Review of Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara


Ghosts in the House!

by Kazuno Kohara

Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2008.  28 pages.

This simple little picture book reminds me of years ago when my landlady effectively dealt with my son’s fear of ghosts by telling him that if one bothers you, to bite it on its bottom.  We decided it would taste like marshmallow.

This book presents a similarly nontraditional way of dealing with ghosts.

A little girl moves into a house that is full of ghosts, but fortunately she’s a witch and knows how to deal with them.  She catches them all, puts them in the washing machine, hangs them up to dry, and then puts them to good use all over the house.

This whole story is played out with simple language and happy, smiling faces.

There is some initial surprise when the first ghost shows up, but soon the girl says, “How lovely!  I hope there are some more!”

This is a cheerful and cozy story, showing that things people are afraid of aren’t always so scary at all.

The illustrations are creative.  It’s all in simple black and orange, with the ghosts showing up in a somewhat transparent white.

There are very few words on a page, and this would make an excellent story for very young listeners, for a friendly, reassuring, and cozy story about ghosts.

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


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

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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Review of The Scrambled States of America Talent Show, by Laurie Keller


The Scrambled States of America Talent Show

by Laurie Keller

Henry Holt, 2008.  36 pages.

A picture book about the States performing in a talent show?  In her earlier book, Laurie Keller showed what happened when the States got mixed up and tried to find their places again.  The States had so much fun interacting, they decide to hold a talent show.

The result is simply silly, and I can’t resist laughing over it.  Along the way, all kinds of facts about the states are presented, along with lots of inside jokes.

The acts are many and varied.  Delaware names all fifty states in order of statehood while jumping on a pogo stick.  Michigan does a ventriloquist act.  Minnesota saws South Dakota in half (though alert readers will detect that the left half is the color of North Dakota), and Mississippi and Nevada dance the tango.  I especially enjoyed the State Impersonators.  Wyoming and Tennessee impersonated Oklahoma, and Colorado and Florida did a great Idaho impression.

Extra fun was found on the end panels, where Vermont goes around asking states their abbreviations, for example:

“Hi, Hawaii.  What’s your abbreviation?”


“Yeah, hello.  What’s your abbreviation?”


What can I say?  This book struck me funny.  A nice silly approach to learning facts about the states.

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Review of Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, by Mem Fox


Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

by Mem Fox

illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Harcourt, 2008.  40 pages.

Starred review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2009: #4 Picture Books

I saw this book listed on more than one end-of-the-year Best of 2008 list.  I’ve loved Helen Oxenbury ever since my 20-year-old son was a toddler who memorized the text in her Tom and Pippo books and “read” the books along with me.  Mem Fox I discovered later, but have an extra-special fondness for her books, particularly Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild!

So I simply had to check this book out.  I was completely enchanted.  I will definitely be using this book at my very next Mother Goose Time for babies and parents.  The book is only a few months old, and already I find myself thinking of it as a classic no parent of a baby should be without.

There was one little baby who was born far away

And another who was born on the very next day.

And both of these babies, as everyone knows,

had ten little fingers

and ten little toes.

Mind you, the picture on the page with “had ten little fingers and ten little toes” shows baby hands and feet so precious you just want to eat them up!  (No one draws babies so utterly adorably yet lifelike as Helen Oxenbury.)

The book goes on, in the sweet rhyming cadence, to tell of babies from all over the world.

As each set of two new babies is introduced, the earlier babies look on as a kind of adorable chorus.

The final stanza is what clinches this book as such a delightful exploration between parent and baby:

But the next baby born was truly divine,

a sweet little child who was mine, all mine.

And this little baby, as everyone knows,

has ten little fingers,

ten little toes,

and three little kisses   [Here are the earlier babies are laughing in anticipation!]

on the tip of its nose.

What can I say?  I think this is going to get tucked in with the next baby shower gift I give.  Absolutely delightful!  Go to your library and look at the illustrations, if you don’t believe me!

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Review of Knock, Knock!


Knock, Knock!

Who’s There?

Jokers Welcome!

Jokes by fourteen wacky & talented artists inside!

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2007.  36 pages.

Okay, I’m not at all sure you’d want to give this book to any beginner reader that you have to live with!  The knock-knock jokes contained in this book are familiar groaners.  (Aren’t all knock-knock jokes groaners?  I’m curious:  Do they have anything like knock-knock jokes in other languages?  Do any of my readers know?)

The delightful part about this book, and what makes it fun for an adult to read once, is that it celebrates the magnificent art of fourteen exuberant and amazingly talented children’s book illustrators.

The fourteen illustrators featured are Saxton Freymann (Naturally, his knock-knock joke is “Lettuce.”), Tomie DePaola, Dan Yaccarino, Peter H. Reynolds, Sophie Blackall, Yumi Heo, Boris Kulikov, Brett Helquist, Henry Cole, Judy Schachner, Chris Raschka, Laurie Keller, David Small, and Jon J. Muth.

This book is a delight to read through.  And although it can get annoying, it will teach the classic knock-knock jokes every American child should know.

Come on in!

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Review of Millie in the Snow, by Alexander Steffensmeier


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

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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Review of Timothy and the Strong Pajamas, by Viviane Schwarz


Timothy and the Strong Pajamas

A Superhero adventure by Viviane Schwarz

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), New York, 2007.  32 pages.

Starred Review.

This is the story of Timothy Smallbeast.  He wasn’t big.  And he wasn’t strong.  (But he really, really wished he was.)

Oh, how I wish this book was around when my own son Timothy was the same size as Timothy Smallbeast! 

Timothy tries to make himself strong, but to no avail — until his favorite pajamas fall apart, and his mother fixes them.  She fixed them so well, they were now Super Strong Pajamas, with Patches of Power and Buttons of Braveness.

Fortunately, it’s the weekend, and Timothy is allowed to wear his pajamas all day, ready and equipped to come to the aid of all who need him.

When Timothy himself needs aid, there’s a wonderfully satisfying solution, springing from the seeds of the good deeds Timothy has sown.

This book is utterly delightful, and will definitely feature soon in a Storytime.  I can’t wait to read it to a child.  (It doesn’t count that I brought it home to make my own son Timothy read it.  He’s fourteen, and did a fine job reading it aloud, but we need a small child around to fully appreciate it.)

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Review of How I Learned Geography, by Uri Shulevitz


How I Learned Geography

by Uri Shulevitz

Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, 2008.  32 pages.

Starred review.

2009 Caldecott Honor Book.

When Uri Shulevitz was a boy, he and his family were refugees from Poland.  This vibrant picture book tells a simple story.  One night, when they were hungry but had little money, Uri’s father went to the market.  Instead of buying bread, he came home with a large map of the world that brightened up one wall of their little room.

Although Uri was angry, and hungry, at first, eventually he pored over the map and was caught under its spell.

“I found strange-sounding names on the map and savored their exotic sounds, making a little rhyme out of them:

“Fukuoka Takaoka Omsk,

Fukuyama Nagayama Tomsk,

Okazaki Miyazaki Pinsk,

Pennsylvania Transylvania Minsk!

“I repeated this rhyme like a magic incantation and was transported far away without ever leaving our room.”

This lovely book presents a simple idea in a beautiful way.

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Review of I Will Surprise My Friend! by Mo Willems


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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Review of Millie Waits for the Mail, by Alexander Steffensmeier


Millie Waits for the Mail

by Alexander Steffensmeier

Walker & Company, New York, 2007. 

First published in Germany in 2006.

Starred Review.

This book was originally written in German, under the title, Liselotte Lauert.  I want a copy!  This udderly (sorry) silly book was my absolute favorite of the Picture Books chosen for the Summer Reading Program.

Millie the cow waits every morning for her favorite time of day.

Because there was something Millie loved more than anything else —

Scaring the mail carrier. . .  and chasing him off the farm.

Millie spends each morning looking for a new hiding place.  The poor mail carrier has nightmares every night.  The poor farmer has all her packages arrive broken.

Millie must be stopped.

The wonderful silliness of this book (How on earth did Alexander Steffensmeier think of writing a book about a cow scaring the mail carrier?) is especially evident in the illustrations.  The look in Millie’s eye as she scours the farmyard for hiding places is priceless.  The page where Millie first jumps out and scares the mail carrier got a big reaction from the kids every time I showed it to them.  A big reaction from the adults in the room, too.

What can I say?  This book makes me laugh every time I look at it.  It doesn’t promote good, noble purposes.  But it is absolutely, delightfully, wonderfully Silly.

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