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Showing posts from November, 2011

The Unforgotten Coat, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, photographs by Carl Hunter and Clare Heney, 93 pp, RL 4

After watching the movie Millions (based on the book by Frank Cottrell Boyce) with my family four or five years ago, I knew that I wanted to read his books for kids. Americans may not know this, but Boyce is a well respected screenwriter in the UK and has written four other kid's books (see below) including the soon to be published Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang Flies Again. Millions is thoughtful, suspenseful and sweet, in a good way. The kids in the movie face some tough situations that they have to think and feel their way out of. After reading his newest book, The Unforgotten Coat, I wonder if this is a hallmark of Frank Cottrell Boyce's style? Although a relatively short book, I did not intend to read The Unforgotten Coat from cover to cover when I picked it up. But, an hour or so later as I sat on the couch with tears running down my face, that is exactly what I had done. I often find myself crying at the end of a really good kid's book and I never know if I should mention…

Around the World, written and illustrated by Matt Phelan, 235 pp, RL 3

With Around the WorldMatt Phelan brings us yet another remarkable graphic novel that peers into less known corners of history, American history to be exact. The Storm in the Barn is the magical, sometimes painful story of a family's survival during the Dust Bowl. With Around the World Phelan peers into the lives of three amazing adventurers, Thomas Stevens, Wheelman (1884), Nellie Bly, Girl Reporter (1889) and Joshua Slocum, Mariner (1895). All three circumnavigated the world in the era before airplaines, and in three different ways. 
The first story belongs to Thomas Stevens, a Colorado miner who decides he is going to ride his bicycle across the United States. He keeps a diary of his journey with the intent of turning it into a book. What fascinated me most about these adventurers, among many interesting things, was the fact that all three of them financed their trips around the world with the sale of their writing. I thought that we Americans, in the last ten years or so, invent…

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster with illustrations by Jules Feiffer Turns 50!

Every once in a while, usually while I am at work, I like to reflect upon how the number of books published for kids has increased exponentially in the thirty or so years since I was a young reader. The books I remember reading and being deeply affected by as a child are so few I can list them on one hand: The Westing Game, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, Harriet the Spy, A Wrinkle in Time and The Phantom Tollbooth. This year, the fiftieth birthday of The Phantom Tollbooth is being celebrated with an annotated edition by children's literature historian Leonard S Marcus. 
But first, for those of you who have never read The Phantom Tollbooth, I am going to be lazy and suggest you read Adam Gopnik's article in The New Yorker, October 17, 2011 (thanks to Anne Boyd for calling this article to my attention.) Gopnik provides a great overview of The Phantom Tollbooth and what makes it unique as well as able to stand the test of time, saying that it is "the clo…

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales, Chris Van Allsburg with an introduction by Lemony Snicket, 195 pp, RL 4

For those of you who already know and love (because, to know this book IS to love it) The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chirs Van Allsburg, first published in 1984 and beloved by teachers of all grades as an indispensable collection of creativity-inducing writing prompts, please skip this first paragraph for my review of The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales. If you have never heard of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, then you and your little ones are in for a real treat! The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a collection fourteen drawings, captions and short story titles and unlike any other picture book you have ever read. This collection of amuse-bouche will get your brain going, your wheels spinning and your creative juices flowing so that you will feel like you've had a full meal, or at least read a traditional thirty-two page picture book that has a beginning, middle and end as well as a plot. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick has none of these and …

NINA in That Makes Me Mad! by Hilary Knight, based in a text by Steve Kroll, 31pp, RL 1.5

I was so excited when I saw that Nina in That Makes Me Mad, the newest book from TOON BOOKS, is by Hilary Knight's. One of the books that left a lasting impression on me as a small child was Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight's Eloise. When I was a kid, long before Kay Thompson died and the rights to her books reverted to her heirs, that one book about that endearing deviant was the ONLY Eloise book out there. I pored over that book, insisted my parents make a special trip to The Plaza during a family vacation when I was eleven, and made a 3D book report that featured Eloise's very messy bedroom when I was in fifth grade. A couple of years after Thompson died in 1998 the suppressed Eloise books (Eloise in Paris, Eloise in Moscow and the slap-dash Eloise Takes a Bawth) began to hit the shelves, as did movies and lesser-type picture books along with a handful of dolls created by Madame Alexander. My love of Eloise naturally lead to an interest in all things Hilary Knight. At the…

Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same!, written and illustrated by Grace Lin, 43 pp, RL 1.5

Grace Lin, the multitalented artist and author of books like the beautiful Newbery Honor winning Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, the excellent The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat, both about Pacy Lin, a creative girl whose parents immigrated from Taiwan, and how she balances her family's traditions with her life at school. Lin is also the illustrator for, and often the author and illustrator for, seventeen picture books, including a few of my favorites below.



Now, Grace Lin has written a beginning reader book that has already won the estimable Theodore Seuss Geisel Award honor this year, Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! I love Lin's illustrations, which are so colorful and playful that it is a snap for her to bring her characters to life. The book has six chapters that follow the twins through their daily tasks while also, subtly, showing how they are not the same. The final story in the book, Mixed Up, has a wonderful circularity to it that finds Ling and Tin…

A Little Bitty Man and Other Poems for the Very Youg by Halfdan Rasmussen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

I think a lot of things and I am not always right about what I think. I tend to presume that people are not reading poetry, rhymes to little kids anymore beyond a handful of Mother Goose ditties. I could be wrong. I hope I am. If I am right about you, dear reader, and you need a place to start that is not Mother Goose, then please look no further. A Little Bitty Man and Other Poems for the Very Young by Halfdan Rasmussen, translated by Marilyn Nelson and Pamela Espeland is here, and with perfect illustrations by the always wonderful Kevin Hawkes. The poems within, which are perfect for little ones but also very tempting for emerging readers with their  brevity of length, simplicity of vocabulary and silly nature - I know because I tricked my emerging reader son who does not like to read into reading a few poems from A Little Bitty Man and Other Poems for the Very Young. Later on, I noticed him reading it to himself. The titular poem, "A Little Bitty Man," is two stanzas long …

Dodsworth in Rome written and illustrated by Tim Egan

Whilst visiting various kid's books websites (Educating Alice and Julie Danielson's column for Kirkus Reviews) in August of this year I discovered an early reader series that I had never heard of! Shocked and thrilled, I immediately ordered all four of the books in Tim Egan's Dodsworth series, including the most recent release in hard cover, Dodsworth in Rome. Egan's odd couple quickly became a favorite early reader of mine along with Poppleton by Cynthia Rylant (a multiple Newbery winner) and Mark Teague, Mouse and Mole by Wong Herbert Yee and Dav Pilkey's Dragon series and even James Marshall's fabulous George and Martha books. 

The first book in the series, Dodsworth in New York, begins like this:
Dodsworth wanted adventure. He wanted to fly in a plane. He wanted to sail in a ship. He wanted to see the world. But first, he wanted breakfast.
Simplicity in story telling can be elegant. It can also be dreadfully dull. Egan definitely knows how to tell a story in a man…

New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2011

It's here! And it's big! And packed full of great reviews!!! The New York Times Book Review annual holiday feature on Children's Books is really worth perusing this year. Besides featuring many books I have reviewed or am in the process or reading for review right now, there is the Best Illustrated Books of 2011 feature which, though I already mentioned it last week, is worth following the link since the slideshow provided is much better than the glimpse of artwork I gave you. Also, I am really excited about the wealth of interesting picture books, quite a few I have not heard of, that are reviewed. Topics like Picture Books About Moving, Picture Books About Unusual Animals, Variations on Aesop's Fables and Picture Books About the Alphabet all feature new works from some spectacular artists and illustrators. There is even a feature on Books About Grandparents, which includes the new book from Caldecott Honor winner David Ezra Stein (Interrupting Chicken, Love Mouserell…