Category Archives: 4 years+

Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival

By Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery; Illustrated by Jean Cassels

Walker & Company, 2008

The city of New Orleans, on the mighty Mississippi, is a place many people and pets call home. Jamming with jazz and dressing up fancy for Mardi Gras, it  bustled with life day and night. But on April 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina bore down on the city and everyone who lived there, including a wisp of a cat and one puppy.

Much to the concern of my children, I’m a total sucker for (read: I cry a lot while reading) books about dogs and cats in peril. Two Bobbies fits the bill. Continue reading

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Billy Twitters and his Big Whale Problem

By Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Adam Rex

Disney/Hyperion Books, 2009

Mom says…”Billy Twitters, clean up your room, or we’re buying you a blue whale…” But I’m not worried. See, I know a thing or two about blue whales. I mean, they’re the biggest animals in the world, ever. It’s not like you can just have one delivered to your house overnight.

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Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express

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By Eleanor Coeer, Pictures by Dan Bolognese

Harper Collins, 1995

It was spring, 1860. Bill saw a sign in the post office at Fort Laramie. The sign said: WANTED. RIDERS FOR THE PONY EXPRESS. Young, skinny fellows under 18. Orphans welcome. $25 dollars a week. “That’s the kind of job I want!” said Bill.

I am awfully partial to books about the Wild West. There’s something so romantically desolate (desolately romantic?) about riding on the open range, eating out of a chuck wagon and sleeping under the stars which appeals to the Annie Oakley in me. (I can conveniently forget that back then, people used corn cobs instead of toilet paper.)   Continue reading

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McFig & McFly: A Tale of Jealousy, Revenge, and Death (with a Happy Ending)

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By Henrik Drescher

Candlewick Press, 2008

Far away from anywhere big and important, in a little cozy cottage surrounded by fruit trees and berry bushes, lived McFig and his little daughter, Rosie. One day, a stranger named McFly and his son, Anton, bought the land next door. This was OK with McFig, as long as they weren’t noisy or smelly.

In fact, they’re just the opposite. McFig and McFly have quite a bit in common and get along marvelously. So marvelously in fact, that McFig helps McFly build a cottage exactly like his own. But when McFig also builds a tall tower with his leftover lumber — making his house just a teensy bit bigger and better — so starts a competition that will consume, and eventually end, their lives. Continue reading

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Adele & Simon in America

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Written and illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008

Adele and Simon had traveled all the way from Paris to New York City to visit their Aunt Cecile. But that was just the beginning of their journey. Aunt Cecile was taking them on a train trip around America. The night before their departure, Adele, Simon, and Aunt Cecile were busy packing. Adele spread Simon’s things out on his bed. There was a journal, a pencil box, a cowboy hat, a tin drinking cup, a canteen, a bandanna, a pair of binoculars, a map, a pocketknife, a jacket, a vest, and a pair of bright red suspenders.

…All of which will eventually get lost on their travels, but that’s half of the fun of this book — spotting each item after Adele, Simon, Aunt Ceclie (and the occasional cowpoke) have given up their search. Continue reading

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Grandmother’s Pigeon

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By Louise Erdrich, Illustrated by Jim LeMarche

Hyperion Books for Children, 1996

As it turned out, Grandmother was a far more mysterious woman than any of us knew. It was common knowledge that she had trained kicking mules. We’d often heard how she had skied the Continental Divide. I was with her myself once when she turned back a vicious dog by planting herself firm in its path and staring into its eyes.

I have always been fond of books which start in media res. But let’s just cut to the chase, shall we? Erdrich rocks. Continue reading

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Arthur and Guen

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By Jon Koons, Illustrated by Igor Oleynikov

Dutton Children’s Books, 2008

In the days of old, long, long ago, there were kings and knights and castles. There were princesses and dragons. There was heraldry and magic. And there was a boy named Arthur…

Here’s proof (yet again) that you can so judge a book by its cover. The phrase, “An original tale of Young Camelot,” just seals the deal for me. Continue reading

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Our Corner Grocery Store

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By Joanna Schwartz, Illustrated by Laura Beingessner

Tundra Books, 2009

Saturday is my favorite day of the week. I spend every Saturday at my Nonno Domenico and Nonna Rosa’s corner grocery store. It’s early in the morning when I arrive. Mrs. Mele is out walking her dog. Once in a while a car goes by, but mostly it’s quiet. The neighborhood is still asleep.

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The Only Boy in Ballet Class

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Written by Denise Gruska, Illustrations by Amy Wummer

Gibbs Smith, 2007

As soon as Tucker pushes open the door to Madame Clara’s Dance Studio, it happens. He stands a little taller. When he takes off his shoes and pulls on his very worn-out ballet slippers, he jumps even higher than usual. It feels like flying. He likes to carve the air with the other dancers.

Every once in a while, I crave a really simple rom-com in which the plot is so formulaic that exactly forty-nine minutes in, the lead actress feels sorry for herself and eats a lot of ice cream, straight out of the container. There’s something wonderfully  comforting about knowing exactly how things will turn out  — like they should, damnit — and that’s why I’m fond of The Only Boy in Ballet Class. Tucker Dohr loves to dance, although it embarrasses his Uncle Frank, his little sisters attempt to trip him, and the bullies in his class (who, of course, play football and all need haircuts) call him “Tippy-Toe Boy” or “Twinkle Toes.” It’s all so hurtful that Tucker cries sometimes when he’s alone. But then he’s goaded by his Uncle Frank to play a game of football with his arch enemies and surprise! He wows them with his pirouettes, jetes, and assembles. (Cue the feel-good pop music.)

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Bridget and the Gray Wolves

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By Pija Lindenbaum, Translated by Kjersti Board

Raben and Sjogren, 2001

“Do you know the way to day care? Mommy is supposed to pick me up at four.”
“No, we don’t,” the wolves reply. “Then I’ll stay here until they find me,” says Bridget. “Do you want me to play with you?” “We don’t play,” the gray wolves say. “We lurk behind trees and snarl.”

What an utterly odd and charming book. (Again, you can’t go wrong with Swedish children’s books.) Bridget is an extremely careful child who never climbs on roofs or pets dogs. (They might have splinters in their paws, or headaches, or just be grouchy and bite hard.) But when she gets lost in the woods one day and finds herself face to face with a pack of mangy gray wolves, she suddenly takes charge — directing them in games, feeding them mud soup, and even putting them to bed and singing them beautiful, sad songs.  It’s a wonderful reminder to kids that just because you’re sometimes fearful doesn’t mean that you can’t also be brave.

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