Books by Petra Mathers

Released: Sept. 9, 2014

"Lucid and insightful, Mathers presents death and grief as natural processes with compassion and great care. (Picture book. 3-7)
Lottie the hen must say goodbye to her beloved aunt Mattie in this gentle story about loss, grief and friendship. Read full book review >
BUTTON UP! by Alice Schertle
Released: April 1, 2009

Shoelaces, hats, undies, jammies, jackets—all have a story to tell. Each poem's title pairs a character's name with an article of clothing ("Bertie's Shoelaces") while the body tells of shared activities and adventures. Some live hard, like the hand-me-down sweatshirt that's "been lost and recovered, been torn and been sewn." The bicycle helmet has Bob covered, galoshes have a lovely time in the rain with Harvey and Emily's undies like showing their laces and bows. Personification can be tricky, but Schertle pulls it off admirably, in a simple, straightforward manner. She employs a variety of rhyme schemes and meters in the verses, giving each one a sprightly, humorous tone. Mathers's whimsy-filled watercolors place each article of clothing on an animal, and not just cats and dogs. There are otters and pigs, alligators and rabbits, emus and moles. And these creatures have personality, exuberance and high style that perfectly match the verses. Loads of fun. (Picture book/poetry. 3-8)Read full book review >
PIERRE IN LOVE by Sara Pennypacker
Released: Jan. 1, 2007

Rodent Pierre—a wistful fisherman—is secretly in love with rabbit Catherine, an artistic ballet teacher whose studio he passes each morning. For her part, the humble Catherine has fallen for a mysterious stranger who returns to the harbor each night in his boat. How these star-crossed lovers hook up is told through a combination of a simple, direct text splashed with humor and imaginative watercolor paintings that are accomplished and varied in their composition. The pictures are particularly buoyant, with precise renderings of the whiskered Pierre and his working vessel set against luminous sky-and-seascapes in choice colors. Mathers is also skilled at showing Pierre's secret longing with misty images of the hare dancing across the waves and through the clouds. An endearingly elegant pick for Valentine's Day, featuring well-matched art and text. (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2006

Wells spins out an original tale loosely based on local legends from a small town in southern France. Caught by a sudden tide, two young friends, both named "Marie," ascend to heaven, where one convinces God to allow them to return to Earth for a time to care for neighbors and loved ones. Rowing upon clouds in their small boat, the two cure one sick child, help rescue another from a well, calm a team of horses and other small good deeds—all of which are actually recorded in paintings in the town's church. Bright smiles on their delicately drawn features, the two Maries float through rustic scenes of pink flamingoes and peach trees in blossom, of rainbows and fields of lavender—all of which is based on Mathers's visit to the area. Narrated in a distinct, cheery voice by one Marie, this is a much simplified version of the traditional story (for one thing, there are three Maries associated with the locale), but its sweetness will draw young readers, particularly fans of Tomie dePaola's retold saints' legends. (Picture book. 7-9)Read full book review >
THE KITCHEN TALKS by Shirley Mozelle
Released: April 1, 2006

The inanimate denizens of the kitchen nab the limelight in this somewhat uneven, amusingly illustrated collection of 20 short poems. Much of the verse employs personification—the refrigerator, pot holder and rolling pin drolly narrate their own poems. In others, the narrative voice becomes oddly anonymous, as in the two-line poem "Freezer": "Cold as ice / But no goose bumps." Tired initial simile aside, the question of goose bumps seems an odd introduction in a collection focused on objects. Mathers's light touch redeems this same double spread with a funny, sneak-peek interior: A fish juggles lima beans atop a carton of strawberry ice cream, near a box of "Hungry Dude" pizza. Some poems stand out for their playful metaphors and puns: "Toaster" is "Jack-in-the-box / For bread"; "Paper Towels" enjoins " . . . Don't stop me now—I'm on a roll." Mozelle brings the precision demanded by the short form to many, but not all, of these poems. Mathers's cheerfully quirky watercolors notwithstanding, this collection neither falls flat nor rises above. (Poetry. 4-8)Read full book review >
STRANGE MR. SATIE by M.T. Anderson
Released: Sept. 1, 2003

The author of Handel, Who Knew What He Liked (2001) profiles another musical original: Erik Satie, surrealist composer and all-round oddball, a capricious, temperamental rule-breaker whose works reflect the dreamlike quality of his eccentric life. Mathers picks up on this theme, surrounding her deceptively formal-looking figure with bohemian companions, portraying his music as streams of small toys flying from a piano or birds, fish and less identifiable items replacing conventional notation. Readers will get a coherent picture of his career, which included collaborations with Picasso and Picabia, as well as his stormy relationship with Suzanne Valadon. He died relatively young, and is last seen, "a child-man dancing / with his umbrella, / joyfully spinning / and grinning, / alone" outside the chapel where his funeral, fittingly, clashed with a wedding. Anderson closes with notes on recommended books and pieces—good thing, as this portrait makes an irresistible invitation to discover a relatively little known, but profoundly influential, 20th-century artist. (author's note) (Picture book/biography. 8-10)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 2002

With this fourth entry in her Lottie and Herbie series, Mathers (A Cake for Herbie, 2000, etc.) explores the concepts of a guilty conscience and the difficulty of apologizing within an amusing, nontraditional Christmas story. Watercolor panel illustrations in her charming naïve style introduce the animal characters of Lottie and Herbie's town of Oysterville, with everyone full of holiday good will and involved in Christmas preparations. Herbie the duck and Lottie the hen stop by Ali Baba's Bakery, where Herbie can't resist the temptation of a frosted Santa cookie, and his stolen treat sticks in his throat, both literally and figuratively. In her witty, understated text, Mathers deftly shows how Herbie is sick with remorse and sure that everyone knows about the theft, and then shows how hard it is to apologize to those whose trust has been violated. The bakers and Lottie forgive Herbie his trespass and are willing to remain his friends, and in a calm, satisfying conclusion, Herbie gives Lottie a Christmas gift of a handmade gold star that brightens up a cloudy day, just like a warm friendship. In addition to working well as a different sort of Christmas story, this cautionary tale will also serve to ward off any child's remote idea of shoplifting or even tasting an unauthorized bite of the merchandise. (Picture book. 3-7)Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 2002

The title sets the stage for this delightful pairing of Prelutsky's (Awful Ogre's Awful Day, 2001, etc.) amusing rhymes with Mathers's (Dodo Gets Married, 2001, etc.) charming watercolor illustrations. Ranging from sweetly poignant to goofy nonsense, each of the 28 short poems about people and animals is devoted to a double-paged spread, providing ample space for the subtly whimsical pictures to add details to the rhymes and to enliven the meter with perfect piquancy and lilt. "Ten Brown Bears," who gobble plates of pies and then march home, are shown with one bear green in the face. "There Was a Tiny Baker" is illustrated with minute pictures of a teeny man and his equally teeny dog, nearly lost in the great expanse of page. Many of the poems are attached to specific cities or locales from Texas to Winnemucca, e.g., "Peanut Peg and Peanut Pete" in Atlanta. The cleverness in both language and art is demonstrated in "Seven snails and seven snakes / swam around the five Great Lakes. / They took seven years to go / from Thunder Bay to Buffalo." And the rhyme is illustrated as a swimming and diving meet. A brilliant match of talent that's guaranteed to make a hit. (Poetry. 5-10)Read full book review >
DODO GETS MARRIED by Petra Mathers
Released: May 1, 2001

Operating on the premise that there's someone for everyone, the author of Lottie's New Friend (1999) hooks up Lottie's long-beaked Germanic acquaintance Dodo with a bitter, one-legged ex-helicopter pilot. Right. Though Captain Vince finally pops the question, it's Dodo who first breaks the ice, rhapsodizing over the whirligigs in his front yard (" ‘Just look at zem go round and round' "), feeding him seaweed sandwiches, and chattering on about her father's glass eye. By summer they're engaged, and aside from a few little complications—Dodo's beauty bath the night before leaves her dyed bright green and phosphorescent—the wedding proceeds joyfully. Despite Mathers's oddly shaped animal cast and her funny little details (Dodo spells out her acceptance with laundry), there's an adult sensibility to much of this, but younger readers will respond to its warmth and good humor. (Picture book. 5-7)Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 2001

Christopher and Robbie (Mommy Pie, 2001, etc.) return to the scene on a bad day for Mommy. They're wondering why she is banging pots and pans around, not giving dad a goodbye kiss, and generally radiating bad vibes. At first, the boys are willing to tiptoe about, giving her a wide berth, afraid they have committed some unacknowledged wrong. Then they try a soft approach, hoping for a smile, but get the cold shoulder. Finally, Robbie (with his tonsure of orange hair) gets a bit miffed and starts butting up against his mom, claiming to be a "borkupine," an unhappy borkupine. Turns out that Mommy is feeling a bit prickly herself, but Robbie has disarmed her. And when kiss-less Dad returns that evening, a little dark cloud hovering over his head, he gets a soft hug rather than a nose full of spines. Mama said there'd be days like this; they're not the end of the world, but it sure is a relief to be lifted out of them. Mathers takes the term "stick figure" to a whole new level with her characterization of this family. They have egg heads and stick arms, but complete personalities that are perfectly captured with a measure of adorability that is unseemly. And when Robbie takes Mommy's face in his three-stick hands and explains, "First you sniff noses to make friends. Then you smooth down the prickles," readers will smile along with them. (Picture book. 3-7)Read full book review >
MOM PIE by Lynne Jonell
Released: March 1, 2001

Jonell's (It's My Birthday, Too!, 1999, etc.) latest adventure involving siblings Robbie and Christopher comically captures that classic conundrum: when moms are at their busiest, their children are at their neediest. As the imminent arrival of company looms, Mommy is in a frenzy of activity. Distraught after their offerings of assistance are summarily declined, Robbie laments to his brother that not even the tantalizing prospect of three different types of pie is worth the loss of their mom's attention. Thus, Christopher devises a plan to create a "Mom Pie" a hodgepodge of items conveying the essence of mom. A helping of something soft, a pinch of something snuggly, a stray earring stirred in, and the addition of Mom's perfume completes the recipe. When the pair proudly places their creation on the table, their mom is exasperated and baffled until the boys explain, " ‘Mom pie is not good to eat . . . It is good to touch and smell.' ‘And to snuggle with,' said Robbie, ‘when you are too busy.' " Jonell's sympathetic tale is on the mark; parents will appreciate the wry humor of the mother's harried responses while the child-like prose aptly expresses a little one's perspective. Mathers's colorful, cartoon-like drawings are the perfect accompaniment. Framed vignettes highlight the action and the humor—hilarious glimpses of Mom frantically scurrying about, as reflected in a mirror or racing down the hall, are cleverly inserted into the illustrations. Poignant, but funny, this one is sure to resonate with readers, both adult and child. A touching and astute tale about keeping the important things in perspective for frazzled moms and their bewildered offspring. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
LOTTIE'S NEW FRIEND by Petra Mathers
Released: April 1, 1999

Although it appears to Herbie the duck that he's been displaced in the affections of his sidekick Lottie (Lottie's New Beach Towel, 1998) by Dodo, a new neighbor with an exotic accent, he needn't fret. Dodo assures him in the end "zat you are ze apple of her eye." Tall, mauve, elaborately crested, Dodo looks intimidatingly elegant next to Herbie's dumpy figure in Mathers' small, delicate paintings, but she puts on no airs, and the newly-minted trio of friends is last seen motoring companionably off to a meal of meatloaf and gingersnaps. A brief, understated take on a common worry—not confined to childhood—with enlivening touches of wit and charm. (Picture book. 6-9) Read full book review >
ON RAM¢N'S FARM by Campbell Geeslin
Released: Oct. 1, 1998

Easy-to-read vignettes revisit the style and theme of Rosa's magical encounters with animals in Geeslin's In Rosa's Mexico (1996, not reviewed). Here, Ramón does his chores while whimsically interacting with five different farm animals and making up a rhyme about each one's quirky antics. Two sheep weep when he shears their wool, a burro takes two steps backward for every forward motion, a pig is too full in the belly to engage in bull-fighting. Ramón tries to arrive at simple solutions for each eccentricity, à la his Puerto Rican counterpart, Juan Bobo. A few of these tales have folktale leanings, and each is introduced with an elementary Spanish glossary, after which the Spanish words are skillfully used in context. Earth-toned folk-art illustrations are friendly and funny, a warm match for Ramón, who turns the routine of everyday tasks into his own personal fiesta. (Picture book. 3- 7) Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1998

On an outing with her friend, Herbie—a duck—a resourceful hen named Lottie finds multiple uses for her new polka-dot towel: on a hot beach, under a picnic, as a sail for a boat with a conked-out motor, and even in a wedding, when a sea breeze blows the bride's veil away. Combining quick wit with a broad streak of daffiness (" ‘Is that my foot? Silly me, it's a starfish' "), Lottie will win readers over instantly, and the sparely drawn and colored panels capture her vivacious charm perfectly. Move over, Minerva Louise (Minerva Louise at School, 1996, etc.). (Picture book. 5-7) Read full book review >
I NEED A SNAKE by Lynne Jonell
Released: May 18, 1998

From Jonell and Mathers (Mommy Go Away!, 1997), a charming solution to the age-old dilemma of convincing parents that snakes are good pets; unfortunately, it also promotes the stereotype of female ophidiophobia. Robbie yearns to have a pet snake, and gazes at them longingly at the museum or the pet store. His mother refuses to let a snake into the house. The compromise is that Robbie creates his own snake menagerie from a jump rope, a white string scrap, and an especially fierce leather belt; his mother still thinks snakes are scary, but Robbie gallantly tells her "That's why you need me." Done in a style identical to these collaborators' first book, this one lacks the original approach readers will expect. Nevertheless, Mathers's drawings have the appropriate feel of a child's own scenes, and if Robbie's enthusiasm doesn't rub off on his mother, it will certainly convince readers. (Picture book. 4-6) Read full book review >
MOMMY GO AWAY! by Lynne Jonell
Released: Oct. 13, 1997

Jonell turns the tables on parental authority and childlike obedience in a terrific story of a boy and his mother. ``Pick up your blocks,'' ``No more T.V.,'' and ``Time for your bath'' are the phrases that set off a small boy's protests. Christopher declares, ``Go away, Mommy!'' and offers his toy boat for her to ride in. She protests that she's too large, and so, ``Be small,'' he commands. She obligingly shrinks and is set afloat in the tub, where she expresses a list of fears about what's happening to her. Several other mothers appear in a small motorboat on the bathwater horizon, and Christopher admonishes her to have a good time, remember her manners, and don't hit the others. He endearingly reassures her that he will help her; the mother, once restored to size, sighs that it is hard to be small. ``I know that already,'' Christopher replies. Mathers uses the simplest of illustration styles: The people are almost stick figures—but their postures are wonderfully expressive—and the scenes, intentionally naive yet showing intelligent composition, resemble children's crayon scrawls, done with flat perspectives. A highly original book that will strike a chord in every child's experience, and one that parents will enjoy immensely. (Picture book. 2-6) Read full book review >
TELL ME A SEASON by Mary McKenna Siddals
Released: March 17, 1997

Colors define the four seasons in this compact look at nature's annual cycle. In Siddals's first book, children can aquaint themselves with spring, summer, fall, and winter through short (1218 words) verse and simple paintings. The operative word is minimalist—the text is spare and Mathers's paintings uncluttered: A yellow ball of sun or a streak of blue sky occupies an entire page. Each season is introduced with a color- -``snow white/shadows black/black sky/white lights/black and white: Winter night''—and ends with one house, depicted four times in folksy scenes set against the appropriate seasonal landscape. The characteristic flat perspective, clean lines, and pleasing colors that mark Mathers's work add up to soothing effect, and the pages will be smudged by the enthusiastic pointing of little fingers. (Picture book. 3-6) Read full book review >
GRANDMOTHER BRYANT'S POCKET by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
Released: March 1, 1996

After the death of her dog in a barn fire, Maine farm girl Sarah Bryant has bad dreams that stick ``to her skin like . . . soot.'' Her parents try to comfort her, but when the dreams persist, her father takes her to Grandmother Bryant for a cure. Her grandmother gives Sarah a cloth purse or ``pocket,'' embroidered with the words Fear Not, but as Sarah's grandfather, Shoe Peg, predicts, ``There are no quick cures.'' In time Sarah is helped over her nightmares by a one-eyed cat who comes to sleep on her pillow and, indirectly, by a greedy neighbor who finds Sara's lost pocket and connives to keep it. Martin (Washing the Willow Tree Loon, 1995, etc.) gives the story, which is set in 1787, a distinctive tone in poetic chapters that are seldom more than a page long. Aphorisms and folk wisdom intertwine with the telling; characterizations are revealed in two or three unforgettable lines (``Beck Chadwick would walk uphill to make trouble'' and ``would rather spread bad words that eat apples''). Mathers's cameo-like illustrations harmonize beautifully with the story; its theme resonates. (Fiction. 5-9) Read full book review >
Released: May 30, 1994

Inspired by the bright textures and patterns of the landscape on Canada's Prince Edward Island, Kuskin pens a brief poem about a mother capturing its visual effect in a quilt for her baby, who can enjoy playing on the completed needlework scene and also sleep under it: ``These island nights can grow quite cool.'' Mathers's saturated colors and clean compositions are particularly appropriate to the subject; the interplay between geometric forms and fabric patterns that at some times literally represent landscape features and at others cleverly imitate them (e.g., in a patchwork of cultivated fields) is delightful. A charming tribute, as well as a fine reminder that such a patchwork of familiar forms and intense colors makes an enriching landscape for any infant. (Picture book. 2-7) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 30, 1993

Forget the legions of contrived tales about this animal or that making its way to the Manger; the late Farber (d. 1984), in an imaginative cycle of poems—whimsical, lyrical, and wise- -introduces a dozen creatures, follows their intersecting journeys, celebrates (in the title poem) the moment when they all help keep the melting snow from the Baby (``Cricket clung fast to a ceiling-hole,/Dove plugged a gap with his beak...Giraffe held his head against a crack...and the Three Grand Kings/raised a parasol...'') and, for balance, embellishes the story with three Queens who ``came late, but not too late,'' bringing ``a homespun gown of blue,/and chicken soup'' before hurrying home to their own children and chores. Farber's lucid, elegantly designed paintings glow with color and light, with just a touch of humor and another of awe. Lovely. (Poetry/Picture book. 4+) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1993

Another offbeat love story from the author of Sophie and Lou (1991). Victor, a crocodile, is a guard in a quiet museum where the newest painting is Cousin Christabel on Her Sickbed (a composition inspired by a Renaissance painting of St. Ursula). Haunted by Christabel's sad expression, Victor brings her flowers and pines for her on his day off. The second chapter flashes back to the arrival, uninvited, of Christabel's cousin Anatole, an ungrateful wizard who orders her about like a servant and—when she finally rebels—utters a spell that imprisons her in a painting. In the end, Victor's regard—or perhaps the steam from his tea, which Christabel also enjoys—undoes the enchantment and all ends in bliss. Mathers's subtly honed narrative has an engaging warmth and wry humor; once again, her elegant compositions and vibrant, sophisticated colors will garner adult attention while kids delight in the toothily expressive crocs and quizzical details—and in contrasting this creative update with ``The Sleeping Beauty.'' (Picture book. 4-9) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1992

``Aunt Elaine/thinks she's from Spain,/but she and Dad were born in Maine,'' confides Elaine's slightly nerdy-looking niece, Katy; as ``Elena,'' her aunt is enthusiastic about performing Spanish dances with what looks like a multicultural troupe. In spritely verse, Katy describes going along one evening to watch. She never finds her way from backstage out into the audience, but by the time the show is over she has explored the costumes and arrayed herself in borrowed finery, and her aunt invites her to join in the encore. The story is slight but pleasantly frothy; Mathers, widely praised for her sophisticated colors and clean, imaginative design, breaks no new ground here but nicely captures the lighthearted spirit in her vibrant, delicately witty art. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
LITTLE LOVE SONG by Richard Kennedy
Released: Jan. 15, 1992

In sprightly doggerel, a lighthearted blend of fresh images (``My darling's eyes are as bright as tea''), and more colloquial passages (``A witch enchanted me to be small,/for stepping upon her toes./She had her reasons, I had mine./Lousy luck, that's the way it goes''), the man-sized narrator explains about his Thumbelina-sized love, her domestic arrangements (she lives in a peanut shell), and their unique manner of getting together: ``after supping on pickles and pie,'' he dreams about her to his heart's content (never mind hers). Doubtless plenty of ladyloves will receive this six-inch-square book as a valentine; and if they don't examine the subtext too closely, it may give them joy- -especially Mathers's amusing, jewel-bright illustrations. As for kids, they can enjoy the diminutive details, both as described and as depicted, without burdening themselves with any double meanings. Fine for sprucing up the Valentine's Day shelf. (Picture book. 4+) Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1991

Borreguita is a little lamb who manages to trick the coyote who wants to eat her not just three but four deliciously satisfying times: she suggests that she'll grow if he waits; she describes the moon's reflection as a cheese, so that he jumps into a pond; she cajoles him into taking her place ``hold[ing] up this mountain'' while she goes for help; and, finally, she bravely volunteers to jump right into the coyote's mouth so that he can swallow her in one gulp—with the result that poor Coyote, his teeth aching, vows to leave the wily lamb alone henceforth. Aardema, a practiced teller of tales, paces this saga expertly and tells it with pleasingly sly wit. Mathers contributes her exquisite sense of design and luminous color, while focusing on the story's drama and humor and the contrast between the innocent-looking lamb and her obtuse antagonist. A fine story; outstanding illustrations. (Folklore/Picture book. 4-9) Read full book review >