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Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate (InfoSoup)

John Roy Lynch grew up as a slave in Mississippi, the son of an overseer who tried to free his children from slavery. Unfortunately, his untimely death led to them continuing to be enslaved until the Emancipation Proclamation. Lynch found a job, his first paying job, on a steamer ship and worked his way up. At age 17, John Roy went to work for a photographer whose studio was right across from a school. Listening in on the classes and attending night school, John Roy was able to learn to write eloquent letters. He also started being active in politics, buying land, and speaking out. He was appointed Justice of the Peace at age 21. Soon he was elected as the Mississippi Speaker of the House and then in 1872, he became the first African-American US Congressman. Throughout, John Roy Lynch spoke to the needs of the people he represented and the importance of civil rights for all.

Barton provides just enough information for children to understand the time period and the implications of the Emancipation Proclamation. This look at the Reconstruction Period offers a view of an important time in American history, one that is often overlooked in children’s books. The amazing fortitude and resilience of John Roy Lynch keeps this book moving as his own life progresses forward in unexpected ways. Clearly it is his intelligence and gift for communication that carries Lynch forward into a very different life than others around him. More information on Lynch is offered in the final pages of the book with a complete timelines and bibliography.

The illustrations by Tate are done with a light touch, creating a book that depicts darker subjects at time but also infusing the book with a sense of hope and wonder. This makes a book covering such a heavy topic as well as such an important part of history much more appealing and approachable.

An important book focused on an important figure in a dynamic time in American history, this picture book biography will inform new audiences about the potential for both progress and defeat during the Restoration. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

My Dog Is the Best by Laurie Ann Thompson

My Dog Is the Best by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Paul Schmid (InfoSoup)

A little boy adores his dog, despite the fact that the boy is full of energy and his dog…well, he’s not. When the boy offers the dog a ball, the dog dozes off. The boy then demonstrates the tricks his dog can do, like playing dead. His dog can also roll over, while sleeping. And even turn into a ball, still asleep. The plays tug of war, by lying on the boy’s blanket and not moving. And even chase, well, not really. The dog can do so many things, like listen to stories, provide a base for playing with toys and even blow bubbles when the bubble wand is put in front of his dozing face. In the end, the little boy gets sleepy and after a big hug falls asleep next to the dog. The dog wakes up and is ready to play now.

I loved this book with the patient sleeping dog who allows himself to be clambered over, played with, and piled on while he is sleeping. There is no sense ever that the dog is anything other than a very happy and willing partner to all of this. The boy is eager but also gentle, his imagination creating worlds where the dog is an active participant in his merry games. The ending is completely adorable with the boy asleep and the dog awake.

Schmid’s illustrations are just right for this book. Done in simple lines on pastel backgrounds, the illustrations show the lovely interplay between little boy and dog. The round dog makes a perfect foil for the active little boy, one a whirl of motion and the other almost motionless.

A book that celebrates having a pet as a small child and the incredible connection one develops. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Dime by E R Frank

Dime by E.R. Frank (InfoSoup)

At age 14, Dime is kicked out of her foster family’s home and finds herself on the streets where she is helped by a woman who brings her a coat to keep her warm and feeds her. When she goes home with her, she finds herself in a safe place, one managed by Daddy, a man who only seems to want to help Dime. Quickly though, she is drawn into a life of prostitution in exchange for being kept safe, warm and fed. Dime falls in love with Daddy, one of the first people to shower her with gifts and compliments. She knows that she has to work on the streets to keep them all fed and happy, but soon things begin to turn sour and wrong. Dime is asked to leave school and not read any books anymore. She also finds herself helping teach and take care of a new girl who is only 11 years old named Lollipop. As Dime realizes that she is not part of a family and that she doesn’t love Daddy at all, she has to continue the charade to stay alive. When one final thing happens that is so horrific that Dime can’t go along with it, how will she be able to make things right?

This was one of the toughest reads I’ve read in a long time. It was gut wrenching and horrible, but it all rings so very true. Frank is a psychotherapist who specializes in trauma and this novel demonstrates her knowledge of real trauma. Frank manages to be honest about the life of a teen prostitute with all of its beatings, sexual acts and fear and yet she also shows how Dime is able to survive it and endure. The novel balances on that edge, where Dime is entirely human and understandable, and yet doing things that the average reader will not be OK with. As the book builds and things get worse and worse, it is impossible to look away and yet nearly impossible to read. It is only Frank’s skill as a writer that keeps this book readable by the end.

Dime is a protagonist who puts a face and a brain to teen prostitutes. The knowledge that a girl has never had a safe place to live and sees prostitution as a place of safety is presented in a way that makes readers realize that this is often the case. The grooming of Dime as a prostitute is particularly well drawn, giving the reader an understanding of her mental reasoning and the way she is seduced by her pimp. With everything presented through Dime’s point of view, the book is a powerful glimpse of desperation and survival.

Brace yourself before you read this one, but know that it’s important and beautifully written. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Simon and Schuster.

Look by Jeff Mack

Look! by Jeff Mack (InfoSoup)

A little boy won’t look away from the TV even with a very active gorilla in the room. The gorilla tries wearing books as a hat and then starts balancing them on his nose. The little boy just pushes him to the side. The gorilla ties to balance on three books set end to end, managing to knock the TV over. The boy kicks him out of the room. But the gorilla returns juggling books and riding a tricycle. When he falls over, the TV is broken and smoking on the floor. The boy is furious and kicks the gorilla out. But then a book captures his attention and soon the two are looking at stories together.

Told in just two words, Mack masterfully takes those two words and makes them work in a variety of ways. “Look” and “out” pair up over and over again, creating moments where the gorilla is demanding the boy look, times when the boy throws the gorilla out the door, and other times when disaster is about to happen. It’s a clever use of just the pair of words and the concept really works well.

The art is particularly interesting. The gorilla is a puff of watercolor where his fur is almost touchable on the page. The backgrounds of some of the pages are book covers, used both subtly and to strong effect. The page where the boy is truly angry is filled with ripped paper and jagged edges.

A celebration of books and words, this simple picture book will have new readers and young listeners alike enjoying the interplay of the two characters. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel Books.

One Family by George Shannon

One Family by George Shannon, illustrated by Blanca Gomez (InfoSoup)

A joyous look at how different families can be and how very happy people can be in small and large families. The book is a cheery mix of counting book and family size, moving from one person happily sharing her book with her cat to a very large family of ten with grandparents mixed in. The book celebrates diversity in families as well with people of different ethnic backgrounds and gay parents. This picture book will have every child seeing themselves on the page and able to relate, which is definitely something to be celebrated!

Shannon writes a great little poem that carries this book forward at a brisk and jaunty pace. Each verse looks at a larger family but begins with “One is…” and then the number of people in that family. The verse then goes on to show other objects and items that are that number but still a solid unit, like a bunch of bananas or a flock of birds. The message is one of being loved and included no matter the size of your family or who is part of it.

Gomez’s illustrations are lovely. She creates diversity with a sense of ease, rather than it being forced at all. It is a joy to see the final page where all of the families are in the same neighborhood and mingling outside, one big rainbow of people together. Her paper collage illustrations are friendly and filled with small touches that are worth lingering over. It’s those touches that make the book feel even more warm and the families all the more loving.

A great pick to celebrate the diversity in every community, this is a great pick to share aloud thanks to the clever rhyme and lovely illustrations. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Beastly Verse by Joohee Yoon

Beastly Verse by JooHee Yoon (InfoSoup)

Children are introduced to a collection of poetry from well-known poets as well as anonymous and lesser known ones in this picture book. Each poem focuses on an animal and the collection includes William Blake’s The Tiger among others. The animals are varied and make for page turning that is exciting and interesting, since you never know if the next animal will be a pig or a hummingbird. The poems are cleverly selected for child appeal and yet many of them aren’t specifically children’s poetry, allowing children to stretch a bit and learn more about poetry and their own reactions to it.

Yoon has selected primarily European and western poets in this book. I do long for more diverse poets and poetry to be included and yet one can’t fault the high quality of the selections here and the astute awareness of children and what they are interested in and drawn to. The result is a clever book that children will enjoy and learn from.

The illustrations here are the star and what will have children and adults alike picking up the volume. The colors are beyond bright, zinging on the page and creating worlds. There are jungle scenes that drip with deep greens and echo with lushness. There are domestic scenes that have a zany energy to them that is echoed in the poetry too. Yoon is skillful and playful in her art, creating a unique look and feel in this poetry book that is sure to appeal.

A dynamic look will get readers opening the book where they will discover plenty of poetry to love. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Bulldozers Big Day by Candace Fleming

Bulldozer’s Big Day by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann (InfoSoup)

Bulldozer is very excited as he heads to the construction site one morning. It’s his special day and he wants to invite all of the other bigger trucks to his party. So he asks them to guess what day it is. Digger says that the day is a scooping day and keeps on scooping dirt. Dump Truck says it’s a sifting day. Cement Mixer knows that it’s a stirring day. One after another, the different trucks insist that it’s just a normal day and they are doing what they always do. Bulldozer gets more and more dejected as the other trucks talk to him and is about to leave the construction site entirely when happy whistles start to blow and the trucks reveal their birthday surprise for him.

Fleming charmingly combines two deep loves of small children: trucks and birthdays. She engages just enough with each of the trucks, allowing young vehicle lovers time to enjoy each truck and what they do on a construction site. Children will feel for Bulldozer as his attempts to talk about his party are foiled by each truck. The pacing is well done and leads up to a greatly satisfying ending.

Rohmann’s thick-lined illustrations work particularly well here. His Bulldozer character reads as young and jaunty as he flies over the construction area without touching the ground. The other trucks are solid and dependable. They come off as very friendly but also busy, rather like parents who are distracted but kind. Rohmann presents the birthday reveal on one double page spread that is very joyful and lots of fun. Expect a cheer of joy from your listening audience.

Get this into the hands of toddlers who like trucks and who may be approaching a birthday of their own. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older (InfoSoup)

Sierra is working on a huge mural on the wall of an abandoned tower in her Brooklyn neighborhood when she notices that many of the other murals in the area are starting to fade. Then she sees one of the murals weep with a tear starting in his eye and rolling down. Sierra’s Puerto Rican family has clearly been hiding a secret from her. One that explains why her grandfather is bedridden and why her mother and aunt refuse to discuss anything with her. As she follows the clues that her grandfather is able to leave her, she discovers that her family are shadowshapers, people with the ability to see spirits and put them into their art. No one in her family will train her in her shadowshaping skills, so Sierra starts to learn things from a boy in the neighborhood. But when dead bodies start coming back to life and Sierra is attacked by a shadow made up of thousands of mouths, she knows that something bad is happening in their neighborhood, something that only she can stop.

Older has created a very interesting blend of fantasy and art in this book. I love that the protagonist is a girl of color, something we see all to rarely in fantasy novels. Even better, it is her Puerto Rican heritage and the art of the urban city that she uses for her powers. This book is rooted in her culture and her community, making her background an integral part of the book. The same can be said of her Brooklyn neighborhood which is thoroughly explored as Sierra and her friends try to save the world. This is a book connected closely to a real place, one that is woven into the fabric of the story so tightly that it could not be set anywhere else.

Sierra is a great heroine. She is vividly drawn, a girl who does not back down and whose art is a natural part of her life. Her issues with her family are drawn clearly, as is her anger at being left out of the family heritage simply because she is a girl. Her powers make sense and the connection between powers and art is fully realized on the page and the limits of her power also make the book more interesting too. The pacing is swift and the world building is well done and creative.

I’m hoping we see more of Sierra’s world and her signature style of magic and art in future books that celebrate diversity and urban life. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Ready Rabbit Gets Ready by Brenna Maloney

Ready Rabbit Gets Ready! by Brenna Maloney (InfoSoup)

When Ready Rabbit wakes up in the morning, he doesn’t feel like getting right out of bed. But his mother keeps on calling him so he gets up. Then before he starts to get ready to go, he has to build a spaceship. His mother calls for him to pick up his toys and get ready to go. So Ready decides to get dressed. But what should he wear? He has all sorts of costumes to try on and consider until he remembers that rabbits don’t wear clothes! Breakfast is ready but Ready finds it quite boring to sit and eat. He’d rather be doing a daring rescue with an ambulance. Brushing teeth takes some concentration and before you know it, there’s toothpaste everywhere. Will Ready ever be ready for school?

Maloney creates the ultimate distracted child in Ready Rabbit, a rabbit who can’t concentrate on anything except his imagination. The voice of the mother only appears in voice bubbles and she never appears on the page. So the book is fully centered on the protagonist and his vivid imagination. The book works hard to make sure that the tone of the mother is encouraging and not angry and that Ready is actually slowly making progress towards getting ready even as he plays around.

The illustrations make this book particularly special. Ready Rabbit and all of his things are objects with Ready being a knit bunny with a face that is a piece of fabric with changing expressions drawn on it. One might not think it would work, but the result is charming and has a very different vibe than many picture books.

Families trying to get ready in the morning will recognize their own wish to play just a little bit longer. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Penguin.

In Marys Garden by Tina and Carson Kugler

In Mary’s Garden by Tina & Carson Kugler (InfoSoup)

This picture book biography of Mary Nohl, a Wisconsin artist, tells the story of her first creations of large art. When she was young, Mary discovered that she loved art and making things and drawing. It was when she started to collect odds and ends from the beach near her home that she started to create her statues in her garden. Cement was combed and crafted, dotted with stones and other objects. One after another, huge creatures filled her yard, drawing visitors to see what Mary was creating. Mary died in 2001 at the age of 87 and her home still serves as a gallery of her art.

The Kuglers focus primarily on the finding of objects and the process that Mary used to create the art. Then they turn to the gallery she created with her huge creatures who are friendly and welcoming and wild. One can immediately see the appeal of her art. Turning to the back of the book, readers can see the actual art and her garden gallery. The more detailed prose found there also explains how her works is still problematic for her neighbors and how people are working to preserve it.

The illustrations are great and completely capture the whimsical and decidedly friendly nature of Mary Nohl’s art work. From the finding of objects on the lake beach to the creation of the art itself, the illustrations invite young readers to try their own hand at found-object art and to make themselves happy too.

Ideal for Wisconsin libraries, art teachers will enjoy having a book about a woman modern sculptor. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

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