Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatke
My rating: 4.5 of 5
A box tumbles out of a moving truck, only to be discovered by a little girl exploring outside. She opens to box to find a little robot, just the right size to be her friend. These two develop an understanding and a growing friendship, although like any friends they must work through their share of misunderstandings. All is not well, though, as those that made the little robot come searching for it–whether or not it’s willing to go.
The creator of the adorable Zita the Spacegirl has brought us another excellent children’s graphic novel in Little Robot. This is a perfect story for basically anyone; it’s charming, creative, simple, yet engaging. It would actually make a pretty solid easy-reader for children learning to read for themselves. Most of the text is reasonably simple–I actually love that in a few instances where a more difficult concept was being expressed, Hatke actually used a picture in the text bubble rather than trying to use too many words to explain or worse trying to oversimplify the idea. There’s a mild amount of peril, but the ending is happy and satisfying. The little girl in this story (who is never actually named) seems to only be about 5 or thereabouts, although she’s surprisingly precocious in some ways for that age. She’s got a fun personality. Also, points for making her not white and giving her a wrench to carry around and fix stuff. The art in this whole story is Hatke’s typical style–in other words, it’s fabulous. The colors, the lines, the textures, and the angles are all just perfect. Basically, I loved Little Robot and would highly recommend it to anyone of any age.
Author/Illustrator: Dr. Seuss
My rating: 4 of 5
In the kingdom of Didd lives a small farm boy by the name of Bartholomew Cubbins. Now, Bartholomew has a rather plain hat that he wears nearly all the time, a very ordinary hat with a perky feather sticking up from the top. Nothing special, but Bartholomew likes his hat. But one day, something extraordinary happens: as the king passes by, everyone removes their hats, including Bartholomew. But the king and his whole processing come back to him, insulted, because there’s still a hat on Bartholomew’s head! Bartholomew, the king, the guards, and just about the whole king’s court do their best to bare Bartholomew’s head, but for every hat that’s removed, another appears in its place until it seems like Bartholomew’s snowing hats. Whatever shall he do?
I’ve grown up reading Dr. Seuss since I was little, but I only found The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins fairly recently. It’s fun–fairly different from, say, The Cat in the Hat, but fun still the same. It has more the feeling of an old-school children’s tale, something long ago and far away, maybe by Hans Christian Andersen. With a little bit of Through the Looking Glass thrown in–all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t fix the problem, you know? But at the same time, it does have a certain Seussical quirkiness to it, that sense of fun and whimsy. It doesn’t read in great swathes of rhyme and easily sounded out words, although the reading level isn’t particularly difficult. This would probably be best for readers in elementary school, although it would also be a fun read-aloud story for younger audiences. If I had to guess, I’d suspect that this was rather earlier in Seuss’s writing, so he was still developing his own personal style. But it’s still a great story, and the illustrations are great fun as well–seriously the facial expressions are great! I’d recommend The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins to anyone who enjoys a light-hearted, classic picture book–whether they’re kids or not.
Author/Illustrator: Dr. Seuss
It’s incredible to think about how creative the human brain actually can be, and in this delightful picture book, Dr. Seuss brings this point before his readers with his typical aplomb. He starts out simple, challenges us to think of things we might normally: colors, animals. But before you know it, he’s throwing in creatures and contraptions that never existed before and physics-defying feats of all sorts. All, of course, told in his classic, catchy, rhyming, easy-to-read (phonetically, if nothing else) verse and accompanied by Seuss’s own whimsical and colorful pictures. Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! is a great, engaging read for those just learning as well as an excellent reminder for us all of how fun it is to imagine–or even just to ponder all the crazy things you could imagine if you tried.
Authors: Kate DiCamillo & Alison McGhee
Illustrator: Tony Fucile
Bink & Gollie are the best of friends, and they love doing stuff together–especially rollerskating! But the truth is, they don’t agree on a lot of other things. Gollie thinks Bink can be garish and annoying. Bink thinks Gollie is stuffy and boring. It’s way too easy to fight over stuff like that. But in spite of all that, it’s still more fun when they’re together . . . and thus, a compromise is in order.
Too fun! I think if you somehow combined the best of Dr. Seuss and Beverly Cleary, you might get something similar to Bink & Gollie. This is a straightforward, imaginative, funny story of friendship in spite of differences of opinion. And it certainly is funny–these two girls are pretty zany to be sure. This is a quick read, only three chapters (short stories, really) long, with basically an “easy-reader” level of difficulty. So it’s great for beginning readers, although I think the story surpasses the reading level and would be great for older readers as well. Plus the art is great–full of humor and expression. I really love the use of greys and colors to create mood and focus. I would definitely recommend Bink & Gollie–much fun.
Author/Illustrator: Maurice Sendak
Pierre was a little boy who couldn’t be bothered to care about anything. His apathy was such a problem that his parents really didn’t know what to do with him . . . to the extent that they eventually left him to his own devices. One day when Pierre is by himself, still not caring, something awful happens. In fact, that something is so awful that Pierre might never not care again–assuming he survives the experience.
Pierre: A Cautionary Tale is and is not what I would expect from Sendak’s writing. Really, it’s a fable of sorts–a 5-chapter easy-reader tale with a moral. I think it definitely shows its age (copyright 1962), but it’s almost as though it’s intentionally old-fashioned. The art is rough, stylized pen drawings with partial colorization–again, old-fashioned looking, but full of character as well. And the story fits along those same lines: wry, old-fashioned, simple, but rather quirky. I think the use of some verse and some straight prose, sort of mixed together, gives the tale an interesting flow. I think Pierre would be an interesting story for children who are just learning to read to try for themselves, and also a funny reminder for us all to care.
Author: Judith Viorst
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Following her adventures with the Brontosaurus (see Lulu and the Brontosaurus), Lulu is, well, a less obnoxious child, at least. But she still wants what she wants when she wants it, so when her parents tell her absolutely no, they can’t afford what she wants and she’ll have to work to get it herself, Lulu finds herself in a bit of a quandary. Still, she’s nothing if not stubborn and determined. A little advertising and asking around gets her a job walking three of the neighbors dogs. Now if only she had the slightest idea how to manage dogs. And if only the one person willing to teach her weren’t the neighborhood’s worst do-gooder ever!
I found Lulu Walks the Dogs to be quite entertaining. It’s really more of an easy reader/early- to mid-elementary level, but it’s a fun story for any age. I can relate to Lulu in her distaste for Fleischman the goody-two-shoes who only wants to help–I’m the sort who can never get through Little Lord Fauntleroy because I want to puke! But in spite of having a bratty main character, Viorst brings out ideas like working together and being polite even when you don’t feel like it–or even like the person you’re trying to be polite to. It also brings up the idea of entrepreneurship, which you don’t see much of at this reading level–I have mixed feelings about this, as I think commercialism and mercenary ideas are too prevalent in society anyhow, but I do think it’s important for kids to learn to work for things they want. It’s a good discussion book in that regard. Plus it’s just plain fun, between the author’s tongue-in-cheek style and Lulu’s distresses with the dogs. The art’s fun and fitting too–Lane Smith is fantastic! Lulu Walks the Dogs is an entertaining and unusual story that’s definitely on my recommended list.
Author: Daniel Pinkwater
Illustrator: Adam Stower
Maxine and Nick have just recently moved into a high-rise apartment building, surrounded by . . . other high-rises. So it’s with great surprise that they discover a small, individual house set in a small, green yard nestled behind their apartment building. Some well-placed questions lead to the knowledge that the house belongs to Mrs. Noodlekugel, who may or may not be a witch, and who may or may not hate children. It also leads to their being forbidden to go to her house or bother her in any way. With an ultimatum like that, what child wouldn’t sneak out to see her? The siblings are greeted at Mrs. Noodlekugel’s porch by her talking cat . . . and the encounter gets weirder from that point.
Reading Mrs. Noodlekugel was an interesting experience for me. I first discovered (and found I loved) Daniel Pinkwater when I read Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl, which is written for a young-adult audience. Mrs. Noodlekugel is more focused on an early-elementary readership–actually, I’d consider it an easy reader–yet it is filled with the same funky, whimsical oddness and sense of fun as the other book. It’s a fun story with fun characters, and while the happenings are extremely odd and unlikely (read: impossible), the story is all relatively safe and sedate in an enjoyable fashion. The art is cute and fun also–black and white and ever-so-slightly old-fashioned, but amusing also. I would definitely recommend Mrs. Noodlekugel to children (and teachers and parents of children) who are just getting more comfortable with reading and are looking for something interesting but not too taxing. But I think it’s a cute story, even for older, more accomplished readers.