Friday, October 22, 2021

Picture Book Review: Time for Bed, Old House by Janet Costa Bates, illustrated by AG Ford



Quick Booktalk 

Isaac is nervous about spending the night at his grandfather's house, but Grandpop calms his nerves by taking Isaac around to say goodnight to every part of the old house. 


About the Illustrations 

Something about the pictures in this book doesn't really work for me. The items in the background of each illustration have a more straightforward feel to them, but the figures are more animated and cartoonish in a way that makes them feel at odds with the setting. Many of the pictures also place the figures at a distance from the reader, and it's almost hard to follow the action, even with the book right up close. The best illustrations are the ones where Isaac and Grandpop appear large and expressive, and there just aren't enough of those. 


Story Time Possibilities

Because so many of the illustrations are hard to pick out at any kind of distance, I wouldn't recommend this as a story time book. The onomatopoetic words used to convey the sounds the house makes do beg to be read aloud, however, and this could be a very satisfying bedtime story to read aloud one-on-one, especially with a grandfather. 


Readers Advisory

This book portrays a loving relationship between a black child and his grandfather, and that is sure to appeal to libraries looking to diversify their picture book collections. It also works well as a story for dispelling fears kids have about strange noises in their houses at bedtime, and for reinforcing the idea that a trusted adult will be there with the child all night long. 


Disclosure

I received a finished copy of Time for Bed, Old House from Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Picture Book Review: Moose's Book Bus by Inga Moore (2021)



Quick Booktalk

Moose, the neighborhood storyteller, runs out of stories to tell, so he starts borrowing books from the library, eventually leading to a literary renaissance among his fellow creatures.


About the Illustrations

The pastel illustrations in this book are timeless and very cozy and gentle. The animals have all the features appropriate to their respective species, but they are also infused with sweet hints of personality in their facial expressions and body language. Their homes and the natural world surrounding them are very warm and homey, as is the environment in the library itself. The pictures are the perfect complement to this snug story about spreading literacy and the love of reading. 


Story Time Possibilities

This picture book is a children's librarian's dream! In a public library setting, I'd be taking this on every outreach visit for things like National Library Card Sign-Up Month, National Library Week, summer reading promotion and anything else even remotely related to literacy. It would also be a regular title in my story time rotation. Without preaching, and completely within the confines of a lovely close-knit animal community, this book communicates anything a book lover could ever want to pass onto children about the importance and joy of reading. I have a book-themed story time planned for the group that meets in my home, and I am excited to include this title. 


Readers Advisory

For families who prefer older, more traditional picture books, Moose's Book Bus will be an ideal read. It reads like a classic, and its illustrations have that feel as well. It reminds me a little bit of the Mr. Gumpy books by John Burningham, and the illustrations also made me think of artwork by David McPhail.  There is an earlier book about the same characters, called A House in the Woods (2011). Inga Moore is also author and illustrator of that old story time favorite, Six Dinner Sid (1990). This is one of the best picture books I have received for review in 2021. 


Disclosure

I received a finished copy of Moose's Book Bus from Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Board Book Review: Nom Nom Nom by Jeffrey Burton, illustrated by Sarah Hwang (2021)


Quick Booktalk

On each spread of this lift-the-flap board book, an animal is presented with three food options (including one that is notably gross by human standards) and the reader is invited to choose one before the flap reveals the inside of the animal's mouth displaying the words, "Nom nom nom." 


About the Illustrations 

The animals in this book are comprised of simple lines, shapes, and dots that suggest their features. Each one has a set of teeth appropriate to its species that appears beneath the flap. The food options are similarly simplified, but they have slightly more detail to differentiate one meal from the next. 


Story Time Possibilities

Because the text addresses the reader with open-ended questions, this could work for a story time, but with preschoolers, not toddlers. The meals are drawn pretty small, so they would be difficult to see in a larger room, but because the text describes them, and because the animal and its mouth are larger and easier to see, it is still probably possible for a larger audience to enjoy the book. It's a little unclear whether the child reader is meant to choose a meal for the animal in question or for himself or herself - I would plan to decide that up front and let the listeners know how we are approaching the book. 


Readers Advisory

This book plays on kids' fascination with gross humor, but only as it pertains to food. (There is no bathroom humor in this book, thankfully.) The format of the book makes it look like it's for babies or toddlers, but the spine is extremely weak, and I know that my 19-month-old twins would destroy it in about 15 seconds flat. Gentler toddlers or those with heavy adult supervision might be okay with it, but personally I think the concept and the lack of durability make this a book that is best shared with preschoolers. 


Disclosure

I received a finished review copy of Nom Nom Nom from Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Family Story Time, 10/6/21 (Farm Theme)

Two weeks ago, three families came to story time, but the one family that came to my first session couldn't make it, so I actually repeated some of the same material, and just changed a couple of books so my own kids wouldn't have to sit through the exact same thing a second time.  Here's what we did: 

Opening Song: Story Time is Starting, Clap Your Hands

Book: Early One Morning by Mem Fox, illustrated by Christine Davenier 
As I did in the first session, I explained the premise of this book ahead of time so that the kids basically understood that we were looking for eggs. A few of the bigger kids could have gotten it without that assistance, but there were 4 toddlers, so it seemed worth explaining.  

Song with puppets: When Cows Get Up in the Morning
We sang good morning to a cow, sheep, horse, and pig. I let the kids supply the animal sounds themselves.

Book: Catch That Chicken! by Atinuke, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank  
This was a fun one that I threw in for the four and five year olds, and they really enjoyed it. 

Song: 5 Little Chicks
Everyone knows this as 5 Little Ducks, and it was hard to remember not to sing ducks instead of chicks. Still a fun song for this theme, though. 


Book: Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
The kids chimed in beautifully on the refrain for this one. My son who loves pigs kept saying "piggy" on every page despite there not being any pigs. 

Song: Milkshake Song
My two big girls helped to lead this song, and the kids all got into it. 


Book: To Market To Market by Anne Miranda, illustrated by Janet Stevens
This book about animal misbehavior got a lot of good laughs. 

Song: Goodnight
We sang goodnight to all the animal puppets and put them to bed.

Closing Song (with ukulele): Story Time is Over, Clap Your Hands

After story time, the kids played with blocks and dress-up clothes. 

Monday, October 4, 2021

Picture Book Review: There's a Dodo on the Wedding Cake by Wade Bradford, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (2021)

Quick Booktalk 

In this sequel to There's a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor, Mr. Snore is back at the Sharemore Hotel, this time to play his violin for a wedding. While he waits to begin his performance, he takes it upon himself to protect the cake from a variety of animals who seem intent upon getting too close to it. 


About the Illustrations 

The pictures provide the humor in this book through  physical comedy and facial expressions. Some illustrations fill an entire page; others appear inside circles which focus the eye on just one specific moment or one specific action. The color scheme is bright and lively and gives the book a cheerful mood that counterbalances Mr. Snore's growing frustration and annoyance as the book goes on.  


Story Time Possibilities

Given a choice between this book and the first one, the earlier title is the one I would choose for story time. This follow-up just doesn't have the same freshness. There are dozens of other picture books about funny animal behavior that I think I would prefer over this one. The only possible circumstance I can see where I would choose this book might be if I was trying to do a story time about weddings, and I can't imagine why that theme would ever be on my radar. 


Readers Advisory 

There aren't a lot of books for kids about weddings that are about anything more than just the typical experience of attending or participating in a wedding ceremony, so in that sense, this book might fill a gap, especially for families who might be looking for a lighthearted way to explain marriage to preschoolers, or to get a reluctant little boy excited for a wedding. Mostly, though, the punchline in this one is too obvious and not that funny, and the book as a whole struck me as very forgettable. 


Disclosure 

I received a finished copy of There's a Dodo on the Wedding Cake from Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Picture Book Review: Ada and the Galaxies by Alan Lightman and Olga Pastuchiv, illustrated by Susanna Chapman (2021)


Quick Booktalk

When visiting Ama and Poobah in Maine, Ada falls in love with many aspects of the natural world, but most all of with the stars. 


About the Illustrations 

The most prominent feature of the pictures in this book is texture. Susanna Chapman makes it possible to imagine how various pieces of nature - from waves, to nests, to pine needles, to shells - might feel.  Photographs taken by the Hubble telescope are also used on a few pages to supplement Poobah's explanation of galaxies, and his and Ada's speculation that there might be life somewhere out in space.


Story Time Possibilities

Space is one of my favorite story time themes, and this book is a strong addition to my list of books on that topic. Despite the fact that one of the authors is a PhD in theoretical physics, everything covered in the book is simplified perfectly for the child reader. The dialogue also flows very naturally and is pleasant to read aloud. My story time audience might be a tiny bit young for this one, but if I decide to use it at some point, I'd love to pair it with How to Be on the Moon by Viviane Schwarz.  


Readers Advisory 

As a reader who prefers to learn facts through fiction, this book really appeals to me. The story of Ada's visit to her grandparents is a very comfortable vehicle for introducing the math and science associated with understanding galaxies. The straightforward two-page spread of back matter does a great job of contextualizing the story and encouraging readers to explore further. I was pleasantly surprised by how well-done this book is.


Disclosure 

I received a finished copy of Ada and the Galaxies from MIT Kids Press in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Board Book Review: The Sun Shines on the Sea by Michael Slack (2021)


Quick Booktalk  

This simple nonfiction text introduces the food chain of ocean creatures. 


About the Illustrations 

The pictures in this book are caricatures of various sea creatures, made cartoonish by their large round eyes. Some pages have lift-the-flap features showing what each animal has recently eaten. There is also one wordless spread where the illustrations provide the story's sole moment of suspense. Will the whale eat the shark? (No, of course not; whales eat krill.)


Story Time Possibilities

I'm all for reading nonfiction to even very young children, and I think this book in particular is entertaining enough outside of its informational content to work as a strong read-aloud. I would not expect a toddler to actually learn anything explicit about the food chain, but the structure of the book is very toddler-friendly, as are the pictures. Even the lift-the-flap elements are infrequent enough that showing them to a story time audience would not be unduly difficult. I'm most likely going to try using this at a story time in the future.


Readers Advisory 

Unlike many other nonfiction books aimed at babies and toddlers, this one isn't just an info-dump dressed up with pictures of babies. The text in this book is simple and straightforward, and the predictable structure in which one animal eats another on every page is well-suited to the interests of toddlers. For kids with an interest in under-the-sea creatures (like my shark-loving 18-month-old son) this is a guaranteed hit.


Disclosure

I received a finished copy of The Sun Shines on the Sea from Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Picture Book Review: Maybe... by Chris Haughton (2021)


Quick Booktalk

Three little monkeys are warned by their grown-up not to go down to the mango tree because there are tigers down there. The monkeys, thinking they know better, disobey and visit the mango tree anyway. 


About the Illustrations

The pictures in this book all have a red background and most of the time, only monkeys, mangoes, and trees appear against it. The monkeys have large white eyes with black pupils, and bodies of dark blue and green. The tigers, when they appear in the background, are depicted using a dull red color that hides them from the monkeys. When they come out to attack, they are orange with black scribbles making up their features. The illustrations depend largely on facial expression and body posture to tell their piece of the story. Kids will delight in knowing the tigers are present before the monkeys notice them and the visual drama when the tigers finally pounce makes for a very exciting and satisfying climax to the book.  


Story Time Possibilities

This book could probably work for story time, provided the performer points out the tigers when they appear in the background, as they are the only piece of the pictures that may not be noticeable at a distance.  Otherwise, this book suits a plethora of themes: monkeys, the jungle, fruit (mangos), tigers, danger, obedience, and even foolishness. The fact that the ending is left open and the monkeys obviously don't learn their lesson also makes it a good book for sparking discussion with preschool and even early elementary audiences.


Readers Advisory

This book attempts to teach its monkeys a lesson, but they are unwilling to learn. Thankfully, the reader is probably not so foolish and will disagree with the monkeys' future plans as suggested by the final pages of the story. The book is funny, but the lesson about listening to adults and appreciating possible dangers also comes across well and will likely be taken seriously by young readers. I didn't like this book quite as much as this author's Shh, We Have a Plan but the tone in both books is very similar and fans of one will enjoy the other. I read this book to my three oldest kids, ages 3, 5, and 7, and they all enjoyed it and all agreed that the monkeys were not very wise.


Disclosure

I received a finished copy of Maybe... from Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Picture Book Review: Good Night, Good Night by Sandra Boynton (2021)

Quick Booktalk 

This longer version of the popular The Going to Bed Book is the original 1985 hardcover version with new drawings by the author. As in The Going to Bed Book, several animals are on a boat and they go through their bedtime routine which is described in rhyme. 


About the Illustrations 

The pictures have been changed from the original board book, in that colors of certain things have been altered, certain figures have been placed differently on the page, and there are several additional spreads that are found only in this longer version. There is noting substantively different about the pictures that have simply been altered; the additional illustrations add in a scene showing the characters' sleeping arrangements and the music to sing along with two bunnies who perform a lullaby.


Story Time Possibilities

This is a great read-aloud, but it's important to figure out how to sing the lullaby before sharing it with an audience. The notes are easily picked out on a piano and the tune is not hard to learn, but it would not be ideal to go into a story time without having worked out the tune ahead of time. Otherwise, this is pretty much a guaranteed story time hit. Boynton is beloved for books of this type, and having this nice full-size version to add into a story time repertoire will be a boon for most libraries and classrooms. I will most likely use it in a night-time themed story time at my house this fall. 


Readers Advisory

This book makes the mundane bedtime routine look like fun. The images of the characters rushing around to prepare for sleep are filled with fun energy, but when the characters begin to yawn and get into bed, the mood shifts in a way that can really help little ones make the transition to bedtime. It's an excellent bedtime story and an all-around excellent picture book for Boynton fans to appreciate anew.


Disclosure 

I received a finished review copy of Good Night, Good Night from Little Simon in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Picture Book Review: Prehistoric Pets by Dean Lomax, illustrated by Mike Love (2021)

Quick Booktalk 

Filled with facts, this pop-up book introduces the prehistoric ancestors of today's common household pets.


About the Illustrations 

Each page is filled to the edge with colorful digital illustrations and a host of text boxes and other informational blurbs. Each two-page spread talks about a particular animal family and provides drawings of some of the species within that family. The right-hand side of each spread also opens to reveal a pop-up of the prehistoric creature from which these species are descended. The text is really prominent on each page, so the 2-D artwork is mostly background, but the 3-D pop-up images do catch the eye.


Story Time Possibilities

This isn't a story time book because it's just too wordy. Theoretically it would be possible to just read the main bolded text on each page, but the unwieldiness of then having to show the pop-ups to an audience makes it more desirable to simply recommend it as a lap book.


Readers Advisory

This is a book for that kid who wants all the details about everything. There is just so much information packed into every square inch of every page that it's almost overwhelming. I do think the subject matter is fascinating, and I think my first grade daughter who is currently studying the stone age in our homeschool will want to look at it, but I'd be surprised if any child wanted to tackle every word in the book in one sitting. For me, the most interesting piece of each page is the section across the bottom that talks about fossils. I imagine other readers will similarly zone in on the sections that appeal to them most.


Disclosure 

I received a finished copy of Prehistoric Pets from Templar Books in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Family Story Time, 9/22/21 (Farm Theme)

After almost a two-year hiatus, I'm back to doing story time once again. This time around, I'm performing story times in my basement every other Wednesday, and I've invited four other families to join me. We kicked off the season with a very small group: my five kids, ages 7, 5, 3, 18 months and 18 months, and one other family with a 3-year-old girl and 2-year-old boy. (The age range for the story time has been advertised as 5 and under, but my big kids will always happily participate when the group is small). I decided to start with a favorite September theme, the farm. 

Opening Song (with ukulele): Story Time is Starting, Clap Your Hands 

Book: Early One Morning by Mem Fox, illustrated by Christine Davenier
This book relies a little too heavily on the illustrations for me, and I did prompt the kids early on to realize that the boy is looking for eggs. Once we established that fact, they were very happy to let me know that of course gates, trucks, cows, sheep, etc. do not lay them. My older girls also thought the little boy was cute.

Song with Puppets: When Cows Get Up in the Morning
We sang this song with the Melissa & Doug puppets of a a horse, a pig, a sheep, and a cow. I intentionally ended with the cow to transition into the next book. 

Book: Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
For this book, I introduced the refrain of "Click clack moo, clickety clack moo, click clack moo" before I started reading and had everyone practice so they'd be ready to join in when it occurred in the story. It worked great!

Song: Milkshake Song 
I learned this song from Songs for Wiggleworms. My two oldest daughters demonstrated the movements for us. On the way home, my friend texted that her son fell asleep in the car and it was probably this song that did it. Haha.

Book: Stanley the Farmer by William Bee
This is one of my favorite Stanley books. I made sure to point out our family favorite, Little Woo, on every page. 

Song: Bumpin' Up and Down on My Little Red Tractor 
I took the words I normally use for Bumpin' Up and Down in My Little Red Wagon, and just changed wagon to tractor in every verse. Piggyback songs are great for new audiences - it makes it so easy for them to join in with the singing.  

Book: Barn at Night by Michelle Houts and Jen Betton
We ended with this gentle book about what happens in a barn at night. The 2-year-old boy had a lot to say about the pictures, and everyone loved the horses.

Song: Goodnight 
We sang Laurie Berkner's "Goodnight" to each of the animal puppets I introduced at the beginning, bringing the story time full circle.

Closing Song (with ukulele): Story Time is Over, Clap Your Hands 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Picture Book Review: Step by Step by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Diane Goode (2021)



Quick Booktalk

Inspirational text and lively illustrations encourage young readers to do big things a little at a time.


About the Illustrations 

Using the same style she employed to illustrate books such as the Cinderella Smith series and the Louise the Big Cheese picture books, Diane Goode lends a collection of cheerful figures to McGinty's affirming words. Boys and girls of varying skin tones (and one girl using a wheelchair) welcome an uncertain newcomer into their circle, modeling how they try each day to make a step toward their goals, whether they're working on counting, painting, building, or writing.  The background of each page is stark white, focusing all the attention on the attitudes and movements of the characters. 


Story Time Possibilities

I think the best place to read this book aloud is probably a classroom. It feels like a good positive way to kick off a school year and to encourage kids to try, and keep trying, until they are successful at whatever they wish to achieve. I do think there are story time themes and locations that might lend themselves to sharing a book like this. I used to do story time alongside a yoga instructor, for example, and I think in that context it would have been well-received. Similarly, if there is need of a book on the theme of confidence or perseverance or "growth mindset," this is a strong choice. The rhyme and rhythm work well, and the illustrations are spare enough that they can translate well from the front of a small room to the back. 


Readers Advisory

This book reminds me a bit of I Can Be Anything by Jerry Spinelli, but with a more realistic emphasis on putting in effort to learn new things rather than a hollow blanket pronouncement that anyone can be anything. I don't tend to love books whose sole purpose is to teach a lesson, but this one is a lot more appealing than most. The ideal age range for this book is probably 4 to 6 years. I will most likely give it to my almost-6-year-old to read to herself or to her sister who is almost 4. 


Disclosure

I received a finished copy of Step by Step from Paula Wiseman Books in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Picture Book Review: How to Have a Birthday by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Cindy Derby (2021)



Quick Booktalk 

This poetic tribute to birthdays reflects on the many joys and traditions associated with the day.


About the Illustrations 

On the copyright page of this book, it says, "The illustrations were created on the road in a camper van with watercolor, pastels, coloring pencils, gouache, and a few sprinkles." Each page captures a different aspect of birthday celebrations, both the internal emotional experiences and the physical and social experiences that might occur during the day. Each page is really filled with light, which gives the book a very warm and cozy feeling 


Story Time Possibilities

This is a gentle read, and very pleasant. I would not hesitate to read it to my story time audience, which consists of my own kids and my friends' kids, and I think it will work in other small-group settings as well. It would work for a bunch of different themes: celebrations, birthdays and unbirthdays, traditions, the year, the calendar, etc. It would also be perfect to read aloud at a birthday party.


Readers Advisory

This book will definitely please fans of Mary Lyn Ray's other books, especially Stars and Christmas Farm. It has the same poignant outlook and sense of wonder as those earlier titles. It also has the same feel as a lot of Charlotte Zolotow's books, which had such a wonderful way of describing mundane childhood experiences in very interesting and engaging ways. Another obvious read-alike is Happy Birthday to You! by Dr. Seuss. I plan to give this book to my second daughter for her upcoming sixth birthday. 


Disclosure

I received a finished copy of How to Have a Birthday from Candlewick Press 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Picture Book Review: Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More by Johanna Schaible (2021)


Quick Booktalk 

 A series of pages decrease in size  as they portray the passage of time from billions of years ago to just one minute ago, to right now, and then increase again as the text wonders what might occur in both the near and distant future. 


About the Illustrations 

The pictures are done with paint and cut paper collages, and each page distills the time period it talks about into a single image.  (Lava erupting from a volcano, a pyramid, etc.) The beginning and ending images mirror each other's landscapes, giving the book a very satisfying sense of everything coming full circle. There is also a strong sense of quiet on each spread, which furthers the thoughtful, almost philosophical mood suggested by the text.


Story Time Possibilities

Because the unique structure of this book includes very tiny pages at its center, it wouldn't be very useful to read to more than a handful of kids at a time. It probably works best shared one-on-one with a child or as an independent read for an early elementary schooler with strong reading skills.


Readers Advisory

This book gives great context for helping kids to understand where we are in time. In terms of the way it breaks down the time periods, it reminds me a lot of Life Story by Virginia Lee Burton, but with a lot less text. I typically do a unit on natural history in our homeschool during each of my kids' kindergarten years, and I can see this being a very useful title for introducing the topic of time in preparation for reading Life Story. It also pairs really well with another recent picture book release, The Day Time Stopped by Flavia Ruotolo, which deals with the passage of time over the course of a single day. 


Disclosure

I received a finished copy of Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More from Candlewick Studio in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Picture Book Review: The Welcome Chair by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (2021)

Quick Booktalk

A rocking chair carved with words of welcome is passed down through generations of immigrants to the U.S. 


About the Illustrations

As always, Jerry Pinkney's pictures, done in his signature style, are a beautiful accompaniment to the text of this book. He captures each historical time period covered by the story, evoking a particular era with just one or two images. The details of architecture, clothing, furniture, tools, and even a ship are carefully rendered on each page. Facial expressions, too, help convey the emotions of the people in the story and contribute to the reader's understanding of the significance of the chair. 


Story Time Possibilities

The main text of this book, which begins with true events from Rosemary Wells's own family history and finishes with a story from her imagination, would be excellent to read aloud to an elementary audience. My concern, though, is that the preface and author's note politicize the subject by alluding to immigration issues of the present day as though there is only one right way to think about them. This is a much more nuanced topic that requires proper context if one is going to have an informed opinion. I would probably not read the author's note aloud to younger kids, but with older ones it might be possible to use the book as a jumping off point for discussion, provided an adult gave them additional context. 


Readers Advisory

This book reminds me a bit of The Quilt Story by Tony Johnston and Tomie dePaola, but The Welcome Chair covers a much longer time period and has much more depth. While the main focus is on immigration, this book also speaks to themes of family history, community, friendship, and hope. I think it's probably best suited to grades 3 and 4. I also think it would be interesting to read this book with other chair-themed stories, such as A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams and Peter's Chair by Ezra Jack Keats.  


Disclosure

I received a digital review copy of The Welcome Chair from Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Picture Book Review: Three Ways to Be Brave by Karla Clark, illustrated by Jeff Ostberg (2021)


Quick Booktalk

The fears surrounding three common childhood experiences - thunderstorms, the first day of school, and a check-up at the doctor's office - are addressed in rhyming text and accompanying soothing illustrations.


About the Illustrations

Color is the main focus of the pictures. The colors used in each illustration directly reflect the mood of whatever is happening on the page. The thunderstorm scenes use lots of deep purples and blues, whereas the little girl eating breakfast before school is bathed in yellow sunlight, and the boy throwing a fit because he doesn't want a shot is set against a red and orange background. The illustrations also have interesting points of view that make them feel as though we're seeing them from a child's eye level. 


Story Time Possibilities

The rhyming text in this book contains a lot of rhyme for rhyme's sake. Though there is always some level of demand for bibliotherapy-type books to help kids prepare for and process scary and new situations, the stilted and bland text makes it unlikely that the book would get additional attention outside of that specific type of need. My daughter who has a check-up coming up soon was definitely interested in the check-up chapter, and it did spark a lot of discussion for her, but it was the content and the pictures that won her over, not the text. Reading it aloud was pretty painful for me too. 


Readers Advisory

The old Mr. Rogers books about various childhood milestones are still the standard for this genre, and though this book is new and shiny looking, it just does not compare to the work of Fred Rogers. It's fine for supporting kids going through new experiences, but the text is just very weak, even if the illustrations are appealing. 


Disclosure 

I received a finished copy of Three Ways to Be Brave from Penguin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. 


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Picture Book Review: A Walk in the Words by Hudson Talbott (2021)



Quick Booktalk

In first person, the author relates his experience learning to read and to accept himself as a "slow" reader.

About the Illustrations 

The pictures in this book do a great job of capturing abstract concepts in a concrete medium. The whimsical illustrations really help to convey how the author felt about words, books, and the act of reading and also how his feelings changed and developed over time. The visual comparison of the world of words to a scary, complex forest works really well, as does his shift in perspective at the end of the story toward seeing the world of words as an ocean whose waves he can surf with ease. 

Story Time Possibilities

This is a definite classroom book that will most likely be used to address kids' anxiety about reading. There really is no story here outside of the lesson about learning to read at one's own pace, and that's the kind of thing teachers want to read about on the first day of school to break the ice and set the tone for the year. I think the text is pleasant to read aloud, but I'm not sure I see the book being chosen for anything other than bibliotherapy.

Readers Advisory 

I am not convinced that a child who is reluctant to read is going to be persuaded otherwise by reading a book. I do think such kids will relate to some of the images Talbott uses to describe his journey, so it does have the potential to be a good conversation starter, but it would require just the right touch from adults to get the interest of the child who could most benefit from it. For me, this seems mostly like a picture book that will be loved by adults but not necessarily universally embraced by kids. It's a well-done picture book, but its audience is likely to be limited. 

Disclosure 

I received a finished copy of A Walk in the Words from Penguin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Picture Book Review: Have You Seen This Book? by Angela DiTerlizzi, illustrated by Tom Booth (2021)


Quick Booktalk

A cartoonish young boy addresses the reader with a description of his missing book that includes all the special details that make the book his own. 


About the Illustrations 

The pictures in this book feature speech bubbles filled with lengthy paragraphs of text and images of the boy's book that illustrate the clues he has given to help identify it. These pictures feel very hectic and busy, a style which conveys the boy's enthusiasm for his favorite book, but also makes it a little hard to share with a group of more than a few kids at a time. The pictures are very bold and colorful and the cover is very eye-catching. 


Story Time Possibilities

This is definitely a book best read to an elementary school aged group. It's sure to find popularity among librarians who either work in or regularly visit schools because it provides a lot of opportunities to talk about a love of reading, the proper treatment of books, and the fun of sharing what we read with others.  There is a lot of text, but because it's written as dialogue addressing the reader, the story doesn't get bogged down. Kids who have grown up on Elephant and Piggie will be familiar with the format, which will make the book feel comfortable to them. 


Readers Advisory

My chief problem with this story is that it promotes basically defacing a book. I would never allow my kids to write in, add pages to, remove pages from, place stickers on, stick objects in, or tape notes to the pages of any book we own. On every page, as the boy in the story revealed what he has done to his book to make it his own, I just cringed. Librarians who deal with problems of kids being too rough on books will undoubtedly feel the same. I understand the sentiment that books are for use, and that a book is often beaten up if it's been well loved. But the idea of just completely altering a book to make it what the child wants it to be rubbed me entirely the wrong way. I realize there are parents out there who would have no problem with this, but for our family, it's a no go. 

I was also puzzled, as was Kirkus, about the fact that the book, which has been purportedly missing, just suddenly turns up on the last page as though it wasn't actually lost after all. This was a letdown to this would-be mystery and will be downright confusing to a lot of child readers.


Disclosure 

I received a finished copy of Have You Seen This Book? from Penguin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, August 27, 2021

Picture Book Review: Barn at Night by Michelle Houts, illustrated by Jen Betton (2021)


Quick Booktalk

Simple text and warm illustrations show young readers all that happens in a barn at night.


About the Illustrations 

The pictures make beautiful use of light and shadow to contrast the cold winter temperatures outdoors with the cozy warmth of the animals in the barn. The illustrations also show the child reader all the work that needs to be done on a farm, both on ordinary days and the extraordinary ones where new baby animals are welcomed to the barn. There is a sense of quiet calm on every page that helps capture the solitary feeling of being awake when much of the rest of the world sleeps.


Story Time Possibilities

The poetic text of this book begs to be read aloud, and it's a perfect length for the preschool and kindergarten audience. I like that it puts a different spin on the old farm theme by focusing on actual farm work rather than the usual topic of animal sounds or baby animal vocabulary. Other story time themes that would work with this book are nighttime, winter, fathers and daughters, and horses. 


Readers Advisory

This book has much in common with Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and is a good read-alike for kids who love that book. I also really appreciate that the book makes it possible for me to teach my kids, who have only ever lived in an urban area, what life is actually like on a farm.  The story really shows the hard work of farming as a positive and joyful thing. The story's gentle and quiet tone also makes it a great naptime or bedtime read-aloud. 


Disclosure

I received a finished copy of Barn at Night from Feeding Minds Press in exchange for a positive review.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Picture Book Review: I Can See Red by Britta Teckentrup (2021)

Quick Booktalk

In first person a little girl relates both the intense redness of her anger and its eventual blowing over. 

About the Illustrations

The pictures are abstract to represent the emotion of anger. The tumultuous swirls and splatters are the perfect accompaniment to the character's descriptions of her rage. The girl's facial expressions further drive home the fire of her anger and its physical impact on her. The pictures will certainly speak to any child who has ever felt angry. 

Story Time Possibilities

This would work for a feelings theme, depending on the audience. For some kids, potentially the emotions of the book would be too intense, but for others, they would be satisfying to experience on the page in preparation for experiencing them in reality. The illustrations would work great for a story time or classroom audience.

Readers Advisory

I'm not 100% on board with the way this book portrays anger as a source of strength and safety. Sometimes that is the case, but my kids' anger is often unproductive and their screaming and carrying on needs to be reined in, not celebrated. This book seems to suggest that all anger is righteous anger, and I don't think that's exactly correct. 

I was reminded of Molly Bang's When Sophie Gets Angry - Really Really Angry, which I think places less of a value judgment on anger and simply focuses on the experience of feeling angry and then having the anger subside. I don't necessarily think one book is objectively better than the other. but they serve different needs and both can be valuable depending on the child and the circumstances. 

Disclosure 

I received a finished review copy of When I See Red from Prestel in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Picture Book Review: The Day Time Stopped by Flavia Ruotolo (2021)

 
Quick Booktalk


One day time stops for a moment, and children around the world are frozen in their current activities just long enough to give us a quick glimpse of what's going in each time zone. 


About the Illustrations

The cover illustration doesn't really sell this book, but the interior ones are more appealing. The images are mostly made up of blob-like shapes which have a very fun and childlike feel. Most of the pages have white backgrounds, so despite the fact that the book is small and square the figures would stand out very well in a story time for a larger group. 


Story Time Possibilities 

Time is a fascinating concept to kids in early elementary school and this book makes it easier to understand time zones in a concrete way. By showing what kids are doing all around the world at one moment in time, kids can personalize other parts of the world in a way that makes it easier to think globally.


Readers Advisory

There are already quite a few books on this same subject, including At the Same Moment Around the World by Clotilde Perrin and the vintage book Follow the Sunset by Herman and Nina Schneider. Still, I like this one and will be keeping it in our homeschool collection for the next time we talk about time zones in our science curriculum. It's just a simple and relatable book that explains a difficult concept very well. 


Disclosure

I received a finished review copy of The Day Time Stopped from Prestel in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Picture Book Review: Never Grow Up inspired by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake (2021)

Quick Booktalk

Illustrated by Quentin Blake, this rhyming book is a tribute to the work of Roald Dahl.


About the Illustrations

If you like Quentin Blake, this book will not disappoint. His signature style is on every page of this book, portraying all the experimentation, exploration, and 


Story Time Possibilities

The rhythm and rhyme of the text in this book beg to be read aloud, but the content isn't for every family. This book celebrates misbehavior and disobedience in a way that runs counter to a lot of parents' plans for discipline. Though the message that we should maintain childhood wonder throughout our lives is a good one, it seems to be accompanied by the idea that we should also continue to behave as children forever, which is not something I really want to teach my kids.


Readers Advisory  

This book is not written by Roald Dahl, and that is obvious. It does have a similar tone and point of view to his work, but it's just not as charming or original. I think the appeal of this book is largely to adults who are strongly in touch with their inner child and perhaps have a persona when they work with kids that reflects that. I could see kids enjoying hearing this book-length poem, but I would hope it would be used only as a means of opening the door to Roald Dahl's actual books.


Disclosure 

I received a finished review copy of Never Grow Up from Viking in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Picture Book Review: Theo Thesaurus: The Dinosaur Who Loved Big Words by Shelli R. Johannes, illustrated by Mike Moran (2021)

Quick Booktalk

Theo Thesaurus, who loves words, is dismayed when he starts at a new school and not everyone is interested in his large vocabulary. 


About the Illustrations

The illustrations in this book feel like they would very easily translate to animated video. Theo, his parents, his teacher, and his fellow students all have dramatic faces, whose eyes and mouths are often exaggerated to show emotion. The background on each page is pretty plain and the palette is colorful but not very bold or bright. 


Story Time Possibilities

This story is not just about having a big vocabulary. Rather, Theo's love of words is used as a vehicle to point out the way someone who is different might be excluded or misunderstood. Though the fun vocabulary words are entertaining, the underlying message feels pretty preachy, which might make me hesitate before sharing it with kids. Because of the focus on vocabulary, it feels like a book for kindergartners at the youngest, but it would probably work best for second and third graders who are beginning to read more independently and might enjoy spicing up their vocabulary.


Readers Advisory

If you're looking for a less fancy alternative to Fancy Nancy, this is probably a decent choice. It introduces fancy words in a classroom environment but without all the details about clothing and tea parties and such. Still, I mostly don't think kids love to learn vocabulary in books that are written specifically to teach them vocabulary, and this fell flat for me for that reason. 


Disclosure 

I received a finished review copy Theo Thesaurus: The Dinosaur Who Loved Big Words from Philomel Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Picture Book Review: Not Yeti by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Claire Keane (2021)

Quick Booktalk

Most monsters are scary, loud and mean, but Not Yeti, who prefers quieter, gentler activities.


About the Illustrations 

The pictures in this book feel very fast-paced and busy, as though they are in constant motion. Quick messy lines portray various physical movements, both of Yeti and his mean monster counterparts. Many pages incorporate speech bubbles which might make reading the book aloud a little bit complicated. Some pages have panels that may also be too difficult to make out at much of a distance.


Story Time Possibilities

Clever title aside, I won't read this book aloud myself because it has a character in it named Itchy Bottom. I think it would have been possible to get across that the other monsters are gross and obnoxious without resorting to cheap bathroom humor. If someone were to read this to an audience, I think lower elementary kids are probably the most likely to enjoy it. I could see it as a potential read-aloud to establish a classroom policy of kindness, for example. 


Readers Advisory

On its face, the point of this book seems to be that peace and love are the answers to everything and opting out of violent and negative behavior is a sign of goodness and strength. Yeti is a bit like Ferdinand, in that he prefers to do his own thing in his own way. There is a part of me, though, that wondered whether there was a secondary message to the book. Yeti is a monster, and yet he chooses to reject everything monsters do and essentially reinvent what a monster is. I didn't like the feeling that I was being led to accept that anyone can be anything they want, and that the identity we're born with can be rejected at will. I admit that I may be reading way more into this than is there, but it was a weird creeping feeling that made the book not sit quite right with me. 


Disclosure 

I received a finished review copy of Not Yeti from Viking in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Picture Book Review: The Walloos' Big Adventure by Anuska Allepuz (2021)

Quick Booktalk

Led by Old Walloo, Little Walloo and the whole Walloo family take a trip to visit a tropical island only to discover they've been vacationing on the back of another animal. 


About the Illustrations 

The Walloos are colorful kangaroo or wallaby-esque creatures with cartoonish facial features. Their surroundings of jagged rocks, choppy waters, starry nights and fuzzy plants are textured and often fill the background all the way to the edges of the page. In general the illustrations have enough contrast to be seen at some distance, so it would be possible to share this book in a classroom or other small-group scenario. The book also has lovely endpapers, which show shadows of living things in the water. At the beginning of the book, they are filled with plants, but at the end there is a change to reflect the discovery made by the characters during the story.


Story Time Possibilities

This book is being promoted as an ecology lesson, but I was a bit confused about the exact message it was trying to deliver. The story is fine without that didactic element, and I actually prefer a book that doesn't preach, so for me that was not a problem. I think the twist at the end will be surprising to preschoolers, who are the best audience for this story based on the short paragraphs on most pages and the focus on Little Walloo's perspective. It would be fun to plan a story time about adventures and include this book alongside fun classics like We're Going on a Bear Hunt and Jamberry. 


Readers Advisory 

I think it would be interesting to pair this book with Margaret Wise Brown's classic, The Little Fur Family, to compare and contrast the two families of unspecified mammals. I don't think it's as great a book as it claims to be for introducing environmentalism, but it would certainly suit the needs of a nature-loving reader.


Disclosure 

I received a finished review copy of The Walloos' Big Adventure from Candlewick Press in an exchange for an honest review.  

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Picture Book Review: My School Stinks! by Becky Scharnhorst, illustrated by Julia Patton (2021)


Quick Booktalk

In a series of diary entries a young boy relates his shocking experiences attending a school for wild animals. 


About the Illustrations

Each two-page spread in this book consists of an image of the boy's diary entry on lined paper, accompanied by a scene that illustrates some incident mentioned in the entry. The color scheme is pretty subdued considering all the excitement that goes on in the story, and sometimes it is hard to know where the reader's eye is meant to be drawn first. Though the contrast between what the text conveys and what is shown by the pictures is meant to provide the story's humor, the illustrations are too subtle on many pages to make that work. 


Story Time Possibilities

Though there is lots of physical action on each page to engage the reader, the details are too subtle to be seen by more than a handful of listeners sitting pretty close to the adult who is reading aloud, so this book is only going to work in a small-group story time setting. I do think it could be used to help break the ice with kids who are nervous about the first day of school, since wild animals attending school is pretty silly and laughter is a good way to deal with tension. For homeschooled kids like mine, the interest will be more in the animal humor than the school aspect.


Readers Advisory

This book would be fun to pair with There's a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor by Wade Bradford or May I Bring a Friend? by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers and Beni Montresor, as both books involve animals in an unexpected environment. Because of the format of the story and the understated humor, I think it's best for independent elementary readers who can take the time to carefully observe each illustration individually. Some kids may find that the book tries to get too much out of what is essentially one joke, but for others the humor will strike just the right chord. For me personally, this wasn't quite a hit; I just never quite felt immersed in the world of the story. 


Disclosure 

I received a finished review copy of My School Stinks! from Penguin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Picture Book Review: Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend! by Cori Doerrfeld (2021)


Quick Booktalk

Following two little girls from the time they meet to the time one of them moves away, this book highlights the new opportunities presented by every goodbye. 


About the Illustrations

The pictures in this book are in a style that would be suitable for a graphic novel, though most pages do not have speech bubbles or other graphic novel elements. Since the text is more abstract, the specificity of the illustrations is what really carries the story. The characters' personalities and their friendships comes through visually even when the text is more philosophical and vague. Though a few pages have details that are better seen up close, for the most part the bold lines and contrasting colors can engage the eye at a distance as well. Readers who keep score regarding diversity will be pleased to note a variety of skin tones and clothing styles in the background of many of the pictures.  


Story Time Possibilities

I like this book for a variety of themes: hello and/or goodbye, opposites, friendship, moving, etc. The text on each page is minimal enough for toddlers and young preschoolers, but the subject matter as a whole makes it best suited to a pre-K or young elementary audience. There are quite a few scenes set in school that also make this a natural choice to read to a class on the first day of a new school year to help break the ice.


Readers Advisory

The most obvious uses for this book are either to comfort a child after a difficult goodbye or to make children feel at home in a new situation,  Other books that would pair well with this one include Timothy Goes to School by Rosemary Wells and Rosie and Rasmus by Serena Geddes, both of which involve making new friends and saying goodbye. It also made me think about Duck and Penguin are Not Friends by Julia Woolf, which has a similar illustration style and gives a different take on friendship. 


Disclosure

I received a finished copy of Goodbye Friend! Hello Friend! from Penguin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Picture Book Review: Ergo by Alexis Deacon, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz (2021)


Quick Booktalk

Ergo, a chick who has not yet hatched, is at first content to think she is the entire world until curiosity prompts her to look beyond the walls of her shell.

About the Illustrations

The pictures are very simple, consisting mainly of Ergo's face making different expressions. The boldness of the lines and the yellow and gray color scheme help these illustrations to stand out even at a distance. They also have a cartoonish look to them that emphasizes the humorous moments of the story in which Ergo slowly discovers parts of herself, and then realizes that not everything is a part of her. 

Story Time Possibilities

Because the illustrations can easily be seen at a distance and because the text involves lots of emphatic outbursts of excitement, this is a strong story time contender. Though it's really about bigger issues than a baby bird hatching,  it would still fit well with an egg theme or bird theme for preschoolers and early elementary schoolers. I think it could also make for some interesting discussions among older listeners about thinking outside of boxes, taking chances, and expanding horizons. 

Readers Advisory

Ergo reminds me a lot of Ollie by Olivier Dunrea and I think it would be interesting to read the two together, as Ergo gives the perspective from within the egg and the characters in Ollie view the same situation from without. I think this book may also appeal to readers who have enjoyed Jon Klassen's books. This story isn't unsettling and has a more definite message than most Klassen books I've read, but the use of the picture book medium to explore existential questions is very similar.

Disclosure

I received a finished copy of Ergo from Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.

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