Tag Archives: picture book

Brand New Shoes by William Holt

Standard
Brand New Shoes by William Holt

Holt, William T., illus. by Casandra Ciocian. Brand New Shoes. Searl Kids, 2013. ISBN 978-0-9883670-7-4. unpaged. $16.99

*

When Thomas’s Pa’ Paw comes to pick him up for a visit, he is shocked at the state of Thomas’s room and comments on it. His grandfather notes the condition of his show and when Thomas asks for a new pair of shoes, his grandfather agrees, on the condition Thomas complete a variety of chores and earn the money to purchase a second pair. The deal is struck and Thomas works and plays hard all summer. At the end of the summer, Thomas’s new shoes are falling apart, but the identical pair he purchased for himself are pristine, having been tucked away in the box. The life lesson Pa’ Paw offers is to take care of your belongings, especially those what someone else worked hard to provide.

This seems to be an instructive book, with the character set up to fail. Retaining his old sneakers for chores would have made much more sense–of course the new ones were covered in paint, out in the rain and mud, and grass-stained, and may not have been able to be protected given the task list. Certainly, children should be taught to not be careless with their things and to value and appreciate gifts, but having Thomas come to this conclusion, and giving the young reader the benefit of the doubt, would make for a stronger narrative and less moralistic tone. Thomas and his Pa’ Paw have a warm relationship, and the portrayal of people of color of regular folks doing regular things is a valuable addition to children’s literature.

That said: there are several grammatical errors, including punctuation and tense, that should have been caught by an editor, and an overuse of ellipses and exclamation points. The picture book format is intended for the story and art to work together to tell the story, and there is a lot of telling (Thomas’s old shoes “were also very raggedy”) instead of describing. Some images are captioning as part of the narrative, as if the reader cannot figure out what is happening, or as if to direct the artist what to draw. However, an illustration of Thomas washing Pa’ Paw’s car in the rain is particularly clever; his expression of “why am I doing this?” speaks to not just the unanticipated weather, but the project as a whole.

The art has some comic book styling to it, including pull-out illustrations in boxes and varying of perspective, and some captioning; this might have worked much better as a graphic novel than a picture book. There is nothing to lead the eye from page to page, the font is not particularly large or readable, the text varies in color and location, and in more than one instance, it is not intuitive for the eye to track where to jump to read next. The images of children playing includes a multicultural cast of boys and girls. It’s unclear how old Thomas is — he looks and acts like he is 10 or 11, but he rides in the front seat of the car, which is not recommended for children under age 13.

The book appears to be sewn together, but signatures have some loose threads, and the thick glue for the endpapers bled through the paper a bit. The cover and pages are thick and glossy.

A companion coloring and activity book contains similar grammatical errors of punctuation and tense, and uses a hard to read font with a mix of lower and upper case letters.

This didactic picture book is not recommended.

The Only One Club by Jane Naliboff illus by Jeff Hopkins

Standard
The Only One Club by Jane Naliboff illus by Jeff Hopkins

Naliboff, Jane illus. by Jeff Hopkins. The Only One Club. Flashlight Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0972922531 32 pp. $

***

The Only One Club is a sweet, if slightly didactic, story about inclusivity. The only Jewish girl in her class is assigned to make Hanukkah crafts as her classmates make Christmas decorations. She decides to put herself into the Only One Club. When everyone wants to join, she finds something unique about each friend, and even her teacher. The illustrations are straightforward.

Katy Cat and Beaky Boo by Lucy Cousins

Standard

Cousins, Lucy. Katy Cat and Beaky Boo. Candlewick Press, 2012 (reissue). ISBN 978-0763661236 $9.99

****

This brightly colored lift-the-flap concept book is quite charming. In each two-page spread, Katy Cat makes a statement about herself (I am orange, I am striped, etc) and the accompanying page has a number of related characteristics. The goal is for the reader to find which concept applies to her friend Beaky Boo, a snazzily dressed puffin, by lifting 4-5 flaps hiding potential answers.

Concepts such as parts of the body, items of clothing, color, pattern, animal sounds, and counting are covered. Several animals make repeat appearances. The color palette is traditional Cousins: a maroony red, a midnight blue, a golden yellow, and the style is almost high preschool art.

This reissue is well constructed. Although it’s a paperback, even the flaps are sturdy paper. The flaps are not uniform in size, sometimes giving a hint as to what is underneath, and making the guessing game aspect even more fun for ages 2-5. Best for one-on-one use, rather than library collections.

A Froggy Fable by John Lechner

Standard
A Froggy Fable by John Lechner

Lechner, John. A Froggy Fable. Candlewick, 2005. ISBN 978-0763621230. 32 pp. $14.99

****

A frog enjoys his idyllic pond life until things change. Outside the realm of his control are squawking jays, a family of otters and a fallen tree. Yet when circumstance carries him far from the pond, he longs to see his home again. Like the fable about the man who doesn’t appreciate his tiny house until he takes in his whole family and barnyard, the frog learns to appreciate what he has after it is gone. He bravely takes the journey back, which yields more lessons in coping with moved cheese.

Soft watercolor and ink illustrations use minimal lines and colors to match the simplicity of the text. Cool tones in the first half of the book warm up as the frog’s attitude shifts. Occasionally, the text is so restrained it becomes flat, and the use of ellipses instead of crafted transitions is overemployed. These minimal flaws also make the book a great transition between picture books and read-alouds for beginning readers, with only a few longer words to stumble over.

The message is delivered with charm, and the reassuring tale becomes a bibliotheraputic jumping off point for parents to talk about life’s only constant. A solid first book from author/illustrator/animator Lechner, recommended for larger collections and one-on-one read-alouds.

Me, All Alone, at the End of the World by M.T. Anderson illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.

Standard
Me, All Alone, at the End of the World by M.T. Anderson illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.

Anderson, M.T. Me, All Alone, at the End of the World. illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Candlewick, 2005. ISBN 978-0763615864 40pp. $16.99.

*****

Civilization and it’s din invade the sanctuary of a barefoot boy and his mule who hunted fossils and listened to the wind before a Inn (orchestrated by one Mr. Shimmer, Professor Visionary) blossoms on his cliff at the End of the World.

At first, the crowds come for the sunsets and pines that the boy so loves, but soon the lights and noise make viewing nature–or hearing oneself think–impossible. The Inn escalates into a carnival style resort (complete with barker) in full swing 24/7/365. The invasive lifestyle is poisonous, causing dry heaves and sleepless nights. When our hero takes a step back from it all to evaluate the chaos, “There’s no time for thinking!” cries Shimmer to his audience. It’s a pivotal moment for the protagonist to decide if his life should be lived solely for “fun without end” and waiting for the next big thing.

Several weighty messages are deftly and subtlety packaged into this lovely picture book: trust your instincts, relish solitude, think, enjoy nature, spurn consumerism. Anderson’s clever turns of phrase (“long-leggedy,” “growl in voices like plumbing”) dance rhythmically across each page.

Starting with pine green endpapers, Hawkes deliberately juxtaposes organic hues at the beginning and end of the story with a jarring palette of discordant colors for the middle. Charming black and white illustrations give a static, old-fashioned tone to every other page of text, while the accompanying full page, full color illustrations in each spread are more fanciful and have a modern and dynamic feel.

Each choice by the creators is deliberate, and this entertaining story comes satisfyingly full circle in image and text without the heavy-handed feeling of a moral. Highly recommended.

Magnus at the Fire by Jennifer Armstrong, illustrated by Owen Smith

Standard
Magnus at the Fire by Jennifer Armstrong, illustrated by Owen Smith

Armstrong, Jennifer illustrated by Owen Smith. Magnus at the Fire. Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 978-0689839221. 32pp $15.95

***

This informative picture book tells the story of the phasing out of horse-drawn fire engines as they were replaced with more cost-efficient, self-propelled fire engines in the early 1900’s by following the story of Magnus, a strong and handsome gray who doesn’t take well to retirement. Jumping the fence that enclosed his new pasture when he hears the fire bell clang, Magnus gets to the fire before the firemen. Mostly, he’s in the way, but when the new engine breaks down before it arrives at its destination, Magnus is there to help.

Armstrong flavors the text with fire house and period slang (smoke eaters, fella). Her descriptions of Magnus’s troublemaking and subsequent heroics develop the drama and fit the pace of the story. An excellent author’s note at the end adds background and texture to the tale. Smith’s horses leap off the page, rippling with muscle while flames lick at the air and smoke billows. Text and images combine for an energetic and appealing story full of stuff children love: noble animals, excitement, a hero and a happy ending.

As interest in firefighters remains high with the 4-8 age group; recommended for larger collections.

It’s a Book by Lane Smith

Standard
It’s a Book by Lane Smith

Smith, Lane. It’s a Book. Roaring Brook Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1596436060 32 pp. $17.99

*****

It’s a picture book. It’s a funny book. It’s a controversial book. Why? Because the author drops “the J-bomb.” OK, that’s not why it’s a picture book, but that’s why it’s controversial and also part of the humor. The author resorts to using the lowest form of humor–the pun–a type of word play used by the likes of Shakespeare. But let me not put the cart before the jackass… It’s a Book is a story about a monkey who is trying to read but is constantly interrupted by a techie jackass who doesn’t understand how a book works. The jackass asks if it can scroll, text, tweet, etc. and the monkey tells him, “No, it’s a book.” When the jackass finally sits down and reads the book, he gets engrossed in the story for hours and won’t give the book back until he’s finished. 

Bibliophiles will enjoy this homage to the printed word. The illustrations capture the spirit of the work and the final punchline is delivered with a smile. The controversy only goes to show that language is powerful, especially in the printed form. The author could have chosen a different animal or eliminated the punchline, but then the book wouldn’t have the same impact. Cats are more tech-savvy than jackasses (just look at all the lolcats, and when was the last time you saw a picture of a jackass on a keyboard?), but that punchline would have been REALLY offensive!  ;^)

Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews

Standard
Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews

Matthews, Elizabeth. Different Like Coco.  Candlewick Press, 2007. 32 pp.  ISBN 978-0-7636-2548-1. $16.99

****

More than anything, Coco Chanel’s life story is a tale about using what you’ve got and and building on your strengths and resources. Schooled by French nuns, ambitious Coco, a charity case, learned early to emulate the bearing of the well-to-do so she could insert herself into certain circles to make smart connections. Matthews avoids the seemier aspects of Chanel’s life, and accentuates the positives, like her challenging of social boundaries.

Told with charm, Matthews hooks readers fast with this rags to riches story. Vocabulary opportunities abound and will prompt dialogical reading. A quick scan of online biographies reveal some minor discrepancies, but Coco loved to invent stories, including about herself; it’s no surprise there is not agreement on her date and place of birth, whether she wore her scissors on a ribbon or string of pearls, or if the item of clothing she hacked apart to make a cardigan was a pullover or a blazer.

The endpapers set a tone of unfussy style: black with high-contrast white script quotes from Coco about character: fashion, individuality, etc. Inside, the illustrations are a pen and ink and watercolors, done up in a cartoony style that manages to be lean, whimsical and elegant.  Careful attention to detail is evident in period clothing and cars. Mostly muted tones lend a squelched feeling the to book that undermine the vibrant personality described, though, the famously unique designer stands out from the crowd on every page.

A short timeline extends the biography by appending details such as fashion milestones (the debut of the little black dress, the first perfume bearing a designer’s name) and the date of her death. A bibliography is book-centric, with only one Internet link to her Time Life biography. Recommended for larger collections.

review by Beth Gallaway

Penguins, Penguins, Everywhere! by Bob Barner

Standard
Penguins, Penguins, Everywhere! by Bob Barner

Barner, Bob. Penguins, Penguins, Everywhere! Chronicle Books, 2010 (reprint). ISBN 978-0811877244. $6.99 24 pp.

*****

In January in libraries across America, the penguin storytime is obligatory; this week we are experience April snowstorms in New England, so it’s the perfect time to revisit those funny little tuxedoed birds. Penguins, Penguins Everywhere is a bright cut-paper collage picture book that delivers penguin facts in a rollicking rhyme. Both Arctic and Equator dwelling penguins are covered, and the vibrant blues of the North contrast appealingly with the yellow and orange heat of the South.

Regardless of locale, all penguins swim, eat fish and care for their young, and these feats are acrobatically and charmingly demonstrated. The sparse text concludes with a two page spread on penguin facts, and two more pages detailing all seventeen penguin species, with incredible attention to detail; each type is distinctively portrayed. Beautifully done, and sure to be popular on the heels of such films as Happy Feet and March of the Penguins.

Review by Beth Gallaway

Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen; illus. by Kevin Hawkes

Standard

Knudsen, Michelle, illus. by Kevin Hawkes. Library Lion. Candlewick, 2006. ISBN  978-0763622626 32 pp. $15.99

****

This is a book that librarians will love because it is about libraries, and that kids will love because it’s about being loud in the library. When a lion walks into the library, no one says peep until he roars in disappointment at the end of storytime. Miss Merriweather insists that rule breaking is not allowed; chiefly, no roaring. The promise of more stories in return for good manners turns the lion into a stellar library volunteer. When the lion breaks rule number one, he self-imposes an exile, and the library is very, very quiet without him.

Hawkes muted illustrations are a throwback to classic libraries and children’s publishing. Soft blues, browns, reds and golds give a warm tone to this tale. The lion appears to be modelled after the New York Public Library’s twin guardians, and the dress of the staff and look of the stacks is decidedly old-fashioned, but  card catalogs and computers are featured. Michelle Knudsen’s straightforward story brings up an excellent point: that sometimes rules are meant to be broken, an attitude that we should be embracing in our “everything is in beta” culture.

Sweet but predictable, both the theme and names of the author/illustrator will make this one a popular purchase.