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.
Comics Squad: Recess!
Released July 8, 2014.
Join your favorite children’s graphic novel authors as they romp together in a celebration of recess! This graphic novel has been contributed to by authors like Jennifer and Matthew Holm, Jarrett Krosoczka, Dan Santat, Gene Luen Yang, and Raina Telgemeier. Favorite characters like Lunch Lady and Babymouse make an appearance in their own stories as well as appearing throughout the book with a little commentary. In other stories, new characters make their first appearance which will delight young fans.
It’s hard to be too enthusiastic about this title, since young readers are sure to adore it. The release in mid-summer is ideal since this will make great summer reading, though it will also be a great addition to any school library or classroom. Put together cleverly, the book has a nice flow to it and a brisk pace that will have even reluctant readers eagerly turning the pages.
Get multiple copies of this one, since it’s sure to be a hit! Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.
Naked! by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
A little boy streaks naked through his house, followed closely by his mother holding a towel. He leaves a trail of bubbles and puddles behind, shouting “I’m naked!” as he runs. He even manages to snag a cookie and eat it naked as his mother towels him off. Then he has a great idea! He could just dress this way all the time: at school, on the playground, dancing… But wait! Capes are cool too. So then he wears just a cape and manages to be mostly naked but also caped as he runs around. Finally, he catches a chill and agrees because he is so cold to put on pants, a top, even slippers, though he keeps the cape on. And it is off to bed, dressed and warm.
This book perfectly captures the joy of a young child in being entirely naked and running around. Parents will immediately recognize the stage and children will giggle along as the child in the book dreams of all of the places he can go naked. Perhaps best of all in the book is the mother’s response which is acceptance and then managing to get the little boy dressed without tears or tantrums. She respects his enthusiasm but also gets him dressed in the end.
Ohi’s illustrations are vibrant and joyous. She fills the page with the running little boy, moving across the page celebrating just how naked he is. The illustrations are cute, clear and large format, so they will work with a group. Beware though, reading this too a group of preschoolers could have wild results!
Silly, happy and great fun, this naked romp is one that fans of No, David! will enjoy. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
This Is a Moose by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
A movie director is trying to create a documentary about the Mighty Moose. You know, the ones that eat plants and drink from lakes. But instead what he gets is a moose who wants to be an astronaut. And his grandmother who wants to be a lacrosse goalie. And somehow a giraffe who wants to be a doctor is also brought into the movie! Then there is a grand plan to get the moose who wants to be an astronaut into space. No matter what the poor director does, no one pays him any attention just doing what they want to do. There are plenty of more twists along the way too in this hilarious picture book.
Morris writes with an ear for dialogue and yelling. The book reads aloud perfectly, the tones matching the fonts, the silliness reaching amazing heights. At first the book is serious with the mighty moose, but that lasts only for a page or two before it becomes pure farce, which will delight young listeners. They will also delight in the fact that the “adult” voice of the director is ignored for much more fun pursuits as the character join forces to launch the moose into space.
Lichtenheld’s illustrations add to the laughs as the characters stand up to the structure of the book and completely mess with the system. Lichtenheld plays with perspective, throws the characters bodily around, and adds plenty of motion to the page. This is one wild and silly book, a farcical festival.
Got silly kids? Get this book! Guaranteed giggles in no time at all. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.