February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Picture Books Xpress Reviews | September 2016

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For more of this month’s
Xpress Reviews:

Barbieri, Gladys E. A Charmed Life/Una vida con suerte. tr. by Carolina E. Alonso. illus. by Lisa Fields. 32p. Piñata. May 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781558858275. BL

K-Gr 2 –A bilingual, slice-of-life tale about a Latina girl that subtly explores class and immigration. Felicia accompanies her mother to her housekeeping job at a gorgeous mansion. She’s given a list of dos and don’ts, but the restless child would rather wander around the house instead of coloring in her book. While playing outside, she is met by the homeowner, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, who greets her with a plate of cookies and lemonade. “I wished my house looked like this./Cómo me gustaría que mi casa se viera así,” the little girl tells her mother’s employer. Touched by Felicia’s remarks, the woman looks down at her pregnant belly and brings the protagonist a charm bracelet. She relates to Felicia her own family’s immigration from Ireland and advises her never to stop believing that she will have a better life. The link between the two families’ stories presents U.S. history’s fluctuating and diverse population in an age-appropriate, if oversimplified, way. Race and language barriers aren’t addressed, but the sentiment behind the message is a positive one. The sun-tinged illustrations give the text an added level of charm, and the characters’ expressions often offer another layer to the storytelling, especially when Felicia’s mother initially disapproves of the lavish gift. The charms on Felicia’s bracelet appear throughout, which gives the title a fun twist. The narrative is a bit text-heavy, and the quietness of the work will deter some readers. VERDICT A gentle title that will hopefully spur conversation about privilege, immigration, and families. Best used in a classroom setting or one-on-one.–Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

Cepeda, Joe. Up. illus. by Joe Cepeda. 24p. (I Like To Read). Holiday House. Jul. 2016. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9780823436552; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780823436897; ebk. $14.95. ISBN 9780823437467.

PreS-Gr 3 –A fantasy about a little boy and a windy night. The tale opens with two brothers in bed. A mysterious pinwheel blows into the younger brother’s hand. Soon, he is flying over the treetops, encountering a hen, a sheep, a pig, and a cow along the way. They all arrive back at their respective homes, and the little boy hands the pinwheel to his big brother. The narrative has made a full circle, and now it’s readers’ turns to predict what will happen next. Part of a beginning reader series, the title is predicated on ease of reading for beginners, and it meets that standard. Cepeda relies on only 12 different words, all decodable and repeated at least once, and his use of typical farm animals allows for activation of prior knowledge in most young readers. The vibrant, sketchy illustrations make the wind feel almost palpable, and add to the fun. There’s not much story here, but for children just starting out, there is enough for them to feel like empowered readers. VERDICT A great choice for larger collections.–Lisa Lehmuller, Paul Cuffee Maritime Charter School, Providence

Corderoy, Tracey. Squish Squash Squeeze! illus. by Jane Chapman. 32p. Tiger Tales. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781680100112.

PreS-Gr 1 –Mouse wants to move into a new home but finds that a bear, a crocodile, and a tiger already live there and there is no room for another housemate. Mouse won’t hear of it and insists there is room for all. Then there is a rumble from below, and a mole pops up and breaks through the floor. Suddenly there is more than enough room for all. The full-page illustrations are well-done and carry this story, giving the text movement. VERDICT The story is perfect for sharing with a group and the pop-out ending is sure to please. A slight, silly selection for large collections.–Melisa Bailey, Harford County Library System, MD

DePalma, Mary Newell. El extraño huevo. illus. by Mary Newell DePalma. 40p. Picarona. Jun. 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9788416117772.

PreS-Gr 2 –This is the Spanish translation of the author’s The Strange Egg. The titular egg is indeed very strange. It is so strange that it’s not really an egg at all but an orange. First a bird finds it, and then a monkey sees the bird. The monkey breaks the “egg.” The two animals discover that they can eat it. They plant the orange seeds. The bird and monkey become friends and have lots of oranges to eat. The story is slight. However, the simplicity of the language lends itself well to a very readable Spanish translation. The book’s illustration and design are stellar. DePalma uses collage elements such as torn bits of newspaper and a map to lead young readers through the story in a logical way. In the spread where the bird listens to, smells, observes, stands on, and finally tries to wake the “egg” with her song, the images present the bird’s actions enclosed in small squares and rectangles of differing sizes. VERDICT While there is not much heft to this selection, this is still an appealing book for younger readers, especially where good Spanish read-alouds are needed.–Tim Wadham, Children’s Literature Consultant, WA

Diesen, Deborah. Catch a Kiss. illus. by Kris Aro McLeod. 32p. ebook available. Sleeping Bear. Apr. 2016. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781585369614.

Toddler-PreS –This sweet story is a perfect companion to Audrey Penn’s The Kissing Hand. Mama and Izzie are relaxing on a blanket when they begin a game of blowing kisses to each other. The kisses come in all shapes: round, zigzag, triple-decker, and shiny. At one point Izzie misses a kiss and tries in vain to chase it. Her mother comforts her with the reassuring message that Mama-kisses will always find their way to her. The illustrations are as gentle and soothing as the tale itself, though depictions of the kisses themselves are noticeably absent. This could be a distraction, or it could be an opportunity for a postreading art activity. VERDICT A warm and reassuring book for lapsits and one-on-one sharing.–Katie Darrin, Boulder Valley School District, Boulder, CO

Easton, Tom. ¡Fui yo!: Los piratas pueden ser honrados. ISBN 9788416117703.

––––. Ayudar al lorito Polly: Los piratas pueden ser buenas persona. ISBN 9788416117727.

ea vol: illus. by Mike Gordon. 40p. Picarona. Jun. 2016. Tr. $17.95.

Gr 2-4 –These two books are part of a series of British easy readers featuring pirates who, instead of plundering, are kind and honorable. In Ayudar al lorito Polly (originally published in English as Pirates Can Be Kind), Polly the parrot falls asleep on the job. Instead of making her walk the plank (an ineffective punishment for a bird), the pirates treat her kindly, even though her inattention nearly sinks the ship. In ¡Fui yo! (originally published as Pirates Can Be Honest), pirate Davy Jones confesses to making a hole in the ship with a cannonball. Of course he saves the day, the ship, and his own life. The titles of these books telegraph the moral before readers even open to the first page, and the stories exist to drive the message home. There are no immediate glaring issues with the Spanish translation, except that it fails to convey much of the quirky absurd British humor evident in the English originals. And it is this British quirkiness that makes the didacticism more bearable. The illustrations are appropriately silly and provide a welcome distraction from the message-laden tone. VERDICT These didactic works don’t survive the transition to Spanish, which can’t convey the distinctly British humor.–Tim Wadham, Children’s Literature Consultant, WA

Eliot, T.S. Macavity: The Mystery Cat. illus. by Arthur Robins. 32p. Faber & Faber. Jul. 2016. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9780571308132.

K-Gr 2 –Children and poetry lovers alike will delight in this picture book adaptation of Eliot’s famous rhyming poem. Although Macavity the cat burglar often leaves behind a trail of fish bones and paw prints, he proves to be too elusive to capture. Milk and jewels are some of the feline’s favorite items to snatch, much to the chagrin of the canines of Scotland Yard. Robins brings the feline to life with his whimsical watercolor drawings paired with a hand-drawn text. A paw or tail can be found escaping at the edge of every crime scene; however, children will delight in finding (and repeating aloud) that “Macavity’s not there!” VERDICT This joyful read-aloud will make a fine introduction to young children who are learning about famous authors and poetry.–Maria Alegre, The Dalton School, New York City

Gonzales Bertrand, Diane. The Story Circle/El círculo de cuentos. tr. from English by Carolina E. Alonso. illus. by Wendy Martin. 32p. ebook available. Piñata. May 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781558858268. BL

K-Gr 3 –This important bilingual text begins in the wake of a school flood that has destroyed the books in a primary grade classroom, leaving the teachers to clean up the mess. When the school reopens, the children immediately notice their empty bookshelves, and call out, “What will we do for story circle?/¿Qué vamos a hacer para el círculo de cuentos?” The English phrase story circle is a complex educational concept to capture in another language, and in this text it is translated literally. The teacher smiles and calls the students to the carpet, where she models oral storytelling while they enact and visualize her tale. The children go on to share personal narratives that they later write down and illustrate. The images cross most spreads, depicting a diverse classroom and students demonstrating caring behaviors toward their peers. In addition, the children are each set across from a detailed, sometimes fantastical image of their narratives. At times, the translation from the English text could be less literal so as to sound more natural in Spanish. VERDICT Young U.S. children will be able to make meaning from the Spanish text given the familiar school practice of storytime on the carpet, while all readers can connect in some way with its themes of resiliency and cooperation following a difficult event such as a natural disaster.–Ruth Quiroa, National Louis University, IL

Hart, Caryl. Whiffy Wilson the Wolf Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed. illus. by Leonie Lord. 32p. Barron’s. Jun. 2016. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9781438008639.

PreS-Gr 1 –Whiffy is a high-energy wolf who stays up late every night: “He practiced on his saxophone./He strummed his blue guitar./He sang and banged his big bass drum/Just like a superstar!” One loud night his friend Dotty comes over to coax Whiffy to quiet down. She races him to put toys away and makes a bedtime snack. Whiffy has a warm bath, brushes his teeth, puts on cozy pajamas, grabs his teddy bear, and, once tucked into bed, listens to stories. “ ‘This bedtime has been fun,’ he smiled,/‘And not the least bit boring.’/Then Whiffy Wilson closed his eyes/And very soon…/…was snoring!” Following a night of adventuresome dreams, Whiffy gratefully takes a “wolf-sized breakfast” to Dotty. The flowing, rhyming text offers appropriate details. Lord’s vibrant cartoon illustrations depict Whiffy’s exuberance, toys, and imagination, all of which will attract readers and reluctant dreamers. VERDICT Parents and children will appreciate finding this offering tucked into a picture book collection.–Laura Scott, Farmington Community Library, MI

Lallemand, Orianne. The Wolf Who Visited the Land of Fairy Tales. tr. from French by Susan Allen Maurin. illus. by Eleonore Thuillier. 32p. Auzou. Jul. 2016. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9782733839232.

PreS-Gr 2 –A popular children’s book anti-hero from France attempts to make a cake even though he does not know how to bake. Wolf seeks help from familiar characters in the Land of Fairy Tales who all assume he is the Big Bad Wolf and initially refuse to help him. Wolf wins them over with kindness and the fairy-tale characters all contribute something to his cake, which he shares with his new friends at a tea party. The picture book is fairly predictable, but Thuillier’s illustrations are delightful and fun, and the book is well paced and includes a recipe for the apple cake. VERDICT An additional purchase.–Sarah Wilsman, Bainbridge Library, Chagrin Falls, OH

Lunn, Carolyn. Tomas and the Galapagos Adventure. illus. by Ashley Rades. 48p. Little Adventures. Jun. 2016. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780692582893.

K-Gr 2 –Readers discover two new worlds through the eyes of young Tomas, one in which he lives every day (Ecuador) and one that he visits in a dream (Galápagos). Or is it a dream? The strength of the story is the ability of the text and illustrations to highlight some of the diverse marine life of the Galápagos Islands. For example, Tomas dreams that he rides on a giant sea turtle, past a pod of humpback whales. The weakness of the title lies in a main character, Tomas, who seems uncharacteristically happy, at times bordering on unbelievable, even in the aftermath of falling and knocking himself unconscious. “Watch out! There is a school of hammerhead sharks just ahead. Tomas doesn’t worry. He knows that hammerheads mostly eat squid.” Rades’s illustrations are bright and inviting, especially the spread of exotic animals. The book includes end pages with some facts about Ecuador and some common Spanish phrases. VERDICT A solid choice for introducing elements of culture from Ecuador or the Galápagos Islands, primarily in one-on-one reading or integrated into a classroom lesson.–Megan Egbert, Meridian Library District, ID

McLaughlin, Lauren. Mitzi Tulane Preschool Detective in What’s That Smell? illus. by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. 32p. Random. Jul. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780449819159.

PreS –Young detectives everywhere will love following along with Mitzi as she uncovers clue after clue that something is up at 123 Maple Street, until the very end, when she is surprised by the best birthday party in all her four years. This brightly illustrated story will be fun for young listeners as they try to guess what is happening. Will they figure it out before Mitzi does? The protagonist is brown-skinned, and her parents, doll, and little brother are white. The scenes of their relatives and friends are equally diverse and reinforce the subtle lesson that people and families come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. VERDICT Mitzi Tulane is a character whom children will enjoy meeting, and they will look forward to her future adventures.–Betsy Davison, Cortland Free Library, NY

Manning, Dorothy Thurgood. Rosita y la noche de los rábanos. illus. by Dorothy Thurgood Manning. 50p. 33 Loretta Kids’ Bks. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780986345432.

K-Gr 2 –On December 23 in Oaxaca, Mexico, a radish-carving competition has been held for more than 115 years. Dating from 1897, this is a high-stakes event for the locals, with a prize of 15,000 pesos. It is no wonder that Rosita wants to win the carving contest to help her parents, who need extra help on their farm. In a twist out of a fairy tale, Rosita receives magic radish seeds from a bird. She hopes this is a sign but ends up losing the carving contest to the disagreeable neighbors, the González family. However, on the night of the festival, a miracle occurs: the three female figures in Rosita’s carving turn into real girls—sisters who can help work on the farm. This Spanish narrative is a bit text-heavy and doesn’t capture the tone of the traditional tales it is trying to emulate. The illustrations are adequate, but the placement of characters on the page spreads seems a bit stagey. The author includes an explanatory note followed by more than 10 pages of actual photographs of radish carvings. While not a quality book from a literary standpoint, this could be used as a tool for introducing a culturally diverse craft activity. VERDICT Overlong and with mediocre illustrations, this book has one saving grace: the photographs of real carved radish displays, which would be useful in introducing and celebrating this beloved Oaxacan tradition.–Tim Wadham, Children’s Literature Consultant, WA

Montanari, Susan McElroy. Who’s the Grossest of Them All? illus. by Jake Parker. 40p. Random/Schwartz & Wade. Aug. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553511901.

PreS-Gr 2 –A troll and a goblin, each convinced that he is the grossest creature in the forest, pose the title question to unsuspecting folks they happen to meet. Although both creatures are “utterly horrifying,” a man decides that the troll’s “puke-purple” skin makes him the most disgusting. Realizing that it’s only one person’s opinion and not a fair sampling, they ask an old woman passerby to decide between the two. Although both are “equally loathsome,” she is forced into a decision once the goblin starts making rude noises with his hand in his armpit. Now tied at one vote each, Goblin and Troll query a little girl. Dressed in a familiar hooded red cape and carrying a basket, the girl begins to pick her nose while she is pondering her answer. As the green nose slime on her fingertip gets bandied about in their faces and is finally wiped on the front of her dress, Troll and Goblin decide that she is the grossest creature of all. Repulsed, they run off, and the little girl skips homeward after happily declaring herself the “winner.” The ink and digitally colored illustrations are full bleed, and the expressive faces add some humor. VERDICT Although possibly useful in breaking the habit of a dedicated nose-picker, avoid maligning Red’s character and skip this one.–Sara-Jo Lupo Sites, George F. Johnson Memorial Library, Endicott, NY

Paronuzzi, Fred. Babak the Beetle. illus. by Andree Prigent. 32p. NorthSouth. May 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780735842519.

K-Gr 2 –In a story that will initially sound familiar to readers of P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother?, Babak the beetle sets out to find the parent who has lost an egg. The repetitive tale continuously builds questions as Babak asks the animals in the forest if the egg belongs to them. Prigent has produced a couple of multihued pages amid the drab palette of paper bag tan, teal blue, and black. The small typeface has a typewritten appearance. Happily, the conclusion will bring a surprise to children and adults alike. VERDICT A supplemental tale that could best be augmented using flannel board pieces in a storytime for primary grade youngsters.–Blair Christolon, Prince William Public Library System, Manassas, VA

Piumini, Roberto. El tacto del rey. ISBN 9788416117666.

––––. La narizota de Pozia. ISBN 9788416117659.

ea vol: illus. by Anna Laura Cantone. Spanish ed. 36p. Obelisco. Mar. 2016. Tr. $15.95.

K-Gr 3 –Assumptions play a role in El tacto del rey—a title couched in classic sibling rivalry. A king loses his sight and appoints his kindhearted son to assume the throne. Yet behind the scenes, readers witness the treachery and trickery on the part of his irresponsible brother to outwit the blind king. The expressive, comic-style illustrations are lively on textured paper. La narizota de Pozia, another entry in this series about the senses, tells the tale of a spiteful princess. Since her nose is so big, she makes all her female subjects wear “nose hats” equal in size to her own nose to minimize the beauty of others. The illustrations are modern in hue and sheen and are constructed digitally with a combination of drawing and collage. The collage elements are vintage laces, wallpapers, and old valentines and advertisements, but the lack of texture and contrast in the shiny, saturated finish detracts from the overall quality. Both volumes have endnotes about one of the senses and use all-caps typography. VERDICT Purchase where fun-to-read-aloud stories in Spanish are king and illustrations ancillary.–Sara Lissa Paulson, City-As-School High School, New York City

Piumini, Roberto. Las orejas del hombrecillo. ISBN 9788416117673.

––––. Los besos de Namea. ISBN 9788416117642.

––––. Los ojos mal colocados. ISBN 9788416117635.

ea vol: tr. from Italian. illus. by Valentina Grassini. Spanish ed. 36p. Obelisco. Mar. 2016. Tr. $15.95.

PreS-Gr 2 –These sensory tales are sure to delight curious youngsters who often ask a litany of questions about why things are as they are. The first two stories attribute the creation of man to a patriarchal figure who through trial and error finds the right spot to place the eyes and ears. In the case of the eyes in Los ojos mal colocados, which are first positioned on the knees, readers are taken to “see” why that placement along with a few others is a poor choice. The illustrations are bold with soft integrated lines that are fun to look at. Las orejas del hombrecillo is equally colorful and interesting but simpler, and the illustrations convey the complexity of the tale. This narrative focuses on why we have the ears that we do, not larger or smaller as some animals do. Each entry is followed by a brief poem at the end that reiterates to readers the importance of the sensory attribute explored in the tale. Los besos de Namea is the story of a magical stone statue that people flock to in the forest to seek advice. They whisper their problems in her ear, and she in turn whispers the best advice once they raise an ear to her lips. However, she falls in love with one of her followers and the tale then develops into a love story. There is a dramatic side to this work, as Namea betrays her own good will and gives bad advice in order to ensure the best outcome for herself. The images have a marionette quality—the characters have round rosy cheeks and the backgrounds are reminiscent of a stage. The conclusion is also followed by a brief poem about what the mouth can do. This volume integrates a few of the senses in the development of the story. These enjoyable reads were originally published in Italian and are solid Spanish translations. Purchasers may also want to note that the type setting in the stories is all caps. VERDICT Recommended as read-alouds, especially for units covering the five senses.–Maricela Leon-Barrera, San Francisco Public Library

Root, Phyllis. One North Star: A Counting Book. illus. by Beckie Prange & Betsy Bowen. 36p. University of Minnesota. Aug. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780816650637.

PreS-Gr 1 –Turn the pages to play a counting game and find the flora and fauna in the Minnesota environs, namely, the lakes, bluffs woods, prairies, marshes, and bogs. The first one in this North Star state is easy to play, because it begins with one moose browsing “by a cobble beach.” By the 10th spread, though nine practices preceded it, the challenge deepens to try to match 10 totally new plants and animals to the hints in the text. Young readers may not immediately identify goldenrods, milkweed pods, or soldier beetles, but Root’s succinct descriptions work together with Prange and Bowen’s black woodcut prints with watercolors, and all the clues are needed. The narrative leads to the poignant question, “Who else lives there?” There in the beautiful landscape are a parent and two children, representing the human inhabitants. All 55 plants and animals heretofore introduced are briefly described and pictured in the concluding spreads. Every page has a North Star reference. VERDICT Minnesota librarians should purchase multiple copies of this lovely interactive book. Others should follow suit, because most of the plants and animals can be found elsewhere.–Nancy Call, Santa Cruz Public Libraries, Aptos, CA

Sweet, Susan D. & Brenda S. Miles. Princess Penelopea Hates Peas: A Tale of Picky Eating and Avoiding Catastropeas. illus. by Valeria Docampo. 32p. Magination. Feb. 2016. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781433820465.

PreS-Gr 1 –Princess Penelopea hates peas. She wouldn’t touch them or smell them, and she certainly wouldn’t eat them. This is a problem because Penelopea lives in Capital Pea, where peas are grown, sold, and eaten by the pound. The king and queen try different ways to get their daughter to eat the peas, with no success. In an attempt to make peas disappear forever, Penelopea tries a pea and realizes she actually likes them, and it’s not a “catastropea” after all. Whimsical, colorful artwork turns this into a fun story. A note to parents in the back shares information about getting children to try new foods and strategies for introducing healthy eating. VERDICT This spirited title will work in a food-themed storytime and is perfect for parenting sections.–Sarah Polace, Cuyahoga Public Library System, OH

Szymanik, Melinda. While You Are Sleeping. illus. by Greg Straight. 32p. Starfish Bay. Jul. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781760360108.

Toddler-PreS –“While you are sleeping, the world turns….” Soothing text and jewel-tone screen prints present tranquil images of what goes on while a child sleeps. Despite initial references to a broader global setting, there is only one day scene, which feels somewhat out of place in the series of nighttime tableaux. More disappointing, humans are exclusively represented as white and dark-haired. The illustrations are accessible and lushly somnolent, but their literal following of the text prevents them from being truly extraordinary. These missed opportunities are frustrating, because the book comes so close to being something more. Phrases like birds with full moon eyes and the moon jumps over cows bring a lyrical quality to this bedtime book, but the text trails off without closure. Readers looking for a more global view of the world beyond the bedroom should turn to Clotilde Perrin’s At the Same Moment, Around the World or Bob Graham’s phenomenal How the Sun Got to Coco’s House. VERDICT A good addition to collections in need of bedtime books, but it falls short in comparison with stronger titles.–Rachel Anne Mencke, St. Matthew’s Parish School, Pacific Palisades, CA


This article was published in School Library Journal's September 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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