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Images from Janell Cannon's
Stellaluna. Reprinted with
permission from Harcourt Publishers.
 
Reviews

Picturebooks - Fiction (Authors J-Z)

AGE GUIDES: these are approximate recommendations:

  • Picturebooks, 3-6 years old (though often enjoyed by older children, too)

REVIEWERS: Alida Allison, SarahEllen Hickle, Joyce Ho, Mark Janssen, JoAnn Jonas, Naomi Lesley, Emily Moore, Ellen Nef, Marie Soriano

* denotes San Diego writer and/or illustrator
** Age levels, when provided by the publishers, are included in the bibliographical information. Otherwise, category placements are our best approximations.

  • Johnson, D.B. Eddie’s Kingdom. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. $16. ISBN 0-618- 56299-0.
  • Johnson, D.B. Henry Hikes to Fitchburg. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000 (pb). $6.95. ISBN 0-618-73749-9.
  • *Keough, Larry. Fragilly. Sing-along CD included. El Cajon, CA: Larry Keough, 2007. ISBN 978-1-60402-257-5. $21.95.
  • LeBlanc Cate, Annette. The Magic Rabbit. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2007. ISBN 9780763626723 $15.99. Ages 4-8
  • Lionni, Leo. Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. ISBN 0-394-80914-9. $16.95.
  • Lionni, Leo. A Color of His Own. NY: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2006 new edition.ISBN-0-375836977. $12.95 (Hardcover). Picture book 40 pages. Recommended age: preschool.
  • Lister, Robin. The Story of King Arthur. Illustrated by Alan Baker. Boston: Kingfisher. 1997.ISBN 0-7534-5101-8. $15.95. Recommended Age 9 +. 96 pages.
  • Lithgow, John. Mahalia Mouse Goes to College. Illus. Igor Oleynikov. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4169-2715-0. $17.99
  • Lucas, David. Whale. New York: Alfred Knopf, 2006. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-84338-9.
  • Marineau, Michele. Cinderella. Illus. Mylene Pratt. Tundra: Toronto, 2007. ISBN 978-0-88776-825-5. CAN. $14.99/ U.S. $10.95. Ages 4-7.
  • McCourt, Frank. Angela and the Baby Jesus. Illustrated by Raul Colon. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. ISBN-13: 9781416937890
  • Meddaugh, Susan. Martha and Skits. Boston: HoughtonMifflin, 2007. $15. ISBN 0-618- 05776-5.
  • Pearce, Philippa. The Squirrel Wife. Illus. Wayne Anderson. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7636-3551-0. U.S. $16.99/ $21.00 CAN. Ages 5-10.
  • (Peretz, I.L.) Richard Ungar, adapter and illus. Even Higher. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2007. ISBN 0-88776-758-6. $18.95
  • Pinkwater, Daniel. Bad Bear Detectives. Illus. Jill Pinkwater. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. ISBN 978-0618-43125-0. $16.00
  • Pinkwater, Daniel. Bear’s Picture. Illus. D.B. Johnson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. ISBN 0-618-75923-9. $16.
  • Recorvits, Helen. Yoon and the Jade Bracelet. Illus. Gabi Swiatkowska. New York: Frances Foster Books Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. ISBN 978-0-374-38689-4. $16.95.
  • Schotter, Roni. Mama, I’ll Give You the World. Illustrated by S. Saelig Gallagher. New York: Schwartz and Wade, 2006. ISBN 978-0-375-83612-1. $16.95. Ages 4-8.
  • Schneider, Josh. You’ll Be Sorry. New York: Clarion Books – Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007. ISBN 0-618-81932-0. $15.00 (Hard Back) 32 pp.
  • Schubert, Ingrid and Dieter. Hammer Soup. Asheville: Front Street and Lemniscaat, 2004. ISBN 1-932425-02-0. $15.95. Ages 2-8.
  • Serfozo, Mary. Whooo’s There? Illust. Jeffrey Scherer. New York: Random House, 2007. ISBN 978-0-375-84050-0. $9.99. Ages 4-8. 40 pp.
  • Sunami, Kitoba. How the Fisherman Tricked the Genie: A Tale Within a Tale Within a Tale. Illust. Amiko Hirao. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers-Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2002. $14.99. Ages 9-12.
  • Tellis, Annabel. If My Dad Were a Dog. New York: Scholastic, 2007. ISBN 978-0- 439-91387-4. $16.99.
  • Thach, James Otis. A Child’s Guide to Common Household Monsters. Illus. David Udovic. Honesdale, Pennsylvania: Front Street, 2007. ISBN 978-1-932425-58-1. Ages 2-6.
  • Thompson, Colin. Castles. New York: Red Fox Books, 2007. ISBN 978-0-099-43942- 4. $5.99. Ages 4 and up.
  • Wallace, Nancy Elizabeth. The Kindness Quilt. Tarrytown NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2006. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7614-5313-0.
  • Willard, Nancy. The Flying Bed: A Magical Adventure. Illus. John Thompson. 2006. Hamilton King Award Winner (for illustration). New York: Blue Sky Press (Scholastic), 2007. 0-590-25610-6.
  • Winter, Jonah. Dizzy. Illus. Sean Qualls. New York: Scholastic, 2007. ISBN 0-439-50737-5. $16.99.

Johnson, D.B. Eddie’s Kingdom. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. $16. ISBN 0-618-56299-0.

Eddie is a little boy living in an apartment house. The plot follows him as he goes from apartment to apartment, asking to draw the pictures of neighbors who often don’t get along well. By the time the story ends, Eddie has united his kingdom through—art. Each of Johnson’s pictures covers two pages and is a pleasure to look at. He uses different perspectives and every page is full of movement. My favorite is the Mr. 1 one, but I also like the Chinese neighbor, and … I like them all. Johnson has a little artistic joke on the last right hand two pages….

I’m a big fan of Johnson, as you’ll see from the following review of his Henry Hikes to Fitchburg and other reviews on this site of his earlier Henry (Thoreau the Bear) picturebooks. Johnson is highly imaginative & offbeat; his story and art are hilarious in this book—are unique.

A. Allison

Johnson, D.B. Henry Hikes to Fitchburg. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000 (pb). $6.95. ISBN 0-618-73749-9.

Henry David Thoreau was an American original, and D.B. Johnson’s picturebooks (this is the first of four about Henry) are original as well. His Henry David is a bear. As did the real Henry, this Henry makes a bet with a friend to see who can get to Fitchburg first. The friend will work for the money to buy a train ticket; Henry will walk through the woods and countryside. Who will arrive first? The question is still pertinent—are labor and public transportation better than walking for free where one wants to go? Is life a lot more complicated than it need be?

Johnson’s books are outstanding, not only for the text, which is minimal, but for his art, which is beautifully designed, expressive, and softly colorful. His book raises a simple question and the answer is obvious.

A. Allison

*Keough, Larry. Fragilly. Sing-along CD included. El Cajon, CA: Larry Keough, 2007. ISBN 978-1-60402-257-5. $21.95.

This is a Honey-Hunt story with a duo from Alaska, Sam the waltzing Bear and Huffin the Puffin, searching for the good gooey gold stuff they mistakenly call “Fragilly,” after the word “Fragile” stamped on the box full of honey which falls near Sam’s den. They travel from the North Pole to down south where the brown bears—and the bees—live. Yes! They find the honey and Sam finds out about bee stings. All their friends in Alaska are glad when they return.
Mr. Keough is a school teacher, and he has a sure ear for the fast-paced, slapstick, pun-filled humor little kids love. The Sing-along CD is fun, catchy music and the illustration are full of good humor. This a book sure to please.

I hope in the sequel, though, that a female character gets to go on the adventure, rather than being shown volunteering to keep Sam’s den clean while the boys go out and travel.

A. Allison

LeBlanc Cate, Annette. The Magic Rabbit. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2007. ISBN 9780763626723 $15.99. Ages 4-8

Amidst the black and white shadows of an urban backdrop, a little lost bunny sees the twinkle of shiny gold stars on the sidewalk, and, as if by magic, is joyfully reunited with his best friend Ray as he follows the trail home through the big scary city.

Artist Annette LeBlanc Cate’s black and white sketches are infused with the hustle and bustle of life, yet the simplicity of a splash of yellow sparkle breathes enchantment and magic into her simple tale that helps detail the impenetrable bonds of friendship. Each picture in the book is an intricate delight that tells stories of its own beyond the focus of her magician Ray and his little bunny assistant, yet it is interesting to see that, as the book progresses, the fast paced world slows down, and all forces seem to mysteriously combine in order to bring these two buddies back together—despite gigantic odds.

Ellen Nef

Lionni, Leo. Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. ISBN 0-394-80914-9. $16.95

This reprint of one of Lionni’s best known fables won a Caldecott Honor Book award when it was first published in 1969. It tells the story of a mouse who meets and befriends a mechanical counterpart. Alexander envies his new friend, Willy, because people don’t chase him around shouting, “Mouse! Mouse!” Willy even gets to sleep in a warm bed with other cherished toys. Alexander wishes he too could be a wind-up mouse. But one day, Willy finds himself tossed into a box of old toys slated for disposal the very next day and Alexander must come up with a plan to save his friend.

Acclaimed children’s author, Leo Lionni, winner of four Caldecott Honor Book awards, died in 1999 at the age of eighty-nine. His sumptuous collages and gentle stories have a timeless appeal. This hardcover gift edition brings Lionni’s magic to a new generation of young readers.

M. Janssen

 

Lionni, Leo. A Color of His Own. NY: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2006 new edition. ISBN-0-375836977. $12.95 (Hardcover). Picture book 40 pages. Recommended age: preschool.

All animals have their own color, all animals that is, except for chameleons. This is the tale of one little chameleon in search for his own color, firstly attempting to stay on a leaf in order to define himself, but whose plan fails as the seasons inevitably change. When the spring comes, our little friend meets up with an older and wiser chameleon, who suggests that they stay together always—thus still changing, but always remaining the same color as each other.

This is not only a charming introduction into differentiating color for small children, but also a wise fable on the subject of friendship and identity from the acclaimed author and illustrator Leo Lionni (Caldecott Honor Recipient for Inch by Inch, Frederick, Swimmy, and Alexander the wind up mouse). Originally published in 1975, Lionni's bold water-color style has an enchanting simplicity that will still captivate young children, and a story that continues to provide us with the perfect red and white polka dotted happy ever after.

Ellen Nef

 

 

Lister, Robin. The Story of King Arthur. Illust. Alan Baker. Boston: Kingfisher. 1997.ISBN 0-7534-5101-8. $15.95. Recommended Age 9 + . 96 pages.

“My name is Merlin, a name to conjure with; Merlin the wizard; Merlin, King Arthur's friend.”

As the greatest wizard of all time reminisces on the past, the story of King Arthur, from pre-conception to death, is unfolded for us in Lister's wonderful adaptation for children. Divided into fourteen chapters, the novel follows the narrative from Merlin's own miraculous beginnings to Arthur's entry into Avalon, with enchanted swords, the great round table, and knightly quests along the way.

This beautiful book is full of celtic-inspired illustration, and most closely aligned with the seminal text of Arthurian Legend: Malory's Morte D'Arthur. Though there are some gruesome references that may be distressing for some children (for example, children roasting on a spit) and some subtle allusions to “coupling in the night” that some parents may feel inappropriate for younger children, Lister has done a remarkable job in combining the myth and the legend, as well as the vast array of characters that make up the great stage of Arthur's Camelot. Reading the story through Merlin's own narrative perspective is a particularly engaging device, lulling us into a world of oral folklore and dynamic storytelling...quite apt for one of the greatest stories that still holds the power to keep its audience captivated after centuries.

Ellen Nef

 

 

Lithgow, John. Mahalia Mouse Goes to College. Illus. Igor Oleynikov. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4169-2715-0. $17.99

Author and actor John Lithgow returns with the inspiring story of a mouse who yearns to be a college graduate. Mahalia lives with her family under an old Harvard dormitory. One day, searching for food, she finds herself trapped in a student’s backpack and carried off to class. Enchanted by the lecture, she begins auditing the course on her own initiative. Eventually she wins the recognition and admiration of her professor and fellow students and spends the next four years pursuing her degree. And at her graduation, she gets the greatest surprise of all.

Lithgow’s cleverly rhymed tale is beautifully complemented by the artwork of Russian illustrator Ivan Olyenikov in his American debut. The book includes a CD of Lithgow reading the text to Harvard students at the 2005 commencement ceremonies.

M. Janssen

 

 

Lucas, David. Whale. New York: Alfred Knopf, 2006. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-84338-9.

When the sun doesn’t shine through the windows of his house one the morning, young Joe looks out to see what’s the matter. It’s big: it’s not just a fish blocking the view—it’s an entire whale. A whale who is eloquently apologetic as he explains to the townsfolk that he didn’t at all mean to ruin their town, he was just trying to have some fun by balancing on his tail. Unfortunately, he landed on the town. Young Joe enlists the help of Owl, of Wind, Sun, Moon, and the “Innumerable Stars,” and while the townsfolk wait for a solution, they all sit on top of the whale. Finally, they come up with a plan and the whale helps, too. The solution is as funny as the predicament. But there’s more; in an imaginative resolution, the town is rebuilt by an unlikely cast of characters from the ocean. The town is better than before, and the whale promises Joe he will come back for a visit.
What fun this book is! The story is highly original and, since the author and the artist are the same person, every nuance of the text is enhanced by the colorful, detailed art. Story and pictures guarantee a book that will be read and reread many times.

A. Allison

 

 

Marineau, Michele. Cinderella. Illus. Mylene Pratt. Tundra: Toronto, 2007. ISBN 978-0-88776-825-5. CAN. $14.99/ U.S. $10.95. Ages 4-7.

Michele Marineau adapts Charles Perrault’s Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper faithfully and yet with a modern feminist flare.

Cinderella, here named Cynthia, is content living with her widowed father. They have a happy life together until he marries a lazy woman with two equally lazy daughters. Cynthia keeps house while the trio sit on their behinds, and after a long day of work, she sleeps in front of the fireplace.

When the king throws a ball, the whole family is invited but Cynthia’s step-mother and step-sisters scoff, declaring she has too much housework to do. Feeling unfulfilled with her life, Cynthia has a pity party of one. That is, until her fairy godmother appears and insists she take control of her life. I won’t ruin the rest of the story for you by giving away the modern details.

If you’d like to compare Marineau’s version to Perrault’s and other versions of Cinderella, try Cinderella: A Casebook edited by Alan Dundes. It also includes scholarly essays from literary, anthropological and folkloric perspectives.

Mylene Pratt’s illustrations also make this version of Cinderella refreshing. The illustrator uses paint to create cartoonish characters and creates movement with hard brushstrokes and thick paint. There aren’t any hard lines in sight. However, Pratt’s illustrations also have a down-to-earth feel. Forget bright colors, Barbie-pink and glitter. Pratt uses more muted, neutral colors like maroon, olive green, powder blue, beige, and grey. Princesses and cutesy fairies do not reside here. Hallelujah!

Marie Soriano

McCourt, Frank. Angela and the Baby Jesus. Illust. Raul Colon. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. ISBN-13: 9781416937890

Six- year- old Angela is visiting the neighborhood church at Christmas time, and sees the Baby Jesus lying in a manger, looking cold; she wonders why no one has put a blanket on him. Even in the cold he is smiling, but she knows in her heart she needs to warm him. From this simple premise, the master storyteller and Pulitzer Prize winner Frank McCourt weaves a story about Angela, as she takes the Baby Jesus out of the manger, and home with her, to warm him. The reaction of her brother Pat, who immediately tells their Ma that Angela has put the baby upstairs, prompts the family to go up and discover that Angela has indeed taken the parish Baby Jesus. The family wraps him, and together they go back to the church to return him to safety. When they arrive, the priest and a policeman listen, as Angela steps forward and faces the policeman, who threatened to arrest her. The story is sentimental, and rings true, as Angela with innocence says she did it to keep him warm. The story ends well, with a lovely assurance that his mother will warm Baby Jesus during the night.

The writing and story telling in this tale are masterful, and the while there is a lot of text in this picture book, it works well. This could become a new holiday classic that can be enjoyed by the entire family. It would be great for reading together, and can be enjoyed by all ages.

JoAnn Jonas

Meddaugh, Susan. Martha and Skits. Boston: HoughtonMifflin, 2007. $15. ISBN 0-618- 05776-5.

Since her first book, Martha Speaks (check link under “Authors”), we’ve been fans of Susan Meddaugh and her talking dog Martha. Let’s face it, except for talking, Martha is just a regular ol’ dog. She’s a little pudgy, sedentary, and at least middle-aged. A good pal. But one day, she eats alphabet soup and Voila—she speaks.

That’s the premise of the many books Meddaugh has published in this series, which is now a PBS cartoon show as well. And no wonder; in each book is found much humor, warmth, connectedness, and, yes, simple messages.
In Martha and Skits, Martha’s family brings a puppy into the house. No, this isn’t a story of how Martha struggles to accept the puppy Skits. It’s much better; it’s a Martha story. Martha is calm and complacent lying in her stuffed chair as the family yells “Bad dog” at young Skits, for he’s turned out to be a typical chewer and chaser. When he upsets Martha’s alphabet soup, though, she calmly and concisely lays down the law: Don’t mess with my bowl.
But Skits continues to chew other items and especially to fly through the air chasing air-born objects. The remedy soon comes, or seems to come. Finally Skits is old enough to eat his own a bowl of alphabet soup. Everyone expects he will immediately start to talk, as did Martha. But, alas, this is not to be. Martha really is unique. Poor Skits exiles himself and spends a bad night on the street. The family searches everywhere until Martha reads a flyer for a Frisbee contest in the park. She knows he’ll be there to catch the Frisbees. Indeed he is. He not only catches “the Golden Frisbee” (shades of Rowling) (with a little help from Martha) but he happily goes home with the family. Martha’s wisdom and tact in what she says to Skits on the last page end the book perfectly.

Highly recommended.

A. Allison

Pearce, Philippa. The Squirrel Wife. Illus. Wayne Anderson. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7636-3551-0. U.S. $16.99/ $21.00 CAN. Ages 5-10.

The Squirrel Wife is an original fairy tale told by Philippa Pearce, the beloved British author of the Carnegie Award-winning Tom’s Midnight Garden and The Battle of Bubble and Squeak which won the Whitbread Award. She and illustrator Wayne Anderson have combined talents to create a magical book.

The young swineherd Jack lives with his mean older brother in a cottage near the forest. The brother is always warning him not to take the pigs into the forest because of the green people, the fairy folk who live there. One evening during a storm Jack hears someone calling from the forest. Against his brother’s warnings, he goes to investigate and finds one of the green people has been injured, trapped under a fallen tree.

Rather than bring the green man home to his unkind sibling, Jack carries the man back to his people deep in the forest. As a reward, the Lord of the Green People gives Jack a golden ring. When the time is right, he’s to find a newborn female squirrel and put the ring over her paw. The orders are quite mysterious, but Jack does as he’s told.

Following the turning of the seasons when the squirrels are grown, Jack again finds something in the forest. This time he discovers a woman wearing a gold bracelet on her wrist; the squirrel he chose has now become a wife for him.

Together they make a home near the forest and with his wife’s help in choosing the right wood, Jack becomes a carpenter, selling the crafts he makes in the village. But the villagers sense Jack’s wife is different, and they’re wary of her. This makes it mighty easy for Jack’s jealous brother to convince them that Jack is a thief and should be imprisoned.

When the villagers lock up Jack, his only hope is his squirrel wife who makes a deal with the green people to return to her original form. As a squirrel, she’s able to snag the key to Jack’s prison room, thus helping him escape.

But once Jack is free, what will happen to the squirrel wife? Will she be trapped as a squirrel forever? Will Jack ever be reunited with the wife he loves so much?

Philippa Pearce has written a lovely fairy tale. This is partly a story about how good deeds are rewarded and how people fear what they don’t understand, but even more so, it is a story about loving people for who they are and not what they can do for you. Essentially, it’s a fairy tale about what real love is.

Wayne Anderson uses colored pencil, pencil, acrylic ink, and watercolor to create gorgeous, lush illustrations. The lines are flowing and the colors soft. Some of the illustrations take up a page or two, so you get pulled into that forest. Anderson makes the forest a beautiful, wondrous place. Some illustrations are circles of vines and flowers that encapsulate bits of the characters’ actions. Pearce’s fairy tale begins, “Once upon a time, long ago,” and Anderson’s pictures have that feel.

Marie Soriano

(Peretz, I.L.) Richard Ungar, adapter and illus. Even Higher. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2007. ISBN 0-88776-758-6. $18.95

I much enjoyed this adaptation and illustration of “Even Higher,” I.L. Peretz’s Eastern European pre-WW II story of a small village rabbi’s secret devotions and a young boy’s discovery of what the rabbi is up to at night.. Ungar’s pastels and rich autumnal colors light up each page and well represent “a world that is no more.”

After long days working in the village, each night the rabbi leaves his warm bed and goes to the forest. There he chops wood for a bed-ridden widow. When he comes to her door, he pretends to be a woodcutter as he lights a fire and says she can pay him sometime other than now. He is keeping her alive. The boy, on a bet with his buddies, follows the rabbi into the woods and watches from behind a tree by the widow’s hut as the rabbi leaves the now warm shelter. That the rabbi more than practices what he preaches is what the boy learns and will keep secret, not even telling the rabbi, much less his friends. The rabbi, to him and to the reader, truly has gone “Higher.”
Not putting the author I.L. Peretz’s name on the front cover seems an unnecessary omission by Tundra. Ungar has done a fine job of adapting Peretz’s story; he’s honed it, put in more dialog, and shortened it. It’s Peretz’s story, though.

A. Allison

Pinkwater, Daniel. Bad Bear Detectives. Illus. Jill Pinkwater. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. ISBN 978-0618-43125-0. $16.00

Those two bad bears are back in the fourth book of this hilarious series celebrating the triumph of appetitive desire over the forces of law and order. Irving and Muktuk (whose name refers to the traditional meal of whale skin and blubber in the Inupiaq language) are suspects in the theft of some expensive designer muffins. Police Captain Hare wants them in jail. The wayward bears decide to do some sleuthing of their own to bring the real culprits to justice. Just who were the cunning criminals behind this master heist?

The Pinkwater partnership continues to amuse and delight with text and illustrations joined in perfect harmony. It’s hard to imagine weighing in on the side of moral rectitude while Irving and Muktuk are out there having so much fun.

M. Janssen

Pinkwater, Daniel. Bear’s Picture. Illus. D.B. Johnson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. ISBN 0-618-75923-9. $16.

Can a bear be an artist? This bear sure can, as the first few pages depict, until an unsolicited intrusion by “two fine, proper gentlemen” interrupts his work. They tell him: “Bears can’t paint pictures.” The bear discusses their biases with them, while continuing to paint. Their inability to appreciate, much less encourage, his distinctive creative drive, is part of the humor—captured both in text and illustration. The bear knows what he’s doing—that’s the point, and it is beautifully depicted in the surprising last page.

A brilliant collaboration by two stellar figures in contemporary children’s literature, this picturebook exemplifies why adults like me unabashedly spend hours reading literature for children. Pinkwater is a prose master of the declarative sentence infused with wry humor; he never wastes a word. Johnson is the author/illustrator of the extraordinary and iconoclastis Henry (Thoreau) the bear books, which, like Pinkwater’s books, revel in the knowledge that children are a lot more capable than a lot of grown-ups give them credit for, i.e. both Johnson and Pinkwater write for true children—smart, open to humor, and ready to take in messages without having morals pounded into them. We’ve reviewed many books by both Johnson and Pinkwater on this site, so do look them up and build up your own library.

A. Allison

Recorvits, Helen. Yoon and the Jade Bracelet. Illus. Gabi Swiatkowska. New York: Frances Foster Books Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. ISBN 978-0-374-38689-4. $16.95.

This is a simple but satisfying tale of an immigrant child learning to temper her desire to fit in with her sense of integrity. Yoon has just moved from Korea to America, and what she wants most for her birthday is a jump rope, so that she can join her classmates in the schoolyard at recess. Instead, she receives a book about a girl who is tricked by a tiger, and a special jade bracelet with her Korean name etched inside. Although Yoon is initially disappointed not to get a jump rope, she is happy with her gifts; and her bracelet soon attracts attention. An older girl invites Yoon to jump rope, but Yoon quickly realizes that her new friend is using her just to turn the rope—and to borrow the jade bracelet without any intention of returning it. However, Yoon speaks up, and finds a way to outwit the older girl to get her bracelet back.

The story cleverly takes a Korean folktale and reverses it—Yoon is tricked by a tiger, but ends up triumphing over the tiger in the end. Recorvitz develops the theme of an immigrant outsider wishing to be an insider without making Yoon look like a victim and without assuming that she will go through a phase of despising her culture in order to be accepted. Swiatkowska’s illustrations are lush and colorful, and the facial expressions of the children tell a story of their own.

Naomi Lesley

Schotter, Roni. Mama, I’ll Give You the World. Illust. S. Saelig Gallagher. New York: Schwartz and Wade, 2006. ISBN 978-0-375-83612-1. $16.95. Ages 4-8.

Luisa is a young girl being raised by her single mother. She loves her mother a lot and realizes how much her mother sacrifices for her. It is Mama’s dream to give Luisa the world by saving up for her to go to college, so that she can learn about everything, but more than anything Luisa wants to give the world to her mama. As a perceptive young girl, Luisa knows her mom is not always happy. She rarely smiles anymore, but when she does, she is “the prettiest of all.” So Luisa wants to do something that will make her mama smile. Luisa knows that Mama dreams about a place she once went to called Roseland. She has a picture from that place; it is a place of dancing and laughter and happier times. It was the world to her. So now that it is Mama’s birthday, it is up to Luisa to give her mom the world.

One important issue that this book covertly addresses is the issue of single parenthood. The narrator of the story focalizes on Luisa, and the reader only knows what Luisa knows. Luisa says that her dad is not around, but the reader does not know why. Being raised by a singe parent is more common today than perhaps it used to be, and a lot of readers will possibly be able to relate to that.

I love the imagery of what “the world” represents in this book. For Mama, it means a grand education for her daughter, a chance for her daughter to have more than her. For Luisa, the world is making her mom dance and smile again. Both interpretations are beautiful. They both show the deep and selfless love mother and daughter have for each other.

The illustrations of S. Saelig Gallagher add to the thoughtfulness of the story. They are artfully done with vivid colors and soft images that portray the love of Luisa and Mama, as well as the people around them. The combination of the text and the illustrations make a heartwarming and inspirational story. I highly recommend this book.

Joyce Ho


Schneider, Josh. You’ll Be Sorry. New York: Clarion Books – Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007. ISBN 0-618-81932-0. $15.00 (Hard Back) 32 pp.

Samantha’s parents warn her that she’ll be sorry if she hits her brother, but she worries that she’ll be sorry if she doesn’t. And so she does (Smack. Waaaaaah!) What Samantha doesn’t reckon on however, are the amazing consequences that unfold as her little brother cries, and cries, and cries some more.

Schneider uses a primary palette of green hues which work well with the watery action, and the watercolor illustrations are full of humorous details that will delight children. Particularly engaging are the portraits on the wall that watch, and react to, the drama unfolding before them; one spread revealing a framed picture floating on water, and holding up an S.O.S sign as the water level climbs the stairs.

Characters here are represented as mice, and though the result of Samantha’s violence is somewhat fantastical, the message behind the humor is an important one. Once Samantha has apologized, she still feels she wants to now pinch her brother, but she has learned, from experience, the disastrous fallout of her violent urges. This book is a great tool in teaching children the consequence of their actions—especially for families in which hitting has become an issue.

Ellen Nef

Schubert, Ingrid and Dieter. Hammer Soup. Asheville: Front Street and Lemniscaat, 2004. ISBN 1-932425-02-0. $15.95. Ages 2-8.

Kate takes care to keep her house and garden neat, and doesn’t like the local wildlife’s habit of feeding off her vegetables. She’d rather keep all her food for herself and her pet cat. Her orderly existence is interrupted when a giant named Bruce starts building an unusual house next-door. During the summer and fall, while Kate works to tend her garden and store food for the winter, Bruce takes advantage of the fine weather to play and fish. He doesn’t pay attention to Kate’s many reminders that he “should do something useful.” One winter night, while Kate relaxes comfortably in her cozy house, the drafty home that Bruce never got around to fortifying is blown away by a storm. Bruce keeps up his good spirits and, seeing no other option, Kate brings him into her household. She doesn’t want to share her food, but when Bruce offers to cook hammer soup, her interest (and tummy) are intrigued. As a yummy soup is concocted, a new friendship is formed.

Hammer Soup is a delightful tale that combines and neatly twists themes from the Ant and the Grasshopper and Stone / Nail Soup. Ingrid and Dieter Schubert are a talented husband and wife team who have created a story that speaks of the merits of work and play, and also of the delicious fruits, or hammer soup, to be gotten of a clever imagination. The charming illustrations are rich with a story that goes beyond the text, and many details that will amuse the reader. Bruce’s house, for example, is vividly portrayed as a giant’s (and a child’s) ideal playhouse—exuberant, colorful, fun, and open to welcoming all the wildlife critters that Kate keeps out of her yard. Bruce may be larger in size than Kate, but he is more child-like at heart, and he and the more mature Kate eventually realize that they have a lot to learn from each other.

SarahEllen Hickle

 

Serfozo, Mary. Whooo’s There? Illust. Jeffrey Scherer. New York: Random House, 2007. ISBN 978-0-375-84050-0. $9.99. Ages 4-8. 40 pp.

The Old Owl sweeps through the nighttime forest, encountering nocturnal creatures from a musical cricket to a scavenging raccoon, who contribute to the different sights, smells, and sounds of the woods. The repeating motif of “Whooo!” and “Whooo’s there?” leads the reader through Old Owls’ discovery of the various lifestyles of the forest inhabitants. The peacefulness of the moonlight shadowed leaves delightfully contrasts the activity of the moon-eyed insects and animals. Framed by the passage from dusk to dawn, this fun picture book of rhyming narrative by Mary Serfozo complements Jeffrey Scherer’s engagingly colorful illustrations. Whooo’s There? presents an enjoyable venture into the lives of our nocturnal friends.

Emily Moore

Sunami, Kitoba. How the Fisherman Tricked the Genie: A Tale Within a Tale Within a Tale. Illust. Amiko Hirao. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers-Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2002. $14.99. Ages 9-12.

This picture book, inspired by Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights—an ancient work of Persian literature featuring hundreds of tales within the frame of the story of a ruler’s wife who evades death each night by entertaining her husband with her clever storytelling—warns against the danger of repaying a good deed with evil. Sunami’s revision of this classic frame story features a poor fisherman who finds a genie in a bottle (reminiscent of the well-known tale from Arabian Nights, “Aladdin”) while fishing in the Arabian Sea. The clever fisherman tells the vengeful genie a story within a story as he attempts to convince the genie, who has vowed to kill the one who releases him from his 3,000 year prison, to spare his life.

Sunami’s multi-layered narrative is embedded within a short introduction and poems on the first and last pages. Each story within a story is set apart by a different typeface, and is also signified through the enlarged first letter of the first word for each tale (a technique common to books of fairy tales, as well as medieval illuminated manuscripts). This engaging picture book, illustrated vividly with a variety of striking angles and jewel-toned colors by Amiko Hirao, artfully portrays an ancient message of the triumph of good over evil in the colorfully-rendered setting of a fantastical middle east.

Emily Moore

 

Tellis, Annabel. If My Dad Were a Dog. New York: Scholastic, 2007. ISBN 978-0-439-91387-4. $16.99.

Picture your dad as a dog (just for a day). What would you do? Tellis combines photographs of a handsome chocolate Labrador with simple, gaily-colored backdrops to accompany her rhymed text in this amusing and imaginative romp.

The narrator walks Dad through a day of doggy fun from walks in the park to a prize at the dog show. Designed to be read aloud, this easy-to-follow tale should provide lots of laughs for young canine-loving audiences. Better let Dad read it first, though.

M. Janssen

Thach, James Otis. A Child’s Guide to Common Household Monsters. Illus. David Udovic. Honesdale, Pennsylvania: Front Street, 2007. ISBN 978-1-932425-58-1. Ages 2-6.

In this night-time tale, Thach puts a surprise twist on the monster under the bed.

A girl meets the monster under her bed, discovering that not only is he harmless (his only sin is stealing socks), he’s under the bed because he’s afraid of the monster in her closet, who likes the smell of clean laundry and is also hiding. He’s afraid of the monster in the attic, who’s afraid of the monster in the basement, who’s afraid of her!

A Child’s Guide to Common Household Monsters is fun and adorable. Thach has written the book in rhyme, so it would be a great book to read aloud in a classroom, maybe even on Halloween or to your child before bedtime.

The illustrations by David Udovic are finely done. They are gigantic, often taking up two pages, and sometimes they’re vertical. Udovic’s monsters look silly and strange, maybe even a tiny bit cuddly, with a child-like quality about them, definitely the antithesis of the Boogey Man.

The way the text and illustrations work together is interesting. The text doesn’t tell a linear narrative. Thach’s verse tells readers about the monsters, for example, “Your house is full of monsters, from the basement to the roof! The first is very near-at-hand, just underneath your bed. There upon the hardwood floor he lays his hairy head.” While Thach describes the ghoulies, Udovic tells a story with his illustrations, depicting a girl first finding the monster under her bed and then going with him to confront the monster he’s afraid of. The girl does this with each monster until the end when morning comes and they help her make breakfast.

The text and pictures work well together. If the illustrations had been more like a guide and had simply shown a picture of each monster with the verse, readers might not be as engaged as with a linear narrative. This way, readers are swallowed into the story. No pun intended.

Marie Soriano

 

Thompson, Colin. Castles. New York: Red Fox Books, 2007. ISBN 978-0-099-43942-4. $5.99. Ages 4 and up.

Colin Thompson is known for his fabulous, fantastical and abstract illustrations. Castles fits right in, featuring his usual flair and phenomenal imagination. Castles is not really a story. It is more a series of pictures of amazing and surreal castles accompanied by Thompson’s explanation of them. The castles range from one made from musical instruments, one formed around the words “My castle is the best castle in creation,” to the castle of the lost city of Atlantis.

As usual with Thompson’s illustrations, it could take a lifetime to fully discover every detail he incorporates into his drawings. For example, this book features castles of every shape and kind, but within these castles there are princes and princesses who are scattered in minute places of the castles. It takes awhile to find them all—if you even can. Also, for example, in the music castle, on first glance you might only see that the castle is built around several different instruments like a violin, a guitar, clarinet and trombone, but there is so much more to it. Some of the castles towers are guitar frets, one of the reed pipes has a café in it, and one of the instrument knobs is actually a deer head. Each castle is full these fascinating and creative details. Every time you examine one of the castles you are sure to find something new.

Another book of Thompson that I really enjoy is based on the lost city of Atlantis. It is called Looking for Atlantis. It has a lot of similarities to Castles in terms of those little details embedded within the illustrations. It was the book that first made me a fan of Thompson’s work.

Castles is another superior work. Thompson’s works are like ongoing puzzles and mazes. It is a very engaging book for children.. I would highly recommend this book. I truly enjoyed it a lot, and look forward to discovering new details the next time I look over this book.

Joyce Ho

 

Wallace, Nancy Elizabeth. The Kindness Quilt. Tarrytown NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2006. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7614-5313-0.

This book about kindness could be obvious and moralistic, but it’s not. It starts with an elementary school teacher reading Aesop’s fable about the Lion and the Mouse to her students. They understand the message: it’s possible to be kind whether you’re big or small. Sometimes, little acts of kindness are the most important of activities. The teacher asks her students to do something kind, then make a picture of it—what a good idea. No longer abstract, kindness becomes something the youngsters think about DOING. Sharing soup with a neighbor, picking up litter, reading books to siblings, setting the table—these acts become pictures that contribute to a Kindness Quilt—not a sewn one (kids couldn’t do that by themselves) but one made with paper and scissors and put together by the teacher for display on the wall. But the acts of kindness keep growing, and so does the paper quilt. Soon the quilt must be moved from the small classroom bulletin board to one of the walls in the school hallway, providing a lot of satisfaction for everyone who takes part in its creation.
Wallace’s book kindly, without preaching, shows children that kindness is awareness of other people and creatures, that one needed by mature or powerful to be kind, and that kindness itself is essentially a work of art. Speaking of art, Wallace’s paper cutout illustrations model the simplicity and expressiveness that inexpensive and readily-available activities can supply.

A. Allison

 

Willard, Nancy. The Flying Bed: A Magical Adventure. Illus. John Thompson. 2006
Hamilton King Award Winner (for illustration). New York: Blue Sky Press (Scholastic), 2007. 0-590-25610-6.

Set in a Florence gloriously painted by John Thompson, Newbery Award-winner Nancy Willard’s cautionary folk tale is about a young baker and his wife who inherit the family’s small business. But, alas, they have no skill and make little effort to succeed. Customers go elsewhere. Slowly the husband sells the furniture, but the wife puts her foot down when their bed is sold. (The painting of the wife yelling at the husband and their postures, seen from above, is most expressive.) The husband “happens” upon a bed store in which one bed is most unusual. First it scares the heck out of him and his wife by flying around in the night sky, with them in it. Then it brings them good fortune—magic yeast that turns the baker from a failure into a prosperous man.

But, of course, not for long. The tale twists and turns through to its end; it’s worth finding out what happens.

Willard weaves a story just right in its telling, her pacing assured. Thompson’s art is more than worth the cost of the book.

A. Allison

Winter, Jonah. Dizzy. Illus. Sean Qualls. New York: Scholastic, 2007. ISBN 0-439- 50737-5. $16.99.

What a treat! The author Winter and the artist Qualls fuse their arts on pages that flow with language, color, and design. Suits the subject: Dizzy Gillespie. Basically biography, this picturebook brings new life to a great man.

A. Allison

 

 


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