those magnificent sheep in their flying machine cover imageThose Magnificent Sheep in their Flying Machine, by Peter Bently, illustrated by David Roberts
published in the U.S. in 2014 by Andersen Press

It’s just an ordinary day for this flock of sheep. Eunice, Lambert, Old Uncle Ramsbottom and the others are serenely munching grass, when…ZOOM!

An aeroplane streaks past and quite turns their heads. Trotting over to the aeroplane festival, the flock spies a “spiffing” yellow number that’s unattended and before you can say Bob’s-your-uncle they’re those magnificent sheep in their flying machine illustration david roberts 001airborne.

Following some stomach-churning loop-de-loops as they get the hang of this thing, the sheep unanimously agree to set off and see the world. Such adventures they have!

Meanwhile, the chap who owns that plane is madly searching for the “thieves in white sweaters” who’ve pinched it. Will he catch those wooly crooks, or not? You’ll have to read to find out.

It’s a whirlwind of a story, with marvelous,dapper language and a funny, clever ending. The invigorating illustrations convey a 20’s-era, Inspector-Clouseau style, with verve and dash and humor. Even the words, in stylized font, curve and climb about the pages, adding to the merry sense of frolic. Coming to us from the UK, this is sheer fun for ages 3 and up.

circle square moose cover imageCircle, Square, Moose, by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
published in 2014 by Greenwillow Books

Moose — that dear, attention-seeking, irrepressible fellow — is back! Have you met him, yet, in Z is for Moose? If not, I highly recommend you make his acquaintance there first. It’s a book that makes me laugh out loud!

If you know Moose, you know he cannot stand to be off-stage. Won’t take no for an answer. And will intrude, quite happily, even where he’s not invited –or perhaps especially when he’s not invited — making mincemeat of your plans.

This time around, it’s a book about shapes which Moose hijacks for his own blustering purposes. Our trusty referee, Zebra, is also back, attempting to control Moose’s mayhem. But Moose is spinning things so wildly out of control, is there any way whatsoever to prevent him from ruining the book?!

Circle Square Moose illustration paul o. zelinsky

A million giggles — that’s this book’s rating. Bingham and Zelinsky have brilliantly paired up again bringing concept, narration, personality, and hilarious illustration together for an encore worthy of their first smash hit. I was skeptical that Moose could pull it off again…but he did! Enjoy this with ages 3 or 4 and up.

ah ha cover image jeff mackAh Ha! written and illustrated by Jeff Mack
published in 2013 by Chronicle Books

The entire text of this ribbeting book is written with just two letters: A and H.

But these two letters, combined to make AH HA!, AAHH!, and HA HA! can express so very much more than you might think!

To begin with — “AAHH!” sighs the sanguine frog, lolling on his back in the cool, blue, pool.

But, “AH HA!” exults the dog, when a little boy captures that frog in ah ha illustration jeff macka Mason jar.

“AAHH!” cries the frog, when the dog thwaps the jar with his paw, tumbling the frog right out. But “AH HA!” the frog proclaims triumphantly, when he clambers onto a rock, out of the boy’s reach.

Back and forth the tide turns for this endearing, hapless, little frog in a delightful comedy of errors. Who will win out in the end? The boy? Or the frog?

Clever, clever, clever! And funny. And suspenseful. A delight for the small fry to be able to “read” along, it’s a read-it-over-and-over book for squirts from under-Two and up.

animal crackers fly the coop cover imageAnimal Crackers Fly the Coop, written and illustrated by Kevin O’Malley
published in 2010 by Walker & Company

So there’s this hen who loves to tell jokes. Loves to crack up the crowd, if you hear what I’m sayin’. Has dreams of being a…comedi-hen.


She meets a dog chasing his tail. Why is he chasing his tail? He’s trying to make ends meet.animal crackers fly the coop illustration

Ba-dum- ching!

This punny book, a comic spin on the Bremen Town Musicians, is as full of gags, puns, and one-liners as your average Jimmy Fallon monologue. I can’t quite predict at what age these will strike your particular child’s fancy, but you’ll know — when they’re at the stage when a play on words makes ‘em groan, hit them with this book. They won’t be able to resist re-telling these at the supper table, is my guess.

O’Malley’s illustrations are bold, black-line drawings, digitally colored in cool tones. He uses solid, ample, close-ups that grab us and haul us in. There’s a bit of a retro vibe to them; a sense of Paul Galdone, to my eye, which is an excellent thing. And did I mention the puns?!

good night gorilla cover image peggy rathmannGood Night, Gorilla, written and illustrated by Peggy Rathman
published in 1994 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

In case you have somehow missed this book — I don’t know, maybe you’ve been living on Mars for the past two decades?  I mean, it’s in paperback, it’s in board book, it’s in Spanish, it’s in German…it is everywhere! But just in case…I’m adding it to the list today because …it is a Splendidly Funny Book.

It’s supposed to be bedtime at the zoo. There’s nothing sleepy about the little gorilla’s face, though. (Sound familiar?)

In fact, the scamp snitches the key ring right off the zookeeper’s backside, let’s himself out of his cage, then quietly shadows the keeper as he goes on his goodnight rounds, opening all the cages!  The zookeeper, oblivious to the line-up of freed animals following him, returns home through the quiet neighborhood, and goes to bed.

All the zoo animals sneakily tuck themselves up in his cozy, purple bedroom as well. Gorilla even decides to snuggle right IN the bed, his head poofing down into the soft pillow.good night gorilla illustration rathmann

Mrs. Zookeeper drowsily switches off the light and tells her husband, “Goodnight, dear.”

But…”Goodnight!” come SEVEN replies from the darkness! Huh?!

Mrs. Zookeeper takes matters firmly in hand — back to the zoo with all of you! — but if you think that’s the last she’s seen of gorilla…you just don’t know what a sneaky guy he is!

Buckets of fun for ages under-Two and up.

Hope something here makes you and your fellow-readers smile!


stand there she shouted cover imageStand There! She Shouted: The Invincible Photographer Julia Margaret Cameron
by Susan Goldman Rubin, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
published in 2014 by Candlewick Press

She was intelligent.

She was an individual.
A character.
A doting mother.
A groundbreaker.

She knew what she wanted, and she knew just how you fit into her plans. And you’d better just straighten up and do what she said!

She was Julia Margaret Cameron, a pioneer in the art of photography, who didn’t give a hoot

Julia Margaret Cameron

Julia Margaret Cameron

what the critics said or how miserable it was for her models to hold long poses or how many time she failed. She had a vision to pursue — a vision to capture what was beautiful in her world and what was intrinsic to her friends’ natures, through the brand new medium of photography.

stand there she shouted illustration2 bagram ibatoullineSusan Goldman Rubin’s outstanding new biography of Julia Margaret is an absolute joy to read. With captivating detail, her prose creams along, introducing us to Julia as a child in colonial India, living in a world of wealth and privilege among “mynah birds and green parakeets” until at age 3 she was sent to France to be raised by her grandmother.  Feeding us manageable tidbits about the new inventions and processes of photography, Rubin guides us through Julia Margaret’s life, her love of art and beauty, her marriage and bustling household, and her first experiments with photography when she was almost 50 years old.

Cameron quickly became nearly obsessed with

"Paul and Virginia" by Julia Margaret Cameron

“Paul and Virginia” by Julia Margaret Cameron

learning and refining this art. During the next 11 years, she not only took thousands of photographs — a painfully slow, laborious process — but developed her own style and voice, and persisted in that until her work was finally recognized. Today, her photographs hang in museums in the United States and England, including MOMA and the Victoria and Albert Museum. 

Julia’s personality is bohemian, eccentric, and at times domineering, yet her work is soft, beautiful, and romantic. In just about 60 pages, Rubin vividly introduces us to her, adding colorful recollections from her models and famous friends from Alfred Tennyson to Lewis Carroll.

stand there she shouted illustration bagram ibatoulline

This text is accompanied by Bagram Ibatoulline’s gorgeous paintings. Wow! As always when I see his work, that’s what I find myself saying. Rich, full color spreads usher us into this 1800s world with grace and atmosphere, and keenly portray the strength and seriousness of Julia. His figures, light, and use of color are a marvel . There are also many small, sepia sketches, a number of reproductions of Cameron’s photographs, and even an Arts-and-Crafts-styled border running along the page edges, so the whole book is visually splendid. 

Additional material includes a bibliography and listing of museums where you can see Cameron’s work. I hope many of you will find your way to this title. It’s an excellent book that could be read with children as young as 7, or enjoyed by older children …and adults!

Thank you, Susan and Bagram!


five trucks cover image brian flocaFive Trucks, written and illustrated by Brian Floca
orig. published in 1999; reprinted in 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Ever sit with a child by those massive airport windows, watching a flock of oddly-shaped trucks motoring importantly about? Hugely engaging.

Now you can get right up close to five drivers and their way-cool trucks. Come on down to the tarmac. What do the trucks look like? How do they move? What jobs are they doing?

five trucks illustration brian floca

You all know I love Brian Floca’s work. Here, he takes technical material and magically spins it into preschool candy with minimal text, intriguing, not-too-complicated renderings of the vehicles, friendly drivers, dashes of humor, and a soaring finale. He also quietly introduces the proper names for these specialized trucks, which even very young vehicle-experts will love to know. As always, I thoroughly admire his compositions and watercolor gorgeousness.

It’s an excellent choice for ages 2 and up. Thanks to Floca’s Caldecott medal this year, they’ve brought this one back into print, so please take advantage!

my bus cover imageMy Bus, written and illustrated by Byron Barton
published in 2014 by Greenwillow Books

Joe is a busdriver.

The bus he drives is as fat and orange as a sweet pot of marmalade!

As Joe tootles along the cheery road to town, he picks up passengers. Five dogs and five cats to be exact.  When his jolly bus is full-up, he my bus back cover image byron bartonbegins dropping his passengers at their stops. Some go to the harbor to sail away on a snappy red boat. Some board a canary-yellow train. Some fly off in a stout little plane. One dog doesn’t get off at any of the stops. Where could he be going?

Dazzling color. Chunky shapes. Charming scenes. Vehicles + dogs + cats. And lots of chances to count. This book is preschool brilliance. Byron Barton’s many, jolly titles are widely available as board books. This 2014 title is only in hardcover at this point. Check out his other work if you like this.

mr. gumpy's motor car cover imageMr. Gumpy’s Motor Car, written and illustrated by John Burningham
first published in 1973; published by Harper Collins in 1976

One of the Swanson family favorites, Mr. Gumpy is as dear as a cozy sweater; my copy is much-smudged and well-worn.

Mr. Gumpy is a plain, old, fellow. He’s gentle, matter-of-fact, and courteous.

And he has a smashing red car. It’s an old-fashioned mr. gumpy's motor car illustration2 john burningham 001jalopy with a top that folds down. When Mr. Gumpy decides to take it for a spin one day, all his friends — whom we’ve met earlier in Mr. Gumpy’s Outing — ask to come along. It’s quite a squash.

The ride is going beautifully on an old cart-track in the greenest of meadows, when unfortunately, it begins to rain. Heavily. Turning the track to muck. Mr. Gumpy’s car becomes mired in the mud and everyone has to help push. This causes quite a bit of consternation! A good team effort finally wins the day, though, and to top things off, there’s time for a nice swim!

John Burningham of the U.K.  is one of the shining lights in children’s literature, with so many wonderful books illustrated and written over his lifetime. My kids would wonder how anyone can properly grow up without Mr. Gumpy!  Read this one to ages under-Two and up, enjoy Burningham’s masterful drawing style, and make a friend of Mr. Gumpy.

giant vehicles cover imageGiant Vehicles, illustrated by Stephen Biesty, text by Rod Green
published in 2014 by Templar Books

Some of your kids are serious vehicle fanatics. This book is for them.

It introduces eight giant vehicles. These are the Empire State Buildings of vehices. The T. Rex’s. The Sequoiahs. Mammoth, King Kong, sizes.

A train that’s a mile-and-a-half long, with over a hundred cars,giant vehicles illustration by stephen biesty 001 each capable of carrying the weight of 18 elephants.
Monster passenger jets and helicopters and rockets.
A dumptruck with wheels the height of a double-decker bus.
How about a cruise ship with a zip line, surfing pools, rock-climbing walls, golf course, and ice rink…just for starters.
Ginormous submarines, and a cargo ship so utterly huge it could swallow four of those tremendously-big subs.

Each vehicle is drawn by the king of cross sections, Stephen Biesty, and stretches out across two pages. Many, many, small flaps allow us to see inside the hulls or cabs or cargo bays. This is detailed work, geared for ages 7 and up. There’s a brief description of the vehicle, plus intriguing facts and spot art strewn about the pages. For kids who love facts and stats-that-wow and superlatives — this book is tip-top.

galimoto cover imageGalimoto, by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Catherine Stock
published in 1990 by Mulberry Books

In our previous home of Guinea, as in the Malawi setting of this wonderful story, children and adults build marvelous toy vehicles out of leftover bits of wire, metal scrap, strips of rubber or cloth, bottle tops… Truly works of art, you can find them in folk art exhibits in museums, and in some import stores here in the States.

The little boy in this book, Kondi, longs to build just such a toy, called a galimoto in his language. He has been saving odd bits in an old shoe box for quite some time, but he is still short some wire. Kondi has to go to galimoto illustration catherine stock 001great lengths, has to use all his cleverness, and even endure some scoldings, in order to procure his supplies. Then, working steadily all afternoon in the shade of the flame trees, Kondi builds his dream — a pick up truck, complete with radio antenna.

When night falls and the moon shines down, Kondi proudly joins his friends in a mini-parade of galimotos. Sweet success.

This is another of our family’s best-loved books. It’s a well-written story which rings true to my kids due to their early years living in West Africa. Catherine Stock’s watercolor work is right on top of my list of favorites as well. Her warm paintings of the foliage and homes, markets and clothing, waterscapes and people of Malawi are dignified and beautiful and compelling. Ages 4 and up.

poetry friday

fall folk artAutumn Train
by Mildred D. Shacklett

Autumn is a train that travels
From Summerland to Winterville –
Mellow apples, yellow pumpkins
And sweet brown nuts its freight cars fill;

Flying fast its hot breath changes
The green of leaves to red and gold,
And when it pulls up at the station
Then children know ’twill soon grow cold.

the right word cover imageThe Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus, by Jennifer Bryant, illustrations by Melissa Sweet
published in 2014 by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers

Is it a rumpus, a racket, or a riot?

Is he diplomatic, cunning, or cagey?

Did she create, concoct, or fudge together her story?

Thanks to Peter Mark Roget, we have thousands of perfectly-appointed words, brilliantly organized in clever lists, at our fingertips.

Peter Mark Roget

Peter Mark Roget

This shy, intelligent fellow has made it easier to say precisely what we mean, since 1852.

Now you can read a trim account of Roget’s life, his early fascination with list-making, and his success in publishing his first thesaurus. (It sold like hotcakes!) Jennifer Bryant’s picture book biography dips a toe into Roget’s childhood, then lingers over his keen interest in collecting and organizing words which kept him on course through his varied life. She pleasantly leads us through the high-points, engaging readers ages 4 and up. 

Bryant has teamed up before with Melissa Sweet, and oh my! it’s a winning combination! Sweet’s dedication to her craft as a collage artist shows up again in this striking, alluring, beautiful book.  Fizzing with warm, dramatic color, with layouts that tango and typography that captivates, her illustrations compel us to slow-poke our way through the pages. Marvelous!

the right word jennifer bryant and melissa sweet from 7 imp

In keeping with Roget’s propensities, there’s a timeline of historic events coinciding with his life, as well as interesting notes from author and illustrator and suggestions for further reading.

the right word jennifer bryant and melissa sweet illustration2

I have been a word-lover since elementary school. Roget’s thesaurus, with its fascinating categories of words delighted me even then. Sure, a pig could be fat. But he could also be stout, plump, podgy, portly, or roly-poly. My thick, orange copy of Roget has traveled the world with me, and I am delighted to know a bit more about the man behind it.

P.S. Some of you are getting this post for the second time! Sorry about that. It is completely my fault for pushing the GO button at the wrong moment! Anyway,  this book is worth hearing about more than once, right?

quest cover image aaron beckerQuest, a wordless book by Aaron Becker
published in 2014 by Candlewick Press

Following up on his sublime Caldecott-Honor title, Journey (reviewed here), Aaron Becker now treats us to a second episode of adventurous escapades.

Armed with their magic crayons, our two friends and their elegant, purple quetzal are simply taking shelter from the rain at the park, when suddenly, an ancient king appears. “Shhhhhh!” he cautions, then hands them a curious map and strange sash. Before there’s a moment to explain, soldiers in armor fall upon the king, brandish spears, and drag him back through a mysterious doorway.

quest illustration aaron becker from wernickpratt dot com

There’s really nothing for it but to follow the king and attempt his rescue. The magic crayons hold the key, quite literally, to the entrance of this enchanted world. Outlandish air machines and medieval castles await them. Underwater antiquities and jungle fortresses are in store, too, as they doggedly follow the map. It’s a quest for a powerful collection of objects that takes them to the far north and east and everywhere in between! Hair-breadth  escapes, ingenuous thinking, and the magic of a powerful imagination are essential to success.

Becker promises us one more book in this picture-book trilogy. How exciting! This one is crammed full of wonder, adventure, color, thrill, and brilliant details. If you haven’t traveled with Aaron Becker before, be sure to jump aboard now. His work is spectacular. Ages 4 and up.

the man in the moon cover imageThe Man in the Moon, written and illustrated by William Joyce
published in 2011 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Many once upon a times ago, the Man in the Moon began his journey. It was during the Golden Age…”

Dreams and starlight, Moonmice and Lunar Ice Cream fizz and swizzle your way in this fantastical tale, this wonderific history of how that smiling man came to reside in the moon.the man in the moon illustration william joyce

William Joyce’s boundless imagination has created a space-world with a bit of steampunk feel to it. An extravagant airship, the Moon Clipper, is home to a happy baby and his parents, peacefully voyaging from one planet to another. Their devoted friend, Nightlight, travels with them, guaranteeing sweet dreams. But one calamitous day, the nightmarish Pitch appears, and a terrible war breaks out.

This is a scary part of the story. These battles are costly  — the baby-in-the-moon’s parents, indeed, are vanquished and only appear to him afterwards as a constellation. So, let that guide you when choosing this story for young children.

Joyce does not dwell on the tragic, however, but whisks us into the comforts and whimsy of the moon-baby’s new life, and the way he helps deliver sweet dreams to Earth children when he becomes the Man…in the Moon.

Stunning illustrations — these pages explode with otherworldly creatures, vibrant color, and luminous moonlight. I’d say ages 5 and up, as long as the disappearing parents don’t terrify your children.

captain cat cover imageCaptain Cat, written and illustrated by Inga Moore
published in 2013 by Candlewick Press

Captain Cat is a dear old sailor with a frothy, white beard and an abiding affection for cats. His ship is fairly over run with them, yet he can’t resist trading one valuable trinket after another for more and more cats.

This makes him quite the laughingstock at the harbor.Captain Cat by Inga Moore

When the Captain is blown off-course in a storm, though, and winds up at an astonishing island, his cats perform such a heroic deed for the queen that he is rewarded with trunkfuls of jewels! Now who’s laughing?!

This lighthearted and furry tale is accompanied by Inga Moore’s captivating, mixed-media illustrations. Her fine, etched lines, hazy light, and subdued palette all bring a hush to the pages. The emerald waters and rocky coves, old world scenery and costumes transport us to a far-off place and time. Yet the spunky, contemporary, Queen of the island (such a youthful queen!), romantic sailors, jolly Captain, and grinning kittens, add just the right dash of playfulness and glee.

It’s a splendid read, for ages 4 and up.

hairy maclary scattercat cover imageHairy Maclary Scattercat, written and illustrated by Lynley Dodd
First published in New Zealand, 1985; published in Great Britain 1987, by Puffin Books

This book is another example of why I am so jealous of UK bookshoppers!

I found Hairy Maclary whilst in Edinburgh where there are many jolly books about him and his doggy friends.

Hairy Maclary is a “bumptious and bustly, bossy and bouncy and frisky and hustly” little black dog. He looks a bit like a mop on hairy maclary scattercat illustration lynley doddlegs.

In this particular episode, Hairy Maclary is eager to chase something.Anything.  So, he goes about the neighborhood hassling the cats. Darling little Greywacke Jones. Pudgy Mr. Butterball Brown. Elegant Miss Pimpernel Pugh. On and on goes Hairy Maclary, being downright impudent to every cat, until…

…he happens upon one cat who won’t brook his nonsense! Yikes!

Delectable language, charming rhythms, an entirely likeable Hairy Maclary, and a hilarious come-uppance make this a delightful choice for under-Two and up. Lynley Dodd’s illustrations exude personality and energy. I think a few of Hairy’s books are available in the U.S., or you could always make a trip across the pond!

the hero of little street cover imageThe Hero of Little Street, a wordless book by Gregory Rogers
first published in Australia, 2009. published in 2012 by Roaring Book Press

When a Boy boots a soccer ball belonging to some ruffians into the public fountain…well, he’d better run fast! They’re after him!

The chase leads him into an art museum where he promptly gets into more trouble. Now the guard is chasing him as well.

He’s making a good dash for it when something odd occurs: a little dog jumps out of a painting. This leads to a great romp through the museum until the dog, followed by the boy, clamber right into another painting. They’ve entered the 17th century Dutch world of the hero of little street illustration gregory rogersJan Vermeer. And the trouble has only begun!

Mayhem, catastrophe, escapes, chaos — they seem to proceed and follow our little fellow wherever he goes. He’s determined to get his doggy friend back where he belongs, but that’s going to take daring and luck.

This is the third and final book of Rogers’ Boy and Bear series, coming to us from Australia.  I’ve previously reviewed his first title, The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard, here. Rogers’ exceptional storytelling skills through hundreds of energetic panels create fast-paced, humorous, throughly enjoyable tales. Plus, in this volume you meet some famous paintings. Can you identify them? Ages 4 and up.

mr. ferris and his wheel cover imageMr. Ferris and His Wheel, written by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford
published in 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcout

In 1893, Chicago was a bee-hive of activity as the city hosted the World’s Fair. A dazzling Great White City gleamed, exotic pavilions offered people a taste of foreign lands, and rising high, high above them all, the world’s first Ferris Wheel magnificently revolved, to the shock and amazement of all.754px-The_Ferris_Wheel_—_Official_Views_Of_The_World's_Columbian_Exposition_—_91 from apreparedmom at blogspot

America needed something huge, cutting-edge, spectacular to compete with what Paris had thrown up for their Fair four years earlier: the Eiffel Tower.

After months and months of deliberation by worried judges, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. won the design contest with his plans for a Monster Wheel, an almost-unbelievable invention that would carry its riders 265 feet above the ground.

It can’t be done, most said. Too flimsy. Ridiculous notion. Utter folly.

mr. ferris and his wheel illustration2 gilbert fordThroughout the long months of designing, lobbying, fund-raising, foundation-digging, pumping, drilling, dynamiting, bolting, organizing, calming, encouraging, motivating, Mr. Ferris doggedly believed in his plan.

And on June 21, 1893, the excited, specially-invited, first guests stepped into their roomy, plush car and soared! Up, up, up for a glorious 20-minute airborne view of the Fair, the city of Chicago, sparkling Lake Michigan, and beyond. Mr. Ferris’s Wheel was a phenomenal success.

Some non-fiction titles rise above the rest like George’s wheel, and this is one of them. Excellent writing, juicy detail, keen pacing, with a bubbly sense of optimism and victory. Gilbert Ford’s digital mixed media, ink, and watercolor illustrations grab us right from the cover and front pages. Striking, nostalgic hues and lines, with the roses and purply-blues also conveying a bit of the fairytale wonderment this Fair must have held. The period details wing us back in time, yet strong compositions land us in an environment of steel girders, stalwart workers, and big dreams. The whole book feels hopeful and electric. You will wish you could have been there, standing in a long line with your ticket to ride.

mr. ferris and his wheel illustration gilbert ford

the great wheel cover imageSuper read for ages 5 and up. If your interest is piqued, I highly recommend Robert Lawson’s excellent novel, The Great Wheel, as a follow-up. My review of that is here.



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