Review: The Art of Miss Chew by Patricia Polacco

art of miss chew

The Art of Miss Chew by Patricia Polacco

Polacco continues to explore her childhood in picture book form in this tribute to a teacher.  In school, young Patricia struggled with her grades, specifically when taking tests.  Luckily, she had a teacher, Mr. Donovan, who was willing to give her extra time to finish.  That little change allowed Patricia to get better grades.  Mr. Donovan was also the first teacher to recognize her artistic talent.  He connected her with an art program run by Miss Chew.  Miss Chew talked about learning to see, working with line and pressure, and taking their sketchbooks with them everywhere.  Patricia soaked all of this up like a sponge.  But then Mr. Donovan’s father died, and the substitute teacher would not give her more time to finish her tests.  She even threatened to pull Patricia out of her special art class.  Happily, Miss Chew was there to come to the rescue!

Polacco has continued to write about her challenges with school and about how a single amazing teacher changed her life again and again.  Her books are a testament to the power of teachers to make a difference in a child’s world, but in turn they are also a look at the emergence of a gifted artist who works hard and makes her own special place too.  In my eyes, it is the combination of Polacco and her teachers that is magical.

The art is done in Polacco’s signature style that is artistic, evocative and realistic too.  As she speaks about art, she demonstrates it in her art in the book.  Readers will notice how she captures shadow and light and plays with perspective too.  It is a very engaging way to create a quick art lesson in the middle of a story.

Art teachers will love this as a gift, but they will also enjoy sharing it in their classrooms.  Bravo for Miss Chew and all of the other great teachers out there who do this work every day.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Review: The Secret of the Stone Frog by David Nytra

secret of the stone frog

The Secret of the Stone Frog by David Nytra

Released September 11, 2012.

Upon opening this graphic novel, I was surprised.  Fine-lined black and white images that invite readers into an equally surprising story.  Leah and Alan wake up in an enchanted forest, not knowing how they got there or where they are.  Luckily, there is a stone frog to tell them which way to head and not to leave the path.  When they spot a house off of the path though, they just have to see if the people who live there will give them some food.  At the house, they discover huge bees in the garden and a woman with an enormous head who does invite them in for some cookies.  But the bees are not normal bees, and they start to collect the words that Alan is saying, leaving him unable to speak.  Leah manages to save his voice, but they are forced to flee.  Of course, they leave the path again, this time to discover lions who speak and rabbits as mounts.  There are more stone frogs, dark caves, unusual subways, and a strange city to explore.  This graphic novel is a tribute to traditional fairy tales but has its own magic to work too.

I am very taken with this book.  It is a modern version of an Alice in Wonderland story, complete with strange adult characters, an entire society that is warped and unusual, and discoveries around every corner.  Nytra seems to delight in the peculiar in his book, which also delighted me.  There are no explanations to this dreamy tale that sometimes verges closely to nightmare territory.

The art is unusual for a graphic novel, hearkening back more closely with old-fashioned tales than with a modern graphic novel.  While Nytra does use panels throughout, the art itself is fine-lined, detailed and worthy of reader exploration too.  It has a welcome surreal quality as well that suits the book well.

There is nothing better than a book that will surprise and delight you.  That’s guaranteed in this graphic novel.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Toon Books.

Review: Minette’s Feast by Susanna Reich

minettes feast

Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Amy Bates

Minette was most likely the luckiest cat in the world, since she was owned by Julia Child.  Adopted by Julia Child and her husband during their time in Paris, she was just as discerning about her food as her owner was.  She spurned canned food, eating only fresh mice and bird.  Julia would bring home marvelous fish heads just for Minette and also give her leftovers from her cooking.  Still, Minette preferred her own hunted food.  Julia began to cook more and more, taking classes as Le Cordon Bleu.  Minette honed her own hunting skills at the same time, practicing on her toys.  It would take something very special to lure Minette away from the mice.  But then again, her owner was Julia Child who was certainly up to that challenge.

Taking on a famous cook and personality through her finicky cat is a wonderful approach.  We get to see a younger Julia Child, figuring out how to cook French food in her own small kitchen.  We are there to see her arrive in Paris, find her footing in the culture, and then through her learning process until her cooking inspires even her cat to turn away from mice.  It’s a genuine way to approach the subject that has a real child-appeal.

Bates’ illustrations are done in pencil and watercolor.  There is a seriousness and also a playfulness in her illustrations that remind me of Julia herself.  The lanky woman is shown at her full height throughout the book as she is celebrated in both image and text.  Minette appears early in the book, long before Julia adopts her.  It’s a nice touch for sharp-eyed children.

A warm and energetic glimpse of Julia Child that celebrates her on the year of her 100th birthday.  Simply delicious!  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.

Review: Barnum’s Bones by Tracey Fern

barnums bones

Barnum’s Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World by Tracey Fern, illustrated by Boris Kulikov

Barnum Brown was fascinated with fossils from the time he was a toddler following behind his father’s plow.  His collection got so large, it outgrew his bedroom and he was forced to move out to the laundry house with his finds.  In college, Barnum got to go on digs in the summers of 1894 and 1895 in South Dakota and Wyoming.  Barnum got a reputation for being a great bone hunter, collecting more than 1400 pounds of bones!  The American Museum of Natural History in New York City didn’t have a dinosaur on display, so they hired Barnum to do fossil digs for the museum.  Barnum continued to prove he could find bones, but he never found a new species, even though others were discovering them.  All that changed when he found a huge bone, discovering the first T. Rex.

This book is science and hard work made fascinating and cool.  I appreciated the fact that this is not just a book about Barnum’s great find, but also all of the determination and time that it took to make that find.  Readers travel along with Barnum through the heat and mosquitoes to find bones.  The amazing hauls that he made before finding T. Rex are mind-boggling.  The persona of Barnum is an interesting one too.  His dandy clothes, wearing a fur coat and nice shoes on digs makes for an even more fascinating scientist. 

Kulikov’s illustrations use glowing outlines of the dinosaurs being discussed to show readers the form of the dinosaur.  What could have been a frustrating part of the book becomes all the more intriguing and inviting.  His illustrations are playful, contrasting dusty old-fashioned colors with the bolder colors of the night sky and burning campfires. 

This is a book that will inspire children to search for their own fossils, whether they are as big as a T. Rex or not.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Oh No! Not Again! by Mac Barnett

oh no not again

Oh No! Not Again! (Or How I Built a Time Machine to Save History) (Or at least my history grade) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat

The sequel to Oh No! (Or How My Science Report Destroyed the World) takes on history class.  The female protagonist messes up her perfect score on a history test by missing the first question: In what modern country do we find the oldest prehistoric cave paintings?  So she figures out a simple answer to getting a perfect score: she builds a time machine to change history so that her answer of Belgium is correct.  When she finally reaches the right point in history, she is faced with two Neanderthals who aren’t really interested in creating art.  They’d much rather stick the paintbrushes up their nose or munch on the paint palette.  Spray paint worked even less well.  When our hero heads into the cave to do it herself though, the Neanderthals highjack her time machine.  What’s that going to do to her history grade?

Fans of the first book will enjoy this one as well.  It has the same zany, wild pacing of the first.  This time the romp is through history.  Happily, the book embraces a very simple sort of history to understand, so young readers will be able to get the humor and understand the juxtapositions that make up much of the story. 

Santat brings in physical humor too, giving the book his signature pizzazz and style.  I’m a fan of the color palette that hearkens back to an old film throughout.  It has a grainy texture and then there are the light-colored lines running vertically through the images.  Very school film on reels from my own childhood. 

A clever, funny and wild ride through history from the folks who brought us the robot rampage through science.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy. 

Review: Hide & Seek by Il Sung Na

hide and seek

Hide & Seek by Il Sung Na

The author of several lovely picture books returns with another beautiful book.  This time readers are part of a game of hide and seek with jungle animals.  Elephant offers to seek while the others hide.  There is a slow count from one to ten as the animals search for places to hide.  Giraffe opts for a tree to hide behind.  Gorilla stands atop Tortoise’s shell like a statue.  Elephant searches for everyone and one-by-one he finds them all, except for Chameleon.  All of the animals finally have to give up and Chameleon reveals himself.  Young readers can search for chameleon throughout the bright illustrations, participating in the game themselves.

The text here is fairly basic, allowing the game to create the pacing and story.  The counting from one to ten creates an effective counting book that is nicely married to a hide and seek game that will challenge young children. 

It is really the art that is special here, glowing with light from within and filled with bright colors.  None of the animals are colored as expected.  The elephant has vibrant ears in red with hearts.  The giraffe is a fiery yellow with red.  Tortoise is a rainbow of pattern and color.  The trees themselves are topped with colorful clouds of leaves.  It all creates a very dynamic and fanciful world.

Colorful counting and a game to play make this a great pick for lap sharing with your favorite toddler or preschooler.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.

This Week’s Tweets and Pins

Here are the links I shared on my Twitter and Pinterest accounts that you might find interesting.  You can also check out the links I shared about libraries and ebooks on my Sites & Soundbytes blog.

The Book J.R.R. Tolkein Read to His Children: Snergs

Books That Build Community – The Book Whisperer – Education Week Teacher #kidlit

A Brief History of Children’s Picturebooks and the Art of Visual Storytelling | Brain Pickings #kidlit

Candlewick Affirms Faith in Picture Books for 20th Anniversary #kidlit

Cybils: 2012 Cybils Call for Judges #kidlit #yalit

The Enchanted Inkpot: Danger! Middle Grade covers, Fall 2012

Gen Y: the most book-loving generation alive?

Girls With ADHD Have Higher Rates Of Self-Injury: Study

A great post from @halseanderson on money, making a living writing, and the real business of making stuff for people:

The Hunger Games Trilogy Has Now Outsold All the Harry Potter Books #yalit


Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys? Online Quiz – Mental Floss

Olympic Soccer Star Alex Morgan to Pen Middle-Grade Series #kidlit

Reading Readiness: Are We Pushing Too Hard? | GeekMom | #reading #literacy

Top 10 Picture Books for the Secondary Classroom « Nerdy Book Club

Top ten books parents think children should read – Telegraph

Uncle Ray’s Dystopia

Why it’s okay to write the book you’re writing, not the book you wrote. Terrific blog post from Kristin Cashore:

Nina Bawden Dies

carries war 

Nina Bawden has died at age 87.  She was the author of book for both adults and children.  The one I know best is Carrie’s War which is tells the story of children evacuated to Wales during World War II.  As I’m thinking about it now, I think I saw it on Masterpiece Theater rather than having read it.  I loved the program.

And I love the description in the Chicago Tribune article of Bawden:

Lennie Goodings, Bawden’s publisher at Virago, called the author "gently fierce" and a "wickedly funny woman.

Sounds like someone I would have loved to meet.

Review: Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket by Tatyana Feeney

small bunnys blue blanket

Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket by Tatyana Feeney

Small Bunny did everything with his blue blanket.  He took it everywhere with him.  His blanket helped him read hard words, swing higher on the swings, and paint the best pictures.  But one day, Small Bunny’s mother thinks that Blue Blanket should be washed.  Small Bunny tried to hide, but his mother found him.  So after Small Bunny’s bath, it was Blue Blanket’s turn.  Small Bunny stood and watched the washer for the entire 107 minutes that it took to wash.  Then Blue Blanket had to dry on the line.  Small Bunny’s mother was sure that the blanket was good as new, but Small Bunny did not want a new blanket, he wanted his good old friend back.

There is such charm in this very simple book thanks to the illustrations.  Done in a limited palette of blues and small touches of pink, the minimalist lines give a sense of space and movement.  Somehow this simple rabbit illustration manages to convey deep emotions, including joy, impatience and deep worry.  The sweep of the blanket through the pages adds motion.

The playful illustrations offer a lightness to the book that elevates it nicely.  The writing is simple and basic.  I enjoyed the touch where Small Bunny’s mother told him it would take only a minute for his blanket to be washed and it took 107.  Lovely.  I also enjoyed the fact that this book was not about getting a child to let go of a beloved blanket, but instead just getting it washed.  The ending is satisfying too.

Playful and fun to read, this book will be enjoyed by the preschool audience.  The simple words and illustrations will work well with a toddler story time.  Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf.