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  • Children's book reviews by Jennifer Sykes

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Bob & Rob & Corn on the Cob by Todd McQueen

robIf your kids are as silly as mine, they will definitely enjoy Todd McQueen’s Bob & Rob & Corn on the Cob.  Yes, even the title and cover make you grin.  Open the book to meet two squirrels, Bob and Rob, who happen to love corn on the cob.  They know a rabbit named Ella Mae Dobbs who most definitely does not love corn on the cob.  She’s a food snob who prefers “pan-seared tofu with carrots cut curly and hot cheese fondue.”  The squirrels attempt to convince her to taste corn on the cob by trying her favorites in return for her trying theirs.  When the corn on the cob is added to a kebab, one of Ella Mae Dobbs’ favorite foods, and heated with fire, there is a fun surprise that wins her over.

The story is very simple… and very adorable.  All kids will love the rhyme, and older kids will note how different fonts are used for effect.  There is a random robot at various points in the story, saying random things, and it really gets readers laughing.  Kids will relate to the persistence of Bob and Rob in trying to get all their friends to like their favorite thing, and some little chefs might find the refined palate of Ella Mae Dobbs similar to their own.

Where this book really shines is its illustrations.  They are quirky and playful and silly, and they are truly lovely, too.  When Rob is forced to try tofu, his little squirrel face goes green.  Ella Mae Dobs wears a fancy lace skull cap, ridiculous sunglasses (indoors?), and a stole.  Rob and Bob, themselves, are drawn in cute getups that kids will enjoy.

Lighthearted fun is expected whenever corn on the cob is being served, and this book really delivers.

Puddle Pug by Kim Norman

Puddle Pug

I have yet to read a terrible children’s book featuring a pug.  Puddle Pug, written by Kim Norman and illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi, is the latest in our family’s long line of adored stories about pugs.  If you know a pug, you know they are spirited little creatures — some naughty and grumpy, some silly and playful, and some are a fun blend of many personality traits (sometimes at the same time!).  Norman’s book features a sweet, smart pug named Percy, and he thoroughly enjoys puddles.

Percy is a canine puddle reviewer, really.  He checks out all the puddles in his neighborhood and critiques them.  He then places each on a map with a descriptor like “swampy” or “froggy” or “deeper.”  They’re all swell puddles, but they each leave just a little something to be desired.  One day he finds a puddle he hasn’t tried.  It’s a muddy puddle full of baby pigs — he calls it a friendly puddle.  He jumps in and finds his holy grail of puddles.  It is PERFECT…  except that the piglets’ mother does not want Percy around, and she kicks him out.

Percy can’t stop thinking about that perfect puddle.  He tries to find even more new puddles, but they are all wrong.  Percy goes back to the piggy puddle and tries to sneak in and woo the mama pig, but she is not having any of it.  Percy sulks and walks away.

One day, there is a storm, and a tree falls into the perfect puddle.  Mama pig cannot find the smallest of her piglets.  Percy consults his map and finds her in the smallest of nearby puddles, winning the mama pig over, and earning himself anytime access to that perfect, friendly mud puddle.

Yamaguchi’s illustrations are both playful and soothing.  You see Percy’s expressions and feelings very clearly, and the natural world he’s exploring is presented in soft earthtones.  His maps are especially adorable, with his little pug penmanship noting each known puddle.

Norman’s story is very sweet, and her style is perfect for a read aloud.  There are short sections of fun rhyming that kids will enjoy, but it doesn’t get contrived.  There are just a few sentences per page, and the voice of the narrator is peaceful and easy for even the most awkward-feeling grownup to read to a group of children.  This would be a perfect book for a teacher or guest classroom reader to share, and it’s a perfect book for mom or dad to read aloud at bedtime, too.

Found by Salina Yoon

found

Young children are skilled at finding many things while out adventuring — some good, some bad.  They often find others’ lost toys and loveys, too.  Found by author/illustrator Salina Yoon is a sweet story book that explores the drive to return something to its rightful owner while still feeling the ambivalence over doing so.

Bear finds a stuffed bunny in the forest, and he immediately starts to search for the bunny’s owner.  He makes many “found” flyers and posts them everywhere.  He seeks out “lost” flyers that the owner might have posted, but he finds none.  He takes the bunny around the forest, searching for its owner directly.  He has no luck.

During his time with the bunny, Bear starts to grow attached to it.  He spends a delightful day with bunny and is peddling around on his bike when Moose sees the bunny in Bear’s bike basket and cries out, “Floppy!”  Bear is startled and knows what he must do, and as he starts to tear up, he hands Floppy back to Moose.  The way that Moose reacts is a pleasant surprise, and Bear is rewarded for giving good care.

Simple, straightforward moral tales are great opportunities for young children to see good choices in action.  But it is discouraging when the characters in the story don’t have the same feelings as children might have in the same situation.  That’s where Yoon’s book’s sweetness and honesty really sets it apart.  Bear is conflicted!  He is sad.  He obviously doesn’t really want to give up his new friend, especially after working so hard to find its home.  He does return it to Moose, of course, but Yoon highlights his emotional response.

The one minor quibble I have with the story is that Moose, being older and surprisingly rational, decides that Floppy is better off with a younger animal… like Bear.  So Bear’s true reward for his kindness and selflessness is to keep the bunny.  A similar scenario in real life is not likely to play out so perfectly, but the story gives ample opportunity to talk about the range of emotions one might feel and the possibility of other outcomes, too.

Yoon’s illustrations are adorable, modern, and warm.  The visuals are a bright, clean balance to the text.  The story is engaging without being overwhelming or too packed with detail, making it a perfect read for toddlers through early elementary-aged children.

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