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/Illustrator: Divya Srinivasan
My rating: 5 of 5
Octopus enjoys watching life in the ocean unfold around her, other sea creatures having fun. But sometimes it all just gets to be too much, and she needs to be alone. One day, she swims away until she finds somewhere quiet and alone where she can play by herself in the quiet . . . but after a while, she’s ready to return to her friends back home.
As in her Little Owl books, in Octopus Alone, Srinivasan does a delightful job of blending story with education about nature. We are shown a charming variety of sea creatures doing what sea creatures do, all drawn in the author’s usual gorgeous and distinguished style. And this would be a good children’s book just for that. But we get something more, as well–we get a main character with an established, distinct personality. One that tends to go against a lot of social expectations, no less. In point of fact, we get a picture book with an introverted main character, one that wrestles with that fine balance between needing relationships and needing to be alone sometimes. As an introvert myself, reading this in a children’s book is just brilliant. Whether it’s helping introverted kids understand themselves or helping extroverted kids understand that some people need more space and quiet than they do, this book is something that is just helpful and timely. Highly recommended, for the art, for the animals, for the story, and for the social aid that this book clearly is.
Author: Don Freeman
My rating: 4.5 of 5
In a big department store, a small stuffed bear named Corduroy sits on the shelf waiting for someone to take him home. One day, a customer points out that he’s missing a button, prompting a midnight expedition through the store in search of said button. Corduroy finds lots of interesting things that night. But the next morning, he finds something even better–a home and a new friend.
Over 50 years old, this picture book is just as charming and engaging as it was when it was originally published. Corduroy is just a very cute story, with a nice sprinkling of adventure and humor and a satisfying “happy ending.” I appreciate the way the author expresses Corduroy’s opinions of his experiences–“I guess I’ve always wanted to” or “I think I’ve always wanted to” for all the adventures in the store, but “I know I’ve always wanted” when it comes to a friend and a home. It’s a nice way of using repetition with variation that I like to see in kids’ books. Fair warning that this book is a bit text heavy when compared to other picture books; at age two-and-a-half, my niece is just now able to sit still for and enjoy reading the text in its entirety, but before that, I had to do some summarizing. (It’s recommended for ages 3-8, technically). As for the art itself, it’s got a charming old-school feel to it, one that both captures the flavor of when it was written back in the 1940’s but that is still enjoyable and approachable today. Corduroy is definitely a classic, and a picture book that I would recommend for just about any younger child.
Author/Illustrator: Marcus Pfister
Translator: J. Alison James
My rating: 4.5 of 5
The Rainbow Fish is very beautiful, and he knows it too. But he’s not about to share any of his beautiful scales. And he wonders why he has no friends?! When the Rainbow Fish takes some wise advise and learns to be generous with his beauty, he finds that the other fish’s attitude toward him changes as well.
The Rainbow Fish is an established classic children’s picture book, although I have to admit that I didn’t read it until I was an adult. I’ve had numerous people tell me it was a favorite when they were growing up, however, and my little niece adores this book. Understandably so. The text is simple enough for young children to understand, yet it has a nice flow. And the message of the story is something everyone needs to be reminded of–although I think a discussion of not being friends with someone just to get stuff from them may be necessary in some cases. What seems to stand out in most people’s memory–and in most children’s reactions–however, is the lovely art. It really is attractive, and I love the cool-tone palette. And of course, the holographic foil is eye-catching. I would recommend The Rainbow Fish to anyone looking for an all-around good book for children ages 18 months to around 4-years-old.
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.
Author: Bill Martin, Jr.
Illustrator: Eric Carle
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? is an adorable picture book in which various animals are asked what they see and each replies, pointing to the next creature in line. Sounds kind of stupid, I know, and it’s certainly not “story” material by any means. But it’s cute, and it teaches both colors and animals in an interesting way. Definitely intended for a really young audience though, and not much redeeming value for adult readers. Except for maybe the illustrations; Eric Carle is wonderful. My one complaint (not sure if you’d really even call it that?) is that you’re going along through the animals quite nicely, then all of a sudden the teacher and the classroom are thrown in. It’s like, “where on earth did that come from? Couldn’t they find a grey elephant or a pink moose to finish?” It’s just a little jarring, that’s all. Still, overall I think Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? is a fun read-aloud book for smaller children.
Author: Margaret Wise Brown
Illustrator: Clement Hurd
My rating: 3.5 of 5
A little bunny goes through his nighttime ritual, naming the objects he sees and saying “goodnight” to each individually. As he goes, he gets sleepier and sleepier, until just as he’s finishing his goodnights he’s drifting into slumber.
Whatever else you can say about Goodnight Moon (and yes, there’s a lot that can be said), it certainly can boast longevity–it’s been around since 1947. And yes, that age shows in the style and content of the pictures. This picture book is also addictive for little kids it seems; it was my brother’s favorite book when he was little, and he insisted on reading it every single night. And for really young kids, I think it is something of a nice bedtime ritual. The rhythms of naming items and saying “goodnight” to each of them–all in rhyme–has a certain comforting pattern to it, especially when it’s a daily consistent activity. So for it’s intended audience (babies and kids up to about 4, maybe), I’d have to give Goodnight Moon 5 stars. My 3.5 rating is a compromise between that and my personal opinion rating of approximately 2 stars. Because as an adult, this book holds very little appeal. It quickly gets repetitive, has no real story (see the summary above), and has a rather atrocious color scheme. So on the one hand, if you have small children they might really enjoy Goodnight Moon, but on the other hand, if they fall in love with it, I feel sorry for you. . . .