Hi there!

I have a little girl who lo-o-oves to read... She goes to the library and yells "whoo-hoooo!" when the door opens to the children's room, and we typically take home a dozen or more books every visit... So over the last couple of years we've been plowing through a lot of books together, and after a while, I figured what the heck, I might as well start taking a few notes. So here are reviews and recommendations for some of the books we've read over the last couple of years. Hope you find them useful... And if you have any recommendations for stuff we should check out, feel free to write me and let us know!

Kids Books -- "A" By Author

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"Some Dogs Do"
Written by Jez Alborough
Illustrated by Jez Alborough
(Candlewick, 2003)

A young boy (played here by a young dog) walks to school and accidentally discovers he can fly. When he gets to school, nobody believes him and all the kids make fun of him (teachers, too). When he goes home, dejected, his dad reveals to him that he can fly, too, and they have a happy ending all to themselves. Although the flying part is (obviously) on the fantastical side, the it's-okay-to-be-different message is welcome. Nice rhyming text, too. This one didn't really wow me, but it's still kinda fun. (B-)

"All By Myself"
Written by Aliki
Illustrated by Aliki
(Harper Collins, 2000)
A nice, super-well behaved little boy named Peter goes through his daily rituals, waking, dressing, eating, going potty, going to school, etc. all by himself. The theme of independence ("by myself!") could be more strongly stressed in the text, but that's no biggie... What matters is the book's exuberant, celebratory tone, which shows a happy, model child doing various everyday activities... The pictures are nice & easy to follow... And what parents wouldn't wish to have as nice a child as this? Good role modeling and a lot of fun things to point out discuss while reading the book with your child. (B+)

"Kate, The Cat And The Moon"
Written by David Almond
Illustrated by Stephen Lambert
(Random House/Doubleday, 2004)

A captivating, but disorientingly fantastical book about a little girl who hears a cat calling outside her window one night, then magically transforms into a cat herself, to join it in a moonlight romp. The story is beautiful, but it might be a little weird for very young readers to take in... And for parents who believe that fairy tales and stories with talking animals in them are the work of the Devil, well... you might want to skip this one. Families that embrace magic and magical thinking will dig it, though... (B)

Written by Hans Christian Andersen
Adapted by Sindy McKay
Illustrated by Quentin Greban
(Treasure Bay, 2007)

A gorgeous, joyful adaptation of this Hans Christian Andersen classic. Belgian illustrator Quentin Greban (one of my faves!) crafts a beautiful, evocative vision of this magical, though slightly creepy, story -- the perfect look for a classic fairy tale... The text, by educational writer Sindy McKay, is designed to encourage children to read along with adults -- it includes prompts for both adult and child readers, but it's not necessary at all -- an older reader can still easily read the book for smaller children and it will still be very enjoyable. We've read a few different Thumbelinas, and this is by far and away out favorite. Highly recommended! (A)

C. W. Anderson and the "Billy & Blaze" books -- see author profile

"Tea For Ten"
Written by Lena Anderson
Illustrated by Lena Anderson
(Farrar Straus Giroux/R&S, 2000)

A cute counting book where a lonely little hedgehog sets up a tea party for her friends, an animal menagerie who drop in one by one and sit down to share tea and biscuits, and then depart to go see a movie. Even though she's not my favorite artist, I like the self-contained feel of Anderson's world... Apparently so does my kid: she asked for this one to be read over and over.

"There's A House Inside My Mommy"
Written by Giles Andreae
Illustrated by Vanessa Cabban
(Albert Whitman & Co, 2002)

An exemplary mommy-is-pregnant book, in which the parents tell their child that mommy has a new baby inside her, living in its own special house until it's ready to come out. The little boy accepts this explanation, then starts to wonder what life is like inside this tummy-house. When Mommy gets really big, he even starts to get concerned that there might not be enough room in there for his future sibling, and looks forward to the birth. It's a nice book, teaching children empathy for their siblings and maintains a thoroughly reassuring tine throughout, and it doesn't really fudge on the facts about Mommy being pregnant. If you're looking for a book to read to a future big-brother or big-sister, this one's a fine choice. (B+)

"With A Little Help From Daddy"
Written by Dan Andreasen
Illustrated by Dan Andreasen
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2003)
A sweet, good-humored book about daddy-son relationships... A cheerful little elephant tells how he is "the tallest boy on my block... strongest boy on my block..." all with a little help from his ever-present dad, who cheerfully lifts him on his shoulders, helps him make his bed, etc. This is a very earnest book, verging on the saccharine, but if you are the parent of a nice, sweet little boy and want to do your best to encourage those qualities or to prolong that stage in his life, this book is probably an excellent choice. Author Dan Andreasen has worked extensively as an illustrator for other people's work; here he proves a capable, if workmanlike picturebook creator. While the text isn't terribly clever, the artwork is bold and friendly, and very easy to understand. Good for younger readers. (B)

"A Special Day For Mommy"
Written by Dan Andreasen
Illustrated by Dan Andreasen
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2004)
Hilarious! The gender-balanced follow-up to Andreasen's earnest A Little Help From Daddy is a much more puckish and witty work. A little piglet girl "surprises" her mother (possibly for Mother's Day, though the text doesn't pin it down, could be a birthday, too...) The daughter brings Mom breakfast in bed (Cheerios) and spills milk all over, and though the Mom is all beaming smiles and appreciation, she also winds up cleaning up the mess, when the little girl isn't looking. This pattern continues all morning long: the girl brings Mom some flowers (by ripping up her flower beds) and makes her a sweet card (spilling glue on the floor) and makes jelly sandwiches for lunch. My girl laughed out loud and cackled with glee at the page where the piglet says "Yuck! I'm all sticky, Mom!" and the next day she said she thought it was funny. This book celebrates impishness in girls, while also maintaining a sweet, sincere emotional underpinning. Good artwork, good text -- the story is simple and clear, and the humor works both for little kids and their beleagured (but loving) parents. Recommended... If it hits you right, you'll love it. (A)

"Big Book Of Little Children"
Written by Catherine & Laurence Anholt
Illustrated by Catherine & Laurence Anholt
(Candlewick, 2003)

Similar to Susan Meyers' Everywhere Babies, this celebrates and explores all the little things that little kids do... The trouble with this book -- an omnibus that gathers material from several of the Anholt books -- is that, in contrast to Everywhere, this volume is cluttered and lacks the brevity and snap of the other text. It drags on and on, possibly because it was cobbled together from various earlier books, and lacks a sense of cohesion and flow as a result. In addition, the artwork seems miniscule and has a too-much-ishness to it as well. I dunno, this is okay, I suppose, but other books have done this better. We've never made it through a single reading of this book without losing focus and drifting away from it, something that rarely happens in our house. (B-)

"Jack And The Dreamsack"
Written by Laurence Anholt
Illustrated by Ross Collins
(Bloomsbury, 2003)

A fantastical bedtime story about a boy who doesn't just want to have dreams, he wants to capture them and see what makes them tick. Jack waits up late and only pretends to go to sleep, then, when the dreams come, he tries to stuff as many as he can into his magical "dreamsack," moving from one surreal scene to the next. There are some cool, kooky images and a generally dreamy, imaginative vibe (and a clear debt to Winsor McKay's Little Nemo In Slumberland, both conceptually and visually...) While the evocative, creativity-friendly story is welcome, the ending is a little muddled. Jack wakes up and, naturally, finds all his captured dreams have evaporated back into the aether, but the concluding message, that "the best kind of dreams are the wide-awake dreams" doesn't quite follow, and seems tacked on. Also, it is accompanied by cameo pictures of random people who we hadn't seen before -- lovers in the park, a mother with her baby, a boy with his dog. Okay, so Anholt is telling us to bring the wonder of sleeping dreams with us into the waking world. But who are all these other people we see all of a sudden? Minor quibbles, though -- mostly this is a very nice book, just the sort of thing to light up young minds... and maybe a few old ones, too! (B+)

"Bubbles, Bubbles"
Written by Kathi Appelt
Illustrated by Fumi Kosaka
(Harper Festival, 2001)

A nice, sweet bathtime book with a bouncy rhyme and appealing, manga-ish artwork. Simple but effective pro-bath propaganda... My kid enjoyed this one. (B)

"Brave Martha"
Written by Margot Apple
Illustrated by Margot Apple
(Houghton Mifflin, 1999)

A young girl named Martha has a bedtime ritual wherein her cat, Sophie, checks under the bed for her before she goes to sleep, making sure there are no scary monsters waiting to go BOO. One night, a loud party held by Martha's parents scares the cat away, and Martha has to check for the monsters herself. An interesting, if slightly odd story (with a happy ending) that you might want to avoid if your kid doesn't already have anxieties about boogiemen or dark rooms, et al. This book's a bit odd, but it got requested several times after the first time we read it, and the story was involving enough that it got talked about later on... Good dramatization of nighttime fears, without being too scary or heavyhanded. (B-)

"The Twin Princes"
Written by Tedd Arnold
Illustrated by Tedd Arnold
(Penguin/Dial, 2007)

A fairytale-style story about two young princes -- one nice, one sneaky -- who are given a challenge to see which one will succeed their father as the next king of Chickenlandia. Since they are both chickens, there are a lot of poultry-related puns woven into the text. The book's other gimmick is that it poses a riddle at the end: how can the two princes have a who-goes-slowest race, if both one wants to win? Not surprisingly, the good brother comes up with the answer, and the wicked one's sneaky deeds prove to be his undoing. The morality lesson is nice, although I found the artwork to be blocky and the punning a bit egregious. It's an okay book, though -- best for a kids who are on the older end of the picturebook spectrum. (B-)

"Rabbits And Raindrops"
Written by Jim Arnosky
Illustrated by Jim Arnosky
(Putnam, 1997)

Author/artist Jim Arnosky is a prolific writer of nature-oriented children's book -- he's written nearly a hundred so far. I haven't had much success with his material, despite some promising titles. The realistic, didactic tone of his Crinkleroot series and other "All About" books doesn't seem very engaging, at least to the littlest readers. This book is the big exception so far... It's a standard cutesy animal story, with a more conventional narrative that may appeal to smaller children... A rabbit family huddles under some foliage during a downpour, and comes back out when the sun breaks through, then they marvel at the damp, sparkling world around them. A very nice, simple story... also some of Arnosky's most accomplished artwork. We discovered this one at a library-sponsored storytime, and all the little kids liked it. (B+)

"The Sun Is My Favorite Star"
Written by Frank Asch
Illustrated by Frank Asch
(Gulliver, 2000)

A pleasant, kind of hippie-ish celebration of nature, with a little girl who sings the praises of the sun and its life-giving powers. I think I liked this book better than my girl did; she never asked for it to be re-read, but seemed to appreciate it anyway. (B)

"Stella's Dancing Days"
Written by Sandy Asher
Illustrated by Kathryn Brown
(Harcourt, 2001)

A lovely cat's-eye view of the world. When Stella was a little kitten and was rescued by two children ("The Tall One" and "The Gentle One") she was rambunctious and full of bounce. As she got older, though, she liked to "dance" less and less, and eventually, when she was a full-grown cat, she liked to lie around and be mellow. She also got the urge to go on nightly prowls, and after she met another big cat -- a male -- she started looking for a place to hide and make a nest. Thus, Stella became a mother. Her kittens, though, were also dancers, and once again the children had bouncy little kitties to play with and make fly. A sweet, innocent story (although perceptive children may probe a bit about how Stella's meeting the boy cat and the subsequent pregnancy are related...) Includes some basic ballet terms, like plie and jete, for kids who are on a dancing kick. (A)

"I Went for a Walk"
Written by Gregory Attonito
Illustrated by Shanti Wintergate
(Philomel, 2007)

I was singularly unimpressed with this celebrity-written children's book, written by latter-day punk rock star Gregory Attonito (of the Bouncing Souls) and his wife, Shanti Wintergate. Perhaps it's because it's hard for me to separate the book out from its online incarnation in this YouTube video, which I thought was really, really lame. Mostly it's Wintergate's flaccid, sing-songy narration that leaves me cold. How could she have so little connection to something that she herself wrote? I like the book's let's-go-to-outer-space, be-yourself message -- clearly the Attonito-Wintergates are enthusiastic about their work -- but the book itself seems more like a hipster vanity product than a functional children's story, with iffy art and iffier writing, and a structure that seems a little far-flung for preschoolers. (Not to get too personal or anything, but do these guys actually have a kid of their own?) Not to tick off any Bouncing Souls fans, but I thought this was pretty bad. (C-)

"The Fire Cat"
Written by Esther Averill
Illustrated by Esther Averill
(Harper Collins, 1960)

The "origin story" of Pickles, the fire cat. Written over a decade after Pickles originally appeared in the oddball 1940s "Jenny Linsky" series, this shows how Pickles was originally a feral cat, living in a vacant lot, who chased smaller cats because he had nothing better to do... Pickles is befriended by Mrs. Goodkind, who tries to tame him, but is unsuccessful, with Pickles running out of her apartment, back into the wild. Later, though, a fireman comes to rescue Pickles from the top of a tree, and the firehouse adopts him as a mascot. Pickles, who had always dreamt of "doing big things," works hard to help out, and is made an official "fire cat," even learning to climb a ladder and help other cats when they get stuck in trees. This is one of the clearest-written, least odd of the Jenny Linksy books, also intriguing for its clear advocacy of a liberal view of poverty, crime and criminal rehabilitation: given a good home and honest work to do, Pickles becomes a model citizen... (Though, apparently, there was some recidivism at play, too, since he was a bully again by the time Jenny meets him in School For Cats...) Anyway, this is an enjoyable book, with a lower word count and better artwork than the earlier Averill offerings.

"Matthew's Truck"
Written by Katherine Ayers
Illustrated by Hideko Takahashi
(Candlewick, 2005)

An excellent entry into the boys-love-trucks genre. (Although, I kinda wish there were more girls-love-trucks out there as well...) Matthew is, well, a little boy who loves to play with his yellow toy truck. He imagines himself driving it around and doing all kinds of work stuff... The twist is that in his imagination, Matthew is driving a toy-sized truck, not a big one, cruising around his living room, underneath tables and chairs,down the stairs and along the kitchen countertop. The artwork is bright, simple and appealing, and works perfectly with the straightforward, understated text. I like this one -- it's really about imagination and fantasy play, and less about kicking up big clouds of mud and going vrooom, vrooom, vrooom while destroying a hillside somewhere. Definitely worth checking out. (B+)

"The Gingerbread Man"
Written by Jim Aylesworth
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
(Scholastic Books, 1998)

A wonderful adaptation of the old folk tale of the mischievous and fleet-footed Gingerbread Man... This is the first and best of McClintock's collaborations with fabulist Jim Aylesworth, and one of the best versions of this story you'll ever find. A large part of the charm is the artwork, which is strongly reminiscent of old, Edwardian-era children's books. Some of the animals (the sow, in particular) are a bit grotesque, but not so much so that it detracts from the story. The Gingerbread Man himself is so delightfully drawn -- all smiles, shiny button eyes and happy, reckless glee -- that it's hard not to root for the little fella, even if he is asking for trouble. This version bursts with energy and life; too bad the sweet, spicy speedster has to get eaten in the end! (A+)

"Aunt Pitty Patty's Piggy"
Written by Jim Aylesworth
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
(Scholastic Books, 1999)

A silly sort of a tale tall about a little girl named Nelly who tries to persuade an obstinate pig to walk through a gate, and the great lengths she goes to to try and get the porker to move. The girl walks down the road asking help from one thing after another -- a dog, a stick, a cow, a cat, a mouse -- and finally gets them all to act in a Rube Goldberg-ish way to prod the pig inside the fence. There's a lot of implied violence in the text (Nelly asks the dog to bite the pig, and the stick to whack the dog when he won't help... and on and on...) but the piling on of one thing after another places this story firmly in the realm of absurdity, so how seriously can you take it? Still, I read it and kept it away from my kid -- it's clever, but kind of violent, so I decided we could skip it. Nice artwork, as usual, from Ms. McClintock. (C+)

"The Tale Of Tricky Fox"
Written by Jim Aylesworth
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
(Scholastic Books, 2001)

An Aesop-ish story, apparently from New England, about a wily fox who comes up with a complicated scheme for stealing a pig from a farmer. There are some mildly disturbing elements -- the foxes wanting to eat other animals, and the big bulldog that viciously bites the foxes at the end -- that may make this unsuitable for littler readers. And, again, Aylesworth puts on some folksy rhetorical airs that can distract from the story. Overall, though, this book flows well, and thoughtful adults can read around the violent stuff. Although McClintock's artwork is not the most magical she's ever done, it's still quite nice, and serves the story well. (B-)

"Goldilocks And The Three Bears"
Written by Jim Aylesworth
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
(Scholastic Books, 2003)

Although this is a good version of this time-worn tale, it was a bit disappointing, considering the calibre of some of the other Aylesworth/McClintock collaborations. The biggest problem is with some annoying verbal affectations ("oh my, yes," etc.) that crop up repetitively. I think they are meant to give the book a grandmotherly, schoolmarmish tone, but in fact just make it hard to read. Likewise, McClintock models her work after 19th Century illustrators such as Randolph Caldecott and A. B. Frost, including some of the broadsheet grotesquery and exaggerated expressions popular at the time. It is (purposefully, I think...) not as pretty or as detailed as some of her other works... Still, this is striking, durable version of the Goldilocks saga, and the text shades in the little girl's background a bit (her mother warning her not to misbehave, and Goldilocks just forgetting mom's good advice... Makes her seem a little less capricious and amoral.) Anyway, this is definitely worth checking out, though it ain't no Gingerbread man.

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