In a Nutshell Kid Lit Book Reviews: Winter!

I adore winter!  I always have.  When I was a child in Reno in the late sixties and seventies, I spent countless hours carving villages out of snow.  I didn’t even notice being cold as I was so immersed in my architectural pursuits.  Some of my best memories involve snow.  My dad and older teens in the neighborhood would pull my sister and I on sleds or snow discs down the street.  My father also tried to maximize the recreation as a snowfall was melting by making a runway of the remaining snow, and pulling my sister and I in an old baby bathtub down this makeshift runway.  This activity was captured on home movies and later transferred to video.  I don’t have an abundance of good memories of my childhood, or of my father, so having this on videotape is absolutely precious to me.  He also showed us how to pack empty garbage cans to make tall snowmen (and women!) easily.

In the spirit of winter fun and recreation, before winter ebbs away, I thought I’d share these wintry-themed children’s books with you.

nutshell reviews feb 005This book reveals all the magic of snow in a poetic way, capturing the emotions that snowfall brings to children (and many adults) in a beautifully illustrated manner.  Who hasn’t enjoyed catching snowflakes on their tongues, or making angels.  I’m not ashamed to say I’ve done these things as an adult too.  Why should children get to have ALL the fun?  It is about joie’ de vivre (joy of life).  There’s something about snow that can bring out a grown-up’s inner kid, if one lets that happen.  The thrill of sliding down a hill fast is not lost on me.  Rylant celebrates the children in all of us, and the joy and beauty of winter quite splendidly!  I also love that it depicts Caucasian and African-American children playing together and enjoying each other’s company.  That is beautiful!  I think this book would be enjoyed equally by toddlers and children as old as 6 or 7.

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Six children spend the beginning of a winter vacation sliding down a sleet-slickened, snowy slope in a backyard.  They decide to hunt for a bigger hill to whiz down.  One of their grandfathers had an old sled large enough for all six to ride at once, and the children cajoled him to let them take it for a run.  They found the steepest hill in the county, but had great difficulty getting the sled and themselves up the incline, and landed in a pile at the bottom, giggling.  The children imagined the tools they’d need to scale that hill successfully, and each of them had creative ideas for the climb.  They formed a human chain and tried to crawl up the hill, and still lost their grip, becoming a laughing mound at the bottom once again.  One girl was ready to give up, and go for the hot chocolate waiting at her house.  The others ignored her and tried again in a different place.  Finally, they made it to the top.  No one said they were scared, but they all were, at least until they were going so fast there wasn’t time for fear!  The group quickly decided to do it again.  This was an exciting book to read, and kids from four to ten would delight in it.  The illustrations were simple, winsome, and fully conveyed the buoyant spirit of the story.  A little fear and adrenaline can be very exciting!

nutshell reviews feb 003    This book is for the youngest children, perhaps those two and under.  It rhymes, which little children love, in a pleasing cadence.  I’m not very interested in books that don’t have much of a story, so I was disappointed to see that this one was more about rhyming than telling any kind of story. However, I was surprised to find there was a trace of a story here.  After the mice skated on the icy pond, pictures were revealed.  The blades of their skates created fun pictures on the ice, and the pictures coincided with the rhymes.  The illustrations were brightly colored and little children would probably be fascinated by them.

nutshell reviews feb 002This book won the Caldecott Medal at some point, and was first published in 1947.  It is first rate poetry, creating word pictures to add to the old school illustrations.  All the people in the town sensed that snow was coming, and they had different ways of detecting this, such as a woman’s toe that hurts whenever snow is on its way.  When no one was looking, the snow began, and the adults began making sure they were prepared, like having cough medicine in the cabinet, and putting on their boots.  The children laughed and danced, and caught snowflakes on their eager tongues.  The description of the snow was far better than the actual illustration of it, though that is to be expected from books of this era.  The adults began to suffer various things from the snow.  Children saw all the beauty in the snow, and imagined great things.  The process of the big snowfall melting and how that changed the activities of the adults, was perfectly portrayed.  Spring had arrived!  Poetry in motion.

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Two siblings decide to sell lemonade, despite it being deep in the middle of winter, with snow and icicles all around, and the wind whistling. Their parents warn that no one will want cold drinks in this weather.  Pauline, the older of the two, teaches her little brother John-John how to count money, and shows him how much the ingredients for their lemonade cost.  The two are undaunted by their parents’ skepticism, and they go to work to make the lemonade.  They get out there and begin feeling the cold, and wondering if anyone will want lemonade.  The two begin advertising with their voices, add entertainment, decorations, and cut the price by half.  The children make a handful of sales.  When they were out of lemonade, Pauline counts up their quarters, and realizes they lost money, but John-John sees it as still having money, and they decide to buy popsicles using the last of their quarters.  They happily slurp their popsicles, and money no longer matters.  This is so characteristic of kids!  It is a sweet story with educational value in arithmetic.  The illustrations are cozy in feeling, even though the color scheme is a neutral monochromatic type.  I prefer brighter colors, but this color scheme worked for this story, so I wouldn’t change a thing!

Happy reading all!  Enjoy the last segment of winter.  Cuddle up with your kids under warm blankets, sip hot cocoa with marshmallows, and have a reading marathon.  It is a perfect way to spend a wintry weekend, if you can’t get out and play in snow.



In a Nutshell Kid Lit Book Reviews: Dogs

snowy girl  There are many things I love.  Dogs are near the top of my favorites list.  This is my beloved cocker spaniel, Heather.  She just turned ten years old.  Heather is a rescue dog.  I adopted her three years ago.  She loves the snow like I do.  So, for this edition of nutshell book reviews, I picked books with canine themes.  Soon, I’ll be writing a kids’ book about Heather.  I already have the basic idea and the title for it.  I’ll share more about that soon.  Stay tuned for a sneak peek!  Without realizing it, I picked a number of books by Cynthia Rylant, another dog lovin’ author.  There will be a second edition of this book reviews tomorrow, with a wintry theme.

nutshell reviews feb 006          This is a sweet description for young children (2-5) of an imagined heaven for dogs.  The sentiments about how much dogs should be loved, hopefully will inspire higher levels of compassion for all canines (and other pets too!) in children and their parents.  Just like kids, our animals should be marinated in love.  We can have a kindler, gentler world here too.

nutshell reviews feb 007   Martha Jane is a constant companion of her owner, and even goes to work with her, in the bookshop.  Martha Jane is adored by all.  When people in town hear she needs a sitter because there is one place her “doggy mama” can’t take her—the hospital, they all vie for the chance.  Martha Jane doesn’t know who to choose, and people begin fighting about it.  One man has been a weekly visitor to the shop, and always talks softly to Martha Jane and brings her treats.  He calls her an “angel dog.”  He’s the only one not fighting with the others, and he becomes an easy choice for Martha Jane.  This is a delightful story that warmed my heart.  While I didn’t care for the illustrations, children may very well like them.

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This is an adorable story with simple but pleasing watercolor illustrations.  It chronicles the travels of Owney, a highly adventurous dog.  It is a true story beginning in the late 1880’s.  Owney is a post office dog who traveled by rail and by sea, all over the world.  He sleeps curled up in mail bags, and collects tags from the places he’s been.  The story is encapsulated in a series of letters from postal clerks, who have unofficially adopted this dog.  Owney is a true nomad.  Even after he retires, his wanderlust makes him itchy to hit the trails again.

nutshell reviews feb 009          Laura Numeroff is also the author of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” and other similar stories.  The illustrations are cute and fun.  This mini-adventure begins with the donut, and parallels the whimsical paths children go on from one pursuit to another.  Having one thing leads to desiring another, and details the journey of acquiring it, playing with it, and expressing delight in the experience.  Quite an enjoyable book, aimed at young children, perhaps 2-6 years of age.


Baltic stepped out on the ice, and it broke off carrying him far from shore, between Poland and Russia.  This is a true story.  Firemen tried and failed to rescue him.  Once the dog was out further a ship passed by and the crew spotted the stranded pooch and saved him.  Then one of the crew members adopted the dog and named him Baltic, after the sea they were in.  A lovely tale!  The illustrations were delightful, and conveyed the differences in temperature between the arctic air outside and the coziness of the ship’s cabin.  The amount of words on the page indicate this book is for the toddler and pre-school set.

nutshell reviews feb 011 Amelia very much wants a small brown dog with a wet pink nose.  Her parents don’t think she’s ready for the responsibility of a dog.  She decides to adopt an imaginary dog of that description.  She asked her parents many questions about what their family would do if they had a dog, and they answered them all patiently and sweetly.  Amelia began living with her dog “Bones.”  When he got out of the house and was lost, her parents helped look for her invisible dog, staying faithful to their reply when she asked what they would do if her hypothetical dog was lost—-look for him until they found him.  Their real search for Bones led to the animal shelter, where Amelia found him.  A lively story with amusing illustrations!

nutshell reviews feb 012    A family copes with large fears when an enormous black dog shows up in their yard.  Each member is so startled when they see the dog, they drop whatever they were holding.  When each describe the dog, he gets even bigger by their assessments.  They have different ideas of coping with this monstrous beast outside.  One wants to shut the drapes and pretend it isn’t out there, and another wants to turn the lights off, so the dog will think they aren’t home.  Ironically, the smallest member of the family is the one with the most courage.  She went out to face the dog on her own, despite their objections.  She was very smart, and told him if he was going to eat her, he had to catch her.  Then she outsmarted him at every turn, making it impossible for him to get close enough to eat her.  By the time she got home, the dog was normal-sized, and not so ferocious at all.  She brought him in, and her family realized he wasn’t fearsome at all.  This book had an intriguing way of contending with fear.  Loved it!  The illustrations were interesting and nice too!

Artsy Kid Lit Continued

Katie Meets the Impressionists by James Mayhew

Note:  Sorry, I could not upload the picture for this one, as the wordpress uploader is seriously whacked out, and I’ve already spent far too much time doing this book review, and pulled more than enough hair out, figuratively speaking. I know you will understand!  Who hasn’t experienced techno angst, and beat their heads on the desk over glitches that wouldn’t fix themselves? At some point you either have to surrender and leave it, or age while sitting there trying to make it work.

This was my favorite book of all those I reviewed this week.  Katie is a little girl visiting the art museum with her grandmother.  Standing before Monet’s “The Luncheon,” she steps into the painting, inhaling the scent of the flowers.  While inside, she picks a bouquet for her grandma, as it is her birthday, and interacts with the subjects in the painting.  Katie meets Monet’s grandson Jean (pronounced John), and he shows her the artist’s studio where they make their own masterpieces.  There’s a very interesting juxtaposition here, between the fine art paintings and the appearance of Katie and her grandma, making them almost cartoonish to contrast the difference, elevating the status of the art.  When Katie leaves this painting, the flowers have wilted, but she finds another painting to enter, to revive them in a highly creative way.  When she gets into trouble in two different paintings, Katie dives out into the museum to safety.  As Katie moves through Monet, Degas, and Renoir, she has a rich variety of experiences.  For a brief time, she can’t find her way out of one of them until she sees the frame of the next painting in the museum off to the side.  It is the kind of book I’d have enjoyed writing and illustrating, if I’d thought of it first!  Kudos to McClintock for a luxurious tour through the French countryside to meet some of my favorite artists!

In a Nutshell Book Reviews—Artsy Kid Lit

AIDS, quilt, kids, grief

A Name On the Quilt:  A Story of Remembrance  by Jeanine Atkins  

Lauren observes her parents preparing fabric.  They are going to sew a patch to memorialize her uncle, and have it added to the national AIDS quilt.  As she watches, she remembers many special times with Uncle Ron.  Her little brother is asking a bunch of questions, and she wonders if he’ll ever understand it all.  While the family members sew this patch, they think of who Ron was, and celebrate his life.  When little Bobby adds the socks his uncle gave him to the patch, Lauren sees he does understand and misses their special uncle too.  She worried aloud that Bobby would mess up the parts he was coloring for the patch, but after his parts are sewn on, she sees they look just perfect.  Though the family is sad that Ron isn’t there with them any longer, they enjoy reminiscing about him.  What a heart-warming book!  The illustrations are quite artistic, and may be prints of paintings.  They have a very homey, soothing feel to them.  Each page also has a faux stitched border around it, framing the text.  A nice touch to carry on the quilting theme!  AIDS isn’t something every family has to contend with, but grief is, and this story can assist people in connecting to their nice memories of a lost loved one.

weaving, pictures, reflecting source

Weaving the Rainbow by George Ella Lyon 

A weaver looks at the sheep in her pasture and sees rainbows in their wool. When they are lambs in March, they’re pure white but by shearing time, color shows up in their wool.  Lyon shares the process from shearing to weaving, including new vocabulary words.  An added special element to this (besides the fabulous illustrations by Stephanie Anderson) is that weaver looked to the source of her creation, instead of her own talent, and was grateful to the sheep for their wool.

animals, art, kid lit, arguing, common grounds, unityWhen Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden

Painters Pigasso and Mootisse are first separate, beginning to enjoy the success of their efforts.  Each in demand by their communities, Pigasso and Mootisse are overwhelmed and seek solace on country farms, directly opposite each other.  When one criticizes the other’s artistic expression, things quickly get out of hand.  They squabble and argue, and build a fence to keep each other off their property.  Anyone with more than one child in the house can relate!  Soon, the duo paint their own sides of the fence, trying to apologize when they miss the other’s company.  This move brings them together as friends.  Laden introduces the real artists Picasso and Matisse to her young readers at the end, who were true friends.  This is a fun read that can be subtly instructive to any bickering kids.

clay, greed, swallowing, demise, freedom

Clay Boy by Mirra Ginsburg

This book is an adaptation from a Russian fairy tale.  A grandfather made a boy out of clay to be a companion to he and his wife in their old age.  After he finishes the clay boy, the boy is alive and demanding food, but there isn’t enough in the poor grandfather’s home to satisfy the clay boy’s insatiable appetite.  The clay boy then swallows the couple, wanders outside and consumes their pets, and goes into the village and inhales more people, animals, wagons, and hay.  He grows larger and larger.  Then the clay boy meets what he thinks is an ordinary goat, but the goat is exceptionally clever and tricks the clay boy.  The end result is the demise of the greedy clay boy, freeing the townspeople and all that was swallowed.  The goat is the town hero, and all is well again.  Intriguing illustrations fill this book, and it is a great launching point for a discussion with kids on greed and its many pitfalls.

poverty, art, father, job, illnessThe Fantastic Drawings of Danielle by Barbara McClintock

A little girl is an artist with a vivid imagination.  The book is set in an earlier era.  Danielle and her father are poor, supported by his work as a photographer.  Her father sees her work as unusual but not very salable.  She wants him to be proud of her, so she tries to draw regular things, but find them boring.  When he becomes quite ill, she hits the streets, trying to do his work for him so they can survive.  Danielle discovers photography is a lot harder than it looks, when she tries to maneuver the tripod, and nearly breaks his camera.  One of her father’s regular buyers is an artist herself, and finds Danielle struggling on the street.  She invites the little girl in, and employs her as an assistant, mentoring her as an artist.  When Danielle returns home, she finds her father is recovering, and that he is proud of her.  A lovely story with the universal theme of children (any age) trying to make their parents proud of them and to get validation on their efforts.  The illustrations are charming and fit the feel of that era.











In a Nutshell Book Reviews…….Kid Lit with an Artistic Bent!

kids, art, failure, success, perfectionI love this book!  The central character, Fred, is assigned an art project of his choosing, to share with the class in a week.  What he wants to do looks great in his head, but he lacks the ability to transfer his idea to paper.  As the sharing time draws near, he feels nervous and sad, and his classmates have doubted him.  At the last possible moment, with a little grace from his teacher, Fred is able to pull through.  His project isn’t at all what he thought it would be, but still earns high praise from his classmates.  It is certainly provides lessons in believing in yourself, not discouraging others, and learning that things don’t always work out the way they look in our heads, but they can still be great anyhow.  As an artist, I’ve found that the things I don’t intend to do, often end up being wonderful surprises and can lead to techniques that hadn’t occurred to me before.  The illustrations in this book are simple and appealing.

Note:  I have several more artsy books to add to this, but this browser uploader and all options for the book covers aren’t working right now, so I shall have to return for the rest.  Sometimes, I detest technology, and this is one of those times!

A host of new books to peruse!

Note:  Ordinarily, I won’t promote the books of celebrities, as they have the power to market their own, and don’t need my help.  However, this time I’m reviewing two, deciding it is more important to put the messages of these particular books before you, so you can share them with your children.

The Brand New Kid by Katie Couric

Couric shares in this book, an extremely important message about children lending compassion and kindness to other kids who are singled out for their differences and bullied.  It is a great launch for parent-child discussions, building empathy, and constructing bridges instead of walls with others.  There is an amusing rhyme scheme that children love!  Who hasn’t experienced the anxiety of being new to an environment, and seen other people being criticized or left out because they were somehow different from the rest of the group?  The illustrations by Marjorie Priceman are fun, quirky, and cute!  I’d love to see this basic story adapted to middle and high schoolers, where acceptance and empathy are so intensely needed.

dreaming, achieving, becoming, feelingDream Big Little Pig by Kristi Yamaguchi

This is a delightful book that encourages children to dream about what they want to do with their lives.  Most children dream of becoming something important.  Poppy the pig is no exception.  In this book, she dreams of being a big star, and tries out singing, dancing, and modeling.  Her family loves and supports her unconditionally through these different endeavors.  Those in charge of her activities though, discourage her from these pursuits.  Poppy persists though, until she finds success in something she loves.  When she finds her activity, Poppy fails at first.  Then she practices diligently, develops her skills, and succeeds.   I think it is so important to show kids that dreams, as great as they are, don’t just happen magically, even when they have gifts or talents.  Everything worth having is worth working towards.  A must-read with wonderful illustrations by Tim Bowers.

naughtiness, obedience, dogs, burglars, foiled plansPinkerton, Behave! by Steven Kellogg

I enjoyed this book, being a dog lover!  I have a cocker spaniel who is sometimes inclined toward naughtiness.  She chases cats off her property at every opportunity, and dashes across the street in hot pursuit without watching for cars. She worries me so when she does that!  Everyone who’s had a pet can relate to this story. Pinkerton makes a habit of doing the opposite thing his family wants him to do.  He even flunked out of obedience school!  However, his oppositional ways really come in handy when an intruder dares to break in the family’s home.  The illustrations are great, and portray this loveable mutt as he is–big, sloppy, friendly, and a bit of a nuisance, but a loved one!.  There was a real Pinkerton.  This is a book from the way back machine—1979!  Some of you may remember Pinkerton from your own childhoods.

cycle of life, butterflies, returning, love, gentlenessButterfly House by Eve Bunting

A lovely story with fabulous illustrations by Greg Shed, printed from paintings.  A young girl saves a larva and her grandfather helps her raise it, and keep it safe through its metamorphosis, until the beautiful butterfly is freed.  Then she gets a gift she never imagined.  I’m not going to spoil the surprise!  It is perhaps a metaphor for good karma.  The end of the book also shows kids how to raise a larva.  Any book that inspires gentleness in anyone is wonderful in my book!

        Weird Parents by Audrey Wood

An interesting read!  A boy wishes his parents weren’t so weird.  He feels embarrassed by them clowning around, but doesn’t realize other people enjoy the fun they create.  Then he wishes all parents were this weird, but realizes it isn’t possible, as this would make the weirdness common, and therefore, no longer weird.  This book is unique—the lead character is simply referred to as “a boy” or “my son.”  He hasn’t a proper name.  I’m guessing this was done to keep his story more universal to readers.  Naming him would make it a story about “Jimmy” or “Peter” and his weird parents.   Not naming him lets it be about anyone.  Feeling one’s parents are weird is not extraordinary.  Probably every kid feels that way at some point.  The illustrations are oddly fun.  This boy realizes he enjoys aspects of their weirdness, and loves and accepts his parents as they are.

orphans, wolves, rearing, detectives, mysteryThe Wolf Girls by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple

This was an intriguing book, aimed at the 6 and up crowd.  It is written from the perspective of a young girl who is trying to solve a mystery from the 1920’s in India.  Her father is a detective.  The illustrations are quite nicely done by Roger Roth.  Two tiny girls are brought to an orphanage in India.  The girls are thought to have been raised by wolves.  They walk on all fours, and have other wolf type characteristics.  Though the missionary man who takes the girls in to his orphanage seems to have good intentions, he does exploit them for profit.  There is a wealth of new vocabulary words to learn. These words are well-explained.  The harm of gossip is portrayed, and ethical problems are brought up, but not expounded on.  The issues may provide a good discussion with kids.

My only qualm with this book is that it introduces topics I think are too emotionally loaded for kids who are under 9 or 10 years old.  There is enough tragedy and hard things that go on in the world, and the media blasts these across televisions on a daily basis.  I find myself wanting to protect children from these things as long as possible. Kids today have enough to contend with in our world.  Additonally, children being raised by wolves, isn’t a necessary evil to require a cautionary tale.  Your kids aren’t going to run up against children with this problem in their schools, on playdates, or anywhere else.  The only value I can see in subjecting younger children to this story, is to evoke empathy in them towards others who have been greatly disadvantaged.  It is a painful story that is quite tragic.

Stay tuned!  More book reviews coming very soon!  The next group are all artistically inclined…………….

In A Nutshell Kid Lit Reviews #1

nutshellsThere are many books out for kids, and as an author, I naturally want to see what else is out there.  Plus, the kid inside me loves to read imaginative stories!  I’m waiting for grandchildren to share my finds with!  Hint, hint….my kids!  In the meantime, I thought I’d run a blog here, with snippets of other people’s work, for you to share with your kids.  I’ll also be giving these authors a shout-out on either Twitter or Facebook.

For today, I’ve picked a few by Mark Teague.  All of his are beautifully illustrated by him:

Funny Farm:  This book is very cute and imaginative.  It’s aimed at the youngest readers, about a day at a farm.

Larue: Letters from the Campaign Trail

This one seems geared to the elementary school set.  It also has remarks that adults will enjoy, particularly in our current political climate.  There are words that kids will either need to look up or have explained to them—I like that!  A challenge!  I love the canines!  Clever!

Dear Mrs. Larue: Letters from Obedience School

Another one for elementary readers, though younger kids will enjoy the pictures, and may comprehend the story from those visual cues.  There is a strong theme of the main character, the letter writer, feeling unfairly punished, which is likely a universal feeling among children, and adults can remember.  The letter writer has certainly discovered how to heap the guilt on his mistress, for sending him to obedience school.


For the toddler set, this is about a day at the firehouse, and touches on themes of cooperation, heroism, volunteering to help, and resting!  Very sweet!

nutty, nutshell, envelope for information

Two from another author, Audrey Penn:

Pocket Full of Kisses

This is a sequel to “The Kissing Hand.”  The book centers on a raccoon mom and her two offspring.  The elder of which is having difficulty adjusting to having a new sibling.  It is touching and lovely, and the illustrations are great!  Shows the mom reassuring Chester of her love, and promoting job of big bro to him.  Probably for kids from 2-6.

Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully

When Chester and his friends don’t want to go to school because there’s a bully there, his mama tells them all a story that changes everything.  Early elementary grades will love this, and who knows what they could change!  Beautiful illustrations!

Ada Potato by Judith Caseley

Ada is a young girl in elementary school.  She’s trying out different instruments to see what she likes.  There are practical issues involved.  Then, she must contend with other kids teasing her for her musical choices.  Her mom shows her how to turn this teasing around, and Ada does.  I like the racial diversity I see in the illustrations here!  (My other half calls me Ada often, so when I saw this book, I knew I had to read it, for an instant kinship was already there!)

No Sleep for the Sheep by Karen Beaumont

I enjoyed this book!  If anyone has ever heard “not another peep!” uttered by their parents, they will get a kick out of it being echoed through the walls of the barn!  The sheep are trying to sleep, but other animals keep making their own noises and keeping the sheep awake.  It has a lovely rhythm to the words, and rhymes but not in an annoying way.  It is adorable!  It is great for toddlers and pre-schoolers who’re learning which sounds the different animals make.

So, that was a stack of books, reviewed in a nutshell!  Stay tuned for the next installment of “In a Nutshell.”

love of animals and nuts