It’s a pretty warm day today, and my in-laws are visiting, so we asked my son what we should do with them, and he recommended the library. Smart boy! We have an awesome public library, especially for a small town. With a little hunting, I was able to find five more picture books from the last two years, just enough for another crop of reviews!
Title: What to do with a Box
Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Chris Sheban
Publisher/Date: Creative Editions (March 2016)
The “gist”: A cardboard box is probably the most creative gift you can give a child– hasn’t everyone played in one? Yolen and Sheban illustrate the many ways you can use your imagination to create worlds with your very own box.
My favorite part: This is a rhyming book. But my favorite part is that it totally doesn’t read like one. I caught on to the rhyme right away, but my son was about halfway through when he called out “Hey, this rhymes!” That’s the magic of really well written lyrics. When they flow just right they don’t call attention to themselves.
My response as a reader: I love the look of this book– the illustrations keep a cardboard brown look throughout and while there is little action, there’s a lot of inspiration. Kind of makes me want to crawl in a book and read myself!
My “take-away” as a writer: If this book is even 300 words, I’ll be surprised. Example: The passage “You can climb inside and there read a book. It can be a library, palace, or nook.” is spread over THREE two-page spreads. As a writer, it is SO hard for me to keep the text sparse, but Yolen’s text brings you all around the world and back with just a few lines. There’s a lesson in that!
Author/Illustrator: John Rocco
Publisher/Date: Disney/Hyperion (October 2014)
The “gist”: The narrator tells the story of his experiences growing up in Rhode Island during the blizzard of 1978.
My favorite part: My boys and I loved tracing the narrator’s route on the fold-out pages as he stopped along the way to the store.
My response as a reader: This was obviously based on a true event, but as a reader it was magical experiencing “history” through the eyes of a child. Since I grew up in Maine (also during the 1970s), I remember many storms when we were a bit “snowbound,” and knowing we had a woodstove and a pantry filled with food, we were never worried. It was all a great adventure, and that’s the feeling you get from this book.
My “take-away” as a writer: There are such neat nuggets in the play between text and illustrations here: the little dialog balloons are folksy, the way the days of the weeks are illustrated in the snow are charming, and the progressive illustrations as the narrator figures out how to create his snowshoes let the reader are a great example of showing rather than telling. Oh, and I loved how the family had to make do with cocoa made with water when the milk ran out. Such a subtle touch, but very sweet.
Title: Rita’s Rhino
Author/Illustrator: Tony Ross
Publisher/Date: Andersen Press (April 2015)
The “gist”: Rita wants a pet, so she kidnaps a rhino from the zoo, but it doesn’t turn out as great as she had planned.
My favorite part: Rita is very matter of fact about her relationship with the rhino. She makes a good faith attempt to obtain African grass, but is sure to tell him that when that runs out, he’s just going to have to eat marmalade and toast.
My response as a reader: I loved that this story was “realistic” in a way you wouldn’t expect. No, it’s not realistic to have a rhino for a pet, or to sneak it out of the zoo by putting your coat over it…but it IS realistic that once you get it home it causes more problems than you had envisioned…and that the rhino isn’t really all that happy about it either. The book reminded me a bit of Syd Hoff’s Danny and the Dinosaur, in which Danny has a huge dino as a pet…but in that book, there are amazingly few downsides. I think I like this version better.
My “take-away” as a writer: Finally! A picture book with a few more words! It’s still short, but there’s a little more of a dense feel than with many of the extremely sparsely-written books I find these days. Some pages even have 4 lines of text! Don’t get me wrong, the pace still clips right along, but there’s a wonderful storytelling feel which I can definitely identify with as a writer.
Author: Doreen Cronin
Illustrator: Juana Medina
Publisher/Date: Viking BYR (February 2015)
The “gist”: Smick is a big dog who ends up making friends with a little chick. That’s about it.
My favorite part: Smick has the most adorable smile. I’m in awe of how illustrators can create emotions with just one or two lines!
My response as a reader: To be honest, I’m glad I read this in the library and didn’t pay for it…but as I have to reiterate in these reviews, I am most definitely not the target audience!! If I still had kids in the age group for board books, I would certainly grab this one. The text is more than sparse– there are only 15 distinct words in the whole book– there’s only about one or two words per page!
My “take-away” as a writer: Yes, only 15 different words and very few per page…BUT, there’s still a story! Keep your eyes on the story, writers! Poor Smick has a goal: have fun and maybe make a friend or play with a stick…in the end he can do both. So who am I to argue that there should be more words?
Title: The NEW Small Person
Author/Illustrator: Lauren Child
Publisher/Date: Candlewick (February 2015)
The “gist”: Elmore Green has it pretty good and is quite happy with his parents until the new small person arrives and ruins everything.
My favorite part: Shortly before the end, Elmore finally uses the “small person”‘s real name. It’s so subtle, but I just adore that he uses simply “small person” for the entire book and then suddenly changes at the end. It might be lost on little ones, but it wasn’t on me. A beautiful moment.
My response as a reader: I was so charmed by this book. Yeah, in a way it is your typical “There’s a new baby in the house” book, but Elmore’s voice is so authentic, so endearing, I just loved it. It also goes from birth (or really before the birth) to when the “small person” is old enough to talk and interact with Elmore, so it really gives the reader a nice chance to see their relationship develop. Also, to be honest, it was really nice to see the main characters as people of color in a book where that really didn’t play a role in the story.
My “take-away” as a writer: There are some great writing elements in here– the aforementioned twist of waiting to introduce the sibling’s name, for example, but also things like the repetition of the phrase “then everything changed.” The characterization of Elmore Green (who is always described with first and last name) makes the reader feel they really know who he is: he loves orange jelly beans, he has certain favorite tv shows that he misses when the baby comes, and he likes dressing in costumes. Of course the really quirky illustrations (complete with changes in font size and spacing) really brings everything to life, but then, doesn’t it always?