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  • Children's book reviews by Jennifer Sykes

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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


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.

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.

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