Category: Book Reviews

The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan


The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan (InfoSoup)

I’m not really sure how to best review this work. It has a brilliant foreword by Neil Gaiman, who says, “Shaun Tan makes me want to hold these tales close, to rub them with my fingers, to feel the cracks and the creases and the edges of them.” The introduction by fairy-tale expert Jack Zipes states, “…Tan has transformed the Grimms’ tales into miraculous artworks that will move and speak for themselves.” I can only echo this sentiment, because the sculptures that Tan has created bring the Brothers Grimm stories into reality, make the solid and strange in a way that reading them doesn’t.

The sculptures are brilliant, showing aspects of familiar stories that bring new meaning to the tales but also revealing new and less familiar stories to readers and inviting them to indulge in more darkness and wonder. Turning the pages in this book is like a journey filled with gasps of disbelief and realization. New images are revealed on each page and so are the intimate hearts of the tales.

A stunning and brilliant series of sculptures with glimpses into the tales they represent. This book shows older children that the darkness of Grimm tales will still call to them. Appropriate for ages 9-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.


Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis


Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis (InfoSoup)

This inventive picture book takes a close-up look at a garden filled with insects. There is the caterpillar who enters his chrysalis, beetles and a ladybug who notice a sprout growing. They go to Icky, who lives in a log nearby and who has a ladder they can use. The sprout continues to grow and grow. At night other insects and bugs come out. Soon a fort is built in the growing plant but then, disaster! A spider comes and webs the entire plant. As nature continues to take its course, more insects arrive to see the plant flower. Slowly the plant tips over and the fort falls. Seeds drift to the ground. Fall arrives and the butterfly emerges from her cocoon. In spring, new sprouts appear.

The summary above does not capture what is truly amazing about this book. It is the language play, the word choices and the way that at first it seems like a foreign language but by the end of the book you are “speaking” and understanding bug. The language has phrases that are recognizable, allows for decoding of the language and then repeats in a way that allows readers to better understand. It’s very cleverly done and a book unlike any other I’ve experienced.

Ellis’ illustrations add to the otherworldly appeal of this book. Many of the insects are recognizable and still they are strange and wild. The illustrations beautifully focus on the same log and plant throughout, with seasons changing, the plant growing, and the insects coming and going. It is rather like an organic theatrical set and stage.

I have a deep affection for this zany picture book. Children who enjoy word play will love this and may find themselves speaking the bug language for awhile. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Candlewick Press.


Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet


Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet (InfoSoup)

The life of E. B. White, author of several beloved children’s books, is shown here in a children’s biography from a two-time Caldecott Honor winner. White’s upbringing as a child with his summers spent on a lake in Maine shows the impact of childhood experiences. He won several writing awards as a teenager, knowing exactly what he wanted to do. His work for The New Yorker and other publications as a column author and poet is shown as well as Sweet spends much of the book on the author’s adult life. The strong connection he had with water, nature and Maine shines on the page just as it does in his work. Issues with Stuart Little being accepted in libraries and other moments of note are wonderfully portrayed in original wording of letters. A writer who lived away from the fame he was garnering, White continued to do farm work, sail his boats, and enjoy the simple life he adored.

Sweet has written a simply incredible biography. Her writing flows with that of White. Hers has a frankness and an honesty that is particularly important in biography. Sweet intersperses White’s writing throughout the book, sometimes in clippings from magazines or newspapers and other times clearly typed using a typewriter to get the right feel. Unlike many children’s biographies, Sweet depicts White’s childhood and then moves on to his work and his adult life. While his childhood informs his work, it is not the sole focus of the biography, which honors young readers will plenty of information on his full life.

Sweet’s illustrations are equally amazing. She uses physical items on the page, weathered wood, screws, rope, typewriter keys, and leaves. She incorporates photographs and then her own art as well, creating a world of found objects, drawn Wilburs and Templetons, photos and actual documents that is rich and wondrous. It is like opening a drawer and discovering a treasure trove, a book you want to curl up with and read just as you did those beloved childhood books.

In short, this is a masterpiece. A book with just the right tone, style and organic nature. Terrific! Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.




Finding Wonders by Jeannine Atkins


Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins (InfoSoup)

This compelling verse novel tells the story of three girls who grew up to be women who made their own personal mark on science. There is Maria Merian, a girl born in 1647 who loved nature. Through careful observation, she discovered the metamorphosis of butterflies. Her artistic talents also helped document the life cycles of insects. Born in 1799, Mary Anning helped her father collect stone curiosities in England. When she saw a huge creature in the rocks, she discovered the first of the many fossils and dinosaurs she would uncover during her life. Born in 1818, Maria Mitchell grew up helping her mapmaker father in Nantucket. Exploring the night sky together, she spent years looking through her father’s telescope before discovering a new comet. All of these women battled societal expectations and familial pressures to become the scientists they were.

Atkins uses verse to directly tell the stories of these girls, the way they were raised and how they grew to become scientists. Readers unfamiliar with them will be amazed that they were able to reach such prominence in the time periods they lived and that their fathers were the ones who allowed them the freedom to learn and explore. These women demonstrate that through tenacity and determination one can become exactly who they were meant to be, despite almost everyone disapproving. The tales are inspiring and insightful.

Atkins has chosen three women whose stories work particularly well together. There are commonalities between them even though they span more than a century and involve different types of scientific endeavors.  The strong focus on faith in all of the stories shows the way that scientists even today must reconcile their religious beliefs with scientific truths. Faith is handled with a frank sincerity here, an important part of family and life, but also something that can be personal to an individual.

Beautifully written, these brief glimpses of amazing women in science will introduce new sources of inspiration to young readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

King Baby by Kate Beaton


King Baby by Kate Beaton (InfoSoup)

From the author of Hark! A Vagrant comes a second picture book. King Baby is born to loving and devoted subjects, his parents. People bring gifts and in return King Baby bestows blessings upon them. He smiles and coos, but a King can also be demanding. When he doesn’t get his toy fast enough, he can be cranky. And his subjects don’t understand his demands, so King Baby has to do something new and bold. He crawls! Then he starts to grow and grow into a Big Boy. But as he grows up, who will rule his subjects?

Beaton has created a picture book that fully embraces the experience of new parenthood and will also work to show children about to be siblings just how very demanding a tiny baby can be for attention and time. Still, there is also the fact that they grow up so fast, quickly leaving babyhood behind. The use of imperious and lordly demands makes the book very funny and may allow overwhelmed families a little laugh about their small bundles of joy.

Beaton’s signature art work is a delight. The baby as little more than an egg with a crown captures those first few weeks perfectly. The crown remains perched on his little head all the way through tantrums and royal demands. The chaos of a home with a baby is also fully depicted with exhausted parents in hoodies and sweatpants and the floor littered with bottles, toys and clothes.

If you have a new little king or queen of your own or are expecting one to move in soon, this is a book that will have you and your other children giggling and agreeing. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.


Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes


Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes (InfoSoup)

All Garvey seems to do is disappoint his father. His father would like him to play sports and to enjoy them too, but Garvey isn’t athletic. He’d much rather read science fiction and learn about science. Feeling bad about himself, Garvey consoles himself with food and starts to gain weight. He has one friend, who encourages him to join the school chorus. Soon Garvey is making new friends and displaying his talent. He becomes the new soloist for the chorus and his interest in music starts to build a bridge to his father via a new route.

Told in verse, this book of poetry is brief and powerful. Garvey’s situation with his father reads a organic and volatile, the desperation to connect creating even more of a distance between father and son as the failures continue. Garvey’s use of food as a solace is intelligently done, offering hope that he can find his footing again but also not seeing weight loss as the ultimate solution or weight as the real problem. Verse allows Grimes to cut right to the heart of these situations, revealing the layers of issues at play.

Garvey is a bright, funny character. He is shown as a good friend, supportive and also accepting. As Garvey begins to reach out and try new things, he is rewarded by the chorus also reaching out to him. Again, the progress is done in a natural way. Nothing is perfect and there is no magical solution here. It is hard work, talent and slow progress towards a better place.

A shining look at loneliness, bullying and the ability of music to break down barriers. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.


Pond by Jim LaMarche


Pond by Jim LaMarche (InfoSoup)

Out walking in the late winter, Matt realized the the place that they had always called “the Pit” used to be a pond. So he and his friends decided to recreate the pond that had been there. They cleaned up the junk and built a new dam. As they worked, Pablo discovered a blue stone shaped like a heart in the sand. Katie started to research the birds, insects and stones as the pond started to slowly fill. They found an old wooden boat and repaired it, naming it Dragonfly. Summer ended with them floating on the newly filled pond, camping nearby. In fall, the geese discovered the pond and flocked to it. Winter brought ice skating on the pond with lots of friends. In the spring, the three friends run to the top of a hill overlooking the pond and there they see how the heart stone is connected to the pond itself.

LaMarche offers a perspective on nature that shows children that they too can do things to restore natural areas. The amount of work that the children do is not minimized at all nor is the slow return to a pond from a pit. This focus on effort, hard work and a slow pay off is vital when working with nature. The book embraces a sort of natural time, a patience while birds and bugs return. Then it picks up, swooping with changes and demonstrating how an ecosystem changes throughout the seasons and serves different animals.

LaMarche grew up in Wisconsin and you can see Wisconsin on each page of this book. From the bombardment of mosquitoes in the summer to the spotted fawns to the woods and marshes. The illustrations are superb, showing the shimmering light of water and woods, the moon rising over a pond, and again that slow transformation into natural beauty.

A testament to the power of restoration for natural areas and how children can help, this picture book is a pleasure. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.