Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator

Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator. Mo Willems. 2011. HarperCollins. 72 pages.

First sentence of the first story: Amanda was at the library getting her books for the week. Her alligator was not. He was waiting for Amanda to get back.

Want to read 6 1/2 surprising stories about 2 surprising friends? What if those stories are written by Mo Willems?!

I am a BIG, BIG fan of Mo Willems. I am. So I was so excited to read Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator. I was happy to discover six (and a half) stories about a little girl, Amanda, and her best friend, a stuffed toy alligator. It was wonderful to see how many stories highlight Amanda's love for reading. Willems' shares with readers the titles of Amanda's library books: How to Raise a Tiger, Whale Songs for Beginners, Climbing Things for Fun and Profit, and You Can Make It Yourself: Jet Packs! (I thought the titles were clever--my favorites being Climbing Things for Fun and Profit and You Can Make It Yourself: Jet Packs!) The stories are just fun and imaginative and--at times--sweet.

For example, in "A Surprising Value," Alligator is worried--and a bit sad--to discover that he's only "worth" seven cents. That he, in fact, came from the sale bucket. But Amanda reassures her dear friend that there was a very good reason no one else wanted to buy him,
"No one wanted to buy you because they knew you were meant to be my best friend." After that, Alligator felt better. (And that's the truth.) (44-45)
I also enjoyed the last story, "A Surprising Discovery." In that story, Alligator is again worried. This time he's worried because Amanda has brought home 'a surprise' from her day at the zoo. She's brought home a new toy, a stuffed panda. This panda does NOT look like it was from the sale bucket. No, the panda definitely cost more than seven cents. So Alligator isn't all that happy about this new friend. Not until he realizes that Panda is great fun. Alligator used to spend his time waiting for Amanda; spent his time being bored, bored, bored. But with Panda around? Well, it's fun to "wait" for Amanda! Here's one of my favorite quotes from that story:
When Amanda comes home, we will have fun, thought Alligator.
We will sing songs!
We will dress up!
We will make discoveries!
Maybe Amanda will have another surprise for me!
Alligator smiled.
"Surprise!" yelled Amanda, swinging open the door. "Look what Grandpa got for me at the zoo!"
It was a panda.
The panda was huge.
The panda was fluffy.
The panda did not look like it came from the sale bucket.
Alligator did not like Amanda's surprise. (58-60)
I enjoyed all the stories. I did. And I would definitely recommend this one.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet

If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet. Leslie McGuirk. 2011. Random House. 48 pages.

A is for Addition
B is for Bird
C is for Couch potato
D is for Dog
E is for Elephant

What a fun and creative book. Leslie McGuirk shares her unique rock collection with readers in If Rocks Could Sing. She spent years searching for rocks in the shapes of all 26 letters in the alphabet, along with other fun shapes to pair with them. My favorite letters? O is for Ouch!,  D is for Dog, and P is for Penguin.

Yes, this is an alphabet book, a concept book. But it is so much more than that. It's just fascinating to look at all the rocks, to learn how this project came together after years of work.

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

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, June 20, 2011

Squish Super Amoeba

Squish Super Amoeba (Squish #1) by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. 2011. Random House. 96 pages.

Squish is an amoeba was first introduced as a science fair project in Babymouse Mad Scientist. After the science fair, Babymouse returned Squish to the pond. In his first adventure, Squish has to decide if she should do the right thing--stand up for a friend and protect her from harm--or the easy thing--allow the bully to get away with it so that he doesn't become the bully's next target. This dilemma is slightly complicated by the fact that the one "needing" protecting is Peggy the Paramecium. (She is so over-the-top, she may just be my favorite character of them all.) The narrator is quite opinionated and very straightforward. This is a little of what he says about Peggy and her fate: Super sweet! Super clueless! Not Going to live Long!"

I can't say that I love Squish. I can't say that he appeals to me in the same way that Babymouse does. But. I think for the right reader, the right age group, for those looking for GREEN graphic novels instead of pink ones, this might be a good match. I did like that the graphic novel addresses serious issues like bullying and cheating.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Babymouse Mad Scientist

Babymouse Mad Scientist (Babymouse #14). Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. 2011. Random House. 96 pages.

In this adventure, Babymouse braves science class and learns how much fun the science fair can be. At first she's not exactly sure what she wants to do for her science project. But eventually she decides on amoebas. Babymouse collects a water sample from the pond and studies it with a microscope. What she discovers is a little green blob named Squish. Will Babymouse learn to like science? Will her Dad forgive her for breaking his microscope? Can Babymouse get a good grade on her science project?

Squish: I am not a blob!
Babymouse: Huh? Who said that?
Squish: I am not a blob! I am an amoeba!
Babymouse: Um, okay, what's your name?
Squish: Squish. What's your name?
Babymouse: Er, Babymouse.
Babymouse: Wow! This is just like that book, you know, when the elephant hears--A person's a person, no matter how small!
Narrator: That's Horton Hears a Who. Not Babymouse Hears a Blog. (63-64)

I have grown very fond of Babymouse through the years. I've enjoyed her runaway imagination. She's a fun character with many quirks. And it's just satisfying to spend time with her and her friends. I did not love Mad Scientist as much as some of the others in the series. But I still have enjoyed the series as a whole.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Press Here

Press Here. Herve Tullet. 2011. Chronicle. 56 pages.

PRESS HERE and turn the page.
Great! Now press the yellow dot again.
Perfect. Rub the dot on the left...
Well done! And now the one on the right...

Press Here is creative and unique. How many interactive books depend on a child's imagination? In this "interactive" picture book, readers are invited to play with a yellow dot. To watch the dot do some amazing things. Each page turn reveals something special that the child has 'helped' to bring about. (Rubbing the dot on the left turns it blue; rubbing the dot on the right turns it red. Tapping the dots five times multiplies the dots. Etc.)

Press Here is different, perhaps. There aren't all that many picture books out there like it. And it's definitely not your traditional picture story book. But I think there are readers out there who can appreciate this one.

Originally published in France.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Back to School With Betsy

Back to School with Betsy. Carolyn Haywood. 1943. 176 pages.

It was a warm evening in August. Betsy was sitting on the top of the wall that ran back of the garden.

In 2008, I reviewed Carolyn Haywood's B is for Betsy. At the time, I wasn't all that impressed. I thought the book--originally published in 1939--was dated and old-fashioned. And it is both. But I've since come to appreciate such books, at least more than I used to! (For example, I've discovered Mary Poppins, Henry Huggins, and Five Children and It, etc.) So I was pleased to see two more Betsy books on the library shelf: Back to School with Betsy and Betsy and the Boys.

Back to School with Betsy, like B is for Betsy, is episodic for the most part. It opens with a worried Betsy. She's sad that Miss Grey will no longer be her teacher, and she's worried that she'll never see her. Her mother assures her that even though Miss Grey is getting married (and thereby retiring from teaching) that they'll still be able to see each other. Maybe not as often as they would in the school setting. But Miss Grey will still care about seeing Betsy and her friends. Betsy can't see any reason in the world why her teacher would want to go and do a silly thing like get married. Her friend, Ellen, tries to convince her that this is a good thing. They'll get to go to the wedding! They'll get to eat cake! Billy and Betsy don't really see why weddings are fun outside of the cake-eating opportunity, but that is just enough to cheer them up for the moment. 

Betsy has also been worried about the creepy house next door. A house that hasn't been lived in for quite a while. But within a chapter or two--at most--Betsy learns that the house has been bought! A Mr. Jackson is moving in, and he has a job or two for Betsy. The thought of earning enough nickels to buy Miss Grey a present is motivation enough to overcome her worries.

Any guesses as to who Miss Grey is marrying?! It may surprise Betsy and Billy and Ellen. But this reader saw it coming from the start! 

The first four chapters of Back to School with Betsy deal with the wedding and the new neighbor. The remaining chapters focus on Betsy and her friends at school. In chapter six, for example, "The Tale of the Blackboard Picture" Betsy and her classmates learn about Mexican Indians and create a blackboard picture to illustrate everything they've learned about this exotic culture. 
And in chapter nine, readers learn exactly what Betsy has always wanted, a black baby. Not just a brother OR a sister, a black baby brother or black baby sister. When her mom tries to explain to her that that won't be happening, that they'd have to adopt a baby to get a baby of a different color, Betsy remains determined. She does bring home a black little girl, but her parents won't let her keep her. And she is returned safely to her mom--who was very worried. The illustrations are in black and white, and it is interesting how they try to portray ethnicity solely through hairstyle. (Looking at the illustration, you'd never guess, unless you read the text, that one of the little girls was supposed to be black.)
"But couldn't we get one all ready made? I forget what you call babies that you get all ready made."
"You mean 'adopt' a baby," said Mother.
"Yes," replied Betsy. "Couldn't we 'dopt one?"
"No, dear," said Mother. "We already have a baby."
"I'll bet if a little baby could talk, it would say it would like to be 'dopted by us."
"Well now, we won't talk about it any more," said Mother. "You have a dear little baby sister to play with."
"Yes," said Betsy, "but I want a lot of babies. And I like all different colors." (143)
The book covers Christmas and Easter too.
Is this children's book dated? Is it old-fashioned? Yes. But I am glad to have read this one. I have become interested in reading these older books, interested in tracing the history of children's books.

In case you were curious, the book is illustrated by the author, Carolyn Haywood.

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Should I Share My Ice Cream?

Should I Share My Ice Cream: An Elephant and Piggie Book. Mo Willems. 2011. Hyperion. 64 pages.

Ice cream!
Get your cold ice cream for a hot day!
Oh, boy! Ice cream!
One ice cream, please.
Here you go!
Oh, boy! Oh, boy!
I love ice cream!

Should I Share My Ice Cream? is the newest book in the Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems. Did I love it? Three guesses, first two don't count! Of course, I loved it. I just LOVE AND ADORE Gerald, the elephant, and Piggie, the pig. And I love Mo Willems, their creator. (Has he ever written a bad book?!)

In this adventure, Gerald buys an ice cream cone. He loves, loves, loves ice cream. But just as he's about to take his first lick--or his first bite--he stops for a moment. Should he share his ice cream with Piggie? Of course, he doesn't know if Piggie even likes that flavor of ice cream. And she's not even around to share it with him. He could eat it without her even knowing. But just because he could get away with it doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. He imagines a sad, sad Piggie who could only be cheered up by an ice cream cone.

Gerald's dilemma could have gone on much longer. But. He looks down and notices that his ice cream cone has melted. Now Gerald is sad, sad, sad.
If only there was a way Piggie could cheer him up...

The book is cute and fun and playful. I loved everything about it. Especially how expressive it is. My favorite, favorite illustration would have to be on page 26 when Gerald decides emphatically that he will eat the ice cream. Have you read it? Do you have a favorite Gerald expression?

Other books in the series include:

I Will Surprise My Friend
Can I Play Too?
Elephants Cannot Dance
I Am Going
Pigs Make Me Sneeze
Watch Me Throw The Ball
Are You Ready to Play Outside
I Love My New Toy
I Am Invited to A Party
My Friend is Sad
Today I Will Fly
There Is A Bird On Your Head
We Are In A Book
I Broke My Trunk!

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Slightly Invisible

Slightly Invisible: Featuring Charlie and Lola. Lauren Child. 2011. Candlewick Press. 40 pages.

I have this little sister, Lola.
She is small and very funny.
She always wants to know what I am up to, and she always wants to do what I am doing. She NEVER wants to be anywhere without me.
Most of the time this is fine. But sometimes I just want to be by myself
ON MY OWN with just Marv.
Marv is my best friend, and usually we like to spend our time looking for strange and tricky creatures.
Lola does not think this is fun.

I love Charlie and Lola, I do. I have loved many of their adventures. I was a fan even before the television show. My first Charlie and Lola adventure was I Am Too Absolutely Small for School. Other early Charlie and Lola titles are I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato and I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go To Bed. So I was quite excited to see Slightly Invisible.

In this Charlie and Lola adventure, Charlie is tired of having Lola intrude on his time with his best friend, Marv. He wants some time away from his little sister. Lola doesn't like it when Charlie wants this. She just loves and adores him and thinks he's great fun to play with! Marv too! But Lola doesn't always LIKE the way these two boys play. Like when Charlie and Marv go out looking for "strange and tricky creatures." Why can't Charlie and Marv realize that playing tea party is so much more fun!

But Lola is Lola is Lola. And if you're familiar with her at all, you can guess she may just have the last word! This time it's with the help of her good friend, her invisible friend Soren Lorensen.

This one is funny and cute and charming. In other words just what you'd expect from a Charlie and Lola book! My favorite thing? Looking for the *invisible* Soren Lorensen throughout the book--you'll find him on many of the pages!!!

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

How To Get a Job By Me The Boss

How To Get a Job By Me The Boss. Sally Lloyd Jones and Sue Heap. 2011. Random House. 40 pages.

If you want to get a Job, first you need to know what exactly a Job is. A Job is so you can have something to do and get money for your family. And sometimes a Job is so you can get all dressed up and wear your new shoes to work. Some jobs are very BIG. Like President of the WORLD. Some jobs are very small. Like Balloon Holder.

I am a big fan of Sally Lloyd Jones. I have enjoyed each of her "How To" books: How To Be A Me, the Big Sister, How to Get Me, the Bride, and now How To Get A Me, The Boss. Each book has been fun, with lots of little details that make it work. Small things, really, that bring a smile to your face. For example, this little informative note to readers:
Here's what ISN'T a JOB:
Sitting in your chair eating cookies.
(School is a sort of job because you do HOMEWORK.
Except they don't pay you ANY MONEY.)
and yet another informative note to readers:

Here's What Else You Do If You're A Doctor:
Look inside patients' mouths for germs and tonsils
Listen with your stethoscope
Write stuff like "ear infection" and "DANGEROUSLY allergic to Broccoli!" on pieces of paper and give it to them.
Because the text is layered, because there are notes to the readers, and lists, and speech bubbles, this may not be the best book for reading out loud to a group. The fun is in the details, and you're going to want to read this one carefully for full effect!

The book is creative, imaginative, silly, and delightful. With phrases like "Gangrene-chicken-scarlet-mumpy-pox!" It's a fun little picture book that I'm happy to recommend.

My review of How To Be A Baby By Me The Big Sister

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

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Just Being Audrey

Just Being Audrey. Margaret Cardillo. Illustrated by Julia Denos. 2011. HarperCollins. 32 pages.

More than anything, Audrey wanted to be a ballerina. She was too tall, her feet were too big, and her neck was too long. Still, Audrey danced on. She held fairy-tale ballets in her yard, the trees and squirrels were her audience. Audrey's brothers would tease her, always off in her own world. But her mother understood. "It is just like Audrey to do her own thing!"

Just Being Audrey is a lovely picture book biography of Audrey Hepburn. The book follows her from her childhood in war-torn Europe, to her Broadway debut in Gigi, to her successful career as a Hollywood actress, to her work with UNICEF.

I loved many things about this one. I loved the writing. There's just something special about it. I loved the way the the author told Audrey's story. For example,
"Audrey often played characters who went through some kind of transformation, both inside and out. But in real life, Audrey always knew just who she was, and just where she had come from" 
"The very things that made her appear awkward as a child? They were precisely the things that made her beautiful as an adult." 

I thought it was well-written.

I also loved the illustrations. I did. I thought the illustrator did a GREAT job capturing Audrey's look. If you're familiar with any of Audrey's works, you'll recognize them instantly. And there's something delightful about making that connection. "Roman Holiday!" or "My Fair Lady!" Or "Breakfast at Tiffany's!" The illustrations show her public life and her private life--as does the text.

I would recommend this one.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers