A Tale of Two Beasts by Fiona Roberton
Released March 1, 2015
First we hear the story from one point of view, then the other. A little girl tells of walking in the woods and seeing a little beast in the forest. He was stuck in the tree and very sad, so she rescued him and took him home with her. There she bathed him, dressed him in a hat and sweater, gave him nuts to eat and built him a house out of a cardboard box. She even walked him in a leash to give him exercise. But in the end, he escaped out of the window. Alone in her bed, she couldn’t sleep and then the beast returned to get his hat so they headed off into the woods together. But she couldn’t stop wondering about why he came back. The second half of the book is told from the little animal’s point of view and it’s a very different perspective. But in the end, the two of them found a connection despite their different ways of seeing what happened.
Roberton could have kept this book solely about perspectives and had it be full-on humor, but instead she manages to imbue the book with a real heart. The connection between the two “beasts” is slow to come, with the final moment of real understanding being so freeing for both of them as they in turn realize that the other one is not quite as bad as they had thought. Using similar language for both stories in that moment really shows their connection, particularly because otherwise their perspectives had been so very different.
Roberton uses her art to frame the story, showing the same exact story not only verbally from different perspectives but also vividly in the images as different from one another. One moment that stands out is the cardboard box home that she builds the creature, which he detests. The illustrations show her pleasure at it and then in turn his trapped feeling of being in the box with nothing to do. And don’t miss their final dash together into the woods and then their clothing hanging on tree branches side-by-side. Freedom!
Cleverly crafted and told, this picture book explores points of view and how connections are possible even with different beasts. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from online copy from Kane Miller.
Here in the Garden by Briony Stewart
Released March 1, 2015.
This import from Australia tells the seasonal story of a boy and his garden. A boy spends time in his backyard, but is missing someone. The wind blows, he plants seedlings in the garden, and dreams of his special someone joining his side. When the rain comes, he watches from the back steps, still missing the one who would love to see the garden turn so green. Summer comes with its sunshine and heat and the boy continues to feel his loss but begins to realize that he can still be in touch with the one he misses by being out in nature and enjoying the same things they used to do together.
Stewart beautifully allows the book to speak to anyone who has experienced loss. In the end though, this book is clearly about the loss of a pet rabbit, the same one who is pictured at the boy’s side throughout the story. That reveal is done tenderly and gently, clearly tying the boy to nature and to his memories of all the times they had together. It’s beautifully and caringly presented.
Stewart’s art is washed in watercolors, colors that sweep and blow across the page, evoking the movement of air and the freshness of outdoors. Though the book is filled with loneliness, the art remains resolutely lovely and cheery. Even the one in the dark of night is filled with a light that illuminates.
A quiet story of grief, loss and the healing power of nature, this is a lovely little foreign title. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Kane Miller.
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.
Sparky! by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Chris Appelhans
A little girl wanted a pet but her mother would only let her have a pet that doesn’t need to be walked, bathed or fed. So the girl went to the library and the school librarian pointed her towards sloths. Her sloth arrived in the mail and she named him Sparky. She immediately took him to his tree where he went promptly to sleep. He didn’t wake up for two days. She tried playing games with him but they didn’t really work since the girl won every single time. The only game that Sparky could win was Statue. He was really good at it. That weekend, Mary Potts came over to see the sloth, but she didn’t approve. She said her parrot could say twenty words and her cat could walk on its hind legs. The girl said that Sparky could do tricks too, and now she would have to prove it. But what in the world can Sparky actually do?
Told in the first person by the little girl, this book celebrates a pet may not be able to do traditional tricks like other more active animals, but definitely can hold its own as a companion. Offill has created a wonderful story filled with gently funny moments like trying to play hide-and-seek with a sloth that doesn’t move. As the girl trains the sloth to do tricks, I was happy to see that Sparky remained steadfastly a sloth and didn’t change into something else at all.
Appelhans’ illustrations also have a great quietness to them. Done in watercolor and pencil, they are subtly colored, with the backgrounds and characters primarily in browns. Then there are occasional pops of red too. My favorite picture is the sloth arriving via mail with his arms, legs and head popping out of the box and the up arrow facing straight down as if he should be carried on his head.
This is a book that is slow, steady and heartfelt, just like Sparky himself. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
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.
I Am Otter by Sam Garton
Based off of characters from the blog: I Am Otter: The Unheard Ramblings of a Modern Day Otter, this picture book oozes with good natured humor. It tells the story of an otter who lives with a person that she calls Otter Keeper. Otter Keeper had to go to work on Monday, so Otter and Teddy (her teddy bear) tried to stop him by doing things like hiding his keys and his lunch. But Otter Keeper left for work anyway. So Otter decided to have her own job and chose to open a toast restaurant. But there were problems from the start. Teddy had forgotten to take reservations, so the line was very long. Teddy forgot to tell the customers the prices of the items. And finally, Teddy got the orders wrong. It all ended in a horrible mess, just as Otter Keeper returned home. Quickly, Otter hid as much as she could of the mess, but in the process Teddy disappeared! Can Otter find her best friend?
Garton cleverly tells two stories in this picture book. First is the written story in Otter’s voice that explains exactly what is happening from her perspective. That is that Teddy makes poor choices, Teddy makes messes, and Teddy forgets things. The rest of the story, the true version, is told in the pictures where even the youngest readers will understand that it is Otter who is creating all of the ruckus and mess as well as the drama.
Garton’s art is just as clear as his dual story. Done in full-color, the illustrations have a quiet and homey feel to them that contrasts delightfully with the messes that Otter creates. The illustrations are busy with small objects, showing a real home filled with toys, plants, pencils, and more.
Funny, smart and a pleasure to share aloud, this British picture book is “otterly” incredible. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Balzer + Bray.
Dream Dog by Lou Berger, illustrated by David Catrow
Harry wants a dog, but his father works at a pepper factory and sneezes all the time, so he won’t let Harry have a dog. Instead they get Harry a chameleon who turns colors, but Harry doesn’t love the chameleon. Luckily a friend of his does, so he gives her the chameleon. Harry decides that he will try to imagine up a dog with his X-35 Infra-Rocket Imagination Helmet. Suddenly there is a dog in his room. Harry names the dog Waffle and the two of them do everything together. No one else can see Waffle, but that doesn’t bother Harry in the least. After all, no one could really see the chameleon either. Then Harry’s father is let go from the pepper factory and goes into ping-pong balls instead. He brings home a real dog for Harry, but what about Waffle?
Berger was the head writer of Sesame Street for over a decade and my does his expertise shine here. His tone is playful and filled with joy. He creates humor out of what could have been a sad story. The ending is heartfelt and beautiful, dancing the perfect balance of loss and cheer. This book reads aloud wonderfully, actually begging to be shared.
Catrow’s illustrations are much calmer than many of his previous books. They still have a great energy to them but they also have a distinct sweetness that mellows them as well as a focus of a tale that is all about love of a dog.
Even in the crowded shelves of dog books, this is something special. It is a picture book that speaks to the power of imagination and dreams. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade Books.
How to Train a Train by Jason Carter Eaton, illustrated by John Rocco
Did you know that trains make great pets? Well this is the book all about how to best keep a train as a pet and have it well trained too. First, you have to decide what sort of train you want: freight, monorail or steam. Then you need to catch one. There are lots of ways to do this, but the best way is to catch their attention with smoke signals and then bribe them with coal. You then have to name your train and try to set it at ease. Spend time together and get to know one another. Eventually if you have built enough trust, your train will let you ride him. But it takes time to ride off into the sunset together.
Eaton sets the perfect tone in his writing. The framework of a how-to book adds a level of structure that Eaton plays with throughout. Reading along the way, Eaton invites you into his world of sentient trains where each reader is offered the opportunity to consider what type of train they would want as a pet and how they would care for it. It’s a delightful world and one that lingers after shutting the cover.
Rocco’s illustrations are a large part of building that delight. He has created trains that read as purely machine and yet have faces that smile directly at you. He also maintains the scale of the trains, allowing them to be huge puppy-like beasts that have a great wildness as well.
This cheery book will delight train fans but also reaches far beyond them with its humor and world building. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lulu and the Cat in the Bag by Hilary McKay
This third Lulu book continues the story of Lulu’s love affair with any type of animal. In this story, a cat is dropped off on Lulu’s doorstep in a bag. Lulu opens the bag over her aunt’s objections. Her aunt is watching her while her parents are on vacation and is not fond of animals at all. When the bag is opened, the cat goes running off and disappears. Though Lulu searches for it, she is unable to find it. When she returns to her room later, the cat is there on her bed, having climbed in through her open window. Steadily, the big orange cat starts to become part of the family, even changing Lulu’s aunts thoughts on cats in general. It dominates the two dogs, scares the bird and even gathers flowers from the garden to scatter about the house. Then the cat simply disappears, they search for it with Lulu’s aunt’s help, but no one can find it. Until Lulu makes a surprising discovery!
I’ve enjoyed all of the Lulu books so far and this just adds to the delight that is this series. Lulu is a wonderful protagonist. It is a pleasure to see a child character so into animals who does her chores and takes good care of her animals with no complaining. Lulu is also quite a scamp, so the book are filled with a natural childhood zest and Lulu’s own special take on things. This is another great treat of a book from McKay.
A series to rival Clementine, get this into the hands of those readers and they will find a new feisty young heroine to love. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from digital galley received from