Tag Archive: art


I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs Bensons Blackboard by Jennifer Mann

I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard by Jennifer K. Mann (InfoSoup)

Mrs. Benson gives stars on her blackboard for things like spelling, neatness and raising your hand. Rose though, struggles with all of those things. Plus she isn’t good at math, her voice is too quiet for a star in reading, and she spilled snack on Mrs. Benson. Rose had been distracted by the artist who came to speak with them and dreaming of all of the things that she could create. At the end of the day, there was going to be a check for desk neatness, and Rose knew that she would never get a star for that. Mrs. Benson didn’t quite reach Rose’s desk that evening, so the next day Rose came in early and cleaned her desk. Then they got to make thank you cards for the artist who had visited, but doing art was messy and Rose undid all of her cleaning. At the same time, Rose had made an incredible card and who knows maybe art was a way that she could finally get that star!

Mann captures the pressure that a student who does not conform to classroom norms can feel. Rose desperately wants to do what is right, but none of the qualities that Mrs. Benson wants come easily or naturally to her. The presentation of someone to inspire her to do her best on something that she is definitely good at makes for a natural turning point in the book and allows Rose to continue to be herself all the way to the end. This is a celebration of artistic children who may lack in social graces but make up for it in boundless enthusiasm and creativity.

Mann’s illustrations make the book very kid-friendly as does the subject matter. The friendly round-headed characters are shown in a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Rose stands out in the illustrations with her bright-colored clothing and then the fact that at the artist presentation she is standing and listening rather than sitting. It all shows that she is a vibrant kid, filled with so much zing that it would be impossible to contain her.

A celebration of kids who don’t fit into classrooms easily, this picture book celebrates creativity and being yourself. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt

The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (InfoSoup)

Released August 18, 2015.

In this companion to the very popular The Day the Crayons Quit, Duncan receives several postcards in the mail, all sent from his crayons, this times ones that have been forgotten, left behind or run away. There is Maroon Crayon who was lost in the couch, broken in half and saved by Paperclip. There is Pea Green, who is aware that no one likes his color so he’s run away to see the world and renamed himself Esteban. Neon Red Crayon has been left behind on vacation and undertakes a long and arduous journey back home, getting his geography all mixed up along the way. There are crayons that melted together in the sun, ones that were eaten and puked up by the dog, ones stuck in sharpeners, left behind in basements, and put in the dryer. All of the crayons want to return home and Duncan has just the solution for them, no matter what condition they are in.

This second picture book about Duncan’s crayons has the same fabulous sense of humor as the first one. The crayons all have their own unique personalities. While the book moves from one crayon to the next in general, a couple of them return several times during the story. So readers get to see what happens when Esteban heads out into the world and also get to adventure along with Neon Red as he makes his long trek homeward. The entire book is merry and funny, filled with puns and jokes. Even the crayons in the worst condition are done with plenty of humor.

The illustrations by Jeffers add to the fun. Make sure to take the glow-in-the-dark crayon page into a dark room to see it glow. Jeffers’ asides by the crayons are wry and silly, creating small conversations outside of the postcard format.  As always, Jeffers’ illustrations are a treat with lots of personality, even with the characters being crayons.

A winning companion book for a popular read, this book is sure to please fans of the first and to find new fans who will happily discover both books. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin Young Readers.

Wild About Shapes by Jeremie Fischer

Wild about Shapes by Jeremie Fischer (InfoSoup)

A wonderfully simple idea, this book features abstract patterns on each facing page. Turn the clear plastic page with its abstract design so that it overlaps the first page and suddenly an animal is revealed. While some of the animals can be guessed from the designs or from the short text, many of them are complete surprises. Children will have to be paying close attention to spot some of the animals like the fish made from the white space on the page and the octopus that floats on another.

Spiral bound, this book is printed on card stock that will stand up to little hands. Even the acetate pages are strong and thick, limiting the amount of tearing that libraries will see. The text is very limited in the book, giving full attention to the clever illustrations. They are entirely playful and fun, the book less of a guessing game and more of art that you get to experience.

Children will want to turn the pages themselves, so that they are able to look back and forth between the abstract and the tangible on the page. So it’s best for sharing with only a few children at a time. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

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.

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.

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

Released May 26, 2015.

This is the first YA novel by Priest, a well-known fantasy author for adults, and it’s a treat. May and Libby have been friends for years, the best of friends after meeting in fifth grade on a playground. The two of them wrote comics together about Princess X, a katana-wielding heroine. But then one day, Libby was gone, dead after a car crash from a bridge. Three years later, May has returned to their hometown and notices an image of a princess holding a katana on a sticker, a sticker that is brand new. May tracks down the image to a web comic where she realizes there are real similarities to the story that she and Libby had created. How can that be? And how strange is it that some of the stories seem to have messages only May could understand hidden inside of them?

There is a real joy in finding a book that does digital life so very well. The online elements of the story and the web comic are clear and make perfect sense. The hacking and dark net also work well in the way they are portrayed where there is information to be found but often it’s not legal to access it. That aspect alone, so often mismanaged in novels, is worth this read. But add to that a determined friend who quickly believes that her dead friend is still alive, an online and real life quest for information, horrible bad guys, and the exploration of Seattle both above and underground. It’s a book that is a searing fast read thanks to its pacing and the need to find out the truth.

The online comics are shared as comic inserts in the book, and were not completed in the galley that I have. The first couple of comics were available and add to the drama of the book. The mix of words and images works very well here with Priest using it both to move the story forward and to show the drama and appeal of the comic itself.

Smartly written with great characters and an amazing quest for the truth, this book is satisfying, surprising and impressive. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

my pen

My Pen by Christopher Myers (InfoSoup)

A new picture book from an award-winning illustrator which shows the power of art in a child’s life. Using powerful sketches, the book talks about the freedom and self-esteem that comes from creating art. Myers also speaks to the importance of imagination and creativity, showing an elephant in a teacup and the protagonist riding a dinosaur. He plays with different perspectives and plays the simplicity of ink and pen art against the complexity of world problems that art also speaks to. Even mistakes and errors are embraced along the way, showing children that the goal is not perfection but the experience of creation.

Beautifully written and illustrated, this picture book is a compelling look at creativity and art. The words in the book demonstrate the various aspects of art, showing a playfulness throughout but also allowing moments of gravity and seriousness as well. The book ends with an encouragement to the reader to pick up a pen and see what worlds they discover inside it.

The real focus of this picture book is the art, which is incredibly beautiful. Done in pen, of course, the art is detailed and distinctive. The boy’s face is expressive throughout, as he takes imaginary travels and as he responds to making mistakes on the page. Thanks to the creative subject, one is never sure what is going to be revealed on the next page. With art of this quality, it’s a delight to turn the pages and discover each new image.

Share this with art teachers or in units that encourage creativity. Then have pens ready for children to create their own art on the page, blots and all. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

dear mr washington

Dear Mr. Washington by Lynn Cullen, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Based on a true story, this enchanting picture book will have everyone smiling.  When George Washington comes to the Stuart house to have his official portrait painted, the children must all by on their best behavior.  But it doesn’t quite work out that way.  With each visit to the house, Charlotte has to write another letter of apology.  She has to apologize for the cat racing up his shoulder, for the baby chewing on his hair ribbon, and much more.  She shares a list of how they will be better behaved the next time.  But then there are her many examples in the following letter of how very good they had been, which was not actually true.  In each and every letter though, she is cajoling Mr. Washington to smile in his picture.  Can a very serious president handle the wild and silly Stuart clan?

A large part of the joy of this book is that it’s based on a true story.  You can read the author’s note at the end to see just how much.  The interplay between Mr. Washington and the children is lovely.  He mutters under his breath, ignores them as best he can, and yet it all ends up a mess anyway.  And the children themselves are cheery and playful, undeterred by either their parents demanding they behave or the scowling Mr. Washington.

Carpenter’s art adds to the fun.  She merrily depicts the naughty children from the baby chewing on Mr. Washington’s shoe to the entire group falling asleep all together on top of him.  It’s great to see a historical book that is playful and fun.

A great read aloud, this book is funny, silly and filled with history and art.  What more could you want?  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial.

quest

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.

ill give you the sun

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Jude and Noah are twins and they are so close.  Both of them are artists and Noah in particular sees the world as constant inspiration for his artwork.  Noah is withdrawn from others his age and bullied by other boys.  Jude though is being noticed by the same boys who bully her brother and as they turn thirteen, the two of them may be different but they are still close.  Jude is wearing lipstick and diving from cliffs.  Noah is starting to fall for the boy across the street.  Three years later though, the two of them are completely estranged from one another.  They barely speak.  Jude is the artist now and Noah no longer paints.  Jude has discovered a mentor for her art and a boy who is just as damaged as she is.  Noah is a normal straight teen who hangs out with those who once bullied him and now dives from cliffs himself.  How did two teens change so much in such a short period of time?  That’s the story here, and it involves grief, loss, betrayal, lies, love and truth.

Nelson tells the early part of the twins’ story in Noah’s voice.  We get to experience the joy he feels about art and the beauty of his emerging sexuality combined with his fear of being discovered.  Jude tells the story after their relationship is fractured.  Her story is one of passions and change.  They are both stories of trying to hide what you are, trying to become something new.  They are stories that veer swiftly, change often and shout with emotion and pain. 

Nelson writes with exquisite emotion on the page.  She shows the passion, the fear, the grief, the love vividly and with such heart.  It is her emotional honesty on the page that avoids sentimentality at all.  Rather this book is raw and aching in every way, from the new relationships that are filled with lust and longing to the destroyed sibling relationship that is one lost and hurt betrayal after another.  She also manages to somehow capture art and inspiration on the page, the power of art to express, the emotions that it creates and acknowledges, the joy of creation and the agony of being unable to make it. 

Powerful storytelling that is beautifully written and tells the story of two siblings and their journey through being teenagers.  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial.

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