Review of Eclipse, by Andy Rash

Eclipse

by Andy Rash

Scholastic Press, 2023. 36 pages.
Review written January 30, 2024, from a library book
Starred Review

There’s still time! If you can get hold of this picture book before the April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse, do it! But be warned: Your child may want to go on a trip to see it.

If you are already planning a trip to see the total solar eclipse, or if you are lucky enough to live in the zone of totality, this book is the perfect way to introduce the ideas to your child and explain what it’s all about. Even if you’ll only see a partial eclipse, this story will help make things clear.

This picture book is a fictional story about a boy and his dad going to see the total solar eclipse of 2017, based on the author’s own trip with his son. In the book, the boy does the planning — figuring out where to go camping to see the eclipse, getting eclipse glasses, and the wonder and joy of experiencing the eclipse. It talks about the crickets chirping and the crescent-shaped shadows before and after totality. It even mentions the traffic on the way home.

There are maps on the endpapers. The one in front shows the path of totality for the 2017 eclipse, and then the back shows paths for many upcoming eclipses. But it looks like if you miss the 2024 eclipse, the next ones in the continental U.S. are in the 2040s. Still, the book talks about how they made memories with this trip, so it still works as a book about a special father-son outing.

For a child-friendly explanation of what an eclipse is all about, heavy on the experience, light on the science, this book is perfect.

scholastic.com

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Review of Kitty & Cat: Bent Out of Shape, by Mirka Hokkanen

Kitty & Cat

Bent Out of Shape

by Mirka Hokkanen

Candlewick Press, 2023. 36 pages.
Review written December 6, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

Okay, there’s a place for simple books about shapes. They teach little ones something they need to know. Good.

And then we have books about shapes on an entirely different level — books that parent and child will thoroughly enjoy and laugh over — while learning about shapes at the same time.

This book would become a go-to pick for me for Toddler Storytime if I still worked in a library branch. The idea is simple: A cat hiding because he doesn’t want to take a bath.

On the first page we see Cat curled up in a Circle-shaped basket with a speech bubble coming from off the page: “Cat! Time for a bath!”

The next page shows the basket empty, and a small child’s feet nearby, with the speech bubble, “Cat?”

From there on out, we’ve got a repeating pattern: A spread in some room of the house with Kitty and Puppy cavorting about, along with the speech bubble pointing off-page: “Where’s Cat?”

The next spread says “There’s Cat!”

The “There’s Cat!” reveal is where the hilarity comes in. On the frontpapers at the start of the book, we’d seen nine simple shapes named. It turns out, Cat is very good at putting his whole body into these shapes. On each reveal spread, we see that Kitty or Puppy has knocked down an object with a simple shape — and now we see Cat, who’d been hiding behind it, exactly matching the shape.

First, he hides behind a rectangular cereal box in the kitchen, and then my favorite (because it’s just silly) — a triangular vase in the dining room.

And so it goes. The words are as simple as “Where’s Cat? There’s Cat!” but the pictures show Cat frantically trying to stay concealed while Kitty and Puppy romp about the whole house, making mayhem.

Cat’s expression after his bath is priceles, too. And the final shape is a heart with all three animals — but a new threat for Kitty and Puppy.

There’s another page of those same nine shapes at the back of the book — but this time all of the shapes have a picture of Cat inside of them.

Just absolutely silly fun — and Shapes!

candlewick.com

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Review of Hey Otter! Hey Beaver! by Brian Pinkney

Hey Otter! Hey Beaver!

by Brian Pinkney

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2023. 36 pages.
Review written March 20, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

This picture book with swirly-twirly art joins the tradition of friendship stories in books for young children.

“Hey, Beaver!” said Otter.
“The water is flowing. Let’s play!”

“Hey, Otter,” said Beaver.
“Look, flowing water! Let’s get to work.”

This beginning sums up the approach of the two friends. They find sticks, branches, and twigs. Otter wants to play with them, and Beaver wants to build with them.

Their conversation and rivalry is fun and begs to be read aloud. Otter gets to the things first and plays with them. And Beaver says things like:

“Hey Otter,” said Beaver.
“Give me those branches. I need those branches.
Please give me give me give me
those branches right now!”

Yes, there’s some rivalry and taking things back and forth, but it’s all in good fun, with a nice big crash at the end, and the two friends ready for more play and work together.

brianpinkney.net
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of The Shape of You, by Muon Thi Van, illustrated by Miki Sato

The Shape of You

by Muon Thi Van
illustrated by Miki Sato

Kids Can Press, 2023. 32 pages.
Review written August 23, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

Here’s a picture book that gently leads children into abstract thinking and ends up with love.

I’m not a huge fan of picture books about how much a child is loved — Although every family should have some books like that, they have to be something special to stand out. This book is something special.

First, the art is cut paper skillfully rendered with depth and shadows. Objects at a distance are gently blurred. The images are beautiful and sweet — especially of the mother, child, and dog.

The book starts looking at the shapes of things you can see, including a rectangle door and a square table. Then it gently gets more abstract, first with things you can see:

The shape of this water
is a cup,
but sometimes it’s a cube

or a cloud.

This beautiful spread is still something you can see, but now they’re talking about the concept of “shape” more abstractly:

The shape of light
is all the colors of the sunset —

red, yellow, blue,
tangerine, chartreuse, mulberry, tan.

It progresses to completely abstract, such as, “The shape of thinking is quiet,” and “The shape of learning is a question.”

One of my favorite spreads has a knitted scarf on the cut-paper child, with the wind blurred in the distance:

The shape of the wind
is a scarf flapping.

And the book finishes up with shapes that change, but the wonderful reminders:

The shape of my fingers
will always fit yours.

And the shape of my love
will always be you.

A sweet story about love, edging into abstract thinking, that could be a wonderful conversation starter. What shapes do you see and feel around you?

kidscanpress.com

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Review of Just One Flake, by Travis Jonker

Just One Flake

by Travis Jonker

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2023. 48 pages.
Review written October 25, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

First, full disclosure: Travis Jonker is a librarian friend of mine. First, beginning many years ago, I read his 100 Scope Notes blog. Then I got to serve on an ALSC committee with him, which gave me an excuse to say Hello at conferences. I’m happy about his new success as an author, and this book marks his debut as an illustrator as well.

Just One Flake is a simple story of a kid trying to catch one snowflake on his tongue.

I grew up in California — but I still remember trying to do this when I was a 4-year-old — the last year I lived where it snowed (before moving away from California as a young adult). I failed to catch a snowflake on my tongue because it’s just not as easy as it looks.

This book takes that common childhood aspiration, and gets us rooting for little Liam with all the things he tries.

And what more is there to say? He tries, and tries again, thwarted over and over again, with ultimate success — and it just makes for a wonderful winter romp. A sure storytime hit, too.

And one of my favorite things is this line on the copyright page:

Case art by Tom Angleberger, Stephen Barbara, Cece Bell, Betsy Bird, Lauren Castillo, Carter Higgins, Allison Jonker, Colin Jonker, Lina Jonker, Supriya Kelkar, Laurie Keller Minh LĂȘ, Donalyn Miller, James Preller, John Schu, Colby Sharp, Bob Shea, Philip Stead, and Erin Stead. This book wouldn’t exist without all of you. Thank you.

So I checked the case art — the cover of the book underneath the paper cover, and it’s covered with pictures of paper snowflakes! So yes, you can finish your winter storytime with this book by all making paper snowflakes. And sharing snowflakes with friends, as the author did.

This book is one of a kind. Like a snowflake.

100 Scope Notes
abramsbooks.com

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Review of You Go First, written by Ariel Bernstein, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal

You Go First

written by Ariel Bernstein
illustrated by Marc Rosenthal

A Paula Wiseman Book (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers), 2023. 48 pages.
Review written July 27, 2023, from a library book
Starred Review

This book begins with pictures of many animal-children playing on a playground. Then we zoom in on two of them, happily arriving.

Cat and Duck,
two very good friends,
arrived at the playground.
They wanted to go on the slide.

But then we see that it’s a new slide — and the new slide is very tall and has a chute that loops around twice. Duck is excited, but Cat looks wary.

What follows is Cat making many excuses to put off trying the new slide — because Cat is a very good friend.

When Duck finally uses her own cleverness to let Cat go first, we’ve got a wonderful scene of Cat joyfully going down the slide with a large “WHEEE!”

Duck tells Cat she knew Cat could do it!

Duck was a very good friend.

This story is beautifully paced, with a story of friendship and overcoming fear that all kids can relate to.

I love the way the emotions are not spelled out — but show clearly on the characters’ faces. A wonderful way to discuss feelings with children — and readers will feel clever when they know what is going on.

One of those first exercises in understanding emotions behind things that people don’t say, this book will be a hit in storytimes.

ArielBernsteinBooks.com
Marc-Rosenthal.com

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Review of Together We Swim, written by Valerie Bolling, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

Together We Swim

written by Valerie Bolling
illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

Chronicle Books, 2023. 36 pages.
Review written September 6, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review
2023 Finalist for the Kirkus Prize

I checked out this book because it’s one of two picture books chosen as a finalist for the Kirkus Prize, young readers category. It’s a charmingly perfect book for a youngster learning to swim.

Toes dip.

Side grip.

The text is very simple. Every spread has one or two rhyming couplets, and most of the lines are only two beats long. That simple text goes perfectly with the pictures showing a Black family outing to the pool. Dad and big sister are swimming happily. Mom is staying with the little brother. Although he’s Black, he reminds me completely of my own three-year-old nephew. He’s sweet and chubby and a little nervous about this whole thing, decked out in a floatie belt.

After some kicking and floating with a board and a pool noodle — all under Mom’s watchful eyes — he’s ready to do some swimming without the floatie.

There is a little episode:

Sink under,
Small blunder.

But Ma catches him with a

“Don’t fear,
I’m here.”

The story is maybe a little unrealistic in how far the little boy advances in one day, but it builds to swimming and grinning, with the whole family celebrating. And finishes with a warm family hug and heading home.

Filled with pride,
Off I stride.

A truly delightful picture book about a scary but satisfying accomplishment and a wonderful supportive family that helps it happen.

valeriebolling.com
kaylanijuanita.com

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Review of Friends Beyond Measure, by Lalena Fisher

Friends Beyond Measure

A Story Told with Infographics

by Lalena Fisher

Harper, 2023. 40 pages.
Review written March 17, 2023, from a library book.

Friends Beyond Measure is a simple picture book story – illustrated with charts and graphs.

It begins with a Venn diagram on a spread that says, “It started the day we met.” We see the two girls meeting at a carnival and a big Venn diagram on the opposite page shows lots of things about the girls, with many things in the intersection of common interests. We see right away that Ana (“Me”) likes charting.

And all the rest of the charts are shown as Ana’s doing. I think my favorite is the line graph charting volume (of a party) vs. comfort, and we can see that Ana is much happier with loud parties than Harwin is. But they decide together to stay for cake and then leave.

However, things get sadder when the girls learn that Harwin is going to move across the ocean to England. Then instead of charts of fun things they’ve done together, we see charts about how few days left and a flow chart of what would happen if Ana tried to sneak in Harwin’s suitcase and the mixed emotions of trying to be happy for her friend but sad for herself.

The final chart is a map of things they’re going to do together in the future, all over the world.

It all adds up to a fun book with a sweet friendship story — and lots of different kinds of charts. There’s an explanation of the different kinds at the back. I think that there’s a certain kind of kid who may just take off making their own charts after reading this book. For the rest, it does expose them to different ways of presenting information.

lalenalab.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Finding Papa, by Angela Pham Krans, illustrated by Thi Bui

Finding Papa

by Angela Pham Krans
illustrated by Thi Bui

Harper, 2023. 36 pages.
Review written March 15, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

Finding Papa is a picture book based on the author’s experiences as a small child when her Papa went ahead of them from Vietnam to America, and she and her mother traveled to join him in 1983.

Something I love about the book is that it authentically takes an older toddler or young preschooler’s perspective. The pictures also portray her perfectly as that age, and it’s all presented with as much as a small child can grasp. Here’s the beginning:

Mai’s favorite game to play with Papa was the crocodile chomp. When Papa went “Chomp! Chomp!” Mai would giggle and squeal. Crocodiles were scary, but Papa was not.

We see a happy toddler laughing as her Papa makes a crocodile mouth with his hands. This is repeated through the book, with Mai remembering Papa by making her hands go “Chomp! Chomp!”

At first, she’s waiting for Papa, who doesn’t come back after an extra-long hug goodbye. Then Mai and her Mama travel to go find Papa. They travel far to get to a boat, crowded with many people. Mai was still remembering Papa, wishing he were there. There was a storm, but after some time, the boat was rescued by a large ship and Mai and her mother climbed up a net to get into the ship. At a refugee camp, letters from Papa helped them find their way to America.

In America, Mai sees a man with a mustache she doesn’t recognize. When he makes his hands do “Chomp! Chomp!” Mai remembers that crocodiles are scary, but Papa is not.

This is a very sweet story that authentically shows a very young child’s experience as a refugee. It completely warmed my heart.

angelakrans.com
thibui.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Boom! by Paul Meisel

Boom!

by Paul Meisel

I Like to Read Comics (Holiday House), 2023. 32 pages.
Review written July 3, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

Oh, this graphic novel for beginning readers is brilliant!

When we open the book, we see a sunshiny day, but a dark cloud coming into the picture with a big RUMBLE RUMBLE.

As the story begins, we see a dog and a cat sleeping. Another RUMBLE RUMBLE happens, and the dog sits up, wide-eyed, and says, “What is that?”

The cat opens one eye and says, “Nothing.”

As the book continues, the dog is hyperaware of every sound and flash from the storm. The cat? She’s playing with her mouse toy, oblivious. But the noises are getting louder….

Then, a giant BOOM BOOM with lightning takes up an entire spread, as both animals look out a sliding glass door. But as it goes on, the dog panics and the cat plays with a new toy.

Finally, a BOOM so big that even the cat is startled comes. The dog goes and hides in a closet. The cat plays with yet another toy.

But while in the closet, the dog falls asleep and dreams. He dreams he is a superhero fighting the storm.

So, when he wakes up and sees the storm is gone, his last happy line is, “I made the storm go away.”

As usual, my description just doesn’t do this book justice. The pictures of the panicking dog and the unconcerned cat will delight kids, picking up on the beautifully-expressed emotion in the illustrations. The dog taking credit for chasing away the storm is the perfect reversal ending. This light-hearted look at a pretty scary storm may help kids deal with their own fears of real storms, as they watch dog’s antics from a safe place outside the book.

The perfect easy reader is one where you forget it’s easy to read because the story is so engaging. This book achieves exactly that.

HolidayHouse.com

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