Category: Book Reviews

Big Friends by Linda Sarah

Big Friends by Linda Sarah

Big Friends by Linda Sarah, illustrated by Benji Davies (InfoSoup)

Birt and Etho are best friends. They love to spend time together up on Sudden HIll with their big cardboard boxes playing pretend. They imagine that they kings or pirates. They run and leap, sail and fly. They can be loud or quiet together. But then one cold day, Shu brings his box up the hill and asks to join them. Etho agrees to let Shu play, but the more he joins them the more left out Birt feels. Then one night, Birt smashes his box and stops going up Sudden Hill anymore. Is there any way to fix their friendship? Maybe with some boxes and a lot of imagination!

Sarah captures the feeling of a friendship hitting a snag with great precision and care. She crafts the story so that readers will feel Birt’s sudden isolation, the way that the easy play of two children falls apart when joined by a third. Sarah uses symbolism too, particularly when Shu appears. It is a “cramping cold” day that day, foreshadowing the emotions that Birt will feel. As they play as a threesome that first day, they watch “one kestrel and two lost clouds.” This lovely writing is striking and conveys emotions so clearly.

The illustrations by Davies create an entire world for the children. There is the beauty of Sudden Hill filled with flowers and grass combined with the joy of big boxes for play. Then as the story changes, the illustrations convey Birt’s emotions. The sky turns dark and sullen. There are lonely moments back at home where he is isolated and shut in. And finally, the exultant joy at finding a way to be together again.

A lovely book about the perils and possibilities of friendship. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig by Deborah Hopkinson

Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig by Deborah Hopkinson

Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Charlotte Voake (InfoSoup)

Published to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Potter’s birth, this picture book tells the true story of an event in Potter’s childhood. Beatrix loved animals from a very young age. In fact, she and her brother had quite a collection of animals over the years from a family of snails to rabbits trained to walk on a leash. Beatrix also loved to draw and paint her animals. One day, she wanted to paint a guinea pig so she borrowed one from a neighbor. The guinea was a magnificent specimen named Queen Elizabeth. Beatrix promised to return Queen Elizabeth the next morning “unharmed.” Unfortunately though, she would not be able to keep that promise!

Hopkinson adopts a wonderfully wry tone throughout this picture book where readers know that something horrible is going to befall Queen Elizabeth. There is lovely foreshadowing from the title but also from the demise of other creatures in Beatrix’s care, including the family of snails who simply dried out and lizards eaten by birds. The pacing here is delicately balanced, allowing plenty of time for the dread to creep in as Beatrix takes the guinea pig home.

Voake’s illustrations are done in pen and watercolor, showing the world of Victorian England as well as the myriad pets owned by the Potter family. Voake includes parts of Potter’s own diaries in the illustrations, showing her detailed look at her pets and also illuminating how some of them died.

This picture book offers a humorous look at young Beatrix Potter who would become known for her images of animals living through what many children do when they care for others pets or even their own. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.

Titans by Victoria Scott

Titans by Victoria Scott

Titans by Victoria Scott

Astrid’s family has been destroyed by the Titans, mechanical horses raced at a track near her Detroit neighborhood. Her father lost everything betting on the horses and now they may lose their home. Yet Astrid also finds herself drawn to the Titans and spending time figuring out the math to create the best approaches to turns. So when Astrid meets a strange old man who has a Titan of his own, the first generation ever made, Astrid knows that she just has to try to ride it. It is up to Astrid now to secure the future for her family if she can only prove that a poor girl and an old horse can win.

Scott has written such a rip-roaring story. It is a book that will hook those who love horses as well as those who love racing. It’s a book that is science fiction, but a near future that is all too possible, where the division between rich and poor is even more strong than today and where impossibly complex robotic horses come to life. Even better, it is a world that makes sense for the reader, one with great appeal and a strong heroine to cheer for.

Astrid is an amazing heroine. She has a brain that thinks in mathematics and physics, naturally bounding ahead of others. And she uses it not just to ride differently than the others but also to face the horrible traps set into the race track that change from one race to another.  Astrid is complex. She is deeply loyal to her family, yet does not tell them what she is doing. She also takes longer than the reader to fall for her Titan, something that works very nicely so that the reader is cheering them on together.

A riveting read that is compulsively readable, this teen novel has great appeal and will set anyone’s heart racing. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.

My Dog’s a Chicken by Susan McElroy Montanari

My Dogs a Chicken by Susan McElroy Montanari

My Dog’s a Chicken by Susan McElroy Montanari and Anne Wilsdorf (InfoSoup)

Lula Mae really wants a puppy, but her mother tells her that times are hard and she will just have to make do. So Lula Mae takes a look around and decides that maybe a chicken could be a good dog. She finds the most likely chicken, one that is confident, and grabs it. She names the “dog” Pookie and puts a hair ribbon on its head. Her mother insists that whatever Lula Mae calls it, she’s not to bring it into the house. Soon Pookie is starting to act like a dog. She shepherds the other chickens around. She acts like a guard dog when Cousin Tater threatens Lula Mae and the baby with a garter snake. Pookie even manages to perform a search and rescue when Baby Berry goes missing.

This fanciful picture book is brimming with down home warmth. The book’s premise is wonderfully quirky, the substitution of a chicken for a dog. Readers will expect it to go very badly, but this book takes a more positive spin. Even as Pookie starts to act like a dog, she is still clearly a chicken reacting the way a chicken would in that situation. The humans interpret it differently, adding to the fun of the entire story.

Wilsdorf’s illustrations are done in watercolor and ink. They are filled with bright colors and show a vibrant rural lifestyle filled with chickens, woodpiles, and crops. Some of the illustrations show the paths of people (and chickens) running around and convey the panic of trying to find Baby Berry. Sharp-eyed children will spot him by following Pookie’s path.

Funny and entirely individual, this picture book is about making do and following your own heart. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Penguin Random House and Edelweiss.

Bringing the Outside In by Mary McKenna Siddals

Bringing the Outside In by Mary McKenna Siddals

Bringing the Outside In by Mary McKenna Siddals, illustrated by Patrice Barton (InfoSoup)

This picture book invites children to head outside and play in every season. The book begins in spring with children outside carrying umbrellas and jumping in puddles. They play with worms and get good and muddy. Then they head inside to dry off, dump out their boots, and mop up. Summer comes next with sand, water and shells. They carry it back inside with them too as they wash up from all of the sunshine. Autumn is next with apples and leaves that need to be picked off and raked up. Finally, there is winter with snow and ice that can be carried in and the children thawed out before a fire.

This is truly a celebration of playing outdoors. Each season begins with the line “We’re bringing the outside in, oh, bringing the outside in…” When the children head inside the line is repeated and readers can see how parts of being outside are actually brought inside with the children. The book ends with a collection of items saved from their year outside and slightly older children wanting to look through all of their treasures together.

The illustrations show such joy from the children as they spend time together outside. Grins spread ear-to-ear on their faces as they fly kites, stomp in puddles, jump in leaves and sled in snow. This book is pure warmth too, as children dry off, warm up and come back inside happily as well.

A book that shows the pleasure of being out of doors, this picture book should lead to a great ramble outside. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Penguin Random House and Edelweiss.

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (InfoSoup)

Riley carefully chooses the right clothes for the first day of public school, probably more carefully than another other teen ever has. Riley’s clothes need to blend in, but Riley has never been good at that, particularly with having a congressman for a father but even more so because being gender fluid makes dressing all the more complicated. When a therapist tells Riley to start a blog and find a cause, Riley starts to write online about what it is really like to be a gender fluid teen. At school, Riley is starting to fit in with new friends and what could be a budding romance if Riley is reading the signs right. But then advice Riley has given to a transgender teen online takes makes the blog go viral and the issue gets national attention. Soon Riley realizes there is a local stalker reading the blog, threatening to reveal Riley’s identity to everyone.

Garvin has managed to write an entire novel without letting readers know the gender that Riley was assigned at birth. It’s a tremendous feat, made all the more amazing because readers will not notice what he is doing. A large part of that is because Riley is an incredibly engaging and extraordinary character, filled with angst about gender but also longing for friends and even a dash of romance. Riley is a blaze of light as a character, burning so brightly on the page that is impossible to look away. This is a book that you read in one long gulp, caught in the world the author has created so vividly. It is a book that dances with disaster, offering a protagonist who is smart, courageous and simply superb.

Garvin deals with a series of serious issues in this novel. He does not shy away from any of it, which makes the book all the more raw and engaging. He shows exactly what being androgynous is like, the bullying and speculation about a person’s gender. He speaks to the tragedy of suicide in the trans population, the hatred that is directed their way, the lack of understanding and even violence by parents. He turns his attention to sexual attacks as well, creating a book that is riveting to read but also very important to have on library shelves.

An impressive, important and glorious teen novel about one gender fluid teen who will let you understand what being gender fluid is about and the courage it takes to be yourself every day. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Balzer + Bray and Edelweiss.

I Hear a Pickle by Rachel Isadora

I Hear a Pickle by Rachel Isadora

I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!) by Rachel Isadora (InfoSoup)

A book about your senses, this picture book invites the youngest of children to think about their senses and the many ways they use them in life. Starting with hearing, the book offers examples of different things that children may hear in their day like birds, bees and waves. There are also things you can’t hear, like worms. There are loud and soft noises too. Smelling has good smells like soap and bad smells like sneakers and baby diapers. Sight offers light and dark, the joy of wearing glasses to help you see, and the fun of reading. Touch has animals and rain, but also things not to touch like hot stoves or electric plugs. Taste is filled with foods, even ones like spinach that you may not want to eat at first. And then it all comes together in one crunchy pickle in the end.

Isadora uses small pictures on the page to show all sorts of interactions with the world. Children will enjoy seeing the things that they have done and then will want to talk about other ideas they have of things they have experienced with their senses. This is a book that starts a conversation with small children. Are there other things that are crunchy to eat? Other things that are dangerous to touch? Other things that you can’t hear at all? This book invites that sort of exploration of the child’s own world.

A joyous exploration of all of your senses that will have toddlers listening hard. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.