Like most parents (I hope), my wife and I read to our kids every night before bed. My son (who excels at reading) reads to us every night as well (and is currently making his way through Jeff Smith’s Bone – a personal favorite of mine). Julia Donaldson has long held a special place on their bookshelves.
I haven’t reviewed any children’s books before, but I read The Gruffalo to my daughter tonight (for probably the hundredth time) and decided to review some by my favorite author.
In short, it’s about a mouse walking through the woods. He comes across a fox, an owl, and a snake. All three want to eat him, and he invents a friend – the Gruffalo – who is waiting for him. The Gruffalo is big and scary, with a poisonous wart on the end of his nose, and his favorite food (or so he tells the three predators) is each of them. Frightened that they’re going to be eaten, they each run off. Before long, the mouse comes across (of course) an actual Gruffalo. To save himself, he tells the beast that he’s the most fearsome animal in the forest. He then takes him around to the previous three animals to prove his point – and they all flee in terror upon seeing the Gruffalo. The book ends with the mouse quietly enjoying a nut.
What a delightful read. Donaldson’s writing is second-to-none here, and the absolute highlight is the serenity around the action. The interactions between the mouse and the predators, or the predators and the Gruffalo is surrounded by a kind of placidity that really highlights the fear of the characters, and it’s all underscored they beautifully melodic flow of Donaldson’s writing. Like Jazz, the magic is in the notes not played. There is an absolute mastery of storytelling in how Donaldson allows the story to breath.
Easy five stars.
Room on the Broom
A witch is flying with her cat, until the wind picks up an blows away first her hat, then her bow, and finally her wand. She meets three animals, which all help her retrieve her items in return for a ride on her broom. Eventually, they are met by a fearsome dragon, and must all team together to save the witch.
Once again, Donaldson’s writing really shines, and the only thing I love more than reading this story to my daughter (and son, previously) is hearing my wife do it. Donaldson’s writing, which I think is true of most children’s books, is perfectly suited for the spoken word.
This is probably just as good as The Gruffalo, and is more action-packed. The serenity of The Gruffalo really speaks to me, but the positive portrayal of witches really speaks to my wife.
Easy five stars.
The Giant Jumperee
Rabbit comes home to find a stranger has taken over his burrow. As Rabbit approaches, the stranger yells out, “I’m the Giant Jumperee and I’m scary as can be!” Too scared to enter his den, he gets help from his friends Cat, Bear, and Elephant – but they’re all too scared, as well. Finally, Frog solves the mystery and removes the terrifying stranger.
The art in this book (by Helen Oxenbury) is absolutely stunning, and my wife and I bought this not recognizing Julia Donaldson’s name. The writing is also very good, but the story isn’t as serene and charming as The Gruffalo, and it’s not as lyrical or memorable as Room on the Broom. It’s a good book, but it doesn’t have that readability factor that allows us to read it over and over again to the kids.
The Smeds and the Smoos
“The Smeds (who are red) never mix with the Smoos (who are blue). So when a young Smed and Smoo fall in love, their families strongly disapprove. But peace is restored and love conquers all in this happiest of love stories. There’s even a gorgeous purple baby to celebrate!”
The story is fine. The writing is fine. The art is fine. I don’t care.
The message is too on the nose – be accepting of those who are different. Fine. I get it. It’s a good message. I don’t want to read this book over and over and over again. My son never really asked for this to be read to him – unlike The Gruffalo. He loved how I exclaimed, “Astounding!” in my Gruffalo voice – which I would frequently use when we were playing together. With Room on the Broom, he liked to yell out, “a truly MAGNIFICENT broom!” in concert with my wife. Or, “Iggity, Ziggity, Zaggity, Zoom!”
This book is just okay. Maybe two stars.