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November 2010

Book Reviews

Thanks Be for . . . Books

By Mary Quattlebaum

Celebrate family, friends and the natural world with this feast for the eyes and ears


All Around Me I See
by Laya Steinberg, illustrated by Cris Arbo. Dawn, 2008 board book, $7.95

Looking for a Thanksgiving read-aloud? Surprise your family with this one—and keep sharing it throughout the year. Tots will adore the colorful board-book format, while older kids and adults will appreciate the poetic message about the interconnectedness of all things. The opening lines, “The rain is a drink for the Earth./A puddle is a bath for a bird,” find visual expression in vivid illustrations of a little girl preparing for a hike with her parents. Like the splashing bird in the picture, she delights in the puddle and other natural things she spots: the beetle’s leaf boat, the turtle’s log bridge and the fawn’s grass bed. Surrounded by her own loving family, she notices that, “[a] forest is a family for a tree” and falls asleep at the campsite to dream of the wonders large (the sun) and small (a dew-filled blossom) that fill our amazing world.


ages 3 – 7

All the Seasons of the Year
by Deborah Lee Rose, illustrated by Kay Chorao. Abrams, 2010, $16.95

Whimsical watercolors grace this tender paean to the parent-child bond. Opening with autumn, the rhyming text takes a kitten and his mama through the glittering snowflakes of winter, the kite-flying breezes of spring and the hot, bee-buzzing days of summer to the festive grand finale of a fall birthday party. The gentle hues, soothing rhythms and reassuring message of timeless love make this a perfect bedtime book, while also offering tykes and their parents many ideas for daytime play throughout the seasons. As your little one drifts off to sleep, be prepared for her eager plans for future sledding or pool-splashing adventures like those of the little cat.


Oscar and the Very Hungry Dragon
by Ute Krause. NorthSouth, 2010 English translation, $16.95

Music may soothe the savage breast, but culinary skills will tame a dragon, according to this funny riff on the Hansel-and-Gretel tale. A fiery monster yearns for a “fat, juicy princess” and greets a skinny young visitor with both a disappointed mien and an enormous appetite. Clever Oscar, though, tricks the creature into plumping him up before devouring him and sends the dragon to the grocery store with a long list. Soon the smells of asparagus soup, filet mignon and crêpes suzette tempt the dragon to forego the young chef for his creations. Before you can say “homemade ice cream,” boy and beast have opened a five-star restaurant catering to diners large and scaly and small and soft-skinned. The story moves along briskly, enlivened by pictures awash in humorous details, including the dragon’s tiny bib and shopping bags.

Camille Saint-Saëns’s The Carnival of the Animals
with verses by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Mary GrandPre. Random House, 2010, $19.99

Verse, music, image and history come together in this charming book. Rhyme-meister Jack Prelutsky creates poems about birds, kangaroos, elephants and a swan inspired by “The Carnival of the Animals,” a 19th-century musical composition. An accompanying CD offers a double treat: youngsters can listen to the orchestral pieces by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns and to Prelutsky reading his poems. Adding to the richness of this mix are intriguing collages by Mary GrandPre. Internationally known for her cover and interior art for the American editions of the Harry Potter series, GrandPre brings verve and energy to her visual interpretation of the music and poems. A wincing man-in-the-moon and open-mouthed donkeys playfully illustrate the braying “Personages with Long Ears” while a T. rex skeleton dodges a city cab in “Fossils.” A note at the end of the book provides background: Saint-Saëns was but 3 years old when he started piano lessons, began composing music 10 years later and allowed these humorous animal pieces to be performed only twice when he was alive.

ages 8 – 11

The Can Man
by Laura Williams, illustrated by Craig Orback. Lee and Low, 2010, $18.95

Tim is trying to earn money for a new skateboard by picking up empty soda cans and trading them for cash at the redemption center. But he has competition: an elderly homeless man whom the neighborhood calls The Can Man. Tim’s parents, though, always refer to him as Mr. Peters and explain his job loss to their son. Sensory details—the seasonal chilliness, the dampness of rain, the clank of cans and stink of garbage—help the reader enter the scene and, like Tim, experience empathy for Mr. Peters. The oil paintings add to this effect, visually contrasting the boy’s thick, bright jacket to the man’s thin, tattered coat, the warmth of Tim’s kitchen to the rainy streets of The Can Man. This compassionate, skillfully written story builds to a satisfying, believable conclusion—and gives young readers much to think about and act upon.

Soar, Elinor!
by Tami Lewis Brown, illustrated by Francois Roca. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010, $16.99

The language of Washington author Tami Lewis Brown spins and soars in this picture-book biography of pioneering aviatrix Elinor Smith. A pilot herself (as well as a former school librarian), Brown captures both the thrill of flight—“the ground fell away … [c]louds broke and shafts of sunlight bathed the fields”—and Elinor’s indomitable spirit. In 1917, 6-year-old Elinor’s dream of being a pilot bucks societal conventions but that deters neither the spunky girl nor her supportive parents. Elinor begins taking flying lessons at 10, solos at 15 and is soon breaking aviation records. At the age of 17, she accepts a dangerous challenge from a scoffing male pilot: fly under the four bridges of New York’s East River. Suspense mounts as Elinor plans her route and deals with sudden obstacles at each bridge. Oil paintings by Francois Roca enhance the real-life drama through stunning aerial vistas, close-ups of Elinor’s determined face and broader views of excited onlookers. An older Elinor is quoted in the book’s Author’s Note: “Children must be allowed to dream and have a horizon to work toward.” Through Soar, Elinor! youngsters today have a model of someone who dreamed big, worked hard and accomplished much.


The Green Hour
by Todd Christopher. Trumpeter/Shambhala, 2010, $17.95

Structured activities, ubiquitous screens and our drive-everywhere culture conspire to keep kids from outdoor play, which is being increasingly recognized as vital to a child’s emotional and physical well-being. Local author Todd Christopher gets families out and having fun in this engagingly written guide full of games, crafts, experiments and safety tips. One of the founders of the National Wildlife Federation’s popular Green Hour project ( and a parent himself, Christopher knows how to pique and develop a kid’s interest in the natural world. For easy access to information, he divides the book into six sections on backyards, trails, meadows, weather and the shore and sky. The book is beautifully designed, with realistic spot illustrations by John Dawson, green-inked headings and fact-filled sidebars. It can help provide many a happy green hour for you and your kids as you learn how to track the family pet (and wild critters of your neighborhood), make an acorn-top whistle and fly tiny maple-seed helicopters.

Mary Quattlebaum is a mother and the author most recently of Sparks Fly High, a colonial American folktale, and Jackson Jones and the Curse of the Outlaw Rose, a humorous chapter book. Contact Mary through, which has information on her 15 award-winning children’s books, school presentations and writing workshops.