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  • Children's book reviews by Jennifer Sykes

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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.

 

Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino

doug-unplugged

When I first saw the title Doug Unplugged, I was able to guess the moral of this story.  On the cover, there was an adorable young robot boy holding the plug of his cord and smiling.  I have so often had to lecture my young girls about walking away from devices that I made a very simple rule for video games or computers:  If it’s not for school, no electronic devices may be used from Monday to Friday, and may only be used during limited hours on weekends… unless there’s a storm, blizzard, or robot invasion.  So I admit I come to this book with some bias.  I like my kids to “unplug.”

Doug is a sweet little robot whose robot parents want him to be as smart as possible.  They plug him in every morning so he can download all the information he could possibly need.  One day, as he was sitting there downloading, he gets distracted by a pigeon.  His curiosity gets the best of him, and he unplugs!  He wanders around his city, truly experiencing life, nature, and even friendship and love.  All those nuances and intangibles he can’t learn from his daily download are easily perceived and understood from just one day of adventure.

While this is pretty parent-oriented subject matter, Dan Yaccarino has created a very interesting story for young children from preschool to early elementary level.  His illustrations are wonderful and very Jestons-esque in their simplicity and “futuristic” appeal.  Children will be able to relate to Doug and his experiences, and maybe they’ll reflect and see that they better understand and enjoy learning when they actively participate and experience things.  This is a great book to kick off summer.  As well all pry the iEverythings and handheld games out of the grasp of our little ones, we can remind them of the fun and friendship Doug finds when he unplugs.

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