This Way, Charlie by Caron Levis

This Way, Charlie by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso (9781419742064)

Open Bud Ranch is a place that took in all kinds of animals. When Jack the goat first arrived, it was clear to all of the other animals that Jack liked his space. But Charlie the horse didn’t even see Jack, since he was getting used to being only able to see from one of his eyes. After getting stepped on, Jack made sure to keep an eye on Charlie at all times. That’s when he noticed that he and Charlie liked a lot of the same things like sunlit pastures and smelling the honeysuckle. But Charlie often got turned around and had to move really slowly. One day, Jack decided to help and led Charlie to the best place to graze and then down to the river. Soon the two went everywhere together. Then Charlie lost the sight in his other eye, leaving him entirely blind. Jack still liked his space, so when a storm blew in, Charlie left the warm barn to protect Jack from the rain. After an argument, Charlie got in an accident and that left Jack the only one to save him, even though it meant talking to the others on the farm.

Levis offers a rich story arc in this picture book that tells a full tale and also manages to be a great read-aloud. The tale of these two unlikely friends is based on the true story of Charlie and Jack. The book gently shows that animals have value even if they aren’t technically productive in a farming sense, and that they have emotions and the ability to help one another when they are in need.

Santoso’s illustrations beautifully show the farm with glowing pages of sunlit pastures. He moves easily into action and drama as the story demands it with the same animals distraught or scared. The illustrations capture the personalities of Charlie and Jack.

An engaging and warm look at animal rescue and friendship. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Review: Once Upon a Goat by Dan Richards

Once Upon a Goat by Dan Richards

Once Upon a Goat by Dan Richards, illustrated by Eric Barclay (9781524773748)

A very naive king and queen tell their fairy godmother that they want to start a family. They’d like a child that they can place either on the hearth next to a vase or out in the garden by the roses. They say that a boy would be great, but “any kid will do.” So at the next full moon, they open their castle door to discover a baby goat on their doorstep. They reluctantly bring the goat into their perfectly designed home where it immediately starts eating things, butting statues, and even pooping on the floor. When they remove the goat to the garden though, they eventually rush out on a rainy night to rescue it and bring it back home. They think it is only for one night, but soon the goat has lived with them for months. When the fairy godmother returns though, she is surprised about the goat and realizes that a mistake has been made! When the human child is discovered living with a goat family, she abruptly moves the children back to their biological parents. However, families aren’t quite that simple.

This fractured fairytale sets up the scene very quickly and the entire story moves at a wonderful pace. The text is simple and carries the story well, offering just enough detail to create plenty of humor. The chaos of a goat in their perfect lives is just right, eating everything in sight and destroying plenty of the rest. It’s a great metaphor for any new child entering a home and the destruction of the ideal plans that have been made. The resolution of the confusion of the child and kid is very satisfying and will have readers cheering along.

The illustrations by Barclay are wonderfully detailed and rich. He uses a nice mix of simple scenes and then more elaborate ones with some images having elaborate borders and others showing the splendor of the castle. The mix is very successful, always paying attention to leaving enough white space for the eye.

Let’s not kid around, this is a great picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

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

The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Jerry Pinkney

The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Jerry Pinkney

The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Jerry Pinkney (9780316341578, Amazon)

Pinkney continues his foray into classic folktales with this new book. With its focus on fooling a bully, this is a timely tale to tackle. Pinkney uses great skill to whittle the text down to exactly what is needed to carry the story forward. The book is not a reinvention of the original tale, but instead a focused version of the original that will have children cheering the brave goats. Pinkney does add a nice touch to the end with the troll getting harried himself and then rejected in a clever mirror of what he did to the goats.

The illustrations from this Caldecott winning artist are exceptional as always. Pinkney uses pencil and watercolor to create his rich illustrations that have small details, large landscapes and animals. The goats are winsome and courageous while the troll is a vile green with long toenails, tusk-like teeth, and rotting fish and fish skeletons around him.

Another must-have for every library by a master author/illustrator. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.


A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young


A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young (InfoSoup)

When Lucy sends away for her 25 cent unicorn, she has big dreams of what it’s going to look like. It is sure to be blue with a pink tail and pink mane. She will ride on him and name him Sparkle. But when the box finally arrives, Sparkle is not what she expected at all. He does love cupcakes, but that’s not all he loves to eat. He also eats underwear, his flower necklace and the tutu Lucy puts on him. She can’t ride him at all and he doesn’t behave at show-and-tell. Lucy decides to return Sparkle, but the man can’t come and get him until the next day. In the meantime, Sparkle turns out to be scared of storms, butterflies love him, and he makes Lucy laugh. Perhaps it’s not important to be the perfect unicorn after all.

I must admit that I expected this book to be overly sweet, rather too sparkly and filled with too much princess and unicorn fluff. However, it’s not that kind of a picture book at all and I can’t resist a book that surprises me this much. Even better, it’s a unicorn book with a “unicorn” that farts, smells and has fleas. In fact, it’s a unicorn book about a goat and a girl who learns to love him. And in the end, I think readers are going to fall for Sparkle too and realize that the idealized unicorn may be very dull compared to one very active goat.

Young’s illustrations are very appealing. She does a mix of large format pages and then more detailed ones that show all of the trouble that Sparkle manages to get into. Lucy imagines herself as a princess, but throughout is clearly a colorful little girl who loves to pretend and imagine. Readers will immediately know that Sparkle is not a unicorn, but will love the fact that he’s a goat with a heart-shaped mark on his side.

A sparkling and clever story about new friends that defy expectations. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.


Review: In, Over and On the Farm by Ethan Long

In Over and On the Farm by Ethan Long

In, Over and On the Farm by Ethan Long

Following his Geisel Award-winning Up, Tall and High, Long returns to prepositions. Four animals friends have adventures on the farm in this easy reader. Broken into three short stories, each story focuses on one pair of prepositions. Chicken can’t get in the coop, so she is left out in the rain, until she realizes that everyone else is warm and dry in there, so she orders them to get out. In the next story, Chicken can’t get over the fence or go under it either. Luckily Cow has another solution for her, go around! In the last story, Pig is on the tractor and Cow and Goat join him there. When they are all on the tractor though, it starts to roll away and soon they are all thrown off. But they want to go on it again.

Long is a very prolific author and excels at creating books for beginning readers which are a winning mix of humor and simplicity. It also helps that he is a natural storyteller and so his short stories in the book have the feel of being complete tales despite their brevity. His characters are also universal, in their group and individual dynamics. The book is entirely relatable by children and will be enjoyed in classrooms looking at prepositions as well as by individual readers.

Long’s illustrations are funny and filled with a cartoon appeal. The colors are candy-bright and even gray rainy days are tinged in lavender. The incorporation of a few flaps to lift is also very appealing for young readers who will enjoy that the twist for each story is revealed in a physical way.

Silly and very easy to read, these stories have massive appeal. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Review: Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

unicorn thinks hes pretty great

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

Goat is disgruntled.  Everything was going just fine and then Unicorn came along.  Goat rides his bike proudly until Unicorn actually flies by.  Goat brought treats for the class and then Unicorn made it rain cupcakes.  Goat was doing great at the dance but Unicorn won first prize.  Goat does some simple magic coin tricks and Unicorn turns things to gold.  It just is not fair.  So Goat is not ready for Unicorn to come up to him when he’s having lunch and talk about how much he loves goat cheese, how he adores cloven hooves, and how jealous he is of Goat’s curved horns.  The book ends with the two deciding to be friends and imagining what they would look like as a superhero team. 

Shea always does comedic writing very nicely with a great sense of timing and books that are ideal for reading aloud thanks to the strong character voices.  Here Goat steals the show despite Unicorn’s more flashy attitude.  His dour attitude is nicely enlivened with humor and his own wry take on life. 

Shea’s art is done in his signature simple yet rather zany style.  Unicorn’s magical traits are portrayed in a flashy, wild way that makes them all the more funny and impressive.  With only a few lines, the mood of both Unicorn and Goat are clearly shown.

Funny and wild, this book proves that the cupcake is always fresher on the other side of the rainbow.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Let’s Count Goats!


Let’s Count Goats! by Mem Fox, illustrated by Jan Thomas

A manic and very funny counting book that will have readers laughing at the antics of the goats that they are trying to count.  Can you count the single seaside goat?  How about the goats buzzing by in airplanes?  How about the loud trumpet goats?  Or the ones in the snow?  The talents of Mem Fox and Jan Thomas are delightfully displayed here in one of the top counting books of the year.

Some counting books suffer from trying to maintain counting on each and every page.  Part of the success of this book is that Fox has written other silly goats into the book that do not needed to be counted.  So the book has a nice flow that really works well.  It feels much more like a picture book than a counting book.  Fox’s rhymes are simple, offering Thomas a grand place to build from with her illustrations.  Thomas takes innocent words and transforms them into scenes where her goats munch on the props.  The book is filled with goats doing all sorts of things, drawn in Thomas’ wonderfully simple style that children will immediately relate to. 

Highly recommended, this is a counting book that could be used very successfully in a story time.  The illustrations are large enough to work with a group and the text is readable as well.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

Also reviewed by A Year of Reading.

Captain Small Pig

Captain Small Pig by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Susan Varley

Spend a day on the lake with Old Goat, Turkey and Small Pig.  Small Pig is the youngster who is eager about everything and wants to do things himself.  Turkey automatically responds with a no to every request while Old Goat allows Small Pig to do what he asks.  Small Pig gets his own turn to row, gets to try to fish for a whale, and declares himself to be Captain Small Pig!  Old Goat and Turkey shepherd him safely through the day and into the evening, even carrying a dozing Small Pig home to bed.  This book is gentle, reassuring and a beautiful way to spend a day on the water with friends.

The dynamics between the characters is an integral part of the success of this book.  Turkey may seem stern, but he is the one who carries the sleeping child home wrapped in a warm blanket.  Old Goat is doting and exactly what every child needs in their life.  The skill of Waddell is that the two adult characters’ relationship is never clarified.  So readers can see it as they wish.  They could be two grandfathers, two uncles, or two fathers. 

Waddell has built a world of safety and contentment in the this book.  Varley expands that feeling with her pen and ink illustrations that use soft colors and have a timeless feeling to them.   Readers will yearn to be on this outing with these characters, fishing, gliding and just spending time.

A lovely addition to library collections, this gentle story will float its way to bedtimes and quiet reading corners.  Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.

Also reviewed by Becky at Young Readers.

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Bunny Days

Bunny Days by Tao Nyeu

The author of the marvelous Wonder Bear returns with a picture book that once again features the big white Bear.  This book however takes a different approach than the loosely plotted first book. 

The book is in three chapters, each featuring an scrape the bunnies get into which is resolved by Bear.  In the first story, Mr. Goat is driving past the bunnies on his tractor and splashes them all with mud.  They head to Bear for help and he fixes everything by putting them all in the washing machine.  On delicate cycle of course.  Then they are hung to dry.  In the second story, Mrs. Goat is vacuuming and accidentally sucks the bunnies right out of their burrow.  Mrs. Goat takes her broken vacuum to Bear who discovers the bunnies inside.  He blows the dust off of the bunnies and repairs the vacuum too.  The final story has the bunnies playing hide-and-seek in a white flowered hedge while Mr. Goat is pruning it.  He accidentally cuts the tails off of the bunnies.  But no worries, Bear once again rescues the situation by carefully sewing the tails back on.

These stories are entirely silly and whimsical.  The solutions are sure to generate giggles as children will immediately realize how nonsensical they are.  Nyeu’s art has a strength and simplicity that adds to the appeal here.  His use of thick lines and a limited color palette work very well, especially the use of one dominant color for each story.

Ideal for toddlers, this book will have plenty of appeal with its fresh-feeling art and simple story lines.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.