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Tag Archives: pre-lit

Happy Birthday, Moon (1982): Narcissus and Echo

Frank Asch, Happy Birthday, Moon (Aladdin, 1982)

Bear reaches up towards the moon on the book's cover.

I saw a moon once. It was big and round.
photo credit:

This one took the Bean some growing into, but nowadays he likes it a good deal, and we read it at storytime at least twice a week. It’s the story of a lonely bear who decides to get the moon a birthday present, goes to the mountains (in order to be closer to the moon), and then talks to the moon (actually, his echo), with the expected, and actually rather touching, results. Get it out of the library first to make sure your kid is in the right age range for it (I’d go maybe thirty months and above on this one), but as long as the kid cottons to it, you won’t have a bad time with it, either. ***

Sheep Take a Hike (1994): Beating a Dead Mutton

Nancy Shaw, Sheep Take a Hike (Houghton Mifflin, 1994)

The intrepid sheep get ready for a day in the woods on the book's cover.

On the road again… just can’t wait to get on the road again…
photo credit:

The thing about Sheep in a Jeep, ultimately, that makes it work as well as it does, and it works very well indeed, is the language. It is basic, it is easily remembered by both adults and children alike, and it is very well-constructed and well-presented. There’s nothing in Sheep in a Jeep that feels like Shaw was stretching in order to fit the parameters of either the story she was telling or the educational goals she had set for herself. As a result, the story is a resounding success, and all of the other great things about the book are kind of icing on the cake. Sheep Take a Hike is the exact opposite. The illustrations are just as wonderful, maybe even more so, and the story is fun, but the language at the core of it is not as well constructed, nor as well presented, and more than once it feels exactly like Shaw was stretching in order to twist where she wanted to go in order to fit it into the parameters—both those mentioned above and the parameters that she’s set for herself in the first book (the two are very strongly similar rhythmically). As much as I hate to say it given that the original is one of the best children’s books ever written, this is a noticeably inferior product.

All that having been said, it’s still the same lovable band of sheep, and if you discount the language issues that will have readers stumbling in certain parts the first few times through (though one will adapt pretty quickly), there is still a good deal about this book to like, and I ran through most of it above. Here, the illustrations are the kicker, and they are, not surprisingly, wonderful. So I’m certainly not going to say “you don’t want to read this one to your kid”, especially if you (and said kid) love the first one. But get it out of the library first to see whether it’s going to stand up to the same repeated readings the initial book does. ** ½

The Crayon Box that Talked (1996): You Don’t Know Me, Fool

Shane DeRolf, The Crayon Box that Talked (Scholastic, 1996)

The crayons in the box argue amonst themselves on the book's cover.

Order in the court!
photo credit:

Cute, if not terribly above-average, book about the celebration of difference—none of the crayons in the box gets along until an optimistic child buys the box, takes it home, and shows all the colors how they have to work together to create a picture. It took the Bean quite a while to warm up to this one, but I think he’s getting the hang of it now. Not sure how well it holds up to repeated re-reads, since he never asks for them with this one, but nice enough in small doses. ***

Starlight Sailor (2009): Across the Sea

James Mayhew, Starlight Sailor (Barefoot Books, 2009)

Full disclosure: since I wrote this review, and in part because of our reactions to Starlight Sailor and I Took the Moon for a Walk, my wife and mother-in-law have become Barefoot Books distributors.

Characters from the book surround a central illustration of the main character sailing on the book's cover.

In a beautiful pea-green boat.
photo credit:

Gentle fantasy book with lovely rhythm and rhyme. The illustrations may take a touch of getting used to, but they’re distinctive and fun, and the story is wonderful for imaginative pre-litters (and aren’t they all imaginative at that age?). This is rapidly becoming one of my favorites at storytime, and the Bean likes it a lot, too. *** ½

Tappy’s Team (2002[?]): Pigs on the Wing

Nicole O’Neill, Tappy’s Team (Modern Publishing, 2002[?])

Tappy steps up to the plate on the book's cover.

Sorry, I’m fresh out of pork baseball puns right now.
photo credit: Open Library

This one the Bean isn’t one hundred percent sure about yet. I’m actually writing this review three or four months after we picked it up; it took quite a while to grow on him, but he’s asked for it at storytime once or twice in the last couple of weeks. I’m not one hundred percent sure about it, either; I like where O’Neill wants to go with this, and on the last page she does end up getting there, but the path she takes to get there doesn’t quite match up with the endpoint. Still, that is easily remedied with a bit of dialogue after the book about Tappy’s behavior. Give it a look at the library before deciding whether you want to add it to the shelf at home. ** ½

The Christmas Story (1952): You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid

Jane Werner, The Christmas Story (Golden Press, 1952)

A classical depiction of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus adorns the book's cover.

Wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
photo credit:

I was certainly the wrong person to read this one to the Bean—it’s a hand-me-down from my wife’s family—given how antipathetic I am to religion, but then I was relieved when the book simply would have failed to live up to even my barest expectations of pre-lit even if I were a foaming-at-the-mouth young-earth creationist. The obvious flaw in the book, which is listed on the title page as being “told by” Jane Werner, is that she starts off trying to put the story into her own words (i.e., to make it simpler for the pre-lit set), but she abandons that concept roughly a quarter of the way through and simply starts quoting. Going back and revising for one approach or the other might have made it acceptable, at least until you get to the end. For obvious reasons, this being a pre-lit book, it dances around some of the things that would raise uncomfortable questions, but… why bring up Herod at all, you know? And then, well, the story just ends. I know Golden works in a strict 24-page format, but you couldn’t have planned a little better than that awful summary on the last page? Come on, now. This has the stink about it of Golden playing to its bible-belt constituency rather than putting this to the editorial-process screws. *

If I Had a Dog (1984): It Wouldn’t Act Like This

Lilian Obligado, If I Had a Dog (Golden Press, 1984)

The book's narrator dreams about having a dog of his own on its cover.

The dreams a young boy dreams.
photo credit: ebay

I kind of liked this one for the first few pages, which are all about cute-dog-dom, but then it goes off into a flight of fantasy (basically about how this particular dog won’t do any of the annoying things all dogs do), but it never tips its hat to the reader that it is a fantasy. That might be acceptable in a book for older readers who understand dogs, but in a piece of pre-lit it seems like it will just confuse the kid. I wasn’t much of a fan of this one at all. **