Review: Camp Tiger by Susan Choi

Camp Tiger by Susan Choi

Camp Tiger by Susan Choi, illustrated by John Rocco (9780399173295)

A remarkable picture book about saying goodbye to summer with one final September camping trip that just happens to involve a tiger. A boy heads out on a camping trip with his older brother and his parents. He is dreading the end of summer and going to first grade. They arrive at Mountain Pond, filled with lots of quiet and nature. But as they are setting up the tents, a tiger enters their camp. It’s a real tiger who talks. The tiger asks if they have another tent that he could use as he feels cold now even in his cave. The family sets it up and the boy climbs in along with the tiger. They nestle together for a time. The tiger stays all weekend with the family, going on hikes, heading out in the canoe, even helping with the fishing. But then, the tiger is gone. The family heads back home, but it’s a trip that no one will ever forget.

I am trying not to simply gush in superlatives about this book. Choi captures the tension of growing up, of wishing time would stand still, of hating the new responsibilities of chores, and longing for kindergarten again. She writes of that with a clarity and ease that honors the child’s feelings. Then the tiger enters, realistic and bold, and at first readers try to puzzle out if the talking tiger is real or not. By the end of the book, it doesn’t matter. Just knowing the tiger, experiencing the tiger was enough. It doesn’t have to be answered as they head back to school and home.

Rocco’s illustrations are just as well done as the text. His illustrations make the tiger almost more realistic than the humans in the story. The tiger swims, sits in firelight, snuggles close, and weighs down the canoe. The final night they have together is filled with starlight and quiet that Rocco captures so beautifully.

Surreal and realistic in the best possible mash-up. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Review: The Second Sky by Patrick Guest

The Second Sky by Patrick Guest

The Second Sky by Patrick Guest, illustrated by Jonathan Bentley (9780802855206)

A little penguin wants to learn to fly, but he is more fuzz than feathers and doesn’t have very long wings. So when he tries to flap and fly, he ends up falling onto his bottom. His parents try to explain that he is a penguin and not a goose, but Gilbert won’t give up. He wants to reach the stars and fly above mountains. When Gilbert’s feathers come in, he tries some more to fly, but still can’t leave the ground. Inspired by an albatross flying above him, he heads to a cliff and jumps off. Instead of flying though, he tumbles down the side and into the sea. It is there, in the deep water, the Gilbert realizes that penguins can fly too, just in their own way.

Shortlisted for the 2018 Early Childhood Book of the Year by the Children’s Book Council of Australia, this picture book combines incredible illustrations with a strong story of finding your own way to reach your dreams. Gilbert is a hardy and fearless little fellow, determined to fly. The moment when he is at the top of the cliff is a huge turning point in his story and readers will be holding their breath to see what happens. The result is exceptionally satisfying.

Bentley’s illustrations are lovely. They capture the vistas of the frozen landscape, have the solid black figures of the other penguins. Yet they also soften around Gilbert and his fuzz, showing a rotund little penguin with big dreams. That softness plays nicely against the ice and snow. When Gilbert enters the water and the pages fill with blues and greens, the colors seem even more intense and vivid.

A little penguin with big dreams whose story is worth reading. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers