Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

Review of A Small Thing . . . but Big, by Tony Johnston, pictures by Hadley Hooper

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

A Small Thing . . .

but Big

by Tony Johnston
pictures by Hadley Hooper

A Neal Porter Book (Roaring Brook Press), 2016. 40 pages.
Starred Review

This is a quiet picture book with a gentle story — and utterly charming. I was scared of dogs when I was a kid, so I relate to Lizzie.

The book opens, with Lizzie walking into the park with her mother. The park reminds me of parks in Paris, with an ironwork fence and a fountain and flowers. She begins exuberant play — until she comes close to a dog, being walked by an old man.

The pace is leisurely, and the language is delightful. This covers several pages toward the beginning:

“Do not be worried,” said the old man of the dog timidly.

“Does she bark?” asked Lizzie with worry anyway.

“Not at little children,” said the old man.

“Does she bite?” asked Lizzie anxiously.

“Only her food,” said the old man, a bit anxious also, but with sparkle.

“Go ahead, give Cecile a pat.”

Feeling reassured, carefully, oh carefully, Lizzie patted Cecile.

Cecile sat soft and still. She seemed to enjoy those pattings.

“I patted a dog,” Lizzie said quietly.

“A small thing, but big,” said the old man, quietly too.

“Shall we walk Cecile?” he ventured in his quiet way.

Lizzie felt uneasy.

“Do not be worried,” said the old man. “Cecile will adore walking with a child.”

“She is quite adoring being with you,” the old man said shyly.

“How springingly she walks.”

Lizzie walked springingly too.

It continues, with progressively more steps that are small things, but big.

The artwork is what puts this book over the top. They’re in one park the whole book, so you might think it would be lacking in variety. But we get different angles and different scenes in each spread, and wonderful close-ups on Lizzie and on Cecile. I love where they are shown walking springingly, for example.

Lizzie’s face and bearing slowly gain confidence and joy as the book progresses.

The overall effect is light and airy and makes you feel like going for a walk in the park.

So lovely!

mackids.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 Henry & Leo, by Pamela Zagarenski

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

Henry & Leo

by Pamela Zagarenski

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 36 pages.
Starred Review

Pamela Zagarenski’s lush and detailed illustrations have taken some time to grow on me, but by now I love them. She’s consistent with some interesting quirks – characters so often wear a crown, sometimes hovering over their heads as if imaginary. I think of the characters as regal that way.

This is a story of a boy, Henry, and his stuffed lion, Leo.

Henry could never say exactly what it was that made Leo different. Perhaps it was his glass button eyes, which made him look as if he knew secret things. Or maybe it was his jointed and movable parts. I guess we can never really know what makes one particular toy more special than another. But from the moment Leo was given to Henry on his second birthday, the two were inseparable.

Henry’s sister thinks Leo isn’t real, but Henry knows better. When his family goes for a walk in the woods, Henry gets tired and accidentally leaves Leo behind. They don’t discover he’s missing until nightfall.

Henry insists they leave a light on for Leo, even though his mama explains that Leo is not real.

Then we see several wordless spreads of what happens that night in the woods. Many forest animals (all with crowns above their heads) including a large bear help Leo find his way home.

In the morning, Henry finds Leo close to the path right outside the front door. His sister and father looked there the night before, but Henry knows how Leo got there.

It’s a lovely warm book about friendship, with so much to notice and wonder about in the illustrations.

www.sacredbee.com
hmhco.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 Snow, by Sam Usher

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

Snow

by Sam Usher

Templar Books (Candlewick Press), 2015. 36 pages.
Starred Review

This is a sweet grandson-grandfather story about snow and about getting ready and about waiting. There’s a dose of imagination thrown in as well – or maybe just good plain fun.

The book begins with a boy waking up to snow! He can’t wait to get to the park. He gets ready quickly – but Granddad is still getting ready. So they’re not the first ones.

Granddad reminds the boy about a few things – his scarf, then his hat. But more people are ahead of them, getting to the park. The snow in front of their house is no longer untrampled.

Granddad was taking forever.
So I shouted,
“HURRY UP, GRANDDAD!”

And he said, “It’s OK, we’re not going to miss the fun.”

But we were! I told him all the cats and dogs were out there.

Granddad laughed and said the whole zoo was probably out there.

And then I saw something. . . .

I like the way, when they finally get to the park, there really are a bunch of zoo animals having a grand snowball fight with the kids. They all have a wonderful time, and the boy and his granddad agree that some things are worth waiting for.

I like the nice touch that the boys stuffed toys in the house before they leave are the same animals as we see later in the snow. So was it all his imagination?

Whatever it was, it’s lots of fun.

candlewick.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 They All Saw a Cat, by Brendan Wenzel

Sunday, December 2nd, 2018

They All Saw a Cat

by Brendan Wenzel

Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2016. 36 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Caldecott Honor Book

This picture book is a clever way to introduce children to the idea that other people – and creatures – have different perspectives.

We’ve got an ongoing refrain:

The cat walked through the world,
with its whiskers, ears, and paws . . .

Then we’re told that different creatures saw A CAT – beginning with a child, and then a dog, a fox, a fish, a mouse, a bee, a bird, a flea, and other things.

But the pictures give us a fanciful image of how each creature sees the cat. The mouse, for example, sees a frightening and fierce monster. The fish sees something large staring through the walls of the fishbowl. The bee sees something multifaceted with its multifaceted eyes. And the flea sees a forest of fur.

The language is simple and lilting, and the images are striking. But what’s absolutely brilliant is how much space it makes for conversation.

This is a lovely book presenting an important idea: Not everyone sees the world the same way. Yet it expresses this idea in a way even a child can understand, while also provoking further thought. Brilliant!

brendanwenzel.info
chroniclebooks.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 Sophie’s Squash Go to School, by Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf

Friday, November 30th, 2018

Sophie’s Squash Go to School

by Pat Zietlow Miller
illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016. 36 pages.
Starred Review

I so love Sophie of Sophie’s Squash! Sophie is a girl who adopted a squash as her best friend, Bernice. At the end of the first book, Sophie was delighted by the “birth” of Bernice’s children, Bonnie and Baxter.

The start of this book doesn’t explain all that. It shows Sophie walking into a classroom, hugging her two squash, with happy faces drawn on them. It’s not clear if the classroom is preschool or Kindergarten, though I suspect preschool. Sophie’s parents tell her she’s going to have lots of fun and make lots of friends.

But Sophie didn’t.
The chairs were uncomfortable.
The milk tasted funny.
And no one appreciated her two best friends, Bonnie and Baxter.

“Are those toys?” asked Liam.
“Do they bounce?” asked Roshmi.
“Can we EAT them?” asked Noreen.

“No!” said Sophie.
“No, no, no! I grew them in my garden. They’re my FRIENDS.”

As the book goes on, Sophie resists making human friends. They just don’t get it. But one boy named Steven is persistently interested and kind.

I like the way in the illustrations, Bonnie and Baxter slowly begin becoming spotty.

Still, Sophie knew Bonnie and Baxter wouldn’t last forever.

She starts thinking about doing things with actual people.

At the end of the book, after Bonnie and Baxter have been bedded down in the earth for the winter, an idea from Steven prompts Sophie to help show the whole class how to grow plant-friends.

I like the scene at the end:

But before too long, tiny shoots appeared.

Sophie and Steven did a new-plant dance and invited everyone to join in.

“See?” Sophie told Steven. “Sometimes growing a friend just takes time.”

This book doesn’t have the “instant classic” feel of the first. But Sophie still has the same firm (not to say stubborn) personality, deciding for herself who her friends will be. And it feels true to the character that she would grow up to be this way. In fact, she still reminds me of my young niece – who doesn’t necessarily make friends easily and believes she knows how things should be, but is ever so lovable because of (not in spite of) her quirks.

patzietlowmiller.com
randomhousekids.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 Goodnight, Numbers, by Danica McKellar

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

Goodnight, Numbers

by Danica McKellar
illustrated by Alicia Padrón

Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017. 28 pages.
Starred Review

Yes! This is the very best sort of counting book – with multiple things to count on each page.

For example, on the page for Four, the text says,

4
FOUR
Goodnight, four paws.
Goodnight, kitty cat.
Goodnight, four froggies
on the bathroom mat.

In the picture we do see four paws on the kitty cat, but also four stripes on its tail. We see four froggies on the bathroom mat, and we also see four rubber duckies in the room.

There are four shampoo bottles on the side of the tub, four toy turtles, four rolled-up towels, four stripes on the towel the dad is holding, four dots on the stool, and four bubbles in a framed picture (with framed spaces for ten things – this is consistent on each page).

Mind you, the rhyming text is simply nice, not stellar. But it’s not glaringly bad, either, which is an accomplishment with rhyming text!

The pictures are soft and sweet – and so many things to count! Another example on the Five page is the Mom has a necklace with five daisies, and each daisy has five petals.

The back of the book has a note to the parent/grandparent/caregiver reading the book. It points out the educational value, in case they missed it, and gives more ideas for bringing numbers into children’s lives.

This book would pair well with the bedtimemath.org website and app. They recommend doing math problems with your child at bedtime, as well as bedtime stories. This book is both!

This is a great way to talk about numbers and counting in a cozy and friendly way. It’s never too early to show your children that math is all around them.

McKellarMath.com
randomhousekids.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 Hannah and Sugar, by Kate Berube

Saturday, November 24th, 2018

Hannah and Sugar

by Kate Berube

Abrams Books for Young Readers, New York, 2016.
Starred Review

It seems like the texts of picture books are getting shorter and shorter. But that doesn’t have to mean the stories are left out. This book is an example of minimal text, with no unnecessary words, but a full story with a beginning, middle, and end.

The beginning words are repeated, and we understand that this is the routine, the way things are:

Every day after school, Hannah’s papa picked her up at the bus stop.

And every day after school, Sugar was at the bus stop waiting for Violet P.

Every day after school, Mrs. P. asked Hannah if she wanted to pet Sugar. [We see all the other children happily crowded around Sugar.]

And every day after school, Hannah said, “No, thank you.” [Even with the simplest of illustrations, we can see that Hannah is holding her papa’s hand and feeling hesitant about Sugar.]

Then one day, Sugar isn’t there. Sugar’s been missing since the night before. The whole neighborhood searches for Sugar, and variation in the illustrations shows how they look everywhere.

Now, it’s predictable what happens next. However, I like that before it happens, Hannah is sitting on her stoop watching the stars come out and has a reflective moment.

She listened to the sound of the trains in the distance and she wondered how it would feel to be lost in the dark. She decided that it would be scary and that if she were lost she would be sad and probably hungry.

So when Hannah does find Sugar in the bushes, with her leash tangled in the branches, we believe that Hannah will get up the courage to do something.

I like the description of their encounter:

Hannah closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

Then she gently reached out her trembling hand.

Sugar sniffed Hannah’s hand and rubbed her face along it.

The untangling of the leash is implied in the pictures, but what we do see is a happy Hannah and a dog who’s very glad to see her.

And it’s all wrapped up into a nice tidy bow with the new routine where Hannah gets off at the bus stop and Sugar is waiting for Violet P. and for Hannah, too.

This picture book works on many levels. Yes, it would be good for kids who are timid around dogs, but it also works as a simple story for any child with plenty of room for talking about feelings. The illustrations are simple, but convey worlds of emotion even so. (How do these brilliant artists do it, anyway?)

abramsyoungreaders.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 My Dog’s a Chicken, by Susan McElroy Montanari and Anne Wilsdorf

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

My Dog’s a Chicken

by Susan McElroy Montanari
illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

Schwartz & Wade Books, New York, 2016. 36 pages.

The stage is set perfectly in this picture book:

Lula Mae wanted a puppy, but Mama said, “Dog’s just another mouth to feed. These are hard times, Lula Mae. You’ve got to make do.”

Baby Berry sat on Mama’s hip. “Make do,” he repeated.

However, the family has plenty of chickens scratching around. Lula Mae seizes one and adopts it as her dog. Quickly, she shows that her dog Pookie is a good show dog, shepherd dog, and guard dog.

Mama is not convinced, and Baby Berry continues to echo what she has to say.

But when Baby Berry doesn’t repeat their words, they realize he has wandered off. Where could he be? When Pookie shows herself to be a good search-and-rescue dog, that’s when she wins over Mama.

I usually resist the rejected-animal-heroically-saves-the-day trope, but this one comes in such a delightfully silly package. I think it may be Anne Wilsdorf’s illustrations that win me over. I so loved Sophie’s Squash, another story of a little girl making an unconventional adoption. Anne Wilsdorf knows how to draw precocious free thinkers like Sophie and Lula Mae.

This book also has some fun repetitive elements that should work well in a story time. And the illustrator plays fair – if you look closely, you can discover where Baby Berry has gone while the rest of the family is frantically looking.

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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 I Just Want to Say Good Night, by Rachel Isadora

Monday, November 12th, 2018

I Just Want to Say Good Night

by Rachel Isadora

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2017. 32 pages.
Starred Review

This book makes me wish for a child to read bedtime stories to! (Though my co-worker is starting a monthly Pajama Storytime at our library. I’ll recommend this book.)

On the African veld, there is a village.
As the sun sets, parents tell their children,
“It is time for bed.”

The illustrations of the book are bright yellows and oranges and pinks, appropriate for the setting sun in Africa.

On the next spread, we focus in on one child.

Lala greets her papa, who has been fishing.
“Ooh! You caught a big one!” she says.
“Yes, it was a good day,” Papa says.

“It is time for bed,” Papa tells Lala.
“I just want to say good night to the fish,” Lala says.

Then Mama starts urging Lala to bed, as the sun gets lower, and the sky gets darker (but still orange), and the shadows get longer. Lala just wants to say good night to the cat. And the bird. And the goat. And the monkey. And the chickens. (Now the moon and stars are up.) And the little ants.

Through all of this, Mama’s calls have nice rhythm and realistic variety. ( “It is time to go to sleep!” “Come now!” “Oh, Lala!”)

“I’m just not ready to go to sleep,” Lala says to her dog.

When Lala finally gets into bed, she just wants to say good night to her book.

I love the tribute, because on the next spread, we see the book is the classic Goodnight, Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown.

“Good night, moon!” she whispers and smiles.

On the very last page, things are finally quiet, with the moon shining through the window onto the bed.

This book is simply lovely. The colors are bright, fitting with the setting sun. Lala has spunk, and I like the way her braided hair stands up in all directions.

Do you want to read a book to a child about another child prolonging bedtime? Well, it has lots of saying good night, and it ends with cozy sleep, so I think this one’s a winner.

www.rachelisadora.com
penguin.com/youngreaders

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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 Hens for Friends, by Sandy De Lisle

Sunday, October 21st, 2018

Hens for Friends

by Sandy De Lisle
illustrated by Amelia Hansen

The Gryphon Press, Edina, MN, 2015. 28 pages.

I’m dedicating this review to my lifelong friend Kathe, who had to campaign to get her town to allow her backyard chickens, as well as a nod to my sister-in-law Pam and Facebook friend Shannon, who have kept chickens.

This is a simple picture book story about a boy whose family got six chickens from a hen rescue agency.

I love them all, but Margaret is my best hen friend. When I sit on the ground, she jumps into my lap and tucks her head under my arm. When I stroke her back, she makes a funny sound, kind of like a purring cat.

The family almost didn’t get the hens because some people in their city didn’t want chickens there, thinking they’d bring rodents and diseases. The book shows how they take care of the chickens to make sure that doesn’t happen (including more details in a note at the back).

Basically, this book is propaganda for owning chickens! But it’s done as a charming family story. At the end, the family uses two of Margaret’s eggs for our narrator’s little brother’s birthday cake.

When the other hens aren’t looking, I give Margaret a piece of strawberry from Eduardo’s birthday cake. She gobbles it right up. “You’re special, Margaret,” I whisper in her ear. She makes a squawk that sounds just like “You are too.”

Mom’s right: our hens are lucky to have us. But I feel lucky to have them too, especially Margaret.

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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.

What did you think of this book?