"Roly Poly Pangolin," by Anna Dewdney (Viking Books, ages 2 and up, $16.99), is a precious picture book from the author of the popular "Llama, Llama" books.
"Roly Poly, very small, doesn't like new things at all." The world is scary so he holds on to Mama's tail. She eats ants, but Roly Poly thinks they look yucky. When another young creature wants to play, Roly Poly hides.
Dewdney's rhythmic rhymes roll off the tongue. The pangolin is an unusual obscure animal, but key details are presented without interfering with the story line. Her illustrations are bright and playful.
A noise sends Roly Poly rolling down a hill in a tight ball. He lies very still, but when he opens his eyes a tiny bit, he sees another ball looking back at him! Children will love this book and want to hear it over and over again.
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"Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth," by Kate Klise and illustrated by M. Sarah Klise (Harcourt Books, ages 3-7, $17), is a treat.
Little Rabbit wants to go the circus, but Mother says he must clean his room first. Little Rabbit decides to run away and join the circus. His act is "The Meanest Mother on Earth," a hideous creature with two heads and green teeth.
Klise's story captures the emotions of youngsters who want what they want right now, and how good mothers deal with tough situations. Klise's illustrations show the excitement of the circus and the unique messes of creative children.
Little Rabbit tricks his mother into appearing at the circus, but the crowd is disappointed. Where are the two heads and green teeth? Mother saves the day by promising to scare them with "The Messiest Room on Earth!!!" The crowd follows them, and they are truly amazed and appalled. Mother Rabbit even lets each of them take home a couple of souvenirs.
"Arbor Day Square," by Kathryn O. Galbraith and illustrated by Cyd Moore (Peachtree, ages 4-8, $16.95) is a historical fiction picture book.
Kate loves many things about their new town on the prairie. Everything smells fresh. Buildings are going up. New friends are made weekly. But there is one big thing missing: trees. A collection is taken up. Town folks donate precious dimes and nickels. Soon 15 trees are ordered to arrive by train.
Galbraith's story depicts an accurate account of how Arbor Day began in Nebraska. Trees represented the patience and growth needed for settling on the prairie. Moore's illustrations are soft and wispy, perfect for growing trees and communities.
Kate notices the trees look spindly. Don't worry, Father reassures her, they will grow. And each year they do.
"The Dreamer," by Pam Munoz Ryan and illustrated by Peter Sis (Scholastic Press, ages 9-14, $17.99), is a powerful novel based on the childhood of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
Neftali marches to beat of a different drummer. His father sees a cruel world where the only reward comes from hard work. Neftali sees wonder in everything. His collections fill his room, and words fill his mind. Father is often tired, unforgiving and confrontational. Neftali's mother and brother are usually powerless to stop his anger.
Ryan writes with an unusual style that is ideal for this book. She uses prose and poetry combined with biography, history and literary fiction to present insight into a young creative mind. Sis' illustrations heighten the emotions of each chapter.
The mystery of life is summed up well in one of his many questions. "To which mystical land does an unfinished staircase lead?"