Friday, March 11, 2011

Picture Book Roundup

I know I don't cover picture books enough, so I'm trying to change that. I'm aiming to read at least five picture books during lunch breaks. Yesterday I picked up a mix of 2011 picture books and several 2010 books; all were terrific reads and I highly recommend them all.

I Must Have Bobo

This is a charmer. Willy wakes up one morning, only to find that his beloved Bobo (a stuffed monkey) is missing. Willy's grey cat, Earl, loves Bobo too. Apparently, he's a wonderful chew toy. There's very little text; one sentence or two at the most on every page. I got a real kick of out the illustrations, especially when Earl is caught in the act of stealing Bobo. This is an adorable tribute to those special lovies cuddled by toddlers.

Painter and Ugly

I've long been a fan of Robert J. Blake, and wish that he would get recognition for his picture books. Perhaps 2012 will be the year? Blake returns to a familiar theme: sled dogs. Painter and Ugly are the best of friends and race on the same dog sled team. On one cruel day, they are sold to separate teams, presumably never to see each other again....until they catch each other's scent on the Junior Iditarod trail.

The illustrations are in Blake's familiar Impressionist-like style. The stark Alaska winter chills the pages, while Painter and Ugly have such soft and expressive personalities that you just want to reach out and pet them. The illustration of Painter and Ugly joyfully racing together is absolutely beautiful. The vocabulary and story line makes this a great choice for kindergarten and lower elementary school students; it would work well for a classroom read aloud or for a child that can sit still for a longer picture book. This is on my 2012 Caldecott shortlist.

Animal Crackers Fly the Coop

This is a very funny and clever book. However, I wonder if some of the humor is a bit too clever. In the end, some of the humor may go over young children's heads, but they'll enjoy the animals' antics, and might even want to commit the jokes to memory. Loosely based on The Bremen Town Musicians, Animal Crackers Fly the Coop is the story of a ragtag bunch of animals and their quest to build a comedy club.

The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah

The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah was widely praised when it was published last year; unfortunately, I either saw it too late or it was published too soon to Passover (meaning that by the time it reached our shelves, Passover 2010 was likely to be done) that I decided to wait on it until this year. Obviously, this is the story of The Little Red Hen, Jewish style. Little Red Hen is busily preparing for Passover, but her no-goodnik friends have no interest in helping her....until it's time to eat the Passover meal.

Now, I normally dislike Little Red Hen versions in which the hen relents and lets her lazy acquaintances eat the bread. It defeats the moral of the story. However, I'll make a distinction for this little mensch (as the Little Red Hen calls herself), for after Little Red scolds them for not helping her, and then asking to partake in the Seder:

Sheep, Horse, and Dog couldn't think of a thing to say. The Little Red Hen was right; they hadn't been very good friends. The three animals silently hung their heads in shame.

The Little Red Hen was quiet too. Now I should invite them to my Seder? she thought. Then she remembered the words written in the Passover Haggadah: Let all who are hungry come and eat.

Aww. How can you mind that?

(Spoiler alert: Her friends do the dishes at the end of the story!)

Very cute; Little Red is quite the character. Yiddish-isms are sprinkled throughout the story; if you're not familiar with them, they won't hamper your enjoyment of the story. There's also a short "About Passover" essay, a matzah recipe, and a glossary (for those Yiddish-isms). How cool is that!

Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night

Oooh, I can't wait until the National Poetry Month questions come in. This will definitely be at the top of my list! Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night was a 2011 Caldecott Honor Book, which it richly deserves. Joyce Sidman's poems salute nocturnal nature, from the great horned owl (the dark emperor), the oak tree tending to recovery and repair efforts, and the little porcupette (in my favorite poem, "I Am a Baby Porcupette"). Evocative and mesmerizing illustrations form duets with outstanding poetry, while factual tidbits about each poem's subject add to the experience (such as this accompanying "I Am a Baby Porcupette": "A baby porcupine-called a porcupette-spends the day hidden under a stone or log while its mother sleeps on a branch above. When evening falls, the mother comes down to greet her baby, and the two "sing" to each other while the porcupette nurses.")

There now. I bet you never imagined that you would think a porcupine could be the most adorable animal ever created. What a fantastic book!

In an upcoming post, I'll tell you about some great books that we just ordered for March.

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