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Icons in the World of Music: The Latest in Unforgettable Biographies

By Marcia Allen, Collection Development

Hard times were a daily reality for Elmo and Mamie Lewis in the state of Louisiana during the 1930s. Elmo made a living sharecropping and sometimes cooking whiskey, until he was caught and sentenced to five years in prison. Son Elmo, Jr., who often sang in church and who cared for his younger brother Jerry Lee, was killed at the age of nine when a drunken driver struck him. That left Mamie and little Jerry Lee to make the best of the situation.

jerryIn 1940, four-year-old Jerry Lee realized the path his life was to take. During a visit with his mother’s sister, he pressed down a single key on his aunt’s piano. He later described the experience as one similar to fire reaching through his head. With no previous experience, he immediately began the opening chords of “Silent Night.”

Yes, Jerry Lee went on to lead a scandalous personal life, shocking his followers with his many marriages and his exploits with drugs and alcohol, but he also produced a phenomenal library of songs that few have matched. Songs like “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” which were considered provocative when they were first released, are now deemed groundbreaking rock and roll with hillbilly overtones
What makes “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story” remarkable is author Rick Bragg’s flair for retelling the musician’s story. Bragg, author of award-winning tales like “All over but the Shoutin’” and “Ava’s Man,” brings to the story an incredible skill for southern storytelling and a genuine fondness for Jerry Lee. This story packs a wallop as a colorful character study. (more…)

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Celebrate “Kansas Reads to Preschoolers Week”

By Laura Ransom, Children’s Librarian

“Kansas Reads to Preschoolers Week” is an annual event that promotes reading to all Kansas children from birth through age five. Parents, librarians, and caregivers are encouraged to read the chosen book during the week of November 16-22.

funI am especially excited about this year’s selection, Is Everyone Ready for Fun? by Jan Thomas. Three happy cows and a frustrated chicken bounce through the pages of this light-hearted picture book. We love promoting this event at Manhattan Public Library, and each child who attends a storytime during the week will receive a free book! Funding for the free books is generously provided by the Manhattan Library Association.
My love for books began when I was very young. I have such fond memories of sitting in my mom’s lap while she read Don Wood’s The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear to me night after night. She later told me that she had the book memorized since I requested it so many times. What a patient parent! Another of my all-time favorites is The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. I remember chanting along with that brave engine, “I think I can, I think I can!” These engaging books stirred a desire in me to learn how to read the words on the pages.
readaloudAs a children’s librarian, I obviously endorse reading aloud to children, but research supports it, too. One example is a study by the U.S. Department of Education, which concluded with these words: “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” This quote is from The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, a wonderful book filled with read-aloud suggestions and helpful tips for parents. Books include a wider vocabulary than we often encounter in television shows or everyday conversations. Even though children are unfamiliar with these new words, exposure to them is a stepping stone to reading independently. If they have heard the word before, they will be better equipped to know how to read it on the printed page.
A love for reading is just as important as the actual reading process. The fancy name for the desire to read is called print motivation. This is one of six skills children need in order to read successfully. The other skills are: Notice Print All Around; Talk, Talk, Talk; Tell Stories About Everything; Look for Letters Everywhere; and Take Time to Rhyme, Sing, and Play Word Games. These skills were originally identified by the American Library Association’s Every Child Ready to Read Program. Johnson County Public Library modified the information that program first developed, and they renamed it “6 by 6: Six Skills by Six Years.” Many of these skills are things parents already practice with their children without taking much time to consider the educational benefits. Things like pointing out the letters on a stop sign or words on a billboard can actually help children notice that words are all around them. Little habits like this can truly make a big difference in a child’s attitude toward reading.

Our librarians love to help children discover the joy of reading. Come visit us at the library for great book recommendations and resources for growing readers.

Posted in: Children's Dept, For Adults, For Kids, library services, Mercury Column, News, Parents

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In Defense of the Graphic Novel

By Amber Keck, Children’s Librarian

The concept of telling stories through images has been around since the beginning of time. The idea has evolved in many ways, including the introduction of the comic book. From superhero stories to biographies, one can find a graphic novel about almost any subject. In recent years, the literary merit of reading comic books has come under fire, and many educators and librarians have joined the debate in defense of the graphic novel.

Reading visuals and text together requires the reader to make inferences about what is happening in the scenario or storyline. Think about the experience of reading picture books to your child. Very rarely will the characters’ emotions be portrayed through text; often, the illustrator allows the character to emote through illustrations. These inference skills start developing at the beginning of a child’s life and should continue on throughout the rest of his young adult and adult reading life.

Graphic novels also allow the reader to explore time and motion in a different way. As a young reader’s comprehension and reading levels increase, he wants to read stories with more characters and complicated circumstances. The same concept applies to graphic novels, as authors add more panels and more scenarios. A graphic novelist may make the storyline move faster and slower by modifying panels and introducing visual transitions. (more…)

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Bedtime Books for Summer Nights

by Grace Benedick, Children’s Librarian

As a child, I loved the long summer days and the warm summer nights, but if there was one thing I really hated about summer, it was bedtime. I think we can all remember the childhood trial of trying to fall asleep before the sun had set—when it seemed the whole world was still wide awake. Fortunately, for all of you grown-ups with children undergoing that yearly trial, the library is full of wonderful bedtime stories to appease your wakeful children. In fact, over 200 titles will come up if you search our catalog for picture books about bedtime, so here’s a small selection of summery favorites to get you started:

atnightJonathan Bean’s debut picture book, At Night is all about one of those restless nights when sleep just won’t come. The story moves at a poetic, quiet pace, following a restless girl as she chases the night breeze up to her city roof. With her curious mother trailing behind, she takes her pillows and blankets upstairs to the rooftop terrace, where she can see the moon and feel the breeze, and better yet—fall asleep.



Posted in: Children's Dept, For Adults, For Kids, Mercury Column, News, Parents

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Not Just For Dummies

Linda Henderson, Adult Services Librarian

Interested in understandable information? Hungry for a new hobby? Manhattan Public Library offers over 300 “For Dummies” and “Complete Idiot’s Guides” that you can borrow today!

“For Dummies” books provide newcomer-friendly information and instruction on a broad variety of topics — everything from art to welding. Despite the title, their publisher has taken great pains to emphasize that the “For Dummies” books are not literally for “dummies”; the subtitle explains that they are simply, “A Reference for the Rest of Us!” To date, over 1,600 “For Dummies” titles have been published in numerous languages to worldwide acclaim.

The “For Dummies” series began in 1991 with “DOS for Dummies.” The book became popular due to the rarity of beginner-friendly instructions for using the notoriously user-unfriendly DOS interface. Later, the series branched out beyond computer technology, adding titles as diverse as “Dad’s Guide to Pregnancy for Dummies,” “Chess for Dummies,” and “Buddhism for Dummies.” Our library offers many of these great guides. (more…)

Posted in: Adult Services, Mercury Column, News

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Snowflakes Fall and Other Important Books of 2013

Steven Kellogg is a children’s book author and illustrator who has touched the lives of most of us in one way or another. You may recall reading aloud his fun picture books about the big white dog Pinkerton in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, or The Day Jimmy’s Boa at the Wash and other strange tales like The Island of Skog and The Mysterious Tadpole.  He retold tales of larger than life characters like Pecos Bill and Johnny Appleseed and illustrated books that became classics in children’s literature–Is Your Mama a Llama and How Much is a Million.  I’ve admired his intricate artwork for years. I did not know that for most of those years, he was working and raising his family in a quiet Connecticut neighborhood called Sandy Hook.  With the publication of his newest book, Snowflakes Fall, a collaboration with Patricia MacLachlan (author of Sarah, Plain and Tall), Kellogg pays tribute to the lost lives of children and adults in the tragic school shooting of December 14, 2012. 

A remarkable and wonderful aspect of their book is that it is filled with joy. MacLachlan’s poem flows lightly and delicately as snow falling from a clear sky, and the children in the pictures are grinning with delight as they make tracks, go sledding, and jump in the snow drifts.  This beautiful winter picture book will once again touch the lives of so many readers. It is a celebration of snow and of childhood excitement about the wonders of our world. Perhaps it can also help heal hearts as the snow angels left by the children lift off the last page and fly into the snowy sky. 

Kadir Nelson’s book Nelson Mandela is another extraordinary picture book from 2013, which shares Mandela’s history and legacy with a new generation.  The biographical information is extremely brief, but significant moments in Mandela’s childhood and adult life are marked with poignant and inspring illustrations, from the opening page showing silhouetted children playing on a grassy hill to the final portrait of Mandela boldly addressing his people after being elected president of South Africa.  The most recent issue of The New Yorker features a painting of Mandela by Kadir Nelson, as well as pictures from the book which came out just 11 months before Mandela’s death.

Aaron Becker’s new wordless picture book Journey has received much attention for its amazing sketches that manage to convey a whole story and range of emotions without using language.  A bored child leaves her house with a red crayon which opens a door to a new, colorful world.  Like Harold with his purple crayon from many years ago, the child is able to draw the items she needs to transport her and save her – a boat, a hot-air balloon, and even a magic carpet. Unlike Harold, she is not trying to find her way back home, but instead saves a beautiful purple bird from capture which, in turn, opens another door. 

Last Saturday, the library hosted a “Mock Caldecott” discussion led by the Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (ChALC) and the KSU English Department.  More than 30 picture books from 2013 were considered by the group, and Journey was voted the winner. With allusions to Crockett Johnson (Harold and the Purple Crown), Miyazaki (Spirited Away) and David Wiesner (Tuesday and Art & Max), it still stands on its own as a singularly beautiful and fantastical story.  One person noted that the art looked like “something you could actually fall into and explore.” Journey will engage children’s imaginations and let them feel their own power to take action and do the right thing. The real Caldecott award winner will be announced by the American Library Association on January 27th.

Reveiwed by Jennifer Adams
Published in The Mercury, December 15, 2013


Posted in: Children's Dept, Mercury Column

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Colorful Picture Books to Highlight Read to Preschoolers Week

Kansas Reads to Preschoolers Week is November 17-23, highlighting the importance of reading aloud to young children daily.  Our library was honored to be chosen as the site for the statewide kick-off with a special storytime on November 19 at 11:00. First Lady Mary Brownback will read this year’s selected book, Dog’s Colorful Day by Emma Dodd, and children’s librarians will lead other fun songs, rhymes and stories.  Following storytime, we will host “Dog’s Colorful Play Day” during which children can create a dog craft with spots of all colors, play with balloons, games and puzzles related to literacy, colors, shapes, and other early concepts and skills, and take home a free book, courtesy of the Manhattan Library Association and a Ready to Read grant.

The library has thousands of other great picture books to read aloud with young children.  Here are just a few new ones that will spark their imaginations:

A great follow-up to Dog’s Colorful Day is Dog Loves Counting by Louise Yates. Dog counts his way through various animals, finding different traits to count, like the lines on a five-lined skink or the rings on a raccoon’s tail.  Another fun dog story is Chris Raschka’s new Daisy book, Daisy Gets Lost.  Raschka’s illustrations, sometimes described as abstract or “fluid,” blend colors and lines, capturing motion and emotion at the same time. Daisy gets distracted from playing catch and chases a squirrel, leaving her owner behind.  The reuniting hug at the end is a satisfying ending for any dog lover.

David Wiesner, winner of multiple Caldecott Medals, has a new, nearly wordless picture book to please both cat lovers and alien hunters.  Mr. Wuffles! appears to be a typical cat – too lazy to play with the toys his owner buys him, but endlessly watching through cracks in the wall while twitching his tail.  Wiesner shows us what is happening behind Mr. Wuffles’s walls – tiny aliens have landed, and they need help to repair their ship damaged by the cat’s paws.  Enjoy this delightful, playful book as children describe what is happening and what they think the aliens are saying to each other.

Fantastical animals will carry you away in Emily Winfield Martin’s Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey.  Beautiful paintings show children riding animals – a bear, a fox, a narwhal – to dreamy landscapes that combine real animals with fairies, elves and imaginary beasts, making the transition from bedtime story to dreamland seamless.

In Stardines: Swim High Across the Sky, a new book of poetry by Jack Prelutsky, the author creates new critters by changing or adding just one (very important) letter to each animal’s name, followed by a poem about its humorous habitat and behaviors.  Learn about bluffaloes, chormorants, slobsters and more.  The tattlesnake is a rattler with a megaphone for a head – “Tattlesnake, Tattlesnake, Overly keen to tattle repeatedly – Truly, you’re mean. You’re noisy, annoying. You’re venomous, vile. You don’t mind your business. We don’t like your style.” I’m sure Mr. Prelutsky would approve of kids making up more new animals and poems themselves after reading this volume!

Magic Colors and Magic Opposites by Patrick George are fun books to share with children.  Each double-page spread is separated by a clear plastic page with a single shape or color.  Turning the clear page from one side to the other illustrates a color change or an opposite image.  An umbrella in the rain on one side becomes a beach umbrella in the sun on the other side.  Children will marvel over the way a pink semi-circle can be a pink and brown ice cream scoop on one side, and an orange sunset on the other.  This is a great way to introduce the idea of mixing colors to make new ones. Get out the paint set next!

Reviewed by Jennifer

Published in The Mercury, Nov. 3, 2013

Posted in: Children's Dept, Mercury Column

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Harry Potter – Played Out or Prolific?

When I came to Manhattan Public Library in June 1999, a steady buzz was rippling around the community…and the world. It sounded like this: harrypotterharrypotterharrypotter. I did not realize at the time that I had entered my new career in children’s librarianship at a phenomenal turning point.  The Harry Potter craze that ensued has given way to other high profile adolescent bestsellers like “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games.”  This summer, we are celebrating the 15th anniversary of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, an interesting time to look back at how children’s literature has changed.

Dr. Karin Westman, K-State’s Department Head of English and Harry Potter scholar, says, “The success of the Harry Potter series reminds us that both children and adults enjoy long, complicated stories filled with complex characters who grapple with moral choices within a richly detailed setting. The series paved the way for a new age in children’s literature publishing, too: 400+ page books could become the norm, and midnight release parties could be part of a standard marketing campaign.”

Harry Potter opened the door for many adults to read a children’s book, something they may not have ever considered before, and also drew in people who had never been readers of fantasy.  As each Harry Potter novel got lengthier and more involved, young readers amazingly kept up with the challenging literature and formed book discussion groups, clubs and fan websites.

In 2013, does the legacy of Harry Potter live on?  While the buzz has died down considerably, our well-used copies of the seven book series at the library certainly do not show any signs of dust.  The movies produced by Warner Brothers kept interest up for many years, and the Harry Potter and Lego Harry Potter video games are quite popular. This summer, I noticed the Harry Potter books on our summer reading prize cart are still some of the most coveted prizes we give away.

Dr. Westman points out another interesting development.  “Even though the series is complete and films have been released, the Harry Potter phenomenon continues through charitable organizations like the Harry Potter Alliance, which channels the love fans have for Rowling’s series into social change. As the mission statement explains, HPA members seek to ‘destroy real-world horcruxes like inequality, illiteracy, and human rights violations,’ thanks to a staff of over 60 volunteers, more than 85 HPA chapters, and a network that reaches well over one million people across five continents.”

In Manhattan, the Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (ChALC) and the K-State HPA chapter host an annual Hallows & Horcruxes Ball featuring bands named after characters or places from Rowling’s series. Proceeds from the concert are donated to First Book, which provides new books for children in need.

A new generation is being introduced to Harry Potter by their parents who felt its magic when they first read the books a decade or more ago.  In a few weeks, Scholastic will release new editions of the entire series, with brand new cover art and a promotional campaign to heighten interest once again.

We invite kids to join us for two Harry Potter Parties at the library this semester (We just couldn’t fit everything in to one!): August 27 at 4:30 and September 27 at 2:00.  Children’s librarian Chelsea Todd is helping plan the parties, which she says will “give our librarians the opportunity to promote and share their love for this series and their passion for reading with children who will make the same connections and find someone to relate to, whether it be a character in the books or new friends they meet who like Harry Potter, too.”

With decorations and props, kids at the library will get to enter Hogwarts with house colors and banners, an enchanted ceiling, wall portraits and quotes from the novels. Some activities planned for the events include meeting characters like Professor Snape and Luna Lovegood, attending favorite Hogwarts classes, making a wand or other crafts, exploring Diagon Alley and playing Harry Potter trivia. On September 27th, we will also show the first movie from the series on the big screen in our auditorium.

Reviewed by Jennifer Adams

Published in The Manhattan Mercury, Aug. 11, 2013

Posted in: Children's Dept, Mercury Column

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It’s a Paleontology Party at the Library

Dinosaur stories have been a big hit this summer with our Dig Into Reading theme, from Mo Willems’s tongue-in-cheek Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs to David Bergen’s awesome Life-Size Dinosaurs book. Kids are invited to a Paleontology Party on July 13, 2013, at 2:00 for more dino fun. Children’s librarian Jessica Long is planning a dinosaur egg relay (with dino-feet and dino-claws) and a craft “group effort” to create dinosaurs out of everyday objects that will be displayed in the library, plus some cool stories, facts and a volcano demonstration.

In addition to presenting this party and storytimes about dinosaurs, Ms. Jessica regularly reads dino books to her own budding paleontologist at home, three-year-old Colton. He has listened to, memorized and approved many of the following favorite dinosaur books, reviewed below by Jessica:

For the youngest dino-lovers, Simms Taback’s Dinosaurs is full of bright, fold-out pages introducing toddlers and preschoolers to several of the most famous dinosaurs. Dinosaur Dig by Penny Dale combines two toddler favorites – dinosaurs and diggers. What else could you ask for? Dinosaur Dig is being featured in the children’s room through July with several early literacy activities related to the story. Children and parents visiting the library can read the book together and then play with construction vehicles on our table covered with roads, construction sites and road signs. A magnet matching game encourages children to match the dinosaur names with the correct dinosaur and color. Children can also puzzle together a dinosaur life cycle or match construction vehicles with action words.

For slightly older paleontologists-in-training, Dinosaur Pet by Marc Sedaka is a fun rewrite of “Calendar Girls” to fit every dino-lovers dream – owning a pet dinosaur! A CD is included with the book so kids can learn the tune and dance along. Illustrations in Hatchlings: Life-Size Baby Dinosaurs by Kelly Halls brings the youngest dinosaurs to life. Most people think of giant sauropods and theropods when they think about dinosaurs. Even the biggest Argentinosaurus started out as a small(ish) egg, though. Some of these baby dinos are actually kind of cute!

If your young paleontologist is ready for more dino facts but not quite ready for the dinosaur encyclopedias, check out The First Big Book of Dinosaurs by Catherine Hughes. It includes more than one hundred pages of dinosaurs with just enough text to learn about each species without being overwhelming. The colorful pictures and lift-the-flap features in Dinosaurs Around the World by Susie Brooks will keep young readers engaged as they learn about the dinosaur’s world. Dinosaurs by Penelope Arlon is a slim volume, but it has stunning digital renderings of dinosaurs and up-to-date information on current discoveries and theories.

Barnum Brown is a name known to every paleontologist. After all, he discovered the most revered and feared dinosaur of all time: Tyrannosaurus Rex! Barnum’s Bones by Tracey Fern is a picture book biography that gives the reader a glimpse into this eccentric character and his most famous discovery.

More serious dinosaur hunters should check out The Ultimate Dinopedia by Don Lessem, filled with almost three hundred pages of amazing dinosaurs including some information that can be hard to find elsewhere (for example, how many fossils of each dinosaur have been found). Dino-lovers young and old will eat this one up!

Kids who are registered for the library’s free summer reading program can earn a cool dinosaur skeleton prize just for finishing 250 minutes of reading time.  We still have lots of dinosaurs left, so sign up now if you haven’t already!

By Jennifer Adams and Jessica Long – published in The Manhattan Mercury, 6-30-13

Posted in: Children's Dept, Mercury Column

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Picture Books for the Season

Hanukkah is just around the corner, and several new books will be fun to share with little ones. Jane Yolen’s popular dinosaur series has a double entry for the season this year.  How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? and How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas? both go through many of the traditions of each holiday.  In the first half of the story, extremely large dinosaur “children,” illustrated grandly by Mark Teague, are grumpy or misbehaving. In the second half, they do a 180 turnaround with actions to melt a parent’s heart.  Children will be able to identify with some of the potential holiday disasters, and they generally find it very humorous to see how much bigger the dinosaurs are than their human parents.

Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko shows how one child celebrates both sets of beliefs and traditions with her parents.  At Sadie’s house, latkes are left out for Santa and the Menorah has candy canes.  This book will be fun for families that observe both holidays and revel in a little bit of holiday chaos.  Older children who like to help in the kitchen might enjoy Maccabee Meals by Judye Groner and Madeline Wikler.  Simple recipes and instructions with fun illustrations make this cookbook kid-friendly.  Recipes are divided into various meals, from brunch to Shabbat dinner to pajama party food.

Sweetness abounds in several new Christmas books perfect for sharing while snuggled in a big armchair with your favorite toddler.  Puppy’s First Christmas by Stevel Smallman and Alison Edgson is a choice for our Christmas storytime on December 13th.  Puppy cannot figure out what is going on at his house. First, his owners brought in a tree and covered it with shiny lights and balls (which he is not supposed to play with), and now, they nailed their socks on the wall.  When Cat explains about Christmas and Santa Claus, the two cuddly pets decide to stay up to meet him.  Furry felt hats on pages throughout the story give little hands something soft to feel while you read.

Together at Christmas by Eileen Spinelli is a cute countdown book, beautifully illustrated by Bin Lee.  Ten little mice on a snowy night try to find a warm place to sleep, but eventually they all end up back together in a hollow log where there’s room for everyone.  In Just Right for Christmas by Birdie Black and Rosalind Beardshaw, a piece of red cloth is “just right” for a cloak for a princess. After the King’s sewing maids are done with the gift, the scraps of cloth are left outside the door where a girl finds them. They are just right for her to make a gift for her mother. The scraps from each project work their way down until the final piece becomes a scarf for a mother mouse’s son.  And each gift is just right.

Need something to do while waiting for Santa to fall down the chute?  Bruce Hale’s Santa on the Loose is a Where’s Waldo style mystery, and kids can pass the time inspecting the colorful pages to find Santa and all the clues.  Santa Retires by David Biedrzycki is as silly as it gets, with Santa doing cannonballs into the pool, taking hula lessons, and making sand snowmen. But will he really skip Christmas for good?  This one is great to get the giggles going.

Bob Shea’s new dinosaur book will be another big hit.  You’ve already seen him in Dinosaur vs. Bedtime and Dinosaur vs. the Potty – now he’s kicked it up a notch to Dinosaur vs. Santa!  Follow this festive dino kid as he roars his way through decorating the tree, crafting presents for his parents, and even being extra good.  If he can just fall asleep on Christmas Eve, Dinosaur will win again!

Rabbit’s Snow Dance by James and Joseph Bruchac is a real winter treasure.  Joseph Bruchac has written many children’s books with Native American themes, often retelling tales that have been passed on orally for generations. He wrote this traditional Iroquois story with his son, James, also an author and storyteller.  It is summer, but Rabbit wants snow so he can walk on top of it and reach the yummy leaves and buds. Rabbit is very impatient and begins drumming and singing his snow song – “EE-OOO! Thump! Thump! EE-OOO! Thump! Thump! YO, YO, YO!”  The snow falls, covering the other animals and pushing Rabbit to the top of the trees, just as he wanted. But a sunny ending to the book leaves Rabbit in the lurch and also explains why bunnies have very short tails.  Jeff Newman’s expressive paintings of Rabbit and his friends are lively and fun. Don’t be surprised if you have little ones drumming and chanting after hearing this story.

Printed in The Mercury 12-2-12

Reviewed by Jennifer

Posted in: Children's Dept, Mercury Column

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