Sunday, August 31, 2008

Reviewer X's contest

Reviewer X is currently having a great contest--a chance to win $10 to the online retailer of your choice.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Friday, August 29, 2008


This isn't necessarily related to reading books, so it is in a way off-topic. But this may be of interest to bloggers who love to write about themselves, their lives, and their experiences in a fun and creative way. Creative nonfiction, true-life stories. FieldReport is a site that "is a contest, big enough to get a lot of people involved. On the inside it's a community of writers and readers dedicated to great storytelling and to breaking down walls of human isolation." You can write "FieldReports" on just about anything, and be entered to win in monthly and yearly contests. There are--from what I can tell--twenty-one categories of contests. You can read more about the contests and the site here.

I like the mix of categories, this is a place that anyone could find a place to fit in, to belong which is just cool.

I think parents would find this a great place to share about their lives--their tips, their experiences, the joys and woes of life with babies, children, and teens. And the fact that money could be involved, well, that's just a cool bonus!!!

For anyone who loves telling stories--librarians, teachers, parents, grandparents, etc--this may just prove something worth looking into. I think many common day experiences could be written up in such a way that they prove entertaining and enjoyable for others to read. Going along with the "write what you know" philosophy.

Even if you don't have dreams of your writing winning the big prize, or of even participating in the writing aspect at all--you might find it fun to be a reviewer for the site and rank the FieldReports others write. Especially if you have that social aspect or curiosity that makes sites like YouTube and Yahoo Answers "fun" for you. (For that matter, I bet some of these reports read like blog entries. And reading blogs surely is addictive.)

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bobo and the New Neighbor

Page, Gail. 2008. Bobo and the New Neighbor.

For anyone who loves dogs or muffins...have I got a book for you! I loved Bobo and the New Neighbor by Gail Page. I believe that this is a follow up to the book How To Be A Good Dog. (But as my luck would have it, I haven't read the original. If it is anything like this one, I'm sure it's a great book. Note to self: find a copy and enjoy!!) Bobo loves many things, we're told, and one of the things he loves is meeting new people. So it's to his great delight when a new neighbor moves in. His owner, Mrs. Birdhead, doesn't lose much time in inviting that neighbor, a Mrs. Wrinklerump, over for tea. I won't go into all the details, but this one is funny and enjoyable and just satisfying in a grinning ear-to-ear kind of way.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Thump, Quack, Moo

Cronin, Doreen. 2008. Thump, Quack, Moo: A Whacky Adventure. Illustrated by Betsy Lewin.

This picture book is in the popular series, the oh-so-wonderfully-funny, an ever-must-read series that began with Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type and continued with Giggle, Giggle, Quack, Duck for President, and Dooby Dooby Moo. The series features the almost-always-outwitted Farmer Brown and his barn animals--cows, chickens, pigs, ducks, etc. I don't believe I've reviewed any of these books (yet) for the blog. But it's only been a matter of timing, not of love. I love this humorous series, and I highly recommend them all. I don't know if I've ever seen such a perfect pairing than Cronin and Lewin when it comes to writing and illustrating. (Well, maybe Scieszka and Smith...)

In this adventure, Farmer Brown is preparing for the Corn Maze Festival. He's busy working on a maze for his corn fields--he's got big plans and high hopes. But he may have met his match in Duck who has plans of his own for that field. Animals doing silly but fun things is what you'll find in Thump, Quack, Moo.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

What's Under the Bed?

Fenton, Joe. 2008. What's Under the Bed?

Incredible illustrations, simple text, What's Under the Bed is a book that almost works well. Almost. I loved the illustrations. They're striking. Using limited amount of colors--black, gray, white--with the barest splashes of red, green, and blue, it is also incredibly detailed. The book tells the story of a boy who is afraid that something or rather someone might be under his bed. The boy has a vivid imagination when it comes to imagining just who that someone might be--and what that someone might be like.

As I mentioned, the text is simple.

"Time for bed, Fred!"
"But I want to play with Ted."
"No, no, it's time to lay down your head."

And simple can be a good thing. The text also rhymes. Rhymes can be either very very good (think Adam Rex) or very very bad. In this case, the rhyming isn't a true detriment. However, the rhymes do feel a bit forced, a bit unnatural. Not all the time, just some of the time. I think writers sometimes forget that people don't really talk in rhymes all that often. And when you make all your dialogue rhyme, it loses authenticity, naturalness, the human touch.

I liked this book. Didn't love it. But there's nothing wrong with a "like."

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Imagine a Place

Thomson, Sarah L. 2008. Imagine a Place. Illustrated by Rob Gonsalves.

Imagine a Place is a companion (or perhaps follow up is the right word) to two previous books: Imagine a Day and Imagine a Night. I've not read those two. The book combines poetic text with beautiful illustrations. Both have the intent to make you think, to engage your mind. For me personally, the illustrations were more effective in that than the text. (I loved the illustrations.)

Here's a sample of the text: Imagine a place...where you bend and sway, leap and land, right where a story begins.

The book is a great example of imagery. And I think it might work better with older readers as opposed to younger because it does ask the reader to think in abstracts.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, August 22, 2008

Born to Read

Sierra, Judy. 2008. Born to Read. Illustrated by Marc Brown.

Great premise. Great start. Ultimately falls into mediocrity. Slightly disappointing. That's my short review of Judy Sierra's newest picture book, Born to Read. (Sierra and Brown also teamed up previously for Wild About Books.)

I loved the illustrations for the most part. There were some that I loved, loved, loved. Some that I liked. But average it all out, and the illustrations were a great plus to the book.

I didn't care for the rhyming. Mostly. I found it especially tiring after the first five pages; I found it to be a bit forced, a bit trapped in must-rhyme-land. I thought the rhyming held the book back and prevented it from being a really great book.

And the giants. Don't get me started. Here's a more detailed analysis of why it worked and didn't work for me.

The cover. I like it. I like Sam's red hair and blue eyes. I like his cute little ears. (Of course, the reader doesn't know he's a Sam yet.)

The end papers. I like them. I don't love them. But it's a cute concept. They're black letters sprinkled on a white background. The title letters b-o-r-n and t-o and r-e-a-d are colored letters that are part of the random scrambling.

The title page. I love this. It's bright. It's fresh. It's a picture of a town. A town we soon learn is "Sunny Skies."

Then the story begins.

In the town of Sunny Skies,
A tiny baby blinked his eyes
At dragons dancing overhead
And letters painted on his bed.
"That's me!" he thought. "My name is Sam.
I'm born to read. I know I am."

See, isn't that a great beginning? Sam is a cute baby with one wee little tooth showing. In his crib are scattered books. Among the books are Pat the Bunny and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. The illustrations had me at hello. I'm thinking this is going to be a great book.

Then we turn the page and get the next spread,

Sam flashed his mom a hopeful look.
She opened up a picture book,
Then another,
Then another,
Then another,
Then another.
Such a perfect, patient mother!

I'm seriously loving it at this point. The illustrations still show Pat the Bunny and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. But we've added The Cat in the Hat and The Very Hungry Caterpillar to the mix. In fact, it is this Eric Carle classic that the mother is shown to be reading to her book-hungry son.

So far so good, right. This love continues on to the next spread...

Sam became a reading star.
He helped his papa drive the car.
He helped his sisters do their chores.
He helped himself at grocery stores.

The illustrations are still working for me. I love the one of Sam clutching his bag of lollipops.

But it is at this point, however, that the love begins to fade just a little. At first, it fades to like. On the next page, we see that Sam is smart enough to use the dictionary to outwit his pediatrician. Next, it shows him reading anywhere and everywhere.

At this point, without too much transition, we begin mini-story number one. Sam is now grown up quite a bit. Definitely school age by this point. We see Sam on his bike riding through town; we see him spotting a sign advertising a bike race. There are six pages devoted to this event--from his spotting the sign, to reading books about bikes, to his actually winning the race.

If the book had ended there with the bolded (not-so-subtle) message of "Readers win and winners read." Then I would probably feel slightly more enthusiastic about the book.

But now we get mini-story-number-two which is twelve pages of the picture book. Up until this point, the book was grounded firmly in reality. Now, without any transition whatsoever--and sacrificing all flow--we are introduced to a big, bumbling giant baby named Grundaloon who wreaks havoc on the town. Sam, the voracious reader, is the only one brave enough to take on this menace. And he does it with books and snacks. Now I'm not saying that books and snacks are a bad thing. They're both rather nice things actually. And if giants existed...maybe just maybe being read to and eating a few cookies might tame him a tad bit so he could be contained and removed. But it's a bit much for me. Why are their giants stomping around in this story, why??? (*That should be giant not giants. And it's cake not cookies.) I suppose so we can get another bold message: "Yes, readers can do anything!"

After the giant episode, we get a stuck-on-semi-lame ending. This is four pages in length. And the theme/message of this one is that because Sam is a reader he can grow up and become anything he wants. Good message. Nothing wrong with that. It's not that it's bad in and of itself. I think it only reads as awkward because it immediately follows the giant episode. And it's hard to recover from that. But generally speaking the book has a very segmented, non-flowing, odd-to-awkward feel to it. I think it all comes down to Grundaloon. (I felt like the Sesame Street song was playing, one of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong...) Lift out the giant, transition the bike race into the ending and voila, a better but shorter book. (Or perhaps if the author had gone a non-giant route but had another mini-story-number-two.)

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Big Plans

Shea, Bob. 2008. Big Plans. Illustrated by Lane Smith.

High hopes. High hopes, I say! I had high hopes for this book written by Bob Shea (author of New Socks, one of my favorite favorite picture books last year), but I was slightly disappointed with this offering. Perhaps my hopes were too high. That happens sometimes, you know.

The premise of this one is--and no doubt about it--fun. A young boy is being punished. We're never quite told what his exact crime is this time. (Though we can easily guess that this is NOT the little boy you want in your classroom. In fact, he's the little boy whose parents you'd be needing to set up conferences with, and crossing your fingers that they're aware that their child is in fact a bit of a brat.) He is a boy with ambition, true, and dreams of world domination. A tyrant. A dictator.

The book is his daydream. His wish-fulfillment daydream. Are some of his dreams absurd? Absolutely. Are some of his dreams downright silly? Yes. But you can't deny this kid has gumption. Do some of these dreams mimic (and exaggerate) adults and their powers? In a way. The book does show how one kid does view power and how-the-world-works.

This is how it begins,

Soon the entire world will know of my big plans.
Plans so big I'll need Dad's shiniest tie and fanciest shoes.
Then I'll climb atop the highest hill in town and shout...
"I got Big Plans! BIG PLANS, I Say!"
On the way down, I'll meet a mynah bird.
"Hey Bird, have you heard?
I got me some big plans!
BIG PLANS, I say."
"What's it gonna be, bird?
In or out?"
"I'm in!" says the mynah bird.
"Okay, then!
Onward, bird!"
So one thing leads to another and his plans keep growing and growing and growing. And his new-found bird is right there by his side saying "I'm in!" all the time. I do mean all the time. (That is one thing I couldn't quite figure out.)

Anyway, the book has its moments. It's got some fun moments, funny moments, silly moments. And I think this wanting of power and control and authority is universal in many ways. But I couldn't quite get past how scheming and bratty this kid is. I really am not liking this kid. Maybe as a grown-up I don't quite get the appeal of being a brat. Or the appeal of glorifying bratty behavior to kid readers. Who knows. Maybe kids will love this one more than I did. It's not that I didn't like it. Just that I didn't love it.

Other reviews: Pink Me, Imperfect Parent, The Excelsior File,

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Butterflies in My Stomach

Bloch, Serge. 2008. Butterflies in My Stomach. (Published in Canada).

I like this one. Not exactly sure if younger readers will get it. But for older readers (and by older readers I don't mean older older readers) I think this one is a fun and playful examination of the English language. Figurative comparisons--whether you want to call them metaphors or perhaps cliches would be the better word choice--is what Butterflies In My Stomach is all about. Illustrating in a very cohesive (and playful) manner a young boy's first day of school by using figurative cliches on each and every page.

Here is how it begins:
On my first day of school, my mother said I got up on the wrong side of the bed. She asked if we needed to have a heart-to-heart talk so I wouldn't bottle up my feelings. As I left the house, Dad told me to put my best foot forward. On the way to the bus stop, my sister said that on her first day of school, she had butterflies in her stomach. I think I have them, too.
I think that will give you enough of a taste to see if you'd enjoy it.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, August 18, 2008

God Gave Us Heaven

Bergren, Lisa Tawn. 2008. God Gave Us Heaven.

God Gave Us Heaven is the newest in the "God Gave Us..." series by Lisa Tawn Bergren. I haven't read the previous titles, God Gave Us You, God Gave Us Two, and God Gave Us Christmas. But I'd be curious to read them now after reading this one. The books feature a polar bear family, a Christian polar bear family of course. And I would imagine that they all share one thing in common--though again it's pure speculation on my part--a curious cub that just happens to ask important questions. I'm not complaining. I tend to ask a lot of questions myself. Some deep, some not so much.

Here's how it starts:

"Papa, what's heav'n?"
"Why, heaven is God's home...
the most amazing place we'll ever get to see."
"More amazing than Glacier Bay?" Little Cub asked.
"Glacier Baby is the best place ever."
"Yes, Little Cub. Even better than Glacier Bay."

I liked this one. I did. Yes, it was cutesy. But it worked. It was informative, descriptive, and sound--theologically sound that is. Not that it goes into every single detail that is in the Bible. Not that it goes into theological matters on an adult level. We're talking basics, the essentials, and this one does get those right. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this one to Christian parents.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

God Loves Me More Than That

Mackall, Dandi Daley. 2008. God Loves Me More Than That. Illustrated by David Holm.

God Loves Me More Than That is much much better than When God Created My Toes. (In case you're wondering.) What is it about? It's about illustrating how infinite God's love is towards us, his children. "Infinite" is not an easy concept for young children "to get." (Adults can sometimes have a difficult time with it as well.) Yet in God Loves Me More Than That, God's love becomes tangible or easier to grasp. Here is how it begins:

How much love does God have for me?
More than the letters between A and Z.
More than the bumbles in a bumble bee.
God loves me more than that!

It continues,

Tell me, please, is the Lord's love high?
Higher than the moon
in a starless sky!
Higher than a space shuttle flying by.
God loves me more than that!

High, deep, wide, loud, soft, etc.

I didn't love this one. I liked it though. It still seems to fall into the Christian-and-dinky category. Meaning that while the message and intent are good, there are just a few things about the illustrations or the text that limits it from being great. So for the Christian audience, obviously, this one might be well received. And I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to Christian parents. But as someone who has read hundreds of picture books, this one falls a bit short of being great on its own merits. Again, I'm not saying it's bad.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

When God Created My Toes

Mackall, Dandi Daley. 2008. When God Created My Toes. Illustrated by David Hohn. Waterbrook Press.

When God Created My Toes is a sad attempt at a picture book. The problem? It suffers from forced rhyming. First of all, because it follows the rule that everything must rhyme no matter what, the rhymes lack both sense and naturalness. Second, the text lacks rhythm. There is no natural beauty, no natural flow; nothing poetic about it. Lest you think I'm picking on it because it is a Christian book, let me say this. The mistake of When God Created My Toes can happen in Christian publishing or mainstream publishing. I've picked on quite a few other picture books that suffer from this malady that were published by traditional, mainstream publishers. If I could, I would release this book from the shackles of its rhymes and set it free. It's not that the concept is a bad one. It's just a somewhat stunted concept.

Here are a few examples,

When God
my toes
Did he make them wiggle?
Did he know I'd giggle?
Did he have to hold his nose
when God created my toes?

Not a bad start really. Toes wiggle. Tickles cause giggles. Toes can sometimes stink. Nothing "zah?" yet.

When God
my knees
Did he put bones in'em?
Did he know I'd skin'em?
Did we sing our ABCs
when God created my knees?

It's beginning to lose me at this point. I'm not completely checked out yet. But what do ABC's have to do with knees? And there's just something off about the whole thing.

When God created my hip,
Did I hear him say,
"Hip, hip, horray!"?
Did we do a double flip
when God created my hip?

See here is when I knew that this one just wasn't going to work for me. There are some better verses up ahead. But nothing that personally redeems it (for me) from its mediocrity.

The illustrations. I would say that I thought the illustrations were better than the text. I actually preferred the "kid-drawn" sketches that appear on the left side of some of the spreads to the other more polished illustrations. The kid-drawn art has a certain charm that I enjoyed. The other illustrations weren't bad, but they had a cartoon-feel to them. Not bad. Very adequate. My least favorite part of the illustrations were the white cat. There was just something that bugged me about how that cat was drawn. I don't know why. And I'm sure it's just me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Wombat and Fox: Tales of the City

Denton, Terry. 2008. Wombat & Fox. Published by Kane/Miller

I wasn't "wowed" by the cover of this one. But the text had me at hello. "This is a story of what happened to Wombat on Tuesday. I could tell you about Monday, but nothing happened on Monday. So Tuesday it is." See what I mean...does that not say read me, read me? Wombat & Fox is a chapter book--three stories within one book--that would be great for the 7 and up crowd. (Though for a read aloud I suppose it could work for a bit younger crowd.) The book would meet Alice's approval--if she were still around--since its illustrations are liberal. Overall, I'd say it was a nice blend between text and illustrations. The amount of illustrations might be friendly to those intimated by text-only chapter books (novels), but don't be fooled there is plenty of plot within its pages.

Wombat and Fox are friends. And the three stories do focus on them, their friendship, and their adventures. It also focuses on their community as many side characters are introduced. The three stories are "Wombat's Lucky Dollar," "Golden Cleat Fox," and "A Hot Night in the City."

The writing is amazingly appealing. Let me rephrase that. Some books appeal to kids. Some books appeal to adults. Some appeal to both kids and adults. Some books don't appeal to either kids or adults. While I'm not saying that every adult should rush out and buy Wombat & Fox for their own pleasure reading, I am saying that those adults who enjoy children's books and have the occasion to read with their children--parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers, librarians--would most likely find the writing style to be refreshingly smart and appealing. In a way (and to a smaller extent) like the Frog and Toad books are universally appealing.

So in other words, I liked it.

Remember, you've still got time to enter my anniversary givewaway. Enter here for a chance to win one of four boxed sets published by Kane/Miller. The drawing will be on August 27th. (Full rules are on the initial post.)

Another review: Fuse #8,

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Meet Allie Finkle

Cabot, Meg. 2008. Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls: Moving Day.
"I like rules. The reason why is, rules help make our lives easier. For instance, the rule about not killing people. Obviously, this is a good rule.
Another good rule is Everything that goes up must come down. This includes helium balloons. People don't know this, but you shouldn't let helium balloons loose outside, like at weddings or the Olympics or whatever, because what happens is eventually all the helium comes out and the balloons fall down, possibly in the ocean, and sea turtles eat them.
Then they choke to death.
So really that is two rules: Everything that goes up must come down and Don't let go of helium balloons outside.
Science has a lot of rules (like the one about gravity). So does math (like that five minus three will always be two. That is a rule).
That's why I like science and math. You know where you stand with them, rulewise.
What I'm not so crazy about is everything else. Because there are no rules for everything else.
There are no rules, for instance, for friendship. I mean, besides the one about Treat your friends the way you'd want them to treat you, which I've already broken about a million times. Like earlier today, when my best friend, Mary Kay Shiner, and I were making the strawberry frosting for her birthday cupcakes. (1-2)

Allie Finkle has lots of rules. Rules on how to live. But nothing has quite prepared her for the challenges ahead. You see, Allie Finkle is about to move across town and that changes everything. She's losing her best friend (for multiple reasons). She's losing her school. She's losing her room, her house, her neighborhood. And maybe just maybe it would be worth it all if only...if only the house where they're moving wasn't haunted, wasn't so spooky, so dark and uninviting and ugly. Allie, when she's honest, will admit that Mary Kay isn't a great best friend. She cries too much. That plus she will only play one boring game over and over day after day. And the thought of making a new best friend, a great best friend is tempting. So is the thought of a kitten. Her parents have promised--actually promised--to get her a pet of her very own, a kitten--if and only if she behaves during this transition. If she doesn't whine and complain and act out about how awful the move is. But there's one consistent concern as far as Allie is concerned, she knows that the new house has a zombie hand in the attic. She knows her family's life at risk--her mom and dad, her two younger brothers. So it's a definite dilemma. What's a nine year old girl to do?

I loved Allie. I loved her family. I loved how this one was written. Allie's voice is unique and wonderful and above all authentic.

I loved, loved, loved this book. And I can't wait to get to the second book in the series.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mule School

Rawlinson, Julia. 2008. Mule School. Illustrated by Lynne Chapman.

Mules are known for stubbornness. Right? Wrong! Meet Stomper, a mule that might just flunk out of mule school because he just can't be stubborn enough like all his peers. You see Stomper likes to be polite, friendly, helpful. He likes to think for himself. He may want to do what others tell him to do. Why should he be restricted to saying "no" and "never" and "won't"?

I love the illustrations by Lynne Chapman. And I confess they probably steal the show away from the text. The attention to detail is humorous. And it's often these hidden little gems that are good for a quick laugh. I think I caught something new each time I read it through.

Here is how Mule School begins,
Stomper did not like Mule School. He liked the other mules. He liked lunchtime and playtime. But he did not like Stubbornness Practice. Every day his schedule was the same:

9 o'clock Stubbornness
11 o'clock Kicking
12 o'clock Lunch
1 o'clock Stubbornness
3 o'clock Kicking
4 o'clock Home

Day after day the mules recited, "Won't, won't, won't" and "Never, never, never." They shook their heads and stamped their feet.
As you might be able to predict, Stomper will have some influence--though it won't come easily and without some cost--on his peers and his teacher. While the message that it's good "that not everyone is exactly the same" has been done before (a recurring theme in picture books when it comes down to it), I must admit that I enjoyed Mule School. I would be interested to see what a classroom of kids thought of it as well. If you've read this one to kids, feel free to leave a comment. Was it a big hit or a dud? Is it a book that adults think kids will really like...or is it actually genuinely kid-friendly?

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bad Kitty

Bruel, Nick. 2007. Bad Kitty.

A misbehaving kitty sounds like a must read to me. And the A to Z fun was just a whole other layer of fun. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Splendid Friend Indeed

Just found one of my favorite books on LookyBook.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Daisy Dawson Is On Her Way

book cover of   Daisy Dawson Is on Her Way!   by  Steve Voake

Voake, Steve. 2008. Daisy Dawson Is On Her Way.

Daisy Dawson Is On Her Way is a book for young readers--perhaps in the 7 to 9 age range--featuring a young girl, Daisy, who loves animals. One day, on her way to school, a passing butterfly gives Daisy a gift of immeasurable worth (at least from Daisy's point of view). She gives Daisy the ability to talk with animals--all sorts of animals. And talk with them she does. She loves her new gift, but at the same time worries that she might be the one going crazy. Is she imagining all these conversations in her mind? Or are the class pets--gerbils--really arguing about cheese snacks?

While Daisy Dawson probably has a good amount of kid appeal, I can't say it has much adult appeal. That being said, it is hard for adults to really, really, really enjoy this type of reader, this type of early chapter book. There are always exceptions to the rules--Clementine, Moxy Maxwell, etc--but more often than not we can only see that it would be good for others to enjoy. So if you've got a child that loves animals and has a good imagination and loves to read, Daisy Dawson is one way to go.

I did love the illustrations by Jessica Meserve. I really loved those.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Third Grade Baby

Meyerhoff, Jenny. 2008. Third Grade Baby. Illustrated by Jill Weber.

Teeth. Losing teeth seems to be a theme in 2008, I don't quite know why. But Third Grade Baby is a chapter book that deals with just that. A little girl, Polly Peterson, is teased because she's the only one in her third grade class that hasn't lost a single tooth. She still has all her baby teeth. But even once her first tooth has been lost, Polly still has a few troubles. The tooth fairy. Some kids say she's real. Some kids say she's not. Polly's not sure. But when she places her tooth--with a letter--under her pillow, she's disappointed. Very disappointed. The tooth fairy didn't come! Her parents told her that she would, but she didn't. Which leads to some little white lies. How could she face the kids in her class if she told them that the tooth fairy was a no show? Especially not after some of the bragging by her classmates on the loot they've been left through the years. So Polly does some bragging of her own. Oops.

Polly soon realizes that lies have some unpleasant consequences. Now she just has a day (or so) to prove that she has a photo--a real life picture--of the tooth fairy to back up her claims. What's a girl to do?

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, August 8, 2008

Poetry Friday: On the Farm

Elliott, David. 2008. On the Farm. Illustrated by Holly Meade.

I love On the Farm. I just love it. It has these amazing woodcut and watercolor illustrations by Holly Meade that add depth to the poetry by David Elliott. Each two page spread pays tribute to a farm animal: the rooster, the cow, the pony, the dog, the sheep, the barn cat, the goat, the pig, the snake, the bees, the bull, the turtle, etc. You know how some poetry books for children have the dinky factor...well, On the Farm is a refreshingly non-dinky picture book treatment of farm animals. The poems are well-written, and the illustrations are really above and beyond what you'd usually find. They're just that good.

Here is one of my favorites:

The Pig

Her tail? As coy as a ringlet.
In her eye there's a delicate sheen.
Some look at her and see a sow;
I see a beauty queen.

Here's another of my favorites:

The Dog

in the shady
farmhouse yard.

You might think
he's keeping cool.
He's keeping guard!

Poetry Friday is at Becky's Book Reviews.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Sweet Dreams

Sweet Dreams: A Bedtime Storybook Collection. Various Authors. Scholastic, 2007.

The authors and illustrators vary from story to story with the overall theme being bedtime and sleep. The stories include: If You Were My Bunny, Thank You Prayer, Good Night, Sleep Tight, Little Bunnies, and Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. Each story is very repetitive and rhythmic, perfect for lulling little ones to sleep. Snugglebug and Ladybug's favorite of the collection is Good Night, Sleep Tight, Little Bunnies. It's so rhythmic it's almost like a lullaby. Some of the text reads:

Hidden in the meadow,

Among the pretty flowers,

Little Bunnies dream away

The long night hours.

Good night, sleep tight,

Little bunnies.

It continues in the same rhythm for several animals. And the illustrations are just as beautiful as the text.

Snugglebug enjoyed this book and has fallen asleep to the stories on a couple of different occasions. Ladybug would highly recommend this book as a bedtime book for all ages.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Madam President

Smith, Lane. 2008. Madam President.

It's hard work being president...even if it's only pretend. Just ask the heroine of Lane Smith's newest picture book, Madame President, which features a little girl with determination, ambition, and stubborn pride for her country. We first meet our heroine in bed; she's reading a book on The Presidents. Throughout the book, she lists (and lists!) the duties and responsibilities of being a President of the United States of America. But her setting--her surroundings are familiar ones--her home, her neighborhood, and her school. She's got it down, alright. She's got a plan--a big plan. And waving the red, white, and blue is part of it all.

There are so many things--small things really--that make this one work. The fact that the first executive order of the day involves waffles. The fact that among her cabinet members is a sock monkey who is the "secretary of naps." The fact that she loves her veto power. And one of the first things she vetoes is the lunchroom tuna casserole. The fun just continues. The text and illustrations are just right. There are enough details to keep the reader interested and involved.

My favorite favorite part? When she visits a designated Disaster Area--a.k.a. her bedroom. "A president has to lead by example, even if it means cleaning her own room."

There is so much to love, so much to enjoy. Definitely recommended.

Other reviews: Literate Lives, Pink Me, Jen Robinson,

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Pencil

Ahlberg, Allan. 2008. The Pencil. Bruce Ingman.

Banjo is back. If you haven't read The Runaway Dinner, then you've never met Banjo. (And it's certainly not *essential* that you're familiar with the characters of The Runaway Dinner, but if you are, then some of the characters are back for another adventure.) Allan Ahlberg does weird. And The Pencil is really no different. Here is how it begins,

"Once there was a pencil, a lonely little pencil, and nothing else. It lay there, which was nowhere in particular, for a long, long time. Then one day that little pencil made a move, shivered slightly, quivered somewhat...and began to draw."

Already, I have begun to enjoy this one more that I did The Runaway Dinner. I like the premise at least. It has a Harold and the Purple Crayon vibe going on which I like.

It continues,

"The pencil drew a boy. "What's my name?" Said the boy. "Er....Banjo," said the pencil. "Good," said Banjo. "Draw me a dog."

Soon the pencil draws Bruce (the neighbor dog) and Mildred (the cat), and the drawing continues...a house, a yard, a neighborhood, a park, etc. But soon the characters aren't happy with they're black-and-white life, so the pencil has to think of a solution to add some color to their lives...

Can you come up with a solution? Did you think the pencil should draw a paintbrush? Well, he does. And that's just the beginning.

This is a slightly warped but ever-creative picture book about the drawing, creating, envisioning process.

Overall, I enjoyed this one much much more than the Runaway Dinner. Did I love it? I'm not sure I'd go that far. But I liked it. I still think it takes a special reader to fully appreciate Ahlberg, but this one should definitely be given a chance.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Runaway Dinner

Ahlberg, Allan. 2006. (First paperback edition, 2008). The Runaway Dinner. Illustrated by Bruce Ingman.

If you like weird picture books, then Allan Ahlberg is the author for you. That's not to say that his books are bad weird. Or even that they are good weird. Picture books are always subjective. A reader can love the text but not the pictures. Or a reader can love the pictures but not the text. Or a reader can love both the text and pictures. Or hate both the text and pictures. Or perhaps love most of the book, but have a few quibbles with an element or two, etc. That's how it goes with most picture books. Allan Ahlberg's picture books create a very odd, very weird, slightly warped (not offensively warped) reality. So whether you love or hate The Runaway Dinner depends on who you are, what sort of sense of humor you have, etc.

In The Runaway Dinner, the readers meet a young boy, Banjo, and his runaway dinner. Melvin, the sausage, starts this exhausting runaway adventure. Here's how it begins,

"There was once a boy. Banjo, his name was, yes, Banjo Cannon. Well, he was a little boy, this boy, lived in a house, slept in a bed, wore all the usual sorts of clothes, socks and scarves and such, loved his cat, named Mildred, and his mom and dad, named Mr. and Mrs. and every day, summer or winter, rain or shine, had a sausage for his dinner..."

Skipping ahead a bit, we see that, "Now here's the exciting part, the unbelievable part--though it is all true." The sausage, the plate, the knife, the fork, the table, the chair, the peas, the fries, the carrots, the boy, the cat, the parents, the neighbor's dog, etc. they all join in this runaway chase. Some are running to run away, and some are running to chase, to try to catch what's running away. They are all given names. And the chase is a long one, an exhausting one.

And I won't spoil it for you if you haven't read it. It's very weird, as I said, and it's got a warped slightly unusual humor about it.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Light of the World

Paterson, Katherine. 2008. The Light of the World: The Life of Jesus for Children. Illustrated by Francois Roca.

What I liked about this one? That it begins with the beginning. "The Bible tells us that in the beginning, when God created the heavens and earth, there was nothing but darkness until God said: "Let there be light." And there was light." But it doesn't stop there, it continues, "Many years ago, the prophet Isaiah lived in a dark time for his country. The wise king of Judah had died, and powerful enemies threatened to destroy his tiny land. But Isaiah believed in God's promise that the people who were living in darkness would someday see a great light. This is the story of light coming into the world." I think this is important, significant, that the life of Jesus is grounded in the Old Testament. Even though this is a book for children, it builds on a foundation, a crucial foundation. It is hard to read the New Testament, understand the New Testament, unless one knows at least a few foundational basics from the Old. For one, Jesus, was the child, the man, of prophecy. His coming, his life, his death, had been foretold for hundreds and hundreds of years.

The life of Jesus--from birth to ascension--is told simply and clearly. It's also told in a non-threatening, matter-of-fact way.

It is interesting to see which elements of the story Paterson chooses to focus on, and which elements she skips altogether. However, I don't know that I'd envy her the task of choosing. It's a simple fact--one I understand--that she simply couldn't mention every sermon, every teaching, every parable, every miracle, every confrontation, every event. And I think most of her choices were made to suit her audience. For example, the Slaughter of the Innocents and Jesus' flight into Egypt is passed over. Herod's threatening opposition not making the cut. Also missing from The Light of the World is the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus visiting the temple and astounding those teachers.

The Jesus presented in The Light of the World is wise, kind, compassionate. He's a good man. And he is referred to as the Son of God. But the Jesus presented also lacks confrontation. This Jesus doesn't mention sin. Doesn't mention the fact that all men are sinners and in need of a Savior. In fact, The Light of the World doesn't focus at all--not even a little bit--on the fact that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, to call all men to repent and to follow. Call all men to believe. This Jesus doesn't focus on the hard sayings of Jesus. The difficult bits that might make children and adults squirm a bit. Jesus' teachings to love one another, to be kind, to be generous, to be merciful, to be good, are not at all hard to accept. Everyone likes the treat-others-as-you-want-to-be-treated philosophy.

It's not that anything in Paterson's text is inaccurate. It's just that it is incomplete in many ways. It is far from offensive. Far from abrasive. This one really lacks the ability to rub people the wrong way. This is a very non-threatening Jesus. A Jesus that asks only for people to be good, kind, and loving towards one another. A Jesus that calls for peaceful-loving-happy feelings.

If you're looking for the gospel, you won't find it in The Light of the World. The basics of the gospel--let alone the details of this 'good news'--is not what Paterson has chosen to focus on in her book. Her book is the life of Jesus as separated from the gospel message. Again, it's not that what she says is inaccurate. It's just that it is a very small, very focused fraction of what could have been said.

Is it worth reading? Perhaps. The art by Francois Roca is beautiful. I just can't help thinking that a book that focuses on the life of Jesus should in some way or another explain why he died. This one doesn't. We hear only that he made people angry. Not even the exact reasons why he made people angry. That we're still in the dark about. So we don't know the details of why those men, those leaders wanted Jesus killed. And we don't get the details on why Jesus's death (and I would even go so far as to mention his life and resurrection) matters to us today. All we're told in that respect is that "the light of the world" can continue to shine in believers today when they're good and kind and loving and compassionate and merciful, etc. And it is good to show the love of Jesus, the love of God to others. It is important to minister to everyone--in all the small ways that make a difference--through living a life of love. It is by our actions we are known. So again, it is not that it's inaccurate. Just incomplete. Jesus didn't come to earth so we'd love each and be good neighbors. So we'd all be like Mr. Rogers. That wasn't the purpose. If that was the purpose, then Christians would have never been persecuted then or now or in all the centuries in between.

Still, if a child has parents or grandparents to fill in the missing elements of the story, this one could be worth it.

According to the publisher's site, this one has earned stars in Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly. And that is saying something. So whether you love this one or are only luke-warm about it...I think it depends on your expectations and your needs. Obviously, those not judging it from a theological aspect will find it to be of greater quality. Speaking just on literary merits alone, it is well done. And like I said, the artwork, the illustrations, are good--very beautiful, very effective.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Minn and Jake's Almost Terrible Summer

Wong, Janet S. 2008. Minn and Jake's Almost Terrible Summer.

Minn and Jake's Almost Terrible Summer is the follow up to 2003's Minn and Jake. Though I think that you could easily read this book without having a familiarity with the other. Essentially, Minn and Jake are "true best friends." Though mostly opposites, they make a great pair. She's tall; he's short. He's a city kid; she's a country kid--a lizard-and-worm loving country kid.

At the end of the first book, Jake left with his mom and baby brother, Soup, to visit his grandmother in L.A. He invited Minn to come visit him and his family during the summer. This book is the story of what happened (in part) during that summer.

Like the first novel--verse novel--this one just feels right, feels authentic. These are two young kids getting ready to enter sixth grade. They're not quite "at that age" where they're thinking about the opposite sex, thinking about "having a boyfriend/girlfriend." But they're almost ready to start thinking about thinking about growing up.

Here is a one of my favorite bits:
When you talk with a good friend,
half the conversation is in parentheses.
You know what your friend is thinking.
When you talk with a stranger,
it's like homework.
Complete sentences.
Questions to get answers.

With a true best friend,
the questions are understood,
the answers are authomatic,
and knowing you've ruined your friend's day
with your bad news
somehow makes it easier to bear.

Jake, Minn, and Soup--and other family members as well--make great company on an August day!

Minn and Jake

Minn and Jake

Wong, Janet S. 2003. (Paperback 2008). Minn and Jake.

"The story of losing--and finding--a true best friend."

Minn and Jake is a verse novel with tween protagonists. (Minn and Jake are fifth graders.) When the novel opens, Minn is having a rough time. She's feeling "extra lizardy and alone." She feels betrayed, in a way, by her former "true best friend" Sabina. Our first poem tells us,

Minn is feeling very empty,
and very tall,
and very odd,
and very pigtailed,
and very lizardy,
and very much alone.

But Minn soon meets Jake. Though Jake isn't the true best friend she'd been waiting for. Jake is the new kid, the transfer student. He's short and has "a spiky haircut that he never asked for that makes him look like a baby crow." Yet in a relatively short amount of time--a few days or a week--the two begin to discover a thing or two about friendship.

There were many things I enjoyed about this one. Details. It's all in the details. The quirky little things that takes this book from ordinary and quite typical to great fun. It just feels right. Jake and Minn feel like they're real kids, doing real kid things and having real kid problems.

Early on in the book when Minn is over at Jake's house, and Minn is being 'forced' to play with Soup, Jake's baby brother, there is an accident with the fish tank. This bit of a poem is right after the accident.

Jake spent a whole week
coming up with name
that fit the fish--

Plungerface: the yellow one with the big nose
who likes to suck the side of the tank.

Disposal: the garbage fish,
the minute catfish
who eats the old food and scum
at the bottom.

Ick and Uck:
the ones who always seem to have poop
trailing out their backsides.

the silvery black-and-white angelfish,
so flat and skinny
there's hardly enough room
for real live guts
in her.

Flick: the black one
who likes to flick
her long flowing fins
into the other fishes' faces.

The last seven (six, now),
the little blue ones,
have easy names:
all of them
are called
the $2.99 Blue Kind,
which makes them feel like a team.

As soon as I read that, I *knew* that this was the kind of book I'd love.