Archive for September, 2011


good night world

Good Night, World by Willa Perlman, illustrated by Carolyn Fisher

A small child says good night to the world around him before he goes to bed. He says goodnight to the sun and stars, planets, and the Earth.  He then says goodnight to the deserts, mountains, oceans, and jungles.  Then the book moves closer to home as he bids goodnight to animals, twisting roads, and houses.  The book returns to where it began, right in his bedroom where he curls up and sleeps.Told in rhyming couplets, this is a gentle, soothing book that is just right for bedtime.

Perlman’s verse is simple and quiet.  The circular feel of the book as it moves far away and then comes back again creates a hug of a story, where children will feel warm and secure.  Yet at the same time, it is a book with a strong arc that invites children to think beyond themselves and far out into space.  So it has a touch of adventure and an outward looking approach that is welcome.

Fisher’s art is a mix of painting and collage that is lovely.  She evokes both the larger world outside and the closer, comfort of home in a way that makes both equally beautiful and welcoming.  The illustrations are colorful, intriguing and have a sense of fun as well.  Children should watch for the red-winged blackbird in each picture too, a friendly guide throughout the story.

This book manages to be both a bold, colorful picture book and a quiet bedtime story that evokes warmth and coziness.  An ideal picture book appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

Also reviewed by:

daughter of smoke and bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Karou is a blue-haired art student in Prague who lives a double life.  She has her small flat where she sleeps under the spread of a pair of huge wings she created.  She attends class, tangles with her ex-boyfriend, and hangs out with her best friend.  Her sketchbooks are filled with strange creatures, so she is known to have a great imagination.  No one knows that these are not creatures she has made up, but rather some of her closest family.  Because she also has her secret life where she runs errands for Brimstone who is a wishmaker.  Her errands take her across the world through magical doorways and what sounds amazing actually results in hauling elephant tusks on Paris subways or bargaining for the teeth of the dead in Morocco.  Brimstone needs teeth to do his job, and it’s Karou’s job to bring them to him.   Her life is complicated and busy, but filled with questions that are never answered.  Karou has always felt something is missing, she’s just not sure what it could be.

Taylor has created a stunning novel here.  Her heroine is complicated, vibrant, amazing and conflicted.  She is strong, vulnerable, beautiful, and mesmerizing.   She is also tough as nails when pushed, raised by monsters, and at the same time big-hearted and kind.  She is a study in contrasts that really works, each piece making sense and creating a believable whole.

The writing is equally spectacular.  Taylor’s descriptions of places is filled with beauty.  She describes Prague as “a city of alchemists and dreamers, its medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies.”  Contrast that with Marrakesh “a mad, teeming carnival of humanity: snake charmers and dancers, dusty barefoot boys, pickpockets, hapless tourists, and food stalls selling everything from orange juice to roasted sheep’s heads.”

The entire book is filled with richness.  Her descriptions are deep and meaningful.  The relationships between characters are strong and true.  And when she writes a love story, you’d better be ready for your own stomach butterflies to awaken and flutter.  It is honey-sweet, hot and shining.  She has created a world that you will not want to ever leave.

This is one ravishing read that breaks away from the paranormal romance label that could have bound it.  Whether you are a paranormal romance fan or not, this is a book worth reading.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Little, Brown and Company.

Check out the trailer for the book:

Also reviewed by:

zoozical

Zoozical by Judy Sierra, illustrations by Marc Brown

This sequel to Wild About Books continues with the same vivacious spirit of the first.  It is winter and the visitors to the zoo start to stay home.  All of the animals had the winter blues too.  But just when the blues seemed to be inescapable, a very small hippo and young kangaroo started to hop.  Soon everyone was dancing along with them and then everyone started to sing.  The dancing and singing turned into their own stage show complete with sets and costumes.  Once again, the zoo was the place to be despite the snowy weather.

Told in rhyming verse, there is a bubbly, bouncing feel to the book.  The verse also reads aloud tremendously well thanks to the rhymes and the natural rhythm that Sierra has created in each line.  The thrill and creativity of the theatre are captured in the jaunty text as is the slow, winter dullness. 

Brown’s art is boisterous, big and bright.  The colors change from the blues and grays of winter into an almost tropical feel when the animals are feeling themselves again.  Greens, oranges, yellows and reds pop and glow on the page.  There is always plenty to keep your eye on in the illustrations as well, giving children a reason to read this one again and again.

A standing ovation to Sierra and Brown for this bright, bubbly, boisterous book.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

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

big wig

Big Wig: A Little History of Hair by Kathleen Krull, illlustrated by Peter Malone

I am a huge fan of Krull’s nonfiction books for children.  Just as her earlier books, this one has a wry sense of humor and contains fascinating facts.  Here the subject is the history of hairdos.  Krull starts with prehistory in Africa and then travels forward until 2007 where the most expensive haircut in history is purchased for $16,300.  In between, readers will learn about different trends in color, styles, lengths and curls.  The book takes an already interesting topic and through details and facts makes it even more compelling. 

Krull’s writing is skillful as always, bundling intriguing facts together into small stories that capture a moment in time.  Her tone of wonder and interest makes for an inviting read, encouraging readers to be excited about the information as well.  Make sure you head all the way to the end and read about the history of hair extensions too.

Malone’s illustrations are fine lined and work well to both depict historical figures and to place them in unique and hair-raising situations.   He changes his style of illustration to match the time period and culture at times, such as the Japanese samurai warrior page.  His colors are just as fine and carefully selected as his lines are.

No snarls in this book.  In fact, it goes to great lengths to avoid tangles.  One might say, this is a top-knot book.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

annoying abc

An Annoying ABC by Barbara Bottner, illustrations by Michael Emberley

Take a very funny trip through the alphabet in a series of mishaps in this silly picture book.  When Adelaide starts the story off by annoying Bailey the chain of events carries all the way through the classroom from A to Z.  Children are crying, fuming, howling, and evening stumbling and tumbling before it reaches the end.  But then, when everything is done, Adelaide apologizes! 

Bottner has created a zany way to do the ABCs filled with plenty of action and nonsense.  This is a modern classroom filled with characters that are depicted in detail by Emberley.  He manages to imbue each of them with their own sense of personality and style, all 26 of them.  It is a book that races along thanks to the pacing of Bottner’s words, but readers who linger on each page will get a better sense of the story itself as told through the illustrations.  It’s a pleasant mix of words that are welcoming and fast, and pictures that are worth exploring.

A thrilling ABC, this is one of those books where children act like children and laughter abounds.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Amazing Wangari Maathai

Sadly, Wangari Maathai, died at age 71.  She was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and was responsible for the Green Belt Movement in Kenya which planted millions of trees.  Happily, there are several great children’s picture books about her inspirational story.  What a great way to celebrate the life of this incredible woman.  Here are my three favorites with links to my reviews:

mama-miti

Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kaddir Nelson

planting_trees_of_kenya

Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire A. Nivola

Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson, illustrated by Sonia Lynn Sadler

anyas ghost

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

This debut graphic novel tells the story of Anya, a first generation American who has worked hard to fit in at school by losing her Russian accent and blending in with the other students.  But she can’t quite manage to be normal.  Falling down a well doesn’t help, and discovering a ghost in the bottom of the well isn’t a good start either.  But as she befriends the ghost, her life starts to become easier.  She gets help with tests, manages to connect with a cute boy she has been watching from afar, and gets clothing and makeup tips too.  Everything seems to be looking up, until Anya begins to figure out what is truly happening.

Told in black-white-and-gray illustrations, this graphic novel has a deep appeal.  Anya is a girl that readers will immediately relate to.  She has insecurities about her body, her school, and herself.  The strength of the novel comes in her character which rings very true and is written with a solid humanity.  The inclusion of the ghost lends a more fantasy tone to the book, offering an appealing foil to this very real protagonist.

The illustrations are clear and often very funny.  Emotions come through nicely and characters are depicted in ways that expand their character beyond the words on the page.  Anya is shown as a normal girl with curves, which makes her very relatable.  It doesn’t hurt that she is also sarcastic.

The storyline is strong, developing into a scary story that is hauntingly appealing.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by:

Check out the book trailer too:

butterfly tree

Butterfly Tree by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Leslie Wu

A girl is playing at the beach in early September when she sees something odd in the air.  At first it looks like black pepper raining down, then it turns into a shimmering orange cloud.  Jilly runs to get her mother because she is scared of what it might be.  Her mother heads toward the beach and then to the neighboring woods.  As they walk, Jilly tries to figure out what the cloud might be.  As they enter the dim, cool woods she tries to spot orange things.  She sees an oriole and a kite, and then a tree that is completely orange.  It’s not until her dog rushes at the tree chasing a squirrel and the monarchs fly into the air that she realizes that the orange are monarch butterflies on their migration.

Markle has written this book in very evocative language, describing what Jilly is seeing with details.  The book is in verse, so the language is just right, creating a sense of mystery and wonder that readers are sure to feel clearly as they read.  The imagery here is clear and well drawn, comparing the butterflies to clouds and jewels.  Markle also draws the setting very clearly, showing the touch of sand on feet, the chill of the woods after the beach, and the play of light and dark in the woods.

Wu’s illustrations add to the beauty here.  Her pictures range from hazy, long-distance looks at the shore to the soft close-ups of the girl and her mother.  Everything is soft and filled with rich colors of fall.  The author’s note at the end of the book has information on Markle’s own experience with migrating monarchs as well as other resources for more information.

This is a perfect book to share in the autumn, but children will enjoy it year round.  The stellar writing and rich illustrations create a book that is impressive and enjoyable. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.

questions questions

Questions, Questions by Marcus Pfister

This colorful book asks question after poetic question about our world.  The questions range in subject, but are all simply and beautifully written:

What makes fire burn red and gold

and makes it much too hot to hold?

and

Does a whale make up a song

so other whales will sing along?

Told in gentle verse, the book celebrates life, including whales, fish, seeds, butterflies and much more.  The simplicity and tenderness of this book make it exceptional.

Pfister’s art work is done with a different technique here.  He explains it in an author’s note at the end of the book.  He transferred his drawing to cardboard and then used the cut outs to stamp with acrylic paints.  The result are intriguingly textured illustrations that are bold and colorful.  On each page there is also a foil element, though I find the illustrations themselves to be far more interesting.

A lovely poetic book that is worth sharing, it is appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

go baby go

Go Baby Go! by Marilyn Janovitz

As baby gets fussy, they head out to the garden where baby is distracted by all sorts of things.  The bubbles going pop, pop, pop.  The blocks tumbling down and clickity clacking.  There are mud pies, water from the hose, even treats to munch.  Then everything gets quiet as baby falls asleep.

This charmer of the picture book has a jaunty rhythm mixed with plenty of repetition to catch the attention of very small children.  Everything that happens here is what a child would find in their own backyard, making the book all the more interesting to children who will see themselves in it.

scariest thing in the castle

I’m the Scariest Thing in the Castle by Kevin Sherry

This board book has the same colorful, bold artwork as Sherry’s previous picture books.  Here his creature is a merry bat who declares himself scarier than all of the other monsters in the haunted castle.  And he does manage to play pranks and frighten all of the others, until the lights go out. 

This jolly Halloween board book will appeal to small children with its bright colors, humor and the not-very-scary tone.

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