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  • Children's book reviews by Jennifer Sykes

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Going Places by Peter and Paul Reynolds

Going Places by Peter and Paul ReynoldsGoing Places, by twin brothers Peter and Paul Reynolds, is a wonderful read aloud for children in the early elementary age range.  As children grow, we tend to focus on following the rules, listening to instructions, and falling in line.  But we still value “thinking outside the box” and a children’s creativity.  It’s a difficult balance, and it’s one that we see a great example of in this book.

Rafael and his neighbor Maya are classmates, and their teacher gives each student an identical go-cart building kit for a race — the Going Places contest.   Rafael and Maya take very different approaches to building their vehicles.  He is quick, focused, and follows the directions to the letter; she looks for inspiration in nature and builds an entirely unexpected contraption.  When curiosity gets the better of Rafael, he looks at what Maya has built for the race and is critical of her design.  She replies that the rules never said you have to build a g0-cart.  The two decide to combine their designs and take on the competition.

When they arrive at the starting line, they find many identical go-carts at the starting line.  Theirs is the only one that’s different.  It’s so different, in fact, that a boy laughs at it and says they are going to lose the race.  How the story ends is not really a surprise, but the way the kids get to the finish line is significant.

Going Places shows what happens when children harness their creative spirit and work as a team to accomplish a goal.  The Reynolds brothers have created an engaging story with lovely illustrations to teach a lesson.  They reference science and art in showing the value of originality and invention.  And it is particularly worth noting that this book features characters of color.  It’s a struggle to find books that children of all ethnic groups and races can see themselves in, but this one does so beautifully.

It is rare that you find a simple, read aloud story book that is relevant and interesting to kids up to 10 years old, but Going Places is just that.

Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney

llamaIf you aren’t familiar with Anna Dewdney’s Llama series, you are missing out!  My children, nieces, and nephews have all enjoyed Llama and his drama.  Each book highlights a common early childhood problem and, more importantly, how to resolve it.  My daughters especially enjoy Llama Llama Mad at Mama, featuring a very grumpy Llama who is none too pleased to head to the grocery story with his tired, overworked mother.  Sound familiar?

I was excited to see the newest book, Llama Llama and the Bully Goat, on the shelf, knowing it would also reliably showcase a common little kid problem and a peaceful resolution.  Schools today take an initiative to talk about bullying, how to avoid it (both as a target and as a perpetrator), and how to deal with it when you see it.  So it’s really nice to see this book offer a start to that discourse for preschoolers in an age-appropriate way.

Llama is at school with his many animal friends, and Gilroy the Bully Goat starts teasing multiple classmates and causing trouble.   He goes from distracting rudeness to downright meanness through the span of the school day, and Llama gets fed up.   First he tells Gilroy that it’s not okay and that he needs to stop.  Then he talks to a teacher, who promptly handles the situation.  Being that this is a simple story with a simple moral, Gilroy is quickly reformed, joins the group in a positive way, and ends up a friend to all.

Dewdney’s rhymes are always fun to read aloud to pre-readers, and they are full of simple language that makes for easy comprehension.  Her illustrations typically feature very expressive characters that kids can easily relate to visually.  Llama Llama and the Bully Goat is no excception.   The action builds in a familiar and realistic way, and we see consequences for Gilroy and an ending that leaves everyone happy.  Together, the story and pictures offer a comfortable segue to talk about feelings and a difficult situation that most kids have experienced first-hand.

Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light

HaveSeenDragon1Steve Light has created a masterpiece.  The cover of this book gives you a clear indication of the fun that lies inside.  Its intricate, detailed black and white cityscape shows only two things in color — a little boy and his dragon.  The little boy, you learn, is hunting for his dragon.  Where will you find him?  Open the book.  He’s hiding on every page!

Light has created a book of many layers.  It is both simple and complex.  Each two-page black and white scene contains one fun object in color with a corresponding number.  Children may focus on the ascending numbers of each page turn and count the special, colorful items in the scene.  The young reader may also try to find the hidden dragon in each setting; it’s certainly an intended (and entertaining) goal.  Or one can delve into the details unrelated to the dragon or the numbers and see hundreds of charming little moments that are common in busy cities.  It takes several reads to fully appreciate all that Have You Seen My Dragon? has to offer.

This book is built around the amazing illustrations of a city.  It is so busy and energizing that it wouldn’t work well as a bedtime read, but it is definitely educational, interesting, and humorous.  Children will enjoy the order that comes with a counting book, but they’ll also enjoy the chaos of the city backdrop — monkeys stealing the zookeeper’s keys, men making deliveries, subway cars zooming by.  The exploration of an urban landscape and the number familiarity make this as much a learning book as it is a pretty book, and what isn’t made better by a cameo by a wayward dragon?

Have You Seen My Dragon? is a real delight, and it’s a book that manages to be youthful without being condescending.  Parents and children alike will enjoy this book.  It’s light on words but rich in experience.  It would make a beautiful gift for any child or family, especially ones living in a big city or headed to one on a fun adventure of their own.

 

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