Review: No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart

no monkeys no chocolate

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young, illustrated by Nicole Wong

A close-up look at the favorite sweet treat of chocolate, this nonfiction picture book explains exactly what it takes to get chocolate.  The book quickly moves to the tropical rain forests of Central and South America and the cocoa beans that grow there and how they are treated to get cocoa powder from them.  The book then moves to explaining cocoa pods, cocoa flowers, and cocoa leaves, but animals quickly come into the process from the midges that pollinate the cocoa flowers as they lay their eggs to the maggots of the coffin flies that take over the brains of the leaf-cutter ants.  Lizards and monkeys play a role too, but the monkeys are tantalizingly left to the end of the book.  Told in factual information, the book also offers asides by two funny bookworms who wonder along with the reader what in the world monkeys have to do with chocolate!

This is a fascinating look at the complexities of something that many of us take for granted.  Stewart, author of over 150 nonfiction books for children, worked with Allen Young, the world specialist on cocoa tree pollination and growth.  The result is a book that is enticing both in its premise and its execution.  Turning pages lets you learn more and the entire process is both odd and amazing.

The art by Wong has a wonderful lightness to it that fits the subject particularly well.  The clever little bookworms add a whimsical note to the entire book with their ballooned speech bubbles, ballcap, flower and skirt. 

A winner of a nonfiction picture book, this is one sweet addition to any library.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

Review: Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds

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Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat

It’s hard to be a carnivore when all of the prey whispers behind your back, nobody understands the way you eat, and you are accused of sneaking around.  So a lion, a great white shark and a wolf get together to form a support group.  Their first plan is to become vegetarians, but that doesn’t go well at all.  In fact, the wolf can’t seem to find a berry bush that doesn’t have a bunny in it.  The next plan is using disguises to blend in, but one smell of the lion’s zebra breath turns the antelope against him.  Finally, the lion asked the great horned owl to speak with them.  The owl talked about accepting themselves as carnivores.  The others realize that he is right and follow his advice perfectly.

Reynolds has written a book that is screamingly funny.  Each page has laughter on it with the perfect timing of his jokes.  It begs to be shared aloud with punch lines that just have to be delivered.  Happily, the humor is edgy and truly funny, not just for small children.  With clever twists throughout the story and situations that make for very funny results, children will be delighted with this look at self-acceptance and meat eating.

Santat’s illustrations are perfection here.  Bright colored and bold, just like the humor, they add just the right touch to the book.  He manages to capture the comedy perfectly, but not allow his art to blow the punch lines prematurely.  The large format will work well with a group, but there are also details that will have to be shared too.

Clever, funny and wonderfully inappropriate, this book asks us all to accept our inner or outer carnivores.  Appropriate for ages 4-6, this would also work well as a read-aloud for older elementary kids who will love the humor and the naughtiness of the jokes.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: The Hole by Oyvind Torseter

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The Hole by Oyvind Torseter

Released August 27, 2013.

This Norwegian import is an almost-wordless picture book that will surprise and delight.  It is the story of a rounded-nosed creature/person who discovers a hole in his wall in the apartment he just moved into.  But when he tries to see where the hole is coming from, he discovers that it is only on one side of his wall.  The hole moves to the floor and trips him, so he calls for expert help.  He manages to catch the hole in a box and takes it to a laboratory for scrutiny.  Finally, the hole is gone from his apartment.  Or is it?

With a hole punched right through the book, you know it is a stationary thing.  But the art makes it shift and move around the illustrated space to great effect.  Torseter has a great sense of pacing here with tension building as the reader knows of the hole before the main character sees it.  They are also very aware of the fact that the hole never really went away too.  As the hole is taken to the lab, Torseter shows us the scenes he passes through, each with a hole but a different one. 

Entirely playful and a truly wondrous look at the world, this book will have you reading it again right away.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Review: Lulu and the Cat in the Bag by Hilary McKay

lulu and the cat in the bag

Lulu and the Cat in the Bag by Hilary McKay

This third Lulu book continues the story of Lulu’s love affair with any type of animal.  In this story, a cat is dropped off on Lulu’s doorstep in a bag.  Lulu opens the bag over her aunt’s objections.  Her aunt is watching her while her parents are on vacation and is not fond of animals at all.  When the bag is opened, the cat goes running off and disappears.  Though Lulu searches for it, she is unable to find it.  When she returns to her room later, the cat is there on her bed, having climbed in through her open window.  Steadily, the big orange cat starts to become part of the family, even changing Lulu’s aunts thoughts on cats in general.  It dominates the two dogs, scares the bird and even gathers flowers from the garden to scatter about the house.  Then the cat simply disappears, they search for it with Lulu’s aunt’s help, but no one can find it.  Until Lulu makes a surprising discovery!

I’ve enjoyed all of the Lulu books so far and this just adds to the delight that is this series.  Lulu is a wonderful protagonist.  It is a pleasure to see a child character so into animals who does her chores and takes good care of her animals with no complaining.  Lulu is also quite a scamp, so the book are filled with a natural childhood zest and Lulu’s own special take on things.  This is another great treat of a book from McKay.

A series to rival Clementine, get this into the hands of those readers and they will find a new feisty young heroine to love.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from digital galley received from

Review: The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson

man with the violin

The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dusan Petricic

Based on a true event, this book shows the innate connection of children and music.  When Dylan and his mother leave the house, Dylan is always noticing things.  His mother is not.  It was an ordinary day until he heard the music in the subway station.  The man with the violin played and the notes swept through the crowded area.  Dylan wants to stop and begs his mother to pause, but she won’t.  Dylan though is left with the music in his head and finally convinces his mother that evening to stop and hear the music too.

This book is based on the true story of when the renowned violinist Joshua Bell played in the Washington DC subway.  His story is captured in the notes at the end of the book, explaining that only seven people stopped to listen to him play and that many children paused but the adults with them hurried on.  Stinson writes with a playfulness that makes the book dance along.  She uses lots of rhythms and noises throughout, really bringing the world of the city and subway to life. 

Petricic’s art captures the wonder and brightness of music, the zigging noise of shouting and screeching subway.  Dylan is a bright spot of color, the music in the air sweeps and swirls with bright colors, and the violinist is also a bright spot, as you can see in the cover image.  The music is powerful enough to lift Dylan off his feet, swirl his hair like a breeze, and entirely transform is day.

Bravo for capturing this eloquent story about the power of music and its connection to children in particular.  Standing ovation!  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Annick Press and NetGalley.

39 Clues–The Movie

The Medusa Plot (39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers, #1) A King's Ransom (The 39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers, #2) The Dead of Night (The 39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers, #3)

According to an exclusive from The Hollywood Reporter, Universal Studios are in talks to pick up movie options for the 39 Clues series.  The series is made up of 10 books and have been amazingly popular with young readers thanks to their quick moving plots and the multi-media components.

This may all sound familiar, since DreamWorks had optioned the film rights back in 2008.  A screenplay was written and a director selected, but it is unclear whether the script will be used on the new project and who will direct.

Review: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

two boys kissing

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Released August 27, 2013.

Based on true events, this is the story of Henry and Craig, who attempt to set the World Record for kissing the longest.  That means they have to kiss for over 32 hours without a break, no pee breaks, no drink breaks, no sleep and no food.  They start it as a way to support their friend who had been attacked for being gay, but it quickly becomes so much more than that.  It is a kiss felt around the world.  It’s a kiss that speaks to other gay boys, boys who are in their own relationships, those just starting to meet one another, those born into the wrong bodies, those exploring the dark side of the Internet, and others who are just coming out.  The entire book is narrated by the voices of gay men who died in the AIDS epidemic, a generation of gay men who watch the violence, the continued anguish, but also the hope, the progress and the open joy of love.

This book is quite simply a masterpiece.  The pairing of the fresh young love of these gay teens against the wisdom of those who fault earlier battles is brilliant.  It places the entire book into a context that could otherwise be lost.  It is through those many narrators that the truth is laid bare in luminous poetic sentences like “He has no idea how beautiful he is as he walks up that path and rings that doorbell.  He has no idea how beautiful the ordinary becomes once it disappears.”  I highlighted so many sentences like that, bursts of beautiful insight scattered across the sky of the book.  Levithan is at his best here.

Levithan’s pairing of the modern with the perspective of those dead also makes sure that the book has a certain focus on death and dying.  He plays with both, contrasting it with the beauty of the every day, the wonder of perfect moments that are perfect only because they are momentary.  The book reads as one of those crystalline moments caught and tangible.  Levithan also offers gay characters who are in complicated relationships, adding to the depth of the narrative even further.  None of these teens are stereotypes, they are all deeply human, wonderfully so.

Beautifully written with strong characters and a brilliant concept, this book is breathtaking, just like a great kiss should be.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from e-galley courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

Review: Crankenstein by Samantha Berger

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Crankenstein by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Dan Santat

You should be very very scared of Crankenstein.  He appears when provoked, on rainy days, at bedtime, or when popsicles melt on hot days.  Nothing can fix Crankenstein, not a sunny morning, pancakes for breakfast or any amount of niceness.  But there is one thing that can fix a Crankenstein – another Crankenstein.  Sometimes that and only that can get the Crankensteins to both start giggling and then they both disappear and become normal kids again.  But beware, Crankenstein still lurks, hidden, and ready to appear at any moment.

Written in a firmly tongue-in-cheek tone, readers will quickly recognize their own Crankenstein moments in this book.  Berger keeps the details minimal and the situations universal in this book, adding to the humor.  Santat’s illustrations really bring the story to life.  Crankenstein is given the perfect death glare, those deadened eyes staring right at you.  Santat doesn’t hold back here, gleefully creating an over-the-top characterization of pure grumpiness.

This book reads aloud wonderfully and offers a gleeful glimpse at the grumps.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.