Rummanah Aasi
  All of the picture books that I have reviewed today are listed either on the Monarch Book Award list or the Bluestem Book Award list where books are selected by librarians, teachers, and readers themselves. I find these lists useful, particularly when I'm not sure where to start with such a huge selection of picture books. Today I've got a mixture of folktale retelling and a just plain.

Description: A young city boy, riding the subway, finds an abandoned book about redwoods. He finds himself in the very forest described in the book. After finishing the book, he leaves it for someone else to read.

Review: Out of the three picture books that I'm reviewing today, Redwoods surprised me the most. With a lackluster description, I was prepared for a snoozeworthy read and I was pleasantly wrong. Redwoods effortlessly captures a reader's absorbation in a book, where the rest of the world fades into the background. A young city boy riding the subway finds an abandoned book to read. The book happens to be about redwood trees. Soon, he transports himself into a fantastical forest surrounded by redwoods. As he wanders into the forest, he learns exciting details about the trees. The illustrations are wonderful and the little facts sprinkled, not just dumped into long, verbose paragraphs, within the book holds our attention. I actually learned a lot from this book. I would highly recommend it to kids who show an interest in nature or who just want to be awed about learning something new.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1 and up.

If you like this book try: The Red Book by Barbara Lehman


Description: Retells the fable of a frustrated fox that, after many tries to reach a high bunch of grapes, decides they must be sour anyway.

Review: I guess you're never to young to develop a snarky attitude. Palatini and Moser have taken a dry Aesop fable and gave it a entertaining make-over that delights the eyes and ears of the reader while still retaining the purpose of the story. The proud and clever Fox eyes the grapes hanging from a vine high in a tree and thinks that he can get them easily. He repeatedly chants: "I am sly. Clever. Smart. After all, I am a fox." So, armed with paper and pencil, he draws his master plan filled with complex equations and recruits various animals around the tree to get the grapes. After repeated failed attempts and refusing to hear his recruits advice, the fox loses interests in the grapes and declares them "lousy, rotten, stinkin' grapes." Moser's wonderful watercolor illustrations of the doubting animals executing Fox's convoluted plans are rich in humor. My favorite illustrations involve Bear, especially with him napping in the background. The animals are silhouetted against plenty of white space, with the grapevines and tree dominating each large spread. Many reviewers have commented on the fox's plan being too complex and the story deviating from the story, but I would argue that this retelling of the story would invite active participation from the readers and storyteller. Kids are much more perceptive than we give them credit for and I'm sure they would immediately pick up on Fox's flaws.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades for K and up.

If you like this book try: Clever Beatrice by Margaret Willey, Cowboy and Octopus by Jon Scieszka


Description: Max wants to be an artist like Arthur, but his first attempt at using a paintbrush sends the two friends on a whirlwind trip through various media, with unexpected consequences.

Review: The story revolves around a rocky friendship between Art and Max.  When we first meet Arthur, he is creating a formal portrait of a stately reptile, one of several reacting to the unfolding drama in the desert. Frenetic Max dashes into the scene; he also wants to paint, but doesn't know where to start. Art suggests Max to start with painting a picture of his friend, "Well.you could paint me." Max's literal response yields a more colorful Art, but the master's outrage causes his acrylic armor to shatter. His texture falls in fragments, leaving an undercoating of dusty pastels vulnerable to passing breezes. Each of Max's attempts to solve Art's problems leads to unexpected outcomes, someof them humorous and others thought provoking about what one would define as art. 
  I have mixed feelings about Art and Max. I really enjoyed reading the thought provoking exploration of the meaning of art and the creative process, but without some substantial art background or knowledge, the book isn't as nearly entertaining. I know I missed out on a lot of references to several important artists while I did pick up on a few like Jackson Pollock, but that being said I think the book will resonate with some kids who are confused when some mistakes or marvels are judged differently by others. I would like to revisit Art and Max and give it another shot since there is so much to uncover in the book. I think in order to full appreciate this picture book is to closely read it and absorb all the little details.  

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1 and up.

If you like this book try: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, The pencil by Allen Ahlberg, The dot by Peter Reynolds
3 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    Me niece is currently obsessed with nature. OBSESSED. Every time I talk to her on the phone she's telling me about a leaf or a bug, so I think she'd really like Redwoods:) Thanks for the recommendations Rummanah, I'm really trying to build up a fun library for her.


  2. Too bad Art and Max was just 3 stars. It looks really cute. Have you read A Pig Parade by Michael Ian Black? It's hilarious.


  3. Candace Says:

    I would have guessed Redwoods to be dry so I'm happy to hear its not, it sounds really interesting! And the second book sounds cute and the illustrations sound like ones my kids would enjoy. Thanks for the great kids reviews!


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