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Results 1 - 25 of 302
1. Review of The Inker’s Shadow

say_inker's shadowThe Inker’s Shadow
by Allen Say; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School, High School   
Scholastic   80 pp.
978-0-545-43776-9   $19.99   g

This “patchwork of memories” (“and memories are unreliable, so I am calling this a work of fiction made of real people and places I knew”) sequel to Drawing from Memory (rev. 9/11) takes the fifteen-year-old Allen to Glendora, California, where he is enrolled in what seems to have been a distinctly mediocre military academy run by one of his (miserable) father’s old friends. That doesn’t go very well, and Allen soon finds himself, happily, enrolled in a regular high school, taking classes at an art institute in Los Angeles, and working part-time in a printing shop. Throughout, Kyusuke, Allen’s scapegrace comic-strip alter ego created by his revered Sensei, accompanies him in his imagination. Befitting adolescence, the tone here is sometimes sulky, even sarcastic, but, truth be told, Say can be so deadpan that it’s difficult to know when he’s kidding. The illustrations are a pleasing combination of watercolor cartoon panels — neat and nimble executions of the teen’s days — and black-and-white sketches that evoke what he was drawing at the time. Together, the two combine to provide an engaging and thoughtful view of the intersection of art and life.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of The Inker’s Shadow appeared first on The Horn Book.

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2. Review of Flop to the Top!

davis_flop to the topstar2 Flop to the Top!
by Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing; 
illus. by the authors
Primary   TOON   38 pp.
9/15   978-1-935179-89-4   $12.95

Wanda is a superstar — in her own mind. Oblivious to her family’s dismay, she forces everyone within arm’s reach to endure invasive photos, rude orders, and diva-like dismissals. After posting a selfie taken with her droll and droopy-faced dog, Wilbur, she scores millions of online likes. Hordes of admirers fill her street, and Wanda receives her fandom, only to be swiftly snubbed by the crowd. They want “FLOPPY DOG!” Wilbur is swept away to party with the celebrity du jour, Sassy Cat, and Wanda, jealous, tails the duo. The blinged-out dog is offered a contract to leave his “old life behind,” but instead decides to devour the document after a heartfelt apology (of sorts) by Wanda. Wife-and-husband team Davis and Weing share author-illustrator duties (“Can you tell who drew what? They bet you can’t!”) for this expertly paced — and funny and topical — early-reader comic. The digitally rendered art is a departure from the pen-and-ink cartooning of Davis’s Stinky (a 2009 Geisel honoree) and more closely related to her Matisse-like work for adults. It is infused with so much warmth, color, and whimsy that young readers will gladly see this book through to its pleasing reversal of fortune.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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3. Review of Lost. Found.

arnold_lost foundLost. Found.
by Marsha Diane Arnold; 
illus. by Matthew Cordell
Preschool   Porter/Roaring Brook   32 pp.
11/15   978-1-62672-017-6   $16.99

A bear’s red wool scarf is carried off by a strong gust of wind (“Lost”). Two quarrelsome raccoons spy the scarf lying in the snow (“Found”); they get into a tiff and run off squabbling, leaving the scarf behind (“Lost”). Next, a beaver finds it and dons the scarf as headgear…until it’s snagged by a low-hanging branch and lost again. With one of the two title words on most pages (there are also some well-placed wordless pages), this effectively paced story plays out in Cordell’s lively but spare pen-and-ink and watercolor pictures (occasional silly sound effects included). The book invites participation, and young listeners will quickly catch on to the narrative pattern. The scarf is found and lost five more times by various woodland creatures who tug, pull, squeeze, swing on, jump on, and brawl over it. It’s at this point that the rightful owner re-enters the story: the bear finds the scarf completely unraveled but doesn’t lose hope. Along with some contrite-looking critters, the bear gathers the yarn and knits a new scarf, one that brings everyone together — in friendship. The final cozy, color-drenched scene (a departure from the preceding white-dominated pages) shows the characters sitting companionably around a nighttime campfire connected by the scarf, which fits everyone perfectly. Pair this with Kasza’s Finders Keepers (rev. 9/15) for more lost-and-found accessory fun.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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4. Holiday High Notes 2015

Have yourself a merry little read-through of 
our annual selection of new holiday books, with 
reviews written by the Horn Book staff.

bailey_when santa was a babyWhen Santa Was a Baby
by Linda Bailey; 
illus. by Geneviève Godbout
Primary   Tundra   32 pp.
10/15   978-1-77049-556-2   $16.99
e-book ed. 978-1-77049-558-6   $10.99

In the tradition of Agee’s Little Santa (rev. 11/13) and Krensky’s How Santa Got His Job, here’s another Santa origin story. This child is Santa from the word go, booming “HO, HO, HO!” in the cradle, delivering presents to other children as a toddler, training hamsters to pull a makeshift miniature sleigh. His proud, adoring parents speculate about his future: his insistence on wearing red might mean he’ll be a firefighter; his interest in the chimney’s soot, a scientist; etc. Young readers, who know better, will enjoy watching Santa grow up to be exactly who he is. Warm, textured pastel and colored-pencil illustrations on generous double-page spreads enrich this gentle, humorous, love-suffused tale. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

barash_is it hanukkah yetIs It Hanukkah Yet?
by Chris Barash; 
illus. by Alessandra Psacharopulo
Preschool, Primary   Whitman   32 pp.
10/15   978-0-8075-3384-0   $16.99   g

This quiet rhyming picture book begins with a wintry outdoor scene: “When frosty winds blow and snow’s all around / And there’s no sign of green on the trees or the ground… / Hanukkah is on its way.” Two children eagerly await the holiday, first frolicking outdoors with the friendly forest animals, then playing inside. Anticipation builds as the trappings of Hanukkah appear — decorations, guests, a menorah, dreidels — until finally: “Hanukkah is here!” Warm, soft-hued illustrations of smiling, rosy-cheeked people and creatures resemble those on old-fashioned holiday greeting cards. JENNIFER TAYLOR

barton_nutcracker comes to americaThe Nutcracker 
Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers 
Created a Holiday Tradition
by Chris Barton; 
illus. by Cathy Gendron
Primary, Intermediate   Millbrook   40 pp.
9/15   978-1-4677-2151-6   $19.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-8848-9   $19.99

Barton’s folksy, direct-address text introduces three brothers from Utah, all dancers, who eventually teamed up at the San Francisco Ballet to present the first full production in the United States of The Nutcracker, on Christmas Eve 1944. Tchaikovsky’s music had become popular by then, but the general public didn’t know his ballets. The vaudeville-trained Christensen brothers knew a good thing when they saw it. Gendron’s art effectively reproduces traditional ballet poses and makes the most of the book’s large trim size. This is a good book to share with children after seeing a performance of The Nutcracker. LOLLY ROBINSON

chaconas_cork & fuzz merry merry holly hollyCork & Fuzz: Merry Merry Holly Holly
by Dori Chaconas; illus. by Lisa McCue
Preschool, Primary   Viking   32 pp.
10/15   978-0-451-47501-5   $16.99   g

In their first picture book, easy-reader best friends Cork (a deep-thinking muskrat) and Fuzz (a happy-go-lucky possum) roam the snowy landscape, wondering why the day feels so special. Cork keeps looking for a quiet place to think, while Fuzz distractingly sings ditties (“Merry, merry, holly, holly, ho-ho-ho!”) and shakes a jingle bell. Finally, as darkness falls, they come upon a lighted fir tree, and Cork realizes why the day is special. His conclusion is not the expected one — yet it may feel just as Christmas-y as an overt recognition of the holiday. Expansive watercolor illustrations evoke a beautiful winter’s woodland day but keep the focus tightly on the two friends. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

cronin_click clack ho ho hoClick, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho!
by Doreen Cronin; 
illus. by Betsy Lewin
Preschool, Primary   Atheneum   40 pp.
9/15   978-1-4424-9673-6   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-9674-3   $10.99

It’s Christmas Eve, and Farmer Brown (Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, rev. 3/00) is putting the final touches on his holiday decorations. When he hears a “pitter-patter on the roof,” he runs off to bed, believing Santa has arrived. But the pitter-patter isn’t Santa: Duck is attempting his own Santa-like entry. When Duck gets stuck in the chimney, the sheep, cows, pigs, and rest of the farm animals arrive to lend a hoof, paw, or webbed foot. Lewin’s watercolor illustrations, with their slapstick situations and expressive animal body language, work beautifully with Cronin’s humorous (“Ho! Ho! Uh-oh”) text: a smattering of expertly placed wordless spreads allows Duck’s stealth antics to do the talking. SIÂN GAETANO

crow_zombelina dances the nutcrackerZombelina Dances 
The Nutcracker
by Kristyn Crow; illus. by Molly Idle
Primary   Bloomsbury   40 pp.
9/15   978-1-61963-640-8   $16.99
e-book ed. 978-1-61963-810-5   $9.99

Zombie-girl Zombelina is overjoyed to win the coveted part of Clara in the Nutcracker ballet, but she’s sad for Lizzie, cast in a minor role. Zombelina comforts her friend: “You’ll have your big moment someday.” That moment comes sooner than expected when Zombelina’s ghostly grandpa causes mischief during opening night and Zombelina lends Lizzie her (detachable) legs to take over the performance while Zombelina handles Grandpa. Colored-pencil illustrations perfectly capture 
the dancers’ graceful movements — check out that friendship duet after the casting announcement — and supplement the punny rhyming text (“everyone needs a leg up”) with visual humor. Part Nutcracker primer, part supernatural comedy, part friendship tale, and an all-around bravura performance. KATIE BIRCHER

detlefsen_time for cranberriesTime for Cranberries
by Lisl H. Detlefsen; 
illus. by Jed Henry
Primary   Roaring Brook   32 pp.
9/15   978-1-62672-098-5   $17.99

Detlefsen’s story follows a boy named Sam, who is finally old enough to participate in his first fall cranberry harvest on his parents’ farm. With waders donned, the family gets to work. From the flooding of the cranberry marshes to the booming, corralling, suctioning, cleaning, and delivering, details of the harvest throughout are educational and informative. The illustrations’ reds, yellows, and oranges create a vibrant and cozy fall setting as the family works together in a labor of love (and commerce), and the payoff comes at the end, with cranberry pie for Thanksgiving. Recipes, an author’s note, and a glossary are appended. WILLA ZHANG

holub_knights before christmasThe Knights Before Christmas
by Joan Holub; illus. by Scott Magoon
Primary   Ottaviano/Holt   32 pp.
9/15   978-0-8050-9932-4   $16.99

Brave Knight, Polite Knight, and Silent Knight are “guarding the castle / for their illustrious king” on Christmas Eve. Too bad they didn’t get the memo about Santa’s visit. When the jolly old elf tries to deliver presents, these well-intentioned protectors of the castle take a defensive stance: “Dash away, dash away! / Invader, get out!” A fierce (not really) battle plays out with Santa catapulting (via a Christmas tree) sugarplums and more as he “storms” the castle. This rousing, ridiculous medieval “Night Before Christmas” parody jingles with castle- and holiday wordplay. Cheeky digital illustrations brim with good cheer. KITTY FLYNN

isadora_bea in the nutcrackerBea in The Nutcracker
by Rachel Isadora; illus. by the author
Preschool   Paulsen/Penguin   32 pp.
10/15   978-0-399-25231-0   $16.99   g

“Here is Bea. She is excited because her ballet class is going to perform The Nutcracker. She will be Clara!” Bea (Bea at Ballet, rev. 7/12) and her diverse group of classmates put on an all-little-kid rendition of the famous Christmas ballet, gently introducing listeners to a simplified version of its story while providing a warmly humorous glimpse of life on the stage (Bea to a mouse-costumed classmate: “You forgot to put on your tail!”). The main text follows the action; word balloons allow the kids to interject their enthusiasm. Textured oil-painted paper collage adds traditional Christmas reds and greens as well as the production’s candy-hued pastels to the friendly black-and-white line art. KATIE BIRCHER

manzano_miracle on 133rd stMiracle on 133rd Street
by Sonia Manzano; 
illus. by Marjorie Priceman
Primary    Atheneum   40 pp.
9/14   978-0-689-87887-9   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-2892-7   $10.99

Mami rues having left Puerto Rico when the Christmas Eve roast won’t fit in the family’s tiny New York City apartment’s oven. Little José jokingly suggests they use a pizza oven instead. “That’s not a bad idea!” says Papi, and the two head out, carrying the roast through their snowy neighborhood to Regular Ray’s Pizzeria. Nearly everyone is curmudgeonly along the way —
 neighbors (“I thought someone’s television was being stolen!”), kids bickering outside — until the roast’s aroma knocks some holiday cheer into them and they all parade back to José’s family’s fourth-floor apartment to celebrate together. It’s a cheerful Christmas story notable for its nonchalantly multiethnic cast and its vibrant urban setting, brought to high-spirited life in Priceman’s bright, swirling gouache and ink illustrations. KATRINA HEDEEN

miller_sharing the breadSharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story
by Pat Zietlow Miller; 
illus. by Jill McElmurry
Primary   Schwartz & Wade/Random   32 pp.
9/15   978-0-307-98182-0   $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-307-98183-7   $20.99
e-book ed. 978-0-307-98184-4   $10.99

As Thanksgiving dinner approaches, everyone in this industrious nineteenth-century family — from Grandma and Grandpa down to Baby — takes part in preparing for the feast. “Mama, fetch the cooking pot… / Brother, baste the turkey well… / Uncle, swing the cider jug…” The little-boy narrator, meanwhile, checks in on all the preparations until the family is finally seated around the table to say grace and enjoy the fruits of their labor. McElmurry’s gouache illustrations, in a textured palette of browns, oranges, and dark blues, are imbued with quiet energy. Miller’s patterned rhyming text has the cadence of a folk song and captures just how joyful (and exhausting) Thanksgiving feasts can be. J. ALEJANDRO MAZARIEGOS

moore_night before christmasThe Night Before Christmas
by Clement C. Moore; 
illus. by David Ercolini
Primary   Orchard/Scholastic   32 pp.
10/15   978-0-545-39112-2   $16.99   g

In this laugh-out-loud version of Moore’s famous poem, the 1823 text is unchanged, but Ercolini’s deadpan acrylic illustrations scream modern-day America. Here, the house in which “not a creature was stirring” is the most over-decorated one in the neighborhood — or possibly the world. A huge neon “WELCOME SANTA” sign points to the blazing-with-lights house; an enormous inflatable Santa adorns the roof. Inside, every possible inch of space is devoted to Christmas (while Dad peruses Home Decor magazine for yet more ideas). Santa himself is jolly, gluttonous, and fond of playing with remote-control toys. Myriad details invite repeated readings, and the subplot involving the resident dog, cat, and (yes) mouse adds even more humor and goofy charm. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

murray_gingerbread man loose at christmasThe Gingerbread Man 
Loose at Christmas
by Laura Murray; 
illus. by Mike Lowery
Preschool, Primary   Putnam   32 pp.
10/15   978-0-399-16866-6   $16.99   g

This jolly book, in addition to bringing us another entertaining Gingerbread Man escapade (The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School, rev. 9/11; The Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck, rev. 7/13), serves as a sort of pre-origin story for our hero. He may have been baked in the oven by schoolchildren, but where’d they get the recipe? Over the course of this book the students dash around town spreading cheer to community helpers. At the story’s climax, the Gingerbread Man meets his maker (don’t worry, it’s just in the literal sense; though there is some actual cookie-peril along the way). Lowery’s festive illustrations of cookie and co., done in “pencil, traditional screen printing, and digital color,” are a treat, while Murray’s rhymes are continually surprising and satisfying. She can make you work, but the payoff is there: “Next came a garbage man picking up trash, / so we dropped off some goodies to stash on his dash.” ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

naylor_shiloh christmasA Shiloh Christmas
by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Intermediate   Atheneum   246 pp.
9/15   978-1-4814-4151-3   $17.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-4154-4   $10.99

This is a Christmas story, but first Marty and Shiloh and their family must get through a new-school routine, Halloween, and Thanksgiving, not to mention a drought and subsequent wildfire. As in the three previous books centered on the now-iconic dog Shiloh, the rural West Virginia setting and the relationships among its inhabitants are warmly but unsentimentally drawn. The story is episodic, with through-lines provided by a new girl in an unhappy home and the continuing (and believable) rehabilitation of Judd Travers. The Christmas Day conclusion provides the best kind of heartwarming: earned. ROGER SUTTON

newman_hanukkah is comingHanukkah Is Coming!
by Tracy Newman; 
illus. by Viviana Garofoli
Preschool   Kar-Ben   12 pp.
9/15   978-1-4677-5241-1   $5.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-8837-3   $5.99

The family from Shabbat Is Coming! and other board books in publisher Kar-Ben’s series about Jewish life eagerly awaits the start of Hanukkah. “Winter is near. / Long nights are here. / Hanukkah is coming.” The yarmulke-wearing dad, pigtailed big sister, and strawberry-blondies mother and son — plus cheerful dog — light candles, fry latkes, sing songs, spin dreidels, and pretend to be Maccabees, all shown in warm digital-looking illustrations. The timeline is a titch confusing (are these scenes all in flashback? Is the family doing prep work? Are they imagining what Hanukkah will be like this year?), since it’s not until the last spread that “Hanukkah is here!” But the “Hanukkah is coming” refrain, coupled with simple, child-friendly rhymes, is reassuring, and effectively builds anticipation for the Festival of Lights. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

peet_dear santa love rachel rosensteinDear Santa, Love, 
Rachel Rosenstein
by Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer; illus. by Christine Davenier
Primary   Doubleday   40 pp.
10/15   978-0-553-51061-4   $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-553-51062-1   $20.99
e-book ed. 978-0-553-51063-8   $10.99

Rachel Rosenstein is bummed to be the only kid in her decorated-to-the-hilt neighborhood who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. When her pleas for twinkly lights and a tree go unheeded in her Jewish household, Rachel takes matters into her own hands, festooning the living room with homemade decorations on Christmas Eve and waiting for the big guy to arrive. There’s lots of humor in the text (“Dear Santa…I know that you are a fair person and will not mind that I am Jewish. After all so was Jesus, at least on his mother’s side”) and in the lively, scribbly, colorful illustrations. But the authors wisely don’t gloss over Rachel’s feelings — which can be common for anyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas that time of year, a notion that steers the text toward a happy, multi-culti ending. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

pingk_samurai santaSamurai Santa: A Very Ninja Christmas
by Rubin Pingk; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary   Simon   40 pp.
9/15   978-1-4814-3057-9   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-3058-6   $10.99

It’s hard to be a ninja when no one will join your snowball fight for fear of landing on Santa’s naughty list. There’s only one thing for Yukio to do: trick his fellow ninjas into chasing the “bright red intruder” away. They think they’re successful when the interloper disappears — but here comes a snowball-fighting samurai, complete with snowman army, and the desired snowball fight ensues after all. No points for guessing the samurai’s identity, but major points to Pingk for his digital art, with its simple, bold limited palette and seamlessly integrated red or white lettering that can render any scene “EPIC!!!” SHOSHANA FLAX

reagan_how to catch santaHow to Catch Santa
by Jean Reagan; 
illus. by Lee Wildish
Primary   Knopf   32 pp.
10/15   978-0-553-49839-4   $17.99
Library ed. 978-0-553-49840-0   $20.99
e-book ed. 978-0-553-49841-7   $10.99

You know you’d like some face time with Santa to ask your burning questions and maybe slip the poor guy a nose warmer. But how will you catch him? Reagan and Wildish’s (How to Babysit a Grandpa) latest how-to guide warns would-be Santa-snatchers not to get too crazy: no lassoing, for instance. Instead, listen for sleigh bells, lure him with cookies and riddles, and leave out carrots for Rudolph. Letters to Santa on the endpapers fit right in with digital illustrations that look almost hand-drawn, creating a sense that it’s all up to the kids — even if alert readers notice the parents winking in the background. SHOSHANA FLAX

simon_oskar and the eight blessingsOskar and the Eight Blessings
by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon; illus. by Mark Siegel
Primary, Intermediate   Roaring Brook    40 pp.
9/15   978-1-59643-949-8   $17.99

In 1938, the last night of Hanukkah coincided with Christmas Eve, and for a young Jewish refugee in Manhattan, both holidays provided blessings. Following Kristallnacht, Oskar’s parents had put him on a boat to New York with just the name and address of his aunt; his walk from the harbor takes him more than a hundred blocks up Broadway. Along the way he encounters friendly and helpful strangers, Macy’s Christmas windows, and Count Basie and Eleanor Roosevelt (whose historical presence in the city that night is confirmed in an author’s note). The changing light of the day and developing snow are beautifully conveyed in the illustrations, an engaging blend of large and small panels paced to echo the starts and stops and blessings of Oskar’s (successful) journey. An appended map of Manhattan details the route and visually reprises the gifts Oskar receives along the way. ROGER SUTTON

singer_parakeet named dreidelThe Parakeet Named Dreidel
by Isaac Bashevis Singer; 
illus. by Suzanne Raphael Berkson
Primary, Intermediate   Farrar   32 pp.
9/15   978-0-374-30094-4   $17.99

In this short story (from The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah, rev. 2/81) repackaged as a picture book, a mysterious Yiddish-speaking parakeet flies to a Jewish family’s window on Hanukkah and promptly earns the name Dreidel. Though the narrator is an adult — with an unusually mature voice for a picture book — the art emphasizes his son David, who is a child for most of the story (and, when he’s older, benefits from Dreidel’s matchmaking skills). This feels like a story a reminiscent zayde might share. Lots of golden light in the cheerful, loose-lined illustrations creates a sense of Hanukkah’s warmth. SHOSHANA FLAX

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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5. Review of Inside Biosphere 2

carson_inside biosphere 2Inside Biosphere 2: Earth Science Under Glass 
[Scientists in the Field]
by Mary Kay Carson; 
photos by Tom Uhlman
Middle School   Houghton   80 pp.
10/15   978-0-544-41664-2   $18.99

Carson takes readers into Biosphere 2, the research facility designed to be a self-sustaining model of Earth’s environments. There’s brief coverage of the innovative engineering and original mission of the facility (complete with photos of the first jumpsuit-clad human “biospherians” who were sealed inside from 1991 to 1993), but the focus is primarily on current research under the direction of scientists at the University of Arizona. The ability to control environmental conditions within the contained rainforest, ocean, and giant soil laboratory allows researchers to investigate questions in earth science — prominently, those related to climate change — on a scale not possible in any other laboratory setting. Biogeochemist Joost van Haren has tinkered with the composition of the rainforest’s atmosphere for twenty years, examining the effects of excess carbon dioxide on the contained atmosphere, soil, and biomass. Hydrologist Luke Pangle built a huge artificial slope to study soil production and erosion. Sustainability coordinator Nate Allen researches the facility itself, examining how this “Model City” can reduce its energy footprint. Educational efforts at Biosphere 2 are also profiled, as the ocean biome is repurposed as a teaching and research lab. Plentiful photos of the researchers, facility, and surrounding environment capture the feel of a busy research center and show the nuts and bolts of maintaining controlled conditions. Uhlman’s photographs take us into back rooms and basements to see the wires, computers, pumps, and pipes that keep the place running. A glossary, index, references (including citations to the research papers produced by Biosphere 2 scientists), and places to read about the original project are appended.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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6. Review of Tiptoe Tapirs

kim_tiptoe tapirsstar2 Tiptoe Tapirs
by Hanmin Kim; illus. by the author; trans. from the Korean by Sera Lee
Preschool, Primary   Holiday   40 pp.
8/15   978-0-8234-3395-7   $16.95
e-book ed. 978-0-8234-3495-4   $16.95

First published in South Korea in 2013, this pourquoi tale explaining why animals move stealthily begins in the jungle long ago when animals were all quite noisy (“The elephant went BOOM-BOOM! The rhinoceros went BAM-BAM!”), except for quiet Tapir and Little Tapir. The tapirs tiptoe through their lives, enjoying themselves, sharing the jungle, and bothering none of the other animals — until one day a leopard attacks. The leopard’s noisy pursuit of the tapirs attracts a hunter with his loaded shotgun: “BANG! BANG! BANG!” Little Tapir, risking her own life, helps rescue the frightened leopard by teaching him to use quiet steps to escape the hunter. Impressionistic paintings created in watercolor, drawing ink, and marker pen provide a scenic and imaginative jungle setting with amusing details to notice throughout. The characters’ expressive faces and their body language bring to life pleasure, fear, and compassion, while the spare text generates momentum with repetition and opportunities for audience participation. Together, words and pictures provide excellent pacing, heightening humor, drama, and wonder to create an outstanding tale for sharing aloud.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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7. Review of All American Boys

reynolds_all american boysstar2 All American Boys
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
High School   Dlouhy/Atheneum   316 pp.
9/15   978-1-4814-6333-1   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-6335-5   $9.99

Teens Rashad (who is African American) and Quinn (who is white) are high school classmates and not much more — neither even knows the other’s name. But when a quick stop at the corner store for a bag of chips on a Friday night suddenly escalates into a terrifying scene of police brutality, the two boys are linked and altered by the violence — Rashad as its victim and Quinn as its witness. During the week following the incident, and in alternating voices, the teens narrate events as Rashad deals with his injuries and the unwanted limelight as the latest black victim in the news; and as Quinn tries to understand how a cop he considers family could be capable of such unprovoked rage, and where his loyalties are now supposed to lie. Faced with an all-too-common issue, both narrators must navigate opposing views from their friends and families to decide for themselves whether to get involved or walk away. Written with sharp humor and devastating honesty, this nuanced, thoughtful novel recalls the work of Walter Dean Myers and is worthy of his legacy. Reynolds and Kiely explore issues of racism, power, and justice with a diverse (ethnically and philosophically) cast of characters and two remarkable protagonists forced to grapple with the layered complexities of growing up in a racially tense America.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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8. An Interview with Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo served as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from January 2014 to December 2015 and was this year’s National Summer Reading Champion. This past spring, Horn Book editors Elissa Gershowitz and Martha V. Parravano shared breakfast with the two-time Newbery Medalist (for Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures and The Tale of Despereaux) and Jennifer Roberts, VP of publicity and executive director of marketing campaigns for Candlewick Press. Once we’d sorted who ordered the mixed-berry plate and who had the seasonal berries, we got down to business.

Elissa Gershowitz: The Ambassadorship. How has it gone?

Kate DiCamillo: My term is almost up. It has taken me a long time not to be afraid of it, because it’s all so official. I never want to be a role model, and so that intimidates me, but I don’t think that’s necessarily what it is. What I finally figured out, after about six months, was that I’m just doing what I’ve done my whole life, which is talking to people about books and making them read. It’s what I do in my friendships. “Here, you have to read this, you have to read this.” There’s so much talk about what kids need to do and what parents need to do, and I keep wanting to push the conversation back to “this is a privilege to get to do this.” That you can go anywhere in this country and get a book from a library is just the most amazing thing in the world. It’s not a duty; it’s a privilege and it’s a joy. That joy is doubled and tripled and quadrupled if you read with other people.

EG: As ambassador are you mostly talking to kids, or to grownups, or a combination?


Photos courtesy of Jennifer Roberts.

KD: A lot of it has been school groups, but when it’s the general public, I’d say half-and-half. Sometimes it’s all adults, and I’ll say to a roomful of adults: Go home and read to your adult. We forget how much we love to be read to. And as long as your kid is receptive to it, and almost all of them are, even the really gnarly ones when they get to be twelve and thirteen, that time to sit down and read together gives you as parents as much as it gives the kids. It deepens the relationship.

EG: How did the Summer Reading Championship come about?

KD: [Candlewick publicist] Tracy Miracle was talking to the Collaborative Summer Library people and found out the theme was “Every Hero Has a Story.” Tracy thought, what if I got behind that, because I’ve got some furry heroes. The fear and trepidation I had around the ambassadorship — maybe I’d finally gotten my sea legs, I don’t know. But by the time the summer reading opportunity came along, it was just like, yes. Let me. I’m a kid who grew up going to the summer reading program every year at the public library. I love talking to kids about that. It’s just been the most natural thing in the world for me to do while I’m out doing the ambassador stuff. In Seattle, in front of an auditorium full of kids, I asked, “How many of y’all know where your public library is?” And this incredible number of hands came up. It must have been eighty percent of them. I’m like, “Really? That is so great. Do you know that your local library has a summer reading program?”

EG: So you’ve been traveling a lot. Do you enjoy traveling?

KD: Well, let’s talk about bedbugs.

EG: Erm, we just got our food.

KD: No, I actually do like traveling. Here, Jennifer [Roberts] always wants me to modify my language.

EG: Not for us, you don’t need to.

KD: If I am just home and writing, I become very strange. So there’s this balance. I am really an introvert, and I need that time alone for a variety of reasons. I need to write, and I can’t write when I’m on the road. But going out and not only meeting the kids, but meeting the teachers and the librarians and seeing the world, fills me up. There have been a couple of times when we’ve gotten the balance wrong, and I’ve been out to the point where it takes me too long to get back in, but it has generally been good. Now I can’t remember what the question was…

EG: “Do you like traveling?”

KD: I started off with bedbugs, and then I politely veered off.

EG: Have there been any especially memorable places you’ve been, or people you’ve met?

KD: There have been a ton of memorable places. About six months ago Jennifer and I went to South Dakota, which is not that far away from where I am in Minneapolis, but I had never done an event there. It was for their book festival, and they managed to get every third grader in the state, at the end of the year, a copy of [The Miraculous Journey of] Edward Tulane. And then I went there in the fall and saw them as fourth graders. They bused in something like two thousand kids, and I talked to them in groups of a thousand. I thought, “This will never work, because I’m going to physically be too far away from them.” But they have this state-of-the-art theater with an incredible sound system. I was able to move, and get down right in the middle of those kids. It was massive, and yet it was really, really intimate. What made that happen despite the size of the theater was that the kids were responding. It was the stories connecting us, and it was deeply powerful. Jennifer cried. I cried. Librarians cried. Organizers cried.

Jennifer Roberts: Didn’t you feel, Kate, that this was one of those moments where the connection was between not just your books and you as a writer, but also you as a person? Because the kids were comfortable asking you such personal questions.

KD_Seattle_fullhouseKD: Yes. And because I’m short and loud — I’ve watched this happen with Jon Sciezska when I’ve seen him present. It’s miraculous. The kids know right away that they can trust him, that they can say anything. I’m not Jon. But I think because I’m short, and because I’m in jeans, which a lot of the kids noticed — she wears jeans, you know? — and right, they’re not skinny jeans…

JR: Once someone asked, “How old are you?” Because they’ll ask these questions.

KD: That was one of my favorite exchanges. I said, “I’m fifty.” And the girl said, “But how did that happen?” Same thing I keep wondering.

EG: I’m looking at you and wondering that too. Do they ask any questions you just don’t want to answer, or you sort of deflect?

KD: No, because I feel like that’s part of the reason that I’m there, to tell them the truth. I was just at the Library of Congress, and a couple of eight-year-old girls wanted to give me the business about Opal’s mother [in Because of Winn-Dixie], and how I really needed to write another book. They either knew what happened, or Opal knew what happened, or something had to give. I said, “I genuinely don’t know, and I would be lying if I made her come back.” And then we talked about how sad that was, and then I talked about the end of the book, where Opal is in that room with all of those people, and don’t they seem like family? And it’s that same kind of thing with talking to them about me and my life. It’s like, has it been ideal? No, but it has worked out in ways that have been incredible. Because I talk about being sick a lot as a kid, and I talk about my dad leaving. Those kids in South Dakota, it was electrifying that they put it all together, because the first big question was, “Do you think that you would have been a writer if you hadn’t been sick?” Yeah, no, so this bad thing that happened to me, this thing that seemed bad, actually gave me something. And then we moved to the next question: “What about your dad? If he had stayed, then maybe you wouldn’t have been a writer.” Yup.

EG: Many of your books are serious, but some of them are just kind of silly and fun.

KD: They are. Nobody ever learns anything.

dicamillo_francine poulet meets the ghost raccoonEG: I was just laughing out loud at your latest — that raccoon catcher [Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon, Tales from Deckawoo Drive series]. Do you think of those as a break from the heavier pieces?

KD: I was talking to Tobin [M. T. Anderson] about this one, and he said it’s like sorbet in between courses.

EG: Cleansing your palate.

KD: Yes. And it is like that. But it’s also necessary. I feel like I need it, so it’s not just taking a break.

JR: Wait, can I ask you a question?

KD: I love it when you ask me questions.

JR: It’s not like you wrote Flora & Ulysses, which is very funny but more serious, and then completely go to the sillier chapter books. You’re juggling a little bit.

KD: I’m always juggling. I’ve got four Deckawoos done now, and I’ll hold steady at that for a while. But I’ve got a novel that I’m working on. I just finished a draft of that, and when I put it aside, then I’ve got a shorter thing that could be silly. And so I work on that, and I’ve got that in a first draft now. And then I’ll go to the second or third draft of a novel, and then after I’m done with that, then I’ll go back to the short thing and take that up for another draft.

JR: You see why we have to stop traveling her! She’ll never get any writing done.

EG: But it never feels like you’re churning your books out. Each one is fresh and interesting. Nothing feels like you are just phoning it in.

KD: God help me if I’m phoning it in. That would be terrible.

EG: Are you getting ideas on the road, so you’re really working at the same time?

KD: Yes, that’s the great thing about the road. Because no matter how hard you try to be present at home, you’re always doing the things that you have to do. It’s hard to see with fresh eyes, but you come out here and wham, wham, wham.

JR: Well, it’s like what you say to kids when they ask, “Where do you get your ideas?”

KD: I eavesdrop. And this is like riding a city bus all over the country.

EG: Do you get recognized on the street? And if you do, are you recognized differently by children than by adults? There aren’t that many actual celebrities in this field, really, but you are one. How does that play into your life?

floraulyssesKD: I’ve been recognized in airports lots of places, but mostly getting recognized is at home. Minnesota has been so good to me and so pleased that I love Minnesota. This is the great thing about writing for kids. Adults might not do anything if they recognized me. But if they do see me, and they’re with a kid, they’ll tell the kid who I am. They think they should give that to the kid. So generally that sends the kid over. It happens at restaurants quite a bit. I don’t think about being a celebrity. I think, oh my god, kids are reading, and they care about a book enough to come over and talk to me about a book that they care about. If I think about it as being a celebrity, it would freak me out. But I just think, lucky me, that I get to be a part of this whole thing. Even when we go out on the road, and we do always go into areas where the kids are not seeing writers and they’re not getting books, and then we go to the other end where they have everything in the world. I still feel like it’s probably a rarefied chunk that I’m seeing, but what I see are kids who are totally engaged with books. It makes me so much a Pollyanna. Do you guys want to argue about that? What do you think? Do you think I’m just being hopeful?

JR: No, I think it’s books and stories. You talk about stories so much because stories come in so many different formats. They just love the stories. They want to know, like you said, Opal’s mom — what happened to her? You created her; it’s what you did. She exists somewhere, and you must know where.

winndixieKD: It’s real in their engagement, and it matters to them. There was a twenty-one-year-old guy at the Boston Public Library event the other day. He raised his hand and said, “I grew up in Boston, in an urban setting. I read Winn-Dixie when I was a kid, and that’s about a girl in a rural Southern town, and yet I really connected to that story. Do you have any other stories about unlikely connections like that?” And then he came through the signing line afterwards, he was at the very end. I asked, “So are you done with college?” He said, “I just finished.” I asked, “What’s your degree in?” and he said, “Psychology with a minor in art. Don’t ask me what I’m going to do. I’m hoping it will just come to me.” And then — I keep on thinking about this — he quoted verbatim the passage at the start of chapter seventeen, about Littmus W. Block coming home from the war and having seen so much sadness in the world, he wanted something sweet so he built the town a candy factory. This grownup quoting from the book!

EG: Do you think every kid is a reader, even if they don’t think that they are? And/or if they don’t think that they are, how do you reach them?

KD: I know people in the industry who are big, big readers, who are just nervous as all get-out about their kids. “He doesn’t like to read. She doesn’t like to read. What am I going to do?” Reading is my passion. I always think — and I don’t know that this makes me a lot of fans — I don’t think it’s going to be the thing for everybody. But I think for everybody it can be a solace, illumination, education. It might not be the way that the child engages with the world, but it should be something that they all learn how to do, and that they get to have for themselves, as opposed to somebody telling them what to do and how to do it. They’re not easy questions.

EG: In terms of this connection and what’s happening in people’s minds — every time I see the girl who played Opal in the Winn-Dixie movie [AnnaSophia Robb] acting in something else, I think, “I’m so glad that Opal’s doing okay for herself.”

KD: That’s hysterical. I like it.

EG: Do you think of the movie versions of your books [Because of Winn-Dixie in 2005 and The Tale of Despereaux in 2008] as yours? Or do you think of them as something different?

KD: I was saying this the other day at the library. The only control you have over a movie is whether or not you decide to sell the rights. It seems very small and mean to say, “This book is so precious and perfect that you can’t turn it into a movie.” To me the book is like having a kid. I have to let it go out in the world, and great things will happen. Maybe they won’t, but it has to keep on moving. So yes, I see that as part of mine, or something that I’m part of a cycle of.

Martha V. Parravano: I wanted to ask about the illustrations in your books. You’re so devoted to visuals. In almost all of your books there’s some visual element. Is that you? Is that the publisher?

KD: That’s a happy synergy between us. With Despereaux I said to Kara [LaReau, former Candlewick editor], “I can’t imagine this book not being illustrated, can you?” and she said, “Oh, no, it has to be.”

MVP: You were so ahead of your time. Now it’s going to be all about the synergy between words and pictures.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward TulaneKD: Right. I remember when I had, like, eight pages of Despereaux, and I was struggling with it. But I gave it to one of my good friends, who read it and said, “It makes me feel like a kid. It makes me feel like I’m reading a book that I read when I was a kid.” Everything when I was a kid was illustrated. Those color plates. And they weren’t always — sometimes they were in the wrong place. And why was her hair dark, you know? That kind of thing. But they were an integral part of it. Kara and I hadn’t really talked about it that much. We just knew that it had to be. And then enter Chris Paul [Candlewick creative director and associate publisher].

I’ve been so lucky. I wouldn’t have the career that I have if I had not been at Candlewick. No one has ever said to me, “What are you doing?” Instead they always say, “We’ll figure out a way to make this work.” If I go from turning in The Tiger Rising to turning in Despereaux, Kara would say, “More, please,” as opposed to, “What are you doing?” Or: “Don’t put that word in a book.” Like [author and reviewer] Sue Corbett listing out all the words in Flora & Ulysses and saying, “What are you trying to do? Prep them for the SAT?” I think if I’d been someplace else, I’m such a pleaser that if somebody had said “Take it out,” I would have. And I think if I’d been at another place I might have been pushed into a Winn-Dixie sequel.

It goes back to that thing about phoning it in, and what’s the point of doing it if I’m just going to phone it in, right? Or like with Mercy Watson. My agent, Holly [McGhee], said, “I don’t know what it is. But I like it.” And she sent it to Candlewick. And they’re like, “We have no idea what this is. But we love it.” And then they found a way to make it work.

JR: Booksellers and librarians at first didn’t know where to shelve it. A not-yet-tried genre, really.

MVP: And now there are so many imitators.

EG: And speaking of imitators — how many books are there now with introspective girls with pets? Thanks for that, lady.

KD: My obituary: her books about introspective girls with pets.

EG: Do you read your own reviews?

KD: I read whatever the publisher sends me. I don’t look for anything. I have been clean and sober for eight years. I have not Googled myself. I have not looked at myself on Amazon. It could drive you wild. What other questions are on your list?

EG: Mostly dumb ones, like how many pairs of rainbow socks have people given you?

dicamillo_bink & gollieKD: It’s funny, I’ve gotten many more toast socks than rainbow socks. Yeah, there are socks out there with toast on them. Yesterday I got a loaf of bread. That was a new one. It looked really good. It was from the cutest kid. He was maybe four, and his mom said, “Sometimes when he goes to sleep at night he’s saying something over and over to himself. It took me a while to figure out what it is. It’s from Bink & Gollie: ‘I long for speed. I long for speed.’”

EG: So are you straight-up Bink, or are there Gollie pieces in there too?

KD: I’m straight-up Bink. There’s that scene in the first Bink & Gollie book where Bink is on the bench trying to get her roller skates on. Tony [Fucile, illustrator] had never met me at that point, but that picture captured me to a T. That feeling of “Oh my god, I’m so frustrated, I just want to get these on and go.” (I said to him once, at the Geisel lunch, “How did you—?” And he’s like, “Well, there’s the internet.” And he didn’t say it like an asshole at all.)

EG: Did he know that the character was you when he was working on the project?

KD: Well, I didn’t really know that the character was me until he did the art. I mean, I knew that Alison [McGhee, co-author] is tall, I’m short, but it wasn’t that clear what was going on until Tony turned in the art. For a long time I would comfort myself by saying I need to summon my inner Bink. I always feel like that’s the best part of me, that kind of irrepressible person. And Tony gave that to me through that art.

JR: You’re not officially in the book, but it is pretty much what I think of as you.

EG: But it’s not forced, vanity, self-conscious.

KD: No, because I wasn’t really, truly aware of it.

JR: Also, vanity — Bink’s a bit of a mess.

KD: Verisimilitude, you know?

EG: Oh, I did have one last question: Do you have any words of wisdom for the next ambassador?

KD: I don’t know that I have any words of wisdom except that you’re going in as somebody who is supposed to give a message and instead you get paid back in ways that you do not anticipate. So you think, “Oh, I’m going to go out and do this,” but instead everybody gives to you. You know what I mean? You don’t realize what you’re going to get, and you can’t prepare yourself for it. It’s a gift.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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9. Review of Breakthrough!

murphy_breakthroughstar2 Breakthrough!: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever
by Jim Murphy
Intermediate, Middle School   Clarion   128 pp.
12/15   978-0-547-82183-2   $18.99   g

Murphy (An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, rev. 7/03; Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure, rev. 7/12) here again focuses on the history of science and medicine. “Blue baby syndrome,” the result of a congenital heart condition, was a significant medical problem in WWII-era America: it killed seventy percent of affected children by the age of ten. This is the story of the Johns Hopkins University medical team that researched and solved the problem, culminating in the first successful 
operation on a critically ill infant. Dr. Alfred Blalock had already made a 
name for himself with his pioneering research on the causes and treatment of shock, and pediatrician Helen Taussig was the worldwide expert on congenital 
heart problems, despite being a woman in a male-dominated field. The final member — and arguably the most crucial one — was Vivien Thomas, Blalock’s African American lab assistant, who developed and refined the surgical procedure. The synthesis of their stories is illuminating, serving also as a commentary on the social status of women and minorities in the mid-twentieth century. If the biographical vignettes interrupt the narrative occasionally, the inherent suspense and drama make up for it. Numerous black-and-white photographs are incorporated into the main narrative, while sources notes, a bibliography, and an index (unseen) are appended.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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10. Comics Are Picture Books: A (Graphic) Novel Idea

Comic books are everywhere. Customers are purchasing them, readers of all ages are devouring them, teachers are using more and more of them in their classrooms, and they’re winning awards like crazy. Some people have applauded recent book-award committees’ open-mindedness to the comics format, while others remain conflicted. The recurrent question of whether ALA should sponsor a graphic novel award has taken up energies and attentions, with extra considerations to the Caldecott criteria and how a picture book is defined. Many claim that comic books and picture books have strong differences at their cores, and that the kidlit world needs to keep the two separate in order to protect and uphold that which distinguishes each from the other. We don’t see it this way. We believe that comic books and graphic novels (which we’ll refer to as “comics” from here on out) are picture books, and that there are many types of picture books, from those for the earliest readers to those intended for young adults and beyond.

The Caldecott criteria define a children’s picture book in part as “one that essentially provides the child with a visual experience.” In Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling, Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles write that a picture book is “defined by its particular use of sequential imagery, usually in tandem with a small number of words, to convey meaning.” According to comics theorist Scott McCloud (inspired by the work of comics legend Will Eisner), comics have a similar definition: they are “sequential art.” Definitions aside, picture books (including comics) share characteristics: they use the momentum of the page-turn, they have moments where text and image are interdependent (if there is text at all), and they afford readers the opportunity to construct meaning when words and images clash.

kang_you are not smallPicture books (including comics) come in various sizes, genres, styles, page lengths, color palettes, and intended audience age ranges. A single title can fall into multiple categories. Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant’s Geisel-winning You Are (Not) Small is both a picture book and an easy reader in the same way that Eleanor Davis’s Stinky, which was a Geisel honor book and an Eisner Award nominee, is both an easy reader and a comic. A book’s nominal literary format doesn’t limit its ability to succeed in another.

Picture books (including comics) are worthy of serious analysis. Whether they’re full-fledged graphic novels or thirty-two-pagers, whether they’re for teens or toddlers, rendered digitally or hand drawn, we evaluate comics using the same questions we ask when critiquing all picture books. We don’t ignore the pictures or read the text in a vacuum. We look at the styles used by the artists and question if they feel appropriate to the stories’ themes. We consider how each book does its job given its audience, genre, and format.

And so it surprises us when picture book–loving colleagues say that reading comics feels like foreign territory. We’ve thought long and hard about what conventions might feel exclusive to comics—and perhaps intimidating to picture book traditionalists — and have arrived at two: paneled layouts and visual text features (the latter including word balloons, thought bubbles, and the like). By spotlighting how these conventions are used successfully in a variety of books (including true-blue comics and picture books not classified as such), we hope to show that through close reading they can be recognized and understood by even the most reluctant comics reader.

Paneled Layouts

A panel often represents one moment in time, defined by a border. The sizes, shapes, and relationship of panels within a page and the relationship of that page to what came before and comes after are all part of layout. Panels can guide the reader through a story so subtly that they go unnoticed, while others are intended to be seen, emphasizing setting, characterization, and more. To illustrate this point, we will highlight compelling panel use in three picture books: a comic, a wordless picture book, and an easy reader.

spiegelman_lost in nycIn Nadja Spiegelman and Sergio García Sánchez’s comic, Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure, innovative page layouts inform readers about the characters’ roundabout paths, the city, and its subway. In a scene featuring narrow vertical panels running the length of the page, the two main characters, en route to the Empire State Building, hold on to the tall, skinny gutters as if they were subway poles. In moments of the story when the characters are in the midst of the chaos of New York City, time and movement are not expressed through numerous panels or page-turns; instead, the story advances via multiple images of the same characters thinking, talking, and moving about within one double-page spread. This complex, winding layout reinforces the kinetic energy of the setting as well as the characters’ experience of being overwhelmed by it.

lawson_sidewalk flowersA mixture of panels and full-page illustrations are used in JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith’s wordless picture book Sidewalk Flowers. As a child picks wildflowers, shares them with others, and brings color to a black-and-white urban landscape, information is relayed through the ebb and flow of color between panels. This is especially effective in a scene featuring three panels stacked from top-to-bottom across a page. A distant house in the middle of the center panel (peach-colored, it is the first use of color on a building) cues readers that more color will be forthcoming after new flowers are picked; predictions are confirmed in the bottom frame by a sidewalk speckled with blues, reds, and oranges. The use of many panels within a single page allows for subtle shifts in color to be recognized immediately, as images can be compared simultaneously. In this instance, the paneled layout focuses readers’ attentions on a shift that might have gone unseen over the course of several page-turns.

willems_i will take a napIn Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggie easy readers, whole pages function the way panels in a comic do. In I Will Take a Nap!, for example, the page-turns and gutters imply passage of time in an immediately connected sequence. In a scene in which Piggie reveals to Gerald that the two are actually in a dream (“if you are not napping, how can I be floating?”), her statement — divided between two connected word balloons — crosses the gutter, bridging the gap between two separate moments as she begins floating away. Because the size of the pages is consistent, the passage of time between pages can be intuitively understood. This predictable, linear, left-to-right reading experience is akin to reading a newspaper comic strip, and it frames the brisk pace and page-turning dynamic that emergent readers crave.

Visual Text Features

Many think of visual text features — including word balloons, captions, thought bubbles, and sound effects — as the meat and potatoes of comics. Visual text features can elevate dialogue and establish atmosphere — pulling readers further into the narrative. The following three books — a young adult comic, a nonfiction picture book, and a traditional picture story book — include visual text features that achieve this effect.

lewis_march bk 2In the YA comic March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, word balloons and sound effects don’t merely communicate what is said or overheard; they also enhance meaning through their physicality. In moments of duress, word balloons become buzz saw–edged, while cold dismissals received by civil rights workers appear frozen over, like icicles. When Aretha Franklin sings “America” during the 2009 presidential inauguration, the lyrics dominate the double-page spread, contained within curvy, robust, heavy-lined word balloons that convey her emotive performance. Powell runs the “BRRRIIINNNNG” of a ringing telephone and the “VRROOMM” of a speeding pickup truck off the page, representing sounds that carry. When fire hoses are used against civil rights protesters, it is not the streams of water or the protesters that are reflected in Bull Connor’s glasses; it is letters in the sound (“FFSSHHHHHHHH…”) of the water. The sound effect no longer just supports the action; instead, it is an integral part of the action. How a sound effect is illustrated can carry as much meaning as the letters or words chosen to express the sound.

rockliff_mesmerizedBorderless word balloons, with color-coded stems connecting text to each character, carry moments of dialogue in Mara Rockliff and Iacopo Bruno’s nonfiction picture book, Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France. The absence of attributives (such as “he said” and “she said”) throughout the book allows for seamless transitions between conversation and exposition in the true tale of how the scientific method was used to debunk Dr. Franz Mesmer’s pseudoscience. On a twisting and turning banner that weaves through a double-page spread, behind a character’s leg and out over a bridge, the murmurings of a crowd are featured (“HA HA HA MESMER HA HA HA BZZ BZZ BZZ”); part of the banner is blocked, evoking moments when one hears only bits and pieces of what is being said in a large group. When Franklin’s “blind”-test methodology is explained, the process is described within labels on old-timey medicinal jars and tubes. This presentation not only communicates the facts but also adds context and brings the historic setting to life.

vernick_first grade dropoutIn Audrey Vernick and Matthew Cordell’s picture book, First Grade Dropout, thought bubbles house the young protagonist’s memories, including the embarrassing moment when he accidentally called his teacher “Mommy.” While these memories are communicated mostly through pictures (and are sometimes enhanced by word balloons and sound effects of their own), the present-tense narration occurs in the form of traditional expository text. This approach clearly separates past and present, and it allows readers to interpret all that the boy remembers, thinks, and does. When a chorus of obtrusive “HA! HA! HA!”s spread across the page in multiple colors and sizes, the sound effects reinforce the boy’s inescapable shame. The “HA!”s break free from their thought-bubble boundary: the boy’s feelings of humiliation cannot be contained. Here, visual text features provide added insight into the character’s state of mind.

Comics might be where paneled layouts and visual text features are most commonly found, but these features are not unique to comics. The conventions (and definitions) of picture books and comics overlap greatly because they are part of the same whole. That’s why it is hard for us to separate comics from the rest of the picture book world. As Charlotte Zolotow wrote in the March/April 1998 Horn Book Magazine, “There are all sorts of picture books. There is a place for them all.” Zolotow was writing about diversity in content rather than format, but we like to think that the spirit is the same. The picture book umbrella is broad. That’s a good thing, because even though they may not know it, those who evaluate picture books have the skillset to read comics critically. They only need to recognize the value of their experiences, approach every work with an open mind, and think outside the panels once in a while.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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11. Review of The Emperor of Any Place

wynne-jones_emperor of any placestar2 The Emperor of Any Place
by Tim Wynne-Jones
High School   Candlewick   328 pp.
10/15   978-0-7636-6973-7   $17.99

“So much of grief is unlearning,” observes Wynne-Jones in this perceptive and 
multi-layered page-turner. When Evan’s single father, Clifford, dies suddenly, the high-schooler must work through his own grief while dealing with Clifford’s estranged father Griff, a military man who Clifford had claimed was a murderer. Griff’s also a control freak and is somehow tied to the strange book that was sent to Clifford just before he died. As Evan reads the book — the translated journal of a WWII Japanese soldier stranded on a mystical island with an American Marine plane-crash survivor — he experiences a strange sense of déjà-vu. Wynne-Jones skillfully weaves the World War II journal into Evan’s own story, building suspense and keeping Griff’s part in the proceedings just obscure enough to create a cracking mystery. The author’s conversational tone provides occasional comic relief when things start to get too sinister, and the immediacy of his writing leads to some evocative descriptive passages (such as when Evan and his father listen to Miles Davis: “A night breeze stole into the room and was doing a slow dance under the jazz. Evan could feel it on the back of his neck, the sweat on him cooling. He shivered”). There’s a whole lot going on here: Evan’s and Griff’s shared heartbreak, exhibited in very different ways, and their own increasingly complicated relationship; the stark contrast between the mainly nondescript “Any Place” of Evan’s suburban Ontario and the horror of the desert island; and the unlikely friendship between enemy soldiers in the story-within-a-story. All these seemingly disparate parts come together in fascinating ways, resulting in an affecting and unforgettable read.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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12. Review of The Book Itch

nelson_book itchThe Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s 
Greatest Bookstore
by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illus. by R. Gregory Christie
Primary, Intermediate   Carolrhoda   32 pp.
11/15   978-0-7613-3943-4   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-4618-2   $17.99

If the central character of Nelson’s Boston Globe–Horn Book Award-winning No Crystal Stair (rev. 3/12) was the author’s great-uncle, Lewis Michaux, this picture book adaptation of the same source material shifts the focus just enough to give younger readers an introduction to his singular achievement: the National Memorial African Bookstore, founded by Michaux in Harlem in the 1930s. Where No Crystal Stair had more than thirty narrators, this book has but one, Michaux’s young son Lewis, a late-in-life child who witnessed the store’s doings during the tumultuous 1960s. Studded with Michaux’s aphorisms (“Don’t get took! Read a book!”), the book successfully conveys the vibrancy of the bookstore and its habitués, including Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, whose assassination provides the emotional climax of the story. Christie, whose black-and-white drawings are such an inextricable part of No Crystal Stair, is here allowed full pages drenched with expressionistic color to convey the spirit of the place, time, and people. While middle-graders might need some context to understand that the book is set fifty years in the past, its concerns remain: as Michaux “jokes” to Lewis, “Anytime more than three black people congregate, the police get nervous.” Nelson provides full documentation in a biographical note, and some of the bookseller’s best slogans decorate the endpapers.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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13. Review of The Day the Crayons 
Came Home

daywalt_Day the Crayons Came HomeThe Day the Crayons 
Came Home
by Drew Daywalt; 
illus. by Oliver Jeffers
Primary   Philomel   48 pp.
9/15   978-0-399-17275-5   $18.99   g

The personified crayons who revolted against their little-boy owner, Duncan, in The Day the Crayons Quit (rev. 11/13) are writing again. This time, instead of sending indignant resignation letters, they send indignant postcards from their various travels. The world outside the crayon box is harsh, and they would (mostly) like to come home. Neon Red has been forgotten at a hotel pool; Yellow and Orange have melted together outside in the hot sun; Tan (or possibly Burnt Sienna?) was regurgitated by the dog; and little brother’s BIG CHUNKY Toddler Crayon first had its head bitten off, then was stuck up the cat’s nose. Left-hand pages show the missives written (in crayon) on the backs of realistic-looking postcards; facing pages include illustrations (done mostly in crayon) that give the mail more context and humor. Pea Green — appropriately envious of the others — and Neon Red send multiple postcards, interspersed throughout, contributing a light plot to the mix, and Glow in the Dark Crayon provides extra novelty as that page really glows in the dark. Ultimately, Duncan does right by his neglected crayons and finds a solution to which any self-respecting art supply could aspire. Zippy and delightfully full of itself, this clever epistolary picture book could stand alone — for those few children who have not read the previous book.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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14. Review of Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish

deutsch_hereville how mirka caught a fishstar2 Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish
by Barry Deutsch; illus. by the author; backgrounds by Adrian Wallace; 
colors by Jake Richmond
Middle School   Amulet/Abrams   141 pp.
11/15   978-1-4197-0800-8   $17.95

Mirka is stuck babysitting her pesky six-year-old half-sister Layele while the rest of the family is away from their all-Hasidic community. Fruma, Mirka’s stepmother, leaves strict orders to stay out of the woods, where bizarre magic always seems to happen (Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, rev. 11/10; Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite, rev. 11/12) and where Fruma saw “things” when she was Mirka’s age. Of course, Mirka does go into the woods, dragging Layele with her, and before long she’s wheedled the troll from the first book out of a hair elastic with time-travel capabilities (the illustrations denote the time travelers by superimposing them onto the landscape in transparent purple and white). The girls encounter a wishing fish, the same one who lost a battle of wits with a young Fruma (then called Fran and dressed in modern garb) and who now has a wicked plan to gain power by controlling and kidnapping Layele. Though the expressive and often humorous illustrations in this graphic novel do much to convey each scene’s tone and highlight important characters and objects, words make the world go ’round here. (Check out Mirka’s punctuation-marked skirt!) Speech bubbles wind in and out of the variably sized panels, and the eventual solution involves verbal gymnastics as much as heroics and compassion.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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15. From the Guide: Comics for Middle Graders

colossal_rutabega the adventure chefThis year’s ALA honorees El Deafo and This One Summer show that graphic novels and comics continue to soar in popularity and critical acclaim. In their article “Comics Are Picture Books: A (Graphic) Novel Idea,” Elisa and Patrick Gall urge audiences to look at the form with fresh (and less intimidated) eyes; and on our Writer’s Page, Matt Phelan provides a glimpse into his creative process. Below are some more recommended graphic novels from the fall 2015 Horn Book Guide.

—Katrina Hedeen
Associate Editor, The Horn Book Guide

Colossal, Eric Rutabaga the Adventure Chef
128 pp.     Abrams/Amulet     2015     ISBN 978-1-4197-1380-4
Paperback ISBN 978-1-4197-1597-6

Gr. 4–6 Chef Rutabaga’s portable kitchen; his anthropomorphic sidekick, Pot; and his love of foraging for unique ingredients (e.g., “sweetened blood berries” and “pop-shrooms”) may encourage readers to be more adventurous with their own culinary pursuits. The quirky series-starting graphic novel includes easy-to-make recipes and uses comic vignettes to concisely introduce such entertaining characters as sword-slinging Winn and comrades Manny and Beef.

Fred The Wild Piano: A Philemon Adventure
45 pp.    TOON    2015     ISBN 978-1-935179-83-2

Gr. 4–6 Toon Graphic series. To save his friend the well-digger, Phil returns to the parallel world of alphabet-named islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Landing on the letter N causes him to inadvertently break the law, and he’s sentenced to battle a wild piano, matador-style. This vibrant graphic novel first published in France in 1973 brims with Little-Nemo-meets-Alice-in-Wonderland whimsy. Back matter explains some of the story’s references.

Hugo, Victor Les Misérables
60 pp.      Candlewick     2015     ISBN 978-0-7636-7476-2

Gr. 4–6 Retold and illustrated by Marcia Williams. Colorful detail and an adroit comic-book layout make this retelling especially charming and eminently humane. Along the borders of each page, cats chase mice and rats frolic in sewer sludge in echo of Valjean’s long journey to escape Javert and provide a home for his beloved Cosette. As it condenses an immensely complicated novel, brevity is both this volume’s greatest feature and its limitation.

Liniers Macanudo #2
96 pp.     Enchanted Lion     2014     ISBN 978-1-59270-169-8

Gr. 4–6 Translated by Mara Faye Lethem. This collection of comics is by turns contemplative and slapstick. Characters such as a girl and her cat, Fellini; Oliverio the Olive; and Z-25, the Sensitive Robot, float in and out of the pages, putting on performances that range from Godot-like to foolish and seemingly pointless. The cartoonist uses a light touch in rendering his drawings, which make observations about life that are worth savoring.

Maihack, Mike Cleopatra in Space: The Thief and the Sword
190 pp.     Scholastic/Graphix     2015     ISBN 978-0-545-52844-3
Paperback ISBN 978-0-545-52845-0

Gr. 4–6 Five months after being zapped from ancient Egypt to the distant future in book one, Cleo, the hotheaded “savior of the galaxy,” tries to nab a thief, discover more about the prophecy she’s fulfilling, and navigate new friendships — all while attending school (and, ugh, the winter dance). Panels of crisp, jewel-toned art showcase the graphic novel’s blend of action and humor.

Proimos, James III Apocalypse Bow Wow
215 pp.     Bloomsbury     2015     ISBN 978-1-61963-442-8
Ebook ISBN 978-1-61963-443-5

Gr. 4–6 Illustrated by James Proimos Jr. Spouting hysterically funny dialogue, two dogs await their people’s return. Eventually desperate, they break out of the house, discover that all humans have disappeared, and make a grocery store their home. Challenged by some tough animals, they win because of a tick who dispenses military advice. Black-and-white comic panels add quirky humor, although it can be difficult to tell the characters apart.

Smith, Jeff Bone: Out from Boneville: Tribute Edition
175 pp.      Scholastic/Graphix     2015     ISBN 978-0-545-80070-9

Gr. 4–6 New ed. (2005). Color by Steve Hamaker. Greedy Phoney Bone is run out of town, and his cousins, Fone and Smiley, join him. This tenth-anniversary edition of the comics collection includes Smith’s “An Ode to Quiche,” nine pages of “Pinup Art” from the book, and a “Tribute Gallery” by sixteen comics artists, including Dav Pilkey, Dan Santat, and Raina Telgemeier.

TenNapel, Doug Nnewts: Escape from the Lizzarks
186 pp.     Scholastic/Graphix     2015     ISBN 978-0-545-67647-2
Paperback ISBN 978-0-545-67646-5

Gr. 4–6 Color by Katherine Garner. Herk, a Nnewt, is separated from his family during a covert mission to rout the Lizzarks, scaly reptilian bipeds, who have been spying on Nnewtown. Though “just a little fry,” willful Herk learns the true meaning of hope when an ancestor helps him. The spunky Nnewt’s journey is characterized by offbeat humor and portrayed through dark panel illustrations.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. These reviews are from The Horn Book Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online. For information about subscribing to the Guide and the Guide Online, please click here.

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16. From the Guide: YA Horror

alameda_shutterThis year’s “Horn BOO!,” our annual roundup of Halloween-y books, will satisfy the spook-loving picture-book set. Teen readers — those with a more mature taste in fright, greater immunity to fear, and, in some cases, seriously strong stomachs — should check out these horror novels from the spring and fall 2015 issues of The Horn Book Guide.

—Katrina Hedeen
Associate Editor, The Horn Book Guide

Alameda, Courtney Shutter
373 pp.     Feiwel     2015     ISBN 978-1-250-04467-9

YA Micheline Helsing (of Van Helsing lineage), a tetrachromat, can see the undead, and with her Helsing Corps crew and camera, she exorcises them. But then a powerful ghost defeats the group and leaves them all cursed; they have seven days to break the curse or be damned. Alameda’s alternate–San Francisco setting is vivid, the horror gruesome, and the story action-packed.

Brooks, Kevin The Bunker Diary
260 pp.     Carolrhoda Lab     2015     ISBN 978-1-4677-5420-0
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4677-7646-2

YA In a fictitious diary, sixteen-year-old English runaway Linus tells of his kidnapping and imprisonment in an underground bunker, where he, along with five other captives that gradually fill the other cells, endures evil punishments. Gripping, terrifying, and full of abominable actions, this provocative contemporary-set Carnegie Medal–winner is not for the faint-hearted, but thrill-seekers and realistic-horror enthusiasts will find the sharply written narrative compelling.

Delaney, Joseph A New Darkness
344 pp.     Greenwillow     2014     ISBN 978-0-06-233453-4
Ebook ISBN 978-0-06-233455-8

YA The first in an unillustrated follow-up trilogy to the Last Apprentice series shows Tom taking over the late Spook’s work. The narration alternates between Tom’s voice and his would-be apprentice Jenny’s; Tom resists the idea of a female Spook. Last Apprentice fans will find the same creepy imagery and a few surprises, and the backstory is clear enough for those new to the series.

Garcia, Kami Unmarked
387 pp.     Little, Brown     2014     ISBN 978-0-316-21022-5
Ebook ISBN 978-0-316-21023-2

YA Legion series. In Unbreakable, Kennedy, love interest Jared, and their ghost-and-demon-fighting team, the Legion, accidentally released the powerful demon Andras. Now they must locate the final Legion member and the Vessel that will contain and bind Andras again — ASAP, because Andras has possessed Jared. With a tighter focus and a tension-heightening nonlinear structure, this second volume is even stronger than its predecessor.

Higson, Charlie The Fallen
535 pp.     Hyperion     2014     ISBN 978-1-4231-6566-8

YA Enemy series. Higson’s fifth zombie apocalypse series entry focuses on survivors quartered in London’s National History Museum. One group sets out to retrieve medical supplies; others struggle to trap a traitor working among them. Followers of this violent series about kids battling endless horrors will relish the moment-by-moment action and cameo appearances by characters featured in previous volumes (those still alive, that is).

Monahan, Hillary Mary: The Summoning
250 pp.     Hyperion     2014     ISBN 978-1-4231-8519-2

YA At the insistence of ringleader Jess, a group of friends attempts to summon urban legend Bloody Mary — and succeeds. The violent spirit attaches herself to narrator Shauna, who desperately seeks to rid herself of the ghost, discovering Mary’s tragic history, another haunting victim, and Jess’s secret motives along the way. Readers of supernatural horror are in for a gory, fast-paced thrill ride.

Pillsworth, Anne M. Summoned
320 pp.     Tor Teen     2014     ISBN 978-0-7653-3589-0

YA At an arcane bookstore in (fictional) Arkham, Massachusetts, Sean finds a clipping directing him to a reverend seeking an occult apprentice. But when Sean attempts the reverend’s test, he mistakenly summons a Lovecraftian monster that threatens Sean and his family. A deliberative pace keeps the action at a slow boil, but fans of Lovecraft and his grotesque chthonic horror will enjoy the dark atmosphere.

Stolarz, Laurie Faria Welcome to the Dark House
368 pp.     Hyperion     2014     ISBN 978-1-4231-8172-9

YA After submitting their darkest personal nightmares to a writing contest, Ivy and six other teens win a chance to meet famed horror movie director Justin Blake. Ivy hopes that dredging up those haunting memories will help her process a significant trauma. But the contest quickly turns deadly. Truly terrifying plot twists unfold at a breakneck pace, shifting quickly from character to character. Impressively fearsome.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. These reviews are from The Horn Book Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online. For information about subscribing to the Guide and the Guide Online, please click here.

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17. Starred reviews, November/December Horn Book Magazine


From FUNNY BONES, by Duncan Tonatiuh

The following books will receive starred reviews in the November/December issue of The Horn Book Magazine:

Tiptoe Tapirs; written and illustrated by Hanmin Kim; trans. from the Korean by Sera Lee (Holiday)

I Used to Be Afraid; written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Porter/Roaring Brook)

Flop to the Top!; written and illustrated by Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing (TOON)

Hereville:How Mirka Caught a Fish; written and illustrated by Barry Deutsch (Amulet/Abrams)

Calvin; by Martine Leavitt (Ferguson/Farrar)

Written and Drawn by Henrietta; written and drawn by Liniers (TOON)

All American Boys; by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (Dlouhy/Atheneum)

The Emperor of Any Place; by Tim Wynne-Jones (Candlewick)

My Seneca Village; by Marilyn Nelson (Namelos)

Breakthrough!: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever; by Jim Murphy (Clarion)

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras; written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams)

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18. Review of Out of the Woods

Out of the Woodsstar2 Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event
by Rebecca Bond; illus. by the author
Primary   Ferguson/Farrar   40 pp.
7/15   978-0-374-38077-9   $17.99

Bond relates a story from 1914 Ontario, during her grandfather’s childhood, when he lived at a lakeside hotel run by his mother. Art and text describe young Antonio wandering the hotel, intrigued both by the “travelers” and “outdoor sportsmen” and by the loud, lively “men who worked in the forest” — trappers, lumberjacks, silver miners. Antonio also roams the woods, catching only disappointing half-glimpses of wild animals. One day, a forest fire breaks out, 
driving everyone toward the only safe place — the lake. As people stand in the water watching the fire rage, animals, too, make their way out of the woods and into the lake. It’s a dream come 
true for Antonio, who gets a close-up look at every forest creature imaginable as they slowly parade by. Like a woodland version of Hicks’s Peaceable Kingdom, “wolves stood beside deer, foxes beside rabbits. And people and moose stood close enough to touch.” Bond vividly conveys the nearness and wonder by describing what Antonio experiences: he “smelled the steam 
rising off the animals’ wet fur, saw their chests lifting and falling in steady rhythm, and felt their hot animal breath.” As the fire subsides, all creatures leave the water — and “miraculously,” the hotel has escaped untouched. The endpapers feature realistic drawings of forest animals against a sepia background, the vintage-children’s-book vibe setting the tone for this historical tale. Throughout, Bond’s detailed sketches tinted with muted browns, greens, blues, and oranges create a dreamlike mood, a fine match for the mesmerizing story. An appended note includes a photo of the author’s grandfather as a child.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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19. Review of Sunny Side Up

holm_sunny side upstar2 Sunny Side Up
by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm; 
illus. by Matthew Holm; color by Lark Pien
Intermediate   Graphix/Scholastic   218 pp.
9/15   978-0-545-74165-1   $23.99
Paper ed. 978-0-545-74166-8   $12.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-545-74167-5   $12.99

Set largely during the summer of 1976, this semiautobiographical graphic novel from the brother-and-sister team behind the Babymouse series includes an amiable grandfather, U.S. bicentennial festivities, and a trip to Disney World — but it is much more than a lighthearted nostalgia piece. Ten-year-old Sunshine “Sunny” Lewin had been looking forward to spending August at the shore as usual, but her parents have suddenly sent her to Florida to stay with “Gramps” instead. Her less-than-thrilling days at the retirement community, complete with early-bird specials and trips to the post office, improve after she befriends the groundskeeper’s son, comics-obsessed Buzz. The two spend their time doing odd jobs for spending money and mulling over age-old superhero dilemmas (“But they’re heroes. Why can’t they save the people they love?”). These discussions, and the series of flashbacks they often elicit, ultimately lead readers to the truth surrounding Sunny’s visit: back home in Pennsylvania, her teenage brother is struggling with substance abuse, and Sunny is convinced that she made the problem worse — a misconception Gramps lovingly corrects. Matthew Holm’s loose, less-is-more cartooning is easy to read and expressive, if occasionally unpolished. Straightforward dialogue, captions establishing time and setting, and extended wordless scenes swiftly propel the narrative and will be appreciated by Raina Telgemeier fans. An affirming author’s note delves further into the Holm siblings’ personal experience with familial substance abuse and encourages young readers sharing a similar struggle to reach out (as Sunny eventually does) to the responsible adults in their lives.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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20. Review of The Rest of Us Just Live Here

ness_restofusThe Rest of Us Just Live Here
by Patrick Ness
High School   HarperTeen   320 pp.
10/15   978-0-06-240316-2   $17.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-06-240318-6   $10.99

Ness’s latest offering is a fantasy novel — and simultaneously a fantasy-novel send-up — whose true focus is on its cast of innocent bystanders. Mikey’s town is “just like your town,” except that every once in a while impossible things (the undead, vampires, soul-eating ghosts) invade it and are driven out by the heroic “indie kids with unusual names and capital-D Destinies.” This time, the invaders are Immortals with a mission to select someone as a permanent Vessel for their Empress in preparation for taking over the world. Brief chapter openings encapsulate these details, but the rest of each chapter tells what’s happening to ordinary Mikey. He and his siblings and friends sometimes cross paths with the hero indie-kids but rarely take part in their adventures, which the main characters brush off as just another one of their crazy sagas. The novel’s tone, with its ripped-from-current-YA-fantasy indie-kid names (two Finns; a heroine named Satchel; lots of Dylans), encourages readers to view the Immortal invasion the same way. The narrative’s real weight is attached to the mostly realistic events surrounding Mikey: the “loops” that his OCD traps him in; his sister Mel’s severe eating disorder; the outside attention on the family because of his politician mom; a love quadrangle involving longtime friends and fluid sexualities. In this often-hilarious (and just as often poignant) parody of fantasy stories from Harry’s to Buffy’s, not everyone is a Chosen One, but “everyone’s got something”; everybody matters.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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21. Review of The Trouble in Me

gantos_trouble in me_170x256The Trouble in Me
by Jack Gantos
Middle School, High School   Farrar   208 pp.
9/15   978-0-374-37995-7   $17.99   g

By the summer before eighth grade, young Jack Gantos didn’t think much of himself. He had the “milky physique of a very soft boy” and looked like a “boneless squid.” His “mouth bully” of a father called him “ass-wipe,” “shithead,” and “brain-dead.” About to start at his sixth school in eight grades, he had no friends, and girls paid him no mind. He was a “drifty kid who was lost at sea…easily led off course.” Bored with his own life, he tried to be somebody else and fell into the orbit of juvenile delinquent neighbor Gary Pagoda. Suddenly, he felt alive doing stupid stuff with Gary — diving into a pool of flames; being catapulted from a tree, over a house, and into a swimming pool; roller-skating down a sheet-metal slide through a hula-hoop ring of fire. Gary was Peter Pan; Jack, his shadow. Jack could feel Gary molding him into “an Adam or a golem or some magical creature that had once been a handful of dirt but was now under his spell.” Gantos effectively narrates his own story in this memoir, reviewing portions of his life to identify the character flaw that led him to abandon his “better self” in favor of later becoming a drug smuggler who ended up in a federal penitentiary. As explained in the afterword, this volume acts as a preface to Hole in My Life (rev. 5/02), and readers who read both will experience the full arc of Jack’s wild behavior, severe consequences, and, ultimately, redemption.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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22. Review of The Hired Girl

hiredgirl_210x300star2 The Hired Girl
by Laura Amy Schlitz
Middle School   Candlewick   392 pp.
9/15   978-0-7636-7818-0   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7943-9   $17.99

In 1911, spirited fourteen-year-old Joan, the only girl in a family of three boys plus a verbally abusive father (her weak-of-constitution mother has died), musters her courage and leaves her rural Pennsylvania home for Baltimore, the final straw being her father’s burning of her few precious books. Once in the city, and with no real plan for survival, Joan is fortunate to be taken in by a kindly, well-to-do Jewish family, the Rosenbachs. She’s employed as their “hired girl,” acting as assistant to longtime (and grumpy) domestic Malka and serving as the observant family’s “Shabbos goy,” performing household tasks forbidden to Jews during the Sabbath. Over the course of the story, Joan, wide-eyed and open-hearted: meddles in the eldest Rosenbach son’s love affairs (luckily, it all works out); very ill-advisedly attempts to convert the family’s young grandson to Catholicism; makes something of an enemy of the lady of the house; and falls helplessly in love with the Rosenbachs’ younger son, an artist who persuades her to pose for him…as Joan of Arc. The book is framed as Joan’s diary, and her weaknesses, foibles, and naiveté come through as clearly — and as frequently — as her hopes, dreams, and aspirations. The pacing can be a little slow (she doesn’t even get to Baltimore, where the bulk of the story takes place, until almost eighty pages in), but by the end readers feel as if they’ve witnessed the real, authentic growth of a memorable young woman.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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23. Reviews of select books by Vera B. Williams

williams_amberwasbravestar2Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart
by Vera B. Williams; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Greenwillow    72 pp.
9/01    0-06-029460-4    15.95    g
Library ed.    0-06-029461-2    15.89

For sisters Essie and Amber, a “Best Sandwich” means snuggling together with their teddy bear between them, breathing “each other’s breath / in and out and in and out / till they heard at last their mother’s key in the big front door.” Vera B. Williams has put together a different kind of “Best Sandwich”—a series of interconnected poems flanked by colored-pencil portraits in the beginning and the end—to tenderly convey the girls’ resilience and vulnerability in the face of parental absence. The story emerges bit by bit through sometimes heartbreaking vignettes. We learn in the poem “Essie Shook Amber to Make Her Memory Work” that Essie and Amber’s father is serving time for forgery (“Remember we were right in the kitchen / when the cops came, / Essie insisted”). Their mother must work long hours for minimal pay, leaving them with a complex daycare schedule or, all too often, with no daycare at all. But Williams deftly balances these disturbing images with scenes that show the sisters are still able to find refuge in simple childhood pleasures. In “Whoops,” the girls jump on their bed until the frame breaks, and even then they “can’t stop laughing / Look how far away the ceiling / We’re in a field / and that’s the sky.” Black-and-white pencil sketches interspersed with the poems enhance the emotion in them without causing a distraction, culminating in a joyous wordless three-page sequence when Amber and Essie’s father returns home. The decision to feature color only briefly at the book’s beginning and in “An Album” at the end turns out to be an inspired one. Before the main text starts, we see four portraits—a front and back view of each sister, standing expectantly, as if waiting to get to know us. By the end, we welcome the chance to savor a few snapshots of our new friends.

chair for my motherA Chair for My Mother
by Vera B. Williams; illus. by the author
Primary    Greenwillow   32 pp.
1982    0-688-00914-x    9.00    g
Library ed.    0-688-00915-8    8.59

Color-splashed watercolors recalling the patterns of Matisse and the primitive quality of Gauguin evoke the love and warmth among a child, her mother, and her grandmother. Sitting in their kitchen, with its mottled linoleum and old-fashioned white appliances, they count the tips the mother earned as a waitress at the Blue Tile Diner. The money — like all their spare change — is put into a large glass jar; when they “can’t get a single other coin into the jar,” they will take the money and buy “a wonderful, beautiful, fat, soft armchair” to replace the chairs and sofa the family lost in a fire. At last, the jar is full, and the three set out to shop for the chair, stopping only when they find one that lives up to their dreams — a gloriously overstuffed armchair covered in red upholstery splashed with large pink roses. The cheerful paintings take up the full left-hand pages and face, in most cases, a small chunk of text set against a modulated wash of a complementing color; a border containing a pertinent motif surrounds the two pages, further unifying the design. The result is a superbly conceived picture book expressing the joyful spirit of a loving family.


star2Cherries and Cherry Pits
by Vera B. Williams; illus. by the author
Primary    Greenwillow   40 pp.
1986    0-688-05145-6    11.55    g
Library ed.    0-688-05146-4    11.88

In A Chair for My Mother (Greenwillow) and the other two books about the child Rosa, Vera Williams abundantly demonstrated both her flair for exuberant color and design and her faith in the love and caring that unites human beings. Now in a wholly original picture book she plunges into memory and transmutes the recollected events and emotions of her childhood into vibrant experiences. With utter ingenuousness a young narrator talks about her friend, the girl Bidemmi, who “loves to draw” with many-colored magic markers, picturing the inventive tales she tells. Bidemmi’s first three accounts begin with someone leaving a subway train, carrying a small bag of cherries, and, as with most imaginative young raconteurs, the words come tumbling out. First, a big, strong black man arrives home and, gathering his children to him, lovingly feeds them his “really red cherries.” Then Bidemmi changes her characters: this time “a tiny, white woman,” wearing a “black hat with a pink flower” and “old, old shoes,” goes home to her single room and shares her cherries — “light red and sour” — with her pet parrot. Next, a tall, lithe black boy, who “looks a lot like my brother,” brings dark red cherries as a gift to his little sister. Finally, quietly exultant, Bidemmi herself becomes the central figure. Emerging from a subway staircase, she buys cherries from a vendor, plants the pits in her “junky, old yard,” nurtures a little sprout, and coaxes a young tree into bloom and leaf. At last, constantly depicting the miraculous process, Bidemmi finds glorious ripe cherries hanging from the branches, enough for all her neighbors and “even for their friends from Nairobi and Brooklyn, Toronto and St. Paul.” The four unconnected episodes are unified by the underlying motif and by the ingeniously designed illustrations, which feature both the youthful artist and her art: while sensitive watercolor paintings show Bidemmi engrossed in her work, her own pictures are unaffectedly naive, energetic magic-marker drawings. Profound as well as enchanting, the book implicitly deals with a philosophical concept, presenting in a young child’s terms an image of the ecstasy of creation — of the human mind totally engaged in creative imagination.

williams_moremoremorestar2“More More More,” Said the Baby: Three Love Stories
by Vera B. Williams; illus. by the author
Preschool    Greenwillow   32 pp.
10/90    0-688-09173-3    12.95
Library ed.    0-688-09174-1    12.88

A book for parents, grandparents, and other significant adults to enjoy with their littlest ones. This trio of gentle vignettes shows three toddlers gathered up and cuddled by grownups. Little Guy’s daddy throws him up high, swings him around, and then “gives that little guy’s belly a kiss right in the middle of the belly button.” Little Pumpkin’s grandma has to “run like anything just to catch that baby up” and then nibbles on the toes of her “best little grandbaby.” Both children respond with laughter and with a plea for “More. More. More.” Little Bird’s mother tenderly prepares her sleeping child for bed, kissing each of the baby’s eyes as a final good-night. “‘Mmm,’ breathes Little Bird. ‘Mmm. Mmmm. Mmmm.'” The variety of family members depicted, as well as the several ethnic groups identified — even within an individual family — presents an opportunity for much discussion with very young children about what constitutes a family. The pages reverberate with bright colors and vigorous forms. The text, which is painted onto the pages, with each letter bearing its own rainbow of hues, is visually integrated into the design of the book in uniquely successful fashion. The rhythmic language begs to be read aloud, and young listeners are sure to wriggle with delight at all the many ways their favorite grownups have of saying “I love you.”

by Vera B. Williams; illus. by the author
Intermediate    Greenwillow/Morrow   150 pp.
10/93    0-688-09376-0    15.00
Library ed.    0-688-09377-9    14.93

When Elana Rose Rosen, her prized scooter with the silver and blue stripes on the wheels, and her mom move to the Melon Hill Houses, a complex of high-rise apartment buildings in New York City, Elana is overwhelmed by the thought of so many apartments with so many people she doesn’t know. Thanks to a rather dramatic accident on her scooter and her own irrepressible personality, Lanny soon has a wonderfully varied group of friends and is busily organizing the Melon Hill kids to compete in their Borough-Wide Field Day. Through Petey, a trusting, silent little boy who never speaks but follows Lanny around like a shadow, she meets Mrs. Grenier, Petey’s babysitter. In spite of Mrs. Grenier’s never-ending litany of complaints, which prompt Lanny to name her “Mrs. Grenier the Whiner,” Lanny “really loves her,” and she and Petey become a kind of extended family to her. Lanny is a delightful character who lives every moment and feels every emotion more intensely than most people. Whether she’s having a raging temper tantrum, showing loyalty and affection, or competing on her beloved scooter, Lanny remains completely genuine and natural while giving more than one hundred per cent to every experience. Williams’s graphics and drawings that somersault and zoom across and around the pages add to the exuberance of the story. Lanny and her scooter will win readers’ hearts as well as two blue ribbons.

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24. Review of Drowned City

brown_drowned citystar2 Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans
by Don Brown; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School   Houghton   96 pp.
8/15   978-0-544-15777-4   $18.99

To date, the majority of children’s and young adult books about Hurricane Katrina are microcosmic stories or accounts of a single person or family. Here, in powerful comic-book format, Brown delivers the full force of the storm and its impact on the city as a whole. Beginning with Katrina’s inception as just a breeze in Africa, he traces its path across the Atlantic and into the Gulf of Mexico. Evacuation procedures in New Orleans, both successful (eighty percent of the residents left) and unsuccessful (promised buses for the poor never arrived), are outlined in chilling detail as readers see residents gridlocked in traffic and also see the resignation of those remaining. When the storm hits New Orleans, Brown hits readers with the consequences: flooding, fear, frustration, desperation, and death. He follows with the overwhelming numbers: broken levees releasing one million gallons of water a minute; twenty-five thousand people taking refuge in the Superdome (and fifteen thousand in the convention center) without adequate food, water, or toilets; ten thousand rescues by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and 33,500 rescues by the Coast Guard; plus floodwaters teeming with snakes, refuse, oil, and dead bodies. Hovering above all is the lack of coordinated help from myriad governmental agencies. Captioned with meticulously documented facts and quotes from victims, the art records these events, as it portrays people being saved or drowning, or a baby hoisted in the air above the rising waters, its fate unknown. While commanding, these images are not sensationalized. If a book’s power were measured like a storm’s, this would be a category five. Appended with source notes and a bibliography.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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25. Review of Elephant in the Dark

Javaherbin_elephant in the darkElephant in the Dark: Based on a Poem by Rumi
retold by Mina Javaherbin; 
illus. by Eugene Yelchin
Primary   Scholastic   40 pp.
8/15   978-0-545-63670-4   $17.99   g

Merchant Ahmad brings a mysterious creature to his village, “all the way from India!” While Ahmad sleeps, the curious villagers climb through a window in his barn and feel around in the dark, each touching just a part of the creature and leaping to conclusions about what it might be (“a fan!” “a snake!” “a tree trunk!”). The adult villagers begin to fight: “Into the night no one listened, but everyone shouted and shoved.” With a portraiture style drawn from Persian miniatures, Yelchin uses a variety of skin tones to portray the villagers, who wear brightly patterned and individually distinctive clothing. The story is much like Ed Young’s classic The Seven Blind Mice (rev. 3/92), but the emphasis here is on quarreling over small pieces of the truth rather than sharing knowledge 
to create a whole. The last (and wordless) spread, however, shows a group of children — with Ahmad — gathered by the river the next day to watch the creature (an elephant) bathe. Yelchin’s gouache, acrylic, and ink paintings balance the repetitive patterns characteristic of the Persian style with lots of open space. Javaherbin’s author’s note and additional appended information explain that she based 
her work on poet Rumi’s version of a story that goes back to the oral Buddhist tradition; the book should provide opportunities for rich discussions about perception and about advocating for what you believe to be true.

From the November/December 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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