Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Room on the Broom is a delightful story about a witch riding around on a broom with her cat. Three times, she accidentally drops an item, and it is retrieved for her by a new animal who asks for a spot on the broom (and, of course, there is room). However, when the broom breaks, the witch is chased by a hungry dragon, until her new friends scare it away. They then make a new, and even better broom, together and fly off.

I really enjoyed reading this to my son. The words are fantastic, with a very upbeat, musical rhythm that made it lots of fun to read. The characters are also distinctive enough that I found it very easy to come up with unique voices for each.

The artwork looks simplistic, but gorgeous, at first, but there’s actually a fair bit going on in the background (usually to do with animals who react to the events of the story without being acknowledged by the text). The artwork is very colourful, and the character faces are expressive. My son enjoyed looking through them and telling me his own stories inspired by the background details.

Room on the Broom is a well-rounded, quality children’s picture book.

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Quest by Aaron Becker

In our nightly family readings, we’ve been moving on to books with more words and fewer pictures, encouraging our child to use his imagination to “see” what was happening. Quest is the opposite – it’s book with lots of pictures and no words.

We saw (and loved) the same thing in Owly & Wormy, but Quest is a bit different. While Owly & Wormy was something of a graphic novel, with a very defined storyline, Quest is a bit more flexible. The images, of two children brought into a magical land where they must find magical crayons to make a rainbow, are very stimulating to the imagination, and they leave a great deal room for the “reader” to add their own details. Who was the king who gave them their quest? What was wrong in the land before they made the rainbow? Why was the rainbow necessary? None of these things are explained by the book, and my son and I had great fun as I prompted him to come up with answers.

This was also the perfect book at the perfect time, as a bad cold left me without my voice for the last few days. Thankfully, with Quest out from the library, my son was able to take over the “reading” in the evenings.

The images are gorgeous, and full of detail. And, as I said, drawing them with such open ended interpretations was a great choice.

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Bats in the Band by Brian Lies

I only had a few minutes in the library and needed a Halloween-themed book to read to my son on Halloween night. After flipping through the shelves in vain for a while, I stumbled on this book with bats in it. It was a little long, which doesn’t generally make for very good bed time reading to a tired kid with short attention span, but I was out of time and desperate.

As it happens, this was an absolutely wonderful little book.

The rhythm and rhyme of the text has a great flow, so it was fun to read out loud and held my son’s attention despite the book’s length. It also uses words like “hibernation,” which is something we’ve been talking a lot about as the weather gets colder, so it was lovely to be able to show my son an example of an animal in a story doing it. There’s also a reference in the story to echolocation (though the word isn’t used), so we got to talk about that as well.

The bats use a variety of instruments and make music in several different styles, so that gave us some more conversation pieces. The morning after we first read it, we opened the book again and, with YouTube, looked for examples of all the musical styles referenced in the book. We tried to match up the instruments being played by human musicians to the ones in the book, talked about the sounds they make, to beat, etc.

In other words, the book has tremendous value as a learning launch pad.

The artwork is lovely and very detailed, with a lot going on that we could talk about (in particular, my son loved the recurring image of the parent bat carrying a baby bat in a carrier). Unfortunately, it being bats, the images are a bit dark. If I had enough light to read by, the glare made the images a little hard to see. This may have been an issue with the texture of the pages, which is slightly matted. I’m not sure. But in any case, it didn’t detract from the overall wonderfulness of the book.

I highly recommend it for the toddler and preschooler set.

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Owly & Wormy: Bright Lights and Starry Nights by Andy Runton

Bright Lights is a sweet story about two friends, Owly and Wormy, who want to see the stars and, on the way, they become friends with a family of bats.

The story is told in a graphic novel style, except that instead of text in speech bubbles, there are instead more images. This made it great for reading with my pre-literate kid, because it meant that we could look at the pictures together and talk about what was happening – encouraging him to deduce from the visual cues how the characters are feeling, what they are saying, etc.

Another thing I loved about the book is that it was just so very sweet. When Wormy was afraid of the dark, Owly brought out lights to make him feel better. When Owly lost the telescope, the bats helped to find it. The situations provided us with many opportunities to discuss things like friendship, helping, being afraid of the dark, and so forth.

Overall, this was just a lovely, sweet book that provides ample occasions for the pre-literate crowd to flex their logic muscles.

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Temple Cat by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Kate Kiesler

I really enjoyed this picture book about an Ancient Egyptian cat who lives in a temple as the living avatar of a god. The cat is surrounded by luxury, but feels discontented and trapped. Finally, the cat decides to escape and finds happiness playing with the children of a fisherman.

The story is a little simplistic and the lesson overdone, but they’re really only a vehicle anyway. What carries this book is the gorgeous artwork and the introduction to Ancient Egypt.

In particular, I was very impressed with how expressive the cat’s body language is in the pictures. It’s clear that Kiesler is very familiar with felines!

Unfortunately, my son wasn’t taken with the book. He tolerated a reading of it, but was eager to jump to something he found more exciting once I was done. Oh well, we’ll try again!

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The Secret Life of Walter Kitty by Barbara Jean Hicks (illustrated by Dan Santat)

Walter the cat (or, as he’d rather be known, Fang) introduces the reader to his world. We meet his person, Mrs. Biddle, her husband, and Walter’s active imagination.

My son loves cats, so we always try to grab at least one picture book about cats on our weekly library visit. Unfortunately, so many of them portray the cats as jerks, which my son finds confusing and a little distressing. Walter Kitty is one of those. Walter/Fang is mean-spirited and, while he eventually admits that he loves the Biddles, he puts up a posture of not caring for them that made my son feel uncomfortable.

All the humour of the story turns on Walter/Fang doing something the Biddles don’t want him doing.

That said, I did enjoy the artwork, and Walter/Fang’s facial expressions are great. I think that a less sensitive kid might find it funny, so I don’t want to say that it’s a bad book. But for us, this definitely wasn’t a hit.

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Again! by Emily Gravett

It’s time for the baby dragon to go to bed, so its parent reads it a story about Cedric the dragon who has never, in his whole life, (not once) been to bed. When the story is over, the baby dragon wants to read it again!

The illustrations are great and my son loved it when the baby dragon spits fire and burns a hole through the book (it’s an actual hole!). There’s also a theme where not sleeping makes the dragons turn red (and taking a nap makes them turn green). It’s subtle, but an interesting detail we noticed and could talk about.

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Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers (illustrated by Marla Frazee)

I quite like this book, though my kid is less than impressed. I think it may just be a quirk of his that he’s not that interested in looking at pictures of babies. I know that some of his friends are just absolutely entranced.

The text is fine, nothing special. Each page begins with “Every day, everywhere, babies are…” and names something that babies might experience, like being fed, being carried, being loved, being kissed, etc. Then there are examples of many different ways that this might happen. For example, babies might be fed by bottle, by breast, or by spoon.

Where this book really shines is in the illustrations. I absolutely loved how diverse they are, showing a baby with two (exhausted) mothers, or a crowd shot that includes two men walking hand in hand, or a white mother with two babies of colour, etc.

In both the text and the pictures, this book strongly promotes the idea that different is not scary or bad, and provides ample opportunities for discussions. As I parent, I could easily take up a whole story time just talking about one page.

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Story Time for Little Porcupine by Joseph Slate, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers

This is a sweet little picture book about a baby porcupine being taken to bed and telling stories with her/his father.

The length is good for a toddler, long enough for my kid to lull (and perhaps even fall asleep) before he has to get up and choose another book, but with few enough words per page that he wasn’t getting bored between illustrations.

Speaking of the illustrations, they were a little simplistic (with not a lot going on in the background) but very expressive, with lots of facial expressions showing a range of emotions.

I found the subject of the story very interesting, personally. The premise is that the father and his kid are telling stories to each other, and it was nice to give the child some creative voice. The stories themselves focused on the adventures of the Big Porcupine – the sun with a face – and follow the patterns of ‘Just So’ stories – the first being about how Big Porcupine got his quills (the sun’s rays), for example. The stories reminded me of El-ahrairah from Watership Down.

This is a book that my son and I were both able to enjoy together.

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The Adventures of Taxi Dog by Debra and Sal Barracca, pictures by Mark Buehner

My son and I really enjoyed The Adventures of Taxi Dog. The story is a sweet one, narrated by a stray dog who is adopted by a taxi driver and gets to ride along in the taxi and meet lots of interesting people. The message of finding pets to love is a, of course, a wonderful one.

The writing was fairly decent, though the flow got a little jagged at times. It’s a small complaint, though.

Mostly, I loved the illustrations. The pictures are full of character, with bold colours and lots of personality. Many of the scenes have all sorts of things happening in the background, and my son and I had fun telling our own stories with what we could see (such as in the very first illustration, depicting the the dog with his head out the window – in the background, is a man running across the road in front of an angry driver, a cat trying to run across the road, a man selling hot dogs, etc). There were also running “gags”, such as the black cat that appears in nearly every scene.

This was a fun book, and would be a joy to read again and again.

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