A GIRAFFE AND A HALF

by Shel Silverstein
Originally published November 4, 1964
by HarperCollins
Hardcover with glossy jacket, 8.60 (w) x 10.60 (h) x 0.50
48 pages
Ages 4-8

Review: (Julie) The children’s book industry is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the widely popular and unforgettable works of Shel Silverstein with reprints in gleaming jackets and original cover art. Titles include A Giraffe and a Half, Don’t Bump the Glump, Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back, Where the Sidewalk Ends and perhaps the most memorable, The Giving Tree.

Giraffe and a Half rhymes all the way through this cumulative tale. Each new couplet piles on a new situation that will have kids cracking up to the end. Simple line drawings in Shell Silverstein’s signature style are expressive and as easy to follow as his side-splitting Dr. Seuss-y text.

BELLA RULES
by Elissa Haden Guest, illustrated by Abigail Halpin
Published May 16,2013
by Dial Books for Young Reader,
a division of Penguin Young Readers Group
Hardcover, 10.36 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 0.34 (d)
32 Pages
Ages 3-6

Review: (Julie) Bella makes her own rules, never tires and is a bit unruly until Mom and Dad hatch a plan to bring in Grandma. Grandma arrives with a puppy that is, well, unruly, too.

The puppy’s behavior helps Bella realize her own wild conduct. She buckles down to teach Puppy the house rules and she learns a thing or two in the process. They soon both improve. For the most part. Illustrations in watercolor, graphite, colored pencils are digitally finished and show great expressions and movement.

Available at Barnes and Noble and the Clinton Book Shop.

PERICLES
by William Shakespeare
Presented by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
Directed by Brian B. Crowe
Performances at the Main Stage
December 4-29, 2013

Review:  (Julie)  An iridescent icy backdrop sets the stage for incest, deception, murder, death, depression and the ultimate reunion of a family torn apart by it all.

In this less familiar Shakespeare play, Pericles (Jon Barker) discovers that Antiochus and his daughter are carrying on an incestuous affair.  This knowledge exposes him to grave danger as Antiochus sets out to kill him.  Pericles flees by ship across the Meditteranean where he competes for the heart of the woman he wishes to marry, Thaisa (Maria Tholl).  He wins her heart but soon loses his love during childbirth.  He buries her at sea in a floating casket. It drifts to the shores of Ephesus where Cerimon, a doctor, restores her consciousness, unbeknownst to Pericles.  Their baby, Marina (Lindsey Kyler), is left in the hands of Dionyza (Jacqueline Antaramian) who raises the girl alongside her own daughter.  When the girls blossom and Dionyza realizes that her own daughter pales in comparison to the beautiful Marina, she orders a servant to put Marina to death.  Before the deed is carried out, Marina is intercepted by pirates and brought to a brothel.  She manages to maintain her virtue by pleading to the governor of Tarsus (Clark Scott Carmichael) for her honor and he releases her out of respect.  The governor presents the girl to Pericles in hopes that she will coax him from the deep depression he suffered since he learned of his daughter’s alleged death.  As she tells her own story to Pericles, he slowly pieces the events together and realizes that his daughter is not dead but is standing before him recounting the life she lived up until the moment she was returned to him by happenstance.  Before long, his wife reappears on the scene and the surprise of the trio’s reunion is overwhelming.

Jon Barker’s (Trelawny of the Wells) is superbly cast in a leading role where he steals the stage with noble battle, bravery and a display of emotions both high and low.  Maria Tholl is an asset at his side as she skillfully portrays both love and lust for the man she marries.  Lindsey Kyler’s debut appearance as the the lovely daughter of Pericles is a truly believable performance of innocence and purity.  Jacqueline Antaramian sure has us fooled as she transitions from a loving mother to a sly and scheming scoundrel right under our noses.  Her dark hair and fair complexion (Cruella comes to mind) makes her villainous character seem so obvious once she is discovered.

With the plot continuously thickening from the first act onward, this rousing play keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.  Not to be missed.

Pericles at the F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, New Jersey through December 29, 2013 with performances from Tuesday to Sunday.  For tickets or more information, call 973-408-5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org.

MAPLE
by Lori Nichols
Published February 20,2014
by Nancy Paulsen Books,
an imprint of PenguinYoung Readers Group
ISBN 13: 9780399160851
32 pages
Ages 3-6

Review:  (Julie)  Vivid illustrations set against a stark white background create a clean, sunny backdrop for a syrupy sweet girl and her profound love for a tree.  Superb.  ♥♥♥♥♥

Available at the Clinton Book Shop.

THANKSGIVING DAY THANKS
By Laura Malone Elliott, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
Published August 27, 2013
by HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN 13: 9780060002367
Hardcover, 8.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.25 (d)
32 Pages
Ages 4-8

Review: (Julie)  All of Sam’s classmates knew what they were thankful for but Sam was coming up blank. As he’s mulling it over, his friends name the things they are thankful for. The story shifts to a host of Thanksgiving projects including a pumpkin pie contest, wax paper leaf place mats, a Popsicle stick Mayflower and food donations. Sam’s Thanksgiving Day balloon project pops in the wind but, with Mary Ann’s help, they’re able reel the last balloon in safely. The balloon event reminded Sam of what he is thankful for. His traditional answer, family, puts the spirit of Thanksgiving into perspective.

In light of the anticipated weather for Thanksgiving this year, I thought it appropriate to refresh this post, since, ironically it may be too windy for balloons in this year’s Macy’s Day Parade (25mph winds and a high of 34 tomorrow in NYC) just like in Sam’s balloon parade at school. Warm illustrations in a classic storybook style deliver a traditional Thanksgiving message. Additional Thanksgiving facts in the end matter.  ♥♥♥1/2

Available at Barnes and Noble.

HALLOWEEN NIGHT
By Marjorie Dennis Murray, Illustrated by Brandon Dorman
Published July 22, 2008 in Hardcover
and July 23, 2013 in Paperback
by HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN 978-0-06-135186-0
Paperback 10.80 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.20 (d)
40 Pages
Ages 6+

Review:  (Julie)  Witches, zombies, ghosts and ogres are preparing an eerie-sistable menu of stinky brew, moldy green tea, fresh bugs and rotten eggs for neighborhood tricksters.

In T’was the Night Before Christmas format, almost-rhymes lead readers through a haunted mansion for a look into the making of a Halloween celebration of the spookiest kind.  inDigital illustrations have the warm glow of jack-o-lanterns under dark, spooky skies.  Better than a bowl full of candy corn.  ♥♥♥3/4

Available at Barnes and Noble.

OUR TOWN
by Thornton Wilder
Artistic Director, Bonnie J. Monte
Managing Director, Jeanne Barrett
Directed by Joseph Discher
On the  Main Stage at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre
October 17 – November 17, 2013

Review:  (Julie)  In the fictive American town of Grover’s Corner, the lives of everyday townspeople are represented in three acts. The first act is about daily life, the second about love and marriage and the third about death.  Back in the day when neighbors were friends, girls wore gingham dresses and marriage meant a lifetime of devotion, a young boy falls in love with the girl next door.

Narrator, Stage Manager, Philip Goodwin, is the first to appear on the stage.  He gives us the lay of the land and a bit of humor.

In the first act we see the morning routine of two households preparing for a new day and sending kids off to school.  Neighbors and homemakers, Mrs. Gibbs (Marion Adler) and Mrs. Webb (Allison Daugherty) work simultaneously, without the use of props, to complete their housework.

In the second act, Emily (Nisi Sturgis) gives George (Jordan Coughtry), her neighbor and soon to be fiancé, a piece of her mind about how he has become big-headed about his baseball talents. Over an ice cream float, they discuss their future together, their feelings for each other and George’s decision to skip college in order to take over his uncle’s farm.  The two marry, but not without hesitation on both sides.

At last, in the third scene, all hesitation was apparently cast aside as Emily and George went on to have a child.  During the birth of their second child, Emily passes.  In death, at the cemetery, she meets people from town that have passed before her.  Her mother-in-law, Mrs. Gibbs, is there, along with Mrs. Soames (Eileen Glenn), the town chatterbox and Wally Webb (Isaac Allen Miller) to discourage Emily from thinking of her past life.  However, Emily instead chooses to revisit her twelfth birthday.  The memory is painful and Sturgis puts forth a moving performance, cheeks wet with tears, declaring that ‘every, every minute’ counts.  She goes on to say that the living (except for maybe ‘saints or poets’) are not aware of how precious time on earth is.  Her sobbing husband grieves the loss of his wife with a poignant display of tears and pain.

Lighting designer, Matthew Adelson, creates a warm moonlight glow that makes the audience feel like they are truly under the night sky as Emily and George exchange words and George shares a moment with his sister, Rebecca Gibbs (Rebecca Gray Davis) in the window.  Two intermissions perfectly divided the performance with the last and possibly shortest act carrying the most weight.  This 1938 classic, a reflection on the worth of the small things in life, is a lovely reason to visit the theatre.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.shakespearenj.org.

HEDGHHUG’S HALLOWEEN
Created and illustrated  Dan Pinto
Published July 23, 2013
by HarperCollins Publishers
Hardcover, glossy finish 9 x 6 x 4
40 Pages
Ages 3-6

Review:  (Julie)  The best Halloween party of the year and Hedgehug doesn’t have a costume?  A few failed attempts won’t stop Hedgehug and his helpful friends from finding something fun to dress up in.

Such a cute, little book with lots of canvas texture.  Hedgehug’s first attempt at a costume is a sheet ghost, but when he tears through it, it looks more like swiss cheese.  He tries to be a bunch of grapes, but his quills pop the purple balloons.  Based on the illustrations, it’s not clear that his quills are ruining his costumes or even that he has quills.  And so it goes until he ultimately dresses up as a cactus, which takes a minute to determine because the quills are not pointy.  They are, however, more prominent as a cactus than anywhere else in the book.  The sudden transition from smooth to spiky is confusing as one might forget Hedgehug is a hedgehog based on the illustrations.   ♥♥

Available at Barnes and Noble.

THE HAPPIEST BABY GUIDE TO GREAT SLEEP
Published March 19, 2013
by William Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN-13: 9780062113320
Paperback, 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)
367 Pages

Review:  (Julie)  Any new parent knows the misery of sleepless nights.  If only someone would identify the problems and discover the solutions to get crying babies (and their cranky parents) to sleep.  Harvey Karp, M.D., a highly recognized pediatrician and child development specialist, steps in to save the day (and the night!) with The Happiest Baby, a Guide to Great Sleep.

While we typically only review picture books on this site, HarperCollins asked if we’d be interested in reviewing this book.  Considering the helpfulness of the topic, we were happy to do it.  If only it were published in time for our own kids!  Dr. Karp suggests consistency and early bedtime signals, like dimming the lights and quiet time, an hour before the lights go out as indicators that bedtime is approaching.  White noise and swaddling are also important sleep cues, with white noise becoming more important as the baby outgrows swaddling.  Motion loving babies will benefit from swinging while other techniques develop self-soothing skills.  And gently wake your baby before easing them to bed.  Who knew?  Dr. Karp dispels the notion that babies should cry themselves to sleep. This book offers a means of solving the sleep mystery for kids from birth to five; a must read for all new parents.  ♥♥♥♥♥

Available at Barnes and Noble.

LULU WITCH GOES TO SCHOOL
I Can Read Book Series, Level 2
By Jane O’Connor, Illustrated by Bella Sinclair
Published June 25, 2013
by HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN-13: 9780062233509
Hardcover, 6.14 (w) x 8.82 (h) x 0.16 (d)
48 Pages
Ages 4-8

Review:  (Julie)  Lulu Witch can’t wait to start witch school but her excitement is quickly squashed by another student, Sandy Witch.  The problem is that, next to Sandy, Lulu always comes up short on talent and skill.

This is a reprint of O’Connor’s (author of the popular Fancy Nancy series) 1990 title with revised illustrations.  In this familiar story of jealousy and competition, two young witches fall sick with lizard pox.  This experience brings them together and overrides their witchy rivalry.  The illustrations are full of black cloaks, pointy hats and broomsticks while the text provides witchlike descriptive words and names like ‘Miss Slime’ and ‘rat liver’ lunches; fun details that will stir up giggles amongst young readers.  A cute book for the classroom just in time for back to school and Halloween.  ♥♥♥♥

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Picture Book Reviews

This blog was created to promote the love of picture books and reading aloud to children. The honest reviews will help you choose the books that are best for your little readers and listeners. Regarding our reviews, our ratings (one heart to five hearts) are based on the book experience overall, but we look for good conflicts, unexpected endings and outstanding artwork. We are particularly fond of author/illustrators, stories with a bit of truth and books that are long enough to get comfortable with but not too long to read before bed. We prefer classic writing styles to contemporary language. Naturally, some books may be immune to our usual preferences. And since everyone appreciates something different, we encourage you to use the call-outs to the right of the titles to share your own comments. Sincerely, Jule and Tree

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The mission of this blog is to bolster waning picture book popularity by helping parents and teachers recognize their entertainment, educational, and confidence building qualities while simultaneously encouraging family time. At a point in time when kids are pushed into chapter books at an early age, we support the integration, not the elimination, of picture books into the advancing book experiences of children. “Parents are saying, ‘My kid doesn’t need books with pictures anymore,” said Justin Chanda, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. “There’s a real push with parents and schools to have kids start reading big-kid books earlier. We’ve accelerated the graduation rate out of picture books.” But there is a strong argument in favor of picture books. They have entertainment and educational value and remain an excellent way to introduce topics or teach valuable lessons. Picture books are a great way to boost a young person's confidence in their reading skills since, for many young readers, too much text and not enough pictures may be intimidating. In summary, picture books are fun, educational confidence boosters that provide comfort, routine and valuable time with a parent or loved one all while steeping in and promoting the love of books.

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