Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Quinny & Hopper

Booklist (July 2014 (Vol. 110, No. 21))
Grades 2-5. Uprooted from her apartment in New York City, spirited Quinny and her two annoying little sisters land in the country. Quinny is not happy. The list of things she misses about the bustling city is very, very, extra-very long and includes tae kwon do and accordion lessons. Things look up when she spies a couple of exciting new things: a black-and-white striped chicken and a quiet boy next door named Hopper. Hopper is nothing like Quinny. He prefers low-key activities, like art, that no one in his family except his grandfather understands. Their friendship has a rough start, thanks to bullying older brothers, Quinny’s martial-arts training, and a broken vase. Soon though, they are fast friends, scheming to reunite the chicken with its former owner. But they hit another rough spell when school starts and Quinny becomes friends with a mean girl. Quinny and Hopper narrate alternating chapters, each with a strong voice, spot-on language and emotions, and charming black-and-white spot illustrations. Funny, honest, and fast paced, this book about friendship should have wide appeal.

Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey

Horn Book (September/October, 2014)
Pigsticks Pig comes from a long line of august ancestors, or, as he puts it, forepigs. From the portraits on the wall we see that these include Emmeline Pighurst and Mustapha Snuffles. But a young pig has to make his own mark, and Pigsticks decides on an expedition to the Ends of the Earth. In the tradition of the great British explorers, he equips himself with the essentials, including a pith helmet and a teakettle, and proceeds to engage an assistant, a mild, anxious, cake-loving hamster named Harold. In three generously illustrated chapters we follow the explorers as they survive swamps, deserts, rickety rope bridges, malevolent mountain goats, and an avalanche to return home triumphant. The art is slapdash-goofy: Pigsticks looks like a yam with a snout, and Harold is a mustachioed hacky sack. Frequent disconnects between text and pictures carry much of the humor in this tongue-in-cheek-funny (everybody will have the pleasure of seeing right through Pigsticks's charming arrogance) early chapter book. Plums for grownups? Mild satire of the British-colonial mindset and some porcine parodies of cubist masterworks on Pigsticks's walls. sarah ellis

Percy Jackson's Greek Gods

School Library Journal (October 1, 2014)
Gr 3-7-Riordan takes the classic guide to Greek myths and makes it his own, with an introduction and narration by beloved character Percy Jackson. With 19 chapters, this oversize hardcover includes a variety of stories, from the early tales of Gaea and the Titans to individual tales of gods readers encounter in the "Percy Jackson" series (Hyperion), such as Ares, Apollo, and Dionysus. Percy's irreverent voice is evident from titles such as "Hera Gets a Little Cuckoo," "Zeus Kills Everyone," and "Artemis Unleashes the Death Pig," and the stories are told in his voice with his distinctive perspective ("Another guy who got a special punishment was Sisyphus. With a name like Sissy-Fuss you have to figure the guy had issues."). The format and illustrations are fairly traditional, considering the tone, featuring painterly depictions of the gods and their world. While these are actual tales of Greek mythology, Percy's take adds more color than would be helpful for those working on research projects or reports. The stories do make for fun reading, however, and might work as starting points for schoolwork. This original and wildly entertaining spin on Greek mythology is bound to be popular among fans of the series.-Heather Talty, formerly at Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School, New York City (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Life of Zarf The Trouble with Weasels

Booklist (September 1, 2014 (Vol. 111, No. 1))

Grades 3-6. A Wimpy Kid format with a fairy-tale twist? Yes, this is bound to be a hit. Middle school is tough, but it’s even tougher when you’re a troll—the absolute bottom of the social heap. Zarf can’t control his troll blood, and that causes him trouble when it comes to the annoying Prince Roquefort. After King Cheznott goes missing, Snuffweasels start attacking the kingdom, and Prince Roquefort throws Zarf in the dungeon, a wild adventure begins. This is a witty twist on ordinary school-day troubles, and Harrell’s turning of familiar fairy-tale tropes on their heads adds to the charm (and a lot to the amusement factor): Goldie Locks is the lunch lady, Zarf’s best friends are a worrisome pig and a not-so-funny aspiring jester, ogres play football, etc. Interspersed with bratty illustrations, this ought to find a sweet spot at the nexus between fans of humor and fans of fractured fantasies.

I Am Blop!

School Library Journal (June 1, 2013)

Gr 1-5-Imagine a shape, neither blob nor spot, an irregular shape with four bumps-a Blop. This clever, engaging exploraton of the world of Blop begins simply but soon moves to the unconventional-unlimited even by the shape of the book. Each page receives a title and progresses appropriately slowly from black and white to an explosion of color one-third of the way through. There's a Blop made from thumbprints, a Blop family, Blops in the classroom and on the playground, museum-inspired Blops, an "invisible" Blop, a museum Blop, a pop-graphic Blop, flower and animal Blops, and a Blop in the mountains or under the ocean. If you need mobile Blop, there are punch-outs on a page and even a frighteningly realistic "scribbled-on" version. The art culminates in a series of questions. "What do Blops do all day?" "What do Blops eat?" "Are Blops friendly?" "Do Blops like to sing?" Imagination takes flight. For readers of all ages, the possibilities make an excellent story starter or may be shortened with emphasis upon a single page. All that's missing is Blop in a library..-Mary Elam, Learning Media Services, Plano ISD, TX (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Fairy Tale Comics

Booklist starred (June 1, 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 19))
Preschool-Grade 2. To follow up the winning Nursery Rhyme Comics (2011), First Second offers this similarly spectacular idea. Once again gathering a coterie of grand artistic talent from kids’ and indie comics (many returning from NRC), this collection features 17 stories longer than those in the previous project, which gives each work more room to delight. Many classics appear, from “Snow White” to “Goldilocks” to “Hansel and Gretel,” but an effort has been made to turn up a few more obscure fables, and the balance between familiarity and novelty proves just right. The artists all bring their A-game to produce standouts like Emily Carroll’s wondrously textured “12 Dancing Princesses,” Luke Pearson’s mystical and eerie “The Boy Who Drew Cats,” Joseph Lambert’s rousing and hilarious “Rabbit Will Not Help,” and David Mazzucchelli’s stark-lined and graceful “Give Me the Shudders” (his first comics work since Asterios Polyp, 2009). But every artist here knows how to turn in an elegant, flowing story, and every tale is pitch-perfect for young readers and intimate read-alouds. Overall, the book is an ideal choice for a child’s first comics experience and a new way to enjoy old favorites.

A Big Guy Took My Ball!

School Library Journal (July 1, 2013)
PreS-Gr 1-Once again Willems observes truths about human behavior through the eyes of Gerald, an elephant, and Piggie. The premise this time is that Piggie's recently acquired ball has been snatched by some unknown creature, one so big that Piggie begs Gerald to intervene. But Gerald's perceived power and genuine desire to help his smaller friend cannot provide him with sufficient courage once he sees that he'll have to confront an enormous whale. Outward appearance is rarely a true indicator of inner feelings, though, and the same reality is reflected in the whale, who turns out to be a gentle giant who is remarkably polite. Size should never be a factor in determining friendship, and Willems's two pals are happy to have a new playmate. The story engages readers with delightfully familiar cartoon illustrations and invites them to follow it independently by reading the speech bubbles. This title is a wonderful addition to the series; it's particularly useful for discussions of inside and outside traits, as well as the tricky topic of threesomes.-Gloria Koster, West School, New Canaan, CT (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Once Upon an Alphabet

School Library Journal (October 1, 2014)
Gr 1-4-Jeffers's empathic nature, evident from his sympathetic renderings of Drew Daywalt's beleaguered crayons in The Day the Crayons Quit (Philomel, 2013), here extends to the hardworking letters. This eccentric and entertaining anthology is introduced by an eloquent syllogism about the relationship of letters, words, and stories. While each four-page tale showcases a (seemingly) hand-drawn capital and lowercase letter, and many of the words-and unnamed objects-begin with the corresponding letter, this is not your mother's abecedarium. It is a framework for Jeffers's intriguing worldview, combining ludicrous juxtapositions and situations and a great capacity for gentleness. Some passages are scientific: "Mary is made of matter..she got sucked through a microscope and became the size of a molecule." The facing page shows Mary floating under the lens. The blackboard-style background is filled with "molecular" diagrams (mattresses, a moose, mums). Other sections are a mite macabre: "Jack Stack the Lumberjack has been struck by lightning one hundred and eleven times.." The lightning illuminates a skeleton, but after the page turn, the man appears in his jammies, normal, except that he can provide his own electricity. There is humor in the alliteration and mixed-media scenes: a puzzled parsnip, Victor the vanquished "plotting his vengeance," and an enigma featuring elephants and envelopes. The author respects his readers' intelligence, inserting expansive vocabulary, cameos from characters in previous books, people and plot threads that cross stories, and quiet details to discover in subsequent readings. An altogether stimulating, surprising, and satisfying reading experience.-Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Winter is Coming

Booklist starred (August 2014 (Vol. 110, No. 22))
Grades K-3. On a cold September day, a girl takes her binoculars, sketch pad, and pencils outdoors to draw the wildlife around her family’s farm. She returns several times before late November, when the first snowflakes fall. Often observing from a platform in a tree, she sketches what she sees: a red fox, a bear with her cub, a lynx, a skunk family, woodpeckers, rabbits, chipmunks, a doe with two fawns, Canada geese, and wild turkeys. The geese are flying south, but the other animals are foraging for food as they prepare to winter in the woods and fields around the farm. Written from the girl’s point of view, Johnston’s text is plainspoken and natural sounding but poetic in effect, with graceful repetition: on most double-page spreads, the lines end with “Winter is coming.” Created with acrylics, colored pencils, and opaque inks, LaMarche’s captivating illustrations convey the radiance of an autumn meadow, the girl’s rapt attention to her surroundings, and the unique qualities of the animals she observes. Winter may be in the title, but this evocative picture book is best for reading aloud in the fall, when children can notice the subtle changes happening in their own outdoor spaces. A quiet, beautiful picture book to share.

I'm My Own Dog

Horn Book (September/October, 2014)
"I'm my own dog. Nobody owns me. I own myself." This independent, self-starter narrator looks down on ordinary pups, the ones owned by people. This dog will not sit for anyone, even if a bone is the reward. But one day, when his legs prove to be too short to reach an itchy spot in the middle of his back, our canine actually lets someone scratch it. That someone is a mustachioed man who scratches the dog's back and then follows him home. Soon the dog is taking his "good boy" on walks, teaching him about chasing squirrels, and showing him how to throw sticks. Stein's gestural watercolors are the perfect foil for the droll text. As the story unfolds, young readers will begin to understand the humorous tension between what the text says and what the pictures show (and what they know to be true about dogs and their owners). When the dog complains about having to "clean up after them," one can imagine a child laughing at the scene of spilled ice cream. Dog-loving parents will be reading this one over and over--and will never tire of it. robin l. smith

Shh! We Have a Plan

Four friends creep through the woods, and what do they spot? An exquisite bird high in a tree! "Hello birdie," waves one. "Shh! We have a plan," hush the others. They stealthily make their advance, nets in the air. Ready one, ready two, ready three, and go! But as one comically foiled plan follows another, it soon becomes clear that their quiet, observant companion, hand outstretched, has a far better idea. Award-winning author-illustrator Chris Haughton is back with another simple, satisfying story whose visual humor plays out in boldly graphic, vibrantly colorful illustrations.

Einstein The Class Hamster and the Very Real Game Show

In Einstein the Class Hamster and the Very Real Game Show, the companion to Janet and Jake Tashjian's Einstein the Class Hamster, we follow Ms. Moreno's class as they face off against the students of Crackerjack Elementary on the hit game show Kids Know Stuff. But when Principal Decker sneaks Twinkles the python into the studio, there's widespread panic; the show's host is afraid of snakes and walks off the set. Now is Einstein's chance to shine! With the assistance of a sound engineer who can also hear Einstein, Ned and Marlon help Einstein get ready to host the show and save the day. But something goes wrong. Does Einstein have . . . STAGE FRIGHT? Oh no! Ned and Marlon must find a way to help Einstein and win the game show.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Farmer and the Clown

School Library Journal (August 1, 2014)

PreS-Gr 2-Frazee's controlled palette of subdued golds, browns, and grays offers a fitting backdrop for the hard-working farmer foregrounded in this wordless tale. Bent over his wheat, he misses the drama above as sweeping cloud formations bleed off the page. A swiftly moving circus train on the horizon introduces color and an unexpected visitor, when a bump on the tracks ejects a young clown. Exuberance meets quiet responsibility as the whirlwind in a red one-piece, the small clown, embraces the legs of the old man. Their similar silhouettes invite comparison, while their hats (one black and wide-brimmed, the other red and conical) suggest contrast. Hand in hand, they enter the farmhouse, where softly textured gouache and black pencil scenes in panels of varying shapes and sizes depict shared meals and ablutions, a protective night watch, and unanticipated antics as rust-colored long johns seem to conjure the farmer's playfulness. The bond, conveyed visually through mirrored motions, continues to develop until the train returns. Readers will wonder how to feel in the penultimate scene until they notice a clown with a black hat waving from the caboose, and the final page contains another surprise. This is a tender look at light and shadow, the joy and comfort in companionship, the lift that laughter provides, and the friendship possible among generations (and species). The poignant relationship calls to mind the quiet potency of scenes in Raymond Briggs's The Snowman (Random, 1978) and Sarah Stewart's The Gardener (Farrar, 2007). Lovely.-Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Kirkus Reviews starred (September 15, 2014)
Two boys get carried away when their mom tells them they will have a surprise at dinner. Little brother Leo thinks it's curly fries, but the young narrator starts thinking...and that's how they get into trouble! They brainstorm a list of ever bigger and better possibilities (a bike! a new car! a swimming pool!), and finally, with visions of grass skirts and volcanoes in their heads, they conclude it must be an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii. Both voice and reasoning are hysterically, authentically childlike. Dynamic, rapid-fire collage-and-pencil illustrations capture the zany escalation. The text increases in size, replicating their ever bolder assertions. Excited, they tell everyone at school, where even the staff celebrates by giving the students an extra 10-minute break. But when they get home, the siblings discover a very different surprise awaits them, leaving the narrator feeling rather sick until contagiously enthusiastic Leo cheers him up. How lucky can a kid get? This is a quirky, spot-on snapshot of family life, perfect for family sharing and repeated readings. And children will love examining the whimsical, surprisingly delightful details in the drawings. A winner. (Picture book. 4-8)

Brown Girl Dreaming

Booklist starred (August 2014 (Vol. 110, No. 22))
Grades 5-8. What is this book about? In an appended author’s note, Woodson says it best: “my past, my people, my memories, my story.” The resulting memoir in verse is a marvel, as it turns deeply felt remembrances of Woodson’s preadolescent life into art, through memories of her homes in Ohio, South Carolina, and, finally, New York City, and of her friends and family. Small things—ice cream from the candy store, her grandfather’s garden, fireflies in jelly jars—become large as she recalls them and translates them into words. She gives context to her life as she writes about racial discrimination, the civil rights movement, and, later, Black Power. But her focus is always on her family. Her earliest years are spent in Ohio, but after her parents separate, her mother moves her children to South Carolina to live with Woodson’s beloved grandparents, and then to New York City, a place, Woodson recalls, “of gray rock, cold and treeless as a bad dream.” But in time it, too, becomes home; she makes a best friend, Maria, and begins to dream of becoming a writer when she gets her first composition notebook and then discovers she has a talent for telling stories. Her mother cautions her not to write about her family, but, happily, many years later she has—and the result is both elegant and eloquent, a haunting book about memory that is itself altogether memorable.


A king emerges from a hidden door in a city park, startling two children sheltering from the rain. No sooner does he push a map and some strange objects into their hands than he is captured by hostile forces that whisk him back through the enchanted door. Just like that, the children are caught up in a quest to rescue the king and his kingdom from darkness, while illuminating the farthest reaches of their imagination. Colored markers in hand, they make their own way through the portal, under the sea, through a tropical paradise, over a perilous bridge, and high in the air with the help of a winged friend. Journey lovers will be thrilled to follow its characters on a new adventure threaded with familiar elements, while new fans will be swept into a visually captivating story that is even richer and more exhilarating than the first.

Once Upon an Alphabet

From the Publisher:
THE alphabet book to top all others, from the illustrator of the #1 New York Times bestselling The Day the Crayons Quit!

If words make up the stories and letters make up the words, then stories are made up of letters. In this menagerie we have stories made of words, made FOR all the letters.

The most inventive and irresistible book of the year spans a mere 26 letters (don't they all!) and 112 pages. From an Astronaut who's afraid of heights, to a Bridge that ends up burned between friends, to a Cup stuck in a cupboard and longing for freedom, Once Upon an Alphabet is a creative tour de force from A through Z. Slyly funny in a way kids can't resist, and gorgeously illustrated in a way readers of all ages will pour over, this series of interconnected stories and characters explores the alphabet in a way that will forever raise the bar.

In Once Upon an Alphabet, #1 New York Times bestseller Oliver Jeffers has created a stunning collection of words and artwork that is a story book, alphabet book, and gorgeously designed art book all in one.

El Deafo

School Library Journal (September 1, 2014)
Starred Review. Gr 2-6-Cece loses her hearing from spinal meningitis, and takes readers through the arduous journey of learning to lip read and decipher the noise of her hearing aid, with the goal of finding a true friend. This warmly and humorously illustrated full-color graphic novel set in the suburban '70s has all the gripping characters and inflated melodrama of late childhood: a crush on a neighborhood boy, the bossy friend, the too-sensitive-to-her-Deafness friend, and the perfect friend, scared away. The characters are all rabbits. The antics of her hearing aid connected to a FM unit (an amplifier the teacher wears) are spectacularly funny. When Cece's teacher leaves the FM unit on, Cece hears everything: bathroom visits, even teacher lounge improprieties It is her superpower. She deems herself El Deafo! inspired in part by a bullied Deaf child featured in an Afterschool Special. Cece fearlessly fantasizes retaliations. Nevertheless, she rejects ASL because it makes visible what she is trying to hide. She ventures, "Who cares what everyone thinks!" But she does care. She loathes the designation "special," and wants to pass for hearing. Bell tells it all: the joy of removing her hearing aid in summer, the troubles watching the TV when the actor turns his back, and the agony of slumber party chats in the dark. Included is an honest and revealing afterword, which addresses the author's early decision not to learn ASL, her more mature appreciation for the language, and her adage that, "Our differences are our superpowers."- Sara Lissa Paulson, The American Sign Language and English Lower School, New York City (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.