Little Red Writing by Joan Holub, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
This is a fresh version of Little Red Riding Hood. Here Little Red is a pencil and her assignment in school is to write a story, even though it can be quite dangerous. Her teacher gives her a basket of words to use in case of an emergency, but also warns her to stick to her basic story so that she doesn’t get lost. Little Red starts writing but soon tries to add more excitement to her story. Before she knows it, she has bounced right off of the page and into a forest. It’s a forest full of description, but that’s also something that can bog down a story. Little Red has to use a word from her basket to get free. More perils follow with sentences that run on, abandoned punctuation, and a growling voice and twirly tail that lead right to the principal’s office. It is up to Little Red to both be a hero and finish her story.
Holub has written a very engaging new version of Little Red Riding Hood. She successfully ties in tips on writing, not allowing them to force her to leave the basic story path. Her writing is entirely engaging, the format of the story writing works well and she weaves the classic elements of the tale into this one so that it is different but still recognizable.
Sweet’s illustrations are done in her signature combination of cut paper and drawings. Her bright colors add much to the liveliness of the book. She uses the cut paper to good effect throughout, allowing them to set aside important parts of the book as well as using fonts of various styles to really make the book stand out.
A great pick for writing units, this is one of the best changed-up Red Riding Hoods that I’ve seen. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Picture Day Perfection by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Dan Santat
Picture Day is a day when you want to take the perfect picture. That doesn’t come easily! In fact, the boy in this book has been planning his Picture Day for months. But nothing seems to be going well at all. First is the bedhead hair that makes his brother laugh, then his favorite shirt is stained and smelly, and that all leads into the incident with the syrup at breakfast. The day continues this way and when he gets to school he starts to get into trouble with how he is acting. He won’t practice his smile, choosing instead to stick out his tongue. He sends paint flying during art. He doesn’t get a comb to fix his hair. In the end though, it all comes off just like he planned, or does it?
Diesen has a wonderful kid-like sense of humor that is very evident throughout this book. Her timing is great, the story will have everyone laughing. Readers will figure out what is really happening in this book just as the author decides to reveal it. Then the entire book still makes sense, but in a different way. It makes for a great read.
Add in Santat’s vibrant and equally funny art and you have a real winner. Santat captures the funniest moments in the text with great style. The image of the syrup incident is my favorite but I also love the picture taken at the end of the book.
Funny, pure silliness and just right for the start of a new school year. Try this one out with older elementary students since they will love the humor too. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Oliver and His Alligator by Paul Schmid
Oliver sometimes isn’t as brave as he’d like to be, and that is especially true on the first day of school. So he headed to the swamp and picked up an alligator, “just in case things got rough.” When Oliver got to school a woman who was not his mother greeted him and asked his name. In his panic, Oliver couldn’t remember his name, but he could say “munch, munch!” and the alligator ate the lady. A similar thing happened when a little girl in the class asked Oliver what he loved. Oliver wanted to answer and even had a great reply, but he found that he could only say “munch, munch!” and the alligator ate the girl. As Oliver steadily had his alligator munch his classmates, the classroom got much quieter and lonelier. But what is a boy to do when everyone has been eaten?
Schmid tells this story with a wonderful matter-of-fact tone that leaves readers shocked at first but then delighting in this clever answer to the worries of the first day of school. I guarantee a wonderful stunned moment if you share this book aloud, and then a rush of nervous but genuine glee at it all.
The book is cleanly designed with very simple lines that allow the humor of the situation to really shine. The simplicity is beautiful and entirely modern thanks to Oliver’s oversized sweater and mop of hair.
Beautiful, clever and a joy to share aloud, this book is riotously funny and oh so true. A great addition to starting-school shelves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
The Life of Ty: Penguin Problems by Lauren Myracle, illustrated by Jed Henry
Ty is seven years old and has a pretty complicated life. He has a new baby sister who is taking all of his mom’s time and attention. His older sisters won’t walk him into school like his mom used to, insisting that he can do it all on his own. His best friend is in the hospital battling cancer, and Ty’s other friends can be confusing and even alarming. Ty keeps getting into trouble at home for things like chasing the cat with a Dustbuster. Then on the school trip to the aquarium, Ty takes a baby penguin home with him. This is one wild boy who is also big hearted and caring, just not sure how best to show it.
Myracle, who writes teen books primarily, has created a truly exceptional book for younger readers. Ty is a character who is easily relatable, even when he does some extremely unusual things, like stealing a penguin. His home life will be familiar to many children, who will have older siblings and babies in their families too. Add to that the universal feelings of being asked to do big-kid things too early and also being treated like a baby, and you get a book that is universally appealing.
Myracle’s writing has an outstanding humor throughout. In the more dramatic moments, children will understand that things will be alright in the end. The black and white illustrations by Henry convey that humor and lightness as well.
Perfect for both reading aloud and for a child reading on their own, this book will be enjoyed by fans of the Stink series as well as those who like Clementine. This book would pair well with The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Dutton.
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
After getting a big lump on his head from a fall during their family vacation, Billy is worried that he’s not going to be smart enough for 2nd grade. And when he starts 2nd grade, he still has a lump on his head! The year doesn’t start easily with Billy accidentally insulting his new teacher on the very first day. He has to figure out how to fix the misunderstanding before she gets the wrong idea about him. Then Billy’s father who is a stay-at-home dad and an artist is trying to find his next breakthrough in his art. It is Billy who has to learn how to deal with a grumpy father but along the way he also serves as inspiration for his dad. When his parents go to his father’s gallery show, Billy tries to stay up all night, keeping his little sister up with him for as long as he can. Finally, he selects his mother as the person he wants to write a poem about. But it’s not that easy, since he has to make sure he doesn’t insult anyone with his choice and then has to read his poem aloud in front of an audience. Along the way, Billy learns a lot about how to act in a family, how to support one another but mostly how to love each other.
Henkes has written a book about a boy that will be perfect for fans of Clementine and Ramona. Happily, he does not resort to grossness, bodily functions, farting or any of the other plot devices so often used in books about boys. Here instead we have a real boy, one who makes mistakes but also tries to do what is right for his family. Broken into chapters that are focused on a single relationship: teacher, father, sister, and mother, this book is welcoming to young readers thanks to its logical structure and clear focus.
The black and white art in the book is done by Henkes. Unfortunately, the digital galley I read did not include much of the art. What was in the galley adds much to the book, nicely breaking the text into more manageable parts.
A tip top chapter book, this one is destined to be a classic. I’d think that sharing it would be a great way to start any 2nd grade school year. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Greenwillow Books.
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.
Clementine and the Spring Trip by Sara Pennypacker
In the latest installment of the Clementine series, which happens to be one of my all-time favorite series, Clementine is taking a spring field trip with her class to Plimoth Plantation. Clementine has agreed to be partners with her friend Margaret on the trip, mostly because the fourth graders have a rule that you have to eat without making any noise. Margaret wants to partner with Clementine too, since Clementine doesn’t mind dirty things at all and Margaret most definitely does. Then a new classmate comes along and complicates things. Olive has her own language that she teaches everyone and is well on her way to being very popular, when she is paired with Clementine for the field trip. With all of their plans in disarray, what will happen on the field trip?
Just as with all of the Clementine books, Pennypacker has created a modern girl living in a modern family. She merrily inserts levity throughout the book from the cleaning of the statues in the park to the stinky bus they have to take on the field trip. The character of Clementine continues to be complex, artistic and monumentally creative. This of course can lead to getting into trouble, but what jolly trouble it is!
This series belongs in every school and public library. Get it into the hands of creative kids and those who want a good giggle. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters by K. G. Campbell
When Cousin Clara’s cottage was eaten by a crocodile, she moved in with Lester and his family. No one knows quite whether she is actually their relative, but she stayed with them anyway. She brought her knitting along with her. She just sat and knitted all the time, until one morning she announced that she had made Lester a sweater. It was horrible, an ugly yellow with one arm far too long and purple pom-poms dotted all over it. Lester was made to wear it to school where the others made fun of him, of course. That sweater mysteriously shrunk in the laundry. But the next morning, there was another sweater. This one was pink with strange upside down pockets. That one got caught in the mower. Every time Lester did away with one awful sweater, another appeared to take its place, until one morning he awoke to a mountain of sweaters. He did what anyone would do, and murdered them quietly with a scissors. But even then, there was one left intact. There doesn’t seem to be anything Lester can do to end the parade of awful sweaters, but there just may be a solution in a most unlikely place!
This is a dynamite picture book that has a fabulous strangeness about it that works particularly well. There is the oddness that Lester has already. He keeps lists of dangerous things that start with the letter C and collects items for the Lost & Found he has. He is particular about his socks being even and keeping his hair tidy. He could be an unlikeable character, but those little oddities as set aside when the horrible sweaters start coming. One immediately understands Lester’s desperation to get rid of the sweaters without confrontation and as the story unravels, it gets more and more fun to read.
Campbell’s art adds to the strangeness of the book. She has strange objects set around the house: a pickaxe near the front door, a Viking helmet in the Lost & Found. The pages are done in a matte finish that adds to the vintage feel, the Victorian feel of the book. And yet, there is that unwavering sense of humor, that lifts everything to feel modern too.
For slightly older children than most picture books, this would make a great read aloud for elementary classrooms. There is plenty of humor, moments of surprise, and a great ending that I refuse to even hint at. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Ready for Pumpkins by Kate Duke
Hercules, or Herky for short, learned a lot being the classroom guinea pig in Miss MacGuffey’s first grade. He learned to paint, he learned about Halloween, but best of all, he learned that he could plant a garden from seeds. And Herky had seeds from the Halloween pumpkin that he had saved in his cage. So when he was taken for the summer out to the country, he knew he just had to plant his own garden. He met Daisy, a rabbit, who helped him find a sunny place to plant the seeds. Herky dug up the dirt, planted the seeds, and watered them. But then he had to be patient as they grew, and that was the hardest part! The plants grew, flowers appeared, and finally pumpkins. But Herky had to return to school before they turned orange! Will he ever know how his pumpkins turned out?
This is a charming mix of classroom pet story and gardening. Duke makes Herky quite a character. He’s impatient to the point of digging up the seeds to see what is happening, angry when the birds and beetles attack his garden, and yet he is also hard working enough to make a garden in the first place. The writing is simple and reads aloud easily, making this a good book to share with a fall class.
Duke’s art is full of simple lines and bright colors. As the garden grows, she shows the wild beauty of the pumpkin vines, their many flowers and the slow process of pumpkins growing to maturity. Daisy and Herky are engagingly drawn little creatures whose growing friendship mirrors that of the garden.
A great pick for pumpkin season or as an addition to spring growing books too. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House.