Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Chris Van Dusen
My rating: 3 of 5
Mr. and Mrs. Watson live a very ordinary, quiet life. Some might even say boring. But all that begins to change when a tiny piglet shows up on their doorstep and wiggles her way into their hearts.
A Piglet Named Mercy is, to my understanding, a picture-book prequel to DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series (which I believe are written for a slightly older demographic, although I haven’t read them yet). As such, a certain amount of the story’s appeal is directly linked to its relation to the other books–which, again, I haven’t read. So do please take that bias into consideration while reading this review. The story itself is cute, although extremely simple. I honestly expect more from DiCamillo’s writing, though, even just for a picture book. She typically makes so much magic, regardless of the story or the reading level. Still, though, a cute story about a lonely couple, a couple nosy neighbors, and an adorably spunky piglet. I would expect this to be popular with preschoolers, perhaps even into kindergarten or first grade. And yes, it’s a nice set-up that leaves the reader expecting great things of the actual series; we’ll see how well those expectations are fulfilled. The other aspect of this book that I haven’t really addressed yet–but which plays a significant role, since this is a picture book–is the art. I don’t love it. Yes, it has a fitting country-kitchen sort of feel that works with the story . . . but the edges are too sharp, the colors too brash, the facial expressions too odd. It just doesn’t work for me. Yet for all the negatives mentioned above, I do still rate this a 3/5 (which is a positive rating for me); the story is sweet and funny enough that I would recommend it for younger readers.
Author: Audrey Penn
Illustrators: Ruth E. Harper & Nancy M. Leak
My rating: 4 of 5
A young raccoon faces his first day of school with trepidation. That is, until his mother shows him a secret trick to help him be brave and remember that she loves him.
I found myself reading this adorable picture book with my niece, and I must say that it’s charming. The pictures are a delightful watercolor with a nice color blend, and the use of anthropomorphism is nicely balanced, if a bit weird to read as an adult. Don’t think about the details too much. I also liked that the writing is accessible to young readers but is also a bit more complex than the typical “see spot run” sort of thing that we see so much of. Most of all, I liked how the story presents children with a real, workable idea to help them handle difficult situations with courage rather than hiding the fact that tough things are a part of life. All in all, definitely recommended, especially for kids ages 4-6 or thereabouts.
Author/Illustrator: Hervé Tullet
My rating: 4 of 5
We are presented with a page, completely blank save for a solitary gray spot. Invited to tap said spot, we do and are presented with an explosion of spots of all colors. And now that we have colors to work with, we’re challenged to try combining them to see what happens when we mix it up.
Mix It Up! is certainly not the sort of picture book to which I am accustomed. It isn’t actually a story at all. I’m honestly at a loss as to how to even categorize it. It’s an interactive experience for kids presented in book format; that’s the best explanation I can come up with. A bit more complex that your usual “name the colors” book, Mix It Up! visually and experientially teaches kids color theory, what happens when you mix different colors, how to create shades and tints, that sort of thing. It’s all very vibrant and interactive–rather than didactically telling the reader what’s happening, it invites us to see and discern for ourselves. This book is great for kids that need a bit more interactivity as it asks them to tap, shake, squish, and tilt the pages as they go along; fortunately, the pages are actually sturdy enough to withstand this kind of abuse. As far as recommended age goes, I think Mix It Up! is best suited for a slightly older demographic than most picture books, although it could be pretty flexible. My two-and-a-half year-old niece enjoys the first half, but the latter parts where more inductive reasoning is required are a bit beyond her appreciation yet. I’d say around five would be the ideal age for this book, but it would depend on the kid. For any age, it’s a great introduction to color theory.
Author: Chris Haughton
My rating: 5 of 5
Four friends wander through the forest until they spot a brightly colored bird. One of them tries to make friends with the bird, but the others shush him. They have a plan. They’re going to catch this bird by force. Well . . . let’s just say that not all plans are created equal. But then, some people never learn. So, on to the next plan it is. Shh!
Shh! We Have a Plan is a fantastic little picture book by the creator of the beloved Little Owl Lost. The art features Haughton’s unique, bold, chunky style, utilizing a combination of monochromatic blues against some truly brilliant colors for the birds to draw the reader’s attention quite effectively. The tone that’s created is quite striking. Moreover, the messages of the story are valuable–such as the worth of offering true friendship and looking to the needs and desires of others instead of trying to force your own desires on them. The writing is maybe just a bit older in intended audience than Little Owl Lost; my niece appreciated Little Owl from about 1 year on, but didn’t really get into Shh! We Have a Plan until she was closer to 2 years old. At that point, however, she totally loved the repetitive but changing cycles of bird-catching . . . or not catching, rather . . . and joins in on every “Shh!” and “Go!” in the story. So I would say that for ages 2 and up, this is a highly recommended picture book.
Author/Illustrator: Divya Srinivasan
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Little Owl loves flying around the forest during the night and sleeping during the day, but today’s a bit different. Somehow, Little Owl just can’t sleep even though the sun’s come up. Everything seems so different and exciting! There are all sorts of animals and things to see that Little Owl didn’t even know existed. Suddenly, the forest is like a new wonderful world to explore.
I loved Srinivasan’s first Little Owl picture book, Little Owl’s Night, and Little Owl’s Day is the perfect follow up. You get to see the daytime version of Little Owl’s forest, full of all sorts of diurnal creatures and other sights that can only be enjoyed in the sunshine, like rainbows and sun-loving flowers. There are fun tie-ins to the first book as well–like Little Owl’s finally getting to show Bear the moon. The art is superb–a really interesting style. I love that this book keeps the same general style and color themes while at the same time pulling in a much brighter palette to emphasize the difference between the day and night. The writing style is great for a preschool audience (my 1-1/2-year-old niece loves these books), while having a nice flow that’s enjoyable to read aloud–no annoying “see Spot run” sort of stuff. Definitely a recommended read for those with younger children.
Author/Illustrator: Chris Haughton
My rating: 4 of 5
Poor Little Owl! He’s fallen out of his nest, and now he can’t find his Mommy anywhere. Fortunately, Squirrel’s around to help him look. But every time Little Owl describes his Mommy to Squirrel, Squirrel leads him to a different animal . . . that isn’t his Mommy. How sad! Finally, they meet Frog who knows just where Little Owl’s Mommy is, and the two are soon happily reunited.
Little Owl Lost is an adorable picture book for a younger preschool audience. It has that great blend of repetition and variety that seems to work so well with that age group. Plus it introduces a number of forest animals. And of course, there’s the great reassurance that when you’re lost your mother is looking just as hard for you as you are for her, cemented by the satisfying reunion in this story. I love the way this particular story loops back around at the end to Little Owl falling asleep and tipping, about to fall out of the nest again. As well as being a really cute story, Little Owl Lost has some very interesting art. The style is quite unique, but it works well and is fun to see. Likewise, the super-unusual color scheme is rather jolting at first, but it works. This is definitely a recommended read for younger children–a great read-aloud story.
Author/Illustrator: Eric Carle
My rating: 5 of 5
A spider is blown to a farmyard fence post, and she immediately sets to work. Throughout the day, all sorts of farm animals stop by to ask her to play, but the spider is intent on spinning her web. Finally, the web is finished, and her hard work is rewarded.
The Very Busy Spider is a very well-crafted picture book in classic Eric Carle style. The art work is, of course, both attractive and interesting, using all sorts of interesting colors and textures. Additionally (at least in the board book version), the spider, spiderweb, and fly are raised to create some interesting tactile interaction with the pages–which is great for younger kids! Also great for little ones, this book introduces a variety of barnyard animals as well as the noises they are typically said to make and some normal activities for them. On a slightly more advanced level, it also visibly shows how a spider’s web is crafted, demonstrating the weaving throughout the entire book. Finally, the story uses a repeating refrain throughout that ties everything together nicely, especially for little kids. I think that for a 1- to 4-year-old audience (although possibly older as well), The Very Busy Spider is an excellent picture book that is both entertaining and educational.