Picture Books

1 2 3 Moose: A Pacific Northwest Counting Book. Photographs by Art Wolfe. Text by Andrea Helman.
Sasquatch Books: Seattle, WA, 1996.

Awesome photographs and an interesting selection of mostly animals are displayed in this nicely done counting book.
RL=read aloud and 2nd-3rd

365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental and Joëlle Jolivet.
Abrams Books for Young Readers: NY, 2006 (English language edition).
Originally Naïve Livres: Paris, 2006.

Someone with an odd sense of humor is sending a family a penguin each day with notes to take care of them. At first, it's just strange and mysterious, but several problems arise: feeding them all, their desire to be in water, keeping them (and the house) clean, etc.

The book is hysterical. The penguins are cute as they multiply, and their antics are amusing. There are some math concepts added in, but the main focus is the hilarity of the situation. The illustrations are visually appealing and full of great details, like Chilly with the blue feet (sort of an I Spy element, or the penguin paint footprints). Certain page spreads are just fabulous: the stacking of the penguins to count them, the housing solution, the penguins in the shower, and thinking penguin.

It is a must read picture book. Fun for the whole family, not just little ones. For those interested in other languages, there are French and Spanish editions also.

related-penguins, care of animals, conservation, counting
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to younger, all ages

The Adventures of a Nose by Viviane Schwarz. il. Joel Stewart.
Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2002.

It is natural for a nose to stick out. Is it possible for it to fit in, too? Meet the nose that travels the world before it finds its place in the world. A wonderful lesson about being yourself with imaginative and artistic illustrations.
RL=1st-2nd and read aloud

The Adventures of Bert by Allan Ahlberg and Raymond Briggs.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 2001.

Bright, funny pictures partner simple and hilarious stories. It must be a challenge to make a basic beginning reader that is so captivating!
Read also A Bit More Bert 2002.

Agent A to Agent Z by Andy Rash.
Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Press: NY, 2004.

This is an exciting spy alphabet book clever in its use of language with sharp, action-filled pictures.
RL=1st-3rd and read aloud

Alejandro's Gift by Richard E. Albert. il by Sylvia Long.
Chronicle Books: San Francisco, 1994.

What I love about this book is the theme. It is a gentle, peaceful story about a beautiful deed. A solitary man gardens to pass the time. While enjoying the fruits of his labor, he notices small animals coming out of the desert for water from his irrigation rows and shelter from the desert sun. He thinks about the animals' need for water and decides to dig a large enough source for the big animals, too. The character has some trial and error and extra work to do, yet still feels that the labor and sweat is worth doing, even when he can't actually watch the animals at the watering hole. I like that the story shows Alejandro's thought processes as he goes about his days, encouraging children then to think also about what they might do or create.

Richard Albert stretches the story discussing the animals of the desert, and there are descriptions at the end. Young ones may find this to be the best part, along with searching for the critters in the illustrations.

related-gardening, desert habitat, life in the desert, animals, water, sharing
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud with toddlers-K *Not 1st level reading. The words are mostly not difficult, but it's not short, and it is paragraphs, not sentences level.

Alphabet Book. photography by Dave King. text by Lara Tankel Holtz.
DK Publishing, Inc: NY, 1997.

My youngest enjoyed the format of this ABC book. It is a bit like the I Spy books. Many of the pictures are collages or still lifes. There are enjoyable words included and a list of names of objects to find in the pictures.
RL=1st-2nd and read aloud to younger

The Alphabet From Z to A (With Much Confusion on the Way) by Judith Viorst. il Richard Hull.
Atheneum/Macmillan Publishing Company: NY, 1994.

Such awesome pictures with beautiful and fascinating details. Going backwards is a different idea, but the best part of the text is the comparison of letters and sounds that is rarely done in alphabet books. Viorst inserts her wit as well to keep it from becoming tedious. As the cover says, it is "an alphabet book for folks who already know their ABCs."

Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride by Pam Muñoz Ryan. il Brian Selznick.
Scholastic Press: NY, 1999.

Two of the most exciting women in history are together on a jaunt! Fact and fiction are mixed in this warm and lively meeting of two independent, like-minded women. Ryan has notes at the back to sort out which is which.

At a dinner party at the White House, Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart decide to fly around D.C. after Eleanor asks Amelia what it is like to fly at night. To top off the evening, they go for a fast ride in Eleanor's automobile in continuation of their sharing their love of freedom.

The text perfectly captures the spirit of these two women and the excitement of their shared adventure. The illustrator being Selznick, the pictures are gorgeous and alive. The cover art ranks among my favorite.

related-Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States, flight, cars, independence, adventure, historical fiction
RL=1st-3rd, read aloud to toddler-1st

And to Think That We Thought That We'd Never Be Friends by Mary Ann Hoberman. il Kevin Hawkes.
Crown Publishers, Inc/Random House: NY, 1999.

This rhyming story starts with a brother and sister fighting. A third child settles the dispute through sharing. The kids fight again in the evening, and their father distracts them by sharing a book. The new neighbors disturb their peace with music (terrible music). The matter is set right when they join in. The disturbance continues throughout the community and beyond, growing larger as more people share the music, spreading throughout the world.

The message is settling disputes through friendship. First, that arguments can be resolved, and then, that it can work for everyone. The extension of friendship spreading through the world is one not common for this theme, and it is shown in a fun and contagious way.

Hawkes has used lots of color, contrast, and shadow for a dynamic effect, with the people and animals almost leaping from the page. I wasn't sure I was going to like this book (because of the didactic content). As always, Hawkes' beautiful rendering is perfect for the story, and the reader is soon caught up in the spirit of the parade instead of dwelling on the lesson. And there are plenty of details to go back and pore over.

related-conflict resolution, friendship, sharing, peace, brothers and sisters, stories in rhyme
RL=1st-3rd, read aloud to toddler and up

Angry Arthur by Hiawyn Oram. il by Satoshi Kitamura.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1982.
First published in Great Britain by Andersen Press, 1982.

Arthur is angry, because he doesn't want to go to bed. His anger builds and builds until his house and town are so far out in the universe that they become particles. Each increase of anger pushes him and his world a little farther, and he is told by his parents and grandparents that it is enough. Finally, he is tired from the drama and doesn't remember why he was angry.

This is a very cohesive story for one so brief. There are some great descriptions, such as a hurricane ripping off roofs. Well thought out and with a catastrophic event for each build.

As good as the story is, the illustrations are the best part. Each page adds to the story. Cracks in the room before the initial explosion, the devastated neighborhood, the town being washed away by a flood, and then the outer space pictures, Arthur hanging onto his anger all the while.

I wish I had known about this book when my kids were young.

RL=K-2nd, read aloud to toddler-1st

Animalia by Graeme Base.
Harry N. Abrams, Inc: NY, 1986.

Animalia is my favorite alphabet book. It has totally absorbing pictures, wonderful descriptions for each letter, plus many objects hiding in the scene starting with the appropriate letter for each picture. It is a book children enjoy way beyond the age of ABCs.

Anna's Table by Eve Bunting. il Taia Morley.
NorthWord Press: Chanhassen, MN, 2003.

Anna has a table in her bedroom where she keeps found and collected objects from nature - rocks, shells, a dead crab, a flattened lizard, bones from owl pellets, etc. Each object is presented with its own story and mystique. The girl is filled with wonder at each new discovery.

I have heard that it is best to leave the objects in nature. For kids, I'm not sure I agree. Collecting instills a deep appreciation of nature and is a later reminder of the joy of the discoveries. It seems a natural thing to want to keep the items for studying and as a reminder of the whole experience.

The rhyming story has a slow and contemplative mood, giving children time to look closely at the objects on display. The pictures are filled with whimsy and the excitement of being in nature and exploring its mysteries.

related-nature, collections and collectors, stories in rhyme
RL=1st-3rd, read aloud to toddlers-1st

Antics! by Cathi Hepworth.
G. P. Putnam's Sons/The Putnam & Grosset Book Group: NY, 1992.

This is definitely a read aloud alphabet. It has great vocabulary but not words young ones would be reading. The pictures are wonderful and at times hilarious. I love the Brilliant with the flowing white hair (an exaggeration of Einstein). A vocabulary builder with great pictures.
RL=read aloud

Baloney (Henry P.) by Jon Scieszka. il Lane Smith.
Viking/Penguin Group: NY, 2001.

The pictures are fantastic and captivating in this colorful excuse for being late for school. I enjoyed the use of real words from Earthling languages that are woven into the tale to seem like Henry P. is making them up.

Bamboozled by David Legge.
Scholastic, Inc: NY, 1994.

A young girl on her weekly visit to her grandfather senses there is something unusual this day and can't figure out what it is. The story is very simplistic, though a little higher than the Wacky Wednesday it brings to mind. The pictures are what makes the book. They are a blend of David Wiesner's and Norman Rockwell's styles. The wacky Escher-ness of Wiesner's and the 40s Americana of Rockwell's. Many of the details feel like they have a story themselves.

My oldest son loved Wacky Wednesday as a toddler. The counting, kindergarten feel of it always irritated me. Though the idea is similar here, it is more about exploring the illustrations and delighting in the ideas and impossibilities. I caught myself wondering what if it could be that way, regarding some of the items. So, though it is a bit corny, it is a fun book to examine closely.

related-grandfathers, family, impossible happenings
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddlers-K

Bats at the Library by Brian Lies.
Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 2008.

The bats are in store for a treat. Someone left a window open at the library, and the bats use the facilities for a fun-filled night.

The illustrations are fantastic. Great bat and library perspectives. Page after page of entertainment for the bats - photocopying themselves, making shadows with a lamp, playing house in a pop-up book, and experiencing story time. No text would be necessary to enjoy the book, though it flows better with it. Also the text adds the idea of the bats being captured by the stories, to the point of living them. Several stories are portrayed with bats as the characters. It's tremendous fun picking out the familiar books.

I don't know about you, but I love a good library story. This one ranks with the best. Watch for every detail in the pictures!

Also available in Spanish.

related-bats, libraries, books and reading, stories in rhyme
RL=K-2nd, read aloud to toddlers-1st

The Bear's Autumn by Keizaburo Tejima.
The Green Tiger Press: La Jolla, CA, 1986. Originally published by Fukutake Pub. Co. Ltd.: Tokyo, Japan, 1986.
English translation by Susan Matsui.

Tejima is a woodcut artist, who has used fairy tales and themes of nature for his picture books. This is one of several books by Tejima. All have delightful print work, in color.

A mama and baby bear are feeding to store food for the winter. The mama is teaching her baby, who shows curiosity and playfulness in his climbing higher for a peek over the trees and his diving into the river to catch a moonlight fish.

The story is so simple, but it has a poignant feel. Lovely to think of a parent teaching a child about bears in nature, just as the mama bear is teaching her young.

related-animals, bears, fall, food
RL=RL=1st, mostly read aloud, to babies-K

Bees, Snails, & Peacock Tails by Betsy Franco. il Steve Jenkins.
Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2008.

Bees, Snails, & Peacock Tails is a delightful mixture of mathematical design, the science of nature, poetry, and art. The focus of the poems is on designs found in the Animal Kingdom and on characteristics of the animals specified. Some of the patterns are decorations on their bodies, and some are related to their behavior. There are extra notes about each creature afterwards.

I enjoy the whole book, but the best part is the mixed media collages. The 2 page spreads are stunning. Out of 13, there are about 7 I think are perfect, and 3 others I found appealing. I love the variety of paper textures and the use of color and balance. I appreciate the delicacy of the details.

related-nature, poetry, mathematical patterns and designs, animals, illustrators, paper art and crafts
RL=2nd-4th, read aloud toddler-1st

related books:
Birdsongs by Besty Franco. il Steve Jenkins
Living Color by Steve Jenkins
What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Robin Page. il Steve Jenkins

Beetle Bedlam by Vlasta van Kampen.
Charlesbridge Publishing: Watertown, MA, 1997.

A bunch of bugs are the cast of characters in this intriguing trial of a tree killer. Dramatic, larger than life pictures are included as well as a description of each beetle in the cast.

Beetle Bop by Denise Fleming.
Harcourt, Inc: Orlando, FL, 2007.

I haven't found many minimal words books, targeted at babies and toddlers, that impressed me. However, Beetle Bop has a combination of unique artwork and rhyming, beat-based word play. I can hear the humming of the beetles, all sorts, doing the kind of things beetles do. It is simple, but the words themselves want to play in your mouth. And in the right hands, it'd be an awesome read aloud book.

The vibrant colors and different texture drew me right off. After seeing how the illustrations were produced, I can see that the texture is like handmade paper. They were created by "pouring colored cotton fiber through hand-cut stencils" for a unique and satisfying effect.

related-beetles, stories in rhyme, insects
RL=read aloud to babies and toddlers, 1st-2nd by themselves

The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco.
Philomel Books/Putnam & Grosset Group: NY, 1993.

Grampa and Mary Ellen start an adventure to find a honey tree. A parade forms as members of the town join their quest. They have a honey-eating party afterwards, and Grampa compares the chase for the honey to the search for knowledge or enjoyment of books. I enjoy the old-time story, but I especially like that it is an adventure we could have ourselves today.

related-books and reading, bees, simple pleasures
RL=2nd-3rd and read aloud ages 3-6

Between Earth & Sky: Legends of Native American Places by Joseph Bruchac. il Thomas Locker.
Harcourt Brace & Company: NY, 1996.

This book shows the land we love in a more sacred and majestic way. The legends remind us of lessons that are important to us all.

The Big Bug Search by Caroline Young. il. Ian Jackson.
Usborne Publishing Ltd: London, 1996.

This is an excellent book for curious young ones who are not yet reading or reading well. There are large habitat pictures in which you look for various insects. The names of the insects and pictures are given with a sentence or two as a hint of where they can be found.

The Biggest Bear by Lynn Ward.
Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1952.
Caldecott Medal 1953

This is one of the books my oldest son wanted read to him again and again. When I first read it, I wasn't crazy about it, but I grew to enjoy it also with successive readings. I don't know specifically what so appealed to him, but I see possibilities-the boy determined to shoot a bear like all the neighbors and instead bringing home a baby to raise, the idea of a huge animal for a young boy, the havoc the bear creates as it grows unbelievably fast, the wonderfully meaningful drawings. For such simple language, the book has so much to say. My guess is that it was the pictures he loved the most.
related-hunting, farm life, animals, bears, wild pets, zoo, humorous
RL=1st-2nd     read aloud to pre-K and K

The Biggest House in the World by Leo Lionni.
Pantheon Books/Random House, Inc: NY, 1968.

All of Lionni's books have a beautiful simplicity about them. This particular one is a fable about wishing for too much. I love "the house like a birthday cake." It was a little disappointing to see it decay, even though mobility is obviously better for a snail.
RL=1st-2nd and read aloud to PreK-K

Blackout by John Rocco.
Hyperion Books/Disney Book Group: NY, 2011.
Caldecott Honor 2012

Our society, our world moves so fast. New York City is the epitomy of this concept. It is exciting to be surrounded by a constantly moving and noisy city, but humans need rest, down time, the enjoyment of simple things and just being together without all of the frills. This story is about that need. It draws on the recent experience (2003) of a forced down time, when there was an electric blackout throughout the Northeastern US, also affecting the Midwest and Ontario, Canada. For New York City, this is an anomally. Parts of the city may lose power, but usually somewhere else has it. For my home (Maine), it is less rare. It tends to not last long, but we are familiar with the need of simple entertainment and the basic level of sharing time and sometimes necessities.

The story is told mostly through illustrations, with concise text. It is very effective. I like the dark greyscale through much of the blackout, for a change. The initial letdown when the power goes out is not there, but the excitement that comes with the new experience is. The discovery of the stars and neighbors' activities are a bonus. It is reminiscent of a simpler time, when people were less reliant on electricity. I have been watching the Ken Burns Jazz documentary with my kids recently. There is a similar feeling in glimpses of poorer neighborhoods, in the episodes, as much of it takes place during the 1930s.

A trailer for the book includes New York City inhabitants talking about their experience during the blackout. Very nice!

related-family, too busy, power outage, electricity, sharing time, shared experience, dark
RL=1st, share with toddlers-1st

Blue Aliens! An Adventure in Color by Tony Porto and 3CD.
Little, Brown and Company: NY, 2003.

This has got to be one of the most imaginative color focused books. A boy's mind wanders through a school day, triggered by a late night watching a scary movie. He's decided there are blue aliens eating everything blue. Each blue object spurs a random factual thought. His mind jumps from his missing jeans and blueberry to the sky to water to whales and music to lined paper and sticky stars. Last of all to his teacher who may or may not be an alien.

A very funny book. It has fairly simple humor, but it is all over the place, just as young children tend to think. It has some absolutley perfect moments, such as the mom alien and the teacher's smile.

The design is a little random. It is appealing anyway, and it suits the text. Vivid and closeup, with handwritten font style and tiny text for facts, like an afterthought.

related-colors, blue and green, space aliens, schools, humorous stories
RL=1st, read aloud with preK-K

Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman. il Charles Vess.
HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2009.

A lovely, magical prayer for a baby girl yet to be born. The sentiments are what anyone would want for their daughter: a life free of the most troublesome worries, trust in herself, wisdom to follow her own path. All said in Gaiman's lyrical way. The illustrations are beautifully romantic and fit perfectly with the poem. Animals follow the blessed girl through her adventures, going where she dreams, living life to the fullest.

Courtesy of Book Aunt, I watched a YouTube video of Gaiman reading the book before actually seeing the book. Quite a treasure, his reading is far better than I would make of it. Still, it would be a cozy book to read to a young girl, sharing love and dreams with a specific child.

related-parents and daughters, girls, wishes for a good life
RL=read aloud to all ages, especially toddlers-K

Boogie Bones by Elizabeth Loredo. il Kevin Hawkes.
G. P. Putnam's Sons/The Putnam & Grosset Group: NY, 1997.

An odd and lighthearted story. Boogie Bones loves to dance. He hears of a dance contest at the local town hall and can't resist going, though skeletons don't leave the cemetery except for trick-or-treating. He gathers his courage and decides to only watch, but he cannot resist the music.

The story and illustrations are pure fun. The style is the usual Hawkes with bright colors and shadow, plenty of action and energy, some clever details, and interesting vantage points. Not my favorite of the Hawkes books, but not to be missed if you love his artwork.

related-dancing contests, skeletons, acceptance
RL=1st-3rd, read aloud to pre-K to 1st

Brave Bear by Kathy Mallat.
Walker Publishing Company: NY, 1999.

This is a story told almost exclusively through illustrations. The brief text is all the dialogue of the bear that helps a bird which has fallen from its nest. You can almost hear the bird twittering back. The artwork is fantastic with the bear as the focus. Each picture spills beyond its borders and propels the reader through the story.

The pictures capture the caring and emotion well. It is a simple story with each spread having a strong point. The bear is perfectly drawn with many poses through its adventure, including the stuffed bear look at the start.

It is a nice one to read aloud in a small group, close in for the best viewing. The one-sided conversation helps to build the anticipation as the children must pay close attention to see what is happening.

related-bears, birds, courage, helping others
RL=K-1st, mostly read aloud to babies and toddlers

Brother Eagle, Sister Sky A translation of the words of Chief Seattle. il Susan Jeffers.
Dial Books/Penguin Books USA Inc: NY, 1991.

A most amazing book! There is an almost tangible power flowing through the message of Chief Seattle to the representatives of the U.S. government as they try to buy native lands. The truth is so absolute that we feel the essence of his words even though we are reading a translation without his imposing presence. "The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth." and "What befalls the earth befalls all the sons and daughters of the earth."

The paintings are an excellent partner in this wondrous statement of truth.
RL=read aloud and 3rd-4th

Bullfrog Pops! by Rick Walton. il. Chris McAllister.
Gibbs-Smith Publisher: Salt Lake City, 1999.

What a wonderful Western story with some very unusual twists! Great use of language and phrases. Wonderfully unique illustrations.

Burnt Toast on Davenport Street by Tim Egan.
Houghton Mifflin Company: NY, 1997.

Unbelievably a fly grants Arthur three wishes because he doesn't swat it. He doesn't believe it and chooses some crazy, careless wishes. Arthur and his wife don't need the wishes and want their normal lives.

Burt Dow: Deep-Water Man by Robert McCloskey.
Viking Press: NY, 1963.

It may not be the first book that comes to mind for most people when they think of Robert McCloskey. Many have never heard of it. While I enjoy the more popular Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal, and One Morning in Maine, I think Burt Dow has more character. The language is rich with culture and sound. The humor is irresistible and stimulating. The details in the pictures and story are fabulous (though some may find the pictures garish).

Upon moving to Maine, we tried all the McCloskey books. All but Time of Wonder are fixtures in our home and have been lovingly read to all 3 kids. We have favorite parts of each book. For Burt Dow that would be giggling gull, the new fashion of striped band-aids for the whales, the boat's paint job, the Pollock-like decoration of the whale's tummy, and the descriptive words and sounds.

The texture and rhythm of Burt Dow's language takes a little getting used to, but (odd though it is) I believe it is the best book of the bunch.
related-whales, boats, fishing on the ocean, self-sufficiency, Maine
RL=2nd-3rd and read aloud to age 2 and up

Butterfly Boy by Virginia Kroll. il Gerardo Suzán.
Boyds Mills Press: Honesdale, PA, 1997.

Emilio's grandfather can no longer speak, but receives pleasure from Emilio reading to him and watching the butterflies on a sunny day. Emilio can tell by the glimmer in his grandfather's eyes. The butterflies migrate and come again the next year. On the day of their arrival, Emilio greets the butterflies and then learns his father has painted their white garage blue. The white being the main attraction for the butterflies, Emilio begs his father to change it back. It takes a few moments for his father to understand the importance of his plea, but he leaves for white paint soon after.

This is a delightful story bringing together a grandson's love and caring of an elderly and incapacitated man and the habits of butterflies. Both are subtly shown, but all important in the story. It has great depth of feeling.

The illustrations are vibrant and alive, carrying the same depth of emotion and meaning. The artwork is Mexican in style, with fantasy and symbolism and even some foreshadowing. As much as I like the story itself, the paintings are what attracted me and keeps me coming back.

related-butterflies, debilitating illness, old age, Mexico-juvenile literature
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddler and up

Butterfly House by Eve Bunting. il Greg Shed.
Scholastic Press: NY, 1999.

A young girl saves a caterpillar from a jay, and her grandfather helps her to make a home for the larva and butterfly it will become, as he did as a boy. The story describes the steps and time passing with the girl's thoughts. The girl is shown as an old woman at the end, surrounded by butterflies in her garden. A nice touch for a story filled with a sense of awe.

Greg Shed's paintings beautifully illustrate the story. Eve Bunting has written an astounding number of books. Every one I've read has had a different illustrator, and yet so many have this sense of awe - both the text and illustrations.

At the end, there are instructions for raising and releasing a butterfly. Bunting, Shed, and the model for the girl all have raised butterflies.

related-butterflies, appreciating nature, metamorphosis, grandfathers, stories in rhyme
RL=1st-3rd, read aloud to toddlers-1st

By the Light of the Halloween Moon by Caroline Stutson. il Kevin Hawkes.
Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books/William Morrow & Company: NY, 1993.

I usually steer clear of holiday books, but for someone looking to celebrate the day this cumulative poem can be fun. It's not your standard Halloween book. I think the illustrations are the best part. That, the tempting toes, and the whack the girl gives at the end. The illustrations tell more of a tale than does the poem, as each character is tempted by the wiggling toes. The pictures are more crisp than most of Hawkes' books, and they steal the show.
RL=1st-2nd, mostly read aloud to toddler-1st

Camille and the Sunflowers: A Story About Vincent van Gogh by Laurence Anholt.
Barron's Educations Series, Inc: NY, 1994.

This book is based on real people who did actually meet van Gogh. It is a nice introduction to one of my very favorite artists and some of his famous works. The pictures follow the style of van Gogh's works as well.

Gordon Lightfoot's Canadian Railroad Trilogy il by Ian Wallace.
Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press: Toronto, Canada, 2010.

The text is a song by Gordon Lightfoot about the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, with sheet music at the end of the book. The CPR has a similar story to the Union Pacific that was built across the United States. Slightly different time period, and perhaps, the Native Americans were treated a little better than they were in the United States. First Nations people (as they are called in Canada) did participate in building the CPR, and I don't believe that was true of the UP. I was not surprised to read that two of the major players in the project were from the United States.

Ian Wallace has attempted to portray all aspects of the construction project through his illustrations. It was a huge undertaking with enormous consequences. The scope of the drawings tells far more of the story than the simple, yet poetic, lyrics. Wallace used pastels to give the story a dream-like tone. The artwork is amazing, each one a masterpiece. The artist also includes a description of his intentions for each illustration. The artwork itself is what first caught my attention. I also seem to have heard of Ian Wallace before.

This is the first time that the song Canadian Railroad Trilogy has been illustrated.

related-1st Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John MacDonald, Canadian Pacific Railroad, railroad construction, First Nations, Chinese workers
RL=1st, for all ages

Carmine: A Little More Red by Melissa Sweet.
Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 2005.

At first glance this looks like an alphabet book; words are emphasized stylistically on each page. But it is less an alphabet book than a reworked fairy tale, given that there is mostly just one word representing the sound out of a paragraph. The alphabetical words are different and interesting, but some of them may not have been the best choice to represent the letter. Knoll doesn't have the k sound. Indeed and surreal are abstract and not in many children's vocabularies.

There are a combination of factors lending fresh, intriguing, and artistic touches to the story. There are little comic asides, but not on every page. Other tales show up in the comics, and the style of the pictures is comic, though very colorful. I think Carmine is a much better character than the usual Red. She has more pizzazz. Obviously, she's going to love the color red, but in this telling she uses it to paint and revels in the occurrence of her favorite color in nature. There are some great words emphasized in the story. Her pet dog has his own little story going. There are a couple of maps to enjoy and a soup recipe at the end. The whole package is linked together nicely, with some cool moments, such as the howling mockingbird and woodcutter helping the three little pigs build a treehouse. I like that everything is explained well and there are connections throughout the whole busy and convoluted tale. Of course, those who already know the usual tale will be able to guess some of the connections right away.

A bonus for me is that Melissa Sweet is from Maine. She also does have some other books I will have to watch for.

related-Little Red Riding Hood, retellings of fairy tales, paintings, wolves, grandmothers, family life
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddler-K

Camille Saint-Saëns's The Carnival of Animals new verses by Jack Prelutsky. il by Mary GrandPré.
music performed by the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra.
Alfred A. Knopf: NY, 2010.

Camille Saint-Saëns was a 19th century composer. He composed The Carnival of Animals in 1886, and it was published posthumously in 1921. There are 14 orchestral movements. Thirteen short ones introducing the animals and a long finale. The musical suite is used by music teachers to familiarize students with different instruments and classical music.

The music has been performed previously with poems by Ogden Nash (a humorous poet known for light verse and unconventional rhymes, first collection published 1931), one poem for each movement. The Ogden Nash poems were written in 1949. In 1988, Weird Al Yankovic wrote new poems for his Carnival of the Animals, part II (also different music in the Saint-Saëns style). In 1993, Peter Schickele (aka P.D.Q. Bach) also wrote new poems, keeping the original music, for the B side of his Sneaky Pete and the Wolf. He also arranged the music for Fantasia 2000 which used parts of The Carnival of the Animals.

Now Jack Prelutsky has written and performs his own new poems to go with the Saint-Saëns music. Prelutsky's poems are more dignified than his usual work but form a nice juxtaposition with the movements of the suite. The composition may need a couple hearings to seem normal. I found the switching back and forth a little jarring at first, but maybe because my full attention was not on it. Neither would a child's be, though. Obviously, the included CD is an essential part of the book. It reminds me of listening to Disney produced albums as a child, Peter and the Wolf, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Fantasia, and an old almost forgotten Musical Monkey Shines. I do remember hearing a similar animal/instrument album in music class also, but not sure if it was this or something else.

Prelutsky was chosen America's first Children's Poet Laureate in 2006. Ogden Nash's poetry is a forerunner of Prelutsky's style. Prelutsky has expanded upon it (though his work here is decidedly tame). I think it is interesting to compare different versions.

The illustrator, Mary GrandPré, may be most well known for her artwork for the Harry Potter series. The illustrations here are very dramatic with vibrant and varied color palettes. They are appealing enough you will not want to skip the book and only listen. There are so many wonderful details, including the depth due to creating with a mix of collage and painting.

Judith Bachleitner, Head of the Music Department of the NY Rudolph Steiner School (Waldorf school) notes the educational opportunities The Carnival of Animals offers students. Young children can act out animal behavior to the music. Older students can be encouraged to write a poem and simple melody for animals Saint-Saëns did not include. As they become more experienced with music, they may be able to compare other pieces, both to what Saint-Saëns alluded and works that are derivative of The Carnival of Animals.

related-animals, musical instruments, introduction to classical music, teaching music, children's poetry, using imagination, imaginative exploration and stimulation
RL=for all ages to enjoy, poems 1st-2nd reading level

Of all the poems, I like Weird Al Yankovic's Carnival of the Animals, part II best. But I was not able to hear the music he wrote to go with them. The poems are less simplistic and are regarding other animals. I was unable to hear Peter Schickele's version or view another parody, Bugs and Daffy's The Carnival of the Animals. But the Warner Brothers cartoon can be found on Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 5 DVD, disc 4, which is available through Netflix.

More info on Camille Saint-Saëns and his The Carnival of Animals can be found at Wikipedia.

The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington. il Shelley Jackson.
Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 2007.

A young girl makes a contest of chasing her favorite chicken around the farm. She's determined to catch Miss Hen, and Miss Hen is just as determined not to get caught. The girl tries several tactics until she discovers a secret about Miss Hen which is even better than the chase.

The mixed media pictures are great. Alive and energetic with varied texture and detail. There is so much humor in the girl and her chickens, and little ones will be looking closely to see what all they can find.

I don't think I've seen any of Harrington or Jackson's work before, but this is a selection I would want to share with everyone. A simple aspect of farm life infused with warmth, excitement, and hilarity.

related-chickens, farm life, barn animals, African-Americans
RL=2nd-3rd, read aloud to PreK-1stClick, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin. il. Betsy Lewin.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2000.

Caldecott Honor Book 2001

Cows that type? Farm animals bargaining for better living conditions. Farmer Brown has to learn to compromise, but will that be the end of his troubles? This is a very simple story but so entertaining.

A Cloak for the Dreamer by Aileen Friedman. il Kim Howard.
Marilyn Burns Education Association/Scholastic Inc: NY, 1994.

A tailor asks his three sons to each make a cloak for a customer to prove their readiness to be tailors. The two older boys do beautiful work. What the third son does is lovely, but not quite right for a cloak. However, the father has a solution. The story has lovely pictures (especially if you love fabrics and designing with them as I do) and connections to geometry.

Cloud Eyes by Kathryn Lasky. il Barry Moser.
Harcourt Brace & Company: NY, 1994.

This book was a pleasant surprise to me. The text is in the style of Native American storytelling. A flowing story told in a matter of fact manner with mystery and tradition. It seems very much the sort of story you would want to read to a young boy, with the protagonist being so lively and strong of character, obviously an important person in his community.

It is the story of a young hero who discovers the reason for a lack of honey by following the bear tracks. He listens to the bees and dreams of the bears' behavior. He learns to communicate with the bears to solve the problem the bears are creating, and he shares the goodness of the honey with the bears as a peace offering.

Barry Moser's black and white drawings are a major attraction of the book. Magnificently drawn illustrations that can easily be stand alone art. Bears in diferent aspects - sleeping, dancing, watching. Cloud eyes - young, dreaming, as a reflection, disguised, and later in life.

The story was inspired by the novel Dancing Bear by James Crumley.

related-bears, bees, honey, Indians of North America
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddlers-1st

Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse. il Jon J. Muth.
Scholastic Press: NY, 1999.

The neighborhood is suffering from a drought this summer. Tessie observes the wilting plants, the burning of the heat, the heat shimmering off the pavement, and then the clouds that could bring the much needed rain. She begs her mom to allow her to wear her swimsuit, anticipating the celebratory romp through the shower. Tessie calls her friends together to share the experience, and spontaneously it becomes more.

To truly appreciate the story you must have known a drought period when everyone was desperate for rain. The text is simple, but descriptive and eloquent. Much like the work of Jon Muth's own books. Hesse has done an excellent job of building suspense and the feeling of waiting for the needed rain.

The pictures are more somber than usual for Jon Muth. The watercolors match the prose beautifully. So much emotion is conveyed with simplicity. Two of my favorites are four sets of young hands reaching up to the sky and bare feet waiting as the first fat drops fall in the dust.

related-rain and rainfall, playing in the rain, mothers and daughters, celebrate simple things, friends, neighbors
RL=2nd-3rd, mostly read aloud for toddler-1st

Comet's Nine Lives by Jan Brett.
G. P. Putnam's Sons: NY, 1996.

The book is presented with Brett's usual style: beautifully detailed, two-page spreads with themed borders and extra pictures on the side which tell a second story. In this particular book, the two stories converge for the ending. Oddly, considering this is a cat story, all of the background characters are dogs.

The story is not terribly original, but it does put Comet in many of the types of trouble in which cats tend to get themselves. It seems to me Comet loses his lives too readily, but the concepts create nice settings for Brett's artwork. If you are looking for a story set in New England or involving cats, this isn't a bad choice.

related-cats, Nantucket Island, New England, Massachusetts, nine lives of a cat, mischief
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddler-KA Cool Drink of Water (2002) and A Little Peace (2007) by Barbara Kerley.
National Geographic Society

These two books highlight with incredibly powerful photographs the importance of both peace and water for life in this world. With very simple text Kerley links us all through the understanding of these necessities. There are notes at the back of each book about the photos and where they were taken, plus notes about each concept.

RL=1st and up, never too young or old to enjoy the pictures

Crazy Alphabet by Lynn Cox. il Rodney McRae.
Orchard Books: NY, 1992.
First published by Angus & Robertson Publishers: Australia, 1990.

My two favorite things about this alphabet book are the collage style pictures that include quilt-like motifs and the language used. Almost half of the pictures are attractive and highly detailed, with many of them incorporating two of the letters. The language is an accumulating story. Some of the words are standards for alphabet books; others are more creative. There are some great action words besides. All taken together, it makes for a more exciting book than most alphabet books.

This is one of the best ABC books for learning to read due to the variation and repetition. Most are too simple to go far. Some might think it would be too difficult, but I believe there needs to be some challenge. When I taught my kids, I wrote out a few sentences for each letter for us to read together, concentrating on the letter and family interests. It was difficult at first, but they learned very quickly.

related-alphabet, ABCs, accumulating stories
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddlers-K, preK-1st can follow along with words

The Cuckoo's Haiku by Michael J. Rosen. il Stan Fellows.
Candlewick Press: Somerville, MA, 2009.

The watercolor illustrations are reason enough to make this book Picture Book of the Month. Both the composition and color convey the excitement and curiosity of birdwatching. The illustrations and playful language reflect the awe of following avians through the seasons. Little moments shared with fleeting guests are heart-warming and bring bursts of joy to our days, and I'm not even an avid watcher, just notice visitors to my region and yard.

There are some good words utilized in the poems. Some of the concepts are evocative as well, such as the comparison of electrical wires and stanzas, turkeys' arrows or the starlings' swooping formations. My anticipation got the better of me in relation to the watercolors. I expected more of the haiku, but it's good to remember how difficult it is to convey your thoughts in so few words. Looking back, I like the poetry more than I did at first. Maybe I just needed to take more time with it. I do love the book and will want to keep going back to it for a while.

I like that there are notes about the different types of birds (bird songs, coloration, etc.), but the one thing I don't like about the book is that the notes throughout are written in hard-to-read text. There are also informative end notes.

I was a little surprised by how many of the birds are familiar. Some of them I may have seen without knowing their names. Now I can look forward to possible differentiation in the future. Fun!

related-poetry for children's literature, common birds of America, birdwatching
RL=4th and up, read aloud to toddlers-3rd

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown.
Little, Brown and Company: NY, 2009.

The Curious Garden is about a garden that brightens a very bland city. On a rainy day, a boy notices a spot of color on the abandoned, raised railway tracks. He encourages it to grow, and with a little tending it expands on its own, taking advantage of other unused spots, taking over the whole railroad track. With time more gardeners pop up all around the city.

The illustrations are such an amazing part of the story. Bright, crisp, cityscapes. With inventive garden spots including a scarecrow on a skyscraper, a tree house garden, windmills, and much more. I enjoyed the garden with a life of its own and the author's vision of gardens all over the city.

related-city gardens
RL=K-1st, read aloud to toddlers-1st

Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman. il by Rick Allen.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company: Boston, 2010.
Caldecott Honor Book 2011

Sidman features meadow and woodland plants and creatures of the night in her poems. All of them are commonly known, and she infuses some greatness into each character. Each also has scientific discussion, interesting details to further the spotlight.

As nice as the poems are, the illustrations seem to me to be the centerpiece. Allen has created intricate linoleum cut prints. Truly gorgeous works of art. My eyes were constantly drawn back as I was trying to read.

It's enough to inspire a trek through the woods, stopping to peer at sights along the way. I confess myself interested in the night life, but too chicken to explore. We have spent some time chasing fireflies, but do not move out of sight of the house. Never into the woods. We have too many visiting creatures, including skunk and predators. I may have to check out the primrose moths at least when the primrose is in bloom, as we have plenty of primrose.

related-children's poetry, night, animals and plants, biology, art, linoleum prints
RL=2nd-3rd, for all ages, read aloud to baby-1st

Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill. il by Bryan Collier.
Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 2010.
Caldecott Honor Book 2011

I so love this book. The strength and beauty of the whole process of pottery is drawn out step by step through the pages, including the the extraction of the clay from the soil. I can feel the power of the man's art-making process, the care in which he goes about his work. Or did, I should say, because this is the story of a historical potter, a slave from South Carolina, with works ranging from the 1830s up to the Civil War period and just after. Dave's name is known in art and history circles for his pots, especially for his rare 20 to 40 gallon pots. He is also known for his poetic additions included with his signature and date.

Besides the expertise of the workmanship, there is a more subtle awesome undertone. Dave is a rare individual in that American slaves were not usually allowed to become craftsman. Add to that the fact that they were not allowed to read and write normally, and Dave was not just signing his masterpieces, but expressing himself with wordcrafting. A strong testament to the human spirit.

I love to see picture books that are as strong in artwork as they are in words! The paintings in this book speak as eloquently as the language. The potter has presence, the hands convey strength and ability, and the artist seeks to remind the readers through background images that Dave was still a slave after all.

related-pottery, artists, poetry, slaves, African Americans, South Carolina, biography
RL=1st-2nd, all ages, can be used for study of pre-Civil War and art and poetry

Detective LaRue: Letters from the Investigation by Mark Teague.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2004.

Canary burglars are on the loose, and so are Mrs. Hibbins's 2 cats. Is it a coincidence? Ike LaRue (dog suspect) thinks not. He snoops around, trying to find proof of the cats' wrongdoing. It's anyone's guess which story is true, but it's quite entertaining with 2 versions of the story layed out in dramatic pictures.

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley. il Brian Selznick.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2001.
Caldecott Honor 2002

Through the prose and images, the reader is drawn into the setting: England in the 1850s. In 1853, with the help of a scientist, Waterhouse Hawkins builds the first models of dinosaurs to be displayed on the grounds of the Crystal Palace science museum. To impress the scientific community he planned a dinner party to present his creations.

The illustrations in this book are amazing, and it is an interesting story that most people wouldn't already know. There are also great notes at the end regarding the dinosaurs, Waterhouse Hawkins, Boss Tweed, the Crystal Palace, and the experiences of Barbara Kerley and Brian Selznick in recreating Hawkins's story.
RL=3rd-5th, read aloud with PreK-2nd

Don't Make Me Laugh by James Stevenson.
Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 1999.

This is one of the funniest of Stevenson's books. Reading aloud to young ones it is almost impossible not to laugh or grin.
RL=read aloud and 1st-2nd

Dreamland by Roni Schotter. il Kevin Hawkes.
Orchard Books: NY, 1996.

Theo's whole family works at the tailor trade. He and his uncle have their hearts and minds elsewhere. After a while Uncle Gurney leaves to try a new opportunity. Theo offers him his drawings of fantasy inventions to take with him. Little did they know Uncle Gurney would find a use for them, in fact, bring them to life.

This is an intriguing story with a little history and a lot of imagination. From the cover, it was not at all what I expected. It is a very real story despite the fantasy, and it is unique and captivating.

After seeing so much of Hawkes' work, it is not at all surprising that the illustrations are exactly what the story needs-historical for the more sober text and wondrous for the more imaginative parts, with so many creative details.

related-imagination, tailors
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to pre-K and up

The Dump Man's Treasures by Lynn Plourde. il by Mary Beth Owens.
Down East: Maine, 2008.

This is the story of an old man in Maine who oversaw his small town's dump, running it as a junkyard. Salvaging whatever he could. Especially books. He couldn't stand to see the books thrown out, so he did repairs and started a library, lending and giving away books. As the collection outgrew his space, he started to take books to people who weren't coming to him, wheeling around an old shopping cart.

The paintings are appealing, a little sketchy but realistic in style. What I love about the book is the concepts. I can't stand throwing out books either, and the man stirs a community spirit, though it's not readily apparent until the end. The using of castoff things also is an embodiment of New England character, a trait that is making a resurgence in much of our country, I hope.

I like to point out Maine related books when I can. This one is a Maine published book, by Down East Magazine. Interestingly, the only address given for the publisher is online, www.downeast.com.

related-garbage disposal, books, libraries, reuse
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddlers-K

An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Aston. il Sylvia Long.
Chronicle Books: San Francisco, 2006.

This book is beautifully illustrated with many types of eggs, and their birds on the end pages. There are pages with some very simple text and the pictures illustrating the points. In other places, the text is more descriptive. The most appealing aspect is the gorgeous illustrations, but I also enjoyed the adjectives used as titles or categories. The book is all about eggs, including the life cycle of an egg. Much more attractive than the nonfiction when I was a child.

related-comparisons, colors and patterns in nature, shapes, sizes, camouflage, beauty and variation in nature, textures, fossils, gift of life, hatching
RL depends on how you want to use it. It can be used for introducing words to toddlers and for reading by 1st-2nd graders.

Eight Animals Bake a Cake by Susan Middleton Elya. il Lee Chapman.
G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Putnam Books: NY, 2002.

Eight animals each bring an ingredient for the cake they bake together. Friends cooking together is a great occasion. The colorful illustrations are fit for a party. The rhyming sentences add to the festivity.

Two friends tug at the finished cake and end up with a mess, salvaged as an upside-down cake. Instructions follow for the recipe.

The animal and ingredient names are in English and Spanish, as well as a few other select words. There are a glossary and a pronunciation guide and reminders on each page.

My favorite parts are the sharing of the friends and the joyful pictures. Though I enjoy more and more each time I read the book.

related-Spanish language, vocabulary, animals, baking a cake, friendship, togetherness, stories in rhyme
RL=2nd-3rd, read aloud to toddlers-1st

Eight Hands Round: Patchwork Alphabet by Ann Whitford Paul. il Jeanette Winter.
HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 1991.

This is an alphabet book that focuses on traditional patchwork patterns and historical references that likely inspired the creation of the patterns (nature, chores, events, people, etc). The names of the patterns are alphabetized. The descriptions are fairly simple historical bits. Most refer to ordinary occurrences in colonial or pioneering life. A few are quite specific and may need more explanation.

I enjoyed the influences for the patterns. Some are obvious; others have names I never would have guessed. The patterns are displayed as the basic square and repeating squares to show what a whole quilt would look like.

related-quilt patterns, patchwork quilts, alphabet, United States history, frontier and pioneer life
RL=2nd-4th, read aloud with preK-1st, could be used for elementary history

The Enormous Snore by M. L. Miller. il Kevin Hawkes.
G. P. Putnam's Sons/The Putnam & Grosset Group: NY, 1995.

This story reminds me of The Princess and the Pea with all of the things the royal advisers stuff under the king's mattress. The king snores and can't be woken, so the idea is to make him uncomfortable enough (Do you really want to do this to a king?) to wake himself. The new girl in the kingdom, who has lost her family, finds the solution: move the bed to Echo Ravine. It's hard to resist the disruption the snore causes and the items shoved under the mattress and discarded afterwards.

The pictures are a little strange but suit the story well. I like the cover art and drama of the other illustrations. Also Hawkes' use of color.

related-snores, echoes, rulers, kings, queens
RL=K-2nd, read aloud to toddler and up

The Etcher's Studio by Arthur Geisert.
Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 1997.

A boy helps his grandfather in his etcher's studio prepare for his annual gallery sale. The boy describes the etching process and how he assists with materials and coloring the etchings. The first part of the story is the process. Then, 14 pages of the detailed pictures, etched and colored. At the end, a guide of elements in the etcher's studio and step by step instructions for an etching. The very last page gives a brief history.

This is a great book. It has an old-timey feeling, though it isn't necessarily dated. Just different from the norm. The text is simple, straightforward and instructional. I like that the author is willing to share his process. Makes me want to give it a try. It also makes me appreciate the incredible details more, knowing that the process had to be done over and over for one illustration. It is awesome to see even without the info.

related-etchings, artists, artwork, illustrators, grandfathers, imagination, art studios, art exhibitions
RL=K and up, read aloud with pre-K and K, elementary students for art class or ideas

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett. il by Jon Klassen.
Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins: NY, 2012.
Caldecott Honor 2013

I have read this book a few times already since it was published, as it has been on display at the library. I like the contrast of the yarn with the colorless landscape, white snow and dark objects. The yarn livens the scene, including the people. The endless box of yarn is a great concept, as it must seem endless to those who watch people sit everywhere knitting and knitting. It isn't enough that everyone have a sweater; objects and animals are covered with knitting as well. A couple nice touches are the yarn as a dog's leash and the sweaters of a row of people connected by the yarn.

The story evokes several thoughts. Can the girl stop knitting, or is she compelled to continue? Does she think of it as a challenge that she cover everyone and everything in sight? How do the inhabitants feel about their changing village?

The story is mostly whimsical, with messages of giving and challenges. The setting has a historical look, with a touch of fairy tale.

related-yarn, knitting, giving, humorous stories
RL=1st-2nd, mostly read aloud to toddlers-K

Fannie in the Kitchen by Deborah Hopkinson. il by Nancy Carpenter.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2001.

I love it! The story and the old time feel of the illustrations.

Deborah Hopkinson is excellent at depicting historical themes. The story is informative, and children can relate to wanting to help the grownups and learn. Though it would normally be older children these days learning household arts, young ones are still interested.

Nancy Carpenter researched 19th century etchings and engravings for the look of the period. She has captured the spirit of a young girl wanting to help and learn and making mistakes in the process. Beautiful work.

The story is loosely based on the life of Fannie Farmer, who wrote one of the first American cookbooks after teaching at the Boston Cooking School. It takes place in the Shaw home, where Fannie worked as a mother's helper before teaching cooking. In the story, she teaches and befriends the daughter of the household and writes cooking instructions to help the girl. From there, her recipes are borrowed, and she gains fame within Boston. There is a short bio at the end as well.

related-Fannie Farmer, cooking and cookbooks, importance of measurements, helpfulness
RL=1st-2nd, readaloud with preK-1st

A Farmer's Alphabet by Mary Azarian.
David R. Godine, Publisher: Boston, 1981.

Today, small farms are still a fixture in the New England countryside. There are less of them, I'm sure, than 30 years ago, when the book was published. But they are still there in the many small towns. Azarian had been watching the suburbanization of America when she started her teaching job in Vermont. She needed teaching aids and wanted to celebrate and capture the details of the life around her. She chose subjects that were a part of daily life then, and still can be found in rural New England. Add to that the fact that the early 1980s were part of the back to the farm trend, and I am sure this book was a big hit.

It is amazing how much Azarian captured with a picture and one word. mostly simple words. To be sure, the black and white woodcuts are not ordinary. They are extremely detailed and depict aspects of rural life well. Some would apply to life in general. I could see this being a favorite for the beautiful illustrations. Words that are familiar are given a different context, with a New England flavor. I can imagine each lovely print hanging on a wall also.

related-alphabet, ABCs, farm life, country, New England, Vermont, woodcut prints
RL=K, read aloud to toddlers

Compare to A Gardener's Alphabet by Mary Azarian. The books were published 20 years apart.

Feliciana Feydra LaRoux by Tynia Thomassie. il Cat Bowman Smith.
Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 1995.

A cajun tall tale about a spunky girl used to getting her way. Her grandpa won't let her go alligator hunting with him and the boys, so she sneaks off in the night to follow.

Feliciana is quite a character, and the Cajun atmosphere is interesting and entertaining. I especially like the picture of Feliciana straddling the alligator.

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Five Trucks by Brain Floca.
DK Publishing, Inc: NY, 1999.

How can you go wrong with trucks, right? You can't. Kids love trucks. This particular book is not the usual truck book. It has minimal words, only what is necessary to carry it forward. The concept is huge for what on the surface looks like an introduction to trucks. Five varying trucks have different purposes, all working together toward one goal - preparing an airplane for flight. Emphasis is all on the trucks, but it is also clear that the jobs are being portrayed. I like the underlying meaning that will get young viewers and readers thinking.

Reading level on this is harder to judge. The shortness and simplicity usually would mean K-1st, but some of the words might be hard for beginners. Once the reader has been introduced to a variety of sounds, it should be okay, but help with a few words may still be needed.

related- trucks, airports, jobs and workers

Flotsam by David Wiesner.
Clarion Books: NY, 2006.
Caldecott Award 2007

David Wiesner is the master of the wordless story. Besides the beauty of his work, he creates one surprise after another in his books. Some of his concepts are loosely tied to the story, but they are fabulous, detailed stories within the story. The robotic fish is a story begging to be told, and the picture within a picture is an excellent variation of the message in a bottle theme.

I think Flotsam is now my favorite of David Wiesner's books. An inquisitive boy finds an underwater camera washed up on the beach. He immediately has the film developed and finds evidence of a wondrous underwater world. Looking closer he sees that many people (from various places and even through time) have shared the discovery through the camera.

There is no text, and yet the more you look at the amazing illustrations, the deeper you are drawn into the story. Little ones especially will see something new every time they open the book.
RL=toddler & up, all ages

Flower Garden by Eve Bunting. il Kathryn Hewitt.
Harcourt Brace & Company: NY, 1994.

A young girl is so enthusiastic about the window garden she and her father are going to plant that she carries "the garden" home from the store. The miniature garden is shown in the cart, on the checkout stand, in its box riding home on the bus, and on the girl's lap as she rests outside her apartment door. It's also viewed in the assembling process and as a finished garden.

The pictures are delightful with various colors and much character. The finished garden is seen from different perspectives - up close right after planting, looking down at it through the window, sideways from the next window over, and from the street far below. The garden gives pleasure to all who see it - at the store, on the way home, in the neighborhood, by the family, and even the cat.

This is a book I would pick to read with children again and again. The pictures could stand alone. There are wonderful details to discover with closer examination. The text is rhyming and conveys the excitement and pure joy of the occasion. Plus there is the added bonus of a birthday connection.

I have read a few Eve Bunting books before, but they had a heavier mood. This was a wonderful surprise, and I can see now that I'm going to need to go through her many books one by one.

related-city gardening, gardens, parent and child, birthdays, surprises, flowers, window boxes, neighborhoods, community, stories in rhyme
RL=1st-2nd, all ages, read aloud to toddler-1st

Fox's Dream by Keizaburo Tejima.
Philomel Books/Putnam Publishing Group: NY, 1987.
Originally published by Fukutake Pub. Co. Ltd.: Tokyo, Japan, 1985.
Based on English translation by Susan Matsui.

Tejima is a woodcut artist, who has used fairy tales and themes of nature for his picture books. This is one of several books by Tejima. All have delightful print work, in color.

This particular story takes place in the winter and follows a lone fox exploring the snowy countryside. The story is simple, yet evokes a deep understanding. The fox is looking for companionship.

I was surprised to see the age of the books. The style and story are ageless.

related-animals, foxes, winter, snow, friendship, memories
RL=1st, mostly read aloud, to babies-K

Free Fall by David Wiesner.
Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books/William Morrow & Company: NY, 1988.
Caldecott Honor 1989.

Not many picture book illustrators are so successful in capturing a whole story as Wiesner is. He has taken M. C. Escher's concept of tessellations, brought them close up, and made them real. He blends reality and fantasy with a remarkable effect. Then it all turns out to be a dream after all, influenced by objects in the boy's room. Every picture is a work of art by itself-and also a possible story starter for creative writing. It is also an excellent book to use for art lessons. A book to pour over again and again noticing new details every time. The artwork is amazing and delightful. One of the best picture books I've seen.

I did some research on the book and author because my husband said he saw something similar in an old comic strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland. The comic has adventures in dream lands, but other than that it didn't seem closely related to me. I checked other reviews and was surprised no one mentioned M. C. Escher. However, I did see a very negative review. The review said that young children wouldn't see the logic connecting the pictures and that it would not appeal to older children. I disagree with both points. Young children are often not given credit for their ability to understand. If they look closely (as young children do), they can understand. Also, if adults can be excited about picture books (as many parents, teachers, and librarians can confirm), then the book can appeal to older children. Excellent picture books are enjoyable for all ages.
related-stories without words, tessellations, dreams, M. C. Escher, art
RL=PreK and up

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart. il David Small.
Farrar, Straus, Giroux: NY, 1997.

When a young girl's family falls on hard times, she is sent to live with her uncle in the city. Lydia Grace helps with his bakery and tries to bring cheer to the household. Accustomed to working in the garden with her grandmother, Lydia Grace grows plants with seeds sent by her grandmother. She anticipates filling the window boxes and bare spaces with plants. She finds a special place to grow a whole garden - the rooftop - and secretly grows her garden as a surprise.

The story is told largely through the pictures along with letters Lydia Grace sends back home. There is much humor related to the girl's liveliness and spirit. It's also a little emotional as she is first separated from her family and then her uncle and friends she has grown to love in the city.

related-gardening, gardens, writing letters
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to preK-1st

A Gardener's Alphabet by Mary Azarian.
Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 2000.

Almost 20 years after her first book, Azarian produced another alphabet book. Still, fabulous woodcut prints, but this time colored with watercolors. The colors are nice, but I like her black and white prints in The Farmer's Alphabet better. I do love the complexity of the prints. In a sense, Azarian is telling a story, beloved to all gardeners, with her elaborate illustrations. Again, simple words, but the concepts are a whole familiar scene played out for us. The book is delightful. I think I am becoming a collector of alphabets, fascinated just as Azarian was.

Another difference in the style between the two books is that the first book has an older feel. Little time was spent on features of the people. The focus was the surroundings. In the newer book, the people are softer and cheerier.

related-gardening, gardens, alphabet, ABCs, growing food, flowers

Giggle, Giggle, Quack by Doreen Cronin. il Betsy Lewin.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2002.

Farmer Brown goes on vacation leaving his brother in charge of the animals, with instructions to watch out for Duck's troublemaking. Notes have been left regarding the care of the animals. Duck replaced Farmer Brown's notes with his own. The animals are happy and laughing at the new arrangements, and Bob has no clue.

It is a very simple story illustrated in a comic way. Cronin and Lewin again team up for a story that is exciting and keeps the reader/listener wanting to know what silly thing comes next. It is hilarious, and all can relate and are likely to participate by suggesting changes to their parents' instructions.

related-farm animals, vacation, babysitting, ducks
RL=1st-2nd, mostly read aloud to toddler & up

G is for Googol by David M. Schwartz. il by Marissa Moss.
Tricycle Press: Berkeley, CA, 1998.

G is for Googol, besides having one of the best names, is one of my favorite alphabet books. It's unique and delightful, explaining some great math terms in clear and simple speech. It also has fabulous graphic depictions and comical commentary. The reading level is about 3rd to 5th grade level, but it is really a book for all ages. Everyone can enjoy the comics. Elementary on up through adult can benefit from the clarification of ideas, and in turn discuss with children better, encouraging them to enjoy the concepts of math enough to persevere through the figuring they might not like as much.

Besides the educational value, it is a fun book. It shows that math is fascinating, something worth knowing for the pleasure of it. I think maybe a fault of school systems is that too often math is taught as just memorization and figuring from the beginning through half or all of high school. It isn't just a skill to acquire; there are exciting, mindblowing concepts involved.

G is for Googol and its counterpart Q is for Quark are books to buy for youngsters and keep and cherish. They are not quick reads; they serve as reminders as well as introductions. I have to say these books helped me to understand some of the terms better and explained terms I hadn't bothered to understand. Here's hoping that these books will lead to further exploration.

related-mathematics, alphabet, ABCs, educational comics, exploration
RL=all ages

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
Harper & Row, Publishers: NY, 1964.

This is the story of a tree that never stops giving. As the boy is young, it is joyous, but as the boy grows he wants more and more from the tree (or life). I've enjoyed this story again and again since I first read it many years ago.
RL=read aloud and 1st-2nd

Gone Wild by David McLimans.
Walker & Company: NY, 2006.
Caldecott Honor 2007

Drawing on the idea of pictograms McLimans has graphically depicted the letters of the alphabet. Each letter becomes an endangered animal of the world. An attempt was made to pick animals whose characteristics worked well with their respective letters. It is an old idea to use pictures to help learn the sounds and shapes of letters. Some children (such as those taught in Waldorf schools) still learn their letters through tracing or drawing object-shaped letters. McLimans has taken the idea beyond the basic and also turned it into a lesson of diversity and ecology.

The book may be used for several ages, starting with familiarizing toddlers with the sounds of the letters. It can also be used up through 5th grade for lessons of biology, ecology, and art.

related-alphabet books, art of illumination, endangered species

Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathman.
G. P. Putnam's Sons/The Putnam & Grosset Group: NY, 1994.

The pictures tell it all. A zookeeper says good night to all the animals as he leaves the zoo, but the gorilla has snatched his keys and lets all of the animals out as they go along. The gorilla is hilarious as are the pictures with the parade of animals following the zookeeper home. The zookeeper is zonked out when his wife says goodnight, but all the animals answer her. Wouldn't you know it? She is the one to lead them back to their homes.

This is one of my favorite books for concentrating on the pictures and one of the best Good Night books. There is minimal text. Good Night, Moon is the most known now, but Rathman's story is much better. The colors in the book don't seem quite right to me, but the story is clever and funny.

related-zoo animals, zoos, good night, humorous stories, wordless stories
RL=PreK-1st, read aloud to toddlers and PreK

*Note-It now comes in large boardbook.Granite Baby by Lynne Bertrand. il Kevin Hawkes.
Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 2005.

Five larger than life sisters from New Hampshire try to satisfy a baby that the youngest sister made from granite. None of them have a clue, but a local girl with several siblings helps out. It is a tall tale to rival Paul Bunyan with extraordinary feats by all the sisters, giant-sized loving care, and some wild fancies at every turn. The use of granite is interesting particularly since the region is known for its granite and carvings, and there are geographical references, too. Not one of my favorite styles, but it is a fun read and similar to some of the other books Hawkes has illustrated. The best of the pictures are those with granite carvings.

related-babies, New Hampshire, tall tales, granite quarries
RL=1st=3rd, mostly read aloud pre-K to 1st

The Great Bridge-Building Contest by Bo Zaunders. il Roxie Munro.
Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers: NY, 2004.

The Board of Public Works in Richmond, Virginia announced a competition for a bridge to be built over the Tyart River in the town of Philippi. Anyone could compete. Construction experts from all over the Eastern United States came to participate. Lemuel Chenoweth, a self-taught cabinetmaker from northwestern Virginia, was awarded the contract. Unlike the other participants, he had no blueprints, and his model was much simpler than the engineers. But he ingeniously proved his bridge was strong in a way the others could not. The bridge today is part of a federal highway-holding many times the load for which it was built.

This is a great story about an amazing bridge with interesting facts and attractive pictures. There are also descriptions of other covered bridges that have survived at the end of the story.
RL=2nd-4th and read aloud

The Great Dewey Hunt by Toni Buzzeo. il by Sachiko Yoshikawa.
Upstart Books: Janesville, WI, 2009.

This is a teaching book for the Dewey Decimal system. Toni Buzzeo is a Library Media Specialist who came up with the idea of a treasure hunt for learning the Dewey categories and finding books by category. She implemented the game with her students, and then she transformed the idea into this picture book. In the story, a class learns the Dewey system and helps a younger class to learn it, too. There is a lesson pamphlet included for teachers and librarians to use the idea with their students.

The story is the main focus of the book. It is light-hearted with a couple conflicts thrown in for interest. I think the best part is the hunt itself.

For those looking for books with Maine connections, Buzzeo is from Maine. There is no apparent Maine theme, though.

related-Dewey Decimal System, libraries, books, finding books, book search, schools
RL=1st-4th, kindegarteners may be interested as well

The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry.
Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers: NY, 1990.

Beautiful illustrations and a variety of jungle creatures give us a gentle reminder of the importance of the Amazon rainforests and the need to protect them. The animals speak to a man who lays down to sleep after trying to chop a great kapok tree.

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.
Roaring Brook Press: NY, 2012.
Caldecott Honor 2013.

This may be the best book about colors I have seen. Obviously, the focus is on the color green, many greens. The illustrations are fantastic. Hidden in the full page spreads are cut-outs artfully connected to the next illustrations, some of them hidden well. I enjoyed the variety of the paintings and the fact that the cut-outs are not all obvious. They require looking closely and inspire further observation. There is more depth than what is usual for such a simple book, regarding content and artwork.

related-colors, greens, simple text
RL=preK-K, read aloud with babies and toddlers

The Green Truck Garden Giveaway by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. il. Alec Gillman.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 1997.

This book is about the transformation of a neighborhood. Visitors to Second Street bring garden supplies to get the inhabitants started on their first gardening experiences. They plant each garden, including pots for a woman who is unwilling to get dirty and brambles that turn into roses and raspberries for a crotchety old man. As the plants grow, attitudes change, and the neighbors start to share and rejoice.

This is one of my favorite garden books, portraying the joy gardens bring to newcomers and old hands. It is written in an almanac format and has notes about organizations that collect seeds and encourage people to grow gardens. The pictures are beautiful, and there are activities and recipes to try, as well as random notes related to gardening. I especially enjoy the idea of volunteers traveling and gifting people with gardens.
RL=2nd-4th, read aloud preK-1st

Growing Patterns by Sarah C. Campbell. il Sarah C. and Richard P. Campbell.
Boyds Mills Press: Honesdale, PA, 2010.

This is a simple and beautiful explanation of Fibonacci numbers: description of the pattern, its existence in nature, and historical notes regarding the observance of the pattern and similar number theory, such as the Golden Ratio and Lucas numbers.

The book starts by encouraging the reader to count petals of flowers. Each new one adds petals as the pattern grows, and previous flowers are displayed in the formation of the nautilus depiction of the pattern. Spirals of pine cones, sunflowers, and pineapples are also discussed, and a geometric spiral is shown at the end.

I like the simple, tactile discussion. I have found as a homeschool teacher that young children love number theory. It takes a certain type of mind to enjoy figuring numbers, but discussion of the importance of numbers can be quite engaging. Fibonacci numbers are a little mysterious. They're like a key to decoding the world, and this book gives children access to the secret.

related-Fibonacci numbers, numbers in nature, number patterns, number theory, number sequences, observing nature
RL=1st-3rd, could use for math classes up to 5th

Handel: Who Knew What He Liked by M. T. Anderson. il Kevin Hawkes.
Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2001.

What a nice introductory biography of the musician and composer George Frideric Handel. The story is interesting with a few notes about musical vocabulary. Funny anecdotes from Handel's early life lead to his study of music and success. He moved to England to introduce his opera. For a while, it was a success, but when the British showed they preferred music in their own language, he changed his music to accomodate them, while maintaining his style. If he had given up instead, his Messiah, which is still performed every year, may not have been written.

There are notes at the back of the book for further reading and a list of music for listening.
related-George Frideric Handel, composers, operas, oratories, music as a profession or career, Messiah, Water Musick, Music for the Royal Fireworks
RL=2nd-4th, work better as an early reader than read aloud

Hank Finds Inspiration by Craig Frazier.
Roaring Brook Press/Holtzbrinck Publishing: NY, 2008.

Stanley and Hank the snake go to the city separately to find inspiration for decorating their lawn. Hank asks several people where he can find inspiration and is given many ideas. He eventually finds it himself. As does Stanley.

I like the different suggestions for describing an idea that is difficult to grasp and the explanation that it is a personal thing that your heart will recognize. Several creative and relaxing outlets are possibilities. Sometimes we can share the same inspiration.

Frazier has an unusual style of artwork, coming from his work as a graphic designer. The images are bright and crisp. Interesting in their uniqueness.

related-inspiration, creative expression, snakes, human-animal relationships
RL=K-2nd, read aloud to preK-K

Have You Seen Birds? by Joanne Oppenheim. il by Barbara Reid.
Scholastic, Inc: NY, 1986.
Original text 1968.

This is a language-playful, season-passing poem about bird behavior. Different habitats are also included. Many of the descriptions are combined into adjectives with dashes. It has a nice rhythm and texture, all of it with very specific meaning.

I have no idea what the original illustrations were like. These took a little acclimation. After seeing the whole book, I've decided it's cool. The illustrations are mixed media, primarily using plasticine (a substitute for clay) so it resembles a relief. Very detailed modeled work! I love the poem, too, but it is worth a look just for the sculpturing. Whole scenes sculpted.

related-poetry for children, birds, seasons, habitats, science, animals RL=2nd-4th, read aloud to toddlers-1st

Hi, Harry!: The moving story of how one slow tortoise slowly made a friend. by Martin Waddell. il by Barbara Firth.
Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2003.

This book has a nice story about friendship and appealing pictures. The text is also simple enough to use as a beginning reader.

Hip-Pocket Papa by Sandra Markle. il by Alan Marks.
Charlesbridge Publishing: Watertown, MA, 2010.

The gorgeous cover is what first attracted me to this book. With a title like a music celebrity's name, I didn't know what to expect from the contents. Looking inside, there is page after page of beautiful nature-related art, mostly frogs in different surroundings.

Seeing that it is a nonfiction book, I didn't expect to like the text as much as I did. Markle addresses the subject by telling the story of this particular frog's days as he protects the eggs, tadpoles, and young frogs until they are ready to explore the world. Also, there are several subjects incorporated in this one short story, a story balanced between the more personal level and scientific description.

I don't know if I would have been quite so interested if the type of frog wasn't unusual, though frogs are different enough to catch any young one's imagination. There are some specific aspects of the hip-pocket frog that lend themselves toward an interesting story. For example, having pockets at the hip for carry babies. I like the similarity with marsupials, though the baby frogs are not interacting with the parent.

I do absolutely love the illustrations. Markle and Marks work perfectly together. As beautiful as the art is, we are not just seeing a frog on a page; each drawing illustrates precisely the thought from the text.

I can see this being a favorite on the shelves of animal and nature loving children.

related-frogs, life cycle of frogs, hip-pocket frog, miniature wildlife habitats, life in the forest floor, nurture and and care of babies, protection from predators
RL=1st-3rd, read aloud with toddlers-1st

His Royal Buckliness by Kevin Hawkes.
Lothrop, Lee & Shepard/William Morrow and Company: NY, 1992.

Taken by giants and treated as a king, Lord Buckley misses home and writes to his kinsmen for a release from boredom. Two come to his rescue, and the three together entertain the giant.

It is a fanciful adventure for little ones with big imagination. The fantastic pictures are the main attraction and need few words to guide the story.

related-giants, seasons, stories in rhyme
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddler-K

Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride by Marjorie Priceman.
An Anne Schwartz Book/Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2005.

Caldecott Honor 2006

Most of this story is told with bright, lively pictures. The details of the animals' trip are clever. The facts of the first hot-air balloon exhibition are included at the back of the book.
RL=1st-2nd and read aloud to younger

A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle.
Picture Book Studio: Natick, MA, 1987.

Hermit Crab moves into a new shell after outgrowing the old. It's a bit plain, but he decorates it as he goes along with things from the sea. This is one of my favorites of Eric Carle's. As he grows more (just as children do) he must find another shell, but he is only thinking of the new and exciting possibilities.
RL=2nd-3rd and read aloud PreK-1st

How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz.
Farrar Straus Giroux: NY, 2008.

A boy and his parents are refugees from their war-torn homeland, living in a far removed, desolate area. All their possessions gone and little to live on, sometimes not even food. One day, the boy's father comes home late from the market with a map instead of food. The boy and mother are disappointed and angry as they go to bed without food. However, the next day the father hangs the map which covers a whole wall, and it lights and warms the whole room. As time goes on, the boy studies the map, and his curiosity and imagination are stimulated, making their dire lifestyle easier to tolerate.

The story is based on the author's own experiences. As a child, his family fled from Poland to Turkestan (now Kazakhstan). Their is an explanation at the back, including a few pictures.

The style of the illustrations is cartoonish, with mixed mediums watercolor, pen and ink and collage. Vibrant and appealing, an enjoyable accompaniment to the story.

related-refugees, poverty, survival, maps, geography, imagination, touches on World War II, author's childhood, social studies
RL=2nd-5th. Despite the circumstances, the mood is light. It moves quickly enough away from difficulties to the boy's using the map to explore.

How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham.
Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2008.

This story is more complicated and thoughtful than the average picture book. It has both full page spreads and frame by frame to show action. The text is minimal and backgrounds gray with focus shown through the use of a spot of color and small segments in a frame. The bigness of the city is depicted by skyscrapers and crowds, contrasting with the smallness of the child and that the child out of all these people noticed the bird and cared for it. It is a story to read again and again, finding something different each time.

I like the understanding of the parents and their willingness to help, and their shared hope that the bird will heal and fly again. I like the quietness of the minimal text and the waiting and watching with little nuances in the pictures. I also like what the author says about the book:

In troubled times, when many of us are losing contact with the natural world, I wanted to show that there is still hope in a coming generation of children who have curiosity and empathy with the world around them, and that care and attention can sometimes fix broken wings.

related-birds, nurturing, healing, city
RL=K-1st, read aloud to toddler-1st

I, Crocodile by Fred Marcellino.
Michael di Capua Books/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 1999.

Napoleon kidnaps a crocodile on a raid in Egypt. He is the main attraction for a while in France, but when he becomes old news, he is in danger of becoming dinner. Witty, with pictures that tell it all. They have lovely details, and emotions are skillfully conveyed.
RL=1st-2nd and read aloud

If I Never Forever Endeavor by Holly Meade.
Candlewick Press: Somerville, MA, 2011.

The illustrations are in mixed media collage style, lending some depth and movement to otherwise simplistic painting.

The wordplay is the centerpiece of the story, otherwise the text, too, would be overly simplistic. Meade poetically depicts a fledgling bird debating whether to try to leave the nest or not. Leaving might mean drastic failure, or it could mean incredible possibilities - adventure, friends, achievement. It sounds much like a poem of encouragement a parent would create for a child learning to do new and challenging things. And it is simple enough that it could be a favorite to memorize.

related-birds, trying, attempting a challenge, flying, encouragement, linoleum block printing, collage art
RL=1st, read aloud to toddlers

If You Hopped Like a Frog by David M. Schwartz. il. by James Warhola.
Scholastic Press: NY, 1999.

This is a fun and thought-provoking tribute to the awe-inspiring things animals can do. It also happens to be a wonderfully visual demonstration of ratio and proportion. Wouldn't you like to leap from home plate to first base in one bound? How about eat 700 hamburgers in one day?
RL=1st       math explanations L=4th-5th

Imagine a Night by Sarah L. Thomson. paintings by Rob Gonsalves.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers: NY, 2003.

The paintings are the attraction of this collection of Rob Gonsalves's paintings. There is no story. Instead, Thomson invites viewers to share the awe and wonder of imagining through Gonsalves's highly creative work. Each of his Escher inspired creations has its own story to explore-the farmer lulling his sunflowers to sleep with music, the cityscape cut from a curtain, a planetarium created through curtain cuttings, the ladies of the lake appearing as a reflection, the monks of the magical mixture of clouds, moonlight and windows, and more.

related-M. C. Escher, fine art in children's books, artists, patterns and images created by nature, tessellations, point of view, imagination
RL=all ages, read aloud to PreK-K

Imagine That!: Poems of Never-Was selected by Jack Prelutsky. il Kevin Hawkes.
Alfred A. Knopf: NY, 1998.

I only liked a few of the poems, but enjoyed the illustrations more. If you're interested in Hawkes's work, I'd recommend it. Otherwise, not.
related-imagination, children's poetry, American poetry

The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau by Jon Agee.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux: NY, 1988.

A very imaginative story of an artist whose paintings are slightly too realistic. My sons and I loved the visual jokes and the damage caused by the paintings.

The Insomniacs by Karina Wolf. il by The Brothers Hilts.
G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Group: NY, 2012.

I was immediately drawn to both the illustrations and the title. The style of the pencil and charcoal drawings is reminiscent of the movies Coraline and A Nightmare Before Christmas. Even the daytime portions are dark and shadowy. The scenes are filled with focused detail.

The story is an unusual topic with a unique perspective. A family moves to the other side of the world and cannot seem to adjust their time reference. So, they try living at night instead. They study night creatures, participate in nocturnal activities, and enjoy the night happenings. They decide their new life suits them.

The family tries to fit in their new home. When it doesn't work, they try something different, and in the process, they discover that the difference is okay. Sleep habits is an area in which my family has also not managed to follow the norm. We go back and forth between night and day to fit in with others' schedules, and it doesn't work well. It's nice to see this subject addressed, and I like the overall theme of it being okay to find your own way and live differently. I also enjoy the humor.

Note for parents: If you are particularly concerned with forming and keeping to a routine, you may wish to avoid this book until you have a well established pattern. Expect to be a little flexible with bedtimes if reading this. For me, this was not a concern.

related-sleep patterns, way of life, choices, being yourself

RL=1st-2nd, read aloud toddler-K

In the Attic by Hiawyn Oram. il by Satoshi Kitamura.
Henry Holt and Company: NY, 1984.

In this book, an unnamed boy is looking for something new to do, even though he has "a million toys." He uses the ladder from his firetruck to climb through the ceiling to his attic. There he dreams vivid scenes and adventures. I particularly like the windows into other worlds and the game with the tiger. In the end, he climbs back to his home and tells his mom about his day.

The text is fairly basic and short enough for beginners. Though it is basic, it still sounds like a story, not stilted. The illustrations are the centerpiece of the story. Imaginative and detailed. I want to just look and look at the page.

related-boredom, Japanese children's stories, attics, imagination, adventure
RL=K-1st, read aloud to toddler-1st

In the Tall, Tall Grass by Denise Fleming.
Henry Holt and Company: NY, 1991.

Like many baby/toddler books, the emphasis is on animals and action. Some you may see in your backyard. Others less likely. The words and rhythm are snappy and mostly short. Although I like the words used, the language in Beetle Bop is more creative and rhythmic.

The best part of the book is the illustrations. The background starts out very bright for the morning and changes through the day and night. Vibrant colors layer over each other for rough, impressionistic images.

related-rhymes, day and night, backyard creatures
RL=read aloud to babies and toddlers, K-1st themselves

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2007.
Caldecott Medal 2008

This book has created quite a stir in the last year. Many were sure it would win an award-just not sure which one. It's taken a while for me to get my hands on a copy. The coverart and the author's name were enough for me to be excited, because I loved his illustrations in The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins (Caldecott Honor of 2002).

My first impression was shock at the length of the book and then amazement (flipping the pages) at the wondrous artwork and how long Selznick must have spent drawing. The story is a novel, though short in terms of text. The style is similar to Chris Van Allsburg's-striking, intense, and mysterious. The photographs added of actual events are also intriguing. The story itself is unusual (an understatement), suspenseful, captivating, and in the end awesome as the threads come together.

It wasn't until the end that I realized the illustrations are a means of reflecting the motion picture industry which factors into the story. In the beginning, the story centers on Hugo's mechanical ability and his orphaned situation with the mystery of the broken automaton he tries to fix. When the maker of the automaton is revealed, the story turns towards a segment of the early history of motion picture.

My oldest son praised the unusual concept. His comment reminded me how much I enjoy stories that are so different from anything else. With the amount of reading I do, I have seen many good books (and series) that follow the same format as others. It's a special treat to read a book that is totally its own.

related-Georges Méliès, robots, clocks, orphans, railroad stations, history of Paris, France, mechanical toys, automatons
RL=4th-8th, read aloud to k-3rd

Jason's Bears by Marion Dane Bauer. il Kevin Hawkes.
Hyperion Books for Children: NY, 2000.

Jason's Bears is about a young boy's love of all things bear related. Until his older brother convinces him there are 4 bears which enjoy eating young boys living at their residence. He tries to stop thinking about bears, but one day his brother teasingly gives him a gingerbread bear. It is Jason's first step towards overcoming his fear and renewing his love of bears.

The story is nicely done. First, for its collecting of animals that so many people like to do. Then, for its original idea of dispelling a common childhood fear.

The illustrations have the usual action and colors, bright and contrasting, that Hawkes uses. They are full of emotion and suit the story perfectly. Love the details, such as the blanket with paw prints! As usual, there are a couple that would be great framed as prints, too.

related-bears, childhood fears, brothers, teasing
RL=1st-3rd, mostly read aloud to toddler-1st

Jazzy Miz Mozetta by Brenda C. Roberts. il Frank Morrison.
Farrar Straus Giroux: NY, 2004

You can almost hear the music and feel the beat as Miz Mozetta prepares for a night of dancing. Her friends decline since their bodies don't work the way they used to do, and the kids dancing to their music on the street doubt she has the moves. She gives up and goes home, but her friends decide to lift her spirits.

Even the pictures are jazzy. What a lovely way to share the love of music and dance! Both transcend all barriers-in this case the generation gap.

Jim and the Beanstalk by Raymond Briggs.
Coward-McCann Inc: NY, 1970.

The illustrations are excellent and carry the story. The story is an extension of Jack and the Beanstalk instead of a changing. There are some interesting ideas and a bit of repetition for young listeners.

RL=1st-3rd and read aloud to toddlers-K

Johnny Appleseed by Reeve Lindbergh. il by Kathy Jakobsen.
Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 1990.

I've seen this poem by Lindbergh a few times at our local library, mostly years ago. The illustrations always beckon me. The quilted old-timey feeling. The textures and details are alluring. Even more tiny details await perusal on the borders of the pages.

The poem is an awe-inspiring way to introduce young ones to the legend and legacy of Johnny Appleseed. Here in Maine, all things apple are popular. No wonder, with the old trees that grow along our roadsides and even hide within the forests where old homesteads have disappeared. This poem is a tribute to the pioneers and an incredible man who helped them to survive their difficult lives. It is amazing to know that he did much of what was claimed. The apple trees in Maine evoke a sense of history and a tie to those times. This poem is dripping with that sense. It is also in recognition of the apple itself with reminders of the glorious plant, the beauty of it and its bounty. A reminder also that all it takes is a little tending of the earth to achieve such bounty.

related-Johnny Appleseed, John Chapman, apple growers, tree growers, frontier and pioneer life, husbandry, stories in rhyme
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddler-1st

John, Paul, George & Ben by Lane Smith.
Hyperion Books for Children: NY, 2006.

From the title, reminiscent of the Beatles, to the satirical references to the lives of John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson this is a book for the older picture book reader. Humor for those who already have an understanding of the American Revolution. Maybe to be read side by side biographical books. Each child has a talent that is less appreciated before adulthood, and there is a humorous situation in each telling.

It is a must read for the fans of Lane Smith (and Jon Scieszka, since Lane Smith illustrated Scieszka's books). The style is the same as the Scieszka and Smith team, with Revolutionary period costume and background. It is a book to study and savor to fully appreciate the details. A book for children and adults to enjoy.

related-John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, American Revolution
RL=K & up

Just Ducky by Kathy Mallat.
Walker & Company: NY, 2002.

The illustrations are the draw in this book. A duckling whose friends are all busy with other things plays with its reflection, thinking it's another duckling. The duck has character, and there is a bit of playing with different aspects of the reflection. The colors are vibrant, but it is the duck's personality that captures attention.

Mostly a read aloud, but could be used as a beginner reader due to the simple language.

related-ducks, play, friendship, reflections
RL=K-1st, read aloud to toddlers-K

Just Like Abraham Lincoln by Bernard Waber.
Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 1964.

Mr. Potts, the next door neighbor, looks exactly like Abraham Lincoln. He has clothes like him and behaves like him.

The story gives a good impression of what Lincoln was like and what he stood for. It is a beautiful tribute that is sure to inspire more Lincolnphiles, and it has a funny ending.
RL=1st-2nd and read aloud

Kat Kong written and directed by Dav Pilkey.
Harcourt Brace & Company: NY, 1993.

A hilarious retelling of King Kong using cat and mice characters. The text and pictures are equally funny.
RL=3rd & up

Kidogo by Anik McGrory.
Bloomsbury Publishing: NY, 2005.

Kidogo is part introduction to elephant habitat, part description of youngsters wanting to be a little more grownup. Kidogo is the smallest of the herd, needing help in different ways. He wanders to try to find an animal smaller than him, without much luck. After giving up and deciding he will take care of himself on his own, he does find something smaller.

I especially like the references to his family taking care of him and his care of the little creatures he discovers. Kidogo has quite the personality, as shown in the pictures.

The story is quiet and subtle. A cheery reflection of family and life, whether the subject is elephants or people.

related-family, size, size perception, elephants, ants, animals, helping
RL=K-1st, read aloud to toddlers-K

Quick, Slow, Mango by Anik McGrory.
Bloomsbury Publishing: NY, 2011.

In this story, Kidogo is directed by his mother to keep up with the routine of the family. She is training him when to drink, eat, etc. As is normal with young ones, he is more interested in exploring and playing. He wanders again in this story, because he misses the drink he should have had earlier. This places him in the river at the opportune time to make a new friend. PolePole is frantically picking mangoes, which she drops into the river in her haste. Kidogo captures some of them, and she copies him.

Kidogo's personality really shines in this story. His exploration and antics are the best part. His playing and his trick in catching the mangoes. I also appreciate the themes of helping and togetherness, though they are gentle reminders, just a natural part of life.

related-speed, use of time, elephants, monkeys, animals, Africa
RL=K-1st, read aloud to toddlers-K

The Kitchen Knight retold by Margaret Hodges. il Trina Schart Hyman.
Holiday House: NY, 1990.

This is one of the King Arthur tales told less often. I find the introduction of Gareth's character fascinating. On arriving in Camelot, he doesn't tell his name and accepts a job in the kitchen, because he wants to be credited for his accomplishments not for being Arthur's nephew. The story is expanded upon in Gerald Morris's The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf. I enjoy Trina Schart Hyman's almost full-page illustrations. The story is accessible to young readers, but the ending will appeal more to girls because of the chivalry theme.
related-King Arthur, Gareth, the Red Knight, Beaumain, Linette and Linesse, knights, champions, quests, chivalry
RL=2nd-3rd, read aloud

Lady Bugatti by Joyce Maxner. il Kevin Hawkes.
Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books/William Morrow & Company: NY, 1991.

Lady Bugatti holds a jazzy dinner party for elite friends and invites them for a show afterward. They arrive in style, sit in a private box, only to find Lady Bugatti is missing. They watch the show and see she is the closing act.

The story is odd and jazzy, with rhythmic rhymes. The colors and textures are luxurious. The story is wonderfully illustrated. Worth a look for the pictures alone. It is one of Hawkes' first books.

related-animals in fiction, stories in rhyme, theater
RL=1st-2nd, mostly read aloud to toddler and up

The Ledgerbook of Thomas Blue Eagle by Jewel Grutman and Gay Matthael. il by Adam Cvijanovic.
Lickle Publishing Inc: Palm Beach, FL, 2001.
Originally by Thomasson Grant, 1994.

The thing that attracted me to the book and still captures my attention the most is the beautiful drawings: vibrant colors, meticulous detail, and spirit and emotion conveyed.

Once I started reading though, I was entranced by the powerful feeling in the relating of events. The telling is simple and straightforward, but the Native American experience during the United States expansion is captured eloquently.

I was surprised at how much historical content is portrayed in this succinct story. The characters are not historical people, nor does this mostly deal with specific events. It is more a typical way of life for the people and typical treatment of them.

In keeping with the idea of a ledgerbook that a student at the Carlisle Indian School (a school for educating Indians in the American culture) might have written, the style of the drawings is pictographs. In transitioning from one language to the other, the students were encouraged to draw to help depict their stories, their thoughts. They used pictographs, copying the style of the art in their culture. As they learned English, they wrote captions to explain the pictures.

The fictional journal writer records his experiences - what happened to his people, how he came to be at the school, experiences at the school, and thoughts about others and his future. His telling is a nicely rendered historical description of Native American children who were sent to be assimilated into the White Man's world.

related-Dakota Indians, Dakota artists, Dakota literature, United States Indian School, Carlisle, PA, history, languages and communication, assimilation, education, journals
RL=1st-2nd, use for Social Studies through 5th grade

Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer by Robert Byrd.
Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Young Readers Group: NY, 2003.

Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer is a biography for young readers focusing on Leonardo's notebooks, as that is where most of the knowledge of Leonardo da Vinci's thoughts, explorations, and discoveries come from. The writing is accessible to 1st through 5th graders (though a challenge for some 1st and 2nd graders) without watering down the content too much. The text could stand alone, but the illustrations add greatly to the appeal of the book. I selected the book first of all for the beauty of the design and pictures, and the reading experience was excellent with both combined. The illustrations draw the reader in, and with so many details, children will want to pour over the pages.

This may not be what you would normally think of as a picture book, but it can be used for young ones, primarily looking at the pictures or skipping over some of the content and discussing some, too. I do think there is enough information to appeal to 5th graders still, but the illustrations, blending many of da Vinci's own sketches with scenes from his life, are so fascinating that the illustrations are most of the book. Any child reading the book will come away with a greater understanding of Leonardo da Vinci than I had in my pre-college years.

related-Leonardo da Vinci, artists and paintings, scientific exploration and discoveries, observation and curiosity
RL=1st-5th, read aloud with pre-K through 1st

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky. il Kevin Hawkes.
Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 1994.

An amazing book about an incredible man! If it's not enough that Eratosthenes was the chief librarian of the most famous library of ancient times-maybe ever-how about that he was able to figure out the circumference of the Earth using time, the angle of a shadow, rudimentary measuring techniques, and his mathematical knowledge? Add to that the fact that he had to research bits and pieces of information from the scrolls in the library and put it all together himself. All of this prompted by a question no one else could answer. Questions spurred his education from the beginning and set the course for his life.

The book is as much about Ancient Greek culture and education as it is about Eratosthenes, since there isn't much information to be found about him. Enough though to stimulate curiosity and inspire awe, which is exactly what the book does.

The illustrations work perfectly with story. The pictures are detailed but in a blurred way instead of exact. There is great use of color-vibrant in parts and subdued in others-with a smoothness throughout. I particularly enjoyed the shelves of scrolls, the sliced pie with the tiny people and camel, and the spread with the surveyors walking their measured steps. The pictures are so good that the book can be introduced to young kids despite the difficult concepts in the book. For young ones you will want to read ahead to determine if you want to skip some or reword some of the story.

related-Eratosthenes, measurement of Earth, Greek Astronomy, Ancient Geography, geographers, astronomers, library at Alexandria, Greek gymnasium or school

Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen. il Kevin Hawkes.
Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2006.

A Lion wanders into the local library and is told he can stay if he follows the rules. He becomes a regular, helping the librarian. When she needs the most help, he is chased away for not following the rules.

This is a fun story regarding libraries. It has a gentle reminder about rules, but also discusses the necessity of ignoring them sometimes.

The illustrations are pastel colors, lighter than what Hawkes usually uses. The mood is lighthearted, with some wonderful pictures.

related-lions, libraries, rules, obedience
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddler and up

Lightship by Brian Floca.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2007.

Lightship depicts the places on board a ship, the lives of its crew, and the dangers involved in its duties. A lightship is a particular ship that held its position to warn ships in areas where lighthouses could not be built. Most of the ship explanation is similar to other ships, but Floca uses this specific type of ship to add interest. It adds heroism to the story.

Like Five Trucks, the text is short and simple. The words are well chosen, though. It has a depth one would not expect from the brevity. The pictures add to this, but the language is an example of how important the wording is to the atmosphere and concept of the book. Until this point, Floca was mostly know as an illustrator, but he is proving himself as a wordsmith, too.

related-ships, lightships, historical
RL=K-1st, mostly read aloud with toddlers-preK

The Lion's Share: A Tale of Halving Cake and Eating It, Too by Matthew McElligott.
Walker & Company: NY, 2009.

This is a book of manners and math. Somehow the ants always have the best manners in the animal kingdom. In this story, the lion hosts a dinner party. The ant seems to be the only guest with good manners. A cake is passed down the table for dessert, biggest animal to smallest. Each takes half before passing it on. When it gets to the ant, it crumbles, and there is nothing left for the lion. So the ant volunteers to make a cake for the lion the next day. Not to be outdone, each animal in turn doubles the amount they will bake.

I enjoyed the weighty feel of this fable. It is a manners book without beating you over the head with it. The author put some effort into giving the animals personalities. They each behave a little differently. The wording is different for each, and they each propose a different cake. I like the way the page itself is cut as the cake is. The illustrations are perfect for the story, into which the author obviously put much thought.

related-behavior, manners, etiquette, dinners and dining, ants, lions, jungle animals, math, doubling, halving
RL=K-2nd, read aloud to toddlers-1st

Listen to the Wind by Greg Mortenson & Susan L. Roth.
Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Group: NY, 2009.

This is an adaptation of Three Cups of Tea by Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. The story is an account of his mission to build a school for the remote village of Korphe, Pakistan, after the villagers cared for him when he was lost in the mountains. This version of the events is told from the children's viewpoint. Amazing things told in a matter-of-fact style. It must have seemed like a miracle to them. The children ask "Can you hear our voices?" I can certainly hear the excitement.

The illustrations are multi-media, painted backgrounds with the school and people as collages. There are photos of the actual village at the end. The backgrounds are my favorite part of the pictures, but the combination works well for the story.

The story is what most impresses me about the book. It's exciting and needs to be shared. I first saw the picture book, but what is even more exciting is the story from which it was adapted.

related-rural schools, Pakistan, hospitality, friendship, mountain village
RL=2nd-4th, read aloud to toddlers-1st, use for geography 1st-3rd grades

Living Color by Steve Jenkins.
Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 2007.

Living Color is an eye-catching display of creatures and their colors. It has great discussion of the various purposes of color in the Animal Kingdom. The color in some of the creatures is exaggerated. The text is as vibrant as the illustrations. It also has facts and animals I didn't already know about. I do have to admit my kids know more about animals than I, due to the number of PBS programs and books to which they have been exposed. However, it is sure to generate interest in life sciences for young readers. The back section has FAQs related to color and more facts about the creatures presented.

related-camouflage, protection, attracting mates, warning of poison and other noxious characteristics, recognition, imitation, distraction, illusion (trick of the light), emotion, food (you are what you eat), surprise, communication, habitat for others
RL=2nd-4th, maybe as young as Kindergarten

Locomotive by Brian Floca.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2013.

I have to start by saying, I love this book! Looking at the book, the illustrations and onomatopoeia automatically draw you in. Glimpsing at the stanzas, you know you are in for a rare treat. It helps that the subject is a favorite that people can't seem to get enough of.

The beginning end pages are a prologue, depicting and describing the building of the transcontinental railroads, the need for them and the impact on society. The opposite side discusses the parts of the locomotive. The story follows a trip that early riders on the railroad might take, including different aspects of the experience - first impression, terrain of the route, sleeping and eating and passing time. The story is told through short poetic blurbs. It is a thorough characterization of railroad experiences. The text is a higher level than what is standard for picture books. The book format is creative, and I love that Floca has learned that young children are capable of understanding this level. I think it is a book that will find a place on kids' shelves and be looked at over and over. First, with the very young listening to the rhythm and beauty of it and viewing the great illustrations. Later, they will look more closely and see the nuances and want to know the history and how it all works. History, science and appreciation of the lore all in one book. Fantastic!

related-trains, railroads, travel, 1800s, 19th century, communication, industrial and social progress
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddlers-1st

The Loon Spirit by Phil Harper. il by Mark Coyle.
NorthWord Press, Inc: Minocqua, WI, 1995.

I picked out this book, because of the beautiful illustrations. All through the book, just gorgeous. They look pointilistic, in pastel colors. It looks like colored pencils, but the book does not indicate. Flowing feathers with a mystical feel.

The story also is mystical. The Loon Spirit awakes after the frozen winter and proceeds to warm and wake the earth. With Spring in full swing, the Loon Spirit changes into a common loon and rests until needed again. In the coolness of Fall, the loon transforms back into the spirit and gathers the warmth for safekeeping through the winter. The keeper's call warns the other creatures to prepare for the winter.

The text is lyrical, with a traditional ponderance to add to the momentous event. It matches the artwork well, though the illustrations are still the main attraction. Read aloud by a good storyteller, that could be a different story.

related-seasons, especially Spring and Winter, nature, animals, cycles
RL=K-2nd, read aloud to toddlers-K

Madam President by Lane Smith.
Hyperion Books for Children: NY, 2008.

Lane Smith's new book compares events in a little girl's day to the day of a President. The text is succinct statements. The comparisons are funny in their exaggeration. School age children will agree with many of the sentiments. Not surprisingly, the illustrations make the book: from the President's cabinet to the Secret Service Cat to keeping the peace to the Disaster Area. Lane Smith fans will enjoy it.

No doubt it would have made more of an impact if Hilary Clinton were the Democratic nominee, but I don't think it matters. The book defines the Presidency in terms children can understand, during what is perhaps the most important election in over half a century.
related-tasks of a United States President, children's lives
RL=K-3rd, read aloud is fine, but young kids may not understand the jokes

The Magic School Bus originally by Joanna Cole. il. Bruce Degen.
Scholastic Inc: NY.

Besides being a very informative introduction to scientific ideas, the series motivates beginning readers with its witty dialogue and details.
RL=1st-3rd and read aloud to younger

By Joanna Cole: At the Waterworks, and the Electric Field Trip, Explores the Senses, For Lunch, Gets Lost in Space, Gets Planted, Goes Upstream, Going Batty, In the Attic, In the Rain Forest, In the Time of the Dinosaurs, Inside a Beehive, Inside the Human Body, Inside a Hurricane, Inside the Earth, Inside Ralphie, Lost in the Solar System, On the Ocean Floor, Out of This World

By Linda Beech: Gets Ants in Its Pants, Gets Baked in a Cake, Meets the Rot Squad

By George Bloom: Makes a Rainbow

By Gail Herman: Blows Its Top

By Nancy Krulik: Butterfly and the Bog Beast, Hello Out There

By Jane Mason: Ups and Downs

By Joseph Mitchell: Looking for Liz

By Jackie Posner: Shows and Tells

By Patricia Relf: Gets Eaten, Hops Home, Wet All Over

By Tracey Web: Gets Cold Feet, Spins a Web

By Nancy White: Gets a Bright Idea, Gets Programmed, Kicks Up a Storm, Sees Stars, Takes a Dive

The Magic Wand by Karen Hoenecke. il Kevin Hawkes.
School Zone Publishing Company: 1997.

This has some wonderful pictures-imaginative and beautifully drawn. Other than that, I really don't like it. The rhymes are simple as can be, as well as the words, because it is a Start to Read book. Except for the illustrations, the book is uninteresting, and I would have rather just seen the pictures. There are other beginning readers that are much better (ex.Henry and Mudge, Mr. Putter and Tabby, Commander Toad, Amelia Bedelia, Berenstain Bears), though only a few authors have created interesting stories with limited vocabulary.

My recommendation for beginners is to find the good authors and/or skip the readers and write your own sentences to teach phonics. Parents know their kids better than anyone else. Parents ought to know better than anyone what content will motivate their children to read a sentence. To teach my kids to read I made a few sentences for each letter of the alphabet drawing from things in our lives. Some simple words, some a little harder. Then, I had them sound them out with my help. Not more than a few sentences in a day. Kids move beyond this level very quickly. After that, picture books are great practice. The real challenge with reading comes later, with finding chapter books and novels that will hook the child.

My recommendation for the use of this book would be to view it with toddlers or even earlier, with an emphasis on exploring the pictures.

Mama Love by Kathy Mallat.
Walker Publishing Company: NY, 2004.

As you would expect from Kathy Mallat's career as an art teacher, the 2-page spread illustrations of her books are gorgeous. Mama Love is particularly striking, with the soulfulness of the chimpanzees shining through their eyes, meeting the reader eye-to-eye, just as they would in real life.

The text fits the illustrations perfectly. The language is brief, a short poem about the mama caring for her baby. I like that, though spare in words, it is not watered down. Simple, beautiful, absolutely perfect for reading with toddlers, and it will tug at every mama's heart.

I especially like the spread of the tree in shadow with the chimpanzees blending in and the closeup of the chimp kissing Mama.

Mallat used colored pencils on oil pastels to create her story.

related-parent and child, mothers, chimpanzees, love, stories in rhyme
RL=1st-2nd, mostly read aloud to babies and toddlers

The Man Who Made Time Travel by Kathryn Lasky. il Kevin Hawkes.
Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 2003.

The title is a little deceptive. It is meant more literally than I would have expected. The story has to do with Britain's attempt to find an accurate way to measure longitude and so limit the number of lost and wrecked ships. Some people believed that the key would be in more accurate time keeping-including John Harrison, a rural self-taught carpenter with a passion for clockmaking. His concept was different than others in that he believed it was important to construct a timepiece that would not be affected by conditions at sea-especially weather and the rolling motion of the ships. He was successful and spent much of his life perfecting what are now called chronometers, but he ran into a snag with the contest which started his inventing.

Besides the most interesting story, Kevin Hawkes's illustrations are very well done. Most of them are impressionistic and capture the mood of the story. The cover, title page, and end pages are more detailed, and beautiful. Others are also arresting. All have certain highlighted details, some with a point to be made and some showing humor.
related-measurement of longitude, chronometers, John Harrison, measurement of time, history of clocks, clock and watch makers, biography

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein.
Roaring Brook Press: Brookfield, CT, 2003.

Caldecott Award 2004

This is the story of Phillipe Petit, the young Frenchman who walked and danced for an hour on a tightrope strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center in NY in 1974. The story is presented with beauty and humor. I can imagine the two towers being a perfect place for a tightrope experience. The book was written as a memorial to the World Trade Center.
RL=1st-3rd and read aloud to younger

Marimba! Animales from A to Z by Pat Mora. il Doug Cushman.
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin: NY, 2006.

Each letter has a Spanish animal name to go along with the English words. All of the animals at the zoo are preparing for and participating in the spontaneous party after hours - all started by the ting-tong of the marimba. The animales perform several dances, enjoy various foods, and communicate with their own styles. It's a fun book with unusual words and many details to spy.

There is a pronunciation key at the back.

related-ABCs, alphabet, Spanish language, zoo animals, parties, stories in rhyme
RL=1st-3rd, mostly read aloud to toddler-K

Marven of the Great North Woods by Kathryn Lasky. il Kevin Hawkes.
Harcourt Brace & Company: NY, 1997.

This story is based on the story of the author's father during the winter of 1918. It was the year of the terrible influenza outbreak. After Marven's great-aunt succumbed to the disease, his parents wanted to make sure one of their children was safely away. Since he was the only boy, he was given an opportunity by a friend of the family to work in a logging camp through the winter. It was his first time to be away, and the men in the camp mostly spoke French. His job was to tally the work the men were accomplishing. It was a chance to explore the woods on skis and enjoy a different culture.

This is a wonderful story, rich in historical ambience. It is far removed from my experience, and yet I enjoy reading about it, because it is a clue to my family history. My great-grandfather worked in logging camps and also played a fiddle. I was too young to remember his stories, but stories like this bring him close. Living in Maine, I also enjoy the experience of skiing through the woods and wonder what it was like to ski as a form of transportation long ago.

The illustrations are more in keeping with historical content, but still fairly bright. Hawkes is excellent at spotlighting special moments in the stories he illustrates. The pictures are not his most memorable work, but fit with the story and are enjoyable.

related-lumber camps, loggers, influenza, Jews, Minnesota
RL=2nd-3rd, read aloud to K-1st

Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.
Viking/Penguin Group: NY, 1995.

Have you ever had a day when you noticed a math problem in everything around you? Or do you make sure that never happens because it would be your worst nightmare? In Math Curse, Mrs. Fibonacci (math teacher) says "you can think of almost everything as a math problem" and starts a barrage of questions (some of them ridiculously unrelated).

This is my favorite Scieszka/Smith book so far. The problems are imaginative and at times hilarious. The pictures are absorbing and delightful as well.
related-math anxiety, mathematics
RL=2nd-5th (or anyone wanting a good laugh)

Mathemagic!: Number Tricks by Lynda Colgan. il by Jane Kurisu.
Kids Can Press: Tonawanda, NY, 2011.

Mathemagic! features a mix of mathematical tricks. All of them have explanations; some of them even have a history. They are meant to be performed for others, exhibiting your genius. Two of them have to do with properties of the digits 6 and 9 which make them easier to calculate multiplication. Some of the tricks are puzzles in which the audience participates. Mathematical operations are performed to confuse the audience. Quicker participants may figure out what the magician is doing.

The most interesting part of the book to me is the four entries which are different ways of calulating. The Egyptians had a doubling technique making it easier to multiply larger numbers quickly. Binary cards are used for guessing a participants number choice within a given range, and a discussion of binary is included. Napier's Bones, used by merchants in the 1600s, are also discussed for multiplication. They are charts of multiplication facts carved on bone which simplify the process when used together. This is a process that is done in multiplication anyway; Napier set it out visually. The fourth is division dowels, a set of rulers for division similar to Napier's multiplication. In the 1800s, Henri Genaille and Edouard Lucas worked out all of the possible quotients and remainders for a table to be used for simplifying long division. It looks complicated, but it is a simple way of accurately figuring.

The book is designed to encourage thinking about number theory. Math can be like puzzles, something to figure out for enjoyment. And there is always the fun of knowing something that stumps someone else. The author presents these tricks as ways to calculate problems quickly and mentally. Some of them can be used to figure quickly for any reason. When a student can develop this proficiency in mathematics, he/she can start to really enjoy the theory (reasons for doing math).

related-mathematical puzzles, figuring, calculating, multipication, division
RL=3rd and up, a challenge for 3rd graders, probably better for 5th-8th

Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 1994.

Sitting on the front steps, Max sees two sticks blown from a tree. He observes the sounds around him and imitates them. He starts off tapping on his leg and tries a few other objects as instruments. At the end a marching band goes by. A drummer who notices Max drumming throws him a set of drumsticks.

Max was initially sitting quietly watching clouds. In a contemplative mood, he focuses on the sounds and creates his own. Have you ever had a day or moments when your surroundings are distant but sounds seem louder, in the forefront? I imagine this is how it would be for Max. And this one afternoon is beginning a lifetime of musical exploration for him. As a cool note, Brian Pinkney says he has played drums since eight years old, and he keeps drumsticks in his studio to play with on breaks.

Although I like the vibrant color, I wasn't immediately drawn to the illustration. They are indistinct. It's possible the concept was more appealing to me, so I ignored the pictures at first. Looking again, I was not only drawn into them, but wanting to look again and again. I saw that what at first seemed blurry was swirling used for a sense of movement. Everything has this swirliness. I think it is about everything being alive and having its own music. This is a book for reading over and over. A book deeper than it appears at first.

related-drums and drumming, percussion, music, African-Americans, communication, neighbors and neighborhoods
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddler-1st

Max's Words by Kate Banks. il by Boris Kulikov.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 2006.

I'm pretty sure I saw this book when it came out, and it made an impression then. Looking at it again, I really do like it. Max's attention to his brothers' collections (stamps and coins) is just like a younger brother. His choice for his own collection is awesome; it reminds me of the magnetic poetry words. Even better, he and his brothers don't stop at building sentences, but work on creating a story - together, because they are too involved in the process to worry about doing it themselves. The story probably develops better, because they are doing it together. Watching the word collection grow is fun, since it is very much how a child's vocabulary grows as well.

The illustrations are completely complementary and enhancing to the story. The graphic depictions of both words and sentences. The collections spread out for all to admire. The piles of words when Max is getting ready to use them. Max with words almost up to his hips. The brothers hugging their words to them after learning the value of them.

It's a great story and makes me want to start my own tactile word collection. A more recent book with such a collection is The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Peter Sis.

related-language and words, collections and collecting, storytelling
RL=K-2nd, read aloud to toddlers-preK

Me, All Alone, at the End of the World by M. T. Anderson. il Kevin Hawkes.
Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2005.

A boy lives a peaceful, contemplative life caught up in the adventures and explorations of his own making. Until Mr. Shimmer happens upon his paradise and brings the world to his doorstep with offers of everlasting excitement. Mr. Shimmer's ideas become more and more outrageous luring crowds of people. At first the boy enjoys the new entertainments and friends, but comes to miss his own life.

Though it may not obviously be Maine, the story and illustrations reflect this state that I love (Kevin Hawkes also lives in Maine)-the cliffs, the shore, solitude when tourists are gone, the humongous inn on the cliff, the extravagance of the visitors, and even the caricature of Mr. Shimmer. I too miss the solitude and the beauty of the out-of-the-way places.

Kevin Hawkes's illustrations totally capture the mood of the story. The pictures have a stand alone quality. Mr. Shimmer's sparkle may be alluring, but it sure is nice at the end of tourist season.

related-solitude, solitary life, amusement parks, tourist resorts, exploration, imagination
RL=1st-3rd, read aloud to preK-K

Merlin and the Dragons by Jane Yolen. il Li Ming.
Puffin Books/Penguin Group: NY, 1995.

This is the best picture book I've seen of the King Arthur stories. It is the only one I've seen in which the illustrations and text are equally good. Maybe the text is better than most because it is approached in a different way.

King Arthur is younger than he is normally portrayed. As a boy king he is woken by dreams of pulling the sword from the stone. To calm and reassure him Merlin tells him the story of Vortigern's fortress and the battle of the dragons. When he hears Uther's name, Arthur questions whether Uther may have had a son who will try to claim the throne, and Merlin tells him that he is Uther's son and the rightful king.

related-King Arthur, Merlin, dragons, boys, mentors
RL=3rd-4th, read aloud

Merlin and the Making of the King retold by Margaret Hodges. il Trina Schart Hyman.
Holiday House: NY, 2004.

This book is above picture book level but accessible to readers who aren't ready for the length of others such as Robin Lister and Howard Pyle. Some of the details are different from what I originally read but not too far off from other versions. It is a little brief and abrupt, but the pictures are attractive with illuminated borders. Some of the language is difficult for the age it is targeted, so it may have been meant for reading aloud.

related-Merlin, King Arthur, Arthurian romances, Folklore-England, knights, Sir Thomas Malory
RL=3rd-4th, read aloud

Millions to Measure by David M. Schwartz. il. Steven Kellogg.
HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2003.

Marvelosissimo the Mathematical Magician gives a brief history of measurement. He suggests moving towards the future when hopefully the world will use the same measuring units to avoid confusion and costly mistakes. He introduces the metric system and explains its simplicity.

Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster by Debra Frasier.
Harcourt, Inc: NY, 2000.

Sage misunderstands an assigned vocabulary word and embarasses herself in front of her class. She transforms her mistake into a great success. The book can be used as a vocabulary lesson or enjoyed for its creative and touching story and its celebration of the richness of our language.

The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein.
Harper & Row, Publishers: NY, 1976.

The circle rolls along singing, having adventures, and looking for its missing piece. This is a humorous and gentle fable both simple and enjoyable.
RL=read aloud and 1st-2nd

The Mitten adapted and il by Jan Brett.
G. P. Putnam's Sons: NY, 1989.

The Mitten is one of my all-time favorite children's books. The pictures are incredibly detailed and gorgeous. It is another of those excellent books that can be told totally through the illustrations. The borders of the pictures have sneak-peaks at what's still to come.

The story itself (a Ukrainian folktale) is irresistible. A boy asks his grandmother for white mittens. She warns him he'll lose them in the snow but makes them for him anyway. He does drop one in the snow almost immediately. Through the day the lovingly knitted mitten becomes a warm place to sleep for many animals. A bear's sneeze blows it up where Nicki finds it again on his way home.

The book did not receive a Caldecott Medal, but I think it is better than some of the books that have.
related-mittens, Ukraine-folklore, textiles, homemade crafts, family, habitats, sharing
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddler-K

Molly Bannaky by Alice McGill. il Chris K. Soentpiet.
Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1999.

This is a powerful story based on the life of Benjamin Banneker's (scientist and mathematician) grandmother. The focus is on social conditions of the time and the strength and perseverance with which she met those situations. The pictures are beautiful two-page spreads.

The Moon Quilt by Sunny Warner.
Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 2001.

An old woman pieces together a story quilt consisting of a dream about her man lost at sea, her daily life, her cat, and her friendship with neighborhood kids. She's waiting to be with her man again, and meanwhile, she gardens, quilts, and bakes for a Halloween treat.

There is a definite quilting motif in the illustrations (thread and scissors, borders, pieces stray and assembled, the moon cycle strips for time passing). Most of the pictures look drawn or painted. Some appear to have fabric, others maybe some paper collage.

The illustrations are my favorite part of the book. There are some really nice combinations (the moons, the pumpkins and pies, the lady and cat in the moonlight, the lady and cat next to the flower for the quilt, the pieced garden, her dreams). The story itself is very different. It seemed strange to me at first, but it's growing on me as I reread. I particularly like the gardening, the Halloween party, and the winter rest.

related-quilts and quilting, sewing, dreams, cats, old people, Halloween
RL=K-2nd, read aloud to toddlers-K

Moonshot by Brain Floca.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2009.

Prepare to be amazed! Brian Floca takes a subject full of amazement and adds to it with the level of anticipation created by each artistic description. A one week flight, a mind-blowing quest, each step anticipated by the whole world, waiting to hear of success and worrying about failure.

Many things strike me regarding this book. First, of course, is the wonderful illustrations. Second is the perfect depiction of the experience. It makes you feel that you are there - watching, listening, waiting along with everyone else. There is the level of the writing which is not talking down to the children. While reading this level may be difficult for early school children, they are certainly capable of understanding when it is read to them or discussed. I am glad that Floca understands this. The subject matter is unusual for this age, and it is awesome that Floca thought to introduce this experience. Imagine the glowing minds and how much enthusiasm they will have for learning new and fantastic things. I have always felt that educational experiences are fun. This book will share that excitement with generations more. Last, but not least, Floca spent time researching the material beforehand, and it shows.

Front end pages show the stages of the rocket - how they fit together and when they are jettisoned. Opposite end pages have an author's note about the commitment to the moon landing project and stages of the journey.

related-Project Apollo, U.S., Apollo 11, flight to the moon
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddler-1st

Moosetache by Margie Palatini. il by Henry Cole.
Hyperion Books for Children: NY, 1997.

Moose's mustache grows beyond what is reasonable. He can't do any of his favorite things with all of that facial hair in the way. He tries several styles, none acceptable. Until he meets a mate with a similar problem, and she helps him to solve his problem.

The language is creative and descriptive. The pictures are worth a thousand words. One of my favorite picture books.
RL=1st-3rd, mostly read aloud to toddler-1st

Morris the Artist by Lore Segal. il by Boris Kulikov.
Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux: NY, 2003.

Morris brings what he thinks is the best present ever to Benjamin's birthday party. After seeing the other kids' gifts, he's embarrassed and not sure he wants to hand his over. As the party goes on, the present becomes a burden, and he gives it to Benjamin. Art supplies, it's the type of gift that is overlooked in the excitement of a party, but when Morris shows the others what can be done with the paints, they all join in the creativity.

The story and pictures are energetic. The pictures are a comic style (or perhaps magazine), but also highly detailed and precise. It has a somewhat historical feel, with use of exaggeration for emphasis. I love the concept for the story and feel similar about presents and creative tools or toys. One of my favorite things to give for preschool age is Tinker Toys, but I noticed with my own kids that the best way to approach them is together. Parents and/or friends playing together inspires. Sometimes you need an example of what can be made to jumpstart your creativity. Art can be the same, especially for children who have had less time exploring and creating.

related-birthdays, gifts, painting, art
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud

Mount Olympus Basketball by Kevin O'Malley.
Walker & Company: NY, 2003.

The Greek gods battle the heroic mortals in this terribly funny satire. A basketball game with play by play commentary. It's sure to be a close match despite the cheating of the gods and the umpire's fear of them. The dramatic pictures are great, and the wordplay fits brilliantly with the characters.
RL=1st-3rd, up to 5th for study of Greek culture, read aloud to pre-K to K

Mr. George Baker by Amy Hest. il Jon J. Muth.
Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2004.

George Baker and Harry are friends. They seem to be neighbors enjoying hanging out together. George Baker as a grandfatherly figure. He's 100 years old and a famous drummer. Harry representing the young and liveliness that old people often appreciate.

It turns out to be much more than that. They are waiting for the school bus together. Both are learning to read, and they are supporting each other in their goal.

The story is fun and anticipatory. It just barely touches on the issue of reading, concentrating on their friendship. The illustrations are lovely. Light with the same feeling of anticipation and enjoyment of life.

related-literacy, old age, friendship, African-Americans, music
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddler-1st

Mudkin by Stephen Gammell.
Carol Rhoda Books/Lerner Publishing: Minneapolis, MN, 2011.

After a stretch of rainy weather ends, a girl plays at being queen. Asked to reign the kingdom by a mud figure, she is given a cloak and crown fashioned from mud. They take a mud carriage to a mud castle and overlook her majesty's muddy subjects. The rain soon comes to wash it all away, and it's time to go inside.

The story is almost totally created through images. You gotta love it: imagination showcased through a mud medium. The paintings are fabulous in Gammell's recognizable style; they are reason enough to take a peek. The donning of the cloak and crown are two of the best, looking almost like real apparel.

related-play, mud, imagination, rainy days and rainfall
RL=K-1st, read aloud with toddlers

My Friend the Piano by Catherine Cowan. il Kevin Hawkes.
Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books/William Morrow and Company: NY, 1998.

A girl and her piano celebrate music together until her mother decides she should take lessons. The piano refuses to play drills. When her parents decide to sell the piano, the girl helps the piano escape, with a flying chase through the town.

Hawkes's paintings convey the celebration of the "symphonies," the personification of the piano, and the excitement of the story. The brilliance of the colors also adds to the mood. The drawing style is similar to Weslandia, also illustrated by Hawkes.

related-piano, music, sound, piano lessons, composing
RL=2nd-3rd, read aloud preK-1st

My Friend, the Starfinder by George Ella Lyon. il by Stephen Gammell.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers: NY, 2008.

This is a more simple story than what usually appeals to me. I was drawn to it by the title and then the illustrations. The pictures are gorgeous with a cosmic and real feeling at once. Of course, this suits the story as the premise is that the tales the friend tells are too fantastic to believe, yet they are true. I'd like to linger a little longer on the specific tales, as they are miraculous themes, though very natural and regularly occurring. This is what I find so captivating about the book (though it barely touches on the idea); truly wondrous events occur, but they are simply science. Awesome! I wanted more, but it was a short, quick book.

I also enjoyed the author's mention of her friend and his father and grandfather living through all the Presidents' terms. There's no note of a time period for this statement, but it's mind-boggling nonetheless.

After reading through, make sure you go back and look closely at the pictures. They are a treat.

related-storytellers, meteors, falling stars, rainbows
RL=K-1st, read aloud to toddlers-K

My Little Sister Ate One Hare by Bill Grossman. il Kevin Hawkes.
Crown Publishers, Inc/Random House: NY, 1996.

How funny! I didn't know what to expect with this title. I certainly didn't expect a counting book. One of the best counting books. It is a rhyming story with the sister on stage eating gross things. The things she chooses to eat are imaginative, and she has a different costume for each. The thing that turns out to be the worst for her is a food many kids reject.

Great dramatic buildup with the add-on rhyming style. The illustrations, with vivid contrasting color and lots of shadow, truly make the story come alive. Great for read aloud or beginning reader.
related-counting, stories in rhyme, resistance to eating vegetables
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud tp toddler-K

My Little Sister Hugged an Ape by Bill Grossman. il Kevin Hawkes.
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY, 2004.

"My little sister" hugs animals all the way through the alphabet. There is a rhyme for each animal she hugs. Like in My Little Sister Ate One Hare, the wordplay is delightful.

The pictures are brightly colored and dramatic. There are a few that really stand out-the hugging spree billboard, the vole dragging her down its hole, the tailless moose, the ferret kissing iguana, and the pop-eyed ape. Overall, I think I enjoyed the rhymes more, but I still think Grossman and Hawkes make a good team.

related-alphabet, stories in rhyme, nonsense verses, animals, hugging, sisters
RL=2nd-3rd, read aloud to PreK-1st

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg.
Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 1984.

The idea of a missing author is very intriguing. The drawings are incredible and beg you to provide the story. I have, in fact, had my children write short stories from them as school exercises.

Van Allsburg, like David Wiesner, is an artist who uses the illustrations to tell most of the story. His work is less whimsical. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is my favorite of all the Van Allsburg books. Each picture has its own mysterious story to tell.
RL=K-3rd     *Any level could use as a story starter for creative writing.

New Socks by Bob Shea.
Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 2007.

I don't review many picture books coming out. I have a pretty good list already, and only a few new ones from year to year catch my attention enough to want to write about them.

New Socks, though very simplistic, is awesome. Large, cartoonish pictures of this little chick that's all eyes and socks. The style works for it. The thoughts conveyed are the grabber. It is exactly how young children think. My new socks are what's going to keep me safe. My new socks will get everyone's attention. The little chick also has a comedy routine going with its guessing game. The illustrations are perfect emphasis for the act. Very simple book (pictures and jokes), yet so hilarious.

related-new socks, chickens, self-confidence, pride and excitement
RL=K, read aloud to babies-K

The Nose by Nikolai Gogol. retold by Catherine Cowan. il Kevin Hawkes.
Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books: NY, 1994.

This is an odd story about a man who wakes up without a nose, the nose pretending to be a public official, and the man's quest to get his nose back.

I don't care much for the story, but I like some of the illustration. Mostly background details, although there are vibrant colors and good use of texture as well.
RL=2nd-3rd, mostly read aloud to PreK-1st

The Old Man Who Loved Cheese by Garrison Keillor. il by Anne Wilsdorf.
Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 1996.

Wallace P. Flynn is a man who relishes any and all cheeses. The smellier the better. He drives away neighbors. He drives away animals. He even drives away his family. Until the fateful day the judge hands down the sentence of "No cheese!"

I discovered this book years ago when looking for picture books for my youngest. It is a ballad full of hilarious word-play, outrageous details, and exaggerated reactions. Reading aloud is the best way to appreciate the language while little ones pour over the accompanying pictures.

RL=3rd-4th and read aloud to pre-k to 2nd

Old Turtle by Douglas Wood. il Cheng-Khee Chee.
Scholastic Press: NY, 1992.

Simple enough for a child to read, but deep enough to teach and inspire adults. The world argues about God. First, the animals, and then, mankind. Old Turtle speaks both times to restore unity. The story is a reminder of what our purpose on Earth is and a message of hope that people are remembering and trying to heal damage that has been done.

The illustrations are stand alone art and add to an already powerful tale.

related-God, nature, spirituality, environment, humans, conservationism
RL=2nd-4th, mostly read aloud to Pre-K & up

Once Upon a Twice by Denise Doyen. il Barry Moser.
Random House: NY, 2009.

The young mouse Jam breaks the rules and so does the language in this warning against mousey spontaneity. There is much playing with words, sound and meaning, and reforming words in this rhyming verse. It isn't all play. Jam is moonstruck and exploring the lustrous night. He becomes an obstacle, is warned about the moon's tendency to entrance, runs off on his own, and is stalked.

Moser's dark world is one begging to be explored by an observant mouse. Moonlight shimmers, brilliant white flowers are irresistible, and predators are barely visible.

I tend to enjoy Moser's art, but I'd have to say in this book the language is the best part. There is some playful nonsense, but most of the word twisting has meaning. Enjoy the sound and texture, and then go back and read more slowly to appreciate the double and twisted meanings.

related-mice, animals, children's poems and poetry, nonsense verse, stories in rhyme, conduct of life, liveliness, cautionary tale
RL=2nd-4th, read aloud to toddlers-2nd, use as example for writing poetry

One Is A Feast For Mouse by Judy Cox. il Jeffrey Ebbeler.
Holiday House: NY, 2008.

For a twist to the Thanksgiving tale, Mouse collects a feast from the table while the humans sleep. Since one is enough for a mouse feast, Mouse takes one of everything that catches his eye. Cat interrupts his progress with the heaping collection, but he can still be thankful for what remains.

Mouse's behavior curiously mimics that of humans at a Thanksgiving feast. We also pile on more and more in an attempt to sample every delectable dish, though obviously it is too much for us to handle. Thus, the sleeping humans. The irony of Mouse's repeating "One is a feast for me." is not lost.

The illustrations are like Mouse's point-of-view - large. There are some great details - the towering feast, Mouse peaking from the clock, the cat's eyes watching Mouse, and the reflection in the water glass. They are as much of the story as the accumulating text and wordplay.

related-Thanksgiving, mice, cats, greed, food
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddlers-K

One World, One Day by Barbara Kerley.
National Geographic Society: Washington, D.C., 2009.

I love Kerley's books in partnership with National Geographic. The photography is so great! The meaning that she conveys with so few words (rich words, but few) and the life captured in the pictures. Some of the shots are just beautiful photographically as well. There is so much humor, and I love the spirit of the project, the motivation to bring the world together, the visual evidence that we share the same basic needs and desires each day. And if that's not enough of a treat, there are her comments about each photograph and place at the end of the book. I've seen 3 of the 4 books now and thoroughly enjoyed each. The other 2 are A Little Peace and A Cool Drink of Water. I highly recommend this series.
related-children, social life and custom, pictorial works
RL=all ages, 1st grade reading level, but reading isn't necessary to enjoy

Oops! by Jean-Luc Fromental. il by Joëlle Jolivet.
English translation by Thomas Connors.
Harry N. Abrams, Inc: NY, 2010.
Originally by Hélium: 2009.

Chaos ensues as a family tries to reach the airport for a vacation as one mishap after another occurs, some of them rather unlikely but entertaining. Almost as if the family were causing the problem, but a bar of soap is the culprit. I missed that little detail at the beginning and had to reread; I did get that it is a chain reaction of events. The family's attempt to arrive at the airport is heroic. Whether they make it to their destination or not, they've had a great adventure.

The book is colorful, busy and energetic. Black juxtaposed with splashes of color emphasizes the drama. It is chaotic, maybe even a little incoherent. All of the cause and effect relationships are explained at the end, for those having trouble following. I would suggest you read and enjoy the first time around. Then, go back and look more closely at relationships and peruse the madcap illustrations. Several of the scenes on their own are fascinating to behold. Certainly humorous and creative.

I like 365 Penguins better, but this was eyecatching and enjoyable, too. It would be pretty hard to live up to 365 Penguins. Maybe unfair to compare. Compared to picture books not by Fromental and Jolivet, I'd say it's a keeper.

related-cause and effect relationships, transportation, travel, translated books, French publisher, Paris
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddler-K

Our Gracie Aunt by Jacqueline Woodson. il Jon J. Muth.
Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Boooks for Children: NY, 2002.

BeeBee and Johnson are taken to live with their mom's sister when their mom disappears for a few days. Aunt Gracie cares for their needs, gives them love and security, and talks to them about her love for their mother. They get the chance to visit their mom, and then go back to stay with Aunt Gracie for a while.

This is an excellent book. It would certainly be a good book to share with children in similar circumstances. It would also be good for adults to read for an example of how to talk to kids in need. The book is gentle and reassuring in a heart-wrenching situation. Trust and forgiveness are explored in the story. The sisters argued and grew apart, so the kids don't know their aunt when they go to live with her. I don't know, though, how kids not exposed to a neglectful situation would respond. Would they want to hear or read it? Maybe, 3rd or 4th graders. Maybe they would read it if it is a book displayed or in a classroom. As for reading it aloud, I don't think I could read it without crying myself. Maybe if I read it several times first.

The illustrations are nice, but not noteworthy. They are less a part of the story than Muth's usual work.

related-brothers and sisters, family, neglect, foster care, aunts, African-Americans
RL=cover says K-4th

Our Neighbor Is a Strange, Strange Man by Tres Seymour. il Walter Lyon Krudop.
Orchard Books:: NY, 1999.

This is a humorous depiction of the thought processes of Melville Murrell from Tennessee as he worked out the details of his early flying machine. The illustrations are superb, and the viewpoint of the neighbors as he pursues his dream is amusing. The author's endnote sounds a little argumentative, though. Although it was a wonderful achievement, it is not difficult to see the Wright brothers' plane had more potential for practical application.

A Packet of Seeds by Deborah Hopkinson. il by Bethanne Andersen.
Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins: NY, 2004.

As a family readies for their long trek to pioneer territory, the mother's sister and friends gift her with flower seeds from their gardens. She is heart-broken to be leaving them behind. The father is eager to work his new land on the prairie. The household work falls to the kids and neighbor women, as the mom is too depressed to continue when the next baby comes along. The oldest girl, Annie, sees a way to lift her mom's spirits. Annie gets her brother to help her dig a garden outside her mom's window.

The pictures are colorful and appealing. I know that is what drew me to the book to begin with. I first read the book when it was new. It had a poignancy that touched me. Added to that is that the subject matter (pioneering) feels a little like our move to Maine. When we moved here, we also moved out into the country. I felt like a pioneer. Our neighbors are not near us, and it took a while to get to know any of them. At the time, we spent much of our time on our property. We homeschool and garden and wander in the woods. My kids were not involved in activities yet. I felt separate from the world, especially on snowy days with the hard work of shoveling.

I still feel like it is a lovely book. We come into the city enough to no longer feel like pioneers, though we still have practices that much of our society no longer does itself (ex. growing food, cutting wood for heating, baking bread, quilting).

related-frontier and pioneer life, homesickness, gardens, babies
RL=K-1st, read aloud to toddlers-K

Painting the Wind by Michelle Dionetti. il Kevin Hawkes.
Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 1996.

Claudine helps her mother clean Vincent van Gogh's house in Arles. She sees him busily painting all over town and inside when it rains. She peeks at his paintings and tries to imitate his style before the hearth at home. She observes the townspeople's reactions to the painter, helps to prepare for his friend Paul Gauguin's visit, and finally finds the courage to tell Vincent she likes his paintings when the villagers force Vincent to leave Arles.

Kevin Hawkes's oil paintings reflect Vincent van Gogh's work as Claudine learns to see the way Vincent does. The colors are mostly not as bright and wild, but still reminiscent. Muted, possibly to reflect the somber story. I did also enjoy the story. It's a different glimpse of van Gogh, a different way of connecting to an artist-inspiring others, especially the young.

related-Vincent van Gogh, Arles, France, artists, painting and painters, intolerance
*Would like to compare to Camille and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt, but haven't been able to get the book yet.

Pancakes, Pancakes! by Eric Carle.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 1990.

Jack wants a pancake for breakfast. His mom has him make it from scratch, and that includes harvesting the wheat and all of the steps to make the flour plus getting an egg from the hen and milk from the cow, not to mention churning the butter. Young ones will find it hilarious as they see and hear what all is required for making a pancake. As always they will also enjoy Carle's wonderful collage art.
RL=1st-2nd and read aloud PreK-K

The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy. il Jerry Pinkney.
Dial Books for Young Readers/E. P. Dutton: NY, 1985.
A Reading Rainbow book

Tanya's grandmother is making a patchwork quilt. She collects scraps from the family's clothing (worn clothing and new fabric) to assemble it. Tanya is fascinated with the stories Grandma tells related to the cloth. Her mother takes some time to listen and starts to help with the quilt. When Grandma gets sick, Tanya helps her mother work on the quilt. Grandma finishes it when she recovers.

This is a story of remembrances, family memories and keeping alive old ways of doing things. Tanya's Mama points out that they can buy a quilt for Tanya, but that's before she learns what making a quilt is all about. The process is a joyful family experience, and the quilt becomes a keepsake and a work of art. Even Grandma's old, worn quilt becomes a part of the new one.

When I was a young girl, I didn't know about quiltmaking. My aunt gave me a blanket that I still have today, but it wasn't a pieced quilt. I was introduced to quilts by my sister, who started quilting after her marriage. She gave me a quilt for my graduation and a baby quilt for my first child. I started making my first quilt after having Matthew and put it away because I was frustrated with balancing a child and sewing. Eventually, I decided to alternate pieced squares and large pieces of fabric. I felt like I was cheating, but it turned out beautiful and gave me the confidence to try one for each of my kids. Since then I have become hooked. I am in the process of making my fifth and sixth blankets (3rd queen size) and have more ideas than I can possibly do. In other words, I have become a quilter for life.

Quilting is an old practice that may not be necessary anymore, but I am glad to see the art reviving, because it is a rewarding experience, and there are so many beautiful works to see. If you ever get a chance, go to see a quilting show. It is much like being in an art museum.

related-quilting, grandmothers, family life, sharing, African Americans
RL=2nd-3rd, read aloud with preK-2nd

Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts About Peace by Anna Grossnickle Hines.
Henry Holt and Company: NY, 2011.

On the initial reading, I was impressed by the poems more than the quilts. The cover quilt is beautiful and my favorite, a dove of peace formed with long strips. Some of the others are eye-catching or themed in a different way than usual. They are, for the most part, much simpler than the author's other quilted picture books. She's maybe less out to prove her technical skills and focused more on it looking like a picture book. I enjoyed the quilts, but the poems affected me more deeply this time.

Upon reading, I expected peaceful nature scenes and inspirational poetry. Anna Grossnickle Hines instead describes the theme in a more all-encompassing manner. She picks at the subject from different directions in order to discover paths towards peace. In the poem, Where I Live, Peace describes a home where it can be found. Likewise, there is a recipe poem. Also, an incident of childhood bickering, with a solution. Most of the poems deal with peace on a personal level, like with relationships and the party's willingness to forgive and keep an open mind and heart. These are things that require personal work on anyone's part to achieve, but definitely virtues worth developing and the younger the better.

I love the spread with the canoe and ripples, with an acrostic and a haiku and a nature exploration poem. Some of the poems are about trying to be at peace oneself, like the one about quieting the mind or the one likening angry, hurtful words to gunshots or the suggestion of counting to calm down before allowing yourself to react. A very simple quilt is the Dominoes spread - red, black and white fabrics fanned out (with the bargello technique), and a simple message of inter-connectivity. I like the dynamics of the No In-Between and Tough Act, with contrasting silhouettes and diamonds made of dramatic, thin triangular strips. When... and Truce are simple and thoughtful, with large landscape pieces and embroidery for shaping and emphasis. The quilt for What If? is circles and butterflies with interesting overlapped fabrics. Pass It On and How? also use wonderful fabric to liven the picture, and then waves of quilting for texture and the hands and globe motif to carry the image. The concepts are how we arrive at peace and spreading it around or helping it to grow.

The end of the book has bio blurbs about eight promoters of peaceful solutions and the author's discussion about quilting and her inspiration for the book. I particularly like her closing message:

Most of the time I spend writing or quilting, I am by myself. But I am not alone. My fellow writers and quilters are with me, all of those who will one day read my words and see my pictures are with me, and even those who won't are with me. All of us together in one world. The trick is to be mindful of that connection.

related-peace, poetry for children, quilts, relationships, inner growth, art
RL=2nd and up, some of the concepts are obviously geared more towards older elementary levels, but even toddlers can enjoy some of the book.

Reviews of Pieces and Winter Lights

A Perfect Season for Dreaming by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. il Esau Andrade Valencia. trans Luis Humberto Crosthwaite.
Cinco Puntas Press: El Paso, TX, 2008.

The artwork in this book is imaginative and absolutely gorgeous with very definite Mexican motifs. Sharpness, rich color, and splendid detail. Every page is a delight.

In the story, an old man has fascinating dreams on summer afternoons. I enjoy the fantastic dreams and the sharing of them with the granddaughter. The anticipation builds as the numbers increase and grandfather's need to talk about the dreams grows. The granddaughter is thrilled to hear the stories after the old man picks her to tell.

You've got to love the mariachi coyotes and poetry writing armadillos. Also, the man made up of his dream images and the man dreaming as part of the landscape. The book is a masterpiece of folk art.

Another notable inclusion is the use of English and Spanish. I have not seen many books with both, other than a few Spanish words here or there.

related-dreams, animals, Spanish, languages, bilingual, counting, sharing, storytelling
RL=2nd-3rd, read aloud to toddlers-1st, use for learning Spanish or English

Picture Pie by Ed Emberley.
Little, Brown and Company: Boston, 1984.

Emberley shows how circles can be cut into 4 basic shapes and the pieces fit together to form limitless designs. The pictures range from very basic with step by step graphics to quite complex. There are also suggestions for variations, such as cutting differently or using printed paper.

I was excited to find this book, because it is a technique my mother told me she used in her art class for elementary grades. It teaches that art on a basic level is shapes and also can be an introduction to fractions.

To encourage children's natural desire to create sometimes requires showing them how to have an end product that is great. Simple projects like this help them to succeed, and so, they will keep creating. While the process is what is most important, a child who doesn't feel successful in art will stop creating. I did not learn until I was an adult that practice is essential, and that I can also be happy with my creations if I continue to try.

related-drawing technique, circles in art

The Picture That Mom Drew by Kathy Mallat and Bruce McMillan.
Walker and Company: NY, 1997.

Mallat has co-written and drawn the illustrations for her first book. Based on the idea of The House That Jack Built, Mallat constructs a picture bit by bit using seven basic elements of art - color, line, shape, form, shading, patterns, and texture - adding on each element as she continues. As a homeschool teacher, I love that she demonstrates the steps of creating her work, the layers of her creation.

She starts with the paper, and each turn of the page focuses on the next element in her drawing. The names of the elements are images resembling their meanings. The illustrations show the steps in her drawing process. It is fun, instructional, and enlightening to watch the picture unfold. As the drawing proceeds, the pages are bright and more appealing. Then, you see the whole picture and can single out the smaller areas that were spotlighted during the drawing process.

The last portion is definitions and discussion of the elements of art.

Another plus of the book is the language that is used along with the demonstrating of the elements. It is interesting and straight to the point.

related-colored pencil drawing technique, elements of art
RL=1st-2nd, not sure about age for reading aloud, pre-K through 4th or 5th for teaching elements

In researching, I noticed a review on Amazon that says the book does not work for its intent - teaching the elements. I disagree. As a homeschool teacher, I would use this book for a range of ages. For the younger ones, to enjoy and to understand the first elements. As they get older they will understand the others better. Plus, I believe children can understand them with a one-on-one approach. Some might need to actually see the layering process happening but not all of them. The review also says older kids would be bored with the text. Maybe, maybe not. After all, as an adult, I was not bored.

Pieces: A Year in Poems & Quilts by Anna Grossnickle Hines.
Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2001.

Seasons of the year grace Pieces with nature poems and quilts. Hines constructed the lovely quilts specifically for the book, showing a few different techniques. The actual sizes of the quilts are about the same as the pages. I particularly like that some of the quilts are shown as pieces and then sewn together. I also enjoyed seeing quilts as the medium. I've seen picture books with illustrations made to look like quilts, but this is the first for actual quilts. Notice also the use of borders on the quilts.

Hines's language for the poems is mostly playful with descriptive words, varying in rhythm and sound. The poems I especially enjoyed are Good Heavens (which seems to be a centerpiece of the book), Ballet (a dancing crow), Do You Know Green? (a spring poem), To Each His Own (swirling maples), and Winter Sunshine (the last roses).

Hines discusses quilting techniques she used, at the end of the book. Her personal experience makes the book even more enjoyable.

related-nature, seasons, quilts, children's poetry
RL=3rd and up, read aloud to preK-2nd

Pigs From A to Z by Arthur Geisert.
Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston 1986.

Overwhelmingly, the attraction of this alphabet book is the etched illustrations. They are amazingly detailed and textured, with quite the story to tell. The pigs are an extension from a previous book, Pa's Balloon and Other Pig Tales, which I now need to read.

The text is understated, though it is in the form of a traditional alphabet book (A is for _) with some emphasis on phonetics. The sentences are simple, though not simplistic to the point of being kindergarten only. The story takes precedence. I like that there is a story that each letter and illustration work towards; namely, the building of the treehouse, in an over the top sort of way.

I can see that another appeal would be the hidden letters and pigs on each page. Finding them lead the readers to other interesting details. Some are difficult to find, and some that I thought were letters were not counted. So, you may want to make use of the guide in back, if stumped or if you need to know if you are correct.

Anyway, it's a fun book, and I wish I'd known about it when my kids were of the picture book age.

related-alphabet, ABCs, pigs, animals in stories, treehouses, construction
RL=K-1st, read aloud with toddlers-K

Possum and Wattle by Bronwyn Bancroft.
Little Hare Books: Australia, 2008.

This is one of the most beautifully illustrated alphabet books I've seen. Striking aboriginal depictions in brilliant colors. Not all of the words are Australian words, but all have significance to Australians. Many of the words are interesting. Some are words that just evoke wonderful feeling, and some of the illustrations do, too (for ex. I love the onion, sun, and the wave). There are descriptions for each word at the end of the book, a nice addition, plus a cultural note about the author who is part Bundjalung.

What a delight! I have been trying to grow an awesome ABC list. This will definitely be on it.

This could also be used for inspiration for art class.

related-Australian culture, ABCs and alphabet, words, languages,
RL=K-1st, read aloud to infant-preK

Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden by George Levenson. photos by Shmuel Thaler.
Tricycle Press/Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA, 1999.

This is a nonfiction poem celebrating the life cycle of pumpkins. Every aspect is lovingly described. The parts of the pumpkins seem to have personality as exhibited by Levenson and Thaler. The cycle is a circle, seeds to plants to pumpkins to seeds. I love the backyard full of pumpkin plants, vines everywhere.

The photos are great! You can feel the texture of the closeups. They match the wonderful description perfectly. The combination invites the readers to come play in the garden, and certainly to start their own special pumpkin patch that renews itself from year to year.

Besides how the pumpkins grow, there is further information in back for growing a pumpkin garden.

What a fantastic book! Another great garden book by Levenson and Thaler is Bread Comes to Life.

related-life cycle of pumpkins, backyard gardening, food, jack-o-lanterns, stories in rhyme, poetry for children
RL=1st-5th, read aloud to toddler-K

Q is for Quark by David M. Schwartz. il. Kim Doner.
Tricycle Press: Berkeley, 2001.

Q is for Quark is one of my favorite alphabet books, has a super cool name, and is one of the best science books for elementary students. It's style is unique and hilarious, explaining science terms and concepts in clear and simple speech, with humorous graphical depictions and comical commentary. The reading level is about 3rd to 5th grade, but it is a book for all ages. Everyone can enjoy the comics. Elementary on up can benefit from the clarification of ideas, promoting the discussion of the concepts with children, which encourages their exploration and willingness to persevere through science classes they may find difficult.

Q is for Quark is a fun book. I wish that my elementary science (what little there was) had been approached in this way. I would like to see more science taught in this way. The book uses normal terminology, but it also explains it without complicated terms which confuse the discussion. It shows science as the explorative subject that it is, something to play around with and observe results and reactions. There are some great concepts within the sciences that don't take a rocket scientist to understand. This book mostly is involved with fairly simple ones (unlike G is for Googol which explains some less elementary ideas), but it is a good book to start some exploration into the science world.

Q is for Quark and its counterpart G is for Googol are books to buy for youngsters and keep and cherish. They are not quick reads; they serve as reminders as well as introductions. I have to say these books helped me to understand some of the terms better and explained terms I hadn't bothered to understand. Here's hoping that these books will lead to further exploration.

related-science, alphabet, ABCs, educational comics, exploration
RL=all ages

Quilting Then & Now by Karen Bates Willing & Julie Bates Dock. il Sarah Morse.
Now & Then Publications: Ashland, OR, 1994.

This is a nice introduction to quilting, past and present. A woman who industriously quilts for her family explains to a neighbor's child all about quilts. The story is in rhyme. The illustrations show many quilt patterns and have actual quilt photos superimposed over the drawings. There is a great sense of family throughout the story, and there is a cat in every drawing.

related-patchwork quilts, quilting patterns, frontier and pioneer life, United States history, arts and crafts
RL=2nd-3rd, read aloud with preK-1st

The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau. il. Gail de Marcken.
Pfeifer-Hamilton Publishers: Duluth, MN, 2000.

The pictures in this book are absolutely gorgeous. That is what initially attracted my attention. The title also did because I believe handmade quilts are priceless treasures.

The story is lovely, too. A king who has almost everything still searches for more things. He meets a quiltmaker who only gives her glorious quilts to the poor. She teaches the king the valuable lesson that things do not bring true happiness, but giving to others can.

Rocks in His Head by Carol Otis Hurst. il. James Stevenson.
Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2001.

Through good times and bad Carol Otis Hurst's father collected rocks. He carried them in his pockets, and people said he had rocks in his head. Still his passion for rocks never ceased.

The book is about a man who truly appreciated the beauty of nature. For all of us who keep a box of rocks (or more) as treasures and all of us who know we are not quite like others-this is a special book.

Rolling the Cheese by Patricia Miles Martin. il. Alton Raible.
Atheneum: NY, 1966.

A wonderful, heartwarming story of a funny pastime and a girl who wanted to participate in a man's game. The title even is too good to pass up.

Rooster's Off to See the World by Eric Carle.
Picture Book Studio: Natick, MA, 1972.

Written as an introduction to numbers and sets, the story starts with Rooster leaving home to see the world, and 14 animals join him in his traveling. They don't get far before the animals change their minds in groups. The beautiful rooster is a great example of what draws children to Carle's books.
RL=1st-2nd and read aloud PreK-K

Ruby Sings the Blues by Niki Daly.
Bloomsbury Publishing: NY, 2005.
Originally by Frances Lincoln, Ltd: London.

This book is for all the loud children out there (and their parents). Ruby annoys everyone with her yelling - other residents, her teacher, the other children. Her teacher tries to teach her to control her volume, but it isn't until neighboring musicians help her use her strong voice that she and others appreciate her gift. Through singing lessons she learns to control her voice, not just the volume and in a fun way.

The illustrations are cartoonish, artful, and expressive. The reactions to Ruby's sound level just a teensy bit exaggerated. Both the volume button and singing lessons are excellent examples of ways to tone down the noise, and I like that the musicians made a point of telling Ruby her voice is awesome.

related-voice, loudness, jazz music, individuality, belonging
RL=1st-2nd, mostly read aloud to toddlers-K

Seasons by Blexbolex.
Enchanted Lion Books: NY, 2010.
Originally in French as Saisons ©2009 Albin Michel Jeunesse.
Translated by Claudia Bedrick.

Seasons is a first words book, originally in French. The word choices lead me to believe their beginning reading may stress rote learning more than phonetic lessons. The words are common verbal usage, but not simple words. This makes for a more interesting book, but it is not in a phonetic or ABC format. Instead, it cycles through the seasons a few times and might be targreted towards younger children and enjoyment of books rather than learning to read.

The style of the book is also French, though I did not see a French publisher for it. I thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations. They look like they are wood or linoleum cut prints. They vary in complexity and number of colors. It has wide ranging concepts, portrayed well.

related-seasons, common words
RL=mostly toddler-K

The Seasons by Steven Schnur. il Leslie Evans.
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY.

Autumn 1997
Spring 1999
Summer 2001
Winter 2002

Schnur has created an alphabet acrostic book for each season. Eye-catching linoleum-cut illustrations partner acrostic poems for each letter of the alphabet. What a beautiful way to share the seasons with young ones! Full of wonder, overflowing with descriptions.
related-abc, poetry, seasons
RL=3rd-4th     read aloud to PreK-2nd

The Seasons Sewn: A Year in Patchwork by Ann Whitford Paul. il Michael McCurdy.
Browndeer Press/Harcourt Brace & Company: NY, 1996.

This book is much like Eight Hands Round by Ann Whitford Paul. It also describes historical themes in relation to patchwork squares and their names. They are different patterns, since there are so many from which to choose, and they are presented based on seasons of the year. Many of the patterns are more difficult than in the other book. As in the other, the patterns are shown first as squares, and then repeated squares for maximum effect. The illustrations in The Seasons Sewn are more precise and much more detailed. I love the historical information and the presentation. I can't wait to try some of the patterns myself.

related-patchwork quilts, quilting patterns, frontier and pioneer life, United States history, seasons of the year
RL=2nd-4th, read aloud with preK-1st, could be used for elementary history

The Secret River by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. il by Leo & Diane Dillon.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers: NY, 2011.
Author of The Yearling.
Text given a Newbery Honor in 1956.

A young girl sets out to find a secret river teeming with fish when her father says their neighbors are struggling due to a lack of the fish they rely on for their food and livelihood. She finds the river as she wanders through the forest. There is no way she would ever be able to find it again, though she tries. She catches an abundance of catfish, shares some with animals on her way home and with an elderly woman who gave her the idea, has plenty left for her family and her father to sell in his fish market. The girl Calpurnia is introduced as a poet. She creates poems as she goes along, and she experiences her day with a sense of wonderment and trust.

I like many of the illustrations just for themselves. There is so much texture: contrasting geometric shapes in the clothing, faces on the forest trees, lacy tree canopies, images used to build other images (ex. owls among the owl's feathers and fish make up some of the trees and grasses), and through much of the book the glorious line of catfish on the fishing pole. There is varied coloration, but the colors are muted, lending a feeling of awe and subtle mythical tone.

related-fishing, hunger, dogs, forest animals, Florida
RL=1st-3rd, read aloud to toddler-K

She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader. by Jan Godown Annino. il by Lisa Desimini.
National Geographic Society: Washington, D.C., 2010.

The story starts lyrically, describing the tribal community in which Betty Mae Jumper was raised, with a traditional Native American storytelling style. The illustrations are vibrant and rich with a similar, dreamy feel to them. The story moves quickly towards a more biographical tone.

I had not heard about Betty Mae Jumper before, despite her achievements and awards. She grew up in a tribal community in Florida in the 1920s, begged to be allowed to go to school, and because of her multilingual abilities was able to bring medical treatment to Native Americans in Florida. She became a tribal leader in the 1960s and co-started a Seminole newspaper. Despite her obvious age, she also uses the internet. She sounds like an amazing woman and more informatoion can be found through the book and www.semtribe.com and seminolenation.com.

related-history of Seminole Indians, Native Americans, Florida, nursing, Big Cypress Swamp

Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson. il Hudson Talbott.
G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Young Readers Group: NY, 2005.
Newbery Honor 2006

This is a beautiful family story (and history) presented through the use of quilt designs. It incorporates the quilts showing the fugitives the way North, the battle for civil rights, the strength and determination of the women in the family, and the lessons learned turned to crafts that bring income.

I love the beauty, subtlety and thoughtfulness of the illustrations. Some of them are truly treasures. Even more amazing is that they frame and increase the depth of a powerful story.

related-quilts, tradition, mother and daughter, slavery, African Americans
RL=1st-4th and read aloud

Sidewalk Circus presented by Paul Fleischman and Kevin Hawkes.
Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2004.

As two children (at different times) wait on a bench for the next city bus, they watch workers and activity along the city street. They imagine the city dwellers as circus performers as they go about their tasks. Posters of a circus event a man is putting up and a theater marquee announce each act. Their shadows and actions mirror the posters.

This is one of my favorite Kevin Hawkes books. I love both the idea and the presentation. Watching people in a busy area can be quite entertaining, and this almost wordless book perfectly captures the concept. The shadow-work subtly emphasizes the children's imaginative perceptions. The pictures of the city life are art in themselves.

It is an imaginative and witty story told through the wonderful pictures and circus and market signs. Beautiful work!

related-circus, city and town life, stories without words, imagination, shadows, observation, people-watching
RL=toddler & up, all ages

*I find the subject matter highly appropriate for Kevin Hawkes because of his extensive use of shadow in his art.

Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner.
Dutton Children's Books/Penguin Young Readers Group: NY, 2003.

Skippyjon Jones-the Siamese cat with the wild imagination. Sent to his room to think about his behavior, he gets caught in another of his adventures. Bright pictures full of energy and great use of words.

Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue. il by Pamela Zagarenski.
Houghton Mifflin: NY, 2012.
Caldecott Honor 2013.

The most striking thing about this book is the illustrations. Beautifully detailed, brightly colored and multi-textured. Page after page of gorgeous paintings with a fairy tale flair.

The book is a bedtime ritual story with a twist. The parents quietly urge the girl to continue preparing for bed as they assure her it is okay she is not sleepy. Examples of how animals sleep are discussed. Once left alone in bed, the girl thinks of each animal sleeping and imagines a similar thing for herself. There is a sleepy mood to go with the theme.

I am not normally interested in sleep based books, but this particular one is very nice. I like the writing better, perhaps because it is more of a story than is usual for this type of book. The illustrations exhibit great imagination, and one could get lost in observing the details.

related-bedtime habits, sleeping, imagining
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud with babies and toddlers

"Slowly, Slowly, Slowly," said the Sloth" by Eric Carle.
Philomel Books/Penguin Putnam: NY, 2002.

A parade of rainforest animals wanders by as the sloth slowly goes about his business. Hanging from a branch of his tree day and night, everything he does is done with painstaking slowness. Carle's book is a reminder of the rushing that our society does and at least one example of a species that enjoys its life and environment, doesn't feel the need for much activity, and lives its life in peace.

The story reminds me of another Carle parade of animals in The Very Busy Spider, one of my oldest sons favorite baby books.

This selection is a colorful collage of unusual animals, with a little bit of camoflage. The story mostly moves slowly, slowly along with the sloth, until at the end, the sloth pipes up with his response to the others' criticism, explaining his behavior.

Jane Goodall describes the sloth in detail with her opening remarks, along with a plea for protection of the rainforest animals and habitat which are at risk from lumbering and cattle farming.

related-sloths, jungle animals, lazy vs peaceful existence
RL=K-1st, read aloud to babies and toddlers

Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. il Chris K. Soentpiet.
Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc: NY, 1998.

A girl is taught the word beautiful in school. Looking around her neighborhood she sees many ugly or disturbing things. So she goes on a quest of things other people believe are beautiful. There are several lessons in this beautiful book.
related-garbage cleanup, homeless, graffiti, inner city, minorities, beauty
read aloud and 1st-2nd

Song of the Water Boatman & Other Pond Poems by Joyce Sidman. il Beckie Prange.
Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 2005.
Caldecott Honor 2006

As with most collections, some of the poems resonate better than others. The accompanying woodcut illustrations are remarkable. I also like the biology facts given for each creature. The collection is an observation of life and the food chain surrounding ponds.
RL=3rd-5th and read aloud

The illustrator's note says more woodcuts can be viewed at www.wildlifewoodcuts.com.

Stitchin' and Pullin': a Gee's Bend Quilt by Patricia c. McKissack. il Cozbi A. Cabrera.
Random House: NY, 2008.

Stitchin' and Pullin' is told through poems in the voice of a young girl whose turn has come to make her first quilt. She tells of the generations of the Gee's Bend quilters and of her experience of listening to the women's conversation and wisdom as she played beneath the quilting frame and later was put to work threading needles and cutting scraps. She tells of the scraps saved from old clothes with their memories attached and the symbolism of the pieces she chooses for her quilt. For example, family incidences and important historical moments or mentors. She tells what goes into the making of the quilt: colors; balance; meaning; hours of love, labor and fellowship. She also tells of the anticipation she feels waiting and hoping for the project to be finished.

Gee's Bend, Alabama is an African American community where quilting has been a tradition for centuries. Up until the Depression of the 1930s, their community was separate (a sharecropping community on an island in a river), their quilting not noticed. They started to receive attention, because the style of the quilting was different, not influenced by quilters of other communities. Nowadays, some of their old quilts hang in museums, and they sell quilts in the traditional style.

As a quilter myself, I am drawn to stories about quilts. They are, to me, an amazing art form, and so much of people's lives go into the creation of them.

The story is told in a comprehensive and loving way. It holds the awe that I feel regarding quilts and the complexity of the subject. Also included is a family history of the girl, struggles of the community, and the striving for justice and civil rights. I particularly like the choices of fabric and the girl's explanations for them. The illustrations are lovely. Of course, filled with quilt pictures but also family, community, and history. The illustrations are bright and impressionistic, incorporating the description of the girl's quilting choices.

This picture book is for an older than normal audience. It can be used for appreciation of art or civil rights and family history studies. Younger children will need to share it with an adult.

related-quilting, African Americans, family life, Gee's Bend, Alabama, community life
RL=2nd-5th, read aloud K-5th

Stone Soup retold and il by Jon J. Muth.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2003.

Stone Soup is a lesson in sharing based on a European folktale. Three visitors trick nontrusting townspeople into contributing food from their own supplies to make a soup the visitors start from stones.

Muth's version is set in a mountainous area of China. The three visitors are Buddhist monks, with the names of Zen deities, focusing on what makes people happy. There is elegance and humor in Muth's paintings and storytelling.

I have liked the folktale since reading Marcia Brown's version for a college class. It is set in France with the visitors being soldiers returning from a war, which I didn't want to read to my innocent child. I also felt uncomfortable about the explanation of the townspeople. There is a strength to the story, though the text is much simpler than Muth's version. Need to look at pictures to compare. I was impressed by Brown's story originally, but I think Muth has made a great story even better by instilling humor and grace into it. I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading Marcia Brown's book. Read them both and compare for yourself.

related-sharing, community vs mistrust, happiness, generosity
RL=1st-3rd, read aloud to toddler & up

The Story of Kites by Ying Chang Compestine. il. Yong Sheng Xuan.
Holiday House: NY, 2003.

Ting, Pan, and Kuai are tired of banging pots and waving arms to scare the birds away from their rice field. They try some new ideas with varying degrees of success.

The pictures alone are worth viewing. The vibrancy of the colors, the crispness of the lines, and shading of the edges resemble stained glass.
RL=1st-2nd and read aloud

Supergrandpa by David M. Schwartz. il. Bert Dodson.
Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard Books: NY, 1991.

This book tells about Gustaf Hakansson, a 66-year-old man who finished first in the 1951 Sverige Loppet (Tour of Sweden, the longest bicycle race in the history of Sweden) even though the judges refused to allow his registration due to his age.
RL=1st-3rd and read aloud

Superhero ABC by Bob McLeod.
Harper Collins Publishers: NY, 2006.

Fantastic drawings! Very funny characters. With the growing popularity of graphic novels, I am glad to see some superheroes for youngsters. This timely publication is sure to be a success.

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson. il James Ransome.
Alfred A. Knopf: NY, 1993.

Clara becomes a seamstress on the plantation, because she's not strong enough to keep picking cotton. She is separated from her mother by slavery and dreams of reuniting and running to freedom. She overhears two slaves discussing the Underground Railroad and their desire for a map. Clara draws a map in the dirt of all she can see from a hilltop and starts to create a quilt based on her drawing. She also collects descriptions from others who have traveled around more of the region to add to the quilt. When Clara is ready to leave, she leaves the quilt behind as a map for others to use.

I like the use of the quilt in this story. It takes center stage, though the book is more about slavery and fugitives than quilts. Regarding African-American history, quilts are usually discussed as marking safe houses along the Underground Railroad and as depicting the stories of a certain family, or as with anyone else the need to produce economical blankets. I love the idea of the quilt as a map - the brilliance of the girl's idea, the artistry in her process, and her leaving the quilt for others to follow.

The paintings are a strong partner to a great story.

I also want to note that the background story has details about slavery, the time period, and local life that put the story in perspective.

This is Deborah Hopkinson's first picture book.

related-slavery, quilts, maps, Underground Railroad
RL=1st-3rd, could be used in classes up through 5th gradeTen Birds by Cybèle Young.
Kids Can Press: Tonawanda, NY, 2011.

The illustrations are great in this counting book. It is action-oriented and thought provoking for such a low level read. Detailed, black and white drawings are the story, though there is good use of minimalist language.

I love the concept. Ten birds are given the task of crossing a river. Each accomplishes it in its own way. Each employs a technological approach. It is subtle and humorous and encourages thinking. I love it when adults understand that young ones are capable of complicated thought and that learning is fun!

I think toddlers will love this book, for the drawings and the technology. I would use it as a springboard for discussion with preK and K and maybe as a followup for 1st and 2nd graders who have learned about simple machines

related-tasks, tools, simple machines, technology, problem solving, critical thinking, birds, animals
RL=K-1st Target audience is toddler.

Ten Little Caterpillars by Bill Martin, Jr. il by Lois Ehlert.
Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2011.

Simple, yet not simple. Full page spreads with single, counting sentences. Only the last sentence is complex. But not only are they rhyming, they are different types of caterpillars experiencing varying caterpillar experiences. At the back, the caterpillar types are shown with the butterflies or moths they turn into and what they eat.

Fairly simple pictures are composed of collages made with painted papers. There are some spots where the papers are layered, but mostly the papers are specially colored and textured to fit the object. Even the leaves have contrasting textures and varied colors to add complexity and realism. I was also struck by the idea that many of the illustrations would work well in a quilting medium. Beautifully and thoughtfully constructed!

related=counting to ten, caterpillars, insects, moths, butterflies, illustrators, collage, watercolors
RL=1st grade, read aloud to babies-preK

Ten Rowdy Ravens by Susan Ewing. il Evon Zerbetz.
Alaska Northwest Books/Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company: Portland, OR, 2005.

It's hard to say what I like best about this-the awesome color, texture, and details of the linocut prints, the meaningful language (also full of texture) for each number counted, or the entertaining and true reports of ravens in the short news section at the end. This is a counting book (backwards), but is far more than that. Each of the ideas portrayed is something totally in character for the ravens, branded as sharp-witted troublemakers through the ages. I especially like the ravens hanging on the laundry line. Can't you just picture it? When I first picked up the book, I had no idea what a treat was in store for me.

related-counting books, counting rhymes, ravens, habits of ravens and crows, birds
RL=2nd and up, plus read aloud to young ones

This Place I Know selected by Georgia Heard. il by 18 renowned picture book artists.
Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2002.

Georgia Heard collected these poems to comfort the children who witnessed the World Trade Center tragedy. I suspect that it was as much to help those involved in the project heal as for the children. It is a beautiful collection and will be comforting in any time of grief or fear. There are personal notes by the authors in back, some specifically related to New York City and 9-11.

Each poem is illustrated by a known picture book artist. Some very lovely pictures. The one by Kevin Hawkes expresses exactly how I feel in such stressful times-both the poem and picture. My family did, in fact, turn to nature after the tragedy (9/11). The next day we went to the mountains to hike. It is the one thing that can most help me to balance life.

poets-Eloise Greenfield, Deborah Chandra, Louise Driscoll, Georgia Heard, Gwendolyn Brooks, Susan Marie Swanson, Karla Kuskin, Margaret Tsuda, Lillian Morrison, Nancy Wood, A. L. Gordon, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, Annette Wynne, Emily Dickinson, Wendell Berry, Ann Turner
illustrators-Shane W. Evans, Vivienne Flesher, Kevin Hawkes, Yumi Heo, G. Brian Karas, Elisa Kleven, Laura McGee Kvasnosky, Petra Mathers, Jill McElmurry, Holly Meade, Hiroe Nakata, Giselle Potter, Vladimir Radunsky, Chris Raschka, Peter Sis, William Steig, Melissa Sweet, Matt Tavares
RL=3rd-5th, all ages, not at all a set age, read aloud to younger

The Three Pigs by David Wiesner.
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY, 2001.

Caldecott Award 2002

Wiesner lets the pigs control the story in this retelling. After escaping from the wolf, they roam through a gallery of stories. They use part of their own book as a paper airplane, enter other stories, and invite their new friends home.

Wiesner uses new concepts and great attention to detail in this engaging tale.
RL=1st-2nd and read aloud to younger

The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2002.

This is a retelling for children of a story with the same name by Leo Tolstoy. In the retelling, a boy searches for the answer to three important questions he believes will help him to always be a good person. His friends' answers don't satisfy him, so he asks wise, old Leo, the turtle. Events that happen during his visit with Leo illustrate the answers to his questions.

This book is a prime example of Jon Muth's style-both writing and paintings. Gently teaching anecdotes, with animals as friends, and beautiful, inspiring watercolor illustrations. His books have a wonderful simplicity about them, yet they are fraught with emotion.

related-conduct of life, animals, Leo Tolstoy, friendship, helping others
RL=2nd-3rd, mostly read aloud to toddler-1st

The Three Silly Billies by Margie Palatini. il Barry Moser.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: NY, 2005.

This is a retelling of a tale read to me over and over as a child, The Three Billy Goats Gruff. There is the addition of sharing the fare, plus extra folk characters and the opportunity to count the coins. No scary eating of the goats, just desserts for the troll, and the travelers didn't cheat the troll. I don't know what appealed to me as a child, but I like this version better. The emphasis is on silliness and inferences instead of scariness.

Probably the best part is the great pictures. Dramatic poses and emotional faces and a bright sharpness steal the show for an experience that would have been excellent even without the fractured fairy tale story.

related-The Three Billy Goats Gruff, folk tale retellings, characters in literature, humorous stories, sharing
RL=1st-3rd, mostly read aloud toddler-1st

Thump, Quack, Moo by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2008.

Farmer Brown is creating a Statue of Liberty for the Corn Maze Festival. He bribes the animals for their help. Farmer Brown sketches, measures, and mows everyday to prepare. By night, Duck sketches, measures, and cuts. As you can imagine, things are not the way they were planned (by Farmer Brown). He takes a ride in the festival's hot-air balloon, along with Duck, and the maze is revealed. It's hilarious, but I'm not giving it away.

related-ducks, domestic/farm animals, farmers, festivals, corn mazes, creativity
RL=1st-2nd with some hard words, mostly read aloud to toddler & up

Tiger Flower by Robert Vavra. il by Fleur Cowles.
Reynal & Company/William Morrow & Company: NY, 1969.
First published in Great Britain in 1968.

The most striking thing about the book is the illustrations. Bright, colorful, beautiful renderings of animals and landscapes.

The text is magical and poetic, though feeling from another time or out of time. Themes are imagination, peace, and acceptance. To me the strongest emphasis is on the comparison of two worlds. The usual is fierce and uncompromising. This new one may be odd, but acceptance is a key part of it. There are some 1960s concepts, but it is handled delicately and does not feel dated.

related-imagination, worlds, habitats, acceptance, being one's self, peace
RL=read aloud to preK-1st

Time For Bed by Mem Fox. il Jane Dyer.
Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace & Company: NY, 1993.

This is a beautiful, peaceful bedtime book. Simple rhymes with nature, animals, and loving thoughts. Simple enough to memorize and say and also for beginning readers.
RL=1st-2nd and read aloud as young as you like

Timothy Tunny Swallowed a Bunny by Bill Grossman. il Kevin Hawkes.
A Laura Geringer Book/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2000.

This is a book of short rhymes. There are some good ones, but this time I enjoyed the illustrations more. Some of the jokes needed the pictures to fully appreciate them. Not one of my favorites of the Kevin Hawkes books, but it is enjoyable anyway.

related-children's poetry, nonsense verses, American poetry
RL=2nd-4th, mostly read aloud to PreK-1st

Tomatoes From Mars by Arthur Yorinks. il Mort Drucker.
Michael di Capua Books/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 1999.

The pictures and the story concept are both hilarious and great in this explanation of why Mars is red. The details are so entertaining as is the solution to the invasion.
RL=read aloud and 2nd-3rd

Tough Boris by Mem Fox. il Kathryn Brown.
Harcourt Brace & Company: NY, 1994.

First of all, the cover and first page grabbed my attention. I was disappointed to see the text is rather plain, but looking closer I noticed there is a story unfolding in the pictures. An unusual background story that gives the simple text more strength. The story is brought to the foreground by the ending. I had to go back through several pages to notice that it was there from the beginning.

The book has fabulous stand-alone illustrations, with half of them as two-page spreads. Perfect for lovers of detail who scour the pictures for meaning. The use of color and details capture the testosterone-pumping drama. Mem Fox couldn't have found a more perfect match.

I know I have seen many other pirate stories. Some of them did capture my attention temporarily, but I don't remember any standing out so well.

related-pirates, pets
RL=K-1st, read aloud to toddlers-preK

Traction Man Is Here! by Mini Grey.
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, Inc: NY, 2005.

For those looking for comics and superheroes for young ones-this is it. The storyline is basic, but the wordplay is enjoyable and the pictures fabulous with much action and emotion. The situations and props are all things to which young ones will relate.
RL=2nd-3rd (mostly read aloud)

Train Song by Diane Siebert. il. Mike Wimmer
Thomas Y. Crowell: NY, 1981.

I have long loved this rhythmic poem of trains. At times I can hear the sound of the wheels on the tracks through the words (and maybe even a whisper of steam). I believe it would be an excellent one to memorize and perform. The full-page illustrations are also very appealing. Excellent for the young ones fascinated by transportation.
RL=2nd-3rd and read aloud to younger

Tricking the Tallyman: The Great Census Shenanigans of 1790 by Jacqueline Davies. il S. D. Schindler.
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY, 2009.

First of all, I love the name of the book. It feels great on the tongue.

The story is a very funny depiction of the first census of the United States. A town is counted three times. The first time, hiding the citizens, hoping to minimize the taxes they will be required to pay. The second time, dressing up animals as people, hoping to gain greater representation in the federal government. The third time is a charm, as the citizens have learned the full purpose of the census and are willing to cooperate.

There is a good balance between the historical and humorous. The focus is on the difficulty of the tallyman's job. A tiny aspect of history is spotlighted. Though tiny, it was an important event. I can imagine shenanigans such as this really did occur, given the avoidance of taxes (a constant fact) and participation in the militia. Makes one wonder if shenanigans are still going on with the census.

There is a brief discussion of the United States census at the end, including the tally then and the last one in the year 2000.

One of the best picture books I've seen published this year.

related-census, demographic surveys and studies, United States history, Vermont, United States Constitution, 1789-1809, developing a new country, humorous stories
RL=1st-2nd, use for elementary history classes

Trouble on the Tracks by Kathy Mallat.
Walker & Company: NY, 2001.

This is a fun book for train and cat lovers. A train goes for its usual run and does run into Trouble - the cat. Until that point, it looks like a real train situation, though the background and people were drawn less realistically intentionally. As soon as you see the black illustration with eyes, you know just what Trouble is. It's a funny twist to the story. It wasn't until well after Trouble made his appearance that I noticed the feet of the people.

Another great read aloud with some characteristic cat pictures - the eyes, Trouble stepping over the town and peeking from behind a building. Look close at the arch on the cover. It looks like a cave. Guess again.

The illustrations are the centerpiece of the book. Wonderful attention to detail as well as some dramatic views. Mallat doesn't waste any space - not with her wording nor with any filler.

related-model trains, cats, engineers, railroad crash
RL=1st-2nd, mostly read aloud to toddlers-K

Tuesday David Wiesner.
Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Company: NY, 1991.
Caldecott Award 1992.

Again Wiesner's illustrations are works of art. The idea of the frogs out for a night on the town is hilarious. The nuances in the pictures are delightful-the frogs caught in the laundry, the dog chase, frogs zooming on lily pads, the detective wondering about the lily pads in the street. It is amazing how much can be told without words.
related-frogs, fantasy, stories without words, humorous stories
RL=all ages

The Turnip by Walter de la Mare. il Kevin Hawkes.
David R. Godine, Inc: Boston, 1992

Walter de la Mare's version of The Turnip, originally a folktale by the Brothers Grimm, is smooth and forceful. It is a beloved tale told again and again, perhaps none more clearly than this.

Two brothers with separate lives-one a hardworking farmer, the other a miser-approach the king. The farmer gives the king his wondrous turnip and is given favor in return. The miser trades his wealth for a jewel to give to the king. His reputation proceeds him, and he is given a slice of his brother's turnip. The comparison of the brothers reflects the difference in character and also the wealth in life that is not about money and stuff. This is, again, a very didactic tale made enjoyable through the depth of the story and magnificent pictures.

The richness and exaggeration of the illustrations are perfect. The borders are brilliant. Several of the pictures are fantastic on their own and would make great story starters, but they also work well to emphasize the story.

related-fairy tales, folklore-Germany, Brothers Grimm, generosity and greed, kings, brothers
RL=2nd-3rd, mostly read aloud to pre-K and up

Two Little Trains by Margaret Wise Brown. il by Leo and Diane Dillon.
HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2001.
Text copyright 1949.

I just happened to see this book at the library recently. The striking and imaginative illustrations are great! Meaning has been added by the Dillons in that their illustrations creatively parallel a streamlined train with a toy train. Household objects are used to mimic the travel of a train going west, as a child would play. The book is newer than I expected, illustrated in a retro style.

I browsed to see if I could find anything about the 1949 book. Only that the original had two trains-one driven by a boy engineer and the other by a girl engineer. I also found that there are mixed reviews. Some people love this book, and others not. Likely, the ones more impressed have boys.

Margaret Wise Brown's story is a poem, a song in the rhythm of a train chugging along. It's simple, meant for reading to toddlers. It's also old school, from a time when repetition and memorization were the norm. Many young children love the repetition. With repeated readings, children would have been encouraged to say the words, promoting vocabulary development. Verbal vocabulary is the foundation for expression and reading. Even so, the Dillons added so much more with their interpretation. The poem and illustrations combined are a story that is fun and pleasant for listening.

I enjoyed reading about Margaret Wise Brown at wikipedia.org. She was of my grandmother's generation and died before I was born, and yet, some of her stories are still favorites. A plus for me is that she was a Maine author, living on Vinalhaven.

I waited to post this review, because I wanted to see the 1949 book first. My library has a copy. That book is nothing special. The illustrations are childish and add nothing to it. The Dillons' book is a much better version, showing just how much difference the illustrations can make.

related-railroads, trains, using imagination, creativity
RL=1st, read aloud to toddlers-K

Ulaq and the Northern Lights by Harriet Peck Taylor.
Worzalla/Farrar Straus Giroux: NY, 1998.

Seal, Wolf, Polar Bear, Caribou, Rabbit and Snowy Owl all give different explanations for the northern lights to Ulaq the fox who is curious about them. The book will have special meaning for those who have actually seen the northen lights. Beautiful batik style pictures.

Under the Night Sky by Amy Lundebrek. il Anna Rich.
Tilbury House, Publishers: Gardiner, ME, 2008.

The subject of the book is the phenomenal occurrence of the Aurora Borealis. Because of the elusiveness of the Lights, my family has only one time seen an awesome display, though we have a few times seen white, quirky movement.

In the story, a child's nightly routine is interrupted by his mother's surprise demand to get dressed to leave. She says there's nothing wrong but does not explain the interruption or hurry. Her excitement and happiness are soon conveyed. On leaving their apartment building, they find others congregating in the parking lot. The mother encourages the group to sit on the hood of the car, and then instructs all to look up. The importance of the moment is immediately apparent.

One of the best thoughts of the book is the child's realization that "Mama woke me up just to share this with me." I was also touched by the sharing of the community, a rare experience nowadays, especially for a happy event instead of tragedy.

I love the illustrations, too. They go from a somber, sleepy dark to bright, funky colors. They almost have a photographic quality, capturing the awe and emotion of the viewers.

A bonus for me is that it is by an independent publisher. Surprise, surprise - in Maine.

related-auroras, neighbors, single-parent families, mothers and sons, communities, celestial occurrences, observing the sky
RL=1st-3rd, read aloud with toddlers-1st

Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson. il James Ransome.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 2001.

A young slave girl leads her loved ones as they run from slavery. Running through the night, crouching behind bushes through the day. She sees a quilt that might designate a safe house on the Underground Railroad and bravely goes forward to knock. The group hides at the house and is helped the rest of the way to freedom.

I remember years ago being struck by the beauty and strength of the poetic prose and the paintings. The illustrations are vivid (though dark tones) and dramatic, depicting the danger, caution, courage, and determination of the circumstances. Despite the dark situation, there is a strong sense of hope in the book. The whole presentation is beautiful. You can't pick a better book for the feeling of what it would be like to be hunted and racing to freedom.

The connection to quilts is loose. The quilt is a metaphor for the night, and fugitives' success hinges on whether the quilt is interpreted correctly (or if the quilt is actually a signal or not). A seemingly small detail which is all important. The end pages are of the quilt as well.

related-Underground Railroad, slavery, fugitive slaves, Afro-Americans, quilts, United States history
RL=2nd-5th, I would definitely use for classes up through 5th, publisher recommends for ages 5-10

Velma Gratch & the Way Cool Butterfly by Alan Madison. il Kevin Hawkes.
Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House: NY, 2007.

Velma, the youngest of 3 sisters, wants to be known for something, as her sisters are. There's a good chance she can make her mark with Science. She loves the extra long words. She's mesmerized by the metamorphosis of the butterflies her class is studying. Best of all, she gets a chance to actually touch one on their trip to the Butterfly Conservatory.

Once her special butterfly becomes attached to her, the story is funny in its ridiculousness. The juxtaposition of the story and pictures is great. Half of the pictures can stand alone; they are so good. Some of them also show immense emotion and character-such as the picture of woe when the principal reprimands Velma for keeping her butterfly and the ones expressing her awe of the butterflies.

related-butterflies, schools, individuality, sisters
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud toddler-K

The Voyager's Stone: The Adventures of a Message-Carrying Bottle Adrift on the Ocean Sea by Robert Kraske. il by Brian Floca.
Orchard Books: NY, 1995.

This is a unique and interesting blend of oceanography and geography. Kraske depicts ocean scenes as if the reader is there viewing them, almost as if we are the bottle. For each part of the ocean, it is like a day in the life of some creatures inhabiting the area. After being tossed into the sea by a boy, the bottle drifts, is tossed, tumbled and gets stuck. It travels great distances, and there are maps of wind and water currents to help the reader visualize the journey. The story is packed with more adventure than one would expect considering the subject is a drifting object. Creatures and storms make up the bulk of it.

The illustrations are a nice addition. The story would be much less meaningful without them. I found the book looking specifically for the illustrator's books.

The story's tone is what is most different. It is written with a nonfiction perspective, though portions are great story writing. The author blurb says Kraske has written on a variety of subjects, so I will have to do some looking.

related-oceanography, geography, life in the ocean, creatures of the sea, drift bottles, message bottles, water currents of the world, storms at sea, nature

Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein. il by Ed Young.
Little, Brown and Company: NY, 2008.

Wabi Sabi is a jewel. Perhaps that's not the best word for a book whose heart is simplicity, but it is a rare and beautiful book.

Wabi Sabi is a cat that sets out on a journey of discovery when she learns that her name has a meaning. She quickly finds that it is not easy to grasp. Many tell her that it is hard to explain and give her only a glimpse of the meaning. Wabi Sabi is a Japanese way of thinking about the beauty of the simple and ordinary. You look closer, and you see unexpected things, sometimes complex ideas. It has roots in Taoism and Buddhism.

The explanations of Wabi Sabi are told through haiku by two famous Japanese writers, Basho and Shiki, and translated by Nanae Tamura, judge of a national haiku contest in Japan. There are brief narratives and dialogue before each haiku. The two parts combine to make a peaceful and magnificent story. The theme and tone remind me of Jon Muth's The Three Questions, Zen Shorts, and Zen Ties. They all share a gentle teaching combined with awe surrounding simple, overlooked things. This is definitely one to keep on your shelf and give as a gift.

The illustrations are also remarkable. They are rendered in mixed media collage, with cut-outs and natural objects on differently textured and painted backgrounds, and even a snapshot for the city life. I love the variation of textures and surfaces and the artistic assemblage of the whole. The art itself exemplifies the meaning of Wabi Sabi, adding to the undercurrent of awe.

related-cats, animals, aesthetics, beauty, simplicity, Japanese, haiku, discovery, search for truths, way of life
RL=1st-2nd, all ages, best to share with toddlers-1st

Walking with Henry: Based on the life and Works of Henry David Thoreau by Thomas Locker.
Fulcrum Publishing: Golden, CO and
The Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods: Lincoln, MA, 2002.

The author relates some of Thoreau's experiences in explanation of his love of nature. There are a few selections of Thoreau's at the end as well.
RL=read aloud to K-4th
*A third grader could read for himself/herself but might not understand the importance of Thoreau's writings without discussion.

Walt Whitman: Words for America by Barbara Kerley. il Brian Selznick.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2004.

Kerley and Selznick make such an excellent team! The text and illustrations capture the spirit of Whitman and of the country in a time of great growth and excitement. What it must have been like to experience the bustle of New York City during that time period! (Yes, it bustles now, too-but then it was a time when you could see people at work and building in a more personal way. Now, it is mostly people coming and going). I love the discussion of Walt Whitman's printing and writing experience. The words and pictures are full of excitement about Whitman's profession.

I have long heard of Whitman's desire to be the poetic representative of America. It was very effective to focus the story on Whitman's nursing of the soldiers during the Civil War and his grieving for the soldiers and country-his grieving mirroring that of President Lincoln's.

Another feature I think is excellent is the notes of the author and illustrator about their influences, research, and experiences while creating the work.

The illustrations in the book are some of Selznick's best.

One of the things Whitman writes is "I love the President personally." Despite being far removed from Lincoln's time, I have also felt this way. When I read this statement, I immediately thought of one I feel that way about now, too. I believe Barack Obama will be President, because he is the politician who seems to totally understand what is going on and where our country should be heading. He, like Lincoln did, is attempting to hold honest discussions of how we can move forward. I'm frustrated and irritated by the Clintons' dogged determination to have their way when our country so obviously needs something different. Their methods seem to me to be more of the same political nonsense that our people have been tired of sense the early 90s.

related-Walt Whitman, United States history, medical care during the Civil war, American poets, biography, nurses, Abraham Lincoln, printing and writing

The Warlord's Puzzle by Virginia Walton Pilegard. il Nicolas Debon.
Pelican Publishing Company: Gretna, LA, 2000.

This story of the beginnings of the tangram puzzle is very nicely presented. It incorporates the Chinese respect of wisdom as well as the common idea of the lowliest being the most clever. The dramatic drawings go well with the text.

Weslandia by Paul Fleischman. il Kevin Hawkes.
Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 1999.

Wesley is not like the other neighborhood children. He enjoys school and creates his own learning projects in the summer. This year he has learned that every civilization has a staple crop, so he makes that his new project-cultivating a staple crop. Once the plants are producing, he finds many uses for his crop. The ideas expand until he has founded his own civilization.

It is a stimulating and thought-provoking book which hopefully will broaden children's minds and get their creative energies flowing. Let them see the possibilities of creating their own worlds or expanding upon this one-if not physically, then possibly through writing or another form of art. Teachers may wish to consider using this for a Social Studies lesson.

Two things drew me to this book: the pictures which are fantastic and that I had already read several of Fleischman's books.

RL=2nd-3rd and read aloud

What Can You Do With a Pocket? by Eve Merriam. il Harriet Sherman.
Alfred A. Knopf: NY, 1964.

This is a great, imaginative book with suggestions of things you can keep in your pocket and the creative things you can do with them. There are wonderful ideas and word play, and the simple pictures contribute beautifully to the whimsy. I especially enjoyed the paper to confetti and the sand escaping through the hole.
RL=1st-2nd     mostly read aloud to PreK-1st

When Giants Come To Play by Andrea Beaty. il Kevin Hawkes.
Abrams Books for Young Readers/Harry N. Abrams, Inc: NY, 2006.

This is a simple story for the very young with their imaginations running wild. On magical summer days, giants come to play with Anna. Ordinary play ideas become much more exciting with the giants. Simple thoughts, great representation through the illustrations.

related-play, imagination, fantasy
RL=1st-2nd, mostly read aloud, toddler-K

When Marian Sang by Pam Muñoz Ryan. il Brian Selznick.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2002.

The use of sepia in the illustrations is beautifully rich and effective for a historical setting. Selznick has a glowing quality about his work that shows the feeling and spirit of the people he portrays. I think the brown illustrations also deemphasize (intentionally or not) the fact that the people are black-with the focus totally on them as people.

The text is very informative and gentle in its discussion of Marian Anderson's extraordinary life and ability. The tribulations of black people during the time are not glossed over. It is an extraordinarily powerful and beautiful book.

related-Marian Anderson, famous singers, concerts, Lincoln Memorial, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jim Crow laws, Black history, travel in Europe, performance arts, historical fiction

When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden.
Chronicle Books: San Francisco, 1998.

This is a great story of the clashing of artistic styles and learning to respect others' work. The wordplay is silly and corny, but fun. The illustrations are fantastic. They certainly tell the story in a lively way, and the details are so much fun.

related-Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, pigs, bulls, artists, humorous stories, respect, conflict resolution, friendship
RL=1st-3rd and read aloud to toddler-K

The Wicked Big Toddler by Kevin Hawkes.
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: NY, 2007.

The illustrations are the main event in this book. The text is language you would use for any baby and toddler. The humor comes from the text alongside the exaggerated pictures. Some of the sentiments still seem very true, and there is some Maine flavor in the story. There are some great pictures: changing the diaper, Toddie's bath, sugaring day, and my personal favorite, Toddie blending in with the fall trees.

related-babies and toddlers, large babies, Maine
RL=1st-3rd, mostly read aloud to toddler-1st

Wild About Books by Judy Sierra. il Marc Brown.
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House: 2004.

Books about the love of reading I find hard to resist. This particular one with rhymes of animals at the zoo learning to read and write is delightful. There are some excellent words for texture, and Marc Brown's paintings add to the fun with some great details.

related-zoo animals, books and reading, bookmobiles, libraries, stories in rhyme
RL=2nd-3rd, read aloud to toddler-1stWilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox. il by Julie Vivas.
Kane/Miller Book Publishers: La Jolla, CA, 1985.
Originally by Omnibus Books: Australia, 1984.

A young boy, friends with several of the residents of the nursing home next door, is shown playing among his friends and asking questions. When his favorite person, Miss Nancy, loses her memory, Wilfrid searches for the meaning of "memory," so that he can return it to her.

I'm not a person big on sweet, but this is a nice story. Maybe partly due to the illustrations, you can feel the friendship between the boy and the old folks, the desire to help his friend, and the generosity of spirit that would prompt him to give away some of his prized possessions. For a bonus we are given visual evidence of the return of Miss Nancy's memory.

The illustrations are stand-alone quality, reminding me of Norman Rockwell and is ordinary life subjects and posings, though not as crisp.

related-memory, old age, friendships
RL=1st-2nd, read aloud to toddlers-K

Wink! The Ninja Who Wanted To Be Noticed by J. C. Phillipps
Viking/Penguin Group: NY, 2009.

Wink is enthusiastic about training to be a ninja. He has great balance, agility, and perseverance, but is lacking in one crucial ability - the skill to remain unnoticed. While his master is unimpressed and sends him home, Wink finds a place where he can show off his talent instead of hiding it.

This is a book young boys will especially love but is fun for all. There is much humor and action in the story. I enjoyed Wink's responses to the virtues of silence and patience and his master's reaction to his antics. Wink expresses himself with his whole self, and I like that he didn't lose his spirit, just found another way to be a ninja.

The illustrations are delightful. The action and emotion convey so much energy. There are many ninja poses and other dramatic poses. I love Phillipps's use of paper collage - the textures and designs in the paper and so many tiny details. Wink practicing his ninja stealth on the end pages is too funny, and so is his insistence on attracting attention, through color and drama.

This is one of the best picture books I've seen of those published this year. Great composition and story. And I have my librarian to thank for the recommendation.

related-Ninjas, school, Japan, performing, paper collage art, attracting attention
RL=1st-3rd, read aloud to toddlers-K

Wink! The Ninja Who Wanted to Nap by J. C. Phillipps.
Viking/Penguin Group: NY, 2011.

After traveling with The Lucky Dragon Circus, Wink comes home for a much needed rest. He visits his old ninja school and is delayed by journalists and fans. He lays down for his nap, but can't sleep for the fans peeking in the window. He decides to go for a walk to see if he can lose them long enough for a nap. No matter what trick he uses, he cannot shake them. They are not far behind. He ends up at his old school again, and his revered teacher has a plan.

This sequel to Wink! The Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed doesn't have quite the pizazz the first book had, but it's still a good story and the pictures are awesome. (Maybe it's just the new concept vs sequel syndrome.) Phillipps has masterfully created even more detailed scenes with her collages, including three miniature scenes on one page. With little dialogue, Phillipps conveys great energy, action, and emotion. Wink, Grandmother, and Master Zutsu have personality. And I can't say enough about her details in the collages. She has more than lived up to her first book, regarding describing her story through images.

related-naps, rest, vacation, old friends, too much attention, celebrity status, ninjas, wise old teacher, paper craft, collage art
RL=1st-3rd, read aloud to toddler-K

Winter Lights: A Season in Poems & Quilts by Anna Grossnickle Hines.
Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins: NY, 2005.

Winter Lights is a sequel to Pieces: A Year in Poems & Quilts. The quilts are fantastic! I'm amazed by the work with the twisted triangles used for fire and flickering light. Though I know Holiday Magic was much easier, it is displayed beautifully as are several others. You've got to see it to believe it. I did enjoy the poems, too, but the quilts are masterfully presented. To know that each illustration was pieced together is just lovely. For anyone with an appreciation of sewing, you'll not want to miss this. The poems celebrating the season are a bonus.

The back of the book discusses techniques in piecing the quilts. Looking at it, you can tell Star Catcher must have been the hardest to put together. All the tiny triangles, plus the preplanning to achieve such a wondrous effect. Many of the quilts were strip pieced (strips sewn together in long columns or rows) and added together. The candlelit bags in Christmas Path, the Menorah and star in Small Miracles, and the houses in Holiday Magic used this technique but required preplanning to create the objects. Most of the details in Holiday Magic are the fabrics themselves. The placement of the fabrics with a few highlights is what makes it special. It's Time is also strip pieced but with four different sections, and the pieces are manipulated more (sewn opposite directions and sewn at angles which varies the width of the strips). This also has an amazing result. The aurora borealis is created with the basic form of bargello, a type of strip piecing. Long strips of fabric are sewn together diagonally to form a rectangle and cut across, slightly varying the color placement in the strips. In "Morning Light" and "Nian Is Coming" Hines played with the technique a little, creating radiating light in the first and a monster and fireworks in the second.

related-winter celebrations, pieced quilts, children's poetry-American, lights in a dark season
RL=2nd and up, read aloud with toddlers-2nd

Young Arthur by Robert D. San Souci. il Jamichael Henterly.
Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group: NY, 1997.

This is a good introduction to King Arthur for young kids. It follows the traditional tellings-although skipping over the behavior of Uther regarding Igraine (Igerna) and the pact with Merlin to give Arthur away and ending with the gift of Excaliber. The pictures are appealing in a bright and luminous way. It works well either as a read aloud for pre-K or a beginning reader (up to 4th grade).

related-King Arthur, Merlin, sword in the stone, England

Zen Shorts by Jon Muth.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2005.
Caldecott Honor 2006

Michael, Addy and Karl meet Stillwater, the giant panda for the first time. Each of them comes to visit Stillwater on different days. On each visit he teaches through telling stories, and they share companionship. He tells Addy of his Uncle Ry who gives gifts for his own birthday. He tells Michael about a farmer who takes things as they come, not believing in bad luck or good. Then, he tells Karl of a monk who carries is bad humor around with him for hours.

I like that each lesson is told through a different visit, and each is initiated by their conversations. All of the lessons are important. None easy in practice. So, worth a reminder through many reads.

Jon Muth's watercolor illustrations are gorgeous. I like their quiet beauty, their playfulness, their simplicity and focus. The different style for the storytellings helps in following the change of course in the storyline. My favorite pictures are the cover art, Addy and Stillwater eating cake, and Michael and Stillwater looking down through the tree.

related-bears, pandas, brothers and sisters, storytelling, giving, friendship, dealing with anger, balance in life
RL=1st-3rd, mostly read aloud to toddler-3rd

Zen Ties by Jon Muth.
Scholastic Press: NY, 2008.

Stillwater's (the giant panda) nephew Koo comes to visit. Stillwater and Koo meet Michael, Addy and Karl to play. When the older boy mentions he must study for a spelling bee, Sillwater invites them to visit old Miss Whitaker. The same Miss Whitaker who yells at them when they are playing. Sillwater wants to prepare soup for her and encourages the kids again to come and help. While he serves her, the kids help clean and draw pictures. The youngest boy notices for the first time that Miss Whitaker is not well. When they come the next day and talk with her, the kids learn Miss Whitaker used to teach English, and she offers to study with Michael for his spelling bee.

Muth's story of community awareness, service, and connections has several nice points. The giant panda plays with the kids and gives gentle teachings-realizing the grouchy sometimes just need help or attention, giving service to the elderly and infirm, enjoyment of a job well-done, and even not wasting. There is wordplay (including the title) and quiet humor. There is sharing and the coming together of friends, old and new. Plus a nice surprise for Michael (planned by Stillwater) that Miss Whitaker can help him. Muth also scatters haiku throughout to focus strong statements or truths into a few simple words as is the Zen practice.

The artwork is stand-alone quality. Beautiful watercolor pictures, with just a few highlighting, vibrant colors. The end pages are interesting, with Stillwater and Koo doing control exercises (tai chi?).

This is the third Stillwater book. The last one, Zen Shorts, received a Caldecott Honor in 2006. I haven't read the first yet, The Three Questions. I did enjoy the stories and artwork of Zen Shorts, but I found it to be a little choppy and more heavily teaching than Zen Ties. Rereading it, however, helped me to see it more clearly. I think the reader's mood is more important while reading Zen Shorts (requires more focus), and possibly it is best with repeated readings.

related-helpfulness, neighbors, brothers and sisters, giant pandas, generation gap, old age, service, friendship, human connections, community, modeling behavior, giving, play time with giant panda
RL=2nd-4th, mostly read aloud to toddler-2nd

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