Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage

Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage by Kaye Umansky, illustrated by Johanna Wright

Clover is a sensible girl who isn’t bothered by being a housekeeper for a witch.  In fact, now Clover doesn’t have to tidy up after her many younger siblings at home and can have a bedroom all her own.  Tidying the witch’s cottage, cooking, cleaning and running errands is all very normal and domestic, but it can’t be that simple when magic is involved.  Clover meets Wilf, an exceedingly clumsy boy, who always seems to be in the middle of some sort of trouble.  But it takes a magic potion, a wicked witch, an invisible flying horse, and a lot more to really cause mischief and strife!

This book is funny and fast-paced.  The pace is a romp through a surprises, cunning plans, and twists.  Urmansky has written a book filled with magic that is not sentimental at all and happily pokes fun at the entire genre.  Clover is a wonderful and unexpected heroine in all of her quiet and clean glory.  Wilf is a great foil for her as he pratfalls around the book, causing confusion wherever he goes.  This book is not subtle.  It is vaudeville comedy wrapped in fairy tale paper. 

This would make a grand read-aloud for a 2nd or 3rd grade classroom where the broad comedy will play extremely well.  Appropriate for ages 7-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

Zero Is the Leaves on the Tree

Zero Is the Leaves on the Tree by Betsy Franco, illustrated by Shino Arihara

There are many, many counting books published every year, but this book focuses on one number that is often ignored: zero.  The absence of items is rendered here in verse and paintings.  Children are shown the many places that there is zero in everyday life:  no balls left in the bin during recess, no sleds on the hills when snow is melted. 

Franco’s simple and brief poetry, done so subtly that many won’t notice that it is a poem, nicely necklaces the instances of zero together.   Her examples of zero are simple, everyday occurrences that are made poignant by her focus on the transient nature of time.  These glimpse of zero change, replenish, refill.  Arihara’s gouache illustrations have small details but also an expansive view, matching the tone of the poem perfectly. 

Recommended for use in elementary math classes, this book will get children talking about where they see zero in their lives.  It will inspire with the beauty of the language as well.  Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from book received from publisher.

Also reviewed by A Patchwork of Books and PlanetEsme.

Airman Movie

ImageMovers and Disney will be producing a film of Eoin Colfer’s Airman.  Robert Zemeckis is involved in the film and Gil Kenan will be directing.  The film will be made using motion capture animation, which can be hit-or-miss. 

The book read like an action-adventure film, so it is a logical novel to adapt to cinema.  IMDB has the film listed for release in 2011.

Thanks to FirstShowing for their post on this.

Norma Fox Mazer Dies

Very sad news that the incredible author Norma Fox Mazer has lost her battle with brain cancer.

Thank you to Julie Larios at Jacket Knack.

Kisses on the Wind

Kisses on the Wind by Lisa Moser, illustrated by Kathryn Brown

The covered wagon is being packed for the long trip to Oregon, but Lydia can’t imagine leaving her grandmother so far behind.  As her departure nears, Lydia and her grandmother walk together in the woods, float bark boats in the pond, and rest together in the long grass.  Grandma gives her a book filled with her stories to take along on the trip. They both quietly, solemnly, and beautifully say goodbye.

This is a picture book that will make your heart ache.  The gentle and prolonged farewell of these two people who obviously are kindred spirits is depicted with a real beauty and care.  Moser crafts a quiet story that is very moving.  Brown’s art matches the gentleness of the story perfectly with its muted colors and gentle lines.  The book never descends into maudlin emotionalism, in fact it is its inherent restraint that makes it work so well.  Bright-eyed Grandma, Lydia with her fly-away hair, and the natural setting all provide an antidote to excessive sweetness.

An ideal book for children who are moving, children whose extending family is moving away, or children of divorce.  It is a book that will work in many setting for many children, a book that really shows and feels the sadness of leaving someone behind.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by Becky at Young Readers.

Tess’s Tree

Tess’s Tree by Jess M. Brallier, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Tess loves her tree.  She loved to swing from its branches, play in its leaves, and read underneath it.  But when a big storm blows through, the tree loses a few of its largest branches and becomes unsafe.  The tree had to be taken down.  Tess doesn’t take this well, she is immensely sad, angry, and forlorn.  Then she decides that her tree needs a funeral, which allows everyone even some adults who loved the tree when they were children to come and celebrate it.

This book is a winning combination of treehugging (literally) green and understanding loss.  Brallier’s very short text is inviting and clear. The book doesn’t linger on the death of the tree, but on the recovery afterwards and the feelings it creates.  Reynolds has created clever and sweet illustrations for the book that give it a sense of lightness while never minimizing the loss that happened.

Great for young children grappling with any sort of loss in their lives, as it is made easier to understand and bear when it’s a tree.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed at Great Kid Books.

Millie’s Marvelous Hat

Millie’s Marvelous Hat by Satoshi Kitamura

When Millie spots the hat with the colorful feathers in a shop window, she stops in to try it on.  But when she decides to buy it, it turns out to much too expensive.  After all, she is looking for a free hat.  The gentleman at the store thinks a bit and then comes up with a hat that can be anything that Millie wishes it to be, all it takes is a little imagination.  Millie imagines a peacock hat, with the gorgeous tail.  She passes a bakery and the hat turns into a cake hat.  A flower shop turns it flowery.  The park turns it into a fountain hat!  Then she realizes that everyone she passes has their own special hat if she only looks for it.

The exuberance of this book is great fun.  Kitamura takes great pleasure in creating different sorts of hats and bringing them to stunning realization.  Kitamura’s art is whimsical and very friendly.  His story is filled with imagination and a sense of fun.  The book is sure to get everyone thinking about what their own personal hat would look like. 

Mine?  Oh, my hat changes of course, but right now it is autumn leaves that blow about with gusts of wind that catch in the hair of people I pass by.  What about you?

Crafty teachers and librarians will be able to create hat crafts to go with this book. It will pair nicely with other hat books like Caps for Sale.  Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.  The copy will be placed in library collection.

Oliver at the Window

Oliver at the Window by Elizabeth Shreeve, illustrated by Candice Hartsough McDonald

Not only have Oliver’s parents separated, but he has started preschool.  He spends most of the day hugging his stuffed lion and looking out the window watching for one of his parents to come and take him home.  But home isn’t the same either.  He is never quite sure which house he is going to that night.  As the days pass, Oliver gets more involved in his class, painting his mother’s house and drawing his father’s.  By the end of the book, he is able to help a new little girl who is standing by the window and crying.

Shreeve sets a delicate tone with this book that manages to tackle very serious issues without bogging down into didacticism.  In just a few short pages, Oliver experiences real, tangible and believable growth as he works through the changes in his life.  McDonald’s color pencil art is simple and almost child-like.  Both artist and author use Oliver’s lion as a symbol of his growth to great effect. 

Recommended for any child going through changes in their life.  This is a book filled with hope and ringing with honesty.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.  Book will be placed in library collection.

Creaky Old House

Creaky Old House: A Topsy-Turvy Tale of a Real Fixer-Upper by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Michael Chesworth

A large family lives happily together in a big old house despite its creaking, leaking and cracks.  Everyone has their own favorite spots in the house that they treasure.  But one day, Pa heads out the front door and the doorknob comes off in his hand.  They find a screw, but it doesn’t fit.  So they head to the hardware store where they eventually find a doorknob to replace the old one.  But it doesn’t fit.  So they have to replace the entire door.  The new door though is too wide for the existing hole.  So everyone’s minds start to race, mentally repairing all of the house, moving the kitchen, lengthening halls. They finally come up with a favorite design, until everything is solved by the smallest child and they realize that their beloved house is still just fine the way it always has been.

The pleasure of this book two-fold.  It is in the family.  This large family of different personalities who all live together happily in one big home.  A family that dreams big dreams, but returns to loving what they always have.   It is also in the house itself with its colorful front door, winding staircase, dark attic, nooks and crannies. 

Ashman has written a book with a great sense of place, a wonderful romping pace, and nice humor.  Chesworth’s illustrations bring the family and house to life, especially in the cross-sections of the house that reveal so much to appreciate within its walls. 

A charming story of a tight-knit family and their aging house, this book will have readers wishing wistfully for their own Victorian.  Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.