Monday, October 15, 2007

kidlit blogger recommendations

This post has been sitting in draft for two weeks now! I really have been slacking on blogging and book reviews - it's part laziness, part paralyzing perfectionism.

I get so many wonderful book recommendations from other blogs. I told myself I'd post about them more than a month ago but never got around to it. Besides noting where I heard of these books, I did write reviews, intending to paste them into a blog entry and add further comments on Eliza's reactions, but it has been so long now, that I'd better post the reviews as-is.

I know the high star marks make it look like I'm really easy to please, but of the couple thousand books I've rated on LibraryThing, my average is 3½ (and of the books Eliza hands to me at the library, my average rating would be under 2). 1 is unspeakably awful, 2 is a waste of time, 3 is decent, 4 is very good, 5 is bloody fantastic.

I checked out two books mentioned in Kate's post:

Little Beaver and the Echo, Amy MacDonald

A lonely beaver hears his own echo one day and believing it to be someone also in want of a friends, travels through the pond habitat in search of the echo. Of course, he never does find the echo, but what he does find is something real and meaningful.

The pond ecosystem is illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies in cozy watercolors. This gentle story of friendship is lovely and understated, sweet but saccharine-free. (ages 2-5) ( )

My Crayons Talk, Patricia Hubbard

This little girl's crayons sure have minds of their own. Each expresses its style:

"Gold brags, 'Fine,
Dress up time.'
Silver toots, 'Grand,
Marching band.'"

The girl's dresses change to match each scene. The mud-pie dress on the brown page made me laugh, although my little city girl hasn't yet heard of cow-pies - she liked the silver page best with its dog and cat playing flute (our last picture book theme was animals making music).

The art is mostly in crayon and suitably playful for the subject. We'll surely revisit this lively book. (ages 2-5) ( )
The following were recommended by Nina:

Once a Mouse: A Fable Cut in Wood, Marcia Brown

Once Upon a Mouse won the 1961 Caldecott medal (awarded for art in picture books), and with its innovative wood cuts, it's easy to see why. The wood-cut art is well-suited to the Indian fable it decorates.

The fable follows an old hermit in the forest who one day saves a mouse from being a crow's prey. Now the mouse's protector, the hermit magically transforms the mouse into larger and larger creatures to avoid threats from other animals. Once a tiger, the former mouse forgets his humble origins and grows arrogant and himself threatening. There's a moral to the fable, of course, but children need not be old enough to understand it to appreciate this story of transformation. (ages 2-6) ( )

Amazing Grace, Mary Hoffman

Amazing Grace's plucky African-American heroine loved stories and acting them out. "And she always gave herself the most exciting part," we are told. With homegrown theatrical magic, she transforms herself into Joan of Arc, Anansi the Spider, Hiawatha, and more. Her imagination did not limit her to roles of her own ethnicity, gender, or species.

When casting for the school play of Peter Pan begins, Grace knows she's right to play Peter, but her classmates try to discourage her, pointing out that Peter is a white boy. Grace's mother and grandmother encourage her, the latter taking her to a ballet performance of Romeo and Juliet starring a beautiful Trinidadian dancer, renewing Grace's determination to audition for Peter Pan.

What's not to love about this book? The story itself is fantastic, the illustrations are top-notch, and the female characters are strong and confident. (ages 3-7) ( )
I didn't review the "My First Little House" series from Jenny's post. We ended up checking out a half dozen. A couple were problematic for our family (e.g. deer hunting), so I had to return them straight away, but Eliza did enjoy the others. Her favorite of the bunch was Dance at Grandpa's. Although I loved the Little House books as a young girl, it was hard to pin down what I would think of these picture books if the originals had never existed - in other words, how much of it is the nostalgia factor?

From another of Jenny's posts, I checked out:

Anno's Counting Book, Mitsumasa Anno

Anno's Counting Book is unlike any other I've seen. It's not boring, or glib, or hit-you-over-the-head obvious. The book begins with zero's barren snow-covered landscape. Each page finds more people, trees, or buildings arriving on the land as settles build up the town. Spring arrives with "three" and the town continues to bloom. By "seven" (July), the little village is in the full swing of summer with its seven pines, seven buildings, seven chimneys, seven children, seven adults, seven cows, seven colors of the rainbow, seven sheets line-drying in the summer breeze, etc. The numbers go up through twelve (December), each page showing not just things to count but the progression of the seasons and village life. (ages 2-7) ( )

Some Things Go Together, Charlotte Zolotow (written), Ashley Wolff (illustrated)

Some Things Go Together is a simple picture book with just 6-7 words per scene, each with rhyming pairs that go together: "Hats with heads / Pillow with beds," "White with snow / Wind with blow," etc. "Me with you" (or "you with me") is mentioned three times. The 1999 Wolff illustrations are sweet and colorful, but I found the text awkward, and my daughter was so bored she didn't care to read it a second time (thank goodness it was a library book). (ages 1-2) ( )

Three Pebbles and a Song, Eileen Spinelli (written), S. D. Schindler (illustrated)

Moses the mouse has a song in his heart and rhythm in his feet. While his parents and sister gather food in preparation for winter, Moses twirls and skitters among the leaves, learns a shicka-whish song to whistle from the wind, and juggles pebbles with a catch-a-toss-catch . . . much to his family's disapproval.

By the time winter arrives, the family has plenty to eat, but boredom soon sets in. Moses' three pebbles and a song are just what the family needs. As the dust jacket reads, "Eileen Spinelli has an especially soft spot for the littlest mouse in this story, who, like herself, understands that play can be just as valuable as work."

S. D. Schindler's gouache and watercolor illustrations on marbelized paper are a charming delight with such exquisite attention to detail. This is a beautiful book and is not to be missed. (ages 2-6) ( )
Here Is the Tropical Rain Forest, Madeleine Dunphy (written), Michael Rothman (illustrated)

Here Is the Tropical Rain Forest is a wonderful introduction to rain forests for preschoolers (but too repetitive with too little information for older kids). Each page builds on the last in "The House That Jack Built" style. Parents may find the text a bit dull, but the gorgeous illustrations will draw in children and adults alike.

At the end of the book is a page with thumbnail illustrations of all the animals met in the previous pages and their official names. A note says they all live in the rain forests of Central and South America, but that's the extent of the information offered. Still, this lovely book is a good antidote to ecophobia-only nature education. (ages 1½-4) ( )

And, finally, this one wasn't a recommendation, but I found it in the library next to the other rain forest book:

Welcome to the Green House, Jane Yolen (written), Laura Regan (illustrated)

Besides having beautiful illustrations (thanks to Laura Regan), Welcome to the Green House has the most marvelous text of any ecology picture book I've read.

The book opens by describing a rain forest as a green house with ropey vines as view-framing windows and fallen leaves as a floor. Yolen's text has a sophisticated simplicity that rolls off the tongue. Onomatopoeia abounds:

"with the high chitter-chitter-rrrrr
of the golden lion tamarin
warning off intruders;
with the kre-ek, kre-ek, kre-ek
of keel-billed toucans
feeding on ripe, sweet figs"

Green House captures the richness of sounds, smells, and sights that is the rain forest. You won't find encyclopedia-like information here, but that belongs in another book - enjoy this one for its beauty. (ages 2-6) ( )


Kate in NJ said...

Thanks for the "linky love" Chanale!
I have "Welcome to the Green House"
on our bookshelf from a library sale.
Great book post.

Jenny said...

Too bad you guys didn't like the "Some Things Go Together" book. I enjoyed the sing-song text, and we got several readings out of it.

As far as the Little House books, the nostalgia factor is a moot point for me. I wouldn't bother spending as much time blogging about them as I have if CJ didn't enjoy them so much, and I think it's safe to say nostalgia doesn't play any part in her love for them. I think they're treasures because of how much she loves them, not because I loved the original Little House books.

Brit said...

Thanks for helping me make a new list for this weeks library trip!! =)