Review of The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess, by Tom Gauld

The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess

by Tom Gauld

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2021. 32 pages.
Review written October 29, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This picture book gives a sweet original fairy tale about perseverance and devotion. It hit just exactly the right note with me.

As we begin, a king and queen (with different color skin from each other) are childless and want a baby. The king goes to see the royal inventor, and the queen goes to see a clever old witch.

They both asked for the same thing: a child.

And so the little wooden robot and the log princess come to life. They love each other and are loved by their parents and play happily together. But at night, the log princess turns back into a log when she goes to sleep and has to be woken up with magic words.

Usually, her brother wakes her first thing in the morning, but one morning he’s distracted by a traveling circus.

When he gets back, the log that is his sister has been thrown out the window!

So begins a long saga to rescue her. And then he winds down, and his sister needs to rescue him. And it all comes full circle in the end and we get a nice surprise at who does the ultimate rescuing before happily ever after.

And it’s just such a nice story that makes me really happy.

My favorite pages, though, are the ones about the adventures they have along the way, “too many to recount here.” For the little wooden robot, they are:

The Giant’s Key
The Family of Robbers
The Old Lady in a Bottle
The Magic Pudding
The Lonely Bear
The Queen of the Mushrooms

These adventures are listed on a page with a small picture for each adventure — so intriguing and fun! There’s a similar page when it’s the log princess’s turn to have adventures.

I suppose part of why you just have to love these characters is their smiley face features and the sweet simplicity of their determination.

This one would be good for young elementary school kids as well as preschoolers, so I’m going to mark it to booktalk next summer.

HolidayHouse.com

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Review of Sun Flower Lion, by Kevin Henkes

Sun Flower Lion

by Kevin Henkes

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 32 pages.
Review written October 3, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is a brilliant book for very young children or very beginning readers. The language is simple. The pictures are simple. But it’s got patterns and a progression.

We’ve got four things – the sun, a flower, and a lion, that are all drawn with the same basic pattern. We’ve also got six chapters. Each chapter is just one spread or a spread-and-a-half.

Here are the words for the first chapter:

This is the sun.
Can you see it?

The sun is in the sky.
It is shining.
It is as bright as a flower.

In the next chapter, we meet the flower, and then the lion.

My favorite page is this one:

The lion runs home.
Can you see him?
No, you can’t.
He is running too fast.

And it all ends with him cozy and back with his family.

Amazing that Kevin Henkes can tell a satisfying story with so few words – and so few shapes.

kevinhenkes.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Every Little Kindness, by Marta Bartolj

Every Little Kindness

by Marta Bartolj

Chronicle Books, 2021. First published in Slovenia in 2018. 68 pages.
Review written October 2, 2021, from a book sent to me by the publisher
Starred Review

Here’s a lovely wordless picture book brought to us from Slovenia – and the pictures transcend culture.

As the book opens, a girl wakes up, but drooping. She puts on her red glasses and looks sadly at a pile of posters with a picture of a dog in a red collar.

She goes out to put up the posters, but on her way she sees a man playing a guitar with a cup out for donations, and she gives him her red apple.

A man carrying a red bag sees her kind act. On the next page, he does something kind for someone else. He is watched by someone else with something red, and then that person does something kind.

And so it goes. This book is full of a sequence of kind acts. People see a kindness, then do a kindness. And these are all highlighted with something red in an otherwise subdued-color scene.

The final act of kindness isn’t a surprise when someone finds the girl’s dog and gives her a call.

So we come full circle and end up with a scene including lots of happy people.

Because this is a wordless book, there are lots of things to notice, and I’m sure I didn’t catch everything. “Reading” this book with a child will give them lots to talk about. And besides that, this lovely book will leave you smiling.

chroniclekids.com

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Review of Fred Gets Dressed, by Peter Brown

Fred Gets Dressed

by Peter Brown

Little, Brown and Company, 2021. 44 pages.
Review written September 29, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Fred Gets Dressed is a book that’s playful about an everyday activity: getting dressed.

As the book opens, Fred is running around his house naked while his parents read books and let him romp. We do see his bottom, but he’s happily positioned not to reveal anything else. His expression and demeanor are sheer joy as he celebrates being “naked and wild and free.”

But then he runs into Mom and Dad’s bedroom and looks in the mirror on the inside of their open closet door. We see his big smile. Then he starts looking at the clothes in their closet.

Fred looks at Dad’s side of the closet.

He thinks about the way Dad dresses.

It might be fun to dress like Dad.
So Fred carefully picks out a shirt and a tie and a pair of shoes.

But he has trouble putting them on.

Then Fred thinks about the way Mom dresses. He finds an outfit from Mom’s side of the closet that he can put on. Then he decides to go to her dresser and try the jewelry and makeup.

Just as he’s smeared some lipstick on his face, Mom and Dad walk in. There’s a spread where they see him, and then a spread when everyone smiles at each other.

After that, the whole family joins in! Mom shows Fred how to put on some makeup, but Dad and even the dog get involved, too.

I love the way the parents aren’t shocked by Fred’s play – either when he’s romping naked or when he’s dressed up like Mom. And better yet, they join the fun.

I’m not going to say this is a book for gender nonconforming kids, though they will enjoy it. Don’t all kids love to play dress-up? I love the way this book doesn’t teach that this has to be limited by gender, and that even grown-ups can play, too.

And after reading the author’s blog post about the book, I like it even better. When he was a child who loved to play with paint, he was interested in what his mother used to paint her face. One day his mother found him with lipstick on his face, and his mother responded as Fred’s mom does, teaching him how to put it on. The author says he felt unconditional love when his mother responded by encouraging his curiosity rather than scolding.

Good silly fun with a playful message. And a wonderful example of affirming parenting.

peterbrownstudio.com
lbyr.com

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Review of Smashy Town, by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

Smashy Town

by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha
illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

Harper, 2020. 28 pages.
Review written July 11, 2020, from a library book

The next time I do a Toddler Storytime – Alas, there’s no telling when that will be – I’m going to grab this book. It’s a book about demolishing buildings! Of course! Perfect for toddlers!

And the authors and illustrator pull it off superbly. It’s a short picture book with a refrain. For each of brick, wood, glass, and stone, we’ve got a spread that goes like this:

GO!
Swing the ball, hit the wall!
Smash, smash, smash!
Swing the ball, hit the wall!
Crash, crash, crash!

Crumble, tumble,
down goes brick.
Is the demolition done?
NO!

Parents will be a little relieved that there’s even a spread about cleaning up the mess after everything is knocked down. And the endpapers show that what gets built in place of the old buildings that Mr. Gilly demolished is a public library and a city park.

This book is made to order for reading aloud to toddlers. I look forward to the day when I’ll get to try it out.

andreaanddavid.com
danyaccarino.com

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Source: This review is based on a book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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Review of Simon at the Art Museum, by Christina Soontornvat, art by Christine Davenier

Simon at the Art Museum

by Christina Soontornvat
art by Christine Davenier

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 36 pages.
Review written July 2, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

I was happily disposed to Simon at the Art Museum as soon as I opened the cover and saw the Musée d’Orsay in Paris filling the end papers. (I’ve spent some happy hours there.) It isn’t named, and there’s an “Art Show” sign in English, but it’s enough for me. As the book begins, Simon and his parents enter the museum, and Simon shouts his greetings.

“Shhh,” whispered Simon’s mom.
“Sweetie, remember what we agreed about inside voices?”

Simon is still enjoying the big building with its slippery floors. This part had me won over:

Simon and his parents looked at the art together.
They looked at more art.
And then more.

So. Much. Art.

What IS it with this place? thought Simon,
before remembering that it was, in fact, an art museum.

“Is that a swimming pool?” asked Simon.

“It’s a reflecting pool,” whispered his dad.
“It’s a work of art too, just like the paintings.”

Simon casually suggested they could make the art even better if they chased the pigeons along its edge.

After that, his parents decided they wanted to hold his hands.

Of course, the pictures accompanying those words make them all the more delightful. Simon’s noticing things – maybe not the same things as his parents.

In another gallery, Simon sits while his parents look at the art, and I love the things he sees as he watches the people looking at the art.

Just when I wondered why they made the choice to portray Simon and his parents as white when the author (who won TWO Newbery Honor awards last year) is a person of color, I came across the probable reason why – when they found a child in a painting very like Simon. (I assume it’s a real painting and wish they had a note. Though I suppose even if it’s a generic Impressionist painting, it makes more sense having a white child in the picture.)

If I had small children and I was planning to visit a museum, I’d read this book together first. It’s a great jumping-off point for talking about what museums are like – but it also reminds parents to see things from their children’s eyes. And for older folks like me who don’t have young kids – this picture book simply makes me smile.

soontornvat.com

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Review of My First Day, by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huynh Kim Liên

My First Day

by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huynh Kim Liên

Make Me a World (Penguin Random House), 2021. Originally published in Vietnam in 2017. 40 pages.
Review written May 19, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a mind-expanding book with lush paintings. This picture book doesn’t tell you what it’s the first day of until the end.

As the book opens, you see a boy come out of his house on stilts and get into a small boat on the big river. Every spread is entirely filled with one grand picture, and most of the pictures are mostly filled with the river, with the small boy in a boat somewhere in the spread. Here’s how the text begins:

Where the great river, mother Mekong, tumbles into the endless sea . . . that is where I live.

I wake up with the sun creeping into the sky and wait for tide and time to bring to me my little open boat.
Today is the first day.

This is the first time I’ve made this trip on my own, weaving through floodwaters and forests.
Mama said I’m big enough now to go by myself. Papa said to be careful because that’s what papas do.

The paintings make this trip into an epic journey. The boy goes through waves dwarfing his boat, rain and a dark forest all around, a crocodile and other creatures lurking in the water – and comes out to a bright sky with storks flying ahead of him, all manner of fish beneath him, and even a herd of water buffalo looking at him kindly.

Before he gets to his destination, we see many other kids in boats, traveling the same direction. “Hello, friends!”

And then with the final page of the story, we learn where this adventurous journey has taken him – to his first day of school.

Notes at the back set the story in the Mekong Delta and tell how the river is used as a roadway and in many other ways.

It’s a lovely starting-to-school story that shows children in another part of the world are the same – excited about starting school – but different in the way they get to school. Along with the stunningly beautiful pictures, this is a book you won’t forget. Because the book was originally published in Vietnam, it won’t be eligible for the Caldecott Medal, but the illustrations are so amazing, it would surely be in the running if that weren’t the case.

kaaillustration.com

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Review of Julián at the Wedding, by Jessica Love

Julián at the Wedding

by Jessica Love

Candlewick Press, 2020. 36 pages.
Review written 10/20/2020 from a library book
Starred Review

It’s another picture book about gender-nonconforming Julián, from the lovely book Julián Is a Mermaid. What I love about both books is that this is a story about Julián and his vivid imagination. He happens to enjoy pretending in ways that don’t strictly follow gender norms. That’s who he is, and that’s celebrated – but the point of the book is Julián and his imagination, not his gender-nonconforming.

In this book, Julián and his abuela are going to a wedding, and Julián is in the wedding, dressed in a snazzy purple suit that isn’t strictly masculine or feminine. Two women are joyfully getting married, and we’re told, “A wedding is a party for love.”

At the dinner after the ceremony, Julián makes friends with Marisol, the flower girl. They go to play in the “fairy house” made by the leaves of a weeping willow tree. When Marisol plays with a dog and gets her dress all dirty, Julián has a solution, and both kids get to pretend to be fairies.

In both books, I love the way the adults appreciate Julián’s and now Marisol’s antics, rather than scolding. It’s another celebration of the power of imagination.

candlewick.com

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Review of Sticks and Stones, by Patricia Polacco

Sticks and Stones

by Patricia Polacco

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. 48 pages.
Review written January 27, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Patricia Polacco’s books are long for picture books. Lots of pages, and lots of words on each page. These are not for the preschool storytime crowd, but they are for young elementary school proficient readers or for elementary school classrooms, people who appreciate pictures to go with the thoughtful text.

It’s a story of bullying. But also a story of friendship. As in many of her books, Patricia tells a story from her childhood in first person. One year, she spent the school year with her father in Michigan instead of with her mother in California. But her summer friends abandoned her, and the boy who was nice to the new girl was called Sissy Boy by the bully. The bully called Patricia, Cootie, and their other friend, Her Ugliness.

But the book shows the beauty of their friendship. Continued bullying, but fast friends. It turns out that Sissy Boy secretly takes ballet classes and loves ballet, and Her Ugliness makes beautiful kites and costumes from hand-painted silk.

The book tells the story of their friendship and culminates in a stunning ballet performance by Patricia’s friend Thom. But what really packed a punch for me was the author’s note at the back saying that now, more than fifty years later, Thom has retired as the artistic director of the American School of Ballet, and Ravanne (“Her Ugliness”) lives in Paris and has retired after an incredible career as a fashion designer.

I love the message this gives to kids that so often, bullies are just plain wrong.

PatriciaPolacco.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Review of Zonia’s Rain Forest, by Juana Martinez-Neal

Zonia’s Rain Forest

by Juana Martinez-Neal

Candlewick Press, 2021. 40 pages.
Review written May 18, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Zonia’s Rain Forest tells about a young Asháninka girl who lives in the rain forest with those she loves. (Her mother and infant brother are pictured.) It’s a simple story. Every day, Zonia likes to go greet her friends, and we see beautiful active paintings of Zonia with various creatures found in the rain forest (with a guide in the back as to what they are), with a blue morpho butterfly accompanying her on every page.

Some of the animals, such as the jaguar and the spectacled caiman look dangerous to this mom for a little girl to be cavorting with them, but it’s a child’s fantasy adventure, and Zonia is friends with the rain forest and with its inhabitants. I love the way Zonia is pictured always happily in motion.

The book ends with a frightening bare patch in the forest. Encouraged by her mother, Zonia purposes to answer the forest’s call to help. The final words of the book are, “We all must answer.”

In this beautiful and inviting book, every reader will feel Zonia’s kinship with the rain forest.

The five pages of back matter include, besides an identification of the animals pictured, a translation of the text into Asháninka, some facts about the Amazon, and a list of threats to the Amazon. It’s a call to protect the world given in a way that children can understand.

juanamartinezneal.com/zonia
candlewick.com

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