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