Thursday, December 25, 2008

Was that Christmas? By Hilary McKay, illustrated by Amanda Harvey

Bella and her cat, Black Jack, are too little to understand about Christmas. But when they are three, Bella is old enough to understand that something special is going to happen!

But the Christmas festivities at the preschool fall far short of Bella's expectations - and Santa doesn't bring a present for Black Jack! Naturally, Bella roars, "Was that Christmas?". Her mother reassures her that's just the beginning! There are many more things to be done - decorations, cooking, meeting with friends and family, until finally....

It's Christmas!

The illustrations are warm and cheerful and express the excitement and happiness of a child's first expectations for Christmas. This is a British import, so some of the traditions may be a little unfamiliar, but they are easily explained.

Verdict: A warm and lovely introduction to Christmas for the youngest of listeners, but the unfamiliar terms and traditions make this less useful. Fun to borrow, but no need to track down a used version.
ISBN: 978-0689847653; Published October 2002 by Margaret K. McElderry Books (out of print); Borrowed from the library

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

No! That's Wrong! by Zhaohua Ji, illustrated by Cui Xu

I disagree with the great Betsy Bird. Having finally gotten my hands on this book (I think it was in somebody's "catalog when I feel like it because it's going to be a pain" pile - I sure had piles like that as a cataloguer!) I find it is not as wonderful as expected. Funny underwear? Check. Lovely swashy watercolors and cartoony characters? Check. Marvelous expression of self-esteem and sticking to what you know is right....Ummm.

Well, they ARE underpants. Maybe a rabbit can get away with wearing them on his head, but I don't see any kids doing that. Actually, one could say it's an example of mass ignorance and peer pressure gone wrong as all the animals insist in supporting the rabbit in his error. Ok, Ok, I'm probably being a little anal (former cataloger here, remember?) but it irritates me when characters who like things to be "right", organized, orderly, etc. are cast as the villains. Organization and style? Uhh. Ok, maybe it's just me, but I read it several times before I got the whole narrator thing.

And when the donkey first appeared, I thought two people were talking, "What are you doing? Why are you wearing underpants on your head? [space] It's not a hat. They're underpants." And really, who says "underpants"? But it is a funny book, maybe I just read it too early in the morning to get it....and I'm probably prejudiced by the whole "support the rabbit in his error and come out looking wonderful" thing. I think we need more books where perfectionists don't realize the errors of their ways and suddenly become all free and arty but where the free arty types realize they can't find anything and the perfectionists were RIGHT ALL ALONG


Definitely need more sleep.

Verdict: Buy it if you need more underwear books. And who doesn't?

ISBN: 978-1933605661; Published March 2008 by Kane Miller; Borrowed from the library

Monday, December 22, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: Science Warriors: The battle against invasive species by Sneed B. Collard III

This is the fascinating story about a modern war - the fight against invasive species. Using several main examples - fire ants, melaleuca trees, zebra mussels, and brown tree snakes, Collard shows how non-native species can devastate the landscape and how scientists are fighting back.

The book discusses past methods, such as pesticides and importing other species, and shows how sometimes the cure was worse than the disease. New methods of controlling and destroying invasive species are given, as well as how scientists study and test the new ideas. There are plenty of photographs, information sidebars, and resources, including how everyday people can help.

Verdict: An excellent addition to the Scientists in the Field series, suitable for older elementary up through middle grades and high school.

ISBN: 978-0618756360; Published October 2008 by Houghton Mifflin; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Friday, December 19, 2008

Winter Pony by Krista Ruepp, illustrated by Ulrike Heyne

Of all the stories of a girl and her horse - or pony, as the case may be, these picture books are my favorite. Set in Iceland, Winter Pony is part of the continuing story of Anna and the pony she has raised, Prince. Summer is approaching and it's time for Prince to join the herd in the summer meadows in the mountain. Will he survive without her? Will he still remember her when the ponies return for the winter?

Ulrike Heyne's gorgeous illustrations are perfect for this story of hope and friendship, capturing not only the rugged landscape and harsh living conditions but also the small beauties and everyday joys of the characters' lives. The magical illustrations and beautiful story make this an excellent choice for any age of reader.

Verdict: It is well worth the time to search out a used copy of this title. The lovely illustrations and simple, heartfelt story will be perfect for every child who longs for their own horse friend.

ISBN: 978-0735816916; Published August 2002 by North-South (originally published as Annas Islandpony, currently out of print); Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library; Added to my personal wishlist

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Catch that Crocodile and Tiger on a tree by Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Pulak Biswas; Elephants never forget, illustrated by Christine Pieper

I first discovered this author in Catch that Crocodile! While I admit the artwork isn't my favorite style, and my library patrons don't seem to be very interested in checking them out, when I've pulled the books and read them in storytime the kids love them.

Each of these stories has a strong rhyming pattern and include many opportunities to get the kids involved in the story, asking what happens next, trying to answer the questions asked by the text, etc. Elephants Never Forget also has excellent opportunities for practicing elephant toots and buffalo bellows. They each seem to follow a pattern of a misplaced animal - a crocodile in a village ditch, a tiger in a village tree, and an elephant among buffalos. The artwork is blocky and can be difficult to discern the actual pictures, although Elephants Never Forget, which is illustrated by Christine Pieper rather than Pulak Biswas, is more conventional. You may have to actively push these stories at patrons - but once they've tried them, they'll love them!

Verdict: I recommend Elephants Never Forget and Catch That Crocodile. Have a crocodile and/or elephant themed storytime and introduce your patrons to something different!

Catch that crocodile
ISBN: 978-8186211632; Published March 2008 by Tara; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library; Added to my personal wishlist

Elephants never forget
ISBN: 0618997849; Published March 2008 by Houghton Mifflin; Borrowed from the library; Added to my personal wishlist

Tiger on a tree
ISBN: 978-0374375553; Published March 2005 by Farrar Straus & Giroux; Borrowed from the library

Monday, December 15, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: May I pet your dog? by Stephanie Calmenson, illustrated by Jan Ormerod

The How-to guide for Kids meeting Dogs (and Dogs meeting Kids)

Scared of that barking dog around the corner? Worried about your preschooler trotting up to strange dogs? This cheerful book is an excellent guide for children who are nervous – or not nervous enough - around strange dogs.

 Narrated by “Harry”, a friendly dachshund, it reminds children to always ask before petting a strange dog, and teaches them how to approach an unfamiliar dog – and avoid a mean one! A handy and fun title for children and adults.

Verdict: A nice book on dog safety - if you already have a title on this subject, it's not something you need multiples of, but if you don't have anything, this is a good choice.

ISBN: 978-0618510344; Published April 2007 by Clarion; Borrowed from the library

Friday, December 12, 2008

There are cats in this book by Viviane Schwarz

Woweewow, this is my newest, favoritest book!

There are cats in this book. Not just any cats, three exquisitely curious felines - but they can't play alone! They need help turning pages, throwing yarn, being rescued, dried off, and tucked in! This is the best interactive picture book I have come across in, well, forever! The flaps and pages are designed perfectly to carry forward the experience and the brisk cheerful text complements the sprawling, brightly colored illustrations.

There's only one flap - the yarn - that I have doubts about surviving eager little fingers, otherwise it's very sturdily made.

I have so far read this book to: Two preschool storytimes, my aides, my director, my parent educator, two family storytimes, and my gaming kids. They all loved it (including the parents at storytime). It is with great reluctance that I give it up to the new shelf.

Woweewoww, what a book!

Verdict: Buy it for your picture book shelves. Buy it for your storytime collection. Buy two copies. Buy it for your friends. Buy it for yourself. Buy it for your family. I cannot recommend this book too highly!

ISBN: 978-0763639235; Published November 2008 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library; Added to my personal wishlist

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Big Chickens (series) by Leslie Helakoski, illustrated by Henry Cole

A few months ago, I nominated Big Chickens Fly the Coop for the my astonishment, I recently discovered it was a sequel! Here is the original Big Chickens for your delight.

Both this story and the sequel follow the same pattern. Four nervous chickens work their way through an astonishing number of alliterative verbs as they try to work up their courage. The first isn't quite as well-organized as the second, which has better repeating phrases, but it's still a tongue-twisting delight! These are ideal stories for read-alouds - as fast as you can, with lots of expression and the kids will giggle along! Henry Cole's bug-eyed chickens scuttle through the pages from disaster to disaster and finally strut home, safe and proud.

Verdict: Strongly recommended - you can never have too many great chicken books in your collection!

Big Chickens
ISBN: 0-525-47575-3; Published February 2006 by Dutton; Borrowed from the library

Big Chickens Fly the Coop
ISBN: 978-0525479154; Published January 2008 by Dutton; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library; Added to my personal wishlist

Monday, December 8, 2008

Night Shift by Jessie Hartland

This book follows various people through their night shift jobs; street sweeper, window dressers, DJ, security guard, newspaper printers, bridge painters, zookeeper, freighter captain, truck driver, road worker, baker, fisherman, tugboat captain, and waitress at an all-night cafe.

Unfortunately, the segues between each profiled worker aren't always clear and the pictures are confusing and cluttered. In addition, the choices of workers are puzzling – two different ships, but no policemen, doctors, or factory workers. Bridge painters seem rather far-fetched to me (although that may be because I've never lived anywhere with large suspension bridges...) and several of the professions, truck driver and ship captains for example, also work during the day.

Verdict: Mildly interesting and well-meant, but doesn't quite meet expectations. An additional purchase.

ISBN: 1599900254; Published October 2007 by Bloomsbury; Borrowed from the library

Friday, December 5, 2008

Marco Flamingo by Sheila Jarkins

Marco Flamingo has always wondered what it's like in the north for his friends, the snow birds. "What's snow?" he asks. "You don't want to know!" they reply. But Marco does want to he sets out on a journey to the north and discovers a wonderful new world of activities and enjoyment.

 The story is cheerful and rather pedestrian - although I give kudos to the author for not allowing the story to decline into the overused "character decides he's lonely for his friends" or "character decides home is best"; although Marco is joined by some friends, he's obviously quite happy on his own. The art is as cheerful as the story - deep luscious colors show Marco and all his friends first in their southern habitat, then Marco alone in all his winter activities. A fun story and enjoyable pictures.

Verdict: This title is also available as a bilingual text and is definitely worth adding to your Spanish collection, if you collection bilingual materials.

ISBN: 978-0979446252; Published September 2008 by Raven Tree; F&G provided by publisher through LibraryThing Early Reviewers; Sequel purchased for the library

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken, illustrated by Andi Watson

Joan Aiken's short stories are always bathed in moonlight - fantastical, horrifying, haunting, and gently humorous. In The Serial Garden, all the stories of the eccentrically normal Armitage family are collected for the first time - plus four new stories.

The cons: There are several disconcerting typos in the collection. Also, although it's implied in the introduction (at least to me) that the new stories continue the story of Mr. Johansen, this is not the case. The artwork is rather...odd. The cover illustrations of Harriet and Mark make them look like rather ill adults, while the black and white chapter heading illustrations are extremely childish.

The pros: This is Joan Aiken! The Armitages! Wonderful, magical stories, all together in one place! The four new stories are the chilling "Kitty Snickersnee", hauntingly tragic "Goblin Music", classicly Aiken "The Chinese Dragon", and "Don't Go Fishing on Witches' Day" which shows Mark and Harriet moving into the future.

Verdict: Sadly, Joan Aiken has fallen out of style with most modern children. Poor things, they have deprived childhoods and don't know it. However, if you take the time to booktalk it to those certain kids who will appreciate it, there will be an audience. If you have the budget for a little indulgence, go for it!

ISBN: 978-1931520577; Published October 2008 by Big Mouth House; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library; Purchased for my private collection

Monday, December 1, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: Not Just Tutus by Rachel Isadora

Isadora's charming illustrations show the hard work and pain behind the magic on stage of the ballet. The rhyme scheme is a little forced at times, but the pictures and story are well-matched, showing various children working their way through blisters, upset stomachs, initial clumsiness, and badly-timed bathroom breaks to come together in a delightful performance.

Verdict: This older ballet title is well worth digging out if you have aspiring ballerinas in your family or amongst your patrons.

ISBN: 978-0399236037; Published February 2003 by Putnam; Borrowed from the library

Friday, November 28, 2008

Millie in the snow by Alexander Steffensmeier

Millie is back! In her last adventure, Millie Waits for the Mail, she discovered a new vocation as a "mail cow". Now she and the postman have delivered all the Christmas mail and she's on her way home with packages for her own family.....when she gets lost!

Millie's grim determination finally gets her back home - a little worse for wear! But what has happened to the presents? Oh well, everyone gets something they want....even if it's not quite what the giver intended!

The humor of the story is perfectly blended with the pictures. Millie is a heroine once again - and the chickens are as funny as ever! Be prepared to spend lots of extra time on the last spread, picking out all the presents!

Verdict: A must have for your picture book collection; perfect for winter, Christmas, snow, and other storytimes. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 978-0802798008; Published September 2008 by Walker; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library; Added to my personal wishlist

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: Two miserable presidents by Steve Sheinkin, Illustrated by Tim Robinson

I really enjoyed Sheinkin's first history book, King George: What was his problem? I liked the humor, the narrative style of the, er, narrative, the interesting tidbits of information, all formed into one cohesive whole. The cartoon-style drawings were ok, take 'em or leave 'em. This book is more of the same – a light sprinkling of humor, plenty of well-told historical facts, and a good narrative flow.

But, personally, I just didn't like it. For some reason, the style seems too...frivolous for the Civil War. Possibly because the American Revolution is older history while American society is still dealing with economic and social issues dating back to the Civil War.

But it's a well-researched, excellently designed, and intriguing account of the Civil War for the middle grade reader.

Verdict: Hand this one to middle grade readers who are being forced to research the Civil War and they may discover a new interest in history; this is, after all, "Everything your schoolbooks didn't tell you about the Civil War." Recommended.

ISBN: 1596433205; Published January 2008 by Roaring Brook; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Friday, November 21, 2008

That's Good, That's Bad! (series) by Margery Cuyler

Margery Cuyler's picturebook series, That's Good, That's Bad, lives up to its title. The first, That's Good, That's Bad, illustrated by David Catrow, is a wacky adventure that will have kids waiting breathlessly for the next disaster or triumph.

That's good.

Her second, also illustrated by David Catrow, That's Good, That's Bad in the Grand Canyon, is an equally excellent insanity, as the little boy's vacation in the Grand Canyon takes some strange turns.

That's good.
No, that's bad!

Because for some reason, the success of her second book apparently inspired her to write a third...and That's Good, That's Bad in Washington D. C. is not good - at all. Firstly, David Catrow's wacky illustrations are replaced by Michael Garland's flat and impersonal digital art, which is not at all inspiring. Secondly, Cuyler seems to have lost the thread of her transitions and events flip from good to bad without the logical progression of her earlier books.

That's bad.

Still, two out of three, is not a bad ratio, and those two are indeed enjoyable.

That's good.

Verdict: I highly recommend the titles illustrated by David Catrow, but give the third a miss.

That's Good That's Bad
ISBN: 978-0805015355; Published August 1991 by Henry Holt (there is a later edition still in print); Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

That's Good That's Bad in the Grand Canyon
ISBN: 978-0805059755; Published April 2002 by Henry Holt (sadly out of print); Borrowed from the library

That's Good That's Bad in Washington D.C.
ISBN: 978-0805077278; Published June 2007 by Henry Holt; Borrowed from the library

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oliver Finds his way by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Christopher Denise

Oliver is safely playing in the yard, when he chases a leaf off into the deep forest....and he's lost! But after his first panic, Oliver thinks....and comes up with the perfect idea to find his way home.

This simple story will resonate with children and parents alike, as Oliver takes his first steps to independence and children will enthusiastically join in Oliver's roar to help him find his way home.

Oliver is perfectly captured by Christopher Denise's artwork. A small, endearingly plump little bear, his facial expressions are solemnly depicted, from his delighted absorption in a colorful leaf, his fear at finding himself lost, and finally his stubborn determination to find a way home.

Verdict: Some overly sensitive parents will be worried that Oliver doesn't stay put when he realizes he's lost, but most library patrons will enjoy the sweet story and Oliver's clever solution of his problem. Recommended.

ISBN: 978-0763613839; Published August 2002 by Candlewick (sadly, it is now out of print); Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Monday, November 17, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: Living Color by Steve Jenkins

This animal-themed nonfiction picturebook showcases animals for several colors – red, blue, yellow, green, orange, purple, and pink. In each of these colors, Jenkins talks about where the animal's color comes from or what it means or is used for – camouflage, mating, warning, etc. Each of the illustrated animals has a caption to pique interest, then a longer paragraph explaining their color. In the back of the book, there are general explanations of how animals get their colors and more on what an animal's color means. In addition, there is a glossary giving details on each of the animals pictured in the previous color sections. An interesting book for browsing or for those interested in general animal characteristics.

Verdict: Steve Jenkins is always a reliable choice for nonfiction. This isn't quite as good a read-aloud as some of his other titles, but still a really excellent selection. Recommended.

ISBN: 0618708979; Published September 2007 by Houghton Mifflin; Borrowed from the library; Added to my personal wishlist

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Cow that laid an egg by Andy Cutbill, illustrated by Russell Ayto

Marjorie doesn't feel special. All the other cows are riding bicycles and doing handstands, but not Marjorie.

 In a burst of pity, the chickens sneak an egg into Majorie's bed. Suddenly, she's more special than anyone - and the other cows are jealous. Did Marjorie really lay an egg? Only time will tell, as they all wait for the egg to hatch....

The pictures are full of exuberant humor and wide wacky grins, as Marjorie, with the help of the chickens, finds herself becoming special after all!

Verdict: A light by wackily humorous tale. An additional purchase

ISBN: 978-0061372957; Published January 2008 by HarperCollins; Borrowed from the library

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Tale of Urso Brunov, little father of all bears by Brian Jacques, illustrated by Alexi Natchev

This is a wonderful book! Believe me, for I am Urso Brunov!

This has been on my reading list for a while, but somehow I never got around to it. Brian Jacques is well-known as the author of the popular Redwall series, and this picture book is an excellent example of his writing skills.

The story of Urso Brunov, Little Father of All Bears, has a rhythmic, folkloric quality to it. The repeated refrains and heroic quest of Brunov will draw younger children through the lengthy text while older children will wait breathlessly to see if Brunov conquers each new obstacle.

There are only three poems in the story (I am not a fan of Brian Jacques' poetry - I think it's poorly scanned and pedestrian) but they're not essential to the plot and can be easily skipped.

Verdict: A good story for a chilly winter night or to read in installments.

ISBN: 978-0399237621; Published September 2003 by Philomel (out of print); Borrowed from the library

Friday, November 7, 2008

Butterfly, Butterfly: A book of Colors by Petr Horacek

This is indeed a book of colors, as the subtitle says. The plot is thin: a little girl plays with a butterfly, but can't find it the next day, so she goes looking until it pops up (literally).

But the colors....a cheerful-looking little girl in a polka-dot dress, playing amid vibrant hues as animals and insects intersect through peek-holes (there's probably some official name for that, where there's a hole in the illustration and you turn the page and it's part of something else, but I call them peek-holes) ending in a magical surprise.

Verdict: If my library collected pop-ups, I'd get it!

ISBN: 978-0763633431; Published March 2007 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Before you were mine by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by David Walker

This sweet, gentle story speculates on what happened to a little dog before he was adopted from the shelter. Maybe his owners loved him but couldn't keep him. Maybe they weren't prepared for a puppy. But now he has a new home and is loved. There is an author's note at the back encouraging people to consider adopting from shelters. The illustrations are soft and warm and match the tone of the story.

I have one major caveat. One of the "maybes" says, "Or maybe one day they left their gate open, and you ran away and they never heard that if your dog runs away, you look for him...until you find him." Whoa, way to lay the guilt on! So, if a child's beloved pet runs away, and they spend hours calling, and ask all the neighbors, and put up posters, and call the local shelters, but still don't find him, it's your fault?

Verdict: This is a sweet book and excellent in most respects, but I wouldn't read it to a child whose pet has run away.

ISBN: 978-0399245268; Published September 2007 by Putnam; Borrowed from the library

Monday, November 3, 2008

My little girl by Tim McGraw and Tom Douglas, illustrated by Julia Denos

Yes, I know what everybody thinks about celebrity picturebooks. Actually, I had to look up Tim McGraw on wikipedia to figure out who he was, although I had guessed he was country music from the hat. I don't like country music.

I didn't really like this story either. A dad promises his little girl they're going to do something special, which turns out to be...just spending the day together. Yes, I know spending time together is important and all that, but that was a nasty thing to do to your kid. Of course by the end of the day it was the best time ever, etc. etc. The writing is, for lack of a better word, blah.

But there are gorgeously sweet illustrations. Julia Denos' swirling watercolors are exquisitely delightful and I hope she gets the chance to illustrate a better book someday...

ISBN: 140031321X; Published October 2008 by Tom Nelson; Borrowed from the library

Friday, October 31, 2008

Space Boy by Leo Landry

Space Boy is...a little spacey

Nicholas is off to bed...but it's just too noisy! So he climbs into his spaceship and takes a little pre-bedtime trip to the moon. After he's explored a little and had his picnic, he remembers the things he likes about home....and returns to a quiet house.

The illustrations are minimal and complement the simple text and matter-of-fact story style. This is a nice, peaceful story to read before bed - or to anyone who's ever dreamed of having a rocket.

There's just two little problems....The first sentence is "The moon shined brightly as Nicholas readied for bed." Huh? Are we talking the same language here? Seems to me it should be "shone". And who readies for bed?

Second little problem...the moon is a sort of sandy orange. Maybe to reinforce Nicholas' comparison to the beach but's always been my understanding that the moon is gray.

It's still an ok story, but those two little things really threw me....

Verdict: An additional purchase, too meh to recommend or say definitely cross out.

ISBN: 978-0618605682; Published September 2007 by Houghton Mifflin; Borrowed from the library

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Twelve Dancing Princesses and Other Fairy Tales by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, illustrated by Kay Nielsen

The original title (In Powder and Crinoline) describes this collection very well – the stories are written in an elegant and very formal style and the illustrations show the characters in extravagant ball gowns and elaborate hairstyles. This is not a scholarly collection; aside from the introduction by the editor which is mostly biographical information about Quiller-Couch and Nielsen, there is no background or source notes given for the tales in the collection.

This collection is designed to be read aloud to someone who can appreciate the elegant language and sly humor. The illustrations are integral to the Romantic nature of the text and heighten the touches of absurdity in the tales. There are twenty-four exquisite plates, but they are set in groups throughout the collection, so unless you want to flip back and forth this is not a good selection for a large group.

 I would recommend this for private enjoyment or to share with a small group of children – no more than five. Since much of the stories’ charm depends on the language, to tell them aloud you will need to spend extensive time practicing to be sure you can duplicate the feel of the text. This would be a good choice for a small storytelling/read-aloud with 8-12s who will enjoy the extravagant language or for high school students who have been studying the Romantic period in literature and enjoy Wilde and Nielsen. Caution if you are not familiar with Nielsen – there are several naked people in the illustrations, so consider your audience.

A brief excerpt: “The first thing she did on entering her room was to pick up the cabbage and throw it out of the window. But she was very much astonished, as she threw it, to hear a voice cry out—and seemingly from the heart of the cabbage—‘Oh dear, dear, dear! This will be the death of me!’—because in a general way cabbages do not speak.”

A few of the exquisite illustrations:

Verdict: A title for collectors, as there will be little call for it in the library, but if you are a fairy tale fan, this is a must-have.

ISBN: 0-517-67584-6; Published in 1988 by Portland House (originally titled In Powder and Crinoline and published in 1913) (currently out of print); Reviewed from and purchased for my personal collection

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mama and Little Joe by Angela McAllister, illustrated by Terry Milne

The velveteen kangaroo.

This charming picture book could easily be a Velveteen Rabbit for the younger crowd. Mama Ruby and Little Joe, two stuffed kangaroos, arrive at their new home, ready to fit in. But the new toys are stuck-up and unkind. "You mean you're secondhand?"...."We're tenth-hand!"

Mama and Little Joe are kind and helpful anyways....and when Little Joe is in trouble, the other animals discover what it means to have heart - something more important than fine stuffing.

The art is warm and cozy, just right for a feel-good story of love and happy endings.

Verdict: Not a required purchase, but a fresh alternative to the glut of overly sentimental gush that shows up in picture books. A nice theme without being overly didactic, and a nice story for a stuffed animal storytime.

ISBN: 978-0689872433; Published September 2006 by Simon & Schuster (out of print); Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Bearskinner: A Tale of the Brothers Grimm retold by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Max Grafe

According to the jacket blurb, this is "an eerie and haunting tale about the subtle but persistent struggle between the two sides of ourselves, and the heroic strength it takes to claim a victory." The reteller, Laura Amy Schlitz, says "I went in search of a story that would tell students that no matter how bad things get, you hold on."

Now, in case you're not familiar with it, the original Grimm story is a bit different than this retelling. In the original, a soldier comes home from the wars with no skills of use. His brothers kick him out, and he wanders off, finally sitting down on a hill and resigning himself to starvation. The devil appears and offers him a bargain - if he wears the skin of a bear he's just shot, doesn't bathe or cut his hair for seven years, and won't say the Lord's Prayer, he'll be rich the rest of his life. If he breaks the deal, he belongs to the devil. The soldier agrees, and off he goes. Of course, after a few years he's a filthy monster, but people tolerate him because of his wealth. One night, he meets an old man in an inn. The man's fortune has declined and he's impoverished. Bearskin pays his debts and the man offers him one of his daughters in marriage in exchange. The two older girls are horrified, but the youngest agrees to honor her father's promise. For three more years, Bearskin roams the world, doing good and asking people to pray for him. He wins his bargain and returns wealthy (and clean). The two older girls don't recognize him and are all over him now - but he spurns them and takes the faithful youngest daughter. The two older girls commit suicide, and the devil takes their souls.

In this retelling, the soldier returns from war to devastation. His family is gone and he has no hope. After he agrees to the devil's bargain (which cuts him off from all prayer), he cycles deeper and deeper into despair, until one day he helps a beggar and she prays for him. He realizes there is hope yet, and he begins to use his wealth to help others, asking them to pray for him. Eventually, he pays the debts of a gambler, who promises one of his daughters. The middle daughter says she believes Bearskin has a "good heart" and promises to be his wife. After Bearskin wins his bargain, he returns and claims his faithful bride.

The artwork is dark and filled with half-seen patterns and the pages around the text have a look of parchment. Each illustration is done in shades of black, gray, and brown, with the devil's green coat and the yellow and white butterflies, representing the prayers of the poor, the only lighter colors. The spread showing the cleansed Bearskin greeting his bride is in warm golden-browns and the final page shows the raging devil in black and greens.

I differ a bit in my view of this little-known Grimm story from both the blurb and the author. The original tale isn't especially strong on morals, except for not judging by appearances. However, in this retelling, I see a story of redemption. The soldier is without hope or family and has no reason to live when he accepts a deal with the devil. However, as he sinks deeper and deeper into a morass of despair, he discovers hope. Eventually, he is reborn through the removal of his filthy coat, showing the kind and generous person he has become underneath. I guess it still has a "don't judge by appearances" moral too.

Verdict: This isn't a casual read for younger children, but a story for discussion and re-reading with an older group.

ISBN: 978-0763627300; Published October 2007 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library; Added to my personal wishlist

Friday, October 17, 2008

Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll retold by Oram Hiawyn, illustrated by Ruth Brown

I think this may well become one of my favorite Baba Yaga retellings. Baba Yaga, a magnificently ugly and frightening witch lives with her jeweled toads. And one day, Horrid and Very Horrid push Too Nice out into the woods to bring them back one of Baba Yaga's toads. With the help of her magic doll, a gift from her dead mother, Too Nice escapes Baba Yaga and wins a toad...who promptly swallows Horrid and Very Horrid. And from then on, Too Nice becomes..."Just About Right."

The images of Horrid and Very Horrid are very similar to Too Nice - a little psychology here? Ruth Brown's illustrations are, as always, gorgeous. Lush earth colors and textures, set with sparkling jewels of color. Plus, this is the best reason for Baba Yaga's existence in any of the Baba Yaga tales....'"You are truly terrifying," her trusty toads told her. "I hope so," said Baba Yaga. "That's what I'm here for!"

Verdict: Sadly, this lovely edition is out of print. Hopefully you already have it on your library shelves; if not, it's worth adding to your personal collection.

ISBN: 978-0525459477; Published February 1998 by Dutton; Borrowed from the library; Added to my private wishlist

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

For Me? by Harmen van Straaten

For Me? Isn't for me.

Harmen van Straaten's Duck's Tale was a lovely book - engaging illustrations, a charming story, and a perfect ending. But For Me? just doesn't come up to the standard.

One day, Duck hears a knock at the door. Opening it, he finds a rose and an envelope with a heart. When he goes to visit his friends, he discovers they've all received the same thing. They argue about who "she" loves, then decide to pull the petals off a rose, "whoever picks the last petal is the one she loves." There are only a few petals left when....a little mole appears. Turns out, he's just shy and trying to make friends, and they all go off in the boat.

There are a few moments of goofy silliness, such as when they argue about who's in love, and the illustrations are the same lovely ones as in Duck's Tale, but this story just...falls flat. The different animals aren't separate personalities, as they are in Duck's Tale, and Duck himself has lost the charm of the earlier story.

Verdict: This is still a lovely book, although it pales in comparison with the first. A sweet and gentle read for Valentine's Day or "new friends" storytimes, but an additional purchase.

ISBN: 978-0735821637; Published December 2007 by North-South; Borrowed from the library

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Little Wood Duck by Brian Wildsmith

The Little Wood Duck is one of my favorite of Brian Wildsmith's many lovely picturebooks. The animals are perfect, the striped chipmunks, squirrels, speckled mother duck, and and her fuzzy ducklings swirl through a world of greens and browns with flowers like pompoms popping up beside them and cut-paper butterflies shimmering through the air.

But the writing....agh. Summary: Mother duck is very proud when all six of her eggs hatch. But one duckling only swims in circles. Everyone teases him. An owl flies by and points out that he has one foot larger than the other, causing him swim in circles. "About a week later" a hungry fox appears to attack the ducklings. They all hide in the reeds, except the youngest wood duck (Did I mention he was the youngest?). As he continues to swim in circles, the fox grows dizzy and "falls flat on his back." The ducklings are saved and they never tease their youngest brother again.

Um. Why doesn't his mother defend him when not only his siblings but every other animal is teasing him? A week goes by after the owl defends him (and why didn't the owl eat him?) and before the fox comes...did the owl's defense make the others stop teasing him? If not, then why do we need the whole owl portion of the plot (other than to see Wildsmith's cool owl - like an elaborately painted fence post). And the language is just....blah. "Young fellow?"

I would add this book to my pile of picturebooks from which I cut the text and retain the illustrations for artwork to adorn my walls.

Ooh, and the best picture is the spread with the lonely little duck, water swirling in circles around him, next to a stand of reeds bespangled with butterflies and tiny birds.

Verdict: Lovely illustrations, blah text. If you have fans of Wildsmith, it's worth getting this one, otherwise it's a good book for a private collection.

ISBN: 978-1595720429; Published January 2007 by Star Bright Books (reprint edition); Borrowed from the library; Added to my personal wishlist

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce

In which Evvy has her own adventures and everyone yells at her...

I tried last year to listen to the audiobook, but it just didn't work for me. Although I did really like the audio of Terrier, the voices on this one just felt wrong. However, I am not in general a big fan of audiobooks, so don't take my word as law.

This is the story of Evvy on her own (well, with Rosethorn), a very active volcano, and the choices Evvy makes about her life. I don't think it's quite as good as the other Circle books - the characters are a little flatter, and it felt like an inordinate amount of the book was focused on Evvy's interaction with the rocks, volcano spirits, etc. I think first person narration worked better in Terrier but in this story it leaves out a lot of information. However, as the book was written to be an audiobook, it probably worked much better in that format.

My only quibble is that I think Evvy got a raw deal. She's had a generally traumatic life, finishing up with a very nasty war in which she was tortured and her cats - the only thing remaining from her life before Rosethorn and Briar found her - are killed. Half of her "family" has left and she is stuck with Rosethorn, who is not anybody's idea of maternal or comforting. She is extremely miserable most of the ocean journey, because she is cut off from stones. She is forced to put up with Rosethorn's nasty companion, who not only fusses over her, discounts her experiences, and is stuck-up, he also says some extremely nasty things about her as a street orphan, she'll get kicked out eventually, etc.

Then, when she yells at a six-year old who is bothering her while she is trying to do some complex magic, this is obviously evidence that she is on the path to being a "destroyer", never mind the fact that another girl, Nory, yells at everyone and this is just evidence that she's hot-tempered.

Evvy stops the Volcano, nearly dies, and everyone, herself included, still feel she has to "atone." For yelling at the six-year old who then runs away.

Poor Evvy. Now, I don't say that Rosethorn's advice to her, based on her general attitude and behavior toward people, is uncalled for. But everyone's reaction to her yelling at a six-year old, who then does something stupid and disobedient is waaay over the line, imho.

Verdict: If you have fans of the Circle of Magic, you'll want to add this title. It's not a strong stand-alone, in my opinion, so if your Pierce fans prefer Tortall, I would skip this one

ISBN: 978-0545052641; Published October 2008 by Scholastic; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tommysaurus Rex by Doug TenNapel

I can't make up my mind about this graphic novel. Oh, not about the quality - it's good - but where one would put it in the library.

It's about a boy whose dog is tragically killed. He's going through a rough time just with growing pains anyways, and his parents send him off to his grandpa's farm for the summer. There he meets a nasty bully and makes a marvelous discovery; a tyrannosaurus rex. A live one. At first, the townspeople are terrified, but Ely manages to tame the t. rex, until the bully does something horrible and tragedy ensues. However, there's hope and forgiveness at the end.

There's a lot of layers throughout this story, from the title to the various connections of the characters. There's a couple iffy moments for a younger audience - the grandfather tells the parents to "Go have some sex! Call me when summer's over!" and gives Ely a bottle of beer - which turns out to have been refilled with root beer (yeah, it sounds trivial, but believe me, people will squawk).

Verdict: What's most doubtful to me is where exactly to put this. There's a lot of painful emotions throughout this story and underneath the adventure, gore, and wacky jokes, it's all about growing up and learning to be a man. But it's got all that wackiness on top. So juvenile or ya? Who is the audience for this comic? What do you think?
ISBN: 978-1582403953; Published August 2004 by Image Comics; Borrowed from the library

Saturday, October 4, 2008

First School Visits!

My first school visits/library tours have come and gone! I had 3 groups of about 20 2nd graders. We toured the library, I explained the Dewey Decimal system, and we finished up with storytime. Best moments...the last group was a little wiggly (they had just come from the bank) but also very enthusiastic! I had to peel several small boys off the Star Wars books, head off groups desperate to see exactly which series we had (did we have their favorite?) and they were rolling around on the floor with laughter when I read Chester's Back! by Melanie Watt. The first of many to come!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Mondays at Monster School by Ruth Louise Symes, illustrated by Rosie Reeve

Fred, a small monster who looks rather like a fuzzy fox with spikes, is looking forward to going to school for the first time. Until it's actually time to go....when he changes his mind. His parents try to convince him with lists of all the fun things they do at school - mud splashing, howling and growling, etc. Nothing works. Until Ted's mom shows up - Ted doesn't want to go to school either, but Fred convinces him and they set off together. School turns out to be just as fun as their parents said - mud splashing, howling and growling, slime painting and so on. At the end of the day, they love school and can't wait to go back. The picture are cheerful colors and show very un-scary monsters.

I detest books like this. They sentimentalize school - especially a child's first days at school. There's no getting lost, no mean kids, basically no worries after they get over their initial nerves. And school is fun! All their favorite things! Unless, of course, you are a wiggly little kid who doesn't like sitting still for long periods of time, marching in line, constantly being told to be quiet, and being moved from activity to activity when the teacher decrees, rather than when you're finished or have actually learned what you're suppposed to. For some kids, of course, their school experience is good. For others its mediocre. For some kids it's sheer misery.

Which is why I hate sickly sweet picture books like this. Urrgh.

Verdict: Parents, in general, will love this book. I detest sentimentalized stories. If you can stomach yet another sweety-sweety book, go ahead and add it. We give them what we want, not what we think they should want.

ISBN: 978-1842551264; Published August 2007 by Orion (out of print, to my great pleasure); Borrowed from the library

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The tickle monster is coming by James Otis Thach, illustrated by David Barneda

This should be a very cute book. It's all about the tickle monster, who comes at bedtime. Here he comes! You can't get away! It has cute little orange creatures with green dots. It has wiggling and giggling!

I thought it was extremely creepy.

The whole trend of the narrative is toward "you can't get away" and "he's coming, he's coming". But, we NEVER SEE HIM. Yes, it does show the little boy/orange creature leaping in delight and giggling, but that same spread says "squealing and laughter - that's just what he's after, and that's only where it begins!"

What happens afterward?

Plus, although the shadow matches the little boy's head, so it presumably is his same species, it doesn't seem to be a parent, because it comes from "the great Giggle Mountain, in a cave that's as dark as a tomb". This spread shows a volcano and a flight of nasty-looking bats.

In short, this is a misguided attempt to combine bedtime tickling with the "monsters aren't scary" motif. I'd give it to small children who like scary books, but I won't be including it in any bedtime storytimes.

Verdict: Too scary for sensitive kids, too childish for kids who like scary books. Give it a miss.

ISBN: 978-1599900117; Published September 2008 by Bloomsbury; Borrowed from the library

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Library Pet Peeves - Amateur Book Collectors

When patrons (or library staff) come up to me and say, "I saw this book online/my friend told me/I saw in an antiques store/I heard that such and such a book is really valuable." and therefore "we should sell it!/we should never weed it/we should get someone to value it" etc.

Point 1. Ex-library books, no matter how rare/valuable/costly on Amazon lose most of their value because they are, well, ex-library books. Most of the more valuable books are older and older library books tend to have a LOT of markings. Spine label, card pocket, stamps throughout and on the edges, etc.

Point 2. Older library books, even if they haven't circulated much, are generally in only fair to poor condition. The wear and tear and being squashed on a shelf, pulled out and put back, not to mention carried home by loving (or not so loving) little hands.

Point 3. The public library is about ACCESS. I am not going to lock half my older picturebooks up in a cupboard or sell them on amazon because they have turned into collector's items. Lots of people - and kids - like older books and the bindings hold up longer than the new ones!

Point 4. I don't have time to become a book collector par excellence. If I weed something and it turns out to be rare.....that's what library sales are for! To find treasures!


I will not be locking up, weeding or not weeding, or doing ANYTHING about our Oz books, Orlando the Marmalade Cat, or Leo Politi. They're going to stay on the shelves until they're in too bad condition to circulate, then I'll find reprints and weed them!

So There.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Anything but a Grabooberry by Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Rathna Ramanathan

I've been reading all of Anushka Ravishankar's picturebooks recently, and I found this one different than the others.

My favorites of her stories are those illustrated by Pulak Biswas, which involve strong rhymes, cheerful humor, and interactive sounds and questioning. However, this nonsense book is a celebration of graphic art as expressed in words - big words, little words, and clever shapes, a kind of book-length concrete poem, although the shaped words only sometimes form pictures.

Younger children will giggle over the silly rhymes "I want to be a beehive/hanging on a tree/or a bee or a pea/or a cup of tea. Older children who can recognize words will be fascinating by the shapes they create.

Verdict: An additional purchase if you like wordplay or have patrons who enjoy it

ISBN: 978-8186211434; Published September 2004 by Tara; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Ghost's Dinner by Jacques Duquennoy

This simple ghost story introduces various colors in a quietly humorous setting.

Henry's friends have all come to dinner in what appears to be an old castle. As he brings on course after course....they all change color, from orange with the pumpkin soup to holey yellow with the cheese. Finally, Henry brings out an amazing dessert with astonishing results.

Verdict: This is a good ghost story for Halloween, if you want to steer away from scarier tales, or for a storytime with colors. Sadly, it's out of print, but if you're in a library system with older libraries, you can probably find a copy on the shelf somewhere.

ISBN: 978-0307175106; Published July 1994 by Golden books (out of print); Borrowed from the library; Added to my personal wishlist

Monday, September 22, 2008

More than a label: Why what you wear or who you're with doesn't define who you are by Aisha Muharrar

I had hoped to add this to my library collection and was very disappointed to find it out of print. I've been looking at various "issues" types of non-fiction for my teen collection. So far we've gotten Lauren Greenfield's THIN (horrific and chilling, but important) and I've ordered several others.

More Than a Label is a collection of surveys, interviews, and commentary on "labeling" in a high school setting. Now, it's not the last word on the subject, and there are quite a few things I disagree with - to start with the subtitle. If clothes weren't part of what defined us, why don't we all wear the same thing? And I think your friends do define you. The problem is when these things are the ONLY thing that defines you, or when they define you to the exclusion of all other elements of your personality.

However, it's a very authentic survey of different views on labeling - not all negative. It's written by young adults but isn't amateurish. It covers a wide range of various labels and prejudices and why they're harmful in an open, accessible way.

Verdict: For a more in-depth discussion of teens as consumers, I suggest Alissa Quart's Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenages and for a practical look at teens as independent adults I've ordered Grace Llewellyn's The Teenage Liberation Handbook. Muharrar's book is a good supplemental resource to these.

ISBN: 978-1575421100; Published April 2002 by Free Spirit (a library bound edition is possibly still in print); Borrowed from the library

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hurty Feelings and The Sheep in Wolf's Clothing by Helen Lester, Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

I've been reading some of Helen Lester's picture books....and I just don't get it.

These two selections feature sensitive hippos and fashion-challenged sheep

In Hurty Feelings, Fragility, a large and sensitive hippo, cries over everything...until she unintentionally insults a bullying elephant. The elephant promptly bursts into tears and Fragility knows just what to do to comfort him. Which... mysteriously... cures her?

The Sheep in Wolf's Clothing is the story of Ewetopia, who "isn't comfortable in her own wool." She is constantly looking for the perfect outfit. But her choice of a wolf suit for a costume party turns out to be a mistake when a hungry wolf mistakes her for his mother. Ewetopia goes along with the mistake and manages to scare him away. Everyone is happy and thinks she is cool, and she feels "entirely comfortable in her own wool." But....wearing a wolf skin was still an incredibly stupid/crass thing to do - as the sheep originally pointed out to her. Is Ewetopia feeling comfortable more important than the feelings of the other sheep, many of whom probably had family members eaten by wolves? Apparently so.

I can't decide if there's some subtle message to these books that I'm missing, or if they're misguided attempts at didacticism.

Verdict: Parents will occasionally ask for Hurty Feelings - apparently under the impression that it will cure their children of excessive sensitivity. Lester and Munsinger have many other titles that are more popular than these two, especially the Tacky the Penguin series. Thankfully, their works aren't so popular that I feel it necessary to purchase them. Purchase if you have a lot of parents looking for the issues Lester and Munsinger tackle - I personally don't really believe in bibliotherapy, but these books will at least make the parents feel like they're doing something.

Hurty Feelings
ISBN: 978-0618410828; Published September 2004 by Houghton Mifflin; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library (not by me)

The Sheep in Wolf's Clothing
ISBN: 0618868445; Published September 2007 by Houghton Mifflin; Borrowed from the library

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Four Hens and a Rooster by Lena and Olof Landstrom, translated by Joan Sandin.

Equality in the chicken yard!

Four plump hens and one little rooster live a happy and contented life in the chicken yard....until the hens notice that the little rooster has a bigger place at the trough. Surely it wouldn't hurt to ask why? But the little rooster, backed up by his big friends, suddenly becomes a barnyard tyrant, leaving less and less food for the hens. But the hens are not powerless. One course in self-esteem later, including strength training, feather fluffing, and deep breathing, they are ready to tackle the selfish little rooster.

The pictures are my favorite part of this picture book. The plump, solemn chickens, the self-important little rooster, and the peaceful, simple chicken yard are all displayed in warm earth colours and clean lines. The little rooster's mysterious project is never explained, but is always in the background. A fun story of standing up for yourself without becoming a bully.

Verdict: Sadly out of print, this is a fun book to use in storytime or with older elementary kids. A nicely balanced alternative to some of the wimpy self-esteem titles I've seen lately.

ISBN: 978-9129663365; Published October 2005 by R & S; Borrowed from the library; Added to my personal wishlist

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Book of Beasts by E. Nesbit; Two Versions

I have recently been re-reading E. Nesbit's marvelous short stories. It's difficult to find these in collections; mostly a few reappear as rather lengthy picturebooks. In pursuit of this goal, I have found these two renditions of The Book of Beasts by E. Nesbit. But which one is better?

Michael Hague's rich and fantastical dragon and hippogrif are better than Inga Moore's more subdued and humorous take on these mythical creatures. I think Hague's Lionel, who puts one in mind of a solemnly young Christopher Robin is also better than Inga Moore's more contemporary-looking child. But then there's the (gasp) abridgement. Hague keeps the all-important element which causes the boy-king to finally fight the dragon:
"At last came a day when the Dragon actually walked into the Royal Nursery and carried off the King's own pet Rocking Horse. Then the King cried for six days. On the seventh day he stopped. 'Nurse,' he said, 'wipe my face. I am not going to cry any more. I must try to save my people.'"

In Inga Moore's abridgement, this part is left out, thus when Lionel keeps the Hippogrif, he becomes the "King's Own Hippogrif" instead of the "King's Own Rocking Horse."
However, Inga Moore's abridgement, on the whole, keeps more of the original spirit of E. Nesbit's slyly humorous story, while Hague's falls somewhat flat. Again, although Moore's mythical creatures do not have the fantastic majesty and monstrosity of Hague's, her illustrations in general are more everyday, which complements E. Nesbit's writing style.

Hmm. I still can't decide which I prefer.

Verdict: If you want to add a collection of short stories, I'd go with the more widely known Michael Hague collection. However, if you're a Nesbit fan, just find the original stories - the unabridged versions don't really need the improvement of illustrations, and certainly they don't need abridgement!

Retold and illustrated by Michael Hague
ISBN: 978-0688140069; Published October 2006 by HarperCollins (out of print); Borrowed from the library

Abridged and illustrated by Inga Moore
ISBN: 978-0763615796; Published October 2001 by Candlewick (out of print but available as an ebook); Borrowed from the library