Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: HOW TO HUG by Maryann Macdonald

Macdonald, Maryann. How to Hug. Illustrated by Jana Christy. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2011. ISBN 978-0-7614-5804-3. $16.99. Ages 3-8.

How to Hug
does not really have a storyline, but is rather a lighthearted “how to” guide on, as indicated in the title, giving and receiving hugs. Done in watercolor using a pastel palette, the heartwarming pictures feature children interacting with various friendly animals, such as kangaroos, penguins, koala bears, and elephants. Playfully, the book instructs children on how not to hug—not too tightly, not too long. And hugging someone who is angry, or prickly like a porcupine, is not advised. Many “proper” ways to hug are illustrated as are the responses one might receive, such as bear hugs, sandwich hugs, hugs in return, and kisses on the cheek.

While the book may not have a major lesson or plot, parents will enjoy reading it to their children; it leaves an affectionate feeling. The simple text is also suitable for children in kindergarten or first grade who are learning to read, as the words are easy. My six-year-old niece had a wonderful time figuring out how to read all the words by herself; she proceeded to read the book out loud several times to different family members.

Joyce Myers

Review: A BALL FOR DAISY by Chris Raschka

Raschka, Chris. A Ball for Daisy. NY: Schwartz and Wade (Random House), 2011. ISBN 0-375-85861-1. $16.99.

I’ve been an admirer of Chris Raschka’s work for years (see other reviews here). My favorite remains Arlene Sardine. Raschka is a Caldecott Medalist, and I think he’s a front-runner again with A Ball for Daisy.

A Ball for Daisy is wordless. You will thoroughly enjoy the artistically-rendered story of the delightful Daisy’s love for her big red ball. Whether she’s chasing it, rolling it on her paws, wagging her tail simply at the sight of it, cuddling with it on the sofa, or happily off with her helpful mistress to the park to play with it, Daisy is cheerful; her joy makes the reader smile.

But this day at the park—not so good. An interloper in the form of a little brown poodle snatches the ball before Daisy can get to it, carries it smugly a few feet, and then, unintentionally, bites it too hard (how does the reader know it’s an unintentional act? The illustration shows us; the poodle is as surprised as anyone when the ball pops). Daisy is as deflated as the ball. Raschka’s palette introduces a dab of purple to the former happy reds, yellows, and soft grey-browns of Daisy’s world. With empathetic humor, the following pages depict Daisy’s attempt to resurrect her toy and her mistress’ attempts to get her through her loss.

But—at the park a few days later the brown dog and his mistress reappear to give Daisy a present: a brand new ball, this one blue. Everyone’s happy? You bet.

With just his brush and a few strokes, Raschka conveys emotionally-resonant scenes, using not only color but outline and face/body expressiveness. To me, thus, this is an ideal picturebook, not only for its artistry but for much that is depicted through the art, such as the thoughtful but also fair replacement of the punctured ball by the poodle’s owner. Without Raschaka’s use of a single word, the gamut displayed of Daisy’s feelings speaks to readers, helping develop their “mirror neurons,” crucial to learning compassion.

Could there be more books about Daisy forthcoming? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Alida Allison

Review: I GOT TWO DOGS by John Lithgow

Lithgow, John. I Got Two Dogs. Illus. Robert Neubecker. NY: Simon and Schuster, 2008. ISBN 1-4169-5881-9. $17.99. Includes CD of Lithgow reading (and howling) the story.

John Lithgow is one of the few celebrity authors whose books are truly exceptional; he’d be a children’s author even if he weren’t a star of stage, screen, and TV. With this carefree, yodeling ode to two dogs, Lithgow lauds his tried and true dogs, true friends who’ve indeed tried everything and, though very different, have found the perfect balance between them. Fanny is little, old, and slow, and Blue is mid-size, young, and quick. Nevertheless, they have things in common, for example, “Neither of ‘em ever learned a single trick.” Their owner loves ‘em, that’s clear—and audible-- on the attached CD. I bet Lithgow’s own dogs yodel along when the CD is played in their house.

Neubecker’s exuberant, very funny illustrations pair perfectly with Lithgow’s humor. Double-truck, pastel pages portray the dog duo giving and getting affection, “happy… huggy,” their pink tongues lolling, their endearing doggy eyes usually utterly focused on something like… a sock or a squirrel. Fanny and Blue are the quintessential dogs, “loyal and true ooo ooo ooo,” and readers will love them too ooo ooo.

Alida Allison


Base, Graeme. The Legend of the Golden Snail. NY: Abrams, 2010. ISBN 0-8109-8965-8. $19.95 HC.

Graeme Base’s first best-seller, the 1987 alphabet book Animalia, introduced his gorgeous, intricate, eye-and-imagination-catching art and his playful language, such as “Unruly unicorns upending urns of ultramarine umbrellas” to children and adults around the world. In the nearly quarter century he has been writing and painting since the first book, he has continued to produce distinctive, popular picturebooks. His newest, The Legend of the Golden Snail, is one of his best.

Young Wilbur loves the legend of the Grand Enchanter who sends his great ship, the Golden Snail, to the Ends of the Earth until a new Grand Enchanter appears. Wilbur determines he will be the next enchanter, and, with a captain’s hat made by his mother and with her best wishes, he sets off across the ocean in a rowboat with his cat. Along the way, he stops to save thirsty butterfly flowers, frees a colossal crab tangled in a net, and overcomes the earwig pirates who are stealing the lantern fish’s lightbulbs. But he worries these, to him, less than heroic acts will not exhibit his qualifications to be the next Grand Enchanter. Readers know better: as in the fairy tales, one who does good things selflessly will prosper, and, indeed, when Wilbur is stuck in the Dreadful Doldrums, the butterflies come to his aid, as do the crab and the lantern fish.

Soon Wilbur arrives at the End of the Earth. To his disappointment, the snail ship appears to be merely a little snail stuck in the sand. Ah, but Wilbur, having listened so well to the legend, knows the magic verse to bring the little snail into its full sailing ship size. In a series of stunning double-truck pages, Wilbur’s joyous flight on the glorious snail ship is depicted in memorably beautiful scenes (think of the flying bike scene in E.T. ). The essence of the story comes in Wilbur’s ultimate decision: he chooses to release the magic ship, sending it back for the next Grand Enchanter and return home in the rowboat with his cat. The reward for his humility is: his own tiny rowboat turns to gold and sprouts wings. The final picture is unforgettable; the boy and his cat heading home in the flying golden rowboat, setting off into a fabulously vibrant sky and feeling content to no longer be the Grand Enchanter but rather Wilbur, the Gallant Captain.

The Legend of the Golden Snail
, characteristically of Base’s many books, offers interactive games like hidden objects to spot, maps, and beautifully detailed art; it’s a picturebook feast.

Alida Allison

Review: SEVEN FATHERS by Ashley Ramsden

Ramsden, Ashley. Seven Fathers. Illus. by Ed Young. New York: Roaring Book Press, 2011. $16.99/$19.50 Can. ISBN: 978-1-59643-544-5.

Ashley Ramsden’s retelling of this Norwegian folktale evokes a deep response from the reader. A winter traveler, nearly at death with exhaustion, stumbles upon a house, “blazing with lights,” a beacon of hope amid the snow and cold. Each man he meets at the house sends him further in to “the father of the house,” each one older than the last, until finally he is speaking with a speck of dust, whose response, “Yes, my son,” clues the reader into the broader spiritual element of the text. In a moment of mysterious heavenly splendor, all the men of the house, now equal in age, join the traveler in a magnificent feast.

Ed Young’s combination of cut paper collage, paint splattering, and pastel create multi-dimensional illustrations that both leap off the page and draw the reader further into the folktale. The illustrations, while sometimes abstract, are evocative – one can almost feel the temperature change from the bitter cold of the Norwegian winter to the warm indoors as the traveler proceeds further into the house.

The metaphor of spiritual quest might not be understood by very young children, but the endearing warmth and comfort of the story, particularly the ending, in which the weary traveler lies down on a bed, saying a prayer of thanks that he had, “at last, found the true father of that house,” lends itself nicely as a bedtime story to be treasured and re-read.

Marisa Behan


Hills, Tad. How Rocket Learned to Read. New York: Schwartz & Wade, 2010. ISBN 0-375-85899-4. $17.99 US/$20.99 CAN

Rocket, a black and white spotted dog, has no interest in learning to read. He simply wants to nap under his favorite tree! But a little yellow bird’s clever use of suspense propels Rocket to want to learn to read. The story follows Rocket’s experience as he learns his letters, sounds out words, spells new words, and finally, reads on his own.

The book has a well-balanced mix of easy spelling words like “dig,” “wag,” “sun,” and “melt,” and more difficult story words. The text is far enough above a beginning reader’s instructional level that it would need be read to the child, but includes many spelled-out words, so the child participate in the story-telling as well.

The author has an ironic sense of humor. For example, when Rocket learns that napping is not allowed at school, he moves his nap to a nearby bush. Many reluctant students may identify with Rocket’s impulse!

Hills’ illustrations are bright and cheerful. Each page is filled with bright outdoor colors, and the changing of the seasons is beautifully represented, particularly Hills’ depiction of “mud,” the harbinger of spring. Rocket’s facial expressions, while simple, are unfailingly endearing. Overall, the story is delightful, both for reluctant and eager early readers.

Marisa Behan

Review: MOO, MOO, BROWN COW, HAVE YOU ANY MILK? by Phillis Gershator

Gershator, Phillis. Moo, Moo, Brown Cow, Have You Any Milk? Illus. Giselle Potter. New York: Random House, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-375-86744-6. $16.99.

Phillis Gershator’s wonderful retelling of “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” nursery rhyme expands this classic into an adorable bedtime tale. The soft, colorful illustrations depict a little boy on a farm asking each of his barnyard friends about the benefits of their gifts. The black sheep, the gray goose, the red hen, the yellow bee, and the brow cow all give the rhyming “yes sir, yes sir…” response to the child’s questions before we follow each of them to their beds, and get a peek into their dreams. Fun surprises like the sheep knitting a blanket and the hen wearing an apron will bring joy to you and your little reader as you revisit this beloved nursery rhyme again and again.

Emily Moore

Review: THE SUNFLOWER SWORD by Mark Sperring

Sperring, Mark. The Sunflower Sword. Illus. Miriam Latimer. Minneapolis: Andersen Press USA, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-7613-7486-2. $16.95. Ages 4-8.

An adorable tale about a boy whose mother gives him a sunflower in place of a sword, The Sunflower Sword is full of imagination and fun, while it also challenges our assumptions. Sperring and Latimer’s colorful picture book follows the little knight (who wears a colander as his helmet) as he whooshes and swooshes his sunflower slaying imaginary dragons atop Dragon Hill. When the little knight encounters a real, fire-breathing dragon with only his sunflower (and colander) as protection, he is surprised to discover that dragons can be even better as playmates than as prey. Soon, the other knights take up sunflowers in place of their swords, while the little knight’s mother smiles at the peaceful change she and her son inspired. This delightful, playful story will bring a smile to children and adults alike.

Emily Moore 

Once upon a time, in a land of knights and dragons, a little knight wanted to be big and fight dragons with a sword. But instead of a sword, his mother gives him a sunflower “to whoosh and swoosh in the air.” The little knight whooshes and swooshes his way all the way to Dragon Hill, where he slays three imaginary dragons! But one day, he meets a real dragon – suddenly his sunflower sword doesn’t seem as powerful! Or perhaps, it’s even more powerful than he can imagine, as the dragon, flattered by being offered a flower, befriends the little knight, setting a precedent for all the other knights in the kingdom to lay down their armaments.

Sperring and Latimer’s tale is delightful. The little knight’s story reflects the idea that honey is more effective than vinegar, and that friendship is stronger than war, but without becoming cloy or cliché. The illustrations are bright, colorful, and playful and even the font choice fits perfectly with the story. The bright red, many-toothed dragon has an endearing shape and face, particularly when he’s holding the tiny sunflower! The book is whimsical and cheerful – the perfect combination of excellent illustrations and a down-to-earth fairy tale story.

Marisa Behan

Review: LITTLE OINK by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace

Rosenthal, Amy Krouse and Jen Corace. Little Oink. Illus. Jen Corace. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, LLC., 2009. ISBN 978-0-8118-6655-2. $14.99.

Little Oink is the sweet story of a “neat little pig” struggling with the societal expectations that he act more…like a pig. Our protagonist is a little pink piglet named Little Oink. He likes to do almost everything that the other piglets do, except making messes. When encountered with “Mess up time,” Little Oink envies how all his non-pig friends get to clean their rooms, rather than making their rooms messy. Contrary to his unsoiled inclinations, Little Oink’s parents remind him that “to be a respectable pig,” he must “learn how to make a proper mess.”

This fun picture book playfully encourages us to take another look at indoctrinating kids into societal norms. In the culture of pigs, one that values messiness, Little Oink finds a refuge for his subversive preference for cleanliness via a traditional childhood escape – “playing house.” This neat little piglet “Sweep(s), Scour(s)” and “Scrub(s)” a tree house into his own “hog heaven.”

Emily Moore

Review: KISS ME! (I'M A PRINCE!) by Heather McLeod

McLeod, Heather. Kiss Me! (I’m a Prince!). Illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan. Ontario: Fitzhenry, 2011. ISBN 978-1-55455-161-3. $18.95.

Kiss Me! (I’m a Prince!) breathes new life into a familiar fairy tale. No doubt the children who read this book and whoever reads along with them will be familiar with the standard fairy tale fixture, a prince who has been turned into a frog. But McLeod and her illustrator, Kerrigan, signal a departure from the familiar storyline as soon as the book is opened.

The story begins with a familiar request by the frog prince—he needs a kiss in order to be restored to his human form. The girl he asks for that kiss, however, is anything but conventional. Ella, wearing a baseball cap backwards and an old pair of sneakers, is not interested in kissing. She just wants to play with the talking frog. He, however, points out how “unseemly” it is to play and get dirty. Life at his palace is all about education and etiquette. As soon as Ella teaches the frog prince the joyin being children, they spend many happy days swimming in the pond andplaying hopscotch.

That is, until the day a courtier from the frog prince’s palace comes to take him back home. He does not stay away, however. Two weeks later, he returns to Ella’s and tells her that although he received many kisses while at his castle, none was able to restore him to his former self. What he really needs is a kiss from a true friend. Ella asks whether he really wants to be a prince again, since he will be stuck again in his old stuffy existence. His parents, the frog prince explains, have agreed to give him time every day to play. With this good news, Ella kisses her frog friend, and they play happily ever after.

One of my favorite aspects of this version of the fairy tale is its shift in emphasis from marriage to friendship. Young children typically do not desire to find their one true love. They desire friendship and play. McLeod taps into the inclinations of her young readers. The beautiful watercolors and often-humorous visuals add to this book’s considerable charm.

Kira Hall

Review: NOAH'S BARK by Stephen Krensky

Krensky, Stephen. Noah’s Bark. Illustrated by Rogé. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books, 2010. ISBN 9-78-0-8225-7645-7. $16.95. Ages 4 and up.

As implied by the title, Noah’s Bark is a playful retelling of the classic biblical Noah’s Ark story. In this adaptation, the world is full of familiar animals children know, such as cows, pigs, snakes and sheep, but the animals are all making the wrong noises! Cows are hissing and sheep are meowing. Not only that, they are loud—so loud, that Noah is having trouble concentrating on building the ark—so he “barks” a command to the animals to quiet down. Once it begins raining and all are on the boat, Noah assigns the proper sounds to each animal, and forevermore, animals make the sounds that we are familiar with today. It is a simple, yet humorous chaos-to-order story.

With vibrant and colorful illustrations, this entertaining and interactive book is one that parents and children can enjoy together. The illustrations depict the animals making incorrect noises. Children will like pointing these out, demonstrating the noises the animals should be making, and matching which animal should be associated with the various “wrong” noises. I had a lot of fun with this book and hope readers do, too.

Joyce Myers

Review: THELONIOUS MOUSE by Orel Protopopescu

Protopopescu, Orel. Thelonious Mouse. Illus. Anne Wilsdorf. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011. Ages 4-10

The beat is HAPPENING on the pages of Protopopescu’s story, Thelonious Mouse! The tale is clearly a tribute to Thelonious Monk, the famous jazz pianist, but is in no way biographical. In this story, Thelonious Mouse cannot keep himself from taunting the cat of the house with his tapping and beating and swishing. Fat Cat could eat him for dinner in one swipe, but he prances and skitters his way around the house, making rhythmic music the whole time. One day, when Thelonious Mouse discovers a piano, he and the cat learn to make beautiful music together!

The text is lively and upbeat with alliterative and frequently rhyming language bouncing to the rhythm, making it perfect for reading aloud. The illustrations are colorful and whimsical. For kids who can’t stop fidgeting, for kids who are constantly making “music,” or for any parent wanting a fun way to introduce jazz, Thelonious Mouse is a perfect, unusual addition to their collection of storybooks.

Marisa Behan

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


McBratney, Sam. Guess How Much I Love You All Year Round. Illus. Anita Jeram. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2007. ISBN: 0-7636-4654-7. $16.99. Ages 3 and up.

The beloved Nutbrown Hares strike again! In this beautiful addition to the Guess How Much I Love You collection, McBratney and Jeram create four stories, one for each season. In the spring, Big Nutbrown Hare teaches Little Nutbrown Hare about growing up; in summer, they find and identify colors; in autumn, they play pretend; and in winter, they learn about nature.

All four stories deliver the high quality of text and illustrations readers expect from a Guess How Much I Love You book. I remember the original classic from childhood; this one does it justice while adding an educational dimension.

Marisa Behan

Review: HERE COMES THE BRIDE by Beatrice Masini

Masini, Beatrice. Here Comes the Bride. Illus. Anna Laura Cantone. Toronto: Tundra, 2002. ISBN: 0-88776-898-9. Hardback $17.95. 

Filomena is a seamstress well-known for making bridal gowns, but she dreams of making the dress of her own dreams for her own wedding. She gets the chance when Rusty, the mechanic, finally asks for her hand, and she says yes! However, Rusty is not so happy when Filomena spends more time on her dress than spending time with him. And, when he sees her wearing the gigantic gown as she walks down the aisle, he’s struck with a fear that forces him to flee the church! What will happen when Filomena catches up with her scared groom?

The book seems to refer to adult issues. I can imagine a man giving his girlfriend this book, saying, “Let’s forget the big wedding and just go to Las Vegas.” On the other hand, many girls like fairy tales and Disney films that involve romance and marriage, so they might enjoy Masini’s story. In addition, the book was originally published in Italy and written for children in a different culture, which may something to keep in mind.

The illustrations by Cantone are full-page, with flowing lines and cartoonish characters. They sometimes overwhelm the words, but kids might enjoy the busyness and fanciful textures.

Marie Soriano

Review: BANDITS by Johanna Wright

Wright, Johanna. Bandits. New York: Roaring Brook, 2011. ISBN 1-59643-583-4. Hardback $16.99. Ages 4-8

Wright presents a lovable raccoon family as they gather food stuffs from garbage cans and fruit trees around human homes after dark. There are three main things to like about this book: the lyrical text, the flowing lines and colorful, textured full page illustration, and the portrayal of a family working together harmoniously and having fun. Critics might complain the book implies that it’s okay to steal; they need to understand the animal world first, and then they need to relax. Johanna Wright has done no wrong with Bandits.

Marie Soriano

Review: FAIRLY FAIRY TALES by Esme Raji Codell

Codell, Esme Raji. Fairly Fairy Tales. Illus. Elisa Chavarri. New York: Aladdin, 2011. ISBN: 1-4169-9086-4. $16.99. Ages 3-7.

What would a techo-modern version of the Three Little Pigs look like? Little Red Riding Hood? Cinderella? Solar panels, discos, and salons meet fairy tales when a child and mom read together at bedtime.

Codell’s text is simple, maybe seemingly simplistic, but actually quite smart. She presents three elements that readers who are familiar with fairy tales will recognize, then throws in a fourth element that does not traditionally belong with the fairy tale at all. On the page this is show as pictures on a white background with the words above them. Then, the following illustrations by Chiavani put the fairy tale in a modern setting involving the fourth element. There are so many children’s books, both picture and chapter, that revamp traditional fairy tales. This is a nice fun addition to the pile.

The actual lack of text works by not being too descriptive, so kids’ imaginations can make up their own details, and the pictures are bright and cartoony. It’s only serious in terms of its fun!

Marie Soriano

Review: GOODBYE SHEEPIE by Robert Buleigh

Buleigh, Robert. Goodbye Sheepie. Illus. Peter Catalanotto. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Children, 2010. ISBN: 0-7614-5598-1. $16.99, Ages 3-7

For any family struggling to deal with the loss of a pet, I’d highly recommend Robert Burleigh’s Goodbye Sheepie. The story of the passing of young Owen’s best canine friend, Sheepie, is told with grace and sensitivity. When Sheepie dies, Owen and his father bury the dog’s body, speak some final words and create a homemade grave marking. Owen’s father treats his son’s grief with understanding and compassion, teaching Owen (and the reader) that, although Sheepie will never come back, he will always be a part of their happy memories.

Peter’s Catalanotto’s illustrations, done in watercolor and gouache, are soft and colorful, evoking the blurry sadness that accompanies death.

Marisa Behan


Krull, Kathleen. Jim Henson, The Guy Who Played with Puppets. Illus. Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. NY: Random House, 2011. ISBN 0-375-85721-8. $16.99.

When the power went out in San Diego County on Sept. 8, I picked a book to read while the sun was going down. Krull’s warm biography of the remarkable Jim Henson did not disappoint. It’s the story of a person who knew exactly what he wanted to do, did it, and pleased the world with his genius for puppetry.

Henson was very successful with the Muppets early on; by the time he’d left college, he’d had a local TV show for years and had performed in multiple venues. Thus, when he got the call from the visionary Sesame Street producer Joan Ganz Cooney, after giving it some thought he was ready to go. The rest, as they say, is history. Kermit (named after a childhood friend of Henson) the Frog, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Bert, and Ernie appeared on TV in late 1969 and have been on air ever since. The first episode of Saturday Night Live was begun with the Muppets, and a year later The Muppets Show became “the most popular puppets in history”…. watched by “as many as 235 million people each week” (32). The Dark Crystal and The Labyrinth remain movie cult classics.

Henson was 53 when he died, and as one fan who remembers the shock and sadness of that, and both my sons' sheer enjoyment of Sesame Street, I am glad such a fine biography for young readers has been published. Johnson and Fancher each illustrates a highlight of Henson’s life, showing him roller blading with his family or doing Kermit in front of a mirror. The final painting, of the huge crowd at Henson’s funeral and the jazz band that played, is a perfectly-chosen closing image.

Alida Allison

Review: ALIEN INVADERS by Lynn Huggins-Cooper

Huggins-Cooper, Lynn. Alien Invaders. Illus. Bonnie Leick. McHenry, IL: Raven Tree, 2010. ISBN 0-9724973-9-8. $16.95.

This very funny perspective on bugs as the real aliens is deadpan right on both in words and eye-popping illustrations. I have it in this non-fiction section because everything said in it is true, but it is really unclassifiable, as it is imagination at its best. In pithy prose, insect and other wildlife conservationist Huggins-Cooper homes in on suspicious bug traits that give us regular folk the creeps, like “They watch us with camera-like eyes. Are they taking pictures?” Or, “I hear them whisper in secret languages. I see them dance strange dances.”

How is this funny?

The art elevates the already excellent text onto a higher level. Actually, this is my first time seeing Bonnie Leick (‘Like”)’s art and I’m stunned. The “They set up camp in our gardens” painting is 3-D and must be, the observer concludes, done digitally. Yet, the book’s flap states Leick’s medium is watercolor. Well, hats off! The art for the “Are they taking pictures?” page ought to be framed. It reminds one of the 3-Dish photos of Dogs!, and are all the more impressive for being as hilarious and memorably peculiar, yet done with paint.

I’m forwarding this to an American Library Association friend to ask she look at it for the Caldecott.

Alida Allison

Review: MIRROR MIRROR by Marilyn Singer

Singer, Marilyn. Mirror Mirror. Illus. Josee Masse. NY: Dutton, 2010. ISBN 0-525-47901-7. $16.99.

These short reversible story poems are intellectual delights: each page’s left side poem is read top to bottom, then is reversed line for line in the right side poem, which, enjoyably, also makes perfect sense as well as a good poem. Word order isn’t changed, only occasional punctuation. Singer’s originals are a model for potential writing sessions in classrooms. Poetry can be fun!

The poems are versions of famous fairy tales, so content like “Rapunzel” and “Snow White” is readily recognizable. On the opposite page are illustrations rich in color and design, also mirroring the poems—the left side illustration matches the left side poem, and the right side painting encapsulates the poem, the story element, in its reverse. Masse juxtaposes the two paintings superbly so they play off each other, as in the Frog Prince and Beauty and the Beast. The sense of design is beautiful.

Alida Allison

Review: HUMPTY DUMPTY AND FRIENDS by Oleg Lipchenko

Lipchenko, Oleg. Humpty Dumpty and Friends. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2010. ISBN 1-77049-205-9. $17.95.

This version of Mother Goose is superb. Lipchenko’s remarkably fine illustrations accompany Tundra Books’ unusual selection of nursery rhymes. With full color, full page pastel wonders of detailed perspective on the right page and two smaller, soft black and white pictures, page decorations, and two poems on the left, Lipchenko’s ingenuity is everywhere evident. A color page such as the one illustrating “Robbin the Bobbin,The big-bellied Ben…” are full of angles and sub-scenes and surprises, enough on each page to last a long time. In addition, this collection features rhymes not in the typical canon. For example:

The captain was a duck
With a packet on his back;
When the ship began to move,
The captain said, “Quack, quack!”

The illustration of this poem is hilarious, as are they all.

Alida Allison

Review: GIGI IN THE BIG CITY by Charise Mericle Harper

Harper, Charise Mericle. Gigi in the Big City. New York: Robin Corey Books, 2010. ISBN 978-0-375-84235-1. $12.99 US.

This is a darling but superficial interactive book with lots of little details about the “big city,” presumably New York. Gigi leads the reader through the book into different places she explores. The first two pages – an inside-cover spread – find Gigi arriving in a taxi, which is a flap you can pull down to see the inside of the taxi and Gigi and the cabbie within. In this introductory spread alone there are 14 flaps to open to see the tenants in a skyscraper, the poses in a yoga studio, hats and dresses in stores, and students taking art classes, among other things.

Each page follows this conceit, offering flaps to lift to see the inside of stores and museums along with wheels to spin to see different varieties of gemstones, hairstyles, and expressions. You could spend an hour just changing Gigi's outfit in one segment. The many details crammed into just a few pages echoes the experience of a city – so many people, so much artwork, so many activities going on all at once in a relatively small space.

The interactive aspects of the book are delightful and intricate, and I can see young girls enjoying this book for its fun-and-flash factor, but the message of the book is shallow. While there are some educational details in the museum spreads and a few people of different ethnicities, Gigi in the Big City is largely materialistic. Gigi’s explorations take her out on a town seen by privileged kids with money to burn. She goes shopping; she looks at shoes; she reads frilly magazines; she gets her hair done. The book could have gone beyond fluff by including more details about the people, neighborhoods, and jobs that make up a big city.

Jill Coste


Reinhart, Matthew. Puppies, Kittens, and Other Pop-Up Pets. NY: Random House, 2011. ISBN 0-375-87174-0. $6.99 PB.

Reinhart’s many awesome pop-up books top any list of engineered and imaginative marvels. I like Puppies, Kittens, and Other Pop-Up Pets because of its beautiful paper-cut precision art and because his presentation of possible pets captures their natures so well.

But I especially like it because it’s inexpensive. The $6.99 price means many people can enjoy this admittedly small-sized, but no less enjoyable for that, pop-up. I am especially fond of the rabbit. In fact, this is a good first pop-up book before you buy Reinhart’s more intricate, more amazing, and more expensive books.

Alida Allison

Review: THE LISTENING TREE by Celia Barker Lottridge

Lottridge, Celia Barker. The Listening Tree. Markham: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2011. ISBN 9781554550524. $11.95. Ages 9-12. 168 pp.

The Great Depression was rough for farmers in the Saskatchewan Prairie like Ellen Jackson’s father. After four years of drought with no crops and no end in sight, he must leave the farm, going west to find work and support his family. Ellen and her mother must leave, too, or starve. They head to the big city of Toronto to stay with her Aunt Gladys. A shy child, Ellen is used to small town life where her best friend is the only other girl in her grade. In Toronto, she can’t possibly just go outside and meet the other children in the neighborhood like everyone expects her to. The big elm tree in front of her window becomes her solution—she can crawl into the tree, hide among the leaves and branches, and just observe the other kids for a while, getting to know them before actually meeting them. But one night while hiding in her tree, Ellen overhears two men talking and planning trouble for her next-door neighbors. She has to make a decision: stay in her comfort zone and do nothing, or step up, rising above her fear to do the right thing.

The story parallels Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Not only is Ellen herself actually reading The Secret Garden, she thinks of her listening tree as her “secret garden,” a place of beauty that is all her own where she can be herself. By the end of The Secret Garden, the main character finds she no longer needs the garden; likewise, Ellen eventually overcomes her shyness and also finds she no longer needs the listening tree.

In addition to being a story about a young girl’s courage, the book details life during the Great Depression. It was a time where families had to separate to earn money. Men left home to find jobs to feed their families; women, who had been stay- at- home caretakers, had to go out and find jobs. Children could no longer be carefree. Older children had to stay and mind their younger siblings. For everyone, food and clothing were scarce. At one point, the only food Ellen and her mother have is oats actually meant for their horse, but the oats remain whereas they’ve had to sell the horse.

The Listening Tree
depicts life during one of history’s most difficult economic times, yet it is a moving story of how good life can be especially in tough times, when you are with people who love you and whom you can trust.

Joyce Myers

Review: TAKE ME WITH YOU by Carolyn Marsden

Marsden, Carolyn. Take Me With You. York, MA: Candlewick Press, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-7636-3739-2. $14.99 US/$19.00 CAN

San Diego author Carolyn Marsden has created a touching story of two young girls, Susanna and Pina, growing up in a convent orphanage in post-WWII Italy. Susanna is mixed race, the child of an Italian woman and an African-American soldier. Pina, a beautiful blond, does not know anything about her mother. The girls struggle with issues of self-identity, self-worth, and belonging. As opportunities to leave the orphanage and connections with their “real families” manifest, the girls navigate the tension between their desire to remain together and their desire to belong to a family.

The story is elegantly told, and the reader enjoys getting to know the girls. Young girls, particularly those from broken homes, may identify well with the characters and their struggles.

Marisa Behan


Morris, Gerald. The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great. Illus. Aaron Renier. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-618-77714-3. $15.00 
-- The Adventures of Sir Givret the Short. Illus. Aaron Renier. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-618-77715-0. $15.00. Ages 9 – 12

These two books are part of a larger collection called The Knights' Tales. Author Gerald Morris takes the stories and characters of Malory's La Morte D'Arthur and other Arthurian works and adapts them for elementary aged boys. He weaves the enormous corpus of Arthurian literature into short, easily digestive, often hilariously funny narratives. Each book centers around one character's adventures. As a medieval studies major, with a sizeable knowledge of Arthurian literature, Morris impressed me with his accuracy.

In Sir Givret the Short, Givret becomes a knight of Arthur's Round Table by virtue of his smarts, despite the fact that he is small of stature and lacks any real skill with a weapon. The tale is cute and believable, as Givret manages to save the day on multiple occasions using only his wit.

In Sir Lancelot the Great, Morris brilliantly manages to make many sticky issues of the Lancelot legend, such as his possibly illegitimate birth, his relationship with Guinevere, and his vanity, completely appropriate for children. Lancelot in this tale is comically obsessed with keeping his armor shiny, he cherishes his daily afternoon naps, and refuses to accept a lady's tournament token – all while maintaining his status as the greatest fighter in all the land.

Overall, Morris' tales are absolutely delightful. I enjoyed every moment of reading them and will pass them along to the first 11-year-old boy I meet! Morris has written an extensive collection of Arthurian children's books – if they are all as good as these two, I would like to read them all!

Marisa Behan


Strom, Yale. The Wedding that Saved a Town. Illus. Jenya Promitsky. MN: Kar-Ben, 2008. ISBN 0-8225-7380-7. $7.99 PB.

Yale Strom is an internationally-acclaimed musician and a professor at San Diego State University; he is also a gifted story-teller. His publisher, Kar-Ben, specializes in Jewish-themed children’s books, and the collaboration here of writer, artist, and publisher is ideal.

Strom’s vibrant, culturally-representative tale takes place in old Pinsk, located now in Belarus, but back in the old days it was in the “Pale of Settlement,” the territory Jews were confined to during the reigns of the Czars. (Pinsk is where my own grand-parents came from). In Strom’s story, the little village’s problem is an epidemic of cholera, not an uncommon phenomenon in the swampy, humid land of the Pale. OY! What to do? Cleaning the streets, boiling water, even prayer have not yet helped.

Time for the rabbi to call in the itinerate wedding musician Yiske and explain to him the need for a “Black wedding”: the marriage in a cemetery of two orphans whose deceased loved ones will bless the wedding and thus the town. The problem? Only the bride has been found. As the town contributes wedding cake, a wedding gown, and a wedding dinner, the story moves to finding a suitable orphaned groom. The criterion? Goodness of heart. Yes, such a person exists, and, moreover, he already loves the bride.

The wedding happily happens, accompanied by klezmer music (the thrilling music traditional in Jewish Eastern Europe) and hopeful villagers. Guess what else—the leader of the klezmer band gets a telegram shortly afterward letting him know the cholera epidemic has ended. The story closes with a smiling Yiske thinking to himself, “… maybe miracles do happen!”

Strom’s prose captures the expressive cadences of the Old World, for example, not just one “Oy!” but three—“Oy! Oy! Oy!” making for a most enjoyable read-aloud experience.

Promitsky’s art is perfect, comical and warmly expressive of life in a shtetl (small Jewish town) from the cobblestone streets to the water buckets carried on people’s shoulders to the horse-drawn wagons. The art fits the story and adds enjoyable little details to the text, like Yiske’s cat scratching itself and, later in the text, the rabbi himself dancing to the klezmer music at the wedding.

A glossary of Yiddish words is appended, e.g. “shtetl” and “klezmer.”

I hope to see more collaborations between Strom and Promitsky published by Kar-Ben.

Alida Allison

Review: MARCEL MARCEAU by Gloria Spielman

Spielman, Gloria. Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime. Illus. Manon Gauthier. MN: Kar-Ben (Lerner), 2011. ISBN 0-7613-3961-8. $7.95 PB.

Spielman’s excellent biography of the Master of Mime engages one from the outset by introducing young Marcel as he is raiding his father’s wardrobe to dress up as Charlie Chaplin and entertain neighbors on the streets of pre-World War II France. We see that Marceau was, from his own outset, a performer and much in demand.

He was also a Jew, and this fact altered his life, which is an understatement. His father died in Auschwitz. At the age of 16, he and his older brother worked for the French Resistance in Limoges. The artistic young Marceau forged documents and dangerously led groups of Jewish children secretly to the Swiss border. At 20, Marceau was in Paris studying mime and later performed for Patton’s troops in Germany. Once the war was over, Marceau concentrated on his art, honing his clown character Bip. His fame spread worldwide, and many of us have been privileged to see him on one medium or another. His legacy, through his school for mime and also through the lives of the children he saved during WWII, is assured. His mime communicated beyond language. (Oh, and BTW, he spoke excellent English.)

Speilman’s language in this book soars, even poetic when describing what Marceau could do through mime. And the art is outstanding, very expressive and using the page space gorgeously through color, placement, and design. Gauthier fits the palette to the prose, making for a very successful collaboration.

Alida Allison

Review: THE SHABBAT PRINCESS by Amy Meltzer

Meltzer, Amy. The Shabbat Princess. Illus. Martha Aviles. Minneapolis: Kar-Ben (Lerner), 2011. ISBN 0-7613-5142-9. $17.95.

This isn’t your typical spoiled princess book; you know the contemporary fairy tale versions in which Cinderella becomes a princess without paying any dues first. Contemporary princess just stamps her little feet and gets what she wants.

Nope, this book shows a family working/playing together to make Shabbat even more special by inviting not only the Queen of Shabbat (Shabbat itself is the Queen) but also the princess, none other than the little girl who loves Shabbat but wonders why there’s no princess. She and her parents all contribute to making their little girl the princess by finding dress-up clothes, taking out their best candlesticks, polishing the silver, and having the first of some very special Friday nights. The little girl might wish for diamond decorations but is very happy with what the family can provide.

This lovely story is enhanced by warm, colorful illustrations, notably depicting not fair-skinned Ashkenazi Jews but brown-tone Mexican Jews, reminding us all of the geographical and cultural reach of Judaism.

Alida Allison

Review: WHAT SHOULD I MAKE? by Nandini Nayar

Nayar, Nandini. What Should I Make? Illus. Proiti Roy. Berkeley: Tricycle Press-Ten Speed Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-1-582-46294-3. $12.99.

Nandini Nayar’s engaging picture book What Should I Make? tells the story of Neeraj, a little boy who engages his imagination while making chapatis with his mother. Neeraj plays with a ball of dough, shaping it into different animals and imagining what they might do. Roy’s warm, colorful illustrations depict each step as Neeraj forms his dough into various creatures, and also give a glimpse into what the little boy sees in his imagination as he crafts each animal. Finally, Neeraj rolls out a delicious chapatti. The book includes a detailed, child-friendly, step-by-step recipe for making chapatis.

This wonderful little story of a child having fun while helping his mother cook will also encourage your little ones to share in imaginative play and cooking.

Emily Moore


Siddals, Mary. Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth. Illus. Ashley Wolff. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle, 2010. ISBN 1-58246-316-2. $15.99.

Siddal and Wolff’s rhythmic encouragement to composting all kinds of stuff—well, an A-Z of stuff to stuff—is fun for eye and ear. It’s educational and encouraging, too. You collect natural vegetable matter mostly and mix in some dirt: “Dirt clods, crumbled. Eggshells, crushed. Fruit pulp left behind, all mushed.” All year long you add stuff, and all year long it percolates into nutritious condiments for your garden.

Accompanying the alphabet are glorious illustrations of kids in their garden, along with a goose and a Dalmatian. These are part collage, part painting and very engaging. The collages, additionally, are done from found material, demonstrating that recycling can be aesthetic as well as useful.

Alida Allison