Jan 31, 2012

Red Sled

Red Sled by Lita Judge
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

     "Scrinch scrunch scrinch scrunch scrinch scrunch." A young boy makes his way through the snow back to a cabin in the woods, carrying his red sled.  He leaves the sled outside and as the night falls, a brown bear sees the sled and takes it for a ride.  While having a blast sledding, he's joined by a rabbit, a moose, raccoons, a possum, a porcupine and a mouse (that's my favorite illustration: the porcupine holding onto the moose's antlers and shouting "whoa").  The bear returns the sled at the end of the night, and in the morning the boy finds the bear's tracks next to the cabin.  As the snow begins to fall, he waits by the window, an eye on his red sled.
     Red Sled is practically wordless, except for some spots of onomatopoeias.  The joy of the book lies in its gorgeous illustrations.  There is a sense of adventure and fun reflected in the facial expressions of the animals.  Beautiful book to share during a snowy day.

Jan 30, 2012

The Ballad of Valentine

The Ballad of Valentine by Alison Jackson
Illustrated by Tricia Tusa
Published by Dutton Children's Books

     Valentine lives in a small cottage in a remote canyon, where she goes about her daily chores without knowing that in the distance she has an enamored admirer.  He has a question to ask her, but try as he may, he can never reach Valentine:

In a cabin, in a canyon,
Near a mountain laced with pine,
Lived a girl who was my sweetheart
And her name was Valentine.
Oh my darling, oh my darling,
Oh my darling Valentine,
I have written forty letters,
But you never read a line.

     He tried to send her a letter, but the mailman couldn't find Valentine's address. He trained a homing pigeon, but it dropped the letter in Madagascar.  He even tried to send smoke signals, but "a cyclone stole the message, and it vanished one more time."  Meanwhile Valentine is baking a pie...and as the enamored boy sits in total despair hoping to one day ask her to be his Valentine, we see her climbing up to the hill where he lives.
     The Ballad of Valentine follows the melody of Oh My Darling, Clementine, and I dare you not to start singing along after a couple of pages.  The story is sweet and funny and the illustrations by Tusa are delightful.  Great read aloud for Valentine's Day.

Jan 29, 2012

Stone Soup

Stone Soup by Marcia Brown
Illustrated by Marcia Brown
Published by Charles Scribner's Sons
Caldecott Medal 1947

     Three soldiers in a foreign country were making their way home from an unnamed war.  They hadn't eaten for two days and were very tired and hungry.  In the distance they saw the lights of a village and hoped to find a bite to eat and a place to rest. But the villagers heard the approaching soldiers, and they "feared strangers," so they quickly decided to hide their food.  When the soldiers reached the village, they went door to door asking for food and lodging but they always heard 'no' as an answer.  Quick on their feet, the soldiers announced they'll just have to make stone soup, and tricked the villagers to bring all the ingredients on their wish list.  When the stone soup was finally ready, the peasants end up bringing tables and they all shared the meal. "Never had there been such a feast.  Never had the peasants tasted such soup.  And fancy, made from stones!"
     Stone Soup is a classic. The story has been retold many times since Brown's version of the French story was published in 1947. But hers is my favorite.  Though the illustrations are done with only reds, whites and blacks, the facial expressions add so much detail that I didn't miss other colors.  There is also a lot to discuss about the story: the peasants attitude towards the soldiers (it's during a war so their fears and selfishness might be warranted), the trickery of the soldiers, and the joy found in sharing -even with a stranger you once feared.  Classic.

Jan 28, 2012


Underground by Shane W. Evans
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Published by Roaring Brook Press
Coretta Scott King Award for Illustrator (2012)

     Underground is the story of a family's journey to freedom through the Underground Railroad.  They start in the darkness, literally and metaphorically, and they escape. They run, hide and crawl on their way to the light, to freedom.
     Talk about powerful.  Underground has, on average, just two words per page. But those words combined with the amazing illustrations by Shane W. Evans, makes this a book you won't soon forget.  The tension created by the words and the dark illustrations builds up.  There are few spots of white light in the pages during their escape. Even when they are resting under the night sky, they can't be completely at ease, and we see the whites in the eyes of one of the men who watches over the rest of his sleeping family.  As they get closer and closer to freedom, there is light in the horizon. And finally, there's the sun. "Freedom. I am free. He is free. She is free. We are free."
     There is also an author's note at the end of the book talking about the Underground Railroad.
     Wonderful book. This one should be shared at home and the classroom. Perfect for February, African American History Month.

Jan 27, 2012

When Giants Come to Play

When Giants Come to Play by Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Published by Harry N. Abrams

     I dare you to open up When Giants Come to Play, read the first lines and look at the gorgeous illustrations by Hawkes and not fall immediately in love with this book! I know I did.
Sometimes, on a summer morning, when the sun shines just so and the wind blows like this and like that on its way to somewhere else, giants come to play. 
     They come to play with Ana and they do all kinds of things together. The play hide and seek, marbles, catch and even jump rope. "On mild days, they gather flowers in the garden," and enjoy a cup of mint tea and chocolate cake.  Those days when the giants come to play, leave Ana wishing they would just decide to stay.
     When Giants Come to Play is gorgeous.  Andrea Beaty has written a beautiful lyrical prose, that sings to the joys of friendship and imagination.  Hawkes illustrations are captivating, and will make you wish his two giants would come to visit you as well.  One of my favorite illustrations accompanies this text:  "When giants come to play, they dangle their toes in the cool shady pond and whisper secrets until their shadows grow long and sleepy."  Great read loud.

Jan 26, 2012

Gilbert Goldfish Wants a Pet

Gilbert Goldfish Wants a Pet by Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated by Bob Shea
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers

     For a goldfish, Gilbert is living the high life. He has a nice clean fishbowl with a magnificent stone castle, a treasure chest, and shiny tasty flakes of food fall from the sky just when he needs them.  But there is one problem: Gilbert Goldfish really, really wants a pet.  He dreamed about it all the time! He wanted to know what it was like to have something "to care for and love."  One day, he thought his luck had changed when the heard barking outside his fishbowl. And for a while everything was great; "he swam around and around in happy circles. The dog ran around and around in happy circles too."  But the dog barked and barked and even drank water from the fish tank! So Gilbert was actually relieved when the dog was gone.
     A mouse came next, but after running around the fishbowl, getting Gilbert all excited, he realized the fish was not cheese and left. "Gilbert's little fishy heart went pitter-patter-plop." Then a fly...poor thing got squashed right in front of Gilbert.  Brokenhearted, "he cried enough tears to fill a ten-gallon aquarium."  And then, Gilbert sees the shadow of a new creature before him, with whiskers and a large body. Could this be the pet he had always wanted?
     Gilbert Goldfish is delightful, cute and funny.  The theme of someone wanting a pet has been quite popular during the last couple of years, but DiPucchio has found a refreshing twist with a surprising ending.  Shea's illustrations are vibrant and exciting.  And the last six pages are...you'll see!

Jan 25, 2012

One Little Chicken

One Little Chicken by Elka Weber
Illustrated by Elisa Kleven
Published by Tricycle Press

     Leora found a chicken in her yard.  She didn't know where it had come from but she was excited at the  prospect of being able to have fresh eggs for breakfast everyday.  But the chicken was not hers, and her mother, Mrs.Bendosa, reminded her: "You know the rule. Finders aren't keepers."  The family is determined to return the chicken as soon as they find its rightful owner, and meanwhile they will take very good care of it.  Soon the chicken has become a flock of chickens and they trade them for a goat. The goat makes enough cheese that they are able to buy a second goat. The pair of goats become a family and soon there are goats everywhere around the Bendosa's yard.  When the owner of the chicken finally appears, the Bendosa's give him the whole herd of goats.
     One Little Chicken will challenge kids to question "finders, keepers".  There is something more rewarding about "finders aren't keepers", especially when it follows the example of One Little Chicken.  The Author's Note at the end of the book explains the origins of this Jewish rule.  The illustrations by Kleven are folksy, vibrant, and full of textures are details. Delightful read.

Jan 24, 2012

The Skywriter

The Skywriter by Dennis Haseley
Illustrated by Dennis Nolan
Published by Roaring Book Press

     "Charles was kneeling by the dollhouse. He was talking to the figures, and they were talking back. He was just a little boy then."  Charles would play with his three figurines: the airplane man, the soldier, and the baker.  They would talk about flying on a plane, writing letters in the sky and visiting far-off lands.
     As the years go by, Charles gets older and can't hear the figures talk anymore. One day, while he's cleaning his play room to prepare it for a new baby brother, he finds the figures again. He packs all his old toys in a box to be thrown out.  That night, he goes back to the toys and though he can't hear them, he plays with them. He thought it was all a bit silly, but before he goes back to bed, he grabbed some chalk and on a scrap of paper he wrote "Here we go!", the same words that the airplane man would say he wanted to write in the sky.  After he leaves, the toys come out of the playhouse and see the words written in their sky.  The next morning, Charles runs to the curb and rescues the three figures before the garbage truck gets there.
     The Skywriter is a heartfelt story about growing up. I couldn't help thinking about Toy Story as I read the book.  The illustrations by Nolan are amazing. I especially loved the contrast of the lifelike images of Charles and his sister and brother, and the image of the figures coming alive.

Jan 23, 2012

Caldecott 2012

     The Caldecott Medal Winner and the Caldecott Honors were announced today by the American Library Association.  "The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children."
     I was very excited to see some amazing books receive the recognition they deserve.  All of the books have been previously reviewed in this blog, so here are the links to each one.

Caldecott Medal Winner 2012
A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka
Illustrated by Chris Raschka

Published by Schwartz & Wade Books

Caldecott Honors 2012

Blackout by John Rocco
Illustrated by John Rocco
Published by Hyperion Book
Caldecott Honor 2012

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
Illustrated by Lane Smith
Published by Roaring Brook Press
Caldecott Honor 2012

Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell
Illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Caldecott Honor 2012

Jan 22, 2012

The Dragon Prince

The Dragon Prince by Laurence Yep
Illustrated by Kam Mak
Published by Harper Collins

     It's the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dragon, so to celebrate it, we read The Dragon Prince.
     A poor chinese farmer is captured by a dragon who will eat him unless one of the farmer's daughters agrees to marry him.  One by one, each of the daughters comes to where the dragon is holding the farmer, but all of them run away scared.  All except for Seven, the youngest of his daughters.  Seven agrees to marry the dragon, who takes her on his back and soars "over the hills and mountains, past deserts and seas, on and on, until the sleeping world became a ball of dark velvet and the lakes silvery sequins."  The dragon takes Seven to a palace underwater.  There, Seven sees beyond the outward appearance of the dragon and falls in love.  The Dragon realizes he has finally found his match and turns into a handsome prince.
     The Dragon Prince is a chinese version of the Beauty and the Beast.  The story gets a bit clunky when Seven heads back to see her family and her jealous sister Three pushes her into a river to try to take her place. But overall, it's quite entertaining with lyrical language and breathtaking illustrations by Mak.  A good choice to have some comparative lit discussions in the classroom and to welcome the Year of the Dragon.

Jan 21, 2012

My Heart Will Not Sit Down

My Heart Will Not Sit Down by Mara Rockliff
Illustrated by Ann Tanksley
Published by Alfred A. Knopf

     It's the 1930's at the hight of the Great Depression in America.  On other side of the "great salt river," in Cameroon, a young girl, Kedi, is at school.  Kedi finds out from her American teacher that people are starving in New York and she knows she must do something to help.  "All day, Kedi thought about the hungry children in New York, America, and her heart stood up for them in sympathy."  Her heart would not sit down until she had found a way to help.  She spent the day going all over her village asking everybody for money to send to America.  Her mother gives her the only coin she had, and Kedi is sad that she has such a small amount to give to the teacher.  But then, everybody she had talked to arrived at school to give the money they had.
     Based on a true story, My Heart Will Not Sit Down is moving and memorable, with crisp text and vibrant illustrations.  In the extensive author's note, we learn more abut the true event: "In 1931, the city of New York received a gift of $3.77 to feed the hungry. It came from the African country of Cameroon."  The note also includes other stories from around the world, of people helping each other across continents.  My Heart Will Not Sit Down is a wonderful read aloud to share in classrooms and inspire students to find a common cause and help.  Beautiful book!

Jan 20, 2012


Bandits by Johanna Wright
Illustrated by Johanna Wright
Published by Roaring Brook Press

     "When the sun goes down and the moon comes up, beware of the bandits that prowl through the night." Wearing their black masks, the raccoons are ready to sneak around and do whatever they please. They'll go through our trash and they'll steal the fruit from our trees. And then they'll "head for the hills to split up the loot."
     The cast of Bandits, is a family of raccoons that will change the way you look at those nighttime creepers.  After taking the loot, they sit down as a family to have a picnic (using one of the clothing articles they've stolen as the picnic blanket). While the humans are waking up, the bandits are packing up and heading to their hideout, "laying low through the day," reading and playing at home. "But just until the sun goes down."
     The illustrations by Wright are delightful and offer many details to engage the young readers.  Cool group of Bandits. 

Jan 19, 2012

Say Something, Perico

Say Something, Perico by Trudy Harris
Illustrated by Cecilia Rebora
Published by Millbrook Press

     Little Perico, the parrot, lives at the pet store.  A woman came to the store, saw Perico and asked if he could talk. She tried to get him to say "Polly-wants-a-cracker", but Perico was thristy so he said "Agua."  Unfortunately, neither the pet store owner, nor the woman, spoke Spanish and they thought he said "opera."  The woman, who loved opera, bought the parrot thinking it would accompany her to a performance that same evening.  As expected, the trip to the opera was a disaster, and Perico was returned to his cage at the pet store.
     The scene repeats with different potential owners.  Everybody misunderstands Perico because they don't know he's speaking Spanish. So he's always returned to the store. Perico, afraid he'll never find a home, starts practicing at night all the English phrases that people have wanted him to say.  Finally, a boy comes to the store and hears Perico speaking English and Spanish and, being bilingual himself, finds him to be the perfect pet.
     Say Something, Perico is an entertaining and thought provoking picture book.  I love the fact that at the end of the story, Perico is valued for being a bilingual bird.  But the road to that resolution was heartbreaking at times, especially when he's called dumb by one of the people at the store, and we see the bird lowering his head, sad and feeling unwanted.  At the end, though, there is a happy ending, and Perico is now considered a "clever bird," by the boy's mother.


Jan 18, 2012

School for Bandits

School for Bandits by Hannah Shaw
Illustrated by Hannah Shaw
Published by Alfred A. Knopf

     Ralph was very well behaved, with impeccable manners, sweet, and tidy.  Unfortunately for him, that's not what is expected of you when you are a raccoon.  How could he ever become a great raccoon bandit like his Grandpa Cutlass or his Uncle Whiskers? His parents were really worried, so they decided there was only one solution: to send Ralph to Bandit School. With his necktie and peaceful spirit, Ralph didn't fit in at all.  He failed all his classes miserably. He just didn't seem to get the idea, and his teacher Mrs. Mischief scolded him: "Ralph Raccoon! You MUST learn to take things that aren't yours WITHOUT asking.
     At the end of the term, the teacher gave each raccoon a loot bag to fill during the break. Whoever gathered the largest loot, would win the BEST BANDIT IN SCHOOL competition.  Ralph wasn't a bit interested, but when his good deeds around town earn him enough rewards to fill his loot bag, the rest of the raccoons find out that they can learn a thing or two from Ralph.
     School for Bandits is a very witty picture book.  Young readers will love the crazy bandit school and will root for the misunderstood Ralph.  There is plenty of funny details in the illustrations to enjoy during multiple reads. Nice to see a raccoon with a behavior we can stand behind!

Jan 17, 2012

Ollie & Moon

Ollie & Moon by Diane Kredenson
Illustrated by Diane Kredenson
Photographs by Sandra Kress
Published by Random House Children's Books

     Ollie and Moon are best friends living in Paris.  "Moon loves surprises, and Ollie loves to surprise Moon."  And the one thing that Moon loves even more than surprises is trying to figure out what they are.  One day Ollie comes to Moon's house and tells her he has a new surprise for her. While trying to figure out what the surprise is, Ollie and Moon take us on a tour of Paris including the metro, a fromagerie (with what looks like a Camembert cheese purchase), a farmer's market, and even a boulangerie.  Each step, gives Moon a new clue as to what the surprise might be: it's round, musical, it has lots of colors, fur, hooves, feathers, it's bright with lights and it spins. Can you guess what it is? And no, it's not "an elephant on a unicycle juggling animals while playing the French horn."
     Ollie & Moon is a very entertaining picture book with two fun and likable characters.  The mix of photographs of Paris (by Kress) with the illustrations on top of them (by Krendenson) works very well and gives the whole book a very cool feeling.  Young readers will enjoy the character's antics, the cumulative tale, and will definitely try to guess what Moon's surprise will be.  Great new friendship to explore in follow up books.

Jan 16, 2012

Snow White and Seven Dwarfs

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs translate by Wanda Gág
Illustrated by Wanda Gág
Originally Published in 1938
Caldecott Honor Book in 1939

     In response to the Disney's version of Snow White (1938), Wanda Gág offered a "freely translated and illustrated" Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Her translation brings back the original darkness of the Brothers Grimm.  In Gág's translation, Snow White is visited three different times by the Queen. The first time she is suffocated by the Queen tightening her bodice until Snow White lost her breath. The seven dwarfs came home in time to cut the laces and save her. The second time, the Queen tricks Snow White into wearing a poisonous comb, but once again, the dwarfs are back in time to remove it from her hair and save her. The third time, the Queen tricks Snow White with the poisoned apple, and when the dwarfs find Snow White, they are unable to identify the source of her malaise and she lays unconscious for years.   They stand watch everyday, while she lays inside a crystal casket, until a prince finds her and begs them to let him take her back with him to his castle. On the way to his castle, one of the Prince's servants who was carrying the casket, trips over a root. "This joggled the casket, and the jolt shook the piece of poisoned apple right out of Snow White's throat. And lo! she woke up at last and was as well as ever."  Snow White and the Prince plan their wedding and when the Queen shows up at the gala, "she was given a pair of red hot shoes with which she had to dance out her wicked life." No kissing and no old witch falling off a cliff.
     I was completely engrossed in Wanda Gág's translation and her wonderfully detailed illustrations.  This is a classic worth revisiting and sharing.

Jan 15, 2012

Many Moons

Many Moons by James Thurber
Illustrated by Louis Slobodkin
Published by Harcourt Brace and Company
1943 (Caldecott Medal 1944)

     Once upon a time, there lived a ten year old princess named Lenore.  "Lenore fell ill of a surfeit of raspberry tarts."  The King came to see what could be done to help his daughter and offered to get her anything her heart desired. "I want the moon. If I can have the moon I will be well again." The King called, one by one, his most trusted advisors, but all explained that it was impossible to bring the moon to the Princess.  Only the court jester ends up being wise enough to solve the problem (with a lot of help from the Princess herself).
     Many Moons makes me glad I joined the Caldecott Challenge (I might not have read it had it not been on the list of Caldecott winers). I loved it!  The story is long (I prefer the longer picture books) and truly entertaining...and hilarious.  The list of things/accomplishments that each of the King's advisors shared is priceless: from the most outrageous claims (blue poodles), to the last items on each list which, they explain, were added by their wives.  Also, for those of us that carry Harry Potter on our brains forever, I couldn't help smiling when I came across the Royal Wizard listing a philosopher's stone and an invisibility cloak.
     Here is a little taste of the sense of humor in its pages:
The Lord High Chamberlain was a large, fat man who wore thick glasses which made his eyes seem twice as big as they really were. This made the Lord High Chamberlain seem twice as wise as he really was.
The Royal Wizard looked at his list again. 'I got you,' he said, 'horns from Elfland, sand from the Sandman, and gold from the rainbow. Also a spool of thread, a paper of needles, and a lump of beeswax -sorry, those are things my wife wrote down for me to get her.' 
      Many Moons will be undoubtedly added to my shelf of favorite picture books. Don't miss it!

Jan 14, 2012

Elsie's Bird

Elsie's Bird by Jane Yolen
Illustrated by David Small
Published by Philomel Books

     Elsie is a city girl. She loves the sounds of the Boston Harbor, the songs of the birds and children, the sound of the horses' hooves on the stone cobbled streets. But when her mother dies, her father needed a fresh start and decided to go somewhere "far away from Boston and the sadness in his heart," to Nebraska.  Elsie brought along her birdcage with her new canary, Timmy Tune, and during the long train ride, bird and girl sang to one another.
     When they get to Nebraska, Elsie's unhappy. Her house was made of sod and there were no other houses around hers. "Here there is only grass and sky and silence." "The only sound at night was her own crying in her little bed, but she didn't let Papa know." Elsie spends her days within the walls of her new home, never hearing the sounds of the grasslands, the crickets and grasshoppers singing at night, the rain pounding the roof. She just dreamed of the sound of her Boston cobbled streets. She was afraid that if she left her house, she would "lose herself in the silence of the prairie."  But one day, her canary flies away and Elsie heads out to run along the tall grass looking for Timmy Tune.  It's during this journey to find the bird, that Elsie's heart and ears finally open to the beauty of the plains.
     Elsie's Bird brought me back to my childhood reading and watching The Little House on the Prairie.  The language is so beautiful, I found myself rereading whole passages.  And the illustrations by David Small in brush and ink with watercolor and pastel are captivating.  I loved Elsie. This is the rare kind of picture book that manages in a short time to make you care about the characters as much as a chapter book. Such a great find! 

Jan 13, 2012

Sea of Dreams

Sea of Dreams  by Dennis Nolan
Illustrated by Dennis Nolan
Published by Roaring Brook Press

     A young girl builds a sand castle under the watchful eye of a seagull.  As the sun sets she walks away leaving the castle behind. Night sets, the waves start to crash against the sandy walls and a light goes on inside the castle.  As the building is overtaken by the water, the tiny inhabitants sail away towards a small island in the background.  They're caught in a storm and one of the passengers of the boat gets thrown overboard and he's saved by mermaids. They reach the island where there already are others just like them living there.  Next morning, the girl is back on the beach building a new sand castle...and the light goes on.  
     I'm in love with Sea of Dreams.  Dennis Nolan has created an amazing wordless book that will have readers savoring each one of its stunning pages.  Each time I read it, I noticed something new: like the seagull being the link between the two worlds or how the girl's bathing suit looks like the globe.  This is a "can't miss it" sort of book.  But don't take my word, just check it out and let me know what you think.

Jan 12, 2012

The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy

The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy by Jacky Davis
Illustrated by David Soman
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers

     Sam, aka Bumblebee Boy, is  ready for all sorts of adventures at home. He has pirates to defeat, fire dragons to capture, and Giganto the Giant Saber-Toothed Lion to tame.  And he wants to do it all alone because "Bumblebee Boy wants to fly alone!" The problem is that his little bother Owen wants to be just like Sam, he wants to be a "soup hero too."  Will Bumblebee Boy let Owen join in and become his sidekick?
     Bumblebee Boy, a character introduced in the popular series Ladybug Girl, stars in his own adventure.  The funny thing is that for me, the star of the book is Owen, the little brother.  His persistence throughout the story, adding layers to his costume to become a "soup hero" like his older brother, is endearing and will bring a smile to the face of every reader.  I especially enjoyed the details of his cape being made from the classic blanket newborns get at the hospital.  The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy turns out to be a delightful story of the power of imagination and sibling relationships. Great read aloud.     

Jan 11, 2012


Pigaroons by Arthur Geisert
Illustrated by Arthur Geisert
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company

     The Pigaroons are the descendants of Spanish pirates, and like their forefathers they love to steal things.  On the other side of the river, lived the River Patrollers, honest, hardworking, and champions of the yearly ice sculpture contest.  Every year, the River Patrollers would cut out a large block of crystal clear ice from their pond to carve the sculpture for the festival.  But this year, their ice block was stolen overnight by, who else, but the Pigaroons!
     The Pigaroons are good ice sculptures themselves and they create a magnificent carving of Hernando de Soto, the famous Spanish explorer. They are sure they will win the first prize this time.  But on the other side of the river, the River Patrollers are coming up with a very ingenious plan to make sure the Pigaroons don't get away with their crime.
     Arthur Geisert brilliant etchings will captivate readers of all ages who will savour the details that complement the text so perfectly.  Like all his books, Pigaroons is a celebration of ingenuity and creativity. If you haven't seen any of his books, you are seriously missing out!  He's a genius!

Jan 10, 2012

Jeremy Draws a Monster

Jeremy Draws a Monster by Peter McCarty
Illustrated by Peter McCarty
Published by Henry Holt and Company

     Jeremy lived on the top floor of an apartment building. From his window he could see kids playing outside, but Jeremy never joined them. He never left his apartment and never went outside. One day Jeremy took "his fancy pen" and drew a large blue monster. Immediately the monster starting making all kinds of demands: "draw me sandwich", "a toaster", "a checkerboard," "a comfortable chair." He never asked nicely, he never said thank you.  Jeremy got tired of the monster so he finally drew him a one way bus ticket and a suitcase, and to make sure he didn't miss the bus (and never come back), Jeremy walked him outside all the way to the bus stop.  While he was outside, the other kids saw him and asked him to join them and play. And he did.
     Jeremy Draws a Monster is beautifully illustrated by Peter McCarty with ink and watercolors.  Each page has a large white background which allows the characters to really pop, especially the large blue monster.  The story is humorous and entertaining and at its core it shows the power of imagination triumphant over the monster: Jeremy's imagination brought out the monster, and while it ended up causing him trouble, Jeremy held onto the power with his wit and creativity (loved the "one way ticket" solutions).  Delightful read aloud!

Jan 9, 2012

How to Catch a Star

How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers
Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Published by Philomel Books

     "Once there was a boy and the boy loved stars very much." He watched outside his window and wished of having a star of his own. He would imagine all the things they would do together, like play hide-and-seek and take long walks along the beach. So he decided he would catch a star. He figured if he tried early in the morning it would be best "because then the star would be tired from being up in the sky all night." But he couldn't find one. He waited and waited and when a stars finally came out, he couldn't reach it, no matter how hard he tried. He saw one floating in the ocean, "the prettiest star he had ever seen!" but every time he tried to touch it, "it just rippled through his fingers."  Walking sadly along the beach he knew he wouldn't give up and then "he saw it...washed up on the bright golden sand." "A star of his very own."
     How to Catch a Star was Oliver Jeffers first picture book.  It already has that illustration style that has become so recognizable.  The illustrations are beautiful, filled with night blues and sunrise/sunset oranges and yellows.  And the story is tender and memorable.  I love the back page where we see the boy sitting on an armchair with the star by his side reading How to Catch a Star (what a cool detail!).  This one fights for my #1 Jeffers picture book along with Lost and Found. Hey, now that I think about it the boys in both books are wearing the same striped t-shirt...our star hunter might be our penguin lover as well. 

Jan 8, 2012

Wee Gillis

Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf
Illustrated by Robert Lawson
Published by The New York Review Children's Collection
(1938) 2006 Edition

     Wee Gillis lived in Scotland. "His real name was Alastair Roderic Craigellachie Dalhousie Gowan Donny bristle MacMac, but that took too long to say, so everybody just called him Wee Gillis." All his relatives on his mother's side lived in the valley raising long-haired cows. They were Lowlanders.  All his relatives on his father's side lived in the hills and stalked stags. They were Highlanders.  The Lowlanders and the Highlanders made fun of each other, thinking the other's livelihood to be a joke.  And Wee Gillis didn't know which side he wanted to be on. So he spend half his time in the valley and half his time in the hills. In the valley he learned to shout loud enough for the cows to hear him, and in the hills he learn to hold his breath so no stag would hear him. This made his lungs incredible strong. When the time to decide whether to become a Highlander or Lowlander arrives, a surprising encounter with a bag piper gives Wee Gillis a new option to use his amazing lung strength.
     Wee Gillis was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1938.  Leaf and Lawson, the same team that created one of my favorite books, The Story of Ferdinand, gave us with Wee Gillis a book that transports us to Scotland with a sense of humor and beauty.  The illustrations by Lawson are wonderful, especially the facial expressions of Wee Gillis. And the story is captivating, with cadence and a great narrative.

Jan 7, 2012

The House in the Night

The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson
Illustrated by Beth Krommes
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company

     "Here is the key to the house. In the house burns a light. In that light rests a bed. On that bed waits a book."  As a girl picks up the book, her imagination takes flight on the wings of the bird that lays inside it, and she takes us all the way to the moon and back to "the house in the night, a home full of light."
     An old nursery rhyme collected in The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book (1955) begins with the verses: "This is the key of the kingdom: / In that kingdom is a city, / In that city is a town, / In that town there is a street..." (from Swanson's Author's note at the end of The House in the Night).  This nursery rhyme was the inspiration for Swanson's beautiful book.  The text follows a cumulative pattern and it takes you from the smallness of a key to the immensity of the sky and, then, backtracking, all the way back inside the house. 
     The House in the Night is a wonderful bedtime story, taking the readers on a journey to the vastness of the world, but always coming back to the comfort of the home and a warm bed.  The text is beautiful, no doubt about it, but the real stars for me are the illustrations by Beth Krommes.  They are nothing short of spectacular.  They are made scratchboard style and there is no color, all black and white except for splashes of gold to highlight specific objects (the sun, the moon, the lamp, the book, the teddy bear).  This is the kind of picture book that will stay with you because of its utter beauty.  Just gorgeous! 


Jan 6, 2012

The Heart and the Bottle

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Published by Philomel Books

     "Once there was a girl, much like any other whose head was filled with all the curiosities of the world." Her grandfather would sit in his armchair and read to the girl, opening to her a world of wonder, inspiring her imagination and creativity.  "Until the day she found and empty chair." With her grandfather's passing the little girl found that the only way to protect her heart from pain was to put it in a safe place. "So, she put it in a bottle and hung it around her neck." While that helped the sorrow at first, she soon began to forget about the curiosities and wonders of the world. She grew up.  And then she met someone younger who was still curious about the world and she felt it was time to take her heart out of the bottle.
     The Heart and the Bottle is painfully beautiful.  As I read it the first time I immediately choked up and had to go back and read it a second time to absorb all its gorgeous imaginary and illustrations.  The way Jeffers showed the girls imagination is just magical.  We see her laying in the grass next to her grandfather, whose dialogue bubble shows a picture of a constellation, while hers shows her seeing the sky as a bumble bee on fire.  And then there's the heartbreaking image of her drawing on paper a bunch of doodles and, as she runs to show her grandfather, we see that in her head the picture is of her with a whale...and that when we turn the page to find the empty chair where grandpa used to sit.  The thing about The Heart and the Bottle is that it feels like it's more for us the adults than for children; to reminds us to keep the inner child alive. The illustrations will entertain the young readers though, even if they don't quite "get it". Such a beautiful book!

Jan 5, 2012


Penguin by Polly Dunbar
Illustrated by Polly Dunbar
Published by Candlewick Press

     Ben got a very special present: a penguin. He wanted to play and talk with him, but the penguin just stood there saying nothing. Ben tried everything to get a reaction from the penguin: funny faces, silly dances, tickles, wearing funny clothes and singing silly songs. But penguin said nothing.  Ben eventually got so frustrated he began to whine and scream. A lion was passing by and he got annoyed with all the noise so, as it often happens, he ate Ben (can't help thinking about Sendak's Pierre and his "I don't care").  And the penguin, well, this time he did do something.
     Penguin is delightful, funny and endearing.  The simple and clean illustrations by Polly Dunbar are wonderful, especially all the different facial expressions by Ben and the proportion contrast between Ben and the gigantic blue lion.  At the end, Penguin is a story about friendship; one that starts with a lot of "nothing" and ends with a hero penguin.  Great read aloud for the K-2 crowd and a fun bedtime story.

Jan 4, 2012

A Dog Is a Dog

A Dog Is a Dog by Stephen Shaskan
Illustrated by Stephen Shaskan
Published by Chronicle Books

     "A dog is a dog, wether is it's naughty...or nice." Wether it's skinny or fat. A dog is a dog. Unless, he takes off his costume to reveal...he's a cat! And a cat is a cat, wether hairless or furry...unless it is...a squid!
     A Dog Is a Dog is a delightfully funny read aloud.  The text pattern will have young ones trying to guess what animal will show up next and laughing at the crazy situations (my favorite was the squid taking off his cat costume.  The illustrations by Shaskan are bold and hilarious (check out the squid stuck in a bottle and the moose with a head lamp).  Reading this book made me think of two things: the classic ending of old school Scooby Doo episodes and Bark George! by Jules Pfeiffer. Any one else? I also appreciated the circular form of the story, which makes it a great text to share in the classroom. Great read aloud.

Jan 3, 2012

The Secret Footprints

The Secret Footprints by Julia Alvarez
Illustrated by Fabian Negrin
Published by Dell Dragonfly Books

     On an island in the Caribbean, not too long ago, lived a secret tribe called the ciguapas.  They lived underwater and came out to hunt for food only at night. They were all beautiful women, fearful of being discovered by the humans who, they believed, would imprison them and force them to live on land.  The ciguapas looked just like us except that their feet were pointed backwards.  That's what helped them protect the secret of their existence, because their footprints always seemed to point in the opposite direction when they walked on land.
     The Secret Footprints tells the story of guapa, on the ciguapas. Guapa (which means beautiful and brave in Spanish) was very curious and, against the advice of the queen ciguapa, she kept venturing inland to observe the humans. One day, following the smell of delicious pasteles, she gets too close and was seen by a family having a picnic. Guapa has to find a way to protect the secret of her tribe.
     The Secret Footprints is beautifully written by Julia Alvarez and Negrin's illustrations full of blues, aquamarines, and the warm tones of the Caribbean, are a wonderful match.  At the end of the tale, Alvarez adds an author note describing the Dominican folklore around the ciguapas.  A great read-aloud to bring some magical realism into the classroom or home.

Jan 2, 2012

Cybils Fiction Picture Books Finalists. My journey as a panelist.

     This year -I guess is now last year- I had the honor and pleasure of being selected as one of the panelist for the first round of the Cybils Awards, Fiction Picture Books category.  It has been one of the coolest things I've been able to do as a blogger and reader. Thanks the 250+ nominations, I got to read more picture books in a two month span that I ever thought was humanly possible. Some were good, some were, well, painful, and some were just awesome.  I also got to connect with some brilliant teachers, librarians, and bloggers. I kept pinching myself wondering how I had ended up being part of such a brilliant group and at the end, it was a perfect ending to my first year as a blogger.
     Coming up with the seven finalist was very difficult. We spent hours agonizing over what books to include/leave out...and here they are: Fiction Picture Books Finalists.  Check each book out! You won't be disappointed. I promise. By the way, I reviewed all but one of them on this blog, so you might know them already.
     And if you want to see the finalists under all the other Cybils categories, go here: Cybils 2011 Finalists. So there you go.  Now go and make your TBR pile as big as possible!

ps: You get extra #nerdybookclub points for knowing that TBR is To Be Read


Jan 1, 2012

Drawing From Memory

Drawing From Memory by Allen Say
Illustrated by Allen Say
Published by Scholastic Press

     Allen Say, the Caldecott Medal recipient for Grandfather's Journey, has created a marvelous book in Drawing From Memory. Part graphic novel, memoir, and narrative with a collage of drawing, sketches and photographs, Drawing From Memory is Allen Says first person tale of his journey to become an artist.   
     The narrative focuses on his youth in Japan, living through WWII, and battling his father's disdain for Say's artistic gifts.  He's able to move out and live on his own by the age of twelve and finds his way to become the apprentice of Noro Shinpei, one of Japan's leading cartoonist.  
     Drawing From Memory grabs you from the beginning and won't let you go. It's inspiring, heart-breaking at times, but more than anything else, it's an homage to Allen Say's sensei, Noro Shinpei.  It's a loving letter to the man who became his "spiritual father" as well as a thank you to all the teachers and peers that helped him on his path to become the artist he's today.