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)