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Posts from November 2012

Cowboy Christmas: Rob Sanders & John Manders

Book: Cowboy Christmas
Author: Rob Sanders
Illustrator: John Manders
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-5 

Cowboy Christmas is a ridiculous romp through the joys of the season. Three grumpy cowboys, Dwight, Darryl, and Dub, find themselves stuck in the desert rustling cows three days before Christmas. Each day, one of the cowboys laments a particular remembered tradition (like chopping down a Christmas tree). Each time, their cook, Cookie, very quietly suggests that instead of complaining they take action to reinstate the tradition. The results are pathetic and absurd ("charred sugar-molasses-bean cookies" and cows dressed up as reindeer). But in the end, a mysterious Santa brings Christmas to the cowpokes after all, just as Cookie has disappeared for his day off. 

Sanders' text is full of cowboy twang, like:

"Dub lashed twigs to the herd's heads, tied bandannas to their tails, and dangled cowbells 'round their necks. Then he stood back and took a gander."


"The cowboys spent the day mending fences, minding the herd, and feeling low-down and miserable. 

Near sunset, the boys rounded up the cattle and moseyed toward camp."

You have to love a picture book that uses the word "moseyed". I also love that he plays the boys' belief in Santa Claus straight up. And even if the "Santa" who appears near the end of the book is Cookie (and this is my no means certain), the cook himself receives an unexpected gift in his stocking in the end. 

Format-wise, Cowboy Christmas is part of Random House's Golden Book series. There's no dust jacket, and the cover looks somewhat muted and retro. But Manders' illustrations, while not leaping from the page, are entertaining. The animals are particularly amusing, all displaying wide, worried eyes in the face of the cowboys' actions. 

Cowboy Christmas could be a nice addition to your holiday reading fare, with a quirky feel, and much more humor than sentimentality. 

Publisher: Golden Books (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: September 11, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

The Berenstain Bears' Old-Fashioned Christmas: Jan & Mike Berenstain

Book: The Berenstain Bears' Old-Fashioned Christmas
Authors: Jan & Mike Berenstain 
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-8 

For those looking for a nostalgic, family-oriented Christmas book, The Berenstain Bears' Old-Fashioned Christmas is the just the ticket. The Bear family drives (in their old-fashioned convertible, trunk bulging with gifts) to Grizzly Gran and Gramps's house. When the kids attempt to sit down to watch Christmas videos, Gramps informs them that it's going to be an old-fashioned Christmas. There is singing, a player piano, and a trip to the woods to cut down the tree. There are home-made ornaments, Christmas cookies, and even a trip to a barn. Keeping this old-fashioned focus from becoming cloying is a hint of friction between Papa and Gramps (who can light a better fire, etc.), and a failure by the family to ever get around to singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas".

Wikipedia says that Mike Berenstain, who is continuing to work on the series after the death of his parents, has added "a focus on promoting Christian religious practices" that his Jewish father didn't share. (See a more in-depth analysis on this at A Fuse #8 Production.) There's definitely a religious unpinning to The Berenstain Bears' Old-Fashioned Christmas (putting the star on top of the tree, visiting the animals in the barn, but I found most of the overt focus of this book to be on the more secular cultural traditions (sleigh rides, presents, holiday cards, etc.). 

50thWhat can one say about the illustrations of a book that is part of a series published over 50 years? The bears are warm and cuddly, with expressive faces. My favorite is one in which Gran is scolding Paper for arguing with Gramps. Papa is smiling sheepishly, while Mama has a wry smile on her face. The backgrounds are full of colorful holiday details (though painted without much texture). 

One nice touch, I thought, is that the book includes the full text of a couple of Christmas songs, as well as instructions for creating your own ornaments and for creating holiday treats for animals. All that's missing is a recipe for gingerbread cookies. These additions take the book from being just a story to also make it kind of a manual for celebrating an old-fashioned Christmas. I can see that being welcome in many households. 

The cover is an accurate representation of what you get when you read The Berenstain Bears' Old-Fashioned Christmas: a happy story of a family surrounded by all the trappings of Christmas. Likely to be a family favorite, re-read every December for years to come. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Big Girl Panties: Fran Manushkin & Valeria Petrone

Book: Big Girl Panties
Author: Fran Manushkin
Illustrator: Valeria Petrone
Pages: 24
Age Range: 3-5 

Big Girl Panties is a fairly simple board book dedicated to the joys of moving from diapers to big girl panties. It's a book that I would never have appreciated (or even noticed, really) prior to having a toddler in the house. But as my life is now ... I seized Big Girl Panties from the box that it came in without hesitation, knowing just from looking at the title and cover that it would be a hit with my dabbling-in-potty-training 2 1/2 year old. And I was correct.

Big Girl Panties follows a pig-tailed preschooler as she graduates from diapers to panties. She glories in her various types of panties, and in her superiority over her baby brother, who is still in diapers. She celebrates being like her mother, grandmother, and aunt, all wearing big girl panties. She is happy, happy, happy throughout the entire book. 

Fran Manushkin's text is minimal and exclamation point-filled. Like this:

"I can prance in my panties
and dance in my panties!

No crocodile!
You can't wear panties."

Valeria Petrone's illustrations are brightly colored and energetic. The people don't look quite realistic, but the range of different patterned panties is a joy to behold. 

There are a few opportunities for learning throughout Big Girl Panties, via days of the week panties, and the pointing out of panties with particular colors or patterns. But mostly, this is a book that, accurately I think, captures the excitement of little girls over graduating from diapers to panties. I recommend it for parents of toddler girls who want to pump up the joys of successfully completing potty training. Big Girl Panties is also a good companion book to Leslie Patricelli's Potty (which my child knows word for word).  

Publisher: Robin Corey Books (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: September 11, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Pete the Cat Saves Christmas: James Dean & Eric Litwin

Book: Pete the Cat Saves Christmas
Creator and Illustrator: James Dean
Author: Eric Litwin 
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8 

Somehow or other, I have missed the Pete the Cat books up until now, despite being aware of them. Pete the Cat Saves Christmas is the first title that I've read (there are at least 3 prior books in the series). Set to the tune of "Twas the Night Before Christmas", this book is pretty much exactly as advertised. Santa falls ill, and calls upon Pete to deliver the toys, and save the day. 

Litwin's text is dead-on in keeping to the tune of the song. There's also an accompanying song that fans can download from HarperCollins. The text is like this:

"Will Christmas be canceled?
Will it come to that?
"Never!" cried Santa. Let's call
Pete the Cat."

Santa asked Pete
to deliver the toys
to all the good girls
and to all the good boys." 

There's a musical refrain that repeats several times throughout the book "Give it your all, give your all. At Christmas we give, so gift your all." I'm pretty sure you have to hear the song to fully appreciate that part. But books with a bit of singing are certainly popular for read-aloud in my household. 

Overall, the storyline is what you would expect from a story of anyone saving Christmas. What makes Pete the Cat Saves Christmas stand out is James Dean's illustrations. Pete is clearly a character, and a brand (there's an easy reader series launching in the spring). He dominates just about every page (not in terms of scale, but as the big-eyed, deadpan focal point). There's a cartoon quality to the pictures, in a good way, with bold colors and simple representations of sun, stars, etc. One can imagine the story as an animated TV show.

There are a few whimsical touches (like four larger elves holding up a "Thank you, Pete!" sign, while a smaller elf holds a "Small is cool" sign. The toy shop has one tall door labeled "SANTA" and a much smaller one labeled "ELF". Santa and the elves are all shown as cats. There's also a yellow bird who accompanies Pete on his Santa rounds - unclear to me if the bird is a recurring character.  

Fans of the series will doubtless want to see Pete the Cat save Christmas. Fans of The Night Before Christmas retellings will also want to give this one a look. But really, I think that anyone who appreciates a bouncy tune, and a Christmas story in which everything turns out as it should, will enjoy Pete the Cat Saves Christmas. After reading it a couple of times, I find myself quite looking forward to my annual viewing of The Santa Clause

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: Thanksgiving Edition

JRBPlogo-smallWishing you all of you from the US a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend. This year, as work demands and the holiday season combine to pile on stress, I remain increasingly grateful for the solace provided by books, and for the gift of literacy that keeps giving forever. 

Today I will be sending out the new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. There are 1626 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have six book reviews (five picture books and one young adult title), one children's literacy roundup, and one post with links that I shared on Twitter. The newsletter is a bit shorter than usual because I decided to send it out before the Thanksgiving holiday. I have several middle grade reviews scheduled to come out soon. 

Reading Update: In the past 2+ weeks, I finished three novels for middle grade readers, and one nonfiction title for adults: 

  • Jo Knowles: See You At Harry's. Candlewick. Middle Grade. Completed November 12, 2012, on Kindle. Review to come. 
  • John Stephens: The Fire Chronicle (Books of Beginning). Knopf. Middle Grade. Completed November 18, 2012. Review to come. 
  • Kell Andrews: Deadwood. Pugalicious Press. Middle Grade. Completed November 19, 2012. Review to come. 
  • Paul Tough: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Adult Non-Fiction. Completed November 11, 2012, on Kindle. Not sure if I'll have a chance to write a review for this book, but I thought that it was an excellent look at the impact of character traits on success. Well worth a read to anyone interested in education. 

Right now I'm reading Book Love by Melissa Taylor on my Kindle, and reading The Expeditioners by S. S. Taylor. I'm still listening to The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan on my MP3 player. And of course I'm reading lots and lots of books to Baby Bookworm. I plan to do a post highlighting her favorites soon. How about you? What have you and your kids been reading and enjoying?

Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving, surrounded by people you love. 

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Trapped: Michael Northrop

Book: Trapped
Author: Michael Northrop (@mdnorthrop)
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up

Michael Northrop's Trapped is a book that you'll want to read while snuggled under a warm blanket. Doesn't matter how warm it is where you live - Trapped will make you feel the cold.

Trapped is a story about seven high school students trapped in their remote rural high school by the blizzard to end all blizzards. No on knows that they are there (as far as they can tell), and no one could get to them anyway. It starts out a bit of a lark, but when the power goes out and all of the first floor windows are buried in snow, things aren't quite so fun. Within a few days, when there's no more heat, and the roof starts to make ominous noises, things get really scary.

Trapped is a quick, suspenseful read, an obvious choice as an ALA/YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (now even more appealing in a slim, take-anywhere paperback edition). Like books such as Life As We Knew It, Trapped makes you appreciate basic things like heat and working plumbing. And cell phones, the absence of which really bothers the kids. 

Scotty's voice is quite strong. It's a bit surprising, almost, that Michael Northrop isn't still a fifteen year old boy. Because he sure can channel one. As an adult, female reader, there was a bit more attention to zits and boy banter than I was exactly interested in, but I think that Trapped must work very well with male teen readers. Like this:

"I'd made sure I was walking on Krista's right, but I could see now that it wouldn't matter much. Weak light is a lit's best friend. 

The snow reached the top of the windows now. It felt like being buried. The windows looked out on to nothing, as if some idea had installed waist-level windows in a basement. The light from the emergency lights faded in and out as we moved past one and toward another. It was gold now, piss-colored." (Page 101-102)

I also thought that Northrop did a nice job of working in a tiny bit of knowledge here and there, without slowing the pace of the book, or feeling like he was out to teach readers anything. There are explanations of Occam's Razor, phantom limb syndrome, how storms work (where they get their energy), and various practical matters related to survival. 

In general, Northrop has a gift for throwing in little insightful observations that resonate. Despite Trapped being a fairly short book, I flagged quite a few passages. Like these:

"It wasn't the creaky tools that were worrying Holloway, though. It was the snow. That was the other thing he really valued: Like a lot of New Englanders who've reached a certain age and haven't had the common sense to leave, he really had a thing for winter, like it was some beautiful beast that had to be respected." (Page 22)

"It wasn't really cold enough to need that many layers yet. She wasn't bundled up against the cold. She was bundled up against the possibility of cold." (Page 65)

There's a hint of The Breakfast Club in the story's setup, with kids from different social groups forced together by the blizzard. But Northrop's treatment, while not quite so smart-alecky, is far more believable. Certainly the kids, particularly Scotty and his two best friends, are more than stereotypes. 

I was a bit irritated by the abrupt ending of the book. I would have liked an epilogue or something. But there is no question that Northrop keeps the story moving forward right up to the last page. 

Trapped is a must-purchase title for high school libraries, and a recommended read for anyone looking for a tense survival story. Just make sure you have a blanket handy, and an uninterrupted chunk of time to finish the book. 

Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: December 1, 2012 (this edition)
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you). 

The Chicken Problem: Jennifer Oxley & Billy Aronson

Book: The Chicken Problem
Authors: Jennifer Oxley & Billy Aronson
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 - 8 

The Chicken Problem is a picture book that introduces various math concepts, via fictional story, without feeling the least bit didactic. That's a pretty fine accomplishment, but about what one would expect from co-authors Jennifer Oxley (recipient of an Emmy Award for her role as director on Nick Jr.'s Little Bill) and Billy Aronson (author of plays and text for various television shows). They are currently working on a math-themed television show for PBS Kids based on the characters in The Chicken Problem

The premise of The Chicken Problem is that Peg and Cat, and their friend Pig, are on a farm getting ready to enjoy a picnic of "fresh and juicy and gooey" pie. There's a piece just the right size for each of them. All seems well, until they notice that there's an extra, really little piece of pie. Cat takes action, and gets a "really little chicken" out of the chicken coop. Alas, Cat neglects to secure the chicken coop, and soon Peg, Cat, and Pig are scrambling to return 100 escaped chicks to their home. 

It's clear from the outset that The Chicken Problem is focused on math. Each page has a little math equation in the lower outside corner, counting up by increments of 1 from "1+1=2" to "24+1=25". The first page also shows, in the background, one piece of pie + another piece of pie = 2 (where the pie is sketched instead of spelled out). The clouds in the sky are shaped like the infinity symbol. The background of some of the pages, including the endpages, is graph paper. And, as she is collecting the chickens to return to their coop, Peg counts up to 10. These are just a few of the math-related details. 

But what makes the book work is that text isn't all about the math. There's quite a bit of silliness, too. There's the focus on pie, which is always reader-friendly. And text like this:

""One hundred chickens running wild!"

There were one hundred chickens going crazy all over the place! Chickens leaping! Chickens skipping! Chickens hopping! Chickens doing somersaults! Chickens standing on their heads! Chickens standing on each other's heads! Chickens doing the chicken dance! Chickens bending over and wiggling their bottoms in the air! There were chickens chickens chickens chickens chickens everywhere!"

I challenge you to read the above aloud without smiling. Seriously. Later Cat dances a little dance and Peg sings a little song as they are collecting the chickens. The text any time Peg talks or sings is in a different font (like a child's handwriting), making it easy for young readers to distinguish Peg from the narrator. And making the book that much more fun to read aloud. I mean, this book would be a GREAT classroom read aloud for first or second graders. Truly excellent. Educational in a small way, positive about math in a big way, and just pure fun in the most important way. 

Speaking of pure fun, a detail that I quite liked is that the acknowledgements page at the end of The Chicken Problem includes a thank you for the one hundred chickens, many of which are individually named in humorous fashion ("Little Red Riding Chicken", "The artist formerly known as chicken", etc.). 

The illustrations in The Chicken Problem, apparently computer generated, are full of energy, and easy to visualize as an animated television show. The pages showing the 100 chickens bobbing about the farmyard are hilarious. Cat, though a bit of a big-eyed purple blob, manages to convey what he needs to convey, without any words. And Peg, though cartoonish, also seems ready to dance off of the page. 

The Chicken Problem is probably not a good choice for most preschoolers. The illustrations are quite busy, and the presence of numbers and equations might even be offputting. But for the K-3 crowd, The Chicken Problem should be a hit. Highly recommended for library, classroom, and home use. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: Mid-November

JkrROUNDUPThe mid-November children's literacy and reading news roundup, brought to you by Terry Doherty, Carol Rasco, and myself, is now available at The Family Bookshelf. The roundups are twice-monthly celebrations of literacy-related events, literacy and reading programs and research, and suggestions for growing bookworms. 

In this week's pre-Thanksgiving installment, Terry has found lots of things to be thankful for:

Warm homes and electricity (Terry lists several links for literacy-related disaster relief efforts after Storm Sandy). 

Cybils2012The Cybils. Terry says: "Today we are officially half-way through Round 1 for the 2012 Children’s and YA Bloggers Literary Awards! If you follow the #Cybils stream or Jen’s Handy-Dandy List of Panelists and Judges, you’ve probably noticed lots of book references."

A host of best-of and book-gift-giving suggestions.

Literacy. Here are two tidbits from an infographic about Literacy in America

  • "Literate individuals tend to keep themselves and their families healthier because they are capable of accessing important information and calculating medication.
  • Literacy is also linked to better communication, which is an important characteristic for all key employees."

And so much more that it's difficult to stop. Please do head on over to Terry's full children's literacy roundup. She has plenty of reading material to peruse over the long holiday weekend next week. 

And, as is my usual habit, I have a few additional tidbits to share with you:

FirstBook.jpgFrom First Book: "Thanks for voting in First Book's 'Ten Books Every Child Should Own' contest! We received over 13,000 votes, with lots of ballots cast for all ten terrific titles. But there can be only one winner, and the people overwhelmingly chose ... "Green Eggs & Ham" by Dr. Seuss!" More details here.

From Scholastic: "... exciting news about Scholastic’s new holiday campaign! For every Storia ebook purchased, Scholastic – partnering with The UPS Store and Toys for Tots – will donate a book to a child in need, especially kids who lost their home libraries in Hurricane Sandy. This holiday literacy drive is part of Scholastic’s global literacy campaign, Read Every Day. Lead a Better Life, an effort to help all children experience the love of reading and owning a book."

Melissa Taylor from Imagination Soup has a new book out: Book Love: Help Your Child Grow from Reluctant to Enthusiastic Reader. I haven't read it yet, but you can read a guest post from Melissa at The Book Chook about why kids don't like to read and what to do about it. Right now the book is only available in digital format (see this page for links to different format - it's a little confusing), but a paperback is coming. 

Speaking of The Book Chook, Susan Stephenson has a new post about Helping Kids Find Books that is well worth a look. And in similar vein, at Everyday Reading, Janssen shares her thoughts on Where to Find Picture Books for Your Child. Both posts are well worth a look. 

And that's all that I have for you today. Carol will be back at the end of the month with more children's literacy and reading news. And of course you can follow us in the meantime @CHRasco, @ReadingTub, and @JensBookPage. Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy. 

This post © 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Links I Shared on Twitter This Week: November 16

Here are some highlights from the literacy and children's literature-related links that I shared on Twitter this past week or so @JensBookPage. (I was traveling last week, and so didn't have a links post at all.)


On the #Cybils blog: Midterm Progress Report.1374 total nominations, 83.8% already read by at least 1 person

Interview Wednesday Part One: Meet Three #CYBILS #Poetry Panelists by @JoneMac53

RT: @polking: My Nerdy Book Club post about being a Cybils YA fiction panelist is up today. Read here: .

Tips for Growing Bookworms:

Suggestions for #Literacy Blogs worth following from Growing Book by Book

A very useful post on Introducing Children to Books, Part II @delightchildbks  #literacy #litrdup

Delightful! Ten Ways to Raise Readers by Julie Falatko @NerdyBookClub #literacy #kidlit #litrdup

RT @imaginationsoup: Do you need more ideas for reading with your kids? Here are my favorite #Pinterest #reading boards

Book News, Lists and Views:

Washington Post Best Kids Books 2012 via @tashrow #kidlit

Interesting thoughts from @haleshannon (and her readers): Does Twilight damage young readers?  #yalit

Debut Author William Alexander Nabs 2012 National Book Award for Young People via @sljournal  #yalit

Books like 'Hunger Games' make reading cool again reports @GreenBayHub  #yalit

Stop Calling Books for Kids YA! asks @medinger #kidlit #yalit

Stacked: Contemporary #YALit 2012 Book List of 2013 Contemporary Titles to Watch For from @catagator

A fine review of the Gregor the Overlander series (which spouse + I both loved) by @library_jim  #kidlit

10+ Thanksgiving Chapter Books For Kids from @momandkiddo  #kidlit

Stellar Four: Let's Hear It for the Boys (& Girls) in YA (books where they are equals) via @bkshelvesofdoom

So many books to covet! Librarian Preview: @HarperChildrens(Spring 2013) from @FuseEight #kidlit

Kinda cool. @scholastic is releasing the first 20 Babysitters Club books as ebooks, with "classic covers" #kidlit @charissemeloto

Why We Need Diversity in YA Fiction from @CherylRainfield  #yalit

Plus a couple of links that I am instead sharing in the children's literacy and reading news roundup post that I'll have up later today. Thanks for reading!

This post © 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Fuddles: Frans Vischer

Book: Fuddles
Author: Frans Vischer
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8 

The title character in Frans Vischer's Fuddles is a fat, spoiled cat who develops a longing for adventure. Fuddles, very much an indoor cat, makes his escape one day, and learns that the outside world is much more challenging than he had ever imagined.

This is essentially the same story as in Anita Lobel's Nini Lost and Found (a favorite in my house), with a similar ending. However, where Lobel focuses on the cozy and scary aspects of the situation, Vischer (a Disney animator) takes a humorous approach. Fuddles, when still indoors, imagines himself "scaling soaring mountains and fighting ferocious foes." Once out of doors, his attempt to catch some birds lands him in a dirty birdbath ("last night's pork chops weighed him down."). He is dismayed to learn that "couches were easier to climb than trees" (who knew?). And when he is actually confronted by a ferocious foe, well, things don't go quite the way he might have hoped.

I personally found the resolution of the book a little too easy (Fuddles gets found, no heroism on his part, and learns his lesson). I think that Vischer could have done more there. But I still enjoyed Fuddles' journey.

Vischer's illustrations are lively and amusing. Fuddles really comes through as a character, his complaisance gradually replaced by determination, and then by fear and uncertainty. Most of the page spreads are quite active, with Fuddles waving his paws in the air, or scratching a tree trunk, or falling with a broken branch. Visher's experience as an animator - someone who sees stories in a visual way - comes through clearly. 

I particularly enjoyed the way that the text, related from Fuddles' perspective, doesn't always match the pictures, lending a subtle humor. For instance:

"Like a cheetah chasing a gazelle, he made his speedy getaway."

The fat houescat, while charming, and certainly leaping out of the doorway, is no cheetah. Later, Fuddles decides on "A short catnap in the neighbor's yard". The astute young reader will notice a dog house, in Fuddles' vicinity, and predict what's going to happen next. 

All in all, I think that kids, particularly those who love cats and/or laughing at the antics of the hapless, will enjoy Fuddles' adventures. Fuddles was published in 2011, and so may be available now in your school or local library. Recommended for ages 4-8.

Publisher: Aladdin (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: May 3, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Old MacDonald Had a Farm and other favorite children's songs: Hannah Wood

Book: Old MacDonald Had a Farm and other favorite children's songs
Author: Hannah Wood
Pages: 22
Age Range: 2-5

Old MacDonald Had a Farm (and other favorite children's songs) is a medium sized, lightly padded board book illustrated by Hannah Wood. Each page or page spread has the text of a classic children's song, for a total of 12 songs. Selections include: Old MacDonald Had a Farm (of course); Good Morning to You; Mr. Sun; Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush; Skip to My Lou; I'm A Little Teapot; Do Your Ears Hang Low?; The Farmer in the Dell; Pop! Goes the Weasel; A-Tisket, A-Tasket; The Bear Went Over the Mountain; and Bingo.

No musical notes are included -- you have to know the tunes to sing them aloud with your child. But they are all pretty well-known titles, so I don't think that this is a problem (I don't personally know how to read music anyway, so the scores wouldn't have helped me.) They are all upbeat, kid-friendly choices. And for those parents who are wandering around, half-remembering some of these songs from childhood, seeing the words written down could be quite useful. 

Tiger Tales Press has published a number of other titles in this same, toddler-friendly format, many of them illustrated by Wood. Children familiar with the other titles will easily recognize Wood's kid-friendly style, as well as characters from books like One Sunny Day (a Baby Bookworm favorite). The illustrations are not realistic - they are rendered more as if a (skilled) child had made them, with the huge sun surrounded by yellow lines, and everyone (people and animals) sporting dots for eyes, and wide smiles. But throughout, Wood displays a sense of fun. I'm a Little Teapot is accompanied by a picture of a girl (with smiling teapot) having a tea party with her doll and several apparently animated stuffed animals. Do Your Ears Hang Low? features a sad basset hound (pretty much the only frowning face in the book). Old MacDonald Had a Farm has regular animals, and the farm dog appears to be dancing.

Old MacDonald Had a Farm is not ground-breaking literature. But it is a fun collection of toe-tap-worthy children's songs, with toddler-friendly illustrations, in a sturdy format. Recommended for fans of Wood's illustrations, or anyone who knows the tune but can't quite remember all of the words to The Farmer in the Dell. A nice addition to any toddler's bookshelf. 

Publisher: Tiger Tales (@TigerTalesBooks)
Publication Date: September 1, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Can You Growl Like a Bear?: John Butler

Book: Can You Growl Like a Bear?
Author: John Butler
Pages: 20
Age Range: 2-5 

I enjoyed John Butler's Bedtime in the Jungle (reviewed last year), particularly his illustrations of animals. So when a new board book edition of his 2007 picture book Can You Growl Like a Bear? was released, I was happy to give it a look. 

Can You Growl Like a Bear? is a short book in which each page spread highlights a different animal, and each pair of page spreads rhymes. Like this:

"Can you click like
a dolphin, swimming
through the seas?

Can you buzz
like a honeybee,
floating on a breeze?"

In the above, "click" and "buzz" are both shown in larger, bold text, highlighting the sound that each creature makes. Having the rhymes on separate pages makes the book a little bit difficult to read aloud, but having each page spread focus on only one animal is clearly the right way to go for this young audience. 

I like that even though the book is for young readers, and there's not a lot of text, Butler still uses descriptive words like "basking" and "slinking". The noises shared gradually quiet as the book progresses, making it a nice bedtime read. Butler closes with:

"Everyone is quiet now.
You can't hear a peep.
It's time to gently close your eyes
and fall fast asleep."

As in Bedtime in the Jungle, Butler's animals are largely realistic, but with an extra hint of friendliness. The elephant, for example, is wrinkled but smiling. The pandas, mother and child snuggling for the night, are fuzzy enough to make any reader want to curl right up beside them.  

I do think that the viewing quality of the illustrations may have been harmed a bit by the board book format. They look just a tiny bit flat. I think that paper (particularly paper with a hint of gloss) would make them more vivid. Of course this is a bedtime book - the illustrations don't need to be vivid. But I found myself wondering if the hardcover version would have been more visually satisfying.

Still, that's a minor quibble. Can You Growl Like a Bear? is satisfying toddler bedtime fare, filled with gentle rhymes, and with the chance to hear and repeat a different animal sound on every page. A good addition to any toddler board book gift pack. 

Publisher: Peachtree (@PeachtreePub)
Publication Date: August 1, 2012 (this edition)
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).