One-Minute Book Reviews

November 7, 2009

Pat the Picasso – The ‘Touch the Art’ Board Books for Young Children

I haven’t written about board books for a while, in part because the good ones seem to be getting rarer: More and more, these books for babies and toddlers rip-off bestsellers for older children instead of doing what they alone can do. But in today’s Wall Street Journal Megan Cox Gurdon writes about a series that suggests the unique potential of the medium: Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo’s “Touch the Art” line, which began with Brush Mona Lisa’s Hair. “Each book features well-known images adorned with appealing, touchable gimmicks,” Gurdon writes. The latest is Catch Picasso’s Rooster (Sterling, 21 pp., $12.95), which invites children to stroke things such as a red-feather comb and the cat in Henri Rousseau’s The Tabby. You can read Gurdon’s review here. The publisher’s site has more on other books in the series, including Count Monet’s Lilies.

June 13, 2009

Lisa Brown’s ‘How to Be’ — Fun With Animals for Very Young Children

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A witty picture book shows children how to imitate a bear, monkey, turtle, snake, spider, and dog

How to Be. By Lisa Brown. HarperCollins, 32 pp., $16.89. Ages 6 months and up.

By Janice Harayda

Is there a toddler or preschooler who doesn’t love to make animal sounds? San Francisco artist Lisa Brown urges very young children to take their copycat instincts a step further in this witty picture book about a brother and sister who imitate the behavior of six animals — a bear, monkey, turtle, snake, spider, and dog.

Each spread gives simple directions for acting like one of those creatures, illustrated by amusing line drawings that show how the siblings interpret the instructions. And I defy you to keep a straight face when you see how the two respond to last command on the “How to Be a Dog” pages: “Lick someone.” Oh, are parents and grandparents going to have fun watching children follow the instructions in this book! You might have almost as much fun as they’re going to have licking your elbow.

Best line/picture: Apart from the picture of the brother trying to lick his sister? A command on the “How to Be a Monkey” pages: “Eat with your toes.”

Worst line/picture: None unless you’re so heartless that you believe that children should never – not even once – be allowed to eat with their toes.

Recommendation? A good gift for ages newborn to 2 or 3. How to Be might especially appeal to children who like the imitative aspects of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. And it has an intergenerational appeal, because it will allow children to show off for their grandparents their impressive ability to slither on their bellies like a snake.

Furthermore: The bold line drawings and minimalist color palette give this book an unusually fresh look. How to Be would fit in well at Museum of Modern Art gift shop. Yet it’s not one of those pretentious books that please adults more than children. Both groups are likely to enjoy it.

Published: May 2006

This is a repost of a review that appeared on this site on June 30, 2007.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

July 18, 2008

‘Owl Babies’ — A Picture Book That Sets the Stage for Bedtime

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Two words for parents looking for a bedtime story for very young children: Owl Babies (Candlewick, 32 pp., $5.99, paperback, ages 1–3). In this popular picture book, Martin Waddell tells a lackluster story about the separation anxiety that strikes three fluffy white owlets that are left alone one night when their mother flies off to hunt for food. But Patrick Benson illustrates the tale with captivating ink-and-watercolor pictures that help to make up for the weaknesses of a text that is at times cutesy and overelaborated. Benson also sets the white owls against a very dark background that, more strongly than most picture books, immerses you in a nighttime world and sets the stage for bedtime.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

February 23, 2008

Ezra Jack Keats’s Trailblazing Picture Book for Ages 5 and Under, ‘The Snowy Day’

A Caldecott medalist often called “the book that broke the color barrier” in mainstream children’s publishing

Winter still has enough muscle here in New Jersey that the library was closed for snow yesterday. So I couldn’t put my hands on a trailblazing book about the kind of weather we’re having now, Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day (Puffin, 40 pp., $6.99, paperback, and other editions). And because I haven’t read it, I’ll have to quote an excellent reference book and hope that teachers, librarians or others will jump in with comments.

“Keats illustrated nearly a dozen books before writing his first, The Snowy Day, which won the 1963 Caldecott Medal,” former children’s librarian Mary Mehlman Burns writes in The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), edited by Anita Silvey. “A celebration of color, texture, design, and childhood wonder, The Snowy Day is significant in that it was one of the first picture books in which a minority child is seen as Everychild. Years before, Keats had come across photos of a young boy, and he recalled that ‘his expressive face, his body attitudes, the way he wore his clothes, totally captivated me.’ The boy was to become Peter, who, in his red snowsuit, discovers the joys of dragging sticks and making tracks in the snow. After its publication, Keats found out that the photos had come from a 1940 Life magazine – he had retained the images for over 20 years.

“With solid and patterned paper as wedges of color, Keats www.ezra-jack-keats.org used collage to create endearing characters and energetic cityscapes, not only in The Snowy Day (1962) but also in Whistle for Willie (1964) and Peter’s Chair (1964).”

A generation of readers – black and white – is grateful to The Snowy Day, sometimes called “the book that broke the color barrier” in picture books from mainstream publishers. One of the latest editions is a DVD-and-book gift set that Viking published in September and includes Whistle for Willie.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
http://www.janiceharayda.com

December 15, 2007

Good Gift Books for Children and Teenagers — What to Wrap Up for Everyone From Babies and Toddlers Through College-Bound High School Students

Season’s readings for ages 1-to-16 and up

Source: http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

New books don’t always make the best gifts for children and teenagers. These suggestions include 2007 books and classics that young readers have enjoyed for years or generations

By Janice Harayda

Ages 1–2
Nobody does board books better than Helen Oxenbury, who has twice won the Kate Greenaway Medal, Britain’s equivalent of the Caldecott. Oxenbury’s great gift is her ability to create faces that are simple yet expressive and never dull or cloying, which is just what young children need. You see her skill clearly in her engaging series of board books about babies at play, which includes Clap Hands, All Fall Down, Say Goodnight and Tickle, Tickle. (Simon & Schuster, about $6.99 each) www.simonsayskids.com. Any infant or toddler would be lucky to have one of these as a first book.

Ages 3–5
Children’s poet Jack Prelutsky pays homage to Lewis Carroll’s “The Crocodile” in Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant: And Other Poems (HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 32 pp., $16.99, 3 and up) www.jackprelutsky.com, a collection of brief rhyming poems about imaginary animals. But this picture book stands on its own with amusing poems about fanciful creatures such as an “umbrellaphant” (an elephant with an umbrella for a trunk) and sparkling illustrations by Carin Berger.

Ages 6–8
Elizabeth Matthews makes a stylish debut in Different Like Coco (Candlewick, 40 pp., $16.99, ages 6–8) www.candlewick.com, a witty and spirited picture-book biography of Coco Chanel. Matthews focuses on the early years of the designer who learned to sew at a convent school, then revolutionized 20th century fashion with clothes that reflected and fostered the emancipation of women. The result makes clear that Chanel owed her success not just to hard work but to boldness and staying true to herself and her artistic vision.

Ages 9–12
Brian Selznick has had one of the year’s biggest hits for tweens of both sexes in The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures (Scholastic, 533 pp., $22.99) www.scholastic.com, a cross between a picture book and a chapter book. Selznick’s novel involves a 12-year-old orphan and thief who lives in a Paris train station and, in the days of silent movies, tries to complete work on a mechanical man started by his father. The beautiful packaging of this book helps to offset the so-so writing and unresolved moral issues it raises (including that Hugo rationalizes his thievery and mostly gets away with it) www.theinventionofhugocabret.com.

Ages 13-15
Three-time Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner says in The Art of Reading (Dutton, $19.99) that as teenager he was captivated by Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (Roc, $7.99, paperback) us.penguingroup.com. And that modern classic might still delight a teenager who likes science fiction (with or without a companion gift of the Stanley Kubrick’s great movie version). Or consider Mindy Schneider’s Not a Happy Camper (Grove, $24) www.not-a-happy-camper.com, an adult book being cross-marketed to teens. Schneider remembers her eight weeks at an off-the-wall kosher summer camp at the age of 13 in this light and lively memoir. (Sample experience: A bunkhouse burned down when a group of boys put candles under their beds to see if they could warm them up by nightfall.) This book is about wanting to fit in and never quite achieving it — in others, about the essence of being a teenager.

Ages 16 and up
Finally, a book for the college-bound, especially for the sort of high school student who might like to join a sorority or other all-female group: Marjorie Hart’s charming Summer at Tiffany (Morrow, $14.94) www.harpercollins.com, a book for adults that many teenagers might also enjoy. In this warm and upbeat memoir, Hart looks back on the summer of 1945, when she and a sorority sister at the University of Iowa became the first female pages at Tiffany’s, the Fifth Avenue jewelry store. They arrived just in time to watch the city erupt with joy when the Japanese surrender ended World War II and to have a much larger experience than they had expected. Hart’s account of all of it has none of the cynicism that infects so many books for teenagers, and that’s partly what makes it so refreshing.

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. You can read others by clicking on the “Children’s Books” and “Young Adult” categories under the “Top Posts” list at right.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

 

October 26, 2007

Steve Martin and Roz Chast Make Fun of Religious, Cultural and Physical Differences in a New Alphabet Book for Preschoolers — Is Your Two-Year-Old Ready for Ethnic Humor?

Maybe they should have called it “S” Is for Sucker

The Alphabet From A to Y: With Bonus Letter Z! Words by Steve Martin. Pictures by Roz Chast. Doubleday/Flying Dolphin, 64 pp., $17.95. Suggested ages: “Young Children” (Doubleday), “Baby/Preschool” (Powell’s), 9-to-12 (Amazon).

By Janice Harayda

Hey, kids! You’re never too young to laugh at people who are different from you! And if you’re an adult who wants to help, Steve Martin and Roz Chast are there for you! They use rhyming couplets to show 2-to-4-year-olds – the usual audience for alphabet books — just how easy it is to make fun of religious, cultural and physical differences!

Looking for the perfect Hannukah gift for a toddler? How about a book that explains the letter “K” by showing an ape-like woman (“King Kong’s aunt Frances”) saying, “Kids! Kome Back! Have Some Kosher Kasha!” Or need something to wrap up for Diwali? Why not a book that shows a funny-looking guy in a turban staring at a woman “indecent in her undies”? Those 2-year-olds have to learn about perverts sometime! And what could be better for kids celebrating the Day of the Dead than a book that introduces the letter “I” with a poster of “The Incans”? (Will those kids ever be surprised to learn that the plural of “Inca” is “Incans” and not “Inca” or “Incas”!) Martin and Chast even show how simple it can be to make fun of disabilities! And nuns! The “H” page says: “Henrietta the hare wore a habit in heaven, / Her hairdo hid hunchbacks: one hundred and seven.” And Martin and Chast aren’t talking about Quasimodo but people who look just like your Uncle Ed except with disabilities! Yes, they could easily have said “halfbacks” instead of “hunchbacks”! But they must have decided that people with disabilities are funnier than athletes!

Sure, you might see all of this as tasteless — not to mention, a little mature for kids who may be poring over Once Upon a Potty. So why didn’t the people at Doubleday pitch this book to the group who would enjoy it most, the adult fans of Chast’s New Yorker cartoons? Could it be that they figured out that they could make more money by selling it as a children’s book? Maybe they should have called it “S” Is for Sucker.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 30, 2007

Fun for Toddlers and Preschoolers Who Like to Make Animal Sounds: Lisa Brown’s ‘How to Be’

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A witty picture book shows children how to imitate a bear, monkey, turtle, snake, spider, and dog

How to Be. By Lisa Brown. HarperCollins, 32 pp., $16.89. Ages 2–4.

By Janice Harayda

Is there a toddler or preschooler who doesn’t love to make animal sounds? San Francisco artist Lisa Brown urges 2-to-4-year-olds to take their copycat instincts a step further in this witty picture book about a brother and sister who imitate the behavior of six animals — a bear, monkey, turtle, snake, spider, and dog.

Each spread gives simple directions for acting like one of those creatures, illustrated by amusing line drawings that show how the siblings interpret the instructions. And I defy you to keep a straight face when you see how the two respond to last command on the “How to Be a Dog” pages: “Lick someone.” Oh, are parents and grandparents going to have fun watching children follow the instructions in this book! You might have almost as much fun as they’re going to have licking your elbow.

Best line/picture: Apart from the picture of the brother trying to lick his sister? A command on the “How to Be a Monkey” pages: “Eat with your toes.”

Worst line/picture: None unless you’re so heartless that you believe that children should never – not even once – be allowed to eat with their toes.

Recommendation? A good gift for 2- and 3-year olds. It might especially appeal to children who like the imitative aspects of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. And it has an intergenerational appeal, because it will allow children to show off for their grandparents their impressive ability to slither on their bellies like a snake.

Furthermore: The bold line drawings and minimalist color palette give this book an unusually fresh look. How to Be would fit in well at Museum of Modern Art gift shop. Yet it’s not one of those pretentious books that please adults more than children. Both groups are likely to enjoy it.

Published: May 2006

Links: You can see a spread from this book by going to the HarperCollins children’s site www.harpercollinschildrens.com, searching for How to Be, and clicking on “Look Inside.” Amazon.com hasn’t enabled the “Search Inside the Book” tool (which lets you look inside other books) for this one.

A new review of a book for children or teenagers appears every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. You can read earlier reviews by clicking on “Children’s Books” in the “Categories” column at right.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 8, 2007

Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read #2: ‘Madeline’

In an old house in Paris
that was covered with vines
lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.

— The opening lines of Madeline

Madeline. Story and Pictures by Ludwig Bemelmans. Viking, 48 pp., $7.99, paperback. Also available in other editions. Ages 2 & up.

By Janice Harayda

One of the most delightful characters in children’s literature was born, figuratively speaking, in a saloon. Ludwig Bemelmans (1898–1962) may have gotten the idea for Madeline after a bicycle accident sent him to a French hospital, where a girl in the next room had just had her appendix out. But he wrote the first lines of his most famous book on the back of a menu at Pete’s Tavern in New York: “In an old house in Paris / that was covered with vines …”

Those words set the tone for this brief narrative poem that uses rhyming couplets and a loose anapestic meter to tell the story a fearless girl who attends a convent school near the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and other French landmarks. Madeline is the smallest and bravest of the girls in the care of a nun called Miss (not Sister) Clavel: “To the tiger in the zoo / Madeline just said, ‘Pooh-pooh.’” She makes such a fine adventure of having her appendix out – the central drama of the book – that by the last page her schoolmates are clamoring to have surgery, too.

Madeline was published in 1939 and is one the few picture books of its day that has never fallen from favor. But it has more going for it than nostalgia or its intergenerational appeal. The amusing line drawings are simple yet dynamic. Bemelmans suggests an entire world through his images of 12 girls who are always identically dressed, whether they wear broad-brimmed hats while visiting the Eiffel Tower or muffs while ice-skating near Montmartre. Like Helen Oxenbury’s pictures for We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, his illustrations alternate between color and black- and-white (plus a sunny yellow in Madeline). This technique helps to quicken the pace, so that the 48 pages of text hold the attention of preschoolers used to shorter books. And there’s another reason why Madeline and its five sequels work so well, astutely suggested by Anna Quindlen in her introduction to Mad About Madeline: The Complete Tales (Viking, $35), which contains all the books in the series:

“For those of us who believe that children feel secure with structure, part of the enduring charm of the books must surely be that Madeline’s confidence and fearlessness are set within a backdrop of utter safety,” Quindlen writes. Miss Clavel is “concerned but competent.” If Madeline’s life is regimented, it has an order and predictability that many children long for at a time when the family dinner is becoming a cultural artifact. Madeline and her schoolmates all eat their meals, brush their teeth, and go to bed at the same time. A caged tiger may bare its teeth at the zoo. But as Quindlen rightly notes, “life is safe” in that “old house in Paris / that was covered with vines.”

Best line: The first three, quoted at the top of this review.

Worst line: None. But some parents may prefer to skip two lines on the last page: “Good night, little girls! Thank the Lord you are well!”

Published: 1939 (first Simon & Schuster edition), 2000 (Viking paperback reprint).

Furthermore: A naturalized American citizen, Bemelmans was born in the Austrian Tyrol and moved to the U.S. as a teenager. Madeline www.madeline.com was a Caldecott Honor book, and its first sequel, Madeline’s Rescue, won the Caldecott Medal. More often associated with O. Henry than with Bemelmans, Pete’s Tavern still serves meals at the corner of 18th Street and Irving Place in Manhattan.

You may also want to read: Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read #1, Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág, reviewed on this site on Jan. 5, 2007 https://oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/01/05.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 5, 2007

Good Picture Books About Noah’s Ark

“High and long, / Thick and strong, / Wide and stark, / Was the ark.”
From Peter Spier’s Caldecott Medal–winning Noah’s Ark

By Janice Harayda

No Bible story has fared better at the hands of picture-book illustrators than that of Noah’s Ark. Preschoolers love stories about animals, so picture books and the Flood are a natural fit. And there are so many outstanding versions of the story in Chapters 6–9 of Genesis that many bookstores and libraries have several or more.

The best book for toddlers and younger preschoolers is Noah’s Ark (Dell, 48 pp., $7.99, ages 2–6), illustrated by the Dutch-born American artist Peter Spier, who won the 1978 Caldecott Medal for it. Noah’s Ark begins with a translation of a Dutch poem about the Flood that has singsong rhymes simple enough for 3-year-olds: “Dog and cat, / Mouse and rat, / Fly and vole, /Worm and mole … In they came, / Pair by pair, / Gross and fair.”

From then on, Spier uses only pictures – his signature black line drawings washed with color – to tell the story of the Ark from the gathering of the animals through the appearance of the rainbow symbolizing God’s promise never to send another flood like the one Noah survived. And Spier’s vibrant and sympathetic illustrations suggest both the gravity of the situation and the potential for humor in crowding so many species onto a wooden boat. Within the larger story of the Flood, his drawings tell hundreds of smaller stories of the endless tasks faced by Noah and his family, such as milking cows and gathering eggs from hens. Noah’s Ark has stayed in print for decades partly because you see something new each time you return to it.

An excellent book for older preschoolers and young school-age children is Arthur Geisert‘s The Ark (Houghton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine, 48 pp., $7.99, ages 4–8). Geisert tells Noah’s story through a spare, interpretive text and black-and-white etchings that include wonderfully detailed cross sections. The pictures in his book may fascinate even children who shun traditional Bible stories, because they show how ships of any kind might transport animals. Larger creatures like bears and elephants take up the lower decks while flamingoes strut and peacocks spread their tails on the upper ones.

Jerry Pinkney won a 2003 Caldecott Honor citation for his Noah’s Ark (North-South/SeaStar, 40 pp., $16.99. ages 4–8). It tells the story of the Flood in modern words arranged on the page like stanzas of free verse: “The zebras munched their hay. / The geese gobbled up the grain. / The monkeys nibbled on sweet grapes / and climbed to the roof / where the sparrows / perched and sang.”

As usual in Pinkney’s books, the exquisite illustrations steal the show. Pinkney works on a dramatic artistic scale. His illustrations bleed across gutters and off the page. And he zooms in so closely on faces – human or animal – that you can see the whites of Noah’s eyes and up the nostrils of a bear. Among living picture-book artists, perhaps only David Wiesner has more skill at creating stylized watercolors that are dreamy yet realistic.

Pinkney’s book is harder to find than Spier’s and Geisert’s but available in many libraries. And children who like it may enjoy learning about his unusual techniques, which he described in The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators (Houghton Mifflin, 542 pp., $17), edited by Anita Silvey. “In illustrating stories about animals, as with people, research is important,” Pinkney said. “I keep a large reference file and have over a hundred books on nature and animals. The first step in envisioning a creature for me is to pretend to be that particular animal. I think about its size and the sounds it makes, how it moves, where it lives. When the stories call for anthropomorphic animals, I’ve used Polaroid photographs of myself posing as the animal characters.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

A new review of a book or books for teenagers appears every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. The site does not accept advertising or free books from publishers, and all reviews offer an independent evaluation by an award-winning critic. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these reviews and, if you work for a school or library, consider adding the site to your Ready Reference links.

April 13, 2007

Greg Foley’s ‘Thank You Bear’: A Good Book for Toddlers That Panders to Library Story Hours at the Expense of Parents and Others

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A young bear learns that a friend shares your values

Thank You Bear. By Greg Foley. Viking. 32 pp., $15.95, Ages 1–3.

By Janice Harayda

Thank You Bear has so much going for it that you wish it weren’t also an example of a disheartening trend: More and more, publishers are pandering to library story hours at the expense of parents and others who read to children.

This new picture book tells a simple yet highly effective story that’s in some ways reminiscent of “Goldilocks”: A little bear finds a small box he’s sure his friend Mouse will love — until he meets up with other animals, each of whom dismisses it for a different reason. (The elephant thinks it’s too small, the rabbit doesn’t have time to look at it.) Bear is starting to wonder if the box is so great after all when Mouse comes along and loves it as much as he had hoped.

In fewer than 200 words, Greg Foley develops the worthy theme that a friend shares your values. And like his text, his drawings are pared-down but expressive. Because I don’t have toddlers, I took Thank You Bear to church, corralled a two-year-old at coffee hour and read it to him as we sat in side-by-side armchairs. It was Palm Sunday, so the room was mobbed with children eating cookies and making Origami-like crosses from fronds. My young companion paid no attention to the crowd: He was riveted by the story and could easily identify the animals from Foley’s bold strokes.

Then what’s the problem? First, at nearly 10” by 10,” Thank You Bear is too big. I held it against the bodies of a couple of two-year-olds and found that it was as long as either of their arms from shoulder to wrist. How easily could you hold a book a long as your arm? Thank You Bear isn’t a book most toddlers could carry around like the paperback edition of Thomas the Tank Engine that my young friend had with him. And size helps to drive price. Thank You Bear is a $15.95 book that would serve children better if it were at least third smaller and less expensive. Oversized books make sense for authors like Maurice Sendak and Chris Van Allsburg, who do museum-quality work, or Jan Brett, who uses folkloric motifs and borders full of details easier to see in a large format. But the minimalist art of Thank You Bear doesn’t require that scope. On many pages Bear is becalmed in a sea of white space.

The gargantuan 4” x 3” font used for the title on the cover tells you a lot about this book. Few toddlers can read, so they don’t need it, and even bifocal-wearing grandparents don’t require something that big. So why use a blimp-sized font and comparably large pictures throughout the book? Clearly, so the children at the back of a semicircle can see them at story hours.

Publishers often bring out paperback or mini-editions of picture books within a year or so of their publication, and that may happen with Thank You Bear. Until then it’s sad that this book may exceed the financial – or physical – reach of many parents and toddlers who would enjoy it.

Best line/picture: An image that shows Bear wondering if his box is so great after all. Uncertainty is harder to show than stronger feelings, but Foley pulls it off.

Worst line/picture: The cover font. Thank You Bear is also punctuated incorrectly on the cover and title page, though not elsewhere in the book.

Recommended if … you either a) get the book from the library; b) wait for a paperback or mini-edition; or c) or can say truthfully, “I don’t care if the publisher is gouging me. Nothing is too expensive for my brilliant, wonderful, adorable grandchild. Want to see a picture?”

Published: March 2007

Furthermore: In the coming months, I plan to revisit aggressively the issue of overpriced children’s books. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing posts on this subject.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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