Module 1 Book Reviews

Module 1

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett





This children’s picture book starts out with an incident occurring at breakfast between a grandfather, his grandchildren and a pancake.  This incident spurs grandfather to tell the children a tall-tale at bedtime about a town called Chewandswallow.  This isn’t any ordinary town.  In this town no one needs to go to the grocery store or plan what they are cooking for dinner.  In this town, food falls from the sky every day.  That’s right!  Meatballs, donuts, and orange juice are falling right from the clouds.  The citizens of the town go outside at meal times with plates, bowls, forks and knives and collect their breakfast, lunch or dinner.  That is, until the weather starts to get a little wacky.

Barrett, J.  (1978).  Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.  New York:  Simon & Schuster.

My impressions


I really enjoyed reading this book.  I had never read it as a kid or to my own son.  We had seen the movie a few years ago, so I was semi-familiar with the story, or so I thought.  This book is actually told from a different perspective and is told as a tall-tale.  I read this book with one of my story time classes and they absolutely loved it.

I was very drawn in by the artwork.  The beginning and the end are in black ink (when it is just the grandfather and the grandchildren), but when talking about the town of Chewandswallow, color becomes a part of the illustrations.  Though this book was written in 1978, the illustrations were not outdated and neither was the story.   This was a fantastic read and I highly recommend everyone read it.


By Elizabeth Bird

#75 Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, illustrated by Ron Barrett (1978)
26 points

A childhood favorite.  My mother used to come and read this book to my classes when I was young.  I remember dreaming of food falling from the sky, though never so much it destroyed the town.  Whimsical storytelling and fantastic drawings. – Sharon Thackston

Aside from The Giant Jam Sandwich there’s really only one other iconic gigantic food book that comes immediately to mind.  I rediscovered this book in my old age, and was delighted to find that it really does stand up to scrutiny.  Sadly, I found that it is not the best readaloud for large groups, but in spite of that it’s a fine tale of the best and worst aspects of sky-related foodstuffs.

The publisher description of the plot reads, “The tiny town of Chewandswallow was very much like any other tiny town except for its weather which came three times a day, at breakfast, lunch and dinner. But it never rained rain and it never snowed snow and it never blew just wind. It rained things like soup and juice. It snowed things like mashed potatoes. And sometimes the wind blew in storms of hamburgers. Life for the townspeople was delicious until the weather took a turn for the worse. The food got larger and larger and so did the portions. Chewandswallow was plagues by damaging floods and storms of huge food. The town was a mess and the people feared for their lives. Something had to be done, and in a hurry.”

Think it’s all fun and games?  Think again.  Bottom Shelf Books revealed what is undoubtedly the strangest picture in the book.  One that I’m pretty sure most of us have missed for years.  Mind you, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for it.

Of course Cloudy was not without its sequel.  I don’t know many people who would claim to know Pickles to Pittsburgh particularly well.  Except possibly the Pittsburgh librarians out there.  So let’s hear it, Pittsburghians.  Do you know this book?  Do you read it regularly?  Cause as far as I can determine it is the ONLY picture book out there with the word “Pittsburgh” loud and proud on its cover (please prove me wrong, somebody).

Remember the film?  That happened. It made money too so one naturally wonders if a Pickles sequel might already be in the works . . .

Bird, E.  (2012, May 21).  Top 100 Picture Books (Review of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs).  School Library Journal.  Retrieved from


When I did this book for my story time group, they really loved it.  We did a craft where the kids got to draw their own town and then we glued giant paper cut outs of food onto their town.  I have been brainstorming what else we could do and have decided that next year when we are doing our science themed summer reading program, we are going to have outside weather experiments.   After the experiments we will have a giant food fight.  Each child that participates is responsible for bringing one item of food that can be used for the event.

George and Martha by James Marshall



George and Martha is a collection of very short picture book stories.  The stories are about two hippos, one named George and the other Martha.  They are the best of friends and have many adventures together.  One of the stories in this particular book was called “The Tub.”  In this adventure Martha is taking a bath, when who she be caught peeping in on her….George.  Martha firmly tells George that they are friends, but even friends have boundaries and looking through the window was not okay.  Other incidents occur between the two friends, each ending with a lesson to be learned about being a good friend.

Marshall, J.  (1972).  George and Martha.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin Company.

My impressions

I thought this was a great book to teach kids about friendship.  The stories were short and catchy and quite funny.  The story about the tub had me laughing aloud, I was totally not expecting George to be a peeper.  It is a good way to teach children about personal boundaries but with some humor mixed in.  All of the stories were situations that children and adults have been in or will be in.  I appreciated the lessons that were meant to be taught.  They were a good stepping stone to discuss the issue further.

The text was simple enough and short enough for emergent readers to read and practice with.  The illustrations were some of my favorite.  I adore James Marshall as an illustrator and am very attracted to his work.  I think it is because it reminds me of being a kid and reading his books.  I think the stories and the illustrations held up over time and are still relevant today.


By Elizabeth Bird

#48 George and Martha by James Marshall (1972)
38 points

I know this is a Marshall-heavy list, but it’s not my fault that he is the greatest thing to ever happen to picture books. – Shannon Ozimy

I didn’t read George & Martha until I became a librarian, but it was irreverent love at first sight. – Jessalynn Gale

Though recently republished as Easy Books for the early reader market George and Martha was originally published in a picture book format.  Though they’d be shoo-ins for the Geisel Award if they were originally released today, they stand on their own.  Witty.  Urbane.  They are the true predecessors to characters like Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggy or James Howe’s Houndsley and Catina.

The plot description, such as it is, from the publisher reads: “Two lovable hippos teach the meaning of friendship in five separate vignettes: ‘Split Pea Soup,’ ‘The Flying Machine,’ ‘The Tub,’ ‘The Mirror,’ ‘The Tooth’.”

Maurice Sendak wrote the Introduction to the collection George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends.  As is right.  You may read it here if you like.  In it, Sendak says of the man, “With his first George and Martha book, James was already entirely himself.  He lacked only one component in his constellation of gifts: he was uncommercial to a fault.  No shticking, no nudging knowingly, no winking or pandering to the grown-ups at the expense of the kids.  He paid the price of being maddeningly underestimated – of being dubbed ‘zany’ (an adjective that drove him to murderous rage).  And worse, as I saw it, he was dismissed as the artist who could do – should or might do – worthier work if he would only dig deeper and harder.  The comic note, the delicate riff were deemed, finally, insufficient.”

No Caldecotts for him.  Mind you, this is not to say ALA never honored him.  In 2007 he received the posthumous honor (he died in 1992) of the Wilder Award, given under the auspices of Chair and Horn Book editor Roger Sutton.  The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, “honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.”  Said Roger in honor of James, “Marshall conveyed a world of emotion with the placement of a dot or the wrinkle of a line.  In both his drawings and impeccably succinct texts, he displayed a comic genius infused with wit and kindness.”

That kindness was key.  It is one thing to put pen to paper, and another entirely to create whole words out of almost nothing.  And looking again at Sendak’s words regarding Marshall’s style, “The simplicity is deceiving; there is richness of design and mastery of composition on every page.  No surprising, since James was a notorious perfectionist and endlessly redrew those ’simple’ pictures.”

The saddest and most touching tribute to Mr. Marshall for me was this one from Jaime Temairik, “Yes, most everybody loves James Marshall. But do you have nightmares about him being your real dad and only finding out about that fact after he’s died? And I have the same nightmare about Jim Henson and wake up in tears. Anyone?”

There was a lovely Arnold Lobel exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art last year called Seeking a State of Grace: The Art of Arnold Lobel.  Within that exhibit there was a case, and inside that case was a little birthday book that James Marshall had made for Arnold Lobel’s birthday one year.  The only page visible showed George and Martha involved in a debate over whether or not to go to Arnold’s party.  I believe that the fact that he lived in Brooklyn was being considered as a possible deterrent to the trip.  A pity that little book not available somewhere.  Ah well.

Finally Publishers Weekly said of the books, “The secret of Mr. Marshall’s success lies not just in the freshness of his sense of the ridiculous, but in the carefulness of his control and editorial judgment.”

The man is missed while his books live on.

Bird, E.  (2012, May 29).  Top 100 Picture Books (Review of George and Martha).  School Library Journal.  Retrieved from


This is definitely a book I could use in story time or while doing outreach.  It gives the kids and I something to talk about.  Since all the stories are about friendship, we might make friendship necklaces and bracelets.

Another idea is to use this book with our reluctant readers and our therapy dogs.  This is an easy read and would definitely keep them laughing and encouraging them to continue.

This book would also be good to act out.  You only need two people to act and this would be a fun activity to perform.  If a second person could not be found, a puppet show would always work as well.  There are two really nice hippo puppets at (which is my favorite place to order puppets).


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