The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett
This follow up to The Boy and the Airplane features a girl who is longing for a new green bike that she sees in a shop window when walking with her little brother. But she doesn’t have enough money for it, even after emptying her piggy bank, digging through pockets in the laundry and looking under the couch cushions. She even tries selling lemonade and her toys. That autumn, she has another idea to make money and finds someone willing to pay her for raking leaves. She continues to do chores for them through the winter and into the next summer. Finally, she has enough money for the bicycle. But when she gets to the store, the bike is gone. Don’t worry, her hard work will pay off in the end!
Pett has a touch for wordless picture books. The subtle humor throughout also helps make the book very readable and approachable for children. They will relate to the longing for a new toy and through this book will learn about the power of resilience, hard work and patience.
Pett’s subjects could easily veer into saccharine qualities, but that is nicely avoided thanks to his deft timing throughout the book and the way that the sweet endings come with real sacrifice and work on the part of the characters. His illustrations have a vintage feel but also a modern cartoon aspect. Done in sepia tones, the dark green of the bike pops clearly on the page.
A wordless book for slightly older preschoolers, this book is a rewarding read. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Here Comes Destructosaurus! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Jeremy Tankard
Destructosaurus enters town tipping buildings over as he rushes in. His feet are filthy from seaweed and fish. He is angry and shoots flames from his mouth, doesn’t he know he needs to burp quietly and keep his mouth closed? Destructosaurus gets grumpier and starts to show attitude, throwing buildings around and generally throwing a temper tantrum too. But then he finds what he was looking for the whole time and settles down, but he won’t stay to help clean up the mess. Maybe someone else will?
Told in an adult voice scolding Destructosaurus for his lack of manners and his tantrum, this picture book is a blast to share aloud. Children will immediately recognize the tone of the voice and will delight in it being focused on a rampaging monster. The humor here is wonderfully broad and right in your face. It will appeal to toddlers who have their own tantrums and older children who will enjoy the play of monster movie and parent.
Tankard’s illustrations are bight colored and loud. They zing with energy as the monster enters the city and destroys it. The monster is done in thick strokes that set him apart from the landscape, allowing him to pop and seem even larger than the surrounding buildings.
A zany and fun look at tantrums, this book will be appreciated by parents and children alike. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Sparky! by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Chris Appelhans
A little girl wanted a pet but her mother would only let her have a pet that doesn’t need to be walked, bathed or fed. So the girl went to the library and the school librarian pointed her towards sloths. Her sloth arrived in the mail and she named him Sparky. She immediately took him to his tree where he went promptly to sleep. He didn’t wake up for two days. She tried playing games with him but they didn’t really work since the girl won every single time. The only game that Sparky could win was Statue. He was really good at it. That weekend, Mary Potts came over to see the sloth, but she didn’t approve. She said her parrot could say twenty words and her cat could walk on its hind legs. The girl said that Sparky could do tricks too, and now she would have to prove it. But what in the world can Sparky actually do?
Told in the first person by the little girl, this book celebrates a pet may not be able to do traditional tricks like other more active animals, but definitely can hold its own as a companion. Offill has created a wonderful story filled with gently funny moments like trying to play hide-and-seek with a sloth that doesn’t move. As the girl trains the sloth to do tricks, I was happy to see that Sparky remained steadfastly a sloth and didn’t change into something else at all.
Appelhans’ illustrations also have a great quietness to them. Done in watercolor and pencil, they are subtly colored, with the backgrounds and characters primarily in browns. Then there are occasional pops of red too. My favorite picture is the sloth arriving via mail with his arms, legs and head popping out of the box and the up arrow facing straight down as if he should be carried on his head.
This is a book that is slow, steady and heartfelt, just like Sparky himself. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
The Day I Lost My Superpowers by Michael Escoffier, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
Told in first person, this picture book celebrates the super hero in all of us. The child narrating the book learned that they had superpowers when they were first able to fly (tossed in the air by a parent) and from there kept working and practicing to develop their superpowers more and more. Making things disappears works sometimes on things like cupcakes, but sometimes doesn’t on things like peas. Going through walls and walking on the ceiling can get you into trouble. But sometimes you wonder where your powers came from. Does your mother have powers too? Just wait until you see the incredible power of the mother in this book!
I love picture books where the narrator is telling a different story than the pictures, and this one works particularly well. Escoffier has created a great protagonist here, a child who sees the potential for wonder everywhere, particularly in themselves. Just take a lot of imagination and anything at all is possible, even turning invisible.
Di Giacomo’s illustrations tell the real story here. The child is often destructive, never really displaying powers, and at the same time is clearly telling the truth from their own point of view. The illustrations allow the child to be androgynous and the text keeps them that way too. This is a book that celebrates being whatever you want to be in both images and words.
Funny, honest and a treat, this picture book will be celebrated by any child who owns their own cape. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrations by Christian Robinson
Gaston lives with his mother and his three siblings, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La. They are all poodles, but Gaston is something else. He worked hard to be the best poodle puppy he could be, not slobbering, barking correctly and walking gracefully. When the poodle family went to the park, they met a bulldog family there that had its own unusual family member who looked like a poodle. There had clearly been a mix up! So Gaston switches places with Antoinette. Now the families look just the way they should, but neither Antoinette or Gaston seem to feel right in their “correct” families. What is a dog to do?
Right from the first pages, readers will know that there is something unusual about Gaston and how he fits into his family. It all becomes clear once the other dog family appears in the story and readers may think that fixing the mix up is the resolution of the story. Happily, it isn’t and the book becomes more about where you feel you fit in rather than where the world might place you. Gaston is a great mix of energetic bulldog puppy and also a prim poodle attitude. Antoinette is the reverse, a delicate poodle who plays like a bulldog.
Robinson’s illustrations are done in acrylic paint that gives texture to the images. The bold illustrations have bursts of color throughout and are done in a large format that will work well when shared with a group. All of the dogs have charm, though readers will immediate fall for the bright spunk of Gaston in particular.
A book about adoption and families that doesn’t hit too hard with the message of inclusiveness and diversity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Naughty Kitty! by Adam Stower
A follow up to Silly Doggy!, this book also features Lily and now a very large cat. From the end pages, readers will know that there is an animal loose from the zoo. Lily though is far too taken up with bringing her new kitten home. Her mother was sure that Kitty wouldn’t be any trouble at all. At first that was true, but when Lily left the kitten alone in the kitchen for just a moment, she returned to find it completely trashed. What Lily doesn’t know but the readers could see clearly was that the tiger that had escaped from the zoo was the one who made the mess. The same thing happened when Lily left Kitty alone in the living room. There is even a rug that is ruined with an accident of large proportions. Happily, Lily remains completely oblivious to the tiger and in the end Kitty gets the credit rather than the blame for what the tiger has done.
Stower’s humor is zingy and broad here. He doesn’t hold back on the visual jokes or on Lily’s reactions to the actually sedate little cat. Children will immediately get the humor of mistaken identity and will pay close attention to spot the tiger on the pages where Lily can’t seem to see him. The ending is completely satisfying, particularly because Lily continues to be oblivious to what is actually happening around her and readers will be surprised by a full view of the truth as well.
The art tells much of the story here with the narrative almost entirely from Lily’s perspective. The tiger can be spotted right before each disaster and right afterwards too. The illustrations are energetic and filled with action and the entire book reads like a cartoon episode.
Funny and a great read aloud, this book is sure to keep attention focused and kids giggling. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Orchard Books.
The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Kameeka just knows she can beat Jamara at hula hooping, but her mother reminds her that today is Miz Adeline’s birthday, so she can’t go and hula hoop. Instead Kameeka has to help get ready for the party. Kameeka helps sweep, dust, wash floors, clean windows, and peel potatoes. Her mother makes a cake but Kameeka is so distracted that she sets the temperature too low and the cake is ruined. So her mother sends her out to get more sugar. On the way home from the store, Kameeka meets Jamara and the two start competing for who can hoop the longest. It isn’t until another of their family friends walks up that Kameeka remembers Miz Adeline’s party. Now Kameeka is going to have to explain why there isn’t a cake at the party. But some quick thinking finds a solution and then Kameeka herself is in for a surprise, hula hoop style.
This clever picture book shows different elements of a community. There are moments of good-natured competition, times that you have to put your own wishes aside and think of others, and other times where forgiveness is important too. Godin manages to wrap all of this into a very readable book that invites readers into the heart of a tight-knit community where the older generation may just has some tricks up their sleeves too.
The illustrations by Brantley-Newton show a diverse urban community with busy streets and brightly-colored stores and shops. She uses patterns to create the curbs on the road, wall coverings and floor textures. Despite being animated and dynamic, the illustrations keep a lightness on the page that keeps it sunny.
Community-driven, intergenerational and a great look at personal responsibility, this book has a wonderful warmth and charm. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Numberlys by William Joyce, illustrated by Christina Ellis
In a world where there are only numbers, everything is very orderly and neat. But it’s also very gray, even the food. Then five friends started to wonder if there was something more than numbers, something different! So they started inventing and they slowly came up with letters. And when they reached the final letter Z, things started to change. Color entered their dreary lives as the letters fell into place. Once the letters formed words, real changes started and the entire world was flooded with color and yummy foods and possibilities.
Based on the app, this is a second picture book from the creators of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which also started as an app. Joyce creates a numeric and order-filled world reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984 in the first pages of the book. The text here is very simple, allowing most of the storytelling to be done by the illustrations. Joyce keeps a light hand here and uses humor to show how dark the world is. Who could imagine a world without jellybeans?
It is Ellis’ art that brings this world to life. Her orderly world has the feel of wooden toy soldiers and the five friends are wonderfully different and unique even before they invent the alphabet. The gray tones of the early part of the book give way to jellybean colors that jump on the page.
This celebration of words and books also examines the importance of independent thought and creativity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Hermelin: The Detective Mouse by Mini Grey
Released August 5, 2014.
Hermelin is a mouse who lives in the attic of Number 33 Offley Street. His attic is filled with books and boxes and a typewriter that Hermelin uses to write with. When Hermelin notices that the Offley Street Notices board is filled with people missing things, he knows just what he has to do. So he starts working as a mouse detective and solving the mysteries of Offley Street. He does this by noticing things and then leaving typed notes for the people to help them find their missing items. Then when tragedy almost strikes the youngest person on Offley Street, Hermelin is the one to save the day! Soon everyone wants to know exactly who this Hermelin person is, so they invite him to a thank you party in his honor. He just isn’t quite what they were expecting…
A new Mini Grey book is always a treat and this one is perfectly lovely. Hermelin is a winning character with plenty of pluck as he goes about solving mysteries. Happily, the mysteries are just as small as Hermelin himself, making the book all the more jaunty and fun. Grey spends some time showing Hermelin’s attic and how he lives. The small details here add a rich warmth to the book and it is also the details that create such a vibrant world on Offley Street with the humans as well.
Done in her signature style, the illustrations are filled with details. One can read the cereal box, the milk carton, and the titles on the books as well as giggling at the flavors of cat food on the shelf. Hermelin himself is a lovely white mouse with inquisitive eyes and a face that shows emotions clearly. The entire book is a pleasure to immerse yourself into and simply enjoy.
Clever and filled with adventure, the vast appeal of this detective story is no mystery at all. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.