Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Picture Book Review Rundown: September 2022

It's another review rundown, clearing out the backlog of 2022 new releases that have accumulated on my desk. 

Friends by Daniela Sosa

review copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 

Writing: In just a few words per page, this book describes all the various types of friendships and how they come to be. I especially like when the author gets specific, as she does with the things friends might teach you how to do, such as make a dandelion crown or draw a pig. The more general statements are a bit more vague and might be harder for kids to relate to.
Illustration: The children depicted in the illustrations are a mix of boys and girls of many races. One page shows two older ladies who have been friends for a long time, and it feels a bit out of place. The figures have what my husband calls "dot eyes" and generic faces, but there is a sweetness to them.
Content: There is nothing objectionable from a Catholic perspective. I bristled a little at the suggestion at the end that if you can't find a friend you just need to look harder. Sometimes that just doesn't work, and it seemed like an odd way to end a book that was a celebration of friends rather than a guide to making them. 
Overall: This would work nicely for a friendship themed story time and I would have definitely used it for that purpose in the library, but as there's not much meat to it otherwise, it's probably not staying on our shelves.  

Finding Fire by Logan S. Kline 

*Review copy courtesy of Candlewick Press

Writing: This book is nearly wordless, but there is a brief introductory sentence on the first page that really helps place the book in time for kids who might not readily understand that this is a story about a cave child hunting for fire.
Illustration: The illustrations in this book are eye-catching and action-packed They provide details about how cavemen may have dressed and the tools and weapons they might have used, as well as the animals and terrain of theit time. The relationship between the main character and the little mammoth he rescues from the mud adds some sweetness to the book and gives the boy a character to interact with on the last leg of his journey.
Content: This is the perfect addition to our homeschool kindergarten curriculum, which usually includes cavemen. We have just finished reading the Golden book about cavemen and my 5 year old will love reading this as a supplement.
Overall: This is a well done wordless picture book that reminds me a bit of Roar! by Julie Bayless, which was one of  my oldest daughter's favorite books as a toddler. I'll probably keep this book for the twins to read when they get to kindergarten. 

Dinosaur Atlas

*Review copy courtesy of National Geographic and Media Masters Publicity.

Writing: As with most books published by National Geographic, this one simplifies complicated scientific topics for kids to understand without dumbing them down. This book is brimming with content, and each page offers wonderful fun facts about dinosaur characteristics, behaviors, and habitats. There is a table of contents along with helpful back matter, including a dictionary of dinosaurs and a well-organized index.
Illustration: There is a lot to look at in this book and illustrations abound. Kids who revel in the little details of each dinosaur's anatomy will love to pore over these pages. There are also lots of useful maps to help explain where each dinosaur lived.
Overall: This is a well-organized and attractive guide to where and when dinosaurs lived and were discovered. It's slightly more kid-friendly than some of the big dinosaur books we already have, so we'll probably hang onto it. 

Pascual and the Kitchen Angels by Tomie dePaola

*Review copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Writing: This is a book from 2004 which has been redesigned and reprinted. In his typical straightforward style, Tomie dePaola tells the story of a young boy who wants to join a monastery but is dismayed to be sent to work in the kitchen until angels come to his aid.
Illustrations: The illustrations in this book are charming. I love all the details of the friars' faces and hair as well as their living environment and the food in the kitchen. The angels floating around the kitchen are delightful as well.
Content: This is an unapologetically religious picture book and I'm so glad it's been reissued! There aren't enough picture books about angels, in my opinion.
Overall: A must-read for dePaola fans. This one is a keeper.

The Song of Francis by Tomie dePaola

*Review copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Writing: This is a story of few words which relates how St. Francis sang the praises of God and his creation. It has just the right amount of words for toddlers, which I love.
Illustration: The pictures are a bit more abstract than in most of dePaola's books, and this suits the poetic nature of Francis's singing. The colors are also very vibrant, which adds to the visual appeal, especially for very young children.
Overall: This is another wonderful religious title from dePaola. We will be adding this to our collection of Catholic picture books alongside Canticle of the Sun by Fiona French.  

When the Sky Glows by Neil Cross Beckerman, illustrated by David Litchfield

*Review copy courtesy of Beach Lane Books

Writing: A poetic main text describes circumstances under which the sky glows while supplemental sidebars explain the phenomena in more scientific terms.
Illustration: The use of light in the illustrations is the main attraction of this book. Each page glows with color as the pictures depict sunrise, lightning, volcanic eruption, and more.
Content: This book is a good introduction to light for preschool and kindergarten readers. I appreciate that it keeps the information simple and provides one suggested title for each topic at the back of the book.
Overall: This is a solid informational book that will nicely complement our studies of light in BFSU. 

All By Himself? by Elana K. Arnold, illustrated by Giselle Potter

*Review copy courtesy of Beach Lane Books

Writing: This entire story about all that goes into creating a set of building blocks consists of one long run-on sentence, and a second shorter sentence, and that's it. For me, it's difficult to read aloud for that reason, though I do like the pacing of the second half of the book and the way the words match up with what's happening in the pictures.
Illustration: The appeal of the pictures is in the details they show of each person's job: the farmer, the arborist, the artist, etc. They are done in Giselle Potter's usual dreamlike style.
Content: This book suits the segment of our science curriculum about how things are made. It's perfect for helping preschoolers understand how to trace manmade objects back to their beginnings in nature.
Overall: The pictures don't quite suit the more straightforward tone of the text, but the overall concept is well done. 

Hello Moon by Evan Turk

*Review copy courtesy of Atheneum Books for Young Readers 

Writing: A mother talks to her child about the moon and takes him outside to see it and then addresses the moon directly, taking note of its changing phases.
Illustration: The pictures show strong contrast between light and dark. The outdoor scenes do a great job of evoking a wintry nighttime atmosphere, but the figures are drawn in an abstract way that doesn't work for me.
Content: There are so many books about the moon, and this one is more poetic than informative. It's not really what I'm looking for in a book on this topic.
Overall: I found this one pretty forgettable and it will be getting donated.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Picture Book Review Rundown: August 2022

Welcome to the Review Rundown, a quick look at a stack of review books all published in the same month. These books all hit the shelves in August 2022.

Our Little Mushroom: A Story of Franz Schubert and His Friends by Emily Arnold McCully

* Review copy courtesy of Margaret K. McElderry Books

Writing: The life of Franz Schubert is condensed to a length that can be read easily in one sitting. I like the way it's told from the point of view of Schubert's childhood friends, as it lends an intimacy to the details.
Illustration: As in many picture books, the illustrations show inaccurate portrayals of how instruments are held and played. Otherwise, McCully does a nice job incorporating period dress and other historical details into her pictures, which have an old-fashioned flavor suited to the text.
Content: This is a nice, straightforward biography of a historical figure whose significance is clear, and it does not seem to have been written in service to any agendas.
Overall: This is a solid biography by a talented author and illustrator that will stay on our shelves.

Action!: How Movies Began by Meghan McCarthy

*Review copy courtesy of Paula Wiseman Books

Writing: Kid-friendly language is broken up into digestible bites in this survey of the early history of motion pictures. I appreciate that the author tells a straight narrative without scattering extra tidbits of text amidst the illustrations. Saving the extra details for the author's note was a wise decision.
Illustrations: The cartoonish bug-eyes of the figures are not my favorite, but there is a ton of information packed into these pictures and every page is engaging. I love the way McCarthy incorporates her renditions of real movie scenes into the book, even if I'm not sure kids will recognize most of the references as readily as their parents.
Content: The book opens with a scene from Saturday Night Fever, which is not a film I would want my elementary age kids watching. It's not really necessary to skip it, it just struck me as an odd choice. It was also a litte bit strange that a book with an otherwise very broad take on history gets very specific about racism in the 1920s. Those moments of the book felt tacked on in service of an agenda that should probably be addressed in its own book. There is nothing in the book I would call truly inappropriate.
Overall: Action! is a well-researched informational book best suited for a middle grade audience.

Wellington's Big Day Out by Steve Small

*Review copy courtesy of Paula Wiseman Books

Writing: Straightforward narrative and believable dialogue between a young elephant, Wellington, and his parents drive this story of a birthday outing. The plot involves Wellington's birthday gift of a jacket just like his father's, which is too big. Wellington and Dad set out to get the suit altered by a tailor, but for reasons that feel a muddled, that doesn't quite end up happening. The strength of this book is in the characterization rather than the plot. I think the message was that kids shouldn't want to grow up too fast, but I didn't feel like we quite got there.
Illustration: These anthropomorphic elephants are charming! It was fun seeing them dress and move through the world like people. I also like that every page has a white background, as it allows the figures' expressions and body language to be the primary focus.
Content: There is nothing objectionable in this book. It's a sweet story about a boy, his dad, and later, his grandpa.
Overall: I have one little boy, and he has four sisters, so books that portray boys and dads doing things together are gold for us. I like that Grandpa also comes into the story. Books that celebrate generations of males are not as common as similar books about female characters.

ABC ROAR by Chieu Anh Urban 

*Review copy courtesy of Little Simon

Writing: Every page in this book has the same structure. A sentences states the letter, the name of an animal beginning with that letter, and an action taken by the animal. There is nothing particularly remarkable about any of these sentences; they are adequate, generic concept book sentences.
Illustration: Each illustration of a letter is recessed in the page so that young children can easily trace their fingers in the shapes. Letters are decorated with the animals referenced in the text. Arrows show children how the letters are to be drawn.
Content: This is simply an animal-themed board book with the added bonus of helping kids learn preliminary writing skills.
Overall: I find this book pretty basic, myself, but my son (2 years 8 months) is a big fan of this one and of 123 Zoom, which is the automobile-themed number-focused companion book. I also appreciate that it's a book with some bulk that stands up to rought toddler handling.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Picture Book Review: Beginning by Shelley Moore Thomas, illustrated by Melissa Castrillon (9/27/22)

Surrounded by whimsical oversized plant life, a dad and his son, the main characters in Beginning, reflect together on how every ending is also the start of something new. Though the setting is the real world, elements of each scene are exaggerated to appear fantastical. These images all build toward the end of the book where there is a dream sequence and Dad encourages his son to imagine what his own future might hold. 

This concept is nothing new, and it would be impossible to top something like First the Egg, but the artwork in this book is very visually striking, and that does elevate the text just a bit beyond its cliched sentiment. There is also something nice about a father/son story. These characters are very loving toward one another, and we see them in a variety of everyday circumstances (including reading together) that will be familiar to little boys spending time with their own fathers. The dad and the boy also meet a girl and her mom partway through the book, and there seems to be a bit of a potential love story between the parents unfolding in the illustrations that the text does not address. 

A gentle, positive story with an important, albeit overdone, sentiment, Beginning would be a good book to read on the first day of school, or during any other time of transition in a child's life. 

I received a review of Beginning from Paula Wiseman Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, November 4, 2022

I Can't Draw by Stephen W. Martin, illustrated by Brian Biggs (10/18/22)

In I Can't Draw written by Stephen W. Martin and illustrated by Brian Biggs, Eugene is the best artist in school, and Max would love to be able to draw like him. When Max asks Eugene to teach him, however, he finds that his own style - involving space, robots, and lasers - keeps interrupting his lessons. Finally, Max realizes that it's not that he can't draw. It's just that he needs to embrace his own talents for what they are. 

This book is a celebration of creativity and it emphasizes the idea that what one individual creates can't be replicated by any other individual because we all have our own styles and abilities. I don't love that Max's style involves a butt joke because that automatically disqualifies the book from staying on our shelves, but otherwise, the light tone of the book and the captions the boys draw for some of their pictures really amused me. I love the way the illustrator incorporates the artwork into the story and even uses it to convey dialogue at some points. 

I think this would be a good read-aloud for an art teacher on the first day of school, or maybe for a library art club or class. Whether kids are great artists or not, there is great fun to be found in creative pursuits, and I appreciate that this book encourages them to opt in for the fun whether art is where their talents ultimately lie or not. 

I received a copy of I Can't Draw from Margaret K. McElderry Books in exchange for an honest review. 

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