Review of Little Panda, by Renata Liwska

little_pandaLittle Panda

by Renata Liwska

Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2008. 32 pages.
Starred review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #7 Picture Books

“Just the other day, Grandfather Panda was talking to his grandson.

“‘I am going to tell you a story of a little panda and the tiger that flew,’ he said.

“‘But that’s silly. Tiger’s can’t fly,’ interrupted the grandchild.

“‘How do you know if you haven’t heard the story yet?’ asked Grandfather.”

Here’s a sweet and gentle story about a little panda escaping imminent danger and learning to listen to his mother. The muted colors and round characters remind me of Jon Muth’s Zen Shorts.

I definitely will be using this book in a storytime or two. It’s short for young listeners, but has cozy time with Mama combined with elements of danger and a fun twist. And you can find out how a tiger can fly!

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/little_panda.html

Review of Winnie-the-Pooh audiobook, read by Peter Dennis

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Winnie-the-Pooh

written by A. A. Milne

performed by Peter Dennis

Book published in 1926.  Blackstone Audiobooks, 2004.  3 hours on 3 cassettes.

Starred review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: Wonderful Rereads

I’ve already reviewed Winnie-the-Pooh at length and said how special it is to me: http://www.sonderbooks.com/ChildrensFiction/winniethepooh.html .

Although part of the specialness is that I fell in love with my husband while reading Winnie-the-Pooh together, I find that the book is still just as special even though my husband has now left me.  Winnie-the-Pooh has been part of my life much longer than he has.

I have checked out several cassettes from the library that I want to listen to before we end up getting rid of all our cassettes, and Winnie-the-Pooh is one.  (Though the same version is now available on CD.)  It was the perfect book to listen to while my son and I were making lots of trips back and forth while toting our possessions for a move across town.

Few things are as much fun as reading Winnie-the-Pooh aloud, especially with a group of enthusiastic readers.  However, when you are driving, you can’t read yourself, and this performance by Peter Dennis is the next best thing.  He is so exceptionally good at doing the voices of the characters, it’s a bit intimidating.  (Though I will not let that stop me.)

I was appalled to learn that my teenage son doesn’t remember most of the stories.  Surely I had read them to him enough times?  He learned to write his name P-O-O-H, for goodness’ sake! 

Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed listening to and laughing over them in the middle of the serious business of moving.  We will definitely have to do some Pooh readalouds together just as soon as we find the box where my copy is hiding.

You can’t ask for a better family listening experience than this version of Winnie-the-Pooh.  And I don’t care if your family is all adults or includes toddlers.  Those who are only familiar with the Disney versions may not realize the wonderful subtle humor and charm of the original books.  It’s hard to imagine anyone of any age not enjoying these stories.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/winnie_the_pooh_audio.html

Review of Down Girl and Sit: Bad to the Bone, by Lucy Nolan

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Down Girl and Sit

Bad to the Bone

by Lucy Nolan

illustrated by Mike Reed

Marshall Cavendish Children, 2008.  53 pages.

Starred review

www.marshallcavendish.us/kids

I delight to think of a beginning reader decoding this book and being rewarded all along the way with hilarious inside jokes.  Down Girl and Sit: Bad to the Bone has four chapters, so it is for a child already reading.  But the chapters are short, full of pictures, and laugh out loud funny in a way the narrator would never understand — but the reader does.

Down Girl tells us the story of how she and her friend Sit attempt to train their masters with simple concepts.  For example:  “Cats are bad.  Dogs are good.”

The reader knows that Down Girl is completely misinterpreting her master Rruff’s intentions, as Down Girl earnestly explains how she loyally carries them out.

Especially delightful and reminiscent of “Who’s on First?” is the chapter after Down Girl and Sit tried to be “bad to the bone” to get attention.  Their masters take them, along with another dog Hush, to Obedience School. 

Their poor masters are not very quick learners!  They keep calling Down Girl and Hush by Sit’s name!  Then they start using the name of some dog named “Stay.”

This could have gone on forever, but thank goodness a squirrel ran past.  We all jumped.  We barked and tried to chase him.  Our masters yanked on our leashes.

“Down girl!”  “Sit!”  “Hush!”

Finally!  They got our names right.  Now they might pass the class.

We looked to see if the teacher was smiling.  He was not.

Well, I can’t blame him.  We have been working with our masters for a long time.  We haven’t gotten very far either.

I wanted the teacher to cheer up, so I jumped up and kissed him.

“Down, girl!” he said.

Yes!

I wagged.  It is very, very hard to train a human.  But sometimes, just sometimes, they can surprise you.

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Review of The Shoe Bird, a Musical Fable by Samuel Jones

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The Shoe Bird

A Musical Fable by Samuel Jones

Based on the story by Eudora Welty

Performed by Jim Dale

Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz, conductor

Northwest Boychoir and Girls of Vocalpoint! Seattle, Joseph Crnko, conductor

Brilliance Audio, 2008.  1 compact disc.  1 hour.

Starred review.

A children’s story set to narration and orchestration?  What a charming idea!  This CD makes for lovely listening.  Jim Dale’s incredible performance, with such astonishingly different voices for different birds, makes for a delightful listening experience.

I’m afraid this is no Peter and the Wolf.  The story, about a parrot who repeats the line, “Shoes are for the birds!” and gets all the birds of the world to believe it, seems much more lightweight than Peter’s story.  The music, while nice, didn’t seem as memorable to me.  But then, I only listened to it once, rather than the thousand times I must have heard Peter and the Wolf.

However, it does provide plenty of opportunity for the orchestra to give different themes to different birds (as well as Jim Dale’s different voices).  There’s even a cat who threatens the birds, all weighted down with their new shoes.

And isn’t it nice to think that here’s a symphony orchestra experience to which you could send children, and they would hear something new!  As for me, it made a delightful and diverting change from listening to more serious books on CD as I drove to work.  Instead, I got lovely music, a silly story, and Jim Dale’s vocal gymnastics.  I hope that composers and orchestras and vocal actors and writers will do more of this sort of thing!  (Hmmm.  It takes a large cast to pull it off.  No wonder Peter and the Wolf doesn’t have more wannabes.)

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Review of Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems

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Are You Ready to Play Outside?

An Elephant & Piggie Book

by Mo Willems

Hyperion Books for Children, 2008.  57 pages.

Starred Review.

Sonderbooks Standout 2009:  #5 Picture Books

Geisel Award Winner 2009

http://www.pigeonpresents.com/

http://www.hyperionbooksforchildren.com/

Mo Willems is a genius.  I am currently reading several books that tell me it is not my circumstances that determine my happiness, but the story I tell myself about those circumstances.  I have heard sermons about contentment.  I have lectured at length to my children that complaining will only make them unhappy.

None of those things was remotely as effective as this book.  Not as funny, either!

Now, I was set up to enjoy this book.  The day before I read it, I was doing a quick run to the grocery store.  We had expected an ice storm, but instead we got nasty, cold, heavy, near-freezing rain.

I do not like rain in the winter.  I tend to think how much I would prefer snow.  Rain in winter is almost as cold as snow, but not as pretty, and not as fun.  It soaks into your clothes much more quickly, and doesn’t brighten a dark day like snow does.

As I came out of the grocery store, the fleeting thought crossed my mind that it was a shame I had to make a grocery run today.  Loading groceries into the car in the pouring, cold rain is not a fun thing to do. 

No sooner had that thought crossed my mind than I looked up and saw a mother and son walking toward the store.  The mother had an umbrella, but the little boy, about three years old, wasn’t paying any attention to staying under it.  He was positively dancing with joy at being out in the rain.  His shiny yellow boots splashed the pavement with zest, and you could instantly see how excited he was about this wondrous chance to go shopping in the rain!

Kind of put things in perspective for me!

The next day, this book, Are You Ready to Play Outside? came to the library.

Piggie is so excited about playing outside with Gerald!  They will run!  They will skip!  They will jump!  NOTHING will stop them!

Then it begins to rain.

It pours.  Piggie is NOT a happy pig.

Gerald, an elephant, first tries shielding Piggie with his ear, but it is still raining.  Piggie doesn’t see how anyone could possibly play outside with all this rain.

Then they see two worms come out, exuberantly happy, splishing and splashing in the rain.

They decide to try it.  They run!  They skip!  They jump! 

Piggie decides he loves rain!  He hopes it rains all day!

Then it stops. 

Piggie is not a happy pig.

Fortunately, Piggie has an elephant for a friend, who has a solution.

Of course, once again, what makes this book a masterpiece is Mo Willems’ amazing ability to convey emotion with his simple cartoon drawings.  For example, Piggie’s frustration over the rain is palpable.  And I never imagined that worms could look so joyful!  Elephant and Piggie turning somersaults and kicking up their heels in the rain proclaim complete exuberance.  Add to that the suspense of the early-reader language and timing, with each expression and emotion getting full page treatment, and you have an utterly magnificent book.

It’s funny.  It’s emotional.  And it conveys a life-changing lesson in a way that sticks.

What more could you ask for in an easy reader?

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/play_outside.html

Review of Millie in the Snow, by Alexander Steffensmeier

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Millie in the Snow

by Alexander Steffensmeier

Walker & Company, New York, 2008.  First published in Germany in 2007 as Lieselotte im Schnee.  28 pages.

Starred Review

http://www.walkeryoungreaders.com/

Millie’s back!  Hooray!

Millie the bovine mail carrier stars in a new silly story, this time about Christmas.  Originally written in Germany, I was delighted by the pictures, bringing back memories of German Christmases.

Millie no longer ambushes the mail carrier.  Now she assists him.  At Christmastime, they are busier than ever.  However, Millie has trouble finding her way home in the deep snow, and the packages lose their tags.

Once again, the hilarity of this book is primarily contained in the amazingly expressive illustrations.  As a bonus, along with the exuberantly illustrated main story, there are multiple antics taking place in the background.

Millie is not your typical cow, and this is not your typical Christmas book.

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Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/millie_in_the_snow.html

Review of I Will Surprise My Friend! by Mo Willems

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I Will Surprise My Friend!

by Mo Willems

Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2008.  57 pages.

Oh, I do love Mo Willems’ books!  I Will Surprise My Friend! is another easy reader about two friends, Elephant (named Gerald) and Piggie.  As with the Pigeon books, Mo Willems manages to convey all kinds of emotions with simple line drawings.  Adding a raised eyebrow here and a pointed toe there tell the readers exactly what the characters are feeling.

I’d like to try this book in a storytime, but it’s particularly suited for a child learning to read.  There are a few words on each page, and the pictures will give the child delight at deciphering exactly what is happening, and they will find it tremendous fun.

To start out, Gerald and Piggie see a squirrel hide behind a rock and surprise his friend.  The two squirrels are delighted.  This gives Gerald a great idea — they can surprise each other at the big rock.

Gerald and Piggie are both fully engaged in the fun of the planned surprise.  But when two people are both hiding, who’s around to get surprised?  There’s plenty of visual humor in this story, and of course the fun of seeing behind the scenes when both friends get surprised in a way they didn’t expect.

Hmm.  Describing it takes more words than are in the book!  I want to find a beginning reader to read this story to me.

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Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/i_will_surprise_my_friend.html

Review of A Visitor for Bear

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A Visitor for Bear, by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

Candlewick Press, 2008.  56 pages.

Starred Review.

“No one ever came to Bear’s house.  It had always been that way, and Bear was quite sure he didn’t like visitors.  He even had a sign.”  NO VISITORS ALLOWED

However, along comes an extremely persistent mouse, small and gray and bright-eyed.

This mouse thwarts all of Bear’s plans to keep him out.  The result?  Bear learns that maybe visitors aren’t so bad after all.

The story is simple, but the execution is exquisite!  The expressions on the faces of Bear and the mouse are delightful, beautifully conveying Bear’s anger, surprise, resignation, and eventual delight.

This is a fabulous Story Time selection, as the repetition gets the kids wondering where the mouse will pop up next.  I’ve already tried the book out on three classes of third graders, with great success, and I think it will do equally well with preschoolers.  This book is simply delightful.

This review is posted on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/visitor_for_bear.html

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