse and Buggy’s dances. One to get the wiggles out! Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from copy provided by Holiday House.)

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The Field by Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara (9780735843127)

Told in both Creole and English, this picture book tells the story of a group of children who want to play soccer together, but they have all sorts of obstacles to overcome. They have to move the cows and goats out of the field and then start to play. Once the game really gets going, the rain starts. They quickly decide to keep right on playing even in the wet and the mud. At the end of the day, they go home dirty and happy.

Set on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, the book invites readers to see connections between Creole and other languages. The text is simple and bold, poetic with its short lines. The entire book is filled with energy and action as the children take the initiative to create a field and play together. The illustrations convey this energy with deep colors that shine on the page. The green grass is nearly neon, the sunlight almost glows, and the color of the children’s clothes completes the rainbow-like palette. A great read that will appeal to young sports fans of any culture. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

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A Hippy-Hoppy Toad by Peggy Archer, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf (9780399556760)

A teeny-tiny toad sits on a twig above a little puddle on the road. His adventure begins when the twig snaps and sends him flying upwards into a tree. A bird tries to peck him, so he jumps down landing on a flower where he has to escape a buzzing bee. He hops down into the safety of the grass on the side of the road, where the toad spots a cricket worth chasing. The cricket escapes thanks to a dog and a lizard. The toad is then picked up with the leaves by the wind and blown into a shoe that takes him on a wild run along the road, right back to his very own twig above the little puddle.

Told in rollicking rhyme, this picture books is a galloping read that begs to be read aloud, giggled at together and shared. There is a wonderful rhythm to the book, a structure that is familiar and yet played with just enough to not be predictable. The nod to traditional songs is appreciated as are the modern touches. The illustrations are filled with small touches of nature with wildflowers blooming and snails and ants climbing around. They also capture the wild journey of our little toad as he adventures through the habitat.

Share this one at your next story time focused on frogs, toads or if you just want kids to jump around a bit. Appropriate for ages 2-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade Books and Edelweiss.)

Review: Scritch Scratch Scraww Plop! by Kitty Crowther

Scritch Scratch Scraww Plop by Kitty Crowther

Scritch Scratch Scraww Plop! by Kitty Crowther

Jeremy doesn’t like the dark. So when bedtime comes, he is just fine as he gets ready for bed. He’s happy when his father reads him a bedtime story and his mother comes in for a final hug and kiss. But once he is left alone in the dark in bed, he hears something. It’s a “scritch scratch scraww plop” and Jeremy is fairly sure that it is some sort of monster in his room. He goes to tell his father, but his father just moves him back to bed. Eventually after being unable to sleep after several tries, Jeremy climbs in bed with his parents. His father can’t sleep then, and goes to sleep in Jeremy’s room. And that is when he hears a “scritch scratch scraww plop!” He heads back to get Jeremy and the two of them go outside together to figure out what is making that noise.

Crowther takes a universal situation of being scared of the dark and places a lovely natural twist at the end. The fact that Jeremy is not making up or imagining the scary noise he is hearing is central to the story. Reading this book aloud is a treat with the “scritch scratch scraww plop” offering a great opportunity to add a little shiver into the room. The design of the book is old-fashioned and warm. I immediately thought of Jeremy Fisher by Beatrix Potter when I opened the book. The clear celebration of nature at the end of the book is a strong way to finish on a high note.

Crowther’s art is done in discrete panels on each page adding to the vintage feel. The art itself is jaunty and friendly. The pools of water on the floor that make up their carpet is funny and the real darkness on the page done in black is deep and adds to the scary feel when Jeremy is alone.

This import from Belgium will be welcomed as a bedtime story for those who have their own monsters and scary noises to deal with at night. It may also invite exploration out into yards and gardens to discover what is making those noises. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Review: By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman

by mouse and frog

By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman

Released April 14, 2015

Mouse wakes up early to start work on the new story she wants to write. It is a quiet story about a mouse who is setting the table. But before she can get any farther in her story, exuberant Frog hops in and starts adding new elements to the story, including cake, a king, and lots of ice cream. Meanwhile Mouse is trying to mop up all of the mess of the spilled tea, melting ice cream, while Frog gets completely out of control and takes over entirely. Finally Mouse has had enough and yells that Frog is not listening at all! They erase the entire mess of Frog’s story and start again with just Mouse’s ideas of morning tea. Frog is forlorn, unable to help until Mouse realizes that there is room in the story for her quiet ideas and Frog’s wild ones.

Freedman shows without any didactic tone that collaboration on stories and art is possible, as long as everyone listens, communicates and compromises. In fact, the end result is a lot more lovely! Showing that wild ideas are not the best way to come up with a story, but that also quiet thoughts have value, is a wonderful show of support for quieter thinkers. At the same time, that wild moment of Frog’s makes the entire book work, showing how out of control and wonderful some ideas can be. It’s a balanced look at creativity and collaboration that is welcoming and inclusive.

As always Freedman’s art is exceptional. Once again she does washes of watercolor that are gorgeously messy and free. The spilled tea and other elements of Frog’s story embrace all of that. Mouse’s story is shown in pencil drawings that are childlike and rough while also being very neat and structured. They show each characters personality clearly. At the end, it is a lovely marriage of the two styles, filled with bright colors and yet neat as a pin.

Creative and great fun to share aloud, this picture book demonstrates how teamwork and collaboration should work. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.

Review: I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty

i dont want to be a frog

I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt

A little frog has decided that he doesn’t want to be a frog. He’d much rather be a… cat! Why? Because frogs are too wet. But a bigger frog explains that there is no way he can be a cat, because he’s a frog. Then he decides he wants to be a rabbit, since he can already jump and because frogs are too slimy. But he’s missing the long ears. Maybe a pig? But then you have to eat garbage. How about an owl? Nope, he can’t turn his head all the way around. Finally, a wolf comes along and gives the little frog a perfect reason to be happy to be a frog.

This debut picture book makes for a great read aloud. The two voices of the pair of frogs form the entire story, creating a great dynamic together. The story may be very silly, and it certainly is, but at the heart it is a child questioning if it might be better to be something entirely different, something furry or something that flies. It’s a classic case of identity crisis and one that children will relate to even while they giggle about it.

Boldt’s illustrations play up the humorous aspect of the story. The expressions on the frogs’ faces are well drawn and convey the emotions they are feeling very clearly. The use of speech bubbles and hand lettering makes for a book that has the feel of a comic book. Combined with the silly story, the illustrations make it even more funny.

Get this in the hands of Mo Willems fans who will completely fall for this loud little frog with big ideas. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Doubleday Books for Young Readers.

Review: The Secret Pool by Kimberley Ridley

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The Secret Pool by Kimberley Ridley, illustrated by Rebekah Raye

Vernal pools are easy to miss, but also necessary to the life of many animals.  This nonfiction picture book explores the amazing things that happen in vernal pools throughout the seasons.  It begins with defining what a vernal pool is and then quickly moves into spring.  The fascinating lives of frogs are described, including the way they make it through the winter.  Soon salamanders join them and breed in the pool.  Tiny fairy shrimp appear too.  As summer comes, the eggs of the salamanders and frogs hatch and soon there are tadpoles and larvae in the pools.  Now the race begins to see if they can climb ashore before the pool dries up.  The vernal pool disappears and the animals that live there and were born there move away.  They will return again with the spring and the vernal pools.

Ridley has nicely created a book that can be used at two levels.  The larger text can be shared as almost a story about the pools.  Then the smaller text provides deeper information about the vernal pools and the animals.  Her words work together well, the simpler text offers a poetic voice to the factual information that serves to remind us how amazing all of this actually is.

Raye’s illustrations are lush and minutely detailed.  She offers both larger scale images of the animals and then others done with finer lines that show more details and more animals on the page.  You never know what you will see on the next page, and I guarantee a jump of surprise when you see the bullfrog with the tadpole hanging out of his mouth like a tongue. 

This book reveals a world right under our feet that most children never knew existed.  Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Ah Ha! by Jeff Mack

ah ha

Ah ha! by Jeff Mack

A picture book told in just two letters and four words!  Frog is all set to have a relaxing day at the pond (AAHH) when a boy and his dog appear and scoop him into a jar (AH HA!)  But Frog escapes out into the pond once more and settles down on a rock.  It isn’t a rock and suddenly a hungry turtle is after Frog (AH HA!)  Frog escapes once again (AAHH) but finds himself being chomped at by an alligator (AH HA!)  Frog clings to a reed, except it isn’t a reed, it’s a bird’s leg and he has to escape once again.  Right into the boy’s jar.  (AH HA!)

With a similar feel to his Good News, Bad News picture book, Mack once again creates a book that is very cleverly done.  Despite being written with just a few words and two letters, this book tells a complete story that has a wonderful pacing.  With all of the wild predators that Frog faces, the book’s pages will turn quickly. 

Mack’s art is vibrant and colorful.  He draws in a large format that will work well when used with a group.  Even his words are large enough to be read by an audience.  The art has a friendly feel to it, cartoony and bright.

This one is ideal for new readers who are just starting out or for toddlers who will enjoy the fast pace and the shortness of the text.  It would also make a great inspiration for a writing challenge using only a few words to tell a complete story.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: Ribbit! by Rodrigo Folgueira

ribbit

Ribbit! by Rodrigo Folgueiro, illustrated by Poly Bernatene

One morning, the frogs in the pond woke up to discover a very pink visitor among them: a little pink pig.  They tried to ask the piglet why he was there, but all he would say was “Ribbit!”  The other animals soon heard about the unusual pig and hurried to the pond to see him.  All of the animals except the frogs found the entire situation hilarious, but the frogs were getting more and more angry.  The animals went in search of the wise old beetle to ask his advice, but when they returned the pig was gone.  All of the animals began to wonder what the pig had wanted all along and it wasn’t too late to find out!

Folgueira has created a book with the feel of a traditional folktale but one that also has the humor and feel of a modern story.  Told in a clear voice, the book invites readers to wonder about what is actually happening in the book.  Happily, the ending ends the questions, but until then there is plenty to think about.

Bernatene’s illustrations have bright tones and fine lines.  The watercolor texture of the pages and the pictures add a welcome rustic warmth to the story that suits it well.  She has also created one of the most engaging little pigs, with a merry grin and closed eyes formed out of just a few curved lines.  Pink perfection.

This is a look at friendship and also at cultures and what happens when someone steps out of their own comfort zone and begins to explore new things.  In the end though, it’s a delight of a read aloud that children will enjoy for just the story alone.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Review: Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson

frog song

Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin

This is one breathtaking nonfiction book about frogs.  The book takes a look at various fascinating species from around the world, explaining what makes that species so special.  Delving deeper than skin deep, the strawberry poison dart frog from the cover is celebrated for the unique way she lays her eggs:  five at a time and then when the tadpoles emerge she carries each of them to their own pool of water up in the trees.  Each turn of the page brings another strange and amazing frog with its own unique approach to life.  This is a celebration of frogs that is sure to enthrall any young biologist.

Guiberson has carefully selected frogs that are incredible and unique.  Her writing is filled with frog noises, motion, and even the sounds that whipping a gooey mass of eggs into a ball of bubbles would make.  This adds a certain zing to the writing, making it great fun to read aloud.  You must have your ribbit on to pull this one off.

Spirin’s illustrations are simply amazing.  Filled with more all the great details you would get from a photograph, they are superbly realistic.  Turning the pages shows the breadth of frog life on our planet.  The vitality and also the fragility of these animals is highlighted in her art.

Beautiful, intriguing and great fun to read, this book is an impressive testament to the importance of frogs in our ecosystems.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Company.