Here are some new reviews of children's books added to the Read That Again! website in August, 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.
"The Gingerbread Girl"
Written by Lisa Campbell Ernst
Illustrated by Lisa Campbell Ernst
A mildly feminist retelling of the Gingerbread Man story... Here, the old couple that baked the first gingerbread runaway tries again, but this time makes a girl... She turns out to be faster and smarter than her older "brother" -- she still runs around and taunts the usual suspects, but she winds up outsmarting the fox and coming up with a nonviolent solution to the whole mess. She takes everyone home, bakes a bunch more goodies and throws a big party, and teaches the fox some manners. Although the theme is a little forced, this is a reasonably fun book. The rhymes and artwork are okay, and the nonviolent ending is a nice twist. Similar to Bob Graham's Dimity Dumpty, although not quite as innovative. (B)
Written by Candace Fleming
Illustrated by Brian Karas
(Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 2007)
In this sequel to 2002's giddy hit, Muncha Muncha Muncha, three mischievous rabbits continue their campaign to torment the super-grumpy farmer, Mr. McGreely. It's winter, and the previously contested vegetable garden has gone to seed, but as the chilly winds start to blow the widdle wabbits want to come in from the cold. Oh, did I start to slip into an Elmer Fudd accent? Well, no wonder, since Mr. McGreely is the most Fuddian book character in years -- no matter that the rabbits do, he totally blows his stack and overcompensates by sealing his chimney, nailing his windows shut and bricking up his door, in an effort to keep them out. He's not a particularly likable character, nor are the rabbits, who don't get any lines, ala Bugs Bunny, and do, in all fairness, seem to get out to drive McGreely nuts. Although the wordplay and soundplay isn't as fun as the first installment, this is an okay book, a favorite for lots of folks, and one that was requested several times in our household as well. (B-)
"Up Above, Down Below"
Written by Sue Redding
Illustrated by Sue Redding
(Chronicle Books, 2007)
A cool, visually-oriented book for kids to trip out on. Each two-page spread is split in half, with some action on the surface (a picnic, a stage play, people rush to work) being mirrored below with what happens underfoot (ant hives, stagehands, the subway, etc.) The manga-ish artwork features people and creatures with big, round eyes, jam-packed with lots and lots of detail, with a hefty dose of humor: rabbits tap into watermains to fill a pool, the ants play poker and watch tv on a pilfered iPod (with giant-sized cheetos on the hive floor, no less...) and so on. The text is somewhat peripheral - one pass through this with an adult and most kids will just grab it for themselves and space out on it for hours. Very nice! (B+)
Written by Anne Rockwell
Illustrated by Megan Halsey
(Walker & Company, 2006)
The realistic, somewhat sad tale of a young bear cub whose habitat is encroached on by housing construction... The story is told in a simple, straightforward manner from the bear's perspective, following the little nipper through the first two years of its life, as its mother hibernates with it through two winters and teaches it the skills of survival. What she didn't teach the little bear was about backhoes and bulldozers, or to stay out of trash cans when easy eats present themselves. The story ends on a happy-ish note, with animal control coming to take the bear away to a protected wilderness area, where he won't run into humans. This is a good book for teaching ecological values and for explaining about habitat loss and the difficulties of coexisting with wild animals... Small children may be a little troubled by the overall message -- this isn't one of those cute stories where the fuzzy little bear cub has tea parties with its friends -- as well as the point in the story when the mother bear chases her cub away, forcing it to become independent. But for older kids, or children with a strong empathy for nature, this is quite a nice book. The book closes with a brief essay about loss of habitat, and ways that humans living in wilderness areas can minimize potentially dangerous contact with wild bears. (B)
"The Bunnies Are Not In Their Beds"
Written by Marisabina Russo
Illustrated by Marisabina Russo
(Random House/Schwartz & Wade, 2007)
A delightful bedtime book about a trio of young bunnies who keep getting out of bed to play with their toys and march around, even though lights-out took place a loooooong time ago. The mommy and daddy rabbits keep coming back upstairs to see what all the noise is about, and though they play it cool at the beginning, after the fifth or sixth trip, they start to lose their tempers. This is one of those rare books, like Where The Wild Things Are, where minxy little children more or less win and get away with their misbehavior, and that's just fine, really: it's what makes the story so delicious. An interesting departure for author/illustrator Marisabina Russo, whose earlier books also show kids in their natural state, but tend to be more reality-oriented (ie, no cute animals) She's got a feel for fantasy, and knows little kids pretty well... A winner around our household (and constantly requested at bedtime, of course...!) (B+)
"Mommy In My Pocket"
Written by Carol Hunt Senderak
Illustrated by Hiroe Nakata
A sweet going-to-school book about a little girl bunny who wishes she could shrink her mother down to doll size and take her with her to school. (The sight of the mama bunny's ears sticking out of the girl's pocket is delightful... Love Nakata's artwork!) The text is a little choppy, but the sentiments are wonderful, and may inspire similar solutions for parents whose children are going to school... Perhaps sending them off with a photo or keepsake of some sort to help remind them who's waiting for them at home... ? A lovely book for parents and children... and people who like bunny rabbits! (B)
"Bijou, Bonbon & Beau"
Written by Joan Sweeney
Illustrated by Leslie
Short, but sweet. Whether you like great art, dance or cute little kitty cats (or all three!) this brisk little book should bring a big smile... Painted after the style of Edgar Degas, this tells the story of a mama cat and her three kittens who become adopted by the dancers and stagehands of a Paris concert hall where Degas is making sketches for his famous ballet paintings. Degas himself is enchanted by the kittens and shields them from the scornful eye of a hot-tempered house manager. When the new ballet is finally staged, the kittens wander onstage, but instead of ruining the performance, they charm the audience and make the ballet the talk of the town. Cute story, beautiful artwork, nice cultural-historical lesson as well, although in a very subtle, unforced way. Recommended! (B+)
"Duck At The Door"
Written by Jackie Urbanovic
Illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic
(Harper Collins, 2007)
A stray duck named Max, who stayed behind when his flock migrated south, finds shelter in a big, cozy house full of all sorts of animals -- cats, dogs, bunnies and an owl -- and a slightly dowdy woman named Irene. Max makes himself at home and soon starts hogging the TV remote and cooking exotic meals for all the other critters to eat. Everyone gets tired of having him around, but after his flock returns and takes Max away, naturally they all miss him. The narrative is a bit top-heavy -- a lot of details, details, details, and after a while the central thrust of the story gets obscured. Also, the continual emphasis on television as the central event in their lives is a little disconcerting: all the animals ever do is eat and watch TV; no one reads or plays games, draws pictures or goes outside in this book, which is kind of creepy. Ultimately, I wasn't wowed by the humor, either -- the tone reminded me of Laura Numeroff's If You Give A Mouse... books, which I think are a little stiff and ricketty. Other families might like this a lot more than we did, though, there's a cute premise, but the story and the characters don't quite rise to the occasion. (C)
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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