Friday, November 9, 2018

The RAHK Report: New Books Edition, Fall 2018

My older two girls and I have been really enjoying the review copies we've received from publishers these past couple of months. Today, I finally want to share our thoughts on 10 of the books we were fortunate enough to find in our mailbox. (The 11th book, Sing a Song of Seasons is a lengthy poetry collection, so that one will get its own separate post.)

When I was getting ready to write this up, I corralled Little Miss Muffet (who will turn 5 this month) and Little Bo Peep (who just turned 3) into our home office and asked them to read the books with me and give them a rating of either one star (defined in simple preschool terms as "bad"), two stars ("just okay"), or three stars ("great," a pronouncement to which the girls just naturally added a thumbs up.) It was interesting to see where their ratings matched or differed from each other, and also how they corresponded with my Goodreads ratings.

There were five books to which both girls gave perfect marks of 3 out of 3 stars, so I'll start with those.

Heads and Tails by John Canty (10/23/18, Candlewick Press)
A series of illustrations and textual clues invites preschoolers to guess the names of animals based on their tails. This book is very straightforward and Little Miss Muffet guessed all the animals correctly on her first reading. Little Bo Peep had a bit of a harder time, which leads me to think that her age group is probably the best audience for the book. There are a couple of strange instances where the illustrator throws in a red herring tail and requires the reader to turn the page twice to find out which animal he really intends. Even on a third reading, these moments still felt awkward, so although I really loved the artwork, I gave the book 3 out 5 stars.

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein (9/11/18, Candlewick Press)
My husband has instilled in my children a deep love for elephants, and I think this must be what drives them to ask for this book again and again. They don't know the fairy tales referenced in the book yet, and they have never had homework so the surprise humor of elephants must be the main draw. In any case, for me, this book fell really flat. (I gave it 2 stars out of 5.)  In a previous post, I mentioned that the story felt like it only had one joke, and it beat that joke to death. But I don't mind keeping it around for now, since the girls have latched onto it so heavily. I would like them to read the first book, though, because I do think it's the better of the two.

Ten Horse Farm by Robert Sabuda (4/10/18, Candlewick Press)
My kids are not especially big horse lovers, but they loved this book, and I did too. It is amazing the images that can be created simply using paper cut-outs, and we enjoyed every page, and especially the final spread where the reader needs to find all ten horses hidden around the pop-up barn. (For a sneak peek at the illustrations, check out the book trailer!) I'm also happy to say this book has held up really well to repeated handling. I don't let the baby around it because I know no pop-up book is durable enough to withstand a one-year-old, but allowing my older two to touch the book has not resulted in disaster so far! (My rating: 5 out of 5.)

Sleep, My Bunny by Rosemary Wells (11/13/18, Candlewick Press)
I have read this gentle rhyming bedtime story to all three girls, and while I think it is probably most appealing to the one-year-old, it has definitely made an impression on Miss Muffet and Bo Peep as well. They both love the endpapers, and Bo Peep mentioned that she likes how it shows the bunny doing all the same things in his daily routine that she does in hers. I was a little surprised to see them both give this book the highest rating, but they have been reading it together a lot so I guess I should have guessed. My rating for this book is 4 out of 5 stars.

There's A Dinosaur on the 13th Floor by Wade Bradford, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (10/2/18, Candlewick Press)
This silly story is about a musician who just wants to go sleep, but can't find a room at the Sharemore Hotel that isn't already occupied by an animal. As he and the  bellhop climb higher and higher in the building searching for a suitable bed, the animal residents get more and more ridiculous until finally he meets the occupant of the 13th floor, a dinosaur. This book has held up surprisingly well to multiple re-readings. Both girls have run hot and cold about it for a few weeks, but we are currently in a high-demand phase where there is a lot fighting for a turn with this book.

On the other five books, the girls disagreed, and occasionally so did I.

Oskar Can... by Britta Teckentrup (10/23/18, Prestel Junior)
Little Bo Peep, who was my intended audience when I requested this book, ended up disliking it immensely (1 star!). She did not seem to connect with Oskar at all, and when I said we were going to read this one, she actually wanted to leave the room! Her sisters, on the other hand, have both really taken to the book. Little Jumping Joan, the one-year-old, read it with me a couple of times and she was thrilled by the pictures, pointing at everything in sight. Little Miss Muffet also loved it (3 stars!) and she has read it to her baby doll several times. She tells me that her baby doll, Robin, loves the cover, while Miss Muffet herself loves the pictures and all the things Oskar is able to do. I gave it two stars because I was expecting more of a story, but I could see pairing it with something like Titch for a story time.

Builders and Breakers by Steve Light (10/9/18, Candlewick Press)
This book has a simple text about construction and demolition and how builders and breakers work together to bring a set of blueprints to life. I really liked the artwork, and gave the book 4 out of 5 stars for its strong appeal to kids who love construction, all the details in the illustrations that are not mentioned in the text, and the interesting spin on a popular topic. Miss Muffet is a bit old at this stage for picture books with such minimal words, so she just gave it 2 stars, but Bo Peep found it completely engaging and gave it a big thumbs up (an enthusiastic 3 stars). I posted a review on Instagram as well, and was thrilled that Steve Light shared it!

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (9/4/18, Candlewick Press)
I had reviewed this previously but I wanted to see what the girls had to say about it. I was expecting Miss Muffet to be the one who connected most with this one since the artwork and subject matter are both pretty abstract. But she only gave it 2 stars while Bo Peep, enamored of the colors in the illustrations, gave it 3. I think this is a book they will only appreciate more as they get older, so it will be staying on our shelves for years to come.

Night Job by Karen Hesse, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9/11/18, Candlewick Press)
I also reviewed Night Job previously, but again wanted to see what the girls thought. Bo Peep has been really interested in this one from the start (and she gave it 3 stars), but Miss Muffet went from refusing to hear it at all to an "okay" 2-star rating. Miss Muffet did react strongly to the ending, which is a lovely dream sequence, but I think Bo Peep liked it for the same reason I would have as a kid: it shows the inner workings of an everyday place during its off hours.

City by Ingela P. Arrhenius (9/18/18, Candlewick Studio)
This is my favorite book in this post. It's enormous, filled with beautifully colorful illustrations of all aspects of a city. It reminds me of all the Richard Scarry word books, but with huge pictures instead of little ones. Even the endpapers are reminiscent of that format, as they identify each object and person who appears in the text with the correct label. Miss Muffet was just not that interested in this book, and she started out with a 1-star rating, then later asked me to increase it to 2. She said her baby doll didn't like the "unsafe things like the subway" but only because "she will never get to go there." Bo Peep didn't have much to say about why she did like it, but I think part of the reason for her 3-star rating is that there are so few words, she can enjoy the book independently without any interference from her parents or sister.

Finally, I just have to mention one more book that Little Miss Muffet has absolutely adored: My First Wild Activity Book, published by Silver Dolphin Press. It came out in the spring, but she didn't really look at it much until the week of our move in August when she needed to be kept busy for long stretches of time while we dealt with logistics. The book is organized really well, with sections for each of seven different habitats, and there are a variety of activities for exploring the animals that live in each one. I finally found where she has been keeping the book the other day, and I was so pleased to see it was almost complete and that she had done such a thorough job. There are still some activities left to do that require grown-up help, so it seems like we'll even get a bit more out of it yet. Miss Muffet is really big on activity books, and this one has been a favorite.

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