Category Archives: Picture Books

Substitute Creacher

Have you seen Chris Gall’s books?  They are so striking.  The first time I saw Dear Fish (2006) at the library it practically reached out and yanked me over to it.  It’s a wacky book that has been compared to Tuesday by David Wiesner (you know, the floating frogs on a random Tuesday night).  Looking on his website I see he gets lots of commissions for posters, magazine covers etc.  Another title I admire is There’s Nothing To Do on Mars (2008).

           Substitute Creacher (2011) tells the story behind a green cyclops with lots of snake-like feet.  The story starts off a bit like the classic Miss Nelson is Missing.  It’s almost Halloween and the regular teacher has had it with an out-of-control class.  She leaves a note that she has a “rather special” sub coming in.  Turns out the substitute “creacher” was once a boy himself who stole candy from other kids.  He sets the class straight with his cautionary tales.  The book has all sorts of split pages like a comic.  You’re probably wondering about Gall’s art medium and so I investigated on the title page.  “The artwork was created using bat wings, toad juice, and the bundled whiskers of a black cat.”

Substitute Creacher even squeezes a happy ending out at the last page.

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Filed under Age: Early Elementary, Age: Middle Grade, Age: Preschool, Holidays: Halloween, Picture Books, Reviews

All Star: Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever

Batter up!  Baseball is in full swing.  Isn’t it high time for big, beautiful picture book with a giant helping of Americana?  All Star:  Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever (2010) is written by Jane Yolen and illustrated with Jim Burke’s intensively-researched paintings.  The inside flaps are decorated with memorabilia including the Honus Wagner card that sold in 2007 for almost three million dollars.

Yolen is known for her hundreds of books.  In this title, Yolen performs a marvelous feat, condensing his life from being born into a poor German immigrant family in Pennsylvania, working in the coal mines, and then making his way into pro baseball, all in just a few hundred words.  Yolen’s prose is super-efficient, dense with meaning, like a poem.

Even though he had a big nose and large head, his parents thought their fourth son was gorgeous.  His hometown had dark skies from the steel and iron mills. At age 12 Honus was loading two tons of coal a day for seventy-nine cents a day.  He worked six days a week, but fortunately he was off on Sunday and could play baseball.  We read about his  eventual rise into the greatest of shortstops, “with legs like hunting bows”.

Honus Wagner loved kids and didn’t want them using tobacco, so his cards were taken off the market.  Ironically the card’s rarity makes it valuable and helps Wagner be remembered.

All Star is a compelling look at this athlete who was at his peak a century ago.  But Yolen and Burke make Wagner much more than a face on an ancient baseball card.  So dust off your mitt and give old Honus a look.

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Filed under Age: Early Elementary, Age: Middle Grade, Age: Young Adult, Non-Fiction, Picture Books, Reviews, Uncategorized

The Library Dragon

“Sunrise Elementary School had a BIG problem.  The new librarian, Miss Lotta Scales, was a real dragon.”

So begins Carmen Agra Deedy’s phenomenal 1994 picture book The Library Dragon.

The opening page of the book has a circled want ad for a children’s librarian, and you can see how they inadvertently hired a dragon.  “Our new librarian must be on fire with enthusiasm; no half-baked applicants need apply.”

Miss Lotta Scales is very imposing as drawn by Michael P. White.  Her bright green scaly skin and blood red eyes are complemented by her blue horn-rimmed glasses with the little chains on the sides, and by her lovely yellow dress with a dragonfly pattern on it.

She’s been hired to guard the library and she takes her job seriously.  In fact, the thought of kids “touching her precious books just makes her hot under the collar.”

So unfortunately kids are dreading going to library time and coming back singed.  The author has lots of good groaners for adults reading the book aloud:  The staff gets all worked up about the dysfunctional library and so “the principal fumed,” and the  “teachers were incensed”.

It takes little Molly Brickmeyer wandering in to help Lotta Scales see how a library works.  While the dragon is napping Molly starts reading a book to the other kids.  Miss Scales wakes up and is amazed.  “She’d never seen anything like it:  the children looked like they belonged here.”

Of course Lotta learns how to run a library the right way.  Her scales drop off and little Molly sits in her lap.  She turns nice but still has a list of five rules to help the  books stay  nice including “Treat a book like you treat a friend- you don’t wipe your nose on your friend.”

I still love this book 15 years since first look.  Back at Prescott Elementary School, Patty the Librarian used to use this book at class groups first visit to the library in September.  That got kids fired up about books for the whole year!

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Filed under Age: Early Elementary, Age: Preschool, Fiction, Picture Books, Reviews

Andrew Henry’s Meadow

            OK, we’re traveling back in time one more time.  First we went back to 2002 for Penny Lee and Her TV to please my wife.  Then we hit 1996 for Jip set in about 1855 to please my daughter.  And now let’s go back to that great year of 1965 to please my son.

As far as I can tell Andrew Henry’s Meadow by Doris Burn is an obscure Northwest picture book.  Nevertheless, 48 years later it’s still in print and the Pattersons love it.  I first ran into it at Powell’s just a few years ago.

   Poor Andrew Henry is a middle child who isn’t left alone to make his ingenious inventions around the house like a huge, elaborate, Rube Goldberg-like watering device for one flower or an eagle’s cage in the living room.  Someone in his family is always demanding he stop.  They don’t understand.

One day he gathers his tools and sets off over the hill, through the swamp and the deep woods.  When at last he arrives in a meadow he builds himself a cabin with a roof made of turf.  One by one his friends escape to the meadow too.  First he builds Alice a tree house.  Soon he builds a fishing hut, a castle, a dugout and other structures to suit his friends.  They live in this meadow paradise for a few days until all the parents track them down.  The parents are overjoyed to have their children back.  The reader knows the families will finally give these kids more leeway in building their dreams.DSCF6254

For my son, who is always building forts in the living room with his buddy Jack, this is truly a glorious world Andrew Henry goes and creates.

Hey readers, do you know this book?  It has gotten a special place on our shelf!

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Filed under Age: Early Elementary, Age: Preschool, Fiction, Picture Books, Reviews

Penny Lee and Her TV

I try not to live in the past, even though it had some really good parts.  But recently the three members of my nuclear family each commanded me to review a book on this blog.  Each one an old book, as it happens.  So here we go, to 2002, then to 1996 and 1965.

Since my wife is the technical brains behind Patterson Picks, I think she deserves for me to do her book first.  It’s a 2002 book I found subbing at Ventura Park Elementary a few weeks ago.  And it got big laughs from the almost-seven-year-old, the almost-ten-year-old and both of the adults in this house.

Penny Lee and Her TV , written and illustrated by Glenn McCoy, introduces us to only two living characters:  Penny Lee and her dog, Mr. Barkley.  And it is pretttty boring to be Mr. Barkley.  Here’s why:  “Penny Lee didn’t have any friends.  She didn’t need any.  The TV was her best friend.”  She even sleeps on top of it and dreams commercials.

Poor Mr. Barkley tries everything his dog brain can think of to get a little attention.  Even when he puts ramps on both sides of the TV and rides his motorcycle through a flaming hoop mounted on the TV, Penny doesn’t even notice.  (But the readers do.  We all cracked up at the dog with his giant nose and American flag motorcycle helmet.)

Then one morning Penny wakes to a cold, dark TV screen.  She’s hysterical ‘til Mr. Barkley shows her a TV repair ad in the newspaper.  They set off rolling their TV down the sidewalk, and Penny can’t get over how bright and colorful the real world is.  And she’s flummoxed by how she can’t use her remote control to switch the “channel” she is walking through.  Would you believe they have fun on the way to the shop?  They go for rides on the TV down steep hills, use the cord for a jump rope, and play hide and seek at the park.  (Penny is easy to find because she has to hide by the big TV.)

It’s a quick, satisfying story replete with sight gags like when Penny and Mr. Barkley do chalk drawing on the sidewalk.  Penny draws her favorite TV superhero and her TV; Mr. Barkley draws a bone, a tree and a fire hydrant.  They have so much fun on the way to the shop that it’s closed by the time they get there.  And Penny isn’t even mad!

After Penny goes to sleep in her own bed for a change, we find that Mr. Barkley has a little secret that ends the story perfectly.

Next time, a trip to 1996.  Don’t change that blog channel…

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Filed under Age: Early Elementary, Age: Preschool, Fiction, Picture Books, Reviews

Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch

Want a cozy, miraculous feeling for Valentine’s Day?  Have I got the book for you!  Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch is a gripping picture book for all ages.

Mr. Hatch was not a happy man.  The book begins, “Mr. Hatch was tall and thin and he did not smile.  Every morning at 6:30 sharp he would leave his brick house and walk eight blocks to the shoelace factory where he works.”  Mr. Hatch lives a drab, isolated existence.  But then on Valentine’s Day the postman delivers him an enormous heart-shaped box of candies.  Mr. Hatch is stunned.  And a little white card with it says, “Somebody loves you.”  Finally it sinks in:  he has a secret admirer.

Mr. Hatch is transformed in the way our hearts come alive when we have people to care about and be with.  Pretty soon he does something he had never done before:  he laughs.

At first the neighborhood is stunned as he greets them from the sidewalk.  In fact, Mrs. Weed trips over her dog and little Tina Finn spills all the toys from her wagon.  But quickly everyone gets used to wonderful, new Mr. Hatch.  He shares his candy with everyone at work, he helps the man at the newsstand whom he’s never spoken to before, and he has brownie parties with all the kids in the neighborhood where he plays his harmonica.

Then just about the most mortifying thing in human history happens:  the postman sadly returns and tells Mr. Hatch he delivered the candy box to the wrong address.  Mr. Hatch brings the postman the empty box and the little card that says “Somebody loves you”.  Mr. Hatch returns to his drab, gray existence.

So have I just shared the biggest bummer in literature with you since Old Yeller bit the big one, or will things turn around?

This is a miracle of a book.  I read it jealously, wishing I’d dreamed it up myself.  Eileen Spinelli is the lucky scribe the universe gave the story to.  And Paul Yalowitz’s colored pencil drawings maintain the perfect-itude of this 1991 classic.

            Happy Valentine’s Day.

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Filed under Age: Early Elementary, Age: Preschool, Holidays: Valentine's Day, Picture Books, Reviews

Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox

Time for a cozy, comfy, winter read.  Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox is a 2011 gem written by Oregon’s Susan Blackaby and painted by Carmen Segovia of Barcelona, Spain.  Before this great pairing,Segovia had simple, charming paintings of this fox and groundhog that needed to have a book.  An American editor found Blackaby to write the story, the readers’ good fortune.

Brownie Groundhog has a problem.  “A small, scrawny fox heard Brownie grousing.  His ears twitched.  He licked his chops and crouched to pounce.”  The fox appears outside her door and announces he will try to eat her for breakfast.  Fortunately Brownie Groundhog is a clever one.  As Brownie finds ways to put off Fox’s meal, they have a great time together in the snow.

 The book is a sure-footed combo of Segovia’s fun snow scenes and Blackaby’s brisk, effortless storytelling.  Can Brownie Groundhog keep the February Fox from eating her?  I can’t tell you what does get eaten, but I can assure you this book is a tasty snack for the reader.

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Filed under Age: Early Elementary, Age: Preschool, Fiction, Picture Books, Reviews