Children’s Book Review – Barnes & Noble Edition

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Norie recently got a pre-natal massage (still not completely sure on what that actually is), so I had an hour or so to kill at Barnes & Noble. I spent most of that time in the children’s book section reading through books that I had never heard of before.  Here are my thoughts on what I read (and the requisite photo):

Got this picture from the net - I didn't actually crash someone's story time.

Got this picture from the net – I didn’t actually crash someone’s story time.

1.  Spoon (Amy Krouse Rosenthal) – There were a few clever word plays (especially about Spoon being depressed about stirring up trouble), but the art was unnecessarily cutesy, and the moral heavy handed.  Overall, it was utterly forgettable.  Grade: C-

2.  Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (Mo Willems) – I’d heard of this one before but hadn’t read it.  It’s clever in its way.  I like that it invited the reader to actively participate in what is happening, though it assumes a particular response (whereas I kept thinking I would totally let the pigeon drive the bus).  Grade: B-

3.  Puff the Magic Dragon (Peter Yarrow) – Using the Peter, Paul & Mary song for the text, this book puts offers some stunning visuals to round out the story.  Of particular interest is the way it uses the pictures to actually offer a slightly more uplifting ending without actually contradicting the lyrics.  The decision to include all of the lyrics, including consecutive repetitions of the chorus, though, made parts of the book a little awkward.  Grade: B+

4.  Mister Seahorse (Eric Carle) – What better way to challenge gender norms than to produce a book that celebrates the many sea species for whom it is the father that takes care of the eggs instead of the mother.  The book also makes clever use of transparencies to show creatures hiding underwater.  As the book goes on, though, it starts to get a bit repetitive, and even the beautiful artwork couldn’t keep me from getting bored by the end.  Grade: B

5.  Swimmy (Leo Lionni) – I went to a concert that featured a composition based on this book, and was happy to read the original version.  The artwork is beautiful and the story is compelling.  There is a subtle message about the contrast between being an individual and working with others, and the book shows the merits of both.  Overall I really liked it.  Grade: A-

6.  Wave (Suzy Lee) – This is a simple story about a girl playing in the waves at the beach.  It is all pictures, and the lack of words is fitting given the straightforward narrative.  The artwork, though, is gorgeous and there is a depth lurking beneath the book’s overall simplicity.  Grade: A

7.  Bluebird (Bob Staake) – The author claims to have worked on this book for ten years.  It seems to me that he could have saved himself roughly nine years and just watched The Red Balloon, because it’s almost exactly the same story.  It’s a great story, though, and in both cases it manages to be incredibly moving without any dialog.  The art in Bluebird is equally beautiful.  Grade: A

8.  No, David (David Shannon) – This strikes me as a book that children probably love for its outrageousness and silliness (and I’m sure the Varmint will particularly like it since the main character’s name is David).  There’s not much more to it than that, though.  Still, there’s something to be said for just having fun.  Grade: B+

9.  The Dark (Lemony Snicket) – This book about overcoming fears has a lot to recommend it, but in the end there is a drabness to the whole affair that kept it from being all that appealing.  Also, in an otherwise tight and subtle book, there’s one page that is almost all text that makes the message of the book really explicit and takes the life out of a story that had a lot of momentum.  It’s too bad that these flaws mar what has the potential to be a really good book.  Grade: B-

10.  Nightsong (Ari Berk) – This might have been my favorite of the books I read.  The story is wonderful and the artwork is fantastic – it somehow manages to find the aesthetic beauty of the color black.  The drawings of bats don’t shy away from the actual look of a bat despite the potential creepiness of the creatures.  The themes of art, beauty, and a love of wonder, though, are what make the book really shine.  Grade: A+

11.  Green (Laura Vaccaro Seeger) – I really enjoyed this book as well.  It takes the rather common idea of teaching children about color but puts a spin on it that makes it interesting and, ultimately, much more satisfying.  At the same time, there’s a clever lesson about language in there as well.  This is so much better than most of the condescending lessons that I’ve seen in a lot of children’s books so far.  Grade: A

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