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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

French Illustrator Puts Eerie Spin on Traditional Tale

The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Adapted by Marine Tasso, illustrated by Thomas Baas. and translated from French by Noelia Hobeika
Little Gestalten, Berlin, 2016

“The Pied Piper of Hamelin” is a beautifully illustrated, deliciously eerie version of the traditional cautionary tale popularized by the Brothers Grimm.

French illustrator Thomas Baas uses bright reds and dark blues to create a sinister mood as a small German town is suddenly invaded by rats on Christmas Eve.

The story is set in 1283 though the characters are curiously clothed in 20th century fashions. The townspeople enjoy a carefree life of lavish parties, but they regard their children as bothersome.

A rat sneaks in through the town gates, followed by a second rat, and a third rat. After a few minutes, there are a few hundred rats, and after a few hours, a few thousand. It isn’t long before the town is overrun by rats.

Panicked townspeople go to the mayor, who orders the most powerful poison be used in mousetraps. But, alas, the rats are so clever and hearty they avoid the mousetraps and feast on the poison as if it were candy.

Desperately, the mayor announces he will give a thousand gold coins to anyone who can rid the town of its rats.

A stranger comes to town and says he knows how to free the town from its infestation. The mayor promises him the reward if he succeeds.

The Pied Piper plays a small pipe in the town square. The rats stop to listen. Then suddenly the square is full of entranced rats.

The rats follow as the stranger continues to play his pipe, walking toward the town gates. The Pied Piper stops on a bridge, but the rats keep moving and throw themselves into the river to drown.

The townspeople celebrate as the Pied Piper goes to the mayor to claim his reward. The mayor says all he will give him is one hundred gold coins. The Pied Piper tells him he will regret that decision.

The adults return to their lavish ways, and the mayor congratulates himself for tricking the stranger.

But one day, the Pied Piper returns playing his pipe. All the children of Hamelin come and follow him. Their parents try to hold them back, but to no avail. The children skip across the bridge, over the river, and disappear into the mountains, never to be seen again.

Ever since that day, the wind from the mountains brings the echo of happy children laughing.

The story is about fairness and the importance of keeping promises. This version of the traditional tale is less bleak than other accounts where the children are drowned or imprisoned in a cave.

Nevertheless, it would be disturbing for very young children. It is probably best for grammar school youngsters.

About the Illustrator

Thomas Baas is a French illustrator of many children’s books. He attended the School of Applied Arts in Strasbourg, France.  He describes his style as old school and in the tradition of Alsatian illustrators. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Two Goofy Board Books Will Amuse Young Children

When Your Lion Needs a Bath
Written by Susanna Leonard Hill and illustrated by Daniel Wiseman
Little Simon, 2017

When Your Elephant Has the Sniffles
Written by Susanna Leonard Hill and illustrated by Daniel Wiseman
Little Simon, 2017

Susanna Leonard Hill has published two silly board books about how to solve your unusual pets’ problems. Young children will enjoy the goofy stories and colorful cartoon pictures by Daniel Wiseman.

The stories are a little reminiscent of Laura Numeroff’s “If You Give ...” series, “If You Give a Moose a Muffin,” “If You Give a Pig a Pancake,” “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” etc. One silly suggestion leads to something else, which leads to another thing. Like Numeroff’s stories, Hills are told in second person, addressing the reader as “you.”

“When Your Lion Needs a Bath” begins with the problem that your pet lion is smelly and needs a bath. It is difficult because the lion is afraid of water like all cats, so you need to be sneaky. As the narrator tells you what to do, a boy main character prepares the bath and tries one thing after another to get the lion into the bathtub. Finally, he succeeds, but he leaves the door open. The lion runs out and gets muddy again, splashing him too. “Looks like your lion needs another bath ... and so do you.”

“When Your Elephant Has the Sniffles” starts with the problem that your pet elephant has the sniffles. The narrator says, “You must take good care of him.” The girl main character does one thing after another as the narrator says what you must do to take good care of your lion being careful to prevent a sneeze. Finally, she sings him a song but she isn’t careful about the props she uses, wearing a feathered boa. “Because after all your hard work, his nose might begin to itch ... and twitch ... and ah ... AH ... AAAHHHH ... CHOOOOOOOOOO!

“Oh dear.

"When your elephant has the sniffles, you just might end up with them too!”

About the Author

Susanna Leonard Hill is the award-winning author of nearly a dozen books for children, including Punxsutawney Phyllis (A Booklist Children’s Pick and Amelia Bloomer Project choice); No Sword Fighting in the House (a Junior Library Guild selection); Can’t Sleep Without Sheep (a Children’s Book of the Month); and Not Yet, Rose (a Gold Mom’s Choice Award winner). She lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband, children, and two rescue dogs. She loves chocolate, animals, and being outdoors. 

About the Illustrator

Daniel Wiseman likes to draw. A lot. He likes it so much, he’s made a career out of it. Usually he draws animals wearing clothes, or kids enjoying a good dance party. However, when prodded, he’s been known to draw pretty much anything else. Daniel lives in St. Louis, Mo., with his wife and son. When he isn’t drawing, he can usually be found perfecting his biscuit recipe, hiking up a mountain in some faraway location, singing loudly in his car, riding his bike, or napping.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

‘Cowboy Car’ Teaches Kids to Follow Their Dreams

Cowboy Car
Written by Jeanie Franz Ransom and illustrated by Ovi Nedelcu
Two Lions, New York, 2017

“Cowboy Car” is a “Little Engine that Could” sort of story with a funny twist. Little Car dreams of being a cowboy, but everyone tells him, “Cars Can’t Be Cowboys.”

When Little Car gets bigger, he packs his trunk and goes out West. He finds a cowboy hat just his size on the roof of a cowboy shop. Then he finds a ranch and meets a cowboy named Dusty.

At first, Dusty echoes the words Little Car has always heard, “Cars can’t be cowboys,” but then he says it is a shame because they could use an extra hand. Little Car begs, “Let me prove I can do it.” Dusty agrees to give him a try.

In the next few days, Little Car shows how fast he can go, how he can haul things, and use his headlights to help round up li’l doggies in the dark.

But at the rodeo, he is told he cannot participate unless he can ride a horse. Dusty invites him to stay and watch him ride Double Trouble, the biggest, meanest bull.

After Dusty falls off Double Trouble and is about to be gored by the bull, Little Car races onto the field his tires squealing, horn honking, and radio blasting. He drives around and around, and makes the bull collapse from dizziness. He saves dusty and becomes a hero.

A reporter asks Little Car if he is a cowboy at Circle R Ranch, and Dusty says, “He sure is. In fact, he’s my pardner!” Dusty grins from ear to ear.
This is a cute book for children, teaching them to follow their dreams. Nedulcu’s colorful illustrations are energetic and expressive, complementing the story. 
About the Author

Jeanie Franz Ransom has written eight other picture books including “Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin, and “There’s a Cat in Our Class,” illustrated by Bryan Langdo. She has three grown sons, and divides her time between homes in O’Fallon, Mo., and Northport, Mich. Learn more about her at

About the Illustrator

Ovi Nedelcu is a character designer for animation as well as an author and illustrator. He’s worked on many animated films for such studios as Laika, Disney, DreamWorks, and Sony. In 2015, he wrote and illustrated his first picture book, “Just Like Daddy,” which School Library Journal called delightful. He lives in Portland, Ore., with his wife, children, and an assortment of animals. Learn more about him at 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Lovely Book Captures Small Drama on Duck Pond

On Duck Pond
Written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall
The Cornell Lab Publishing Group, 2017

Jane Yolen and Bob Marstall have teamed up again for On Duck Pond, a sequel to On Bird Hill. Like its predecessor, it is a lovely, quiet book about the beauty and drama found in nature.

Again a boy and his dog take a walk, this time by a pond that is suddenly disturbed by the arrival of a noisy group of ducks.

Yolen uses rhyming couplets and a few triplets to tell her story in first-person narration. Though rhyming is difficult to do well, she does a masterful job of it, and the rhyme and alliteration enhance the story with fun word play.

“Down they splashed. The water splattered. /Then they chittered, whistled, chattered.”

The story is told in a symmetrical way beginning by telling who is disturbed by the ducks: trout and turtles, a frog, a heron, tadpoles, the water, and the boy narrator. Then the ducks move on and the pond grows still again. The wildlife returns, the heron, turtles, trout and fingerlings, tadpoles and the frog.

Finally, the boy senses this shared experience has bonded the wildlife and himself, and he walks home feeling “awfully fond of everyone on old Duck Pond.”

Marstall’s full-page pastel illustrations echo the quiet beauty and drama of the story. They include many kinds of ducks, birds and other wildlife that isn’t mentioned in the story.

At the end of the book, children can learn more about the different birds and animals. They are invited to go back and look for them in the story.

About the Author

Jane Yolen is the author of more than 350 books including the Caldecott-winning Owl Moon; You Nest Here with Me, co-authored with her daughter Heidi E. Y. Stemple; and the New York Times best-selling series How Do Dinosaurs ... Jane Yolen’s books have been translated into over 20 languages. She lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts. Visit her website at

About the Illustrator

Bob Marstall has illustrated nine nonfiction children’s books, including The Lady and the Spider which sold over a quarter million copies and was a Rainbow Room selection. He has also been honored with an ALA Notable award, an IRA Teachers’ Choice, a Smithsonian Magazine Notable Book for Children, and three John Burroughs selections. Two of his books were among the “1001 Best Books of the Twentieth Century” in the New York Times Parent’s Guide to the Best Books for Children, 3rd Edition. He lives in Easthampton, Massachusetts. Visit his website at

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Colorful Watercolor Illustrations Bring Magic to “Rain”

By Sam Usher
Templar, 2017

In “Rain,” the young boy narrator wakes up and can’t wait to go outside to play in the rain. He loves catching raindrops, splashing in puddles, and seeing everything upside down in reflections.

But Granddad says it is best to stay indoors, so the narrator reads and looks out the window watching the rain. It keeps raining and raining.

The boy tells Granddad he’d like to go on a voyage with sea monsters, but Granddad says, “Let’s just wait for the rain to stop.”

He keeps watching and waiting, but the rain doesn’t stop. Granddad is busy going through the mail, and writing. The boy reads books about adventure, and looks outside the window.

He tells Granddad he wants to visit the floating city with acrobats and carnivals and musical boatmen.

Finally, Granddad says, “Quick! Let’s go – I need to get this in the mail!” The boy looks out the window and the rain has stopped.

They go to the mailbox, but the boy imagines they’re on a boat and sees all the things he’s dreamed about in a wild, colorful adventure.

Back at home, they drink hot chocolate and warm up, and the boy hopes it rains again tomorrow.  

The story is simple, but the watercolor-washed ink drawings are magical. When the boy and his grandfather go outdoors, the wild, colorful spreads delightfully illustrate the narrator’s imagination. Young children will love it.

About the Author/Illustrator 

Sam Usher’s first book, Can You See Sassoon?, was long-listed for the Kate Greenaway Medal and short-listed for the Red House Children’s Book Award and the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize. Snow, the companion book to Rain, was long-listed for the Kate Greenaway Medal. Usher lives in London.  

Friday, January 20, 2017

Illustrator Publishes Delightful Book about Slinky

The Marvelous Thing that Came from a Spring
By Gilbert Ford
Athenium Books for Young Readers, 2016

The Marvelous Thing that Came from a Spring tells the story of how Richard James, an engineer and dreamer, came to invent the Slinky, a classic American toy.

It all happens by accident in 1943 when Richard is working for the United States Navy during wartime. His assignment is to invent a device to protect fragile ship equipment from vibrating in choppy seas.

A spring falls from a shelf onto his desk. Richard is fascinated by how the coils seems to take a walk. Maybe it won’t work for the Navy’s ships, but he knows he has stumbled upon something marvelous.

With the help of his family, Richard invents a new toy. The Slinky becomes one of the most popular toys in American history.

The delightful illustrations of old-fashioned drawings are sprinkled with photographs of vintage toys like marbles, game pieces and dollhouse furniture.

Children may be inspired by the story of an accidental invention. Undoubtedly, they will love looking for the many fun details in Ford’s illustrations.

About the Author/Illustrator

Gilbert Ford has illustrated many middle grade jackets, as well as the award-winning picture book Mr. Ferris and His Wheel. He holds a BFA in Illustration from Pratt Institute and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. This is his first nonfiction picture book.    

Monday, January 2, 2017

Beloved Author Publishes Two Beautiful Picture Books

Oskar Loves
By Britta Teckentrup
Prestel, 2016

Before I Wake Up
By Britta Teckentrup
Prestel, 2016

Britta Teckentrup, a popular German author-illustrator, has published two beautiful picture books, “Oscar Loves” and “Before I Wake Up.”

“Oskar Loves” tells the reader all the things that a happy, little black bird named Oskar loves. It begins, “This is Oskar./Oskar loves the deep blue ocean.../...and the soft green grass.”

The story continues with what Oskar loves about spring and autumn, cherries and pebbles, and other things in nature, but includes books and pictures.

The illustrations are simple but colorful, and attractive. Oskar himself is expressive though he is made up of only a few geometric shapes.

The story ends by inviting the reader to consider, “What do you love?” This would be fun for the reader and a parent or teacher.  

“Before I Wake Up” is the imaginative story of the girl narrator’s dreams. The rhyming text and detailed dark pictures take the reader on a journey with the girl and her stuffed lion friend who has become a real lion.

Together the girl and her lion fly on a bed that is being lifted like a hot air balloon by the moon. They fly over the seas and through storms, but she isn’t afraid because her lion protects her.

The girl swims with whales, rides on her lion’s back through a wood, and meets friendly wild creatures. She plays with her lion and feels brave with him near.

Finally, when night fades, the girl and her lion run out of the wood to a light meadow. The girl tells her lion friend goodbye and gets back on the hot air balloon bed to return home.

The illustrations are the strongest part of this story. They are beautiful and dreamlike, and full of small details to find.

The words sometimes sound a bit forced to make the rhymes. “In the blue meadow, I’m joined by my friend./We travel together in our world without end.” Or the rhymes are only near rhymes, such as “Together we fly/with arms stretched out wide/over the seas/and leave our worries behind.”

Once the A-B-C-B rhyme scheme is broken with an A-B-C-C pattern, “We feel the wind./We hear the sea./We sing our song./Together we’re strong.”

Nevertheless, I recommend the book for its beautiful, dreamlike pictures. Youngsters would enjoy following the characters through their adventure. It may also help them not to be afraid of their dreams.
About the Author/Illustrator

Britta Teckentrup is the author and illustrator of many beloved books for children, including The Memory Tree, The Odd One Out, and Grumpy Cat. Her artwork has been displayed in galleries around the world. She lives and works in Berlin, Germany, with her husband and young son.