Tag Archives: Monkeys

Climb Aboard The Thunderbolt Express! a review of Matthew Porter’s new picture book


*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review. I wasn’t compensated in any other way and this is strictly my opinion.

Porter_Jazz_Band Porter_train

There’s a new monkey book in town and I had to see it. Matthew Porter, author and illustrator of Tails Chasing Tails and Monkey World ABC has published a picture book, Monkey World: The Thunderbolt Express. This is a story your young train aficionados will want to hear.

“All aboard!” calls the station master. A whimsical cast of characters (a detective, magician, ventriloquist, inventor and band leader) all board a train and settle in for a smooth trip.  Soon, the journey gets dicey as Napoleon the pug disappears, the bridge ahead is missing, and the train’s brakes fail while “The Thunderbolt shoots down the line faster than lightning. Speeding headlong into danger. Rushing toward the terrifying gap.” I won’t spoil it, but its entertaining, funny and dramatic finish is worth the trip. It may involve underpants, a little monkey named “Little Billy” and a crocodile or two. That’s all I’m sayin’.

Porter’s illustrations are made from distressed pinewood with vibrant colors added.  They have a stylized look and energetic, bright energy. His characters are distinct, in both appearance and name, from flowery scarf-knitting Ms. Trixie to purple pinstriped suit and sunglasses-wearing musician Jango Jenkins. I think the illustrations help carry the story and make this book unique. Each page offers vast details that invite you to linger.  Porter’s text presents vocabulary words like “marvelous”, “jive”, “unfurling”, “ploughs” and “disembark” and make this a great read-aloud for preschoolers and older.

If you’d like to check out Matthew Porter’s artwork, go to his Etsy shop (and try to resist the Han Solo, DJ or Superman monkeys he has there).

If you’re local, Matthew Porter will be at one of my favorite places, Powell’s Books this Saturday, October 19 doing a reading for kid’s storytime.


Friday Favorite: Little Gorilla

Little_GorillaGorillaOne of my favorite stories for sharing in story time is Little Gorilla by Ruth Bornstein. This delightful book stars a little gorilla whose family loves him when he’s little and even as they watch him grow and grow and grow into a great big gorilla, they still love him. This is a story about unconditional love, the importance of friends and family and community. The narrative describes various jungle animals (giraffe, elephant, lion and even a big boa constrictor!) helping care for Little Gorilla. It ends with a birthday song, and the reassurance that although he’s now almost too big to fit on the page, everyone still loves “little” gorilla.

I’ve read this story for both birthday and monkey-themed storytimes, and used flannel props or stuffed animals to help tell the story, but the illustrations are vibrant and engaging on their own. I prefer the “lap size” board book version.

Check out this adorable video of a parent and child enjoying this book together- you’ll notice that the adult lingers on the page that the child is most interested in- the lion roaring- and follows her interest instead of insisting on getting through the rest of the story…a great example of print motivation (one of the six early literacy skills, this simply means an interest in and enjoyment of books)!

Friday Favorite: Emily Gravett

Monkey_MeI was planning to do a follow up post today about more great kid’s albums (because, let’s face it, there are WAY more than ten…) but life happens. Your partner goes out of town on business. Your kids go crazy and act up, sensing your weakness. You have an interview for the job of your dreams. You have dealt with so many time-outs, temper-tantrums, spilled milk, and normally well-rested kids refusing to take naps or sleep well during the night that, well…Enough said.

So while I’m listening to albums, drinking wine, and (let’s face it, watching Arrested Development when I should be blogging) thinking about it, I’d like to feature another outstanding British author/illustrator Emily Gravett. I think it was her “Monkey and Me” book that initially drew me in. If you read my last post, you know I have a weakness for adorable monkey books.

Monkey and Me stars an active little girl and her beloved monkey introducing readers to a variety of animals by first acting like the animal, then showing the animal in action:

“Monkey and me, Monkey and me, Monkey and me, We went to see, We went to see some…Elephants!”
“Monkey and me, Monkey and me, Monkey and me, We went to see, We went to see some…Kangaroos!”

This book features a repeating narrative with large, eye-catching illustrations which makes it a great read-aloud for story time. I always make it interactive, having the audience say “Monkey and me”, clapping or tapping in rhythm, then guess what animal is coming next. Finally, on the last page the miniature narrator and her monkey are so tired they can only finish their line with ZZZZZZZ’s. (I can relate).

Another lovely book is Blue Chameleon, a story about a sad, lonely chameleon trying to make friends with various things (ball, sock, fish, snail, etc.) until he finally meets another colorful chameleon companion, resulting in a happy ending. Colored pencil illustrations are simple but lively; there is a quiet humor in the narrative as the chameleon physically imitates each object or animal and tries (but fails) to befriend it using common language such as “Howdy” (to a cowboy boot) or “Can I hang with you?” (to a striped sock hanging on a clothesline).

One of Gravett’s first picture books, Orange Pear Apple Bear is a fun story about a bear and his antics with some fruit–exploring concepts of color and shapes using only five words (very impressive!). Its simple illustrations and great rhyming is perfect for age two and up. For ideas about using this book in a variety of ways, look here.

Do you have a favorite Emily Gravett book? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

For the love of monkeys


I hope to encourage more children to discover and love reading, but I want to focus particularly on the appreciation of picture books, and the reading of both pictures and words. Picture books are for everybody at any age, not books to be left behind as we grow older. The best ones leave a tantalising gap between the pictures and the words, a gap that is filled by the reader’s imagination, adding so much to the excitement of reading a book.
-Anthony Browne

This post is for those of you who, like myself, love and adore monkeys. You know who you are. Feature some cute monkeys in a picture book and you’re enthralled. Mention a monkey-themed story time and I’m getting my monkey puppet out to rehearse. Ask for some monkey picture books and I’ll give you a whole stack within five minutes (Favorites include Little Gorilla by Ruth Bornstein, Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann, Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett). That said, I have to point out that Anthony Browne’s book One Gorilla: A Counting Book is one of those pictures books you will not be able to resist even if you’re less enthused about monkeys. It is gorgeous. He features various primates- from gorillas to gibbons, from mandrills to spider monkeys, all vividly expressive and striking. It is very simple, with the focus on large numbers 1-10 and the names of the primates; only the last couple pages contain more: “All primates. All one family. All my family…and yours!”

I always sensed Anthony Browne was a big primate fan, based on his books Gorilla, Willy the Chimp, etc. But these images are so breathtaking, it seems as if he must have lived among primates to gain some intense understanding of them. I particularly love the orangutan, chimpanzee, and spider monkey pages. The gorilla is reminiscent of the main character in his endearing book Little Beauty, a story about an unlikely friendship between a kitten and gorilla. His stories are great for preschool and beyond. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do.