Category Archives: Book Reviews

Review of Carin Berger’s “The Little Yellow Leaf”

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"Yellow Leaf" Cover

The theme of this story is one we have seen many times, but a very important theme nonetheless.

It is a theme that is hard to put into words, but encompasses many things.

The best way I can describe this theme without giving too much away is:

The Little Yellow Leaf” is a wonderful story for reassuring anyone that doing something you’ve never done before is much easier when you’re not alone. To fit with the theme, this story is told in a very soothing, gentle, somewhat heavy style.
Many of the best picture books are both timeless and unique. The theme of this book is timeless. What makes it unique is both the illustrations and the subject/focus. The subject of this story is the leaves, particularly the “little yellow leaf” of the title. Leaves and their trees being the subject allows for illustrations that are relatively simple compared to those found in other children’s books, where the subject is usually a human or animal character.  This does not at all keep the illustrations from being exciting and beautiful.
Since leaves and trees are the focus of the story, they are the main subjects of the illustrations. Many of the illustrations’ embellishments are highly stylized, such as:

"Yellow Leaf" Illustration 1

The sun, beckoning the leaves to fall

"Yellow Leaf" Illustration 2

The moon and the stars

"Yellow Leaf" Illustration 3

The snowflakes

In some illustrations, trees are stylized, too. A group of trees is made to look circular, making it easier for these subjects to act as the focus.  Here is an example:

"Yellow Leaf" Illustration 4

Embellishments that are not stylized include mushrooms, apples, pumpkins, acorns, and geese flying south. The latter are very simply drawn.
At first I thought the illustrations were painted, but as it turns out, they are all created through collages made with different kinds of paper. This includes magazine paper, hence the unrelated text on some of the illustrations. This makes the illustrations even more unique. What’s more, this book is making me really want to try illustrating some of my stories with collages. I think autumn illustrations lend themselves especially well to collages, but maybe I’m biased since I enjoyed doing autumn collages so much as a child.

All in all, this is a wonderful book.  The story made me cry, and the illustrations made me want to expand my horizons.

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Review Of Barbara Wyn Klunder’s “Other Goose: Recycled Rhymes For Our Fragile Times…”

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I really liked “Other Goose: Recycled Rhymes For Our Fragile Times” by Barbara Wyn Klunder. Its poems are clever, and they all address important social issues. They’re funny, but in a very dry and sarcastic way. I also love how they’re all retellings of nursery rhymes. I’m a big fan of rewriting classic poems and stories with modern twists, and these poems remind me of the attempts I’ve made at retelling fairy tales in a way that addresses modern social issues. Maybe someday I’ll post my modern, almost futuristic, retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
While I like all the poems in this book, an issue I have with some of them is that they do not maintain the essence of the original nursery rhymes. I think any kind of retelling, whether it’s a parody or something more serious, should maintain the essence of what it’s retelling. This is one of the issues I have with my least favorite poem, “Blow, Blow, Blow Your Nose.” This is a retelling of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” but it has nothing to do with the lyrics of that song. In addition, the social issue it’s about (seasonal allergies) is not very serious compared to the other issues addressed in this book. This makes it seem kind of out of place in this book.
I have a similar complaint about “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.” Sure, it’s about an environmental issue (running out of natural resources like oil and gas), and I like most poems in this book (and elsewhere) about environmental issues.  For this issue, though, Klunder should have based it on a nursery rhyme about running out of something or not having enough, like “Old Mother Hubbard.” The retelling of “Old Mother Hubbard” in this book is good, though. It’s about poverty and relying on food banks. I understand Kunder’s decision to have her “Old Mother Hubbard” retelling be about poverty, since there are already lots of environmental poems in this collection, and since she made the decision to have only one retelling of each well-known nursery rhyme.
If she had decided to write multiple retellings of the same nursery rhyme for this book, though, there should have been one “Mother Hubbard” retelling about poverty and one about dwindling natural resources. It doesn’t make sense to have the poem about dwindling natural resources be a “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” retelling, because that poem is about the opposite; the black sheep has plenty of wool. A retelling of “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” should be about an issue related to excess, like a child having lots of toys but not enough time with his or her parents, or a rich person having plenty of money while everyone else is starving. In fact, maybe I’ll try rewriting “Baa, Baa Black Sheep” in a way that deals with one of those issues.
“Jack and Jill” is a nice example of an environmental poem (this one deals with urban water pollution) that does a good job of maintaining the essence of the original nursery rhyme. Another is “Humpty Dumpty,” which also deals with water pollution, except for this poem, it is the illustration that draws the connection between the original rhyme and its retelling. It shows Humpty falling into the polluted lake.
Some of these poems, like “Old King Cole,” “There Was An Old Woman,” and “Hey, Diddle, Diddle” are positive. I like how Klunder was able to include these poems alongside all the grim ones dealing with serious social problems. I especially like “Hey, Diddle, Diddle,” because it’s based on the nursery rhyme of the same name, one of my childhood favorites. The last poem in the book is also one of my favorites, because it’s based on one of my favorite nursery rhymes and it’s about a social problem I am very passionate about solving. The nursery rhyme is “Starlight, Star Bright” (also the name of the retelling), and the social problem is air pollution.
“Little Bo Peep” is one of the few poems in the collection that addresses an issue specifically about the teens and tweens reading this book: dressing to be clones of one another, always following someone’s lead like sheep instead of making one’s own decisions. Even the poems that aren’t directly about them, though, will most likely get teens and preteens thinking about important social issues. They might even do the same for adults.  That is the main reason I think this book is great.  For those who are interested, here is a link to it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Other-Goose-Recycled-Rhymes-Fragile/dp/0888998295

Review of Kalli Dakos’ “If You’re Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand”

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I love the poems in Kalli Dakos’ “If You’re Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand.” I love how some, like the title poem and “She Should Have Listened To Me,” are funny, while others, like “The Cry Guy,” are sad. All of the poems, though, even the silliest like “If We Had Lunch at the White House,”, are very honest. They illustrate very vividly what it is like to be a child. Some of the poems, in fact, like “They Don’t Do Math in Texas,” are neither sad nor funny. They just paint a very believable picture of childhood.
I don’t, however, think the poems are organized very well. When reading the book from cover to cover, I found it very disorienting to read a silly poem either right after or right before a very sad one. For instance, “A Teacher’s Lament,” a funny poem, comes right after “Were You Ever Fat Like Me?”, a sad, but uplifting poem. Similarly, “Why Can’t A Girl Be the Leader of the Boys?”, another funny poem, comes right before “JT Will Never Be Ten,” which is probably the saddest poem in the book, not to mention one of the saddest children’s poems ever written. The poems in this book would be much easier to enjoy for both children and adults if the book, like other books of poetry, were divided into sections with themes. This would be especially helpful for children, since it would make it easier to know if they’re about to read a funny poem or a sad one. The “Kids Pick the Funniest Poems” volumes are all divided up into themed sections, but this is less necessary for an anthology where all the poems are funny. I think themed sections are even more important for collections and anthologies whose poems have a variety of different moods.
That being said, the poems in this book are wonderful. Any adult who wants to explore his or her memories of being a child should read them, and they could probably get just about any elementary-aged child liking poetry. Please check out the book at this link: http://www.amazon.com/Youre-Here-Please-Raise-Your-ebook/dp/B004A90BXI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1421530654&sr=1-1&keywords=if+you%27re+not+here+please+raise+your+hand+poems+about+school

A Review of “Sing a Song of Piglets: A Calendar in Verse”

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Sing a Song of Piglets: A Calendar in Verse, written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, and published by Clarion Books, New York, is a charming book that lets us follow two piglets, a boy piglet and a girl piglet, through the months of the year. I love any story about the seasons/months of the year, because books like that help children see the beauty in every season, both in our festivities and in the natural world. This book is no exception.
Sing a Song of Piglets: A Calendar in Verse has beautiful illustrations of holidays and the outdoors during each season. My favorite outdoor illustration is of the two pigs jumping in leaves in September, with beautiful red and yellow trees in the background. My favorite indoor illustration is of the pigs chowing down on a Thanksgiving feast in November (in case you haven’t guessed, my favorite season is autumn).
The remaining autumn month, October, I have issue with, though. The illustration of the pigs trick-or-treating is, literally, way too dark. The full moon and the ghost are white, and everything except the black cat’s yellow trick-or-treat bag is a dark color, black, dark brown, or dark blue. I wish the moon were yellow, and surrounded by bright yellow stars. I would also have liked to see more color variation in the costumes, which may have meant drawing more anthropomorphic animals in costumes, instead of just the pigs and whatever kind of creature is dressed as a ghost.
Speaking of anthropomorphic animals, I love the illustration of the pigs playing softball with bunnies in the month of June. I’m not a sports person, but my love for anthropomorphic animals more than makes up for that. The bunnies are never mentioned in the text, nor are any of the other anthropomorphic animals in the illustrations, like the dog greeting the trick-or-treating pigs or the other animals relaxing on the beach while the pigs surf in July. The illustrations alone make it clear that in this world, the people are all different kinds of animals, not just pigs. I love how many picture books there are that feature either all kinds of anthropomorphic animals, or just one kind, in the picture book’s own world.
I like all three spreads for summer, but I have issue with all three spring spreads. For one thing, I wish the March spread didn’t talk about St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not a fan of that holiday, since it essentially commemorates suppressing and getting rid of a religion. I know that opens a big can of worms, so please feel free to agree or disagree in your comments. Instead of St. Patrick’s Day, I would have liked to see the March spread talk about the beginning of spring.
If March had focused on the beginning of spring, it would have allowed for more drawings of flowers, and maybe other spring images, too, like butterflies and baby birds. That’s my issue with the other two spring spreads; they don’t have very many images of traditional spring items. It would have been fine it if this book represented spring with other, non-traditional images, but it doesn’t. There really isn’t that much imagery for spring. One thing I would have liked is if for April, there was a small drawing of the flowers the pigs planted after they bloomed.
One more thing I like about this book is the friendship between the two pigs. The text doesn’t mention this aspect until the very end, but their friendship is clear from the very beginning through the illustrations. Whether these pigs are helping each other ice skate, working together in the garden, surfing side by side, or sharing a hammock while reading, it is clear that they are either best friends or a brother and sister who love each other very much. I like how the book does not make the pigs actual relationship clear, leaving whether they’re siblings or friends up to the reader’s imagination. This offers the reader two positive messages: siblings can be friends, and: being friends with someone of the opposite gender isn’t gross.
This book taught me two things. I learned that illustrations in the same book do not always need to be done in the same style. While some illustrations in this book are full pictures that take up the whole page or spread, others feature one or more smaller pictures against a white background. I also learned that all a picture book needs to be considered a calendar is the name of the month at the beginning of each spread; it does not need to be formatted like a calendar or in any other particular way. Some books about the months and seasons of the year are calendars; others are more like stories recounting the events of a year. An example of the latter is Over and Over by Charlotte Zolotow, one of my personal favorites.