Here are some new reviews of children's books added to the Read That Again! website in July, 2007. 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.
"I'd Really Like To Eat A Child"
Written by Sylviane Donnio
Illustrated by Dorothee de Monfreid
(Random House, 2007)
This has got kind of a similar vibe to Mo Willems' Leonardo The Terrible Monster: a teeny-tiny little crocodile named Achilles wakes up one day and decides he's tired of eating bananas, and that he'd really rather hunt down a kid, and eat that instead. His parents, properly civilized, worry greatly about Achilles' latest fixation: everyone knows you have to eat a real breakfast and that you can't grow big and strong chowing down on little children. But, Achilles has to learn for himself: when he goes down to the river for a dip and spies a young girl that he thinks will be easy prey, Achilles learns just how small he really is. The girl coos over the cute little lizard, scoops him up by his tail, tickles him mercilessly, and then tosses him into the water after she gets bored. The picture of Achilles running out of the underbrush, yelling "RAAH!" is priceless... Plus, banana lovers will get a kick out of this book, since there are a ton of them on every page. A nice European import, originally published French a few years earlier. (B+)
Written by Roger Duvoisin
Illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
(Alfred A. Knopf, 1940)
A golden oldie (recently reissued) about a neurotic donkey who thinks his ears look ugly... Donkey-Donkey wanders through the farmyard, asking advice from various animals, each of whom tell him the the proper way to wear one's ears is the way they do it: the dog says hold them down, the sheep and goats advise him to wear them to the side, the pig says to use them like sun visors, etc. All of these methods have drawbacks, and Donkey-Donkey finally has to learn self-acceptance, after which, of course, he feels much better. Lovely combination of words and text, and a nice message, as well. A well-deserved classic. (A-)
Written by Deborah Freedman
Illustrated by Deborah Freedman
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)
This book expects a lot from its readers, but it pays off well. It works on several levels -- as a fairytale-related lark, as a book about visual art and creative thinking, and as a snapshot of sibling conflict. Two sisters, Emma and Lucie, are each drawing their own pictures... Emma, the older child, is in the middle of a complicated princess fantasy, and made a really fancy picture of the princess in her sleeping-beauty bed, while little Lucie has scrawled out a scribbly yellow kitty kat. After Emma makes fun of Lucie's picture, Lucie retaliates by scribbling all over the princess. Emma leaves in a huff, off to tell the 'rents, and that's when things get weird. Lucie and her cat get sucked into the pink construction paper world of the princess, and the only way back out is for Lucie to erase all the scribbly lines she plastered over the page. In the meantime, the cat and the princess have fallen in love, and formed their own fairytale romance. The plot is complicated and fantastical, and may be hard for younger children to follow, but it hits a certain kooky, whimsical tone that the right readers will love. Worth checking out. (B)
"Keeker And The Sneaky Pony"
"Keeker And The Horse Show Show Off"
"Keeker And The Sugar Shack"
"Keeker And The Springtime Surprise"
"Keeker And The Pony Camp Catastrophe"
written by Hadley Higgenson
illustrated by Maja Anderson & Lisa Perrett
(Chronicle Books, 2006)
We were looking for some beginning chapter-books that were reasonably intelligent, nonviolent, not filled with weird messages, unpleasant behavior, violence or issue-oriented anxieties... The Keeker series was perfect, about a bright-eyed, sometimes silly little girl nicknamed Keeker who lives on a farm with her parents and various animals, including a mischievous Shetland pony named Plum. Keeker has some of the same wide-eyed, innocent rambunctiousness that made the Beverly Cleary heroines so much fun, and is a likeable, if relatively uncomplicated, character. In the first volume, we meet Keeker and her new pony, Plum, who is kind of cantankerous and sneaky. The story revolves around that eternal pet/human question: who is training whom? Later, Keeker and Plum take part in horse shows, have goofy misadventures and grow older, book by book. The series features nice, direct prose and clean-lined, retrodelic artwork that is very precise and deceptively "simple" looking... Maja Anderson (who illustrates the first three books) packs a surprising level of subtlety into her work, and lots of humor. Innocuous and old-fashioned, the Keeker books offer a welcome respite from the dark, irony-drenched children's lit of today. (Collective grade: B)
"What Happens On Wednesdays"
Written by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Lauren Castillo
(Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007)
An immensely charming book about everyday routines, especially nice for single children and families that live in urban environs... A young girl walks us through her day, starting with a pre-dawn wake-up and storytime with Mom, then a to-school walk with Dad that takes us on a tour of her New York neighborhood. After lunch, Mom picks her up, they go home, have a nap, then go out for a dip at the pool and trip to the library, then back again for dinner, bath and bedtime. Sounds simple, but the richness of detail (both in the text and the marvelous drawings) makes this one a real winner. The young urban family feels familiar and real -- fans of Mo Willems Knuffle Bunny will recognize the Brooklyn landscape, and expatriate New Yorkers will yearn for a bite of their bagels. This book perfectly captures the ebb and flow of a preschool-kindergarten student's life, and will ring a bell for many readers, big and small. Recommended! (A)
"The Apple Doll"
Written by Elisa Kleven
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
(Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2007)
A complex narrative from the fantastically-minded author-illustrator Elisa Kleven. This shares a similar theme to Kleven's "Paper Princess" triology -- the intense love of imaginative children for their make-believe companions -- but it's also an issue-oriented book that's more rooted in the "real world" than Kleven's earlier work. A young girl named Lizzy is anxious about starting school and decides to bring a handmade doll from home as a surrogate friend. It's an apple-head doll that she made with fruit from her favorite tree, but instead of bringing her comfort, it puts her right in the sights of her new schoolmates, who tease her and tell her that her doll is weird. Lizzy gets the message, and after the first day she leaves the doll back home, although she still feels isolated and has no friends... Kleven indulges in a little wishful thinking when she has Lizzy's dollmaking later win over all the kids in class -- they see how cool apple dolls are and all want to make one themselves, and Lizzy obligingly shows them how. I'm not sure I really buy the sudden happy ending, but this is still a nice book... Like many of Kleven's characters, Lizzy is a sweet little dreamer, a vulnerable loner whose innocence you desperately don't want trampled by the other kids. And, as always, the artwork is enchanting, jam-packed with details and wonder for the world around us. Also included in the back of the book are handy instructions for how to make an apple doll of your own, a treat for arts'n'crafts-minded readers. (B)
"Boo And Baa Have Company"
Written by Lena & Olof Landstrom
Illustrated by Lena & Olof Landstrom
(Farrar Straus & Giroux/Raben & Sjogren Books, 2006)
This pair of Swedish sheep are the heroes of several much-beloved books... This is the only one I've seen, but it's a favorite around our house, and I look forward to tracking a few more of these books down and checking them out. Here, Boo and Baa are out doing some yardwork when a little black-and-white cat gets stuck in a tree, and when they try to get it down, Boo winds up a tree himself. The most captivating thing about these books is the kooky sense of humor: it's very, very subtle, but very, very sweet. Also, for those of us looking for nonviolent entertainment that isn't completely bland, this is a wonderful option. This is best for the littlest readers, but parents will appreciate the nuances of Landstrom's artwork, and the gentle, calming vibe of the story. Recommended. (B)
"How To Be A Baby -- By Me, The Big Sister"
Written by Sally Lloyd-Jones
Illustrated by Sue Heap
(Schwartz & Wade, 2007)
A very, very funny book, openly exploring the dark-ish side of older siblings... In it, an older sister explains, at great length, all the things a little baby can or cannot do, either because of physical limitations, or because she, the older sister, won't let her. She gleefully catalogs how the infant can't walk or run or read or talk or eat by itself or get dressed or play with her Barbies or have sleep-overs...Of course, there's a closing act in which the older sib admits how cute the little gerb actually is, and she dreams about the days in the future when the baby will be able to do more stuff, and how they will look back together on the crawling years and laugh... This book is very text heavy (Sis likes to make lists) but the sharp wit and groovy artwork will pull you along. I'm a fan of Sue Heap's work to begin with, but these are probably the finest of her illustrations that I've seen to date. If you've got a six-ish daughter grappling with the whole rivalry thing, this book's a winner. (A)
"Adele & Simon"
Written by Barbara McClintock
Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
(Frances Foster Books/Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2006)
Already a master draftsperson, author-illustrator Barbara McClintock has outdone herself on this one... Young Simon is a French schoolboy -- dreamy and absentminded, he loses his possessions, one by one, on the way home, as his older sister Adele looks on in exasperation. They visit various Parisian landmarks -- The Luxembourg Gardens, Notre Dame, Maison Cador, the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle -- all beautifully rendered in McClintock's fine-lined, fantastical style. The pictures are packed with delightful details, including bustling mobs of Parisians in period costume (and one page in which Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline and her schoolmates appear, in a walk in the Jardin de Plantes) and there is a puckish, playful verve throughout. We see the hustle and bustle of a bygone era, at the dawn of the 20th Century. There's a "where's Waldo" element to the story, where the items Simon loses are hidden inside the large, complex two-page panels: the four crayons strewn abound the Louvre are particularly hard to find. All in all, this is a very classy book -- beautiful to look at, wonderfully fun to read. (A+)
"Ratatouille: Too Many Cooks"
Written by Margaret McNamara
Illustrated by Nate Wragg
(Disney Books, 2007)
A counting-book tie-in with the Pixar/Disney animation film, Ratatouille... This is a lively, colorful rhyming book about the joys of French cuisine... Includes lots of cool cooking terms -- like roux, ragout, flambe, souffle and profiteroles -- that make it fun to read to little kids. Artist Nate Wragg does sketch layouts for Pixar, so the artwork matches up with the look of the movie, a kooky cartoonish style that recalls old Hanna Barbera 'toons. Not much of a plot, though -- if you don't cook or haven't seen the movie, the vigor and joyfulness of the book might not carry through. (B-)
"The Police Cloud"
Written by Christoph Niemann
Illustrated by Christoph Niemann
(Schwartz And Wade, 2007)
A delightful book about an eager young cloud who wants to be a police officer, but discovers he might not really be well suited for the job. (Directing traffic, for example, is kind of hard when you look like a giant fog bank in the middle of the intersection...) Both surrealistic and old-fashioned, this features bright, cartoonish artwork that evokes old Golden Books and the like from the 1950s... The pacing and lighthearted humor are quite entertaining, and the surprise ending is a gas. I hadn't known what to expect from this one, but it would up being a big favorite for my daughter, and definitely made it into our A-list. Highly recommended. (A)
"The Birthday Box"
Written by Leslie Patricelli
Illustrated by Leslie Patricelli
Bright and colorful artwork, although I didn't really care for the text... A baby is having her/his first birthday and is totally psyched to get a big cardboard box from Grandma... When it turns out there's also a puppy inside the box, it's almost besides the point, since the baby is having so much fun pretending that the box is an airplane, a pirate ship, and all the other wonderful things an imaginative little kid can come up with when playing with the simplest of objects. Finally, of course, it ends with a nap, baby and puppy cuddled up in the big box -- which also makes a nice comfy bed. This does capture the way kids can sometimes latch onto the plainest of objects and trip out on them for hours, while the super-mega-blinkorama-macrotoy sits around gathering dust. Still, I wasn't thrilled by the text, which seems particularly artless... This may appeal to really little toddlers; for a more complicated story dealing with a similar topic, you might also check out Marisabina Russo's The Big Brown Box. (C)
"Fluffy And Baron"
Written by Laura Rankin
Illustrated by Laura Rankin
(Penguin/Dial Books, 2006)
A lovely story -- based on true life! -- of two unlikely barnyard friends, a German shepherd named Baron and his little waddling pal of a duck, Fluffy. Fluffy, who's a bit pushy, forces Baron to adopt her and they become fast friends, even snuggling together each night in the barn... But when some migrating mallards visit the mill pond, Fluffy answers the call of the wild and ditches Baron for a few days to hang with her homies... And then throws him over for the four weeks it takes for her (oh, the scandal!) new eggs to hatch. The pictures of the forlorn, saddened Baron looking on as his buddy goes off on her own are heartbreaking, and Rankin zeros in -- both visually and verbally -- on the emotional life of animals. It probably helps that both Fluffy and Baron were her real childhood pets (the photos of her with them on the dust jacket are priceless!) so she really knows how the story went and what its emotional cues are. Oh, by the way, there's a happy ending -- after the ducklings hatch, they all imprint on Uncle Baron as well, and everybody plays together. A sweet book with a good story and a real emotional core. Nice artwork, too. (A-)
"One Naked Baby"
Written by Maggie Smith
Illustrated by Maggie Smith
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)
Fun! A great little counting book, with lively text and colorful, buoyant artwork... This book has a delightful momentum, a rollicking, avalanche-like feel that brings to mind the happiest of times with the happiest of children. It begins and ends with baby taking a bath, a necessity since he/she has so much fun running around, first inside and then in the garden, that a little end-of-day wash-up is a pretty good idea. One things that's really nice about this book is the strength of its rhyming structure: although the meter gets a little muddled in the second half (when baby is counting down from ten back to one), in the first section each rhyme gets hit squarely on the head and the propulsive couplets really pull you in... When that baby goes running down the hall, dripping soap suds, you're right there, along for the ride! Recommended. (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)
PS - Please feel free to send us other recommendations for books, websites, whatever. The e-mail address is: joesixpack AT slipcue DOT com. (Sorry, you'll have to type it in yourself -- I'm trying to cut down on my spam... :-)
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