This fascinating book reads like a child’s fantasy, but is a great introduction to gravity for young children!

by Jason Chin
A Neal Porter book, Roaring Brook Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-59643-717-3
Picture book, nonfiction, narrative
32 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 23 x 29 cm
Dewey: 531; Int Lvl: K-3; Rd Lvl: 5.3
YHBA 2016-2017 picture book nominee
5 out of 5 stars

This book is a wonderful hybrid between a fantastical story and an informational text. It is a great way to introduce the concept and study of gravity to young children. The story begins up in the sky and through a series of five pages explains that “gravity…makes…objects…fall…to earth.” The object falling to earth turns out to be a book about gravity.

The book falls to the spot where a young boy is playing on the beach with a toy astronaut and rocket ship. The lesson on gravity continues with learning that “without gravity, everything would float away.” As with the book being pulled to earth as we read about that gravity fact, everything on the beach now floats away as we learn about lack of gravity. The young boy manages to hold onto a boulder, and the reader now accompanies the astronaut, rocket ship, and other beach items as they float into space.
The book then explains that gravity keeps the sun, earth, and moon in alignment and ends with restating that gravity makes objects fall to earth. The twist to the story is that the spaceman and astronaut have not fallen back to the boy on the beach, but have landed amidst young girls operating a lemonade stand.

Chin’s whimsical and close-up, super-real, style of illustrations, combined with the fanciful story, remind me of Bill Thomson books: Chalk, Fossil, and The Typewriter. Be sure to read the final page, where we see the boy on the beach in shock as he catches a pitcher of lemonade that falls from the sky. The boy and girls have inherited each others’ items that defied gravity. Once readers understand the switch that occurs, they need to go back to other images in the story and they will see hints they might have missed during the first reading.

The story itself is not going to replace any classroom lessons about gravity, but the book would make a fun introduction or accompaniment to such a unit. There is additional information about gravity in the back of the book, as well as a bibliography.

My Grandfather’s Coat

This is a very well-done retelling of a Yiddish folksong, “I Had a Little Overcoat.”

My Grandfather’s Coat
retold by Jim Aylesworth; illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Scholastic Press, 2014
ISBN 978-0-439-92545-7
Picture book, fiction, folksong
32 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 29 cm
Dewey: 398.2
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 2.4
Lexile measure: 910
YHBA 2016-2017 picture book nominee
4 out of 5 stars

My Grandfather’s Coat is a retelling of a Yiddish folksong, “I Had a Little Overcoat.” The story begins with a young man coming to America on a ship. We see him posing as they pass in front of the Statue of Liberty. This boy becomes a tailor, meets a woman, and asks her to marry him. When she agrees, he makes a handsome blue coat to wear on his wedding day. He wears the coat until he wears it out, and then he cuts it smaller and makes a jacket.

The story features several repeated refrains. The first repeats:

My grandfather loved the jacket, and he wore it, and he wore it. And little bit by little bit, he frayed it, and he tore it, until at last…he wore it out!

Once he wears it out, the second repeated refrain begins:

He went right to work, and he snipped, and he clipped, and he stitched, and he sewed, and out of the still-good cloth of his smart jacket, he made…”

The fabric transforms from coat, to jacket, to vest, to tie, to kittens’ toy, to a cozy nest, until at last it is nothing at all, except as remembered in this story.

Barbara McClintock’s ink and watercolor illustrations perfectly accompany the story. There is an old-fashioned feel to the style which matches the folk story. McClintock has also done an excellent job aging the characters in the story in realistic and recognizable ways. She has also incorporated changing fashions and changes in the grandfather’s sewing machines to show the progression of time.

Children will enjoy this addition to the folk story genre because of the repetition and the transformation of the coat. Young children can predict what the next version of the garment may be.

A Perfectly Messed-Up Story; 4 out of 5 stars #bookaday

This is a fun, interactive story that leaves the reader with a good lesson.

A Perfectly Messed-Up Story
by Patrick McDonnell
Little, Brown and Company, 2014
ISBN 978-0-316-22258-7
33 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 22 x 25 cm
YHBA picture book nominee, 2016
Interest level: K-3; reading level: 2.1
4 out of 5 stars

The narrator begins the story with Louie skipping along and singing. Until suddenly a splat of grape jelly lands on the page halting him in his tracks. Speech bubbles now have Louie interacting with both the jelly and the reader directly, breaking through the hidden fourth wall.

My absolutely favorite page is when Louie is complaining about people who would eat a jelly sandwich while reading his story and gets peanut butter plopped on his head! More and more keeps happening, and the contrast between the water color illustrations of the story, and the real-looking splats, plops, fingerprints, etc. that invade the story made a delightful contrast.

After a brief tantrum, Louie realizes that even with all the interruptions and smears and stains, his story is just fine and he isn’t going to let anything stop him! A wonderful message to share with children. What makes it even more special is that just when Louie takes the stand and states that nothing is going to stop him, the next page reads, “The End.”

Definitely a lot of laugh out loud moments that young readers will delight in as they share this book with an adult or read on their own.

Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears; 4 out of 5 stars #bookaday

by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Beth Coulton; illustrated by Nate Wragg
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), 2014
ISBN: 978-0-399-25685-1
Picture book, fiction, fractured fairy tale
YHBA nominee, 2016-2017
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 3.4
4 out of 5 stars

There are a lot of fractured fairy tales that remake Goldilocks and the Three Bears. So while this isn’t exactly a new idea, Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears puts a new, musical spin on the story.

In this version, the three bears play in a band and realize that they need a lead singer who can hit the high notes. So they leave their home studio to go host tryouts. Meanwhile, Goldi smells porridge and heads inside. She sees the home studio, and quickly abandons the porridge to try out the microphone, headphones, and musical instruments. As in the fairy tale, only Baby Bear’s equipment is just right. Exhausted, Goldi falls asleep on Baby Bear’s keyboard, and the bears return home. Startled out of sleep, Goldi screams in the perfect high C, and the bears have found their singer.

Goldi Rocks stays true to the original fairy tale, yet adds a decidedly fresh spin. The rhyming text sounds wonderful when spoken, and moves at a quick pace, making this an ideal read-aloud. It is also fun to see some other fairy tale characters appear in the auditions. The art was done with pencil, painted textures, and Adobe Photoshop and has a film-like cartoon quality that matches the style and plot of the story well.

This would make an excellent addition to a lesson featuring fractured fairy tales.

A bean, a stalk and a boy named Jack; 3 out of 5 stars #bookaday

by William Joyce; illustrated by Kenny Callicutt
Moonbot Books/Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4424-7349-2
Picture book, fiction, fractured fairy tale
YHBA nominee, 2016-2017
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 2.0
3 out of 5 stars

This book sets out to be a new look at the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. The story starts where we meet the bean–who to me really looks like a pea–but anyway, the bean can talk. The kingdom where Jack lives, hasn’t had rain for so long that the crops, wells, and lakes have all dried up, but that’s not actually the biggest problem in the kingdom. The biggest problem is that King Blah Blah Blah has a “stinky pinky.” From this point on, the story is pretty silly, and doesn’t make sense in some areas.

A local wizard casts a spell on the talking bean, an enormous beanstalk grows, where Jack discovers a giant in the clouds, taking a really long bath and hogging all the water. So Jack convinces him to empty the tub, rides down the drain, the water washes the king’s little toe, crisis averted. The scene between Jack and the giant in the tub, is really kind of weird and didn’t flow well.

The best part of the book is the ending. The bean is thirsty, so Jack and Princess Blah Blah Blah, whose real name is Jill, head up a hill to fetch a pail of water for the bean. Very clever segue into a nursery rhyme and a new story.

The multimedia illustrations are created by Kenny Callicutt at Moonbot Studios. Their cartoon-like quality are fun and will be very appealing to younger children. While silly humor usually plays well with kids, I think that some of the word play and situations are too choppy and will be lost to them.

Gaston; 3 out of 5 stars #bookaday

Words by Kelly DiPucchio; pictures by Christian Robinson
Antheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014
ISBN: 9781442451025
Picture book, fiction
YHBA nominee, 2016-2017
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 2.8
3 out of 5 stars

Mrs. Poodle admires her new puppies, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, Ooh-La-La, and Gaston, all the size of teacups, except for Gaston, who is more the size of a teapot. It is clear to readers, that Gaston is not the same type of dog as his poodle siblings, but he tries harder than anyone to practice good manners, yipping, and and walking with grace, and his family loves him.

One day the Poodle family goes to the park to play, and they meet another dog family — Mrs. Bulldog and her puppies, Rocky, Ricky, Bruno, and Antoinette. All the Bulldog puppies act brutish and love to roughhouse, but Antoinette does not look like her siblings. The two families soon realize that some type of mix-up occurred and Antoinette and Anton were switched and have been raised with the wrong type of dogs. The two puppies switch places, and everyone soon realizes that even though they are now with their same kind, they don’t fit in. The families race to the park the next day to switch back and make the families whole again.

Christian Robinson’s painted illustrations are simple, yet convey perfect emotion. Gaston, and all the puppies, are adorable and will be a hit with children. The length of the story, appeal of the characters, and illustrations would make this an excellent read aloud.

I must admit that there were some things that I didn’t like about the story. The beginning is wonderful. It is easy to see that Gaston is not the same as his poodle siblings, but yet they love him, treat him the same, and his hard work pays off. All wonderful messages. I felt that once the bulldog family was introduced and they were brutish and unsophisticated, the idea of dog stereotypes really bothered me. That image is kind of shattered by the ending, when the two misfit dogs go back to their original families because their same-breed families don’t feel right. This is probably not something that young children will pick up on, but I also don’t like perpetuating unfair stereotypes–even in dogs.

Book review: Mogie; 3 out of 5 stars #bookaday

Mogie the heart of the house book coverby Kathi Appelt; illustrated by Marc Rosenthal
Picture book
2016-2017 YHBA picture book nominee
Interest level: K-2
Reading level: 2.4
3 out of 5 stars

Mogie is the story of a service dog who doesn’t cut it for most of the jobs for dogs. He wasn’t cut out to be a service dog, flunked search-and-rescue, and didn’t last in the show ring. One day he ended up in a Ronald McDonald House and found his calling. He instinctively knows how to comfort and draw depressed children out of their shells and helps them find their “mojo.”

I recommend this book for young children in kindergarten through 2nd grade, who love dogs. By reading about Mogie, children will learn about some of the different jobs that dogs do. This is also a story about finding your place in the world. Based on a real dog named Mogie, this is a heartwarming story that will introduce young children to service dogs and children who get sick and have to go to a special house to get better.

I did struggle with how Mogie ended up in Ronald McDonald House. The story tells us that Ronald McDonald House does not allow dogs, and we know that Mogie failed at being a service dog. There is never an explanation of how Mogie ended up helping children. This is not necessarily a detail that children will question.

This book is a YHBA picture book nominee for 2016-2017.