Category Archives: Children’s Book Reviews

TTT: Ten Fall Themed Children’s Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week the topic is fall themes.  I have chosen to focus only on children’s books.  Do you have a favorite fall themed children’s book?  If so, what is it?  Please share!

  1.  Rattlebone Rock by Sylvia Andrews, Illustrated by Jennifer Plecas – This musical, rhyming story in the form of a song takes place in a graveyard with various spooky and creepy characters. Eventually, friendly more familiar animals and people join in as well, to join the celebration and dance that lasts all night.  It is a fun, musical book with a great syncopating beat and high entertainment value, recommended for children ages 3-8.2.   Thanksgiving Day Thanks by Laura Malone Elliott, Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger – This book depicts a classroom experience of students pondering the question of what it is they are thankful for.  As a class assignment, each student needs to create a project with a Thanksgiving theme.  Some of these projects give insight into the deeper meaning of the history of Thanksgiving while others help the students better understand what they are thankful for.  At the end of the story interesting history and fun facts about Thanksgiving Day are provided.

3.  Ten Timid Ghosts by Jennifer O’Connell – This is a Halloween themed counting book.  There is a haunted house in which 10 timid ghosts live.  A witch moves in and wants them out.  She scares each with a different disguise, until the last one discovers the witch’s costume coming undone.  Then, ten angry ghosts exact their revenge and retrieve the house.  This is a fun repetitive rhyming counting book in which small children are able to anticipate how many ghosts are left.

4.  Fall Ball by Peter McCarty – This is a simply written children’s book aimed at what matter’s most to children:  free time to play on their own.  The illustrations are absolutely stunning.  The children are riding home from school on the bus and plan to play football when they get there.  Jimmy is one exception who decides to rake leaves instead.  The children play ball, however Sparky, the dog, is quickest to retrieve the ball.  he crashes into Jimmy’s pile of leaves, as do all of the children.  It’s so early, yet getting dark and cold, and all the children must go home.  A beautiful book about fall and things to love:  football, cozy pajamas, warm blankets, good things to eat…  Highly recommended!!

5.  The Pumpkin Book by Gail Gibbons – This is a nonfiction children’s book about pumpkins.  It is highly informative and very interesting.  It describes the life cycle of the pumpkin from seed through mature pumpkin, as well as the various pumpkin varieties.  There is history tied in, with the relevance of pumpkins to Halloween as well as Thanksgiving, making this an excellent educational  book for fall. 

6.  The Best Thanksgiving Ever by Teddy Slater, Illustrated by Ethan Long – This is a hilarious, rhyming, loving thanksgiving book about a family of turkeys celebrating together.  They practice gratitude, celebrate togetherness and sit down to enjoy Thanksgiving…. corn!

7.  Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller & Anne Wilsdorf – This is a beautiful children’s book about a little girl, Sophie, who chooses a squash from a farmer’s market.  This squash is the perfect size to hold, to bounce on her knee, to put a face on with marker, to fall in love with.  The squash begins to become freckled and less bouncy, and in an effort to heal her squash, Sophie buries it in dirt.  After the snow melts, a squash plant grows and eventually Sophie has two new squash to love. The humor is subtle and enjoyable.  This book is thoroughly unique and a great read for the fall!

8.  Humbug Witch by Lorna Balian – This classic book from 1965 is adorable.  This witch with the handmade black scarf, the orange gloves, the crumpled black hat, the BIG nose, the striped stockings is having a very difficult time getting her spells to work.  It has a perfectly unexpected ending for a children’s book.  My daughter asked me at the beginning of the second reading what “humbug” meant.  It means “deceptive or false behavior.”  It is a lovely title for a quirky fun halloween story.  Highly recommended!

9. Beneath the Ghost Moon by Jane Yolan, Illustrated by Laurel Molk –   This is a beautifully written, poetic rhythmic rhyming book about mice who are excited for the Halloween dance.  However, in the night as they slept, a creepy crawlie crew entered, destroying their costumes and taking over their lair.  The small mice decide to stand up for themselves taking on the creepy crawlies with music, banners and battle cries.  It ends with a creepy crawlie and a mouse forging a friendship beneath the ghost moon, dancing into the night. Beautiful poetry and illustrations, lovely lessons taught, and highly entertaining… a perfect book for fall!

 

10.  The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin by Joe Troiano, Illustrated by Susan Banta – This is a rhyming story about a pumpkin patch wherein all the pumpkins are round, except for one square pumpkin.  The night before Halloween, there is a storm, and pumpkins are rolling off the vine and into the bay.  Spookley has to work hard to turn onto his side, over and over, but is able to eventually move himself to close the gap in the fence where the pumpkins are rolling out.  The next morning the farmer sees the value in this odd-shaped pumpkin and uses Spookley’s seed in every row the following year to grow pumpkins mostly square, but also of different shapes and colors.  The moral of the story being that variety is the spice of life and great value can be found in our differences.

Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak ~ Book Review

Pages:  40

Published:  1981

Format:  Paperback book

Awards:  National Book Award for Children’s Books, Picture Books (1982), Caldecott Honor (1982), Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Picture Book (1981)

 

I am very familiar with Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen as these have been read many times over in my house.  I was not acquainted with this book until this summer.  I was reading Victor LaValle’s The Changeling which continuously alluded to this book, so I purchased it from Amazon right away.  Aside from winning numerous awards and inspiring LaValle’s The Changeling, this is the book that inspired the movie Labrynth.

This book is dark, mysterious, magical.  The father is away at sea.  The mother is depressed, aloof.. sitting alone in the arbor, most likely experiencing postpartum depression.  Ida, the older sister, is the one who must watch over her baby sister, but turns away while playing her horn, neglectful. With her back turned, faceless goblins enter through the window stealing away the baby and leaving an ice version of a baby in its place.  Ida scoops up the changeling that the goblins left behind which then melts in her arms.  In pursuit of her sister, Ida goes out the window backwards to “outside over there,” off to a baby goblin wedding, where the only real baby is her sister.  Ida is eventually successful in recovering her sister by putting the goblins into a dancing frenzy with her tune.  When she safely returns home with the baby, her mother reads a letter from her father asking her to watch over her baby sister “which is just what Ida did.”

For me, this book invited so many questions.  Was it Ida’s tune initially that invited the goblins?  Was she jealous of the baby and that is why she wished her away?  Why was going out the window a “serious mistake?”  Was it because she was going out the window backwards?

The artwork in this book is not of the cartoonish quality found in In the Night Kitchen.  The art is reminiscent of 19th century German paintings.  Many have compared the image of Ida floating in the sky to Bernini’s “St. Theresa’s in Ecstasy,” which brings up many questions of what kind of ecstasy might Sendak be implying that Ida is experiencing.  Other hidden or not so hidden references within this book include: Mozart’s Magic Flute, the kidnapping and murder of the Lindhbergh baby, and paintings of William Blake.  There is something very Freudian about the book with it’s dreamlike quality.  Ida’s name is strikingly similarly to Id.  Do all the characters of the dream reflect the thoughts and feelings of the dreamer?

Sendak has said that the three children’s book (Outside Over There, Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen) are part of a trilogy.  He has asserted in The Art of Maurice Sendak that:  “They are all variations on the same theme: how children master various feelings – danger, boredom, fear, frustration, jealousy – and manage to come to grips with the realities of their lives.”  Many adults find this story creepy and disturbing whereas children are intrigued.  I read this to my daughter who had just turned 5.  She was mesmerized and when we finished she turned back to the page where the goblins are stealing the baby and asked me to read it again.  I did and she said, “that is my favorite part.”

I love this book for pushing boundaries, for exploring themes most children’s book authors are afraid to explore, for the amazingly beautiful artwork, and for the questions and mysteries the reader is left to ponder.  I highly recommend this book for everyone! Maurice Sendak has also said he does not write for children, but simply writes.  He has escaped this notion that we need to protect our children from the experience of loss and strangeness in life.  I remember loving Grimm’s Fairy Tales as a chid, so I can fully relate to the intrigue of this genre to children.  This is a children’s book with many layers of interest for all ages.

Outside Over There, on Utube

NPR review by Amanda Katz

New York Times review by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

T5W: Five Fabulous Female Protagonists in Children’s Picture Book Series

  1.  Olivia by Ian Falconer – Olivia is a girl (illustrated as an adorable pig) who is ready to try anything and everything.  She dreams big, wears others out and eventually wears herself out.  These stories are about family dynamics, joyful growing up years and wonderful adventures. The books are beautifully illustrated, whimsical, and witty.  Olivia is a character to love and read repeatedly.
  2. Eloise by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight – Ooooooooooooooo I absolutely love this book series so much!  It is written in the stream of consciousness style of a 6 year old girl talking without any  punctuation.  Eloise (the 6 year old girl)  lives in the Park Plaza Hotel and has many adventures within it.  Nanny is her mostly companion, but her turtle, Skipperdee, and dog, Weenie, join in on the fun as well.  These books contain much humor, engaging even & sometimes even more so,  the adult reading the book.  I recommend this series to young and old alike!
  3. Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser – Fancy Nancy is a character who loves accessories and glamorous ones at that.  She believes in dressing up and in educating her family on the importance of style.  She teaches the reader exciting  new vocabulary as she instructs her family.  She is an independent thinker with much creativity and spirit.  A delightfully fun read with outrageously imagined illustrations!
  4. Ladybug Girl by David Soman and Jacky Davis – Ladybug Girl (Lulu) and her sidekick Bingo go on many adventures together in this series.  Lulu is a courageous, imaginative girl.  When cloaked in her ladybug girl costume she feels capable of taking on new adventures and solving problems.  Beautifully written, sweet stories with charming illustrations to enjoy time and time again.  
  5. My Name is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry – This is a series about a girl who daydreams that she is famous women from history.  Her mother will speak to her and she will respond, “My name is not Isabella” and she will explain who she is at that moment in time & history as she sets about to do something in the spirit of that heroine.  This continues until bedtime when Isabella becomes the Mommy extolling all of Mommy’s virtues.  At last Isabella is herself,  and Mommy recounts all of Isabella’s virtues which are a compilation of the virtues of the heroines she has been imagining to be throughout the day.  It is an excellent book about strong female role models for young girls and a reminder of the part they played in history.  At the end there is a biography of all the heroines mentioned to delve further into their role in history.   This could be a great teaching tool and bonding book for mothers and daughters. There is a lot contained within this small book and it leaves plenty of room for discussion and further learning.

 

This is my first time participating in Top Five Wednesday (#T5W).  If you are interested in learning more about this Goodreads group, click here.   This week’s topic was children’s books which seemed too broad, so I chose my own niche within that.  What are your favorite fabulous female protagonists of children’s picture books?  Please share!

Non-Fiction Children’s Animal Books!

My two younger children adore reading and learning about animals so much so that that has been the bulk of our reading for the past 8 months.  There are two favorites that I will discuss first and then two more that we read after requesting them from netgalley which I will review subsequently.

 

National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia: 2,500 Animals with Photos, Maps, and More! by National Geographic Kids

Pages:  304

Published: October 23, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

This book is fabulous!  I cannot believe this book that is so densely packed with information entertained my 4 and 6 year old nightly for a period of 6 months.  I might have thought the content would have been too dry, describing the diet, habitat, size and lifespan of animal after animal, however, my children were riveted.  The book is divided into sections by taxonomy:  mammals, birds, fish, invertebrates, amphibians reptiles.  Within each section, each page is devoted to a particular animal group and then goes more in depth on 8-10 particular species of that group.  I personally loved learning so much about all these animals.  We would make each page a game with me quizzing my children at the end of each page to see how much they retained.  Our  “Guess the Animal” game in the car has become quite sophisticated as a result of this book.  I loved how at the end of each taxonomy there is a page that goes into records: biggest, fastest, most poisonous, etc.  There are also pages describing researchers studying animal species in the wild which has served as a source of professional inspiration for my son.  If you have an animal lover in your family, I cannot recommend this book enough!  The photos are stunning, the maps detailing where the animals live are highly educational and there is so much depth to this book for great discussion to occur.  

 

Did You Know? Animals by DK Publishing

Pages: 144

Published: May 17, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Having already tackled the National Geographic Encyclopedia of Animals, there was great enthusiam when this book entered our house, especially from my 4 year daughter.  This book was exactly what she wanted.  She would carry it around the house, begging for someone to read it to her and once it was finished, we would start again at the beginning.  Each page focuses on one animal species and starts with a question to get you thinking.  It discusses the answer to the question and gives descriptive information about the animal with arrows from the text to the relative anatomy.  It usually talks briefly about a couple of other animals who may have a similar behavior or adaption.  Then there is a “quick quiz” which covers topics that usually have not been covered in the text.  This did not cause concern for us.  We usually discussed the question, made a guess and then checked our answers in the back.  The re-reading was satisfying for my daughter because she was able to remember many of the answers to these “quick quizzes,” most of which we had been guessing at the first time around.  The photos are beautiful, the text engaging, and as demonstrated in our family… a great book for reading over and over.  

 

“Different?  Same!”  by Heather Tekavec and  Pippa Curnick (Illustrator)

Pages:  32

Expected Publication Date: May 2, 2017

 

 

 

This is a beautiful and playful animal book that seeks to engage young readers by pointing out differences between groupings of widely different animals and then asking what similarity exists.   The similarity might be stripes, horns, whiskers or shells.  It  is wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated.  It was engaging and fun to read with my four year old.  I would highly recommend this to readers 2-5 years old.  It makes you consider animals in different ways and think about why these vastly different animals might all have horns, whiskers, shells, etc.  We had fun with the last page of the book, pointing at various animals that all had a particular characteristic or habitat.  This is a great book for re-reading and generating discussion! 

 

“Animals Do Too!:  How They Behave Just Like You”  by Etta Kaner and Marilyn Faucher (Illustrator)

Pages:  32

Expected Publication Date:  May 2, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

This book asks the child a question followed by a discussion of how a particular animal likes to do the same thing.  It is playful in that it makes animal behavior seem childlike and fun.  A couple of examples are:  honeybees dance and gazelles play tag.  There are eight such children activity – animal behavior comparisons explored in this book.   This is a great read for any young animal lover, aged 2-5.  

 

Striker, Slow Down!: A Calming Book for Kids who are Always on the Go by Emma Hughes, Illustrations by John Smisson ~ Book Review

 

29980765

 

 

Pages: 40

Expected Publication:  October 21, 2016

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

This is a cute picture book about a cat who is alway wound up, keeping busy, running circles around himself.  It is full of gentle reminders to slow down, relax, find quiet.    My 6 year old summed it as “a book about finding peace.”   Interestingly, I have an 8 year old who is this “on-the-go”, “can’t-sit-still” personality.  My 6 and 4 year olds with whom I read the book with, had trouble identifying their brother in this story.  This would be a lovely book to read with a child who has these tendencies, as a reminder that it’s ok to slow down, especially in today’s society where there is so much emphasis on starting sports and other activities so early.  In today’s world we are always telling are children to go, go, go.  This is a nice reminder to children and parents alike that it’s great to slow down, breath, think, be.  The illustrations are lovely: simplistic and fun.  It makes sense that a yoga instructor wrote this, someone who has a practice of patience, of mediation.  This is definitely something our children need more of in life, which is easy to forget.   I recommend this book highly, especially for anxious children, or those with ADD.3-stars

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Do you know anyone who acts like Striker?
  2. How does Striker finally calm down?
  3. What ways do you find to calm down?
  4. What activities do you find relaxing?
  5. What activities make you anxious?

 

The Pruwahaha Monster by Jean-Paul Mulders, Illustrations by Jacques Maes and Lise Braekers ~ Book Review

 

28964168

 

Pages: 26

Expected Publication Date:  October 4, 2016

Format:  E-book from Netgalley

 

 

 

This is a gorgeous picture book with a beautiful story in such a unique format.  I loved it to pieces and, even as a parent, I could read it over and over, discovering new bits of language and illustration to enjoy and appreciate.

There is a foreward that lets the reader know the the story is told by a father as he pushes is son on a swing.  The story he tells is slightly scary, about a monster looking to eat a boy, however, the moral is empowerment for the boy not acknowledging the monster.

I love the shape of the book, being long and narrow.  Even though I read an electronic version, I could envision holding this shape in my hands.  The words are usually contained only on every other page, drawing you further into the beauty and importance of the illustrations, which really go hand and hand with the story.  The story would be nothing without the illustrations, and vice versa.  I love the detail of the illustrations and the writing, the way the words invite you in to search for the acorn, the bicycle, the bird poop.  The father tells the story through the voice of the monster which leaves the reader guessing and searching, but maybe also knowing all along who he is.   It is lovely that the 5 year old boy is unfazed by the monster.  It is a beautiful story with a wonderful moral that is perfect for discussion with children about the meaning of monsters, especially ones of their own creation.

The writing is beautiful.  It doesn’t shy away from difficult vocabulary.  It is descriptive and invokes all the senses:  vision, smell, touch, noise, taste.    I love the short sentence series, that seem childlike, about what the monster sees, about the foods that the monster does not like.  I love the different type sizes and fonts to remind the reader to speak those words with different volumes or inflections.   Most of all, I love the open-ended-ness of the story, the feeling of mystery, the wanting to go back and search through the pictures and words for answers.  Gorgeous!!  I recommend this to 5 year olds and their parents everywhere!  images

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why wasn’t the boy afraid of the monster?
  2. Who was the monster?  Was he real?
  3. What protects the boy?
  4. What is a monster?
  5. What happens when he boy does not acknowledge the monster?

 

 

Gracie Meets a Ghost by Keiko Sena ~ Book Review

 

29363131

 

Pages: 32

Expected Publication: October 1, 2016

Format:  E-book from Netgalley

 

A perfectly timed ghost story for children!  Gracie is bespectacled rabbit who loses her glasses while playing in the mountains with her friends.   She goes in search of them, bumbling around into other animals, helpless without her glasses.  A friendly looking ghost attempts to scare her, however, because she cannot see the ghost she isn’t frightened.  She promises she will look at the ghost once her glasses are found.  The ghost appears kind and searches all night for her glasses.  Upon putting the glasses on, it is daylight, and the ghost has now vanished.  This is a cute ghost story that is nonthreatening.  It is a story that would be great to read with a child who needs to wear glasses, as the book brings up some great talking points around this.  The illustrations are playful and sweet.  I recommend this book for children ages 3-5, especially those who might need glasses.  images-2

 

 

 

Pedro, First Grade Hero by Fran Manushkin, Illustrated by Tammie Lyon ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

29058868

 

Pages:97

Expected Publication:  September 1, 2016

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

This is an early reader chapter book.  It is full of positive messages, word repetition, simple grammar and plenty of well done illustrations to help decode vocabulary.  I read it with my 6 year old and felt that it was very appropriate for his reading level and interest.  He very much would like to be reading chapter books and this is the perfect easier chapter book for him.   There is a lot of silly humor within this book and at the end.  It is the kind of humor you expect to hear a drumroll with to emphasize that it is funny, the kind of humor adults don’t appreciate so much, but 5-7 year olds think is hilarious.   I give itimages-2 and recommend it to 5-7 years, depending on reading ability.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Is Pedro a hero?  Why or why not?  What do you think makes someone a hero?
  2. What do you think makes someone good at soccer?
  3. What kind of qualities do you think are important in a class president?
  4. If you were going to form a club with your friends, what kind of club would it be?
  5. Do you have a favorite bug?

Fran Manushkin’s webpage

The Night the Stars Went Out by Suz Hughes ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

29058875

Pages:  33

Expected Publication:  August 1, 2016

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

This is a children’s picture book featuring an alien who shines stars and makes no time for friends or play.  One night the stars go out and he goes to earth in search of magic star varnish.  He realizes that as he develops a friendship with a boy on earth that he didn’t need the varnish, he only needed friendship and joy in his heart.  It is beautifully illustrated.  I love that this book teaches children about friendship and balance. This book requires certain leaps of faith to keep up with the plot and logistics (alien floating on earth, boy and alien communicating by phone between earth and outer space), but children are more forgiving of these things.  I would give this 3-stars and recommend it to 2-6 year olds.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Do you think there is an alien who polishes stars?
  2. What is gravity?  What happens when people go into outer space?
  3. Why is friendship and play important?  Who are your friends?  What are your favorite things to play?

Suz Hughes Website

Herbie’s Big Adventure by Jennie Poh ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

29058881

 

Pages:  41

Expected Publication Date: September 1, 2016

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

This is a beautifully illustrated, endearing story of a hedgehog about to set out to forage on his own for the first time.  It teaches about seasons, a mother’s love, leaving home, and separating from mom.  It explains what foraging is.  It teaches what it means to be brave, to overcome fears.  Indirectly, it also teaches about hibernation.  I interpreted the giant snowman in the story as a version of “Old Man Winter,” telling the animal to go to sleep, to hibernate.   When Herbie awakens, it is spring and he reunites with his mother.  The story is told in a way that all the senses are involved.  The words are noisy, soft, soothing, windy, rough, cold, wet at all the right times.  It is an adventure for all the senses.   The illustrations are lovely: sweet and natural, with special appeal to children.  I give this book images-2 and would recommend it to 2-6 year olds.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What is foraging?
  2. Why does Herbie fall asleep while he is out foraging?
  3. What season is it when he returns home to his mother?
  4. Why was he gone so long?
  5. How long do you think he was hibernating?

Jennie Poh’s Blog