Allison's Book Bag

Six Popular Picture Books

Posted on: January 22, 2012

FUDDLES by Fran Vischer

You know a book is good when you have to share it. Fuddles by Fran Vischer is a fun picture book about a fat and pampered cat who decided his life needed adventure. As soon as I finished reading Fuddles, I turned to my husband and immediately read it aloud to him. We were outside in our yard eating lunch when I read it, but I didn’t care who heard me. Fuddles is that good. For one thing, it’s about a spoiled cat; my husband and I have one of those. For another thing, I love the playful style:

But Mom had other ideas. “You’re not allowed to go outside,” she said. Mom said no?!
Fuddles could not believe his ears. He had never been told no in his life. Why couldn’t he go outside now?

Then there is the artwork. I don’t feel necessarily feel qualified to evaluate the illustrations, but those in Fuddles are so clearly perfect that I don’t have any qualms about saying that they are colorful and fun with lots of personality. The facial expressions and the postures that our hero assumes show how he feels about his decision to seek adventure, mom’s reaction to that decision, and to the adventures themselves.  Speaking of Fuddles’ adventures, I love those too. For example, when Fuddles decides to show some squirrels just who will have the last laugh, he pushes and pulls and strains and struggles. Then he realizes that couches are easier to climb than trees.  Fran Vischer’s own cat inspired this hilarious tale, which means hopefully we can expect many more tales about the lovable Fuddles.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

HURRAY FOR AMANDA AND HER ALLIGATOR by Mo Willems

Mo Willems

Image via Wikipedia

If you’re like me, you’re probably used to picture books that are so short that they don’t even have page numbers. In that case, you would probably be surprised to find a picture book to have chapters. Hurray for Amanda and Her Alligator has a chapter page, contains six stories, and clocks in at seventy pages. Yet this isn’t an anthology. Rather, each story reveals a little bit more about friendship through its two title characters. For example, here is a description of alligator’s reaction to Amanda being gone to the library:

I do not like it when Amanda is gone, thought alligator.
I am no good at waiting. He paced around the room. He fiddled with his tail.

When Amanda returns, she asks alligator if he wants a surprise. You might be expecting her to give him some fancy treat, but instead the surprise is just her yelling: “Boo!” Reviews of Hurray for Amanda and Her Alligator are mixed and so perhaps it helps that I am not familiar with other books by Mo Willems. Critics say that his other characters are sassy and goofy, neither of which are terms I’d use to describe Amanda and her alligator. Rather, I feel as if back in my childhood and leisurely playing house or school with my cousins. Hurray for Amanda and Her Alligator captures the ups-and-downs of friendship in a sweet and simple style.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

THE DESPERATE DOG BOOKS by Eileen Christelow

Cover of "Letters from a Desperate Dog"

Cover of Letters from a Desperate Dog

Fans of Letters from a Desperate Dog by Eileen Christelow will be delighted to know Emma is back in a second book. Christelow was one of the most popular authors at a recent Plum Creek Literacy Festival. Primary school teachers waited in lined up in long lines, some carrying plush toy versions of Christelow’s  characters, waited in long lines to have her sign their books. Emma is a dog who lives with George and his cat. One morning, George kicks Emma off the new couch, then out of the trash, and finally out the door. Emma is happy enough outside, where she shares her woes with a neighboring dog, which of course gets George further upset. After all, he just thinks she’s barking. Christelow is very good at taking on the perspective of her canine main character, so much so that I started wondering how our dog Barnaby views our many commands. In a creative twist, Emma heads to the newsstand where she picks up a copy of the Weekly Bone and sees an advertisement of a new canine advice column. Hence, the letters!

I’m a pup with a problem. My human, George, barks way too much.
It’s “Bad! Bad! Bad!” all day long. The least little thing sets him off. He’s really getting on my nerves. What should do?

The rest of the book alternates between a story told in comic style fashion and letters. As for the sequel, I’ll let you figure out from Emma’s letter what to expect: “You won’t believe this! I think a sinister stranger is trying to kidnap George. She was holding his hand! I tried to pull her away, but George barked my head off and told ME to go away. Doesn’t he know I am trying to save him?”

Needless to say, George isn’t being kidnapped. Nothing as dark as that would happen in Christelow’s books, but there are definitely some serious misunderstandings to be sorted out. Even the advice columnist gives up on Emma at one point. Christelow’s stories are hilarious but with good messages.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

EVEN MONSTERS NEED HAIRCUTS  by Matthew McElligott

What first attracts you to a picture book? In the case of my next read, a much-worn library book by Matthew McElligott, it was the title: Even Monsters Need Haircuts. With a title like that, who could resist? If I were rating the book on the strength of its story alone, I would place it on the top of my list. From the very first page, my curiosity was piqued:

My dad is a barber. I like to watch him work. I’m a barber too.

I wonder: Why is this boy a barber? The next page further reels me in, by telling me that there will be a full moon and that the boy needs to go to bed early. Is this boy a werewolf? What is going on here? Of course I’m not going to tell you, but needless to say I like how every page reveals just a little bit more until the final twist at the end. Even Monsters Need Haircuts is as good as its title led me to believe.

The illustrations are the reason I can’t put this book on the top of my list. Although some reviewers have called them bright and cheerful, I found them muted and kind of average. I’m not saying they are done badly, but don’t you kind of want your monsters to be scary? After all, that’s why they’re monsters. Then again, this isn’t a story about conquering big bad monsters. For that reason, I’d settle for ridiculously weird, whereas these monsters seem just like you and me. Maybe that was the point, but the artwork seems flat for such an otherwise delightful tale.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

THE SNOW BLEW INN by Dian Curtis Regan

Has a friend ever not shown up when expected? To make matters worse, what if the weather outside is brewing into a blizzard? In The Snow Blew Inn by Dian Curtis Regan, there are “dark clouds boiling above the mountain peaks. Snow is coming to the Snow Blew Inn!“ In the meantime, Emma awaits the arrival of her cousin Abbey. At first, Emma amuses herself. When the snow starts to fall and guests begin to arrive, Emma helps her mom with the chores involved with running an inn. The rest of the story unfolds, introducing readers to guests and to activities of the inn. I guess we’re supposed to feel anxious about whether or not Abbey will arrive—or maybe not. Perhaps this is just a tale about a delayed sleepover. Whatever the case, while I found the illustrations charming, the story never got off the ground.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

ZOOZICAL by Judy Sierra

Have you ever wondered what happens at the zoo when “frosty winds blow, when families stay at home, and when field trips are few”? In Zoozical by Judy Sierra, the answer is: midwinter doldrums!

To be more specific:

Little lemurs stopped leaping
Their yowling was keeping
The wombats awake
Then the snakes (by mistake)
Tied themselves up in knots
Ocelots lost their spots.

How does one get rid of the midwinter doldrums? For the animals at the zoo, all looked lost until a large hippo collapsed, a small hippo hopped out of the way, and a young kangaroo shouted, “Look! Me hop, too!” This one act led to the animals all gathering together to put on a play full of songs and dances. Because of the rhymes, along with the bright and bold illustrations, I suspect young readers will eat this book up. I can even see myself having a riot reading this to an audience of primary students. However, I’m on the hunt for picture books that will be cherished by future generations the way Dr. Seuss’ books are cherished now and from this viewpoint the book irritates me. The rhymes seemed forced. As for the mad-paced stage acts, they remind me children’s parties at the height of chaos. But it’s at that moment of course that the adults are reaching for the headache pills. Zoozical is fun to the point of nausea.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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