01 March 2011

Best of February

Lots of picture book reading in February. These were among my favorites.

Monsters Eat Whiny Children (Kaplan, Bruce Eric)

This qualifies as the best book about complaining since Emily Jenkins' I Love You When You Whine.  The indecisiveness of a group of monsters as to the best way to serve up whiny children is at the heart of this humorous book. Kudos for mentioning curry: "They all tried to figure out if they were in the mood for Indian food. Sometimes it's so hard to figure out if you're in the mood for Indian food." Not at our house--where it is a food group!

The Cat's Pajamas (Edwards, Wallace)

I love picture books about word play and grammar because they are inevitably creative. This book about idioms is more fun than a barrel of monkeys (and if you have ever wondered just how much fun IS a barrel of monkeys--check page 15.) Idioms make sense when you know what they mean, but have you ever tried to visualize one? Edward Wallace obliges with his ornate illustrations. And as a bonus--look for the hidden cat in each picture.

Now and Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin (Barretta, Gene)

The premise of this picture book is so simple, Benjamin Franklin himself might have devised it. By playing on the phrase "Now and Then", author and illustrator Baretta does a comparison between the modern devices, conveniences  and institutions we have now, and how they were created or discovered by Franklin. My favorite: the Library, of course! Runner up: the Long Arm.

 Willie and the All-Stars (Cooper, Floyd)

Floyd Cooper made an appearance in last month's list, which makes me wonder how I've missed this fine writer and illustrator before. Not to mention--this is a book about baseball! Where was my head at in 2008 that I didn't catch this fantastic book the first time around? Willie is a young boy who lives on the North Side of Chicago in 1942. He lives on a diet of baseball and dreams of the day when he will be a Major Leaguer like his idols. Then he learns about the great players of the Negro Leagues, and with that discovery makes another, thoroughly unpleasant one; they don't play in the Major Leagues because they are the "wrong color." As is Willie himself. Floyd Cooper combines a thoughtful story with a history lesson in this book about the color divide in American baseball before Jackie Robinson. Fortunately, it ends on a hopeful note at none other than Wrigley Field.

Clemente! (Perdomo, Willie; ills. Bryan Collier)

Keeping with the baseball theme, this is a fine story about a little boy who is named Clemente after the baseball Hall of Famer who died in a plane crash on a humanitarian mission to Nicaragua. The baseball player's life and career is detailed quickly, allowing the book to focus on how he inspired and encouraged those who admired him (like this little boy's parents.) I really liked the illustrations in this book, which are a mixture of watercolors and collage that work to bring out the realistic detail of the figures against the various backgrounds. A timeline of Clemente's life, Author's and Illustrator's notes, and bibliography give this book non-fiction cred.

Socksquatch (Dormer, Frank W.)

This is a LOL worthy book which tells a story while really not having one. The eponymous Socksquatch can't find a sock. And he wants one. So he goes to look. Then he finds one and is happy. The end! However, the visual appeal of this book, not to mention the sheer silliness of the premise and interaction between Socksquatch and the other monsters he encounters (makes this a winner. Got sock?

Hot Rod Hamster (Lord, Cynthia; ills. Derek Anderson)

This could be the perfect cross-over book between girlie-girls and active-boys: a cute, cuddly rodent with the need for speed ("HOT ROD HAMSTER COMING THROUGH!") There are a couple of different storytelling levels here; the narrator trucks along with rhyming couplets which set-up the story of the hamster's journey from junkyard to finishing line, and asks the continuing refrain, "Which would you choose?" when presenting different types of cars, wheels, flame decals, and eventually trophies. Then there is the dialog between the hamster and the mechanic at the junkyard as they soup up a little car, expressed in voice bubbles with lots of !!!! and ALL CAPS. Then there is the actual race, which is adorably funny as the tiny hamster car takes on the larger racers. I hope Hot Rod Hamster races again soon. Or at least takes up an equally exciting hobby.

Orlando on a Thursday (Magenta, Emma)

Thursday is a bitter-sweet day for Orlando, because it is the day that his Mami goes to work, and he can't see her all day. The up-side is that his Papi stays home on Thursdays. Orlando doesn't seem to be aware of what Mami does all day (presumably she is at work--he just describes it as "busy in town".) Nor does he wonder what Papi does on the other days of the week when he doesn't stay home. All he understands is that for one day a week his world is turned around. The story borders on precious at times, but the distinctive illustrations manage to convey immense emotion and a real sense of security as Orlando works through his problematic day.

Clever Jack Takes the Cake (Fleming, Candace; ills. G. Brian Karas)

The power of storytelling prevails in this slightly predictable yet highly humorous Jack tale about a poor boy who tries to bring a gift worthy of a princess to her birthday party. Mind the crows, Jack!

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