"Always sincere, occasionally shocking, this tale is required reading for kids and parents."– Kirkus Reviews
This young-adult novel by Cobb (Greta’s Magical Mistake, 2011) introduces Stephen, whose skill in baseball helps him cope with bullies and a learning disability.
In the small town of Lamington, N.J., nothing much happens. There are three different churches and no stoplights, and kids hang out at an ice cream place called the Dipper. Only Little League baseball enlivens the town. Stephen Miller, a 6-foot-2-inch seventh-grader who weighs 200 pounds, plays for the Lamington Giants. And he’s incredible. His brother Jack and best friend Charlie say he’ll play for the Yankees someday—if only he can learn to concentrate on anything else. In every class, Stephen compulsively relives ballgames in his head, frustrating his parents and teachers. Fellow students tease and bully him mercilessly—despite his large size—with embarrassing pranks (like sending pussy willow seeds to his home). Then, Megan Milton arrives in town. Stephen’s wealthy, warmhearted new classmate is from Connecticut and has an adorably crooked smile. She also had a severe bullying problem that prompted her move to Lamington. While she and Stephen grow closer, his own pack of tormentors plans its most humiliating stunt yet. Author Cobb brings home the supposed simplicity of small-town life with a patient eye: “During the day shopping gets done, dishes get washed, and houses get cleaned....” Stephen is a charming, funny narrator, and once he starts describing baseball games, this tale’s versatility begins to shine. Here’s his take on a particularly slow fastball: “I could have run to the snack shack, downed a couple of hotdogs, and still been back in time to catch [it].” Cobb’s long stretches of naturally engaging dialogue also help deliver characters and twists that positively outstrip stories merely about athletic glory. “I’m a nice guy,” says Stephen, “and that is who I want to be.” Rather than sounding trite, this statement is a rallying cry for those who must deal with bullies and don’t want to sink to their level.
Always sincere, occasionally shocking, this tale is required reading for kids and parents.
With simple rhymes and a gentle spirit, veteran children’s author Cobb (Daddy Did I Ever Say? I Love You, Love You, Every Day, 2012, etc.) offers an enjoyable story of a witch-in-training whose good intentions go awry.
Little Greta Grohm, a student at Wilhelm’s Magic Academy for “magically gifted witches, warlocks and more,” discovers a lonely cat hiding under a car one rainy day. She names him Hamlet and brings him home, confident that her bird friends, Ray and Dew, will be delighted by the new addition to the family. At their first meeting, however, the birds squawk, Hamlet hisses, and general pandemonium breaks out. What to do? Greta, an apprentice witch, waves her wand and tries a spell—and accidentally zaps Hamlet into a painting of sunflowers. She asks her talking magic book for help, and it responds, “What is it now! / Did you turn your mom / into a dog, or the / dog into a cow?” Unfortunately, Greta doesn’t listen to the spell book’s instructions carefully enough, and transports herself, Ray and Dew into the painting. Ray and Drew comfort apologetic Greta (“They flew onto her shoulders, / Ray kissed her with his beak. / Dew then wiped a tear away / as it rolled down her cheek”). The birds, who paid close attention, finally steer Greta in the right direction, and the crisis has a happily-ever-after resolution. This pleasant, engaging story provides valuable messages about friendship and the importance of good listening. Artist Pentangelo’s colorful, playfully skewed images underscore the text’s comical tone and contain numerous small details that attentive readers will enjoy: Greta’s fuzzy kitty slippers, daisy-trimmed skirt and rain boots, her umbrella’s tiny fish decorations, and sunflowers growing out of cups, books and shoes.
A sweet but never cloying tale of a student witch, playfully illustrated.
A happy-go-lucky hare finds it difficult to hop when his socks won’t stay up.
Henry Hare loves to hop, but his hopping is a bit hampered by his titular “floppy socks.” They habitually slide down his ankles and over the tops of his sneakers, and he finds himself spending so much time pulling and tugging them back up that he decides to try to find a solution. Linda Sue the duck suggests using tape or glue, but Henry wisely points out that neither would stick to his fur. Next, Linda Sue suggests bubble gum, but Henry finds this equally “dumb.” When Linda Sue suggests string or a rubber band, Henry seizes upon the idea, but Peter, Paul and Peggy Pup are there to tell Henry that a rubber band would only cut the circulation off to his feet. Despondent, Henry seems willing to accept that nothing will ever keep his socks up where they belong—until wise Al the owl tells him to use suspenders. And that’s just what Henry does. Cobb (Greta’s Magical Mistake, 2013) highlights an amusing scenario with Henry and his socks that just won’t stay up. Even if they’ve never experienced something similar, young readers may still be entertained by Henry’s difficulties—particularly when the frustrated hare attempts to hop while holding on to his socks. The book follows a familiar formula: The title character receives advice from various other characters on how to solve his dilemma until, somewhat predictably, the wise owl saves the day. Cobb’s text has a playful rhythm to it, though it unfortunately sometimes breaks that rhythm in order to force a rhyme here and there. Overall, however, the narrative is solid, if partly because it’s so familiar. In Miller’s unique illustrations, Henry and the other animals resemble an amalgamation of beautifully patterned cutouts. Unfortunately, the background is equally colorful and dizzying, occasionally drowning out the characters. Nevertheless, the overall effort will impress young readers.
A fun romp with uniquely illustrated characters and a simple solution to an amusingly silly dilemma.
Cobb and Castagno’s cute, colorful picture book illustrates the bond between a brother and sister.
Daniel Dinosaur has just turned 4, and his favorite pastime is playing hide-and-seek with his younger sister, Sue. One day, his parents ask him to watch her while they’re away, and he loses track of her. The book then follows Daniel as he looks for her in trees, pokes his head into a lake (where a friendly large-toothed fish lives) and even searches a volcano. Once Sue realizes she has scared her brother, she comes out of hiding and explains that she thought they were still playing. From then on, they stick even closer together, which is adorably portrayed in a cave painting of the two of them playing. This will be a good book for young siblings or for children who have a little brother or sister on the way. Danny and Sue play together and care about each other without being too sappy, and since their parents are absent for most of the book, the reader gets the sense that they can rely on each other. Danny’s search for Sue is humorous, and it’s rendered with lively drawings. The parents’ absence gives Danny his first taste of adult responsibility, but the drama of losing Sue is so brief that it shouldn’t be frightening, even to sensitive children. The light, whimsical drawings maintain a sense of fun. The dinosaurs, however, are a bit underdrawn; most kids love dinosaurs, can recognize different types and would likely appreciate more detail. However, that certainly doesn’t diminish the overall charm of the story.
A sweet story told in simple rhymes that young children would likely enjoy.
Cobb’s 14th book comes complete with pirates, mysterious messages and a magic ring.
While the highly coveted Ring of Hope has extraordinary powers (it can immediately transport its owner out of harm’s way if there’s imminent danger), it also imposes a tremendous burden because not only does the owner become a target of covetous bad guys, but so does his or her family. But the ring itself decides who can work its magic and it will only bond with someone it deems “worthy.” When Ardin Delham, the ring’s last owner, dies, his wife passes the ring on to Paul, the younger and kinder-hearted of her two sons, because unlike her eldest, Charles, she feels Paul can “handle the power and responsibility.” Fast-forward to Capt. Darfous Warner, who hires the dubious and sure-footed Antonio Trovol to deliver a bottle containing a secret message to Capt. Paul Delham. Antonio in turn hires his goofy nephew Marcus to help him with the job. Next up we meet Peter, a young boy who has a talking pet monkey named Monk and lives a double life; a quiet one with his family and the other life as second mate for Capt. Paul in a world with both good and evil pirates. As the story quickly bounces along, it also grows increasingly complex as more characters are introduced into the myriad of plots and subplots and more mysterious messages are added to the mix. Some younger readers will most likely find the story, with its ancillary characters, secret identities and story-within-a-story format, too complicated to hold their attention, but the book’s slapstick appeal might provide some compensation for the confusion. The characters are rich and beautifully rendered, and the story is sprinkled with humor. One character is a retired pirate ship surgeon who makes his living designing and making women’s shoes. Much of the dialogue—especially between Peter and Monk and Antonio and Marcus—is delightfully silly. An index of characters would greatly aid any reader. Charming, simple black-and-white line drawings head up each chapter.
Complicated hijinks don’t quite sink this spirited swashbuckling tale of mystery and magic.
In Cobb’s latest children’s book, the moon, envious of a world he never gets to experience, makes an unusual proposition.
Mr. Moon is tired of missing out on things. While he sleeps, the world comes alive under the shining gaze of Mr. Sun. Children play, flowers blossom and people happily go about their business. Saddened by this, Mr. Moon decides to stay awake one entire day and join Mr. Sun on his journey across the sky. The jovial Mr. Sun is sympathetic toward the poor moon’s feelings, but he makes a cogent point: While he, the sun, is asleep, the moon enjoys an entirely different world. Mr. Sun never gets to see a baseball game being played late into the night or enjoy the colorful explosion of fireworks in the night sky. He never sees the nighttime animals like the raccoon or the owl, and he never sees children trick-or-treating on Halloween. He tells Mr. Moon that it’s perfectly all right by him if he stays but that he should think about what he’s told him. Not surprisingly, upon reflection, Mr. Moon agrees that it’s best if he goes to sleep so that he can be ready to greet the world and all its splendor at night. Cobb (Daniel Dinosaur, 2012) will likely delight and instruct children with this charming tale. The message is loud and clear: Although the grass may seem greener on the other side of the fence, it’s far better to love and appreciate the life one already has. Many young children may have mixed feelings about nighttime, a time of unwanted bedtime and imaginary monsters hiding in dark bedroom closets. However, Jaeger’s illustrations give the night a soft, beautiful glow, complementing Cobb’s text and simultaneously convincing both Mr. Moon and the reader that nighttime is a magical time. Her personifications of Mr. Moon and Mr. Sun are utterly delightful; perhaps the most amusing page in the book features a sad-faced Mr. Moon attempting to fruitlessly blow a dangling kite as the children are tucked in their beds. Cobb’s text is less notable but has a simple charm likely to please young readers and should be light and easy enough for children to enjoy in one sitting—perhaps even just before bedtime.
A pleasing children’s narrative with a relevant message.
A brother and sister bat enjoy a fun-filled week together.
Bill the Bat is back, and it’s time for him to watch his little sister Bella for a week while their parents are away. While Bill makes his late, frantic trip to her house, Bella waits with adoring eyes and a long list of games and activities. The brother and sister do every single one and live it up all week long with pizza and treats and trips to the zoo. Then their parents come home from vacation, and the savvy adult reading the book is thinking, “Where’s the conflict here? Is something going to go wrong? Is there a climax to this book?” (There is not.) But the kid listening is probably thinking, “I wish I had a big brother like Bill.” Bella’s tearful goodbye might be Cobb’s (Bill the Bat Loves Halloween, 2007, etc.) nod to traditional narrative structure, but her family reassures her so quickly that one could hardly say it builds any tension. Truly, Bill’s own joy in spending time with his sister is so unique and sweet that it doesn’t matter. Some of the meandering storyline—introducing characters like Sid the spider, Hank the dog and the old owl, who have no role in the story—feels like padding or an attempt to build a world worthy of a larger franchise, but some kids will appreciate the extra detail. Cobb’s rhythms and rhymes tend toward singsong but rarely intrude on the story. Pentangelo’s illustrations are rich with color and detail and full of little quirks to discuss. (Why do the dad’s goggles have one extra-long eyepiece and one normal one? Why does Bill have a little broadcast speaker on his goggles when the other bats don’t? Why would bats wear goggles at all? Who knows?) Curious kids will especially enjoy the bedtime-extending lists of bat facts at the beginning and end of the book, all of which go beyond the usual “bats aren’t blind.”
A sweet book celebrating brother–sister bonds.
A little girl explains to her father why she loves him so very much.
A cute, curly-haired, kindergarten-aged girl opens the story by asking her father if she’s ever told him how much she loves him. She loves him, she explains, because of how he plays, tickles, squeezes, chases, even roughhouses with her. She loves him because whenever she’s afraid at night, she knows she can always find him, and he’ll make her feel better. He takes care of her, picking her up when she falls down and fixing her hair and helping her get dressed in the morning. Her mother sometimes disapproves of the things the little girl and her father do together. She thinks they play too roughly, and when her husband does her daughter’s hair and picks out her clothes, it’s quite the disaster! But the little girl doesn’t care; she loves the way she looks because her father helped her look this way. And at night, when she gets sleepy, he wipes away her sleepy tears and tucks her into bed. The idea behind the story of the little girl and her doting father is charming, although the execution may fall just a bit flat. The verse Cobb (Do Pirates Go To School?, 2010) has penned is appealing and rhymes prettily at times, but elsewhere rhyme and syntax have a tendency to feel somewhat forced. That said, the sentiment is sweet and the text is simple enough to read aloud with the youngest of readers. Van Wagoner’s illustrations are eye-catching, though it’s the little girl’s expression that shines through on every page. The colors are perhaps a bit muted, but the text easily stands out and works well enough with the illustrations.
A few reworked lines and some brightened colors would likely boost this charming tale from “good” to “great.”
Beware the brooms on Halloween night.
Bill is a curious bat who loves Halloween and watching trick-or-treaters. The little ghouls and goblins run away when he swoops in for a closer look, but Bill is undaunted. He keeps following them until he takes a broom to the head and gets knocked out. On the advice of a wise old owl, he decides to watch from a safe distance next year. Veteran children’s author Cobb (The Frogs: A Happy Life, 2012, etc.) follows up Bill the Bat Finds his Way Home (2007) with a seasonal story about the flying mammal. His rhythms and rhymes never reach the sublime, but they read naturally, for the most part, and don’t undermine the story. The narrative isn’t particularly rich or complex, and the climax—when the broom hits Bill—comes out of the blue, almost as if a page or two had gone missing from the story. Some kids may be left wondering what is going on, but others will enjoy the brief moment of danger. While kids don’t have to understand every word of a picture book, parents should know they may find themselves explaining random references to Nixon (and why that is the costume that scares Bill the most) and the tango (this one seems to be here mostly for the rhyme), as well as a tactful hint that Bill might get killed (“It is a dangerous game / you are playing, my friend. / One day you may not / wake up at the end.”). Pentangelo’s colorful illustrations fill the page with movement and detail. Glowing golds and yellows against a deep-blue night sky evoke the Halloween nights of our childhoods. Bill himself is a curiously goggle-eyed guy with a toothy grin and big ears that give him personality, but the humans in the book aren’t quite as successful; they tend to look unfinished and awkward.
A fast-moving, fun rhyming picture book to pull out once a year.