Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe, illustrated by S. D. Schindler
Brother Hugo’s library book is due, but he can’t return it because it was eaten by a bear! So Brother Hugo is instructed that he must create a new copy of the book. First, Brother Hugo has to go to the monastery of the Grand Chartreuse where they have a copy of the book. On the way, he can hear the bear snuffling behind him, but manages to reach the monastery and safety in time. On his return to his own monastery, he can hear the bear snoring in his sleep, so he hurries back. Then the real work begins, but he has the help of his fellow monks. They must get a sheepskin, stretch it and scrape it, get parchment paper, and get them ready to write upon. Then comes making the pens and inks that will be required. Finally, Brother Hugo must sit and copy the book word for word. Finally, the book has to be bound. As he worked, Brother Hugo could hear the bear and the snuffling. When the book was completed, the monks offered Brother Hugo a clever way to get to Grand Chartreuse safely despite the word-hungry bear, but even with their help Hugo finds himself face-to-face again with the great beast looking for books.
In this book, Beebe has created a fascinating look at the treasure and value of books and the efforts that it once took to create them by hand. By inserting the question of the bear into the book, the story moves ahead very effectively, offering a nice plot point in what could have been a much quieter tale of book making. The bear also offers a touch of humor into the story, for even those of us who agree that books and words are as sweet as honey will be amazed at this bear’s appetite for books.
Schindler’s art incorporates word art that hearkens back to illuminated texts such as the one that Brother Hugo recreates in the book. Done in fine lines and with precision, the art is detailed and adds much to the story. I particularly enjoy the scenes of Brother Hugo crossing the countryside, because they clearly evoke a different time and place.
This historical fiction nicely incorporates how books were once made into a tale filled with gentle humor and one hungry bear. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
The Story of Fish & Snail by Deborah Freedman
This is the story of Fish and Snail who were great friends. Every day, Snail would wait for Fish to return with a new story. This time, Fish returned with a great story, one so wonderful that Fish wanted to show Snail instead of tell about it. But Snail doesn’t want to leave the book they are in. Snail wants to stay right there and play kittens instead of pirates. The two start to argue and finally Fish declares that it is THE END and leaves the book. Snail was so sad. This was not the way the story was meant to end. So Snail leans farther outside of the page and sees Fish in a watery book below. Will Snail leave his safe book and dare to tumble down to the other ocean below? Will Fish return with more stories?
Freedman captures a story-within-a-story here with her setting of two characters living not just in one picture book but many. It is the story of two opposite characters who still manage to be friends, most of the time. There is the sedentary Snail who longs for the stories but not the real adventure. Then there is the irrepressible Fish who jumps and leaps literally off of the page. The pair make for a balanced friendship but also one with plenty of room for misunderstanding too. Their conversation and fight are written strongly and honestly.
Freedman’s art is gorgeous. Readers will recognize her as the author and illustrator of Blue Chicken. She uses similar splash effects in her art here. The blues are gorgeously green and filled with light. When Fish swims the bubbles take on a stronger form as Freedman lets the watercolor dapple the page. There is one beautiful image of Snail looking down to the other book that plays with perspective cleverly.
I’ve heard Caldecott rumblings for this one and with its playful yet artistic illustrations, I’d love to see that. In the end though, it’s also a great story about friendship, books and being willing to take risks. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
The Children Who Loved Books by Peter Carnavas
This celebration of reading and books features a family that depends on their books for all sorts of things. Lucy and Angus’ family is poor without a TV or a car, but they find everything they really need in books. But there can be too much of a good thing as they find out when their little trailer home just won’t hold any more. So they get rid of all of the books and clear out their tiny home. But things aren’t the same. The books that had taken up so much space also made the space between the family members smaller. Then one day, a book falls out of Lucy’s backpack and the magic of reading happens all over again.
There is no move to hide that this book is purely about the joy of books in one’s life and the positive impact that reading together can have on a family. Carnavas lets his message stand strong, which has positive and negative results. A more subtle approach would have been more satisfying, yet the bold message lets you use the book with younger children.
Carnavas’ illustrations are filled with stacks and piles of bright colored books. The family is clearly poor, but also clearly functional. The morning after they return to reading, the family is stacked on top of one another in a tiny couch. The quintessential image of a family coming closer together from reading.
Warm and cheerful, this Australian import will have book lovers smiling. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Kane Miller Publishing.
Again! by Emily Gravett
It’s nearly bedtime and that means a bedtime story. Mama dragon and little dragon curl up together to share the story of the bright, red dragon Cedric who has never gone to bed. When they finish, the little dragon asks for it “Again?” Mama dragon agrees and readers will see another full page of the book that tells more about Cedric and his not sleeping. Mama reads it one more time before falling asleep herself. Readers will notice the little dragon getting redder and redder just as Cedric in the story is turning back to green. But this little dragon has a burning desire for one more story that leads to a fiery ending.
Gravett cleverly reaves two parallel stories together here. There is the main story of the little dragon who wants to be read to over and over again. Then there is the story of Cedric in the book that Mama dragon reads. The two play off of one another, with tension in one ebbing as the other picks up.
The art is just as clever. Towards the end, the little dragon shakes the book in disgust and the characters take a tumble across the pages. This leads to the surprise of the ending, which is sure to delight young readers.
A perfect ending for a story time, this book is one that young children (and dragons) will want to read AGAIN! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Destiny, Rewritten by Kathryn Fitzmaurice
From even before she was born, it had been decided that Emily’s destiny was to be a poet. Named after Emily Dickinson when her mother was inspired at a bookstore, Emily’s entire 11-year life has been documented in the margins of a first edition copy of Dickinson’s poems. When Emily discovers that her mother wrote her father’s name in the margin of one of the poems, she rushes to read the book but a mishap sends it off to be donated to Goodwill. This begins a search of several used book stores for the book and it quickly becomes apparent that destinies will not be rushed and that there is no way to force them. But along the way, new friends are made, great books to read are found, and destiny is eventually changed.
Fitzmaurice writes with a wonderful mix of light tone and richness. She carefully builds her story, creating additional storylines that serve as different strings in the story that are tied together by the end. Another source of the richness is the way she describes things in the story. Chapter 4 begins with “So I headed down the hall that Saturday morning with a hopeful feeling that came only on days I was opening a new box of Cheerios…” This is such a universal image and universal feeling. The Cheerios play into more of the story along with the prizes in their box.
Emily is an engaging character who struggles with learning patience and the frustration of being so close to the truth and then unable to grasp it. She comes off as a multidimensional person, again thanks to the richness of the world that Fitzmaurice paints for the reader. The secondary characters are also well drawn and solidly written. It is a pleasure to also see poems by Dickinson and her life tied so closely to the lives of modern-day children and families.
Fresh and joyful, this is a novel where storylines click into place like a puzzle. It will delight children who enjoy reading. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Tiger in My Soup by Kashmira Sheth, illustrated by Jeffery Ebbeler
When a boy is left in the care of his big sister, all he wants her to do is read his book to him. But she’s too busy reading her own book. He tries to read his book on his own, but it isn’t the same. She just keeps ignoring him until he asks for lunch. Then she heats up some soup and gives him a bowl. That’s when the action starts and a tiger comes out of the soup. The boy battles him, stabbing him with a spoon and chasing him around the kitchen. His sister continues to read, ignoring all of the ruckus. It isn’t until the tiger is chased back into the soup that she agrees to read the book to him. But wait, this book has a final toothy surprise.
Sheth has created a loving older sister who is just too caught up in her own book to have any time to spend with her younger brother. It makes me very happy to see two siblings arguing over which book to read right then. I also enjoyed the boy trying to read to himself, turning the book this way and that and even trying with his eyes closed. Throughout the book there is a wonderful sense of playfulness.
Ebbeler’s illustrations are just as playful. He plays with perspective especially in the outdoor scenes. Then when the tiger arrives, he is wonderfully real, his fur stands on end, his claws threaten and his teeth gleam. The action scenes are rivetingly fun, the escapades daring.
Jaunty and devoted to reading, this book is a compelling mix of stories and action. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.
Hold Fast by Blue Balliett
Early lives in a warm and loving family. Her father Dash is a lover of words and word games. Her mother Sum and little brother Jubie make up the total of four in their family. But when Dash gets involved in something shady, their loving family becomes three. Then people raid their home, breaking down the door and they are forced to head to a shelter without knowing where Dash is or how he will find them again in the big city of Chicago. Early finds she has to be the strong one as her mother begins to falter and her brother is so little. Shelter life is difficult and it takes Early some time to realize that she is in the middle of a mystery that she can help solve.
Balliett demonstrates her own love of words and wordplay throughout this novel. Told in beautiful prose, she writes poetically about the city she loves, the beauty of snow, and the power of family. She incorporates wordplay through her protagonist, who looks at words the way her father taught her to. Many times words sound like what they are, points out Balliett, and just reading this book will have readers seeing words in a new way.
Balliett also introduces young readers to the poetry of Langston Hughes. One of his books is at the heart of not only the mystery of the book but at the heart of the family. As Hughes muses on dreams and their importance, both Early and the reader are able to see his words and understand them deeply.
The aspect of the homeless shelter and the difficulties the family and Early face there is an important one. Balliett is obviously making a point with her book, sometimes too obviously. There are also some issues with plotting, with the book dragging at points and struggling to move forward. That aside, the writing is stellar and the characters strong.
Another fine offering from Balliett, get this one into the hands of her fans. It will also be great choice for reading aloud in classrooms with its wordplay and strong African-American characters and family. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.
Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier, illustrated by Suzy Lee
Open the full-sized picture book and inside you find a series of nesting books, each smaller than the one before. The stories in the books also nest with one another. First the reader opens the Little Red Book and discovers ladybug who is opening the Little Green Book where frog is the character. On and on it goes, until the story reaches a little twist in the little books. Then the stories unwind as the books are closed one by one. It’s impossible to not be charmed by the design and concept.
Debut author, Klausmeier has created a seamless partnership with illustrator Lee. The book is so much a marriage of their work that one might think it was done entirely by one artist. The story is simple yet fully engaging. The problem you may have with little listeners is having them slow down opening the next book in time to read the words on the page. Lee’s illustrations add to the charm, hearkening back to vintage picture books but still carrying a modern vibe. The scale of the books is perfection, like opening a Russian nesting doll.
Engaging, interactive and oh so much fun, this book looks at colors, sequence and a love of reading. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
From the Good Mountain: How Gutenberg Changed the World by James Rumford
A mysterious object appeared in Germany in the 15th Century. “It was made of rags and bones, soot and seeds. It wore a dark brown coat and was filled with gold. It took lead and tin, strong oak, and a mountain to make it.” To find out the answer to this clever riddle that appears on the first page of this book, readers will visit the 15th century and meet Johannes Gutenberg, who has invented a way to print books with movable type. The riddle is not left at the first page, but is the center of the entire book. Each piece of the printing press is explored from the very elements it is made from to the final culmination in a printed document. Each page is also illustrated like an illuminated manuscript.
Come visit the world of Gutenberg in this picture book biography that takes a very unique and intriguing approach to its subject matter. This is much more a biography of the press itself than Gutenberg the man. It is about the ingenuity and foresight it took to see such a construct in raw materials. Readers are sure to learn much about the process of printing and what materials were used to create books.
Rumford’s art is just as wonderful as his writing. The illuminated manuscript feel of the book is captured in its use of golds that seem to shine on the page like gold leaf. He also uses the deep blues and other rich hues to create a feel of timeless beauty.
This is an intriguing read that will appeal to students who enjoy puzzles and riddles. It is a book that unwraps and explains in a clever, engaging way. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Reader by Amy Hest, illustrated by Lauren Castillo
A young boy walks through the snow with his dog and a suitcase in his hand. He gets his red sled with runners and heads out. They climb a large hill, leaving straight lines in the snow from the sled as the dog bounds ahead. Once at the top, they stop for a snack of toast and warm drinks. Around them the snow continues to fall. Finally, the suitcase is opened. The boy pulls out a book to share with his dog, about friendship. He reads it aloud, the two of them together at the top of a snowy hill. When they are done, they pack everything back up and climb on the sled for the ride back down the hill. Together.
Hest has written a book that is filled with falling snow but also warmed by the friendship of a boy and his dog. Though the title gives a hint at what is in the case, readers will still be surprised to have them read it out in the falling snow. Hest incorporates beautiful little details: the sound of crunching and sipping, the sound of the boy reading at the top of the hill, the hard work of getting up the high hill. These all create a feeling of time, moments that are to be treasured because they are so beautiful.
Castillo’s illustrations are done in pen and ink and watercolor. Against the white of the snow, all of the colors pop. The brown of the dog, the red boots, the smears of color on the suitcase: all are cheery bright against the white countryside. The illustrations have a wonderful jaunty feel to them, celebrating this close friendship and reading books.
A wonderful mix of snow and story, this book is a rich winter delight. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.