Book review: A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White., by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Herkert, Barbara. A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White. Illustrated by Lauren Castillo  Christy Ottaviano Books, 2017. $18.99 ISBN: 9781627792455. Unpaged. Gr. K-2. P7 Q10

This exquisitely written and beautifully illustrated book, written by Newport author Barbara Herkert, introduces the author of Charlotte’s Web to young readers.  E.B. White’s early childhood was filled with explorations of nature and interactions with all sorts of animal life, including a “bold mouse” who later became famous as Stuart Little.   Readers will be captivated by this sweet tale, which shows how adult E.B. (now Andy, editor at The New Yorker) moved his young family to a farm in Maine, where he became inspired to write his famous children’s books.  This book would be an excellent introduction to a classroom reading of his chapter books.  Also contains a brief biography and bibliography.

March 2018 review by N.H.S. students, edited and compiled by Liz Fox.

Book review: A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White, by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Herkert, Barbara. A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White. Illus. by Lauren Castillo. Christy Ottaviano/Holt, 2018. $18.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-62779-245-5. Ages 6-9. P7Q5

This narrative beginning with the author’s life shows his motivation for writing two of his classic children’s books, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, and a depiction of him as a farmer when he becomes an adult who just tossed off a couple of books.

Verdict: The author’s use of literary allusion comparing E.B. White to a piper leading “his little family toward his dream in Maine” brings images of the Pied Piper luring children away from their families and doesn’t relate to his extensive career or his other books. The occasionally awkward text uses terms unfamiliar to younger readers such as “musty” and “dapper,” and the brown ink, watercolor, foam print textures, and Adobe Photoshop have thick outlines and appear muddy. The three-page author’s note at the end of the book describes how he lived with fear as a child, information which could have been included in the story about White to help readers better understand him. A better book about White is Melissa Sweet’s Caldecott Honor book, Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White. 

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: It Is Not Time for Sleeping (A Bedtime Story), by Lisa Graff, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Graff, Lisa ; Lauren Castillo (illustrations). It Is Not Time for Sleeping (A Bedtime Story). Clarion Books, 2016. Unpaged. $16.99. ISBN 9780544319301. Ages 4-6. P8Q7

A child, dog, mother and father go through evening rituals in this cumulative repetitive story, with the refrain, “It is not time for sleeping.” Then, a final hug brings this bedtime story to a close.  As the evening advances from sunset skies during dinner to the moon shining through a window, the clear, warm watercolor illustrations gather more and more shadows, though even the darkened rooms have warm colors in the darkness.

Verdict: This is a comforting bedtime story, reflecting evening rituals in a nuclear family.  Nothing in the text of the book indicates the child’s gender.  Unfortunately, the jacket blurb refers to the child as “he”, limiting the appeal of the book to little boys.  I think it’s a poor choice on the part of the publicity team.  Also, the book is text heavy and does not rhyme, though cumulative repetition does make it accessible for small children.  Recommended for public library collections.

March 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Yard Sale, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Bunting, Eve. Yard Sale. Illustrated by Lauren Castillo. Candlewick Press, 2015. $6.99. ISBN 9780763693053. Unpaged. Ages 3-12. P9 Q 9.

This is a very touching story of a family holding a yard sale because they are moving to a smaller apartment.  Told from the child’s perspective of how they might feel having a yard sale of their things. It includes the struggle of a changing friendship with the neighbors. It conveys the struggle of letting go of a bike and the memories of the marks on a headboard of a bed.  Then, as a child might feel, they would also be for sale, the book concluded with a sincere moment of realization.

Verdict: This is a very emotional and touching story as young and adult alike can relate to moving and having to sell beloved things. It is a great read aloud for all aged children helping them cope with giving up their things, moving and leaving friends, and/or teaching about empathy.  

June 2017 review by Deborah Gwynn.



[Editor’s note: Told from the point of view of a young girl whose possessions are among the many that her family is selling, Bunting’s story of a family losing their house and needing to make enough money to move to a small apartment imparts grief, fear and sadness, as well as the love that holds the family together.  While not a comfortable story, the warm, realistic illustrations by Lauren Castillo humanize the family’s plight.]

Book review: El Fútbol Me Hace Feliz, by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Boelts, Maribeth. El Fútbol Me Hace Feliz. Illustrated by Lauren Castillo. Candlewick Press, 2015. $6.99. ISBN 9780763689056. Unp. Ages 5-9. P8Q9

boelts-futbolSierra loves soccer. When she is playing, she couldn’t be happier—she only wishes her aunt were there to watch her. Now that she’s joined a new team, she doesn’t have to practice in the vacant lot near her apartment; however, she now travels on the weekends to surrounding fields to play. Sierra’s aunt works weekends and is a noticeable absence from her games. After a season of lonely games, it is up to Sierra to figure out how to share her passion for soccer with her aunt. El Fútbol Me Hace Feliz, is a Spanish translation of an English language publication. The English version is written using figurative language that is not equally matched by the translated text. Nonetheless, the genuine story is intact. The illustrations are friendly watercolors—often in the muted monochrome tones of the inner-city. Due to the popularity of soccer across cultural and socioeconomic boundaries, this translated version and the original will be popular additions to public and school libraries.

October 2016 review by Lillian Curanzy.

Book review: Yard Sale, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Bunting Yard SaleBunting, Eve. Illustrated by Lauren Castillo. Yard Sale. Candlewick Press. 2015. $15.99. 9780763665425. Unp. Ages 3-7. P7Q8

Yard Sale is a realistic, though sometimes painful, look at a family’s moving sale. We learn from the story that the family, whose young daughter, Callie, narrates the story, has experienced money problems and is moving from their home to a small apartment. This is a struggle that many families have experienced—an unfortunate consequence of the recent economic downturn. We follow Callie as she overhears strangers haggling for her possessions—first her bedframe, then her bike. Of course, the little girl does not completely understand why she has to sell all of her belongings and move to a small apartment where she cannot ride her bike. Her father then becomes emotional as he explains the necessity of the yard sale. Ultimately, Callie realizes that all of her things are not as important as being with her parents. Yard Sale addresses the strain of such a difficult event with light-hearted illustrations and a peaceful color palette that complements the weight of the story. Though it may not be appropriate for a general audience, this book will be helpful to young children and their families who are enduring a similar experience.

May 2015 review by Lillian Curanzy.

Book review: The Troublemaker, by Lauren Castillo.

Castillo, Lauren. “The Troublemaker.” Clarion Books. 2014. $16.99. ISBN 9780547729916. UNP. Ages pre-school. P8/Q8

This is a story about a little boy who gets in trouble for taking his sister’s toy rabbit. He loves to use his imagination when he is bored and sends the rabbit off in a boat because he is a “pirate.” Later, the boy loses his stuffed toy raccoon.  The little boy and his sister have to go to bed without their toys. The trouble maker is really the pesky raccoon who has been taking the missing items. In the morning the little boy finds everything that has disappeared. My impression of this book based on the cover is great the format will have great appeal as the print size is perfect for the young audience. November 2014 review by Melinda Dye.