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.

Buy from Amazon.com

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

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.

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.

Buy from Amazon.com

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

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.

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.

Clickety-click.
Tickety-tick.
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!

Buy from Amazon.com

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

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.

Review of Thunder-Boomer! by Shutta Crum

thunder_boomerThunder-Boomer!

by Shutta Crum

illustrated by Carol Thompson

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2009. 32 pages.
Starred Review

I should have reviewed this book in the summer, when I first read it, and when I meant to review it. And that’s simply a reflection of how behind I am on getting reviews written.

This book is a positively wonderful expression of a summer storm. The illustrations and the text combine with the onomatopoetic expressions written in the pictures (Who’s responsible for that? The author or the illustrator or both together?) to transport you into a summer storm, complete with thunder and lightning and hail.

The book starts with an oppressively hot summer day. Mother fans herself with her hat (“Swish, swish, swish”) and puts her feet in the pond next to Tom who’s slapping his feet against the surface (“plap, plap, plop”), and says, “We need a thunder-boomer.”

We see the wind pick up. It catches the clothes on the line. The dog catches Dad’s underwear! The sky darkens ominously. I love the way Carol Thompson captures the way the colors of the day dramatically change as the storm approaches and leaves. Together, they catch the sounds of the storm, the drama and the emotions of the storm.

At the end, they discover a gift from the storm, a little kitten whose purr is like the voice of the storm.

This is truly a beautiful book. Okay, it’s a little more appropriate for late summer than for early winter, but the story is nice any time of year.

If I were choosing books for consideration for next year’s Caldecott, I’d definitely hope this one gets considered for an Honor for the beautiful way the watercolors evoke the power and spirit of the stormy day, with the rain even bleeding out of the picture areas into the white space, like water leaking into the house. (Oh, except reading the note about the illustrator, I learn that she lives in England, so she wouldn’t be eligible. Well, this book is a truly distinguished work of art.)

A wonderful cozy adventure of waiting out a thunderstorm in a nice safe shelter.

Buy from Amazon.com

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

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.

Review of Jeremy Draws a Monster, by Peter McCarty

jeremy_draws_a_monsterJeremy Draws a Monster

by Peter McCarty

Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2009. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #1 Picture Books

Here’s another picture book I’ve tested out at Storytime with great success. The monster definitely gets the kids’ attention, and the plot is short and sweet enough to keep it.

Jeremy lives on the third story of an apartment building. He never goes out.

One day, he draws a monster. The monster is not very nice. He demands that Jeremy draw more things for him, and doesn’t even say thank you.

The monster goes out, and Jeremy thinks he is free of him, but the monster comes back in the night and takes over Jeremy’s bed.

Jeremy’s solution for dealing with the monster is ingenious and just right. After he sees the monster off, the neighborhood children ask Jeremy to play with them, and he does.

I’ve been following School Library Journal’s Heavy Medal blog, discussing Newbery Medal possibilities, and the moderators suggested some picture books. Technically, a picture book can win the Newbery Medal on the basis of its text. However, I wasn’t impressed by the text of the two books suggested.

Rereading Jeremy Draws a Monster to write this review, I realize that I’ve found a candidate! The pictures are delightful and do add to the story, but you can read the text alone as well. In simple and spare language, it presents a plot — a troublesome monster that must be dealt with. There is character growth: Jeremy goes from isolation to playing with the neighborhood children. Even the setting of the third-story apartment plays a part. The style is spare and the theme of a lonely child finding human companionship is inspiring.

I confess, I still prefer that Newbery winners have stories that are more fleshed out, and I’d rather see this book win a Caldecott Honor. (The artwork is excellent, too, and I still think of the Caldecott for picture books.) But I want to point out that this book tells a poignant story in only 225 words.

Buy from Amazon.com

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

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.

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.

Buy from Amazon.com

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

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.

Review of Robot Zot! by Jon Scieszka and David Shannon

robot_zotRobot Zot!

by Jon Scieszka
illustrated by David Shannon

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2009. 40 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s another book I got to hear the authors themselves read at the National Book Festival. Okay, Jon Scieszka did the reading, but David Shannon did some awesome sound effects.

nbf10

Jon Scieszka enjoyed reading the book so much, I can’t help but like it. When I brought it home, I still enjoyed it, and I think it will be an outstanding pick for Storytime — plenty of great sound effects, nice drama, and inside jokes to point out in the illustrations.

The book opens with Robot Zot in his spaceship looking out at earth, ready to conquer.

“No one stop Robot Zot.
Robot Zot crush lot!”

But then as Robot Zot enters an earth building, ready to conquer, we see in the pictures that he turns out to be only a few inches tall.

He enters an earth kitchen and believes the appliances are enemy robots which he must conquer. Indeed, he conquers them.

But then a large sinister monster (the television set) offers a challenge in the next room. And in the children’s room he sees the bot of his dreams — a little girl’s toy cellphone. He must save her from the evil guardians (dolls).

Throughout the book, we hear of Zot’s bold conquests from his perspective, while the big, bold pictures tell another story of a suburban household with plenty of appliances and a curious dog, who ends up getting blamed.

Tremendous fun, and will definitely be featured at my next Storytime.

Buy from Amazon.com

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

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.

Buy from Amazon.com

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

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.

Buy from Amazon.com

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

Review of Bubble Trouble, by Margaret Mahy and Polly Dunbar

bubble_troubleBubble Trouble

by Margaret Mahy

illustrated by Polly Dunbar

Clarion Books, New York, 2009. 37 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #5 Picture Books

Here’s a silly story that’s simply good fun to read. It’s a mild tongue twister with a nice rhythm that makes a lovely read-aloud. In fact, the day after I first read it, I used the book as an opener for a baby program. I half-expected the babies to lose interest, since the words were mostly over their heads. However, the whole room — parents and babies — seemed to enjoy the book. The sounds of the words were enough for the babies, and the parents seemed to enjoy it, too. I’m going to use it again this week in a storytime for preschoolers.

The story is simple. Mabel blows a bubble, and her baby brother gets trapped inside and floats away. Various people with melodious names and activities see the bubble and follow, to the dramatic conclusion.

This book should not be read silently!

Buy from Amazon.com

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