High Variance

Kid Book Review: Library Trip Report 2

The main goal of our biweekly trip to the New Haven Free Public Library is to pick 20 or so great picture books. I’m looking for books with beautiful art, lovable (or at least memorable) characters, an original story, and a positive message. These books are rare and they’re difficult to identify by a book spine, a book cover, or even a quick perusal. And I don’t have time for much more than that.

So the failure rate is high, but in this case failing isn’t all that bad an outcome. In fact, most books that come home succeed on at least one dimension. Sometimes the books are so spectacularly awful or inappropriate that they stretch your brain. And often R’s favorite books are not my favorites. The bottom line is that we both get a fair amount out of reading the mediocre bulk of our haul, even when most get returned never to be read again.

Our latest keepers:

  • The Umbrella Queen (by Shirin Yim Bridges, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo) I have a special place in my heart for atypical stories that take place in other countries. And even better, I like stories about kids who are true to themselves. This book takes place in Thailand and follows a girl whose inner artist cannot be squashed. It reminds me a lot of The Empty Pot(by Demi) and I Ioved that too.

  • Library Lion (by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes) The lesson here is fantastic: Rules are good, but there are always extenuating circumstances when they should be broken. The premise is absurd (a friendly helpful lion hangs out at the library) but not totally drug-addled (see Hogula: the Dread Pig of the Night (by Jean Gralley) for an example of the latter).

  • The Night Worker (by Kate Banks, illustrated by Georg Hallensleben) A respectful portrayal of a Latino engineer who takes a son to the job site one night. Lots of construction equipment and beautiful almost Gauguin-style paintings. What’s not to love?

  • Max’s Dragonby Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov) This story is about two (older?) brothers playing croquet and their quirky (younger?) brother who has a big imagination and loves rhymes. Super-cute and super-original and the art is good though not my favorite style.

  • A Polar Bear Can Swim (by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Emily Bolam) This book is designed for kids who are learning to read on their own and who are curious about animals and science. That’s a perfect match for R. It’s filled with fun facts (“A cow can drink 75 gallons of water in a day!”) and simple artwork. I’m excited to check out other members of the Viking Science Easy-to-Read series.

  • Balloons Balloons Balloons (by Dee Lillegard, illustrated by Bernadette Pons) I admit I find this book a little brain-numbing, but R is going to love any book that has a rabbit in a hot air balloon dumping huge numbers of multicolored balloons on a whole town.

  • The Secret River (by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon) This book is special. It was written in 1947 by the author of The Yearling and it follows a poor black girl who lives in the rural South in the early part of the 20th century. I don’t have a lot of experience with this environment, but it sure seems real to me. The art is great and the story is magical in a way that works for adults and children.

Honorable mentions:

  • Ginger Bear (by Mini Grey) R and I both like the part where Horace smears cookie dough all over the toilet seat, but it goes downhill from there.

  • Really Rabbits (by Virginia Kroll, illustrated by Philomena O’Neill) Cute story about two pet rabbits who do household chores in the middle of the night. We could use these guys in our house.

  • Wonder Woman: I am Wonder Woman (by Eric K. Stein, illustrated by Rick Farley) An adaptation of a comic book? Really? Yes! Wonder Woman is a positive role model for girls and R loves her tiara and bracelets. And it doesn’t hurt that Dad had a thing for Linda Carter when he was in high school.

  • Punk Farm On Tour (by Jarrett J. Krosoczka) It’s really quite good, but if you already have Punk Farm you’re not getting a whole lot more here. If you don’t have Punk Farm yet, you need to run out and get it right away!

  • Tricycle (by Elisa Amado, illustrated by Alfonso Ruano) A girl from a wealthy family in Guatemala is friends with three poor kids next door. She sees them steal her tricycle but doesn’t say anything to her parents because she knows she shouldn’t have left it in the bushes and she already has a lot more stuff than they have. I love the complex emotions and the interplay of personal relationships and the gulf between rich and poor that exists pretty much everywhere but is especially stark in Latin America. All of this is lost on R, but she’s 3. I’m not so sure she’ll get it at 5 either, but I commend the authors for trying!