Thursday, October 15, 2015

Autumn Means Halloween and Wet, Windy Weather (FAMILY magazine reviews)

Ready or not, the season is changing! Shorter days plus longer nights, have already begun. Even in South Florida some leaves respond to the shifting light, dropping after their color lightens. Children’s chatter includes questions about costumes and candy for the approaching ghostly holiday. And in this collection of books included below are great stories, whether its hurricane season or simply fall. Have fun sharing these terrific tales with your favorite small person!

Marilyn’s Monster by Michelle Knudsen
Illustrated by Matt Phelan
            Some of Marilyn’s classmates have monsters. It’s the latest thing. But you can’t just go out and get one. “Your monster has to find you.”
            Marilyn is patient. But, as the story progresses, even the kids who didn’t have monsters get their monsters. Her brother says, ‘It probably . . . ran the other way” when it saw you.’
            She wants to go out and search for her monster. However, “that’s not the way it works.”
            Award-winning illustrator Phelan uses his distinctive watercolor style to partner best-selling author Knudsen’s surprising story about an unusual friendship. The mostly kindly, snugly-looking monsters (except for the one who keeps the bullies away from his boy) look kid-friendly with smiles and open-faces. They come in blues and greens, pinks and yellows - even with multiple eyes or snaggle teeth. The gray colors are saved for Marilyn’s dark and scary room at night.
            When Marilyn decides, at last, to look for her monster, her frustration after an unsuccessful search is a study in contrasts. Her angry face, and the loud dark words, “WHERE ARE YOU?” come from the midst of a bright field of wildflowers.
            The satisfying ending follows immediately after her brother’s comment, “It’s not supposed to work that way.” Marilyn’s response is simply a look and her thought; there are “a lot of different ways that things could work.”
            This very gentle reminder is a healthy recognition that not everything fits into a tidy box. And this is only part of what is confusing and exciting about a child’s experience of growing up.           

Candlewick Press, $15.99
Interest Level: Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 3

Just Itzy by Lana Krumwiede
Illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
            Everyone knows the Itzy Bitzy Spider song, right? Well this is the story of Itzy who decides on the first day of Spindergarten, that he will catch his own lunch. Doing this will prove he’s no longer a spiderling, like his brother Gutsy says. And maybe others will start to call him simply Itzy.
            Following Mr. Webster’s spinning lesson on the importance of “Location, location, location!” Itzy tries to remember to keep his eye on the fly. But a tuffet with a little girl eating curds and whey in “tricky surroundings” frightens away the fly.           
            Then, an old lady on the porch where Itzy spins his next web swallows the fly Itzy has his eye on. She swallows Itzy too! And well, you know the rest from another children’s book about the OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY, right? When all the creatures get coughed out from Itzy wiggling inside this old lady, the fly gets away. Again!
            Award winner Pizzoli’s illustrations are bright and energetic. The spiders, creatures and people have clearly defined expressive faces and movements. The backgrounds are colorful and less distinct, serving to draw readers’ attention to the characters in action. Irresistible paintings are an engaging match with an ingenious story-line and skillfully crafted text.
            Itzy’s final effort at web making is interrupted to rescue a creature whose voice he hears coming from a waterspout. He stops making his web to climb up, but is washed down by a sudden rain shower. (Just like the song!!) Because it’s so slippery, he spins a ladder web and rescues his big brother Gutsy. Mr. Webster, the teacher, meets them at the bottom with congratulations on their successful achievements. And Gutsy even remembers to call his brother the preferred name, Itzy!!

Candlewick Press, $15.99
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 2

Say It! by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Charlotte Voake
            A little girl and her mother are walking down the street. “Come on,” says the little one, “say it!” Her mother laughs, “It’s a wild, wondrous, dazzling day.” A black kitten scampers through the leaves. The two walkers watch a still pond shiver with colors as the wind begins again.
            “It’s magic. It’s a golden, shining, splendiferous day!” exults the mother in response to the child’s repeated request. “That’s not what I mean,” the girl says again. Even a dancing dog, a bubbling brook, smoke coming from the welcome home fire the father has made don’t produce the little one’s wished for words.
            Fuzzy watercolor paintings leap with color and movement. They bring the words to life, even as the words of the text create the energetic focus of the pictures.
Although this is clearly an autumn story – both text and illustrations evoke bright leafy colors and floating fuzzy milkweed seed clouds – it could be a love story for Valentine’s Day, or a Mother’s Day book. The story is gentle, yet the effect is tingling. The words the little girl has been begging for during the walk together all through this “golden windy day” are the dizzying three words we all want someone to say, “I love you!”

Candlewick Press, $15.99
Interest Level: Pre-Kindergarten – Kindergarten

More titles to try:

Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Candlewick Press, $12.99
Interest Level: Kindergarten – Grade 3

I Don’t Like Snakes by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Luciano Lozano
Candlewick Press, $15.99
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 3


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