Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Very Busy Life of Olaf and Venus by Pierre Pratt

The Very Busy Life of Olaf and Venus
by Pierre Pratt
Ages 0-4
Topics: places, animals

Car is one of four board books that describe the busy life of Olaf the elephant and Venus the mouse. In this story, the friends hop in the car, a cheery red convertible, and take a ride to the beach, naming objects and animal pals as they go.
The four books share a common format: the left page has a single word (all nouns) and there's an illustration of the named item with a white background. The right page has the item in a complete scene with Olaf and Venus, who are interacting with the item in some way (pointing to the sun, waving to a bird, spashing in the sea). The format is a great way to help younger children learn vocabulary, leaving no room for confusion as to what item is being labled. The format is also great for children who are just starting to sightread.

The brightly colored illustrations clearly convey Olaf and Venus's 'joie de vivre' in everything they do. There's instant charm from the big difference in size between them and they make all their activities seem exciting, whether they are going to the beach, shopping for shoes, or simply having a snack.

The other books in the series are Home, Shopping, and Park. Here's a spread from Shopping that shows the page layout - the book shop is their last stop:

In Home, Olaf invites Venus over to his place to share a cheese dinner and a sleepover and in Park, the friends take a picnic to the park. The four books are all wonderful and would make a wonderful gift set. They're also in a 6..25 x 6.25 board book format, just the right size for little ones.

Pierre Pratt grew up in Montreal and has won many awards for his wonderful children's book illustrations. He uses oil pastels and acrylic for his illustrations.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Where Is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox

Where Is the Green Sheep?

by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Judy Haracek
Ages 1-5
Topics: sheep, opposites, pairs

In this simple book, we find pairs of sheep with both opposite and associated traits. For example, there's the thin sheep and the wide sheep, the swing sheep and the slide sheep. The book is structured in two sets of rhyming couplets, then the repeated question, "But where is the green sheep? The book's ending asks listeners to "turn the page quietly" and the green sheep is found fast asleep.

The book provides an amusing vehicle to introduce and reinforce some basic and familiar adjectives to very young children. The simple line-drawn sheep are winsome and wacky and clearly demonstrate the trait described. There's lots of white space in this book giving the illustrations a clean, open feeling. The ink-drawn sheep are beautifully enhanced with bright watercolors - the gleeful sheep in the bubble bath is a standout. There's also enough details in the illustrations to keep the book interesting as children grow older - the animals looking out the train windows, and the finale sheep page where the sheep are engaged in a variety of exciting activities.

Mem Fox is a literacy consultant and has written many children's picture books including The Magic Hat and Koala Lou. Judy Horacek is an author and cartoonist. This is her first picture book.

Read the review of The Magic Hat.

Buy Where Is the Green Sheep? from Amazon.com

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Shall I Knit You a Hat? by Kate Klise

Shall I Knit You a Hat? A Christmas Yarn
By Kate Klise
Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise
Ages 4-8
Topics: Christmas, gifts, friends, hats, knitting, animals
ISBN: 0-8050-7318-3

A blizzard is due to arrive on Christmas Eve and its going to snow until it “reaches the tallest tips” of Little Rabbit’s ears. Little Rabbit doesn’t want to get too cold so Mother Rabbit offers to knit him a hat. “’Yes, please,’ said Little Rabbit. ‘A Christmas hat, just for me.’ Little Rabbit loves his hat and suggests that they make hats for all their friends as Christmas presents. Little Rabbit designs the exotic hats, but their friends aren’t so sure about them… until the blizzard sets in.

This winsome tale is a wonderful exploration of friendship, generosity, and individuality. The rabbit mother and child are oddballs who respect their friends’ individuality and their own. The acrylic illustrations are charming and cozy for the most part and quite hilarious at times. The cozy indoor scenes include the dinning room illustration with plates on the wall with springs of evergreen and the final illustration of the rabbit mother and child on their red sofa and are warm reds and yellows. The funny illustrations include those in which the rabbits secretly measure their friends for their hats and one scene in which all the friends gather together with their new hats on with Little Rabbit holding up a mirror saying “See how beautiful you look?” The outdoor scenes are bright blues and white and feature a wonderful animal market. This book is fabulous in a quirky way and would make a wonderful Christmas gift that will charm way beyond Christmas Day.

The author, Kate Klise, and the illustrator, M. Sarah Klise, are sisters. They have previously collaborated on illustrated novels for children but this is their first picture book.

Buy Shall I Knit You a Hat from Amazon.com

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Pipkin of Pepper by Helen Cooper

A Pipkin of Pepper
by Helen Cooper
Ages 4-8
Topics: Friendship, cooking, being lost

In this sequel to Pumpkin Soup, Squirrel, Cat, and Duck run out of salt for their delicious soup and have to go shopping in the City. Duck’s never been to the City before and is both frightened and excited by all the shops and towers. Then he sees the pepper store and has a great idea – wouldn’t pepper be a delicious addition to the soup? While Duck dreams of pepper, his friends continue on to the salt shop, and Duck finds himself lost in the city. Fortunately, a kindly mother Hen takes care of Duck and helps him find his friends … with a little help from six police dogs with megaphones

The story addresses the common childhood fear and experience of being lost and reminds how to avoid this predicament (hold on tight) and what to do if you find yourself lost (stay where you lost contact and wait). While the solution will seem over the top to adults (the Hen calls 911 and six police dogs with megaphones search the city for Cat and Squirrel, then fly them home as they’ve missed the last bus), the drama will make sense to young children and provide them with a comfortable resolution.

The three friends have a caring, quarrelsome relationship that is as warm and winning as the autumnal illustrations. The pink-blue exotic City is a striking departure from the little white country cabin and pastoral landscape of Pumpkin Soup. The illustrations provide wonderful details to share – the ‘try pepper today’ message on the back of the bus taking them to the city, the white city rabbit with a large pocket watch, and a lost and crying Duck’s reaction to being offered a packet of pepper to cheer him up: “WA?”.

Helen Cooper was a music teacher before she started writing children’s books. She has won two Kate Greenaway Medals for Pumpkin Soup and The Boy Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed and was short-listed for her book Tatty Ratty.

Buy A Pipkin of Pepper from Amazon.com

Read review of Pumpkin Soup

Friday, January 27, 2006

Mr. Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham

Mr. Gumpy's Outing

by John Burningham
Ages 2-6
Topics: animals, boating
ISBN#: 0-8050-0708-3

Mr Gumpy has a boat and lives on the river. One day, he goes out in his boat and picks up many friends along the way. Before they can come aboard, Mr Gumpy clearly states a “rule” for each animal he picks up – the rabbit can only come if he doesn’t “hop about”, the pig if he doesn’t “muck about”, the children, if they don’t “squabble”. Everything is wonderful until all the animals do what he asked them not to do and splash...the boat tips. This turns out not to be a big problem – everyone lies on the bank to dry in the sun and then head back to Mr. Gumpy’s for tea.

Younger children will quickly learn the order of the animals and join in the telling of this repetitive, mild-mannered tale. The cheerful illustrations are mostly ink crosshatch drawings, interspersed with watercolor -painted line drawings. Muted colors capture a nostalgic feeling of a sunny day on the river and the tea scene is especially charming.

John Burningham is British and won the Kate Greenaway (the British equivalent to the Caldecott) for Mr. Gumpy’s Outing. He also wrote a sequel, Mr. Gumpy’s Motor Car, and many other children’s books.

Buy Mr. Gumpy's Outing at Amazon.com

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Big Al by Andrew Clements

Big Al
by Andrew Clements
Illustrated by Yoshi
Ages 4-8
Topics, fish, friendship, appearances

Big Al has a problem – he’s really big and scary looking. Although there isn’t a nicer fish in the sea, Big Al can’t make a friend because all the other fish are afraid of him. He tries to disguise his size and looks, but nothing seems to work. One day, a fishing net captures the smaller fish and Big Al’s size allows him to save the day.

This story has a strong confidence-building message as Big Al realizes that he is unique, valuable, and special just as he is. When the important moment comes, Big Al forgets himself and his problems and acts. The other fish learn to appreciate Big Al despite his frightening looks, reminding that you can’t judge others solely on their appearance.

The striking underwater illustrations by Japanese artist Yoshi were created by combining painting and batik on silk. Big Al really is an unattractive brown puffy fish, surrounded by bright red, yellow, and orange fish.

Andrew Clements, a former teacher, writes picture books, early readers, and novels for middle graders. Big Al was his first book. He also collaborated with Yoshi on a sequel, Big Al and Shrimpy.

Buy Big Al at Amazon.com

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Eric Carle's Animals Animals

Eric Carle's Animals Animals
by Eric Carle
Ages 2-10
Topics: Animals, poetry

This book is an illustrated collection of short poems about a wide range of animals and insects. The selection includes a number of haiku poems, funny poems like The Birthday Cow by Eve Merriam ("Happy Mooday to you") and Yak and Long Gone (about dinosaurs) by Jack Prelutsky, and poems by Rudyard Kipling, John Gardener, and Shakespeare.

This book is a great way to gently introduce your child to poetry. All the poems are short and Eric Carle's illustrations are rich and visually exciting. (Carle creates his fabulous collages with tissue paper that he paints with acrylic paint. He then adds texture and cuts and combines the papers to create his pictures.) The alternation of funny and silly poems with the haikus and more literary poems creates a happily varied rythmn and sustains interest. Younger children will be fascinated by the bright pictures and language play. Older children will stay interested with some of the more unusual animals like the narwhal and the platypus. The books conveys a respect for all the world's animals and would make a wonderful gift a child could enjoy for years.

Buy Eric Carle's Animals Animals from Amazon.com

For more information on Eric Carle, visit his website.

For a great book on Carle's picture book art, see The Art of Eric Carle

Monday, January 23, 2006

Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Caps For Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business
By Esphyr Slobodkina
Ages: 3-6
Topics: monkeys, hats
ISBN: 0-201-09147-X

A hilarious tale of a peddler who carries the caps he sells in a tall tower on top of his head and calls out “Caps! Caps for sale! Fifty cents a cap!” One morning sales are non-existent so the peddler takes a walk in the country and falls asleep under a tree, taking care to keep the caps on his head secure. When he wakes up, he finds he only has his own cap on his head. He looks all around for his caps only to find on every branch of the tree sits a monkey with a cap on his head. Then follows a very amusing sequence as the peddler tries to get his caps back from the monkeys.

It’s hard to imagine anyone not liking this classic picture book, which has been in print for over fifty years and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The resolution of the peddler’s problem (he gets so mad he throws his hat down and the monkeys copy him) is very funny. There’s lots of action and repetition to hold the interest of younger children and the language is simple enough to make this a good story for early readers. Don’t miss the enjoyment of sharing this classic with your children. A great read aloud for a group of younger children.

Buy Caps For Sale at Amazon.com

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper

Pumpkin Soup
By Helen Cooper
Topics: soup, cookery, friendship, cooperation
ISBN: 0-374-36164-9

Cat, Squirrel, and Duck live together in a cabin deep in the woods. There they make the best pumpkin soup you ever tasted. Each friend has his own specific role in the soup preparation. They cook together, play music together, sleep together and live in harmony. Until, Duck gets Squirrel’s soup spoon and announces “Today it’s my turn to stir the soup.” Squirrel and Cat are furious and there’s a “horrible squabble” and Duck decides to leave. “You’ll be back” the Cat yells “after we’ve cleaned up.”. But, Duck doesn’t come back and Cat and Squirrel are left to consider how much they miss their dear friend (who eventually does return to stir the soup and create a big mess).

A wonderful story about friendship and cooperation, children and adults will love the warm, cozy illustrations. A great read aloud story.

Helen Cooper has won two Kate Greenaway Medals for Pumpkin Soup and The Boy Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed. She has written a sequel to Pumpkin Soup called A Pipkin of Pepper.

Buy Pumpkin Soup from Amazon.com

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Magic Hat by Mem Fox

The Magic Hat
By Mem Fox
Illustrated by Tricia Tusa
Ages: 2-5
Topics: hats, animals, wizard, magic

A magic hat appears in town “without any warning at all”. It lands on the heads of various town people and turns them into exotic animals until a wizard arrives “with a sign that said: STOP!” The animals are turned back into people “dazed and confused/ Watched by a crowd that was highly amused!”. The wizard skips off with the “fabulous hat/That made all the magic – wherever it sat!”

This light, magical story has a sweet refrain “Oh, the magic hat, the magic hat!/It moved like this and it moved like that!” that’s fun to read and builds predictability right into the story making this a perfect picture book for younger children, who will quickly learn which animal comes next. The pen and watercolor illustrations are playful, bright, and larger-than-life and dominate the text. They provide visual clues on which animal will next appear (for example, the grocer who is turned into a baboon is juggling bananas). The pictures are full of happy children, in fact, all the townsfolk are merry and depicted as a warm, close community.

Mem Fox , Australia’s most highly regarding picture book author, has written 29 picture books including Time For Bed, Koala Lou, and Possum Magic. She is a literacy consultant and also the author of Reading Magic, for parents of very young children.

Tricia Tusa is the author of Maebelle’s Suitcase, Camilla’s New Hairdo, and Bunnies in My Head (which features drawings by young patients at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center). She is also the illustrator of many other picture books including Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden and How to Make a Night. She lives in Houston, Texas.

Buy The Magic Hat from Amazon.com

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Little Cloud by Eric Carle

Little Cloud
By Eric Carle
Ages 1-4
Topics: clouds

Little cloud trails behind the other clouds. He soon finds himself alone and changes into a sheep, an airplane, a shark and other shapes. The repetition of “little cloud changed into a…” encourages children to look at the picture and provide the label. Then follows a little information about the item pictured, “Little Cloud liked the way the trees never moved and stayed in one place.” Eventually, the other clouds call Little Cloud back to join them, then the clouds become “one big cloud” and rain.

The illustrations are hand –painted paper collages and are all white/blue clouds on a blue sky background with the exception of two pictures that include “the houses and the trees”. The simplicity of the cloud collages will allow the youngest children to focus on the object being described and encourage older children to try their hand at copying.

A great-read aloud rhythm, younger children will want to hear this one over and over again. It’s also fun for them to look at this one independently and label.

Eric Carle is the author and illustrator of some of the most popular picture books for young children including The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Busy Spider, and Today is Monday. Carle, a graphic designer, started his children’s book career illustrating Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? By Bill Martin. Carle creates his collages using painted tissue paper that is pasted onto cardboard. For more information on Eric Carle, visit his website.

Buy Little Cloud at Amazon.com

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Here Come Trainmice!

Here Come Trainmice!
By Wong Herbert Yee
Ages: 1-4
Topics: trains, mice

A charming introduction to train terminology for the very young, the cheery rhyming and rhythmic language and bright colorful pictures will make this little board book a favorite. Each page introduces a new train word – track, conductor, tickets, caboose – and the mouse illustrations are adorable, with many details to explore (the guitar on the baggage cart, the mouse getting a free ride on the freight train). Adults will enjoy sharing this book not only because of the snappy rhythm, but also because of the amusing rhymes (“’Tickets, tickets, if you please.’” Dining car is serving cheese.”). Don’t miss this gem!

Wong Herbert Yee is the creator of 18 children’s books including the Fireman Small books and Big Black Bear.

Buy Here Come Trainmice from Amazon.com

Russell the Sheep by Rob Scotten

Russell the Sheep
By Rob Scotton
Ages 4-8
Topics: Sheep, Sleep
ISBN#: 0-06-059849-2

This charmer is about Russell, a sheep who can’t get to sleep. He tries lot’s of things to get to sleep from making it really dark to sleeping in the hollow of a tree. He eventually settles on counting things, including “six hundred million billion and ten” stars. Even that doesn’t work! Russell eventually does get to sleep –can you guess how?

The illustrations for this book are outstanding and will appeal to both adults and children. Russell is a fluffy, squarish sheep with a long blue and white striped sleeping hat and wide-eyed expression. He is always accompanied by an unnamed frog companion, who adds a lot with body language and facial expressions. The sheep, when they do sleep, sleep on their backs with four legs straight in the air. All the scenes are in a twilight blue/purple/green color scheme which is very dreamy.

Rob Scotton is one of Britain’s leading illustrators for a variety of products, but this is his first picture book.

Buy Russell the Sheep at Amazon.com

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato
by Lauren Child
Ages 4-8
Topics: fussy eaters, food, siblings
ISBN 0-7636-1181-3

Charlie’s little sister Lola is a mighty fussy eater. While waiting for dinner, Lola lists all the foods she doesn’t like and won’t consider eating. So Charlie has to come up with some inventive ideas to make familiar foods seem more appetizing: “Oh, this isn’t mashed potato…this is cloud fluff from the pointiest peak of Mount Fuji.” and “These are not carrots. These are orange twiglets from Jupiter.” The mixed media illustrations are fascinating and effective at creating a bright, familiar and very modern child’s world for the flat, line drawn characters. Child creates collages of line drawings, photographs, and wallpaper that really work together - a photo of a bowl of peas being prodded by Lola’s drawn hand, photo tiles on the back of the otherwise drawn kitchen. The text layout is also interestingly varied, with bolds, capitalization, different font sizes and layouts that mirror the illustrations (the text forms a mountain for the Mount Fuji text).

In addition to the entertaining approach to picky eating, this book will also help build a child’s food vocabulary. There’s a nice combination of predictability (Lola’s questioning each food item) and surprise (Charlie’s clever recharacterizations) which will make this appealing to younger children. The layout of the text and illustrations also encourages new readers to practice their sight –reading skills (“I don’t ever eat carrots” is written on five carrots, text is frequently widely spaced making it easier to read.). The relationship between the feisty Lola and the understanding Charlie is a unusual in that it is warm and trusting and shows children solving problems by using their imagination.

Lauren Child won the Kate Greenaway Medal (the British equivalent of the Caldecott) for this book. She has written several more Charlie and Lola books including I Am Too Absolutely Small for School and I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed. Child is also the creator of the Clarice Bean books.

Buy I Will Never Not Ever Eat A Tomato from Amazon.com

Monday, January 16, 2006

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Goodnight Moon
By Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrated by Clement Hurd
Ages 1-4

This classic goodnight story features a little rabbit in his “great green room” labeling the items he sees and saying goodnight to them all, including the pictures on the walls (the three bears and the cow jumping over the moon) and the moon which he can see through the window. The illustrations alternate between scenes of the brightly colored room and black and white illustrations that focus on the item being labeled. The familiar items, rhyme and repetition (many things are “little”), the varied rhythm, and the warmth and brightness of the illustrations will appeal strongly to the youngest children. There’s plenty of details in the room for older children to notice (the toys on the bookcase, the fishing rabbits picture).

This cozy book is the perfect bedtime book to share with your young child. The rhyme and pace are wonderful to read aloud. The cheerful illustrations are perfect for children who are just starting to look at books independently.

About the author:

Margaret Wise Brown (1910-1952) was a teacher and editor who wrote over 100 books for younger children including Big Red Barn, The Runaway Bunny and The Color Kittens. She is best known for Goodnight Moon.

Buy Goodnight Moon from Amazon.com