With its flaws more likely to bother adults than children, this tale delivers an enjoyable adventure for reading aloud.

CROSSING BRIAR WOO

From the Squirrel Hill series , Vol. 1

In this children’s series opener, a girl embarks on an expedition with her cat and a (mostly) intrepid band of stuffed-animal friends.

Madison is a freckle-faced, daring young girl who lives in Squirrel Hill—not the Pittsburgh neighborhood but a bucolic rural area with a farmhouse bordered by Briar Woo, a small forest with a stream running through it. (The forest’s curious name is never explained, perhaps deriving from a child’s pronunciation of Briar Woods.) Madison’s companions include a cat named Kitty, who claims not to be curious but is, and two live stuffed animals who speak. Ellie the elephant, fat and fearful, makes up enjoyable songs; Sergeant Monk-Monk is well-organized and resembles Madison’s Uncle Stanley, a soldier. Uncle Stanley bought Monk-Monk in North Africa—which, Madison is sure, lies on the other side of Briar Woo and is the object of today’s trek. The foursome encounters some problems, especially in crossing the creek that runs through the woods; Ellie, in particular, has some scary moments but prevails, and the companions befriend a beaver. Madison is dismayed to discover that after all their exploring, they will arrive where they started, but she praises her friends for doing well. North Africa can wait for another day. Clark (Just an Ordinary Elephant and the Bald Cardinal, 2018, etc.) owes an obvious debt to A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books, with the woods, a young child protagonist, and a cast of plush-toy–derived characters. Like Pooh, Ellie creates whimsical ditties; like Eeyore, he's pessimistic: “We do not know how far it is…and my short, fat legs cannot move very fast.” Clark does add a North American flavor to the story (aimed at ages 4 to 7) with the farmhouse setting, gopher and beaver characters, and general air of can-do resolve. It’s odd, though, that the dialogue sometimes sounds British: “Bosh,” “Terribly sorry,” and “Listen, old chap,” for example. Driver’s (Just an Ordinary Elephant and the Bald Cardinal, 2018) skillfully drawn, attractive illustrations deftly capture personalities, providing rich details that help tell the story.

With its flaws more likely to bother adults than children, this tale delivers an enjoyable adventure for reading aloud.

Pub Date: May 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-71724-569-4

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Ozymandias Publishing Co.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2018

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A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift.

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BECAUSE I HAD A TEACHER

A paean to teachers and their surrogates everywhere.

This gentle ode to a teacher’s skill at inspiring, encouraging, and being a role model is spoken, presumably, from a child’s viewpoint. However, the voice could equally be that of an adult, because who can’t look back upon teachers or other early mentors who gave of themselves and offered their pupils so much? Indeed, some of the self-aware, self-assured expressions herein seem perhaps more realistic as uttered from one who’s already grown. Alternatively, readers won’t fail to note that this small book, illustrated with gentle soy-ink drawings and featuring an adult-child bear duo engaged in various sedentary and lively pursuits, could just as easily be about human parent- (or grandparent-) child pairs: some of the softly colored illustrations depict scenarios that are more likely to occur within a home and/or other family-oriented setting. Makes sense: aren’t parents and other close family members children’s first teachers? This duality suggests that the book might be best shared one-on-one between a nostalgic adult and a child who’s developed some self-confidence, having learned a thing or two from a parent, grandparent, older relative, or classroom instructor.

A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-943200-08-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Compendium

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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An engaging mix of gentle behavior modeling and inventive story ideas that may well provide just the push needed to get some...

RALPH TELLS A STORY

With a little help from his audience, a young storyteller gets over a solid case of writer’s block in this engaging debut.

Despite the (sometimes creatively spelled) examples produced by all his classmates and the teacher’s assertion that “Stories are everywhere!” Ralph can’t get past putting his name at the top of his paper. One day, lying under the desk in despair, he remembers finding an inchworm in the park. That’s all he has, though, until his classmates’ questions—“Did it feel squishy?” “Did your mom let you keep it?” “Did you name it?”—open the floodgates for a rousing yarn featuring an interloping toddler, a broad comic turn and a dramatic rescue. Hanlon illustrates the episode with childlike scenes done in transparent colors, featuring friendly-looking children with big smiles and widely spaced button eyes. The narrative text is printed in standard type, but the children’s dialogue is rendered in hand-lettered printing within speech balloons. The episode is enhanced with a page of elementary writing tips and the tantalizing titles of his many subsequent stories (“When I Ate Too Much Spaghetti,” “The Scariest Hamster,” “When the Librarian Yelled Really Loud at Me,” etc.) on the back endpapers.

An engaging mix of gentle behavior modeling and inventive story ideas that may well provide just the push needed to get some budding young writers off and running. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0761461807

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Amazon Children's Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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