Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"Wolves" and "Hattie Hippo"

I recently added the following two picture book reviews to my library book review blog. I've also added book reviews from that blog as part of my Library Thing account. It's a simple way to keep track of what I've read. An additional bonus is when student ask, "did you read?" I can check library thing (yes, another bonus to my widget affection). For some reason I have been limiting book comments here to middle grade and YA literatuare. Now is as good a time as any to include a few of the picture book reviews and opinions. Today's entries are Wolves, by Emily Gravett, and Hattie Hippo, by Christine Loomis.

This is a story about a rabbit that goes to the library for a book about wolves. What makes it captivating are the visual, it is printed on thick cream colored paper and includes vivid mixed media elements, and the sophisticated layered story. Rabbit chooses his book, Wolves, from the stacks in the public library. Immediately readers see the book is bright red, stained from repeated use, and worn at the edges. Rabbit learns more about the wolf, his habitat, and physical characteristics; but as he reads, the predatory wolf inside yearns to get out of the book and do what comes naturally. The wolf increases in size and menace until Rabbit learns wolves like to eat meat, and “they also enjoy smaller mammals, like beavers, voles, and … rabbits.” Never fear, the author has provided an alternate fairy tale ending. Written in the fractured fairy tale theme, this book is not something recommended for the very young.

The artwork in this book is fabulous. As mentioned in the "review," the paper is heavier weight than most picture books frequently are and the paper itself is a rich creme color. Following Rabbit through this book as he is subsequently stalked by the wolf is a wonderful journey. Like Weisner's The Three Pigs, neither wolf nor rabbit are confined to the book page. Towards the end, an artfully rendered double page spread where rabbit realizes wolves eat ... well, rabbits .. is priceless. The wolf is large and harshly drawn in charcol or ink pen and rabbit is a distraught pink, dainty, tasty treat. It's very much in the fractured fairy tale genre and not for the faint of heart. For any child with a sense of the absurd, Gravett's alternate ending is not to be missed. I really enjoyed the nuances presented throughout this book.

Meet Hattie, an engaging young hippo who approaches life with a joyful abandon that will resonate with young readers. Charming watercolor and ink illustrations highlight four vignettes of simple rhyming text with a dose of humor, allowing readers to see Hattie in all her glory. Each story highlights Hattie as she attends to her day, and whether dressed for a tea party or performing the ballet, her sheer enjoyment of the activity shines. Fans of Ian Falconer’s Olivia will find Hattie a kindred spirit.

Since I had the word "cute" removed from my review vocabulary during a children's literature course in grad school (see Dr. Kimmel, I remembered), I have to say this is a very sweet book. The best part is Hattie's complete joy in everything she does. It matters not that she is a hippo and has issues with her swim suit, because readers see only how she lives life. Each of the short stories within the book have a similar, yet distinct, beginning, middle, and end. What fun. If I were still doing pre-school story time this would be a winner.

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