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 […]

Friendship can be tricky. Even the best of buds have spats, and Ribbit and Rabbit are no exception. This frog and bunny pair are best friends and they do everything together: swimming, fighting monsters and noshing on the proverbial peanut butter sandwich. But sometimes even best friends spend a little too much time together. When Ribbit and Rabbit get into a scuffle over their robot, Beep Boop, a little problem blossoms into a BIG fight.

In the clever new picture book Ribbit Rabbit, author Candace Ryan immediately engages readers with her playful language. Simple couplets draw us into the characters’ daily activities as they “dip it, dab it” in the pool and “zip it, zap it” with flashlights. Even Ryan’s spare two-word chunks communicate the building tension as Ribbit and Rabbit grow angry with one another and “nip it, nab it” or “yip it, yap it.”

Mike Lowery’s illustrations are fresh and contemporary, executed in pencil and screen printing with digital finishing. His boldly outlined figures, while uncomplicated, evoke a great deal of emotion. Funny illustrative details will amuse observant readers; even the sock monkey and Ugly doll look saddened when a double-page spread depicts the two friends in a literal tug-of-war.

While young readers will identify strongly with the difficulty in sharing a coveted plaything, adult readers will rejoice when the overarching message of the story comes around to compromise. As Ryan makes clear, “even if it’s not easy,” true friendship is worth the trouble.

Friendship can be tricky. Even the best of buds have spats, and Ribbit and Rabbit are no exception. This frog and bunny pair are best friends and they do everything together: swimming, fighting monsters and noshing on the proverbial peanut butter sandwich. But sometimes even best friends spend a little too much time together. When […]

As a child, I was fascinated by stories of the Underground Railroad. The courage, the ingenuity and the unwavering resolve of those who fought against slavery inspired me. One character in particular stood out in this network to freedom: Harriet Tubman. Born a slave in Maryland around 1820, Tubman was destined to resist the life she was born into. Even as a young girl, she was stubborn, running away, refusing orders and eventually placing herself between her owner and an escaping slave. Tubman's parents, however, had instilled in her something stronger than any of the travails that life had dealt her faith in God.

It is this faith that underpins Carole Boston Weatherford's depiction of Tubman in Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. In this fictionalized telling of Tubman's own escape from slavery as well as her subsequent rescue of other slaves, Weatherford creates a conversation between her character and the Lord. Harriet's questions to God, How far Lord? and Have you deserted me? show a woman who had very human doubts and fears. Much like the biblical Moses to whom she is compared, Tubman struggles with the task that she feels God has given her. Kadir Nelson's richly colored illustrations add a magnificent sense of realism to this superbly told story. Many pages are darkly hued, offering a reminder of the inky nights that escaping slaves faced on their journey northward. Nelson also captures a myriad of emotions etched on Tubman's face. Weatherford, known for her distinctive handling of history in A Negro League Scrapbook, has written a story that will both inform and inspire. Teachers and parents alike will appreciate the inclusion of both a foreword which describes the history of slavery in America and an author's note with background on Tubman's life.

As a child, I was fascinated by stories of the Underground Railroad. The courage, the ingenuity and the unwavering resolve of those who fought against slavery inspired me. One character in particular stood out in this network to freedom: Harriet Tubman. Born a slave in Maryland around 1820, Tubman was destined to resist the life […]

What better way to begin this new year than with a lyrical journey and a reminder of all things comforting in Cynthia Rylant's new picture book, The Stars Will Shine. Though we often take for granted the dependability of our natural world, Rylant gently reminds us that nature offers solace and continuity: The sky will still be there/the stars will still shine/birds will fly over us/church bells will chime. Rylant, who has captured readers of all ages with her skill at weaving a story, now creates a book in verse reminiscent of her early work, The Everyday Children. Illustrator Tiphanie Beeke, of Mommy Loves Her Baby/Daddy Loves His Baby, is a perfect match for Rylant's lilting cadence. Together they show families engaged in the simple acts of reading bedtime stories, enjoying a tree swing and planting a garden. The story is almost like a lullaby or prayer with its reassuring images of rebirth, light and the strength of love. The softly blurred edges of Beeke's watercolors will enchant both young and old. We are greeted on each page with joyful depictions of children, animals and adults, at work and at play together. Beeke leads the viewer's eye from page to page, employing a full palette of colors, both warm and cool. She celebrates the diversity of our world in her portrayal of multiracial faces and of settings both urban and rural. The Stars Will Shine will hold special appeal for toddlers and preschoolers, who are sure to be tantalized by thoughts of ice cream/three scoops high! and who will be soothed by images of crackling fires and families snuggled together. Rylant's lulling rhyme, homes will be cozy/homes will be warm/we'll curl up together/when rain makes a storm, should make this picture book a bedtime favorite.

As the new year begins, Rylant offers a reminder of all that's important and captures the essence of what binds us together as human beings.

Jennifer Robinson is a teacher in Baltimore.

What better way to begin this new year than with a lyrical journey and a reminder of all things comforting in Cynthia Rylant's new picture book, The Stars Will Shine. Though we often take for granted the dependability of our natural world, Rylant gently reminds us that nature offers solace and continuity: The sky will […]

"When Soonie's Great-Grandma was seven, she was sold from the Virginia land to a plantation. . . ." So begins Jacqueline Woodson's lyrical telling of her family history. Soonie's memory of her ma and pa is a mere remnant of muslin and thread, from which she fashions quilt pieces. Soonie listens "real hard" to stories of freedom and before long, she too has a daughter born a slave and sold away. Mathis May, as she is called, continues in the tradition of sewing and becomes known for her "Show Way," a quilt to guide those who slip away in the night, seeking freedom. With passing time, history presents new challenges for Woodson's ancestors. But the strong women of each generation face what life brings, with an eye for beauty: sewing, teaching, making art and writing.

Woodson's musical phrases draw the reader in, creating such images as the sky changing "from pink day to blue-black night." The story, though a work of fiction, has a genuine sense of history which is enhanced by Hudson Talbott's inky watercolors. In keeping with the story's textile theme, Talbott uses collage with muslin and other fabrics. His use of period artwork, photography and newspaper clippings hints at the many aspects of slave life. Quotes by Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Mary McLeod Bethune and others, all patched together with stitching, whet the appetite of readers who might wish to know more about this time in our nation's past.

Parents and teachers alike will find Show Way a perfect springboard for discussion with school-age children about slavery, the Underground Railroad, segregation and the civil rights movement. Both the text and richly detailed illustrations serve to pique the reader's interest in the past and the people who created it. Woodson's conclusion imbues readers with a sense of unity. Everyone has their own family stories that have bearing on who they are and it is these events that create, for each of us, our own Show Way.

 

Jennifer Robinson is a teacher in Baltimore.

"When Soonie's Great-Grandma was seven, she was sold from the Virginia land to a plantation. . . ." So begins Jacqueline Woodson's lyrical telling of her family history. Soonie's memory of her ma and pa is a mere remnant of muslin and thread, from which she fashions quilt pieces. Soonie listens "real hard" to stories […]

Determination, problem-solving and friendship are the themes woven into the latest creation by British author-illustrator Catherine Rayner. Told in a mere 15 sentences, Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn’t Fit captures the magic that can happen when someone is willing to think outside the box.

Ernest the moose is large. So large, in fact, that he can't even fit into his own book. With the aid of his buddy, a resolute chipmunk, Ernest endeavors to “shimmy, shift and shuffle” his way onto the page. Continued maneuverings are unsuccessful, but Ernest’s “little friend” has an idea. A roll of masking tape, a pile of paper and a whole lot of time lead the dogged duo to “crinkle, crumple and stick” their way to a solution.

Preschool and school-aged children alike will be delighted by the ingenuity of Rayner’s characters. Large, boldly lettered text is easy to read, simply presented on an intriguing graph paper background. Rayner’s language is playful, with alliteration and nonsensical wordplay, as when Ernest attempts to “squidge, squodge, squeeze” his way into full view. The multimedia illustrations show evidence of pencil line, crackled paint and even fingerprints on Ernest’s loosely painted form. Colorfully hand-drawn papers and final pages executed in gatefold provide a surprising and delightful outcome.

Both children and adults feel out of place and awkward at times, and it is reassuring to imagine that with persistence we, like Ernest, can “fit in perfectly.”

Jennifer Robinson is a Technology and Library Educator in Baltimore.

Determination, problem-solving and friendship are the themes woven into the latest creation by British author-illustrator Catherine Rayner. Told in a mere 15 sentences, Ernest, the Moose Who Doesn’t Fit captures the magic that can happen when someone is willing to think outside the box. Ernest the moose is large. So large, in fact, that he […]

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