Review: After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)


After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)
by Dan Santat
Published by Roaring Brook Press (October 3, 2017)
Ages 4 – 8

My Rating: 5 Stars

Review:

The original Humpty Dumpty story, like many old nursery rhymes, came about because of an historical event. It wasn’t really written for children at all, until Lewis Carroll adapted it, giving us the egg character we know today in Through the Looking Glass. Luckily, talented writers these days have more freedom than ever before to put new endings on stories of old to give them true relevance in our time.

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)
, by Dan Santat, takes a nursery rhyme that could be viewed as a cautionary tale (don’t take risks, you’ll probably fall and hurt yourself beyond repair) and gives it a new ending with the opposite message (conquering your fears, especially after failing, is the only way to live freely and reach your potential).

Written in the voice of Humpty Dumpty himself, we get to know just how the fear of falling again makes him feel and how it holds him back from doing the one thing he loves most: bird watching.

When I think of great children’s books, they all have one thing in common – the ability to convey the essential parts of the story, like a conflict that pulls you in and resolution that is emotionally satisfying, with just a few sentences and images. After the Fall moves effortlessly through the stages of a great story with emotional resonance and relatability.

After the Fall is a gentle reminder that when fear is allowed to rule, it prevents us from becoming who we are meant to be, whether that’s a soaring bird or simply a happy human being. It’s a terrific message for preschoolers, kindergartners and parents.

Other stories by Dan Santat:

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Review: PIRASAURS!


Pirasaurs!
by Josh Funk
Illustrations by Michael Slack
Published by Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic (August 30, 2016)
Ages 3-5

My rating: 5 Stars

Review:

Imagine you’re the smallest and newest member of a raucous crew of Cretaceous corsairs. That’s right, you’re a little dinosaur and you want to be a pirate. You try and try, but to no avail. Then, one day you lead the way and deliver not only gold and jewels to your pack of prehistoric picaroons, but peace with a rival ship of seafaring dinos.

This is the kind of delightful tale you get from masterful storytellers like Josh Funk. Pirasaurs! is one of two new picture books from Josh Funk that were recently released just a few days apart (Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale is the other). With lively rhythm and rhyme, Josh introduces us to zany characters, such as Captain Rex and her “fabled sword” and Triceracook, whose food makes the crew “slurp and belch and burp.” It’s an imaginative story that’s sure to satisfy the most rambunctious crowds.

Real magic happens when you are able to combine a fun-to-read story that has a heart with colorful, expressive illustrations. Josh Funk and Michael Slack have created a sea-worthy vessel for little ones to explore themes like perseverance and cooperation. And, the journey is so fun, they won’t even know it.

Is your crew ready for a boisterous adventure with marauders from the Mesozoic Era? “Come join the Pirasaurs!

What else has Josh Funk written?


Check out my review of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast here.

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Review: Finding Wild


Finding Wild
by Megan Wagner Lloyd
Pictures by Abigail Halpin
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers (May 10, 2016)
Ages 3-7

My Rating: 4 Stars

Review:

Living in the city certainly has its perks – a short commute and access to cultural and social events, just to name a few. But, whenever I’ve lived in a city, as I do now, I’ve always had a deep yearning to keep the natural world as a part of my life. Whether it’s attempting to grow a garden in the backyard or getting out of the city every now and then, a connection to nature keeps me sane. If that connection goes unattended for too long, things get ugly. There have been times when I’ve had to make do with buying a couple of houseplants to satisfy that calling. Finding Wild by Megan Wagner Lloyd with pictures by Abigail Halpin spoke to that part of me that understands finding wild in the hidden places.

Finding Wild opens with two simple questions. “What is wild? And where can you find it?” Readers follow two children as they explore their world from top to bottom and discover that nature is everywhere, even on the urban streets where it appears, at first, to only have concrete buildings that block the sky.

In this thoughtful, quiet exploration of nature, the author and illustrator take us on a journey through the many facets of the living world, including its gentleness, its roughness, its beauty and its tenacity.

Finding Wild is Megan Wagner Lloyd’s first book. I look forward to reading more from her, as this debut, in this nature-loving girl’s opinion, is a solid introduction to a concept that’s important for all children to understand. Nature is everywhere. You just have to look.

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Review: Hello, My Name is Octicorn


Hello, My Name Is Octicorn
Created by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe
Additional illustrations by Binny Talib
Published by Balzer + Bray (May 17, 2016)
Ages 4-6

My rating: 4 Stars

Review:

As the title and cover suggest, Hello, My Name Is Octicorn is a humorous take on what it’s like to be different.

Octicorn speaks directly to the reader – asking questions, telling the story of how he came to be the only Octicorn in the world, and letting the reader in on why it’s sometimes difficult to be a half unicorn, half octopus.

In a friendly way, Octicorn also tells the reader what he likes to do. One could almost imagine Octicorn as a young child introducing himself to another young person his age.

With its likable character, Hello, My Name Is Octicorn is a lighthearted approach to the concept of being different from the crowd. It would make a fun, interactive introduction to kindness and not judging a person based on their looks. The suggested age range is 4-6 years, but I can see this being read to much younger children because of its simplicity and engaging character.

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Review: RAIN!


Rain!
by Linda Ashman
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (March 5, 2013)
Ages 4-7

My Rating: 4 Stars

Review:
On a rainy morning in the city, a young boy’s excitement and an old man’s grumpiness go head to head in Linda Ashman’s Rain!, illustrated by Christian Robinson.

Rain! is about the power of attitude and its contagiousness. To the old man, the rain is misery – the reason he has to put on galoshes and an overcoat to go get his cup of black coffee. To the young boy, it is an opportunity to pretend he is a frog – the reason he gets to jump in puddles on the way to get his hot cocoa and cookies.

The two characters’ journeys to the Rain or Shine Cafe show us how each affects the people they come in contact with. When they finally meet each other, the fireworks fly. The old man turns his grumpiness on the boy, who is simply trying to do a kindness for him. When the boy turns grumpy in front of the old man’s eyes, he sees what he has done. Rather than letting his grumpiness influence the boy, he opens up and lets the boy’s cheerfulness change him instead.

Christian Robinson’s colorful illustrations shine, providing a glimpse of how every one of us can both sway others with our mood and be swayed in return.

An accessible, fun-to-look-at introduction to the power of attitude!

Other work from prolific children’s book author Linda Ashman:

Recent work by Christian Robinson:

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Review: Twenty Yawns


Twenty Yawns
by Jane Smiley
Illustrated by Lauren Castillo
Published by Two Lions, an imprint of Amazon Publishing (April 1, 2016)
Ages 3-7

My Rating: 4 Stars

Review:
Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Jane Smiley will have her first children’s book, Twenty Yawns, released at the beginning of next month. The bedtime tale is illustrated by Lauren Castillo, author and illustrator of Nana in the City, a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book. With its engaging story and warm, inviting illustrations, Twenty Yawns is a worthy addition to the nighttime arsenal of soothing bedtime stories.

We meet Lucy as she’s digging a big hole at the beach. We then travel with her as she spends a fun-filled, sunny day playing with her mom and dad and other kids by the ocean. When the day is done and it’s time for bed, Lucy’s mom starts to read a bedtime story, but after such an exhausting day she falls asleep before the story is finished – leaving Lucy wide awake. The dark, quiet house makes it even harder for Lucy to fall asleep, so she gets up to find her bear, Molasses. As she’s carrying Molasses back to bed, she looks back to see her other stuffed animals looking lonely. She drags them all to bed, and with big yawns from the stuffed animals, the moon and Lucy herself, she finally falls fast asleep.

Castillo employs soft, boldly outlined illustrations to set the tone throughout the story. With an impeccable use of color, she transitions the mood from the bright beach to the sleepy bedroom and from sleepy bedroom to spooky bedroom and back again.

Smiley’s text holds its own – painting a picture of a little girl enjoying an exciting day, then struggling to fall asleep because of the quiet, “mysterious” atmosphere that descends upon a house at night. From the opening line to the very end, you could read the story without the illustrations and still see the scene in your mind’s eye.

The combined strength of the illustrations and storytelling, plus its gentle tone, makes Twenty Yawns an excellent choice for exploring the theme of nighttime fright with a child. And it’s enjoyable to read.

Diversity in children’s books is a hot topic right now, and rightfully so. The We Need Diverse Books™ organization makes the case that all children should be able to find books that allow them to see themselves in the story. The fundamental story in Twenty Yawns could be any child, but the illustrator, writer and publisher have done a great service for our culture at-large by simply making the family in the story bi-racial. Kudos!

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Interested in Lauren Castillo’s work? Here are links to some of her other books:


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Review: The Almost Terrible Playdate


The Almost Terrible Playdate
by Richard Torrey
Published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers (February 16, 2016)
Ages 3 – 7

My Rating: 3 Stars

Review:
The Almost Terrible Playdate starts with an oft asked question among children, “What do you want to play?” Two friends begin formulating ideas about their own ideal pretend play, and as they do they inevitably disagree on what to do. In imaginative thought bubbles we see the girl wanting to be characters that are the most important and powerful, and we see the boy wanting to dominate his stories. Typical behavior for both kids and some adults. Aren’t we all the main character in our own minds? After retreating to separate play areas, the two friends, thanks to curiosity, organically manage to compromise. Who says one story can’t have a ballerina, a circus, a dragon, a race car and a zoo?

The conflict in The Almost Terrible Playdate is cleverly portrayed on the cover with opposing crayon illustrations in opposing colors – a technique that is carried throughout the story. The cover art and the entire story are very accessible. It’s easy for even the youngest ages to understand what is happening from the illustrations. For parents, it may even seem like they’re looking at a slice of their own children’s play experiences. It is a humorous view of two children riding the emotional wave from stubbornness and selfishness to curiosity to compromise.

The reason I am giving an average 3 out of 5 star rating is because it is heavily gender stereotyped. Does it ring true that the girl wants things like Queens, ballerinas and ponies in her story? Does it ring true that the boy wants dinosaurs and race cars in his story? Of course it does. And that’s partially what makes the book accessible. But which comes first – the boy who likes cars and the girl who likes ponies or the images and messages that they receive from parents, TV and books about what they are supposed to like? The conflict in the story would have been just as poignant had the girl wanted to be an astronaut and the boy wanted to be a zoo keeper. With so many gender neutral combinations that would work just as well to tell the tale, there was a lot of room here to push the envelope. While the story provides a realistic view into the world of pretend play and offers a way for teachers and parents to easily introduce kids to the concept of cooperation, it’s a bit too conventional for my taste.

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