The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski

THE WHISPER
by Pamela Zagarenski
(HMH Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

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Pamela Zagarenski’s The Whisper, a beautifully illustrated, brilliantly conceived story, will wow readers of all ages who marvel and wonder at the mystery inside the pages of a book.

Our young heroine borrows a book from school that her teacher assures her is magical. As she runs home clutching the treasured tome, a cloud of letters – all the words from the book – spill out behind her. Although she doesn’t see this happen, a beautiful fox carefully collects them all from the air in a delicate, long-handled net.

 

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Interior artwork from The Whisper, written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, HMH Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

 

Finally opening the book, she is puzzled to find that the beautiful pictures are wordless.

It’s just not a book of stories, without any words, she thought.

But a whisper on the wind encourages her to use her imagination, look at the pictures closely, and weave a few simple words into the beginning of a story that is hers alone.

With each page, the girl’s stories become more colorful and complex, demonstrating her growing skill and confidence in her ability to interpret the images. It is an inspiring demonstration for those just beginning to explore ways to “read” and think about wordless books and their use in sprouting imaginary tales.

 

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Interior artwork from The Whisper, written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, HMH Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

 

There is much to praise about Zagarenski’s paintings and imagery, as evidenced by her two prior Caldecott honors. The layers of light, rich color and depth, cleverly paired with repeating symbols that will delight little eyes, make this book perfect to pore over and discuss. Crowns, bees, foxes, a tiny rabbit and a golden orb in many incarnations are tucked here and there as part of each illustration. Imagining how and why they are connected is a delightful exercise in fantasy and storytelling that echo the young heroine’s tale.

 

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Interior artwork from The Whisper, written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, HMH Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

 

After she falls asleep, the girl’s dreams swirl with the stars, winds and gentle creatures in the book, bringing her mysterious and enchanting story full circle. The fox who captured the book’s words in a net re-appears at the end, and makes a special, charming request. The Whisper is a tender book to enjoy with the heart and mind, reminding us that our own stories are the most potent and powerful of all.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of The Whisper from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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Little Critter: Just a Special Thanksgiving by Mercer Mayer

LITTLE CRITTER: JUST A SPECIAL THANKSGIVING
Written and Illustrated by Mercer Mayer
(Harper Festival$4.99, Ages 4-7)

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One of the very first picture books I ever bought for my son was by Mercer Mayer. I love Little Critter’s character:  rambunctious, sweet, and fun-loving – someone who kids of all ages can relate to. Much like other series books I enjoy (The  Berenstain Bears and the Froggy series), Little Critter’s books give us an opportunity to see the central character in different snippets of life. In Just a Special Thanksgiving, we celebrate the holiday alongside Little Critter and learn that, though Thanksgiving activities and events may not go as planned, realizing the spirit of the holiday is what matters.

From the get-go we feel that exciting sense of “Thanksgiving is in the air.” In the classroom, Little Critter and his friends are drawing pilgrims and turkeys. When school is out, he must rush home to change into his turkey costume for the Thanksgiving play. While you can probably guess what his lines are, poor Little Critter forgets them and opts to sing a song.

At the “big Thanksgiving Day Parade” early next morning more surprises from Little Critter are in store for all participants.  Tired from marching, our hero hops on a float proudly waving to his parents who, along with law enforcement and other parade goers, have become quite irate by his actions.

I love how Little Critter’s innocence tugs on our heartstrings and how blissfully unaware he is of the commotion his actions cause. What’s even more touching is the way he tries to “right” his wrongs (particularly in the scenes at the grocery store) which lead to even more disaster. Kids will enjoy the humor implicit in Little Critter’s goof-ups. At the same time, parents will be reminded that, no matter how bad things may seem, our children’s intentions are good; their hearts are in the right place. Little Critter’s excitement with helping cook and serve the meal at the community center reminds us what’s at the heart of the Thanksgiving holiday.

A great book to curl up with your little one-perhaps while the turkey is roasting in the oven! (Includes 20 stickers).

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Shop Indie Bookstores

Good Reads With Ronna is proud to be an IndieBookstores Affiliate. Doing so provides a means for sites like ours to occasionally earn modest fees that help pay for our time, mailing expenses, giveaway costs and other blog related expenses. If you click on an IndieBound link in a post and buy anything, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase supports our efforts and tells us you like the service we’re providing with our reviews, and for that we sincerely thank you.

Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted Birdie Friends! by Jill Esbaum

ELWOOD BIGFOOT: WANTED BIRDIE FRIENDS!
Written by Jill Esbaum 
Illustrated by Nate Wragg
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 4-7)

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In Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted Birdie Friends! all Elwood Bigfoot wants is a friend – preferably a feathered, flittery bird friend! But his earnestly clumsy bigfoot-y manner gets in his way time after time. How can a lonely, large, LOUD Bigfoot get close to his avian amigos-to-be?

Elwood tries the direct approach first, chasing after swooping birds and hollering for the birdies to come back. Alas, they only fly away. His next idea is to live in a tree, where he can be closer to the birds. His dedicated handiwork produces a lovely, log cabin style tree house perched against the mountainside. Surely his new neighbors, the birds, will welcome him.

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Reprinted with permission from Elwood Bigfoot © 2015 by Jill Esbaum, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Nate Wragg.

Alas, the birds seem shy. So Elwood tries to disguise himself, dressing like a bird from head to toe with feathers, beak and feet. Experiencing a modicum of success, Elwood thinks he’s finally about to break the barriers to feathered friendship. He shouts for joy! Alas (once again!) the birdies fly away.

Esbaum’s charming, lyrical text is delightful to read aloud and incorporates intriguing, playful vocabulary. She perfectly captures Elwood’s sense of loneliness in ways that a child can easily connect to, and she conveys his upbeat, hopeful and innovative spirit in appealing ways. While readers see that making friends is not always easy, learning to take the perspective of others is an essential part of the process.

Wragg’s illustrations turn Elwood into a marvelous, huggable furball. With a jaunty fedora and sarfari-style binoculars, Elwood is well-equipped for his bird-watching exploits. A single triangular fang and four-fingered, three toed shagginess add to Elwood’s monstrous appeal. Wragg also turns out an impressive flock of feathered friends throughout the pages, and displays them prominently on the book’s endpages. Whimsical and colorful, the birds’ tiny round eyes and pointy beaks reveal an impressive range of tender and comical emotions.

Elwood Bigfoot : Wanted Birdie Friends! is a sweet tale of patience, persistence and friendship. Young readers may look hard at the birds in the yards and trees around them, wondering if they are among Elwood’s best buddies. Don’t miss this encouraging story about dreams that do come true.

A downloadable activity kit is available here.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted Birdie Friends! from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Best Father’s Day Books Roundup

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

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We really need a Father’s MONTH or even more to celebrate all the amazing things that dads do. That’s why Good Reads With Ronna dedicates this post to fathers everywhere and the kids who love them. Incidentally, this year I noticed a new theme pop up in some of the picture books I’m reviewing. It’s noises, the kinds that dads make. You’ll see what I mean soon.

TadandDadcvr.jpgTad and Dad is written and illustrated by Caldecott Honor winner David Ezra Stein, (Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.95, Ages 3-5). Tad the tadpole loves his dad, lots. He wants to be just like him, whether it’s making singing sounds in an echoing BUUURRPP or splashing sounds on touchdown after reaching new heights by jumping. Littles ones who have this endearing picture book read to them will also relate to Tad the tadpole wanting to spend the night beside his dad on the same lily pad. Trouble is, Tad’s growing up pretty fast and, as he grows, he naturally occupies more space … on his dad’s lily pad!

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Interior artwork from Tad and Dad written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein, Nancy Paulsen Books, ©2015.

That means that at bedtime, when he asks to hop up next to Dad, any movement he makes is bound to be felt by his dad. And lately Dad’s been feeling sleep-deprived and exhausted.

“Tad!” said Dad, “When you jump in my bed, I can’t sleep because you’re always wiggling and poking, kicking and croaking!”

Kinda sounds familiar, huh? But when Tad offers to sleep all by himself on his own lily pad, Dad realizes he actually has more trouble getting to sleep without Tad by his side. This heartwarming tale of froggy affection makes its point effectively in a most delightful Stein way. That means with humor, whimsical artwork and most of all, with love.

IfMyDadWereanAnimalcvr.jpgIf My Dad Were an Animal is written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, (Little Bee Books; $14.99, Ages 4-7). With very few words, this sweet picture book succeeds as a tribute to the many qualities that dads possess. Last month I reviewed If My Mom Were a Bird for Mother’s Day. The big difference in this companion book is that in If My Dad Were an Animal, boys and girls compare their dads to an assortment of animals. Some are like a “great, big, hairy … yak.” Or maybe stylish like a penguin. wise like a hooty owl or strong and burly like an elephant.

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Interior artwork from If My Dad Were an Animal written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books ©2015.

What works so well in this story is that Robaard has included each dad in the spread when the animals are revealed making it easy to show the  comparison with very young children. Her watercolor illustrations are not overly embellished, but don’t need to be because all her creatures are adorable and full of personality.

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Interior artwork from If My Dad Were an Animal written and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, Little Bee Books ©2015.

Parents can engage their youngsters with this tale by inviting them to think up more animals and characteristics they share with dads. The colorful pages of text contrast beautifully with the vast white space Robaard has intentionally left in order to draw attention to the child imitating his or her dad (see above).  All in all, If My Dad Were an Animal is an ideal picture book for Father’s Day and everyday.

DaddySatonaDuckcvr.jpgDaddy Sat on a Duck is written and illustrated by Scott M. Cohn (Little Brown Books for Young Readers; $15.00, Ages 3-6). Read the review, then scroll back up to enter Cohn’s hysterical giveaway here. I deliberately put the giveaway at the top because I absolutely love it and wish I could enter! It’s witty, quirky and seems to target the free range parent just like his debut picture book. The book opens with a *Note to reader: Try making the noises. You won’t be disappointed. And after reading the first two spreads, I dashed off to show my husband that there was someone else with his sense of humor. The fact that they’re both New Yorkers helps, but you don’t have to be from the Big Apple to find yourself laughing out loud at lots of the main character’s lines.

Cohn has created an offbeat picture book that should definitely not be designated a Father’s Day book because it’s simply too funny to take out only once a year for the holiday. In this tale, the narrator, a little girl, keeps hearing the call of the wild (daddy), in other words, sounds such as farts, yawns, or howls that could easily be mistaken for lions, hippos, and other feral creatures big and small.

I was starting to feel like I lived in a zoo.
So I asked my best friend if she felt that way, too.
“Do YOU ever notice wild beasts in your house?”
She said, “Only once” — when her mom saw a mouse.

In reality, she’s hearing the daily noises emanating from her father’s body, noises that eventually she learns to accept as part and parcel of being around her terrific loving dad. In addition to appreciating Cohn’s clever rhyming text, readers should scan his illustrations (created using Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop) several times so as not to miss even the smallest of details. My particular faves are illustrations of Uncle Johnny and Daddy singing and playing bass and guitar to Tom Petty’s Free Fallin,’ a penguin at the piano and Golden Doodle Louie with his shredded toilet paper tube. I’m happy Cohn’s tackled the topic of noises AND smells candidly and comically, and now look forward to what he does in his next book, Daddy Said a Word I Never Heard due out in the fall.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

JANINE.
Written and illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
(Albert Whitman & Company; $16.99, Ages 4-7)

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Janine “is one of a kind” and this delightful picture book full of expressive dialogue and artwork, about a special little girl, portrays her uniqueness thoughtfully and unabashedly. I’m so glad this book’s been written because, while there are a spate of books that deal with kids who feel different, Cocca-Leffler knows first hand about children with disabilities and their differences. Janine. is actually based on her experiences raising her special needs daughter, the titular Janine. While Janine certainly marches to the beat of her own drummer, and adults reading the story might find her quirkiness quite charming, one particular classmate in the book certainly does not. That lack of empathy, along with Janine’s authenticity, is the basis for this tale.

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Interior artwork from Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Albert Whitman & Company, ©2015.

Here’s just a snippet from the book’s very brief description of Janine, because for the most part, Cocca-Leffler lets Janine’s words move the story forward and that works so well.

She reads the dictionary
when others are playing
and listens when no one
thinks she is.

That’s how Janine overhears that a private party is being planned by this self-proclaimed “cool kid” and she’s not on the list of guests.

“Janine. You are STRANGE!
You have to
CHANGE!”

Kids with NLD (nonverbal learning disorder/disability), Asperger’s or high functioning Autism, often may be hyper verbal with amazing memories as Janine is depicted, but can often be lacking in social skills. This can make it difficult fitting in with their typically developing peers. Plus, kids can be cruel and insensitive at this age, like the bully who tells Janine she’s not invited to her party. NOTE: I love the illustration that immediately follows the bully’s nasty pronouncement above. One classmate in a red baseball cap who seems to like Janine, tosses his invitation after witnessing the bully’s hurtful behavior.

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Interior artwork from Janine. by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, Albert Whitman & Company, ©2015.

Ever resourceful, Janine decides to throw her own party …

“and EVERYONE is invited!”

And guess, what? Everyone except the bully wants to go!  With a happy ending like that, it’s easy to see why this book about kindness, and inclusion should be in every classroom and school library. It’s important to note, however, that not all real life situations have such positive outcomes; all the more reason why making available picture books about children with disabilities should be the goal of every school district and school librarian. The sooner we start the conversation about the importance of diversity, whether it’s race, gender or differing abilities, the sooner that bullies will wield less power in the classroom and on the playground and a more tolerant, accepting generation will emerge.

Be sure to read the jacket flap of this book to learn more about Cocca-Leffler’s inspiration for the story and Janine’s commitment to being a “role model to children and adults, encouraging them to focus on abilities, not disabilities.”

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Visit www.JaninesParty.com, created by Cocca-Leffler and Janine as a resource for parents, teachers and students.

Click here to download a Janine. coloring page.

Edmund Unravels by Andrew Kolb

EDMUND UNRAVELS
Written and illustrated by Andrew Kolb
(Nancy Paulsen Books, $16.99, Ages 4-7)

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Edmund Loom, a bright turquoise blue ball of yarn, is filled with bouncy energy and springtime exuberance. From his earliest days when he plip-plopped down the front stairs, he has yearned to explore. His supportive parents, a lovely teal green mother with knitting-needled hair bun and a sturdy blue dad with spectacles, have always patiently reeled him in and rolled him back up.

Edmund tries to “keep it together” by following a steady although boring routine, though grumpily cuddling up with an adorable llama at bedtime. But even little balls of yarn grow up, apparently, and the bigger he gets, the farther away he can roll when unable to resist the “tug of discovery.” One day he unravels into his biggest adventure, satisfying his wanderlust through the city, mountains and desert. Edmund meets new friends, tries new foods, and soars high with excitement until he ultimately feels the gentle pull of homesickness and loneliness that reel him in.

Kolb’s illustrations are colorful, crisp and playful. Edmund comes to life through simple though expressive round black eyes, eyebrows and mouth. A jaunty baseball cap and swirly strand of wooly hair counterbalance his long, ever trailing tail of yarn. The world that Kolb depicts in Edmund’s travels is imaginative and bright, introducing playful kittens, prickly pincushions, and rolls of adhesive tape. The details are fun to pore over, and young readers will get a kick out of the book’s cartoony appeal.

A special shout-out to the EDMUND UNRAVELS book designer for including clever scrawls of long, unwinding yarn on the end pages and a cheerful close-up of Edmund’s smiling mug that dominates the back cover. These give clear indications that this book is a visual delight from start to finish. Also of note is the adorable book trailer which captures Edmund’s upbeat personality and his omnipresent forward-rolling qualities to the tune of a charming wind chime soundtrack.

EDMUND UNRAVELS is filled with sweet whimsy and an endearing message that you will always remember who loves you and where you came from, no matter how far from home you may roll.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of EDMUND UNRAVELS from my library and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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