Author Archives: neelysnews

About neelysnews

Professor of Children's Literature

Beep, Beep, Maisy

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Beep, Beep, Maisy is an expansion on the work of author and illustrator Lucy Cousins. Already holding over fifty titles, the Maisy Mouse series includes both picture books and a television program which detail the lives of Maisy and her animal friends. This board book, published on September 5th, is the most recent addition to the collection.  


Characteristic of the other Maisy books, this solid paperboard book features a limited deep, solid color palette with thick black outlines. The flaps on each page allow a child, typically 18 months or older, to engage in the book along with their caregiver. The story begins with Maisy finishing up at the gas station and then going for a car ride through her town.

Along the way, she encounters Charley, Dotty, Peacock, Ostrich, Eddie, Tallulah, and Cyril. Each page includes Maisy taking note of the mode of transportation utilized by her neighbor, whether it’s a helicopter, fire engine, or bicycle. She then greets them with a “beep, beep!” from her horn, and is met with a different onomatopoetic sound from each kind of vehicle: a “nee-ah, nee-ah!” from the fire engine, for example, or a “honk honk!” from the bus.

The story concludes with a surprise traffic jam, which causes all of the neighbors to line the street with their noisy contraptions. Each sound is pictured with its respective vehicle in the order that Maisy met them, and the characters are seen getting out of their buses and trucks to interact with one another.

This book is perfect for the targeted one-and-a-half-and-up-bracket, as it could be used much longer than the beginning toddler stage. The deep greens, blues, and reds help the book to be both calming and entertaining, making it useful for anything from a bedtime story to a read-aloud. Children familiar with the Maisy Mouse series might be excited to see familiar faces in the book, but its simple plot line is also easily accessible for children who are new to the story. The sounds in the book provide another great avenue for entertainment- a mild-mannered “beep-beep!” followed by a whirring, rapid-fire “chop-chop-chop-chop!” would be sure to keep kids on their toes.

The flaps in the book also provide for an expandable age range. While a toddler still developing sensory motor skills might enjoy pulling the flaps down, an older child might enjoy seeing how they connect to the other pictures or hold surprises. A flap on Cyril’s bus, for instance, includes an adorable family of top-hat-wearing turtles. The flaps could also interest children in how machinery works: several flaps include smoke coming out of smokestacks, or give a peek into an engine or how a helicopter’s blades rotate. These flaps are also noteworthy for their detail: the illustrations extend onto the reverse side of the flap, so that the entire paper is encompassed into the picture. This allows for special actions and processes to be shown: the cloud has raindrops sprinkling out of it, or the ladder on the fire truck really does expand.

This book provides examples of friendliness, through Maisy’s greetings, and patience, through the traffic jam in the conclusion. Its depth ensures that it may be read many times over, and it is sure to be loved by a wide range of ages, from Maisy fans to newcomers alike.

 

Olivia Rastatter

 

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Tacky the Penguin

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Tacky the Penguin written by Helen Lester and illustrated by Lynn Munsinger is truly a children’s literature classic. How is being different a good thing? Let Tacky share his story with you…

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Tacky the Penguin is an odd bird, he doesn’t do things like his companions Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect do. Tacky greets his friends with a “hearty slap on the back” and always does “splashy cannonballs” off the iceberg. His companions always march 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, but Tacky has his own way of marching.

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Because Tacky does things differently, his friends don’t pay much attention to him or include him in their activities like singing. Everything changes when one day the penguins of the iceberg hear the “thump…thump…thump” of Hunters in the distance.

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All of the penguins run and hide in fear, leaving Tacky to face the Hunters by himself. The Hunters say that they’ve come to catch some pretty penguins, so Tacky decides to show the Hunter what kind of penguins live on this iceberg. Tacky marches for the Hunters… 1-2-3, 4-2, 3-6-0, 2 1/2, 0, and they are very confused. He does a big cannonball for the Hunters and gets them all wet. Finally, Tacky starts to sing with his not so lovely singing voice and soon enough his companions join in! They all sing as loudly and as horribly as they can until the Hunters run away as fast as possible because these were not the penguins they came looking for.

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All of the companions hug Tacky and are grateful that he scared the Hunters away and saved them all. The penguins realize that “Tacky was an odd bird but a very nice bird to have around.”

This story is one of my all-time personal favorites because I think it does a fantastic job of showing how being a unique individual is a beautiful thing. It’s a message that can be tricky to teach young children, but Tacky’s story makes it fun and relatable. The illustrations done by Lynn Munsinger in this book are all hand painted watercolor pieces. The images have been praised for their vibrant colors and vivid facial expressions that contribute to an all around classic feel. The text itself conveys a humorous attitude, but Munsinger’s illustrations bring to life the character of Tacky the odd bird and highlight the fun he has while being himself. Attention to details is one of the key elements of this story, from the hairs that stick up on Tacky’s head to the way he slouches when he walks – every aspect of Tacky reflects his daring, unique personality. Overall, a fun family story, Tacky the Penguin teachers its reader the lifelong lesson that even though someone might be different, they can still be a great friend.

 

Josie Mark

Boo Who? -Ben Clanton

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Boo Who?, written and illustrated by Ben Clanton, tells the story of a ghost who is new in town. Boo struggles to fit in because many of the games the kids play he is unable to properly participate in.

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Boo doesn’t have black outlines like all the other characters and this distinction conveys that Boo is transparent. To explain this tricky concept to children, Clanton uses a mislabeled arrow during his introduction and a basketball bouncing right through him.

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Eventually Boo discovers that he is really good at hide and seek, but before then he has a moment where he feels invisible. Clanton conveys this emotion by contrasting the nearly blank white page with the busier pages throughout the rest of the story. This book is also good to teach children how motion can be portrayed in still images. Clanton uses a dotted line to show the ball movement, but on the other hand uses continuous narrative to show Boo fading away.

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Also, this book can be used to teach the lesson that you shouldn’t get discouraged, but rather find a way to be seen and appreciated for who you are. This can be taken out of the context of a new student and applied to the realm of diversity as well as disability. It can lead to a discussion highlighting differences between people and how those differences gives us all unique characteristics and strengths. At first I was worried that the theme of this story may be too outright and that it may override the plot, but ultimately I think children can appreciate the expressive figures and relate to the storyline. It is also important to notice that the bookends are different at the beginning and the end of the book. At first boo is depicted as sad, but eventually this characterization changes. This difference can be used to explain the concept of foreshadowing and making predictions.

-Brianna Ortega

Mighty Moby

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Moby Dick (2017), text by Barbara Dacosta and illustrations by Caldecott winner, Ed Young, is a children’s adaption of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Dacosta and Young collaborate to convey the essence of Moby Dick through dynamic illustrations and enchanting language. Mighty Moby is a complex picture book that will reveal its layers as children revisit it through the years.

The story begins with sailors singing, “Three long years we’ve been at sea, Homeward bound we want to be, A-sailing, sailing, a-sailing-oh….”

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Ed Young’s illustrations were done in cut-paper collage, and successfully convey Captain Ahab’s obsession to kill Moby Dick, the whale that maimed him years ago. The grittiness of the sailor’s life at sea is expressed through off-kilter angles and an eerie color palette. Young deftly plays with size and perspective to awe the reader with the whale’s magnitude and tranquility.

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The reader rushes into battle. Quotation marks disappears. Captain Ahab harpoons Moby Dick and a war of wills commences. The reader hangs onto the rope of the harpoon for dear life with Captain Ahab as Moby Dick thrashes in the ocean.

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The sailors wait anxiously for Captain Ahab or Moby Dick to emerge. Who will survive?

Suddenly, with the force of an earthquake, a red-eyed Moby Dick breaks the surface. Boats and sailors go flying into air. At the height of drama…

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Bath times over. A parent pulls a toy white whale out of the water. The story goes down the drain.

“Time for bed, matey.”

“Aye, aye Captain.”

Dacosta and Young understand the lasting impact stories can have on children as they continue to mix imagination and reality after Moby Dick has ended. To indicate a shift from fantasy to reality, Young switches his material from mostly painted paper to photographs of real objects, such as a towel and bed. However, whale’s eye looms large over child’s bedroom.

The parent picks up the sailor’s verse as they sing the child to sleep. “Wide are the waters of the deep blue sea, Great is the whale that got away free. Sleepy is the sailor who’s tucked in bed, Soft is the pillow beneath the young sailor’s head.”

 

-Carolyn Yee

His Royal Highness, King Baby: A Terrible True Story

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His Royal Highness, King Baby by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by David Roberts is a royal twist on the classic tale of sibling jealousy. The main character, the sister, imagines herself as “the most beautifulest, cleverest, ever-so-kindest Princess with long, flowing wondrous hair,” whose ENTIRE LIFE is ruined by the birth of her baby brother, His Royal Highness, King Baby. The sister complains that the baby takes all of her parents’ time as they celebrate each of his ridiculous milestones. The innocent sister is (in her words) left to completely fend for herself, even though the illustrations don’t quite back up her dramatic viewpoint. The baby is constantly shown as an angelic, pudgy figure surrounded by unicorns and rainbows. The sister glares from the background, her jealousy apparent throughout the text. The illustrations include the Princess’ doodles, which depict her little brother in the way that she sees him – an annoying, smelly monster. For his first birthday, the entire family pours in to celebrate, leaving the Princess alone. She finally plans to dress up as a fairy and break the spell of King Baby. However, just as she enters his palace, he starts crying inconsolably. After everyone else in the family gives up on comforting him, she is able to quiet her brother immediately. They finally bond, and the Princess includes King Baby in all of her royal decrees and adventures. She still sees herself as Princess Big Sister at the conclusion of the book, but she’s definitively okay with having a brother.

My favorite part of this story is that the sister does not have to give up her princess identity in order to accept her brother. Instead, she includes him in her royal escapades. I think this is a good lesson for children that may have trouble adjusting to a new sibling. It shows that they don’t have to change themselves in order to be similar to, or stand out from, the new baby. They will be loved and appreciated regardless. The illustrations in this book highlight several interesting perspectives. The mother is drawn much like a queen, with a fancy dress and curly hair, while the father is typically shown in normal, casual clothing. I think this reflects the mother’s role as Queen of the Household and mother of the royal sister and brother. Additionally, the mismatch between the sister’s drawings/narrative and the illustrations is a fascinating difference to point out to readers. While the sister claims that she is left to make her own breakfast, the illustration shows her being handed a plate of eggs and fruit. Later on in the book, her drawing of the breakfast scenario appears. She is crying, holding a plate with a single egg that she supposedly was forced to make by herself. A cute detail throughout the story is the sister’s pet gerbil, who appears on most pages. This element contrasts the lavish royal lifestyle with the normalcy of having a pet like a gerbil. This mix of moods makes the illustrations more complex and visually appealing. Overall, I would recommend this book to any parent whose child is having trouble adjusting after the birth of a new baby.

Maddie Geller

Shine

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Shine, by Patrick McDonnell and illustrated by Naoko Stoop is a story about Little Hoshi, a sea star who was lived in the sea, but longed to be in the sky. Every night, Little Hoshi looked up to the sky at the shining stars and would wish to be up there with them.

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Little Hoshi longed to be with the colorful planets, thought of all the unique and wonderful friends she could meet in the sky and of the exciting and endless possibilities there, and wondered where anyone could see something as magnificent as the sky down in the sea. She thought all these things as the passed through the colorful coral of the sea, the unique and wonderful creatures that were her neighbors, the exciting and endless schools of minnows, and a magnificent blue whale.

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Little Hoshi, unable to see the beauty of her own home in the sea, and wanting only to be up in the sky where she could shine like the other stars decides to swim away, all the way to the bottom of the sea.

Down at the bottom of the sea, Little Hoshi thinks she sees a star. The star comes closer and closer.

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Little Hoshi discovers that it is actually an anglerfish. She asks the anglerfish how she can shine and the anglerfish tells Little Hoshi that she shines because she is happy, no matter where she is, because happiness is found in the heart. With this answer, Little Hoshi swims back up to her home, and sees for the first time just how colorful, magnificent, unique, and wonderful it is.

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The book ends with Little Hoshi looking into her heart, which is finally happy, and shining.

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The illustrations in this book are beautiful and make good use of color and space. The illustrations were originally done on plywood and the pattern of wood adds a water-like texture to the sea. I especially enjoyed the use of color in the middle section, which contrasts the bright and vibrant reality of Little Hoshi’s home with a dull version of how she sees it. Later in the book, when Little Hoshi goes to the bottom of the sea, her vibrant red color and the anglerfish’s glow sharply contrast the darkness of the sea. Finally, when Little Hoshi learns to be content with her home and to find happiness in it, the pictures become bright and vibrant once again, reflecting her change of heart and new, brighter perspective of her home.

Shine is a beautifully illustrated book that teaches beautiful lessons of appreciating one’s circumstances and finding the ability to shine from the happiness that comes from within. Children are sure to love this story of a sea star that teaches them that everyone can shine.

Angela Ye

Baabwaa & Wooliam

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Baabwaa & Wooliam by David Elliot tells the story of two sheep who get tired of just knitting and reading all day and seek out an adventure. Paired with Melissa Sweet’s illustrations, this book tells a story regarding perspective.

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My favorite scene is an arial view of the sheep’s “adventure”. This is a perspective typically not seen in children’s literature that I think makes this book unique. Aside from just this page, the style of the illustrations vary throughout. From this aerial view, to portraits, to textured borders, the illustrations keep the readers on their toes as they must not only explore the words on the pages but also the pictures that depict them.

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After much wandering around the pair stumbles upon a “sheep” that is really a wolf. At first the sheep don’t realize this and fall for the wolf’s disguise, while it is obvious to readers that he is a fraud. This can be a good way to introduce the concept of dramatic irony to a young reader. Soon enough however the sheep catch on as the wolf begins to chase them. Although Sweet’s characters are rather simply designed, slight changes in eye and mouth shape get the emotions of them across quickly.

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This chase however is cut off short as the wolf inquires about a comment one of the sheep made. Wooliam says he’s read about this wolf, which natural piques the interest of the wolf. We then learn that the wolf can’t read and an unlikely friendship forms. Elliot mentions early on that it is not typical for a sheep to read, but it is possible and therefore it is possible for the wolf to learn as well. After relentless teaching sessions the wolf can read and begins to explore literature about himself. In the illustrations we see Sweet make references to The Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood.

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It is good to get children thinking about the process of learning to read and also mentioning that this can be difficult. The wolf eventually is appalled at what he learns people are saying about him. Finally the sheep discuss how in the end the adventure was quite fun although it got off to a slow start. The wolf then interjects and says “Can you two chattercheeks keep the noise down? I’m reading over here”. This teaches a valuable lesson that reading can become something anyone can enjoy, even the most reluctant students. It also teaches its readers about perspectives and how there can be two sides to every story. While the wolf was talked poorly about in many classic children’s books, he ultimately was a friendly if you sat down and got to know him. Elliott did a great job of taking these stories that already exist in the world of kid lit and putting a new twist on them. Ultimately, I would definitely recommend this book to teachers to be used in a classroom setting as it can be used as a tool to start dialogue about perspective and the power that reading gives us.

-Brianna Ortega