Buddy and Earl by Maureen Fergus, illustrated by Carey Sookocheff (InfoSoup)
When Meredith comes home with a mysterious box, Buddy just can’t quite manage to stay on his bed. Soon he is exploring the box and discovers a strange creature named Earl inside, who claims to be a giraffe, though Buddy is sure that he isn’t and Earl’s not a sea urchin either. When Earl tries to guess what Buddy is, he never guesses that Buddy is a dog. Earl announces that he is a pirate, and Buddy finds himself called a pirate too. The two of them start to play together, sailing the couch into a storm. They are interrupted by Mom, who scolds Buddy for being on the couch and for playing with Earl. But when her back is turned, Buddy is right there near the box again, announcing that he knows exactly what Earl is: a friend.
This little picture book has a lot of depth to it. The simple story is given details thanks to the conversational tone of the text that is focused on allowing children to understand how this unlikely friendship develops. The two animals explore one another but are also figuring out one another’s personalities, something that proves much more interesting to them both rather than labeling their species. Playing pretend together seals the friendship, but then it is made even stronger when Earl tries to take the blame for Buddy being on the couch.
The illustrations nicely break the text into manageable chunks. The illustrations are simple, done in thick black lines and washes of subtle color. They have a pleasing roughness to the edges that offers a modern feel.
Friendship in a nutshell, this picture book offers an adventure for new friends. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Dog Wearing Shoes by Sangmi Ko
Released September 29, 2015.
Mini and her mother almost hit a dog on their way home from Mini’s grandparents’ home. Mini’s mother hops out of the car and discovers that the dog is wearing bright yellow shoes. It doesn’t have a collar and there is no owner in sight, so they take the dog home with them. There, the dog starts to howl until they head out to the park together after purchasing a leash and collar. They get the attention of all of the dog owners at the park and the dog shows all of her tricks to everyone. Mini is very proud to be her owner. But when she tries to have the dog fetch a stick, the dog runs away. Now Mini knows that if she can find the dog again, she also has to find their original owner.
This book has such a marvelous sense of humor right from the beginning. If you only read the text, it is very simple and straight forward. Combined with the illustrations, it creates a rich humor that allows the text to be the straight man up againt the wild antics of the pictures. The book embraces the emotions of finding a stray animal, realizing that it probably has owners who are missing it, and then getting your own pet who actually suits you even better. The emotions are honest on the page, creating real heart in a book that could have been simply a lighter funny read.
I received an online version of this book for review and all I needed to see was the first few images to realize that this was a special book. From the boredom on Mini’s face as she rides home in the car to the dizzying range of emotions she shows throughout the day, the book is zingy and zany. It’s done entirely in black and white except for the pops of yellow for the dog’s shoes and the red of the leash and collar. All of the art is filled with personality and wit.
A wonderful read-aloud, this glowing picture book is a special find. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.
Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook by Anne Vittur Kennedy (InfoSoup)
Ragweed is an experience farm dog and he is willing to offer the reader his advice on how to be the best farm dog. First thing to know is not to wake the farmer in the early morning. That is the rooster’s job. Of course, if you do happen to wake the farmer, you would get a biscuit when been thrown out of the house. Pigs can be tricky too. It is not your job to roll in the mud, that is the pigs’ job. In fact, if you do get muddy you end up getting a bath, which is not fun. Of course, there is the biscuit you get afterwards. Ragweed has advice on chickens, sheep, and cows. Each time he offers firm advice, proceeds to ignore it himself and then manages to earn a treat along the way. Readers will get the humor immediately and will love this scrappy little dog who always manages to work everything out to his own advantage: biscuits!
Kennedy writes a clever take on a handbook here. There are other books that have unreliable lead characters who then do the opposite of what they are saying, but the addition of the treats to the equation makes this book all the more fun. The writing is wonderfully conversational and loose. It uses the voice of Ragweed to tell the story, offering an eager and bouncy tone that suits the book perfectly.
Kennedy’s art is bright and sunny. Ragweed pops on the page against the green grass of the farm. His tail almost seems to wag on the page and his eagerness and joy shine. His energy carries through all of the art, from the cows who look at him very skeptically (and with reason) to the panicked sheep to the dazed hens.
This wild romp of a book will be embraced as a read-aloud for farm and dog stories. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Dog Is the Best by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Paul Schmid (InfoSoup)
A little boy adores his dog, despite the fact that the boy is full of energy and his dog…well, he’s not. When the boy offers the dog a ball, the dog dozes off. The boy then demonstrates the tricks his dog can do, like playing dead. His dog can also roll over, while sleeping. And even turn into a ball, still asleep. The plays tug of war, by lying on the boy’s blanket and not moving. And even chase, well, not really. The dog can do so many things, like listen to stories, provide a base for playing with toys and even blow bubbles when the bubble wand is put in front of his dozing face. In the end, the little boy gets sleepy and after a big hug falls asleep next to the dog. The dog wakes up and is ready to play now.
I loved this book with the patient sleeping dog who allows himself to be clambered over, played with, and piled on while he is sleeping. There is no sense ever that the dog is anything other than a very happy and willing partner to all of this. The boy is eager but also gentle, his imagination creating worlds where the dog is an active participant in his merry games. The ending is completely adorable with the boy asleep and the dog awake.
Schmid’s illustrations are just right for this book. Done in simple lines on pastel backgrounds, the illustrations show the lovely interplay between little boy and dog. The round dog makes a perfect foil for the active little boy, one a whirl of motion and the other almost motionless.
A book that celebrates having a pet as a small child and the incredible connection one develops. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord
Released May 26. 2015
The Newbery Honor winner returns with another winning book for young readers. Lily can’t catch her blind dog Lucky when he escapes and runs away across the blueberry barrens in Maine. Just when she is sure he will make it all the way into traffic, Salma appears and gives the dog her sandwich and chips in order to rescue him. Lily returns with a pork pie for Salma’s family who live in the work camp on the blueberry farm, migrant workers harvesting the berries during the summer months. Soon the two girls are friends, Salma helping Lily decorate her bee houses that Lily sells to try to make enough money to get Lucky an operation to restore his vision. When the pair decide to have a booth at the blueberry festival in town, Salma also decides to compete in the beauty pageant, the first migrant girl to do so. Both girls by the end of the summer have to face hard truths, but they face them together as friends.
Lord creates short and very readable books that are deceptively readable, making them seem light and airy. But this book is anything but that, dealing with tough subjects like the death of a parent, migrant workers, racism, and difficult decisions that come with having an aging pet. Lord manages to weave all of these elements together into a strong and vibrant read that children will love. Given its short length and deep topics, it would make an ideal read aloud in an elementary classroom.
This book has two strong female protagonists. Told in Lily’s voice, the story shows how she has faced loss in her life and how it continues to impact her world. Lily is open to being friends with Salma, but she is not open to others telling her what to do with Lucky. That change comes hard to her and is only possible with the growth she achieves in the course of the novel. Salma is in many ways the opposite of Lily. Salma’s world revolves around her art but also around the tension of being a migrant worker and not having a place to call her own. Still, both girls overcome their challenges to be much more than stereotypes.
Strong writing, tight plotting, two strong girls and one amazing dog make this a book worth reading and sharing. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.
It’s Only Stanley by Jon Agee (InfoSoup)
Something odd is happening tonight in the Wimbledon house. There are mysterious noises. The first noise is Stanley the dog howling at the moon. But then new noises start. The clanking noise is Stanley fixing the oil tank in the basement. A little later, the funky smell that makes the cat ill turns out to be Stanley cooking catfish stew in the kitchen. The buzzing noise is Stanley fixing the family’s old TV in the living room. Splashing noises are Stanley fixing the plumbing. Each noise wakes up the human family and the father has to head out to see what is happening. But just as everyone is starting to get very cranky from loss of sleep, something happens that shows exactly what Stanley has actually been up to all night.
Agee is a master at creating understated books that have a distinctive feel about them. Here he takes a strong matter-of-fact tone and uses it to add to the silliness of the entire book. Told in natural-feeling rhyme, the book has a buoyant tone that makes it great fun to share aloud. Throughout the book the father heads out each time without much emotion and returns to report that it is just Stanley and what the dog is up to. The oblivious family heads back to bed only to be awoken again and again. This builds wonderful tension until it’s released with a literal bang.
Agee’s art is done in his unique style with flat color and thick black lines. Throughout, readers will be able to watch for clues as to what Stanley is actually up to and readers who are paying close attention will figure it out before the family does. Even those children who don’t piece together the clues will want to re-read the story to notice them. Also keep an eye on the cat who seems to always get into the worst of it as the story progresses.
Not a bedtime story despite being set at night, this picture book is strikingly funny and has a grand warped feeling throughout. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
Released March 24, 2015.
This fourth book in the fabulous Penderwicks series is sure to please longtime fans and inspire new ones. While the Penderwick family is still the center of the story, the focus this time has moved to Batty and Ben rather than the older Penderwick girls. Batty continues to play the piano, loving music passionately. She has also just discovered that she has a noteworthy singing voice thanks to a new music teacher at school. So she has to find a way to make money for singing lessons, since the family needs a new car and to put the Rosalind, Jane and Skye through college. Batty starts a neighborhood business that offers services like dusting and digging up rocks, specifically a Ben job. But the only jobs she gets offered are to dog walk, something that she really doesn’t want to do because it seems very disloyal to Hound, who died recently. Batty has big plans to unveil her singing to her family, but her planning goes seriously awry as Skye starts to push Jeffrey away from both herself and the Penderwick family.
Returning to the Penderwicks is such a treat. The new focus on the younger members of the family makes me hope that there will be more such treats to come too. Birdsall writes with a such a feel for characters. They all shine through, each unique and distinct from one another. Batty is the same person as that small child that we all fell for in the first novel and so are all of the family members. Adding a new family member in little Lydia is also a treat and she is just as special and wonderful as the others.
Birdsall’s writing pays homage to so many great writers, feeling both modern and vintage at the same time. Her writing is funny, wry and immensely comfortable. It’s a joyous mix of stories, chaos and noise. It is the pleasure of old friends and new adventures that you get to share. The springtime setting is beautifully conveyed and suits the story perfectly as Batty starts to unfold herself into something new along with the trees and flowers.
If you have read the previous books, this one is another delight. If not, what are you waiting for? Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Knopf.
Apocalypse Bow Wow by James Proimos III
Brownie and Apollo are two dogs who have been happily living together with their two humans. Their only argument is that Apollo always gets the couch. But then their humans fail to return and the two of them are left alone. Brownie knows the humans will be back soon because he’s getting very hungry and they always come back when he’s hungry. But they don’t return. So the dogs have to figure out how to get out of the house. Apollo tries to break down the door, but it doesn’t work so Brownie thinks that licking the doorknob will help. Apollo knows this makes no sense, but lets Brownie try it. And when he does, a deer leaps through the window and breaks it. Ta da! Brownie and his tongue have saved the day. But when they get out into the world, there are no humans anywhere and now they have to find their own food. Can two rather silly dogs find a way to survive the apocalypse?
This graphic novel is told in distinct scenes, creating a rather movie-like experience reading it. The two dog characters are great foils for one another, Apollo being the more grounded and logical dog while Brownie is rather confused and hopelessly optimistic about everything. Though the book never explains where the humans have disappeared to, readers will happily just go along with the scenario presented thanks to the humor and the silliness.
Proimos’ illustrations are very funny and the way he uses the page is deftly done, making the scenes all the more humorous. Readers of Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s books will be right at home here with the illustration style.
A humorous take on a bleak dystopian disaster, this book will be enjoyed by children who don’t mind a dark side to their graphic novels. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Bloomsbury and Netgalley.
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Barnett and Klassen are an amazing picture book duo who have created with this book an instant classic. Sam and Dave are two friends who set out to dig a hole on Monday. They decide that they won’t stop digging until they find “something spectacular.” They keep digging, deeper and deeper, missing jewels by just a few inches. They stop and have chocolate milk and animal cookies and then continue to dig. Maybe another direction will help them find treasure? But readers will see as they take the turn that they miss the biggest gem yet. The dog that is along with them though seems to realize that there are things right under the surface, but Sam and Dave don’t pay any attention to him. They dig and dig, missing everything along the way until they are right above a dog bone. The two boys take a nap and their dog continues to dig down until suddenly they are falling down from the hole into a world very like their own. Readers who are paying close attention though will realize that it is a subtly different place.
Children love to dig in the dirt and I think every child has dreamed of digging a truly great hole and finding something amazing. Barnett keeps his text very straight-forward and simple, allowing the humor to be in the near misses of the illustrations and the perceptiveness of the little dog. It is this frank delivery that makes the humor of the illustrations really work, giving them a platform to build off of. The ending is wonderfully open-ended, and some readers will miss the subtle differences and assume they are back home again. Others though will see the changes and realize that no matter what Sam and Dave have discovered their “spectacular” something.
Klassen’s illustrations are wonderful. I adore the way that he lets his characters look out from the page to the reader. He did the same thing in both of his great “Hat” picture books and there is a strong connection from the page to the people enjoying the book. His illustrations have a textured feel to them, an organic nature that reads particularly well in this dirt-filled world.
An instant classic and one that will get readers talking about the open ending. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Rose loves homonyms. She spends her days looking for new ones to add to her list, and then once she gets home adding them or rewriting the entire list if she runs out of space. Her dog Rain has a name that has two homonyms: reign and rein, which is why she picked it. Her father also gave her Rain on a rainy night. He found Rain wandering around after he left the bar one night. Rain is one of the best things in Rose’s life, since her father spends most evenings drinking at the bar and Rose spends them alone. Luckily, she also has her uncle in her life. He takes her to school, helps her find new homonyms, and protects her when necessary from her father when he loses patience with Rose. Then a fierce storm hits their town and Rose’s father lets Rain out into the storm and she disappears. Rose’s father refuses to explain why he let Rain out in a storm and also refuses to help Rose find her dog. It is up to Rose to find Rain so she devises her own plan and calls on her uncle for help. But when she finds Rain, she also discovers that Rain has other owners and Rose has to make a heartbreaking choice about right and wrong and love.
Martin captures a truly dysfunctional family on the page here. Rose’s father is brutal, cruel and a constant threat in her life. At the same time, the book glimmers with hope all of the time. Rose herself is not one to dwell on the shortcomings of her life, preferring to immerse herself in her words, her dog and her time with her uncle. Martin manages to balance both the forces of love and fear in this book, providing hope for children living with parents like this but also not offering a saccharine take on what is happening.
Rose is an amazing character. She talks about having Asperger’s syndrome and OCD. She is the only child in her class with a full-time aide and it is clear from her behaviors in class that she needs help. Yet again Martin balances this. She shows how Rose attempts to reach out to her classmates and then how Rain helps make that possible and how Rose manages to use her own disability as a bridge to help others cope in times of loss. It’s a beautiful and important piece of the story.
A dark book in many ways, this book shines with strong writing, a heroic young female protagonist and always hope. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.