Tag Archives: Children’s book reviews

Bedtime Stories: Civil Rights Stories for Kids

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier.

Using simple but powerful words and beautiful images, the story of Dr. King’s fight for equality is recounted here.
This book, which won the Coretta Scott King Award, the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award and a Caldecott Honor, tells of the life, struggles, death and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. written in simple small sentences and accompanied with notable quotes from Dr. King himself, all the major moments of his life are told in a way which will be easily understood by children young and old.

Bryan Collier’s collages are strikingly beautiful and bring together photographs and illustrations in a truly eye-catching manner. Often a bit bleak in color, there are occasional flashes of color like bursts of hope in the struggle for equality. This excellent recounting of the life and death of Dr. King makes clear the depth of the struggle, the bravery of those who risked their life for rights, and the legacy this man left behind.

When Marian Sang: the true recital of Marian Anderson. Pam Muñoz Ryan; illustrated by Brian Selznick.

Straightforward text, accompanied by song lyrics and illustrations by Brian Selznick, this rich book tells the story of singer Marian Anderson’s struggle as a beloved black singer in a racist America.
Born in 1897, Marian Anderson was immediately singled out for her singular voice. As an African-American, this was a complicated thing, as her voice was loved by all who heard it, but because she was black she could not perform many places. Like many black performers of her time, she traveled overseas to make a name, as Europe in the 20s was not as discriminatory.

The text of this book is at once condescending and complex. These are heavy topics to cover in a book for young children. Caldecott-winning illustrator carries the book. Were it not for his rich illustrations, the book wouldn’t be half as good as it is. The way Marian Anderson helped shake the racial divide was significant and it is well addressed in this book. Culminating with her historic performance in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the book successfully shares the frustrations and accomplishments of her life.

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Bedtime Stories: Jan Brett’s Beauty and the Beast

Finding a good illustrated version of a classic fairy tale can be quite a challenge. All too often, the illustrations are ugly, or creepy, or both. The below picture is an excellent example, even though it comes from one of my childhood books and I kind of want to get a copy and kind of never want to see it again:

If terrified ambivalence is not something you are interested in, and being awoken by children/partners afraid of creepy-ass Bosch-styled monsters isn’t your thing, then you might want to check out Jan Brett’s books. She has illustrated and retold literally millions of tales, from the Ukrainian folk tale The Mitten to a version of Three Little Pigs set in Namibia. My boy’s new favorite is her version of Beauty and the Beast.

After seeing the Jean Cocteau and the Disney versions, (oh and that Ron Perlman take too) it would be difficult to approach this classic Perrault story with fresh eyes. But Jan Brett does a fantastic job. The beast isn’t even a lion thing like he is in every other version. He’s a big hairy hog! Which is far less sexy than a lion, which makes Beauty’s decision to marry him that much nobler.

But seriously, it’s no wonder she has 37 MILLION books in print. She’s a terribly talented illustrator. The pictures are so rich and filled with little hidden treats for kids to pick out of the details. Fun.

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Bedtime Stories: This is Not My Hat

Post by Mark T. Locker.

This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen.

If you are a connoisseur of fine children’s picture books, perhaps you have heard of I Want My Hat Back. Or, if you are regular reader of this blog, maybe you saw my review almost a year ago TO THIS VERY DAY of that lovely, subtle, hilarious book. (If not, don’t worry. I hyperlinked it for you.) Jon Klassen’s new book takes a new twist on what worked so well the first time. This is indeed another story about hat theft in the animal world, only this time we see the crime from the perpetrator’s perspective.

“This is not my hat,” the little fish begins, “I just stole it. I stole it from a big fish. He was asleep when I did it.”

So carries on the little fish while we the readers see that the big fish indeed woke up sooner than the perp anticipated, and indeed the giant victim is hot on the fins of this diminutive ne’er-do-well. And although the little fish makes a good point about the hat being far too small for the big fish, it is not for him to decide! That being said, I think the little bowler looks quite dashing on the little guy, but I cannot approve of his methods of acquisition.

I can, however, approve of this book. Few can take a successful theme and make a second book out of it without it coming off as horribly derivative but Jon Klassen pulls it off brilliantly. Just go read it.

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Bedtime Stories: Guess Again!

Post by Mark T. Locker.

Guess Again! by Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Adam Rex.

The very talented and very silly duo Adam Rex and Mac Barnett have struck again. I cannot adequately describe this not-quite-as-expected rhyming guessing game book. Rightly titled Guess Again! each page features a silhouetted figure, and a rhyme which offers clues. In this book, the clues are designed to trick you into thinking the obvious. Here is an example:

He steals carrots from the neighbor’s yard.
His hair is soft, his teeth are hard.
His floppy ears are long and funny.
Can you guess who? That’s right! My

Grandpa Ned.

Each riddle is silly, misleading, and very funny. Even though it is best the first time round, my little one gets such a kick out of the ridiculous scenarios that we have been reading it twice a day at least, even though he totally knows the answers now. I love these guys and if they did a version of Quality improvement and shelf-life extension of fish filets from three aquaculture species (Ottowa, 2002) you can bet that it would be hilarious and enjoyable to all.

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Bedtime Stories: Sam and Violet’s Christmas

Post by Mark T. Locker.

Sam and Violet’s Christmas by Nicole Rubel.

Siblings are such a pain! They ruin your things just for fun! They tell your friends embarrassing things! Why would you want to get a nice present for such a mean old brother or sister?

That’s what Sam and Violet, twin cats, are puzzling over this Christmas. When Sam is poking around, he finds Violet’s present to him: an old shoe! When Violet is poking around, she finds Sam’s present to her: a box of bugs! On their own, each tries to figure out why their sibling is so terrible. But the more they think about the things the other has done, the more they remember the kindness: helping with homework, teaching the other to ride a bike, standing up for them.

Spoiler alert: those terrible gifts were merely red herrings, to throw off snoopy siblings! Warmth, love, and lovingly handcrafted gifts save the day!

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!

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