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I Don’t Want to Be a Frog

Dev Petty, illus. by Mike Boldt. Doubleday, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-385-37866-6

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First-time author Petty’s dialogue between a frog father and his son makes its point about accepting one’s nature with a big grin. Boldt (Colors Versus Shapes) draws the two with exaggerated stringiness: the son is all rubber lips and sticky toes, his bespectacled father working as straight man. The young frog would rather be a cat, or perhaps a rabbit. “You can’t be a Rabbit,” says his beleaguered father. “Why not? Look, I can hop!” “Sure, but where are your long ears?” The small frog looks up, purses his lips, and feels around his head—nothing! “Besides,” his father adds, “what’s wrong with being a Frog?” “It’s too slimy,” the young frog replies. He wants to be a pig, then an owl, until a wolf appears—one who loves to eat cats, rabbits, pigs, and owls, but considers frogs “too wet and slimy and full of Bugs.” Now the frog sees his existence in a delightful new light. The story might create similar gratitude in the minds of readers—or it might just make them giggle. Ages 3–7. Illustrator’s agent: Jennifer Rofé, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Ready Rabbit Gets Ready!

Brenna Maloney, photos by Chuck Kennedy. Viking, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-670-01549-8

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Maloney (Socks Appeal) brings her background with stuffed sock creations to children’s books, introducing Ready Rabbit, a lollygagging school-age bunny sewn out of a striped sock, with inked facial expressions that leap from fiendish pleasure to chagrin and back again. Kennedy photographs him amid miniature toys and furniture, while crisp white backgrounds point up the chaos Ready Rabbit leaves in his wake. It’s a school morning, and reality is calling (“Ready Rabbit! You’d better pick up your toys and get ready!”), but Ready Rabbit has other ideas. Many other ideas. It’s easy to tell what kind of rabbit he is: “He knows he needs to get ready, but first he needs to build a spaceship.” The Lego spaceship that Ready Rabbit builds, the backhoe he drives, the costumes he tries on, and the discovery he makes (“Rabbits don’t wear clothes!”) keep the laughter coming and the story hurtling along. (Don’t ask about the toothpaste mess.) When Ready Rabbit finally makes it onto the school bus, readers will wish they could follow him to school. Perhaps Maloney will oblige. Ages 3–5. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Naptime with Theo and Beau

Jessica Shyba. Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-250-05906-2

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Real life never offers opportunities to sing with birds perched on one’s shoulder à la Snow White or have a talking bear for a mentor like Mowgli. But Shyba’s photos of co-napping between her toddler son, Beau, and the family’s mixed-breed rescue puppy, Theo, do a fine job of tapping into our primal fantasies of deep communion with animals. Shyba photographs the sleeping pair from a variety of loving, close-up angles, showing them back to back, in frontal embraces, and in several variations that involve Theo cuddled into some endearing crook formed by Beau’s body (one photo has the puppy snuggled into the space between Beau’s shoulder and neck). The book is based on Shyba’s popular blog and Instagram feed and has zero literary pretensions: the text consists of brief, literal captions like “Cheek to cheek and bottom to bottom.” Lover of cute dogs and cuter kids will find plenty to smile and sigh over in these ultra-sweet images. Ages 2–5. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Little Baby Buttercup

Linda Ashman, illus. by You Byun. Penguin/Paulsen, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-399-16763-8

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Ashman (Rain!) and Byun (Dream Friends) follow their eponymous heroine (who is actually a toddler) and her mother from wake-up to nighttime, eschewing any big highs or lows in favor of letting simple, endearing incidents accumulate. Sunny, digitally enhanced, watercolor-and-ink drawings show a round-faced girl with rosy cheeks and a ready smile as she turns a pancake into a hat, spots a bluebird, and rambles throughout the playground. Her mother, a steady presence, contentedly catalogues her daughter’s activities: “Spy a squirrel./ Pet a pooch/ Oh—a soggy doggy smooch!” Spraying Mom with a garden hose is the most serious transgression, and a skinned hand is quickly bandaged and kissed. Those seeking a little more pep and zip may not make it to the closing scene of Buttercup and her mother dozing on the couch. But it’s also easy to imagine how these pages could become a go-to source of calm and comfort. Ashman and Byun make a case that in both noticing and being noticed, we are loved and lucky. Up to age 2. Author’s agent: Jennifer Mattson, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Crown Affair

Jeanie Franz Ransom, illus. by Stephen Axelsen. Charlesbridge, $16.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-58089-552-1

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When Jack and Jill fell down the hill, did Jack really lose his crown, or did someone make off with it? Detective Joe Dumpty, previously seen in 2009’s What REALLY Happened to Humpty?, is on the case in this witty companion book. Tipped off that a certain other nursery-rhyme Jack might be responsible for the crown’s disappearance, Joe sets out to interrogate suspects, and his noir-flavored narration is just as much fun this time around (“Between his bum foot and his scorched bottom, Jack wouldn’t have been nimble—or quick—enough to grab the crown this morning”). Axelsen’s illustrations are packed with humorous details and cleverly reimagined Mother Goose characters, and Ransom’s references to “test[ing] positive for magic beans,” among other gags, will amuse older readers. Ages 6–9. Author’s agent: Lori Kilkelly, Rodeen Literary Management. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Puss in Boots

Joy Cowley, illus. by Sam-hyeon Kim. Big & Small (Lerner, dist.), $7.99 paper (32p) ISBN 978-1-925186-00-0

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Lush illustrations will draw readers into this gently funny adaptation of Perrault’s story, part of the publisher’s World Classics series, about the youngest of three sons lucking his way into a wife and a castle. Kim pictures the son’s inherited cat as a gray tabby with ornate red boots, shrewd facial expressions, and claws that mean business (when the cat threatens to bite and scratch field workers if they don’t tell the king who they work for, there’s little doubt he’ll make good on the threat). There’s a hint of Bruegel to Kim’s rural landscapes, as well as some understated humor—the supposedly fierce giant who owns the fields and castle the cat steals is first seen reclining lazily on a carpet, smoking a hookah. Simultaneously available: Rapunzel, The Wolf and the Seven Kids, Thumbelina, and The Emperor’s New Clothes. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel

Laura Gehl, illus. by Sarah Goodreau. Kar-Ben, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4677-2199-8

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Gehl uses the framework of Aesop’s well-known fable to give readers a brief overview of some of Israel’s cultural and topographical highlights. After visiting the beach, the opera, and musuems, Hare and Tortoise stage a race to the Dead Sea. While Hare dashes ahead, Tortoise takes time to say shalom to passersby. “Want to share my falafel?” he asks Hare innocently, after catching up to him midway through the race. Working in a milky, muted palette, Goudreau’s crisply defined illustrations successfully capture Israel’s urban bustle, geographic diversity, and leisure attractions, including the friends’ dip in the Dead Sea afterward. “Slow and steady might win the race,” Tortoise admits, “but I’m hot and sore, too.” Ages 4–7. Author’s agent: Erzsi Deàk, Hen&ink. Illustrator’s agency: Advocate Art. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Three Billy Goats Gruff

Mara Alperin, illus. by Kate Parkhurst. Tiger Tales, $7.99 paper (32p) ISBN 978-1-58925-459-6

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Part of the My First Fairy Tales line, this straightforward recounting keeps to the traditional narrative of three goat brothers outwitting a surly troll who’s bent on eating them. Though Alperin describes the troll as having “a terribly warty face” and “horribly pointy ears,” Parkhurst draws him as a smiley green cutie-pie in patchwork clothes—hardly a serious threat (the rounded knife and fork he wields don’t look like they could cut through gelatin, much less goat). Nevertheless, children should still find their sense of schadenfreude satisfied as they watch Big Gruff headbutt the troll into the river. A not-at-all-scary account best suited to youngest readers. Simultaneously available: Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Ages 3–7. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Alice in Wonderland: Down the Rabbit Hole

Lewis Carroll, retold by Joe Rhatigan and Charles Nurnberg, illus. by Eric Puybaret. Charlesbridge/Imagine!, $17.95 (28p) ISBN 978-1-62354-049-4

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Puybaret brings a playful sophistication to his dreamlike images, which are well matched to the unpredictable atmosphere of Carroll’s classic fantasy. However, this adaptation only sets out to tell the first part of Alice’s story, focusing on her helter-skelter pursuit of the White Rabbit and her fluctuating size as she samples Wonderland’s drinks, cakes, and mushrooms. The illustrator’s inventive use of perspective makes the most of these transformations (readers peer down at Alice from above as she shrinks, for example), but Alice’s literal highs and lows don’t add up to much of a story. Puybaret includes a cameo from the Cheshire Cat and an allusion to the Mad Hatter’s tea party, but these and others are left to (possible) later books. A visually enticing story, albeit one that doesn’t stand on its own. All ages. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/21/2014 | Details & Permalink

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