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  • Children's book reviews by Jennifer Sykes

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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.

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.

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