Friday, September 24, 2010

Sometimes You Get What You Want

by Meredith Gary
ill. Lisa Brown

This simple book offers simple wisdom: Sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don't. Walking through a day to show a variety of scenarios, it repeats its point that yes, there are times that are open-ended, and times when there are requirements.

It's a message that I like, since it is something that children need to learn, and it is gently told here, an insistent but not harsh reminder that they do get their way sometimes, so they need to understand when they can't.

The illustrations are simple and have just a whiff of sweetness to them - enough to make the book feel loving, but not so much as to make it cloying.

It's not an easy lesson for kids, and one book is not likely to overcome the force of a child's frustration, but it works well as a reminder, and the words are just the right cadence to be adopted as a mantra for the times when reinforcing is necessary.

Dear Little Lamb,

by Christa Kempter & Frauke Weldin

This cautionary tale could be required reading for streetproofing and online safety lessons. In it, a wolf watches a young lamb in a meadow, and decides he simply must capture this lamb. Since he is not so young any more, he decides to use his wits and a little trickery, instead, and sits down to write a letter befriending the tender young thing. The lamb writes back innocently, and a correspondence springs up.

After some time, the wolf proposes that they meet, and Mama Sheep says that she must meet the penpal, first. Little Lamb isn't happy about it, but mama is suspicious, and goes to the meeting time, where she confronts him and forces him to write a goodbye letter to Little Lamb, ending the deception without hurting her child's feelings. As for the family, they felt they would be safer moving to Australia, where there are lots of sheep.

The book hammers home the point that not everyone is what they seem, that there is the potential for real danger, and that not everyone who says they are a friend really is - all without being so alarmist and scary that it will upset a young child. I like that it also shows the child communicating with the mother about the notes he receives and that even though he is not happy with the mother's decision, a child can see that she is protecting him from something harmful. Excellent.

The Sandwich Swap

by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah
with Kelly DiPucchio
ill. Tricia Tusa

This books starts out with two best friends, who each come with the same kind of sandwich every day for lunch. Each one thinks the other's sandwich is kind of yucky, and one day, it comes out. Things get out of hand really quickly, and these two nice girls find themselves in big trouble. They are best friends, though, and in repairing their friendship, they make a discovery about their sandwiches - they are both delicious!

This is the point of the book, but they bring it to the rest of the school by asking the principal if they can arrange a sandwich day, where everyone brings something from their own heritage to share, so everyone can try.

The story is very reminiscent of Rosemary Wells' Yoko, but aimed at a slightly older audience, and focusing more on the friendship and opening up to each other, while Yoko pays more attention to the teasing that she suffers. The illustrations are a little cuter than I would expect for this story, but not so much that they don't work, and on the whole, it is a nice way to approach the topic of accepting other people and their differences.

Don't Lick the Dog:

Making Friends With Dogs

by Wendy Wahman

This cute, quirky picture book looks like fun, but comes with good, solid information, too.

The bold, colourful pictures and rhyming texts make this super kid-friendly and make the lessons about how to approach dogs easy to digest. From safety notes about initial contact, though using body language to draw out a shy dog and how to pet a dog, right up to how to react to dog behaviour that you don't like, this picture book is well-pitched and right on cue.

For a kid who loves dogs and would like to know how to act around them, or for a child who is fearful but comes in contact with them and needs some guidance on how to manage their interactions, this book is a winner.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Publisher Review: Rules for School

by Alec Greven

The young author of How to Talk to Girls is back with advice for kids, from a kid - this time, some guidelines for making your time in school work for you.

He tackles topics like getting started on your year, staying out of trouble, when/where to have fun, the different kids you may meet, and how to get the most out of all of it. A lot of this comes down to not worrying too much, being yourself, and trying to balance the fun and the work by taking responsibility, but letting loose when you can. Sensible advice, all of it, and Greven has a level-headed, straight-up approach. His voice is that of a kid telling it like it is, so while parts may sound simplistic to an adult, I think this really works.

Great for a kid who may have had a little bit of a bad year before and need a pep talk, or for kids who are nervous about heading into more serious school years.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Daddy, Papa, and Me

by Leslea Newman, ill. Carol Thompson

Too often, books written with a point or a message or far too earnest, and favour the point above a good story or even a cute snapshot in time. This board book about living with two dads is a delightful exception.

Being a board book, it is slight, as length is necessarily limited in this format. Still, it is a cute look at a day of playing with parents that ends in their exhaustion. We've seen this outline with more conventional families, and this pair of dads is treated no differently, which is what makes it a real winner. The focus is on the loving, the cuteness, and the fun, and the fact that the parents are of the same sex is not even mentioned. It will be, after all, totally normal to another child of a same-sex family, and doesn't need explaining. It's just quite simply nice to have a book that reflects their family.

This is just about the ideal, if you ask me.

My Travelin' Eye

by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

Books on wearing glasses, I've seen. I even had one or two as a child, when I wore glasses myself. But a book on something as specific as strabismus, when one or both eyes are not aligned properly, is a new one. Like the author, I had both a misaligned eye and a lazy eye, so this book grabbed my interest at once, and I just had to see how she would treat the subject for kids.

She is pretty happy with her travelin' (wandering) eye, but acknowledges some teasing, as well as a teacher who mentioned to her mother that she might see an ophthalmologist. She covers that visit in detail, and is sent home with an eye patch, a constant companion of my childhood, as well. The goal of strengthening the weaker eye makes for some weird exercises and experiences, as she describes!

Her mom helps her navigate the eye patch fiasco admirably, and in her case, the strengthening really did work well enough for her to g ahead with only her glasses, and with eye apparently now working in tandem.

While I don't think books written to a purpose are always great, I do like this one for a child who is experiencing this. Partly because the voice is upbeat, partly because the author has in fact been there herself and clearly knows how some of this feels, and partly because her mom has some fun ideas, I kind of like it.

It doesn't cover what happens when your eye is more stubborn than hers, but I think that this book if only partly informational, and that it is awfully hard to write about eye surgery without freaking a kid out. As it stands, this book is reassuring and sympthatic, just enough to give the message that no child with strabismus is the only one.

Goodnight Goon:

A Petrifying Parody
by Michael Rex

I had heard about this around Hallowe'en last year, but didn't get my hands on a copy until Hallowe'en had passed. I tripped across it again the other day and thought I should just back up a bit and tell you about it, since hey, some kids are into the creepy all year round!

This is a take-off on the classic Goodnight Moon, but replaces the great green room with a cold grey tomb, and fills it not with the everyday objects of a child's room, but with creepy things that still, somehow, manage to retain a strong influence of the original in the illustrations.

The rhythm works perfectly, a there are just enough similarities (bowl full of mush vs. pot full of goo, for example?) to make this spot-on. The monsters and creepy stuff are drawn in a style that nods to Clement Hurd's illustrations, though are not trying to replicate his work, while they manage to make even the creepiest look a little cute and friendly, so this is accessible even to young kids.

I think, to be honest, that this might just be brilliant.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day: We Planted a Tree

by Diane Muldrow
ill. Bob Staake

This book follows, in verse, the growing up of a tree, and the impact on the world around it. As it helps clean the air, provide food, prevent erosion, and improve the soil, it helps people plant other things to feed themselves. It feeds and shelters animals, too, and makes the world better all around.

The illustrations move around the world showing these positive influences in many different settings, too, from cities to rural areas, from Brooklyn to Japan to Africa. This celebration of trees and their importance makes for a great read aloud, in language that doubles back and repeats in places, with a lovely rhythm.

I must admit that the obviously computer-drawn illustrations are not my favourite style - but I also think that is in most cases a matter of taste, and they are jaunty and upbeat enough not to detract from the text, but rather just not add to it in the way I would have enjoyed. It's a terrific read aloud for a group or a child in kindergarten or lower grades, so I wouldn't let my own taste put me off from sharing it.

Earth Day: Recycle Every Day!

by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace

Nancy Wallace brings her adorable collage-art bunnies to another informative picture book, this time, about recycling. As she has in books about apples, shells, rocks, and more, Wallace skillfully works a lot of information into a story format in which the bunnies are learning, and we learn with them.

Here, Minna has a school project to do, and she has to make a poster about recycling. Before she can start, though, she needs some ideas. Through the week, she watches her family and notes the many ways they recycle, including donating used books and clothing, composting, recycling cans, and noticing packaging made from recycled paper. She also notices some actions that might technically fall into reducing waste or reusing, which are not carefully delineated, but the point is still made, and certainly adequate. In the end, her poster is chosen for the cover of a school calendar about recycling.

At the rear of the book are included a recycling game and activity to use in extending the book's teachings.

Earth Day: Round Like a Ball

by Lisa Campbell Ernst

This book is perhaps that perfect book for introducing preschoolers to the wonders of the world. It is set up as a guessing game, with each page offering a hint. Each page also features a guess, and a small, round, die-cut hole. The guesses are not right, so more clues and more guesses follow, and the holes get bigger, until the very end, when the earth is finally revealed as the answer.

The illustrations are boldly colourful, the guesses cute, and just the sort of things that small children could relate to. At the end, the hints are reiterated, along with the message that the earth is "fragile, and needs to be handled with care."

Not messagey or serious, not too much information for a smaller child, the guessing game format also allows children to add in their own guesses, making this the perfect book to use with a young child or a group of them.

Earth Day: Bag in the Wind

by Ted Kooser
ill. Barry Root

This book is a picture book in format, but far wordier and older than your average picture book consumer - what we call in libraries an "advanced picture book." It follows a plastic grocery bag as it escapes the landfill on a breeze and makes its way from one place to another, until it ends up in the hands o fa girl who had found it at the start. This circle is not noticed, because, the book notes, this plastic grocery bag was just like any other.

This isn't a story that would lend itself to younger children, as there is little real action to hold them, but it is an interesting journey for an older child with greater concentration, and it is beautifully told. The language is lovely, the illustrations warm and nostalgic in feel, and the matte pages thick and substantial. The overall effect is in fact quite wonderful (as one might well expect from a Candlewick publication), and the environmental messages in the actual story are not strongly emphasized so as to detract from the bag's ramblings.

A message about plastic bags at the end gives those who would like to know more a bit of extra information, and encourages children to reuse plastic bags or forgo them altogether in favour of cloth.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More, More, More

Book blogs, I've got a few.

I review new books that I like at on a blog called Shelf Candy.

I review chapter books for kids and teens at Kittenpie Reads Kidlit.

I create short lists of books, usually on a theme, at Pick of the Litter, occasionally.

But I wanted a spot for those individual picture books I find that I love and want to share - but aren't new. So here, a junior version of my own book blog, a spot to find recommendations of things that aren't necessarily new or hot, but are interesting, fun, important, or somehow, a little special.

Because they aren't all new, there may be on occasion a book that I talk about that is out of print. I will let you know when that is the case, otherwise I will provide a link to Amazon, in case you'd like to have the book I'm sharing. For out of print books, do try your luck on Amazon, though - I have found some great things through their marketplace, and the prizes are often very good. Otherwise, you might also try Powells or abebooks, both good online sellers of used and rare books.

Posting may be sporadic as I get in the habit of writing up books here, and reviews will be informal, but I hate not telling people about a book I love, so drop by now and then, and see what I've been reading!