Category: Book Reviews


Woodpecker Wham by April Pulley Sayre

Woodpecker Wham! by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

In brief stanzas of rhyme, this nonfiction picture book looks at the habitats and lives of a variety of different species of woodpecker. Starting with finding food, the book explores woodpeckers eating insects and sap. Then woodpeckers bathe and preen. They create homes by digging holes in the bark of trees. They hide from hawks. They lay eggs and the chicks hatch, forcing the adult birds to scrounge for food for them. The fledglings start trying to fly and then fall comes and once again woodpeckers are searching for food and shelter to get them through the winter.

Sayre and Jenkins continue their partnership that started with Eat Like a Bear in this new book. Sayre writes with a light hand, creating a sense of exploration and wonder around these backyard birds. Children will learn some things from the brief poetic text and there is a lot more information to be found on the back pages where individual species are identified and all of the subjects are expanded upon.

Jenkins continues to create illustrations that amaze. With his cut paper collages, the illustrations pop on the page as the birds fly, hide, peck, eat and reproduce. I love that the color of the sky changes from one page to the next, creating moments in time rather than one continuous time period. The result are illustrations that stand on their own in terms of beauty and the incredible detail that they offer readers.

Beautiful and informative, this nonfiction picture book will have children gazing out of their windows to try to see the birds in their neighborhood. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.

Everybody Sleeps But Not Fred by Josh Schneider

Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred) by Josh Schneider

Every type of animals has to sleep whether on the farm or in the jungle or underwater, but not Fred. Fred has far too much to do to sleep at all. Fred has to do his important jumping. He has to break the world shouting record. He has to test his horn collection. He has so much to do, much to the chagrin of the sleepy animals around him who keep getting startled from his activities. It isn’t until parents start to read poetry to get children to fall asleep that Fred too succumbs to slumber. Now it’s up to young readers to be quiet enough to keep from waking Fred up and starting it all over again.

Schneider writes in rhyme, jaunty and confident. He invites readers to see different habitats for the animals as they snore and snooze. The pacing is deftly done in this book, allowing a slow build up to each activity that then becomes zany and silly. It’s that dichotomy of pace that makes for a book that is a joy to share aloud and one that will make any bedtime a lot more fun.

Also adding to the fun are the impeccable illustrations. They are complete irreverent and silly, with sleeping pigs with tattooed bottoms, monsters who brush their teeth, monkeys in tutus, and a toucan who appears throughout in unexpected places. The illustrations are worth spending lots of time with since they are filled with small details. Many of the animals continue to subsequent pages along with Fred, joining in his adventures.

Smart, funny and a great bedtime story, this picture book will amuse even the most resistant sleepyhead. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella (InfoSoup)

Released June 9, 2015.

The bestselling author of the Shopaholic series has released her first novel for teens. Audrey stays at home all of the time wearing dark glasses and unable to look into anyone’s eyes except for her four-year-old brother’s. After a horrible bullying incident, Audrey has had to put her life slowly back together. Now her therapist wants her to start making a documentary film about her family and also to get out of the house and meet people. But how can Audrey do that when just the sight of one of her older brother’s friends in the house is enough to send her running away? As Audrey makes slow progress with her anxiety disorder, her family is struggling too. Her mother is obsessed with getting her brother off of computer games even though he’s prepping for a gaming tournament. Her father is focused on his Blackberry and work all of the time. Audrey begins to realize the impact of her disorder on her family, but could she push herself to get better too quickly?

Firmly set in Britain, this book will appeal to Anglophile readers. Audrey’s anxiety disorder is shown with great humanity but also with humor. The book has a natural cadence to it, a pacing that is slow but steady and where readers will realize the progress that Audrey is making before she does. This natural feel works very well for a book about recovery and even when Audrey starts to push things too fast, the results feel organic and honest. I must also mention how well this also works for the romantic piece of the book. That too feels real and it makes the connection between the two characters all the more believable and lovely.

The characters here are particularly well done. From Audrey who is the voice of the novel and who is struggling to her entire family who all deal with the stress in their own way. Each person is unique and it is their mix of family warmth and striking out at one another that makes this book work so well. Filled with humor, the book is very funny making it one of the lightest and easiest to read books about anxiety that I’ve ever read. Teens who enjoy books about issues will be surprised to see how well a lighter tone works when dealing with very serious issues.

Refreshing and funny this book will delight teen readers who will hope that Audrey will return for another book. Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Delacorte Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett

The Skunk by Mac Barnett, illustrations by Patrick McDonnell

When a man wearing a tuxedo leaves his home, a skunk is sitting on his doorstep. The man slowly backs away and heads off. But the skunk seems to follow him. Even when he hops into a taxi, the skunk hops into another one and follows him closely. The man escapes to the opera, sure that the skunk will not be able to get in, but suddenly the skunk is right next to him, sitting on a woman’s head. The skunk continues to pursue him across a cemetery and even around and around on a ferris wheel. Finally the man escapes down into the sewers. He finds himself a new house and leaves his old life behind. But even as he celebrates with his new friends, he starts to think about the skunk and why the skunk was following him. It’s up to him to figure it out. Maybe the skunk won’t even notice the man following him!

Barnett and McDonnell are an incredible pairing in this picture book. They feed off of one another, each lifting the other up. Barnett’s writing is just as quirky as ever, creating a zingy dynamic between the two characters of the man and skunk. Full of dry humor, the book has a deadpan quality that makes it ideal for sharing aloud with children. The twist at the end of the man searching for the skunk is really well done and sure to get hoots of laughter. Expect children to read this at different levels and see different things in the story, all the while with them having an equally great time.

McDonnell channels the feel of vintage comics in his illustrations. Done with limited colors of only black, white and red, the illustrations change to full color when the man creates his new and different life only to change back when he returns to his original place. Both the man and the skunk convey emotions and a sense of jaunty determination.

A great read aloud pick, this picture book is one of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Tricky Vic by Greg Pizzoli

Tricky Vic: The Impossible True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli

This is a picture book version of the life of Robert Miller, known to law enforcement as Count Victor Lustig, who was one of the greatest con artists of all time. During the early 1900s, Lustig traveled the world doing one con after another. He sailed on ocean liners and befriended wealthy travelers beating them at cards just before they reached their destination. He even conned the legendary Al Capone, pretending to try to double his money while all the time just giving Capone his same money back to appear honest. It worked! His largest con of all time was trying to sell the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal. Amazingly, he did that twice! This incredible story makes for riveting reading and is filled with historical information so young readers will understand concepts like Prohibition.

Pizzoli writes the story of Lustig with great flourish, reveling in the amazing cons that this one man managed to pull off. Pizzoli is known for his simple and clever picture books for younger readers, and in this nonfiction picture book he shows his skills in writing for elementary-aged children. This biography is funny and fascinating, a combination that will have children enthusiastically turning the pages. His writing is filled with the details that make the cons more interesting and using sidebars, he makes sure that children understand the historical context of these cons and how Lustig got away with so much for so long.

Pizzoli’s illustrations add to the appeal. Lustig is shown with only a fingerprint for a head, keeping him a complete enigma throughout the book. At the same time, this bowler-hatted man stands out from the others. The illustrations are an intriguing mix of photographs and drawings, hearkening back to black-and-white photographs even while offering a modern look too.

An impressively compelling subject and cool illustrations combine into a book that is impossible to put down. Appropriate for ages 7-11.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking Books for Young Readers.

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

Trent can’t manage to move on from last year when a tragic accident ended with another boy dead. Trent lost not only all of his friends because of it but also finds himself unable to play the sports he loved, like baseball. At the same time, Trent is unable to control his anger, even if he puts his most disturbing thoughts down on paper in drawings. It helps a bit, but he continues to have problems getting angry at everything and everyone. It all just proves that he is entirely the messed up kid that everyone things he is already. Fallon enters Trent’s live as they head to middle school. She is a girl who loves baseball movies, has a similar sense of humor, and has clearly also survived a tragedy which left her with a scarred face. Fallon becomes Trent’s closest friend, but one burst of anger may end that too, taking away the only good thing he has left.

Graff does such a beautiful job in this middle grade novel. She creates in Trent a truly complex character, one that readers will need time to understand. Trent is at his heart a boy dealing with death and loss and his own role in it, including showing a lot of self-hatred. So in that way, he is an entirely understandable character, one that is sympathetic. Then there is the angry Trent, who loses control, says horrible things, and lashes out. That part of his personality is hard to like, making him at times a character who is far from heroic. At the same time, this is the same person, likable one moment and the next impossible to like at all.

Graff captures the loss of control that comes with flashing red anger, the words that flow out of control, and the way that it feels in the body. Readers will completely understand those zings of anger and the shame that follows if you lash out. Graff also shows a path forward from being isolated and angry, a way to find people to help you even if you have lashed out at them earlier. It is a powerful story of redemption, of learning to return to who you really are, and of self forgiveness.

Beautifully written, this book is an amazing look at powerful emotions and the equal power of watering plants, breathing deeply and playing baseball. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel Books.

A Chicken Followed Me Home by Robin Page

A Chicken Followed Me Home!: Questions and Answers about a Familiar Fowl by Robin Page

What do you do when a chicken follows you home? All of the answers you need are in this nonfiction picture book that tells you facts about chickens. First, you will need to know what to feed your chicken. You may also want to know what kind of chicken you now have and whether it is a boy or a girl. You will need a chicken coop to keep your chicken safe from predators and give it somewhere to live. Then there is the question of eggs and if you want fertile eggs you will need both a hen and a rooster. Then the eggs have to hatch successfully. If they do, you will have lots of chickens instead of just two. Maybe they will follow someone else home!

Page is the author of several popular books about animals and she captures the joy of keeping chickens in this picture book. Using the framework of someone suddenly having to care for a chicken makes the book very approachable and readable. The facts are presented rather like a guidebook and offer matter-of-fact information for the new chicken owner or readers interested in chickens. This book will make a great addition to school and public libraries since it is information just at the right level for early report writers.

Page’s illustrations are spectacular. Done in collage and cut paper, she manages to create feathers out of patterned paper that look real and textured. Fuzzy baby chicks are almost touchable on the page as they struggled free from their eggs. The illustrations are large and bold, making this a book good for using with a class.

No need to be chicken, add this one to your library collection! Even children who haven’t found their own hens will delight in this book. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

Released May 26, 2015.

This is the first YA novel by Priest, a well-known fantasy author for adults, and it’s a treat. May and Libby have been friends for years, the best of friends after meeting in fifth grade on a playground. The two of them wrote comics together about Princess X, a katana-wielding heroine. But then one day, Libby was gone, dead after a car crash from a bridge. Three years later, May has returned to their hometown and notices an image of a princess holding a katana on a sticker, a sticker that is brand new. May tracks down the image to a web comic where she realizes there are real similarities to the story that she and Libby had created. How can that be? And how strange is it that some of the stories seem to have messages only May could understand hidden inside of them?

There is a real joy in finding a book that does digital life so very well. The online elements of the story and the web comic are clear and make perfect sense. The hacking and dark net also work well in the way they are portrayed where there is information to be found but often it’s not legal to access it. That aspect alone, so often mismanaged in novels, is worth this read. But add to that a determined friend who quickly believes that her dead friend is still alive, an online and real life quest for information, horrible bad guys, and the exploration of Seattle both above and underground. It’s a book that is a searing fast read thanks to its pacing and the need to find out the truth.

The online comics are shared as comic inserts in the book, and were not completed in the galley that I have. The first couple of comics were available and add to the drama of the book. The mix of words and images works very well here with Priest using it both to move the story forward and to show the drama and appeal of the comic itself.

Smartly written with great characters and an amazing quest for the truth, this book is satisfying, surprising and impressive. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

Luna and Me by Jenny Sue Kostecki Shaw

Luna & Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

This is a picture book version of the real-life heroism of Julia Butterfly Hill, a woman who lived for two years in the branches of Luna, a great redwood tree in order to save the grove from logging. In this picture book, Butterfly is shown as a girl rather than an adult. She spends many of her days exploring nature and then discovers Luna and climbs up into her branches. When she realizes that Luna is going to be chopped down, she stays in the branches. That starts her adventure high in the canopy where she has to withstand storms and cold. Butterfly stayed up in Luna for two years, figuring out how to make a home high in a tree and sharing Luna’s story with whomever she could. Until finally Luna and her entire grove her saved and made into The Luna Preserve.

As Kostecki-Shaw notes in her Author’s Note, she has simplified the political situation that the real Julia Butterfly Hill was dealing with as well as the initial response that included a group of environmental activists taking turns sleeping in Luna’s branches. This makes for a picture book that is easily understood by young readers and that hints at larger issues happening. It will serve to inspire young readers that they can individually make a difference in the world around them and protect what is invaluable to all of us.

The illustrations in this book are done in a variety of media including acrylics, watercolor and pencil. They capture the beauty of nature with dappled light through leaves, the texture of tree bark, and the dwarfed size of Butterfly against the world. They also delightfully show the other animals and creatures living in Luna with one magical page displaying a space inside her trunk.

A very special book about an environmental heroine, this picture book will be inspiring for young readers. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.

Spots in a Box by Helen Ward

Spots in a Box by Helen Ward

A guinea fowl is worried about his lack of plumage design, so he sends off for spots in the mail. They come wrapped in brown paper and string, something that always makes a package more intriguing. But inside, they are not the spots he expected. They are too big for his taste. Luckily though, more spots arrive. Some are too small, others too sparkly. Still others glow in the dark! But eventually after looking at lots of different options, our protagonist picks out some spots that are just perfect and they may not be what you may have expected. Yet they are just right for him.

Ward has written a winning book. Written in rhyme that is never forced but feel very natural, this book is a pleasure to share aloud. The real focus here are the illustrations and those are what make the book so interesting. A large part of the joy here is the silliness of a bird shopping for spots. That is made all the more fascinating because our guinea fowl hero is drawn very lifelike and reacts like a bird would. It is a delightful mix of reality and the rather farcical humor of shopping for dots and spots.

This book is about design and personal style without it being about pink things and tulle. So it’s a very refreshing addition to book shelves where children who have different tastes will find themselves imagining what spots would suit them in life. The design of the book itself is lovely with nods to leopard print and playful die cut pieces at times.

Very young readers will find lots to love here with pages that sparkly and some that have raised spots. It’s also a great book to inspire drawing or discussions of style. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

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