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Book Reviews

Rollicking Reads for National Poetry Month


Time for a Hug

A lot happens for Little Bunny in the hours between wake-up at 8 a.m. and bedtime at 8 p.m.  These rhyming verses by mother-daughter duo Phillis Gershator and Mim Green mention face-washing, clothes-choosing, breakfast-eating, book-reading and bug-chasing, all guided with playful patience by Big Bunny.  But there is always “time for a hug,” as the delightful refrain points out.  Especially noteworthy is the gender neutrality of both Big and Little Bunny, in their bright short-sleeved shirts.  In this way, males as well as females can be perceived as primary caretakers who comb hair, bake pies and bounce balls.  Illustrator David Walker beautifully conveys the bunnies’ joy in one another and their world through the animals’ large, expressive faces.

ages 3 – 8

Wake Up, It’s Easter

A whimsical raven pens Easter messages for his wild neighbors in this rhyming paean to spring’s blue skies, warm sun and growing things.  A timid vole then awakens a rabbit who bounds off to prepare his fellow hares for the holiday.  Little ones will love examining the pictures for signs of the creatures’ home lives, including the raven’s tree-house hammock and tea set, the vole’s watering-can shower, the rabbit’s road marker to his burrow, and a flowering meadow visited by moles, worms, ladybugs and bees.  The final double-page spread begs to be lingered over, with raven and vole enjoying a tree-branch tea party while watching the busy bunnies hiding Easter eggs below.

Jackhammer Sam

This rambunctious read-aloud is sure to rock the room!  Construction dude Sam is larger and louder than life, thanks to a sidewalk-blasting jackhammer that lets fly concrete and onomatopoeic words alike.  Atta-Ratta-Tatta-Bam!  Atta-Ratta-Batta-Blam!   The legendary John Henry tackled mountains with his hammer, but Sam wields his tool in the city, in this energetic verse tale by Peter Mandel.  Artist David Catrow brings the grinning, big-bellied guy and contemporary Manhattan to exuberant life through details such as a wary pug, a traffic jam, two disheveled pigeons and a subway train disgorging commuters of an amazing variety of shapes and hairstyles.  As the story makes clear, Sam prepares the way for the skyscrapers, bridges and tunnels depicted, but he also impacts even the city’s tiniest denizens— the ants that crisscross the pocked pavement on the book’s endpapers.

Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band

With his wild, feathered head and bass-guitar skills, Rooster is one cool cat … er, fowl.  And with the big barnyard talent show coming up, he wants to put together the best jazz band ever.  Author Kwame Alexander riffs off the names of, and introduces young readers to, jazz greats, which are snazzily depicted by illustrator Tim Bowers.  There’s the elegant pianist Duck Ellington, the honey-voiced Bee Holiday and shades-wearing trumpet master Mules Davis.  Though he doesn’t win the talent show, Rooster and his band (and young readers) have a great time.  Back matter includes a glossary of jazz terms and a brief description of the featured musicians.

ages 9 & up

I Lay My Stitches Down

In this stunning collection of 14 poems, local author and quilt maker Cynthia Grady conveys the hardships and hopes of enslaved African-Americans.  She gives each poem a 10-line, 10-syllable structure to “mimic the square shape of a quilt block,” and artist Michele Wood weaves specific quilt patterns into her depictions of the hard-working children, bereft parents, escaped slaves, horse trainers and musicians who voice the poems.  The result is breathtaking, with a poem’s powerful imagery often echoed in the accompanying stylized illustration.  For example, the “greedy wheels” of the overseer’s wagon and the grief of a father whose “baby girl” is being sold find visual expression in a picture as spare and heart wrenching as Picasso’s “Guernica.”

Under the Mambo Moon

Marisol loves to help Papi out in his music store.  Neighbors stop by to chat about their favorite songs and dances, from old Dr. Solis and his Puerto Rican drummers to Catalina who likes to “shine like a jewel” when she does the cha-cha-cha.  These lively poems by Julia Durango capture the rhythm and energy of the dances themselves, with Fabricio VandenBroeck’s illustrations a vibrant swirl of color and line.  The author’s note in the back provides a history and description of Latin American music, instruments and dance, including Andean panpipes, Brazilian bossa nova and Mexican mariachi bands.  Like Marisol’s family, you might want to play some of the music mentioned for your kids and dance together “under the Mambo Moon.”

Mary Quattlebaum is the author, most recently, of the picture books Pirate vs. Pirate (Disney Hyperion) and The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans (Random House).  You can contact Mary at, which has information about her 18 award-winning children’s books, school presentations and writing workshops.