Picture Book Round-Up: Meet the Heat, the Sassy Tooth Fairy, an Ungrateful Badger, and Walsh’s
Clever Mice (Once Again)

h1 August 11th, 2007 by jules

Let’s just get right to it in my efforts to get through my stack of Noteworthy — For One Reason or Another — 2007 Picture Books . . .

Heat Wave
by Eileen Spinelli
and illustrated by Betsy Lewin
Harcourt Children’s Books
July 2007
(library copy)

I don’t know how it is where you live, but here in the South, it’s hotter than two rats (maybe three or four) . . . ahem, getting to know each other in a wool sock. Or worse. Just angry, angry heat. Over one hundred degrees here in middle Tennessee. Eileen Spinelli’s new picture book, Heat Wave, is particularly fitting right now, taking us back to a time “long before stores, businesses, or homes had air conditioners.” There’s a hot spell, to say the least, in Lumberville: the sun’s sizzling and hair is frizzling, and the townspeople of Lumberville try their best to endure the heat in a variety of creative ways: “Pastor Denkins shortened his sermon. The Green Door Restaurant served fruit plates with orange sherbert. Abigail Blue and her little brother, Ralphie, opened a lemonade stand — three cents a glass . . .” Spinelli takes us through each day of the week with the heat managing to climb each time until “Saturday was the hottest day yet.” Boys get out the garden hose; children lay on the cool linoleum floors, listening to the radio; ice cream sodas are consumed; “the Pettibone sisters put their perfume and makeup in the icebox”; and Abigail even gets her hair shorn. In the end, the night falls, but the temperature fails to, so everyone leaves their homes and heads to the riverbank with their pillows and PJs, having the same dream after Popsicles and political flyers were passed out by the mayor, after Officer McGinnis played his harmonica, and while “{t}he river whispered. Stars twinkled. The moon cast a soft, silvery light”: the dream we see on the joyful final spread in which rain drops fall to everyone’s delight. Nostalgic adults might get more of a kick out of this, but that’s not to say children won’t find some appeal here with the townspeople’s inventive coping mechanisms (kids abandoning their shoes while playing in the park and Abigail and Ralphie ditching the lemonade and simply selling ice). Caldecott Honor winner Betsy Lewin’s sparkly, cartoon watercolor illustrations are “sun-drenched” (School Library Journal), but don’t forget the silvery, moon-glow blue spreads at the book’s close as everyone slumbers by the water. And her drops of blue-soaked water onto the page for the succulent final rain spread are perfect. Could there be a better fit for this book in terms of an illustrator? I think not. A fun read (and with a particularly pleasing character name — gotta point out great names like “Abigail Blue” when you get a chance).

You Think It’s Easy Being the Tooth Fairy?
by Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt
and illustrated by David Slonim
Chronicle Books
Fall 2007
(review copy)

Meet the Tooth Fairy, as only David Slonim and Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt can bring her to you. The tongue-in-cheek humor of Slonim’s He Came With the Couch (2005) made me happy, and so I had to see this, his newly-illustrated title. And I’m glad I met this brassy, cheeky fairy of the teeth-gathering profession. She’s quite unforgettable. “You think it’s easy being the tooth fairy? Well, it’s not. It takes skill! It takes daring!” she tells us on the first page as she’s rappelling into a sleeping child’s room (yes, he’s got that gap-toothed snore goin’ on, having just lost a tooth) with the help of some fireflies. This fairy is spilling over with personality, too:

Let’s get one thing straight, OK? I NEVER wear pink flouncing skirts or twinkling glass slippers! That’s Cinderella. She does a lot of sitting around the castle looking pretty. BORING! Me, I’m an action kind of gal. I live for danger! For suspense!

That’s where it’s at, my friends. And it just gets better: She shows us her muscles (that’s what happens when you lug around quarters every night), her amazing Tooth-o-Finder, and her Spy-o-Binoculars. She shows us her athletic prowess, her grace, her ability to “roll with the punches,” and her impressive ability to outwit the dogs, gerbils, and cats who are always out to thwart her tooth-collecting efforts. She then launches into a “Placement of Teeth” lecture (as in, where you can place your teeth at night to make her work more effective, thanks very much) — in all her good-natured attempts to simply make her thrill-seeking job a bit easier — heading home after that to get some shut-eye in her bed, shaped (of course) like a gaping mouth with its pearly whites. The end pages show sleeping children and the teeth they’ve lost to date lined up around their images. Slonim’s bright, cartoon illustrations — rendered in acrylic paint, oils, pencil, and ballpoint pen on linen (whew) — burst off the page with humor and warmth and action and lots ‘o spunk, of course (this is our steadfast, tenacious, nose-to-the-grindstone, anti-princess tooth fairy at work here after all). A revealing exposé into the brutal, never-before-brought-to-light work of the dental dwarf of the night.

Badger’s Fancy Meal
by Keiko Kasza
Putnam Juvenile
May 2007
(library copy)

This is a clever take on the be-happy-with-what-you’ve-got theme (just as with her ’05 title, The Dog Who Cried Wolf), but it’s Keiko Kasza we’re talking ’bout here, so it’s entertaining and never feels like a lesson. Badger is tired of the same’ ol and wants a fancy meal for once. But going after other animals (what seems to be a theme for Kasza, who doesn’t shy from showing our greedy, bloodthirsty natures in her anthropomorphic animal tales) only leads to trouble that you just have to see for yourself. To boot, Kasza manages to show us — by illustrating page-turns and page curls (see cover here) — what’s happening in more than one spot at one moment in time. It’s all slightly postmodern of her, but even the youngest children will appreciate this play with narrative structure, as well as all the action and goofy animal recipes (vegetarian dish tonight, anyone? I’m not so sure I’m up for a mole taco with hot spicy salsa) — and Kasza’s bright, vivid color choices in this title, which you can easily add to your list of picture books that humorously and so spot-on perfectly demonstrate the use of irony in storytelling.

Mouse Shapes
by Ellen Stoll Walsh
Harcourt Children’s Books
July 2007
(library copy)

Those clever mice are back . . . Remember Mouse Paint (1989) and Mouse Count (1991), those classic picture books that are little studies in cut paper collage and color and economical storytelling? Walsh makes it all look so easy, but that’s where her brilliance comes in: Underlying all those simple shapes and pithy storytelling are multiple concepts aimed perfectly at the preschool-aged child. Now, over fifteen years later, the mice return (though the year 2000 did bring us Mouse Magic). Walsh’s collage style of illustration is most perfectly suited to this tale, as it’s about three mice hiding in a big ‘ol heap of brightly-colored shapes to keep the cat away, eventually using those shapes to create structures that will fool the feline. They put a triangle on top of a square to make a house, adding a circle for the sun and a triangle-and-rectangle-shaped tree. They make a wagon, a book, a fish, and finally a cat. But, in the end, it’s Fred’s idea to use all those shapes to make three big scary mice, surprising and scaring off the pesky cat. Then, being the smart rodents they are, they make some Swiss cheese for their lunch. Mmm, Swiss cheese. Another winning concept book from Walsh.

Until next time . . .

6 comments to “Picture Book Round-Up: Meet the Heat, the Sassy Tooth Fairy, an Ungrateful Badger, and Walsh’s
Clever Mice (Once Again)”

  1. “Dental dwarf of the night?” Did you make that up?

  2. Yeah, it’s bad, I know.

  3. Ellen Stoll Walsh is lives here in the Greater Rochester Area, and I like to take every opportunity to say how much she rocks. Because it’s a lot.

    The Fairport Public Library has these cool Mouse Paint statues:


    If I were given to a life of crime (alas that I am not!), I would steal them.

  4. Oh look at them! Thanks, Adrienne. That’s pretty cool.

    Have you seen the new book?

  5. I have, and I think it’s her best in years — certainly an equal to Mouse Paint, which, as far as I’m concerned, is as close as you can get to a perfect book for a three year old (although I’d say this new one’s maybe better for a four or five year old). I love how the mice make the shapes into different things: it makes for great inspiration for kids to make their own art projects. I’m thinking of reading the book to my 4 and 5 year old storytime this fall and basing an art activity around it. (I have my 4’s and 5’s for 45 minutes every week, and we always do some kind of art-ish thing at the end, mostly just “Hey, let’s get out big paper and paint!” but sometimes we do something slightly more structured. My 4’s and 5’s storytime is pretty much the best part of my week when it’s going on.)

  6. looking for a childrens book out around the early 1980’s. Unknown author or title. Content four badgers and a mole move house. Five stories within the book. the mole is clumsey and gets locked in a stable in one story. He loses his way home in the fog in another.

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