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Here are some new reviews of children's books added to the Read That Again! website in March-April, 2009. 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 & Media Reviews: March-April, 2009

"An Orange In January"
Written by Dianna Hutts Aston
Illustrated by Julie Maren
(Dial Books, 2007)

A great book exploring food production and distribution, following the growth of an orange in its journey from a bud on a tree to an item on a store shelf, and finally a snack in a child's lunch. This book is simple and elegant in its presentation, and ideal for parents or educators who want to explain to young children how the modern agricultural model works. Recommended! (B+)

"Our Library"
Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Maggie Smith
(Clarion Books, 2008)

A we-love-our-library book.. with an actual plot attached! The cute little critter-kids sure love their library, but when Miss Goose, the children's librarian, tells them one day that the library is about to be closed, the kids are stunned. Then they rally and take all kinds of ingenious actions to save their local book depot. They repaint and re-roof the building, hold multiple bake sales and auctions to raise money, and even find a new plot of land to move the building to... Finally, they raise the structure up, put it on wheels and move it to the new location. And how do they learn how to do all these amazing things? Why, in library books, of course! (Good thing they had such a nice selection!) This isn't, in all honesty, the world's most artful narrative, but I suppose in this era of reduced services and closing down of public resources, a little lesson in cooperation, community power and volunteerism is welcome... Even necessary, I suppose. And, plus: yay for libraries!! (B+)

"My Dance Recital"
Written by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
Illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
(Random House/Robin Corey Books, 2009)

An outstanding dance-oriented pop-up book, with several innovative design elements. One ballerina twirls in full circles as the opening page unspools a thread wound 'round a central pole; a pull-tab chorus-line kicks in unison, another page opens up to reveal a tutu-clad dancer whose multi-layered skirt includes a real cloth layer and who takes a bow when you pull on a tab. My kid gushed when she saw this book, and has enjoyed it ever since... Although it's primarily ballet oriented, the book also shows kids doing tap, folk and jazz dance... it's an ideal present for any kid in a serious dance program, particularly those with performances coming up. Recommended! (A)

"Thump, Quack, Moo: A Whacky Adventure"
Written by Doreen Cronin
Illustrated by Betsy Lewin
(Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 2008)

The kooky critters from Cronin's earlier farmyard comedies (Click, Clack, Moo, etc.) are back, this time performing a bunch of unlikely construction tasks (have you ever seen a chicken with a hammer) as they help Farmer Brown build his maze for the big Corn Maze festival. Wouldn't you know it, though? That rascally Duck undercuts the farmer's efforts, subtly altering the blueprints so that when all the corn is grown and they go up in a balloon to admire their handywork, the corn maze is in the image of a mallard, not a human. It's a funny book, but the narrative is pretty complex, perhaps better suited to slightly older little kids, maybe on the upper end of the recommended 3-7 age range. If you enjoyed the earlier entries in this series, you'll like this one as well. (B+)

"The Pout-Pout Fish"
Written by Deborah Diesen
Illustrated by Dan Hanna
(Farrar Straus Giroux, 2008)

The pout-pout fish is all blue, in more ways than one. He slumps on the bottom of the ocean all day long, moping and sighing about how sad he is and how he can't ever have any fun. Various deep-sea denizens try to cheer him up -- an octopus, a clam, a jellyfish, a squid -- but Pout-Pout rebuffs them all, and insists he was born to be bummed-out and make everyone else around him bummed-out, too. This situation lasts, though various repetitions, for the length of the book until a pretty girly-girl fish suddenly swoops down and lays a big smackeroonie kiss on old Pout-Pout, causing him to (finally!) cheer up and declare himself a kiss-kiss fish instead. Even though I'm all in favor of emotional-intelligence books, I wasn't wild about this one -- the plot is clunky and the writing is awkward -- but as it turned out, my kid kinda liked it, and we wound up using the phrase "pout-pout fish" for a few weeks to describe bad moods... So even though it's kind of a dumb book, it apparently does work as intended. (C+)

"Knitty Kitty"
Written by David Elliott
Illustrated by Christopher Denise
(Candlewick, 2008)

A beautifully illustrated, emotionally warm book about a grandma cat who knits caps, scarves and whatnot for her little grandkittens to wear when they go out to play in the snow. The call-and-response format is reminiscent of the old "Three Little Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens" story, while the gentle, affectionate tone of the story makes it feel a bit like a feline update of Goodnight, Moon. The text is slightly blah, but the book itself is a delight, particularly the artwork, which may remind you of either Garth Williams or Valeri Gorbachev. Kitty cat lovers, in particular, will dig this one. It's really sweet. (B+)

"The Vegetables We Eat"
Written by Gail Gibbons
Illustrated by Gail Gibbons
(Holiday House, 2007)

Another nice one from author-illustrator Gail Gibbons, who specializes in nonfiction... (B+)

"Tommaso And The Missing Line"
Written by Matteo Pericoli
Illustrated by Matteo Pericoli
(Random House/Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)

An odd Italian import about a young boy who discovers that a picture he had drawn is suddenly and mysteriously missing one of its lines -- a large orange swoosh that was used to show the hill that his grandmother's house sits on. He goes out searching for the lost line all through his town, in fine-line drawings that depict classic Italian scenes -- plazas, cafes, apartment buildings, and finally the countryside by the sea, where his grandmother lives. The artwork has an old-fashioned, 1950s/'60s feel to it that may be attractive as well, a very formal, classy artistic style that is well-suited to the intricate detailing of the Italian cities. Playfully snaking through every black-and-white page is the elusive orange line, showing how . The concept of the book is a bit lofty, but for families who are on the right wavelength, this will be a cherished favorite. (B)

"The Planet Hunter: The Story Behind What Happened To Pluto"
Written by Elizabeth Rusch
Illustrated by Guy Francis
(Rising Moon Books, 2007)

If, like our family, you find yourself outraged by the demotion of Pluto from planet to iceblock, then this book may help. It is the story of astronomer Mike Brown, whose diligent explorations of the heavens helped open the eyes of science to new planets outside our nine, er, eight-planet solar system but also -- sadly -- led to the reclassification of Pluto. Brown made a bet with a friend that he could find a new planet by New Year's Day, 2005. He just barely missed that deadline (discovering the proto-planets Quaoar, Sedna and Santa, and finally the far-off Eris, the first object found beyond the main solar system that was bigger than Pluto...) As a result of Brown's exhaustive work, an international committee of scientists convened and decided that these distant spheres -- Pluto included -- could not be considered proper planets. Brown's story is told in this excellent non-fiction picturebook, which weaves science in with Brown's personal narrative, making the scientific issues more accessible to story-oriented younger readers. The clear, expansive, humor-filled artwork is a perfect compliment to the text, and for budding science geeks, there are also plenty of fact-filled sidebars, providing a friendly entryway into further research by curiosity-filled readers. Now, I'm a 20th Century boy, and for me, Pluto will always be a planet (boo on you, science council!) but for kids who have to grown up with only eight, this book is a great explanation why. Recommended! (A)

"Splat The Cat"
Written by Rob Scotton
Illustrated by Rob Scotton
(Harper Collins, 2008)

Not all cats like to chase mice, particularly not Splat, a fuzzy black kitten who has a pet mouse named Seymour who he brings to school, upsetting his classmates, but ultimately teaching them all a lesson in interspecies cooperation. I wasn't wild about the story or the text -- it seemed rather unfocussed and in need of a good editor -- but the collage-ish artwork is unusual and fun. (C+)

"You Never Heard Of Sandy Koufax?!"
Written by Jonah Winter
Illustrated by Andre Carrilho
(Swartz & Wade Books, 2009)

This is a great book for sports-minded kids, especially baseball fanatics... Personally, I'm not much of a sports fan, but I found this biographical picturebook about pitcher Sandy Koufax to be pretty engrossing... Koufax, one of the first Jewish players to crack into major league baseball, was a flop in his first few years playing for the Dodgers... Then suddenly he caught fire, and was one of the hottest players of the 1960s. Just as suddenly, he decided to quit professional baseball, and abruptly retired, leaving behind one of the best pitching records in the game. This book tells his story, told in the working-class voice of one of his teammates, accompanied by wildly stylish, almost avant-garde artwork from Portugal's Andre Carrilho, whose rubbery lines snap with kinetic motion. The book is also laced with statistics-laden sidebars, the kind of thing that true sports buffs love. This first edition also features gold gilt ink throughout an a dazzling holographic-motion cover (which I doubt will be included in future editions... ) All in all, a classy package -- a perfect present for a budding baseball fan. (A)

Movies & Video

"Sesame Street: Elmo And Friends --Tales Of Adventure" (DVD)
(Genius Entertainment, 2008)

Big Bird shrinks to insect size and sees the world from an ant's eye view; Telly puts on an old felt hat and plays Indiana Jones, and Elmo has to meet with his agent after his voice finally breaks and he dips down into a baritone. Well, okay, I made this last one up, but I can dream, can't I? Here are three more Sesame-tastic shorts that'll keep you little ones occupied for an hour or so... The Big Bird size-changing episode is probably the most exciting and imaginative of the three... Worth checking out! (B-)

"Shaun The Sheep: Back In The Ba-a-ath!" (DVD)
(Hit Entertainment, 2009)

More glourious claymation cartoons featuring Shaun The Sheep, a character previously seen in the "Wallace And Grommit" series, and now the star of his own series of shorts that air on British TV. These clever, slapstick-y stories are told largely without dialogue, as an adorable, troublemaking flock of sheep quietly drives their dimwitted shepherd a bit loopy. The comic timing and comedic brilliance of the Aardman Studios crew is undiminished, and while some other other post-Grommit projects ("Creature Comforts, et. al.) may have been a bit too mature for younger viewers, this collection is appropriate for all ages. Recommended... as is the first Shaun collection, Shaun The Sheep: Off The Baa! (A)

Contact Info

    PS - Please feel free to send us feedback, corrections or 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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