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ExUrbanis

Urban Leaving to Country Living

Picture Books Read in January 2013

February1

reading to grandchildren cassat photo cassat-reading-to-children220.jpgI didn’t intend to read any picture books this month, but some of my library holds from last year started to arrive, and I couldn’t resist reading them!

Z IS FOR MOOSE by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

I reserved this book, which must be quite popular, in late November in a last minute effort to read a book beginning with the letter “Z” in the 2012 Eh-Zed Reading Challenge. In the end, I had to go with a compromise because Z is for Moose didn’t show up until January.

See if it was worth the wait.


IT’S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT
written and illustrated by Todd Parr

When our grandson visits us, everyone in town knows him – because he stands out. In any group of kids, he towered over his fellow three-year-olds and went nose to nose with seven and eight-year-olds. His skin colour is different too: in a rural village originally settled by Mi’kmaq (formerly MicMac) and then Scots, his half-Jamaican ancestry is very noticeable. So when I heard about It’s Okay to Be Different, I immediately reserved it at the library.

Did I find it helpful?


APPLES AND BUTTERFLIES
by Shauntay Grant; illustrated by Tamara Thiébaux-Heikalo

Originally, I reserved this book at the library on the recommendation of a friend who had heard the author interviewed on CBC radio. Shauntay Grant was the poet laureate of Halifax, Nova Scotia from 2009-2011 so I expected a book of poetry. Imagine my surprise when I received a children’s picture book.

Here’s what I thought of it.


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Picture Book Review: Z IS FOR MOOSE by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

February1

4.5 star rating
In Z is for Moose Zebra is having a talent show of sorts – animals and objects walk across the stage as called for each letter: B is for ball, C is for cat, etc.
Z is for Moose photo zisformoose_zpsfb174c53.jpgBig, gangly moose is impatient and starts peeking on stage & asking if it’s his turn yet at letter D. Zebra is cool and continues to call letters – and then, after all of Moose’s finagling, chooses Mr. Mouse for the letter M.

Moose realizes he’s been left out and starts to push onstage, trying to appear for any letter. By the letter T, Zebra starts guarding the stage and Moose starts to cry. There’s a happy ending when Zebra announces that Z is for Zebra’s friend, Moose.

The illustrations are delightful: Zelinsky has depicted Moose’s gawky awkwardness and Zebra’s graceful calm is simple pictures.

Moose sounds obnoxious but he isn’t. Okay, just a little, but we like him right away and are somewhat aghast when he is passed over for the letter M. I’m not too keen on the idea that might be conveyed that being pushy and fighting with people is the way to get what you want (in this case, to be in the show) but somehow, that concept doesn’t seem to be what comes across. Instead, we identify with Moose, even if we might be a little embarrassed for him. Perhaps the lesson is that everyone can be included.

In any case, I felt good when I finished Z is for Moose, and rate it 4½ stars.

Link for Canadian readers:
Z Is For Moose


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Picture Book Review: IT’S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT by Todd Parr

February1

4 star rating

It's Okay to Be Different photo itsokaytobedifferent_zps836d3a9f.jpgEverybody wants to belong – especially kids. So when a child is “different” from the others in his or her group, it can be easy for them to feel bad about themselves. Todd Parr wants every kid to know “You are special and important just because of being who are”, and he’s written It’s Okay To Be Different to get that message across.

Illustrated by the author with outlined-in-black figures that are painted with bright primary colours—blue faces, orange hair and so on—this book delivers the message in short, clear statements: it’s okay to have a different nose, it’s okay to wear glasses, to have an invisible friend, to have different moms or different dads, to be embarrassed, to be a different color…. I’m not able to imagine a situation Parr didn’t cover in these 30 pages.

Although I don’t agree completely with Parr (I don’t think it’s okay to eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub, but that’s me – I’m a mean old mom), I love the statement this book makes. I think you’ll want to buy this one so you can re-read it many times. A solid 4 stars.

Link for Canadian Readers:
It’s Okay To Be Different


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Picture Book Review: APPLES and BUTTERFLIES by Shauntay Grant; illustrated by Tamara Thiébaux-Heikalo

February1

3.5 star rating

Apples & Butterflies photo applesandbutterflies_zpse3bc97c8.jpg Apples and Butterflies tells the story of a young girl and her family on a fall holiday on Prince Edward Island, based on the author’s own memories.

Although this is subtitled: a Poem for Prince Edward Island, if there is a poem here, it is very free-form and I couldn’t recognize it. I know my poetry senses are untrained but then, so are a child’s (I assume the intended audience).

So I looked at Apples and Butterflies as “just” another picture book. From that point of view it was disappointing. The story does mention some of the delights of PEI but doesn’t develop them before the ideas float away. The illustrations seemed non-descript given the beauty they were intending to capture.

Sorry, Shauntay. I think it’s worth only 3 stars – plus another half for the Atlantic Canada connection. 3½ stars

Link for Canadian readers:
Apples and Butterflies: A Poem for Prince Edward Island


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Picture Books Read in December 2012

January6

reading to grandchildren cassat

A snowstorm on the last Sunday in December sent me scurrying to my picture book shelf to read about snow.

I found three “winter” books and a couple about dogs (that seemed cozy, too).

What’s Wrong with Rosie is now on my “all-time favourite books” shelf. Rarely does a picture book move me as this one did.

Click on the links to read my (very short) reviews.

Jillian Jiggs and the Great Big Snow

No Roses for Harry

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

danny*s first snow


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WHAT’S WRONG WITH ROSIE? by Pippa Jagger, illustrated by Gavin Rowe: Bookish Thoughts

January6

What's Wrong with Rosie5 star ratingWhat’s Wrong With Rosie? has been sitting on my bookshelf for years and I had no idea it was such a treasure!

Nan and her yellow Labrador Rosie live in “the Dales.” Nan is happy with Rosie but Rosie is perhaps lonely. After a scare with Rosie’s health as she getting older, Nan ends up with a new puppy for both of them.

This is a lovely, gentle story that I could read again and again. The language is wonderful. “The silver hairs gleamed on Rosie’s once golden face.” .” The emotions that it describes are complex and real but painted with only a few deft strokes. “She felt as though someone had switched all her lights off.”

And the pictures! They’re full of wonderful detail of a modest house and a country life. The cover doesn’t do the inside art work justice.

I can’t imagine that my four-years-old grandson would appreciate this book for several more years. It’s a picture book but it’s really for older children, or even adults. This adult certainly loves it.
5 stars, easily

Written by: Pippa Jagger
Illustrated by: Gavin Rowe
Published by: Magi Publications London 1997

Canadian link:
What’s Wrong with Rosie?


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JILLIAN JIGGS & the GREAT BIG SNOW by Phoebe Gilman: Bookish Thoughts

January6

Jillian Jiggs - Snow4.5 star ratingThe back cover of this book tells me that “Phoebe Gilman is one of Canada’s best-loved children’s book author/illustrator.” After reading Jillian Jiggs and the Great Big Snow, I can see why.

When I read a picture book, I speak out loud, as if I were reading to a child. To do that with this book is a real pleasure. In two-line rhymes, Gilman fairly bounces us through the story of Jillian, excited by the snow but not allowed out until she finds her hat. Her mom says:
“Jillian, Jillian, say it’s not true.
How do you lose all things that you do?”

By the time Jillian finishes her play outside, she is minus her scarf, hat, and both mittens and her friends and her sister have repeated this mantra several times.

The imagination in the snow play is wonderful – the children build Martians and monsters, and roads for Mars. And the issue of lost outerwear is very realistic – a perennial problem with children.

The illustrations, “created in gouche and coloured pencils”, are also excellent – bright and cheerful with just the right amount of detail. I stop and examine the pictures and point out to myself what I would to a child: a small cat in the house scenes, various implements and activities in the outdoor scenes.

I didn’t expect to like this book much, but I did and I highly recommend Jillian Jiggs and the Great Big Snow, especially to children who live in snowy climates! 4½ stars

Written and illustrated by: Phoebe Gilman
Published by: North Winds Press 2002

Canadian link:
Jillian Jiggs and the Great Big Snow


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NO ROSES FOR HARRY by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham: Bookish Thoughts

January6

No Roses for Harry4.5 star rating No Roses for Harry! is part of a series of books featuring the “white dog with black spots”. It was published in 1958 and I think my (taped & well-worn) copy of this charming tale was printed then.

Harry receives a gift from Grandma: a green sweater with yellow roses. He doesn’t like it much and tries to lose in a department store, to no avail. despite his cleverness trying to disguise the sweater in the spots he leaves it.Then a bird unravels a loose thread and takes Harry’s sweater to build a nest. When Grandma comes to visit, Harry doesn’t have his sweater! But Harry’s story has a happy ending – of course. Zion’s story is delightful.

What is it about Margaret Bloy Graham’s drawings? In this book, they’re line drawings with two colors- in this case, the green & yellow that are in the sweater. But what a use of those two colors! A house with windows with curtains and plants, clothes on the line, a toy truck, the sun, the trees, the other dogs, all in green & yellow. But the pictures are far from boring; they are full of detail while seeming simple.

I love reading about Harry’s antics and looking at the house & town that Graham brings to life. Maybe I can’t be objective about Harry so I’ll only give this 4 stars. But then I’ll add another half for the sheer nostalgia. 4½ stars

Written by: Gene Zion
Illustrated by: Margaret Bloy Graham
Published by: Harper & Row, NY 1958

Canadian link:
No Roses For Harry!


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Robert Frost’s STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING illustrated by Susan Jeffers

January6

Stoppng By - Jeffers3 star ratingI love Robert Frost’s poem Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, and even if you are in the minority that doesn’t feel the same way, you’re no doubt familiar with some of the lines.

I was very pleased to see this book on a sale table and snapped it up, looking forward to reading the poem again.
But the artist Susan Jeffers has used only the first and last stanzas of Frost’s poem, along with a couple of stray phrases from the third verse to accompany her drawings of snowy woods. To me, the original rhythm of the piece was lost and despite the art, I was disappointed.

In addition, the rotund figure with the white beard in the horse-drawn sleigh suspiciously styled after Santa’s disturbed me. I don’t believe this was ever intended to be a Christmas poem and I resent that Jeffers seems to have appropriated it for that purpose.

I might have forgiven that if the poem had been intact. The artwork deserves 3 stars.

Written by: Robert Frost 1923
Illustrated by: Susan Jeffers 1978
Published by: Dutton’s Children’s Books, NY 1978

Canadian link:
Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening


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danny*s first snow by leonid gore: Bookish Thoughts

January6

Danny's First Snow2.5 star rating
(I’m thankful that the author used capital letters in the text of the story.)

I had forgotten that I had read danny*s first snow before—when Steven was living with us. But I remember now his reaction to it: he didn’t get it.

Gore has drawn “delicate pastels and acrylics” of snowy outdoor scenes where the trees and bushes look like different animals. Steven couldn’t figure out where the animals were. On one page where he did see them, he didn’t understand that it was also a picture of a tree with snow on it.

But I can hardly blame him – I’ve never seen trees and bushes that look like that and I’ve seen plenty snow-covered nature. The story itself wasn’t anything special, either.

I’m sorry, Leonid, but I think it’s worth only 2 stars.

Written & illustrated by: Leonid Gore 2007
Published by: ginee seo books NY 2007

Canadian link:
danny*s first snow


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PICTURE BOOKS Read in November 2012

December15

At the beginning of the year, I was reading picture books to my four-year-old grandson, who was living with us at the time. Since he’s moved across the country, November saw me scrambling to fulfill a couple of challenges and enjoying these picture books on my own.

Harry the Dirty Dog

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham

I’m very fond of Harry, the little white dog who wants to do ‘dogly’ things and ends up so dirty that his family doesn’t recognize him. How can he make them see it’s him?

Harry, of course, appears in several books, including No Roses for Harry!, a copy of which still sits on my book shelf.

a few blocks

A Few Blocks by Cybele Young

When I hear the title of this book, I think of building blocks. Don’t you? But it’s actually referring to the few city blocks that Ferdie and his older sister Viola have to walk on their way to school.

The illustrations in A Few Blocks are lush pastels, complex drawings of Ferdie’s imaginary adventures, within the cut-out shapes of every day. Very clever and should appeal to ages 4-8.

Eloise

Eloise By Kay Thompson

Eloise is six years old and lives in the penthouse at the Plaza Hotel. She is ‘precocious’ which means that she is spoiled and causes all kinds of trouble.

I don’t remember reading Eloise when I was young: maybe my mother decided she wasn’t a good role model!

Gimme Jimmy

Gimme-Jimmy by Sherrill S. Cannon

Jimmy is a boy whose favourite phrase is “Gimme”. One day, Jimmy’s hand starts to grow every time he says that, and he must learn how to reduce its size by sharing and using manners.

Told in rhyme, it hits the nail on the head, even if perhaps it does it a few too many times.


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HORTON HEARS A WHO: Picture Book Review for (Inter)national Read Across (the Continent) Day

March2

Emmanuelle’s challenge over at Words and Peace requires me to pick up and read books that were published in the first years of my life.

I originally thought I would complete this challenge by reading adult books, but the challenge logo puts me in mind of snuggling up with a book as a child – and so I’m reading some of the books I might have read then.

Horton Hears a Who!My birth year, 1954, saw the publication of Horton Hears A Who!, by Theodor Seuss Geisel aka Dr. Seuss. This is Seuss’ 11th book and the second (and last) in the series featuring the lovable elephant.

In the book, Horton’s huge ears, which have hearing superior to all of the other animals, hear a small voice emanating from a dust speck that floats by. The speck of dust is actually a tiny planet, home to a city called Who-ville, inhabited by microscopic-sized inhabitants known as Whos. He rescues the dust by placing it on a clover, but the news that Horton is hearing voices spreads throughout the jungle. In order to save themselves, the Whos must make themselves heard to the other animals, and that requires the efforts of every Who in Whoville.

Dr. Seuss’ books are beloved for their lively rhymes, wacky vocabulary, and beyond-imaginative drawings.

And while kids are enjoying all that, they’re learning life lessons. In Horton hears a Who, these include:
• the importance of not giving up, no matter how tired you might be;
• the value of each person’s contribution, no matter how small, to the overall effort of the group (although this bordered on promoting nationalism); and, of course,
• a strong anti-prejudice message, that could be applied to size, color, (dis)ability, or any other factor which could set anyone apart as “different”.

hortonGeisel’s birthday, March 2, has been adopted as the annual date for National Read Across America Day, an initiative on reading created by the National Education Association. Although I’m not a big celebrator of birthdays, I thought it an appropriate day to feature a book that I knew and loved as a child.

This past week, I mailed an animated video of Horton Hears a Who! to my grandson Steven. I hope that after he’s watched it, he’ll be open to hearing the story read to him over the phone.

In addition to the Books Published in the First Years of My Life challenge, this also qualifies for the Illustrated Year’s Picture Book Challenge, and several TBR & off-the-shelf challenges.

Afterthought:
Wikipedia says:
Geisel’s pen name is regularly pronounced /ˈsjuːs/ SEWSS, an anglicized pronunciation inconsistent with his German surname.

He himself noted that it rhymed with “voice” (his own pronunciation being /ˈsɔɪs/ SOYSS) and Alexander Liang (his collaborator on the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern) wrote of him:
You’re wrong as the deuce
And you shouldn’t rejoice
If you’re calling him Seuss.
He pronounces it Soice[37] (or Zoice
)

Geisel eventually switched to the anglicized pronunciation because it “evoked a figure advantageous for an author of children’s books to be associated with—Mother Goose” and because most people used this pronunciation.

So what’s YOUR favorite Dr. Seuss book?

For Canadian readers:
Horton Hears A Who!


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DO YOU KNOW WHICH ONES WILL GROW?: Picture Book Review

February29

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow5 star rating
Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan A. Shea is simply the most delightful picture book I’ve read so far this year.

In snappy rhyme, the book compares objects that grow with those that “rust, fade or break.”

If an owlet grows to be an owl, will a washcloth grow to be a towel?

Each double spread asks a similar question and the right side page opens in some way to reveal that the “non-growable” object did indeed grow. Even young children will recognize the silliness and be amused.

There were several new words for Steven: (fox) kit, (goat) kid, calf, and so on. The rhyming was catchy and moved quickly, the book was interactive on each page as Steven answered each question, growing more emphatic with each passing “NO!”

But the pictures are what clinch my five star praise for this book. Some were downright ingenious.

Highest recommendation for reading to children 2 – 5. 5 star rating

For Canadian readers:
Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?


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CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM: Picture Book Review

February29

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom4.5 star rating
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, illustrated by Lois Ehlert was originally published in 1989 and has been re-released in a twentieth anniversary edition.

It’s a great abcs teaching tool for young children: small letters climb the coconut tree in alphabetical order until the tree collapses. Parents (capital letters) come to collect them and sort out their injuries (again, listed alphabetically (stubbed-toe E, black-eyed P).

The rhyme is extremely catchy and has had me pounding out a beat around the house for weeks:
Chicka chicka boom boom
Will there be enough room?
Up, at the top
Of the coconut tree?

The illustrations are simple, bold and colorful.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is hard to resist! Four & one-half stars.

For Canadian readers:
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom


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MADELINE by Ludwig Bemelmans: a Picture Book Review

February29

4.5 star ratingMadeline

The children’s classic, Madeline, written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans, was first published in 1939. The story of the “twelve little girls in two straight lines” proved to be a success, and Bemelmans wrote many sequels to the original during the 1940s and 1950s. The series continues to this day, written by Bemelmans’ grandson.

Steven and I read the very first Madeline in which we’re introduced the feisty little girl in the Paris “sleep-over” school in the “old house in Paris that was covered with vines.” We both found this book charming: Steven because of the poetry and I for the delightful depictions of 1930s Paris.

Steven learned some new phrases (‘broke their bread’, ‘rain or shine’) as well as about appendicitis, and seemed to really enjoy the story. The illustrations, of course, are mostly the black & white & yellow of the first publication. When more color was/is used, it makes a marvelous impact (Paris in rain and sunshine or at night during the ambulance ride).

This enchanting book rates a solid four and one-half stars.

For Canadian readers:
Madeline


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THERE WERE MONKEYS IN MY KITCHEN: Picture Book Review

February29

There Were Monkeys in My Kitchen4.5 star rating
“First published in 1992, There Were Monkeys in My Kitchen won the Mr. Christie Award for Best Canadian Children’s book. With hilarious new illustrations by Sydney Smith and Sheree Fitch’s zany rhymes, this edition will introduce the bestselling book to a whole new generation.”

I was delighted with this book, but Steven, at three, not so much. He liked the rhymes which are catchy and change meter often. But some of the terms went too far over his head.

Monkeys of every kind in every room: gorillas in a grand ballet – pirouette, arabesque, plié, sauté, monkeys square dancing — promenade, lemonade, do-si-do, orangutans tangoing and so on. There lots of subtle and not-so-subtle humour that’s meant, I’m sure for 4 – 9 year-olds.

Both the rhyme and the illustrations clearly convey the mayhem in Willa Wellowby’s house and there’s such detail in the pictures that an older (than three) child could pore over these for hours. There’s a lot of story packed into this slim volume.

Despite Steven’s reserved reaction (I really think he’s just too young to appreciate this), I’m giving There Were Monkeys in My Kitchen four and one-half stars.

If you’d like to hear a little more of the rhyme in this book, check out my February poetry post.

For Canadian readers:
There Were Monkeys in My Kitchen


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FUDDLES by Frans Vischer: a Picture Book Review

February29

Fuddles4 star rating

I’m always a bit impressed with children’s books that are written and illustrated by the same person. Frans Vischer works as an animator at Disney and Fuddles, intended for children ages four to seven, is his first picture book. He has modeled Fuddles after his own pet.

Fuddles is a spoiled house cat who dreams of being a great adventurer and so sneaks out of the house one Sunday afternoon. He soon finds that the great outdoors isn’t at all as he imagined it would be and as darkness settles, he finds himself lost and scared.

Vischer’s illustrations have an almost water-color quality about them. During Fuddles’ time indoors, the cat—he is a BIG cat—dominates the pictures. Outdoors, the spaces are bigger and, by nightfall, we know Fuddles is good and lost.

This story is a valuable moral lesson for young children in the importance of ‘listening to mom’ and being happy where you are. Four stars.

For Canadian readers:
Fuddles


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ONE WINTER NIGHT: a Picture Book Review

February29

One Winter Night4 star rating

One Winter Night by Jennifer Lloyd and illustrated by Lynn Ray seemed like a highly appropriate book to read during our long Canadian winter.

The story centers on ten little mice who go skating “under moonlight”, and one by one scurry off into their warm nest as they meet larger animals. As the group of mice decreased in number, Steven delighted in the backwards counting from 10 to 1. At the end of the book, we revisit all of the mice sleeping safely in the nest and can count again from 1 to 10.

Steven also enjoyed seeing the various “predatory” animals such as a squirrel and a skunk skate along with the mice. It was also pleasing to me to see the mole and the fox joining in typically Canadian winter games of ice hockey and curling.

While it doesn’t paint a realistic picture as to the laws of nature, this is a fast, rhyming read and suitable for cozying up together in the warm indoors. Three and one-half stars plus an extra half for Canadian content for a total of four stars.

For Canadian readers:
One Winter Night


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CURIOUS GEORGE: a Picture Book Review

February29

Curious George

3.5 star rating

Curious George, first published in English in 1941, was written by Margret Rey and illustrated by her husband Hans (H.A.) Rey. They wrote an additional six Curious George titles published between 1947 and 1966. These are often called the ‘original adventures’, and have been reissued in a 70th anniversary edition.

A second (1984-1993) and third series (1998-present) followed, as well as numerous animated television films, feature length movies and the current PBS TV series.

What can one say about a classic that spawned an entire industry and yet left me feeling somewhat uncomfortable?

When the story was written, it had been little more than half a century since Henry Stanley found David Livingstone in ‘deepest, darkest’ Africa. Much of the continent was still colonized – chiefly by the British, but also by the French, Germans and Portuguese. Movies were still made in which white men were addressed as “bwana” or ‘big boss’.

So the explorer figure of the man in the yellow hat who captures George and takes him aboard ship against his will was a cultural fit. But it made me uneasy.

After George’s adventures in the city, he’s captured again and put into the zoo. “What a nice place for George to live!” I certainly have enjoyed visiting zoos – and still do, and I recognize the role that the world’s zoos have played in protecting some endangered species. Yet, I couldn’t help but think that George had a perfectly ‘nice place to live’ before the man in the yellow hat came along.

Granted, this is the first story, and subsequent adventures (especially those being written today) won’t include the capture, but just the antics of a curious monkey, with whom curious children can no doubt identify. And perhaps it’s not fair to judge yesterday’s stories with today’s sensibilities. Nonetheless, for this first story, beloved classic or not, I’m awarding only three and one-half stars.


For Canadian readers:
Curious George


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DOG IN BOOTS – Picture Book Review

February2

Written by Greg Gormley, illustrated by Robert Angaramo 4.5 star rating

Dog in BootsDog In Boots is a lovable brown and white terrier-type pooch who reads a “brilliant book” about a cat with a truly magnificent pair of boots and thinks he would like the same. Happily (or not), the local shop owner has just such a thing – but our dog finds that perhaps they are not such a good idea after all. After a number of attempts at finding the ideal footwear, Dog finds the perfect paws for his activities.

This is a gentle tale about being happy with what you are that seemed to go over three-year-old Steven’s head, although I quite enjoyed the imaginative uses and problems of various types of footwear.

We both loved the colorful illustrations. Dog is an earnest sweetie who wears his dog heart on his sleeve, and simple emotions on his face. There were just enough details in the pictures (frightened fishes, doggie friends, a curious bird who appeared often) to keep a child’s interest and to provide opportunity for ancillary questions as we read, but not so many as to overwhelm a young listener.

I was particularly tickled by the end papers which showed Dog with his various footwear at the beginning of the book, and, at the back of the book, with an assortment of hats that he might have worn after reading Little Red Riding Hood as the story closed.

Overall, Dog In Boots is a lovely book. (4½)

Buy Dog in Boots at Amazon.com
Buy Dog in Boots at Amazon.ca


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