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.
Pool by JiHyeon Lee (InfoSoup)
A boy stands at the end of a swimming pool, ready to hop in. But just as he is about to, a crowd of people arrive and take over the pool. It is crammed full of them with their floating tubes and boats, leaving no area of water open. But the boy finds a sliver of water along the side of the pool and dives down underneath the crowd. A girl sees him dive down and heads down herself. The two meet underwater and head deeper together. Down at the bottom of the pool they discover a coral reef filled with wild fish that swim in large schools. There are also tubes large enough for a kid or a colorful eel to hide in. Large toothy fish swim by and then a gargantuan white whale too. The children head up to the surface again, as the rest of the crowd head out of the pool. The two of them are left to dry off side by side and wonder at what else could be underneath that water.
Lee captures the beauty of swimming and the wonder of imagination in this wordless picture book. The two children are distinct from the others floating on the surface, built in a more delicate way and almost matching except for their swimsuits. As they dream of reefs and fish, the water fills with animals. There is a playfulness to their imaginations, creating a world together that is filled with amazing things.
Delicate illustrations are filled with the blue of the pool. As the coral reef appears, there are animals of all sorts, even water spiders. The wonder of the huge white whale is a moment that is lengthened and filled with importance in this picture book. Throughout the pacing is masterfully done, allowing readers time to explore and dream themselves.
A book that encourages long looks and your own fish designs, this picture book is an inspiring and refreshing watery read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
This Is Sadie by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Julie Morstad
Released May 12, 2015.
Sadie can take a cardboard box and make it into a ship where she looks for land, but not too hard. She can sail all the way around her room before breakfast. Sadie loves to spend time with her friends, whether in real life or in books. She has pretended to be all sorts of things from mermaids to wild boys raised by wolves. She can be Alice in Wonderland or a hero on a horse. She can even have wings, almost invisible ones but they can still take her flying. She fills her days with imagination, play and reading. What could be better?
O’Leary captures the wonder of a child’s imagination in this gorgeous picture book. Right from the beginning the tone is light and playful, inviting the reader to see the world as Sadie does. Perhaps they have wings too? Adults do not appear in the book at all, giving the entire story to Sadie and her imagination. They are referred to in passing, but that’s about it. The book whirls with ideas, all gathered together from heroes to wings to undersea adventures, we are riding along with Sadie in each of her imaginary places. It’s a confectionery of creativity.
Morstad’s illustrations are done in gouache and watercolor. They fully embrace the worlds that Sadie envisions, bringing them into full color vibrancy on the page. The book changes from the imaginative worlds to Sadie’s room and reality, but each are just as winningly portrayed as the other. Her room has lovely touches like a mushroom lamp, beds for stuffed animals, and a chair piled high with books.
An invitation to come and play is clear in this imaginative picture book that will dazzle readers. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Tundra Books.
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.
By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman
Released April 14, 2015
Mouse wakes up early to start work on the new story she wants to write. It is a quiet story about a mouse who is setting the table. But before she can get any farther in her story, exuberant Frog hops in and starts adding new elements to the story, including cake, a king, and lots of ice cream. Meanwhile Mouse is trying to mop up all of the mess of the spilled tea, melting ice cream, while Frog gets completely out of control and takes over entirely. Finally Mouse has had enough and yells that Frog is not listening at all! They erase the entire mess of Frog’s story and start again with just Mouse’s ideas of morning tea. Frog is forlorn, unable to help until Mouse realizes that there is room in the story for her quiet ideas and Frog’s wild ones.
Freedman shows without any didactic tone that collaboration on stories and art is possible, as long as everyone listens, communicates and compromises. In fact, the end result is a lot more lovely! Showing that wild ideas are not the best way to come up with a story, but that also quiet thoughts have value, is a wonderful show of support for quieter thinkers. At the same time, that wild moment of Frog’s makes the entire book work, showing how out of control and wonderful some ideas can be. It’s a balanced look at creativity and collaboration that is welcoming and inclusive.
As always Freedman’s art is exceptional. Once again she does washes of watercolor that are gorgeously messy and free. The spilled tea and other elements of Frog’s story embrace all of that. Mouse’s story is shown in pencil drawings that are childlike and rough while also being very neat and structured. They show each characters personality clearly. At the end, it is a lovely marriage of the two styles, filled with bright colors and yet neat as a pin.
Creative and great fun to share aloud, this picture book demonstrates how teamwork and collaboration should work. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.
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.
Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon
Dory is the youngest in her family and her older siblings won’t play with her at all. So she is left to play on her own and thanks to her great imagination, Dory has a lot of fun. Dory has a best friend, Mary, a monster who sleeps under her bed and is always willing to play. There are also other monsters all over their house. When Dory continues to bother her brother and sister, they make up a story about Mrs. Gobble Gracker, a horrible woman who steals baby girls and is looking for Dory! So when the doorbell rings, Dory knows it is Mrs. Gobble Gracker coming for her. Hopefully the little man who says he’s her fairy godmother will be able to help defeat her. In the end though it is Dory’s own creativity and bravery that will save her and maybe even get her siblings to play too.
Hanlon brilliantly captures the wild imagination of a little girl who doesn’t slow down for a minute, zinging from one idea to the next even as those around her groan. Dory could have been a problematic character, but thanks to the book being told from her point of view, readers will get to see how strong a person she is long before she displays it to her family.
Hanlon’s art makes this a book that younger readers will happily pick up and read. Her black and white illustrations are more than paragraph breaks, they show the story of Dory and all of the characters she dreams up over the course of the day. On the page, we see what Dory sees, not what her family doesn’t see and it’s quite a world that she has created.
Fast moving, wild and full of laughs, this book is a dynamic introduction to a fresh new face that will appeal to fans of Junie B, Jones. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
Draw! by Raúl Colón
In this wordless picture book, Colón recreates his love of drawing as a child and the way that it could take him to new places. Here a boy is sitting on his bed looking at a book about Africa. He sets the book aside and picks up his drawing pad and a pencil. Soon readers can see the images in his head as he puts them on paper. The boy is transported directly to Africa, setting up his drawing easel in front of each of the different animals of Africa. The elephant is first and after seeing his picture gives the boy a ride to met the zebras. The book moves from one animal to the next, the boy changing how he approaches them according to what animal it is. Until finally a group of monkeys make a picture of the boy. Readers and the boy return to his bedroom, now littered with all of the drawings of the animals.
This book nicely captures without using any words at all the transformative power of art and creativity. It beautifully shows how art can transport you to a different place and time, moving you into the flow of creating a work. It also demonstrates how inspiration can strike and the flow of creativity can overtake you in the best possible way.
Colón’s illustrations are done in pen, ink, watercolors and pencil. They move from line drawings with pastel tones of real life to a more lush and rich color and style when we are inside the boy’s imagination. Colón uses lines on these more colorful pages to give texture and movement to the image. They are illustrations that invite you to walk right into them.
Imagination, creativity and art come together in this book to transport readers right into Africa. Now it’s time to get out your own pencils and see where they will take you. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Remy and Lulu by Kevin Hawkes, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes and Hannah E. Harrison
Lulu the dog finds a new owner in the struggling portrait painter, Remy. The two head out into the French countryside together looking for new clients for Remy’s work. He doesn’t get many repeat customers because of his abstract style. Lulu herself is also an artist and quietly begins to add her own meticulous and smaller paintings to the corner of Remy’s large canvasses. Her tiny art is of the subject’s pets and once the owner sees the tiny rendering, they absolutely love it. Remy quickly becomes the toast of the town, but is unaware of what is really happening. What will happen when Remy discovers that a large part of his fame is Lulu’s talent?
This is a wonderfully rich picture book. The story has lots of depth to it, filled with creativity of both humans and hounds. It is a tale of friendship, of artistry, of pride and of forgiveness and acceptance. Remy is a wonderful character, bearded and smocked; he is a great blend of gruff exterior and a huge heart. Lulu herself has a wonderful delicacy that plays in delightful contrast to Remy. They are a solid pair.
Most inventive in this picture book is that Hawkes did the larger illustrations, the ones with rich colors that pop on the page as well as Remy’s abstract work. Paired with his work is that of Harrison, who is an award-winning miniatures artist and her work is shown as Lulu’s. The difference in the two artists is gorgeous and striking, perfectly matching what is happening in the story itself. It’s a delight.
Best for slightly older children, this book will be embraced by art teachers and art-loving children and dogs alike. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Miss Brooks’ Story Nook by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Michael Emberley
A sequel to Miss Brooks Loves Books, this picture book celebrates story telling. Missy loves going to Miss Brook’s Story Nook right before school each day. She takes the long way to school, because otherwise she has to go past Billy Toomey’s house and he steals her hat and yells at her. Then one day at Story Nook, the power goes out so they have to tell their own stories. Missy though insists that she’s a reader not a storyteller. But soon she is telling her own story, inspired by Billy Toomey. It is the story of an ogre named Graciela who has a pet snake that escapes. The trick is that Missy needs to figure out a satisfying ending to her story of an ogre and a bully.
Bottner has created another engaging story filled with humor and clever solutions. Miss Brooks is inspiring with her enthusiasm for books and stories and the way she encourages the children to keep making their stories better. It’s a joy to see Missy tell her very creative story, struggle with some of it but persevere and create a satisfying tale for the entire class to enjoy.
Emberley’s illustrations add a lot of zing to the book. He captures moods so clearly in his characters from the jaunty excitement of Miss Brooks to Missy’s ever-changing moods. They are told through expressions and also body language.
Smart and funny, this is a book to inspire young readers to create their own stories just like Missy. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Edelweiss and Random House.