The Picture Book Round-Up That Will Make Me
Die a Little Bit Inside, Part One

h1 July 18th, 2007 by jules

Yes, dramatic post title there, but I got your attention, didn’t I?

Perhaps, for all I know, none of our readers remember this, but I hardly forget promises to myself: I vowed to read and review as many picture books as I could this year. And, believe me, I’ve been reading them, but I’m so dreadfully behind on reviewing them. I have finally come to accept that I can’t review these titles in the manner in which I normally review picture books (rambly like this or round-uppety and rambly like this). Yes, my favorite kidlitosphere reviewers are really detailed (that’s one reason, I’m sure, that Fuse is a kidlitosphere superstah; I mean, her reviews are fabulously thorough). But, in order to get to these leaning stacks of picture books at all, I’m just going to have to try my best to be short and pithy. Or, wait, as Yoda said, “Do… or do not. There is no try.”

So, short it will be. Which is why I’m going to die a little bit inside. And there might even be another post like this (hanging my head in shame) in an effort to get caught up.

But at least it might actually work — I might be able to move past these stacks and start anew on more picture book titles coming to me, since I’m still determined to keep up with new titles and reviews.

Here goes nothin’:

Yo, Jo!
by Rachel Isadora
April 2007
(library copy)

To not give this one a detailed review might make me die inside the most, but enough of that . . . The text in this one is nothing to sneeze at, to say the least, but you really will want to see this one for Isadora’s colorful, dyamic oil and collage illustrations (including clever use of newsprint). Collage seems so popular now, but Isadora really does it up right. If collage illustrations were my thing, I’d be afraid to look at this book, lest it put me to shame. Let’s put it that way. This one’s about a young African-American boy named Jomar who lives in an urban neighborhood (Isadora not holding back on things like litter and graffiti but counterbalancing it with the warmth of the neighborhood in her bold, bright color choices) and greets his multicultural neighbors and friends with hip-hop slang, such as “S’up!”, “Faboo!”, “Def!”, “Check out the B-boy!”, and “Off the heazy!” There’s some high-fivin’, hand-slappin’, music-jammin’, roller-blading, and ball playing, all simply showing the camaraderie that exists in this boy’s neighborhood, as he waits for his Grandpa to show. And, when he does, he hints that he’d like Jomar to speak to him in a more conventional manner, to which the boy replies “I love you, Grandpa.” (Yet, then the grandfather turns to Jomar’s older brother to say, “Yo, Frankin, you chillin’ with us?” in an effective, wink-wink ending). The book, a perfect preschool read-aloud, bounces with energy, and Jo brings to mind a contemporary Peter à la Ezra Jack Keats’ world. Perfection this one is (if I’ve used an image of Yoda, I have to — at the very least — try to talk like him).

So, how am I doin’? That one was too long. Okay, I’ll do better.

Ready, Set, Skip!
by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Ann James
May 2007
(library copy)

The winsome young protagonist of this title knows how to (as she shows her pet dog) leap, creep, twirl, skate, burp, slurp, and do all kinds of other things, but her problem is that she cannot skip: “I can’t skip. I wish I could. Other kids are really good.” Her mother, overhearing this, asks the girl if she can hop and shows her that skipping is just hopping on one foot and then the other. Her mother demonstrates her skipping prowess (“Down the street I watch Mom go. She’s pretty old to skip, I know” — heh), and then the spirited young girl gives it a go, then skipping off to school in the end. The rhyming text is simple and sprightly (another excellent preschool read-aloud choice), matched well by James’ light and bright and airy color and line illustrations with just the right amount of humor and detail (don’t miss the burp spread — heh again). Incidentally, this title also screams: Use me in an elementary gym class!

When a Monster is Born
by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Nick Sharratt
Roaring Brook Press
First American Edition — May 2007
(originally published in 2006)
(library copy)

“When a monster is born . . . there are two possibilities — either it’s a FARAWAY-IN-THE-FORESTS monster, or
. . . it’s an UNDER-YOUR-BED monster.” Taylor bases this story on a traditional Brazilian poem called “When a Baby is Born . . .”, and in it he repeatedly presents the reader two possibilities, a choice between a pair of ludicrous alternatives (at one point the monster “either
. . . gives {a kitchen-girl} the fright of her life, ‘RRROARRRR!’ and she runs off shouting, ‘HELP! HELP! HELP!’ or . . . the monster gives her a rose and they FALL IN LOVE”), followed by an equally ridiculous and surprising result (“If the girl runs off shouting . . . that’s that. But if they FALL IN LOVE, there are two possibilities . . .”). It’s just pure silliness and fun, though I suppose your emerging preschooler might pick up a bit about cause-and-effect and enjoy the many unexplored terrains of what if . . .? and suppose that . . . Like with Sendak’s wild things, nervous parents need not worry about the wee ones getting too frightened, as Sharratt makes the monster sufficiently goofy-looking (just look at him peekin’ out of that stroller up there) and very rounded. The walls of the monster’s classroom are hung with real drawings by children from Great Tew Primary School, according to a quick illustrator’s note, and Sharratt’s use of textured fabrics in his cartoon-line drawings make these illustrations ones you want to reach out and touch. See also David’s review at the excelsior file — “A sturdy option for the reader (or lap-sitter) who is just starting to appreciate the cleverness of plot diversions, nonsense and the thrill of connecting endings and beginnings in their storytelling. There was something a little Remy Charlip about it, which is never a bad thing for me.”

Oh my, I still imagined these as being much shorter. I’m not doing too well. Let’s try again . . .

Andy Warhol’s Colors and
Counting with Wayne Thiebaud,
two board books by
Susan Goldman Rubin
Chronicle Books
May 2007
(review copies)

Nonfiction author Susan Goldman Rubin brings us two board books — wee-sized and sturdy for little hands, as board books should be — about colors and counting but through modern art. Now, let me stress that I’m not a flash-card kind of mom. I’m not one to force an art lesson on my children through a board book or otherwise. But, wow, these are neat books. Why the hell not expose them to imaginative modern art, whether or not you bother to even attempt to explain who Andy Warhol was or Wayne Thiebaud is? The images chosen by Rubin for the Warhol book are bold and bright and wonderfully weird (“small green cat just purrs meow” and “pink cows lined up row by row”), and it’s all told in a simple, accessible rhyming text. Thiebaud’s images in the counting book are decidedly less quirky than Warhol’s, of course, but just as effective for counting, with Rubin’s rhyming text thrown in here as well, and bursting forth with a texture that makes you want to reach in, pick up the pie (or pickle rounds or sugar sticks), and eat them (which, indeed, my three-year-old likes to pretend to do). These are board books done well. David at the excelsior file says this all much better than I.

Oh please. Okay, I’m going to LIMIT MYSELF TO TWO-LINE REVIEWS.

Clara & Señor Frog
by Campbell Geeslin
and illustrated by Ryan Sanchez
Schwartz & Wade Books
April 2007
(review copy)

“Although her mother works with a magician performing tricks, Clara finds real magic in creating art” (aha! Official, pithy cataloging summary), or “A little Mexican girl recognizes real magic in the work of a friendly artist” (in the words of Kirkus Reviews). Yes, Clara sees her Mamá get sawed in half daily while audience members squeal (“Tricks, just tricks. I know them all,” Clara thinks), but then she is mesmerized by the wonder of art (seeing a painting of a fly on a watermelon and thinking the fly is real — “That is magic!”) when her mother meets and marries a famous local artist. Baffled by some of his rather imaginative paint strokes, the artist (reminiscent of Diego Rivera) explains to Clara, “I am not a photographer. I picture you in a dream, and then I paint what I see,” making this a great choice, in particular, for those looking for art-themed books (“Seeing the colors flow onto the canvas is better than listening to music,” the girl thinks, with the artist telling her: “You and I know real magic, don’t we, Clarita? . . . We can make magic happen any time we want”). I agree with Booklist that the lengthy text could be pulled tighter with a bit more focus. But the narrative still manages to engage, and Sanchez’s stylized illustrations (just check out the size of Clara’s head in that cover image), rendered in oil, are worth seeing, especially for their lively perspectives. Again, this title is especially worth consideration for use in art classes, particularly when discussing Mexican art.

* * * * * * *

Right. Well, you can see how well I did with two-line reviews. I had six — count them: SIX! — more titles lined up for this one review, and I have another huge stack here, but I’ll just have to put them off, now won’t I?

This looks no different than my typical picture book round-ups. I’m obviously having trouble being pithy.

But, hey, at least I didn’t have to die a little bit inside after all.

I’ll try a different stance next time. Any suggestions (for anyone who’s made it this far?). Adiós for now . . .

6 comments to “The Picture Book Round-Up That Will Make Me
Die a Little Bit Inside, Part One”

  1. Hmmm… you could try reviewing the books in Haiku form…

    For example:

    Warhol’s Colors book:
    Awesome Pop Art on boards,
    Non-fiction for All.

    plus, Yoda is all about zen poetry, he is.

  2. Minh, in case I haven’t told you before, Eisha and I love your blog and our blog wants to marry it.

  3. Sweet! I’ll start thinking of seven impossible things for them to do on their honeymoon.

  4. Hoo hah!

  5. […] us — also via Chronicle Books — a board book for the wee-est of children (reviewed here at 7-Imp) of the art of Wayne Thiebaud, an American painter born in 1920 whose work is associated […]

  6. […] Painting with Picasso; Sharing with Renoir; Sunday with Seurat; the two board books I reviewed here last summer, Andy Warhol’s Colors and Counting with Wayne Thiebaud; and many others. As […]

Leave a Comment

Should you have trouble posting, please contact Thanks.