A Birthday for Frances

Hoban, Russell. A Birthday for Frances. Illustrated by Lillian Hoban. New York: Harper & Row, 1968. Print.

Above image from http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24904.A_Birthday_for_Frances

The picture book A Birthday for Frances, written by Russell Hoban, explores the complex landscape of sibling relationships, including jealousy and love, in a simple and sweet story about a family of badgers.

Little Gloria is having a birthday, and her older sister Frances is a bit jealous of all the attention she’s getting. Frances would prefer to play with her imaginary friend than help with the birthday planning, and the two sisters have a fight over Frances’s general surliness and an incident that happened a year ago.

But Frances is upset when she finds out she won’t have a gift to give Gloria. She asks for an advance on her allowance and goes with her father to the candy shop, where she buys a Chompo candy bar and four gumballs. On the way home, while in conversation with her father, she “accidentally” eats the gumballs, and questions whether Gloria should have only half the candy bar, because she’s so little. Her father bemusedly suggests he hold the candy bar to “take care of it,” and they head home. At the party, when her little sister’s birthday wish is that Frances would not be angry at her, and that she was sorry for the previous year’s incident, Frances feels guilty, sings to her, and gives her the ENTIRE Chompo bar.

Reminiscent of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad stories in its focus on the small things necessary to negotiate relationships, A Birthday for Frances uses a child’s very relatable feelings, impulses, and actions to tell poignant but funny story. This is a good read-aloud book, because the story is engaging, but the words might be a bit too difficult for very young or emergent readers. Nevertheless, Hoban’s writing is clear, the typeset on the pages easily read by younger eyes, and there is plenty of white space between short lines and on the pages. Illustrations take up most of the space in the book– drawings are charming, and very colorful in shades of orange and green. The use of songs is particularly fun for readers, as they can sing new, silly lyrics to familiar (“Happy Birthday to You”) tunes. And everyone can relate to Frances in this book.

Suggested for read-alouds, for younger elementary grades, and for adults of any age!

Mother Bruce

Higgins, Ryan. Mother Bruce. New York: Hyperion, 2015. Print.

Mother Bruce introduces readers to a reclusive bear who finds himself a very hesitant parent to four goslings.  Full of humor and a lot of heart, it’s a fun to read aloud and share a giggle over. It’s also a sweet story of love and taking responsibility.

Bruce is “a grump”. He lives alone in the woods, steals eggs from bird nests and specializes in cooking them up in various fancy ways.  His life is simple and quiet, and that’s just the way he likes it. One day, when foraging ingredients from other animals for a new recipe (he “liked to support local business, you see”), he came across a mother goose with four eggs. After demanding if they were free-range organic, he takes them home, where they hatch. He attempts to get rid of them, but they’ve imprinted Bruce as their mother, and they won’t leave. Eventually he learns to “make the best of it”, and when they refuse to migrate south for the winter, he ends up taking them all to Miami, where they migrate together every year.

Higgins’s illustrations are expressive and bold. His depiction of the bear’s many shades of grumpy give color to his character. And his drawings of the geese growing up from “annoying baby geese” to “stubborn teenage geese” (with sullen expressions and wearing headphones) to “boring adult geese” is adorable and hilarious. Higgins’s humor is both visual and verbal, and sure to keep both kids and adults engaged.

Highly recommended for a light, funny read!


Where Does the Butterfly Go When It Rains?

Garelick, Mary. Where Does the Butterfly Go When It Rains? Illustrated by Nicholas Wilton. New York: MONDO Publishing, 1997. Print.

Above image from http://www.mondopub.com/c/@gTDGCkGkz4iis/Pages/product.html?nocache@1+record@P2742

Where Does the Butterfly Go When It Rains? is a poetic speculation on a question sure to interest young children. Full of interesting facts about other creatures, and written in a dynamic, fun-to-read style, this picture book is a very engaging read-aloud.

Wilton’s speaker wonders how butterflies cope with rain, how they stay dry– “How can they fly if its wings are wet?” She offers the solutions that other animals like the snake and rabbit use, and muses about how turtles and fish have it easy. She wonders about the birds, but she keeps coming back to the butterfly, an issue which obviously concerns her.

Wilton’s conversational tone immediately brings in the reader; she speaks to and asks questions of her audience, and engages emotionally. “And the bird in the tree is a puzzle to me. Even if its head is tucked under its wing, what happens to the rest of it, poor thing?” She promises the reader a plan to figure out what the bird and butterfly does. And she finishes by confusedly asking the reader for help: “But where can I look? I’ve never seen a butterfly out in the rain. Have you?”

Where Does the Butterfly Go When It Rains? offers a unique opportunity for reading aloud. It starts with the drip-drip of the rain: “Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain.” The alliteration describing the sliding snake and the speedy retreat of a rabbit (“A rabbit can dash — whoosh — into a bush”) grab the imagination. And the book is full of onomatopoeia, repetition, internal and irregular external rhyme, and short, rhythmic, punctuated phrases to capture the young ear.

Originally published in 1969, this edition features work by artist Nicholas Wilton. The illustrations are charming; they depict stylized, steampunk-like animals with cute human details in the act of avoiding the rain.

Recommended for young readers interested in animals, for introducing techniques that young writers may incorporate into their own works of poetry or prose, and for reading aloud.



I Want My Hat Back

Klassen, Jon. I Want My Hat Back. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2011. Print.

Above image from http://www.candlewick.com/cat.asp?mode=book&isbn=0763655988http://www.hmhbooks.com/wiesner/flotsam.html

Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back tells a clever tale of single-minded determination and ultimate satisfaction.  Its repetitive wording and simple yet expressive illustrations tell a darkly humorous story that gives readers a fun opportunity for creative inference.

The story centers around a bear who is missing his hat, and who goes around asking other animals if they have seen it. He’s very polite (he always says “thank you”) and he’s quite thoughtful as well (he helps a turtle up on a rock). But he misses his favorite hat, and when he realizes the rabbit has it, there is a standoff. In the end, he is seen sitting contentedly with his hat on his head in a tuft of disturbed grass… where the rabbit once stood.

Klassen’s use of short phrasing and repetition make reading predictable and fun: “Have you seen my hat?” he asks each animal, and responds “OK. Thank you anyway.” The text is all dialogue between animals, and Klassen keeps things simple by using differences in text color rather than quotation marks to indicate it. Characters’ guilt and deflection, a technique very familiar to children, is made hilarious when Klassen’s usual short dialogue is interjected by overly-long (read: suspicious) denials of fault.

But what tells the story, and gives it real life, depth, and playfulness, are the illustrations. The eyes give away the characters’ thoughts and emotions. While Klassen uses color sparingly, he uses it effectively: while the background and animals are colored in shades of brown and grey, bold red colors his hat as well as the bear’s blind anger.

I Want My Hat Back may be a bit dark , and perhaps a bit disturbing for very young or sensitive readers. But its engaging story and emotional relatability (it is very, very funny!) make this an interesting choice for young readers.




Wiesner, David. Flotsam. New York: Clarion Books, 2006. Print.

Above image from http://www.hmhbooks.com/wiesner/flotsam.html

A book made up entirely of beautifully-rendered illustrations, Flotsam can’t help but immediately engage and enchant every reader who picks it up. The lack of text means it’s accessible to any child, regardless of age, reading level, or language. But there is a rich story to be told, and that story unfolds masterfully and not without some surprise.

A curious boy, on an outing to the beach with his family, looks for interesting things washed up on shore. He is ready with his tools; he has a microscope handy, and examines a hermit crab through a magnifying glass. While looking at a crab, a wave knocks him down, and it deposits an old camera. The boy discovers that the camera has a long history and fascinating, unexpected adventures to tell. He finds a way to document his own story to add to the camera’s history, and he casts it back to the sea.

While the contrast between Wiesner’s very realistic artwork and the extraordinary, magical turn the story takes is notable, the book’s strength is its engagement  of readers’ visual literacy. Readers fill in the story using cues from the illustrations and their imaginations, and the book encourages interpretation at any level of complexity. It’s a fun read, full of opportunity for conversation, exploration, and curricular intersection. A 2007 Caldecott Medal winner.