Tuesday, January 2, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider/Little Fox in the Forest/The Book of Mistakes


A lyrical biography of E. B. White, beloved author of Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, written by Barbara Herkert and illustrated by Caldecott honoree Lauren Castillo.

 When young Elwyn White lay in bed as a sickly child, a bold house mouse befriended him. When the time came for kindergarten, an anxious Elwyn longed for the farm, where animal friends awaited him at the end of each day. Propelled by his fascination with the outside world, he began to jot down his reflections in a journal. Writing filled him with joy, and words became his world.

Today, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web are beloved classics of children’s literature, and E. B. White is recognized as one of the finest American writers of all time.


Lauren Castillo's beautiful illustrations wonderfully complement this brief look into the world of one of children's literature's most beloved authors.  As a young boy, E.B. White loved animals and writing, but struggled with school and being around people.   His love of writing carried young 'Andy' into adulthood, even leading him to his wife.  But his love of animals lead him to Maine and a farm full of animals.  It was there that he was inspired to write down the stories about Stuart Little, the mouse raised by humans, that he'd been telling his nieces, nephews, and children for years.  The animals he loved also inspired him to write Charlotte's Web and The Trumpet of the Swan.  His love of words and story shine through in these children's books that have become classics.  This tender book gives the reader a glimpse into the life of a quiet man who left a powerful mark on the world of writing.


A wordless picture book in which two friends follow a young fox deep into the woods and discover a wondrous and magical world.

When a young girl brings her beloved stuffed fox to the playground, much to her astonishment, a real fox takes off with it! The girl chases the fox into the woods with her friend, the boy, following close behind, but soon the two children lose track of the fox. Wandering deeper and deeper into the forest, they come across a tall hedge with an archway. What do they find on the other side? A marvelous village of miniature stone cottages, tiny treehouses, and, most extraordinary of all, woodland creatures of every shape and size. But where is the little fox? And how will they find him?


Many children have experienced the trauma of losing a beloved toy.  But few have gone on a journey as enlightening as this one.  In this delightful wordless book by Stephanie Graegin, a young girl takes a well-loved stuffed fox to school to share with her classmates.  On her way home, she sits her bag down while she enjoys swinging on the playground.  But her pleasure vanished when she catches a glimpse of someone running away with her toy.  Leaving her bag behind, she chases after the culprit.  A friend grabs her bag and follows her.  Up to this point, the book's illustrations have been in various shades of bluish-gray.  When the two kids discover the world of the forest, color starts seeping into the illustrations.  The best part of the book in my opinion is when the two children find themselves fully immersed in the animals world, this is where color fully integrates the illustrations.  When the girl finally faces off with her toy thief, it's sweet to see some compassion exhibited. I also loved the way the end papers give clues about the beginning and ending of the story.  A beautifully illustrated tale of surprise and discovery as well as understanding exhibited by the different characters.


Zoom meets Beautiful Oops! in this memorable picture book debut about the creative process, and the way in which "mistakes" can blossom into inspiration.

One eye was bigger than the other. That was a mistake.
The weird frog-cat-cow thing? It made an excellent bush.
And the inky smudges... they look as if they were always meant to be leaves floating gently across the sky.

As one artist incorporates accidental splotches, spots, and misshapen things into her art, she transforms her piece in quirky and unexpected ways, taking readers on a journey through her process. Told in minimal, playful text, this story shows readers that even the biggest "mistakes" can be the source of the brightest ideas -- and that, at the end of the day, we are all works in progress, too.

Fans of Peter Reynolds's Ish and Patrick McDonnell's A Perfectly Messed-Up Story will love the funny, poignant, completely unique storytelling of The Book of Mistakes. And, like Oh, The Places You'll Go!, it makes the perfect graduation gift, encouraging readers to have a positive outlook as they learn to face life's obstacles. 


Admittedly, this isn't going to go on my list of favorite picture books, it's a little too odd for that.  And I'm not a fan of odd.  But that doesn't mean the book doesn't have a great deal of merit.  The idea of turning mistakes into something new and creative is certainly a great theme.  And it's definitely interesting to see the way the author/illustrator turned mistakes into something different.  There is a lot here worth sharing, especially with children who tend to give up on things when they make mistakes.

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