The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Kate Berube (InfoSoup)
Nick has two pet cats, Verne and Stevenson. They love doing things together, but the cats don’t appreciate it when Nick sits down to read. So Nick decides to teach them to read too. He starts with easy words, but the cats aren’t interested. He moves on to flash cards and soon Verne is paying attention, particularly when the words and books have to do with fish. Verne sounds out words and starts reading books on his own, he even gets his own library card. Stevenson doesn’t seem interested at all though. Verne and Nick have lots of fun acting out the stories that they are reading, though it would be more fun with Stevenson playing too. Then one day Nick discovers pictures that Stevenson has drawn of a pirate story. Could it be that Stevenson is interested after all?
Manley cleverly shows the process of learning to read in this picture book. Moving from simple words to sounds of letters to looking at books on your own and then reading entirely on your own. Delightfully, he also has Stevenson who is a reluctant reader. Stevenson though just needs someone to notice what he is passionate about and suddenly he too is interested in reading. It’s a smart way to show that we are all readers, some of us just need to not read about fish but about pirates!
The illustrations by Berube are friendly and fun. I love that Nick is a child of color and that it is not an “issue” in the book or even mentioned. One special part of the book is Stevenson’s expressions which are pure grumpiness and then can be seen later in the book as purely piratical.
A summery book about reading that will move nicely into the school year. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Frank and Lucky Get Schooled by Lynne Rae Perkins (InfoSoup)
Frank was having a horrible day until his parents took him to get a new dog at the shelter. That’s when Frank met Lucky and Lucky met Frank. They learned a lot about each other, but they also both just loved learning things. Lucky loved science, especially learning about the ducks in the pond. He also loved exploring nature, handily bringing a lot of it back with him when he returned home so that Frank could study it closely. There was math too, questions about how many dog biscuits Lucky deserved and how much hair he could shed. Dogs can even be heroes, though Lucky may not have been particularly heroic when eating the entire birthday cake. Art, languages, geography and more were studied as Lucky and Frank spend time together. There is so much to learn when on walks together!
This is an unusual picture book, one that is immensely clever and completely noteworthy. Perkins doesn’t create a linear picture book here, rather the story of a boy and his dog is specifically told in different school subjects. This makes the book a very dynamic read and offers wry insights into the perspective of both dog and human as they spend their days together outdoors. The focus is on exploration and learning, which both of them do in different but also parallel ways. There is humor throughout, intelligently speaking to the relationship of human and pet but also to learning in a larger way about life.
The art by Perkins is stellar. Done in pen, ink and watercolor, the illustrations are humorous but also delicate and realistic. With different and interesting perspectives used, each page is different from the next but also part of a cohesive whole. A dynamic mix of different sized illustrations makes the book all the more fun to read.
Children will respond to the idea of learning in life and outdoors and will also love Lucky right from the beginning. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Greenwillow Books.
Anna Carries Water by Olive Senior, illustrated by Laura James
Anna wishes that she could carry water on her head the way her older brothers and sisters do. Her family does not have running water in their home, so the children walk to the spring and back every day toting water. Her siblings carry the water in different types of containers balanced on the top of their heads. But Anna with her smallest container can’t do that. Anna tries, but only manages to dump water down herself and have to refill the coffee can. Then she carries it in her hands instead. Anna’s oldest sister reminds her that when she is old enough to balance the water, it will just happen. But can Anna wait that long?
This Caribbean picture book is a treat. It not only offers a glimpse into a different way of life but also gives a gentle reminder of the importance of patience and perseverance. Written in simple language, the book uses repetition very nicely to give it a sense of traditional folktale while being firmly set in the present day.
The illustrations tell much of the story and also have a traditional feel mixed with modern content. They are bright colored, vibrant and help make sure that readers know that they are in another part of the world.
A bright and vivid book, this is a great pick for sharing aloud and would make an unusual but great addition to any story time or unit on water. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle by Chris Raschka
The two-time Caldecott Medalist returns with another exceptional picture book. In this book, a little girl learns to ride a bike. She first picks out the bike she wants to try, then watches other people ride their bikes. The training wheels are very helpful, keeping her upright and they steadily are moved upward so that she can start to balance on her own. Training wheels off, she tries riding in the grass but when she heads down a small hill, she tips over. It takes a lot of courage to get back on again and again and again after tumbling off. But then, suddenly and incredibly, she learns to ride a bicycle on her own!
Written in second-person, the book really allows readers to see themselves as the one riding the bicycle. Raschka’s text is simple and effective, encouraging readers to give it a try. When the tumbling begins, Raschka starts talking about courage, sure to inspire young readers to see that quality in themselves both in learning to ride a bicycle and in other endeavors too. As always, the art is the key with Raschka’s picture books. His style is loose and flowing, capturing movement and wobbles with easy watercolor strokes.
A great pick for spring when children are sure to be longing to be out playing in the warmer weather, this book is a quietly inspiring read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.