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If you throw an I Spy, a Where’s Waldo, and a fiction picture book into your children’s lit blend-o-matic and hit puree, what you get is Look! A Book! – pure entertainment in printed form. I can’t wait to start circulating this.
A boy and a girl pick up a book – the same book the reader is holding in their hands:
HERE’S a CRAZY
SEEK & FIND
With images of every kind!
So many objects,
big and small.
Let’s see if you
Can find them
From here on out, the spreads alternate between rhyming text set against bold colors and incredible seek and find illustrations. The conclusion of the book lists many more objects to go back and locate, ensuring hours of happy hunting.
Staake’s bright, abstract style has never been more detailed, with wildly creative results. Robots serving orange juice, dolphins wearing football helmets, clowns in shopping carts, seals operating machinery – the wackiness is seemingly endless. Kids will be pleased.
More than just an I Spy read-alike, the amount of care and consideration that went into Look! A Book! is impressive. Circular die cuts reveal objects that become part of the text. Staake smartly names only one object for the reader to locate on each seek and find spread, a decision that keeps the proceedings moving along during the first reading.
The verdict on this book is short and sweet. Get it. For your children’s collection, your kids, your neighbor’s kids – basically anyone that is or even vaguely resembles a youngster. It will receive a warm welcome everywhere.
Through books likeLights Out and Hogwash Geisert often puts his porcine characters in the position of trying to solve real world problems through staggeringly creative means. The results are almost always must-read. Add Ice to this group. Originally published in France, Ice follows 2010’s excellent The Chicken Thief in Enchanted Lion’s Stories Without Words series. An excellent entry in a series that is becoming one to watch.
The book opens with a two page spread of a tiny island dotted with small A-frame huts, massive sun looming in the sky. A small band of Geisert’s familiar human-like pigs are doing their best to beat the heat – seeking shade and cooling themselves with fans – with lackluster results. Their huge well, which provides water to the entire island, is running low. After gathering to plan a voyage, the pigs spring into action, lifting off in their frigate-meets-hot-air-balloon vessel. They journey north, hitch an iceberg, and pull it back to their home, where it provides much needed relief.
The creativity is off the charts here. Geisert’s detailed illustrations run the show, creating a pleasing mix of nuts and bolts reality and island fantasy. I think the magic comes from the fact that everything seems as if it could almost happen. The civilization looks like something humans would build. The island’s well system seems plausible. Heck, even the cover brings to mind an old photograph of remote real-life island-dwellers, discovered by the outside world for the first time.
A simple, pitch-perfect story that will serve to get the imaginative juices flowing. The year is young, but Ice will likely be a 2011 standout.
Review copy from publisher.
Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.
Every time I set my mind to reviewing Keeper, the latest from Newbery-honor-winning author Kathi Appelt (The Underneath) my thoughts always seem to align in groups of three. I think I’ll keep it that way.
Three sentences that help describe Keeper:
1. Keeper is 10 years old and lives on a quiet road outside a small town on the Gulf of Mexico.
2. She was abandoned by her mother, Meggie Marie, when she was three.
3. She believes Meggie Marie is a mermaid.
Three main (human) characters (besides Keeper):
1. Signe. Keeper’s caretaker.
2. Dogie. A veteran of a war that left him with a stutter, Dogie runs a small surfshop out of a yellow schoolbus. He has spent a long time working up the courage to ask Signe to marry him.
3. Mr. Beauchamp. Much of Keeper’s belief in mer stories comes from this quiet old neighbor. His backstory, which is slowly revealed, shows that there is good reason for this.
Three main (animal) characters:
1. BD. “Best Dog” and trusted companion to Keeper.
2. Captain. A gull healed by Signe after crashing into their house.
3. 10 crabs. Well, I guess this doesn’t qualify as one character, but never mind that. Keeper’s need to set a tubful of crabs free before being boiled is what sets the entire story into motion.
The plot in three parts:
1. Our story begins on the day of a blue moon. It has all the makings for a night to remember. Signe is making blue moon gumbo as Dogie practices the song (question) he plans to sing (ask) her later that night – “Marry Me” – on his ukulele.
2. Everything goes haywire and Keeper finds herself at the root of it all. Signe’s gumbo – ruined. Dogie’s ukulele – broken. Not to mention the pots of Mr. Beauchamp’s beloved cyrus plants that got smashed.
3. In order to set things right, Keeper hatches a plan: head into the Gulf in Dogie’s boat, find her mother, and ask her how to make everything right. Events do not go as planned as the reader slowly unravels the mystery of Meggie Marie.
Three types of reader who will like it:
1. The reader who delights in the unique. While Keeper is a bit more accessible than Appelt’s previous work, The Underneath, its slowly simmering plot and changes in perspective still don’t read like much else out there.
2. The reader who is up for a good love story. Dogie’s long-overdue declaration of love to Signe leaves readers in suspense up until the last pages.
3. The reader who loves them some mer. The mermaid elements will pull in readers with an interest in these mythical creatures.
Three types of reader who might not like it:
1. The elements described above may serve to make Keeper a hard sell for your average boy reader. Just sayin’.
2. The reader who doesn’t abide repetition, a device that Appelt uses liberally here.
Six words. While the overall count is higher, Laura Vaccaro Seeger (First the Egg) uses only six individual words to create What If? How much can you do with six words? Apparently, plenty. A deceptively simple story that will provoke more thoughtful examination of friendship than you might expect.
The story begins when a boy kicks his mulitcolored beach ball into the surf. Two seals (one brown, the other gray) play with the ball until they accidentally knock it back onto the beach, where a third seal (this one pink) enters the story. How should they handle the newcomer? In the subsequent pages, three scenarios are played out, with the questioning text (what if…?) inviting youngsters to find the best solution.
The absence of dialog means that readers fill in the gaps. How exactly are the characters interacting? There is cause and effect to consider. There are inferences to be made. While there is text present to subtly guide the story, What If? is wordless at heart.
Given the limited text, the artwork takes on added importance. On top of sunny, impressionistic backgrounds, the layout and expressions of the characters allow readers to follow the story without much trouble.
Now, if I may, I have six words of my own I’d like share:
What If? is a subtle winner.
Review copy provided by publisher.
Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.
If you’re like me (and you should hope you’re not – my chocolate milk habit is out of hand), you sometimes become oblivious to greatness. Certain authors and illustrators churn out work of such consistent quality, you begin to take it for granted. Over the course of his prolific career, Steve Jenkins had fallen into this category for me. He has been placed squarely in my mental file cabinet labeled “These Guys & Gals are Solid”. So when I saw that he and Robin Page had a new book out, How to Clean a Hippopotamus, I didn’t run to read it. I knew it would be good, so I wasn’t in a hurry. I should have run. Superb in content and illustration Hippopotamus will surely go down as one of the best nonfiction books of 2010.
After the title page, the first spread provides an overview of what readers are getting themselves into. Crabs and anemones, coyotes and badgers, crocodiles and plovers – members of the animal kingdom frequently team up in unexpected ways for mutual benefit. In the pages that follow we see each of these partnership play out as vignettes, bringing the reader along for the ride as the setting jumps from the African savannah to the Galapagos islands and all points in between. At every step the text guides the way, appearing in boxes and on top of the illustrations, describing how the partnerships work.
There’s a lot of information crammed into this short book. The range of symbiotic relationships covered is impressive, each described succinctly in comic-like panels. These team-ups will surprise and amuse young readers, who will likely find a favorite partnership among the many. While there doesn’t seem to be an organizational rhyme or reason for when each team-up appears, this doesn’t affect the overall success of the information presented.
The back matter includes a description of of symbiosis, and a list of books for further reading. Also included are brief descriptions of every animal that appears in the book, with size, habitat, and diet information. This helpful addition increases classroom-related usefulness and if nice to see.
The illustrations are nothing short of lovely. If you know Jenkins, then you know what to expect here – meticulous cut paper artwork that is visually interesting and accurate. The sheer variety of paper used is a sight to see, always nailing the color and texture of the animal portrayed.
Appropriate for fact-finding or for pleasure reading, How to Clean a Hippopotamus is a must-add for your nonfiction collection.
You gotta admire an author who goes for broke. Aaron Renier does just that in his mythical, supernatural, swashbuckling (I could go on) graphic novel adventure The Unsinkable Walker Bean. At turns exciting, mysterious, creepy, and beautiful. Consider me completely won over.
While Renier spins an impressive web of characters and story elements, it all comes down to a cursed skull. Formerly guarded by two giant sea creatures who want it back, the skull is both dangerous and valuable. Simply looking at it has made Walker’s grandfather sick. He instructs Walker to return the artifact to its owners to cure his condition, but everyone else, it seems, has their own interests at heart. In his quest to follow grandpa’s wishes, Walker encounters pirates, said hideous giant sea creatures, and a mysterious man that may not be a man.
Renier reaches for an epic quality here, which means that in the first quarter of the book, there are many more questions than answers. While this means the rewards are bigger in the end, it also takes patience on the part of the reader. Thankfully, the action (appearing early and often) keeps the interest level high.
The cartoon illustrations expertly propel the story, with occasional two page spreads that inspire awe.
Full of thrilling action and impressive depth, Walker Bean will likely go down as one of the best graphic novels of 2010. The back of the book includes a page of “Early sketches of book #2″. Sign me up.
Henry and Mudge, Mr. Putter and Tabby, Frog and Toad – great pairs all, but young readers are due for a new duo. Here it is. Wholly engaging and immensely creative, Bink & Gollie joins the club. This is first purchase material, folks. Bound to be one of the most beloved children’s books of 2010.
The short, boisterous Bink and the tall, refined Gollie are complete opposites and best friends. Over the course of three stories, we come to know them through their adventures – both commonplace and imaginatively grand. Themes of compromise, jealousy, and friendship are handled with a wonderfully subtle touch. There is a particular mix of humor and authentic emotion that endears book to reader, and Bink & Gollie has it – the depth of feeling is impressive. The pair are unabashedly themselves, and kids will root for them and their friendship.
While it most closely resembles an easy reader in height, width, and thickness, Bink & Gollie is a bit larger in all those categories than your typical Henry and Mudge. This is appropriate, since its length (longer), layout (more picture book-like), and vocabulary (more advanced) are a bit different than most of the books in this category.
The digital illustrations are essential. Mostly black and white with splashes of color, they depict a quiet, parentless world. Fucile deftly brings life to the text.
An odd couple for the 21st century, Bink and Gollie will circulate like mad, winning new fans at every stop.
Note: This isn’t a book for kids. Then why is it here, you ask? It was created by children’s lit legend David Small, making it sort of fall within the parameters of 100 Scope Notes. Just a heads up to the children’s librarians/booksellers/parents out there.
Watch the outstanding book trailer for Stitches (caution: it contains spoilers):
Coming-of-age will never get old. Well, sometimes it seems like this type of story shows it’s age when another heavy-handed, contrived, or otherwise inauthentic attempt hits shelves. The fact that the coming-of-age tale is possibly the most common in all of children’s/YA lit, means that only a truly impressive work will stand out – The Evolution of Calpernia Tate is this sort of book. Vivid description, memorable characters, humor, and history all channeled through the crystal clear voice of a girl who is just beginning to learn what the future holds. An impressively confident and satisfying first novel by Jacqueline Kelly.
The setting is as complete and vibrant as you could ask for. A pecan farm in the small Texas town of Fentress on the cusp of the 20th century. Indeed this threshold in time lays the foundation for the overarching theme of the book – the role of women (and, specifically, our heroine) as progress continues it’s relentless march.
Calpurnia Virginia Tate is squarely in the middle of a large, chaotic family. With six brothers (three older and three younger) Callie Vee is an island, the lone girl. When her questions about the natural world lead to a relationship with her grandfather, it appears that through science, Calpernia has found her place in the world. The two even find what they believe to be a new species of plant. This perfect union soon becomes strained, however, as Callie’s mother, nonplussed with her daughter’s naturalist tendencies, sets her mind to teaching the youngster the more feminine skills of the day: cooking and sewing. Calpurnia struggles with what lies ahead, as her love of scientific endeavors conflicts with what is expected of her.
It’s almost worth the price of admission just to witness the authentic voice of Calpurnia. Her interactions and thoughts are always believable, full of wit, and give the reader a glimpse of what life is like for an 11 year old girl who often disagrees with the customs and conventions of this period of history.
There were a couple plot points that I wish had been dealt with more thoroughly. The abrupt departure of Harry’s (Calpurnia’s oldest brother) love interest after a private conversation with Grandpa, and the mysterious trading of the Thanksgiving turkeys fall into this category.
I’ve heard many people mention Richard Peck when discussing this book, and in terms of mood and approach, that comparison is entirely appropriate. The humor (which often arises from the clash of “proper society etiquette” and, well, the opposite) will surely invoke Peck’s most acclaimed works, A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way From Chicago.
All things considered, you’ll be hard pressed to find a warmer, more charming title this year. Sure to be among the best of ‘09.
If you see this book, open it up, flip through it. The sheer amount of creativity and inventiveness is stunning. Eleanor Davis (creator of last year’s Geisel Honor-winning easy reader graphic novel Stinky) takes ideas that have been done before, adds elements that are brand new, churns it all through her imagination, and creates an highly detailed graphic novel that makes most others look half-baked. In doing so Davis proves herself as a talent to watch. The result is a wildly entertaining book full of humor and action, sure to go down as one of the best graphic novels of ‘09.
The short, geeky Julian Calendar has trouble fitting in. When his family moves to a new town, Julian sees it as his opportunity to finally find friends. His intelligence gets in the way however, as Julian overthinks things and exposes his inner nerd. The situation looks bleak until our hero receives a coded message, leading him to tough-girl Greta Hughes and basketball star Ben Garza. The three become fast friends, practicing their scientific endeavors in a secret underground lab. When scientist Dr. Wilhelm Stringer steals the group’s invention notebook, with plans to pull a museum heist, The Secret Science Alliance use all their know-how (and gadgets) to stop the theft.
Every element of The Secret Science Alliance, down to the use of word bubbles and panels, has been carefully considered and fully realized. The amount of detail makes the mind reel. Cut-aways and diagrams are liberally used, encouraging readers to pore over pages at close range. Not a spread goes by without some sort of unique way of moving the story ahead. Panels that are the shape of arrows, pointing you in the right direction. Panels in the form of clouds when Julian is daydreaming. Panels waived altogether, allowing objects to lay on the page as if they were sitting on a table. It’s a joy to see what comes next.
Funny, yes. Entertaining, no doubt. Magnificently illustrated, to be sure. But it’s more than that. The Secret Science Alliance may be capable of a difficult feat – drawing in readers who have never been interested in graphic novels before. A must add.
Although many (many) celebrities might beg to differ, writing children’s books is hard work. Limited vocabulary and limited space add to the difficulty of creating a story that (and this is the biggest challenge of all) will resonate with youngsters who are just learning how to read. There are scores of contrived, dull picture books that stand as a testament to the challenges of the medium. But occasionally, a picture book comes along that is so wonderfully pure that it makes you understand why some believe authoring a kids book is cake. Peter McCarty’s (Hondo & Fabian) Jeremy Draws a Monster is this sort of book. A simple, beautiful book that will join the well-populated ranks of Books about Imagination with gusto.
Too shy to go outside and make friends, Jeremy decides to create some company in the safety of his bedroom. Using a blue pen, he sketches a giant, horned monster. It isn’t long before the rude beast begins to get demanding. Food, music, board games – Jeremy has trouble keeping up with the requests. When the monster comes home late and commandeers Jeremy’s bed, the boy decides that it is time for his guest to hit the road. He hands the monster a ticket and a suitcase and shows him to the bus stop. After the bus speeds off Jeremy is by himself in a place he never has had the courage to go – outside. When a group of neighbors ask him to play, Jeremy decides to take them up on the offer.
Although it includes a monster, noise and bluster don’t dominate the book. The plot has a wonderful pacing that slowly builds, with a conclusion that young readers might expect, yet not see coming. While it won’t slay readers with action or huge laffs (as we librarians are so often drawn to during story time), this one should work well in a read-aloud setting. I can see kids putting themselves in Jeremy’s tiny, tiny shoes (well, socks actually) pretty easily.
Against the pure white backdrops that help to express Jeremy’s self-imposed isolation, McCarty’s pen & ink and watercolor illustrations vibrantly assert themselves.
I’m guessing this will be one of those books that critics, parents and kids will all like – it’s a big-tenter to be sure. Here’s hoping plenty of people crowd in.
Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.
Christopher Columbus was a great man who overcame the odds to bravely discover North America.
How do you feel about the above sentence? Pretty simplistic, right? You and I know there’s a whole lot more to Columbus’ story. That sort of broad-brush statement-making can be dangerous. Take John Brown, for instance. Madman you say? Crazy idealist? Not so fast. In John Brown: His Fight for Freedom, author/illustrator John Hendrix offers us a profile that reveals the good and the bad of this early abolitionist. I can’t remember seeing a more nuanced picture book take on a controversial historical figure.
John Brown was an abolitionist to his core. In the 1840s and 50s, at a time when some thought slaves should be free, Brown wanted more: equality. He lived and died for the cause. After creating a reputation as a madman fighting to make Kansas a free state, he set his sights on a more dangerous plan. Brown saw the capture of weaponry at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia as key to his mission of ending slavery. Brown and his men began the raid, but things didn’t go as planned, leaving Brown trapped. Outnumbered and alone, he was captured and put on trial for insurrection, conspiracy, and high treason – crimes he was eventually hanged for.
As Hendrix explains in the Author’s Note, great care was taken to capture the complexity of Brown and his actions. Long misunderstood, recent research on the man has brought with it new attitudes on his fight. Says the author:
[Though] the United States hanged him as a traitor, I feel we must not dismiss him as a madman. Terrorists crave distruction and turmoil, and the seed of John’s rebellion was compassion.
This book is an important step in presenting these views for young readers.
Vivid, detailed, bold, memorable – Hendrix works wonders here with pen & ink and acrylic washes. Earth tones are rendered in crystal-clarity, providing a crispness that makes some other books seem out-of-focus in comparison. Hand-lettered passages pop up intermittently, highlighting important elements of the story. The result is a book that feels like a statement. The image of a battered, resolute Brown in the gallows will stand out as one of the most memorable children’s book images of the year.
A beautifully candid take on a man who’s life has been misunderstood, John Brown: His Fight for Freedom is a picture book biography that deserves to be seen. Make room on the shelf.
I have a problem. I’m not sure what to do when faced with a book like Meanwhile – a choose-your-own-adventure-style graphic novel. How do you review a book without a set beginning, middle, and end? How do you approach a book that required a homemade computer algorithm to structure? While it’s hard to define in concrete terms, Meanwhile is an original – a book that begs to be picked up, figured out, and enjoyed.
One element that is the same for every reader is the first page, where our dark-haired protagonist Jimmy has a decision to make: chocolate or vanilla ice cream. After that choice is made, the story splinters into (literally) thousands of different directions. Jimmy meets scientist Professor K, inventor of devices that have the ability to read minds, travel through time, and possibly kill every living thing on the planet. Testing these inventions leads to trouble, and Jimmy is forced into life or death situations that leave him (and the reader) trying to figure a way out.
The layout of Meanwhile is like no other book I’ve seen. I found myself handing it to people and saying, “take a look at this”. The shiny, tabbed pages (coated in plastic to increase durability, I assume) each sport a different soft hue, helping readers navigate. The interconnectedness of the story means that panels don’t read left to right, up to down, but in all manner of directions. The reader’s eyes are guided by tubes that run from one panel to the next, and then off the page onto a new tab that must be flipped to.
The level of interaction here is extremely high. Truely, the success of Meanwhile will rely on the readers willingness to “solve” the book. When dead ends arise, readers must start over from the beginning. Some will love this challenge, others may not dig the repetition.
Alert your young puzzle solvers, mathematicians, and the scientific-minded. They have a new riddle to solve.
Tone. It’s a tricky thing. If an author slips up in this area, a book can come across as confusing, or worse, condescending. Kevin Henkes knows tone well, and My Garden is the proof. It doesn’t scream. It doesn’t beg. It subtly pulls young readers in, and keeps them there. A simple story set to imagination-triggering imagery.
A straw hat-wearing girl loves to help her mother in the garden, watering plants and chasing away rabbits. But, given the chance, she would grow a garden that is truly unique. A garden where sunflowers come in patterns, seashells grow, and carrots are invisible (our heroine doesn’t like carrots, you see). But that’s all a fantasy, right? The little girl decides to plant a seashell anyway, just to see what happens
You know how musicians have phases? They dabble in a certain sound or style for a while, then later an album comes out titled “The (Insert Title Here) Sessions”? My Garden is out of the Old Bear Sessions. The soft pastels of the watercolor and ink illustrations will remind many of Henkes 2008 stunner. This is not a bad thing.
Quietly successful on all fronts, My Garden is likely to end up on best-of lists in 2010, and win over young readers for some time to come.
This just in: lots of kids like to talk trash. Now, I don’t mean that in a “the youth is out of hand!” kind of way. No, this trash talk usually comes into play when youngsters are sticking up for their favorite things. Oreos vs. Hydrox, neon glow worms vs. gummi bears, and so on. I think it’s a good thing that kids can take a position and defend it (especially on that Oreo argument). With humor and originality, Shark Vs. Train taps directly into this mindset and runs with it. Kids will be clamoring to join in on the fun.
Two boys rush to the toy box – one grabs a toy train, the other, a toy shark. Instantly, the trash talk commences. Which is better? It depends on the contest. The subsequent pages bring to life every conceivable (and increasingly absurd) contest in which the two could compete. They’re evenly matched. The high dive? Shark wins. Burping contest? Advantage Train. The back and forth comes to an end only when the boys are called for lunch. Name a kid that hasn’t engaged in this sort of debate.
There is a sense of immersion that is impressive. Once the throw-down begins, the kids themselves disappear. The reader is taken to a world where these events are actually happening. Only when the boys are called for lunch do we come back to reality. This mimics how kids play, and it will feel authentic to young readers.
Lichtenheld’s expressive illustrations have just the right amount of cartoonishness to go along with the humor of the text. A nice match.
Really, Shark Vs. Train is a winner in just every arena. Read aloud potential, shelf appeal, humor - this book is appealing on a number of levels. I guess it would have trouble with the high dive – but that’s about it.