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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Saucepan Journey by Edith Unnerstad, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin

I have searched for many years for the Peep-Larssons Go Sailing by Edith Unnerstad. Recommended by Noel Perrin as one of those rare, but exquisite books, I've never quite managed to get my hands on a copy. But.

I finally decided to read another in the series, The Saucepan Journey. It turns out to be the first in the series! The Larssons are poor. They have so many children there's scarcely room to turn around in their tiny apartment, let alone sleep. When their father's rich half-brother dies and leaves them only two draft horses and drays, Mrs. Larsson comes up with a novel idea - Mr. Larsson, who is an inventor when he's not a traveling salesman, will turn the wagons into caravans and they will spend the summer touring the countryside. Where does the Peep come in? Well, Mr. Larsson has designed a marvelous saucepan, and they will finance their journey by selling it along the way.

It's a wonderful summer. They meet a down-on-his-luck hot dog man, an eccentric old woman, a man who might be a murderer. They discover thieves, wonderful lakes, and fascinating Swedish towns.

Even if you're not fascinated by Scandinavian children's literature, as am I, this is a wonderfully nostalgic summer read. It well deserves to sit on the shelf with books such as Taylor's All of a Kind Family, Sidney's Five little Peppers, and Streatfeild's Magic Summer.

I still can't wait to read The Peep-Larssons go sailing....

Verdict: Lucky you if you can find a copy! It's out of print, so if you're interested look for a library that doesn't weed often or a decent used copy - they are out there.


ISBN: N/A; Reprinted in 1967 by Macmillan (out of print, but available used at a reasonable price); Borrowed from 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

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick

A few years ago, Emma and Megan were best friends. Then Megan's dad "invented some computer gizmo and made a bazillion dollars, and that was the end of that." Now Emma tries to blend into the woodwork and Megan is a follower of the Queen Bee, Becca Chadwick. Jess is just trying to survive another miserable year of school. Cassidy hates girly stuff and just wants to play hockey.

Emma's mom is a librarian.

She thinks a book club would be a good idea.

A mother-daughter book club.

Reading Little Women.

As the girls and their mothers struggle to read and relate, their lives change. There are some painful changes to deal with, and some bad mistakes are made. Friendships are broken and renewed. Nothing goes as planned.

In the end, everything isn't perfect. But there's hope - and more understanding between old and new friends, mothers and daughters.

This is a sweet, warm read. A little over the top with the happy endings, but that's fine by me. I like to read stories of how the world should be - and this is definitely one of them.

Verdict: Strongly recommended - this will be a favorite with tween and middle school girls, and their moms.


ISBN: 978-0689864124; Published April 2007 by Simon and Schuster; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

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