Jennifer Robinson

“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa / Amazing Africa.” For those who have enjoyed the early chapter books about young Anna and her close-knit family, this is a familiar refrain. In Anna Hibiscus’ Song, the first picture book collaboration between author Atinuke and illustrator Lauren Tobia, readers get a beautifully expanded view of Anna and the world she inhabits.

Anna is one lucky girl. Sitting in her mango tree, she can see so many things: her grandmother and grandfather on the veranda, her aunties pounding yams, an assortment of cousins and uncles and even the chickens busily pecking in the courtyard of the home she shares with all her relatives. She is overcome with happiness just thinking about how wonderful life is. As each of Anna’s family members weigh in on how they deal with the exhilaration that comes with deeply rooted contentment, Anna grows more and more overcome with joy until she is sure she will burst.

Atinuke, born in Nigeria and now living in Wales, is a gifted storyteller. Her short, clean sentences and lively dialogue imbue the text with joy as Anna leaps around, peppering her many relations with questions. Tobia’s illustrations are a perfect complement to the story. Pencil drawings, enhanced with a rich color palette, add effervescence to the tale, depicting the multi-hued textiles worn by the characters and the vibrant flowers and birds in the family garden.

Anna’s joie de vivre is contagious and young readers who have paid careful attention to the title will surely predict how Anna’s joyfulness will manifest itself. Let’s hope that this picture book is the first of many “songs” that Anna’s creators will sing.

“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa / Amazing Africa.” For those who have enjoyed the early chapter books about young Anna and her close-knit family, this is a familiar refrain. In Anna Hibiscus’ Song, the first picture book collaboration between author Atinuke and illustrator Lauren Tobia, readers get a beautifully expanded view of Anna and the […]

The breeding habits of hares and the numerical sequencing of a 13th-century mathematician are not the usual substance of children’s books, but British author-illustrator Emily Gravett ties the two together masterfully in The Rabbit Problem.

The tale begins in January with Lonely Rabbit and a hand-lettered invitation to join him in friendship in Fibonacci’s Field. A female rabbit named Chalk takes him up on the offer. It’s not long before the two are the proud parents of Alfalfa and Angora. Rabbits mature quickly, however, and by the end of March, their new offspring are pronounced “All grown up.” Two pairs become three. By the month of May, the field boasts five pairs and counting. Rain, heat, famine and glut—there isn’t anything that the ever-growing rabbit population doesn’t encounter. Each page brings mounting excitement until a climactic end draws the story to a paper-popping surprise.

Cleverly constructed with each two-page spread displayed as a month-by-month calendar, The Rabbit Problem delights with a host of paper enhancements including a pop-up baby announcement, carrot cookbook and a local newspaper. Multimedia illustrations incorporate crayon, pencil, watercolor, folded paper and a knitted bunny hoodie. The book is packed with so many “extras” that readers will happily return again and again to re-examine the minute illustrative detail and notations on each calendar page. Young readers will find the story to be a visual feast, and adults will appreciate the subtle humor often aimed at the travails of child rearing.

Look carefully at the illustrations and you will see that The Rabbit Problem offers a solution to Fibonacci’s age-old puzzle. However, one need not understand the complexity of mathematical musings, or even the details of rabbit reproduction, to realize that one rabbit plus one rabbit equals a whole lot of fun.

The breeding habits of hares and the numerical sequencing of a 13th-century mathematician are not the usual substance of children’s books, but British author-illustrator Emily Gravett ties the two together masterfully in The Rabbit Problem. The tale begins in January with Lonely Rabbit and a hand-lettered invitation to join him in friendship in Fibonacci’s Field. […]

Siblings can be a pain, particularly younger ones. Ask any older child what they find irksome about their brother or sister and they will undoubtedly rattle off a litany of complaints.

Flora is no exception. Though the latest accident with spilled paints is clearly her younger brother Crispin’s fault, responsibility falls to Flora. Exasperated by the mess, and in spite of the day’s blustery weather, her mother sends Flora outside. Of course, she must take Crispin with her. Flora is not worried about the wind’s gusts. She has her “super-special heavy-duty red boots” to protect her. Flora taunts the wind and even offers up her brother, who is clad in ordinary boots. The wind accepts the challenge and suddenly Crispin is aloft.

The look of fear on Crispin’s face prompts her to action and quickly Flora kicks off her own sturdy red anchors and joins him in the sky. Grabbing his hand, Flora soon discovers that flying through the air is rather “comfortable.” Before long Flora and her brother are making new acquaintances, a dragonfly, a sparrow, a rainbow, even the moon. Each offers a new home for her brother, and a solution to her troubles, but suddenly Flora is not so sure. She repeatedly declares, “He’s my brother and I’m taking him home,” but ultimately, whether she receives safe passage home is up to the wind; Flora must answer a difficult question and decide her brother’s fate.

Known for her National Book Award winning tale, The Penderwicks, author Jeanne Birdsall expertly captures a sense of place in her inaugural picture book, Flora’s Very Windy Day. Calling on a classic theme of children’s literature, Birdsall personifies the wind and evokes its movement through alliterative phrasing: “swirled and swooped,” “whizzed and walloped.” Matt Phelan’s gentle watercolor and ink illustrations echo the sense of motion and capture the season with dazzling red and orange leaves drifting across the page.

Broadly appealing, Flora’s Very Windy Day, will engage the imagination of those who have ever wondered what it would be like to drift away with the clouds, or like Flora, have the wind offer to whisk away all your troubles. A perfect pairing of whimsy and realistic conflict, this book is sure to become a new favorite.

Siblings can be a pain, particularly younger ones. Ask any older child what they find irksome about their brother or sister and they will undoubtedly rattle off a litany of complaints. Flora is no exception. Though the latest accident with spilled paints is clearly her younger brother Crispin’s fault, responsibility falls to Flora. Exasperated by […]

You know the story: Chicken Little and her rhyming cast of friends run pell-mell through the woods, convinced that the sky is falling. Well, think again.

Our story begins with an egg—a very BIG egg. Out of that egg emerges an enormous chick. The other barnyard chickens are perplexed. “What is it?” they cry. The smallest chicken declares it an elephant, and the fun begins.

As in the traditional tale, an acorn drops from a tree and the birds take off in a panic. In Keith Graves’ ridiculously comical retelling, however, rain surely means “the sky is leaking” and a chill wind indicates that “someone has put the world in a refrigerator.” When a fox comes calling, the larger-than-life chicken must save the day with cleverness, kindness and bravery.

Young children will delight in this zany rendition, in which humorous dialogue is enhanced by the opportunity for adult readers to add a chorus of chicken squawks. Pencil line drawings with muted colors make an exception for the bright yellow main character who makes a bold statement throughout the tale.

Like all fables, Chicken Big is at its best when the moral emerges. Regardless of our appearance, we all long to be accepted, and readers will be touched that Chicken Big finds a flock of friends willing to make room for him in the coop.

 

 

You know the story: Chicken Little and her rhyming cast of friends run pell-mell through the woods, convinced that the sky is falling. Well, think again. Our story begins with an egg—a very BIG egg. Out of that egg emerges an enormous chick. The other barnyard chickens are perplexed. “What is it?” they cry. The […]

If you've ever had the chance to watch a sonogram, you know that this grainy, black-and-white entree into the uterine world is an intriguing, albeit surreal, experience. Fetuses twist and turn and surprise the viewers at times with a profile, a hand or foot, perhaps even a discernible smile.

One such experience was the inspiration for Barbara Park's latest picture book, Ma! There's Nothing to Do Here! A Word from Your Baby-in-Waiting. After seeing her own grandson-to-be in utero, Park composed a poem, cleverly narrated in the voice of the unborn child.

The cover art shows our expectant mother festooned in a brightly colored dress with baby peering out from the womb, like an opaque window on the mother's belly. Setting the amusing tone of the book is baby, mouth gaping and shouting the title of the book.

Baby begins his missive, "Dear Ma," and continues in rhyming couplets complaining about the lack of entertainment in his "womb with no view." Text zooms around the page, including a clever spiral mimicking the twisted appendages of a growing child. With increasing aggravation our narrator declares, "I'm all in a heap here. My feet are asleep here." There is more than just boredom on this baby's mind, however. There's a bit of worry, too. In a series of thought bubbles, we hear the anxious musings of one who hopes that the baby supplies are in order and that a family who knows how to hold an unsteady head and deal with the "grouchies" is ready and waiting.

Park, known for her Junie B. Jones chapter books, has done a superb job of balancing humor with poignancy. Argentinean illustrator Viviana Garofoli provides an excellent complement to Park's playful tone, in pictures that are brightly colored and filled with movement.

A perfect gift for expectant mothers or siblings-in-waiting, this book is sure to charm, amuse and perhaps renew one's curiosity about what it must be like to be a creature so small, waiting to enter this big, bright world.

Jennifer Robinson is a teacher in Baltimore.

If you've ever had the chance to watch a sonogram, you know that this grainy, black-and-white entree into the uterine world is an intriguing, albeit surreal, experience. Fetuses twist and turn and surprise the viewers at times with a profile, a hand or foot, perhaps even a discernible smile. One such experience was the inspiration […]

A careful observer might notice many similarities between a young cat and a pre-school aged child. Both are curious, filled with wonder at the world around them, busy, playful and occasionally just a wee bit naughty. It is safe to say, however, that both also possess a ration of timidity, caution and wariness of the unknown.

Such is the mirror by which Eric Rohmann defines the audience for his latest picture book, A Kitten Tale. Four happy-go-lucky kittens a brown one, a gray one, an orange one and a yellow one frolic on a simple white cover, inviting the reader into this refreshingly basic tale. Opening pages depict the four friends dancing with their shadows and impishly chasing a bumblebee. The plot is quickly established in the first page of text when we see the yellow kitten, clearly the most adventuresome of the lot, with its backside extruding from a mailbox. Postcards flutter down, among them some cards depicting wintry scenes. The kittens are struck with fear. What will happen when the snow arrives? We will be cold to the tips of our tails, one kitten intones. But the yellow cat cries, "I can't wait." Worry persists among the felines and as the seasons change, each one chimes in with its own refrain as they fret about being cold and wet and covered with piles and drifts of snow. Still, the yellow kitten mews with optimism, "I can't wait."

Rohmann, known for his Caldecott Award-winning book, My Friend Rabbit, as well as the Caldecott Honor book Time Flies, uses monotype prints in soft colors, offset by bold black frames, to beautifully support the story. Young children and parents alike will enjoy the wonderment on the kittens' faces as a wordless double-page spread reveals a surprise ending. This charming book with its sensitive contrast between a young one's natural reluctance and lively fearlessness will have many children begging to be read to, and their families replying, "I can't wait."

Jennifer Robinson is a teacher in Baltimore.

A careful observer might notice many similarities between a young cat and a pre-school aged child. Both are curious, filled with wonder at the world around them, busy, playful and occasionally just a wee bit naughty. It is safe to say, however, that both also possess a ration of timidity, caution and wariness of the […]

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