Review: Motor Mouse by Cynthia Rylant

Motor Mouse by Cynthia Rylant

Motor Mouse by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard (9781481491266)

The beloved author of many easy readers returns with the first book in a new series. Done in a larger picture book format, the book still has three short chapters inside. The first story focuses on the joy of having cake every Friday for our Motor Mouse and Telly. When they discover that their cake shop is closed one Friday, what will they do? Perhaps another sweet treat can save the day thanks to a friendly hedgehog. In the second story, Motor Mouse decided he’d rather look around than drive. He takes a cab but can’t quite figure out what he wants to see. In the end though, he moves from memory lane to a bowling alley to making a new friend. The last story takes Motor Mouse to the movies with his brother, Vincent. Vincent always orders one large popcorn and doesn’t quite manage to share it. So when he does the same thing, Motor Mouse insists on being the one to hold the bucket this time. But sharing can be really hard!

Told with Rylant’s beautiful writing that sets just the right curious tone on each of the short chapters, this is a fantastic picture book. With a look towards dealing with expectations, managing friendships, and learning to share and appreciate one another, the themes are universal for small children who are trying to navigate similar situations. The stories are gentle but also profound.

Howard, who has collaborated with Rylant on the Mr. Putter & Tabby series as well as the Gooseberry Park books, returns with his signature style. With clear black lines, the illustrations are bouncy and friendly even when situations get a little problematic. There is a constant optimism about Howard’s work that is particularly effective here.

A great start to a new series that is sure to be popular. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane.

Review: Good Morning, Neighbor by Davide Cali

Good Morning, Neighbor by Davide Cali

Good Morning, Neighbor by Davide Cali, illustrated by Maria Dek (9781616896997)

One morning, Mouse wakes up and wants an omelet for breakfast. The trouble is, he doesn’t have an egg. So he asks the blackbird for an egg. Blackbird has flour, but no egg perhaps they could make a cake instead! The two set off to find an egg, and along the way, they gather more and more animals and ingredients. The dormouse has butter. Mole has sugar. Hedgehog has apples. Raccoon has cinnamon. Lizard has raisins. And finally, Bat has an egg! Owl lets them bake the cake in her oven. But when the divvying up of the cake comes into question, does Mouse get anything? After all, she didn’t really contribute something. Or did she?

This book is a clever riff on Stone Soup where everyone’s contributions come together to make something much more special. It uses repetition very nicely to give it a distinct folklore flavor. The final question of whether Mouse gets a slice of cake for initiating the idea and the entire process is an interesting one. The end will satisfy everyone except maybe hungry children who will want some apple cake themselves.

The illustrations add to the folklore appeal with their friendly animals and forest setting that is whimsically depicted. Each animal has their own personality and feel thanks to the illustrations and the way they appear on the page.

A great read-aloud choice that would pair well with autumn stories about apples and baking. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 New Picture Books that Take Action

The Breaking News by Sarah Lynne Reul

The Breaking News by Sarah Lynne Reul (9781250153562)

When bad news is announced on the television, everyone in a little girl’s family gets very worried. Her parents start watching more TV and spending more time on their phones. They whisper together too. It’s all very scary. Even bedtime isn’t the same. It seems like everyone around is feeling it. At school, the little girl is inspired to try to help. But her funny show doesn’t make anyone laugh and no one seems to notice how much she is helping and being good. So she tries to do one tiny thing at a time and soon things are looking brighter even if the bad news is still around.

Told from the child’s point of view, this multicultural book offers a view of how one big bad event can color people’s days, especially those of children. There is an important empowering message here, of doing small things that add together to make a big difference, one that can spill past a family and into an entire community. Told with a simplicity and straightforward voice, this picture book reminds us all that we are not powerless even when we feel that way. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier

The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez (9780545859196)

Ruby is always thinking of new ideas. When she found some old boards one day, she decided to build a fort. She asked her brothers if they wanted to help build, but they didn’t want to, so she learned how. She drew up plans, gathered supplies, cut the boards, hammered the nails. With each step, she offered to have her three brothers help but each time they refused. When her fort was finished though, they all wanted to play in it. Ruby refused to let them, since they didn’t help at all. So now it was up to the boys to come up with some great ideas and ways to lend a hand.

With the structure of Little Red Hen, this picture book celebrates a younger sister who is willing to do the work to see her vision through. She gets help along the way from her parents and grandmother. The women of the family are the ones handling the tools throughout the book, along with Ruby herself. The illustrations are done in a mix of traditional and digital media that offers a bright color palette and a layering of textures. A strong book about girls building their own future, this picture book is a gem. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Who Will Bell the Cat By Patricia McKissack

Who Will Bell the Cat? By Patricia McKissack, illustrated by Christopher Cyr (9780823437009)

When Marmalade the cat comes into the mice’s barn, sick and hungry, the mice help to nurse her back to health. But when Marmalade recovers, she starts to hunt the mice, terrorizing them. Now the mice had to come up with a plan on how to handle the cat. Eventually Smart Mouse finds a bell and the mice create a collar for the cat, but who will be brave enough to get it around her neck. The mice try time and again and even turn to the local rats for help, but Marmalade evades each attempt. It isn’t until some dangerous humans come to the barn that the cat is belled, but at what cost?

McKissack has put her own spin on a classic fable. Her writing makes for a fable that is entirely shareable, something that begs to be read aloud to a group of children who will delight in the dangerous cat, cheer on the brave mice and then enjoy the giant humans at the end. Cyr’s illustrations are dramatic and beguiling. The fable takes on mythic proportions with the yellow-eyed and sharp-clawed villain of a cat and the plump brave mice. A great pick to share aloud with a crowd. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Holiday House.)

3 Picture Books Filled with Wild Animals

Where, Oh Where, Is Baby Bear By Ashley Wolff

Where, Oh Where, Is Baby Bear? By Ashley Wolff (9781481499163)

This picture book continues Wolff’s series on Baby Bear and his explorations of his habitat. Here, Baby Bear and his mother head out to look for food. But every time his mother looks for him, Baby Bear has disappeared. Again and again she has to call out “Where, oh where, is Baby Bear” and then her little bear responds. Readers will enjoy spotting where Baby Bear is heading and then where he is hiding as the pages turn. The repetition is handled nicely, giving the book a lovely rhythm when being read aloud. The illustrations are crisp and filled with details of their forest home. A great read aloud pick. Appropriate for ages 1-4. (Review copy provided by Beach Lane Books.)

Where_s Halmoni By Julie Kim

Where’s Halmoni? By Julie Kim (9781632170774)

This picture book is done in a full-color graphic-novel style that will be appealing to children even beyond picture book age. It is the story of Korean-American siblings who head to their grandmother’s home to find her missing. They discover a magical passage in her home that leads to a world filled with creatures from Korean folklore. There is Tokki (the rabbit), Dokkebi (the goblins), and Horanghee (the tiger). As the children figure out how to get past each of the creatures using snacks and games, they come close to learning their grandmother’s secret. Sharp-eyed children will realize what happens to the fox at the end of this Korean adventure. The appeal of folklore combined with a modern graphic-novel style makes this book a winner. Appropriate for ages 5-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse by Mac Barnett

The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

When a mouse is gobbled up by a wolf, he discovers there is life after being eaten. Inside the wolf’s stomach, a duck is already living. The duck has a bed, a table, tablecloth, chairs and much more. The duck likes being inside the wolf, because he no longer has to worry about being eaten, since it’s already happened. Soon the mouse has decided to stay and the two have a dance party to celebrate. Unfortunately, this makes the wolf’s stomach hurt. He is spotted by a hunter and soon all three animals are in danger as the hunter takes aim. What can be done to save them all? It will take all three to save the day. Barnett has the perfect rather dark humor to work with Klassen’s illustrations. The story has a mix of fun and fate that will have readers guessing right up until the end. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 Picture Books about Families

Bruces Big Move by Ryan Higgins

Bruce’s Big Move by Ryan T. Higgins (9781368003544)

Bruce the bear continues to be mother to his four goose children. But now three mice have also joined them in Bruce’s den and it’s getting very crowded, particularly for the grumpy bear. It was messy and loud. Bruce tried to get rid of the mice, but nothing worked. So he decided to move away with the geese instead, leaving the mice behind. Bruce built a house, just the right size along the water. Bruce was very happy there, but the geese were all sad. Soon though, the mice had a solution, one that Bruce wasn’t happy with but one that felt like home. Higgins once again takes a very grumpy bear and forces him to reluctantly appreciate the chaos around him. Higgins uses a big dollop of humor throughout the book, both in the text and the illustrations. Bruce trying to cheer up the geese is a wonderful twist on the book series and seeing Bruce smile is rather creepy in a good way. A moving book that is a nice twist on other picture book moving stories, this is another winning read-aloud featuring Bruce. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Review copy supplied by Disney-Hyperion Books.)

The Call of the Swamp by Davide Cali.jpg

The Call of the Swamp by Davide Cali, illustrated by Marco Soma (9780802854865)

Boris was found as a newborn at the edge of the swamp by his parents. Boris had quite happy days growing up, though he was different than the people around him. His eyes were larger and he had tentacles rather than hair. Then one day, the wind blew the smell of salt air and Boris could smell the swamp. He eventually walked all the way back to the swamp and found himself in the water with animals that were a lot like him. It was his real family. But where did Boris truly belong? This picture book explores adoption through a human family adopting a water creature. It also explores what makes a place a home. The tone here is open and curious, exploring both the wonders of the swamp and the longing to return to the human house and his parents. The art is lovely and filled with details. The illustrations are filled with subtle colors that pay homage to the swamp throughout. A lovely book of nature and home. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Review copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.)

His Royal Highness, King Baby by Sally Lloyd-Jones

His Royal Highness, King Baby by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by David Roberts (9780763697938)

Told from the point of view of a little girl who is about to get a new baby brother, this picture book offers a great example of an unreliable narrator for small children. The little girl was in charge at first in a land where there was plenty of time for stories with both of her parents. Then the new baby arrived, King Baby, and everything turned into screaming, poop and attention for the baby. The princess had to share the bathroom, carry groceries, and soon became invisible to everyone. Then she came up with a new plan and turned into a Mysterious Fairy with a cunning plan that would break the spell of King Baby. But it didn’t quite turn out the way she planned.

I love the way that the text stays true to the little girl’s perspective entirely. But the illustrations show an entirely different thing.The narrator has a vivid imagination that she uses to turn a new sibling into a fairy tale. Still, her parents are around and attentive to both children and often looking on with knowing glances at their older child. Wise and funny, this picture book will give children a voice and parents a nod. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

Be Quiet! by Ryan T. Higgins

Be Quiet! by Ryan T. Higgins

Be Quiet! by Ryan T. Higgins (9781484731628, Amazon)

Rupert the mouse has decided to create a wordless picture book. Unfortunately though, his friends just keep making noise and ruining everything. The two other mice even talk about not talking and keeping the book wordless. They try to help make strong illustrations, but don’t quite understand the concept. Then they start bringing new ideas into the illustrations: vegetarian vegetables, potatoes, superheroes, and even some high brow art. They try miming because they know that is silent, but it still doesn’t stop them chatting. Rupert finally loses it in the end with hilarious results.

This book is so funny that it will have readers laughing out loud. Higgins, author of Mother Bruce, has a great sense of comedic timing, adding just the right commentary by the mice at the best moments. The series of different illustrations is wonderfully funny as are Rupert’s reactions to the other mice. There is a natural quality to their conversations that make it all the more believable that they simply are unaware they are still talking to one another.

The illustrations are exactly what one would look for in an artistic picture book that is wordless, which makes the premise all the more funny. Set in a lush natural area, there are woods, running brooks and other elements. The three mice are cleverly drawn, each distinct from one another in color and attitude.

This is a natural read aloud that will be a wild one to share with a preschool group. Brace yourself for lots of laughs. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Mine! by Jeff Mack

Mine! by Jeff Mack

Mine! by Jeff Mack (9781452152349, Amazon)

Two mice discover a large rock that they both want to own. What ensues is a one-word argument back and forth between them and an ever-escalating battle of dominance. The mice use cheese to tempt each other along with wrapped gifts. Other rocks also play a role and pile around the bigger rock. There are walls of rock, knocked down by a wrecking ball. Finally, the two mice are together on the rock, arguing with one another. That’s when the ending takes a great twist.

Mack has a delightful sense of humor and timing in this picture book. The writing could not be simpler, with only one word being used in the entire book. The illustrations work particularly well with their limited palette and bright colors. They have the feel of the vintage Spy vs. Spy, with the two mice in their distinct colors battling one another. There are sneaky attacks and all out blasts. It’s a wild look at the hazards of not sharing.

Great for toddlers learning about sharing, reading this aloud will have you shouting “Mine!” in all sorts of tones. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

A Case in Any Case by Ulf Nilsson

A Case in Any Case by Ulf Nilsson

A Case in Any Case by Ulf Nilsson (9781776571086)

This is the third and last book in the Detective Gordon mystery series. In this book, Gordon has retired and Buffy is now the only detective in the police station. Buffy starts hearing strange noises in the middle of the night. She’d love to have Gordon back to help solve the mystery of the scrabbling noises in the night. Meanwhile readers discover that Gordon is getting restless in retirement and that at night he heads to the police station to check on Buffy, making the noises that are scaring her. When a new case arrives, the two police officers are soon working together again to figure out what has happened to two little kindergarten animals who have disappeared. Yet Gordon can’t quite tell Buffy that it was him scaring her at night.

This Swedish early chapter book series has been a joy to read and share from the very first. While it is sad to see the series end, it goes out on a high note that finishes the series off with a solid win. Once again Gordon and Buffy are back, their dynamic maturing and growing as they work more together. The mystery here is serious and compelling as the detectives work to piece together where two young animals have gone and whether they are in danger. Readers get to see that the children are playing and safe, but the detectives don’t know that. It’s a smart way to make the mystery appropriate for young children. As with the entire series there is a focus on fairness, kindness and honesty throughout the book.

Spee’s illustrations add to the appeal of the series. The full color images make the book more approachable for children moving into chapter books. They also depict the forest world that the characters live in with lovely details like toadstools, flowers, and insects in the air. The autumnal feel of the book works well as a series closer as well, with sunset coloring throughout.

A wonderful ending to a top notch series, make sure to start from the beginning! And maybe have some cake on hand to munch along. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Gecko Press.

The Road Home by Katie Cotton

The Road Home by Katie Cotton

The Road Home by Katie Cotton, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby (9781419723742)

A variety of animals travel on their way home. Birds fly to warmer places, escaping the chill of winter. Mice build nests in the grass that offer safety and warmth. Wolves hunt for food to fill their hunger. Rabbits hide in the brambles, chased clear by the wolves on their heels. They reach their burrow and safety. The next day, the wolves and rabbits are outside again along with the birds and the mice. All sharing a larger home with one another.

Cotton’s poem is delicious. From the initial rhyming stanzas on the first page, she builds a full story of the importance of home and the strength of parent/child pairs in survival. Throughout the poem there is a sense of arrival or approaching home, defined in different ways for the different species. There is also a focus on security and warmth, on being together despite the odds and filling small burrows and nests with love.

Jacoby’s illustrations embrace the natural setting. They keep readers from realizing that all of the animals are in the same area by using a different feel for their habitats. The mice are in golden nests of straw, the birds soar in the sky, the wolves hunt through a forest and the rabbits are close by. Then the final reveal of them together is like the sun returning, a beautiful reveal.

Gorgeous poetry combines with strong illustrations to create a celebration of home no matter what species you may be. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.