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.
The Numberlys by William Joyce, illustrated by Christina Ellis
In a world where there are only numbers, everything is very orderly and neat. But it’s also very gray, even the food. Then five friends started to wonder if there was something more than numbers, something different! So they started inventing and they slowly came up with letters. And when they reached the final letter Z, things started to change. Color entered their dreary lives as the letters fell into place. Once the letters formed words, real changes started and the entire world was flooded with color and yummy foods and possibilities.
Based on the app, this is a second picture book from the creators of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which also started as an app. Joyce creates a numeric and order-filled world reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984 in the first pages of the book. The text here is very simple, allowing most of the storytelling to be done by the illustrations. Joyce keeps a light hand here and uses humor to show how dark the world is. Who could imagine a world without jellybeans?
It is Ellis’ art that brings this world to life. Her orderly world has the feel of wooden toy soldiers and the five friends are wonderfully different and unique even before they invent the alphabet. The gray tones of the early part of the book give way to jellybean colors that jump on the page.
This celebration of words and books also examines the importance of independent thought and creativity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
The Nowhere Box by Sam Zuppardi
George just can’t get away from his little brothers. They follow him everywhere, even into the bathroom! George has had enough. So when he finds the box from the new washing machine, George builds himself a way to travel far away. In fact, he goes to Nowhere. Nowhere is wide open and empty, but George quickly fixes that by dumping things out of his box. In no time at all, Nowhere is incredibly fun. But wait, there are no dragons to fight and no pirates to sail the seas. Perhaps there is room in this new space for a few more people to play.
Zuppardi takes a classic story of imaginative play and makes it rambunctious and fun. George’s frustration with his younger brothers is tangible in the early pages as is the relief of being alone for awhile. The story is simply told with a frankness and with the images and George’s own imagination carrying the tale forward.
The images are a huge part of what makes this book worth reading. They have a similar energy level to the “No, David” books. As the box becomes more of the story, cardboard is incorporated into the scenes, forming the ground and most of the objects. The images are bright and bold, perfect for high energy kids.
A story of imagination and being an older sibling, this book will be enjoyed by any child who has loved a big box. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes
Gabby has always been a daydreamer, but when her parents started fighting and then separated, she started retreating into her daydreams more and more. Now Gabby lives with just her mother, who is not a daydreaming type at all. So the two of them clash. Gabby also gets in trouble at school due to her dreamy ways and not paying attention to what is happening in class. But along the way, readers will see that Gabby is much more than a daydreamer, she is a poet. Eventually, her mother will come to terms with her way of thinking and she will find that she has a teacher who not only supports Gabby’s daydreaming but makes it part of his curriculum.
Grimes writes in short free verse, some of the poems only a handful of lines long. Yet because these are poems written by a master poet, they each speak truth. There are poems that talk about moving and autumn, others that celebrate family members, and at the heart of the book are the many poems that celebrate dreaming, lingering and Gabby herself. Grimes was clearly the sort of child who also daydreamed, since she captures it so well.
I deeply appreciate that this book does not “fix” Gabby’s daydreaming. Instead it is the adults who adopt a new attitude towards her once they realize that she is thinking and processing and writing in her head. Gabby is expected to change some of her behaviors in class and is supported in doing this by a very engaged and kind teacher who promises that she will have time to dream and to record those dreams she has. Gabby is the sort of heroine that one loves immediately, and she is also one that readers will cheer to see succeeding on her own terms.
Beautiful and strong poems support a world where imagination and creativity is accepted and poets survive their childhood intact. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matthew Myers
Gran Gran has given Alex a very saccharine sweet birthday book filled with bunnies as a gift. But Alex is clearly not a fan of the original book since he takes his pencil and makes lots of changes so that it’s a book that he wants to read. Birthday Bunny is turned into Battle Bunny, complete with helmet, utility belt and walkie talkie. His goal is to unleash his evil plan on the forest and the world that only a boy named Alex can prevent. Expect danger, cut-down trees, epic battles and much more as Alex tries to defeat the evil that is Battle Bunny!
Told and drawn in layers, this book is something very special. First you have the rather sickly sweet story underneath that celebrates Birthday Bunny’s birthday with lots of dancing and balloons. It’s silly, friendly and pure sugar. Over the top of that comes the brilliance of the writing of Scieszka and Barnett who manage by changing a few words in every sentence to make an entirely different story. Most sentences just have a few words changed, but others towards the end are more edited to really let the story flow. It works so well that one can forget the words underneath until you eye snags on one and you just have to read a bit of the silly story that has been edited.
Myers’ art is equally successful. He takes a dance scene and deftly turns it into an epic battle but one where you can still see the dancing underneath. On some pages little comics are added in the white space so that more story can be told. The cutesy nature of the underlying story is captured in his illustrations and one can feel the glee with which he reworked them just as a little boy would.
These three gifted book creators truly channeled their inner children to create this book. It is funny, smart and immensely creative. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Fraidyzoo by Thyra Heder
It’s the perfect day to go to the zoo and the whole family is excited. Well, maybe not the whole family. Little T certainly is not, in fact she is frightened of the zoo. But she can’t remember what in the zoo scares her. So her family set out to find out what might be scaring her. They start out at the beginning of the alphabet and acting out the animals. It’s not alligator, bat or camel. As they go on, the costumes they use become more and more elaborate and they all help act them out with plenty of laughter and silliness. They make it all the way to zebras and still Little T can’t remember why she is scared of the zoo. So they decide to go the next day. But there is something very frightening at the zoo, and her older sister might just find it a little too scary.
Heder does a superb job here of creating costumes out of boxes and ropes that look like they just might work in real life. As the costumes grow more and more outrageous and complex, they also get more beautiful. Along the way, Heder does not name any of the animals being portrayed, so the book has a guessing-game element to it as well. The ending is funny and satisfying.
Heder’s art really is the majority of the story here. The text is almost secondary to the full-page images that gallop and dash across the page. They are filled with motion, color and smiles. This is art that will inspire children to play with boxes and rope. Expect your living room to be strewn with cardboard and ideas.
Creative and a joy to read, this is much more fun than any visit I’ve had to the zoo. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Whale Shines: An Artistic Tale by Fiona Robinson
Published November 5, 2013.
Whale is a living billboard, swimming slowly through the ocean with a poster to advertise the upcoming art show. Along the way, he passes all sorts of sea creatures creating art. The hammerhead shark is working on sculptures from sea debris. Eel is forming lines in the sand. Octopus, cuttlefish and giant squid were scaring each other to collect their ink. Whale mutters to himself that he wishes he could make something too. That’s when the plankton around him tell him to try. But whale just can’t think of anything that he’d be able to do. After all, he doesn’t squirt ink, and he can’t slither in the sand. It’s going to take a lot of creativity and some risk for whale to even try creating art.
Robinson has created a simply gorgeous book here. Her writing is lovely, slow-paced and languid just like Whale floating by displaying his advertisement. Whale is a solitary figure in the story, lone and distant from the others. As he drifts past, he is separate from everyone else. Robinson successfully manages his transformation from wallflower to fully-engaged artist in a way that rings honest and doesn’t seem rushed.
Her art is lovely, filled with the deep colors of the ocean. It is green and blue hues that shine. Popping against those are the bright colors of the creatures and the coral in reds and yellows. The result is a picture book with stunning visuals that truly evoke life underwater.
A luminous picture book with glowing underwater scenes, this book will speak to all artists, even those reluctant to reveal themselves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.