I've fallen behind on my picture book reviews of late. So I've decided to try something new. I'm going to do small round-up posts featuring my favorites of the titles that I've received from various publishers. First up was Kane Miller. Second was Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. Today I am featuring four titles from Chronicle Kids.
1. Stella Brings the Family, written by Miriam B. Schiffer and illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown. Stella Brings the Family is about a little girl who has two dads who is worried about being "the only one without a mother at the (class) Mother's Day party." Her discussions with her classmates reveal that the lack of a mother doesn't cause Stella any other strife. Daddy makes her lunch, and Daddy and Papa both read her stories, etc. It's not that her lack of a mother is a secret - she just doesn't know what to do on this occasion. Eventually, she decides to bring all of the people who care for her (two dads, grandma, aunt, etc.) to the party.
I was a tiny bit bothered by the central implausibility of this story - that her teacher wouldn't have known that she had two dads, and talked to her about it. Apart from that, though, I enjoyed reading about much-loved little Stella, her various family members, and her non-judgmental classmates.
Schiffer's prose is straightforward, with short declarative sentences that help in keeping this story matter-of-fact. Clifton-Brown's watercolor illustrations add warmth, with Stella's curly red hair front and center. The multi-paned party invitation that Stella makes also takes a central place, and appears realistically kid-drawn. Stella's classmates also display a realistic multi-cultural diversity, as well as having their own varieties of family structures. Ultimately, Stella Brings the Family celebrates not so much two dad families, but the fact that families today come in all permutations and combinations. This makes Stella Brings the Family a good choice all around for libraries.
2. Polar Bear's Underwear, by Tupera Tupera. As one might expect from the title, Polar Bear's Underwear is a silly book about a polar bear who can't find his underwear. His friend Mouse helps him to search for it. Mouse continually points out outlandish pairs of underwear, each seen through a page cut-out. Turning the page reveals the owner of that particular pair of underwear (of course the own isn't Polar Bear until the end of the book). The colorful striped pair belongs to Zebra. ("it's his favorite pair, too.")
There's plenty of humor to Polar Bear's Underwear, as when the owner of a pink pair that says "I love mice" turns out to be Cat ("RUN!"). Of course it's not sophisticated humor. It felt a bit repetitive to me by the end as an adult reader. But I think that three and four year olds, particularly those new to wearing underwear themselves, will enjoy it. The illustrations primarily consist of the underwear and the animals wearing them, with minimal distraction for young readers.
It's hard to tell from the picture, but the red underwear shown on the cover of Polar Bear's Underwear is actually removable cardboard that goes around the book. You have to take off the bear's underwear in order to open the book. I thought that this gimmick would please my five year old, but she was unimpressed. The removable underwear probably makes book a better choice for home than for library use (one had to keep track of the underwear once it is removed, after all). Polar Bear's Underwear is humorous and kid-friendly, though mainly suited to preschool age readers.
3. Farewell Floppy by Benjamin Chaud. Farewell Floppy is a quirky tale of a boy and his pet rabbit, Floppy. Floppy isn't much use as a pet - he doesn't really do anything (except jump really high when you scare him). So the boy decides on day that he's going to set Floppy free. He takes Floppy deep into the woods, and (though it's harder than he expects) ties him to a tree and leaves him there. But then ... he learns that it's not so easy to leave behind something that you love, even if you are trying to be more grown up.
Farewell Floppy is kind of an odd book - it's not fantasy, but it's not straight-up realistic, either. (Have you ever seen a rabbit ride piggy-pack on a boy's shoulders?). The writing is a mixture of dramatic narrative ("The trees got taller and taller. It got darker and darker.") and self-rationalization ("Instead, he just sat there like a nincompoop. He was practically begging me to leave him"). But it definitely makes you want to keep reading, to find out what will happen. Chaud's illustrations capture this mixed tone, with the woods looking rather scary, but Floppy coming across as amusing and slightly pathetic. Readers may not always know what to make of Farewell Floppy, but it will stand out as unique on their shelves.
4. Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt is a celebration of gardening, told from two different perspectives. Up in the garden, a girl and her grandmother plant and water and weed, and enjoy themselves. Down in the dirt, various animals also contribute to the growing of the garden, from the pill bugs chewing through last year's dirt to the skunks gobbling cutworms.
Messner's prose is lyrical without actually being poetry. Like this:
"I weed and wilt in sun so strong even
Nana looks for shade.
Down in the dirt earthworms tunnel deep.
I'm jealous of their cool, damp, dark."
Neal's mixed media illustrations are as full of browns and greens as any garden. He gives loving attention to even the smallest of creatures, using shifting perspectives to emphasize, for example, a ladybug on a leaf, while the girl and her Nana are small in the background. The color palette follows the seasons, getting warmer and brighter at first, and then darker as fall and winter approach. Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt is a book that will make young readers look at the outdoors in a different, respectful way (with fun thrown in, too). End material talks about the various animals in the book in more detail. This would make a great addition to a classroom unit on gardening for second or third graders.
© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).