The Yeti Files: Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry
The author of I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean and other picture books has released his first book for early readers. It is the story of Blizz Richards, a yeti who lives an isolated life in Nepal. He has a great cave for a house that he’s filled with all sorts of cool gadgets and lots of things to play on. He is a cryptid, and as one he has taken an oath to never be seen by the outside world. So Blizz almost never sees his family. But all that is about to change with the announcement of an upcoming Big Feet Family Reunion. Blizz shares the story of Brian, one of his relatives in Canada who got spotted and had his picture taken and put up on the Internet. It was all because of George Vanquist, a man who continues to seek out cryptids and expose them. Now Blizz has to risk it all to see his family, rescue Brian from his shame of being exposed and avoid George Vanquist along the way.
Sherry has such a great touch for humor. Throughout the book there are moments of hilarity that children will adore. He also manages to create unique characters even in this very simple format. Blizz manages to be a cool character, someone who lives a rich life despite being mostly alone. He does have several clever smaller creatures who live with him and who help out regularly throughout the story. The book moves along at rocket speed, helped by the large number of illustrations which will make it a welcoming read for new readers.
The illustrations have the same clarity as Sherry’s picture books. With simple lines, he creates entire worlds here with characters who express emotions clearly. One of the best parts of this book are the little diagrams throughout, first of what a yeti really is, then showing Blizz’s house, and next explaining cryptids, They are clever, funny and avoid creating large paragraphs of explanation.
Filled with humor and the same distinctive illustration style as his picture books, this early reader will appeal to any child looking for some giggles. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.
The 2014 list of Publisher’s Weekly starred reviews of children’s books has been released and is available for free on their website. This second edition of their annual guide has over 350 starred titles as well as interviews with some great authors including Rick Yancey, Jandy Nelson, Ashley Bryan and Laurie Halse Anderson. Enjoy!
What Forest Knows by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by August Hall
This poetic exploration of the seasons invites young readers into the forest to see what happens to the animals and plants as the seasons change. It begins with snow, which is something the forest knows well. It also knows about waiting, so it waits as the animals in the forest sleep and rest during the cold. Then buds come and creeks run and birds fly and it’s spring. All of the animals and insects awaken and come out into the growing grass. Fruit arrives with fall, nuts ready for squirrels to harvest. Animals eat to survive the next winter. Finally, there is snow again in the forest and an invitation to make the forest yours too.
Lyon’s poem is glorious. She winds through the forest along with the breezes, touching down and pointing out exactly the right things. It’s a poem that is organic and natural, celebrating everything in the woods, the ongoing changes, and allowing us to see ourselves reflected in the woods as well. This book is an invitation to explore during all seasons, to look for birds and bugs and mammals as we walk.
Hall’s illustrations add to that immense appeal of nature and the forest. His paintings play with the light as it changes through the seasons as well as the colors of the trees and the grass as the time passes. They are dappled and lush, filled with the movement of the wind and the movement of the leaves.
A great addition to the crowded shelves about seasons, this picture book combines poetry with gorgeous illustrations. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato
Eliot loved living in the big city, but sometimes it was hard being such a small elephant in such a huge place. He had to watch out so he didn’t get stepped on, doorknobs could be too high, and he could never catch a cab. Even at home, Eliot had to find a way to make everyday things work. Eliot also loved cupcakes, though when he tried to buy one in a shop he couldn’t get noticed by the person at the counter. He felt very small and invisible then, but on the way home he discovered a mouse trying to reach some food and found that even though he may be small he can make a big difference. Even better, he can make friends!
Curato uses only a few words to tell his story, making the most of the illustrations to show the ways that Eliot solves his height issues at home as well as how the new friends solve the cupcake buying problem. Children will enjoy reading about this little polka-dotted elephant who faces the same issues that they do in life. They will easily relate to the sadness of being ignored too.
The illustrations in this book are filled with charm. Eliot himself is a wonderfully unusual little fellow, shining on the page. The images of the city are mostly done in a dark and subtle color palette. The entire book has a fifties vibe to it and some of the images are pulled right out of an Edward Hopper painting. It’s a courageous choice that works particularly well.
A charmer of a protagonist and an urban landscape make this one delicious cupcake of a picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.
Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
Grayson lives with his aunt, uncle and cousins after his parents died when he was much younger. Middle school is hard. Grayson doesn’t have friends, eating his lunch in the library rather than the cafeteria. He rarely does anything more than go to school and return home again. After school, Grayson has time on his own before the others get home and he spends his time in front of the mirror dreaming of wearing a dress and being a princess. It’s a fantasy he quickly puts away when the others come home, returning once again to being a boy in a long t-shirt and jeans. Then one day, Grayson decides to go out for the school play. And when he auditions, he tries out for the role of Persephone. What will happen if he gets cast as the female lead and is no longer invisible?
Polonsky has created a critical book for middle-graders about the experience of being transgender in middle school. She hits just the right tone of lightness and seriousness, allowing the story of Grayson to unfold naturally and beautifully on the page. The reader learns along with Grayson what he is really feeling inside, how he wishes to express it, and also how incredibly brave he is. He’s an incredible character, one that is relatable and inspiring.
Polonsky also does not duck away from negative reactions to Grayson. In Grayson’s aunt, readers will see an adult who is struggling to understand someone who is transgender. She seeks to protect Grayson from bullies by hiding what he truly is and goes after the teacher who is helping Grayson express who he is on the inside. There are also bullies at Grayson’s school who play a part in his isolation. Yet there are also heroes among the students as well as Grayson’s uncle who is supportive. It’s a strong mix of reactions, showing that while there is hate there is also love and support.
An important book for middle-grade children about being transgender and being true to yourself. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from library copy.
Blizzard by John Rocco
Rocco tells a story from his childhood of the blizzard of 1978 that dumped 53 inches of snow on his Rhode Island town. The story begins with just a few flakes in the air and by the time school closes and the children make their way home, the snow is getting deeper and deeper. The next morning, the drifts were so high that they had to leave the house through the window rather than the door. The snowplows stopped running because the snow was too deep. They were isolated and at first it was great fun with days of playing in the snow and drinking mugs of hot cocoa with milk. Then after a few days, food got scarcer and the cocoa was being made with water. It was up to a ten-year-old John to make his way to the grocery store pulling his sled with tennis rackets strapped to his feet.
Rocco embraces the wonder of a huge snowfall in this picture book. The delight of a landscape and world changed into something foreign and incredible. The changes to routine, the cancelation of school, families stuck inside together, the futility of trying to dig out paths. He celebrates it all on the page and then moves the story to an arctic exploration of one boy against the elements, complete with a map of his route to the store. There is a rich humor throughout the narrative that reassures children that the family is not going to starve but also offers real reason to travel to the store, watery cocoa!
Rocco’s art cleverly incorporates the days of the week in the art, from snow on branches spelling out the word to a squirrels trail on the roof. The cool white and blues of the outdoors are contrasted fully with the yellows of the indoor world of the family. The disjointed attempts at clearing the snow are cleverly done, speaking to the power of intent but also the depth of the snow and the effort required to clear it.
Perfect for folks in Buffalo, but also a great story to read when any snowstorm is drifting your way, preferably with mugs of milk hot cocoa. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis
The first book in a new series, this novel invites readers along on a journey into a series of worlds that are tied together by the Pirate Stream, a river of pure magic. Fin is an orphan with a strange power where no one remembers him after a few minutes, not even the people at the orphanage who cared for him as a child. He uses that skill to be a master thief, but then he receives a letter with instructions that take him on a quest to find his mother. Marrill is living in Arizona, a perfectly dull life, when a ship suddenly appears next to her in the desert. Climbing aboard, she suddenly finds herself on an adventure in the Pirate Stream with a wizard, the ship’s captain, and the crew of rats. She has to find the parts of the Map in order to make her way home, exactly what Fin also needs to find his mother. This adventure takes readers to unknown worlds filled with sinister magic, great friendships, and plenty of action.
Ryan and Davis have crafted a wild fantasy novel that is constantly surprising. Thanks to the strange waters of the Pirate Stream, the travels on board the ship bring readers and the characters to lands that are unique and fascinating. There is an island of trees that speak and think where rumors and whispers rule. There is a frozen land with a leaning tower filled with treasure. There is a bird made from part of the Map that can lead them to the other pieces. There are mad wizards who create sorrow wherever they go and are determined to destroy themselves and all of the worlds.
While the adventure is a large part of the book, at its heart is the friendship of Marrill and Fin. Both of them are lonely children before they meet one another, Marrill because she has traveled a lot with her parents and never settled in one place and Fin because everyone forgets him. Marrill though does not forget Fin, because she cares so deeply. Their friendship offers both of them riches beyond treasure and delight beyond the adventure.
This strong middle grade fantasy novel will have readers looking forward to the next book and returning to the dangers and wonders of the Pirate Stream. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon
Dory is the youngest in her family and her older siblings won’t play with her at all. So she is left to play on her own and thanks to her great imagination, Dory has a lot of fun. Dory has a best friend, Mary, a monster who sleeps under her bed and is always willing to play. There are also other monsters all over their house. When Dory continues to bother her brother and sister, they make up a story about Mrs. Gobble Gracker, a horrible woman who steals baby girls and is looking for Dory! So when the doorbell rings, Dory knows it is Mrs. Gobble Gracker coming for her. Hopefully the little man who says he’s her fairy godmother will be able to help defeat her. In the end though it is Dory’s own creativity and bravery that will save her and maybe even get her siblings to play too.
Hanlon brilliantly captures the wild imagination of a little girl who doesn’t slow down for a minute, zinging from one idea to the next even as those around her groan. Dory could have been a problematic character, but thanks to the book being told from her point of view, readers will get to see how strong a person she is long before she displays it to her family.
Hanlon’s art makes this a book that younger readers will happily pick up and read. Her black and white illustrations are more than paragraph breaks, they show the story of Dory and all of the characters she dreams up over the course of the day. On the page, we see what Dory sees, not what her family doesn’t see and it’s quite a world that she has created.
Fast moving, wild and full of laughs, this book is a dynamic introduction to a fresh new face that will appeal to fans of Junie B, Jones. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
Here Comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda
Cat tries out a new disguise in this follow up to Here Comes the Easter Cat. Cat is worried that he has not been nice enough to get a present from Santa. So his solution is to become Santa so that he can give himself a present. Of course, he has to learn how to climb down chimneys, which doesn’t go well. He also has to figure out how to fly without Santa’s magic reindeer. Perhaps a jet pack? He tries giving gifts to children, but they don’t seem to appreciate the fish. He even tries to decorate a tree, but it too ends in disaster. What is one naughty cat to do?
Underwood has created a delightful sequel to her first Cat book. Once again Cat uses signs to communicate with the reader. The voice of the narrator is one of an adult, making this an ideal book to be read aloud by a teacher or parent. The rather disapproving but still encouraging tone of the narrator sets up the humor perfectly and with Underwood’s clear sense of comedic timing, the results are hilarious.
Rueda’s art adds to the zany humor, often serving as the final funny note to a gag. She uses gentle colors and delicate lines, supporting the storyline clearly. Her comedic timing too is wonderfully spot on.
A very funny addition to crowded Christmas picture book shelves, save this one to share aloud on Christmas Eve. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead
A little boy named Sebastian is having a very boring day even though he is up on the top of the roof where he’s never supposed to be. So he decides to head on a journey. First, he packs everything he needs, then he heads for the hot air balloon he made from his grandmother’s afghans and quilts. He sets off and meets a bear next to a leafless tree. He offers the bear a pickle sandwich and the bear joins him on his journey. Flying in the fog, they hear a loud pop and find that a bird has flown into the balloon. They land atop a a colorful worn house where three sisters help them knit their balloon together again. As the three elderly ladies work, they mention the time that they went over the mountain as children and found a rollercoaster. You can guess where they all headed next!
Stead has created a quiet and lovely book here. It is an adventure book, but somehow it is imbued with a gentleness and dreaminess. Perhaps it is the balloon flight, the drifting and silence and quiet of that mode of transportation. Or it could be the fog, the friendly bear, and the three grandmothers. It all adds up to a wonderfully whimsical book that dances along dreamily.
Stead’s illustrations are always a treat. I love that his protagonist is a little boy of color, someone who glows against the background, who is resourceful, smart and creative. The three grandmothers, each with their own color that is also represented in their home, are drawn with a humor that is gentle and gorgeous. The entire book sings of whimsy and imagination.
Ideal for bedtime reading, this book is sure to create dreams of hot air balloon rides and an array of friends. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.