On the Shoulder of a Giant by Neil Christopher, illustrated by James Nelson (InfoSoup)
Based on a traditional Inuit folktale, this picture book shows what happens when a massive giant takes an interest in a small human. Inukpak was big even for a giant. When he walked across the land, he could easily step over rivers and wade the deepest lakes. He could cross the Arctic on foot in only a few days, fishing for whales along the coasts. Then one day he met a hunter, whom he mistook for a little child. Before the hunter knew what has happening, Inukpak had adoped him as a son and placed him on his shoulder. In just a few steps, they were so far from the hunter’s home that he didn’t know how to return. As Inukpak got them dinner in the form of a huge whale, he almost drowned the hunter just from the huge waves that splashed as he walked in the water. When a polar bear attacks the hunter, Inukpak just laughs and tosses it away. In time, the two became good friends, the giant and the hunter.
The stage is set very nicely for this story with an introduction that explains what stories the book is based on and how the author came to know so much about Arctic folklore. The pages after the story expand the topic of Arctic giants even further with explanations of different kinds of giants. The storyline is not as linear as European tales, allowing readers to get a sense of the giant and a different rhythm of storytelling at the same time. The huge and kind giant is full of appeal thanks to his huge sense of humor and the merry way he approaches life in the Arctic.
Nelson’s illustrations are playful and jolly as well. They show the various areas of the Arctic from the seashore to the more inland areas. The size difference between the giant and the human is kept fairly consistent throughout the book, This giant is much larger than most and that adds to the appeal as well. The natural landscapes of the book are thoughtfully done as are the various animals. The lifelike depictions of these elements make the giant all the more believable.
One huge giant and one little man create a great story together and one that can nicely be shared aloud. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Beach House by Deanna Caswell, illustrated by Amy June Bates (InfoSoup)
A family is headed to a beach house after waiting a year for summer to return. When they arrive it’s not time for the beach yet. The car has to be unloaded and things have to be unpacked. The kids make their beds, but can’t stop looking out the window at the waves and the beach. Then chores are done and it’s time to go! The family heads out to the beach where they spend the day in the water, building sandcastles, clam digging, chasing crabs and much more. In the evening, they have a campfire and roast hotdogs before heading inside for baths and bed. And one last moonlit look at the beach before falling asleep.
Caswell captures the beach and the sun and the water and sand in her rhyming couplets. It could be a sea, it could be a lake, it’s all about the experience of being near water and playing in waves. A day spent with family soaking in the sun and then being together still when the day is done. Families who have spent time together near the water will all recognize their days of sun and waves on these pages.
The illustrations shine with golden sand and dancing water. They are filled with the movement of the breeze at the beach, with the joy of the sun and the connection with family. One can almost smell the campfire smoke in the air or the ocean salt. The pictures here sing with freedom and long days spent together. The washes of watercolor that make the waves and the sky create a sense of timeless ease on the page.
A book of family connection and love that brings the glory of a beach vacation right off the page. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
The Night Children by Sarah Tsiang, illustrated by Delphine Bodet
When night starts to come and replace daytime, you should run home quickly before the night children come out. They wear the shadows and chase the fireflies. They are the ones who etch the frost on your windows into delicate designs. They can be carried on the wind high above the rooftops and disappear when you try to glimpse them out your window. They scatter leaves on the yards and stretch webs across the doorways. They are the ones who steal parts of the moon each night too. But you, you awake at dawn just as they are disappearing. And you bring the light of the day with you. If you try hard too, you will see the last of the night children as you head off to school.
Tsiang’s prose here reads like poetry. She uses such strong imagery throughout that she creates a nighttime world filled with magical moments. In her gathering darkness “light spills in puddles on the pavement” and the leaves the night children scatter are “like toys on the lawn.” Each page has some special phrasing on it that adds to the wonder of this book. The writing is rich and surprising, just like the night itself.
Bodet’s illustrations take Tsiang’s imagery and brings it fully alive. The art is filled with a play of light and dark. The puddles of light glow on the pavement as actual puddles catch the last of the sun’s rays. Stolen pieces of the moon glow in small hands as the night children dance across the roof with their prize. When the day comes, the light is warm and bright, glowing on the page and filled with bright color. The night colors contrast with that, more rich and deep and mysterious.
A poetic and lovely book, this is a luminous bedtime story. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Annick Press and Netgalley.
Bob and Flo by Rebecca Ashdown (InfoSoup)
In a story perfect for small children starting daycare or preschool, this picture book shows how to make new friends and share. Bob really likes Flo’s pink bucket that she brought with her to school. When Flo is busy painting a picture, her bucket disappears. She looks for it everywhere. She notices that Bob has a new pink hat at one point. Then she sees him making a tall tower of blocks standing on something pink. She sees him playing a pink drum. And then at the playground, she finally spies her bucket by the slide. Bob is there too, stuck at the top of the slide. Happily, Flo knows just what to do to help and all it takes is a good pink bucket.
Such a simple book but told so very well. Ashdown perfectly captures the unique ways preschool children interact with one another, often playing alongside each other than right together. She weaves in the humor of Flo seeing her bucket over and over again and not recognizing it. That plays nicely against the creativity that Bob uses when playing with the bucket on each page. Toddler audiences will love spotting the bucket on each page spread.
Ashdown’s illustrations are cheery and bright. The sunny yellow background allows the grey and white penguins to shine on each page. The basic toys around them, evoke every preschool or daycare around. Then the penguins themselves have texture and patterns that give them personality and also make them seem more real and more childlike.
Perfect for returning to preschool in the fall, this picture book is just as much fun as a bucket. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Bridge, Tab and Em vowed to be best friends years ago and over a shared Twinkie swore that they would have one rule only: no fighting. Now that the girls are in seventh grade, things are starting to change. Em has gotten some new curves and is spending a lot of time with the other girls on her soccer team. Bridge has started wearing cat ears to school every day, just because they feel right. Tab has joined the social responsibility club and rails against anything sexist. Meanwhile there is a high school girl, nameless, who avoids Valentine’s Day at school and leaves her parents to worry about her, because she has done something dreadful. Em starts to flirt with a boy on her phone, and it progresses until he asks her for a picture of herself after sending her one of him without a shirt. Meanwhile Bridge has become friends with Sherm, a boy whose family just fell apart when his grandfather left his grandmother. As the book progresses, friendships become frayed, betrayals happen, vengeance is taken, and yes, the friends even fight. It is middle school after all!
Stead finely captures the feeling of middle school, of just being in the process of changing and growing up, of different people being at various points of maturity both physically and mentally, of meeting new people and maybe being attracted in a different way, and of trying to stay friends through it all. Happily too, it is a book that shows the heart of girls, the bravery of being a modern kid, and the choices that are made. This is not a book that laughs at the antics of pre-teens, but one that celebrates them and this moment in their lives in all of its baffling complexity.
The characters are all interesting, all likeable except for some of the secondary characters who are mean girls. There are many voices in this book from the three main girl characters to Sherm to the unnamed teen. They are all very distinct from one another. The author uses a technique of doing the teen girl in a different perspective than the rest of the book which sets those chapters apart. Despite the number of voices, the book remains clear and shows in many ways the difficult decisions that come from starting to try to figure out who exactly you are going to be.
Another amazing read from Stead, this novel offers a rich look at middle school. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from ARC received from Wendy Lamb Books.
Chooky-Doodle-Doo by Jan Whiten, illustrated by Sinead Hanley (InfoSoup)
A fresh little counting book, this Australian import combines numbers with a jaunty rhyme. One little “chooky” chick is unable to pull a big worm out of the ground, so another chick tries to help. Three of them pull and pull then, and the worm just grows longer and longer. Eventually there are six chicks pulling and not able to get the worm out of the ground. Rooster joins them and helps to pull. They pull and pull, bracing themselves on the ground, until pop! The worm lets go and gives them all a big surprise.
Each page asks “What should chookies do?” and leads into the page turn where another chick has joined in helping. The next page then starts with the number of chicks pulling, making the counting element very clear for young readers. The text is simple and has a great rhythm to it. This picture book could easily be turned into a play for preschoolers to act out, since the actions are simple. The reveal at the end is very satisfying and make sure you look at the very final pages to see the smiling worm still happily in the dirt.
The illustrations are done in collage, both by hand and digital. The textures of the papers chosen for the collage offer a feeling of printmaking too, an organic style that works well with the subject matter. The chicks have huge eyes and are large on the page, making counting easy for the youngest listeners. The bright colors add to the appeal.
A great toddler read aloud for units on farms, this picture book will worm its way right into your heart. Appropriate for ages 2-3.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Aliona Bereghici (InfoSoup)
Told in verse, this nonfiction picture book celebrates the life and work of Louis Fuertes. As a child, Louis loved watching birds and caring for them if they were injured. Even in his youth he started drawing and painting birds, despite the fact that his father wanted him to be an engineer. He kept drawing and painting in college, and learned to paint quickly and capture birds in action. At the time, the practice was to hunt the birds and then paint the dead bodies posed. Fuertes instead watched birds in life and painted them. Soon he was traveling the world to see different birds and paint them for museums, books and scientific record. Fuertes painted murals at the Natural History Museum and had a series of collectible cards with his paintings of birds on them. He helped make bird watching one of the most popular sports in the world by reinventing the way artists approached painting wildlife.
Engle speaks as Fuertes in her poems, giving him a voice to describe his own life and his own art. The book swirls like birds wings, moving from one colorful part of the world to another, delighting in the diversity of bird life everywhere. The format is rather like Fuertes’ work itself. She captures Fuertes in his real life, speaking as himself, traveling around the world, and then settling down to be the Bird Man in his old age. He is in his natural habitat throughout. Engle also captures the power of art and the importance of following the natural gifts you have.
The illustrations by Bereghici are bright with color and filled with birds. She labels each one, so that readers can learn about the different types of birds along the way. The book is filled with different habitats, even showing Fuertes underwater attempting to learn more about ducks so that he doesn’t have to shoot them. The illustrations of the birds are serious and detailed while there is often a playfulness to Fuertes’ image on the page.
A beautiful celebration of an artist who forever changed the way that birds and wildlife are painted. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Fright Club by Ethan Long
Released August 11, 2015.
The night before Halloween, all of the monsters in Fright Club met for one last time to finalize their plans to terrify children. But just as they were about to begin showing their scary faces, a little bunny knocked on the door. The bunny asked to join Fright Club, but the monsters just laughed and sent the bunny away. The monsters went back to demonstrating their frightening faces, but none of them were actually scary at all. Another knock came on the door and it was a wolf insisting that critters be allowed into the Fright Club too and not be discriminated against. The monsters went back to practicing but then there was a pounding on the door. It was the critters with torches and signs, insisting that they were scary too. The monsters slammed the door and hid inside, waiting for them to go away. Instead of going away though, the critters got in and frightened the monsters, proving that they were ready for Fright Club after all. And it turned out that more frights meant a better Halloween night!
Long does great broad comedy in this picture book. The pace is fast and there are plenty of jokes combined with humorous action to keep it all moving briskly along. The kid appeal is also here with a Halloween theme as well as cute monsters who really couldn’t scare anyone without the help of the critters. The use of classic monsters like vampires, mummies, witches and ghosts makes for a book that has a classic flair as well.
The illustrations stick to a gloomy palette that adds plenty of atmosphere. Shadows and light are used very effectively, from the shine of the torches to the the monsters hiding in a room surrounded by light rather than shadow. The subtle use of color within that shadowy overall look really works well, almost popping against the grey darkness.
A Halloween treat, this picture book is much more fun than fright. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury Publishing.
Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko (InfoSoup)
Lizzie works alongside her father who is a doctor in San Francisco at the turn of the century. It gives her a break from the loneliness of attending a school where the girls won’t speak with her and from her brother who is getting more and more moody and secretive. It’s very unusual for a girl to be allowed to help a physician and Lizzie plans to go to college herself rather than being married off to a rich beau. But something strange is happening on the streets of San Francisco and there are rumors of plague in the city. Chinatown is suddenly quarantined and no one is allowed in or out. Lizzie’s family’s Chinese cook is caught in the quarantine and unable to return home. When Lizzie hears noises in his rooms, she investigates and discovers that his son has been staying there. The two become friends and he even convinces her to try to be friends with the girls at school too. Soon Lizzie is going from having no friends to having several, but even glittering social events can’t distract her from the medical mystery afoot in the city.
Choldenko has written a book that explores racism from a unique angle and perspective. Starting with the rumors of plague in San Francisco, she has built a mystery with a sound footing in history. Throughout the entire story, racism is a central theme as is social standing. Lizzie breaks both social conventions by befriending the cook’s son, someone who shows her just how much more there is to know about his father too. Though Lizzie is close to the servants and never demanding or cruel, even she has much to learn about their lives and the social forces at work.
Lizzie is a strong and brave heroine who risks her own social standing and reputation to do what is right. I enjoyed that she has trouble making friends, preferring books to approaching others. It is also noteworthy that she makes a great friend herself and the winning personality that readers immediately experience is the same that she shows those that she befriends. Lizzie also stands up to her aunt, someone who is trying to control her destiny and future. Yet even that aunt has another side, one that Lizzie has to work hard to discover.
Another strong historical novel from Choldenko, this book will be enjoyed by her fans who will like Lizzie immediately. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Wendy Lamb Books and Edelweiss.