April 28, 2017

Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 4:36 pm by suebe2

Leave Me Alone!
by Vera Brosgol
Roaring Brook Press

Once, long ago, there lived an old woman who lived in a small house in a small village.  In her small house lived her oh so large family.  With winter coming, she just couldn’t get her knitting done.  And this was important knitting!  But whenever she got out her yarn, her curious grandchildren would get involved and then she’d have to chase down all those colorful balls of wool.

So she cleaned up the house, packed up her yarn, and went into the woods.  Where she found a family of curious bears.  On the mountainside, she was discovered by curious mountain goats.  On the moon?  You guessed it!   Moon creatures! Finally she crawls into a hole and closes it after herself.  Alone in the dark, she finally manages to do her knitting.  But then she noticed that she is all alone.

So she cleans up the hole, and she goes home.

It seems like a very simple story but there is so much detail and it really is a lot of fun.

Brosgol is the author and the illustrator so she works a lot of the fun into the illustrations.  There’s the granddaughter trying to feed her brother a ball of yarn (thankfully it doesn’t fit!), the bear looking confused when the old woman shakes her finger in his face, the mountain goat trying to eat the yarn and more.

Then there are the ethnic details including the tea-filled samovar.

Then there are the unexpected contrasts.  We are used to knitting for fun.  Even if we make sweaters, they are luxuries.  But the old woman was doing IMPORTANT knitting. You don’t find out what until late in the book and I’m going to make you read it yourself.  Although we start with traditional fairy or folk tale motifs, old woman/tiny house/a lot of children, bears, and goats, we then move on to moon men with high-tech hand-held scanners!

Anyone who has ever had a moment where they were trying to get something done, if only they could get a minute to themselves, will find something to love in this book.  Share it with the knitter, the new brother, or the story lover in your own life, but be ready for some discussions about how you would have solved the old woman’s problem.


December 9, 2016

Fish by Liam Francis Walsh

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:05 am by suebe2

by Liam Francis Walsh
Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press

A boy, who in early drafts was named “Alex,” goes on an unusual fishing trip.  He and his dog take a row-boat out and soon they’ve dropped their lines in the water.  Before too long, Alex (because it is easier to call him by a name) is reeling in his catch.  The letter F.  Next he catches an I and then an S.

All the while, the dog has his own story taking place on the other side of the boat.  A menacing letter C emerges from the water and looms over the boat as if it is going to bite down on the small craft and its crew.

When Alex hooks the letter H, it puts up a fight.  Alex is hauled out of the boat and towed beneath the water.  Eventually he makes his way back to the boat, catch in hand.  They have caught FISH.  No, it isn’t going to be that easy.  After all, this is a really good book so something has to go wrong to increase the tension.  But you’re going to have to “read” the book yourself to see what it is.

I say “read” the book because this book is nearly wordless.  Alex and his dog catch the F-I-S-H and the letters are later incorporated into the F-I-n-i-S-H sign at the end of a race.

If you’ve never shared a wordless book, or a nearly wordless book, with a young reader pick Fish up.  It is a very different, completely rewarding, experience to share the pictures while each of you work to spin the story that you see.

Another reason that I love this book is that Walsh plays with the letters themselves.  I love typography and the emotion and character that letters as art can portray.  Walsh creates a menacing C, a swarm of Bs and As that look like fins cutting through the water.  This was the perfect debut children’s book for Walsh who is a cartoonist for the New Yorker. His artwork is deceptively simple but his characters depict an array of expressions and effectively pull the “reader” into a story well worth sharing with a young book lover.

Note:  No where in the book does it reveal that the boy is “Alex.”  I read that in an interview with Walsh.


June 26, 2014

Army Camels: Texas Ships of the Desert by Doris Fisher, illustrated by Julie Dupre Buckner

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:54 am by suebe2

Army Camels: Texas Ships of the Desert
by Doris Fisher
illustrated by Julie Dupre Buckner

In 1856, a ship carrying thirty-three camels sailed from North Africa to Matagorda Bay, Texas.  The journey took 3 months and the camels withstood the stormy seas much better than did the two handlers who accompanied them. When they disembarked, there were even 34 camels since one of them had given birth on the journey.

The camels were brought to this country to act as desert transport for the military since the railroads were not yet completed.  They could easily go for 3 days without water and feed on the scrub along the way.

That said, they also frightened horses, ate the cacti that had been planted to fence them, and no Army man could stay in the saddle once a camel reached a full gallop.  Only their North African handlers could accomplish this feat.

To prove to the local people just how handy these animals could be, the Major in charge took a camel into town.  He had his men strap two bales of hay onto the animal.  People grumbled.  Then he had his men add two more bales for a total of over 1200 pounds, the weight of 6 men.  The weight didn’t kill the poor camel as many town’s people worried.  It slowly stood and carried the load down the road.

The US Camel Experiment is one of those curiosities of American history.  I’d heard about them growing up.  After the Civil War, they were auctioned off but stories circulated then, and are told in the light of campfires today, about escaped camels roaming the desert.

Pick this one up for the history buff in your life or the young animal lover.  This little known bit of American history is sure to stir the imagination.



February 21, 2014

The Market Bowl by Jim Averbeck

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:56 am by suebe2

The Market Bowl
by Jim Averbeck

In the nation of Cameroon, Yoyo and Mama Cécile make their living selling bitterleaf stew in the marketplace.  Each step in making the stew is important and Mama Cécile sings a song to keep everything on track.

“Slice the bitterleaf thin as a whisper.
Wash it in water, cleaning it well.
Grind the egusi (pumpkin seeds). Add a knuckle of njanga (dried shrimp).
Simmer some time for a fine stew to sell.”

The problem for Yoyo is that it takes so long to make bitterleaf stew Mama Cécile’s way.  Wouldn’t it be better to hurry things along and get to the market earlier?  Not surprisingly, Yoyo’s stew is lumpy and unappetizing, a face Averbeck emphasizes with circling flies.

When their last customer offers Yoyo much less for her stew than Mama Cécile always makes, Yoyo refuses his coins, thus cursing their market bowl.  Because the market operates on a barter system, any fair price is accepted.  Refuse a fair price and the people believe that Brother Coin will no longer bless their market bowl, the bowl in which buyers drop their coins.

Yoyo takes responsibility for what she has done and sets out to restore the blessing to Mama Cécile’s bowl.  When she finds Brother Coin, he is a in a fowl mood and announces that he will grant no wishes that day.  How can Yoyo trick him into restorying the luck to her Mama’s bowl?

Averbeck worked as a Peace Corp volunteer in Cameroon and his experiences obviously color this tale, bringing life in the market into clear focus for young readers.  In the back of the book, he even gives a recipe for the stew, subtituting spinach or kale for the bitterleaf, also known as ironweed.  Because the stew is tricky to make well, an accomplished cook would be able to make a fair amount in the market place.

This story is complex enough to engage slightly older readers but would also make a fun story time book.  Just be ready for plenty of discussion on how your listeners would try to fool Brother Coin.


December 19, 2013

Mitchell Goes Bowling by Hallie Durand, illustrated by Tony Fucile

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:46 pm by suebe2

Mitchell Goes Bowling
by Hallie Durand,
illustrated by Tony Fucile
Candlewick Press

“Mitchell ALWAYS knocked things down.  That’s just how he rolled. He even tried to knock down his dad. . . .”

Mitchell has more energy than he knows what to do with, fortunately Dad gets Mitchell and he’s going at helping the channel his son’s energy.  One Saturday when Mitchell is “doing his thing,” Dad takes him on a little adventure to the bowling alley.

Brightly colored bowling balls.  Delicious pizza smells.  And the crash of pins going down.  It doesn’t take long for Mitchell to realize that the bowling alley may actually be the greatest place ever.  He even gets to see his dad to a funny steaming hot potato dance.

But Mitchell gets frustrated because there’s no steaming hot potatoes in his game.  Unlike Dad, he can’t get a strike.  Unlike Dad, there are lots of frames where his ball goes in the gutter and sometimes he even falls down.  Using the blower to dry his hands, and his hair, doesn’t help.  Kicking up one foot like Dad does doesn’t help.  Even prayer doesn’t effect his score.

That’s when Dad invites him to be on his team.  Mitchell says yes and, working together, they manage to get a strike with Mitchell’s ball and together they do the steaming hot potato dance . . . with salsa.

I love that Mitchell’s dad gets his son.  He gets his energy levels.  He gets his need to succeed.  And the knows how to roll with it all.  Dad and boy work together.

Not to mention, this book is just plain funny.  The cover art hints at it, but the steaming hot potato dance with salsa is a riot.

Tony Fucile’s digital illustrations are a perfect compliment for this story.  The expressions that he captures for both Mitchell and Dad add so much to their respective characters, making them both fun and quirky.

Share this one with the young book lover in your life and prepare yourself to discuss the best ways to use up that excess energy.


December 2, 2013

No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah OHora

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 7:56 pm by suebe2

No Fits, Nilson!
written and illustrated by Zachariah OHora
Dial Books

I wasn’t sure what to expect from No Fits, Nilson! but as someone who has lived with a strong-willed child (understatement of the century), the book intrigued me because it was inspired by the author’s son and his volcanic tantrums.

In the fictional story, the narrator is a little girl named Amanda.  Everywhere she goes, she brings her friend, an enormous, blue gorilla named Nilson.  Well, except for the bathtub.  Nilson apparently does not like water and watches from a perch nearby.

Together they play, eat breakfast and help with the grocery shopping.  As sometimes happens, a scooter will bump a block tower and knock things over.  When Nilson throws a fit, both he and Amanda end up in time out.

I wondered about that list part a little.  Why was Amanda also in time out?  Stick with the story and it all becomes clear on the last page.  Nilson is Amanda’s stuffed animal friend.  He has been getting credit for someone else’s fits of temper.

This really is a cute book about temper tantrums.  Young readers will learn about self-control, coping mechanisms and consequences.  The best part is that this all comes through the story itself so it doesn’t sound like a lecture.  Instead, it is simply part of Amanda and Nilson’s day.  Yet, the book isn’t unrealistic.  There’s a melt down in the morning.  Thing go pretty well for a while.  Then they totter on the very edge of a meltdown toward the end of the story.  Things haven’t just cleared up.  Like any habit, dealing with this is a work-in-progress.

The acrylic paintings that illustrate the book are cartoony and fun, taking away some of the fear in having to endure someone else’s tantrum.

In spite of the more-or-less make believe friend, this is a very realistic story in that self control is praised but no one says it will be easy to achieve.


October 24, 2013

How Big Were Dinosaurs written and illustrated by Lita Judge

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:34 am by suebe2

How Big Were Dinosaurs
written and illustrated by Lita Judge
Roaring Brook Press

Although we think of dinosaurs as immense, even on the cover author/illustrator Lita Judge makes it clear that some may have been immense but others were no bigger than a chicken.  The little one is microraptor, a deadly hunter no bigger than a chicken.  The big one is Argentinosaurus, as long as four school buses and weighing more than 17 elephants.

Many books give information on size but do so in terms that raise even more questions — how long is a meter, 6 feet or 40 feet?  Judge does a superb job of making the sizes of various dinosaurs meaningful to her young readers discussing them in terms of familiar things such as the height of an adult man, no bigger than a dog, or a small SUV.

Her paintings are cartoony enough to be fun but give enough realistic detail that you can easily tell her Microraptor from her Leaellynasaura.  She also made sure to include a wide variety of animals based on size (small to large and heavy) but also familiar (Velociraptorand unfamiliar (Tsintausaurus).  

An afterword at the end of the books explains how scientists know how big various dinosaurs were and also gives information on where to find out more about your favorites.

I can see this book having a great deal of appeal for dinosaur lovers but also being a great jumping off point for discussions on size (bigger, smaller, etc.).  That said, if you are going to read it aloud, you might want to practice some of the dinosaur names ahead of time.  I stumbled through Tsintausaurus but am still unsure of how to say Leaellynasaura.


October 17, 2013

Journey by Aaron Becker

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:14 am by suebe2

by Aaron Becker
Candlewick Press

In this wordless picture book, illustrator Aaron Becker introduces us to a young girl.  Father has his computer.  Mother has her phone.  Big sister has a handheld game.  No one has time for this girl who just wants someone to join her in flying a kite, riding her scooter or playing ball.

Finally, she wonders off to her room where she finds a bright red crayon.  First, she draws a magical door on her bedroom wall.  When she passes through it, she finds herself in a wooded land where the trees are hung with lanterns.

At a dock, she draws a boat and makes her way downstream.

Becker’s illustration are pen and ink enhanced with watercolor and are certainly not subdued.  Still the red things created by our young traveler stand out, vibrant and alive.

I don’t want to tell the entire story which would be easy to do — it is such an amazing and fun tale.  To keep it brief, in an act of bravery and generosity, she finds another young adventurer and together they create a bicycle that will allow them to explore the world together.

Wordless books can be tough to pull off but Becker’s images are rich without being overdone, giving the eye plenty to see while telling a very clear story.  With illustrations as rich as these, the book would definitely stand up to repeat “readings.”

This would be an excellent choice for the prereader or the reluctant reader in your life.  Either would benefit from enjoying a story that pulls them in and allows them to create the story for themselves.




June 10, 2013

Lizzie Nonsense by Jan Ormerod

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:27 am by suebe2

Lizzie Nonsense
by Jan Ormerod
AR 3.2

The little church where Mama and Papa got married is far away from their little house in the bush.  In fact, town is so distant that when Papa has to go to there to sell a load of sandalwood, he is gone for weeks at a time.  Fortunately, Lizzie has a great imagination to keep her occupied until Papa gets home.

Mama just calls it Lizzie nonsense.  But Lizzie’s “nonsense” keeps her going as they haul water to water the garden and give baby a bath, Mama cleans the house and they do the mending.  When Mama chases a snake out from under the rug, Lizzie declares that she is the bravest Mama in the whole world.

“Nonsense!” says Mama.

But Lizzie isn’t the only one with an imagination.  On Sundays, she and Mama put on their very best clothes.  With baby in the carriage, they walk the track and return home, pretending that they were able to go to church.

One morning the see a cloud of dust and hear the jangle of tack, it can only mean one thing.  At long last, Papa has come home.   They rush out to meet him before the whole family returns to their little house.

The story is fiction but with a lot of information about pioneer life in Australia.  This would be a great book for young readers who have read about American wagon trains, little log cabins or dugouts.  A wealth of information, such as the look of the house, their clothes and the local wildlife comes in through Ormerod’s watercolor paintings which depict Australia’s wilderness in a gentle glow.    Page back through and look at the art work, picking out kookaburra and kangaroos, dingos and some little creature with a prehensile tail like an opossum.

A quiet, gentle book about bravery, imagination and family.  Sadly, it seems to be out-of-print here in the US.  Look for it in library collections or through used bookstores if you won’t want to order it from overseas.  It is definitely a book you should have on your shelves.





March 28, 2013

Sophie’s Fish by A. E. Cannon, illustrated by Lee White

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 1:47 am by suebe2

Sophie’s Fish
by A. E. Cannon,
illustrated by Lee White
AR 1.7

When Sophie asks Jake to watch her fish when she goes out of town, Jake doesn’t hesitate to say yes.  After all, how hard can it be to take care of one little fish?

But as he waits for Sophie and her fish, Jake starts to worry.  Do fish need special food, special bed time stories and special comfort?  In short order, he’s not at all sure that he’s the man for the task.  By the time Sophie shows up with her fish bowl in her wagon, Jake has worked himself into a frenzy.  Fish are so small and fragile.  What if he messes up?

Author A. E. Cannon and illustrator Lee White work together to take full advantage of the picture book format.  The text is short — at only 370 words — yet we get a good look at who Jake and Sophie are.  Jake wants to help other people, but, like a lot of us, he isn’t 100% secure.    White’s illustrations, which seem to involve collage, build on this picture of Jake by giving us a small boy with big glasses who has a tendency to look surprised and more than a bit pensive, and that’s on a good day.

You’re going to have to read this to get the full perspective on Sophie’s personality because there’s no way I can give you a clue who what kind of kid she is without also giving away the twist that ends this book.  Suffice it to say — Funny stuffy!

This one would make a good read aloud for one child or a group.  You could also use it as a talking point for discussions on responsibility, friendship and even worry.

Share this one with the young reader in your life today!


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