Picture Books

Picture Books 2017 #1: Too School for Cool

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This is a simple little story with a refreshing stroke of creativity. In the story, a little boy on his way to his grandmother’s birthday party badgers his parents with the age-old car trip question: “Are we there yet?” And as he grows increasingly bored, his mind starts to wander… and before he knows it, he and his parents are off on a crazy trip through time and space. The book itself gets in on the act, with the story flipping over entirely, so that the reader must turn his or her upside-down to go on. There’s everything from cowboys and pirates to dinosaurs and flying cars–all the stuff kids in the target audience are expected to like at that age. And there’s even a cute little moral (delivered via pun!) at the end.

It’s not going to be the most riveting read for any adults who pick it up, but children still in the picture book range might just get a kick out of it.

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

Here we have another of those picture books devoted to celebrating books themselves. In the story, the titular “child of books” comes crashing in on a wave of words (excerpts from works like Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels) and takes another child off on a journey through the world of literature and imagination. They climb mountains, search for treasure, escape monsters, and more, and it’s all meant to impress upon the reader the value of imagination (and of reading to stoke one’s imagination).

Honestly, this is a book that’s more likely to be appreciated by adult readers than children.

Flora and the Peacocks by Molly Idle

This is an interactive, wordless picture book about a little girl (the titular Flora) who’s trying to dance with a pair of peacocks who just aren’t having it… until they realize they’ve hurt her feelings. According to the interior book flap, the moral is intended to be, “…that no matter the challenges, true friends will always find a way to dance together,” but it could definitely be taken as a bit of a subtle anti-bullying story if that’s what your looking for.

As with the previous Flora book I read, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it. I just don’t think I’m the wordless picture book type, myself, and so I think this is the last Flora book I’ll be picking up. They just don’t have much appeal for an adult reader; the art is nice, but that’s about it.

Otter Goes to School by Sam Garton

This is another in the Otter series of children’s books, and unlike the last Otter book I tried, I found this one to be a very charming, adorable standalone. The reader needs no background knowledge of the author’s blog (I Am Otter: The Unheard Ramblings of a Modern Day Domestic Otter) to follow the story; there’s no missing context here whatsoever. All we’ve got is an adorable story about an otter who, upon learning about the existence of a place called “school”, decides to play classroom with her toys. It’s a really cute little read perfect for a child who’s getting close to the age of going to school for the first time. I actually recommend it!

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex

In this story, an elementary school called Frederick Douglas Elementary (which is a real school, by the way) is anthropomorphized. It’s actually a very interesting idea! Adam Rex supplies the reader with a unique twist on the concept of a “first day of school” book, as here we get to see the first day of school from the perspective of the school itself. And oddly enough, it’s actually a fairly touching story; the school has to deal with the reality that most of the children hate being there (at least at first), and its emotional journey in coming to terms with that fact quite nicely parallels a young child’s coming to terms with being a student.

It’s really surprising, sweet, and charming, and I definitely recommend it to any children who might be struggling with the fact that they have to go to school now (or children who will soon be going to school for the first time).

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Picture Books

Picture Books 2016 #6: Dogs, Dogs, Dogs

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I’m Not. by Pam Smallcomb

In I’m Not., we have a couple of caricatured “child” dinosaurs. In the first half of the story, the unnamed main character bemoans the fact that her friend Evelyn is wonderful at so many things, while the main character herself isn’t good at any of them.

The second half, however, switches it up. Evelyn takes the stage to talk about what she isn’t good at, and all of the things she mentions happen to be things the main character does well.

It’s a nice little story about envy and individuality that adults will likely find it as cute as their kids find it funny.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Mark Teague

An imaginative little boy makes up (or does he?) a cowboy story to share with his class when it’s his turn to tell everyone what he did during summer vacation.

I have to say, any “what’d you do this summer” assignment is automatically better if you can pretend you actually did something fun. It’d certainly be better than my old “I stayed at home and did nothing because my family was poor.” There was never much worth sharing about that one, believe me.

Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates

This is the first book in a picture series known as Dog Loves, and it’s a brief story about an anthropomorphic dog who loves books so much that he opens up a book store.

Unfortunately, none of his potential patrons seem to share his interest in books, and his store is empty a lot of the time… But that’s okay, because he’ll just pass his time reading!

This is a good choice for a young bibliophile and/or library lover.

Dog Loves Counting by Louise Yates

We’re back with the same book-loving dog from the previous book, and this time, he’s having some insomnia troubles. Counting sheep isn’t helping him get to sleep, so he tries counting other animals while using his books as inspiration.

This is definitely another book for book lovers, even though the focus is on teaching a child to count.

A Dog Is A Dog by Stephen Shaskan

This one’s a pattern book teaching kids various animals by telling them that “a dog is a dog unless it’s an X”  (and an X is an X unless it’s a Y,  and a Y is a Y unless it’s a Z, and so on).

The illustrations are quite silly and cute, and the book is actually more baby-appropriately amusing than informational; it’s also quite short (only getting through four animals, including the dog, before it’s over), so it’s definitely baby/toddler fare. It’s pretty adorable, though.

Picture Books

Picture Books 2016 #5: This One’s For Boo

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The Best Place to Read by Debbie Bertram and Susan Bloom 

In The Best Place to Read, an unnamed little boy is excited to read a new book, but he can’t find a good place to read it. Eventually, he decides reading in his mother’s lap is the way to go. It’s a bit Goldie Locks-esque, without the being chased by bears at the end.

It’s a good read for a young child in whom you’re trying to foster a love of reading, but definitely not a good for one who you’re trying to encourage to read independently.

Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko

This cute little picture book the story of the holiday season a child experiences in a mixed-religion Christian/Jewish household, in which the father is a Christian and the mother is a Jew. It’s another good seasonal diversity story to go along with the other Hanukkah and Kwanzaa picture books I’ve read and reviewed in the past.

I am still, however, looking for one that introduces the idea of Christmas as a secular, cultural holiday instead of a religious one; there are plenty of secular Christmas stories, but all of the ones that I’ve come across simply neglect to mention that the holiday is actually religious for some people; I’d love to find one that handles that issue with some respect and maturity.

I will say, however, that the backlash to this book that’s present on the Goodreads page is truly sickening. Wait until the separatists over there find out that it’s not just the Jews besmirching their beloved “CHRISTmas”. We sinful atheist heathens are merrily violating their traditions, too!

All You Need for a Beach by Alice Schertle

So I’m going to be honest here: this art is fucking hideous. That’s totally a personal thing, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who think it’s quite nice, so I’m not trying to claim some objective criticism here. But, yeah, I hate the way this book is illustrated. It’s horrible.

The story itself, though, is a short little tale goes through all the things you need for a beach, from trillions of grains of sand to an ocean blue–but most importantly, you. There’s not much to it, but it might be a fun beach read for a toddler.

Beach Day by Karen Roosa

And here we have another rhyming book and another beach book. Personally, I think it’s far superior to All You Need for a Beach, and its illustrations are much easier on the eyes. The story essentially just runs through all the various features of a beach and activities that go on at one, but there’s nothing objectionable to its simplicity, and it would be another reasonable book to give your young child during a trip to the beach.

Honestly, reading this was almost a little nostalgic, considering I haven’t had an enjoyable family trip to the beach since I was very young.

The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye by Jane Yolen

I knew this would make me cry, and I totally did. The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye is a very pretty picture book about an old cat saying goodbye before she goes off to die in private, as cats are often inclined to do, and as I recently lost my own kitty, there was never any chance of me getting out of this one without tears.