The 13-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, illustrated by Terry Denton
Andy and Terry live together in an amazing 13-story tree house. It has a bowling alley, a secret laboratory, swinging vines, a see-through swimming pool and even a man-eating shark tank. Unfortunately, all of these fun things around them are distracting them from finishing the book that is due in to the publisher! They have barely started and it needs to be finished quickly. But what are you supposed to do when there are flying cats, giant bananas, an evil sea monster, gangs of rampaging monkeys, and burp-filled bubblegum bubbles around you? You will just have to read the book to find out how Andy and Terry managed to finish their book in time.
Wildly funny and perfect for children who enjoy books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The author and illustrator worked together beautifully, creating a hilarious world that is a pleasure to visit. The book has illustrations throughout, black and white line drawings that add to the silliness of the story. Do not read this one looking for logic, just enjoy the giggles!
A great pick for reluctant readers who will appreciate the silly storyline and funny illustrations that effectively break up the text. Get this into the hands of your Wimpy Kid fans! Appropriate for ages 6-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks
Released May 7, 2013.
Nate and Charlie are friends, but mostly it’s about sharing a ride to school. Then when the cheerleaders threaten Nate’s robotics competition, Charlie is caught up in the middle of the conflict. Nate decides to run for Student Body President and Charlie’s cheerleader ex-girlfriend forces him to run against Nate. Things quickly get out of control in this jocks against the geeks sort of storyline that ends with both groups stripped of their school funding. Now the only way forward is to work together to fund and build a robot that can win the robot death match. And of course, just like with all plans, nothing can possibly go wrong.
The storyline could have been cliché, but it steps away from that fairly quickly and into much more intriguing collaborative efforts. Shen and Hicks have created a great gang of characters here. Nate is laid back and really the normal one of the group. Charlie is alpha-geek, neurotic, ballsy and intellectual. Mix in the cheerleaders who are clearly at the top of the popular food chain, and this is regular high school on steroids. While some of the characters are left as stereotypes, Charlie and Nate are well developed and interesting.
The art is hip and fun. Done in black and white, the images play up the funny moments beautifully and often the dance of words and image is sheer perfection. It’s hard to believe that it was done by two people rather than just one.
Geeks and jocks alike will enjoy this one, after all who doesn’t love to see a robot death match! Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
Follow Follow by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josee Masse
This is the second book of reverso poems by Singer, following her amazing Mirror Mirror. In a form she invented, Singer tells the stories of fairy tales using a poem and then reversing the lines and changing the punctuation to tell the other side of the story. The result are brain teasing poems that illuminate the darkness inherent in the tales themselves. This group of poems includes stories that may not be familiar to readers, so the index of stories at the end of the book will be welcome.
As with her first book, some of the reversos work better than others. Here my favorites are The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, and The Tortoise and the Hare. All of the poems have a wonderful cleverness and wit to them, making them all infinitely readable and a great deal of fun. This is a celebration of poetry, fairy tales and word play all wrapped into one delight.
Masse’s illustrations are done on wood, giving them a wonderful texture that is reminiscent of tapestries and medieval images. Her use of jewel tones evokes that period even more. All of the images are also double-sided, showing both sides of the poem in one united image.
Perfect for fans of fairy tales, this clever and delicious book will have them seeking out the unfamiliar tales to read them in full. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
The creators of The Gruffalo return for an uproarious version of a beloved poem. Beware, for the Highway Rat is coming and he’s out to steal everyone’s snacks. He rides along with food dropping out of his saddlebags, accosting poor travelers at sword point, demanding their goodies. He steals clover from a rabbit who has nothing else, a leaf from some ants, even hay from his own horse. Eventually though, the Highway Rat meets his match in a juicy-looking duck who directs him into a cave where the echo seems to promise food. Then the Highway Rat rides no more.
I love a good riff on a traditional poem, and this one is very clever. Those familiar with The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes will particularly enjoy the play Donaldson makes with its form. She incorporates familiar phrasing like “And the Highway Rat went riding – riding –riding – riding along the highway.” Somehow her other words which are quite different from the poem have a similar rhythm and evoke the poem effortlessly.
Scheffler’s illustrations have a wonderful bold quality to them. The Highway Rat is truly a bad guy and his naughtiness is clearly shown in his actions and his aspect. His googly-eyed horse is a pleasure, almost always making eye-contact with the reader and sharing the joke of this evil rat riding on his back. The rich colors of the landscape add a depth to the illustrations that is very welcome.
The tale of an evil highwayman (or rat) makes for a great read. Add in strong illustrations and the play on a well-known poem, and you have picture book magic. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.
Brief Thief by Michael Escoffier, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
An import from France, this picture book has a wonderful quirkiness. It is the story of Leon, a lizard, who is having a lovely morning, eating breakfast, sitting in the sun, and then he has to go to the bathroom. But after he goes poo, he discovers that he’s out of toilet paper. He looks around, but only sees prickly leaves and messy grass. Until he discovers pair of old underpants hanging on a nearby branch. They are full of holes anyway, so he uses them to wipe and tosses them away. But that’s when a loud voice, his conscience, starts to talk to him and tells him to clean them up and hang them up to dry. In the end, his conscience turns out to be something else entirely and the grand twist of the tale adds to the merriment of the book.
Escoffier is a popular author in France and this book marks his debut into the American market. His humor is spot on for young readers who will adore the idea of what this lizard does for toilet paper. They will not see the ending coming, since it is fresh and completely surprising. In the end, the twist will delight readers even more than the original joke.
Di Giacomo is the illustrator of My Dad Is Big & Strong, BUT… and I am very pleased to see another of her picture books come to English translation. Her art is a fabulous blend of paint, crayon, fine lines and texture. She uses blots of color as the leaves, something that is surprising but works very well.
Share this with all of those children who love something a little naughty in their picture books. If you share it with a group, you will most likely be asked to read it over again. Also, expect riotous reactions to the humor. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex
This was not what I had been expecting from Gaiman and Rex, but sometimes surprises can be a delight. Chu is a small panda who has a very big way of sneezing. His parents are always concerned about him being about to sneeze. So when they head to the library and encounter book dust, his mother asks if he’s going to sneeze. Chu starts to “aah-aaah-Aaaah” but then “No.” When his father takes him to a restaurant with pepper in the air, he asks too. Chu goes “aah-aaah-Aaaah” but then “No” once again. When they head to the circus everyone is too busy watching the show to hear Chu say that he thinks he’s going to sneeze and what a sneeze it is!
This is the first book that Gaiman has written for such a young audience. It will be toddlers and preschoolers who adore this book and love the humor that is intrinsic in the writing and its rhythms. The better you can fake the build-up to a sneeze, the funnier the little “no” at the end is. In other words, this is a great one to read aloud.
Rex adds so much with the tight details of the world he builds here. Chu is plush and fuzzy. Whenever he starts to sneeze, his aviator glasses fall down over his eyes, adding an additional comic effect. The detail of the scenes will have children lingering over them, identifying the various animals in the pictures. Personally, the mice using the library card catalog drawers for computer use was the perfect mix of modern and retro.
A rather surprising straight-forward book from Gaiman that is a strong read aloud and filled with laughs. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Other Side of Town by Jon Agee
A New York taxi driver picks up a rather odd passenger who asks to be taken to Schmeeker Street on the other side of town. They reach a dead end, but that is not the other side of town yet. The man pulls out a remote control and the dead end opens into a tunnel, the Finkon Tunnel. The tunnel leads to a maze of ramps that twist and turn, ending in spotholes. The driver tries to avoid them, but accidentally drives into one of the large black holes from which they are dumped onto Schmeeker Street. Suddenly everything is pink and green, just like the man. Finally, they reach his destination but the cabbie is caught on the other side of town until he notices the remote control left in the back seat. But yet another surprise is waiting for him when he gets home!
Agee plays with our expectations with a great sense of fun in this book. Renaming landmarks into something very similar but yet strange and different was a great choice. The tone is entirely one of silliness and laughter with just enough being different and zany to make it clear that the other side of town is unlike anywhere readers have ever been. It is through this that Agee subtly demonstrates that there are paths to cultural acceptance for those who are different from us.
The color palette of the other side of town also plays a large role in the story. Immediately readers will see the little man as unusual thanks to his pink plume and green bodysuit. When the story moves to the other side of town, the cabbie suddenly pops in his pale blue against all of the pink and green.
Funny, silly and a treat, take a visit to the other side of the town! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.
The Man from the Land of Fandango by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Polly Dunbar
My son and I had just stopped in the middle of a rather painful rhyming picture book and then we picked up this one. The contrast was profound. Here we found a fanciful and playful picture book with rhymes that swept us merrily up. It is the story of a man from an imaginary land who leaps off of the page where he is created by two small children. They dance with a bear and a bison, bound with kangaroos. There is juggling, jingling, and even cake! Then the man returns to the picture, not to return for another 500 years. It’s a silly and very fun book that is filled with nonsense and plenty of jam.
Mahy’s words really dance here, carrying the story forward on a rhyming flow. This is not a book that is a straight-forward story, rather it’s a dazzlingly silly wander. Children will quickly understand that this is pure nonsense and go with it. Dunbar’s illustrations have a wonderfully light touch. They are filled with bubbles and speckles. Whimsical creatures and plants populate the page, often dancing with glee.
This is a merry read that has a great lightness and silliness at its heart. A wonderful posthumous release from the amazing Mahy. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Kel Gilligan’s Daredevil Stunt Show by Michael Buckley, illustrated by Dan Santat
Kel is a daredevil, willing to take on enormous challenges and risk his own safety! He took on the challenge of eating broccoli and survived without a scratch. He had the courage to face down “The Potty of Doom” though it did take longer than he expected. He even managed to get dressed by himself without a net. He has tested his underwater skills by taking a bath with only one assistant. And has even survived his mother being on the phone without interrupting, though it was close. When Kel faces his final challenge of the day, you may have to avert your eyes, because he will be trying to go to bed without checking for monsters first! This is one picture book only for the bravest of readers.
Buckley’s language is over the top in the best possible way. Kel speaks as if he is announcing his challenges to a large crowd, all rooting for him. Buckley even gives that crowd a voice, interjecting amazement at this brave young man and what he is trying to do. The language alone is enough to get you laughing.
Combined with Santat’s illustrations, this book will actually make you laugh out loud. The incredulous faces of those in the crowd, the bare buttocks that you glimpse occasionally, and the pride of Kel as he defeats another obstacle, all add to the humor here.
Give this one to kids a little older, since they will appreciate looking back on their own accomplishments in a humorous way. Expect a cacophony of laughter when the The Potty of Doom appears. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.
The Christmas Wombat by Jackie French, illustrated by Bruce Whatley
The original Diary of a Wombat returns in all of his carrot-munching glory with a Christmas title. The book starts in a familiar way with a day spent sleeping, scratching, sleeping again, and eating. But then, a Christmas ornament bops him on the nose. The wombat gets rid of them. Then the wombat meets Santa’s reindeer who also like carrots. They fight a great battle and the wombat wins and after munching more carrots, curls up on the back of Santa’s sleigh. The wombat meets Santa, discovers snowmen with carrot noses, and continues to eat carrots across the world. The book ends with the same simplicity as the beginning, and with a well-deserved nap.
French has an exquisite sense of timing in her text. When I read the first book to my son, it quickly became one of his all-time favorites. Finding a Christmas book with that same feel and humor to it was a highlight of our holiday season so far. I enjoy reading the books with an Australian accent, since that’s how a wombat would talk, right? And they are a delight to share aloud. The timing of the humor is naturally conveyed in the writing.
Whatley’s illustrations are great. They show the pride of the wombat, his unwavering courage even when facing much larger animals, and plenty of humor themselves. With their larger format and white backgrounds, this picture book can merrily be shared with groups of children.
A great pick for a twist on the regular holiday picture books, this one may call for carrots to be shared afterwards. Carrots… Carrots… Carrots… Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.