Monday, June 30, 2008

We're Off To Look for Aliens

We're Off To Look For Aliens by Colin McNaughton boasts that it's "two books in one!" Personally, I wasn't all that impressed. It could have been an off day for me, of course, I haven't really seen what others think of this one. It was one of those books that was "just okay" for me. I didn't hate it. Didn't dislike it. But I didn't love it. I just am indifferent to it really. The first book, the framework story, is about an author-dad who is excited that his book has arrived in the mail. He's anxious to pass the book to his kids and see what they think of his book. Dad is too "nervous" to watch his kids read the book, so he takes the dog for a walk. The second book, found in the middle of the book, is WE'RE OFF TO LOOK FOR ALIENS. That book is about a young boy, or possibly young man, who goes off with his dog into outer space. He goes exploring here and there and whatnot. I *don't* want to offer any spoilers so I won't say much more about that. The rest of the book is just their response to their dad's book. Again I don't want to spoil it because there's a bit of a twist.

The text of the second book is fun and light and playful. It was rhythmic. It was repetitive. It was enjoyable.

So you might enjoy this one. You might really love it. You might have an enthusiastic response to this one. I didn't. But picture books are super-subjective. And an interest in aliens would be a big bonus. And I think being a kid would be too. Sometimes adults just are too grown up to really "get" a kid's book.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dinner Time

Jan Pienkowski's Dinner Time quite honestly confused me. On one hand, I enjoyed the pop-ups. Taken out of context, the pop-ups are quite fun and playful. Easy to manipulate. The frog, for example, the opening pop-up is just fun. You can make him "speak" based on how open or closed the book happens to be. The art is enjoyable as well, for the most part. I'm not sure if I would have found it fun or a bit scary as a kid--I spooked really easily--but it's well done. It's the premise of this one that confuses me. Not really. Just a little bit. It's the food chain done pop-up style. And not the food chain you might be expecting. Vultures eat frogs. Gorillas eat vultures. Tigers eat gorillas. Crocodiles eat tigers. Sharks eat crocodiles. Everybody but the shark is a meal. And the pop-ups show these greedy jaws--sharp, pointy teeth included--in action. The food chain does exist. It is a part of life. But whenever a wildlife documentary happens to be on, I'm one of those squeamish sorts that can't bear to see animals eating other animals. The chase. The capture. The blood. The devouring. And it's not like this book has any of the blood and guts. It's simple and straightforward enough.

"Tiger said, "I'm going to eat you for my dinner." And he did."

This one will either appeal to you or it won't.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

How To Be A Baby by Me The Big Sister

Lloyd-Jones, Sally. 2007. How To Be A Baby by Me The Big Sister. Illustrated by Sue Heap.

I love this book. I L-O-V-E love this book. In case you hadn't noticed, it is narrated by the big sister. It is funny. It is down-to-earth. It is true. It just sparkles with charm. I loved every minute of it. Here is how it starts off,

"When you're a baby, you are in a crib and not in school. When you're a baby, you just wear your pajamas ALL THE TIME and not real clothes. Your mommy and daddy have to dress you, because you don't know how. (But I do.) When you're a baby, it's not good because you don't have any hair. (I have long hair like a princess.) When you're a baby, you don't read books. You eat them."

And that is just the beginning...

I love the text. I love the illustrations. I love the premise.


Take it from the narrator of this book, an all-knowing big sister: when you're a baby you don't read books. You eat them. You don't know how old you are, or even if you're a boy or a girl. And you have to keep a special plug in your mouth to stop your scream from coming out. But one day, you won't be little anymore, and then you'll be taller and smarter, and actually quite clever. Like the narrator. And you'll be able to share memories of what it was like when you were little with your incredible Big Sister.

About the Author

Sally Lloyd-Jones is the author of the recently published Handbag Friends (also illustrated by Sue Heap). She worked in children's publishing for several years, leaving in 2000 to write full-time. She lives in New York, New York.

Sue Heap is the illustrator of Handbag Friends (written by Sally Lloyd-Jones). She has illustrated several other picture books, and is the author-illustrator of Cowboy Baby, which won the Smarties Gold Award in the picture book category. She lives in England.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod

Newly illustrated by Giselle Potter, Wynken, Blynken, and Nod is a classic children's poem by Eugene W. Field. Though I don't specifically recall this one from my own childhood, I showed the book to my mother. She not only knew about Wynken, Blynken, and Nod but she began to list off other poems by Eugene W. Field. And as if that wasn't enough, she then began to sing some of his poems. So it's all a matter of context I suppose.

You can read the poem in its entirety here. Though I thought I'd share the first verse,
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe---
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
"Where are you going, and what do you wish?"
The old moon asked the three.
"We have come to fish for the herring fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we!"
Said Wynken,
And Nod.

I can't say that I'm a huge fan of the poem. (I don't dislike it. But I don't love it either.) But I can say that I enjoyed the illustrations by Giselle Potter. Some of them were just amazing. They were simply beautiful. And they drew you into the story.

Other reviews (from folks that love the poem and the illustrations both) include: A Well Read Child,
Jen Robinson's Book Page, A Patchwork of Books, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Friend the Monster

Taylor, Eleanor. 2008. My Friend the Monster.

When Louis moves with his family to a new house, he makes a friend in the most unusual place. In his bedroom. Under his bed. His new friend, affectionately called "my monster" is tall, green, and only has one eye. The two begin to do most everything together. (Louis' parents even get the green monster a bed of his own.) But Louis' favorite thing to do with his new monster friend is make more friends.

It releases in mid-to-late July 2008.

Picture books are subjective. I know that. You know that. What one person loves, another person just can't see the appeal. It's not that I dislike My Friend the Monster. I don't. That is to say I don't dislike it. I just don't have much enthusiasm or affection for it. In other words, to borrow a phrase from my mother, that's the kind of book I'd check out at the library. I don't know to me when it comes to monster books it doesn't get better than There's A Wocket in My Pocket or What Was I Scared Of? both by Seuss. And it lacks the charm (in my own opinion) of Go To Bed Monster! But you and yours might feel differently. So read it for yourself and see. And here's the beauty of it. You can read books before you check them out at the library OR before you buy them at your local store. (I'd like to imagine everyone buying from a local independent bookstore.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Caps For Sale

Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobokina was one of my favorite favorite favorite books growing up. (My mom read this one aloud to me. I even have a recording (cassette tape) of her reading this aloud to me.) The book is a relatively simple one, a classic in the field of children's literature being originally published in 1940s. It is a "tale of a peddler, some monkeys, and their monkey business." Here is how it begins, "Once there was a peddler who sold caps. He carried them on top of his head. First he had his own checked cap, then a bunch of gray caps, brown caps, blue caps, and red caps on the very top. Caps! Caps for sale! Fifty cents a cap!" he called." One day when business was slow, he decided to take a walk in the country and take an afternoon (although technically it doesn't say if it was morning or afternoon) nap under a tree in the shade. And here is when the fun begins! Cue the monkeys! If you haven't read this one--or read it recently--I'd definitely say it was time for you to pick this one up!

Caps for Sale is practically perfect in every way.

Note: the image is NOT from the board book edition.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What's Inside Your Tummy, Mommy?

What's Inside Your Tummy, Mommy?

Cocovini, Abby. 2008. What's Inside Your Tummy, Mommy?

What's Inside Your Tummy, Mommy? is a "nine-month guide for parents and kids to share!" according to the cover description. As soon as I saw this one, I knew I'd have to read and review it. It's oversized. It uses illustrations and simple text. There is a spread for each of the nine months. Each page is sprinkled with facts. For example, on month four, the reader learns that "the baby pees 15 times a day" and for month seven one of many things we learn is that the baby's "weight can double this month. That's like a ten year old boy turning into a man in just four weeks." But as informative as the book may be, where it really delivers is in the illustrations. See for yourself:

I'd definitely recommend this one for those with expanding families.

Beep Beep

Beep Beep by Petr Horacek is a fun little board book that captures the sights and sounds of a trip to Grandma's house! What could be funner than a trip to Grandma's house? Well, one family is on their way in Beep Beep. "We're all driving to Grandma's house. Broom, broom, through the town. Vroom, Vroom, along the highway. Chug, Chug, over the crosswalk." The reader can play along with sound effects of their own as this fun road trip comes to a happy conclusion. Good premise, simple and effective text, opportunities for toddlers to join in, this has all the makings of a fun read that you and your child can enjoy again and again.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Baby! Baby!

Baby! Baby! by Vicky Ceelen is a wordless board book that is fun, fun, fun. Juxtaposing (fancy word for saying side by side) photographs of animals with photographs of babies, the concept (subtle or not so much) is showcasing how "alike" we can be if you choose to look at it like that. The photographs are well done and just a pleasure to look at. I'm not sure if the concept would be ever-obvious to babies and toddlers. But even if they don't "get it" get it, they should enjoy looking at the photographs in any case.

There seems to be some question, some doubt on my part. The copy I hold in my hands, a review copy, that appears complete with ISBN number does not have any text within the book itself. Yet the product description on the publishers' website says it pairs simple text with photographs. I'm at a loss really. This "wordless" picture book I've described may in fact have text or it may not. If you own this book, if you've read it and you'd like to answer this question...feel free to leave me a comment!


With these striking and adorable photographs, Vicky Ceelen cleverly captures the similiarities between human and animal babies. From a sleeping baby alongside a snoozing kitten to a teetering toddler and a wobbly duckling, Ceelen’s comparisons are striking. Bright photos paired with simple text make this board book perfect for human babies everywhere!

About the Author

Vicky Ceelen’s photography has appeared in many advertisements and been featured in magazines such as Elle and GQ. Her first book, Close Friends, is a bestseller in more than 20 countries. She resides in France.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

Yaccarino, Dan. 2007. Every Friday.

I loved this book. Absolutely loved it. It is about family rituals. In particular it is about a father-son weekly ritual of having breakfast together at a local diner. Rituals are important in life. I think they are always important, but routine can be a great thing for a kid. This ritual starts with getting up extra-early, walking through the neighborhood to the diner, and eating pancakes. The text is simple. It doesn't need to be complex or wordy. Friday is my favorite day. Every friday, Dad and I leave the house early. Even if it is cold, snowing, sunny, or raining. There is beauty in simplicity. I loved the text. Loved it. But I loved the illustrations as well.

Come On, Dad!

Come On, Dad! 75 Things for Fathers and Sons to Do Together (New Edition)

Avis, Ed. 2008. Come On, Dad! 75 Things for fathers and sons to do together.

Come On, Dad! complements Come On, Mom! which I reviewed at the end of April. Together these books provide parents with ample ideas for activities on how to spend quality time with their children. While I can understand, in a way, the separation of the genders--moms & daughters, fathers & sons--it also annoys me slightly. The activities of both books could easily be mixed and matched between fathers, mothers, daughters, and sons. For the most part. I'd say that about 80-90% of the activities would be fun for either gender.

Come on, Dad! is a fun little book, a reference book, full of quality activities--suggestions--on how fathers and sons can spend some time together bonding. Some activities require the child to be a bit older--able to read and/or write. Other activities would be suitable or adaptable for younger children to participate in. Some require prep time--items to collect, etc--others just require YOU. I think there is something for everyone here.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Look At You: A Baby Body Book

Look At You: A Baby Body Book by Kathy Henderson. Last year, I read Look At You! A Baby Body Book and loved it. I can't believe I never reviewed it. It was one of my favorites, one I'd put among the best of the best of 2007's picture books. It's shocking that I never found the time to review it. This year, the book has been released in board book format. And it's a good thing for several reasons. 1) board books are baby/toddler friendly. 2) It reminded me that I really, really needed to sit down and gush about the book 3) It's a real must-read and a great gift idea for those looking for baby shower gifts! Spring seems to be the time--commercially at least--where the emphasis is on babies, babies, babies. (Looking at the weekly ads, it's hard not to see all the baby stuff on display celebrating spring time.)

Look At You has everything a book needs to be great. It's got rhythm. True honest-to-goodness rhythm. Something that looks easier than it actually is to write. It's just fun--really fun--to read aloud. It's got some rhymes. The natural kind. It doesn't feel forced. It rhymes in some places, but not in all places. No one rhymes all the time. And sometimes a forced rhyme--besides being gimmicky--would ruin the natural rhythm and flow of the text. It just feels natural. Another thing in its favor is that it can easily lead to interaction between parent and child. The book does ask questions in places. But even if it didn't, the illustrations by Paul Howard offer enough that parents could ad lib for some interactive play. Another big bonus is that it is age appropriate. It is a book for babies about babies. It explores baby's world, baby's day, baby's surroundings. It's familiar--eating, bathing, diaper-changing, sleeping, playing, it's all there. Yet another (as if I needed another reason) is that it shows multiple ethnicities, diverse skin tones in the babies and toddlers.

Fingers and toes wiggle.
Eyes, nose, and mouth giggle.
Arms wave, legs kick . . .
Bottoms squirm . . .
And tummies tickle.

Clothes on.
Where's the baby gone?
There he is!
Clothes off!
Where are the baby's toes?
There they are!

I loved everything--and I do mean everything--about Look At You! A Baby Body Book. It's published by Candlewick. And it's a true must-read in my opinion.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Newest Dancer

Ormerod, Jan. 2008. Ballet Sisters: The Newest Dancer.

Bonnie and Sylvie are back for their second adventure in The Newest Dancer. This is a fun and playful early reader that is just right for young ballet enthusiasts. It's delightful. Just a real treat to read. The book has three chapters or three adventures, "Ballet Day," "The Not Birthday," "The Newest Dancer." Sylvie, for those that haven't read The Duckling and the Swan--the first in the series--is the younger sister. She's always copying her older sister. Wanting to be just like her big sister. This includes dancing like her big sister. In The Newest Dancer, Sylvie gets her chance to really be like her big sister by joining a ballet class all her own. I loved this book, and I can't recommend it highly enough!

32 pages.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Duckling and the Swan

Ormerod, Jan. 2007. Ballet Sisters: The Duckling and the Swan.

I loved this book. It's an early reader that is just right for young readers. The first book in this series is "The Duckling and the Swan." It focuses on a pair of sisters--one older, Bonnie, one younger, Sylvie--who loves all things ballet. The book is broken into three chapters, or three adventures: "Ducky Dancer," "Braids," and "Miss Trish's Class." The book is delightful, charming, and just pure fun.
Ducky Dancer

Mom and Sylvie
get me from school.
"I am a swan," I say.
"And you are a duckling."
"I'm a ducky," Sylvie says.
At home, Sylvie
and I dress up.
Then we dance.
"I'm a princess," I say.
"You must bow to me."
"Okay," Sylvie says.
We dance into the garden.
"I'm a fairy queen," I say.
"And you are an elf."
Sylvie cries, "I dont want
to be an elf."
Mom sweeps Sylvie up
and carries her
from flower to flower.
"Sylvie is a buzzing bee,"
says Mom.
Then I am a swan again.
And Sylvie is a duckling.
She waddles.
She flaps her wings.
She takes a bow.
This one is a must if your little ones love dancing and playing make believe. It's just a real joy to read. The illustrations are perfect.

32 pages.