Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How To

 Kirkus Reviews starred (April 15, 2013)

Smart, clean design and a text built around unpunctuated phrases offer room to pause, ponder and discuss in this book of quiet joy. Ample white space foregrounds a multicultural cast, whose patterned clothing, props and minimal, but visually exciting, settings take center stage. In the opening spread, "how to go fast," readers consider options as eight youngsters whoosh by, one riding a scooter, another navigating stilts, a third sporting butterfly wings. The parade's leader is nearly off the page. "How to see the wind" prompts conversation about the kites, grass and hair shown at various angles--and the metaphysical question itself. Morstad explores topics of interest to children, from "staying close" (two girls sharing one braid) to disappearing--a scene in which meaning comes first from the curtained image; the text is nearly invisible. She intersperses colorful backgrounds, as well as single- and double-spread compositions for an overall effect that elicits anticipation at every turn. As in this Canadian's illustrations for the work of other authors (Caroline Woodward's Singing Away the Dark, 2010; Sara O'Leary's When I Was Small, 2012), the characters' delicate features exhibit an absorption in their activities that simultaneously signals the seriousness and satisfaction of concentration. The "be happy" conclusion portrays unself-conscious movement--including that initial runner, leaving the book. In these inventive scenarios, children will recognize themselves and find new ways to be. (Picture book. 2-6)

Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace

Horn Book (July/August, 2013)

Eleven-year-old Elvis Ruby is "the most famous [musician] in the world." Poised to win the American Idol-like TweenStar reality TV competition, he instead freezes onstage during a performance. His dad whisks him away to tiny Wares Grove, New Jersey, in order to regroup and escape the paparazzi. Elvis (going incognito as "Aaron") tries to keep a low profile while helping out at the Pancake Palace, a flapjacks-only restaurant run by family friend Aunt Emily and her sassy would-be librarian daughter Millicent. His secret is soon uncovered by misfit Cecilia, a local girl his own age who enlists his help. When Cecilia was born in the Pinelands woods, her parents mysteriously heard music; ever since, the tone-deaf girl has been trying, unsuccessfully, to coax the music out of the trees. With Aaron's accompaniment, Cecilia's wish is fulfilled -- only not in the way either of them expects. Interspersed chapters about the Pinelands and Jersey Devil myths echo the story's themes -- identity, alienation, community, creative expression. The tall-tale element (including occasional direct-address narration) adds texture and depth to this story about two kids: an extraordinarily talented one coping with the push and pull of fame, and a seemingly unremarkable one finding her voice. elissa gershowitz


Crankee Doodle

 Kirkus Reviews starred (April 1, 2013)

Sure he went to town...but did he want to go to town? Crankee Doodle is bored. His pony suggests going to town, but Crankee says he hates going to town. "There are too many people in town. They all run around in a hurry and ring bells and eat pies, and then they yell at each other to stop running around, ringing bells, and eating pies." Pony suggests shopping. Crankee hates shopping; he has enough stuff. Pony suggests a feather for Crankee's hat. That doesn't go over well either. Pony says Crankee could call it macaroni (that means fancy). Crankee thinks lasagna is much more fancy, but he doesn't want to call his hat macaroni or lasagna or go to town or shop. Pony offers Crankee a ride, but Crankee thinks Pony smells. Poor Pony! Will Crankee apologize? Will they get to town? Will readers ever view "Yankee Doodle" the same way again? Best-seller Angleberger of Origami Yoda fame takes on picture books, treating a younger audience to his dry and zany wit. Readers and storytime audiences will guffaw at his twist on the traditional song. Bell's gauche, heavy-outlined illustrations are comic-book panels, some spreading over two pages as Crankee Doodle and Pony converse in speech bubbles (and Crankee's jeremiads fill the page). A historical hoot full of goofy, eye-rolling goodness. (Picture book. 4-9)

The Invisible Boy

School Library Journal (September 1, 2013)

K-Gr 2-Brian feels invisible. His teacher hardly notices him, the other kids never invite him to play, and he eats lunch alone. But he loves to draw, so at recess, he creates comics about greedy pirates, battling space aliens, and superheroes with the power to make friends everywhere. One day, a new boy, Justin, joins the class. The other children make fun of him for eating Bulgogi, a Korean dish, but Brian slips him a friendly note. When it is time to find partners for a class project, Justin asks Brian to join him and another boy. Brian's artistic talents come in handy, and finally he is no longer invisible. This is a simple yet heartfelt story about a boy who has been excluded for no apparent reason but finds a way to cope and eventually gains acceptance. Barton's scribbly illustrations look like something Brian may have made. Pencil sketches painted digitally are set against lots of white space, and sometimes atop a background of Brian's drawings on lined notebook paper. At the start of this picture book, Brian is shown in shades of gray while the rest of the world is in color, a visual reminder of his isolation. Color starts to creep in as he is noticed by Justin. Once he becomes part of the group, he is revealed in full color. The thought-provoking story includes questions for discussion and suggested reading lists for adults and children in the back matter. Pair this highly recommended book with Jacqueline Woodson's Each Kindness (Penguin, 2012) for units on friendship or feelings.-Martha Simpson, Stratford Library Association, CT (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Bean Dog and Nugget: The Ball

Kirkus Reviews (March 1, 2013)

Bean Dog and Nugget are ready for action! Bean Dog, a pink bean, or perhaps a hot dog, with stick arms and plaid shorts, has a new ball. It's shiny and perfect and special to him. He's having the best day playing with his ball when he sees Nugget, a pink circle with stick arms, a bow and a skirt. She thinks his ball is great, but he won't let her play with it. She sets off whistling, and he thinks better of his selfishness, tossing it and telling her to think fast. The ball bounces off her roundness and vanishes...into the spooky bushes. How can they get Bean Dog's ball back? Throw snowballs at it? Donuts? Monkeys? Muffins? No, their shoes! Now their shoes are stuck too. This calls for some deep thinking and a plan: Superdog and Ninja Nugget attack the bushes with garden implements. They get their stuff back: Yeah! After a game and some cake, it really is the best day! Harper kicks off another graphic-novel series for the early-reader audience with a tale happily devoid of the potty humor and didacticism that mark her Wedgieman titles. The simplicity of the illustrations and the text will draw in young readers, who will identify with the enthusiasm and silliness of these two-color, stick-and-bean characters. Amiable goofiness to the nth degree--a winner. (Graphic early reader. 5-7)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Open This Little Book

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 15, 2013)

You really can't judge a book by its cover! Follow the instructions of the title and find...another, smaller cover, in purple, with a frog and a rabbit both engrossed in their reading. Open that cover, and there's a red one (with black dots) about a ladybug, then a green one about a frog, an orange one about a rabbit, a yellow (with honeycombs) about a bear, each progressively smaller, and finally, atiny blue one, which really contains a story. It'sabout a giant, the ladybug, the rabbit, the frog and the bear, dedicated readers all, who form a friendship based on their love of reading. Meantime, the outer edges of the books that were opened on the way form a pretty, square rainbow. (Each cover features a different typeface and background design.) Getting to the end of the story means passing back through all the previous page sizes and colors. On the final red page, the ladybug closes her book, and then "[y]ou close this little red book...."But of course, then readers are urged to "open another!" And the illustration on the real last page features a tall bookcase with all the animals around it reading, as well as the giant's hand, other tiny creatures and a couple of engrossed children. The sleek text and endlessly inventive design register strongly by showing rather than just telling. A delightful and timelyhomage to reading and, more, to books themselves. (Picture book. 3-8)


Strega Nona Does It Again

Publishers Weekly (August 26, 2013)

When Strega Nona agrees to host the daughter of a cousin, she doesn't know what she's in for. Angelina shows up with mountains of luggage, conscripts Bambolona and Big Anthony into service as a maid and footman, and has both of them help her construct a shrine to her narcissistic love, Hugo. Strega Nona's quick thinking and wisdom call to mind another storied problem-solver from the world of children's literature-Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle-and her magic-tinged solution brings together two young people who, as she says, "deserve each other," for better or worse. A wryly funny story of love and entitlement, with all the homey charm that dePaola's fans expect and love. Ages 5-8. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


See What a Seal Can Do

 School Library Journal (September 1, 2013)

K-Gr 2-A curious gray seal peers out from the cover, seeming to invite readers into its underwater world. Once inside, the book begins and ends with seals napping on the rocks. This sedentary behavior, the only one visible to earth-bound humans, gives these sea mammals a "lazy" reputation. In fact, as the illustrations go on to show, the seal is anything but. Once below the ocean's surface, the creature's streamlined body and adaptive features (which are described and explained) make it a master predator. The poetic text is full of alliteration, onomatopoeia, and vocabulary that will delight readers. ("A flump is a flop and a jump both together.") Sentences in smaller type act as captions and add further detail, as do the illustrations on the endpapers and the information on the verso of the title page. The beautifully colored, full-spread illustrations portray the seal's transformation from awkward land dweller to sinuous and powerful denizen of the deep. The below-water scenes masterfully evoke the murky ocean habitat and the singular seal's steep descent to the bottom. From the irresistible cover to the closing "super-swimming underwater wonder," the book will encourage readers to dive right in and see what a seal can do.-Carol S. Surges, formerly at Longfellow Middle School, Wauwatosa, WI (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

The Year of Billy Miller

Booklist (July 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 21))

Grades 3-7. Billy Miller is starting second grade, and though his teacher, Mrs. Silver, tells the class it is the Year of the Rabbit, Billy’s father tells him it will be the Year of Billy Miller. Billy isn’t sure. He’s even more worried when he gets off on the wrong foot his first day, but as the months go on, Billy begins to shine. There are some wonderful moments here: when Billy brings his teacher silver items—coins, a paper clip, a little rabbit—to show her he’s a nice boy; when he agonizes over how to tell his father that Papa is a babyish name; and a triumphant ending when poetry and self-confidence intertwine. But the school year also seems rushed, and some intriguing characters, like the annoying Emma, are barely touched. Harkening back to writers of an earlier era, like Eleanor Estes, Henkes never compromises his language. Words like replicated, diligently, and frustrated appear—and that’s on just one page. Since this is so age specific, older readers might pass it by. That would be too bad, because this is a story with a lot of heart and sweet insights into growing up. Illustrations unseen. High-Demand Backstory: There’s no more versatile producer of children’s books working today than Henkes. Libraries, with great justification, are always interested in what he’s up to now.


Booklist starred (July 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 21))

Grades K-3. Floca follows up the acclaimed Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 (2009) with this ebullient, breathtaking look at a family’s 1869 journey from Omaha to Sacramento via the newly completed Transcontinental Railroad. The unnamed family is a launching point for Floca’s irrepressible exploration into, well, everything about early rail travel, from crew responsibilities and machinery specifics to the sensory thrills of a bridge rumbling beneath and the wind blasting into your face. The substantial text is delivered in nonrhyming stanzas as enlightening as they are poetic: the “smoke and cinders, / ash and sweat” of the coal engine and the Great Plains stretching out “empty as an ocean.” Blasting through these artful compositions are the bellows of the conductor (“FULL STEAM AHEAD”) and the scream of the train whistle, so loud that it bleeds off the page: “WHOOOOOOO!” Font styles swap restlessly to best embody each noise (see the blunt, bold “SPIT” versus the ornate, ballooning “HUFF HUFF HUFF”). Just as heart pounding are Floca’s bold, detailed watercolors, which swap massive close-ups of barreling locomotives with sweeping bird’s-eye views that show how even these metal giants were dwarfed by nature. It’s impossible to turn a page without learning something, but it’s these multiple wow moments that will knock readers from their chairs. Fantastic opening and closing notes make this the book for young train enthusiasts.