Tag: stories

Review: Rufus the Writer by Elizabeth Bram

Rufus the Writer by Elizabeth Bram

Rufus the Writer by Elizabeth Bram, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (InfoSoup)

Released July 14, 2015.

One summer Rufus decides not to have his regular lemonade stand. Instead he will do a story stand! So he gets all set up wtih plenty of paper, pencils, pens and markers. When Millie and her little brother Walter stop at the stand, Rufus agrees to write them a story in exchange for a special shell from the beach. The story is about Walter’s favorite color. Sandy stops by with a box of kittens and even though they are free, Rufus writes a story in exchange for the black kitten, a story about cats. Rufus is reminded that his little sister’s birthday is tomorrow and he knows that a story will be the best present. Sara stops by and asks for a story about buttons, so Rufus agrees in exchange for whatever Sara thinks it should be worth. All of his customers pick up their stories at the same time and sit right down to read and enjoy them.

This smart blend of lemonade stand and creativity makes for a book premise that is very engaging and fun. Particularly pleasant is the lack of focus on money as payment and instead allowing a warm and friendly bartering system in exchange for Rufus’ stories. The values make sense, paid in kittens, shells and flowers. Also great is the way that Rufus’ stories are each designed specifically for that reader, with their favorite color or via the subject matter. The stories are engaging and fun, just brief enough to give a flavor and not slow the main storyline down.

Groenink’s illustrations are done in gouache, acrylics and pencils with Adobe Photoshop. They are warm and bright, showing a friendly neighborhood with plenty of ethnic diversity in Rufus’ customers. They have a playful feel with the trees around Rufus’ stand done in a whimsical way and various woods animals peeking at what is going on. The illustrations in Rufus’ stories are drawn with fine details and show the coloring lines. They have the same quality and feel of the other pictures but also have a distinct style of their own.

A celebration of creativity and writing, this book may inspire children to find their own variations on lemonade stands or even try their hand at writing and illustrating their own stories. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.

Review: By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman

by mouse and frog

By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman

Released April 14, 2015

Mouse wakes up early to start work on the new story she wants to write. It is a quiet story about a mouse who is setting the table. But before she can get any farther in her story, exuberant Frog hops in and starts adding new elements to the story, including cake, a king, and lots of ice cream. Meanwhile Mouse is trying to mop up all of the mess of the spilled tea, melting ice cream, while Frog gets completely out of control and takes over entirely. Finally Mouse has had enough and yells that Frog is not listening at all! They erase the entire mess of Frog’s story and start again with just Mouse’s ideas of morning tea. Frog is forlorn, unable to help until Mouse realizes that there is room in the story for her quiet ideas and Frog’s wild ones.

Freedman shows without any didactic tone that collaboration on stories and art is possible, as long as everyone listens, communicates and compromises. In fact, the end result is a lot more lovely! Showing that wild ideas are not the best way to come up with a story, but that also quiet thoughts have value, is a wonderful show of support for quieter thinkers. At the same time, that wild moment of Frog’s makes the entire book work, showing how out of control and wonderful some ideas can be. It’s a balanced look at creativity and collaboration that is welcoming and inclusive.

As always Freedman’s art is exceptional. Once again she does washes of watercolor that are gorgeously messy and free. The spilled tea and other elements of Frog’s story embrace all of that. Mouse’s story is shown in pencil drawings that are childlike and rough while also being very neat and structured. They show each characters personality clearly. At the end, it is a lovely marriage of the two styles, filled with bright colors and yet neat as a pin.

Creative and great fun to share aloud, this picture book demonstrates how teamwork and collaboration should work. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.

Review: Any Questions? by Marie-Louise Gay

any questions

Any Questions? by Marie-Louise Gay

Where do stories come from?  How are books made?  These questions that authors often get from children are the subject of this picture book from an author who has written and illustrated many picture books.  Together the author and a group of children asking delighted questions create a story right in front of the reader.  They take inspiration from the kind of paper the story is written on, the colors of the page.  They talk about how ideas happen, and how sometimes they are great ideas but don’t become a book or that not all ideas fit into a single story.  Ideas sometimes don’t appear and you have to wait for them, doodling and dreaming of other things until they arrive.  And then something happens, and it starts to become a story!  The children in the book get involved and the story takes a surprising turn.  Luckily story telling is flexible and able to deal with wild purple monsters who come out of the woods.  This is a great look at the creative process and how books are made, written at a level that preschool children will enjoy and understand.

Gay is so open and inviting in this picture book.  She is refreshingly candid about the creative process and all of the bumps and twists along the way.  The invitation to the reader along with the child characters in the book to be part of creating a story is warm and friendly.  All ideas are welcome, some work and other don’t, and that is all embraced as part of creativity. 

Gay’s illustrations continue the cheerfulness of the text.  They combine writing in cursive with story panels and speech bubbles with characters in the book.  It’s all a wonderful mix of styles that gets your creativity flowing.

Expect children to want to write their own stories complete with illustrations after reading this!  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf

nine open arms

Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf

Translated from the original Dutch, this book is the story of Fing and her family.  Fing’s mother died years ago and since then her father and her grandmother have taken care of them.  They are a big family, with Fing’s three older brothers and her two sisters, Muulke and Jess.  Fing’s father has decided to start a cigar business, so they move out of town to a big old house that has something very strange about it that Fing can’t quite figure out.  They call it Nine Open Arms, because that is how far across it is.  The house is near a cemetery, the front door is at the back, and there is a bed in storage that looks like a tombstone.  As the girls start a new school, they slowly begin to discover the secrets of Nine Open Arms and of their own community and family.

Delightfully wild and incredibly quirky, this book is one of a kind.  From the family that moves constantly, to the cemetery next door where they go to get their water each day, to the crocodile purse that is used to tell family stories, to the controlling grandmother who is dominant but deeply loving in her own way, to the one old story that is the key to understanding it all.  This is a richly rewarding read, one that you have to head out on before you even know what journey you are on.  It is a book that meanders but each turn is essential to the book in the end, where it all clicks into place. 

Told in the first person by Fing, the book unfolds before you, each reveal another piece of the family, another story, another moment that is meaningful.  It is a perfectly crafted book that has a plot that moves in its own time, another time, a less modern pace.  It ties to the pace of the family, one where things are revealed in their own space.  It’s incredibly well done.

Beautifully written, magnificently crafted, this Dutch novel is like nothing you have read before, and that is wonderful!  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Story of Fish & Snail by Deborah Freedman

story of fish and snail

The Story of Fish & Snail by Deborah Freedman

This is the story of Fish and Snail who were great friends.  Every day, Snail would wait for Fish to return with a new story.  This time, Fish returned with a great story, one so wonderful that Fish wanted to show Snail instead of tell about it.  But Snail doesn’t want to leave the book they are in.  Snail wants to stay right there and play kittens instead of pirates.  The two start to argue and finally Fish declares that it is THE END and leaves the book.  Snail was so sad.  This was not the way the story was meant to end.  So Snail leans farther outside of the page and sees Fish in a watery book below.  Will Snail leave his safe book and dare to tumble down to the other ocean below?  Will Fish return with more stories?

Freedman captures a story-within-a-story here with her setting of two characters living not just in one picture book but many.  It is the story of two opposite characters who still manage to be friends, most of the time.  There is the sedentary Snail who longs for the stories but not the real adventure.  Then there is the irrepressible Fish who jumps and leaps literally off of the page.  The pair make for a balanced friendship but also one with plenty of room for misunderstanding too.  Their conversation and fight are written strongly and honestly.

Freedman’s art is gorgeous.  Readers will recognize her as the author and illustrator of Blue Chicken.  She uses similar splash effects in her art here.  The blues are gorgeously green and filled with light.  When Fish swims the bubbles take on a stronger form as Freedman lets the watercolor dapple the page.  There is one beautiful image of Snail looking down to the other book that plays with perspective cleverly.

I’ve heard Caldecott rumblings for this one and with its playful yet artistic illustrations, I’d love to see that.  In the end though, it’s also a great story about friendship, books and being willing to take risks.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

Review: Toys in Space by Mini Grey

toys in space

Toys in Space by Mini Grey

A group of toys are left outside overnight for the first time.  There is Wonderdoll, a robot, a cowboy and horse, a dinosaur, a sheep, and a rabbit.  All of them left in the dark, gazing up into the starry sky.  They are all scared, but then Wonderdoll starts to tell a story.  It is a story of seven toys left out at night under the stars, but then one star gets bigger and bigger until they can see that it is actually a spaceship!  The seven toys are beamed aboard the spacecraft and meet a glove-shaped alien who is missing his own favorite toy.  He has gathered toys from all around the world and kept them, but has not found his toy yet.  The seven toys help the alien figure out that he has to return the toys to earth and even throw him a party to cheer him up.  But will the alien ever find his own Cuddles again?

This picture book has the winning touch of Mini Grey.  She is always fearless in her storytelling and deeply understands the connection between child and toy as shown in her Traction Man books as well.  It also has the great combination of toys and aliens!  The story is wonderfully playful and children will wonder if it really happened right up to the very end. 

Grey’s art adds to the playful feel.  Each toy has its own personality visually but the seven together make quite the team.  She nicely incorporates speech bubbles into the story, giving it a comic feel that works well with the light-hearted art. 

Sure to be a hit with its combo of aliens and toys, this book will work well at a story time, or for cuddling after all the favorite toys are tucked in too.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.

Review: Again! by Emily Gravett


Again! by Emily Gravett

It’s nearly bedtime and that means a bedtime story.  Mama dragon and little dragon curl up together to share the story of the bright, red dragon Cedric who has never gone to bed.  When they finish, the little dragon asks for it “Again?”  Mama dragon agrees and readers will see another full page of the book that tells more about Cedric and his not sleeping.  Mama reads it one more time before falling asleep herself.  Readers will notice the little dragon getting redder and redder just as Cedric in the story is turning back to green.  But this little dragon has a burning desire for one more story that leads to a fiery ending.

Gravett cleverly reaves two parallel stories together here.  There is the main story of the little dragon who wants to be read to over and over again.  Then there is the story of Cedric in the book that Mama dragon reads.  The two play off of one another, with tension in one ebbing as the other picks up. 

The art is just as clever.  Towards the end, the little dragon shakes the book in disgust and the characters take a tumble across the pages.  This leads to the surprise of the ending, which is sure to delight young readers. 

A perfect ending for a story time, this book is one that young children (and dragons) will want to read AGAIN!  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.