Oct/Nov 2009  •   Reviews & Interviews

Mice and Cats and Camels and more!

Review by Tanya Twete

Our Corner Grocery Store by Joanne Schwartz is a beautiful rendition of a little girl's day at her grandparents' store. This sweet story is a throwback to when businesses were family-owned and neighborhoods were communities of their own. When you're reading this with your child you will almost smell the produce and the dinner cooking upstairs. Try the recipe for stuffed mushrooms! My six-year old and I made them and he actually ate them! They are delicious!

The illustrations by Laura Beingessner really bring the store to life. They make the various foods so enticing that even children will get excited about broccoli. They really give that sense of an old world charm to the story and convey the daily activities so little ones can relate. My children loved finding all the items on the shelves in the pictures as I read the descriptions of what the store held and what jobs Anna Maria was doing to help her grandparents.

Our Corner Grocery Store is a delight for any parent with little kids. It will open the door for trying new foods and also teaches how families help each other just for the sake of being a family. This is an small adventure made out of an average day; simply sweet and savory.

If you have a beginning reader that is tired of first reader books and "baby" stories then you must get a copy of The Cat on the Mat Is Flat by Andy Griffiths. In my search to find engaging books for my kindergarten boy to read I have come up empty many times. This book was an immediate hit and finally got him reading because he wanted to. Terry Denton's illustrations are so cartoon-like that your child will forget that they're reading a book and feel like they're reading a comic. The black and white near-stick figures lead to ample use of the imagination but are silly enough that they keep kids giggling. (Us parents too!)

Griffiths' stories are written in Seuseian form with rhyme and rhythm so they are perfect for reading fluency development. My preschooler loves them and the fact that he can recite them. I love that my now first grader can read a story at his reading level with a few challenging words to keep him improving. They both enjoy the silly nature of the tales and the unexpected turns the plots take. From "frogs on cogs" to "bees in teas", The Cat on the Mat has so many funny scenarios that you just want to keep reading to find out what will happen next.

This is a book that parents, thankfully, won't mind reading over and over again and I have recommended it to all my friends.

Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith is a cute graphic novel that is perfect for any age. As marketed, it is the perfect first comic for brand-new readers but is so adorably illustrated that any preschooler (pre-reader) and younger children will enjoy the pictures as it is being read to them. The layout of the panels are great for getting first readers to pay attention to where they are on the page and to focus on the pattern of the story. This is a valuable skill for pre-readers so they learn to put the story, or in this case, follow the story in order. The reading level is wonderful for kindergarteners and first graders with just enough challenging words that a parent may need to help.

Personally, I love the fact that Little Mouse is about getting dressed and that the mouse does it all by himself. When I need my four year old to get dressed I have him "practice" just like little mouse. It's nice to have books like these to help little ones get excited about mundane things. My kids think the premise is so funny where a mouse gets clothes on only to remember that mice don't wear clothes. They also love the fact that it's a tale about a trip to a barn from a mouse's perspective. It really makes them think about something from another point of view.

I have added this book to my Preschool classroom and already the kids rave about it.

Jeanie Franz Ransom has taken Mother Goose rhymes and turned them into a hilarious mystery told by Joe Dumpty in What Really Happened to Humpty?. The first time I read this book, I laughed out loud. Although the dry humor and references to Mother Goose were a little lost on my boys, the story was still riveting. The suspense kept their attention and had them guessing as to what the outcome would be.

The narrator, Joe Dumpty, reminds me of Humphrey Bogart in an old detective story. The play on words and twists on old favorites by Mother Goose are great for older readers and their developing sense of humor. One would be hard pressed to find a child who didn't enjoy this title. Providing a mental work out, this "who done it" will be great for the child who loves puzzles.

I also have to mention the illustrations for by Stephen Axelrod. Cleverly drawn in comic book style utilizing original Mother Goose characteristics and colorations with a modern edge, they really add depth to the plot with their subtle visual jokes. Every time you read What Really Happened to Humpty? you'll find new things you missed before.

Finally, as parents we are always looking for books that expose our children to other cultures and to show them how lucky they are to have what they do. Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber paints a vivid picture of a little boy in Africa who has lost everything. The story begins with Muktar in an orphanage portrayed as a less than stellar student. In his daydreams we are enlightened to the facts of war, drought, deaths and his loss of community with camels. The narrative really puts the reader in the life and emotions of this young boy and written from his perspective, it is easy for young readers to empathize with Muktar's plight.

Scott Mack's illustrations set the tone for Muktar and the Camels with their hazy outlines and bold colors. You can almost feel the sun beating down and the dust in the air. His drawings show each character's rich emotions and bring you deeper into this child's life. They are a perfect match for Graber's writing.

While I feel this title is best suited for the 6 to 10 year old range due to the intellectual aspects, younger children can grasp the compassionate portrayal of a boy desperate for home and enjoy the journey of Muktar to find his place in the world, and return to his beloved camels.


Our Corner Grocery Store
by Joanne Schwartz
Illustrated by Laura Beingessner
Tundra Books 2009
ISBN: 978-0-88776-868-2

The Cat on the Mat is Flat
by Andy Griffiths
Illustrated by Terry Denton
Feiwel & Friends 2006
ISBN-10: 0-312-36787-2

Little Mouse Gets Ready
by Jeff Smith
Illustrated by Jeff Smith
RAW Junior 2009
ISBN 10: 1-935179-01-2

What Really Happened to Humpty?
By Jeanie Franz Ransom
Illustrator by Stephen Axelsen
Charlesbridge 2009
ISBN: 978-1-58089-109-7

Muktar and the Camels
By Janet Graber
Illustrated by Scott Mack
Henry Holt 2009
ISBN 10: 0-8050-7834-7


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