Some New-ish Picture Books I Love Including A New Dr. Seuss: Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories; The Worst Princess; Drop It, Rocket!; and Mr. Wuffles!

Horton and the Kwuggerbug and more Lost Stories
Written and Illustrated by Dr. Seuss aka Ted Geisel
Published by: Random House Books For Young Readers
Published: Sept 9, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0385382984
Ages: 4-8 (and up)
Source: Book obtained from publisher in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: 5/5

It’s incredible to me that we can read new Dr. Seuss stories after Ted Geisel died, but these Dr. Seus stories were “lost.” They’re treasure I’m glad was rediscovered: A new Horton the Elephant story, a fanciful story about Marco (from And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street) who arrives to school late and tells the tale about why; a police officer who saves the town; and a short grinch story featuring a different grinch than the one who stole Christmas. These stories have the same wonderful rollicking, almost perfect rhythm that Dr. Seuss is known for; twists and plot surprises that keep the reader interest; conflict that keeps us riveted; characters we care about, empathize with, and root for; and humor. I loved the satisfying ending, especially, in Horton and the Kwuggerbug where a mean-spirited character gets his just desserts; this was my favorite story in the book. I also love that the stories include fanciful made-up words and great imagination that fit his stories perfectly.

Dr. Seuss’ beautiful, strange, evocative, and trademark illustrations fit the stories perfectly, with crazy cliffs and strange-looking trees, emotionally expressive characters, and bright colors. They’re Dr. Seuss’ strong illustrative style that generations of readers have loved and been entranced with, and generations will continue to love.

The stories all have a strong emotional appeal, with conflict and psychological tension. These are pure Dr. Seuss, and they’re a delight. When I finished reading, I had Dr. Seuss’ rhythms and some of the rhymes running through my head–which shows how catchy they are; I think is a sign of greatness. I loved these “new” stories, and I think children and Dr Seuss fans will love them, too.

My only criticism is that Horton and the Kwuggerbug probably should have been published on its own; the other stories aren’t as polished or as captivating. For instance, How Officer Pat Saved the Whole Town is all about what might happen, not what is happening, so it’s not as dramatic or intense or fun, though it’s still enjoyable.

Also included is a long, detailed introduction by Charles D Cohen–an expert on Dr Seuss stories. It provides some fascinating detail for readers who love Dr. Seuss.

Highly recommended.


The Worst Princess
Written by Anna Kemp
Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie
Published by Random House Children’s Books
Ages: 3-7 (and up)
Source: Obtained from the publisher for an honest review.
My rating: 5/5

This is a refreshing tale about a princess who thinks she needs to be saved from her tower–until she realizes that getting “saved” just locks her up in a different tower. The princess makes friends with a dragon, and together they travel the world. In the end, the princess saves herself.

I love books that show girls being strong, not ruled by sexism, who are able to save themselves–especially when the books are written well, without being preachy or didactic. This book is a delight on all levels–the content, the way the story is written, and the illustrations.

Kemp’s rhyming text flows smoothly; there is rarely a rhyme that feels even slightly forced. The story is lively and entertaining, and the dialogue helps it move quickly. Humor permeates the story, from the names the princess and prince call each other (twit, turtledove), to the insults given (the prince telling her to twirl her pretty curls), to the dragon setting the prince’s shorts on fire. I love the princess making tea for the dragon, and the way they become friends who defend each other and travel the world together. Princess Sue is a strong role model that breaks out of the sexism she was trapped in.

Ogilvie’s illustrations are vivid and alive, quirky and expressive, and a delight to pore through, with a lot of detail to enjoy. The characters and the objects they interacting with have strong outlines which bring them into the forefront and focus, while backgrounds are more muted and blurry. I love the bold, bright colors. Princess Sue’s bright orange hair is echoed in the dragon’s bright orange-red scales, which visually and emotionally tie the two together even more. And the prince does look like the pompous twit he acts like, with his thin curly mustache, foppish hair, long narrow nose, and stuck up expression.

This is an important–and fun!–book for both girls and boys. None of us need be constrained by the gender rules for behavior that society sets for us. Girls can think for themselves, protect themselves and others, travel the world, and be outspoken. Boys can stay at home, cook, take care of children, or follow their dreams, whatever they might be. Though the book doesn’t show boys escaping their forced gender roles, it will make children (and adults) think, and it challenges sexism in a humorous way. We need more books like this.

If you love strong-girl characters, you have *got* to get yourself–or the kids in your life–a copy of this book! I think it’ll become a classic, like Princess Smartypants
and The Paper Bag Princess. This, for me, became an instant favorite.
.

Highly recommended! If I could give it a higher rating, I would. This is a keeper, and one to give away as gifts, too.


Drop It, Rocket! (Step Into Reading, Step 1)
Written and illustrated by: Tad Hills
Published By: Random House Books for Young Readers
Published: July 8, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0385372541
Ages: 6-9
Source: Obtained from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. (As you may be able to tell, I only review books I love.)
My rating: 5/5

Rocket loves to find new words. He brings the little yellow bird many objects so they can make words from them. But when he finds a red boot he refuses to put it back down or trade it for anything–except for a book which the friends then pore over.

Hill’s sentences and words are short and easy for young readers to read, so that should bring a feeling of success, and yet they keep reader interest by telling a great story. The story moves quickly with a lot of dialogue, and there’s some great humor (with a set up of Rocket dropping every object he’s asked to, until he gets to the boot) and conflict. I love the focus on words and reading. It’s very feel-good and fills me with delight.

Hill’s illustrations are sweet, light hearted, and expressive, with great emotion, facial expressions, and body language. The illustrations perfectly compliment and enhance the text. I love how they work together so that the illustrations show things that the text doesn’t, such as how all the objects Rocket brought back are printed out as words. The great amount of white space around each illustration helps to add to the light, airy feeling of the illustrations.

If you love books about books or words, you’ll want to pick this one up! Highly recommended.


Mr. Wuffles!
Written and illustrated by: David Wiesner
Published by: Clarion Books
Published: October 1, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0618756612
Ages: 4-8
Source: I purchased the book myself.
My rating: 5/5

I love David Wiesner’s books; he’s created some of my very favorites, especially Tuesday and Flotsam–so I look forward to each new release, and Mr. Wuffles! didn’t disappoint. Mr. Wuffles! is a Caldecott Medal Honor Winning title, and it deserves to be.

Mr. Wuffles doesn’t play with any of the toys his human buys for him. But when a tiny alien spaceship–the size and almost the look of a golf ball with protrusions–lands in Mr. Wuffles’ house, Mr. Wuffles goes crazy playing with it. The tiny aliens inside get headaches and feel sick from being tossed around, so when they think Mr. Wuffles is asleep they sneak out. Mr. Wuffles is about to attack them when a ladybug distracts him, and the aliens flee to safety–into the walls of the house, where they are greeted by ants and ladybugs who’ve all been chased by the cat (as evidenced by the paintings on the wall). The aliens and the bugs–who look similar in shape–become allies and friends, sharing food and ideas, and coming up with a plan for escape, while Mr. Wuffles watches them under the radiator. The aliens and bugs distract the cat until they get their spaceship working and fly away, out the window, while the triumphant bugs don some of the alien attire and add to their paintings on the inner walls of the house.

There are only a few short lines of text in the story; most of the story is told through the illustrations. But the sparse text works to emphasize certain details in the book, and bring the story full circle. In the first two panels, Mr. Wuffles’ human says “Look, Mr. Wuffles, a new toy!” and when the cat walks away, says “Oh, Mr. Wuffles,” which makes the reader notice all the toys Mr. Wuffles never plays with. Three quarters of the way through the book, we see Mr. Wuffles’ human asking him what is so interesting–while he stares determinedly under the radiator, where the aliens and bugs are–to Mr. Wuffles, they seem like living or animated toys. And then in some of the last panels, Mr. Wuffles’ human brings hima new toy–a rocket–while saying “Hey, Mr. Wuffles–blast off!” and then when Mr. Wuffles walks away, saying “Oh, Mr. Wuffles.” So we see again Mr. Wuffles snubbing toys for living creatures–bugs and aliens. And there’s also some humor with the rocket symbolizing outer space and exploration of the universe and other intelligent life–while real aliens have already visited Mr. Wuffles’ home. The text works well, emphasizing key story points.

The illustrations are what make the book. SO much is told through the beautiful, colorful illustrations–through body language, through action. The story is well paced and also holds a lot of humor, with a funny explanation for why some pets may prefer chasing after bugs and living creatures than playing with their toys, and humor that animals, insects, and aliens may be more intelligent than us or notice things that we don’t.

The illustrations are painted in various sizes of panels, almost like a comic book, some taking up a full spread, some half a page, some a quarter or a fifth or less, the action moving beautifully from one panel to the next. The viewpoint also changes, moving us from seeing Mr. Wuffles and what he’s doing, to seeing the aliens and bugs and what they’re doing. The bright, rich colors, realism, and strong storytelling bring the story alive. There is so much to see on every page–details readers will love to find–and fantastic expression and body language.

Anyone who’s owned a cat will also recognize the body language and behaviors of a cat–chasing after a fly, leaping up in surprise, swatting at moving objects, getting overwhelmed at too much stimuli, a swishing tail when wanting to pounce or annoyed at something–and refusing to play with some expensive toys while loving chasing after anything from nature.

This is a funny, light-hearted fantasy romp, especially for children with imagination and cat lovers. There’s also a bit of a fun surprise for readers who buy the hardcover; take off the paper jacket, and instead of the cover you see outer space. 🙂 Highly recommended.

If you can, I hope you buy pick these books up at your local bookstore or library. They are well worth it, and will bring many enjoyable reads. I know I’ll be buying copies for gifts–they’re that good.

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