Category: Book Reviews

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead (9780553523225)

An unfinished children’s story by Mark Twain has been completed by the remarkable Steads. Found in the Mark Twain archives in Berkeley, the story was written by Twain for his daughters one night. Only rough notes told the tale to Stead who then worked to complete the entire story, creating both the story itself and a side narrative of Stead hearing the story directly from Twain. The main story is about Johnny, a boy who finds himself poor and alone in a land ruled by a tyrannical king. Johnny receives seeds from a woman, seeds that allow him to speak to animals, something that transforms his life. Accompanied for some of the story by his faithful chicken friend, Johnny discovers the meaning of courage and friendship as he attempts to rescue the prince.

This book tumbles the reader directly into a story that is remarkably familiar and yet distinctly unique too. Stead’s writing is exceptional, building a full story that is robust and captivating using only a scaffolding created by Twain. There is a lovely seamlessness to the writing, incorporating Twain’s and Stead’s writing into one grand book. The nods to folktales are lovely and so are the departures as well.

Erin Stead’s illustrations are fine and detailed. She invites readers into the world that is being built, allows them to meet the animals, shows them the pain and hope tangibly on the page. The illustrations move from portraits to landscapes, from small to large, close to far.

An incredible achievement in children’s books, this one is worthy of awards and I hope receives some! Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 Picture Books Filled with Wild Animals

Where, Oh Where, Is Baby Bear By Ashley Wolff

Where, Oh Where, Is Baby Bear? By Ashley Wolff (9781481499163)

This picture book continues Wolff’s series on Baby Bear and his explorations of his habitat. Here, Baby Bear and his mother head out to look for food. But every time his mother looks for him, Baby Bear has disappeared. Again and again she has to call out “Where, oh where, is Baby Bear” and then her little bear responds. Readers will enjoy spotting where Baby Bear is heading and then where he is hiding as the pages turn. The repetition is handled nicely, giving the book a lovely rhythm when being read aloud. The illustrations are crisp and filled with details of their forest home. A great read aloud pick. Appropriate for ages 1-4. (Review copy provided by Beach Lane Books.)

Where_s Halmoni By Julie Kim

Where’s Halmoni? By Julie Kim (9781632170774)

This picture book is done in a full-color graphic-novel style that will be appealing to children even beyond picture book age. It is the story of Korean-American siblings who head to their grandmother’s home to find her missing. They discover a magical passage in her home that leads to a world filled with creatures from Korean folklore. There is Tokki (the rabbit), Dokkebi (the goblins), and Horanghee (the tiger). As the children figure out how to get past each of the creatures using snacks and games, they come close to learning their grandmother’s secret. Sharp-eyed children will realize what happens to the fox at the end of this Korean adventure. The appeal of folklore combined with a modern graphic-novel style makes this book a winner. Appropriate for ages 5-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse by Mac Barnett

The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

When a mouse is gobbled up by a wolf, he discovers there is life after being eaten. Inside the wolf’s stomach, a duck is already living. The duck has a bed, a table, tablecloth, chairs and much more. The duck likes being inside the wolf, because he no longer has to worry about being eaten, since it’s already happened. Soon the mouse has decided to stay and the two have a dance party to celebrate. Unfortunately, this makes the wolf’s stomach hurt. He is spotted by a hunter and soon all three animals are in danger as the hunter takes aim. What can be done to save them all? It will take all three to save the day. Barnett has the perfect rather dark humor to work with Klassen’s illustrations. The story has a mix of fun and fate that will have readers guessing right up until the end. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (9780525429203)

This is a marvelous sequel to the award-winning The War That Saved My Life. Ada has just gotten her club foot surgically repaired in the beginning of this new novel. Due to their home being destroyed, Ada and her brother along with Susan, their guardian, must move into a small cottage on the land owned by Lady and Lord Thornton. As World War II continues, they face food shortages, hard work, and then are asked to house a German refugee while Susan teaches her math. Though her foot is fixed, Ada continues to wrestle with her disability and how it factored in to her mother’s abuse. Once again horses are on the scene to help with healing, both physical and mental, as unlikely friendships and bonds are formed in a small cottage.

Bradley writes books that don’t just draw you in, they captivate you. It was so wonderful to return to Ada’s story and find out what happens to beloved characters. In this sequel, more is shown of the stern Lady Thornton and Bradley demonstrates that with more knowledge comes more understanding. Ada continues to be a dynamic character, never easy with life or her own role in it. And yet as Ada is prickly and abrupt, she is also warm and inquisitive, looking for answers and asking questions.

Bradley wrestles with dark themes in both of the novels in this series. There is the physical and mental abuse that Ada suffered at the hands of her mother. There is the ongoing war that threatens everyone’s safety. There is the loss of beloved characters due to that war. Still, she also shines hope. Hope for progress forward, for learning more, for accepting differences and for building friendships. The tension between all of this is remarkably well-handled and creates a book that is riveting to read.

A sequel that is just as good as the first, get this into the hands of fans. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 Boisterous Noisy Picture Books

Bumpety, Dunkety, Thumpety-Thump! By K. L. Going

Bumpety, Dunkety, Thumpety-Thump! By K. L. Going, illustrated by Simone Shin (9781442434141)

Two young siblings, a brother and sister, head outside with their wagon. They play with pebbles near the pond, pick blueberries and then head home. Each thing makes it’s own noise: the wagon bumpety-bumps, the pebbles dunkety-dunk, and the plunkety-plunk. Back home, they bake the berries in a pie, eat, wash dishes, and then take a bath. These activities too are supported by a rollicking and noise-filled rhyme that carries the story forward with a jaunty vibe. The book ends with bedtime and everyone sharing stories and heartbeats together. This book beautifully combines noises of a day with a loving family story and creates a book that is a dynamic read-aloud for toddlers. Appropriate for ages 1-3. (Review copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

Buster and the Baby by Amy Hest

Buster and the Baby by Amy Hest, illustrated by Polly Dunbar (9780763687878)

Buster, a little white dog, is hiding from the baby who is chasing him around the house. Buster tries different spots to hide, but each time, the baby comes and finds him. THUMP, THUMP, THUMP comes the baby, the same noise that Buster’s heart makes as he hides. Then the two dash off together in a wild chase until Buster finds his next hiding place and it begins again. This book begs to be shared aloud, as Hest has created moments of quiet tension and then uproarious frenzy that repeat again and again. The illustrations by Dunbar add to the joy, incorporating panels that let young listeners see the action across pages. A great pick for reading aloud to toddlers. Appropriate for ages 1-3. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Grump Groan Growl by bell hooks

Grump Groan Growl by bell hooks, illustrated by Chris Raschka (9780786808168)

Explore a bad mood in this picture book that takes a look at being very very grumpy. The child in the opening images prowls like a lion, sharp claws at the ready as he grumps across the page. He groans and growls loudly, almost a roar. There is nowhere to escape his foul mood. He feels wild and out of control until he realizes that he can look inside, let that feeling be and let it pass. Hooks speaks to the process of mindfulness about emotions with few words, showing the emotion clearly and then moving into the process to allow that emotion to pass on. Raschka’s illustrations are dark with emotion, tinged with colors that become more tangible as the child regains control. A great pick for mindfulness with children, this book doesn’t reject negative emotions or cling to them either. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott

The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott

The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott (9780374305505)

Owen and his best friend Sean are looking forward to the perfect Cape Cod summer spent playing baseball, driving go-karts at Owen’s family’s business, and just messing around. But then Sean’s mother hires a babysitter for him for the summer even though he’s eleven years old, because she has a new job out of town and Sean has diabetes that she worries about. She also won’t let Sean head to the go-karts anymore. Owen tries to spend a lot of time with Sean anyway, but their summers steadily head in different directions. When Sean tells Owen that his babysitter is treating him strangely, Owen can’t tell how serious the problem is. Sean swears Owen to secrecy and seems fine a lot of the time. But other times, when Sean shares more of what is happening, Owen can’t tell if Sean is lying or not. When Owen realizes that it is all true, it may be too late to save his friend.

Abbott has created a book about the beauty of summer as a kid. That theme contrasts with the darkness of sexual abuse that is also central to the story. It’s a book about friendship and what it takes to be a best friend, break a confidence, and tell. It’s also a book about being a kid, the epic nature of summer break and growing up. Abbott beautifully contrasts Owen’s experiences with the trauma that Sean is going through.

This book simply because of its theme may be too mature for some readers. The way the abuse is dealt with offers just enough details for young readers to understand the seriousness of what is happening but not too much to overwhelm them. This is a book that demands to be discussed and will leave readers feeling shaken. There is no simple happy ending here, which speaks to the damage and complexities of sexual abuse.

Strong writing combines with a harrowing story to create a book about what it means to really be a best friend. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.

 

Explore Nature with These 3 Picture Books

How to Be an Elephant by Katherine Roy

How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy (9781626721784)

This picture book celebrates elephants in a way that invites readers deeply into the life of a newborn elephant calf and all that that baby has to learn. The book opens with the birth and then the family of female elephants that will raise the infant together. The elephant’s body is explored from the way it walks and balances to the way its ears help handle the heat to the dexterity of the trunk. Sounds and food are also explored along with the habitat the elephants live in. Throughout, the book offers scientific information in a conversational way. The book is almost like a readable version of nature documentaries where facts celebrate and delight. The art of the picture book is rich and warm showing the elephants in their habitat. It also shows scientific information about structure and sound that is presented graphically and with just enough detail for young readers. An exceptional science and nature nonfiction picture book, this is one stellar pick for library collections. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Roaring Book Press.)

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna (9780062657602)

A child and their mother head back to a small cabin on a rainy day. The child just wants to play their video game, but their mother insists on them heading outside. It is bleak and raining out but as they head into the woods, the rocks in the pond beckon them forward. Leaping from rock to rock, the video game falls into the water and is lost. The child is devastated by the loss but is soon distracted by some of the wildlife around from glowing snails walking in rows to mushrooms. The beauty of the rich earth below and the sun coming through the clouds above. There is rolling down hills, quiet time in the woods, and getting soaked through. Once back home, the day is transformed entirely into something new.

This picture book is an interesting look at the tug between technology and spending time outside. I enjoyed the child realizing that the world is fascinating and a place to explore that is far better than the small world of the game that they have already played. The warm little cabin and the isolation also add to the appeal of the book and the pleasure of a newfound way to spend time outdoors. Throughout the book there is a sense of quiet and wonder. That is emphasized by the images that fill the pages with trees, water, dirt and plants. It is rather like being immersed in a rainy day yourself. A great book to read and then set off on outdoor adventures together on a rainy day. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Pond by Nicola Davies

The Pond by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Cathy Fisher (9781912050703)

Told in the voice of a boy who has lost his father, this book shows the connection of people to nature and through that connection to one another. The boy’s father had always wanted a pond in the backyard, but when he died all he left behind was a muddy hole. Ducks tried to land in the mucky hole and the boy tried to fill it with water, but it created an even larger mess. Then one day, his mother lined the hole and surrounded it with rocks. Soon there was an ecosystem forming with tadpoles, insects, algae and newts. When the water lily finally bloomed, it was time for the family to move to a new house, but the memory of the pond would stay with them forever and they would create a new one in their new place. Written with deep emotion both about grief in a family and also about connection to nature, this picture book shows rebirth in a very organic way. The illustrations are rich and lovely, celebrating the transformation from a hole to a pond with life. A touching and hope-filled book. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange (9781338157475)

This British debut is a riveting look at mental illness after the First World War. Henry and her family have moved to Hope House, but Henry’s mother isn’t herself and soon is prescribed absolute bed rest, medicated to keep her asleep most of the time and her door is locked so Henry can’t see her. Henry is left in the rented house with her new baby sister and their nanny who also cares for Henry’s mother. Her father has left to work out of the country. Meanwhile, Henry is drawn to the woods on the property and there she meets a woman who lives on her own in a rundown caravan. She also starts to see and speak to the ghost of her dead brother. As Henry works to figure out what is happening to her mother and how she can reach her, doctors begin to threaten to take her mother to an asylum and hint at the kinds of treatments they might do. Henry soon becomes the only one able to rescue them all.

Strange writes with an eye for detail and a flair for metaphors that create a deep and lush mood throughout this novel. Her writing invites us all to explore darkness, the drama of woods at night and to make friends with those haunting us. The historical setting in Britain is particularly well drawn. The invasive treatments for depression are hinted at, just enough for young readers to understand the threat but not enough for them to be truly frightened.

Henry is a grand heroine. She finds herself far out of her depth in this novel and yet navigates dealing with adults with grace and a certain style. She understands more than the adults in the novel give her credit for and in the end she figures out how best to fix the problems herself, with some help from her grownup friends.

This British import will be enjoyed by fans of classics who will enjoy the historical setting and call for one girl to be the hero. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.