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.
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.
The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrations by Hadley Hooper
Henri Matisse grew up in a town in northern France that was cold, gray and dreary. But his mother filled their world with color with the plates that she painted with nature scenes. She also let Henri mix the paint colors. He was also the person who arranged the fruit and flowers that they bought in the market, on the blue and white tablecloth. Red rugs adorned the walls of their house, filling it with color too and making the whole world turn red. Henri also raised pigeons with their iridescent feathers. And all of these elements of his childhood came together in his work as an adult, reflecting the color that one can see in the dreariest of towns.
MacLachlan has written this picture book in an unusual second person, inviting the reader to feel the environment just as Matisse himself did as a child. The slow reveal of the richness of his childhood at home plays beautifully against the original gray and dullness of the outside. It is as if he was given another world to grow up in, one of colors and delight. Though when readers really look at it, it is about small things, tiny touches, being surrounded by paint, and of course the brilliance of pigeons too.
The illustrations by Hooper are rich and saturated with color. Done in a combination of relief printmaking and digital formats, the book has a grounding in the solidity of printmaking that gives it texture and a feeling of tradition. Playing against that is the modern lightness of the little boy, surrounded by the color and delight of his home. It’s an exquisite pairing.
Rich, detailed and delightful, this picture book biography of the inspiration that Matisse found in his childhood home is sure to invite young readers to find their own sources of inspiration around them. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Give and Take by Chris Raschka
A farmer who grows apples discovers a strange little man out in his orchard just as his apples are ready to pick. The little man is named Take and he encourages the farmer to listen to him so that he can have a fine life. Though the farmer already has a fine life, Take promises to make it better. So the farmer goes through his day taking everything. He takes all of his neighbors pumpkins when she offers him some. He takes her advice to make pumpkin soup, and he takes a long hike. Left wishing he had some apples to eat, he kicks out Take the next morning. Then when he visits his orchard that morning, he meets another little man named Give. Give promises to make his life sweeter, so once again the farmer tries. He gives everything away, including his apples and all of his opinions. He is left hungry another night and kicks Give out. But in the morning, he discovers the two little men fighting with one another. Can a farmer outwit these two battling forces?
Raschka has written this picture book with the tone of a fable. Readers will immediately see Take as a selfish force and then think that Give is the angelic voice. But Raschka’s take is more nuanced than that, showing the harm in being too giving with everything in your life and how it can turn toxic and harmful too. He then goes about having his farmer propose a balance of giving and taking in life. The result is a book that has balance, a folkloric rhythm and tone, and is a great read aloud and opportunity for discussion.
Raschka’s illustrations are his trademark flowing and free style. He uses watercolors contained with thick black lines. The bright red of the farmer’s nose and the apples pop on the page along with the pink pig and the orange pumpkins. As always, his book is art, changing with each turn of the page as the story is told.
Perfect for discussions about balance, generosity and greed, this picture book is a great balance of art and folklore itself. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.
Goodreads has announced the semifinalists in their Best Books of 2014. There are categories for genres, young adult fiction, young adult fantasy, middle grade & children’s, and picture books. Each category has 20 semifinalists.
If you are a Goodreads user, make sure to cast your vote for your favorite.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King
Glory can’t see a future for herself. She has no plans once she graduates from high school, not applying to any colleges. Perhaps she is just like her dead mother, who committed suicide four years ago. It’s the reason that Glory has only eaten microwaved food years, since her father won’t replace the oven her mother used to kill herself. Glory can’t even seem to get along with her best friend who lives across the road in a commune. It was there that they found the desiccated bat that they mixed with water and drank. It was a decision that changed Glory’s life because now when she looks at other people she can see their future, and it’s a future that is filled with civil war, hate of women, and horror. As Glory sees everyone’s future but her own, she starts to slowly explore the family secrets that surround her and even her own way forward.
King is amazing. While the cover may compare her to John Green, she is has a voice that is entirely unique and her own. King has created here a book that mixes photography with philosophy. Glory speaks the language of film, pre-digital and more physical and tangible. She uses light meters and ties the numbers she uses directly to her life: “By shooting the darkest areas three zones lighter, you turned a black, lifeless max black zone 0 into a zone 3. I think, in life, most of us did this all the time.” King also embraces a fierce and beautiful feminism in this book. It’s the feminism that we all viscerally crave, one that speaks to the power of girls and women, a feminism that can save us from ovens.
Glory is such a strong character. I love that she is cool and real, and yet she feels that she is the most awkward, unsexy and unreal person in the world. That is such a teen feeling, a feeling of hiding and being masked and fake. King captures it beautifully. Glory grows throughout the book, emerging from behind all of the barriers that she has set up for others before they can meet who she really is. The problem is that she is also hiding from herself.
Strong, beautiful, feminist and fierce, this book is one inspiring read for all of us who hide and need to be found by ourselves. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Canadian Children’s Book Centre announced the winners of the 2014 Canadian Children’s Literature Awards. Here are the winners of the six English-language awards:
The TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award
The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dušan Petričic (my review)
The Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award
How To by Julie Morstad (my review)
The Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-fiction
The Last Train: A Holocaust Story by Rona Arato
The Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People
Graffiti Knight by Karen Bass
The John Spray Mystery Award
Who I’m Not by Ted Staunton
The Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction & Fantasy
Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow (my review)
CBC Fan Choice Award
In the Tree House by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Dušan Petričic
Here are the links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week that I think are cool:
Amid loss, author Nancy Carlson continues making children’s books | Star Tribune http://buff.ly/1oaxzyC
The best children’s books are also the saddest – Telegraph http://buff.ly/1x4OdCX
Children’s book shares tale of culture, unlikely friendship – The Philadelphia Tribune http://buff.ly/1A5JPFK
Finding New Voices in Children’s Books in Spanish: Spanish-Language Publishing 2014 http://buff.ly/1A5MVtr
The NYT BEST ILLUSTRATED: A Judge’s Experience – EarlyWord: The Publisher | Librarian Connection http://buff.ly/1opqpqk
On the Books: Prominent children’s author turns to Kickstarter | Shelf Life http://buff.ly/1uCHiQB
Reasons Why Reading With Your Child Is a Habit Worth Keeping – http://buff.ly/1E96Bt3
Top 10 monkey books for children | The Guardian http://buff.ly/1EmufnV
Seattle Sorts Library Books Faster than New York? Fuhgeddaboudit – http://buff.ly/1nXBQoZ
5 YA Books That Will Keep You On The Edge Of Your Seat| Ryan Graudin | http://buff.ly/1xfu4Xz
9 Books That Got Me Through My Awkward Teen Years…& That I’ll Still Revisit As an Awkward Adult | Bustle http://buff.ly/1x4NCRz
Best Books of 2014 | Publishers Weekly – includes picture books, middle grade & teen – http://buff.ly/1xTj0ze
Does YA Mean Anything Anymore?: Genre in a Digitized World – The Zena Sutherland Lecture – The Horn Book http://buff.ly/1sSAS8W
R.L. Stine: “I love killing teenagers” http://buff.ly/1s8H5yv
Sparkers by Eleanor Glewwe
Marah lives in a world where the magicians are in power. She helps out in the market at the book stall and has managed to teach herself many languages in the process. There she witnesses the brutality of the magicians and knows to fear them. But it is also where she meets a little girl who doesn’t mind that Marah is a poor Sparker. Soon Marah is visiting their home, which is much more opulent than her own. She meets the girl’s brother and discovers that he shares her love of languages. When a plague hits their city and people whom both of them love are threatened, the key to figuring out the cure is in a forbidden language. Marah has to find the courage to trust those she fears as well as her own intelligence in order to save the world she loves and those she holds most dear.
Glewwe herself has a background in linguistics, which means that when she writes about languages it all makes sense and really clicks. The world she has created is complex with almost a caste system of rank within it. Tied directly to magical ability, the differences are also racial, so the entire story ties closely to our own world’s struggles with racism and bigotry in a variety of forms. Glewwe has created a story where the children are truly those who save the world. They cross the barriers of their society and proceed to have the knowledge themselves to create the solution, but only because they worked together.
The world building here is exceptional. The society is unique but also frighteningly familiar at the same time. The central theme of exclusion and privilege and abuse of power makes for a taut novel that will keep readers going. The mystery of the plague carries the story forward, so that readers will be compelled to read to the end to figure out the extent of the deception and greed.
A very strong middle grade fantasy that grapples with some of the most difficult of societal issues, this book is a magical and danger-filled read. Appropriate for ages 11-13.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
Netflix has announced that it will be producing a series based on Lemony Snicket’s very popular “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” This new series is not expected to star Jim Carrey like the 2004 film did.
No expected release date has been set.