I realize I haven’t done any picture book roundups this year, so here’s the first. I have to do these posts more frequently now, as about 60% of the books I acquire are picture books. My logic (whacked, I know, but it makes perfect sense to me) behind this is that because they’re picture books with not much text, I’m technically not adding to my astronomic TBR. Of course that kind of reasoning rebounds on me because at the rate I’m acquiring them, they take up a lot of space. I do like creating these kinds of problems for myself!

Anyway, in an attempt to get these books moving from my holding area (downstairs — to be read, to be weeded out, to be covered, etc) to my library shelves (upstairs) here’s today’s picture book roundup, mainly animal books. I’m very picky with animal stories, but the clever ones are usually in picture books, so I don’t mind getting a whole bunch of them.

Included in this roundup are Too Many Cooks; Sagwa the Siamese Cat; The Owl and the Pussycat; Stellaluna; The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes; Mind your Manners BB Wolf; Dooby Dooby Moo; and Click, Clack, Quackity Quack, books #25-32 for 2011.


Too Many Cooks (Ratatouille) by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Nate Wragg, hardcover with dustjacket

I loved the Disney film “Ratatouille,” but the end credits were my favorite part. I remember, my jaw literally dropped when I saw the whimsical, hand-drawn chalky illustrations rolling on the screen —  a vast departure from the 3D CGI that made up the film itself, but it was delightful nonetheless.

Too Many Cooks is a picture book that uses the same artistic treatment — Nate Wragg is a sketch artist at Disney and this is his first picture book! The rhyme is very catchy, it starts off by with a counting rhyme patterned after One Potato, Two Potato… except with rats! Then it tells us how the rats cook Ratatouille, from cleaning themselves in the dishwasher to cutting the vegetables julienne to cooking the side dishes and plating the meal and serving it, up until they close the kitchen for the night. There’s also a bonus section at the back of the book explaining the culinary terms in the rhymes: julienne, roux, flambe, etc.

I’ve had this book for quite some time now, and I’ve been leafing through it but I never get tired of looking at the illustrations — Nate Wragg has made a fangirl out of me. But this isn’t just a pretty counting book; it’s a great foodie book too, perfect for reading aloud to junior masterchefs in the making. Also recommended for all fans of the Ratatouille movie – Remy, Emile, and even Antoine Ego are all in this book! Not for the squeamish, though — if you couldn’t stomach the idea of rats cooking your food in the movie, this book probably isn’t for you.

My rating: 5/5 stars

***

Sagwa the Chinese Siamese Cat by Amy Tan, illustrated by Gretchen Schields, paperback

I’ve seen the Sagwa series on Playhouse Disney, but I never knew it was based on a book, and one written by Amy Tan!

A mother Siamese cat (named Ming Miao) is telling her kittens about the origins of their breed with the story of their great ancestor, Sagwa of China.

Sagwa is a mischievous cat in the court of a cruel Magistrate, where her parents are the scribes — they dip their tails in the inkwells and write out the Magistrate’s unjust decrees.

Sagwa goes poking around, and she upsets the inkwell, staining her paws, nose, ears, and tail (hence looking like the Siamese cat we’re familiar with. She also unwittingly changes the Magistrate’s edict, which eventually causes his change of heart.

Cat lovers will surely appreciate this entertaining cat story featuring a lovable feline, although I find it wordy for a picture book — I think it could have been told in a lot less words.

I’m also on the fence about the artwork. The illustrations are certainly bright and eye-catching, but I feel the posterized style doesn’t jive with the traditional story, it comes out stiff and garish, so it doesn’t appear quite as authentic.

My rating: 3/5 stars

***

The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear, illustrated by Jan Brett, paperback

I was delighted to find this book in the bargain bin; two decades ago, I had memorized “The Owl and the Pussycat” poem  to recite in kindergarten class.This book features Edward Lear’s famous poem about the marriage of an anthropomorphic Owl and Pussycat. They sail away in a pea-green boat to the “land where the bong-tree grows,” to get married, with the nuptials officiated by the “turkey who lives on the hill. The two celebrate their marriage by dining using a “runcible spoon” and “dancing by the light of the moon.”

Jan Brett’s breathtakingly beautiful illustrations of the characters, as well as the rich seascapes, bring the story to life. There’s a wonderfully exotic island feel to this book, the Owl and the Pussycat are from some sort of island paradise, and they load down their boat with tropical fruits. The characters are drawn with so much character, from the expressions on their faces down to the clothes they wear: Owl is a dignified gentleman, while Pussycat is a perfectly poised lady!

There is also a splendid secondary storyline going on, involving the Pussycat’s golden tropical fish, who finds his own match in the sea!

My rating: 5/5 stars

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Stellaluna by Janell Cannon, hardcover

I’ve heard a lot about this book so I finally picked it up when I found a reasonably priced copy at the bargain bookstore. Stellaluna is a fruit bat that was separated from her mother when an owl attacked them in flight. The baby bat falls into a nest, and a bird family adopts her. Stellaluna learns to live like the birds: eating bugs, sleeping in the nest, perching right-side up. Thankfully, she is found by a group of bats, and she is reunited with her mother. And despite their differences, she remains friends with the bird family that took her in.

I appreciate the originality of a bat story that’s not Halloween-related, but the story is a bit too twee for my taste, although I understand this is quite a popular book. It’s a great story for illustrating family, acceptance of individual differences, and friendship. For readers who are interested in bats, there is also a section at the back of the book that provides background information on fruit bats. Janell Cannon’s soft and detailed illustrations are also well-matched to the themes of the story.

My rating: 3/5 stars

***

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward, illustrated by Marjorie Flack, paperback

This 1939 picture book features the Country Bunny Lady Cottontail, mother to a brood of 21 children. Because she has been dreaming of becoming the Easter Bunny since she was a “little country girl bunny,” Lady Cottontail trains her children to be self-sufficient, in preparation for vying for the coveted title. When one of the five Easter Bunnies announced his retirement, Lady Cottontail joined scores of other hopefuls to take his place.

Impressed with the qualities Lady Cottontail was able to demonstrate, Old Grandfather picks her to be the 5th Easter Bunny. Lady Cottontail proves her dedication to being the Easter Bunny, and Old Grandfather awards her with a pair of gold shoes (works like seven-league boots) so she can make more children happy. Lady Cottontail fulfills her dream and goes home to give her baby bunnies a happy Easter.

I buy a lot of vintage picture books mostly for their art, but this one surprised me because of its powerful statement on female empowerment. It’s quite the inspirational story — a young girl being told her dreams were foolish, dreams put on hold because of responsibilities to her family, and yet somehow, Lady Cottontail manages to triumph above it all to fulfill her dream, with enough time to celebrate Easter with her family! All that in a picture book — quite sensational, don’t you think? Lady Cottontail rocks!

My rating: 4/5 stars

***

Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf by Judy Sierra, illustrated by J. Otto Seibold, hardcover with dust jacket

This book is straight from the fairy tales — Big Bad “B.B.” Wolf is invited to the Annual Storybook Tea at the local library. His friend the crocodile tells him that he should be on his best behavior for the tea. To remember the lesson in etiquette, B.B. makes up a little song: “Sip your tea and never slurp, say ‘Excuse me’ if you burp. Smile and have a lot of fun, but don’t go biting anyone.”

B.B. Wolf finds himself at the tea with Red Riding Hood, one of the Three Little Pigs, and Humpty Dumpty, and he struggles to remember his manners, but eventually gets through the event. He is praised for his good behavior, and is rewarded with a box of gingerbread cookies on his way home.

Despite the wolf on the cover, this is a hilarious, non-threatening book about good behavior, cleverly told in a way a young reader won’t notice, and plus points for the intertextuality: lots of Easter eggs for anyone who has a basic knowledge of fairy tales.

J. Otto Seibold is one of the few vector art illustrators I like, and he doesn’t disappoint with this book. Bright and cheery, he manages to credibly turn around the personality of a favorite fairy tale villain.

My rating: 4/5 stars

***

Dooby Dooby Moo and Click, Clack, Quackity-Quack by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin, both hardcover with dust jacket.

I loved the Caldecott Honor Book Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type especially after I got the barnyard playset a few months back, so I automatically grabbed these books from the bargain bin when I spotted them.

Dooby Dooby Moo features the barnyard animals in another hilarious episode. This time, the animals are secretly rehearsing for a talent show at the county fair so they can win a trampoline. Farmer Brown suspects that the animals are up to something, but he doesn’t know what, and he doesn’t want to leave them unsupervised so he ends up loading them all into the truck and taking them to  the county fair — exactly as the animals planned. The animals are triumphant and Farmer Brown starts hearing boings from inside the barn at night.

4/5 stars

Meanwhile, Click, Clack, Quackity Quack: An Alphabetical Adventure is a story told in the letters of the alphabet, featuring the same barnyard animals. I love alliteration, and it’s wittily written, so I totally enjoyed this book. The Click, Clack, Moo books I’ve gotten so far are all laugh out loud funny (Farmer Brown’s incredulous face is always priceless!), and I love love love Betsy Lewin’s comical illustrations!

4/5 stars

Until the next picture book roundup!