Category Archives: why haven't you heard of this?

Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm

By Alice and Martin Provensen. Aladdin Books, 2001

Who lives at Maple HIll Farm? People live here. Two dogs and five horses live here. A pig lives here. Then there are — some geese, lots of chickens, a few cows, a few goats, several sheep, and four special cats…

I can’t imagine a better picture book for any animal-loving kid. On each page are illustrations of the dogs, horses, pigs, cats, chickens and goats who live (or used to live) on the author’s real Straatsburg, NY farm, followed by verbal snapshots of their unique personalities. For instance, the big rooster, aptly named Big Shot, doesn’t like children. Willow the cat “is very beautiful, but not very interesting.” And Whiney the sheep is always lost and never knows where the gate is. My kids can look at these gorgeous, simple drawings forever. We’ve decided we all want to live at Maple Hill Farm.

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Mr. President Goes to School

Written by Rick Walton. Illustrated by Brad Sneed. Peachtree, 2010.

“Mr. President,” said Madam Secretary. “…It’s the Sticks and Stones issue again, sir. What should we do?”

Well, apparently the answer is don a disguise, get the heck out of the White House and hide out in elementary school, where even the nastiest problems can be solved with a snack and the hokey pokey. My kids cracked up at the stern-faced leaders of Bulrovia and Snortburg sitting criss-cross applesauce in the Oval Office. I loved the subtle reminder that grownups are at their best when we act like kids.

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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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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

Jillian Jiggs

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Written and Illustrated by Phoebe Gilman

Scholastic, 1985

“Jillian, Jillian, Jillian Jiggs! It looks like your room has been lived in by pigs!”

“Later. I promise. As soon as I’m through, I’ll clean up my room. I promise. I do.”

Now, Jillian meant every word that she said. But later, the promise flew out of her head…

Forgive me, Jillian Jiggs. My scanner could not do your fine illustrations justice — probably because the copy I own (passed down from my mother, a teacher for nearly thirty years) is a Scholastic Big Book and nearly as tall as I am. Continue reading

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That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown

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Written by Cressida Cowell, Illustrated by Neal Layton

Hyperion Books for Children, 2006

Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Emily Brown and an old gray rabbit called Stanley. One day, Emily Brown and Stanley were launching themselves into outer space to look for alien life-forms when there was a rat-a-tat-tat! at the kitchen door. It was the Chief Footman to the Queen. He said, “The Queen has very kindly noticed your rabbit. She would like to have that Bunnywunny.”

Smart girl that Emily Brown is, she says no thank you. (And pointedly reminds the imposing Footman that her rabbit’s name is Stanley, not “Bunnywunny.”) 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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The Paperboy

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Story and paintings by Dav Pilkey

Scholastic, 1996

The mornings of the paperboy are still dark and they are always cold even in the summer. And on these cold mornings the paperboy’s bed is still warm and it is always hard to get out — even for his dog…but they do.

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