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Children’s Bookwatch (September 2005):

Clever, entertaining, and "kid friendly", "The Little Princess" series is ideal for family, preschool, daycare, nursery school, kindergarten, and community library collections.





Publishers Weekly (Monday, February 19, 2001):

Three new board books give toddlers a chance to see others, like themselves, learn how to shed their diapers. Tony Ross's 1988 I Want My Potty tells the story of Little Princess, a feisty and expressive toddler who learns that "the potty's the place." Not only does she become attached to it, using it as a swing, but so does the royal admiral as he tows the potty through the water alongside his other toy boats!

School Library Journal (March 1, 1987):

Ross takes a frustrating and often stress-producing subject toilet training and infuses it with low-key humor. The little princess is not too thrilled with the idea when the queen first tells her, “The potty's the place,” but after some practice and several mishaps, she becomes quite pleased with her near-mastery of the art. Children will laugh at her antics and appreciate her predicament when caught unexpectedly at the top of the castle without her potty. The delightfully expressive drawings and non-didactic treatment of the difficult stages of toilet training will be enjoyed by both adults and little ones, as will the realization that even princesses have accidents.

Hornbook Guide to Children (Tuesday, January 1, 2002):

This board book edition is smaller than but otherwise identical to the original. A Little Princess must learn to use her potty, and with the help of the court, she is almost always successful. Ross's characteristic sketchy watercolor and ink illustrations express the frustrations of the situation for princesses and other toddlers.

Children’s Bookwatch (September 2005):

Clever, entertaining, and "kid friendly", "The Little Princess" series is ideal for family, preschool, daycare, nursery school, kindergarten, and community library collections.



School Library Journal (October 1, 2005):

The Little Princess is proud of her 20 straight, white royal teeth. She takes good care of them by brushing regularly and eating the right foods. Everything is going smoothly until the morning she notices that one of them is wobbly. As the days go by, the royal tooth wiggles more and more, a situation that the Little Princess comes to enjoy. Then, it disappears and she wants it back, and she wants it NOW! Everyone in the castle hunts high and low for the lost tooth until the Little Princess makes a most unusual discovery that leads to a funny ending. The lighthearted text is highlighted with Ross's bright, pastel watercolor-and-ink illustrations. The comic pictures show the Little Princess's tabby cat and teddy bear sharing her emotional ups and downs. A good-humored and different take on a common childhood experience.

Children’s Bookwatch (September 2005):

Clever, entertaining, and "kid friendly", "The Little Princess" series is ideal for family, preschool, daycare, nursery school, kindergarten, and community library collections.

Curled Up Kids (June 21, 2006):

You cannot miss the teeth in this book! The Little Princess loves her teeth so much that she brushes them twice a day - everyday. She shows her teeth to everyone - the General, the Admiral, and even the King. They all praise her teeth.

The Little Princess is very protective of her teeth. She stares down the offer of candy, almost daring it to come closer. Despite being so meticulous with her teeth, the cook discovers a wobbly tooth in the Little Princess’s mouth. After the initial shock wears off, the Little Princess learns to live with a wiggly tooth. Much to her surprise, her loose tooth soon disappears, leaving a gaping hole in her beautiful smile. Everyone in the palace goes in search of the badly missed tooth. It reappears in a very unexpected place.

The author shows the humor in losing a tooth. It doesn’t have to be a scary experience. The Little Princess encourages children to look after their own teeth, to brush everyday and eat healthy food just as she does. And visiting the dentist won’t be so bad; the dentist is portrayed here as a helpful, gentle person.

The colorful, cheery illustrations are lively, not to mention funny and perfect for this story. The Little Princess has her stuffed animal perched on the edge of the bathroom sink, his legs dangling in the water. Toothpaste foam bubbles out of his mouth. Obviously the Little Princess thinks his teeth need special care, too. They even have matching toothbrushes. The Little Princess has abundant enthusiasm for her teeth that just pops off the page. She has a wide, toothy grin in almost every picture. All the characters in the book sympathize with the Little Princess when her tooth goes missing. Her family, the maid, her stuffed animal, and her pet cat mirror the feelings of the Little Princess.

This book is full of child-appeal. Fortunately, the author has written more Little Princess books. Even though the Little Princess is royalty, wearing a white gown and golden crown, children will see themselves in her.



School Library Journal (July 1, 2004):

This book's marvelous photos may attract browsers, but its text leaves something to be desired. In the simple scenario, a black ant sets out on a walk and readers are invited to come along. A close-up of the insect is followed by a series of photo spreads depicting the various creatures that cross its path, including three types of grasshoppers, a stag beetle, and a Japanese tree frog. The ant is not shown again until the end, although an icon of it appears throughout. One or two short sentences appear on each page, most of which are enclosed in narrow yellow rectangles overlaid on the photographs. Breezy in tone and functioning more like informal picture captions than a coherent narrative, the text briefly identifies each creature by common name and occasionally comments on a distinctive physical characteristic. The photos are remarkably detailed; most are so magnified that the hairs on various insects' bodies are clearly visible. It takes two spreads to show a migratory locust in its entirety. Very little information about the featured animals is provided, however; also, the terms "nectar" and "pollen" are mentioned but not defined. All in all, the book has a weak story line: not much happens in this walk with an ant.

Publishers Weekly (March 22, 2004):

A close-up peek at beetles and other insects in this vibrantly photographed book will have youngsters looking at these small creatures a little bit closer.

Minibeast World (February 2005):

Have you ever wondered what the world looks like from an insect’s point of view? Well, this extremely innovative and creative book from Japan will really help you feel like you are the size of an ant – and seeing the world of plants and other insects from the ground up. And even though you’ll see a variety of other insects extremely up close and in great detail, the photographs are fascinating – and not at all scary. The photographs are accompanied by some very brief text which helps identify the other creatures that are encountered as you and the ant walk among the beetles and other insects. You might be wondering how the special ant’s-eye view photographs were obtained for this book. Well, the photographer’s unique picture taking techniques are made possible by building his own special cameras. To get the pictures for this book he built a wide angel, insects-eye camera out of a doctor’s endoscope, an instrument used for seeing inside a person’s body. This book is unlike any other book I have ever seen during my 25 years as an entomologist and educator. It’s a fresh and exciting way to have a close-up look at some of the smallest and most remarkable creatures who share our planet.



Publishers Weekly (Monday, October 21, 2002):

For Benedicte Guettier's In the Jungle..., a die-cut cover opens to form a hole for readers to poke their heads through (state fair-style) and take on the identities of a half dozen animals (one per spread), including a "fuzzy bear," "noisy elephant" and "a silly monkey" (a banana balanced on its head). Color-saturated backgrounds enhance the offering.

NewBookReviews.com (September 2002):

This big board book with colorful jungle animals on each page, and a circle cut out for a child’s face to become a monkey, lion, snake, tiger, elephant, crocodile, and bear will not fail to delight young people. Sure to make book lovers out of even the most reluctant young readers, In the Jungle offers hours of book fun for parents and kids together.



Children’s Bookwatch (August 2006):

Set in India, Kali and the Rat Snake is the picturebook story of a boy, Kali, who has trouble fitting in at school. He is one of the Irula, an indigenous tribal people who live in Southern India and who have traditionally made a living as snake catchers. As the son of a snake catcher, Kali feels different from the other children, a teacher’s pet, and he has trouble making friends. But when a big rat snake threatens the class, only Kali knows what to do. Energetic color illustrations by Srividya Natarajan pepper this delightful children’s story from Zai Whitaker about accepting differences and learning to appreciate the talents in oneself and others. Highly recommended.

School Library Journal (October 2006):

Kali has always been proud of his father, who is the best snake catcher in their Indian village. But when he attends school, the children make fun of his Irula ways. They are disdainful of what Kali eats, and they shun him. Friendless and lonely, he dreads school. But one day the classroom is visited by a six-foot-long rat snake. With the children screaming and the teacher hiding under his desk, Kali grabs it and becomes the class hero. The text is smoothly written, with lots of cultural details. The story moves at a good pace, with excellent use of text that leaves readers anticipating what will happen when each page is turned. Natarajan's stylized illustrations are a mixture of smaller pencil drawings and luscious larger paintings that seem to be done on silk. The endpapers resemble a beautiful batik fabric. Everything works together for an evocative presentation. This book has much to offer children learning about other cultures. It could also be used to begin discussions about bullying, prejudice, and acceptance.

TDMonthly.com (September 2006):

What It Is: A straightforward story about belonging.

Kali’s father is the best snake catcher in the village. Kali is proud of his father, but his classmates tease him because they have no understanding of what a snake catcher does. The story resolves when Kali saves his classmates from a poisonous rat snake. Kali and the Rat Snake is ideal for teaching children about acceptance.

Why You Should Carry It:

The sense of belonging and finding one’s identity is a story that is hard to make relatable to children. This one does so without preaching. Author Zai Whitaker relates a simple tale about one child’s struggle to feel accepted by his peers. The watercolor illustrations by Srividya Natarajan give the story warmth and complement the succinct text.

What Kids Think:

Children in the 4- to 5-year-old category responded more to the text than to the illustrations. This may be because interpretive and sophisticated art is new to them. Most children liked the story and were happy to see Kali capture the rat snake and have his classmates cheer for him. It’s definitely a great read for 6- to 8-year-olds.
KidsBookshelf.com (September 2006):

Kali's father is the best snake catcher in the village, and that's an important job. Snake cooperatives pay good money for poisonous snakes because they take out the poison from the snakes to make anti-venom serum. Kali was always proud of his father's job until the other kids in school made fun of him. Kali did well in school but wanted to fail out because he had no friends. But all that changes one day when a snake appears in the classroom. The other students and the teacher are all terrified and don't know what to do. When Kali takes control of the situation he proves to everyone what an important job his father really does have. A great book about friendship and being careful not to judge others.

Children’s Bookwatch (September 2006):

Zai Whitaker’s Kali and the Rat Snake receives lovely drawings by Srividya Natarajan as it tells of Kali’s father, a snake catcher renowned in his village. But Kali’s schoolmates think this is a strange talent: until personal need strikes, they don’t appreciate his profession in this moving story of a different kind of career.

CNN.com (September 27, 2006):

This book teaches that if you ever have been teased by people you will make friends even if they don't like you right away. Things will turn out good even if it doesn't happen right away.

It's about a boy named Kali who goes to school, and each time he goes a classmate teases him. Sometimes some kids just like to be mean. I felt a bit upset when Kali didn't have any friends.
On the first day of school, Kali told the class about his life and his dad and they laughed at him and he felt bad. He didn't want anyone to see the fried termites he ate. But then one day this rat snake was on the ceiling, and it plopped down and Kali caught it. Then he made friends after that. It's a great book because it's about snake catching and that's the kind of stuff that I like.
The best part is how Kali caught the snake. The pictures look different, like someone from Kali's country (editor's note: India) painted them. It looks very different, from things I've seen. The artist had to be from that country to know how to draw things like that.

  • Andrew Oglesby, Age 7

Jen Robinson’s Book Page (November 13, 2006):

Kali And the Rat Snake (story by Zai Whitaker, illustrations by Srividya Natarajan) is a classic tale of a misfit whose special talent eventually saves the day, set against a backdrop of modern rural India. Kali hates school, because he doesn't fit it. His father is a famous snake catcher, and Kali knows how to catch snakes, too (you see where this is going, don't you?). But after two months in school, Kali has no friends, and he fears that the other kids think that his tribe (of people who catch snakes for a living) is weird.
As we meet him, we learn that "Kali was getting used to things, but it was hard, and his walk to school grew slower and slower." He's ashamed to eat the foods that he loves, because he knows that the other kids find them unusual. (Fried termites!!). He eats alone.
But then Kali saves the day because of what he has learned from his father (saw it coming, didn't you?). And then everyone wants to be his friend. I found the ending a bit convenient (though I suppose a snake turning up at school in rural India is not unreasonable). But there are nice themes about people being unique, and about how one's own special talents can have a place in the world. The book includes a short glossary of Indian terms (food, money, etc), and offers a window into a culture that will be unfamiliar to most American readers. 
The lush illustrations match the story well. The first page shows an overgrown jungle, with a beam of sunlight shining through the overgrowth. The colors blur into one another, with lots of greens and pinks. The language of the book is poetic in cadence, without actually rhyming. For example: "Arms and legs flew, bodies ran, tumbled over each other, fell, and ran some more." The quantity of text on each page, and the school setting, makes the book more appropriate for older picture book readers.
Kids Literati (November 20, 2006):

Kali and the Rat Snake is a story set in a schoolhouse in India, where an indigenous Iruli boy named Kali struggles to make friends and ultimately becomes a hero. In the Iruli tribe, Kali's father is a prominent snake catcher. Kali is proud of being an Iruli, and loves family traditions, such as snake hunting with his dad and snacking on fried termites.
However, he hates school and the other children snicker about his father's work. At snacktime Kali worries that the other kids will see the fried termites in his lunch. Kali wants to blend in, but his good work at school makes his teacher point him out to the rest of the class.
One day, a six foot long rat snake finds its way into the classroom. When all the students and the teacher panic, Kali saves the day with his calm and the skills his father taught him. His courage makes all the kids want to be his friend, and Kali finds himself proud of his heritage again.
This story is funny and well-written with meaningful insights into friendship, diversity, and bravery. Written by Zai Whitaker, an author and educator passionate about helping the Iruli tribe, and illustrated with colorful and detailed watercolors by Srividya Natarajan.  
Children’s Books @ Suite 101.com (November 6, 2006):

Kali and the Rat Snake is a celebration of diversity.
Kali and the Rat Snake by Zai Whitaker (Kane/Miller Book Publishers, ISBN 1-933605-10-4) is different from most children’s picture books because it gives children a glimpse into what school life is like for children in Southern India. It also shows children that diversity is important for everybody everywhere.
In this storybook, we meet a boy named Kali. Kali comes from a family of snake catchers from the Irula tribe in Southern India, and his father is one of the best snake catchers.
Kali is proud of his father until the first day of school when each child has to state their name, name of their village, and their father’s occupation. The other children have fathers who are bus conductors and postmen. When Kali announced that his father is a snake catcher, all the other children giggle.
For the first time ever, Kali is embarrassed about what his father does and his family heritage.

Each day Kali walks to his school. He hates going there and wishes he could have a father with a “normal” job. Kali has no friends and he feels separate, different, from everyone else.

However, all this changes when one day a rat snake drops into the schoolroom. Now Kali gets to show his classmates what it means to be a snake catcher.
Kali and the Rat Snake is a wonderful book that teaches children that our differences can actually be strengths. It’s the perfect book for classroom and home school discussions regarding making friends, fitting in, diversity, and acceptance.
Christian Home & School (Feb / Mar 2007):

Kali has always been proud of his Irula tribe and his father, who is the best snake catcher in his Indian village. However, when Kali starts school, his classmates make fun of him and his Irula ways. One day a giant rat snake makes its way into the classroom. The children scream, and the teacher hides under his desk. Kali steps forward and captures the snake just as his father would and thus becomes a hero.

This story moves at a good pace and has engaging illustrations. It could prompt discussion about bullying, prejudice, acceptance, and understanding a different culture.









Publishers Weekly (Monday, October 14, 2002):

Belgian author/illustrator Liesbet Slegers offers four titles to quell childhood fears. The paper-over-board books star a forthright fellow depicted in thick black line and pleasingly smudgy brushstrokes of rainbow colors. "I'm Kevin. I'm on my way. I have my suitcase and my grandma," he announces as he boards an airplane in Kevin Takes a Trip. When he gets scared, his grandmother comforts him. Kevin Goes to School; Kevin Goes to the Hospital; and Kevin Spends the Night address other universal anxieties.

School Library Journal (Saturday, March 1, 2003):

A toddler tackles a new experience in each of these titles. The stories are told in simple sentences and toddler-friendly language. All of them begin in a similar fashion, as in Trip: "I'm Kevin. I'm on my way. I have my suitcase and my grandma." He recounts selected details of each situation and describes typical negative and positive emotions associated with each new experience. In School, he explains that: "Mom is talking to a lady. She's my new teacher./No Mom, wait! Don't go yet!" Later he meets Ali, "my new friend. We drink our milk together." The books have sturdy pages and are just the right size for little hands. The brightly colored gouache artwork has a childlike quality and depicts a preschooler's-eye view of the world (adults are always shown from the chest down). In addition, Kevin's emotions are clearly expressed, so that youngsters will easily relate to him. Not essential purchases, but useful, engaging books that parents and children will enjoy.



Curled Up Kids. com (August 22, 2006):

That dreaded, anticipated, exciting, scary first day of school. Parents of first-time preschoolers or kindergarteners know too well the complicated mix of emotions that kids (and moms and dads) grapple with in expectation of that childhood milestone. A bevy of books exist to allay first-day fears and get children set to enjoy their introduction to classroom learning, and Flemish artist/author Liesbet Slegers' charmingly simple Kevin Goes to School from "The On My Way Books" quartet (the other three deal with overnights, hospitals, and trips) is a splendid get-ready book.

Endearing apple-cheeked Kevin is happy to be on his way with his mom, lunchbox in hand. But trepidation begins to set in when Mom talks to his new teacher, escalating to full-fledged panic when she leaves.

Kevin isn't the only kid shedding a tear over not knowing anyone once Mom is gone; Ali, the boy sitting next to Kevin, is sad, too. But when the teacher puts on a puppet show, then shows everyone how to make paper hats, Kevin and Ali are all smiles as they bond first over snack time milk then building a block tower together.

When Kevin's mom arrives and tells him it's time to go home, Kevin's expression reads clear surprise at how the time has flown. He bids his teacher, Ali and everyone else goodbye, happy to say "See you tomorrow!"

Slegers' bright, simple forms in acrylic imbue Kevin with a lively ebullience - a credit to her remarkable talent is the ease with which she conveys emotion in a face with two dots for eyes and an underlined "v" for a nose. Her uncanny perception of a child's-eye view of the world is made especially clear by the differences between adults and children in her illustrations; Kevin's mom and teacher are only visible from the waist down, the rest of their bodies unseeable above the frame of each panel. All in all a sweet, lively companion kids can trust to chase the first-day jitters away.



Publishers Weekly (Monday, January 27, 2003):

Harel, author of more than 40 children's books, delivers a simple, quietly paced story about a father and son's search for missing keys. After an afternoon of playing, Jonathan and his dad realize "five keys on a key chain, with a picture of Jonathan" are lost. They set off to find them, retracing the father's steps through an urban Israeli neighborhood that's subtly different (signs are in Hebrew, a man wears a yarmulke) but will still be familiar to young American readers. They encounter a friendly postal worker who stamps Jonathan's hand, Jack the crazy-haired barber, a pizza maker flipping dough, a helpful newsstand owner and other characters. Eschewing drama (the keys await them at home, where Jonathan's teacher has dropped them off, thanks to the boy's picture), Harel plays off emotional themes that children of every nation will latch on to: the strength of community, the love of family and the reassurance of ordinary routine. Abulafia, a top Israeli illustrator, underscores Harel's words with his uncomplicated, inviting line drawings, adding hints of gentle humor (two cats trail Jonathan and his dad on their search). Quietly reassuring about a world that's often topsy-turvy, this book expresses the importance of community.

School Library Journal (Sunday, June 1, 2003):

In this pleasant tale, Jonathan asks his dad about the keys on his key chain. His father explains the purpose of each one, adding that the boy's picture is the most important element. One day, after Dad picks up his son from school, they can't find the keys. They retrace the man's steps and have some adventures along the way, but don't find the missing items. The story is resolved predictably when Jonathan's teacher finds the keys, recognizes her student's picture, and returns them. Simple, humorous watercolor illustrations include details like a hairdresser with rainbow hair, a cat eyeing a worried rat, and cats on almost all the pages. An additional purchase for large collections.

Booklist (April 15, 2003):

Without his key ring, Jonathan's dad can't get into the house, the car, the garage, or his office. But Dad always says the most important thing on the key ring is Jonathan's picture, and this story proves that is true. After playing together in the school yard, Jonathan and Dad walk home, but the door is locked and Dad can't find his keys. He remembers locking his office door, so he and Jonathan retrace his steps, stopping to ask if the keys have turned up at the post office, the barber shop, or the newspaper stand. They add a stop for pizza before looking around school, but they eventually go home keyless. In the meantime, Mom has returned, unlocked the house, and been visited by Jonathan's teacher, who spotted the keys on the playground and recognized Jonathan's picture. Playful cats follow Jonathan and Dad on their quest along the bustling city streets, and occasional Hebrew lettering pinpoints the locale of a familiar scenario, with caring characters that have international appeal.

Hornbook Guide to Children (Tuesday, July 1, 2003):

This is a sweetly told story about an ordinary drama. When Dad and Jonathan return home from school, they discover that Dad's keys are missing. Dad recalls each place he's been, and together father and son retrace his steps. There are hints in the good-natured watercolors that the story is set in Israel, but the street scenes have a genial universality. The warmth of this tale receives a final boost from the genuine sentiment of its ending.



Publisher's Weekly (January 30, 2006):

Penguin fanciers may not know what to make of this pep talk, originally published in Germany, which reckons that flightless birds might take to the air if only they had faith in themselves. "Last winter, I found a penguin," explains the deadpan storyteller, a bearded adult bundled up for winter and looking down at his knee-high feathered friend. He says the penguin knew how to fly until "he met some other birds./ They said, 'Penguins can't fly.'/ And he thought, 'They're right.'/ That's when he crashed." The man takes the penguin home -one terrific image pictures the bird snoozing in the kitchen sink -and together they do calisthenics with a goal of getting airborne. Near-wordless sequences depict various Icarus schemes like glued-on feathers and a red kite-as-backpack; some slapstick moments (such as the bird spinning in the clothes dryer to test "body stress levels") look like animal cruelty, owing to the naturalism of the pencil illustrations. Meschenmoser's charcoal-gray-on-white sketches (with subtle color details) recall the similarly birdy work of Kä thi Bhend, as does this economical paper-over-board book's six-by-six trim size. The artist limns an appealing penguin -which finally soars when it sees "a penguin colony...flying overhead" -but even true believers must admit that his premise is silly. Don't penguins' actual talents, like deep-sea swimming, compensate for flightlessness?

BIG A little a (January 12, 2006):

Penguins are the "it-animal" of recent children's literature. And the star of Learning to Fly, a new picture book by Sebastian Meschenmoser, is a credit to his flock. (Do penguins make up a flock? Anyone know?) The penguin hero of Learning to Fly falls out of the sky one day when other birds tell him, "Penguins can't fly." He crashes to the ground and is rescued by a kindly young man who takes him home, feeds him, cleans him up, and gives him a place to sleep. Together the man and the penguin begin training for flight. They exercise, read about flight, and try just about anything to get the penguin back in the air. Meschenmoser's illustrations are deceptively straightforward. Sketched in pencil with only minimal color added, the illustrations are warm and often laugh-out-loud funny. The penguin dressed as batman cracked my son up as did one picture of an especially inventive attempt at getting the penguin into the air. Learning to Fly earned three repeat requests from my son, a new record. (And I complied which is against my rule of no more than two reads of the same book in a twenty-four-hour period.) Learning to Fly was published in 2005 as Fliegen lernen in Germany. Kane/Miller (a very cool publishing house specializing in foreign and translated literature for children) has published Learning to Fly as part of its 2006 Spring list.

Book Buds (March 8, 2006):

All you need to make a penguin fly is a sharp pencil and a sharper wit. In absolute deadpan, Meschenmoser explains how he took in a penguin who'd crash landed one wintry day after other birds convinced it that it couldn't fly. The two bond over fish sticks and the penguin snuggles in his sink, and they team up to re-take the skies. Meschenmoser sketches himself in full slouch, scruffy beard and all, timing the penguin in a stress test in the dryer or launching it like an arrow. The book was originally published in German, and in translation it keeps its Teutonic sensibility in the way it takes its absurdity seriously. Even the happy ending -- a colony of penguins flies overhead -- has a degree of fatalism about it. Meschenmoser added only spot color to certain sketches, aiming for an expressionistic touch, and the spare layout underscores the story's stark realism.

Here's Meschenmoser in real life, with a real penguin, taking himself way too seriously -- but in a mocking way. Perfect. While marketed to kids, I'm betting adults will more readily relish this fable about not letting the turkeys get you down.
Kids Lit , Green Lake Library (March 19, 2006):

Learning to Fly by Sebastian Meschenmoser is a charming picture book about a man who finds a penguin who tells the man that he has been flying, but penguins don't fly.  The man takes in the penguin and starts to test whether he is aerodynamic enough to fly and different forms of propulsion.  The ending is about the power of believing in yourself.  The line drawings with their subtle touches of color enhance the story, often the humor is carried by the illustrations alone.  Read this to small groups or with a child in your lap.  The book is small and the illustrations will not project well to an audience.  This is a lovely book.  Share it with children and show them that they should follow their dreams and believe in themselves. 
Copley News Service (April 2006):

Learning to Fly, by Sebastian Meschenmoser is a charming contemporary fable about a man determined to teach his penguin to fly. Hilarious flying contraptions and descriptions sketched loose-handedly help make this tale of believing in the impossible a gem for all ages.
A Fuse #8 Production (April 1, 2006):

Before I begin I'd like to thank Anne Levy of Book Buds and Kelly at Big A little a for bring this book to my attention. I've often said that picture books from other countries simply do not get enough play in the American picture book market. Finding something like this book allows me to feel all kinds of different levels of justification.

If children's book publishers are on top of things then they know that there's been a shift in the wind. The hot new source of children's book reviews and reviewers? Weblogs, my friends. Weblogs are incredibly important in getting people aware of the hot new titles and trends in the field. And no picture book makes this any clearer than Sebastian Meschenmoser's, Learning To Fly. If you look at the review of this book in Publisher's Weekly, you'll see that the professional reviewer hadn't a CLUE what to do with this book or (for that matter) any understanding of how popular it could become. Myself? I first heard about "Learning to Fly" because of weblogs. Several of them, entirely of their own accord, started reviewing this book and they were practically drooling all over it. Now if I had just looked at PW's review ("Don't penguins' actual talents, like deep-sea swimming, compensate for flightlessness?") I might have eschewed "Learning to Fly". Fortunately, I had a variety of sources from which to cull my information and the result was that I have had the delight of reading "Learning To Fly" for myself. And boy oh boy is it lovely. It's succinct, deeply silly (in all the right ways), and perhaps one of the best German picture books ever to grace our American shores.

One day, a man meets a penguin. The two start to talking and the penguin reveals that not too long ago he was flying. The man points out that penguins can't fly and the bird accedes the point. Just the same, it didn't know that before it began flying on its own and it wasn't until a passing flock of birds alerted it to the fact that it crashed. Determined to help the little fellow out, the man takes it home, cleans it up, and together they set out to prove whether or not penguins are or aren't able to fly. This means testing the penguin in a variety of ways. Everything from a training program and exercise to attaching goggles and fireworks to its back. Then one day, as the penguin sits in a makeshift trebuchet, a flock of other penguins fly above. "Suddenly, my penguin stretched out his wings, pushed off, and joined them in the air". The last words as the man stands looking at his departing friend? "He flew pretty well... for a penguin".

The book has several elements all working in its favor. You have the plot itself, which is charming. It could be cutesy or overly sweet, but there's something in Meschenmoser's tone that never allows the book to be anything but a straightforward record of the events that led to his penguin friend's boost in confidence. I don't know if it's the translation or if the author really is this dry a wit, but the book reads with a kind of deadpan humor you almost never get in children's books. This is complemented perfectly by the art. Instead of something cartoonish or childlike, all the artwork in this book is done in graphite. The penguin looks like a real penguin and the man looks like the author himself. There's always a splash of color here or there, but for the most part these illustrations are black and white. Meschenmoser is also obviously a big big fan of American superhero comic books and graphic novels so he sneaks in references to Superman and Batman here and there. Some people adore the shot of the penguin asleep in the sink. Personally, I much preferred the two-page spread of the man indicating to the penguin all his designs, blueprints, and plans for getting the flightless fowl airborn. You haven't lived till you've seen Leonardo Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man reimagined as a penguin (but with a curly mop of hair still on its head).

There were several things about the Publisher's Weekly review of this book that amused me deeply. At one point the reviewer notes huffily, "even true believers must admit that his premise is silly". Oh me! Oh my! A book for kids that's silly? Martha, fetch me my smelling salts... I'm feeling a touch of the vapors! Sheesh. Come on, people! Of course it's a ridiculous premise. It's also, I should note, not exactly a new one. Fans of "Bloom County" will recall Opus the penguin's many repeated attempts to fly, always ending with his rump in the air and his nose squashed flat. There are also several children's books in which dodos and ostriches try to fly. Are we going to get indignant over their presumption as well? If you're going to find fault with this book you're going to have to do a lot better than saying it's "silly". Perhaps, and bear with me here, that's exactly the point. The reviewer might have made a bigger deal about the penguin flopping around the dryer, but since she didn't I'm sure as heck not going to either.

As one children's literature blogger pointed out, "penguins are the `it' animal right now". All the more reason why a realistic looking book with a fabulous penguin hero should garner itself the attention it so desperately deserves. Now this year there are going to be a couple picture books for whom I shall "go to the mats" (as my colleagues put it) to get them recognized in some way. Consider this book one of the few. A rare title that will delight kids, entice adults, and make anyone who fancies penguins a deeply satisfied soul. One of the few must-buy children's titles of 2006.

BookNinja (May 15, 2006):

Amidst the candles, the massage oils, the book paraphernalia (candles and massage oil aside), my son actually found a book; it was nestled between a yoga mat and a box of mother’s day Godiva chocolates. I looked at it quickly and told him it was perhaps a little below his reading level, being a picture book about penguins. But he wanted it badly and had the saved-up allowance in his pocket to buy it, so what could I say. I said, “Okay, but you might get bored of it.” He won’t. It turns out he wanted it for the art. He is eight and even though he says he sucks at drawing, he doesn’t. Nor does Sebastian Meschenmoser. Learning To Fly is the brilliant story of a man who befriends a penguin that believes it can fly. It is the most wonderfully illustrated, and wonderously deadpan story book about the impossible coming true I’ve ever seen. How it ended up in Chapters is a mystery and the good news is, we liberated it. Jesus, you know? They’ve started selling baby shoes and stuffed cuddle toys and Thomas the Tank Engine. Buy Learning To Fly for yourself, for your kid, for your niece and nephew and your grandmother.

Curled Up Kids (July 2006):

Learning to Fly is a very simple little story of a penguin who wants to fly like other birds, despite the fact that penguins don’t fly. I wasn’t sure it would go over well with my five-year-old critic, but he gave it the thumbs up, approving of the delightful little critter and his human friend as they try all sorts of means to get airborne.

Accompanied by intricate line drawings done by the author, Sebastian Meschenmoser, this contemporary fable is all about believing in yourself and doing what it takes to achieve your dreams and soar. In this penguin’s case, soaring means literally flying with other birds, and he enlists the aid of a kindly human man, who makes all kinds of contraptions to get the penguin off the ground. The sparse text lets the images tell the story as man and

penguin train together, and try together, eventually achieving their goal.

Learning to Fly is not a big, splashy and colorful children’s book. Rather, it speaks softly but carries a big impact, because it is about doing the impossible by believing in yourself, and yet the powerful message is imparted in a subtle and highly entertaining way that will enchant kids of all ages…not to mention adults.
USA Weekend.com (July 30, 2006):

This German tale is about the importance of believing. When a penguin falls at a man's feet, the bird explains he'd been flying. Told penguins can't fly, in the end, he sees his flock and is up, up and away.

Copley News Service (July 28, 2006):

A truly irresistible little book, this pencil-sketched tale stars a determined penguin who tries to convince his new human friend that he, the penguin, can fly. After a dirty mishap with a flock of birds, the man cleans the penguin up, feeds him dinner and lets him sleep in the kitchen sink. The next day, the pair get technical - testing aerodynamics and body stress levels, even hilariously training physically, though the penguin walks away during sit-ups. Kids of all ages will giggle when seeing the ingenious inventions human and animal think up, from rockets tied to the penguin's body to the man trying to shoot him upward with a bow and arrow.

Happily for readers, (not to mention one exhausted man and a still positive penguin), a penguin colony soon flies overhead, and the beloved pet finally stretches his wings, pushes off and joins them in the air, flying "pretty well ... for a penguin."

An adorable, dry-witted fable about believing in the impossible, "Learning to Fly" should help readers realize that with enough hope and hard work, anything can happen.

Copley News (September 2006):

A truly irresistible little book, this pencil-sketched tale stars a determined penguin who tries to convince his new human friend that he, the penguin, can fly. After a dirty mishap with a flock of birds, the man cleans the penguin up, feeds him dinner and lets him sleep in the kitchen sink. The next day, the pair get technical - testing aerodynamics and body stress levels, even hilariously training physically, though the penguin walks away during sit-ups. Kids of all ages will giggle when seeing the ingenious inventions human and animal think up, from rockets tied to the penguin's body to the man trying to shoot him upward with a bow and arrow.

Happily for readers, (not to mention one exhausted man and a still positive penguin), a penguin colony soon flies overhead, and the beloved pet finally stretches his wings, pushes off and joins them in the air, flying "pretty well .. for a penguin."

An adorable, dry-witted fable about believing in the impossible, "Learning to Fly" should help readers realize that with enough hope and hard work, anything can happen.

KidsBookshelf.com (September 2006):

Penguins can't fly. Of course they can't. It's not possible. Or is it? In this unusual tale the narrator meets a penguin one cold winter day who told him that he had wanted to fly, and so he did, until he met a flock of birds who told him that he couldn't, then he crashed to the ground. The man takes the penguin home and together they try to find a way for the penguin to fly. Nothing seemed to work. Until one day they heard a penguin colony flying overhead, and the penguin stretched his wings and took flight. The charcoal grey and white sketches with splashes of color add beauty to this fable about believing in yourself, and not letting others decide your path in life.
Whimsy Books (December 11, 2006):

Learning to Fly by Sebastian Meschenmoser is endearing and fun and simple. I think it's a love-it or hate-it book. I love it. Learning to Fly is the first book written by Sebastian Meschenmoser. First published in Germany, it came as a surprise hit to America this year. Publishers Weekly gave it a terrible review (which you can find here at Amazon). However, many of our fellow bloggers have loved it. Learning to Fly is one of the Cybils Awards nominees. So I received a review copy last week. Truly, getting the best 2006 books in the mail every day is just too fun.

Learning to Fly is about a man who finds a penguin. When the penguin tells the man that he has been flying, the man informs him that penguins can't fly. But the penguin isn't deterred. He flies. When he meets some other birds, they tell him "Penguins can't fly...That's when he crashed." The man takes the penguin home. They eat fish sticks, make a sink bed for the penguin, and begin flight training. They try all sorts of things to help the penguin fly, and eventually, he does the impossible. He flies away.

I really like simple books. The text is simple. The illustrations are just gray-on-white sketches, with touches of color here and there. Together the words and pictures have synergy. It is about believing in yourself and doing the impossible. Can penguins really fly? Of course not. That's why the Publishers Weekly people didn't like it. The plot is ridiculous. But kids love ridiculous, impossible premises. And, apparently, so do I. The brilliant thing about the way Sebastian Meschenmoser has told the story is that it doesn't sound ridiculous. It sounds like a true account of something that happened to him personally.

In a word, Learning to Fly is HEARTENING.

Uplifting Picture Books That Don’t Preach (November 2006):

The narrator, a bearded man, finds a penguin who tells him he could fly—even though penguins can't fly—until he met some other birds who told him he couldn't. The penguin believed them, and stopped being able to fly.

The man takes the penguin home, and together they go through laugh-out-loud methods of trying to get the penguin flying again, from flying contraptions to shooting the penguin out of bow to fastening the penguin to a kite, none succeeding. Finally, a flock of penguins flies by, and the penguin realizes he really can fly.
This delightful book is translated from German. The text is beautifully written and spare, with a wry, delicious, deadpan humor. It has just the right amount of text, and well-chosen words.
The beautifully realistic grey-and-white pencil drawings make the story come to life. The drawings are deceptively simple. In each drawing, something small is given some color, highlighting its importance—the stripes on the man's scarf, the pillow the penguin lands on, the button on the washer.... The detailed, humorous drawings evoke emotion and energy, some contained within rectangles within a page, some taking up the entire page or spanning two pages. Meschenmoser also slips in visual references to comics (Superman and Batmn), artists (Leonardo Da Vinci), and a love of books, which some readers may enjoy.
This is a fantastic, hope-filled book for both children and adults. It gives the reader important messages such as 'believe in yourself, and you can do anything,' and 'listen to yourself, you know what you can do,' in a humorous and entertaining way. A talented illustrator and writer to watch out for. Highly recommended.



School Library Journal (Sunday, August 1, 2004):

Rosa is bored. She rescues a fish from a pelican at the beach and takes it home in her skirt. She puts the fish in a beautiful bowl. During the night, she is awakened by a crash. The fish has grown. He continues to grow, and Grandmother decrees that the enormous creature must go back to the sea. The village children return him to the water, and he does not have to be frightened of the pelicans anymore. The story ends on a confusing note with Rosa saying, "-he looks just as little as the first time I saw him." The human characters look almost grotesque, and the text is stilted. The watercolor effects on the endpapers and on the large fish are beautiful, and some of the Mexican details are interesting, including the picture of Frida Kahlo in the kitchen. However, they don't compensate for the book's shortcomings.

Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2004):

In this irresistibly impish import, a boring day turns decidedly otherwise when little Rosa brings home a tiny, parti-colored fish that has jumped out of the sea into her lap.

Hornbook Guide to Children (Thursday, July 1, 2004):

When Little Fish jumps into Rosa's lap, a previously boring day becomes extraordinary. Rosa takes him home and hastily prepares delicious foods (cassava cake, tortillas) for the hungry fish, which grows at an astronomical rate. The story line is slight, but the illustrations, in blues, greens, and yellows, capture the textures and flavors of a small seaside village.



Publishers Weekly (Monday, April 28, 2003):

Little School by Beth Norling follows 20 ethnically diverse preschoolers from "morning song" to their families' arrival to pick them up at the end of the day. Pastel snapshots of the children at work and play include singing, quiet time and a bathroom break, and details of the classroom (dress-up box, wooden blocks, etc.) and playground (see-saw, jungle gym, etc.) are labeled within the spreads or in boxed panels on the borders.

School Library Journal (Sunday, June 1, 2003):

This title follows 20 youngsters through their busy day at nursery school. Preschoolers will savor the details of Norling's catalog of classroom and playground accessories, toys, and activities. Even the bathroom experience is comically yet modestly depicted. Some spreads are flanked by sidebar close-ups of items to search for within the central drawing. In addition, viewers can look for a favorite character on each page, since Norling's cartoons, done in watercolor pencil and ink, artfully create diverse personalities for each of the students. There's a lot to like about Little School.

The Christian Science Monitor (August 6, 2003):

Little School features a multicultural group of 20 youngsters who attend preschool. In this reassuring book, the little ones wake in their own homes; travel to school by various methods; spend the day singing, snacking, painting, playing - and more. Then they rejoin their families, head home, eat dinner, bathe, and get in bed – to be ready for another full day…This well-conceived and beautifully designed volume is apt to be one of the most well-loved and often-used books on a toddler’s shelf.

Booklist (Sunday, June 1, 2003):

What a delightful jumble! Small squares and chock-full spreads introduce life at the Little School. Twenty preschoolers--Chen, Indira, Petros, and Habib among them--start the day and head off to school in 20 different forms of conveyance: car, bike, stroller, piggyback, train, etc. Various classroom items are highlighted in the multicolored squares, and against pure white backgrounds, children sing, eat, make a mess, even go to the bathroom. At the end of the day, the kids go home to watch TV, practice an instrument, or play, and night finds the 20 children tucked in their beds, as each square shows. Norling manages to keep track of all the little ones and helps little lookers follow them through their busy day. Energetically yet sweetly illustrated, this will occupy little ones no matter how many times they look at it.


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