Tag: Picture Books

by Friederike Rave

A little fox wakes up one day and decides he doesn\’t have to go to school, because \”foxes are clever enough already.\” But when he visits the henhouse to get a chicken for his dinner, the hens are far too smart for him. They pretend to be sick, insisting they\’d love to help him out, but he doesn\’t want to eat a sick chicken- he should wait until they are better. The fox agrees this seems best. Each night he returns to the henhouse, and then hens are progressively wrapped up in more clothes, sneezing and coughing, claiming to still be sick. Finally the hungry fox gives up on chickens and with a bit of luck steals a hunter\’s sandwich. Pleased to have a good meal at last, he tucks into his sandwich planning to go visit the chickens again tomorrow. But they won\’t be there- you can see their getaway plan on the last page.

This is a fun book, with lively illustrations and some silly situations that make my little girl giggle. But there\’s a few things that bug me about it. One is the idea that this fox is skipping school- yet there\’s no mention of school brought up again, he doesn\’t learn some tricks or skills somewhere and then try them out as I half-expected. No parent figures in the story at all either. Another is that on most pages the hens are painting swathes of the page white, or rolling out white paper (see the cover). First time I read the story I thought this was part of their plan to fool the fox- maybe they were making everything white like winter, to back up their \”sick with a cold\” ruse. Then I realized it was a visual joke in the background: then hens are just making white space for the text. But it felt like it ought to be part of the story!

Regardless, it\’s a book my three-year-old really enjoys, so I shouldn\’t be so critical. But for myself, it feels kind of awkward. Some parts just don\’t fit together.

Rating: 2/5      28 pages, 2010

more opinions:
Jean Little Library

by Eve Bunting

This is the story of a family that moves west across the plains in a covered wagon: a father, expectant mother and two daughters. They settle on a claim in Nebraska Territory, but there are no near neighbors. The pictures show how wide, flat and empty the land seems. The older girl narrates the story, telling how lonely they feel. They have to do everything for themselves: sow the crops, dig a well, build a house. When driving three hours to the nearest homestead they can no longer see their sod home, swallowed up in the expanse of prairie grasses. Near the end of the book the older girl accompanies her father into town while her mother and younger sister stay with neighbors (there\’s some sibling jealousy here!) She\’s anxious about leaving her mom and sister behind, but excited to see the town. It\’s full of shops, dust and strangers. Just as they are leaving to return home, she spots a clump of bright yellow flowers growing in a corner- dandelions. She wants to dig them up and take home to her mother. Of course we see dandelions as a pesky weed, but the tough plant was a spot of brightness to them. And it made me smile to see what they did with the flowers: planted them on the sod roof of the house! So they could see it from afar, a bright patch of gold above the prairie grass. The illustrations are oil paintings by Greg Shed, with lifted out areas that show the texture of canvas underneath. I remember learning this painting method in art school and I really admire how it\’s done here.

Rating: 4/5      52 pages, 1995

more opinions:
Katie\’s Corner
Children\’s Books
Collaboration Cuties

by Eve Bunting

A young girl rescues a caterpillar from a jay that would eat it. Her grandfather teaches her how to raise the caterpillar, feeding it leaves and giving it twigs to climb on. She makes it a home in a box, decorated with colorful drawings of leaves and flowers. She watches the caterpillar grow until it makes a chrysalis. When the butterfly emerges, the girl is sad because her grandfather insists she must now let it go. Then the story leaps ahead and we see the girl as an old woman herself, with a garden full of flowers. The butterflies come in great numbers to her garden every summer, filling the air with color. Her neighbors wonder what is her secret: they grow the same flowers and don\’t have as many butterfly visitors. But she knows and smiles to herself: the butterfly she saved long ago and cared for so tenderly, has returned with its generations of descendants to show their love back to her.

Another lovely nature book illustrated by Greg Shed. The prose is very lyrical, arranged on the each page like a poem. Not only does it show children the life cycle of the painted lady butterfly, but also how to be compassionate to small creatures, and the importance of letting wild things live free. In the back a brief afterward by the author gives instructions on how to raise a caterpillar. It\’s very specific about giving the caterpillar a suitable living habitat and food, keeping it clean, leaving it alone at the proper time, and releasing the butterfly.

Rating: 3/5    36 pages, 1999

more opinions:
Livin\’ Lovin\’ and Learnin\’
LadyD Books

by Margaret Wise Brown

This is a nice, simple story about a cat who goes with his family to visit the seashore and explores the beach environment. Everything is new for Sneakers- the cold ocean water he dips his paw into, large seagulls who aren\’t afraid of cats, tiny shrimp jumping on the sand, sounds roaring distantly in a seashell. His most exciting encounter is a crab that pinches his toes. And then he watches the mysterious fog roll in. The last page has an odd little rhyme the cat sings to himself on the way home in the backseat of the car which felt out of place to the rest of the story- I almost don\’t want to read that part aloud when I share the book with my kid.

I like the illustrations by Anne Mortimer- they are very charming, with some lovely detail- the individual hairs on the cat\’s coat, barnacles on the rocks, feathers on the gull\’s wings. Very nice. The author of this book wrote the famous Goodnight Moon. I would never have noticed if it wasn\’t mentioned on the cover!

Rating: 3/5      28 pages, 1995

more opinions:
Reading for My Kids

by Tomie de Paola

I will tell you about this book starting with the end: the author\’s explanation. De Paola relates how he once dined in a restaurant in northern Italy on a very cold day at the end of January. The proprietor told him that in the area of Italy he was from, the last three days of January, coldest of all the year, were known as the Days of the Blackbird because \”it gets so cold that the white doves hide in the chimney tops to stay warm. And when they come out, they are black from the soot.\” Inspired by the imagery, de Paola wrote this fable-like tale about a young girl and her father, Duca Gennaro.

They both enjoy the songs of birds in their courtyard garden all summer, and wait through winter for the birds to return in spring. One year Gennaro falls ill, and his daughter worries that he will not survive the winter without the hope the birdsong gives him. She begs the birds to stay, giving them food and shelter. But as the days get colder and colder, more birds leave for the south. Only one remains, her favorite white dove. In the dead of winter the bird sits in a chimney top to keep warm at night, only coming out to eat and sing at the window. On the third day the bird has turned black from the soot and is renamed La Merla. When spring finally comes, Gennaro has recovered and La Merla gladly welcomes back the other birds. In this story the bird remains black for ever after.

It\’s a beautiful tale, enriched with depictions of a bygone era in Italy (or so I imagine, the time period of the story is not exactly specified) with dress styles, the architecture of the homes, cultural holidays and more. The narrative is a bit sophisticated for my three-year-old, so I paraphrase a little when reading to her, she still likes the story with its pretty birds and the devotion of a girl to her father.

There\’s another version of the blackbird fable shared on one of the blogs linked to below.

Rating: 4/5     32 pages, 1997

more opinions:
loving every leaf
Our Little Library
Biery\’s Book Blog

by Eric Carle

In his classic cut-paper collage style, Eric Carle introduces different cat species from around the world. The delivery method is simple and fun as well as instructive. A boy goes looking for his missing cat, and people of different cultures (identifiable by costume and background elements) point out various felines to him, from a fluffy persian cat to a wild bobcat, fierce tiger, black panther, african lion, speedy cheetah and so on. Each time the boy asserts: this is not my cat! In the end (looking exasperated) he asks a couple on a park bench and finds his own cat at last- with a nice surprise. We\’ve borrowed this book from the library several times, my kid likes it so much.

Rating: 3/5      28 pages, 1987

by Florence Parry Heide

Princess Hyacinth is different. She floats. She has to wear heavy weighted princess clothes, or be tied down to the furniture! Her life is tedious, because she can\’t play outside like other children- her parents are worried she will just float away. She can\’t go swimming, and a walk in the garden is a drag with all those heavy clothesOne day the Princess sees a man holding balloons on the palace grounds, and has an idea. She takes off her heavy stuff, ties her ankle to a string and floats up with the balloons. Unfortunately she breaks away from the balloon man and floats higher and higher. She is fortuitously rescued by her friend, a boy with a kite. And thus finds a solution to her problem, which not only allows her to float outside but strengthens her friendship as well. Of course the Princess still has to eat meals tied down to a chair, but her floating problem is much more tolerable from now on!

Delightful story with expressive and decorative illustrations by Lane Smith. I loved the Princess, her spunky attitude and her ingenious solution. And the message it gives kids: you can\’t always get rid of your problems, but you can find a way to manage them and still enjoy life. (And for some reason this book reminds me of the Secret Lives of Princessess).

My only complaint is a minor one: after reading several pages, my tongue really starts to trip over the name Princess Hyacinth. For some reason it\’s difficult to say out loud too many times in a row.

Rating: 4/5     44 pages, 2009

more opinions:
Possum Bookshelf
Gathering Books
Lil Bug Book Review
Read Me a Story

by Gloria Whelan

Yatandou lives in a Mali villiage in Africa. Only eight years old, she must help her family prepare food by pounding millet grain into flour – a task that takes hours each day. She loves her pet goat, but doesn\’t have much time to play with him because she must work. She hears of a machine that might come to the village- a machine that can grind the millet for them. The women are saving their money to buy it. Yatandou, realizing how this can help her village and make their lives easier, sells her goat in the market to help pay for the grinding machine. It is a wonderful thing when the machine finally arrives. Not only does it relieve the women of some of their workload, but it grinds grain so much faster that they can now sell some surplus. A woman comes to the village to teach the women and girls how to write, so they can keep track of how much millet they grind with the machine, and who pays for it. Yatandou wonders at the novelty of writing: How strange it is to see that our words have a face. Her father complains that the women will become idle and cause trouble now that the machine is doing some of their work, but Yatandou\’s mother pacifies him with special bat stew. (I was sad to read of the bats getting eaten, especially when it made me think of this history). At the close of the story, the girl Yatandou carefully writes her name on her pounding stick, so she can one day show it to her own child and explain how the machine has changed her village, that her own future daughters and granddaughters will never have to use it.

I picked this book out at the library because I wanted to see more by illustrator Peter Sylvada. It took me a while to appreciate the pictures this time- their indistinctness makes me squint. But they really do convey a sense of shimmering heat and dusty haze, an atmosphere beaten by the blazing golden sun. I ended up reading Yatandou a few times, even though it was a bit too sophisticated a story to share with my three-year-old. It really grew on me. Not only does it show how hard life is for kids in other parts of the world, but one girl\’s sacrifice to help improve conditions in her village. Throughout the story are details of the culture, the landscape and the weather, mention of traditions and stories told to children, that bring the place alive. I was impressed at how precious and thoughtful Yantandou seemed- an eight-year-old child giving something up for a better life, and also thinking of the importance to teach her future children how things had changed because of that.

Rating: 3/5        32 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Muddy Puddle Musings
Your Friendly Librarian

by Jack Bushnell

Jenny is thrilled when she sees a hawk on her father\’s farm. It perches in the same tree on the edge of a snow-covered field, and every day she goes out to see it. But then she hears men in town talking, her neighbors who have lost chickens to a hawk. Even though it\’s against the law, they feel justified in hunting the hawk down, to protect their livestock. Jenny starts to worry: will the hawk attack her father\’s chickens? will one of her neighbors shoot it? She feels an affinity with the wild bird, thinks that it comes to the farm just to visit her. Celebrating nature and the closeness of a fierce wild thing, this book also takes a serious look at the reality of what happens when a predator visits a farm. Spoiler: this particular hawk doesn\’t die, but a different one is shot. The illustrations by Jan Ormerod are lovely watercolor paintings, overlaying expressive line ink drawings.

Rating: 4/5       32 pages, 1996

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by Mary Lyn Ray

I got this book at the library because I wanted to find more picture books with illustrations I love looking at. So I searched for some of the illustrators I\’ve really admired in past books. This one has lovely oil paintings by Peter Sylvada, whose work I first saw in Gleam and Glow. (I thought I had written about that one, but can\’t find it anywhere on my blog! Must remedy that…)

The book is about a bird, a brown nondescript bird with a lovely flutelike song. On a farm a boy waits for late spring, when he always hears the song of the thrush. When his father wants to clear some land for a corn field, the boy begs him to leave the trees standing, because that is where the thrush lives. His father agrees. In fall the bird flies away and the boy waits all winter to hear it again. Meanwhile, in another part of the world a different boy waits for summer to end, waits for the rainy season when he will hear the thrush\’s song. His father also wants to clear trees off the land, and this boy too begs to leave them alone- for that is where the bird lives, the bird with a voice like a clay flute. This father too, agrees, and the boy listens all winter until the thrush disappears in springtime. Neither boy knows where the thrush goes when it leaves them, but they are tied together.

In the afterward the author gives some information about migratory birds, particularly the thrush, and how they are threatened by habitat loss. It\’s an important message beautifully communicated. I love looking at the pictures- the rich texture, the broad paintbrush strokes that suggest just enough form to let your mind fill in the rest.

Rating: 4/5      32 pages, 2004

more opinions:
Nurture PDX


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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