Vampenguin by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Cover image for Vampenguin.

Vampenguin by Lucy Ruth Cummins (9781534466982)

The Dracula family is heading to the zoo on Saturday. The first place they always visited at the zoo was the Penguin House. The youngest in the family, loved visiting all of the different sorts of penguins. And when he saw an opening, he made his way into the exhibit and a little penguin took his place in the stroller. The little Dracula was there when the penguins got fed, so he devoured the fish not sharing it very well. The family went on to walk the zoo and see all sorts of exhibits. Along the way, the penguin got to see the sights and eat lots of snow cones. Back in the penguin exhibit, it was time for a swim. Some rude children stopped by and little Dracula helped send them on their way. It was soon time for the child and penguin to switch places again. The family would never forget their visit to the zoo, and the penguins would never be the same either.

This wry picture book tells one story with the text while the illustrations show what is actually happening. With the stealthy and undiscovered switch between child and penguin, this style works very well and keeps the humor going through the entire book. Cummins’ writing has a subtle wink to reality all the while thoroughly enjoying throwing a vampire family into the everyday setting of a trip to the zoo.

The illustrations are a delight with all of their details that make the entire book work. From the fish left in the doorway to keep it ajar to the fluffy pink towels in the penguin exhibit, the details are charming. Then there is the truth of a visit to the zoo from the almost-empty exhibits where you can’t see much to the cost of the treats to dirty diapers.

This is a funny and smart picture book. Nothing fishy about it. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac

Cover image for Rez Dogs.

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac (9780593326213)

When Malian is at her grandparents visiting, Covid-19 brings everyone into lockdown. Malian lives in Boston with her parents usually and now she is on an extended visit on the Wabanaki reservation where her grandparents live. She works to keep her grandparents safe from the virus, keeping social services and the mailmen at the end of the driveway. She is helped by Malsum, a wolf-like dog who simply showed up one day and stayed. Dogs on the reservation are different than in the city. Malsum is his own dog, responsible for himself, though he does enjoy the attention and food that Malian and her grandparents give him. Malian’s grandmother’s fry bread is a special treat for everyone. This is a lovely look at how one family got through Covid by supporting each other.

Told in verse, this middle-grade novel shares oral storytelling traditions and celebrates the love of grandchild and grandparents. Bruchac is a celebrated Abenaki children’s author with hundreds of publications in his body of work. There is a wonderful sense of place throughout this book, showing the way of life on the reservation. The pace of life is slower too, partially due to the pandemic but also by choice.

Malian is a great guide to life on the Wabanaki reservation, since she lives a different lifestyle when she is in the city. She clearly shows the distinctions between the two ways of life, each with their own benefits and challenges. Malsum, the dog, is a character himself, guiding the humans around him through his body language, approval and defense.

A timely novel that looks at the pandemic and its impact on indigenous families. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.