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Can World Cup Aspirations be Found Here? The Field by Baptiste Paul

THE FIELD
Written by Baptiste Paul
Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 Cover illustration from The Field

 

“is a debut masterpiece of collaboration and skill,” says reviewer Ozma Bryant.

In a friendly game of soccer (futbol), the magic of not only the sport but the players involved, comes into brilliant light splayed across the pages of The Field, a debut picture book by Baptiste Paul.

 

The Field written by Baptiste Paul int. art by Jacqueline Alcántara

Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

With a tropical rainstorm threatening the game, the players band together, solidifying their connection through love of playing ball and sportsmanship. Challenges such as the weather won’t intrude on this precious time together. The story, I might add,  is really about a group of kids—the “main character” is never mentioned by name but she’s on all the pages.

 

Int. illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara from The Field written by Baptiste Paul

Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

My favorite moment is when one of the opposing players is knocked down, and our main character, in her white jersey #3, reaches her hand out to him on the muddy ground asking, “Ou byen? You okay?” He responds, “Mwen byen. I’m good.” You can practically reach out and touch the splattered mud and rain that splashes across the pages as the players muscle on through, seeing the game to completion.

The sun creeps back out as the game continues, even as Mamas call the players home. Hearing a firm command “Vini, abwezan! Come now!” the children end the game then go their separate ways to rest up and rejuvenate for a new day of play.

 

Int. illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara from The Field written by Baptiste Paul

Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

Caked with mud and filth, children slip into tubs of warm water, smiling …  reveling in the magic that is a game well played. Dreams of new games and friendship forming float overhead, as the field lingers even in sleep.

Alcántara’s gorgeous art propels the reader forward with spare language infused with Creole words from the author’s native home in the Caribbean. The author of this amazing story explains in the back matter that Creole is rarely written, mostly spoken, and so new words are constantly being added or old ones modified in this language. A Creole Glossary is also included.

One of my dear friends hails from Haiti, and speaks Creole. He was the initial reason I was excited to read this book and learn from it. One of the first things I learned from him was that soccer was also ‘futbol’. When I saw the young girl on the cover, I wanted to put this book into his young daughter’s hands immediately. I must ask if she plans to watch the FA Cup this weekend!

I am so thankful for this incredible book and hope to share it with many readers who can also identify with its themes of friendship, connection, teamwork and not giving up in the face of adversity.

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Kirkus

Click here for educator and librarian resources.

Read another review by Ozma Bryant here.

 

Dude! written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Dan Santat

 

DUDE!

Word by Aaron Reynolds (as noted on cover!)

Art by Dan Santat

(A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Cover illustration from Dude! by Aaron Reynolds and Dan Santat

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus

Aaron Reynolds (Creepy Carrots, a Caldecott Honor winner) channels his inner dude to bring us Dude! a one-word, wickedly funny 40-page picture book featuring a beaver and platypus who go surfing. The ingenuity of this book is how the inflections of one word carry the story line.

 

Int1 from Dude! by Aaron Reynolds and Dan Santat

Interior artwork from Dude! written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Dan Santat, A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press ©2018.

 

Kids will delight in this amusing friendship story that includes bird poop and ice cream—not together, of course. Dude! can be joyfully read aloud by all ages, encouraging the reader to act out the word with enthusiasm.

 

Int2 from Dude! by Aaron Reynolds and Dan Santat

Interior spread from Dude! written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Dan Santat, A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press ©2018.

 

Int3 from Dude! by Aaron Reynolds and Dan Santat

Interior artwork from Dude! written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Dan Santat, A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press ©2018.

 

The no-trees-were-killed digital art by Dan Santat (The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, Caldecott Medal winner) adds lively and colorful action to the text. Each character’s facial expression captures the moment. And, if you’ve ever wondered how a shark can wear a pair of swimming trunks, you’ll find the answer here.

 

Int4 from Dude! by Aaron Reynolds and Dan Santat

Interior artwork from Dude! written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Dan Santat, A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press ©2018.

 

Beyond the text and illustrations, this book can be an opening for a conversation about the ability to interpret vocal nuances and facial expressions. Or, Dude, just let the book add a scoop of fun to your day.

•Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Rabbit & Possum by Dana Wulfekotte

RABBIT & POSSUM
Written and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
(Greenwillow/Harper Collins Publishers, $17.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

RABBIT & POSSUM cover artwork by Dana Wulfekotte

 

What goes up, must come down in Rabbit & Possum, a playful woodland adventure story from debut picture book author/illustrator Dana Wulfekotte.

 

RABBIT & POSSUM interior artwork by Dana Wulfekotte

Interior artwork from RABBIT & POSSUM written and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte, Greenwillow Books ©2018.

 

Rabbit has been busy all morning, preparing for her good friend Possum to visit her burrow. Expressive and flop-eared, she’s disappointed but not discouraged to discover that Possum is still sound asleep. Nothing Rabbit tries will rouse Possum until there is a suspicious rustling in the bushes. “DID YOU HEAR THAT?” cries Possum upon waking, and he sprints up a tree for safety.

 

RABBIT & POSSUM interior artwork by Dana Wulfekotte

Interior artwork from RABBIT & POSSUM written and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte, Greenwillow Books ©2018.

 

It’s up to Rabbit to figure out a way to help Possum down so they can hold their planned playdate. Resourceful, creative Rabbit ponders, plots and plans various scenarios for his rescue. All the while she reassures the nervous Possum as he frets, frowns and nibbles his nails. Their outward conversation and internal worries, revealed through individual thought and speech bubbles, add a delightful dimension to the story and enhance the emotional connectedness of the two friends.

 

RABBIT & POSSUM interior artwork by Dana Wulfekotte

Interior artwork from RABBIT & POSSUM written and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte, Greenwillow Books ©2018.

 

Can Rabbit successfully recruit a third party – a large, stern (and vegetarian) Moose to help save Possum? Will Possum trust Rabbit that the massive Moose is friend, not foe? Young readers will be compelled to continue turning pages as the action sprints smoothly from start to finish.

 

RABBIT & POSSUM interior artwork by Dana Wulfekotte

Interior artwork from RABBIT & POSSUM written and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte, Greenwillow Books ©2018.

 

Wulfekotte’s illustrations feature soft, light tones. Sweaters colored aqua-blue and rich red set off the two main characters nicely. Well-textured trees and bushes depict a spare forest landscape against a bright, pale sky. Spot illustrations interspersed with single and double-page spreads keep the pacing lively and interesting. A delightful pair of comic silent onlookers, a squirrel and bluebird, seem poised to tell their own story of woodland adventures if Rabbit & Possum produces a spin-off sequel. Let’s hope they do!

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained: I reviewed a copy from my local library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

To see another #Epic18 picture book reviewed by Cathy, click here.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go? Groundhug Day by Anne Marie Pace

GROUNDHUG DAY
Written by Anne Marie Pace
Illustrated by Christopher Denise
(Disney-Hyperion Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

 

Cover image for Groundhug Day

 

Groundhug Day is a picture book delight that seamlessly weaves a heartwarming and credible friendship story together with Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day holidays. Making a themed book that can be read on more than a few days each year is a feat few authors and illustrators attempt, but the winning combination of Anne Marie Pace and Christopher Denise have managed to pull this off quite successfully!

Moose is planning a Valentine’s Day party and he’d like to celebrate with all his pals. There is however just one little hitch. While Bunny, Porcupine and Squirrel can attend, if Groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, he’ll “go back into his hole for six more weeks.” In other words, he won’t emerge in time for February 14th festivities. So it’s no surprise that when Groundhog comes out and sees his shadow, he’s quick to head back down, but hints there’s more to it than that. Ever the intuitive one, Moose thinks perhaps his pal is afraid of shadows. Determined to show Groundhog that shadows aren’t scary at all, Moose enlists help from his friends to demonstrate “just how awesome shadows are.”

Here’s where young readers, already drawn into the story, will be treated to several beautiful pages of illustrations (in addition to to all the other striking artwork in warm welcoming tones) showing what wonderful things shadows are and can do. It’s easy to feel the joy both author and illustrator felt about creating this lovely picture book. More fun times are in store because, despite no longer being fearful of shadows, Groundhog must still get his six weeks of sleep! This tale, honoring the support that genuine friendship offers, is both a sweet and satisfying read that has all the feels you’d want from a picture book.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

LA LA LA: A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo

LA LA LA:
A STORY OF HOPE
Written by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Jaime Kim
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

cvr image from La La La by Kate DiCamillo

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

“Everyone can sing,” we are generally told. Then, at some point children may get pegged down as tone deaf or some variation of  “you sound bad when you sing.” But what does that mean? Isn’t singing really about the joy escaping a child’s chest when they let out their own individual sound?Don’t we all know how to breathe? Don’t we all have the right to sing? La La La by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Jaime Kim made me ponder that.

Interior spread from La La La by Kate DiCamillo art by Jaime Kim ©2017

 

Kim’s gorgeous illustrations, imbued with so much meaning and emotion in this virtually wordless picture book, show the intense feelings a child has when their song is left undiscovered. Alone.

We all know what it’s like to feel alone, and arguably children even more so as they struggle daily to find a friend … that one friend who will answer their song back with their own unique spin.

I read this story on a day that I deeply needed it. And I will share it with any child who innately understands that we are meant to connect. And if we can connect …. we can truly sing.

 

Interior spread from La La La by Kate DiCamillo art by Jaime Kim ©2017

 

One of the most heartbreaking moments in the story is when the little girl is alone and clearly in grief. How often do we forget that children grieve a loss of connection in life? The loss of a special toy. The loss of being a baby. The loss of a parental figure when going to school.

Share this story with them. Give them reassurance that connection is always there … we just have to keep singing our way to it.

La La La is uplifting, a gift of hope for anyone who has let their voice ring out, even when there isn’t a response back. It’s about the courage it takes to continue singing, even in our darkest moments. And right now, we need all the songs of the heart. We need connection more than ever, and this book is a lovely reminder of that.

Check out this link to a helpful teacher’s guide.

LA LA LA. Text copyright © 2017 by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Jaime Kim. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

    • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

GO BIG OR GO GNOME
Written by Kirsten Mayer
Illustrated by Laura K. Horton
(Imprint, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.  

 

Cover image of Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

 

 

There may be princess stories and fairy tales a plenty, but good goblin or troll tales can be difficult to find. Now Go Big or Go Gnome, written by Kirsten Mayer and illustrated by Laura K. Horton provides a lighthearted and entertaining look at life from a verdantly impish perspective.

A tiny gnome named Al lives and works in a lush green garden. He trims shrubbery alongside a crew of friendly fellows who bathe birds, fluff dandelions, and rake rocks. While the gnomes keep busy tidying the sweet scenery, they are also grooming impressive “imperial beards and illustrious mustaches.” Everyone, that is, except Al. Al has nary a whisker on his smooth pink cheeks. This bothers Al tremendously, because he dreams of participating in the Beards International Gnome-athlon.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Al attempts to enter the contest by faking a beard using tiny white butterflies. They fly away and expose his trickery, so he tries again with a squirrel tail, and then with some moss. Thinking he’s doomed to be a plain, bare-faced gnome forever, Al heads home to trim some topiary and keep himself busy. Luckily he still has his clippers in hand when his best friend Gnorm has an emergency – sap is stuck in his beard! He snips, clips and trims Gnorm’s whiskers into an award-winning look. What will the other gnomes think of Al now?

Mayer’s sweet and upbeat tale is a funny fantasy addition to the beard-book genre. Clever language and gnomish word puns add to the appeal. Her text is a delightful set-up for illustrator Horton, who maximizes the opportunity to create inventive, elaborate and impressive beard styles on a pleasant array of diminutive creatures. She also establishes a imaginative garden setting accented with birds, flowers and mushrooms, using a green and blue palette that offsets the gnomes’ de rigueur red pointed caps and boots.

Clever and cute, Go Big or Go Gnome is an encouraging tale for young readers in search of their special talents and ready to embrace their true selves far before they reach the whisker-sprouting years.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

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

Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm by Antonie Schneider

Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm
Written by Antonie Schneider
Illustrated by Susanne Strasser
(Holiday House; $16.95, ages 4-8)

 

MrHappyMissGrimm-cvr.jpg

 

First published in Germany as Herr Glück & Frau Unglück, Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm shows us how kindness, unstoppable and contagious in its nature, can soften even the hardest of hearts.  

As his name suggests, Mr. Happy is happy. All the time. Morning to night time. Rain or shine. His belongings, too, have an air of cheerfulness and comfort to them. On the day he moves to his new home, Mr. Happy brings with him a big cushy chair, lots of books, a teapot, friendly pets, plants, and a ladder we come to find out he uses to climb up to light the moon’s lantern. As we read the stickers on his luggage of the countries he has visited, we know Mr. Happy has spread his cheerfulness to all corners of the earth.

Moving next to neighbor Miss Grimm, however, proves to be a challenge and a nuisance-that is, for Miss Grimm. From her “bleak little” unit #13 home to her drab clothing and suspicious disposition, Miss Grimm seems to take morbid curiosity in Mr. Happy’s everyday tasks. Mr. Happy plants flowers and trees. He “greet[s] the rain when it rain[s], the snow when it snow[s], and the wind when it bl[ows].”  The more annoyed Miss Grimm is with her neighbor, the more lush Mr. Happy’s garden grows and the more friendly her and Mr. Happy’s pets become with each other. Like children innocent of adult prejudices, the animals take an immediate liking to each other, thus beginning the slow transformation of Miss Grimm’s home.  

It first starts with the small plant on Miss Grimm’s windowsill, lifeless at first, but after Mr. Happy arrives it springs to life almost overnight. Soon enough, too, the neighbors’ roofs share a wire. Strasser’s mixed media, monoprint, crayons, and digital collage produce an Alice in Wonderland effect for Mr. Happy’s side of the spread, while, on Miss Grimm’s side, sudden bursts of color and texture highlight her gradual change. Readers will enjoy flipping the pages back and forth to mark how and when these changes take place.

Despite her every effort to remain her mean old self, even slamming the door in Mr. Happy’s face, Miss Grimm is not the same person.  Like the way the wind carries Mr. Happy’s seeds or the way his garden thrives, love grows simply because it’s there–simply because it has its own set of rules that change us to become a better version of ourselves.  

– Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Hermelin, the Detective Mouse by Mini Grey

Hermelin, the Detective Mouse by Mini Grey (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014 $17.99; ages 5-8) is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

⭐︎Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, The Horn Book & Booklist

Hermelin-Detective-cvr.jpg

Hermelin, the Detective Mouse as 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.

                  Yours sincerely,

                  Hermelin

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!

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

LEAP INTO ANOTHER MOLLY IDLE TALE
AS FLORA TAKES TO THE ICE

flora_thepenguin_cvr.jpgIllustrator, Molly Idle, is a 2014 Caldecott Honor recipient for her wordless picture book, Flora and the Flamingo. She’s brought Flora back by popular demand, but this time Flora has traded her pink bathing suit for a blue snow suit, and her pink flamingo dance partner has been replaced by a new blue penguin friend.

In Flora and the Penguin, an exquisitely illustrated lift the flap book, (Chronicle Books, October 2014, $16.99, Ages 3-5) Idle makes the saying, “A picture speaks a thousand words” very clear, as there is no text. Parents, don’t worry, although the book leaves room for conversation, there is plenty told through the beautiful illustrations done in shades of soft blues, yellows, and of course, white. The characters’​​​ body language and facial expressions are priceless, and at times comical.

Friendships can be tricky to navigate. Especially when they’re on ice! Flora and Penguin glide and twirl together gracefully, until the penguin takes a dive beneath the surface and comes up with a fishy gift for his friend. Misunderstandings ensue, and their friendship suffers a cool chill, when Flora throws the fish back into the icy pond. When Flora sees how unhappy this has made her friend, she comes up with a solution which involves team work, and creates a grand finale for the book.

Flora-Penguin-int-spread.jpg

Interior artwork from Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle, Chronicle Books ©2014.

This is a must-have book on your toddlers shelf!

If you’re in the area, why not come meet Molly Idle who will be signing her books on October 2nd at Once Upon a Time Bookstore in Montrose, CA.? The event begins at 7p.m.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2014; $16.99, Ages 3-7) is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

Peanut-Butter-Jellyfish-cvr.jpg

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Summertime means the beach. It also means opportunities to meet new people at camps, so a story about seahorse Peanut Butter and his best friend, Jellyfish, is a perfect avenue to the themes of friendship, bullying, and coping. The pair loves to explore their ocean home. They have so much to see, such as a sunken ship and reefs. Unfortunately, their explorations take them near Crabby who taunts them every time they swim by.

Crabby was relentless. “You guys smell like rotten barnacles! Pee-yew! I’ve seen sea snails swim with more style. What a bunch of bubbleheads.”

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish do their best to ignore Crabby’s teasing and, when that doesn’t work, stand up for themselves.

Jellyfish puffed up his chest and said, “Driftwood and sea stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us.” 

Then one day, Crabby isn’t on his rock. In fact, he is in big trouble and needs Peanut Butter’s and Jellyfish’s help. The duo decides that even though Crabby has been so mean to them, they should still try to help him. With an exciting endeavor, the sea friends manage to rescue Crabby. Will their actions make a difference in how Crabby behaves?

Krosoczka’s illustrations, made from digital collage of acrylic paintings, are bright and cartoon-like. The characters are fun to look at and children can watch for a clam who appears on many of the pages. My daughter especially enjoys the continuity of the plot found on the inside of the front and back covers. She also very much likes the heart-felt nature of this story and we’ve read this picture book probably every day since I’ve brought it home. So, while she won’t touch peanut butter the food, she can’t get enough of Peanut Butter and Jellyfish.

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

The Lion and the Bird written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc,
(Enchanted Lion Books, 2014. $17.95 Ages 3-8) is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

The-Lion-and-the-Bird-cvr.jpgOne autumn day a lion working in his garden finds an injured bird. “You’re welcome to stay with me,” Lion assures Bird. Over the winter Lion nurses Bird back to health and the two share the comforts of Lion’s home and the wonders of the seasons. When spring returns so do Bird’s feathered friends and, after consulting with an understanding Lion, Bird rejoins his flock.

Lion returns home, lonely but philosophical, musing “And so it goes, sometimes life is like that.” But autumn returns, and as the birds begin their annual migration to warmer climes, Lion wonders if he’ll see his old friend. Suddenly, Lion hears a chirp (brilliantly illustrated with a single musical note on an otherwise blank two-page spread). Bird has returned for the winter. “Together, we’ll stay warm again this winter,” Lion assures Bird, as the two settle in the house under a starlit sky dominated by a crescent moon.

Dubuc’s picture book featuring a lion who finds and helps an injured bird is a classic story of friendship set against the cycle of the year. The simplicity and spareness of her narrative and the flat, muted, color illustrations give it a fable-like quality, rendering the story timeless. Dubuc’s layout of the illustrations is remarkable. One cozy, two-page spread depicts a series of oval-shaped vignettes, allowing the reader to peer inside Lion’s cozy home. Another lovely spread shows Lion’s house buffeted by snow and wind and is followed by a blindingly white spread representing the snow-covered countryside. Off-center, three pale pink buds, emerging from the snow, hint at the coming spring. The pages become canvases conveying the story’s narrative and wonderfully capturing the characters’ emotions and the timelessness of a seemingly simpler, rural life. Highly recommended for ages 3-8, but it’s such a well-illustrated and beautiful friendship story, it will be enjoyed by all.

Author/Illustrator Marianne Dubuc is a French Canadian author and illustrator trained as a graphic designer. She has written and illustrated several other titles for young children. Visit her web site (en Français) at www.mariannedubuc.com to learn more about her art and books. Visit Enchanted Lion Book’s wonderful web site at www.enchantedlionbooks.com to see the highly creative and imaginative books they have published from authors and illustrators all over the world.

Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison

Extraordinary Jane, a new picture book
written and illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison,
is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

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Extraordinary Jane written and illustrated
by Hannah E. Harrison,
Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin, © 2014.

Kids will fall in love with Jane, a circus dog, and the most adorable and extraordinary character in Harrison’s new picture book, Extraordinary Jane (Dial, $16.99, Ages 3-5). Jane might be a mutt although she reminded me of a little fluffy, white Maltese my family once rescued. But that really doesn’t matter because what Jane definitely is is lovable, precious, friendly and loyal. And while these qualities make her so very special, Jane clearly doesn’t realize these things about herself.

The book opens with a spread of antique-style circus posters, none of which show Jane. From these first illustrations readers know they’re in for a treat with Harrison’s warm, inviting and detailed artwork. Parents will love the opportunity to scour each page for the fine details Harrison’s included so they can point them out to younger children. Older kids may find them on their own. Written with few words, the story is still easily understood and helped along by the circus characters’ many expressions and emotions which say so much.

“She wasn’t graceful like her mother [who rides atop a galloping horse], or mighty like her father.” We see the daddy dog lifting a humongous elephant while Jane struggles to pull a pail of water nearby. Jane has to cover her ears when her daring brothers are blasted out of circus cannons and, fearful of heights, Jane could never attempt to traverse the tightrope like her sisters.

“Jane was just Jane.” And just being Jane meant being loved by all the circus members despite an array of things she was unable to do (and humorously conveyed in Harrison’s illustrations). My favorite image is of Jane looking down from the trapeze as “She tried to find her special talent.” She does not look happy in the least!

Everyone knew what was good about her, especially the Ringmaster and ultimately, Jane.  This ideal read-aloud book is great for story time, bedtime and any time a parent wants to reinforce the message to their child about how they should celebrate themselves. I’m looking forward to Harrison’s next book because if it’s half as good as Extraordinary Jane, it will still be super.

If you enjoy Harrison’s artwork, click here to read our review about another book she illustrated called Just Like You.

Lovabye Dragon by Barbara Joosse

In Lovabye Dragon by Barbara Joosse, it seems not all little girls are waiting for their prince to come, says reviewer MaryAnne Locher.

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Lovabye Dragon by Barbara Joosse with illustrations by Randy Cecil, © 2012 Candlewick Press.

The princess in the castle in the picture book, Lovabye Dragon, written by Barbara Joosse with illustrations by Randy Cecil (Candlewick Press $15.99, Ages 3-8) dreams of having a dragon for a friend.

Cecil’s choice of soothing blue, purple, and green oil paint colors and brush-stroke technique are the perfect match for Joosse’s book, reminiscent of Mem Fox’s lyrical prose and poetry blend. Silver tears of loneliness make their way through the castle, across the moat, around the glen and at last reach a bug-eyed sleeping dragon in his cave who has been dreaming of a girl for a friend. The dragon follows the trail of tears, back around the glen, across the moat, and through the castle to at last find his girl.

An unlikely, forever friendship ensues as the dragon chases away the monsters and giants from the little girl’s life and she in turn sings him beautiful lullabies to help him sleep. They know that although they are very different on the outside, they are “exactly the same size in the middle” where it counts. It is refreshing to find a book with an atypical princess (she’s not your usual beauty) flying off on an unusual dragon (he’s protective, not scary).

Now I can’t wait to read this perfect little book to two perfect little girls in my life.

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Interior spread from Lovabye Dragon by Barbara Joosse with illustrations by Randy Cecil, © 2012 Candlewick Press.

NOTE: Though not a new picture book to review (this one’s from 2012), Lovabye Dragon was one that stood out as an exception.

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