Friday, April 27, 2012

Wonkenstein The Creature From My Closet

Booklist (October 15, 2011 (Vol. 108, No. 4))

Grades 4-7. In this highly amusing new series starter, 12-year-old Rob Burnside chronicles his middle-school missteps in the graphic style of the famously wimpy Greg Heffley. Like Greg, Rob punctuates his storytelling with funny drawings, though his sketches often feature imagined outcomes or exaggerated versions of reality. Similarly, Rob has to deal with a challenge more daunting than gym class or middle-school girls (though he has to deal with them, too): a creature that has spontaneously generated from the materials in Rob’s remarkably messy closet. The closet started out as a place for “lab supplies” (condiments, Play-Doh, mud, etc.), but it has become a place for “things I don’t want to deal with anymore.” These include the books that his mother regularly thrusts upon him. Skye gives Rob a self-deprecating charm and highlights the pleasures of books both subtly and effectively. The book’s titular hero is an antic combination of Frankenstein’s monster and Willy Wonka; the next book, it is hinted, will feature a hybrid of Harry Potter and Chewbacca.

Letters to Leo

Booklist (March 1, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 13))

Grades 4-6. In Hest’s Remembering Mrs. Rossi (2007), readers met Annie Rossi, who had just lost her mother. Now, a year later, the fourth-grader and her father are doing better, helped by the presence of their new dog, Leo. Taking a page from the Wimpy Kid sketchbook, Hest does a charming job making Annie (and Leo!) come alive through a series of letters and drawings she makes for the dog. Leo gets to hear about how Annie doesn’t care for her new teacher, how she loves her third-grade teacher, how poetry can make you feel surprising things, what it’s like to have a best friend move away, and how to deal with her dad, who doesn’t get out much (perhaps that third-grade teacher is the answer). Ready-made for reluctant readers, who will be enticed by the art-heavy format and the short bursts of text, this book will also be a good choice for fans of Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine series or Megan McDonald’s Judy Moody books.

Fancy Clancy Super Sleuth

Kirkus Reviews (March 1, 2012)

Fancy Nancy is back, this time in a chapter book. Nancy Clancy loves fancy words here as much as she does in her popular picture-book series. Her interests are changing, though, as she grows up. An avid Nancy Drew fan, she and best friend Bree have a new Sleuth Headquarters and are excited to solve their first case. When their teacher's special blue marble disappears, everyone in the class becomes a suspect. Their targets of suspicion change from moment to moment, leading the new detectives on a number of wild goose chases. When the real criminal is uncovered, the girls are forced to examine their assumptions. Fans of the Fancy Nancy series will enjoy reading about an old friend in a new, more grown-up setting. Fully fleshed-out secondary characters, especially Nancy's parents and Mr. Dudeny, Nancy's teacher, create a nice backdrop for this new series aimed at transitioning readers. It's hard to write mysteries for a chapter-book audience, but O'Connor creates a plot with subtle clues and red herrings that allow readers to puzzle out the mystery along with Nancy. Nancy's love of colorful language makes it fun to discover new vocabulary (motive, accessory, obstinate) while solving a dandy mystery. Glasser's frequent black-and-white illustrations will help connect this new series with the earlier one. Nancy is one sassy gumshoe. Her fans will enjoy growing up with her. (Mystery. 7-10)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Poem Runs

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2012)

Warm up and get in training for a full season of baseball poems. Each verse focuses on one element of the game, from the baseball itself to the position players and hitters. Even the umpire has his moment. The 15 verses vary in length from eight to 16 lines, and all have strong rhythms that beg to be read with a bouncing lilt. Florian also plays with shapes and patterns of words, spacing "stretch" so it appears to do just that, and placing "leaps," "climbs" and "plummets" in their appropriate orientations. He creates some delightful phrases in "Pitcher," who is "the starter of slumps," and "the strikeout collector." But he also misses the mark with several rhymes and images that seem forced and clumsy. There's little new or surprising here, but the poems generally capture the joy of boys and girls playing just for the love of the game. The introductory poems that begin the season share a page opening, while each subsequent poem has its own double-page spread with an exaggerated, elongated figure on the greens and sands of a baseball field. Rendered in a mix of gouache watercolors, oil pastels, colored pencils and pine tar (how apt!) on primed paper bags, the illustrations appear textured and touchable, with a childlike quality. A lighthearted reminder of why we love the game. (Picture book/ poetry. 6-9)

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny Detectives Extraordinaire!

Booklist starred (February 15, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 12))

Grades 3-6. Madeleine’s hippie parents, Mildred and Flo, refuse to understand the fifth grade, preferring the esoteric, spiritual truths of luminarias and shopping at the Salvation Army. Madeleine takes two ferries and two buses to school, escaping the peculiarities of Hornby Island to grasp at something normal. Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny have moved into an abandoned carriage house just down the lane and, to complement their interests in automobiles and millinery, are hanging up a detective shingle. When a cadre of sinister foxes (“Mwa-haha,” they intone, having picked it up watching television) kidnap Mildred and Flo, Madeleine joins up with the Detective Bunnies and, without the help of her comatose code-breaker uncle, prepares to rescue them. Horvath tells Mr. and Mrs. Bunny’s tale with old-fashioned nostalgia, juxtaposing it with Madeleine’s schoolgirl mopes in a sweet and sour froth of nonsense. Blackall’s ink-and-wash illustrations provide a quaint and curious punctuation, contributing a peculiar whimsy all their own. The result feels like an instant classic, with a contemporary resonance and a tone of yesteryear, fairly begging to be read aloud. Oh, and there are marmots.

Another Brother

Booklist (January 1, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 9))

Preschool-Grade 2. Cordell (Trouble Gum, 2009) takes the old picture-book staple of an only child upset by the arrival of a new sibling and turns it up to 11. Well, 12 to be exact, as sheep-boy Davy is in short order crowded out of his parents’ affections by Petey, Mike, Stu, Mickey, Carl, Pip, Ralph, Tate, Lenny, Gil, Ned, and Bob. Losing Mom and Dad is one thing, but what really gets Davy’s goat is the way the simpering siblings are dead set on doing everything exactly as he does, from eating Toot Loops and walking like a monkey to glaring shifty-eyed and pulling his hair in exasperation. He finally gets his wish when they all learn a bit of independence and stop worshipping him, but the spread of Davy lying all alone in his awfully quiet, empty room at night stops the zany story dead in its tracks. A new, darling little sister with eyes only for her older brother saves the day. Funny and touching in equal measure, this is a sheepish look at how imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, even when it is super annoying.

Z is for Moose

Booklist starred (January 1, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 9))

Grades K-2. This laugh-out-loud romp of an abecedary features an impatient moose who just can’t wait for his turn. There is something intrinsically funny about moose (the art has a Bullwinkle feel), and this overenthusiastic one prematurely pops up onstage at D, wearing a proud grin, with hapless Duck having been pushed out of the way. Zebra (sporting a referee’s black-striped shirt) leaps out from the corner, shouting, “Moose? No. Moose does not start with D. You are on the wrong page.” Moose then wanders onto Elephant’s page, Fox and Glove are forced to share a stage, and then Moose’s irrepressibly excited mug plops down from the ceiling, obscuring Hat: “Is it my turn yet?” Basically, he is like an antsy kid anticipating his big star turn at M, only to be heartbroken when Mouse is given that letter’s starring role. Zebra, though frustrated, is not deaf to Moose’s offstage sobbing (look to the title for his resolution to the problem). Ideal for kids who are past struggling to learn the alphabet and who will fully get the humor in Moose’s goofy antics.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The One and Only Stuey Lewis

Booklist (September 1, 2011 (Online))

Grades 2-3. Though it’s billed as a collection of four “linked short stories,” this reads like an episodic chapter book with longer stretches of text than usual. In the first story, Stuey Lewis begins second grade feeling embarrassed and miserable as he tries to cover up the fact that he can’t read fluently. In the second, he attempts a Halloween scam that seems guaranteed to bring in plenty of candy. The third follows events on Stuey’s soccer team, which he joins reluctantly, knowing that he is not a star player like his older brother. In the final story, the end of school brings several surprises. Stuey makes a sympathetic character, as the first-person narrative reveals his worries, trials, mistakes, and successes. With large type, wide-spaced lines of text, and simple, upbeat drawings at intervals, this small volume is well designed for readers who are moving up to chapter books.

In the Wild

Booklist (July 2010 (Vol. 106, No. 21))

Preschool-Grade 2. Mixing wildlife and poetry is a good way to get children thinking about animals—or anything they might see—in a new way. This engaging picture book showcases 13 wild creatures, including a lion, sloth, panda, tiger, wolf, and polar bear, whose section concludes with a subtle ecological message when that animal is seen “disappearing into the snow.” Meade uses woodblock prints and watercolors, and the effect of the portrayed animals, sharply etched in black, is arresting. Meade also captures the scorched beauty of the African savanna and the intricacies of jungle foliage. Elliott’s short poems focus on what the illustrations cannot: animal movement (as when the lion shakes his mane) or sounds (as when the wolf howls). The poems give tiny, pleasant surprises; when pointing out the rosettes on the jaguar’s back, Elliott warns readers: “Beware of jungle-raised bouquets. Beware these hidden thorns.” Beautiful and thought-provoking.

Nursery Rhyme Comics

Booklist starred (November 15, 2011 (Vol. 108, No. 6))

Preschool-Grade 3. Having 50 of the finest cartoonists draw simple nursery rhymes, each no more than two or three pages long, is such a crazy move that it’s borderline genius. The ridiculously deep pool of talent here includes those who work in kids’ comics circles (Eleanor Davis, Gene Luen Yang, Raina Telgemeier) and those more known in the indie scene (Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, Tony Millionaire, Kate Beaton). Illustrating these near-nonsensical rhymes allows the artists all kinds of creative license. Some toy around with the original, like James Sturm’s “Jack Be Nimble,” in which Jack admonishes the reader for suggesting he do anything as foolish as jumping over a lit flame, only to turn away and reveal a scorched bum. Others play it more straight with equally splendid results, such as Craig Thompson’s sumptuous take on “The Owl and the Pussycat.” This collection is a truly dual-purpose book: the dizzying array of visual styles will delight kids encountering these nursery rhymes for the first time, while the great versatility of the medium will make the familiar fresh again for their parents. As if all that weren’t enough of a bounty, the esteemed Leonard S. Marcus provides a characteristically illuminating introduction. A can’t-miss treasure chest for any collection.


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