December 15, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Picture Books Xpress Reviews | March 2017

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Adams, Diane. Love Is. illus. by Claire Keane. 32p. ebook available. Chronicle. Jan. 2017. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781452139975.

PreS-Gr 2 –A little girl finds a duckling who has wandered away from the park onto the city streets. She takes the baby home to raise. Her new charge requires constant attention—early morning feedings, bathing, and tidying—until the time comes to say goodbye. Realizing that her pet has grown too big for the bath, the girl takes the full-grown duck back to the pond to rejoin its family. Afterward, she misses it and wonders if it remembers her. One day, the duck comes back—with six ducklings of her own. “And love is also watching, waving,/wondering if love remembers you,/and knowing in a happy instant,/that love has lasted…/…and grown some, too.” A love poem, an ode to motherhood, this sweet and touching book will speak to children who have or want a pet, as well as to their parents. The illustrations, rendered in Photoshop against a white background, reflect and enrich the text by adding humor: the wide-eyed girl cradling her pillow over her ears to drown out the midnight quacks; frantically chasing the duckling with a towel, bathwater overturned; or hands on hips, with dustpan and brush in front of a mound of sunflower seeds. The endpapers feature pale yellow duckies along with other elements from the story, such as a tub, a tree, a bag of seed, etc. VERDICT A tender choice for sharing with children and parents, especially on Valentine’s Day.–Barbara Auerbach, New York City Public Schools

Chin, Oliver. The Year of the Rooster: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac. illus. by Juan Calle. 36p. ebook available. Immedium. Dec. 2016. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781597021258. BL

PreS-Gr 2 –In the 12th and final installment of the series, Chin introduces Ray, a young rooster excited to learn about the world around him. After a neighboring pig sees a phoenix, Ray and his human friend Ying embark on a quest to find the fabled bird. Along the way, they meet all the other animals of the zodiac, who point them in the right direction. Even after they return home, their successful journey always reminds Ray to “fly high and dig deep.” With bright, bold illustrations and text in English and simplified Chinese characters, readers will enjoy Ray’s infectious, can-do spirit and optimism. His growing confidence is conveyed as his occasional “cock-a-doodle-doos” get louder until a bold one greets the phoenix. VERDICT Meeting all of the zodiac animals makes a fitting end to the series, but this volume still stands on its own. Like previous installments, this offers a fun take on the lunar year’s animal in a story that works year-round.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington County Public Libraries, VA

Dean, James. Pete the Cat: Five Little Ducks. illus. by James Dean. 32p. ebook available, HarperCollins. Jan. 2017. Tr $9.99. ISBN 9780062404480.

PreS –Dean puts a twist on an old favorite, the song “Five Little Ducks,” with Pete the Cat leading the way. He suggests that the ducklings splash and swim, but only four little ducks jump in. Each time Pete does a different activity, he loses a duck along the way. Unfortunately, the framework of the song/rhyme does not work. The flow of the story is choppy, and the rhyming text is forced and does not make sense. For instance, “Pete the cat said, ‘Let’s jump and hop.’ But only three little ducks popped up.” The tale lacks continuity and cohesion. Illustrations are bright and cheery, but the series has lost its luster. Fans of Pete will check it out but won’t ask for it again. VERDICT A marginal purchase at best.–Megan McGinnis, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

Fagan, Cary. Little Blue Chair. illus. by Madeline Kloepper. 40p. Tundra. Jan. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781770497559.

PreS-Gr 2 –A boy named Boo has a little blue chair that is the perfect place to eat, read, even nap. But Boo grows up, and the chair stays small, so Boo’s mom puts it out on the lawn with a sign that reads: “Please Take Me,” and so begins the little blue chair’s journey. Along its way, the chair finds many homes and purposes: holding planters, sitting on top of an elephant, functioning as a bird feeder, and even becoming a seat on a Ferris wheel. The chair travels the globe until it (accidentally) makes its way back to Boo, now a grown man with a daughter just the right size for a freshly painted little blue chair. The ink and pencil drawings give this picture book a beautiful, simple, and romantic quality. VERDICT The subtle message about repurposing is especially relevant and could lead to great storytime or classroom discussion. While not a must-purchase, this lovely book would make a great addition to most collections.–Shana Morales, Windsor Public Library, CT

Goldin, Barbara Diamond. The Passover Cowboy. illus. by Gina Capaldi. 32p. Apples & Honey. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781681155272.

PreS-Gr 2 –Jacob and his family emigrate from Russia to Argentina in the early 1900s. He longs for authentic bombachas pants and a lasso and to ride a horse in the rodeo like his new friend Benito. The boy also hopes that Benito will accept his invitation to join Jacob and his family for the Passover seder. In the Old Country, their home would be filled with family and friends for the holiday. Instead, this year it is just Jacob, his sister, and his parents, but their home is still filled with the wonderful smells of the traditional foods, and Jacob and his family take comfort in the familiar rituals of the holiday. When there’s a loud knock at the door, everyone is startled by the arrival of three rowdy chickens, followed by Benito, who has brought Jacob his own lasso and is interested in learning about the Jewish celebration of freedom. While there are many books about the Jewish American immigrant experience, Goldin represents the little-known story of the more than 25,000 Jews who settled in Argentina. The intricate, textured, and traditionally styled paintings beautifully complement the narrative and help bring this unique immigrant, and Jewish holiday, tale to life. Details about many of the holiday customs are integrated into the text, and an appended author’s note contains information about Passover and the Jews of Argentina. VERDICT A lovely but nonessential addition to most collections.–Rachel Kamin, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park, IL

Jacobs, Brittany R. The Kraken’s Rules for Making Friends. illus. by Brittany R. Jacobs. 40p. powerHouse. Oct. 2016. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781576878149.

K-Gr 2 –A mythical sea creature desperately wants to be accepted despite his fearsome appearance. Among the many scary creatures that inhabit the deep sea, Kraken is the most feared. He’s the biggest and makes even giant whales flee in terror. However, under that steely and scary exterior, Kraken just wants a friend. He tries to hide his appearance and trick other creatures of the sea into liking him, to no avail. He throws one of the biggest tantrums under the sea but realizes that it might not be so hard after all to make friends after soliciting advice from another feared underwater creature, the great white shark. Kids who are finding it difficult to make friends will enjoy this funny yet heartfelt story. The message of being true to oneself and not changing for the sake of others will ring true and is never presented in a way that is didactic. Jacobs’s digital illustrations are bright and do a fine job of capturing the light reflected on the water. VERDICT Pair this read-aloud with Tadgh Bentley’s Samson: The Piranha Who Went to Dinner to highlight the importance of acceptance and finding one’s unique path in the world.–Christopher Lassen, BookOps: The New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library

Jocelyn, Marthe. Sam Sorts. illus. by Marthe Jocelyn. 32p. Tundra. Feb. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781101918050.

PreS-Gr 1 –Young Sam’s possessions are piled high, and he needs to tidy up, but where to start? He begins the arduous task of cleaning up and “finds Obo the Robot, one of a kind. Then two snarling dinosaurs, three little boxes, and four fake foods. How many things is that?,” thus starting the process of sorting his toys into various categories. Young readers will learn that items can be sorted by shape, rhyming pairs, and other descriptive and physical characteristics. The collage illustrations accurately represent the innumerable objects that gather in a preschooler’s room. While each page shows a different type of sorting arrangement, there are also open-ended questions that allow readers to extend the book with additional language through conversation. VERDICT Recommended as an additional purchase for picture book collections with a focus on concepts or to complement an early learning mathematical storytime.–Kristen Todd-Wurm, Middle Country Public Library, NY

Kelly, Mij. Love Matters Most. illus. by Gerry Turley. 32p. ebook available. Little, Brown. Dec. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316543118.

PreS –A polar bear ventures from her warm cave into the night, searching for something she has lost in the snow. Kelly poses questions about what sort of treasure would lure the creature out on a cold, stormy night, including gold, ruby red berries, and the northern lights (which are described as “the forest’s true magic dancing in light”). At last, the polar bear discovers footprints in the snow, giving readers their first clue as to what she is looking for. Soon, she finds her cub, and the two are happily reunited, and the author concludes that out of all the treasures the polar bear could have been seeking, “love matters most.” This sweet, sentimental story uses lyrical rhymes to convey the strength and importance of motherly love and engages young children by encouraging them to guess what is happening. Turley’s illustrations, which were created by “combining drawing and mark-making on paper with screen printing, and then pieced together digitally,” feature bold and dazzling wintry colors on expansive spreads. VERDICT The mix of poetic rhymes and large, sweeping illustrations makes this tender tale a solid choice for sharing during winter-themed storytimes.–Laura J. Giunta, Garden City Public Library, NY

Lechelt, Karen. What Do You Love About You? illus. by Karen Lechelt. 32p. Bloomsbury. Dec. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781681190938.

PreS-Gr 2 –A nameless girl poses the titular question to each member of a group of animal friends she comes across: a giraffe, a flamingo, an octopus, and a beaver, just to name a few. For a French bulldog, his abnormally large ears are the answer because the child’s whispers tickle them. For a whale, it’s his spout “because singing in the rain makes me happy.” Answers range from giant hugs to changing the world. Children and adults will love reading about characters taking pride in their distinctive features. Young readers will especially love the opportunity at the end of the book to think about which personal characteristics they love the most. The question-and-answer text structure will delight readers of all ages. The drawings are simple but charming and imbue the text with a sense of magic. The pastel colors in the illustrations are a soothing transition from page to page. VERDICT This dreamy tale about appreciating uniqueness is a great quiet-time selection and is probably best shared one-on-one or with a small group. It offers a positive lesson for children to embrace.–Jennifer Pope, La Grange Independent School District, TX

Loney, Andrea J. Bunnybear. illus. by Carmen Saldaña. 32p. Albert Whitman. Jan. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807509388.

PreS-Gr 2 –Bunnybear may have been born in the shape of a bear, but he knows what he really is: a cute, fluffy, hopping bunny. He likes to sniff the air like a bunny, and he loves the way bunnies whisper and giggle… until they giggle at him. Bunnybear feels perplexed by their dismissal of his bunnyness, until he finds a bunny who is as “burly and loud” as Bunnybear is bouncy, fluffy, and tiny inside. Together, Grizzlybun and Bunnybear inspire the other animals of the forest to discover their true inner animals. Painted in natural hues in their natural habitats, the animals’ faces and postures express their strong individual personalities without completely anthropomorphizing them. VERDICT An engaging read suitable for one-on-one and small group sharing. Bunnybear will be sure to endear himself to children, and teachers and parents will appreciate the sensitivity with which the book expresses the discord between internal and external identity to young readers.–Anna Stover, Poughkeepsie Day School, NY

Moniz, Madalena. Today I Feel…: An Alphabet of Feelings. illus. by Madalena Moniz. 64p. ebook available. Abrams Appleseed. Feb. 2017. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781419723247.

PreS-Gr 1 –Moniz presents the alphabet by using visual representations of feelings in this concept book. Each letter is assigned a different emotion, ranging from “Adored” for “A” to “Zzzz” for “Z.” The letters are designed to match their accompanying illustrations, all of which feature the same boy expressing a different sentiment. The book concludes by asking readers, “How do you feel today?” Some of Moniz’s choices are more abstract or surreal, such as “Mini” for “M,” which is paired with an illustration of the boy fitting inside a shirt pocket, and “I” for “Invisible,” which is accompanied by an illustration of the child, whose sweater blends into the wallpaper. The design for the letters, while creative and colorful, may also potentially be confusing. For instance, balloons, which are usually associated with the letter “B,” are used to create the letter “L,” but young readers may not understand that the balloons are meant to represent “Light,” or the feeling of lightness. However, Moniz’s illustrations, which were made with watercolor and India ink, are detailed, imaginative, and eye-catching. The stunning artwork provides a unique approach that sets the title apart from the usual alphabet book—one that will spur the imaginations of readers both young and old. VERDICT Because of its abstract qualities, this offering may not be the best tool to use for teaching children the alphabet or emotions, but its impressive, dreamlike visuals make it a worthwhile addition to any picture book collection.–Laura J. Giunta, Garden City Public Library, NY

Morgan, Mary. Pip Sits. illus. by Mary Morgan. 24p. Holiday House. Feb. 2017. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9780823436767; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780823437788.

PreS-Gr 1 –Morgan tells a simple tale of a young porcupine named Pip who sits on a nest of eggs. As the clutch of ducklings hatch, they think that young Pip is their mother and follow him around. Using an easy-to-read format with a large font and short sentences, the text and picture clues are just right for newbie readers. Although Pip looks like a “fluffy” porcupine with quills that are more curved than sharp and spiky, the colorful illustrations are endearing. Morgan makes good use of an uncluttered background of white space. There is nothing new in the plot here, and the minimal text and judicious repetition evoke P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? and its ilk. VERDICT A good choice for fledgling readers to try their wings.–Blair Christolon, Prince William Public Library System, Manassas, VA

Morris, Jackie. One Cheetah, One Cherry: A Book of Beautiful Numbers. illus. by Jackie Morris. 28p. Otter-Barry. Oct. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781910959282.

PreS –A simple animal counting book with a regal air. Each number is represented on a spread featuring a single type of animal, with dogs and mice being the only household varieties. In an interesting juxtaposition, the animals are lifelike and stately, yet playfully attired or engaged. Pandas sport “pretty painted parasols,” tigers play “pat-a-cake,” and mice sip from tiny china teacups. The subdued, earthy watercolor tones are accurate for each species, but the settings and attire have a hint of majesty as a result of the addition of gold leaf and a repeated paisley background motif, often in purple. Also adding a degree of opulence is a rich, mottled ochre color suggesting marble. No seeking or finding is necessary; the animals are large in scale and neatly arrayed for easy counting. White border space on the bottom of each page provides the location for simple, descriptive text that is sometime alliterative, sometimes loosely rhymed: “Two dogs, two balls, one big, one small.” Endpapers offer further opportunities for counting and contain the only numerical representations of the numbers one through 10. VERDICT A unique, artistic addition to the counting canon.–Lisa Taylor, Jacksonville Public Library, FL

Scanlon, Liz Garton & Audrey Vernick. Bob, Not Bob! illus. by Matthew Cordell. 40p. ebook available. Disney-Hyperion. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484723029.

PreS-Gr 2 –Little Louie has a bad cold. His nose is clogged. His brain is fuzzy. In a sudden urge to abandon self-sufficiency, he yells for his mom—but congestion makes it sound like he’s asking for “Bob,” which is coincidentally the name of his dog. Instead of a warm, comforting parent, Louie gets his drooly, high-strung dalmatian. This is the central joke of the book. (For the former Bob, the “o” is stylized to look like a heart, while for the latter, it simply looks like an “o.”) Readers are told that the text should “be read as though you have the worst cold ever.” The story is child-centric if a bit unfocused and is in keeping with busy families and the havoc caused by ailing children. Cordell’s Jules Feiffer–esque illustrations are entertaining, even though the unvaried white background could use more pep. VERDICT Wheezy, sneezy kids are likely to enjoy hearing about someone who’s as sick as they are and to giggle at the ongoing confusion. A competent but one-note addition.–Susan Weitz, formerly at Spencer-Van Etten School District, Spencer, NY

Sheneman, Drew. NOPE! illus. by Drew Sheneman. 40p. ebook available. Viking. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781101997314.

PreS-Gr 1 –An encouraging yet insistent blue mama bird tries to nudge a not-so-confident chick out of the nest. As he peers nervously over the edge, he imagines a dangerous scene awaiting him—a cat, a pack of wolves, and even a pool of gators ready to devour him. “Nope!” he says. When Mama eventually kicks the chick out, he learns that not only is he capable of flying, he also loves it! This debut picture book from an editorial cartoonist contains humorous, brightly colored images. Almost wordless, the story conveys a wide range of emotions, including frustration, fear, and exhilaration, through the birds’ expressions and body language. The many expressions, combined with a comic style and lack of dialogue, offer plenty of discussion opportunities between parent and child. Preschoolers who sometimes feel nudged out of the nest themselves will relate to the blue chick’s reluctance to fly, laugh out loud at his antics to avoid it, and delight in his eventual accomplishment. VERDICT A fun book to share one-on-one, showing a wide range of attitudes one might adopt when faced with new undertakings, and a strong choice for picture book collections.–Gaye Hinchliff, King County Library System, WA

Stewart, Paul. Wings! illus. by Jane Porter. 32p. Otter-Barry. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781910959435.

PreS-Gr 1 –All the birds have come together for a grand gathering, but when they decide to fly off as part of the fun, Penguin gets left behind. Saddened, he resolves to learn to fly. Some silly attempts at liftoff ensue, yet try as he might, even with the help of his friends, he remains grounded. Despite the delightful premise, it is difficult to connect with Penguin, partially because his dream of flying is not expressed at the very beginning but also because the story moves at such a brisk pace that it never really gives readers time to absorb the action or reflect on what it means. The cut- and colored paper collage artwork is pleasing, and despite all the bright colors, Penguin always stands out thanks to a thick black line that outlines his dark blue body. Following his trials, Penguin’s realization that he can fly—just in a different way from other birds—makes for a satisfying and insightful conclusion. VERDICT The vibrant illustrations elevate this tale of self-discovery starring a penguin that works equally well as a read-aloud as for one-on-one sharing.–Rachel Forbes, Oakville Public Library, Ont.

VirjÁn, Emma J. What This Story Needs Is a Bang and a Clang. illus. by Emma J. Virján. 40p. (A Pig in a Wig). HarperCollins/Harper. Jan. 2017. Tr $9.99. ISBN 9780062415301.

PreS-Gr 1 –The pig in a wig is back in this latest installment of the early reader series featuring the porcine protagonist with a red beehive hairdo. The industrious porker is building an outdoor stage while animal musician friends gather for a performance by the Pig in a Wig Band. During rehearsal, a mouse comes along with his French horn, and there’s “a startle, a jump, an EEK, and a SHRIEK!” and the band is suddenly in disarray. Pig in a Wig insists that the story must get back on track. Order is restored, and all’s well that ends well, with an appreciative audience clapping for the band. Colorful illustrations with a heavy black outline and text in a large, black serif font will be accessible for young readers. Rhythm and rhyme are maintained throughout. The climax and resolution will reassure beginning readers, who will likely want an encore. VERDICT Another solid choice for early reader shelves.–Ramarie Beaver, Plano Public Library System, TX

Webster, Deborah Kigjugalik. Akilak’s Adventure. illus. by Charlene Chua. 32p. Inhabit Media. Nov. 2016. pap. $10.95. ISBN 9781772271232.

K-Gr 2 –Akilak lives with her grandmother in a time “not so long ago, when Inuit lived a traditional, nomadic life on the barren lands of the Arctic.” When her grandmother injures her ankle and cannot walk, Akilak must journey alone to find help at her uncle’s camp a day’s walk away. Showing a child’s typical level of patience, Akilak feels like she will never reach her destination. When she stops for a snack, she meets a friendly caribou who offers to keep her company and reiterates her grandmother’s message, “Your destination is not running away; it will be reached eventually.” As they walk, Akilak imagines herself as different animals that could reach her destination faster. Through her conversations with Caribou, Akilak begins to view her journey as an adventure to be enjoyed rather than a destination to be reached. Chua’s illustrations are warm and charming, showing the beauty of the natural landscape and its many animal inhabitants. Akilak’s imaginings are portrayed as large, sweeping images that rush along the page next to tiny Akilak and Caribou; her imagination seems boundless, and the animals feel important and powerful. VERDICT Plucky Akilak’s story provides a window for outsiders to look into Inuit culture yet is also a mirror reflecting familiar Inuit traditions to insiders. An engaging and recommended read-aloud for all collections.–Anna Haase Krueger, Ramsey County Library, MN

Werber, Yael. Spring for Sophie. illus. by Jen Hill. 32p. ebook available. S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481451345.

PreS-Gr 1 –“When will spring be here?” Sophie asks. “The first way to tell if spring is coming is to listen for it,” her mother replies. So Sophie listens. Werber’s simple, lyrical text reflects the comfort and creeping pace of winter. As she waits for spring, Sophie uses each of her five senses to listen for the return of birdsong, feel the earth thawing, look for signs of green, sniff for damp earth, and taste spring raindrops. Hill’s wonderful textured watercolor illustrations convey the chilly wonder of exploring a white and slate gray landscape and the snug warmth of family afternoons on a fleecy rug by the fire. In their drabber colors, Sophie and her family seem to melt in the periphery, while each spread centers on a splotch of vivid red somewhere on Sophie’s figure. This ends with the last spread, where the red house is shadowy in the background while a jubilant Sophie catches raindrops in her yellow rain slicker. Readers will linger over the books scattered across the living room floor (including the illustrator’s other works) and the spectrum of songbirds scattered in the bare branches. The real attraction, though, is the radiating sense of winter coziness and serenity. VERDICT Titles on the seasons and on the senses are always in high demand, and this artistic gem fills both niches.–Rachel Anne Mencke, St. Matthew’s Parish School, Pacific Palisades, CA

Wilson, Karma. Dormouse Dreams. illus. by Renata Liwska. 40p. ebook available. Disney-Hyperion. Feb. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781423178743.

PreS-Gr 1 –“Deep in the woods, in a pine tree house, curled up in a ball sleeps a little dormouse.” Bears aren’t the only animals that hibernate, and this dormouse is dreaming of a visit from a friend, and all the things they will do together when she arrives. But soon readers notice that there is a parallel narrative. While the title character appears in more and more adorable sleeping poses (with upturned pink paws and a tiny stuffed bunny) and his dreams appear as springtime wishes, his friend is indeed on her way to him, ferried by a menagerie of forest animals. As winter turns to spring, the dormouse visitor gets closer and the separation between dream and reality a little more difficult for readers to discern, which makes this title better suited for a lapsit than a group read-aloud. Wilson’s rhyming couplets have a comforting rhythm. Liwska’s full spread pencil drawings, digitally layered with warm color, beg for a close reading; every animal’s expression is worth a second look, and her method of building texture is interesting and can be easily imitated. VERDICT A sweet and tender title for one-on-one sharing either at bedtime or while waiting in anticipation for the season to change.–Lisa Lehmuller, Paul Cuffee Maritime Charter School, Providence

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

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