The Longest Night

The Longest Night by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ted Lewin

The longest night of the year is very cold, very still.  One of the creatures must bring back the sun.  The wind knows which creature that is.  Crow offers to fly up and bring back the sun.  Moose offers his strength to bring it back. Fox offers to sniff and search it out.  Chickadee though is the one who must bring back the sun.  But what in the world can Chickadee do?  She cannot fly high enough.  She is not strong.  She is not cunning.  But she can do what she does best.

A poem woven into a picture book, this book is exquisite.  Bauer’s poetry has a rhythm that is almost primal.  She plays with sounds, repeats refrains, and celebrates imagery.  Her poem is deep, thrumming with the energy of the forest.  It is quiet and powerful.  But most of all it is for children but without any pretense.

Lewin’s illustrations match Bauer’s poem so well.  His illustrations explore the dark, the deep, the mysterious.  They linger in blues, blacks and moonlight.  Somehow he has captured that majestic blue of a moonlit night that is so deep and so unlike day.  When the sun returns at the end of the book, one almost shields their eyes from the brightness.  His illustrations are just as evocative as the poem, just as shining, just as powerful.

Highly recommended, this book belongs in every library.  It will work for many units from poetry to winter to moon or sun.  Share this.  It is a pleasure to read aloud such wonderful writing.  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Binky the Space Cat

Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires

A new graphic novel series launches off with this first title.  Binky is a house cat who has never left the family “space station.”  But he is a cat with a purpose!  He is a space cat and will one day blast into outer space.  He can’t leave the space station without a helmet and other gear because he wouldn’t be able to breathe.  But even in the space station, he is surrounded by aliens.  He knows they are aliens because they can fly.  Readers will know they fly because they ARE flies.  Binky has to keep his special identity a secret from his humans.  So they don’t know of his ongoing research or the fact that he is building a space craft in his litter box. Will Binky blast off?  Or will his dreams fizzle out?

Spires has created a graphic novel with broad appeal.  Binky is a winning main character with his dreams, fears and bravery shown clearly.  This is a fresh-feeling book that has its own unique artistic style.  The illustrations are done in near sepia tones with bright bursts of red throughout.  They are filled with funny action.  Binky is portrayed as a cat with a round belly but lots of energy and drive. 

Young readers who enjoy more pictures with their books will be right at home here.  It is an easy graphic novel that does not speak down to young readers. 

Recommended for all library collections, this series deserves a spot on graphic novel shelves for elementary-aged readers.  I happily await the next Binky adventure.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

Also reviewed at Three Silly Chicks, A Year of Reading, 100 Scope Notes, and Young Readers.

Exquisite Corpse – Must Read!

Premiering Saturday at the National Book Festival is a great collaboration by a whole group of children’s authors.  Exquisite Corpse is an online serial story that is available on the Library of Congress website

Jon Scieszka has written the first cliffhanger episode of the book.  Every two weeks another episode and illustration will be released.  The story will conclude one year from now.  Follow the story by RSS feed or visit the site itself.

Episode two will be written by Katherine Paterson.

The Silver Blade

The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner

This sequel to The Red Necklace is just as winning a book as the first.  Readers are once again taken into the French Revolution with Yann and Sido.  Yann is still rescuing people from the bloody edge of the guillotine, spiriting them out of the country using his innate magic of the threads of light.  His nemesis Count Kalliovski is now living deep under Paris in the catacombs and is once again seeking Sido for his demonic uses.  This is a magical romance set against the horror of the French Revolution.  It is a dark but shining novel which could be described as the Scarlet Pimpernel for teens.

Gardner creates books with a unique mix of historical fiction and fantasy.  Her historical fiction is so vivid that one might just think that the fantasy interwoven into the story is part of that actual history.  Gardner’s language is just as powerful and deep as the novel itself.  Here is a passage on page 76 of the novel where she describes the darkness in the catacombs:

Yet here, where no sunlight had ever been, the darkness had an altogether unfamiliar texture.  No dawn would break through these shadowy corridors.  This darkness would never remember the light of a lantern’; it would be nothing more than a pinprick in the liquid heart of eternal night.  So powerful was this absence of light that for the first time, Yann experienced the sensation of being blind.

She weaves her story together out of the different strands of light and dark.  She takes the vilest of characters and brings them unflinchingly to life while also creating a hero for the ages.  The story is as riveting and fascinating as the first book thanks to her strong characterization and great action sequences.

Get this pair of books in the hands of teens who like either historical fiction or fantasy.  Both sets will enjoy it immensely.  Appropriate for ages 13-16. 

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

A Birthday for Bear

A Birthday for Bear by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

The creators of A Visitor for Bear return with an easy reader featuring Mouse and Bear!  It is Bear’s birthday, but Bear is much to busy to celebrate.  Bear does not like birthdays.  He doesn’t like parties, balloons, cakes or presents.  But Mouse has different ideas about how Bear should spend his birthday, and they don’t include scrubbing the house from top to bottom.  Mouse tries again and again to get Bear into a birthday mood and in the end you know he will win!

This easy reader retains the feel of the original with great humor and charm.  Becker’s writing does not feel constrained by the new format at all.  She embraces the limitations of an easy reader and turns out a delightful tale.  The illustrations are still soft-hued and domestic, a great foil for the silliness of Mouse.  This is a great odd couple for the younger set.

Highly recommended, this is an easy reader that should be in every library collection.  It is a great easy reader, but an equally good read aloud.  Appropriate for ages 4-7. 

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by BooksTogether.

Big Wolf & Little Wolf: The Little Leaf that Wouldn’t Fall

Big Wolf & Little Wolf: The Little Leaf that Wouldn’t Fall by Nadine Brun-Cosme, illustrated by Olivier Tallec

Released December 2009.

This sequel to the lovely Big Wolf & Little Wolf continues the story of their friendship.  Little Wolf spots a special leaf in the spring and wants Big Wolf to climb up their tree and bring it down.  Big Wolf tells him to wait, that it will fall.  Little Wolf asks again in the summer and autumn, as the leaf turns into a deep green and then a soft brown.  When winter arrives, the leaf is still up in the tree, now a black color.  Then one day, Big Wolf decides to climb the tree and bring down the leaf for Little Wolf.  After a harrowing climb, Big Wolf reaches the leaf and it crumbles to pieces.  Beautiful pieces.

Brun-Cosme’s prose is lovely, spare and yet manages to be dynamic too.  She evokes the seasons, colors and wonder of each time of year without becoming maudlin at all.  There is the drama of Big Wolf’s climb and the unexpected resolution of the story that is surprising but fitting.  The first book was about the awkwardness of new friendship.  This second book is about a deepening connection and the beauty of togetherness. 

Tallec’s illustrations are less colorful this time, sticking to a more natural palette of colors.  But they still have an expansive feel, a clear sense of space, and they play with perspective.  They are simple but dynamic, just like the text.  A lovely combination.

Highly recommended, this series has its own unique feel and style.  These are quiet books, filled with natural beauty and deep connections.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Full disclosure:  My review of the first book is blurbed on the jacket of this second.  A great surprise to discover!

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

Oo! Oo! Oo!

I get less excited about the big name books that garner a lot of attention and much more excited about beloved gems. 

Crow-Girl by Bodil Bredsdorff was my favorite book of 2004.  A Danish import, the book was lyrical, quiet and simply lovely.

And what has me dancing around today is my discovery that it will have a sequel!  Coming out very soon! 

Eidi is the first book of three sequels that follows one of the other Children of Crow Cove.  I am so looking forward to this title!  Let’s hope the writing is as excellent and that it keeps the unique beauty of the first.  It will be released on October 13th. 

Acorns Everywhere!


Acorns Everywhere! by Kevin Sherry

The author of I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean returns with a new character that toddlers are sure to adore. 

Squirrels are running around gathering acorns as quickly as they can and this orange squirrel is doing the same.  Surrounded by so many acorns, he realizes that he has to hide them, gather them, dig and bury them.  He does, taking them right out of the paws of mice and the beaks of birds.  He almost gets in the way of a bear reaching for berries.  Then his stomach starts to growl.  But… where did he put all of the acorns? 

Done in Sherry’s signature wide-lined illustrations and large blocks of color, the pictures have a child-like feeling and cartoony style.   Sherry mixes in photographs of acorns and berries to great effect.  His words are simple and even sparse, allowing the bulk of the story to be told through the pictures. 

Toddlers will be drawn to the illustrations and will find a book that they themselves can “read” after only a few readings with adults.  This orange squirrel is sure to become a beloved fall fixture in story times for toddlers.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

But Who Will Bell the Cats?

But Who Will Bell the Cats? by Cynthia Von Buhler

Beginning with the fable from Aesop, Buhler creates an answer to the question of who will bell the cats.  The story is one of two very different but very nearby worlds.  One is the world of privilege and pampering of the princess and her eight cats.  The other is the world below the floor of Mouse and his friend Bat who live on the crumbs and waste of the world above them.  Mouse yearns to sleep on perfumed pillows, and eat gorgeous meals, so he makes plans to bell the cats so they will be warned of any approach by the cats.  He creates a suit of armor and a sword, but the cats just play ping-pong with him.  He dresses up as a dog to scare the cats, but they play floor hockey with him.  They put on a fashion show for the cats, but end up in mouse and bat pies, and are rescued by the kind princess.  Finally, Mouse has a great idea that answers the question of the entire book.

I must first comment on the illustrations of the book which caught my attention immediately.  They are done as miniature sets that Von Buhler built by hand.  The characters are flat paper against the 3-D sets, making for a very theatrical feel.  Her sets are done in deep colors that make them atmospheric and dramatic.  Each room has small touches that demonstrate the care she has taken with the entire book.

Against the elaborate illustrations, her writing is simple and will read aloud well.  The book is paced nicely, aided by quite a bit of humor that helps carry the story along. There is tension with each new plan from Mouse and a real sense of danger.  The drama of the storyline works well with the theatrical sets.

Great drama in a lovely theater of a book, this book will reach out to anyone who spots the cover.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Make sure to take a look at Cynthia von Buhler’s blog and get a glimpse of how she built the illustrations.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by Fuse #8 and Elizabeth Dulemba.