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Ape and Armadillo Take Over the World by James Sturm is my new favorite book. I fell in love with TOON Books when I discovered them in 2008, just around the time my youngest was learning to read. Having been through this process with my two older children, I was not looking forward to the tired old leveled readers that we were left to slog through after classics like Frog & Toad, Little Bear and Poppleton. Françoise Mouly and her quest to bring engaging, marvelously illustrated graphic novels into the world of beginning readers has meant that there are now over 50 fantastic books to take your new reader from sight words to chapter books.
If you have read even a few beginning readers, you know that unlikely friends and the complexities of friendship are the staple of this genre. With Ape and Armadillo, Sturm has created the only duo who could even remotely rival Frog and Toad. And an armadillo! How many armadillo characters are there in kid's books to begin with? Happily, the title page shows Ape juggling, a curled up Armadillo among the balls in the air. Sturm's illustrations are superb - crisp and colorful and filled with motion and emotion.
Armadillo is a little guy with big ideas. Ape, his opposite, is more thoughtful and compassionate. When Ape and Armadillo Take Over the World begins, we find Ape taking issue with Armadillo's plan for world domination. While Armadillo does things fly away on the royal Pegasus, Ape has to distract a spitting serpent, fight an army of robots and escape through the sewer tunnels of the castle. Armadillo counters, saying that he is the one who thought up this plan and having ideas is not so easy. When Ape tries to come up with a plan (that involves kids, an ice cream shop, juggling Armadillo and hiding in tubs of ice cream) Armadillo shoots him down. But, like all good friends, the two manage to find common ground, coming up with a phenomenal plan for world domination that involves special suits, magic wands, creating a zoo filled only with really cool animals like griffins, dinosaurs and giant bugs and ending with ice cream. Because, as Ape points out, he likes a lot of the people in the world and doesn't want to rule it or blow it up.
The best part of Ape and Armadillo Take Over the World? Sturm includes bonus comic strips that run at the bottom of every page, giving readers a glimpse into the personalities of the main characters. Ape and Armadillo embody the creative imagination of kids, a creativity that is not bound by logic or physical limitations.
Read my reviews of the Adventures in Cartooning Series here
It's a very good time to be an emerging reader, especially because Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell, celebrity super couple of the kid's book world, have teamed up again! This time, the duo bring their weird, wacky senses of humor to Inspector Flytrap, a series of books featuring a hard boiled detective who just happens to be a Venus Flytrap.
Being a detective - and a plant - has its challenges. Happily, Inspector Flytrap (who is constantly correcting people who refer to him as Mr. Flytrap) has an assistant, Nina, who puts him on a skateboard and does all the driving whenever they need to get to a crime scene quickly. Nina is a goat, which has a few drawbacks since she will eat anything. As the Inspector says, "it's scary to have an assistant who eats everything, especially for a plant like me." Nina also has a standard flip response to almost everything, which is, "Big deal."
The first Big Deal case (no small deal cases for him) readers get to see Inspector Flytrap tackle comes from Lulu Emu, a museum employee who take the Inspector and Nina into the Top Secret Art Lab to help solve the mystery of the strange yellow blob on a newly discovered, extremely rare painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. In fact, this happens to be the only flower painting Da Vinci every created. Nina, being Nina, licks the yellow blob and notes that it tastes salty. The Inspector soon cracks the case, the solution of every case getting a full page, multi-panel comic strip. Turns out, Da Vinci sneezed on his own painting, leaving a booger on the canvas. Lulu Emu is disappointed as she thought it was a secret message, a la a Don Brown novel, but her coworker in charge of the museum's Gallery of Mucus is thrilled!
The gags and goofiness in Inspector Flytrap continue throughout the four chapters of the novel in which the Inspector solves three cases and spends one chapter eating lunch at the restaurant where he first met Nina. Inspector Flytrap takes a lot of calls, and one of my favorite jokes in the book comes when he gets a call or two from a fly with a case. Also, Nina usually eats evidence or missing items that have been found, which is also hilarious. There is also a really great range of animals in the Inspector Flytrap series, including a sloth and a dodo, two favorites of mine. I ordered this series for my library before I even read them and now, having read the first book, I plan to order a couple more sets - the Inspector Flytrap books are going to be hot, hot, hot!
Book 2 in the Inspector Flytrap series:
Coming in January 2017!
Source: Review Copy
The Glorkian Warrior has delivered himself a pizza, had his brains sucked almost dry by a baby alien and discovered the head of a Space Snake that spits out pie. Now, in the third and final book in this series, he and his pals face his biggest challenge ever - a possibly prophetic dream about a giant, flying mustache in The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny!
A post-dream, pre-Glork patrol cup of invigorating coffee that, naturally, GW thinks can talk when it's really Super Backpack, sets the story rolling. Along with a boisterous bunch of mini-Glorks that Gonk has invited in, GW and Super Backpack head out and inevitably end up in a giant hole. But, this giant hole leads to the Temple of Quackaboodle!
And, in a rare appearance, the Glorkian Supergrandma arrives, beaming down a special light from her spaceship that turns Gonk's little pals into full grown, adult Glorkians! After some minor drama, Gonk gets beamed into adulthood also, now sporting a stunning stache. Kochalka brings everything home by bringing the baby alien, now mustachioed as well, back for a final appearance. The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny begins at chapter zero and ends with an epilogue. But, the book doesn't end there. As the final book in the trilogy, Kochalka shares a hilarious bonus comic and the very first Glorkian Warrior comic from 2007!
Source: Review Copy
Books 1 & 2 of the Glorkian Warrior
It's here! Book 3 in Kevin Sherry's superbly silly series of books featuring all your favorite cryptids is here! Following in the footsteps of Monsters on the Run and Meet the Bigfeet, Blizz Richards and the gang go under the sea The Yeti Files: Attack of the Kraken.
But, before heading to Atlantis, Alex the Elf and Gunthar the goblin are getting up to no good, out of eyesight from Blizz. Blizz thinks the two are getting along nicely in their igloo, but really, the devious duo are off tending to Gunthar's new pet whose name begins with "pt."
As Blizz gets the cryptosub ready to head out, he explains to Alex, Gunthar and Frank, the arctic fox who always seems to know what's really going on, all about the hidden city of Atlantis and the merfolk who live there. He also reminds the gang and readers how they received an urgent alert from the merfolk at the end of The Yeti Files #2, of Monsters on the Run. In Atlantis, they crew are greeted by the Mayor, Julius Blacksand, who has been making big additions to the city with the help of some powerful, precious, rare crystals mined nearby. But, a determined megafan of Blizz's named Coral tells him that the mayor isn't all he seems to be and that his continued mining of crystals is threatening the health of the ocean they live in - and the mysterious Kraken. Can Blizz and the gang prove that this is true and stop Julius Blacksand? And just who is Emily Airwalker and where is she? While I always adore the humor in Sherry's books, he weaves some very pertinent themes of conservation and environmental awareness into Attack of the Kraken that I appreciated.
The Yeti Files Books 1 & 2:
Lucy by Randy Cecil is a truly special book that is hard to categorize. Is it a really long picture book? Is it a really big chapter book? Told in three acts and illustrated in soft black and grey tones, Lucy feels almost like a silent movie that has been captured in the pages of a book. A few years ago while working for a literary agent, I learned that the industry standard for a picture book is 1,500 words. That means that greats like Bill Peet and William Steig, to name just a few, might not get published if they were submitting manuscripts today. I also often find myself missing the richness of a longer picture book and the complex stories that can be told when more than 1,500 words are used. I am SO grateful to both Randy Cecil for writing Lucy and to Candlewick Press for publishing this marvelous, genre and standard bending book.
Told in three acts (plus a very short Act IV), there are layers of threes in this book. There are three main characters: Lucy, the stray dog, Eleanor, the girl who feeds her each morning and Eleanor's father, Sam Wische, an aspiring performer. We see Lucy perform her morning routine three times in a row, we see Eleanor perform her morning routine three times in a row and we see Sam try to perform in front of an audience three times, the third one being the charm. There are three flashbacks to Lucy's life before she became a stray.
Lucy, Eleanor and Sam's lives all intertwine and overlap, coming together for a climactic, satisfying ending in Act III. Lucy is looking for something special from her life before becoming a stray, Eleanor finds herself looking for Lucy in Act III, and Sam is looking for a way to overcome his stage fright and share his passion. Cecil's storytelling is sweet and uncomplicated and the repetition is comforting, as are warmly fuzzy illustrations that are presented in a circular composition. Lucy might feel like a simple story, but the more you read it, and the more you think about it long after having read it, the more you will realize that it's not!
Source: Review Copy
Last summer I reviewed the first two books in a new series by a longtime favorite of mine, Ellen Potter. Piper Green and the Fairy Tree is a superb bridge chapter book series, ideal for readers ready to move up from leveled readers but not quite ready for something like The Magic Tree House or Junie B. Jones. Speaking of Junie B., Piper Green is the perfect choice for parents, educators and librarians looking for a winning, quirky, articulate girl character who is not sassy and uses words correctly. You can read my review of the first two books in the Piper Green series, which includes a list of Ellen's other books and links to my reviews of them, here.
In Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: The Sea Pony, Piper's Saturday is filled with twists and turns, ups and downs. But that is life on Peek-a-Boo Island off the coast of Maine where the Greens live. Piper and the other islanders ride a lobster to school on the nearby Mink Island. But, bigger kids have to go to school - and live, during the week anyway - on the mainland, and that is what Piper's beloved big brother, Erik does. Home for the weekend, Piper is looking forward to time with Erik. But Erik is not feeling well and can't get out of bed. Piper decides to make him Cinnamon Snakes (cinnamon toast cut in squiggles) because that's what her mom always does when anyone is feeling under the weather. But, the Greens are all out of cinnamon.
In an organic but completely unpredicatble chain of events that perfectly characterizes the unique perspective of Piper herself, a trip to the store to buy cinnamon leads to a bosun's whistle (a gift from the fairies found in the Fairy Tree) to a glimpse of a beautiful new horse to a job as sternman (the "guy who stuffs dead fish into little net bags for lobster bait") to befriending a sea pony (a harbor seal) to finding a skiff lost in a storm to . . . riding atop that beautiful new horse!
Potter fills this series with little details about island life that, along with the maps in the front of the book, help landlocked readers get a real feel for this way of life. But, the real treat is getting to peek into Piper's life, her thought process and how she handles disappointments, new experiences and best of all, how she problem solves. While working as sternman on her father's lobster boat, Piper feeds half of the day's bait to a playful seal responding to her bosun's whistle. Piper begins to think that maybe she can ride this seal, since she learned just how much a horse costs. Piper eventually realizes the impossibility of this plan, but it doesn't get her down, or stop her planning.
And, coming soon!
Piper Green and the Fairy Tree Book 4:
Source: Review Copy
Eleanor Davis has created two of my all-time favorite graphic novels, the multiple award winning Stinky, one of the first TOON Books published in 2008, and Secret Science Alliance, which came out in 2009. After creating art and a graphic novel for adults, Davis and fellow graphic novelist and husband Drew Weing have teamed up with each other and TOON Books to bring us Flop to the Top.
It's taken me a while to warm up to Kate DiCamillo, and I still haven't read her most popular books, Because of Winn Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux. But I do like her weird sense of humor and the curious characters she created in books like the Mercy Watson series, which I reviewed here in 2010. The Bink & Gollie trilogy, which she created with Alison McGhee and Tony Fucile, as an absolute
Last year I gleefully reviewed The Yeti Files: Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry. I am so thrilled to be reviewing Monsters on the Run, the second book in what I hope is a long running series about all kinds of cryptids!
Besides the fact that The Yeti Files: Meet the Bigfeet taught me the word "cryptid," which I work into conversations whenever I can now, I adore this book for its humor,
Written and Drawn by Henrietta by the Argentine cartoonist Liniers is a treat to read, bringing back the excitement I feel when I see a brand new box of colored pencils and a crisp, white page as well as the occasional, immobilizing dread that comes with creating. Liniers treats us to his view of Henrietta as she writes and illustrates a story as well as Henrietta's story itself, as
Last year I reviewed and loved Princess in Black by Shannon and Dean Hale and superbly illustrated by LeUeyn Pham and I am so excited to be reviewing the second book in the series a year later, The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party. The way I see it, with Princess Magnolia, the Hales and Pham have created a character and series that hits all my literary sweet spots: a high interest chapter book that is a perfect bridge between leveled readers and chapter books, a character who is all things - a princess with her own unicorn and a secret double life fighting monsters. Magnolia can go from wearing a pouffy pink gown and tiara while having tea with the Duchess Wigtower to a black booted, masked and caped crusader with a scepter that turns into a staff for battle and Pham brings her to life with vivid, action filled panache. Best of all, the Princess in Black books are sweet and playful and not the least bit saccharine.
In The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party, Magnolia is preparing for her birthday party and the eleven princesses (and their steeds) who will be attending the party. Just as they begin to arrive, Magnolia's "glitter-stone ring rang." Monsters are leaving Monster Land, Duff the goat boy's flock is in danger and the Princess in Black needs to perform her signature moves, like the Tiara Trip and the Tentacle Tangle, on them to make everything right with the world again.
Just when Magnolia thinks she can get back to her guests, the party games, the cake and the presents, her glitter-stone ring goes off again. And again. Magnolia juggles her responsibilities admirably. Until she doesn't. My favorite part of The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party are the princesses themselves. Pham's illustrations of Princess Sneezewort, Princess Zinnia, Princess Honeysuckle, Princess Hyacinth, Princess Apple Blossom, Princess Bluebell, Princess Euphoria, Princess Tulip, Princess Crocus, Princess Snapdragon, and Princess Jasmine bring to mind an updated rendering of the singing dolls from the It's a Small World ride at Disneyland, in the best way possible, without the singing. I couldn't stop poring over the pages, taking in all the details. Now, I need to get this books onto the shelves of my library because students have been asking for it for weeks!
Coming February 2016!!!
Source: Review Copy
Friendship, connection, danger, adventure, robots or creatures. These are things you can count on in a Ben Hatke book, and these are the elements that I look forward to experiencing through his particular perspective (and paintbrush) with each and every book. In his newest graphic novel, Little Robot, Hatke tells the almost wordless story of a little girl who finds and fights to keep her new friend.
A box falls out of a truck and off a bridge, making its way to a junkyard downstream. A little girl slips out of the window of her trailer home and heads off into the wilds/junkyard, shoeless, where she unearths her tool satchel. There she discovers the box and the robot within.
After getting the bot going, she helps it to master the art of walking. Together the two explore as she gently teaches the robot about the world around them. In a factory far away we see an alarm going off - a robot is missing. A massive, one eyed, multi-legged, yellow behemoth is seen trundling out of a hangar and into the distance. A capture, a rescue and a dramatic ending leave the little heroine with more bots and friends than before along with a very satisfying ending.
Being mostly wordless, Little Robot is so much about feelings and the sometimes wordless connection of friendship. Little Robot is a "meditation on friendship more than a lesson," as Hatke said of his book in an interview with EW. Hatke goes on to say that his heroine is, "a hero for the introverts and the makers." And, while this is a graphic novel about robots, junkyards and machines, the natural world is very much a vivid part of Little Robot. Hatke says that this scenery is "partially inspired by and informed by the landscape around my home in Virginia. The rural area in the Shenandoah valley." Amidst the green fields are forests are cats, birds, frogs, ducks, turtles and newly blooming flowers. There is a six-panel page where the girl and the bot come across a dead squirrel. "XoNX," the bot exclaims (the bot has a fantastic phonetic language, "Jonk," being its most frequent verbalization) and the little girl, completely at home in the natural world, reassures him, "It's just dead is all."
For a book with so few words, there is so much going on in Little Robot. But this is always the case with Hatke's books. His illustration style, color palette, characters and plots are good. That seems like a tired, less than celebratory adjective but I mean it in the best, truest sense of the word possible. If you have ever read Hatke's blog or had the immense pleasure of viewing his wife's Instagram feed, you will experience the well of goodness, from good living to good parenting and educating to good stewardship of and connection to the natural world, that Hatke's creations arise from and/or are fueled by. This is a good world that I want to live in and one that I want the young readers I teach to live in, even if we can only get to it from the pages of his books.
A new picture book coming from Hatke this year!
And a new graphic novel coming next year, maybe...
Priness Magnolia, Frimplepants, the Princess in Black and Blacky are back! And all my favorite things are in one place again - princesses, unicorns, masked avengers, and sumptuous feasts! In book three, we find Princess Magnolia and Frimplepants headed to brunch in the village with Princess Sneezewort. In anticipation of the soft rolls, cheesy omelets and "heaping platters of sugar-dusted doughnuts," the two have skipped breakfast. Just when the village is in sight, Princess Magnolia's glitter-stone ring rang - the monster alarm!
The Princess and her pony zip into a secret cave to become their super selves, the Princess in Black and her steed, Blacky, ready to fight monsters. And what monsters have emerged from the monster hole this time? A horde of hungry bunnies! Pham does an excellent job making these little purple puffballs cute and potentially menacing at the same time. These bunnies have grown tired of Monster Land, having nibbled all the monster fur, toe-nail clippings and lizard scales in sight. They have discovered the fresh green grass of the goat pastures and are not looking back!
At first, the Princess in Black is charmed by the hungry horde of bunnies, but when they eat up all the grass, a nearby tree and then begin nibbling on Blacky's tail, she knows she must pull out her best Princess in Black moves to take them on.
It's touch and go for a while, but the Princess in Black always prevails! Sadly, she and Blacky arrive at the café just a hair too late for brunch - but not too late for brunch with Princess Sneezewort!
Don't miss the first two books
in this fantastic series!
Source: Review Copy
James Kochalka's Glorkian Warrior and his best buddy Super Backpack debuted in The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza. In this epic space adventure, the Glorkian Warrior successfully delivered a pizza to himself. In the second book in the series, The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie, the Glorkian Warrior is once again his own worst enemy, but this time he has an actual foe - fellow warrior, Buster Glark.
After Buster Glark takes out the the pie factory destroying space snake that he was trying to put an end to, the Glorkain Warrior and Super Backpack find their way home where they are greeted by Gonk, a mini-me version of the Glorkian Warrior and a lime green baby alien who affixes himself firmly to GW's head and makes a sucking sound.
Some serious absurdity ensues, including rearranging the furniture by flipping it upside down, a poke in the eye for Gonk, a consultation with Mr. Elbow and backpack for Gonk made from the house phone. The gang head out for Glork Patrol but, of course, things don't go as planned. GW falls over, from extreme hunger or from the baby alien sucking all his brains out, leaving Gonk and Super Backpack to save the day.
Not an easy task by any means, things get even more complicated when Buster Glark returns and uses a freeze ray on the baby alien. Ships are crashed, holes are made, elbows are thrown and, incredibly, the baby alien attacks the Space Snake resulting in the head crashing down right in front of the gang and spitting out pieces of pie!
Kochalka's sense of humor (and plotting) is completely bonkers and perfectly paired with the Easter egg colors of his illustrations. There are fart jokes, a few butt jokes and all sorts of ludicrous antics that kids love. The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie might not be everyone's sense of humor, but for those who dig it, it's a stellar treat!
Books 1 & 3 in the Glorkian Warrior Series!
Coming in March!
The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny
Leroy Ninker Saddles up is the first in a new series of chapter books from the dynamic duo who brought us stories about a buttered-toast-loving-pet-pig. Fans of Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen's Mercy Watson series of beginning reader chapter books (you can read my review from 2010 here) might remember Leroy Ninker from Book 3, Mercy Watson Fights Crime, in which he was first seen
Bramble and Maggie: Spooky Season is the second book in this series for horse lovers by Jessi Haas and illustrated by Alison Friend. Haas, who has written several other children's books featuring horses and, while this is a lower level book, Haas does not talk down to readers when writing about horses and riding. In the first book in the series, Bramble and Maggie: Horse Meets Girl, we learn
Eerie Elementary by Jack Chabert is yet another fantastic series that's part of Scholastic's much needed Branches line. These books are "specifically designed for newly independent readers who are ready to make the exciting leap from leveled readers, but not quite prepared for a traditional chapter book." In the school where I am a librarian and the majority of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders
I did not want to like The Princess in Black by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham. I am tired of princesses and equally tired of princess backlash. I am weary from trying to excavate and explain the potential of a princess in a plot (see my review of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett) and I am wary of mash-ups that have the air of a Disney enterprise. However, I
The Mystery of the Missing Lion is the third book in Alexander McCall Smith's, brilliant chapter book series featuring the childhood incarnation of his adult novel heroine and owner of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Precious Ramotswe. The books are marvelously illustrated by Iain McIntosh and are unique when it comes to chapter books for so many reasons - girl detective, set in
Publishing all three volumes of James Proimos's graphic novels in one volume titled The Complete Adventures of Johnny Mutton (with bonus material) is one of the best things I've seen all year. Proimos has a smart, absurdist sense of humor that fans of
Captain Underpants series will gobble up with glee. And Proimos and his ovine hero first hit the shelves way back in 2001!
It is rare that I review more than one book in a series, but sometimes I love a series so much that I want to review a book again, just in case anyone missed it the first time around. Last year I reviewed Jessica Finch in Pig Trouble, the first book in this new sibling (in more ways than one) series featuring the characters from Megan McDonald's Judy Moody series, which spawned the Stink
The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake by Robin Newman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke
is a fantastic new book from Creston Books, a homegrown publisher of books printed in America that launched in Fall of 2013. Of course I love a good story, but I also love a beautifully made book and all of Creston's books fit this bill, as you can glimpse in the photo below, and by taking a look inside The
Hopefully by the publication of Benjamin Bear in Brain Storms!, you know Philippe Coudray's creatively thinking bear and his forest full of friends. Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking, came out in 2011 and is now in paperback and Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas! in 2013. If you have never had the pleasure of meeting Benjamin Bear on the page, quotes from these reviews create a perfect picture.
Something that I adore and deeply appreciate about TOON Books is the attention to detail that goes into each book. Of course the writing and illustrations are exemplary. The packaging is superb, from the trim size to the recognizable TOON wallpaper pattern that appears on the spine to the way that the books look so wonderful lined up on the shelf. TOON Books are so visually appealing and
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Piper Green and the Fairy Tree marks the sixth book I have reviewed by the wonderful Ellen Potter and I absolutely ADORE it! I reviewed the first book in Potter's Olivia Kidney series, which would make the PERFECT step up for readers after finishing the Piper Green and the Fairy Tree series, back in 2008! It has been such a treat to continue reading her books over the last seven years and