The Ramble Shamble Children by Christina Soontornvat

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The Ramble Shamble Children by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9780399176326)

From two award-winning artists comes this picture book about children who are definitely not the traditional family. Merra, Locky, Roozie, Finn and Jory all live together in their “ramble shamble house.” They have chickens in the yard, a nice big mud puddle that Jory loves to play in, and a bountiful vegetable garden. Their lives are merry and busy with working in the garden together. Then one day, they discover a picture of a beautiful pristine house that is far more proper than theirs. So they set out to make their rustic house into something closer to the lovely model home. Out go the carrots to make way for rose bushes. The mud puddle is covered up. The chickens get an ornate home of their own. They even make their own chandelier. Things may be proper, but they aren’t quite right the next day. The hens refuse to use their new house, the chandelier is carried off by crows, but worst of all, Jory has disappeared. They find him in a new patch of mud, helping them all realize that they may just need to accept they are a ramble shamble family.

As the proud owner of a wild natural garden outside my front door and a house covered in vines that please me immensely, I firmly embrace being ramble shamble. With this picture book, Soontornvat proves that she can write almost anything from children’s fiction to nonfiction to picture books. Her tone here is cozy and warm, embracing the way the children live from the very first page. The hard work the children do, their closeness and care for one another, and their desire to have a proper home all speak to the importance of having a family around one.

Castillo’s illustrations show the children arriving together at the house and then show how they live together. The children are diverse and range in ages from little Jory who is close to a toddler to Merra who is an older child. The illustrations show their connection to one another, how they all help out, and the beauty of their ramshackle life they have built together.

A charmer of a picture book sure to warm the heart and ease the need for a proper life. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.

Rot: The Bravest in the World by Ben Clanton

Rot The Bravest in the World by Ben Clanton

Rot: The Bravest in the World by Ben Clanton (9781481467643)

This follow-up to Rot: The Cutest in the World is a squirmy, squelchy, muddy read. Rot is a mutant potato and just like all mutant potatoes, he loves mud. They play in it, eat it, even sleep in mud. So when Rot found a massive mud pit, he couldn’t wait to jump right in. But before he can, his older brother Snot tells him to watch out for the Squirm, a monster that lives in deep mud, slimy and gross and hungry! Snot leaves laughing, but Rot is not deterred. He just needs a good plan. Perhaps a superhero costume will make him brave enough? When that wasn’t enough, he adds a knight costume on top, but even that doesn’t work. Perhaps adding something that loves mud too? Soon Rot is dressed up as “Sir Super Rot, the Pigtato!” When he goes back to the puddle, he discovers that there is something squirmy in the mud. Will he be brave enough to find out what it is?

Clanton imbues his picture book with a marvelous sense of humor from beginning to end. At the same time he has created a picture book with a strong story arc with Rot as a central compelling character that children will root for. When he begins to put on costumes to make himself more brave, the humor is there but also a strong sense of empathy for this courageous potato.

As with the first book, the art is bold. It is filled with rich potato and mud browns. The handwritten dialogue is shown in bubbles that look like potatoes too. Keep an eye out for the little pink insect who follows Rot on his adventures.

Squidgy and muddy fun. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Mud Book by John Cage

Mud Book by John Cage

Mud Book: How to Make Pies and Cakes by John Cage and Lois Long (9781616895525, Amazon)

This book dates from the 1950s. Created by avant-garde composer Cage and artist Long, this book looks at mud pies as one of the first creative and maker experiences of children. The book is presented as the simplest of cookbooks. It begins with a recipe for mud pies that involves dirt, water and sunshine. There are tips on what to do if your mixture is too wet too. The book then turns to a much more complicated recipe for mud layer cake that involves pans, rocks and more. Exactly what any youngster needs to design their own pies and cakes into masterpieces.

This book shows the joy of playing in the mud and dirt. The illustrations by Long are filled with dabs and dribbles of muddy color, looking exactly like dirt on the page. There’s a looseness to the illustrations that plays nicely against the instructions which are serious in tone and still inviting for exploration.

This is a joy of a book that is part art and part how-to manual and all fun. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Mudkin: Muddy, Lively and Joyous


Mudkin by Stephen Gammell

A young girl heads outside after it stops raining to play, pretending to be a queen.  Suddenly, some mud turns into Mudkin, a jolly muddy creature, who asks the girl to be his queen.  Mudkin speaks in muddy phrases, splotches instead of letters, but happily the girl interprets for us.  Mudkin creates a robe and crown from mud for the new queen.  He also makes a carriage that carries the queen to the muddy castle on the hill.  From the parapet, she sees the large number of mudkins that she will be reigning over and pledges to rule forever.  Then the rain begins again and the mud dreams are washed away.

Gammell uses his signature style here to great effect with the swirls of color as shadow and the flying sprays of mud that follow every gesture.  Mudkin is a very friendly creature of warm brown, who smiles and drips.  Gammell has created a brown that celebrates the colors within it, turning to yellows, reds and oranges too. 

The book has very few words, most of them in the conversations between the girl and Mudkin.  Mudkin speaks a marvelous way, in smudges that almost are letters, but not quite.  It brings the pleasure of imagination and play into the text as well as the illustrations. 

A book sure to encourage children to head out in the rain, play in the mud, imagine, dream, and come back in resembling Mudkin! 

Reviewed from digital copy received from Carolrhoda Books via NetGalley.

Also reviewed by There’s a Book.

You can also check out the Making of Mudkin video to see watercolor magic:

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