Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young
When Mum left to give a presentation on lizards, she made sure that Dad knew just what he had to do. One item on the list was getting milk, but that didn’t happen. So when the family woke to dry cereal and no milk for tea, Dad headed out to get the milk. He didn’t return for a long, long time. But when he came back he had quite a story about why he was late. It involved time travel, a brilliant dinosaur, pirates who don’t have a plank to walk, wumpires with long teeth, and lots and lots of silliness.
Gaiman is a chameleon of an author, keeping us guessing what his next book will be like because one never knows what style he will try next. Here he is in pure farce mode, something that will enchant young readers even as they can’t read because they are giggling too much. The humor here is nonstop, one maniac moment after another until you can’t quite tell which way is up. It’s a grand adventure filled with outright one-liners and puns.
Young’s illustrations are such a part of this book, it is like Gaiman illustrated it himself. The results are wacky and purely funny. The father character seems to me to be a marvelous mix of several Dr. Who characters with his dangling striped scarf, wild hair and rather dapper approach to things.
Hilarious, wacky and wonderful, get this into the hands of elementary aged kids now. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lulu and the Cat in the Bag by Hilary McKay
This third Lulu book continues the story of Lulu’s love affair with any type of animal. In this story, a cat is dropped off on Lulu’s doorstep in a bag. Lulu opens the bag over her aunt’s objections. Her aunt is watching her while her parents are on vacation and is not fond of animals at all. When the bag is opened, the cat goes running off and disappears. Though Lulu searches for it, she is unable to find it. When she returns to her room later, the cat is there on her bed, having climbed in through her open window. Steadily, the big orange cat starts to become part of the family, even changing Lulu’s aunts thoughts on cats in general. It dominates the two dogs, scares the bird and even gathers flowers from the garden to scatter about the house. Then the cat simply disappears, they search for it with Lulu’s aunt’s help, but no one can find it. Until Lulu makes a surprising discovery!
I’ve enjoyed all of the Lulu books so far and this just adds to the delight that is this series. Lulu is a wonderful protagonist. It is a pleasure to see a child character so into animals who does her chores and takes good care of her animals with no complaining. Lulu is also quite a scamp, so the book are filled with a natural childhood zest and Lulu’s own special take on things. This is another great treat of a book from McKay.
A series to rival Clementine, get this into the hands of those readers and they will find a new feisty young heroine to love. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from digital galley received from
The Life of Ty: Penguin Problems by Lauren Myracle, illustrated by Jed Henry
Ty is seven years old and has a pretty complicated life. He has a new baby sister who is taking all of his mom’s time and attention. His older sisters won’t walk him into school like his mom used to, insisting that he can do it all on his own. His best friend is in the hospital battling cancer, and Ty’s other friends can be confusing and even alarming. Ty keeps getting into trouble at home for things like chasing the cat with a Dustbuster. Then on the school trip to the aquarium, Ty takes a baby penguin home with him. This is one wild boy who is also big hearted and caring, just not sure how best to show it.
Myracle, who writes teen books primarily, has created a truly exceptional book for younger readers. Ty is a character who is easily relatable, even when he does some extremely unusual things, like stealing a penguin. His home life will be familiar to many children, who will have older siblings and babies in their families too. Add to that the universal feelings of being asked to do big-kid things too early and also being treated like a baby, and you get a book that is universally appealing.
Myracle’s writing has an outstanding humor throughout. In the more dramatic moments, children will understand that things will be alright in the end. The black and white illustrations by Henry convey that humor and lightness as well.
Perfect for both reading aloud and for a child reading on their own, this book will be enjoyed by fans of the Stink series as well as those who like Clementine. This book would pair well with The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Dutton.
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
After getting a big lump on his head from a fall during their family vacation, Billy is worried that he’s not going to be smart enough for 2nd grade. And when he starts 2nd grade, he still has a lump on his head! The year doesn’t start easily with Billy accidentally insulting his new teacher on the very first day. He has to figure out how to fix the misunderstanding before she gets the wrong idea about him. Then Billy’s father who is a stay-at-home dad and an artist is trying to find his next breakthrough in his art. It is Billy who has to learn how to deal with a grumpy father but along the way he also serves as inspiration for his dad. When his parents go to his father’s gallery show, Billy tries to stay up all night, keeping his little sister up with him for as long as he can. Finally, he selects his mother as the person he wants to write a poem about. But it’s not that easy, since he has to make sure he doesn’t insult anyone with his choice and then has to read his poem aloud in front of an audience. Along the way, Billy learns a lot about how to act in a family, how to support one another but mostly how to love each other.
Henkes has written a book about a boy that will be perfect for fans of Clementine and Ramona. Happily, he does not resort to grossness, bodily functions, farting or any of the other plot devices so often used in books about boys. Here instead we have a real boy, one who makes mistakes but also tries to do what is right for his family. Broken into chapters that are focused on a single relationship: teacher, father, sister, and mother, this book is welcoming to young readers thanks to its logical structure and clear focus.
The black and white art in the book is done by Henkes. Unfortunately, the digital galley I read did not include much of the art. What was in the galley adds much to the book, nicely breaking the text into more manageable parts.
A tip top chapter book, this one is destined to be a classic. I’d think that sharing it would be a great way to start any 2nd grade school year. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Greenwillow Books.
The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore
After Ephraim’s father has a stroke, the family moves to the Water Castle, an ancestral home in Crystal Springs, Maine. Ephraim is convinced that coming from the big city, he will be more popular and seem smarter than he ever had before. After all, his older brother has always been popular and his little sister is very smart. But things don’t work out the Ephraim expects. The house itself is unusual, filled with strange rooms and different levels; it glows blue at night and hums. Ephraim is definitely not popular, quickly showing how awkward he is and then also demonstrating how little he knows compared to his classmates. Luckily though, the mystery of the house draws in two other children his age who want to figure out how their own families are tied to the Water Castle and its connection to the Fountain of Youth.
Blakemore writes with a wonderful mix of science and fantasy here. The blend is compelling, making the book impossible to put down until the mystery is solved. Readers will not know if they are reading a fantasy book or one that could have actually happened until the very end. Told with flashbacks to the past that add to the understanding of the intertwined families as well as the fascination with explorers, this book is complex in the best of ways, keeping readers guessing right up to the end.
Ephraim is a character that has quite a few flaws. Readers will flinch as he is too brash and too confident for his own good, especially when trying to make friends. Happily, it is when he calms down and shows his feelings that Ephraim becomes entirely himself, a side that readers see long before the other characters in the book.
Complex and multilayered, this middle grade book will be embraced by historical fiction, science and fantasy fans. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Happy Life by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Dani has a very happy life, something that she thinks about as she falls asleep every night. She has a father who loves her very much and is about to start school for the first time. At first Dani feels like she will never make any friends at school, but then she notices another little girl who is standing alone. Soon Ella and Dani are best friends, inseparable. That doesn’t mean that they don’t fight sometimes, but they never fought for long. But all too soon, Dani discovers that Ella is moving away. Now Dani has to figure out how to go on without her best friend and it’s not easy. Dani ends up with a scraped knee and a bandaged head and even hurts a boy in her class by shoving him. Yet, Dani is a naturally happy person and quickly apologizes for what she did. It’s not easy, but she learns to move on from missing her friend to being happy once again.
Originally published in Sweden, this book has the feel of a European import. It has a gentle feel to it but also a deep honesty that is wonderful to see. Dani has had many challenges in her life, including losing her mother, but she is the epitome of a happy person who embraces joy in every way. This is an uplifting book where there are challenges, lots of strong negative emotions, but in the end, happiness prevails in a very natural and unforced way.
The illustrations and text work together in harmony here. I was actually surprised to see that they were done by two people rather than just one since they work so very well together. The images of the two friends together are buoyant while those of Dani in more dark moods continue to shine with a subtle light even when sad or hurt.
Perfect for families who are trying to be more mindful and happy, this book is a joy to read and to share. It would also make a great cuddling story for bedtime, leaving everyone smiling together. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile
Bink and Gollie return in their third book of escapades as best friends. The first of the three stories in this book has Gollie wondering if she might have royal blood while Bink is much more interested in pancakes. The second has Bink worrying about being short and buying the incredibly complex Stretch-o-matic that requires “excessive assembly.” The third story has the girls wondering what collection they should start to get a record in Flicker’s Arcana of the Extraordinary.
In all of these stories, we get to see Bink and Gollie as pure individuals. It’s a relief as always to return to a storybook world where girls are not bedecked in glitter, ruffles and pink. These are two girls who read as real and tangible and completely unique. I also enjoy the way that the friendship between the two girls always has space enough for them to be themselves and not try to even mimic one another. As always the stories are clever with great endings and completely readable by young readers. The illustrations continue to have the same freshness as the stories and characters, with wonderful humor embedded in them.
Fans of Bink & Gollie will be clamoring for the third book and thanks to the unique characters and easy reading format, these books belong in every library. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lulu and the Duck in the Park by Hilary McKay
Lulu loves animals, so she can’t understand it when people don’t love every animal, like her teacher Mrs. Holiday. In fact, Mrs. Holiday has asked Lulu to never bring an animal to school again after an incident with her dog. When their class is heading back through the park after swimming, something awful happens. Two dogs run rampage through the ducks’ nests in the park, scaring the ducks, ruining their nests and smashing eggs. So when Lulu sees the duck egg rolling down the hill, she just does what comes naturally and puts it into her pocket. Once back at school though, it is hard to figure out how to hide an egg without smashing it. It becomes even harder when the duckling decides to hatch!
McKay is one of my favorite British authors, capturing the unique qualities of her characters with a distinct merriment. In this short novel perfect for beginning readers, she changes the perspective up sometimes by offering Mrs. Holiday’s point of view too. It is done with a lot of humor and children will easily make the transition between Lulu and her teacher.
The writing is simple but great fun to read. There are plenty of jokes and moments of seriousness too that both help keep the book moving forward. It is a trick to offer depth of story in such a brief book, but McKay manages it.
I look forward to the next Lulu book and the trouble that she gets into there. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith, illustrations by Iain McIntosh
The author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series has written his first children’s book. This one too stars Precious Ramotswe and is the story of her very first mystery as a child in Botswana. When her father tells her a favorite story about when a lion got into their village, he notices that she has several characteristics of a detective: she asks a lot of questions and she can tell when people are telling the truth. So when food starts disappearing at Precious’ school, she gets involved in solving the mystery. She is shocked when one of her friends accuses another boy of being the thief because he has sticky fingers, literally. It makes her even more determined to figure out exactly who is stealing the food.
Told in very simple prose, sometimes a bit too simple, this story has a certain charm about it. The book begins in a rather stilted way thanks to the wording, but quickly moves on to a more natural cadence that works much better. I am pleased to see a mystery set in Africa with a young female protagonist who manages to solve the mystery without any adult help. Smith captures the differences between societies as well as the special setting of Botswana.
McIntosh’s illustrations are block prints done in a limited color palette of red, black and gray. They have a quality about them that speaks to the setting clearly. They have a delicate and yet unfinished quality that is very appealing.
This book for young readers has plenty of mystery, detective work and an appealing heroine. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Alek by Bodil Bredsdorff
This final book in The Children of Crow Cove series has Doup as the main character. Doup came to Crow Cove as a child with the Crow-Girl. He has lived there all of his life but misses his older brother Ravnar who has moved away. Doup reclaims his birthname of Alek and heads off with his father to town to find Ravnar. They discover his empty home that is dirty and dank. Ravnar only appears when his boat is in harbor, otherwise he is out fishing for a living. Alek’s father leaves him with Ravnar and returns to Crow Cove. But one night, Alek witnesses a shipwreck on the beach where the sailors were tricked into beaching the boat. He then sees a man murdered and discovers a young girl hiding away from the beach. Alek takes the girl home with him, though she doesn’t speak his language. Young Alek has to figure out what happened and then what to do about it.
I’ve adored this series for some time. The writing is so natural and easy. It is steeped in its seaside setting and filled with small details that bring their world to life. This final book has plenty of action to move the story along, but it still remains a book about everyday life and creating a family out of the people who are with you. From the small details of hunting and farming to information on meals and shopping, this book like the others in the series is a small book filled with the largeness of a life well led.
Definitely start with the first in the series. As the series moves forward, the characters grow and age, offering a look at the results of their decisions in earlier books. The strength of these books are in the complex characters, the fine details and the glory of the natural setting.
This is a fittingly strong final volume in a delight of a series. Appropriate for ages 10-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus Giroux.