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here comes santa cat

Here Comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda

Cat tries out a new disguise in this follow up to Here Comes the Easter Cat.  Cat is worried that he has not been nice enough to get a present from Santa.  So his solution is to become Santa so that he can give himself a present.  Of course, he has to learn how to climb down chimneys, which doesn’t go well.  He also has to figure out how to fly without Santa’s magic reindeer.  Perhaps a jet pack?  He tries giving gifts to children, but they don’t seem to appreciate the fish.  He even tries to decorate a tree, but it too ends in disaster.  What is one naughty cat to do?

Underwood has created a delightful sequel to her first Cat book.  Once again Cat uses signs to communicate with the reader.  The voice of the narrator is one of an adult, making this an ideal book to be read aloud by a teacher or parent.  The rather disapproving but still encouraging tone of the narrator sets up the humor perfectly and with Underwood’s clear sense of comedic timing, the results are hilarious. 

Rueda’s art adds to the zany humor, often serving as the final funny note to a gag.  She uses gentle colors and delicate lines, supporting the storyline clearly.  Her comedic timing too is wonderfully spot on.

A very funny addition to crowded Christmas picture book shelves, save this one to share aloud on Christmas Eve.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial.

sebastian and the balloon

Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead

A little boy named Sebastian is having a very boring day even though he is up on the top of the roof where he’s never supposed to be.  So he decides to head on a journey.  First, he packs everything he needs, then he heads for the hot air balloon he made from his grandmother’s afghans and quilts.  He sets off and meets a bear next to a leafless tree.  He offers the bear a pickle sandwich and the bear joins him on his journey.  Flying in the fog, they hear a loud pop and find that a bird has flown into the balloon.  They land atop a a colorful worn house where three sisters help them knit their balloon together again.  As the three elderly ladies work, they mention the time that they went over the mountain as children and found a rollercoaster.  You can guess where they all headed next!

Stead has created a quiet and lovely book here.  It is an adventure book, but somehow it is imbued with a gentleness and dreaminess.  Perhaps it is the balloon flight, the drifting and silence and quiet of that mode of transportation.  Or it could be the fog, the friendly bear, and the three grandmothers.  It all adds up to a wonderfully whimsical book that dances along dreamily.

Stead’s illustrations are always a treat.  I love that his protagonist is a little boy of color, someone who glows against the background, who is resourceful, smart and creative.  The three grandmothers, each with their own color that is also represented in their home, are drawn with a humor that is gentle and gorgeous.  The entire book sings of whimsy and imagination.

Ideal for bedtime reading, this book is sure to create dreams of hot air balloon rides and an array of friends.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

madman of piney woods

The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis

This companion novel to Elijah of Buxton continues the story of the town of Buxton and the people who live there.  This book, which takes place forty years after the first book, is the story of two boys, Benji and Red.  Benji, who lives in Buxton, dreams of becoming a newspaper reporter.  He has two pesky younger siblings who also happen to be gifted builders with wood.  That doesn’t mean though that Benji doesn’t try to put them in their place when they need it.  Benji also has a way with the forest, spending hours walking the trails and exploring.  He is one of the first to see the Madman of Piney Woods.  Red is a scientist.  He’s been raised by his father and maternal grandmother, who hates anyone who isn’t Irish like she is.  She is strict with Red, smacking him regularly with her cane hard enough to raise a lump.  When the two boys meet, they immediately become friends even though their backgrounds are so different.  But can their friendship withstand the brimming hatred of some people in their communities?

I loved Elijah of Buxton so much and I started this book rather gingerly, hoping that it would be just as special as the original.  Happily, it certainly is.  It has a wonderful feeling to it, a rich storytelling that hearkens back to Mark Twain and other classic boyhood friendship books.  Curtis makes sure that we know how different these two boys are:  one with a large family, the other small, different races, different points of view.  Yet it feels so right when the two boys are immediate friends, readers will have known all along that they suit one another. 

Curtis explores deep themes in this novel, offering relief in the form of the exploits of the two boys as they figure out ways to mess with their siblings and escape domineering grandmothers.  There are scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny.  Other scenes though are gut-wrenching and powerful.  They explore themes like the damage done to the psyche during wars, racism, ambition, responsibility and family ties.  It is a testament to the writing of Curtis that both the humor and the drama come together into an exquisite mix of laughter and tears.

A great novel worthy of following the award-winning original, this book will be met with cheers by teachers and young readers alike.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.

Here are the links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week that I think are cool:

Gorgeous books that celebrate the fun and beauty of fall! #kidslit #fall #reading

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

12 Picture Books 4 to 8 Year Olds Should Read | Still Advocating http://buff.ly/1EpOL5e #kidlit

BBC News – Quentin Blake: We need more disabled children in picture books http://buff.ly/1GM3ifE #kidlit

Brian Selznick Inks Deal For ‘The Marvels’ – GalleyCat http://buff.ly/1wXZ8wT #kidlit

Five questions for Sharon G. Flake http://buff.ly/1xfVO1I #kidlit

Middle-grade mirth – The Horn Book http://buff.ly/1GPkMHV #kidlit

Native American Heritage Month: 10 Children’s Books By Native Writers « the open book http://buff.ly/1zk0PEe #kidlit

Who are the best quirky heroines in children’s books? | The Guardian http://buff.ly/1szsw7p #kidlit

Why Picture Books Are Important by Chris Barton http://buff.ly/10z7Gxc #kidlit

LIBRARIES

Libraries and Buy It Now: A Difficult Decision? | American Libraries Magazine http://buff.ly/1wQpPDJ #ebooks #libraries

One Man’s Diary of a Month-Long Library Closure – BOOK RIOT http://buff.ly/1B39M9A #libraries

READING

New study reveals why it’s impossible to put down a Harry Potter book – ScienceAlert http://buff.ly/1tU0xCa #reading

Reading children’s books has changed my life http://buff.ly/1ExzIbP #kidlit #reading

TECHNOLOGY

Comcast agrees with Obama on net neutrality, except for the legal bit – GigaOM http://buff.ly/1Eujw96 #internet #netneutrality

Dear Senator Ted Cruz, I’m going to explain to you how Net Neutrality ACTUALLY works – The Oatmeal http://buff.ly/1EC7D2V #internet

Present Shock | Dark Rye http://buff.ly/10GI7KN - Using technology to set ourselves free rather than it using us #socialmedia #technology

TEEN READS

Authors of young adult fiction say pitching the content right is a balancing act http://buff.ly/1yjraRG #yalit

Meg Wolitzer: Why are teenage girls drawn to books about mental instability? | The Guardian http://buff.ly/10E6BEs #yalit

YALLFest: Q&A with Rita Williams-Garcia | Charleston City Paper http://buff.ly/1osBfvz #kidlit

pack of dorks

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel

Lucy just knows that this is the biggest recess of her life, because at recess she will kiss Tom and cement herself as a popular fourth grader along with her best friend Becky.  But after the kiss happens, all she has is a ring that turns her finger green and a sinking feeling about what just happened.  Soon after the kiss, Lucy’s baby sister is born.  Her parents are shocked to have a baby with Downs Syndrome and are caught up in coping with the surprise.  That leaves Lucy alone to cope with the sudden turn of events at school where over the course of a few days she goes from being cool and popular to being one of the lamest kids in the class.  Becky calls Lucy at night to tell her all of the mean things that the other kids are saying about her, claiming that she is still Lucy’s friend but can’t be her friend at school anymore.  In the meantime, Lucy starts to make friends with some of the other kids in her class.  She does a project on wolves with Sam, a very quiet boy who is bullied by the same kids.  Out of that project and her growing group of outcast friends, Lucy decides that the only solution for them is to become their own pack.

Vrabel captures elementary school perfectly with its confusing social pressures that keep people conforming to the norm.  She manages to keep everything at just the right level, never becoming melodramatic about the situation.  At the same time, it is clear how devastating the bullying is to Lucy.  While she has a supportive family, they are distracted by the new baby and rightly so.  Her new little sister helps be a guide for Lucy forward, and is a very smart addition to the story, allowing Lucy her growth and also serving as an example of someone who will also need their own pack to support her.

Lucy is a character who becomes more likeable as the book progresses.  At first with her quests for popularity and kisses, Lucy is shallow but after she becomes shunned by the popular crowd she immediately reveals how smart and strong she actually is.  Vrabel’s brilliant combination of wolf packs and middle school bullies adds strength to the entire novel.

A smart book on bullies, differences and disabilities, this novel is one that will make a great read aloud for elementary classes.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Dark Wild

Publisher’s Weekly has the news that Piers Torday has won the 2014 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize for the second book in The Last Wild trilogy: The Dark Wild

The Guardian Prize is a UK children’s book prize.  The Dark Wild will be published in the US in January 2015.

buried sunlight

Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm

Everything needs energy in order to grow and we also need energy to run machines.  This energy comes from the sun though it may be stored as fossil fuels underground.  The fossil fuels have stored that energy inside them and it is released when they are burned.  This book looks at how sunlight energy is stored in fossil fuels, explaining photosynthesis and the balance of oxygen on the planet.  It speaks to the way that oxygen was first released to the atmosphere and the millions of years that it took to create fossil fuels.  The book then informs readers about the impact of carbon dioxide on the planet and the resulting climate change.  In the end, the book lets readers know that the choice for the future of the planet is theirs.

Bang worked with Chisholm, an award-winning MIT professor on the information in the book.  Told from the point of view of the sun, the book takes a clear and scientific tone throughout, enhanced by the more personal point of view.  The information is compellingly presented and interesting.  The final pages of the book offer even more details about the fossil fuel process for those looking for more in-depth information.

Bang’s illustrations capture the information of graphs along with an artistic feel.  She manages to keep it scientific but also speak to the wonder of the process and the beauty of the captured sunlight energy. 

This fourth book in their Sunlight series continues the combination of science, beauty and natural wonder.  Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

wall

Wall by Tom Clohosy Cole

When the Berlin Wall was built, a boy was separated from his father who was on the other side.  His mother told him that his father was in a place where life was better.  They were not allowed to leave their side of Berlin.  The boy dreamed of his father coming and rescuing them, but he knew that was unlikely to happen.  So he started to plan ways to get past the wall himself.  Other people tried to get past the wall, many of them died in their attempts.  But it was worth the risk to see his father once again, so the boy started digging out in the woods near the wall.  When the tunnel was ready, the boy led his family to it, but along the way they were stopped by a soldier.  Would this be the end of their brave journey to reunite their family?

Cole captures the separation and division caused by the Berlin Wall.  He also clearly shows the fierce drive of a family to reunite and be together once again.  Told in very simple sentences, the book relies on its fine artwork to carry the story.  It is the art that conveys the danger, the deaths and the risks that people took to see loved ones again or to attain freedom. 

The art here is exceptional.  Cole uses lighting on his pages to show the hope of the West versus the darkness and gray of the other side of the wall.  The illustrations are atmospheric and dramatic.  They convey the feeling of isolation and the fear. 

A strong picture book about the Berlin Wall and the power of family and hope.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

phoebe and her unicorn

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson

When Phoebe skipped a rock (four times!) across a pond, she accidentally hit a unicorn in the nose, distracting the unicorn from gazing at her amazing reflection.  The unicorn was bound to offer Phoebe a wish and though Phoebe tried to wish for more wishes and things like that, she wasn’t allowed to.  So Phoebe wished that the unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, be her best friend.  The two become inseparable, much to Heavenly Nostrils’ dismay at first.  Soon they truly became the best of friends, dealing with bullies in unexpected ways, having slumber parties, and playing games together. 

This friendship between a girl and a unicorn is filled with great humor, including lots of biting sarcasm which helps offset the cuteness factor.  It is not the traditional unicorn and girl relationship either, both of them have unique personalities and sometimes they just don’t get along.  It’s those moments of reality that keeps the relationship honest and makes this a graphic novel to celebrate.

Simpson’s illustrations have strong ties to Calvin & Hobbes.  Readers will immediately find themselves right at home in the world she creates, one where unicorns are real but sheltered by a Shield of Boringness that keeps others from realizing how special the unicorn is.  These plot devices are brilliant and funny.

I brought this book home and my 17 year old immediately rejoiced since she reads the comic online.  So you will have fans in your library for this book already.  Get it on the shelves for kids and into the hands of adults who will also enjoy it immensely.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

foxs garden

Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam

Gorgeously illustrated, this wordless picture book invites readers into a snowy world.  A fox finds her way into a village, warm lit against the cold snow that is falling.  She is shooed away by several people but discovers an open greenhouse.  A little boy sees her enter and brings her a basket of food.  Now there is a fox with four baby foxes nursing.  Soon after, the mother fox leads her kits to the boy’s room where they plant flowers from the greenhouse into his rug which he discovers in the morning.  The five foxes disappear back into the woods.

Done in cut-paper illustrations, the images have a beautiful 3-D quality to them.  You want to stroke the page and think that you will be able to lift flaps, so strong are the images. Against the white and gray snow and woods, the characters pop.  The fox gloriously orange in the snow and the little boy wearing red. 

Camcam lights her paper work beautifully as well, almost as if it were a stage.  She conveys the welcoming warmth of the light in the village, the yellow of the windows lit against the storm.  More subtly, she plays with shadows and underlighting in specific scenes, showing the cold and the night clearly.

This is a haunting picture book, done with an immense delicacy and skill.  Simply beautiful.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

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