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Waking Brain Cells turns 11 years old today!

I am honored to have been writing things for you all to read for so many years, even more honored that people continue to read what I write, that publishers continue to work with me, and that teachers, librarians and parents take time out of their busy day to find out about new and beloved books. 

Thank you so much for spending time with me and for caring what people read.  That is what is worth celebrating.

A new study from Edinburgh and King’s College in London studied 1890 pairs of identical twins over the course of nine years.  The twins took IQ tests at age seven, nine, ten, 12 and 16.  The results showed that those children who were better at reading had a higher general intelligence.

Because the study used identical twins, genetic and environmental factors were able to be set aside.  The results showed that even with identical twins, if one twin could read better that twin would do better at IQ tests.

This fascinating result shows that being better at reading does more than allow you to read better, it speaks to being deeper than that and more profound.

graveyard book

The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel, Volume 1 by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell

The first volume in a two volume graphic version of the award-winning novel by Neil Gaiman, this book celebrates the original story as well as several top graphic artists, who each take a chapter in the tale.  True to the written story, this graphic version has a wonderful creepy vibe and does not shy away from the horror elements.  The story is brought vividly to life by this new format and also brings it to new readers who may not have read the written work.

Thanks to the signature illustration style of each of the artists, the book takes different views of the graveyard, the characters and the story.  With each change in artist, there is a sense of refreshment and wonder anew.  At the same time, the illustrators adhere to certain elements, so that Bod looks like the same character throughout the book as do other main characters.  The various ghosts glow on the page, Silas is a gaunt dark figure who commands attention, and Bod himself is a luminous child that is the center of the story both visually and thematically.

Beautifully and powerfully illustrated, this new version of the book is a masterpiece.  Readers will wait eagerly for Volume Two.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

Herve Tullet is one of the most innovative picture book authors around today.  I look forward to his books to see what he will come up with.  This year, we have two new books by him.

help we need a title

Help! We Need a Title! by Herve Tullet

This first book is not quite ready to be read yet.  In fact, the characters inside are still getting ready.  There isn’t really a story, though they are looking for one.  And the characters themselves are rough sketches rather than lovely images.  In fact, the entire inside of the book is a mess.  Perhaps if we found an author?  But even that doesn’t help much, especially when the characters are disappointed in the story he creates for them.  Yet in the end, it is a book, with a story, some funny moments, and it even manages to tell readers how a book is created and what its elements are.

Quite clever, once you get past the rough illustrations and embrace them as part of the concept.  Tullet himself appears in the book, his photographed head and shoulders plunked onto a drawn body.  The entire book feel unfinished, but that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to feel.  This is a clever way to introduce young children to authors, writing, and how stories are crafted.

mix it up

Mix It Up! by Herve Tullet

Released September 16, 2014.

Following his clever Press Here, this book invites readers to touch the pages once again.  Except in this book, readers are mixing colors, mashing things together, combining things, and having a marvelous messy time.  Tullet excels at creating books that are immensely participatory despite having no flaps or pop ups.  It’s all in the readers’ imaginations and that’s such a wonderful thing.

I consider this one of the best picture books about color that I have ever seen.  Thanks to the feel of mixing the paints yourself, readers are left with a deeper understanding of color.  They will get to add white to colors and see what happens, and black as well.  They create secondary colors from primary ones and leave their own hands on the page too.  Clever, interactive and wildly imaginative, this is another winner from Tullet.

Both books are appropriate for ages 3-5 and both will be embraced by readers of all ages.

boundless

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Will found his first adventure when he headed out into the wilderness on a train to see his father after the transcontinental railroad was completed.  Will not only got to witness the final golden spike being driven but got to finish driving it in himself!  After the ceremony though, disaster struck with an avalanche that took Will and his father along with it.  They survived despite the large amount of snow and being attacked by sasquatches.  Now a few years later, Will and his father are aboard the Boundless, the most amazing train ever created.  Will’s father is no longer a laborer, instead working as an engineer aboard the train where Will will be riding first class.  The train carries with it a circus as well as thousands of people riding in different classes.  But there is also danger aboard the train and it’s headed right for Will. 

Oppel, the author of Airborn, has created a great adventure aboard a marvelous train.  The train itself is incredible from its sheer size to the number of people aboard.  The descriptions of each class of the train are done with an attention to detail and to the feeling of each area, each one significantly different from the others.  This setting is richly drawn and used as a clever device to keep the plot moving and also to isolate Will and the others from help. 

Will is a fine protagonist.  He is brave, somewhat bored, artistically gifted and living a surprising life.  Through it all he shows a spunk and willingness to throw himself into life, exactly the thing that his father despairs of him ever having.  The other characters are also well drawn: the villains are horrifically awful, Will’s companions are complicated and have their own motivations that are revealed as the book progresses. 

This is top-notch adventure writing set on a moving train traveling across a world filled with monsters, many of which are human.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

girl and the bicycle

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.

Bunches of Board Books

I’ve got some great new board books perfect for little hands to explore and even little gums to gnaw on.

countablock

Countablock by Christopher Franceschelli, art by Peskimo

The author of Alphablock returns with a counting book this time.  With thick board pages that are die cut into the shapes of the numbers, the book gives each number two pages where first you are given a number of objects and then what those objects become.  So three boxes become three forts and eight bananas become eight banana peels with the help of some monkeys.  After number ten, the book starts to count by tens and eventually reaches 100.

be patient pandora  play nice hercules 

Mini Myths: Be Patient, Pandora! by Joan Holub and Leslie Patricelli

Mini Myths: Play Nice, Hercules! by Joan Holub and Leslie Patricelli

These two first books in the new Mini Myths series are a cheerful mix of mythology and toddlerhood.  Pandora explores the temptation of a wrapped present and how hard it can be to wait to open it.  Pandora is told to leave the present alone, but just can’t seem to stop herself from touching it, leaning on it, and accidentally opening it.  Hercules is told to play nice with his little sister, but Hercules is much more interested in knocking things down than being nice.  In the end of both books, the myth becomes more about manners and how to be with others. 

All reviewed from copies received from Abrams Appleseed.

here comes destructosaurus

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.

love and other foreign words

Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

Josie attends both college and high school, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  So she has to be able to speak fluent High School and College.  There are people in her life who speak her own language, her best friend Stu, her parents, and her older sister Kate.  Josie also has to learn the way to talk to Kate about her dismal new boyfriend who doesn’t seem to be going away as quickly as Josie would like.  Even worse, it looks like they might be getting married, but not if Josie can stop it.  As Josie starts to date, she learns that there are Boyfriend languages that she has to learn as well.  But will anyone bother to learn to speak Josie?  And how in the world do you stop a crazy bride-to-be from ruining your life along with her own?

McCahan has written a smart female protagonist who is not afraid of being seen as intelligent and often shows off her knowledge in very humorous ways.  It’s great to have a super-smart girl in a book who relishes her own brains and also manages to have close friends.  Just as lovely is a book with a teen protagonist who enjoys her parents and gets along with her siblings too, most of the time.  Josie is entirely herself with her own sense of identity that often does not match the ones that people want to inflict upon her.  And that is celebrated in this wonderfully clever read.

McCahan has a knack for comedic timing and witty comments.  She doesn’t take it too far or make Josie too very clever.  Instead the humor reads naturally and seems like the sort of things that a smart teen would say.  The use of foreign languages to look at how people communicate in different ways is a very clever take on it.  As Josie stumbles through relationships on different levels, she is acutely aware of when things go awry but also just as confused about how to fix them.

This is an outstanding novel with an unusual protagonist that will have you laughing along with Josie as she navigates the many languages of her world.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

matildas cat

Matilda’s Cat by Emily Gravett

Matilda thinks her cat loves to do a lot of things.  But really, it’s Matilda who loves playing with wool, climbing in boxes, and riding bikes.  All of those things scare her cat.  It’s Matilda who loves tea parties, hats, and swords.  She loves drawing pictures, climbing trees and reading bedtime stories.  And she does it all dressed in her cat costume.  At the end of the book, Matilda has crossed off all of the things she likes because her cat doesn’t like them and made a huge list of everything her cat does NOT like.  But there is one thing her cat does like after all, Matilda!

Gravett excels at creating quirky and marvelous picture books for children.  Here she captures the reaction of a cat perfectly on the page, his ears back and his eyes wide with worry.  The text is at first a list of everything that the cat should like, but then the lists clearly turn to what the little girl enjoys instead.  Through it all, the cat’s concern is the same but it is still inquisitive enough to stay around Matilda and all of her activity. 

The simple text lets the illustrations tell the real story and the real reaction of the cat.  It was a great choice to have Matilda look very much like her cat, so the two show different reactions to the activities.  The illustrations pop against the large amount of white space, making this a book that could happily be shared with a group, since it read aloud well.

A great pick for reading at story time or units about pets or cats, this picture book is another winner from Gravett.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon and Schuster.

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