Elsa and the Night by Jons Mellgren
This strange and beautiful picture book is translated from the original Swedish. It is the story of Elsa who discovers the Night underneath her sofa one night just as she is counting the raisins in her cereal. So she tucks the Night into a cake tin and gives him some raisins too. Then she hides the cake tin down in the basement. With the Night trapped, day continues on and one without end. Finally, Elsa takes the Night out of his cake tin and starts to talk about how much she misses her best friend, an elephant named Olaf, who she met after a shipwreck. The explains how the two of them lived together and that now he is gone. About how she then moved to a lighthouse and stayed awake in the light night after night and has not slept for 30 years. The Night listens and then goes with her to visit Olaf’s grave and finally to lift her up and take her to her bed to sleep.
Filled with poetry, the text in this book is powerful. The story winds around, moving from the trapping of night into Elsa’s story of loss and finally to resolution. It is not linear, but an exploration of emotions and grief. It is a journey that is glowing, gentle and filled with lovely moments. In particular when the Night goes around and gathers up the sleepy people along with Elsa, there is such tenderness and love in that moment.
Mellgren’s art is modern and filled with bold graphical elements. The cut paper art is complex at times and simple in others, playing with light and dark as well as different shapes. the way that Night changes the page as he enters it is beautifully handled, his darkness spilling around him but able to be seen right through.
This unique story is luminous and impressive and will make a great bedtime story for children and parents who enjoy foreign picture books that aren’t the normal bedtime read. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Wednesday by Anne Bertier
Little Round and Big Square are the best of friends. Every week on Wednesday, they get together to play their favorite game: one of them says a word and they both transform into it. Big Square starts with “butterfly” and the two of them change into butterflies, Big Square with sharp angles and Little Round with half circles. They go through “flower” and “mushroom” until Big Square gets carried away and starts naming lots of different things all at once, things that Little Round can’t shift into. Soon the friends are arguing, but just like with any friendship there are rough patches and they both have to figure out how to fix it.
Done in just two colors, the dot and the square and the many shapes they make pop on the page, the blue and orange contrasting vibrantly on the white background. It is the illustrations that tell the story here, and the strong style they are done in is striking. Children will immediately relate to both the square and the circle. They may not have faces, but they convey emotions clearly on the page from anger to exuberance to friendship.
Strong and vibrant, this picture book translated from the French, is a great pick for units on friendship or shapes. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
I Am a Witch’s Cat by Harriet Muncaster
A little girl believes that her mother is a witch and that she is her mother’s black cat. Dressed in a cat costume, the little girl gives examples of the witchy things that her mother does each day. She has potions in the bathroom that the little girl isn’t allowed to touch. She buys weird things at the grocery store. She goes magical herbs (like carrots) in her garden that she then uses to make potions in the kitchen. She has a group of friends who come over and they cackle together. All of these examples are shown in the pictures to be completely normal and easily explained. But a nice little twist at the end of the book will have readers wondering if perhaps there’s some truth to her mother being a good witch!
Told entirely in first person by the unnamed little girl, this book is jaunty and playful. It is a very positive depiction of a family of two, their interactions together glow with warmth and connection. The dynamic between the beliefs of the little girl about her mother and the mundane truths shown in the illustrations will have children trying to figure out whether the mother is a witch or not. It’s a simple premise for a book that lets the unique illustrations shine.
And what illustrations they are! Muncaster has created miniature worlds out of paper, fabric and other materials and then photographed them for the illustrations. They have a wonderful wit and dazzle to them. At first the 3D effect is subtle enough to be missed, but once it catches your eye you will be entranced with these unique and lovely illustrations.
Filled with Halloween magic, this book is one amazing treat. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata
Jaden was adopted from Romania four years ago. He knows that he’s a huge disappointment to his adoptive parents, who had expected a much younger child than the 8-year-old who came off the plane. Jaden gets angry sometimes and shows it in destructive ways like burning his stuffed animal. He also hoards food, particularly bread. He is obsessed with electricity and can’t seem to stop his bouts of aggressive running that always end with him hurting himself. Now his parents are heading to Kazakhstan to adopt a baby from there. But Jaden knows that he is being replaced by this new baby, a way to fix the failure that he has been. When the family gets to Kazakhstan though, the baby they had chosen has already been adopted. Now they have a new baby to try to bond with and it doesn’t feel right to any of them. Meanwhile, Jaden has met a toddler named Dimash who is three years old and barely talks. Jaden feels an immense bond with Dimash, but his parents say that they came for a baby. For the first time, Jaden starts to feel a powerful emotion that is not pure rage. The question is what he can do with this newfound love.
Kadohata gives us a completely unique novel for children. The point of view of an adopted child is not new, but one this troubled and angry in a children’s novel is a powerful new voice. As a character Jaden is a study in complexity and contradictions. His emotions are constantly high, but he mainly feels rage. He has never felt love, but manages to make connections with people that are meaningful for them. He is not a stereotype in any way, wildly human and profoundly troubled.
Yet Kadohata allows us to live with this boy without fixing him, without changing him, just allowing him to grow before us. While Jaden does have a therapist and it is clear he is getting all the help his parents can find, that is not the focus of this book. It is not a book about repairing the damaged child, rather it is one that gives that child a voice. That’s courage in writing.
Strong, marvelous writing allows this book to be a stirring tale of love in its many forms. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Remy and Lulu by Kevin Hawkes, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes and Hannah E. Harrison
Lulu the dog finds a new owner in the struggling portrait painter, Remy. The two head out into the French countryside together looking for new clients for Remy’s work. He doesn’t get many repeat customers because of his abstract style. Lulu herself is also an artist and quietly begins to add her own meticulous and smaller paintings to the corner of Remy’s large canvasses. Her tiny art is of the subject’s pets and once the owner sees the tiny rendering, they absolutely love it. Remy quickly becomes the toast of the town, but is unaware of what is really happening. What will happen when Remy discovers that a large part of his fame is Lulu’s talent?
This is a wonderfully rich picture book. The story has lots of depth to it, filled with creativity of both humans and hounds. It is a tale of friendship, of artistry, of pride and of forgiveness and acceptance. Remy is a wonderful character, bearded and smocked; he is a great blend of gruff exterior and a huge heart. Lulu herself has a wonderful delicacy that plays in delightful contrast to Remy. They are a solid pair.
Most inventive in this picture book is that Hawkes did the larger illustrations, the ones with rich colors that pop on the page as well as Remy’s abstract work. Paired with his work is that of Harrison, who is an award-winning miniatures artist and her work is shown as Lulu’s. The difference in the two artists is gorgeous and striking, perfectly matching what is happening in the story itself. It’s a delight.
Best for slightly older children, this book will be embraced by art teachers and art-loving children and dogs alike. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Variety has the news that Neil Gaiman’s new book which hasn’t even been released yet has already sold the film rights. Hansel and Gretel is being developed into a live-action movie by Juliet Blake. The book itself is released in October.
“For me, retelling Hansel and Gretel was a way of telling an old tale in a way that made it immediate and true, and about us, now,” Gaiman said. “It reminds us of how paper thin civilization really is. It’s about hunger, and about families.”
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Author/illustrator Cece Bell has created a graphic novel memoir of her loss of hearing as a child. At age four, Cece contracts meningitis and the disease takes away her ability to hear. At first Cece attends school with other children who have hearing loss and wear hearing aids, but then she is sent to first grade with a new super-powered hearing aid, the Phonic Ear. Her new teacher has to wear a microphone, one that she sometimes forgets to take off (even when she uses the bathroom) which leads to some rather interesting sounds! But along with these superpowers come some ethical questions and some technical problems. As Cece copes with her hearing loss, she is also living the normal life of a child, attending school, making new friends, all with a big hearing aid on her chest.
Bell writes with a great honesty here, revealing helpful hints about what deaf people need to help them read lips and understand people better, things that other people can help with. There is plenty of humor throughout the novel, making it very appealing. Also adding to the appeal is Bell’s transformation from human to bunny in the illustrations, sending herself as an imaginary superhero flying upwards with her long ears.
While this is a book about a disability, it is much more a book about Bell and how her creativity helped her through times that required a real strength of character. Her sense of humor also helped immensely, and it is her positive take about her hearing loss that makes this such an incredible read.
A top graphic novel for children and libraries, this is a must-read and a must-have. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.
Oliver and His Egg by Paul Schmid
Oliver from Oliver and His Alligator returns in a second book. While on the playground, Oliver finds an egg, really a large smooth rock, that he imagines will hatch into a big orange-polka-dotted dinosaur. He would have a new friend and they would go on adventures together. As Oliver dreams of their adventures, the other children find that he is sitting on the “egg” waiting for it to hatch. So he tells them of his enormous dinosaur-sized dream and they all have to find eggs of their own.
Schmid’s picture book is simple and cheery. Oliver is a creative little boy, inventing his own worlds. The book also shows that all children can be creative and use their imaginations. Just as in the first book, the text is minimal, offering less than a sentence on each page. It suits a book that is about imagination to have so much left unsaid.
The illustrations are simple too. Clearly drawn characters are done in simple lines with small touches of color. They are combined with the rock “eggs” that are photographed stones, giving them a weight that the light illustrations don’t have. It’s a dynamic combination on the page.
A cheerful follow-up picture book, this second outing for Oliver is great fun for toddlers. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Here are the links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week that I think are cool:
Berlie Doherty’s top 10 watery tales | The Guardian – http://buff.ly/1pwFwIc - perfect for a rainy Friday
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: how much do you know? – quiz | Books | The Observer http://buff.ly/WaDzdj
Reading Rainbow to Publish LeVar Burton’s First Picture Book – GalleyCat http://buff.ly/WcEGcw
Librarians Are A Luxury Chicago Public Schools Can’t Afford : NPR http://buff.ly/1pjz2MD
Why Your Library May Soon Have Laser Cutters and 3-D Printers | Design | WIRED http://buff.ly/1xcC7Z9
Gene Luen Yang’s rousing diversity speech at the 2014 National Book Festival gala – The Washington Post http://buff.ly/1waq0aT