Getting a bit caught up on reviews . . .

h1 January 2nd, 2007 by jules

james-browns-funky-christmas.jpgI’ve had a mental list of picture book titles that I want to talk about a bit, but the holidays have kept me from my reviews of them. But the egg nog’s gone, and the James Brown Christmas tunes have been — once again — put back into the stack of Christmas CDs. (God rest his kinetic soul, I might add. And it’s not related to book reviews, but in his honor and memory, I present to you the cover of this, the best holiday CD ever).

So, now that the holidays are over, let’s get right to it — some of the entertaining and for-one-reason-or-another wonderful fiction picture book titles of ’06 that I never got around to. Some of them have been highlighted and reviewed well on kidlitosphere blogs Eisha and I like to frequent, but I’d be all amiss if I didn’t mention them myself.

a-particular-cow.gifA Particular Cow by Mem Fox and illustrated by Terry Denton (published by Harcourt Children’s Books; September 2006) — This is a peculiar and quirky little title. But, hey, it works. There is, you see, a particular cow who goes for a particular walk. Usually, on her walks, nothing in particular happens. ‘Til today. The chaos begins when she ends up with a pair of bloomers on her head, bloomers that have fallen from a clothesline. Then, since she’s temporarily blinded, she stumbles into a mailman’s cart. Thus she is off on this amusing path of inadvertent destruction, even interrupting a random wedding. Fox’s lanky text is engaging. Denton’s ink and watercolor cartoon illustrations are loose and sprightly, a good match for the book’s slapstick, campy zing, highlighted by his palette of warm colors. A Particular Cow is a particularly fun title that particularly wants to be a read-aloud. I, in particular, enjoyed reading it. Uh, now I’m being particularly annoying, so let’s move on . . .

carry-me.gifCarry Me! by Rosemary Wells (published by Hyperion Books for Children; March 2006) — The insanely talented Rosemary please-read-to-your-child-at-least-twenty-minutes-a-day Wells has created a book straight from her own generous and child-savvy heart: a book that consists of “three word-songs for the very young. They spring from a baby’s earliest memory . . . nothing is more important than singing to, talking to, and carrying your baby!” (These are jacket-flap words). Indeed, as she explains on her site the importance of lap-sitting and reading with your under-two-year-old for twenty minutes a day (the Read to Your Bunny campaign), she stresses that “{t}rusting, singing, laughing, and language are the most important things in a young child’s life.” And since, unfortunately, she can’t personally share this passion face-to-face with every single parent in the world, she created a new picture book all about it — 2006’s Carry Me!. Told from the perspective of a young child, the text is lyrical (“Little blue light outside my door/ Silver circles on my floor/ Red eyes blink from moonlit wings/ Tell me a story about these things”). The illustrations charm with Wells’ endearing, cozy, and expressive rabbit families and communities. And these illustrations have glimmering, silvery touches all over them — from the silvery crescent moon outside the window to the green grass glimmering in the moonlight while her leporid gang “hop like lightning bugs/ On the first of June” in the “Sing to Me!” portion of the book, which revels in the four seasons. Worth seeing also for Wells’ depiction of the Wild Winter Wizard “{w}ith his beard full of blizzard/ And his bags full of snow.” This one really sings with a definite texture to her watercolors, too; I want to reach out and touch those silver splashes, in particular. Wells can sing to me any day.

sally-jean-the-bicycle-queen.gifSally Jean, the Bicycle Queen by Cari Best and illustrated by Christine Davenier (published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux; April 2006) — This title, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, features a groovy, new heroine of children’s lit. I have a particular fondness for this book, because a) I tend to be drawn to picture book titles which feature child protagonists whose families cannot afford to buy them every, little new-fangled thing they want (Lynne Rae Perkins’ Home Lovely from 1995 is one of my favorites) and b) Devenier’s illustrations on each and every page seem to be touched just enough with sunlight or some other sort of lovely, cream or ivory base of a hue, that the whole book seems to glow in this bright, happy way . . . Sally Jean loves bicycles. We see her at age one in a bucket on the back of Mama’s bike; we see her at age two on the trike with streamers that Granny buys her; and at age four, she’s zoomin’ around on the yard-sale bike Papa finds her. The training wheels come off, and watch out! Sally’s hard-core. She’s not only named her bike, but she’s composed her own song about how terrifically cool she is when on it: “I’m a plane, I’m a train, I’m a girl up on a horse. I’m Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen, And my bike is Flash, of course!” As she gets older, she grows with the bike, raising the seat as needed as she keeps composing her bike rhymes. But at the age of eight, she’s too big and wonders what to do next, as her legs spill over her reliable ‘ol racer. She turns down offers for rides on friends’ bikes while they’re busy, and she tries skating, hopping, jumping, and running. “But nothing felt as good as riding.” There’s no new bike in her future, since Papa needs new eyeglasses and Mama’s got a huge dental bill. But after some rumination, fine-tuning her budding entrepreneurial skills, and discovering the value in recycling junk, she solves her dilemma, brings about a satisfying ending to this tale, and sings us a new bicycle-themed song when it’s all said and done. Best has brought us a triumphant tale in Sally Jean, and Davenier’s bright watercolor illustrations are a perfect match for the energy of the story and a perfect, um, vehicle for capturing Sally Jean’s resourcefulness and resiliency and verve. Let the Bicycle Queen brighten your day.

fletcher-and-the-falling-leaves.gifFletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson and illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (published by HarperCollins Publishers; August 2006) — My affection for this book grows every time I read it (and it had me at hello to begin with). And my admiration for Beeke’s work in it increases two-fold every time I pick it up. And, hey, according to this site about Beeke, “her ambition is to have coffee in every European capital city.” Now I like her even more. The woman’s got her priorities straight . . . Poor Fletcher, the wee, little fox, is distraught; his favorite tree seems a bit lifeless. It’s nearing autumn, but Fletcher doesn’t quite understand this. His mother tries to explain and ease his worries (and, subsequently, he totally goes to the tree, pats its rough bark, and says, “{d}on’t worry, it’s only autumn. You’ll be feeling better soon” — can someone give me a big awwwwwwww!?). But he gets more and more worked up as the leaves on this, his beloved tree, begin to fall. He tries to tie one leaf back onto a branch and then, after it shakes itself free again, poke it onto a twig; he tries to catch a bunch of them on a windy day; he tries to talk the squirrel and porcupine out of using them for their own comforts; and he stays all day long (he’s determined) with the last one he sees on his tree as the wind bounces the branch on which it lives. And then, just when you’re thinking that Fletcher can’t be any more lovable, he takes that leaf home and makes a little bed for it and tucks it in. On the book’s final double page spread, Fletcher has a bit of an epiphany; he sees a glorious, silvery, shiny wonderful thing that you have to see with your own eyes . . . The book’s first line is “{t}he world was changing.” This is a captivating story that is many things but is, primarily, about one young character’s struggle to understand and then accept the often-perplexing and sudden shifts and passages and mysteries of life. Kerry Millar puts it oh-so well in her review at The Edge of the Forest’s October ’06 issue.

once-upon-a-banana.gifOnce Upon a Banana by Jennifer Armstrong and illustrated by David Small (published by Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing; October 2006) — This whiz-bang, gotta-have title, a Kirkus Editor’s Choice book, is one I’ve been meaning to review ever since I got my lucky ‘ol hands on it. It’s a blast and an inventive wonder to behold from front to back. Is anyone surprised, since we’re talkin’ Jennifer Armstrong and David Small here? Who do we have to thank for pairing them up? . . . Anyway, what can I say that Fuse #8 has not already said (it is “storytelling in a picture book format at its best. And if I were to recommend that people learn what it means to tell a picture book story through action alone, this title would be my number one pick of the litter,” she writes). Or what MotherReader already said. And I’m sure many other kidlitosphere reviews that I’m missing. If you don’t know, this is a mostly wordless picture book; the street signs tell some of the story, and when you line them up in your mind, they read like their own, little poem. Nice touch. Let Armstrong and Small take you on this wild escapade, which begins with a monkey escaping his owner and stealing a banana. “Beware the banana peel,” wrote Jessica Bruder in her review in The New York Times. You’d be surprised at how much chaos one monkey can create on the streets of one town. Bruder nailed the book’s “madcap style.” She wrote, “the plot seems shot out of a cannon.” And it’s this — the book’s wonderfully merry, high-spirited energy — that you don’t want to pass up. And the book’s a beauty to behold in more ways than one, especially its design, including the endpapers. And since this has turned into less of my own review and more like a review of the reviews, I’ll close by saying that, as Mary Harris Russell of The Chicago Tribune put it, there are “{l}ots of leaping paths for little fingers to follow” in this one. Give yourself lots of time to pore over this one.

Do I have more titles to discuss? O yes sir (as my two-year-old, oddly enough, keeps saying to me), I do. Until next time . . .

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