Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Yellow Balloon by Charlotte Dematons

The Yellow Balloon
by Charlotte Dematons
Ages: 5+
Topics: Geography, history, geology

This wordless picture book follows a yellow balloon as it drifts through dramatic and diverse landscapes including cities, jungles, mountain ranges, agricultural lands, deserts, seascapes, airspace and the icy poles. In the tradition of the I Spy books, the game is to search for the yellow balloon in each double-paged landscape, while noticing the myriad of clever and imaginative details. The landscapes include both realistic and imaginative elements (witches on brooms, Santa and his reindeer, Mary Poppins, flying carpets) and combine scenes from different time periods and different continents together. In the agricultural scene, there's modern farming with motorized equipment and an English riding school next to a medieval castle with men in armour fighting with swords and a scene of American Indians on horseback with teepee villages.

This book is completely absorbing and will be enjoyed by adults as well as children. The ariel-view painted landscapes are rich and full of action, and searching through the details is irresistible. While no set story is offered, the book does track from day to night. There's a nice balance of the cheeky, day-to-day, and less happy details of human life (the storybook characters, the painter in his studio, the logging scene at the edge of the jungle). This wonderful book provides an ideal stepping off point to talking with children about art, history, geography, and different cultures, while spotting and sharing more familiar details.

Charlotte Dematons is Dutch and is the author of Let's Go! (which takes a similar approach following a young boy on an errand), Worry Bear and Looking for Cinderella.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Mrs Biddlebox by Linda Smith

Mrs. Biddlebox
by Linda Smith
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
Ages: 4-8
Topics: determination, overcoming difficulties

One dreary morning Mrs Biddlebox wakes up on the wrong side of her bunk:

The birds gave her a headache,
There were creakies in her chair.
A breeze blew dank and dreary
And mussed up her hair.

She slams the door on the morning and has a breakfast of bitter tea and hard crumpets, while she tries to figure out what to do. Then, with great determination and spunk:
I will cook this rotten morning!
I will turn it into cake!
I will fire up my oven!
I will set the day to bake!

Mrs Biddlebox (and her goose sidekick) get busy gathering "up the gloom". She grabs dirt and shadows, fog, and rays of sun, and even "rolled the sky like carpeting" and puts it all in a big pot. She makes a dough, bakes it for the rest of the day, then eats "a merry slice of cake" and then ends up eating the whole cake! Well-fed and cozy, she watches the stars and then falls asleep.

This imaginative and magical story of the witchy Mrs. Biddlebox making something good out of gloom is both dark and funny. There's no denying the reality that we all wake up on the wrong side of the bed and feel crummie. The dramatic swirling pencil illustrations support the rhyming text by starting out very dark --with the fog swirling in the window and the background almost completely dark. The scenes lighten as Mrs Biddlebox grabs at the gloom and there's a great scene of Mrs B. twirling fog onto her broomstick "like spaghetti". The drawings featuring Mrs B. making the dough with extreme gusto and dancing around the oven are hilarious, set against a white background, the gloom is gone and everything seems merry and light. Children and adults will be entranced by the intense and clever illustrations, the punchy narrative, and the determination of the very memorable Mrs. Biddlebox to get rid of the gloom.

Mrs Biddlebox came from author Linda Smith's battle with cancer. She died in 2000, but left behind this wonderful and uplifting story. She also wrote When Moon Fell Down.

Marla Frazee is the illustrator of many children's picture books including Harriet!You'll Drive Me Crazy! by Mem Fox. Her new board book Walk On: A Guide for Babies of All Ages is due out this spring.

Friday, February 17, 2006

While Mama had a Quick Little Chat by Amy Reichert

While Mama Had a Quick Little Chat
by Amy Reichert
Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Ages 4-8
Topics: parties, phone calls, attention

The phone rings and it's Uncle Fred. But it's also time for Rose to get ready for bed - so Mama asks Rose to brush her teeth and wash her face while she's on the phone.

"But, Mama...," Rose sighed, "how long will you be?"
"Not long," Mama promised. "Hurry, let's see
if you are able to do all that,
before I finish my quick little chat."

No problem thinks Rose, but then the doorbell rings, and the trouble begins. "Four muscley men" are at the door with party supplies. Rose politely tries to interrupt her Mama to ask what to do, but Mama is still on the phone "In a minute, " said Mama. "I'm just about through". So in come the muscley guys with tables and chairs and giant balloons and set up a party room. As soon as they're gone, the door bell goes again and a crowd of guests arrive:

"Wait there!" begged Rose. "My mom's on the phone!"
"Don't worry, "they said. "We'll be fine on our own."
"MAAAAAAAAMA!!!" Rose roared. "I need you right now!"
"I'm busy, " said Mama. "You'll manage somehow."
So Rose greets the guests, helps the waiters serve "tiny hot dogs/and cream-cheese swirls and big pretzel logs", becomes the magician's assistant, fills in for a missing drummer in the band and, with plenty of help from her new friends, gets the guests out, the place cleaned, and gets into bed:

It's hard to believe, but Rose did ALL that,
before Mama had finished her quick little chat.
Mama is pleasantly surprised to find little Rose asleep in her bed. "Good girl, Rose" she whispers.

This far-fetched, whacky story is extremely entertaining. The narrative rhyme and rhythm is top-notch, the story and language build together to a crescendo, and the little redheaded Rose rises courageously to every challenge. Children will laugh all the way through this one and will relate to little Rose's increasingly agitated attempts to get her mother's attention.

The watercolor illustrations are dramatic and unique. There's a strong Retro flavor to them, particularly to Mama who wears a high-necked, prim shirt, has pin like legs and feet, and talks on an old-fashioned black dial telephone. Some of the guests look like twenties flappers and the waiters are reminiscent of Edwardian footmen. The old-fashionedness makes the chaotic scene all the funnier. The party dancing scene with the jazz band is a spectacular double-paged illustration. Here's one detail from it, Rose drumming her heart out:

The party scenes are mostly double-paged spreads. In contrast, in the scenes where Rose is trying to get Mama's attention, the characters are illustrated separately in vignettes, Rose in the top half of the page and her Mama on the phone below. The vingettes are in pale blues and yellows, with the two characters flaming red hair and red slippers providing a visual spark, and emphasizing both the contrast and likeness between them. This repeating visual format also supports Rose's increasing frustration as she goes from politely trying to get her mothers' attention to screaming furiously.

A great read-aloud choice, this irreverent and witty tale will provide enjoyment for the whole family. And parents will have a chuckle (and think twice!) next time they say "just a minute".

Amy Reichert is a mom and a phone person who can do many things - "all while having a quick little chat!"

Alexandra Boiger studied graphic design and started her career in animation. This is her first children's book.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Big Week For Little Mouse by Eugenie Fernandes

Big Week For Little Mouse
by Eugenie Fernandes
Illustrated by Kim Fernandes
Ages: 2-5
Topics: birthdays, opposites, days of the week

Little Mouse has a week to get lots of work done. Each day, she helps Mother Mouse with a different chore. On Monday, she helps clean the house:
On Monday Mouse does many chores.
Washing windows. Mopping floors.
Buckets empty. Buckets full.
Shine and polish. Push and pull.
On Wednesday, she picks flowers, on Friday, she decorates hats, and on Sunday she hangs balloons and waits for her friends to arrive. When they finally arrive, all the hard work pays off as everyone has a great time at her party:
Oh, what a week!Oh, what a day!
All her friends have come to say,
"We like parties at your house..."
"Happy Birthday Little Mouse!"

The story is told in rhyming couplets and reinforces the days for the week and opposite concepts. Each day of the week has its own set of to-dos and demonstrates pairs of opposites, the hats being decorated are "plain" and "fancy", the flowers are "short" and "tall", and my favorite:
Jelly's messy. Cheese is neat.
Lemons are sour. Berries are sweet.

The days of the week and opposites are all in bold text and the text is very simple making it a good choice for beginning readers. While the narrative is awkward at times, children will enjoy identifying the opposites, the daily count down to the event, and guessing what the big event is. Parents will appreciate Little Mouse's positive attitude towards doing her part and helping with chores.

What makes this book outstanding is the artwork, which is "rendered in Fimo, a pliable modeling material." The care and detail here is amazing and will fascinate both children and adults. There are numerous textured layers of the clay and the clever indentations and use of buttony shapes creates a 3-D effect that really invites the reader into Little Mouse's world. The fur on all the animals looks almost real and children will want to touch the illustrations. The clay is particularly effective at creating a sense of moving liquid, the sloping pails of water, the jelly dripping off a cracker, the spatula in the bowl of frosting. There's hundreds of little details to spy -- the wizardy curtains, Little Mouse's grey teddy, the patches on her blanket, the spilling glue, the thread spool stool, the shiny peacock feather in her hat-- in this sweet teapot house world. This book will make you want to bring out the playdough and try out a few tricks.

Eugenie and Kim Fernandes are a mother and daughter team and have also collaborated on two other mouse books, Busy Little Mouse and Sleepy Little Mouse, and Little Toby and the Big Hair. Eugenie Fernandes is also an illustrator and has illustrated numerous children's books including Wake Up, Groundhog! by Susan Korman and Everything Grows by Raffi. Kim Fernandes is one of the foremost three-dimensional illustrators. She wrote and illustated Zebo and the Dirty Planet and illustrated A Visit from St. Nicholas (Story by Clement C. Moore "Twas the night before Christmas"). She has also written a book called Gifts to Make with Crayola Model Magic.

2nd Carnival of Children's Literature Announcement

Chicken Spaghetti is hosting the 2nd Carnival of Children's Literature. Posts on the topics of children's books, poems, and plays can be submitted (one per person) for this editor's choice carnival event. Due date for submission is March 3rd. For more details, go to Chicken Spaghetti.

If you missed the First Carnival, you can read submissions at the host's site, Here in the Bonny Glen.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Storm Is Coming! by Heather Tekavec

Storm Is Coming!
by Heather Tekavec
Illustrated by Margaret Spengler
Ages: 3-6
Topics: animals, farms, weather

The old farmer tells his dog "'Storm is coming! We'd better get the animals safely in the barn!'" Dog springs into action and rounds up the sheep barking that "'Storm is coming!'". The sheep head for the barn and warn Duck who, in turn, tells the herd of cows, who join in the stampede. Cat, who was napping in the barn, wakes up and asks what all the noise is about. "'Storm is coming!'" the animals tell the cat "'And who is Storm?'"the Cat meowed. The animals all look at each other and then decide Storm must be very big, mean, and scary. "'Wake me when he gets here'" says the Cat and goes back to sleep. The frightened animals wait for Storm to arrive but only see the sky turn dark, the wind blow, and the sky flash - all good things to keep Storm from finding them. Then suddenly, they hear a "thump, thump, thump" coming towards the barn ...but it's only the old farmer telling them its safe to come out.

This clever story makes a delightful read-aloud that preschoolers will love. There's lots of repetition, familiar animals, excitement and humor. Younger children will laugh at the sheeps' bleaty dialog "he must be-e-e very sca-a-ry" and older children will be amused by the animals misunderstanding of Storm. The suspense is strong enough to hold the attention without being scary and the Cat's kick-back attitude provides welcome relief after the other animals' panic. In addition to the educative value of describing the characteristics of a storm, there's also Dog's imaginative and optimistic take on how these characteristics are beneficial: the rain will cover their tracks, the lightening will blind Storm, the thunder will scare Storm away. These potentially scary things all become a protective cause for celebration.

Spenglers' pastel illustrations are bright and exciting and really move the story along. Each double-paged ilustration faultlessly supports the narrative, whether it depicts a big outdoor scene of all the animals rushing to the barn or close-ups of the animals nervous faces. Spengler has an uncanny ability to make her simple animal faces and eyes very expressive. Her animals are winsome and whacky -- hiding their eyes, celebrating wildly, scratching their heads -- rounded and soft.

Storm Is Coming! provides a great marriage of art and narrative that will entertain both children and adults. I also recommend What's That Awful Smell?, another story with the animals from Storm Is Coming! in which the misguided animals try to get rid of an awful smell in the barn.

Storm Is Coming! was Heather Tekavac's first published book. A former preschool teacher, Tekavac lives in British Columbia with her family. She has also written another story about the farm animals from Storm Is Coming! called What's That Awful Smell? .

Margaret Spengler has a B.F.A and has illustrated many children's picture books including Clickety Clack by Rob and Amy Spence (read my review) and the Dawdle Duck books by Toni Buzzeo.


USPS Favorite Children's Book Animals Stamps

The USPS has released some wonderful Favorite Children's Book Animals postage stamps. Characters include The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Wilbur (from Charlotte's Web), Fox in Socks, Maisy, Wild Thing, Curious George , Olivia, and Frederick (Lionni's). Want to buy some? You may want to order them online. I had to go to two post offices -- the first had sold out, and I got the last one from under the glass at the second!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Guji Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen

Guji Guji
by Chih-Yuan Chen
Ages 4-8
Topics: family, identity, adoption, being different

Mother Duck hatches four eggs and each baby has its own distinct personality. Guji Guji is rather odd-looking and much bigger and stronger than his siblings. But Mother Duck loves all her children the same " no matter how quick they were, or what they looked like". One day, three nasty crocodiles show up and make fun of Guji Guji for "walking like a duck". Guji Guji hears them and replies "'I am not walking like a duck, I am a duck.'" The crocodiles laugh and point out that he looks and smells just like them and that their shared qualities are perfect for catching and eating "fat, delicious ducks". The crocodiles then tell Guji Guji he must lead the ducks to the bridge the next day so they can eat them "because we are all crocodiles, and crocodiles help each other." After some soul-searching and careful thinking, Guji Guji comes up with a clever solution that takes care of his family.

This is a great story about family, loyalty, acceptance, and identity. Although the overriding topics are serious, there's plenty of humor and funny moments to keep a balance. Mother Duck doesn't notice the large egg that rolls into nest because "She was reading." The corresponding illustration shows a bespectacled Mother Duck, perched on an enormous egg, reading a book with a baby duck hatching on the cover. The illustrations that show Mother Duck teaching her children new skills are hilarious -- the duck family all have their noses in the air with self-satisfied expressions and the illustration that shows Guji Guji as bigger and stronger than his siblings shows him riding a bicycle and pulling a cart with the rest of the family effortlessly up a hill. The illustrations are ink and watercolored drawings in muted greens, browns, and greys with rich blue, orange, and red details. The backgrounds alternate between white, black, and grey creating a strong day and night background rhythm.

Guji Guji's dark moment is moving "'Is it true? Am I a bad crocodile too?'" but his humor quickly returns when he admits that he is neither a bad crocodile nor a duck. He goes on to save the day and continues to live with his adoptive family. An exceptional book for both children and adults - everyone should read this book. A great choice to read aloud and discuss differences with kindergarteners/1st Graders.

Chih-Yuan Chen is an award-winning author who lives and works in Taiwan. Guji Guji was inspired by the story of an adopted friend who grew up looking "different". Chen hopes his story will help children "learn to accept different people and things, and see the world with broader views and minds". Chen's other books include On My Way to Buy Eggs and The Best Christmas Ever.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Friday's ...Meme Day - A Children's Lit. Meme

There's a children's book meme out there asking your favorite 3 children's series, books, and characters. Go to Big A Little A and have your say!

Maisy Goes to the Library by Lucy Cousins

Maisy Goes to the Library
by Lucy Cousins
Ages 1-5
Topics: libraries, books, reading

Maisy goes to the library because she "loves to read a book in a nice, quiet place." Today, she's looking for a book on fish. While she's looking, she notices that "There are lots of other things to do at the library" like using the computer, listening to music, making "copies of your favorite picture", and looking at fish in the aquarium. Maisy finds a nice sparkly book about fish by the aquarium and sits down to read it when friends Cyril and Tallulah arrive and start goofing around. Then it's storytime -- the Ostrich reads 'There was an old who swallowed a fly' and soon everyone is laughing and making animal sounds. After storytime, the friends check out their books and go out to play. Maisy finds a nice quiet spot to read her book.

This simple book is a great introduction to the library for little ones. The library is a cheerful place for sharing books and participating in cool activities-- there's no dusty shelves or 'Silence' signs here. Cousins' illustrations are simple: thick black-lined drawings with a strong use of primary colors, including the backgrounds. Their brightness and clarity make them perfect for younger children. All the preschool animal friends are good-natured, well-behaved and having a wonderful time.

Lucy Cousins has written many, many Maisy books --all on simple subjects that are part of a young child's day-to-day life. I've never read one I didn't like! Some favorites include Maisy at the Fair, Maisy's Bedtime, Merry Christmas Maisy, Maisy's Easter Egg Hunt, Maisy's Seasons. Cousins is a mother of four and also wrote Hooray For Fish!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Bear In Sunshine by Stella Blackstone

Bear In Sunshine
by Stella Blackstone
Illustrated by Debbie Harter
Ages 1-4
Topics: weather, play, bears

Bear In Sunshine is one in a series of Bear books for very young children by Stella Blackstone and Debbie Harter. This simple book shows Bear having fun in different kinds of weather--playing in the water as the sun shines, singing and doing a Gene Kelly impersonation in the rain, flying his kite in windy weather, and building snows-bears in the snow. The narrative rhymes (two quatrains followed by an ending couplet make up the entire narrative), and each line has a double-page illustration. The story ends "Whatever the weather, come snow, rain or sun,/Bear always know how to have lots of fun!". The book then has a double-page illustration of the weather associated with the four seasons.

The cheerful, vibrant illustrations are stunning and a combination of "watercolor, pen and ink, and crayon on thick watercolor paper". Harter's playful cartoonish drawings deliver a strong sense of movement and manage to seem simple while providing lots of wonderful details. The bulky bear's fur is lovingly detailed (and his own bear even more so), there's literary and nighttime details on one page including the cow jumping over the moon, a white rabbit/march hare, sheep to be counted in the distance, and the dish and the spoon are there too, copying Bear. The details are then framed with simple curlicue clouds and childlike suns and moons. The double-page format allows Harter to provide a big sense of space for her bulky bear characters and each page includes plenty of animal friends. The illustrations will strongly convey a sense of delight and fun to very young children and there's plenty of humor to keep older children amused.

Other recommended books in the Bear series include Bear At Home--told in rhyming couplets, this book teaches the function of different rooms in Bear's house -- and Bear In a Square, which encourages the reader to find the shapes in the story. I've just discovered there's also Bear On A Bike, about travel, which looks great - stay tuned on this one!

Stella Blackstone has written many wonderful books for young children including the Bear series, the Cleo the Cat series, Island in the Sun and Zoe and her Zebra.

Debbie Harter has illustrated many children's book including the Bear series, Herb the Vegetarian Dragon, and many others. If you love the art here, follow her link to Barefoot Books and you'll also find you can purchase prints, cards, and wrapping paper with Harter's artwork.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle

Mister Seahorse
by Eric Carle
Ages 4-8
Topics: fish, fathers

It's time for Mrs Seahorse to lay her eggs. Mr. Seahorse offers his assistance and Mrs. Seahorse lays her eggs "into a pouch on Mr. Seahorse's belly". " 'I'll take good care of our eggs,' said Mr Seahorse, 'I promise.' " Mr. Seahorse then drifts along, passing by a number of disguised fish, and having conversations with other fish fathers who are tending their eggs in their own unique way including Mr Stickleback, Mr. Tilapia, Mr. Kurtus, Mr. Pipefish and Mr. Bullhead. As Mr. Seahorse meets each of the other fathers, he has an encouraging word for each of them. It's then time for Mr. Seahorse's babies to hatch and swim off to lead their own lives.

This unusual picture book has some wonderful features. First of all, it will teach children and adults fascinating (and amusing) facts about how these father fish guard and nurse their eggs and young. All the father fish have a unique way of carrying their eggs --Mr. Seahorse in his belly pouch, Mr. Tilapia in his mouth, Mr. Kurtus has the eggs stuck on his head! Mr. Seahorse's meetings with the father fish are alternated with camouflaged fish that are hidden behind an acetate sheet, painted with seaweed, reeds, coral, and even a rock, that you can flutter and look behind. This feature is great for both reading aloud and independent reading.

Children and parents will adore the signature collages of Eric Carle, which he creates by painting and patterning tissue paper to make the brilliant, colorful seahorses and fish. Carle uses a white background with wavy lines to create the ocean backdrop to the story, which provides a crispness and brightness to the seahorses and other fish.

A wonderful story about fatherly love and fish behavior, this latest book of beloved Eric Carle will fascinate children and parents.

Eric Carle is an award-winning author and illustrator. He authored The Very Hungry Caterpillar and illustrated Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Bailey Goes Camping by Kevin Henkes

Bailey Goes Camping
by Kevin Henkes
Ages 2-5
Topics: camping, siblings, home

Bruce and Betty are bunny scouts and are off on a camping trip. But younger brother Bailey has to stay home because “he’s too little to go”. Bruce and Betty tell him not to feel bad because camping is not “that great” and then proceed to list all the wonderful things they will be doing – eating hotdogs, living in a tent, swimming, fishing, roasting marshmallows. Bailey is upset and inconsolable until Mama explains that Bailey can do all those wonderful camping activities “right here at home.”

This gentle book makes a great bedtime story. The illustrations of the rabbit family are pencil and watercolor in soft pastel hues and appear in centered boxes with large amounts of white space around them. In half of the illustrations, bunny ears, feet, and toys extend beyond the box creating a subtle “stepping out of the picture and into your home” effect. The text is simple and repetitive –the list of camping festivities is repeated three times and makes up the greater part of the book –making this a good choice for younger children. The emotion is straightforward—Bailey looks completely dejected for the first half of the book, particularly as his older siblings dance in celebration as they list all the wonderful things they’ll be doing. He then looks tremendously happy and cute as he eats hotdogs, swims in the bath with sunglasses, and roasts marshmallows over the stove in his red-striped PJs.

Parents will enjoy the cozy family scenes – the bunny parents are clearly very engaged with their youngest child. On the last page, Bailey falls asleep “under the stars”, making this a sweet end to an active day.

Kevin Henkes is a Caldecott winning author and illustrator who has written many wonderful children's books including Kitten's First Full Moon (Caldecott winner 2005), Chrysanthemum, and Wemberly Worried.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming

Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!
by Candace Fleming
Illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Ages 3-6
Topics: gardening, rabbits, vegetables

For some time, Mr. McGreely has dreamed of "growing yummy vegetables, and of gobbling them all up." He decides that this spring is the time to plant "Lettuce! Carrots! Peas! Tomatoes!". He can't wait to eat them. Then, one night, three hungry bunnies find his garden and "Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!". Mr McGreely is angry to find his veggies nibbled, so he builds a "small wire fence" to keep the bunnies out. The cheerful bunnies "hurdle' the fence easily, so Mr. McGreely builds a tall wooden fence. The bunnies tunnel under the fence so he digs a moat, and eventually builds "a huge, enormous thing" - a grey-stoned tower - which eventually stops the bunnies. But, the bunnies hide out in his vegetable basket and... "Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!".

This story has great ingredients for both younger and older children. There's lots of repetition to anchor younger children - "when the sun went down and the moon came up" means the bunnies are coming, the increasing anger of Mr. McGreely (first he's angry, then really angry, then really, really angry) and extensive use of onomatopoeic words (words that sound like the thing they describe) : "muncha! muncha! muncha!" , "tippy-tippy-tippy", "scratch! scratch! scratch!" etc. It's also a cummulative story - first Mr. McGreely builds a wire fence, then a wooden fence around the wire fence, then a moat around the wooden fence, and then, of course, the bunnies have to swim, tunnel, and hurdle the various obstacles in their way. Older children will appreciate Mr. McGreely's increasing effort to protect his veggies and on-going optimism about his latest barricade, the funny rabbit names (the culprits go from bunnies, to "flop-ears", "puff-tails" , and finally "twitch-whiskers") and Mr. McG's "jiggly, wiggly victory dance".

The illustrations are scratchy and scribbly pencil drawings colored with paint, mostly muted greens, yellows, and greys. The drawings of Mr McGreely are reminiscent of the sketches of a 12 year old. There's a cheeky humor throughout the book --the three rabbits sneakily watching Mr. Mc G's daytime barricade activities, Mr. McGreely dreams of a carrot while the bunnies raid. There's also a lot of scale humor--Mr McGreely's giant mouth when he gets really, really angry, the size of the barricades compared to the veggie garden being protected, the giant moat being filled by a small garden hose.

Adults will also appreciated the pro-vegetable and gardening storyline. After all, the battle being fought here is over yummy vegetables!

Candace Fleming is a historian who has written a number of children's books including A Big Cheese For the Whitehouse, Ben Franklin's Almanac, and Gabriella's Song.

G. Brian Karas has illustrated over 50 children's books including Ten Little Mummies, Atlantic, and Sleepless Beauty.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Clickety Clack by Rob and Amy Spence

Clickety Clack
by Rob and Amy Spence
Illustrated by Margaret Spengler
Topics: trains, animals,

"A little black train goes down the track.
Clickety clack, clickety clack.
A red caboose is in the back
Of the little black train going down the track.
Clickety clack, clickety clack."

In this cumulative story, the little black train picks up an unlikely crowd of passengers including, "talking yaks", acrobats, "a troupe of ducks", and "two big packs" of stomping elephants! The passengers are having a great time, singing and dancing together on the increasing crowded and chaotic train, until two mischievous mice set off fireworks and give Driver Zach a "headache attack". If they don't "pipe down", Driver Zach warns, they'll "head right back." So the passengers all change their ways and put a smile "on the face of Driver Zach."

As you can tell from the quote above, this story has a great train-like pace which makes it a dynamite read-aloud story. The rowdy passengers are strongly reminiscent of a group of preschoolers and children will relate to the 'excitement followed by the need to calm things down' storyline. The vibrant painted illustrations with charcoal outlines create a rounded, slightly smudged world that also shines. Spengler uses a unifying rounded crescent shape throughout the book - the yaks horns, the acrobats hats, the elephants trunks and tusks, the ducks beaks, the sack - to support the up-and-down movement of the the train journey and the story's lively rhythm. There's a lot of humor in the quieting down scenes, the toddler ducks are looking right at the reader and shooshing, the mice hide out in a sack, and there's clear collaboration between all the passengers as they calm down. Although this seems like a train book, the focus here is strongly on the passengers and their interactions.

This was the first picture book for Amy and Rob Spence and also for illustrator Margaret Spengler. Spengler has gone on to illustrate a number of children's books including Dawdle Duckling and Ready or Not, Dawdle Duckling by Toni Buzzeo, and Storm Is Coming! and What's that Awful Smell? by Heather Tekavec.