Archive | June, 2014

Planet Kindergarten

30 Jun

18228483Planet Kindergarten written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt and illustrated by Shane Prigmore (2014)

The main character tells the story of his first day of kindergarten. It’s a strange and unusual place. He is prepared with his medical check-up and supplies. Then the day arrives, his father takes him in his rocket booster. The boy is afraid they might crash into a comet or get sucked into a black hole. When he arrives, he is assigned to his commander, capsule, and crew mates. There are many aliens from many different galaxies on Planet Kindergarten. Mission Control calls on the intercom welcoming them all on their journey. The boy notices that everyone has to get used to the new atmosphere where gravity works differently. At recess, he leaves the capsule with his crew mates to explore and test the situation. After a disagreement over the equipment he and another crew mate have to sit in isolation. Back in the capsule, they run experiments and write in their logs. At lunchtime, he learns that he loves space food! Afterwards, he has trouble with rest time and worries that he’s running out of oxygen. Then he remembers the NASA motto: Failure is not an option. He takes a deep breath and gets back to work. Before he knows it, his mission is complete and his parents rush to greet him. Back home on his own planet, it’s splashdown then time for bed. This time he’s ready and thinking about returning the next day.

Sue Ganz-Schmitt writes this story with imagination and just enough space jargon to keep little explorers involved and interested in the boy’s adventure in kindergarten.

Shane Prigmore’s illustrations are quirky and action packed. Readers will enjoy exploring each page for unusual details.

I think this book will be a great help in preparing little ones for kindergarten. Knowing ahead of time that the rules of gravity involve sitting in your seat and raising your hand or that time-out may be employed for misconduct on the playground, help astronauts-in-training understand what to expect in school. In a place where everything is new, readers will enjoy exploring each page.

I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!

26 Jun

18667815I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! written by Jill Esbaum and illustrated by Gus Gordon (2014)

Nadine is a cow who is not afraid of anything, at least not until her friends take her up on her brag. Starla and  Annette nudge her into the woods to prove her bravery. Nadine finds out that she isn’t afraid of the woods, as a matter of fact she kind of likes the baby birds, the blackberries, and the pinecones. Climbing the highest tree, Nadine bellows “I am cow, hear me mooooooo!” over the valley below. Pretty soon it starts getting dark. Starla and Annette are ready to go home, but Nadine is having too much fun. She leaves her friends behind to explore a cave. However, the cave is dark… and there’s a pile of bones in there! Nadine hurries out, only to find her friends have gone on without her. And now she is lost in the dark woods alone. When something tickles her rump (her tail), she is so frightened she shoots like a rocket through the brambles and bumps and gallops right off a cliff, landing in a creek below. And guess who’s there? Starla and Annette have been lost in the woods too. They think that Nadine has found them. Nadine knows she’s not a hero, but how can she tell her friends that she was lost and afraid too? So Nadine lets them believe that she has rescued them. Starla and Annette have a big hero’s party for Nadine with balloons and cake and huge sign they made themselves. They also tell everyone their story and sell tickets to nightly excursions in the woods with Nadine as their guide.

Jill Esbaum’s story is written in an easy to read rhyme. And the humor is naturally integrated in the rhymes. She make Nadine a character readers will love despite her flaws.

Gus Gordon’s illustrations are happy and silly. Nadine and her friends each have their own personalities. Another thing I enjoyed looking for on each spread, were the scraps of newsprint-type text scattered in the pictures.

I realize that Nadine suffered from false-pride, but I like her spunk! I like how she faces her fears, (sort of) and comes out better for it at the end. I think even young readers will see right away that what she was most afraid of in the woods was her own tail, and will enjoy the humor of Nadine’s misguided adventures. I wonder if she will ever admit to her fears, or if she will learn to overcome them by returning to the woods?

Going Places

23 Jun

17684972Going Places written and illustrated by Peter and Paul Reynolds (2014)

It’s time for the annual Going Places contest and Rafael was determined to win. Each student was given a kit to build a go-cart with instructions inside. But Rafael’s friend Maya was not one to follow directions like everyone else. Maya had her own ideas. And together Rafael and Maya build much more than a go-cart, they build a go-cart with wings! Despite a little teasing from the other kids who have all built the exact same replica of the go-cart on the box, Rafael and Maya take off and soon zoom over their friends’ heads, landing far in front of them and roll past the finish line in first place. The crowd cheers, but instead of waiting for their prize Rafael and Maya are already thinking of modifications to their go-cart to make a frog-jumping under-water swimming machine.

Peter and Paul Reynolds are twin brothers who credit their 10th grade social studies teacher who dared them to have original ideas. Together, like Rafael and Maya, they dared to be different and wrote a story about friendship and original thinking.

Paul Reynolds illustrated the book with precision to detail and with creativity, the perfect blend for the story.

I enjoyed reading the story and watching the transformation of thought from being identical to being unique. It makes me wonder how much the authors are identical and unique at the same time. But what I really liked about the story is the journey from the desire to win the race to the desire to be creative. I liked that the book did not end with prizes and ribbons, balloons and streamers, high-fives and fist-bumps. I like that it ended with the prospect of another project. The reward is actually the process and the dream. Way to go!

Freedom Summer

21 Jun

18950429Freedom Summer written by Deborah Wiles and illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue (2014)

Freedom Summer is a historical fictionalized story of two best friends, one white, one black, who experience the 1964 summer of freedom in Mississippi first hand. John Henry Waddell is the son of a housekeeper. Joe is his best friend and the narrator of the story. Joe waits on the fence rail for John Henry and his mama to step off the county bus and walk up the long hill to his house. Sometimes they help out by shelling butter beans or sweeping the front porch, but when John Henry’s mama has had enough of them she shoos them out to play. The boys spend the hot days playing marbles or swimming in Fiddler’s Creek. They swim in only their skin, and Joe compares their skin to the color of browned butter and the color of a pale moth that dances around the porch light. Both boys dream of becoming firemen when they grow up. But when Joe goes into Mr. Mason’s General Store to buy ice pops, John Henry doesn’t go in… he’s not allowed. Then one night over dinner, Joe hears that the town pool will open the next day to ‘everybody under the sun, no matter what color’. His mama tells him that’s the new law, ‘everybody together’ at lunch counters, rest rooms, drinking fountains, everywhere. Joe is so excited, he leaves the table and rushes to find John Henry to share the good news. The next day the boys hurry to the pool to be the first ones there. But what they find is more disturbing than anything they could have imagined. The pool had been emptied of water and was being filled with tar instead. They boys stare at the tar-filled pool and wonder why someone would want to do this. John Henry’s voice shakes as he says, “White folks don’t want colored folks in their pool.” Joe says he’s wrong, but in his heart he knows he’s right. Joe wants to be able to do everything with his best friend, John Henry. He wants to go to the Dairy Dip, the picture shows, and see the town through John Henry’s eyes. On their way home, the boys stop again at Mr. Mason’s store for ice pops. But this time, John Henry wants to pick one out for himself. So they ‘walk through the front door together’.

Deborah Wiles first wrote and published this story in 2001. The copy I read was published in 2014, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer of 1964. It is a powerful story written so that even young children can understand the gravity of the situation. The text is authentic to the time period and the emotions of the people living it are clearly understood.

Jerome Lagarrigue illustrated the story with honest realism. The colors are muted and the lines indistinct, giving the overall appearance of looking back through time and memories.

I absolutely love this story and highly recommend it. Because it is fiction, the reader can put him/herself in the story. These are events that did happen and might have happened to anyone living in the 1960’s. At the end of the story the boys go arm in arm into the general store. We don’t know if John Henry was allowed to buy his own ice pop or if the boys were turned away, but we are left with hope. The pool had been filled to keep from being integrated, but did the boys experience smaller acts of acceptance? The author and illustrator leave us with that possibility. It’s easy to believe that Joe and John Henry were able to go to more public places together that summer and that the innocence of friendship could lead to a stronger bond of brotherhood.

Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too

12 Jun

18554220Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney (2014)

Nelly loves Daddy Gnu. He can make a house out of an old cardboard box, some string, and some tape. They measure and draw, and tape and saw. But Nelly thinks it needs more. So off they go to the store. Nelly finds the perfect shade of blue and Daddy gets some brushes. And when Nelly drops her stuffed doll in the busy aisle, she gets separated from her Daddy… for just one scary minute. Daddy swoops her up and zooms her through the air. They pay for all their painting supplies, and go home to decorate her house. That night, Daddy Gnu cooks dinner and reads Nelly her favorite books, then they go to bed… inside her new cardboard box house.

Anna Dewdney, author of the acclaimed Llama Llama series, has done it again. This little story is the natural blend of rhyme and tenderness. Anna Dewdney speaks to the heart of a three to five year old. She tells the story of a father/daughter relationship that is simple and warm. And her illustrations bring the reader right inside Nelly’s little world.

A perfect anytime story. Nelly and her Daddy have a special bond. It’s a perfect compliment to Llama Llama’s relationship with his mother.  This is a book I would recommend for any preschooler, and the fact that it’s available now for Father’s Day is even better. Share a copy with your special Daddy’s girl or boy.

Granddad’s Fishing Buddy

10 Jun

1538575Granddad’s Fishing Buddy written by Mary Quigley and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch (2007)

Sara wakes up early and goes fishing with her granddad on the lake. She’s excited to meet his fishing buddy. Granddad seems to know all the fishermen on the lake. They greet each other quietly and continue fishing.  Sara starts to wonder who Granddad’s fishing buddy is since they don’t join any one of the fishermen they meet on the lake. Then Sara noticed ‘a shadow skimmed over the lake’. It was a beautiful heron who landed near the lily pads. The heron fished for his dinner and Granddad tells Sara to row toward the heron. They fish in the same area as the heron. When the heron moves to another part of the lake and catches more fish, Granddad tells Sara to follow him. Granddad, Sara, and the heron catch lots of fish that morning. When Sara and Graddad return to the pier, Sara asks when he will be going out with his fishing buddy again. Granddad winks and asks, “When are you coming back to the lake?”

Mary Quigley writes with the experience of a real fisherman. She tells the story quietly and with love. Her use of language transports the reader to the fishing boat on the lake. Even without the gorgeous illustrations, the reader can see ‘the sky was still blue-black and the stars shone like night-lights’ and feel ‘We pushed off the dock with a splash, sending ripples across the glassy lake. Steam lifted from the water like clouds.’ And if you’ve ever been fishing you’ll identify with this line,’Granddad reached into a bucket of dirt and pulled out a worm that coiled around as it swayed from his fingertips.’

Sephane Jorish paints the lake as if it’s a living thing. You can feel the water ripple and hear the splash of the paddle as it slices through the lake. But, more than that you can feel the love between a grandfather and his granddaughter. And that is the most precious emotion of the story.

I recommend this book whether you enjoy fishing or not. I’m sure you will identify with the quiet activity and the peaceful surroundings. And the loving relationship transcends the fishing experience.

Bluebird

6 Jun

15799165Bluebird illustrated by Bob Staake (2013)

A lonely boy goes through life being teased and bullied. The bluebird befriends him and just when the boy starts to feel happiness he encounters fear and sadness in the park. The bluebird, in an effort to distract the bullies, becomes injured – maybe even dying. The boy is overcome with guilt and heartbreak. Suddenly another bird appears, then another, and another. The redbird, and the yellow bird, and the green bird, and the other colored birds come and take the boy holding the bluebird into the sky. Above the city and above the clouds, the bluebird is rejuvenated and flies away in the heavens.

Bob Staake tells this story and more without a single word. His masterful artwork speaks to the reader with descriptive scenes, actions, and most importantly feelings. The colors you see on the front cover are the only colors in the whole book until the end when birds of different colors come to lift the boy and bluebird into the sky.

There is something about this book that tugs at your heart and soul. It begs to be read over and over. I can look at any spread and immediately be drawn into the story. I actually felt myself draw inward when the boy was being teased, and sigh with relief when he made friends with the children at the park, and tense when the bullies came out of the shadows, and rise when the birds carried the boy in the sky. In its quietude, it is a private story to be felt more than read, and Bob Staake was a genius not to let words interfere with the story.

I Know a Wee Piggy

6 Jun

13542527I Know a Wee Piggy written by Kim Norman and illustrated by Henry Cole (2012)

I know a wee piggy who got into a terrific mess. This little piggy appears to be headed to the fair all shiny and clean, but in the excitement of the moment he wallows in brown becoming muddy and dirty. And from there he wallows in red to go with the brown, and he wallows in white to go with the red, and he wallows in pink to go with the white… and so on until he has wallowed in all the colors of the rainbow. Finally he heads for the dunking booth where he’s going to wallow in blue. Surprisingly, the water in the dunking booth does not clean up this little piggy, but he does end up winning the 1st place blue ribbon in the art show!

This story is written in the style of ‘I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly’. Kim Norman uses the familiar rhythm of the traditional verse of a silly old woman, and tells us an even sillier story of a fun-loving piggy who wallows in color and wins first prize in the art show.

Henry Cole does a prize-winning job himself with the illustrations in this book. They start off simply with the wallowing in mud, after all that’s expected of a pig. But when this wee piggy starts wallowing in other colors as well, the hilarity mounts with each spread. Little ones will love investigating each new circumstance the piggy gets into, heck I did too!

This is a definite must-have addition to any picture book collection. It is particularly good for a collection of color-naming books for preschoolers. The text and illustrations are funny and heartwarming. Readers may not be able to ‘sit-still’ for a reading of the story, but they will certainly be rooting for the wee little piggy as he races through the crowds and tents of the county fair.

Cock-a-Doodle Oops!

3 Jun

18406841Cock-a-Doodle Oops! written by Lori Degman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke (2014)

Rooster has decided to go on beach vacation for a week and he leaves instructions with the rest of the farm animals to take over the responsibility of waking up Farmer McPeeper who is a very deep sleeper. Each day a different animal takes his or her turn at waking Farmer McPeeper. But cock-a-doodle-squeal and cock-a-doodle-baa and cock-a-doodle-moo and all the other cock-a-doodle-noises just don’t have the waking power needed to wake up sleepy Farmer McPeeper. To make matters worse, Rooster returns from the beach with a bad cold and can’t crow. Finally Cow comes up with a plan to wake Farmer McPeeper with a wake-up call on the phone. Farmer McPeeper wakes up to the weak call of his rooster. Sore and hungry and with a week-old beard, he rushes to the barn and decides that poor sick Rooster needs a week’s vacation to take care of his voice!

Lori Degman writes with perfect rhyme and meter! There’s no way you could read this book out of rhythm. And the humor is spot-on! Readers will love the images evoked by such phrases as when Farmer McPeeper was described as such a deep sleeper that ‘not even an earthquake could shake him’ or when the talented cow announces that he is a master, but his cock-a-doodle-MOOOOOO was ‘an udder disaster’!

Deborah Zemke’s caricatures of the farm animals are hilarious and will have readers entertained as they follow the trials and blunders of their attempts to wake up Farmer McPeeper.

I swear I look the same way Farmer McPeeper does when I wake up in the morning to a loud and obnoxious alarm clock, although I rarely feel like I’ve slept for a week… what luxury! There are lots of farm books on the market, and just when you think there couldn’t be another fresh take on an old subject along comes Cock-a-Doodle-Oops! Pick up your own copy soon, I know you’ll crow about it too!

Swim! Swim!

3 Jun

0-545-09419-4Swim! Swim! written and illustrated by Lerch aka James Proimos (2010)

Lerch is a lonely goldfish living in a tank. He tries unsuccessfully to make friends. The pebbles don’t talk to him and the underwater diver has nothing to say either. Lerch cries but is reassured that we can’t see tears underwater. Then he hears bubbles. He swims to the bubbles to make friends by talking in their language. But the bubbles pop as they reach the surface of the water and Lerch is afraid that he has killed them. Just when he is resigned that no one loves him, Lerch meets someone who seems to like him… a cat! He introduces himself, but the cat mistakes his name for Lunch. When Lerch realizes what might befall him next, he is surprised to meet Dinner… Dinah! Now Lerch has a friend. Lerch and Dinah swim together and hold fins in Dinah’s tank.

Lerch, also known as James Proimos, tells us his story through speech bubbles. It feels as if he is really talking to the reader. In turn, the reader feels his loneliness and sadness at not being loved. The twist of the cat who loves the fish Lunch and Dinner, is funny and touching. Once the reader realizes that Lerch will not become the cat’s lunch, he/she can breath a sigh of relief and share in Lerch’s happiness at finding a friend.

James Proimos does an excellent job of illustrating the small world of Lerch and Dinah. Every page takes place in (or just above) the fish tanks. There is no question that Lerch’s world is limited to his four walls, yet he still finds love and happiness.

Awwww! I love this little story. I love the play on words and the juxtaposition of cat and fish. It’s a concept even the youngest readers will appreciate. I can see this becoming a ‘read it again’ story in many homes and schools.

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