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love and other foreign words

Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

Josie attends both college and high school, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  So she has to be able to speak fluent High School and College.  There are people in her life who speak her own language, her best friend Stu, her parents, and her older sister Kate.  Josie also has to learn the way to talk to Kate about her dismal new boyfriend who doesn’t seem to be going away as quickly as Josie would like.  Even worse, it looks like they might be getting married, but not if Josie can stop it.  As Josie starts to date, she learns that there are Boyfriend languages that she has to learn as well.  But will anyone bother to learn to speak Josie?  And how in the world do you stop a crazy bride-to-be from ruining your life along with her own?

McCahan has written a smart female protagonist who is not afraid of being seen as intelligent and often shows off her knowledge in very humorous ways.  It’s great to have a super-smart girl in a book who relishes her own brains and also manages to have close friends.  Just as lovely is a book with a teen protagonist who enjoys her parents and gets along with her siblings too, most of the time.  Josie is entirely herself with her own sense of identity that often does not match the ones that people want to inflict upon her.  And that is celebrated in this wonderfully clever read.

McCahan has a knack for comedic timing and witty comments.  She doesn’t take it too far or make Josie too very clever.  Instead the humor reads naturally and seems like the sort of things that a smart teen would say.  The use of foreign languages to look at how people communicate in different ways is a very clever take on it.  As Josie stumbles through relationships on different levels, she is acutely aware of when things go awry but also just as confused about how to fix them.

This is an outstanding novel with an unusual protagonist that will have you laughing along with Josie as she navigates the many languages of her world.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

matildas cat

Matilda’s Cat by Emily Gravett

Matilda thinks her cat loves to do a lot of things.  But really, it’s Matilda who loves playing with wool, climbing in boxes, and riding bikes.  All of those things scare her cat.  It’s Matilda who loves tea parties, hats, and swords.  She loves drawing pictures, climbing trees and reading bedtime stories.  And she does it all dressed in her cat costume.  At the end of the book, Matilda has crossed off all of the things she likes because her cat doesn’t like them and made a huge list of everything her cat does NOT like.  But there is one thing her cat does like after all, Matilda!

Gravett excels at creating quirky and marvelous picture books for children.  Here she captures the reaction of a cat perfectly on the page, his ears back and his eyes wide with worry.  The text is at first a list of everything that the cat should like, but then the lists clearly turn to what the little girl enjoys instead.  Through it all, the cat’s concern is the same but it is still inquisitive enough to stay around Matilda and all of her activity. 

The simple text lets the illustrations tell the real story and the real reaction of the cat.  It was a great choice to have Matilda look very much like her cat, so the two show different reactions to the activities.  The illustrations pop against the large amount of white space, making this a book that could happily be shared with a group, since it read aloud well.

A great pick for reading at story time or units about pets or cats, this picture book is another winner from Gravett.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon and Schuster.

sparky

Sparky! by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Chris Appelhans

A little girl wanted a pet but her mother would only let her have a pet that doesn’t need to be walked, bathed or fed.  So the girl went to the library and the school librarian pointed her towards sloths.  Her sloth arrived in the mail and she named him Sparky.  She immediately took him to his tree where he went promptly to sleep.  He didn’t wake up for two days.  She tried playing games with him but they didn’t really work since the girl won every single time.  The only game that Sparky could win was Statue.  He was really good at it.  That weekend, Mary Potts came over to see the sloth, but she didn’t approve.  She said her parrot could say twenty words and her cat could walk on its hind legs.  The girl said that Sparky could do tricks too, and now she would have to prove it.  But what in the world can Sparky actually do?

Told in the first person by the little girl, this book celebrates a pet may not be able to do traditional tricks like other more active animals, but definitely can hold its own as a companion.  Offill has created a wonderful story filled with gently funny moments like trying to play hide-and-seek with a sloth that doesn’t move.  As the girl trains the sloth to do tricks, I was happy to see that Sparky remained steadfastly a sloth and didn’t change into something else at all. 

Appelhans’ illustrations also have a great quietness to them.  Done in watercolor and pencil, they are subtly colored, with the backgrounds and characters primarily in browns.  Then there are occasional pops of red too.  My favorite picture is the sloth arriving via mail with his arms, legs and head popping out of the box and the up arrow facing straight down as if he should be carried on his head. 

This is a book that is slow, steady and heartfelt, just like Sparky himself.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.

day i lost my superpowers

The Day I Lost My Superpowers by Michael Escoffier, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo

Told in first person, this picture book celebrates the super hero in all of us.  The child narrating the book learned that they had superpowers when they were first able to fly (tossed in the air by a parent) and from there kept working and practicing to develop their superpowers more and more.  Making things disappears works sometimes on things like cupcakes, but sometimes doesn’t on things like peas.  Going through walls and walking on the ceiling can get you into trouble.  But sometimes you wonder where your powers came from.  Does your mother have powers too?  Just wait until you see the incredible power of the mother in this book!

I love picture books where the narrator is telling a different story than the pictures, and this one works particularly well.  Escoffier has created a great protagonist here, a child who sees the potential for wonder everywhere, particularly in themselves.  Just take a lot of imagination and anything at all is possible, even turning invisible.

Di Giacomo’s illustrations tell the real story here.  The child is often destructive, never really displaying powers, and at the same time is clearly telling the truth from their own point of view.  The illustrations allow the child to be androgynous and the text keeps them that way too.  This is a book that celebrates being whatever you want to be in both images and words.

Funny, honest and a treat, this picture book will be celebrated by any child who owns their own cape.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

through the woods

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

This graphic novel is haunted by authors like Neil Gaiman and the Brother Grimm.  The tales here are gruesome in the best possible way, frightening and oozy and delightful.  Our Neighbor’s House is a strange tale of a family that disappears one by one into the frigid snow following a man in a wide-brimmed hat until there is only one girl left.  A Lady’s Hands Are Cold tells of a women married into a loveless marriage who begins to hear voices calling from the walls and floors of the house.  His Face All Red is a story of murder and the undead. My Friend Janna tells of what happens when fakery of the occult becomes real and dangerous.  The Nesting Place will have your skin crawling, or perhaps it’s what lurks behind your skin.  Each story is a gem, strange and beautiful and entirely horrific.

Carroll does both the stories and the art here and they are married together so closely that they could not be extricated.  Though they are all clearly done by one person, the art changes from one to the next, definitively showing that you are entering a different place with different people.  There are old stories with coaches, horses and corsets as well as more modern tales too. 

Yet though they are clearly different, you start each one with that unease in your stomach that Carroll seems to be able to generate through her use of colors and the way that her characters gaze from the page.  Something is wrong in each of the stories and you can’t finish until you figure out exactly what it is.  The effect is haunting, haunted and wildly exhilarating.

A true delight of a read, this graphic novel for teens is completely disturbing and filled with horror.  In other words, it’s perfection for horror fans.  Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from McElderry Books.

Here is the official teaser trailer for Mockingjay.  Love the change in feel that matches the third book.

zane and the hurricane

Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina by Rodman Philbrick

Zane lives in New Hampshire with his mother and is sent to visit his newly discovered great grandmother in New Orleans.  Unfortunately, he is there when Katrina hits.  Headed out of the city with his grandmother’s pastor in their church van, Zane is safe until his little dog, Bandit jumps out of the open window because some larger dogs in another vehicle are barking at him.  Zane goes after him, walking for miles until he catches him.  Realizing he’s closer to his grandmother’s house than the vehicle, he heads back there.  Then the storm comes.  Zane is in a house that is leaking, the flood waters start to rise, and he climbs with Bandit up into the attic.  From there he is rescued by an older musician wearing a wild looking hat and a young girl.  As chaos descends on the city, Zane finds that all of the rules change but that it is human kindness that makes all the difference.

Philbrick has crafted a very well-written book about Katrina.  He melds the details of the storm and its aftermath in New Orleans into the narrative, allowing it to form the backbone of the story.  At the same time, this is Zane’s specific story, one of luck and bravery.  The flooded city becomes the foundation of the tale, those happy to take advantage of the situation appear and the support of police is nearly nonexistent. 

Philbrick’s story is very readable, the storm offering a structure to the book that readers will feel approaching in an inevitable and inescapable way.  The beginning of the book is rife with dread and fear, knowing what is going to happen.  That fear never lets up even after the storm has passed.  Zane is a strong and resourceful character, one who is forced to trust others and their generosity. Race plays an important role in the book, from Zane’s mixed race to his two African-American companions after the flood. 

This is definitely a story of Katrina, but it is even more a survival story of a boy and his dog.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Blue Sky Press.

Here are the links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week that I think are cool:

More than 20 diverse Native American Folktale Picture Books to share with your children. From What Do We Do All Day?

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

John Boyne’s top 10 child narrators | Children’s books http://buff.ly/1ry6q7H #kidlit

Q & A with Anthony Browne http://buff.ly/1kUcoK1 #kidlit

R.L. Stine and Marc Brown Collaborate on a Picture Book http://buff.ly/1rt5AJo #kidlit

Swoon Worthy Nonfiction Picture Books | There’s a Book for That http://buff.ly/1nxCdDY #kidlit

Top 10 animal villains | Children’s books http://buff.ly/1rAVgk0 #kidlit

EBOOKS

Book News: Amazon Exec Says Hachette Is Using Authors ‘As Human Shields’ : The Two-Way : NPR http://buff.ly/1uiI3hO #ebooks

The book-reader club

LIBRARIES

Forbes Says Close The Libraries And Buy Everyone An Amazon Kindle Unlimited Subscription http://buff.ly/1mrHHvf #libraries #ebooks

Nearly 100 percent of libraries offer tech training and STEM programs, study finds http://buff.ly/1z4NlfN #libraries

TECHNOLOGY

The best literary hashtags on Twitter http://buff.ly/1qROqmh #books #reading #twitter

Reclaiming Our (Real) Lives From Social Media http://buff.ly/1oWd42N

TEEN READS

Can I Get A Do-Over? Shadow Selves And Second Chances : NPR http://buff.ly/1rxYKlV #yalit

Top Shelf reveals John Lewis’s March: Book Two cover – Comics News – Digital Spy http://buff.ly/1zYT1cu #yalit

gaston

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

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.

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