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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Nice Christmas Story if You Ignore Rhyme Crimes

The Night the Lights Went Out on Christmas
Written by Ellis Paul and illustrated by Scott Brundage
Albert Whitman & Co., 2015
Ages 4-8  

In “The Night the Lights Went Out on Christmas” the Johnsons inspire a neighborhood competition on who has the best Christmas lights. The decorations get brighter and gaudier until Christmas Block is famous and draws visitors every year.

Finally, one year Jimmy Johnson switches a switch and the lights go out in the entire town. The blackout spreads wider and wider until it covers the world. Everyone on Christmas Block stands heartbroken until Missy Johnson looks up in the sky and cries out about the beauty of the stars. 

Countless faces smile in awe at the night sky. They remember that one star guided three kings on the first Christmas night. They wonder if maybe Christmas can be neon free. The next year the neighbors on Christmas Block don't put up any decorations. Instead, they light a candle on a rock and gather around to sing Christmas carols. 

This is an inspiring Christmas story, but unfortunately the telling of the story falls a little short. It is told in rhyme and four-line stanzas, but the book is riddled with rhyme crimes. The rhyme scheme is inconsistent, there is no regular meter, slant rhyme or almost rhyme is used too often, and awkward word choice and inverted syntax are common.

The colorful full-page illustrations are lovely and vibrant. Expressive facial expressions amp up the emotional power of the story.

If you can ignore the book’s rhyme crimes, this would make a great Christmas gift for a young child.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Ellis Paul is an award-winning folk singer-songwriter.  He has released eighteen albums, including his most recent album for adults, "Chasing Beauty." His children’s albums are "The Dragonfly Races" and "The Hero in You," which was adapted into a children’s book. “The Night the Lights Went Out on Christmas” is based on a song he wrote for his holiday album, "City of Silver Dreams." Visit him at

Scott Brundage is an award-winning illustrator whose works have appeared in major newspapers and magazines throughout the United States. This is his first picture book. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and dog. His website is


Monday, December 7, 2015

National Geographic Celebrates Nature with Poetry Collection

National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 Poems with Photographs that Float, Zoom, and Boom!
Edited by J. Patrick Lewis
The National Geographic Society, 2015

This collection of over 200 nature poems pairs stunning photographs with poems that vary in style and mood, but are equally striking. The poems come from a wide range of over 100 poets, including 19th century classics like William Woodworth, John Keats and Emily Dickinson; 20th century favorites like Robert Frost, E.E. Cummings and Langston Hughes; and contemporary children’s poets, such as Jack Prelutsky, Janet Wong and Jane Yolen.

Simpler poems may appeal to the youngest, such as “Dew” by Charles Ghigna, appearing next to a dew-covered flower: “Diamonds on the petals/Silver on the stems/Early morning sunrise/Turns dewdrops into gems.”  Dramatic narratives might pique the interest of older children. “Tornado Season” by Adrien Stoutenburg tells the story of a destructive tornado: “Wind went by with people falling out of it/ and hairpins/and a barn door swinging without its hinges.”

This book would make a wonderful introduction to poetry for children of all ages and a treasure for the family bookshelf.  
About the Editor:

J. Patrick Lewis is an award-winning poet and the former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate. Before becoming a full-time writer, he was an economics professor at Otterbein College until 1998. He is the author of more than 50 books of poetry for children including “Spot the Plot: A Riddle Book of Book Riddles” (2009, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger); “The Last Resort” (2002), a New York Times Best Illustrated Book; “The Shoe Tree of Chagrin” (2001), which won the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators' Golden Kite Award; and “A Hippopotamusn't: And Other Animal Poems” (1990). He has also collaborated with other poets on several collections. His children's poetry has been widely anthologized, and his contributions to children's literature have been recognized with the 2011 Poetry Award from the National Council of Teachers of English and the Ohioana Awards' 2004 Alice Louise Wood Memorial Prize. His poetry for adults includes the collection “Gulls Hold Up the Sky: Poems 1983-2010.”     

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Little Red Riding Hood Spoof Is Fun

Little Red Gliding Hood
Written by Tara Lazar and illustrated by Troy Cummings
Random House, Oct. 2015
Ages 2-5

Little Red Riding Hood has taken up ice skating in this spoof on the traditional fairy tale. She has worn out her skates and is determined to win a pairs skating competition and the prize of new skates. But who will be her skating partner? The Dish has paired up with the Spoon. Hansel has Gretel. The Seven Dwarfs are busy at hockey. Little Red has a strange encounter with the Big Bad Wolf and gets a crazy idea that just might work.

This new spin on the traditional fairy tale is loaded with funny references to other fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Little Red knocks on the Three Little Pigs’ door saying, “Little pigs, little pigs, let me in!” The Big Bad Wolf taps on her shoulder and says, “Excuse me. I think that’s my line.” When the Big Bad Wolf takes the ice at the competition, he frightens Little Miss Muffet away. Little Miss Muffet bumps Little Jack Horner into the corner. Humpty Dumpty has a great fall and Jack and Jill come tumbling after. 

The colorful illustrations are bright and active. Children will enjoy looking for all of their favorite fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters.

The story’s surprise ending shows small children that people aren’t always what they seem. The Big Not-So-Bad Wolf is Little Red’s skating partner, and the two win the competition.

Usually, the book works, but occasionally references to fairy tales sound a bit rough and forced. When all the skaters are frightened of the Big Bad Wolf, the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe “had so many children on the ice, she didn’t know what to do.”


About the Author and Illustrator:

Tara Lazar was once a champion figure skater. She writes quirky, funny picture books featuring magical places that are a joy to visit. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two young daughters. Her blog and website is

Troy Cummings  flails his arms about wildly and leaves behind a trail of crooked lines until he crashes to the ground when he tries to skate. The other books he has illustrated include “The Eensy Weensy Spider Freaks Out! (Big-Time!),” “Giddy-Up, Daddy!” and “The Notebook of Doom.” He lives in Greencastle, Ind., with his family and cat. See more of his work at  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

New Monster Book Will Amuse Youngsters

I Want to Eat Your Books
Written by Karin Lefranc and illustrated by Tyler Parker.
Sky Pony Press, Sept. 2015
Ages 3-6

The new kid at school turns out to be a zombie, but he’s hungry for books instead of his classmates. He chomps through a science book, a textbook, and “Sharks at Sea,” as the narrator hurries to hide his favorite “Frankenstein.”

When the teacher announces library time, the kids have to come up with a plan fast to stop the hungry zombie from destroying all the books. The narrator offers the zombie a book about the brain. Somehow the subject interests the zombie, even though he eats books not brains. And suddenly, he is converted to reading books instead of eating them. “I WANT TO READ YOUR BOOKS!” he shouts. Then another monster, a mummy, bursts in and the zombie tames her and reads her a book.

Parker’s full-page illustrations are vibrant and colorful, and amp up the book’s energy. The book’s rhyming iambic couplets and the monster’s repeated cries of “I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS!” add to the fun and excitement.

“Oh no!” cries Eric. “Take a look. / He’s chomping on your science book!” / “And now he’s got a paperback / he’s munching as a midday snack.
“He looks at us with bulgy eyes / and chews a torn-off page and cries: / I WANT TO EAT YOUR BOOKS!

On the negative side, the rhymes are sometimes a little clunky and the ending about the mummy seems a bit tacked on and rushed.

Nevertheless, this energetic, funny book will appeal to youngsters. Parents and teachers will appreciate the message about reading. And it’s coming out just in time for Halloween.

The publisher is also providing a classroom guide with language arts activities that address Common Core Standards.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Karen Lefranc grew up all over the world, living in Sweden, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, before moving to the U.S. to attend Bard College in New York. She lives in Connecticut with her three daughters and son, who love devouring books of all kinds. Karin is a certified children’s yoga instructor. This is her debut picture book.

Tyler Parker received his BFA in illustration from the Maryland Institute College of Art and also has an MA in sequential design and illustration from the University of Brighton. He is the illustrator of more than seven children’s books including “Monsters Meet on Mondays” and “The Ice Cream Shuffle” and lives in Seattle.    


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Look for These New Picture Books

Peter Pauper Press, White Plains, NY, is a new publisher to watch for standout picture books. The publisher of gift books, humor books, compact references, travel guides, stationery, holiday cards, journals and activity books, began publishing a small number of picture books two years ago.  This year’s list includes two not to miss: “No Yeti Yet” by Mary Ann Fraser and “Mina’s White Canvas” by Hyeon-Ju Lee.

No Yeti Yet
by Mary Ann Fraser
Ages 4-8

Two young brothers venture out on a snowy day in search of a “yeti,” a big, shaggy snow monster in “No Yeti Yet.” The little brother is full of questions for his older brother, but they can’t find the yeti until the end. The blue, snowy pictures that cover every page are wonderful. Readers will be amused to find the yeti before the characters do. He hides on every page. The big brother is at first afraid when the monster shows up in the end, but the yeti turns out to be friendly.

My one complaint is that the story does not take place in the Himalayan region of Nepal and Tibet, the setting for the legendary yeti or Abominable Snowman. Instead of looking Nepalese or Tibetan, the children in the book appear to be Caucasian. Nevertheless, I recommend the book.

About the author: Mary Ann Fraser graduated from UCLA and then spent a year studying at England’s Exeter College of Art and Design. Since then, she has written and illustrated 60 books for children, winning accolades including School Library Journal’s Best Book of the Year and American Booksellers Association Pick of the List. Visit her website at

Mina’s White Canvas
By Hyeon-Ju Lee
Ages 4-8

On a gray, gloomy day, Mina draws a beautiful snowfall on her windowpane with a magic crayon. Then she takes a walk in the forest and uses her crayon to solve problems for many animal friends she meets. The story is similar to the 1955 classic “Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson, but this one stars a Korean girl and focuses on making friends. The pictures are lovely, and despite the simplicity of style, the characters’ faces are expressive, adding to the fun of the story. Recommended.

About the author: Hyeon-Ju Lee is a talented young author and illustrator from Korea. This is her debut children’s picture book, which was originally published in Korea. In 2012, she won a Special Mention for the Opera Prima section of the Bologna Ragazzi Award, honoring new authors and illustrators of the best designed books worldwide.