Can You Make a Scary Face?
We all know that young children can favor interactive media. They like televisions shows that ask them to participate physically and verbally. They like songs that they encourage them to sing along. They also like books that are read-and-response, especially those that address them directly. Here is one such book. Jan Thomas’ boldly-colored ladybug narrator is in charge and interactive from the start (the very title is a question s/he asks). Page one gets readers moving. After a few pages of stand up/sit down activity that makes everyone feel pretty silly, the ladybug invites the reader to participate in a game of “Let’s Pretend.” It is all fun and games until the pretend “giant hungry frog” becomes a “real” (to the ladybug) “giant hungry frog.” It looks like the narrator we have had such fun with has met his/her end! Of course, all turns out well when the readers participate in one last, saving activity (with the title hinting at what that is). If you have enjoyed Don’t Make Me Laugh or The Monster at the End of This Book, you will love this, too. It is sure to be a hit with the preschool and kindergarten crowd along with teachers and parents, as well! 2009, Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, Ages 2 to 6. $12.99.
REVIEWER: Heidi Hauser Green (Children’s Literature).
The Croaky Pokey
What looks like a mild-mannered, amphibian-themed variation on the birthday party favorite turns out to be a nifty little comedy about best-laid plans. Inspired by a tasty-looking dragonfly, a group of frogs decides to perform their own version of the Hokey Pokey. The first part of the song is familiar (“Put your right hand in…”), but each verse is intended to end with a snack: “Hop the Croaky Pokey/ As we chase a fly around,/ Right in the froggy’s mouth!/ Whap!”) The problem is, not a single member of the froggy chorus can catch the fly. Consternation and frustration build as a gator and an egret join in, with equally unimpressive results, and everyone ends up tangled in sticky tongues-everyone, that is, except for a sly fish. Long (One Drowsy Dragon) has a gift for conveying manic, obsessive personalities (he’s a master of the googly eye), and he has found a great match in a song of relentless, rote cheeriness. The Hokey Pokey will never look the same-and that’s a good thing. 2011, Holiday House, Ages 2-6, $14.95.
REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly).
Illustrations by Marc Brown
Consistently in step with newcomer Craig’s toe-tapping narrative, Brown’s cut-paper collages herald a fresh direction for his artwork. Recalling the simple yet sophisticated collage art of Leo Lionni (to whom Brown dedicates the book) and Eric Carle, the pictures introduce a cheerful menagerie of animals composed of basic shapes cut from hand-painted papers in an array of colors, textures, and patterns that recall everything from corrugated cardboard to exotic grasses. Celebrating movement and sound, the guessing-game story hints at the identity of each creature, initially seen retreating from the page, leaving footprints behind. Spontaneous, onomatopoeic verses ask questions that are answered with a page turn: “Tippity! Tippity!\n/ Little black feet!/ Who is dancing that tippity\n beat?” leads into a spread that reveals ladybugs cavorting among leaves and dappled orange flowers. An elephant’s beat is “stompity,” ducks’ is “slappity,” a caterpillar’s is “creepity,” and a bear’s is “thumpity.” In a satisfying finale, kids wearing clothing that mimics the appearance of the various animals demonstrate their own dancing feet. Fluid repetition and snappy rhythm make this a natural for reading aloud-noisily. 2010, Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House, Ages 1-4, $11.55.
REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly).
De Colores – Bright with Colors
This bilingual picture book illustrates the popular Spanish song “De Colores” (“Bright with Colors”). It is a well known song that is sung all over the Spanish-speaking world, and should even sound familiar from Mexican food restaurants. The song celebrates the color, joy, life, love, and peace that are often associated with springtime. The song also has some fun animal noises that young children will enjoy. Each line of the song is repeated on opposing pages in both Spanish and English. True to its title, the colorful illustrations in the book add to the joy of the song. The book also includes a short history of the song, as well as sheet music with the words in both Spanish and English. This would be a wonderful tool for teachers who teach music, Spanish, or English as a Second Language, and the familiar song will help young Spanish speaking students feel comfortable. 2008, Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books, Ages 4 to 8, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Traci Avalos (Children’s Literature).
If You’re a Monster and You Know It
Rebecca Emberley & Ed Emberley
Brilliantly-colored and uniquely-shaped monsters dancing through the pages provide an opportunity for young children to sing and dance to the familiar tune, “If You’re Happy And You Know It.” Replacing their human parts for monster parts, children will enjoy turning their hands into claws and feet into paws while snarling and growling. The vivid text explodes over the pages reflecting the monsters’ raucous behavior. Action words such as stomp, snort, twitch, and smack create a boisterous atmosphere for young mini-monsters. Preschoolers through second graders will express pleasure in practicing roaring, smacking, stomping, twitching, snorting, and growling. Children will delight in the foldout page at the end which creates a monster panorama. Use this title with young children who want to read about monsters but don’t want to be scared. Librarians, teachers, parents and caregivers can help children with the wiggles by acting out this book with them. A variety of instructional opportunities involving vocabulary, colors, movement, and art projects make this a fun and versatile choice for story hour and reading at home. 2010, Orchard Books/Scholastic, Ages 3 to 8, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Nancy Baumann (Children’s Literature).
If You’re Hoppy
April Pulley Sayre
The classic singalong piece “If You’re Happy and You Know It” provides the basic structure for this ebullient participatory picture book. Sayre, however, isn’t as interested in her audience’s moods as their behavioral inclinations, explaining the implications if they’re hoppy, sloppy, growly, or flappy. If you’re hoppy, for instance, you’re a frog (or a bunny, or a cricket); if you’re sloppy, you’re a hog (or perhaps a raccoon, or chimp, or baboon), and so on, with each attribute described in encouraging follow-along terms (if you’re flappy and you know it, “swing your wings to really show it”). Though the frothy silliness occasionally overspills the boundaries of the structure (while amusing, the fakeout “slimy and scaly and mean” verse actually stops the momentum), this is a zooful of entertainment for active toddlers, who will exult in hopping, slopping, growling, and flapping across the library and probably in shouting out their own added animals to the growing lists. Antic free spirits are the name of the game in Urbanovic’s watercolor illustrations; full-bleed full-page spreads beam with exuberance as animals bounce, streak, and mug their way across the openings, sometimes leaving dotted motion lines in their wake. Softly blurred washes contrast with hatching-like textured brushwork, and the animal portraiture has some of the exaggeration of David Catrow but with bonhomie instead of grotesquerie. Introduced initially for his hopping prowess, the frog actually infiltrates the action throughout in cameos that kids will enjoy spotting (it’s his tummy that’s growling in the growling section, for instance). Use this for kids ready to lengthen their boogying from Thomas’ Can You Make a Scary Face? (BCCB 10/09) and Cronin’s Wiggle (BCCB 7/05). Review Code: R — Recommended. 2011, Greenwillow, Ages 2-4 yrs, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).
Illustrated by Bruce Degen
This brightly illustrated story keeps the reader’s interest with rhymes as a piano-playing mouse scurries around the house getting everyone involved. They are drumming, fiddling, singing, dancing, and jazzmatazz jamming! Fiction. Grades Preschool-3. 2008, HarperCollins, Ages 2 to 9, $17.89.
REVIEWER: Cristina L. Arispe (The Lorgnette – Heart of Texas Reviews).
Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Specific movements of eleven different animals are highlighted in a visually dynamic picture book. “A gibbon swings through jungle trees . . . or walks on two back legs. A jacana walks on floating lily pads . . . then dives in to catch a fish. A blue whale dives deep, deep, deep . . . ” Each turn of the page reveals a second action for one creature on the left-hand side, and introduces a new creature that also moves by that action on the right. Collage illustrations of each animal in action, created from cut and torn paper, look striking on the bright white pages, while the text is artfully laid out to suggest or mimic the physical action described. Additional information about each animal is provided at the end of this winning volume. CCBC Category: The Natural World. 2006, Houghton Mifflin, Ages 4-7, $16.00.
REVIEWER: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices).
Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef
Marianne Collins Berkes
The gorgeous illustrations in this book deserve top billing. Polymer clay in vibrant colors was sculpted, sliced, pressed, and plied by the artist, then photographed to create the two-dimensional relief art of marine life. Each folio reveals a different species of swimmer, ten in all, against sea-inspired polymer backdrops that include swirls of aqua waves, orange and purple coral gnarls, and ribbons of sea grass in stunning chartreuse. Quite satisfactorily, the artist explains her process at the back of the book and gives parents and teachers tips on helping children create with polymer clay. Only after perusal of the art has been satisfied (and I would wager child or adult will study it many times) will one settle down to enjoy reading the book. Set to the rhythm and tune of “Over in the Meadow,” the text opens with mother octopus and her baby one, mother parrotfish and her parrotfish two, and so on, until the tenth species and her ten babies are introduced in counting book fashion. Although Berkes explains in separate text at the back of the book that dolphins really only produce one (sometimes two) offspring at a time, it is, therefore, puzzling that she introduces mother and six baby dolphins at point six in the counting rhyme. But there are enough bonuses in this book to overlook that flaw. The back of the book also provides music and lyrics, facts about coral life and reef animals, and finger play suggestions for teachers and parents. 2004, Dawn Publications, Ages 3 to 8, $8.95.
REVIEWER: Anne May (Children’s Literature).
After Farmer Joe finishes his chores and heads off to bed, the quintet Punk Farm gets ready for an after-hours barnstormer. “Cow sets up her drums. Pig plugs in his amp. Chicken sets up her keyboards. Goat tunes his bass. Sheep checks the microphone.” The animals cringe when feedback squeals from the mic, but luckily Farmer Joe doesn’t hear. Chickens, cats and other locals line up for admission, and a horse in Ray-Bans stamps their wings and paws with ultraviolet ink. Then the band takes the stage in a dry-ice fog and belts out-what else?-“Old MacDonald,” with solo performances for each musician (Pig grimaces and twists the electric guitar strings “with a ray roo here/ and a ray ree there”). Krosoczka’s (Baghead) soft-edged paintings imply the band’s mock-tough stance, and some of the funniest material winds up in the end pages, which include collages of torn ticket stubs, scrawled set lists and flyers. In black-and-white press photos, the band members pose on the quaint farmhouse porch or in a pickup truck; Chicken’s pointy comb and retro striped tie have an ’80s flair, Goat’s horns and goatee lend an alterna-pop look and Cow’s crewcut-shaped black spot and thick neck chain (for her bell) suggest a hardcore edge. This will amuse parents at least as much as their progeny. 2005, Alfred A. Knopf, Ages 5-8., $15.95.
REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
Doreen Cronin and Scott Menchin
Stretch with me, hands in the air!” begins this cheerful exploration of the many ways our bodies can stretch. At the helm is a spotted dog who will do and imagine just about anything to show how much fun a stretch can be: from balancing on a giraffe’s nose while reaching for an apple atop a tree, to floating in outer space, to blowing the biggest bubble–which stretches a tad too much. The dog is joined by a menagerie of land, sea, and air creatures, including crabs, birds, a mouse, a leopard, and a whale. Doreen Cronin’s short, energetic rhymes are inviting to listen and chant along to. Who can resist these two consecutive double-page spreads: “Can you stretch to the ceiling? Can you stretch to the floor? You can stretch with a whisper, you can stretch with a roar.” The rhymes are a pleasure to look at too, as they wind and stretch across the pages, thanks to the book’s designers, Ann Bobco and Sonia Chaghatzbanian. Scott Menchin’s simple line illustrations–saturated with color and splashed with collage-like images of real objects and textures–add up to plenty of personality for the animals, and a zippy, humorous feel throughout. Look to the endpapers for an extra treat: dozens of dog stretches, diligently posed by the star of this charming book. 2009, Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, Ages 3 to 6, $15.99.
REVIEWER: Paula K. Zeller (Children’s Literature).
Wiggle Like an Octopus
Illustrated by Simms Taback
Lenticular seems to be in with children’s books. It is a gimmick, but helps the board book stand out from the rest. The cover of this board book has an image of an octopus waving its arms in the water. With the emphasis on movement to help fight obesity, young kids can start imitating animals. This group consists of ones that like water. Scurry like a crab, swim like a dolphin, run like an alligator (yes these seemingly lazy floating creatures are capable of short bursts of speed). Waddle like a penguin and dance like a lobster are some of the other creatures and movements featured. At the end of the book they offer an invitation to jump right into the water. A companion book is entitled Swing! Like a Monkey. 2011, Blue Apple Books, Ages 1 to 3, $8.99.
REVIEWER: Marilyn Courtot (Children’s Literature).