A brave hero doesn’t always mean a big hero in Nicolò Carozzi’s beautifully worded and illustrated picture book Brave as a Mouse, his debut picture book in the US.
Through simple text and stunning art, Carozzi draws our attention to Mouse’s new friendship with the homeowner’s fish. Mouse asks the fish, “Would you like to play?” and with a simple “YES!” both creatures enjoy each other’s company, swimming together. Mouse blows through a straw, and the fish enjoys jacuzzi-style bubbles.
However, the fun stops when other housepets want to “play.” Three ominous shadows cast on the wall next to the fish’s bowl are plain but powerful images foretelling of the dangers ahead.
As the homeowner’s beloved fat cats encircle the fishbowl, Mouse has a “wild … bold … [and] brave idea” to entice the three to follow him, all the way to the pantry where they gorge themselves on cat food.
While the felines sleep off their big meal, Mouse uses the time to fulfill an even wilder, bolder, and braver idea that includes the help of other mice living in the house. Straight lines, calm, muted colors, and minimalist illustrations keep us focused on the rescue plan. Children and adult readers will enjoy the action-packed adventure as Mouse risks his own safety to protect his new friend. A more subtle, though important theme is the infectious nature of Mouse’s bravery and kindness.
For those interested in quieter books on themes of friendship and compassion as well as those who like a good old fashion story when the good guys win, this picture book will delight again and again.
Robin Newman’s third early chapter book in the wonderful Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series takes us to Ed’s farm as the mini-sized MFIs (Mouse Food Investigators), along with readers, try to solve The Case of The Bad Apples. For kids who crave seeing justice being served, the MFI’s motto, found on the opening end papers, is a rhyming reassurance: “Whatever the food, whatever the crime, we make the bad guys do the time.”
Fans of fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek detective-style fiction will find all they’re looking for in this latest installment featuring Detective Wilcox, a policemouse, and Captain Griswold. Porcini the pig has been poisoned and he believes it’s from the mysterious case of apples anonymously delivered to him. Of course, he finished most of the fruit, but his hefty appetite is nothing new, and likely not the reason he’s so green about the gills (or snout). Surely someone’s out to get him.
Following standard MFI procedure and employing all the relevant vocabulary (defined in notebook paper style spot art) over the course of five chapters, the rodent pair conduct their investigation leaving no pigsty, truck, or stone unturned. To find the culprit, the MFI team must study all the clues and interview a few farm residents whose names arise as suspects. First, there’s Sweet Pea, the piglet next door. Then there’s Herman the rat, and finally, there’s Hot Dog who may provide a missing link to all the evidence. A few red herrings (or apples) thrown into the mix add to the rising tension. Who, the mice wonder, would want to harm Porcini? Could it be any of the animals who Porcini’s accused of stealing his food?
As Wilcox and Griswold collect the evidence they also rely on a cast of characters such as Dr. Alberta Einswine (the best name ever) from Whole Hog Emergency Care, Fowler the Owl, Yogi the Goatee, and in forensics, Dr. Phil, the groundhog. Newman uses wordplay so well that young readers will LOL as they follow the case looking forward to reading whatever clever dialogue or description may appear on the page.
Zemke’sillustrations add to the humor and suspense. There are maps, diversions and, clues aplenty for wannabe Poirots and Marples including me, and yet I still fell for the satisfying surprise ending. The art clearly depicts the action which can help newly independent readers discern the context.
Each book in the Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series can be read as a standalone, but once a child reads one they are going to want to read the other two. Just the facts. I recommend The Case of The Bad Apples for beginning readers, reluctant readers, and for anyone who wants a fun, pun-filled farm and food-focused caper that will keep them on their toes (or hooves).
Click here to order a copy of The Case of The Bad Apples. e Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE Written by Vivian Kirkfield Illustrated by Jill Weber (Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
I’m always happy to welcome a new picture book with an original take on the holiday into the mix of Passover stories. Today I’m reviewing Vivian Kirkfield’s charming Pippa’s Passover Plate with illustrations by Jill Weber so you’ll have time to pick up a copy to read before and during your family’s upcoming Seders.
The premise of this read aloud tale told in rhyme is that Pippa the mouse cannot locate her Seder plate, a plausible predicament even for humans! The pressure’s on because this concerned pip squeak must find the plate before sundown and the start of her Seder (the traditional annual ritual where people of Jewish faith gather with friends and family to eat, read, share stories and celebrate the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt).
Kirkfield clearly has fun with the verse and her meter is spot-on throughout the book:
“Pippa climbs up on a chair, stretches up–the cupboard’s bare! Teetor-totter–hold on tight! Weeble-wobble–what a fright!”
At the start of her search, Pippa asks Sphinx the cat if it’s seen the plate. After no luck there, Pippa is told to try Snake. Each time she must approach an ominous new creature, Pippa is filled with dread, and the following repeating and repeatable refrain …
“Quiver! Quaver! Shiver! Shake!”
… adds to the page turn appeal of the story since the little mouse must face her fears in order to find the missing plate. Her potential predators, however, don’t seem to want to do her harm.
When Owl wisely suggests that Pippa “question Golda Fish” (great name btw), it seems an easier, less scary task to undertake. Weber’s wonderful artwork here in addition to elsewhere in the book complements the text where Golda is described as quite enchanted with herself. Since a mirror isn’t available, a brass Seder plate in which she can admire her reflection is apparently the next best thing. I love Weber’s palate of all shades of yellow, a cheerful color to counter any feelings of danger when Pippa meets Sphinx, Snake and Owl. How the plate landed in the lake is up for debate so why not ask your child? I’m sure they’ll spin some wild tales. The good news is that Pippa can now prepare the Seder.
No longer fearful of the animals, Pippa invites them all to her Seder and the story ends with a frame-worthy illustration of the Seder plate, and the special food that goes on it. I do wish there had been one page of back matter that included a description of what each of the six food items represents in relation to Passover. Nonetheless that’s easily found online and the majority of readers will know and can explain that to their children. For teachers planning to read Pippa’s Passover Plate to a class, I recommend having this information on hand for inquiring minds. It also couldn’t hurt to include info on what matzo is and why a piece of it gets hidden during the Seder since it’s mentioned on the second to last page when the friends are gathered together to celebrate the holiday.
I recommend this adorable picture book which provides the perfect opportunity to discuss Passover traditions, especially for little ones ages 3-6 who will find Pippa’s plight engaging and most enjoyable. Happy Passover!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Find a Passover book review from last year by clicking here.
THE CASE OF THE POACHED EGG: A WILCOX & GRISWOLD MYSTERY Written by Robin Newman Illustrated by Deborah Zemke (Creston Books; $15.95, Ages 4-8)
You’re eggspecting me to make yolks about this book, right? So here goes!
Eggceptionally funny, Robin Newman’s second Wilcox & Griswold mystery called The Case of the Poached Egg, will completely satisfy fans who’ve been hungry for a new installment following the duo’s Kirkus-starred first caper, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake.
The trench coat garbed Captain Griswold and the narrator Detective Wilcox are mice on the move. MFIs (Missing Food Inspectors) have to be. It’s an animals steal food kind of world. Always seeking justice for the over 100 creatures on Farmer Ed’s Farm, this pair will stop at nothing to crack a case. So, after taking an urgent call from Henrietta Hen upset over the apparent egg-napping of her “precious Penny,” Wilcox summons his superior to accompany him to the crime scene.
This 48-paged early chapter book not only breaks down the tale into six easily readable chapters, it also cleverly divides actions/events into time and place. For example, Wilcox and Griswold begin their investigation at 10:30am, at the Chicken Coop. There they not only encounter a distraught Henrietta, but an unusually written ransom note too. The game is afoot! I mean an egg! I mean, read on!
The determined MFIs uncover a motive and eventually a culprit, just in the nick of time, using the process of elimination, mounting clues such as a bunch of farm animals oversleeping, a red goose herring (!), thorough questioning of witnesses and possible suspects, and hand writing analysis. All this, which takes place against the backdrop of Farmer Ed’s Big Speggtacular, plus, the cast of colorful characters caught up in the shenanigans including Gabby Goose, Colonel Peck, Miss Rabbit and Porcini Pig makes for amusing dialogue as readers try to solve the mystery along with Wilcox and Griswold. And though, as an adult, I solved the case early on, kids will eat up the chance to play detective and read between the lines, something the format of this clever police procedural actively encourages.
I’m always pulled into a story when there’s a map included, and illustrator Zemke’s created a super one. Her expressive illustrations work wonderfully to add action and emotion to this humorous and accessible story, while also making the thought of reading a chapter book not as daunting for the younger crowd! NOTE: Parents who may read this book aloud should not miss the legal disclaimer on the front endpapers or the author’s note beginning with “No eggs, chickens, geese or roosters were harmed …” I’m ready for another serving of Wilcox & Griswold, yes, ready indeed!
BRICK BY BRICK Illustrated by Giuliano Ferri (minedition/Michael Neugebauer Publishing; $12.99, Ages 3-5)
Brick by Brick, a twenty-two-page wordless board book by Giuliano Ferri, is about building bridges and removing barriers. On the opening page, we meet a cute little mouse who innocently plucks a flower from a wall. A brick tumbles, revealing a glimpse at an enticing world beyond. The mouse carries that block off the page and is joined in, one by one, by other farmyard animals.
Together, they deconstruct the wall, progressively showing the reader more of what lies beyond their border. When their view is clear, they discover jungle animals separated from them by a body of water. Brick by brick, the animals build a bridge connecting their lands.
In Brick by Brick, Giuliano Ferri has crafted a simply important message. Young children will delight in the adorable animal characters. The clever use of space replaces a seemingly endless monochrome wall with a colorful landscape that invites exploration. Beyond the blinding bland whiteness exists the rest of their world.
Giuliano Ferri is a graduate of the Urbino Institute of Art where he specialised in animation and the award winning illustrator of children’s books. His work has been exhibited at Bologna International Children’s Book Fair for more than a decade, and in museums around the world. Mr. Ferri also works with young people with disabilities, using animation and comic theater as therapy. He is illustrator of Luke and the Little Seed, Nino’s Magical Night, and The Snowball from minedition.
Who?,What?,When?, and Where?: Four fabulous board books from the late Caldecott Honor Winner Leo Lionni are simple yet oh so satisfying for babies to toddlers. (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014; $5.99, Ages 0-3)
It’s easy to see Lionni’s Modernist roots and graphic design background when you turn the pages of any of these four books. In Who?,What?, When? and Where?, his signature torn paper artwork combined with graphic elements are visually delightful. The gray mice look as though they were created from boiled wool, and fans of Lionni’s classic, Frederick, will find these board books a perfect intro to his body of work.
With just 16 pages, these four question-themed board books are asking to be shared with your youngsters so they can explore the world with beginning concepts. The parent and child mice first look at different animals in Who? including a fluffy squirrel, a slow turtle, a hungry rabbit, a curious chicken, a big owl and a sharp porcupine. In What? there’s a bit more humor infused in the marriage of artwork and text as little ones are asked to guess what objects they’re looking at: “Let’s make a call.” (a phone), “Do you see what I see?” (a pair of eyeglasses) and a chuckle inducing, “Dinner time!” has to be cheese. In When?the seasons and times of day are featured and I’ll admit this one is my personal favorite because the images are especially rich and colorful, particularly for fall. I also like that daytime and nighttime are included in the mix. Some of the questions posed are:
“When does it snow?”
“When do the flowers bloom?”
“When do the stars shine?”
In Where? it’s all about location, location, location. And kids’ll get a kick out of all the different places where the mice can be found. Whether they’re up high, popping out or squeezed inside, Lionni’s mice are cute and curious, just like toddlers. These short, sweet, and accessible board books are an appealing and interesting approach to early concepts.
⭐︎Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, The Horn Book & Booklist
Hermelin, the Detective Mouseas told to Mini Grey makes me ache for my childhood days in London. With pictures of terraced houses and characters named Lady Chumley-Plumley and Captain Potts, the book transports the reader across the pond and squarely to England.
The cover of this picture book caught my eye straight away with its image of an old-fashioned typewriter with Hermelin standing boldly atop with flag staff in paw. The illustrations are full of fun-to-spot details, such as candy wrappers, book covers, creatively placed paper clips, and cereal boxes. The variously placed text engages the reader by drawing the eye across the page, up and down, and to newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries, notes, and messages. This picture book has a lot going on in both the visuals and the story.
The residents of Offley Street need a detective! Various items, including a teddy bear, reading glasses, goldfish, and diamond bracelet, have mysteriously vanished. The good folks are at a loss. Who can help them? Help comes in an unexpectedly small package: a mouse in a cheese box. Hermelin (named after the Czech cheese) makes himself right at home in the attic of number 33, where he finds an old-fashioned typewriter. As he locates each of the missing items, Hermelin uses the typewriter to communicate with the residents.
Dear Dr. Parker,
You will find your reading glasses in chapter 26 of Medical Monthly (infectious diseases) which is at the bottom of your bathtub. I’m afraid it may be a bit soggy by now.
The grateful residents want to thank the elusive detective, so they invite Hermelin to a “thank-you party in your honor … Everybody wants to meet you!” But a detective mouse is not what they expect and havoc ensues. Will Hermelin be recognized as more than just an “unclean, unhygienic, unwanted” pest? Your child will enjoy this book to the end!
That grumpy old bear and his faithful friend, Mouse, are off to my favorite place, the library.
Bear believes the trip is “… completely unnecessary…” and points to his fireplace mantle where he has seven books, including one on pickles. Still … he did promise Mouse he’d go.
At the library, Mouse unsuccessfully attempts to find Bear a book he’ll enjoy. After being shushed for being too loud, the increasingly irritable Bear is about to go when he hears the librarian reading a story. When Mouse suggests they leave, Bear hollers, “QUIET VOICES IN THE LIBRARY!” The librarian invites them to the story time. Enthralled, both stay and they return home with seven books including The Very Brave Bear and the Treasure of Pickle Island.
As with her early Bear and Mouse books, Becker’s story is humorous, well paced, and rich in vocabulary. It makes a rollicking read-aloud and can be used by adults to engage and inspire both young readers and older writers with word choices like bellowed, squished, tucked-away, and extravagant.
With colorful watercolor, ink, and gouache illustrations, Denton wonderfully captures Bear and Mouse’s contrasting personalities and creates reassuring settings with brief and expressive strokes.
My K-3 classes all had a ball with this picture book and were engaged throughout the story. The K-1 classes, able to “read” the characters’ facial expressions and body language, discussed feelings. The 1st-2nd graders decided that this book teaches people that they can find great books in libraries and that it’s important to use “quiet voices” in the library.
FLASHLIGHT BY LIZI BOYD IS REVIEWED BY RONNA MANDEL
Lizi Boyd’s wordless picture book, Flashlight (Chronicle Books, $15.99, Ages 2-6) makes darkness delightful, full of fun creatures to be found by a little boy camping out in the woods.
Just one flashlight shining upwards highlights bats, a surprised looking owl and raccoons all hidden in their normally pitch black homes. Shining downwards and watch out! Some skunks are nearby. Boyd’s artwork of simple grays and whites and a touch of color creates the woodsy environment suddenly brought to life by the beam of the boy’s flashlight. There’s a chalkboard quality about the illustrations that will appeal to all ages. And it wasn’t until I turned to the second enchanting spread that I noticed the clever die cuts revealing new nighttime treasures with every turn of the page.
Without words, and only images to steer the story forward, this book enables parents to take advantage of a wonderful opportunity to make up a narrative or listen as youngsters invent their own tale. Boyd’s sense of humor shines, too, as the woods get more and more full of animals and then the little boy trips, only to have his flashlight picked up by one of the forest creatures, then another and more still. This unexpected yet welcome turn of events is sure to please even the littlest of readers. It will make the next camping trip your family takes a most looked-forward-to adventure.
Buy this book, add an adorable roaring tiger flashlight or even a mini MagLite, and you’ve got yourself one birthday present that will light up the face of any child that receives it.
Maybe you thought that Charles Lindbergh was the first pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean without a stopover when he made history in 1927 flying the Spirit of St. Louis, a single engine aircraft. But even earlier in the 20th century and certainly less well known than the human air travel pioneer, an ambitious mouse whose name may or may not be Lindbergh (although author/illustrator Kuhlmann was clearly inspired by this American hero), reached America from Germany in very much the same way.
While the curious little mouse was holed up somewhere for months on end reading “the great books written by humans,” a new mechanical contraption, the mousetrap, has caused our rodent’s friends to supposedly flee to safety in a faraway land where a huge statue stood to greet all who journeyed there. We sadly know better than to think they escaped the fate of the traps’ strong springs. The human world, it seems, could also be dangerous. Eager to reach America from his home in Hamburg in order to reunite with all his mice friends, the mouse hatches a plan, part derring-do and part pure brilliance, that involves a lot of moving pieces and a lot more luck.
Kuhlmann’s imaginative picture book, with its evocative detailed illustrations of a bygone era when humans were inventing and experimenting, is told through the small, inquisitive eyes of a well-read mouse who will stop at nothing to travel to the “New World.”
His attempts to leave town via sea are thwarted by harbor cats guarding the ships. In the safety of sewer tunnels, however, the mouse draws inspiration from bats who “looked like mice, with tiny eyes and huge ears. But they flew with powerful black wings.”
Since it was the age of invention and innovation, the industrious mouse tries to recreate a winged device to help him fly, but his first attempt flops. His next effort, using steam power, brings him notoriety but that flying machine fails as well. Yet, despite his crash, the mouse still makes headlines, “Hamburg’s Flying Mouse Spotted.” Now the city’s owls are on alert becoming a new menace to avoid as he scavenges for materials to use in the building of his plane.
With the enemy close at hand, little Lindbergh spies the clock tower of a church to use as a runway for his maiden ocean voyage, but can he escape the clutches of the threatening owls long enough to get airborne and stay aloft for the duration of the arduous journey?
“Lindbergh is a story I wish I read when I was young,” says Kuhlmann. “Picture books at the time did not deliver a real adventurous thrill. So, I designed Lindbergh to evoke a sense of childlike adventure with a serious undertone. There is detail to discover in every picture and something for everyone on each page.” I could not have said it any better myself. Please see for yourself by taking flight with Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse. With its informative back matter on top of its wondrous artwork and inspirational story, there’s not a better way to fuel your child’s imagination than with this stunning picture book from debut author/illustrator Kuhlmann.
Maisy’s Placemat Doodle Book by Lucy Cousins is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.
My youngest daughter adores a certain mouse by Lucy Cousins, so Maisy’s Placemat Doodle Book(Candlewick Press, 2014; $11.99, Ages 3 and up) was a huge hit with her. With over 50 activities, it’s perfect for doodling, coloring, drawing, and, most importantly, using imagination. Each of the pages has a prompt and an illustration to inspire little hands to get busy with crayons, markers, or pencils. For example, your child can give these mugs some pretty patterns or can help draw some food that she [Tallulah] would like to eat. The prompts help children learn or reinforce colors, patterns, shapes and content knowledge.
As with all Maisy books, the illustrations are splendid in their simplicity, and Maisy’s friends are there to join the fun. Draw lots of teeth for Charley so he can crunch on this tasty carrot. Make his shirt striped. Panda has been eating tomato soup. Draw the TERRIBLE MESS he has made on his face and everywhere else!
The pages are 12.5” x 9”, so there is plenty of space to color. When we’ve been on our way to dine out, I’ve torn pages from the book and taken them with us. That way, my daughter has her placemat(s) at the diner, as well. In her words, “You could color it, look at it, and it’s fun.”
Ruff Ruffman is the lovable canine host of the PBS Kids’ show, Fetch! My daughters greatly enjoy watching that educational and fun program. In that vein, Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman: Doggie Duties presents the reader with Ruff’s latest dilemma, a broken toilet. What’s a desperate dog to do?! Too proud to use a litter box, Ruff decides he must learn how to make a space toilet. After all, if NASA can do it, why can’t he?!
Fetch!’s colorful cast of characters, including the feline show supervisor, Blossom, and Ruff’s assistant, the mouse Chet, join Ruff for his adventure. Complete with a science activity on how to clean dirty water with a filter, this book is sure to please and teach.
See how one tiny mouse’s life changes from cats, claws, and sewers, to ribbons, sequins, and roses in this beautifully written and illustrated picture book, Toe Shoe Mouse (Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 4-8) written by Jan Carr, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell, and reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.
After being chased through the sewers of the city, a mouse finds himself at the ballet on a comfy velvety cushion. He enjoys the music and dance so much, that he decides to stay…until a patron claims his seat, and a chase for the little mouse ensues. Luckily, for our adorable rodent friend, he can squeeze into places no human can, and is able to narrowly escape sword-wielding soldiers by squeezing through a small space and into a room. Tuckered out from his recent close calls, he snuggles down into a “… small, satin crevice. It was just the right size for hiding and was padded with a soft bed of lamb’s wool,” and falls asleep.
When he wakes up, little Toe Shoe Mouse discovers he’s in the dressing room of a graceful ballerina, Celeste, who he immediately begins to secretly court for her friendship. But, our narrator is a timid fellow, and flees when he comes nose to nose with his flexible object of his infatuation. A run-in with a broom-batting custodian and then a pack of rats, has the mouse running back to the safety of his pink satin bed. The bed (a toe shoe) is missing. Instead he finds a sweet treat and an enduring, albeit unlikely, friendship with someone who shares his love of music and dance.
Toe ShoeMouse is right on pointe with artwork by Jennifer A. Bell, rendered in pencil then colored digitally in a soft romantic palette, sure to please ballerinas of all ages. The writing is as exquisite a composition as befits a ballet. The dance of friendship … timeless. It should be noted that Toe Shoe Mouse is wordier than many current picture books, but in a good way. Jan Carr’s writing is reminiscent of the late great Beatrix Potter. Bravo!