Tad by Benji Davies

Tad by Benji Davies

Tad by Benji Davies (9780062563590)

Tad was a very small tadpole, smaller that all of her tadsiblings. The others warned her that if she couldn’t keep up with them, she would be eaten by Big Blub, the huge nasty fish at the bottom of their pond. So Tad swam twice as hard to keep up with everyone and kept to the shallow parts of the pond. Gradually, the other tadpoles started to change, growing legs and losing their tales. But Tad still had her tail and steadily the other tadpoles disappeared. Eventually, she was the only one still left in the water, hiding from Big Blub. Then one day, Big Blub appeared. Now Tad had one choice, leap out of the water or be eaten!

Davies has written a deep and marvelous picture book about being a late bloomer and then having change thrust upon you. Tad faces her challenges with lots of grit and determination, but eventually that isn’t quite enough as she is left behind by the others. Still, it is her courage that saves her in the end, allowing her to figure out what happened to her siblings after all.

The art here is great, filled with murky pond greens, deep seaweed teals, the blackness around Big Blub, and the moonlit blue of water at night. Tad has a glowing yellow eye, different from her siblings that lets readers find her even in a school of tadpoles.

A grand story sure to make your heart leap. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Being Frog by April Pulley Sayre 

Being Frog by April Pulley Sayre 

Being Frog by April Pulley Sayre (9781534428812)

This gorgeous photo-filled picture book demonstrates that frogs are alive and that frogs are beings. Frogs have favorite things like we do, favorite logs and favorite rocks to sit on. Frogs hunt for food, jumping and leaping. They hide in the shadows and swim in the water. Frogs may have memories of when they were tadpoles. Perhaps they head on journeys over rocks before stopping to sun themselves for a bit. They might sit and think, letting time roll past, slow or fast. All just being a frog.

In her author note, Sayre speaks to the anthropomorphizing of animals in books for children and the importance of seeing animals as different but also important beings on their own. Inspired by her neighborhood frogs, she captured their days and wonders aloud about what they think, remember and do. It’s a picture book distinctly from a human point of view, wondering about nature and giving space for those moments of though for both the reader and the frog alike.

The photographs are stunning, filled with vibrant colors of yellows and green. The frog is center stage, eyes bulging and occasionally leaping towards its prey. The motions are captured rather like anyone at a pond sees frogs jump with glimpses of extended legs almost out of sight. 

Thoughtful and respectful of nature and our frog neighbors. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane.

Review: Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe

Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe

Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe (9781481480390)

Pokko’s quiet frog parents had made a big mistake giving her the drum. When they tried to discuss it together, they couldn’t hear themselves. So Pokko’s father sends her outside with the drum, asking her to play quietly and not draw attention from anyone. So Pokko heads out quietly. The forest is very quiet, too quiet. So Pokko starts to play her drum. Another animal joins in and follows Pokko. More animals join until they have a parade of music. Back home, it’s lunch time. Pokko’s father listens for her and faintly hears music that is coming closer. He’s about to discover that Pokko can really play that drum!

Forsythe has created a book that is a complete delight. While telling the story of the rather loud and very brave Pokko, he also gives readers moments where the story pauses. These are moments like seeing other gifts Pokko’s parents have given her, like the slingshot and the llama. Forsythe isolates these moments giving them entire pages and time to have real impact. The same happens when Pokko must confront the fox who is eating others in the band. The overall storytelling is just as strong, offering a folktale feel with a modern twist.

The illustrations are done in watercolor, gouache and colored pencil. They have a gorgeous sunlit quality to them that is saturated and rich. They use patterns and colors to great effect as well.

Unique and lovely, this is one to beat the drum for! Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

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

secret pool

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.