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Book Reviews, Children’s picture books, Economics

Nobody knows how to make a pizza

by Julie Borowski 2019 / 30 pages The picture book's title makes a claim that my daughter just couldn't believe: "Come on Dad, you know how to make a pizza!" But do I really? Sure, I know how to combine a pizza crust with cheese and tomato sauce. I'm even very good at it. But the point this slim volume is trying to make is that there is a lot more to it. That flour I use started as grain that somebody had to grow, and I certainly don't know how to do that. That farmer who does, brings in his crop using  a wheat harvester, which he isn't able to make himself. He'll ship off his grain, perhaps via a train, which neither of us could ever manufacture. We also don't know how to turn wheat into flour, and the folks that do, don't know how to make the semi-trucks that ship their flour to grocery stores around the country. Making even the simple pizza crust requires a lot of different people all working together, with not one of them knowing how to get all the needed steps done. That's why the pizza narrator's claim – that "there's not a single person on Earth who knows how to make me" – isn't as outrageous as it first seem, And that doesn't even get into the tomato sauce and cheese! You might be wondering, okay, but so what? The point of this little book (and the 1958 essay, I, Pencil, which inspired it) is to expose the arrogance of any big government's central planners. Whether it's full-blown communists who want to plan everything, or a democracy where the elected leadership "merely" direct large chunks of the economy (gov't spending in Canada accounts for 45% of GDP, and their impact is extended further still via regulations), we have governments of all sorts all around the world that think they know how best to run things from the top down. However, if planning the production of a single cheese pizza is beyond the capabilities of any one man, or even a team of the very smartest people on earth, then why would we think the government could ever know enough to competently make the innumerable management decisions they make, from what minimum wage everyone should be paid, to how children should be educated in K-12 (and what they should learn), which companies should be bailed out or subsidized, or even how much milk should be produced? Of course, if no one knows how to make a pizza, that prompts an obvious question: how is it that countless cheese pizzas are made every day? Instead of someone at the top planning it all out, this miracle occurs without much planning at all. The author of this picture book makes more of a libertarian presentation than a Christian one, so I'm using the term "miracle" here for a wonder she doesn't really attempt to explain. But Christians do have an explanation. Now, we might take for granted what the free market can produce – cheaper computers, innovations like the smartphone, innumerable kinds of bagel – to the point it seems too ordinary to call all of that a miracle. But the free market is a miracle nonetheless, completely beyond anybody's ability to plan and create, making it all the easier to see God's fingerprints. His commandment "Do not steal" creates property rights, which is the basis for one person trading what they own to another for something they want more. If you can't steal from others, then the only way to provide for yourself and your family is by producing something other people will value. You get money from them to meet your needs by making something that meets theirs. So God's law is the basis for free trade and it is unplanned, unorganized free trade that has miraculously proven to be the most effective way of raising people out of poverty. The government still has a role here - to prevent theft, enforce contract laws, and generally ensure that property rights are respected – but not in picking the winners and losers. While that's deeper than this picture book goes, what Julie Borowski does highlight is the result: all sorts of strangers cooperating with one another, each looking out for their own interests, but together creating something that none of them could make on their own – innumerable voluntary exchanges and, eventually, violà a pizza! As noted, this book has a libertarian flavoring to it, and because libertarians can often be libertines on moral issues, their values can be at odds with what God knows is best. However, in this case the libertarian impulse for small government syncs up well with the Christian emphasis on humility and Man's fallibility – we have a hard enough time trying to plan out our own lives, so it's arrogant indeed for bureaucrats and politicians to think they can plan out everyone else's lives for them. Better then, to limit (though certainly not eliminate) the government and what it does, so as to leave people the responsibility and allow them the freedom to manage their own lives. This would be read to best effect with a parent along for the ride. Otherwise I could see kids enjoying it, even as they entirely miss the overall small government argument being made. You can watch the author read her book below. ...

Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

100+ wordless wonders for creative kids, wanna-be readers, and reluctant ones too

If you can remember waaaay back to when you first learned to read, what probably sticks with you is that feeling of triumph. It takes a lot of work, a lot of sounding out of all those letters before a kid can turn them into words and sentences. No wonder then that when we first pull it off, kids everywhere can't wait to get home and regale mom and dad with tales of how "Pat and Matt found a cat." For that excitement to last kids will have to be introduced, not simply to reading, but to books worth reading. That's a real challenge early on because long before kids can read the simplest of sentences they've already been introduced to complex stories. Whether it's Bible readings at the dinner table, audiobooks in the car, a picture book on the couch with Grandma, or The Wilderking Trilogy read by dad at night, non-readers are already refining their literary palate years before they enter school. That's why, after that initial triumph that comes with reading those first few dozen "Pat and Matt" books all on their own, it's not unusual for a first grader to get frustrated by just how boring these simplified stories are. That's where wordless, or near-wordless, books can be a help by serving as an encouraging supplement to their necessarily boring early readers. And the very same features that make them a help for early readers make them a go-to for struggling readers too. If a child's reading skill level just isn't there yet, we can encourage him to keep at it by feeding him stories that are way more exciting, but which deliver their content in a manner that's more accessible. And for the preschoolers who desperately want to be grown-up just like their older siblings, and do what they do, wordless books are a treat. They can read too, maybe with a little help from their dad at first, but then afterward they'll be able to read the story to Grandma all on their own! But in addition to pre-readers, early readers, and struggling readers, there's one other pint-sized demographic that can really benefit from this genre. If you have an artistically inclined child, it can be eye-opening to them to see just how much can be said simply by the way a scene or a character is drawn. Some of these books include lushly detailed, full-color pages that a child can pour over for minutes at a time. Other pictures amount to just a few well-placed lines. What a fascinating contrast for a creative kid to explore! But the best reason to read any book? Simply because it's great. Wordless books often operate like a joke, with the bulk of the book as the mysterious setup, and the last few pages, a punchline that makes the rest of it clear. That means, they'll be at their funniest when mom or dad is along for the adventure, to help puzzle things out. You might have to show your kids the ropes, teaching them how to follow the visual cues, but once you go through it with them the first time, they'll be equipped to return to it repeatedly and enjoy it all on their own... or even "read" it to a younger sibling. Quiet and kind (19) These might make for nice bedtime or naptime reads. Ben's Dream by Chris Van Allsburg 1982 / 30 pages A boy has a geography test to study for, and falls asleep with his textbook on his lap. He then dreams of floating past the Great Wall of China, Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and more. At the Sphinx, he even sees his friend, and when he wakes up, he discovers she dreamt of floating past the Sphinx too and seeing him there. Was it just a dream? While this is largely (20+ pages) wordless, it does begin with three pages of text, and then another three to end. The Boys by Jeff Newman 2010 / 40 pages Simple but brightly colored pictures make this a fun one to figure out – I had to flip back and forth through the pages a few times, so your kids will likely need you alongside to think things through. But you'll both enjoy this gentle story of a boy, newly moved to the neighborhood, and the elderly "boys" that he ends up befriending. He wanted to play baseball but couldn't get invited to play with the other kids. The elderly gents were more welcoming, so he started hanging with them...and humorously, starts acting like them, in dress and habits. These gents know a boy has to be a boy, so if he's going to follow their lead, then they are going to show him what it's like to play like a boy. It's sweet, with a happy ending for all... which for these gents means getting back to sitting on their bench and watching those other "boys" play ball. Blanket by Ruth Ohi 2022 / 32 pages A little girl (or, rather, a cat) is having a bit of a gray day. She gets up, wraps herself in her blanket and just huddles underneath. Her friend dog shows up, ducks under the blanket, and he proceeds to quietly encourage her, using a flashlight to make shadow animals on the inside of the blanket, and building a blanket fort with her. The Depth of the Lake and the Height of the Sky by Kim Jihyun 2021 / 48 pages A boy from the city heads off with his family to visit his grandparents in the country. There he discovers the wide woods and a beautiful lake. While some tales like this descend into fantasy at this point, the fish he finds under the water are a realistic, though wonderful sort. That makes this a nice quiet tale, but so quickly over that it'd be best to borrow rather than buy. The Farmer and the Clown (3) by Marla Frazee 2014 / 32 pages When a clown baby falls off the circus train, a long-bearded farmer takes him in. He teaches the toddler a little about farming, and the clown teaches him about clowning. When the circus train returns in search of the baby, they have to go their separate ways. But in a twist on the last page, we see the farmer won’t be lonely – a monkey has jumped off the train to visit. That sets up the sequels The Farmer and the Monkey (2020), and The Farmer and the Circus (2021) where the farmer visits the monkey and boy... and then finds the love of his life: a lady clown! Float by Daniel Miyares 2015 / 44 pages A boy crafts a paper boat out of an old newspaper and sails it in the new puddles and streams created by the still happening rainstorm. When the boat gets swept through a storm drain, he manages to track it down to the local river... but at this point it's just a soggy sheet of paper. He returns, saddened, to his home. But dad knows just how to encourage him. After the boy gets dried off and given some hot tea, dad shows him how to make a paper airplane! (This inside front cover shows how to fold a paper boat, and the inside back cover shows how to make a good paper airplane.) The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney 2009 / 40 pages When a tiny mouse disturbs the naptime of the King of the Beasts, the King seems intent on having a quick snack. But instead, after some back and forth with the tiny petitioner, the lion lets the mouse go. Why? Readers already familiar with this Aesop's tale will remember that the mice have pledged to help the king if ever he is in trouble. But in Pinkney’s almost entirely wordless version because there are only a few squeaks, one owl screech, and a lion’s roar, what the mice have promised isn't as clear. But no worries, we can follow along well enough. Then when hunters trap the mightly lion in a net, it is the mouse that comes to the rescue, chewing through the rope to set the lion free. The moral of the story? Even the strongest among us will eventually need help too.  Mr. Hulot at the Beach by David Merveille 2014 / 32 pages A man just wants to read his newspaper at the beach. But an errant beach ball, a lost shoe, and a digging dog all get in the way. Fortunately, Mr. Hulot is a laid-back sort and a good sport, treating his misfortunes as the minor matters that they are. That might be the best reason to get this one: to see a man meet frustrating circumstances calmly.  Every little kindness by Marta Bartolj 2021 / 72 pages This sweet book starts off with a sad girl who has lost her dog. But as she sets out to cover the town with posters of her pup, she does a kindness to a street musician, giving him her apple. A passerby sees this good deed and then picks up someone else’s litter to throw it away. He in turn is seen by a little boy, who does his own good deed, and so on and so forth. By book's end one of the good deeds turns out to be a man returning the girl’s lost dog. The color scheme here is fun, with muted colors, but with the do-gooders always holding or wearing an item of red to attract the young reader's eye. A bonus: it’s a special treat that this story is quite long! Pip & Pup by Eugene Yelchin 2018 / 32 pages A newly hatched and curious chick pecks a sleeping pup, who doesn't appreciate the interruption and chases away the frightened chick. This doesn't seem like the best of beginnings for a friendship, but when a thunderstorm scares the pup – dogs hate thunder – the chick returns to cautiously comfort him...which is much appreciated. It's a simple sweet story. Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith 2015 / 30 pages On a walk through the city, a girl gathers the wildflowers she finds growing here and there in the cracks in the concrete and then gives them out as small bouquets to the people she meets. The author makes a fun use of color, starting things off black and white, with only the girl's red coat sticking out. But the yellow of the first flower she spots also shows its vibrancy. And as she gives the flowers away, each page becomes more and more colorful. The point? I think it's just that being kind, even in small ways, brings a vibrancy to the world around and the gift giver too. One caution: the first bouquet she gives out is placed atop a dead bird in the park, which might make some small ones a little sad. the surprise by Sylvia van Ommen 2003 / 24 pages A thoughtful sheep figures out how to dye her own wool, then shave it off, have it turned into yarn, and then goes through all the work of knitting it into a surprise present for a good friend. Only downside to this charming book is how fast it's over. Wallpaper by Thao Lam 2018 / 32 pages When a little girls moves into a new neighborhood, she spots the kids next door playing. But she can't quite screw up the courage to try joining them. Instead she discovers a a bird peeking out of turned up corner of her wallpaper and investigates what else is under there. Layer upon  layer is pulled up revealing world upon fun world. But in the end, she turns away from these fantasies, and heads next door to introduce herself. Waltz of the Snowflakes by Elly MacKay 2017 / 32 pages A girl who doesn't want to get dressed up to see the ballet gets completely won over by a performance of The Nutcracker. She's a bit sullen at the start, but it might be because she's shy, as is made clear at the ballet when she sits next to a boy she seems to know, but who she still isn't eager to talk to. However, as she awakens to the performance, she can't help but share her enthusiasm with this friendly lad. Wave by Suzy Lee 2009 / 40 pages A girl takes a bit to warm up to the ocean, but she gets there. A calm, short book, with the only downside being that it is a quick read because there isn’t all that much to see on each page - just the girl, waves, and sand. See a video of it here.  Where’s Walrus? (2) by Stephen Savage 2011 / 32 pages When Walrus escapes from the zoo, his keeper looks for him everywhere. He's hard to find because in each two-page spread, Walrus is disguising himself by trying to look like those around him: dancers, firefighters, artists, and swimmers. The disguises will be easy to see through for the pre-school to Grade 1 audience this is intended for, but Walrus will still be fun to find. And while he does finally get caught, Walrus gets a happy ending. In the 2015 sequel, Where’s Walrus? And Penguin?, a friend joins him in his escape, and he gets an even happier ending, finding the walrus of his dreams. Art adventures (7) There's a lot of creativity going on here, with different canvases, chalking up the pavement, or perhaps doodling on the nearest sheet of white paper. Draw! by Raúl Colón 2015 / 32 pages A boy imagines himself going on an African safari to draw all the different animals, all of whom are happy to have their portraits taken...except for the rhino! Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi 2017 / 48 pages Two chalk-wielding boys back into each other as they're drawing on the concrete. When their two lines become entangled it starts off as great fun, but a roughhouse tug-of-war leaves them both miffed at each other, and as they both pull hard on their joint line, it ruptures into a deep chasm between them. It takes a bit of time for hot heads to cool, but the two learn that by working together, they can erase the chasm and be together once again. This could be a good one for parents to read with kids and discuss how our tempers can make small things bigger, and how God calls us to self-control. Journey (3) by Aaron Becker 2013 / 40 pages If your children loved Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon you'll want to check this one out. While Johnson wrote her own sequels, Aaron Becker's Journey might be the most worthy successor. There are some notable differences: Harold's world is a blank page, ready to be drawn on, while Journey has lavish full-color spreads; Harold is narrated, while Journey is a completely wordless book. But in both books, a child equipped with a large crayon and an even larger imagination sets out on an adventure of their own crafting. In Journey, a girl’s dad, mom, and sister are all too busy to play with her, but when she finds a large red crayon on her bedroom floor she discovers she can make her own fun. She uses the crayon to draw a door on her wall, which she can then open and walk through into a whole other world of wonder. A quickly drawn red boat allows her to float down a forest stream to a castle that has moats running all throughout it, and friendly guards who wave her through. Like Harold, she too, in a moment of quick thinking, conjures up a balloon to save herself from a big fall. The adventure continues into the clouds, where she comes upon a strange king, his stranger airship, and an imprisoned beautiful purple bird that looks almost as if someone – someone with a purple crayon – had drawn it! Of course, she has to free the bird, and of course it isn’t easy, leaving her requiring some rescuing herself. In the sequel, Quest (2014), red crayon girl, and the purple crayon boy she meets at the end of the previous book meet an orange crayon king right before he is dragged away by soldiers. They set out to rescue him, using their own crayons and the orange crayon the king left behind. But to do that, they need to find three more crayons and, as the title indicates, have to go on a quest, and they'll have draw the tools and the animal friends they’ll need along the way. The conclusion to this wordless trilogy is Return (2016), in which the girl’s dad discovers the red door in his daughter’s bedroom and enters this other world in search of her. While the girl rescues them both with a quickly drawn submarine (these crayons work even underwater!), it’s dad who devises and draws (Wait, he has a crayon too? Has he been here before?) the trap that catches the evil king. These are all great fun, and deserve a slow “read” and then “reread” as children will be sure to notice all sorts of details on a second run-through.  Rocket Boy by Damon Lehrer 2017 / 30 pages A little boy of four or five makes an impressive drawing of a rocket, which then comes off the page and flies away. He draws a car to go follow it, then meets a little girl who wants to draw too. The story ends with him returning home, and we get to see that little boy waking up in his bed, and we get a glimpse of his real artistic level as he sets out to make a stickman rendering of the little girl he met in his dreams. A sweet story, that might require a little explanation from an adult. The Typewriter (2) by Bill Thomson 2016 / 40 pages Three kids find a typewriter in a box on a merry-go-round and discover that whatever they type on it appears. That’s good when it is “ice cream” but not so good when it is “giant crab.” After their adventure, the kids leave the typewriter behind for others to enjoy. Chalk is a very similar book, except this time the kids find a bag of chalk at the playground that they use to draw creations that come to life. Things get exciting when a boy draws a T-Rex! What’s remarkable about Thomson’s art is that it is nearly photorealistic! A third book following this theme, Fossil, has a boy discover fossils of creatures, all of which then appear, and the last of which, a pterodactyl, flies off with his dog. It’s fun but begins by saying fossils show us creatures “that lived 10,000 or more years ago,” a timescale that falls just outside of the biblical reality. Busy times (12) There's a little bit of action to some of these tales, which might inspire some gallivanting about the house. Cars and Things That Go (7) by Stefan Lohr 2018 / 14 pages This rugged foot-tall book reminded me of the "Where's Waldo?" series in that each spread is jam packed full of busy people and the longer you look, the more there is to find. This isn't strictly wordless as the first two-page spread does have text to highlight 17 different groups we're to spot in each of the 6 double-page spreads that follow. Each group has a story of sorts: James owns a fast car, and "drives way too fast" and ends up in a fender bender a few pages in, and then is towed, and Noah drives a semi-trailer delivering footballs, but to where? This is part of the "My Big Wimmelbook" series, so I was excited to check out the other 10 or so. Six others are every bit as fun: A Day at the Zoo Animals Around the World At the Construction Site Dinosaurs Fire Trucks! On the Farm However, there is a same-sex couple featured in three others: All Aboard the Train, A Day at School, and My Busy Day. Another, Christmas Village, is much more Santa than Savior, and a fifth, Good Night, shows someone showering covered only by strategically placed bubbles. All can be given a miss. The Boy and the Airplane (2) by Mark Pett 2013 / 40 pages A boy gets a toy airplane as a present and an errant throw results in the plane getting stuck on the top of a roof. We then get to see him try everything from a ladder (too short) to a lasso, to a pogo stick, to try and recover his plane. When nothing works the boy settles on a long-term strategy that, while it will require patience, is sure of success: he plants a seed and waits for it to grow into a mighty tree that will be tall enough for him to climb and recover his plane. I am not going to spoil it here by telling you the end, but it is sweet and completely satisfying. The sequel, The Girl and the Bicycle (2014), is every bit as good and ties up ends you didn’t even know were loose from the first book.  Fish by Liam Francis Walsh 2016 / 32 pages This is a weird but very fun one. A boy and his dog pass by a jogger on their way to a day of fishing. But the first thing the boy catches is the letter "F" followed by an "I" and then an "S" but when they catch a "Q" they throw it back. So what letter are they still after? An "H" of course! But it's not quite that simple, as a squadron of "B"s buzz over them, and a giant "C" threatens to eat them! Once Upon a Banana by Jennifer Armstrong 2013 / 48 pages When I first brought this home, I gave it a read to all three of my girls. After I was done our youngest, all of three, was off on her own "reading" the book to herself. It's been a family favorite ever since. The story is one big chase scene, with monkey owner chasing monkey, and then grocer chasing monkey owner, and then some dogs joining the chase, and a skateboarding judge, and a mom, and her baby in its stroller. Oh, and there's a big garbage truck in the mix too. It's crazy and frantic with loads to look at on every page.  The Hero of Little Street by Gregory Rogers 2012 / 32 pages This is a favorite because it has a Dutch flavor, and so do I. The story begins with our hero – a little boy with a Charlie Brown-esque look about him – managing to lose a trio of bullies by popping into a museum. And since he's there anyway, the boy decides to take a look. After he contemplates some modern art pictures and sculptures he comes across a room full of masterpieces, including Jan van Eyck's "Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife." While passing by the piece our hero catches the eye of Giovanni's little dog, and down the pup comes, right out of the painting!  The two of them then dance and jump and chase one another through the museum, until they come across a sheet of music lying on the ground. Where did it come from? Ah, wait! The two of them notice that it must have been dropped by that lady at the piano - that lady in Jan Vermeer's painting "Girl at Piano." So, in they jump, right into the picture, and return the music to the grateful girl. This leads to some more dancing, accompanied by the girl at her piano, before our hero and his dog head off further and deeper into this painting, opening a door and entering Little Street, Delft in seventeenth-century Holland! To say this is an inventive book doesn't suffice! An art-loving parent could use this to introduce their children to some of the masters, and anyone of a Dutch heritage could use it to show what the Netherlands looked like three centuries ago. Young children will love it for the sheer rollicking adventure. It ends with our hero back in modern-day, but now equipped by his time-traveling artistic adventure with just the tool he needs to help him with those bullies. Animals (13) Sweet stories for kids who love animals. A Ball for Daisy (2) by Chris Raschka 2011 / 32 pages Daisy is a cute little pup who loves her big red ball and plays with it everywhere. Things take a tragic turn when another dog, trying to get in on the fun, pops the ball! But don’t worry, a happy ending is coming – after a few pages of Daisy being sad, the owner of the dog who popped the ball brings over a brand new one, and this time it is blue. A 2013 sequel, Daisy Gets Lost, has a half dozen more words than the wordless original but has the same quiet tension: Daisy chases her blue ball into the woods, then chases the squirrel she discovers, and gets lost for a dozen or so pages before being rescued and hugged by the little girl who owns her. Dog on a Digger by Kate Prendergast 2016 / 32 pages Heavy machinery, paired up with Man's Best Friend – how could any red-blooded boy resist? This begins with Dog #1 waking his master because he's eager to head to work, sitting side by side in their excavator. For lunch the two head to a friendly food truck lass who has her own pup. It's when this Dog #2 wanders off and gets himself into a heap of trouble that brave and ingenious deeds need to be done, with a little help from some heavy machinery. This is a great one and it comes on extra heavy paper that school librarians will appreciate. Prendergast's earlier Dog on a Train (2015) is also fun, but the drawing is just a little messier, and the story a little simpler, so, unusual as it may be, the sequel is actually better than the original. Fly! by Mark Teague 2019 / 32 pages When a baby bird falls out of the nest, its mom suggests it fly back. He has some creative, alternative suggestions, told with pictured thought bubbles, on how he can get back up. Flora and the Flamingo (3) by Molly Idle 2013 / 44 pages Flora dances an elegant and energetic duet with a flamingo. My favorite of the “Flora’s feathered friends” series is the 2014 sequel, Flora and the Penguin, which sees her switch up dance partners, and Flora and the Peacocks (2016), which has her dancing with two others for even more fun. The only downside to these wordless wonders is that they include flaps and foldouts that might need reinforcement to hold up to school library use. But if you’re buying it for a child or grandchild who likes to dance, these will be inspirational. (Don’t confuse these with the two other “Flora books” – featuring an ostrich in one, and baby chicks in the other – which are board books intended for babies.)  Found. by Jeff Newman and Larry Day 2018 / 48 pages I've not before seen so much poignancy packed into wordless pages. On a rainy day, a little girl spots a lost soggy little puppy in the street below her apartment window. She races down to retrieve him and when she brings him home, she has all sorts of dog supplies at the ready. How comes she's so prepared? An observant reader will notice a "Missing" poster for a dog named Prudence posted on the bulletin board in her bedroom. And that name comes up again when she feeds the pup his chow in a bowl labeled "Prudence" – this little girl has suffered a loss, but is now finding some solace via this pup-in-need. But when she spots another "Missing" poster, this time for the little pup, it takes her just a bit to figure out the right thing to do. She'll suffer another loss, but she'll do for this boy what she wished someone would have done for her: return an owner's lost dog. That's going to have little readers a little weepy (shucks, it got me a little misty) but never fear, there is a happy ending. On the way home the girl spots a dog in the Humane Shelter window that looks in need of a friend. This is a remarkable book, even in the small details, like how it maximizes the use of every page (even the inside back and front covers). Such a delight! Owly & Wormy: Friends all aflutter! (2) by Andy Runton 2011 / 40 pages While Owly stars in his own graphic novels (which I review below), he also teams up with his friend Wormy to tell a couple of shorter picture book tales. In this first adventure the two buddies plant flowers in hopes of attracting butterflies, but end up attracting caterpillars instead...and they are eating the flowers' leaves! Owl and Wormy are initially disappointed but befriend the caterpillars, only to have them abruptly disappear. Quite the mystery to kidlets, but parents, knowing what caterpillars turn into, will be able to anticipate the happy ending. In the 2012 follow-up Owly & Wormy: Bright lights and starry nights!, a stargazing expedition goes awry when Owly loses his telescope. But some scary-seeming, but actually friendly bats, help Owly find what once was lost and then show him how to use it. Penguin Sets Sail by Jessica Linn Evans 2020 / 32 pages Penguin’s penguin friends just seem to like eating fish; he wants adventure! So he sets sail and then meets new friends who love adventures too...and returns home afterward to share them with old friends. The simple story makes this one for parents and preschoolers to enjoy together, while some Grade 1 children will enjoy it too. Time Flies by Eric Rohmann 1994 / 32 pages A bird flies into a museum, and flutters around the ancient dinosaur skeletons, which, for reasons unexplained, come alive. Or has the bird simply been transported back in time? It's unclear, but what's very clear is how cool these dinosaur pictures are. And because there are no words, there's no evolutionary proselytizing – hurray! Whose Footprints Are These? by Gerda Muller 2022 / 36 pages I've yet to use the word delightful, so I'll do so here: this is a delightful story about a boy and his dog, with the twist that w don't ever see them until the last page. What we see instead are their footprints, beginning with the boy's naked footprints trailing from his bed, to wear they become sock prints, and take us the breakfast table. Then it is out the door, now with a set of dog prints right alongside. Very fun! Favorite authors (21) A few authors have specialized in wordless books. Henry Cole (3) When his pet cat Spot goes out the third-story window and into the big broad city, a boy searches for him, posting “Lost” posters as he goes. This is a lot like a “Where’s Waldo?” book, but in Spot, the Cat (2016, 32 pages) we’re trying to find the cat and his boy. And it has a happy ending. In a 2019 followup, Spot & Dot, the boy helps a girl find her lost dog, but accidentally lets his cat out. So, this time we get to search for two pets. When a young girl discovers a runaway slave hiding in her family’s barn, she has to make a decision about what to do. Will she help by keeping quiet, or will she tell the Confederate soldiers that are riding about? There’s lots of subtle detail in Unspoken: a story from the Underground Railroad (2012, 40 pages), including a couple of appearances in the sky of the Big Dipper and its North Star that slaves used to find their way to the Free North and Canada. This isn’t a complicated story, but because it is all “unspoken” it’s a good one for children to read along with their parents. You can hear the author "read" it here.  Mitsumasa Anno (2) Better known as simply Anno, he has written a number of wordless books, but at this point the only one readily available in North America is Anno's China (2016, 60 pages) in which we take a trip inland on the country's Yellow River. Time is a little bit fluid, as we travel without comment from scenes in that are probably during the 1920s, to a two-page spread showing the uncovering of the Terracotta Army statues, which happened at some point in the 1970s. While there is no text on the picture pages, Anno concludes with a dozen text pages explaining what's happening in each of the scenes he's shared. These explanations can be done without – younger children will just follow along the river journey without worrying about every detail – but are also a welcome addition for older readers who want to understand more. Harder to find is Anno's Britain (1982, 48 pages), a homage all things British. A man on horseback travels not only through the countryside, but through hundreds of years of the island's history. Barbara Lehman (7) In Museum Trip (2006, 40 pages) a little boy on a class trip to the museum stops to tie his shoe and loses track of the others. He then discovers a small door in the wall that leads to a room with 6 small mazes on display. Next thing, we see a little version of him running through each maze, one by one. Has he actually shrunk, or is this him daydreaming and just imagining he’s running through them? Either way, readers in Grade 1 and preschool will enjoy working through each of these simple mazes. As the boy makes his way to the middle of the last maze we get a glimpse of him having a gold medal hung around his neck. Right afterward, he’s big again, and manages to track down his class. So was his maze adventure just a daydream? Well, on the final panel, as the class leaves the museum, we see the boy discover he does have a gold medal around his neck...and we see the museum director has one around his neck too! Kids who enjoy the mystery of this tale will enjoy the author’s Red (2004, 32 pages) and Red Again (2017) books which are more mysterious still. They should be bought as a set, with the ending of the one serving as an introduction to the next, and vice versa (or as my one daughter put it “They’re a circle!”). Sticking with this mysterious theme is the secret box (2011, 48 pages) in which generation after generation of children going to the same boarding school discover the same box, with a treasure map that allows them to meet up with the children who have discovered the map before. Some wordless books are too mysterious, such that it's hard to know what on earth is going on. This almost crosses the line, but Lehman’s friendly, detailed drawings ensure this is a fun one.  Less mysterious, but lots of fun, is the author’s Trainstop (2008, 32 pages) where a girl goes on a train ride and encounters little people in need of a big friend. Another favorite is Rainstorm (2007, 32 pages) about a boy wandering through his big house all alone before finding a key that unlocks a truck. The trunk opens into a very long tunnel under his house which leads to… well, you’ll have to get the book to find out! Absolutely charming is Lehman's most recent, a fractured fairytale called Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake (2021, 64 pages). In this case, Little Red is a boy, and he and his dad, Big Red, run a bakery. For a surprise, they want to give grandma one of their cakes, but their cat would really like a piece. So off Little Red goes, asking for directions from all sorts of other fairytale characters like Jack and Jill, Miss Muffet, and Peter Piper. Meanwhile, the cat sneaks ahead and tries to disguise itself as grandma, but is found out…and offered a slice of cake. Very fun!  David Wiesner (5) Flotsam (2006, 40 pages) shows us what happens when a boy discovers an old-style underwater camera washed up on the beach and then brings the film in to be developed. There he discovers pictures, seemingly taken by underwater creatures themselves. The world they live in when we aren’t looking is something to behold: little mermaids and mermen, robotic fish, giant turtles carrying shell cities on their backs, and even what looks like aliens taking rides on guppies. Each picture is another discovery. The very last snapshot is of a girl holding up a picture. And in that picture is a boy holding a picture of a girl who is, in turn, holding a picture of a girl. A peek through a magnifying glass shows this goes deeper still, and further back in time. The boy’s microscope reveals more still. This is inventive and fun, with the only caution being that the young target audience may have to be informed that though the photos look quite realistic, this is fantasy, not fact. A little boy falls asleep and we get to come along to his dream in Free Fall (1988, 32 pages). As dreams often do, one scene streams into the next as the boy goes from meeting a dragon to growing giant-sized, to flying home on a leaf. It makes sense only in the ways that dreams do. But the smart-eyed reader will be able to spot on the last page, when the boy wakes up, all the objects in the room that inspired the different parts of his dream. This is best read slowly. When a long flyball is hit into the outfield, a boy declares, “I’ve Got It!” (2018, 32 pages) which are the only words in the story. But does he really have it? One dropped ball is followed by another, and it’s almost like there are obstacles (getting bigger and bigger) just reaching out to trip him up. His repeated drops have his teammates moving in closer to catch it for him since he can’t. But then, in one last stretching leap, our boy in red jumps past the obstacles and beats his teammates to the ball for a wonderful game-winning catch. This is a very fun story, but I could see some kids needing a little help to understand what’s going on. In Sector 7 (1999, 48 pages) a boy on a field trip to the Empire State Building meets a rambunctious cloud (he discovers that clouds are people!) who takes him back to “Sector 7” high up in the sky where the clouds get their orders about what shape of cloud they should be. But the clouds seem a bit bored with these shapes and ask the boy to draw them up some alternatives. What fun to see clouds mimicking the sea creatures he draws! Eventually, the cloud returns the boy, but his visit to Sector 7 might have some lasting impact, as the clouds quite like being fish-shaped. The only words we read in Wiesner's Tuesday (1991, 32 pages) tell us the time, and that it is indeed a Tuesday. For reasons that are left entirely mysterious, at around 8 pm, a swarm of frogs suddenly starts flying (or is it their lily pads that are doing the levitating?). They flock into town, chase some birds for fun, watch a little telly, and then, just as they are heading back, dawn breaks, and the sun’s rays seem to sap their flying powers. That leaves the whole lot of them hopping back to their pond. This is silly nonsense and kids are sure to love it. Mercer Mayer (4) Mayer wrote a cute series of 6 small books that continue a story from one to the next. In a boy, a dog and a frog (1967, 32 pages) a little boy and his dog discover a frog, then briefly lose it in frog, where are you? (1969). Frog stars in frog on his own (1973) though his friends do show up in time to help him escape from a cat’s clutches. The frog gets jealous when a new frog shows up in one frog too many (1975). There are two more in the series, but the “friend” in a boy, a dog, a frog, and a friend is a turtle that at first seems set on drowning the dog and then seems to get drowned by the dog, before reviving and everyone becoming friends. Not so fun. And in frog goes to dinner, the frog makes a surprise appearance at the family’s restaurant outing causing a ruckus, which is fine, but the book’s conclusion with child and pets laughing about the trouble they caused is off-putting. One is enough (4) Sequels don't always work. So while these are all quite good, there's a reason, in each case, not to track down the next in the series.  Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day 1985 / 40 pages This is not technically wordless, as, in addition to the title, there are 9 other words. But it's on this list because the bulk of the book is the dog Carl silently babysitting his charge. The story is a bit bizarre, with mom leaving her baby in a rottweiler’s charge, But aside from letting baby have a trip down the laundry chute, and a short swim in the aquarium, Carl does turn out to be a decent babysitter. Shucks, he even manages to give the baby a bath! There are many, many sequels, but they all lack the originality of the first. Field Trip to the Ocean Deep by John Hare 2020 / 40 pages A child on a class field trip to the ocean floor gets separated from the group when he goes off to see a sunken pirate ship. While the class's submarine searches for him, he gets to meet ocean floor animals, share his photos with them, and meet what might be a plesiosaurus who poses for him. A fun, quirky, bright, wordless adventure.  There is a sequel, Field Trip to the Moon, which swaps out gray moonlings for the sea creatures, and a girl with crayons for the original’s boy with a camera. The gray aliens love the crayons, leaving the girl with only the gray crayon in her pack. But that’s okay - she can still draw them! Aliens are an outgrowth of evolutionary theory that says life happening by accident is so easily done that “they” must be out there, so I like the first better than the sequel. That said, the second is more a celebration of crayons than aliens. A third, Field Trip to Volcano Island, doesn't live up to the two that preceded it. The Adventures of Polo by Régis Faller 2002 / 80 pages A little dog living on a small island begins his adventure by tightrope walking on a line attached to his beach. It takes him across the water, then up into the sky, and finally sliding for a soft landing onto a fluffy white cloud. The opening pages give you a good idea of what’s to come with the dog Polo traveling via cloud, boat, air bubble, airplane, tree elevator, balloons, submarine, iceberg, and finally a rocketship mushroom. Along the way, he meets all kinds of friends including some happy face moonlings. It’s a stress-free, busy adventure that children, particularly those in Grade 2 and under, will love. There is a sequel, Polo: The Runaway Book, but the free-form adventure borders on chaotic randomness so in this case, one is fun, and two might be too many.   Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola 1978 / 32 pages A woman sets out to make pancakes only to discover she is short of eggs. While that is easily remedied – just a quick trip to the henhouse – it’s quite the delay when she finds out she is also short of butter. Finally, she discovers she is short of syrup! And when she heads out to get that, she returns only to discover her pets have gotten into everything. But don’t worry, there is a happy ending! Charming cartoonish pictures make this a book kids will love to read repeatedly. DePaola has another wordless book, but The Hunter and the Animals strikes me as an anti-hunting book so I don't recommend it. Noah's Ark (2) Most Bible storybooks are problematic in that they so often mangle the biblical text. What I appreciate about both accounts here is that, because they are wordless, they actually require that you go to the Bible to read the original account. So it is not meant to replace Bible reading, but is instead meant to spur further thinking on God’s Word. Both can also serve as a corrective to the common misrepresentation of the Ark being so tiny that the giraffes had to stick their necks out the windows. Noah’s Ark by Peter Spier 1977 / 48 pages This is a beautifully illustrated, nearly wordless account, with only three of the 48 pages containing text: two are biblical quotations and the other is given to an English translation of a 400-year-old poem about the Flood by Dutchman Jacobus Revius. The rest is filled with seemingly simple, but incredibly detailed pictures of Noah and his family as they build the Ark, bring in the animal pairs, and feed and care for them inside. Some of the detail is whimsical  – a mouse is shown trying to push an elephant's foot off of its fellow mouse's tail – but we also see the floodwaters overtaking the animals that were left behind. This is no cutesy, sanitized account! I will add that a friend still thought the pictures a tad too whimsical – that they were making a joke out of things. I disagree, and the only problem I had is one picture where it appears as if Noah (rather than, as the Bible says, God) is closing the Ark doors. But we can choose to assume God is on the other side sealing them shut. Noah by Mark Ludy 60 pages / 2014 Mark Ludy's wordless account of Noah's life will fascinate young and old. There's so much to see on every page, and the wordless nature of it invites parent and child to discuss all that's going on. Noah's wife is shown here as a lighter colored black, while Noah himself is maybe Grecian, Roman, or perhaps Sicilian. What both most certainly are not – and what they most probably were not – is a British or Scandinavian sort of white. That might bring questions for the many a child and adult who, having grown up with picture Bibles that have a white Adam and Eve, and a white Jesus too, have presumed Noah was white as well. But it is more likely that Adam, Eve, and maybe many of the generations that followed had some sort of middle brown skin, as that genetic coding can contain within it the possibility of both darker and lighter skin in the generations that follow. Another corrective: while evolutionary theory portrays Man as being much simpler back in history, the Bible details some big advances being made from one generation to the next (Genesis 4:20-22). They were no primitive dummies so it is helpful to see Noah shown as living in a fairly advanced level of industry and technology. They aren't in a rocket age, but they aren't living in caves either. Finally, we also get a good idea of the sheer magnitude of the Ark, correcting the silly bathtub toy picture some might have stuck in their heads. This is not a book that we should ever let overshadow the biblical account, but when we put it in its proper place – like that of a commentary that helps us reflect on what Genesis 6-9 is actually saying – then it can be a wonderful aid. I will offer a couple of critiques: while there's a dinosaur and some mammoths to be seen working on the Ark's construction, neither can be found in it. Also, while animals two by two can be seen making their way to the Ark, there don't seem to be any groups of 7 (Genesis 7:2). Of course, we don't see every animal arrive, so maybe we just missed those, and they'll be found in any expanded future edition of the book. Comics/graphic novels (14) The biggest fault with wordless books is they are so quickly done. But, thankfully, some of these graphic novels are huge. And the longer length allows a couple of these to tackle their topics with some depth. Owly: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer (5) by Andy Runton 2004 / 160 pages This is two stories in one, and at about 80 pages each, they have room for some real fun. In the first, we get introduced to Owly, who, as you may have guessed, is an owl. The forest creatures are afraid of him because, well, he's an owl, and they know that typically owls eat creatures like them. But not Owly. He's a kinder, gentler owl, and all he wants to do is feed his fellow birds seeds. Sadly, no one trusts him, and Owly is all alone... until the night of the big storm! Then Owly finds a worm, half-drowned, and nurses it back to health. Worm, realizing he hadn't been eaten, trusts and befriends Owly, which is the start of something beautiful. It's never really explained what Owly does eat, but we can be certain that it isn't cute little worms! In the second story, Owly and Worm meet a couple of hummingbirds and have a great time until the little speedsters have to head south for the winter. But don't worry, they'll be back come Spring! It'd be more accurate to call these "talkless" rather than "wordless" because, even as the dialogue between Owly and his worm friend is limited to symbols and punctuation marks – a question mark when one of them is puzzled and an exclamation mark when they are excited – there's the occasional shop sign or even a whole encyclopedia page entry on hummingbirds that does require the reader to be able to actually read. If you're considering getting this for your school library, you'll be interested to know there are two editions of this story, the first in black and white with this symbol-based dialogue, and the second, now titled simply Owly: The Way Home (2020) that is in full-color and adds in a minimal bit of verbiage between the characters. While I really like the original near-wordless version, it was sometimes a bit hard to decipher what Owly and his pal were saying to each other, so the second editions are probably the best way to go. Everything in this series seems to be gentle and kind including Just a Little Blue (1st edition 2005 /2nd edition 2020, 130 pages), Flying Lessons (2005/2021, 144 pages), A Time to Be Brave (2007/2022, 132 pages), and Tiny Tales (2008, 172 pages). South by Patrick McDonnell 2008 / 42 pages South is by the creator of the comic strip Mutts, Patrick McDonnell. He imports one of the strip's characters into this comic-like book, Mooch the cat. Now cats might not seem all that sympathetic to birds, but when Mooch comes upon a poor cute little bird who, we see, has been left behind by his flock when they headed south, Mooch lends a paw. Mooch really is a stand-up sort of cat, so he takes the bird under his wing (so to say) and the two of them set out to reunite this lost little one with his family. Since cats can't fly, the journey takes place on foot. Soon enough bird is united with his flock, and it comes time for Mooch and the bird to say their goodbyes. It was at this point that my four-year-old daughter was a bit overcome - goodbyes are always hard! But I reassured her that Mooch and bird would see each other again when Winter turned to Spring. Kunoichi Bunny by Sara Cassidy and Brayden Sato 2022 / 32 pages When dad takes his little girl Saya out in her stroller, she brings her "ninja-bunny" Kunoichi along, and it is a very good thing she does. The sharp-eyed Saya spots two cats fighting, and puts an end to their dispute with a well aimed fling of her bunny. After dad retrieves Kunoichi, they board a bus, where Saya saves the day again. A distracted mom lets go of her stroller only to have it pitch towards the bus stairs. Saya flings Kunoichi in the way, so the stroller comes to a safe stop. As they continue on their stroll, Saya and Kunoichi rescue a baby duck and a little boy, and brighten the day of a sad grandmotherly lady. This busy day ends with Kunoichi getting a much needed wash and dry, so she can join Saya in her nice clean bed. This is a sweet story that kids will enjoy reading multiple times. The Flamingo by Guojing 2020 / 142 pages A little Chinese girl from the big city goes to visit her Lao Lao - her grandmother - who lives in the country, near the beach. She asks about a pink feather Lao Lao keeps in a cup, and hears a story about how, when her grandmother was little like her, she found an egg on the beach, which turned out to be a baby crane, which she then raised until it grew big enough to fly with the others. There's some sadness, as the crane flies away, but it returns each year again. The book concludes with the girl drawing a comic adventure for her Lao Lao in which the three of them - little girl, grandmother, and a now giant crane – fly off on adventures together. While this isn't strictly wordless, there are quite a few more pages than words (roughly 100). And it's a sweet, slow and beautiful story, more appealing to girls than boys. It Goes Without Saying: Peanuts at its Silent Best by Charles Schultz 2005 / 160 pages Over 50 years Charles Schults sprinkled Peanuts with a liberal dose of “pantomime” strips. This has been a fun one for my kids to dip into, enjoying pages at a time, but it isn’t really the sort of book you’d read front to back. As clever as these wordless strips are, 160 pages is too much of a good thing at one go. If your kids like this, they might also enjoy Garfield Left Speechless. It doesn’t have the same charm – Garfield is sometimes mean-spirited in a way that Snoopy never is – but it has some of the same slapstick creativity. Jim Curious: A Voyage to the Heart of the Sea (2) by Matthias Picard 2014 / 52 pages This is very, very fun. Our hero, Jim Curious, emerges from his house equipped in a deep-sea diving suit, and as he slides into the sea the pictures transform – now everything is 3D! This is a large-format book, more than a foot tall, and the author makes full use of the giant pages to give us so much to see and explore. The story is comprised of Jim Curious exploring, and us just marveling at all there is to see. He passes by a sunken pirate ship, World War II fighter, and grocery cart, then floats right up to a giant whale, and, finally, discovers the ruins of an underwater city. Here the adventure takes a surreal twist as Jim finds a door in the bottom of the sea. As he opens it, where does it lead but back to his own house – somehow this is his own front door! But this time, when he walks through and emerges once again from his little house, things have gone all topsy turvy. The air is now where the sea had previously been, and sea is where the air had been – whales and fish and octopi are swimming past the windows of his house! It is a funny ending to this gorgeous visual feast. The only downside to the book is that it does require 3D glasses (two pairs are provided) and also has one double foldout section, where the pages fold out from the middle. Jim Curious is clearly intended for young readers but the glasses and the double foldout are just not the sort of thing young children will do well with: the foldouts are going to get torn or crumpled and the glasses will be broken or lost. That means that, despite the book being wordless, it still needs to be read with mom or dad present. There is a sequel, just as surreal, and also 3D, which kids will also enjoy: Jim Curious and the Jungle Journey (2021). The Arrival by Shaun Tan 2007 / 128 pages I am an immigrant of sorts, having moved across the border to the US, and while it was easy enough to adapt it did give me a small bit of insight into what my parents and grandparents must have experienced when they moved from the Netherlands to Canada decades ago. While I didn't have to learn a new language, my children are going to learn an entirely different history. They say "zee," not "zed." And almost everyone I know seems to have a gun in their home. Small differences. My parents had to deal with much bigger ones, and for their parents it was stranger still. It was hard to ask for help because they didn't know the language. They needed help because things were done differently here. Fortunately, they weren't the first – others from the "old country" had come before, so there was some help to be had. This may be an overly long introduction to a book that has no words. To cut to the chase, Shaun Tan's graphic novel may be the very best possible way to share the immigrant experience with the second and third generations. It tells the story of a father who leaves his country, his wife, and his daughter, to head overseas to find a better place for them all. It is a very strange world that he finds. One of the first things we notice is that even the birds look different. In fact, the reader will notice that these birds don't look like any birds anyone has ever seen. It only gets stranger in the pages that follow: the man encounters a mystifying immigration process, and documents that are written in a language that doesn't look like any that the reader will know. The buildings, the food, the transportation - there is a uniqueness to it all. This new country looks like no real country on earth. So what is going on here? The first time I read this graphic novel I didn't understand what was happening and stopped reading about halfway through. This time around a helpful niece alerted me to the fact that this was about the immigrant experience, so what the artist was doing, by making everything just slightly peculiar, was creating a world where the reader would feel the same sort of discomfort and confusion that a new immigrant would feel upon arrival. That little insight was a big help, and turned this from a mystifying, even frustrating story, to an absolutely brilliant one. I will admit to being a bit slow on the uptake here, as the title, The Arrival, should have provided me the only clue I'd have needed. But in my defense, Shaun Tan's creation is utterly original so I have not ever read anything like it. We follow the father as he sets out to find a job, finds an apartment, tries to get the coffee machine (if that's what it was) to work, and tries to figure out where to find food and what sort of food he likes. Along the way he meets several helpful people, including people who had immigrated years before, and were happy to help someone newly arrived. So the book is, on the one hand, about the immigrant experience, and on the other is a story about the impact we can have in helping strangers. The young father would have been lost but for the kindness of strangers. This is a large book, both in the number of pages, and in the size of the pages – 128 pages and about a foot tall – with scores of details to discover on every page. So even though it is wordless, this is a good long read. I would recommend this to immigrant grandparents as a gift they could give to the grandchildren, and one they might want to "read" with them. I would also recommend it to anyone who loves art - this is a beautiful book.  The Only Child by Guojing 2015 / 112 pages This will be enjoyed by both younger and older children, but in two very different ways. For the pre-schooler this is strictly a flight of fantasy, about a boy who goes off in search of his parents, and finds an elk guardian instead who takes him up amongst the clouds. For the older reader, this is the story of China's one-child policy, and how it left parents, robbed of any siblings to act as their own child's aunts or uncles. That would sometimes mean they'd have childcare problems. If grandma wasn't available, there were no other relatives to turn to, so a toddler might be left on their ownsome at home, as both parents went off to work. This is the story of one such child, and yes, it does take a fantastic turn when the elk shows up. But for the older reader, the author's purpose – to capture some of the lost and lonely feelings many Chinese children felt – will be clear and compelling. Snow White by Matt Phelan 2016 / 216 pages This is Snow White inventively reimagined as a 1920s Depression-era American tale. The "king" is a stock trader who has managed to survive the stock market crash. The stepmother is still a queen, but this time of the Ziegfeld Follies, a popular Broadway show. The mirror is now a stock ticker, and the seven dwarfs are seven street-smart kids. Prince Charming? Well, I shouldn't give too much away! This is near wordless, going entirely so for a dozen pages at a time, but interspersed with some sparse dialogue. That makes this a very quick read. Fairytales are typically for children, but this is too somber to attract little ones. Done in black and white, it has a dark, noir style...all but for the last few pages with their happily-ever-after full-color conclusion. So this is something adults could even enjoy, but tweens are the target audience – this has been a very popular one among the 12 and unders in our house. Harder to find (12) While these don't seem to be in print right now your local library may have a copy because they were once quite deservedly popular. Where is the Cake? (2) by Thé Tjong-Khing 2007 / 32 pages Thé Tjong-Khing was born in Indonesia, studied in the Netherlands, and is now one of the Netherlands’ best-known illustrators and authors. His books have been translated into several languages, and Where is the Cake? must have been the easiest as there was only the title to translate. The main story involves a chase after two possums who have taken Mr. and Mrs. Dog’s cake. The action takes place on large pages (even a bit larger than the pages of a magazine) so there is plenty of room for detail, and for a host of different animals. There are more than 30 characters on each page, and almost as many storylines! I read this with my two-year-old daughter and we had great fun trying to keep track of what everyone was up to. It lends itself to a lot of interaction – I was constantly talking to her about what must have happened “in-between” the pages and congratulating her as she found Mr. and Mrs. Dog once again. She loved it, and her dad did too because it was a book I could read again and again (as parents are often required to do) and keep finding new things. A sequel, Where Is the Cake Now?, continues the story and is also very good (if not quite the match of the original). This one is hard to come by in English, but because it is wordless, can be had in other “translations” including Dutch. Ice (5) by Arthur Geisert 2011 / 24 pages Of all the wordless books I've run across Arthur Geisert's Ice is one of the most entertaining. It is the story of a clan of pigs, living together on an island and enduring a hot, hot summer. The island's water reservoir is just about empty, so the pigs get their airship ready. Then they sail off, traveling 'round the world to the North Pole where they snag and drag an iceberg back to their home. Ice saws and pickaxes are used to carve up the iceberg and deposit it in their reservoir. Ice for everyone! My two-year-old and I lingered over each two-page spread, noting the many things that the pigs were up to. The next day I had a fun time hearing her version of the story as she "read" it aloud. The only downside to the book is its small size – it is over too quickly. We were grateful to discover there is a sequel, The Giant Seed (2012), in which the piggy clan finds a giant – several stories tall! – dandelion seed, complete with the fluff at the top. They plant it, and, it turns out, they've done so just in time. It grows a dandelion with its own fluffy heads and then, when the island volcano threatens to blow, the pigs can all sail away, one pig to each dandelion fluff. Geisert has at least a couple other wordless pig books. In Oops (2006), a pig boy spills his milk at breakfast, and, as one thing leads to another, that spill eventually leads to the utter destruction of his family’s precariously perched house. That would seem a sad ending, but the last page has the family relieved that while the house is gone, the family is okay – it highlights that family is more important than things. But do be careful drinking your milk! More wordless piggie fun can be found in Hogwash (2008) where pig parents let their piglets have a muddy day of fun before the moms and dads use the most marvelous of machines to clean up their kidlets en masse. Then, in Lights Out (2005), a little pig is told by his parents to turn off his lights at precisely eight, but the problem is, he can't fall asleep with the lights off. So he devises a mechanism – a Rube Goldberg machine of sorts – that turns off the lights, but the whole process of pulleys and pendulums and bouncing balls and more – takes a good long while to eventually douse the lights... by which time he has fallen asleep. There are 36 words in this one, but all on the first page. The Story of an English Village (4) by John S. Goodall John Goodall's books are unique, unlike any other wordless stories I've seen. Most wordless or near-wordless books are intended for the pre-reading set. But Goodall's books seem to be aimed at an older age group. He has a series of "The Story of..." titles that tackle "an English Village," "the Seashore," "a Farm," and "a Castle," and in each, the lack of words leaves viewers lingering over each picture. So this isn't wordless to make it accessible to the very young; it is wordless to bring the focus to the pictures, and the impressions left by them. For example, in The Story of an English Village, Goodall starts us with a picture of a 13th-century castle under construction on a large hill, and then in the following two-page spread, he shows us this same setting in one hundred year leaps, until we arrive near our modern day. These are pictures to linger over, then flip back to, comparing the next century with the last.  In this book and many others, Goodall makes creative use of a single half-page stuck between each two-page spread. This is a bit hard to describe, and apparently was unique to Goodall – he may have invented this technique – so let me try to make things a little clearer. Imagine a book with a picture spanning both pages – a two-page spread – and right in the middle of these two pages is a single half page. This page is full height, but only half the width of the book's other pages, so when this half-page is turned from the right side to the left, it gives us a new perspective on the goings on in the middle, while leaving the outer edges unchanged. If you didn't follow that, let's just say it is pretty cool and you should track down one of his books to check it out. Goodall has many other wordless books, and most seem worth checking out, with the exception of his "Naughty Nancy" series about an obnoxious little girl mouse, who is more nasty than naughty. Holland by Charlotte Dematons 2013 / 54 pages This is a treat for any with ties to the Netherlands, even if a generation or two removed. Each two-page spread highlights one location, but sometimes different time periods. For example, in the opening picture, we see a three-masted schooner fighting off a British galleon while a giant modern-day container ship sails by. In another spread of today’s Amsterdam, we see Van Gogh painting in his studio. Pages are big – this is a tall book – and there is so much to see. This is a very fun way to tour the country, its culture, and its history.  Last and least (9) These are only okay, but if your children are flying through all the others, and your library has them, then they might be worth a borrow too. Aquarium by Cynthia Alonso 2018 / 36 pages A girl loves fish, and when one jumps onto the dock, she takes it home with her and tries to find a good-sized home for it. That involves filling most every container in the house with water, including the swimming pool. When the fish jumps from the swimming pool into the small puddle beside it, the girl decides it needs something bigger and returns it to the lake. The last page shows her joining it, and more fish friends. Good Night, Garden Gnome by Jamichael Henterly 2001 / 32 pages A child's outdoor tea party features her toys and a garden gnome too. When it's time for bed, the toys are brought back inside, and the gnome is left behind, where we discover that when no one is looking, he comes alive and does some garden tending. He braves the family dog to retrieve a lost toy and brings it to the girl's window sill. Well drawn and charming, but very short and simple. Flood by Alvaro F. Villa 2013 / 32 pages A beautiful little two-story home by the river is loved by its family, threatened by a storm, protected by sandbags, and then abandoned when the water gets too high. We see the water sweep in, and the family return to the devastation… and begin to rebuild. It ends with the house fully restored.  Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley 2013 / 40 pages This is almost a stop-motion presentation, with a stuffed bear, in a clay-crafted forest setting, discovering an egg out of its nest. He tries to return it to the nest high above, and after a couple of failures, succeeds with some tiny help. It’s a nice story with a feel-good ending. red hat by Lita Judge 2013 / 32 pages When a little girl washes her red knit cap and hangs it out to dry, it becomes a play toy for the animals. They have great fun chasing it, but return it completely unravelled. The girl isn't bothered though, and not only sets out to re-knit it, but knits red caps for the animals too. the whale by Ethan and Vita Murrow 2015 / 32 pages While no one talks in this story, some reading is required at the beginning and end, when newspaper accounts describe, first, how a pair of children 50 years ago claimed they'd spotted a gigantic spotted whale, and how two more children, five decades later, finally confirm this legendary beast's existence. It's exciting, but the required reading at the front and back does detract some from the wordless charm. Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell 2017 / 48 pages A boy trudging through the snow, making his way home from school, comes across a lost wolf cub which he befriends and then helps find its pack back. The effort exhausts him but when he collapses in the snow the grateful wolf pack then helps his parents find him. A fun story, well drawn, and it would have rated higher except that the wolves are drawn so realistically a little kid could read this and think it is passing on accurate information on the friendliness of wolves. Zoom (2) by Istvan Banyai 1995 / 64 pages It’s easier to explain what this book is about by describing it backwards. At the end of the book we see Earth from millions of miles away - just a white dot on a black canvass. But, a page earlier, we’ve zoomed in, and can see oceans and clouds. Next, we see things from the perspective of a pilot miles up, then as he flies lower, we see people as ants, and on and on the zooming goes. There is no narrative, but it is intriguing. A sequel, Re-zoom, is equally so....

Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

7 (or is it 8?) great board books!

If you want to foster a love for reading in your children, it's never too early to start reading to them. Even newborns will tune in when a parent cracks open a book – a baby doesn't need to understand the story to appreciate mom or dad's calming voice. And if they get to hold the book in their chubby little hands, all the better! The ingredients for a good board book are pretty simple. The most important is probably that it have no sharp corners and be printed with lead-free paper because this is going to be as much a food item as anything else. Eat books, we are told, and babies do! Next, it should be a book parents won't mind paging through again and again. It's on this point that repetitious "classics" like Goodnight Moon and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom have been disqualified. Loved by children though they may be, I know I'm not the only dad to begrudge even one more reading (strangely, I've yet to meet a mom who has the same strong feelings). On a more serious note, board books have become the latest front for our cultural war, with Anti-Racist Baby, Woke Baby, A is for Activist and Feminist Baby in the mix on your local bookstore's board book section. On the other side of the political spectrum, conservative commentator Matt Walsh decided that he'd also entered the board book marketplace. His Johnny is a Walrus is about: a kid who "identifies" as a walrus, the mother who takes him way too seriously, and the doctor who suggests a surgery that turns "feet into fins." Walrus is a satiric take on transgender nonsense, and, in what might be a demonstration of our Sovereign God's sense of humor, it actually ended up on the top of's LGBTQ bestseller list. Really! But whether it be left or rightwing, the point is, politics have invaded even the board book section, so be sure to read before you buy. And, fortunately, with board books that'll only take you a minute. Now let's return to children's fare. The 7 suggestions below are arranged by age, with the first ones best for the very young, and the later ones with material that older sorts can enjoy. Peak-a-boo! by Janet and Allan Ahlberg 1997 / 32 pages The setting is England, and it appears to be right around World War II (judging from the daddy's uniform). The "plot" is very simple – the story starts with a baby in his crib, waking up in the morning and looking around to see what he can see. We follow him through the day, always seeing through his eyes, until his day ends and he heads to bed. It's the book's construction that fascinated my daughter. On the first two-page spread the baby is in her crib on the left-hand side, and the right page is all white, but with a large round hole cut through it so that we (and the baby) can "peek" to see what is on the next page. Once we are done peeking, we can turn the page, and look at a full page of activity – illustrator Janet Ahlberg fills her pictures with layers of detail. There is so much to see Daddy doesn't even mind paging through it again and again and again! Readers get to play peek-a-boo five times, peering through each hole to see what comes next. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle 1969 / 22 pages It's over 50 years old and as popular as ever. The plot is summed up by the book's title: it is about a very hungry caterpillar who eats and eats and eats for a week, and then builds a cocoon and turns into a beautiful butterfly. There are two different aspects of this book that made it one of my daughter's favorites: First, the inside pages are very easy for little hands to turn because they vary in width. On Monday the caterpillar eats through one apple, and the page with the apple is only a fifth as wide as the rest of the book; on Tuesday he eats through two pears, and that page is two fifths as wide, and so it continues with three plums (three fifths as wide), four strawberries, and finally five oranges. Second, the page covering what the caterpillar eats on Saturday is a two-page spread of colorful cake, ice cream, cheese, sausage pie, watermelon, and more, and it looks good enough to eat. Our little ones liked to turn to this page first, and flipped back to it again and again and again. But Not The Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton 1984 / 14 pages Hippo doesn’t seem to be included in much of what her friends are up to. For example, we learn on the very first page of this board book, that “A hog and a frog cavort in the bog… but not the Hippopotamus.” On the next page, it's more of the same: “A cat and two rats are trying on hats… but not the Hippopotamus.” Poor Hippo! She is always being left out. After a few more pages of forlorn Hippo looking wistfully at what others are up to, (and the repeating refrain, “…but not the Hippopotamus”) the rest notice how neglectful they’ve been, and invite Hippo to “come join the lot of us!” Now as we all know invitations are nice, but sometimes people turn them down, even when they really want to go. So we are in suspense as shy Hippo ponders what to do: “She just doesn’t know – Should she stay? Should she go?” So it is with joy that we turn the page to see her exclaim: “BUT YES THE HIPPOPOTAMUS!” That is not, however, the end of the book. One line follows: “…but not the armadillo.” This small creature is staring sadly after Hippo as she joins the group. It is a great end to a remarkable little book. Yes, it is full of fun rhymes, a great rhythm, and has friendly engaging pictures too, but it is this final line that really sets it apart. Here we see that not only should we include others in our groups, but even when we do step outside ourselves, and make that invitation, doing it once, to one person is only a start. There are still others who are being forgotten and could use a friend. And if your son or daughter is in Hippo's position, a different sort of lesson can be taught, to show them that they have to seize opportunities when they come. Poor Hippo would still have been lonely if she had said no. Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann 1994 / 36 pages When a zookeeper does one last walk-thru before heading for bed himself, he says "good night" to each animal, starting with the gorilla. But as he visits each animal in turn, there is a little gorilla and his mouse friend, trailing behind, and unlocking all the cages. Eventually, a whole train of critters follows the keeper to his house and right into his bedroom. It's only when his wife says "good night " to him in the dark, and gets a chorus of "good night"s from all around the room, that the gorilla's entourage is discovered. But it seems the weary zookeeper has dropped right off to sleep, so it's up to his wife to lead all the animals back to the zoo. Well, not all the animals. As she makes her way back home we see that she has some quiet company – the gorilla, and his little mouse friend, won't be left behind! You Are Special by Max Lucado 2000 / 28 pages Punchinello is a wooden "Wemmick" living in a town of other wooden people. These Wemmicks have made a habit of placing stickers on one another, gold stars for good, gray dots for bad. The pretty ones and talented ones always got stars..." but not poor Punchinello. When he tries to jump or run like the others, he trips. And then the others give him dots. "Then when he would try to explain why he fell, he would say something silly, and the Wemmicks would give him more dots." It gets so bad that he doesn't feel like going outside, and he starts to believe what the other Wemmicks are saying about him, that he deserves these gray dots. Things turn around when Punchinello meets a Wemmick, Lucia, who doesn't have any stars or dots. They just don't stick to her. Punchinello wants to know how he can be like that. Lucia tells him to go visit Eli the woodcarver who tells Punchinello that he matters because Eli, his maker, thinks he matters. And the dots and stars won't stick if Punchinello remembers that. Parents will understand that Eli is to Punchinello as God is to us, but some children may need some help understanding this metaphor. This is a great book that older kids can benefit from, perhaps while reading it to their younger siblings. School can be such a battleground, even at a Christian school, with so many children trying to get ahead by putting others down. Parents will appreciate the impact this book's message could have for their children if they really understand that it doesn't matter what others say about us, because we are God's own children, made in His own Image. The one danger here is that the lesson could be readily misunderstood by a child as countering what others think by elevating the child, rather than countering what others think by elevating the thoughts of God. That's a bit of a fine point, but one that parents can help their children understand. This is available as a board book or a slightly bigger picture book, and it is worth getting the one, and then the other as your child ages. Your Personal Penguin by Sandra Boynton 2006 / 21 pages This is my favorite board book of all, but that might be colored a bit by the fact my wife gave it as a gift when we were dating. But what cemented it as a favorite for our kids is the free sing-a-long song you can download for it. Davy Jones of The Monkees does a fantastic job with this little ditty. The tune is memorable, which meant that even I could do a pretty decent rendition singing it to our kids. It's about a penguin who loves a hippo and has a proposal: I want to be your personal penguin I want to walk right by your side I want to be your personal penguin I want to travel with you far and wide... Sanda Boynton has many other great board books including The Going to Bed Book, Fifteen Animals, and Barnyard Dance and while I haven't run across any that aren't great, I did just notice that she's started listing her personal pronouns as "she/her" which is better than going with "he/zer" but still shows she's bought into this "more than two genders" nonsense. So, again, read before you buy. You can check out the Your Personal Penguin song (and other Boynton hits) here. Goodnight Mr. Darcy by Kate Coombs 2015 / 20 pages This is a gimmick, but so brilliantly done it deserves a spot on this list. As you may have already deduced from the title, this is a mash-up of the board book classic Goodnight Moon and a classic of another sort, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.  As stated earlier,  I am not a fan of Margaret Wise Brown's 1947 Goodnight Moon. I could handle it once or twice, but the simple repetitions started driving me a little batty even going on thrice. So when I saw this, in the same coloring, and a similar rhythm, but much more clever, I thought it might be the perfect substitute. And it was! Here's a little taste: In the great ballroom There was a country dance And a well-played tune And Elisabeth Bennet – This really is intended for adults, but the rhythm and rhyme will grab your children's interest too. This is not the only board book version of Pride and Prejudice, but as the others lack the same charm, be sure if you have the right author....

Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Jerry Pinkney: Making the classics kinder

In addition to the dozens of books Jerry Pinkney (1939-2021) has illustrated for others, he has also retold a number of tales from Aesop’s Fables, Hans Christian Andersen, and Rudyard Kipling. While loyal to these classics, he always adds in his own spin, which is often kinder than the original. This gentler take comes out in his illustrations too, where his use of watercolor makes his pictures bright, but soft. He loved drawing animals with people’s facial quirks and often packed his pages with detail. What follows is a summary review of his most popular picture books. Recommended Rikki-Tikki-Tavi 1997 / 48 pages This is a gorgeous treatment of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tale. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is a lost mongoose taken in by an English family in India. But he’s not simply a pet – mongooses are snake killers, and there are three snakes in the family garden that he has to fight, one by one. The story is scary in parts, but each fight is quickly told, which might make this a great book to introduce young readers to a bit of tension. Pinkney’s watercolor paintings add enormously to the story. The Ugly Duckling 1999 / 40 pages Everyone seems a little bit nicer (or maybe a little less mean) to the ugly duckling in Pinkney’s version, though he does still get picked on for looking so different from the other ducklings. It’s only when he discovers he is a swan, not a duck, that he finds his place in the world. The moral to this story is one that parents can shape to a degree: is it about finding the right peer group – one that will accept you for who you are – or is what’s important finding out who God intends you to be? Aesop’s Fables 2000 / 96 pages This is a fabulous collection of more than 60 of Aesop’s fables. Even if you aren’t familiar with the ancient Greek author Aesop, you’ve certainly heard at least a few of his fables, ones like The Ant and the Grasshopper, The Tortoise and the Hare, and The Lion and the Mouse. In this collection the stories are at their shortest, just half a page to maybe two, which means you can read a handful at a time to your children. There is a moral to each story, again, and while most of them are insightful and foster common sense, these are not inspired. We found some of them are disputable, or right in one situation and may be wrong in another. That makes them all the more fun to read together, because examining the moral spurs on the discussion. That might be a reason parents would want to read this one with their kids, and not simply hand it off to them. None of the morals taught are all that horrible, so it isn’t a dangerous book: just a limited one, that gets some things only partly right, which means, also partly wrong. The Little Red Hen 2006 / 32 pages A red hen asks her barnyard companions if any of them will help her plant, harvest, carry, or bake her grain, and the pig, dog, rat, and goat all answer in turn, “Not I!” So, when it comes to the eating of the bread, the hen decides that they won’t have any part in that either. This is a tale about justice, so it is worth reminding kids that we shouldn’t be so quick to deliver justice to others, as Jesus satisfied the just judgment coming our way so that we would instead receive mercy. Little Red Riding Hood 2007 / 40 pages I love the little details Pinkney adds: in this one, he offers a reason as to why the wolf didn’t just gobble Little Red Riding Hood when he first met her in the forest – “he heard the chop, chop of woodcutters working nearby.” The wolf then gets ahead of Little Red by suggesting she stop to collect some kindling for a fire to warm her grandmother. Parents can point out that while this might seem a nice idea, it’s actually disobeying Red’s mother, who told her to head straight there with no delay. I was surprised when not only grandma but Red herself gets swallowed up. But, of course, the woodcutter does come to the rescue. The Lion and the Mouse 2009 / 40 pages When a tiny mouse disturbs the rest of the King of the Beasts, the King seems intent on having a quick snack. But instead, after some back and forth with the tiny petitioner, the lion lets the mouse go. Why? Readers already familiar with this Aesop Tale will remember that the mouse has pledged to help the king if ever he is in trouble. But in Pinkney’s almost entirely wordless version – there are only a few squeaks, one owl screech, and a lion’s roar – it isn’t as clear. But no worries, we can follow along well enough. Then when hunters trap the mighty lion in a net, it is the mouse that comes to the rescue, chewing through the rope to set the lion free. The moral of the story? Even the strongest will need help. Three Little Kittens 2010 / 40 pages Three little kittens lose their mittens, and consequently, lose their chance to eat their mother’s pie. Pinkney has extended but only lightly altered this classic tale, and paired it with page after page of adorable kitty pictures that any child will love to look at. The Tortoise and the Hare 2013 / 40 pages In this nearly wordless retelling (just 27 in all) we get treated to a double-page spread of the hare stretched out galloping with everything he’s got. In some versions of the story, the rabbit succumbs to ego and flattery, falling behind when he does stunts to impress the fans (particularly the girl fans) but Pinkney gives him a less obnoxious flaw, distracting him instead with a plump lettuce garden, where he overindulges and falls asleep. And that’s when the slow but steady turtle can make his move. The story concludes with the hare being a good sport and celebrating the turtle’s victory. The Grasshopper & the Ants 2015 / 40 pages In this version the grasshopper is a one-man band, singing his encouragements to the ants to forgo their work for play. Of course, when winter comes, we see the (unstated) moral to the story play out: that we should not put off until tomorrow what we can do today. But Pinkney’s ending, with the ants offering the grasshopper a place to winter, leaves us wondering if the grasshopper learned that lesson. Three Billy Goats Gruff 2017 / 40 pages This is the best version of this classic tale you will find, with wonderful artwork paired with an updated and improved version of the story. The three goats come, one by one, the smallest first, to cross a bridge to get to some delicious grassland. A troll pops up to devour the first goat, but this little one promises that his bigger, tastier brother is coming, and the troll should really wait for him. When the second comes, he says the same about his even bigger brother, and the troll lets him pass too. But when the biggest Billy Goat Gruff comes, he knocks the troll right off the bridge. That’s usually the end of the story, but Pinkney has the troll land in a river where a giant fish tries to devour him! After his narrow escape, the question is, has the troll learned his lesson? This is a story parents could maybe use to talk about bullying, but they would have to note that even though the troll got what he deserved here, that doesn’t mean we have to do to others as they were going to do to us. Take it or leave it Noah’s Ark 2002 / 40 pages I’m leery of biblical adaptations in large part because those that do them are often casual about how closely their summaries line up with what the Bible says, and the visual dimension will add details that weren’t in the biblical text. However, Pinkney is quite careful, with his most notable departure the omission that, in addition to the pairs of creatures two by two, seven of each clean animals were also taken (or, likely, seven pairs of each clean animal – Gen. 7:2-3). Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star 2011 / 30 pages A chipmunk stars in this retelling of the classic bedtime nursery rhyme, and early on he is finding “little stars” everywhere, from a dandelion fluff floating in the sky, to water droplets glistening on a spider’s web. But then, suddenly, he’s in a boat sailing to the moon. Clearly, he must be dreaming here, but the transition from the waking world is abrupt and I think most children (and many an adult) will be mystified as to what just happened. Don't bother The Little Match Girl 1999 / 32 pages I have to say I’ve never liked the original version of this Hans Christian Andersen tale, and nothing has changed with Jerry Pinkney's update. It is well done, but such a sad tale. And while it is important for adults to know of the needy, I don’t know that I have to confront my Grade 1 child with these difficulties. The Nightingale 2002 / 40 pages An African adaptation of an odd and lesser-known Hans Christian Andersen tale. It features death as a creepy character which is why I’m content to have it remain a lesser-known tale. Puss in Boots 2012 / 40 pages A beautiful version of a less than heroic tale about a clever but deceitful cat who tricks everyone into believing his master is a Count. The Little Mermaid 2020 / 48 pages In his version, the Little Mermaid doesn’t fall in love at first sight, doesn’t give up her life underwater for a man who doesn’t even know she exists, and doesn’t trade her tail for legs that constantly feel like she’s walking on blades. So, an improvement on the original? Maybe. But Pinkney’s version has a witch that looks like Satan himself, all red and horned, and a tack-on “girl-power” ending with the Little Mermaid suddenly able to beat all the bad guys all by herself for reasons that remain elusive. There’s no reason to get this one. Conclusion In the many articles prompted by Pinkney’s passing late last year, mention was made of how this prolific author struggled with reading in his youth. It was only decades later that he discovered he had dyslexia. Pinkney credited his parents’ positive outlook with enabling him to persist, and while he had struggles in one area, he found out that he was gifted in another: right from the start, he had a talent for art. These obituaries also spoke of his advocacy for African Americans. He grew up in a tumultuous time. He was almost the same age as Emmett Till, a young black boy who was famously murdered for simply flirting with a white woman. It wasn’t until Pinkney started having children himself that black children started being depicted in picture books. He’s made a point of including them frequently in his own work – for example, he has a black Red Riding Hood – though the inclusion is done naturally, without any particular note made. Even his advocacy is gentle. What never seemed to be mentioned was anything about Pinkney’s relationship with his Maker. The closest was a passing reference to his wife being a minister, which would have us suspect he was a liberal Christian. If so, his love for the old classics seems to have kept him from pushing any such liberalism in his books. He is an author that Christian parents will love to share with their little ones, particularly because he so often put a new spin on familiar fare....

Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

David Wiesner: weird and wonderful

Super creative? Ultra creative? Mega creative? Every good picture book author is imaginative, but somehow David Wiesner (1956- ) manages to be all the more so. His living clouds, flying frogs, and artistic lizards always provide a surprise – a reader starting one of Wiesner's stories will never be able to predict how it is going to end. That's a joy for parents to experience right along with their kids: a children's story that isn't predictable! And since several of Wiesner's works are wordless, they can also be great books for reluctant readers to tackle alongside mom or dad. Wordless doesn't mean it's an easy "read" but together parent and child can put their detective skills to work to figure out all that's going on! What follows are my family's recommendations – our favorites – and then a few that we've read but which for this reason or that, I'm not going to recommend like the rest. Finally, there are three that really aren't worth bothering with. RECOMMENDED Free Fall 1988 / 32 pages A little boy falls asleep and we get to come along in his dream. As dreams often are, this is wordless throughout, one page streaming into the next as the boy goes from meeting a dragon to growing giant-sized, to flying home on a leaf. It makes sense only in the ways that dreams do. But the smart-eyed reader will be able to spot on the last page, when the boy wakes up, all the objects in the room that inspired the different parts of his dream. This is one to “read” slowly and enjoy every picture. Hurricane 1990 / 32 pages Two brothers are worried about a coming hurricane. But when the lights go out, and the family is still together, the boys realize it's not so bad after all. It even gets quite good the next day, when they discover a huge fallen tree in their neighbor’s yard. In the days that follow the huge trunk becomes their spaceship, and the branches a jungle, and the both of them together a pirate-hunting sailboat. Tuesday 1991 / 32 pages The only words we see tell us the time, and that it is a Tuesday. For reasons that are left entirely mysterious, at around 8 pm, a swarm of frogs suddenly starts flying (or is it their lily-pads that are doing the levitating?). They flock into town, chase some birds for fun, watch a little telly, and then, just as they are heading back, dawn breaks, and the sun's rays seem to sap their flying powers. That leaves the whole lot of them hopping back to their pond. This is silly nonsense and kids are sure to love it. Sector 7 1999 / 48 pages A boy on a field trip to the Empire State Building meets a rambunctious cloud (he discovers that clouds are people!) who takes him back to “Sector 7” high up in the sky where the clouds get their orders about what shape of cloud they should be. But the clouds seem a bit bored with these shapes and appear to ask the boy to draw them up some alternatives. And what fun to see clouds mimicking the sea creatures he draws! Eventually, the rambunctious cloud returns the boy to the Empire State Building, but his visit to Sector 7 might have some lasting impact, as the clouds quite like being fish-shaped. This is another of Wiesner’s wordless books and another one that parent and child will have pouring over to see all that the pictures have to say. The Three Pigs 2001 / 40 pages When our middle daughter discovered this one she just had to share it with her younger sister right there and then. This is a creative spin on the old tale as the Big Bad Wolf blows the pigs right out of the story and into some others (including Wiesner's own The Loathsome Dragon). As they travel from storybook to storybook the pigs decide there is no place like home, but also decide to bring along a guest from another story – a dragon! – to give this pesky wolf quite the surprise. Art & Max 2010 / 40 pages This might be my favorite picture book. It involves just two characters, which makes this one easy to read out loud to the kids, and there’s so much energy on each page that performing it becomes so easy to do. Art knows how to paint, and Max desperately wants to learn. (Both are lizards, but aside from the fun way they look, that doesn't really matter.) But who should Max paint? When Aurthur suggests himself, Max literally starts to throw paint on Art. And that’s when it gets wacky! As Max tries to clean the paint off Art, he starts to clean all the color off him. Art is see-through; he’s just lines! Then, when that line starts to unravel, Art becomes just a scribble. Fortunately, his friend Max is on it, and proves, as he turns that scribble into a work of Art, that he has some mad skills too. I Got It! 2018 / 32 pages Once again David Wiesner lets the pictures do (almost) all the talking, When a long flyball is hit into the outfield, a boy declares, “I’ve got it!” which are the only words in the story. But does he really have it? One dropped ball is followed by another, and it’s almost like there are obstacles (getting bigger and bigger) just reaching out to trip him up. His repeated drops have his teammates moving in closer to catch it for him, since he can’t. But then, in one last stretching leap, our boy in red jumps past the obstacles and beats his teammates to the ball for a wonderful game-winning catch. This is a very fun story, but I could see some kids needing a little help to understand what’s going on. But hey, reading together is fantastic! TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT The Loathsome Dragon 1987 / 32 pages An evil queen/stepmother casts a spell which turns a princess into a loathsome dragon. Along comes a brave prince who has to kiss the dragon three times to break the spell. The only twist in this tale is that the brave prince is her brother, and not a husband-to-be, but that’s not enough to make this seem fresh. I should add that while I was unimpressed, my girls liked this a lot more than I did. June 29, 1999 1992 / 32 pages A young girl, Holly, sends vegetable seedlings into the ionosphere for her science project just to see what might happen. Soon after giant vegetables – house-sized and bigger! – start floating down from the sky. But wait! Some of these vegetables are not the sorts that she sent up. So where did those come from? At book’s end we discover the giant vegetables came from a giant alien chef accidentally losing his ingredients while flying above Earth. Very fun to see the giant vegetables all over the landscape but I think it would have been better without the aliens tacked on at the end. Flotsam 2006 / 40 pages When a boy discovers an old-style underwater camera washed up on the beach, he brings the film in to be developed. There he discovers pictures, seemingly taken by underwater creatures themselves, and the world that they live in when we aren’t looking is certainly something to behold: little mermaids and mermen, robotic fish, giant turtles carrying shell cities on their backs, and even what looks like aliens taking rides on the guppies. Done without any text at all, each picture is another discovery. The very last snapshot is of a girl holding up a picture. And in that picture is a boy holding a picture of a girl holding a picture of a boy. A look through a magnifying picture shows this goes deeper still, and further back in time. The boy’s microscope reveals more still layers to the photo. This is inventive and fun, with the only cautions being that the young target audience may have to be informed that though the photos look quite realistic, the aliens and mermen are fantasy, not fact. DON'T BOTHER Mr. Wuffles Tiny tiny aliens have landed, but unfortunately for them, their ship attracts the attention of Mr. Wuffles, who thinks it’s one of his cat toys. To repair their ship the little aliens recruit help from ants and bugs – their treasure trove of lost marbles, pencils, loose change, and paperclips turn out to be just what the aliens need to fix things up. There's some vague religious-type imagery written by the bugs on the house walls that, along with the aliens, makes this one I'd rather just skip. Fish Girl Wiesner’s only graphic novel is the story of a mermaid girl kept captive in an aquarium by the owner who she believes is the god Neptune. It’s odd all the way around, and that she is swimming around topless for most of its 192 pages (though always with strategically placed hair, or fishes) makes this another good one to skip.  Robobaby Robots get their babies in a box, with some assembly required. This story has its quirky charm, but when Mom and Dad, Uncle Manny, and even the Robobaby tech service can’t assemble Junior properly, but the child amongst them knows just what to do, this become just one more adults-are-dumb-and-kids-know-everything story that we can really do without (Prov. 20:29, 22:15). CAUTIONS David Wiesner is an incredibly imaginative picture book author, which makes him very fun to read, but it's that same active imagination that seems to lead him into a bit of over-the-top weirdness now and again. I couldn't figure out what Wiesner's worldview/philosophy is, and it'd be a bit much to conclude he must not be Christian just because he features aliens on occasion, though aliens (at least the intelligent sort) would seem to be incompatible with Christianity (but demons masquerading as aliens would not be). However, there's nothing in his books that would give us reason to conclude he must be Christian. In lieu of evidence one way or the other, that's good reason for parents to approach his future output with some caution. CONCLUSION If you have a creative kid, Wiesner's best could be just the spark they need to think bigger and bolder. And if you have a not-particularly-creative kid, Wiesner might be an inspiration for them too, showing them how there are all sorts of possibilities to explore and fresh ways of looking at things. Finally, if you have a reluctant reader, Wiesner's wordless books – Freefall, Tuesday, Sector 7, and I Got it! – might be an encouragement for them to page through, especially if mom or dad comes alongside....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Once upon a banana

by Jennifer Armstrong illustrated by David Small 48 pages / 2013 I'd almost forgotten just how wonderful wordless books can be. But then I found this at the library, brought it home, read it once to my three girls, and then, moments later, my youngest, all of three, was off on her own "reading" the book to herself. The fact is, long before kids can read, many really, really want to. Parents might find them, picture book on their lap, either trying to remember how the story goes, or trying to make up something that will fit the pictures. And all the while, just wishing they could read it for themselves. Wordless books are a way to build on this enthusiasm. I did need to go through Once Upon A Banana the first time with them, pointing out things like how banana peels are supposed to be slippery, and how the book was giving us hints as to what was coming, by showing us some characters in full color, and the less important characters only in shades of blue. But they didn't need much to figure it out. The story is one big chase scene, with monkey owner chasing monkey, and then grocer chasing monkey owner, and then some dogs join the chase, and a skateboarding judge, and a mom and her baby in its stroller. Oh, and there's a big garbage truck in the mix too. It's crazy and frantic with lots to look at on every page. After I gave a short "lesson" on how to read this wordless book, my two pre-readers could do it all on their own. That means that, while wordless books aren't going to replace me any time soon, they do reduce the demand just a tad on Dad the book reader. And that freed me up to read something a bit more challenging, and at least a little bit closer to my own level, to my older girls. The only downside to wordless books is that they take hardly any time to read. That means this isn't the best value for a parent - it'd be better to get it out of the library. But this is a good one for a school library. You can get it at here and here. And for more wordless wonders, see the reviews below on The Hero of Little Street and The Boy and the Airplane South Ice Journey ...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Finding Winnie

by Lindsay Mattick 56 pages / 2015 It turns out that Winnie the Pooh, a teddy bear who had fantastic and entirely fanciful adventures, was named after a real bear whose adventures were quite something too, and of the genuine sort. Just as Winnie the Pooh starts with a father telling his son a story, so too Finding Winnie begins with a parent telling her child a bedtime tale. In this case, the storyteller is the great-granddaughter of the man who gave the first Winnie his name. Harry Colebourn was a vet living in Winnipeg. When the First World War began Harry had to go, so he boarded a train with other soldiers and headed east. At a stop on the way, he met a man with a baby bear, and ended up buying the little beast. To make a long story shorter, this bear - named Winnie after Harry's hometown – ended up in the London Zoo where a boy named Christopher Robin, and his father A.A Milne came across him and were utterly entranced. It is a wonderful story, but what makes it remarkable is the charming way it's told. This is brilliant, and a homage of sort to A.A. Milne's stories. It's true, so there is quite a difference between his Winnie tales and this author's, but the same gentle humor, the same whimsy, that same charm, is there throughout. This will be a treat for fans of Winnie the Pooh no matter what age. Both my daughters and I were entranced! Winnie by Sally M. Walker 40 pages / 2015 The same year a second picture book came out about the bear behind the bear that was also very good, very fun, and different enough that after reading Finding Winnie it is still an enjoyable read as well. Compared to most any other picture book Winnie is remarkable - really among the best of the best - but it does lack a little of the Milne-like charm of Finding Winnie, and so ranks second among these two books....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Nicky & Vera: a Quiet Hero of the Holocaust...

by Peter Sís 2021 / 64 pages Nicholas Winston never set out to be a hero but he also knew what needed to be done. When the Germans were taking over Czechoslovakia in chunks, before World War II has officially begun, Jews in the country were trying to get their children out. Winston knew how to get this done, pushing the paperwork, bribing the right people, and arranging for families in England where the children could stay. He ended up saving 669 children, most, or all of whom, were Jewish, and he didn't have to brave bullets to do it. That is the important lesson of this book: that there are quiet ways to do vital work. It was quiet work, but no less life-saving than what Allied soldiers did fighting to end the Nazi reign. And in its quiet manner, Winston's actions were more like the important work we are called to do today – our fights are not in the trenches, but writing our MPs, or making donations to the right organizations. We can, for example, save lives by donating to pregnancy crisis centers, and do so at no risk to ourselves. But we need to be persistent, seizing opportunities when they come, creating them when they don't, and working around obstacles as they appear. Winston was not Christian so far as I can tell (it doesn't come up in the book), but his example is still one we can benefit from. This would be a great picture book for a school library, to be pulled out and showcased around Remembrance Day each year....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock

by Eric A. Kimmel 32 pages / 1988 Things begin with Anansi (uh·naan·see) the spider making quite the discovery: a strange moss-covered rock that somehow knocks you out if you say "Isn't this a strange moss-covered rock!" It takes Anansi a couple of goes – along with a couple of hours of unconscious time, lying on his back – to figure this out, but once he does, he knows just how he's going to use this magical rock. He starts bringing his friends to come see it, and encourages them to comment on it. Once they do, and are lying on their back taking an unintended one-hour nap, Anansi goes to their house and takes their food. He begins with Lion, then Elephant, Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, and goes on and on.  The careful reader will notice that there is another animal watching all these goings-on. Somewhere behind the bushes, on most every page, is the little Bush Deer. He decides to make things right by pulling a trick on the trickster. When Anansi invites him to go look at the rock, Bush Deer goes but he doesn't comment on the rock. He even pretends he can't see it. In frustration, Anansi ends up spouting the troublesome phrase himself...and down he goes! That allows the Bush Deer a whole hour to clear out Anansi's house and return his ill-gotten gains Cautions There are no cautions for this book, but parents should be aware that Anansi the trickster is a folktale from Africa, who, in some versions, isn't simply a spider but is a god in the form of a spider. So the only caution would be not to presume, if you are buying another author's Anansi stories, that they will simply be morality tales with animals standing in for people, as is happening here. Conclusion This is a fun animals-as-people folktale that rewards the observant child (even the pre-reader) who spots the bush deer long before he makes his first "official" appearance. On the first go, a child might need some encouragement from mom or dad to look closely, but once they spot the deer once, they'll love finding him the next times. That's what makes this a book kids will look through repeatedly....

Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Jan Brett: picture books' peak

What sets Jan Brett (1949- ) apart as a picture book illustrator is how much she packs into every page. There’s always lots going on right there in the middle of her double-page pictures, and then there's even more to see toward the edges – Brett’s trademark is to use the side and bottom borders to give hints to the attentive child of what might be coming next. So, for example, in The Mitten, the small picture on the right-hand border of every two-page spread gives us our first glimpse of the next animal to try to squeeze into the already crowded mitten. What sets Brett apart as an author is the creative twists she brings to otherwise familiar fairytales. Goldilocks, the Gingerbread Man, Cinderella, and the Big Bad Wolf are all taken to new settings, with the most unusual reimagining being Cinderella as told with chickens. RECOMMENDED All of her books are 32 pages, and all are aimed at the pre-school to Grade 2 age group (though older children will certainly enjoy revisiting them for years to come). But which Brett should you begin with? And which would make ideal gifts for the kids or grandkids, or purchases for the school library? With more than 40 books so far, there’s certainly lots to enjoy. What follows are my recommendations grouped by theme. TWO SETS OF MITTENS I couldn’t track down which is Brett’s most popular book, but in that she’s written three sequels to it, I’d think Brett’s favorite has to be The Mitten. The Mitten: a Ukrainian folktale (1989) After his grandmother knits him some snow-white mittens, Nicki loses one in the forest. But one boy’s loss is a mole’s gain, who finds it just the perfect size to crawl into and stay cozy and warm. A passing rabbit has the same thought, and, despite there really being no room, joins the mole, only to have a hedgehog, owl, and more squeeze in. The charming story has a fun twist at the end when Nicki recovers his lost mitten. The Hat (1997) Hedgie gets a woolen sock stuck to her head, and the other animals use the rest of the drying laundry to fashion their own hats. The Umbrella (2002) This retelling of The Mitten takes place in the jungle and begins with a little frog trying to find refuge in a little boy’s lost umbrella. But it isn’t too long before he has a lot of very close neighbors. Cozy (2020) An Alaskan Muskox named Cozy becomes a refuge for cold animals seeking shelter. It starts with some lemmings, then a snowshoe rabbit, and so on. The attentive young reader will notice that this is another retelling of The Mitten but with its own creative twists. HEDGIE’S BOOKS Hedgie the hedgehog makes frequent appearances in Brett’s books, showing up in at least twenty of them. Most often it’s somewhere in the background (he’s carved into a bedpost in Goldilocks and the Three Bears) but in The Hat above, and in the books below, he has a bigger role. Trouble with Trolls (1994) A little girl, Treva, has to contend with some troublesome trolls who really want her pet dog for their own. Though she outsmarts them in the end, children might feel a little sorry for the trolls, who just wanted a pet. But the observant child will notice that, though they don’t deserve it, by story’s end, the trolls do end up with a wonderful pet. Guess who it is!  Hedgie’s Surprise (2002) Hedgie helps a hen stop a thieving Tomten (a Danish gremlin) from taking her eggs so that she can have a family. The borders are done as needlepoint for added charm. The Snowy Nap (2018) Hedgie puts off hibernation long enough to see the farm in wintertime. FAIRYTALES WELL (RE)TOLD There is a reason the same fairytales we heard as kids are still being told – they are classics for a reason. But Brett’s taken on the challenge of improving on them, and in these four her success is obvious. The first three here are all versions of Goldilocks and there’s something to love about each one. Goldilocks and the Three Bears (1987) What sets this faithful retelling apart is the detailed, gorgeous pictures - there is so much to see! And the author also explains (which few other versions do) how the Papa and Mama bears could tell Goldilocks had been on their chairs and beds.  The Three Snow Bears (2007) An Inuit girl, Aloo-ki, ends up at the igloo house of a family of polar bears. She’s less destructive than in the original, and the bears are more forgiving. The arctic landscape brings added charm. The Mermaid (2017) This time Goldilocks is a mermaid visiting the home of the three octopuses. The ending is a little happier than it usually is – the little one gets a gift from “Goldilocks.” Beauty and the Beast (1989) To save her father, a girl agrees to live with a beast and his animal servants. That’s always made this my least favorite fairytale – what sort of loving father would let his daughter sacrifice herself for him? But while Brett’s version still includes this troublesome opening, the artwork makes it special. An observant child will notice the paintings shown on the castle hallway walls reveal what the animal servants used to look like back when they were human. Town Mouse · Country Mouse (1994) When a pair of country mice switch places with two city mice, they both learn that there’s no place like home. An added element to this version: a city cat and a country owl both intent on getting dinner.  Gingerbread baby (1997) While the title character is full of sass, this is a kinder, gentler twist on the classic Gingerbread Man tale. The 3 little Dassies (2010) Brett has taken The Three Little Pigs to Africa, swapping in dassies (gopher-like creatures) as the architects, and an eagle as the windbag. It’s a little scarier than its source material because the eagle actually catches the first two dassies, But never fear – in the picture borders we can watch as they are rescued by a friendly lizard even as the eagle makes his unsuccessful attempt at Dassie #3. THE REST OF THE BEST Among this potpourri are original stories from Jan Brett, as well as folktales from other countries. Annie and the Wild animals (1985) When a little girl’s pet cat goes missing, she tries to find a new pet from among the wild animals in the forest. What she discovers is that none of them are a good fit. Fortunately, her cat comes back...and she brings some surprises with her.  Fritz and the beautiful horses (1987) A scruffy pony wishes that someone would ride him but all anyone does is laugh at how he looks. But when the town’s bridge breaks, the sure-footed Fritz is able to do something the beautiful horses won’t – he can bring the town’s children through the river back to their parents. Hurray for Fritz! Berlioz the Bear (1991) A bear and his band of musicians are stuck on their way to the gala – their donkey won’t budge. Can the rooster, cat, goat, or ox get him to move? No, but children will enjoy seeing how something much smaller can change the stubborn beast’s mind! Daisy comes home (2002) Set in China, this is the tale of a quiet meek chicken who gets picked on by other chickens. But on an unexpected journey, she has to fight a monkey, a dog, and more, and her courage helps her stand up to the chicken bullies when she gets back home. Honey.. honey... Lion! (2005) The honeyguide bird and honey badger normally work together, with the little bird showing the badger where to find honey, and the badger breaking things open so they can both feast. But one day, when honey badger decides not to share, honeyguide knows exactly how to teach him a lesson. The Turnip (2015) Based on an old Russian folktale, the badger family can’t pull their giant turnip out of the ground, no matter how much help they get. But when a rooster tries it on his own, and, unnoticed to all, he gets some help from below - bears pushing the turnip up out of their den – the turnip finally comes out. TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT Armadillo Rodeo A near-sighted armadillo befriends a pair of red cowboy boots and follows wherever their owner takes them. It’s fine, but just not as interesting as Brett’s best. Hedgie Blasts Off Hedgie goes to space to unplug a planet that shoots sparkles, much to the alien tourists’ delight. There’s nothing all that wrong with it (aside maybe from the aliens, because aliens don’t actually exist… but, of course, talking animals don’t either). However, its simpler format (no border pictures) and science fiction elements make it different and just not as enjoyable as Brett’s usual fare. Gingerbread Friends In this sequel to Gingerbread Baby, the baby goes on a journey in search of friends only to find out that other baked goods can’t talk or dance. But when he returns home to find that his friend has baked him a whole bunch of gingerbread friends. Kids will probably appreciate this sequel, but parents will find it less creative than the first. Mossy A unique turtle – she has a mossy garden growing on her back – is put on display in a museum. But Mossy pines to be back with the new friend (and budding romantic partner?) Scooty. To help the lonely turtle, the museum director releases her back into the wild. This is a gorgeous book, but its message about creature care is in line with environmentalism’s general “hands off” approach which stands in opposition to the “hands on” role God has assigned us as stewards. While this will go over kids’ heads I’m noting it because Brett is pointedly preaching here – there is a message to this book – and she’s directing that point to young impressionable readers. While I’d have no problem reading this with my children, it is one I would want to read with them. I’d tell them that, yes, it is important to address Mossy’s loneliness, but returning her to Nature wasn’t the only option – Scooty could also have been brought indoors. Cinders, a chicken Cinderella This is both a bizarre but enjoyable take on Cinderella, with chickens playing the principal parts. The only downside to this book is from a school library perspective: it has a double-page foldout in the middle, that’ll quickly get crumpled up. The Tale of the Tiger Slippers Tiger tries to throw out his old raggedy shoes that served him well as he worked his way to wealth, but no matter what he tries, they end up coming back. The story doesn’t have the usual Jan Brett spark, and because the tigers are dressed as people their clothing doesn’t allow Brett’s art to capture the real beauty of these animals. DON’T BOTHER Of the twelve books listed below, 8 have Christmas in the title, one is about Easter, and the other about Noah’s Ark. The problem here is not so much with anything in the individual titles but in what’s missing from all of them: God. His complete absence is so conspicuous it’s even noticeable to unbelievers – Publisher’s Weekly, in their review of On Noah’s Ark, noted how Brett: "omits the biblical framework…. There's no mention of God or his relationship to Noah, nor any reason given for the Flood.” If you read one of her Christmas books God’s absence won’t be as conspicuous since many a Christmas story skips over the real reason for the season, so that she does too doesn’t seem so glaring. But when an author writes eight books about Christmas and Christ never comes up, we have to wonder, what’s going on? In The Twelve Days of Christmas, Brett follows the song with “A Brief History” of the Twelve Days. She writes that: “The Twelve Days of Christmas are the days linking Christmas on December 25 and the Epiphany on January 6, when the three Magi offered the first Christmas presents – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Gifts to Who? The Magi get a nod, but Jesus is still ignored? Individually, Brett’s Christmas books are simply fluffy fun, but collectively they are a studious avoidance of any mention of the God who became Man. So, why bother with them? Christmas Trolls – Young girl teaches trolls that Christmas is about generosity. The Easter Egg – An Easter Rabbit becomes the focus of the season. On Noah’s ark - The boat itself is far smaller than the Bible describes and, contrary to Scripture, it says the mountaintops were not covered. The Wild Christmas Reindeer – Elf learns that reindeer respond better to kindness than bullying. Gingerbread Christmas - The Gingerbread baby and his band celebrate Christmas… with no mention of Christ. The night before Christmas - The classic poem, with Jan Brett’s art. The Twelve Days of Christmas - Brett notes that though the song is “named for this religious holiday” it “is actually quite pagan in tone.” The Animal’s Santa – A rabbit discovers that Santa is “truly, truly true.” Sigh. Home for Christmas - A young troll eventually learns there is no place like home. The Christmas in the title has no relevance in the story. Who’s that knocking on Christmas Eve? – A boy and his giant ice bear scare trolls away from a Christmas feast. Two others also worth giving a miss: Comet’s nine lives - On an island where dogs are people, but cats are just cats, we follow along as a cat (rather gently) dies eight times. The first dog – A cave boy turns a helpful wolf into his pet and names him “dog.” There’s a touch of evolution here in her presumption that this occurred 12,000-55,000 years ago. CONCLUSION If your kids are into picture books, then they’ll love Jan Brett – it’s as simple as that. Her detailed full-page illustrations are genius, wonderfully capturing the beauty of the many different animals she’s featured. There’s no one better. You can watch below as Jan Brett reads her book "The Mitten." ...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Gutsy Girls Book Two: Sisters, Corrie & Betsie ten Boom

by Amy L. Sullivan 2016 / 36 pages This is the true story of two Dutch sisters who knew that God could be trusted with their lives and that assurance gave them and their whole family the courage to hide Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Our introduction to the sisters starts with the older Betsie ushering the daydreaming little Corrie out the door so she can go to school. Then we leap ahead to their adult life, with Betsie taking care of the household and Corrie helping her father in the family's watch shop. Then the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. As you might expect from a picture book, it is a G-rated account. That's accomplished via cartoonish pictures, and by covering what the Nazis had planned for the Jews in only limited detail like this: "German soldiers planned evil things against people who were Jewish. In order to easily identify them and set those who were Jewish apart from other Dutch people, German soldiers forced Jewish people to wear the Star of David on their coats and ration cards around their necks. Before long German soldiers took many Jewish people away from their homes." But even so, the reader learns that the Nazis hated the Jews, and the ten Booms knew God wanted them to act. We are shown how they smuggled in bricks to create a false wall in their home that Jews and others could hide behind, should the Germans come looking. In one interesting note, the author shares that the width of that space – at just 23 inches (by 8 feet long) – was not even as wide as this book, when opened up! The ten Booms helped 800 people before they were caught. While readers are, again, spared from the worst details, we do follow the ten Boom sisters to a concentration camp, where Betsie dies. That isn't where the story ends, of course: in the final pages we see Corrie freed and, through God's grace, able to forgive the very Germans who so mistreated her and her sister. Caution There are no cautions for this book but it is the second of a series of 5, and the subject of Book 4 is Jennifer Wiseman, an astronomer who has had a big role in promoting theistic evolution. So the ten Boom book is well worth getting, but not so the series. Conclusion This is a very good first exposure to the ten Boom sisters for students in Kindergarten and First Grade. My hope, though, is that it wouldn't be the last exposure they get – for teens and adults there really is no more encouraging biography than Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Noah: A wordless picture book

by Mark Ludy 60 pages / 2014 Mark Ludy's wordless account of Noah's life will fascinate young and old. There's so much to see on every page, and the wordless nature of it invites parent and child to discuss all that's going on. The danger with such an account is that for some it might come to replace the original biblical version. As children pore over this picture book's pages repeatedly, they could easily forget that even as it is reasonable to believe Noah might have made use of the strength of a dinosaur or two, the Bible doesn't actually say he did. But what such a book can also do is help us re-evaluate some other non-biblical assumptions we might have inadvertently adopted. Noah's wife is shown here as a lighter-colored black, while Noah himself is looking more Grecian, Roman, or perhaps Sicilian. What both most certainly are not – and what they most probably were not – is a British or Scandanavian sort of white. That might bring questions for many a child and adult who, having grown up with picture Bibles that have a white Adam and Eve, and a white Jesus too, have presumed Noah was white as well. But it is more likely that Adam, Eve, and maybe many of the generations that followed had some sort of middle brown skin, as that genetic coding can contain within it the possibility of both darker and lighter skin in the generations that follow. Another corrective: while evolutionary theory portrays Man as being much simpler back in history, the Bible details some big advances being made from one generation to the next (Genesis 4:20-22). They weren't primitive so it is helpful to see Noah shown as living in a fairly advanced level of industry and technology. They aren't in a rocket age, but they also aren't living in caves either. Finally, we also get a good idea of the sheer magnitude of the Ark, correcting the silly bathtub toy picture some might have stuck in their heads. We shouldn't let this book overshadow the biblical account, but when we put Ludy's Noah in its proper place – like that of a commentary that helps us reflect on what Genesis 6-9 is actually saying – then it can be a wonderful aid. I'll offer a couple of critiques: while there's a dinosaur and some mammoths to be seen working on the ark's construction, neither can be found in it. Also, while animals two by two can be seen making their way to the ark, there don't seem to be any groups of 7 (Genesis 7:2). Of course, we don't see every animal arrive, so maybe we just missed those, (and maybe they'll be found in any expanded future edition of the book!). So who is this for? We probably all think of picture books as being for children, but I really think everyone will love it, from ages 3 on up to 103! You can take an extended peek below.

Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.

by Kirsten A. Jenson 2017 / 40 pages Talking with our kids about pornography on the Internet is not a conversation any parent wants to have. But we need to do it. So when I saw this book online I ordered a copy, thinking it might make things easier. And it did. Once I put it to use. Amazon delivered it quickly, as is their custom, but then it sat on the shelf for probably half a year. I don't know why it took me so long, but this last week, I looked up from my computer one summer vacation morning to find all of my young charges in my office together reading. I love the least when they are quiet. But this time around they were twitching and tapping and whistling and chatting, making my work impossible. It was either time to chase them back down the stairs or...time to read a book together. So, I finally got to it. Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr. is best suited for children from 4 to 7. In my case, my audience consisted of one in that range and two above it, but it worked because the older two were just listening in. I had tried the original version intended for 8 and up (with the same title, but lacking the "Jr.") with my oldest, and found it really helpful, but on the long side. We'd gotten interrupted 15 minutes in, and only about a quarter into the book and we've never gotten back to it since. While I do intend to read it with her at some point, this picture book version of the same message was a good substitute for now. The book, after all, is just meant as a prompt for the discussion parents need to have with their kids. So as we read along, we all did a lot of talking. The book could probably be covered in just 5 minutes, but the discussion took at least another 15. First, we learned about how there are pictures all over, on our walls, on billboards, and on screens too. Some are good pictures, like pictures of puppies or family pictures or fun videos. "But some pictures," the author informs us, "are not good. They are bad for you." The definition given of a bad picture is very clear, and very G-rated: "Bad pictures show the parts of the body that we cover with a swimsuit. These parts are meant to be kept private." In response to this page, one daughter brought up a billboard, where the "lady wasn't wearing many clothes." We discussed how it was good to bring that up with mom or dad, and that we'd want her and her sisters to wear more clothes than that. It also gave me an opportunity to go over the book's helpful definition of bad pictures and how this example both kind of fit but kind of didn't. I'd recommend Good Pictures, Bad Pictures jr. for any parent, but note that if you don't already read to your kids regularly, don't launch into this one as one of your first. There was a reason I took so long to get to it: it is a weird topic. But what made it a lot less weird was that we do regularly read together, and talk about what we're reading. So if you don't already read with your kids, it's a habit worth starting you wait for your Amazon delivery of Good Pictures to arrive. I give this a big two thumbs up for being a great tool to help parents with an absolutely vital conversation....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Yellow & Pink

by William Steig 1984 / 32 pages Sometimes one encounters a work of art, a poem, piece of music, figurine or painting which is so simple yet so perfect. Simplicity, you see, takes more talent, not less, to bring about. Sometimes these works come from unlikely sources too. Yet the masterpiece can be appreciated for what it is, rather than for who the artist is. Most people would not consider children’s literature to represent works of art, but of course, there are exceptions, and one such exception is a story called Yellow & Pink by William Steig. This story is so simple, the illustrations so charming, the whole so pregnant with meaning, that it merits the attention not only of children but also of their discriminating elders. The story involves two recently assembled wooden puppets laid out in the yard to allow their paint to dry. Suddenly aware of themselves and of their surroundings, they begin to speculate on where they came from. Pink declares that somebody must have made them. Yellow rejects this idea although he notes that they are “so intricate, so perfect.” He proposes time and chance as the preferred explanation: “With enough time – a thousand, a million, maybe two and a half million years – lots of unusual things could happen. Why not us?” Pink, however, declares that idea to be “preposterous.” Thus the puppets engage in dialogue. Yellow proposes hypotheses involving “natural processes” while Pink expresses skepticism in the form of further probing questions. The discerning reader will notice that Yellow’s hypotheses deal only with shape (form). They never deal with function or even the intricacies of form such as joints. Yellow continues his appeal to time and chance with speculations which become more and more improbable. Finally, he bogs down and appeals to mystery. This puppet is content, in the end, to say we may never know the answer, but he refuses to consider Pink’s suggested alternative. In the end, a man (whose drawing bears a striking resemblance to the book’s author and illustrator) comes along, checks the puppets’ paint and carries them away. Neither puppet recognizes that this is their maker. This simple story, illustrated with elegant line drawings colored pink and yellow, is an obvious analogy to evolutionary speculations. The appeals to time and chance to explain highly improbable events (such as hailstones of the right size falling repeatedly only in the eye sockets) have an all too familiar ring. This is like using time and chance to explain how a particular orchid flower ever came to resemble a particular female bee in appearance, texture, and smell. The author of this little story was a most interesting man. An artist by training, he had provided cartoon-like illustrations for The New Yorker magazine for almost forty years, when at the age of sixty he undertook to write and illustrate children’s books. Thus in 1968, Mr. Steig began a new, highly successful career, that would span a further twenty years. He favored stories that encouraged children to think. One device was to sprinkle big words into the text and another was to espouse unusual ideas. For example, in Shrek, he encourages his readers to value strength of character rather than conventionally attractive personal appearance. Thus it is in Yellow and Pink that he turns his attention to Darwinian speculations. Perhaps he wanted to encourage critical thinking. Whatever the author’s reasons may have been for writing this book, it conveys an important idea by means of an elegant and non-confrontational device – a children’s story. Buy the book because it is a discussion starter, or as a collector’s item, or just because it is fun to read....

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