Balderdash by Michelle Markel

Balderdash by Michelle Markel

Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (9780811879224, Amazon)

This picture book biography is the story of John Newbery, the man who first created books for children in the 18th century. Books were popular in London at the time, but all of the fun books were for adults. Children had to read poems and fables that were dull and taught them about social niceties. John Newbery grew up to be a publisher and realized that children needed different books. He created a book that was filled with fantasy and games and then he made it very attractive and paired it with a toy. Next came a magazine for children and eventually a novel. The books were written anonymously but all were sold and printed by Newbery himself, the man who created children’s literature.

Markel has captured the feel of the creativity and wildness of someone who decided to make a major change in the world. The text here is celebratory of the new discoveries and new chances being taken in books. Markel points out all of the positives about Newbery’s book and avoids noting that his books don’t bear any resemblance to children’s books of today. Rather, the focus is on the invention, the cleverness of the marketing and the popularity of children’s books from the very beginning.

Carpenter’s illustrations are filled with pizzazz. They have a great energy about them, depicting the bustling streets of London, the desirability of the books, and even showing sad children with real humor. She uses slightly turned pages to show other images underneath along with speech bubbles. The text of the book is also playful, moving through different fonts and text sizes for emphasis.

A glimpse of the earliest children’s books, this historical picture book biography is a pleasure just as Newbery’s were. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn

Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn

Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn (9781592702299, Amazon)

Told in the voice of a young boy who is different from the others around him. He doesn’t mind wearing different colored gloves after he can’t find his lost one. He enjoys being alone most of the time, unlike the others in his town. His favorite place to be alone is in a huge oak tree that is named Bertolt. The boy spends his days up in Bertolt’s branches, weathering storms together, making friends with the animals and birds that live in the tree. The boy looks forward to spring when Bertolt’s leaves will return and become a splendid green shelter again. But when the other trees burst into flower and leaf, Bertolt doesn’t. Eventually, the boy must admit that Bertolt is dead, but what does one do when a tree dies? The boy figures out exactly the right thing.

This is a story of an introverted child who doesn’t mind being on his own one bit. As a fellow introvert, I love seeing the depiction of a child who isn’t longing to be included but instead finds real pleasure in his time spent alone. It’s a story of independence and imagination, showing that quiet time alone can lead to creative solutions even when you have lost something you love. The book is touching, warm and celebratory.

The illustrations are lovely with the huge sweeping oak tree filling the page, the branches thick and strong, the leaves aglow with green and light. The fine-lined images capture the boy almost dwarfed by the space around him and yet eagerly also a vital part of the scene. His acorn cap speaks to his connection to nature and set him apart from the people around him as well.

A lovely look at introversion, imagination and the power of being different and embracing it. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Bull by David Elliott

Bull by David Elliott

Bull by David Elliott (9780544610606, Amazon)

This verse novel takes on the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Told with a wild irreverent tone, this novel follows the arc of the original myth faithfully but builds upon it, including points of view from all of the characters. Readers learn about Asterion, the half-bull boy who will become the monster of the labyrinth, in his own voice as he grows up, son of royalty. Poseidon serves as the narrator of the story, taking credit for not only setting the story in motion but also meddling to keep it heading in the direction he wants. Other characters speak too, each in their own poetic form, the structures serving to inform their voice. Even if readers know the myth, this book is impossible to put down as the full story unfolds.

Immediately upon starting this book, the voice of Poseidon demands attention, speaking in a modern vernacular and offering rude commentary, zinging puns, and humor that is shocking and great fun. As narrator, he moves the story along at lightning speed, serving to open the curtain on the play that is afoot, both carnival barker and puppeteer. The use of different forms of poetry is masterful, each serving to show the character as unique. Some are more focused and formal while others wander, only to snapped back by Poseidon and his tale.

Smart, wildly funny and just as naughty as the original myth, this verse novel is no bull. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Me Tall, You Small by Lilli L’Arronge

Me Tall, You Small by Lilli L'Arronge

Me Tall, You Small by Lilli L’Arronge (9781771471947, Amazon)

In the simplest of sentences, this picture book shares the special moments of a parent and child as they live their lives together. The two weasels spend time grocery shopping, bathing, eating, playing and sleeping. Throughout, the pair shows a warm love for one another, a playful spirit and a delight in one another’s company. Through these small vignettes, a fuller story is shown, one of parental care and a familial love.

Translated from the original German, this picture book has a distinct European flair that is very appealing. The simplicity of the structure of the book is also a delight, just two pairs of matching phrases such as “Me pause, You pounce” and “You shout, Me shush” and the story is being told. The words are sometimes opposites and sometimes similar. It’s an engaging way to share concepts with children who will immediately recognize their own parents or caregivers in the book.

The illustrations are simple and friendly. Each image shows the two weasels together. Even without mouths to show expressions, the emotions are clear. There is a lovely playfulness about the entire book with the tone firmly set by the illustrations themselves. Who can resist a little weasel with undies on his head?

A warm and lovely testament to family love, this picture book will work well with the smallest of children. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Bravo! by Margarita Engle

Bravo by Margarita Engle

Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (9780805098761, Amazon)

Latino heroes and heroines are depicted in poetry in this nonfiction picture book. From countries around the world and a variety of backgrounds, these people are inspirational and influential. The poems celebrate their accomplishments with clarity and focus, offering a glimpse into their lives. Engle’s poetry is readable and interesting, inviting you to turn the page to discover yet another amazing person. Some of them readers will be familiar with and others will be new. Readers can find more information on each of the people at the end of the book.

Lopez’s illustrations are done in “a combination of acrylic on wood, pen and ink, watercolor, construction paper, and Adobe Photoshop.” The results are rich illustrations with a clever feel of being vintage in their textures. Each illustration speaks to the person themselves, clearly tying them to their passion and cause.

An important book for public libraries, this is a celebration of Latino impact on the world as a whole. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Adam Rex (9780062438898, Amazon)

This picture book takes on a very familiar childhood game and turns it into a tale of battles and glory. It begins with Rock, who traveled the mysterious Forest of Over by the Tire Swing looking for warriors to battle. He fights and wins over Clothespin and Apricot but still hasn’t found a worthy foe. Paper is in the Home Office and also looking for battles. He takes on Computer Printer and Trail Mix and wins over both easily. Now he too is searching for harder battles. Scissors is in the Kitchen where she battles Tape and Breaded Chicken Dinosaurs and wins. Now the three strong warriors are on their way to finally meet one another. Who will win?

Daywalt has written this picture book with the voice of a world wrestling announcer. One can almost hear the crowd in the background and the pounding music as the battles rage. All of the fights have a sense of playfulness and wrestling to them, rather than war. They all echo the same feel of the hand game and amp it up considerably. This book is ideal for sharing aloud and begs for big voices and cheers.

Rex’s illustrations play on the drama of the text. They are action-filled and full of humor. The battles are shown in comic-book like stills, capturing the blaze of battle and the silliness of it all at the same time. The tone is perfection throughout.

A very silly, very fun book that is just right for a crowd of restless or wrestling kids. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson

At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson (9781481449663, Amazon)

Ozzie is the only one who remembers his boyfriend Tommy. He’s known Tommy since they were young children and they started dating in middle school. Now though, no one remembers that Tommy existed, including Ozzie’s family, his friends, and Tommy’s parents. Ozzie has figured out that the universe is shrinking around him, erasing people like Tommy from existence and rearranging history as if they were never there. Meanwhile, Ozzie’s world continues to change. His best friend Lua is becoming a rock star, his brother is headed to basic training, and his parents’ marriage is breaking up. One bright spot in Ozzie’s life is Cal, a confusing boy he is paired with for a physics project but the feelings developing between them complicate his ongoing search for Tommy.

This book sweeps you up, whisks you into Ozzie’s world and you believe, oh my, do you believe. Even though it’s impossible, questionable, and strange, you are along for the ride and the wonder of it all. This is because the emotions are so strong and real, the terror of life changing and the lack of control, the love between people that survives even though one is gone, the joy of new connections and friends. It’s all there, exactly what young readers are experiencing themselves but shown in a way that no one has seen before.

While Ozzie may believe the universe is shrinking, readers will question that right up to the end. What they won’t question is the world that Hutchinson has created here, filled with vibrant characters that you want to love and befriend. The LGBT themes are strongly written and beautifully presented. While the main character is gay, his friends are just as diverse. Lua is gender variant, striking and dramatic, changing pronouns with outfits. Other characters are asexual, presented in just the same frank and unquestioning way. LGBT characters in the book talk about sex, have sex, explore sex. It’s all brilliantly normal in a book that is anything but.

This is a book you must read to completely understand it. I hope you find it just as compelling and wondrous as I did. Enjoy! Appropriate for ages 14-18.