Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A search for the Biggest Puddle in the World and a lesson on the water cycle!

The Biggest Puddle in the World, by Mark Lee/Illustrated by Nathalie Dion, (March 2019, Groundwood Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781554989799

Ages 4-7

Siblings Sarah and Charlie go to stay with their grandparents for six days; at first, it rains, allowing the two to explore the old house, but they’re itching to get outside and wander. Finally, the weather lets up, and they head out, with their grandfather, on a nature walk. Big T, their grandfather, promises to show them the biggest puddle in the world, and encourages Sarah to keep a puddle map; all the while, explaining the water cycle: the rain comes down and collects in the puddles; the water in the air become the clouds in the sky. The clouds are made up of water from ponds and rivers and the biggest puddle in the world, which, the kids discover, is the ocean!

This is a great way to lead in to a discussion and/or lesson about the water cycle. The story and illustrations are all about the joy of being a kid: they enjoy spending time with grandparents; jump in puddles; explore nature, and find ways to keep themselves occupied when stuck inside on rainy days. Big T gives them a simple, illustrative way to understand the water cycle and how puddles collect, form bigger puddles, and eventually, become part of the clouds, which bring the rain. He encourages learning, and invites the kids to use hands-on learning by exploring and mapping their day.

The real and digital watercolor artwork is soft, with earth tones and faded colors, allowing nature to calmly take its place as the focal point of the story. Grasses gently move in an imagined breeze; the ocean stretches across a spread as Big T watches his grandchildren and their dog play, boots left on the sand.

A nice bridge between fiction and nonfiction, and a good addition to science storytime.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Preschool Reads

The Bear Who Wasn’t There and the Fabulous Forest: unbridled optimism!

bear_covThe Bear Who Wasn’t There and the Fabulous Forest, by Oren Lavie/Illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch, (Oct. 2016, Black Sheep/Akashic), $17.95, ISBN: 9781617754906

Recommended for ages 4-8

A bear searches for himself, using clues he’s discovered scrawled on a note in his pocket: 1) I am a very nice bear; 2) I am a happy bear; and 3) Very handsome too. As he searches, he discovers more about the world around him, seeing things with a childlike sense of wonder that all readers will enjoy. Originally published in Germany, The Bear Who Wasn’t There is a debut picture book by composer and playwright Oren Lavie and illustrated by German illustrator Wolf Erlbruch, both renowned for their crafts.

I adore this bear. He’s perpetually upbeat, excited to learn more about himself and ready to explore the world around him. He’s drawn with huge, wide eyes, eager to take in everything he sees, and his mouth is curved into big, happy red smile. He wanders through the Fabulous Forest and meets other creatures who help him on his quest for self-discovery: the Convenience Cow and the Lazy Lizard; the Penultimate Penguin, and the Turtle Taxi, all of whom guide him in some way. Bear is thrilled with everyone he meets; even the snappish Penguin. Lavie’s words are lyrical, beautifully curling themselves around the characters. I love the bantering between Bear and each character; it’s sweet and gentle, and shows kids how to respond to others, as is the case with the standoffish Penguin. Bear never loses his idealism, best seen when he counts flowers, deciding that the number is “beautiful”. When he’s told that “beautiful” isn’t a number, Bear has already moved on, thinking to himself, that it’s better to smell flowers than count them, and that “Flowers are more Beautiful than they are thirty-eight.”


This is such a happy, sweet book to read to younger kids and to older, school-age kids. Kids see things in a different way; a more inspiring, upbeat way. Books like The Bear Who Wasn’t There are a great reminder to kids and adults that sometimes, it really is better to smell flowers than to count them.

Add this one to collections where animal books are popular. The Bear Who Wasn’t There has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.


Posted in Uncategorized

Meet Claude in the Country!

claudeClaude in the Country, by Alex T. Smith (Apr. 2016, Peachtree Publishers), $12.95, ISBN: 9781561459186

Recommended for ages 7-10

Claude is a beret-wearing housedog, living with his human family, Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes, and his best friend, a red striped sock named Mr. Bobblysock. One day, they decide to go on a walk in the country and find themselves at Woollybottom Farm. Spending the day helping Mrs. Cowpat, the farmer, turns into quite an education for Claude as he washes pigs (giving them quite the pampering), checks out competitive vegetable competitions, and his chased by a bull! Will Claude and Mr. Bobblysock go country, or will they go back home when the day is done?

The Claude books by Alex T. Smith were originally published in the UK; the first, Claude in the City, was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2012. I’m always happy to see a good intermediate series hit bookshelves, so I’m thrilled that this series is coming to US audiences. I received my ARC from the Peachtree Publishers booth at PLA, where the rep talked the book up so much, I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. Claude’s adorable, and seems to have a habit of meandering into situations where he happily dives into new experiences. Mr. Bobblysock is there as a companion, but tends to be pretty sleepy, so Claude takes the lead.

Animal fiction always does well for me, as does humor, so the combination of the two, with the adorably cartoony two-color art from Alex Smith, seals the deal. I just found out that Disney Junior UK has picked up Claude for an animated series, so let’s see how he fares on our shores, and maybe we’ll get some more Claude in our future. This is a fun beginner chapter book series for kids who are ready to start testing the waters beyond Easy Readers. Booktalk them and display them with your Mercy Watson and Leroy Ninker books; pit Claude against Bad Kitty to see whose adventures are more hilarious!

Check out more of Alex T. Smith’s art on his author webpage, including an adorable 90th birthday wish for the Queen of England.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Preschool Reads

Buddy and Earl Go Exploring – A buddy tale of imagination!

Two friends – a hedgehog and a dog – settle down for the night. When the house is asleep, Earl, the hedgehog, announces that he’s leaving – much to his best friend, Buddy’s, chagrin. But wait! After running and running on his exercise wheel, Earl arrives at his destination and discovers that Buddy is there after all! Buddy’s confused, but goes with the flow, and the two go on an adventure that will have parents and kids alike laughing and wondering what their own pets get up to when everyone’s asleep.

buddy and earl

Buddy and Earl Go Exploring, by Maureen Fergus/Illustrated by Carey Sookocheff (March 2016, Groundwood Books), $16.95, ISBN: 9781554987146. Recommended for ages 4-8

The second book in the Buddy and Earl series is just as much fun as the first book, and loaded with imagination. Earl sees things differently, through fantastic eyes – Buddy’s water dish becomes a lake; Dad’s referred to as a “hideous ogre”; Mom’s hairbrush is a lovely lady hedgehog – and Buddy is drawn into this wonderful world of adventure. We know that poor Buddy is the fall guy – he’s the Pinky to Earl’s Brain, the dopey friend that blunders along – but we love it. The friends care for each other and watch out for each other, with Buddy providing the muscle and Earl bringing the fantastic.

The art is sweet and appealing, done in acryl gouache on watercolor paper, then assembled in Photoshop, to bring it all together. The story begins with the endpapers, gently drawing readers into the story and giving them one final giggle at the story’s end. Plain black font is unintrusive and makes for an easy read-aloud, and this is a great book for read-alouds. I’d add this to a bedtime story read-aloud or a pet storytime and let the kids tell me what they think their pets do at night!

Buddy and Earl Go Exploring is out in March, but you can pick up the first book in the series, Buddy and Earl, to keep the kids entertained while you wait.


buddy and earl_3

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Book Review: Minerva Louise, by Janet Morgan Stoeke (Puffin, 2012 edition)

minerva louiseRecommended for ages 2-5

First published in 1988, Minerva Louise is the story of an inquisitive hen who goes exploring and finds a house with all sorts of interesting things to see. The book speaks to toddlers’ and preschoolers’ natural curiosity about the world around them; they can follow her as she wanders into new situations and sees things from her own unique point of view. In this first Minerva Louise adventure, she explores a farmhouse and sees a perfect nest for her (a fireplace), a comfortable chair (a flowerpot), friendly cows (a sleeping cat), a tractor (a tricycle), and more. She encounters a rubber duck in a bathtub, which she sees as a new friend inviting her to play in a pool, but decides to go play in the yard with her friends instead. The artwork is uncluttered; simple but eye-catching: Ms. Stoeke uses a crayon-like line, drawn onto heavy vellum paper and traced onto watercolor paper, filled in with gouache paints and occasional watercolor washes. She uses large, simple shapes and bold, flat colors inside soft black outlines, against a white background. The plain, black font makes for a good read-aloud book that will keep audiences interested in the pictures.

This would be part of a fun animal read-aloud. For a slightly older audience, I would also suggest an Amelia Bedelia companion story, as Minerva Louise tends to see things with her own unique point of view, similar to Amelia Bedelia. There are many farm animal printables that children can color, and there are many farm animal songs and fingerplays.

The author’s website offers links to more of Ms. Stoeke’s books, her art, and information about school visits. The Minerva Louise series includes A Hat for Minerva Louise; Minerva Louise on Halloween; Minerva Louise on Christmas Eve; A Friend for Minerva Louise; Minerva Louise at the Fair; Minerva Louise and the Red Truck. Minerva Louise won the Dutton Picture Book Contest (1988).