Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Review: Far Far Away! by John Segal

Book: Far, Far Away!
Author: John Segal
Illustrator: John Segal
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

After a stressful day at the market, a little pig announces his intention to run away. "Tonight. Forever. You can't stop me." He warns his mother that he's going "far far away from HERE!" His mother helps him plan the various logistics of his journey, including what to pack. When he discovers that he will depart before the chocolate cake is ready, however, the little pig has a change of heart.

Almost every kid has announced their intention to run away, knowing subconsciously that the act of announcing it has prevented it from happening. They'll recognize themselves in the little pig, both through his initial bad mood and his desire to take everything along with him, and be reassured by the very end.

The clean, warm watercolors really shine when portraying the little pig's possible troubles on his journey, but Segal also contrasts mama's serenity with little pig's slowly lifting bad mood to keep the feel purely fantasy.

Written in dialogue format, this would work well as a storytime readaloud, or even a two-man show.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Review: I Have a Little Problem, said the bear by Heinz Janisch, illustrated by Silke Leffler

Author: Heinz Janisch
Illustrator: Silke Leffler
Published: 2007 (Austria) 2009 (US)
Source: Local Library
The bear has a problem. He goes around town, seeking help. He gets wings, a scarf, boots, pills, even a lucky charm, but none of these will fix his problem. What can?
Every child who has ever been ignored or frustrated will recognize this bear's plight. Everyone thinks they know what the bear needs, while not listening long enough to hear what his real problem is. In the end, the bear doesn't need anything but a friend.  
On another level, this book is about consumerism and the modern desire for stuff to fill the gaps. Everyone the bear talks to wants to sell him something, from hats to honey. But his real problem--loneliness and fear of the dark--can only be solved by a friend. And of course, the friend, a modest little fly, is the first one who listens to the bear's problem all the way through, without interruptions.
It's on the long side for preschoolers, but it's perfect for a class or a parent/child read-together. This deceptively simple book could prompt discussions about the value of friendship and companionship over material goods, and the importance of listening instead of jumping to conclusions.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Book Review: Are You a Horse? by Andy Rash

Author: Andy Rash
Illustrator: Andy Rash
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library
When Roy gets a saddle for his birthday, he's a little flummoxed about how to use it. The instructions aren't helpful, either: "1. Find a horse. 2. Enjoy the ride." You see, despite being a cowboy, Roy's not exactly sure what a horse is. So he sets off through the Wild West, attempting to find a horse. Apparently, they have some very specific qualities. The rusty thing with wheels is not a horse (it's not alive), the spiny green thing is not a horse (it's not an animal), and the wiggly, hissing thing is not a horse (it doesn't have legs). Oh, dear! How will Roy ever get to use his brand-new birthday saddle?
This book develops like a game of twenty questions. From the initial question ("animal, vegetable, or mineral?"), Roy slowly narrows down the qualities of a horse until he finally finds one that fits all the categories. Roy's clearly not the shinest spur in the ranch house. That's part of the fun. The other part is the sheer silliness of this book. Besides cacti and snakes, recognizable Wild West artifacts, Rash also includes lions, zebras, sloths, and crabs in the category of non-horse. My favorite spread was the sloth, who apparently takes the better part of a day to inform Roy that he's not a horse because horses are fast.
This book is just plain fun. I kind of want to turn this into a puppet show so I can hear the shrieks of hilarity as kids correct Roy's misperceptions.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Reading Roundup June 2010

By the Numbers
Picture Books: 24

Library: all

Writing: Superhero School by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Andy Rash
Too long for storytime, but I really cottoned to this story of a kid who goes to superhero school and is terribly disappointed to discover that it's still school. Lots of funny, clever metaphors and phrases.
Illustration: The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
Yes, I just got to reading it this month. I know. I know! The dry Serengeti heat seems to blast off the page. I'm from Arizona, people. We know heat. Pinkney got the baked, bleached, and beautiful landscape just right.
Overall: I Have a Little Problem, Said the Bear by Heinz Janisch, illustrated by Silke Leffler
Works on many levels. I'll drone on about them in a review, soon.

Because I Want To Awards
Really Wanna Read This Aloud: Are You a Horse? by Andy Rash. (Side note: I gave this to a co-worker when I first read it. He fell so deeply in love with it that he's still forcing people to read it three weeks later. I regret nothing.)
Never Flinches from the Realities of Antarctic Life: The Emperor Lays an Egg by Brenda Guiberson
Got a Green Kid? This is for Them: The Curious Garden by Peter Brown