Higgledy-Piggledy Chicks

Higgledy-Piggledy Chicks by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Rick Chrustowski

Banty Hen lays seven beautiful brown eggs that hatch into seven chicks.  Only a few days later, the chicks leave the safety of the nest to explore, but they don’t have any idea what is dangerous and what is safe.  So Mama and the Auntie hens must keep a close eye on them.  They encounter a cat, a snake, and a raccoon.  Luckily, they have the shelter of Mama’s wings and the bravery of the Aunties to protect them throughout the day and into the night.

Joosse’s text is great fun to read aloud.  While it doesn’t rhyme, it has a great cadence.  The book is sprinkled with sounds too, so get ready to make plenty of chicken noises to warn the chicks.  It would be great fun to have children at a storytime help Mama call to warn the chicks when they spot danger.  Chrustowski’s collage art is perfect for using with a group.  He uses bright colors and clear images.  The various animals all have distinct personalities, including the winning chicks. 

Recommended for your next chicken story time, this book will fit right in with the flock.  It will also be a welcome addition to springtime units, no yolk.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.


Nothing by Janne Teller

Before you open this book, make sure your schedule for the next few hours in clear.  Seriously.

Pierre Anthon left school abruptly after announcing, “Nothing matters.” Instead of going to school, he climbed into a plum tree and called to the other teens in his class, mocking them for still trying to conform to a world where nothing actually matters.  After awhile, the others in his class decided that they must prove him wrong and demonstrate that there are things in life that matter.  So they built a heap of meaning, filled with items that meant a lot to them.  At first they volunteered to put items onto the pile, but when that stopped working, it was decided that the last person to put something on the  pile would decide what the next person must add.  As this progresses, the tension mounts as one student must decide for the next just how far this will go and just how much meaning their effort will have.

Written in stark, haunting prose, this novel starts with a slow buildup and then becomes impossible to put down as one character after the other makes horrific decisions.  It is a story about what matters in life, but also about the meaningless that becomes imbued with too much meaning as well.  The book is heartbreaking, strange and completely riveting. 

Translated from Danish, this book is markedly not set in America and keeps its Danish place names and other touches.  The translation is done with great skill, allowing readers to realize that it is set elsewhere but also keeping the all-important connection with the characters alive. 

The novel is told from the point of view of Agnes, a girl who only has to give her new sandals to the pile.  This perspective is perfectly rendered as Agnes is witness to the horror, completely involved, but remains apart and an observer because it does not affect her as deeply as some of the other students.  Teller creates characters that we all recognize, but they surprise us with their reactions, their strength, and their fragility.  She puts the characters in a mix of peer pressure, violence and existential crisis, revealing much about each of them.

Highly recommended, this is one of the deepest, cruelest, most remarkable books I have read recently.  It is filled with beauty, tragedy and horror but offers meaning and plenty of fodder for discussion.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalists

The finalists for the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes have been announced.  They have finalists in a variety of categories.  Here are the ones for Young Adult and Graphic Novel.

Young Adult Literature Finalists

The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy by James Cross Giblin

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan


Graphic Novel Finalists

Luba (A Love and Rockets Book) by Gilbert Hernandez

GoGo Monster by Taiyo Matsumoto

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco

John Grisham Turns Juvenile

Image via Wikipedia

John Grisham

Penguin Young Readers will be publishing a new series for children by John Grisham.  The series is entitled Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer and features a 13-year-old protagonist who is the son of two attorneys.  The new series is for ages 8-12.

This first book in the series is due out in June.

Grisham has a forthcoming legal thriller for adults due out in October.

The Boys

The Boys by Jeff Newman

I only opened this book to get a feel for the sort of book it was.  I was immediately captivated by the art, the wordless story.  I set it down with misty eyes and a wide smile.  What a book! 

My problem is that I want you to discover it and I don’t want to mess any of its wonder of wordlessness up for you.  I’ve tried to put words to it, but it seems to minimize the story, as if pinning it down removes the life from it.  So I will briefly tell you the premise and proceed to gush about it in more general terms. 

A young boy moves to a new town.  He heads to the park with his bat, ball and glove.  He watches from behind a tree but is too shy to approach the playing children on the baseball diamond.  So he plunks himself down on a bench near some older gentlemen.  The story continues from there.  It is fresh, winning, and sweetly surprising.  There is a universal quality to it, a subtle humor, and a lovely simplicity.

Newman has created a book that is an instant classic.  His use of a vintage style works well with the subject, giving the book a timeless feel.  The only words in the book are the days of the week as time passes, otherwise all of the story is told in the illustrations.  Newman tells this story in the slump of shoulders, bowed head, glaring eyes, and a determined set of a jaw.  There is never any doubt what the young boy is feeling because it is shown so clearly and yet with subtle skill.

Get this book, read it, read it again (because you must) and then decide what lucky person you will hand it to next.  It is a book to read with someone on your lap, to savor and to simply enjoy.  Let me know what you think.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

Also reviewed by Fuse #8.

The Big Fat Cow that Goes Kapow

The Big Fat Cow that Goes Kapow by Andy Griffiths, illustrated by Terry Denton

This beginning reader features ten very short stories that are silly, raucous and great fun.  The book starts with a story where it is raining big fat cows, then tells the stories of Noel the Mole, Klaus the Mouse, and Willy the Worm.  The fun continues with human protagonists who ride bikes with spikes and wear lots of hats all at once.  All of the stories are told with only a few words, allowing the illustrations to carry a lot of the humor.  An ideal read for children who are reluctant to start reading, thanks to the humor that will keep the pages turning.

Griffiths has a great feel for comedy, offering surprising twists and turns in only a few words.  His writing has a similar feel to Dr. Seuss’ Ten Apples Up on Top in its brevity and rhyming.  Denton’s illustrations have a great frenzied feel.  They are filled with motion and wild characters.  I for one cannot resist a book where cows explode and udders go flying across the page.  Must be a Wisconsin thing. 

This is sure to find an eager audience among beginning readers who are looking for modern humor and silliness.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by Becky at Young Readers.

I Am a Backhoe

I Am a Backhoe by Anna Grossnickle Hines

A perfect book for toddlers who love trucks, this book invitingly combines imaginative play and real trucks.  The little boy plays pretending to be a backhoe, a bulldozer, a roller, a flatbed truck, and more.  As he plays, he describes what he is doing and then the reader gets to guess what kind of truck he is pretending to be.  Printed on thick paper with bright, clear illustrations, this book is a welcome addition to even the most crowded of truck shelves.

Written in simple rhymes that have a gentle rhythm, children will enjoy guessing what truck the boy is pretending to be.  The digital art is simple and welcoming as well, especially for the youngest children who will quickly be able to “read” this book to themselves.  Done in rich and deep colors, the illustrations will work well with a group, thanks to the clarity of the illustrations. 

Ideal for toddler story time or for sharing one-on-one, this book is sure to find an audience in your library.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Released April 2010.

Will Grayson is gay, depressed and only has one friend, Maura.  She’s more a friend of convenience with their snarkiness holding their friendship together.  Will heads out to Chicago to meet a boy he’s fallen for online, only to find out that Maura has been pretending to be that boy online.  This puts him on a path to meet another boy.  The other Will Grayson is straight.  He has lived most of his life in the large shadow of his gay best friend, Tiny.  Now he has started to like a girl, Jane, that goes to school with them.  Meanwhile Tiny is working on his very fabulous and very gay musical that is all about his life and prominently features Will as a main character.  Though both boys are different, there are similarities.  They both want to avoid feeling things too deeply, but their lives change after meeting one another.

These two great authors have created an incredible novel that is the best work of their of their careers.  Each author writes alternating chapters in the voice of their Will Grayson.  Green writes the straight Will Grayson with his trademark intelligence and humor.  Levithan writes the gay Will Grayson with equal humor that has a snap and darkness to it.  The two combined really make for a novel that readers will never want to end.  Add to this the genius that is the character of Tiny, a huge boy with an even bigger heart who lives life to the fullest.  He forms the hub of the novel, the voice of the musical, and the applause for both Will Graysons in all their differences and similarities. 

I love finding books that are savvy, smart, silly, funny, intelligent, irreverent, and honest.  This is one of those books.  Put it in the hands of teens, let them see themselves in it because we are all of us there in this book.  Gay and straight, we are there, and we can hear the truth and love being spoken in this novel.

Highly recommended, this is the best novel of the year so far.  Brilliantly written, gorgeously complex characters, and humor.  What more could you want? 

Reviewed from Advanced Reader Copy from publisher.

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Older Than the Stars

Older Than the Stars by Karen C. Fox, illustrated by Nancy Davis

Celebrate the age of your atoms with this dynamic nonfiction picture book.  Starting with the lines:

You are older than the dinosaurs.

Older than the earth.

Older than the sun and all the planets.

You are older than the stars.

You are as old as the universe itself.

Through a traditional folktale format of cumulative rhyming lines, this book can be read in several ways.  The rhymes serve as a structure for the book, but the real pleasure is in the scientific facts that are presented with flair and an eagerness that make them fun to read.  Young readers will learn about the Big Bang, how stars were created, and how our planet and humans came about.  The book ends with a colorful timeline and a glossary of terms.

Fox’s rhyming is catchy and sound.  Her scientific information is interesting and a pleasure to read.  Featuring strong colors, deep contrasts and vivid design, Davis’ illustrations are dynamic.  They have a timeless feel that is very appropriate for the subject, yet they are definitely modern in feel as well. 

A great nonfiction picture book on a subject that will intrigue young readers, this picture book will not sit still on shelves for long.  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from library copy.