Duck’s Vacation by Gilad Soffer (InfoSoup)
Duck is out on the beach having a relaxing vacation when suddenly, you arrive. And you turn the page! Duck is frustrated because he is on vacation and doesn’t want any kind of bother to happen. And you keep turning pages! As the pages turn, some bad things do start to happen from a bird pooping on Duck’s head to a crab pinching his toes. Then people start to arrive and the beach gets very crowded. It starts to rain and Duck says that it can’t get worse, but it certainly can. There could be snow! Or maybe pirates! Are you willing to stop turning the pages and not find out what happens next?
Originally published in Hebrew, this is a book that will have young readers and listeners giggling as the pages are turned. Duck is such a grumpy thing from the moment the first page is turned. Of course this is a trope used in one of my favorite childhood books, The Monster at the End of This Book. The reaction of characters to a reader turning pages really works well. The reader controls the pace of the reaction, and can delight in causing things to happen in a static book. It is also a set up that works really well read aloud.
Soffer’s illustrations play up the humor to top effect. The crowds of people who swarm the beach almost obscure Duck, the snow turns his bill blue, and the pirates, well he’s not cold anymore! Duck also has a range of emotions that he can display thanks to his expressive eyebrows that are sure to be in some sort of grimace.
Funny and a great choice to share with a preschool group. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.
I Yam a Donkey! by Cece Bell (InfoSoup)
This silly little book is a read-aloud gem. A donkey declares on the cover “I yam a donkey!” But unfortunately, he’s speaking to a yam and a rather persnickety one at that. The yam can’t leave the donkey’s odd grammar alone, and tries to correct him, but that quickly devolves into a “Who’s on first” type of exchange where misunderstandings pile up and the silliness does too. When the yam finally manages to explain that he is not a donkey (as the donkey has been misunderstanding) but actually a yam and all of the other characters are also vegetables, the ending takes a deliciously dark turn.
Bell uses impeccable comedic timing to make this picture book work so well. The vaudeville like comedy works perfectly here, playing up the stodgy yam and the enthusiastically confused donkey. The two are divergent personalities and make for a book that is such a strong read aloud that you really can’t read it silently. It begs to be shared and done with exquisitely different and wild voices since it’s written entirely in dialogue.
Bell’s illustrations are large and funny. Again, the two characters are shown as very different and the donkey mistaken the rather wrinkly and orange yam as a donkey is made all the funnier thanks to the illustrations. The final twist is wonderful and will have children who are a little older than preschool enjoying the grammar jokes and the ending together.
Funny, wildly silly and completely satisfying, this picture book will work best with elementary aged children who will get the dark humor as well as the grammar jokes. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (InfoSoup)
Released August 18, 2015.
In this companion to the very popular The Day the Crayons Quit, Duncan receives several postcards in the mail, all sent from his crayons, this times ones that have been forgotten, left behind or run away. There is Maroon Crayon who was lost in the couch, broken in half and saved by Paperclip. There is Pea Green, who is aware that no one likes his color so he’s run away to see the world and renamed himself Esteban. Neon Red Crayon has been left behind on vacation and undertakes a long and arduous journey back home, getting his geography all mixed up along the way. There are crayons that melted together in the sun, ones that were eaten and puked up by the dog, ones stuck in sharpeners, left behind in basements, and put in the dryer. All of the crayons want to return home and Duncan has just the solution for them, no matter what condition they are in.
This second picture book about Duncan’s crayons has the same fabulous sense of humor as the first one. The crayons all have their own unique personalities. While the book moves from one crayon to the next in general, a couple of them return several times during the story. So readers get to see what happens when Esteban heads out into the world and also get to adventure along with Neon Red as he makes his long trek homeward. The entire book is merry and funny, filled with puns and jokes. Even the crayons in the worst condition are done with plenty of humor.
The illustrations by Jeffers add to the fun. Make sure to take the glow-in-the-dark crayon page into a dark room to see it glow. Jeffers’ asides by the crayons are wry and silly, creating small conversations outside of the postcard format. As always, Jeffers’ illustrations are a treat with lots of personality, even with the characters being crayons.
A winning companion book for a popular read, this book is sure to please fans of the first and to find new fans who will happily discover both books. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin Young Readers.
The Skunk by Mac Barnett, illustrations by Patrick McDonnell
When a man wearing a tuxedo leaves his home, a skunk is sitting on his doorstep. The man slowly backs away and heads off. But the skunk seems to follow him. Even when he hops into a taxi, the skunk hops into another one and follows him closely. The man escapes to the opera, sure that the skunk will not be able to get in, but suddenly the skunk is right next to him, sitting on a woman’s head. The skunk continues to pursue him across a cemetery and even around and around on a ferris wheel. Finally the man escapes down into the sewers. He finds himself a new house and leaves his old life behind. But even as he celebrates with his new friends, he starts to think about the skunk and why the skunk was following him. It’s up to him to figure it out. Maybe the skunk won’t even notice the man following him!
Barnett and McDonnell are an incredible pairing in this picture book. They feed off of one another, each lifting the other up. Barnett’s writing is just as quirky as ever, creating a zingy dynamic between the two characters of the man and skunk. Full of dry humor, the book has a deadpan quality that makes it ideal for sharing aloud with children. The twist at the end of the man searching for the skunk is really well done and sure to get hoots of laughter. Expect children to read this at different levels and see different things in the story, all the while with them having an equally great time.
McDonnell channels the feel of vintage comics in his illustrations. Done with limited colors of only black, white and red, the illustrations change to full color when the man creates his new and different life only to change back when he returns to his original place. Both the man and the skunk convey emotions and a sense of jaunty determination.
A great read aloud pick, this picture book is one of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera
Polar Bear has lost his underwear and he can’t remember what they looked like. It’s up to readers to turn the pages and help Mouse find Polar Bear’s underwear. Could it be the striped underwear? Nope, those are Zebra’s favorite ones. The pair covered in doughnuts and treats belongs to Pig. The little flowery pair is too small for Polar Bear but fits Butterfly perfectly. Rabbit wears carrot printed underwear…on his head! One after another, there are no Polar Bear underwear. But wait, could it be that Polar Bear had them on all along?
Sure to elicit giggles, this book uses die cuts on pages to great effect. The first page shows just the underwear and little readers will delight in turning the page and seeing who they belong to. Each one makes sense with the animal on the next page, making a book that is nicely satisfying even as it is full of humor.
The illustrations are strongly done and will project well to a room of children. With plain brown paperbag backgrounds, the collage illustrations pop on the page, whether for pink pigs or black cats. The twist at the end works very nicely with the illustrations, since readers can turn back to the very first page and notice the trick carried throughout the entire book.
Funny and delightfully clever, this Japanese picture book is sure to find a happy audience in the United States. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Meet the Dullards by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
The Dullards are a very boring family and that’s just the way that Mr. and Mrs. Dullard want it to be. But lately their three children, Blanda, Borely and Little Dud, have been giving then bad shocks. The children want to read books, play outside, and have fun. The parents are so horrified that they move to a duller neighborhood. Once there though, they need to make sure their home is boring enough by getting rid of the colorful wallpaper and then watching the paint dry. Even that won’t stop their children though, so they move back to their original home, just in time for the circus to come to town. Luckily for their children, the Dullards sleep very soundly.
Pennypacker offers an inventive riff on The Stupids, one that embraces the dull side of life. She perfectly captures the humor of a family wanting to just be bored all of the time, taking it to such a level that the humor is laugh-out-loud funny. From their reaction to chunky applesauce to asking to have the vanilla flavor removed from their ice cream, the book is a joy to share aloud. Beautifully, the humor is delivered in the ideal deadpan manner, matter-of-fact and with a straight face (of course). The Dullards wouldn’t have it any other way.
Salmieri captures the gray dullness of the Dullard’s lives very nicely, using images like the children watching an unplugged TV and seated on the bare floor. He contrasts that with the children who may be dressed in the same dull colors but are independent thinkers who add color in many other ways. The illustrations add so much to the book, creating those moments where the children are doing their own thing much to their parents dismay.
Funny and vibrant despite its dull subject, this picture book is sure to get even the most bored children giggling. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant
Anastasia started her day by attending a funeral alongside her father, a funeral at the compost pile for her father’s dead venus flytrap. Other than that unusual start to the day which ended with her mother bellowing for waffles from her bedroom, Anastasia was an entirely average girl. There was simply nothing special about her at all. But then at school that morning everything changed when she is kidnapped by two old women calling themselves her “great aunties.” She finds herself trapped in an old Victorian house that was once St. Agony’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane. She is fed only Mystery Lumps and no dinner. She is forced to clean the asylum and at night she is locked into her room. Slowly though Anastasia starts to put together the mystery of her great aunties and what is actually going on in the creepy asylum. An escape plan begins to brew when she meets the frightening gardener and his brother, but can they get past the electrified fence and the guard poodles?
Grant has created a marvelous farce of a book that is filled with broad humor. She also manages to combine that humor with real scares, devious villains, and a nearly hopeless situation. Grant’s use of a quite ordinary young woman as a protagonist adds to the fun, making the scares work better even though they are done just as broadly as the humor is. It is that sense of joy in the situation and the delight that Grant writes with that makes this book such fun to read.
Anastasia is an average girl but also a strong heroine. There are moments in the middle part of the book where readers will want to shake her awake and make her realize what is happening, but in once she realizes she is certainly up to investigating the mystery. The other characters are great fun, including the two horrible aunties who are purely awful in the very best way. The two boys arrive later in the story along with other great characters and they add to the twists and turns of the tale.
A great mix of Victorian and modern fantasy, humor and horror, this book will appeal to fans of Roald Dahl. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Random House.
I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt
A little frog has decided that he doesn’t want to be a frog. He’d much rather be a… cat! Why? Because frogs are too wet. But a bigger frog explains that there is no way he can be a cat, because he’s a frog. Then he decides he wants to be a rabbit, since he can already jump and because frogs are too slimy. But he’s missing the long ears. Maybe a pig? But then you have to eat garbage. How about an owl? Nope, he can’t turn his head all the way around. Finally, a wolf comes along and gives the little frog a perfect reason to be happy to be a frog.
This debut picture book makes for a great read aloud. The two voices of the pair of frogs form the entire story, creating a great dynamic together. The story may be very silly, and it certainly is, but at the heart it is a child questioning if it might be better to be something entirely different, something furry or something that flies. It’s a classic case of identity crisis and one that children will relate to even while they giggle about it.
Boldt’s illustrations play up the humorous aspect of the story. The expressions on the frogs’ faces are well drawn and convey the emotions they are feeling very clearly. The use of speech bubbles and hand lettering makes for a book that has the feel of a comic book. Combined with the silly story, the illustrations make it even more funny.
Get this in the hands of Mo Willems fans who will completely fall for this loud little frog with big ideas. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Doubleday Books for Young Readers.
Geek Girl by Holly Smale
Released January 27, 2015.
This British import is hilarious, geeky and great fun. Harriet Manners knows that she is not a popular person. She shares too many factoids about things, she doesn’t care about fashion to the point that she took wood shop to avoid going to a fashion event, and she even has a list of the people who hate her. So when Nat, her best friend, demands that she come along to the fashion event, Harriet knows that she has to. Nat has dreamed her entire life of being a model, something that Harriet doesn’t even start to understand. She’d much rather be a paleontologist and spend her time watching nature documentaries. But everything goes wrong and it is Harriet who is discovered at the fashion show, and now Harriet starts a series of lies and cover ups to keep both her best friend and her step mother from knowing anything about her being discovered. Modeling is hard when you’ve never walked in heels before, when you don’t know the rules and when you are sitting next to the most gorgeous boy you have ever seen.
Smale has managed to give us a perfect mashup of geek and Next Top Model in this novel. Harriet is an unforgettable heroine, someone who is awkward in the extreme, entirely herself, and uncertain about who she wants to be. She is bullied by a classmate even as she is being discovered as a model. Even as she wants modeling to transform her into someone else, Harriet manages to be a voice for teens who are different, fascinated by facts, think in charts and graphs, and who are different from the rest.
Smale is also deeply funny. Harriet has wonderful asides that reference geeky movies and books. Her father and step mother have the most marvelous arguments, ones that read like a real argument when things stop making sense and have plenty of zinging comments. Best of all, the arguments don’t end their relationship but somehow form a basis for it. The writing throughout is clever and witty, making it a book that is impossible to put down.
The first book in a trilogy, this book came out in the UK in 2013 and was nominated and won several awards. It certainly lives up to the hype with its wit, strong heroine and inherent joy. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Harper Teen and Edelweiss.