Thursday, March 30, 2006

My Monster Mama Loves Me So by Laura Leuck

My Monster Mama Loves Me So
by Laura Leuck
Illustrations by Mark Buehner
Ages 2-6
Topics: mothers, love, monsters

In this brief, bright tale a little monster tells readers how he knows his monster mama loves him:

When I wake up, she tweaks my nose,
tickles all my pointy toes,
combs the cobwebs from my bangs,
and makes sure that I brush my fangs.

Preschoolers will shriek with delight at the bug-filled cookies, the beastball games, and little monster's bedroom pets (spiders, bats, mice, snakes) that are all part of this loving monster-and-child relationship. There's plenty of mother-child activities they'll relate to including reading by the fire on a rainy day, going for a stroll in the park, and listening to Mama sing a lullaby to help them sleep. The three-eyed, three-legged, four-armed monsters (handy on the jungle gym) are really quite sweet-looking, so there's no need to worry about a younger child being scared. In fact, in this story, the regular kids are the "scary things" that "wave their arms and scream and shout"!

This rhyming story makes a perfect read-aloud choice for preschoolers — there's plenty of great moments for anticipatory pauses. The story is short, the language, simple, and the activities, familiar, making this a good choice for very young children. The story ends with the monster being lulled to sleep, so choose this one as a goodnight story.

The painted illustrations are bright and witty and make the most of the monsters differences, while providing familiar details. For example, the illustration of the mama monster combing her son's hair really emphasizes the monster's extra limbs (he's sitting on a 4 legged stool), but also has a familiar spray bottle, comb, and brush. Older children will enjoy pointing out the details: lots of spiders hanging here and there, the spider fabric on the rocking chair, the one-eyed dog, the skulls on the headboard.

And, of course, monster mamas everywhere will enjoy the appreciative nature of this tale.

Laura Leuck has written many children's picture books with similar themes including My Beastly Brother, Jeepers Creepers: A Monstrous ABC, and My Creature Teacher.

Mark Buehner has illustrated many wonderful picture books including Snowmen at Night, It's a Spoon, Not a Shovel, and Superdog: The Heart of the Hero, all written by his wife, Caralyn Buehner.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson

The Snail and the Whale
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Ages: 4-8
Topics: snails, whales, adventure, big/small

A sea snail who lives on a small rock near a harbor has an "itchy foot". She slithers a message "Ride wanted around the world" on the black rock and her message is answered by:
A humpback whale, immensely long,
Who sang to the snail a wonderful song
Of shimmering ice and coral caves
And shooting stars and enormous waves.

So the snail climbs onto the whale's tail and off they journey . They see penguins and icebergs, volcanoes, underwater caves, and experience sunny climes and huge thunder storms. The snail "gazed and gazed, amazed by it all,/And she said to the whale, "I feel so small .

Then one day, the whale loses his way and is "beached in a bay". The tiny snail must get help for her mighty friend. She slithers a note on a school blackboard to raise the alarm and saves her friend.

This charming and poetic tale of the value of even the smallest creatures will delight children, as will the beautiful and amusing illustrations. There's lots of humor to keep adults entertained (the strict teacher turns "pale" when she finds a snail on her blackboard, the irritation of the other snails on the rock with itchy foot's constant movement) and also an effective environmental message (the whale loses his way because he is overwhelmed by the noise of a speedboat race.) The poetry is lilting and varied and never awkward.

The illustrations are bright and vibrant. All but four pages are ocean scenes and Scheffler does a terrific job creating very varied ocean scenes in pencil, crayon, and ink with beautiful watercolor skies. The facial expressions on the snails and other animals will make you laugh and there's lots of tiny details to make this a book you'll come back to again and again.

Julia Donaldson is the author of several excellent children's picture books including Room on the Broom and The Gruffalo.

Axel Scheffler has illustrated many children's books and also illustrated Donaldson's Room on the Broom and The Gruffalo

Monday, March 20, 2006

Fly, Little Bird by Tina Burke

Fly, Little Bird
by Tina Burke
Ages: 2-5
Topics: birds, nature, friends

In this almost wordless book, a little girl and her dog are out picking flowers when they find a brightly colored little bird hiding in a flower bush. "Fly, little bird" the girl says, but the little bird doesn't know how to fly. So she puts the bird into her flower basket and takes him home. She makes the bird a little bed of leaves in her room, gives him food and a bedtime story. The three friends engage in all sorts of fun activities - painting, camping, and pretending to be rockstars. And the bird grows and learns to fly.

One morning the little girl wakes up to find the bird gone. She charges outside with a butterfly net, dog bounding behind her. She looks all over for the bird until she hears his song: he's found birds like himself to fly and play with in the trees. The girl sees how happy he is. "Fly, little bird." she says.

This sweet story about friendship is told (almost) exclusively by the cheerful, bright, pencil and watercolor illustrations. The characters are round and bounding, and strongly communicate a sense of childhood excitement and wonder. Their expressions are exquisite and easy to read (the dog is especially wonderful). Burke uses the bird's color to firmly place him in nature with the green leaves and red flowers, foreshadowing the story's end. There's lots of white space in the book giving it a clean crisp feel. The illustrations' format is pleasantly varied to include full page scenes and close-ups, vingettes (which are mostly used to show the indoor scenes), and double-page spreads that show bounding movement.

A wonderful story to teach younger children about loving and letting go, and the difference between domestic and wild animals.

Tina Burke worked for Walt Disney Animation for six years. This is her first picture book.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Food for Thought by Saxton Freymann

Food For Thought
by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers
Ages 2+
Topics: basic concepts, fruit, vegetables

Food for Thought is a uniquely illustrated preschool concept book. It covers shapes, colors, numbers, letters, and opposites in a highly entertaining way. Freymann illustrates his books with glossy color photographs of highly imaginative sculptured animals and people made entirely from vegetables and fruits. His great talent is creating recognizably human expressions on oranges, peppers, radishes, bok choy, strawberries, and mushrooms and creating understandable interactions between the characters.

All of Freymann's creations are magical and young children will have tons of fun learning their colors, letters, numbers and counting with this book. Here are some of my favorites illustrations to whet your appetite: Number 2 is illustrated with two chicks (a yellow squash and a red pear) hatching out of their shells (white onions); Seven fish are bok choy and other vegetable fish floating in the ocean;"O" is for Owl (made from two artichokes);"Q" is for Queen whose body and gown is made from bok choy, her head and headress is a leek.

The most entertaining part of the book is the opposites section, particularly the mushroom people who gleefully illustrate up-and-down on a seesaw, and the mushroom snowman roasting a marshmallow over a fire of mango to illustrate hot and cold.

This book is really amazing and would make the perfect gift for any young child.

Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers have collaborated on several children's books with their signature food sculptures including How Are You Peeling?, Dr Pompo's Nose, and The Lonely Seahorse.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Secret Seahorse by Stella Blackstone

Secret Seahorse
by Stella Blackstone
Illustrated by Clare Beaton
Ages: 3-6
Topics: seahorses, ocean creatures

In this simple tale, an unseen narrator sees a "secret seahorse deep down in the sea." She tries to swim along with the seahorse as he swims past coral reefs and "flickering fishes", but he is too fast and disappears from sight. The narrator asks the octopuses "where he might have gone", passes by a mermaid and an ancient shipwreck. Finally, she finds herself outside the seahorse's secret cave and is welcomed in.

This sweet poem's regular rhythm and meter make this book a great choice read-aloud choice for preschoolers. The narrative lulls along like lapping waves, even the text is presented in gently waved format. Each line of this undersea journey has its own delightful and unique double-page illustration. The artwork here is truly impressive as the illustrations are "prepared in antique fabrics and felt with sequins, buttons, beads and assorted bric-a-brac." The illustrations are layered felt with neat blanket stitch edges, buttons and sequins become fish eyes and scales, and there are wonderful jelly fish made from lace and brocade. Beaton uses flower fabric and basic stitchery to great effect. The clever, old-fashioned artwork will delight both adults and children.

There's also a hide-and-seek game in this book - can you find the hidden secret seahorse in each spread?

The book ends with educational information on coral reefs and "seahorse secrets", and names and provides a brief description of each illustrated creature. A beautiful book.

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. Read my review of Blackstone's Bear in Sunshine.

Clare Beaton illustrated children's programs for the BBC for eight years and now has illustrated over 50 children's books.

Blackstone and Beaton have collaborated on several other books including I Dreamt I Was a Dinosaur, Who Are you, Baby Kangaroo? and There's a Cow in the Cabbage Patch.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Carnival of Children's Literature, No. 2: A Coney Island Adventure!

Not to be missed: The Carnival of Children't Literature, No 2: A Coney Island Adventure! hosted by Susan at Chicken Spaghetti.

Come one, come all and read all about it!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Nacho and Lolita by Pam Munoz Ryan

Nacho and Lolita
by Pam Munoz Ryan
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Ages: 5-10
Topics: birds, migration, love, transformation

A mysterious pitacoche bird named Nacho lands in a mesquite tree in the arid San Juan Valley.
" Rare and majestic, he heralded the sunset with whistling songs and carried the colors of the world in his feathers."

Nacho surveys the land around the Mission San Juan Capistrano, where all seems drab and colorless "except for Nacho". Nacho draws crowds of people as he sings and spreads his beautiful colored wings, which pleases him , "But what good was it when he had no other bird with whom to share his joy?"

As Nacho watches the busy people prepare for the March feast of St. Joseph, he hears about the swallows who migrate to the Mission, arriving on the day of the feast. Nacho is intrigued and spends the morning watching the swallows arrive. He particularly notices a little bird name Lolita, who makes her nest in the chapel belfry. Nacho sings to the swallows, helps them build their nests, and feed and protect their young, "especially Lolita's". He even gives Lolita one of his feathers, which magically changes into a blue hibiscus. The two are always together until "a September gust brought a message with the wind", it's time for the swallows to migrate to South America for the winter. Lolita wants Nacho to go with them but he is too big to fly that far. Lolita must leave or die ,
"Go," he told Lolita. "We will meet in our dreams."

Nacho's heart aches. He must find a way to attract the swallows back to the Mission next summer. So he plucks his feathers and plants them all around the mission which swells with beautiful flowers, creeks, and orange trees. His plan succeeds and Lolita returns to him.
"I no longer have my beautiful colors," he said,
"To me, you will always be splendid," she said.

This magical book overflows with beautiful poetry and tender moments. Nacho is a wonderful protagonist; vain, but steely honest in his self-appraisal, his loneliness, his longing for family. Rueda's highly-textured pencil illustrations capture Nacho's "regal" stature, while his face shows his underlying loneliness, vulnerability, and desire to help others. The transformation of the Mission from barren to heavenly is beautifully done.

This folktale provides a unique and very memorable way to introduce the concept of bird migration! So much more than that, the story, characters, and art will make this heartfelt book a treasure you will want to return to again and again. Don't miss the author's note at the back that talks about the folktale and myths that formed the book and much more.

Pam Munoz Ryan lives forty minutes from Mission San Juan Capistrano and is an award-winning author of more than twenty-five children's books including Mice and Beans, When Marian Sang and Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride.

Claudia Rueda grew up in Columbia and now migrates between California and Columbia with her family. She has illustrated several children's books including I Know an Old Woman and The Eency Weency Spider