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)


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

A Home For Bird

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

Preschool-Grade 2. Vernon, a very thoughtful toad, is out foraging “for interesting things” when he finds something much better than an old baseball or yo-yo: he finds Bird. Bird is blue, with button eyes and striped wooden legs, and he is the strong, silent type. Vernon introduces Bird to his friends, Skunk and Porcupine, and tries very hard to make Bird feel at home in the river and the forest, but Bird never utters a word. After Porcupine suggests that perhaps he is homesick, Vernon and Bird hop in a teacup boat, with a spoon for an oar, and set off down the river in search of Bird’s home sweet home. The ending is the perfect mix of “oh, of course!” and total surprise (although observant children will get a hint about the outcome on the copyright page). Stead (Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat, 2011) uses loose lines and thick, messy strokes to create illustrations that resemble a child’s coloring book page in the best possible way. The style is fresh and exciting, and the pages brim with handclap-worthy details that kids will love, including Vernon’s bottle-cap hat. This sensitively told story is a wonderful ode to friendship, selflessness, and the joys of home. Everyone should be so lucky to know a Vernon.

How Many Jelly Beans?

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

Grades K-2. Learning 1 to 10 can be a task, but once kids hear about the really big numbers, they often start throwing them around like candy. Here’s an oversize book that visualizes for kids what they’re already talking about in a clever, clear, and candy-coated fashion. The premise is simple and cleanly executed: two kids are asked how many jelly beans they’d like by an off-camera adult. Emma starts off with a handful of 10, which Aiden tops with his two-fisted 20. And so begins a war of escalation. As the numbers skyrocket from 25 and 100 to 10,000 and 100,000, the accompanying visuals match the numbers with, we think, corresponding, brightly colored jelly-bean dots. The exact numbers aren’t the point, though; it’s all about conceptualizing just how big those big numbers really are. And, as the enormous, multipage foldout packed full of a million jelly beans shows, they can get big enough to blow your mind. But it’s not all abstraction, either: when Aiden boasts that “in a whole year I could eat A THOUSAND JELLY BEANS,” Emma realizes that that’s only two or three jelly beans a day, so, duh, anyone could do that. This fresh approach to huge numbers should get kids thinking big time. Just wait’ll they hear about a billion.