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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 "Z"






Kids Books -- Letter "Z" By Author

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"The Question Song"
Written by Kaethe Zemach
Illustrated by Kaethe Zemach
(Henry Holt & Company, 1998)

Problem-solving is the theme of this book, with a brother and sister confronted by a host of worries -- having to share the same toy, skinning your knee when you fall down, having a shoe come off while you're on the swings -- and their two patient parents offer a slew of solutions. The call-and-response song structure of the text is variable, but the changing meter and lack of consistent rhyme doesn't really get in the way of the cheerful, positive message: Every problem has a solution; you just have to step back for a moment and figure it out. Good for all ages, though it might be too hippie-delic for some readers... (B)


"The Character In The Book"
Written by Kaethe Zemach
Illustrated by Kaethe Zemach
(Harper Collins/Michael di Capua, 1998)

An odd example of meta-fiction in kid's lit... Here, a character called The Character gets a letter from his aunt inviting him to come visit her in another book... So, he spends the rest of his book trying to break free of the pages -- running, flying, climbing, crawling -- until finally he just does it, and is loose. The drama may be a bit too remote or abstract for many kids, but for the right reader, this could be a nice concept. Doesn't really stick to the ribs, though. (C)


"Waiting For Baby"
Written by Harriet Ziefert
Illustrated by Emily Bolam
(Henry Holt & Company, 1999)

Some friends of ours are expecting their second child, so I've been on the watch for good "baby books" to help prime their first kid. This book, by the amazingly prolific Harriet Ziefert, is one of the best. A young boy named Max is wildly curious about the little one living inside his ever-expanding mother. He asks all kinds of questions and talks to her tummy all the time. When Mom tells Max she thinks the baby is going to come out soon, he gets super-excited and increasingly impatient as each day passes. After about a week, Max gives up and decides to go play by himself -- after which, of course, Mom goes to the hospital and delivers the baby. This book primes future siblings well, cutting through potential anxieties or jealousy, and making the whole process seem like fun. Recommended! (A)


"Talk, Baby!"
Written by Harriet Ziefert
Illustrated by Emily Bolam
(Henry Holt & Company, 1999)

In this follow-up to Waiting For Baby, Max loves his little sister, but is impatient for her to learn to speak. A common situation, no doubt, although the almost-bullying tone of some of Max's attempts to get the baby to talk may be a little more aggressive than some parents might like. Mostly good, although dealing with the same subject, I preferred Fred Haitt's Baby Talk, which has a sweeter tone overall. This one's worth checking out, but you might want to preview it before reading it to that excitable older sibling you have on your hands, just to make sure if it's the right emotional tone you want to explore... (B)


"Animal Music"
Written by Harriet Ziefert
Illustrated by Donald Saaf
(Houghton Mifflin, 1999)

Actually this is sort of two books in one: the first half shows the members of Mr. Lion's Marching Band, and the second depicts Mr. Sheep's Dance Band... The artwork is superior to the writing, which I believe is meant to read like song lyrics, but is surprisingly clunky... I really had a hard time wrapping my mouth around the words -- the meter is wildly variable and the text doesn't always rhyme, but sometimes it does. I hate that. Still, it's a nice book that presents a variety of musical instruments and different contexts for music to be seen and heard. For a similar treatment (and one that I like better), you might also check out Ivo Orleans' Animal Orchestra, which is simpler and more tightly constructed. (B-)


"Train Song"
Written by Harriet Ziefert
Illustrated by Donals Saaf
(Orchard Books, 2000)

One of the nicer "train books" you'll find out there... Each morning a little boy sits high on a mountainside and watches a freight train roll by, through farmlands and past whistlestops. He brings his own toy train with him, and once the big train rolls away, starts to count the hours until he can see the train again. Nice artwork... the only trouble I have with this book is the depictation of the livestock -- yeah, trains carry animals, but I doubt many of them are as happy about it as the pigs and cows in this book. Still, what are ya gonna do? Give your kid a PETA handbook to balance things out? Overall, this one's a winner... little children who are into trains will love this. (A-)


"Buzzy's Big Bedtime Book"
Written by Harriet Ziefert
Illustrated by Emily Bolam
(Blue Apple/Chronicle Books, 2004)

Boy, was this one a big hit! It had been a while since we'd had a book that made our kid go, "read it again!", much less one that wound up being read ten times in one day. This slim volume about a little kid who takes a bath and then doesn't quite want to go to sleep rings a universal chord... Plus, it's just so darn cute! Great artwork; the actual text is a litte clunky, at least the rhyming meter is... But the story is a winner. Like Maisy, Buzzy is one of those instantly loveable, thick-lined cartoon characters that kids go ga-ga over... Parents will, too! This was a nice book, definitely worth checking out! (A)


"Schools Have Learn"
Written by Harriet Ziefert
Illustrated by Amanda Haley
(Blue Apple Books, 2004)

Call me a fusty old killjoy (Alright: "You're a fusty old killjoy!") but I just have a problem with children's books that intentionally use bad grammar. I don't like 'em. I don't see the point. I also don't think that kids are that "dumb," or that they need to be talked down to. Ms. Ziefert has more than a few fine children's books under her belt but she also has a penchant for "cute," humorous linguistic lapses -- she followed this book with the similarly irritating Families Have Together, which also has her wobbling back and forth between good and bad grammar. It's disheartening. I mean, really, what is the point of writing stanzas like "Kids have sing/school bells have ring/lines have push/monitors have shush" or "Schools have learn/books have return"? Ziefert seems to think that kids will latch onto her sense of humor, and that the book's message -- showing the daily routines of grade school -- will penetrate minds that otherwise might not pay attention. I'm not so sure. And even if she's right, what's the advantage to sugar-coating knowledge under a veneer of willful ignorance and demi-literacy? It seems to me entirely the wrong message to send young readers. Also, with this particular book, the problem is compounded by grotty artwork, cartoonish drawings reminiscent of David Shannon's work that show kids as gangly, gap-toothed munchkins -- Haley's illustrations convey emotion and humor,but I still find them unaesthetic and unappealing. Other folks might enjoy this formula, but it was a wash for me. (D)


"Families Have Together"
Written by Harriet Ziefert
Illustrated by Deborah Zemke
(Blue Apple/Chronicle Books, 2005)

Promoting familial love through the use of bad grammar, the prolific Ms. Ziefert places togetherness amidst various other cosmic verities: "Morning has hugs/Toasters have plugs... Spoons have beat/Hands have eat... Noses have blow/Feet have grow..." I'm not wild about this book; the writing ain't great, and while it's clever that the artwork tells a parallel story (the family goes through its daily routine, then heads out of town on a camping trip), it's also not particularly impressive. Plusses: shows a stay-at-home dad. Minuses: the text disses brussel sprouts (to score easy points with veggie-phobes) while embracing soda pop and cookies. Hmmm. Overall, this one didn't wow me. (C-)


"Digger Man"
Written by Andrea Zimmerman
Illustrated by David Clemesha
(Henry Holt & Co., 2003)

This is a great book for kids who love construction equipment, and earth-moving devices in particular. The artwork is vivid, bold and very clear, showing a happy, cartoon-like boy driving a giant yellow loader, lifting rocks, hauling scrap metal, building a park, and even giving his baby brother a ride. (My favorite panel is of him plowing through a muddy lot, with wet earth spraying across the pages...) One teeny problem I have, and it's probably because I'm a sheepish, overly sensitive, Berkeley-liberal type, but why do they call these machines "diggers" instead of "loaders"? It just sounds uncomfortably close to a certain racial epithet, and makes me a little uncomfortable. Personally, I wouldn't want my kid running around the park yelling about anything that rhymes in that general vicinity. Besides, that's not what they call them -- at least not on the John Deere website! Other than that, though, this is a great book... Kids who are into wheels will, well, really dig it. (B)


"Fire Engine Man"
Written by Andrea Zimmerman
Illustrated by David Clemesha
(Henry Holt & Co., 2007)

(-)


"Dear Garbage Man"
Written by Gene Zion
Illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
(Harper & Row, 1957)

Four-fifths of a great environmentalist kiddie book. Stan is a new garbage collector on a big city route... The thing about Stan is, he really is a garbage collector: he keeps seeing things that have been thrown out -- old beds, broken bikes, cracked mirrors -- that he can't let get taken to the dump. So rather than toss it all into the trash compactor, he piles it on top of his truck, and then gives it away to the folks in the neighborhood, who are delighted at the redistribution of recycled wealth. Great so far, right? An amazing early environmental fable, you think? Well, turns out this book ain't quite The Lorax: Stan learns his lesson when all the neighbors put the junk back on the curb the next day, having had a chance to examine it more closely and determine that it really is just junk. So, he reconciles himself to the cheerful thought that instead his treasures will make nice landfill upriver, where towns can build new playgrounds for the children. So, yeah, this is ultimately more in line with the control-nature thinking of its time... Now we know better, or at least are learning more about recycling, waterlands protection, etc... Still, this is a very charming, entertaining story and you could either fudge the ending (to littler kids) or use it as-is to spur a discussion about resource management (with older kids...) Love that Margaret Bloy Graham artwork! (B)


"Harry The Dirty Dog"
Written by Gene Zion
Illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
(Harper Collins, 1956)

One of those books I grew up with that now seem a bit weird. Harry is an impish little dog who runs away from home rather than take a bath. While he's gone, he gets so dirty that his family can't even recognize him... at least not until he takes a bath! Although I vaguely recall liking this book when I was little, as a parent I'm less thrilled by how it demonstrates bad behavior (hating baths, running away, stealing the bath brush and hiding it...) and by how that misbehavior is counterbalanced by an implicitly judgemental, punitive moral. I still like the artwork, but the story has lost some of its lustre over the years. (Or, maybe I'm just taking it things seriously... I think I need more coffee...) (B-)


"No Roses For Harry!"
Written by Gene Zion
Illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
(Harper Collins, 1958)

(-)


"Harry And The Lady Next Door"
Written by Gene Zion
Illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
(Harper Collins, 1960)

Kind of a weird book, in which a super-mischievous Harry plots to undo his next-door neighbor, a high-society "lady" who sings opera all day and night. Harry hates the sound of it and does all sorts of conniving, brazen things to try and get her to shut up. A bit of an anti-hero, really. This book could be hilarious if read at the right age; for littler kids the misbehavior and malice may be a bit confusing and disconcerting... (Pardon the pun!) (C)


"Harry By The Sea"
Written by Gene Zion
Illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
(Harper Collins, 1965)

Out with the family for a day at the beach, Harry tries to find someplace to hide from the blistering sun... Suddenly, a big wave sweeps him up and covers him with gooey seaweed, and everyone on the beach freaks out and thinks he's a sea monster of some kind. The slapstick mishaps are told, sympathetically, from Harry's point of view... When the seaweed finally falls off and Harry is reunited with his family, we're glad for the little fella. One of the strongest stories in the "Harry" series -- dramatic, funny, easy to follow, and accompanied by marvelous artwork by Ms. Graham, who is one of my all-time faves. (B+)


"William's Doll"
Written by Charlotte Zolotow
Illustrated by William Pene Du Bois
(Harper & Row, 1972)

An epochal book about outsiders and kids who are "different," this story was later adapted to be part of Marlo Thomas's kid's music revue, "Free To Be You And Me." The story is simple: William is a boy who wants to own a doll so that he can care for and nurture it. His brother mocks him, calling him a sissy and a creep, and his father tries to steer him towards more "manly" pursuits, like basketball and model trains. Finally, his grandmother visits and sticks up for him, buying him the doll he wants and telling the dad to chill out. It's a good story, although there are a couple of teensy sticking points... First, I didn't like the part where the other kids are mocking him and taunting him (my kid hasn't heard that kind of schoolyard verbal abuse yet, so it's a bit jarring. Easy to read around, though...) Also, although the story is supposed to be about how it's normal and okay for boys to want to play with dolls, William is dressed somewhat effeminately, like a old-fashioned prep-school gay, complete with a signature red ascot. In some ways it would have been cooler if he'd been dressed like a plain old, grubby little boy, in t-shirt and shorts, or whatever. Still, the book holds up pretty well even with the hippie-era artwork, and the message is still quite welcome. (A)


"Hold My Hand: Five Stories Of Love And Family"
Written by Charlotte Zolotow
Illustrated by Carol Thompson
(Hyperion, 2003)

This is a collection of five old stories from author Charlotte Zolotow, with new illustrations by Carol Thompson, whose consistently pleasing artwork perfectly fits the material. The stories are "But Not Billy" (originally from 1947), "Hold My Hand" (1972), "Timothy Too!" (1986), "Big Brother" (1960) and "The Summer Night," from 1958. The unifying threads are the theme of families and their foibles, along with Thompson's illustrations, which give this volume its liveliness and warmth. Several of the stories have a dark edge to them -- "Timothy, Too!" is about an older sibling who is mean to his little brother, Timothy, who he considers a pest, and "Big Brother" is about a little girl who learns to live with her older brother's constant teasing. The first time I came across this book, I left it at the library, because it seemed a little disturbing, and other families may with to preview it first as well. "But Not Billy" is perhaps the most conventional of the stories, about a mother who keeps calling her child nicknames like her little duck or little frog, but never uses his real name, until the day he says his first word ("mama!") and then she scoops him up and calls him Billy. "The Summer Night" is about a little girl who can't sleep, and her dad takes her out for a moonlight walk until she gets tuckered out -- makes for a nice story about a sweet father-daughter friendship, but probably not the bedtime strategy that most parents will want to try. Overall, this is a nice set of stories, but they are a little odd and off the beaten track. Worth checking out. (B)


"Sleepy Book"
Written by Charlotte Zolotow
Illustrated by Stefano Vitale
(Harper Collins, 2001)

A lovely going-to-bed book, with a gentle, lulling, almost haiku-like text discussing how various animals fall asleep, culminating with a human child, tucked in bed. While the text is quite nice, it's the artwork that's most striking here, beautiful paintings laid atop a wooden canvas, so that you can see the grain of the wood underneath every panel... It's an unusual and distinctive style. All in all, a very classy book. (A)


"If It Weren't For You"
Written by Charlotte Zolotow
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
(Harper Collins, 2006)

An exemplary "issue book" about sibling rivalry, reprised from Zolotow's 1966 original, with new art from the ever-talented G. Brian Karas. A young girl grumbles about all the downsides to having a little sister -- she doesn't get all the presents anymore, she can't watch scary movies, she has to come home and help take care of the baby, rather than play with her friends,etc. All the while, she's got her little sister in tow, and the toddler is so-o-o-o-o-o cute and loving that finally the grumpy, grumbly older sib is worn down and has to cuddle up and care for the little muffin. This book hits every note just right: it's warm, it's funny, it explores negativity without succumbing to it entirely. Definitely recommended... one of the best books in the genre! (A)




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