Book Review: Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage

wheres walrus

Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage

This wordless picture book has a great appeal for the youngest children and adults alike.  Walrus escapes from his small pool in the zoo, pursued closely by the zookeeper.  He hides in the most unlikely spots, posing as a mermaid in a fountain, seated at a diner counter, glamming up a window display, and much more.  Finally, he is cornered up on a diving board sporting a red swim cap.  What happens next is a satisfying close to this cheery picture book.

Savage has a tremendous sense of pacing in this book.  It moves ahead from one hiding place to the next, and then turns into a full story as the final pages turn past.  The story works well without words, helped by the skilled pacing and the ease of the storyline.

What really sets this book apart are the illustrations, done in bold shapes and bright colors.  They have a graphic quality to them and a modern edge.  While the book sounds like a Where’s Waldo type of book, it really isn’t thanks to the simplicity and style of the illustrations. 

This wordless dazzler of a picture book will impress old and young alike with its style and sense of fun.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.

Also reviewed by

Book Review: Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann

bone dog

Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann

Right before his dog Ella died, she promised Gus that she would always be with him.  After she died, Gus didn’t feel like doing anything, not even leaving the house, but he did.  He didn’t feel like trick-or-treating, but he put on his skeleton costume and headed out anyway.  But when Gus started to head back home after his bag was full, he passed through a graveyard where it got dark and windy and creepy.  In moments, Gus was surrounded by skeletons, real ones.  At first the skeletons thought he was a real skeleton too, but when they found out that he was a boy, they threatened to steal his guts.  Just before anything happened, Ella showed up as a skeleton dog.  But what in the world can a small boy and a small skeleton dog do to stop a crowd of skeletons? 

If that paragraph above read like a rather strange storyline, then I wrote it correctly.  This is not a “normal” picture book.  It has a wonderfully shivery, scary part to it combined with the loss of a beloved pet, and then a great funny twist at the end.  It is not a disjointed book at all, but rather one that is unexpected which makes for a fun read. 

Rohmann’s art is done in his signature style.  The thick black lines mix successfully with the deep and subtle colors.  What grabs the eye is Rohmann’s layout of the pages, where whitespace is used as more than space for the words to appear.  The style stays consistent throughout the book, but the perspective is intriguing and adds much to the book.

A strange and superb choice for Halloween reading, this book should be shared throughout the year too as a celebration of intriguing, unique picture books.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Book Review: Emma Dilemma by Kristine O’Connell George

emma dilemma

Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems by Kristine O’Connell George, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Told from the point of view of the older sister, these poems show the intricacies of relationships between sisters.  Emma can be a very embarrassing little sister, especially at ball games where she is the one dressed in a feather boa and cheering loudly using Jessica’s name.  Emma copies everything Jessica does, but her hand also fits perfectly in Jessica’s when they hold hands.  Jessica is often the only one who understands what Emma is saying.  Emma can be naughty, stealing shoes, scaring people, filling Jessica’s room with loops of yarn.  But there are also the moments when the sisters connect over pet rocks, picture books, and jokes.  The climax of the story comes when Emma tries to reach Jessica and one of her friends when they are in a treehouse.  Emma falls and breaks her arm, and there is no doubt these sisters adore one another.

George captures the ins and outs of siblings with a skilled eye.  The book shows the complexity of the relationship, both the good and the bad, often right alongside each other.  Neither sister is the good or bad one, they are simply themselves.  The book’s tone is just right as well, never too dramatic or over the top.  Instead these are moments from what feel like real days, captured in poetry.  The touches of humor add to the appeal of the book as well.

Carpenter’s illustrations exude a warmth that works so well here.  Done in pen and ink and digital media, they retain their hand-drawn style with the bright washes of digital ink.  Each illustration is a picture of the lives of the characters, they reveal the emotions going on in that moment with a great clarity.

Highly recommended, this is a book of poems that any child with siblings will see themselves in and enjoy.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by Young Readers.

Book Review: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

dead end in norvelt

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Released on September 13, 2011.

Gantos’ latest may just be one of his best, and with his successes before now, that is certainly saying something.  The book is an intriguing mix of memoir and fiction that has a protagonist named “Jack Gantos.”  Jack is a boy who loves history, war movies, and playing with his father’s war trophies, including a Japanese rifle.  When Jack takes a pretend shot at the outdoor movie theater screen from a long way away, the rifle actually goes off.  Jack gets caught in his parent’s feud over the use of a field, and ends up grounded for the summer.  The only way he gets to leave is to help a neighbor write the local obituaries.  Over the summer, he begins to help with more, including driving her on her other job of medical examiner.  When the original residents of their town start to die off, the question becomes if it’s murder or just old age.   One thing is for sure, you have to pay attention to history to figure it all out.

The writing in this book is clever and witty.  One never quite knows what is going to happen next, what new character will enter the story, or where it will go.  It’s a rollercoaster of a book, but one that is strong and steady as well.  Readers are in wild but good hands here.

Gantos has populated his story with all sorts of characters.  Jack is a boy whose nose gushes blood whenever he is scared, shocked, surprised, or emotional.  It becomes a barometer in the story of his emotions, and is just the first oddity of the book.  The neighbor lady who writes the obituaries is a character who is feisty, elderly, smart and sassy.  She is an unusual character for a tween/teen novel and one that enlivens the entire book.  Then there seem to be endless others that could be listed.  There is the police officer who rides a tricycle, the dead Hell’s Angels member who danced into town and could be carrying a plague, and Jack’s feuding parents too.

Norvelt is a great setting for a book.  It was a town created by Eleanor Roosevelt to give poor people a good start.  The economy was based on bartering, but that has fallen apart during these later years.  Now the homes are starting to empty, no new people want to move to town, and some homes are being sold and hauled away.  It is a town in disrepair that is not aging well.  Rather like the townsfolk themselves. 

A great read, this book has murder, some mayhem, and plenty of blood (though it comes out of Jack’s nose).   Get this into the hands of tweens and teens who enjoy humor and a bit of mystery.  Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from ARC received from Farrar Straus Giroux.

Also reviewed by

New Hunger Games Promo Shots

Three new photos from the upcoming Hunger Games movie!  You can see a blonde Josh Hutcherson, a brunette Jennifer Lawrence, and an undyed Liam Hemsworth.

You can also take a look at the Entertainment Weekly cover:

Via /Film.

Book Review: Fairly Fairy Tales by Esme Raji Codell

fairly fairy tales

Fairly Fairy Tales by Esme Raji Codell, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

A child does not want to go to bed even after a kiss and some water.  So begins this quick and charming look at the elements of fairy tales.  Three elements of a classic story are given along with a fourth element that does not belong.  But then, maybe, it actually does!  Turn the page and that outside element has been combined with the story to create a wild mashup twist.  The stories include The Three Little Pigs with solar panels added, Little Red Riding Hood with shampoo, Jack and the Beanstalk with spaghetti, Cinderella with a disco ball, Hansel and Gretel with a piñata, and Goldilocks with a TV.  It’s a fun surprise for children familiar with the classic stories to see them mixed with the modern world.

Codell’s writing here is very simple, offering the elements of the stories and then the surprise.  Each real element is followed with a “yes” and the surprise element with a “nooooo” that then turns into a “well, maybe.”  This pattern is followed throughout the book which works well.  It leaves the emphasis of the book on the twist and the illustrations.

Chavarri’s illustrations were done digitally and have that smooth digital feel to them.  They are colorful and very funny.  The elements of the story are done on a white background but when the page is turned to combine them, the illustration fills the page with color and action.  It makes a nice visual contrast between old story and new.

If you are looking for a fractured fairy tale feel with fewer words and that is more accessible for younger children, this is a great pick.  Appropriate for ages 4-6, especially for those familiar with the stories.

Reviewed from copy received from Aladdin.

Also reviewed by:

Book Review: The Bravest Woman in America by Marissa Moss

bravest woman in america

The Bravest Woman in America by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Andrea U’Ren

Ida Lewis loved the sea, from the crash of the waves to the bite of the ocean air.  When her father got a job as a lighthouse keeper, she was thrilled.  He had to cross back and forth twice a day to check the light, and he took Ida with him, teaching her how to row.  He also taught her to care for the lamp and how to rescue people without capsizing herself.  When Ida turned 15, her family moved out to live next to the lighthouse.  Ida dreamed of becoming the keeper herself one day.  That day came early when her father got ill and could no longer care for the lighthouse.  So Ida helped more and more.  Though she had never rescued anyone, she rowed out to save some boys in a sailboat that capsized.  It took all of her determination and strength to save them, but she did.

This book works on so many levels.  It is a true story about a real hero who defied what society expected of her and became what she dreamed of.  Additionally, it is the story of a girl who was strong, brave and amazing.  A girl who relied on her own strength and wits to save others rather than to be rescued herself.  Beautiful. 

Moss writes the story with drama and action, yet is never heavy handed.  She builds up to the accident nicely, showing it happen and then building to the climax of the rescue.  This is an rescue story that will have readers cheering.

U’Ren’s art is done in watercolor, ink and acrylic.  The colors are deep and lovely, from the changing colors of the sky to the blues and greens of the water that change with the storm.  Ida Lewis is always shown as a young lady, never masculinized at all.  It adds to the charm and drama of the story.

Highly recommended, this is a great book choice for women’s history units or for any child to learn that girls are heroes too.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Tricycle Press.

Book Review: Monday Is One Day by Arthur A. Levine

monday is one day

Monday Is One Day by Arthur A. Levine, illustrated by Julian Hector

As families wake up to the new week, the hardest part is being away from each other.  Follow the days of the week here for a celebration of how working families can connect and spend time together throughout the week.  The days continue to move forward from Monday to Tuesday, filled cuddles and puddles.  Then come Wednesday and Thursday with raspberry kisses and dinosaur growls.  Friday’s the last day of the workweek, so help pick out a tie.  Then comes the fun of Saturday and Sunday for families to spend together. 

Levine has written such a simple book that even the youngest of children will be able to relate to it.  The rhymes are easy and feel natural when read aloud.  This book is just what working families need to celebrate their own connections and family relationships. 

The illustrations add diversity and a modern feel to the book.   It is packed full of different types of families, all enjoying connections with their children.  There are families of different colors, gay parents, and grandparents caring for grandchildren.  Happily, nothing is pointed out about the families that are different than the stereotypical norm.  Instead this book just celebrates everyone with ease and style.

The illustrations are done in bright, merry colors with plenty of white space.  They have a gentle, vintage tone to them that works well for this subject matter.  It makes it even more special to have such diverse families depicted in a timeless way.

A positive and welcoming book that will have families rejoicing.  Appropriate for ages 3-5. 

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.

Also reviewed by

Book Review: Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

grandpa green

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

Released August 30, 2011.

Grandpa Green was born long ago.  He grew up on a farm, got chicken pox in fourth grade, and kissed a girl in middle school.  Though he wanted to be a horticulturist, he ended up going to war.  There he met his future wife, whom he married when the war ended.  Now Grandpa Green is getting old and starting to forget things.  But he doesn’t forget the most important things, because the garden keeps his memories for him.

Smith has created an amazing world in the pages of this book.  It is a place where a man brings his memories to life through topiary, each one more inventive and beautiful than the next.  Smith has kept his words simple.  Just enough to move the story forward.

It is the pictures that tell the story here.  Smith has lightened the characters down to line drawings and subtle color.  The topiaries are a vivid green, bursting with life against the white of the page.  Grandpa’s memories are more solid than the real world, which works beautifully with the story.  The topiaries are whimsical and gorgeous, shown as the little boy moves through the garden and interacts with them.  There is one amazing page with the boy hanging from a branch of a giant tree where the leaves turn from green to autumn to bare branches as the eye moves across the tree.  It is a visual of aging that works beautifully.

This is a creative and entrancing picture book that brings memories to green life, celebrates a great-grandfather, and shows the relationship between him and his great-grandson.  It is a triumph of a picture book!  One of my favorites of the year, and one that should be under consideration for a Caldecott.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Also reviewed by Shelf Awareness.

Check out the trailer that almost catches the charm of the book: