Month: August 2015

Review: The Marvels by Brian Selznick

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

The Marvels by Brian Selznick (InfoSoup)

Released September 15, 2015.

The author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret returns with his third book. In this novel that mixes his vivid artwork with longer passages of text, the focus is on one amazing family, The Marvels. It begins in the 18th century with a shipwreck where a boy survives the sinking of The Kraken and finds his way to London. Just as the ship was sinking, he had been participating in a play on board along with his brother who was killed in the wreck. So when he reached London, he found the Royal Theatre and people willing to take him in. Time passed and the boy turned into a man who one day finds a baby left on the theater doorstep. So begins a theatrical family until one generation does not want to be on stage anymore. Time turns again, now it is 1990 and the story is that of Joseph who has run away from boarding school to the home of his uncle whom he has never met. Looking through the windows of the home, it is as if a huge family has just left the room. But his uncle lives there alone. Odd noises filter through the house too, a bird sings where there is no bird and footsteps can be heard. As Joseph is allowed to stay, he discovers that he is living in a mystery and one that he must solve in order to understand his uncle.

This is another stunning novel from Selznick. Again it marries his art with his prose, both of which are beautiful and evocative. His art depicts the theater life and shows how like ship rigging the ropes all are. It shows art and family and irreconcilable differences. Then comes the prose where Selznick paints a picture of the uncle’s home with the same detail and care that he uses in his images. They come to life in a different but complementary way. It is stirring and beautiful to experience vivid depiction of two settings, one in text and the other in art. This results in a book that is visually arresting but also has prose that is worthy of celebrating and sinking into as well.

Joseph and his uncle are both very interesting characters. Both are rather isolated and lonely, finding their own space in the world. Both struggle to fit in, but also find ways that allow them to not have to change their own personality much at all. It is a book that looks at love and the various places you can find it in life as well as its power to transform. As the story unfolds, there are wonders and almost magic at work. This is an exploration of theater and performance too, a look at what is truth and what is real and an acknowledgement that theater can be both.

I was rapt when reading this novel. It is a treat to have a new Selznick to explore and this one lives up to his stellar reputation. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Review: It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Its Tough to Lose Your Balloon by Jarrett Krosoczka

It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Released September 8, 2015.

The creator of the Lunch Lady graphic novels returns with a picture book that takes bad events and turns them around. The book begins with a child losing a balloon but then says that Grandma will see it as she flies home on the plane. Your sandwich falling into the sand may make you sad, but it will make seagulls happy. Wet shoes are horrible, but being barefoot is great! One after another unfortunate events are turned around into something to even look forward to. This optimistic picture book will have you looking for a day filled with lemons rather than lemonade.

The text of the picture book is simple. The situations captured here are universal and children will respond to all of them. From scraped knees to melted ice cream, these are situations that could ruin anyone’s good mood. But this book restores all of it to be OK with cool bandages and an upside-down solution instead.

The art too is simple. Krosoczka makes sure to use a wide range of races on the page, showing visually how universal both the good and the bad can be. The simplicity of the illustrations with their watercolor washes makes for a book that can be used with groups. I can also see children coming up with their own positive spins on bad things as an activity.

Positivity galore in this picture book that will brighten any gloomy day right up. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

Review: Sharing the Bread by Pat Zietlow Miller

Sharing the Bread by Pat Zietlow Miller

Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Released September 22, 2015.

Told in rhyme, this picture book is a celebration of a family preparing Thanksgiving dinner together. The nineteenth century American traditions echo our modern ones closely. Readers will see the turkey go into the wood-burning oven. Dough for the bread is kneaded and allowed to rise. There is cranberry sauce made on the stove and a pumpkin pie with hand-whipped topping. Mashed potatoes are added to the feast as well as a jug of cider. Soon everyone is gathered around the table and prayers are said together. It’s an American Thanksgiving done in true traditional style.

The rhyming stanzas evoke a feeling of a jaunty folksong as they tell the story of a family making their Thanksgiving dinner. The rhymes create a great rhythm to the book, that will have toes tapping if they are read with enough snap and vigor. The rhyme and rhythm combine to create a strong framework for the book, one where there is a building anticipation for the meal and for the family to all arrive. There are extended family present, including adult siblings, aunt, uncle and grandparents. Throughout, there is lots of work to be done but it is all done in good cheer and everyone lends a hand.

McElmurry’s illustrations have a folkart quality to them that works well. Done in paint, the illustrations are simple and warm, inviting you back in time to share a meal that is familiar to everyone. There are lots of period details in the images such as water pumps, dried herbs in bunches on the wall, a wash tub, and large cast iron pots and pans.

Warm and flavored with tradition and love, this book is as gratifying as a fresh loaf of bread. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.

Review: Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton

Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton

Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton (InfoSoup)

A little boy has lots and lots of different wishes that he hopes come true. He wishes to be able to fly, to breathe underwater, that the robot he drew could come to life. Then they could play together in the rain that would come in seven different colors and flavors. He wishes for fangs and a tail. He wishes to be able to talk to animals and to have lots of wild and strange pets. But in the end, he mostly wishes that something extraordinary would happen to him. Something real. And suddenly, it does!

Clanton excels at taking very simple premises for his books and making them into something engaging and intelligent. In this book, it is all about wishes and dreams with a big dollop of imagination too. The bulk of the book is spent with the boy and his wild wishes that he only hopes could come true. In the end though, the book comes down to earth and the boy just wants something amazing to happen in real life. He takes a moment then to look around himself and realizes that there are wonderful things happening right there, especially out in nature.

The artwork here is understated and subtle. Even during his wildest and most colorful wishes, the colors are muted and subdued. It isn’t until the ending when the boy realizes that there is wonder around him in real life that the colors lose their subtlety and start to really sing.

Big dreams and wild wishes may not come to fruition here, but reality is certainly “something extraordinary” in the end. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Review: Edmond, The Moonlit Party by Astrid Desbordes

Edmond the Moonlit Party by Astrid Desbordes

Edmond, The Moonlit Party by Astrid Desbordes, illustrated by Marc Boutavant (InfoSoup)

Edmond, the squirrel, lives in a chestnut tree and hardly ever goes out. He spends his time making nut jam, reading stories, and making pompoms. George Owl lives in the tree above Edmond. He spends his time out and about, gathering items to create his amazing costumes. Harry, the bear, lives in the bottom part of the same chestnut tree. He loves to throw parties and was just planning his upcoming one. It would have a nothing tart, very mysterious, and would encourage people to wear costumes. Edmond longed to go to a party in the tree, but never had. So when George smells Edmond’s latest batch of nut jam as the party gets started, George encourages him to attend even if he doesn’t have a costume to wear. Soon Edmond is at the party, dancing and having a great time and he decides that parties suit him just fine after all.

This French import is a radiant read. The three different residents of the tree all have distinct personalities. Edmond is lonely and looking for connections, George enjoys disguises and Harry is rather distracted in the midst of his party planning. It all turns out for the best as the three neighbors get to know one another, or at least Harry and Edmond to, since George is dressed in a very realistic seagull costume. The text here is lush and gives insight into each character, making the book more appropriate for older preschoolers and children already starting school.

Boutavant’s illustrations have a seventies vibe. Done in the flat bright colors of that time, the illustrations have lots of details to explore and offer real glimpses into the lives of the three denizens of the tree. The bright colors vibrate on the page, brilliant blues, reds and yellows are used as background colors and add a lot of energy to the story.

An exploration of neighbors and being yourself, this picture book is cheery and vibrant. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Review: Out of the Woods by Rebecca Bond

Out of the Woods by Rebecca Bond

Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event by Rebecca Bond (InfoSoup)

Inspired by a true story, this picture book tells of the author’s grandfather’s life in Ontario, Canada in 1914. Antonio lived with his family in a hotel run by his mother. He spent his time with the hotel workers since there were no children around. He helped the cooks, the maids, and watched as others hauled wood and repaired buildings. The hotel had three stories with a space to feed crowds of people, individual rooms for travelers and then a large open dormitory space for others. He loved spending time in the forest around the hotel too. Then one year when Antonio was almost five, it was dry as could be. When smoke was spotted in the distance, everyone knew they were in real trouble. All of the people fled the building and stood in the lake watching the fire come closer. Then something amazing happened and the animals too left the forest and entered the water, standing near the humans and close to one another, predator and prey alike. When the fire ended, the hotel was still standing and the animals returned to the burned forest, but Antonio never forgot what he witnessed that day.

Bond captures the time period, allowing readers to really explore the hotel that Antonio lived in, showing us all of the floors and the hard-working men that the hotel served. The text offers details such as describing Antonio’s room as a place that was off the kitchen and had once been a pantry. Even small things are noted like the travel bags men carried and the fact that they sometimes had guns along too. Through these details, the entire hotel comes alive on the page.

The illustrations in the book also add to the details from the long distance view of the hotel on the lake to the finely drawn images showing the interior. Small details are captured in sepia tones and fine ink lines, allowing us to get a glimpse into the past and a way of life. The same details continue even as the fire rages and the animals come into the water. Realistic and lovely, the animals’ body language shows how wary they are and yet how desperate too.

A true story brought to life through details and wonder. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Review: Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon

Hamster Princess Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon

The author of the Dragonbreath series brings her signature humor and art to a new heroine. Harriet is a hamster princess though she hates the need to be ethereal and drooping. She’d much rather be going cliff diving and riding her quail. But the princess was cursed at birth by an evil fairy, sound familiar? When she turns 12, she will prick her finger on a hamster wheel and fall deeply asleep. But Harriet sees the curse in a more positive way. It means that she is invincible until she is 12 years old. So she heads off to have adventures, slay monsters, and have a great time. But then comes her twelfth birthday, and the Ratbone the evil fairy arrives in person to see it through. With an unbreakable curse on her head, how is a hamster princess to prevail? You will just have to read it to find out!

Vernon takes Sleeping Beauty and turns it around in this novel that is a mix of text and graphics. Princess Harriet is wonderful. She breaks all of the rules, insisting that since she is a princess and doing something therefore princesses must do it. She creates a reputation for herself throughout the region among the more snobbish kingdoms. At the same time though she has had a blast, keeping things from her mother even as she slays ogres and saves giants from meddling Jacks. Throughout the book, Vernon mentions different fairy tales, and even works the glass mountain directly into the story. Fans of fairy tales will find a lot to love here.

The illustrations are funny and wonderfully active. This is not a princess graphic novel that spends any time at all on daintiness. It is much more about great laughs, action scenes and interpreting what her quail meant by his latest “Querk!” The graphic novel elements play perfectly into the story, often being used to move the tale forward on their own. These are not graphic elements to be read on the side since they are so vital to the story itself.

A completely and wonderfully twisted fairytale, this graphic novel is sure to find fans thanks to its strong heroine and laugh-out-loud humor. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.