Category Archives: Picture Books

For ages 3 and up

The Gruffalo

A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood.
A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.
“Where are you going to, little brown mouse?
Come and have lunch in my underground house.”

A simple stroll through the deep dark wood quickly becomes a perilous journey for a little brown mouse in Julia Donaldson’s outstanding read-aloud classic, The Gruffalo. Not to worry, however! The protagonist of this thoroughly delightful picture book may be small, but he is daring and clever in the face of danger…even when his story takes an unexpected twist.

As he proceeds on his way, the audacious mouse is invited to lunch with a fox in his den, to have tea with an owl in his treetop house, and to a feast with a snake in his cozy log-pile home. Faced with these unattractive alternatives, what can a little brown mouse do to tactfully avoid becoming someone else’s meal? Ms. Donaldson’s protagonist declines each invitation, confessing to a prior engagement with a formidable creature called a Gruffalo who is due to arrive at any moment, and whose description becomes increasingly fearsome with every encounter. As each would-be host flees in terror, the mouse chuckles to himself…don’t they know? There’s no such thing as a Gruffalo!

Or is there?

When the mouse is unexpectedly confronted with the living, breathing, real-life version of his imaginary beast (who happens to particularly like the taste of mouse!), our little hero promptly turns the tables one more time, and comes out on top.

With the help of Ms. Donaldson’s rhythmic, rhyming prose and with characters brought so humorously to life by Axel Scheffler’s colorful illustrations, this book instantly became a favorite of reader and listener alike in our home. The cover illustration alone was enough to make our youngest pick this book over a stuffed Paddington bear.

As with several of Ms. Donaldson and Mr. Scheffler’s collaborations, The Gruffalo is available in a Scots “translation” for anyone interested in a challenging but entertaining read-aloud – just be sure to bring your best Scottish brogue.

Also, if you enjoy The Gruffalo as much as we do, we heartily recommend the sequel: The Gruffalo’s Child!


Day 181 – Sam and the Firefly

fireflyToday we read a cautionary tale about the dangers of taking a joke just a little too far. First published in 1958, “Sam and the Firefly” by P.D. Eastman is ultimately an engaging story about friendship and redemption – with a side of drama!

Sam is an owl who wakes at night to find everyone else asleep. He cannot find anyone to play with but a firefly named Gus. At first they have fun with the discovery that Gus can use his tail light to write words in the sky; Gus proves a prolific sky-writer. He writes “Gus and Sam”…”Fish” and “Wish”…”House” and “a Mouse”…”Yes”…”No”…even “Kangaroo” and “Thermometer!”

Gus is excited with his new-found skill, but it soon becomes clear that things are getting out of hand. When Gus jets off to an intersection and begins scrawling competing instructions in the sky, he causes a big car crash. Then he gets airplanes all crossed up by doing the same thing high in the sky – all the time pursued by an increasingly dismayed Sam.

After causing a stampede at the movie theater by scrawling “Come in! Free show” in bright lights above the marquee, Gus finally pushes his luck too far.  He changes “Hot Dogs” to “Cold Dogs” on a hot dog vendor’s stand – and the vendor manages to catch him and put him in a jar! Sam desperately wants to free his friend, but does not know how. As the man drives Gus back out into the country, the man’s car gets stuck on some train tracks…and a train is coming! In the nick of time, Sam fetches the jar, frees Gus, and has him write “Stop, Stop, Stop, Stop” in front of the train. The train stops, and the car is saved! Gus has learned an important lesson, and he and Sam continue to be friends…playing every night, but no more bad tricks.

“Sam and the Firefly” has some outstanding illustrations – simple but with a charming, vintage feel. There is just enough danger to keep little listeners engaged, and some repetition and rhyming that might be nice for beginning readers. Overall, an excellent choice for read aloud…it has been read many times in our house.


Day 180 – Emmanuel’s Dream

emmanuel“Emanuel’s Dream” is the amazing and inspiring true story of Emanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a young boy from Ghana born with only one leg who managed to ride his bike all around his home country.

When Emanuel was born his father left home, and everyone thought that with only one leg, Emmanuel would be useless, or even worse: a curse! Everyone that is, except his mother, Comfort. Mama Comfort told Emanuel he could have anything, but he would have to get it for himself.

When Emanuel went to school, his mother carried him at first; when he became too heavy, he hopped. He saved his money and bought a soccer ball, and played with the other boys on crutches. Then, Emanuel learned to ride a bike with only one leg(!).

When Emmanuel was thirteen, Mama Comfort became very sick, so Emmanuel moved to the  capital city Accra to earn some money to care for her. When Mama Comfort died, she told Emanuel, “Be respectful, take care of your family, don’t ever beg. And don’t give up.” Emanuel wanted to prove that being disabled did not mean being unable, so he resolved that he was going to bicycle around Ghana. When no-one in his town was willing to help, that did not deter him; Emanuel instead wrote to the Challenged Athletes Foundation in San Diego California, and they sent him the things he needed. He received a blessing from the king of his region, hired a taxi to drive after him and film him, and Emanuel rode all the way around Ghana with only one leg wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word “Pozo” (meaning “The Disabled Person”) on his jersey.

We absolutely loved this story, as did I think everyone else who’s read it – based on the reviews we’ve seen. Emmanuel represents true grit and strength and his story is full of so many wonderful messages about never giving up on your dream or on the people you love.


Day 179 – Island Boy

island-boy

“Island Boy” is another charming tale of historical fiction from one of our favorite author/illustrators, Barbara Cooney.

Matthais is born on Tibbets Island, Maine and his life is inextricably tied to the sea. After traveling the world as a young man, he returns to the island to marry his sweetheart and raise a family. The story crosses generations, sprinkles in some Maine history, and also includes a fascinating map in the back for children and parents alike to pore over. The ending is a little bit sad, but the book is as charming and beautiful as you would expect from Ms. Cooney. We thoroughly enjoyed it.


Day 173 – The Raft

For June 21, in honor of the first (official) day of summer, we read a magical summer story called “The Raft” by Jim LaMarche. As the author himself says in his Author’s Note at the beginning, “The Raft” is a semiautobiographical tale about “a summer in the woods, a special grandparent, becoming a river rat, and becoming an artist.” It’s an outstanding book that gets extra points from me for how much it resonated with our oldest daughter.the raft

Nicky is a little city boy who begins the book in the car with his father, despondent at the soul-crushing prospect of spending a summer alone in the country with his “river rat” grandma. For crying out loud, Grandma doesn’t even have a TV! Unperturbed by Nicky’s attitude, Grandma – whose house is full of her sketches and wood sculptures – keeps Nicky busy stacking firewood, cleaning gutters, changing spark plugs on her old truck, and fishing for dinner (unsuccessfully). Nicky seems determined not to enjoy himself, until, a few days into his summer, an old raft bumps into the dock where Nicky is sitting with his fishing pole. The raft is accompanied by a flock of birds and it has drawings of animals all over it. His curiosity piqued (who drew those pictures?), Nicky corrals the mysterious raft. The next day he and his Grandma go on a raft trip together, and grandma teaches Nicky to pole the raft himself. From that point forward, Nicky can’t wait to finish his chores so that he can explore the river on his own, watching the animals along the bank and sketching them. Sometimes, grandma and Nicky picnic together on the river as Nicky does cannonballs from the raft, and he even occasionally sets up a tent and sleeps on the raft.

One day late in the summer, Nicky rescues a little fawn who he observes from the raft. The fawn is caught in the mud, so Nicky poles over, sets him free and carries him up to his mother. Afterwards, he sketches the fawn on the raft, and his grandma helps him to outline his drawing with oil paint. “Now, you’ll always be a part of the river,” she tells him…a river rat just like grandma.

This was another three-love book (as in “I love love love” this book) for our oldest. Mr. Lamarche’s warm, earth-tone illustrations are soft and comforting, and the story is sweet and inspiring. Reading this book made me want to get our girls out to the country side before they are too much older – to play and explore in the woods.


Day 172 – Can’t You Sleep Little Bear?

We may be past Fathers’ Day now (where is the time going?), but we had one more particularly charming book with a Fathers’ Day theme left in the queue, and we read it today. “Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear” by Martin Waddell and illustrated by Barbara Firth is a delightful and touching story about a restless little bear and his papa’s efforts to comfort him so that he is ready to fall asleep. It is beautifully illustrated, and the story had elements that really resonated with us, making this one of our favorite (if not THE favorite) Fathers’ Day book we read this past week.Sleep

The story unfolds with Big Bear tucking Little Bear into bed and settling down to read his Big Bear book. But Little Bear can’t sleep: he is scared of the dark at the back of their cave. Big Bear brings Little Bear three lanterns in succession, a tiny one, a medium one, and a big one. After each lantern is hung, Big Bear settles back in to read only to be interrupted again by little bear. Even after the final, largest lantern is hung, little bear is still scared – of the darkness outside the cave! Big Bear is at a loss – “all the lamps in the world (can’t) light up the dark outside”. But then Big Bear has a thought, he takes Little Bear outside to see that the darkness is not complete. He shows Little Bear the moon and the stars, and there under the peaceful moonlit sky, Little Bear finally falls fast asleep in Big Bear’s arms. Big Bear heads back inside to finish his book, and falls asleep in his chair with his book in one hand and Little Bear on his arm.

We thought this book was adorable. We loved the soft but expressive watercolor illustrations that gave the tale a feeling of real storybook magic – especially in the picture of Big Bear and Little Bear looking at the moon. I appreciated the way in which Big Bear reacts to Little Bear’s fear of the dark – initially seeming frustrated, he remains compassionate, and each time he rises he realizes that Little Bear has a point. I think that this may also be a good book for little ones who are scared of the dark – it always seemed like stepping outside to look at the moon helped to relax our girls when they were younger and having trouble settling down to go to sleep. “Little Bear” really is a sweet story, and a wonderful choice for Fathers’ Day (even if it was a day late!).

Bonus observation: look closely at Big Bear’s book when he sets it down – he’s reading the same book you are!
P.S. this review (and the image above) are from the October 2002 Special Anniversary Edition

Day 171 – My Dad Thinks He’s Funny

For every kid who has ever rolled their eyes and said “my dad thinks he’s soooooo funny,” have we ever found the book for you! “My Dad Thinks He’s Funny” by Katrina Germein and illustrated by Tom Jellett is a delightful book that really resonated with our oldest and made us all laugh out loud.

dad thinksThe book is narrated by a little boy who is (ostensibly) SO OVER his dad’s corny sense of humor. His dad never seems to be serious, answering seemingly every question or statement with a silly quip. Say “I’m hungry” and dad says, “Hello, hungry. Nice to meet you.” Tell dad you think you have something in your eye, and dad says, “Yeah – an eyeball.” Heading out to go swimming? Dad cautions, “Try not to get wet.” At this point, I expect many children listening to the book will be rolling their eyes and empathizing with the narrator: “My dad thinks he’s funny, too.” Or maybe that’s just what happened around our house. Of course, at the same time that little ones are rolling their eyes, I expect there are an equal and opposite number of dads nodding their heads approvingly: “That’s a good one!” Hmmm. Maybe that was just our house, too. Personally, I don’t think the jokes in this book ever get old, but by far the best one – and the one that made us laugh out loud – was when the narrator cautioned “and when dad says, ‘Time for a special announcement’, we leave the room fast, before it really starts to smell!” Dads do think they are funny.

No matter how jaded the narrator seems, however, the illustration on the last page gives him away – as we see him giving dad a big hug! I thought this book was not only funny, but cute – and so very true to life. The illustrations are playful and expressive and add to the fun – especially the page that demonstrates the “eye-roll”. We give this very amusing book a cumulative family thumbs-up! I recommend checking this book out from the library and reading for Father’s Day, dad’s birthday, belly laugh day, or any day. Now, if you can hang on for a second, I have a special announcement to make…


Day 170 – My Dad

Tired of dad books yet? I hope not, cuz we found another fun one today: “My Dad” by Anthony Browne – an endearing tribute to the way in which a child’s love for his father can cause him to exaggerate daddy’s best traits…just a tad.my dad

The little boy in Mr. Browne’s book has a dad that isn’t afraid of anything – even the Big Bad Wolf. This little boy’s dad can leap over the moon, walk on tightropes, wrestle giants, and easily beat all the other fathers in a footrace. He’s as strong as a gorilla, wise as an owl (with an important caveat), and happy as a hippopotamus. He can eat like a horse, and swim like a fish – and even though he’s big as a house, he’s also soft as a teddy bear. He has several other impressive traits, but the best of all: he loves his son, and he always will.

I thought this book was charming. The illustrations are entertaining and off-beat; I particularly enjoyed how the little boy imagines his father displaying all these remarkable characteristics and accomplishing astounding feats while dressed in his pajamas and his plaid robe. Mr. Browne’s narrator looks at his dad the way that I think many dad’s like to believe their children see them. In many cases, I believe that is how children view their fathers. It’s a lovely thought – for me at least – and a great book for the week of Fathers’ Day in particular.


Day 169 – Oh Daddy!

After finding some over-the-top humor in daddy’s deafening snores yesterday, today we opted for something a little more whimsical and sweet. “Oh, Daddy” by Bob Shea is an amusing tale told from the point of view of a little boy whose daddy is just too silly to make it through life without a little help. The simple illustrations are charming and expressive – adding humor and heart to a storyline that should be familiar to many dads, and certainly resonated with me.oh daddy

Mr. Shea’s narrator may be little, but he is “as smart as two eight-year-olds!” In fact, the narrator informs us that he is so smart, he has to show his dad how to do things, and his dad is a grown up! Meanwhile, daddy is asleep on the couch and snoring away with abandon. When it’s time to get dressed in the morning, daddy puts underpants on his head and asks, “Is this how you get dressed?” When it’s time to drive to grandma’s, daddy tries climbing through the passenger-side window, asking, “Is this how you get in the car?” When it’s time to eat, Daddy spills his carrots everywhere: “Is this how you eat carrots?” Daddy is even confused about how to do big hugs, lumbering around the house and rolling on the floor while trying to wrap his arms around himself. “Is this how you give big hugs?” Oh, daddy! Fortunately, every time daddy gets confused, our narrator is there to show him how things are supposed to be done – including giving big hugs. Clever daddy.

This book gave me a big smile. With an economy of words, Mr. Shea does an excellent job of capturing how I imagine many young children think about their silly fathers. I believe our oldest has long been confused about some of the very simple things in life that her father doesn’t seem to understand, and I could easily see her identifying with Mr. Shea’s narrator. I also enjoyed the subtle humor in the expressions on the faces of the parents and the little boy. This is a really cute book.

Now, I need to print out this review and book myself a helicopter ride so that I can put this review into the “cloud”. This whole interweb thing is so confusing.

Oh, daddy!


Day 168 – My Daddy Snores

After yesterday’s bucolic, idyllic depiction of fatherhood in “I Love My Daddy”, today it was time to “cleanse the palate” with a tale that is a little bit closer to our reality. “My Daddy Snores” by Nancy H. Rothstein and illustrated by Stephen Gilpin provides a comical take on an problem that I think countless families experience – strangely managing to take the issue seriously while at the same time “laughing through the tears” with the outrageous, giggle-inducing illustrations.

snoresFrom night to night, Daddy’s snoring may vary in tone, but not in severity. From a booming dinosaur roar, to an earthquake, to a thundering steam locomotive, daddy’s snoring rips right through the house and keeps mommy from getting a moment’s rest. Even when daddy sleeps outside in a tent, he keeps the birds up all night and their cheeping wakes everyone in the house up far too early in the morning. Eventually, mommy is at the end of her rope and she takes daddy to the doctor – where daddy is cured of his snoring. Ahhhhh. The house is at last silent, until…daddy starts talking in his sleep!

We got a kick out of this book. Well, I did – and our oldest enjoyed some laughs at her daddy’s expense (I’m not absolutely positive mommy saw the humor in it). For some readers, the story may require suspension of disbelief – not to accept the ridiculous places that mommy tries to get some sleep, but to accept the fact that daddy lives long enough to make it to the doctor.

Hmmmm…something just occurred to me. I think I need to go find the doctor from the book…

P.S. the book’s author, Ms. Rothstein, has a site dedicated to raising awareness about snoring and sleep apnea: http://www.mydaddysnores.com/about.html