Books by Joe Cepeda

I SEE by Joe Cepeda
by Joe Cepeda, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
CHILDREN'S
Released: Nov. 12, 2019

"The book's simplicity guarantees achievement for beginning readers. (Picture book/early reader. 4-6)"
Two kids, probably siblings, explore their surrounding world through magnification. Read full book review >
I DIG by Joe Cepeda
by Joe Cepeda, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 14, 2019

"Kids will dig it. (Early reader. 4-6)"
A beach book for new readers. Read full book review >
HEY, HEY, HAY! by Christy Mihaly
CHILDREN'S
Released: Aug. 14, 2018

"Even urban readers will cheer; in fact, the title commands it. (glossary) (Informational picture book. 3-6)"
A rhyming tale of hay, from field to bale. Read full book review >
UP by Joe Cepeda
by Joe Cepeda, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2016

"An accessible and imaginative title for emergent readers just learning to decode and understand the written word. (Early reader. 3-7)"
One gusty fall morning, a surprise blows through an open window into the bedroom of two sleeping children, both with dark hair and light-brown skin. It's a pinwheel! Read full book review >
¡VÁMONOS! / LET'S GO! by René Colato Laínez
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 15, 2015

"Though the book is unquestionably well-meaning, it just doesn't work except as a vocabulary builder. (Bilingual picture book. 3-8)"
This bilingual spinoff of "The Wheels on the Bus" features many of the vehicles associated with community helpers. Read full book review >
SWING SISTERS by Karen Deans
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 1, 2015

"An appealing and informative composition aimed at a younger audience than Marilyn Nelson and Jerry Pinkney's Sweethearts of Rhythm (2009). (author's note, selected bibliography) (Informational picture book. 6-9)"
Women! Jazz! Integration! Read full book review >
TWO BUNNY BUDDIES by Kathryn O. Galbraith
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 4, 2014

"Learning how to navigate the path of friendship is an important part of life, and these bunny buddies learn a lesson that is gently, beautifully shown rather than told. (Picture book. 2-7)"
In this simple but insightful story, two rabbits discover that lunch with a pal is more fun than eating alone. Read full book review >
CUB'S BIG WORLD by Sarah L. Thomson
CHILDREN'S
Released: Nov. 5, 2013

"Thomson's personification of Mom and Cub, along with her measured, soothing text, make for an agreeable, affirming story for both one-on-one and group sharing. (Picture book. 2-6)"
A polar bear cub experiences her first adventures outside the security of the den—but still seeks her mother's reassuring presence. Read full book review >
THE TORTOISE OR THE HARE by Toni Morrison
ANIMALS
Released: Sept. 7, 2010

Authors and illustrator combine forces again in this umpteenth version of the classic tale (Peeny Butter Fudge, 2009). Neither Jimi Hare nor Jamey Tortoise is popular. J. Hare is too fast for anyone to keep up: His running is "too quick, / a trick!" J. Tortoise, on the other hand, is too smart: He's "too quick, / a trick!" In preparation for the coming race, Hare exercises and Tortoise strategizes. Both hold phone interviews with a foxy reporter, and then it's off to the starting line. J. Tortoise avails himself of trains and boats and planes while J. Hare performs stunts. There's no surprise at the finish line, only in the newspaper headline, which proclaims "Winner loses! Loser wins!" Both contestants are happy and go off hand in hand, because what matters is friendship—which, bafflingly, appears to erupt spontaneously at the end. The Morrisons seem to be sending messages about crafty news manipulation and the absurdity of athletic competition. But is this the appropriate audience? Cepeda's oil paintings are colorful and appropriately frenetic, but the story is just too diffuse and confusing. (Picture book. 4-7)Read full book review >
FROM NORTH TO SOUTH/DEL NORTE AL SUR by René Colato Laínez
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2010

After his mother is deported by U.S. immigration officials, José and his father go to visit her at Centro Madres Assunta in Tijuana, where she will stay with other women and children until she gets her papers and can return. Frankly a plea for sympathy for families torn apart by immigration rules, this tender story is gently told in Spanish and English texts, together or on opposing pages. Young José recalls his day: the border traffic jam, the joy of seeing his mother, gardening and a seed game with other children in the shelter missing their parents and a final bedtime story told in the car's backseat. The author, a Salvadoran immigrant, teaches in a bilingual school where his students often experience family separations. Cepeda's oil paintings, full-bleed single- and double-page spreads, use bright colors and a variety of perspectives to reinforce the joyfulness of the day. A road map of the area between San Diego and Tijuana serves as endpapers. The child's perspective makes this a particularly moving glimpse of an increasingly common experience. (Picture book. 5-9)Read full book review >
PEENY BUTTER FUDGE by Toni Morrison
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 15, 2009

Joyful exuberance abounds in this mother-son collaboration that celebrates family ties and the joys of eating peanut-butter fudge. Mother leaves her three children in the care of Nana with a long list of virtuous instructions (lunch: peas, carrot sticks, fish fingers) that seems imperiled by a grandmother who wears high-top red sneakers. And in danger they are. To a playfully rhyming text, the whole crew starts out with a nap, followed by a story, a potato-sack hop, a yummy lunch (biscuits and ham; no carrot sticks visible), dancing, games and finally the fudge recipe, which is a "family secret." Mother returns and—thank goodness—memories (in misty black and white) of preparing that same recipe quickly erase her horror. Cepeda's brightly rendered oil paints in hot shades of green, pink, blue and yellow can barely contain the mayhem and mess. A fast-paced read-aloud that celebrates intergenerational love with a mixing-bowl-ful of humor and just a teaspoon of irreverence. Fudge recipe included. (Picture book. 4-7) Read full book review >
A GIRL, A BOY, AND THREE ROBBERS by Gail Gauthier
ANIMALS
Released: July 1, 2008

On the three afternoons a week Brandon spends at Hannah's house, he claims he would rather watch TV than play Hannah's imaginative games, but he can't resist the real adventures when neighbor children decide they want to keep Hannah's horrible cat. The episodic plot of this sequel to A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat (2007) seems to lurch rather than roll forward. Young readers may be confused by the fact that while some chapters are self-contained episodes, other adventures require several installments. The three scary Sunderlands, a pair of first-grade twins and their oversized younger brother are not so much frightening as badly behaved, and Brandon, Hannah and fat, orange Buttercup the cat are equally weakly developed characters. On the other hand, Hannah has an admirable imagination and makes good use of familiar literary characters. Readers who enjoyed the humor and energy of the first novel will certainly want to see what she and Brandon are up to in this installment. Cepeda's infrequent angular grey-scale drawings add interest to this text-heavy chapter book. (Fiction. 7-9)Read full book review >
N IS FOR NAVIDAD by Susan Middleton Elya
CHILDREN'S
Released: Dec. 1, 2007

A lively introduction to Latino Christmas traditions follows an alphabetical structure as a way to introduce key Spanish terms and explain holiday customs and activities. The highlighted words include the Spanish words for decorations, food, family members, key characters in the Nativity story and terms relating to church attendance. Additional days of celebration, such as Las Posadas and Three Kings Day, are also included. The authors skillfully pack their short, rhyming text with a rather amazing amount of information, while still making the text peppy and interesting. Cepeda fills his buoyant paintings with fruits and flowers in brilliant colors, smiling people enjoying the holiday treats and backgrounds in bright greens and blues creating a cheerful mood. The illustrations show one extended family enjoying the holiday in a chronological progression, from hanging the first decorations at the beginning of the season to setting out their zapatos (shoes) for Three Kings Day. An author's note provides further information (noting that most of the customs included are Mexican in origin), and a glossary gives pronunciations for the Spanish words and complete definitions. (Picture book/nonfiction. 4-8)Read full book review >
A GIRL, A BOY, AND A MONSTER CAT by Gail Gauthier
ANIMALS
Released: June 1, 2007

Brandon hates Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons because his mom sends him to Hannah's house after school. Instead of watching TV, which Brandon wants to do, bossy Hannah invents all kinds of games—spy, cave explorer, pirates—with Brandon reluctantly in tow. Hannah's big, fat, orange, smelly cat, Buttercup, is often their "monster" target, but when a new neighbor moves in next door, her menacing pet dog becomes a real enemy. Bucky, a Chihuahua, looks like a cartoon rat with a collar, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for with a ferocious temperament. He's a perfect foil for Hannah's imaginative scenarios with Brandon as her accomplice. Who will triumph—monster cat, pipsqueak dog, pushy girl or patsy boy? For a younger audience than Cauthier's previous six books, her reliance on plot misses an opportunity for character development; Hannah is no Junie B. Jones or Gooney Bird. Illustrations could have helped, but Cepeda's black-and-white sharp-edged, angular drawings add little appeal. This mildly humorous, mid-level chapter book is a quick read, but lacks oomph. (Fiction. 7-9)Read full book review >
THE SWING by Joe Cepeda
by Joe Cepeda, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2006

Josey finds a virtual treasure trove, in a very unusual way. When Mom asks young Josey to borrow yet another item from one of the neighbors, the girl chafes with embarrassment. Her family has become notorious for losing things, from a popcorn popper to a mixing bowl to a dog named Leopoldo. Josey takes out her frustration in the backyard swing, pumping higher and higher. She disappears in the leafy density of the old oak tree that holds the swing, coming out with . . . a lantern! With dad's pushing help, she gets deeper into the branches, bringing down a toaster, photo album, pogo stick, etc. The family throws an impromptu party in the back yard. Josey and some guests dismantle grumpy Mr. Avila's lawn mower and use the parts to build a wacky contraption that she attaches to the swing. She vanishes into the overhead greenery; everyone watches the tree shake and rattle. Out come . . . Josey and Leopoldo, a big white sheepdog. Engaging fantasy with bright watercolor illustrations. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
SEARCHING FOR OLIVER K. WOODMAN by Darcy Pattison
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 2005

That intrepid hitchhiking doll is back—and gone, as his repeat trek from South Carolina to California goes terribly awry, and Tameka enlists the help of Paige Hall, an investigative reporter, to track him down. With the help of Tameka's Uncle Ray, Paige sets a new wooden figure, Ms. Imogene Poplar, P.I., to tail him. The caper's format follows very closely in the pattern set in the first outing, featuring letters and postcards sent back and forth between Tameka and Paige, and updates from characters Imogene encounters on the road as she is borne along on Oliver's trail from Rock Hill to Alaska. (How Oliver ends up in Alaska instead of California is revealed in a sequence that unfolds on the title and copyright pages.) Cepeda's signature oils-over-acrylic illustrations fairly fizz with energy and good humor, sliding occasional glimpses of Oliver into the backgrounds as Imogene pursues him across the great American landscape. Pattison's epistolary text does yeomanly work, giving each of Imogene's helpers a distinctive character and developing a romance subplot between Paige and Uncle Ray. As with its predecessor, understatement and ambiguity are everything; Oliver's fans will happily embrace both. (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
TRY YOUR BEST by Robert McKissack
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2004

Putting forth your best effort is the theme of this intermediate easy reader set during an elementary-school sports day. The African-American PE teacher, Mr. York, encourages a little girl named Ann, who thinks she isn't good at sports. He urges her to try each activity with the repeated refrain of "just try your best," which she reciprocates when Mr. York joins a relay race. The simple story has a cheerful, positive tone complemented by Cepeda's paintings in bright primary colors. The Green Light Readers format also includes discussion questions, a simple activity suggestion, author and illustrator bios, and two additional pages of information on the series. (Easy reader. 5-7)Read full book review >
FREDDY IN PERIL by Dietlof Reiche
ANIMALS
Released: April 1, 2004

Freddy, an overly intelligent golden hamster, Sir William, a civilized tomcat, and Enrico and Caruso, a pair of theatrical guinea pigs, share the residence of German teacher and translator Mr. John. Freddy's extraordinary abilities allow him to communicate via computer as he types his thoughts to Mr. John by day and writes his stories by night. Boldly posting his biography on the Internet alerts the villainous Professor Fleischkopf of his unique genius and the perilous adventure begins. Freddy must outwit his enemy, escape, and be rescued before his brain is dissected in the name of scientific experimentation. Brownjohn's smooth translation captures the sophisticated and witty first-person narration flaunting a writer's flair complete with dramatic, nail-biting phrases such as "I'D NEVER LOOKED INTO A COLDER MORE SINISTER PAIR OF EYES" set in a larger, boldly wacky print. The more-graphic-than-usual book design includes a few black background pages with white text to emphasize the darkness of Freddy's plight. Cepeda's wonderfully expressive, simple ink cartoons surround the text on almost every page, adding to the histrionics. A cliffhanger written with literary polish. (Fiction. 8-10)Read full book review >
WHO’S THAT GIRL? by Marisa Montes
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2003

In this second adventure, Puerto Rican-American Gabí confronts a minor mystery: why is the new girl in the neighborhood so secretive? Could she even be a ghost? After all, the house is reputed to be haunted. Lizzie, a.k.a. Lizard, is all too human; due to a birth defect, she wears a leg brace and goes to a special school. Not wanting to be pitied, she tries to prevent others from finding out. Gabí and Lizzie quickly bond over their physical agility (Lizzie is an excellent climber) and their imaginary roles as super heroes—Gabí the Great and Gecko Girl, respectively—but almost lose their new-found friendship over Lizzie's older twin brothers, who enjoy terrorizing Gabí's little brother Miguelito. Gabí's narration is propulsive and a little hyper—sure to please young readers—and Cepeda's line illustrations are wry, emotive, and only a bit exaggerated. Spanish words and phrases, explained both by context and a glossary, will feel comfortable and comforting to bilingual students, while providing non-Spanish speakers with an appealing introduction to the language. (Fiction. 6-9)Read full book review >
I, FREDDY by Dietlof Reiche
by Dietlof Reiche, illustrated by Joe Cepeda, translated by John Brownjohn
ANIMALS
Released: May 1, 2003

Literature becomes liberator in this story of a golden hamster who wants more from life than an exercise wheel. Purchased to be the pet of a little girl named Sophie, Freddy teaches himself to read and to leave his cage at will (he's typing the story on his owner's computer). When Sophie's mother's hamster-hostility banishes him to the home of a translator of books, he negotiates the society of Sir William the cat and Enrico and Caruso, the rhyming guinea pigs—and realizes his destiny as a reader and a writer (using his new owner's computer). Fleshing out this slim story are fairly beguiling details of insight into hamster behavior and priorities and Cepeda's amusing black-and-white spot illustrations of the blocky, self-important hamster as he conquers his world. The story rather quickly becomes a one-note joke, however, that being Freddy's unrelievedly arch voice—a tedious joke at that. There are five Freddy books in Germany; let's hope that the others offer more than this one. (Fiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
GET READY FOR GABÍ by Marisa Montes
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2003

A third-grader of Puerto Rican descent, Gabi (the accent comes later) speaks Spanish at home and English at school. Her mother hates even the slightest hint of Spanglish—the mixing of Spanish and English—but as pressures mount at school and Gabi finds it difficult not to lose her temper at Johnny, her classmate and nemesis, it seems she can do nothing but speak Spanglish. Lightweight, but firmly focused on the everyday trials and tribulations of the spunky Gabi—and told through her voice—this will appeal to lots of girls, especially Latinas, who are ready to move out of beginning readers and into their own chapter books. Both sentences and paragraphs are short and direct, and Gabi's narration includes plenty of kid-friendly dialogue, sometimes in Spanish or Spanglish, all of which is explained within the tale. Coupled with the sheer exuberance of Gabi's family, the narrative voice may have some crying "stereotype," but a truer comparison would be with sitcoms such as George López and The Brothers García. Cepeda, who also teamed with Montes on the picture-book folktale Juan Bobo Goes to Work (2001), here provides numerous black-and-white line illustrations, scattered throughout and often worked into the text block. Gabi's almost triangular haircut—reminiscent of an Egyptian sphinx's headdress—and the gleeful facial expressions of Johnny and Gabi's little brother Miguelito add to the generally "hyper" feeling of the story itself. A glossary of Spanish terms is included. (Fiction. 6-9)Read full book review >
CAPTAIN BOB TAKES FLIGHT by Roni Schotter
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2003

"He was Captain Bob, and he was the finest, fiercest flyer that ever flew the cloud-cluttered skies. He feared no one, not even the curly-headed Control Tower who called out his orders: ‘Clear the runway!' " But Bob will do the job of cleaning his room his way, the fun way, and that means imagining he's flying an airplane. Outfitted with goggles, flying gear, cushioned cockpit, and cardboard box-like plane, Bob is up, up, and away. This companion to Captain Bob Sets Sail (2000), in which he's the "bravest, best captain who sailed the Soapy Seas" (taking a bath), is even more delightful than the first. Cepeda's color-saturated, full-page oil paintings depict just the right amount of spunkiness, disorder, and aerial points of view. The Control Tower is, of course, Bob's mom, and an understanding, loving mother she is. How refreshingly clever and child-like Bob's sky-high antics are. Playfulness with type adds swirls and loops to the text layout. Captain Bob's inventive venture to cleaning his room is charming. Every youngster, whether hopeful pilot or not, will soar right along with Bob on his flight of fantasy. What's next, Captain Bob? (Picture book. 4-7)Read full book review >
THE JOURNEY OF OLIVER K. WOODMAN by Darcy Pattison
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2003

An epistolary picture book whimsically teaches geography, encouraging readers to follow the peregrinations of a life-sized wooden figure. When Tameka invites her Uncle Ray, a woodworker, to visit her in California, he responds that he can't—but he will send a wooden doll he has fashioned in his stead. Oliver is duly propped up by the side of the road to hitch a ride ("California or bust," reads his placard), a note in his backpack requesting that his conveyers send postcards back to his friend Ray. What follows is a genial romp that moves back and forth among Oliver, Ray, and Tameka, as Oliver makes his way across the country. The landscape orientation enhances sweeping full-bleed spreads; wordless double-paged openings feature Oliver against the changing American geography and alternate with postcards and letters written by his helpers to inform Ray of his progress. Cepeda's (Why Heaven Is Far Away, 2002, etc.) cheerily energetic oils vary perspective and angle with abandon, giving the story a wonderful movement. Rendered over an acrylic underpainting; the bits of color that show through the oil coat also lend individual spreads terrific energy. The genius of the interaction between illustration and Pattison's (The Wayfinder, not reviewed) deadpan postcard text is that the tension regarding Oliver—is he just a giant doll or is he "real"—is never really resolved. Pictured in Reno with a trio of gray-haired sisters from Kokomo, Oliver stands in the background by the craps table, holding up one wooden finger and looking on expressionlessly. The letter reads, "Mr. Oliver's advice was very helpful. We won $5,000!" Who knows? Readers, like Tameka and those who encounter Oliver on his way, will be happy to choose to believe. Endpapers feature bright, complementary maps of the US: the front is empty, while the back is marked by dotted lines showing Oliver's journey. All geography lessons should be this much fun. (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
WHY HEAVEN IS FAR AWAY by Julius Lester
ANIMALS
Released: Oct. 1, 2002

Shaniqua, Bruce, Mrs. God, and, of course, God, return after What a Truly Cool World (1999), to reveal the answer to a question children are bound to wonder about. When the world was new, ladders joined heaven and earth, and folks visited back and forth. However, that didn't work out—because of the snakes. God thinks the snakes are lovely—"like watching silence dance," he says—but people kill them because they are afraid, and creatures eat them because they think they're called snacks. God sends Bruce to use the computer in the Library of Everything That Is Going to Be to find snake poison. When so armed, though, the snakes drive everyone into heaven, overrunning God and Mrs. God's miniature golf game and wreaking havoc. Mrs. God (her name's Irene) and Shaniqua, the Angel in Charge of Everybody's Business, talk to the snakes to resolve the problem ("Thank you for asking what it's like to be a snake. No one ever did"). Turns out Mrs. God is a bit miffed at being left out of the original creation effort, so she and Shaniqua set about rearranging the snakes, their poison, and everything else—music doesn't seem to calm these savage breasts. But God and Mrs. God know that those on earth have to work out their own problems, and so all the ladders are pulled up but one (Shaniqua needs a way to know everybody's business, after all). The language is funny and true, the pictures practically chortle off the pages, and children will find the answers not only to the title question, but to why stars fall and hawks soar as well as to what the Zero Commandment is. Furthermore, they'll always be looking for that one last ladder—after all, it leads straight to heaven. (author's note) (Picture book. 3-9)Read full book review >
MICE AND BEANS by Pam Muñoz Ryan
ANIMALS
Released: Sept. 1, 2001

Kindheartedness lies at the core of this story, even if the main character wishes to banish all mice—via a battery of snapping traps—from her hearth and home. Rosa Maria might live in a tiny house, but she wants to celebrate the birthday of her grandchild Little Catalina with a party and lots of food. "When there's room in the heart, there's room in the house, except for a mouse!" So she sets a trap to make sure none of her preparations are snacked upon by the resident mice. Strangely, each evening as she goes to check on the traps after fixing up a batch of enchiladas or frijoles (Spanish words are sprinkled throughout the text), the traps are gone. She blames her own forgetfulness and sets another. Comes Catalina's big day and Rosa Maria suddenly remembers that she has forgotten to stuff the piñata with candy. But it's too late—the children are already whacking away. When scads of candy cascade from the piñata as it bursts, Rosa Maria figures she has simply forgotten that she filled it. Yet when she is cleaning up after the party, she discovers evidence of mice—"RATONES!"—and said evidence also points to the mice having stuffed the piñata for Rosa Maria. So she changes her tune: "When there's room in the heart, there's room in the house, even for a mouse." In artwork as sumptuously rich as Catalina's birthday cake, Cepeda's (Daring Dog and Captain Cat, above, etc.) color-drenched scenes stuffed with detail make Rosa Maria's world a pleasure-giving place. And now that the mice are welcome—these mice, after all, pull their own weight—it might be the most beneficent home ever. (Picture book. 4-7)Read full book review >
DARING DOG AND CAPTAIN CAT by Arnold Adoff
ANIMALS
Released: Sept. 1, 2001

The idea that household pets lead more exciting lives at night than we might imagine, a popular picture book premise, gets a stylish—maybe too stylish—workout here. By day, Irving Dog and Ermine Cat come when called, meekly submit to being leashed, and eat from dishes. But "Our Children Give Us Those Names / But We Do Not Have Those Names / I n s i d e / Our / Dog / And / Cat / H e a d s." When the lights go out, the two transform into plumed, swashbuckling rivals/allies, battling happily about the kitchen, chasing a (masked, caped) rat through the living room until they break a lamp, then sacking out to "Catch A / B r e a t h / And / Pass / A / Flea / Or / Two" until morning. Adoff's shaped lines crank up the verbal intensity, but sometimes impose an artificial rhythm, and because every word is capitalized and heavily boldfaced, that intensity soon grows monotonous. Furthermore, in Cepeda's roughly finished oils, Cat and Dog don't seem to enjoy their daytime roles much, which may lead young viewers to wonder why they bother to hide their inner selves at all. Still, this will resonate with thoughtful readers who understand that, when Adoff writes of dreams and secret identities, he's not just referring to pets. (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
HEY YOU! C’MERE by Elizabeth Swados
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 2001

In a burnished urban landscape full of the colors of summer, a group of youngsters gather. "Sis is eatin' poems! / Josh is drinkin' poems! / Amelia's wearin' poems on her feet! / . . . You've got a poem in your pocket, / A poem on your tongue, did you know that?" Their poetry slam takes them past "Tough Kids," what "A Good Cry" feels like, how fast "Summer" goes. Adults come in for some clear-eyed razzing: "Aunt Evelyn," who huggles and nuzzles and kootchie-koos "till you shriek"; "Great Granma," who's a little deaf, and "Mr. Befuddled," Mattie's Uncle Lester. The poems have bounce and pop and innocence, and would perform well for a group in readers' theater or on stage. Cepeda, who did the truly cool illustrations for Julius Lester's What a Truly Cool World (1999), matches playwright Swados's exuberance with vibrating backgrounds of orange or green or turquoise. Thick impasto colors and geometric forms take kinetic shape as the cast of characters, their props (don't miss the multilayered ice cream cones), and the architecture of fire escapes and sidewalks take the stage. (Poetry. 8-12)Read full book review >
JUAN BOBO GOES TO WORK by Marisa Montes
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 31, 2000

The Puerto Rican folk character Juan Bobo, a.k.a. "Simple John," who just can't get anything right, trips over a silver lining supplied by Montes (Something's Wicked in These Woods, p. 1287) and set in tropically festive artwork by the illustrator of Captain Bob Sets Sail (p. 640). Shooed out the door to find work and told not to put his wages in his pocket, but to carry them in his hand, Juan Bobo gets a job shelling beans. Though he manages to get even that job wrong, he is paid and promptly shoves the money into his pocket, where it falls through the holes as he walks home. The next day his mother gives him a sack in which to put his payment, but this time his reward is a bucket of milk. He does as commanded, with predictable results. Carry it home on your head next time, she tells him, not knowing his payment for sweeping the grocer's floor will be cheese; it melts in the sun. Tie it up with string next time, she says, but the payment is a ham that Juan Bobo drags homeward, only to have it eaten by the neighborhood cats and dogs. This is Juan Bobo's lot, but Montes is not happy with it; the fool can't simply be a well-meaning comic figure in the tradition of Epaminondas—he ultimately has to deliver. So she adds a Goose Girl touch and works it so that Juan Bobo saves the life of a rich man's daughter and thus food is thereafter no problem. Heroism doesn't sit comfortably on Juan Bobo's shoulders. His gift is that he makes us laugh, and that is more than enough. (author's note) (Picture book. 4-9)Read full book review >
RIP’S SECRET SPOT by Kristi T. Butler
ANIMALS
Released: Aug. 1, 2000

Butler (What a Truly Cool World!, 1999, etc.) presents an African-American family with a problem: suddenly, young Pat's frog has gone missing, as has Mom's pen and Dad's hat. Distinct, brightly colored figures point and gesture broadly in the pictures; the very brief text, running no more than two lines per page, is perfect for newly fledged readers; and the simple mystery is simply solved, by following Rip, the dog, out to a newly dug hole in the yard. The household possessions are reclaimed, but lest he feel left out, Rip gets a big bone to bury as a consolation prize. A short but complete tale for budding mystery fans. Cepeda's afterword indicates that he likes to have his characters look like people he knows, but in this case, all family members have exactly the same faces and expressions and no one seems to have any bottom teeth. Functional. (Easy reader. 5-7)Read full book review >
CAPTAIN BOB SETS SAIL by Roni Schotter
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 1, 2000

Schotter (Purim Play, 1998) pens a rip-roaring tale of a boy's bath, his hijinks spiritedly displayed in Cepeda's (We Were Tired of Living in a House, 1999) bigger-than-life, full-bleed oil illustrations that make full use of the boy's superb orthodontia while tastefully maintaining his anatomical privacy. Captain Bob sails the soapy seas of Bath Bay and Faucet Falls, along with a host of bath toys. His imaginative powers are up to the rigors of his voyage, even when he's "attacked from behind by a ruby-ringed Sea Hand," his steady-gripped caretaker, who is herself capable of cleaning up the boy, and, judging by the lavish spillover, the post-bath bathroom. Captain Bob swims, floats, and submits to scrubbing but is never squashed. He controls the taps with shouts and roars until the waters cool and it's time to go. He drains the ocean to crawl out onto the "shaggy shore" of dry land, where he is brushed, dressed for bed, and kissed—just because he's Captain Bob. Sure to enliven tub time. Brace yourselves. (Picture book. 3-7)Read full book review >
WE WERE TIRED OF LIVING IN A HOUSE by Liesel Moak Skorpen
Released: March 1, 1999

A 30-year-old text, previously illustrated by Doris Burn, loses nothing to age and is enlivened by the brisk contemporary palette Cepeda chooses. Skorpen's small questers find grace notes and pitfalls on their circuit from home to adventure and home again. Their first alternative to conventional housing is a tree, where they enjoy the breeze and the colors and the birdsong, but then they tumble off the branches. A pond comes next, and its delights are dampened when the three sink along with their raft. The cave has bears as well as cool green moss and possibilities for exploration. Lastly, the seashore, with its castles and warm sand and surfsong—and turning tides. Home again, they find that it looks pretty good, and doubtless full of treasure and frustrations. The brilliant illustrations add a further beckoning note; if the wild looks this good, it's worth a try. (Picture book. 2-6) Read full book review >
WHAT A TRULY COOL WORLD by Julius Lester
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 1, 1999

Lester (Black Cowboy, Wild Horses, p. 661, etc.) has conceived a creation story that proves even God needs to have a little fun. When Shaniqua, "the angel in charge of everybody's business," points out to God that the newly created earth is kind of drab, God trims the trees, and the clippings become bushes and grass. Shaniqua is still not impressed, though, so God goes to the edge of heaven, opens His mouth, and out comes music. The notes are in shapes and colors that turn into flowers. The flowers whisper that they are lonely; Shaniqua learns to sing so beautifully that she brings tears into the world, and from those tears come butterflies. The language is winning: God's secretary, Bruce, greets his boss with "Yo! What's up, Deity?" Cepeda's oil paintings carry the warmth and familiarity of the text: Bruce wears glasses, strap-on wings, and has taped messages to the side of the computer that indexes the Library of Everything That Is Going to Be; heaven's interiors resemble comfortable homes (God's chair is a bright red recliner). A truly cool book about how—perhaps—things came to be. (Picture book. 3-9) Read full book review >
PUMPKIN FIESTA by Caryn Yacowitz
CHILDREN'S
Released: Aug. 30, 1998

Foolish Fernando joins the likes of Juan Bobo in a folktale-like formula starring a 19th-century story anti-hero who's always getting things wrong. Old Juana grows the biggest, roundest, brightest pumpkins in San Miguel, while her neighbor, Foolish Fernando, wants to discover her secret. Brightly colored oil paintings humorously use movement and contrast to show, on three occasions, Foolish Fernando spying on Old Juana in the pumpkin patch, and every time missing the point. He dons a dress and straw hat, coos and sings as he waters, and solicits his bull Toro to join him, all in an effort to imitate Old Juana and her burro Dulcita. Nothing works; Old Juana's pumpkins prosper while Fernando's shrivel. His last desperate attempt is to pass off Old Juana's three prize pumpkins as his own at the fiesta, but he's just too foolish to pull it off. Champions of honesty and hard work will not be disappointed in Old Juana's clever outwitting of her bumbling neighbor, and her ultimate transformation of his roguery with a promise of mentoring. (Picture book. 5-9) Read full book review >
NAPPY HAIR by Carolivia Herron
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 1997

Uncle Mordecai calls out the story of Brenda's hair—the nappiest hair in the world—at the family picnic, while everyone else chimes in with affirmations: ``Yep,'' ``You said it,'' and ``Ain't it the truth.'' At first they think Mordecai is making fun of Brenda's hair; when he says that combing it out sounds like crunching through deep snow with two inches of crust on top, somebody says, ``Brother, you ought to be ashamed.'' But soon it's clear that his only purpose is celebration: ``One nap of her hair is the only perfect circle in nature,'' hair that is ordained by God Himself. The text, illustrations, and overall design of the book work exceptionally well together. Uncle Mordecai's narration is set in a serif typeface, with the interjected responses set in a variety of serif and sans-serif typefaces for emphasis. The exuberant gospel rhythm of the text is matched by Cepeda's bold, color-saturated paintings, particularly his renderings of little Brenda. She's clearly a child who stomps through life with a lot of spunk and energy. (Picture book. 3-5)Read full book review >
THE OLD MAN AND HIS DOOR by Gary Soto
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 16, 1996

Soto (The Cat's Meow, 1995, etc.) has a lighthearted approach to the perils of miscommunication. The viejo (old man) is told by his wife to bring el puerco (pig) to a barbecue, but he hears it as la puerta (door). Trudging through the village streets with his front door strapped to his back, he finds a host of creative uses for the bizarre potluck offering: He provides a resting place for a goose, helps move a piano, and saves a boy from drowning. The story pokes gentle fun at the elderly while showing the social value of eccentric points of view. The fact that the misunderstanding takes place in another language heightens the fun; confusing a door with a pig is even more ludicrous in English than in Spanish. A sprinkling of common Spanish terms appear in the text and are included in a glossary, while Cepeda makes brilliant use of color, form, and perspective to add humor to the work. It's a story children will want to retell themselves. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
THE CAT'S MEOW by Gary Soto
ANIMALS
Released: Nov. 1, 1995

Mexican-American third-grader Graciela has more reason than most to complain that her parents don't understand her. Her mother and father expect appropriate answers to their questions but wildly misconstrue nearly everything she says. Either they're hard of hearing or as Pip, the Spanish-speaking family cat dubs them, just plain raro (weird). The joke is supposed to be that they're too silly to be told of Pip's new talent for speech. There's a very slight mystery about who taught Pip to talk and how, but most of the slender plot revolves around an endless series of unsatisfying exchanges: `` `Mom, Sr. Medina taught Pip Spanish.' `Great, I'll tell Eva's mother about going swimming.' '' Graciela, all but unable to hold a two-way conversation in any language, seems alone in the world; Soto (Canto Familiar, p. 1502, etc.) strives for zaniness but it falls frustratingly flat. The Spanish dialogue in the main text appears in translation in footnotes. (b&w illustrations, not seen, glossary) (Fiction. 7-10) Read full book review >