Recent Picture Books I’ve Loved: I’m Bored; Mine!; The Stone Hatchlings; and Rocket Writes A Story

I have so many fantastic picture books I’ve recently read and loved, and I’ve been wanting to share them with you, but I keep getting buried under all my work. So I decided to do a bunch of shorter reviews, all together, of my most recent favorites. I think any of these books would make fantastic gifts!

I’m Bored
Written by: Michael Ian Black
Illustrated by: Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Published by: Simon & Schuster
Recommended Age: 3 and up
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I loved this book so much I bought two copies–one for myself and one for a three-year-old boy I love. The story interested me and is well written, but for me it was the lively, expressive illustrations that really made the book.

In I’m Bored, a little girl is bored until she finds a potato that talks to her. The potato is not any potato–it’s a talking potato–and it’s bored, too. The potato thinks kids are boring, so the little girl sets out to prove that kids are NOT boring. In trying to convince the potato, the little girl realizes just how much she can actually do and what fun she can have. She doesn’t change the potato’s mind–but the grumpy potato is in for a surprise!

Black has written a dryly funny text that both kids and adults will enjoy. Kids will love joining in with the potato’s expected response: Boring, boring, boring! I loved how Black showed how kids can do both real-world things to have fun (turn cartwheels, skip, spin around) and use their imagination (be a ballerina, lion tamer, or fly), and also how he has the child realize that she’s glad she’s a kid. And the twist at the end was perfect! I was also so happy to see a mixture of things the girl could be, that kept it from being really sexist (such as that she could be a lion tamer).

Ohi’s illustrations are so full of life and emotion. Think a potato can’t have expressions or look like a person? Open up I’m Bored and you’ll see differently. With just a few lines Ohi makes the potato come alive just as she does the girl. Ohi’s style reminds me a bit of Mo Willems; I think Ohi will become just as well known and loved.

The illustrations are done in bold black lines, filled out with some color, and the characters really stand out; there is little to no background in most of the spreads. Where the background comes in is when the girl is using her imagination, and then we see dragons and lions, etc in pale blue lines that help the reader understand she’s using her imagination. When the girl uses real-world objects, like a paper box with the faceplate cut out for an astronaut’s helmet, it’s also in bold lines like the girl.

The girl and the potato are both very expressive; I love the expressions on the potato’s face, especially, when he’s bored or surprised. I also love how Ohi gave the girl a pretend sword when she’s a fairy princess with dragons and unicorns, which for me helped that page not be sexist.

I’m Bored is a funny book that will encourage imagination, play, and remind kids that they can do anything they want. It may also help kids (and adults) see that while not everyone may not find you interesting, everyone experiences that, and you can have fun all by yourself. Highly recommended!

Source: I bought the two copies myself. Full disclosure, I know the illustrator, but that does not affect my review. I only review books I absolutely love.

Written by: Shutta Crum
Illustrated by: Patrice Barton
Published by: Knopf Books
Date: Aug 2012
Recommended For: Ages 1 and up
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a book I’ve been meaning to review for a while; I first read it as a hardcover picture book and fell in love with it. I recently got the board book as well, and fell in love with it all over again.

In Mine, a toddler who has trouble with sharing learns not only to share, but to make friends–with both the baby and the dog.

This delightful picture book is almost wordless; the only two words that appear are “mine” and “woof” (from the dog).
Shutta captured the childlike joy of play and copying something silly (such as dropping toys into the dog’s water bowl and enjoying the splash, after the dog did that first), as well as the desire to have something be your own. I love how Shutta shows the natural openness and kindness of children (who haven’t been hurt).

Patrice Barton’s style is warm and soft, almost fuzzy, reminiscent of Shirley Hughes. She captures the emotions of the two children and the dog so beautifully, with expressive faces and body language. The illustrations look like watercolor, gouache, and pencil, with shadow grounding the characters and the toys on the ground, and lines to show motion (like throwing a toy). A cute, expressive little dog appears in almost every image, and will be fun for little readers to see what she/he is up to.

There is such a lovely sense of play and fun in this book, and the ending is sweet and heartwarming. It may encourage co-operation, friendship, and play. Highly recommended.

Source: Review copy from the publisher for an honest review. I only review books I love.

The Stone Hatchlings
Written by Sarah Tsiang, illustrated by Qin Leng
Published by: Annick Press
Date: June 2012
Recommended for: Ages 4 and up
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In The Stone Hatchlings, Abby adopts two “eggs”–two smooth stones that she finds in her backyard. She makes a nest for them, sits on them to help them hatch, and then feeds and sings and takes care of her “birds”. Abby spends many happy hours with them, until her interest starts to wane, and she sets them free in her backyard again. This is a wonderful story about the power of a child’s imagination.

I love how Tsiang had Abby’s parents be both honest with her “Those are stones,” and encourage her creativity and imagination by allowing her to sit on the sweater nest and “eggs” during dinner, and trying to see and hear the birds that Abby could so strongly see and hear. This is a warm, friendly story with caring parents and a very creative, nurturing little girl. There’s enough text to make this a book for slightly older children (four or five), but the text never feels too much; it keeps moving the story forward.

Leng’s illustrations are expressive and often humorous, adding little details that weren’t in the text, such as the dog sniffing the father’s smelly feet when Abby tries to take his shoes, or Abby taking the scarf off her mother’s neck for her nest. There’s lots of movement in the illustrations, and a sense of liveliness. Some illustrations use the white page for the background and only show the important foreground details (and so feel more light), and others have a background that helps you see Abby’s house and world (so feel more complete). I liked the movement back and forth between them.

The stones stand out from the watercolor illustrations; they look like photos. Leng deftly adds to the stones when Abby imagines them as birds, adding necks and beaks and wings, showing the reader what Abby imagines but still keeping it grounded in reality.

The Stone Hatchlings is whimsical, imaginative, humorous, at times sad, but with a happy ending. The Stone Hatchlings can encourage creativity, imagination, creative play, and finding joy in simple things. It can also, in a way, deal with loss. Highly recommended!

Source: I bought the book myself from an indie children’s bookstore (Mable’s Fables in Toronto)

Rocket Writes a Story
Written and Illustrated by: Tad Hills
Published by: Schwartz & Wade
Date: July 2012
Recommended for: Ages 4 and up
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In Rocket Writes a Story, Rocket loves to read and to find new words. When his teacher, little yellow bird, asks him what he’s going to do with all the words he’s collected, Rocket decides that he’ll write a story. When Rocket gets stuck, his teacher helps him, and then Rocket learns how to write through his stuckness. When Rocket decides to write about an owl he passes, he gains a new friend.

Hill gives many hints in this book on how to write–from needing good characters, to writing about something that inspires or excites you, to taking time to mull over the story you’re writing, to showing that writing doesn’t always come easily, and that sometimes it helps to take a break from writing to write well. Aspiring and veteran writers will identify with and enjoy Rocket’s attempts–and then success–at writing. I enjoyed the story, though I felt at times that there could be a little less text, and a bit more actual things happening (but that may just be me). I also felt like I didn’t quite connect enough, that I was missing something emotional in the story, though that again could just be me. I loved how Rocket learned to write and enjoy the process, and made a new friend through his story. The ending was feel-good, and felt just right.

Hill’s illustrations are sweet, with soft colors and a softness to the characters. Rocket is adorable, both child-like and dog-like in his exploration of the world and words and new-found love of words and writing. I loved how when Rocket “found” a word, it was through finding that object (like a buttercup). I think that will help children connect to the idea that words are all around us and help us describe our world. This was also echoed in the word pictures that Rocket made, with each word having a drawing next to it (except for words like “to” and “at”). Some spreads have one illustration, some have multiple illustrations per page, moving the reader through the story.

Rocket Writes a Story may encourage a love of books and reading, a love of writing stories, and an interest in words. Recommended!

Source: Review copy from the publisher for an honest review. I only review books I love.

About Cheryl Rainfield

I write the books I needed and couldn't find as a teen. I write teen fiction--paranormal fantasy and gritty realistic fiction. I'm the author of SCARS (WestSide Books, 2010) #1 ALA QuickPicks, and Governor General Literary Award Finalist, HUNTED (WestSide Books, Oct 2011), STAINED (Harcourt, 2013), The Last Dragon (HIP Books, Sept 2009), and Walking Both Sides (HIP Books, 2011). I also enjoy drawing, surfing the web, connecting with people I like, doing crafts, and being with my dog.
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