Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Written by Kay Winters

Illustrated by Renée Andriani

(Dutton Children’s Books, 2010)

While first day jitters are normal when starting back to school, most students and adults also have hopes and dreams about the new year. This year will be different. This year will be better.

This book is a great back to school discussion starter. As one girl joins her class on the first day, her teacher asks the students, “What do you hope will happen this year?” Each student then shares an idea, some comical (e.g., “We’ll have a chocolate fountain at lunch!”), some more serious resolutions like the personally relatable “I won’t lose things in my desk.”

You may race through this breezy book on the first read, but it is worth a more studied second viewing as Renée Andriani’s drawings are highly amusing. My personal favorite is for “We’ll have Skateboard Day” as a student gives a thumbs up to the teachers doing xtreme maneuvers down the stairwell (albeit without helmets).

Use this book with your own child or class. Books can be wonderful ways to begin a conversation. The ideas and pictures will relax young readers and prompt them to share their own hopes and dreams for a new year of learning.

Monday, August 29, 2011


By Rob Scotton

(HarperCollins, 2008)

I had to buy this book after my first quick flip through the pages. The illustration on the second page, an anxious Splat the Cat taking refuge under the sheets yet still visible through the thin layer, struck me as truly remarkable. I am a fledgling stick figure artist at best so I stared in awe at the delightful drawing. How did Rob Scotton do that?!

Okay, so why is Splat so anxious that he needs to hide in bed? It is the morning of his first day at Cat School. Yes, this is a wonderful book to share with young readers worried about the start of kindergarten, a new school or simply a new school year. For many students (and adults, both parents and teachers), there is excitement about school but there are also the nagging What Ifs.

Splat’s Mom must get him out of bed and off to school, no easy feat since the young feline puts up a strong resistance. When he grabs his lunchbox, Splat sneaks Seymour, his pet mouse, inside. Best not to face the first day alone.

Despite being welcomed by Mrs. Wimpydimple, and classmates, the anxiety persists. Splat barrages his teacher with questions. Lunch offers a reprieve for Mrs. Wimpydimple, but not for Splat. Chaos erupts when, surrounded by cat classmates, Splat opens the lunchbox, revealing his pet. A mouse in a roomful of can imagine.

Scotton, who also wrote and illustrated Russell the Sheep, doesn’t waste a word of text in telling this engaging story. I have read this book many times to classes and students smiles and laugh at the pictures throughout the book. Whether or not you are worried about the coming school year, Splat the Cat is an entertaining read.

Friday, August 26, 2011


By David Macaulay

(Houghton Mifflin, 2002)

This picture book comes as a surprise. I know David Macaulay as the analytical thinker and an architect who explains to younger readers how structures are built in books like Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction, Castle and The Way Things Work. In Angelo, however, a building only provides the backdrop to a story about an aging Italian worker and a sickly pigeon.

Angelo, the worker, is involved in a meticulous restoration of the sculptural facade of a church. Pigeons who fail to respect the beauty of the structure are partly responsible for his painstaking work. Yet, he discovers one of the birds near death in a crevice and rescues it, hoping to find someone to take it off his hands. He instead nurses the bird back to good health and the two become companions. In time, it is Angelo whose health fails and the bird, by then named Sylvia, attempts to care for him.

Before presenting this book to young readers, know that there isn’t necessarily a traditional happy ending. Still, one character leaves a legacy to care for the other.

This is a touching story about an unusual bond, the aging process and, to a lesser extent, building restoration. It stays with the reader, memories instantly triggered upon glimpsing Macaulay’s detailed, terra cotta-hued drawings. Flip through for a closer look at how the artist provides different perspectives of the church and Rome throughout the book. Ultimately, when considering all aspects of Angelo, the book shares something in common with Macaulay’s other works: there is much to explore during repeat visits.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Written by Eric Litwin

Illustrated by James Dean

(Harper, 2008)

Author/musician Eric Litwin is a cup half full kind of guy. His character, Pete the Cat, displays the same sunny side up disposition, loving his brand new white shoes, adorning each of his paws.

For most cats, wearing shoes would not be a happy predicament, but Pete so loves his white shoes that he sings a ditty about them.

For a roaming kitty, white doesn’t stay white for long. The shoes change color as Pete trods through such things as a pile of strawberries. The whiteness is gone! Pete may not have expected this, but rather than whine, cry or meow mournfully, Pete simply changes his tune a tad and goes with it.

The reader can easily create his own rhythm or chant for the simple song lyrics. Perhaps AFTER doing this, go to YouTube to see the book performed, song and all, by the author and friends. (Note that illustrator James Dean stands to Litwin’s left, holding the book during the reading.) Warning: the jingle sticks with you like an ear worm. (But that’s good, right? Remember...cup half full.)

This is a simple story that can be read over and over again. (It only takes a few minutes.) The message is clear: have fun, stop whining, be resilient. Not everyone wants to hear that message directly. This colorful, cheerful picture book may help the “Woe is me” set snap out of it.

At the very least, the reader may rush out to expand his Converse shoe collection. I’ve got green, blue, gray, brown and black. Next up: purple!

Monday, August 22, 2011


By Berkeley Breathed

(Scholastic, 1992)

As children (and adults), we are afraid of things we can’t see, things with horrible reputations: the bogeyman; the hermit three doors down with sharp pruners and a lawn littered with “Keep off the Grass” signs; and, as Berkeley Breathed reminds us, the “razor-horned, slobbery-fanged beast” known as the Last Basselope.

Don’t remember tales of the Last Basselope? Oh, we humans are skilled at repressing that which we cannot handle. Breathed gets us up to speed, explaining that basselopes—yes, think Basset hound/antelope—date back to dinosaur days, where their presence caused “ripsnorting dinosaur pandemonium” among the lesser beasts. (And they were all lesser beasts.)

Now only one basselope remains. Opus, Breathed’s beloved penguin from Bloom County days, fancying himself as a Great and Famous Discoverer, decides to lead an expedition to find the elusive creature. He is joined, reluctantly, by his TV-addicted cohorts, Bill the Housecat, Milquetoast the Housebug and Ronald-Ann the Housekid.

As with the Abominable Snowman, the Grinch and the Cowardly Lion, the Last Basselope is woefully misunderstood, but not everyone is interested in correcting the hype.

Opus is a lovably goofy character who instantly captivates here. (No wonder Breathed continued to develop storylines around the penguin in the comics Outland and Opus.) While the text per page is more than current picture books, each sentence adds an extra layer of humor and characterization to the story. The illustrations are perfect complements that will cause the reader/listener to go back and forth from words to pictures. As the troop sets off, Bill the Housecat must lug a load that includes hefty boxes of gummy bears and marshmallows as well as a container labeled “Moose-Off”. A reference to Opus falling asleep with “a deadly weapon at the ready” is depicted by the penguin gripping the edge of his blanket while grasping a fly swatter.

There are deeper messages in this book about endangered species, newshounds and children’s reluctance to explore the outdoors, but the story comes first—and it’s an amusing, whimsical tale that carries on in the tradition of A.A. Milne.

Friday, August 19, 2011


By Jim LaMarche

(HarperCollins, 2000)

This is a quiet summer story that will capture a boy’s imagination during the dog days of August. Inspired by his own childhood at the cottage, Jim LaMarche’s The Raft begins with Nicky sulking in the car as his father drives to Nicky’s grandmother’s riverside cottage where the boy will spend the summer. Nicky laments, “There’s nobody to play with. She doesn’t even have a TV.”

One day when fishing from a dock, Nicky eyes an object drifting down the river. It floats right to the dock. He sees animal drawings all over the raft’s surface. Over the course of the summer, this raft becomes Nicky’s hangout and his transport, sometimes with Grandma, sometimes without.

There is something magical about this raft, its art or both. Animals of all kinds are drawn to it, allowing Nicky to observe them and, in time, draw them.

For teachers, this book is a springboard to a writing brainstorming session based on the oft-stated advice, Write what you know. The author’s note at the beginning of the book makes clear that the story stems from LaMarche’s own experiences. A class can reflect on the note and the story and speculate as to what parts are real and what parts are enhanced or wholly imagined. Students can then take some of their own memories and change them from journal entries to fiction by adding a few What If twists.

LaMarche’s paintings are exquisite, with golden glows of sun and sand and murky greens of river and trees. Flip through and study Nicky’s face, transforming from bored and full of despair on his first unsuccessful fishing venture to alive and focused as he sketches a crane that lands on the raft.

At times, the animal attraction to the raft seems overdone, with Nicky and the raft comparing to Snow White and her ability to engage with critters of the woods. Still, The Raft will inspire a boy to long for a trip to a river or lake, alert to observe and interact with natural surroundings. Every child should be so lucky to be in the moment and forget all about TVs, computers and the latest game gadgets.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


By Anna Nilsen

Illustrations by Andy Parker

(Kingfisher, 2000)

When this book first came out, I scooped it up, introduced it to my class and then had to mediate disputes over whose turn it was to get a chance to have it. Students arguing over books? Ah, yes, this was a real find.

Published in association with the National Gallery in London, Art Fraud Detective begins with in a graphic novel format with realistic illustrations by Andy Parker. (Think of the style for the movie version of The Polar Bear Express.) An old and perhaps not too alert security guard at the Museum of Art receives an anonymous phone call, telling him that 30 out of 34 of the museum’s European masterpieces are, in fact, forgeries. Competing art gangs have replaced originals with worthless fakes.

The reader is asked to determine which paintings are originals and which are forgeries. The rival gangs “brand” their forgeries with their gang symbols (i.e., fish, star, tree, bird). Moreover, each gang member’s work is identifiable based on the number of changes (i.e., 1-4) made in the forgery.

The book is a higher concept version of I Spy or Where’s Waldo. While students will gaze at the book until blurry eyed, one may question how much reading occurs. There is a catalog with the original works, backgrounds about the artists and notes about the particular paintings. Students can pass on reading any of this information while still solving the art crimes.

I’ve witnessed students skipping most of the reading, but a few eye-catching works such as Botticelli’s “Venus and Mars”, Massys’ “A Grotesque Old Woman” and Delaroche’s “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” pique student interest to warrant at least some skimming.

Even if students pass on the reading, Nilsen’s book is a remarkable achievement. Imagine elementary students passing through a gallery. Most will fail to give paintings like Raphael’s portrait of Pope Julius II a second look, yet when given an art fraud crime solving mission, they will study it closely to find a single change made in the forgery. (Knowing there could be up to four changes makes readers/viewers examine the picture even longer.)

Art Fraud Detective may help students find more enjoyment from books and/or art. If it accomplishes one, mission accomplished. Both? Pure genius!

Monday, August 15, 2011


Written by Jennifer LaRue

Illustrated by Edward Koren

(Schwartz & Wade Books, 2010)

Sometimes I buy a children’s book without giving the slightest thought to kids. Sometimes I think the book might be the perfect entertaining/learning experience for me. With a title like How to Clean Your Room in 10 Easy Steps, Jennifer LaRue’s book was an irresistible purchase during an exciting hunt at the outstanding Powell’s Books in Portland. Biggest selling point? LaRue was pitching EASY steps for cleaning. Oh, show me the way!

I have a feeling that many boys and girls will be just as intrigued by the title. There are natural cleaners and then there are perennial avoiders, a phenomenon I witness every time I visit a kindergarten class and the teacher announces that Center Time is over.

The book opens with the girl in 10 Easy Steps showing us her tidy room. I don’t like her. Truth be told, I’m envious. The girl asserts that she will show us wayward folks how to clean our rooms, too. “The first thing we need is a messy room. The messier, the better.”

Okay, got that. Does that count as a step?

Alas, it does not.

But, lo and behold I have mastered the first step: “Always wait until your mother hollers, ‘GET UP THERE AND CLEAN YOUR ROOM—NOW!’ using all three of your names.” Changed my mind. I like you, Ann Erica Kelly.

Yes, LaRue’s text is most definitely relatable. This is a cheeky account of cleaning and all the distractions that arise during the agonizing, tedious process. After advising the reader to dump EVERYTHING in the middle of the room, young Ann advises that you “plunk yourself down, pick a doll out of the pile, and braid her hair until someone comes up to scream at you again.” We’ve all been there, haven’t we? If not a doll having a bad hair day, then there’s a torn hockey card that needs urgent repairs or a dead beetle that needs a suitable eulogy—and a name (Ringo? Eleanor Rigby?) Perhaps a Google search on bug genders is also warranted.
Yes, LaRue knows how futile it is to tame a mess. Long forgotten toys are suddenly indispensable. The closet transforms into a booby trap.

Ann is a model in cleverness. As she brainstorms new ways to organize her bookshelves, she takes a breather and opens up a favorite. “If your mother gets mad at you for dawdling, act surprised and say, ‘But I though you like it when I read.’” Okay, I don’t just like you; you’re my hero!

I have a feeling Ann Kelly will grow up to be a fine elementary teacher. These adults hold onto everything: egg cartons, milk jugs, toilet paper all can be repurposed! Methinks these teachers should cut their packrat protégés some slack.

Edward Koren’s illustrations bear a remarkable resemblance to the work of Mercer Mayer. The art itself appears busy, cluttered. It is not as striking as some of the fine drawings in many of today’s picture books, but the style fits the book’s subject matter.

The fastidiously clean folks of the world will hate this book. Humor? Where?! This book is DANGEROUSLY subversive. The rest of us will embrace it, taking comfort in knowing that Martha Stewart was once a criminal.

Friday, August 12, 2011


By Stephen Cook

(Walker & Company, 2006)

Day Out with Daddy plays on the old-fashioned stereotype of fathers being clueless around the house (and beyond) and contravening every well-intentioned routine mothers put into place as the responsible parent. Are there still Homer Simpson dads out there? Sure, but parental roles and responsibilities are more blurred than they were when I was growing up. Regardless, I doubt author/illustrator Stephen Cook wants this book to be anything more than an amusing read. That’s just what young readers will see it for so I am going to chuck my thinking cap on a hat rack for now.

What is readily apparent after the first few pages is that Stephen Cook the artist loves to make the pages pop with bright colors. There is no white space as the images flood each page. The faces of humans and animals are simply drawn in comic book style, but the backgrounds contain significant detail, especially a spread depicting Daddy multitasking while attempting to cook dinner. The illustrations are the highlight of the book.

As the title makes clear, Daddy is in charge for the entire day as Mommy heads out of down. (At first, I thought she had a briefcase in hand, off for a business trip, but on closer viewing she seems to be holding a suitcase. I shall stick to my original impression of mom as a working woman and put that cap of mine further out of reach. Let it blow out an open window.)

After the young boy eagerly awakens Daddy, he helps Daddy make his bed. The corresponding picture shows father and son gleefully bouncing on the makeshift trampoline. Breakfast is sugar-saturated feast and off they go for a day of adventure at a petting zoo and the ballpark before returning home for a dinner that doesn’t go as planned.

This is a simple, playful book; completely innocuous if you treat it all with a sense of humor. Even responsible parenting can take a brief vacation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


By Stephen Krensky

(Lerner Publications, 2007)

Upfront admission: I have zero interest in the vampire craze in movies, television and books. Still, I checked out Stephen Krensky’s 48-page nonfiction book Vampires, genuinely curious to see how the subject is presented to young readers. (I would say this book is intended for students in grades four and five.)

The book starts out strongly, with a playful, informative writing style. Krensky notes, “A vampire peasant...might come back from the grave seeking revenge against a cruel nobleman....But what if, on the way to the nobleman’s castle, the new vampire ran into someone else, someone he didn’t even know? Well, he would probably stop for a little snack” (p. 8). There is no citation to any research to support this “fact” about vampire folklore, but it will amuse nonetheless.

Krensky refers to ancient depictions of vampires across different cultures before devoting the remainder of the book to vampire versions originating in Eastern Europe, finding their way into nineteenth century literature and then being popularized in movies and television. As he provides nutshell summaries of many movies, the book—you know the following phrase is irresistible—loses its bite. Krensky loses an understanding of the book’s target audience. I doubt young readers will care about the 1960s TV show “Dark Shadows” or even Stephen King’s 1975 book Salem’s Lot. A one-page chronology of vampires in film and television would suffice.

Other sections deserve more depth, including the aforementioned early references to vampires across cultures. Each rendition ought to have at least a full page. Children would be interested in learning more about vampire children known as dhampirs, a topic that gets only a three-sentence sidebar. As well, the real medical disorders lumped together as porphyria deserve more than the sidebar treatment. Here is a chance to chronicle how a real condition has been lumped with vampire folklore. Further, the single paragraph about Count von Count on “Sesame Street” could be expanded as a twist on the scarier vampires in entertainment. Same with the Bunnicula book series. Quotes from a “Sesame Street” producer and author James Howe would strengthen the research base for the book. While not as scary as many depictions, these references to vampires are more relatable to the book’s target audience than Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.

It is also unfortunate that, just as the book loses its potency, a few glaring errors arise. A movie photo of George Hamilton in the 1979’s “Love at First Bite” is credited in a caption as being from the 1995 movie starring Leslie Nielsen, “Dracula: Dead and Loving It”. Moreover, on two consecutive pages (38 and 39), the text fails to carryover to the next page, unfortunate publishing oversights. These errors support a hunch that there was a desire to rush this book into the vampire-crazed publishing market.

As a nonfiction book, the high interest subject matter in Vampires may prove useful in showing how to use text features such as a table of contents, headings, captions, sidebars, a bibliography, internet links and an index.

I recommend that young readers suck up what they can from the first thirty pages and then move on to a book about werewolves, haunted houses or, so as not to alarm parents and teachers, a gentle book on butterflies. Best to keep the adults a little perplexed.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Written by Florence Parry Heide

Illustrated by Jules Feiffer

(Candlewick Press, 2000)

This book is one long list of things that are, yes, scary. Who can’t relate to that? It is a perfect springboard to talking about our own fears. Acknowledging them is the first step, isn’t it? But then, knowing what you’re afraid of and not having a clue how to deal with it is scary...

Illustrated by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer, the images have a classic look to them. Take a quick flip through just to look at the unnamed boy’s eyes, which alternate between popping out, blurring and seemingly retreating.

Readers will be hooked from the first page, the words “Getting hugged by someone you don’t like is scary” accompanied by a drawing of a huge, red-dressed, red-lipped woman smothering the helpless boy in her arms. There are examples of funny-scary such as “Skating downhill when you haven’t learned how to stop is scary.” And then there are serious, heart-wrenching kinds of scary: “Finding out your best friend has a best friend who isn’t you is scary.”

It is a quick book that may become frequently requested bedtime reading. I can envision families adding their own amusing and realistic scary ideas that can be interwoven with the text. As well, students could brainstorm and create a class sequel, Some Other Things Are Scary. So much potential: fishhooks, math tests, liver and onions. I could go on. How about you?

Friday, August 5, 2011


Written by Randall de Sève

Illustrated by Loren Long

(Philomel Books, 2007)

This story is basically a variation on Dorothy’s statement, “There’s no place like home.”

Instead of a tornado, it is a storm that separates a character from the ho-hum comforts of home.

The character is a boat, one pieced together from “a can, a cork, a yellow pencil, and some white cloth” by a boy who adores the little toy. While content, the boat has moments of wanderlust. The storm brings on a case of be-careful-what-you-wish-for.

At sea, toy boat encounters a tugboat, a ferry and other vessels, each imploring the bitty boat to “Move along!” In Loren Long’s glorious illustrations, the watercraft take on human faces, the eyes being what young readers notice most. There is a desolate, yet breathtaking double page spread where the toy boat, sails sagging, floats alone in a sea swell as the moon cries. Another exquisite illustration depicts the boy and the boat, reunited on a dock as the sun sets.

It’s an endearing story, able told by de Sève, but this book is an example of art not just complementing the text but wholly overshadowing it. Loren Long is one the most talented children’s illustrators today.

Boys will enjoy gazing at all sorts of boats in the book. Adults will simply pause to take in the beauty.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


By Gary Larson

(HarperCollins, 1998)

When the creator of The Far Side publishes a picture book, you know it is going to be a little different. Before we even get to his trademark cartooning style of illustrations, the book opens with a foreword. In a picture book? By two-time Pulitzer Prize winning biologist Edward O. Wilson?! Kids will surely skip this part, but Wilson duly notes, “Life is tough! There is no free lunch, and what one creature consumes, another must provide.” He sums up with, “Nature is to be loved, cherished, admired, and yes, poetically celebrated…but, above all, understood.”

Larson’s tale highlights human misunderstandings about nature. We miscast some creatures such as Gray squirrels as adorable furballs when, in truth, they are a non-indigenous creature that, according to Larson, dominates the native Red squirrels. (Methinks Mr. Larson compromises his credibility, however, when he depicts cigarette-smoking Grays—one sporting an “I kicked Thumper’s ass” t-shirt—swarming a Red, demanding the surrender of a coveted acorn. How, oh how, did that get by an editor?! Tee hee.) Other animals are unduly reviled such as the harmless, kissable slug. (At last, a slug defender! See, contra, my recent review of Some Smug Slug.)

The story begins exactly as the title states. As Mother Worm, Father Worm and their son (“little worm”) sit down to eat, the youngest discovers a hair in his dirt. This leads to a tantrum, with the little worm grumbling about his status as a worm. “We’re the lowest of the low! Bottom of the food chain! Bird food! Fish bait! What kind of life is this, anyway?”

Father Worm responds with a story about Harriet, a beautiful, young maiden who sets off on a nature walk. She’s a classic Larson character, a doofus who misinterprets everything she sees.

Larson inserts many teachable moments about nature, interwoven in subtle and not so subtle ways. A case of the latter: “Occasional fires (if certain two-legged vertebrates would just let them run their course) benefit the forest by keeping all that dangerous ‘kindling’ from piling up.” True, but a little heavy-handed. The sentence that follows attempts to lighten the tone: “But, boy, if it does pile up, WHOOSH!, better watch your anterior end.” Groan. Dr. Seuss provided more thinking on the part of the reader in his classic environmental tale, The Lorax.

There are sight gags on every page. A hapless spider bumbles with his web design and pulls out the manual (“Read all instructions first”). As the maiden waves at gentle, big-hearted Lumberjack Bob driving by a section of the forest where “the trees thinned out”, a careful viewer will spot a squished critter on the tire treads. A bear carries jars of tartar sauce as his buddies hold a fallen fisherman while the lovely Harriet marvels at the salmon jumping upstream.

Ultimately, when Harriet saves a cute creature from a reviled one, this leads to her own demise. The little worm learns its own value in the nature of things and, yes, the source of the hair in the plateful of dirt.

This is a quirky, twisted tale, just what you’d expect from Gary Larson. His comics often portray animals in a different light. It should come as no surprise that this book does as well. The surprise though is that it might be the springboard to Internet research on Amazon ants, tortoises, and (as in my case) Edward O. Wilson.

The book is nothing like the lollipop-eating Very Hungry Caterpillar. It’s deeper than Diary of a Worm. It has the same appreciation for nature as Make Way for Ducklings, but approaches the subject in an unorthodox manner, the “Aww” factor replaced by a dose of the “Eww” factor. I’d like to believe there is room on the shelf for each of them.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Written by Don Gillmor

Illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay

(Stoddart Kids, 2000)

I call this story “Moonstruck, Junior” but the original title is pretty catchy itself. In fact, when I discovered this book a decade ago, the words on the spine proved irresistible. How could I not be intrigued? The title seemed to capture every young boy’s thoughts about princesses who insisted on being kissed. (Yeah, let ‘em sleep.)

The first two sentences of Gillmor’s text are perfect: “Austin Grouper had a brown dog named Fresco, a best friend named Sternberg, and a red bicycle. His life was full.” Stop right there. Copy that on a Post-it and slap it on your bathroom mirror. Ah, the beauty of simplicity!

But the story does go on. Lo and behold, Austin’s world is rocked when a family with a girl his age moves in next door. Amy. Austin’s response: “Yuck.” No exclamation mark even. Why bother?

Of course, Austin’s mom does the mother thing, insisting he go over to greet the new neighbour. He forgoes hello and immediately dazzles with his dinosaur knowledge. She is not impressed. As a result, neither is he.

Apparently Austin cannot help himself. He continues to try to get Amy’s attention. It’s futile. At one point, she says the unthinkable: “Dinosaurs had very small brains.”


For her birthday, Austin goes for broke. His gift involves the moon and “a very, very long rope.” Let’s leave it at that. For me, the tale goes a little astray (as does Austin) at this point, but it ends most appropriately with Austin and Amy reaching an understanding.

Gillmor’s tale captures Austin’s simultaneous feelings of repulsion and attraction to the new neighbor. Why is she so...different? The author adds whimsical details, worthy of smiles if not chuckles. On repeated reads, children will focus more on different parts of the story. The details will pop.

As always Gay (author-illustrator of the Stella and Sam series) enhances the story with her quirky, endearing illustrations which jump out from soft backgrounds of blue, purple and green. For starters, in her drawings, kids’ hair seems to have its own personality. As well, I am a sucker for picture books with the same animals popping up in almost every scene. Here it is Fresco the dog. If only the pooch could remind the seemingly smitten Austin that life was indeed full enough, pre-Amy!

Alas, love looms.