Saturday, November 1, 2014

“Toot Toot Beep Beep” by Emma Garcia

Age: 1-4
Genre: Fiction, Picture book

My two-and-a-half year old boy continues his obsession with cars, trucks, and all vehicles, so many books we read fall into that category. I recently brought home for him Toot Toot Beep Beep by Emma Garcia, and he immediately fell in love with it. This is a simple book with simple text and bright, colorful paint-and-collage illustrations. Each vehicle has two eyes on the front to help give him or her some character. The book features seven different vehicles, each of which makes his or her own sound. Whether it’s the jeep going “beep beep” or the van going “chugga chugga,” children will love hearing this book read aloud and repeating the sounds after you. In about a week, I was surprised to find my son could recite almost the whole book from memory. Now he loves “reading” it aloud to me. If your child is interested in cars and trucks, you should pick up Toot Toot Beep Beep and share it with him or her for a fun read.

Garcia, Emma. Toot Toot Beep Beep. New York: Boxer Books, 2008.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

“Madeline and the Old House in Paris” by John Bemelmans Marciano

Age: 3 and up
Genre: Picture book

I recently attended a wonderful yearly event, the Princeton Children’s Book Festival. This is a day when over 50 authors and illustrators come to Princeton, NJ and sit outside the library at tables with big stacks of their books just waiting to be signed for eager children (and adults). While maneuvering through the crowds, which seem to get bigger every year, a Madeline book caught my eye. I grew up reading about the French orphan and her many adventures, and I thought surely the author isn’t here. He can’t still be alive. Those books were old when I was young. But there was a gentleman sitting at the table in front of several Madeline books, so while he chatted with a child and parent, I picked a book up and flipped to the “about the author” portion on the back flap. Here I read that this man, John Bemelmans Marciano, is grandson to Madeline’s original creator, Ludwig Bemelmans, and “carries on the Madeline legacy.” So I purchased a copy of Madeline and the Old House in Paris and thought I’d see how it compared to the Madeline stories I knew and loved.

Marciano has used the familiar characters, including the titular Madeline, Miss Clavel, and neighbor boy Pepito. In this story, the head of the school where Madeline lives (“the old house in Paris” referred to in the title), Lord Cucuface, comes to visit and takes a telescope he finds in the attic. Later that night, awakened by a strange noise, Madeline leads her classmates back to the attic and finds a ghost. The ghost reveals himself to be Felix de Lamorte, and the telescope Lord Cucuface took belongs to him. He needs it back so he can witness a comet that only comes every 221 years. Madeline and Pepito devise a plan to scare Lord Cucuface and return Lamorte’s telescope to its rightful owner in time to see the comet. I enjoyed having a new Madeline adventure to read and was pleased with Marciano’s creation. His artwork is very similar to Bemelmans’, including some illustrations entirely in yellow, black, and white. He uses the same rhyming style in his text, and it reads well. Reading this book put a smile on my face as I recognized the rhythm and characters of my childhood. Though the story involves a ghost, he is not in the least bit scary, and I doubt that young children will be frightened by this book. Fans of Madeline should welcome this and the other new stories Marciano has lovingly created.

Bibliographic Information:
Marciano, John B. Madeline and the Old House in Paris. New York, NY: Viking, 2013.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

“My Bus” by Byron Barton

Age: 2-5 years
Genre: picture book

The newest book from author/illustrator Byron Barton is sure to delight fans of his previous transportation books, such as My Car, Airport, Trucks, Trains, etc. Using bright and colorful block illustrations that resemble cut paper (but which the book notes were actually done using Adobe Photoshop™), the text follows a bus trip with bus driver Joe. As Joe drives around town, he picks up dogs and cats at each bus stop, and then drops them off at a boat, train, and airplane to continue their journeys elsewhere. At the end of the day, one dog remains on the bus: Joe’s dog, which he takes home. Children will enjoy seeing the animals and various modes of transportation, and parents may appreciate that the book allows practice in basic counting, addition, and subtraction. My Bus is a great new edition to Barton’s repertoire and would fit well on any young child’s bookshelf.

Bibliographic Information:
Barton, Byron. My Bus.  New York, NY: Greenwillow Books, 2014.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

“My No, No, No Day!” by Rebecca Patterson

Age: 2-5 years
Genre: picture book

This book came across my desk at the library on a day my two-year-old son was having a particularly hard time doing anything. He didn’t want to eat, or get dressed, or ride in the car… every parent has been there. My No, No, No Day! tells the story of Bella, a young girl who is having a bad day. She doesn’t want to eat the egg her mom made her for breakfast, doesn’t like her shoes and kicks them off, doesn’t want to ride in the grocery cart at the store, and on and on. All the while her patient mother and baby brother try to go on with their day without Bella’s bad temper catching up to them. At bedtime, however, Bella decides to let her mother read her a story, even though Bella doesn’t really want a story.  The story calms Bella down and she tells her mom, “Today was a very bad day, Mommy. Sorry.” Of course Mommy understands that some days are just like that, and the next day, Bella has a much better time.

I like that this story acknowledges Bella’s feelings and doesn’t just make her out to be “bad.” The incidents the author creates seem very believable, and the reader feels for Bella (and her family) as she tries to make it through a day when nothing seems to go her way. I’m not sure I believe that in the end Bella would apologize to her mom, but I would like to hope that actually happens sometimes. Parents and children alike should relate to My No, No, No Day! and reading it could open up a good conversation when a child is feeling grumpy.

Bibliographic Information:
Patterson, Rebecca. My No, No, No Day! New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2012.

“Mighty Dads” by Joan Holub with illustrations by James Dean

Age: 2-5 years
Genre: picture book

In this colorful and bright picture book, we see big “Daddy” trucks and little “child” trucks as they work together to build a city. The story is told using rhyme, and though the meter doesn’t always read smoothly, the text flows overall. Each truck makes its own sound or completes an action, such as the bulldozers that “roar, roar, roar” or the dump trucks that “fill, drive, dump.” It can be a little confusing for the reader since the sentences start with “They go…” which to me implies it is a sound they are making, but “roll,” “dump,” or “lift” are not sounds. I think it would have been better to stick to sounds for consistency in the book and not throw in actions as well, but maybe I am being picky. After we have watched all the trucks work, we see the Mighty Dads say they are proud of their little ones, a positive message to send to any child.

My two-year-old son, who loves trucks and construction equipment, really enjoys this book because of the variety of vehicles pictured. He wants to know what each one is called. He points to the Daddy and child trucks on each page, so he is also learning “big” and “little.” Mighty Dads is a great read-aloud for parents with truck-obsessed children.

Bibliographic Information:
Holub, Joan. Mighty Dads. New York, NY: Scholastic Press, 2014.

Monday, May 26, 2014

“Around the World” by Matt Phelan

Age: Middle Grade
Genre: Graphic novel; historical adventures

A friend purchased a copy of Around the World for me because she remembered how much I enjoyed another of Matt Phelan’s works, The Dust in the Barn. I am glad to say that I enjoyed Around the World just as much. It is actually three different stories told in one graphic novel. The stories follow Thomas Stevens (a cyclist or “wheelman”), Joshua Slocum (a mariner), and Nellie Bly (a news reporter) on their individual journeys around the world. Each trip was a real adventure and took place in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Travel was very different in those days since people didn’t yet fly in airplanes. For example, to cross an ocean, you had to take a boat – a long and sometimes perilous mode of travel. If you were working against the clock, as was the case with Nellie Bly, waiting for boats to even leave harbor sometimes added not just hours but days to your travel. Stevens wasn’t going for any type of speed record during his trip around the world, but he was the first to do so on the newly-invented bicycle. Slocum sailed his way around the continents, struggling with the perils of the sea as well as loneliness. Phelan does an excellent job of showing what made each individual’s trip unique and exciting. He is a very talented illustrator and tries to make every panel meaningful for the story. I especially enjoy the expressions he gives his characters as they display a lot of emotion. This book was more light-hearted than The Dust in the Barn due to the different subject matter, and young readers should enjoy the adventures of the three people portrayed.

Bibliographic Information:

Phelan, Matt. Around the World. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2011.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"The House of Hades" by Rick Riordan

Age: Middle Grade
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy

In the fifth installment of the Heroes of Olympus series, we find Percy and Annabeth making the deadly journey through Tartarus while their friends fight monsters across the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding lands.  Both teams are on their way to the doors of death at the House of Hades. The doors must be closed both above and below ground to slow the flow of monsters into the mortal world. While on their separate journeys, each one of the seven demigods (plus Nico) faces new challenges and must learn to use his or her powers in more advanced ways.

Though I enjoy reading this series, each successive book feels more and more overwritten. Part of the problem is the large cast of characters: besides the seven main demigods on the journey (who take turns narrating the book), there are two camps full of people, the gods (in both their Roman and Greek forms – which I will admit I can’t keep straight), and all the various monsters and spirits they encounter. No wonder the books keep getting longer. And do the heroes really need to encounter so many problems along the way? I feel like Riordan is just trying to cram in as much mythology as possible, whether it is necessary to advance the story or not. This bothers me. Also, the heroes seem to use the same tricks to defeat their enemies again and again and it is getting predictable. Such as when someone refuses to help them and they taunt him/her by saying he/she isn’t powerful enough to do what they need until hubris takes over and the God/demon/whatever does exactly what the heroes want. I mean really, is this trick going to work every time they try it? According to the author, it will. So though I read the entire book, I am hoping that the next book is a tighter story with fewer new characters to try to follow.

Riordan, Rick. The House of Hades. Disney Hyperion, 2013.

Friday, February 21, 2014

“Maple” by Lori Nichols

Age: Picture Book (2-5)
Genre: Fiction

Before a little girl named Maple was born (“When she was still a whisper”), her parents planted a maple tree in her honor. As Maple grows, so does her tree. She loves to play with her tree, or simply watch its leaves dance. But Maple sometimes wishes she had someone else to play with. One day she is surprised to find a new tree growing…and a new baby on the way! Maple is going to be a big sister! And she will share with her sibling the joys of trees.

When I stumbled across this book at the store this week, I read it and had to buy it.  I loved this story of the friendship between a girl and her tree. The pictures are cute and warm and green and show the joys of being outside. I especially like the illustrations of Maple lying under the tree, looking up through the green leaves. I thought the author was very creative to use the growing of a new tree as a symbol for an upcoming birth. This book takes the usual new sibling story and gives it a wonderful, leaf-twirling spin. Maple will make you smile and want to take her home with you, too.

Bibliographic Information:
Nichols, Lori. Maple.  New York, NY: Nancy Paulson Books, 2014.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

“Dino Pets” by Lynn Plourde and illustrated by Gideon Kendall

Age: 2-5 years
Genre: picture book

I recently came across this book at the library and remembered using it in my classroom when I was a preschool teacher. I had used Dino Pets with one- and two-year-olds during our unit on dinosaurs, and they always enjoyed it. Dino Pets follows a young boy who takes home all different kinds of dinosaurs for pets, but none of them works out. He picks the biggest dino, the smallest, the longest, the scariest, but either they don’t fit in his house, they run away, or they frighten his family. He runs out of dinosaurs to get from the pet shop and is sad, but in the end, all the dinos come back to him because, “No one likes to sleep alone.” This is a cute story about trying to find just the right pet that adds in the clever turn of the pets being dinosaurs. I like that it shows an assortment of dinosaurs that are not often used in other books, and an author’s note at the back tells the name of each dinosaur featured in the book as well as some information about it. Kids may enjoy listening to the rhyme in Dino Pets and seeing the funny scenes when the dinosaurs interact with humans. Kendall’s bright and friendly illustrations really bring the story to life and don’t make the dinosaurs seem scary. This is a fun, imaginative, and educational book.

Bibliographic Information:
Plourde, Lynn. Dino Pets.  New York, NY: Dutton Children’s Books, 2007.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism/Fantasy

Have you forgotten incidents from your childhood? Of course. But what if you had traveled with a magical girl to a world beyond the one we know and accidently brought back a harmful spirit who tried to ruin your family? Surely this would stick in your memory. But when the narrator of The Ocean at the End of the Lane travels to the site of his childhood home as an adult, he has to grasp at memories of the little girl named Lettie Hemstock and the evil they faced together when he was only a boy of seven. During his visit home, he travels down the lane to the Hemstock farm and begins to chat with a woman he vaguely remembers. The longer he talks, the more memories come back to him of the thing that nested in his foot from the world beyond and took the form of a housekeeper and nanny calling herself Ursula Monkton. As the story unfolds from the perspective of the man as a young boy, the reader is taken through a strange world and asked to believe many things that lead to questions about the nature of reality, magic, and memory.

First of all, I recommend listening to this as an audio book because it is read by the author. Gaiman reads it like a true storyteller, giving it a flavor only the creator of this world can provide. When I began this book, I was unsure why it was classified as an adult book when the narrator is a seven-year-old boy.  Most books narrated by children are written for children. However, I believe the adult classification is mostly due to some adult themes in the book. If not for the sexual references (light as they are), it would likely be enjoyed by children. Perhaps not seven-year-olds, but it would fit into middle grade easily. The tone of the story is hard to describe. You could call it magical, but that would sound too happy. You could call it sinister or dark, but that would sound too harsh. It is somewhere in between. The characters are all well-formed, and the author makes sure we know who the villain is and hate her just as much as the main character does. His descriptions are so clear that you feel as if you are in the fields running from the carpet monster with the narrator. This book fits well into Gaiman’s other writings and will leave you with feelings of suspicion, wonder, and perhaps fear of the unknown.

Bibliographic Information:

Gaiman, Neil. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. New York: Harper Collins, 2013.