Monday, December 10, 2012

Unspoken

From the Publisher:


A young girl's courage is tested in this haunting, wordless story.



When a farm girl discovers a runaway slave

hiding in the barn, she is at once

startled and frightened.



But the stranger's fearful eyes

weigh upon her conscience,

and she must make a difficult choice.

Will she have the courage to help him?



Unspoken gifts of humanity unite the girl

and the runaway as they each face a journey:

one following the North Star,

the other following her heart.



Henry Cole's unusual and original rendering

of the Underground Railroad

speaks directly to our deepest sense

of compassion.


Horn Book (November/December, 2012)


This wordless picture book opens with a calm scene: a quilt hangs over a rural split-rail fence. A young girl enters the scene on the next double-page spread, leading a cow and watching a small group of Confederate infantry ride by. The girl continues with her daily chores, including gathering potatoes from the root cellar, where, behind the cut cornstalks stored there, she glimpses an eye, signaling that someone is hiding amongst them. Time passes; surreptitiously, the girl leaves food for the fugitive. The family gathers for a meal; bounty hunters searching for a runaway slave appear -- and then leave. Frightened, the girl runs to check on the escapee and discovers that he or she has gone -- leaving her a handmade cornhusk doll. What Cole shows so superbly through his accomplished yet unpretentious pencil art -- the ideal medium for the book, as it looks as if it’s of the era as well as portraying the era -- is the keeping of secrets. The entire family appears to know what’s going on, but the extent of each character’s involvement is never made explicit; it is conveyed by body language alone, particularly in the exaggerated movements of those who believe they are being watched, their averted eyes when facing the bounty hunters, and the various hands that bring food to the fugitive slave. The back jacket, with an arresting close-up of the young heroine, personalizes the experience by asking young readers: “What would you do if you had the chance to help a person find freedom?” betty carter




The Spindlers

Kirkus Reviews starred (May 15, 2012)


Liza must venture Below to rescue her little brother's soul, stolen by evil, power-hungry spider people called spindlers, in this refreshingly creepy, intricately woven tale. A concealed hole in the wall behind a narrow bookcase in her family's basement is her entry, and amid loud scratching noises, Liza trips, falling down into the darkness Below. Mirabella, a giant rat who wears newspaper for a skirt, becomes her trusted guide to the spindlers' nests, which Liza must reach before the Feast of the Souls. But things are never what they seem in Oliver's vividly imagined world. ... An arduous, dangerous and fantastical journey ensues. As in the author's first terrific book for middle-grade readers, Liesl & Po (2011), there is a smorgasbord of literary references, including strong echoes of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It is laced with humor and engaging wordplay, as well as riddles and death-defying tests and enchantments. Wholly original creatures populate the tale, some reassuring and wise, like the nocturni and lumer-lumpen, others wonderfully macabre (and ferocious), like the queen of the spindlers and the shape-shifting scawgs. In the course of her episodic quest, Liza discovers she is resourceful and brave; she sees things differently than before. Richly detailed, at times poetic, ultimately moving; a book to be puzzled over, enjoyed and, ideally, read aloud. (Final illustrations not seen.) (Fantasy. 8-12)



Looking At Lincoln

Horn Book (January/February, 2012)


A young girl walking through a park passes a Lincoln look-alike and begins to wonder about our sixteenth president. "Who was he?" she asks herself. Being a clever girl, she goes to the library (a van Gogh-inspired room) to find out. She discovers facts but gets "lost in the photos of his unusual face. I stared at one. I could look at him forever." Never pedantic, but through a natural structure that follows the young narrator's own thought processes, the narrative lists some basic facts she discovers about Lincoln's life and then moves to her childlike musings, printed in a more casual font, that personalize this account. "I wonder if Mary and Abraham had nicknames for each other. Did she call him Linky? Did he call her Little Plumpy? Maybe." Other bits of Lincoln lore (objects such as Mary's vanilla cake and Lincoln's top hat) inspire further questions. The story gradually becomes more sophisticated, introducing war and slavery, for example, and these musings, still interspersed with questions, conclude with Lincoln's death. A gloomy funeral scene with the riderless horse is depicted in grays and blacks, a sobering, even startling, note among the profusion of bright gouache illustrations that are as colorful as springtime in Arles. Additional back matter extends the text, but it is the narrator's concluding words as she faces the Lincoln Memorial that best encourages historical examination: "Look into his beautiful eyes. Just look." betty carter



Each Kindness

Booklist starred (August 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 22))


Grades K-3. Starting with the title, this quiet, intense picture book is about the small actions that can haunt. As in collaborations such as Coming on Home Soon (2004), Woodson’s spare, eloquent free verse and Lewis’ beautiful, spacious watercolor paintings tell a story for young kids that will touch all ages. In a first-person voice, Chloe speaks about how a new girl in class, Maya, gets the empty seat next to her and tries to be friends. But Chloe and her clique will have none of the poor white kid in her old ragged clothes, and their meanness intensifies after Maya asks to play with them. Then Maya’s family moves away, and she is “forever gone,” leaving Chloe without the chance to put things right. Chloe’s teacher spells out lessons of kindness, but the story is most powerful in the scenes of malicious bullying in the multiracial classroom and in the school yard. It is rare to tell a story of cruelty from the bully’s viewpoint, and both the words and pictures powerfully evoke Chloe’s shame and sorrow over the kindness she has not shown, as she looks at the empty seat next to her in the classroom, and then, alone and troubled, throws a stone in the water and watches the ripples move out and away. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The combined talents and star power of Woodson and Lewis will undoubtably create plenty of pre-pub. buzz.



Whatever After: Fairest of All

Booklist (April 1, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 15))


Grades 4-6. There’s “once upon a time” and “happily ever after,” but what happens when the story “gets all tangled up” in the middle? That question is at the heart of this debut title in a new fairy-tale-themed series. Ten-year-old Abby and her seven-year-old brother, Jonah, are living a normal life in a new town until they discover the mirror in the basement. When they knock on its surface three times, they’re whizzed away to fairy-tale land and find themselves at the home of Snow (yes, White). Just as Evil Evelyn, her wicked stepmother, is about to hand over the infamous poison apple, Jonah intervenes. But if Snow doesn’t eat the poison apple, then the prince can’t save her, and that means Snow’s love life is ruined, not to mention Disney’s whole movie. There’s lots of hilarious artistic license here (three of the seven dwarfs are women; one has pink hair), along with unexpected plot twists and plenty of girl power. Tween girls who may not be quite ready for Donna Jo Napoli and Gail Carson Levine’s fractured-fairy-tale novels will find this title is just right.



Jake and Lily

Horn Book (May/June, 2012)


Twins Jake and Lily have always shared a birthday, a room, and a special connection they call "goombla" (e.g., if Lily gets hurt, Jake feels pain). Now it’s the summer before sixth grade, and things are changing for the twins. Their parents decide they should have separate rooms (Jake is game, Lily distraught), and Jake starts hanging around with Bump Stubbins, whom Lily loathes. The story is a conversation between the two, with alternating viewpoints and reactions to each other’s telling (Jake to Lily: "I don’t believe you’re going to bring that stuff up"). The narrative rambles a bit, especially at the beginning before the story line picks up; however, the structure works well to provide insight into the characters both as individuals and as siblings. Jake does some regrettable things but redeems himself by book’s end. Lily shrugs off fear and self-pity to regain her inner vigilante. Spinelli’s hallmark issues -- individuality, nonconformity, alienation, standing up for the little guy -- figure prominently, and the messages are for the most part convincingly worked into the story. There’s also a welcome sense of mystery; no one tries to rationalize goombla, for example, instead allowing the kids’ unique twin-ness to remain unexplained. elissa gershowitz



Monday, December 3, 2012

Nightsong

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2012)


Exquisite design coupled with evocative illustrations enrich this charming tale of a little bat taking his first solo flight and how he learns to "see" with his "good sense," otherwise known as echolocation. Although picture books about bats abound, small Chiro will capture readers' hearts immediately. When the bat-mother tells her child it is time for him to fly alone, the little one shares his fears about the darkness and his inability to see. His mother instructs him on what to do--"sing out into the world, and [listen to] the song the world sings back to you. Sing, and the world will answer. That is how you'll see." Up to this point, Long, utilizing acrylics and graphite, features the two creatures up close in toasty browns against a textured dark background. When the mother lets Chiro go, the page turn reveals an emotional change in perspective. No longer is the young bat cuddly and large on the page; now he appears tiny and vulnerable in the immense black spread. Talented storytelling features rich yet concrete language to describe and to build suspense during the bat's nocturnal trip. Vague but frightening shapes in the dark become defined as trees, bugs, geese and ocean waves in the bluish-green tones used to render a visual of the bat's echolocation. Young ones will relate to Chiro and cheer as he gains confidence with his newfound skill and will be deeply satisfied flying along on his sensory-rich journey. (Picture book. 4-7)



Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy

Booklist (November 1, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 5))


Preschool-Grade 2. In an anything but soothing lullaby, a rather high-strung cowboy tries to strum a pair of little dogies to sleep. He punctuates his somniferous lyrics—It’s time for little cows to rest their heads. / It’s time for little cows to go to bed—with a regular Eeeeek! as he mistakes a shadowy flower, a stick, and a harmless shadow for a spider, a snake, and a large, lumbering bear, respectively. In typically elemental cartoon illustrations, Thomas uses loud colors that don’t always stay within their outlines, and she places her large figures against plain backgrounds of deep blues and purples. Ultimately another shadow actually does turn out to be a huge wolf, but as wolves also love lullabies, the stage is set for a cozy finish. In this, as in Thomas’ other comically manic crowd-pleasers, the only thing wrong is that it’s all over so quickly.



Creep and Flutter

Booklist (April 15, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 16))


Grades 3-5. Similar in approach to Arnosky’s Slither and Crawl (2009) and Thunder Birds (2011), this large-format book features many colorful illustrations, six foldout pages, and a wealth of knowledge about insects and arachnids. Each section presents a topic such as “Mayflies, Dragonflies, Stoneflies, and Caddisflies” or “Beetles and Bugs.” Used in combination with beautifully shaded pencil drawings, the colorful and sometimes dramatic acrylic paintings of creatures (represented life-size, enlarged, or supersized) will draw readers to the book. The approachable text is quite informative as well. Writing in first person is chancy in a science book, but it works here because it springs from Arnosky’s decades of observing nature and discovering how things work. Whether he writes of living in woods infested by gypsy moths or walking down a trail into a huge spiderweb, a personal narrative opens each section, which broadens to describe a group of insects or arachnids and offers facts about particular species alongside many pictures of the animals. An inviting, informative addition to science collections.



Abe Lincoln's Dream

Horn Book (November/December, 2012)


Smith channels his inner Dickens, presenting a ghost of White Houses past: the specter of one Abraham Lincoln. While visiting the White House, a young girl named Quincy spies a tall man in a stovepipe hat pacing around. He confesses to worrying about the path the country has taken since 1865. Quincy persuades him to leave the “Executive Mansion” (as he still thinks of it), and the two soar over Washington DC. “Are the states united?” Abe asks. Quincy assures him they are, and that his optimistic, forward-thinking wish for equality for all people is now possible. “And Man?” the ghost asks as they fly past the Capitol. “Does he no longer Fuss ’n’ Fight with his fellow man?” Quincy’s answer -- “We’re still working on that one” -- is underscored by an illustration of a chair being thrown out of that august building. Here, Smith’s palette, which lightens from darker reds, browns, and blacks to the glorious promise of Washington’s cherry blossoms, shows faith in that possibility, leading to the story’s hopeful ending, with America’s Ship of State (appropriately, a nineteenth-century paddle wheeler) heading toward a better world. Abe’s Ichabod Crane-like angularity is set against an imaginative array of design elements, from the hand-lettered broadside printing of the nineteenth century to collages incorporating various patterns and effects -- crackle, sponge-painting, spackle -- that also lend an old-fashioned feel. However, Smith combines and juxtaposes these elements to create a look both bold and spectacular. Beyond its visual pleasures, the book effectively, and with a light touch, presents government as a work in progress rather than the done-deal children are usually taught; author’s notes (effectively pitched at a young audience) provide historical context. betty carter



Monday, November 26, 2012

Barnum's Bones

Booklist starred (June 1, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 19))


Grades 1-4. On February 12, 1873, Barnum was born. No, not that Barnum—Barnum Brown. His parents hoped his “important-sounding” name would lead him to do important things, and it didn’t take long for their wish to come true. As soon as Barnum could toddle, he collected fossils—so many that they overflowed the house. Years later, when he heard about dinosaur fossils unearthed out west, he wanted in on the action. Barnum often went prospecting in “a fur coat, suit and tie, buffed black boots, and a bowler hat,” and he found bones—lots of them—but wasn’t satisfied. A professor at New York’s Museum of Natural History hired Barnum, believing “he must be able to smell fossils,” and sent him on collection trips. But Barnum’s big find would come in the early 1900s with the discovery of bone fragments from a new species, which Barnum named Tyrannosaurus rex, or his “favorite child.” After Barnum later unearthed a perfect T. rex skull, an entire skeleton was pieced together by 1915, drawing millions of visitors. Fern (Buffalo Music, 2008) writes in language brimming with personality and vividly captures the scientist’s over-the-top personality, while Kulikov’s intricate renderings of dinosaur bones are truly breathtaking. This will captivate the masses of kids whose jaws drop in the presence of hulking fossils. An author’s note concludes.



NERDS 4 The Villain Virus

The NERDS series combines the excitement of international espionage with the awkwardness of elementary school as it follows the adventures of a group of unpopular fifth graders who run a spy network from inside their school. With the help of cutting-edge science, they transform their nerdy qualities into incredible abilities, and the results are awesome, inspiring—and hilarious.


A virus has infected Arlington, Virginia, home of NERDS headquarters, and it's much worse than your run-of-the-mill flu. Instead of coughing and sneezing, the victims of this voracious virus are transformed into superintelligent criminal masterminds. Soon nearly everyone—including some of the NERDS team—is plotting to take over the world. And who's to blame for this nasty infection? None other than former NERDS teammate Heathcliff Hodges. With more people breaking out into evil cackles every day, it's up to Flinch, the hyperactive superspy with a sweet tooth, to stop the virus. He needs to destroy the virus at its source, and to do that he's going to have to get inside Heathcliff's head—literally. Flinch will have to miniaturize himself and take a fantastic voyage through the supervillain's body to fight white blood cells, stomach acid, and a nest of nasty nanobytes in the hope that he can save the world from . . . the Villain Virus.



Those Rebels, John & Tom

Booklist starred (December 1, 2011 (Vol. 108, No. 7))


Grades 2-4. It is sometimes easy to think of the Founding Fathers as a bunch of interchangeable guys in wigs and weird pants. This fun, energetic double portrait of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson shines a light on how different these two men were from each other. John was brash, argumentative, and as persuasive as a cudgel. Tom was contemplative, shy, and a wicked wielder of the pen. Together, they formed a bond of mutual respect and used their complementary styles to rally a nation behind them. Showing that even the shining beacons of history are complicated figures, Kerley acknowledges the bitter irony that even as Thomas Jefferson was writing the Declaration of Independence and including a provision to prohibit slavery (later taken out by the delegates), he was likely being served tea by his own slave boy. Fotheringham provides page after page of clever, cartoon-style artwork and skillful compositions—heavily steeped in reds, whites, and blues—that add to the excitement of overthrowing stuffy old King George; an image of Tom skewering the monarch with a giant pen, the newly formed Continental army marching in the background, is especially memorable. A worthy addition to the American history curriculum, this is a terrific book to lead the charge in learning about the Revolution, as well as a lesson in how dedicated cooperation can achieve great ends. An obvious choice to pair with Worst of Friends (below).



You Never Heard of Willie Mays?!

Booklist starred (September 1, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 1))


Grades 2-4. Winter follows up You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! (2009), a Booklist Top of the List—Youth Nonfiction winner, with an ebullient look at another groundbreaking baseballer. Winter’s squirming-in-his-seat excitement gives this abbreviated bio the feel of a baseball card–wielding kid slapping his forehead in disbelief: “You never heard of Willie Mays?! THE Willie Mays?! Oh, geez, where to begin?” How about here: Mays is a gangly lad in Alabama who idolizes Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, even though blacks aren’t allowed to play in Joe’s league—“craziest rule there ever was.” Mimicking Joe’s techniques, Willie joins the recently integrated New York Giants at 20, lifting the floundering club to new heights before a nation that must finally admit that baseball’s best player is black. Text boxes offer up mind-numbing stats and fearless conclusions (“Yep, they were better,” Winter writes when comparing the Negro League to the pros), but Winter’s forte is describing impossible-to-describe plays: “It was hit too far, too hard, and Willie has his back to it—lookin’ like he might run smack into the WALL!” Meanwhile, Widener’s lumpy, blurry-edged, off-kilter acrylics are perfect for rendering the alternately joyful and fierce Mays as larger than life. The Say Hey Kid had style to spare, and so does this irrepressible book.



Monday, November 12, 2012

The Five Lives of our cat Zook

Horn Book (May/June, 2012)


Oona did not acquire the family cat Zook (short for Zucchini) in the most respectable of ways. By hiding his collar, she liberated the animal, skinny and with a BB pellet in his side, from an owner she suspected of neglect. Since that time two-and-a-half years ago, Oona’s father has died, and now Zook is sick. To comfort her little brother, Oona, channeling their dad, "the Great Rebus-Maker and Whopper-Teller," comes up with stories about Zook’s previous lives. The siblings’ own lives are also changing, as their mother has started dating Dylan, a.k.a. The Villain, original owner (Oona thinks) of Zook. Just as she did in One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street (rev. 7/11), Rocklin intertwines her characters so smartly that the many coincidences and serendipitous events feel organic to the story. This time the setting is Oakland, California, where, in Oona’s close-knit, "multi-culti" neighborhood, the local pizza joint acts as the kids’ afterschool hangout and block parties double as family reunions. It’s not all urban gardens and sunshine, though; Oona’s friend starts acting distant; her mother is underemployed; and her father’s absence weighs heavily on everyone’s hearts. Plus, Zook’s failing health leaves Oona, her mother, and brother to make painful decisions about his care. The story’s ending -- bittersweet, inevitable, and true -- offers much-needed catharsis for the family and for anyone who has ever loved a pet. elissa gershowitz



Jangles a Big fish story

Booklist (September 1, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 1))


Grades K-3. Stories about the one that got away are as plentiful as fish in the sea, but leave it to Shannon to distill one into its essence in this picture book. Jangles, named for the jawful of tinkling lures he’s accumulated over the years, “was so big, he ate eagles from the trees that hung out over the lake and full-grown beavers that strayed too far from home.” Locals have tried everything to catch him—from whole-turkey bait to dynamite depth charges—but no one even comes close until a boy (the narrator’s father) snags the monster trout at the end of his line. Jangles pulls the boy out of his boat, dashes him off to his underwater home, and tells him stories about the young days of the world before sending the boy back to the surface. The big reveal of where the tall tale ends and the truth begins ties it all up with the warmth and magic of a fatherly wink. Shannon’s lustrous paintings are packed full of magic-hour hues, and fairly glow right off the pages. A neat bonding story, this will become a fast favorite.



The French Fry King

Kirkus Reviews (April 1, 2012)


A spotted dachshund with an inquiring mind and big ambitions starts his own French-fry stand, and his fries become popular with customized versions around the world. Though Roger finds fame and fortune with his fantastic fries, he ultimately realizes his life is rather empty and worries that he is esteemed for his fries alone. The whimsical illustrations take on a darker, gray cast as Roger descends into a depressed phase, but then he meets a charming white dog, Charlotte the Corn Cob Queen, who has her own successful food business. The two canine entrepreneurs fall in love and invent a new product to sell, Royal Shepherd's Pie. Both the story and the illustrations are appealingly fantastical, with tall-tale exaggerations and witty interactions with satisfied customers. The illustrations have a chic, urban flair with a muted palette and some hints at the author/illustrator's French-Canadian background, such as a few signs in both English and French. A poster of the dogs with their recipe for shepherd's pie is included on the inside of the book jacket. Roger's story conveys the subtle and salutary message that material achievement and fame does not necessarily include love and companionship, and a shared venture may be sweeter than solitary success. (Picture book. 4-7)



Monday, November 5, 2012

The Case of the Incapacitated Capitals

Booklist starred (October 1, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 3))


Preschool-Grade 3. Mr. Wright’s students write a letter to cheer up their despondent teacher, but the idea backfires when they use no capital letters. “You’ve forgotten something important,” he prods them, noting that letter writing is different from texting. After a couple of lame guesses and an off-topic discussion of Mr. Wright’s childhood nickname, the now-fuming teacher informs them that certain words need to be capitalized. When the classroom’s capitals are found to be incapacitated (paramedics diagnose “a case of serious neglect”), the children learn their lesson, use the capitals properly, and earn a hilarious prize. Three appended pages explain why capital letters are called “uppercase,” show why each capital is used within a color-coded letter, and list some “useful rules” for capitalization. In the funniest picture book yet from Pulver and Reed’s Language Arts Library series, the students are well meaning, easily distracted, and not without cunning. Childlike acrylic paintings combine with digital elements to make the artwork vivid and colorful. From the conversations between uppercase and lowercase letters to the comedy within class discussions, it’s hard to read the story aloud without laughing, and the humor makes the lesson more likely to stick. A madcap grammar book for kids to enjoy.



Benny and Penny in Lights Out!

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 1, 2012)


It's bedtime for the mouseling brother and sister--but not before plenty of horsing around and a deliciously scary expedition into the backyard. As little Penny quietly tries to wash up and pretend-read a story ("One day the princess was sent to her room for being bratty. But she had a secret door..."), her restless big brother interrupts obnoxiously with warnings about the Boogey Mouse, loud belches and other distractions. When Benny realizes that he's left his prized pirate hat in the backyard, though, Penny braves the Boogey Mouse to follow him out of the window and prod him into reclaiming it from the spooky, dark playhouse. She also "reads" him to sleep after the two race, giggling at their fright, back indoors. Framed in sequential panels that occasionally expand to full-page or double-spread scenes, the art features a pair of big-eared, bright-eyed mites (plus the occasional fictive dinosaur) in cozy domestic settings atmospherically illuminated by the glow of lamps, Benny's flashlight and the moon. As in this popular series' earlier episodes, dialogue in unobtrusive balloons furnishes the only text, but the action is easy to follow, and Hayes provides plenty of finely drawn visual cues to the characters' feelings. Another outing positively radiant with child appeal, featuring a pair of close siblings with complementary personalities. (Graphic early reader. 5-7)



My Robots: The Robotic Genius of Lady Regina Bonquers III

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2012)


The creator of useful field guides to monsters (2007) and aliens (2010) turns his attention to an eccentric Scottish inventor's mechanical fancies. Along with images of taped- or tacked-on rough sketches, scrawled notes, product brochures and schematic diagrams purportedly discovered in Lady Regina Bonquers III's mysteriously abandoned castle near Loch MeeAhwey, Olander offers descriptions of over 23 marvelous machines. These range from a 40-foot-tall, garbage-recycling Crocobot Compactor and the protean household helper Chore Master X2000 to a pocket-sized Personal Grooming Robot equipped with pimple popper. Skating even closer to the boundaries of good taste, he also presents a tall and soft-bodied "Hugging Robot" built by the solitary Lady as her personal comfort object. Thanks largely to programming glitches and, often, attendant bad publicity, none of Lady Bonquers' ingenious creations enjoyed commercial success, alas. Nevertheless, budding inventors may find inspiration in these pages (if not specific instructions or even clear details) for labor- and life-saving robots of their own. According to the author, Lady Bonquers is still remembered in "the international circle of pseudoscientists and mad geniuses." Here's hoping that this tribute will expand her renown to a wider audience. (Fiction. 10-12)



Ralph Tells A Story

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2012)


With a little help from his audience, a young storyteller gets over a solid case of writer's block in this engaging debut. Despite the (sometimes creatively spelled) examples produced by all his classmates and the teacher's assertion that "Stories are everywhere!" Ralph can't get past putting his name at the top of his paper. One day, lying under the desk in despair, he remembers finding an inchworm in the park. That's all he has, though, until his classmates' questions--"Did it feel squishy?" "Did your mom let you keep it?" "Did you name it?"--open the floodgates for a rousing yarn featuring an interloping toddler, a broad comic turn and a dramatic rescue. Hanlon illustrates the episode with childlike scenes done in transparent colors, featuring friendly-looking children with big smiles and widely spaced button eyes. The narrative text is printed in standard type, but the children's dialogue is rendered in hand-lettered printing within speech balloons. The episode is enhanced with a page of elementary writing tips and the tantalizing titles of his many subsequent stories ("When I Ate Too Much Spaghetti," "The Scariest Hamster," "When the Librarian Yelled Really Loud at Me," etc.) on the back endpapers. An engaging mix of gentle behavior modeling and inventive story ideas that may well provide just the push needed to get some budding young writers off and running. (Picture book. 6-8)



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?

School Library Journal (June 1, 2011)


PreS-Gr 2-This standout concept book is engaging, fun, and interactive. It begins by explaining that, "Some things grow/like you and me./Others stay the way/they're made./Until they crack, or rust,/or fade." Simple, spare rhyming text flows smoothly with illustrations that follow on pages that include die cuts and flaps; "If a kitten grows,/becomes a cat,/can a cap grow and become. a hat?" The answers are provided at the end. Layers of painted paper collage are done in a brightly colored palette, including end pages with bold paintbrush stripes in primary and secondary colors. White space is creatively used, but the flaps and die cuts steal the show. For example, the spread featuring snakes in saturated black, yellow, and green pops on the white background. A pickup truck grows to be a rig when the flap is opened. The flatbed becomes the trailer enhanced with a pattern that resembles the American flag. Readers will be challenged by the questions and some unusual words for the names of a few baby animals: a kit, an owlet, a kid, and a joey. This clever title begs for multiple readings and will be a favorite in storytimes or in one-on-one settings. Spot-on.-Anne Beier, Clifton Public Library, NJ (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Black Dog

Kirkus Reviews starred (May 15, 2012)


Pinfold's story has a timeless quality despite its entirely original flair, with sumptuous paintings and thumbnail embellishments adding narrative and descriptive content. One by one, the Hope family spies a black dog outside their home, each person describing it as larger and more fearsome than the next. They all proceed to hide from the dog, until "the youngest member of the Hope family, called Small (for short)," steps outside to confront it herself. While her family cowers inside, Small bravely approaches the shaggy beast, who appears quite large indeed in the tempera paintings. A sense of folkloric magic underscores the confrontation as this youngest of three siblings cajoles the dog to follow her on a journey through the woods, under a bridge, over a frozen pond and through a playground. All along, she entreats it to shrink in size, and it does, until it is small enough to fit through a doggy door back at her house. Once they are inside, Small's family welcomes the dog and praises her bravery. "There was nothing to be scared of," she succinctly replies. The closing scene showing Small and the dog cozy by the fire, alongside a thumbnail portrait of the family by the text, leaves readers with a satisfying image of familial contentment. A great pick for storytime, bedtime, anytime. (Picture book. 3-7)



The Unforgotten Coat

Booklist (September 1, 2011 (Vol. 108, No. 1))


Grades 3-6. With both humor and sorrow, this chapter book tells a contemporary refugee story in which illegal immigrants help a local kid find a sense of belonging. When Mongolian Chingis and his younger brother, Nergui, turn up in Julie’s sixth-grade class in Bootle, near Liverpool, they ask her to be their guide in “learning themselves ordinary.” They ask about the rules of football and the right buzzwords, and Chingis tells Julie about the exotic wonders of Genghis Khan’s Xanadu and shows her, and the reader, amazing Polaroids of nomads in the desert. In her first-person narrative, Julie describes the moving friendship, and even while the brothers hide from authorities, they help Julie learn to see the strange and wonderful in her own home, especially after she discovers that their “exotic” pictures were taken right where she lives, in the nearby fields and alleyways. Inspired by the many photo images throughout the story, readers will see the riches in the smallest details—even schoolyard trash cans.



Hocus Pocus

Kirkus Reviews (June 15, 2011)


Insouciant bunny meets slow-witted bulldog in this nearly wordless romp. No sooner do Mr. Magic the magician and his canine sidekick stretch out for a snooze than a blue rabbit hops from the top hat on the nearby bureau. A bucket of veggies in the adjacent kitchen looks enticing--but there's a problem: how to get past the sleeping dog? Very simply drawn and colored in an angular retro style, the figures in Simard's unframed sequential panels display cartoonishly exaggerated expressions. These are perfectly suited to a chase that begins with the crunch of a stepped-on peanut and escalates into a kitchen free-for-all in which spilled milk and sprayed ketchup play major roles. Sound effects and speech bubbles that often contain nothing but single images or punctuation marks give a handy assist: "FLUMP!"; "[light bulb]"; "PBBTTTHH!"; "!?" In the end the bunny gets its carrot, and the poor dog definitely comes off second best. Like a classic Looney Tunes cartoon on paper, it's all quick action and hilarious slapstick. (Picture book. 4-6)



Monday, October 22, 2012

Willie and Uncle Bill

Booklist (April 15, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 16))


Grades K-3. By dividing her picture book into vignettes, Schwartz succeeds in making the three relatively low-key episodes feel like something much greater: the proof of a genuine, long-lasting relationship between a little boy and his unflappable Uncle Bill. Each tale starts with Bill showing up to babysit his nephew Willie—but from there, results vary. First, Willie takes a scissors to his head, necessitating a late-night trip to the flamboyant uncle’s favorite salon, Hair—by Pierre. Bill’s reaction to Willie’s new buzz? “It’s very . . . Now.” The second story involves cooking a revolting concoction called Icky Stew, which is refused by every human and animal, until some seagulls take a liking. The final, and best, story illustrates how Bill—and adults like him—truly understand what strikes the fancy of kids. Bored, Bill takes his nephew to watch a rock band he knows rehearse in their garage. Yep, pretty awesome. Schwartz’s finely lined and candy-colored gouache art give things a sprightly feel, which perfectly matches the clear, though happily unstated, affection the two characters share for each other.



What To Do If An Elephant Stands On Your Foot

Kirkus Reviews (May 15, 2012)


The moral of this tongue-in-cheek instruction book is, Don't Startle the Elephant. If, in the course of your explorations, an elephant stands on your foot, "keep calm," lest you rouse the tiger, and then the rhino, snakes and crocodiles, requiring a rescue by monkeys. Our intrepid explorer (outfitted with safari vest, adventurer's hat and binoculars) has one misadventure after another in this effective collaboration between words and pictures. Sharp-eyed readers will see the problems coming even before the reveal of the page turn. The narrator, whose helpful advice appears in the white above the cartoon-like illustrations, is not above saying "[t]old you so" and "don't say I didn't warn you." While adults may want to remind the creators there are no tigers on the African savanna, the apparent setting for this romp--why not a leopard or a lion?--children will happily go along with the story's silliness. Reynolds' traveler bears a strong resemblance to his rendition of Judy Moody. His Horton-like elephant is particularly appealing, his tiger and alligators especially toothy, and the monkeys downright manic. The humor of these watercolor drawings fits the exaggeration of the storyline nicely. When the ending suggests that the story is starting over, listeners will be happy to hear it again. This is Robinson's first published picture book, but others are in the pipeline. A promising launch. (Picture book. 4-8)



Mr. Zinger's Hat

Booklist (October 1, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 3))


Grades K-2. Every child needs a Mr. Zinger—and his hat!—in his or her life. A contemplative, self-contained writer who wears a big black hat on his thought-gathering walks, Mr. Zinger nevertheless has time for Leo when the child’s ball misfires and sends the hat sailing. Recovering from the encounter, the kind man engages the child by asking what kind of story the retrieved hat holds. Collaborating on the tale, Mr. Zinger helps Leo use his imagination to create the story-within-a-story about a prince and a ball—both of which seem awfully familiar. Petricic’s illustrations change from loose, soft watercolors to sharply defined cartoon drawings when the two enter the realm of their shared fiction. When the dreamy washes resume, Mr. Zinger continues along his walk, while Leo pays forward the storytelling hat trick to a new playmate, this time with his own baseball cap. This book oh-so-softly brings across a sweet, multigenerational message about sharing the power of imagination.



The Emerald Atlas

School Library Journal (June 1, 2011)


Gr 4-8-Kate, 14, 12-year-old Michael, and 11-year-old Emma have lived in 12 different orphanages during the decade since their parents' mysterious disappearance. Kate tries to care for her brother and sister as she promised her mother, but this gets harder when they are sent to a new orphanage directed by Dr. Stanislaus Pym and find that they are the only children in his remote mansion. When they explore the home, they discover a magical door that reveals a hidden study, where they find a magic book that allows them to travel through time. The action escalates as the girls try to rescue Michael, who is stranded in the past, and develops after the children learn the history of the Atlas and its connection to their lives. As they try to find the book in the past, they meet brash and humorous dwarves, a powerful warrior, and a younger Dr. Pym, as well as an evil witch who is also seeking the Atlas. Unfolding magic and secrets deepen the story and build excitement as it reaches its complex and time-bending climax. The siblings have a realistic and appealing relationship, including rivalry and bickering that hides their underlying deep loyalty to one another. Echoes of other popular fantasy series, from "Harry Potter" to the "Narnia" books, are easily found, but debut author Stephens has created a new and appealing read that will leave readers looking forward to the next volumes in this projected trilogy.-Beth L. Meister, Milwaukee Jewish Day School, WI (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Heroes In Training

School Library Journal (October 1, 2012)


Gr 2-4-This funny chapter book retells the story of Zeus, Cronus, and the Olympians. Many kids will already be familiar with Cronus, King of the Titans, who swallows his children so that they might never steal his throne. Zeus, the youngest of the Olympians, is smuggled out to a mountaintop sanctuary, and it is from this haven that he is kidnapped by some hungry, none-too-bright giants. Along their journey to Cronus, Zeus, who has always heard voices foretelling some great destiny, is helped by a number of mythological creatures. The voices and some strange clues he finds along the way lead him to think that the Olympians trapped inside Cronus are the key to his survival, even though he doesn't know the truth about who they are. This is a fun read, casting Zeus in the role of relatable kid, and there is a nice balance between his primary goal of survival and his sense of destiny and adventure. Drawings throughout illustrate particularly dramatic scenes, but for the most part, Zeus and his world are left to readers' imaginations. The story ends with him freeing the Olympians, who he is surprised to find are kids like himself. He agrees to travel with these new friends to find the rest of the Olympians, setting up the future of the series nicely. Share this title, and likely more to come, with those still too young for Percy Jackson's adventures.-Heather Talty, formerly at Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School, New York City (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Monday, October 15, 2012

Clueless McGee

Booklist (October 1, 2012 (Online))


Grades 4-6. Clueless and wimpy may not be exact synonyms, but it’s pretty clear that this effort, by an accomplished picture-book creator, is intended as a Jeff Kinney read-alike for ravenous middle-grade boys—and in that it’s successful. PJ McGee, the perpetually sans-clue protagonist, imagines himself a ninja-spy and writes chapter-long letters documenting his daily adventures to his absent father, who he believes is off on a secret mission, although world-wise readers may suspect otherwise. Nobody else sees PJ as being as cool as he does—not his needy sister, an evil bully, his annoyed mother, or the “frog-smacking” principal—but one day, the mac and cheese goes missing from the cafeteria, and he pitches in to help solve the mystery. There are many fifth-grade hurdles in his way, from extrasticky chewing gum to an extrasweaty band teacher, but all paths eventually lead to the culprit while leaving room for the next title in the new series. Similarities to other titles of this ilk include a handwriting-style font and black-and-white na├»ve-style line drawings on every page.



Because Amelia Smiled

Horn Book (September/October, 2012)


What goes around comes around, to excellent global effect: it’s pouring as Amelia runs down the street, holding her smiling parents’ hands as they lark through puddles on comfortably shod feet. Where some kids might grumble at the weather, Amelia’s rain-spattered grin is so contagious that it prompts old Mrs. Higgins to bake cookies for her grandson in Mexico -- who shares them and a song with his class, which inspires one grateful student to become a teacher of dance and make a video that’s shown in faraway England. The good vibes voyage on to Israel, Paris, and more, prompting a marriage, among other happy events, and eventually completing a circuit (via TV) back to New York and Amelia herself. Salutary good humor and a series of related events are both reliable picture book patterns; their up-to-date transmission here, however, is particularly effective, as are Stein’s cheerfully energetic illustrations in pencil, water-soluble crayon, and watercolor. His main characters are scruffy and fascinatingly individual, his settings are exuberant with color and light, and both are sure to elicit smiles in any kind of weather. joanna rudge long



Vampirina Ballerina

Horn Book (September/October, 2012)


It’s a familiar story: a young girl begins dance lessons, works hard, perseveres through doubts and missteps, and eventually makes a successful debut performance. The twist here? She’s a young vampire, taking evening ballet classes. Aside from a few vampire-student-specific tips (watch the fangs; don’t trip on your cape when curtsying to Madame), Pace’s encouraging text reads like an advice book for any young dancer. Pham’s illustrations steal the show, offering plenty of visual jokes for both vampire fans (Vampirina’s spider-lace costume and lack of reflection in the studio mirror) and balletomanes (she poses for a Degas-style painting and wears a "Dancing Queen" T-shirt). The watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations make excellent use of black and, of course, soft ballet pink; two foldout pages highlight Vampirina’s recital with her classmates. Sound advice, good technical form, and correct terminology will help ensure that young ballerinas will, as Madame advises, "always move with your head held high." But the message that passion, dedication, and patience have beautiful results is inspirational for any reader. After all, "it doesn’t matter if you take one giant leap or many tiny steps, as long as you are moving toward your goal." katie bircher



The Hueys in The New Sweater

Booklist starred (May 15, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 18))


Preschool-Grade 1. Jeffers (Stuck, 2011) introduces a whole species of egg-shaped, stick-limbed things called Hueys (think of them as animated personifications of Malvina Reynolds’ little boxes made of ticky-tacky), who were all identical and indistinguishable and just fine with that, thank you very much. Then, in a day that will go down in Huey history, a Huey named Rupert knits himself a lovely orange sweater. As much as he loves his new sweater and wears it everywhere he goes, not everyone is so keen on it: “Didn’t he know that the thing about Hueys was that they were all the same?” But Rupert’s pal Gillespie thinks being different is kind of neat, so he knits himself an identical orange sweater, and all of a sudden the other Hueys think these guys might be onto something. While parents might get the biggest chuckle out of the more restrained bits of humor, the big joke is by no means out of reach for little funny bones: “Before long, they were all different, and no one was the same anymore,” the text reads, floating above a scene of endless Hueys all decked out in spiffy orange sweaters. The spare but adorable artwork makes this picture book work as a quirky diversion, but it doesn’t diminish the understated, deftly delivered lesson for those moments when kids need a nudge to help be themselves, or be OK when everyone else wants to be just like them.



The Quiet Place

Booklist starred (July 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 21))


Grades 1-3. When Isabel moves from Mexico to Michigan with her parents and older brother, she leaves behind a beloved aunt, who has been teaching her English. In a series of letters to “Dear Auntie Lupita,” Isabel practices her new language as she writes about starting school, playing outside after a surprise snowfall, and helping her mother cook for children’s birthday parties. Isabel uses discarded boxes to makes her own cozy “quiet place” of safety and, eventually, creativity. After celebrating her birthday with her family and new friends, Isabel’s happiness shines from the letter she writes. A final foldout spread, showing Isabel and her friends enjoying her now not-so-quiet special place, brims with lively details for children to enjoy. Set in the 1950s, the book contains expressive mixed-media artwork that includes many period elements, while the story is timeless in its depiction of a child slowly adjusting to a new home and a new language. The inventive illustrations, including several wordless spreads, define spaces in a creative variety of ways, from a revealing scene showing Isabel within the broader neighborhood to a more intimate view of the child inside her quiet place. A moving, memorable portrayal of one child’s immigrant experience.



Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Shiver me Timbers!

Booklist (September 15, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 2))


Grades K-3. “Arrgh, matey, best beware!” Pirates take the stage in Florian’s latest book of short, rhymed verse. Delighting in the colorful vocabulary of pirate lore and the popular image of piracy, these 19 poems focus on topics such as the code of conduct, food, and weapons of piracy. While history plays a role, the book’s overall tone is comical, with an outlook summed up in pithy, playful lines such as “We’re rude, crude dudes with attitudes. / We’re motley and we’re mean,” and “A pirate’s life is topsy-turvy, / Full of strife and rife with scurvy.” Bold ink drawings, digitally brightened with colors, capture the tone of the writing and add their own witty details. With deft wordplay in the verse and droll comedy in the art, the book is fun to read aloud. Despite a good bit of sword waving and some sticking out of tongues, there’s no more violence here than in a production of The Pirates of Penzance.



Penny and Her Doll

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 1, 2012)


Following Penny and Her Song (2012), Henkes delivers an even stronger slice of anthropomorphic mouse life for beginning readers. The story opens with Penny chatting amicably with her mother in the garden. Penny smells the roses while Mama weeds, and then the mailman delivers a package from Gram. Inside is a doll for Penny, with a note reading, "I saw this doll when I was shopping. I thought you would love her. I hope you will." And, she does. The fly in the ointment is Penny's struggle to name the doll. Her parents make suggestions, but none seem right, and they reassure her, "Try not to think too hard...Then maybe a name will come to you." Sure enough, after taking her doll on a tour of the house and then into the garden, the perfect name arises: "[T]his is Rose!" she announces. Henkes always excels at choosing just-right names for his characters (see Chester, Wilson, Lilly, Sheila Rae and, of course, Chrysanthemum and her "absolutely perfect" moniker), so this story seems particularly at home in his oeuvre. The familiarity of Henkes' mouse world, as well as expertly paced and controlled storytelling for new readers, mark this as a new classic, earning Penny a firm place alongside the not-so-creatively-named Frog, Toad, Little Bear and that celebrated Cat in the Hat. A doll of a beginning reader. (Early reader. 5-7)



Boy + Bot

Booklist starred (April 1, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 15))


Preschool-Grade 1. Is any love greater than that between a boy and his robot? While picking pinecones, a boy meets a bright-red, rocket-shaped robot and asks, “Want to play? “Affirmative!” the robot responds, and the pair has tons of fun until a rock bumps the robot’s power switch off. Not understanding the bot’s unresponsiveness, the boy wheels him home and begins feeding him applesauce, reading him a story, and crafting a makeshift bed. When the boy’s parents, unaware of a robot behind the door, check on their son, the door bumps the robot’s power switch back on. Not distinguishing the boy’s unresponsiveness as sleep, the robot, in a humorous reversal, fears the boy has malfunctioned and carries him back to his laboratory, where he gives him oil and begins to prepare a new battery—when, just in time, the not-evil-at-all inventor shows up to put things right. The spare text (“Boy! You-are-fixed!”) replicates the steady beats of the simple yet comedic story, while Yaccarino’s expressive, quirky, and humorously geometric gouache illustrations make the boy and robot’s relationship all the more endearing. The final, nearly wordless pages, with snapshots of the friends at play, are priceless.



Olivia and the Fairy Princesses

Booklist (August 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 22))


Preschool-Grade 1. Olivia is depressed. She sees that individuality counts for little in her world. Every other piggy girl (and some of the boys) all like to dress as sparkling fairy princesses. She, however, prefers a French sailor shirt, matador pants, red bag, pearls, and a gardening hat. Wherever she turns—ballets, books, bedtime stories—there are princesses. After she spends the night pondering what she can be other than a princess, the last page shows her glorious answer. She has made the leap—to queen. The text has some funny moments—when Olivia disdains a happily-ever-after story, her mother switches to “The Little Match Girl”—but as with previous books, most of the fun comes from the delicious artwork executed in signature charcoal perked up with reds. Here the high points include Olivia as four different kinds of costumed princess (Thai, African, Indian, and Chinese); a two-page spread of dancer Olivia eschewing tutus, dressed as Martha Graham in Lamentation; and Queen Olivia at the balcony. There are also some strong messages here about individuality and reinventing yourself according to your own vision. It’s an idea you’re never to young to learn. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Olivia is a successful franchise now, but quality remains high. Fans will be pleased with this addition to the series.



Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Obstinate Pen

Horn Book (March/April, 2012)


Writers and artists sometimes feel that their materials and tools are uncooperative, even hostile, but Uncle Flood has this problem in spades. His new pen is insulting, subversive, and anarchic. Uncle Flood tries to write, "The following story is all true," and what appears on the paper is "You have a BIG nose." When the pen falls into the hands of police officer Wonkle as he's trying to write a ticket, things look bad, but the pen turns out to be a bit of a romantic and matchmaker. In act three the pen ends up with Mrs. Norkham Pigeon-Smythe. She is determined to write a memoir of her "very lush life," but the pen has other ideas. Finally, the obstinate pen comes to rest with Uncle Flood's nephew Horace and in this congenial company finds its true purpose in life. Dormer's skinny-limbed, dot-eyed characters inhabiting a world of merry chaos are reminiscent of Quentin Blake and share his energy and warmth. sarah ellis



The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict

Booklist starred (February 1, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 11))


Grades 4-6. Meet Nicholas Benedict, a skinny nine-year-old orphan with a lumpy nose, an extraordinary intellect, and an inconvenient tendency to fall asleep when he is excited. Newly arrived at his latest orphanage (Rothchild’s End, ominously shortened to ’Child’s End), Nicholas quickly learns to avoid the Spiders (a gang of bullies) as best he can. Meanwhile, he secretly searches for the treasure rumored to be hidden in the dilapidated mansion and finds a couple of steadfast friends. With courage and ingenuity, he solves the mystery at the heart of the orphanage and even sets in motion a plan to defang the Spiders. This prequel to The Mysterious Benedict Society (2007) gives readers a reason to fall in love with the series all over again. Fans of the series will find here much that they loved in the opening volume: adventures, danger, cleverness, dry wit, and good-hearted characters at the center of the action. The novel is long, true, but many readers will find themselves reluctant to reach the end; and while Stewart leaves an opening for sequels about Nicholas as a child, this invigorating novel stands on its own. Two hundred years after Dickens’ birth, this orphan story plays notes in a familiar key but creates its own memorable tune. HIGH DEMAND BACK STORY: The popularity of The Mysterious Benedict Society and its sequels provides a built-in audience for this. Name recognition!



Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey

Booklist starred (April 15, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 16))


Preschool-Grade 2. Here’s another standout from a popular franchise. Traction Man Is Here! (2005) was great and Traction Man Meets Turbodog (2008) was even better. Here, just the endpapers in Traction Man’s third picture book would immediately make this purchase worthy. Just as every Ken needs a Barbie, the action-figure star meets his match in Beach Time Brenda (“Fully Accessorized with Lots and Lots of Stuff” and “Available in Light Pink, Mid Pink, or Sick Pink”). In this adventure, Traction Man and his trusty sidekick, Scrubbing Brush, are brought to the beach by their boy owner. They explore an underwater world of crabs and cockles, defend their picnic lunch from a hungry dog, and get swept out to sea by a vigorous wave. They’re rescued by a girl and squirreled away in a sand castle, where they meet two towering sirens called the Dollies (“You can stay in our castle FOR EVER!”). All ends well when, in a nice reversal, the Dollies show as much pluck as Traction Man in escaping as the castle crumbles. Grey supplies equal doses of humor and heroics in the zippy illustrations that play out the dual dramas on both human and miniature scales. The adventures that toys have apart from their owners is a surefire theme worth revisiting, and even more so when done with this much panache.



Creepy Carrots!

Kirkus Reviews starred (May 15, 2012)


Kids know vegetables can be scary, but rarely are edible roots out to get someone. In this whimsical mock-horror tale, carrots nearly frighten the whiskers off Jasper Rabbit, an interloper at Crackenhopper Field. Jasper loves carrots, especially those "free for the taking." He pulls some in the morning, yanks out a few in the afternoon, and comes again at night to rip out more. Reynolds builds delicious suspense with succinct language that allows understatements to be fully exploited in Brown's hilarious illustrations. The cartoon pictures, executed in pencil and then digitally colored, are in various shades of gray and serve as a perfectly gloomy backdrop for the vegetables' eerie orange on each page. "Jasper couldn't get enough carrots ... / ... until they started following him." The plot intensifies as Jasper not only begins to hear the veggies nearby, but also begins to see them everywhere. Initially, young readers will wonder if this is all a product of Jasper's imagination. Was it a few snarling carrots or just some bathing items peeking out from behind the shower curtain? The ending truly satisfies both readers and the book's characters alike. And a lesson on greed goes down like honey instead of a forkful of spinach. Serve this superbly designed title to all who relish slightly scary stories. (Picture book. 4-7)



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Boot & Shoe

Booklist starred (August 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 22))


Preschool-Grade 3. Boot and Shoe, Shoe and Boot—they’re a perfect pair. The white-and-black canine moppets are identical littermates, except for one small detail: Boot has boot-high black markings on his legs, while Shoe has shoe-high markings on his. They live in harmony, eating out of the same bowl, peeing on the same tree, and sleeping in the same bed. Boot is “a back porch kind of dog,” while Shoe prefers the front porch. Sounds blissful, right? And it is, until a pesky squirrel upends their little lives. Frustrated by the squirrel’s shenanigans, the two chase the tiny menace “until it gets bored,” then collapse belly-up from exhaustion. Boot wakes to find himself on the front porch, with no Shoe in sight; Shoe finds himself on the back porch, with no Boot in sight. Befuddled, they each wait lovingly for the other to return to his rightful spot. Two-time Caldecott Honor winner Frazee creates the dogs’ world in a series of cozy, expressive vignettes (nestled in plenty of white space), which capture the devoted friends’ joy and angst in shades of muted green and yellow. Full-page spreads offer up views of their tidy house, both porches visible, and a particularly amusing image depicts (seemingly) hundreds of squirrels and shaggy pups chasing one another around, up, and over the structure. Rarely have dogs—or footwear—been so charming.



This Is Not My Hat

Horn Book (September/October, 2012)


The eyes have it in Klassen’s latest hat book (I Want My Hat Back, rev. 11/11). Klassen manages to tell almost the whole story through subtle eye movements and the tilt of seaweed and air bubbles. The wide-eyed little fish on the cover looks guilty. He is. He has taken the tiny bowler from the head of a large sleeping fish and pleads his case to the reader. He explains why he will never be caught -- the fish is asleep; he won’t wake up or notice the missing hat; and he won’t know who took it or where the thief has gone. The culprit continues to flee the scene of the crime, moving to "where the plants are big and tall and close together." Once he reaches his destination, the reader sees the little guy for the last time, disappearing amidst the "safety" of the seaweed. The final spread is laugh-out-loud funny: the large fish now sports the teeny hat, eyes closed and relaxed in slumber. The seaweed wafts innocently, and the air bubbles are calm. Since every claim the little fish makes is belied by the pictures, the reader is in on the joke, by turns rooting for him to get away and nervously hoping he is caught. Klassen continues to be the master of black and brown, and the viewer will not tire of the palette. Little eyes will pore over the end pages, looking for evidence of foul play, but all the interaction between the two characters takes place where the plants grow tall and close together, obscuring the view. Darkly hilarious. robin l. smith



Bear Has a Story to Tell

Horn Book (September/October, 2012)


What good is a story without listeners? Bear wants to share one before he hibernates, but his friends are too busy preparing for winter -- Mouse collecting seeds, Duck heading south, while Mole is already asleep. So, gentle and uncomplaining, Bear helps them as he can, then sleeps too. Come spring he tries again, warming up his audience with thoughtful gifts like an acorn for Mouse and a spot of sunshine for Frog. But now Bear has forgotten his story! No worries: with some prompting from the others (Duck: "Maybe your story is about the busy time just before winter"), Bear begins with a reprise of the book’s first line: "It was almost winter and Bear was getting sleepy." Bear’s patient acceptance of his friends’ ineluctable needs (and the reciprocity that finally engenders the story that proves to be this one) make for a perfectly cyclical read-it-again bedtime book. Erin Stead’s scenes of sleepy, soft-edged creatures floating on imagination-freeing white among a few bare trunks and drifting autumnal leaves are nicely counterpointed by gentle night skies and touches of soft spring green. Quietly entrancing. joanna rudge long



Homer

Booklist starred (April 15, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 16))


Preschool-Grade 2. Homer is an old dog. Younger dogs in the family rush off to race around the yard, and humans bustle past on their way to play in the sand or swim in the waves, but Homer is content to watch from the porch: “No, no. I’m fine right here.” His own needs are simple—he has food, a comfy blue armchair, and his people. The text is minimal, and most of Homer’s story is told through Cooper’s loose, watercolor-and-pencil images in his signature, spare style. Many pictures appear inside borders and emphasize Homer’s small, contained world, while full-bleed, wordless pages open up to give context to his life. A six-paneled spread is particularly wonderful: Homer moves slowly from the porch to his food bowl to his armchair, and the panels reinforce his measured movements. The day’s passage from sunrise to evening is reflected in a muted palette of yellow, orange, and indigo, and it seems somehow symbolic of Homer’s own life cycle. Repeated readings will reveal new details, such as the family portrait on the wall, with Homer front and center. This subtle picture book beautifully captures the rhythms of a family, with a dog nestled at its heart.



I Know A Wee Piggy

Booklist starred (September 1, 2012 (Vol. 109, No. 1))


Preschool-Grade 1. With an old-lady-who-swallowed-a-fly structure, this follows a wily wee swine through a county fair as he sloshes in substances of different colors, creating mess after mess and smile after smile. At first he is as happy as a pig in mud, but then decides brown is not for me and I think I’ll add a rinse of . . . RED! He wallows in canned tomatoes from the horticulture exhibit to achieve the desired effect. A veritable rainbow of mishaps follow—from pink cotton candy to yellow egg yolks to black paint—and each is perfectly paced across long pages, with exciting page turns. This is a blue ribbon–worthy read-aloud opportunity for celebrating rhyme, repetition, rural traditions, laughter—and, of course, color. The star’s earnestness is irresistible, and both text and pictures are rich and energetic. Throughout, the words red, green, blue, and so on are printed in their respective colors, thereby reinforcing the lesson for little ones. Cole’s acrylic and colored-pencil art alternates between full bleeds and spot art placed on clean white pages—clean, that is, until little piggies (aka legions of adoring book lovers) get their hooves on it. Pair with I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More! (2005) for an additional splash of color at storytime.



Thursday, August 30, 2012

Otto The Book Bear

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 1, 2011)


Otto usually lives as an illustration of a book, but when no one is looking, he comes to life. All is usually well when Otto explores the house--he can read other books, poke about the house and even type out a story on the typewriter. But when the bookshelf is cleared and the books placed in boxes ominously marked "ship to," little Otto is separated from his book and must go out into the world alone. Drawing with ink-filled pipettes and watercolor against extensive white space, Cleminson's emotional illustrations show just how lonely and tiny Otto is out in the world. On the inside, he is a comfortable, confident size, but out in the world, he is nearly lost in urban hubbub. Young readers will enjoy locating the tiny Otto and will identify with his fear and worry, especially when he is forced to take refuge in the darkness of a coffee cup, alongside an apple core. It's only when he finds himself with books again, in the library, that Otto feels truly at home, with other "book creatures just like him." Book creatures of all ages will love Otto and will enjoy wondering if any other of their books' characters have a secret life. A delight. (Picture book. 4-8)



Dragonborn

Horn Book (March/April, 2012)


In this accessible, full-of-surprises fantasy, apprentice wizard Sam is left lonely and beleaguered when his master, Flaxfield, dies. Then all of Flaxfield's former apprentices gather, accuse Sam of lying about his apprentice status, and threaten to send him to the mines. So off he goes with his pet dragon Starback, from whom he's separated almost at once. Like many a hapless, naive wanderer, Sam meets some kind helpers and some mischief-makers, but most agree that "he's the one." We don't quite learn what "the one" means in this volume, but nevertheless we accompany Sam as he explores an inadequate wizard school, performs a rite of the dead in the bottom of the mines, almost dies when an unknown enemy tries to snatch him into the land of death, and discovers that he and his dragon are one being. And more. Forward's fantasy has glimmers of Tolkien, Alexander, Rowling, and others but offers up its own friendly, sympathetic voice, imagined land, and characters. The novel's theme of the value of kindness is echoed in its epigraph: "It's no use trying to be clever…just try to be kind -- a little kind." deirdre f. baker