It takes something special to get a kid to stop picking his nose—that's just what happens to one unlucky child in Shulman’s (Monster Bash, 2009) story for primary-grade readers.
Nose-picking is a rather touchy subject for kids. They love to laugh about it even as they keep picking, much to the frustration and disgust of parents. In Shulman’s engaging read, one child learns the hard way why nose-picking can be something others find distasteful, particularly when the digging is done in public places. Synonyms for boogers are legion; most could be categorized as regional slang or just in the questionable vocabulary of the young and young at heart. Called boogies, floaters and plenty more, their popularity–grossness factor has never been in doubt. Consequently, nose-picking has been mined by many authors in the world of young adult and children's literature: Writers such as Carolyn Beck (Richard Was a Picker) and Gordon Korman (the Nose Pickers From Outer Space series) have tackled admittedly crude subject matter, typically in a grossly humorous and slightly educational manner. Shulman's light tale takes a similar slant, showing the negative aspects of nose-picking via the amusing situation of an old man rooting in his nostrils next to a mom and her nose-picking–addicted son, and the subsequent gross-out that encounter entails. Richly illustrated by Mike Motz, the wildly vivid, colorful drawings provide a freshness and dry sarcasm to the tale. The young nose-picker learns how his obsession differs from his dad's with ear hair or his grandfather's with fake teeth. Of course, some readers may find the story a bit over the top in regard to its descriptive prose and illustrated mucus—particularly the green slime wearing pilot's goggles—but for others, Shulman's tale could be the perfect way to break a child's bad habit.
Despite the degree of gross humor, Shulman has picked a delightful winner.
Hutton’s charming little board book, the newest in a series, encourages young children to explore the pleasures of real books with real pages.
On his website, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital pediatrician Hutton, backed by multiple studies and research, talks about the importance of real books and nonelectronic play in the development of very young brains. “Children are not small adults. Their brains are different. Their bodies are different. Their spirit is different. Their needs are different,” he says. Hutton would like to see all children “stay screen-free until 3,” and he recommends judicious use of electronics thereafter. He may have crafted his children’s’ board-book series with that science- and research-fueled viewpoint in mind, but don’t expect a heavy-handed approach. His new entry in the endearing series is illustrated with joyful color and adorable renderings of a snug, childcentric world. Its celebratory simplicity conveys Hutton’s “books are wonderful” message with a feather-light touch. Each page features clear and brief text made interesting with color changes and small variations in style. (“Adventure books: pirate ship! Zooming cars!” / “Lullabies—yawning moon, twinkling stars.”) One page is even a “find all the books” game. In Kang’s peaceful illustrations, children cozy up with a dad for read-aloud time and go to sleep with a mom’s bedtime story. They read under a tree, on the floor, on a picnic blanket and on a bench with a squeaky mouse. They learn that books can be about “anything dreams can plot.” If that means “[h]appy hippos driving trucks—okay, why not?”
Gentle, joyful encouragement for young readers and pre-readers to discover the rewards of a good book.
In this combination picture–activity book and memory album, parents affectionately envision the firsts in their new child’s life.
Writer–educator Glavin (Rock Star’s Rainbow, 2009) follows his first novel with a sweet, predictable children’s book, with Grepo illustrating. The book opens with an image of a stork flying through a golden sky to deliver a smiling couple their first child. Prompted by the joyful newness the baby boy has ushered into their lives, the parents begin listing the firsts their son will have, à la an energetic reversal of Goodnight Moon. In pared down, rhyming couplets, each beginning with the refrain “It’ll be the first time…,” they tell their son the things he’ll do: “play out in the sun,” “spread your legs and run,” “walk the dog” and “fly through the fog.” The digital illustrations are sharply outlined with smudges of black or white for shadows. Racially diverse characters are dressed in solid colors, their postures warm and emotions easily readable; the effect is rudimentary but endearing. The story’s flaw is that its intimate focus may restrict itself to firstborn male children. In addition, the future anticipated for the young boy is as traditional as the classic Century Schoolbook type it’s printed in—he acts cool, catches touchdowns and takes a girl on a date. The message is simplistic but the project as a whole is ambitious. Space provided after the story’s enthusiastic conclusion invites parents and children to record and remember firsts, and to celebrate and plan future goals. The book doesn’t transport readers to another world, uncover truths or find the fantastical hidden in the lackluster; instead, it sticks close to home, with a heartfelt message: Mom and Dad are here, and they can’t wait to see you grow. Intended for ages 1 to 10, the book is a little thin to hold 10 years of memories, and it may bore older readers. Nonetheless, its authors have added a website to accompany the text, which, depending on its development and usability, could extend the book’s reach beyond rocking chair musings.
Simple and conventional on the page, with a separate multimedia component; best for a younger audience.
An oil spill jeopardizes sea life in this environmental songbook.
If the fate of the planet is in children’s hands, reading them books like this one might be a wise idea. New York-based songwriter Lavin and award-winning illustrator Franco Feeney have joined creative forces with the goal of promoting clean energy. Inspired by the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the book begins with a cracked pipeline and ends with wildlife cleanup efforts—a chronicling best paired with folksy music, as it turns out. Pop in the book’s accompanying CD, and let The Guys & Dolphins All-Starfish Band take it away. Reminiscent of catchy classroom tunes like “The Green Grass Grows All Around,” Lavin’s song relies on repetitive rhythms and layering (“There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea / There’s a pipe in the hole in the bottom of the sea / There’s a crack in the pipe in the hole in the bottom of the sea”). It’s a tried formula but one that works well, with the exception of one or two crowded stanzas: “There’s water heated by the generator by the windmill up on the hill” was clearly intended for speedy-tongued singers and not parents who will stumble and bumble their way through this book if they decide to forego the music. Franco Feeney’s thoughtfully detailed illustrations of oil-slicked sea critters will tug at young readers’ heartstrings, and an educational appendix at the end offers in-depth discussion of renewable energy forms, a DIY craft project, sheet music and a checklist of how to save energy at home. The only thing missing, in fact, is an environmental cleanup team and a life-sized windmill. Ambitious? No doubt. Especially considering that a portion of the book’s net proceeds benefits the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA). Kudos to Lavin and Franco Feeney for making this songbook an entertaining—and earth-friendly—investment.
Play—don’t read—this important environmental message.
(Picture book. 4-8)
A cheerfully illustrated and alliterative stroll through a child’s garden.
Young children who enjoy bright colors, cartoonlike illustrations and the pleasures of an adult reading to them will enjoy time spent in Molly’s garden. There, they are asked to consider a world filled with bumble bees, blackbirds and butterflies alongside flowers, ladybirds, snails, spiders, trees and worms—before being invited to go outside and explore their own gardens. Each of 10 two-page spreads focuses on one of Molly’s activities, all of which suggest a comfortable interaction with the natural world; whether she is balancing a butterfly in her hands, letting a ladybird land on her finger, stroking a snail’s head or watering flowers, Molly is at home in nature. The author relies on alliteration to draw this world (“Molly bends down to bond with a bumble bee … busy flying between flowers”); while this device may be a useful educational tool that engages young readers, it may prompt adult readers to wonder whether alliteration need sacrifice interest (“Molly turns toward a towering tree. This tree has a trunk that is thick and tall”) or accuracy (a white watering-can pours water over “wilting” flowers that do not appear wilted in the accompanying artwork). The illustrations offer a range of bright colors and shapes; a brighter image on the left side is mirrored by a paler image on the right where the text is located, making the printed words stand out. This may, however, leave readers looking for something more to keep their attention. The graphics are comprised of simple, rounded shapes that may be too short on detail for young readers. The story is also a bit random at times, with no particular rhyme or reason guiding the events that occur in Molly’s garden: Activities that might build a sense of a story—like each interaction with a bird, bug or flower—could have happened in any order.
A well-intentioned but slender invitation to explore the natural world through sight and sound.
A chipper, all-knowing bouncing ball brings friendship and comfort to a group of suburban kids in the Bradshaw’s debut children’s book.
Devon resigns himself to another dreary day in the suburbs as he stands despondently in his yard. Then, out of the blue, a magical talking ball, which he names Bouncy, bounces in to offer a cheerful lift to his day and a desire to play. Devon befriends the ball and they begin an earnest investigation into the world around them, with Bouncy offering fun facts that delight Devon. He introduces Bouncy to his friends, Kate and Josh, both equally isolated and bored on their own. With unashamedly enthusiastic energy, the three begin to explore topics that run the gamut from facts about the White House to the definition of a noun and the five senses. Thanks to the knowledgeable ball, the children learn the seeds of philosophical and practical discussions in a story rounded with a racially diverse cast, which adds to the book’s open and inclusive tone. The appealing full-page illustrations by Guiza—they run nearly parallel the story but couldn’t quite serve as a standalone narrative due to a few missing frames—portray children in a world curiously free of adults, the implication being that they lack, at least for the afternoon, any sort of guidance, love and positivity in an otherwise slightly drab existence. So Bouncy saves the day for the bored kids. Surreally, only children can hear him. The story unexpectedly raises questions about creationism when the kids and Bouncy seek to discover Bouncy’s “beginnings.” The answer to that question is much bigger than this short, simple but delightful book—although it’s unclear if that journey, perhaps in a sequel, would take the kids to bible school or the ball plant.
A colorfully fun book that promotes team work, curiosity and the power of imagination.
Sensitive text is paired with uneven artwork in this picture book designed to help children cope with the loss of a grandparent.
Jake, a pre-school or kindergarten-aged tyke, loves visiting his grandfather, Poppy, on the farm. Farming is no longer a tradition in his family, and according to Jake’s mother, when Poppy is “gone,” the family farm will be, too. Jake doesn’t understand where Poppy might be going though his mother assures him that Poppy won’t be going anywhere for a long time. But the conversation is prophetic—that night, Jake’s mother receives the phone call that Poppy has died. As Jake’s mother explains, Jake imagines a heart attack as a violent conflict between a heart and weapons. He struggles to understand what it means that Poppy is dead, and his mother patiently attempts to offer words that will make sense. Jake watches the contrary behavior of the adults, who say that it is only Poppy’s body in the casket, but still speak to the burial plot to say farewell. Jake’s questions are true to a child’s perspective, and his mother’s answers are thoughtful; she offers him comfort without absolutes, always prefacing her explanations about what happens after death within the context of her beliefs and being unafraid to admit that she doesn’t have all the answers. The conclusion, where Jake and his mother imagine Poppy’s combine as a constellation, is touching. Meyerson, a reverend, handles the religious aspects lightly, while presenting them from a Christian perspective. Illustrator Searcy’s choice of style appears designed to appeal to young readers, but often the faces are unevenly depicted, making the images off-putting. However, her depictions of Jake’s imagined scenes, drawn in a childlike style rather than painted like the other images, are spot on, and her abstract backgrounds are lovely. The choice of a parchment style background behind the images and the use of a papyrus font are distracting, but ultimately blend into the story and images.
Books that address grief are always in need, and Meyerson’s gentle words and child-centered perspective will provide comfort to young readers.
Kohlman's picture book celebrates the differences that make each creature—or person—unique while providing interesting insect facts.
The book opens with a baseball game between Cricket and Grasshopper. When Grasshopper throws a ball that hits Cricket on the knee, he cries, "You hit my ear." Grasshopper is confused until Cricket explains that he hears through his knees and has special teeth on his wings that make him sing. This leads to a series of encounters with other insects in which Grasshopper asks what is different about their bodies. His list of features grows to include Fly tasting through his feet, Ant lifting hundreds of times his body weight and Caterpillar having more muscles than a human. But while Grasshopper finds his friends' abilities interesting, he wonders what makes him special. After a long day of fact-gathering, he returns home and asks his mother what his species can do to distinguish themselves. She reminds him that he can jump 20 times his body length and that a not-too-distant cousin has ears on his knees too. Grasshopper is content with that knowledge and is able to rest easily that night, while listening to Cricket's teeth create a song. The idea that everyone is unique takes on a new dimension in the insect world. The simple story structure and wealth of information will keep readers coming back, excited to commit more of these amazing facts to memory. It would have been beneficial for readers to see Grasshopper discover his uniqueness through his own actions instead of asking his mother for an explanation. The note of parental reassurance is nice, but it makes for a more empowering story when the character and readers have some sense of the discovery first, before the adults step in.
A fun way to blend facts about bugs with a classic children's fiction theme.
A stranded kitten leads to a lesson in courage and empathy for a young girl in Mehdi’s simple children’s tale.
Hana hears a mysterious meowing while walking home from the grocery store with her mother. Upon investigating, they discover a lone kitten stuck high in a tree. As she gazes at the white and black kitten with purple stripes, Hana wonders what it would feel like if she were stranded without her mother. A quick phone call to the fire department sends rescuers scrambling up a ladder in an attempt to recover the kitten. But the skittish kitten keeps crawling higher. Eager to assist, Hana asks if she can try to coax the kitten down. This earns her an adamant “Absolutely not!” from the fire brigade. But Hana won’t be deterred and soon finds herself harnessed to one of the firemen, ascending the ladder. Eventually, Hana saves the day through her bravery and determination. Mehdi’s slender tale emphasizes many admirable qualities, such as Hana’s ability to empathize and her instinct to get help. However, the ending shifts the focus to Hana’s bravery in climbing the ladder, an act few parents would want to glamorize. Izhar’s illustrations of Hana in her helmet and harness happily climbing the ladder seem to further make light of the danger, despite the text’s insistence that she is frightened. Overall, Izhar’s illustrations work well alongside Mehdi’s text and convey amusing details, such as the strikingly similar facial expressions of mother and daughter as they search for the kitten. Although the concept of this book is far from original, there is a small twist at the very end that adds depth and layer to the story; Hana learns that life can be unfair, even for heroes.
A light-hearted tale with an important message for young readers: courage comes in many forms, and often means putting our own fears aside to help another.
A young tree experiences the magic, and fleeting nature, of the Christmas season.
Every so often, a life lesson comes along disguised as a children’s book. Former UCLA professor Hawkins’ chronicle of a young tree is just such a tale. “Tree” lives in a forest yearning for adventures outside of his clearing—an existence more thrilling than his own. When a father and son questing for the perfect Christmas tree declare Tree to be “the best one” they’ve seen, Tree’s wish comes true. He is uprooted from his forest and brought to a new home where “Scraggly”—a ragged backyard-dwelling fir—deems Tree “Lucky.” And so Lucky’s new life begins. Despite Scraggly’s cautionary admonitions about Lucky’s newfound fate, the prideful young tree is jubilant. Bedecked in ornaments and tinsel, praised for his perfection and topped with a golden star, Lucky foresees a full, rich life. From here most readers will know where Hawkins’ tale is headed. With the passing of the holiday season comes Lucky’s gradual (at times heart-wrenching) realization that Christmas is fleeting—a parallel to life that’s not lost on the astute reader. What unfolds is a poignant, seamlessly executed reflection on time and mortality that will stir even the most stoic reader. It’s certainly not uncommon for children’s writers to thread their narratives with deeper adult themes, a tactic Hawkins executes with panache; there are no tried clichés, heavy-handed moral overtones or forced attempts to elicit emotion. Adding to the story’s depth is a dedication to Shirley, Hawkins’ late wife who—before losing her battle with cancer—requested that he write this book in honor of a beloved, withering porch tree. Paired with Hoeffner’s meticulous, delicate pencil renderings, Lucky is one promise readers will be glad Hawkins kept.
A tender tale worth adding to your holiday library.
(Picture book. 5-9)