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

Written by Michael Bond
Illustrated by R. W. Alley
(Harper Collins, 1998/2007)

A delightful adaptation of Michael Bond's classic bear story, about Paddington the Peruvian bear, and the English family that adopts him. This large-format picturebook recaps the first of Bond's famous chapter book, from 1958, wherein Paddington is first found at a railway station and is brought back to the Brown family home. The bright, colorful artwork is perfect: it captures the warmth and whimsy of the original series, presenting us with a little, wobbly, innocent bear who is every bit as fuzzy and lovable now as he was 'way back when. (Note: this adaptation originally came out in 1998; the new edition is certainly welcome!)

"That Rabbit Belongs To Emily Brown"
Written by Cressida Cowell
Illustrated by Neal Layton
(Hyperion, 2007)

A hilarious book about a feisty little girl and her stuffed bunny best-buddy, Stanley... Emily has a little problem concerning Stanley: the haughty, self-absorbed royal Princess Gloriana wants to have a soft, fuzzy lovie, too, and keeps trying to buy Stanley off of Emily and rename him Bunny Wunny... Emily rebuffs all of Gloriana's emissaries -- soldiers, sailors, cavalrymen -- being polite at first, and finally just telling them to take a hike. And then -- gasp! -- Gloriana sends her commandos out to kidnap Stanley! Emily Brown is no creampuff, though, and she simply stomps straight over to the royal palace and gets Stanley back, after reading the princess the riot act (and giving her some friendly pointers on how to make a lovie of her own...) There's a lot to recommend this book: it's very funny and very creative (the pictures of Emily and Stanley's imaginary worlds are really cool) and the plot speaks directly to little kids, and affords great opportunities for adults and kids to interact while discussing how awful Gloriana is acting (and how gracefully Emily handles things in the end.) The tone is also very, very British, and adult readers get some choice opportunities to break out their silliest English accents when playing the parts of Gloriana's underlings. Finally, Emily Brown is a great female character -- firm, assertive, direct, but not at all bratty or unpleasant. She's a good role model, but with no big proclamations made about it. We dig this book a lot - you might, too! (A)

"Emily Brown And The Thing"
Written by Cressida Cowell
Illustrated by Neal Layton
(Orchard, 2007)

Much as we loved the first Emily Brown book, we haven't field-tested this sequel, since it's about overcoming one's fear of things that go bump! in the night. Since that hasn't been an issue in our family yet, we don't want to bring up the whole "nightmares" thing unless we need to... Still, I bet it's pretty cute. (-)

"A Piece Of Chalk"
Written by Jennifer A. Ericsson
Illustrated by Michelle Shapiro
(Roaring Brook Press, 2007)

A nice one about a girl with a new set of sidewalk chalks. She explores the colors one by one, drawing a picture of the world around her. She draws her cat, her dog, the birds that flutter by, and she doesn't get upset when the rain falls and washes it away. Although there are quirks in the writing that I thought made it read a bit stiffly, this is a pretty sweet book, a nice celebration of one of our favorite activities!

"Rainbow Magic -- Joy The Summer Vacation Fairy"
Written by Daisy Meadows
Illustrated by Georgie Ripper
(Scholastic Books, 2005)

This "special edition" entry in the Rainbow Magic series alters the format a little in that our heros only meet one fairy these time, instead of seven, and while there are three items they need to find (in this case, magical sea shells) this is a single book, not a seven-part series. Lengthwise, it would be the equivalent to three books in the regular seven-book sets of the other "Rainbow Magic" stories. So, that handles the logistical end -- storywise, it's pretty much more of the same. These adventure books are innocent and engaging, focusing on two young girls, Kirsty and Rachel, who are drawn into the magical world of the fairies, and their ongoing conflict with the mischievous Jack Frost. Invariably, Jack Frost has stolen some magical item of value to the fairies and Kirsty and Rachel are called upon to get it back. This time around the goblins have stolen some magical sea shells that are used to (roll your eyes here) make summer vacations fun. The Daisy Meadows franchise is appealing and inoffensive, but also extremely formulaic, aimed at young readers who are into fairy tales and want some simple stories to chew their way through. On the plus side, they aren't very scary, and they are a good, quick read. On the other hand, they are also rather bland and repetitive (Meadows seriously needs to move on from using Jack Frost and his goblins as villains: they are dull.) Also, neither of the protagonists, Kirsty or Rachel, have any kind of an individual personality or distinguishing characteristics, other than being generically perky and plucky, and the series as a whole seems very, very WASPy and white. Regardless, my kid enjoys these books to a limited extent, although I wouldn't say she's wild about them. We have fun commenting on how repetitive they are, and I diligently help her plow through each series, even though both our minds are turned to mush. If you like the series, this book is fine. (B-)

"My Preschool"
Written by Anne Rockwell
Illustrated by Anne Rockwell
(Henry Holt & Co., 2008)

A welcome addition to the whole going-to-school genre... I'm a big fan of Rockwell's work to begin with, so it's no surprise that I'd like this one. Modern preschool life is seen in all its glory: cubbies, separation anxiety, circle time, free play, music, painting and yoga. In fact, it's all so much fun that at the end of the day, the kids don't want to leave! This book doesn't say much that's new (other than the yoga stuff, which I haven't seen in other books) but as an example of this genre, it's pretty nice. Ideal for introducing little ones to what is to come, or making them feel good about the school they're already in.

"Born To Read"
Written by Judy Sierra
Illustrated by Marc Brown
(Random House/Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)

A great pro-literacy companion to Sierra and Brown's delightful pro-library romp, Wild About Books. Here, a young lad named Sam is born with a love of stories and words, which soon translates into a love of reading -- books, street signs, you name it. If your kid is just starting to recognize words and read aloud, this book provides ample opportunities for adults and kids to read together -- there are easy words in both the art and the text, and clever poetic stanzas that lead to the closing rhymes. In terms of the rhyming text, I wouldn't say this is on a par with Wild About Books, but as an interactive, read-along story, it's a lot of fun. These two sure make a great team!

"Booming Bella"
Written by Carol Ann Williams
Illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss
(G. P. Putnam, 2008)

This issue book -- about a young girl who has a hard time keeping her voice down to an appropriate volume -- has an awkward tone and odd pacing. Bella shouts her way through her days, constantly being shushed by parents and teachers, and eventually she winds up chastened and sad, with her head hanging down. This happens on a field trip to the museum (a miserable place for a boisterous child!) and after a tour guide barks at Bella, she gets so bummed out that she just keeps looking at the floor. She's still looking down at the ground when it's time to go, and -- not fully paying attention -- she gets on the wrong bus and almost rides to a different school. Tragedy is averted when Bella uses her big, big voice and yells out that she is on the wrong voice, and then she is reunited with her classmates. What I find puzzling about this book is its purpose if you're using it to instruct an overly-loud little person, then the ending seems to give a mixed message, finally saying that its a good thing that she was so loud. Of course, I get that the book is trying to say that it's good both to be conscious of others and to use your voice assertively, or that rules have to have exceptions, but the transition is fuzzy and seems poorly structured. Maybe I'm a little too literal-minded, but I think this book could have benefited from a concluding statement that would explain the author's intent. As it is, instead of saying, "and so it was good that Bella learned when it was good to be loud and when it good to speak softly," we just get a quick happy ending that sort of halfway says so, but isn't entirely clear where it stands on the issue. This book is okay... Its heart is in the right place, but for some reason it didn't resonate with us. (C+)

Movies, Music & Other Stuff

"Shakespeare's Cats"
Written by William Shakespeare
Illustrated by Susan Herbert
(Thames & Hudson, 1996)

This is a silly book with pretty, beautifully rendered paintings of cute kitty cats dressed up as characters from various Shakespeare plays -- "Hamlet," "King Lear," "Othello," et. al. Each page illustrates a short passage ("Now is the winter of our discontent...") with no alterations to the text, just cute, fuzzy, whiskered faces peeking out from armor and stocking tights on the facing pages. We received this as a present for our kid, and while it has served as an entry point into the works of the Bard, in general these plays are pretty dark for kids to approach: a picture of Othello smothering Desdemona, for example, or Hamlet in the graveyard. Probably better as a coffeetable novelty book for adults, but if you are looking to encourage a little person to delve into Shakespeare, this is certainly a great tool. (B+)

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    The e-mail address is: joesixpack AT slipcue DOT com.

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