Book Reviews and More

Hi! This blog is for my classes at Texas Woman's University.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Reviews for LS 5603 - Genre 1 - Picture Books

Review for Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág 
     *This review is coursework for LS 5603 at TWU - Genre One

Gág, Wanda. Millions of Cats. Ill. by Wanda Gág. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1928. ISBN 9780399233159

Millions of Cats is a classic picture book in the truest sense of the word. Many consider it to be the “first celebrated American picture book” (Silvey). In the story, a lonely husband and wife decide they need a cat to keep them company. The husband sets out to find a cat, but discovers he can’t pick just one, so he brings home “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats”. When he arrives home, the wife quickly realizes they can’t take care of all those cats, so they decide to pick the prettiest one. A fight ensues among the cats, and in the end, a thin, scraggly kitten is left. The husband and wife tend the kitten, which becomes the perfect pet for them.

One of the most compelling aspects of the story is undoubtedly the contagious, repetitive phrase “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats." Gág effectively uses this stance throughout the story, making it an excellent read-aloud. Kids will enjoy saying the phrase along with the reader and imagining all of those cats. While the read aloud appeal is undeniable, the unfortunate fate of those millions of cats may bother some children. However, Gág moves quickly past it to the happy home of husband, wife, and lucky kitten.

The artwork is all in black and white and has the feel of a folk tale. The book is uniquely hand lettered and contributes to the mood of the story. Visually, the pictures of the husband as a Pied Piper of sorts with the cats are very appealing. In her Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac, Anita Silvey explains the significance of the book in literary history, “Using a varied layout and alternating broad vistas with intimate scenes, she [Gág] developed pacing, timing, and tension. In one title, she basically invented the America picture book” (Silvey). The copy that I reviewed was a rectangular shape (9.5” x 6.5”), which contributes to the effectiveness of the double-paged spreads of the book, and is a good size for children to hold.

The book is unique in that it won a Newbery Medal honor in 1929, one of the few picture books to do so. It is the oldest known American picture book still in print. In the Top 100 picture books by School Library Journal, Millions of Cats comes in at #21 and is listed in their “100 Books Which Shaped this Country”.

Other books written and illustrated by Wanda Gág include The ABC BunnyThe Funny ThingTales from Grimm, and Gone is Gone: or the Story of a Man who Wanted to do Housework (I must admit – this one intrigues me!). Children may also enjoy a pairing of Millions of Cats with classic stories such as The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack, Illustrated by Kurt Wiese, The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop, Illustrated by Kurt Wiese, Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, and more modern stories such as The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, Illustrated by Beth Krommes, I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, and Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes.

“I believe it is just the modern children who need it [fairy tales] since their lives are already over-balanced on the side of steel and stone and machinery…” Wanda Gág, 1939


Bird, Betsy. "Top 100 Picture Books #21: Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag." A Fuse 8 Production. (accessed January 28, 2014).

Gág, Wanda. “I Like Fairy Tales.” Horn Book Magazine, March 1939.

Gág, Wanda. Millions of Cats. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1928.

Silvey, Anita. "Book-A-Day Almanac." Children’s Book A Day Almanac. (accessed January 28, 2014).

Review for The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
 *This review is coursework for LS 5603 at TWU - Genre One

Selznick, Brian. The Invention of Hugo Cabret. New York: Scholastic Press, 2007. ISBN 9780439813785

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is the imaginative, innovative story of a young boy who lives behind the walls of a Paris train station. An orphan, all he has left from his father is a notebook of designs and the automaton that his father died trying to rebuild. While struggling to stay alive and repair the automaton, Hugo meets an eccentric toy maker and his goddaughter, Isabelle. Together, he and Isabelle begin to unlock mysterious secrets into the toymaker's past, which changes the lives of all those who they encounter.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a combination of elements, effectively combining art and words in a form unlike those that have come before it. It is part picture book, part novel (yet still different than a graphic novel) and very successfully blends the two formats. The characters of Hugo and Isabelle are realistically depicted as curious children, who search for information without much thought as to the consequences. Setting the story behind the walls in a train station in Paris seems to add its own mysterious magic to the story. The pacing of the story is excellent, and the pictures contribute nicely to its development, making it is hard to decide if you want to keep turning pages quickly to figure out what happens next in the story, or linger over their details. This is definitely a story that readers will want to revisit, for once they solve the mystery of this fantastical tale, they will want to go back and look more closely at the illustrations. The illustrations are all in black, white and shades of gray. Selznick ‘zooms’ in on the pictures from one page to the next, much as a camera might do.  As New York Times reviewer John Schwartz says, “…it is like a silent film on paper” (Schwartz 2007). The book also mixes in non-fiction with the fiction, since the story includes a real person from cinematic history as one of the main characters.

The book has received many awards, including the 2008 Caldecott Medal, National Book Award finalist, New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2007, Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2007. It received Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and Booklist starred reviews. With Kirkus calling it a “uniquely inventive story” and Publisher’s Weekly “a story as tantalizing as it is touching.” It has also received many Kids’ Choice awards, testifying to its overall kid appeal. It is an especially good choice for reluctant readers, since the blending of pictures and text make it a quick read, even though it is more than 500 pages.

Readers who enjoy the style and subject of The Invention of Hugo Cabret may also enjoy Selznick’s books Wonderstruck and The Houdini Box. Selnick also illustrated several other popular books such as Andrew Clements’ Frindle and The Landry News and Ann M. Martin’s The Doll People series. For lesson plans, Library has an excellent resource for class teaching using The Invention of Hugo Cabret created by Lynne Farrell Stover. Readers who enjoy the mystery aspect of the book, may enjoy titles such as From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, Holes by Louis Sachar, The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby (which includes clocks and an automaton), and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Also, The Invention of Hugo Cabret was made into a movie called Hugo in 2011, directed by Martin Scorsese, which won several Academy Awards.

“I definitely think my work comes from things that I liked as a kid, and things I still like now. Monsters and magic and museums and movies, a lot of things that start with 'M' for some reason.” – Brian Selznick


Rockman, Connie. "The Amazing World of Brian Selznick Discussion Guide." Scholastic Teachers. (accessed January 30, 2014).

Selznick, Brian. The Invention of Hugo Cabret. New York: Scholastic Press, 2007.

Schwartz, John. "Children's Books: The Invention of Hugo Cabret." New York Times, March 11, 2007, sec. Sunday Book Review. (accessed January 27, 2014).

Stover, Lynne Farrell. "The Invention of Hugo Cabret: Library Lessons." (accessed January 27, 2014).

Review for We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems
*This review is coursework for LS 5603 at TWU - Genre One

Willems, Mo. We Are in a Book! New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2010. ISBN 9781423133087

We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems is a prime example of the captivating storytelling ability of Mo Willems. In this story, Elephant and Piggie realize that they are in a book. They interact with the ‘reader’ in funny ways – such as making the reader say the word ‘banana’. But what will happen when the book runs out of pages? Elephant and Piggie have their own ideas about that, which they share with the reader.

The simple line drawings that are Mo Willems' signature style are evident in this cleverly told tale. Willem’s has been referred to as master of the eyebrow and he has a remarkable ability to convey an expression through his drawings. Writer Joanna Cooke remarks, “Willems is a master of age-appropriate inference” (Cooke). As typical of this series, many of the pages do not have words, and the lively personalities of Elephant and Piggie tell the tale through with their expressions. In We Are in a Book! the characters of Elephant and Piggie break the fourth wall and directly address the reader. This is a technique used by Willems in other books, such as Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, and seems particularly effective for children ages 2-8 years old. These books are great for reading aloud, and the simple storyline makes them excellent choices for beginning independent readers. Willems has definitely used the Elephant and Piggie series to break free from more typical early reader books. It takes talent to create a story with early level vocabulary that engages kids as effectively as We Are in a Book! Willems excels at crafting stories that not only teach kids how to read, but entertain them so that they'll want to continue reading.

We Are in a Book! has won many awards, such as the 2011 Theodore Seuss Geisel Honor, listed as #26 on the School Library Journal Top 100 Picture Books, and the 2010 CYBIL award for Easy Readers. The CYBIL committee notes, “Exquisite use of limited language? Check. Laugh out loud humor? Check. Meets new readers on their level but doesn’t condescend to them? Check.”(Cybils).

Children who love this book will be happy to know that there are 20 Elephant & Piggie books. They will also most likely be charmed by the Willem’s Pigeon book series, as well as the Knuffle Bunny series.  For those looking for ways to pair technology with reading, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive this App, is an especially charming an interactive app to supplement the stories. Other fun books that pair well with Elephant and Piggie include Max & Milo Go to Sleep by Heather and Ethan Long, Frog and Fly: Six Slurpy Stories by Jeff Mack, and The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli.

“School libraries are as important as the kids who need them.” Mo Willems


Cooke, Joanna. "A Life Spent Reading." A Life Spent Reading. (accessed January 27, 2014).

Willems, Mo. "Mo Willems doodles!" Mo Willems Doodles. (accessed January 30, 2014).

Willems, Mo. We Are in a Book! New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2010.

"Winners of the 2010 Cybils Awards." 'Cybils'. (accessed January 28, 2014).

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