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Here are some new reviews of children's books added to the Read That Again! website in April, 2008. These are new(ish) books, but might 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.

New Book Reviews: April, 2008

"Bob And Otto"
Written by Robert O. Bruel
Illustrated by Nick Bruel
(Roaring Brook Press, 2007)

The story of two buddies, an earthworm and a caterpillar, whose friendship is tested when the caterpillar feels the tug of nature and has to go up a tree and spin his cocoon. The friends part, apparently with some bad feelings, but reunite after Bob grows his wings and flutters back to find his old pal. The story was written by illustrator Nick Bruel's dad, a psychologist, and discovered after the older Bruel passed away, then adapted into a picturebook with a few minor changes... In all honesty, the story reads a bit roughly -- it's a nice concept, but the script could have been smoothed out a bit. It's not entirely clear how much (or why) Otto's feelings were hurt by Bob's decision to climb a tree rather than stick with his pal, down on ground level. The underlying issues of envy and resentment are perhaps too dark to tackle directly in a book aimed at preschoolers, so the toned-down version is dramatically unsatisfying. Still, it's a cute story with a nice message about the compromises inherent in strong friendships, and even though I wasn't that into it, my kid did ask to have it re-read a couple of times, and that's usually a sign... (B-)

"Louder, Lili"
Written by Gennifer Choldenko
Illustrated by S. D. Schindler
(G. P. Puntnam & Sons, 2007)

A nice story about a shy little girl who has to learn to be assertive and make herself heard. Lili is so shy, in fact, that when she says "here" during roll call, the teacher usually marks her absent, and she soon becomes prey to a manipulative, bullying classmate named Cassidy, who takes advantage or Lili at every turn -- taking credit for Lili's schoolwork, filching food from her lunch and talking about her behind her back. Finally, one day when the mischievous Cassidy decides to tease an torture the classroom's pet hamster (who shy Lili likes to hang out with) Lili finds her voice, yelling for Cassidy to stop, and getting all the other kids in the class to come to her side. The story is aimed at grade school students who are dealing with complex social issues, including bullying, and while it handles these difficult issues well, it does have some disconcerting aspects, including Cassidy's mean-spiritedness and the unflattering portrayal of a substitute teacher who is completely checked out on what's happening in the classroom. Still, Lili is a character you can really root for, and the book has a fairy tale-ish simplicity to it, with a clear-cut bad guy and a sympathetic heroine who wins in the end. Worth checking out, although you might want to weigh whether your kid is ready for a book that shows a "bad" teacher, as well as bad kids. (B+)

"Red Red Red"
Written by Valeri Gorbachev
Illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev
(Philomel, 2007)

A light, whimsical story of a turtle with a mission -- he's got something RED in mind, and he's running so fast to find that he hasn't got time to explain what it is he's looking for... All his friends and neighbors tag along, wondering if it might be fire engines or apples or watermelons or some other crimson accessory that the turtle music find... FInally, they get to the top of a big hill and the turtle reveals that it's the red sunset that he was rushing to see. Not much of a plot, but I like Gorbachev's graphic style and it's a relief to see him tackling something that's not as weighty and anxiety-prone as his other books. An okay book, though it didn't blow me away. (B)

"Mama, Where Are You?"
Written by Diane Muldrow
Illustrated by Rick Peterson
(Golden Books, 2007)

Diane Muldrow, author of the preteen "Dish" series turns in one for the toddler crowd, a sweet little lift-the-flap book celebrating mothers and maternal care... Here, a series of cute little animals -- puppies, kittens, penguins, kangaroos -- ask aloud where their mommies are, and (turn the flap) get reassuring messages of enveloping, protective love. Bright colors and bold, blocky design will charm the littlest readers, while the flaps will keep them busy for hours. Cute! (B)

"The Lonesome Puppy"
Written by Yoshitomo Nara
Illustrated by Yoshitomo Nara
(Chronicle Books, 1999/2008)

An artsy, kooky book from Japanese pop-art icon Yoshitomo Nara, who is known for drawing childlike animal characters with a dark, slightly perverse side to them. This is an odd parable about a puppy who was so large that no one could see him, until one day a little girl saw his paw and climbed up to his back, and then onto his nose, to say "hi" and become the puppy's friend. That's about all there is to the story -- indeed, it was a little on the short side, so after the happy ending there are several word-free pages of the dog and the girl playing together. This book probably isn't for everyone and may be a little too abstract and postmodern for some families at storytime... Like Chris Rashka's Whaley Whale series, this might resonate with ironic adult hipster types just as much as wackiness-prone little ones. Of course, it's even better for the children of ironic adult hipster types... fun for the whole family! (B)

"A Kitten Tale"
Written by Eric Rohmann
Illustrated by Eric Rohmann
(Random House/Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)

Four little kittens pounce and play, cute and carefree, until one day they stumble across some pictures of snow, which causes three of the kittens to fret all year long about how cold and wet and miserable snowy weather will be. The fourth kitten is the daredevil of the litter, always climbing up high, peering around corners and getting into all sorts of new situations, and that little kitten can't wait to find out what snow is like! Of course, the curious kitten wins in the end: when the first snow falls and blankets their yard, the fourth kitten charges outside and tumbles around in the drifts, having so much fun that the other three can't resist and they go tumbling out, too. A nice celebration of curiosity and adventurous, open-minded thinking; also a nice book to show the passing of the seasons, as they wonder what snow will be like in spring, summer and fall... This book has a much more conventional narrative than many of Rohmann's other recent works, although it still has his strong visual sensibility. Recommended! (B+)

"Pale Male: Citizen Hawk Of New York City"
Written by Janet Schulman
Illustrated by Meilo So
(Random House/Knopf, 2008)

A handsomely illustrated recounting of the saga of Pale Male, a red-tailed hawk that built a nest in Central Park, bringing a of little raw nature's good old tooth and claw into the heart of New York City. Named "Pale Male" by the city folk, the young hawk became a cause celebre when he moved his nest to the the eaves of a posh townhouse apartment building, and the rich folks had the nest torn down. At first they were rebuked by Federal authorities, who pointed out this was a violation of environmental law; later, when those laws were defanged by the Bush administration, the building's owners tore the nest down again, this time facing powerful public opposition. Deciding that a few feathers and some hawk guano were better than an endless protest outside their building (with honking horns, etc.) the nasty rich people gave in and made a space for Pale Male and his brood to move back to their urban aerie. There have actually been a couple of children's picturebooks devoted to Pale Male before this one, but the artwork here is quite extraordinary (even if the text, at times, is a bit thick and mechanical...) A nice eco-urban fable -- certainly worth checking out! (B-)

"Starring Miss Darlene"
Written by Amy Schwartz
Illustrated by Amy Schwartz
(Roaring Brook Press, 2007)

Darlene is a happy young hippopotamus going to grade school with a bunch of other critter-kids.. One day she gets the theatre itch, and decides she wants to star in a school play. At first, she only gets bit parts (the rain, in a production of the Noah's Ark story) but through persistence and sheer luck, she rises up to play the lead... and to direct, despite her being a bit clueless and clumsy. The secret to her success is that the local theatre critic keeps misinterpreting Darlene's accidents as a form of interactive theatre: when she spills water on his lap, he thinks it's a way to draw the audience into the play, likewise when she mixes up her lines in the next play and when she falls asleep while playing Sleeping Beauty. Darlene gets rave reviews and moves from goofy triumph to goofy triumph, growing in confidence and pride. Although she isn't really a well-developed character, Darlene is kooky and likable, and the we-got-away-with-it table-turning of her misadventures will appeal to kids innate love of chaos. (B)

"Knuffle Bunny, Too: A Case Of Mistaken Identity"
Written by Mo Willems
Illustrated by Mo Willems
(Hyperion, 2008)

A much-welcome sequel to Mo Willems' 2003 masterpiece, Knuffle Bunny, in which a pre-verbal toddler named Trixie tries to explain to her dad that her beloved stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny, got lost on one of their errands. Now Trixie's "all grown up" and in pre-K, delightfully dressed in a patchwork of polka-dots, stripes, pink things and flowers... and BOY can she talk! There's plenty of drama surrounding ol' Knuffle Bunny, though: when Trixie takes KB so school to show all her friends, she freaks out when another little girl has a bunny rabbit just like it! Disappointment turns to tragedy when the two bunnies get mixed up and -- of course -- the daddies have to get up in the middle of the night to solve the problem. Although this can't quite match the brilliant simplicity and hilarity of the first book, there's still plenty of charm, particularly in Willems' warm, full embrace of the kookiness and enthusiasm of the 3-4 year-old set. Do I sense a trilogy coming? Hope so! Trixie's a pretty cute kid. (A-)

Movies & Video

"Enchanted" (DVD)
(Disney, 2007)

Any parent (or grown-up kid) who has had to watch a whole lot of Disney "princess" films will get a big kick out of this clever, well-produced movie, in which a cartoon-land princess is magically flung into live-action love affair with dreamboat Patrick Dempsey, in modern-day Manhattan. The animated opening sequence is hilarious -- a sly, and surprisingly biting satire of the whole franchise, with clever nods towards Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella and just about any other Disney animated fantasy film you can think of... When the action enters into the "real world," ala Roger Rabbit, things get even better... This is a well-thought out, affectionate send-up of a genre that many of us have a love-hate relationship with... And while the satire could easily have been crass and dismissive, instead it's intelligent and often very, very funny. Kudos all around -- if you're looking for some good, light entertainment to save you from all the endless, carbon-copy slasher and bank heist films out there, this is a fine option. Suitable for the whole family -- recommended! (B+)

"Play With Me Sesame - Imagine With Me" (DVD)
(Genius Entertainment, 2007)

The Play With Me Sesame series includes two discs in each set, one that is basically like your standard-issue Sesame Street video -- a string of clips both old and new -- and a second CD-ROM disc of interactive games, which largely recycles material from the Sesame Street website... This approach has its plusses and minuses. Kids who haven't already plugged into the online Street 'site may enjoy the various games, although kids who have already been online will have probably already explored most of this material. The CD-ROM versions have the advantages of better sound and sharper graphics, and not being dependent on Internet connectivity to function. One odd detail is that many of the game that loop on the website end abruptly here (especially if you don't engage the program) Although kids may want them to go on longer, parents may find themselves thankful that they don't... especially the ones that feature Elmo's sweet little voice... This collection is based on imagination -- the video portion includes a lot of material that previously was gathered on an earlier "Let's Pretend" video... which makes the added games a nice bonus feature. (B+)

"Play With Me Sesame - Play With Me" (DVD)
(Genius Entertainment, 2007)

Similar to the Imagine Like Me collection, but with a more activity-oriented focus. Ya gotta love playtime with Grover! (B+)

Contact Info

    PS - Please feel free to send us other recommendations for books, websites, children's films and other cool stuff.
    The e-mail address is: joesixpack AT slipcue DOT com.

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