Review of A Spoonful of Frogs, by Casey Lyall, illustrated by Vera Brosgol

A Spoonful of Frogs

written by Casey Lyall
illustrated by Vera Brosgol

Greenwillow Books, 2022. 36 pages.
Review written September 21, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

I’m a big fan of the art of Caldecott Honor illustrator Vera Brosgol, and this picture book is full of her signature humor and charm.

In the set-up, we’ve got a nicely-dressed witch appearing on a cooking show, “Bewitching Kitchen,” demonstrating how to make “a witch’s favorite treat” — Frog Soup. After all the other ingredients go into the cauldron:

The last and most important ingredient is a spoonful of frogs.

This will add a kick of flavor and a pop of color.

But it turns out that getting frogs to stay on a spoon is not an easy task. And that’s what the majority of the book is about — chasing frogs, trying to get them on the spoon, with the frogs hopping every which way. When she thinks she finally has them — well, things don’t work out.

And it’s all good silly fun. Lots and lots of opportunities for Vera Brosgol to insert her wonderful visual humor.

Even though I don’t work in a library branch any more, I still look at a book like this and see wonderful opportunities for story time. I predict this will get a roomful of preschoolers or Kindergartners laughing.

Like Frog Soup, I recommend that you enjoy this book with friends.

caseylyall.com
verabee.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of The Legend of Iron Purl, by Tao Nyeu

The Legend of Iron Purl

by Tao Nyeu

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2022. 48 pages.
Review written September 7, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

Okay, how can I possibly resist a picture book about a knitting superhero? Especially one packed full with Tao Nyeu’s adorably cute fuzzy animals?

In this book, Granny Fuzz (a mole), tells stories to a bunch of little furries about the amazing Iron Purl, who singlehandedly fixed the wrongdoing of the outlaw Bandit Bob.

And Iron Purl does it with super fast knitting! She knits the bad bats into cocoons, stopping their plundering, and talks them into making a farm of their own. When there’s a fire at the carnival in a tree, soggy yarn balls put it out, and yarn helps rescue a little one in trouble, with knitted nets for anyone who needs to jump. Every time Bandit Bob tries to make mischief, Iron Purl’s knitting always saves the day.

But then comes the showdown!

Much to Iron Purl’s surprise, Bandit Bob was also skilled in the yarn arts. She had met her match, and she welcomed the challenge.

Of course there’s a happy resolution. But it’s all such silly good fun!

Every home that includes a knitter and children needs this book.

taonyeu.com

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Review of I’d Like To Be the Window For a Wise Old Dog, by Philip Stead

I’d Like To Be the Window For a Wise Old Dog

words and pictures by Philip Stead

Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2022. 48 pages.
Review written July 12, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This picture book is a beautifully illustrated nonsense poem, and it won my heart. The elephant in the illustrations reminds me of the author’s wife’s Caldecott-winning work in A Sick Day for Amos McGee.

How could I be the window for a wise old dog? I’m not exactly sure, but this book makes me want to be one, too. The Poetry is whimsical and rolls off the tongue. The pictures are lovely and somewhat fantastical, but especially lovable are the pictures of the wise old dog by the window.

Here are some of the lovely lines:

Will I ever be the dawdle of a penguin?

Will I ever be the waddle of a snail?

Will I ever be the tumble of a honeybee?

Will I ever be the bumble…

… of a whale?

And each line has big, bright, colorful pictures.

I never before wanted to be a window for a wise old dog, but this book sends my imagination into flight. I would so love to discuss it with a child — I bet their imagination would fly even further than mine. (This might be one to get for my nieces!)

philipstead.com

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How To Be on the Moon, by Viviane Schwarz

How To Be on the Moon

by Viviane Schwarz

Candlewick Press, 2019. 32 pages.
Review written April 23, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

How To Be on the Moon is an exuberant adventure of the imagination from the author of one of my favorite picture books, Timothy and the Strong Pajamas.

We start out seeing two characters playing, with no explanation of how they got to be friends. They’re playing a game in a room and Anna looks out the window and decides she wants to go to the moon. Crocodile has some practical objections.

“Hang on,” said Crocodile. “We will need special skills to go to the moon.”

“What skills?” asked Anna.

“Math. Without math, it will go wrong.”

“I can do math,” said Anna.

“Can you count backward?” asked Crocodile.

“Five, four, three, two, one,” Anna said. “Zoom!”

After some more obstacles overcome, Anna makes a rocket while Crocodile makes sandwiches. I like the way the rocket looks like a playground rocket, complete with a slide. After they blast off and are floating, they play “Crocodiles in Space”:

The rules were: If you caught all the parts of a sandwich, you got to eat the sandwich. If you caught anything else, it didn’t taste as nice.

They both won.

They have the fun of landing on the Moon and exploring. I love the quirky details like remembering to eat a sandwich before they put on their space helmet because it’s difficult afterward. After some wonder and joyful play, they decide Earth misses them and head back home. I like this bit of insight:

“Being far away feels just the same as being very small when you’re missing someone,” said Anna.

And here’s the exuberant finish:

“Earth!” said Crocodile. “We are on Earth!”

“We went to the moon!” said Anna. “It was almost impossible!”

“But we had the skills!”

“And now we are back home! You can stop worrying. Look, the Earth is everywhere! It is huge!”

“I’m not worried. You always stayed the right size,” said Crocodile. “That’s the main thing.”

“You too,” said Anna. “We are very good at that. Let’s go and check on the rest of the world, just in case.”

And they did.

Check this one out to see the joyful pictures for yourself. This would be fun to try in a preschool storytime.

candlewick.com

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Review of Mina, by Matthew Forsythe

Mina

by Matthew Forsythe

Paula Wiseman Books (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), 2022. 64 pages.
Review written May 20, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This picture book made me laugh out loud in several places.

Mina is a little mouse who loves to read. She’s always pictured with her head in a book or using art supplies. She lives with her father in a piece of wood in the forest.

On the first page, we’re introduced to her this way:

Mina lived in her own little world where nothing ever bothered her.

Except one thing.

We’re told that one thing is not her father, even though you’d think his ambitious projects would disturb her concentration. But no, we always see Mina lost in her book, doing her own thing.

However, Mina started to worry when her father brought home a big surprise. He says it’s a squirrel, since squirrels are bigger than mice and have long, bushy tails. But the reader can see what the mice don’t understand — the animal her father brought home is a cat.

Mina’s father keeps telling her not to worry. He knits a sweater for the squirrel. When the squirrel doesn’t eat and he thinks it might be lonely, he finds it two more friends.

How does this situation resolve? I’m not going to give it away, because it’s way too much fun to read yourself. I can confidently promise that you’re going to be surprised.

This is one I’ll be urging my coworkers to take a few minutes and read. Please do that yourself! I guarantee it will bring a smile.

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Review of This Book Is Not for You! by Shannon Hale, illustrated by Tracy Subisak

This Book Is Not for You!

by Shannon Hale
illustrated by Tracy Subisak

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2022. 40 pages.
Review written May 3, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

Oh, this book is wonderful! Don’t tell, but this is a message book — for the adults.

Shannon Hale has written many magnificent books, but several of them have “Princess” in the title, including her Newbery Honor book Princess Academy and her beginning chapter book series The Princess in Black. She’s been frustrated when adults tell little boys that her princess books are not for them, even though the Princess in Black has a secret identity and fights monsters. So this picture book points out how ludicrous that attitude is.

As the book opens, a boy named Stanley is happily biking to the bookmobile.

A book called The Mysterious Sandwich sat up tall on the display shelf. Stanley liked mysteries, and he liked sandwiches. Perfect.

But when he asks the librarian if he can check it out, a very old man is there in her place. (I appreciate this touch that the role of mean gatekeeper is not played by an actual librarian.) The old man looks at the back of the book and finds out it’s about a girl and tells Stanley he wouldn’t want to read it.

Stanley really did want to read it, but now he felt embarrassed.

His friend Valeria comes along, and she does get to read the book.

But things start getting silly when the old man finds a cat book but won’t let Stanley check it out. Instead, he gives it to a cat! And when Stanley asks for a robot book, he’s told only robots can read books about robots — and a robot rolls up and checks it out.

After another attempt to read an interesting book that has a girl as a main character, the old man gives Stanley a book to try and he goes over to the field where everyone who got a book is reading.

After that, some secretive trading happens, not only between Stanley and Valeria, but between the cat and the robot as well.

But as they are quietly enjoying books that were not authorized, the ground shakes because a dinosaur is walking to the bookmobile. The dinosaur wants to read a book about ponies. When the old man doesn’t dare deny the dinosaur’s request, Stanley gains the ability to speak up as well.

It’s all silly and delightful and shows how ridiculous it is to insist that boys read books about boys and girls read books about girls. Because who’s going to tell a dinosaur she can’t read about ponies?

shannonhale.com
tracysubisak.com
penguin.com/kids

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Review of Otto: A Palindrama, Jon Agee

Otto

A Palindrama

by Jon Agee

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2021. 144 pages.
Review written April 23, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This book is just so silly. But it’s irresistible if you like palindromes at all. I was sitting and chuckling over it in my office, and had to bring it out and share, which got my coworkers laughing, too.

This is a kid’s full-length graphic novel — in which the only printed text that appears are entirely palindromes. The result is very silly — but it all actually makes sense!

Here are some of the 200 palindromes that appear:

Was it a rat I saw?

No, Son.

Nate Bittnagel, elegant Tibetan.

[In a museum] Gustav Klimt milk vats? Ug!

[On a tombstone] Evil, atonal, racy Carla. Not alive.

Eva, can I stab bats in a cave?

No, Don.

I’m Al, a slob. My symbol: Salami!

Too hot to hoot.

This all happens while Otto is looking for his dog, Pip. And of course it’s the pictures that make it all make sense. It’s all extremely silly, but a whole lot of fun.

We’ll have some more Palindrome Days in March 2023, so this may be the perfect book to pull out for a program.

JonAgee.com
penguinrandomhouse.com

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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!”

>

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 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 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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