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.
The 26-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, illustrated by Terry Denton
This sequel to The 13-Story Treehouse tells the story of each of the main characters and how they all met. Most of it’s even true! But it’s not that straight forward either because emergencies keep happening, like the sharks in the treehouse’s shark pool eating Terry’s underpants and getting very sick. Thank goodness that Jill can come over and try to have them feeling snappy again soon. Then of course no story is complete without a villain and Captain Woodenhead, the evil pirate makes a great one. Set aside your disbelief heading in, because this rollicking and very funny book will have you believing in plenty of nonsense by the end!
After the first book, I knew there would be more adventures of Terry and Andy, but I hadn’t expected double the number of floors on the treehouse! This book is more of the merry adventures of Terry, Andy and Jill. The flying cats return and many other favorites from the first book make an appearance, but this is a fresh story too, perfect for fans to get even more of the humor and silliness of the series.
Looking for a new series for Wimpy Kid fans, this one has illustrations that break up the text, a similar amount of funniness, and plenty of gross outs too. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel & Friends.
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
Join Beekle, an imaginary friend, who is so special that no child seems to be able to even imagine him. He waits and waits along with the other imaginary creatures, but he is never dreamed of by a child. So Beekle does what no other imaginary friend has ever done, he heads out to find his child in the real world. He finds himself in a big city, filled with grey people and lots of adults. Luckily, he spots a bright familiar color and shape and follows it to a playground where he thinks he can find his special friend. But they don’t come. Beekle climbs a tree to see if he can spot his friend, but still no one comes. Beekle climbs down, then a small girls gestures for him to get her paper out of the tree. And on that page… Well, you will just have to imagine it for yourself or get this charmer of a book to read and find out what happens next.
Santat has created a book that reads like a modern classic. He has combined so many wonderful moments and positive feelings here that it’s like drinking a cup of cocoa for the spirit. Beekle himself is perfection, a round and friendly little soul whose crown is made of construction paper and tape and who is unwilling to sit lonely when he could do something about his situation. His positive reaction to a dismal situation is a great model for children.
At the same time, this is a testament to imagination. Both a warm embrace of imaginary friends and their positive role in children’s lives. But also a celebration of Santat’s own imagination. The world he creates is filled with the grey of adulthood, but childhood and imagination make that world shine in new colors.
A delight of a picture book, this is one to share cuddled up in bed and to cheer aloud with the story. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Captain Cat by Inga Moore
Captain Cat is a trader, but he’s not very good at making profitable deals. You see, instead of trading for riches, he trades for cats. So his ship is full of them. All of the other traders make fun of him for this, but Captain Cat is very happy surrounded by the furry creatures. He decides to head off and see new places, far from the trade routes he usually travels. On the way, he is caught in a violent storm that blows him off course, right off the map! There he discovers a small rocky island led by a young queen. She and the population are very friendly, and have never seen cats before. When the cats take care of the island’s rat problem, the queen begs Captain Cat to leave them behind. What is a cat-loving caption to do?
This is a very engaging book. It was different right off of the bat with a sailor surrounded by cats who hate water. Throughout the story, it continues to surprise and delight. It never heads where you expect it to, yet ends up being completely delightful both along the way and in the end. Unlike many picture books, Moore tells a full story here. It not only has the structure of a full story, but also has a depth that can be missing in picture books.
The illustrations are finely done with lots of details. Done in mixed media, they have fine lines and soft colors. Thanks to their detail, this book would best be used with small groups or individual children.
Take a feline-filled journey with this clever picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young
When Mum left to give a presentation on lizards, she made sure that Dad knew just what he had to do. One item on the list was getting milk, but that didn’t happen. So when the family woke to dry cereal and no milk for tea, Dad headed out to get the milk. He didn’t return for a long, long time. But when he came back he had quite a story about why he was late. It involved time travel, a brilliant dinosaur, pirates who don’t have a plank to walk, wumpires with long teeth, and lots and lots of silliness.
Gaiman is a chameleon of an author, keeping us guessing what his next book will be like because one never knows what style he will try next. Here he is in pure farce mode, something that will enchant young readers even as they can’t read because they are giggling too much. The humor here is nonstop, one maniac moment after another until you can’t quite tell which way is up. It’s a grand adventure filled with outright one-liners and puns.
Young’s illustrations are such a part of this book, it is like Gaiman illustrated it himself. The results are wacky and purely funny. The father character seems to me to be a marvelous mix of several Dr. Who characters with his dangling striped scarf, wild hair and rather dapper approach to things.
Hilarious, wacky and wonderful, get this into the hands of elementary aged kids now. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.