Review of How to Be Cooler Than Cool, by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Jean Jullien

How to be Cooler Than Cool

by Sean Taylor
illustrated by Jean Jullien

Candlewick Press, 2021. 36 pages.
Review written April 8, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

I’ve got a whole category of Delightfully Silly picture books, and this book fits right in with a story that makes my heart smile. I was already a big fan of these creators from their book Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise, and this book is equally quirky and wonderful.

As the book opens, Cat finds a pair of sunglasses. And they bring a revelation:

“You know what,” she said.
“I’m not just any old cat at the playground.
I’m a real cool cat who can glide backward down the slide, looking cooler than cool . . .
WITH EXTRA COOL ON TOP!”

But gliding down the slide doesn’t go as Cat had hoped, and among other things, the sunglasses go flying off her face.

Cockatoo finds them.

“You know what,” he said.
“I’m not just any old cockatoo.
I’m a supercool cockatoo
who can dance coolly along the seesaw,
doing the supercool cockatoo boogaloo!”

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But Cockatoo’s antics, too, don’t end up as cool as he’d hoped.

Some more animals get into the act, and the book finishes up with a wonderful message that it’s not about trying to be cool — it’s all about having fun.

But the fun part to this book is of course how it gets there — the expressive faces in the pictures, the comments in speech bubbles, and yes, seeing animals who think they’re cool having a downfall.

This book is more for Kindergarten through first graders than preschoolers, and if I were booktalking in schools this year, this would be on top of my list. It would also work great for family storytimes — or, okay, anyone who has five minutes to read it. Yes, this is the sort of book I push on my coworkers to make them smile.

Read this book! You’ll be cooler than cool if you do!

candlewick.com

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Review of Mel Fell, by Corey R. Tabor

Mel Fell

by Corey R. Tabor

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2021. 40 pages.
Review written July 10, 2021, from a library book
2022 Caldecott Honor Book

Mel Fell is a simple picture book with pizzazz. I love the way it plays with the format of the picture book to catch interest.

The book begins in an unusual position. You open the book with the spine up. Then we get a tale of a baby kingfisher named Mel who decides it’s time to fly. But when she stepped off the branch, instead of flying, Mel fell.

We’re zoomed in on Mel and see various creatures try to catch her – squirrels, bees, a spider – all to no avail. Then there’s a big “Oh no!” and Mel’s eyes that were serenely closed pop open.

But on the next page, there’s a big splash. Then we see underwater, where Mel catches a fish in her beak, and we’re cleverly asked to turn the book.

The rest of the book has Mel flying triumphantly out of the water (now with the spine of the book below the pages we’re turning) and up and up, past the creatures we saw on the way down, back to her nest.

It’s all fun and simple, with only a little text on each page, but a dramatic and easy-to-follow story.

An author’s note at the back explains that kingfishers dive into the water from trees. “A young kingfisher probably doesn’t catch a fish the first time they leave the nest. But then, Mel is a very special bird.”

coreyrtabor.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of 1 Smile 10 Toes, by Nelleke Verhoeff

1 Smile 10 Toes

by Nelleke Verhoeff

Barefoot Books, 2021. 24 pages.
Review written December 10, 2021, from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review
2022 Mathical Book Prize Winner, PreK

1 Smile 10 Toes is now one of my favorite board books. As with many board books, this one is part toy. All the pages except the last one are split in two, featuring a friendly imaginary animal all the same width in the middle. So you can turn parts of pages to mix and match the tops and bottoms and create many different kinds of creatures.

But the learning part is that each half-page has something to count. The only text is a numeral with the body part being featured. Some examples on top are 8 Feathers, 7 Curls, 3 Beaks, 5 Eyelashes, 4 Ears, 10 Spikes. Some examples on the bottom are 8 Toes, 9 Claws, 4 Feathers, 10 Hooves, 2 Thighs, 9 Fingers.

You can tell from the examples, the author didn’t worry about being conventional. I imagine that adults will get tired of counting things for kids long before a child will get tired of looking at these pages. I remember as a small child being fascinated with mix-and-match books, and this one has the additional bonus of teaching counting.

There’s no order to the number of things featured – all the numbers between 1 and 10 are featured, but in random order, which works well with the mix-and-match theme. You might want to wait to use it with a kid who knows that having 4 ears is silly.

No matter what, it’s a lovely way to give a small child endless things to count.

barefootbooks.com

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Review of Pax: Journey Home, by Sara Pennypacker

Pax

Journey Home

by Sara Pennypacker
illustrated by Jon Klassen

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2021. 247 pages.
Review written October 16, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
2021 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #6 Children’s Fiction

Wonderful! A sequel to the beautiful book Pax, which is about a boy and his fox, separated by the boy’s father and trying to reach each other despite perilous obstacles — and a war.

In Journey Home, the war is over, but devastation has been left behind. Among that devastation, Peter’s father was killed in the war. And for the wildlife, rivers and streams and a reservoir were polluted. The entire town where Peter had lived when his parents were alive was abandoned.

This is a sequel, and you should read Pax first. I will try not to give away what happens in the first book, but Peter and Pax are again on quests that make them encounter each other.

Pax has a family now, but humans are encroaching too near, and he wants to find them a new den. However, in his search, his most adventurous kit comes along, and they have to take a roundabout path because of more humans.

Peter has lost his family — his father died in the war, on top of the loss of his mother before the first book started. Vola sees him as family, but Peter has learned that it’s better not to love — you’ll only lose them and get hurt again. He goes off to join the Junior Water Warriors, who are spending the summer cleaning up the polluted rivers left behind by the war. Peter does not intend to come back.

But he didn’t expect to encounter Pax.

For awhile, I thought this book a little too bleak, but Sara Pennypacker pulls off a transformation in Peter’s heart with exactly the right touch — not too sentimental and not even too predictable or unbelievable. The result is a powerful and inspirational story of healing. Pax is even more firmly rooted in my heart than he was before.

If you didn’t catch Pax when the book was first published, you now have two books you really should read!

sarapennypacker.com
harpercollinschildrens.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 Chicken Little and the Big Bad Wolf, by Sam Wedelich

Chicken Little and the Big Bad Wolf

by Sam Wedelich

Scholastic Press, Spring 2021. 40 pages.
Review written March 8, 2021, from an advance reader copy sent by the publisher
Starred Review

In this book, Chicken Little, who is well known for leaping to conclusions, is knocked down by a wolf jogging by. It must be the Big, Bad Wolf! He’s certainly big anyway.

And when Chicken Little tells another chicken about it, the whole flock is all aflutter. What should their reaction be, fight or flight? And will either one work for a bunch of chickens?

While the flock is laying plans, Chicken Little decides to bravely investigate. She asks the wolf, “Are you bad?”

And the wolf answers:

Me? I don’t think so. I suppose we all have light and dark in us. . . but I try to make good choices if that’s what you mean.

It turns out that the wolf is a vegetarian, which made it hard for him to fit in with other wolves. After Chicken Little convinces the flock, they think of a way to make him feel at home.

It all adds up to a delightfully silly story about not jumping to conclusions and being willing to make others feel welcome.

scholastic.com

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Review of Nesting, by Henry Cole

Nesting

by Henry Cole

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2020. 36 pages.
Review written April 21, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

We’ve got this in picture books in our library, and the story is slightly fictionalized, but you can also think of this book as a child’s very first nonfiction book about robins.

The story is simple – a robin couple meets, builds a nest, lays eggs, and cares for them. The story is accompanied by Henry Cole’s lovely and detailed illustrations, mostly black and white, but with accents of robin’s egg blue.

There’s a bit of gentle drama in the middle:

Down below, a snake sees the robins’ nest. The snake is hungry, too, and climbs the apple tree.

The robins fight back! They dive and swoop!

They don’t give up until they drive the snake away.

We see the baby robins leave the nest and get ready to start their own home.

It’s simple science for young kids – and it’s soothing and peaceful to see a robin’s life cycle all laid out for you. Henry Cole’s wonderful art makes this book something special.

henrycole.net

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Review of The Word for Friend, by Aidan Cassie

The Word for Friend

by Aidan Cassie

Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2020. 36 pages.
Review written February 3, 2021, from a library book

This bright picture book tells about a young pangolin named Kemala who loves to talk. Her family moves to a new town and she’s looking forward to making friends.

But when she gets to her new school, all the children (animals) speak a different language. Kemala curls into a ball while they play.

Kemala is also good at cutting shadow pictures out of leaves with her sharp claws. She ends up making friends using this skill.

I enjoyed the way the author had the other animals speaking Esperanto in their speech bubbles. So it sounded like an authentic language, but every child who reads the book will understand Kemala finding the words strange.

It’s also fun how her new friend isn’t good at shadow pictures at first, but is willing to learn.

There’s information about Esperanto and about pangolins at the back.

A fun story about making new friends with some details that surprised me.

aidancassie.com
mackids.com

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Review of Three Little Kittens, by Barbara McClintock

Three Little Kittens

by Barbara McClintock

Scholastic Press, 2020. 32 pages.
Review written June 12, 2020, from a library book

This book really made me smile. It’s from the song “The Three Little Kittens,” and I think I love the book because I had a record of the song when I was a little girl and played it over and over.

The book uses pictures with speech bubbles to tell the story in the song. You couldn’t exactly sing at the pace of the book – since there’s plenty of extras – but all the lines are there.

The kittens are adorable and full of energy, and some mysteries are solved. Why did the kittens soil their mittens? Because the pie was hot, and they used the mittens to eat it and made a mess. When they wash the mittens, they also make a mess, but do clean it up.

And at the end when they smell a mouse close by? It turns out there’s plenty of pie for all, so they invite him to join them.

Maybe I mostly enjoyed this book because it makes me nostalgic, but the happy, exuberant kittens (and their messily eating pie with mittens) and their forbearing mother made me smile.

scholastic.com

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

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Review of The One and Only Bob, by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Bob

by Katherine Applegate
read by Danny DeVito

HarperCollins, 2020. 4 hours.
Review written July 25, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

The One and Only Bob is a sequel to Newbery-winning The One and Only Ivan. It doesn’t pack as much of a punch as the first book, but I’m glad it doesn’t. Because the first book had the characters fighting a bad situation, and I don’t want these beloved characters up against injustice again.

This time, though, they’re up against a hurricane. The little dog Bob, wonderfully voiced with attitude by Danny DeVito, was with his humans visiting Ivan at the zoo when a hurricane and then a tornado struck. Bob didn’t stay with the humans – in fact, he flew through the air. In the story that follows, Bob is involved both in rescuing other animals and in being rescued. He also does some coming to terms with his past.

I thought the summary of what went on in the first book went on a little long. Surely it’s safe to assume that anyone reading this book has read the earlier book. However, once it got past that, Bob’s a fun dog to hang out with. There’s a glossary of doggy terms at the front which have a very believably doggy attitude. The fact that Bob and Ivan used to watch the Weather Channel on Ivan’s little TV at the mall means that Bob believably knows quite a bit about hurricanes.

There were some coincidences, yes. But it all makes for a fun story, and it’s great to spend time again with Bob, Ivan, Ruby, and their humans. We root for resourceful, though small Bob as he takes on a hurricane.

katherineapplegate.com

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