Category Archives: Children’s Picture Books

The Dirty Duck

by Martha Grimes

dirty duckThis month our book club decided to read works by Martha Grimes. She was born in Pittsburgh on May 2, 1931. Her   father was the city solicitor and her mother owned the Mountain Lake Hotel in western Maryland. Grimes and her brother spent summers in the country at their mother’s hotel (it was torn down in 1967). Grimes received her bachelors and masters degrees from the University of Maryland and taught in a number of places, including Frostburg State University. Most of Grimes’ novels fall in the subdivision of mysteries sometimes called “cozies.” Her most famous character is Richard Jury, a detective from Scotland Yard. Each of the 22 Jury mysteries are named after a pub, usually found in England. The Dirty Duck is the 4th in the Jury series.

Superintendent Richard Jury must find a serial killer who is targeting Americans from a group touring England. The murderer leaves behind lines of poetry after slashing his victims. Jury must also deal with another possible crime. One of the tourists is James Farraday, a millionaire widower from Maryland, who’s 9 year old boy, Jimmy, has disappeared. Farraday demands that Scotland Yard take over this case from the local police, too. Jury is helped by his friend, Melrose Plant, a rich aristocrat. Children often play an important role in the Jury stories, as in this one with the possible kidnapping of Jimmy. The discussion with Jimmy’s teenage sister, Penny, shows that Superintendent Jury has a good rapport with children.
It is recommended that you read the Jury series in order, with the earlier mysteries first. The characters change and develop. Events often build on things that happened in previous books. It is easier to follow and less confusing if you get to know the characters along the way. Grimes is a fabulous writer who uses the English language very effectively. Her stories are often complex, containing a large number of colorful characters, which makes it harder to casually follow events. Martha Grimes is a thinking person’s author. The Dirty Duck is an outstanding example of one of her early books. I would strongly recommend her to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.

Other books by Martha Grimes read by the book club:
Richard Jury books: Dust (#21), Lamorna Wink (#15), The Old Wine Shades (#20), The Horse You Came In On (#11) and The Old Silent (#10)
Other books: Foul MatterThe Way of the FishesDakota and Hotel Paradise
Book club members who read Martha Grimes:
Pat Kuna, Donna Norseen, Sharon Shaffer, Bill Simmons, Deb Stewart, Barbara Swanson, Linda Troll, and Rae Ann Weaver

 

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Murder, Mystery, Strong Sense of Place, Travel, Writers

The Hero of Little Street

By Gregory Rogers

Published by Roaring Book Press

Copyright © 2012

“The Hero of Little Street” is a colorful romp through art and time with a boy and a dog.

A young boy is playing in Trafalgar Square in front of the National Museum of London when, after an incident with a soccer ball and the three older boys who it belongs to, he quickly runs into said museum to hide. While there he spies many works of art. Little does he know he will soon become part of the works of art; at least for a little while anyway.

“The Hero of Little Street” takes us on a brief trip through the National Museum of London with the feature being the world and art of painter Jan Vermeer. The concept of travelling through art is interesting, but the delivery is uninspiring. As a wordless book the illustrations need to tell the story and keep the interest of the reader. The comic strip style does a good job of telling the story, but the art itself, while nice, is a little too subdued to keep my interest over multiple readings.

So you or your child will probably enjoy reading this book once, but requests for an encore are unlikely.

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Filed under Adventure, Art, Children's Picture Books, Fantasy, Historical, Nature/Animals

Larf (Must Read)

By Ashley Spires

Published by Kids Can Press

Copyright © 2012

I have always had an affinity for the Sasquatch legend. I will freely admit that there is a little part of me that believes that Sasquatch is out there. But even if they aren’t, to believe in them is to retain that sense of unexplainable wonderment in the natural world. So when I saw “Larf,” by Ashley Spires, in our latest children’s book order I knew I had to read it.

Larf, as you may have guessed, is a sasquatch. He likes the fact that no one knows he exists, and even when they see him they don’t really believe he exists. Larf is the only sasquatch in the world and he loves his privacy.

While reading the newspaper one day he reads an article that says that “a sasquatch is scheduled to make an appearance today in the nearby city of Hunderfitz.” Larf wonders how this could be, and then he wonders how this could affect him. Larf has no choice; he must go to Hunderfitz to see this sasquatch. Larf is in for a surprise.

The story of Larf is cute. As much as I hate the word “cute” there is no other word that fits. There is not deep layer of morality to this tale it is just cute. Sure you could look at it as a tale about getting out of your own head and letting others in so that we can make friends, but that is merely an aside to the cuteness.

Fortunately, “cute” is not the only thing that “Larf” has going for it. This story is very humorous. Most of this humor shows up in the illustrations. Spires’ line art is reminiscent of the work of Craig Bartlett on the Nickelodeon cartoon “Hey, Arnold” (which I loved), but she lightens it up and makes it more whimsical and fluffy with her use of what seems to be water color. The funny comes not just in her way of drawing people and Larf, but in the way she juxtaposes the text of the story with the illustrations. For instance when we read “Larf knows no one would ever leave him alone if they found out he was real.” And then we see an illustration with his face on the cover of magazines, newspapers, and tabloids with the addition of a book featuring his pet bunny Eric on the cover with the title “Bigfoot’s Bunny: Shocking Tell-All Memoir.” It made me laugh.

This book will definitely get five stars on my book sharing accounts. It will be a welcome addition to the story time rotation for children’s groups or individual children ages 3 and up.

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Filed under Children's Picture Books, Fantasy, Folklore, Friends, Nature/Animals

A Hen for Izzy Pippik

By Aubrey Davis

Illustrated by Marie Lafrance

Published by Kids Can Press

 

A folksy multicultural tale of honesty and integrity replete with chickens, but no chicken soup or fricassee for you, these are Izzy Pippik’s chickens.

Shaina lives in a poor village. One day she finds a beautiful hen at her doorstep and she learns that it belongs to Izzy Pippik. Even though her family wants to eat it, she knows that she should save it for Izzy Pippik because he will surely return for such a fine chicken. Her family relents, but when the hen has many chicks, and the chicks have chicks of their own, they become a nuisance to her family and to the whole town. Shaina still believes she must care for the chickens until their owner returns. Slowly though, the town begins to like the chickens because they returned good fortune to the town, but will Izzy Pippik ever return for his chickens?

 

“A Hen for Izzy Pippik” is a wonderful tale about doing the right thing even when it is unpopular. Shaina does the right thing not just once but many times. In Shaina we also find a selfless example of a young person doing what is right, not for what she will get out of it, but because it is the right thing to do.

 

This universal moral, is derived from “Jewish and Islamic traditional text.” Marie Lafrance’s illustrations really add to the universality of this story as they have a very simplistic French/European appeal. This multicultural tale will be a pleasure to read to your children, and not only will they get the moral, but I think they just might have a blast trying to find and count all of the chickens that Lafrance has drawn into this book. (For children 4 years and up.)

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Filed under Children's Picture Books, Family, Folklore, Multicultural, Nature/Animals, People & Places

Sugaring

Sugaring

By Jessie Haas

Illustrated by Jos. A. Smith

Published by Greenwillow Books

Copyright © 1996

 

I was born in Northwestern Massachusetts, just south of the Vermont line. This is still very much near the heart of maple sugaring country. As a matter of fact we only lived a few miles from Gould’s Sugarhouse which was on route 2 also called the Mohawk Trail. Living in rural New England spoils a lad when it comes to maple syrup; no Mrs. Butterworth’s or Log Cabin for me. Though I no longer live in New England I am very fortunate to live in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania which is also a maple syrup producing area. It is because of my love of maple syrup that I read the children’s picture book “Sugaring.”

 

Early spring is sugaring season, and Nora is collecting sap with her Gramp. The sap itself tastes like sweet water. And they can’t wait to get it back to their sugar shack to make it into something even sweeter, maple syrup. Nora also helps her Gramp as he boils down the sap. When they finally have maple syrup Nora thinks that the horses should have some since they did all the hauling.

 

“Sugaring” is entertaining and informative look at the charming and old fashioned process of maple sugaring.  It provides us with the simple details of how sap is collected and turned into maple syrup while at the same time telling the story of a girl who thinks that all workers, even horses, should be rewarded for their labor.

 

Of course, sadly, maple syrup is rarely collected with buckets, horses, and sleds anymore. Often they use tubing that is gravity fed down to the sugarhouse. And while wood is still used to heat the evaporators some producers use oil or other fossil fuels. If you are fortunate though you will still find an operation that keeps the old fashioned tradition of making maple syrup alive.

 

“Sugaring” is a great book to read with inquisitive children (ages 4-8) who want to know where maple syrup comes from. I plan on making its reading an addition to my own personal maple festival.

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Filed under Children's Picture Books, Family, Nature/Animals, People & Places, Seasonal

Otis and the Tornado

By Loren Long

Published by Philomel Books

Copyright © 2011

 

Otis is a little tractor on the farm. In his spare time he likes to play follow the leader with all of his barnyard animal pals. All of the animals on the farm love Otis, all except one, the bull. The bull wasn’t friendly with anyone, and even though Otis tried to be nice to him the bull was as cantankerous as ever.  One day a tornado touches down on the farm and Otis tries to round up all his animal friends and get them to safety, but the bull is not Otis’ friend. Whatever will happen to him?

 

I liked the story of Otis, even if it is a tad predictable. It is a great book to show kids the power of kindness. Otis the tractor certainly personifies the lesson that a good person cares about everyone, even those who don’t seem to deserve it.

 

Even more than the story itself I love Long’s illustrations in this book. He contrasts the shiny red tractor and colorful animals with a stark, and eventually ominous, landscape. The green and gray in the sky when the tornado touches down is really quite eerie; it evokes that frightening feeling of an oncoming storm.

 

This is a great book for children ages 4 and up.

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Filed under Children's Picture Books, Friends, Nature/Animals, Trucks/Power Equipment, Weather

Mudball

By Matt Tavares

Published by Candlewick Press

Copyright © 2005

I am a big baseball fan, and I’m sucker for books about baseball. As I was searching for another picture book the other day I stumbled upon “Mudball”, and since spring training is here and I have baseball fever I knew I had to read this book.

“Mudball” is the story of Andy Oyler of the Minneapolis Millers. He is the smallest player on his team; heck he is the smallest player in the league. Andy just can’t seem to get a hit. He is in a big slump. The Millers are playing the St. Paul Saints and they are down 3 – 1 in the bottom of the 9th with 2 men on and hitless Andy at the plate. It seems like it is all over for the Millers, but just when things look their worst it starts to rain. This might just be a blessing in disguise.

While the story of Andy Oyler may be a bit of a fabrication, it is a wonderful baseball story none the less. No other sport can produce folklore the way that baseball does. Regular men are turned into giants and the slight of stature can be turned into David’s slaying the might giant. Whether it is true or not who doesn’t want to believe a story about someone small and down on their luck doing something great and becoming a hero. I for one absolutely love this story, and it just reminded me why I love the game of baseball so much.

Great book for children ages 6-10

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Filed under Children's Picture Books, Folklore, Historical, People & Places, Seasonal, Sports