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Posts Tagged ‘picture book’

When a Wolf is Hungry by Christine Naumann-Villemin and Kris Di Giacomo

Posted by Tracy Poff on July 6, 2017

How about another break from the long stream of science fiction? I’ve received a lovely children’s book, today: When a Wolf is Hungry, written by Christine Naumann-Villemin and illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo. It opens:

One Sunday morning, Edmond Bigsnout, lone wolf, left his home in the woods with a great big knife in his paw.

Edmond had a hankering for some rabbit.

Not just any ordinary cottontail, though. What he craved was a grain-fed, silky-haired rabbit, one with just a hint of sweetness. A city bunny.

Edmond finds an apartment building where a likely meal lives, but forgets his knife in the elevator (where it’s found by another resident of the building, who was in need of a knife). No matter, he thinks, and returns to his home, this time retrieving a chainsaw. But when he gets back to the apartment building, he encounters a bear who mistakes him for a new tenant, and just so happens to need a chainsaw. Edmond lends the bear his chainsaw and returns home for yet another tool… and so it goes.

Eventually, Edmond has provided all the necessary tools for a rooftop party. If you can’t beat them, join them, so Edmond moves to the city and becomes a vegetarian–and president of the Good Neighbor Association.

When a Wolf is Hungry a a fun little story. I think I’ve usually enjoyed stories with wolves–Walter the Wolf by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, or The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! by Jon Scieszka, for example–I wonder if there’s some connection? The art is very nice (you can see some more samples of it on the artist’s web site)–it reminds me of I Want My Hat Back, a bit–and the story is satisfying.

When a Wolf is Hungry was originally published in France in 2011, and will be published in English by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers on 2017-08-07. It is recommended for ages 4 to 8.

Disclosure: I received this book for free in exchange for a review.

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Wacky Wednesday by Theo. LeSieg & George Booth

Posted by Tracy Poff on April 1, 2014

WackyWednesday-cover

It all began with that shoe on the wall. A shoe on a wall . . . ? Shouldn’t be there at all!

Then I looked up. And I said, “Oh, MAN!”

And that’s how Wacky Wednesday began.

Dr. Seuss both wrote and illustrated his most famous works, but he did create a few books illustrated by others, usually using a pseudonym. He wrote Wacky Wednesday under the name Theo. LeSieg–his own name, Theodore Geisel, turned around. It was illustrated by George Booth.

Wacky Wednesday tells of one Wednesday when everything was wacky: shoes on the wall, bananas growing on an apple tree, worms chasing birds, and much more. Seuss’s text is very much secondary to Booth’s illustrations. The text of each two-page spread announces the number of things that are ‘wacky’ in the accompanying illustration, inviting the reader to find them all.

WackyWednesday-panorama

The number of wacky things in each scene increases as the book goes along, culminating in a final two-page spread with twenty wacky things:

“Only twenty things more will be wacky,” he said.

“Just find them and then you can go back to bed.”

The type of wackiness varies, exercising different skills: counting (how many wacky things have we found?), spelling (‘schoul’ is not the right way to spell ‘school’), domain knowledge (a portrait of Abraham Lincoln should not be labelled ‘George Washington’), and simple attention to detail (turtles do not belong atop trees!).

Wacky Wednesday is a great book that encourages participation from the reader. It’s appropriate for April Fool’s Day or any day.

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Children’s Books, Briefly: 2014-03-30

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 30, 2014

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

TrueStoryOfThe3LittlePigs-coverAn ALA Notable Book. Scieszka lets the wolf tell his own story in this fractured fairy tale. Alexander T. Wolf–who scurrilous media reports have dubbed “the Big Bad Wolf”–isn’t such a bad guy. He just wanted to borrow a cup of sugar from his neighbors, the pigs, but was overcome by a terrible sneezing cold. An amusing take on the story, with excellent illustrations. This book was the first of many collaborations between Scieszka and Smith.

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

BlueberriesForSal-coverA Caldecott Honor Book. Sal and her mother go out to pick blueberries to store for the winter. A bear cub and its mother have the same idea, and the mothers and children get mixed up. Excellent line art and a cute story. The parallel between the bears storing up fat for the winter and the humans preserving blueberries is a good one, and their actions, too, parallel one another satisfyingly.

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Children’s Books, Briefly: 2014-03-27

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 27, 2014

Arthur Goes to Camp by Marc Brown

ArthurGoesToCamp-coverThe fifth Arthur book. The art has continued to evolve, and by this point Arthur should look quite familiar to viewers of the TV series. The story is that Arthur goes to camp, is sure that he will hate it–does hate it–but, in the end, he accidentally wins a scavenger hunt for his team, and decides he loves camp. It’s meant to be funny, I guess, but it doesn’t work for me, and the story’s not very interesting. Much boys vs. girls, followed by a new antagonist: an entire camp of villains. Not to my taste.

Arthur’s Halloween by Marc Brown

ArthursHalloween-coverThe sixth Arthur book. Halloween themed, obviously, with a rather tired ‘old lady who isn’t actually a witch, gasp!’ plot. Plenty of Arthur being afraid of his shadow, though he does overcome his fear to go after his sister, which is a point in his favor. Most of these books, so far, are about Arthur being afraid or otherwise insecure. Is that what the series is all about? It’d be nice if Arthur could occasionally be a bit more straightforwardly admirable.

Arthur’s April Fool by Marc Brown

ArthursAprilFool-coverThe seventh Arthur book. Another holiday themed book, and we’re not done with those yet. Arthur must deal with a bully while preparing for the April Fool’s assembly. He’s very nervous, but in the end, he manages to play a trick or two on the bully. It’s unfortunate that none of the adults around Arthur, including those aware of the bullying, do anything to help, but I expect that’s more truth in fiction than anything. Rather average book.

Arthur’s Thanksgiving by Marc Brown

ArthursThanksgiving-coverThe eighth Arthur book. Arthur is put in charge of the Thanksgiving play. Arthur’s friends are extra nice to him, to be sure they get the parts they want. This is nice, until Arthur realizes that nobody wants to play the turkey–and he can’t have a play called The Big Turkey Hunt without a turkey! I was expecting a lesson about leadership, or standing up to your friends, or something, but in the end Arthur just plays the turkey himself, and his friends are kind enough to join him in his embarrassment. Disappointing. Another average book.

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Children’s Books, Briefly: 2014-03-23

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 23, 2014

I had never read any of Marc Brown’s Arthur books before, so I’ve been catching up a bit. They’re not bad. The artwork really evolves over the first few books, and from the covers of later books I’m guessing that trend continues. Should be interesting to see how the books go, over the years.

Arthur’s Nose by Marc Brown

ArthursNose-cover

The first entry in the venerable Arthur series. Arthur is teased because of his nose, and considers rhinoplasty, but ultimately decides that he’s fine just as he is. Not too bad art, decent message. The highlight is Arthur trying on various other animals’ noses to see which he likes. Not a bad book, but the series does improve.

Arthur’s Eyes by Marc Brown

ArthursEyes-coverSecond Arthur book. Arthur needs glasses, and is teased because of them. Eventually he learns that they are very helpful, and don’t look so bad after all. Better art than the previous book, and generally improved.

Arthur’s Valentine by Marc Brown

ArthursValentine-coverThird Arthur book. Nice art, and this one even has a real story. Francine is secretly sending Arthur valentines, but Arthur hopes it might be the new girl, Sue Ellen, sending them. Francine has teased Arthur in the previous books, and he gets her back with a little trick, once he discovers that she is his secret admirer. This is the best Arthur book so far.

Arthur and the True Francine by Marc Brown

ArthurAndTheTrueFrancine-coverThe fourth Arthur book, though he scarcely appears. This time, Francine is in the spotlight. It’s nice to see her get a positive showing, here. The moral is that honesty is the best policy, but I’m not sure I agree with the book’s position that Francine shouldn’t reveal when her friend is lying. Loyalty is one thing, but… anyway, it’s still a pretty good book, though I liked Arthur’s Valentine a bit better.

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Children’s Books, Briefly: 2014-03-21

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 21, 2014

More brief reviews.

Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins

Rosie'sWalk-coverA great use of medium. The text is a single sentence, describing Rosie the hen’s peaceful walk around the farm (“Rosie the hen went for a walk . . . and got back in time for dinner.”), but the illustrations tell a different story: the whole time, a fox is pursuing her, intent on getting his own dinner. Humorous mishaps keep stopping him, and eventually he’s chased off by a swarm of bees. The art is nice–red, orange, and yellow in the foreground and green in the background, usually with heavy borders, giving everything a sort of paper cutout look. Quite enjoyable.

Hey, Al by Arthur Yorinks

HeyAl-coverWinner of the 1987 Caldecott Medal. Al and his dog, Eddie, live in a tiny one-room apartment, and Eddie isn’t happy. They’re led by a large bird to a kind of paradise, but they begin to turn into birds themselves, so they escape and are happy with their old apartment. “Paradise lost is sometimes Heaven found.”

The art is cleverly fit into rectangles, with bits poking out at the edges. Extremely nice. There’s good emotional impact when Al believes he’s lost Eddie, too. An altogether very good book.

How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman

HowMyParentsLearnedToEat-coverI first read this years ago, in school. It’s a story of clashing cultures: an American sailor and a Japanese schoolgirl fall in love, and fear to eat with the other, not knowing how to use chopsticks (resp. a fork). This book isn’t bad, but I think most of my enjoyment was from nostalgia. The art is nice, but pretty flat, and the story boils down to “different cultures have different customs, but we shouldn’t be afraid to learn from each other”. Nothing really wrong with it, but this isn’t a book I’d want to re-read often.

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Children’s Books, Briefly: 2014-03-20

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 20, 2014

Here are some books for which I’ve only brief notes. Fuller reviews may follow, eventually.

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble

GirlWhoLovedWildHorses-coverWinner of the 1979 Caldecott Medal. I like the art in this; it’s got a pretty unique style. Oddly enough, it reminds me of the art in Meena. The story is okay, but I’d say the art is definitely its strong point.

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant

RelativesCame-coverA 1986 Caldecott honor book. Cute story. It’s got no conflict, just a mellow (but amusing) story of relatives from Virginia coming to visit. The art is rendered in colored pencil by Stephen Gammell, whose work I’m more familiar with from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The people share the characteristic ‘lumpiness’ of the illustrations from that book, but there’s nothing horrifying about these. Just lighthearted art in a palette heavy in greens and blues.

Boundless Grace by Mary Hoffman

BoundlessGrace-coverThis is the sequel to Amazing Grace, which I reviewed above (and enjoyed immensely!). I don’t think it’s quite the equal of its predecessor, but it’s still a strong book, telling a story about Grace’s relationship with her father, who has long since divorced her mother and lives in Africa.

Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber

IraSleepsOver-coverNice enough story. Ira’s invited to sleep over at his friend Reggie’s house, but is afraid he’ll be laughed at for sleeping with a teddy bear. It turns out that Reggie sleeps with a teddy bear–and was worried–too. The art is fitting and interesting.

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Chrysanthemum

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 20, 2014

When Chrysanthemum was born, her parents thought she was perfect, and wanted to give her the perfect name. Chrysanthemum loved her name. She loved everything about her name. Until the first day of school, that is. The others don’t love her name–it hardly even fits on her name tag! What will poor Chrysanthemum do?

Chrysanthemum-cover

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes is about dealing with bullying when you don’t quite fit in.

Chrysanthemum-1

Chrysanthemum loved her name.

She loved the way it sounded when her mother woke her up.

She loved the way it sounded when her father called her for dinner.

And she loved the way it sounded when she whispered it to herself in the bathroom mirror.

Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum.

Unfortunately, when Chrysanthemum went to her first day of school, she finds that the other children don’t share her high opinion of her name. “It’s so long“, says Jo. “You’re named after a flower!”, exclaims Victoria. Chrysanthemum is discouraged.

Chrysanthemum-2

Chrysanthemum’s parents reassure her that her name is beautiful–“and precious and priceless and fascinating and winsome”–just like she is. And the other children are simply jealous–“and envious and begrudging and discontented and jaundiced”. And who wouldn’t be jealous of a name like Chrysanthemum?

When the children tease Chrysanthemum during music class, Mrs. Twinkle, who they especially like, reveals that she, too is named after a flower–Delphinium Twinkle is her name. And she’s thinking of naming her child (if it’s a girl) Chrysanthemum as well.

Chrysanthemum could scarcely believe her ears.

She blushed.

She beamed.

She bloomed.

Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum.

Chrysanthemum has a fine story and a good lesson, supported by absolutely charming watercolor illustrations. It’s recommended for ages 4-8.

Henkes has also written a number of other picture books featuring mice, including Owen, a Caldecott Honor book.

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Mei Li

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 16, 2014

Mei Li wishes to go to the New Year Fair in the city, but little girls always have to stay home. Undaunted, she sneaks out to visit the city, following her brother. What adventures await?

MeiLi-cover

Thomas Handforth’s Mei Li is the winner of the 1939 Caldecott Medal. Unlike the previous winner, Animals of the BibleMei Li is a real picture book.

The story centers around a young Chinese girl, Mei Li, who is unsatisfied with remaining at home, while the New Year Fair is going on. “If I always stay at home,” she asks, “what can I be good for?” So off she goes to have adventures like her brother, San Yu. He wonders what a girl could do at the fair, but she bribes him to take her with him, all the same.

The fair is as exciting as Mei Li had hoped, and she shows her doubting brother all the things that a girl can do, at the fair. Looking at a group of circus performers, she tells him, “They can walk on stilts. They can balance on a tight-rope. They can throw pots and pans in the air with their feet. And so can I!”

Mei Li doesn’t juggle pots and pans with her feet, but she does ask a strong circus girl to lift her upside-down in the palm of her hand; she feeds a bear a bit of bean-cake; and she dances on the back of a circus pony. Later, a fortune teller predicts that Mei Li will rule over a kingdom–naturally, she believes him. Soon after, they must hurry home, so they will be in time to greet the Kitchen God.

When she returns home, Mei Li’s mother refers to her as “the princess who rules our hearts.” She is surely a princess, but what sort of kingdom will she rule over? That night, the Kitchen God explains:

“This house is your kingdom and palace. Within its walls all living things are your loyal, loving subjects.”

Mei Li sighed happily, “It will do for a while, anyway.”

Mei Li is based on Handforth’s experiences while living in China for six years, beginning in 1931, the characters and drawings are based on people he knew, and the titular heroine is based on Pu Mei Li, a four-year-old girl he met there. Much more information about this, including a photograph of the real Mei Li holding Handforth’s picture book, can be found in this article from The Horn Book Magazine by Kathleen Horning (who, coincidentally, wrote From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children’s Books, which I read almost exactly two years ago).

MeiLi-panorama

The illustrations are in ink, done with a brush, which Handforth felt better captured the spirit of China. Few of the illustrations feature any background, but the figures represented are generally very dynamic. The book does feature a number of two-page spreads, varying text positioning depending on the artwork. The illustrations depict the actual scenes in the book, making Mei Li much more of a ‘real’ picture book than its predecessor for the Caldecott Medal.

Mei Li has been criticized for sexism. Not without grounds: Mei Li is told that her ‘kingdom’ is the home, and the book ends with a poem extolling the virtues of a woman who keeps a good house:

This is the thrifty princess,
Whose house is always clean,
No dirt within her kingdom
Is ever to be seen.

Her food is fit
For a king to eat,
Her hair and clothes
Are always neat.

Furthermore, Mei Li is shown to be frightened of fireworks, allowing San Yu to set them off while she plugs her ears, and she gives her last lucky penny to San Yu to throw at a bell (for the promise of money all year), since she is sure that she could never hit it.

I think these criticisms are a little misguided; at least, they don’t look at the whole picture. Compare what Mei Li does at the fair to what San Yu does: while Mei Li balances upside down on a circus performer’s hand, San Yu dresses up as a wise man for a play; while Mei Li feeds a real bear a cake, to show her bravery, San Yu pretends to hunt a lion that is really two boys with a mask; Mei Li dances on the back of a prancing horse, after which San Yu throws her penny at a bell and goes off to buy a kite (a fake hawk, which he later uses to frighten Mei Li). Mei Li’s adventures at the fair are real, and San Yu’s are merely imaginary. Certainly it is Mei Li who comes off best in their little competition!

Too, Mei Li gives her first lucky penny to a beggar girl she meets when entering the city, and it’s that girl who holds the gates open so that she can leave the city and return home to greet the Kitchen God, “And even five policemen and five soldiers could not force her away until Mei Li was through the gate.” Not so easily cowed, this girl!

Finally, though the statement of the Kitchen God that the house is Mei Li’s kingdom may be reinforcing the domestic role of women, Mei Li responds that it will do “for a while, anyway”, which also means that eventually, it won’t be enough. And Handforth wrote, of the real Mei Li:

No Empress Dowager was ever more determined than she. A career is surely ordained for her, other than being the heroine of a children’s book.

Certainly some older children’s books do not stand the test of time, as cultural values march on (The Five Chinese Brothers or Shen of the Sea, both coincidentally also dealing with China, are examples of this, for different reasons), but I wouldn’t fear to recommend Mei Li.

Relatively little is to be found online about this book or its author. There is some other material from The Horn Book Magazine, linked above, including the magazine’s contemporary review of the book, written by Elizabeth Coatsworth, originally published in the July-August 1939 issue. The Art Institute of Chicago, The Smithsonian American Art Museum, and The Seattle Public Library Northwest Art Collection each provide a few samples of Handforth’s other art, including one picture which must (I think) have been the original model for a scene from Mei Li.

Altogether, I find Mei Li to be a much worthier recipient of the Caldecott Medal than its predecessor, and a good book, besides. I hope that the later recipients continue more in this vein!

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The Bully Goat Grim

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 15, 2014

A family of trolls, having a lie-in after a late-night rude noises contest, is awakened by a huge billy goat with a bad case of Random Hostility Syndrome. It stomps across their bridge, shouting “Beware, beware, the Bully Goat Grim! Nobody better not mess with him!” However will they get back to their peaceful existence?

BullyGoatGrim-cover

The Bully Goat Grim, written by Willy Claflin and illustrated by James Stimson, is a “Mother Moose Tale” loosely inspired by the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. In Claflin’s version, it’s the trolls living under the bridge who are the heroes, and the huge, mean goat who is the villain.

This goat, called Bully Goat Grim, is in the habit of finding unsuspecting woodland creatures, lowering his oversized head, and charging them. Soon enough, all the creatures around are in bandages and slings, hiding from Bully Goat Grim, so he takes out a map and heads for greener pastures.

BullyGoatGrim-panorama

On the way to said greener pastures is a bridge, under which lives a family of trolls: the mother with three heads, the father with two, and the daughter with only one. Bully Goat Grim makes a nuisance of himself, waking the family. The father gets into an argument with himself over how to deal with the situation, and ends up knocking himself out, and the mother discusses with herself until all three heads fall asleep, so it’s up to the baby troll to solve their problem.

The baby troll realizes (being very clever for such a young troll) that “Nobody better not mess with him!” is a double negative, which means that she should mess with Bully Goat Grim. So she finds a pillow and constructs herself a parachute, then taunts the goat into charging her. When he does–poof!–the pillow absorbs the blow and the baby troll gets a free air ride.

Before long, all the animals in the forest have adopted the baby troll’s idea.

Now there is nothing worse than having Random Hostility Syndrome and not being able to injure anybody. It was distremely depressing to the Bully Goat Grim, and so finally he just give up and slunk away. He slunk, and slunk, and slunk, until he was completely away.

The artwork in this book is very appealing. Not only are the illustrations funny, most are filled with interesting little details. When discussing what to do about the goat, for instance, the mother troll is eating Odin brand tyttebær syltetøy–Norwegian for lingonberry jam. Very appropriate, since the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff is originally Norwegian!

The writing is unusual, but funny. It’s got a lot of fake words (like ‘distremely’, above) sprinkled in, which the book explains is from the original story, told in the Moose language–the book’s conceit is that Claflin is merely translating the stories told to him by Maynard Moose–and the grammar is nonstandard. If the story is performed, rather than merely read, these will work well, but they’re a little distracting, when reading.

Willy Claflin is not only an author, but a singer and storyteller as well. With the aid of a number of hand puppets, he has performed full-time since 1983. For a sample, you can see him perform at the UMSL St. Louis Storytelling Festival 2012. The book comes with an audio CD recording of the story, though my review copy did not include this.

The Bully Goat Grim was published on August 1, 2012. It’s available in hardcover or as an e-book for the Kindle.

Disclosure: this review is based on an advance copy received free for review.

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