Here are some new reviews of children's books added to the Read That Again! website in Summer, 2006. These are mostly new(ish) books, but also include some older books we just found out about and liked more than others.Recommendations and submissions are welcome: please feel free to contact us about other books, new and old.
Many more books are reviewed in the site's permanent archives... These are organized alphabetically, either by Author Name or by Book Title.
Written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Illustrated by Kathryn Brown
(Harper Collins, 2004)
A nice concept, nice art, though a little rough structurally. This is a rhyming book about all the kinds of things a cool mom likes to do with her kids -- cooking, gardening, playing outdside, etc. The trouble, though, is that the text is written in the first person (so that the mom likes to do these things "with me!") but the artwork shows six little children-piglets and has her doing different things with each child. There's no coordination between the artwork and the text (to tip readers off which kid is now suddenly "me") and, worse for readers, the rhyme scheme is pretty wobbly and weak -- Dotlich never finds a consistent meter, and I found this text pretty difficult to get read. Other than that, though, this is a nice mommy book -- a little icky-sweet, but not too much. Worth a try! (B-)
"The Random House Dinosaur Travel Guide"
Written by Kelly Milner Halls
Illustrated by Luis V. Rey
(Random House, 2006)
State by state, highway by highway, this slim, well-packed volume highlights all the best dino-related museums, amusement parks, dig sites and related activities to be found in North America. From Canada's "Dinosaur Valley" to the dead oceans of the Great Plains, this book'll show you where to go to satisfy the curiousity of even the most avid junior paleontologist. If you're planning your next big road trip, you might want to take this along, and see what kinda bones you can dig up. The graphics aren't great, but the info is all grade-A. (B+)
"A Really Good Snowman"
Written by Daniel J. Mahoney
Illustrated by Daniel J. Mahoney
A touching story about an older brother, Jack, who doesn't want to play with his little sister, because he thinks she's a pest. Nancy always wants to "help" Jack, usually with disasterous results, and when she horns in on his participation in a local snowman building contest, Jack leaps at the first opportunity to ditch her. When some bigger kids start to pick on Nancy and make fun of her snowman, Jack sticks up for her and chases them off, and then realizes he has to help her out, instead of playing with his friends. In the process, he discovers that he can have fun playing with her, and strengthens their familial bond. The story is nice in several ways -- the book deftly deals with a complex issue (siblings who don't always get along) and Jack's transition into a more responsible, compassionate older sibling (and Nancy's reciprocal affection) is nice to see, and quite touching. It's also a good, not-too-scary depiction of bullying, and how to deal with it forthrightly. I also like the artwork. (B+)
"Junie B., First Grader: Aloha-Ha-Ha"
Written by Barbara Park
Illustrated by Denise Brunkus
(Random House, 2006)
Junie B. Jones is an irrespressible young girl (around seven years old?) who sees the world in her own special way. Continually getting in trouble and constantly feeling awkward, Junie forges ahead and takes her chances, facing life with a heart-winning combination of clumsiness and bravado. Here, Junie and her family go to Hawaii for a week, with predictably chaotic results. The actual time spent in Hawaii is kind of brief -- the first half of the book is taken up with Junie's classroom hijinks before the vacation begins... But it's her entertaining, malaprop-laced internal monologue that matters most, not the actual plot. It's hard not to identify with and root for this little gal -- fans of Ramona The Pest and Harriet The Spy will a kindred spirit here with the bold, goofy Junie B. (The twenty-sixth volume in this long-lived series...) (B-)
"Clara And Asha"
Written by Eric Rohmann
Illustrated by Eric Rohmann
(Roaring Brook, 2005)
A trippy, super-fantastical story about a little girl named Clara and her magical/imaginary friend, Asha, a giant, floating fish who takes her out flying 'round the moon and through the stars, etc. Literal-meaning-only, no-magical-thinking parents will run in horror when they come across this book. Then they'll come back, with torches in their hand to "kill the monster!" Although I liked the artwork and can see how Rohmann is one of the most innovative and imaginative children's book artists around, I didn't really enjoy reading this book all that much... It was just too "out there" and difficult for a very young (2-year old) reader to latch onto. Maybe if you were, oh, six or seven, this book would be super, super cool. (B-)
"I Love Bugs!"
Written by Philemon Sturges
Illustrated by Shari Halpern
(Harper Collins, 2005)
A simple, strightforward celebration of all things creepy, crawly, antennaed and invertebrate... The artwork isn't Halpern's best, and the rhyming text is pretty basic, but it's a nice book for those of us who think bugs are neat, and want to encourage openmindedness and a sense of wonder in our budding, little bug gatherers. Worth checking out. (B)
"Te Amo, Bebe, Little One"
Written by Lisa Wheeler
Illustrated by Maribel Suarez
(Little, Brown & Co, 2004)
A charming rhymed lullaby with a latino twist... A new mother makes up her own song for her little baby, singing it as the "brown-eyed babe" grows through its first year. There's a smattering of Spanish in the text, and several cultural signifiers -- such as cacti, palm trees, a mariachi band playing at a fiesta, the use of words like turquoise -- that skillfully place this book into a Latin-American context. The story is universal, though, and toddlers of any background can enjoy the bright, emotionally warm artwork... My only complaint is that the meter of the book's refrain, where the title comes from, just doesn't scan in the last line:
I love you once. I love you twice
I love you more than beans and rice
I love you more than sea or sun
Te amo, bebe, little one
It's as if the author was so in love with that last line, she just couldn't give it up... You can make it work (particularly if you're singing with a melody) but it's needlessly clumsy. Otherwise, a very nice book for really little kids... (B-)
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