Monthly Archives: February 2011

Marvelous Picture Books – Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale


Mo Willems is a distinguished writer and illustrator whose career began as an animator and illustrator for Sesame Street. Since then, he has acquired 3 Caldecott Honors, 2 Geisel Medals, 2 Carnegie Medals, 6 Emmys, a Geisel Honor and several Bubble Gum Cards. His 2005 Caldecott Honor book, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale addresses the attachment a toddler has to her beloved stuffed animal and the responsibility parents are obliged to uphold in making sure that this attachment is not prematurely severed.

Young Trixie goes on an errand with her Dad to the Laundromat. She takes along her precious Knuffle Bunny but manages not to return with it on her way back home. While Trixie cannot coherently convey that Knuffle Bunny is missing because she is too young, she adamantly makes it clear that something is wrong through her actions; screaming, crying – just generally being difficult. When Trixie and her father return home and Trixie’s mother opens the door, Trixie’s mom instantaneously asks, “Where’s Knuffle Bunny?” The family rushes back to the Laundromat to find Knuffle Bunny still intact from being in the washer.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale is a charming story that is an adaptation of traditional stories about friendship. Trixie has developed what some parents may consider an unhealthy obsession with a stuffed animal but at such a young age, we understand that that will eventually pass. Most children can probably identify with Trixie’s attachment although it may have taken a different form (such as a blanket). So, this book exudes a certain element of identification or nostalgia. The illustrations in Knuffle Bunny juxtapose grayscale/sepia images of a neighborhood in Brooklyn (Brooklyn stand up! – I’m a native) with vibrant, rich and outstanding artistic images of the elements that move the book along (like Trixie and her Dad walking down the street). Children will find it easy to concentrate on the plot of the story because the imagery literally jumps right up at you because of the color contrast. The illustrations make for comprehensible and believable emotions as well as an appropriate setting to use as a canvas.

Children will fall in love with this story and parents will sympathize with Trixie’s parents. Willems has a distinct and catching style that will surely leave you yearning for more. Lucky for us, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale is a three part series to satisfy the itch of wanting to know what will become of Trixie and her beloved bunny.

Happy reading!

Children Make Terrible Pets


When we were younger, who didn’t go off outside to play and come back with a new pet animal? A turtle, butterfly, ladybug, anything cute made for a great pet. And we were always so sad when our parents told us we had to put them back in the the wild!

Peter Brown’s “Children Make Terrible Pets” is a hilarious reversal of those parties involved. One day a young bear named Lucy is practicing her twirling in the woods when she is startled by a sound. Well isn’t she surprised when she finds it to be a young boy, who she immediately knows she needs as a pet.
But when she brings her pet, who she names Squeakers, home to show her mother, she is less than thrilled with the idea. “Children make terrible pets,” she tells Lucy, but Lucy will not have that and convinces her mother to let her keep her pet. What comes next is a series of adventures starring Lucy and Squeakers that show the fun and the perils of taking care of an animal.
A classic scenario most all children have found themselves in provides excitement for young readers who can relate to Lucy and her new found love of her pet. Much like as humans, we cannot understand what our animals say when they talk, Lucy cannot understand the child, only hears him squeaking, hence the name Squeakers.

Along with an entertaining twist of a classic story line, Brown’s illustrations are captivating: pencil and construction paper (with a bit of digital editing) on tan backgrounds and all framed in wood. Dialogue is captured in colorful speech bubbles, all hand lettered by Brown.
This book is a simple and fun read for elementary aged students and can teach them in a way the responsibilities that go into caring for another living being.
Happy reading!

The Newest of the New: Eight Days- A Story of Haiti


Written by Edwidge Danticat, “Eight Days- A Story of Haiti” is told through the eyes of Junior. Junior is a seven year-old boy who was trapped underneath his home as a result of the Port-au-Prince earthquake in Haiti. The book begins with Junior talking about when he was removed from under his house after eight days and all of the questions that he was asked, such as if he cried and if he was afraid. When discussing his feelings while being trapped, he says, “but in my mind, i played.” The book then continues with Junior retelling the games he played and the friends whom he met day by day while trapped underneath his home. It is evident throughout the story that Junior’s sense of imagination is what really allows him to get through those long eight days.

Alix Delinois’ illustrations in the book instill a feeling of hope and courage among the readers. His use of vibrant colors go along with Junior’s imagination and portray the idea that the terrible disaster will eventually end. The situation is not illustrated as a depressing one, but instead as one that made Junior and his family closer, and one that allowed Junior to overcome his feelings of nervousness by his imagination and hope.
I think that both young children and older children would enjoy this book. Younger children would enjoy the colors of the illustrations. They would be able to relate to the illustrations of Junior and his family and friends. I also found that while I was reading the book that I forgot that Junior was recounting his time underneath his home. It is written in such a way that one could get the feeling that the book is one about Junior and the fun that he has with his family and friends. I think young kids would really enjoy this and be able to relate to it, especially the activity on the seventh day in which Junior and Justine had a bicycle race. This is a typical activity that children take part in. Older children would enjoy this book for its messages. I personally enjoyed it because I developed such an admiration for Junior and the strength and hope that he maintained throughout such a difficult period. I think that adolescents will develop sympathy for Junior and this would lead to a good class discussion on not only the situation in Haiti, but also on similar situations. I think it would help children who went through Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters to read this book because it will inspire them that there is hope and things will get better if they maintain a sense of hope and make the best of the situation.
Happy reading!

Wonderful Books of the Past: Cats Cats Cats Cats Cats


The title says it all–this book is all about cats. After beginning with a clever and cute dedication to all types of cats as well as to “every boy, girl, or grownup who doesn’t absolutely hate cats,” author Beatrice Schenk de Regniers provides readers with a collection of poems and funny information about her favorite feline friends. First published in 1958 by Pantheon, illustrator Bill Sokol enhances de Regniers’ imagery with entertaining three-tone drawings of cats that are reminiscent of a magazine ad from the mid-twentieth century (compare the perfume ad below that is from 1960 to one of the drawings in the picture book).

“Cats Cats Cats Cats Cats” is an entertaining read for children of a variety of ages. I would recommend it for younger children who will be very entertained by the drawings, but it could be appealing for older children who like the rhyming and information about cats. As I read it, I appreciated it for the various types of poetry de Regniers used as well as the clever placement of text and pictures. My favorite part was the poem about how cats love books:

“Whenever you’re sitting and reading a book, Pussy comes over and takes a look. Then if he likes it, he’ll quietly creep on it And snuggle down and go to sleep on it.”

This reminded me of the cat that I had growing up–every time I sat down to do homework, she would come into the room and curl up on my textbook! It was adorable, but made being productive very difficult. I know if my dad had read this book, the most memorable part for him would have been the picture of the cat distroying a chair by scratching it (he was not the biggest fan of our cat…).

I also love how de Regniers included a poem by a cat, which consisted of various spellings of the word “purr” placed artfully all over one of the pages. It is clever poems like this one in combination with the entertaining drawings and relatable situations that make “Cats Cats Cats Cats Cats” a truly wonderful book from the past!

Purrrrrr (That’s cat for “Happy Reading!”)


(P.S. If you like this book, or if you are not a fan of cats, I recommend the book “Dogs” by Emily Gravett. It has a similar concept and also has very entertaining and adorable illustrations of a large variety of dogs! Plus–there’s a surprise ending that’s sure to please readers!)


Marvelous Picture Books: The Rabbit Problem


“This book is based on a problem that was solved in the 13th century by the Mathematician Fibonacci, but it is NOT (I repeat NOT) a book about maths. It is a book about rabbits…Lots of rabbits!” So reads the back cover of Emily Gravett’s marvelous picture book entitled The Rabbit Problem. While advanced mathematics is not usually a basis for a book for children, Ms. Gravett tackles the subject with lots of fun extras and plenty of cute rabbits. The result is a great educational tool that can be enjoyed by very young children and may be useful to older children and adults as well.

The mathematical basis of the book is a problem posed by the mathematician Leonardo Pisano Bigollo, more commonly known as Fibonacci. He wanted to know what would happen if a pair of rabbits were placed into a field, and reproduce using the following rules:

  • The rabbits are fully grown at the age of 1 month
  • By the end of the second month, each pair produces another pair of rabbits
  • Rabbits never die or leave the field, and each pair produces exactly one more pair

Fibonacci wanted to know how many pairs would be in the field at the end of each month and at the end of the year. The result is the now famous sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc. This sequence has many applications in mathematics and also shows up frequently in nature (for more information on the importance of the numbers, see the Wikipedia link at the end of the post).

Emily Gravett decides take us into the lives of these rabbits in the field. The book is laid out as a calendar with each month bringing a new problem or issue that the rabbits have to deal with. As we follow the first pair of rabbits through their year together (and their quickly growing family) we get to see them overcome loneliness, hunger and eventually overpopulation. While it is fun seeing each month get gradually more crowded as more and more rabbits enter the field according to the Fibonacci sequence, where the book really shines is in the extra pop-out sections each month. The rabbit-produced newspapers, cookbooks and other goodies provide endless entertainment and are also can teach the readers a little as well.

The Rabbit Problem is not your typical picture book. It doesn’t revolve around a gripping plot or a moral lesson, and the fact that it even mentions a 13th century mathematician is unique. What it does have is lots of lessons and lots of extra fun that make this book a must read. Whether you love math (like I do) or you love rabbits (and who doesn’t?), you should take a look at The Rabbit Problem.

Happy Reading!


New and Noteworthy: Tony Baloney


“Tony Baloney is a macaroni… penguin” are the first words to the fun and energetic story of Tony’s life. Pam Munoz Ryan and Edwin Fotheringham take the reader on the adventures of Tony’s daily life, learning about his likes (fish tacos with parmesan cheese) and his dislikes (trouble), as well as his family life. As the only boy in the family of macaroni penguins, Tony is also stuck in the middle. Tony does not like to play with his twin, baby sisters (also known as the Bothersome Babies Baloney) and his only option is usually playing with his older sister (Big Sister Baloney) who is always the boss. Tony, like most younger siblings would agree on, thinks that it is unfair that he never gets to be the boss and has to be the cat.

When Tony can no longer stand being bossed around by his big sister and his little sisters are getting on his nerves, his pet stuffed animal, Dandelion, starts to act out for him. Tony makes his feelings known through Dandelion and then the two of them retreat to their secret hideout. Dandelion takes on the role as “therapist” as Tony explains why he is so mad and why he started to misbehave. Using italics, the authors signify when Dandelion is giving his advice to Tony and “after Tony Baloney has been in the hidey-space for maybe a year, or twenty minutes”, he goes to apologize to his family. In the end, his big sister shares her role as boss for a little and they include the babies to play as well. And, although Tony doesn’t have to be the cat anymore, his sister gives him a different role (read the story to find out ;-)).

This book is a wonderful story for children as it has so many different points that can be related to different children. It contrasts the differences between the places of the siblings and how they don’t always get along, which any sibling can relate to. And for the only children reading this story, it’s easy to relate to the fact that there is not always going to be someone around that you want to play with. Instead, this is where Dandelion comes in. He acts as an outlet for Tony’s thoughts and feelings, much like many young children have a transitional object that they use when they don’t feel like talking for themselves. He also represents Tony’s conscience and gives Tony the advice that Tony himself already knew in his mind. Most, if not all, families have seen their children get into fights and make up again over and over and it is no different in this loving story of macaronis. Finally, the wonderful element of color added throughout all of the illustrations makes the pictures pop and keeps the child’s eyes entertained. The bright green, blue, red and yellow keep the eyes engaged and leave the reader wanting to read on.

This book is great for intermediate readers who are looking for more of a challenge. With words like Parmesan, exasperating and Bothersome, it is sure to get the child’s mind working. Smartly, I think, the authors used the “alternate” way to spell baloney, instead of its correct spelling. I admit that without the Oscar Meyer commercials I probably still would not know how to spell bologna (and yes, I still sing the song to myself if I need to spell it). The book’s content and age level just does not jive with the age group who can look at “bologna” and know what the word spells and means. Smart choice authors!

This book is a wonderful read for younger ones and, my favorite Baloney’s name is no long OSCAR… it’s TONY!

Happy Reading,


Oh, the Places You’ll Go!


Oh The Places You’ll Go, the last book published by Dr. Seuss before his death, is one of those rare books that connect to all ages. Tonight, as the stresses of tests consume my mind, I felt the same sense of possibility that I felt when my mom read this classic to me the night before I went to the first day of second grade.

The book begins with the narrator congratulating and sending off a yellow clothed boy – representative of the reader – to explore. In subsequent pages, the narrator maps out the boys journey, which is full of highs (“You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights.”) and lows (“And when your in a Slump, your not I for much fun.”). He faces obstacles such as the temptation to wait, loneliness, and confusion; however, by the end it is clear that despite these challenges, the character (you) will succeed and “move mountains.”

Seuss’s Illustrations, as always, are colorful and whimsical. In this classic Seuss illustration style, the boy flies in a hot air balloon, plays basketball on top of what looks like a tree house that has a base of another house instead of trunk, rows through dangerous waters, and encounters characters including men with crazy facial hair, elephants, and birds. These illustrations make the life lessons accessible to children because they are humorous and full of details to look at.

In conclusion, Oh the Places You’ll Go, remains inspiring. Its message is for all ages. Through humor and whimsy, the important message that life is full of obstacles and success is made clear for children.

Happy Reading!


Valentine’s Day – On the Night You Were Born


In honor of Valentine’s Day, I have chosen to review a book that I fell instantly and deeply in love with upon first read; a book whose meaningful message is ultimately all about love.

Nancy Tillman’s magnificent picture book, On the Night You Were Born, extols the jubilant celebration of a child’s birth, an ode to the “one and only ever you.” As the news of the birth travels, sailing “high on a breeze” dolphins, polar bears, and ladybugs rejoice, “…dancing all night…” Tillman’s prose, which reads like a softly whispered song, manages to avoid ever feeling contrived or sappy. Instead, authenticity and eminence is woven seamlessly throughout the melodic text, clearly expressing the book’s ultimate message, “you are loved” in the most magnificent of ways.

On the Night You Were Born
excels not only at delivering a beautifully written poem. Each turn of the page reveals Tillman’s radiant and richly colored illustrations. Every painted picture radiates a golden tinged exuberance, featuring an ever-present moon (complete with a smiling face), musical notes, and the occasional hidden message. Tillman’s rendering of polar bears, giraffes, and birds contrast beautifully against the night’s navy sky – creating a visually dramatic setting for this extraordinary night.

This book is the ultimate bed time story. Every child should read, or be read, this book over and over again until they know undoubtedly how special and loved they truly are. Children will be enchanted by the stunning visual imagery Tillman provides, delight at the illustration’s clever details, and be rocked to sleep by the poetic, rhythmic flow of the words, all while being cloaked in the wonder of themselves, and love.

Wonderful Books from the Past: Where the Wild Things Are


Maurice Sendak is best known for Where the Wild Things Are. The book had a slightly tumultuous beginning. First, the book was originally supposed to feature horses as the inhabitants of Max’s adventure land, until Sendak’s editor learned that Sendak was not the most gifted equine artist possible. Still having faith in the project, Sendak’s editor suggested that, even if Sendak could not draw horses, he could at least draw “things.” Thus, the wild things were born. Humorously, the wild things are all named after and based on caricatures of relatives who frequently visited Sendak’s childhood home for supper on Sundays.

Sendak introduces Max, the protagonist of the story, in the thralls of a tantrum that provokes his mother to call him a “wild thing” and send him to sit alone in his room wearing a monster costume and without a dinner to eat. The anger and frustration he feels is met with admiration when his room transforms into a jungle and he travels to the land of “wild things.” Crowned “King Wild Thing” by the natives, Max enjoys trouncing around the land with the wild things until a waft of a home-cooked meal sparks a hankering for home, where “someone loved him best of all.” When Max returns home, his dinner is waiting in his room, still hot.

All children can relate to uncontrollable rage during an especially critical tantrum, allowing them to identify with Max’s wild side. And, for most children, the feeling of the first hug after a fight with their parents borders on bliss every time. This easily-relatable story line allows children to climb into Max’s magical boat alongside him. Children empathize with Max’s childish rage, travel to the land of the wild things, cause rumpus with the monsters, and enjoy the warmth of the peace-offering of dinner alongside Max. I think the ease with which children can simultaneously relate to the story and relish the richly imaginative qualities of the book and its illustrations make this book an incredible work of children’s literature.

Indulge your Wild Side.

Happy Reading!

New & Noteworthy: A Very Zen Panda


Writer and illustrator Jon J. Muth is renowned for his incredible children’s books; his work Zen Shorts was a Caldecott Honor book, and he has received high praise for other books from the New York Times Book Review. Zen Ghosts, his most recent book, is no exception.

It’s Halloween, and Addy, Michael, and Karl are preparing their costumes when their friend Stillwater the panda shows up and tells them he has someone who can tell them a ghost story. They decide to meet up with Stillwater once trick-or-treating is finished to hear the story. The three children are led by the panda to his house, where they are greeted by another panda who looks startlingly similar to Stillwater; this new panda begins to draw them a story.

The story the new panda draws is not just any story, it is a koan, which are stories that Zen students contemplate along their journey to reach enlightenment. This particular koan is called Senjo and Her Soul Are Separated, and was first written down around the year 1200. It tells the story of a girl named Senjo, who falls in love with her best friend Ochu but is told she has to marry a man of money in their community when her father gets sick. Heartbroken, Ochu escapes to the river on a boat and soon sees Senjo running down the riverbanks. They run away together and marry. Senjo begins to miss her family deeply, so they return to their former village to face the consequences of their actions. Upon their return, Senjo’s father greets Ochu warmly; however, her father insisted that Senjo was ill and had never left her bed since Ochu left. Her father runs upstairs to tell her the news, and she gets out of bed and goes downstairs, where she sees Ochu and the other Senjo. The two Senjos become one.

After finishing the story, the three kids sit with Stillwater and then go home, satisfied with the “ghost story.” I absolutely loved this book. I think it’s rare to find something such a versatile story woven into a children’s book. The concept of duality and split souls is difficult to contemplate, not surprising considering Buddhist monks spent years thinking about topics such as this. However, the way Muth presents it makes it accessible to all levels; a parent reading it can comprehend the depth of the koan, while a child is fascinated by an interesting ghost story on Halloween. It really speaks to what we discussed in class on 2/3: children’s literature takes something from complex to more simple.

Last, but CERTAINLY not least are the gorgeous illustrations of this book. Muth is a fantastic artist, and he really brings to life all of his characters, especially those in the koan. Overall, this new book is not to be missed! I would also highly recommend Zen Shorts and Zen Ties, both of which feature Addy, Michael, Karl, and Stillwater and weave Buddhist culture seamlessly into beautiful stories.

-Kristen Leonard