Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third
Three friends, Lupe, El Chavo and Elirio, work together in a garage where they fix cars. They dream of one day having their own garage. Lupe loves working on engines and the mechanics. El Chavo washes them until they shine with his octopus arms. Elirio uses his mosquito size and his long nose to detail the cars. Their favorite kind of car are the low and slow lowriders. So when a contest with a large prize comes along, they know they have to enter. Now they just have to turn a junker into the best car in the universe, so they head into space to see what they can do. This is one unique read that combines space, cars and great friendship.
Camper incorporates Spanish into her story, firmly placing this book into the Hispanic culture. Her characters are clever done. The female in the group is the one who loves engines and mechanical things, yet is incredible feminine too. The book seems to be firmly housed on earth until one big moment launches it into outer space. The incorporation of astronomy into the design and art of the car makes for a book that is wild and great fun to read.
The illustrations by Raul Gonzalez have a cool hipness to them that is honest and without any slickness at all. Done in a limited palette of red, blue and black, the art has a vintage feel that is enhanced by the treatment of the pages with stains and aging.
This graphic novel is cool, star filled, rich with science, and has friendship at its heart. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge
Explore different baby mammals from around the world in this nonfiction picture book. Learn about how different animals function when they are born, polar bear babies are tiny and are kept safe for months before going outside while giraffes are born ready to run right away. Baby animals eat in different ways too. Baby bears nurse, baby wolves learn to eat meat quickly, and other animals eat grass and drink their mother’s milk. Other subjects like protection and shelter are examined as well as grooming, moving from place to place, and what their families look like. This book is a celebration of the diversity of mammals on the earth and all of the ways in which they are loved and cared for as they grow.
Judge offers just enough information on each animal to make the book readable. She gives intriguing glimpses of each animal before moving on to the next. It’s a fast paced book that merrily jumps from one animal to the next. More in-depth information on each of the featured mammals can be found at the end of the book.
Judge’s art is exceptional. Her animals are filled with personality. The baby mammals look straight out at the reader at times, their parents’ eyes are filled with love, and there is a tangible joy to each of the images. The cuteness factor could have been unbearable, but instead it’s perfect, just the right amount of cute and wild mixed together.
A great choice for smaller children who love animals, this book is gorgeous as well as informative. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
The Dragon and the Knight by Robert Sabuda
This new pop up book by Sabuda, a master of the form, is very child friendly. While I admired his remakes of the classics like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, those books spoke more to adults than to children. This new book is perfect to share aloud with a child who will enjoy a romp through different fairy tales. A knight starts chasing a dragon through different stories including Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood. Each page opens to a different scene that pops open showing the characters of the story created out of the pages of their book. Entirely clever, quick reading and worthy of revisiting again and again.
Sabuda’s art in creating pop up designs will astound young readers. Two pages in particularly are stunning. There is the entire gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel that pops into being in 3D complete with awnings, windows, door and chimney. Another amazing page is Little Red Riding Hood where the trees pop into a woods that has different dimensions and lots of height. Readers will also enjoy the little reveal at the end as the knight takes off HER helmet.
As always, pop up books aren’t really for very small children, but this is one of those that could be shared carefully with preschoolers who will love the detail and the incredible joy of the format. Appropriate for ages 4-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Macbeth by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Zack Giallongo
When the gates shut at night at The Stratford Zoo, the animals come out to play. They steal the keys from one of the zoo keepers as they leave and all of the cages are unlocked. Vendors walk the aisles selling treats like peanuts and earthworms to the growing crowd. Then on stage, the theater begins with the lion as Macbeth. After meeting with the witches, the question is whether Macbeth will eat the king. Lady Macbeth proposes different preparations to make the king taste better, and Macbeth finally succumbs and eats the king. But then, as with any Shakespearean tragedy, others must be eaten too. This is a wild and wonderful combination of Shakespeare, hungers both human and animal, and plenty of humor.
Lendler takes great liberties with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. He combines all of the moments that people remember in the play, from Lady Macbeth trying to wash out the spots of blood to the visits to the three witches and the way their predictions play out. He also adds in lots of slapstick comedy, plenty of asides from the audience and actors, and also shortens the play substantially.
Giallongo’s art is colorful and dramatic. He plays up the drama of the ketchup stains, the growing stomach of the lion, and the ambitions of Lady Macbeth. Comic moments are captured with plenty of humor visually. This zoo is filled with fur, claws, fun and drama.
A perfect combination of Shakespeare and wild animal humor, this will please those who know Macbeth and people knew to the play alike. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
Any Questions? by Marie-Louise Gay
Where do stories come from? How are books made? These questions that authors often get from children are the subject of this picture book from an author who has written and illustrated many picture books. Together the author and a group of children asking delighted questions create a story right in front of the reader. They take inspiration from the kind of paper the story is written on, the colors of the page. They talk about how ideas happen, and how sometimes they are great ideas but don’t become a book or that not all ideas fit into a single story. Ideas sometimes don’t appear and you have to wait for them, doodling and dreaming of other things until they arrive. And then something happens, and it starts to become a story! The children in the book get involved and the story takes a surprising turn. Luckily story telling is flexible and able to deal with wild purple monsters who come out of the woods. This is a great look at the creative process and how books are made, written at a level that preschool children will enjoy and understand.
Gay is so open and inviting in this picture book. She is refreshingly candid about the creative process and all of the bumps and twists along the way. The invitation to the reader along with the child characters in the book to be part of creating a story is warm and friendly. All ideas are welcome, some work and other don’t, and that is all embraced as part of creativity.
Gay’s illustrations continue the cheerfulness of the text. They combine writing in cursive with story panels and speech bubbles with characters in the book. It’s all a wonderful mix of styles that gets your creativity flowing.
Expect children to want to write their own stories complete with illustrations after reading this! Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Emma and the Blue Genie by Cornelia Funke, illustrations by Kerstin Meyer
Emma often spends her nights out by the sea with her dog, away from her pesky brothers. One night she finds a bottle floating in the waves and opens it to discover Karim, a very small blue genie inside. Karim has had most of his magic stolen away when Sarim, the huge yellow genie, stole his nose ring and trapped him in the bottle. Now Karim has to head back to avenge himself and to save the kingdom from the evil rule of Sarim. Emma decides to go with him and she sets off aboard his magic carpet for the kingdom of Barakash. There, she is quickly caught up in the battle against Sarim, but once he sees her yellow hair, he immediately takes her prisoner. There’s not much that a girl can do to escape from an evil genie who keeps you in a cage, but all is not lost when you have a blue genie and a brave dog on your side!
Funke has written a wonderfully original book for young readers. The Middle Eastern setting comes alive as Emma walks through the busy castle on her way to see the young king. Funke incorporates many references to the desert into people’s vernacular, even more firmly setting this book in a specific place. Emma is a great female character, filled with plenty of gumption and not scared of much. She doesn’t shrink away from anything in the book, enjoying flying on a magic carpet, seeing new places and having wild adventures.
The illustrations are in full color and add a lot of life to the book. Used differently from one page to the next, they add a dynamic piece to the book design. The differences between the two genies could not be more clearly shown, with the calm blue and the wild yellow. Meyer also manages to show the opulence without things becoming too busy and overwhelming for the eye.
Fun and original, this book will share aloud well with a class and will be an inviting pick for children reading chapter books. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Random House Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson
This is a picture book biography about Carl Sagan and how he got interested in the stars. It all started when he went to the 1939 World’s Fair and was inspired. He started researching stars and space and wondering about the universe around us. He got his doctorate and worked with other scientists to create machines that would investigate planets and take pictures of them. Then he went on television with his show Cosmos and told everyone about the universe and how we are all made from the same stuff as the stars. This is an inspirational story of how a child who loved the stars turning into a man who taught a generation about them.
Sisson keeps this book at the exactly right level for young readers. She does not dwell on Sagan’s time in college, but instead spends much more time on his childhood dreams and interests. She focuses too on his work as a scientist and then speaks very broadly about his time on television. I greatly appreciate that his work was not narrowed to just Cosmos, but instead it is celebrated as a part of what he accomplished in his life. The book ends with an Author’s Note and a bibliography and source notes that readers looking for more detailed information will find useful.
In her illustrations, Sisson wisely incorporates elements of comic books with panels and speech bubbles. These give the book a great modern feel and help propel the story forward. Done in a friendly cartoon style, the illustrations make astronomy approachable and friendly for the reader.
Children will be inspired to see a young person’s dream become their vocation in life. This picture book is a new way for Sagan to inspire people to learn about the stars. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman
Isabel is the best at Bunjitsu in her school. They call her Bunjitsu Bunny, but she knows to never use her martial arts skills to hurt anyone, unless she has to. This easy reader features a series of short stories about her Buntjitsu skills and how she uses them throughout the day. Isabel figures out before anyone else in her class how to get into the school when the door is locked. She outwits pirates who want to steal from her. She races a tortoise in a fresh take on the Tortoise and the Hare story. In one story after the other, Isabel shows her poise, her intelligence and her sense of honor.
This book for the early chapter book reader will appeal on many fronts. First of course is the martial arts aspect, though those looking for flying fists and fighting will find something very different here. Inside the covers is a unique mix of Eastern philosophy and problem solving that is presented at a level that children will understand.
Himmelman’s illustrations offer just the right amount of break for young readers, so that they will not be put off by the amount of text. The fonts are equally welcoming with their large size. The illustrations are done in black, white and red. They are welcoming and cartoony, created often with just a few lines that carry plenty of action and humor.
A unique and fascinating chapter book for new readers, this is a wonderful mix of girl power, martial arts and restraint. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.
Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen
Gabriel is a 12-year-old who loves riddles, he collects them and loves puzzling over them, just like his father did. But his father has disappeared, leaving Gabriel behind in the care of his loving aunt. Outside the house, Gabriel is unaware of the raven’s nest and the little raven growing up in it. Paladin is a special raven though, one that is destined to have a magical bond with Gabriel, but only if he can survive the attacks upon him. Owls hunt ravens for food, but worse are the valravens, creatures who serve Corax, a half-man, half-raven. As Gabriel learns more about his father and his family’s special relationship with ravens, he is drawn into a quest that will lead him and his friends into the underground world of Aviopolis to confront Corax and save his father.
Inventive and unique, this middle-grade fantasy novel is something special. Gabriel is an interesting protagonist, cautious with the friends he makes and living in a world where magic is suddenly part of his life. He adapts quickly but believably to what is happening and responds with bravery but also curiosity. He and his friends have a variety of skills, and they all nicely come into play during their adventures. There are other characters who may be friends or not, they are written with a wonderful ambiguity that is allowed to be unresolved for a long time, adding richness to the tale.
Hagen has added a lot of depth to her novel with his creation of a raven society where they test one another to see if they are valravens with riddles. Valravens don’t care for humor, so they are easily identified opposed to the merry ravens. Much to my delight, it is revealed later in the book that owls love puns. So the book is filled with wordplay, a grand element of the plot.
A vibrant mix of riddles, adventure and animal tale, this book is definitely one worth discovering. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.
Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton
There are tiny creatures all around us that do the most amazing things! Microbes are too small to be seen by the human eye, but look through a microscope and you enter a world of them. There are microbes like viruses that cause diseases or colds. And there are others that are very good for our health and turn milk into yogurt and compost into dirt. Microbes may be very small but their impact on our world and our lives is very big. This book shows the huge impact they have and how much we need to appreciate them.
Davies has written very engagingly about microbes in this book. When talking about something like microbes, the numbers can get too large to understand, but Davies nicely ties these huge numbers to others that make sense. She shows how quickly a microbe can reproduce using the page of the book. The entire book is cleverly done, exposing the facts about microbes in a friendly and approachable way.
The illustrations by Sutton show both the microbes and their effect on the world. The pages with the tiny microbes are fascinating as one gets to see the different types up close. The illustrations have a friendly charm about them that makes the subject matter even more fun to read.
A great book on microbes, this will encourage children to pick up a microscope and learn even more about these tiny little creatures. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.