I hope everyone has a happy holidays! I’ll be taking a little blogging break until January 4th and hoping that we get just a touch of snow here in Wisconsin.
I will return with my top picks for 2015, sneaking them in just before the announcements of the ALA awards. See you then!
When I Am Happiest by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson (InfoSoup)
The third in the charming series about Dani, this book has school ending. Dani has now managed to finish the school year after her best friend moved away. She has a project to finish, a book about how happy she is. But then her father is hit by a car on his bicycle, and suddenly Dani is not happy at all. Dani is taken home by her grandparents where they wait for updates on her her father is doing. How can Dani ever finish her book now? And what will happen if her father never wakes up again?
Translated from the Swedish, this series is one of my favorites. Lagercrantz captures the emotions of having your best friend move away and then the long process of recovering from that. In this novel, she shows how a sudden accident can sweep the air out of your life as a child. Lagercrantz never lectures about being positive, but that’s exactly what her books embrace. Through Dani’s reactions to adversity, readers can see the power of positive thinking and how the good outweighs the bad even when you don’t realize it.
Eriksson’s art is done in line drawings that help break the text up, making this book just right for elementary readers who may still find large paragraphs overwhelming. The art is done with a sense of humor, such as the image of Dani getting her ears pierced with her father unable to look but bravely holding her hand anyway. When Dani is overwhelmed by the news of her father, you can see it in every bone of her body as it curves protectively inward.
Another winner in this great series, get these into the hands of fans of Clementine for another amazing young heroine. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Thing about Yetis by Vin Vogel (InfoSoup)
The one thing you should know about yetis is that they love winter. They love playing in the snow, sliding down hills, ice skating in their own unique way, making the best snowballs, and building snow castles. But even yetis can get too cold and have to head inside to warm up. When winter gets a bit too rough, yetis can also get crabby, particularly when they run out of cocoa. They also love summer, you see. They miss playing outside in the sun, sliding down slippery slides, swimming, sleeping in tents, and building sand castles. There’s just one thing for a grumpy winter yeti to do, make their own summer day!
This book has such an appeal about it. It’s the googly-eyed yetis throughout the book, the ones who delight in both cold and warm weather. The ones who get grouchy when they are too cold, poofy when their fur dries, and who sometimes need to be cozy inside on a blustery winter day. Vogel captures these elusive yetis with a cartoon feel that has universal appeal for readers.
The story is brief but cleverly done. Rather than just an ode to winter and all that it brings in terms of snowy fun, this is also a book that will appeal to any of us who live in the north and know that snow and cold can get very old after awhile. Children will relate to longing for summer.
Read this one as February is getting brutal and be prepared to have your own summer day inside. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
Moletown by Torben Kuhlmann (InfoSoup)
With just a few words at the beginning and ending of the book, this nearly wordless picture book looks at progress. It begins with one lone mole moving into a green meadow. He was soon joined by more moles and each dug out space of their very own. Soon there was electricity, plumbing and heat. The shaft got larger and deeper and then large machinery was used to dig the tunnels. The meadow was dotted with mounds. Public transport was added, cities grew up, apartments were jammed closely together, traffic was awful, and the lush green meadow disappeared. But not quite.
Kuhlmann shows human progress but with a mole point of view. His gorgeous illustrations show the wheels of change, the machinery of digging, the way that progress takes over and has a speed all of its own. It is a story that is dark and sad, one that shows that starting with a lone mole and freedom to make choices can quickly turn into a society bound by the machines that once built it. Much like our own, perhaps exactly like our own.
As I mentioned, it is Kuhlmann’s illustrations that show all of this without words. Each illustration is detailed and lush. The little mole homes are cleverly depicted from the happiness of the early days to the jammed apartments at the end. I particularly enjoyed the page filled with paperwork and records with one bored mole at a desk. All of these work together to show what loss was suffered with progress.
A book to start discussions or to pore over on your own, this picture book takes a mole-eye view of what we humans are doing to ourselves. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova (InfoSoup)
Peppi has just started a new school when she manages to trip over her own feet in the crowded hallway. When a boy tries to help her, she panics and pushes him away when kids start to say she’s his “nerder girlfriend.” Peppi feels awful about this and buries herself in her new group of friends in the art club. Though she tries to avoid him, Jaime is everywhere. He’s assigned as her science tutor and is part of the science club, the art club’s arch rivals. Soon the two clubs are at war with one another, but Peppi is starting to be friends with Jaime. How can a budding middle school friendship survive the club apocalypse?
The story is over the top in a good way. It captures the story of Peppi, a nice artistic girl who just cannot bring herself to apologize to Jaime, even if she knows that what she did was wrong. So often protagonists are either completely socially inept or entirely extroverted, Peppi is a clear introvert but one with lots of friends and a clear social circle.
Chmakova has a style that will appeal to manga readers and anime viewers. She uses several tropes from those genres to great effect from the streaming tears on people’s faces in reaction to great dismay to the isolated images of angry leaders where they are backlit and scary. Chmakova also manages to keep her graphic novel very diverse, not only is Peppi herself diverse, but other characters who populate the story are diverse as well with a variety of racial, ethnic and abilities. It is subtly done and makes the entire book feel like a real school.
A dynamic graphic novel, this book will appeal to those in middle school and those headed there, artists and scientists alike. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Knights Before Christmas by Joan Holub, illustratead by Scott Magoon (InfoSoup)
Three knights are guarding the castle when suddenly out on the drawbridge there arose a clatter! Outside there is a red-and-white knight with his eight dragons who is trying to get inside the castle. He asks where the chimney is, but castles don’t have a chimney, so Santa has to go to extreme measures to get gifts to these three knights. Meanwhile the knights try to defend the castle but take the instructions a bit too literally. Santa does not give up, deciding to launch the presents at the castle using a flexible pine tree. The knights successfully defend the castle from this barrage of cookies, candy and gifts. Then they merrily bring it all indoors and set up their holiday celebration. Santa has won too!
This is such a clever play on Twas a Night Before Christmas. At first I wondered if it would work, but the author manages to pay homage to the traditional story but also strike out on her own and make a very enjoyable holiday tale. The rhythm and feel of the original story is still here, but this new version does not feel bound by it. Rather it launches the story forward and gives the author room to play. Children will love these three confused knights and their battle against the holiday.
Magoon’s art is digitally done, offering a feeling of plenty of texture and even collage. The three knights are unique from one another and Santa himself is unmistakable in his red and white costume. Each image is filled with humor. Make sure to take time to read the asides too as they add to the merriment.
A modern twist on a traditional poem, this is a welcome new version for fans of knights and castles. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Company.
Here are the links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week that I think are cool:
What are the best children’s books of 2015? – The Guardian http://buff.ly/221OGU7
Bringing the library outside http://buff.ly/1ReqsSy
Best Teen Books of 2015 | Kirkus Reviews http://buff.ly/1m2dvyn
British author of books for children and teens, Peter Dickinson, has died at age 88. Publisher’s Weekly has a wonderful recap of his life.
As a new librarian for children and teens, I loved Eva by Peter Dickinson. It was the perfect book to book talk to a classroom. All one had to tell was the first scene of the book, one could even read some of it aloud, and teens were captivated. Who wouldn’t love a book where a girl awakens with her brain transplanted into the body of a chimpanzee.
This book though is more than about just awakening in a different body, it talked about ethics of medicine and animal rights. It is a gorgeous book. I also loved A Bone from a Dry Sea by him, another book that was a great book talk and filled with fascinating science.
The Red Hat by David Teague, illustrated by Antoinette Portis (InfoSoup)
A boy named Billy Hightower lives at the top of the tallest building in the world, so high that he is above the clouds. Then one day, another building is built nearby. Billy soon sees a girl on top of the building wearing a red hat. Billy tries to call to her, but the wind sweeps away his words before she can hear them. He tries to send her a note via paper airplane, but the wind snatches that away too. The kite doesn’t work either. When Billy tries to use a blanket to fly across the gap to the girl, the wind pushes him down to street level and takes the girl’s hat too. The vicious wind continues to push Billy around, but soon Billy has figured out where the girl lives and finds a way through the wind to see her.
Teague keeps his text very simple in this picture book. He tells a straight forward story, but one that also is about loneliness and how important it is to reach another person. It is also clearly a book about love, about obstacles and finding an alternate way to connect and be together. Children may see it as a book more about wind, and that is completely wonderful too. Some of the best books work on different levels.
Portis’ illustrations use a little gimmick of the wind being shiny on the page. But these illustrations are beautiful in their simplicity and the wind itself is so capricious and involved in the story that it deserves its own style and feel. Done in only a few colors, the red pops on the page, the color of love.
A lovely picture book that can be enjoyed on different levels by different readers. It would make an interesting discussion for slightly older children about imagery and hidden meanings. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.