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Here are some new reviews of children's books added to the Read That Again! website in May, 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: May, 2008

"A Perfect Day"
Written by Remy Charlip
Illustrated by Remy Charlip
(Harper Collins, 2007)

A gentle meditation on life in which a parent and child (both of ambiguous gender and ethnicity) spend the day together -- walking, reading, having a picnic with their friends, taking a nap, going to sleep -- nestled in a warm, fuzzy emotional snugglefest. It's a sweet book, and very much a throwback to the feel and style of children's books in the hippiedelic 1960s and '70s. If you just want something warm and fuzzy and sweet, this is your book, baby. (B+)

Written by Polly Dunbar
Illustrated by Polly Dunbar
(Candlewick, 2007)

A boy named Ben gets a penguin, wrapped up in a present box, and is thrilled until he finds out that the penguin doesn't really do that much. It doesn't run or play games and, most important of all, it doesn't say anything. Ben gets all worked up about this and escalates his efforts to make the bird talk, making more and more noise until finally a big blue lion shows up and eats Ben because he was being too rowdy. Then, of course, the penguin bops the lion on the nose and frees Ben, after which the bird and boy hang out and play and the penguin talks after all. Honestly? I just didn't get this one. We read it, I was nonplussed, my kid was, too. What is Dunbar trying to say? Just being silly? Deeper psychological point being made? Dunno. This didn't really resonate over at our house. (C)

"Elsie Piddock Skips In Her Sleep"
Written by Eleanor Farejon
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake
(Candlewick, 1937/1997)

An odd, original modern fairytale about a little English girl who, as a baby, learns from the faeries how to skip rope with supernatural skill. When she grows up, she loses her supernatural tricks, but still jumps better than most mortals. The first chapter, in which Elsie learns from the faeries, is weird, wonderful and a bit dark, in keeping with the best classic fairytales. Then comes the second chapter, which adds an unwieldy coda. The scene shifts to many decades later, when a spiteful, greedy nobleman takes over the manor which overlooks Elsie's old hometown. This mean-spirited Lord declares that he is going to build a factory on the mountainside where the children stage their monthly rope jumping contests, and says he will forbid anyone to walk on the old, common path again. This part of the story lacks the economy and clarity of the first half, and it unwieldy and dramatically flat -- I made it more interesting for my kid by skipping big chunks of the text, but as it was originally written, it's a bit of a clunker. Also, I'm not sure how much resonance the primal English struggle over control of the Commons has for modern American readers -- or actually, for many modern Brits as well. This is an inventive story, and it definitely has its charm, but you have to be on the right wavelength or it probably won't do much for you. Love the art by Charlotte Voake, though: she's always fun. (The 2008 paperback reprinting includes new artwork by Voake, this time using a bit of pastoral color.) (B-)

Written by Suzy Lee
Illustrated by Suzy Lee
(Chronicle Books, 2008)

A marvelous pictures-only story about a little girl who visits the ocean for the first time, and has her first playful encounter with the endless, unstoppable surf. When the waves get her too wet, she roars back at them and pretends that she is ordering them back to sea, and then sticks her tongue out at the ocean, once she runs back to the dry part of the beach. Having asserted her authority over nature, she is promptly knocked flat on her butt by a really big wave that comes up farther than she expected. But every tide has its silver lining: the strong surge also pushed up some beautiful sea shells, and she takes several home when her mom comes to pick her up. Like all wordless picturebooks, this will take a little extra effort as you come up with your own narrative -- but the payoff is great, especially for ocean-loving families. Suzy Lee's artwork is expressive and direct, and she captures the sensuousness and unpredictability of the surf, as well as the mischievousness of lively little kids... I suppose if you want to be all scoldy and serious about it, you could also use this book to talk to your kids about beach safety, although more likely, you'll just want to savor the magical qualities. (A)

"How Many Seeds In A Pumpkin?"
Written by Margaret McNamara
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
(Schwartz & Wade, 2007)

This is a busy little book that does double, if not triple, duty. It tells the story of Charlie, a young boy who is self-conscious about being the smallest kid in his class, and how his teacher gets the kids involved in a project that shows how big things can come in small packages. He asks the class how many seeds they think are in a pumpkin and, producing three fine examples, each of different sizes, guides the students as they carve the pumpkins open and sort and count the seeds. Of course all the kids guess that the biggest pumpkin will have the most seeds, and of course they are not quite right. Midway through, the narrative gets sidelined by a math lesson -- some kids count by twos, others by fives, and Charlie by tens, so there's a bit of multiplication involved -- (hey! wake up!!) but the moral of the story is nice, and I really like G. Brian Karas' artwork. All of his books are pretty interesting. Cool class project, too. (B)

"Little Hoot"
Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by Jen Corace
(Chronicle Books, 2008)

An absolutely adorable story that takes the old, immortal bedtime struggle and totally turns it on its head. Little Hoot is a nice young owl who really hates bedtime because his parents -- who want him to grow up to be a good nocturnal hunter -- tell him he can't go to bed early and has to stay up late, like all owls do. Little Hoot whines and wheedles and says that all his friends get to go to bed early, but his parents will have none of it: they make him play and play and play and try everything they can to keep him up a little bit longer. Little kids will instantly recognize the humor in this role reversal, and older children will appreciate the bird-related puns that are sprinkled throughout the text. The economical, highly stylized artwork is classy as well, and has tiny, humorous details that will also amuse readers of all ages. A great book to read with your little ones -- especially at bedtime! (A)

"Never Tease A Weasel"
Written by Jean Conder Soule
Illustrated by George Booth
(Random House, 2007)

A new version of a goofy old kids' book wherein some very good advice -- never tease a weasel -- is given amid kooky rhymes that describe all sorts of other animal-related tomfoolery. Much of it involves clothing various critters -- putting high heels on turkeys, giving fur coats to goats, Easter bonnets to opossums, and the like. The rhyming text is tightly crafted and fun to read -- this book is nonsensical and fun, with wonderfully nutty illustrations from George Booth (one of my all-time favorite New Yorker artists...) A very enjoyable book, definitely worth checking out! (A)

Movies & Video

"Sesame Street: Elmo's World -- Summer Vacation" (DVD)
(Disney, 2008)

Personally, I can't think of anyone else I'd less want to spend my summer vacation with than red, fuzzy, whiny Elmo, but I think there are a lot of 3 and 4 year-olds who would strongly disagree with me. In keeping with the "Elmo's World" series, this hour-long program gives kids tips about new experiences, in this case, how to have a fun summer vacation. Ernie and Bert tell kids how to protect their skin (and eyes) from UV rays; Elmo talks about going to the beach, learning how to spread a towel, and even how to use a camera and preserve happy memories of the long summer months. Many parents will be grateful for the pro-sunscreen messages, as they try to lather their kids up under the broiling sun this summer. Thanks, Elmo! (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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