A Lucky Author has a dog
Many people think that they know what a person needs to have to be happy. Happiness = having lots of money and being famous. However, judging from the stories we see in the media. the rich and famous often are not very happy people. Something is missing from their lives.
Today's picture book explores the way in which one rich and famous person stumbles across something that makes him happy, and we see how he tries to figure out how to change his life so that happiness can be his.
The baseball player and the Walrus
Illustrated by Alex Latimer
For ages 4 to 6
Penguin, 2015, 978-0-8037-3951-2
There once was a baseball player who had it all; fame, fortune, and fans. The surprising thing is that the baseball player was not happy. He knew that something was missing in his life but he had no idea what that something was.
Then one day the baseball player went to the zoo and he saw all the animals. He saw the lions, tigers, giraffes, and elephants, and then he came to the walrus pool. The baseball player was very taken with the walrus and he stayed and watched it all day long. Something about the animal lifted the baseball player’s spirits and made him feel happy inside.
That evening the baseball player decided that he was going to buy the walrus. He created a splendid walrus habitat in his back yard, and stocked up on fish and walrus vitamins. He showed the zoo people that he was going to be a responsible walrus owner, and they finally agreed to let him take the walrus home.
The walrus and the baseball player became fast friends and had many grand times together, but when the baseball season began the player had to be away from home a lot and both he and the walrus were very unhappy. Eventually the baseball player decided that he had had enough, and he quit his job and went home as fast as he could to be with his walrus. Everything was perfect for a while, until the baseball player realized that without a job he could no longer afford to keep his dear friend.
Many people think that happiness should be a secondary consideration in life. We have to make money, buy things, and be ‘successful’ first and foremost. In this delightful picture book we meet a man whose money, fame, and success don’t make him happy. Luckily, he finds out that having a walrus for a friend is just what he needs, and he does everything in his power to make the walrus part of his life.
With humor and sensitivity, the author of this book gives readers a tale that is amusing, memorable, and that conveys a message that everyone should take heed of: Follow your heart.
Not long ago one of my dogs had surgery and he had to wear a "cone of shame" for a while to make sure that he did not try to pull out his stitches. Poor Pippin hated the cone, and I had to work very hard not to laugh as he went around the house bumping into walls and furniture. It was funny, and it also was pitiful.
In today's picture book you will meet Mister Bud, who has to wear a cone and whose doggy housemate, Zorro, takes shameful advantage of his friend's situation.
Mister Bud wears the cone
For ages 5 to 7
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-8088-9
One night Mr. Bud’s itchy hotspot starts itching like crazy. Poor Mister Bud chews and licks it, and in the morning his person sees that the hotspot is much worse. She puts some medicine on it which she hopes will make the hotspot go away. She is comforting and tells Mister Bud that she knows that “It’s no fun,” having such a nasty hotspot. Zorro resents the fact that Mister Bud is getting all the attention. Even worse the dogs’ schedule is “all messed up” because of Mister Bud’s hotspot.
Before she leaves the house for the day Mister Bud’s person puts a cone on his head so that he won’t lick or itch his hotspot. Not surprisingly, Mister Bud hates the cone. He cannot see properly when he wears it, he walks into furniture, he cannot eat or drink properly, and he cannot stop Zorro from stealing his favorite toy. Wearing the cone is the worst thing ever and when Mister Bud accidentally breaks a lamp, he is convinced that he is going to be in big trouble. Zorro is thrilled and he is eager to see what their person says when she sees what Mister Bud has done.
In this deliciously funny and sweet book we meet a dog who has to wear a cone and whose life is severely disrupted by the horrible thing. It does not help that his house mate, Zorro, takes shameful advantage of the situation. Readers of all ages are going to laugh out loud when they see what happens in this memorable picture book story.
As a mother who recently spent the better part of twenty hours in a car with a three-year-old and a three-month-old baby, I feel a special kinship with parents who have also engaged in the ultimate endurance sport: travel with children. If you feel no particular sympathy for those engaged in this activity that is because you have not experienced it firsthand yourself. But even when my daughter was projectile vomiting regularly and even when the breast pump tipped to one side spilling milk all over my pants and EVEN WHEN I found myself wedged in the backseat between two car seats trying to change my son’s diaper on my lap while parked, I could still feel grateful because at least it was just a vacation. It wasn’t like we were moving to a new town or anything. Because if I’d had to deal with the abject misery of my three-year-old on top of the vomit/milk/diapers I don’t know how my sanity would have remained intact. And yet, other parents do it all the time. Every day someone somewhere packs up all their worldly possessions, their pets, and their miserable offspring and heads for a whole new life. It’s daunting. You can’t help but admire their guts. And boy, you’d sure like to hand them a book that they could use to show their kids that as scary as a move like that can be, ultimately it’s going to be okay. Enter a book so sparse and spare you’d never believe it capable of the depth of feeling within its pages. Deborah Underwood lends her prodigious talents to Bad Bye, Good Bye while artist Jonathan Bean fills in the gaps. The effect is a book where every syllable is imbued with meaning, yet is as much a beautiful object as it is a useful too.
“Bad day, Bad box” says the book. On the page, a boy wrestles with a moving man for possession of a cardboard box, doomed to be loaded into the nearby moving van. The boy, we see, is in no way happy about this move. He clearly likes his home and his best friend, who has come with her mother to bid him goodbye. On the road he and his little sister pitch seven different kinds of catfits before sinking into a kind of resigned malaise. Time heals all wounds, though, and with the help of a motel swimming pool, diners, and multiple naps, they arrive in their new town in the early evening. As the family and movers pile boxes and other things into the new house, the boy meets another kid who just happens to live next door. Together they collect lightning bugs and star gaze until that “bad bye” at the beginning of the book morphs into a far more comfortable “good bye” when the new friends bid each other goodnight.
This isn’t Underwood’s first time at the rodeo. The art of the restrained use of language is sort of her bread and butter. Anyone who has seen her work her magic in The Quiet Book is aware that she says loads with very little. I sincerely hope someone out there has been bugging her to write an easy book for kids. The talent of synthesizing a story down to its most essential parts is a rare one. In this book there is a total of 57 words (or so). These usually appear in two word pairs and by some extraordinary bit of planning they also rhyme. We begin with all “bads”. It goes “Bad day, Bad box / Bad mop, Bad blocks / Bad truck, Bad guy, Bad wave, Bad bye.” The book then slips into neutral terms as the initial misery wears off. Then, as we near the end the “goods” come out. “Good tree, Good sky / Good friend, Good bye.” Such a nice transition. You could argue that it’s pretty swift considering the depths of misery on display in the early pages, and that’s not too far off, but kids are also pretty resilient. Besides, motel swimming pools do indeed go a long way towards modifying behavior.
Jonathan Bean’s one to watch. Always has been. From the moment he was doing Wendy Orr’s Mokie & Bik books to the nativity animalia title “One Starry Night” to all those other books in his roster, he proved himself a noteworthy artist. Watching his work come out you have the distinct sense that this is the calm before the storm. The last minute before he wins some big award and starts fielding offers from the biggest names in the biz. In this book I wouldn’t necessarily have said the art was by Bean had I not seen his name spelled out on the cover. It’s a slightly different style for him. Not just pencil and watercolors anymore. A style, in fact, that allows him to try and catch a bit of Americana in the story’s pages. When Underwood writes something like “Big hair, White deer” it’s Bean’s prerogative to determine what that means exactly. His solution to that, as well as other sections, is layering. Time and landscapes are layered on top of one another. America, from diners and speed limit signs to windmills and weathervanes, display scenes familiar to traveling families. A great artist gives weight and meaning to the familiar. Jonathan Bean is a great artist.
Now the cover of this book is also well worth noting. I don’t say that about a lot of picture books either. Generally speaking a picture book’s cover advertises the book to the best of its ability but only occasionally warrants close examination. Jonathan Bean, however, isn’t afraid to convey pertinent information through his cover. In fact, if you look at it closely you’ll see that he’s managed to encapsulate the entire story from one flap to another. Begin at the end of the book. Open it up. If you look at the inside back flap the very first thing you’ll see underneath the information about the author and the illustrator is the image of the boy in the story straining against his seatbelt, his face a grimace of pure unadulterated rage. Now follow the jacket to the back cover of the book and you see the boy crying in one shot and then looking miserably back in another. The weather is alternating between a starry night sky and a windy rainy day. Move onto the front cover and the rain is still there but soon it turns to clear skies and the boy’s attitude morphs into something distinctly more pleasant. In fact, by the time you open the book to the front flap he’s lifting his hands in a happy cheer. The attitude adjustment could not be more stark and it was done entirely in the span of a single book jacket. Not the kind of thing everyone would notice, and remarkable for that fact alone.
People are always talking about “the great American novel”, as if that’s an attainable ideal. We don’t ever hear anyone talk about “the great American picture book”. I don’t know that Bad Bye, Good Bye would necessarily fit the bill anyway. This is more the picture book equivalent of On the Road than To Kill a Mockingbird, after all. It’s a road trip book, albeit a safe and familiar one. For children facing the frightening prospect of the unknown (and let’s face it – adults hardly do much better) it’s good to have a book that can offer a bit of comfort. A reassurance that no matter how things change, good can follow bad just as day follows night. They are not alone in this uprooting. Somewhere out there, in another car, with another family, there might be a kid just as miserable as they are and for the exact same reason. And like all humans this knowledge ends up being comforting and necessary. Therefore give all your love to Bad Bye, Good Bye. It has necessary comfort to spare.
On shelves now.
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Misc: And I interviewed Ms. Underwood about the book here.Display Comments Add a Comment
When I was a child for some reason illustrators did not create wordless picture books. These days I encounter books of this type several times each year and some of them are truly amazing. Today's picture book is a wordless title and it was created by the illustrator who brought us Flora and the Flamingo, which was a Caldecott Honor title this year. Just like Flora and the Flamingo this story features a little girl and a very personable bird, and the way in which the story is told is quite magical.
Flora and the Penguin
For ages 5 and up
Chronicle, 2014, 978-1-4521-2891-7
The ice is frozen and Flora is going skating. Bundled up in warm clothing, she sits on the ice to tie the laces of her skates. Not far away there is a hole in the ice and the tip of something orange is poking through the hole. When Flora goes to investigate she sees that a penguin is coming through the hole in the ice, and in no time she and the very elegant bird are greeting one another.
Soon the new friends are skating across the ice. Perfectly synchronized they glide and twirl, jump and spin. Their beautifully coordinated performance is joyous until something beneath the ice captures the penguin's attention and with a dive and small splash the bird is gone. Flora is left all alone until the penguin pops up through the hole in the ice again. It has a fish in its beak, which it offers to Flora as a gift. Not surprisingly the girl does not appreciate her present. In fact she throws it back into the hole in the ice, shocking the penguin who then makes it very clear that Flora is in the penguin equivalent of the dog house.
Sometimes we do things that hurt our friend's feelings and have to make amends as best we can to show them that we are sorry and that we appreciate them. In this wordless picture book Molly Idle tell a story that captures the ebb and flow of a new friendship. As the story unfolds we see how hurt feelings can be repaired if one is little creative. Readers will be delighted to explore the compelling art work and, on some pages, they will find flaps to lift. The story ends with a grand fold out page that carries us forward to a perfect ending.
Back in the spring Cat decided that he wanted to stand in for the Easter Bunny (you can read about his adventures in Here Comes Easter Cat). With Christmas just around the corner, Cat has now decided that he wants to be Santa. The thing is, being Santa is a lot harder than it seems.
Here comes Santa Cat
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
For ages 5 to 7
Penguin, 2014, 978-0-8037-4100-3
Cat is back and this time, wait for it…he is wearing a Santa suit. When he is asked why he is dressed up, Cat explains, using pictures, that he needs to be Santa so that he can give himself a present. Surely, Santa will do that. No. Apparently Cat does not think that Santa will be giving him anything this year because he has been naughty a lot of the time and nice only on a few occasions. Well, that makes sense.
Okay, so Cat will be Santa, but does Cat know that he needs to come down chimneys, and does he happen to have some flying reindeer hanging around? It turns out that Cat does not much care for chimney climbing, and the jet pack he uses to fly is rather temperamental. Perhaps Cat would be better off giving up trying to be Santa. Instead, he can try being nice. You never know, Cat might even enjoy the experience.
In this laugh-out-loud picture book Cat once again tries to take on the role of a holiday figurehead, only to discover that being such a character is not as easy as it seems. Readers will be delighted to see how the sometimes grouchy feline stumbles from one disaster to another, until, at long last, something happens that turns things around for Cat. Just in time.
Horton and the Kwuggerbug and more Lost Stories
Written and Illustrated by Dr. Seuss aka Ted Geisel
Published by: Random House Books For Young Readers
Published: Sept 9, 2014
Ages: 4-8 (and up)
Source: Book obtained from publisher in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: 5/5
It’s incredible to me that we can read new Dr. Seuss stories after Ted Geisel died, but these Dr. Seus stories were “lost.” They’re treasure I’m glad was rediscovered: A new Horton the Elephant story, a fanciful story about Marco (from And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street) who arrives to school late and tells the tale about why; a police officer who saves the town; and a short grinch story featuring a different grinch than the one who stole Christmas. These stories have the same wonderful rollicking, almost perfect rhythm that Dr. Seuss is known for; twists and plot surprises that keep the reader interest; conflict that keeps us riveted; characters we care about, empathize with, and root for; and humor. I loved the satisfying ending, especially, in Horton and the Kwuggerbug where a mean-spirited character gets his just desserts; this was my favorite story in the book. I also love that the stories include fanciful made-up words and great imagination that fit his stories perfectly.
Dr. Seuss’ beautiful, strange, evocative, and trademark illustrations fit the stories perfectly, with crazy cliffs and strange-looking trees, emotionally expressive characters, and bright colors. They’re Dr. Seuss’ strong illustrative style that generations of readers have loved and been entranced with, and generations will continue to love.
The stories all have a strong emotional appeal, with conflict and psychological tension. These are pure Dr. Seuss, and they’re a delight. When I finished reading, I had Dr. Seuss’ rhythms and some of the rhymes running through my head–which shows how catchy they are; I think is a sign of greatness. I loved these “new” stories, and I think children and Dr Seuss fans will love them, too.
My only criticism is that Horton and the Kwuggerbug probably should have been published on its own; the other stories aren’t as polished or as captivating. For instance, How Officer Pat Saved the Whole Town is all about what might happen, not what is happening, so it’s not as dramatic or intense or fun, though it’s still enjoyable.
Also included is a long, detailed introduction by Charles D Cohen–an expert on Dr Seuss stories. It provides some fascinating detail for readers who love Dr. Seuss.
The Worst Princess
Written by Anna Kemp
Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie
Published by Random House Children’s Books
Ages: 3-7 (and up)
Source: Obtained from the publisher for an honest review.
My rating: 5/5
This is a refreshing tale about a princess who thinks she needs to be saved from her tower–until she realizes that getting “saved” just locks her up in a different tower. The princess makes friends with a dragon, and together they travel the world. In the end, the princess saves herself.
I love books that show girls being strong, not ruled by sexism, who are able to save themselves–especially when the books are written well, without being preachy or didactic. This book is a delight on all levels–the content, the way the story is written, and the illustrations.
Kemp’s rhyming text flows smoothly; there is rarely a rhyme that feels even slightly forced. The story is lively and entertaining, and the dialogue helps it move quickly. Humor permeates the story, from the names the princess and prince call each other (twit, turtledove), to the insults given (the prince telling her to twirl her pretty curls), to the dragon setting the prince’s shorts on fire. I love the princess making tea for the dragon, and the way they become friends who defend each other and travel the world together. Princess Sue is a strong role model that breaks out of the sexism she was trapped in.
Ogilvie’s illustrations are vivid and alive, quirky and expressive, and a delight to pore through, with a lot of detail to enjoy. The characters and the objects they interacting with have strong outlines which bring them into the forefront and focus, while backgrounds are more muted and blurry. I love the bold, bright colors. Princess Sue’s bright orange hair is echoed in the dragon’s bright orange-red scales, which visually and emotionally tie the two together even more. And the prince does look like the pompous twit he acts like, with his thin curly mustache, foppish hair, long narrow nose, and stuck up expression.
This is an important–and fun!–book for both girls and boys. None of us need be constrained by the gender rules for behavior that society sets for us. Girls can think for themselves, protect themselves and others, travel the world, and be outspoken. Boys can stay at home, cook, take care of children, or follow their dreams, whatever they might be. Though the book doesn’t show boys escaping their forced gender roles, it will make children (and adults) think, and it challenges sexism in a humorous way. We need more books like this.
If you love strong-girl characters, you have *got* to get yourself–or the kids in your life–a copy of this book! I think it’ll become a classic, like Princess Smartypants
and The Paper Bag Princess. This, for me, became an instant favorite.
Highly recommended! If I could give it a higher rating, I would. This is a keeper, and one to give away as gifts, too.
Drop It, Rocket! (Step Into Reading, Step 1)
Written and illustrated by: Tad Hills
Published By: Random House Books for Young Readers
Published: July 8, 2014
Source: Obtained from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. (As you may be able to tell, I only review books I love.)
My rating: 5/5
Rocket loves to find new words. He brings the little yellow bird many objects so they can make words from them. But when he finds a red boot he refuses to put it back down or trade it for anything–except for a book which the friends then pore over.
Hill’s sentences and words are short and easy for young readers to read, so that should bring a feeling of success, and yet they keep reader interest by telling a great story. The story moves quickly with a lot of dialogue, and there’s some great humor (with a set up of Rocket dropping every object he’s asked to, until he gets to the boot) and conflict. I love the focus on words and reading. It’s very feel-good and fills me with delight.
Hill’s illustrations are sweet, light hearted, and expressive, with great emotion, facial expressions, and body language. The illustrations perfectly compliment and enhance the text. I love how they work together so that the illustrations show things that the text doesn’t, such as how all the objects Rocket brought back are printed out as words. The great amount of white space around each illustration helps to add to the light, airy feeling of the illustrations.
If you love books about books or words, you’ll want to pick this one up! Highly recommended.
Written and illustrated by: David Wiesner
Published by: Clarion Books
Published: October 1, 2013
Source: I purchased the book myself.
My rating: 5/5
I love David Wiesner’s books; he’s created some of my very favorites, especially Tuesday and Flotsam–so I look forward to each new release, and Mr. Wuffles! didn’t disappoint. Mr. Wuffles! is a Caldecott Medal Honor Winning title, and it deserves to be.
Mr. Wuffles doesn’t play with any of the toys his human buys for him. But when a tiny alien spaceship–the size and almost the look of a golf ball with protrusions–lands in Mr. Wuffles’ house, Mr. Wuffles goes crazy playing with it. The tiny aliens inside get headaches and feel sick from being tossed around, so when they think Mr. Wuffles is asleep they sneak out. Mr. Wuffles is about to attack them when a ladybug distracts him, and the aliens flee to safety–into the walls of the house, where they are greeted by ants and ladybugs who’ve all been chased by the cat (as evidenced by the paintings on the wall). The aliens and the bugs–who look similar in shape–become allies and friends, sharing food and ideas, and coming up with a plan for escape, while Mr. Wuffles watches them under the radiator. The aliens and bugs distract the cat until they get their spaceship working and fly away, out the window, while the triumphant bugs don some of the alien attire and add to their paintings on the inner walls of the house.
There are only a few short lines of text in the story; most of the story is told through the illustrations. But the sparse text works to emphasize certain details in the book, and bring the story full circle. In the first two panels, Mr. Wuffles’ human says “Look, Mr. Wuffles, a new toy!” and when the cat walks away, says “Oh, Mr. Wuffles,” which makes the reader notice all the toys Mr. Wuffles never plays with. Three quarters of the way through the book, we see Mr. Wuffles’ human asking him what is so interesting–while he stares determinedly under the radiator, where the aliens and bugs are–to Mr. Wuffles, they seem like living or animated toys. And then in some of the last panels, Mr. Wuffles’ human brings hima new toy–a rocket–while saying “Hey, Mr. Wuffles–blast off!” and then when Mr. Wuffles walks away, saying “Oh, Mr. Wuffles.” So we see again Mr. Wuffles snubbing toys for living creatures–bugs and aliens. And there’s also some humor with the rocket symbolizing outer space and exploration of the universe and other intelligent life–while real aliens have already visited Mr. Wuffles’ home. The text works well, emphasizing key story points.
The illustrations are what make the book. SO much is told through the beautiful, colorful illustrations–through body language, through action. The story is well paced and also holds a lot of humor, with a funny explanation for why some pets may prefer chasing after bugs and living creatures than playing with their toys, and humor that animals, insects, and aliens may be more intelligent than us or notice things that we don’t.
The illustrations are painted in various sizes of panels, almost like a comic book, some taking up a full spread, some half a page, some a quarter or a fifth or less, the action moving beautifully from one panel to the next. The viewpoint also changes, moving us from seeing Mr. Wuffles and what he’s doing, to seeing the aliens and bugs and what they’re doing. The bright, rich colors, realism, and strong storytelling bring the story alive. There is so much to see on every page–details readers will love to find–and fantastic expression and body language.
Anyone who’s owned a cat will also recognize the body language and behaviors of a cat–chasing after a fly, leaping up in surprise, swatting at moving objects, getting overwhelmed at too much stimuli, a swishing tail when wanting to pounce or annoyed at something–and refusing to play with some expensive toys while loving chasing after anything from nature.
This is a funny, light-hearted fantasy romp, especially for children with imagination and cat lovers. There’s also a bit of a fun surprise for readers who buy the hardcover; take off the paper jacket, and instead of the cover you see outer space. Highly recommended.
If you can, I hope you buy pick these books up at your local bookstore or library. They are well worth it, and will bring many enjoyable reads. I know I’ll be buying copies for gifts–they’re that good.Add a Comment
Cheering up someone who is down in the dumps can be very difficult sometimes. After all, we don't always know why the person is sad, and we often don't have any idea what will make them feel happy again. Would they like some flowers? Perhaps a dinner out will help. Maybe chocolate is the answer. In today's book you will see how some charming animals who try to cheer up their friend Mouse.
The small child is a frightening beast. A truly terrifying creature that can level the most powerful adult with the mere pitch of their fury laden screams. As a children’s librarian I used to tell my husband that mine was one of the few jobs I knew where an average day was punctuated by human sobs and screams of terror, misery, and fury. What then is the reasoning behind the idea that you should read a child a book about a fellow kiddo having a meltdown? Well, kids can get a lot out of that kind of identification. They can put themselves into the role of the parent, to a certain extent. Or maybe it’s just good old schadenfreude. Better her than me, eh? Whatever the reasoning, meltdowns make for good picture book fodder. Add in a giant blue gorilla with a penchant for wristwear and you’ve got yourself a picture book as fine as fish hair. A treat to eye and ear alike, Ohora is truly coming into his own with a book that truly has universal appeal. And a gorilla. But I repeat myself.
Amelia and Nilson are inseparable. They play together, eat together, and with some exceptions (Nilson is afraid of water so no baths) they’re never out of one another’s sight. The fact that Amelia is a little girl and Nilson a gigantic blue gorilla? Not an issue. What is an issue is the fact that Nilson has a terribly short fuse. Good thing Amelia knows exactly what to do to calm him down. Don’t want to go with mom to do chores? Amelia calls them adventures instead. Nilson’s getting testy waiting in line at the post office? Amelia hands him her froggy purse. It’s the moment that Nilson gets the the last banana ice cream that Amelia’s composure finally breaks down. Now she’s the one who’s upset. Fortunately, Nilson knows the perfect way to make everything right again.
When we think of the great tantrum picture books out there, the mind immediately leaps to the be all and end all of fits, When Sophie Gets Angry Really Really Angry by Molly Bang. That book sort of set the standards for meltdown lit. It’s simple, it gets to the point, it teaches colors (though that’s more a nice bonus rather than anything else). After Sophie authors tried to come up with different unique takes on a common occurrence. Rosemary Wells came up with Miracle Melts Down, Robie Harris dared to discuss the unmentionable in The Day Leo Said “I Hate You “. And who could forget David Elliott’s truly terrifying Finn Throws a Fit? In the end, this book is almost an older version of Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems (it involves preschooler fits rather than toddler fits, which as any parent will tell you are a different beast entirely). But part of what I like most about No Fits, Nilson! is that it sort of harkens back to the early days of Sophie. Ohora makes a metaphor out of the familiar and in doing so makes it even more understandable than it would be if his gorilla was nowhere in sight.
Ohora’s previous picture book, Stop Snoring, Bernard! was a lovely book to look upon. As an artist, the man has cultivated a kind of acrylic mastery that really does a wonderful job of bringing out the personalities of his characters within a limited color palette. However, while the art in Bernard was at times beyond stunning, his storytelling wasn’t quite there yet. It was all show without the benefit of substance. So it was a great deal of relief that I discovered that No Fits, Nilson! had remedied this little problem. Story wise, Ohora is within his element. He knows that there is no better way of describing a kid’s tantrums than a 400-pound (or so) gorilla. Most important of all, the metaphor works. Nilson is a marvelous stand-in for Amelia, until that moment of spot-on role reversal.
As I mentioned before, the acrylics threaten to become the stars of the show more than once in this book. Limiting himself to blue, red, pink, yellow/beige and green, Ohora’s is a very specific color scheme. Neo-21st century hipster. Indeed the book appears to be set in Brooklyn (though a map on one of the subways manages to crop out most of the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and half of Brooklyn, so maybe I’m reading too much into the setting). As I also mentioned before, painting beautifully is one thing, but coming up with delightful, memorable characters is what separates the RISD grads from the true picture book masters. Nilson is the one that’s going to get the kids the most excited to read this book so it was important for Ohora to make him a unique blue gorilla. Not the kind of guy you’d run into on the street. To do this, Ohora chooses to accessorize. Note the three watches Nilson wears on his left arm and the three on his right. Note his snappy black beret with the yellow trim, and yellow and black sneakers. Next, the artist has to make Nilson a gorilla prone to the grumps but that is essentially lovable in spite of them. For this, Amelia is a very good counterpoint. Her sweetness counteracts Nilson’s barely contained rage. Finally, Ohora throws in some tiny details to make the reading experience enjoyable for adults as well. The typography at work when the tiny words “banana ice cream” move from Amelia’s mouth and eyes to Nilson’s mouth and eyes is a sight to behold. Ditto the funny in-jokes on the subway (New Yorkers may be the only folks who get Ohora’s “Dr. Fuzzmore” ads, and the one for the zoo is a clear cut reference to Stop Snoring, Bernard!).
Yeah, I’m a fan. Kids may be the intended audience for books like this one, but it’s parents that are shelling out the cash to buy. That means you have to appeal to grown-up sensibilities as well as children’s. What Ohora does so well is that he knows how to tap into an appreciation for his material on both a child and adult level. This is no mean feat. Clearly the man knows where to find the picture book sweet spot. A visual feast as well as a treat to the ear, this is a book that’s going to find an audience no matter where it goes. At least it better. Otherwise I might have to sick my own 400-pound gorilla on someone, and believe me . . . you do NOT want to get him angry.
On shelves June 13th
Source: Review from f&g sent from publisher.
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I’m just messing with you. No, I’m not going to actually review my book here. I’m not going to wax rhapsodic over the hidden meanings lurking behind the mysterious cupcake on the cover. I’ll refrain from delving deep into how Lexy’s emotional journey with the giants is just a thinly disguised metaphor for U.S. / Russia relations between the years of 1995-2004 (it isn’t, for the record). I won’t even talk about the twist ending since spoilers make for interesting, if sometimes heartbreaking, reviews.
No, I’ll just talk instead about how happy I am that publication day is here at all. And how pleasant it is to share that day with my buddy / pal / illustrious illustrator Brandon Dorman. I’ve had a couple chances to present the book so far (including one disaster that I’ll get to in a moment) and here is what I have learned.
1. It is possible to read this book to 3-year-olds thanks in large part to the pictures.
This is true. The text is bouncy, which doesn’t hurt matters any, but when one is dealing with very small fry it is also mighty helpful when you have eye-popping visuals on your side. And let me tell you, kids like the art of Brandon Dorman. More than that, they love it.
2. It is possible to read this book to 4-year-olds thanks in large part to the mentions of dances.
I have discovered by reading this at a couple daycares that if you teach kids jazz hands, interpretive dance, the twist, and the chicken dance in the course of reading this book, they don’t get bored. As a children’s librarian I was always the storytime reader whose peripheral visual would zero in on the single kid out of thirty that looked bored. This flaw in the programming has carried over to reading my own book. If one kid is bored I suddenly get this manic tinge to my voice and everything becomes a little more frantic. Be warned, easily bored children. I’m gunning for you.
3. Etsy is the creator of and solution to all of life’s woes.
I learned this truth when I constructed a necklace out of Caldecott cover Shrinky Dinks. To make the necklace I wanted something that featured fuses (as a nod to the name of this blog). So what do you do when you get such an urge? You go to Etsy and search for such a thing. In the case of my book presentations I decided I wanted blue furry boots. So I type “blue furry boots” into Etsy and what do I get? Something even better. Blue furry rave legwarmers. Oh, they’re the pip. Here’s what I look like talking to the kids in ‘em.
Dance for me, little children. Dance, I say!
They are also very easy to snuggle, if snuggling is what you want to do.
Special thanks to Melanie Hope Greenberg for the pics.
4. When you decide to go to a bookstore you’ve never visited before, give ‘em your phone number. Beforehand.
Fun Fact: Did you know that there are TWO bookstores in Brooklyn called Powerhouse? As of Saturday, I did not. And thus begins my tale of woe.
I think there’s a general understanding out there that authors have at least one bad author experience tale they can tell. But that experience, as important as it may be, is not usually their VERY FIRST BOOKSTORE APPEARANCE. Because, you see, on Sunday I knew I was speaking at Powerhouse. So I Googled it, got the address in Dumbo, and merrily traipsed over there. The poor staff was cleaning up from an event the previous night and had no clue what I was talking about. Still, they were very nice and helpful and though they didn’t have any copies of my book I just figured folks might order it. Mind you, “folks” was a pretty optimistic term to be using in my head since nobody was there. I mean nobody. Little tumbleweeds would have been my audience had I spoke.
After giving it some time I packed up, the clerks apologized, and I went home. Mildly mortifying that no one in Brooklyn came to see me, but it was 11:30 on a Sunday morning. Not ideal.
And I would have proceeded in my merry little bubble for whole weeks at a time had I not gotten an email the next afternoon that made it very clear that I had gone to the wrong Powerhouse. That there are, in fact, TWO stores out there with the same name. Two. Not one. Two. And my lovely publicist at Harper Collins had even gone so far as to send me a link to the event with the address front and center. An address that was not in DUMBO at all but Park Slope.
So apparently (and this is where I sink into a puddle of 100% sheer uncut mortification) folks DID come to my event. Folks I like. Folks I would want to see. Folks who would want to see me and who failed to do so because this doofus author merrily went to the wrong friggin’ store.
What have we learned here today, children? Even if a publicist sets everything up for you, give the store your cell phone. All this would have been solved if the store had had my info and had given me a ring. There are other lessons of course (actually READ what your publicist sends you might be right up there) but you can bet I’ll be contacting all my future store appearances with my cell # right now. Yup yup yup.
Onward and upward my patient fellows.
On shelves April 23rd (happy birthday to me!)
Source: Wrote the darn book.
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April is such a hard month--all I want to do is to be outside, getting everything weeded and planted and spruced up, but it's the busiest month at work, busy with the kids' homework, busy busy busy...and so no time to read the big long book that was supposed to be this week's Timeslip Tuesday offering.
I am very sad about the recent, and horribly untimely, death of Australian writer and illustrator Gregory Rogers. I've already featured one of his wordless time-travel picture books (The Hero of Little Street), a book I liked well enough, but today I'm posting about the book I think is his masterpiece, one that is truly a classic, and the one that makes me wish something fierce that Gregory Rogers was still here to give us more --The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard (Roaring Brook Press, 2004).
Here is how, as of the date of this review, Wikipedia defines the term “punk culture”. Ahem. “. . . largely characterized by anti-establishment views and the promotion of individual freedom.” Now look at your toddler. Go on. Give that kiddo a long, lingering look. Consider, for a moment, what makes a small child a small child. Do they believe in individual freedoms? Anyone who has ever attempted to herd a group of them will immediately answer yes. Are they anti-establishment? Well, what would YOU call the kid who draws on the hallways walls in permanent marker? Ladies and gentlemen the only logical explanation to draw from any of this is that toddlers are, and have always been, punk rockers. They have crazy hair, they create one-of-a-kind outfits of their own making, and they certainly have no problem with loud volumes. The evidence is extraordinary. It seems only fitting to hand them a counting book that displays as many different kinds of punks as possible. Looking for the mildest of subversions with a consistently sweet undercurrent, kickin’ art, and fun text? This punk’s for you.
A single, solitary, mohawked punk of the wide cuffed, purple coated, army boot variety goes walking down the street. He runs into his blue haired pal Noriko, she of the bunny-eared car, and then there are two. They, in turn, meet up with green dredded Kevin and the start jamming. It isn’t long before they’re getting ready for a big show, putting up posters, and getting everyone in town involved. More and more punks join the fun until by the slam-bang finish you’ve a party of twelve plus all their madcap friends. At long last it’s time to go home (even Noriko’s car seems to have conked out) and twelve happy punks sleep the night away.
If you have a toddler you read a lot of counting books. It’s part of the deal you sign when the hospital hands over your kid for the first time. “I solemnly swear to read my child an ungodly amount of counting books until the seas turn a boiling roiling red.” Or words along those lines. And when you read a lot of counting books certain patterns start to emerge. You get the distinct feeling that all counting books rhyme in some manner. I don’t know why this should be. It’s not like every children’s book author is actually GOOD at rhyming. They just usually feel obligated to give it a go. So many of them do this, in fact, that when one encounters a picture counting book that does NOT rhyme in any way, shape, or form, the adult reader is thrown. You want to make the cadences even, but the book fights you every step of the way. Such was my experience with “Happy Punks 123”. The first lines are “One happy punk looks around for his friends.” Even before you turn the page you’re attempting to predict the next line. Will it be “Two happy punks now peer through a lens” or “Two happy punks will soon make amends”? Nope. It’s “Are they at Slobotnik Square? Or Calvin Corner?” Turn the page. “Two happy punks sit on a stoop. They like to watch cars and talk to dogs. Hey, is that Kevin?” You see? Other books have set up these weird expectations and you expect John and Jana’s latest to fit the mold. It’s sort of perfect that Happy Punks 123 bucks that expectation by doing its own thing. That’s real punk rock, man. Awesome.
The art in this book is certainly shouldering a great big bulk of the fun. Nothing against the text. Even without its rhymes it’s a nice story of how one gathers friends throughout the day (without cell phones, which makes this downright utopian to some extent). But if the wrong illustrator had jumped on board this ship it would have meant the end of things. As it stands, the art has this laid back, friendly, colorful vibe. There are a lot of speech balloons and signs that mix script and print words. The very font of the book is of the typewriter variety and is snuggled seamlessly into the images. Design wise, the whole enterprise is a pleasure to the eye. It gets a little madcap near the end but with a premise of ever increasing punks you’d feel a bit cheated if it didn’t.
I also loved the subtle little jokes hidden along the way. On the cover, for example, you can see Noriko sporting a shirt that reads “ABCD & EFGH: Home of the Alphabet”. I’m no music guru. I won’t embarrass myself here by confessing how long it took me before I truly knew who Joey Ramone was. However, even I can recognize when a book might be making a reference to CBGB, the original punk rock music club of NYC. I also loved that it was a zombie running the music store (that could be a joke right there) and that they get their treats from “Ornery Penguin’s Gelato”. That’s not a reference to anything. It’s just the illustrator’s excuse to draw a testy penguin character. Who could blame them?
Since we’re dealing with the folks who created A Rule Is To Break: A Child’s Guide to Anarchy which earned its 15 minutes of fame when the Tea Party decided to make an example out of it, the inclination is to see whether or not John and Jana worked into a little subversion into the story. Did they? Well, I think it’s all in what you want to see. Yes, the sole antagonist in this book is an elephant. But go a little farther into the book and you’ll see he’s not the only elephant on the scene (a nice pink one works as a coat check girl at the club) and even if he were he joins the party at the end and has a wonderful time with the punks. So basically, Happy Punks 1 2 3 is a Rorschach test. You see in it what you want to see.
Basically this is a John Waters film made kid-friendly and picture book accessible. I don’t know that you’d necessarily call Waters “punk”, but then I don’t necessarily think you can slot Waters into any category all that easily. What this book really does is show a vast variety of different types of people, from hard-core rockers to straight edge hipsters. The punk aesthetic ideally celebrates all types of people, all the different ways they want to be (as long as they’re inclusive, obviously). And what John and Jana have done here is show that array, from robots to ultilikilted men to even elephants, if that’s what you’re into. The counting aspect works, and as per all potential bedtime books it ends with everybody asleep. From Portland to Williamsburg you’re bound to find folks loving the Happy Punks 1 2 3 vibe. It’s relentlessly cheery and the kind of book that makes you feel good after you finish it. World of counting books? Prepare to meet the latest, greatest addition to your fold.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
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It must have been exciting to live in Europe and North America in the early 1900's. So many things were happening and so much was changing. Electric lights, automobiles, and other inventions were changing the lives of millions of people. In today's picture book you will meet a family whose memebers decide to get their first car, and who end up having an unexpected adventure because of that car.
The Tweedles Go Electric
Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
For ages 5 to 7
Groundwood, 2014, 978-1-55498-167-0
It is 1903 and cars, which are powered by steam or gas, are all the rage. The Tweedles don’t care that cars are the in thing. They are content to get around on their cycles or by using their horse and cart.
Then one day Papa announces that they are going to get a car. Mama is thrilled, as is car-crazy Frankie. Bookish Franny is not particularly excited about having a car. After all, cars at this time are noisy, smelly, and dangerous. Then Papa tells his wife and children that they are not going to have a car powered by steam or gas. They are going to have an electric car.
Mama is rather concerned that the car might not be safe. After all, electricity is such a new thing and people don’t really understand how it works. In fact, they find it “more frightening than a basket of boas.”
In spite of this fear, the Tweedles go to the car dealership and they buy a bright green electric car. Papa drives their new purchase home, which is when he discovers that driving requires that one has a fair bit of nerve. There are so many things that one has to watch out for, and when one is zooming along at ten miles an hour, one has to have lightning fast reflexes. He and his family members never imagine that their new purchase is going to lead to an adventure, new friends, and new prospects.
These days cars are considered a necessity by most people and it is hard to imagine what life would be like if we did not have our cars. It is therefore very interesting to see what it was like to live in America when cars were still a relatively new innovation. It is also amusing to see how the Tweedles cope with their new acquisition.
Why are magical creatures so hard to write? I’m a children’s librarian. That means that a goodly portion of my day can consist of small starry-eyed children asking for an array of otherworldly cuties. “Do you have any unicorn books?” “Any fairies?” “Any mermaids?” Actually, more often than not it’s their parents asking and you can read between the lines when they request such books. What they’re really saying is, “Do you have any books about a fairy that isn’t going to make me want to tear out my eyebrows when I end up reading it for the 4,000th time?” Over the years I’ve collected the names of picture books that fulfill those needs. Like fairies? The Dollhouse Fairy by Jane Ray is for you. Unicorns? You can’t go wrong with Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea. But mermaids . . . mermaids posed a problem. It isn’t that they don’t have books. They simply don’t have that many. For whatever reason, writers don’t like doing mermaid books. Easy to understand why. What is a mermaid known for aside from brushing their hair or luring young sailors to a watery grave? Add in the fact that most kids associate mermaids with a certain red-haired Disney vixen and you’ve got yourself a topic that’s avoided like the plague. It takes a bit of originality, spark, and verve to overcome these obstacles. Having read his picture book Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters I knew that K.G. Campbell was a bit of a witty wordsmith. What I didn’t know was that he was capable of creating wholly new storylines that are as satisfying to adult readers as they will be to children. You want a mermaid book? The Mermaid and the Shoe is officially my latest recommendation.
Mermaids are talented creatures. Just ask King Neptune. The merman has fifty (count ‘em) fifty daughters and every single one of them has a talent. Every single one . . . except perhaps Minnow. The youngest daughter, Minnow can’t garden or train fish or sing particularly well. Instead, she asks questions. Questions that nobody seems to know the answers to. One day, a strange red object falls from above. No one, not even Minnow’s stuck up sister Calypso, can say what it is or what it does. Inspired, Minnow goes up to the surface to discover its use. What she finds shocks her, but also gives her a true purpose. She’s not just the youngest daughter in her family any more. No, Minnow is an explorer through and through.
My three-year-old daughter has a laser-like ability to hone in on any new picture book that appears in my bag when I come home from work. I hadn’t necessarily meant to try out The Mermaid and the Shoe on her, but once she zeroed in on it there was no stopping her. At this point in time she doesn’t have much of a magical creature frame of reference so it was interesting trying to explain the rudimentary basics of your everyday merman or mermaid in the context of Campbell’s book. She had a bit of a hard time understanding why Minnow didn’t know what a shoe was. I explained that mermaids don’t have feet. “Why don’t they have feet?” Not much of an answer to be given to that one. Happily she enjoyed the book thoroughly, but with its emphasis on cruel older siblings and the importance of making your own path, this is going to be best enjoyed by a slightly older readership.
As I may have mentioned before, Disney ruined us for mermaids. There will therefore be kids who read this book and then complain that it’s not a cookie cutter Ariel mass media affair. Still, I like to think those kids will be few and far between. First off, the book does have some similarities to the Ariel storyline. King Neptune/Triton is still the buff and shirtless father of a bunch of mermaid sisters and he still has his customary crown, flowy white beard (beards just look so keen underwater, don’t you think?), and triton. The story focuses yet again on his youngest daughter who longs to know more about the world up above. She’s accompanied by an adorable underwater sea creature. But once you get past the peripheral similarities, Campbell strikes out into uncharted territory, so to speak.
With this book Campbell strikes a storytelling tone. It’s a bit more classic than that found in some other contemporary picture books, but it fits the subject and the art. When you read that Calypso called her little sister “useless” the text says, “for sisters can be mean that way.” There’s an art to the storytelling. I loved that Minnow considers the shoe important because “This thing . . . was made with care. It has a purpose, and I will discover it!” As for the plot itself, I’ve never seen a book do this particular storyline before. Maybe it’s because authors are afraid of incurring the litigious wrath of Disney, but shouldn’t more mermaids be curious about our world? The fact that they’d be horrified by our feet just makes complete and utter sense. If you didn’t know they weren’t hands then of course you’d consider them knobby, gnarled and smelly (though how they know about that last bit is up for contention). Campbell knows how to follow a plotline to its logical conclusion.
I also love the core message of the book. Minnow’s talent lies in not just her brain (which I would have settled for) but also in how she sets about getting answers to her questions. At the end of the tale her father proclaims that her talent is being an explorer but I’m not so sure. I think Minnow’s a reporter. She not only asks the right questions but she sets out to find answers, no matter where they lead her. Then she comes back and shares information with her fellow mermaids, reporting her findings and sticking to the facts. You could also call her a storyteller, but to my mind Minnow is out there chasing down leads, satisfying her own curiosity over and over again. You might even say she comes close to the scientific method (though she never sets up a hypothesis so that would be a bit of a stretch).
There’s been a lot of talk over the years as to whether or not the greatest picture books out there are always written and illustrated by the same person (just look at the most recent Caldecott winners if you doubt me). You could argue both ways, but there is little doubt in my mind that Campbell just happened to be the best possible artist for this book . . . which he also just happened to write. I hate the term “dreamlike” but doggone it, it’s sort of the best possible term for this title. Notice how beautifully Campbell frames his images. In some pages he will surround a round image like a window with aspects of the scene (seaweed, fronds, or in the case of the world above, wildflowers). Consider too his use of color. The single red shoe is the only object of that particular bright hue in the otherwise grey and gloomy underwater lands. The mermaids themselves are all white-haired, a fact that makes a lot of sense when you consider that sunlight never touches them. They’re like lovely little half-human cavefish. And then there’s the man’s scope. I was reminded of a similarly aquatic picture book, David Soman’s Three Bears in a Boat in terms of the use of impressive two-page spreads. There’s an image of Minnow confronting a whale that could well take your breath away if you let it. The man knows how to pull back sometimes and then go in for the close-up. I have heard some objections to the mermaids’ teeny tiny seashells that seemingly float over their nonexistent breasts. And true, you notice it for about half a second. Then you get into the book itself and all is well.
With its can do mermaid who seeks answers in spite of her age and size, its beautiful watercolor and pencil crayon imagery, and writing that makes the reader feel like they’re indulging in a contemporary classic, there is no question in my mind that The Mermaid and the Shoe is the best little mermaid related picture book of all time. Utterly charming and unique, I can only hope it inspires other artists and authors to attempt to write more quality works of picture book fiction about magical creatures for the kiddos. It’s not an easy task, but when it works boy HOWDY does it work! Beguiling and bewitching, there’s only one true word to describe this book. Beautiful.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
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