Starla Jean – Which Came First: The Chicken or the Friendship?is the first in a new early chapter book series by author Elana K. Arnold. Divided into four chapters and written in first-person, the book begins with Starla Jean and her father going to the park where Starla Jean happens upon a chicken. Her father tells her, “If you can catch it, you can keep it” not believing that she actually will. But Starla Jean can do anything she sets her mind to! So, of course, she does catch the chicken and they take it home. She names her Opal Egg, so the chicken will feel more comfortable and know they don’t want to eat her “because you don’t give a name to your dinner.” Back home Mom is not too pleased although baby sister Willa eventually benefits from Opal Egg.
However, the big question remains: if Starla Jean found a chicken, does that mean someone lost a chicken? The family puts up ‘Found’ signs to locate her owner but when the chicken’s owner does show up, does that mean Starla Jean will have to say goodbye to her new friend?
A. N. Kang’sillustrations are crisp and plentiful on every page, encouraging early readers who are attempting to read this book on their own. Humor is also abundant in each picture, whether it’s showing a chicken taking a dust bath or Opal Egg wearing one of Willa’s diapers, an idea Starla Jean has to satisfy her mother’s complaint against her.
Much loved and accepted by his more colorful friends, Mo is the one who, in time, begins to feel different. He finds no pleasure playing hide-and-seek and he doesn’t have dazzling plumes like his pals.
With their encouragement, he often shrugs off his self-doubt. That is until a sign announcing The Annual Dance in The Rain event, the biggest day in the jungle, reinforces Mo’s feeling of being different. He can’t have his blues brightened at the Color Salon, or find a reason to shop at the Bird Boutique like all the others. To him his bird feathers are boring.
When he feels down, Mo’s friends continue to build him up with caring words like “Colors don’t make the bird!”, “You’re still a peacock!” and “Go, Mo, Go!” Does it help? Temporarily. Mo knows he lacks those bright, bold, beautiful feathers of his peacock peers. But when a dark storm on the night of dance makes it impossible for anyone to see, and the peacocks are tripping over each other’s trains and in a general fowl mood, Mo, watching the action from a distance, realizes he actually does possess something special. His bright and brilliant glowing white feathers light up the darkness and the dance. The night’s festivities are illuminated, and fantastic, even for Mo!
Now that everyone can see, Mo, at last, sees something too—that what he had all along that made him different is what makes him unique and wonderful. Singh’s story about the power of friends and a supportive community is delightful and will lift readers’ spirits as they watch Mo’s spirits rise and shine. I love how Singh introduces us to a character so beloved by his friends who at first is unable to see his own self-worth while everyone else can.
Adding to the inspiring quality of Singh’s tale are Fizer Coleman’s lush illustrations in jewel tones created digitally with traditionally painted gouache and watercolor textures. Together they offer readers not only a charming and visually appealing read, but a helpful one in regards to social and emotional development as well. It’s great for parents, teachers, and librarians to have such a positive picture book celebrating diversity and differences for this age group. The book concludes with interesting back matter about peacocks—the national bird of India and features “a fact sheet on these beautiful creatures, their environment, their behaviors, and more!” Did you know that a group of peacocks is called a party? Well, party on now with Mo and company in Birds of a Feather.
It’s that time of year again when we review the best back-to-school books. For 2019 there are many so we’re going to present them over several days.
FLIGHT SCHOOL Written and illustrated by Lita Judge (Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)
Award-winning author illustrator Lita Judge’s sweet story is now available in board book format and is as charming as ever, and Penguin is just as precious.
There are all kinds of schools but one thing they have in common is that people, or in this case, birds, attend so they can learn things. Enter Penguin. He’s come to Flight School to learn to fly. The teacher tries to point out that Penguin, who claims to have “the soul of an eagle” is a penguin and therefore cannot take to the skies like his classmates. Penguin remains unconvinced.
Attempt after funny attempt, the persevering Penguin fails at flying while his classmates “took to the wind.” He is heartbroken and considers giving up. Fortunately for him, Flamingo figures out a way to get the bird soaring … even if it’s not a permanent solution and that suits Penguin just fine. With its adorable, expression-filled art and upbeat message, Flight School is a reminder of how rewarding it can be to follow your dreams and how friends can help.
Bunny and his forest friends are back for more good times in Bunny’s Book Club Goes to School. In this 40-page picture book, Bunny’s library buddy, Josie, confides in her animal pal that school starts the following week and she’s worried she won’t make any friends.
Bunny hatches a plan to go to Josie’s school to be a friend for her and along the way he runs into Porcupine. Porcupine wants to come with Bunny so the two carry on toward Josie’s school. As the pair journey on, the group gets larger as more and more forest friends want to join in.
Soon there’s Bunny, Porcupine, Bear, Bird, Mouse, Raccoon, Frog, Squirrel and Mole. Nine buddies for Josie. As they hunt for Josie, first Squirrel, then Bird, Mouse and Bear become distracted in various classrooms. I can’t blame them. The basketball game, the music room, and cafeteria were indeed tempting places to be, but Bunny is determined to find his friend.
With everyone gone, (yes, Porcupine “dipped into the art room, and now he was stuck”), Bunny carries on by himself. Alone in the school library, Bunny is impressed. He is eventually joined by the gang. They see Josie through the library windows enjoying her classmates at the playground. When the critters head outside, the fun multiplies. They, too, easily make friends and are happy for Josie, and for themselves.
Silvestro’s hopeful and humorous story is a great one to share at back-to-school time. Mai-Wyss’s lovely water-color illustrations depict a diverse group of children where all look welcome. I noticed a wheelchair ramp in front of the school and a young boy in a wheelchair playing ball with a friend. Bunny and his furry friends provide a gentle reminder for any child starting school that quite often they’re not the only ones interested in making new friends.
It is so easy and entertaining to read Chris Van Dusen’sIf I Built a School, which follows the first in the series, If I Built a House. Between the nod the artwork makes to the “Jetson’s” TV show and the rollicking rhyme that accompanies every spread, I could easily see children re-reading this picture book again and again every back-to-school season.
Jack, the picture book’s narrator, has a fantastic imagination and tells the playground aide, Miss Jane, just what type of school he’d build instead of the plain school where we first meet him.
This school is beyond your wildest dreams and I’m not sure I’d get any work done there because I’d be too busy zooming through clear transportation tubes from towering pod building to towering pod building. Then there are the floating “hover desks” that resemble bumper cars, one of my favorite amusement park rides. Holograms of historical figures teach lessons and in gym the basketball court is a trampoline! At lunchtime, well you’ll just have to see for yourself, but it’s like a robotic automat that serves up any type food, “simple or weird—from PB & jelly to squid lightly seared.”
I pored over every single spread so as not to miss a single thing Van Dusen designed. That includes a sweet blue-nosed, black and white pup who features in almost every illustration along with several disabled characters, one a child in a wheelchair and the other a dog with wheels supporting his back end. The gym and recess illustrations are terrific and, together with younger readers, parents can read the story aloud then help point out all the different activities kids can get up to. If you’ve got a child with an active imagination or one who’s looking for STEAM inspiration, you’ve come to the right book!
See Chris at the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, GA on Saturday, August 31st. And check out his blog to find out about September visits that may be close to where you live.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Here’s a link to last year’s roundup of the best back-to-school books 2018.
Everyone’s favorite, Tucker, is back in Tucker Digs Easter! This adorable white dog is excited about the arrival of spring “when there’s lots of soft dirt for digging!” In fact, he’s such a pro at digging all kinds of holes to hide his bones and toys that it’s no surprise when the Easter Bunny recruits him to help dig holes for the big Easter egg hunt. But what happens after the pair dig and hide so well that the children cannot find any eggs? Then it’s Tucker to the rescue to dig, dig, dig again to find those well hidden eggs and bring smiles to all the children’s faces. This 28 page board book is a great way to make new Tucker fans while getting youngsters excited about the upcoming holiday.
The Easter Egg Written and illustrated byJan Brett (G.P. Putnam’s Sons; $8.99, Ages 3-5)
Do you love Jan Brett? Then you’ll be delighted The Easter Egg is now available in board book format with a gorgeous foldout spread adding to this book’s appeal. Hoppi is going to decorate his “first-ever Easter egg!” and he wants it to be extra special. Searching for ideas, Hoppi visits various friends for inspiration. Everyone is so helpful and eager to assist him, offering super suggestions and samples. But everything looks so hard to do. It’s only when Hoppi spots a fallen blue robin’s egg that he realizes what he must do. After caring for the egg and eventually befriending the baby robin, Hoppi’s good deed is rewarded by the Easter Bunny in the most satisfying way. As always, Brett’s artwork is a treat to behold. Easter-themed borders surround each sturdy page and pictures of Hoppi’s rabbit friends busy creating their egg masterpieces hug the sides. Be sure also to point out to children all the robin activity woven into each border at the top of almost every page because that’s a whole other story in itself!
Now a charming 32 page board book, The Story of The Easter Bunny transports readers to what appears to be a quaint English village filled with thatch roofed cottages and cobblestone streets. It’s here that “,,, a round old couple were making Easter eggs.” As they dutifully toiled away, their little rabbit watched. He watched until he learned their tasks by heart so that one day, when the round old couple overslept, the little rabbit knew just what he had to do. The tables turned and now the round old couple were helping their little rabbit until one day they were simply too old to continue. Afraid that the village children would find him out, the little rabbit moved to “… a shadow-filled wood nearby.” There, with help from his friends, he carried on the tradition he had learned so well and to this day the Easter Bunny continues to spread cheer by delivering his baskets to children everywhere. Sharing this store requires carefully studying the stunning spreads so as not to miss a single detail Lambert’s included. I think some yummy chocolate should be required to accompany very reading!
LET ME FINISH! Written by Minh Lê Illustrated by Isabel Roxas (Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, Ages 4-8)
is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
With its colorfully eye-catching and engaging cover, exhuberant endpages, and enthusiastic speech bubbles, Let Me Finish!by Minh Lê with art by Isabel Roxas,thrums with an energy that practically propels the book into young readers’ hands.
Our unnamed protagonist is a reader extraordinaire. Sure, his over-sized red eyeglasses are one clue, but so is his broad, contented smile as he settles under a tree to enjoy his new book in peace and quiet. Alas! Three jabbering birds swoop down to chatter enthusiastically about the book’s ending, thus spoiling the surprise for our hero. He politely asks them to hold their commentary next time until he’s done, and heads home to select a different title – one he’s “been meaning to read forever.”
This time it’s a bear who pops in, revealing the ending much to the reader’s consternation. And those pesky birds are back too, chirping in with even more spoilers. “Oh no!” moans our bespectacled main character, who returns home and joyfully discovers that a new book has just been delivered to his front door. Will he finally be able to read in peace, or does someone spill the beans once again?
Let Me Finish!is a real page turner, enticing us to keep flipping and uncover what will happen next. With increasing text size and ever-bolder page spreads, this tale cleverly depicts the mounting angst of the young reader who just wants to enjoy his books. The zany menagerie of talking birds and beasts is a color-filled fantasy, unbound by rules of geography, gravity or nature. It’s a wacky, delightful dilemma for the boy, who demonstrates superhero skills and determination to finish his story.
Roxas’ vivid, softly textured images are tightly woven with Lê’s text and packed with detail. Words written with a scribbly crayon effect add greatly to the kid-appeal, as does the variety of cartoony chase spreads that never become monotonous. There’s a meta-twist or two at the end to keep young ones musing about the story within a story and invites re-reading from multiple perspectives.
You might want to read Let Me Finish! on your own, but it would certainly be a good one to share with friends. Just don’t give away the ending!
Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of Let Me Finish! which I won in a blog giveaway and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
If you read this blog often you’ll certainly know we’re big Mac Barnett fans and now we’re spreading the word that we’ve added Jen Corace to our list of faves.
Telephone, the schoolyard game so beloved by generations of kids, has been playfully reimagined and reaches new heights of humor when birds on a telephone wire pass along a message. You know the game, a simple sentence, in this case “Tell Peter: Fly home for dinner,” is changed by each consecutive messenger until it’s unrecognizable.
The hilarity comes not only from the misunderstandings, but from Corace’s artistic interpretation of the tale. My favorite spreads are of an acrophobic turkey, “Tell Peter: I’m too high up on this wire,” which in turn gets misinterpreted by a fire fearing bird with “Tell Peter: Something smells like fire!”
Kids are going to love how each bird on the telephone wire hears the message based on his or her own particular interests. The variety of birds and their hobbies are beautifully illustrated by Corace. Don’t miss all the details she’s so carefully created such as the shadows of the birds in the first spread and the way neighbors seem to also be sharing news.
The picture book’s theme of communication and listening versus hearing lends itself well to a discussion with children about how our own experiences and feelings can play a huge role in what we hear, thought we heard or want to hear. Of course Barnett gets it right by saving the wise old owl until just before the very end. After hearing the sheer nonsense Peter’s mom’s original message has become, the owl’s able to cool, calm and collectedly straighten things out.
So in a word, or a few, tell your children to read this book or better yet, read it to them. Pass it on!