Dragons Beware! by Jorge Aguirre, illustrated by Rafael Rosado
Released May 12, 2015.
Join Claudette on her second quest as a warrior. This time it is Claudette’s father who heads out alone into battle, attempting to get his sword back from the dragon who swallowed it along with his legs and one of his arms. But Claudette is determined not to be left behind in town and heads off with just her dog with her. Her best friend Marie and her little brother Gaston join her a little later. Together they are all captured by the evil wizard Grombach and his army of stone gargoyles. Grombach has encased the entire town army in amber, using his ability to turn things to stone. When he is distracted by the Apple Hag, the children rescue people along with the Apple Hag who in turn is the one who finds the Gaston could be a magic user. The children continue on toward to dragon’s lair, managing to sneak past the dragon’s offspring and deep within the mountain. There they discover Claudette’s father trapped by the dragon and set out to rescue him. But it will take more than the power of the sword and fighting to get them out alive.
I adore Claudette, a girl who wants to be a warrior and never shrinks away from any battle no matter how outnumbered she is. She is entirely herself, proud to be the girl she is. At the same time, I love that she has Marie as her counterpoint. Marie is a girl who loves pretty dresses and worries about her hair, but she too heads into battle in her own distinct way, this time with diplomacy. Then there is Gaston, the boy who loves to cook but also wants to make his father proud so he’s working on warrior skills like creating swords. He’s not very good at it.
These three protagonists make this book a marvelous adventure. It is filled with their large personalities, laugh-out-loud funny puns and one-liners, and lots and lots of adventure, danger and battles. Claudette’s father fights despite being in a wheelchair and characters of all colors appear in the story. This is a celebration of diversity on the page thanks to the art by Rosado which ranges from completely silly to blazing fight scenes.
A very strong female protagonist is the center of these books and she will thrill children with her bravery. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and First Second.
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and illustrated by Brooke Allen
The Lumberjane scout camp is for “hardcore lady types” who celebrate “Friendship to the max!” Five friends are spending their summer together here and they are in for unexpected adventures as they earn their badges. When they head out to get their nighttime badge, they encounter the first of the supernatural monsters, a pack of three-eyed wolves. Luckily the friends, Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley, are also elite fighters so they manage to defeat the wolves. Back at camp, their counselor marches them to the office for discipline, but the head of the camp seems more intrigued than surprised by their find. As the summer progresses, the girls face hipster yetis, polite boy campers with a dark side, stone statues that come to life, and plenty of traps. Summer camp has never been this full of wild creatures and epic battles, all done by a group of amazing girls.
I first heard about how wonderful this comic book was when it was not yet a graphic novel, and I am so thrilled that the first four comics have been turned into this novel that is perfect for libraries. I had high expectations for this comic and was still dazzled by it and rather twitchy to get my hands on the next one. The characters are phenomenally well done, each girl having her own distinct personality and style. Add in the delight of finding a budding lesbian love story and it’s pure magic. I love kick-ass heroines, and this series has FIVE to fall for.
The art is well done too with its own vibe. It has the friendly feel of a Telgemeier combined with more edge that make the battle scenes really work. There is plenty of action and humor to make the book race along. I love the addition of extra art at the end done in a variety of styles. It invites fans of the characters to draw them and create their own stories about these great girls.
This is a graphic novel to devour in one sitting and immediately turn to the beginning and start again. Pure girl-power perfection. Appropriate for ages 12-16.
Reviewed from library copy.
Ms. Rapscott’s Girls by Elise Primavera (InfoSoup)
Ms. Rapscott runs a board school for girls that is all about adventure, courage and birthday cake, with candles. When a new summer term begins, five little girls are mailed to the school in their boxes. Mailed because their parents are some of the busiest people in the world and can’t be bothered to drop their children off at school in person. Four little girls make it safe and sound but the fifth has fallen out of her box because it wasn’t sealed properly. Ms. Rapscott has to teach her remaining students some of the basics of life like bathing, brushing teeth, and the importance of stout boots when going on adventures. But most of her lessons are much more fun and involve things like riding the wind into the sky and skimming the surface of the water on seals. As the girls learn how to take care of themselves and embrace adventure, they are also locating the missing student, by trying not to find her.
Funny and delightfully whimsical, this book is at its heart a book that shows that little girls can be just as daring, naughty and adventurous as boys. These are girls who have flaws, like shouting all the time, being a know-it-all, and just wanting to spend time watching TV or asleep. But in each of them is a little adventurer who if fed enough attention and cake will rise to the opportunities before her.
The art in the book adds a delightful richness to the tale as well as breaking up the text so that the book is more approachable for young readers. Done in full double-page spreads, the illustrations show the different parts of the school as well as important moments in the story. At the beginning and end of the book, they appear in a series of illustrations that welcome the girls to the school and then send them home at the end with a promise of adventures to come.
Enter a world of magical wonder in this book for young readers where adventure awaits everyone. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
Blown Away by Rob Biddulph
Penguin Blue has a brand new kite but when he flies it, it lifts him right off the ice and up into the air. Two other penguins try to help and get swept along too. Wilbur the harp seal tries to catch them and joins the group flying along. Blue calls out for help from a polar bear and then Clive is riding along too, his boat and all. They are finally dropped on a lush warm jungle isle where they all agree it is way too hot. Blue has a great solution though, it will just take Clive’s boat, leaves and vines and one good gust of wind that is provided by the elephants on the island. Soon the group are back in their icy home, but there is one stowaway from the island who now needs to figure out how to get back to the warmth of the jungle.
This romp of a picture book is filled with a positive feel throughout. Each new challenge is playfully presented and merrily dealt with through clever solutions. The text rhymes and creates a jaunty cheer that makes this book great fun to share aloud. The rhyming story is written very strongly with a great story arc that solidly supports the humor. This is a book that is immensely satisfying to read.
The design of the book is stellar with playful word design and placement that enhances the strong illustrations. The book is beautifully illustrated with images filled with strong graphic elements, deep colors and also small playful touches. Children will enjoy lingering over the illustrations and spotting the penguins waiting for the bus on an ice floe and the bear losing his map immediately. The combination of strong vivid illustrations and small details make for a book that has its own unique vibe.
A great read-aloud for any penguin story time, this picture book will be enjoyed by preschoolers looking for a complete and playful story. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
The Luck Uglies: Fork-Tongue Charmers by Paul Durham
This second book in the Luck Uglies series continues the rollicking story of Rye and her family and friends. With a new lawman in town, Rye and her family have been targeted as outlaws. It doesn’t help that Harmless, the High Chieftain of the Luck Uglies, is her father. When her mother’s shop is burned to the ground, they take refuge in the inn that belongs to one of Rye’s best friends family where lawlessness is already embraced. But that safety is breached as the soldiers march upon it and Rye and her family are sent across the sea to the safety of the Isle of Pest. It is where Rye’s mother and father first met and where her mother’s father still lives. But Pest will not be the safe haven that they are looking for as they are pursued there as well, putting the entire island in danger. It is up to Rye to figure out what exactly is going on and who the new lawman actually is.
Durham has written another great read for middle graders. He has a knack for creating stories that are fast-paced and wildly exciting. At the same time, his feel for world building is impeccable. Here he creates a new island world for readers to explore even as he continues the story of Drowning and its people. The new island has its own quirks and Durham builds it with such skill that they all make sense and feel natural.
Rye grows even further as a heroine in this second book. Her pluck, courage and grit show on every page. She is clearly the daughter of her parents, who people who don’t back down or ever cower, though they face enemies in different ways and styles. Rye’s relationships with people continue to be the heart of the story from her dear best friends to her budding relationship with her grandfather. It is these moments that add depth to the book.
A great second book in a marvelous series, I can’t wait to see what happens next and neither will young readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.
Quest by Aaron Becker
This follow-up to the Caldecott Honor winning Journey continues the wordless travels of the two characters from the first book. The two children head off on a fantasy quest this time after a king comes through a door and hands them a map. He is dragged off by soldiers but as he goes, he drops his orange crayon, one that is just like their red and purple ones. The two children go through the door and find themselves in a new world. They embark on a quest to bring all of the crayons together, venturing into the depths of the sea, onto desert islands, to pyramids and temples. At each one they gather another crayon color until they reach the pinnacle of the temple where the bad guys almost get them…
Becker has created a wordless book that has the same appeal as the first book. The pace here is rapid, giving only a few images for each color that is gathered. That offers the wild pace of an adventure novel or film, so it suits the subject. The fast ride adds greatly to the appeal here, never bogging down and always revealing new visual wonders to explore.
Becker’s art shines on the page. He creates entire worlds that have real depth to them, that take readers on amazing adventures. There are great details of color on the page, and I love the way that the various creative ideas of the children all remain in place at the end of the book, completely come to life.
A celebration of art and creativity, this book along with its predecessor will become beloved reads. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Over There by Steve Pilcher
Shredder lives all by himself in the big forest. He has a cozy bed in a matchbox under a maple tree, he has plenty to eat which means worms since he’s a shrew, and he has a pet acorn. But acorns can’t talk and Shredder felt that something was missing. So he sets off to see if there is something more out there. Seeing a twinking in the distance, he heads out to see what it is. After a long journey all night, it turns out to be a tiny silver boat and Shredder climbs aboard. But the boat doesn’t float for long. Happily, just as Shredder disappears under the water, a hand reaches out to save him. It’s a mole, named Nosey. As the two of them spend time together, Shredder starts to realize that he has found “something more” after all.
Pilcher’s story is straight forward and speaks directly to loneliness and the journey to find a new friend. He incorporates clever elements that create wonderful quiet moments in the book. The time that Shredder spends with his silent acorn pet, the question of what the shining thing in the distance is, the floating moments on the water, the warmth of new friendship.
What is most special about the book though is the art. Done by Disney Press as part of their Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase, it will come as no surprise that the entire book reads like an animated movie. The backgrounds on the page have a cinematic depth to them. Shredder himself is immensely likeable as a character, a tiny shrew often dwarfed by the world around him.
A fine picture book, this book is very appealing thanks to its friendly art and the jolly adventure at its heart. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman
The co-creator of the Ladybug Girl series returns with a completely different type of book. It is the story of three little bears who accidentally break their mother’s favorite blue seashell, so they set off to find her a new one. Along the way they meet other bears on boats but only one can give them any advice about finding a blue seashell, they need to look for a hat-shaped island and then look in the right place. As they travel, the bears look and look for a blue seashell, but don’t find one. Once they give up hope, they start to argue and as they fight a storm blows up around them. They may be forced to return home to Mama empty handed, and after all, their mother is a bear!
Soman has created an exceptional picture book. It hearkens back to many classic picture books, particularly ones by Maurice Sendak like Where the Wild Things Are and the Little Bear series. It also has ties to the three bears, Beatrix Potter and even Melville. But best of all, it reads like it is a classic already, one that will be shared with children for years, and very rightly so. The story arc is brilliantly crafted, moving the story forward and also coming full circle, returning the bears in time for a warm supper with Mama. It is so strongly built that there is a sense of coming home when reading the story, but also one of surprise and delight at discovering it.
Soman’s art is extraordinary: from the faces of the little bears that show every emotion clearly despite the fur to the landscapes that are like opening a window to the ocean. There are page turns where you simply sit for a moment and linger, looking at the new vista before you until you are ready to read the words on the page.
A top Caldecott contender, this picture book feels like returning home to Mama after a long trip at sea. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey by Alex Milway
Pigsticks hasn’t done anything with his life yet, unlike his very distinguished ancestors. So he decides that he will travel to the Ends of the Earth but unlike his forepig, he will make it back alive. Pigsticks quickly realizes that he will need an assistant, someone to carry all of his gear and cook. Everyone in town came for an interview, but Pigsticks could not find the right person for the job. That is until Harold the hamster showed up with a misdelivered package. Harold wasn’t sure he wanted to be Harold’s assistant, but after much negotiation involving how many cakes would be brought on the journey (three of them) Harold agreed. The two set off the next day, fording rivers, marching through jungles, crossing frail bridges across deep ravines, and then entering a vast desert before climbing an immense snowy mountain. It’s a journey filled with mishaps and perils, most of which befall Harold, on their way to the elusive Ends of the Earth.
Milway has created a very clever early reader that will have new readers giggling right along. Pigsticks is a wonderfully inattentive character, never noticing the various perils that Harold is facing along the way. One might think be would come off very negatively, but he actually is a likeable character throughout, just a little self-absorbed. Harold on the other hand is the voice of sanity on the trip, the one who sees danger ahead, but also the one doomed to not be listened to. Their odd relationship works well in this book, creating very funny moments with just the right tone and humor for the age group.
Milway’s art is clever and cartoony. He uses the art to fill in much of the story and provides art throughout at just the right amount to make the book appealing to new readers who are daunted by full-text pages. The art adds to the zany humor of the text and further builds the dynamic between the two characters.
Funny, clever and cake-filled, this quest to the Ends of the Earth is sure to “end” up as a new reader favorite. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Candlewick Press and NetGalley.
Poor Doreen: A Fishy Tale by Sally Lloyd-Jones and Alexandra Boiger
Mrs. Doreen Randolph-Potts is a very rare Ample Roundy Fish who is headed to visit her cousin who has just had a baby, or 157 babies to be exact. So Doreen is swimming down the river when she spots what she thinks is a tasty dragonfly, but it is not. It is actually a lure held by a fisherman, but Doreen does not know that and she gulps it down. Soon Doreen is lifted into the air and plunked into a basket. She thinks she is just there for a little rest before she heads on her journey, but she is wrong again. Instead a Great Heron snaps her up and carries her off. But as he has her in his jaws, Doreen thanks him for the ride. She then manages to insult him by asking if he is an egret and when he tries to answer her she falls down, down into the water again. So that leaves two very embarrassed creatures: a fisherman and a heron who both lost their catch that day and one rather confused but safe Doreen who makes it to her cousin’s home with a great story to share.
Doreen is a great character, always looking on the bright side of her world though in a rather confused way. She’s an optimist through and through, one who always sees the best, though sometimes at her own peril. The book is designed to be read aloud with the fonts leading readers along the way. It has great pacing for sharing aloud as well as a good amount of humor which always helps. The language of the writing is also very special. Here is my favorite line of the book to give you some of the flavor:
By the water’s edge
a Fisherman wearing a coat the color of the sun
and a Great Blue Heron wearing a coat the color of a stormy sky
with a neck like an S
Wonderful writing with richness and depth, contrasts and foreshadowing. It’s simply superb.
Boiger’s art is appropriately done in watercolor for this fishy story. Doreen pops on the page with her bright scarf and umbrella, both in red. The action is captured nicely on the page, filled with bubbles, swirls and motion.
A clever and optimistic book, children are sure to root for Doreen on her great adventure. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.