December 17, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Picture Books Xpress Reviews | February 2017

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1702-Xpress-PB-CVsKronenberg, Kat. Dream Big. illus. by Stephanie Dehennin. 48p. ebook available. Greenleaf. Jan. 2017. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781626343474.

PreS-Gr 1 –A combination of nature stories and the exhortation to wish for and dream one’s own destiny. In long-ago East Africa, a baboon meets a caterpillar who yearns to fly, a tadpole who longs to hop, and a flamingo chick who wishes she were beautiful. Though it seems impossible, they wish upon stars and believe in themselves and presto! The caterpillar crawls out of its cocoon with wings, the tadpole becomes a frog, and the flamingo grows elegant pink feathers. The misanthropic baboon and his termite friend ultimately find their destiny by learning to appreciate others. Kronenberg has a laudable mission in wanting people to discover their bliss. This work is part of her program for achieving it. The author’s website and the book’s back matter include ideas, activities, and songs to further her vision, which states that all people are made of stardust and if one wishes upon a magic star called “Catch-M,” dreams will come true. While smiling, being part of a community, and thinking positively are proven links to happiness, Kronenberg’s scripted program feels like a curriculum, and the story is not original or well told enough to overcome that limitation. Dehennin’s serviceable digital paintings reflect the action; the colors are especially vibrant. VERDICT An additional purchase for large collections.–Lisa Lehmuller, Paul Cuffee Maritime Charter School, Providence

McLaren, Meg. Rabbit Magic. illus. by Meg McLaren. 40p. ebook available. Clarion. Jan. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544784697.

PreS-Gr 2 –Houdini the rabbit is a natural performer. He closely assists Monsieur Lapin in his magic shows, rallies the rabbit entourage in rehearsals, and makes sure everyone goes to bed on time. However, during a show, the magician slips on a leftover banana peel and drops his wand, which lands in front of Houdini! Being the natural magician’s assistant he is, he takes up the wand and “SHAZAAM!,” he turns Monsieur Lapin into a rabbit. Houdini takes over, doing show after show, and spectators are thrilled by a rabbit magician. However, everyone is suffering from the new fame of Houdini. The other rabbits are disorderly, and Monsieur Lapin misses the spotlight. Can Houdini reverse the spell? This captivating telling isn’t a typical pulling-a-rabbit-out-of-a-hat tale. McLaren uses digital techniques to create cartoon panels and sequencing, along with cool hues, to unify and help move the plot forward. Young readers will not only enjoy the narrative but will also pick up the hidden cues woven into the illustrations. VERDICT A recommended read-aloud for those looking for an unusual yet simple magician story.–Briana Moore, Elmont Memorial Library, NY

Norman, Kim. The Bot That Scott Built. illus. by Agnese Baruzzi. 32p. Sterling. Aug. 2016. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781454910640.

PreS-Gr 2 –Mayhem ensues when a young student brings his homemade robot to Science Day. In a slapstick, chain-reaction style, Scott’s robot causes such a classroom stir that the ant farm accidentally topples over, a boa constrictor escapes from its cage, and a vinegar lava volcano spectacularly erupts. This cumulative tale unfolds to the tune of “This Is the House That Jack Built,” and the witty, tongue-twisting rhymes scan well: “These are the plants,/carnivorous plants,/that feasted on flies/and fiery ants,/that tread on the teacher/in polka-dot pants,/who calmed the class/that gawked at the bot/that Scott built.” Order is cleverly restored, courtesy of Scott’s talented robot. Baruzzi’s action-filled, digitally created cartoon illustrations are packed with inventions, tools, and even a Tesla coil. VERDICT A rollicking good read-aloud choice for a STEM-themed storytime.–Linda Ludke, London Public Library, Ont.

Sturgis, Brenda Reeves. Still a Family. illus. by Jo-Shin Lee. 32p. Albert Whitman. Jan. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807577073.

PreS-Gr 2 –Families are bound together by love, even when circumstances force them to live apart, affirms the young narrator of this story about a family struggling to rebuild their lives. The little girl matter-of-factly relates the challenges of being homeless, among them waiting in line at a soup kitchen, wearing too-small shoes, and not being able to live with both her parents. The biracial preschooler (her mother is brown-skinned, while her father has a light complexion) wishes her father didn’t have to sleep separately at a shelter for men but knows that they are “still a family.” The emphasis throughout is on the many ways the members of this family manage to find joy and comfort in one another, putting a human face on their plight. The family are portrayed with dignity and respect, as active agents rather than passive victims. In keeping with the first-person narration, Lee’s illustrations evoke a child’s crayon and watercolor drawings. Young readers who have not experienced homelessness will need an adult to help answer the many questions that arise, while those who have will find comfort in this gentle story. Pair with Lois Brandt’s Maddi’s Fridge and Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street. VERDICT This discussion starter offers a child’s perspective on homelessness and a positive message of hope.–Laura Simeon, Open Window School Library, Bellevue, WA.

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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