The Big Wet Balloon by Liniers
Inspired by his daughters aged 3 and 5, this book celebrates a rainy day. When Matilda wakes up on a Saturday morning, she is delighted by everything she can do that day. Clemmie, her little sister, gets excited too. But then their day turns out to be filled with rain. Matilda is undaunted and sets out to persuade Clemmie to join her out in the rain. Clemmie is very hesitant, insisting that it is wet, until Matilda shows her the umbrella and how to use it. Clemmie then enjoys the rain until her red balloon floats off when she gets too excited. But Matilda finds a way to make that right as well.
Liniers shows his adoration for his daughters in this book. Clemmie is clearly a toddler and expresses herself in early sentences and short words. Matilda is an enthusiastic older sibling who wants to spend time out in the weather. It is a pleasure to see a sibling relationship depicted with such warmth and evident love for one another. Matilda is never frustrated by the situation, always coming up with another way to approach it. The words and art dance together here. Both help tell this story of a rainy and wet Saturday.
My children always loved rain more than sun, so this is a book that they would have loved. Time to get out rain slickers and umbrellas and play in the rain! Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Dee Dee and Me by Amy Schwartz
Told from the point of view of the younger sister, Hannah has had enough of her older sister Dee Dee. Dee Dee always gets her way, gets the best seat, eats the best food. She manages to do it in sneaky ways that seem nice as first but don’t end up that way for Hannah. So Hannah decides to run away and packs up all the things she doesn’t want to share with Dee Dee. In the end, she decides not to really run away because she can’t find her teddy bear. But all alone, she spends time with the things she had packed up. When Dee Dee appears having finally done something really nice for Hannah, Hannah puts her foot down and makes some new rules for them to play together. This is a book that captures sibling relationships to a tee, or perhaps to a Dee.
Schwartz infuses her story with touches of humor that make Dee Dee’s tyrannical attitudes more funny than threatening. Both Hannah and Dee Dee have strong personalities and individual perspectives. Schwartz does a good job of telling Hannah’s story clearly but also making sure that Dee Dee is not vilified entirely. The art is vivid and colorful, displaying a family home filled with small details and lots of flowers. It is a home that you want to visit and play in.
This is a superb telling of two siblings at odds that is filled with humor and charm. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko
Released August 20, 2013
This is the third and final book in the Alcatraz trilogy. Moose is growing up on Alcatraz where his father has just been made Assistant Warden. But with the promotion also comes dangers that he had not faced as a guard. Moose quickly discovers that the inmates have a point system where his father is now worth a lot more points if he is attacked. Moose has far more to worry about though, when there is a fire in their family apartment. Moose feels very guilty because he had been watching his sister Natalie who is autistic, but he fell asleep. Others are all too quick to blame Natalie for setting the fire, though Moose and his family don’t see her doing something like that. Now Moose feels that he has to solve the mystery of the fire as well as protect his father as best he can, but there may be more mysteries along to solve, one that is even hinted at by a note from Capone himself!
I have loved this series from the first book. The historical perspective of a family living on Alcatraz is tantalizing. Yet it is Choldenko’s skill in creating characters who are immensely human and wonderfully heartfelt that makes this series so good. Moose is a character who grows from one book to the next and within each book as well. The growth is strong and believable. The mystery here fits nicely in the historical setting and one finds out from the Author’s Note that the reason it is so credible is that Choldenko based much of it on real events of the time.
This series has been strong from the first book, never suffering from lagging in the middle book or from the final book trying to do too much. Nicely, each book is individually satisfying as well, so they stand just as nicely on their own as they do in a trio. However, I could never not find out what happened next to Moose and the other children on the island.
Satisfying and superbly written, this book is a great conclusion to a wonderful trilogy. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.
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.
Listening for Lucca by Suzanne LaFleur
Siena and her family move to Maine from Brooklyn to help her little brother Lucca. He doesn’t speak, using only gestures to communicate with them. Siena isn’t sad to move, since she didn’t have lots of friends to leave behind. Maine should be a new start for all of them. When they arrive at their big old house on the beach, the family gets to work fixing it up. But both Lucca and Siena believe that the house is haunted by a family that used to live there. Siena finds a pen on a high shelf in her closet that seems to connect her to a young girl who used to live in the house. She also dreams about the girl’s brother Joshua as he fights in World War II. The stories of the two families have striking similarities that give Siena the idea that she may be able to not only fix the present but also the past.
I adored this book. LaFleur tells a story of mystery and ghosts where the past is just as alive and changeable as the present. Throughout the book has a sweetness and wistfulness to it that makes it a pleasure to read. I also appreciated the way that Siena has a tie to the past through her collection of lost items. LaFleur builds her story carefully, so that each element makes an innate sense as it happens. Beautifully done.
The characters are strongly written. Siena is a heroine who can be prickly at times, but has the courage and talents to make a difference. She is an incredible older sister, loving and attentive, but is much more critical of herself. Her parents and younger brother are just as fully realized in the story. The friends that Siena makes in town all also have touches that make them whole as people.
This lovely book transcends genres with its mix of mystery, historical fiction, and fantasy. It’s a winning combination. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Wendy Lamb Books.
Fog Island by Tomi Ungerer
Always expect to be surprised by a picture book by Ungerer. The Three Robbers is one of our favorites in our house and we’ve also loved the short film of the book and quote lines and sing the song from it years later. This new book from Ungerer has some of the feel of that earlier title, with fog and darkness and danger. It is the story of Finn and Cara who lived by the sea. Their father built them a small boat, a curragh, and warned them to only use it in the bay and never go near Fog Island because people who go there have never returned. But one day, the two of them were trapped in the fog and a current pulled them out of the bay and towards the doomed island. Once there, they explored and met the Fog Man, who created the fog from sea water and heat from the center of the earth. He entertained them and fed them well, but when they awoke the next morning, they were in a ruin rather than his castle. But where had the warm quilt and hot stew come from?
Ungerer weaves a tale of rural life by the sea and folklore together. The book could be set during any time at all, with the timeless nature of the story and the way of life. It has the cadence of a story from oral traditions. He takes the time to fully introduce the characters, the setting and create a world that contrasts beautifully with the wonder of Fog Island itself. At the same time, Ungerer is happy to leave the magic of the island unexplained and amazing.
The art is especially atmospheric, particularly the scenes in the fog with the children adrift. There is one double page spread with no words that leaves a sense of wistfulness, dread and longing. One can almost here the bell on the buoy and the silence and muffled world beyond. Throughout the book, the double spreads are worth lingering over, showing rather than explaining the world that Ungerer has created here.
Magical, dark, and filled with fog, this book would make a great story time paired with The Three Robbers. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Peanut & Fifi Have a Ball by Randall de Seve, illustrated by Paul Schmid
Peanut had a brand new ball. It was blue and special. But Fifi wanted to play with the ball too. She tried grabbing it away from Peanut, and she tried being polite and asking “Please.” But Peanut would not share it. Then Fifi got creative and started coming up with ideas of how they could play with the ball. It could wear a hat. It could be a crystal ball and Fifi could tell fortunes. It could be bread dough and Fifi could be a chef. This book about sharing as siblings ends with a believable twist that is clever and satisfying.
De Seve’s text really comes alive when Fifi starts to imagine what she can do with the ball. He is consistently simple and clear throughout, allowing the story to play out with a natural rhythm and flow. The pacing is nicely done as well, allowing both sisters to have their space to think and react.
Schmid’s art is what makes this book really stand out. His hip and modern visual style uses strong black lines and tropical colors. In just a few lines, Schmid manages to convey a character’s mood clearly but not in an over-the-top manner. His art is simple and very effective.
A great pick for toddlers and early preschoolers that would make a nice addition to story times or book lists about sharing. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
Tiger in My Soup by Kashmira Sheth, illustrated by Jeffery Ebbeler
When a boy is left in the care of his big sister, all he wants her to do is read his book to him. But she’s too busy reading her own book. He tries to read his book on his own, but it isn’t the same. She just keeps ignoring him until he asks for lunch. Then she heats up some soup and gives him a bowl. That’s when the action starts and a tiger comes out of the soup. The boy battles him, stabbing him with a spoon and chasing him around the kitchen. His sister continues to read, ignoring all of the ruckus. It isn’t until the tiger is chased back into the soup that she agrees to read the book to him. But wait, this book has a final toothy surprise.
Sheth has created a loving older sister who is just too caught up in her own book to have any time to spend with her younger brother. It makes me very happy to see two siblings arguing over which book to read right then. I also enjoyed the boy trying to read to himself, turning the book this way and that and even trying with his eyes closed. Throughout the book there is a wonderful sense of playfulness.
Ebbeler’s illustrations are just as playful. He plays with perspective especially in the outdoor scenes. Then when the tiger arrives, he is wonderfully real, his fur stands on end, his claws threaten and his teeth gleam. The action scenes are rivetingly fun, the escapades daring.
Jaunty and devoted to reading, this book is a compelling mix of stories and action. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.
The Day Louis Got Eaten by John Fardell
When Louis and his big sister, Sarah, were out in the woods, Louis got eaten by a Gulper. Sarah didn’t panic, she got something she thought she might need and rode after them. But just as she had almost caught them, the Gulper was eaten by a Grabular. Sarah continued to follow but just as she almost reached the Grabular, it was eaten by an Undersnatch. The Undersnatch was eaten by a Spiney-backed Guzzler. The Guzzler was eaten by a Yumper. Sarah approached the Yumper as it slept, but how in the world was she going to save Louis?
Fardell delights in the ridiculous here and young audiences will too. The series of monsters that feast on one another makes for a very silly read, each monster more strange than the last and larger too. Sarah is a wonderful heroine and really the main character of the book. As she chases the monsters, she slowly converts her bicycle into a new and amazing contraption that can paddle on water, run underwater, zoom with the wind, or even walk on stick legs. She’s not only resourceful but she remains calm too.
Fardell’s illustrations are detailed and wonderful. He makes each monster unique and intriguing. The illustrations are done in pen and ink and watercolor. Fardell manages to get such detail in his illustrations that it’s a real surprise when the monsters appear against such a realistic background. At the same time, the detail doesn’t remove any of the playfulness. It just makes the illustrations all the more fun to linger with.
An ideal read-aloud, this book is one of those that you can use to settle wiggly kids. They won’t be able to resist the storyline, the monsters, and a great ending. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.