Posted in Picture Books

“Ned the Knitting Pirate”

Ned the Knitting Pirate
Author: Diana Murray
Illustrator: Leslie Lammie
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication Date: 2016
ISBN: 978-1596438903
Lexile Level: AD (adult directed)

We follow the crew of the Rusty Heap in this tale, as they sing and plunder through the day. As the pirate crew sings about their deeds, young Ned (sporting a knitted tricorner hat) chimes in that they “knit.” This angers the captain, who maintains that pirates do not knit, and eventually bullies Ned into hanging up his needles and yarn. Until, of course, a sea monster needs defeating, and only Ned’s knits will do the trick.

As a knitter myself, I’m a sucker for children’s books that include the activity. Combine pirates and knitting? I was sold before I even cracked the cover. The rhyming couplets makes reading the story quick and fun, and would lend it well to a storytime. There are plenty of words with double meaning (usually relating to knitting), particularly in relating to the captain.

Part of me would have liked for Ned to have been a female pirate—you can never have enough female pirates. But the other part of me applauds the author’s disregard for gender norms, by having a boy joyfully knitting away. Plenty of men knit, but it is still generally considered a “feminine” activity.

The illustrations are a great sketched style, though in places it likes a bit more like concept art than a finished draft. The pictures are not necessary for the story, making it good for visually challenged readers. The only area where this doesn’t hold true is Ned’s dialogue balloons, when he chimes in the word “knit.” But this can easily be overcome by a reader.

This story would be great for a storytime on pirates, crafting, or for fun. It would also be great as a one-on-one story, especially in households with constant knitting.


Posted in Picture Books

“Penguin Problems”

Penguin Problems
Author: Jory John
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 2016
ISBN: 978-0375974656

In this story, we learn that penguins just have so many problems. We follow an unnamed penguin as he goes through his day, complaining about everything from being cold, hunted, to looking stupid when he waddles. A surprise speech from a walrus encourages him to look on the brighter side of things…but whether or not he’ll take those words to heart remains to be seen.

I love this book, if only because there is one right way to read it–as exaggerated whiny as possible. This penguin is in a permanent state of ‘ugh’ and if you’re reading the story aloud, you’ll have the best results with making that as prominent as possible. I’m not very good at voices, but the sarcastic tone of speech in this book is right up my alley.

The illustrations are simple but adorable. I love the design Lane Smith used for the penguins. There’s not a lot by way of background or color, but it all works wonderfully. Smith’s speckled painted style is unique and effective. The story is a bit dependent on its pictures, but not completely. A strong storyteller could likely make this entertaining for visually challenged readers.

This book can be a big hit in storytimes–but be warned, it is just as easy for it to flop. This is truly a performance piece–if you don’t dial it up to 11, listeners are going to lose interest. Because there’s not much by way of actual story, you have to engain listeners with your reading. It also works well as a one-on-one read–especially in a household that is no stranger to snark.

This may be a book that adults find more humor in that kids–but it’s worth the read either way.

Posted in Picture Books

“One Cool Friend”

One Cool Friend
Author: Toni Buzzeo
Illustrator: David Small
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 2012
Lexile Level: AD (Adult Driven)

One Cool Friend introduces us to Elliot, a “very proper young man.” He dresses in a smart suit and dislikes hoards of children. When his father takes him to the aquarium, Elliot discovers the penguins. Excited by how they seem as prim and proper as he is, Elliot decides to take one home. We follow Elliot as he strives to take care of his new friend, named Magellan, after the explorer Ferdinand Magellan. He tries to keep him cold, and goes to the library to do research. Elliot’s father is oblivious to this, despite several near misses. Eventually, Elliot’s father discovers Magellan in the bath–and we discover that Elliot’s father has an interesting friend of his own.

This is a nice story, which doubles as a showcase of manners. In no way is Elliot criticized or made fun of for his properness, which is a nice change of pace. Normally in children’s materials, a character like Elliot would be made to “loosen up” by the end of the story. It is an honest misunderstanding that leads to him getting the penguin, with no deception on anyone’s part. It is especially interesting as a second read through, when hints of the father’s pet are noticeable throughout the story.

The illustrations are simple with a small color scheme. Everything is mostly black and white, with splashes of red, green, and blue throughout. Unfortunately, the story does rely on the illustrations to catch a good deal of what is going on, so it would not be ideal for a visually challenged reader.

This book is best for older readers, who will be more likely to catch the humor of the situation and ending. There are several references to things that young children will not recognize, like Ferdinand Magellan and Captain Cook. It rather feels like a sentence or two is missing, as we do not see Elliot name the penguin Magellan–the text simply stops referring to him as “the penguin” and starts calling him Magellan. This transition may be difficult for younger readers to pick up on. A bit more interaction with the penguin would have been nice too. On one page he goes “Grock” but for the most part he is silent, and simply in the background doing things.

With the right crowd, this could work as a storytime book, but I don’t recommend it. The length and subtleties of the story will go over the heads of most storytime listeners. Far better to tackle this one as a one-on-one reading.

One Cool Friend was a South Carolina Book Award Nominee in 2013-2014, and is honestly a lot of fun. The ending is a bit abrupt–my storytime crowd was begging to know what happened next. Fans of Eloise and Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale Problem will enjoy this selection.

Posted in Picture Books


Author/Illustrator: Mike Austin
Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Publication Date: May 2013
ISBN: 978-1442459618
Lexile Level: AD (Adult Directed)

Junkyard is the story of two robots living in a junkyard. But there’s so much junk that there’s no room for anything new. So the robots get munching, and then they get to building. Before long they’ve formed a nice green space to plant, grow, and play.

The text is in a rhyming format, with illustrations in an interesting sort of painted print style. The pictures work really well–the junkyard and robots have a slightly grungy, dirty look. Then as the robots clean, the setting because brighter and friendlier. The illustrations provide a lot of the enjoyment, but they are not crucial to the story. Someone with visual impairments would still be able to enjoy the story and know what was happening without them.

The story provides a subtle environmental message that could be used to start discussions on recycling or taking care of our environment. The reader could also use the book as an example of why they do certain environmental chores around the house, such as composting.

The only flaw in the book is the rhyming scheme. While large parts of the book are consistent in meter, some are not. Some lines are too long to make the rhyming feel natural. If reading out loud, it is easy to get tripped up on some of the lines. Alternatively, sometimes the first part of the stanza fails to match the first part of the stanza, making it hard to build up a natural pace. It’s not devastating–but it does mean the book would require practice before being used in front of an audience.

Final Thoughts: A good recommendation for fans of robots, or as an environmental tie-in.

Posted in Picture Books

“Best in Snow”

Best in Snow
Author: April Pulley Sayre
Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Publication Date: October 2016
ISBN: 978-1481459167
Lexile Level: n/a

This simple picture book describes how snow rests over the landscape, forming and melting. It is beautifully illustrated with photographs of nature. The winter water cycle is outlined in short phrases and sentences, with an in-depth explanation in the last page for older children.

The book is beautiful—the pictures are stunning on their own. However, it is not an easy book to read aloud. The phrases are generally short enough that one would expect some sort of rhyming structure to hold the words together, but there’s not one. It feels like a book that is intended to be looked at more than read.

It’s hard to tell who this book is for. It’s too simple for children who will be old enough to understand what it’s talking about. Really, the words seem superfluous. It might be useful in climates where heavy snowfall is common, to help explain it to young children.

If you want a book with lovely photography, check it out. But I wouldn’t recommend it for purchase, or for story times.

Posted in Picture Books

“The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes”

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes
Author: Mark Pett
Illustrator: Gary Rubinstein
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Publish Date: October 2011
ISBN: 978-1402255441
Lexile Level: 520L

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes is by Mark Pett, with illustrations by Gary Rubinstein. The age range for the book is listed as 4-8 years, grades Kindergarten to 3rd.

Our main character, Beatrice Bottomwell, is introduced as incredibly neat and courteous, being exact in every thing she does. She is so famous that most people don’t even know her name—she is only known as “the Girl Who Never Makes Mistakes.” Her little brother, by contrast, always makes mistakes.

Beatrice has an “Almost Mistake” and proceeds to worry about it all day. When she messes up at the school talent show, the experience liberates her to now make mistakes all the time, and therefore have more fun.

While the story is simple and straight-forward, from an adult’s point of view, it is a little flawed. For one thing, the things that the book labels as “mistakes” really…aren’t. Is it a mistake to not use the exact same amount of peanut butter and jelly on a sandwich? Or to slip on the floor and drop eggs? Or to slip and slide while ice skating? No, these things are perfectly normal. In fact, to not do these things would be considered odd.

To most children, this isn’t going to matter. But to children who are not neurotypical, who may display OCD tendencies or autistic symptoms that require them to do certain things in precise manners—the message of the book is potentially harmful. It basically says that Beatrice’s exact behaviors are keeping her from having fun. She’s simply doing things as she should—making her bed, wearing matching socks, making her brother’s lunch.

Granted, she does pass up on ice skating out of fear of making “a mistake,” but that’s where the story’s misconception of what a mistake is doesn’t make much sense.
Beatrice and Carl are the only developed characters (if you can call Carl’s two page spread development). There are no overt stereotypes enforced, if you discount the idea of “tidy, orderly people have no fun.”

The pictures do a good job of supplementing the text. A child unable to see the pictures would still be able to understand the story based on the text alone. However, the story’s message and its interpretation of what a mistake is may cause some children discomfort.

Final verdict: It’s not a bad story. I think it has good intentions. But it’s not what I would consider among the best. I would recommend it only as a one-on-one story, where the storyteller and child can have a conversation about mistakes and go into more detail.

Posted in Picture Books

“The Most Magnificent Thing”

The Most Magnificent Thing
Author/Illustrator: Ashley Spires
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: April 2014
ISBN: 978-1554537044
Lexile Level: 380L

The Most Magnificent Thing is about a girl and her dog as they do things together. The recommended age range is 3-7 years and the grade level is listed as preschool to 2nd grade.

We meet a regular girl and her best friend, her dog. They do all sorts of things together. And she loves to make things. So one day she has an idea for the “most MAGNIFICENT thing” and sets out to make it.

The book follows her multiple attempts to make her dream a reality. Her frustration grows as things keep going wrong. She quits, takes her best friend for a walk, and finally realizes that while her previous attempts were mistakes, there were things about them that worked. She sets off to try again, taking her previous knowledge and finally making it work.

This simple, good-hearted story is quite excellent. It provides a straight-forward message that is positive for children. It acknowledges the difficulty in turning one’s idea into reality, and how sometimes we just want to give up and quit. It also provides a solution to this frustration: stepping away, calming down, and allowing oneself time to think.

The illustrations are cute, with a simple color pallet and clean backgrounds. They supplement the story, but a child unable to see the illustrations would still be able to understand what’s happening (though the reader would need to specify that the girl’s “best friend” is in fact a dog, as the text treats him as human). And quite frankly, I want that dog. He’s adorable.

Final Verdict: This would make a great book for story time or one-on-one readings. It’s fun, and has the added benefit of featuring a little girl building and experimenting.