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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Little Boy Learns to Find Joy When Life Brings Change

Waiting for Chicken Smith
Written and illustrated by David Mackintosh
Candlewick Press, 2019

A little boy is at his family’s summer beach house, and he can’t wait for his friend Chicken Smith to show up, too. Every year, Chicken Smith stays in the cabin next door with his dad and his dog, Jelly.

The narrator remembers Chicken Smith throwing a tennis ball for Jelly to retrieve and riding a bicycle without brakes. His sister Mary Ann keeps calling out to him, but he ignores her because he’s waiting for Chicken Smith.

He remembers going to the lighthouse with Chicken Smith, eating sandwiches Chicken’s dad made, and looking for whales with Chicken’s binoculars. They’d swim all day and sometimes Chicken let him on his dad’s surfboard.

Last year, Chicken Smith gave him a piece of driftwood carved into a whale. So, this year, he’s bought Chicken a crazy shell at a gas station.

He notices that Chicken’s cabin looks different, all shut up tight with cobwebs in the windows. A sign on the front porch says, “Summer Rental Inquire at Shop.”

Finally, he decides to follow his sister when she calls again. They go to the lighthouse and his sister calls out, “Look! There he is!”

And for the first time, he sees a whale. He and Chicken had never found one even with binoculars.
Then he and his sister race back in time for dinner. At the cabin, they look at a whale book and make plans to hunt for shells tomorrow.

The narrator hopes Chicken Smith will be back next year, but if he’s not, he thinks he’ll give the crazy shell to Mary Ann.

The illustrations are old fashioned-looking and lovely, helping tell this story of childhood friendship, the magic of summer, and the inevitability of change.

About the Author Illustrator

David Mackintosh has worked as an illustrator, designer, and art director with some of the most celebrated names in children’s publishing. His picture book “Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School” was short-listed for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize and nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal. “Waiting for Chicken Smith” is his first book with Candlewick Press. He lives in London.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Sweet Story Introduces Much-loved Pig Mercy of Series

A Piglet Named Mercy
Written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Candlewick Press, 2019

Mr. and Mrs. Watson live ordinary lives in an ordinary house in an ordinary town. They are happy, but one day Mrs. Watson wishes something different would happen.

Her wish comes true when a piglet shows up at their door. Mr. and Mrs. Watson fall in love with the adorable piglet.

Their neighbors Eugenia Lincoln and Baby Lincoln see the piglet arrive. Disagreeable Eugenia doesn’t approve, but Baby is delighted and warms a bottle of milk for her.

The piglet turns out to be anything but ordinary as she leaps out of Mrs. Watson’s arms, jumps onto a chair, and swipes a piece of toast from the kitchen counter.

The Watsons are charmed by the piglet’s antics and name her Mercy because she is a wish come true.

The characters are expressive and the gouache illustrations bright, bold, and colorful.

Kids who love the Mercy Watson chapter books and their younger siblings will enjoy this picture book, a prequel to the popular series.

About the Author

Kate DiCamillo has written many books for children, including the Mercy Watson and Deckawoo Drive series. Her books, “Flora & Ulysses” and “The Tale of Despereaux,” are both Newberry Medal recipients. A former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, she lives in Minneapolis.

About the Illustrator

Chris Van Dusen is the author-illustrator of many children’s books, including “The Circus Ship” and “Hattie & Hudson,” and the illustrator of the Mercy Watson and Deckawoo Drive series. He lives in Maine.     

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Amusing Story Teaches Youngsters about Friendship

The Song of Spring
Written and illustrated by Hendrik Jonas
Prestel Publishing Ltd., 2019

As spring arrives, all the birds are singing and attracting bird friends in “The Song of Spring.”  All except one little bird who can’t remember his song of spring.

But he wants a friend too, so he cries out, “woof.” Instead of a bird friend, a dog answers. The little bird is disappointed, but the dog encourages him to “have another go.”

He tries again, but this time it comes out, “oink,” and he attracts a pig. 

The story continues as little bird calls a cow, a cat, a goat, and a donkey. The animals can't figure out what little bird should do.

Finally, a pretty girl bird shows up looking for a friend. All the animals rejoice, especially little bird who flies to her side as he realizes he’s found not only one friend, but many.

Even though this picture book was originally written in German, it reads smoothly and makes a fun read-aloud for adults to read to youngsters.

The illustrations are bold and funny, like the story. The animals are rendered with expressive faces as they show sympathy to little bird and climb around in a tree.

About the Author-illustrator

Hendrik Jonas is a Berlin-based illustrator whose work has appeared in The Times and The Guardian. This is his third children’s book.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A Boy Rescues a Starfish in Lovely New Book

On Gull Beach
Written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall
The Cornell Lab Publishing Group, Apex, N.C., 2018

“On Gull Beach” tells a story of a boy discovering a starfish on a beach, and then watching as a group of gulls play with it, tossing it from one to the other. Finally, they drop the starfish and the boy gently returns it to the ocean.

The story is told slowly in rhyming couplets and picks up momentum as the boy chases after the gulls.

It begins:

              As I was walking on Gull Beach,
              I saw a starfish within reach.

              But as I bent by wave and spray,
              A gull flew down, snatched star away.

As the tale picks up, the boy watches as the gulls pass the star from bill to bill. He chases them.

              I raced more swiftly, running after,
              Following their gullish laugher.

              Ran by rocks and smooth sea glass.
              Stumbled over dunes and grass.

Finally, he sees a gull drop the starfish, and he reaches up to catch it.

              My fingers touched her rays, and caught her!
              Saved her from that gullish slaughter.

The story concludes as the boy returns the starfish to the ocean.

            There she sank down in the sea.
Hurrah for starfish! Huzzah for me!

As I walked home from Gull Beach.

Bob Marstall illustrates the story with beautiful full-page watercolor paintings. He shows the excited looks of the gulls and the worried face of the boy. And he adds small details: shells, crabs, colored stones, grasses in the sand, and sanderling shore birds.

The author, Jane Yolen, is an award-winning poet and author and has been called a modern-day Hans Christian Anderson.  

At the back of the book, information is included about several sea birds and crabs. Children also learn what they can do to help preserve beaches and wildlife.

“On Gull Beach” is the third and last in the On Bird Hill and Beyond series for The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, an environmental organization at Cornell University dedicated to the study and conservation of birds.

Thirty-five percent of net proceeds from the sale of this title goes directly to the Cornell Lab to support projects such as children's educational and community programs.

About the Author

Jane Yolen was born and raised in New York City, and now lives in Hatfield, MA. She attended Smith College and received her master's degree in education from the University of Massachusetts. The distinguished author of more than 170 books, Jane Yolen has earned many awards over the years: the Regina Medal, the Kerlan Award, the World Fantasy Award, the Society of Children's Book Writers Award, the Mythopoetic Society's Aslan Award, the Christopher Medal, the Boy's Club Jr. Book Award, the Garden State Children's Book Award, the Daedalus Award, several Parents' Choice Magazine Awards, and many more. Her books and stories have been translated into Japanese, French, Spanish, Chinese, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Portuguese, and Braille.

About the Illustrator

Bob Marstall is a nature illustrator and landscape painter. He has illustrated many children’s picture books and enjoys visiting schools. He used to be a classroom teacher. He lives in Easthampton, MA.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lovable Hound Helps City Family Become Farmers

George, the Hero Hound
Written and Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
Two Lions, an Imprint of Amazon Publishing, New York, 2018

“George the Hero Hound” is a fun story for children who love dogs and are curious about farm life. The lively illustrations are especially entertaining.

The story is simple. The Gladstones come from the city and buy a farm that comes with George, a hound dog. Throughout the story, folks in the Gladstone family have problems and George helps them.

There are a couple running gags. One is about the cows who are always plotting to escape into the cornfields for a feast. The other is about everyone in the family always suggesting new names for George: Rusty, Dusty, Rover, and Red.

 The dad has trouble getting the old, rusty tractor started. George helps by finding the right missing piece.

Then the tractor runs off and busts through the fence, allowing the cows to escape and head for the cornfield. George corals the cows back into their pen.

Owen, the boy in the family, tells George he has lost his baby sister Olive. George smells her ribbon, and leads Owen on a hunt, searching high and low. They finally finds her having a picnic with a rooster on the other side of the farm.

George is a hero. He has found his place in the family, herding Olive, helping mom and dad with farming, and keeping the crafty cows in line.

Now if only everyone could remember his name. 

About the Author and Illustrator
Jeffrey Ebbeler’s parents always wanted to live on a farm. One day, they moved their family from the city suburbs to the country. Jeff’s dad and uncles built their house and a barn. Just like the Gladstones in “George the Hero Hound,” they raised all kinds of animals and owned a rusty old tractor that hardly ever worked. Occasionally, their neighbor’s cows would break through the fence and feast on their cornfield. When Jeff’s sister got a pony, everyone in the family wanted to give him a name, so they ended up calling him Rusty Dusty Rover Red George. (In this story, Jeff made George a dog, so George could help a bunch of city folk, like Jeff’s family, learn to be farmers.)
Jeff has illustrated and written several picture books, including Arlo Rolled by Susan Pearson. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife and twin daughters. Learn more about him online at

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Beautiful Book Introduces ‘Charlotte’s Web’ Author to Kids

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White
Written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, New York, 2016

“Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White” by Melissa Sweet is a beautiful picture book for middle grade readers. Children will enjoy the story and the photographs, colorful watercolor paintings, and collage images in this book about a favorite children’s author of the much-loved classics, “Charlotte’s Web,” “Stuart Little,” and “The Trumpet of the Swan.”

The many images give the reader a sense of White’s love of nature and animals, qualities that made him the writer he was. They also give a feel for the different time he lived in, with images of old fashioned manual typewriters, his handwritten and typed letters and notebook pages, and the author from childhood through old age.

Elwyn Brooks knew he was a writer when he was seven or eight years old. He looked at a sheet of paper and thought, “This is where I belong, this is it.” His brother Stan taught him to read when he was five. If he came upon a word he didn’t know, his father made him look it up in the dictionary. At dinner, his dad recited limericks, and the six children (Elwyn was the youngest) would try to finish the last line.

His sweet mother loved gardening and raising baby chicks in Mount Vernon, the New York City suburb where En (as he was called) grew up. En also enjoyed the chicks, as well as lizards, pigeons, and a dog Mac, who met him every day after school.

He was a shy child and remembered being mortified to read a poem out loud in class when he was in first grade. As an adult, he said he was a frightened but happy child. His large family was like a “small kingdom unto ourselves.” His father worked at a piano company, and their home was always well supplied with musical instruments.  “We were practically a ready-made band. All we lacked was talent,” he wrote.

Growing up, Elwyn spent his summers in Maine next to a lake, and he fell in love with the area. For the rest of his life, he would divide his time between New York City and Belgrade Lakes in Maine, where he drew inspiration for his children’s books.

He began writing poems and short stories as a child and published some of them in a children’s magazine. He won prizes for his stories about animals. Some of his childhood writings are included. In high school, he wrote for the school newspaper. Being skinny and small, he didn’t care much for athletics.

Elwyn enjoyed attending Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Friends gave him the nickname Andy, which stuck for the rest of his life. He became editor of the school newspaper, the “Cornell Sun,” and began to consider writing for a living.

Young people may be surprised to learn that as an adult, Andy primarily worked for the “New Yorker,” writing short pieces for adults. He wrote captions for cartoons, short articles on current events, and humorous column fillers that poked fun at errors and typos in other newspapers and magazines. He published many books for adults, including collections of his “New Yorker” pieces, poems, essays, letters, and “Elements of Style,” a grammar book with his former college professor William Strunk.

Andy met his wife Katherine Sergeant Angell at the “New Yorker,” where she worked as the fiction editor. They married in 1929 when he was 30 and remained married until she died in 1977 after a series of long illnesses. Together they had a son, Joel McCoun.

Andy published his first children’s book, “Stuart Little,’ in 1945, when he was 46. Interestingly, some children’s librarians criticized the book for blurring the line between fantasy and reality. In it, a human couple have a baby who turns out to be a mouse. Some libraries banned it, but children loved it and the book sold 100,000 copies in its first year.

He published “Charlotte’s Web” in 1952 and received a Newberry Honor for the book. Sweet tells about his writing process and includes images of handwritten early drafts and pictures of the illustrator’s early sketches of Charlotte, the spider.

In 1970, Andy published “The Trumpet of the Swan.” Later, the Philadelphia Orchestra set it to music delighting Andy. “What a life I lead!” he said. “How merry! How innocent! How nutty!”

He once said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth.... Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net.”

About the Author-Illustrator

Melissa Sweet has illustrated nearly 100 children’s books from board books to picture books and nonfiction titles. Her collages and paintings have appeared in the “New York Times” and Martha Stewart Living, on Madison Park Greetings and Smilebox cards, and on a line of eeBoo toys. She received a Caldecott Honor Medal for a “River of Words” by Jen Bryant and two “New York Times” Best Illustrated citations. She lives on the coast of Maine, not far from E.B. White’s home.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

‘Big Bear, Small Mouse’ Teaches Kids Comparisons

Big Bear, Small Mouse
Written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman
Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2016

              “Big Bear, Small Mouse,” the latest in Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman’s Bear series, is a warm, cheerful simple story of animal friends gathering in Bear’s lair to stay warm and enjoy time together.

              Told in an easy pattern, the story teaches children comparison words, such as big and small, slow and fast, and low and high.

              ‘Mouse hops onto Bear
              He is careful not to fall.
              Bear is big, big BIG!
              Mouse is small, small, small!

It is a cumulative narrative, beginning with bear and mouse, and growing as new pairs of animals join the group. Each pair is described using a pair of opposite adjectives.  

‘Bear and Mouse both wave
to their friends as they go past.  
Badger moseys slowly,
but Hare runs very fast!

Rhyme is used effectively in an A-B, C-B pattern with four-line, three-foot stanzas.

Each time a new pair of animals joins the group, they are added to the list. So, it begins,

Small Mouse
big Bear.’

The list grows.

Slow Badger, fast Hare.
Small Mouse, big Bear!’

And grows.

High Owl, low Wren.
Slow Badger, fast Hare.
Small Mouse, big Bear!’

Until finally, it is six lines long, with a rhyming pattern of A-A, B-B, C-C. 

‘All together, gathered there,
Cold night, warm lair.
Quiet woods, loud friends.
High Owl, low Wren.
Slow Badger, fast Hare.
Small Mouse, BIG BEAR!’

The growing list builds momentum, until the story ends with Bear smiling and clapping, surrounded by his friends in his lair that is decorated with strings of daisies.

The colorful, expressive pictures of the animals complement the story, and tell a few new details of their own. Mouse tickles Bear with a feather, Badger wears a necklace of daisies, a bird gives Badger another daisy, and Badger shares his necklace with Mole.

One small criticism is the overuse of exclamation marks, a lazy man’s way of expressing emotion. This story could have let the words and pictures do that without resorting to them.   

About the Author 

Karma Wilson is the bestselling author of several picture books for Simon @ Schuster, including the Bear series and “Where Is Home Little Pig? Karma lives in Montana.

About the Illustrator

Jane Chapman is an illustrator of over one hundred books for children, including “Dilly Duckling,” by Claire Freedman and “I Love My Mama” by Peter Kavanagh, as well as Karma Wilson’s “Bear Snores On,” “Bear Wants More,” “Bear Stays Up for Christmas,” and “Mortimer’s Christmas Manger.” She lives with her family in Dorset, England. Visit Jane at