Mama Lion Wins the Race by Jon J. Muth

Mama Lion Wins the Race by Jon J Muth

Mama Lion Wins the Race by Jon J. Muth (9780545852821, Amazon)

It is race day for Mama Lion and Tigey. Tigey works on their car while Mama Lion reminds him that winning isn’t everything. In fact, she may have spotted just the right prize for Tigey and it isn’t the big trophy. When the race starts, Mama Lion and Tigey are immediately in the lead. Unfortunately though, when swerving to avoid an obstacle, their wheel comes off. Nicely, one of their competitors, the Flying Pandinis stops and helps them repair their car. They are soon passed though by Bun Bun who is scattering seeds as she rides her motorcycle and the Knitted Monkeys who are always a little naughty. As they race toward the finish line, Mama Lion and Tigey have a decision to make. Should they win the race?

Muth is the author of the acclaimed Zen Shorts series of books. It’s a joy to see him use those same ideas and concepts in a picture book about racing that is also about so much more. Muth has embedded Buddhist thought and ideals in this picture book in a way that is natural and never didactic. This is a picture book with a message that is so deeply ingrained in story itself that the message flows and never feels forced. The characters of Mama Lion and Tigey along with the other toy animals are dynamic and complex. This is a rich picture book that turns the concept of winning entirely on its head.

Muth’s illustrations have a zingy energy to them that matches the subject matter beautifully. They are filled with animals that are clearly toys. The Knitted Monkey team is exactly that. The Flying Pandinis are small round stuffed pandas. Mama Lion and Tigey are clearly beloved stuffed animals with whiskers, buttons and of course racing goggles.

A truly special picture book, this one is for those kids who love racing and those who love toys and those who love a great read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten by Candice Ransom

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten by Candice Ransom

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten by Candice Ransom, illustrated by Christine Grove (9780399554551, Amazon)

Amanda knows just how she wants her first day of Kindergarten to go. She will print her name large on the blackboard, she will build the tallest tower, and she will run faster than everyone else. But when she gets to Kindergarten, it doesn’t go exactly as planned. Amanda’s favorite color is brown, but another girl dressed all in pink won’t leave Amanda alone. In fact, Bitsy is the one who gets to put her name in the middle of the blackboard. Amanda is scolded for building her tower too tall and she isn’t the fastest either. So she decides to head to her brother’s 2nd grade class and just skip Kindergarten entirely.

Ransom has depicted a certain type of child, one that is vastly confident about school and then realizes that what they have dreamed up is not actually reality. It’s a great variant on the typical Kindergarten picture book about the fear of starting school. It also shows that overconfidence can be just as difficult as being worried. Ransom tells an entire story in her picture book, allowing Amanda to feel big emotions and work through them in her own unique way.

Grove’s illustrations add a large amount of appeal to the book. Amanda remains appealing to the reader even though she is prickly, thanks in part to the way she is shown on the page. From her brown cardigan to her red high tops, she is a vibrant character on the page even as she makes plenty of mistakes.

A nice twist to the typical starting school books, this picture book shows everyone has a lot to learn in Kindergarten. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.

Review: Zen Socks by Jon J. Muth

Zen Socks by Jon J Muth

Zen Socks by Jon J. Muth (InfoSoup)

Stillwater, the giant panda, returns for another picture book filled with Buddhist wisdom. The book takes a look at different ways to reach wisdom. The first section of the book looks to sharing a story as a way to learn. It’s a story about learning too, about the importance of patience, practice and hard work. The next story focuses more on action as a learning tool, about being a bad guy and being a good person, and more positive ways to manage conflict. The final part of the picture book is about taking action to help even if you think your small action won’t make any difference to the world.

The entire book shines with Stillwater’s quiet and wise presence. His guidance is done with subtlety and kindness, modeling the way that parents can inspire different ways of thinking in their children. The stories while based on old tales are also effortlessly modern in their presentation here. These are lessons that transcend any age and remain all the more true in our current world.

Muth’s illustrations are luminous and lovely. They are filled with light and humor, inviting children outdoors to play and explore without ever mentioning it as a goal. As in all of his Zen books, Stillwater is a major presence that demonstrates the importance of having a child’s mind in his playfulness and also being engaged in his community as he teaches the children new ways to see the world.

Another brilliant Zen book, this picture book will be embraced by Buddhists and others looking for some quiet wisdom in our busy world. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.

Review: Chengdu Could Not, Would Not, Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg


Chengdu Could Not, Would Not, Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg

Chengdu is a young panda who is having problems falling asleep.  Unlike all of the other pandas who are sleeping soundly on nearby branches, Chengdu just can not drop off to sleep.  He tosses and turns.  He tries different positions, even hanging upside down!  It takes him awhile, but he finally finds a perfect spot, and one that will surprise and delight readers.  But then, another little panda finds himself awake and what is he to do?

Saltzberg brings readers a clever and funny story of a little animal who cannot fall asleep.  The text is very simple and paired with large format illustrations that sometimes just features Chengdu’s eyes and other times show the very tired little panda looking straight at the reader in despair.  The resolution of Chengdu’s dilemma is very funny and satisfying.  It is guaranteed to get a giggle or two even from the sleepiest of listeners.

An ideal bedtime story, this book will have the littlest listeners happy and sleepy.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Hi, Koo! by Jon J. Muth

hi koo

Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth

Join Koo, a panda, on an exploration of the seasons through haiku poems.  The book begins with fall and haikus about fall leaves, wind, and rain.  Winter comes next with poetry about snow and ice.  Spring is bridged into with a glimpse of crocuses and then grass, insects, and birds.  Summer arrives with fireflies, flowers and water.  In 26 poems, this is a lovely celebration of the small things that make each season special.

Muth has created haikus that are beautifully written.  They capture small moments in time and also point to the larger importance of these moments.  They continue Muth’s Buddhist focus in his picture books, offering children a way to see these times of mindfulness as important and worthy of exploration. 

Muth’s watercolor illustrations have a wonderful spirit to them.  The palette changes colors as the seasons change with spring bouncing in green especially after the white cold of winter.  He captures the seasons so well that your attitude changes with each season as well.

A stellar collection of haiku, this book will invite young readers to see nature and seasons in a fresh new way.  Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.

Review: Xander’s Panda Party by Linda Sue Park

xanders panda party

Xander’s Panda Party by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Matt Phelan

Xander is planning a party just for pandas, but soon realizes that he is the only panda at the zoo.  So he changes the invitation to include all sorts of the bears at the zoo.  Then Koala is left out because she’s a marsupial, not a bear.  Xander chewed some bamboo and thought a bit, then changed the party to be for all mammals at the zoo.  After going through several more versions, Xander’s party changed to invite all of the animals at the zoo.  It was almost time for the party to start, when a truck and a crate arrived at the zoo.  It was a new creature for the zoo!  But would it ruin Xander’s updated party plans?

Clever, clever, clever.  This book carefully offers information on animal taxonomy to readers who will not even realize they are learning it thanks to the party-theme of the book.  Park’s writing is so impressive.  When I opened the book to see it rhyme, I must admit that I sighed.  But Park managed to created a rhyming book that is not written in stanzas.  She instead builds whole paragraphs that read like rhyming poems and make the rhymes work throughout the sentences.  It is a smart way to approach a book that harnesses the rhyme rather than galloping away with it.

Phelan’s art is entirely brilliant.  His lines have a looseness that really works, creating whole settings in just a few lines.  All of the animals have their own unique personalities.  I particularly enjoyed the rhino glaring from behind his wall and the montage of the different types of bears.  There are small touches throughout that add humor and coziness to the story.

A book that has science mixed with a message of inclusiveness, this is one has mass appeal.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman

chus day

Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex

This was not what I had been expecting from Gaiman and Rex, but sometimes surprises can be a delight.   Chu is a small panda who has a very big way of sneezing.  His parents are always concerned about him being about to sneeze.  So when they head to the library and encounter book dust, his mother asks if he’s going to sneeze.  Chu starts to “aah-aaah-Aaaah” but then “No.”  When his father takes him to a restaurant with pepper in the air, he asks too.  Chu goes “aah-aaah-Aaaah” but then “No” once again.  When they head to the circus everyone is too busy watching the show to hear Chu say that he thinks he’s going to sneeze and what a sneeze it is!

This is the first book that Gaiman has written for such a young audience.  It will be toddlers and preschoolers who adore this book and love the humor that is intrinsic in the writing and its rhythms.  The better you can fake the build-up to a sneeze, the funnier the little “no” at the end is.  In other words, this is a great one to read aloud.

Rex adds so much with the tight details of the world he builds here.  Chu is plush and fuzzy.  Whenever he starts to sneeze, his aviator glasses fall down over his eyes, adding an additional comic effect.  The detail of the scenes will have children lingering over them, identifying the various animals in the pictures.  Personally, the mice using the library card catalog drawers for computer use was the perfect mix of modern and retro.

A rather surprising straight-forward book from Gaiman that is a strong read aloud and filled with laughs.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter

mrs harkness and the panda

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

In 1934, Mr. Harkness set out to China to bring the first live panda to the United States.  Unfortunately, he did not survive his journey.  So his young widow, Mrs. Harkness decided to set out and complete her husband’s dream.  Mrs. Harkness was not an adventurer; she designed tea gowns.  She knew that the journey would be hard, maybe even impossible.  But she set off for China and met up with Quentin Young, a man who had seen pandas and agreed to help her.  They packed carefully for the journey, even taking baby formula and bottles in case they found a baby panda.  They journeyed deep into China, until they finally found traces of panda activity, but no pandas.  Then they heard a small sound and followed it to a baby panda hidden in a rotten tree.  Mrs. Harkness had completed the mission!

This is a marvelous biographical picture book about an unlikely adventurer who took an amazing risk, especially after her husband’s death.  The story is told with a wonderful richness that helps bring the time period and this woman to life.  I particularly enjoyed all of the people telling her that it was a mistake and the amazing number of things she took along with her on the journey.  Potter takes the time to really create the world and this character, something that can be missing in picture book nonfiction.

Sweet’s illustrations are marvelous.  They incorporate cut paper art, maps, Chinese lettering, postcards, and lots of little touches that make them especially rich and meaningful.  At the same time, there is a sweetness to the illustrations that works particularly well with this story and the main character.  It also works well with the cuddly furry pandas too.

An inspirational story of adventure with an unlikely heroine at its center.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf.

Board Book Reviews–Hello Friends Series by Emma Quay

sleep-tight-a-book-about-bedtime letsplayhouse 

puddlejumping yummy-ice-cream-a-book-about-sharing

Good Night, Sleep Tight by Emma Quay and Anna Walker

Let’s Play House by Emma Quay and Anna Walker

Puddle Jumping by Emma Quay and Anna Walker

Yummy Ice Cream by Emma Quay and Anna Walker

Four new board books welcome the youngest readers into a group of three friends.  There is Panda, Sheep and Owl, who are all different, enjoy different things, but manage to be the best of friends despite that.  The series has warm illustrations that are done with a mix of paint and fabric.  This lends a real richness and friendliness to them.  The text of the books is brief, humorous and engaging.  These are stories that are simple and great fun.

Good Night, Sleep Tight is a bedtime story.  The three friends decide to go camping in their sleeping bags.  They all settle in, but both Owl and Sheep are uncomfortable.  Only Panda is cozy, so the other two decide to join Panda in the one sleeping bag.

Let’s Play House has the friends building a play house together out of a blanket and some chairs.  But the house doesn’t work out so well, especially after Panda stands up to leave, taking the roof with him.  But all is not lost, as a new game is invented.

Puddle Jumping is about bravery.  Owl and Panda have great fun jumping over a big puddle the three friends discover.  But Sheep is scared to try, scared she will fall on her bottom and get hurt.  Eventually Sheep does try to jump the puddle, and she ends up having a lot of fun in an unexpected way.

Yummy Ice Cream is about sharing.  Sheep and Panda both have ice cream cones that are very yummy.  But Owl doesn’t have any.  The three friends find a very inventive way of making two ice cream cones into more.

As you can see, children will recognize their own play and activities in these books.  These are modern, stylish board books for the youngest of children.  Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copies received from Penguin Books.