Wednesday, May 20, 2009


THE UGLY DUCKLING by Rachel Isadora (Putnam)
Original nursery tales are so charming, so eloquent, and often so freaking hard to read to the five-year-olds who would most like to hear them. Enter long-time picture book talent Rachel Isadora, who has done such a stunningly fine job on introducing a new generation of children to classic folkloric plot lines such as THE PRINCESS AND THE PEA, THE TWELVE DANCING PRINCESSES, RAPUNZEL, HANSEL AND GRETEL and THE FISHERMAN AND HIS WIFE, and even manages to give them a multicultural and more inclusive flavor by penning them against the African backdrop where she lived for ten years. The direct, unfettered writing style is more in keeping with an oral tradition that is perfect for story time, and is highlighted by gorgeous painted paper collage art. Silhouettes of a flock of wild geese against a smoldering sunset over a savanna! The drama of the little duck fading amidst the heavy blue icicles of winter! And the fresh depiction the ugly duckling's emergence into a swan is a picture that speaks a thousand words, or at least three: black is beautiful.

Though my favorite retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "Ugly Duckling" is still Frank Loesser's version (very nice to make into a puppet show and play the recording if you are not a confident singer, by the way), Isadora's interpretation is a welcome one, a lovely addition to any fairy tale collection, and a necessary one in urban schools. (5 and up)

Also of interest:
Some more fair fowl, new from picture-book land.

THE MISSING CHICK by Valeri Gorbachev (Candlewick) The barnyard goes ballistic after a mother hen sends out an Amber Alert. Everyone in the book is so responsive, how can young listeners help but join in the search? Gorbachev's books are always dependable picks for story time, and his fabulously emotional, anthropomorphic characters are a throwback to the style of Richard Scarry. (4 and up)

HERE COMES GOSLING by Sandy Asher, illustrated by Keith Graves (Philomel)

"Love new babies!" Froggie cried. "When will they be here?"
"Soon," said Rabbit.
"How soon?" asked Froggie.
"One o'clock," said Rabbit.
"That's not soon!" cried Froggie. "That's LATER. MUCH LATER. Can't wait that long."

Yes, Froggie love babies. Froggie love lunch. Froggie love company. But Froggie no love waiting. And it turns out Froggie also no love the loud and terrible honking sound that the visiting gosling makes. As for the artwork, just look at that cover...yes, it's that hilarious all through. Buoyant, stylized illustrations with lines that stretch and then spring back into roundness verge on the rubbery, but the show is stolen by strong characterization, supported by an impeccable melding of picture and prose. A silly sing-along song that invites group participation recurs throughout. Capturing the sometimes manic swings as well as the sincerity of the preschool set, this is one little picture book that goes beyond the starchy "new baby" storyline and deserves a big noise. (4 and up)

TOUGH CHICKS by Cece Meng, illustrated by Melissa Suber (Clarion)

From the moment Mama Hen's eggs burst open, she knew she was dealing with some pretty tough chicks...
"Make them be good!" clucked the hens in the henhouse.
Mama Hen ruffled her feathers. "They are good!" she replied.

Yes they are. So what if they wanted to look under the hood of the tractor? They wanted to see how it worked, after all. So what it they swing off the cow's tail and go flying through the air? ("Good form," Mama Hen can't help but notice.) So what if they enjoy a good roll in the pigpen; who doesn't? Peep, peep, zoom, zip, cheep, these are some energetic little eggheads, but when the slop hits the fan, the farm is rescued from disaster thanks to the insights gained by the very behavior everyone in the barnyard has been complaining about. Feminist backlash, take that! This book celebrates learning by doing and being true to yourself, whether or not it seems different or overly assertive to others. Don't be chicken, read it! (4 and up)

DUCK! RABBIT! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Chronicle) Told in two debating voices, this book is a ticklish play on a classic optical illusion. What you see depends on how you look at it, but one thing all readers can agree upon: there's more than one way to look at the world, and for that we're all lucky ducks (or is it rabbit's feet?). (5 and up)

And may I take this opportunity to remind you of the classic PETUNIA by Roger Duvoisin (Knopf), the silly goose with a smarty-pants streak who thinks carrying a book makes you wise, only to learn the hard way that you have to crack it open once in a while to really reap the rewards? This title is as necessary to the children's picture book canon as War and Peace to the adult booklist, though, as Petunia would be the first to notice, it's a little lighter to carry around. (5 and up)

Some of my finest feathered friends are the bloggers at Three Silly Chicks, cocks-of-the-walk when it comes to reviewing funny books (an interview with Erica Perl, author of CHICKEN BUTT, currently featured), and just for fun, check out this video about a real life Make Way for Ducklings. I'll try to embed it, but in case it goofs, watch the charming story at

WATCH: Parade Leads Ducklings to Safety, live headlines from around the world. News for your website. TV Shows to watch, the good shows too.

Mon, 18 May 2009 21:05:09 -0400

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Anonymous said...

So interesting!

Unknown said...

Just saw Amy Krouse Rosenthal at BEA(Book Expo America) she is very brilliant. Enjoyed her talk at the Children's Breakfast.


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