Thursday, February 12, 2015

Love is More Than Valentines (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Pick out some unusual stories to share during this Valentine’s Day season of love and affection.  Invite children to remember that love can be shared across generations, between friends, and among genders, cultures, and religions.  Give yourself time to find stories that tempt children to comment, ask questions and offer observations.  The pleasures of reading together promise your child both loving time with you and a future as a lifelong reader. 

Hokey Pokey: Another Prickly Love Story  
by Lisa Wheeler 
Illustrated by Janie Bynum
Cushion the porcupine, who can’t dance a step, loves Barb the hedgehog.  Her favorite thing is dancing. So Cushion searches all through the petting zoo for a teacher who will help him “learn some dance steps.” 
            Tally-ho, the fox friend, who begins teaching Cushion the foxtrot, ends with a painfully crushed tail.  Clover’s bunnyhop class ends with a flattened rabbit’s foot.  Then, during Biddy’s funky chicken lesson, Cushion accidently shoots the hen’s bottom with his quills!
            In this sequel to Porcupining, a talented partnership has once again crafted a fable of friendship. The clever text is matched by playful digital watercolors and pastels. Cushion’s rhyming song is repeated during each lesson. Every time it leads to painful results.
Bynum’s expressive animal faces and body language add humor to the play of words that are Wheelers’ trademark. The discouraged porcupine is cheered when his friend, Barb, offers her help. The story concludes with the pair dancing the title dance.  

Little, Brown & Co, $15.99 
Interest Level: Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 2  
(This book is available to purchase from local and online booksellers.)

Last Stop on Market Street 
by Matt de la Pena 
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
            In a familiar routine, CJ and his nana ride the bus after church on Sundays. On this particular rainy Sunday CJ is feeling sorry for himself.  His questions show his unhappiness: “How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?” “How come we don’t got a car?”  “How come we always gotta go here after church?”
            Each time Nana offers a playful response, giving him a chance to look and listen in new ways. The bus driver pulls a coin from behind CJ’s ear. The blind man with a dog compliments Nana’s perfume. Even the guitarist across the way plays a song that closes the passengers’ eyes to the bus and the busy city.  Its rhythm lifts CJ’s imagination, giving “him the feeling of magic.”
            As he and Nana get off the bus at the “Last stop on Market Street,” his final question, “How come it’s always so dirty over here?” offers readers a gentle observation, again from Nana.  “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”
             Combining the award-winning skills of Robinson and de la Pena, this outstanding book features an authentic urban setting. Images of individuals with varied skin colors, ages, and classes join realistic text.  Combined they give readers a sense of the fabric of the city – it’s toughness and appeal. Flat, colorful acrylic and collage illustrations show fascinating details to engage a young child’s interest.             
            The ultimate destination, a soup kitchen, with its familiar people causes CJ to wonder how his nana finds beauty “where he never even thought to look.”
“I’m glad we came,” he says.
Putnam, $16.99 
Interest Level: Pre Kindergarten – Grade 1 
(This book is available to purchase from local and online booksellers.)

Two Speckled Eggs 
by Jennifer K. Mann
            Ginger wanted to invite all the girls in her class, except Lyla Browning, to her birthday party.  But mom said, all or none. So oddball Lyla arrives first.  When finally, the others come, the games turn out to be no fun.  This is because the other girls change the rules, don’t play by the rules, or start the game too soon. And most disappointing, they don’t like Ginger’s favorite silver and gold cake.  Except Lyla.
            Round-headed girls arrive wearing varied colors and carrying packages. Lyla is in the background, wearing glasses, and with her ever-present magnifying glass. Until the birthday cake.           
The pencil and gouache illustrations are enhanced with digital collage.  This allows for plenty of white space, keeping the focus on the simple, satisfying story.  This also gives readers a chance to focus on the expressive faces and movements of the girls.
            Additionally, Lyla’s present shows the similarities between the two girls most clearly -- a handmade bird's nest with two speckled malted-milk eggs in the center. The end of the book is actually only the beginning of a strong friendship.

Candlewick, $14.99 
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3 
(This book is available to purchase from local and online booksellers.)


Henry and the Valentine Surprise 
by Nancy Carlson. 
Penguin, $15.99 (hardcover) $6.99 (paperback) 
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 1 
(This book is available to purchase from local and online booksellers.)

Hug Machine 
by Scott Campbell
Simon & Schuster, $16.99 
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 3 
(This book is available to purchase from local and online booksellers.)

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