The Pout-Pout Fish Cleans Up the Ocean

June 8th, 2019 · Books

There is a new Pout-Pout fish story out, and it’s timely and relevant, and we love it! THE POUT-POUT FISH CLEANS UP THE OCEAN by Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna brings back Mr. Fish and his friends who live happily in the beautiful ocean. Suddenly, Mr. Fish notices that there is “A big…BIG…MESS!” in the ocean, and he doesn’t know what it is. He swims around and shares his concerns with his friends, always asking if they’d like to join him to figure out what it is and to solve the problem. Together, the ocean creatures come to a disturbing root cause of the mess and decide to go about fixing the damage.

The text emphasizes persistence and teamwork in tackling the problem of plastic and garbage pollution in the ocean. And after observing and analyzing the mess, the characters conclude that the problem is themselves. More specifically the bad and careless habits they (and we!) have of a single-use and throwaway society. To emphasize the idealist ocean world of Mr. Fish, the creatures all take responsibility for their actions and work together to not just clean up the mess they had caused, but they also decide to develop new habits for travel, use of plastic, and putting trash where it belongs. The issue is a “big…BIG…MESS,” but the story makes sure to demonstrate that change can start with individuals working together.

Despite the enormity of the problems in the story, it never feels overwhelming or hopeless for readers. The colorful and playful illustrations allow for children of all ages to discover and enjoy the characters and surroundings. Older children and adults will appreciate the not-so-subtle commentary on the items that contribute to the mess in the ocean. A box with “plastic junk-oids” printed on its side and the irony of a balloon that reads “Happy Earth Day” will drive the point home. The book ends with a note from the creators of the series making suggestions for actions readers can take to join the Pout-Pout Fish in his quest to clean up the ocean.

Highly recommended.

Review by Kristin Wald


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The Biggest Little Farm: Saving Emma the Pig

June 6th, 2019 · Books

The story of SAVING EMMA THE PIG is the first in a new picture book series based on John Chester’s short films about The Biggest Little Farm. Now a children’s book author, Chester is an Emmy Winning documentary filmmaker and farmer. This first story sets a gentle and loving tone that shows both the circle of nature and how humans don’t have all the solutions for the animal world.

The story opens when Emma the Pig arrives to the farm just as she is about to have a litter of piglets. She is very skinny and not well, and when her SEVENTEEN piglets arrive Emma stops producing milk. To give her a break, the farmers bring the piglets into their home to care for them and tend to Emma in the barn. She gets better, but won’t eat…not even her favorite treat of apples. It’s only when the piglets are brought back to Emma that she starts to eat…A LOT.

The story continues with Emma nurturing her piglets, becoming lonely when they are moved to a pasture to graze and roam, and finally finding a new rooster friend. The emphasis is on the animals throughout the picture book, in fact the farmers are never shown. Jennifer Meyer’s illustrations are gorgeous and lush. The images are able to convey sadness and worry in some instances and humor and joy in others. Greasy the rooster is especially expressive.

The end of the book has a brief history of the farm as well as a photo of the author and Emma accompanying an epilogue that updates readers on Emma. Families may want to also check out the short film on which the book is based. One caveat: Caregivers should watch the clip first because the book glosses over a detail or two that may be upsetting or confusing to children.

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Mountain Chef

June 4th, 2019 · Books

MOUNTAIN CHEF, written by Annette Bay Pimentel and illustrated by Rich Lo, details the essential role of Tie Sing, a Chinese-American chef who accompanied millionaire Stephen Mather on a high-end camping trip for a group of investors and legislators. The trip was meant to convince the guests to create a national park service to protect the natural wonders of the USA. Tie Sing’s position as head chef for this trip proved invaluable in ensuring the men were comfortable and satisfied during their “rustic” trek across the camping route. Pimentel does a good job spotlighting Tie Sing and his assistant Eugene, and Lo’s illustrations provide color and movement in their depiction of the adventures.

What stands out in the story of Tie Sing is that amount of planning and preparation necessary for his work as the camping adventure’s chef. Sing had to plan three meals a day for 30 people, and the meals had to be impressive to the wealthy, worldly guests. The hard work of feeding the guests is clear in Pimento’s descriptions. Getting up in the cold and dark to start breakfast and pack lunches, cleaning up after the guests while on the trail, and transporting the food and supplies all show the intensity of Sing’s intensity and dedication, as well as his ability to handle challenges and unexpected roadblocks.

Vegetarian and vegan families should be aware that the mention of various foods like frogs’ legs, sides of beef, and several fish and meat dishes are mentioned. Some are depicted in the illustrations as well. While a mule is not injured, there is also an illustration of it falling down a cliff. However, families will also be able to have in depth conversations about what a “fancy” meal is versus a simple meal, and what that means to the travelers in the book and to them.

The appreciation for the wilderness of what would one day become Yosemite National Park and the perseverance Tie Sing shows throughout the journey will be a sure inspiration for those who read MOUNTAIN CHEF.

Review by Kristin Wald

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The Happiest Tree: A Story of Growing Up

June 1st, 2019 · Books

THE HAPPIEST TREE by Hyeon-Ju Lee is a gentle, thoughtful story narrated by a Gingko tree that arrives to a new home at ten-years-old. As the tree grows, it observes life through the windows of the building next to it, and each floor reflects a stage of growing up. Sometimes joyful, sometimes sad and lonely, the tree’s reflections are simple and philosophical.

As the tree grows, it has its first encounter with recognizing itself as a separate entity when it can peer into an artist’s studio filled with portraits of the tree. And when it grows taller still, it passes a young family, giving it “the happiest time of my life.” Taller still, and it is able to “visit” a lonely elderly woman who only has photos of her family for company. In the end, this story of growing up is the story of life, and by the end of the book, the tree feels a part of the world and is at peace with its place in it.

Children will enjoy the illustrations that accompany the story. As with the text, the images have carefully chosen details and they reveal a simple depth that young readers will both relate to and enjoy discovering. With lots of animals, repeated images, and people of all ages depicted, there are many opportunities for discussion and interactive reading.

THE HAPPIEST TREE reminds me of Carin Berger’s lovely picture book, The Little Yellow Leaf, in its treatment of the life cycle and the seasons. Highly recommended.


Review by Kristin Wald

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