Monday, May 24, 2010

Bringing Down the Moon

Another moon book made its way into my pile of books to review and I thought that it would be fun to have it side by side with Kitten's First Full Moon. Bringing Down the Moon, written by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Vanessa Cabban, is similar in some ways to Henkes' book but there are more than enough difference to make this one another book that would make a perfect bedtime story.

Bringing Down the Moon follows Mole who burrows out of the ground one night to find the full moon hanging in the sky. It is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen and he decides that he wants it. He tries to jump to bring it down until Rabbit who sagely tells him that it's "not as close as is looks". Then he finds a stick and tries to poke it down until he runs into Hedgehog and she tells him the same thing. Then he starts throwing stones at the moon but hits Squirrel instead who also tells him that it's not as close as it looks. When Mole finally climbs a tree to grab the moon, he goes to far until the branch and falls down into a puddle. When he looks into the puddle he sees the reflection of the moon and tries to grab it. It ripples and at that moment a cloud goes over the moon. Mole begins to cry thinking he's broken it, until the other animals, hearing his cries, come to let him know that the moon is always in the sky and he can always look at it there.

I loved the repeated "It's not as close as it looks" which each animals says to Mole. At the end, as they all stare up at the big beautiful moon, Mole finally agrees with the statement and the story comes full circle. Jonathan Emmett plays with the language throughout the book making this a wonderful read-aloud. As Mole is jumping for the moon we hear "thumpety bump" and the stones make a plinkety plink when thrown. I loved the moment when Mole is explaining the troubles he has with the other animals. "'I'm all right,' sobbed Mole. 'But the moon isn't! I pulled it down, and then I broke it, and it was SO beautiful...and now I'll never see it again." I can just see a child saying the same thing while crying. The dialogue is just perfect with Mole playing the child, learning as he goes, and the other woodland creatures acting as the sage teachers and comforters. And of course the sweet ending will make everyone smile.

Vanessa Cabban's illustrations are simply beautiful. They are done in watercolor which gives everything a softer tone. She stays mostly with browns and blues and greens but the colors are subtle, creating the impression of nighttime. Where Henkes used black and white, the use of color makes this seems more child-like and softer. Most of the animals are brown like the dirt so Mole who is a purply-blue stands out even more clearly. He is adorable with his little snout and cute little hands and feet. All the animals are adorable. The images where Mole is up the tree and venturing out onto the branch has to be one of my favorites. Cabban portrays his cautiousness with a simple body pose. Beautiful illustrations, a cute story, and a sweet ending. A perfect bedtime story.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Kitten's First Full Moon

Time for a classic, well at least a modern classic. And a Caldecott winner. I had never read Kevin Henkes' very popular book Kitten's First Full Moon until this week. The book has become an instant classic since its publication and I figured I simply had to read it. I've loved Henkes' other work and was fully prepared for a wonderful story.

The book follows Kitten who sees a big bowl of milk in the sky (aka the moon) and decides she wants to drink it. She leaps from the steps to try to catch it but only tumbles onto the sidewalk. Then she follows it farther and farther away from the house trying to catch it. When she tries to climb to the top of the tree to grab it, she only ends up stuck and scared. But then she sees a gigantic bowl of milk in the pond (moon's reflection) and jumps for it. And of course ends up soaking wet. She heads back home still hungry and finds a small bowl of milk (this time actually milk) waiting for her on the porch.

This is such a simple but cute story. I'm sure I've heard the premise before but I love the mistakes that Kitten makes when trying to grab the moon. When she first sees the moon she sticks out her tongue to lick it and catches a lightening bug. It is the sweet humor and the repeated phrase of "Still, there was the little bowl of milk, just waiting", that makes you want to turn the page to see what new adventure the kitten will get into. I loved the repeated "Poor Kitten" that gets changed at the end after Kitten finds the milk. The wording is short, making for a very nice quick read aloud, a great bedtime story.

The illustrations are done in black and white with various shades of grey bordering on purple. Henkes uses thick black outlines for everything to make them stand out wonderfully against the different greys. The images are created using gouache and colored pencil but the lack of color is what I find so intriguing. It is rare to see a book in black, white, and grey anymore. But in this case it gives the impression of what things look like in the moonlight. Only various shades appear in the dark and this book mirrors that well. Henkes uses the moon's reflection on the little white cat very effectively with some sections of the cat in shadow. The shapes are simple, the flowers just little circles on stalks, the pond just big circle swirls to represent waves. The images, like the words, are simple and sweet. I loved this little adventure tale. Well worth a read.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Pete the Sheep-Sheep

I'm so excited to get a chance to talk about Pete the Sheep-Sheep, written by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whatley. I picked this book up from the library based entirely on the cover. Well that and the fact that I loved the duo's other book, Diary of a Wombat. So I knew I was in for a treat with this book. How can you not love a sheep in a fedora?

Everyone has heard of sheep-dogs, those helpful canines that keep a herd of sheep in line. And three Australian sheep-herders (Ratso, Big Bob, and Bungo) have typical sheep-dogs that do a great job keeping their herds in line. But the new guy is a bit different. Shaun doesn't have a sheep dog, he has a sheep-sheep. Pete the sheep-sheep to be exact. Pete herds the sheep by talking with them and being nice. And the sheep love him. After a while all the sheep are following Pete to Shaun to be sheared. Shaun does a wonderful job shearing and the animals become picky. The other sheep herders get angry and kick Shaun out of the group. So Shaun does what any other sheep shearer would do, he starts a sheep beauty salon. And after a while, all the sheep have left the herd and are going to the beauty salon for their cuts. And the herders are again out of a job. But Shaun is overworked and needs help. When the sheep-dogs head to the salon for a trim, the other herders realize where they need to be. Eventually they all end up giving haircuts to not just sheep but any animal interested in looking fabulous.

What I loved about this book is how it shows the values of politeness and hard work. Pete is such a fun character. His dialogue is polite and hilarious because of it. "'Baa Baa!' said Pete, which in sheep talk means, 'Thank you for waiting, sir. Shaun will be right with you.'" Sadly no one talks like that anymore, it seems like. That is compared with the other sheep-dogs which just bark and growl at the sheep. And Shaun is a wonderful shearer, willing to put in some extra work in order to make sure that the sheep are happy with their haircuts. And because of that politeness and the work that Shaun puts in, they quickly become the favorites. Shaun's Sheep Salon (and really the whole book) is such a wonderful silly story that children will be giggling all the way through it.

The illustrations are priceless. I love the little fedora on Pete and the funny expressions that the other sheep have. The image of the first customers in Shaun's Sheep Salon are hilarious, as are the haircuts. The story really plays with the idea of sheep shearing, making it something funny and silly rather than just a necessary function. All the sheep herders are wonderfully unique although I was getting flashbacks of the original illustrations from Fantastic Mr. Fox with the three farmers. The herders though are no where near as scary or mean. In fact everyone in the book, even the dogs, seem pretty amiable. Whatley uses soft colors and delicate lines to give this book a soft look. I love the mix of watercolors and colored pencils. This was such a cute story that I instantly fell in love. Each character is unique and the story is unlike anything I've ever read before. A wonderful tale.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Dog Who Belonged to No One

It is obvious from the cover alone that The Dog Who Belonged to No One, written by Amy Hest and illustrated by Amy Bates, is going to be adorable. Just the image of the smiling but scruffy looking dog tells you that this is one story that will tug at your heartstrings and make you go Awwww. The cover is not lying. This is one of the sweetest and cutest stories I've read in a while. I even got chocked up at the end.

The story alternates between the little dog that no one wanted and a little girl named Lia who makes deliveries for her baker parents. We see how the little dog tries to be helpful and friendly and how the girl works all day. Both the dog and the young girl are sweet and helpful but both are very lonely. The dog sleeps in the street and dreams of a warm porch. The little girl lays in bed and dreams of finding a friend. One night as a storm brews, the little girl races for home after her last delivery. At the same time a little dog is desperately trying to outrun the storm. And of course they both end up on the same porch, Lia's family's porch. After they both dry off, the girl and the dog become fast friends and they live happily ever after.

I'm sure that I've read this story before but I've never heard an adoption story told with such heart. The section about how the little dog tries to outrun the night because it doesn't want to be alone is just heartbreaking. The shared joy when they both, warm and dry, decide to adopt each other was enough to bring tears to my eyes. In fact, Hest manages to make us smile and cry numerous times in the book, which is impressive for a mere 32 pages. The story is told as alternating pages and it is only as we get close to the end that we see how the friends will finally meet up. There is a wonderful spread at the end where we can, through words and pictures, see how the two will come to the same spot and finally meet up. A sweet story, told well.

The illustration, by Amy Bates, are done with pencil and watercolor and are simply stunning. There is no other word to describe how beautiful and captivating the images are. I was completely in love with her depictions of the dog, which range from heartbreaking to cheery (a scene with the dog sleeping in an alley, made me tear up a little). It is the kind of depiction that would make anyone want to adopt this little dog. The setting, a small town in the late 1800s, is well captured. Little details like the storefronts and the costumes make it very believable. Bates uses a fall palette and mixes in some leaves to make it seem like winter is just around the corner for both of these characters. Bates manages to mix absolute adorableness with surprisingly detailed.

It is rare to find a book that tugs at the heartstrings quite as much as this one has done. I was in love with the dog and the girl from the beginning. And although I could see how it would end from the very start of the book, the beauty and the sweetness of the story made the journey more than worth it. One of my new favorite books. I'll be picking this one up immediately.