Saturday, January 29, 2011

I'm Not

I'm Not. Pam Smallcomb. Illustrated by Robert Weinstock. 2011. Random House. 32 pages.

Sometimes I wonder if my friend Evelyn is from Mars. She's not one single bit ordinary. And she's a little mysterious. I'm not.

I really enjoyed this picture book about friendship. Our shy narrator feels less than--in many ways. Her friend Evelyn has personality, has style; there's just something about her that demands notice and attention. Smallcomb illustrates this well in her text, "If Evelyn was a car, she would get a speeding ticket" and "If Evelyn was a book, you'd read her all night under the covers to see what happened next." But just because our narrator is different from her very best friend, doesn't mean she's not special. For our narrator--as Evelyn points out--is very, very good at being just what Evelyn needs, a really good best friend.

It's a good story, a sweet story, a playful, spirited story. 

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 2 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, January 28, 2011

For the Love Of Music

For the Love of Music: The Remarkable Story of Maria Anna Mozart. Elizabeth Rusch. Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. 2011. February 2011. Random House. 32 pages.

When Maria Anna Mozart was a child, her life thrummed with music. Court musicians trumpeted French horns, choruses tra-la-la'ed, and countless fingers skittered up and down scales. 
"Oh father," Maria pleaded, "please teach me to play!"
And so he did.

I'm not quite sure what I liked more--the text or the illustrations. Truth is, both are wonderful! I have been a big, big fan of Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher for years! But there was something just right about the narrative of this one. I found it quite poetical, quite creative, very rich in description.

It's a picture book biography of Maria Anna Mozart, the older sister of Wolfgang Mozart. (Did you know that she was just as musical as her brother? Just as talented and charismatic? I've read novels--one adult, one young adult--on the subject. But I was pleased to see this as a subject of a picture book.)

The biography is presented in a unique way--her life is arranged into sonata movements. And the book definitely illustrates and defines many musical terms. For example, The First Movement: Where musical themes are introduced; Allegro: The fast tempo of the first movement; Development: Where the themes of the first movement are explored; Recapitulation: Where the themes of the first movement are reviewed; Coda: An Ending.

I would definitely recommend this one.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total:  7 out of 10

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

A Dazzling Display of Dogs

A Dazzling Display of Dogs. Betsy Franco. Illustrated by Michael Wertz. 2011. Random House. 40 pages.

My Pal, Jazzy
No matter if I'm feeling blue,
My Jazzy thinks I'm great.
She wiggles, jiggles, jumps on me
When I'm through the gate!

A Dazzling Display of Dogs is a collection of themed (dog) concrete poems. Concrete poems are visually exciting to read and share with others. And the illustrations by Michael Wertz match the text quite well. If you're a dog lover, then this collection of poems is for you! A wide variety of dogs are represented within its pages! The style is light and fun. One of my favorites is "Letting Gwen In and Out." Then again, "Misleading Sign" was clever in its simplicity. And then there's "Old Jimbo Claims the Chair." And there's even a great poem for two voices: "Tigger On His Back." Yes, this is an enjoyable collection that I'm happy to recommend!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Song of the Week: Rock A Bye Your Bear

This song makes me ridiculously happy. I just LOVE it!!!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Sick Day for Amos McGee

A Sick Day for Amos McGee. Philip C. Stead. Illustrated by Erin E. Stead. 2010. Roaring Brook Press. 32 pages.

Amos McGee was an early riser. Every morning when the alarm clock clanged, he swung his legs out of bed and swapped his pajamas for a fresh-pressed uniform. He would wind his watch and set a pot of water to boil--saying to the sugar bowl, "A spoonful for my oatmeal, please, and two for my teacup."
Belly full and ready for the workday, he'd amble out the door.

Amos McGee stars in this understated charmer. He may be slightly predictable, but it's all good. For there's just something likable about him. He works at the zoo and all the animals love him. We meet many of his animal friends in the first half of the picture book. We see Amos McGee's daily routine. But then, readers see Amos on a day when he's not feeling his best. A day when he's not up to ambling out the door to the zoo. How will his absence be felt by those in his life? What will the animals do without him? Amos is so very good at taking care of them, can they return the favor? Can the animals take care of him for a change?! Readers may just be surprised at this playful twist!

As for my impressions of A Sick Day for Amos McGee, well, I liked it. I really liked it. I can't say it's love. Not like I loved Interrupting Chicken. But I did enjoy it. I liked the character of Amos McGee. I liked meeting all the animals. I thought it was fun. I thought it was cute. True, I thought it a little strange. Especially seeing all those animals on the bus! But I liked it all the same. I happened to like the text more than the art. But only slightly.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers


Peedie. Olivier Dunrea. 2004/2008. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 16 pages.

This is Peedie.
Peedie is a gosling.
A small, yellow gosling who sometimes forgets things.

Peedie may forget plenty of things--to eat all his food, to take a nap, to come in out of the rain. But he NEVER forgets to wear his lucky red baseball cap. Or almost never. Readers learn what happens when Peedie puts his special hat in a secret place. (I think secret places are like safe places. And you probably know how tricky those can be!) Can Peedie remember his secret place? Or is his lucky red cap gone for good?

I liked this one! I think this series is very fun, very playful.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers


Ollie. Olivier Dunrea. 2003/2007. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 16 pages.

This is Ollie.
Ollie is waiting.
He won't come out.
Gossie and Gertie have been waiting for weeks for Ollie to come out.

Gossie and Gertie are impatient. They are tired of waiting for Ollie to hatch out of his shell. Ollie keeps protesting that he won't come out, he won't come out, he won't come out. And these two friends keep pleading with Ollie again and again. Will this egg ever hatch? He may when he's ready--in his own time. Perhaps after the two tell him NOT to come out!

While Ollie isn't my favorite board book by Olivier Dunrea, it is still a fun read! There are other Ollie adventures, I believe, that I haven't had the opportunity to read: Ollie the Stomper, Ollie's Halloween, Merry Christmas, Ollie, Ollie's Easter Eggs, etc.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Gossie and Gertie

Gossie and Gertie. Olivier Dunrea. 2002/2007. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 16 pages.

This is Gossie.
This is Gertie. 
Gossie wears bright red boots.
Gertie wears bright blue boots.
They are friends. Best friends.

I enjoyed Gossie & Gertie even more than Gossie. In this adventure, the goslings friendship is explored and defined. Readers may notice--or at least adult readers will notice--just how bossy Gossie is! How spirited. But Gertie is not one that is easily led. No, sometimes Gertie likes to have a say! And that's okay with Gossie. Especially if where he is leading her is to dinner!

The text is very fun, very playful. Proof that simple can be a very good thing! And the illustrations match that spirit well.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers


Gossie. Olivier Dunrea. 2002/2007. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 16 pages.

This is Gossie, Gossie is a gosling.
A small, yellow gosling who likes to wear bright red boots.
Every day.

I enjoyed this board book very much! I found the text to be playful and fun. I liked the repetition and predictability. I liked the character of Gossie very much. I liked her personality. In just a few words, I got a clear sense of what this gosling was all about! I could tell that she was a character, if you know what I mean! Of course, the artwork has something to do with that too!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, January 21, 2011

Song of the Week: No More Monkeys

This song has *really* grown on me! I just love it!

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Interrupting Chicken

Interrupting Chicken. David Ezra Stein. 2010. [August 2010] Candlewick Press. 40 pages. 

It was bedtime for the little red chicken.
"Okay, my little chicken," said Papa. "Are you all ready to go to sleep?"
"Yes, Papa! But you forgot something."
"What's that?" asked Papa.
"A bedtime story!"

I loved this one. I just LOVED this one. It's funny. It's sweet. It's just right in all the right ways. Papa is happy to read a story--or two or three--to his little chicken. But. He does wish she wouldn't interrupt him while he reads. What kind of interruptions are we talking about? Well, Little Chicken just *has* to warn Hansel and Gretel that the old woman with a candy house is a witch. And then there's the warning to Little Red Riding Hood about talking to strangers. And, of course, the warning to Chicken Little telling him NOT to panic--it was just an acorn. With each abbreviated fairy story, Little Chicken is failing to get even a little sleepy. Will Papa ever get his little one to bed? Then they get an idea! What if Little Chicken were to tell a story to Papa?! Would that make her sleepy?!

As I said, I LOVED this one. I liked the fairy tale theme. I liked the storytelling theme. It was a clever book that is beautifully illustrated.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Bink & Gollie

Bink & Gollie. Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee. Illustrated by Tony Fucile. 2010. [September 2010] Candlewick Press. 96 pages.

Bink and Gollie star in three delightful short stories in Kate DiCamillo's newest book. The stories are: "Don't You Need A New Pair of Socks?", "P.S. I'll Be Back Soon," and "Give a Fish a Home." My favorite of the three is "Don't You Need A Pair of Socks." It's a delightful story about the value of compromise in friendship! Here's how it begins:
"Hello, Gollie," said Bink.
"What should we do today?"
"Greetings, Bink," said Gollie.
"I long for speed."
"Let's roller-skate!"
When these two friends are out rollerskating together, Bink notices that a store is having a "bargain bonanza" of bright socks. Not just bright socks--OUTRAGEOUSLY bright socks. (Gollie is less than impressed. But Bink has to have a pair now.) Bink picks out a pair of socks that "pains" Gollie, perhaps what pains Gollie most is hearing Bink gush on and on about how wonderful her new socks are, how much she just loves, loves, loves her new socks. When Bink begs asks Gollie to make her some pancakes, Gollie has her revenge. She'll make pancakes for her friend only if the Bink will take off her new socks...

 Who will win in this battle of wills? Can a compromise be reached?

The other two stories are fun as well. But not quite as fun--for me.

I enjoyed this collection of stories. I thought they were fun and playful. I liked both Bink and Gollie.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Curious Garden

The Curious Garden. Peter Brown. 2009. Little, Brown. 40 pages.

There once was a city without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind. Most people spent their time indoors. As you can imagine, it was a very dreary place.
However, there was one boy who loved being outside. Even on drizzly days, while everyone else stayed inside, you could always find Liam happily splashing through his neighborhood.
It was on one such morning that Liam made several surprising discoveries.

Can a garden thrive in the city? Can a garden grow in unforgotten places and spaces? Can a little boy start a love-nature movement and change the landscape of an entire city? You might enjoy reading Peter Brown's The Curious Garden. It is about a little boy who "discovers" wildflowers and other plants growing on an abandoned railroad track. He decides that he wants to make this place his own--he wants to be the gardener, the caretaker, of this little green space. Especially since it's such a contrast to the drab gray environment of the city. The book follows this "garden" through several seasons.

I was not a big fan of this one. But I think that could be just me.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Babe: The Gallant Pig

Babe: The Gallant Pig by Dick King-Smith. Illustrated by Mary Rayner. 1995 (Reprint). Random House. 128 pages.

"What's that noise?" said Mrs. Hogget, sticking her comfortable round red face out of the kitchen window. "Listen, there 'tis again, did you hear it, what a racket, what a row, anybody'd think someone was being murdered, oh dearie me, whatever is it, just listen to it, will you?"
Farmer Hogget listened. From the usually quiet valley below the farm came a medley of sounds: the oompah oompah sounds of a brass band, the shouts of children, the rattle and thump of a skittle alley, and every now and then a very high, very loud, very angry-sounding squealing lasting about ten seconds.
Farmer Hogget pulled out an old pocket watch as big around as a saucer and looked at it. "Fair starts at two," he said. "It's started."
I love the movie. It's become so much a part of me, that I really can't remember a time when I didn't love it. It is just so good. So quotable. So true. So perfect. It's one of those meaning-of-life, beauty-in-simplicity movies. Anyway, I could gush for hours. How does the book compare? Well, the movie will always be better in my opinion. (Rare I know.) But the book was good. The plot is less complex. There are fewer characters, fewer conflicts. There is no "Rex" just Fly. There is no Ferdinand the duck to lead Babe into trouble. There are definitely no singing mice. It's good; it's enjoyable. But you really can't get better than the movie.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, January 3, 2011

Play, Louis, Play

Play, Louis, Play!: The True Story of A Boy and His Horn. Muriel Harris Weinstein. Illustrated by Frank Morrison. 2010.  [December 2010] Bloomsbury. 112 pages.

There isn't a jazzman in New Orleans who hasn't tapped my brain about Louis Armstrong. They talk to me as if sugar's sprinkled on their tongue. "Hey, you knew Louis like no one else. What's the pitch, the real story?" These jazzmen know I know. I ought to. I was Little Louis' horn, the first horn he ever played.

I'm not sure a book narrated by a horn should have the word true in the title. Though that could be just me, I suppose. I love Louis Armstrong. I do. I love listening to his music. I love reading about him, too. I've read a few picture books and chapter books--some nonfiction, some fiction. I think it's wonderful that there is such a rich amount of books about jazz and jazz musicians for young readers. (Picture books, poetry books, chapter books, etc.)

Play, Louis, Play is reader-friendly, I think. The book covers the earliest years of his life--his childhood to the beginning of his success. It covers the good times and the bad times. And in his childhood, there were plenty of not-so-good times. Hunger, poverty, misdirection. But music saved Louis Armstrong in more ways than one. While I wish--I really wish--it had been told by a human narrator, the facts remain the facts. The story is interesting despite the fact that you have to suspend your disbelief from cover to cover.

Readers might also be interested in Eric Kimmel's A Horn for Louis. And I really enjoyed The Louis Armstrong You Never Knew by James Lincoln Collier.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers