Posts tagged Children’s books

Courage by Bernard Waber: Sometimes even the smallest act requires bravery.

Courage Courage

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Bernard Waber

32 pages

Houghton Mifflin

2002

 

 

Bernard Waber (1921-2013) wrote and illustrated over thirty books for children and is best known for his series of books featuring Lyle the Crocodile.

The first book to introduce the world to the lovable and talented crocodile was The House on East 88th Street (1962). It tells the story of Primm family, who has just moved into their new home when they discover Lyle living in their bathtub. In no time at all, the talented and helpful Lyle is a loved and cherished member of the family! Several more books featuring Lyle followed.

Waber’s straightforward and often humorous text coupled with his approachable and cheerful art results in entertaining stories with enormous appeal. Though his characters are rarely human, their troubles are familiar and are gratifyingly resolved in an encouraging manner.

Waber departs from his customary animal characters in Courage; his quivery-lined, active art depicts human children carrying out every day acts of courage. It’s easy to spot courage in a firefighter or a police officer or an ordinary citizen performing a brave act, but sometimes very small endeavors also require boldness.

 

The opening illustration features a female ice-skater executing a mid-air split.

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“There are many kinds of courage.”

 

In the following pages, Waber expounds on the many varieties of courage; some are awesome, like performing in a trapeze act or climbing a mountain—others are small, such as having two candy bars and saving one for tomorrow.

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Courage is riding your bicycle for the first time, going to bed without a nightlight, jumping off the high dive, or getting a haircut. Courage can also be checking out the noises in the dark or keeping the secret you promised not to tell. Courage is telling the truth, exploring new places or holding onto your dream.

 

“Still, courage is courage–whatever kind.”

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More a guide than a story, Courage offers parents an opportunity to teach their children an invaluable life lesson: experiencing fear is a universal trait and overcoming that fear, large or small, is an act of bravery. Furthermore, once we find that bravery within ourselves it can be shared with and fostered in those around us.

 

“Courage is what we give to each other.”

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Uncle Bigfoot by George O’Connor: A Mysterious Branch on the Family Tree.

Uncle BigfootUBcover

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By George O’Connor

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2008

Out of Print

 

 

Uncle Bigfoot was George O’Connor’s fourth picture book. He has since gone on to create several graphic novels, including the New York Times best selling Olympians Series about the Greek gods and goddesses of Olympus. I reviewed the first book in the series, Zeus: King of the Gods, here. The sixth book in the series, Aphrodite: Goddess of Love, is due out later this year.

O’Connor’s fifth picture book, If I Had a Raptor, will be published in 2014 followed shortly thereafter by If I Had a Triceratops. O’Connor’s picture books have an irrepressible humor and immense appeal to both kids and adults, which is very important to parents who find themselves coaxed by little ones to read a book again and again.

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In Uncle Bigfoot, our spirited narrator, a nameless young boy, is intrigued when he learns his Uncle Bernie is coming to visit. He doesn’t recall ever hearing about this uncle before so he asks his father if there are any photos of this mysterious person. The only picture they find is of Bernie, back to the camera, running away.

‘“Uncle Bernie’s a little shy around cameras,” said Dad.’

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The young boy imagines a multitude of scenarios as to why his uncle would not want to be photographed and when his uncle finally arrives, the answer is obvious.

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Stupefied, the boy runs to consult his book on Bigfoot. He’s quickly able to confirm all the telltale signs, but each time he tries to convince his parents of his findings they have perfectly reasonable responses, which negate the boy’s pronouncement.

Uncle Bernie is hairy, really hairy, just like Bigfoot.  When the determined boy points this out to his father, his response is no comfort, “Just wait until you get older, you’ll be hairier too.”

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Uncle Bernie has big feet, just like Bigfoot but Mom tells the persistent boy that lots of people have big feet.

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However, the guidebook also says that Bigfoots are mean and scary and Uncle Bernie is neither of those things. He just seems different from the people our inquisitive narrator knows. Maybe Uncle Bernie is just a little more different than most.

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Relieved of his suspicions, the boy and his family enjoy a wonderful visit with Uncle Bigfoot. The newly won-over boy confesses that he misses his uncle (he left last Tuesday) but he’s excited about a pending visit from his Aunt Nessie!

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O’Connor’s sardonic humor is coupled with cartoon-y illustrations, further highlighting the absurdity of the boy’s suspicions. Visual nods to various mythical creatures and unsolved mysteries—UFO’s, Mothman, aliens, Atlantis, to name a few—will amuse older readers and O’Connor’s knack for depicting expressions adds yet another level of amusement and charm to the art. Uncle Bigfoot is a lighthearted, joyous picture book and an enjoyable read for parents and children alike.

 

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Marc Simont, 1915-2013

I read today of the passing of children’s book illustrator Marc Simont, who died on Saturday, July 13, 2013 at the age of 97. Mr. Simont was a gifted artist, an adept story teller and a kind and gentle man; I was fortunate enough to have met him during my time at Books of Wonder.

So far, he is the most reviewed person on TurtleAndRobot.com with four full reviews. Additionaly, his book The Happy Day was mentioned in both 15 Favorite Picture Books about Spring and Top 20 (plus one) Books About Snow. I adore his work. The worldof art, of children’s books, as a wholeis a better place for having had him in it.

 

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed: reviewed October 16, 2012

My Brother Ant: reviewed December 19, 2012

A Tree is Nice: reviewed March 12, 2013

Nate the Great: reviewed June 4, 2013

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Clown by Quentin Blake: A wordless delight.

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Clown

Picture Book

Ages 2-10

By Quentin Blake

32 pages

Henry Holt

1996

 

 

The work of Quentin Blake has appeared before on TurtleAndRobot.com,  here and here. He is perhaps my most favorite illustrator. Fortunately for me, he is extremely prolific. Unfortunately for me, I may never be able to collect all his books. His skilled storytelling, expert lines, quirky style and exceptional art never cease to amaze me. Clown, a wordless picture book, is among my favorite picture books ever. Blake’s generous palette is radiant and expansive. The story is sweet and sad; the art, as always, is active and expressive.

Though this is his only wordless picture book to date, Blake’s art often needs no words; with a quick line and a splash of color he is able to convey more energy and emotion in one panel that some artists can achieve in an entire book. The small and elite group that I consider to be in the same realm of Blake’s artistic genius includes only two other illustrators: Shel Silverstein and Tomi Ungerer. Each of these men is able to breathe irrepressible life into a single line. Though the style may appear to be easy and uncomplicated it is in fact richly complex and expertly crafted.

Wordless picture books can be off-putting to some adults—they panic, “What do I read if there are no words?” But a wordless book can be liberating. Readers have an opportunity to change the story every time they tell it. The story is right there in the pictures and how it’s told is up to the reader. Wordless books offer children and adults an opportunity to observe the action, follow a sequence of events and tell their own version of what they perceive. Wordless stories can aid in developing visual literacy, narrative skills and creativity. Freed from the confines of text, novel nuances emerge every time the book is opened.

 

Clown opens with a grandmotherly figure descending the steps of a brownstone, her hands full of old, worn dolls. Into the garbage they go; the lifeless toys oblivious to their new unfortunate situation. In the next spread, a surprised Clown—who is amongst the recently discarded—looks around in dismay and quickly wriggles free. He drops to the ground and brushes himself off. Noticing his ragged shoes, the quick-thinking Clown roots through the neighboring pile of garbage and finds himself a sporty pair of high-top sneakers. The rejuvenated Clown is off and running!

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He soon spots a young child and rushes to tell her his story, but before he can finish she is scooped up by her parents and taken away. The baffled Clown is wondering what to do next when he’s picked up by an adult and promptly added to a group of costumed children being photographed. Clown, growing distressed, tells his story to a young girl dressed in a fairy costume. She happily picks Clown up and takes him with her. When she arrives at home her mother promptly throws the used toy out the window.

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Clown lands safely on the street and is immediately chased down by an angry dog. The situation seems dire but the ever-energetic Clown jumps onto a crate and puts on a show of acrobatics for the now bewildered dog. Just then, the dog’s owner comes along and Clown quickly finds himself being tossed aside again.

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He flies through the air and lands inside a home where a woeful caretaker is desperately trying to comfort a crying child. Clown’s unexpected appearance shocks them both. Without delay, the charming Clown begins entertaining his new audience. Swiftly relieved of their tears, the guardian and her charge are won over. Once again he explains his predicament. Clown and the caretaker quickly come to an agreement: he will help her clean up the house before the child’s mother arrives and she will help him rescue his friends from the garbage.

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The new friends work wonderfully together and the apartment is soon in perfect order. Clown, caretaker and baby head out to liberate the toys from their difficult situation. After retrieving his rejected comrades from the garbage, Clown finds a lovely blue ribbon for the babysitter’s hair and a bouquet of flowers to decorate the apartment; the jovial trio returns home.

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When the tired-looking mother arrives, she’s surprised and delighted to find a happy child, a clean home and a menagerie of new friends. Clown rests happily, his ordeals behind him, with his old friends and his new family.

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Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat: World’s best boy detective.

Nate the GreatNatetheGreat

Early Reader

Ages 3-9

By Marjorie Weinman Sharmat

Illustrated by Marc Simont

64 pages

1972

Delacorte Press

 

 

Marjorie Weinman Sharmat has published over one hundred and thirty books, though her Nate the Great books, with twenty-six in the series, are the most well known. Her descriptive text and direct dialogue are peppered with a dry humor. With the exception of one single word—Nate sports rubbers, instead of boots, in the rain—this forty-year old story holds timeless appeal.

This is the fifth book illustrated by Marc Simont to be reviewed in this blog. Like his art in A Tree is Nice, the spreads alternate between color and black and white. Simont uses vivid pinks and bold yellows in one spread and warm grays and lush blacks in the next. No matter the medium, Simont’s art is always expressive and energetic, pleasing and comfortable.

 

“My name is Nate the Great. I am a detective. I work alone.”

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Using classic hard-boiled detective language, Nate tells readers about his latest case: helping his friend Annie find a lost picture.

He’d just finished a breakfast of pancakes (Nate loves pancakes) when she called and enlisted his help. He donned his trench coat and Sherlock Holmes style hat and headed straight out to Annie’s, but not before leaving a note for his mother.

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When he arrived at Annie’s she was just sitting down to a pancake breakfast, so Nate joined her. They discussed the missing picture. Using bright yellow paint, Annie had painted a picture of her dog Fang the day before and left it out to dry, and then it was gone.

After breakfast, Nate searched Annie’s room. He was already sure of one thing, Annie liked yellow.

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He asked her who had seen the picture.

“My friend Rosamond has seen it, and my brother Harry. And Fang.”

Nate started with Fang. Fang was big, with big teeth. Nate watched him eat, then he watched him bury a bone. Nate had an idea that maybe Fang took the picture and buried it, but after two hours of digging in the backyard Nate and Annie only found rocks, worms, bones and ants.

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It was time for more pancakes.

“Cold pancakes are almost as good as hot pancakes.”

Nate and Annie when to Rosamond’s house next. Rosamond was dubious of Nate’s detective status so she asked him to solve a case of her own: find her missing cat, Super Hex. Rosamond had four cats, all named Hex, and a house full of cat paraphernalia. Nate sat down and Big Hex jumped onto his lap. Nate wanted to leave immediately; he stood up to go and stepped on something long and black. There was a loud meow. He’d stepped on the tail of Super Hex, who’d been hiding under the chair. The case inside a case had been solved. Nate and Annie left.

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Nate knew Rosamond did not take the picture, she clearly only liked cats. They headed back to Annie’s house to question to her brother Harry. Like Annie, Harry liked to paint; the walls of his room were covered in his art. There was painting of a red house, one of a red clown, and one of a red tree. There was also a painting of a three-headed monster but that one was orange.

“I, Nate the Great, have found your picture.”

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Annie was confused; Nate explained. All of Harry’s paintings were done in red paint, except the monster. Annie’s picture of Fang was yellow. When you mix yellow and red you get orange. Harry had painted his red, three-headed monster over Annie’s yellow picture of Fang. The case was solved.

‘“I don’t know how to thank you,” Annie said.”’

“I do,” Nate said. “Are there any pancakes left?”

 

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May 23rd is World Turtle Day!

I was born loving turtles. Okay, I’m not completely positive this is true but I know I cannot recall a time I didn’t love turtles. My pet red-eared slider, Earl, has lived with me for over twenty years. Here he is doing yoga.

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My large collection of turtle figurines resides next to Earl’s tank. My collection of children’s books featuring turtles takes up a whole shelf. And what better day to share a few of those books than World Turtle Day?

 

Turtle and SnailTurtle&Snail

Beginning Reader

Ages 4-8

By Zibby Oneal

Illustrated by Margot Tomes

48 pages

Lippincott

1979

Out of Print

 

Poor Snail, he just wants a friend but “nobody wants a friend in a shell.” A shell can’t hop or fly or fit in a hole. Then Snail meets Turtle! Now they each have a friend in a shell.

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When Snail gives Turtle a mud pie for his birthday, Fly, Ant and Bee all tell him that turtles don’t eat mud, but Snail knows what his friend likes. Snail brings the gift to his friend. Turtle loves it so much that he promptly sits on it.

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Turtle explains that turtles don’t eat mud; they love to sit in it! But Snail is so sad that he pulls his head far into his shell and doesn’t hear how much Turtle loves his present.

Snail, convinced that Turtle thinks he is dumb, decides he must find a new friend. But Baby Robin and Fly flew off and Ant ran down a hole, so Snail decides to visit Turtle one more time. He finds Turtle stuck on his back in the tall grass. Snail gets Grasshopper, Ant, Fly and Baby Robin to help tip Turtle back onto his feet. Now they are all good friends!

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The Great Turtle DriveTurtleDrive

Picture Book

Ages 4-8

By Steve Sanfield

Illustrated by Dirk Zimmer

32 pages

Knopf

1996

Out of Print

 

An old man, who used to be quite a cowboy, tells a story from his youth about how he made and lost a million dollars before he was old enough to vote. After a long cattle drive he liked to enjoy a meal at Frenchy’s Gourmet Eating Establishment and Pizza Parlor in Kansas City. During one such meal he had the best thing he’d ever eaten in his life, a bowl of turtle soup. Although it was quite delicious, he was shocked to see the teeny tiny bowl cost an overpriced $4.00!

He had an idea, he would head back to his home state of Texas to capture as many turtles as he could and sell them to the restaurant.

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Before long he had a herd of twenty thousand turtles. He was going to be rich! But first he had to get them to Frenchy’s. He was unable to recruit any of his fellow cowboys for the turtle drive, and was forced to go it alone.

Driving turtles was slow going, and the tired cowboy couldn’t get a moments rest; as soon as he stopped circling the herd, the turtles would start to disperse. The cowboy realized that he could flip the turtles on their back and keep them from deserting. He finally got some rest.

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Soon he realized that all the walking was rough on those little turtle feet; in lieu of turtle shoes he slipped large paper clips onto the turtles’ feet. The paper clips worked, and the turtles moved faster, but winter was coming and they needed to be protected from the cold. The cowboy paid a farmer to dig a trench so the turtles could hibernate.

When the cowboy dug up the turtles in the spring his herd had grown to forty-two thousand! Though they were moving faster, it was a long way from Texas to Kansas City and it took many years. Each winter the cowboy buried the herd, and each spring he’d dig them up to find more, until he had five hundred thousand turtles!

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After five years had passed, they all arrived in Kansas City. Frenchy’s had closed! So, they all turned around and headed back to Texas. Good thing they knew the way!

 

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My Turtle Died Today

MyTurtleDied

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Book

Ages 4-7

By Edith G. Stull

Illustrated by Mamoru Funai

28 pages

Holt, Rinehart and Winston

1964

Out of Print

 

This is a delightfully odd book with some very funny non-sequiturs. Also, the illustrations reek of 1964 and are clearly stereotypical of that era. Think: the artwork on greeting cards you’d find stored away in an old case in someone’s attic.

Our narrator, a nameless young boy, is very upset; his turtle, Boxer, is sick. The boy asks his father what to do. His father says to give Boxer some food but it doesn’t help. He asks his teacher but she says, “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to help turtles. Ask the pet shop man.”

When the boy asks the pet shop man to help Boxer, Mr. Riley says “Boxer will die.” (Don’t sugar coat it Mr. Riley!) Then Boxer dies.

The boy cries. Then he puts Boxer in a small wood box, ties a ribbon around it and buries it near the old oak tree. Then this happens:

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“Tommy said, “Leave food for Boxer.” I said, “No, dead turtles don’t eat.” Billy said, “Leave water for Boxer.” I said, “No dead turtles don’t drink.” Tommy said, “Is Boxer in heaven?” Billy said, “My mother’s in heaven.” I said, “But now you have a new mother.” Billy said, “Yes, now I have two mothers.”

Then, on the very next page, this happens.

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‘”What’s that?” Tommy said. There in the leaves, near the kitchen door, Patty’s babies had just been born. “There are three babies,” Billy said. “Look at Patty lick them,” Tommy said. One of the kittens made the funniest cry. It was hungry.”

While the boys play with the kittens, Tommy asks if the kittens will die too. Billy says, “All living things must die.” The narrator says the kittens will not die for a long time.

“They have to live first, before they die.”

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“Billy said, “I’m hungry. Tommy said, “Me too. Let’s go to my house to get something to eat.” I said, “Yes, let’s go get something and we will bring something for Patty to eat. She is hungry, too.”‘

The boys headed to Tommy’s house to have lunch. The end.

No, seriously.

 

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Turtle Time: A Bedtime StoryTurtleTime

Picture book

By Sandol Stoddard

Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

32 pages

Houghton Mifflin

1995

Out of Print

 

Lynn Munsinger has illustrated several books for children, including Tacky the Penguin. It’s probably no surprise that Turtle Time is my favorite of her books; it’s also one of my favorite turtle books. The title refers to the act of a turtle pulling in his head and limbs—going inside himself—for some quiet time; it’s also something our young narrator, an exuberant red-haired girl, likes to do. She crawls into her bed, snuggles deep under the covers and enjoys a little peace.

In a bouncy, sing-song-y rhyme, the young girl—wearing the most adorable red shoes—tells the story of finding a small turtle egg that was in the process of hatching. Once the baby turtle fully emerged, the joyous girl named him Fred and promised to bring him home to keep her company. She imagines all the wonderful activities they will share!

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But when she picked him up, he retracted into his mobile home. The persistent miss brings Fred home anyway. Eventually, he peeks out from his shell and has this to say;

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“And when I hold him in my hand, we close our eyes and understand. Our little song, our little rhyme, and when I need a nap I climb, into my bed for turtle time, turtle time.

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The Flying Tortoise: An Igbo TaleFlyingTortoise

Picture Book

Retold by Tololwa M. Mollel

Illustrated by Barbara Spurll

32 pages

Clarion Books

1994

 

Tololwa M. Mollel, a Maasai from Arusha, Tanzania, retells this Nigerian myth of how the tortoise got his shell. Barbara Spurll’s vibrantly colored illustrations are full of emotion and character.

 

Mbeku was a vain and selfish tortoise. He was extremely proud of his smooth and shiny shell. Because he was so magnificent, he believed he deserved more food than any other creature in the forest. Mbeku had an insatiable appetite and was always eager to eat.

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One day he came upon a group of birds celebrating; the king of Skyland had invited the Earth-dwellers to a feast! Mbeku yearned to attend even though he did not have the means to travel to Skyland. He convinced each of the birds to give him a feather so that his (only) friend Ngwele could fashion a set of wings so that he could fly.

When the birds and Mbeku arrived in Skyland, Mbeku tricked the birds and consumed the entire feast himself. The angry birds pounced on the trickster and tore apart his wings. Now he had no way of getting home! Mbeku put on a great show of apologizing and pleading for forgiveness until the birds eventually took pity on him.

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Mbeku decided he would have to jump from Skyland and tells the birds to ask Ngwele to build a giant soft pile so he could land softly. The birds agreed and flew back to Earth. But one small swallow, still in a nearby bush, overheard Mbeku mocking the silly birds for trusting him yet again. The swallow immediately flew off to tell the others. Tired of playing the fools, the birds decided to teach the deceiving tortoise a lesson—instead of a soft pile, they ask Ngwele to build a pile of the hardest things she can find.

Mbeku, unaware that his duplicitous behavior has been discovered, sees the readied pile from Skyland and jumps down to earth. Upon landing, his shell scattered in a million pieces. Ngwele gathered up every single piece and worked all through the rainy season patching Mbeku’s shell. The new patchwork shield looks just like the shell we know turtles to carry today. It’s not nearly beautiful enough for the ungrateful reptile.

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Despite not wanting to be seen in his hideous shell, the tortoise went out for a walk. When he heard birds nearby, he “drew himself into his checkered shell and lay as still as a stone.” The birds, unaware that their old nemesis is nearby, chattered and laughed about having finally outsmarted Mbeku. They laughed so hard that they didn’t even notice the large rock that they were resting on was chuckling too.

 

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The Boy and the Airplane by Mark Pett: Love at first sight.

The Boy and the Airplane

boy and airplane

Picture Book

Ages 2-8

By Mark Pett

40 pages

Simon and Schuster

2013

 

 

 

I know the old adage “you should never judge a book by its cover” but sometimes I can see the cover of a book and just know I’m going to love what’s inside. Such was the case with The Boy and the Airplane, a beautifully designed book that quietly demands to be picked it up and enjoyed. Its unfussy composition outshined the loud, glittery jackets that surrounded it in the bookstore. It has a faded, brown paper cover with a crimson spine. Block letters, whitened with light scribbles, spell out the title next to a small, delicately drawn boy holding an airplane that shares its luscious crimson color with the book’s spine.

The art, which seems to be made primarily with watercolor and colored pencils, looks as though it’s been created on butcher paper of various hues—earthy, faded tones of blue, grey, brown and green. Mark Pett is the creator of two syndicated comic strips, Mr. Lowe and Lucky Cow, and this wordless picture book has the feel of a perfectly crafted comic strip extended over forty mesmerizing pages. There are no backgrounds and the action consists only of the boy and his activities.

The book opens with the boy—curly-haired, wide-eyed and with no mouth—holding a large, wrapped box that he has just received from an unseen man exiting off the left side of the book.

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In the next spread the boy unwraps the gift to find an airplane, deep red with a white propeller; a large smile appears on his face and he’s off and running.

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Over the following several pages the boy joyously entertains himself with the new toy while a small, subtly drawn bird, watches the action. Occasionally, Pett draws a faint, barely-there line to denote movement but the energy of the art conveys plenty of motion without additional indicators.

Before long, the airplane lands on the roof of the house; with the plane stuck, the boy’s smile (and mouth) disappears.

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He tries several methods of retrieving the plane, many of which are accompanied by adorable costumes, but he cannot free it from the high perch.

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Then the boy has an idea, an idea that will take years to execute. He plants a tree.

Over the next several pages, readers watch on as the seasons change and the boy and the tree grow.

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Before long the boy is an old man and the tree is broad and strong. The old man, bald, bearded and sporting overalls, climbs the tall tree. He reaches the roof and reclaims his plane at long last.

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Finally reunited with his toy, a wide smile emerges through the man’s fluffy beard. And just as he’s about to give the plane a vigorous toss into the air, he thinks the better of it.

The book closes with the still-smiling old man exiting on the right; on the left, a small, mouth-less girl holds a large, wrapped box.

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