Everyone knows that books make great gifts, just like everyone knows that there is the right book for the right person out there somewhere. Over the last few months I have been accumulating a small pile of books that are not your typical picture or chapter book but definitely perfect for gift giving. I hope you find something special for all of your bibliophiles as I spend the next month reviewing books you will be happy to give or receive.
Before I say anything about the paperback edition of The Cat on the Mat is Flat, I need to thank Andy Griffiths, Terry Denton and, most of all, the geniuses at Square Fish an imprint of Macmillan Publishers, for this unique book. I have been waiting for a book like this for years now, and here it is! What kind of book is it? It is an easy-to-read, first grade level book that LOOKS like an higher level chapter book as opposed to the raft of large format beginning reader books that kids reading at this level are relegated to. As a book seller I have noticed that new readers, especially those who have older siblings, want to read a book that looks like what the big kids are reading. Until now, there was almost nothing that fit this bill. The Andy Shane series by Jennifer Richard Jacobsen, illustrations by Abby Carter, is the only representative (I have come across thus far) of a first grade reading level book that looks like a Magic Tree House or Junie B Jones book in presentation.
Although I gave this book a first grade reading level, I am confident that The Cat on the Mat is Flat can be read by a kindergardener by the end of the school year. In the tradition of Dr Seuss, this book is one long rhyme and is broken into 9 chapters. In each chapter, the majority of the words end with the same sound, such as og, at, ed, uck, il, and so on. As Pat Leach describes The Cat on the Mat is Flat in her review for the School Library Journal, "Imagine the outcome if Dr Seuss, Dav Pilkey and Lane Smith were locked in a room until they came up with a book for beginning or reluctant readers." The rhyming stories definitely have the antic feel of a book by any one of these authors and the rhymes themselves sometimes mimic those from Suess's books, though never resorting to the use of nonsense words to make a rhyme or sheer absurdity as Seuss often does. The stories are all very funny, as anyone familiar with any of Andy Griffith's other books for young readers will expect, and they all have a small amount of cartoon violence. The cat of the title story becomes flat because the rat, tired of being harassed, finds a baseball bat and gets revenge. The final story in the book, "Andy G, Terry D, the Brave Tea Lady and the Evil Bee," finds the author and illustrator (the initials of their last names conveniently rhyming with "tea" and "bee") as characters in their own book. This book is great fun, but, more than that, it will give any new reader, especially those who are competitive, a great sense of accomplishment along with a good laugh.
The dynamic duo's second book, The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow is just out in hardcover!
Author Bonny Becker and illustrator Katy MacDonald Denton introduced us to grumpy a Bear and a persistent Mouse in A Visitor for Bear, a picture book published in 2008 and winner of many awards, including the prestigious E.B. White Award given by the Association of Booksellers for Children. Bear and Mouse are back, proving that picture books can often make great reading primers as well. A Birthday for Bear is part of the excellent new beginning to read series, Candlewick Sparks, which includes the wonderful foxes, Zelda & Ivy, as well as my cat and dog favorites, Houndsley and Catina.
In A Visitor for Bear, the stage is set for the give and take that plays out again in A Birthday for Bear. Bear is a solitary sort who does not want company. Mouse is cold and hungry and only wants a spot of tea. Popping up in the most surprising places, Mouse manages to wear Bear down, agreeing to leave as soon as he has had one cup. When Mouse keeps his promise, Bear finds himself unwilling to let his visitor leave so quickly and a friendship is born. However, this doesn't mean Bear is no longer a grump. In A Birthday for Bear Mouse is back and looking for a party. How he gets his way and how he makes Bear smile is guaranteed to make readers smile also. There is the repetition of words and visual clues familiar to beginning to read books, but all of the books in the Candlewick Sparks series feel like something more. The illustrations are rich and detailed, worthy of any picture book, unlike most beginning to read books which tend to have very basic illustrations. Although not done in a comic book format, visually A Birthday for Bear has everything the marvelous TOON Books have to offer.
Tedd Arnold is the author and illustrator of two of my favorite bedtime books to read out loud, No More Water in the Tub and No More Jumping on the Bed. His plausible but ultimately fanciful stories (I know that I definitely thought there was a chance I could crash through to the downstairs when I jumped on my bed as a kid) colorful illustrations and great character names (Patty Fuzzle who was doing a puzzle) have made these books a staple in my house and at the bookstore when I do story time. Add to these the hilarious (maybe a bit more so for parent than kids) Parts, More Parts and Even More Parts in which an uninformed child thinks that belly button fluff is his stuffing coming out and boogers are his brain leaking out through his nose - really, these books are more funny than gross, I swear - and so on, and you have very respectable contribution to the world of picture books. To top it off, Arnold has a very unique illustration style that gives depth to his sometimes cartoonish characters. I always wondered how he achieved this detail which, for lack of a more eloquent word, can be described as scribbles. A visit to his website provided a step-by-step view of his intensive illustration process and an answer to the scribble question!
In 2005 Tedd Arnold began writing a series for beginning readers that has since become hugely popular. In 2006, Hi! Fly Guy, the first book in the series, was given the Theodore Geisel Award honor award the year that the Amercian Library Association first gave out the award. This award recognizes literary and artistic achievements that demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading and is sort of the Caldecott award for beginning reader books. The Fly Guy books are broken into chapters but are shorter and easier to read than than the Frog and Toad or Poppleton books. These are genuinely first grade reading level books that are interesting and funny.
The premise of the Fly Guy books is simple but bottomless when it comes to silly situations. In the first book, a boy named Buzz goes hunting for a pet to enter into the "Best Pet" competition. He inadvertently captures a fly and is about to release him because he is not a good pet when the fly says, "Buzz." Convinced that the fly can say his name and is therefore a very smart pet, Buzz takes him home. His parents try to convince Buzz that a fly is a PEST not a PET, but Fly Guy proves his intelligence once again. The same thing happens at the Pet Show where the judges must admit that Buzz is a pet, not a pest and he is awarded the "Smartest Pet" prize. Visual humor and a tiny bit of the "ick" factor abound in these books. One of my favorite pictures from the first book is when Buzz feeds Fly Guy. He takes a whole hot dog, bun, mustard and all, and shoves it into the jar where he has been keeping Fly Guy, who is ecstatic.
Other Fly Guy adventures include playing hide-and-seek in a garbage can, visiting the lunchroom at Buzz's school, going out for the football team, tagging along on a family road trip and, yes, being swallowed by an old lady - in this case, Buzz's grandma. Some of the books in this series are available in paperback, however, the hardcover Scholastic editions are a pretty reasonable $5.99.
Ok. I'll be honest. I am jealous of Mo Willem's talent. And sense of humor. And his illustration skills. I tell you that now to preface anything negative I may blurt out at any point during this review. He has a HUGE following of devoted parents and children and, while I don't always share their level of devotion, I do get it and I do think that it is deserved. I jumped on board the bus when Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale came out in 2004, the year my youngest son was born, and we loved (and love) that book to bits. I cheered when it won the Newbery Honor. I don't find the Pigeon books quite as funny as every child I know, mostly because these books are bit difficult to read out loud and require quite a lot of acting on the reader's part to really do them justice and I am not always up for that.
Possibly because of my luke-warm feelings for Pigeon, I did not immediately embrace the first few Elephant & Piggie books to hit the shelves in 2007. I read them at story time at the bookstore and to my son at home but was a bit underwhelmed by them overall. Also, I was put off by the price of the books - $8.99 for what essentially is a beginning reader book, the majority of which are published in paperback and cost $3.99. In the two years since their arrival, I have had the chance to read more Elephant & Piggie books, both at home and at work, and have come to appreciate them on many levels, although I still wish they would come out in paperback, thus making them more widely accessible to emerging readers, which is exactly who these books, vetted by an early learning specialist, are aimed at. For a really great discussion between three bloggers who also wear the hats of children's librarians and mothers, read the tri-review posted by Jules and Eisha at a sort of insider-kid-lit-blog that has tons of fascinating interviews with authors and illustrators, 7 Impossible Things, and Pam Coughlan at MotherReader. Two of the three reviewers discuss in detail what makes a beginning reader book good (repetition of words, picture cues) and how they have watched their children grow as readers while having these books read to them and reading them on their own. As Pam Coughlan writes, "The Elephant & Piggie books use simple words and repeat them to improve word recognition. They give clear picture cues to the reader with no distracting
background. Prediction is another important component of learning to read. For example, when the two birds [in There is a Bird on Your Head] fly off and get some sticks, the child can predict that they will biuld a nest." Sure enough, the word "nest" appears on the following page. And, as all three point out, the Elephant & Piggie books are highly readable, for parents and children. I was lucky enough to nab 7 of the 10 current titles (I am Going will be published in January of 2010) during a visit to the library and watched as my husband and son worked their way through the whole pile in one sitting. Being such short books, this didn't take them long, but I did notice that my son frequently asked to have a book read twice in a row upon finishing and my husband was more than happy to do so.
And what, exactly, is so great about Gerald the elephant and Piggie? In terms of Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad, which is my measure for all fictional beginning reader couples, Gerald and Piggie are definitely a more contemporary pair. You really can't compare Frog and Toad with Elephant & Piggie because Lobel's books are much longer and thus written at a higher reading level that allows for more depth of story and character development. This said, Willems manages to pack a lot of personality into his characters and books, most of which have fewer than 150 words total and usually only 60 - 75 different words in all. Of the two, Gerald seems to be slightly more knowing, stable and stoic and perhaps this is why he has a name. Piggie is a bit more manic, prone to joyous fits of exuberance and tearful bouts or sorrow. This reminds me precisely of every toddler I have had the pleasure of knowing intimately and is perhaps why these books appeal to young children.
And, the bottom line is, Mo knows little kids. He can think like them and write and illustrate characters who act like them. And, Mo knows parents as well. In one of my favorites, I Will Surprise My Friend, Elephant and Piggie see a squirrel hide then jump out and surprise his friend and they decide to do the same, however they neglect to determine who will hide and who will be surprised. This makes for some funny tension as the two sit on either side of a large rock. When nothing happens Gerald begins to think the worst and imagines Piggie's sad fate. Who among us parents has not done this at one time or another? Piggie, however, figures Gerald got hungry and went home for lunch. Who among the toddlers we know and love has not had food at the forefront of all thought? When they both decide to quit hiding at the exact same time they inadvertently surprise each other, which makes for lots of googly eyes and laughs. There are always laughs. Dr Seuss never makes me laugh. So, if I am going to invest almost $10 in a beginning to read book for my child, I want it to make him/her and maybe even me laugh, and the Elephant & Piggie books bring the laughs by the barrel.
Are You Ready to Play Outside and There is a Bird on Your Head won the relatively new Theodore Geisel Award that the Amercian Library Association began giving out in 2006. This award recognizes literary and artistic achievements that demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading and is sort of the Caldecott award for beginning reader books.
Coming in February, 2010, Cat the Cat, a new series from Mo Williams, which he says is for the "youngest bookworms!"
I am happy to report that I have found a week's worth of beginning reader books that I really love and want to share with you. This seems to be the most under represented genre of kid's books when it comes to quality writing and illustration, but I think that all the books I reviewed meet my high standards and then some. Not all the books are new, I am new to them and I am sure that many of you out there are fans already.
I'll start the week on Sunday with a look at reading levels, the professionals who determine them and how you can figure them out on your own and move on to a review of a new book/series for the next five days.
Sorry to those of you who's readers are beyond this stage and to the rest of you, I hope there is something this week that will spark a love of reading for your new readers that will last a lifetime.
Scepter of the Ancients, Skulduggery Pleasant Series, Book 1, by Derek Landy, illustrations by Tom Percival, 416 pp, RL 4
The Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy, illustrations by Tom Percival, despite the fact that it is currently only three books long, has had three different cover designs as well as a title change since book one, Scepter of the Ancients (the new title of the first book in the series) was published in 2007. Since I often judge a book by it's cover, this phenomenon caught my eye right away. The above covers are my favorite - the girl in the illustration, Stephanie, is one of the main characters and also one of the coolest girls in young adult fantasy fiction to come along in a while. The cover to the left is my second favorite, since it still gives you a little taste for the character of Skulduggery Pleasant, the coolest skeleton detective to hit the pages, ever. The covers at the bottom of the review are the newest incarnations of the books. And, while they are attractive, I'm not sure that they fully convey all the wonderful, creative details that make up the books. But how many covers really do that anyway?
While this series has equal gender appeal, what I love most about it is the character of Dublin resident, Stephanie Edgely, who is twelve when the series begins. For me, Stephenie and this series of books is most readily calls to mind to Eoin Colfer's phenomenal Artemis Fowl series. Whereas Colfer's main characters, aside from Fowl and his family, are mythical creatures who possess certain degrees of magical powers but rely heavily on technological spy gear and weaponry to battle evil forces, Landy's main characters are humans who have learned the craft of magic (and been adversely affected by it in some cases) and posses the skills to imbue everyday objects (cars, clothing, mirrors) with it in their constant efforts to fight the evil forces that continually want to exert their power over the human race. Stephanie, although she is not a child genius like Artemis, is a very savvy girl who yearns for a break in her quiet, middle class, only child life. She gets this break when her Uncle Gordon, her father's brother, dies unexpectedly. Gordon Edgely was a world famous, best selling author of adult horror novels, someone along the lines of a Stephen King, I imagine. As a young man, his interests and friends took him away from his more staid brothers, Desmond and Fergus, resulting in a family that was not especially close knit, although certainly not estranged. Stephanie, however, loved her Uncle very much and spent quite a bit of time with him at his estate, nearby her home in Haggard, Ireland. Always a bit precocious, Stephanie has read all of her Uncle's books and enjoyed them. At the reading of Gordon's will, she is shocked to learn that, upon her eighteenth birthday, she will inherit most of his estate and wealth. Shortly thereafter, she is surprised, but not shocked, to learn that most of the events and creatures Gordon wrote about in his books are real, that magic exists and that Gordon hovered on the edge of a group of magicians who battled to keep order in the world.
While the battle of good versus evil in the world of fantasy is a well worn theme, Derek Landy brings many clever twists to his characters and their magical attributes. First, Landy is brilliant when it comes to character names. As Stephanie learns in Book 1, Scepter of the Ancients, everyone "has three names: the name they are born with, the name they are given and the name they take. The name they are born with, their true name, lies buried deep in their subconscious. The name they are given, usually by their parents, is the only name most people will ever know. But this name can be used against them, so sorcerers must take a third name to protect themselves." By the middle of Book 1, Stephanie has chosen her name and, when Book 2, Playing with Fire, begins, she is referred to by this name almost exclusively. Some of the great names from this series that occasionally had me pulling out my dictionary are Skulduggery Pleasant, of course, China Sorrows, Ghastly Bespoke, Sagacious Tome, Serpine Nefarian, Vaurien Scapegrace, Billy Ray Sanguine, the mysterious Mr Bliss, I could go on and on.
As for magic, Derek Landy's characters can really cook up some creepy stuff. The magicians' Sanctuary, which is secretly (brilliantly) housed in the Dublin Waxworks Museum, is guarded by Cleavers who, with their grey helmets that hide their faces are, "security guards, enforcers, and army rolled into one." The bad guy in book one, Serpine, who already has an army of Hollow Men, papery, human-like fighting guards, manages to create a White Cleaver, even deadlier and harder to stop than the originals. There is also the underground cavern that is full of tentacle laden, beastly menaces which is where the Scepter of the Ancients, the seat of the power wielded by the Faceless Ones, the first and most powerful magicians, is hidden. China Sorrows, an enchantingly beautiful woman, runs a very useful library full of magical tomes she has collected. And, finally, there is the manner in which the characters perform magic themselves. As Stephanie begins to learn basic magic, much of which requires power of the mind, Landy does a wonderful job describing this process. When Stephanie attempts to levitate up to her second floor window upon returning home, Landy writes, "She took her time, felt the calmness flow through her. She flexed her fingers, feeling the air touch her skin, feeling the fault lines between the spaces. She felt how they connected, and recognized how each would affect the other once the right amount of pressure was applied... She splayed her hands beneath her, and the air rippled and she shot upward, just managing to grab the windowsill." Upon arriving in her room, Stephanie encounters the other super-cool bit of magic Landy has conjured up - the reflection. After casting a spell on Stephanie's full length bedroom mirror, the image becomes her "reflection," a surface copy of Stephanie that, when invited to do so, steps out of the mirror and lives Stephanie's life for her while she runs around town fighting villains with Skulduggery. Her reflection goes to school, has dinner with her parents but has no thoughts or feelings of her own. When the real Stephanie comes home and encounters her reflection, all of the events of the reflection's day come flooding back into her. Imagine if we could all have reflections, how much we could get done....
Despite the cover changes and a much higher level of physical action (read: fights) than I am used to in a novel, I could not put these books down and, now that I have finished them, I find myself thinking about characters and passages from the stories often. Since I began my blog, I rarely read more than the first book in a series, and that was my intention with the Skulduggery Pleasant books, but I ended up reading them all. I have to admit, I am a naive and hopeful reader when it comes to books, kid's books especially. I want every book I read (for review) to leave the reader feeling warm, fuzzy and cheerful about being part of the human race. I also want the book to be well written and profound. This attitude probably accounts for my gradual, unconscious decision to stop reading adult fiction. Well written adult books tend to focus on the ways in which we screw up our lives more than the ways in which we make them better. While I wish I could say that the Skulduggery Pleasant books meet my unsophisticated ideals and are literature on the level of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy, I can't. However, after much thought I realized that these books, all books, don't have to meet my high minded ideals to be worthwhile, readable and, above all, enjoyable - which is exactly what the Skulduggery Pleasant books are. Derek Landy's writing is highly entertaining and not without serious content and value. While he doesn't tackle philosophical and theistic issues the way Pullman's books do, he doesn't have to. Landy has created complex characters with faults, values and goals - despite their lack of musculature and epidermis, in some cases...
If you have read enough of my reviews, you know that I am always on the lookout for great books written at the 3rd grade reading level, since there seems to be a definite gap on the shelves in that general area. I am very happy to report that another great series has hit the shelves! The Bed & Biscuit books by Joan Carris, charmingly illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, are kind of a cross between James Herriot's stories of the country veterinarian and Dick King-Smith's wonderful stories with anthropomorphized animals as characters and often narrators. Grandpa Bender, a retired veterinarian, runs the Bed & Biscuit, an animal sitting service, at his farm. His own menagerie consists of Gabby, the mynah bird with the sharp tongue, Ernest, a mini-pig with a good heart and an even better head on his shoulders, and Milly, a persnickety tabby cat who, even though she is a year old, is the baby of the family and thinks she deserves to be treated accordingly.
When Welcome to the Bed & Biscuit, the first book in the series, opens, Grandpa gets a call asking him is he has room for Frou-Frou, a Pekingese. He does, but the only spot open is next to Sherlock, a bluetick hound who does not want his peace disturbed by a yippy little dog. By the end of the first chapter, Grandpa has to cut Ernest's birthday party short so that he can rush to a neighboring farm to help put out a fire. When he finally returns home from McBroom's farm the next morning he is carrying a mystery box and all the animals are very curious to know what is inside. When they finally learn that the box holds a newly born puppy rescued from the fire, Milly immediately expresses her dislike, insisting, "We don't need another baby in this family!" She storms out of the house, her frustration growing as Grandpa Bender ignores her gifts (dead moles) in order to tend to the puppy. Ernest, a typical middle child, is a fixer. Worried about Milly and her increasingly long absences from the farm, he also wants to help his friend Sherlock and his irritation with his yappy neighbor Frou-Frou, all the while making sure Gabby doesn't make things worse by answering the phone and pretending to be Grandpa Bender. A mystery ensues, but the intrepid Ernest gets to the bottom of it and the animals and Grandpa all come together as one happy family again, especially happy since the health of the puppy improves enough for him to leave the incubator and earn a name.
In the second book in the series, out in hardcover this month, the puppy, a Scottish Terrier named Sir Walter, is being trained by Ernest, but it is proving difficult. Grandpa has also taken in a wounded Canada goose, a cranky old muskrat and two fox kits. Both books include excellent Author's Notes at the back of the book that give details on the animals in the story and what their natures and habits in the wild are. Carris's writing is gentle and thoughtful, her characterizations of the animals in the story are equally humane and evocative of the animals' true natures at once. And, on top of that, the difficulties and experiences that the animals have over the course of the books can easily be read as issues faced by real children. The sibling rivalry between Milly and the new puppy and the ways that Milly asks for attention and how she responds when she doesn't get it are so well written that readers should have no problem finding parallels in their own lives. The issues of appropriate behavior and learning restraint in Wild Times at the Bed & Biscuit are also handled deftly, while at the same time making important points about the difference between wild and domestic animals.
This series is perfect for children who are reading above their grade level. The stories are gentle and the plot climaxes are not too suspenseful. Also, Bed & Biscut series is a breath of fresh air in the fantasy dominated world of children's literature.
I know, the two amphibians REALLY worth knowing are Arnold Lobel's brilliant creations, Frog and Toad. However, I think there is enough room in the world of children's literature for a few more frogs on the shelf...
A Froggy Fable , John Lechner's first pictue book, tells the story of a frog who is frustrated by the changes going on all around him. Without giving the whole story away, I can say that, in the end, he discovers that some changes aren't so bad after all. Simply told and elegantly voiced, A Froggy Fable works on many levels without being didactic once. I have never been a fan of children's books that claim to teach a lesson, celebrity authored picture books and The Berenstain Bears being at the top of my list, but John Lechner's book, just like Arnold Lobel's, can be used to "teach a lesson" - if you want it to. And, if you don't want it to, it's a great read out loud and one you will never tire of sharing.
John Lechner is also the author of the excellent forest based kind-of comic book Sticky Burr series as well as his second picture book, also set in a forest, the magical Clever Stick which, like A Froggy Fable, has a subtle lesson woven into a wonderful story.
On the surface, Algy Craig Hall's marvelous Fine As We Are reads like another parable to help children cope with change - especially the change brought about by the arrival of a new sibling. But really, I think the same important ideas that John Lechner presents in A Froggy Fable are also in action in Fine As We Are. We are all capable of learning to accept changes and change can be a good thing. It seems simple, but for little people who see the world in concrete, black and white divisions (read: happy as a clam or pitching a major hissy fit) I think that this concept bears repeating in as many soothing ways as possible and Algy Hall's book, in addition to fitting in with my frog theme, does just that.
Hall's book, his first for children, begins with a very happy Little Frog and his loving mother, and I have to tell you, the depictions of affection between Little Frog and his mother are very sweet. I don't know how Hall manages to convey such love with simple line drawings of frogs, but he does. One day, as mom and Little Frog sit on a rock by the pond she asks him (as most of us foolishly do at some point in our parenting careers), "Would you like a baby brother or a sister?" Little Frog responds, "No. We're just fine as we are." Mom begins to look worried, stricken even, and the reader notices the multitude of frog eggs floating gently at the surface of the water just beneath the rock upon which this conversation takes place. There is no turning back now, and the illustrations of the gaggle of joyously jumping froglets is enchantingly rendered, as are all the illustrations in this book, but these especially so. The pictures I could find do not do Hall's art justice at all.
Mom seems pleased with this hoard of newcomers, so Little Frog tries to adapt. However, they follow him everywhere, are really noisy and, worst of all, eat his breakfast before Little Frog has a chance to. "They only want to be like you," mom says, trying to get Little Frog to see the other side of the situation. "But it's not fair!" Little Frog responds. Mom can't hear him amidst the noise of the babies, though. Hall captures the reality of sibling rivalry and parenting more than one child sublimely. That he himself is a parent as well one of many siblings who grew up in a large family is evident in the precision with which he tells his tale. When Little Frog finally finds ways to love his siblings (playing Leap Frog, naturally) he says to his mom, "We are the biggest family in the world." She answers cautiously, "Do you think we are too big?" "No," says Little Frog, "We're just fine as we are." And this book is more than just fine as it is, it is worth buying and reading over and over again to each and every one of your children.
Stick is the first picture book by Steve Breen, the Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist (in 1998 and in 2009), and author of the strip Grand Avenue. First of all, I have to tell you how gorgeous this book is - both painterly and expressive by turns. The layout of Stick is evocative of David Wiesner's books and, like his Caldecott winners Tuesday, Flotsam and The Three Pigs, it is largely without words and needs to be added to my list of books in my article How to Read a Book Without Words (Out Loud).
The book begins in an efflorescent swamp with two frogs on a lily pad and the words, "Stick liked to do things on his own..." From there we watch as he tries to snag his own lunch only to be snagged and dragged on a journey that is mapped out on the end papers of the book. A failed attempt to have a dragonfly for lunch takes Stick on the flight of his life, out of the swamp and through New Orleans, among other stops. The fun of the book is guessing what form of transportation will Stick be stuck on next as he goes from dragonfly to balloons to model airplane. The reactions of the people and animals he encounters on his journey are also a hoot. The author information at the back of the book reveals that Steve Breen has long been fascinated by the Deep South and was about to embark on his first trip there to do research for Stick when Hurricane Katrina struck. In honor of all those who lost their lives and homes, he is donating a portion of his royalties to a Katrina-related disaster-relief organization. That and the fact that this delightful book is now available in paperback make it a must-have!
I usually feel like I exist and read in an alternate world of children's books when I scan the pages of the intermittent children's section of the New York Times Book Review. However, this year, I am pleased to say that I have heard of all but two of the ten titles on the list of Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2009, read five at story time and even reviewed one! I am familiar with all but one of the winning illustrators, Komako Sakai, and have reviewed books by most of the others, including Lucy Cousins, Marla Frazee, Emily Gravett, and Shuan Tan. Anoitnette Portis, a relatively new author/illustrator on the scene, is the creator of two of my favorite story time books I am remiss in never mentioning before now:NOT A BOX and NOT A STICK. Rush out and read these to your 5 and unders immediately!!!
For a chance to read the rest of the section, in which many of the winning books are reviewed, as well as books for older children and teens, click here.
Watch this space in December for my round-up of the Best Picture Books of 2009, which I think will not be quite as massive a review as my first ever "Best" list, Best Picture Books of 2008, in which I couldn't bear to leave any book out...
Also coming at the end of this month and throughout December - Great Books to Give as Gifts!