Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Secret Hen House Theatre by Helen Peters

You know that feeling when you read a brilliant book and you just want to rush out and share it!  A book friend of mine read The Secret Hen House Theatre and ever since (this was months and months ago) every time she sees me she mentions this book with such enthusiasm.

Why did it take me so long to read this book?  Well unlike many reviews that I have read I don't really like the cover and I think it is a poor reflection of the tone and even genre of this book.

My second issue with this book now seems quite odd.  When I began to read this book many months ago I had the idea that it was American.  Why does this matter?  Well it doesn't matter but it meant I approached the story with a particular mind set and for some reason I just couldn't relate to this family of four children and their dad living on a run down farm.  This week I sat down to try once again to read The Secret Hen House Theatre and I had a light bulb moment - this book is from England.  This helped the whole setting to make sense.  I read one reviewer who said this book reminded her of Noel Stretfeild and I can see why.  I also reminds me of I Capture the castle by Dodie Smith.

Six years earlier Hannah's mum has died.  Rebecca was a keen thespian and has a wonderful book collection about stage craft and set design and theatre management. Hannah loves to write plays and she has the most fabulous friend called Lottie who supports her every step of the way. Lotte is brilliant at making costumes and graphic arts and is unfailingly positive.

Hannah tries to explain her feelings about acting and the theatre :
"How could she describe the joy of it?  The fun of rehearsals.  The magic of creating a world from wood and words and fabric and sound effects.  The buzz backstage, the butterflies in your stomach, the dazzle of the lights-"

Alongside her passion for the theatre Hannah also longs for her father's approval.  In his grief he seems to have distanced himself from the children and even though he is passionate about his farm animals the farm itself is slowly falling apart.

Lottie tells Hannah about the Linford Arts Festival.  There is a youth drama competition and the prize is 500 pounds.  Hannah begins to imagine all sorts of wonderful possibilities but first she needs a performance space.  Her dad refuses to let Hannah use the loft in the barn but then she stumbles on the old hen house - the perfect venue.  She is able to enlist support from her younger siblings and their preparations begin. Sadly, though, these happy moments are fleeting as they receive news that the rent for the farm has been doubled. Mr Roberts begins to sell of the antique farm equipment and when this does not raise enough money he sells his beloved cattle and calves.  Hannah is distraught.  Now she must win the competition then she can give the money to her dad and their wonderful farm will be saved.

This is a book you will enjoy but you need staying power.  I started this book yesterday and read a few chapters but I was not completely hooked.  It was not until I reached page 188 I just had to abandon everything and keep reading through to the end.  The events of Chapter 25 will leave you gasping and just hoping everything will turn out alright for Hannah and Lottie even though their problems now seem insurmountable.

If you enjoy The Secret Hen House theatre you might also enjoy Ballet Shoes by Noel Stretfeild.   You might also like to read the first chapter.  Here is an interview with the author.  This is a special book which will be enjoyed by thoughtful readers who are prepared to let this story unfold slowly.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Cloud Road by Isobelle Carmody

Before you read this book it is essential to begin by reading The Red Wind and then I guarantee you will be desperate to get your hands on The Cloud Road.

I don't give books stars but if I did then I would give The Cloud Road five out of five.

Bily and Zluty have been forced to leave their little home and make a long and perilous journey firstly across a burning desert and then into the snow covered mountains.  Adding to their burden they have loaded the Monster onto their cart - a large cat like creature who seems dangerous and wise at the same time.

In this second book we learn a little more about the strange world where Bily and Zluty live and also the brothers themselves grow.  Bily gains enormous courage and Zluty grows in his compassion towards others.
I knew I was in safe hands with Isobelle Carmody but I must say as our heroes find themselves in series of incredibly dangerous situations I just held my breath and hoped they would be safe.

"He heard the sound of something metallic falling to the ground and the Monk gave a growl of interest.  Zluty thought of the metal egg he had found in the Northern Forest and he must have made some slight sound, for suddenly the Monk gave a snarling growl and great long claw-tipped fingers closed around his ankle. Zluty cried out in fright as he was hauled roughly from this hiding place and lifted into the air."

You can read a detailed review here.  I hope I do not have to wait too long for the third book in this exciting fantasy series.

The boy with lightning feet by Sally Gardner

All the books in this Magical Children series have such appealing covers although I will say the colour here is not quite as bright as my copy.  The boy with lightning feet is such a happy book (although there are some awful bullies) and a story that will be enjoyed by all sport fans especially children who play football (soccer).

"In that moment something in Timmy clicked, like a light being turned on in a dark room.  He stood up and it seemed everyone on the pitch had disappeared. He rubbed his eyes.  There next to him was the lad he had met my the canal.  'Timmy Twinkle, I've told you already.  You've got lightning in your feet. Use it."

Just like the Billy in The boy with magic numbers, Timmy has lost one parent - in this case his mum. He has been raised by his grandparents but as the story opens we read that his precious grandmother has recently died.  Gramps had been a baker and after the death of wife Timmy is the only customer and so over the weeks and months Timmy has been packing on weight eating cakes and scones and not much else.  In an old photo album Timmy sees a photo of his Great Uncle Vernon known as Twinkletoes and from that moment we know Timmy's life is set to change.

The Boy with Lightning feet is a terrific book for readers who enjoy a satisfying story that is quick to read with lively characters and a very happy ending.  You might also enjoy Extra Time by Morris Gleitzman which is also about soccer and the determination of one boy and his very special younger sister to play and enjoy the game.  I was interested to read Morris Gleitzman actually met families in the UK of young boys who had been selected as football rising stars.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale problem by Mac Barnett illustrated by Adam Rex

When I saw the cover of this book Billy Twitters and his blue whale problem I immediately thought of one of my most favourite picture books Billy's Bucket.  In addition to the main character called Billy there are a lot of things that could link these two books.  The main thing is that these boys both have gumption.

Billy's parents constantly threaten him :  "clean up your room ...brush your teeth ... finish your baked peas or we're buying you a blue whale."  Billy our narrator is, however, a very smart boy.  He knows this is impossible since a blue whale is the biggest animal in the world.  "It's not like you can just have one delivered to your house overnight" or can you?  The next page has no words just a double spread showing an enormous delivery truck arriving from the company called "Fedup delivering punishments worldwide." The delivery guy even has Fedup on his cap and in the distance you can see another man with two large flashlights directing the truck which contains the blue whale.

Mum and dad explain the blue whale is Billy's responsibility and this includes taking the whale to school. Billy tucks his skateboard under the whale and tows him with his bike up the hill.   When he arrives the science teacher is delighted.  Even though Billy enjoys talking about his whale he has to endure a hard time among his peers.  On the way home the bus breaks down but the whale saves the day.

Billy arrives home but his torture is not complete.  Dad gives Billy the blue whale owner's manual and Billy sees all the instructions for washing, waxing and checking the whale for barnacles but his biggest problem is how can he feed the whale.  He needs krill and ten thousand gallons of sea water.  How will Billy solve this problem? The ending is such a terrific twist this is a book you will want to read over and over again.

One more thing you must look closely under the dust jacket and at the marvelous end papers which reminded me of an old fashioned newspaper.  You can read about the process of illustrating this book here. Here is the web site for the author.  Extra Yarn also by Mac Barnett is a very special title which I will review in coming weeks. Here are some lesson ideas.

Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel

Next weekend I have tickets to see a theatre production of Frog and Toad.  I remembered I had an old cassette tape of these books and to my great delight I find the stories are narrated by Arnold Lobel himself.  I have listened to each of the stories as a bedtime treat each night this week.

Frog and Toad are so famous they even have a Wikipedia entry!  There are four books in this series.

Frog and Toad are friends 1970
Frog and Toad together 1972
Frog and Toad all year 1976
Days with Frog and Toad 1979

It is hard to single out stories from the collection of twenty but I think my favourites are : The Garden, A lost button, The Letter (see snail mail image below.  I like to think Arnold Lobel invented the idea of snail mail long before email was even thought of) and Tomorrow.

Here is a link to a little video of The List.  These stories are very old but they are also timeless.  I absolutely guarantee you will love them.  Well worth looking for in your library today!

Wishbird by Gabrielle Wang

"A plate of crisp, flaky pastries filled with lotus-nut paste was placed on the table.  Then hot spring-onion pancakes sprinkled with salt. And after that, Lady Butterfly served up a bowl of sweet walnut soup infused with scented cassia flowers. Boy was a common thief who have lived off the picking of others for most of his life.  He had never eaten such delicacies before.  He bit into a small bun and licked the sesame seeds off his fingers.  The porcelain bowls and plates the food was served on were so fine he could almost see through them."

I have been trying to think of a word to describe the experience of reading The Wishbird. The word I have settled on is inadequate but I am just going to say this is a lovely story.

Boy is an Oliver Twist type of character who has been taken in as a tiny child by a man like Fagan who trains Boy to work as a pickpocket or lightfinger.  Oriole is a orphan who has been raised by birds in a far away forest.  Wishbird nurtures and cares for Oriole but now his life is in danger.  Oriole needs to travel to the city where she will try to ask the King for help.  These two young people will meet and their destinies entwine in the city called Solace or Soulless.  Many years ago the King lost his only son and so he ordered all the trees be cut down and all birds to be killed or banished.  Music and even musical speech has been banned as have all the pretty colours. The city is indeed soulless.

At its heart this is a book about identity.  Boy needs to discover his true name and family background and Oriole will find her mother was Nightingale.  To fully appreciate this connection I recommend you read The Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen.  I also recommend taking some time to visit the author web site.  There is a little video of the book launch and an audio recording of a interview with Gabrielle plus teacher notes for this book. I highly recommend this book.   I read it in one sitting late into the night - such a special treat.

If you enjoy The Wishbird you should look for other books by Gabrielle Wang. You might also enjoy The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park or the Dragon Keeper series by Carole Wilkinson.

I am excited to see my blog has now reached 100,000 hits.  Thank you to my readers - as a blog writer seeing all those hits is such an encouragement to keep writing.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My reading pile

It is nearly school holidays so I have bought home quite a large pile of books to read and blog.  I just thought I would give you a preview.

The last thirteen by James Phelan - I was sent this was an advance copy.  The first few pages are so action packed I had to stop reading and recharge my own energy levels.  I think fans of Conspiracy 365 will be keen to start this new series.

Word Hunters :The Curious Dictionary by Nick Earls - I have read such brilliant reviews of this first book in a trilogy.

Extra Time by Morris Gleitzman - oddly I am not a fan of Gleitzman but I did love Too Small to Fail.

The Wishbird by Gabrielle Wang - this looks like my kind of book. I do like the cover.

The secret Hen House Theatre by Helen Peters - this one has been on my reading pile for many months.  I have started to read it three or four times.  I have a friend who loved this book and she always mentions it when we meet.  I am determined to settle down and read this one right through.

The Cloud Road by Isobelle Carmody - this is the book I am looking forward to the most.  I found The Red Wind was just so wonderful and Isobelle Carmody is a brilliant writer.  Even though I have put this at the bottom of the list this will probably be the first book I read starting today!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Book Uncle and me by Uma Krishnaswami

So much about this book intrigues me.  I have questions but my copy of the book cannot answer them.

The Book Uncle and me was the 2011 winner of the Scholastic Asian Book Award (SABA). I have not heard of this award.  Is it open to any book published in Asia? Or only titles from Scholastic?  What is the criteria for this award?  An Asian author, Asian setting, a book in an Asian language?

An internet search reveals SABA is a joint initiative by Scholastic and the National Book Development Council of Singapore, the award is an attempt to recognise and celebrate children’s writers of Asian origin and books that reflect Asian experiences.

Most intriguing of all though, for me, is who did the illustrations for this book - I love them and was this book originally written in English or another language?  The imprint page lists Scholastic as the copyright holder of the illustrations. This does not help me.

Book Uncle is not Yasmin's uncle - Uncle is a title used by the community as a form of respect to an older person.  The Book Uncle is, however, a book person.  In his retirement from teaching he has set up a barrow lending library in a busy Indian city. He happily lends books to anyone for free - the perfect library!  He is also happy to recommend books.  Yasmin herself is the perfect customer.  She has set herself a target of reading "one book every day, forever. I started last year right after I turned eight, which ready feels like a billions years ago, because now I am past four hundred.  Books, I mean."

This book is about activism.  The city planners are now requesting a huge licence fee from the Book Uncle.  He cannot pay this and thus packs up his library and heads home.  Yasmin is devastated.  Then she finds an effective way have this unjust requirement reversed.  In schools we often look for books that show democracy in action and Book Uncle and me is perfect for this purpose.  I really enjoyed Book Uncle and me - it is quick to read, and celebrates a strong sense of community.

If you enjoy this book you might also look for The Battle of the Galah Trees by Christobel Mattingley or My name is Will Thompson by Robert Newton.

Rachel The story of Rachel Carson by Amy Ehrlich illustrated by Wendell Minor

My friend at Kinderbooks with everything has inspired me to add more biography titles to our library especially those in a picture book format.

For summer holidays my family always rented the same little beach side cabin and one memory I have from this time is finding a copy of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson on the shelves.  I know I read some of it although I am sure it was mostly beyond me.  I do remember the main themes though, of the interconnection of life and the terrible damage wrought by insecticides on all parts of the food chain.

Silent Spring remains one of the most effective denunciations of industrial malpractice ever written and is widely credited with triggering popular ecological awareness in the US and Europe. 

This book Rachel - The story of Rachel Carson is the perfect way to introduce this important activist to students.  The book begins in 1912 when Rachel is five.  On the subsequent pages we follow a chronology of her life and each episode serves to build up a picture of why Rachel wrote her most famous book Silent Spring.   "She called it silent spring because if all the birds were killed, their songs would not be heard in springtime."

Here are a set of teaching notes for this book.  This book could be used with children from Grade 1 right up to Grade 6.

The illustrations by Wendell Minor are perfect :

Ava adds by Ursula Dubosarsky illustrated by Annie White

I am always on the look out for little beginner novels with satisfying stories. We have a good collection of these in our school library and I have reviewed many on this blog but I am delighted to say here is one from Australia.  It is called Ava Adds.

Ava loves to play and she loves to shop so when her friend Billy comes over to play it is the perfect time to combine her passions.  Ava turns her bed into a shoe shop but first she needs to make some money!

"Of course, if you have a shop, you have to have money.  Ava didn't have any money, so she made her own.  She drew numbers on paper with coloured markers.  Then she cut the paper out into pretend bank notes."

Luckily for Ava, Billy is happy to join in the game.  He helps to set up the shop and then Ava gives him some money and he buys a pair of shoes for $100.  The price shocks him but Ava persuades him that this is a good purchase. He uses his $500 note and so Ava has to give him some change but Billy does not really understand commerce.  He receives his change and then asks for more.

"Oh all right," she said.  She gave him the five hundred dollar note as well.  'After all, you are my best customer,' she added."  Billy now has a taste for money and so he asks Ava for more.  She kindly takes out her paper and markers and makes a one thousand dollar note. Billy is really impressed!

This book will make you smile. The little colour pictures add to the appeal and as a bonus there are four books in this series each about a different character.

Here is the web site for the illustrator.  We have several of her books in our school library including Mbobo Tree by Glenda Millard and The Sorcerer's apprentice by Tom Skinner.

These books are perfect for children in Kindergarten and Year One.  We have a little girl in our school called Ava and I am looking forward to showing her this book next term. I think she will be quite excited to see her name on the cover of a book.

Who are you, Stripy Horse? by Jim Helmore and Karen with CD read by Imedla Staunton

A few months ago a family donated over 10 boxes of children's books to our school library.  We were happy to pass many on to other schools with limited library budgets but of course we kept a few treasures for our own school and one of these was Who are you, Stripy Horse.  As a bonus this copy has a CD with the story, games and songs.

Stripy horse reminds me of many other toy shop book characters such as Arnold in Arnold the Prickly Teddy, Albert Le Blanc by Nick Butterworth, Ruby and Little Joe by Angela McAllister, Corduroy by Don Freeman and the Blue Kangaroo series. Stripy Horse lives in an antique shop.  One evening he wakes up.  "In the tick tock quiet, a shaft of moonlight tickled the nose of something sleeping."  In the tradition of Are you my mother by PD Eastman and The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek by Jenny Wagner, the little toy sets off on a journey around the shop enlisting the help of a number of companions who are determined to establish his identity.

These companions include Muriel, a lampshade hummingbird, Hermann, a drought excluder and Roly and Pitch, a pair of salt and pepper penguins.  Everyone agrees Ming the wise will have the answer.  As the group cross the shop stripy horse inadvertently knocks a number of precious china items from the shelves.  We see each piece smashed into small pieces and so by the time our little troop reach Ming I was certainly holding my breath. Have you guessed Ming is precious Chinese vase.

You might also enjoy Bill in a China shop which you can find on our poetry shelves.

This book is from a series.  We have two titles in our school library and I plan to include them in my story repertoire next term.  Here is a web site for the author.  I notice OhNo Monster tomato comes from the same team.

There seems to be quite a bit of merchandise around this little fellow which is something I usually resist but I would love a little toy for my collection.

Tell me one thing dad by Tom Pow illustrated by Ian Andrew

Fathers day has long past but I just wanted to mention this title which was published in 2004 and until now had not come to my attention. Tell me one thing dad is a very special book just perfect for sharing.

Molly and her dad have a nightly ritual.  "Tell me one thing - the most important thing - you know about .." a polar bear, a crocodile, a dinosaur, a Grimalken.  Dad outlines a series of facts about each animal concluding that each love their child. Then Molly takes over.  It is her turn to tell dad one thing.

This book has an appealing pastel pallet, riotous endpapers and a lovely repetitive story structure.  I can imagine a young child will demand to hear this story over and over.

I recommend you add this book to your Fathers day reading pile next year.  Here is an excellent review.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The sea, the storm, and the mangrove tangle by Lynne Cherry

A few months ago a Grade 2 teacher requested this book.  We didn't have it in our library but I know the topic of mangroves is an important one in our local area so I quickly ordered a copy.  The teacher was delighted and said the class loved this book.  Tonight I finally found time to read it myself and I agree.

Environmental sustainability is a new focus for our English syllabus and this book is a perfect addition to our growing collection of books which support this area.

I should have realized this would be an excellent book because I have often read another famous book by Lynne Cherry to my students - The Great Kapok Tree : A tale of the Amazon Rain forest.

The sea, the storm, and the mangrove tangle uses a gentle narrative to convey factual information. I am not sure if there is an official term for this genre but I call these books "faction".  When you read this book you will find out about the precious habitat created in a mangrove and about plant propagation by propagules which was a new word for me.  The illustrations in this book are perfect and the language is lyrical.

"The manatees lifted their noses in the air and sniffed.  Yes, there was that sweet damp scent of rain.  On the horizon, they saw, far away, plums of rain descending from a raft of dark clouds. A hurricane was on its way."

After you read The sea, the storm, and the mangrove tangle you might also look for Tanglewood.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Silver Buttons by Bob Graham

When a new Bob Graham book arrives in my library I simply pounce on it ready to read and be amazed!

Silver Buttons is another Bob Graham masterpiece.  I have now read this book four times and each time I discover something new yet in terms of time the whole book takes places over just one minute. In this minute so many things happen.  Personal things, public things, things to rejoice over and even some things that are quite sad.  I read one review that said you should read this book, then just look at each illustration then read the book again.  I agree with this idea.

You will feel like you are looking down the lens of a camera as you read this book - panning in for a close up and then zooming out for a long view.

The story structure is a circle with Jonathan taking his first baby steps while Jodie is sitting on the lounge room floor drawing a yellow duck.  Bob Graham dedicates this book "To Rosie who drew me the duck."  I wonder what this means. Mum is in the kitchen playing her tin whistle.  Meanwhile we see the other things going on in the city over the next fourteen pages til finally Jodie calls out to mum and she comes running as Jonathan wobbles down onto his "little pink knees."

Outside children are playing, a jogger runs past, a dad ties a shoelace, a man buys bread while a soldier is embraced by his mum. In the park an old lady pushes all her possessions in an old grocery cart and a baby is born in the hospital.  There is even a global connection as we see a tanker sailing off for China.

We have nearly every book by Bob Graham in our school library and I love to read them each year to my students.  I am going to be bold and predict this book will be listed by the CBCA for the 2014 short list.  I put two different covers for this book.  Once again the US market seem to have made changes which puzzle me.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Wolf and dog by Sylvia Vanden Heede illustrated by Marije Tolman translated by Bill Nagelkerke

Books in translation always fascinate me.  Wolf and Dog was originally written in Dutch. This book is a series of little stories about Wolf - a wild animal and Dog his cousin who lives in a house with his Boss.

While wolf and dog do have quite a few things in common, wolf is essentially a wild creature and obviously not domesticated like dog.

"My stomach was empty.
The pan was full.
Now the pan's empty
and my stomach's full.'

Dog Sighs.
'Oh, Wolf,' he says.
'You sure are a wild one.
You wolf down your food.
You swallow it whole!
You don't use a knife and fork.
You don't even use a plate!'

Wolf burps.
'There's not much cleaning up to do,' he says.
Which is true."

This is a quirky little book which I think young children will really enjoy.  It is easy to read with the verse format and the little colour illustration add to the fun.  I have included two different covers for this book from Europe.  It makes me so happy when publishers like Gecko Press are willing to translate and publish award winning books from around the world.

A dad who measures up by Davide Cali and Anna Laura Cantone

My mummy is strong, my mummy is tall, my mummy is intelligent and my mummy can do jigsaw puzzles.  Our narrator, however, has no daddy.  She knows all the criteria.  He needs to be tall, strong, handsome, intelligent and like jigsaw puzzles. So the little girl and her mum put an advertisement in the paper.

In a series of scenes reminiscent of Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole, a number of daddy candidates turn up but each one fails the test.  One is not strong enough, another is hopeless at sums and one does not have enough hair.   Finally there is one fellow left.  He is not tall, he does not look like a movie star but he does look kind.

My new daddy is small and he is hopeless at sums but he knows lots of poems, he loves animals and he can cook!

You might guess that I love the last page :

"In the evening before I go to sleep, he reads me a story. And even sometimes two stories."

This is a lavishly illustrated book filled with joy and with an affirming message for children who are perhaps adjusting to a new daddy!  A terrific book for Fathers Day.

Here is a set of excellent teaching notes.

The Fossil girl Mary Anning's dinosaur discovery by Catherine Brighton

This time last year I visited Lyme Regis.  I was keen to go to their little museum because I use an old program called A skirt Through History with my students.  The episode entitled The Wreckers focuses on the suffragettes and in particular on one lady called Sarah Bennett.  In the program it says we would not know about her involvement with the movement to gain the vote were it not for her diary which was found in the Lyme Regis museum.

Sadly I found no trace of this diary but I did find out a little more about another lady called Mary Anning who discovered an important dinosaur fossil in 1810.  The Lyme museum is built on the site of Mary Anning's original home. Women who were involved in early scientific discoveries have always fascinated me.  Did you know Beatrix Potter was a keen scientist who studied mushrooms and toadstools?

I have been reading the Kinderbookswitheverything blog where my friend talks about using simple biographies with her students.  When I saw one about Mary Anning I knew it would be terrific for our library.

This book uses a graphic novel style to explain how Mary and her brother came to find the fossil of an Ichthyosaur and how this find helped her family business selling 'curiosities'. You can read more about Mary on the Natural History Museum web site where I was lucky to see her portrait last year.  Here is a link to the author web site.  This book would be perfect for young dinosaur fans and for students who are interested in paleontology.

My Amazing Dad by Ross Collins

I am sorry August was such a quiet month for my blog.  As you might guess we were far from quiet in our school library with our annual donate a book (thanks for the donation of 760 new books) and then Book Week which was a crazy but fabulous week.

Today is fathers day.  We have many books about fathers and dads in our school library so I bought a small selection home. You can see more titles on my Pinterest collection but one that caught my eye is My Amazing Dad by Ross Collins.

This story is told using the simple structure of comparisons at
first.  Max's dad is a monkey who can "Whoosh".  His actual job is a mystery.  Stripe's dad, a zebra, is good at hiding. Trunkle, the elephant, has a dad who can spray water higher than the trees.  Snip begins to worry. "Everyone has a cooler dad than me."  He asks his mum for help "and she wrapped her tail around Snip like she did when he was just an egg."

This book made me smile.  I am certain you will never guess the twist at the end.  Being a Teacher-Librarian I read every part of a book.  I always look for end papers, these ones are simple maps, and oddly I often read the imprint information.  I love the fact that the font used for My Amazing Dad is called 'happy.' I also love the cute animal names.

Here is the web site for Ross Collins.  We have several of his books in our picture book collection.