Review of Katie Loves the Kittens, by John Himmelman

Katie Loves the Kittens

by John Himmelman

Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2008. 32 pages.
Starred Review

I discovered this book when browsing through our New Books at the library for books to read at my Drop-in Storytime. I read it to the group, and believe I have found one of my new favorite picture books. This book, in both words and illustrations, is absolutely brilliant!

Katie is a dog, an exuberant, friendly, and loving dog, with a tail that is usually wagging vigorously. Here is how the story begins:

“Today was the most exciting day in Katie’s whole life! Sara Ann had brought home three little kittens.

“Katie loved those kittens so much. As soon as she saw them, she howled, ‘AROOOOOO! AROOOOOO!’ She always howled like that when she was very happy.”

Unfortunately, Katie’s enthusiasm frightens the kittens, drawn as tiny little fluffy things climbing to get away from Katie. Sara Ann has to scold Katie and tell her to stay away from the kittens until they get used to her. Poor Katie is sad.

Later, Sara Ann is playing with the kittens, and Katie wants to play with them, too. “She just loved them so much.” One of my favorite pages is the page of Katie trying to control herself. Her tail is wagging so fast it’s almost invisible, and her whole body is shaking as she tries to quell her enthusiasm.

“But Katie couldn’t stop herself any longer.

“She burst into the room. The kittens scattered.

“‘AROOOOO! AROOOOO!’ she howled as she chased them around the room.”

Poor Katie. More misadventures follow, springing out of Katie’s enthusiastic overflowing love. Another favorite part is when Katie walks into the kitchen the next morning.

“Three bowls of food waited for her.

“She ate the first bowl. Mmmm, this is good, she thought.

“She ate the second bowl.

“Yummyummyummyum, she thought.” [And you should see her tail wag!]

Of course, the reader has no trouble guessing who the three bowls of food were for! Poor Katie feels worse than ever.

So I’ve almost gotten you through the whole book, but I’ll just summarize the end by saying that eventually the kittens do get used to Katie, and Katie manages to control herself and let them get close. The final picture has Katie playing with the three kittens, with one of them caught up in her wagging tail.

This book is an absolutely delightful twist on the new-baby-or-new-pet in the house story. In this story, the “big sister” doesn’t resent the new pets, but she does have to learn to express her enthusiasm in appropriate ways. It’s a story that attributes emotions to a dog, and the emotions seem completely doglike and realistic.

I’d recommend this book to people with a new baby or a new pet, or to dog lovers. Of course, I’m not any of those things, and I love this book, so I will also recommend it to anyone who enjoys a picture book that tells a fun story with the perfect combination of pictures and words. This one will make you smile. And for reading aloud, you can easily get kids involved, joining in with Katie’s AROOOOOOs.

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

Review of Big Wolf & Little Wolf: The Little Leaf that Wouldn’t Fall, by Nadine Brun-Cosme

Big Wolf and Little Wolf

The Little Leaf that Wouldn’t Fall

by Nadine Brun-Cosme and Olivier Tallec

Enchanted Lion Books, New York, 2009. 28 pages.
Starred Review.

In springtime, Little Wolf notices a particularly sweet and tender green leaf high in a tree, and he asks Big Wolf to get it for him. Big Wolf tells him to wait. Eventually the leaf will fall.

In summer, the leaf is a shiny deep green, and in autumn it’s a lovely soft brown. Both times, when Little Wolf asks Big Wolf to get it, Big Wolf tells him to wait.

But when winter comes, there is one leaf left on the tree — exactly the leaf that Little Wolf wanted.

Big Wolf decides to get the leaf for Little Wolf. Is it worth the trouble?

This book is a lovely, heart-warming story of friendship and the beauty of nature. The pictures are impressionistic, with wolves quite different from other picture book wolves. I like the different perspectives the artist uses, making the quiet story all the more interesting.

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Review of A Birthday for Bear, by Bonny Becker

A Birthday for Bear

by Bonny Becker
illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

Candlewick Press, 2009. 50 pages.
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #4 Picture Books

A Birthday for Bear, is a follow-up to one of my favorite picture books, A Visitor for Bear. In the first book, Bear doesn’t like visitors, but persistent Mouse wears him down and shows him how nice having a friend can be.

Now it is Bear’s birthday. Unfortunately, bear does not like birthdays. He would much rather spend a day cleaning his house than celebrate his birthday. Or so he thinks.

In this beginning chapter book with four simple chapters, Mouse brings one thing after another to celebrate Bear’s birthday, until he finally realizes he doesn’t mind birthdays so much after all.

Once again, the delightful illustrations show Bear’s and Mouse’s emotions. The progression gets kids wondering what Mouse will do next. Even though this is longer, I’d like to see if it’s as big a hit at Storytime as the first book, which appealed to all age levels.

Bear and Mouse have definitely gained a special place in my heart.

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Review of The Lion and the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney

The Lion and the Mouse

by Jerry Pinkney

Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, New York, 2009. 36 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Caldecott Medal Winner
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #6 Picture Books

This stunning picture book is my pick for the 2010 Caldecott Medal. The amazingly detailed paintings tell the story of the well-known fable without words, the only text being animal sounds as part of the pictures.

Without words, I was surprised at what a success this book was at Storytime. The big, beautiful pictures captured the children’s attention, and there was lots for them to talk about on each page. The expressions on the faces of the characters show emotion beautifully. There’s lots of variety in the format, from close-ups to wide angle shots. It would take many readings before you had noticed all the detail in the backgrounds.

I got to hear Jerry Pinkney talk about writing this book at the National Book Festival. He clearly loves animals, and that comes across in this magnificent book.

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Review of Knitty Kitty, by David Elliott

knitty_kittyKnitty Kitty

by David Elliott

illustrated by Christopher Denise

Candlewick Press, 2008. 32 pages.

Okay, I’m a sucker for picture books with knitting in them. This one’s a simple bedtime story book with a cozy theme.

Knitty Kitty sits and knits.

Knitty Kitty knits a hat to keep the first kitten cozy, mittens to keep the next kitten toasty, and a scarf to keep the third kitten comfy.

But the kittens decide to use the new things on their snowman, so at bedtime they need something — or someone — else to keep them cozy, comfy, and toasty.

The solution is snuggly and warm with lots of “Night-night”s to send your child off to sleep. It just makes me want to have a sleepered child to snuggle off to bed with this book. The warm and cozy illustrations are just perfect. I hope this book is still around when I have grandkids because this will be a perfect book for the knitting grandma I will be to read!

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Review of Chicken Dance, by Tammi Sauer and Dan Santat

chicken_danceChicken Dance

written by Tammi Sauer

illustrated by Dan Santat

Sterling, New York, 2009. 40 pages.

Here’s a hilarious, completely fun tale of two chickens pursuing their dream.

Marge and Lola see a poster about the barnyard talent show, with top prize tickets to the Elvis Poultry Concert. But what can they do for talent? The ducks taunt them every step of the way, since chickens can’t swim, and can’t fly.

I love the way the ducks get their comeuppance and the chickens have their dreams come true — even without actually winning the talent show.

This story is short enough and full of action enough for preschool storytime, but also has plenty of humor for the parents to enjoy. I only wish I did a better Elvis voice.

Delightful! It will have you flapping and shaking.

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Review of Pigs Make Me Sneeze, by Mo Willems

pigs_make_me_sneezePigs Make Me Sneeze!

An Elephant & Piggie Book

by Mo Willems

Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2009. 57 pages.
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #3 Picture Books

I love Mo Willems’ books, and I try to refrain from reviewing every single one. However, this is the Elephant and Piggie book I got to hear Mo Willems himself read at the National Book Festival. Naturally, I bought a copy, and I certainly have to review it.

The more I read Mo Willems’ books to kids, the more impressed I get. I can be completely losing the kids at a storytime, but if I open an Elephant and Piggie book, I soon have them hanging on my every word. They’re funny; they’re easy to read; they convey all kinds of exuberant emotion with simple lines; and they often teach a lesson, too!

In Pigs Make Me Sneeze! Gerald (the elephant) finds himself sneezing as soon as Piggie comes around. He is heartbroken to realize that pigs make him sneeze, so he should never be around his best friend any more. Then Doctor Cat comes along with an alternate explanation.

My teenage son pointed out that this beautifully illustrates a basic truth: Correlation does not imply causation. It actually makes me wish I still taught college courses in Intro Statistics, so I could bring in this book to teach that concept in a memorable way. (I still say Mo Willems’ books are more effective than lectures.)

The summary of the book naturally doesn’t do justice to the humor of the illustrations, and the comic timing of the characters’ interactions. My son was also quite taken with Doctor Cat — He would like to see a new book about Doctor Cat; he said he’s as cool as Dr. McNinja, only he’s a cat. Can you tell that even a fifteen-year-old could not resist the charms of reading this book when I brought it home? This book is in a class far above your ordinary run-of-the-mill easy readers that make up a plot to use simple words. Truly a book for all ages, and great for beginning readers, too.

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Mo Willems reading Pigs Make Me Sneeze!
Mo Willems reading Pigs Make Me Sneeze!

Review of Toot Toot Zoom! by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

toot_toot_zoomToot Toot Zoom!

by Phyllis Root

illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Candlewick Press, 2009. 36 pages.

Last week I did a Drop-in Story Hour, where I read books to preschoolers for an hour. I used it as an opportunity to introduce the families to several of the picture books from our New Books shelf, without worrying about theme. By far the hit of the day was Toot Toot Zoom! by Phyllis Root.

Pierre is a fox with a little red car who lives at the foot of a sky-high mountain. You have to turn the book on its side to see just how tall the mountain is. But poor Pierre lives all alone, so he decides to go to the other side of the mountain to look for a friend.

The road up the mountain is a series of hairpin turns, so of course Pierre has to honk his horn at every curve. This is where the preschoolers quickly learn to chant along with you as you read: Toot! Toot! Zoom!

But around three corners, he finds an animal in the road. That sound effect is even more fun: Toot! Toot! Screech! Goat, Sheep and Bear decide to come along with Pierre. They cooperate together when the car breaks down just before reaching the top of the mountain. (Toot! Toot! Zut!)

But as they head down the other side, it turns out (no surprise) that the car has no brakes. The pictures of the disaster are most exciting, but all four animals reassure us that they are not hurt. At first, it seems a terrible outcome, but the four animals come up with an ingenious solution as they realize that all four have indeed found friends.

Perhaps our enjoyment of the story was increased because that day only little boys came to storytime. (They did not respond with nearly as much interest to a book about a princess. Go figure.) But this book was definitely tremendous fun for all of us to enjoy together.

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Review of Read It, Don’t Eat It, by Ian Schoenherr

read_it_dont_eat_itRead It, Don’t Eat It!

by Ian Schoenherr

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2009. 32 pages.

Ah, at last! With this simple book, I’ve found a delightful and fun way to talk with preschool kids on library tours how to treat books in the library. This book will be perfect! It gives the message in a quick and entertaining way.

The message is simple: Treat books nicely. For example:

“Don’t overdue it,
just renew it.
(Really, now, there’s nothing to it.)
Leave no trace
(or at least erase).
Don’t censor, delete, or deface.
It’s not a platter, or a stool.
Be careful with it at the pool.”

Of course, with the words alone, it wouldn’t be such a gem. The pictures make the book, with fuzzy round big-eyed animals doing outrageous things to library books, and one bear in particular trying to help them stop.

Kids seeing the book will definitely want to side with the nice bear and, like him, take to heart the message at the end:

“Share with a friend, a sister, a brother.
Now go out and get another.”

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Review of The Frogs and Toads All Sang, by Arnold Lobel

frogs_and_toads_all_sangThe Frogs and Toads All Sang

by Arnold Lobel

color by Adrianne Lobel

HarperCollins, 2009. 29 pages.

This book is based on a discovered treasure — a little handmade book that Arnold Lobel had given to Crosby Bonsall as a Christmas gift long ago. The book was black and white, so for this delightful picture book version, his own daughter filled in the drawings with color.

The frogs and toads in this book were created before The famous and beloved Frog and Toad. The book consists of ten short, sweet, and silly poems, each including frogs, toads, or polliwogs.

There’s nothing profound or tremendously significant here. But somehow, the poems beg to be read aloud. And when you finish reading the book, I am quite sure you will be smiling.

Very nice. And a lovely discovered legacy from a much-beloved author.

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