Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman
The co-creator of the Ladybug Girl series returns with a completely different type of book. It is the story of three little bears who accidentally break their mother’s favorite blue seashell, so they set off to find her a new one. Along the way they meet other bears on boats but only one can give them any advice about finding a blue seashell, they need to look for a hat-shaped island and then look in the right place. As they travel, the bears look and look for a blue seashell, but don’t find one. Once they give up hope, they start to argue and as they fight a storm blows up around them. They may be forced to return home to Mama empty handed, and after all, their mother is a bear!
Soman has created an exceptional picture book. It hearkens back to many classic picture books, particularly ones by Maurice Sendak like Where the Wild Things Are and the Little Bear series. It also has ties to the three bears, Beatrix Potter and even Melville. But best of all, it reads like it is a classic already, one that will be shared with children for years, and very rightly so. The story arc is brilliantly crafted, moving the story forward and also coming full circle, returning the bears in time for a warm supper with Mama. It is so strongly built that there is a sense of coming home when reading the story, but also one of surprise and delight at discovering it.
Soman’s art is extraordinary: from the faces of the little bears that show every emotion clearly despite the fur to the landscapes that are like opening a window to the ocean. There are page turns where you simply sit for a moment and linger, looking at the new vista before you until you are ready to read the words on the page.
A top Caldecott contender, this picture book feels like returning home to Mama after a long trip at sea. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
The Sin-Eater’s Confession by Ilsa J. Bick
Ben saw what happened to Jimmy. Ben was the only witness except for the murderers who stoned Jimmy to death in the woods. Ben shouldn’t even have been there, not after what Jimmy did to him by taking a sensual photo of him when he was sleeping. But Ben found himself drawn to Jimmy and understood that Jimmy had no one else to turn to. His older brother was dead and his parents could not accept having a son who was suspected of being gay. Ben wasn’t sure that Jimmy is gay, and he was not clear about himself either. What he does know is that Merit, Wisconsin was not an easy place to be gay with prejudice still very evident throughout the community. Ben had to decide what to do about what he witnessed, what to tell the police. Now he has to grapple with the guilt that came from the decisions he made and what he intends to do moving forward.
Bick is the author of the Ashes trilogy and here writes a contemporary teen novel that focuses on several large issues. Issues like parental pressures are huge in Ben’s life where his mother expects him to get into Yale and become a doctor. Ben never goes out, has never dated anyone, and pours all of his energy into school and his part time jobs. The book also covers prejudice and homophobia, along with domestic violence. It’s a lot for a single book to deal with and at times some of the subjects seem to be there more for effect and to make a point than to really be part of the story itself.
The book does suffer from slow pacing in some areas, though the underlying story is taut and almost mesmerizing. Seeing into Ben’s thought process is interesting at first, but there are some layers to it that could have been left off to make the book even stronger.
What Bick really does well here is to create a compelling character in Ben. Jimmy was interesting as well, but it is Ben who really is the soul of the story. Through his eyes and his hindsight, readers are able to see the mistakes that Ben has made, the impossible decisions he has been forced into, and eventually his coming to terms with his own responsibility for what happened. Bick has left large parts of Ben unexplained, which works well. Readers will never be clear about his sexuality, which mirrors the questions about Jimmy as well, placing the reader right in the same place as the bigots in the community. One has to start questioning why it matters so much to label someone.
A harsh and unflinching look at bigotry and one’s personal responsibility in a community, this book asks tough questions and then leaves the answers in the reader’s hands. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Carolrhoda Books.
Dog in Charge by K. L. Going, illustrated by Dan Santat
Dog had been busy all day. He had sat, stayed and even danced dressed in a pink ribbon and tutu. But his entire day changed when he was left in charge of the cats when the humans left. Dog knew just what to do. He would have the cats sit and stay. But before he could order the cats around, all five of them had completely disappeared. One-by-one dog found the cats. They were lapping milk on the kitchen counter, hiding in the fireplace, in the clothes hamper, in bed, and putting on makeup. Dog had to think of something quick! Then he had a great idea: cat treats! Unfortunately, they smelled so delicious that he couldn’t help himself and ate the entire bag. Then, exhausted and full, he fell asleep. When the cats found him, you will never guess what they did next!
Going has a wonderful tone and patter for slapstick comedy. Her timing is right on and makes the book a delight to read aloud. She also puts on an unexpected ending that will warm the heart and makes the book all the more wonderful to share.
Santat’s illustrations are done in a mixture of different types of frames that add a dynamic touch to the book. At the same time, they bring to mind vintage cartoon characters and have all of their charm and wit.
This jolly picture book would make a great addition to storytimes about either cats or dogs. It’s one of those that you can hold until the end to make the little bodies stay still. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books for Young Readers.