Friday, December 08, 2006

A Camping Spree with Mr Magee by Chris Van Dusen

A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee
by Chris Van Dusen
Ages: 4-8
Topics: Camping, wildlife, adventure

Cheerful Mr. Magee and his little dog Dee, pack up the camper and "hit the road" for a camping trip in the mountains. "There's nothing like camping," a jubilant Magee tells Dee:
The views are fantastic! There's hardly a sound.
Aside from the wildlife, there's no one around"

Their campsite certainly offers a spectacularly colorful sunset view, and the companions enjoy a happy evening cooking hotdogs and marshmallows over a campfire and enjoying the serene view of the surrounding mountains, brook, and waterfall.

It's soon time for bed and, while the duo snuggle down in carefree repose, they are visited by a large bear with poor eyesight, but a good nose for marshmallows. In his quest for sweets, the bear manages to unhitch the camper and send it rollin' down the mountain and straight into the brook,

Dee and Magee both started to quiver,
As faster and faster they headed downriver.
But just when they thought they'd fall over the edge...
Their camper got stuck on a rock at the ledge.
So there they were, stranded, Magee and his pup,
On the top of the waterfall, fifty feet up!

Luckily for the camping pals, the nearsighted bear comes to the rescue, mistaking the hitch for, no...I'm not going to give away the creative resolution of this entertaining story!

This is one of those rare children's books that is as appealing to the adults reading aloud as it is for the excited children listening to the story. As you can tell from the quote above, this book has a wonderful read aloud pace, magically reminiscent of Clement Moore's The Night Before Christmas, yet decidedly modern and tongue-in-cheek, with a dash of superhero hyperbole. These elements also translate to Van Dusen's vivid gouache illustrations.

Magee's world, rendered in 50s retro style, has an ordered and idyllic brightness to it, from Magee's perfectly trimmed and mowed backyard and spotless camper to the symmetrically consistent fir trees of the wilderness. All the illustrations convey a buoyant optimism and symmetry, even in the most dire circumstances (as the duo float down the river and end up looking over the waterfall, their hair stands on end reflecting the shape of the fir trees around them). Magee's thick glasses, plaid shirt, and sneakers suggest a nerdy character, but when the situation knocks a golden hair or two out of place, the glasses seem Clark Kentish, a superficial geeky detail covering a noble interior. Dee is the perfect wordless companion. His long ears speak for him: they fly behind him with carefree aplomb as the couple drive out in the convertible, stand up on end in the more nail-biting moments, and gently hang by his side when all is serene.

The illustrations include wonderful details - a very-surprised raccoon watching the camper hit the water, the spilled salt and pepper and cheesy placemats in the rescued camper - and grandiose, brilliant landscapes that really draw the reader in with amazement.

This lively and funny story conveys a rare enthusiasm and will bring wide-eyed excitement and twinkling eyes to both girls and boys, before returning them to a perfectly ordered world. So if you're looking for that perfect gift, I suggest A Camping Spree with Mr Magee and Van Dusen's other wonderful books.

Chris Van Dusen also wrote and illustrated two other wonderful books, Down to the Sea with Mr Magee and If I Built A Car, which I also highly recommend. Chris is also the illustrator of Kate DiCamillo's popular Mercy Watson books. You can find out more about Chris and his books at his website.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Kidogo by Anik McGrory

by Anik McGrory
Ages: 3-6
Topics: being small, elephants, independence

"Kidogo lived in a world that was vast", a beautiful land of huge moutains, endless savannah, tall trees, and flooding rivers. Kidogo, a tiny elephant, needs help from his larger family members to reach the leaves on the acacia trees and get across the river. But Kidogo doesn't want help, not does he want to be "the smallest". So he sets off alone to find "someone in the world who was just as small as he."

Kidogo keeps thinking he's found a fellow-sized friend, seeing the giraffe's head behind a bush, a hippo's eyes and ears on the river, a lion's tail peaking out from grass, but eventually gives up. But then, while determindly giving himself a dust bath all by himself, he notices he's surrounded by tiny animals that he can help.

A very sweet story, children will love Kidogo's pluckiness and the warm humor that washes through the brilliant watercolor and pencil illustrations. The story is told in gentle poetry and the African land is beautiful and mesmorizing.

Kidogo means "something small" is Swahili.

Anik McGrory spent time living in East Africa while working with environmental groups and drew on that experience for this story. She is also the author of Mouton's Impossible Dream and has illustrated several other children's books.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Farfallina & Marcel by Holly Keller

Farfallina & Marcel
by Holly Keller
Ages 4-8
Topics: friendship, growing up, change

Farfallina, a charming caterpillar, meets the equally delightful Marcel, a gosling, in a rain storm. The two creatures become instant friends, playing hide and seek and going for rides out on the pond. "But one day, Farfallina was not herself." She climbs up a tree to rest. "I'll wait for you," Marcel called. Poor lonely Marcel waits as the bottom of the tree for weeks, but Farfallina doesn't appear. Finally, he gives up. When Farfallina wakes up with her "beautiful new wings", she has no idea how long she's been asleep and waits for Marcel by the tree. When he doesn't turn up, she flies off to the pond to look for him, but is disappointed to find only a "large, handsome goose". Both creatures hang out by the pond and eventually start a conversation. The goose gives Farfallina a ride around the pond on his back and when she tells him her name, the two realize they are old friends, just a little more grown up.

Everything about this book is delightful - the characters, the watery illustrations, the beautiful wording. Farfallina and Marcel have the cheeriest faces and their friendship is a beautiful example of consideration. When they play hide and seek, Farfallina hides on the ground because she knows Marcel can't climb and Marcel hides nearby because he knows Farfallina moves slowly. The telling of the story is full of freshness:

The rain fell all morning.
It splattered on the pond
and splashed on Farfallina's leaf.
She found a dry spot and ate it.
"Hey" said a little voice.
"You're eating my umbrella."

The illustrations also convey an outdoor freshness in gentle washy greens and blues, with bright spots of orange, red and purple.

This engaging, quiet book about friendship and transformation will charm both children and adults and you won't find a more endearing lesson on metamorphosis.

Holly Keller has written and illustrated over 30 of her own books including Horace and many written by other authors. The word "farfallina" meaning little butterfly was the starting point for this story.

Friday, June 30, 2006

What A Pair! by Megan McDonald

What A Pair!
by Megan McDonald
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Ages: 4-8
Topics: pairs, friendship, dress-up

In this charming book, best friends Ant and Honey Bee are invited to Cricket's costume party. Having been Pilgrims the last two years in a row, Ant is determined to come up with exciting costumes this year. Honey Bee is less enthusiastic and suggests he'll go as a bee or an anteater. Ant is not amused, but then has a great idea:
"I know. Let's be a pair."
"I'll be the pear and you be the stem," said Honey Bee.
"Not that kind of pear!" said Ant. "A two-things-that-go-together kind of pair."

Ant starts looking round the house, noticing things in different rooms that go together: peanut butter and jelly, toilet paper and toilet, washer and dryer. They decide to go as a washer and dryer, cut and decorate two very large boxes, and put on their costumes:
"BLUB! BLUB!" said Ant, just like a washer when it washes clothes.
"BUZZZZZZ!" said Honey Bee, just like a dryer when it's done drying.
"We make the best washer and dryer!" said Ant.
"We make the best pair!" said Honey Bee

As they make their way to the party, the friends bump into other partygoers:
"Look! Two dice!" said Beetle.
"No, it's a couple of ice cubes!" said Fly

Despite their clever sound effects, no one can tell what they are. Dismayed, bad turns to worse when it starts to rain and soaks the friends' costumes. But Ant and Bee use their creativity and end up having very cool costumes by the time Cricket opens the party door.

Children will enjoy following the "coming up with ideas" elements of this story and the puns and humor that appear throughout this jolly tale. Ant and Honey Bee are very affable characters and their bantering manner is very amusing. Karas's scratchy illustrations are childish and entertaining - two favorites include Honey Bee's imitation of an anteater and Ant running away scared and the two friends in their costumes side-by-side happily making their washer and dryer sound effects. A real charmer!

Megan McDonald is the author of many children's books including the popular Judy Moody series. She has also written many popular picture books including Beetle McGrady Eats Bugs!.

G. Brian Karas is a very gifted children's book illustrator. He also illustrated Muncha! Muncha!Muncha!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Hit The Ball Duck by Jez Alborough

Hit The Ball Duck
by Jez Alborough
Ages 3-6
Topics: baseball, problem-solving, teamwork

Here's a great picture book that will appeal to the tiniest baseball fans! In Hit the Ball Duck, Duck, Goat, Sheep, and Frog go to the park to play baseball. On the first pitch, Duck
"swings the bat - they hear a SWOOSH!
Then with a C-R-A-C-K the ball goes WHOOSH!
Up and up and up it flies.
"Catch it Sheep!" the pitcher cries.

But the ball gets stuck in a tree. The friends suggest various ways to get it down, but Duck decides to use the bat to knock it down:
SWISH goes the bat. But where does it fall?
On a branch in the tree. Now its stuck like the ball.

When Duck spies the glove, his friends try to stop him, but up it goes too. So Frog, who was "much too small" to catch, comes up with a team-building solution to retrieve their equipment and even catches an out!

This picture book does a great job of telling a story that's non-stop action! It's rhyming couplets and lively style will keep the attention of very young children and its use of onomatopoeic words (words that sound like the thing they describe) in large bold fonts makes this a great read aloud story. Duck is a very recognizable child - full of enthusiasm, all action, anxious to be the leader- and Frog, the brains of the group, is an amusing little hero (he carries the huge cooler out of the car while his friends say he's too small to catch).

The illustrations are brightly colored and the pages include a wide variety of rectangular vingettes, both horizontal and vertical, that keep the action flowing and keep the single park scene visually interesting. The friends are often oversized and step outside the illustration's lines. (Alborough uses this oversizing very cleverly in the last two panels so that Frog and Duck seem to be the same size.) The animal friends are goofy and rambunctious and will make children laugh.

A great little book for your favorite little slugger!

Jez Alborough has written and illustrated many wonderful children's books including Hugand My Friend Bear. There are many other Duck books including Duck's Day Out and Fix It Duck.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust

Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust
by April Pulley Sayre
Illustrated by Ann Jonas
Ages: 4-8
Topics: dust, earth science, history

Stars Beneath Your Bed takes the potentially mundane subject of dust and cleverly connects it to the color of sunrise and sunsets, King Tut, the dinosaurs, the solar system, butterfly wings, and rolling zebras, to name just a few. The narrative is written in simple free verse:
Old dust stays around.
Dust that made King Tut sneeze is still on Earth.
It might be on your floor.
That dusty film on your computer screen
might have muddied a dinosaur.

Sayre has done an excellent job of choosing informative dust examples that will strongly appeal to children and combine the familiar with the dramatic, "the smoke of burning toast,/ ash from an erupting volcano", a dog shaking off dirt and meerkats digging in the savanna. The brief text is boldly illustrated with double-spread watercolors that are full of (dusty) action. The vibrant colors will draw children in and the familiar and exotic elements provide plenty for children to comment on. Of course, the title dust example, of stars or bits of Mars or comets making up the dust under the bed, is perhaps the most appealing and visually dazzling! The book follows the timeline of a day, starting with sunrise and ending with sunset, the sun is present in each double-spread and moves across the sky, providing a nice visual unity to the geographically varied landscapes.

The concept of dust scattering light is gently touched on in the free verse narrative and there's a two page detailed explanation of Dust and Sunsets for older children (and adults) at the end of the book. An inspired introduction to earth sciences for the very young, this wonderful book will trigger a whole new series of connections between a child's daily life and the world and universe around us.

April Pulley Sayre has written over 50 children's books about science and nature including Dig, Wait, Listen: A Desert Toad's Tale, an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children and Our Amazing Continent books.

Ann Jonas has written and illustrated children's books including Color Dance and Round Trip, an ALA Notable Book and New York Times Best Illustrated Book.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Jack and the Night Visitors by Pat Schories

Jack and the Night Visitors
by Pat Schories
Ages: 2-5
Topics: dogs, aliens, robots

In this wordless picture book, Jack, a little white dog with orange spots and an attentive manner, and his purple p.j. -clad companion, the boy, are visited one night by a spacebus of tiny aliens. The aliens, who look like tiny robots with antenna, are friendly and scamper into the bedroom and immediately set to playing with all the little toy cars, trucks, and superheroes. But the visitors have arrived hungry, and Jack and the boy get them a large bowl of dry cereal, which really delights the aliens and builds trust between them and the boy. Alas, the boy wants to keep one of the visitors and captures him in a large glass jar, which causes a horrible commotion. Happily, Jack is there to rescue the little guy and send the travelers off on their way.

The illustrations clearly tell this simple story, making it a great "independent" book for young children, while having plenty of details for older children to point out. Below is the illustration where the alien communicates hunger.
As you can see, Jack and the boy are visually connected: they are together in every scene, the boy's orange hair is the same color as Jack's orange spots, and the two often share the same expression. The illustrations are mostly double page spreads, but there are also some vingettes (for example, getting the cereal). Children will delight in the bright illustrations, strong sense of pace and action, the familiar and appealing characters.

While I think this is an excellent picture book, I do have a peeve about the front cover. As you can see, the illustrations and characters are darling, but the cover completely fails to communicate this. Also, unless you're familiar with the previous Jack books or carefully read the front jacket, you might easily think that the boy is Jack, rather than the dog. There are two previous Jack books, Breakfast for Jack and Jack and the Missing Piece. Pat Schories is also the illustrator of the Biscuit books by Alyssa Satin Capucilli.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Third Carnival of Childrens' Literature at Semicolon

It's the Third Carnival of Childrens' Literature, hosted by Semicolon. As April is National Poetry month, this carnival has poetry as its theme.
BookCarousel submitted The Snail and the Whale.
Many thanks to Sherry for putting this carnival together. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

My Monster Mama Loves Me So by Laura Leuck

My Monster Mama Loves Me So
by Laura Leuck
Illustrations by Mark Buehner
Ages 2-6
Topics: mothers, love, monsters

In this brief, bright tale a little monster tells readers how he knows his monster mama loves him:

When I wake up, she tweaks my nose,
tickles all my pointy toes,
combs the cobwebs from my bangs,
and makes sure that I brush my fangs.

Preschoolers will shriek with delight at the bug-filled cookies, the beastball games, and little monster's bedroom pets (spiders, bats, mice, snakes) that are all part of this loving monster-and-child relationship. There's plenty of mother-child activities they'll relate to including reading by the fire on a rainy day, going for a stroll in the park, and listening to Mama sing a lullaby to help them sleep. The three-eyed, three-legged, four-armed monsters (handy on the jungle gym) are really quite sweet-looking, so there's no need to worry about a younger child being scared. In fact, in this story, the regular kids are the "scary things" that "wave their arms and scream and shout"!

This rhyming story makes a perfect read-aloud choice for preschoolers — there's plenty of great moments for anticipatory pauses. The story is short, the language, simple, and the activities, familiar, making this a good choice for very young children. The story ends with the monster being lulled to sleep, so choose this one as a goodnight story.

The painted illustrations are bright and witty and make the most of the monsters differences, while providing familiar details. For example, the illustration of the mama monster combing her son's hair really emphasizes the monster's extra limbs (he's sitting on a 4 legged stool), but also has a familiar spray bottle, comb, and brush. Older children will enjoy pointing out the details: lots of spiders hanging here and there, the spider fabric on the rocking chair, the one-eyed dog, the skulls on the headboard.

And, of course, monster mamas everywhere will enjoy the appreciative nature of this tale.

Laura Leuck has written many children's picture books with similar themes including My Beastly Brother, Jeepers Creepers: A Monstrous ABC, and My Creature Teacher.

Mark Buehner has illustrated many wonderful picture books including Snowmen at Night, It's a Spoon, Not a Shovel, and Superdog: The Heart of the Hero, all written by his wife, Caralyn Buehner.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson

The Snail and the Whale
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Ages: 4-8
Topics: snails, whales, adventure, big/small

A sea snail who lives on a small rock near a harbor has an "itchy foot". She slithers a message "Ride wanted around the world" on the black rock and her message is answered by:
A humpback whale, immensely long,
Who sang to the snail a wonderful song
Of shimmering ice and coral caves
And shooting stars and enormous waves.

So the snail climbs onto the whale's tail and off they journey . They see penguins and icebergs, volcanoes, underwater caves, and experience sunny climes and huge thunder storms. The snail "gazed and gazed, amazed by it all,/And she said to the whale, "I feel so small .

Then one day, the whale loses his way and is "beached in a bay". The tiny snail must get help for her mighty friend. She slithers a note on a school blackboard to raise the alarm and saves her friend.

This charming and poetic tale of the value of even the smallest creatures will delight children, as will the beautiful and amusing illustrations. There's lots of humor to keep adults entertained (the strict teacher turns "pale" when she finds a snail on her blackboard, the irritation of the other snails on the rock with itchy foot's constant movement) and also an effective environmental message (the whale loses his way because he is overwhelmed by the noise of a speedboat race.) The poetry is lilting and varied and never awkward.

The illustrations are bright and vibrant. All but four pages are ocean scenes and Scheffler does a terrific job creating very varied ocean scenes in pencil, crayon, and ink with beautiful watercolor skies. The facial expressions on the snails and other animals will make you laugh and there's lots of tiny details to make this a book you'll come back to again and again.

Julia Donaldson is the author of several excellent children's picture books including Room on the Broom and The Gruffalo.

Axel Scheffler has illustrated many children's books and also illustrated Donaldson's Room on the Broom and The Gruffalo