Loula is Leaving for Africa

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by Anne Villeneuve; published (2013) by Kids Can Press

Once in a while a gem comes along, like LOULA IS LEAVING FOR AFRICA, by Anne Villeneuve. Tender and sensitive, touching and tasteful, sparse and balanced, it is, in my opinion, a perfect book.

Loula is leaving for Africa, getting as far away as possible from her three mean, horrible, stinky brothers.

“Just don’t catch a cold,” says her opera singer mom.

“…don’t come home too late,” says her absent-minded dad.

But Africa, as it turns out, isn’t so very far away – it’s in the front lawn, up in a tree.  The most wonderful family chauffeur possible, Gilbert, plays up to Loula’s imagination perfectly.

“But Mademoiselle Loula, first you have to take a ship,”  he says (meaning the family car), “or else you will never get to Africa.” 

“Okay then, I’ll take a ship,” says Loula.

“Good.  Do you have your ticket?”  says he.

“No… but I have my best drawing.  Will that do?”  says Loula.

“It will do just fine,” declares Gilbert.

And it is a long trip.  They’ll have to cross a jungle (park), ignoring the enormous snake in the tree, of course.  They’ll have to make do with simple ostrich egg soufflé and grasshopper sandwich (ice cream) and cross a desert (a sandbox) and take a plane (a seesaw) and ferry across the park pond where they will sip Loula’s make-believe tea from a mini tea set tucked away in her suitcase.  The African sunset is glorious, orange and grand…

“They have the nicest sunsets in Africa,”  murmurs Gilbert.

Gently he coaxes little Loula back home.  Gently, one exquisite line and amusing, tender image after another, I was coaxed into this story too, with a feeling of wonder at this beautiful book.  I cannot imagine anyone being indifferent to it.


The Day the Crayons Quit

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THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT – View on Amazon by Drew Daywalt; illustrated by Oliver Jeffers; published (2013) by Philomel

Oh, my God!  The crayons have QUIT!  And there are notes upon notes about how bummed-out they truly are!      

“It’s me, Red Crayon,” writes the RED Crayon. “All year long I wear myself out coloring FIRE ENGINES, APPLES, STRAWBERRIES and everything else that’s RED.  I even work on Holidays!” 

“… I’m your favourite crayon for grapes, dragons, and wizards’ hats”  complains the PURPLE Crayon, “but it makes me crazy that so much of my gorgeous color goes outside the lines…”

BEIGE is always second place to Mr. BROWN. GREY would love a shot at coloring more than hippos and humpbacked whales. WHITE is feeling empty, BLACK is but a boring outline, YELLOW and ORANGE have argued about who is the true color of the sun and, sigh, sigh, sigh, BLUE is worn from overuse and PINK and PEACH have their own dilemmas.

Little Duncan just wants to color.  How to appease those unhappy crayons?  He will have to find a solution, and he does indeed (albeit a predictable solution), that makes everyone feel cheered up, including the reader.

The notes are delightfully in keeping with each of the  colors’ personalities. Jeffers has done a fabulous job of childish crayon-drawn illustrations that had me smiling to the end.  If you’re looking for something different, THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT is as different as it gets.  In fact, it’s absolutely unique.  But you know, I have a nagging suspicion about my own box of colors and if you’ll excuse me please, there is a little something I have to do….

Big Plans is a big hit with me!

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BIG PLANS – View on Amazon

by Bob Shea; illustrated by Lane Smith;  published (2008) by Hyperion Books for Children

I’m always drawn to bold, unusual books with unusual plots and offbeat illustrations. And BIG PLANS fits the bill to a T.

A BIG book with BIG pictures and EVEN BIGGER action, BIG PLANS is a marvel and a hit with me. Crackling with humour, booming with personality – if you’re buying, it’s one big bang for your buck.

Believe it or not, BIG PLANS is about a little boy without a name. He isn’t feeling very big, sitting time-out, in the classroom, in the corner, facing the wall.  He’s been a bad boy, judging by the writing on the board….

…. What I say does not go.  I am not the boss of the class….It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice…

And now he’s mad and really scheming. Soon, the entire world will know of his big plans.  So big he’ll   “…need Dad’s shiniest tie and fanciest shoes…

So big he will fly a copter, score with the local team, declare himself mayor, and oust the president!  Then he’ll build a rocket and fly to the moon!   “…in the night sky for all to see, it will say….I GOT BIG PLANS!  BIG PLANS, I SAY!”

His imagination takes us far, to high places and low places, as he threatens the sorry, sorry world with his BIG and BIGGER plans.  It is a story that is funny and quirky and brilliant; a book that doesn’t miss a beat.  In my opinion, a perfect book.  Does the world not yet know of BIG PLANS?  It is really THAT good.

Author Shea has a website.

Illustrator Lane Smith has done the book absolute justice in a really big way.  The art is all big and wonderful.  He has a website, check it out.

One Cool Friend is one cool book!


ONE COOL FRIEND – view on Amazon

by Toni Buzzeo; illustrated by David Small; published (2012) by Dial Books for Young Readers

ONE COOL FRIEND by very cool author Toni Buzzeo is my kind of quality book!  I came across it quite by chance while browsing on Amazon.  Well written.  Intelligent.  Simply and artfully illustrated (mostly two-tone and soft colored and somewhat reminiscent of the Eloise books), it’s a real charmer.

Who is Elliot’s cool friend?  It’s an honest to goodness penguin.

Elliot, a very dapper proper young man dressed in a dapper proper young man’s tuxedo, is always very polite. So when his father says, “Family Fun Day at the aquarium….”  Elliot very politely says, “Of course.  Thank you for inviting me.”

At the aquarium he finds a pool full of very proper penguins who, with their tidy feather tuxedos and proper postures, remind Elliot of himself.

“May I please have a penguin?” says Elliot to his dad (meaning may he have a REAL penguin).

“Sure,” says his dad, eyeing the plush penguins on sale in the giftshop.

So Elliot and Magellan the REAL penguin have a wonderful time.  They skate in Elliot’s ultra chilled air-conditioned room; they eat goldfish crackers and anchovy frozen pizza. But when Elliot puts Magellan in the tub, trouble comes along and that trouble is none other than Dad deciding to have a soak.

“I think I’ll have a bit of a soak,”  says Dad.

Worried?  Don’t be.  The surprise ending is on the reader, and a very cool ending it is.  One Cool Friend is a low key and beautifully paced book that is pure pleasure reading from beginning to end.

David Small has illustrated a great number of books, and authored a few good ones himself.  Get to know David  here.

And the very talented Toni Buzzeo here.

The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas

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by Tony Wilson; illustrated by Sue deGennaro; published (2009) Peachtree Publishers

It was the fresh, fun cover that attracted me to this one AND its cool title too!

Prince Henrik wants very much to fall in love and get married.

His brother, Prince Hans, has some very good advice to give.

“The important thing is to make sure she is a real princess,” says his brother, Prince Hans. “A real princess is very beautiful and very sensitive.”

He advises to stack twenty mattresses and twenty eiderdown quilts and put a single pea at the bottom of the mattress.  And, “If a girl complains about feeling the pea through the mattresses and eiderdown quilts, she must be a real princess.” 

After all, that’s how Hans met his wife, Princess Eva.  But Princess Eva is always frowning and being sensitive about EVERYTHING.  Her princess tennis balls are too bouncy, her new sports car isn’t the one she wanted and the palace maids are not doing their job! A princess doesn’t have to be beautiful, decides Henrik. She just has to like hockey and camping and have a nice smile.

So he hatches a plan to find the perfect UNREAL princess.  He offers each of his stay-over guests one thin camping mattress rather than twenty real ones.  Instead of eiderdown quilts he offers one old sleeping bag.  Instead of a single pea it’s a whole packet of frozen peas.  THAT’S  a test!  And not a single princess passes.

“You won’t believe this, I found PEAS in my bed.”

“I couldn’t sleep at all, I found a massive lump under the mattress.”

“What’s the deal with the PACKET TO FROZEN PEAS?”  complains another.

It is QUITE the challenge to find that UNREAL princess.  And a lovely idea for a book with a nice modern twist on the old classic – just the kind of book I wish I’d read as a little girl !

If you’d like to know what its author, Tony Wilson, has to say about THE PRINCESS AND THE FROZEN PEAS,  here it is.

Russell the Sheep (who couldn’t sleep)

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RUSSELL THE SHEEP – View on Amazon

by Rob Scotton;  published (2005) by Harper Collins Children’s Books

RUSSELL THE SHEEP is an adorable book about an adorable sheep named Russell.

He lives in Frogsbottom Field. It’s been a long and busy day in Frogsbottom Field. Grandma sheep’s been knitting. The cuddly flock has lazed and grazed. Everyone’s down for some restful zzzz’s …. except for Russell.

Russell cannot fall asleep.

Is it not dark enough, he wonders?  Down goes his woolly hat over his eyes, but – oooooh! –  the really dark really scares him!  Is it too hot?  Off comes his woolly sheepskin (and he’s looking SO dapper in dotted undies) but – brrrrrr! – the night is VERY drafty!

Perhaps a new place?  The trunk of a car is too cramped!  The hollow of a tree is too creepy.  The bird-covered branch is way too crowded!  What’s a sheep to do?

There is always the tried and true like counting things.  Counting his own four feet and the six hundred million billion and ten stars in the sky and each and every snoozing sheep in the field!  Ah…

“Still awake,” he sighs.

Goodness, is there anything left to count?  There is.  Something very important that Russell forgot. The whole book will make you chuckle (the illustrations alone make it worth the while) and you will at last…see Russell …..yawn…….get his share of ……zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….

Good night, Russ. You’ll be waking up to five bright and twinkly stars from me, your new best fan forever…..

Where did Rob Scotton get the idea for Russell the Sheep?  He tells the story behind the story of his very first winning character creation… right here :  The beginning – according to Rob!

HippoSpotamus is fun, fun, fun!


HIPPOSPOTAMUS – View on Amazon

by Jeanne Willis; illustrated by Tony Ross; published (2012) by Andersen Press.

A rhyming book and a whole lotta silly fun!  Hippopotamus has a spotamus on her bottomus. but whatever could  it be?

“It’s measels,” says the Weasel. “You sat in a breezle and caught a diseasel. 

“It’s Hippopox!” says the Fox. But Beaver says it’s Jungle Fever, Lion says it’s Hippolumps, Shrew believes it’s Potomumps and if Rhino says it’s Hippoflu, really, no one has a clue. Oh, dear, what will spotty hippo do?

She’ll scrub her skin with icky soot, from “..noseymus to footimus, but the spotamus stayed put.”

She’ll get a shot from Croc the Doc but despite the “perfect shotamus”  – rot! the shot’s for naught!

“It’s a blister,”  says her sister.

For goodness’ sake, “You clottamus!”  says the acerbated Snake.  “Cut out chippochoccomus, eat lettuce for a week.”  Still  “… the spot on Hippo’s bottomus stuck firmly to her cheek.” 

Will the spotty on her botty ever, ever leave?  The ending may delight you, and then again may not (’cause it’s a yecchy fulsome finish to that stubborn sticky spot!)

HOWEVER, it’s a lively book and it’s hilarious and good enough to forgive the ending.  On a scale of 0 to the full 5-ottomus,  I give it the maximottamus.  (Plus, Ross’ illustrations are the perfect complimottamus.)

Other books by Ross and Willis: 

The positively depressing and absolutely adorable  Misery Moo.