Category: Book Reviews


Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber

The Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber, illustrated by Joohee Yoon

Released September 15, 2015.

Thurber’s profound story is brought to vivid life in this new picture book version. Tiger wakes up and decides that he wants to be king of the beasts, declaring to his wife that he will be king before the night is over. He believes that others are calling for change as well and that the moon will rise in his colors, striped and orange. Lion though is not willing to give up his title. The two start fighting and soon all of the animals in the jungle are fighting too, though many don’t know why they are fighting. Eventually after an immense battle, there is only one survivor, Tiger. He may be king, but there are no beasts to rule any more.

Yoon takes the words of Thurber and creates a picture book that is startling and incredible. She captures in expressions, the pride of declaring yourself to be a ruler, the shock of the old ruler being challenged. The epic battle is shown on pages that fold out to a four-page spread that brings to mind Picasso’s Guernica in its confusion and brutality. Done in only two colors, the green and orange capture the moist heat of the jungle. Though the illustrations appear to be prints, they are actually done with a combination of hand drawing and computer art. However it was done, it is pure brilliance.

A great book to spur discussion about war, pride and costs, this picture book will resonate with young readers. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Stranded Whale by Jane Yolen

The Stranded Whale by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Melanie Cataldo (InfoSoup)

In the fall of 1971, Sally and her brothers were walking home from school along the dunes in Maine. Sally spotted a big gray thing on the beach and realized that it was a stranded whale. The children grab their sweaters and use them to keep the whale wet. One of the brothers ran off to call for help and people from the community arrived with buckets. They tried rocking the whale to get it back to the ocean, but she was too big and they were too weak and small. Sally stayed by the whale’s huge eye, even as it breathed its final breath. The children were seen as heroes for what they did that day, but Sally knew that it would be so much more wonderful to have been able to see the whale return to the ocean.

Yolen writes with such poetry about nature that you are right there and experiencing it alongside Sally and her brothers. Yolen captures the world of the beach in her poems, showing all of the small living things that Sally dashes by on her way to the ocean with her sweater. Most evocative are the scents of the whale, who smells “of fear and deep water” at first. Then the whale last breath:

The sigh smelled like seaweed,

like lobsters in Dad’s traps,

like gutted fish on the pier.

Such imagery that captures in a subtle way the scent of death too.

Cataldo’s illustrations make sure to keep the scale of the enormous whale consistent from one page to the next. On some pages there is an expanse of grey flesh with one huge eye looking out. The effect is humbling, showing that nature is both bigger than us and also a part of us too. The illustrations are beautifully done, playing light and dark against one another as the whale slowly perishes.

A brave book that does not shy away from grief or wonder. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: One by Sarah Crossan

One by Sarah Crossan

One by Sarah Crossan (InfoSoup)

Tippi and Grace are conjoined twins. They have two arms each, but share two legs together. They have spent their childhood being homeschooled, but now the money has run out and they have to start school. It’s a private school, but still much more exposed than they have been before. The two of them literally do everything together. They go to therapy where one twin wears headphones while the other has private time with the doctor. They share dinner with one another but never desserts. Still, there are things you want to be private about, like what boys you like and how sick you are feeling. And Tippi and Grace are feeling sicker and sicker, leading to a decision that is impossible to make.

Told in verse, this novel is compellingly written entirely in Grace’s voice. She clearly tells a story of being an individual and a separate person, but also the meaning of being that close to someone your entire life.  The book celebrates the closeness of these sisters and their battles with one another but also their care too. While they are unique from one another, they are also a single one being too. This will resonate with teens growing up themselves and experiencing new things away from close family.

In the end though, this is Grace’s story and it is made fascinating by the details of being conjoined and the unique way that this impacts every day life. Grace’s voice is clear and vivid. She has a specific point of view that is all about the way she lives with Tippi alongside her. Crossan embraces the necessary optimism of a conjoined twin but also offer Grace skepticism and a healthy sense of humor that gets her through the day. Crossan is also not afraid to let these two twins be teenagers, giving them opportunity to drink and smoke with the friends they make. It’s touches like that that make this book really work.

An honest and awe-inspiring look at being a conjoined twin and also a devastating decision, this book is impossible to put down. Appropriate for ages 14-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Greenwillow Books.

Hilo by Judd Winick

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

DJ isn’t good at anything in particular. His siblings are good at sports or ballet or school, but DJ doesn’t have anything on the family calendar because he doesn’t do anything much. The one thing that DJ had been good at was being best friends with Gina, but then she moved away. Just as DJ thinks things can’t get any more dull, something crashes down from the sky. It’s a boy in silver underwear. He can’t remember anything at first, but then he puts more and more together. His name is Hilo and DJ gets him clothes and feeds him. The two head to school together and that’s when DJ realizes that Gina has come back. She’s different though, interested in new things, and DJ assumes that she is being friendly just because of Hilo. Soon the three friends though will be facing a huge enemy that is falling to earth one piece at a time.

Winick has created a graphic novel that is a winning mix of child-friendly art and dramatic adventures filled with battles and explosions. Hilo is a great protagonist, a child who has super powers that he discovers over the course of the book. He delights in the small things, like burping over and over again, eating dinner with the family, and attending school. Everything is an adventure for him and a chance to learn more about the planet earth. DJ too is a strong hero, a boy without Hilo’s powers but also a boy who is far from ordinary thanks to his bravery and his decided ability to be a great friend.

The art is approachable and funny. From the way that Hilo falls asleep to the way that he burps gleefully, this book is filled with humorous moments. Happily this is a book with a three-person team where one character is Asian, one African-American and the other a white alien. The female character is the one into science and sports too, which is also very refreshing.

This is the first story in Hilo’s journey to earth and it ends with a cliffhanger that will lead right into the next. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

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

Sonyas Chickens by Phoebe Wahl

Sonya’s Chickens by Phoebe Wahl (InfoSoup)

Sonya was given three tiny chicks by her father. It was her job to take good care of them. At first, the chicks liked in the house in a cardboard box while Sonya’s parents fixed up the coop in the yard. Soon they grew into pullets and were living outside. They followed Sonya everywhere she went. She took good care of them, giving them food and water and cleaning out their coop. They grew into three large happy hens and started laying eggs. Then one night, Sonya was woken by squawking in the chicken coop. She headed outside and one of her chickens was no longer there, only two hens were up in the rafters hiding. Sonya’s father explained that a fox had gotten the hen and told her about why he would have taken her. Sonya and her family had a funeral for the hen and worked to repair the coop so that a fox could not get in again. Then the circle started once more when one of the eggs began to hatch.

Wahl embraces honesty about the death of pets and grief in this picture book. Beautifully told, the loss of the chicken may surprise some readers. It is handled with care and truth, the father in the story explaining that the fox has to hunt for his family in order to feed his kits. Sonya is allowed time to express her feelings, supported by her family. The ending of the book has a new chick joining Sonya’s flock and her willing to continue on despite the loss. It’s a lesson in resilience.

The illustrations in this picture book are impressive. Done with watercolor, collage and colored pencil, they are vibrant and richly colored. The images show a mixed-race family in a rural setting, something that isn’t seen enough in picture books. They have a great textural feel and also depict a fully-realized home and family with most of the pictures taking up an entire page with their rich colors.

An honest look at grief and loss of a pet, this picture book is a winner. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

The Marvels by Brian Selznick (InfoSoup)

Released September 15, 2015.

The author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret returns with his third book. In this novel that mixes his vivid artwork with longer passages of text, the focus is on one amazing family, The Marvels. It begins in the 18th century with a shipwreck where a boy survives the sinking of The Kraken and finds his way to London. Just as the ship was sinking, he had been participating in a play on board along with his brother who was killed in the wreck. So when he reached London, he found the Royal Theatre and people willing to take him in. Time passed and the boy turned into a man who one day finds a baby left on the theater doorstep. So begins a theatrical family until one generation does not want to be on stage anymore. Time turns again, now it is 1990 and the story is that of Joseph who has run away from boarding school to the home of his uncle whom he has never met. Looking through the windows of the home, it is as if a huge family has just left the room. But his uncle lives there alone. Odd noises filter through the house too, a bird sings where there is no bird and footsteps can be heard. As Joseph is allowed to stay, he discovers that he is living in a mystery and one that he must solve in order to understand his uncle.

This is another stunning novel from Selznick. Again it marries his art with his prose, both of which are beautiful and evocative. His art depicts the theater life and shows how like ship rigging the ropes all are. It shows art and family and irreconcilable differences. Then comes the prose where Selznick paints a picture of the uncle’s home with the same detail and care that he uses in his images. They come to life in a different but complementary way. It is stirring and beautiful to experience vivid depiction of two settings, one in text and the other in art. This results in a book that is visually arresting but also has prose that is worthy of celebrating and sinking into as well.

Joseph and his uncle are both very interesting characters. Both are rather isolated and lonely, finding their own space in the world. Both struggle to fit in, but also find ways that allow them to not have to change their own personality much at all. It is a book that looks at love and the various places you can find it in life as well as its power to transform. As the story unfolds, there are wonders and almost magic at work. This is an exploration of theater and performance too, a look at what is truth and what is real and an acknowledgement that theater can be both.

I was rapt when reading this novel. It is a treat to have a new Selznick to explore and this one lives up to his stellar reputation. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Its Tough to Lose Your Balloon by Jarrett Krosoczka

It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Released September 8, 2015.

The creator of the Lunch Lady graphic novels returns with a picture book that takes bad events and turns them around. The book begins with a child losing a balloon but then says that Grandma will see it as she flies home on the plane. Your sandwich falling into the sand may make you sad, but it will make seagulls happy. Wet shoes are horrible, but being barefoot is great! One after another unfortunate events are turned around into something to even look forward to. This optimistic picture book will have you looking for a day filled with lemons rather than lemonade.

The text of the picture book is simple. The situations captured here are universal and children will respond to all of them. From scraped knees to melted ice cream, these are situations that could ruin anyone’s good mood. But this book restores all of it to be OK with cool bandages and an upside-down solution instead.

The art too is simple. Krosoczka makes sure to use a wide range of races on the page, showing visually how universal both the good and the bad can be. The simplicity of the illustrations with their watercolor washes makes for a book that can be used with groups. I can also see children coming up with their own positive spins on bad things as an activity.

Positivity galore in this picture book that will brighten any gloomy day right up. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

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

Sharing the Bread by Pat Zietlow Miller

Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Released September 22, 2015.

Told in rhyme, this picture book is a celebration of a family preparing Thanksgiving dinner together. The nineteenth century American traditions echo our modern ones closely. Readers will see the turkey go into the wood-burning oven. Dough for the bread is kneaded and allowed to rise. There is cranberry sauce made on the stove and a pumpkin pie with hand-whipped topping. Mashed potatoes are added to the feast as well as a jug of cider. Soon everyone is gathered around the table and prayers are said together. It’s an American Thanksgiving done in true traditional style.

The rhyming stanzas evoke a feeling of a jaunty folksong as they tell the story of a family making their Thanksgiving dinner. The rhymes create a great rhythm to the book, that will have toes tapping if they are read with enough snap and vigor. The rhyme and rhythm combine to create a strong framework for the book, one where there is a building anticipation for the meal and for the family to all arrive. There are extended family present, including adult siblings, aunt, uncle and grandparents. Throughout, there is lots of work to be done but it is all done in good cheer and everyone lends a hand.

McElmurry’s illustrations have a folkart quality to them that works well. Done in paint, the illustrations are simple and warm, inviting you back in time to share a meal that is familiar to everyone. There are lots of period details in the images such as water pumps, dried herbs in bunches on the wall, a wash tub, and large cast iron pots and pans.

Warm and flavored with tradition and love, this book is as gratifying as a fresh loaf of bread. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.

Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton

Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton (InfoSoup)

A little boy has lots and lots of different wishes that he hopes come true. He wishes to be able to fly, to breathe underwater, that the robot he drew could come to life. Then they could play together in the rain that would come in seven different colors and flavors. He wishes for fangs and a tail. He wishes to be able to talk to animals and to have lots of wild and strange pets. But in the end, he mostly wishes that something extraordinary would happen to him. Something real. And suddenly, it does!

Clanton excels at taking very simple premises for his books and making them into something engaging and intelligent. In this book, it is all about wishes and dreams with a big dollop of imagination too. The bulk of the book is spent with the boy and his wild wishes that he only hopes could come true. In the end though, the book comes down to earth and the boy just wants something amazing to happen in real life. He takes a moment then to look around himself and realizes that there are wonderful things happening right there, especially out in nature.

The artwork here is understated and subtle. Even during his wildest and most colorful wishes, the colors are muted and subdued. It isn’t until the ending when the boy realizes that there is wonder around him in real life that the colors lose their subtlety and start to really sing.

Big dreams and wild wishes may not come to fruition here, but reality is certainly “something extraordinary” in the end. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Edmond the Moonlit Party by Astrid Desbordes

Edmond, The Moonlit Party by Astrid Desbordes, illustrated by Marc Boutavant (InfoSoup)

Edmond, the squirrel, lives in a chestnut tree and hardly ever goes out. He spends his time making nut jam, reading stories, and making pompoms. George Owl lives in the tree above Edmond. He spends his time out and about, gathering items to create his amazing costumes. Harry, the bear, lives in the bottom part of the same chestnut tree. He loves to throw parties and was just planning his upcoming one. It would have a nothing tart, very mysterious, and would encourage people to wear costumes. Edmond longed to go to a party in the tree, but never had. So when George smells Edmond’s latest batch of nut jam as the party gets started, George encourages him to attend even if he doesn’t have a costume to wear. Soon Edmond is at the party, dancing and having a great time and he decides that parties suit him just fine after all.

This French import is a radiant read. The three different residents of the tree all have distinct personalities. Edmond is lonely and looking for connections, George enjoys disguises and Harry is rather distracted in the midst of his party planning. It all turns out for the best as the three neighbors get to know one another, or at least Harry and Edmond to, since George is dressed in a very realistic seagull costume. The text here is lush and gives insight into each character, making the book more appropriate for older preschoolers and children already starting school.

Boutavant’s illustrations have a seventies vibe. Done in the flat bright colors of that time, the illustrations have lots of details to explore and offer real glimpses into the lives of the three denizens of the tree. The bright colors vibrate on the page, brilliant blues, reds and yellows are used as background colors and add a lot of energy to the story.

An exploration of neighbors and being yourself, this picture book is cheery and vibrant. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,500 other followers