Miss Emily, by Burleigh Mutén, illustrated by Matt Phelan, 134 pp, RL 3

Burleigh Mutén, children's book author, member of the Emily Dickinson International Society and volunteer at the Dickinson Homestead, seems perfectly poised to bring us Miss Emily, a verse novel that weaves historical, biographical and poetic threads throughout the story of a nighttime adventure among friends. Add to this the wonderful illustrations of Matt Phelan and you have  a beautiful, exciting novel that straddles the worlds of poetry, history and biography.

To set the story and give context to the appearance of the recluse, Emily Dickinson, Mutén begins Miss Emily with an introduction and a list of the main characters and their stage names. The star of the show, MacGregor Jenkins, is the son of the pastor, brother of Sally and neighbor of the Dickinsons - both Emily, residing in her childhood home, known as the Homestead, and Ned and Mattie Dickinson, children of Emily's brother, Austin, residents of the Evergreens, a home built next door to the Homestead for Austin and his wife after they married. Mutén lets readers know that, "long after Miss Emily had withdrawn from Amherst society to live a private life, she continued to enjoy the imagination and playful company of her young readers." It is from this fact that the story in Miss Emily unfolds.

Miss Emily begins with a meeting in the garden amongst friends, young and old, where Miss Emily informs her companions, after trying to reveal the information in a riddle, that the Great Golden Menagerie and Circus is coming to town. She proposes that they become the Gypsies of Amherst and sneak out to see, "the gypsies of our clan, / the ones who travel far and farther / than we Amherst gypsies can."

They meet at the appointed hour, disguised in their best gypsy costumes, and Miss Emily names them all, dubbing herself  Prosperina - Queen of the Night. Ned becomes Señor Ranchero, a daring horseback rider. Mattie is Miss Swiftly, the "world-renowned half-bird, half-girl / from the Amazon Jungle!" And Mac  becomes Boaz the Brave, known for his courage and kindness in the face of "Incomparable Danger!" They head out into the night, Prosperina giving them the beginnings of a fantastic story about John Bill and his talking horse Edward, who dreams of flying, before the circus train arrives. The gypsies see a tiger, a two-horned rhinoceros, an elephant and more amazing sights as they pass by. They even meet Miz Rozalia, the fortune teller, who reveals to Mac after examining his palm, that he will have a good, long life and grow up to write books!

The journey home results in an injury for Mac that also means his secret adventure is no longer secret. A sprained ankle brings a heartfelt apology from Miss Emily to Pastor Jenkins and assurance that she was the ringleader. But, Mac is still confined to bed, both from his injury and as a punishment. But, Miss Emily and Pastor Jenkins have surprises in store for the invalid, including the ending to the story of John Bill and Edward.

Mutén includes actual lines from letters Miss Emily wrote to the children in her life, including the lines, "Please, never grow up, which is far better. Please never 'improve;' you are perfect now," and ends her story with a poem by Dickinson that perfectly closes the gentle (by today's standards) adventure:

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise
And then if we are true to plan
Our statures touch the skies.

My favorite part of Miss Emily? She delivers her poem after she has presented herself, in the guise of Queen Prosperina, turban and all, at the edge of the barn loft for the finale of the Greatest Show of All, put on by the Amherst gypsies. Miss Emily, the Belle of Amherst, takes a running jump off the edge of the loft, "holding the thick barn rope / in her grasp as she swung / her stockinged legs up / and around the rope, / out into the air above." Even if it never happened, the image of Emily Dickinson swinging on a rope in a barn, is a fantastic one. Hope may be the thing with feathers, but Emily, as portrayed by Burleigh Mutén, has wings.

Source: Review Copy


President Taft Stuck is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath is the newest book from Mac Barnett, a favorite of mine, who has teamed up with another favorite of mine, Chris Van Dusen!

Before the story even starts, Barnett's humor in is fine form. The jacket flap of President Taft is Stuck in the Bath reads, "George Washington crossed the Delaware in the dead of night. Abraham Lincoln saved the Union. William Howard Taft got stuck in the bathtub and then got unstuck. This is his story." As Barnett's author's note tells us, Taft's tub story may not have actually happened at all, but there are hard, cold porcelain facts that Taft had specially made bathtubs installed in the White House, the battleship USS North Carolina, his private yacht, the Mayflower and in the Presidential Suite at the Hotel Taft, where he moved after leaving office. But, as Barnett says, whether or not Taft actually got stuck in the bath, "more than a century later, this is the story we're still telling. And to people like me, that's all that matters." And, because it matters to Mac and Chris, we get this fantastic picture book to keep it alive!

I can't imagine anyone besides Chris Van Dusen illustrating President Taft is Stuck in the Bath. From the girth of the president as he struggles to free himself from the bath, rolls of rosy pink flesh overflowing the rim, to the facial expressions that accompany every grunt, twist and Presidential order that leaves his mouth as he and his advisors try to come up with a solution to this presidential-sized problem.

Mrs. Taft is first on the scene, but Willy won't listen to Nellie. He calls in the Vice President, then the secretary of state, then the secretary of agriculture, then the secretary of war. When their suggestions to diet, use butter and/or use explosives don't satisfy the President, he calls in more secretaries who have equally ridiculously-job-appropriate-ideas.

Finally, there are enough people in the room that Nellie suggests they use their arms instead of their brains and pull Willy out of the bath. What happens next is as funny as everything that has come before and the perfect ending for this possibly apocryphal story. Van Dusen is to be commended for skillfully, modestly and as respectfully as possible illustrating a picture book that has a naked president on every single page!

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath is a very fun book and, with Common Core Standards kicking in, the historical aspects of this book will definitely draw attention.

Source: Review Copy


Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust, by Loïc Dauvillier, Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo, translated by Alexis Siegel, 76 pp, RL 3

Holocaust Remembrance Week began yesterday, and I am grateful to have a graphic novel like Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust, written by Loïc Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano and colored by Greg Salsedo, to mark it. Remarkably, Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust manages to present many of the aspects of this horrific period in the history of humanity in subtle but powerful ways while at the same time focusing on aspects that make this a story that certain children as young as second or third grade can read and begin to understand, while also framing it in a way that gives it power in the present. Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust is ultimately a hopeful story that, told through the eyes of a child, weighs the cruelty and persecution of the Nazis with the bravery and generosity those who resisted.

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust begins in the present day. Unable to sleep, Elsa finds her grandmother, Dounia Cohen, alone, looking through old papers and pictures. Concerned that her grandmother is unable to sleep because of a nightmare, Elsa prods her to talk about what has upset her. Dounia begins her story talking about the handsome Isaac that she and her best friend Catherine would walk to school with. This happy beginning quickly shifts as Dounia's father explains that they will all be wearing yellow stars on their clothes because, as her father who was just at a big meeting explains, "Some people suggested that we become a family of sheriffs." Her mother's sad expression as she stitches is not lost on Dounia. 

The next day at school she is ostracized and criticized, a Jewish classmate angrily telling her that she is not wearing a sheriff's star but a Star of David. Not long after, a nighttime raid takes Dounia's parents from her. From her hiding place, one that she becomes trapped in, Dounia listens and worries.  She is rescued by the Péricards, neighbors who take her in and find a way to get her out of Paris, but betrayal by a neighbor forces Madame Péricard to flee with Dounia to a farm in the countryside. Their time on the farm, posing as mother and daughter, begins with shock, sadness and silence, but they eventually begin to recover, finding comfort in each other. 

When they return to Paris, the Péricards continue to care for Dounia while also looking for her parents, trying to protect her from the horrors of the Nazis. Yet another powerful moment occurs when the Péricards finally take Dounia with them to a hotel where the walls are covered with photographs of the survivors from the camps. Dounia does not know what a camp is and no one will explain it to her. One of the masterful aspects of Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust is that the narrator is telling the story form the perspective of a child, but she herself is no longer a child. She can present the events from her limited perspective, but also explain events from her adult perspective. Of the fact that no one at the hotel will explain the camps to her, she says, "They weren't being mean. They wanted to protect me. With my little girl's eyes, I could see it was something unbelievably cruel." This distancing and describing is what makes Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust an ideal introduction to the Holocaust for young readers.

Dounia is reunited with her mother, after being warned that she is very, very tired and, in a moment of horror, Dounia doesn't recognize her. Again, Dauvillier, Lizano and Salsedo present a quietly powerful scene. Dounia's mother is wearing the striped uniform of the concentration camps, her hair shorn, her figure emaciated, conveying the brutality of the camps without having to describe it in detail. The final pages of Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust reveal a moving moment between Dounia and her son in the present day. In an echo of young Dounia's words as she stood looking at pictures of concentration camp survivors, her son tells her that it took him a while, but he understands why she chose not to tell him her story when he was growing up. He realizes that she wanted to protect him and, while he learned to respect her silence, he is both happy and proud that she chose to tell her story to Elsa. Hopefully this ending will help readers understand that there is more to survival than living through the Holocaust. Telling, or not telling, the story of one's experience is part of surviving.

The afterword of Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust was written by Helen Kauffmann, the president of AJPN, which is an organization dedicated to collecting stories of rescue and solidarity during the World War II Nazi occupation of France.  Kaufmann provides some specific historical information to help readers put the story into context, letting them know that, while 11,400 French children were murdered during the Second World War, "like Dounia, eighty-four percent of the Jewish children living in France before the Holocaust were saved. They owe their survival to their loved ones and friends, to Jewish organizations, to the Resistance networks, and to all those who rejected racism and hatred of those who are different."

Source: Review Copy

*As an interesting side note, Elizabeth Wein, author of the stunning YA book set during WWII, Code Name Verityreviewed Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust in the New York Times Book Review on April 4, 2014.


TOOLS RULE! by Aaron Meshon

With TOOLS RULE, Aaron Meshon packs a one-two punch and adds a much needed book about a subject very popular with little listeners to the shelves. First off, every little kid loves tools and Meshon's book has a huge cast of them, big goofy eyes and all. Add to this a cheerful "we can build it" attitude and you definitely have a winner. On top of it all, Meshon's brightly colored, cartoonish illustrations make TOOLS RULE a visual feast kids will want to pore over again and again.

A busy day for the tools begins with getting organized, T-Square calling role. Meshon manages to slip in tons of puns that will give the adults reading TOOLS RULE a good laugh, while the various expressions of the cast of tools will give listeners a smile.


It takes a bit of effort to get all the tools on board, but once they decide to build a shed around the workbench (he's to heavy to move) the action and the noise really take off.

Sometimes the anthropomorphizing of tools gets a little weird, like when the Level inspects the shed, saying, "Guggle! Guggle!" and the glue goes, "Glip! Glap! Glop!" but really, these sounds make the book even more fun to read out loud. And the red arrows that diagram the action help kids keep track of everything. I can't wait to see what bursts forth from the imaginarion of Aaron Meshon next!

While Meshon's illustrations in TOOLS RULE call to mind the animated show Adventure Time, I was surprised to learn that he has designed many familiar products for the fantastic kid's toy, game andother great stuff company, Crocodile Creek. Here are a few of Meshon's wonderful designs:

Source: Review Copy

Pip and Posy: The Bedtime Frog

Pip and Posy: The Bedtime Frog by Axel Scheffler is not the first Pip and Posy I have reviewed. Back in 2012 I reviewed Pip and Posy and the Scary Monster. I usually don't revisit a series, but Scheffler's books are so absolutely charming that they are worth reviewing again and again. And, as always, I feel the need to remind you that Axel Scheffler is the frequent illustrator of books by the wonderful British picture book author Julia Donaldson. This team is best known in the US for The GruffaloThe Gruffalo's Child and one of the best Halloween books out there that can be read any time of the year, Room on the Broom

In Pip and Posy: The Bedtime Frog, the friends are having a sleepover at Pip's house. Posy packs her bag and rides the bus to Pip's where they play cars, farm and Pirates in the Hospital.

They eat spaghetti and have a bubble bath. After brushing their teeth and reading a funny story, it's time for bed. 

When the light goes off, Posy finally realizes that she has forgotten Froggy. And she cannot sleep without Froggy. Pip offers his teddy bear. And his dinosaur. And his frog bank. But nothing is right and Posy has no option but to cry and cry and cry. Finally, Pip does the hard thing and offers Posy his beloved Piggy. And Posy stopped crying because "Piggy was a very nice pig." Happily back in bed, Pip and Posy drift off to sleep.  You can't quite tell from the illustration below, but the expression on Piggy's face is priceless. 

In the morning, Posy returns home where she gives her Froggy a very big hug. Simple and sweet, but something all little listeners can relate to with characters they will be happy to see again and again.

More Pip and Posy!

Source: Review Copy


Gorilla by Anthony Browne

Anthony Browne has long been a favorite picture book author and illustrator of mine. Click here for a review of his 2012 book, How Do YOU Feel? that also includes a list of most of Browne's books and a mini-bio of his character Willy. If you know anything about Browne, you know that he frequently employs a surrealistic illustration style where gorillas and chimpanzees often stand in for humans. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Gorilla, which won the 1983 Kate Greenaway award, the equivalent of the Caldecott.

Browne's picture books often shine a light on the darker corners of childhood, from loneliness to anxiety to taking someone for granted. Retreating into imagination offers respite to Browne's characters, and there is always a loving connection at the end of his books. In Gorilla, we meet Hannah, who loves gorillas. She reads books about them, watches television shows about them and draws pictures of them - but she has never seen a real gorilla.

Hannah asks her father to take her to the zoo, but he is always either too busy or too tired. As her birthday nears, Hannah asks her father for a gorilla and wakes in the middle of the night to find a parcel at the foot of her bed - it is a toy gorilla. She throws it to the floor and goes back to sleep. As she does, the toy gorilla grows and grows and when Hannah wakes again he tells her not to be frightened, he just wondered if she'd like to go to the zoo.

On thing I especially love about Browne's books it the way that he bends reality, in his stories and illustrations. As Hannah and the gorilla head out the door to the zoo, we see that the gorilla is dressed just like Hannah's father. In the text, Browne never tells readers if the gorilla IS Hannah's father or if she is dreaming. We want Hannah's night with the gorilla, this loving, thoughtful attentive gorilla, to be real. We want the gorilla to be Hannah's father.

After a visit to the zoo, a trip to the movies and a feast at a restaurant, Hannah and the gorilla head home. They dance on the lawn and Hannah had "never been so happy." Nodding and smiling, the gorilla says, "See you tomorrow." And when Hannah wakes in the morning, her toy gorilla tucked in next to her.

Happy and no longer lonely now that she has a friend, Hannah's day gets even better when she wakes and her father asks if she would like to spend the day at the zoo.

Browne's books are often poignant, whether they are tinged with sadness or happiness, and they are utterly unforgettable. I hope that, on the 30th anniversary of the publication of Browne's Gorilla, the eighth book published in his long, distinguished career, there are more books to come from Anthony Browne.

Just in case you don't read my reviews of Browne's other books, here are a few that I highly recommend:

Source: Review Copy


Run, Dog! by Cécile Boyer

Go! Fetch! Run! Jump! Catch! Good dog! Yellow, Red, Pink, Blue, Grey. Boyer uses almost as many colors as she does words in her book Run, Dog! Starting on the endpapers, a bouncy red ball gets the dog of title on the run.

Some of the pages in Run, Dog! are narrower than most, making it a flip book of sorts as well as speeding up the action. 

The bouncy red ball takes the dog through many scenes, from the playground to a backyard picnic to a park bench where a romantic moment is about to happen - until the dog runs by after the ball. The humans in the story are all seen in silhouette, many traditional, but a few with modern touches like earbuds, hoodies and baseball caps. 

A romp through the zoo and a tear through a busy street lead to the dog's owner, sitting under a tree and reading a book. A pat on the head and the two hop on a scooter and ride off the endpapers.

Boyer's book is great fun to read, the kind of book that is read over and over, the images that make up the narrative fun to follow.