Posts tagged kid’s book reviews

A TurtleAndRobot Book List: 15 Picture Books featuring Birds

It is not uncommon for a child to latch onto a specific subject and then focus intensely on that one thing for a time. When such obsessions begin, the book purchaser’s job suddenly becomes easier and imbued with a new sense of fun—any book containing that subject will be an instant winner. But once the obvious choices pertaining to that topic have been exhausted, choosing books can become a painful, and fruitless, process. Buyer beware- that T.V. tie-in title that pertains to your child’s interest may be tempting but I assure you there are always higher quality choices still undiscovered.

I compiled this list of fiction picture books for people with a bird-loving child in their lives. Angelo by David Macaulay, a phenomenal and underappreciated book, is about a pigeon that brightens the life of an elderly stone worker. Bob Staake’s Bluebird spotlights an attentive bird that befriends a boy who is being bullied by his classmates. Whether the cobalt-hued hero of Bluebird is an actual bluebird or just a bird that is blue isn’t made clear, but that won’t matter to those who choose this remarkable wordless picture book. The remaining titles feature generalized, i.e. not necessarily naturalistic birds of a recognizable breed, as their main characters.

 

Inch by InchInchByInch

Ages 3-7

By Leo Lionni

32 pages

Knopf

1960

1961 Caldecott Honor Book

 

Time FliesTimeFlies

Ages 3-7

By Eric Rohman

32 pages

Crown Publishers

1994

1995 Caldecott Honor Book

 

A Home for BirdHomeforBird

Ages 3-7

By Phil C. Stead

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2012

 

See TurtleAndRobot’s full review here.

 

Hello, My Name is RubyRuby

Ages 3-7

By Philip C. Stead

36 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2013

 

Flap Your WingsFlapYourWings

Ages 3-8

By P.D. Eastman

48 pages

Random House

1969

(Also by P.D. Eastman, Are You My Mother? and The Best Nest)

 

The BirdwatchersTheBirdwatchers

Ages 3-8

By Simon James

32 pages

Candlewick

2002

Out of print

 

Little Red BirdLittleRedBird

Ages 3-8

By Nick Bruel

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2008

 

Poppy and EllaPoppy&Ella

Ages 3-9

By Jef Kaminsky

48 pages

Disney-Hyperion

2000

Out of print

 

Franny B. Kranny, There’s a Bird in Your HairFrannyBKranny

Ages 3-9

Written by Harriet Lerner and Susan Goldhor

Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

40 pages

HarperCollins

2001

Out of print

 

13 Words13Words

Ages 4-7

Written by Lemony Snickett

Illustrated by Maira Kalman

40 pages

HarperCollins

2010

 

See TurtleAndRobot’s full review here.

 

Bluebird

Ages 4-8

By Bob Staake

40 pages

Schwartz & Wade

2013

 

A Funny Little Bird

Ages 4-8

By Jennifer Yerkes

48 pages

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

2013

 

Feathers for LunchFeathersForLunch

Ages 4-9

By Lois Ehlert

36 pages

HMH Books for Young Readers

1996

 

AngeloAngelo

Ages 4-9

By David Macaulay

48 pages

HMH Books for Young Readers

2006

 

The Life of BirdsLifeofBirds

Ages 5 and up

By Quentin Blake

80 pages

Doubleday UK

2005

Out of print

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Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown: An instant classic.

Mr. Tiger Goes WildMr.TigerCover

Picture Book

Ages 2-8

By Peter Brown

44 pages

Little, Brown

2013

 

This is Peter Brown’s ninth picture book and I’ve grown to love him more and more with each one. With scenes that unfold in playfully designed locations, and supremely likeable, quirky characters, readers can’t help but be lured into the world of Mr. Tiger. Brown was awarded a 2013 Caldecott Honor for Creepy Carrots and, truth be told, I was a little disappointed that Mr. Tiger Goes Wild was not among this year’s Caldecott recipients.

 

Brown’s art is evocative of Ezra Jack Keats, Margaret Bloy Graham and Miroslav Sasek, yet despite displaying shades of all these masters, Brown’s pleasing and idiosyncratic artistic style stands out as uniquely his own. Certain spreads reminded me of the animated Disney film, The Jungle Book and I later read in an interview that Brown watched a lot of old animated Disney films, including The Jungle Book, while working on Mr. Tiger.

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The opening spreads of Mr. Tiger Goes Wild introduce Mr. Tiger’s world, replete with upright quadrupeds adorned in stiff Victorian attire. The perfectly ordered art is created with a muted palette of grays and browns.

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As the story progresses, the art grows more feral and verdant; the final spreads strike a satisfying balance between conformity and frenzy.

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The consistent palette of greens, grays and browns is broken only by Mr. Tiger’s delightful flare of orange.

 

Brown’s skillfully efficient story telling allows for sparse text; there are several spreads with no words at all. His cheeky narrative breathes humor and energy into the already astounding artwork.

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As the story opens, Mr. Tiger is a dapper, city-dwelling cat with an undeviating expression of displeasure. He lives among respectable animals in a proper society. Everyone around him seems perfectly content but Mr. Tiger is bored.

 

At this early stage of the story almost all of the characters are going about their lives with closed eyes. Mr. Tiger (who is on the verge of acting wild) and the children (who are being scolded for acting wild) are the only ones with open eyes. As soon as Mr. Tiger carries out his first wild idea, everyone’s eyes are open.

 

“And then one day Mr. Tiger had a very wild idea.”

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Mr. Tiger immediately felt better and grew a little bit wilder each day; before long, he’d pushed it too far.

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His friends, outraged, suggested that Mr. Tiger take his behaviors elsewhere, and into the wilderness he ran.

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“…where he went completely wild!”

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As time passed, Mr. Tiger grew lonely; he missed his home and his friends. He decided to return to the city.

Upon returning, Mr. Tiger found that a wonderful thing had happened. His friends and neighbors were no longer perfectly genteel—though still sporting Victorian attire, some had taken to all fours.

“Now Mr. Tiger felt free to be himself. And so did everyone else.”

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Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is all about balance—wild behavior can be beneficial, in appropriate contexts, civilized behavior is necessary if you want to exist in a society—and this book strikes a perfect balance on every level.

 

Certainly there are plenty of books that enjoy long lives as classics without any medals adorning their covers. Conversely, some medal-winning books fade into oblivion not long after their initial time in the spotlight. Though I believe this book deserved the recognition of the Caldecott committee, I also believe it will live a long life in print just like some other non-medal winning, perennially adored classics. Mr. Tiger Goes Wild will be in good company with Corduroy, Harry the Dirty Dog and Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel.

 

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Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh: A playful lesson in primary colors.

Mouse PaintMouse Paint Cover-001

Board Book

Ages Birth to 3

By Ellen Stoll Walsh

16 pages

Harcourt

1995

 

 

This lighthearted, simple story is also a lesson in primary colors. Three white mice are able to conceal themselves against a sheet of white paper and become invisible to a sleek, gray cat. But when the inquisitive mice discover three paint jars—one red, one yellow and one blue—they nearly blow their cover!

Thinking the jars they’ve discovered are for painting themselves, the three adventurous mice jump right in.

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Their paint drips onto the paper creating bright puddles of color, inspiring the mice to play.

As each mouse—boldly adorned in a primary hue—dances, hops or jumps in the puddles, new and wonderful colors are created.

The illustrations, done in cut-paper collage, are set against a white background and clearly differentiate each vivid color.  The clean and unembellished design is incredibly pleasing; Walsh manages to make a seemingly basic array of primary and secondary colors seem like a celebration.

Each lesson in color mixing is given two full spreads, allowing children time to process how the new colors are made.

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After all the playing in the paint, the mice are feeling sticky and give themselves a bath in the cat’s water bowl.

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Readers are given a helpful reminder on how to create the new colors when the newly cleaned mice decide to continue painting. This time they use the paper instead of themselves and, learning from their past experience, they leave a little bit of white so that they may continue hiding from the cat.

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Walsh’s masterful technique at introducing a basic concept is quite likely to prompt little ones to explore color and art, painting and drawing.

 

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The Monsters’ Monster and Frankenstein: Two wickedly fun picture books for Halloween.

Monster's Monster

The Monsters’ Monster

Picture Book

Ages 2-7

By Patrick McDonnell

32 pages

Little, Brown

2012

 

Patrick McDonnell’s picture book, Me…Jane, was a 2012 Caldecott Honor book. Taking anecdotes from Jane Goodall’s autobiography, he tells the story of Goodall’s childhood, her beloved toy chimpanzee and her early fascination with the natural world. It is a splendid and captivating book and one I highly recommend.  The Monsters’ Monster is charmingly sweet and another must have from this creator. His art is luscious, and his storytelling is pitch perfect.

Three (rather small) monsters—Grouch, Grump and Gloom ‘n’ Doom—lived together in a dark castle high atop a monster-y mountain. Every day the three brutish beasts would argue over which of them was the loudest complainer, or the most miserable.

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They decided the best way to settle their argument was to build the biggest, baddest monster ever. The three fiends gathered tape and staples, gunk and goo, bolts and wires and assembled a monster Monster and brought him to life with a great bolt of lightening. (The diminutive size of the comic and adorable monsters is spotlighted by the humongous size of their Frankenstein-y creation.)

The three giddy monsters could barely contain their excitement as the growling giant stumbled toward them.

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“And then in a deep, booming voice, he said his first words . . . ‘Dank you!’”

The monster’s Monster, built to be a big, bad menace, was anything but. He was so happy to be alive he threw open a window and giggled. Next he greeted every bat, rat, spider and snake in the castle. When he crashed straight through the castle wall and went down to the village below, Monster’s architects followed in amazement.

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Anticipating the monster’s first terrible act, the trio watched as Monster lumbered into the bakery, and awaited the screams and howls that would certainly follow. But after some silence, all they heard was, “Dank you!”

Then Monster clomped out carrying a paper bag and headed toward the beach; Grouch, Grump and Gloom ‘n’ Doom followed after him. When Monster arrived at the beach he sat down in the cool sand. Shortly after, the three perplexed and tired monsters collapsed around him. Then Monster gently patted them on their heads and gave them each a warm, powdered jelly doughnut from his bag.

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At first the three brutes were stunned into silence but then they repeated what they’d learned from Monster. “Thank you!” they said, and the four friends sat and quietly watched the sunrise and none of them thought about how monstrous they could be.

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Frankenstein: A Monstrous ParodyFrankenstein

Based on Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Ludworst Bemonster

(By Rick Walton & Nathan Hale)

48 pages

Feiwel and Friends

2012

 

For readers not familiar with the picture book Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans—which was published in 1939 and received a Caldecott Honor—it features a fearless young girl that lives under the tutelage of Miss Clavel, a concerned and doting nun, with eleven other girls. “The smallest one was Madeline.”

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One night Miss Clavel senses a disturbance in the house and soon discovers Madeline in distress. The wee girl is rushed to the hospital and promptly has her appendix removed.

Some days later, Miss Clavel and the girls go to visit Madeline in the hospital. The girls covet the toys and candy that fill Madeline’s room but when they see her scar from the surgery they are beside themselves with envy.

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That night after Miss Clavel turned out the light, she, once again, knew something was not right. As she entered the room all the little girls cried, “Boohoo, we want to have our appendix out, too!”

In this delightful parody, the completely adorable main character lives in a creepy old castle with eleven other equally cute monsters. “The ugliest one was Frankenstein.” In the spirit of all things Halloween, the artist uses a variety of orange hues (the illustrations in Madeline were awash in yellow).

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“One bleak and dark and dismal night, Miss Devel turned on her light and whispered, ‘Something is not right.’”

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She soon discovers that Frankenstein has lost his head! He’s quickly taken to the laboratory. Upon awakening, the formerly decapitated monster finds he’s been given a brand new head, bolted on with two shiny, metal screws. Without delay Frankenstein eats most of the hospital staff, the ceiling fan and a pizza man.

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Days later, Miss Devel and her motley pack of monsters visit Frankenstein at the lab. Though they’re jealous of all of his yucky treats, it’s the neck bolts that prompt them to beg to stay. “But Miss Devel replied, ‘No way!’”

Later that night, back at the castle, Miss Devel knows something is amiss once more. Rushing to the monsters’ room she hopes for no more disasters. She opens the gate to discover that all of the monsters have lost their heads!

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“Good night, monsters! Now you cannot whine and yell! I’m going back to sleep.”

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Most parody picture books don’t deliver on their promise to entertain. They either fall flat or are entertaining for one reading only—but Frankenstein is a wonderful exception to that rule. Fans of Madeline, monsters or Halloween will giggle with glee at this hysterical and thorough parody.

 

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A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na: A beautiful slumber inducer.

A Book of SleepDSC02005

Board Book

Ages Birth-3

By Il Sung Na

24 pages

Knopf

2011

 

 

 

In Il Sung Na’s first picture book, A Book of Sleep, he utilizes a mix of hand painting and computer enhancement to create soothingly beautiful illustrations. Intricate designs and complex textures are etched into his bold, simple artwork; lovely little details implore the reader to fully inspect each spread. His rich, saturated palette captures the blue hues of night and, in the last two spreads, the golden brightness of day. The simple, direct text describes the different ways in which several animals sleep—an ideal topic for bedtime.

 

The book opens: “When the sky grows dark and he moon glows bright, everyone goes to sleep…except for the watchful owl.”

Over the next several pages, readers learn that some animals sleep in peace and quiet; other animals make lots of noises.

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Some animals sleep standing up, while others sleep on the move.

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There are animals that sleep with one eye open and some that sleep with both eyes open!

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Some animals sleep alone; other animals sleep huddled in groups.

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The sharp-eyed owl appears throughout the book—sometimes sitting plainly on a tree branch, sometimes hidden among the slumbering animals—and children will delight in locating the hidden observer. 

“But when the sky turns blue and the sun glows bright…everyone wakes up! Except for the tired owl.”

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Na’s gorgeous art engenders peaceful feelings; the serene nighttime scenes will surely set the stage for little ones to demonstrate favorite sleeping positions of their own.

 

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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.

DSC01877

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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