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Showing posts from May, 2012

Mrs Noodlekugel, written by Daniel Pinkwater and illustrated by Adam Stower 72pp, RL 1.5

Despite intentions otherwise, the Reading Level 1.5 label at books4yourkids.com represent a wide range of books. My intention with this  distinction is to recommend books that can serve as a bridge between the large format, leveled beginning to read books and the smaller chapter books like Magic Tree House, Junie B Jones, Ivy + Bean and the like, which are a solid second grade reading level, if not a bit higher in many cases.  While the books that end up with this label don't always fit the mold I thought they would (graphic novels like the fantastic TOON Books and the super Squish series as well  as books that probably truly belong in the Reading Level 1 category like Penny and Her Song, Ling and Ting and the sublime Dodsworth) they are all standouts for their wonderful stories, great illustrations and, above all, ability to serve as bridge books for emerging readers. Chapter books like the Lighthouse Family series and The Cobble Street Cousins, both by Cynthia Rylant, as well a…

The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater

I can't believe I haven't reviewed The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater before now! This is one of those books that I owned before I ever had kids. My husband grew up with Pinkwater and introduced me to him as well as NPR, where Pinkwater and host Scott Simon have been reading and reviewing picture books for years. The two men clearly delight in the books that they share and their readings are always worth listening to.
I just love this book to bits, especially as someone who has lived in four tract housing developments over the course of her life. Pinkwater's book a straightforward tale with a subtle message, wrapped in a story that somehow manages to be realistic and ridiculous at the same time.  The Big Orange Splot is illustrated by Pinkwater in his unique fashion - not quite as nuanced or painterly as some other illustrators, but distinctive and capable of telling the story just as well as the words.  The Big Orange Splot begins, "Mr Plumbean lived on a stre…

More, written by IC Springman and illustrated by Brian Lies AND Little Bird, written by Germano Zullo and illustrated by Albertine

Before I write anything about these two wonderful books, I have to mention Sophie Blackall (The Crows of Pearlblossom by Aldous Huxley, Mr and Mrs Bunny - Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath) a favorite illustrator of mine an now book reviewer! While I had More in my pile of books to review, it was Blackall's review of Springman's book in the NY Times on May 11, 2012 that introduced me to the book Little Bird and inspired me to get busy on my own review of More. I am so thrilled to that Blackall is bringing her talent, knowledge and experience to the world of book reviews and look forward to her sharing more worthwhile books with us in the future!
More, written by IC Springman is, as Blackall says, "a cautionary tale sparingly written." While Springman's text, made up of a string of words (nothing, something, a few, several, more, way too much, enough!) is austere, her message is effusive. The very talented Brian Lies (creator of the fantastic Bat books -…

Kaspar the Titanic Cat, written by Michael Morugo and illustrated by Michael Foreman, 200 pp, RL 4

Having been a children's bookseller for almost seventeen years now and a parent for a couple of years longer, I have seen many children, including my own, express a fascination with the story of the Titanic. Like other seemingly frightening and/or dangerous things that small children are fascinated with (sharks, dinosaurs, bugs) they grasp the literal enormity of the thing but don't yet grasp the emotional enormity of that which they are drawn to. Kids can't really fathom what it must be like to be hunted by a T-rex or a shark, nor do they grasp the tragedy and needless loss of life that resulted from the hubris of the builders of the "ship that couldn't sink." Kaspar the Titanic Cat was difficult for me to read and I had to put it down more than once, but I know that how I read this book and how a child reads it are different. In fact, I had the good fortune to speak with a second grader who had just finished reading this book and I asked her if it made her…

A Little Bit More Shameless Self-Promotion...

HEY EVERYBODY!!!! My Letter to the Editor in the Sunday, May 27th edition of the New York Times Book Review went live online today. Just in case the link doesn't work for you, I have printed it (the edited version) below. Also, my review of The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy posted today as well. While I wrote my letter to the editor in the heat of the moment, outraged at the unfair, dismissive treatment the books received, never expecting it to make to print, I have been heartened by the comments of other authors and reviewers in the world of kid's books who shared my feelings about the review. While I greatly value the New York Times and link to their reviews and articles often, I think it is so unfortunate that the the infrequent and invaluable print space they devote to children's books, not to mention their reach and influence, was wasted in this manner. 
To the Editor: Thank you for one of the most comprehensive, relevant children’s book …

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms written and illustrated by Lissa Evans, pp 271 RL 4

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms (known as Small Change for Stuart in the UK, where it was first released) by Lissa Evans is fantastic! This mystery with a missing magician, a trail of clues and a hidden trove of amazing mechanisms reminded me very much of a childhood favorite of mine, John Bellairs, (The House with the Clock in Its Walls, The Letter, the Witch and the Ring, The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn) a master of creating the haunting, creaky mysterious mansion with hidden clues and treasures and a little bit of magic at the center of it all. Many of Bellair's books were illustrated by the equally eerie Edward Gorey, and Evan's cover art and chapter headings echo this style as well. However, for those of you familiar with the work of Bellairs, Evan's book is a bit less intense and a lot less spooky, which makes Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms the perfect book, especially for young readers wary of stories with larger-than-life villains and ominous overtones. W…

Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey, written and illustrated by Mini Grey

While Mini Grey'sTraction Man Meets Turbo Dog made my Best Picture Books of 2008 list, this is my first review devoted to her wonderful books. Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey couldn't have come at a better time. I recently wrote an article on Gender Equality in Picture Books and came to the conclusion that, rather than more books with girl protagonists or more books with boy protagonists, we need books that feature main characters who's gender is irrelevant. OH NO! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) by Mac Barnett and Dan Santat is a perfect example this. This picture book shakes up conventions by attracting that supposedly elusive and selective boy listener/reader    despite featuring a protagonist who is a girl. A fantastic, well written (and illustrated) story is the key to mass appeal in my opinion. Mini Grey's Traction Man books also shake up conventions by presenting a main character who, while he may be a crime fighting action hero, is really ju…