Archive for the ‘Picture Book Review’ Category

Review of Baby Monkey, Private Eye, by Brian Selznick and David Serlin

Saturday, September 7th, 2019

Baby Monkey, Private Eye

story by Brian Selznick and David Serlin
pictures by Brian Selznick

Scholastic Press, 2018. 192 pages.
Starred Review
Review written March 5, 2018, from a library book.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out #2 in Picture Books – Silly Fun

Baby Monkey, Private Eye is the sort of book I hand to co-workers and insist that they read immediately. As The Invention of Hugo Cabret was something new in a children’s novel by telling much of the story with pictures, so Baby Monkey, Private Eye is something new in a book for beginning readers — by telling much of the story with pictures.

Now, I’m writing this before I’ve talked with anyone on the Newbery committee about the book, so this is only my opinion. So much of the brilliance of this book depends on the pictures, I doubt that it’s really a Newbery prospect. (Who knows, maybe I will be convinced later.) In fact, the pictures and text work so beautifully together, I’m already hoping this book will be next year’s Geisel Award winner – for books for beginning readers. That award can consider illustrations and text and how they work together to help kids read. [*Note added later*: I learned that alas, the Geisel Award has a page limit — so exactly what makes this book most distinguished — a long book beginning readers can read themselves — is the thing that makes it ineligible.]

If you wrote out the text of this book, I think it would be about the same as many other books for beginning readers. But Baby Monkey, Private Eye takes up far more pages with the same amount of text – spacing out the words, and providing more pictures.

Here’s the first chapter, coming after we’ve already met Baby Monkey, who is a baby and a monkey who has a job.

First, we see Baby Monkey sitting on the couch in his office, reading Famous Jewel Crimes. An opera singer bursts in.

Baby Monkey! Someone has stolen my jewels!

Baby Monkey can help!

Baby Monkey looks for clues.

Baby Monkey writes notes.

Baby Monkey eats a snack. [Mmm.]

Baby Monkey puts on his pants. [9 pages of pictures.]

Now Baby Monkey is ready!

[Aha!] Baby Monkey solves the case!

Zebra!

Hooray for Baby Monkey!

Every sentence above has its own 2-page spread, and some have extra pages of pictures in between.

This wouldn’t be extra-special if this relatively short chapter were just printed on a few pages. But it actually takes up 35 pages. And that’s where it’s brilliant.

See what I mean about the text not necessarily being distinguished all by itself? But when you put this with the pictures, including many things to find on repeated readings – the result is utter brilliance. Come on, this is one you’re going to have to check out and see for yourself!

By the way, this same format repeats in chapters two and three, so then we appreciate how it changes in chapters four and five when we are reminded that Baby Monkey is actually a baby.

Why has no one done this before? Why do people always stick to the standard beginning-reader format?

Well, no one else is Brian Selznick, illustrator extraordinaire, who routinely breaks out of standard formats.

The end result is that young beginning readers will get to read a big fat book! Oh, the sense of accomplishment when they finish reading all five chapters!

In even more fun, the authors have put an Index and Bibliography at the back. The Index has entries like “Carrots, baby (see also Snacks).” The Bibliography includes all the books Baby Monkey has been reading, and additional invented titles such as Predators Who Eat Pizza.

Baby Monkey is something very special. You don’t even have to have a beginning reader in the house to enjoy this book. But if you do, go out and buy a copy today!

scholastic.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Flubby Will NOT Play with That, by J. E. Morris

Friday, August 30th, 2019

Flubby

Flubby Will NOT Play with That

by J. E. Morris

Penguin Workshop, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 9, 2019, from a library book

The cover of this book made me laugh. It shows a cat looking dubiously at a fish toy on a string. The picture says it all. Who of us doesn’t know a cat (or a child) who isn’t remotely interested in the flashy toy purchased for them?

This book is a beginning reader about this universal experience. Flubby’s owner (of indeterminate gender) has purchased four different toys for Flubby, each more elaborate than the one before. Flubby isn’t at all interested.

The owner walks away, saying there are no more toys, but leaves the paper bag on the floor that the toys came in. You can guess what happens next.

The storyline is simple but relatable. The words used are realistically simple and easy to read. The pictures reinforce the story and add plenty of personality and humor. It’s all you could wish for in a book for a child to confidently read to themselves. There’s a punchline you’ll see coming but still enjoy.

Good news is this seems to be part of a new series about Flubby.

penguin.com/youngreaders

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A Mouse Called Julian, by Joe Todd-Stanton

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

A Mouse Called Julian

by Joe Todd-Stanton

Flying Eye Books, 2019. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 9, 2019, from a library book

This book reminded me a tiny bit of William Steig’s classic Doctor DeSoto, only instead of outsmarting the fox, the little mouse (called Julian) befriends the fox who wants to eat him.

It’s not out of nobility, though. Julian lives alone and likes it that way. His solitary home is underground, between the roots of a big tree. One day, a fox smashes through his front window, planning to eat him – and gets completely stuck!

The image of the giant (compared to Julian) head of the fox, with a mouth full of teeth, filling the upper portion of Julian’s home is truly startling. The image of his back end sticking out of the hole is comical.

But now the fox is at Julian’s mercy. He doesn’t want to stay there. And since Julian doesn’t want the fox’s head in his home, he tries to help – but without success.

When it got to dinner time, Julian couldn’t bear to watch the fox’s sad hungry eyes.

So he shared what he had and they talked and ate long into the night.

The fox realized it was much nicer to eat dinner with Julian than to eat Julian for dinner.

And Julian realized that having a guest wasn’t so terrible.

That’s not the end of the story. Julian does eventually get the fox free, and their friendship has some consequences, consequences that add some humor to the tale.

I’m looking forward to reading this book in storytime. It’s a friendship story with a twist, and it leaves me smiling.

flyingeyebooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Truman, by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Friday, August 16th, 2019

Truman

written by Jean Reidy
illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. 48 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 9, 2019, from a library book

Here’s a sweet story of a tortoise and his Sarah.

Truman loves his Sarah. They are well-suited; both are peaceful and pensive. Truman’s tank is by the window where he can look down on the street with honking taxis, growling trash trucks, shrieking cars, and the number 11 bus, which traveled south.

But one day, Sarah does some new things. She has an extra big breakfast, wears new clothes, and straps on a big backpack.

Sarah placed seven green beans in Truman’s dish –
two more than usual!

She kissed her finger and touched it to his shell and whispered,
“Be brave.”
Then she left.

Not to worry.
She’d left before.
And she’d always returned.

But this time
that backpack was particularly big.
And Sarah looked particularly pensive.
And that banana,
and that bow, and –
let’s not forget about those extra beans!

That’s when Truman saw something
he’d never seen before:

Sarah boarding the number 11 bus going south.

The bus roared away.

Truman tries to be patient. But eventually, Truman knows he must go after his Sarah!

What follows is brave and bold and adventurous and extraordinary – for a tortoise.

Don’t worry – the book has a happy ending. Meanwhile, children get the position of knowing what’s going on while someone smaller waits and wonders and learns to trust.

The pictures turn this story into something utterly charming. I don’t think anyone could read this book without falling in love with small, pensive Truman the tortoise.

jeanreidy.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Vanishing Colors, by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen & Akin Duzakin

Friday, August 2nd, 2019

Vanishing Colors

by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen & Akin Duzakin
translated by Kari Dickson

Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, 2019. Originally published in Norway in 2017.
Starred Review
Review written July 5, 2019, from a library book

This book begins with a girl and her mother huddling in a broken building in a bombed-out city, all drawn in shades of gray and black, dark and sad.

“Tell me about the bird again,” I say quietly.
So she tells me about the bird.
The one that swoops down from the mountains as evening falls
and spreads its wings over our house
to protect us from danger.

The bird, a big, warm, comforting bird, comes while the girl’s mother is sleeping and sings a song and talks with the girl while bombs fall outside. The bird reminds her of the wonderful things that were there before. He helps her remember the colors – the bright colors of their lives before the war.

And especially, as the girl and her mother prepare to leave to a new place, the bird tells her that a rainbow makes a bridge across the sky and reminds us that there is always a way.

It’s all done very beautifully. As the bird brings back memories, one by one more colors show up in the pictures of the memories, beginning with a bright red dress the girl wore when she was with her father.

The rainbow at the end gives the reader hope that their lives will have colors again.

I wish that children didn’t have any need whatsoever to empathize with refugees of war. But given the world we actually have, this book has the right mix of reality plus hope.

constanceonilssen.com
akinduzakin.com
Eerdmans.com/youngreaders

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Maybe Tomorrow? by Charlotte Agell, illustrated by Ana Ramírez González

Friday, July 26th, 2019

Maybe Tomorrow?

by Charlotte Agell
illustrated by Ana Ramírez González

Scholastic Press, 2019. 40 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 5, 2019, from a library book

Oh, this is a wonderful, joyous, and tender book about grief and about sharing burdens in friendship. I wish I could show the bright and joyful pictures. The editor here did the perfect match of illustrator to words.

Elba is a pink hippo-like creature (reminds me of a Moomin) with downcast eyes and Norris is a crocodile who walks upright. They live in a bright, springlike landscape. Here’s how the book begins:

Elba had a big block.
She’d been dragging it around for a long time.

It made her walk slowly.
It made her think darkly.
It was heavy.

Norris danced everywhere he went, even uphill.

One day, Elba was sitting on her block in the park, like she usually did.

Along came Norris in a cloud of butterflies.
At first Elba couldn’t see him in all that shininess.

Norris tries to get Elba to go on a picnic with him, but she wants to sit on her block, like she usually does. (The block is the one dark thing in the pictures.)

Norris stays and talks with Elba. He feels something sad in the block that wants to come out, but they don’t know how. By the end of the day, they say, “Maybe tomorrow.”

The next day, it’s raining, and Norris brings tea to Elba. “They had good, quiet tea with rain in it.”

The next day, Norris shows up again.

Tomorrow didn’t come, but another today did.
“It’s really time,” said Norris, “because I want you to come to the ocean with me.”
“Okay, I’ll just take my block,” said Elba, surprising herself.
“But it’s too heavy,” she added. “Right?”
“My butterflies and I will help you,” said Norris.

Indeed, the butterflies carry the block for Elba, slowly, all the way to the ocean. We learn what’s causing Elba’s sorrow as she tells about her friend Little Bird, whom she misses so much.

And after that, Elba’s block is smaller and lighter.

I hope I’m not giving too much away, and you really do need to read this book yourself, but I especially love this page at almost the end:

Together they stood and faced the roaring sea.
“I’ll always have this block, you know,” said Elba.
“Yes, maybe you will,” said Norris.
“But I will help you carry it sometimes.”

One lovely thing about this book is that you don’t have to be an Elba to appreciate it. If you’re a Norris, you can learn from his sweet, listening spirit, and his generosity with his butterflies.

It’s a friendship story and works as a friendship story. If there’s a big dark block of grief in your life, it will resonate all the more, but you don’t need that to love this book.

charlotteagell.com
scholastic.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of When Aidan Became a Brother, by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

When Aidan Became a Brother

by Kyle Lukoff
illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

Lee & Low Books, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 2, 2019, from a library book

I’ve read several picture books that explain children being transgender, but I like this one the best. Maybe it helps that the focus is not completely on the child Aidan’s transition, but more on Aidan’s new baby sibling.

Still, I love the way Aidan’s story is introduced. I’m going to quote the text of the first several pages, because I think it’s explained so perfectly. It’s even better with the accompanying pictures:

When Aidan was born, everyone thought he was a girl. His parents gave him a pretty name. His room looked like a girl’s room. And he wore clothes that other girls liked wearing.

But as Aidan got bigger, he hated the sound of his name. He felt like his room belonged to someone else. And he always ripped or stained his clothes accidentally-on-purpose.

Everyone thought he was just a different kind of girl.

Some girls had rooms full of science experiments and bug collections.

Lots of girls didn’t wear dresses.

But Aidan didn’t feel like any kind of girl. He was really another kind of boy.

It was hard to tell his parents what he knew about himself, but it was harder not to.
It took everyone some time to adjust, and they learned a lot from other families with transgender kids like him.

Aidan explored different ways of being a boy. He tried out lots of names until one stuck. They changed his bedroom into a place where he belonged. He also took much better care of his new clothes.

All this is only the introduction – but I thought it was wonderfully done.

The main part of the book is about Aidan’s family expecting a new baby, so Aidan’s going to be a big brother. He does all sorts of things to prepare for being a big brother (but decides he can wait on learning to change diapers).

Aidan worries, though, when everyone asks his mother about whether the baby will be a boy or a girl. What if they get it wrong, like people had with him? He doesn’t want the baby to feel bad about that. They choose a gender-neutral name and paint the baby’s room with a sky and clouds. When Aidan’s mother is asked if the baby is a boy or a girl, she answers, “It’s a baby!”

Now, I’m not so sure I agree with the idea of giving a baby a gender neutral name – after all, most babies really do turn out to be the gender you think they are at birth.

However, since the story is told from Aidan’s perspective, it would make sense that his loving parents would be sensitive to his concerns. They are being good parents to Aidan when they acknowledge that babies aren’t always the gender you think they are at first.

They do remind Aidan that even though they made mistakes with him, they were able to make them right.

Maybe everything wouldn’t be perfect for this baby. Maybe he would have to fix mistakes he didn’t even know he was making. And maybe that was okay.

Aidan knew how to love someone, and that was the most important part of being a brother.

We never are told what gender Aidan’s new sibling appears to be. But we do know the baby is deeply loved and that Aidan will be a great big brother.

This story is beautifully told and a wonderful way of explaining gender to children. I also enjoyed the Author’s Note at the back, where he explains that his experience was similar to Aidan’s, though not exactly the same. I especially like this paragraph:

You might also feel like Aidan in other ways. He knows what it’s like to not quite belong, and you might feel that way sometimes too. People don’t always see Aidan how he wants to be seen, and you might know what that feels like. Maybe you worry about making mistakes. Aidan is a transgender kid, but he’s also just a kid. Like you.

kylelukoff.com
kaylanijuanita.com
leeandlow.com

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Sign Off, by Stephen Savage

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

Sign Off

by Stephen Savage

Beach Lane Books, 2019. 52 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 8, 2019, from a library book

Sign Off is simply fun. Kids notice signs, and this book imagines what the characters on the signs might be up to when we aren’t looking.

There are no words in this book. But one by one, we see classic signs. One night, the characters decide to come off their signs. Then they begin working together.

I appreciate the artist’s note at the beginning:

The signs in this book are the creation of a number of graphic artists, most notably Roger Cook of the design firm Cook and Shanosky Associates, who came up with the round-headed sign characters in the 1970s. Thank you to all of these artists, known and unknown, for making characters I’ve loved since childhood.

In this book, they truly are characters. My favorite page shows their expressions of joy after they’ve carried out their plan together.

This book will spark your child’s imagination. After reading it, don’t be surprised if they’re ready to tell you what the characters on the next sign you see like to do at night.

simonandschuster.com/kids

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A Piglet Named Mercy, by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Friday, May 31st, 2019

A Piglet Named Mercy

by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Candlewick Press, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 20, 2019, from a library book.

Here it is! A picture book that tells how a Mercy the Porcine Wonder came to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Watson just when they needed something a little less predictable in their lives.

When a baby piglet falls off a pig transport truck in the night, Mr. Watson discovers her next to his newspaper in the morning. They fall in love. Of course the next-door neighbor Eugenia Lincoln is horrified and her sister Baby Lincoln helpfully brings the piglet a bottle of warm milk.

It doesn’t take long before they learn that the little piglet loves buttered toast very much. She is a wish come true and a mercy, and that’s how she gets her name. (With Eugenia exclaiming in frustration.)

It helps, of course, to have met Mercy before, but it’s actually a wonderful and self-contained story of a couple adopting a piglet. I’m going to use it soon in storytime – which will perhaps entice those children into the longer beginning chapter books when they are ready to read on their own.

Delightful all by itself.

candlewick.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Fox on the Swing, by Evelina Diaciutè, illustrated by Aušra Kiudulaite

Saturday, May 4th, 2019

The Fox on the Swing

by Evelina Diaciutè
illustrated by Aušra Kiudulaite

Thames & Hudson, 2018. First published in the United Kingdom in 2018. Original edition published in Lithuania in 2016. 48 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Mildred L. Batchelder Award Winner

This picture book is completely bizarre and utterly delightful at the same time. The creators are from Lithuania, and I guessed a European origin before I looked it up, but even in Lithuania, a boy living in a tree and making friends with a fox who swings on a swing about once a week has got to be somewhat unusual.

When I read this, I happened to be gathering books for a story time of Strange Picture Books. This particular book is a little too long to use in story time, but I would love to sit down and read it with a precocious child. And it fits the category. What Strange Picture Books have in common is completely bizarre details accepted as the matter-of-fact truth. There are no real cues to tell the reader that this situation is unusual except the child’s own knowledge of the world.

In this book, a boy named Paul lives in a very large tree with his father and mother. His father is a helicopter pilot, taking off from a platform at the top of the tree. His mother makes orange pottery. And every day, Paul goes to the bakery to get three fresh bread rolls. (Ah! That’s one thing that tipped me off this book is from Europe.)

What Paul liked best was to take the shortest route to the bakery and the long way home. Walking the same way twice was a little bit boring, after all.

Much of the charm in this book is in the details and the illustrations. Here’s what happens on the way home:

Paul always kept his eyes wide open as he walked home. He didn’t want to miss a thing. He saw strangely shaped stones, fascinating twisted roots, fancy birds that had escaped from the zoo, and puddles that glistened on the ground.

That page shows many birds holding signs that say things like, “No to zoos!” “No to cages!” “Free the birds!” “Parrots for peace!” “Freedom!” and “No, no no!”

But the thing that Paul liked most of all was the old swing in the park. Not to swing on himself, but because there was a fox who liked to curl up and sleep on the seat of the swing. Paul didn’t see her there every day. Maybe about once a week.

Then one day, the fox is swinging on the swing!

Then she stopped, sniffed at the air, looked Paul in the eye and said: “Being generous is like an ocean. Would you like to be a drop in that ocean?”

Paul didn’t understand, but he nodded anyway.

“Then give me one of your rolls,” the fox said.

So begins the friendship of Paul and the fox on the swing. The fox had a grandmother who was a wise old fox, and she likes to tell strange stories and give wise advice. Sometimes the fox would be in a bad mood, and sometimes she would not.

One day, when the fox was in a very good mood, she said, “The best thing to do is just keep on swinging.”

Then she explained that the happiest things in the world are orange.

“Happiness is a fox on a swing and a big orange orange!” she yelled as the swing carried her high into the sky. “Happiness is carrot cake, goldfish, marmalade, and trees in autumn!”

But alas! The time comes when Paul’s father tells him that “soon they would be moving to an even bigger city, where they would live in an even taller tree in an even bigger park. And he would fly an even bigger helicopter.”

So Paul must cope with having to leave his best friend.

But this is not really a book about dealing with loss. Because, after some time, things turn out very nice indeed.

This book reminds me of The Little Prince with its philosophy and childlike matter-of-factness about bizarre details. And a wise fox! It would be a delight to read this book with a child. (I’m sure they will notice many things in the illustrations.) And it certainly helps anyone who reads it notice things around them that bring happiness.

thamesandhudsonusa.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?