Category Archives: new classic

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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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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Mirette on the High Wire

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By Emily Arnold McCully

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1992

One hundred years ago in Paris, when theaters and music halls drew traveling players from all over the world, the best place to stay was at the widow Gateau’s, a boardinghouse on English Street. Acrobats, jugglers, actors, and mimes from as far away as Moscow and New York reclined on the widow’s feather mattresses and devoured her kidney stews. Madame Gateau worked hard to make her guests comfortable, and so did her daughter, Mirette.

What was initially conceived as a biography of real-life daredevil Blondin is now a lovely tale of bravery and redemption. Continue reading

The Well at the End of the World

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By Robert D. San Souci, Illustrated by Rebecca Walsh

Chronicle Books, 2004

The King of Colchester was a kind and just man, but not a very good ruler. Oh, he did fine dubbing knights or deciding what to have for dinner. But it was his daughter, Princess Rosamond, who really ran the kingdom. She advised her father on matters of state, kept the royal accounts, and fixed the drawbridge when it wouldn’t rise or lower. People often said it was a shame she wasn’t beautiful, too. But practical Rosamond would just laugh and say, “I prefer good books to good looks. I may not be pretty, but my father’s treasury is in order, the drawbridge works, and I’ve almost saved up enough for a new set of royal dishes!”

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Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair

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By Patricia Polacco

Philomel Books, 1996

Absolutely everybody in Triple Creek loved their TV sets. No one could remember a time when there wasn’t a TV in every home. Nor could they remember when they weren’t watching TV. Their TV’s were always on. While they ate their meals. While they worked. While they played. They even kept photos of their TV’s on their mantels along with all the pictures of their family members.

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Boo and Baa Get Wet

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By Olof and Lena Landstrom, Translated by Joan Sandin

R&S Books, 2000

Boo and Baa left the croquet set outside. “We have to go out and get it,” says Baa. “Do we have to?” says Boo. “We’ll have the flashlight with us,” says Baa. Boo still thinks it’s very dark outside. And the croquet set has so many pieces!

The excerpt above doesn’t do Boo and Baa justice, and neither does a synopsis: In the middle of a thunderstorm, two little sheep run outside in the dark to rescue their croquet set. They scare themselves silly, have a good laugh about it, the lights come on… and then they go to sleep. You really need to see the accompanying pictures to fully appreciate the Landstroms’ offbeat humor and the vigorous cuteness of Boo and Baa. My daughter sleeps with this copy in her crib — at least until it’s due back at the library.

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The Curious Garden

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By Peter Brown

Little, Brown Books, 2009

There once was a city without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind. Most people spent their time indoors. As you can imagine, it was a very dreary place. However, there was one boy who loved being outside…

I’m calling this book an “eco-conscious fairytale.” Granted, these pages (printed on recycled paper, mind you) contain no princesses, princes, wicked witches or dragons, but there is one very kind, determined boy who finds beauty where others do not. And there is a patch of curious green plants in need of rescuing. And as in all fairytales, there is a city (er, kingdom) where the inhabitants are in desperate need for an imaginative leader who will transform their dreary world. So…eco-conscious fairytale it is. With sparse, elegant prose and vivid illustrations that are difficult to look away from, Brown tells the story of little Liam, who begins nurturing a long-forgotten garden. Because of his efforts, the plants and flowers spread across his city, magically affecting everything and everyone in their path. A fabulous reminder to go play in the mud.

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It Was You, Blue Kangaroo!

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By Emma Chichester Clark

Dell Dragonfly Books, 2001

Blue Kangaroo belonged to Lily. He was her very own kangaroo. Sometimes, when Lily was very naughty, she would say, “It was you, Blue Kangaroo!” And Blue Kangaroo would look at Lily but say nothing.

Emma Chichester Clark can do no wrong in my book. (I know it seems like all I do is gush, but that’s sort of the purpose of this blog. If I were to review every children’s book I read to my kids, there would be a heck of a lot more complaining going down.) Lily is a little girl with a big hair bow who, like all little girls with big hair bows, is equal parts tender sweetness and impish troublemaker. In this book from the consistently lovely Blue Kangaroo series, Lily attempts to blame her parentally-frowned-upon activities (dressing a reluctant cat, throwing all her clothes out the window, etc.) on her  beloved Blue Kangaroo. Lily’s mother, of course, knows better and what follows is a wonderful tale of loyalty and forgiveness. As usual, Chichester Clark’s bright, colorful illustrations manage to be fuzzily warm and slapsticky funny.

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Willa and the Wind

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Retold by Janice M. Del Negro, illustrated by Heather Solomon

Marshall Cavendish,  2005.

Willa thought about having a fit and falling into it, but instead she marched off to pay a visit to Old Windy.

 “Willa” is based on a Norwegian folktale, “The Lad Who Went to the North Wind.” Hot-tempered, red-pigtailed Willa Rose Mariah McVale is pissed when the north wind blows the last bit of corneal right out of her bowl. “Well, don’t have a hissy,” her reasonable sister says. “If you want cornbread that badly, go get it.” And so she does, in spite of cantankerous Old Windy and a crooked innkeeper who thankfully, doesn’t turn out to be Mr. Right. The illustrations – rendered in watercolor, collage, acrylic and oil — are lovely. Heather Solomon is one of my all-time favorite illustrators. If I’d made more than a D- in my art history class in college, I’d be able to succinctly explain why. 

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How Robin Saved Spring

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By Debbie Ouellet, illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli

Christy Ottavino Books/Henry Holt, 2009.

 Robin thought hard. The only thing he owned of value was his beautiful singing voice. “I shall give you my voice,” he said. Chir-up, chir-ee, tweedle-ee-dee. He sang the grandest song ever heard.

You’ve got to bring your game if you’re collaborating with Italian illustrator Nicoletta  Ceccoli. Her images are so lush and luminous, you feel you could fall into the pages if you leaned just a little too forward. If the story isn’t equally compelling,  your end result is noticeably lopsided. (Case in point: “The Tear Thief.”) Happily,  “How Robin Saved Spring” tells a mesmerizing story: Lady Winter plots to keep her sister, Spring, asleep so the seasons won’t change and the world will stay cold and white forever. Led by Robin (yes, the bird, not Batman’s sidekick),  the animals of the forest – and a sensitive maple tree – attempt to wake Sister Spring, but all must pay a price for their bravery.  Quietly clever storytelling.

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