January 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Thinking BIG with Picture Books | SLJ Spotlight

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Regardless of one’s physical stature, it’s important to live large and move ­confidently within one’s milieu in order to succeed. This crop of stories features an ever-growing, welcoming umbrella; a tiptoeing tiger; a sure-footed feline; a small, but mighty tug; and a brave little steam engine.

Bates, Amy June & Juniper Bates. The Big Umbrella. illus. by Amy June Bates. 40p. S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. Feb. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781534406582. POP

PreS-Gr 2 –This sweet extended metaphor uses an umbrella to demonstrate how kindness and inclusion work. The big umbrella waits by the door with a smile. “It is a big, friendly umbrella. It likes to help.” It’s a rainy day and help is welcome, so the umbrella, once opened, provides shelter to all comers. First to its owner, and then to a ballerina, a dog, a skater, a monster…there is no limit to how many can fit under its widespread arms. “Some people worry that there won’t be enough room under the big umbrella. But the amazing thing is…there is.” Bates’s signature sketchy watercolors begin the story on the endpapers with a downpour and heavy, wet clouds. The muted colors of the rainy cityscape give contrast to the smiling red umbrella and the folks it is protecting. Each page is lighter than the one before until the sun is out, and a final spread opens to show just how much room there is. Bates and her young daughter thought up the idea for this story during a rain storm. The message is direct but not didactic, useful in discussion about classroom and family behaviors, community-building and kindness in general, not to mention helpful for discussion about the current political climate. VERDICT A lovely addition to any library collection, for classroom use or for sharing at home.–Lisa Lehmuller, Paul Cuffee Maritime Charter School, Providence

redstarBernstein, Galia. I Am a Cat. illus. by Galia Bernstein. 32p. Abrams. Feb. 2018. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781419726439.

PreS-Gr 2 –A small, plump gray cat, mouth downturned and green eyes cast upward at a row of tall animal legs lined up behind him, is a fine indication of things to come in this humorous introduction to the larger cat family. Simply sketched against blank white pages, each of five large cats stare in disbelief as the small one introduces himself: “Hello, my name is Simon. I am a cat. Just like you!” After a silly moment of group laughter, Lion, Cheetah, Puma, Panther, and Tiger each share a personal exchange with Simon, repudiating his claim. “A cat? Cats are black,’ said Panther. ‘They live in jungles and rain forests and sleep in trees. Have you ever seen a jungle?’ ” Simon has no mane like Lion’s, is not tall and graceful like Cheetah, can’t leap far and act tough like Puma, and isn’t big and orange like Tiger. Having heard all their rebuttals, Simon expresses confusion. Each animal has touted traits not shared by the others. “So how can you all be cats?” Ah, but they all have things in common, too—“small, perky ears and flat noses…long whiskers and long tails…sharp teeth and claws…and big eyes that can see in the dark.” And so Simon wins the argument. “So do I…I have all of those things…only smaller.” Once he’s accepted as part of the family, he joins them in “pouncing and playing, like cats of all sizes do.” The bold humorous figures are digitally drawn and hand colored. VERDICT Bernstein’s debut is fun, well crafted, and promising. The simple text and strong pictures offer an amusing read-aloud for small groups or individual children.–Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston

Capucilli, Alyssa Satin. Mighty Tug. illus. by David Mottram. 40p. S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481476812.

PreS-Gr 1 –Mighty Tug may be little but she works hard from morning to night in the busy New York harbor. She tows a cargo ship, a big barge, some stray rafts, a ferry, and a container ship before calling it a day. “But wait! A speedy fireboat stacked with hoses and jugs cries out, ‘Sound the alarm! Will you help us, Mighty Tug?’ Ready as ever, and oh so brave, the mighty little tug leads the way across the waves!” Young readers will enjoy the onomatopoeia from the wake-up and goodnight song of “Clang Clang Clang Clang” to the tide going “Splish Splash Splish Splash” and a “Vroom Vroom Vroom” as the little red boat heads to shore. Rings, beeps, and rumbles round out the day, “All are safe in the busy, busy harbor. With a wave of her flag, Mighty Tug turns away. She’s tired, but so proud of her busy harbor day.” Fans of Stephen Savage’s Little Tug and Gertrude Crampton and Tibor Gergely’s Scuffy the Tugboat and His Adventures Down the River will enjoy this ode to a little hero. The digitally composed illustrations in watercolor and gouache portray the boats, big and small, with human expressions reminiscent of those in Thomas the Tank Engine, while the city appears in simple, graphic shapes in the background. VERDICT A sweet addition to the small but mighty subgenre, perfect for storytime and one-on-one sharing.–Barbara Auerbach, Formerly at New York City Public Schools

Leathers, Philippa. The Tiptoeing Tiger. illus. by Philippa Leathers. 32p. Candlewick. Feb. 2018. Tr $14. ISBN 9780763688431.

Toddler-PreS –Everyone knows that tigers are sleek, silent, and totally terrifying. Unfortunately, Little Tiger is not. When his older brother says he’s “too small and clumsy to scare anyone,” Little Tiger sets out to prove him wrong. Tiptoeing as silently as he can, Little Tiger attempts scare a boar, an elephant, and some monkeys. They are all completely unafraid, much to Little Tiger’s chagrin. When he spots a tiny, jumpy frog in a pond, he is glad to finally find something he knows he can scare. He tiptoes extra quietly up to the water’s edge, looks over and ROAR! Finally Little Tiger succeeds in scaring someone—himself. Leathers’s pencil and watercolor illustrations are a perfect combination of uncluttered detail, great expressions, muted colors, and adorableness. They complement the fun-to-read text in the best possible way. VERDICT Kids will immediately connect with Little Tiger whose plight and cuteness cannot be denied. A good choice for storytimes or individual sharing and a first purchase for most libraries.–Catherine Callegari, Reston Regional Library, VA

Shaskan, Stephen. Big Choo. illus. by Stephen Shaskan. 40p. Scholastic. Feb. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545708579.

PreS-K –With a clear artistic and imaginative nod to Virginia Lee Burton’s picture books, Shaskan’s adorable tale centers a young talking engine, Choo, learning to ride the rails with his father, Papa Pufferbelly. Choo is riding confidently as he rolls off the loop and switches to the main line, rolls over a bridge, hauls freight, and charges up a mountain—until his wheels slip! When Cho derails, Papa assures him that he is brave, fast, strong, and smart, and not to let “a little tumble ruin [his] big day.” Choo tries again and makes it to the top of the mountain. The digital art uses bold, bright colors to create lyrical landscapes and bring the trains to life with animated facial expressions. The high-energy story line has clear read-aloud appeal and the encouraging message of overcoming obstacles is one that will resonate positively with young listeners. VERDICT A modern book with a classic feel. This is a perfect choice for a preschool storytime, and a must-buy for libraries where trains, railway stories, and Thomas the Tank Engine are in demand.–Brianne Colombo, Fairfield Free Public Library, NJ

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

Luann Toth About Luann Toth

Luann Toth (ltoth@mediasourceinc.com) is Managing Editor of SLJ Reviews. A public librarian by training, she has been reviewing books for a quarter of a century and continues to be fascinated by the constantly evolving, ever-expanding world of publishing.

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