505 posts categorized "Picture Books" Feed

Enzo and the Fourth of July Races: Garth Stein and R.W. Alley

Book: Enzo and the Fourth of July Races
Author: Garth Stein
Illustrator: R.W. Alley
Pages: 40
Age Range: 6-8

EnzoFourthOfJulyI like the previous books about Enzo very much (see reviews here and here). But Enzo and the Fourth of July Races I LOVE. Enzo is a cute little dog who lives with a girl named Zoe and her race car driver dad, Denny. The books are told from Enzo's perspective. In this installment, Enzo accompanies Zoe and Denny to Pine Cone Speedway for the Fourth of July Races. Denny will be competing as usual. And Zoe will be competing for her first time in the Kids' Kart Challenge. If she can overcome the hit to her confidence that comes from overhearing a boy scoff at the idea of a girl competing, that is. 

There's so much to love about this book. It's about how you need to have confidence in yourself to succeed, and how no one else can give that to you externally. It's about the rewards of working hard, and about how you should pay attention to people who might have useful information (even if they are not in conventionally "important" positions). And it's about how girls can, in fact, accomplish anything they set out to do. 

Of course regular readers know that I am very sensitive to books that are didactic. But Enzo and the Fourth of July Races manages to teach these growth mindset-inspired lessons without the tiniest hint of being message-y. I think Garth Stein pulls this off by keeping the viewpoint of the book squarely in Enzo's determined paws. Enzo isn't capable of thinking in didactic terms, and readers won't be, either. Enzo is just observing what Zoe and Denny do, with a few reflections on how they feel, and trying to figure out how he can support his family. It's brilliant. 

The book also highlights fun aspects of the fact that the narrator is a dog. Enzo has learned a bit about people since his puppy days, but he still has a decidedly dog-centric view of the world. Like this:

"This is what I love about the racetrack: the roar of engines, the smell of fuel and rubber, the dirt on everyone's faces, and the look of intensity in their eyes as they work on their cars to make them the fastest of the weekend.

And I also like that sometimes someone drops a hot dog and doesn't notice."

There's also a great spread in which Zoe and Denny are both qualifying at the same time. Enzo runs back and forth between them until he is tired and panting, observing: "They don't realize how much work it is for me to look after them!" You just have this feeling that dogs really think that way. 

R. W. Alley's illustrations of Enzo and his family are warm and pleasing. The illustrator of recent Paddington books brings the shaggy Enzo to life perfectly. 

One other thing I love about this book is what a great dad Denny is. When Zoe (temporarily) backs out of the Go Kart race he tells her: "A wise man once told me there is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose." But he also tells her: " I respect your decision, and I love you whether or not you race." I kind of wanted to hug him right there. 

Enzo and the Fourth of July Races is long and text-dense for a picture book. I would recommend it more for first and second graders than for younger kids. Despite being long, to me (and I am not at all patient these days) it didn't drag on at all. Every page and paragraph was necessary to the plot. Because the vocabulary is relatively straightforward, I think it could work as a read-alone book for first or second graders, or for a classroom read-aloud (perhaps over a couple of days). Certainly my first grader had no hesitation whatsoever in assigning Enzo and the Fourth of July Races to the "write about this book" stack. 

Enzo and the Fourth of July Races is a new favorite in our household. Highly recommended for home or school use!

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors: Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex

Book: The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors
Author: Drew Daywalt
Illustrator: Adam Rex
Pages: 48
Age Range: 4-8

LegendRockPaperScissorsThe Legend of Rock Paper Scissors, written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Adam Rex, is the dramatic origin saga of the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. It is set in the mysterious land of a suburban home. Readers first meet Rock, who lives in the Kingdom of Backyard. Rock defeats all challengers by pummeling them. Rock, however, feels let down by the lack of "a worthy foe." A similar situation faces Paper, who dominates his Empire of Mom's Home Office, and Scissors, who dwells in the Kitchen Realm, in the "tiny village of Junk Drawer." As each warrior sets out in search of more equal challengers, the three heroes meet"in the great cavern of Two-Car Garage." Astute readers will be able to predict what happens from here. 

The text of The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors is over-the-top and read-aloud friendly, full of dramatic exclamations as well as more subtle wordplay. Like this:

"They called her Scissors,
and she was the fastest blade in
all the land. She, too, was unchallenged.
On this day, her first opponent was a strange and sticky circle-man.

"Let us
do battle,
you tacky and vaguely
round monstrosity!"

"I will
battle you,
and I will
leave you
beaten and 
confused with 
my adhesive
and tangling 
powers!"

We have classic adventure lingo, like "fastest blade in all the land" as well as "you tacky and vaguely round monstrosity" (describing a roll of cellophane tape). This is a book that simply begs to be read aloud, and will make kids and adults smile. There's also a scene in which Rock tells an apricot that he looks like a "fuzzy little butt", which will have listeners chortling (though things do not end well for the "odd and delicious fruit").

This is a longer text at 48 fairly busy pages, however, and will work better for the K-3 set than for preschoolers, I think. It also might be a bit long for library storytime. But for reading at home, The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors is hard to beat.

Adam Rex's bold illustrations bring the three unconventional main characters, and their opponents, to quirky life. Even the elements of a half-eaten bag of trail mix have individual, frightened expressions when confronted by the bold Paper. My favorite is Scissors, though. Her two green loops look like eyes within eyeglasses, expressive and shiny. 

My seven year old gave this one two thumbs up and a "Yes, you'll have to write about this one, Mommy." And so I have. The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors is pure fun, and a must-read for fans of Daywalt's Crayons books. Read it, and you'll never play Rock, Paper, Scissors in quite the same way. Highly recommended and a must-purchase for libraries. 

Publisher: Balzer + Bray  (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Prudence the Part-Time Cow: Jody Jensen Shaffer and Stephanie Laberis

Book: Prudence the Part-Time Cow
Author: Jody Jensen Shaffer
Illustrator: Stephanie Laberis
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8 

PrudenceCowPrudence the Part-Time Cow by Jody Jensen Shaffer and Stephanie Laberis is a celebration of science, invention, individuality and belonging. Prudence is only a part-time cow because she spends a significant portion of her time being a scientist, architect, and engineer. The other cows find Prudence's odd behavior off-putting. When they criticize her, she tries to be more like the other cows. But she simply can't help herself. She wants to read and learn and understand and try things out.

When the other cows let her know, again, that she'll never truly be one of them, Prudence sets her considerable mind to figuring out a way that she can be herself and still belong. She ends up making a series of inventions tailored to the needs of those around her. The ending, in which the other cows happily accept the results of her efforts, struck me as an adult reader as a little bit too easy. But I think that kids will like it. Certainly my seven-year-old inventor, ninja, engineer, architect, pirate daughter had no complaints, and pronounced the book a success. 

Shaffer's text uses strong vocabulary words and lots of quotations. I think this is more suited as a book to read to children then from them to read on their own. Here's a snippet:

"When it was pond-standing time, Prudence stood with the herd.
She was doing great ... but then she calculated
the water temperature and wind speed.

"Sixty-eight degrees and four miles per hour."

The herd was not impressed. "Cows don't calculate,"
said Bessie, counting the salves as she hustled
them from the pond."

I like "pond-standing time" and the use of "hustled." I also got a little smile from the fact that the cow busily counting the calves claimed that cows don't calculate. For what is counting but calculating? I chose not to point this out to my daughter, though. Let her pick it up on her own when she's ready, I say. 

Laberis' illustrations add humor and detail. Prudence is shown with a shock of curly pink hair. The other cows are frequently shown with grumpy expressions, while the calves tend to look more open and questioning. Prudence sometimes stands on two legs, to the other cows' four, a subtle visual representation of her more evolved state. She looks like someone's quirky aunt, a bit embarrassing in public, but lovable. 

You have to appreciate any book that has a female character who loves science and math so much that she simply can't help calculating and inventing. The fact that she's a cow, not a person, makes her community's lack of acceptance of her true nature understandable. Her attempts to balance staying true to herself with fitting in reflect tensions that most science-loving girls will experience one day. This theme, along with the book's vocabulary and visual detail, makes Prudence the Part-Time Cow a better fit for first to third graders than for preschoolers, I think. It would make a very nice classroom read-aloud for, say, second graders. Libraries looking for pro-STEM books, especially pro-STEM books with female characters, will definitely want to give Prudence the Part-Time Cow a look. Recommended!

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (@MacKidsBooks) 
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the author

© 2017 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).


Rain: Sam Usher

Book: Rain
Author: Sam Usher
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-7

RainUsherRain by Sam Usher is one of those picture books that one appreciates a little bit more in each reading. It's a lovely little story of a boy and his grandfather on a rainy day. The boy wakes up and desperately wants to go outside to play in the rain. But Granddad asks him to wait for the rain to stop. The boy spends the interminable waiting time reading, looking out the window, and asking Granddad again and again. Granddad, however, is distracted by his apparent attempts to respond to a love letter (hand-written, in this timeless story). And then, at last, the rain stops, just in time for Granddad to mail his letter. Just in time for an adventure involving "acrobats and carnivals and musical boatmen." 

Rain's mix of reality and fantasy may be a bit confusing to the youngest readers, but observant older readers will spot the elements of the fantasy adventure inside the boy's home, as toys and models and book illustrations. Only observant readers (and perhaps only adult readers) will pick up on the reason for Granddad's distraction. But all readers will simply love the cozy scene at the end of the books, as the two damp companions sit in the kitchen "with warm socks and hot chocolate." 

Usher's text is relatively minimal. This is a tale told more in pictures than in words. Usher's ink and watercolor illustrations perfectly capture the wavy colors of the rain, the kindness of Granddad, and the eagerness of the red-headed narrator. The reflections of various people and objects in the rain puddles, upside-down and blurred, will make any young reader long for the next rainy day. 

It's nice to see a picture book reflecting an unconventional family structure in which a small boy apparently lives alone with his grandfather. The bond between the two stands out. As does the rain. The rain practically leaps from the pages. In fact, the jacketless cover of Rain features raised raindrops, a tactile experience invites the reader in. Rain celebrates family, adventure, and a cozy home. It is simply lovely, and belongs in homes and libraries everywhere. Especially here in California, where we've learned to really appreciate the rain. Highly recommended, and one of my recent favorites. 

Publisher:  Templar (@Candlewick) 
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Vampirina at the Beach: Anne Marie Pace and LeUyen Pham

Book: Vampirina at the Beach
Author: Anne Marie Pace
Pages: LeUyen Pham
Age Range: 4-8

VampirinaBeachVampirina at the Beach is the third book in the Vampirina series, written by Anne Marie Pace and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Vampirina is a joyful young vampire with fangs and pale skin. In this entertaining picture book, Vampirina and her parents, along with a host of ghoulish friends, go to spend a full moon-lit evening at the beach. Pace's text doesn't directly address the fact that the various people in the story are non-human. She just shares things that are fun about visiting the beach, together with practical safety tips, leaving Pham to provide the visual, and unconventional, details.

For instance, we have this text over a couple of page spreads:

"When the waves are breaking, just right,
give surfing a whirl.

Practice your best ballet posture:
catch a wave,
demi-plie,
and ride,
ride,
RIDE!"

This spread is accompanied by vignettes that show Vampirina dragging a new, apparently human, friend out onto a gravestone-like surfboard. As the kids are trailed by a green octopus, the moon comes out from behind the clouds, and the friend is revealed to be not-so-human after all. Other spreads show sunken ships, pirate ghosts, and treasure maps, as well as supernatural creatures of all sorts doing relatively ordinary things, like playing beach volleyball and building sand castles. Turns out that being able to turn into a bat is useful in adding decorations to the tippy top of a castle. A fold-out spread in the middle of the book ramps up the action with a dance party. 

Vampirina at the Beach is full of entertaining monster details that will reward multiple inspections. These are set against a comforting backdrop of family fun and friendship. The closing image, of Vampirina and her friend sitting back-to-back eating roasted marshmallows beneath a full moon will make any kid smile. Pham manages to make the various monsters a mix of grotesque and cute, with Vampirina herself falling on the cute side, of course. 

Because so much of the fun of Vampirina at the Beach is visual, mainly in the form of multiple small illustrations per page, I think this is a better book for reading alone, or with a parent, rather than for a larger storytime. I think that first and second graders might be more receptive to the humor than preschoolers will, too, which also supports the read-alone, pore over it time and time again, hypothesis. Fans of the earlier two books will certainly want to give Vampirina at the Beach a look. It stands alone just fine, however (I have not read the other two books), and is a fun choice for celebrating the start of summer and beach season. Recommended! 

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion 
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Mosquitoes Can't Bite Ninjas: Jordan P. Novak

Book: Mosquitoes Can't Bite Ninjas
Author: Jordan P. Novak
Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-5

MosquitoesCantBiteNinjasMosquitoes Can't Bite Ninjas, by Jordan P. Novak, is just what it sounds like, a picture book that celebrates the triumph of a young ninja over a garden variety mosquito. Novak first recaps the categories of people that mosquitos do bite (swimmers, etc.). Then he shows that, despite being sneaky, quick, and persistent, mosquitoes are no match for the stealth, speed, and creativity of the ninja. He even introduces a baby ninja-in-training who has skills of his (?) own. The ending, in which the ninja ends up accidentally eating the mosquito, is a little bit disgusting, but definitely kid-appealing. It adds a nice twist to a story that might otherwise have been a bit too straightforward. 

This is a picture book for younger listeners. The text is minimal, and the digitally colored illustrations are bold and simple. I like the fact that the little we can see of the skin of the ninja siblings is brownish in color - not terribly dark, but at least dark enough to give some ambiguity. I also like how Novak can convey the ninja's attitude through his stance, when all we can really see of his face is his round eyes. 

Even though, at seven, she's a bit older than the target age range for this book, my ninja-obsessed daughter loved this book. What budding ninja wouldn't want to read:

"Mosquitoes try...
and try...
and try...

but a mosquito is no match

for a ninja."

Mosquitoes are universal. Ninjas are universally cool. Mosquitoes Can't Bite Ninja's belongs in libraries serving preschoolers. It would make an excellent start-of-summer storytime book. But parents should beware. It may awaken in their children the desire to become ninjas. In my experience, there are worst things. Recommended!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Duck, Duck, Dinosaur and the Noise at Night: Kallie George & Oriol Vidal

Book: Duck, Duck, Dinosaur and the Noise at Night
Author: Kallie George
Illustrator: Oriol Vidal
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

DuckDinosaurNoiseNightDuck, Duck, Dinosaur and the Noise at Night is the sequel to Duck, Duck, Dinosaur by Kallie George and Oriol Vidal. Both books feature a family with three siblings: two little ducks, Flap and Feather, and a much bigger dinosaur, Spike. In this installment, Mama Duck tells the siblings that it's time for them to "sleep all by themselves in their very own nest." They are initially proud and "only a little scared." Until a big, scary noise wakes them up, that is. They try hiding from the noise, and running away from the noise, and even scaring the noise. But the noise keeps following them. Sleep is impossible until they figure out just what the noise is.

My favorite part? At the very end of the book, we see that Mama Duck has been keeping watch all along, leaving it to the kids to solve their own problem. 

This is a text that calls out for reading aloud. The noise is rendered in huge block letters, to show how loud it is. There are calls from Spike to "HIDE!" and sound effects when their knees knock and teeth chatter. There is some repetition to the text which my six-year-old eventually had me skip over, but which I think will work well for preschoolers. Like this:

"They shared a story. They shared a snuggle. They sang a song. They counted the stars.

Then, at least, they fell asleep." 

This bedtime ritual repeats throughout the story. 

Vidal's digitally created illustrations are eye-catching and slightly stylized (particularly the backgrounds). He captures the coziness of the snuggling, and the utter exhaustion of the siblings as their night keeps being interrupted. The round eyes of all three after each scare made me laugh, and the fond smile of Mama Duck at the end made me smile, too. 

The source of the noise will be readily apparent to adult readers, but I don't think that kids will catch on. Duck, Duck, Dinosaur and the Noise at Night is a book that has an age-appropriate hint of scary for preschoolers, but ultimately will leave young listeners with a warm, safe feeling. It is fun to read aloud, and kids will enjoy poring over the illustrations. Fans of the first book will certainly want to take a look at this one, and librarians will find it well worth a look for preschool storytime. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Tugboat Bill and the River Rescue: Calista Brill and Tad Carpenter

Book: Tugboat Bill and the River Rescue
Author: Calista Brill
Illustrator: Tad Carpenter
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-7

TugboatBillTugboat Bill and the River Rescue by Calista Brill and Tad Carpenter is about a small tugboat named Bill and a rather beat-up barge named Mabel who work in the Hudson River. Bill and Mabel are friends, but they are essentially bullied by larger, newer ships. When the opportunity comes to rescue a kitten, however, it's the small, beat-up boats who really shine. 

Calista Brill's writing is read-aloud friendly, with short sentences but strong vocabulary words. Like this:

"The river is home to other ships, too.
They are big
     and graceful.
They are fit
     and prime.
They are haughty
     and vain
almost all of the time.

(They think they are so great.)"

and:

"Mabel
squares her shoulders
braces her hull
and pretends she doesn't hear.

But she does.
And so does Bill."

She uses sound effects, too, like "BLURB!" and "KERPLUNK". 

Tad Carpenter's illustrations are bright and friendly, with a graphic design feel. Both Bill and Mabel are engaging and distinctive, while the mean big boats are delightfully nasty. The crowd on the shore is multicultural, if you count blue and green people mixed in with the yellow ones (which I do). 

My only complain about Tugboat Bill and the River Rescue is that the ending, in which the big boats are regretful and hordes of people cheer for Bill and Mabel, is a bit ... easy. Sure, any reader will expect that the nice Mabel and Bill will do the right thing, and will be glad that they get a happy ending. But just because one gets public credit for doing the right thing doesn't mean that one's bullies will immediately come around. Still, just because my adult sensibilities had a hard time accepting this doesn't mean that it's not going to please preschoolers. And I do like that this is a subtle portrayal of bullying, masked as it is by the personification of the boats. And I think it's good to show kids characters who don't hesitate or waffle, but just go ahead and do the right thing without even thinking about it. 

Between the fun of the word choices and sound effects, the accessibility of the pictures, and the inherent coolness of tugboats, I think that young listeners will be captivated by Tugboat Bill and the River Rescue. It would make a great library read-aloud for preschoolers, and is a must for any kid who is obsessed with boats and/or rescues. Recommended!

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: February 21, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Mrs. White Rabbit: Gilles Bachelet

Book: Mrs. White Rabbit
Author: Gilles Bachelet
Pages: 32
Age Range: 6-10

MrsWhiteRabbitMrs. White Rabbit by Gilles Bachelet is the picture book diary of the decidedly grumpy wife of the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. Mrs. White Rabbit shares her concerns about her children (including a daughter who wants to be a supermodel), unwanted visitors, neighborhood gossip, and a husband who does not pay her enough attention. 

This is definitely a picture book for older children, with dense text and relatively mature themes. I didn't want to explain to my six-year-old daughter why someone wanting to be a supermodel would spend all of her time on a scale and essentially stop eating, for example. I feel like she has plenty of time to learn about such body image issues as she gets older. There's also a toddler who "seems to be quite advanced for his age" and is seen peeking under the skirts of a pretty doll. Sigh. And, of course, a major theme is the relationship between an unappreciated wife and her neglectful husband, hardly a preschool-appropriate concept. 

There is certainly humor to the book, as when the aforementioned toddler wants to wear a bunny costume for Halloween. As an adult and a mother, I could relate to certain aspects of Mrs. White Rabbit's sardonic attitude. And, of course, there are Alice in Wonderland references, including an invisible cat from Cheshire that the family adopts, and a young girl who turns up who has "an unpleasant tendency to change size at the drop of a hat." I think that Mrs. White Rabbit would be wasted on readers lacking at least some familiarity with Alice in Wonderland. My six year old, who has seen the Disney animated movie once, and never read the book, recognized enough detail to find this book interesting. 

Bachelet's illustrations are full of whimsical details that harken to traditional stories but add a modern edge, such as Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall all in one piece holding what looks like a beer bottle. Mrs. White Rabbit is shown shell-shocked and frequently angry, but she does get a moment of happiness in the end. My daughter and I were both a bit grossed out, though, when the impish twins are shown holding and playing with rabbit poop because they are "interested in everything" and able to "have fun with almost anything."

Mrs. White Rabbit is a creative and unusual picture book that demonstrates a mature sense of humor and adds hitherto unknown depth to the character of Alice in Wonderland's white rabbit. While I will admit that this book isn't quite my own personal cup of tea, my six year old found it hilarious and interesting. And I think that fans of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland will be quite pleased to visit the White Rabbit's home though this book. 

Publisher:Eerdmans Books for Young Readers 
Publication Date: February 6, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Charlotte and the Rock: Stephen W. Martin & Samantha Cotterill

Book: Charlotte and the Rock
Author: Stephen W. Martin
Illustrator: Samantha Cotterill
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

CharlotteAndTheRockCharlotte and the Rock by Stephen W. Martin and Samantha Cotterill is about a girl who wants a pet, but instead is given a large rock. Charlotte tries to make the best of her unusual pet, celebrating the positives (hypoallergenic, good listener), but she can't help noticing that the rock is not good at eating her leftover broccoli from the table. Nor is the rock at all helpful in getting her out of trouble in school. ("You said WHAT ate your homework?") Charlotte adapts, but she never stops wishing that her pet could offer her more affection. A surprise twist at the end delighted me, and is sure to please young readers. 

I quite liked Charlotte and the Rock. Though I've read other stories about inanimate pets (My Pet Book by Bob Staake, Prudence Wants a Pet by Cathleen Daly), something in the matter-of-fact tone of Charlotte and the Rock really worked for me. Like this (over two page spreads):

"But as with any pet, some things proved difficult.

Walks were not fun.

Really not fun."

Here we first see a red-cheeked Charlotte gritting her teeth, struggling to pull the rock (wearing a knitted hat) up a hill with a leash. Then (the really not fun part) she is flying down the hill behind the rock, as a squirrel jumps out of the way and people stare from inside shop windows.

Charlotte is adorable, with freckled cheeks, round glasses, and a plausible range of expressions. You can't help but feel for her when she is playing with her rock in the bath (using it to model a deserted island), wistfully wishing that the rock "could love her back." Her joy at the end of the book is a true pleasure to behold. 

Charlotte and the Rock is my favorite picture book of the year so far. Although it may be targeted a bit more towards preschoolers than to elementary school kids, I eagerly look forward to sharing it with my daughter. I'm sure she will love Charlotte (and the rock) as much as I do. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Dial Books  (@PenguinKids)
Publication Date: March 14, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Samson: The Piranha Who Went to Dinner: Tadgh Bentley

Book: Samson: The Piranha Who Went to Dinner
Author: Tadgh Bentley
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

SamsonPiranhaSamson: The Piranha Who Went to Dinner by Tadgh Bentley is about a "rather adventurous" piranha who likes to try new things. Most of all, Samson dreams of "eating fine food at the fanciest restaurants". Of course, fearsome piranhas are not generally welcome at fancy restaurants. Samson, however, is determined to give it a try. Only after a series of disguises fail, however, does Samson happen upon a real solution to his problem. 

Tadgh Bentley fills Samson: The Piranha Who Went to Dinner with a lush vocabulary and hints of humor, together with read-aloud-friendly enthusiasm. Like this:

"His friends were right. He couldn't get into a restaurant looking like a piranha.

But maybe he COULD get in looking like something else. He would need a disguise!

Samson checked his moustache and fluffed his eyebrows. He could almost taste the luscious lily linguine and the sizzling seaweed sausages!

"Pardon me, but I believe you have a reservation for Samson P. Rana?""

Get it? P. Rana? Five years olds will like it. I liked the alliteration in "luscious lily linguine and the sizzling seaweed sausages". I also enjoyed expostulations like "SCALEY NEPTUNE'S CRABCAKES!" on the part of the restaurant staff members. 

Bentley's illustrations use deep underwater tones, blues and greens tinged with gray, dramatized with huge red letters when the various restaurant people shriek: "PIRANHA!". There are some nice details, too. I particularly enjoyed scenes showing Samson's boring friends, sitting around an underwater living room, one of them actually resident inside of an old television set. Samson, with his huge teeth, is not exactly an attractive creature, but his expressions do evoke sympathy, and his disguises are funny and cute.

I found the resolution of Samson: The Piranha Who Went to Dinner to be a bit easy, but the final scene is humorous and apt. My daughter found this book hilarious, and will surely want to read it again. Samson: The Piranha Who Went to Dinner takes an initially unsympathetic main character (who likes piranhas?) and makes readers root for him. It has a nice mix of humor and rich, alliterative vocabulary, making it a good recommendation for storytime read-aloud. This is a fun book that I'm happy to have read, and to recommend. 

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Not Quite Narwhal: Jessie Sima

Book: Not Quite Narwhal
Author: Jessie Sima
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

NotQuiteNarwhalNot Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima is a picture book about not fitting in, but being loved anyway, and finding your place. Kelp is born in the ocean, but knows early on that he is different from the other narwhals. He swims clumsily with a glass bowl on his head, wearing floaties and kicking his four legs, while the other narwhals swim gracefully about. His friends accept his differences, however, so he doesn't worry too much about it. Until, that is, his poor swimming leads to him being swept away on a strong current, ending up on land for the first time.  Where he discovers, and is accepted by, unicorns. But then Kelp has to make a choice between staying with his new-found, like friends on land, or going back to the friends below the surface, who doubtless miss him. The book's resolution is a bit sappy, but certainly joyful. 

My six-year-old delighted in knowing before Kelp did that he was, in fact, a unicorn. She also found the ending satisfying. I liked Kelp's determined and hopeful attitude, particularly in a scene where he teaches himself to walk on land by following various animals. Imitating a frog is not especially helpful for poor, Kelp, but it does provide entertainment for the reader. Here's a snippet of Sima's text from later in the book:

"Kelp swam toward home as fast as he could,
which wasn't very fast at all,
hoping that the narwhals would still like him now that he was a unicorn.

When he finally arrived, Kelp had butterflies in his stomach."

There's a mild humor in phrases like "which wasn't very fast at all" (because we've already established that Kelp isn't much of a swimmer), and in some of the dialog (as when Kelp's friends tell him that they always knew that he wasn't a narwhal). This humor off-sets what could have been a tad too much sweetness in Kelp's expression and in the trappings of unicorns (rainbows coming out of their horns, etc.). 

You can read Not Quite Narwhal straight up, as the sparkly story of a unicorn born to narwhals who discovers other unicorns, then journeys home to the narwhals who loved him all along. Or you can read Not Quite Narwhal as a parable about not fitting in (because of being gay, or transgender, or whatever else might make a person feel different) and then discovering that there are other people like you. I can envision a little bookworm living in a house of people who only watch tv discovering a world of avid readers one day in the library, and thinking "Oh, so that's what I am." The possibilities are endless, and make Not Quite Narwhal much more than it seems on the surface. Recommended!

Publisher:Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).