Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Wildest Brother; Grandpa Green; The Circus Ship; Pigs to the Rescue

Whoa! I finally got my blog back, after months and months of no-access due to hackage and technical difficulties.

I've been volunteering at my local library, and today I worked on writing a few short reviews for some of my favorite picture books. Here are a couple I wrote today:

1. The Wildest Brother, by Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Kerstin Meyer
The Wildest Brother is about a boy who has to spend his days protecting his big sister from all the wild and terrible creatures of his imagination--and about his sister, who not only appreciates (read: puts up with) his efforts, but is there to protect him when that imagination gets a little too scary at the end of the day.
The theme of this heartfelt book is siblings who care about each other--no matter how much trouble they might cause each other. The illustrations perfectly support the text--from Ben's wardrobe coming to life and being defeated, showing his wild bravery and vigilance at rooting out and fighting off the dangers, to the soothing blue of cuddling in bed with a brave, strong big sister after a nighttime scare--showing how Anna, the big sister, may be annoyed by her wild brother's tricks, but she still engages with him and loves him in spite of the mess. This is the very best kind of book, about the very best kind of siblings.

2. Grandpa Green, by Lane Smith
This story of a little boy walking through his great-grandpa's garden and learning his life history has incredible art. The topiaries in the garden are all shapes that relate to events in "Grandpa's" life--from collecting chickens to reading The Wizard of Oz to World War II to having grandkids. The palette is green with a few eye-catching accents; the trees are amazingly twisted, complicated, cultivated and pruned, and the ending is spot-on: Grandpa may not always remember everything, so the garden remembers for him--and by extension, for his descendants. It's a simple yet meaningful story, full of the meaning of knowing your roots. Read it with a grandparent today!

3. The Circus Ship, by Chris van Dusen
Picture books written in rhyming verse are such a joy to read aloud, and this one is especially marvelous. Taking the true story of a ship full of circus animals crashing off the coast of Maine, the author imagines an island where they all find refuge, learn to live with its human inhabitants, and are eventually saved by the humans' scheming. All in perfect rhyme!
As well-put-together and enjoyable as the story is, the pictures are just as good. One of my favorites includes an exhausted crocodile and a sad camel. The people and animals are caricatures. It's lighthearted but also exciting and dramatic: the big tiger jumps through the bright flames and comes out with a tiny girl on his back. There's also a page where the animals have been camouflaged or hidden and you can try to spot them all. The villain gets his just desserts and the animals and villagers get their happy endings. Fun and exciting, with a pleasing rhythm and pictures that will capture your eyes and keep them busy, this is just what a children's book should be.

4. Pigs to the Rescue, by John Himmelman
This is a story of wanting to help--and going overboard in a big way! On the Greenstalks' farm, the pigs are eager to rescue everyone from their problems--a little too eager. First, they help plow the field...but really they dig a deep trench! Then they help water the garden--or drown it! The hilarity continues as each whimsically-drawn scene unfolds. The pigs are watching and waiting all week long, so when milk is spilt on Sunday, the humans try to keep it quiet. But here come the cows!
This book will make you laugh out loud as it explores the themes of wanting to help and not always getting it right.

...So there's a little taste of what I've been up to lately. I'm not sure it sounds like me--it might be a little too infomercially for my tastes. But I love love love these books, and I want to share them with others who may not be *quite* as into the children's picture book scene as I am, and who might need to know which ones out there are this good! So there you go.

I'm a little rusty with all the formatting on here and everything, and I'm still contemplating where to go from here. But I know I want to keep writing--so I'll see you around!