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 Grandfather’s Dance, by Patricia MacLachlan

grandfathers_danceGrandfather’s Dance

by Patricia MacLachlan

Joanna Cotler Books (HarperCollins), 2006. 84 pages.
Starred Review

I love Patricia MacLachlan’s gentle stories of the Witting family. With simple language, easy for a child first starting chapter books to read, she conveys worlds of emotion and describes the complex bonds of a family.

Anna, who was once the child narrator telling the story of Sarah, Plain and Tall, is now grown up and getting married. Her young half-sister Cassie tells the story of the family coming together to celebrate.

Her little brother Jack is full of toddler quirks and funny expressions and has a special relationship with Grandfather, who is feeling old these days. Cassie wonders about weddings and watches the family come together, with the Aunts arriving from Maine. Papa buys a car, which delights them.

Hmm. When I describe the simple events that happen, it doesn’t begin to convey the worlds of emotion that Patricia MacLachlan pours into them.

This is another beautiful installment in a delightful series of historical chapter books. If you haven’t read them yet, begin with Sarah, Plain and Tall, and go on to Skylark, Caleb’s Story, and More Perfect Than the Moon. If you have read any of the earlier books, you won’t need me to persuade you to pick up this newest installment. Although they are simple enough for children beginning to read chapter books on their own, they are profound enough for adults.

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Review of Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe, by Susan Patron

maybeMaybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe
by Susan Patron
pictures by Dorothy Donahue

Orchard Books, New York, 1993. 87 pages.

I love Susan Patron’s Lucky books so much (The Higher Power of Lucky and Lucky Breaks), that I wanted to read her earlier book.

Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe is a beginning chapter book that gently shows PK, a girl in between two sisters, dealing with big changes with grace. This story is not as deeply profound as the Lucky books, but you can see some of the same storytelling seeds. PK has some of the same quirky individuality as Lucky, which makes both girls seem true and alive.

PK’s big sister Megan is almost a teenager, is Gifted, is getting hormones, and is changing in so many ways. She no longer comes to listen to the stories PK tells to her little sister Rabbit while Rabbit sits in the bathtub getting clean and wrinkled. PK finds the stories in the hamper where they’ve rubbed off people’s skin.

But Mama says they need to move to a bigger place, a place that won’t have the built-in laundry hamper. How will PK find the stories? Even her friend Bike is upset.

Based on Susan Patron’s Newbery acceptance speech, there’s a lot of her own story in this tale. Perhaps that’s what makes it feel so warm and genuine. A nice beginning chapter book about dealing with big changes with grace.

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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 Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig, by Kate DiCamillo

mercy_watson_thinks_like_a_pig.jpg

by Kate DiCamillo

illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Candlewick Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008.  74 pages.

Here’s another book perfect for a beginning reader who’s ready for chapters.  Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig has 15 very short chapters.  The pages are loaded with colorful, hilarious illustrations.

Mercy Watson is a pig, a porcine wonder.  She is treated like a person by Mr. and Mrs. Watson, but sometimes she indeed acts like a pig.  For example, when she smells the flowers her next door neighbors have planted, she can’t resist eating them.  This prompts Eugenia Lincoln to call Animal Control Officer Francine Poulet, who has never dealt with a pig before.

In the hilarious chain of events that ensues, you can be sure that Mr. and Mrs. Watson retain their shining faith in their sweet Mercy, and that there is plenty of buttered toast.

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Review of Down Girl and Sit: Smarter Than Squirrels, by Lucy Nolan

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Girl and Sit

Smarter Than Squirrels

by Lucy Nolan

illustrated by Mike Reed

Marshall Cavendish, New York, 2004.  64 pages.

http://www.marshallcavendish.com/

http://www.mikereedillustration.com/

With four chapters, lots of pictures, and lots of implied humor, here’s a book perfect for a child ready to read chapter books on his or her own.

Down Girl, a busy dog, narrates this book.  She and the dog next door, Sit, have an important job. 

Down Girl says,

“It is up to us to keep the world safe.  Sometimes Sit and I wish we had help, but we’ve gotten used to doing the job alone.

“The secret to our success is simple.  We are smarter than squirrels.

I don’t think people realize how many birds and squirrels are out here.  If they did, they’d never leave their houses.

Birds and squirrels steal almost everything in sight.  What they don’t steal, they eat.  They are very clever, but they are not as clever as we are.  Guess where we chase them.  We chase them up trees!

“You never see a dog in a tree, do you?  That’s because dogs are smart.  We know it would hurt to fall out.

“Birds and squirrels never remember this.  It’s easy to keep the world safe from birds and squirrels.”

Down Girl’s master is named Rruff.  It is obvious that Rruff loves Down Girl, since he shouts her name so often.

When a new creature comes to the neighborhood named Here Kitty Kitty, the dogs know their job has gotten more challenging.  Fortunately, Down Girl and Sit cleverly rise to the challenge.

A look at life from a dog’s point of view.  Lots of fun!

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Review of Eoin Colfer’s Legend of the Worst Boy in the World

worst_boy.jpg

Eoin Colfer’s Legend of . . . The Worst Boy in the World, illustrated by Glenn McCoy

Miramax Books (Hyperion Books for Children), 2007.  101 pages.

http://www.eoincolfer.com/

http://www.hyperionbooksforchildren.com/

It’s not fair.  Whenever something bad happens to Will, no one will even listen to him tell about it.  He has four brothers.  If he wants to complain about something to his Mom or Dad, there are usually at least two brothers in line ahead of him.

Will says, “All this complaining means that by the time Marty and I get home from school with our troubles, there is usually a little brother perched on each of Mom’s knees, moaning about their baby problems.  And even if, miracle of miracles, there is a free knee, Mom is usually on auto-nod by then anyway.  Auto-nod is when grown-ups don’t really listen to what a child says, they just nod every five seconds or so until the child goes away.”

Finally Will finds the perfect person to listen to him:  Grandad.  He makes a deal.  Grandad will listen to one sob story from Will each week, if Will will listen to one from Grandad.

So it seems like a great thing.  Only whenever Will thinks he really has a terrible story, Grandad completely tops him.  For example, one week the barber slipped when he was trimming the back of Will’s head with electric clippers and shaved a bald strip right up to his crown.  When he told Grandad about it, Grandad took off his cap and showed him where a shark had bitten him on the head.

Will was completely frustrated, so he decided to do some research.  It turns out that when Will was only two years old, his brother Marty, at three years old, almost managed to get rid of him for good.

What’s the worst thing a three-year-old could do to a two-year-old?  What plot would get him out of the house, away from Mom and Dad, and almost do him in forever?  That, my friends, is the Legend of the Worst Boy in the World.

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www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/worst_boy.html 

Review of The Cowgirl Aunt of Harriet Bean, by Alexander McCall Smith

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The Cowgirl Aunt of Harriet Bean, by Alexander McCall Smith

Performed by Charlotte Parry

Recorded Books, New York, 2007.  1 compact disc.  1.25 hours.

It’s always fun to listen to a British narrator, and it was a treat to listen to Charlotte Parry talking about the exploits of Harriet’s detective aunts, Aunt Thessalonika and Aunt Japonica.  In this book, Harriet learns that she has a sixth aunt she hadn’t known about, Aunt Formica.  Aunt Formica grew up on a ranch in America, and is a skilled cowgirl, but she has asked her detective sisters for help, and Harriet gets to come along.

The story is fun, reminding me of a traditional tall tale.  I love Alexander McCall Smith’s stories, but do think he does a little better when he writes about places where he has lived.  This story set in the American West struck me as highly stereotypical.  I certainly hope none of his readers would ever try to deal with a rattlesnake in the way that happens here!

All the same, this is a fun story and a quick read (or listen).  This could be an excellent choice for a child just ready to read chapter books on their own.  It’s not too long and daunting, but does have some excitement, as Harriet and her capable aunts deal with rustlers.

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/cowgirl_aunt.html