Weekly Readings X

 Weekly Readings X (10)

Welcome one and all to another edition of Weekly Readings!

 

For those new here, Weekly Readings is when your lit. rat reviews books I’ve read here and there.

 

While T.A.A. focuses on animal stories, we do give humans their due now and again…

 

Last week, we did our first leap in to middle grade novels after spending the last two years establishing our picture book reviews, but this week we’re back to picture books.

 

 

This week, T.A.A.’s going “Back to School” with some books for the young scholar (or scholars) in your life.

 

 

We originally meant to time this with the start of the (U.S.) 2014-2015 school year.

 

But life and tech happens, and hey, sometimes “Better late than never” is NOT the worst thing in the world! (Just a word to the wise and SANE from your lit. rat)

 

 

In this double feature review session, we’ve got a tried and true dynamic duo who’ve earned their honors, and a freshman fighting for the right to read who’d make recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai proud-

 

A Library Book For Bear

 

A Library Book For Bear

by Bonny Becker

Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

Publisher: Candlewick Press (@Candlewick)

Pub. Date: July 22nd, 2014

 

The curmudgeonly ursine and unflappable rodent have been charming and cracking up readers since their inaugural outing, “A Visitor for Bear” WAY back in 2008-

 

 

A Visitor For Bear

 

 

Thankfully, the dawn of the “Great Recession”

didn’t take this duo out with it.

 

As the title of this recent installment implies, we’re heading to one your lit. rat’s favorite places, but guess who’s not yet jazzed about the concept…

As usual, set in his ways Bear thinks he has all the books he needs at home. (Something my grandma might wish was my mindset, given the MANY books in this lit. rat’s private library, without actually having a dedicated library room…)

 

But ever the patient “Agony Uncle”Mouse tries to get his grumpy buddy bear (not to be confused with THE Grumpy Bear of “Care Bears” fame) to take a bite out of the literary melting pot we lovingly call: the library!

 

Once again, author Bonny Becker (who wrote one of my fave under-appreciated novels, “Holbrook – A Lizard’s Tale“) and illustrator Kady MacDonald Denton team up for the 5th time reminding readers young and old that libraries ROCK!

 

Another way you can support authors you love, while feeding your reader addiction even when you’re on a tighter budget than you’d like.

 

It’s also important for those of us more able to buy books to help our libraries out by donating new or gently used copies, especially library systems like my hometown of Detroit, Michigan (aka T.A.A. HQ),that’s so cash strapped even titles from just LAST YEAR (of the book’s pub. date) aren’t available in the system.

 

Which often means I can’t always find books I want to read and/or review via DPL (Even through inter-library loan).

 

It’s something I plan to take action on for 2015, more on that in the near future…

 

Out next title is the new kid on the block (not the musical group) that I’m so psyched to share-

 

 

Rufus Goes To School

Rufus Goes to School

by Kim T. Griswell

Illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev

Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books (@SterlingBooks)

Pub. Date: August 6th, 2013

 

 

Rufus Leroy Williams III (you can just call him Rufus) is a little piglet, with a BIG, yet simple dream-

 

To read his favorite book, that at the moment he only can follow from the pictures.

 

Rufus decides to send himself to school so he can learn to read.

 

But has a heck of a time convincing the principal to let him attend.

 

He seems to confuse earnest pig Rufus for “The Big Bad Wolf” of Grimm’s fame, not in the man-eating sense, but thinking him more a preordained bully than potential scholar, thankfully Rufus remains unflappable in his quest to attend school.

 

How does he win this misguided principal over? You’ll have to read

and find out.

 

Valeri Gorbachev’s illustrations have this warm, unassuming charm matching well with Kim’s narrative, using repetition and rhythm to great effect.

 

The warm tone to the illustrations reminds me of the late and great Fred Marcelino, and dare I say, the legendary Richard Scarry, but his style’s all his own.

Swinebert and Dempsey Title Cover #2

Given the piggy nature of this book, I’ve asked Swinebert Glockchester (from T.A.A. FM’s “Swinebert & Dempsey”) to share his thoughts on the book-

 

 

Swinebert: This book reminds me of my nephew Trug’s first day of school-

TRUG-2.5

He’s in 4th grade now, but when he first went to school, he was just as eager as Rufus to learn to read. 

 

Thankfully his school was open to him from the start, though Trug told me the janitor looked at him in a “Scary Mean” way whenever he saw him.

 

Apparently, he’d been told the myth that pigs are always messy and smelly slobs that would make his job all the harder.

 

Let me make one thing clear, it’s true we pigs like to get messy and muddy, but we’re not all slobs in every circumstance, and as far as Trug and me, we know there’s a time and place to be muddy and a time to be clean and neat, and at school (especially a human/nonhuman school like Trug’s) it’s best to be clean and neat!

 

SWINEBERT (YOUTH)That said, I went to an all piglet school when I lived on a ranch outside of New York City, and we did have a “Mud Bath” period, but we always showered off afterwards.

 

 

 

 

 

(Swinebert  in the flush of youth)

 

Reading “Rufus Goes to School” brought back all those memories of Trug’s (and yours truly) first days of school: the good times, bad times, sad times, and all the times in-between.

 

 

Swinebert (Grown Up 1.5)

Uncle Swinebert's Signature (FINAL)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow  Swinebert (and his feline pal, Dempsey) on Twitter via @Swinebert_and_D

 

facebook-346725←They’re also on Facebook!

 

 

 

That’s it for Weekly Readings. See you next

time!

 

NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: If my ramblings convinced you to buy one or more of the books mentioned above, please support T.A.A. by clicking on the affiliate cover images above or links within the review(s).

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Weekly Readings (Stanley & Katrina Edition)

Weekly Readings (Stanley & Katrina Edition)

 

Welcome to another edition of 

Weekly Readings! 

 

Usually, Weekly Readings is when your lit. rat reviews a mix of picture books I’ve read here and there.

 

Stan and Katrina 2014

This week is a special edition of Weekly Readings, because we’re spotlighting two new voices in the fantastical fauna landscape who’ll be stopping by T.A.A. as part of their “Book Blasty Tour.” 

Up to now, we’ve only reviewed picture books so far on T.A.A, but Weekly Readings is slowly expanding into middle grade (and some YA) novels, and we’re kicking that off right now-

 

Stanley and Katrina 1-2

The Perpetual Papers of the Pack of Pets/The Observations of the Obstreperous Animals

(Stanley & Katrina Books 1 and 2)

by Stanley & Katrina (@StanleyNKatrina)

Illustrated by Miro Chun

Katrina von Cat, The Master of Wisdom and knowledge, is used to being the center of her universe, but since the arrival of scrappy dog Stanley, Katrina’s universe has been starkly realigned, and she’s not happy about it!

 

Throw in the, aspiring astronaut, quirky alien obsessed  Guinea pig next door, “Mr.  Fluffypants” (but rather you address him as Zorg), and you’ve got recipe for mayhem, misadventures, and Shenanigans that make the legendary “Tom and Jerry” look like bosom buddies. 

 

(Though thankfully, neither Stan nor Katrina can wield branding irons, swords or anvils at each other [far as I know], as I’m pretty sure their pet insurance doesn’t cover pet on pet warfare…)

 

Given the pet-centric trappings of these books, I decided I needed to get the pet perspective, and who better than T.A.A. FM’s own canine-feline duo, Guido & Bonnie (@GuidoandBonnie) to share their thoughts on the books-

 

GUIDO's GLAM SHOT

 

GUIDO 2

 

First up, I’ve got to say I’m the luckiest dog in the world, I’ve got a great home, stellar food, and I actually love hanging with my feline right-paw, Bonnie, and reading the funny and offbeat misadventures of Stanley and Katrina reminds of how lucky I am.

 

Stanley, I know you and Katrina have issues co-mingling, and I so get it. When Bonnie and I first met, we did not get along, either.

 

But we found ways to make it work, and I’ll share with you (and any other internet-savvy dogs out there) some tips on inter-species bonding-

 

1. Find ONE thing you like about your pet roomie

(and ask yourself why)

 

For me, I like that Bonnie keeps me grounded, but still lets me express my craziest (and sometimes brilliant) ideas.

Because we wouldn’t be in the pet advice/entertaining business had we not met, and Bonnie was hesitant to put herself out there after being burnt out in her short stint as a show cat in the pageant circuit.

 

Having gone through it yourself you know it’s not for everyone.

The best part about working on our upcoming show is that we work with our team, we don’t have to dress up if we don’t want to, and we can set our own hours and pace.

 

You might want to ask Taurean J. Watkins (who works with Bonnie and me) about working with T.A.A.  (He’s a very accommodating director/producer, always on the lookout for talent, he works a bit slow, but it’s always worth the wait!) Okay, back to the tips-

 

2. When you have a fight, try to see it from their POV (Point of

view) 

 

This is common trait among writers such as ourselves, but also makes sense in relationships, especially inter-species relationships.

 

Bonnie likes to be laid back and pragmatic.

 

Whereas I’m the take charge, balls to the wall, Go-Getter type!

 

While that definitely leads to disagreement, we also benefit from it.

 

Bonnie’s learned from me to be a little more daring, and I learned from her to be more methodical in my ambitions.

 

We learned from each other the best parts of our POVs which might otherwise really annoy us about each other to better our relationship.

 

You and Katrina can do that, too.  

 

3. Meet Each Other Half Way

Even though Bonnie and me are friends now, we also have things about each other that still get our dander up (and for us pets with fur, that play on words is SERIOUS business!)

 

That’s why we best describe our friendship as B.F.F.Bs

 

(Meaning: Best Friends Forever with Boundaries)

 

Setting up boundaries is vital for ANY relationship. but especially with those we spend the most time working and/or living with.

 

Since Bonnie and I live AND work together, we make the effort to respect the others quirks and ticks (and NOT the kind we call 1-800-

PetMeds for, LOL!)

 

Bonnie likes to be as laid back and centered as possible, where I’m the happy-go-lucky, hyper-emotional type.

 

So when we both want to do something together, but can’t agree on how to do it, we meet halfway, so we each get a little of what we want. Hope those tips help you out, Stan (is it okay if I call you “Stan?”)

 

 

 

BONNIE GLAM SHOT

 

 

 

Bonnie SignatureLike Guido said above, I too have a lot to be thankful for, my home, the great food, and my girl Andrea (the daughter of Guido’s human), and I’m equally thankful for Guido.

Katrina, I know living a dog can be vexing at times, and Guido and I do have our share of issues, but what makes our friendship work is that while we learned to enjoy being together, we need our time apart. 

 

Often the hardest part about our friendship is that our (Same species) friends and family don’t get it.

 

My mom and Granny (my mom’s mom) are are très [very] Traditional when it comes to dogs.

 

They’re our sworn, genetic enemies and we must never submit to them! Whenever they come to visit us, Guido leaves the house howling in terror!

 

Keep in mind, this the same dog who once took a beating to protect yours truly from being catnapped by pet smugglers a few years back!

So he’s no coward, he just can’t stand the species bigotry comments my mom and Granny hiss out at Guido’s expense.

 

I know they had horrid experiences with dogs as kittens, but I wish they’d see Guido’s different.

 

You seem to share this view, Katrina, at least where Stanley’s concerned, but you do get on with this Henry, so perhaps you do see it can be on a canine by canine basis.

 

My kitty siblings and my dad are more accepting toward Guido.

 

By contrast, Guido’s doggy relations (outside his mother) have embraced me as one of their own, in fact, one his Guido’s brothers has a serious crush on me! (Secretly between us fellow felines, if he were a cat, I’d be so into him, but since he’s not, I don’t want to encourage him…)

 

Learn more about Stanley and Katrina at their OFFICIAL website: http://www.stanleyandkatrina.com 

 

Also, don’t forget to subscribe to their YouTube Channel, where you can find their Paw-some “Word of the Week” video series, in fact your lit. rat did one with Guido and Bonnie-

 

Finally, check out the fan book trailer we made to help spread the Good Word on Stanley and Katrina’s books- 

 

 

Oh ONE LAST THING: Stanley and Katrina

are having a Rafflecopter giveaway you can

enter below-

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

 

 

That’s it for Weekly Readings. See you next time!

 

NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: If my ramblings convinced you to buy one or more of the books mentioned above, please support T.A.A. by clicking on the affiliate cover images above or links within the review(s).

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Weekly Readings IX.V (9 1/2)

 

Weekly Readings 9.5 (Blank 3.5)

 

 

Welcome to a special “Between the Numbers” edition of Weekly Readings!

 

Usually, Weekly Readings is when your lit. rat reviews a mix of picture books I’ve read here and there. But this time, I’m focusing on one book in particular- 

 

MY Love for You is the Sun

My LOVE for you is the SUN 

by Julie Hedlund (@JulieFHedlund)

Illustrated by Susan Eaddy

Publisher: Little Bahalia Publishing

Pub. Date: September 9th 2014*

 

NOTE from THE LITERARY RAT: I was given a review copy of this book, and aided in its crowdfunding campaign, but am not personally affiliated with either the book’s author, illustrator or publisher, other than sharing fellow respect for all the above as an author myself.



It’s often said that picture books are like poetry, partly because of their short length (barring historical or otherwise unique exceptions), and partly for even non-rhyming stories have a rhythm, a melody. Sometimes even a chorus (Even when the book’s not musically-themed).

“My Love for You is the Sun” is all of those things and more. Author Julie Hedlund (“ and the storybook app “A Shiver of Sharks“) uses a simple but effective rhyme scheme to tell a tale that’s further enhanced by the detailed mural-like illustrations by maverick artiste, Susan Eaddy.

If Art Clokey animated a bedtime story told by Gumby’s mother when he was born/created (only the Clokey Clan knows which is the case…), this is what it might look like. 

I’m not a parent yet (and some days I wonder if I’d be a “Good Enough” one), but if I do take that path, this book will be read to however many of them I have, and I’m honored I had played a small part in bringing this book, and to see a look of pride in my kid(s) eyes when they see my name in the acknowledgements, would be cool.

 

One last thing, check out your lit. rat’s fan book trailer (Made with the help of my podcasting friends)-

 

 

If you need further convincing, check out the OFFICIAL book trailer made the author herself-

 

 

 

That’s it for this special Weekly Readings. See you next time!

NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: If my ramblings convinced you to buy one or more of the books mentioned above, please support T.A.A. and also your local independent bookstores by clicking the affiliate cover images above or the links within the review(s).

 

Support us and your local bookstores in one go!

 

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Weekly Readings IX

Weekly Readings 9.5 (BIG)

Welcome to Weekly Readings!

For those new around here, “Weekly Readings” is when your lit. rat reviews a round of picture books that deserve more attention than they currently have.

 

From the newest releases to hidden gems from eras past.

 

 

While T.A.A. focuses mostly on animal stories, we give humans their due, every now and again.   Now that #BarkWeek’s behind us, this week we’re giving you cat lovers some love!

 

From a tiger who rebel against tea parties.

A pirate cat who’s not afraid to get wet on the seven seas.

Finally, another gem from our growing archives pays tribute to the Jersey Shore of days gone by…from the POV of a stray cat and a carousel-

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild - LARGE

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

by Peter Brown (@itspeterbrown)

Publisher: Little Brown and Company (@littlebrown)

Pub. Date: September 3rd, 2013

 

 I feel bad I didn’t get to this book sooner, but maybe this was some unexplained destiny at work, since I’m now reviewing for my 9th edition of “Weekly Readings” and all.

 

Whether or not you believe in that “Ye Olde Kitten’s Tale” about nine lives, this a book anyone who’s ever felt on the outside. (Which is most of us if we’re honest, and yes, even you extroverts know what I mean) Anyway…

 

Mr. Tiger may look dapper on the outside, but he feels drabber than drab within. Why?

 

 

His life’s too neat, far too proper, and is more than a little tired of tea parties.

 

While this way of life is nice and peaceful, it’s also getting dull and stuffy for our dapper hero (not to be confused with another tea-sipping tiger)-   The Tiger Who Came to Tea

(Yes, we’ll be reviewing this book A.A.L.D. [At A Later Date...]

I know I often lament the minimalist era picture books are in right now (this might be more common in non-illustrator writers like me), but it’s a real treat here because it’s in these pages without narrative text (or dialogue in the form of comic speech bubbles) where we see the evolution from discontented tiger to WILDCAT ON THE RUN!

 

Author-Illustrator Peter Brown is known for being a sort of literary MacGyver-Fashionista in the picture book world, he often varies his illustration styles from book to book, watercolors for one, digital 2.5 D cutouts for another.

 

The white minimalist background in many of the page spreads really make the vibrantly colorful characters pop out at you, in particular, due to his emerging sense of freedom the more wild he gets. Until eventually-

NP FINAL

 The illustrations feel modern yet tastefully retro at the same time. It reminds me a little of the art style author-illustrator Dan Yaccarino  used as the model for the “Oswald” television series Nickelodeon did (under it’s “Nick Jr.” imprint), and also reminds me of the slick charm and wit of Gus Gordon’s “Herman and Rosie”

 

We often associate being a rebel with being an outlaw, or at best someone with few or NO moral grounding, at all.

 

But a “rebel” is simply someone who is against what the common wisdom is.

 

Sometimes the common wisdom is not wise for everyone.

 

After all, the greatest minds of the past and present were rebels in one form or another, and authors (and their characters) have ALWAYS reveled in various forms at one time or another.

 

Mr. Tiger’s a rebel, if only because he’s honoring a part of himself that’s been stifled far too long, and without getting all “Aesop’s Fables” on you, let’s just say the world could use more: WILD TIME!

 

For some it’s about going with the flow and not letting everything about your day feel more programmed than those Utopian robot maids many homebodies dream about…

 

For others, it’s enjoying an occasional doughnut without shaming yourself and still working at eating healthier than you once did.

 

Still, for others, it’s about taking a break from raised pinkies, tea, and wearing pants…

 

For me, it’s having the courage and self-compassion to walk in my truth, to openly live and love my passions, one of which is sharing with you, my precious readers. I’ve ready many great books in 2014, but  this is among the best.

 

While his latest release “My Teacher is A Monster (No, I Am Not)” will only increase in popularity as we enter the 2014-2015 school year in the U.S. (and YES, T.A.A. will review this book soon), for this lit. rat, “Mr. Tiger Goes Wild” will always be one of my favorites, because this was the book that hooked me into the world of Peter Brown, and is a tangible testament to what T.A.A.’s all about-

 

Being Free to be You NO MATTER WHAT!

 

You may have got snubbed by the Caldecott committee, Mr. Tiger, but I’m proud to give you our “Blue Ribbon”-

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild - LARGE (AWARD)

(Check out my fan book trailer for “Mr. Tiger Goes Wild”)

 

Now we go from rebel tiger to a swashbuckler tabby-

EPSON scanner image

GROWLTIGER’S LAST STAND (And Other Poems)

by T.S. Elliot

Illustrated by Errol Le Cain

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux

Pub. Date: December 1987

While most people know poet T.S. Elliot from often on many a high school or college student’s “Required Reading” lists, he apparently tried his hand at Kid-lit with this illustrated collection of a stories in verse and selected poems from which he wrote initially for his godchildren, various poems and stories in verse about cats.

 

Thankfully, these delightful yarns were made available to everyone in this illuminated gem of a book.

 

The title story, featured on the cover about a surly feline pirate who laughs in the face of the “Cats and Water Don’t Mix” truism is my personal favorite.   Those of you pet parents with cats in particular will find this book charming, but 

 

While I’ve never had a kitty of my own, (unabashed dog loving rat, that I am), I do have many friends of the feline persuasion, and I’ve asked two of them to read the book and share their thoughts-

 

“This chap knew cats, and if he never lived with one, you wouldn’t know it reading this book!”

-Dempsey Woyzeck [@Swinebert_and_D]

(from T.A.A. FM’s “Swinebert and Dempsey”)

 

 

 

“Elliot is Exquisite!”

-Bonnie [@GuidoandBonnie]

(from T.A.A. FM’s “Guido and Bonnie” )

 

Finally, this a caveat I must bring up, this particular edition is out of print, but I do recommend hunting it down, or ask your library if they’ve got a copy.

 

Just be sure you have the search for illustrator “Errol Le Cain” as he illustrates this selection of Elliot’s verse and prose with such elegance and whimsy.

 

If all else fails, you can check out this edition of “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” (Different illustrator, Edward Gorey, but all the stories included in our highlighted edition above, plus MORE!)- Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

 

 

Last, but far from least, a classic review from our review archives-

 

Carousel Cat

Carousel Cat

by Robert J. Blake

Publisher: Philomel

Pub. Date: April 21st, 2005

 

NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: This is a revised re-post of our original review for “Carousel Cat”

 

This is a cat story even a devout dog-lover like me (I’ve grown to like cats, too!) can enjoy.

Animals don’t talk here, but a fine story of how animals help us carry on in hard times.

I know one of the needs of some agents and editors are books about families struggling financially.

There’s organic hints of that in the story that can be great talking points for parents and teachers to use for the pre/emergent readers up to second grade.

Wonderful illustrations, and it’s bit text heavy by today’s minimalist standards, but every word counts, in my opinion.

Sweet art and a brilliant love letter to Jersey Shore, YEARS before the recent damage of Hurricane Sandy.

That’s it for Weekly Readings. See you next time!

NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: If my ramblings convinced you to buy one or more of the books mentioned above, please support T.A.A. and also your local independent bookstores by clicking the affiliate cover images above or the links within the review(s).

 

Support us and your local bookstores in one go!

 

Squeak This Out to your fellow Animal Fantasy Fanatics!Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on LinkedIn

Weekly Readings (#BarkWeek Edition)

WEEKLY READINGS (#BarkWeek) - FINAL V2

 

Welcome back to Weekly Readings!

 

 

For those new here, “Weekly Readings” is when your lit. rat reviews picture books I’ve read here and there.

While T.A.A. focuses on animal stories, we do give humans their due now and again…

 

In honor of #BarkWeek, we’re digging into our archives for some of our favorite canine-centric reads we’ve reviewed thus far-

 

Big Mean Mike

Big Mean Mike

By Michelle Knudsen (@MichelleKnudsen)

Illustrated by Scott Magoon (@smagoon)

Publisher: Candlewick Press [@Candlewick]

Publisher: Walker Books Ltd. [@WalkerBooksUK]

Pub. Date: August 14th, 2012

 

 

NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: This is re-post of our original review for Big Mean Mike

 

 

I’ve been wanting to read this book since it first came out back in 2012, but it took me FAR longer to finally get to it, but now I’ve finally got my paws on it, and now I get to share it with you, my precious readers.

 

Contrary to the title, this isn’t a “Big ‘n Bad, Huff and Puff Wolfie deal”, but rather the story of a roughneck canine who takes wears his Big and Mean image with pride. 

What better way to challenge that image then to be surrounded something opposite of big and mean, in this case: tiny and cute bunnies!

 

Illustrator Scott Magoon does a fabulous job sequencing the pacing through his illustrations, and smart use of line art to infer motion and expression of the characters. be they central or extras in the background. 

As if to say “Mean Mutt versus Relentless Rabbits-SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY!” to loosely evoke the high octane spirit of monster truck shows, which is also featured in this book.

I’m not a big car guy (despite living in Detroit [aka "The Motor City] my whole life), but I did have my dreams of owning and driving a vintage Ford Thunderbird.

Those of you who grew up with younger siblings (or relatives akin to siblings) will find much humor and catharsis as Mike is surrounded by bunnies at every turn.

 

Or if you were the younger sibling, this is a humorous glimpse of how your big bro or sis felt whenever you tagged along against their will, whether you idolized him, or liked to mess with her…(Or some combo thereof)

In any group of friends, there’s always that one or two friends that you might feel a bit embarrassed by, not because of who they are, but how it might look to those who don’t know that friend like you do.

 

The title’s a bit of a misnomer, but as you read the story, you’ll see that’s part of the point.

Big Mean Mike is a non-preachy reminder that our self-image isn’t everything, nor is it one-dimensional.  I speak from personal experience in this matter.  

 

I started “Talking Animal Addicts” in large part to shed the shame I used to carry about being into something many others my age have “Grown out of”, or interested in things I was interested in others weren’t, like cooking and liking non-rap music.

All that to say, this is one of those books my 5 year old self could’ve used, but I’m glad it’s here now for the kids who need it, and this lit. rat’s honored to play some small part in spreading the good word, and to loosely quote Mike, “That’s EXACTLY how The Literary Rat likes it!” 

 

(Check Out the Fan Book Trailer I made for “Big Mean Mike”)

 

 

 

Ballerino Nate Cover 2

Ballerino Nate

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Illustrated by R.W. Alley

Publisher: Dial

Pub. Date: March 16th, 2006

 

NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: This is re-post of our original review for Ballerino Nate

 

 

Don’t laugh, but “The Literary Rat” in his preschool days once wanted to be a ballet dancer, though I lacked the discipline and stick-to-it factor I’ve learned to develop for writing over time, but I’m all for boys who dare to defy “gender norms” with wild abandon.

 

This is one of those books that I would’ve loved to read when I first became enchanted by the ballet, and while it may not have kept me on the ballet path, I at least could’ve had this as literary empowerment armor whenever some chauvinist lad or lass says “That’s only for GIRLS!”

Well, I wouldn’t have used the word “Chauvinist” at age 4, of course.

   

But by age 9, to use a retro tween play on words: For sure! (That was the beginning of my “I Love Lucy” obsession), but that’s a whole other story…

 

Nate, like any sensible nonconformist, has no qualms disagreeing with his “Know-it-All” big brother who by contrast is more “Tom Sawyer” than “Baryshnikov” [buh-rish-ni-kawf], but at times can’t help but wonder “Is he right?”

 

Would I have to wear a tutu?

Do I have to wear pink even though I’m a boy?

Can boys even be “Ballerinas” at all?

 

Well, the latter’s kind of true, but NOT how you think, and I’ll let the book show that to not spoil the pathos!

 

The illustration style is appropriately traditional, hand-drawn watercolors has charm to spare, and accents the movement and grace that any serious dancer (ballet or otherwise) can relate to, and also gives readers with self-proclaimed “Two Left Feet” syndrome a glimpse into the art and practice of dance in general, and ballet in particular.

 

It’s very hard to talk about this book without another famous ballet student in the fantastical fauna universe, but rest assured, this book while great for both genders gives those nontraditional boys something they can identify with.

   

While gender doesn’t solely define our identity as it once did (In some parts of the world, anyway…), parental baggage aside, it does play a part, and this book honors that, without stereotyping, and at the same time doesn’t shy away from the questions (be they spoken or unspoken) even the most progressive and open-minded families ask at times.

 

This is in many ways “Angelina Ballerina” for boys, only here we have anthropomorphic dogs (and/or wolves, it’s not quite specific either way) instead of mice, but here it’s the youngest in the family that takes center stage.

 

Sadly, unlike the mouselet star with big dreams, this seems to be a one and done, but what a wonderful and worthy one and done it is!

 

If you’ve got a ballet fan of the male persuasion, tell him I said “BRAVO!” and to give him this book.

 

He’ll thank you for it, if not in words, in his actions when one day he too could be a Supremo Ballerino, just like Nate. Ballet Men UNITE!

(Check out my fan book trailer for Ballerino Nate!)

 

 

Barnaby the Bedbug Detective

Barnaby the Bedbug Detective

by Catherine Stier

Illustrated by Karen Sapp

Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company 

(@AlbertWhitman)

Pub. Date: March 1, 2013

 

 

NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: This is re-post of our original review for Barnaby the Bedbug Detective

 

Of course, I had to get a (domestic) dog story in there, and this is a great one, it’s loosely based on true events, and a different kind of career animal for readers to learn about.

 

While most career dogs known to kids are police dogs, fire dogs, and given our worldview these days, bomb-sniffing dog used in the military or national guard, this is one of the lesser known.

 

Until recently, I always thought bedbugs were made up, but they’re real, and can be a big problem, even harder to detect than termites.   It’s a good thing dogs like Barnaby in real life aid us in keeping them out of our homes.

 

It’s also a charming story with non-preachy messages of adopting older dogs from shelters, and seeing promise in others where some see only problems, and there’s a little “

 

Leo the Late Bloomer” here as well.   That’s all for now. Next time we’ll have a fresh batch of reviews-WAIT, one last thing-

 

 

 

 

May the Fantastical Fauna be with you.

ONE LAST NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: If my ramblings convinced you to  buy one or more of the books mentioned above, please support T.A.A. by clicking on the affiliate cover images above or links within the review.

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Weekly Readings VIII

Weekly Readings 8

Welcome back to Weekly Readings!

For those new here, Weekly Readings is when your lit. rat reviews picture books I’ve read here and there.

While T.A.A. focuses on animal stories, we do give humans their due now and again…

This week, as you might guess from the image above, your lit. rat’s heart is alive with the sound of music, as I review a quartet of books inspired by movies, music and dance. 

  The Pelican Chorus

The Pelican Chorus (and Other Nonsense)

by Edward Lear

Illustrated by Fred Marcelino

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (An Imprint of HarperCollins)

Pub. Date: April 29th, 1998

 While most picture books tend to be some are just plain unbridled fun! The Late and Great Fred Marcelino breathed new life into his artistic take on a medley of prose and poetry by author Edward Lear (not sure if he’s related to Norman Lear, one of the “Godfathers” of sitcoms).   

 

I’ve had a serious crush on Marcelino’s illustration style for years. If he were alive today, I’d do whatever human possibly to work with him on a project of mine.

 

 

His style is both classic yet with a level of modern flair that’s hard to come by when much of modern illustration and animation has moved to digital plane or CG animation is taking precedence over classic 2D hand-drawn animation, and my stance is there should ALWAYS be room for both.

 

While I respect that computers can make shading and certain other techniques easier to do, I appreciate when the illustrator honors the tactile mediums and keeps them alive in some way.  

 

Maybe it’s because I’m a non-illustrator author (who wishes he were an illustrator) that I feel so strongly about this, but I do feel an added visceral connection to an illustrated book.

 

Be it a picture book or a graphic novel where I know that there’s still that level of organic tactile feel that someone made this by hand, even if they do the final art digitally on a tablet or the computer, there’s that level on handmade warmth that still shines through even if part or all of the final book is created digitally.  

 

Fred was one of those illustrators that mostly illustrate the books of other authors, whereas most illustrators today are also authors who write and illustrate their own books.

I, Crocodile

(Check out our first “Weekly Readings” for my review of “I, Crocodile” which Fred wrote and illustrated) There are also authors who only illustrate their own books. My stories matched with his masterful illustration would’ve been amazing.  

 

Thankfully, there are still many fine illustrators in the world, but Fred will be missed, I never got to know him outside the work he left behind, but thankfully the books he did illustrate (Including Tor Seilder’s novel, “A Rat’s Tale” which is one of my favorite books and was the inspiration for my upcoming debut novel “Gabriel“)

 

From funny, to poignant, and back to funny again, The Pelican Chorus is as much the creation of Fred Marcelino as Edward Lear, as like with his illustration work on “Puss in Boots” and Tor Seilder’s version of “The Steadfast Tin Solider”, Fred was able to put his own spin on a medley of prose and poetry that was first written and published long before his time. It reminds me a lot of the best picture book collaborations today such as Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo, The Highway Rat, and The Scarecrow Wedding) whom we profiled during our Picture Month 2013 celebration, and husband-wife team Helen and Thomas Docherty (The Snatchabook).  

 

When Pigasso Met Mootisse

When Pigasso met Mootisse

by Nina Laden

Publisher: Chronicle Books (@ChronicleBooks | @ChronicleKids)

Pub. Date: July 1st, 1998

How do you get readers who love fiction interested in nonfiction? Take famous folk from history and give them a fantastical fauna face-lift, of course!

 

Well, in the case of “When Pigasso Met Mootisse” this format works well and gives us a fun vehicle to discover how two folks from different walks of life and ways of doing things, can find common ground, and mutual respect.

 

This book also has the benefit of doing for art history what “The Magic School Bus” does for the sciences: Mix in the fantastical to engage the reader in the factual.  

 

Just like the DC vs. Marvel in the comics space, Mario vs. Sonic in the ’90s era of video games, and most recently the sizable shift from hand-drawn 2D animation to CG on both the big and small screen, there were and still are fierce rivalries in the world of fine art, and the real-life Picasso and Matisse had just as fierce an off and on battle as their animal alter-egos.

 

I was way into art history as a kid, and while I’ve not mined the world from a historical perspective in some time, whenever I come across books about visual artists such as painters, sculptors and niche craftsmen and women in a book I’m always delighted. One thing I LOVE about this book is that they bring together two artists, one more well known and often parodied, with a talent that’s perhaps more under the radar to an American audience.

 

While Pablo Picasso is well known for his arguably “Childlike” approach to his painting, Henri Emile Benoît Matisse is lesser known to the west for his more traditional approach, though he too was chided for his work being too radical yet stuffy for his time, in that respect he was as much of an misfit in the art world as Picasso, 11 years his junior.

 

Nina Laden uses her own angular and offbeat style to capture the essence of her subject artists turned fictional characters, and in doing so brings to light one of the numerous “Odd Couple” stories of the 20th century.

 

The book’s end pages also includes a brief overview of the real life origins and interactions of the artist duo who despite their rivalry, and vastly opposite worldview and art styles, were overall good friends to the end of their days, with one outliving the other.

 

In fact, the great Picasso vs. Matisse rivalry wasn’t so much between the artists themselves, but the rabid fans of one against the other, and I thought the fandom feuds among readers today was bad…

 

All in all, this a book any fan of visual arts should check out, and if you’re already a fan (though hopefully just shy of homicidal as the fanboys and girls of their time) of one or both, you’ll be in for a treat.   Mary Had A Little Ham

Mary Had A Little Ham

by Margie Palatini

Illustrated by Guy Francis

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion)

Pub. Date: September 2nd, 2003

 

Even the shyest souls among us have at times dreamed of life in the spotlight, even your lit. rat likes to pretend he’s a famous actor or performer of some kind.

 

In some ways my upcoming podcast imitative “T.A.A. FM” will give me the chance to in some small way live that fantasy, but with my voice more so than my face, but more on that later, now onto the review…

 

As the title suggests, this is a retelling of the vintage nursery rhyme “Mary Had A Little Lamb” but recast to star a pig by the name of Stanley Snoutowski who leaves his home on the farm to chase the siren song of stardom.

 

Illustrator Guy Francis left nothing to chance, using every page spread from cover to cover, crease to corner, and dedication to end papers, to invoke the spirit of Old Hollywood at it’s best.

 

While also depicting the lows of our swine-tastic protagonist on his way from humble beginnings to the big time, part of which is chronicled via the old school snail mail between, and his girl, named, you guessed it–Mary, alongside Margie’s spare but effective prose.

 

My friend Swinebert Glockchester (of Swinebert and Dempsey fame) has a dad who worked in the movies as an actor, and when I shared the story with him, he said-

 

“This pig fits my Pa to a T, when he was just getting started in show business. Hope Dempsey and me do as well with our endeavors.”  

 

You will, S.B. I’ll do my best to make sure of that. Classic movie buffs and starry eyed thespians alike will find much humor and unabashed optimism abound in “Mary Had A Little Ham.” On that note: Here’s looking at you, Stanley!

 

 

Ballerino Nate Cover 2

Ballerino Nate

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Illustrated by R.W. Alley

Publisher: Dial

Pub. Date: March 16th, 2006

Don’t laugh, but “The Literary Rat” in his preschool days once wanted to be a ballet dancer, though I lacked the discipline and stick-to-it factor I’ve learned to develop for writing over time, but I’m all for boys who dare to defy “gender norms” with wild abandon.

 

This is one of those books that I would’ve loved to read when I first became enchanted by the ballet, and while it may not have kept me on the ballet path, I would’ve had this as literary empowerment armor whenever some chauvinist lad or lass says “That’s only for GIRLS!”   Well, I wouldn’t have used the word “Chauvinist” at age 4, of course.   But by age 9, to use a retro tween play on words: For sure! (That was the beginning of my “I Love Lucy” obsession), but that’s a whole other story…

 

Nate, like any sensible nonconformist, has no qualms disagreeing with his “Know-it-All” big brother who by contrast is more “Tom Sawyer” than “Baryshnikov” [buh-rish-ni-kawf], but at times can’t help but wonder “Is he right?”

 

Would I have to wear a tutu?

Do I have to wear pink even though I’m a boy?

Can boys even be “Ballerinas” at all?

 

Well, the latter’s kind of true, but NOT how you think, and I’ll let the book show that to not spoil the pathos!

 

The illustration style is appropriately traditional, hand-drawn watercolors has charm to spare, and accents the movement and grace that any serious dancer (ballet or otherwise) can relate to, and also gives readers with self-proclaimed “Two Left Feet” syndrome a glimpse into the art and practice of dance in general, and ballet in particular.

 

It’s very hard to talk about this book without another famous ballet student in the fantastical fauna universe, but rest assured, this book while great for both genders gives those nontraditional boys something they can quickly identify with.   While gender doesn’t solely define our identity as it once did (In some parts of the world, anyway…), parental baggage aside, it does play a part, and this book honors that, without stereotyping, and at the same time doesn’t shy away from the questions (be they spoken or unspoken) even the most progressive and open-minded families ask at times.

 

This is in many ways “Angelina Ballerina” for boys, only we have anthropomorphic dogs (and/or wolves, it’s not quite specific either way) instead of mice, but here it’s the youngest in the family that takes center stage.

 

Sadly, unlike the mouselet star with big dreams, this seems to be a one and done, but what a wonderful and worthy one and done it is!

 

If you’ve got a ballet fan of the male persuasion, tell him I said “BRAVO!” and to give him this book.

 

He’ll thank you for it, if not in words, in his actions when one day he too could be a Supremo Ballerino, just like Nate. Ballet Men UNITE!

Check out my fan book trailer for Ballerino Nate!

 

For Parents: Check out the blog “My Son Can Dance” to hear one mother’s journey (author and writing coach, Nina Amir) to her (now grown) son who went from ballet school to turning pro in the field.

If your dancing lad’s seriously into ballet, you’ll find a mix of tips, memoir, and info parents or other caregivers can use to keep their ballerino-in-training  (Yes, “Ballerino” is the male equivalent to “Ballerina” for female ballet dancers, just as the title suggests) on pointe, and empowered to stay the course, despite the gender bias and discriminate folks who don’t “Get it.”

Violet's Music

Violet’s Music

by Angela Johnson

Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

Publisher: Dial

Pub. Date: January 5th, 2004

While we focus on animal stories on T.A.A., we occasionally let humans in on the fun, and this week is one of those times, but I have a certain “pride” to thank for my learning of this title-

I first discovered this book via the PBS series “Between the Lions” that stars a suburban pride of lions who live in a library where you learn the ins and outs of early literacy and the pleasure of read-aloud time. 

I adored that show, even though it debuted LONG after I learned my ABCs and how to read on my own, and while I wasn’t yet the ravenous reader I would go on to be , this did make books cool in a way I didn’t experience in school.

It’s kind of like “The Electric Company” (the Old School 70s version more so than the newer version) but with a fantastical fauna bent.

Laura Huliska-Beith’s patchwork watercolor illustrations nicely reflect Violet’s “Go Your Own Way” vibe, and author Angela Johnson really brings a lyrical flair a story like this demands

When I first had the theme of this “Weekly Readings” in mind, I immediately thought of this book alongside the others I recently read and reviewed above, and recently read it again for this review.

While I heard this book read on the show cited above, I certainly didn’t have it memorized! So I checked it out from the libary and read it again. Happy to report it still holds up. 

As musicians well know, it’s HARD to capture the feels and flows of music, which an art form that depends on sounds that’s hard to infer via prose.

Some stories using poetic forms like various rhyme scheme or certain meter or rhythm almost mimic a singer-songwriter or lyricists’ process.

This book also does something RARE for picture books, the title character actually ages over the course of the story, from rattle-shaking babe in the cradle to emergent tween rocking a REAL guitar. Rock on, Violet, Rock on…

That’s it for Weekly Readings. Check us next time!

NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: If my ramblings convinced you to buy one or more of the books mentioned above, please support T.A.A. by clicking on the affiliate cover images above or links within the review(s).

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Weekly Readings VII

Weekly Readings 7

It’s been a LONG time coming, but welcome one and all to another edition of Weekly Readings!

For those new here, Weekly Readings is when your lit. rat reviews picture books I’ve read here and there.

While T.A.A. focuses on animal stories, we do give humans their due now and again…This week, we’ve got a duet of Tough Guy tales with a twist-

 Big Mean Mike

Big Mean Mike

By Michelle Knudsen (@MichelleKnudsen)

Illustrated by Scott Magoon (@smagoon)

Publisher: Candlewick Press (U.S.) [@Candlewick]

Walker Books Ltd [@WalkerBooksUK] (U.K.)

Pub. Date: August 14, 2012

 

I’ve been wanting to read this book since it first came out back in 2012, but it took me FAR longer to finally get to it, but now I’ve finally got my paws on it, and now I get to share it with you, my precious readers.

 

Contrary to the title, this isn’t a “Big ‘n Bad, Huff and Puff Wolfie deal”, but rather the story of a roughneck canine who takes wears his Big and Mean image with pride. What better way to challenge that image then to be surrounded something opposite of big and mean, in this case: tiny and cute bunnies!

 

Illustrator Scott Magoon does a fabulous job sequencing the pacing through his illustrations, and smart use of lineart to infer motion and expression of the characters. be they central or extras in the background. 

As if to say “Mean Mutt versus Relentless Rabbits-SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY!” to loosely evoke the high octane spirit of monster truck shows, which is also featured in this book. I’m not a big car guy (despite living in Detroit [aka "The Motor City] my whole life), but I did have my dreams of owning and driving a vintage Ford Thunderbird.

Those of you who grew up with younger siblings (or relatives akin to siblings) will find much humor and catharsis as Mike is surrounded by bunnies at every turn. Or if you were the younger sibling, this is a humorous glimpse of how your big bro or sis felt whenever you tagged along against their will, whether you idolized him or liked to mess with her…(Or some combo thereof)

In any group of friends, there’s always that one or two friends that you might feel a bit embarrassed by, not because of who they are, but how it might look to those who don’t know that friend like you do. The title’s a bit of a misnomer, but as you read the story, you’ll see that’s part of the point.

 

Big Mean Mike is a non-preachy reminder that our self-image isn’t everything, nor is it one-dimensional.  I speak from personal experience in this matter.  

 

I started “Talking Animal Addicts” in large part to shed the shame I used to carry about being into something many others my age have “Grown out of”, or interested in things I was interested in others weren’t, like cooking and liking non-rap music.

All that to say, this is one of those books my 5 year old self could’ve used, but I’m glad it’s here now for the kids who need it, and this lit. rat’s honored to play some small part in spreading the good word, and to loosely quote Mike, “That’s EXACTLY how The Literary Rat likes it!” 

 

(Check Out the Fan Book Trailer I made for “Big Mean Mike”)

Fox and Fluff

Fox and Fluff

By Shutta Crum

Illustrated by John Bendall-Brunello

Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company

(@AlbertWhitman)

Pub. Date: September 1st 2002

 This is one of those I just happened to stumble across in one of my many book hunts, and I knew when I started doing book reviews on T.A.A. last year, I knew this was one of the books I’d most want to recommend.

 

I meant to to time this review for Father’s Day 2014, but life and tech got in the way, and hey, now more than ever before in recorded history, dads need empowering all throughout the year!

What happens when a hungry fox and orphaned baby chick meet? Not what you might think…

Fox decided to spare the poor “Mixed up” chick and takes his leave.  However, the chick (named Fluff)  has chosen Fox to be his “Papa.” Despite Fluff’s best efforts to be a hunting partner, Fox knows the only thing to do is leave Fluff in the care of others his own species. The only thing is, Fluff’s too “Foxy” for them! (Peep! Peep! Grr!)

While masterful mother and child books are eternally bountiful, we’re still playing catch up with dad and child stories, particularly ones that reflect the more varied and open-hearted fathers of the 21st Century, versus the dictating “Master of the House” image that for many families and cultures still persists today.

 

One of the issues I feel plagues a lot of dad and child stories (particularly in books for older readers)  is that they’re either silly to a fault or so strict you want to reach into the story, and drag them by the ear before they do their kid untold emotional damage…Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, thankfully in the picture book space we’ve got dads of varying styles and temperaments. Similar to “Big Mean Mike”, Fox has an image to uphold, further enhanced by being a carnivore, he hunts bunnies, mice and the like-and Fluff’s attempts to “help his Papa” only complicates matters.

 

I usually am wary of “Accidental Dad” stories as they can make look more incompetent than they really are.

 

But this book avoids that pitfall as we see Fox slowly (by picture book standards) evolve from wanting to be rid of Fluff, to being unable to imagine life without him around.

 

The ending (which I won’t spoil here) is the cherry on top to a charming, well-told and drawn tale.

 

For anyone (especially you single dads out there) looking for the fatherly companion to “Are You My Mother?” look no more, you’ve found it in Fox and Fluff!

 (Check Out the Fan Book Trailer I made for “Fox and Fluff”)

That’s it for Weekly Readings. Check back next time!

NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: If my ramblings convinced you to buy one or more of the books mentioned above, please support T.A.A. by clicking on the affiliate cover images above or links within the review(s).

Squeak This Out to your fellow Animal Fantasy Fanatics!Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on LinkedIn