Wild about Shapes by Jeremie Fischer (InfoSoup)
A wonderfully simple idea, this book features abstract patterns on each facing page. Turn the clear plastic page with its abstract design so that it overlaps the first page and suddenly an animal is revealed. While some of the animals can be guessed from the designs or from the short text, many of them are complete surprises. Children will have to be paying close attention to spot some of the animals like the fish made from the white space on the page and the octopus that floats on another.
Spiral bound, this book is printed on card stock that will stand up to little hands. Even the acetate pages are strong and thick, limiting the amount of tearing that libraries will see. The text is very limited in the book, giving full attention to the clever illustrations. They are entirely playful and fun, the book less of a guessing game and more of art that you get to experience.
Children will want to turn the pages themselves, so that they are able to look back and forth between the abstract and the tangible on the page. So it’s best for sharing with only a few children at a time. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Ally-Saurus & the First Day of School by Richard Torrey (InfoSoup)
Ally loves dinosaurs, so when she heads off to her first day of school she is hoping to find lots of other kids who love dinosaurs too. But Ally seems to be the only one who is chomping her snack like a dinosaur or answering questions with dinosaur answers. As she starts to talk with the other kids though, she discovers the things that they love too. But some of the kids are not very friendly, like the bossy threesome who loves princesses the best and who don’t let Ally sit at their table during lunch. So Ally sits by herself. She is joined quickly though by other children who want to sit with her and they love dinosaurs and dragons and lunchboxes and lions. Soon she has a group of kids to play with at recess, who are willing to run wild and roar along with her. Even the princesses who snubbed her end up playing along too.
Torrey captures the joy of imaginative play as a child where that subject is all the child thinks about and their major focus of their day. Ally faces her first day of school with positive feelings which is good to see. Torrey doesn’t overplay the negative encounter with other children in the class either, allowing it to unfold naturally and be remedied in the same way. Ally’s use of roaring and munching to make friends adds a silly element that is very welcome in the book, and it also shows the other children who seek her out what kind of girl she is.
Torrey’s art adds to the imaginative play piece of the story. With pastel and black and white illustrations, the imaginative piece looks as if a child drew it on with crayon. As Ally learns more about her classmates they too get their own crayon elements, so the boy interested in astronauts gets a helmet and the princesses get crowns. It’s a clever way to indicate that these are imaginary but still there
A positive and humorous look at the first day of school, this is perfect for sending your own imaginative little one off or for sharing during that first week of school. Appropriate for ages 4-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Sterling Children’s Books and Raab Associates.
Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki (InfoSoup)
The award-winning Jillian Tamaki returns with a collection of comics that she has been serializing online for the last few years. Set in a boarding school for magical mutant teens, this graphic novel is filled with an engaging mix of fantasy, science fiction and teen angst. Various characters appear in different strips. There is the self-absorbed lizard-headed Trixie who mourns her lack of a modeling career. Marsha is unable to speak about her crush on Wendy, her best friend. Everlasting Boy continues to both escape to death but also embraces what makes life amazing. Other characters appear with moments of touching nuance juxtaposed against others that produce laughter because of how real they are.
Tamaki completely captures what it feels like to be a teenager, magical or not. She twists in the superhero and magical tropes, cleverly playing against the Avengers and Harry Potter experiences into something more realistic and heartfelt. Even in her most fantastical moments, she creates universal themes. Riding brooms becomes a chance to look up someone’s skirt. Magic wands are the key to removing pimples. It’s all a beautiful mix of reality and fantasy.
I deeply appreciate a book that embraces gay and lesbian characters this clearly. Not only is Marsha a main lesbian character grappling with how to come out to her best friend, but there are two male friends who are clearly attracted to one another and act on it. Throughout there is also a sense of connection to the world, the deep depression of high school, and capturing fleeting moments in time.
Teens will love this book and those who play D&D will find a world where they fit right in effortlessly. This graphic novel was love at first sight for me and I’m sure it will be for many kids who are outsiders in high school. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Bear and Duck by Katy Hudson (InfoSoup)
Bear doesn’t want to be a bear anymore. He’s sick of sleeping during the winter, his fur is too hot in the summer, and there are all of those angry bees. Then Bear notices a family of ducks walking along and decides that he could be a duck instead! So he joins their line and starts acting like a duck. But when the adult duck notices Bear in the line of ducklings, he gets sent away. Bear does get a book on how to be the perfect duck. So he starts to work on it. The first step is building a nest and sitting on an egg. But Bear loses his egg in the twigs. Second step is swimming, but Bear splashes too much. The third step is flying, ouch! Bear is thoroughly discouraged and climbs up a tree to hide. From there, he starts to show both himself and Duck the good things about being a bear after all.
This is Hudson’s first book. It has a great freshness to it and an exceptionally light touch. The humor in the book feels unforced and natural. In the middle of the book there is a change to the format focusing on the rules of being a duck, which creates its own pacing and energy. The ending feels organic and real as both Duck and Bear together discover the joy of climbing trees and sharing a treat with a new friend.
Hudson’s illustrations are ink and watercolor which combine into friendly images of flowering meadows, furry bears and swimming ducks. They have the fine details of ink and then the washes of watercolor paint. Hudson enjoys the visual humor of Bear in the line of ducklings and then other times creates touching moments where you can see the characters forming new bonds.
This is the second picture book about bears and ducks trying to live together that has been released this year. Pair it with Room for Bear by Ciara Gavin for a double duck and bear treat. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
The winners of the Carnegie and Greenaway Medals were announced at the British Library in London.
CILIP Carnegie Medal
Tanya Landman for Buffalo Soldier
CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal
William Grill for Shackleton’s Journey
My Bike by Byron Barton (InfoSoup)
Tom rides his bicycle to work each day. On the way, he passes all sorts of other vehicles like cars, buses, and trucks. As he gets closer to work, he passes lots of people. Then he passes monkeys, acrobats, tigers, lions and elephants! Once he reaches the tent where he works, he changes into his costume and puts on his makeup. He heads into the circus ring as a clown, ready to do his act. Once he’s up on the tightrope, he hops aboard another mode of transportation, a unicycle.
This jolly picture book will appeal to fans of transportation books and circuses alike. Barton has written other classic titles in this series like My Car and My Bus. The book reviews the various parts of a bicycle and then through very simple sentences and words eventually reveals Tom’s job to the readers. The book is straight forward but cleverly done so that readers will wonder what his job is all along his route to work. The final panel of him riding off in his regular clothes and a clown nose is a great farewell.
Just as with the text, the illustrations are simple too. Done in Photoshop, the art is clean and bold, the colors bright and cheery. The transformation into a clown in handled well and Tom never turns creepy on the reader, instead keeping his friendly demeanor and appearance throughout. The final panel of him riding off in his regular clothes and a clown nose is a great farewell.
The simplicity of both the text and the illustrations make this a great pick for smaller children. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Greenwillow Books.
The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell (InfoSoup)
Sora has ALS, a disease that will slowly ravage his muscles and eventually kill him. There is no cure and no slowing the disease’s progression. Sora’s mother takes care of him and he spends his days at home, unwilling to leave and expose himself and his mother to the pitying gazes of strangers as she pushes him in his wheelchair. Then Sora joins an online chat room for Kyoto teens and after lurking for awhile, accidentally posts a very big scream to one of the rooms. Some people reach out to him and he becomes online friends with two of them, Mai and Kaito. His mother thinks they are friends from school, and she insists that she meet them too. But Sora hasn’t revealed his diagnosis to them at all, pretending instead to be a regular school-attending teen online. What will happen when they discover his illness? Will be begin to treat him differently just like everyone else?
Benwell has written a stunning read in this teen novel set in Kyoto, Japan. The setting is beautiful and a sense of Japan runs through the entire novel, making sure that western readers will never lose the sense of the setting. Benwell grapples with many issues here and yet the book is intently focused on Sora and his journey. Sora wants answers to questions that have none, like why people treat those with disabilities differently and what happens to you after you die. With those issues weaving throughout the book, Benwell also offers up a look at a devastating disease and its effect but also still reminds us all the it is each day that matters and the small things that delight.
The three teen characters are very well drawn. There is Sora, the central character and a boy who is serious and studious. He searches for deep answers and has lots of time alone to think. Yet he is still approachable, friendly and caring, never becoming a stereotype of any kind. Mai is a girl who loves art but is unable to explain to her mother that she’d rather be an artist than a lawyer. Through her reaction to meeting Sora for the first time, Benwell offers one view of courage and the willingness to try again. Kaito is a boy who loves coding and computers, but struggles to do it as well as he would like. He is impatient and clever. The two teens learn much from Sora, but not right away allowing them the time and space to be truly motivated by Sora.
This is a powerful novel that speaks to the beauty of life and calls teens to make the most of their dreams. Have your tissues ready! Appropriate for ages 12-16.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Water Is Water: A Book about the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin (InfoSoup)
A poetic look at the various stages of water in the water cycle, this book moves logically from one to the next as water evaporates, condenses and changes. Seen through the lives of two siblings, the book begins with pages where the children are down near the lake and then rain drives them back home. Once home, they get a glass of water then water is boiled for a cup of cocoa out on the porch. Clouds come out in the evening, lit by the setting sun. Then autumn arrives with its foggy school mornings. Rain falls down as the school bus reaches school and then there are puddles to jump in at recess. Winter arrives with ice and snow and then spring returns with more puddles and mud. Apples are picked and turned into cider that the children drink up.
Shown through seasonal changes and a very personal view, this water cycle book makes everything very tangible and real. At the end of the book children can learn more about evaporation, condensation and precipitation which are tied directly to the forms of water that they experienced in the bulk of the book and the story. Keeping the focus on the ways that children themselves experience the water cycle makes this book particularly accessible.
The illustrations by Chin are done in watercolor and gouache. They are filled with nature and beauty from the wonder of the sky in evening to the bright colors of the fall leaves to the brisk cool colors of winter. The illustrations capture the beauty of weather and forms of water in a vivid way.
A dynamic and personal book about what can be an abstract theory, this book on the water cycle is exactly the sort of science book that will inspire additional investigation in the world and science. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Mad Scientist Academy: The Dinosaur Disaster by Matthew McElligott (InfoSoup)
Released July 7, 2015.
In this graphic novel for elementary-aged children, facts about dinosaurs mingle with a great adventure. A new class of young monsters are enrolled at the Mad Scientist Academy. On their first day of school, they meet Dr. Cosmic, a teacher at the academy who has managed to lose the school pet, Oscar, a dinosaur. The children are sent to find Oscar and set off on an adventure through the various exhibits that Dr. Cosmic has been working on. The focus of the exhibits is dinosaurs and there are mechanical dinosaurs throughout who are set to be tame. Unfortunately, their setting is accidentally set to live mode and all of the dinosaurs start acting as if they are real. It is up to the students to figure out how to escape the rampaging T-Rex and find Oscar too.
McElligott has a great feel for pacing and humor in this graphic novel. There are small touches of humor throughout the book, from one students stinky lunch to the out-of-control exhibits that have too much lava and are a bit too effective in showing meteors. The book is thoughtfully designed too with each monster character having characteristics that come into play in the story line. The lizard boy uses his long tongue to reach something, the insect girl uses her wings to remove smoke from the room, and much more. The insertion of the dinosaur information is done in a light way and includes plenty of illustrations to keep the information accessible and fun.
The art is very effective throughout the book. The characters are diverse enough to be recognizable even in images where they are smaller. Double-page spreads of the full exhibit show the largeness of both the exhibit and the dinosaurs too. Dramatic moments are nicely captured and the timing of funny events is done very effectively.
Get this into the hands of children growing out of Magic School Bus books. The mix of graphic novel, information and fantasy elements will find lots of young fans. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Crown Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
Here are the links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week that I think are cool:
The former host of Reading Rainbow wants you to take a look in a book this summer http://buff.ly/1MJ5ZQ9
How barbershops make the cut in helping kids read http://buff.ly/1Lehm5t
How to swap games consoles for books (and get kids reading) http://buff.ly/1R5ZAzZ
Let’s Stop Shaming Little Boys Who Read About Girls http://buff.ly/1d4rdMl
Middle School Pride : LGBTQ+ Tweens in Literature for Youth http://buff.ly/1IXQE0q
Library of Congress Chief Retires Under Fire http://buff.ly/1LbTJub
Teen Services at San Diego Central Library http://buff.ly/1Lamfwf
What to expect from libraries in the 21st century: Pam Sandlian Smith at TEDxMileHigh http://buff.ly/1Bm7Mug
Chronicle Sees YA Differently http://buff.ly/1C9GEJE
YA Books With Intersex Characters http://buff.ly/1GPdEfJ