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Posts from January 2012

Stars: Mary Lyn Ray & Marla Frazee

Book: Stars
Author: Mary Lyn Ray
Illustrator: Marla Frazee
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

Cvr9781442422490_9781442422490Stars, written by Mary Lyn Ray and illustrated by Marla Frazee, is an ode to all types of stars (not just the ones you see in the sky). Ray points out that:

"Moss where you might see fairies
is made of green stars."


"Yellow stars on pumpkin vines
become October pumpkins."

She also suggests that you cut out a shiny paper star and put it in your pocket, because:

"Having a star
in your pocket
is like having
your best rock
in your pocket,
but different."

I also especially enjoyed the notion that "some days you feel shiny as a star... But some days you don't feel shiny."

Ray's text is spare and eloquent. Using a relatively few words, Stars celebrates everything from snowflakes to friendship. It's a book with a sense of wonder and celebration, and a little something for readers of all sorts.

Marla Frazee was the perfect choice to illustrate Stars, which carries echoes of All the World (written by Liz Garton Scanlon, for which Frazee won the Caldecott) and Everywhere Babies (written by Susan Meyers). Frazee's now-trademark round-faced, spiky-haired, multi-cultural kids add life to every page, and the blue-toned color palette is quite similar to the one in All the World. The pictures are a nice mix of small vignettes and whole-page-spread paintings. The yellow-tinged page showing a dandelion blow out into the sky is especially beautiful, as is a glowing page of fireworks.

Frazee's illustrations add warmth to an already beautiful book. Although there's no plot-driven story to Stars, it's still a lovely read-aloud for kids (and adults) of all ages.

Publisher: Beach Lane Books (@SimonKidsYA)
Publication Date: October 4, 2011
Source of Book: Cybils review copy from the publisher
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Carol Hampton Rasco

© 2011 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).

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake: Michael Kaplan

Book: Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake
Author: Michael Kaplan
Illustrator: Stephane Jorisch
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

51Y5Mz8aikL._SL500_AA300_Who can resist a picture book about the love of chocolate cake? Well, ok, it's also about patience and deferred gratification. But it's mostly about cake. Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake, written by Michael Kaplan and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch is about young Betty Bunny, a somewhat picky eater who tries chocolate cake for the first time. Her response:

"It was the yummiest thing she had ever put in her mouth. "When I grow up, I am going to marry chocolate cake!" said Betty Bunny."

When her mother tucks her in at night, and says "I love you," Betty's response is: "I love chocolate cake." Betty Bunny is "a handful", and proud of it.

Unfortunately, Betty Bunny's love of chocolate cake leads to some bad behavior, at school and at home, as well as an attempt to keep chocolate cake in her pocket all day that does NOT end well. The lesson about patience is a tiny bit strong for my taste, but just barely. And in the end, the irrepressible Betty Bunny is still a handful, and still loves chocolate cake. Which is what counts.

Kaplan's writing style is straightforward, without much advanced vocabulary, but with a sympathetic understanding of the way kids think. Like this:

"The next morning, Betty Bunny wanted to say good-bye to her chocolate cake before she left for school. So she opened the refrigerator and saw her piece of cake sitting on its plate. It looked so lonely.

Betty Bunny knew that the cake would miss her all day while she was at school.

So she picked it up and put it in her pocket."

That made me laugh. I can only imagine that preschoolers will find it hilarious.

Jorisch's pencil, ink, watercolor, and gouache illustrations are brightly colored, and center more on characters than on background. Betty's moods are revealed in her stance and her expressions. Although her family consists of bunnies, they actually look more like people who happen to have bunny faces and ears. I like the way her parents' expressions (especially her mother's) range from stern to loving, depending on the circumstances. And, of course, there are lots of pictures of chocolate cake. So it would be hard to really go wrong with the illustrations.

Seriously, though, Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake is a fun, lively read that celebrates parental love, patience, and chocolate cake. It would probably make a good school or library read-aloud. But parents may want to keep it away from their children until they are already chocolate-cake-addicted.

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers (@ThePenguinPeeps)
Publication Date: May 5, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Karin Lackmann

© 2011 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).

I'm Quoted in Parenting Magazine

51cA0R-6gQL._SL500_AA300_So, I'm flipped through the February issue of Parenting Magazine while I eat lunch. I get to page 36, and there's a picture of several children's book covers. My first reaction is: "Hey neat, those are some of our favorite books". And then I look more closely, and I realize that the reason some of our favorites are highlighted is because the article was based on an interview that I did with Parenting way back last summer. I thought that it was going to be in the November issue, and looked for it then, but things happen, and it didn't pop up (at least in the print issue) until now.

51nwYiHtLzL._SL500_AA300_That's a long-winded way of saying: "Hey, I'm in the February issue of Parenting Magazine, on page 36." The article is called: "Your New Classics: Then and now: The modern kids' bookshelf" (and doesn't appear to be online). The author compares some of my recommended titles with classics. So, for instance, Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad are Friends is compared with Mo Willems' Happy Pig Day! (an Elephant & Piggie book). I didn't come up with the pairings, but I did recommend all of the "new classics" that are discussed.

So, if you are finding this blog because of reading the article in Parenting Magazine, thanks so much for stopping by. An easy way to keep up with this blog is to sign up for my Growing Bookworms newsletter, a biweekly publication containing book reviews, children's literacy news, and suggestions for encouraging young readers.

I also enjoyed the February Parenting article: How to Raise Gifted Children, by Christina Vercelletto (which is available online). Although the article nominally focuses on "raising the next Steve Jobs", there's a great section on "The Power of a Parent" to affect their child's eventual success. Items 1 and 2 are "Talk, talk, talk" and "Read, read, read", together with other useful suggestions.

Thanks for stopping by!

© 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).

Argus: Michelle Knudsen

Book: Argus
Author: Michelle Knudsen
Illustrator: Andrea Wesson
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-8

Argus210-330Argus is a tongue-in-cheek picture book that will appeal more, I think, to elementary school kids than to preschoolers. I know it made me laugh out loud on multiple occasions. Argus is written by Michelle Knudsen, author of the lovely Library Lion, and illustrated by Andrea Wesson. It's the story of a classroom in which all of the students have eggs to hatch. Most of the students end up with cute, fluffy little chicks. Sally, on the other hand, ends up with big, green, scaly Argus.

The running joke through the book is that although Sally knows that her egg, and resulting pet, is different from everyone else's, her non-nonsense teacher Mrs. Henshaw keeps telling her: "Don't be difficult." She expects Sally to overcome the difficulties of raising Argus, and to participate just like everyone else does. So, while the other chicks' growth charts are pretty flat, Argus' requires extra paper. And when Argus digs giant holes in the playground, well, Mrs. Henshaw has some construction cones to keep people safe.

Here are a couple of examples from the text:

"Next the children drew pictures of their chicks to post on the walls. All of the other children's pictures were cute and yellow and very much alike. Sally's picture ... wasn't."

"As the days passed, the chicks grew bigger. Argus was the biggest of them all. He stopped trying to eat the other chicks. He started trying to eat the children instead.

"Mrs. Henshaw!" the children complained.

Mrs. Henshaw rushed over and rescued the children."

Wesson's illustrations bring the green, yellow-eyed Argus to life. Even as the text is rather matter-of-fact about Argus, the pictures don't lie, and reveal the chaos that surrounds this oversized "chick". 

The children are realistic-looking, except for being uniformly thin, and appear more to be upper elementary school kids than little kids (as one would expect from a science project like this, but still a bit unusual for a picture book). I might have liked to see a broader spectrum of skin tones and body shapes on the students - their homogeneity gives the book an old-fashioned feel. And it's a bit ironic, given that a major point of the book is learning to take things that are different in stride, and celebrating the differences. But I did like the book-filled classroom, and the valiant, student-rescuing Mrs. Henshaw.

I think that Argus would make a fun classroom or library read-aloud. Recommended for anyone looking for a good laugh.

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: February 22, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Marianna Baer

© 2011 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: ALA Youth Media Awards Edition

JRBPlogo-smallTonight 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 1485 subscribers. Currently I am sending the newsletter out once every two weeks.

51V4vIKcfoL._SL500_AA300_I'm dedicating this issue to today's announcement of the ALA Youth Media Awards (Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, etc.). You can find the complete list of award winners in all categories here. I'm quite disappointed to find Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now almost completely ignored (it's an honor book for the Odyssey Award, but I thought that it deserved much more recognition). But I was pleased to see some favorites from my Cybils fiction picture book judging experience on the Caldecott honor list. And I'm happy to congratulate Maggie Stiefvater on having The Scorpio Races named a Printz Honor and Odyssey Award winner. I also thought that Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck was a great choice for a Schneider Family Book Award. But do check out the full lists here, and let me know what you think.

Newsletter Update: In this brief issue I have five book reviews (four picture books and one young adult novel), one children's literacy roundup (with full details at The Reading Tub), and one post about some literacy activities beyond the book that we are experimenting with in my home. 

Reading Update: Since the last newsletter, I read 2 middle grade, four young adult, and two adult novels. (I flew to Boston via connecting flights, so there was a fair bit of reading time. Baby Bookworm is a champion airplane sleeper.)

  • Elizbeth Enright: Return to Gone-Away. Sandpiper. Completed January 10, 2012, on MP3. This was a re-read of one of my all-time favorite titles, my first time listening to it on audio. Do you ever love a book so much that just starting it brings a few tears to your eyes?
  • Rick Riordan: The Son of Neptune (The Heroes of Olympus, Book 2). Hyperion. Completed January 19, 2012, on MP3 from Audible. I really enjoyed this one, more so than the first book in this new series. It had a similar feel to the early Percy Jackson books, with a perfect mix of action and kid-friendly humor. There are strong supporting characters, too. I adored Ella the harpy (who was pitch perfect in the audio edition).
  • Maureen Johnson: The Name of the Star. Putnam Juvenile. Completed January 19, 2012, purchased on iPad.I enjoyed this spooky YA mystery from Johnson, and look forward to future books in the Shades of London series.
  • Taylor Stevens: The Informationist: A Vaness Michael Monroe Novel. Broadway. Completed January 18, 2012. This is the first book in a new series about a highly skilled, emotionally damaged woman who speaks 22 languages, and excels at ferreting out information. In this installment, she is hired to go to a dangerous contry to research the fate of a lost American teenager. Quite compelling, with aspects of Lee Child's Reacher novels and Carol O'Connell's Mallory novels, set against detailed international backgrounds.

I also, of course, continue to read picture books and board books aloud to Baby Bookworm. You can find our newly created 2012 Picture Book and Board Book Reading List here

I'm now listening to Michael Connelly's latest Harry Bosch novel, The Drop, on MP3. I'm currently reading Taylor Stevens' The Innocent (book 2 in the Vanessa Michael Monroe series) on my iPad, and I just started reading Carol O'Connell's The Chalk Girl.

51S7BAPX9QL._SL500_AA300_Baby Bookworm's current favorites are Tony Kenyon's board book edition of Pat-A-Cake, Alexandra Day's Good Dog Carl, and Peggy Rathman's Good Night Gorilla. She also remains obsessed with books that have pictures of common objects, like Roger Priddy's Bright Baby First 100 Words book (and others in the series).

How about you? What have you and your kids been reading and enjoying? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms.

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

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight: Jennifer E. Smith

Book: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Author: Jennifer E. Smith (@JenESmith)
Pages: 256
Age Range:12 and up

9780316122382_154X233The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is a quick read that takes place over the course of one very long day in the life of 17-year-old Hadley. She misses her original flight to London, where she is scheduled to attend (with much bitterness) her father's second wedding. While waiting for the new flight, however, she meets Oliver, a boy from London who is attending college in the US. The two teens, both in the throes of family dysfunction, connect immediately. For Hadley, that very long day is the day that she begins to grow up, begins to repair her relationship with her father, and, maybe, just maybe, begins to fall in love.

Although The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is a love story, it's also about Hadley's personal growth and family relationships (and, to a lesser extent, Oliver's). A coming of age story, if you will, with a highly compressed timeline. I found it sweet (in the best possible, non-cloying way) and believable. I read it while visiting family in Boston for the holidays, and found myself sneaking in time to read it, because I simply couldn't put it down.

Hadley is a sympathetic character (particularly as she makes a mad, jet-lagged dash across London), while attractive, nonsense-spouting Oliver is irresistible. Jennifer Smith's writing is engaging and teen-friendly. Like this:

"Airports are torture chambers if you're claustrophobic.

It's not just the looming threat of the ride ahead--being stuffed into seats like sardines and then catapulted through the air in a narrow metal tube--but also the terminals themselves, the press of people, the blur and spin of the place, a dancing, dizzying hum, all motion and noise, all frenzy and clamor, and the whole thing sealed off by glass windows like some kind of monstrous ant farm." (Chapter 1)

But I think what I most enjoyed about the book was the banter between Hadley and Oliver. It's hard to capture this in a short excerpt, but here's a bit:

"Wait a second," Hadley says, looking at him with mock horror. "Is that a reference to a ... cartoon?"

"No, genius. It's a reference to a famous work of literature by Lewis Caroll. But once again, I can see how well that American education is working for you."

"Hey," she says, giving him a light whack on the checks, a gesture so natural she doesn't even pause to think it over until it's too late. He smiles at her, clearly amused. "Last time I checked, you'd chosen an American college."

"True," he says. "But I'm able to supplement it with my wealth of British intelligence and charm." (Chapter 5)

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight would make a perfect teen romance movie (provided the producers were careful to cast teens with good chemistry). And here, again, I mean that in the best possible way - I love watching such movies. Recommended for anyone looking for a realistic young adult romance novel, with likeable characters, witty dialog, and a picture-perfect ending.

Publisher: Poppy (@HachetteBooks)
Publication Date: January 2, 2012
Source of Book: Digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley

© 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).

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Publication Date:
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© 2011 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).

Literacy Activities Beyond the Book

I've been giving some thought of late to ways to promote my toddler daughter's literacy that go beyond books (of course we spend lots of time reading books, too!). Here a couple of non-book things that we've been enjoying at my house:

Cover_overWe received (for review) several CDs by Susie Tallman and friends from Rock Me Baby Records. We have Children's Songs: A Collection of Childhood Favorites, Classic Nursery Rhymes, and Child's Christmas. Baby Bookworm and I quite like them, especially Children's Songs. Here's what I like about them:

  • Snappy tunes, including some that I remember from childhood music class at school, and some that are new to me (one does get tired of the same old children's songs). The songs are generally quite short, so that there's a lot of variety on each CD (up to 38 different songs). A number of the songs now flit around my head on a regular basis.
  • I like Tallman's voice more the more I listen to it. There's also a reasonable mix of other voices on the CDs to keep things interesting, including children's voices. The Christmas CD includes children telling Christmas-themed jokes between songs, which is extra fun. I found the Christmas CD the hardest one to adjust to, because there were a lot of songs that I knew, but was used to hearing from different voices. But it grew on me. The other two I liked out of the box.
  • It's easy to understand and repeat the words to all of the songs. This is what makes listening to these CDs, to me, a literacy-building activity. While we certainly enjoy reading books, it's also a nice change to listen to songs like BINGO and Five Little Speckled Frogs. The latter builds counting skills, and we have fun leaping off a virtual log along with the frogs.

Bbb_1103We also received a bunch of magazines for consideration from Cricket. Baby Bookworm likes Babybug, which is a small, square magazine, about the same size as a board book, aimed at kids up to age 3. Although it's softcover, the pages are thick, like cardboard, so that it feels closer to a board book than a magazine. Which makes it a nice bridge between books and magazines. Each issue includes little stories and poems/songs. I found the stories about Kim and Carrots that are in each issue a bit too reminiscent of the old "Fun with Dick and Jane" variety of children's literature. But some of the poems were fun. And Baby Bookworm enjoys holding these and turning the pages.

We're not quite ready for Ladybug in our house yet (ages 3-6). Ladybug looks more like a real magazine, and has a mix of stories meant for kids to read themselves (again, those could have been more interesting, I thought) and stories that adults would most likely read to the kids (these were better). There are also songs, cartoons, poems, factoids, games, etc. After Ladybug comes Spider (ages 6-9), and Cricket (ages 9-14), along with Ask (focusing on arts and sciences for 6-9) and Click (science and nature for 3-6 year olds). All of the magazines offer a nice range of activities, and a range of word density between different items. I think that the latter is important because different aspects of each issue will be accessible/intriguing to different kids.

51UdjpkZplL._SL500_AA300_In general, I like the idea that as I sit down to flip through my own magazines, my daughter can sit next to me reading hers. Right now she's pretty content to flip through my issues of The Horn Book. (What can I say? She has good taste, and the magazine is an appealing size). But as she gets older, I like that Carus Publishing, the Cricket magazine people, have magazines that will suit her at every age range and interest level.

I must also confess that Baby Bookworm (21 months old) is already addicted to the iPad. On a recent cross-country trip, I installed a few (mostly book-related) apps, in the hope of keeping her busy on the plane. Now whenever she sees the iPad she wants to play with it (making it a bit difficult for me to read any books on it myself, but that's another story). She likes the mere fact that she can touch the screen and make things happen. But the apps that she's enjoying the most (out of the very small set that I've installed) are:

I'm still trying to minimize her screen time, especially until she turns two. But I do think that these apps have some educational value for her, and that she gets more out of them than she would sitting in front of a television set. Any other apps that you all would recommend for a near 2-year-old? (Of course I'm planning to go through the Cybils shortlist in the app category, too, to see if any work for our needed age range).

© 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-January

JkrROUNDUPThe mid-January children's literacy and reading news roundup, brought to you by The Family Bookshelf, Rasco from RIF, and Jen Robinson's Book Page, is now available at The Family Bookshelf. Twice each month, Terry Doherty, Carol Rasco and I scour the interwebs and the Twitter stream (along with various newsletters that make their way to our inboxes), in order to bring you news about children's literacy-related events, literacy programs and research, and suggestions for growing bookworms.

In this I Have a Dream edition of the roundup, Terry offers a variety of of tidbits that she hopes will collectively result in reading inspiration. Items range from the winners of the Be A Famous Writer contest to Mr. Schu's book release calendar for children's book. I was especially intrigued by a recent op-ed piece from Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times (also carried in my local paper) about the economic value of good teachers. I think that economic arguments about how great teachers can enhance the life-long earning potential of children ought to play a role in discussions about education policy. There are also a bunch of neat posts under "suggestions for growing bookworms" in this issue. I hope that you'll click through to check them out. 

In other news:

Thanks for reading, and for caring about children's literacy. Wishing you all a wonderful week! Carol will be back at the end of the month with more children's literacy and reading news. And I'll be back tomorrow with some non-book literacy tools that we've been exploring at my house.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site: Sherri Duskey Rinker

Book: Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site
Author: Sherri Duskey Rinker
Illustrator: Tom Lichtenheld
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-8

1-67baedd98bWhile Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site isn't exactly my personal cup of tea, story-wise, I think that it will be a huge hit with its target audience of small boys. Sherri Duskey Rinker's premise is that the various trucks at a construction site each undertake a final couple of tasks before settling in for the night. Like this (across two page spreads):

"Spinning, churning all day long,
Cement Mixer sings his whirly song.
Now (yawn!) he's weary and so dizzy,
From the fun that keeps him busy.

With one last spin, he pours the load.
He's ready now to leave the road.

He takes a bath, gets shiny-bright,
Pulls up his chute, turns off his light.

He cuts his engine, slows his drum,
And dreams sweet dreams of twirly fun.

Shh...goodnight, Cement Mixer, goodnight.

I found this a nice picture of the attributes of a cement mixer, mingled with an energetic vocabulary (I like the use of "weary", not a big word, but a less-common one). Parents might weary of this same general format applied to truck after truck, but I think that kids will enjoy it. There are plenty of fun sound effects to read aloud, as befitting a symphony of trucks.

But what really makes Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site shine are Tom Lichtenheld's wax oil pastel illustrations (they look like waxy, textured colored pencil pictures). The page in which the sun sets is downright gorgeous, with an assortment of equipment lined up against a warm, red-gold sky. The crane truck's final beam, lowered above a setting sun, is glorious, too, as are some of the later night images. The detail of the texture, combined with warm colors, makes the reader positively long to stroke the pages.

Set against these dramatic backgrounds, the trucks themselves are conveyed with a lighter, humorous touch. Each truck has a distinctive character and Lichtenheld finds  creative ways of displaying limbs and facial features. Most of the trucks are particularly cute when they are asleep.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site is sure to please truck-mad young boys, who will file away the details about the construction equipment, and pore over the lovingly-created illustrations. A must-purchase for libraries, and a fairly safe choice as a birthday gift for a 4-5 year-old boy. Especially recommended for fans of Jon Scieszka's Trucktown series.

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleBooks)
Publication Date: May 4, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Pam van Hylckama Vlieg

© 2011 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).

King Jack and the Dragon: Peter Bently & Helen Oxenbury

Book: King Jack and the Dragon
Author: Peter Bently
Illustrator: Helen Oxenbury
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

51C5QKuF9YL._SL500_AA300_King Jack and the Dragon, by Peter Bently and Helen Oxenbury, is a celebration of the power of imagination. Jack, Zack, and baby Caspar build a castle out of "A big cardboard box, an old sheet and some sticks, a couple of trash bags, (and) a few broken bricks." The construction takes place in black and white vignettes. Then, once the castle is built, Jack becomes King Jack, and the adventures that follow are rendered in glorious color. The boys fight dragons and beasts, "and return(ed) to their stronghold for fabulous feasts." Alas, however, his companions are borne away by giants, and King Jack is left to face a scary intruder all by himself. He ends up kind of wishing that his imagination was not quite so vivid after all. 

Bently's text is this story is appropriately dramatic in tone, making it nice for read-aloud. He uses rhyme, but mixes up line lengths, and moves couplets across multiple pages, all of which keeps the text from being sing-songy. Like this:

"A mouse scampered over the roof
"It's nothing!" thought Jack.
"There's no reason to worry."

"BRRUP!" croaked a frog.
"It's nothing!" thought Jack
as he switched on his light in the deepening black.

Helen Oxenbury's illustrations add warmth and humor, while also always making it clear (even where the text leaves room for doubt) that Jack and his friends are always safe. Pacifier-sucking Caspar brings to mind the babies in Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes (written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury), as well as Oxenbury's board books (Clap Hands, etc.). This provides a nice bridge for preschoolers moving up from baby books to more traditional picture books. Jack and Zack are older and livelier, but King Jack (with his crown) is still small enough to ride home on his father's back.

The mix of black and white and color illustrations lends extra visual interest, as does Oxenbury's use of cross-hatching to indicate darkness. There's a hint of Where the WIld Things Are here, but with the delightful addition of dragons. There's an old-fashioned feel to King Jack and the Dragon, with three boys playing all day on their own, and no visible supervision, building a fort out of cast-off objects, until the parents reappear at nightfall. 

King Jack and the Dragon is an entertaining celebration of childhood, perfect for preschoolers, especially boys. The visual link to Oxenbury's other titles makes it an especially nice addition to one's family library. Recommended!

Publisher: Dial (@ThePenguinPeeps)
Publication Date: August 18, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Cara

© 2011 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).

Cloudette: Tom Lichtenheld

Book: Cloudette
Author: Tom Lichtenheld
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3 - 8

CloudetteCoverSmallCloudette is a great name for a picture book, isn't it? Written and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (whose work can also be seen in Shark vs. Train, written by Chris Barton, and Duck! Rabbit!, written with Amy Krouse Rosenthal), Cloudette is the story of a very small cloud who wants to do big things. Despite being rebuffed in a number of attempts (the carwash uses machines, the firefighters "just got a brand-new pumper truck", etc.), the little cloud that could eventually finds a way to make a difference.

The text in Cloudette is frequently formatted to match the content, so it's a little hard to convey in quotes. But here's an example:

"She wanted to make a garden grow.

She wanted
  to make
     a brook


In the above, the brook text goes along the side of a brook, and waterfall text, well, you get the idea. Here's the description when Cloudette first tries to make rain:

"She shook her behind
until it made a little
rumbling sound--not quite
what you'd call thunder,
but enough to let people
know they might want to
grab an umbrella.

Then she did what she'd
wanted to do for ages."

I think, actually, that Cloudette may be that rare picture book that's more suited to being read silently, really looking at the interplay of the text and pictures, rather than read aloud. I certainly think that it's more suited to one-on-one reading than to large group read-aloud.

Here's the description of Lichtenheld's illustration method from the copyright page of the book:

"The illustrations are rendered in ink, pastel, colored pencil, and watercolor. The water part of the watercolor was collected in a bucket during a rainstorm, so this book is partially made of clouds. Thank you, clouds."

Serious points to Lichtenheld for that touch. Not that I think many kids will notice this in the fine print, but what a great tidbit to trot out during school visits. Parents had best be prepared for rain-watercolor sessions afterwards, though.

Watercolor aside, Lichtenheld's illustrations have a graphic arts sort of feel, a tiny bit like Melanie Watt's Scaredy Squirrel books. There are insets and callouts and asterisks  and funny little asides (like a kite asking "What's up?" and a bird answering "Us!"). There are split pages, with different backgrounds for the illustrations on each side. There are clouds with eyes and mouths (clouds apparently don't need noses. Who knew?). And through it all, there's the appeal of cute little Cloudette.

Cloudette is a book that grows on you the more you flip through it. The heroine herself is adorable, the illustrations are eye-catching (and filled with humorous tidbits), and there's plenty of visual appeal to the layout. The ending is a bit predictable, perhaps, but certainly kid-friendly. Recommended for one-one-one reading sessions with preschoolers, sure to bring smiles to young readers' faces.

Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: March 1, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Jordyn

© 2011 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).

Rapunzel: Sarah Gibb

Book: Rapunzel: Based on the Original Story by the Brothers Grimm
Author: Sarah Gibb
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4 - 8 

61NPGyQA9OL._SL500_AA300_Sarah Gibb's Rapunzel is a retelling of the classic folktale. As with most such retellings, the point is not so much the story as the illustrations. Gibbs' version is quite faithful to the traditional version of the story, are her illustrations are gorgeous. (As a side note: I found it interesting to read about Rapunzel variants in this Wikipedia article. I haven't seen Tangled yet.)

This Rapunzel is a fairly text-heavy picture book (it's a complex story). The tale is told straight-up, with no rhyming, and quite an advanced vocabulary and sentence structure. Like this:

"Rapunzel knew instinctively that it would be dangerous to mention the young prince and so she said nothing when the witch returned the next day. But her heart was in her mouth when, as soon as she was alone again, he was at the foot of the tower, calling to her to lower her hair once more."

I personally find this traditional Rapunzel annoyingly passive, and the device of her healing tears curing the prince's injuries to be too convenient. But that's not Sarah Gibbs' fault - that's the way the story goes.

I do think that Gibbs' illustrations are lovely. She portrays Rapunzel with pink and white flowers woven through her long hair. The tower where Rapunzel is held is, although a prison, also a magical place, with rooms full of ornate furnishings. Gibbs renders some of the illustrations (including an interior view of the tower) as intricate black silhouettes, with only a few accents of color. They are quite eye-catching. The exterior of the tower is beautiful, too, with vines growing out and around a series turrets sticking out from the top.

So, if you are looking for a beautifully illustrated version of Rapunzel, one that is faithful to the Brother's Grimm version (without the raciest parts), Sarah Gibbs' version is definitely worth a look. I think that the image of Rapunzel as portrayed by Gibbs, with flowers braided (or growing) all through her long hair, will stay with me. Recommended.

Publisher: Albert Whitman and Company (@AlbertWhitman)
Publication Date: March 1, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Michelle Bayuk

© 2011 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).