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Posts from February 2012

If Rocks Could Sing: Leslie McGuirk

Book: If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet
Author: Leslie McGuirk
Pages: 48
Age Range: 3-8

Cover_largeIf Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet is a creative and memorable alphabet book. Leslie McGuirk, over many years, collected rocks shaped like letters of the alphabet (mostly from Florida beaches). She also collected rocks shaped like objects that start with each letter. In If Rocks Could Sing, McGuirk brings together photos of the collected rocks, to bring the alphabet to rock-shaped life for kids. The results are delightful.

McGuirk pairs the rocks with other objects as needed, so that each letter tells a little story. For example, the "b is for bird" page shows a bird-shaped rock and an egg-shaped rock in a bird's nest. With a b-shaped rock at the top of the page, of course. She sometimes makes relatively ordinary choices (like "i is for igloo"), but more often has amusing and unconventional selections. Like "c is for couch potato" (with a potato-shaped rock lying on a little couch), or "k is for kick" (with a foot-shaped rock pointing at an orange ball). And who would think that one could use rocks to show "j is for joy"?

If Rocks Could Sing is the very essence of kid-friendly education. The pairings are memorable enough, and amusing enough, that If Rocks Could Sing doesn't feel like a book that's trying to teach them something at all. I imagine that this book will inspire kids to look for interesting shapes in rocks wherever they go (especially on the beach).

If Rocks Could Sing is a unique and entertaining book, and a clear labor of love on the part of the author. Recommended for home and school use, for kids age 3 and up.

Publisher: Tricycle Press (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: May 24, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Karin Lackmann
Reviewed by: morninglightmama | Natalia | rebeccareid

© 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).


The Rabbit Problem: Emily Gravett

Book: The Rabbit Problem
Author: Emily Gravett
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

413-vMktFeL._SL500_AA300_Emily Gravett's The Rabbit Problem is, like some of her other books, a bit of a concept book. But it offers a wealth of visual interest. The concept part is that The Rabbit Problem can be used as a calendar. There's even a hole drilled through the covers, and all of the pages, so that you can hang it up (sideways), and have a standard calendar configuration. Each page spread focuses on a different month.

Each month highlights a particular problem that rabbits face, from loneliness in January to cold in February, straight on through the end of the year (by which time loneliness is the least of the rabbits' problems). There's no narrative text, just various calendar entries, captions, post-its, and the like. It's more a book to experience than to read, exactly.

The Rabbit Problem was not available from either of my library systems, despite having been published last fall. Once I saw the book, I understood why my libraries had chosen not to stock it (or why it was already gone from the shelves). It's a lovely book, but it's filled with attachments. These, I think, would not stand up to library use. Nor would I let 18-month-old Baby Bookworm near this book any time soon. They're different from the flaps one sees in some books for babies. These are more like entire little paperback books (each only a few pages in length), inserted as supplemental material on various pages.

For example, March is "The Baby Rabbit Problem" month. Attached is a little "Bunny's First Month" scrapbook, complete with cover photo, ultrasound image, "Certificate of Births", photos and footprints, and a family tree. Another month features an attached Ration Book, and another a copy of "Fibonacci Field's Only Local Newspaper, The Fibber". These various attachments, along with the notes, callouts, and sketches on the calendar pages, promise hours of entertainment for young readers. Meanwhile, the primary illustrations (each month's picture, if you will), visually clue readers in to the real "rabbit problem" of exponential proliferation (with a wink, nod to the Fibonacci series).

Even the end pages are part of the game, with the inside front cover drawn like a series of notes on a chalkboard, and a rabbit hole through to the next page. The inside back cover is an elaborate popup picture (of many, many rabbits).

The Rabbit Problem is more a book to play with and pore over than a book that parents will be able to read aloud to their kids. I can't in good conscience recommend it for library purchase, since those attached booklets and things are just not robust. But for a six-year old who loves rabbits, or a seven-year old who is interested in numbers, or any kid old enough not to tear the book to shreds, and detail-oriented enough to appreciate it, The Rabbit Problem would be a delightful gift.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (@SimonKidsYA)
Publication Date: November 2, 2010
Source of Book: Cybils review copy from the publisher
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Mary Machado

© 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).


Wagons Ho! George Hallowell & Joan Holub

Book: Wagons Ho!
Author: George Hallowell & Joan Holub
Illustrator: Lynne Avril
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-10

857HWagons Ho!, by George Hallowell and Joan Holub, is a dual narrative showing two families moving from Missouri to Oregon. Jenny Johnson's family sets out in 1846, on a five month journey. Katie Miller's family sets out now, and takes just five days to make the same trip. Various parallels exist between the girls (both have dolls, pets, and pesky little brothers). Their journeys are related in parallel, with them each passing landmarks on the same page, each complaining about the length of the journey on the same page, etc. These parallels serve to emphasize the things that are different (mode of transportation, food, lodging, etc.), while celebrating things that are universal.

There's a lot of information packed away in this book, mostly in the details about Jenny's journey. There's not much suspense to either story (beyond little details like will the lost doll be found). But it is neat to see where the stories intersect, as when Katie and her brother climb to the top of Independence Rock to "see where the pioneers wrote their names." The text is straightforward, focusing mostly on facts, like this:

"I walk mostly. So do Mama and Mr. Trouble. Papa drives the wagon. It is so bumpy that it churns Lulu's milk to butter in one day!" (Jenny, 1846)

"More driving. We play the license plate game. Alaska and Hawaii are hard to find." (Katie, present day)

Wagons Ho! is more a book for poring over than for reading aloud. There are lots of little journal-like entries, like "5 A.M.: Round up cattle", along with captions and callouts. Most pages consist of series of vignettes, such that every page covers multiple topics. It's a busy book, one that could be intimidating to preschoolers, though it would make a nice companion to a school unit on Pioneers.

Lynne Avril's illustrations are detailed and colorful, with a hint of the cartoon to them. Wagons Ho! almost reads like a graphic novel in picture book form. Katie and Jenny are cute and intrepid, each shown in a range of situations on every page. Various signs and embedded postcards and the like create opportunities for the inclusion of different fonts, lending extra visual interest.

Wagons Ho! is an interesting look at the differences between 1846 and today, and a window (if somewhat rose-tinted, as one would expect from a picture book) into the lives of the pioneers who left everything to travel West. There is plenty of detail to engage early elementary school kids. This is probably not going to be a bedtime read-aloud. But for any kid interested in history, or anyone facing a cross-country journey, Wagons Ho! offers food for thought in a safe, friendly package.

Publisher: Albert Whitman & Co. (@AlbertWhitman)
Publication Date: August 1, 2011
Source of Book: Cybils review copy from the publisher
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Barbara Eppenger

© 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).


April Fool, Phyllis!: Susanna Leonard Hill

Book: April Fool, Phyllis!
Author: Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrator: Jeffrey Ebbeler
Pages: 28
Age Range: 4-8

616liJlVgvL._SL500_AA300_April Fool, Phyllis! is a picture book by Susanna Leonard Hill, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler. It's the story of a groundhog named Phyllis who predicts a blizzard on April 1st. Alas, no one believes her (because of it being April Fool's Day and all). But when all the little groundhogs are out partaking in their annual scavenger hunt, a blizzard does come. Fortunately (if a tiny bit too easily), Phyllis is able to save the day, and solve the second layer of clues to the scavenger hunt to boot.

There's a lot going on in this book. April Fool's Day pranks, pancakes, a treasure hunt, a bit of information about sap lines and sugar houses, and a perilous blizzard. A one-page end note explains the origins and customs of April Fool's Day. It is pretty text-dense for a picture book, and the dialog is sometimes a bit trite (e.g. "All's well that ends well," said Aunt Sassy). But I do like the way that the treasure hunt clues are all shown as notes (rather than inline with the text), and I think that young readers will enjoy trying to solve the clues themselves.

Ebbeler's acrylic paint illustrations are detailed and textured. The picture of a plate of pancakes "flooded" with syrup is quite enticing, and Phyllis, in her little green overalls and worried expression, is pretty cute. There's a certain joyfulness to some of the illustrations that stands out. And Phyllis has a pretty cool weather lookout up in a tree.

All in all, I think that this is a useful addition to the world of holiday-specific picture books. It's a fun read for Groundhog Day and April Fool's Day, making it a double win. Recommended for libraries and winter-themed read-aloud sessions, especially in places where the sap runs.

Publisher: Holiday House
Publication Date: April 1, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Marie-Therese Miller

© 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).


Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: End of January

JkrROUNDUPThe end-of-January children's literacy and reading news roundup, brought to you by Rasco from RIF, The Family Bookshelf, and Jen Robinson's Book Page, is now available at Rasco from RIF. Twice a month, Carol Rasco, Terry Doherty and I bring you news about children's literacy-related events, literacy and reading programs and research, and suggestions for growing bookworms. In this installment, Carol shares a plethora of interesting information. Here are a few highlights:

  • The Petition to the White House for School Libraries reached its target 25,000 signatures yesterday (four days early). But you can still sign, to show your support.
  • The CBC is having a contest. The winner gets a school or library visit from new National Ambassador for Children's Literature, Walter Dean Myers. How cool would that be?
  • Time Magazine recently posted a nice article by John Schnur about How to Unlock Your Child's Academic Potential. Terry, Carol, and I all liked how clear-cut the article is, with simple but important suggestions like "Read, read, read with each child — at least 20 minutes daily." I really hope that this one gets a wide audience.

And one additional tidbit that Carol found today, too late for the roundup, Livability.com shares their list of Top 10 Libraries for Children. There are some gorgeous libraries on the list, for sure (though how on earth they picked the 10 "best" I can't imagine). 

I'll be back mid-month with the next roundup, and will have lots more for you then. But in the meantime, do click through to read the full end of January roundup at Rasco from RIF.


Is Everyone Ready for Fun? Jan Thomas

Book: Is Everyone Ready for Fun?
Author: Jan Thomas
Pages: 40
Age Range: 2-5

51xcK1FAxfL._SL500_AA300_Is Everyone Ready for Fun, by Jan Thomas, is reminiscent of Erica Perl's Chicken Butt, and some of Sandra Boynton's board books. It's a boldly illustrated tale of utter, slapstick nonsense. Three cows decide that it's time to jump up and down on Chicken's sofa. When Chicken protests, they agree not to jump on the sofa anymore. But dancing and wiggling aren't jumping, are they? Fortunately, they find something that Chicken can get on board with in the end.

Thomas' text is all exclamation-point-filled dialog. Like this:

"DANCE!
Back and forth,
back and forth.
Let's all
DANCE
back and forth!

On Chicken's sofa!

With the words "DANCE" in big red letters. The cows have generally big, goofy grins on their faces (they look none too bright), while the chicken positively exudes outrage. The little red sofa looks ridiculously squashed beneath the three big cows. In her digitally created illustrations, Thomas uses smooth, solid backgrounds in bright greens and blues, and wide, bold lines for the animals' features.

Is Everyone Ready for Fun is pretty much exactly what the title and cover promise, a fun, nonsensical romp sure to entertain toddlers and preschoolers. There's not a lot of depth here, but there is enough humor and zest for life to make kids cry "Again!". The cows' literal-minded and "who, us?" approach to criticism should perfectly suit the target audience. Parents should just beware that this book WILL inspire couch-jumping, wiggling, and dancing. An entertaining read-aloud for young listeners.

Publisher: Beach Lane Books (@SimonKidsYA)
Publication Date: September 27, 2011
Source of Book: Cybils review copy from the publisher
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Elizabeth
Also reviewed by: morninglightmama

© 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).