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.
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.
I’m My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein
This dog takes care of himself. He tells himself to roll over, he throws a stick for himself and then goes to get it, he scratches his own itches. Except for the one in the middle of his back, he can’t quite reach it. So when a human follows him home and knows right where to scratch, the dog adopts him. He teaches the human how to hold a leash, how to play the stick game, and how to follow commands. Yes, he has to clean up after the human, but in the end the two of them become the best of friends.
A clever twist on people getting a dog, in this book it is the dog that gets the person. Stein plays up the humor with his short text that is done entirely from the point of view of this very independent canine. The book is a quick read with a zippy pace that adds to the pleasure. Stein’s illustrations are bright and loose. The watercolor gives a flowing feel to the images and offer gorgeous colors on the page as they mix.
One dynamite dog book, this one will get kids giggling but ends with the honest truth of finding a new best friend. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrations by Christian Robinson
Gaston lives with his mother and his three siblings, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La. They are all poodles, but Gaston is something else. He worked hard to be the best poodle puppy he could be, not slobbering, barking correctly and walking gracefully. When the poodle family went to the park, they met a bulldog family there that had its own unusual family member who looked like a poodle. There had clearly been a mix up! So Gaston switches places with Antoinette. Now the families look just the way they should, but neither Antoinette or Gaston seem to feel right in their “correct” families. What is a dog to do?
Right from the first pages, readers will know that there is something unusual about Gaston and how he fits into his family. It all becomes clear once the other dog family appears in the story and readers may think that fixing the mix up is the resolution of the story. Happily, it isn’t and the book becomes more about where you feel you fit in rather than where the world might place you. Gaston is a great mix of energetic bulldog puppy and also a prim poodle attitude. Antoinette is the reverse, a delicate poodle who plays like a bulldog.
Robinson’s illustrations are done in acrylic paint that gives texture to the images. The bold illustrations have bursts of color throughout and are done in a large format that will work well when shared with a group. All of the dogs have charm, though readers will immediate fall for the bright spunk of Gaston in particular.
A book about adoption and families that doesn’t hit too hard with the message of inclusiveness and diversity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond between a Solider and His Service Dog by Luis Carlos Montalván
A child-friendly version of this author’s adult book about his service dog, this picture book version is told from the dog’s point of view. Focusing on a single day together, the book shows how Tuesday takes care of Luis and helps him cope with his PTSD symptoms as they arise. Tuesday also helps Luis remember to take his medication. The two visit a veterans hospital together and then relax a bit at the dog park where Tuesday gets to play just like any other dog. Throughout their day together in the city, Tuesday is there to reassure Luis when walking, when it gets too crowded, and when he gets overwhelmed. But this is a special day and Luis has a surprise for Tuesday!
This book tells such an important story, not only about a service dog but about the recovery of a veteran surviving PTSD. The text is simple and straight forward, following the pair throughout their day. What shines from the page are the pictures, the obvious love the two have for one another, the joy they find together, and the support that goes both directions. Tuesday is wonderful in images, just the kind of gentle dog that everyone wants to love.
Children who need service dog help will see themselves on the page. The book expands the idea of what service dogs are for, offering a broader look at the power of these dogs to aid and calm.
A very strong nonfiction picture book, this would make a good addition to dog story times and units on soldiers. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Norman, Speak! by Caroline Adderson, illustrated by Qin Leng
A boy and his family adopt a dog from the animal shelter. The boy has a hard time choosing a dog and finally decides to take Norman, because he’s been there the longest. Norman was a stray and doesn’t really have a tail, more of a stump, but he can wag it along with his entire backside. Once they got home, they discovered that Norman did not follow basic dog commands at all. He just tilted his head sideways and didn’t do anything. The family realized that Norman was just not smart, but at least he was funny and friendly. Then one day in the park, a man was playing with his dog and Norman started to follow the commands! But the boy couldn’t understand a word of what the man was saying, he was speaking in Chinese. Norman spoke Chinese! Now it was up to the family to figure out how to communicate with their Chinese-speaking dog.
Adderson’s gently humorous text leads readers to simply believe that this is the story of a rather slow dog being adopted into a family. The twist of the language appears abruptly, changing the course of the book and the reader’s opinion of Norman in an instant. It works tremendously well thanks to the set up in the text before that. Perhaps the best part of the book is the family’s attempt to learn Chinese so they can speak to their dog. I love that the solution is changing themselves instead of changing Norman.
Leng’s illustrations have the same quiet humor as the text. They feel like glimpses of real life moments, unstaged and candid. Done in simple lines and quiet colors, they support the story and help tell it.
A celebration of diversity and differences in doggie form, this picture book is just as clever as Norman. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli
Sam wins every race, so he’s not worried at all at the big race. His best friend Maggie is racing too, but Sam know that he is the best. He quickly leaves everyone behind, except for Maggie who stays right with him and then wins the race! Sam is devastated. He didn’t sleep at all before the next race and is so distracted that he’s late starting the race! Even starting after everyone else though, he quickly takes the lead. But then, he sees a flock of chicks on the roadway and though he can get around them safely, he worries about the other racers not seeing them in time. So Sam stops and saves the chicks who ride along with him to finish the race. Sam finishes last, but as he approaches the finish line he can hear people cheering – for him!
Winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for his first book The Watermelon Seed, Pizzoli has a knack for using simple language for big ideas. His books are straight forward and have a classic feel about them, perfect for the smallest children. At the same time, his books are not predictable. I thought this book might deal with jealousy as its primary focus, but it changed in the middle of the book to be more about good decision making and being a good friend. I appreciate that he was able to pivot a simple story like this into something with depth. That takes real skill.
Just like his writing, Pizzoli’s art is simple. He uses strong lines and bright colors to really create a feel that is distinctly his own. This book fairly glows with yellow on the page, sunny and bright as the racers speed on the page. Other pages with different emotions have different colors, something that really works to convey a change in feeling directly.
Another winner from Pizzoli, this book will appeal to children interested in cars and racing immediately but is also a great book about making good choices. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.