Book Review: Worms for Lunch? by Leonid Gore

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Worms for Lunch? by Leonid Gore

Through bright colors and die cut illustrations, young readers explore what different animals eat.  The book begins with the question of “Who eats worms for lunch?”  A mouse declares that he doesn’t eat worms, instead he likes cheese.  A relieved worm disappears from the page.  Then a cat spots the mouse, and says that that’s what she would like for lunch.  She ends up with a bowl of milk.  The cow then declares that milk may be good, but grass is better.  On the book goes, moving from one animal to the next until finally the question of who eats worms for lunch can be answered! 

This entire book has a great sense of play and humor about it.  Every other page has a die cut, making the book more enticing for young children to experience.  The simple text and the bright colors combine into a book that is just right for toddlers to enjoy.  They will enjoy turning the page and having the story change too. 

With its large illustrations, this would work well with a group of children.  A good pick for a toddler story time about food.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.

Also reviewed by

Book Review: Goyangi Means Cat by Christine McDonnell

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Goyangi Means Cat by Christine McDonnell, illustrated by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher

When Soo Min joins her new American family from Korea, she doesn’t know any English at all.  Everything was strange and new, except for Goyangi, the cat.  Soo Min and Goyangi were friends from the start, with Goyangi curling up on her bed and comforting her in the middle of the night.  One morning, Goyangi escaped out the door.  Soo Min noticed at breakfast that Goyangi was gone.  She and her new mother called and called for the cat, but he did not return.  Back home after their search, Soo Min burst into tears.  She cried for losing Goyangi and also for her lost homeland.  Eventually, Soo Min fell asleep.  And when she awoke, her new father had come home along with someone else…

McDonnell, who is herself the mother of two Korean-born children, has captured the first days of international adoption with a gentleness and a deep understanding.  The focus of the book is Soo Min rather than the techniques her parents use to reach her.  Soo Min is given the space in the book to explore her new family and land without expectations.  The use of the cat as a bridge between cultures is a natural one, as is the deep connection that Soo Min finds with her feline friend.  The entire book has a sense of reality and lack of excess drama, which is very welcome here.

The illustrations are remarkable.  They are an appealing mix of collage, patterns, and softness.  At the same time, they play with line and language.  The cat’s fur is done in swirls, as you can see in the cover image above.  Lines are used throughout the illustrations, tying them visually together in a very subtle way.  Language is brought in with Korean words worked into the illustrations, again a bridge is formed in a visual way.

Highly recommended, this is one of the best books about international adoption I’ve seen.  The focus on the child’s point of view and its quality make it exceptional.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

Also reviewed by Kiss the Book.

Book Review: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

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Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Released September 13, 2011.

This second book, following his award-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is just as magnificent and haunting.  Here there are two stories, set 50 years apart.  In 1977, Ben has grown up along the shores of Gunflint Lake, Minnesota.  His dreams are filled with wolves chasing him, but he doesn’t know why.  His mother recently died and when he goes back to their home, a freak accident causes him to lose his hearing.  But just before the accident, he uncovers what may be a clue to his father’s identity.  The picture section of the book is the story of Rose in 1927.  She is deaf and refuses to be cooped up in her house and protected.  She has built a city of paper around her room and manages to sneak away to New York City.  As both children are drawn to New York, their stories come closer together and eventually become one.

Selznick has once again created a story that only he could tell.  His illustrations, done in line drawings, read cinematically, visually telling part of the story.  Here they perfectly capture deafness, offering readers a way of “reading” a book in pure silence without words.  It is a beautiful experience that is tangible and breathtaking.

Selznick takes readers on a journey here, because of the intertwining nature of the book, they must place themselves in his hands and simply trust.  Their trust will be rewarded as the stories come together with a click as the pieces meet.

The story also brings together divergent subjects into a whole.  The combination of the history of museums, silent film changing to sound, Deaf culture, and families would seem to be too many themes for any book to contain.  In Selznick’s hands, they are all ingredients in a satisfying recipe, each one adding flavor and depth that is uniquely theirs but none of them overwhelming the others.  It is a dance of balance that Selznick achieves effortlessly.

Highly recommended, this is a book that all fans of Hugo Cabret will want to get their hands on.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Also reviewed by

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Book Review: When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore

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When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore, illustrated by Howard McWilliam

One day at the beach, a little boy builds the perfect sandcastle and immediately a dragon moves right in.  Together the boy and dragon roast marshmallows, fly kites, float in the water, and defend the sandcastle against bullies who would knock it down.  The little boy tries to disguise that he is hosting a dragon in his castle, but then wants to tell his family about it.  He can’t get his mother’s attention, his father just tickles him, and his sister insists she knows better.  But trouble comes along with dragons too, and perhaps this one is more trouble than he’s worth.  Perhaps.

Moore uses the engaging second-person point of view, referring to the reader as “you.”  It draws you directly into the story and gives it a strong and inviting structure as well.  The story moves quickly from one moment to the next, which creates a vibrant feel to the story.  It’s a story that speaks to the power of imagination in creating a special time.

McWilliam’s art has a cinematic quality to it that children will immediately respond to.  He captures emotions on faces with comedic skill.  This is a refreshing style to have in a children’s book because it closely mimics what they see in films.  It’s a friendly and lovely thing to see.

A great beach read, this will have children scrambling to get their castles up and welcoming to dragons.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Flashlight Press.

Also reviewed by

Book Review: Rapunzel and the Seven Dwarfs by Willy Claflin

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Rapunzel and the Seven Dwarfs by Willy Claflin, illustrated by James Stimson

This book is a Maynard Moose tale just like The Uglified Duckling.  This fractured fairy tale takes Rapunzel and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and mixes them wildly together into quite a story.  Readers who know both stories will enjoy this most, because of the silliness of the mash up.  Here Rapunzel is a girl who has trouble keeping her long tresses clean, so a helpful witch puts her in a tower.  She is discovered by a portly knight who attempts to climb her hair, but instead due to his bulk, launches her out of the tower and into a pond.  Enter the seven dwarfs, who rescue her from the water and solver her hair issues by shaving her head bald.  Meanwhile, the witch heads to the home of the dwarfs dressed as a kindly rhinoceros (yes, you read that right) and tempts her to each poisoned watermelon.  I’ll leave the final twists of the tale for you to discover, and my there are plenty of twists!

When I first started reading this book, I tried it silently to myself.  Told by Maynard Moose, the story has some odd language twists in it and some words that are new but will make sense.  The book doesn’t work read silently.  Happily, I tried it aloud and the elements all fell into place.  If you are wondering as someone who will read it aloud how to do it, there is a CD with the book where you can hear Maynard’s voice. 

The humor here is broad and great fun.  There are particular lines that had me laughing out loud.  I enjoyed the “eight or nine seven dwarfs” and the series of misunderstandings as the prince calls out to Rapunzel to lower her hair.  It all adds to the zaniness of the story.  The writing is crafted to be read aloud, giving any reader plenty of opportunity to shine.

Stimson’s art plays along with the humor of the book.  The homemade rhino costume, the Sleeping Punzel Museum, the rotund little prince, and the issues of long hair.  The art is computer smooth and sleek.

This will read aloud well to older elementary-age children who will really enjoy the humor.  Recommended for ages 7-9, though completely appropriate for younger listeners.

Reviewed from library copy.

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Book Review: The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye by Jane Yolen

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The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jim LaMarche

A quiet, thoughtful book about the death of a pet, this is a beautiful way to explain death to a child.  Through poetry that paints pictures of Tiger Rose’s days and her life as well, the story is told in special moments and connections.  Tiger Rose is an old cat and she knows her time is drawing near.  As she heads off, she takes the time to see her people family once again, time to bid farewell to the sleeping dog, and time to visit her favorite places to nap.  At the end, she cleans herself from head to tail and stretches in the sun before curling up under the rosebushes.  Then she rises into the sky, never once looking back. 

Yolen takes time to really have this cat connect with her life, so readers can envision what she was like as a younger, more spry cat.  The time is also important as children will need it to come to terms with what is happening.  This book does not spring the cat’s death on readers, rather the book is all about the death and what leads up to it.  It is about saying goodbye to a good life.  Yolen’s writing is beautiful, aching and gentle.  She whispers in this poem, sharing sweet moments, softly.

LaMarche’s art echoes that gentle softness with his delicate lines and glowing lighting.  He celebrates Tiger Rose in her last day, allowing readers to celebrate too in her beauty and grace.  His style is perfectly married to the subject here.

While this is another picture book on the already crowded death of a pet shelf, it takes a different approach to the subject and really honors what is happening in a beautiful and touching way.  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.

Also reviewed by

Book Review: Clunk to Earth by Pam Smallcomb

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Earth to Clunk by Pam Smallcomb, pictures by Joe Berger

What do you do when you get assigned a pen pal named Clunk who is from the planet Quazar?  Well, first you make sure to send him something you won’t miss at all, like your big sister.  Of course, he’ll send something back too, a Zoid that won’t stop following you.  Then send him socks, dirty ones.  That’ll teach him.  You’ll get back Forps in return, they look kind of like striped socks and smell like dog food.  You could try to confuse it by sending all sorts of odd things together, but beware of the confusion he will send back.  Unfortunately, he may not like having your sister there and may send her back.  Happily, the gob of goo he sent back with her will taste like ice cream.  Perhaps it’s time to invite him for a sleepover?

Smallcomb uses just the right tone here to add to the humor.  Her flat tone plays up the silly nature of the entire story, treating the alien piece of the story as if it were just a neighboring state that the boy is exchanging items with.  The strange items he receives are also treated the same way.

Because of the flat nature of the writing, Berger’s illustrations have to pop and carry the true nature of what is happening.  They definitely are successful in depicting the strange things that are going on.  I particularly enjoyed that the Zoid and Forps continue to hang around in the book, watch out for the striped burp from the Zoid!  Berger’s art has a classic feel that also adds to the humor of this space-age story.

A great science fiction picture book that will have children longing for their own pen pal from Quazar.  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books for Young Readers.

Also reviewed by You Know, For Kids.

Book Review: Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake by Michael B. Kaplan

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Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake by Michael B. Kaplan, illustrated by Stephane Jorisch

Betty Bunny’s parents are always telling her that she’s a handful.  Since she knows they love her very much, she is certain that being a handful is something very, very good.  One day, her mother offers chocolate cake for dessert.  Betty Bunny refuses to try it at first, because it is new, but then gives in.  She realizes that it is very delicious, so delicious that she decides that she will marry chocolate cake.  The next day, she is obsessed with chocolate cake, unable to concentrate at all at school.  Once she got home, she was told she would have to eat a healthy dinner before she could have cake.  When her siblings tease her, Betty gets angry and throws food.  She’s sent to her room where she continues to think only of cake.  The next day, she is told there is a piece of cake just for her waiting in the refrigerator if only she will be patient through the day.  Betty Bunny knows the cake will be lonely all day, so she puts it in her pocket.  At home that evening, she realizes it has become a goopy mess in her pocket.  Her mother tries again, leaving a piece of cake just for her.  What in the world could Betty do next?

I know that this book will have some parents frustrated because it is not a picture book that demonstrates exemplary behavior from the children in the story.  But that is where the appeal of this book is for me.  Betty Bunny reads as a real child with an obsession.  She cries, gets angry, and thinks about it all the time.  But this book is not just about a child obsessed.  It is also the story of a family with older siblings and parents who use humor and clever approaches to deal with a child. 

The writing has wonderful moments built into it.  Betty’s insistence that she will marry chocolate cake because she loves it so much rings very real.  Her brother’s teasing about that over the course of days also reads as true.  It is a picture book that is written by people who have children, love children, and appreciate the humor that comes with them.

Jorisch’s illustrations are done in pencil, ink, watercolor and gouache.  They have a great mix of organic watercolor feel and angular modernism.  There is a bright warmth to them thanks to how colorful they are and a pleasant busyness that depicts the active family.

Highly recommended, this is not a book for parents who want an example for how their children should act.  But it is a great read-aloud filled with chocolate, sweets, temper tantrums and family.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books for Young Readers.

Also reviewed by

Book Review: All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen

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All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen and Jory John

What looks like a small, chunky picture book is actually not a book for children at all.  Instead it is a very funny book for teens and adults that is filled with black humor yet an appealing cuteness as well.  From the tree whose friends are all end tables to the yeti whose friends are all hoaxes, turning each page leads to a new surprise. 

Readable in a matter of minutes, this book had both my husband and teen son reading it merrily aloud to me even though I had just read it myself.  Both stopped in the middle of their morning routines and read the book cover to cover, chuckling and laughing out loud. 

Get this in the hands of teens who will recognize the children’s format and also immediately get that this is a book that is not for the little ones.  It is a book that will have you laughing at death, much to your amazement and glee.