Weekly Readings XVII

Weekly Readings 17

 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, your lit. shares with you tales of father-son bonding, a well-ordered parisan lady whose dog teachers her to go with the flow, and an insect prodogy who shows how “playing with your food” can change the world!



The Bear’s Song

by Benjamin Chaud

Publisher: Chronicle Books


Pub. Date: September 17th, 2013

While we’re nearing the onset of Spring 2015 (at the time this review’s being written), I couldn’t help but share this story after having bears in general on my mind…

As winter seta in, Papa Bear is all set for hibernation, but his son’s wanders off, and from there Papa Bear’s journey to find him 

Benjamin Chaud’s illustrations have this classic yet modern look to them that would just at home amongst the early works of Richard Scary and Bernard Waber  as they would on the cover of a “The New Yorker” today.


It’s a quality many of my favorite illustrators such as Gus Gordon and Zachariah ‘OHara share, but Benjamin’s use of shadow and light, and Monet-esque tone sets it apart from the hyper-technicolor palate common in kidlit.

The text, while concise, is a less spare and a refreshing change of pace from the “minimalist” era in picture books today. Moments of lighthearted humor flows well with the gorgeous spreads throughout the book.


“The Bear’s Song” is partly a father and son story, with accentts of “Where’s Waldo?” and the charm of “Guess How Much I Love You?” but with the subtle and sophisticated art style that would make it a unique cofee table book as well as a great read-aloud. 



Madame Martine

by Sarah S. Brannen (@SarahBrannen)

Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company

Pub. Date: September 2014


 If Tomie DePaola’s “Strega Nona” is the magical grandmother many of us wish we had (or are lucky to have) in real life, and Ms. Frizzle (from “The Magic School Bus”) is about empowering us to “Take chances, make mistakes, and getting messy” in the name of making learning fun, Madame Martine is the exact opposite of the ladies mentioned above. She’s the pragmatist to their flair and flamboyance.

Her days are planned out and highly rooted in routine. I’d imagine this is what would look like without 

Until one day, she happened upon a stray dog, cold, hungry, and dirty. Madame Martine takes him home, cleans him, and eventually decides to adopt him, thus naming him Max. 

But in chaging this former stray’s fortune around, Madame Martine hadn’t counted on was how Max would change her life…when a routine walk becomes anything but when Max’s curiosity leads him, and his new human, off the beaten path, and allows this level-headed local too see Paris (most notably the famous Eiffel Tower) with the eyes and childlike wonder of the tourists who flock to the “City of Lights” time and time again for the very first time.


In many ways, Max is to Madame Martine, what Madeline is to Miss Clevel, or Mouse is the cheeful ying to Bear’s curmudgeonly yang. (from Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton’s popular picture book series), Max provides the spark of serendipity that breaks  up routine and sprinkles a healthy dash of spontenatey we all could use more of in life.


While there’s something to be said to having a distict style that unifies your work (such as the works of Beatrix Potter, Suess and Scary), I always find it impressive when illustrators can vary the art style and medium to suit a particular book, and while I can only imagine how that might make things tricky from a marketing standpoint, it gives the reader (and those being read to) the treat of  exploring not only a new story and characters each time, but a differnt art style to explore.


It offers the reader, and those read to, that extra bit of freshness that can get harder to achieve the further an author and/or illustrator is in their career.


Sarah’s illustrations here have a more classic style that the exsagarted watercolors from “The Beary Tooth Fairy” (written by author/publisher Arthur A. Lavine) or the collage-like approach of “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding” that have a more detailed and precious touch versus the more childlike astetics of Lauren Child’s mixed medium approach used in her “Charlie and Lola” and “Clarice Bean” series.



In a world that seems to demand foresight and meticulous planning at every turn, “Madame Martine” (and Max) reminds us all that the best things in life can’t always be planned, but rather come about because we have no plan! Something everyone, but especially parents, need to be reminded of sometimes.



Please, Mr. Panda

by Steve Antony (@MrSteveAntony)

(U.S.) Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)

(U.K.) Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books

Pub. Date: December 30th, 2014


It’s early morning as I type out this review. The reason I note this is because when I think of early morning, I think naturally of breakfast, or brunch if I’m late to waking up.


I try to get something healthy in me at the start of each day, but sometimes I answer to my inner lit. rattling and sneak in something decadent, one such treat is homemade doughnuts and coffee, and hey-once in awhile it’s not cataclysmic to my health.


Now when I think of doughnuts (or “donuts” depending on your POV of how it’s spelled…) I’ll also think of “Please, Mr. Panda” which is one of those books that lures in you in with deceptive simplicity, but tells a tale that’s harder to pull off than folks often realize.


While there’s certainly truth to the “Best things in life are the simplest” cliché, pulling off simplicity is actually among the most challenging feats for most writers, and the bravest ones will not be shy to tell you that.


While we’re often more concerned with how kids and teen perform in school, we should put more stock into how they perform in other areas of life, such as how they socialize, and part of soclizing is sharing. 

Don’t worry, this isn’t some thinly veiled moral tale. Like Mo Willems’ “Don’t Let The Pidgeon Drive The Bus” this book invites audience participation. But rather than letting the audience being read to “Be the parent” to Pigeon,  it invites the reader and audience to think about how the story relates to them on a personal level.


“Why won’t Mr. Panda won’t give doughnuts to nearly all who requested one?”


It’s a quiter form of audience participation, but no less effective, and often the best books force readers to think about how to story relates to their own lives, maybe even about what they’d like to see more of than what’s currently the case.


Mr. Panda has doughnuts to give away, and various creatures aren’t shy about wanting to them off his paws.

But nearly everyone who proclaimed to want one (or ALL) of his doughnuts is swiftly denied.


Well, put yourself in Mr. Panda’s place. How did you feel when your kid brother or sister used your things without permission?

Or (if you don’t have siblings) how it felt when a friend or relative betrays your trust by sharing an embarrassing moment that was only meant to be heard by your ears alone.

When trying to teach our lit. rattlings how to share, something we may gloss over is what sharing looks like.


Sharing isn’t just about offering. 


It’s also about HOW we offer what we intend to share. It’s more often than not the difference between empathy and sympathy.

Writers often are told to make their characters sympathetic, when really they should be saying they need to be more empathic to win the heart of the reader.

While sympathy and empathy can look similar on the surface, they’re not. Sympathy actually drives DISCORD and DISCONNECTION.

Empthy, by contrast, drives CONNECTION and putting others on an equal playing field, both mentally and emotionally.


We’re (often subconciously) looking down on others when we feel sympathy toward others, versus empathy when we’re sincerly offering a helping hand or a patient ear (whether conciously or subconciously) because we’d want the same courtosey if were in the other’s position, or we might’ve faced something similar and decide to reach out, especially if we had no one to do the same for us.

Something you learn as a writer early on (if you’re lucky) is HOW you say something’s just as important as WHAT you say. This book makes smart use of that.

While many authors (myself included) want to entertain first and foremost, and while some readers often desire “larger than life” characters to escape the harships we face in life, we also want to bring some level of our experience in our work, not to glamarize or melodramtize our life, but to add depth and enrich our writing.

Steve Antony’s soft, minimalist illustrations do much of the work as Mr. Panda goes from creature to creature, denying most of them the doughnuts he’s resolved to give away, and when he finally comes across someone who’s awarded his bounty of pastry goodness…

Well, I won’t spoil the ending, but I assure you, it will surprise you, even if you think you can guess it from the title…you’d only be half correct.


Writers are always preaching to each other to “Show” instead of “Tell.”

“Please, Mr. Panda” does just that. 

It’s not only a story about sharing, or simply about good manners, it shows the reader (and those being read to) what well-mannered sharing looks like.

“Sharing is Caring” as the song goes, but I’d rephrase it as, “How we share, shows how much we really care.” Not as catchy, perhaps, but more accurate to what we’re trying to show our family and friends.  

Kids and teens always want to know “Why” something’s important. “Please, Mr. Panda” shows not only the “Why” but also the “How” of what sharing’s all about, which sets it apart from most books on sharing that only answer the “Why.”


Check Out the OFFICIAL Trailer for

“Please, Mr. Panda”






Roberto: The Insect Architect

by Nina Laden

Publisher: Chronicle Books


Pub. Date: August 2000


Ever since I was charmed by author-illustrator Nina Laden’s “Bad Dog”  I’ve been on a mad dash to read (and review) her impressively long backlist of titles, and “Roberto: The Insect Architect” is no exception.


Most termites see wood as nothing more than fuel, sustence, or put more simply, food. (just don’t call it “Grub.” In the insect world, they often live within wood!) But Roberto looks at wood, and sees possibilities…

From an early age, Roberto used wood not to satisfy his culinary palete, but rather to excite his creative muse and used it the way Leonardo Da Vinci used marble in his early years as an artist. He evneutally set his sights to the big city to become an architect.


At first, everyone turned him away, seeing him as a liability who’d eat the profits (in the literarl sense) rather htan build with them. Roberto was the kind of hard sell risk as  would be a mouse (or rat…) in cheese shop, a dog working for a butcher, and of course, a termite working with wood in the contrscution biz.

Along the way, Roberto encounters various friends and neighbors who are homless for one reason or another, and decides to do something about it.


With his self-taught knowledge of architecture, Roberto designs and builds the homes and businesses to get those bugs off the streets and a second chance at a better life, and in the spirit of a “Secret Santa” does so anomyously.


It doesn’t take long before the city at large is buzzing with inritgue wondering who this mystery master archetict is.


When it’s discovered that Roberto’s the bug they’re looking for, the reader (and those read) are shown not only the importance of hard work and never giving up, but also how not to let doubt from others blindside you from your dreams.

Nina Laden’s agular and wonderfully quirkly illustrations, matched with concise and engaging text that sprinkles in fun wordplay throughout complete each other well.



While I always liked the idea behind the film,  “A Bug’s Life” (the sophmore effort after the phenemon that was/is Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story”) I couldn’t fully get into the execution. “Roberto, The Insect Architect” pulls it off, and in a fraction of the time.


Unless you’re horridly averse to insects, this is a book worth checking out.


If more termites were like Roberto, they’d probably be as sacred to us as cats were in ancient Egypt and parts of Asia, and today in the form of viral videos like “Dear Kitten”, comic strip icons like “Garfield” and “Heathcliff”, and pop culture phenemons like “Doraemon.” Or at least keep David Kirk’s “Miss Spider” and E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” company…


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).