CHILDREN’S BOOKS: JAZZ, NINJAS, and a dog called ROCKET

The Boy Who Cried Ninja Cover

It helps that the boy who actually cried “Ninja” is named Tim, but even if his name was Tom or Sam or Joe this would still be an amazing book that Kirkus Reviews called “Hip and trendy…with a timeless theme.”

Written by Alex Latimer, an author and illustrator from South Africa, he also created “Penguin’s Hidden Talent,” which I wrote about in an earlier post https://secondchancehomestead.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/picture-books-on-my-island-how-rocket-learned-to-read-and-penguins-hidden-talent/

Alex Latimer photo

Alex Latimer

Starting out with pencil drawings that then get digitized and colored, he creates a magical comic-strip like world in which we meet ninja’s, pirates, and time-travelling monkeys. And the story moves forward quickly without missing a beat. Loads of fun!

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Bring On That Beat Cover

Rachel Isadora is a former ballerina turned author/illustrator who works to capture music in book form. With words that fly off the page like the best jazz lyrics and joyous, infectious illustrations of musicians at play (literally and figuratively) – she celebrates that magic and mystery of this most American of music forms. Breathtaking.

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Rocket Writes a Story cover photo

I am really taken with Tad Hills work – from his DUCK AND GOOSE  board books for early readers to this two book series for the more advanced about a dog who learns to read and then finds the courage to write. I wrote about the first book, where a tweety-bird like teacher helps inspire the cutest little pup to learn to read. The New York Times review of this first Rocket chronicle lauded Hills for bringing a “sweet but not saccharine touch to a common struggle of childhood.”

How Rocket Learned to Read Cover

The story continues as Rocket, who is now a firmly established reader, gets encouragement from his teacher to WRITE.

Kirkus Reviews gets it right, noting a plot that “moves along at a measured pace” and “stresses the step-by-step process of Rocket’s endeavors.” Hills illustrations, in oil and colored pencil, are touching and “lovingly depict the characters and events.” The book doesn’t just chronicle a writer’s first start, but also the special relationship between teacher and student, and the role encouragement and gentle prodding can have in getting a new writer to blossom. Heart-warming.

Tad Hills with the real Rocket   Tad Hills with the “real” Rocket (Kirkus Reviews)

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PICTURE BOOKS: ON MY ISLAND, HOW ROCKET LEARNED TO READ, and PENGUIN’S HIDDEN TALENT

As part of my daily routine this last year, I’ve incorporated the reading of a children’s picture book. It’s become one of the most enjoyable parts of my day – it helps me drift into a world where my adult cares are replaced by a childlike wonder and innocence. I believe we all have that buried away inside us somewhere, and it’s a good thing to make contact with. In my faith tradition, the words of Jesus command as much:

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?’ He called a child, set him in front of them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you: unless you turn round and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.'”- Matthew 18:1-4, The Revised English Bible

I think Jesus must have been talking about that wonder and innocence and sincerity that children have – and challenging us to cultivate that in our adult lives. So that’s one way I do it. By heading to the library and checking out a stack of children’s picture books for my daily read.

Here are some recent titles which have really pleased my childlike side:

HOW ROCKET LEARNED TO READ by Tad Hills, Schwartz and Wade Books, 2010.

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Working in oil paint and colored pencil, Tad Hills creates the most endearing story of a dog and his slow to come interest in learning to read. Taught by a little yellow bird who is almost a dead ringer for the Looney Tunes Tweety, Rocket masters the alphabet and reading and spelling, and practices all winter long when his bird teacher has flown south with the promise to return in the Spring. The story is as much about the love of reading as it is about the caring and intimate relationship that develops between our most beloved teachers and ourselves. Sweet and tender, with illustrations that bring repeated smiles to the face.

For more on the book, visit the author’s website at http://tadhills.com/rocket/how-rocket-learned-to-read

PENGUIN’S HIDDEN TALENT by Alex Latimer, Peachtree Publishers, 2012.

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Written by South African author and illustrator Alex Latimer and first published in Britain, this charming book explores the journey of fits and starts each of us must take experimenting until we find out what we are good at. Penguin knows what he isn’t good at: burping the alphabet, swallowing large fish, juggling appliances, and performing magic tricks. But what IS he able to do with grace and aplomb? Along the way there are fireworks, jets and special appearances by the King of Norway and the musical group the Jolly Llamas. The illustrations have a digital feel that leans toward comic book, but were originally created as pencil drawings, then digitized and finished with color and texture to make for a fresh and vibrant look. The pictures are as fun as the story itself, and both work together seamlessly.

For more on the book visit the author’s blog at http://alexlatimer.blogspot.com/2011/09/penguins-hidden-talent.html

ON MY ISLAND (Sur Mon île) by Marie-Louise Gay,Groundwork Books, 2000.

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Originally published in French, this collage like work by French-Canadian author and illustrator Marie-Louise Gay is an exploration of state of mind, revealing that boredom is all a matter of perspective and also reinforcing the idea that no man is an island (or no man who wants to be happy should try to be). I agree with the Publishers Weekly reviewer who pointed out that the deeper meaning of the story might only be apparent to adult readers, and prove more puzzling for kids. But that’s the mark of many a great work for children, including fairy tales, Disney movies, and Looney Tunes cartoons, which all have two layers of meaning, one perceivable with maturity and sophistication, and the other just accessible and entertaining on the surface.

For more information on the book and/or to look inside visit http://www.amazon.com/On-My-Island-Marie-Louise-Gay/dp/088899396X

For more information on Marie-Louise Gay visit her blog at http://marielouisegay.com/