Category: Book Reviews


my true love gave to me

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins

Twelve bestselling young adult authors come together to create an amazing collection of holiday stories for teens.  Each story in this collection is a delectable treat, contrasting with the others yet each is just as romantic, snowy and filled with holiday spirit as the one before.  The twelve authors are Holly Black, Ally Carter, Gayle Forman, Jenny Han, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire, Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, Laini Taylor, and Kiersten White.  Each brings their own unique voice to the collection, each celebrates the holidays with their own twist.  Some are pure holiday bliss, Christmas centered and lovely, while others are gorgeously twisted and wild yet also speak to the real spirit of the season.  You never quite know where the next story will take you, and that is a large part of this collection’s appeal.

Perkins has done an amazing job of creating a holiday collection with plenty of diversity.  There are Jewish characters, characters of different races, pagan characters, those who believe in holidays, those who are jaded as can be.  There is magic in some of the stories, tangible magic that you can feel and touch, while other stories have that indefinable magic of love and connection. 

You are guaranteed to have your favorites among the stories.  For me, one of them hit my heart so hard that I wept, but it may not be the one you’d expect it to be.  Each one connects deeply with the characters, making them real people even such a short span of pages.   Each one offers up the author’s voice with a clarity that is incredible.  One could pick many of the authors out even with the stories mixed up and unnamed. 

An outstanding collection of holiday stories, these stories focus on the new adult rather than teens in high school, which makes it even more rare and lovely.  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

creature features

Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Look right into the eyes of 25 animals as they answer a question about why they look the way that they do.  The animals range from sun bears to various birds to giraffes to frogs and fish.  With each turn of the page there is a new animal looking straight at you, ready to explain the feature that is their most unusual.  That explanation is filled with just enough scientific information to be fascinating and to inspire more exploration of the animal.  The paragraphs are short enough to be shared with even quite young children who are fascinated by animals.  This is a great addition to even the most crowded of animal shelves.

Filled with Jenkins’ trademark cut paper art, this is an exquisite look at each animal, some of which you may never have seen straight on from the front like the mole rat or the shoebill stork. The unique point of view makes for unusual images of these animals that make you look at them in a different way.  Wonderfully, Jenkins manages to make each meet your eyes in a distinct way that matches their species.  See how long you can lock gazes with the ferocious ones!

One that will be read again and again by young animal lovers, this book deserves a spot in every public library.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

goodnight already

Goodnight, Already! by Jory John and Benji Davies

Bear is so very tired, all he wants to do is go to sleep.  But his next door neighbor, Duck, feels exactly the opposite and has never felt more awake as he reads a book on staying awake and drinks a pot of coffee.  As Bear climbs into bed and pulls up his blanket, ready to snooze, Duck comes over for a visit.  Duck offers all sorts of ideas of what they could do together, but all Bear wants to do is sleep.  Just when Bear is again about to fall asleep, Duck returns with a new idea to bake something.  But Bear once again sends him on his way.  When Duck comes in for a third time, Bear has had enough!   The evening though has time for one final ironic twist by the end of the book, one that will get readers giggling.

John captures both the very essence of being tired and wanting nothing more than to sleep and the zany energy that comes with insomnia.  It is that dynamic being thrust together in this picture book that leads to the hilarity.  It also helps that John has impeccable comic timing throughout the book, using repeating themes to really make the scenes pop.  The pace switches from one character to the next beautifully, the dozy slow of Bear and the yapping zing of Duck.

Davies’ illustrations capture the same shifts in energy and pace.  Duck’s entire home is bright yellow while Bear is surrounded by sleepy blues.  The silly additions of coffee and a book to stay awake make the situation even funnier.  The illustrations are deceptively simple, making this a very approachable book for children, one that conveys its humor right from the cover.

Perfect for kids who both love bedtime and hate it, as well as for their sleepy parents.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

bear ate your sandwich

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach

Released January 6, 2015.

This picture book tells the story of exactly what happened to your sandwich.  See, it started with the bear.  He was having a great warm, bright morning when he smelled berries.  He found a pickup truck filled with berries, which he munched and then fell fast asleep in the back of the truck.  When he woke up, he was riding towards a huge city.  Now he was in a new forest, but a very different one.  He climbed, he scratched, he squished his toes in mud, he investigated.  He found a park and that is where he discovered your sandwich sitting on a park bench.  He then ran off, scared by the dogs around, climbed aboard a boat and returned to his own forest.  It’s all true you see, I saw it all.  Don’t you trust me?

The merriment in this picture book is pure joy to share.  And the voice that it is written in is so very earnest and honest, willing you with their very words to really believe them.  It’s so earnest that you immediately know that this is a voice not to be trusted.  But you won’t completely understand who is talking until the very end of the story.   The timing of the humor is impeccable, the writing is wonderfully strong and lovely, evoking a forest in an urban setting and letting the bear discover it. 

The illustrations have a richness to them.  The opening scenes of the bear in the forest play with light and shadows, greens and browns, dappling and shining.  It’s all lush and green and beautiful with the black bear anchoring the beauty around him.  Along the way there are other moments, particularly the ones where the bear investigates the city and then the lingering moments of him discovering the sandwich, approaching the sandwich, longing for it.  It’s all strikingly rendered.

Lush, strong and very funny, this picture book is a delight and just as satisfying as a sandwich for a hungry bear.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.

betty goes bananas

Betty Goes Bananas by Steve Antony

Released December 23, 2014.

Betty is a gorilla and being a gorilla, she loves bananas.  So when she finds one on the ground, she wants to eat it so much.  But she can’t open it, even with her teeth, or her feet!  So what is a little gorilla to do?  Well, Betty throws a fit and cries and screams.  Then she calms down and Mr. Toucan tells her that there is no need to act like that, he will show her how to peel the banana.  And he does.  But Betty had wanted to peel it herself.  And she starts once again to cry and scream and kick.  Mr. Toucan stays and waits for her to calm down again, telling her that she can peel the next banana she finds.  Betty is happy and is about to finally eat the banana.  When it breaks.  And I bet you can guess what she does next!

This is a rather merry book about the strong emotions that come with being a toddler.  Betty is a jolly little gorilla until she is disappointed, something that children and adults alike will recognize immediately.  The addition of Mr. Toucan as an adult figure works well here, and I appreciate that he allows Betty to calm down before simply telling her that there is no need for her to act that way.  The entire book is filled with humor, from the splendid temper tantrums that have a rhythm and repetition all their own, to the believability of the various things that set Betty off.  It’s well paced and nicely timed with gorgeous pauses built in before the tantrums.

Antony’s art adds much to the appeal of the book.  The bulk of the book is done with sunshine yellow backgrounds, while the tantrum sections are a bright red.  Little Betty does actually throw herself on the ground, kick her feet and scream!  Her emotions are clear and young readers will enjoy seeing her throw her tantrums and recover too.

Dynamic, funny and oh so appropriate for toddlers, this picture book will be enjoyed by those who throw tantrums as well as those who don’t.  Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.

king and the magician

The King and the Magician by Jorge Bucay, illustrated by Gusti

There once was a powerful king who asked his subjects who the most powerful man in the kingdom was, and they replied that he was, of course.  The one day, the King heard about a man who had a different power than he had, a humble magician who had the power to predict the future.  Even worse, the King discovered that the magician was well respected and beloved.  So the King called the Magician before him after devising an evil plan.  He would ask the Magician if he could really tell the future.  If the Magician answered “No” then he proved he had no power.  If he answered “Yes” then the King would ask him to predict his own death.  Either way, the King would immediately kill him.  But then a strange thing happened and the Magician declared that he could see the future and that he would die at the same time as the King.  Suddenly, the King’s plan meant nothing.  He could not kill the Magician without hurting himself.  So instead he started protecting the Magician.  Still, the Magician had much more to teach him, if the King would listen.

Bucay has created a picture book that has depths to it.  It is a fairy tale of a king and a magician but it is also about creating one’s fate, listening to wisdom and being willing to change.  It is a book that continues even after some may have ended it with the Magician ensconced in luxury and being protected by the King.  Happily, it doesn’t end there, because the more profound part of the story follows when the relationship between the two men burgeons into friendship and deep caring for one another.  It is a story of how enemies become friends, how power can be used for good.  In a word, it’s exceptional.

Gusti’s illustrations add to that feeling of a very rich and amazing read.  Using paint and collage, the illustrations have a still regal bearing.  There is a strength and solidity to them that grounds this story, making it more realistic.  There are also touches of whimsy, like the teddy bear that accompanies the powerful king everywhere. 

Strong, enchanting and profound, this picture book will start discussions about power, enemies and truth.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

swallow

The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter

Set in Toronto in the sixties, this book is about two lonely girls living in homes that attach to one another.  Polly has a huge family with foster siblings too.  She feels ignored by all of them, though she can’t get away from her twin brothers and their noise.  That’s how she finds her way into the attic as a safe place away from the bustle of her family.  Polly has always wanted to meet a ghost, which is why she thinks that Rose is a ghost the first time she hears her singing in her neighboring attic.  But Rose turns out to be a real girl, who just happens to look very ghostlike too.  Rose has always been able to see ghosts, and she hates it since they never leave her alone.  Rose spends a lot of her days alone, no one at school talks to her, her parents are very busy business people, and the housekeeper ignores her.  So the two girls quickly form a close friendship, made even closer by the frightening ghost that looks just like Rose and who threatens Polly’s life.  Can the two girls figure out who this ghost is and what she wants?

I seem to be on a roll with Canadian children’s book authors lately, and this is another wonderful Canadian read.  Cotter creates a mystery inside a ghost story that twists and turns delightfully along the way.  Readers will think they have it all figured out and then the story will change.  Yet somehow Cotter makes it all work and in the end the entire novel makes great sense, enough that readers will want to start again to see the clues they may have missed.

The writing here is exceptional.  Cotter writes with a confident voice, one that allows each of these girls to be entire unique.  The two of them are quite different from one another, each clearly resulting from their very divergent upbringings.  The friendship also reads as real with small arguments happening regularly and the two girls having to repair these small issues.  Through the entire book there is a wonderful ghostly presence, a feeling of being in a real place but one unseen by others.  It’s a place that is a delight to visit.

Perfect for reading under the covers with a flashlight, this strong ghost story is both entertaining and riveting.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

blue on blue

Blue on Blue by Dianne White, illustrated by Beth Krommes

On a family farm, the day starts out with bright sunshine and laundry drying on the line.  Soon though, clouds move in and the weather changes, becoming colder.  The rain starts to fall and it falls for a long time, combined with thunder and lightning.  When the rain slows, the dogs and the little girl head outside, discovering along with the pigs the joy of muddy play in the sunshine.  Sun sets and baths are given.  The night ends with the sparkle of stars in the night sky and everyone tucked into bed except for the whales jumping in the moonlight.

Told in very simple poetry, this picture book shines and shimmers on the page.  White’s poem captures the wildness of a summer storm, the feeling of the endlessness of the rain, and then the slow return to sunshine and warmth.  In particular, she creates that sense of impending storm beforehand as well as the slow pitter patter of the drops as they slow and then end.  Her poetry is complete accessible for even the smallest of children who will enjoy the repetition and the farm setting with all of the animals.

Krommes is a Caldecott-award winning illustrator.  Her scatchboard and watercolor illustrations are incredibly detailed and marvelously textured.  She creates a sense of place so clearly here, with the little house perched on the edge of the water, the whales jumping, and the farm.  Her detailed art plays homage to the simple things in the life, the cat on the other side of the screen door, a jumprope over a bedpost, abandoned umbrellas, and mud. 

This book is a joy and is a perfect springtime or summertime read when the big storms are blowing through.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

supertruck

Supertruck by Stephen Savage

There are many brave and hard-working trucks in the city.  There are trucks that help put out fires.  There are trucks that tow.  There are trucks that fix power lines.  And then there is the quiet little garbage truck that just picks up garbage.  Then one day a snow storm hits the city.  All of the trucks are stranded in the snow and unable to move.  All but one little truck, who takes off his glasses and trades in a snowplow.  The little garbage truck heads off to save the day! 

This very simple picture book has a radiant appeal to it.  It combines very cleverly the appeal of trucks and superheroes without it feeling forced at all.  With just the right amount of text for toddlers, even the youngest of children will find lots to love here. 

A lot of the appeal of this picture book is in the illustrations which are bold and colorful.  The boxy trucks are shown against silhouettes of the city, allowing them to really shine.  Perhaps the best touch are the large glasses on the garbage truck before he transforms into Supertruck.  Fans of Superman will find that little touch completely endearing.  And am I the only one who can see a line of toys coming straight out of these illustrations?

Clever, dynamic and heroic, this picture book will please little truck and superhero fans alike.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

everlasting embrace

The Everlasting Embrace by Gabrielle Emanuel, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

A toddler spends her day in Mali strapped to her mother’s back.  Told from her point of view, this picture book celebrates the strong bond that occurs between mother and child as they spend their entire day together.  The little one is bound to her back and they move as one.  She is there as her mother beats millet with a pestle.  There when her mother carries it back home in a basket balanced on her head.  During the day, her mother tickles her, reaching behind to touch her little girl.  They dance together, the rhythms of their day lulling the baby to sleep at times.  They shelter together in the shade the big basket of mangoes makes when her mother carries it.  When they return home, the little girl carries her teddy bear bound to her back.  These days together are precious as the little girl will soon be too big to carry all day.  But the bond they have formed together will never go away.

Emanuel lived in Mali for a year after graduating from college.  While she was there, she shared stories aloud with a little girl, but found that there were no picture books that she could read her about her own country and lifestyle.  So Emanuel created this one.  It is a very strong debut picture book with writing that is confident and a point of view that is unique.  Told from the view of the little girl on her mother’s back, one never worries that she is being neglected or ignored as the mother goes through her day.  Rather one quickly realizes that she is content, cared for and completely part of her mother’s daily life.

Lewis is an extraordinary illustrator.  He captures life in Mali clearly on the page, showing the mother and daughter together at home, walking through the markets, doing chores and spending time together even when the mother is busy doing other things.  There is a joy in his images, a dedication to truly capture this country and its way of life on the page.

Strong, beautiful and unique, this picture book takes children on a journey to Mali where they will see life lived differently and warmly.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

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