Picture Book Review: “We Go To Bo”

Author: Larry Baum
Illustrator: Joanna Pasek
ISBN: 9781519197962
Publisher: CreateSpace 2015
Age Range: 2-5
Grade Level: Preschool-Kindergarten

Amazon Synopsis

Learning to read is difficult. We need to recognize that certain combinations of letters correspond to certain sounds and meanings. That’s not easy for adults when learning a new language. Imagine how hard that is for children, both because they’re so young and because they never made this mental breakthrough before.

When I taught my kids to read, I tried to make this big leap a little easier by choosing books with the shortest possible words. But every book I found had some long words. I wondered if a book could be written using only short words. How short? 4 letters? No problem. 3 letters. Sure. OK, then, let’s push it further. What about 2 letters? Hmm, that would be a challenge, especially to make a story that’s interesting, with characters, action, and humor. I listed the common 2-letter words: very few verbs, plenty of prepositions. How could I use this odd vocabulary? Bubbles move all sorts of ways, thus they were a great prop to soak up many 2-letter prepositions. I discovered Joanna Pasek’s charming watercolor illustrations online, and we worked together to create WE GO TO BO. We aimed to make the book as easy as possible for beginning readers. We chose large, capital letters to make words clear and obvious. I hope you can use this book to introduce children to the wide world of words.–Larry Baum

My Review

“We Go To Bo” is a charming story about friendship and is a perfect book for beginning readers. Simple in nature, this book uses only two-letter words to tell the story, making it an ideal choice for teaching your little ones how to read. 

Not An Easy Feat

Creating a book using only two-letter words sounds like an easy task, but when you think about it there aren’t very many two-letter words you can string together – to construct a story that makes sense, you really have to get creative.

Writing and Illustrations

I think the author did a nice job given the limitation on the number of words available. The illustrations tie the 2-letter-word story together beautifully, as shown below with Ed and Bo sharing a laugh as one bubble lands on Ma’s head and another in Ed’s mouth!


Having a story that connects with kids is essential and this playful tale does just that while also providing a comfortable atmosphere with words that won’t intimidate budding young readers. The bold words stand out and the beautiful illustrations are enticing and enrich the story.

The Bo Series

Since releasing “We Go To Bo,” Larry Baum has since written a series of books for beginning readers: a 1-letter word book, a new 2-letter word book and a 3-letter word book to expand upon this concept.  Joanna Pasek has started the illustrations for this new series, and a Kickstarter Campaign is running during June 2019 to help fund the project.  Check it out.

About the Author

Larry Baum grew up in Los Angeles, studied at Harvard College, and earned a PhD in Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego. He worked as a biologist doing research on Alzheimer’s disease and other brain diseases. He lives in Hong Kong, where his children Ryan and Ianna were born in 2003 and 2005.

When they were old enough to start reading, he looked for children’s books with simple words so that learning would be easier. But all the books he found had a mix of short and long words. He wondered whether he could write a children’s book with only short words. Using words no longer than 4 letters would be feasible. What about 3 letters? That should still be doable. Two letters? That would be a big challenge, but he tried and came up with We Go To Bo.

After being too busy with work for several years, he finally decided to hire an illustrator and publish the book himself, making the e-book free and the printed book cheap so that as many children as possible could benefit from it. Joanna Pasek’s charming illustrations caught his eye, and they completed the book in October 2015.

Review Copy

I obtained a digital copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. I’m working my way through 500 picture books. Need a picture book review? Contact me!

Picture Book Review: Book or Bell?


Author: Chris Barton
Illustrator: Ashley Spires
ISBN: 9781681197296
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens (2017)
Age Range: 4-8 years
Grade Level: Preschool – 2

Amazon Synopsis
The first page has Henry hooked. The second page has him captivated. The third page. . .BBBBRRRRIIIIINNNNNGGGGG!. . . will have to wait.

That is, unless Henry ignores the bell, stays put, and keeps on reading the most awesome book. By not springing up with the ringing of the bell, Henry sets off a chain reaction unlike anything his school or town has ever seen. Luckily, Mayor Wise, Governor Bright, and Senator Brilliant know exactly what the situation calls for:

A louder bell. MUCH louder.

My Review

Okay, let me just start by saying Book or Bell? is my new all-time favorite picture book.  Henry finds a good book and just wants to read, but life (or school in his case), just keeps getting in the way. We can all relate to that, right?

An Argument for Independent Thinking

Now, Henry always does what he is supposed to do but, this book is so good he finally makes a decision that he is not going to jump up every time the bell rings and chooses instead to quench his need to read. Nothing gets in the way of his reading because he has found “the most awesome book!”  

The adults in the story don’t quite know what to make of Henry just staying put and the carefully constructed routine of the school day is thrown entirely off-kilter because of this. The only thing they come up with is a louder and louder bell, but this doesn’t deter Henry at all!

A True Bibliophile

Henry is a true hero to bibliophiles everywhere and book lovers of all ages will love this brilliant story. What a great character! I love how totally absorbed he gets with his book in spite of the chaos surrounding him.  Hey, we readers have to do whatever it takes! Hopefully it won’t persuade kids that it’s okay to do whatever you want, but you’ve got to admire his determination!

The writing is absorbing, captivating and builds suspense.  Young readers will get a big kick out of the single-minded way the adults try to take control of the situation! Anticipation builds as the story progresses – what is to be done about Henry? The pictures are so funny and dramatic, providing a deeper dynamic to the written words – great team effort!


Book or Bell? is a fabulous story that will genuinely excite young readers!  I laughed out loud several times.  Of particular interest is the ending and what Henry learns from the book he reads – reading becomes much more than entertainment – this book teaches him a new skill!  Love it!

About the Author

Chris Barton is the author of picture books including bestseller Shark Vs. Train, Sibert Honor-winning The Day-Glo Brothers, and Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, included on 19 state reading lists. His newest books include Dazzle Ships, the Mighty Truck early-reader series, and What Do You Do with a Voice Like That? The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. Chris and his wife, YA/middle-grade novelist Jennifer Ziegler, live in Austin, Texas, where Chris has advocated for greater diversity in children’s literature by cofounding the Modern First Library program with BookPeople.

Review Copy

I obtained a copy of this book to review from my local library. I’m reading and blogging my way through 500 picture books. Need a picture book review? Contact me!

Picture Book Review: “If I Could Drive, Mama”

If I Could Drive, Mama

Author: Cari Best
Illustrator: Simone Shin
ISBN: 9780374302054
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2016)
Age Range: 4-6 Years
Grade Level: Preschool – 1

Amazon Synopsis:

When Charlie turns a plain cardboard box into a zippy new car, he can’t wait for Mama to have the first ride. He adjusts the mirror, checks to be sure there is enough gas, and reminds Mama to buckle up. Then off they go―REV REV VROOM! There are places to visit and bumps along the way. There is even a traffic jam! By the time they return home, Mama is exhausted, but Charlie can’t wait for her nap to be over so he can drive her someplace else.

My Review

This is an adorable story about a little boy who wants to take his mother to all of her favorite places (around their home) in his new car. In the story, Mama and Charlie spend the day together in an imaginative role-reversal setting, visiting the dress shop (mom’s closet) that has all the right-sized clothes; the library (living room) with its massive bookshelf full of books; the playground (backyard), etc. After a busy day, while Mama naps, Charlie washes his new car, getting it ready for the next adventure.


For me, the story carries sweet sentiments of days past, when my own son was an imaginative little boy, and that sweetness permeates throughout the book. The mother-son relationship – an unshakeable love and bond.

The Characters

Charlie takes center stage, as he should. His delightful imagination is fun, creative, and takes “playing grownup” to another level. Mom is a great sidekick and Dad even makes an appearance, but it’s clear that Charlie is in charge of the story, doubling as the narrator.

The Writing

Overall, the writing is good, I love the storyline and the concept. It was, however, just a bit choppy for me. There are too many dialogue tags that make it a bit confusing and redundant, for example:

I say, “Which one would you like?”
And you say, “The one with pink and green.”
“That’s my favorite, too!” I say. “You can wear it to
Charlie’s Diner, which is where we are going for lunch.”

It’s a matter of preference, I think, and while it certainly doesn’t kill the story for me, I maintain it would be less confusing without all the tags.

Subtle Lessons

There are subtle lessons about car safety, sprinkled throughout the story, such as adjusting the car mirror, checking the gas level, buckling up, using turn signals, etc. These “lessons” are introduced in such a manner that kids can pretend to perform all these actions along with Charlie while they listen to the story.

The Illustrations

The illustrations are soft and muted and sets a comfortable mood and setting for the story. Charlie is an adorable toddler and his sparkle and energy jump off the pages. The pictures of the various rooms in the home and yard create the cozy feel of a child comfortable in his environment.


Overall, “If I Could Drive, Mama” is a delightful story that sparks the imagination and is a fun, creative adventure.

About the Author

Cari Best is the author of Three Cheers for Catherine the Great! She grew up in New York City and lives in Weston, Connecticut.

Review Copy

I obtained a copy of this book to review from my local library. I’m working my way through 500 picture books. Need a picture book review? Contact me!

Picture Book Review: The Detective Dog

The Detective Dog
Author: Julia Donaldson
Illustrator: Sara Ogilvie
ISBN: 9781250156761
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Age Range: 3-6
Grade Level: Preschool – 1

Amazon Synopsis

When Detective Dog Nell puts her nose to the task, there’s no mystery she can’t solve. Whether she’s tracking the missing shoe of her human, Peter, or locating some lost honeycomb, all Nell has to do is sniff, sniff, sniff and she’s hot on the trail.

Besides solving mysteries, there’s something else Nell loves―listening to children read. Every Monday, Peter takes her to school where children tell her stories.

One day, Nell and Peter arrive to find that all the books are gone. Who could have taken them? And why? There’s only one dog for the job, and Detective Dog Nell is ready to sniff out the thief!

My Review

The Story

The Detective Dog is a fun mystery for ages 3-6. There are so many things to appreciate about this story.  First, the rhyming is perfectly balanced, making it an easy story to read and enjoy. 

“Now, Nell did detection from Tuesday till Sunday
But did something totally different each Monday.
She found Peter’s bag and she tracked down her lead,
Then set off for school, where she heard children read.”

Nell – The Detective Dog and Bibliophile

I love that Nell does her detective work on Tuesdays through Sundays, finding missing socks and toys and such. Nells keen nose makes her a brilliant detective. But on Mondays she takes the day off to visit the school and listen to children read. This holds a good message for adults – Nell knows the importance of self-care by taking a day off!

Nell also loves the smell of a good book – like any proper bibliophile, and this story encourages an interest in books and reading and introduces the lending concept of the library to young readers – so fun!   

Who took all the books?

When Nell and her human, young Peter, arrive at school one Monday to find all the books missing, it’s time for Nell to put on her detective cap once again. Who took all the books? Nell is a delightful character, warm and fuzzy, while also smart and determined. Peter is the appropriate sidekick, helping Nell and guiding the other kids along as they uncover clues.

When she and Peter discover the book thief, they come up with the appropriate resolution without critical admonition of the crime, rather administering an emphasis on the solution.

The Illustrations

The illustrations are whimsical and invigorating.  The colors, the details, the overall displays of exuberance – they add depth to the story and are fun to follow, perfectly complementing the rhymes and the action.


Kids will have an exciting time following Nell and Peter as they solve the mystery of the missing books, all while learning about the wonderful world of reading, books and libraries.

About the Author

Julia Donaldson is a top selling author of children’s books with over 65 million books sold worldwide. Among her greatest successes are Room on the Broom, The Gruffalo and Stick Man (all illustrated by Axel Scheffler), What the Ladybird Heard (illustrated by Lydia Monks) and The Giant Jumperee (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury). Julia’s books have been translated into over 72 languages.

Julia lives in the UK with her husband Malcolm and divides her time between Sussex in the South and Edinburgh in Scotland. From 2011 to 2013, she was the UK Children’s Laureate. Julia writes fiction, poems, plays and songs, as well as picture books. The TV films of The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom have both been nominated for Oscars.

Review Copy

I obtained a copy of this book to review from my local library. I’m working my way through 500 picture books. Need a picture book review? Contact me!

Picture Book Review: Fall Ball

Author: Peter McCarty
Illustrator: Peter McCarty
ISBN: 9780805092530
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, LLC
Age Range: 4-8
Grade Level: Preschool – 3

Amazon Synopsis

In “Fall Ball” Bobby and his friends wait all day for school to end and for their chance to play outdoors in the fall weather. Flying leaves, swirling colors, and crisp air make the perfect setting for a game of football with Sparky the dog.

The kids are surprised by how quickly it gets dark, and even more surprised when it begins to snow. But there’s no need to worry―the chilly nights ahead will mean watching football on the couch with family, tucked under a cozy blanket.

My Review of Fall Ball

The Illustrations

Initially, the illustrations on the cover of Fall Ball first called me to this book, with the color scheme being the deciding factor. The dominant sepia theme sprinkled with subdued reds, blues and grayish tones create a crisp autumnesque environment. Then the kids faces took hold of me. The caricatures make for a delightful group of kids like none I’ve ever seen before. With simple facial features and hair that seems to stand as if permanently blown by the wind, these kids often made me laugh out loud. Happy, surprised, excited – the faces remain the same and yet you somehow just know what they are thinking.

The Story

As Fall Ball unfolds, young listeners and early readers experience the joys of getting out of school and going home to play with friends before it gets too dark outside.  This reminded me of a simpler time, when kids had a bit more freedom to roam around the neighborhood without worry.  I’m not sure today’s kids will “get” that part, but I enjoyed the recall. When a feisty dog steals the football and heads towards a great pile of leaves, you can imagine and almost hear the kids squeals as they chase after their coveted ball and the laughs when everyone lands in the leaves.

Overall, Fall Ball is a charming story with captivating illustrations that will create a lot of excitement for a young audience.

About the Author

PETER MCCARTY is the author and illustrator of many books for children, including Fabian Escapes, Moon Plane, and T Is for Terrible, as well as Hondo & Fabian, a Caldecott Honor Book. He lives with his family in upstate New York.

Review Copy

I obtained a copy of this book to review from my local library.

Picture Book Review: Lily’s Cat Mask

Lily's Cat Mask book cover

Author: Julie Fortenberry
Illustrator: Julie Fortenberry
ISBN: 9780425287996
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Age Range: 4-6 years
Grade Level: Preschool – 1

Amazon Synopsis: Armed with a vivid imagination and her trusty cat mask, Lily can take on anything–even a new school…But when her teacher tells her no masks allowed in class, Lily worries, can she make friends without it? Anyone who has been daunted by a new experience, or struggled to put on a good face, will relate to Lily. Whimsical art brings Lily, her father, and her new classmates to life, with text that begs to be read aloud. Perfect for Father’s Day, back to school, and even Halloween–Lily and her grinning cat mask are sure to make you smile back.

My Thoughts

Lily’s Cat Mask is perfect for adults and kids alike, as just about everyone can relate to having some fear and anxiety around experiencing something new. First off, I absolutely adored the illustrations. They are colorful and simple with just the right amount of detail to appeal to young readers. The body language and facial expressions of Lily (when she’s not wearing the mask) really tell the readers how she is feeling. For instance, in the beginning it’s painfully obvious she does NOT want to go shopping.

The author doesn’t use the mask as a crutch for Lily but as a way to ease into new situations. She also uses it as a way to celebrate or demonstrate Lily’s excitement or happiness.  She uses it to both hide and stand out. How fun to have a mask on when she wants to be the center of attention.  Don’t we all at some point? On the other side of the spectrum, I can relate to and feel some of the inner turmoil Lily feels when she uses her mask as a safety blanket of sorts.

Does Lily’s Cat Mask teach kids how to overcome their anxieties? Perhaps overcome is the wrong word. I do think it helps allay some of the anxiety around the unknown, as well as new experiences, such as the first day of school and making new friends.

Overall, the story is well-written, and the pictures are delightful. 

Younger kids will like the colorful masks and costume party and will enjoy having the book read to them – but the target audience is for those just starting school. 

About the Author

Julie Fortenberry is the author and illustrator of LILY’S CAT MASK. She has illustrated several picture books, including “Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast” by Jamie Korngold and “Pirate Boy” by Eve Bunting (2012 Children’s Choice book). Julie lives in Philadelphia, PA. To see more of Julie’s work visit www.juliefortenberry.com.

Note: I obtained a copy of this book to review from my local library.

Picture Book Review: “Meeow and the Blue Table”

Meeow and the Blue Table
Author: Sebastien Braun
ISBN: 9781907152153
Publisher: Boxer Books
Age Range: 2-4
Grade Level: Preschool
Amazon Synopsis: Meeow, the irresistibly clever cat created by bestselling author-illustrator Sebastien Braun, is back and ready to play! Like every young child, Meeow loves to make things. So what will he do with a blue table, a red blanket, and lots of wooden blocks? Why, turn them into an amazing castle, of course! Meeow’s friends Quack, Moo, Baa, and Woof are delighted–and young readers will be enchanted, too. What will Meeow inspire THEM to do?

My thoughts

Meeow and the Blue Table encourages creativity and imagination, as opposed to spending a rainy day in front of the television and/or on electronic tablets! With just a few arts and crafts materials, the friends are all set for a fun day – rain or not! The emphasis on free-play and using your imagination is so important at this young age.

This is a perfect book for toddlers who will enjoy the brightly colored illustrations, and the storyline encourages participation. I loved how every animal has his/her own part – duck makes a paper hat and a bow, Lamb makes a shield and a dragon, Dog makes a helmet and a sword, and Cow makes a hat and cape.  Using toys and comfort items from around the house (blankies and building blocks) the friends create their very own castle and kingdom.

Meeow and the Blue Table is a simple, creative tale that will inspire many playtime adventures for kids – adults will recall fond playtime memories of their own. Perfect left-brain motivation!

About the Author:

Sebastien Braun studied fine arts in Strasbourg, France. His first two books, I Love My Mummy and I Love My Daddy (Boxer Books, 2005), have been hugely successful all over the world. Since then, Sebastien has gone on to create many more books for children. He lives in Gloucestershire with his wife and two young sons.

Note: I obtained a copy of this book to review from my local library.

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