Book Reviews / KidLit / Picture Books / Reading

Picture Book Reading Challenge: September 2016

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The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School by Laurie Halse Anderson
Oh the “hair-larity!” Zoe’s hair is going to First Grade. Her Kindergarten teacher found ways for the hair to be useful so they didn’t have any problems. But in First Grade, Zoe’s hair has met it’s match. There are rules, after all. What follows is a hair-raising experience. Things get quite tangled when Zoe suffers the consequences for her hair’s misbehavior. And the class is downright chaotic with the hair on the loose. Even ever-trusty Duct tape cannot restrain her red ropes. Until Zoe asks to try a different way – she knows what will work. I loved reading this book. If you have an unruly, out-of-control mane you may not find this so funny, but me and my straight brown boring locks thought it was hysterical. 

Then there was the dedication written to the author’s daughter who was once an energetic student and grew up to become an understanding teacher. Well done!

88 Instruments by Chris Barton
Someone wrote a book with the boy version of me! I started learning violin when I was five or six. It didn’t take me long to realize I wanted to play the piano instead – after all, it had more keys so surely it made more music! Maybe that’s not the best reason to pick an instrument, but I’m here to say that I stuck with the piano
through high school and dropped the violin like a hot potato. The descriptions of the instruments in this book are hilarious and true. Words such as, “squonkiest,” “wheeziest,” and “twangiest,” perfectly apply. Anyone remotely connected to music or music education will appreciate this take on such a momentous decision (for children and their parents). (As a side note, I’d love to go back and learn the violin now. Maybe one of these years…I should probably brush up on my piano-playing first…)

A Second is a Hiccup by Hazel Hutchins
The perfect book for introducing units of time. From seconds to years, author Hazel Hutchins breaks down the duration and significance of all the time markers we use. How do you explain to a child how long a second is? Or what is a day? Great rhymes and creative explanations manage to infuse the words with meaning for little minds.

The Empty Pot by Demi
The Emperor must choose a successor. To do so he hands out one seed to all the children of China. In one year he tells them to come present their best to him, and he will then choose the Emperor. Ping is a little boy with a proven green thumb. He is confident of his abilities to grow a beautiful flower from the Emperor’s seed, but despite trying all his methods for inspiring growth, the little seed stays buried in the dirt. When the day comes to present his pot, it is empty. No flower has grown or bloomed. Ping’s father insists that Ping takes the empty pot and reminds him that he has done his best and that his good enough to show the Emperor. This lesson in honesty has a happy ending for Ping, but young readers will be anxious for Ping’s meeting and surprised by the result.

The Spider Weaver: A Legend of Kente Cloth by Margaret Musgrove
Two expert weavers in Ghana stumble upon a magnificent web. They attempt to take it home, but in the process of detaching it they destroy it. Saddened, they return to their village. One weaver’s wife suggests they cannot find the original web, but perhaps they can find the original weaver. The two go out again and find a black and yellow spider making a new web. She weaves as they watch and learn. Inspired, they create a new type of cloth that becomes renowned throughout the world. A wonderful read for conversations in creativity, sharing, and culture. The Afterword provides further notes for adults to consider weaving into (see what I did there, heh heh) the discussions or for answering questions after reading the book.

The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi
Kikko sets out in the snow with the pie that her father forgot to take with him to her Grandmother’s house. The snow is fresh, and the woods are quiet. Kikko think she sees her father, but in her haste to follow him she falls and crushes the pie. Sadness is followed by surprise when Kikko peeks into the house where she thinks her father entered. The surprise becomes an invitation which leads to courage, then friendship, then a musical procession to her Grandmother’s house. No big bad wolf in this story and full of imagination, beautiful illustrations, and warm fuzzies. 

At Night by Jonathan Bean
A little girl is alone in her dark room at night. A breeze from the cracked window beckons her to take her sheet, blanket, and pillows up the stairs. She follows the whisper to the rooftop and snuggles into a big chair on her house in the city to think about the wide world. She falls asleep as the snugness of her room gives way to the expanse of the sky. The story is simply constructed and elegantly told. The illustrations bring an added dimension to it and contribute to the sweetness when readers see the mom wake up and quietly follow her daughter to the roof. After the girl falls asleep the story ends with a picture of the girl sleeping and her mom watching the moon with a hand on her daughter. Children lead us to wonder. 

Apple Picking Day! by Candice Ransom
Not going to lie, this one was a shocker to me. I don’t usually like, let alone love-enough-to-vouch-for, Step Into Reading books. I understand they serve a purpose for beginning reading, but usually the stories are disjointed and lack structure. This one is awesome – and just in time for fall! The story of two kids who go with their family to pick apples is told with simple language and rhyme, but the pacing, the activities, and the illustrations capture the excitement of picking apples to welcome fall. There are even a couple lines with sorting, comparison, opposites, and color. Plus, illustrator Erika Meza created such realistically jubilant faces on these youngsters I even found myself smiling along. Wow. First time for everything, and this one is a first for me. Great book from the Step Into Reading program with well-paired writing and illustrations.

How to Dress a Dragon by Thelma Lynne Godin
My girls convinced me this was a good one. Reading it silently, it was an “eh.” Reading it aloud and thinking like a kid? It was funny. The middle is the strength of this book. Verbs such as tickle-tackle and sit-saddle start the hilarity and are followed quickly by dragon shenanigans. There’s some compromise, some definite no-nos, and some clues as to what dragons will wear willingly. A good, funny book, but also probably a winner for any parents out there with children who are difficult to dress (might have to try that tickle-tackle) or who are opinionated about what they will or will not wear. Several times I asked my youngest if she might not actually be a dragon. 

Sunday Shopping by Sally Derby
Evie and Grandma prepare for their weekly ritual of going shopping together in their pajamas. They hop into bed, open the newspaper, and begin browsing. Evie holds the big black purse with the shopping money inside and she keeps the scissors and tape on the bed in front of her. So they begin. The paper opens to the grocery store. Before the night is over the imaginative duo will have purchased food, furniture, new clothes,  school supplies, toiletries, a microwave, and a special jewelry box. The items have been snipped and taped to the wall. With just a bit of time left Evie makes a special last purchase for Grandma. 

As imaginative, creative, and fun as this story is, the emotional appeal will catch you in the end. The mother is away in the army but clearly present in their daily lives; their Sunday shopping ritual is creative, but it is the bonds of familiarity and gratitude that speak loudest. 

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