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Marilyn Singer, author of many wonderful picture books and books of poetry for children, and Greg Pizzoli, superb illustrator and author of picture books and non-fiction picture books, have teamed up for two books that are perfect for toddlers and emerging readers. What's a Banana? and What's an Apple? combine Singer's silly, sing-song-y rhymes with Pizzoli's playfully silly illustrations for two very fun books.
Singer begins What's a Banana? like a playground chant, "You can grip it and unzip it. You can mash it with a spoon. You can trace it. Outer-space it - make believe that its' the moon." Pizzoli's illustrations show a boy, a girl, a dog and a cat, doing all these things with a banana, which is sometimes actual size and more often oversized, adding to the silliness. What's a Banana? wraps up with a reminder not to forget that it's a fruit.What's an Apple? follows a similar path, although focuses a bit more on this versatile ingredient, reminding readers in words and pictures that you can juice it, peel it, bake it and, "caramel it." What's an Apple?, which also features a different boy and girl and the same cat and dog, ends with the kids in space suits on the moon, about to enjoy and apple "any place."The trim size of What's a Banana? and What's an Apple? are small and square, a bit bigger than a board book. Perfect for little hands, but definitely for readers who know how to handle a book. I hope that Singer and Pizzoli have more foods to explore...
The Cranky Ballerina by Elise Gravel is a picture book for both kids AND parents. I am not a helicopter parent by any stretch of the imagination and my kids are not over-scheduled. That said, I have signed them up for various classes and worried that they weren't getting the most out of them as they whined about having to go or, even worse (and predictably) complained about having to practice. Then I worried that I was forcing them to do something that I thought was important but would never be important to them. Then I worried that they would reach adulthood without realizing their creative or athletic potential (why did my mother let me quit piano lessons? And guitar lessons??) and maybe miss out on a scholarship or two. For me, reading The Cranky Ballerina was a huge catharsis. Maybe I am reading too much into Gravel's delightfully charming book, maybe I am just carrying a ton of parental guilt around with me. Either way, The Cranky Ballerina is a fantastic read, whoever you are, whatever lessons you took and whatever lessons your parents let you quit or you let your kids quit... It's Saturday and Ada wakes up cranky. She hates everything, from her too-tight leotard to her itchy tutu to the car ride. Ada hates ballet. She hates to practice and her pirouettes are nearly catastrophic. Fourth position sends her swirling into the hall where she head butts a guy dressed in "some kind of pajamas" who asks, "Do you think you could do that again for my class?"
Turns out that guy in weird pajamas is a karate instructor and Ada has all the right moves for his class! "Front kick! Swoosh! Side Punch! Roundhouse kick! Swat!" Ada learns something new and feels something new - a smile spreads across her face as she feels, for the first time, successful at something. The penultimate page of The Cranky Ballerina shows Ada, in her tutu, practicing with the class. The final page turn show a classmate in his ghee thinking, "I hate karate."
Genius! Brilliant! I am in love with Elise Gravel's books and can't wait to see what she does next!
Source: Review Copy
BLIP! by Barnaby Richards is a fantastic new TOON Book at the essential Level 1. Featuring a robot, I was drawn to BLIP! immediately. The story begins on the endpapers as we a spaceship floating through the galaxy. "Blip," goes the ship. Until it goes, "Tchok!" when it hits a mountain on a planet.
The robot climbs out of his his ship and begins to explore, always saying, "Blip," sometimes as statement, an exclamation or even a question. Richards's planet is a strange one, filled with curious details that you will want to spend time with. The robot goes over land and under water, meeting all kinds of creatures, even a human.
Finally, the robot returns to the ship only to find another robot working on another ship! The two exchange "blips" and "bleeps" and head off, back into space.
Blip! is a fantastic introduction to the sequential art of the graphic novel and it is also (as are all the books TOON publishes) a superb example of what founder François Mouly started out to do in 2008 - created beginning readers with engaging illustrations and stories that are anything but boring.
Source: Review Copy
Vera Brosgol, Russian born author of the superb graphic novel Anya's Ghost, has written and illustrated her first picture book and it is brilliant! Leave Me Alone! reads like an Eastern European folk tale with a surprise center. As the jacket flap reads, it is an "epic tale about one grandmother, a giant sack of yarn, and her quest to finish her knitting." A knitter herself, Brosgol created these 25 tiny sweaters as give-aways to promote Leave Me Alone!
Leave Me Alone! begins, "Once there was an old woman. She lived in a small village in a small house . . . with a very big family." Winter is coming and this grandmother needs to get her knitting done but no one will let her. At the end of her rope, the old woman gives the house a cleaning from top to bottom, packs up her things in a large sack and leaves the house shouting, "Leave me alone!"
It turns out that, every where she goes, her balls of yarn are an endless source of fascination to all creatures around her. From bears to mountain goats, she just can't get a break. She climbs up a mountain at night, going so high that, when she reaches the top she keeps climbing - right onto the moon. A page turn takes Leave Me Alone! from folk tale to sci-fi mash-up. It turns out little green moon-men are fascinated by balls of yarn, too. Finally, a wormhole provides the quietude needed to get that knitting done. The old woman was, "absolutely, completely utterly alone. It was PERFECT." When thirty little sweaters are finally knit, she tidies up, sweeping "the void until it was a nice, matte black." She has a cup of tea from her samovar and walks back through the wormhole where "everything was right where she'd left it." The juxtaposition of the story and the illustrations, with their Eastern European feel and the outer space elements is marvelous! I can't wait to see what Vera Brosgol does next - in picture books and graphic novels! Actually, I just happen to know (because I read it in an interview she did with Bustle) that Be Prepared, Brosgol's middle grade graphic novel memoir about a summer she spent at a Russian Orthodox camp in upstate New York, will be released in the Spring of 2018!
Brosgol also created these adorable paintings of the children from Leave Me Alone! to promote the book!
Also by Vera Brosgol:
I love verse novels and, with every review I write of one I search for the perfect analogy to describe the experience of reading one and continue to fall short, but will try one more time. This summer, my older son and I became obsessed with green tea mochi. These sweet, fragrantly floral little treats can be eaten in two (or even one) bites and pack immense but delicate flavor, leaving you feeling like you have eaten a much bigger desert. Reading a verse novel, I am always amazed at the ability of an author to tell a richly vivid story with deftly drawn characters and an engaging chain of events with less than half the words used in a traditional novel. I can read a verse novel in one or two bites - I mean one or two sittings - and come away feeling like I have eaten, I mean read, a larger, longer, bigger work. MOO by Sharon Creech is the fourth verse novel I have reviewed by this multiple award winning author and possibly my favorite. In each of her verse novels, which often uses concrete poems to emphasize an emotion or experience of one of the characters, Creech's characters deal with losses and MOO is no different. Twelve-year-old Reena and her seven-year-old brother Luke are uprooted when their parents, in the wake of a job loss, decide to move from New York City to a small town in Maine. When their mother, a reporter who has made a career of talking to strangers, volunteers the two to help out their new neighbor, it seems like she has made a huge mistake. Their elderly neighbor Mrs. Falala is strange. She has a long grey braid, a curious collection of animals (including a snake named Edna) and a curt manner that scares Luke the first time they meet at her house on Twitch Street.
While afternoons with Mrs. Falala are dark, the siblings enjoy the freedom of living in a small town, riding their bikes and watching the cows on the nearby dairy farm where they befriend Beat and Zep, two teens who work on the farm and educate them about the belted Galloway cows there. Soon, Reena is finding her way around Mrs. Falala's menagerie, including Zora, a formerly prize winning belted Galloway with a bad attitude as big as she is. Zep and Beat give Reena tips on how to win over Zora and prepare her to be shown at the fair while Luke seems to be winning over Mrs. Falala by teaching her to draw.
A happy day for Reena and Luke ends with sadness, but a silver lining emerges. The passage at the end of MOO where the children walk through Mrs. Falala's home, discovering a hallway filled with her drawings, showing her progression as an artist, will stay with me always. Once again, Creech has written a novel that is filled with emotions and experiences, ups and downs, that are unexpectedly marvelous. Who would have thought that a novel that beings with an ornery, slobbering, filthy cow named Zora would lead to such a beautiful, memorable story?
Verse Novels by Sharon Creech
Source: Review Copy
Leigh Hodgkinson's picture books burst with energy, creativity and cleverness and The Big Monster Snorey Book, filled with colorfully crazy, not too scary looking monsters, does not disappoint.
At first, The Big Monster Snorey Book seems like a very noisy tour of monster land at night with a curious little journalist. Each monster has a different issue, be it "terribly tatty toenails" that make a lot of noise or monsters who "jibber-jabber and bibble-babble in their sleep."
As the little monster makes his way past the sleeping monsters, he's doing more than being a tour guide. Sharp eyes will notice that he is collecting items as he goes along, recording the nighttime sounds of his fellow monsters. But WHY he is doing this is not revealed until an alarm clock goes off, all the monsters wake up and we discover that, "after a snooze, monsters are alawys VERY hungry" and will start looking for little monsters to eat. From his hiding place, his recorder blaring out the sleep sounds he recorded, the little monster watched them flee, saying, "Hee, hee! I love it when a plan comes together!" The final page puts it all in place as we see the little monster, safe down a hole, sleeping soundly with his recorder and all the things he gathered along the way.
More books by Leigh Hodgkinson!
Goldilocks and Just the One Bear
Source: Review Copy
I don't think I can put into words how much I love The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing. Not only is Margo just about the coolest girl detective I have encountered in quite a while, she is kind of a ghostbuster. More accurately, Margo Maloo keeps the peace between the world of the humans and the hidden world of monsters in Echo City. Best of all, The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo started as a web comic and continues on line where you can read new chapters!
The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo begins with Charles Thompson's move from a small town to the big city, a move he's not happy about. The Thompsons are moving into the Bellwether, a former hotel built in 1925 with authentic Art Deco fixtures. Along with a few other residents, they will get to live there for free while Charles's dad fixes the place up. Charles, not much of an outdoors kind of kid, fancies himself a budding journalist and writes a blog.
Charles meets Kevin, a neighbor who is trying to break a world record, any world record. Kevin tells Charles like where the best candy store in the neighborhood is and what to do if anything weird is going on in your apartment. It just so happens that, the night before, a huge monster crept out of the closet after Charles turned off the lights. Kevin hands him the business card of Margo Maloo, monster mediator, and the adventure begins.
Drew Weing brings a fantastic sense of humor, a marvelous eye for detail and a brilliant talent for world building to The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo. She and Charles head to the lair of a local troll named Marcus who collects Battlebeanz, specifically the Big Cat set. In one of Weing's superb details, he creates names for many of the Big Cats like "Dread-Lion," "Fight-Mare" and "Ty-Gore," and Marcus and Charles have a fast paced conversation about them. Another great scene comes at Ms. Koff's store, a grocery store for monsters hidden under a Quickmart. Weing's illustrations for these scenes are dark and creepy and filled with things you will pore over again and again.
Once he gets over his initial fear, Charles is hooked and wants to tag along with Margo, even suggesting he become her partner after he helps her find a missing ogre baby with a serious sweet tooth (yet another chapter with great twists, this one involving a kidnapper who wears a baseball cap and takes notes all the time but is not Charles...) In the end, Charles settles for assistant when Margo tells him he knows too much. She either has to put him to good use of have him "' accidentally' run into a pack of hungry ghouls."
Best of all, Weing's layered story ends with a few pages from an encyclopedia of monsters with Margo's notes in the margins! Which reminds me, another super cool think about The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo is the trim size of the book, which is exactly like a slightly oversized reporter's notebook! I can't wait for the next installment of creepy case files!
Source: Review Copy
Five years ago I reviewed my first book by Ben Hatke and I was immediately hooked. You can read my reviews of all of his books here. After a couple of picture books and a mostly wordless graphic novel, I am very excited to be reviewing the first in a new trilogy, Mighty Jack, a play on the old fairy tale with a garden full of enormous plants and some serious sword play. And, as always, you can expect strong girl characters who share equal page time with the titular Jack.
Hatke is a gifted visual story teller and Mighty Jack is driven by the illustrations with spare but meaningful dialogue, including lots of great onomatopoetic expressions. He begins the his story with Jack being awakened from a dream. His mother is out the door, on the way to the flea market. Past due bills can be seen on the counter as Jack grabs breakfast to go. In the car, she explains that she is going to work two jobs this summer and will need Jack to help more with Maddy, his younger sister who is on the spectrum. At the flea market (where fans of Hatke's will spot characters from past graphic novels), Jack's mother gives him money to buy food and the keys to the car in case Maddy needs to get away from the crowds. But when the non-verbal Maddy speaks, emphatically telling Jack that he has to make a deal with the suspiciously friendly man sitting behind a table with a sign that says, "Just Stuff," Jack makes a deal - his mom's car for an ornate wooden box filled with packets of seeds.
Maddy is up and early the next day, planting a garden. Jack helps, happy to see her busily at work, but also apprehensive. What grows from the seeds is both amazing and frightening and Jack is not sure how to handle it, especially since Maddy is so attached to the garden. Happily, a homeschooled neighbor who is also a fencer, stops by. Lilly is soon helping Jack and Maddy while also pocketing seeds and cuttings as she goes. Hatke's marvelous imagination blooms in Maddy's garden, from adorable little onion-headed babies to menacing melons with vine-y legs. The presence of Wormweed, eradicated from earth for thousands of years, even calls forth a dragon from another realm. Jack, Maddy and Lilly even begin to sample the fruits of the garden, reveling in the magical powers each plant gives them. Eventually, though, Maddy is injured and Jack discovers a plant that drives him to destroy the garden.
Thinking that the adventure is over, Jack discovers that both Maddy and Lilly have been keeping secrets and a new adventure begins. This time, though, Jack is well equipped with fencing gear and an equally brave and strong partner at his side.
Ben Hatke, fencing!
Source: Review Copy
In 2010, Raina Telgemeier was my introduction to graphic novels. As a bookseller, I was aware of the section with graphic novels for adults and, for the most part they seemed like bleak, dark stories filled with superheroes. Upon seeing Telgemeier's book on the shelf in the kid's section, I was drawn to the mint green cover with the bright yellow, braces filled smiley face of Smile. While I was a bit suspicious, thinking this might be a more superficial story about the awkwardness of braces, I was hooked immediately when I read the first few pages, learning real, autobiographical story behind the braces. Since that day, I have eagerly awaited, read and reviewed all of Telgemeier's books (except Sisters, for some reason) and you can read those reviews here. When I became an elementary school librarian two years ago, one of my first missions was to create a graphic novel section. The shelves currently hold (when they are not checked out, which they always are) ten copies of Smile and Sisters, three copies of Drama and four sets of the four The Babysitter's Club graphic novels, including one set in the newly colored editions. And, once I get my book budget for the year, there will be five library bound copies of Ghosts sitting beside the three paperback copies I bought out of pocket.
Raina Telgemeier has a gift for creating immediately accessible characters who are as colorful and full of life as her vivid illustrations. She also is exceptionally talented at presenting families that, while they have their struggles and conflicts, are connected, supportive, loving and thoughtful. With Ghosts, Telgemeier adds a new layer to her storytelling in the character of Maya, younger sister of main Catrina, who suffers from the degenerative condition, cystic fibrosis. Maya's illness is what causes the family to move from Southern California to the small seaside town in Northern California, Bahía de la Luna. As a native Californian, I love that Telgemeier sets some of her stories here and was so excited to learn that the town of Half Moon Bay was the inspiration for the setting of Ghosts. I also got a kick out of her version of In & Out Burger, a chain restaurant that is only in Southern California.
Telgemeier introduces and balances many themes skillfully in Ghosts. There are sibling issues, like Maya's illness and how Cat lovingly protects her but also wants a life of her own, separate from Maya. Then there are family issues that arise as they settle into Bahía de la Luna, which has a large Mexican American population. When the girls learn about Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, which is celebrated with a huge festival and midnight party in Bahía de la Luna, Maya questions her mother about her childhood as a second generation Mexican American. And, with Ghosts, Telgemeier introduces magical realism into her story telling. Carlos Calaveras, neighbor and classmate of Cat's, works as a guide, giving tours of the ghosts of Bahía de la Luna. Cat is suspicious, then furious after she sees that Maya is enthralled with the idea of ghosts and take chances with her health to see one.
Cat tries to humor Maya and her excitement over meeting a ghost, but their expedition ultimately puts her in the hospital. Cat spends the rest of the novel coping with her guilt, making new friends, being angry at Carlos and worrying about Maya. Telgemeier ends Ghosts with the marvelous Halloween night, which flows into to the Día de los Muertos celebration where Cat has a change of heart that allows her to make connections with the abuela she never knew, forgive Carlos and make Maya's wish come true.
This is a fantastic trailer that captures the magic of Ghosts!
Raina Telgemeier's books:
I have been a huge fan Amy Ignatow's superior notebook novel series The Popularity Papers since reviewing the first book back in 2010. And, Ignatow's is the only series where I have reviewed every single book as it is published. I definitely have favorite trilogies and series that I keep up with but rarely have the time to continue reviewing the books as they are published. I felt so passionately about the marvelous characters and storylines in Ignatow's series about two best friends navigating the rough waters of middle school that, with each new release in this seven book series, I wanted readers to know about it - and I also wanted to talk about each book. If you aren't familiar with this series, I hope you will seek it out, either before or after you read the first book in Ignatow's new series, The Mighty Odds! With The Mighty Odds, Ignatow is back and better than ever! Doing what she does best, Ignatow has created a compelling cast of very diverse characters in this novel that is filled with fantastic illustrations and full page comics, giving readers first person glimpses into their minds. In The Mighty Odds, there are the popular kids and the weirdos, the bullies and the bullied. But there is so much more to these characters than their social status. Cookie (Daniesha) Parker is one of the few African Americans in Muellersville, PA. Aware of how she is looked at when she walks into a fancy store with her friends, Cookie is also the most popular girl at Deborah Read Middle School (how cool is that? Ignatow named the school after Benjamin Franklin's wife who was an inventor, printer, thinker and Founding Father!), wielding her own kind of power. In fact, Cookie is the one who first called Farshad "Terror Boy." Farshad is Iranian-American, the child of two doctors. His world shrinks painfully when the nickname sticks and his friends fall away. Ignatow writes masterfully of his loneliness, distrust of his peers and attempts to move beyond this by being the top student in the school.
The Mighty Odds begins with a class field trip to Philadelphia. The class piles into two busses - the sleek coach and the old, yellow short bus. Of course the popular kids maneuver it so that the oddballs end up on the short bus. However, when Cookie and her friend get caught sneaking away from the class, part of their punishment requires Cookie to ride on the short bus with the pudgy Nick, best friend to the loudly, embarrassingly quirky Jay (who has a massive crush on Cookie, referring to her as his "black orchid"), Farshad and Martina, the daughter of Russian immigrants, called "Martian" by her sister, unnoticed by everyone else. Much to his chagrin, Jay gets bumped from the bus by Mr. Friend, a slightly goofy sub who whips out a yo-yo to entertain the kids. This turns out to be a good thing when the bus crashes in the middle of a lightning storm on the way home, leaving Farshad, Cookie, Martina and Nick with strange powers. As the story unfolds, the four learn that Mr. Friend, the bus driver and Abe Zook, the Amish boy who comes to their rescue after the crash have also developed curious powers.
Just as the first book in the The Mighty Odds series is drawing to a close, the kids get their first clue as to what may have given them their "okayish powers," as Cookie thinks of them. Martina can change her eye color, Cookie can hear people's thoughts - but only when they are thinking about directions, Farshad has has super strength, but only in his thumbs and Nick can teleport, but only four inches to the left. Mr. Friend, the bus driver, Abe and even Abe's horse leave the crash with super-okayish powers also, but you'll just have to read this fantastic book to find out what they are!
Source: Review Copy
The cover of The Curse of the Boggin, a brand new series from D. J. MacHale titled The Library, hooked me right away because it looks so similar to a series that I adore and am SO thrilled that my son has started reading so that we can talk about it, Lockwood & Co. by http://jonathanstroud.com/"target="_blank">Jonathan Stroud. While the actual similarities between the two series are slim at best, (Stroud's books feature teenaged characters and the world he creates is much more complex and creepy, the stories more intricate and the relationships between the main characters are layered and evolving) The Curse of the Boggin was an exciting read and the premise of The Library is a fascinating one!
After a prologue that sets up the adventure to follow in The Curse of the Boggin, we meet middle schooler Marcus O'Mara as he is standing up to a bully. Unfortunately, this bully just happens to be a teacher and Marcus is sent to detention where he has an incredible experience involving a mad, charging bull, a ghostly man in a bathrobe holding a key on a string and a shattered trophy case with the words, "Surrender the key," carefully arranged in broken glass. Once he realizes that he is not crazy, Marcus begins collecting clues that help him unravel the mystery of the key. This key leads to a very special library filled with the unfinished stories of the dead that need finishing. The holder of the key is tasked with the job of helping to finish these stories, allowing spirits to find peace and books to be shelved.
In this first book in the series, Marcus, who is adopted, learns about his parents, their mysterious deaths and the secret life his father led. He also learns that the Boggin, an ancient boogeyman summoned by the Druids to keep children in line, has gone rogue. In his quest to capture the Boggin and finish the story of the ghostly man in the bathrobe, Marcus is not alone. He has the help of his appropriately diverse friends. In fact, Marcus even comments that, with Lu, a red lipstick and plaid wearing Asian roller derby girl, and Theo, a buttoned up, bow-tie wearing academic black guy, Marcus says that the three of them look like a "kids' show trying to cover all its ethnic bases." Or, the look like characters in a middle grade novel where the author is trying to cover the ethnic bases while still keeping the main character a caucasian boy. I am growing increasingly weary of authors adding ethnically diverse minor characters to books instead of making the main character something other than white in the same way that I am profoundly frustrated with the proliferation of boys as main characters in middle grade fantasy. The formula has shifted from one or all boys as the main characters to a boy with a sister, cousin or friend who is a girl as a secondary character, often with another boy forming a trio. Now, with all the talk about diversity, we are getting ethnic secondary characters, which I guess is progress, even if it is moving slowly.
Marcus finds a way to capture the Boggin and save the day, along the way uncovering snippets of stories that are sure to be featured in the next book in this series. The action in The Curse of the Boggin is fast paced and explosive, although ultimately an illusion conjured by the Boggin itself. Comparing MacHale and Stroud's books, I would say that MacHale has written a book that is perfect for readers who like a touch of the supernatural and a lot of action with an underdog hero who, with a little bit of smarts, finds a way to save the day. Stroud's series is perfect for (slightly older) readers who want a more literary experience, delving deeper into both the world of the supernatural and the characters who inhabit it.
Source: Review Copy
A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston is a treasure box for book lovers. You can open it again and again, over years and decades, and be reminded instantly of the power of words and stories, the joy to be found in words and stories, the comfort of and the magic of words and stories. A Child of Books is for explorers, cautious armchair explorers who read before they venture out and bold adventurers who head into the world and report back.
Starting with the dedication page, A Child of Books sent me out into the world. "The universe is made of stories, not of atoms," a line from Muriel Rukeyser's poem, "The Speed of Darkness," sets the tone perfectly for this picture book. Then, together, Jeffers and Winston dedicate their book to Hubrinek, following with this quote from Primo Levi's 1947 work, If This is a Man / The Truce, "Hubrinek died in the first days of March 1945, free but not redeemed. Nothing remains of him: he bears witness through these words of mine." This quote reminded me of the power of words to keep something that has passed present, but it also made me want to know more about Hubrinek and so I searched him out.
A collaboration between Jeffers and Winston is a perfect match. I have been reading and reviewing Jeffers's books for years and his love of words and stories, starting with The Incredible Book Eating Boy in 2007, is obvious. Sam Winston, a fine artist who, in Jeffers's words makes "imaginatively crafted limited edition art books," creates typographic landscapes that shine in this picture book format. Using public domain books, the endpapers for A Child of Books are a table of contents (with some extra bits worth searching out) for what can be found making up in the landscapes inside. Text from Treasure Island, Peter Pan and Wendy, Alice in Wonderland, Frankenstein and lullabies are used to creates mountains, oceans, waves, monsters, caves and trees.
And the story itself? A meditation on imagination that follows a girl who tells readers, "I am a child of books. I come from a world of stories and upon my imagination I float." Sailing across a sea of words, she reaches a house - your house, my house - where she asks, "if you will come away with me?" A page turn is all it takes to travel over "mountains of make-believe" and through "forests of fairy tales."
A Child of Books ends with these marvelous words, "For this is our world, we're made from stories . . . Our house is a home of invention where anyone at all can come, for imagination is free."
A Child of Books is a book that you will want for yourself and to give as a gift. Stock up now, the winter holidays are just around the corner!
Source: Review Copy
It's hard to be different. Especially when you look like everyone else around you. And you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, I mean the snow. That's how Penguin Problems, written by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith begins.
It's way too early. Way too cold. Too much squawking. Too much snow. Too bright. For our hero, the grumpy, misanthropic penguin, it's just one thing after another. The "ocean smells to salty," and buoyancy is a challenge, "I sink like a dumb rock." The indignations just don't end. Being hunted stinks. Waddling is an embarrassment.
Finally, this penguin just can't take it anymore. In the midst of the snow, the ice, the crowds, he raises his little penguin fists and shouts, "I have so many problems! And nobody even cares!" For a moment, Penguin Problems shifts from picture book to novel as a walrus emerges from the tundra to show this penguin that it's not so bad, starting off with, "I sense that today as been difficult, but lo! Look around you, Penguin." The walrus urges the penguin to notice the beauty all around, to simply stand "with your penguin brothers and sisters and elders, who adore you." Yes, things are challenging and yes, we all have difficult moments, "from the walruses to the polar bears, to the whales to the penguins." But, "when you think about it, you'll realize that you are exactly where you need to be."
It's definitely a surprise - a good surprise - when the walrus moment arrives and goes on and on. And, just when you feel like Penguin Problems has taken a turn into the world of sentimental ly sweet picture books, a page turn takes us back to the cranky penguin, who is shrieking, "Who the heck was that guy?! Why do strangers always talk to me? Walruses don't understand penguin problems!" But, with a sigh, the penguin does gradually allow the wisdom of the walrus to sink in...
Source: Review Copy
If you have read Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, then you already know, even without having read it, how marvelous Ada Twist, Scientist is. If you haven't read what I have come to refer to as the STEM trilogy (seriously, these books have SO MUCH teaching potential...) read any or all, and in any order you like. Each book focuses on a creative, curious child driven by a passion, be it building, inventing or asking questions about the world around her and answering her own "whys." And, in each book, our hero faces a challenge, experiences failure, rejection and being misunderstood. This trilogy is almost as much about creativity and expression of creativity as it is accepting and appreciating this passion in a person, which I adore. And these layers are what make Beaty and Roberts's books so easily embraceable and universal. Even if we are not all architects, inventors and scientists, we all have a little bit of these qualities in us and we all value (and want our kids to experience and value) the joy of expression, creation and having a passion. Oh yeah, and did I mention that Beaty writes the STEM trilogy in absolutely perfect rhyme? Beaty, who also writes novels for kids (Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies, Cicada Summer) is a master rhymer - there are never any bumps or head-shakes that happen as you read her books out loud. They FLOW... And, while I do love, love, love Iggy, it's hard not to be super excited about the girl power inherent in Rosie Revere, Engineer (yes, an elderly, pear shaped Rosie the Riveter is a character in the book) and Ada Twist, Scientist, which makes nods to Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie. These books must be read many times and very closely, as Roberts tucks all sorts of nods in his marvelous illustrations, from the titles of books to the furniture and fashions.
Ada Marie Twist doesn't talk until she is three, but once she figures how to break out of her crib, she is on a "fact finding spree." Her parents have a hard time keeping up with "their high-flying kid, whose questions and chaos both grew as she did." As she grows older, Ada comes to relish the moment when a question takes shape in her mind, this just happens to be the least messy and chaotic part of the process. Happily, her parents also come to terms with the messy and chaotic parts of the process.
I hope that you will purchase any and all of the books in this trilogy for the little people in your life. From the characters and their stories to the rhymes to the magnificent illustrations, these books are about joy - about joy and the qualities that make us human and make life worthwhile - creating, exploring and sharing.
And how cool is this??? A journal! With graph paper pages!
Source: Review Copy
Fiona Robinson brings her talents as a picture book author and illustrator (see below for reviews of two of her books that are favorites of mine) to a picture book biography with Ada's Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World's First Computer Programer. Last year was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron. Her mother, Anne Isabella Byron, herself a gifted mathematician who was tutored at home, receiving an education equal to that of a man at Cambridge, ended her marriage after two years and kept Ada from her father, raising and educating her alone.
Robinson details Ada's childhood, working in the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. It seems that touring factories where the machines that were "thrilling modern wonders," became a popular pastime for the wealthy. Ada's mother took her on these tours where her "imagination whirred along with the powerful engines! And her mind, so well trained by her many lessons, began to invent!" Ada called one of her ideas for a flying mechanical horse "flyology." Ada even signed off a letter to her mother, "Your Affectionate Carrier Pigeon," causing her mother to fear that some of her father's madness evident in his daughter. But, as Robinson writes, Ada's "imagination could not be confined by math, because Ada was starting to find her own sort of poetical expression . . . through math!"
Robinson shares the same details that Laurie Wallmark, herself a teacher of computer science, does in her book Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, while bringing a more poetic tone to her writing as well as a more imaginatively creative style to her illustrations. In fact, click over and read - or even just look at the pictures of Robinson's artistic process - in her interview at Design of the Picture Book. Robinson takes Ada through her adolescence, her meeting with Charles Babbage and his Difference Engine and into her young adulthood and marriage. Robinson spends several pages writing about the Analytical Engine, making links to the Jacquard Loom when describing the the hole-punched cards (that also make up the fantastic endpapers and case of this book, as seen above) that Babbage fed into the machine to calculate sums. I was Ada who figured out the algorithm that would be punched into the cards, which Robinson illustrates with a very clever page of maze-like swirls and a list of instructions on how readers should navigate the swirls to find the treasures in the maze, which is VERY cool and an analogy that I could grasp.
I can't wait to share this book, and Wallmark's, with my second graders who do reports on people and animals who are heroes every year! Robinson's illustrations and text are engaging and even better, comprehensive.
My favorite picture books by Fiona Robinson:
More about Ada Lovelace:
Source: Review Copy
Jonny Duddle is the illustrator and author of some gorgeously illustrated picture books, all of which I have read, a couple of which I have reviewed (see below.) Now, Duddle takes his friendly pirate family from picture book The Pirates Next-Door and spins longer yarns with them and former, pirate loving neighbor and resident of the tiny town of Dull-on-Sea, Matilda in his debut chapter book series The Jolley-Rogers. Besides being fun and fascinating pirate packed mysteries, the books in this series are just plain gorgeous and perfectly suited to Duddle's richly detailed illustrations. The trim size is a bit larger than the traditional chapter book with parts of the title printed in metallic ink. And the interior illustrations are remarkably generous with images on almost every page, often flowing across two pages!
In the first book, The Jolley-Rogers and the Ghostly Galleon, the Dull-on-Sea Museum is burgled, causing all the towns folk to rush to hide and/or secure their valuables. Matilda sends a message in a bottle to her pal, Jim Lad, and the Jolley-Rogers turn their ship, the Black Hole, toward town. Once they dock, they get into their amphibious vehicle and get down to solving the mystery of the missing treasure.
In this first book, a crew of ghost pirates led by Cap'n Twirlybird, looking for a long lost key, the story of which is sung as a chantey by Grandpa Rogers. If you have read any of his picture books, you know that Duddle is great with a rhyme. Interestingly enough, Tilly's neighbor, the almost 100 year old Miss Pinky, just happens to have a strange key that her brother found in 1944 on the beaches of Normandy amidst the explosions. Once they have the key, Jim Lad and Tilly have to face the ghostly pirates and save their souls by unlocking a trunk that they don't want unlocked...
In the second book in the series, The Jolley-Rogers and the Cave of Doom, the crew of the Black Hole find themselves under the spell of three sea hags, bewitched by a magical haul of treasures and Matilda is the only person who can help them!
Books 2 & 3 in The Jolley-Rogers Series
Jonny Duddle's Pirate picture books
featuring the Jolley-Rogers
Source: Review Copy
In 2011 we first met Jack, Zack and Caspar, three boys with a creativity that was surpassed only by their imagination. In King Jack and the Dragon, written by Peter Bently and illustrated by the marvelous Helen Oxenbury, the three spend the day building a castle then defending it from dragons and giants until it's time to go home.
In Captain Jack and the Pirates, Jack, Zack and Caspar are on the beach, "brave mariners three," building a "galleon down by the sea." Sand, sticks and somebody's shirt come together and the three set sail. They head out to sea, "hungry for glory and enemy booty," but a tropical gale scuppers their plans.
Abandoning ship, the three agree to explore, but must rescue little Caspar when he is captured by the pirates. They slip into the hideout and find treasure galore! The pirate hideout is actually cabana where mom and dad have been preparing afternoon tea, including three ice cream cones and a happy ending. Bently's rhyming text can almost be sung like a sea chanty and the adventure that he creates for the boys - imagined and read - is wonderful. Oxenbury, a favorite of mine, is a gifted illustrator who is especially skilled at bringing preschool aged children and the natural world to the page. As in King Jack and the Dragon, the illustrations alternate between color and monochrome, Oxenbury's lush watercolor and pencil perfectly balance the real world experiences of the boys and the imaginary world that they create. While it was almost five years between books, I will happily wait for a third adventure with Jack, Zack and Caspar!
Source: Review Copy
It's a very good time to be an emerging reader, especially because Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell, celebrity super couple of the kid's book world, have teamed up again! This time, the duo bring their weird, wacky senses of humor to Inspector Flytrap, a series of books featuring a hard boiled detective who just happens to be a Venus Flytrap.
Being a detective - and a plant - has its challenges. Happily, Inspector Flytrap (who is constantly correcting people who refer to him as Mr. Flytrap) has an assistant, Nina, who puts him on a skateboard and does all the driving whenever they need to get to a crime scene quickly. Nina is a goat, which has a few drawbacks since she will eat anything. As the Inspector says, "it's scary to have an assistant who eats everything, especially for a plant like me." Nina also has a standard flip response to almost everything, which is, "Big deal."
The first Big Deal case (no small deal cases for him) readers get to see Inspector Flytrap tackle comes from Lulu Emu, a museum employee who take the Inspector and Nina into the Top Secret Art Lab to help solve the mystery of the strange yellow blob on a newly discovered, extremely rare painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. In fact, this happens to be the only flower painting Da Vinci every created. Nina, being Nina, licks the yellow blob and notes that it tastes salty. The Inspector soon cracks the case, the solution of every case getting a full page, multi-panel comic strip. Turns out, Da Vinci sneezed on his own painting, leaving a booger on the canvas. Lulu Emu is disappointed as she thought it was a secret message, a la a Don Brown novel, but her coworker in charge of the museum's Gallery of Mucus is thrilled!
The gags and goofiness in Inspector Flytrap continue throughout the four chapters of the novel in which the Inspector solves three cases and spends one chapter eating lunch at the restaurant where he first met Nina. Inspector Flytrap takes a lot of calls, and one of my favorite jokes in the book comes when he gets a call or two from a fly with a case. Also, Nina usually eats evidence or missing items that have been found, which is also hilarious. There is also a really great range of animals in the Inspector Flytrap series, including a sloth and a dodo, two favorites of mine. I ordered this series for my library before I even read them and now, having read the first book, I plan to order a couple more sets - the Inspector Flytrap books are going to be hot, hot, hot!
Book 2 in the Inspector Flytrap series:
Coming in January 2017!
Source: Review Copy
Compass South is the fantastic first adventure in the Four Points series of graphic novels written by Hope Larson and illustrated by Rebecca Mock. As I finished reading this book, I felt like I had read a complete novel, there are so many details, world building and character diveristy in this book. In fact, I was reminded of S.E. Grove's trilogy that begins with The Glass Sentence, although Larson's book is set firmly - so far - in real, not an alternative, historical landscape. Mock's illustrations, which are filled with warm earth tones, packed with movement and energy. At times, I had to remind myself of which twin was which, but, in all fairness, this is a story with two sets of redheaded twins!
Set in 1860, Compass South begins with a prologue that explains how and why twins Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge made it from Ireland to New York City with two very special items - a compass and a pocket knife. Twelve years later, the only father they have ever known (but not their birth father) has disappeared and the twins have joined the Black Hook gang, stealing to survive. When Alexander gets caught, he and Cleopatra make a deal that sends them to New Orleans with Luther, a higher up in the Black Hook gang, close on their trail. Luther has been recruited by Felix Worley, also known as Lucky Worley, captain of the black ship, El Caleuche, to find the twins and relieve them of their heirlooms.
These threads alone are enough to keep Compass South moving at a fast pace, but Larson weaves in a few more threads that make the story even richer. Before boarding the train to New Orleans, Alexander sees an add offering a reward for the return of redheaded twins to their father, who went West to find his fortune five years earlier. Alex convinces Cleo to cut her hair so they can pose as Samuel and Jeremiah Kimball and make their way to San Francisco to collect the reward and find their father. Of course things don't go as planned, starting with a run in with red headed twin boys that lands Alex and Edwin back in jail and Cleo and Silas without a plan.
While it's a challenge at times to remember which twin is which, especially after Cleo cuts her hair, the hot head Alex is paired with Silas, who has a mysterious ailment that leaves him weak, while thoughtful Cleo ends up with Edwin, who shares Alex's temperament. I will tell you that the twin pairs both end up on ships, but what happens to them, where they end up and what Luther and Worley want with them, well, you'll just have to read to find out!
Ogres Awake! is the third book in the Adventures in Cartooning Jr. series (the mini-me of the Adventures in Cartooning series)and, as with Sleepless Knight and Gryphons Aren't So Great, authors Sturm, Arnold and Frederick-Frost present yet another silly story as the manic Knight and his steed, Edward, rush headlong into a new adventure. As always, the endpapers provide readers with instructions on how to draw the characters from the story.
From high atop a parapet where the Knight is playing fetch with Edward, the duo discover that what they thought was thunder is the snoring of ogres, one of whom is using a sheep for a pillow. Ready for a battle, the Knight and Edward gallop off to the King, who is calmly reading a comic book, naturally. This day has been foreseen - a plan is in place!
What is the plan? You just have to read Ogres Awake! to find out! But, the illustrations - and garden gnomes - just might give you a clue or two...
Source: Review Copy
Eric Orchard is the creator of Maddy Kettle, Book 1: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch in which eleven-year-old Maddy heads off on a quest after her bookstore-owning parents are turned into kangaroo rats by spider goblins. In Bera the One-Headed Troll, tables are turned as Bera, a troll, finds herself with a human infant she is trying to return to its parents. Bera's spare world is one of nighttime - if sunlight touches her, she will turn to stone - rendered in faded oranges and browns. And it is filled with ghosts, ogres with more than one head, benevolent rats, evil mermaids and hedgehog wizards that are a little creepy, a little goofy and entirely fascinating.
Bera is the troll with one head is the official pumpkin gardner of the Troll King. Living on a tiny island in a secret cove with just her owl, Winslowe, and her the ghost of Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Aunt Dota, who resides in a jar, she is happy with her quiet life. As she heads back to her house after the annual pumpkin harvest, she hears crying and finds the mermaids playing keep away with a crying baby in a cauldron.
Rescuing the baby from the mermaids, Bera faces another challenge when she receives the rare visitor at her door, the Troll King's former Head Witch, Cloote. Cloote has been banished, but she hopes to win her place back by using the human baby as part of a spell to create a hideous monster. Determined to get the baby back to the human village, Bera and Winslow leave the island for the first time ever and head into the woods in search of a legendary troll hero.
Bera, Winslowe and the baby in the cauldron are let down, betrayed and half-helped by one troll after another (one with two heads and one with three, just so you know there is a reason why Bera is referred to as a one-headed troll.) The raft of monsters and dangers in Bera the One-Headed Troll are wonderfully, gently menacing and Bera faces them all with quiet determination, much like Nanna the Great, an ancient troll legend who is happily turning into a hill. The climax of Bera the One Headed Troll, and the ending, are great, but honestly, I was happy trailing behind Bera, Winslowe and the baby as they wandered the forest throughout the night. I would love to see this trio again, but until then I'm getting my hands on a copy of Maddy Kettle!
Source: Review Copy
The premise of David Cali and Benjamin Chaud's trilogy is simple, circular and deeply satisfying. Beginning in 2014 with I Didn't Do My Homework Because . . ., Cali and Chaud have taken readers on one detail packed adventure after another, starring our young hero in his pinstriped suit, red necktie and red socks, and his faithful, bug-eyed dachshund and his bespectacled, clever teacher.
The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer begins with the inevitable question upon returning to school, "So, what did you do this summer?" Our hero responds, "Well, you may not believe this, but . . . " On a visit to the beach, he finds a message in a bottle and inside it is a treasure map! But, a magpie swoops in and pecks it out of his hands and the adventure begins. There are pirates, submarines and time travel that finds our hero floating down the Seine in his submarine as a bucket of slop is tossed on his head as he passes under the bridge in front of Notre Dame. Turns out he didn't time travel - he just happened onto a movie set.
There are libraries, hot air balloons, the Taj Mahal, mummies, pyramids and the Great Wall. And Yetis. But I don't want to give the whole story away. The final page ends, circling back to the start of the story, with a nice little reveal that brings the teacher back into the story. Three is a nice number, but I wouldn't mind one or two more books featuring our imaginative, well dressed hero and his dog . . .
The first two books in the trilogy and . . .
A Doodle Book of Excuses!! How cool is that?
When the blackberries hang
swollen in the woods, in the brambles
nobody owns, I spend
all day among the high
my ripped arms, thinking
of nothing, cramming
the black honey of summer
into my mouth; all day my body
accepts what it is. In the dark
creeks that run by there is
this thick paw of my life darting among
the black bells, the leaves; there is
this happy tongue.
- August by Mary Oliver
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In early 2014 I reviewed the picture book Some Bugs, written by Angela Di Terlizzi and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel. A fantastic, rhyming book, Wenzel's illustrations were unforgettable, calling to mind Eric Carle with a goofy undercurrent. I have been following Wenzel's career since then and am so excited to be reviewing the first picture book written an illustrated, They All Saw a Cat.
They All Saw a Cat is a story of observation and perspective, the idea for the book coming to Wenzel several years ago when he was teaching art classes in Nepal, noting that, "if every kid in the classroom draws the exact same thing - say, a cat - they will come up with a unique image, depending on their perspectives on and experiences with cats, that puts the animal in a different, new light." They All Saw a Cat follows a cat as it walks through the world, each person and creature who sees the cat viewing it differently. They All Saw a Cat is simple and brilliant, living up to all the praise that has been heaped upon it (see the end of the review for details of the heaps of praise.)
Wenzel's text in They All Saw a Cat is sleekly repetitive - read it out loud and you will probably find yourself instinctively singing the words. The book begins, "The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears and paws . . ." To the child, the cat is all sweet, big eyes and happiness. To the dog, the cat is skinny and suspicious, slinking past. And to the fox? The cat is a puffy, mouthwatering, marshmallow of a morsel.
They All Saw a Cat twist and turns, just like the titular cat. How the cat looks to prey and predators, how the cat looks to a bee and to a worm, a flea and a bat, are just a few of the perspectives we are treated to as the cat walks through the world. The climax of the book finds the cat, a patchwork of all the perspectives. In the final pages, the cat approaches a pond, glimpsing his reflection, the text asking, "imagine what it saw?" As the article in Publisher's Weekly from 2014 revealed, They All Saw a Cat was part of an eight publisher bidding war that was won by Chronicle Books, earning Wenzel a two-book deal and a six-figure deal. As the press material that came with They All Saw a Cat revealed, an editor from one of the losing houses proclaimed, "You guy have the next freakin' Eric Carle." My time working as an assistant to an agent was coming to an end just as Brendan Wenzel was introduced to him by Angela Di Terlizzi. Having witnessed a few bidding wars for manuscripts, I can only imagine what it was like in the office on the day that Chronicle prevailed. It's not often that a talent - and book - like Wenzel's comes along, and, as Ginee Seo, children's publishing director at Chronicle said, "I feel a bit embarrassed using a cliché, but as soon as I saw the proposal , I felt I was looking at an instant classic. . . the book is so intelligent and well thought-out that form the very first words and images you know you're in the hands of someone who is confident and knows what he is doing. Brendan's writing is spare and has a rhythm and pacing that is unusual for an artist to achieve. And his art has a sense of movement that is just beautiful. As an editor, I knew immediately that this was really rare."
Source: Review Copy
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The Infamous Ratsos is a rare little chapter book written by Kara LaReau and illustrated by Matt Myers. I say rare because it's not often that I get to read a book at this reading level that feels like a real chapter book, rather than a leveled reader. The Infamous Ratsos is written in simple but colorful language and is perfect for newly independent readers or even for a read out loud! Louie and Ralphie Ratso are two brothers who hang tough, no matter what. They want to be just like their dad, Big Lou, who drives a truck and a forklift and sometimes a snow plow. There are two kinds of people in this world, says Big Lou, "Those who are tough and those who are soft." Louie and Ralphie get the message and want to make their dad proud, especially since they are trying hard not to think about Mama Ratso, who's been gone for a little while now. Louie, who considers himself the smart one, confuses being tough with being mean, which gets the brothers into a lot of sticky situations that don't go as planned. Stealing a hat from the biggest, baddest guy on the playground makes the brothers heroes. Turns out that Chad Badgerton stole the hat from Tiny Crawley on the bus that very morning. The brothers are praised for stopping a bully. And trying to slip a homemade sandwich filled with disgusting pickled foods to the new girl only ends up making the homesick rabbit feel better, as the pickles remind her of her nana.
More mess-ups ensue, and they get funnier as they go. Finally, Big Lou gets a letter about the boys's behavior. They try to deny being helpful, thoughtful, friendly and kind, saying they want to be TOUGH just like their dad, not softies. This gives Big Lou pause and the boys have a good talk, a cuddle and even a little cry. From then on, all the Ratsos are helpful guys. Like Big Lou says, "Life is tough enough, we might as well try to make it easier for one another, whenever we can."
Love these rats, the fantastic illustrations and the wonderful message to be found in The Infamous Ratsos.
Source: Review Copy