Jenny's Library

Archive for November 2013

cover image for Sticks and StonesSticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon

Normally “fair and balanced” is code for believing in false equivalency – and is the opposite approach from what one might want in a factual book about bullying.  But Bazelon has clearly done her homework here, and her purpose in showing both sides of the bullying story is to reflect statistical reality (bullies are as unique as any group of individuals), point out that children’s actions are often being used to excuse misguided adult priorities (bullying is sometimes a contributing factor in many suicides, but untreated mental illness is a bigger contributor to the same suicides), and to explore what kinds of remedies are actually most effective (zero tolerance policies tend to make it harder to help kids).

There are a few times when her language veers a bit too closely to the often victim blaming advice traditionally given to kids being bullied, but on the whole it’s a very humanizing and illuminating investigation.  The chapters on social media and effective anti-bullying programs are especially fascinating.  Most importantly, the emphasis throughout on the importance of considering entire communities (not just the most obvious problem children) and the whole child (not just their interaction with peers)  is an excellent example of what “fair and balanced” journalism should mean.  Highly recommended for everyone, especially anyone who is at all responsible for the care of children and teens.

cover image for Let's Go For a DriveLet’s Go for a Drive by Mo Willems

Piggie and Gerald are going to go for a drive.  Gerald has the plan, and Piggie has everything else they could possibly need – except for one, small, thing…

Have I mentioned lately how much I love this series?  They’re clever and funny, of course – this book in particular – but I also absolutely adore how Willems uses repetition to help new readers gain confidence with unfamiliar words and font and character’s body language to help children become more expressive readers.

cover image for Fat AngieFat Angie by e. E. Charlton-Trujillo

Fat Angie, according to her mother, needs to lose 29 pounds. At least.  Fat Angie’s therapist says that she needs to stop projecting her feelings of animosity onto others.  Her classmates think she should have followed through on killing herself.  As for Fat Angie herself, she just wants her sister to make it home from the war alive.  But maybe what Fat Angie really needs is someone who looks at her and sees someone witty and clever and beautiful.

For a good portion of this book I wasn’t sure what to make of it, especially as the third person narrative makes it unclear if Fat Angie is being referred to as such because of her own thoughts or because the author is presenting Angie only as other people see her.  What makes it work in the end, and part of what makes the book so good, is that how Angie thinks of herself and how other people see her is often the same thing.  That’s how lost and detached Angie is from her own life, and it’s also a measure of how much she has internalized the hatred directed at her.  That she can still function and move forward in the midst of all this is a testament to her strength.

cover image for Nothing Can Possibly Go WrongNothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks

Charlie’s ex-girlfriend has convinced their school to buy new cheerleader uniforms – with the money that was supposed to go to the science team. Nate has a plan though.  All they have to do is win the 6th annual Robot Rumble and collect their prize money.  But first, they have to build a battle bot that will crush the competition. And convince their parents to let them spend Thanksgiving weekend at the Robot Rumble in Atlanta instead of eating dinner with their families. Nothing could possibly go wrong…right?

I love love love this book. It’s hilarious. It’s about nerds. And evil cheerleaders – that turn out to be not so evil. And friends. And family.  And teamwork.

Also, ROBOTS. Robots THAT FIGHT OTHER ROBOTS.

cover image for The Big Bad Wolf Goes on VacationThe Big Bad Wolf Goes on Vacation by Delphine Perret

Some kids are afraid of monsters hiding in their closet. Not Louis.  He doesn’t worry that something might be in his closet, he already knows that the Big Bad Wolf lives there.  This causes all sorts of problems, of course. Including the Big Bad Wolf insisting that he be taken along when he overhears that Louis is going on a trip with his grandfather.

Silly, unique, and sarcastic, this is one of the rare picture books that works better for older children rather than little ones. New readers may need help with the words, but can easily follow the pictures and will feel accomplishment in the use of chapters.  Older readers will find the comic like structure challenging but fun. Perret’s minimal sketches allow for personality and variation, but are uncluttered enough to keep their repetition from becoming chaotic or confusing.

cover image for I Need My Own CountryI Need My Own Country by Rick Walton, illustrated by Wes Hargis

Little brothers can be such a pain sometimes.  That’s when you need to take charge, and make a country of your own.  One he can’t join.

Hargis’s illustrations are well done, but the actual story is one of those that seems more for adults than for kids, who likely won’t be quite as entertained by this book as their parents will be.

cover image for A Good Night WalkA Good Night Walk by by Elisha Cooper

Evening slowly turns to night, as readers take a walk trough a friendly neighborhood.

Part of what makes Cooper’s books work so well is the way the illustrations giver personality to the text as the words explain the mechanics of farming, a day at the beach, or how ice cream is made.  While the illustrations here are wonderful, and the text is soothing, the two don’t work together in quite the way they often do in Cooper’s other books – they repeat rather than adding different information.

cover image for Quick as a CricketQuick as a Cricket by by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood

Are you as quick as a cricket? As happy as a lark? Or perhaps you are as strong as an ox.  Or maybe, like our narrator, you’re all of these things, depending on your mood.

With simple similes and rich illustrations, Don and Audrey Wood introduce young readers to a world rich in nature and imagination, as well as the idea that they can be more than just one thing.  This book is a classic for a reason; the sentences are lyrical and the pictures creative, while the message is both simple and profound.

cover image for Tumble BumbleTumble Bumble by Felicia Bond

A tiny bug takes a walk, but he’s not alone for long. Soon a while parade of critters joins him as they tumble bumble through the neighborhood – and into someone’s house!

Felica Bond is a whiz with subtle shades of color and engaging characters, as anyone who as seen her artwork for the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie series knows.  It turns out that she’s really great at rhymes and humor as well, making this book a classic story for little ones.

cover image for Sam's SandwichSam’s Sandwich by David Pelham

When Samantha asks her brother to make her a sandwich, Sam agrees – and decides to make her one with all the fixings.

The design of this book is rather clever and cute, and if it was just a story about a sandwich with creepy crawly things in it, I would love it.  The characters are both incredibly annoying though, as are the gender stereotypes they perpetuate for no reason.

10 of my favorite picture books for Thanksgiving, in no particular order.

cover image for Pilgrims of Plymouthcover image for 1621: A New Look at Thanksgivingcover image for Shrinking Days, Frosty Nights

Pilgrims of Plymouth by Susan E. Goodman

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Marge Bruchac

Shrinking Days, Frosty Nights: Poems About Fall by Laura Purdie Salas

thanksgiving+2cover image for 'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving

Thank You, Sarah by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Matt Faulkner

Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey

cover image for This First Thanksgiving Daycover image for Over the Rivercover image for Thanks for Thanksgiving

This First Thanksgiving Day by Laura Krauss Melmed, illustrated by Mark Buehner

Over the River: A Turkey’s Tale by Derek Anderson

Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes, illustrated by Doris Barrette

cover image for Balloons Over Broadwaycover image for The Apple Pie That Papa Baked

Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

The Apple Pie That Papa Baked by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Jonathon Bean

cover image for Jump, Frog, Jump!Jump Frog Jump by Robert Kalan

Fish, snakes, and mischievous children all want to catch the frog.  Jump, frog, jump!

The text for this book is just brilliant; it manages to use both pattern sentences and be a cumulative story.  However, the illustrations, while readable, leave much to be desired.

cover image for Good Night, GorillaGood Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathman

A zookeeper makes one last round through the zoo, saying saying good night to all the animals as he goes.  But watch out! The gorilla has a surprise for him.

This is such a fantastic story for preschoolers.  It’s not just that the jokes are obvious  enough even for four year olds – although that helps – it’s also because the repetition and engaging humor invites young children to try to predict what happens next.  Foreshadowing for pre-k!

Also, it’s just a tiny bit hilarious, particularly everyone’s expressions.

cover image for Ref-Eyed Tree FrogRed Eyed Tree Frog written by Joy Cowley, photographs by Nic Bishop

When the sun sets and other animals animals go to sleep, the red-eyed tree frog is just waking up and ready for breakfast.  But watch out, frog, or you might become someone else’s meal!

The detailed and close-up photographs are clearly what make this book, but the text is rather nice for a non-fiction picture book.  It’s not quite as clever as National Geographic’s Picture the Season’s series, but there is an actual story here and the sentences flow well enough to be read aloud to younger children.

cover image for Creature CountCreature Count by Brenda Huante, illustrations by Vincent Nguyen

Huante reworks the classic counting song, Over in the Meadow, to tell the story of a different kind of forest – one filled with dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures.

Ngyuyen’s animals are nicely done, but the backgrounds are flat, making the creatures feel pasted onto the page instead of part of their environment.  Still, Huante’s rhymes will keep you turning the page and humming along.

How Do You Feel? by Anthony Brownecover image for How Do You Feel?

Do you feel bored? Lonely? Happy? Silly? Or maybe you’re feeling sleepy.

I’m not a huge fan of Anthony Browne’s books to begin with, and quite frankly this little monkey is creepy.  It’s not an awful book, but I don’t recommend it, there are so many other better books about feelings to choose from.

cover image for A Kiss Like ThisA Kiss Like This by Mary Murphy

How does a mouse kiss? A fish? A giraffe? Like this!

Simple, but sweet. The illustrations are full of bold strokes, bright colors, and an overall childlike quality.  A good choice for valentine’s day – or just to let your little ones know how much you love them.

cover image for Good Night!Good Night! by Benoit Marchon

Good Night one and all! Everyone has a chance to say goodnight as the face in the cutout remains the same, but the pages turn to reveal all manner of people and creatures.  Unlike Spoonful, the face is easy to recognize as such and there’s no obvious gender stereotyping going on.  Overall, it’s cute and unique enough that I may have to add it to my staple of bedtime books to give to new babies.

cover image for SpoonfulSpoonful by Benoit Marchon

Everybody gets a spoonful!  (Of what, I’m not sure.)  As the pages turn, the people and creatures change, but the face (a cut out) remains the same.  Unfortunately, the personality that makes the illustrations so delightful also makes the meaning of the cut out shape less immediately recognizable.  Even worse, there’s quite a bit of annoying gender essentialism going on.  The pages don’t just alternate between a cat and then a dog, but also include (in order) a witch, a (male) firefighter, a fairy princess, and a (male) superhero.  No. Just…NO.  We really don’t need to presenting to toddlers that boys are heroes and girls are either witches or princesses. WTF?

cover image for I Say You Say Animal SoundsI Say, You Say Animal Sounds by Tad Carpenter

I say cat.  You say…MEOW!

With bright and unique illustrations, Carpenter makes use of a familiar, but popular, idea for little ones.  It’s the combination of repeating phrases and large sized flaps that makes this book stand out – together they both encourage children to complete the sentences and give them enough time to do so.

cover image for Surprise!Surprise! by Liesbet Slegers

A typical but solid “where is [baby]?” board and flap book for little ones.  I was especially impressed with the way the back side of the flaps were illustrated so that they blended in with the rest of the page, rather than simply being blank.  It’s a nice touch that is indicative of the care that went into making it a quality rather than a gimmicky board book.

cover image for Go! Go! Go!cover image for Let's Get Dressedcover image for Who's Hiding?

Go! Go! Go! by Scholastic

Things that go done in bright colors.  Pretty standard, except for the addition of textures and the oversized format, both of which help make this book stand out, but don’t quite make it a must buy.

Let’s Get Dressed by Caroline Jayne Church

Getting dressed has so many complicated steps for toddlers.  Thankfully, the chunky pages and flaps in this book are much simpler.  Also, I’m a sucker for cute, toddler-like teddy bears.

Who’s Hiding? by Scholastic

Cute “where is” type flap book.  The text is rhythmic and engaging. The illustrations are nice enough, but don’t stand out.

cover image for Baby Be Kindcover image How Does Baby Feel?cover image for Little, Big!

Baby Be Kind by Jane Cowen-Fletcher

Manners for toddlers.  Appropriate, but not brilliant.

How Does Baby Feel? by Karen Katz

Wonderful, just like all of Katz’ board books, with distinctive illustrations and big, sturdy flaps that should last longer than most.

Little, Big! by Amanda Wood

Tiny, chunky, board book about opposites.  Not very memorable.

cover image for When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When Miranda Sinclair gets a mysterious note asking her to pass on the location of her house key, her mother argues that it doesn’t mean anything. The note, found in a borrowed copy of A Wrinkle in Time, could have been intended for anyone – it might be decades old even. And the note can’t be related to Miranda losing her key two days earlier; why would someone who already has the key ask where it is?  But Miranda’s mom changes the locks anyway.  And Miranda wonders…

When You Reach me takes all the little, ordinary mysteries of being a kid and interweaves them with larger questions about independence, sacrifice, and loyalty – and the paradoxes of time travel.  It’s an elegant and enjoyable novel, meant to be reread, examined, and discussed.

cover image for BreadcrumbsBreadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Nothing in Hazel’s life is as it should be.  Her father has left and moved away to another city, her best friend’s mother is sick, and everyone thinks it’s strange that she and Jack are still best friends.  Even Hazel’s own mother keeps trying to get her to play more with other girls, instead of Jack.  Now Jack has stopped speaking to Hazel, and everyone tells her that just happens when boys and girls reach a certain age – but Hazel knows something else is going on, and it’s up to her to figure it out.

This was a decent story, but something about it just didn’t click with me.  I suspect I may have liked it better if I were more familiar with the specific fairy tales being referenced.

cover image for The ChangelingThe Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Martha Abbott isn’t smart, or pretty, popular, or athletic like her older siblings.  Ivy Carson isn’t quite like her family either, something Martha’s mother doesn’t quite understand.  But together, Ivy and Martha make a perfect pair.  And no matter how many times the Carson’s move away and back again, or how long it’s been since the girls saw each other last, Martha always feels more alive, more herself, when Ivy is around.

There’s just something about Snyder’s meandering way of telling a story, and her ability to capture the way that children imagine and play (aware that it’s pretend, and yet somehow also believing it’s real) that I absolutely adore.  I don’t know how today’s young readers would react to this book, but I enjoyed it a lot.

cover image for Everyone EatsEveryone Eats by Julia Kuo

With this single title Julia Kuo has joined my list of “female children’s book authors/illustrators to watch/who deserve more attention.”  It’s superbly done – so much so I’d love to have a larger version to read for story times.  The pattern sentences are by turns predictable and amusing and the illustrations are adorable, full of detail and texture yet bold and graphic.  Looking for something new for the little one in your life? BUY THIS BOOK.

cover image for RokkoRokko by Paola Opal

Rokko’s family is looking for a place to sleep, but can Rokko find the perfect spot?

The big selling point of Opal’s books is, of course, her adorable characters and  distinctive, rounded, and thickly outlined illustrations.  The story here is basic, and commonly used, but manages to not be tiresome despite that.