Picture Book Round-Up, Including the Return of Kate and More of Helen Cooper’s Scrumptious Pumpkin Soup

h1 June 26th, 2007 by jules

“The Trouble with Dogs . . .” Said Dad
by Bob Graham
June 2007
(First American Edition)
(library copy)

They’re back! Isn’t it great to see Kate and her family again? God, I missed them and their laid back, earring-wearin’, music-magazine-readin’, tattoo-sportin’ lifestyle. And, yes, of course we get to see Dave and Rosy again. It’s eight months after their release from the Rescue Center, and they’re comfy and happy in their new home. Rosy’s running the show, taking over the couch, just generally kicking back and enjoying the life of a dog. But Dave? He’s “small and wild. He slipped and he slid; he leaped and he skittered. He was take-me-as-you-find-me, don’t-care Dave,” exuberant and joyful and excited and “full of the joys of spring!” — but still needing “a firmer hand,” says Mom one day. After calling Pup Breakers (“We can take the pounce from your pup, the bounce from your bunny, or the squawk from your caged bird,” says the ad in the phone book), the Brigadier shows up at their home, even making the nearby birds twitter nervously. His commands to Dave are firm and loud, and he even brings a slip chain, being sure to instruct the family in “short, sharp jerks” on it. A change comes over Dave, days after this training; he’s “lost his sparkle . . . his crackle and fizz.” But, the next day, the Brigadier softens a bit after Dave runs to him, as if happy to see him, Kate thinking she actually spots a smile underneath this stoic man’s mustache. And then, in a spot-on funny and tenderly-rendered and perfectly child-centered moment, Kate tells the Brigadier, who’s stayed for dinner, that Dave doesn’t need lessons anymore:

“And why is that, young Kate?”

“Because . . .” Kate whispered, “because I think shouting hurts Dave’s feelings and we should always be polite to our dogs.”

There was silence.

{Yes, the font gets smaller like that in the book, as Kate whispers}. Such a perfect moment, all topped off with another skittering across the floor by Dave as he leaps into the Brigadier’s lap. As with the last title, there is a lot of tenderness and humor in these pages, and Graham’s pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations are buoyant. I love his use of white space to help pace his stories (and his depiction of the rather cop-like Brigadier), and he knows how to find just the right balance between detailed illustrations that are fun to take in yet an avoidance of too much clutter (the illustration of the sparkle-less Dave is perfection, with small, slouching, broken-spirited Dave on the bottom with simply a cloud of grey matter above him — all centered in the page’s white space). Maybe Graham has a Kate-and-her-family trilogy planned. I can only hope.

by Helen Cooper
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Publication date: Fall 2007
(First American Edition)
(review copy)

And guess who else is back and whose return I’m happy to see? Cat and Squirrel and Duck from Helen Cooper’s Pumpkin Soup books (1999’s Pumpkin Soup and 2005’s A Pipkin of Pepper, both published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Know any wee picky eaters? Here’s one for them: Cat, Squirrel, and Duck have a dilemma on their hands — there are no ripe pumpkins in their garden for the scrumptious pumpkin soup they want to make. Cat and Squirrel have all kinds of grand meal ideas with the help of a recipe book, but Duck only wants pumpkin soup. None of that fish or mushroom soup for him. His mind is made up and his temper tantrum ready to be thrown. He really loses it when the beet soup is made, but not to worry, the Cat devises a way to get him to eat (and not to worry, ’cause Helen Cooper includes a recipe for this soup in the book. Mmmm, pink soup!). These books are a visual feast — pun intended — with Cooper’s rich colors and detailed illustrations in her vividly-realized worlds (and her clever insect sub-plots-on-the-side — this time, those insects make the most of a wasteful toddler duck’s poor eating habits and recycle to their great benefit). As with her other Pumpkin Soup titles, Cooper plays with font size and the placement of text on the page — to an engaging effect. And her word choices roll right off the tongue with a jaunty rhythm; she somehow manages to make the text as rich and yummy as the lush illustrations:

“But out in the garden there was rustling,
and scuffling,
a bit of a kerfuffling.
The sound of a Duck
and a Squirrel
and a Cat,
looking for a pumpkin in the pumpkin patch.”

An appetizing story. Delicious. Delectable. Uh, someone make me stop with the culinary adjectives. Truly, if this book doesn’t make you want to drop what you’re doing and go make a big vat of yummy vegetable soup, there’s something wrong with you. And this one’s been preschooler-tested by Yours Truly. It’s a huge hit . . . Fans of Cat and Squirrel and Duck and their comestible adventures will not be disappointed, come this title’s Fall publication.

Ginger Bear
by Mini Grey
Alfred A. Knopf
June 2007
(First American Edition)
(review copy)

The Independent (in the U.K.) praised this wonderfully weird picture book as much for the “witty innocence of the pictures as the barkingmad originality of the prose.” Word to the “barkingmad” descriptor. I’d even apply it to the illustrations. On the very title page, Ms. Mini gets things rolling: A boy and his dog walk by The Golden Bun, a yummy pastry shop with a fabulous gingerbread man display. Cut to home. Said boy, Horace, has a lump of pastry and, though he usually rolls it all over the floor and furniture until it is “deep gray and fluffy (and quite a lot smaller),” this time he’s given a bear cookie-cutter and stamps out a gingerbread bear. Anxious to consume it, his mother puts him off on eating it until bed, at which time he places it on in a tin and puts it on his pillow. Later at night, the bear gets up while the boy sleeps and, in the name of companionship and as a ringmaster of sorts, bakes herself some carnival friends (and if Helen Cooper’s tasty title makes you yearn for some veggie soup, well, this book will take care of the dessert; Ginger Bear dresses her friends in “icing of many colors, thousands of sugar sprinkles, and candied peels and glacé cherries and little silver balls.” Mmmmm, sugar sprinkles). Then, for one night only, Ginger Bear’s circus performs in the kitchen — acrobat gingerbread bears balancing on candy bars, Strongbear raising a rolling pin, an Aeronaut fired from the ketchup bottle, and more. But, “the circus was so exciting that no one noticed the shadow looming in the doorway.” It’s the dog. And, well, Ginger Bear’s the only one able to clamber to safety. As for her friends, it’s quite the cookie massacre. And, as for the end, that’s for you to find out . . . This massive cookie-slaughter is rather upsetting. But, it’s as it should be. I can see a lot of parents squirming now over the cookie carnage, but, well, children understand this stuff. They don’t need authors and illustrators to sugarcoat — uh, so to speak — this kind of thing; they’ll spot that from a kerjillion miles away (hmmm, I’d adding after the fact here that I have just discovered this line in the Publishers Weekly review of the book: “Grey doesn’t sugarcoat her watercolor and mixed-media illustrations: she plays the cookie carnage for laughs, with sole survivor Ginger Bear overlooking a crumb-covered linoleum floor.” Great minds think alike and use exactly the same phrasing, no less). Plus, Ginger Bear’s triumph in the end wouldn’t be half as satisfying if Grey had glossed over the Taking Out of the Cookies. There’s a lot of humor as well, especially as Ginger Bear is creating her friends. Thank goodness for the twisted and talented mind of Mini Grey. See also David Elzey’s review at the excelsior file. He sums things up nicely: “Yeah, it’s good. It’s weird, but it’s good.”

Butterfly Butterfly: A Book of Colors
by Petr Horácek
March 2007
(library copy)

Channeling the spirit of Eric Carle, as he did with last year’s Silly Suzy Goose (reviewed here by Yours Truly), Horacek impresses with this new title, which sings with vibrancy and energy and will attract pre-schoolers to it like an empty cardboard box with styrofoam peanuts inside. How does he channel Carle? you ask. The bold, beautiful colors; the seemingly simple lines; the wonderful textures to his illustrations. And, with this title, he treats us to die-cut pages, just as Carle does in The Very Hungry Caterpillar. With a very spare text and his lively, colorful acrylics, Horacek shows us that it’s a beautiful, sunny day. Lucy, a young girl, is attracted to a gorgeous butterfly, chasing it around her garden. The next day, she cannot seem to find her butterfly again, but instead her eye is drawn to a wide array of creatures in various and asundry radiant colors (a pink earthworm, a brown spider, a green beetle, a family of red ladybugs, a snail with an orange shell, purple caterpillars, a blue dragonfly, and a yellow bee). But, alas, she still can’t find that butterfly. After taking a break in the grass and looking up at the sky, she finally spots it. But here’s the thing: that butterfly on the final page is a big, gorgeous, multi-colored pop-up butterfly that leaps off the page. Yes, if you do not spend your days with a child or children, well, go borrow one to read them this title and watch their eyes light up when that butterfly pops out. The die-cut pages work well, well-placed holes that give a window to colors on the previous or following pages, adding a whole new dimension to the lovely spreads laid out before you (such as, a ladybug’s wing suddenly becoming a part of Lucy’s polka-dotted dress when the page is turned). This one’s a bona-fide pre-school winner.

cover from Allen and Unwincover from Roaring Brook Press

Midsummer Knight
by Gregory Rogers
Roaring Brook Press (A Neal Porter Book)
March 2007
(First American Edition)
(library copy)

This little silent film of a picture book — the wordless, graphically-sequenced Midsummer Knight that follows Rogers’ The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard — has been discussed already over at the excelsior file (“expertly paced, both books have true cinematic arcs to their storytelling that make them a joy to follow”) and A Fuse #8 Production (“the nice thing about Gregory’s world is that he draws scenes that are both easy for a child to follow and yet convey a great deal of action and adventure without uttering a sound”). Since David and Elizabeth are two of the best, most detailed blog reviewers out there, I highly recommend you read their reviews if you’re interested in this book (I’m featuring its two different covers here, the first one being the Allen and Unwin cover and the second one being the Roaring Brook Press cover). This book is a companion to The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard, continuing where that one left off with Bear floating down the river (and Rogers simply saying in small print, “{t}he last time I saw my friend the Bear he was adrift on the Thames River, about to vanish under the arches of old London Bridge”). Sleeping in his boat and drifting by a lovely forest, Bear is awakened by a bee and eventually is led to a whole slew of honey. But the bees become enraged and chase Bear to a tree with a door in it. Entering this tree and eventually coming out on the other side, he sees that he has entered an enchanted world of fairies (and seems to have shrunk in size). The boy from the previous title appears, but as a sprite-like, Puckish fairy, and, yes, the pissed off, villainous Shakespeare is back. He takes the boy and the Bear to meet the King but eventually arrests them and places them in a dungeon. After escaping, they face the Bard again and the swordplay ensues. And then, well . . . I won’t give away the ending. Rogers charms once again with this title — which, technically, can stand alone, but this cast of characters does appear in The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard — with all its adventure, energy, wonderful aerial views and playful perspectives, and smooth transitions from reality to fantasy. And, as David pointed out, Rogers’ excellent, quick pacing is spot-on. Now, there’s the question of exactly how to classify these books (and Regis Faller’s Polo books), but you can go to David’s review to read further on that one . . .

So many more new picture books to talk about {contented sigh}, but that’s it for now. Off with you anyway to go make some vegetable soup and gingerbread treats. Until next time . . .

11 comments to “Picture Book Round-Up, Including the Return of Kate and More of Helen Cooper’s Scrumptious Pumpkin Soup”

  1. I LOVED LOVED LOVED “Let’s Get a Pup…” and I’m so very happy there’s a sequel. The others sound excellent too. Thanks, J.

  2. Glad you liked Ginger Bear and the Roger’s books.

    I’m also impressed you were able to find the British cover; I couldn’t when I posted my review and was wondering if it was somehow more… interesting? Why do they do that, change perfectly good covers and replace them with such blah stuff?

    As for the Horacek title… I passed on reviewing it because I really had some problems with it. It may work for small children, but I found it gimmicky and derivative of other’s work (hello Eric Carle).

    Nice round-up of books, nonetheless!

  3. Thanks, Eisha and David.

    David, I can dig what you’re saying about Horacek, but to me he still possesses a huge heapin’ dose of originality. Did you also dislike Silly Suzy Goose? I enjoyed that, too, except for the glaring (and repeated) grammar problems. I know English is probably not his first language, but you’d think an editor would have caught that (in case you’re not familiar, there is a repeated “If I was . . .” which should be “If I were . . .” Yes, I’m a Grammar Geek, but still . . . anyway, it’s all in my review of it from last year).

    And I agree about the cover for Midsummer Knight. I much prefer the British one (I believe it’s British anyway). Much more drama and tension there.

  4. Silly Suzy is a fave, grammar-be-darned, which is what makes the butterfly book a bit of a dissapointment. And don’t get me started talking about that mylar silver-rainbow reflection cover. Yuk!

  5. OK, I’ll admit it. I don’t GET the Biscuit Bear/Ginger Bear phenomenon. I really don’t. Biscuit Bear won all sorts of awards and acclaim but it left me a little flat. Call me crazy…

    The Trouble with Dogs, though?!?!? Yippeee!

  6. David, word to the cover. I don’t like that mylar silver-rainbow bit either. I saw a version with a white background online — much better.

    Liz, you’re not crazy. I love it when people get honest about books they didn’t like and flat-out disagree with us (I have had more than one person — and really smart, librarian-type friends, too — say that they’re too intimidated to leave comments on our blog — and even other blogs. We won’t bite). Anyway, I can respect that, but my question to you is: Biscuit Bear?? Huh? Was it released under another title? Was that the British title?

    Thanks for visiting and not being afraid to comment (and disagree). Grrrrrrrrrr.

    (I jest. I won’t bite or snarl).

  7. Ooops, yes. Biscuit Bear is the British title it was first released under. I got it through my aunt in London. And it has a better alliterative hum than Ginger Bear, don’t you think? Anyway, rest assured that I agree with nearly every word you ever utter so we won’t let this little cookie conflict come between us….

  8. Great round of reviews.

    I love Bob Graham. His books always make me get a little misty, and I really like this newest one. I am way excited about the new Cooper, and I’m even more excited to learn that I’m not the only person who loves Pumpkin Soup and A Pipkin of Pepper. And “kerfuffle”! I love that word! If I don’t buy, like, three or four copies of the new Mini Grey books when they come out, my staff keeps bugging me until I do — but somehow we all missed this new one. I blame the summer reading program. I’ve got it on order now.

  9. “Misty” — I love it! I get misty, too, over these great Kate books!

  10. […] Trouble with Dogs. . .” Said Dad — just released by Candlewick in June and reviewed here a couple weeks ago by Jules. We are huge fans of Kate and her family and were excited to see them […]

  11. Hi all!

    Nice work. I liked your site… Best regards!



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