Monday, August 31, 2009

Peter and the Starcatchers

Years ago, I finally made the leap and read the original Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. I was going back to read all the classic children's books I had missed as a child. (Mary Poppins, Wizard of Oz) I was less than thrilled with Peter Pan even though I had loved the Disney film as a child. Peter was too cocky, too arrogant for me. I remember being annoyed by him more than anything. I found myself enjoying the character of Captain Hook quite a bit more, with his focus on manners and his evilness. It seems such a fun juxtoposition.

So when my brother mentioned that I should read Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's Peter and the Starcatchers I wasn't particularly excited. Although I've loved Dave Barry's writing for decades I wasn't sure that I wanted a re-write of the book. But from the moment I opened this chapter book, I was hooked.

The book tells the story of Peter Pan before he becomes Pan. In the beginning we see him as a young orphan, sold off into slavery, and placed on the ship the Never Land. Strange things are afoot on the boat though. There is a young girl (Molly) who is guarding a mysterious trunk. A trunk that makes everyone who touches it happy. The Never Land, the most worthless boat in the world, is carrying a fantastic treasure. And that treasure is being hunted by the ferocious pirate Black Stache (Hook with both hand intact). After mistakenly attacking the wrong ship, Black Stache and his crew finally take the Never Land but before they can grab the trunk, Peter and Molly toss it overboard. Just in time as the boat is destroyed on the rocks of a small island. Peter, Molly, the other orphan boys, Black Stache, and the captain of the Never Land all wash ashore on this small island. From then on it is a race to find the trunk with everyone, including the local natives, hunting for the treasure.

This book is non-stop action from the very beginning with a ton of laughs and some tender moments mixed in. The early chapters cover most of the boat journey which is at times exciting and at time hilarious. I particularly loved Black Stache's secret weapon, "the ladies". But what I really loved was the scenes that take place on the island. This island is what will become Neverland, named after the ship of course. There we get the chance to meet Mister Grin, the gigantic crocodile that will eventually become Hook's nemesis. We meet the mermaids, who are created from fish after having contact with the stuff in the trunk. That is where Peter finally gains immortality and the ability to fly. We see where the lost boys come from and the native tribe that Peter becomes friends with. This is prequel at it's best. We even discover the origins of Tinkerbell.

Barry and Pearson create a fun story but I loved how they tied the story so closely with the original Barrie tale. I mostly enjoyed realizing what part each character would play in the later book. This was a quick read and would make an excellent read-aloud. The writing is wonderful and the characters are interesting. I was impressed by the books treatment of Peter, making him incredibly likable and kind of lost. He is forced into leadership in many ways. Instead of the braggert of Barrie's book, we see a young man who is just trying to do what is best for his lost boys. A wonderful tale and a lot of fun.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Jeremy Tankard is Awesome

This was posted both here, and on Ancora Imparo, my other blog, mostly because I was just that excited.

A couple weeks ago I did a review here of Jeremy Tankard's fantastic children's book, Grumpy Bird. I had loved the characters of this little story, enjoyed the dialogue, and absolutely adored Jeremy's art style. It is a wonderful book and I was happy to say some nice things about it.

Two days or so after the review was posted I got an email from Jeremy. He said how much he'd liked the review and asked if he could send me a poster and a sketch. Honestly I was just excited that he had read the review but I was thrilled that he wanted to send me something. He also linked to me on his blog.

So yesterday during work, Jeff called me to tell me that I had a big envelope in the mail. And that it came from Tankard illustration. That was about two. I could hardly wait the two and a half hours to head home and see what he had sent. And they were awesome. I got two posters, one primarily from Grumpy Bird (below, although the color is a bit off).

The second is an image from the poster of Boo Hoo Bird, Jeremy's newest. It had four panels and wouldn't fit in the frame for a picture so you get to see my favorite image, although not the one he signed.

But my favorite was this sketch (below) that he created for me. I went out today to buy frames and hope to have at least the sketch and the poster up on the wall in my studio this weekend. So this is a gigantic public thank you to Jeremy Tankard and an endorsement of his books (Grumpy Bird, Boo Hoo Bird, and Me Hungry!). Thanks Jeremy!!! You are too kind!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Watching Coraline

This was also posted on Ancora Imparo but I thought it would fit here as well.

I read Neil Gaiman’s creepy little story right after it came out. I remember sitting on the stairs after getting dressed that morning trying to finish the book before I had to go to work. I also remember taking it to work with me so that I could read the final conflict between Coraline and the other mother from my desk drawer. I simply had to find out what happened. I loved the story. As I have said repeatedly, here and to anyone else who will listen, Neil Gaiman has to be one of the most imaginative and fantastic writers out there. I’m constantly impressed by his work.

When Coraline came out in the theaters, I didn’t go, mostly because I hate the theaters. I also don’t normally like movies that are based off books I’ve loved. The book is almost always better. But curiosity got the better of me. And on Sunday I bought the movie (collector’s edition and all) sight unseen with the knowledge that even if I didn’t like the treatment I would love the animation. I wasn’t disappointed. The stop motion animation story of Coraline is a visual masterpiece. I’ve always been a huge fan of stop motion and Henry Selick carries it to its most beautiful and believable conclusion. There were times in the film last night where I was so caught up in the incredible colors and settings that I forgot that the film was stop motion. I am constantly in awe of the amount of thought and work that goes into making a film like this. That’s why I had to buy the collector’s edition. I wanted the “making of” features.

The film stays mostly true to the book with a couple notable changes. While I understand the addition of the character of Wybie, I was mostly just annoyed with him. In fact I, like Coraline, preferred the silent version in the other mother’s world. I loved the treatment of Bobinski and the actresses downstairs Misses Forcible and Spink. Coraline was a wonderful character and we really get a chance to see the depth of her emotion. I’m constantly amazed by how they can create such deep emotions with puppets. But I really thought the Other Mother stole the show. They created a character so cloyingly sweet at the beginning that she is almost smothering, and then a character so incredibly evil that I’m sure there were plenty of children who went home and had nightmares. The film seemed an interesting mix of childish and adult and I went away with the feeling that the movie was actually more geared towards adults than children. That is not a criticism. It is rare to find animated films that have an edge and this one delivered. There were wonderful moments of humor but there was also an edge of creepiness throughout the film.
After watching the film I sat down to watch the “making of” features. I am constantly in awe of any type of animation but stop motion in particular. The bonus features were interesting although I’ll be on the lookout for a book that covers it as well. I wanted more of the puppet building and less on the voicing of the characters. But I may be one of the few people who are interested in that kind of thing. Considering I spent the rest of the evening on the couch reading a “making of” book for Toy Story, I’m far more interested than the average joe. (by the way, did anyone else know that Joss Whedon helped write the script for Toy Story?) I sadly can’t watch Coraline in 3-D (I tried) but with only one real working eye, everything just looked green. But even without the 3-D, I was pulled into the film. I was impressed and awed by the movie, but a little disappointed with the bonus features.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gonna Roll the Bones

I wasn't sure if I was planning to review this book or not. I kept picking it up and putting it down. As my regular readers know, I love David Wiesner. But on the other hand this story, adapted from a story written by Fritz Leiber, is a bit darker than most of the stuff I have reviewed. This shouldn't be surprising since Leiber is a classic horror writer but I didn't really know what I was getting into with this unusual picture book.

For those who don't know, rolling the bones, refers to playing craps which in itself is an interesting idea of a picture book. But this isn't just an odd tale about gambling. This is a story about the devil and addiction and death. The tale follows Joe, a farmer who has an addiction to gambling. But he also has luck on his side and has never managed to lose a craps game. While walking one evening he comes upon a saloon and starts to play. Joe starts out winning but there are two people at the table who will be a huge challenge for him. The first is a high-roller named Mr. Bones. The second is a shadowy figure with deep-set eyes. Joe decides he wants to see the big gambler play but when Joe catches him cheating, the stakes go higher. Finally the high-roller (who is really the devil in disguise) bets Joe for his life. Joe accepts the bet, and loses. He attacks the devil who disappears and escapes but can't quite go home again.

Wiesner gives some information at the back of the book about why he chose to illustrate this story. Although this is an unusual picture book subject, the book did lead Wiesner to trying wordless picture books, and for that I owe it a debt of gratitude. The story is certainly not a regular children's book subject but the story did win a Hugo when it was originally published by Leiber. Wiesner says that he was attempting to introduce the story to a younger audience but I would be more likely to say that this book is probably geared more towards junior high students and above. The subject is dark, the story is sad and sometimes foreboding, and the imagery may leave some children with nightmares. The story seems to have a "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" feeling to it and will incite just as many bad dreams.

The illustrations are unique for a picture book. Wiesner uses pencil drawings on vellum to create a dark, old fashioned look. I would almost claim that the images are oppressive in a way. This is perfect for a horror story. The same way Joe feels closed in by his home and his family, we feel that same claustrophobic feeling. The saloon is brighter and lighter but filled with creepy characters. Even the dice seem menacing. For a horror story, Wiesner creates the perfect images. The pencil is very interesting and the first time I looked at it, the images seemed unfinished. There are lines that would have normally been removed in a more polished piece. But somehow that works to add just an element of eeriness to the story.

An interesting faustian tale of gambling and debts. I'm still not sure that this is a picture book for children. But for adults, it is a surprisingly creepy tale.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


My mother never read Eloise to us when we were children. It was only when I got older that I realized that this children's classic was missing. Considering the size of our library, this was a shocking omission. But after checking it out from the library, I think I may have figured out some reasons that my mother never bought the book. The story was wonderful but Eloise may not be my mother's idea of a good role model.

Kay Thompson's classic story starts with the simple line "I am Eloise. I am six." And from there our narrator takes off on her adventures. Eloise doesn't sit still, ever. If she's not tormenting the staff at the Plaza Hotel, where she lives, she's driving her nanny insane. This is a little girl whose idea of fun is pouring water down the mail shoot and drawing on the walls. She sneaks into weddings, crashes fancy parties, annoys her tutor, and tommy-knocks. She's a regular terror for parents. Sadly for the staff at the Plaza, hers aren't around.

My mother would have hated this character. Eloise is everything that my mother taught us not to be. She is wild and rude and free. And in that, lies her appeal. I've read tons of books with good sweet characters in them. Children who, although they don't always behave, are generally good. Eloise is not that. She's the unruly child that every child wants to be but doesn't get the chance to be. She lives a lifestyle that even now, seems desirable to me. I would love to be able to order room service for every meal and have a maid come in to clean up my house. Eloise has complete freedom and unlimited funds. How could any child not be envious? If I had read this story as a child I would have been entranced by her.

Reading the story as a grown-up makes a huge difference. I still envy some of Eloise's lifestyle but the adult in me bristles at her mischief. I feel sorry for the staff, the nanny, the tutor. I do love the rebellion of the character. The anti-hero of the children's world. I am fascinated and repulsed by this story. Perhaps it is because I was not that mischievous child. Perhaps it is because I've been an adult for too long and know the costs and frustrations involved. What I did love unabashedly about the book was the wonderful illustrations by Hilary Knight. Knight uses only a couple colors to create the world of the Plaza and its most famous resident. The entire story is told in black, white and pink. And somehow the images captures both the majesty of the hotel and the chaos that is Eloise.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the story. I like the characters, loved the hotel, envied the lifestyle, and enjoyed the madcap action. But a good part of me had my finger wagging and a tsk tsk on my lips. Love her or hate her, Eloise is a character all her own. And now I know why we never had this book at home.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Almost 50 years before Pixar introduced us to a tiny mouse who wanted to cook in Ratatouille, Eve Titus introduced the world to another culinary mouse named Anatole. Anatole, like his animated cousin lives in Paris and becomes unhappy with the idea of stealing food. The stories are similar which is not surprising. Eve Titus’ story of a mouse who wants to give back has stood the test of time and has just returned to print for its fiftieth anniversary edition.

The story starts with Anatole heading out for his nightly rounds of food stealing with his friend. The two go out every evening together to the take food from the houses of the people. One night Anatole overhears people talking about how terrible it the stealing is. He decides that he doesn’t want to steal food ever again. So the next night, Anatole leaves his friend behind and instead sneaks to a cheese factory in the city. He samples each of the cheeses and then heads home with an idea. He writes up little cards and then returns to the factory that night. He samples the cheeses and offers suggestions for how to improve them. The factory take his suggestions seriously and suddenly their sales start going up rapidly. The factory owner tries hard to meet Anatole to thank him for the new success. When Anatole refuses to meet them he gives the mouse a job as official taster with the perk of getting to bring home as much cheese as he wants. And Anatole never has to steal cheese again.

The story is such a quiet endearing little tale that I’m not surprised that it has stood the test of time. The character of Anatole, with his little beret and bicycle, is charming and grown-up in a way that is unusual as a children’s story. It seems such a grown-up story and theme. Titus is clearly not talking down to her audience. She uses language that is more adult than what we often see in children’s books. One of my favorite exchanges between Anatole and his friend Gaston illustrates this well. “It is horrible to feel scorned and unwanted! Where is my self-respect? My pride? My honor?” Gaston shrugged his shoulders indifferently. “Resign yourself, Anatole. Cest la vie!” Using this more advanced language, Titus creates characters that are intelligent and likable. Paul Galdrone, the illustrator, creates wonderful scenes really bringing the little mouse and his Paris to life. The illustrations are mix of black and white drawings, watercolor images, and full paint washes. The colors are deep and subdued (often blues) making this story sweet and quiet. In fact, this had to be one of the most quiet, thoughtful, and intelligent children’s stories I’ve read in a long time.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

While Mama Had a Quick Little Chat

I love finding fun little books that I wasn't expecting. I love picking up some random book at the library and being completely enchanted by it. That was definitely the case with While Mama Had a Quick Little Chat by Amy Reichert and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. I picked up the book on a whim and it has become my favorite read for the week. Not often do I find a story that mixes such a funny adorable story with elegant colorful illustrations. This book was wonderful, through and through.

The story, which is told in rhyme, starts when Mama gets a call from Uncle Fred and asks Rose to get herself ready for bed. Rose is just set to comply when the doorbell rings. It is some men with party supplies. Rose insists that there is no party at her house but lets them in anyway. They decorate the hall, much to Rose's protests. She tries to get her mother off the phone to help but she continues to tell her, just a couple more minutes. Then the party guests arrive. Rose is unsure what to do but greets all of the guests and tries to make them welcome after her mother tells her to try her best (thinking she's getting ready for bed). Then the band starts to play and a wizard does party tricks until Mama finally says that she's getting off the phone. Rose hurries the guests out and manages to get herself tucked into bed just in time. The book, just like each other page, ends with the line. "It's hard to believe, but Rose did ALL that, before Mama finished her quick little chat."

The story and wording of this book are silly and funny and make a wonderful read-aloud. The character of Rose is sweet, trying so hard to be obedient, but still playing a good hostess. She wants so much to make her mother proud and be ready for bed, even with all the distractions. She's not like other characters I've seen who revel in the chaos. Rose does the best she can. Her mother is shown regularly in different positions as she talks on the phone. She is constantly telling Rose to leave her alone as Rose tries to turn her attention to the party in the foyer. The rhymes are not simply descriptive but mix great dialogue into instruction. I loved her use of rhyme in dialogue. This was one of my favorites:

Then waiters rushed in with trays of hors d'oeuvres.
They handed Rose one and said "Please help us serve"
"There's no party!" cried Rose. "There's no need for food!"
"Feed your guests," they insisted. "You mustn't be rude!"

The rhymes were so much fun that I ended up reading the book several times to pick up on all the wording nuances. Reichert's story is full of wonderful dialogue, enjoyable rhymes, and great miscommunications.

Boiger's pictures are beautifully colored with a hint of sophistication. There is something very dressed up about the characters which makes me think of the early 20s. The fashions of the party guests are elegant, furs and hats and fringes. The images go from a simple house and our introduction to both mother and daughter, to a chaotic ballroom with color everywhere. There is an interesting mix between pages. Spreads with only mother and daughter are filled with white space and very simple. The spreads with the party are often full pages of color and detail. We see the difference between the simple tasks that Rose is expected to do (and her mother's never-ending call) and the chaos that is going on throughout the rest of the house. There is a touch of cartoon to the images but with tons of details. Rose is well captured with her red hair and her white dress. She's a model of innocent while her mother is a picture of flighty and distraction. Boiger makes each character shine with little touches for all. Visually simple but elegant.

This was my favorite story of the ones I picked out this week and I was so shocked since I checked it out on a whim. The story is lighthearted and funny and children will love it as a bedtime read. The illustrations are glamorous and overall I was charmed by this story. I'll be picking this one up for sure.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Punk Farm

About a year ago, I somehow landed on Jarrett Krosoczka's website, liked his art style, and started reading his blog regularly. This was before I had read any of the books he had out. Over the last year I've been slowly collecting his work, from Max For President to Bubble Bath Pirates to Baghead. He has two new graphic novels coming out right now (the Lunch Lady series) and I'm so excited to get my hands on those. But somehow, through all of my adoration of his work, I've managed to not read his most popular story, Punk Farm. So when I was at the library this week, I noticed it was checked in (finally!!) and picked it up.

Punk Farm starts out like any other farm story. We see the hardworking farmer toiling happily amid his farm animals. But when the day is done, the story changes. Farmer Joe goes to his home, and the farm animals whip out guitars, drums, and microphones to put on a great concert. Farm animals from all over come in to see their favorite band play. And of course what song do they play? Old McDonald of course. Pig is on guitar, Cow is on drums, Goat is on bass, Chicken is on keyboards, and Sheep does vocals. These guys are the coolest animals in the barnyard.

It is impossible for me to describe this book without words like high-energy and excitement. Like any good punk song, this book is really high energy with a bit of an edge thrown in. Krosoczka uses a bright palette that makes each illustration pop of the page. The illustrations, which are painted, seem to go from very defined and somewhat subdued, when the farmer is around, to chaotic and blurred during the concert. I love how Krosoczka treats the book as almost a documentary about the band. We see them getting ready for the show and watch the crowd streaming in. The first time I read it, the book seemed almost like an animal homage to "This is Spinal Tap". Cleverly done.

Krosoczka seems to have a ton of fun with the story. The lyrics are creatively changed so that the moos and clucks of the standard song are replaced by keyboard and drum sounds. He throws in a ton of fun little side jokes like the sheep waiting to buy tickets with a hat that says "Obey". I loved the "Thank You Wisconsin" thrown out at the end of the set which just reminds me of "In the Street". Even the little thank you note from the band at the end is a clever dedication from Jarrett.

This would be a great read aloud book for kids, who will particularly like the song. Adults will enjoy the little inside jokes and the general energy of the book. This is one of the more high-octane books I've read in a while. The animals have a celebrity status that adults will chuckle at. Kids will just find the band cool. The band's number one song can be downloaded from Jarrett's website and the book has been optioned as a possible film. I can see why it's so popular. This book was quirky and fun and energizing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Rules for Nonreaders

This was originally posted in January 2009 on Ancora Imparo but I figured it fit better over here.

The previous library I worked in subscribed to the Horn Book. The Horn Book is a children's literature review magazine. It covers hundreds of children's books in each edition giving out stars to the best enjoyed titles. When we would weed out the collection I would go through each issue looking for books that looked interested or good articles. It was in the March/April 2001 issue that I found the "Rules for Raising a Nonreader" and I knew I had to pull out that list. My parents had raised me (and all my brothers and sisters) as readers and I'm happy to say they never did any of the things on this list.

I've been something of a nonreader recently in that I haven't been working on a book every night. I read every couple of days and for me that seems almost scandelous. But I have friends who don't have books in their house. (unfathomable for me) Whose kids never pick up a book for fun. Last year a U.S.A. Today poll found that one in four people had not read a single book in the previous year. I get testy if it's been more than five days since I last read for fun.

So without further ado, here is the way to make sure your child grows up as a non-reader. Remember people, that TV's not going to watch itself.

1. Never read where your children see you
2. Put a TV or a computer in every room. Don't neglect kitchen or bathrooms.
3. Correct your child every time he or she mispronounces a word.
4. Schedule activites every day after school so your child will never be bored.
5. Once your child can read independently, toss out the picture books. They're for babies.
6. Don't play board games together. Too dull.
7. Give little rewards for reading. Stickers and plastic toys are nice. Money is better.
8. Don't expect your child to enjoy reading. Kid's books are for teaching vocabulary, proper study skills, and good morals.
9. Buy only 40 watt bulbs for your lamps.
10. Under no circumstances read your child the same book over and over. He or she heard it once and should remember it.
11. Never allow your child to listen to books on tape; that's cheating.
12. Make sure your kids only read books that are "challenging". Easy books are a complete waste of time. That goes double for comic books and Mad magazine.
13. Absolutely, positively, no reading in bed.

Unlucky Arithmetic: Thirteen Ways to Raise a Nonreader. Dean Schneider and Robin Smith. The Horn Book, March/April 2001.

I can remember whole days spent lounging on some sofa reading. My parents encouraged us to read and read to us (normally the same books over and over) from the time we were very small. Mom would read picture books to us so many times we would easily have them memorized. Dad read the chapter books to us in the evenings. And once we were old enough to read for ourselves, we devoured every book we could get our hands on. I continue to read picture books (no they're not for babies) and young adult chapter books. I read fiction and nonfiction and almost any genre out there. I will pick up whatever book is handy if I'm waiting somewhere with nothing to do. Reading for me is like breathing. I can't go too long without it. I'm a librarian because I love to read. And I love to read because my parents raised us as readers. Thanks.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tickets to Ride

There are times in my life that I have picked up children's books without having read reviews, without word of mouth recommendations, and knowing nothing of the author. I have bought them on a whim, drawn by some sort of force. Once or twice I've been disappointed but most of the time I'm always pleased and surprised by how good they are. I bought Tickets to Ride by Mark Rogalski on a whim. I saw the gorgeous cover, actually not the one above but an equally wonderful one. (I'll see if I can find an image.) I took the book home, not even opening the cover, because it was a bad day and I wanted to be surprised by it. Plus some bad days are greatly improved by buying a book. This book blew any other random purchase away. It easily became one of the prettiest picture books on my shelves.

This book is a visual feast. I mention the cover, which is unique in itself. Rogalski produced four different covers for the book based on four different page spreads. The book's full title is Tickets To Ride: An Alphabetic Amusement and it is a carnival romp through the alphabet with some of the most beautiful and strange rides ever imagined. Each ride is animal themed, like the Zebra Zepplin which graces the cover above, or the Bear shaped Bumper-Car. Each spread has one page covered with glorious illustration and the other half is covered with a rhyming verse about the ride. We are taken from the amusement park entrance all the way through the last ride, and a beautifully illustrated map of the park.

I can't even begin to say how incredible Rogalski's illustrations are. These whimsical creations are odd, sweet, and so much fun. The text that goes with them is bouncy but I was completely absorbed in the paintings. It was only when I got to the end that I discovered another secret of the book. Within each illustration is a number, 1-26, which diligent readers must go back and find. There is also, hidden within each page, a little robotic duck. Like the very popular I Spy series I loved going back through to find the duck and the number. Particularly since it allowed me to spend even more time with the strange and wonderful ride creations. This book is a illustrators dream. When looking into writing this I stopped by Rogalski's website, linked above, and noticed that he has another book called Dream Machines. Guess I'll be making a trip to the bookstore again tonight. Another beauty to grace my shelves.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bently & Egg

I want to start by saying that I love me some William Joyce. I remember the first book of his I ever picked up (A Day With Wilbur Robinson). I picked it up at the bookstore because I had been intriqued by the cover, (how can you not be?) and bought it that afternoon. Then I tried to hunt down the rest of his work. I love his zany sense of style, his detailed and bright illustrations, and his odd and fun stories. One of the great, and frustrating things, about having a favorite author is that there are very few stories of theirs you have never read. I finally found the last of Joyce's this past week.

Bently and Egg is the story of Bently, a rather lonely frog, who loves to paint and sing. He claims to have only one friend, a duck named Kack Kack. When Kack Kack lays an egg, Bently is jealous of the attention it gets. So when Kack leaves Bently to egg-sit, Bently decides to paint the egg to make it less boring. A little boy, mistaking the duck egg for an Easter egg, runs off with it. Bently follows the boy to attempt to get the egg back. During his journey he runs into a stuffed elephant abandoned in the garden, a little girl who is feeling ill, and a series to transportation problems. When he finally returns the egg to its spot, he is so exhausted that he falls asleep. When he wakes up the egg is gone, but it has hatched. Various friends tell Kack Kack of the adventure that Bently has been on to save the egg and he, her and the new chick become good friends.

Unlike so many of Joyce's books, the illustrations in this book are done in a soft palette of pastels. Colors are muted, giving the book a very gentle feeling. And despite the constant adventure of the book, this story seemed tame and grown-up to me. That is not said as a complaint. Instead the illustrations and the story combine to create a more touching story than Joyce's normal zaniness. Bently seems like a grown-up and I found him to be a character I identified with quite a bit. He is painted with a little vest and spectacles which make him seem practical, smart, old-fashioned, and sometimes a little grumpy. Kack Kack on the other hand seems much more frivolous but sweet.

One of the greatest parts of this book are the little songs that Bently sings, first to Kack Kack and then to the egg. As he grows to love the egg, the songs become shows of affection for him. What struck me about them is not that he sings but the wordings to the songs. Joyce uses words that we don't often hear in regular society. He always starts the songs for the egg by addressing it as an unusual name. Here is an example of a song when Bently is trying to sail the egg back. 

Oh, sailin' egg, mast-mainin' egg,
Our travels have been whirligig.
I sail us to your mother, who
Sits at home and years for --" 

I love how Joyce uses words like whirligig and mast-maining. This goes back to my idea about Bently being a bit old-fashioned. It is a wonderful touch to a sweet book. I enjoyed the action but the character of Bently and his changing relationship with the egg were what made this a wonderful book for me. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


When I was younger my parents took me to the ballet occasionally. We saw standards like the Nutcracker but we also saw plenty of other shows including a very intriguingly done Macbeth. Because of that early introduction, I've always loved the ballet. Much like the main character in Honk!: The Story of a Prima Swanerina by Pamela Duncan Edwards. Of course the main character happens to be a swan.

The story follows Mimi who happens to be flying by the Opera Hall when she spies a ballet in progress. Mimi falls in love with the graceful figures and the dances. She practices at her pond, trying to get the steps right. And then she decides that she should go see another performance. She tries to walk in to the Opera House but is turned away by the manager with the words "No swans in the Opera House!" Mimi tries other ways to sneak in to see the performance but her Honk always gives her away. Finally, as she is about to give up, a late ballerina shows up at the backstage door. Mimi follows her in and takes a place in the lineup of dancers. As the ballerinas and one swan go on stage, Mimi dances all the steps she knows. Luckily the ballet is Swan Lake and audience loves her. She is invited back to perform again the next night.

This is a cute little story about ballet and dedication with a good deal of silliness tucked in. Children will love all the clever ways Mimi tries to sneak into the opera house. I love the random honks that give the swan away. And of course the irony of the ballet being Swan Lake. The focus is more on Mimi than on the ballet itself although the book goes through many of the classic positions of the ballet early in the book. I love how Mimi seems so matter of fact about her going to see the ballet. There is no doubt in her mind that she should be allowed in. Her self-assurance and determination make her a surprising character. Those are not normally attributes given to swans.

Henry Cole provides the illustrations for the book and they are downright beautiful. The soft images seem have a good deal of color and warmth. There is something fuzzy about the images which reminds me of old color films. There seems to be a nostalgic quality to the images to remind us that people used to go to the ballet regularly. The ballerina's dresses and the soft feathers of the swan seem very similar and stand out well against the dark outfits of the manager and the others attending. I enjoyed the colors of the pieces but it was the softness of the images that made them stand out for me. A beautiful book.

Monday, August 3, 2009

What's Under the Bed?

I've already admitted many times that I regularly judge a book by its cover. I'm more likely to check out a book if the cover appeals to me. So when I saw the little boy on the cover of Joe Fenton's What's Under the Bed? I knew I had to check the book out. How can you possibly resist those huge glasses, small eyes, worried expression, and adorable teddy bear?

This cute little story is simple but illustrated with an eye towards the adorable and strange. The majority of spreads are in black, white, and shades of grey. But each of them have a speck of color in them to draw attention. Whether it is Fred's (the narrator) blue striped pajamas, or a monster's huge red head, the color draws our attention. The simple story is told in rhyme (apparently I had a theme for the week since most of my books rhymed, unintentional I assure you). It tells the story of Fred, who is told to go to bed. Fred climbs into bed but then thinks he hears a sounds and starts to imagine the scary monsters that could be under his bed. He imagines them green or red, big or small, with sharp nails, or multiple tails. All this time he is seeing the terrible monsters of his imagination. When he finally does look it is only his teddy bear Ted.

This book is just adorable. Fred is cute with his gigantic head (and even bigger glasses), little body, and excellent expressions. We can see Fred's fear when he is about to look under the bed. He's simply terrified. I loved the roundness of the images. Fred, Ted, and even the bed are rounded, giving it a very visually appealing look for children. Even the monsters are somewhat circular. The monsters are well done to not be terrifying and will more likely make children giggle, then be afraid. These are not the scary monsters of monster movies but softer monsters like those found in Monsters Inc. The dark images heighten the suspense but the gentle roundness of the shapes seems to say that everything will be alright. The illustrations are very cartoony, making them more palatable to children who are easily frightened. The book isn't scary, in fact it's silly. This is a great book for children who are dealing with monsters under the bed. And a cute book for anyone else.

[Edit: What's Under the Bed was chosen for the General Mills book giveaway so you may be able to find little copies of the book tucked into your Cheerios and other cereals. I know those spots were very hotly competed for, so my Congratulations to Joe.]

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Grumpy Bird

Last week Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (a must read children's book blog) did a column on Jeremy Tankard. His new book Boo Hoo Bird was released recently and they were talking about how wonderful the new book was. I liked the look of Tankard’s artwork, with its deep brushstrokes and bright colors. So when they mentioned his previous Bird book I had to go pick it up. Grumpy Bird has the same great colors, unique backgrounds, and fun characters. But it also has something else, a fun story.

The story follows Bird who wakes up grumpy. He’s too grumpy to eat or even to fly. So he decides to walk. As he’s grumpily walking he passes each of his forest friends who decide that walking would be fun. They don’t even mind Bird’s sarcastic and angry responses to them. They just keep walking along behind him. Finally Bird realizes what they are doing. He stops and the play games. Bird forgets that he is grumpy and everyone eventually has a good time. The story is simple, but the dialogue was surprising for a children’s book. Bird is not always nice and sometimes snaps at his friends. And I found that incredibly refreshing. Children will love the repetition of the animal’s question “what are you doing?” and will enjoy seeing what Birds response is.

If the words are fun, the images are just fantastic. Tankard mixes photographs, broad brush strokes, bright colors, and simplistic but adorable characters. Bird in all his grumpiness is very cute. The other animals are sweet looking and done with minimal lines. Raccoon is defined with his mask and ringed tail. Fox looked a little like a cat except he is red. But somehow the simple characters make everything that much sweeter. Even Bird. The backgrounds are some of the most unique I have ever seen. Tankard uses photographs for the far background with painted brush strokes over the top. Close items, like bushes or trees, are heavy ink and very simply done. On top of all this is a wash of color that is almost startling. Tankard uses oranges, yellows, greens, and browns for each of the pages and these are almost always bright. With the bright backgrounds, the red, blue, white, brown, and orange characters stand out well particularly since the characters are outlined in black. This kind of art is fantastic, producing sweetness and brightness for a grumpy subject. The mixed media is inspired and I’m truly in love with Tankard’s style.

This is an adorable book that any child would be sure to love. I found myself going back again and again to enjoy the artwork. I was constantly missing little details that I would find later. A brilliant book, both in subject and artwork. I look forward to checking out Boo Hoo Bird as soon as possible. Grumpy Bird left me anything but grumpy.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Dimity Duck

I’m going to have my children’s book lover card revoked for this admission but here goes; I’d never read a Jane Yolen before. I’m not sure how I could have gotten to this age without having read one of her books. She’s only written over 250. So when I saw the adorable duck on the front of Dimity Duck I figured I would start with that one. I’m so glad I did. I’ll be picking up more of Ms. Yolen’s books.

Dimity Duck is an adorable story that makes me wish I had half of Jane Yolen’s talent with words. I was hooked from this line, “Dimity Duck waddles, she toddles out of bed. Niddy-Noddy goes her tail and Quack! goes her head.” I’m not sure what niddy-noddy means but I love the Quack goes her head part. And this is not the first word that Yolen invents. They are mixed throughout the book. She uses nonsense words to spice up simple rhymes. Words like frithy-frothy drips may not be an actual term, but they create a great impression. These are words that drip off the tongue. The rhyme scheme took a little getting used to when I first started the book but once I read the book aloud the rhythm made sense. This is a wonderful silly story that delighted me.

The illustrations by Sebastien Braun are cute, soft, cuddly, and bright. They are perfect illustrations for young children who will love the adorable duck and her cute frog friend. Braun paints Dimity with softness and adorable colors. This is a character that shows her emotions on its face. The design for the book was wonderful with lots of white spaces that give the reader time to enjoy the words and images. The onomatopoeia words are often in a different font and style as the rest of the words and almost jump off the page. The illustration work for this book is beautiful but it was the words in this book that made it amazingly cute.