Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review: Finn Throws a Fit! by David Elliott, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering

Book: Finn Throws a Fit!
Author: David Elliott
Illustrator: Timothy Basil Ering
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

Nobody knows just what set him off. (Usually he likes peaches.) But Finn is Not Happy, and he’s not afraid to let the world know. Thunder in the nursery! Lightning in the kitchen! Batten down the hatches, people, because Finn is throwing a fit.

This book has gotten a little flak for its apparently illogical plot. Why does Finn throw his fit? Why does he stop? It's just not clear! But for my money, this is spot-on. Toddler tantrums are rarely logical, either in their inception or their termination, and it's not meant to be an in-depth examination of the whys and wherefores of Finn's fit, but an illustration of the feelings that everyone goes through while it's going on. Anybody who’s ever had a toddler will recognize and sympathize with the hapless parents, caught in the midst of their small son’s fury. It overtakes the house and everyone in it. Ering’s charcoal and oil illustrations use swirling lines and jagged edges to accentuate the explosive emotions that Finn expresses so fearlessly.

Want a psychological study of the toddler brain? This isn't it. Want an instantly recognizable portrait of life with a toddler? Pick this up.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stack-Buster #2

Miles to Go by Jamie Harper
A small car enthusiast wends his way to school in a book tailor-made for the kids who can’t get enough of the things that go. Subtle and quirky touches (like his shirt!) will make this an enjoyable one-on-one book as well. Parents will smile at Miles’ imitation of the adult drivers in his life.

Ten Days and Nine Nights by Yumi Heo
A little girl counts down the days until her new adopted sister arrives from Korea. Wordless interstitials show the mother’s journey across the ocean to pick up the baby sister. This book beautifully expresses the excitement of an older sibling, and it will speak to the thousands of adopted children in this country.

Wow! Said the Owl by Tim Hopgood
A little owl decides to stay up all day and is overwhelmed by the colors he sees. But as night comes back around, he decides that it’s just as beautiful as the day. I used this in a color storytime. The pages fairly glow with the hues of nature, each page focused on one particular color.

Sources: Local Library

Monday, April 11, 2011

Book Review: A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Book: A Sick Day for Amos McGee
Author: Philip C. Stead
Illustrator: Erin E. Stead
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Zookeeper Amos McGee always makes time visit with his friends during his rounds at the zoo, and they always look forward to it. But one day he wakes up too sick to come to work, and his animal friends are very gloomy without him. Well, if he can’t go to the zoo, the zoo will come to him.

When writing this review, I reflected that "charming" is overused when discussing picture books. The effect, of course, is that when a genuinely charming book like A Sick Day for Amos McGee comes along, we’re not quite sure how to describe it in a way that will convey how truly sweet it is. There’s nary a child to be found, and yet this is a pitch-perfect children’s book. The charm of the situation - you guys, the animals visit the zookeeper! - and the sweet simplicity of the friendship between man and animals capture kids’ imagination. I’ve used it in storytime and the kids always get a kick out of seeing the rhinoceros fit in the bus on the way to Amos’ house.

But it's more than cute and charming. This is a book about friendship, love, and compassion in the deepest and most generous sense, about giving back to friends what they have given you, not out of obligation but genuine caring.

When I first read it, this had just landed on the NYT Best Illustrated Books of the Year. I was so taken by it that when it landed the Caldecott, I squealed with joy. The illustrations, done in woodblock printing and fine lines with washes of subtle color and oodles of precise detail, contribute to the light and gentle feel of this - gotta say it - charming story.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Book Review: Mad at Mommy by Kamako Sakai

Book: Mad at Mommy
Author: Komako Sakai
Illustrator: Kamako Sakai
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

A little bunny expresses his resentment over Mommy’s shortcomings (always sleeping in when he wants to play, never lets him watch cartoons). There’s really only one thing to do, and that’s to leave and go someplace far, far away. That’ll sure make Mommy sorry. But little bunny forgot his . . . ball. Yeah, that’s it, his ball. So there’s nothing for it but to come back again.

This is one of those books about the myriad frustrations of childhood, especially when relating to the major power figure in a young child’s life. The reason I love books like this is that they express these emotions without trying to defang them. It’s annoying to be told, “Hurry up, hurry up,”and then have to wait while Mommy chats. No matter how old you are, you can agree with that. Learning to identify, express, and handle emotions is one of the major developmental jobs of childhood. (Of life in general, even, but I digress.)

I would like to talk very knowledgeably about Sakai’s use of gouache or whatever, but the CIP notes have failed me and all I can say is how expressive his frustrated little bunny is. He droops, he scowls, he pouts, expressing bottomless wells of feeling, good and bad, in the angle of an ear or the turn of a head. The voice of the bunny in the text is pitch perfect, so much so that you feel as if you should have a child reading it aloud instead of yourself.

If you’re sick of sugary “Mommy I love you best” books, add this one to your shelf for a welcome dose of real feelings that end up in the same place.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Reading Roundup: March 2011

By the Numbers
Picture Books: 28
Easy Readers: 1

Library: all

Writing: Floating on Mama's Song by Laura Lacamara
This sweet story of a daughter discovering her mother's secret gift has a lot going on under the surface. I think I should write about this one soon.
Illustration: The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt, illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
I pretty much said it all in my Stack-Buster post.
Overall: Banana! by Ed Vere
This book has two words, two characters, and maybe about six colors. It's frickin' genius, and already a storytime standby.

Because I Want To Awards
Not Really For Kids At All, Even If It Is Cool: The ABC's of Rock by Melissa Duke Mooney
So Much Concentrated Awesome It Should Come with a Warning Sign: Let's Count Goats! by Mem Fox, illustrated by Jan Thomas
Prompted a Wicked Case of the Giggle-Snorts: Socksquatch by Frank Dormer