The Children's Book Compass

Archive for the ‘Read Aloud’ Category

The Ogre of Oglefort by Eva Ibbotson.   Illus. by Lisa K. Weber. (2011).  247 pages.   Dutton. Grades 3-7.  Fantasy novel.

This is the last book of the talented and masterful storyteller, Ibbotson.  Fantastic characters, a troll, a hag, a wizard and an orphan, are sent on a quest to save a princess from an evil Ogre.  However, when they arrive at the Ogre’s castle they discover the situation is surprisingly different than they were told.  The characters are deliciously described.  Here is the opening paragraph of the book,

“Most people are happier when their feet are dry.  They do not care to hear squelchy noises in their shoes or feel water seeping between their toes—but the Hag of the Dribble was different.  Having wet feet made her feel better: it reminded her of the Dribble where she had been born and lived for the first seventy-eight years of her life, and now she dipped her socks into the washbasin and made sure they were thoroughly soaked before she put them on her feet and went downstairs to make porridge for herself and her lodgers.”

Kids will want to keep reading after that opening.  The theme, discovering your happiness or bliss, makes the book a satisfying read.  This one will make an enjoyable read aloud for adult and child.  A few black line drawings are sprinkled throughout the story.


The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True by Gerald Morris.  Illus. by Aaron Renier.  (2011). 118 pages.  Houghton Mifflin.  Grades 2-6.  Fantasy Novel.

This is the third book in Morris’ The Knight Tales series.  After children read this one, they will want to go back to read the others in the series.  Morris retells the stories from the King Arthur legends with humor and verve.  His retellings make the stories accessible for younger children.  Large size font, a small book size and action-packed line drawings also make these books attractive for younger readers.  The story of how Sir Gawain the Undefeated takes on the challenge of the fearsome giant, The Green Knight, makes a rousing tales.  The adventures come tumbling out of the pages.  Readers will be glued to the story of how Sir Gawain meets the challenge of the Green Knight and discovers wisdom and grace along the way.

Max’s Castle by Kate Banks.  Illustrated by Boris Kulikov.  (2011)  Pages not numbered.  FSG.  Grades 1-3.


Max finds some old toys and a set of alphabet blocks under his bed.  With those toys he entices his brothers into imaginative play that features constructing a castle, pirates, knights, a king and more.  Through ingenious word plays each new construction with the alphabet blocks becomes a new adventure.  For example, when Max and his brothers, Karl and Benjamin, begin constructing a secret passage in the castle it leads to a “Dark Dungeon. “What’s in the dungeon?”  asks his brother, Karl.   “In every Dark Dungeon there’s a Dragon,” said Max.    “And a Dog,” said Karl.  “And a GUARD,” said Benjamin.”    The boys’ game may inspire children to engage in imaginative play – so different from their pastimes with screens.  Kulikov’s colorful, creative illustrations perfectly compliment and extend the text.  Two other books about Max, Max’s Words and Max’s Dragon will also be a hit with young readers.


Bun Bun Button by Patricia Polacco.  (2011). Pages not numbered.  Putnam.  Grades P-3.  Picture Book.

Gather your favorite children close by and read aloud Polacco’s newest treasure.  It starts:

“Paige Elizabeth Darling adored her Gramma.  When Paige visited—which was often—Gramma let Paige help bake soft sand cookies, make the beds and feed the kitties and the dogs.

And when Paige was done, she and Gramma would climb into the Old Blue Chair which they loved and cuddle and read.”

Gramma makes Paige a bunny to cuddle and love.  Of course, that’s when the drama occurs.  The bunny, Bun Bun Button, is lost.  How he returns to Paige makes a warm and loving story.  As usual, Polacco’s colorful, action packed illustrations fill the pages.  The details in the drawings add to our understanding of the characters.  Gramma wears hiking boots, the cats and dogs cavort across the pages.  Even the gold fish jumps and peers from his bowl to join in the fun.  The book is especially notable because of the cherished relationship between Gramma and granddaughter.

These three books celebrate grandparents and emphasize the strength of the relationships between the generations.  They are distinguished by the waves of love they portray between grandparent and child.   Grandparents will want to read aloud the books to their youngsters.  Each book is an outstanding example of how a beautifully crafted text and illustrations can be melded together into a luscious and memorable picture book.


Your Moon, My Moon: A Grandmother’s Words to a Faraway Child  by Patricia MacLachlan. Illus. Bryan Collier.  Simon & Schuster.  Grades P- 3.  Picture Book.

MacLachlan lives in New England, her grandchild in Africa.  Her lyrical text celebrates the things they have enjoyed together on visits to each other and the things that are unique about the places they each live.  “Where I live we sleep under/quilts/and wear wooly socks/when it is cold.”  Then she contrasts how her grandchild sleeps, “Where you live you sleep under a netting/like a royal child, safe from buzzing mosquitoes.” Collier’s elegant illustrations in watercolors and collages extend the text and add a story of the grandmother preparing and then traveling to Africa to see her beloved grandchild.

These Hands by Margaret H. Mason.  Illus. Floyd Cooper.  Houghton Mifflin.  Grades P-3.  Picture Book.

In a repeating refrain a grandpa tells his grandson about all the things his hands can do and have done.

Look at these hands, Joseph.

Did you know these hands

used to make the ivories sing

like a sparrow in springtime?

Well, I can still show a young fellow

how to play “Heart and Soul”

–yes, I can.

The grandpa describes all his talents from playing baseball to card tricks.  He also tells how because of racism his hands “were not allowed to mix/the bread dough/in the Wonder Bread factory.”  His hands

..were only allowed

to sweep the floors

and work the line

and load the trucks.

Because the bosses said

white people would not want to eat bread

touched by these hands.

Then, the grandpa explains how he joined with others to achieve civil rights and “Now any hands can touch the bread dough . . . ”  The grandson brings the story full circle with recounting all the things he can do with his hands and grandpa affirms that his grandson’s “hands can do anything./ Anything at all in this whole wide world.”  An Author’s Note at the end explains how racism in the past caused other inequities.  Cooper’s uses an oil wash in sepia tones finished with kneaded erasers that give a soft, evocative look to the illustrations.

Ladder to the Moon by Ladder to the Moon by Maya Soetoro-Ng Illus. by Yuyi Morales.  Candlewick Press.  Grades P-3.  Picture Book.

Here’s a book to share at bedtime with a beloved child.   A young child,  Suhaila, asks her mother what her grandma was like.  Her mother answers, “She was like the moon, . . . Full, soft and curious.  Your grandma would wrap her arms around the whole world if she could.”  Later in bed the child imagines that her grandmother descends from the moon on a golden ladder and takes her back to the moon.  Together they gazed down on the earth and embraced those that were experiencing troubles and needed love and support.  Grandma Annie brings the troubled folk up the golden ladder.  “One by one, every person was finding his or her own path to the moon, each path connecting with the others in hope’s massive stream.”  Together grandma and child bring healing to the people.  Finally, they part with “a snuggle and a smooch.”  Suhaila feels “proud for having helped others heal – for having helped others learn to move forward and upward and around.” In  Soetoro-Ng ‘s note at the end she explains how the book was inspired by her mother, Ann Dunham, who is also the mother of President Barack Obama, and her daughter’s questions about her late grandmother.   Morales illustrations are amazing, capturing the moon’s glow, the healing touch of Grandma Annie, and the caring embrace of those who love.

Emma Dilemma by Kristine O’Connell George.  Illus. by Nancy Carpenter.  Clarion.  Grades K-5.  Poetry.

Big sister, Jessica, tells about her little sister, Emma in a series of humorous and sometimes poignant poems.  O’Connell George is a gifted poet and she accurately captures of the conflicting emotions of having a little sister who is sometimes a monster and sometimes a darling.

 Emma Dilemma

 Sometimes Dad

calls my sister

Emma Dilemma

 Dad says

a dilemma is

an interesting problem.

 I know Dad’s joking,

but sometimes

Emma is my dilemma.

Carpenter’s pen and ink and digital media illustrations heighten the enjoyment of this wonderful tribute to the bonds of sisterly love.

Goyangi Means Cat by Christine McDonnell.  Illus. by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Viking.  Grades K-4.  Picture Book/Realistic Fiction.

I’m Adopted! By Shelley Rotner & Sheila M. Kelly.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Holiday House.  Grades K-5.  Nonfiction.

Nini by Francois Thisdale.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Tundra Books.  Grades K-4.  Picture Book/ Realistic Fiction.

These three books fill a need for stories about adoption.  They will be especially loved in families who have adopted.  Share them with children in discussions about different kinds of families in your home or classroom.  Also, please note my previous review of a novel about adoption, Mother Number Zero.

Goyangi Means Cat tells the story of a young girl, Soo Min, who is adopted from Korea and the first week in her American home.  McDonnell skillfully captures how overwhelming it must be for a child to experience a new home, parents, places and especially a new language.  Soo Min teaches her new parents some Korean words.  She finds comfort in the family cat that she calls Goyangi.  The child is tearful when the cat disappears.  But when it returns, Soo Min declares, “Goyangi home” her first English word.  The illustrations in this book are evocative of the tone and nuances in the story.  .The illustrators use paper collage with acrylic and oil paints.  “The patterns used in the paper collage were selected to reflect the Eastern and Western worlds of Soo Min…”  The richness of the patterns with Korean characters integrated into them provide a textured and softly colored background for the story.

I’m Adopted! is a joyful celebration of the variety of ways families adopt.  The simple text is accompanied by bright photographs that feature children adopted at different ages and countries as well as the U.S.  The authors focus on questions that children have about adoption.  “Usually adopted children want to know why their birth mothers could not keep them.”  Or, “Adopted children often want to know about the country where they were born.”  The answers are straight forward and show that there are various ways to address the questions.   The photographs are the highlight of the book.  There are several to a page that shows animated, happy children and their families engaged in all kinds of activities.  The book ends with the satisfying statement about how “Most children want to hear the story of how they came to their families . . . They want to hear it again … and again.”

Nini is unusual and memorable in its portrayal of the adoption of the author’s daughter from China.  It starts with the baby in the womb and how she listens to the voice of her mother.  “It spoke of rice paddies and lotus flowers blowing in the evening breeze.”  …“Warm and safe, she listened carefully to all it said.”  The illustration that accompanies this part of the text shows the baby floating in the womb.  Then the story follows the child to an orphanage and finally to the home of her new parents across the ocean.  The story comes full circle ends with “Years have passed.  Some days, the child hears a distant echo.  She thinks of rice paddies, of lotus flowers in the wind, of a little house with a pointed roof.  Sometimes, just before she sleeps, she whispers to the moon that she is happy. . . . And they (the family) thank a distant echo that travels on the night breeze for allowing them to become a family.”  Thisdale uses mixed, multi-textured images that are haunting in their beauty.  Some of the illustrations feature photographs of his daughter woven into the illustration.  Words, child-like drawings and Chinese characters also float through the pictures.  Treasure this story.



Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

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