Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers
This unusual and equally marvelous alphabet book surprises and delights with its 26 short stories, one for each letter of the alphabet. From the very beginning at “A” readers will know they have entered a rather quirky and surreal world. A is for Astronaut, but Edmund is an astronaut whose afraid of heights. Even climbing the ladder to the rocket is a bit much for him. B comes right in afterwards with a tale of a burning bridge where Bob and Bernard cannot get along and so burn the bridge between their houses, but oops, one of them is on the wrong side when he does it. The book continues, one letter after another and one story after another each with funny, intriguing characters and situations that are snapshots of the oddities of this amazing world.
Jeffers has created some of my favorite picture books for children and this new alphabet book completely revolutionizes the sing-song of other alphabet books for children. It’s not exclusively for preschoolers, since elementary-aged children will adore these strange little stories and the quick journeys they take you on. Rather like potato chips, you can’t read just one but find yourself going on and on. Jeffers also ties in previous stories to later ones. You have to be watching, because he does it with subtlety, but it’s a lovely touch. I admit to cheering aloud when the Lumberjack for the Letter L appeared again.
Jeffers’ art has a loose feel that works well here. He also has a quirk to his art that matches the tone of the story very nicely. The line drawings combine with touches of color and watercolor. He also plays at times with the page itself, showing characters turning the page or popping out from behind.
A delight of an alphabet book, Jeffers has revolutionized the genre with his impressive, surprising and funny work. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Philomel.
The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak
No pictures? In a picture book? Is it still a picture book? Is it still for preschoolers? The answer is a resounding yes! And even better, this is a book filled with words and no images that preschoolers will delight in. First, the audience is told that the rule with reading a book aloud is that the reader has to say everything that is on the page, whether they like it or not. Even if the words are nonsense, even if they have to be sung, even if they insult themselves. Completely silly, this picture book is filled with funny things the reader has to say aloud and then clever asides about what the reader is thinking to themselves.
Novak understands child humor wonderfully. Reading this book to a group of preschoolers will be a delight, particularly when they realize that the author has you under their control. Play up your dismay at having to be silly and you will have the children rolling with laughter. Novak walks the line perfectly here, never taking the joke too far into being mean, but keeping it just naughty enough to intrigue youngsters to listen closely.
This is one of those picture books that you save to end a story time, since it is guaranteed to keep the attention of the entire group of children. It’s a winner! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Macbeth by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Zack Giallongo
When the gates shut at night at The Stratford Zoo, the animals come out to play. They steal the keys from one of the zoo keepers as they leave and all of the cages are unlocked. Vendors walk the aisles selling treats like peanuts and earthworms to the growing crowd. Then on stage, the theater begins with the lion as Macbeth. After meeting with the witches, the question is whether Macbeth will eat the king. Lady Macbeth proposes different preparations to make the king taste better, and Macbeth finally succumbs and eats the king. But then, as with any Shakespearean tragedy, others must be eaten too. This is a wild and wonderful combination of Shakespeare, hungers both human and animal, and plenty of humor.
Lendler takes great liberties with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. He combines all of the moments that people remember in the play, from Lady Macbeth trying to wash out the spots of blood to the visits to the three witches and the way their predictions play out. He also adds in lots of slapstick comedy, plenty of asides from the audience and actors, and also shortens the play substantially.
Giallongo’s art is colorful and dramatic. He plays up the drama of the ketchup stains, the growing stomach of the lion, and the ambitions of Lady Macbeth. Comic moments are captured with plenty of humor visually. This zoo is filled with fur, claws, fun and drama.
A perfect combination of Shakespeare and wild animal humor, this will please those who know Macbeth and people knew to the play alike. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
Finn is epileptic with seizures that he can’t control. He’s actually not sure he’d want to anyway, because his seizures are beautiful experiences, even though he pees himself during them. Finn also has eyes that are different colors. But those are not the wildest things about Finn. Finn’s mother was killed in the same freak accident that left him with epilepsy, a dead horse fell from a knackery truck passing on a bridge overhead and struck them both. Perhaps even wilder though is Finn’s best friend Cade, who is almost certainly insane but also staggeringly funny. Finn has a theory about his life. His father wrote a book that has a character with many of the same characteristics as Finn who happened to be a murdering alien. Perhaps Finn is caught in that book, or maybe the entire world is just a knackery truck. Then Julia enters Finn’s life and he is suddenly shown that there is much more to life or the knackery than he had ever realized.
Smith has written several acclaimed novels and this one is by far my favorite. He writes with a solid honesty, with teen characters who swear, who have sex, who talk about sex, who love and lust. The book is filled with humor, even the scene where Finn and Cade are accidental heroes is filled with slapstick moments mixed with profound courage. That is the way this book plays, it is humorous but also exceptionally though provoking.
Finn is a deeply flawed character who sees the world in a unique and strange way. He measures time in terms of distance, something that is unsettling at first but then becomes almost a natural way to view time by the end of the book. There is also something wonderfully darkly humorous about a character in a book worrying that he is a character in another book. The novel has layers upon layers and invites readers to look deeply into the story and to find their own way through the knackery of life.
A great teen novel, one of the best of the year, get this into the hands of teens who will enjoy the humor, understand the depth and not be offended by the strong language. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea, illustrated by Lane Smith
The Toad brothers have taken over Drywater Gulch and are causing no end of trouble. But then a new sheriff arrives in town, a kid in a white suit riding a tortoise. He doesn’t have many skills with guns and has an early bedtime, but he does know all about dinosaurs. He is hired on the spot. And that’s right when the Toad brothers blow up the bank, rob the stagecoach, and jump someone’s gold claim. The sheriff is quick to point out how each of the escapades involved dinosaurs, T-Rex and velociraptors. It seems that the crimes will never be solved by this young sheriff, but soon his paleontological plans turn out to be just what was needed to capture some human bandits.
Shea clearly has great fun creating these characters, this town and this world of dinosaurs mixed with the Wild West. He plays with language throughout, creating wonderful moments where the new sheriff rides – very slowly – into town on his tortoise. Just the way the Toad brothers are introduced early in the book will show how fun this book is to read aloud: “Why, those Toad brothers would steal your gold, kiss your cattle, and insult your chili. Hootin’, hollarin’, and cussin’ all the while.” You can’t read that without a drawl and huge grin.
Smith’s illustrations are equally fun. Using a palette of browns, blacks and tans, he creates the world of Drywater Gulch on the page. There is a great sandiness and grit to the illustrations, and he also plays with perspective and fascinating rock formations of the desert. The wild characters are placed in this world, popping on the page against the gritty backgrounds.
A great read aloud, this picture book is silliness through and through with a western twang. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma by Diane and Christyan Fox
Cat is sitting and reading Little Red Riding Hood when Dog walks up. Cat starts to explain the story of a little girl who wears a red cape, and then Dog interjects that he loves books about superheroes and asks about what powers Little Red has! Cat tries to explain that it’s not that kind of book, but Dog continues to find new ways to tie in superpowers: maybe a kindness ray, or a flying basket, or exploding eggs! Then Dog tries to find ways to make the Wolf into a super villain. Why doesn’t the Wolf just eat Little Red in the forest? Why doesn’t he do more bad things and be a real super villain? But as the dramatic ending of the real story arrives, it is Dog who thinks that the story might have gone a bit too far.
Perfect to read aloud, this picture book is written entirely as a dialogue between Cat and Dog with the occasional page from the Little Red Riding Hood story added in. The debates between the two characters about the book are hilariously written. Though very funny, Dog makes some valid points about the story line of the traditional tale and his superhero version would be great reading too. The authors make the two voices of the characters clearly distinct from one another, something that takes skill when writing dialogue alone.
Done in black and white line drawings on white backgrounds, the loose feel of the illustrations suit the silly story perfectly. Occasional bursts of color draw readers into the story being told and the cover of the Little Red Riding Hood book pops with red on the page.
Funny and clever, children who know the original story will be delighted with this new twist on the tale. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Naughty Kitty! by Adam Stower
A follow up to Silly Doggy!, this book also features Lily and now a very large cat. From the end pages, readers will know that there is an animal loose from the zoo. Lily though is far too taken up with bringing her new kitten home. Her mother was sure that Kitty wouldn’t be any trouble at all. At first that was true, but when Lily left the kitten alone in the kitchen for just a moment, she returned to find it completely trashed. What Lily doesn’t know but the readers could see clearly was that the tiger that had escaped from the zoo was the one who made the mess. The same thing happened when Lily left Kitty alone in the living room. There is even a rug that is ruined with an accident of large proportions. Happily, Lily remains completely oblivious to the tiger and in the end Kitty gets the credit rather than the blame for what the tiger has done.
Stower’s humor is zingy and broad here. He doesn’t hold back on the visual jokes or on Lily’s reactions to the actually sedate little cat. Children will immediately get the humor of mistaken identity and will pay close attention to spot the tiger on the pages where Lily can’t seem to see him. The ending is completely satisfying, particularly because Lily continues to be oblivious to what is actually happening around her and readers will be surprised by a full view of the truth as well.
The art tells much of the story here with the narrative almost entirely from Lily’s perspective. The tiger can be spotted right before each disaster and right afterwards too. The illustrations are energetic and filled with action and the entire book reads like a cartoon episode.
Funny and a great read aloud, this book is sure to keep attention focused and kids giggling. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Orchard Books.
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
The four Fletcher boys could not be more different from one another. There is the serious ten-year-old Eli who is starting a private school separate from his brothers for the first time and who just may have made a horrible decision changing schools. There is Sam, aged twelve, who loves sports and is popular at school but who will find himself stretching into new interests this year. There is Jax, also aged ten, who has a huge homework assignment that will have him talking to their new grumpy neighbor for help but only after he calms down from a number of things. Finally, there is Frog who is just starting kindergarten along with his imaginary friend and who may have a new imaginary friend named Ladybug. It all adds up to a wonderful read with lots of humor and one amazing family.
Filled with laughter, an angry neighbor, elaborate Halloween parties, soccer, hockey and plenty of pets, this book is sure to please middle grade readers. Add in the diverse backgrounds of the four boys in the family and their two dads and you have a book that celebrates diversity without taking itself too seriously. It’s the ideal mix of completely readable book with its diversity simply part of the story not the main point.
All of the boys as well as the two fathers are unique individuals with their own personal responses to crises and situations. Each chapter begins with a note from one character to another, usually funny and always showing their personality. Perhaps the best part of the book is that this family dynamic is clearly one of love but also filled with normal chaos and the daily strain of work, school, neighbors and friends. It reads like a modern classic.
I hope we get to read more of their misadventures in future books, because this is one family that I want to see much more of! Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
Froodle by Antoinette Portis
Everyone knows that cats say “Meow” and dogs bark. The birds is the neighborhood all sand their specific song too. The little brown bird sang “Peep” every day, all seasons. Until one day, the little bird decided that she wanted to sing something else. Something silly! The big black crow did not think this was funny at all. The little brown bird tried to go back to singing just “Peep” again, but she just couldn’t stop the silly words from slipping out. Soon the silliness was spreading and the red bird started saying things too. Then Dove proved that there could be silly white birds too. The only one who would not be silly was the very serious Crow. But we all know that silliness is very contagious!
Clever, clever, clever. This book takes a very simple premise of one little bird being silly one day and wanting to do something unique and different, and then shows how one small change can have larger ripple effects on a community. The tone throughout is pure cheer and laughter. The words that all of the birds come up with are ridiculous and great fun to read aloud. Children will enjoy working these and other nonsense words into their day.
The illustrations for the book were done in pencil, charcoal and ink with the color added digitally. The result is a book with a traditional feel mixed with a modern spin. The colors are flat and bright, the textures give depth, and the birds themselves pop on the backgrounds.
Silly, funny and a delight to read aloud, this book is pure oobly snoobly fun. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.