Review By Kelly Carey
Whether you are 5 or 50, we all have a Snurtch that we must contend with and control. In Sean Ferrell’s THE SNURTCH, Ruthie is struggling to manage her Snurtch, a wonderful personification of her bad temper and poor behavior. Ruthie’s Snurtch causes big trouble at school...trouble for which Ruthie takes the blame.
Ferrell’s book offers a platform for discussing those moments when we are not at our best. It is much easier to assess our own actions if we can blame our poor choices on a Snurtch, an ever present goblin of sorts that causes trouble. Ruthie’s Snurtch pulls her hair and makes her grumpy. He makes her run in the classroom and push her classmates. When she burps back at the Snurtch or returns his tongue out face, Ruthie ends up alone on the playground or relegated to the teacher’s time-out chair.
Who can’t relate to being blamed for something you didn’t do? The Snurtch did it!
But as Ruthie looks hard at the Snurtch, Ferrell finds a unique plot twist to show that Ruthie is ready to claim responsibility for the Snurtch. Ruthie transforms the Snurtch from a scapegoat for her misdeeds to a safe way to say “I’m sorry.”
THE SNURTCH is a wonderful, whimsical, and humorous character, conjured up with the same care as the imaginary bunny Harvey who landed Jimmy Steward in a looney bin – lucky for Ruthie, she found a way not only to own her Snurtch, but she found classmates who have Snurtch issues of their own.
Ferrell has taken a universal childhood problem – managing our behavior and impulses – and wrapped this complex problem up in simple straightforward text. His plot is complex, which keeps the pages turning and the story interesting – but the easy flowing text meets the readers at just the right level.
What could be simpler and yet more provoking than an opening line that reads “Ruthie has a problem at school”?
What I find most intriguing about this book is the wonderful marriage between the author’s words and the illustrations. While the book is illustrated with Ruthie and her classmates in fun and realistic artwork, the troublesome Snurtch is a crayon scribble that interacts with the other drawings like the cartoon Roger Rabbit walking amidst live action scenes and actors. The result is a clever visual representation of how the enigma of our mood and behavior can have a drastic effect on our everyday life.
Read Ferrell’s wonderful picture book, and get a grip on your Snurtch.
Reviewed by Annie Cronin Romano
In this spirited follow-up to Sophie’s Squash, Sophie is off to school, toting her closest friends, two squash named Bonnie and Baxter, along with her. Sophie’s devotion to her squash makes it difficult for her to bond with the other children in her class. Even a boy who brings his beloved stuffed frog to school can’t win Sophie over. As Sophie’s two squash start to fade, she realizes that making room for human friends is an important part of life.
SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016) follows Sophie as she learns to open her mind and heart to making new friends. Colorful, lively illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf perfectly depict Sophie’s progress as she moves from sharing adventures with her two squash to growing relationships with her classmates. Miller’s text and Wilsdorf’s illustrations blend flawlessly to convey a sweet tale of learning how to welcome new friends. SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL is picture book for children ages 3-7. Get your hands on this well-crafted sequel and make some new friends of your own!
In SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL, Miller creates a sequel which flows beautifully from Sophie’s Squash yet creates a unique adventure for Sophie. Lessons Sophie learned in the first book are carried over into this follow-up in a seamless, subtle way.
For more information on Pat Zietlow Miller’s work, visit her website at www.patzietlowmiller.com or check out her June 2016 guest blog on this site at http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/guest-blogger-pat-zietlow-miller-talks-sequels.
For info on Anne Wilsdorf’s work, visit her website at www.studiogoodwinsturges.com/anne-wilsdorf1.html.
Review by Kelly Carey
Be prepared to laugh uncontrollably at Mother Bruce and the growing goslings who climb on him, tug at him, become troublesome teenagers, are annoyingly adorable and will absolutely not leave Bruce alone. Bruce is not your average bear in the forest. He finds recipes on the internet, shops with a shopping cart, and sets out to make hard-boiled goose eggs with a honey salmon sauce. Before he can boil the eggs, they hatch and Bruce becomes a very grumpy, growling, furrowed brow Mother Bruce. He tries desperately to ditch the goslings who lovingly tail him all over the forest.
The illustrations alone will have you howling. Add in a story line filled with humor that appeals to kids and adults alike and the result is a belly laugh inducing picture book that will make you wish for goose eggs that hatch.
Higgins’ Mother Bruce is masterfully plotted. The page turns are fast paced, and the creative story line zigs and zags with a wonderful unpredictability. The writing follows the number one rule established by the writers of South Park. The South Park writers advise that the beats between your scenes should connect with the words “therefore”, and “but then” rather than the snooze worthy “and then”. (You can watch them discuss this during a guest lecture at NYU using the button below. But beware; the language is colorful so have your bar of soap handy.)
Higgins has achieved this plot rule brilliantly and the result is a thoroughly entertaining story that keeps the reader anxious, frazzled and laughing hysterically.
Review by Amanda Smith
Bridget loves to draw and paint, but her most important art staple is her black beret, exactly like Cezanne or Picasso wore. When a wisp of wind whisks Bridget’s beret off her head, over the fence and out of sight, Bridget is convinced that she is no longer able to draw. Bridget is is stuck in artist’s block, until her little sister asks her to make a sign for their lemonade stand. Since it’s not technically drawing, Bridget agrees, and finds her way back to her art.
BRIDGET'S BERET by Tom Lichtenheld (Henry Holt and Company, 2010) is a rich and layered text. On the surface there is the straight forward story of Bridget losing her beret and her art mojo along with it. Puns and smart interactions between text and illustration add a deeper layer to the story.
The illustrations also reference multiple famous artists and works of art in humorous ways, which add more depth and make this text a fun read-aloud for the art classroom. Tom Lichtenheld adds another layer by breaking the fourth wall with a bunny character and Bridget who both speak directly to the reader. The book also contains a side bar and back matter inspiring readers to take the next step and create something themselves.
It is this last layer that makes this book an instigator. As in, it starts stuff. When I read it with my son, we poured over the back matter. I reminded him of multiple times during the last week when he said, “I want to draw something, but I don’t know what.” He flipped to the “What the heck is artist’s block?” page and said, “I want to do one of these” and we made some awesome scribble drawings. My favorite part of Bridget's Beret was that it inspired us to create together.
The subliminal message of Bridget’s Beret resonates well with writers. Everything we need to create our art is already inside us, just like Bridget’s ability to create was already inside her, and not dependent on an object or a gimmick. Her actions were what brought out her ability to create. When she started drawing the sign, it unlocked her ability to draw. Similarly, the only way for us as writers to unlock our ability to write, is by writing. Thanks Bridget (and Tom).
Review by Kelly Carey
I’m a country girl who finds joy in her heart far, far from the city. Imagine my surprise when Last Stop on Market Street, a picture book that takes place in the city, filled me with mountain hiking happiness.
On the surface, this Newbery Award winning picture book is a simple tale of CJ and his grandmother hopping a bus after church to volunteer at a soup kitchen. CJ is frustrated that it’s raining, that he has a chore to do after church, that he has to take the bus, that he doesn’t have music pumping through his ears from headphones, and that the Last Stop on Market Street is a gritty, graffiti scrawled part of the city. Nana uses gentle guidance, delivered in a spunky no-nonsense voice, to flip CJ’s frustrations into celebrations.
A pay it forward coin, a lady with butterflies in a jar, a blind man, and a song shared from a musician with a guitar all offer opportunities for CJ and the reader to notice bits of joy that could easily have been missed. The sights and happenings along the bus ride encourage adult and child readers to recognize all the beauty of life; beauty that is sitting right next to them, sometimes on a bus to Market Street.
In the end, CJ, the readers, and a country loving gal like me will have learned to be a “better witness for what’s beautiful” in the world.
Matt De La Pena combines gritty city images and real dialogue with gorgeous messages and amazingly beautiful imagery. There is a wonderful rawness about the way CJ and Nana talk to each other. De La Pena doesn’t dress up their language for this story, but writes it exactly as you would hear it. No soft cooing phrases or unreal platitudes fly between CJ and Nana. The result is that De La Pena’s message is strong and true.
Using a coin, a song shared, and the wonderful interaction between Nana and a blind man, De La Pena not only propels his plot forward but delivers a stunning reminder to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.
So this happened last week: I was tucking my youngest in with a story, when my middle schooler came into the bedroom, saw the book we were reading and exclaimed, “That book is so good!” He looked at me with puppy-dog eyes, so naturally we scooted up and made room for him. Shoulder to shoulder the three of us read, giggled, repeated the chorus, and laughed at the unexpected.
RAGWEED’S FARM DOG HANDBOOK(LEARN FROM THE BEST!) by Anne Vittur Kennedy (2015; Candlewick Press) is everything a picture book is supposed to be. Ragweed is a quirky, long-snouted, googly-eyed farm dog with an overbite and an over-eager desire for biscuits. Ragweed gives directions on how to be a farm dog in this instruction manual gone awry. Using dog logic, this mischievous mutt breaks all his own rules and even reveals his alliance with the fox!
Ragweed’s rules are superbly written from a dog’s point of view, which adds to the hilarity. Lines such as “Mud is lovely. It smells like worms and toes and earwax,” or “But you will throw up a biscuit, and you can eat that one again,” makes it impossible to read this book with a straight face.
Enjoyable and entertaining for both children and adults, RAGWEED’S FARM DOG HANDBOOK(LEARN FROM THE BEST!) has a conversational style that makes it a perfect read-aloud book. It has supreme re-readability. A pattern is set up early in the book, and then, through Ragweed’s quirky character, the predictability of the pattern is broken down. However, the author retains the repeating chorus, “That’s their job. That’s not your job”, which kids love to read along.
RAGWEED’S FARM DOG HANDBOOK(LEARN FROM THE BEST!) is an excellent mentor text for point of view and voice. Even though Ragweed provides information for children such as chickens lay eggs and sheep grown curly hair, the information is always given from a dog’s point of view. This makes the information fresh and funny. As humans are concerned, Ragweed is an unreliable narrator, but his voice is spot-on and consistently that of a very honest dog.
Ragweed’s authenticity will, at times, gross readers out and his practicality will make them howl with laughter. He is such a lovable character, though, that we will forgive him everything and reward him with a biscuit!
~ by Annie Cronin Romano
Rodeo Red has a hootin’ good time down on the ranch with her loyal stuffed dog, Rusty. But when a new rancher, Slim, shows up on her land and takes a liking for Rusty, Rodeo Red must figure out how to get Rusty back without displeasing mom, the Sheriff, and dad, the Deputy.
Maripat Perkins’ debut picture book takes a simple yet honest look at the conflict that can build up for an older sibling when a new baby enters the picture. Using humor and delightful cowboy jargon, Perkins’ RODEO RED (Peachtree Publishers, 2015) is sure to delight children, particularly those who may have a younger brother or sister. The story is beautifully illustrated by Molly Idle (Flora and the Flamingo), whose muted earth toned illustrations flawlessly capture Red’s range of emotions. Perkins and Idle take the reader on an amusing, clever adventure with pictures and text that readers will enjoy over and over again. Toss your lasso around RODEO RED, geared towards children ages 4-8, and get your cowboy drawl on!
Perkins’ text is rich and entertaining. RODEO RED a solid example of how to use dialect and wordplay in a lively, engaging manner.
~by Amanda Smith
I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK, by Tara Lazar (Aladdin/ S&S, 2015) is a fractured fairy tale in which Prince Zilch, an alien from Planet Zero, tumbles from his own book into the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Prince Zilch is in a hurry to return to his book, and the grown-up bears are all too eager to help him along so they can get on with their blueberry picking (“We really cannot eat porridge again.”) Hilarious onomatopoeic solutions ensue, with increasingly disastrous but side-splitting results. Finally, it is Baby Bear who comes up with an unexpected solution while the adults are snoozing.
Benji Davies’ colorful illustrations are dynamic. From the pink smoke puff swirl on the title page, to the whooshing catapult, to Mama Bear hanging from a tree branch the illustrations provide movement that makes this picture book feel like a cinematic experience. Each page is brimming with snigger-inducing details and the bears’ facial expressions are a hoot.
Add to the illustrations Tara’s comedic style, smart word play and party on your tongue vocabulary and you and your kids are in for an uproarious story time.
In this book, Ms. Lazar plays with a lot of different techniques. She breaks the fourth wall early on, which makes the ending believable. She calls on her readership to participate, making the book interactive. However, for me the most successful technique is the use of speech bubbles as I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK is completely written in dialogue. This makes for wonderful read-together moments.
Sometimes I shy away from these types of books for read-aloud as it is harder for kids to follow who is speaking. Not so with this book. Ms. Lazar has written each character’s dialogue so distinct from the others they sound completely different even if you don’t add funny voices. Prince Zilch is all about urgency and exclamation points! Mama Bear is honey sweet, though a bit dense, Goldilocks is pure snark and Baby Bear… Baby Bear is a little voice with big ideas who just wants to be heard. And that is something with which all Ms. Lazar’s young readers can identify.
Click here to read our interview with Tara Lazar.
by Kelly J Carey
I remember a preschool mother coming out of a teacher conference annoyed that the word “shy” had become a bad label. Her daughter was shy, but she was a happy shy child. In Alicia Potter’s book, Miss Hazeltine welcomes the shy cats of the world and while she gently helps them with lessons like “How Not to Fear the Broom”, she doesn’t “mind if some cats only watched.” It is perfectly fine to be shy and fearful at Miss Hazeltine’s home.
With humor and giggle worthy illustrations, Miss Hazeltine’s home proves to be a safe place free of judgment and full of encouragement and love. Miss Hazeltine even shares her own fears: mushrooms, owls and the dark. A mishap during a milk run finds Miss Hazeltine face to face with all three! With a charming loop back to the lesson’s Miss Hazeltine has taught them, the cats set out on a rescue mission. The feared broom even comes into play.
This story is as much about growing and being brave as it is accepting who we are and being happy with ourselves. Share this book with children who may be shy or fearful and you may hear a gentle purr of contentment.
Potter does a wonderful job of creating loops in her story. Miss Hazeltine’s shared fears come back to haunt her, the lessons she taught the cats become necessary for her rescue and yet the cats solve the final problem without the help of the adult in the story.
Potter executes a complete story arc with sweet humor, and quiet wit; perfect for skittery cats. Her lovely lesson is so neatly tucked into the story about Miss Hazeltine and the shy cats that it will curl into the readers lap without them even realizing it.
I’ve read it again and again – and I'm allergic to cats!
~by Amanda Smith
In LITTLE RED WRITING by Joan Holub (2013, Chronicle Books), a little red pencil tries to stay on the precarious path of storytelling, but gets side tracked into numerous adventures until she ends up in Principal Granny’s office. But my, Principal Granny has quite a growly voice, a long, tangly tail and big sharp teeth! Whatever happened to Principal Granny and will Red complete her journey on the story path in time to read her story to her classmates?
Along her journey, Red and the readers are playfully introduced to story structure, vivid verbs and other parts of speech, and their effect on storytelling. The colorful, brilliant illustrations by Melissa Sweet add punch to each of the parts of speech. The leaves in the descriptive forest are covered in adjectives and the glue drops emphasize the conjunctions in a run on sentence. Different fonts, bright pages, and at times a comic book-style lay out make each page-turn a surprise. Every page is a party for the eyes!
Joan Holub uses humor, playfulness and tongue-in-cheek puns to teach concepts that children might think of as dry and lifeless. This book is a complete and fun adventure that can be appreciated purely as an entertaining read-aloud story, but it offers an extra layer that makes it a boon for language arts teachers.
This fractured fairy tale filled my storyteller soul with warm fuzzies and made my grammar teacher heart pump chocolates. Kids will love it for the vivid art and frolicking adventure.
Joan’s newest picture book, THE KNIGHTS BEFORE CHRISTMAS will be on shelves September 2015.
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