Monday, February 13

Reviews of the Week 2/13

Happy Valentine's Day! But do you know what else tomorrow is? The CYBILS award announcement day! I was lucky enough to be a judge in the Board Books and Picture Books category, and I have to say, there were some good ones this year. So be sure to check out that page tomorrow. In the meantime, here's some more book love...

I'll Wait, Mr. Panda
Steve Antony

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1338028362
Publisher: Scholastic
Date of publication: October 25, 2016
Age: 3 - 5 years
Format: library book

Themes: patience, baking, animals, manners

Mr. Panda's black-and-white animal friends are curious what he's making, but only one has the patience to stick around. An alpaca, an aardvark, rabbits, and a bird all wind up missing out. It's the penguin who declares, "I'll wait, Mr. Panda." And the penguin is rewarded with a big SURPRISE!

I won't spoil it, because the surprise really was the best part (I love perfect endings). And while I love love loved Mr. Panda's first appearance in Please, Mr. Panda, this one was a little less of a winner. While that book clearly sent the message that "please" was best, this one didn't feel as successful in its manners lesson. Yes, patience is all well and good, but since the penguin is reminding Mr. Panda on every other page that he's waiting, it tends more towards the annoying kind of patience. (Like, I had Vizzini's voice from The Princess Bride in my head, you know that scene, right?)

But! Penguin does remember to say "thank you" and Mr. Panda is still so gruff and funny. I still love the simple illustrations; the black and white animals are perfect, making the colorful treats really shine. I'll still recommend it. Especially when read with the first book. Which I still love. So try it for yourself!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe
Written by Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Laura Freeman

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-1499802399
Publisher: Little Bee Books
Date of publication: January 17, 2017
Age: 4 - 8 years
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: biography, fashion designers, African Americans, racism, hard work

"As soon as Ann Cole Lowe could walk, her momma and grandma taught her to sew. She worked near her momma in their Alabama family shop in the early 1900s, making glorious dresses for women who went to fancy parties. When Ann was 16, her momma died, and Ann continued sewing dresses. It wasn’t easy, especially when she went to design school and had to learn alone, segregated from the rest of the class. But the work she did set her spirit soaring, as evidenced in the clothes she made. Rarely credited, Ann Cole Lowe became "society’s best-kept secret." So this picture book shines the spotlight on a little-known visionary who persevered in times of hardship, always doing what she was passionate about: making elegant gowns for the women who loved to wear them."

So beautifully done! Blumenthal has captured a story that not only highlights a special and worthy person's life, but communicated it in a way that allows every reader to learn from it. In particular, I loved the repeated sentiment that, when faced with so many challenges, Ann "thought about what she could do, no what she couldn't change."

Matching the wonderful story are the bright and gorgeous illustrations from Freeman. With a story about a fashion designer, there had to be lots of colors and pretty dresses--but also a lot of emotion from a person who was often discriminated against. The pictures really capture Lowe's work, as well as her joys and sadness. My only small complaint was that it might've been nice to see an actual photograph of Lowe's work (perhaps at the end with the Author's Note). Freeman's work is accurate, but still stylized; I did want a peek at the real thing (which, actually, resulted in me doing more research online, so maybe kids will, too).

A fantastic picture book biography that's especially perfect for Black History Month. See for yourself!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree
Written by Ellen Potter, illustrated by Qin Leng

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0553499230
Publisher: Knopf Books
Date of publication: August 4, 2015
Age: Grades 1 - 4
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Format: library book

Themes: family relationships, school, dealing with change, islands

"There are three things you should know about Piper Green:
1. She always says what’s on her mind (even when she probably shouldn’t).
2. She rides a lobster boat to school.
3. There is a Fairy Tree in her front yard.

"Life on an island in Maine is always interesting. But when a new teacher starts at Piper’s school—and doesn’t appreciate the special, um, accessory that Piper has decided to wear—there may be trouble on the horizon. Then Piper discovers the Fairy Tree in her front yard. Is the Fairy Tree really magic? And can it fix Piper’s problems?"

An older publication, yes, but I thought I had better start with book one of this series that is quickly gaining popularity. Piper Green is your classic antihero protagonist who follows much in the footsteps of similiar chapter book characters like Dory Fantasmagory or Junie B. Jones. So while the story and characters didn't feel all that original, I still loved the writing. It felt genuine, not the stilted, this-is-for-beginning-readers-and-must-be-simplified dry read. The illustrations were cute and added to the story. Really, I think it's another great add to your chapter book collection, especially if you liked said previous characters. It just makes sense.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

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