Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review of What James Likes Best by Amy Schwart

Review of What James Likes Best by Amy Schwartz

Atheneum Books for Young Readers

2004 Charlotte Zolotow Award Winner

James and his parents take several trips to visit people and places. At each place James experiences things to do, people to meet and play with, and sights. After each visit the question asked is "What did James like best?" The answer is left to the reader which gives plenty of opportunity for a child to guess what James liked, to use his or her imagination, and to even think about what they liked best. The illustrations are simple and clear – showing the various modes of transportation as well as the people and things James encounters.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Amy Schwartz’s first picture book, published in 1982, was Bea and Mr. Jones, named a Best Children's Book by School Library Journal and one of the year's 100 Best Children's Books by the New York Public Library. She started her career in fine art, but as she was doing illustrations, stories popped into her head and she began writing and illustrating them. At last count, since her first book she has written and illustrated 11 books and illustrated 9 more.

For more about Alan Elliott visit

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review of Farfallina and Marcel by Holly Keller

Review of Farfallina and Marcel by Holly Keller

Greenwillow Books
2003 Charlotte Zolotow Award Winner

Farfallina and Marcel is a book about friendship. It is also about change.  Farfallina is a caterpillar who makes friends with a little gray bird named Marcel. They learn to play together and become fast friends. But one day Farfalinna doesn’t feel right. She climbs up into a tree and doesn’t come down. Marcel waits for her but finally has to carry on with his own life, disappointed in losing a friend. However, Farfallina is not lost, she is in her cocoon. When the time arrives Farfallina comes out of her cocoon as a butterfly. She searches for Marcel, but does not find him. She only sees a big beautiful goose in the lake. When she strikes up a conversation with the goose they discover what has happened – they have both changed, and they renew their friendship again.

Holly Keller is an author and illustrator born in 1942 who got degrees in history before turning to illustration. Her first books were published in 1981, Cromwell's Glasses and Ten Sleepy Sheep. She’s received a number of awards including the Library of Congress Book of the year, Best Book of the Year, School Library Journal, and others. She has authored or illustrated over 60 books.

For more about Alan Elliott visit

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review of Clever Beatrice: and the Best Little Pony by Margaret Willey

Margaret Willey, Clever Beatrice: and the Best Little Pony. Illustrated by Heather Solomon.


2002 Charlotte Zolotow Award Winner

Clever Beatrice is a folktale where the smart and inventive Beatrice is able to outwit a mischievous gremlin called a lutin. When strange things start happening to her best pony, Beatrice solicits the help of the local bread maker who is also known to explain all kinds of mysterious happenings. He agrees to help Beatrice. As it turns out, Beatrice has all the best ideas and the baker adopts them as his own. Together they are able to solve the mystery of the pony and catch the lutin. This isn’t the first Beatrice story – it is one of several where Beatrice shows her cleverness in solving a problem. Each story shows how inventive and clever thinking can be used to solve even the most mysterious puzzle. Girls and boys will benefit from these stories because they show how to not give up, but to come up with solutions to problems.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Margaret Willey grew up in Michigan, the oldest of eleven children. She began her children’s book writing career with The Bigger Book of Lydia in 1983. Another of her tales is The 3 Bears and Goldilocks, told from the bear’s perspective. Margaret also writes YA books the recent (2012) novel Four Secrets.

For more about Alan Elliott visit

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Night Worker by Kate Banks. Pictures by Georg Hallensleben (2000)

Farrar Straus Giroux

The 2000 Charlotte Zolotow Award Winning Children’s Picture Book

Every night Alex’s father goes to work. On most nights as his father puts Alex to bed he asks his father “Take me with you.” One night his father says “Come on.” Alex gets a hard hat, and sees all kinds of workers in the night streets as they head toward a construction site. At the site, Alex watches the big machines move dirt, mix cement, and prepare a foundation for a big skyscraper. Alex wants to help, and his father puts him on a big yellow loader where he gets to push some levers. When a whistle sounds, it’s to take a break.  Alex’s father takes him back home and he crawls into bed and dreams of being a night worker.

Kate’s words and description of the adventure are exciting and comforting at the same time – as father and son bond. The illustration by Hallensleben are almost elementary drawings, but effective in setting the mood for the night adventure.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate Banks was born in 1960 in Maine and attended Wellesley College and Columbia University. She’s written 30 children’s picture books and has received numerous awards on a number of her books. Besides the Zolotow Award, she’s also received awards from the New York Times, School Library Journal, Parent’s Magazine, and more.

For more about Alan Elliott visit

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Review of Lucky Song by Vera B. Williams

Lucky Song by Vera B. Williams
Greenwilliow Books
The 1998 Charlotte Zolotow Award Winner

Evie is about to have a great day. She wants to do something and, after getting dressed,  that something turns out to be flying a kite, with help from grandpa. It flies into the wind and Evie sees how high it can fly. Her mother looks admires the kite. The day progresses back at home where grandma has supper ready. Sister welcomes her home with a warm hug and her father makes the day complete by singing her a song about everything she’s done.

This is a great family time book that is like comfort food. Not every day is a perfect day where everything goes right, but there are some of those days, and this book celebrates one of those. The father’s song recaptures the experience from the beginning. Isn't it great fun to remember such a day, and to know that some stories are ones that comfort and make us happy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Vera B. Williams is a writer and illustrator born in 1927. She is best known for her book A Chair for My Mother published in 1982. She has authored fifteen books and illustrated three more.  Other awards include as a nominee for the 2004 Hans Christian Andersen Award and as recipient of the 2009 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature.

For more about Alan Elliott visit

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review of Snow by Uri Shulevitz

Snow by Uri Shulevitz
Square Fish

1999 Charlotte Zolotow Award Winner

Snow is a wonderful story of how a village is transformed from gray to white. Paralleling the village’s transformation is a transformation of people from curt and pessimistic to happy and cheerful. 

The illustrations follow this conversion using changing colors and facial expressions. The hero of the story is a little boy who is optimistic about the snow from the first flake. If there is a message here it is to not pay too much attention to the nay-sayers. Believe in what you believe, and hope for a change from gray yuck to white smiles.

In addition to being a Charlotte Zolotow Award winner, Show also has these honors: American Library Association Notable Children's Books, Booklist Editors' Choice, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Blue Ribbon Award, Caldecott Honor Book,), Golden Kite Award Winner, New York Times Outstanding Books of the Year, Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year, School Library Journal Best Books of the Year. It captures a child’s indomitable optimism from the start, even when others try to cut him off.  The illustrations convey the mood as it changes from plain and nothing into wonder and happy.

I like this book because the child does not give up in the face of pessimism.  He never gives up his hope. Something good is about to happen, he hopes, he knows, he expects. And he is rewarded as the snowflakes begin to multiply. Of course all of our wishes don’t come true,  but the book somehow makes it clear that there are people who can’t or won’t believe something good is about to happen, while the child retains his expectation. It is a story that, I think, helps us see the “glass half full” rather than the “glass half empty.” 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Uri Shulevitz was born in Warsaw in 1935. His family fled from Poland during World War II and settled in Paris in 1947. He moved to New York in 1959. Uri began drawing at the age of three and combined it with storytelling by drawing comic books as a child. He studied painting at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and soon started illustrating books. His first book was The Moon in My Room in 1963.  His 1969 book The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship won a Caldecott Medal. He has since written or illustrated (or both) over 40 books. They include three Caldecott Honor Books (The Treasure, Snow, and How I Learned Geography.)

For more about Alan Elliott visit

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry…

When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry… by Molly Bang, The Blue Sky Press (1999).

2000 Charlotte Zolotow Award Winner

Sophie is a little girl happily playing with a stuffed monkey when her big sister comes along and tells her that it is her turn to play with the toy. When her mother tells her that it is sister’s time to play with the toy and the big sister snatches the toy away, Sophie gets angry. She yells and throws a tantrum. She is so angry she runs and runs, and cries. In the woods she begins to notice the trees and birds singing. She climbs into a tree and feels the breeze in her hair. She finds comfort, calms down, and returns home where it is warm and cozy.

This book is full of lively color – in both writing and illustration. Sophie yells a red roar and almost explodes like a volcano, and the illustrations fit the emotions perfectly.

Every parent who’s seen a temper tantrum will relate to this book. For many parents, a child's tantrum makes us angry and frustrated as well. For Sophie, she is able to deal with the anger -- to find a solution in herself, which is what we hope as parents our children will learn to do.

Since I grew up near a creek with woods, I can relate to running there and finding solace. You can be alone and (hopefully) discover when something you thought was a big issue is not worth being angry about. My only concern is Sophie's running away. For some kids, there may not be a safe place to do that.

Children will relate to this book because they are learning to deal with emotions, and they will see themselves, and perhaps siblings and friends, in Sophie's experience.

When Sophie Gets Angry allows parents to talk to their children about dealing with anger. We all face anger issues from time to time. If we can learn to resolve our anger within ourselves that is a good thing. Maybe someday we can even learn to control that initial outburst of anger and not have to scream a red, red roar.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Molly Garrett Bang was born in 1943 and grew up in Baltimore. She graduated from Wellesley with a degree in French and went to Japan to teach English. She served a stint as a reporter but turned to children’s books and had her first book The Goblins Giggle, and Other Stories published by Scribner in 1973 (as author and illustrator). She’s written and illustrated two dozen books and is the illustrator on more than another dozen. Molly is the recipient of many awards including three Caldecott Honor Books for  The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher (1981), Ten, Nine, Eight (1983) and Sophie (2000). One of her most recent awards is The Lucy Daniels Award for "outstanding contributions to children's literature that supports social and emotional health" in 2011.

For more about Alan Elliott visit