Review: Ellie


Ellie
by Mike Wu
Published by Disney-Hyperion (May 12, 2015)
Ages 3-5

My Rating: 4 Stars

Review:
Ellie is a simple story about an impending zoo closure, the zoo animals working to spruce up the place in an attempt to save their home and a young elephant who doesn’t know how she can help. By happenstance, while she is wandering around feeling sad and not knowing what to do, Ellie discovers her true talent – painting. The news spreads that she is an amazing artist, and ultimately it is her talent that saves the zoo.

While the story may be simple, the illustrations and the gentle nature of the baby elephant make it an enjoyable addition to the personal library. This is Mike Wu’s debut picture book, but he’s no novice. He’s a talented illustrator who has worked on several notable Disney and Pixar films. The visual storytelling in Ellie is top-notch.

If you’re like me and you’re always looking for a little meaning in the stories you read, I’d say Ellie offers this: Finding your calling/talent/purpose can be a bit of a meandering journey, but if you’re willing to try new things (like Ellie), you just might find something you’re really good at. That’s not a bad lesson for a little artist.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.

Review: The Turnip


The Turnip
by Jan Brett
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (November 3, 2015)
Ages 3-5

My Rating: 4 Stars

Review:
A friend and I recently went to see Jan Brett at a signing for her latest book, The Turnip. Jan Brett is probably most famous for The Mitten, first published in 1989, yet she is a prolific author/illustrator with a large catalog of work, including The Umbrella, Hedgie’s Surprise and Mossy.

The Turnip begins with Badger Girl finding an enormous turnip in the garden. When autumn arrives she tries to pull it up, but it won’t budge. Badger Boy offers to help, but it still won’t come loose. Mother Badger, Father Badger and a long line of characters, including Hedgie, pull on the turnip together, but it’s no use. The snow starts to fall. If it freezes, they won’t get the turnip out until next spring, and everyone is hungry for turnip pancakes. Finally, a rooster trying to stay out of the cooking pot comes along and says he’ll give it a go. Just as he’s giving it a tug with his beak, out flies the turnip with the rooster on top. The illustrations on the side of the pages show that all along a mother bear has been preparing her cubs for hibernation. When they find the turnip in their bed, they kick it out so they can get some sleep. The rooster, seen as the hero for pulling up the turnip, is invited to stay with the Badger family as long as he wishes.

As someone with a preference for simple illustration, it took me several readings of this story to really appreciate what is going on. It’s a lot to visually take in at first, but once my brain settled down a bit, I finally saw the magical world created by Jan Brett that is full of character and humor. The ornate details are fitting for a story inspired by a Russian folktale. Jan Brett’s illustrations essentially force you to slow down, have some patience and really look.

If her book tour travels near you, I recommend going. She gives a presentation where she lets you in on some of her illustrating secrets and gives an inspiring talk to the young future illustrators and storytellers in the audience. Hedgie comes along on the tour to take pictures with the kids, and you get to meet another special character from the book.

janbrettwithrooster
The Turnip is a lovely addition to Jan Brett’s body of work.
What’s your favorite Jan Brett book? Let me know in the comments section.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.

Review: Waiting


Waiting
by Kevin Henkes
Published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers (September 1, 2015)
Ages 4-8

My Rating: 5 stars

Review:
In our “hurry up” culture, waiting is so often associated with negative feelings, like impatience and worry. In the world of Waiting by Kevin Henkes, waiting feels more like reverence for the simpler things in life.

Five toy friends – the owl, the pig, the bear, the puppy and the rabbit – sit upon a child’s windowsill. They wait and watch for the things they love – the moon, the rain, the wind and the snow. And the rabbit simply loves watching out the window. While they wait, they see wondrous things, like rainbows and images in the clouds. The friends are sometimes separated, but they always return to their home where they are happy together. They lose a new friend to tragedy, but are in the end graced with another friend who is waiting for something special. When that something special arrives they are blessed with new friends to enjoy their windowsill home with.

The calming effect of Waiting is palpable. The waiting in the book doesn’t feel anxious. It feels more like waiting for those things in life that are always there for you, like a warm fire in the middle of winter or the warm sunshine on the first day of spring. Everything the toy friends wait for is either cyclical in nature or bound to happen at some point in the future, so the friends appear to have patience and faith that their favorite things will come around again. This is very different from the experience of waiting that most children and many adults have. It’s exactly this difference that makes the story worth reading again and again. It’s an introduction for children and a reminder for grown-ups that waiting doesn’t always have to be fraught with worry, fear and longing. The rabbit exudes the attitude best – watching and letting the world reveal its wonders can be enjoyable itself. You don’t even have to be waiting for something in particular. Simply being in the world in the here and now is its own reward.

It always amazes me how much emotion can be shown with the simple change in expression on the face of a character. Henkes, of course, masters this with the subtle changes of the toy characters whose home is always the same, but with a backdrop that is always changing. This is most poignant in the four pages with the toys observing the rainbow, the lightning, the snow storm and the fireworks. The wonder, fear, awe and enjoyment are portrayed with great skill. The feelings are familiar, and they jump off the page into your heart.

Waiting is thought of as a book about friends, but I see this as a book about family. The ending especially drives this home. These friends are a family enjoying each other’s company as they each experience the world in their own unique way.

Kevin Henkes has offered the world many great works of children’s fiction. What’s your favorite? Let me know in the comments section.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. I am not paid in any other form to write reviews.

Review: Bad Kitty Does Not Like Candy


Bad Kitty Does Not Like Candy
by Nick Bruel
Published by Square Fish (May 12, 2015)
Ages 2-5

My rating: 4 stars

Review:
Nick Bruel, once again, delights readers with the crazy antics of Kitty, in Bad Kitty Does Not Like Candy, one of his new paperback picture books.

As usual, Kitty thinks she knows what’s up. That candy on the counter looks delicious, even though Kitty has never tried candy before. It’s got to be better than fish, and it’s got to be better than walrus. The pesky human who keeps insisting that candy is bad for cats can’t possibly be right. Without a doubt, Kitty will have that candy on the counter. But, is Kitty ready for the consequences?

By far, my favorite spread in this book is the one where Kitty is dreaming of herself in a river of candy – all the candy in the world. But, the facial and bodily expressions of Kitty are hilarious throughout the entire book. Bad Kitty Does Not Like Candy is similar to the original Bad Kitty, but is a much simpler story without the alphabet learning. Still, it is a humorous tale that’s just right for precocious 2- to 5-year-olds and the adults who will be reading it over and over again.

Just remember, all Bad Kitty books are not alike (for a comprehensive list, click here.) This one is for the preschool audience. If you’re looking for something fun and full of shenanigans for your young reader, try something from Bruel’s chapter book collection, such as Bad Kitty vs Uncle Murray or Bad Kitty: Puppy’s Big Day

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. I am not paid in any other form to write reviews.

Review: Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree


Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree
by Kate Messner
Illustrated by Simona Mulazzani
Published by Chronicle Books (August 11, 2015)
Age 5-8

My Rating: 4 Stars

Review:
I recently started listening to a podcast called Let’s Get Busy, hosted by Matthew Winner, a school librarian who interviews kid lit authors and illustrators. Today, I decided to listen to the interview with Kate Messner about her most recent book, Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest TreeShe describes being on a research trip in Costa Rica where the idea for the book first sprouted. Her passion for life-long learning and wonder shine through in the interview, which made picking up a copy of her book a no-brainer for me.

Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree showcases the extraordinary ecosystem of the rainforest by examining the life supported by a single almendro tree. Through non-fiction descriptions of rainforest animals, picture book storytelling and math concepts, the book reveals the interconnectedness of species.

Colorful illustrations by Simona Mulazzani depict the complex life that surrounds and intertwines the tree. Each spread features a factual description of a rainforest creature that depends on the almendro tree, plus a short fictional-style description of the action taking place in the illustration. The most unique feature of the book is the visual representation of the number of animals that doubles each time you turn the page. You see 1 almendro tree housing 2 macaws, 4 toucans, 8 howler monkeys and so on, until the end when there are tiny dots of 1,204 leafcutter ants.

There’s a lot of learning that can happen from a book like Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree. It’s a fascinating introduction to ecology, biology and multiplication. The combined styles of writing and the variety of concepts that it covers make it a great choice for classroom libraries. Plus, after the story is told, there are math exercises and resources for getting involved with maintaining the rainforests.

What’s your favorite non-fiction picture book? Let me know in the comments section below.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. I am not paid in any other form to write reviews.