7-Imp’s 7 Picture Book Tips for Impossibly Busy Parents #2 (Would You Like a Dinosaur With That?)

h1 January 22nd, 2008 by jules

If you missed this post two weeks ago, you may not know that I’m going to attempt — as often as my schedule allows — a new 7-Imp series of sorts in which I round-up seven picture book titles with reviews for the impossibly busy parents of the world. As I said last time, there can’t be any advance-proof reviewing goin’ on in these posts, none of that this-book-is-filthy-cool-but-won’t-come-out-for-three-more-months bit in this new feature. I need to line up those titles that are new, yet should be available at your local library — or at least being processed and about to be added to the collection. You’ll notice in this post that most of these titles were released in September of last year; the most difficult one to find at your local library might be the one released in December, but JUMP BACK it’s worth waiting for, though I’m getting ahead of myself here. (And, yeah, I’m going to drop the “Alice’s tips” bit and just get right to it from now on). I’d like to do this weekly, but — as you can see with the timing of this second post — it might be more like every two weeks.

Last time my seven picks were geared at the preschool crowd. Here are some more sophisticated titles for your older picture book readers (I’m sorry I can’t be more precise than that. I’m no good at the Age Range Game, as it all depends on the child, though I know it’s sometimes necessary). I’ve even thrown in two titles in one entry. Bonus! Enjoy.

When Dinosaurs Came With Everything
by Elise Broach
Illustrated by David Small
September 2007

How I wish I’d thought of the premise for this picture book: Suddenly, it’s bizarre-o world, and instead of children getting such things as lollipops and stickers after hair trimmings and flu shots, they get to cart home a real, live dinosaur. Told from the point-of-view of a young boy, all in favor of this plan and who simply cannot believe his eyes, it’s a lively, clever, larger-than-life tale of (almost) every kid’s dream-come-true. At the bakery, you can buy a dozen and get a dinosaur (a triceratops, to be precise). At the doctor’s office, no stickers. Just stegosaurs. With a shot, you get two. Bonus! While the boy is doing an exuberant victory dance, his mother is near to passing out over the shock of it all — and the sheer number of dinosaurs they’re accumulating and must find a place for in their back yard. When it’s all said and done, though, she has found a clever solution to this problem, one that makes our gap-toothed, red-headed protagonist happy as well. I can’t imagine any other illustrator taking this text and bringing it to life as well as David Small, who has fun with perspective in his precise, detailed, and exuberant spreads and who is clearly still tight with his inner child. Guaranteed to make the day of your favorite dinosaur-obsessed child.

A Poet Bird’s Garden
by Laura Nyman Montenegro
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
September 2007

What happens when you get a group of poets together to attempt to solve a problem? This is an offbeat, but beguiling, tale that shows us just that. A young girl opens the door to her bird’s cage, and out Chirpie flies straight to the branch of a tree. She runs to tell her friend, Monica, and “{s}he calls the poets” (naturally! I love it). So, here comes Priyanka, Vincent, Lily, Pendleton, and Marion, all speaking in a rather bouncy rhyme: “You need not worry. Haven’t you heard? There are oodles of ways to lure a bird.” The poets have a variety of imaginative suggestions from standing still like a statue to wiggling like a worm to singing like a bird — all in the name of luring Chirpie back to the girl. Marion suggests, after an attempt to “imagine the mind of a bird,” creating a “garden, my friends, made especially for birds, a poet’s bird garden, too lovely for words.” But none of that works, even resulting in Vincent’s cry: “You shouldn’t have left this up to the poets.” Suddenly, out leaps Claude, the cat. Aha! He’s the reason the bird was hiding. I love how David Elzey at the excelsior file described this one: “It’s an oddly charming book that I found more rewarding on a second read. Some of the text follows a rhyming scheme and some doesn’t, and that interplay eventually works in a quirky sort of way. Far from being naive, there is a certain innocence both in the story and the illustration that… just… works . . .” David further ponders the book’s lack of any sort of lesson-learned (which, of course, doesn’t bother me — or him, for that matter. Since when do picture books have to have a big lesson?), but — speaking of first and second readings, as David does — what left me baffled at first was wondering if Montenegro was making some sort of commentary on a poet’s inability to solve a problem. But, on further readings I saw that, indeed, what the poets did in all their efforts to create that garden was to beautify the world around them and make it fertile for growth. Besides, honestly, Montenegro could have filled this with text from the phone book and I’d still be enamored; her colorful and very rounded line-and-watercolor spreads are a visual delight. I see that Montenegro has a previous title (2003) about yet another young girl and some poetry. I’m so there.

The Buffalo Storm
by Katherine Applegate
Illustrated by Jan Ormerod
Clarion Books
October 2007

This is the first picture book from the author of the popular Animorphs series, K.A. Applegate. And I can hardly wait to see what picture books she brings us in years to come, because this one is a winner on every level. It tells — in a satisfying descriptive prose that reads a lot like free verse — the story of young Hallie, a pioneer girl whose family hits the Oregon Trail. Though the book opens with Hallie’s words, “I’m not afraid of anything,” she is afraid of storms — and life without her grandmother, which is her new reality now that her family must leave her behind. Hallie has to muster every bit of courage she has for the separation as she and her father and pregnant mother head out across the endless prairie. What follows is Hallie’s journey of bravery in the face of new fears and acceptance of what the word “home” actually means to her, especially without her grandmother’s presence. Illustrator Jan Ormerod, who has illustrated over seventy children’s books in her illustrious career, brings the Oregon Trail to vivid life with her sprawling, often intense illustrations. Publishers Weekly says the story wraps up a bit too conveniently. Me? I was practically in tears. We can add Hallie to our growing list of contemporary picture book heroines.

The Silk Princess
by Charles Santore
Random House
December 2007

Red Butterfly: How a Princess Smuggled the Secret of Silk Out of China
by Deborah Noyes
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
October 2007

Make the leap with me now from North American prairie life to ancient China with these two exquisite picture books about the Chinese legend behind silk. In Santore’s book, we meet Princess Hsi-Ling Chi, whose father, The Great Emperor Huang-Ti, hardly notices her. Leaving the gates of her home one day while following the fine, delicate thread of a cocoon, which fell from a mulberry tree, she explores the magical world beyond the palace where she lives, meeting an enormous spider and a huge dragon and getting lost in the mists of the Holy Mountains. How she finds her way back with the help of a very old man in a small bamboo-and-thatch hut — and how that leads to the discovery of silken thread — wraps up this beautifully-adapted Chinese legend. Santore’s illustrations are simply sublime (JUST LOOK AT THAT COVER. Yes, I’m YELLING that in great enthusiasm). For another take on the same legend, there’s Noyes’ and Sophie Blackall’s Red Butterfly about a Chinese princess who is sent from her kingdom to marry the king of far Khotan. Having to leave her home of “many splendors” (“peach petals on the wind,” the yellow moon, “bells and drums and conchs . . . in the city streets”), she eventually — with the help of her maidservant — devises a way to be a queen yet still “hide . . . the seeds of the mulberry tree” on her very person so that she may take the splendors with her. Blackall dives right into the world of ancient China with her eloquent illustrations, rendered in Chinese ink and watercolor. They are as “light and bright as butterflies,” Elizabeth Ward wrote in her Washington Post review. And Noyes’ text is lyrical, poetic (written in the style of ancient Chinese poets, according to Kirkus Reviews). Two outstanding picture book adaptations of the magical Chinese legend of silk.

Good Enough to Eat
by Brock Cole
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
September 2007

In this Grimms-esque tale from Brock Cole, which Publishers Weekly called an “original fairy tale with lingering emotional resonance,” we have the pleasure of meeting “an eccentric village misfit who emerges a heroine” (PW again). An Ogre threatens a small village, and in this village lives a poor girl with no mama, no papa, “and nothing at all, not even a name.” She begs for food and begs for just one penny — but to no avail: The townspeople consider her a “pest and a bother.” When the foul Ogre appears, demanding a fair maiden as his bride, who do you think is chosen? That’s right: Our scrappy, young heroine, known by many of the townsfolk as Scraps-and-Smells. Dressed in a fine gown and a crown made of paper, she’s left in a sack for the Ogre outside the town’s gate. And how this girl, more courageous and clever than anyone thought imaginable, outwits the Ogre — and, to be sure, the entire town — is for you to delight in when you read this one yourself. It’s one of my favorite books from ’07 (where was all the blog-love for this title?), as it possesses the elements of a timeless fairy tale or perhaps piece of folklore, including a far-fetched sequence of events and a persecuted heroine and her face-off with fear. Cole’s loose watercolors are, as always, infused with light and remarkably expressive. Fans of 2001’s Larky Mavis will be particularly pleased, and the rhymthic cadence of the text makes this one a good group story-time choice.

Those Shoes
by Maribeth Boelts
Illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
September 2007

This is a contemporary tale of the Haves and Have-Nots, told with sensitivity and compassion by Boelts, a former preschool teacher, mentor, and coach. On the opening spread, a young boy named Jeremy is gawking at a huge advertisement on a brick alley wall: “Buy these shoes,” it screams. “I have dreams about those shoes,” the book opens. “Black high-tops. Two white stripes.” On the following spread, we see that Jeremy and his Grandma live modestly, but certainly far from extravagantly, his Grandma telling him, “{t}here’s no room for ‘want’ around here — just ‘need’ . . .” It seems to Jeremy, to make matters worse, that just about every other kid in the school has a pair. And only one other student, Antonio Parker, also high-top-less, doesn’t laugh at Jeremy when his shoes fall apart and the guidance counselor gives him a pair of embarrassing shoes with a cartoon animal on them. Things take a turn for the better when Jeremy’s Grandma finds a pair of the stylin’ new high-tops at a thrift shop. Though they’re too small and painful for his feet, Jeremy wears them (all in the name of being cool) but changes his mind about keeping them when he sees Antonio, the only kid who didn’t laugh at him, with taped-up, falling-apart shoes of his own in this touching, but not too syrupy-sweet, story of generosity. Jones’ cartoon-esque watercolor, pencil, and ink illustrations, assembled digitally, are inviting, and children will enjoy the details, such as the wall hangings in Jeremy’s room. As Kirkus Reviews wrote, “Boelts blends themes of teasing, embarrassment and disappointment with kindness and generosity in a realistic interracial school scenario.” Not many picture books address socio-economic issues this well. Don’t miss this one, which can be paired with Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2007), another poignant tale of sharing shoes along with a friendship.

The Jewel Box Ballerinas
by Monique de Varennes
Illustrated by Ana Juan
Schwartz & Wade Books
September 2007

“There once lived a woman so rich that she had two of almost everything,” this lengthy tale of friendship opens. What this woman, Bibi Branchflower, did not have, however, was a friend. “Some say she cared so much for cars and fancy clothes that she had no love left for anything else.” After purchasing a jewel box with two twirling ballerinas inside, Bibi ignores the shopkeeper’s warning to her: The ballerinas, he told her, are really the two spoiled nieces of a great sorcerer, and “all who look on these ballerinas will see the sorrow” they caused their uncle when he created the jewel box for them, one they snubbed. Falling for and naming the miniature ballerinas Miranda and Mathilda, she tries in vain to make them happy and eventually comes to know them as friends, as if they’re real girls. While adventuring in Africa, she loses the dolls, who tumble to the ground, and the transformation they go undergo once Bibi finds them is a joyous one in this toys-come-to-life tale of familial love. Ana Juan is an illustrator with a style 7-Imp collectively adores, and she delivers again with this title, particularly with her palette of alternately deep, rich colors and glowing ones, and her transformation of Bibi Branchflower from a woman who lives a refined life of loneliness to a more messy, bumbly one of companionship. Isn’t that the way love always goes?

Until list #3 . . . See you then.

20 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Picture Book Tips for Impossibly Busy Parents #2 (Would You Like a Dinosaur With That?)”

  1. These books sound wonderful! I’m taking my youngest to the library today, and I’ll see if I can find any of these books.

    Thanks for the recommendations!

  2. This list looks outstanding (again…love this feature). We just had “When Dinosaurs Came With Everything” from the library a few weeks ago and my oldest science-geeking daughter (age 6) loved it.

    Maybe my library system just sucks, but other than that one and “Good Enough to Eat”, which is On Order, none of the rest show up in the online catalog. I’ll just have to save these lists for six months and check again. Perhaps Canadian libraries have a harder time getting these (mostly) U.S.-published books in a timely fashion?

    Oh, and SO agreed on Ana Juan. Elena’s Serenade has been a favourite around here for a long time.

  3. Vivian, I hope your library search proves fruitful.

    Oh no, Jeremy. I’m sorry they’re not available. Hmmm, if I have any in my to-be-reviewed stack that are even older, I’ll remember this and incorporate them into future lists.

    Jeremy, you might be interested in seeing this link (from another blog — such a great one — called The Brookeshelf). This is an older post of hers from November in which she links to a gallery of Hansel & Gretel images from The Metropolitan Opera, and there are some fabulous Ana Juan images there — spooky, spooky Ana Juan-esque witches. Love her!

    I hope you enjoy Good Enough to Eat, Jeremy, the one title you can find! My almost-four-year-old actually gets a little scared by it, but it’s not like it terrifies her. The Ogre scares her a bit, but I think it’s all good in that kind of Grimms-esque way, as in the world is a scary place but the heroine gets through, thanks to good ‘ol-fashioned courage of heart and some serious cleverness, and these kinds of tales will help buttress her in that regard….oh my, I sound insufferably psychobabbly and way too Bruno Bettelheim-y*. I’m just gonna hush. Anyway, I hope you like it. Come back and tell me what you think of it — if you read it and are inclined to share your opinion.


    * Bettelheim was a smart man, but — for the record — he got it all wrong with Where the Wild Things Are. 🙂

  4. My blog love for Good Enough to Eat can be found here

    (on my way home from residency tomorrow, reviewing will commence in five, four…)

  5. I adore Charles Santore – We’ve got several of his books from when my girlies were young, including a marvelous Aesop’s Fables, Little Mermaid and a Wizard of Oz, plus his own William the Curious. I’ve seen some of his originals at the Brandywine River museum in southeastern PA. Marvelous, wonderful stuff.

    I enjoyed The Jewel Box Ballerinas, too, even though the story line was a bit odd. Not quite odd enough for MotherReader’s contest, but still. And I didn’t really care for Those Shoes (too pedantic for me, I’m afraid).

    I’ll be on the lookout for the rest of your titles. I love Elise Broach, both silk titles look marvelous, the Poet Bird’s Garden is up my alley (maybe), and Good Enough to Eat comes so highly recommended that I must seek it out!

  6. Kelly, you’ll have to let me know what you think of A Poet’s Bird Garden. I’d be curious to know! Thanks for commenting. I totally get “odd” for Jewel Box Ballerinas. The premise was out there (but it still generally worked for me, obviously).

    I’d love to see some Santore art work up close. Lucky you.

    And, yeah, I’m thinking about MotherReader’s new WAPD challenge. That’s a hard one.

  7. Great list. Today is our normal library day, killing time after swim class. So I hope to find some of these there.

  8. Jules,

    You’re amazing! I don’t know how you manage to write all these picture book reviews–but I’m glad you do. I’m especially interested in reading “A Poet’s Bird Garden.”

  9. Quinn, hope you find just what you need and want at the library.

    Elaine, I don’t really know either! I think it’s a good thing I type zippy fast. Let me know what you think of A Poet’s Bird Garden.

  10. I just placed a hold on Those Shoes (alas, our library doesn’t have Four Feet, Two Sandals). My 4 1/2 year old daughter and I are having quite a few discussions about the inequalities of the world, and as much as I know she’s trying to work through them, I still get a pang when she says, “When I’m going to grow up, I’m going to be homeless.”

  11. another fan de-lurking. i read your blog as often as i can and enjoy all the categories. i am always grateful for your picture book roundups…and since my three-year-old is in the throes of dino obsession, i will be checking out ‘when dinosaurs came with everything’ post-haste. all the best.

  12. Thanks, Lauren! Wahoo!

  13. Ooooh, those Ana Juans are glorious; thanks for sharing. I realized that I hadn’t even been to AJ’s site before…it’s also fantastic. Bit surprised to see that she hadn’t included For You Are a Kenyan Child on the kids’ books page — it’s also a favourite at our house, and the only one of hers that we own (shameful, I know).

    Bettelheim sounds like a real piece of work…grim ending, too. But that’s super interesting stuff about fairy tales forming a child’s world view. I think there’s something to that. My kids are terrified of the most innocuous scenes in the gentlest movies, but are not easily scared by books, even ones I think are pretty spooky. My older daughter has a harder time with scary chapter books than picture books — I guess her imagined images are scarier than the ones right in front of her.

    I’ll let you know what we thought of Good Enough to Eat, and please don’t apologize for my library being lame.
    : )

  14. Jeremy, I think For You Are a Kenyan Child is one of the best books from last year. I love it. It’s amazing.

    I know what you mean, Jeremy, about a child’s imagination. We’re reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz now, and my almost-four-year-old is a bit frightened of that witch in her mind when we read about the Wicked Witch of the West.

    Too bad that when Dorothy destroys the witch it’s so dreadfully anti-climactic, but I digress.

  15. Unfortunately our “purchase” of For You Are a Kenyan Child involved the library’s copy and a spilled sippy cup that wasn’t discovered until the next day. Ugh. But our wrinkly-paged version has still brought much joy. Somewhere I saw someone quibbling over the tiniest of inaccuracies in the Swahili translations, but I mean, c’mon…

    Hooray! The Jewel Box Ballerinas is now at least on order at our library — maybe we’re just a bit behind the times up here in the Great White North.

    My older daughter ADORED the Wizard of Oz while we were reading it, but then decided afterward that it had been too scary, and I haven’t been able to get her to try it again. Oh well.

  16. […] wanted to feature some of her art work here at 7-Imp (and I recently reviewed the beautiful Red Butterfly, which made me want to have her stop by WAY WAY MORE). So, we up and asked, and here she is. […]

  17. Ok, we finally got The Jewel Box Ballerinas yesterday. WOW! It’s truly gorgeous…several times I turned the page and just sat staring at the illustrations. Ella had to remind me to keep reading. Good story, too, although the conclusion seemed a bit abrupt after being really nicely paced throughout.

  18. […] her latest title, A Poet Bird’s Garden (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), which I reviewed here in January, and its genesis. The images she shared with us today are from that title, and […]

  19. […] wanted to feature some of her art work here at 7-Imp (and I recently reviewed the beautiful Red Butterfly, which made me want to have her stop by WAY WAY MORE). So, we up and asked, and here she is. […]

  20. […] How a Princess Smuggled the Secret of Silk Out of China {by Deborah Noyes, 2007, and reviewed here at […]

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