Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrations by Christian Robinson
Gaston lives with his mother and his three siblings, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La. They are all poodles, but Gaston is something else. He worked hard to be the best poodle puppy he could be, not slobbering, barking correctly and walking gracefully. When the poodle family went to the park, they met a bulldog family there that had its own unusual family member who looked like a poodle. There had clearly been a mix up! So Gaston switches places with Antoinette. Now the families look just the way they should, but neither Antoinette or Gaston seem to feel right in their “correct” families. What is a dog to do?
Right from the first pages, readers will know that there is something unusual about Gaston and how he fits into his family. It all becomes clear once the other dog family appears in the story and readers may think that fixing the mix up is the resolution of the story. Happily, it isn’t and the book becomes more about where you feel you fit in rather than where the world might place you. Gaston is a great mix of energetic bulldog puppy and also a prim poodle attitude. Antoinette is the reverse, a delicate poodle who plays like a bulldog.
Robinson’s illustrations are done in acrylic paint that gives texture to the images. The bold illustrations have bursts of color throughout and are done in a large format that will work well when shared with a group. All of the dogs have charm, though readers will immediate fall for the bright spunk of Gaston in particular.
A book about adoption and families that doesn’t hit too hard with the message of inclusiveness and diversity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Naughty Kitty! by Adam Stower
A follow up to Silly Doggy!, this book also features Lily and now a very large cat. From the end pages, readers will know that there is an animal loose from the zoo. Lily though is far too taken up with bringing her new kitten home. Her mother was sure that Kitty wouldn’t be any trouble at all. At first that was true, but when Lily left the kitten alone in the kitchen for just a moment, she returned to find it completely trashed. What Lily doesn’t know but the readers could see clearly was that the tiger that had escaped from the zoo was the one who made the mess. The same thing happened when Lily left Kitty alone in the living room. There is even a rug that is ruined with an accident of large proportions. Happily, Lily remains completely oblivious to the tiger and in the end Kitty gets the credit rather than the blame for what the tiger has done.
Stower’s humor is zingy and broad here. He doesn’t hold back on the visual jokes or on Lily’s reactions to the actually sedate little cat. Children will immediately get the humor of mistaken identity and will pay close attention to spot the tiger on the pages where Lily can’t seem to see him. The ending is completely satisfying, particularly because Lily continues to be oblivious to what is actually happening around her and readers will be surprised by a full view of the truth as well.
The art tells much of the story here with the narrative almost entirely from Lily’s perspective. The tiger can be spotted right before each disaster and right afterwards too. The illustrations are energetic and filled with action and the entire book reads like a cartoon episode.
Funny and a great read aloud, this book is sure to keep attention focused and kids giggling. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Orchard Books.
The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Kameeka just knows she can beat Jamara at hula hooping, but her mother reminds her that today is Miz Adeline’s birthday, so she can’t go and hula hoop. Instead Kameeka has to help get ready for the party. Kameeka helps sweep, dust, wash floors, clean windows, and peel potatoes. Her mother makes a cake but Kameeka is so distracted that she sets the temperature too low and the cake is ruined. So her mother sends her out to get more sugar. On the way home from the store, Kameeka meets Jamara and the two start competing for who can hoop the longest. It isn’t until another of their family friends walks up that Kameeka remembers Miz Adeline’s party. Now Kameeka is going to have to explain why there isn’t a cake at the party. But some quick thinking finds a solution and then Kameeka herself is in for a surprise, hula hoop style.
This clever picture book shows different elements of a community. There are moments of good-natured competition, times that you have to put your own wishes aside and think of others, and other times where forgiveness is important too. Godin manages to wrap all of this into a very readable book that invites readers into the heart of a tight-knit community where the older generation may just has some tricks up their sleeves too.
The illustrations by Brantley-Newton show a diverse urban community with busy streets and brightly-colored stores and shops. She uses patterns to create the curbs on the road, wall coverings and floor textures. Despite being animated and dynamic, the illustrations keep a lightness on the page that keeps it sunny.
Community-driven, intergenerational and a great look at personal responsibility, this book has a wonderful warmth and charm. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
The four Fletcher boys could not be more different from one another. There is the serious ten-year-old Eli who is starting a private school separate from his brothers for the first time and who just may have made a horrible decision changing schools. There is Sam, aged twelve, who loves sports and is popular at school but who will find himself stretching into new interests this year. There is Jax, also aged ten, who has a huge homework assignment that will have him talking to their new grumpy neighbor for help but only after he calms down from a number of things. Finally, there is Frog who is just starting kindergarten along with his imaginary friend and who may have a new imaginary friend named Ladybug. It all adds up to a wonderful read with lots of humor and one amazing family.
Filled with laughter, an angry neighbor, elaborate Halloween parties, soccer, hockey and plenty of pets, this book is sure to please middle grade readers. Add in the diverse backgrounds of the four boys in the family and their two dads and you have a book that celebrates diversity without taking itself too seriously. It’s the ideal mix of completely readable book with its diversity simply part of the story not the main point.
All of the boys as well as the two fathers are unique individuals with their own personal responses to crises and situations. Each chapter begins with a note from one character to another, usually funny and always showing their personality. Perhaps the best part of the book is that this family dynamic is clearly one of love but also filled with normal chaos and the daily strain of work, school, neighbors and friends. It reads like a modern classic.
I hope we get to read more of their misadventures in future books, because this is one family that I want to see much more of! Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
Publisher’s Weekly has released their Spring 2015 sneak preview for children’s books. The list includes picture books, middle grade and teen. Listed by publisher, this is a great way to see the books long before they arrive, build your future must-read list, and start a list of books to keep an eye on for your library purchases.
The Numberlys by William Joyce, illustrated by Christina Ellis
In a world where there are only numbers, everything is very orderly and neat. But it’s also very gray, even the food. Then five friends started to wonder if there was something more than numbers, something different! So they started inventing and they slowly came up with letters. And when they reached the final letter Z, things started to change. Color entered their dreary lives as the letters fell into place. Once the letters formed words, real changes started and the entire world was flooded with color and yummy foods and possibilities.
Based on the app, this is a second picture book from the creators of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which also started as an app. Joyce creates a numeric and order-filled world reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984 in the first pages of the book. The text here is very simple, allowing most of the storytelling to be done by the illustrations. Joyce keeps a light hand here and uses humor to show how dark the world is. Who could imagine a world without jellybeans?
It is Ellis’ art that brings this world to life. Her orderly world has the feel of wooden toy soldiers and the five friends are wonderfully different and unique even before they invent the alphabet. The gray tones of the early part of the book give way to jellybean colors that jump on the page.
This celebration of words and books also examines the importance of independent thought and creativity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Hermelin: The Detective Mouse by Mini Grey
Released August 5, 2014.
Hermelin is a mouse who lives in the attic of Number 33 Offley Street. His attic is filled with books and boxes and a typewriter that Hermelin uses to write with. When Hermelin notices that the Offley Street Notices board is filled with people missing things, he knows just what he has to do. So he starts working as a mouse detective and solving the mysteries of Offley Street. He does this by noticing things and then leaving typed notes for the people to help them find their missing items. Then when tragedy almost strikes the youngest person on Offley Street, Hermelin is the one to save the day! Soon everyone wants to know exactly who this Hermelin person is, so they invite him to a thank you party in his honor. He just isn’t quite what they were expecting…
A new Mini Grey book is always a treat and this one is perfectly lovely. Hermelin is a winning character with plenty of pluck as he goes about solving mysteries. Happily, the mysteries are just as small as Hermelin himself, making the book all the more jaunty and fun. Grey spends some time showing Hermelin’s attic and how he lives. The small details here add a rich warmth to the book and it is also the details that create such a vibrant world on Offley Street with the humans as well.
Done in her signature style, the illustrations are filled with details. One can read the cereal box, the milk carton, and the titles on the books as well as giggling at the flavors of cat food on the shelf. Hermelin himself is a lovely white mouse with inquisitive eyes and a face that shows emotions clearly. The entire book is a pleasure to immerse yourself into and simply enjoy.
Clever and filled with adventure, the vast appeal of this detective story is no mystery at all. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.
The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham
The first book in a trilogy, this fantasy is dark and marvelously filled with monsters. Rye has grown up in the worst part of Village Drowning. Her mother owns a shop in the market section of town where Rye helps out. Together with her two best friends, Rye begins to piece together the story of her family and her father. It all has to do with the monstrous Bog Noblins, creatures that are considered extinct but that Rye is convinced have returned to the village. The problem is that the only people who can defend the village against the monsters are the illegal Luck Uglies, a troupe of villains who had been driven from the village and are considered just as evil as the monsters. But all is not what it seems in Village Drowning as Rye is soon to discover.
Durham has crafted a fabulous fantasy for middle-grade readers. The book is filled with moments of real fear and true danger, making it ideal for that age. It also has plenty of humor along the way, usually involving Rye’s friends and family, allowing a lightness in the novel that is very appealing in such a dark novel. Durham has created a world in this book that is unique and fascinating but also pays homage to more traditional tales. This book slips neatly into European tales of monsters and goblins, yet still manages to be telling its own story.
Rye is a wonderful heroine. She is bright and inquisitive and immensely brave particularly when someone she loves is in danger. At the same time she is fully human, frightened at times, holding on tight to her own viewpoint, and learning to trust too. She is certainly not without flaws, but she is immensely likeable and exactly the person you want when the Bog Noblins return.
Dark, dangerous and delightful, this book is a strong new fantasy series for middle-grade readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra by Chris Raschka
Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka has both written and illustrated this picture book biography of the jazz musician Sun Ra. Sun Ra claimed that he came from Saturn. He came to earth in 1914 in Alabama and he was named Herman and called Sonny. From the very beginning, Sonny loved music. He learned to be a musician as a young child and also studied about philosophy. As a teen, Sun Ra was already a professional musician. When World War II came, he refused to become a soldier and instead was labeled a conscientious objector. After the war, Sun Ra returned to his music and formed The Arkestra. They made wild jazz music, created their own costumes, and toured the world sharing their music. Sun Ra left earth in 1993, having changed it for the better with his music.
Raschka has created a celebration of Sun Ra on these pages. His text is playful and invites readers into the book. It opens with the idea that Sun Ra was from Saturn and scoffs at that, but then plays along with it as a premise throughout the book. Intelligently, children are invited in on the humor and can see what is really happening that way.
Raschka’s illustrations are bright and loose. They suit the jazz of the music with their free flowing lines, deep colors and they way they capture landscapes as well. These are illustrations that celebrate music on a deep level.
A beautiful picture book about a jazz legend, this picture book should be welcome in all library collections. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.