Review of Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons, by Eric Litwin and James Dean

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons

story by Eric Litwin
created and illustrated by James Dean

Harper, 2012. 36 pages.
Starred Review

I’m afraid I resisted Pete the Cat a little bit. Even after our brilliant Early Literacy Coordinator demonstrated reading the book at a Youth Services meeting. It clearly will make a good read aloud, but I found out about it right before I was laid off from the library, and I haven’t done a storytime since. The second Pete the Cat book was Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes, and it was good, too, but I still wasn’t won over.

I was convinced enough that I had to check out Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons, and this time, yes, I’m completely a fan.

It’s got the same ingredients as the others: Teaching simple concepts and a song that repeats to which kids are absolutely sure to sing along. This time, the concept is math! Huzzah!

Here’s how the beginning goes:

Pete the Cat put on his favorite shirt with four big, colorful, round, groovy buttons.
He loved his buttons so much, he sang this song:

“My buttons, my buttons,
my four groovy buttons.
My buttons, my buttons,
my four groovy buttons.”

POP!

OH NO!

One of the buttons popped off and rolled away.
How many buttons are left?

THREE
3
4 – 1 = 3

Did Pete cry?
Goodness, no!
Buttons come and buttons go.

He kept on singing his song:
“My buttons, my buttons,
my three groovy buttons….”

You get the idea! It’s catchy, it’s got math, and it even teaches a lovely lesson in being content.

Best of all, silly me, I was surprised at what Pete found after every single button had popped off! A simply perfect touch, and I should have seen it coming. It’s definitely all good!

And the lesson at the end is one we will all do well to take to heart:

I guess it simply goes to show that stuff will come and stuff will go.
But do we cry?
Goodness, NO!
We keep on singing.

What better reminder than this catchy picture book?

Keep on singing!

petethecat.com
ericlitwin.com
harpercollinschildrens.com/petethecat

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

Review of The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan

by Katherine Applegate

Harper, 2012. 305 pages.
Starred Review

This book is already my early Newbery pick. This might change during the year, but the book itself is exquisitely crafted and told simply. You believe a real gorilla is telling the story, and you see his growth.

Ivan is a gorilla. “It’s not as easy as it looks.”

Ivan lives “in a human habitat called the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. We are conveniently located off I-95, with shows at two, four, and seven, 365 days a year.” That’s what the owner says when he answers the phone.

Also in the mall circus are an aging elephant, some sun bears, chickens, rabbits, dogs, and some parrots. The other animals do tricks for the people who come in to watch them.

Ivan is resigned to his lot. The janitor’s daughter, Julia, has brought him crayons. He draws pictures of things in his domain. The people don’t recognize them, but they are willing to buy pictures made by a gorilla. He is an artist at heart.

But things change to make Ivan no longer so resigned. A baby elephant comes to their little circus. She is very young, very curious, very talkative, and misses her family. We see Ivan change now that he has someone to protect.

But how can a gorilla in a cage protect anyone?

This book will appeal to a very wide age range. I’m often prejudiced against prose poems, but in this one, it seems natural, since you don’t expect complicated sentences from a gorilla. I am also prejudiced against present tense, but again, it seems like a natural way for a gorilla to tell us about his lot. After all, his life has hardly ever changed, and he’s telling us about it as it happens. As a prose poem, there is plenty of blank space on the pages and the story reads quickly, so the language won’t be an obstacle for less advanced readers. But the story covers issues that people of any age will care about.

The craft in this book is exquisite. We see Ivan grow, slowly and realistically, as he is confronted with situations that make him care, in spite of himself.

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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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?

by Mo Willems

Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2012. 36 pages.
Starred Review

Oh, Mo Willems is a genius! I never get tired of his books. This, in case you were wondering, is another book featuring the Pigeon. It’s got a lot of the same elements that worked in previous books, including a throwing-a-fit page. Toddlers, kids, and their parents will easily relate to this book and understand the problem right from the title page.

In fact, as you open the book, when you look at the title, you see the pigeon saying, “I do not like the look of that.”

Then, on the beginning pages of the story, the duckling asks, very politely, for a cookie. And gets one! With nuts!

Then the pigeon discovers that the duckling got a cookie just by asking (politely). This is obviously not fair, since the pigeon asks for things all the time. I especially like the part where he recites some things he’s asked for, like a walrus. (He definitely does not mention the Puppy.) He begins to get worked up. He rails at the unfairness. He throws a fit. He cries. He rages. He pouts.

And the ending? You may be able to guess, but it is absolutely perfect.

While being written on the level a toddler can relate to, this book has so much to offer older readers, too. And toddlers themselves will find so much to talk about in these pages. Those who are already familiar with the Pigeon will have fun finding the references to each of the earlier books.

I have a strong feeling that if I am ever a grandmother, I am going to feel the need to own a copy of every single Pigeon book to keep in my house for reading to the grandchildren. Of course, in the meantime, I get to read to library members. Even if you don’t run out and buy this book for your own toddlers and preschoolers (and, come on, you really should!), be sure to at least do them the favor of checking it out from the library and enjoying these new antics with them.

pigeonpresents.com
hyperionbooksforchildren.com

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

Review of What Animals Really Like, by Fiona Robinson

What Animals Really Like

by Fiona Robinson

Abrams Books for Young Readers, New York, 2011.
Starred Review

If you like silly picture books; if you like reading books that make kids giggle, this is just the book.

When a child is big enough to know basic animal facts, know how books use rhyme to give you hints, he’s going to appreciate the surprises here.

Mr. Herbert Timberteeth, a beaver, is preparing for a big event. There’s an elaborate fold-out of many animals assembled on stage, dressed in their finest. Mr. Timberteeth is the conductor.

The song begins, with the groups of animals singing:

“We are lions, and we like to prowl.
We are wolves, and we like to howl.
We are pigeons, and we like to coo.
We are cows, and we like to . . . *turn page*

“. . . dig.”

Mr. Timberteeth tries to ignore it and move on. The next page:

“We are monkeys, and we like to play.
We are horses, and we like fresh hay.
We are worms, and we like to wiggle.
We are warthogs, and we like to . . .

“. . . blow enormous bubbles.”

Eventually, the animals decide they aren’t going to sing about what Mr. Timberteeth thinks they like, but about what they really like. Thus, a truly silly song begins. It doesn’t rhyme, but the pictured antics are hilarious. In fact the silly details in the pictures will reward reading this book again and again.

Only for silly readers.

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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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of The Sniffles for Bear, by Bonny Becker

The Sniffles for Bear

by Bonny Becker
illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

Candlewick Press, 2011. 32 pages.
Starred Review
2011 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #8 Picture Books

Mouse and Bear are back! Honestly, I love every book Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton write. And Bear and Mouse have developed definite characteristics, to which they remain true.

Here’s how this installment begins:

“Bear was sick, very, very sick.
His eyes were red. His snout was red.
His throat was sore and gruffly.
In fact, Bear was quite sure no one
had ever been as sick as he.

“One morning, Bear heard a tap, tap, tapping on his front door.
‘Cub in!’ he rasped.”

Those who know Mouse and Bear will not be at all surprised when Mouse doesn’t appreciate the gravity of Bear’s situation.

After some false starts, Mouse does help Bear get upstairs to bed and does help him write his will. When Bear finally sleeps and gets better, it’s his turn to tend to Mouse.

This book will be most enjoyed by those who have already read the earlier books, because the fun comes from the interaction between fastidious, overdramatic Bear and the always cheery Mouse. This is also a perfect book to read to someone who isn’t feeling well. It will show that you fully understand the gravity of the situation.

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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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen

I Want My Hat Back

by Jon Klassen

Candlewick Press, 2011. 36 pages.
Starred Review
2012 Geisel Honor Book
2011 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 Picture Books

This book is brilliant. I was happy it won a Geisel Honor for a book for beginning readers, because it’s written in a way that makes it easy for beginning readers and tells a story that will delight them when they understand what’s happened.

I have a co-worker whose favorite picture books are ones where someone gets eaten. I made sure to bring this book straight to her when I checked it out. I also handed it to my teenage son to read. It’s the kind of book everyone enjoys.

The illustrations are simple and flat, with the eyes looking straight at the reader. The text is color coded for the speaker, with a bear walking through the pages looking for his hat. He wants his hat. He loves his hat. Each animal he meets, he asks, “Have you seen my hat?” After their various responses, he says, “OK. Thank you anyway.”

Eventually, after he’s lying down in despair, a deer asks him what his hat looks like. When he describes it, the bear — and the reader — suddenly remember where he’s seen it before. This moment of realization is portrayed so cleverly with a red page and wide open eyes.

Describing this book takes more words than are in the book — and reading the book is so much better. The ending is left ambiguous for the tender-hearted, but most kids will be proud to figure out what really happened. And you have to admit, the bear is repeating what was said to him.

I promise all ages will enjoy this book! Check it out and read it yourself.

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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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka

A Ball for Daisy

by Chris Raschka

Schwartz and Wade Books, New York, 2011. 32 pages.
Starred Review
2012 Caldecott Medal Winner
2011 Sonderbooks Stand-out: Picture Books #7

Here’s a truly wonderful wordless picture book. Chris Raschka portrays the heights and depths of emotion with simple painted lines and colors.

A Ball for Daisy features a little dog named Daisy. You can clearly see that Daisy loves her red ball. She plays with it, wags her tail when she catches it, and cuddles up next to it for a nap.

But when Daisy and her owner take it to the park, another dog begins to play, and he pops Daisy’s ball. Daisy’s sadness when this happens is unmistakeable.

Fortunately, there’s a happy ending as the other dog and its owner make things right the next day.

The pictures in this book are exuberant and varied, making the simple story great fun to read. The pages where Daisy’s trying to figure out what happened to her ball include shaking the limp casing, howling, and just being sad. The pages where Daisy is playing or sleeping reflect Daisy’s joyful and unworried existence. There’s a nice circular feeling as the end echoes the beginning, with Daisy cozying up to her new ball. All’s right in the world.

What child doesn’t know what it feels like to lose something? The story is universal, and can be “read” by the very young, yet will still fascinate older people with the beauty of the artwork.

I’m pleased with the Caldecott committee’s decision this year, as I have a feeling children will be enjoying this book for years to come.

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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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Other Books from 2011

I currently have 43 reviews I’ve written that are waiting to be posted, a stack of books waiting for me to review them, and more books I’ve read in 2012 now piling up. I began Sonderbooks when I was working half-time, and I reviewed everything I read (at least everything I enjoyed). I hate it when I can’t keep that up! However, now I’m working full-time, and last July, I had a stroke. Since then, I need more sleep than I did before. I also had more reading time, so I simply got farther behind. Worse, I still have not recovered. Last Thursday, I had a Transient Ischemic Attack (a mini-stroke) lasting only three seconds. But it means the Coumadin I’m taking is not effectively keeping me from strokes, and what’s more, now I feel awful and only lasted a half-day at work today. I’m up writing this in hopes it will make me tired enough to get some sleep when I go to bed.

Anyway, enough complaining! All that is to say that I read some great books that are sitting here waiting and waiting to be reviewed. I’m going to list them now with brief reviews, because they deserve attention and readers. But in the interests of catching up, I’m not going to give them their own pages on Sonderbooks. (Sigh.) I’ll go until my laundry’s done and see how far that takes me.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, by Jeanne Birdsall

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2011. 295 pages.

These first two books, I grant you, I read without having read the books that came before them. I read them anyway, because they were on the Heavy Medal blog’s Mock Newbery Shortlist. This book comes after The Penderwicks and The Penderwicks on Gardam Street.

Quite some time ago, I tried to listen to Penderwicks on audio and got several chapters in, but finally decided I simply couldn’t stand listening to the grandmotherly voice of the reader. Reading The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, at first I heard that same voice in my head and was very put off, but as I persevered, I got more into the story.

The basic story is the classic one of four sisters having fun together. In this book, the oldest sister, Rosalind, is having vacation separate from the younger three. So Skye is concerned about being the OAP (oldest available Penderwick). As someone from a big family, that bothered me a bit that one of the children should feel so responsible for her younger siblings. Parents, that is your job! Though their Dad is going on his honeymoon, so he’s not there, but they are staying with an aunt, for goodness’ sake!

However, that, too, I was able to get past. Once I settled in and enjoyed it, it was a lovely vacation story about three sisters having vacation adventures with their friend, a boy, and new friends they met in Maine. I have to admit I would have loved to read these books with my kids — if I had had daughters instead of sons. This is a nice solid middle grade story, but I do think better for girls than boys.

The Trouble with May Amelia, by Jennifer L. Holm

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 2011. 204 pages.

The Trouble with May Amelia is a sequel to Newbery-Honor-winning Our Only May Amelia. This is another solid choice for middle-grade girls, this time historical fiction set in Washington State in 1900. With this one, I was put off by the present tense voice, which I’m prejudiced against, and I didn’t already know the characters like most readers would have. However, I was still quickly pulled into the story.

May Amelia’s the seventh child and the only girl in a Finnish family whose father believes that Girls Are Useless. May Amelia wants desperately to believe that she’s not, but there are some things she’s not good at — like cooking and mending. The book covers plenty of entertaining adventures of pioneer life on the Nasel River.

Then a man comes around who’s got an investment that’s sure to make the family millions. May Amelia’s father has her translate. She does her best, and the reader can see that she does yet be fully aware of impending doom. In fact, lots of troubles befall the family, but through it all we’ve got an upbeat, very fun book to read. I am looking forward to reading Our Only May Amelia when I get there on my quest to read all the Newbery winners and Honor books.

The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E. B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic, by Michael Sims

Walker & Company, New York, 2011. 307 pages.

This one’s for adults. It’s a biography of E. B. White, and especially focuses on the parts of his life that contributed to the creation of his masterpiece, Charlotte’s Web. I wasn’t surprised to learn of the in-depth research he did on spiders while writing the book, and am all the more impressed by how well he wove those things into the story. I also was not surprised to learn that he had always loved farms and farm animals. That certainly is also obvious in his book.

Those who love children’s literature in general and Charlotte’s Web in particular will enjoy this book.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale, by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright, Drawings by Barry Moser

Peachtree, Atlanta, 2011. 228 pages.

Here’s another solid middle-grade choice, this time for boys or girls. This one’s definitely for people who like animal stories. It has a similar flavor to The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo.

The book is set at an inn which still exists today, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, at the time when Charles Dickens was a frequent guest. The main character is a street cat, Skilley, who loves cheese — and The Cheshire Cheese has the best cheese in England.

A resident mouse, Pip, and Skilley come up with a plan. Skilley will catch mice at the inn, but then he will let them go. In return, they will bring him cheese, and they will be allowed to stay at the inn. But this cozy plan has trouble when another street cat is brought into the inn. On top of that, there’s someone in the attic who claims the fate of the entire country rests upon his own fate. Meanwhile, Charles Dickens is looking for an opening for his novel about the French Revolution….

That’s all I have time for tonight, but I hope maybe I’ll have won these books some readers. Happy Reading!

Review of The Little Rabbit Who Liked to Say MOO, by Jonathan Allen

The Little Rabbit Who Liked to Say MOO

by Jonathan Allen

Boxer Books, 2008. 28 pages.
Starred Review

I was very surprised to realize I hadn’t reviewed this book yet. It’s been a favorite Storytime choice of mine ever since I found it in the New Books section in 2008. It’s absolutely perfect for toddlers and young preschoolers. They are generally quite good at animal sounds, and this throws in a nice twist.

Here’s how it begins:

“Little Rabbit sat in the farmer’s field.

“‘Moo,’ said Little Rabbit. ‘Moo.’

“‘Why are you saying moo?’ asked Calf. ‘You’re not a cow.’

“‘I like moo,’ said Little Rabbit, ‘and rabbits don’t have a big noise.’

“‘Can you make other noises?’ asked Calf.

“‘I like baa,’ said Little Rabbit.

“‘So do I,’ said Calf.”

You can guess how the book goes from there. The two cute little animals Baa together and a lamb comes to investigate… and so on. At the end, all the animals declare their favorite sounds, and Little Rabbit makes a surprising choice that will provide a laugh.

This is a happy book, with cute baby animals doing silly things and making the “wrong” sounds. Like I said, it’s a fantastic choice for Storytime, and would also be great for sharing with a little one who has mastered animal sounds and knows how the world works. They will especially enjoy the twist!

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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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of 999 Tadpoles, by Ken Kimura, illustrated by Yasunari Murakami

999 Tadpoles

by Ken Kimura
illustrated by Yasunari Murakami

NorthSouth, New York, 2011. First published in Japan in 2003. 44 pages.

I confess, I checked out this book because I thought it was a children’s book about numbers. It turned out to be a fun book about a whole bunch of baby frogs.

After 999 tadpoles were born in a little pond, a situation developed:

“The 999 tadpoles grew and grew and grew, until one day they grew into frogs. Now the pond was too small for them.
‘We can’t move!’ one called.
‘We can’t breathe!’ called another.
‘Don’t push!’ called a third.
‘We have a situation here,’ said Father.
‘We’ll have to move,’ said Mother.”

How Mother Frog and Father Frog get all their babies to another, bigger pond is a surprising and funny story. I love the matter-of-fact tone and the striking, simple pictures. I plan to use this book in a storytime soon.

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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 the Fairfax County Public Library.