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Welcome to ReadThatAgain.com, a just-for-fun website reviewing a bunch of children's books that our family has enjoyed over the last few years. We try to find fun, intelligent, well-crafted books, but most importantly, books that kids like! Hopefully you'll find these reviews useful... Please feel free to comment on the site or send recommendations for books we may have missed... In the meantime, enjoy!

This is the first page of books written by authors under the letter "F"






Kids Books -- "F" By Author

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"Olivia"
Written by Ian Falconer
Illustrated by Ian Falconer
(Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 2000)

One of the most successful series in what can be called the "hipster" era of picturebooks, the "Olivia" books are written and designed by New Yorker artist Ian Falconer... They are anarchic and ironic, featuring the misadventures of a headstrong, wily, self-centered (piglet) girl named Olivia. She has a rich interior life (her positive side) and insists on having her way, even to the point of utter obnoxiousness (the negative)... I think Olivia's spoiledness is an accurate reflection of a wide swath of overpriveleged American children (particularly among upper-crusty Manhattanites...) and that explains a lot of her popularity with both kids and parents of this generation. I found plenty to appreciate in these books: the winking asides and multi-level humor will resonate with grown-ups the same way Looney Tunes cartoons and Peanuts strips did for parents in the past, and the mix'n-match, multimedia elements (with photographs and reproductions of other artwork included in various books) help elevate these books to a moderate meta-level status. I'm sure kids get the jokes, too... Still, there's a certain amount of discomfort that I can't quite shake... Discomfort with how bossy and thoughtless Olivia can be -- for instance, when she forces her mother to make her a new soccer uniform (in Olivia And The Missing Toy) and barely notices when the acquiescent parent produces the fancy new togs. This selfishness is, of course, a big part of the humor, but I still feel like I'm spending more time with a bratty kid than I would like to when I'm reading these books. Kids go ga-ga over these books, though, so I suppose they are a hit... Still, you might want to vet them first, and see what you think. (B+)


"Olivia Saves The Circus"
Written by Ian Falconer
Illustrated by Ian Falconer
(Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 2001)

The second Olivia book finds our porcine heroine dreaming of a career in the circus. More mischievous behavior and clever mixed-media collage work. If you were onboard with the first book, you'll be there with this one, too. (B+)


"Olivia And The Missing Toy"
Written by Ian Falconer
Illustrated by Ian Falconer
(Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 2003)

If you don't want to introduce books that encourage bratty behavior, you might want to skip this one, although if you don't mind books that reflect the impish, petulant, manipulative side of little kids, this one is slyly funny and quite true to life. It's time for Olivia's soccer practice, and she announces to her mom that she wants a red jersey, not a green one like all the other team uniforms. Mom obligingly sits down and spends all day making Olivia a new outfit, but when she brings it in for Olivia's approval, Olivia gets distracted when she realizes that her favorite doll has disappeared, and she pitches a day-long fit, yelling at each of her little brothers: "WHAT DID YOU DO WITH MY TOY??" (Baby William's nonchalant reply, "whooshee gaga," is a classic catchphrase from the Olivia series...) As with many of the Olivia books, a lot of the humor is pitched at parents -- Olivia practicing piano in a darkened room that looks like the set of an old Vincent Price movie, the slow-burn reaction from Mom when Daddy promises to buy Olivia "the very best toy in the whole world as a way to get her to stop crying, etc. -- but kids like it, too, so go figure. I think there is something to be said for the criticism that these books are almost a blueprint for how to raise a spoiled brat, but kids -- little girls in particular -- dig 'em, so it's a tradeoff, interest in reading vs. learning to whine and pout. Six of one, half-dozen of the other. (B+)


"Olivia Forms A Band"
Written by Ian Falconer
Illustrated by Ian Falconer
(Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 2006)

BASHboomBANGtingalingaCRASH..!!!!! Olivia dresses up to become a one-person band, but abandons her kit when it's time to go out and see some fireworks. More of Olivia's half-bratty/half-adorable headstrong chutzpah, and increasingly creative artistic layout from Falconer, with bolder collage and photo-based splash pages. If you like the series, this one holds up. (B+)


"The Adventures Of Polo"
Written by Regis Faller
Illustrated by Regis Faller
(Roaring Brook Press, 2002)

An absolutely brilliant, magical book... This fab fantasy from France is a wordless picturebook that stars Polo, a cheerful, indomitable cartoon dog with a flair for improvisation, bravery and boundless curiosity... The story starts with Polo walking out of his house -- a large oak tree on a tiny ocean island -- and setting out on an adventure with his trusty backpack and umbrella. From there it's a wild, wonderful ride where one thing leads to another: Polo climbs a ladder to the sky, is scooped up birds, imprisoned in an iceberg and climbs to the moon, where little green men welcome him into their mushroom-strewn underground world... Like Crockett Johnson's "Purple Crayon" series, the "Polo" books play on visual free association -- one inventive flight of fancy piles on top of another, although author-illustrator Regis Faller has crafted something much longer than any of the "Crayon" books, a large, bold graphic novel that clearly comes out of the European comicbook tradition, as bold and expansive as any of the "Tin-Tin" novels. Polo is a marvelous reading experience, and it expects as much from its readers as it gives back. Adults can guide children through the narrative, commenting on each panel, or summarizing entire pages, creating the narrative as they go along. Children can also spend hours alone, pouring over the panels and making up stories of their own. Faller has a wonderful intuitive grasp of fantasy and fantastic thought; his storytelling and graphic style are simply delightful... And, gee, are these books fun! Fantastic, exciting, perilous things happen on every page, but Polo never comes to any harm, he just has a great time and makes lots of friends. Highly recommended! One of our favorite books. (A+)


"Polo And The Runaway Book"
Written by Regis Faller
Illustrated by Regis Faller
(Roaring Brook Press, 2007)

Polo's back, and so are the little green men: one of them sneaks into Polo's bedroom and steals his new book, starting a chase that takes them across the oceans, up into the sky, into a weird, white Limbo and into a cloud kingdom with a delicate princess who becomes Polo's friend. Picking up other friends along the way, Polo crosses deserts and rides clouds, frees a genie and climbs a giant dandelion, like Jack climbed the the beanstalk. Finally, after seventy color-filled pages, he catches up to the little green guy, who is reading the runaway book to a group of his friends. Polo sits down to listen, and when the story is over, the green guy gives it back to him. (Since there are no words, you can insert an apology here, if you want. Another brilliant, breathless rollercoaster ride filled with fantastic, just-for-fun adventures. My kid will look at this book for hours by herself, but also loves when we read it together. Can't wait for more of these to come out in America -- so far it's just this one and the equally-fabulous The Adventures Of Polo. (A+)


"Feast For 10"
Written by Cathryn Falwell
Illustrated by Cathryn Falwell
(Clarion, 1993)

A counting book that also promotes good nutrition... A mother takes her children to the store to get all kinds of things -- tomatoes, potatoes, beans and greens -- and then they head home to cook it all up. Falwell's collage-style artwork looks a little stiff here, though, which may make it hard to get into the narrative, such as it is. Not a lot of momentum in the rhymes, either... overall, I'd say this book is just so-so... (C+)


"David's Drawings"
Written by Catheryn Falwell
Illustrated by Catheryn Falwell
(Lee & Low Books, 2001)

A shy young boy (with a gift for art) goes to school one day and finds friendship when he cheerfully lets the other kids in his class share a picture he drew of a bare tree in winter. They decorate it with leaves, grass, clouds, stars, people and animals, a visual brightening-up that's mirrored in David's life, as his new friends invite him to play with them at recess. When he goes, home, though, David sees the grey tree again, and recreates his original picture, showing that he can still be true to himself while making friends and accomodating their needs. This is a sweet little story -- a consistent favorite with my daughter -- that makes its point without being too heavy-handed. Nice multiculturalism, too, reflected in all the kids in the class. Initially I wasn't fond of the artwork, but now I like the whole package. Nice book... definitely recommended!
(A)


"The Happy Lion"
Written by Louise Fatio
Illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
(McGraw Hill, 1954)

Joining Babar, Curious George and Crictor in the annals of wild-animals-that-are-happier-in-civilization books, The Happy Lion is a thoroughly satisfying, funny story about a friendly lion living in the zoo in a small French town. The lion is beloved by all the townspeople until one day when he discovers his cage has been left open and decides to go on a little jaunt, then finds out how thin the veneer of polite society can be: all his human friends (except one) completely freak out, and the gendarmes are about to forcibly bring the beast to heel when young Francois, the lion's best friend, innocently approaches the lion and walks him back to his cage. This is a thoroughly charming story, with a fine sense of humor, economical writing and a strong dramatic arc (made all the better by the anticlimactic ending) and appealing artwork from Duvoisin. I'd say it's a winner! (B+)


"The Happy Lion Roars"
Written by Louise Fatio
Illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
(McGraw Hill, 1957)

Our feline hero returns, though this time he's a little sad... Spring is in the air, and the Happy Lion realizes that while all the other animals in the zoo have mates, he does not. This sad situation is remedied during a visit to the circus, where the lion meets and falls in love with a beautiful lioness who can leap through flaming hoops... and steal the heart of the king of the jungle! When she runs away from the circus, the whole town comes looking for her... But when zey feegure out zat zee lion ees love, ze French townspeople work things out so that she can join the zoo, instead. Then the Happy Lion is happy again (if you know what I mean...) and so are the folks in town. In a certain respect, this is a more blunt representation of romantic love than most picturebooks you'll see -- not that it's graphic in any way, but parents may want to factor that in with the littlest readers -- but also of the lion's devotion to his partner. While not as smooth a narrative as the first book, this is a nice addition to the Happy Lion series. Recommended! (B-)


"The Happy Lion And The Bear"
Written by Louise Fatio
Illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
(McGraw Hill, 1964)

When the zoo gains another alpha-male animal -- a big, growling bear -- the Happy Lion finds himself struggling to get along with his new neighbor. Despite his best intentions, the two beasts wind up growling and picking fights with each other every time they set eyes on one another. The smaller animals try to cool things down, as does Francois, the zookeeper's son, who likes both of the big brutes. It isn't until Francois slips and has an accident that the two animals find common purpose, and after they help the boy get to the hospital, they realize how silly they had been before. The text is a little clunky, and the animosity between the lion and the bear may be a little troubling for younger readers. But if you're already on the "Happy Lion" bandwagon, this is a fine entry into the series... Not as charming as the first book, but still a good read. (B-)






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