Category: Book Reviews

Life by Cynthia Rylant

Life by Cynthia Rylant

Life by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel (9781481451628, Amazon)

Celebrate life with this picture book. Told in simple poetry, the book starts by looking at how small life is when it begins. It shows how life grows into large animals like elephants. How animals love their habitats, from sand to snow. Life always has wilderness-like moments in it but those times can be journeyed through and a fresh start can be found. There are animals to love and protect. Humans can turn to the wild to find their own path and their own place to see each morning begin and everything around them growing.

Rylant has written an expansive poem that embraces life big and small. She moves with assurance from the tiny start of life through to speaking about all of nature and then to nature’s importance to all of us as human beings. It is that look at wilderness and the wild that makes this book so much more than a poem on nature. It becomes a poem on us. There is a light touch to these deep subjects, allowing readers to think about the subject and wonder.

Wenzel’s illustrations add to that wonder that readers will find in this picture book. From elephants walking in sun and moon to whales lifting to the light. There is a sense of grace and expansiveness in the illustrations, demanding that readers enter the wilderness for themselves.

Beautiful and wild, this picture book invites readers to look deeply into themselves. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

 

Blue Ethel by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Blue Ethel by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Blue Ethel by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (9780374303822, Amazon)

Ethel is a cat who is old and fat. She is black and white and she has a routine to her days. She first surveys the land from her porch. Then she watches the weather. She chases insects and then explores the sidewalk where she has a favorite square where she likes to roll. But one day, someone has used chalk on the sidewalk square and when Ethel rolls on it, she becomes blue! The other cats look at her very strangely and Ethel runs home to hide. The next morning, Ethel feels blue and licks herself into blue stripes and white stripes. Another kitten is outside waiting for her and he is pink! The two together do Ethel’s routine with a colorful change at the end.

Reinhardt shows in this picture book that even old cats can learn colorful new tricks. Ethel is a wonderful look at the familiar routines turned on their heads. Her life is filled with simple pleasures that make her feel powerful and in charge. But that is all changed with one color. Still, Ethel also shows that while change may be hard, it isn’t impossible.

The illustrations are silly and quirky. The area that Ethel surveys each morning is filled with fake animals like deer, flamingos and one large rhino. It takes what we see as normal lawn ornaments one step farther into farce. Ethel herself is rather odd looking and therefore quite delightful as a character.

A look at colors, changes and resilience. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley

Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley

Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley (9780525428442, Amazon)

Released August 29, 2017.

This second book from the author of Circus Mirandus takes readers deep into the Okefenokee Swamp. Blue has known his entire life that he is cursed. He can’t win at anything, no matter how hard he tries. His most recent loss was when his arm was broken standing up to a bully at school. Now his father, who always wins, has dropped him off for the summer at his grandmother’s house. The mystical red moon is rising this summer and Blue will have the chance to break his curse if he can reach the golden alligator before anyone else. But it’s complicated as his grandmother may need her curse broken more badly than anyone else and the entire family is there to compete for the right to head into the swamp. Meanwhile, Blue meets Tumble, a girl desperate to be a hero and who wants to save Blue from his delusion of always losing. But is it a delusion or is it ancient magic at work?

Beasley has written a wonderful second novel that tells a fascinating story of greed and sacrifice even as it speaks to the importance of losing sometimes in life. The book reads easily even as it deals with deeper issues of family, betrayal, love and heroism. It is far more complex than readers may expect as different themes weave beautifully together to form the whole tale. The ribbon of clear magic that swirls throughout the book takes it directly into fantasy even as it is firmly rooted in the real world too. It’s a winning mix.

The two main characters are fascinating. Blue struggles with his constant losing and yet never quite gives up to it. He continues to try to run faster, is willing to attempt to break the curse in different ways. He is a hero who is easily related to, taken in by extended family and looking for home. Tumble is a girl who has lived in an RV for most of her life. Her problems becoming a hero are indications that she too may have a curse she has never realized is there. Even though she fails regularly at being a hero, she too perseveres and is resilient in the face of her challenges.

A vibrant and strong story of failure and heroism. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.

Don’t Blink by Tom Booth

Don't Blink by Tom Booth

Don’t Blink by Tom Booth (9781250117366, Amazon)

A little girl sits in the middle of the page, looking right at the reader. When a bird flies up and asks her what she is doing, she replies that she’s having a staring contest with the child reading the book. As the pages turn, more and more animals join the staring contest, until the page is crowded with an elephant, fox, frog, porcupine, owl, giraffe, monkey and many more. Even a slow-moving tortoise is heading to the game. But before the tortoise can get to the center of the page, everyone has blinked. Perhaps another try?

Booth’s playfulness is fully on display in this picture book. The book is entirely written in dialogue that is color-coded to the animal speaking with dotted lines to clarify who is saying something. With so many animals on the page, this book lends itself to lots of various voices which will also add to the fun. The illustrations are modern and friendly, even the alligator being more toothy than frightening. All of the animals looking directly at the reader is also very effective.

A great pick to share aloud and have children try to win the staring contest. Or maybe the next one! Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Welcome to My House by Gaia Stella

Welcome to My House by Gaia Stella

Welcome to My House by Gaia Stella (9781452157924, Amazon)

Olga, a friendly black cat, leads readers through her home. She shows all of the objects in the house in a variety of categories. There is everything for sitting that includes a stool, chairs, and even a stack of books. Everything that brightens has candles, lamps, and a window. The lists continue with images of each item and a name. Everything that passes the time includes games but also brother and sister. While this is a look at the objects in a home, it also speaks to the various roles that the people in a home can have.

Originally published in France, this picture book has a distinct European feel. Stella presents a simple premise of a book that becomes more complex as readers look more closely at the items included in each category. There are some lists that are unusual like everything that shows time passing and everything for warming up that include unlikely items. This picture book shows categorizing items and also teaches words so it has many uses for young readers.

The illustrations are done in a simple and bold style that offers just enough detail to identify objects clearly but avoids being fussy or too crowded on the page. Readers will enjoy discovering that Olga is a cat, something that explains the sorts of things that make her list and are distinctly from a cat’s point of view.

A book that will have readers exploring the pages closely and inventing their own categories in their homes. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle.

 

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia (9780062290137, Amazon)

No one knows that Eliza, a senior in high school, is the creator of the immensely popular webcomic, Monstrous Sea. She spends her days at school working on art for the comic and trying to be invisible. Then a new boy, Wallace, comes to her school. He has the looks of a football player, but doesn’t seem to say much at all, instead spending his time writing. Eliza soon learns that he is a major fan of her webcomic. As their friendship grows and starts to turn into a romance, the two of them do most of their communicating through texts, online chat and written notes. Eliza has to decide whether to share her secret of being the creator of Monstrous Sea with Wallace or whether she can stay anonymous much longer.

Zappia’s writing is completely captivating. She writes with a lovely confidence, telling the story of an introverted young creator with grace and understanding. Her characters are deeply human, struggling with real trauma and finding their safe place in communities online where they can be authentic and original. She speaks to the power of art and creativity in your life, making something that you can’t stop creating and having others find value in it too. Still, there is a tipping point where fans’ expectations can become too much and overwhelm the creative process. Zappia shows how mental distress can be dealt with and progress forward can be made, slowly.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about this book, though there are many great elements is Zappia’s portrayal of introverts. There is a coziness here, a feeling of safety in the pages, as if they are forming a critical spot for introverts to bloom, just like an online community. The book shows how introverts may be awkward but are also incredibly creative, thoughtful and deep people who just need their home and dog to recharge sometimes, alright often. The book allows Eliza and Wallace to steadily use online tools to communicate and learn about one another, building their relationship with honesty and humor.

Get this in the hands of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Raymond by Yann & Gwendal Le Bec

Raymond by Yann & Gwendal Le Bec

Raymond by Yann & Gwendal Le Bec (9780763689506, Amazon)

Raymond was just a regular family dog, adored by his family. Then he thought one day about joining the family at the table as they ate. Raymond was soon walking on two legs and becoming more and more human. He got a job at DOGUE magazine, being a reporter and soon became an anchor on a dog news show on TV. Raymond didn’t have time for his family anymore and they only got to see him on his show when they tuned in. Finally, his family persuaded him to take some time off. Can Raymond find a way back to being more of a dog and less of a workaholic?

This witty book shows how even a family dog can be drawn into the work life too deeply. Using a family dog as the main character is a smart choice, playing against the typical dog roles. Throughout the book, there is a criticism of our modern work culture that is presented at a level that children will understand. Adults and children alike will cheer when Raymond rediscovers his love for life and ear scratches.

The illustrations have a zing to them as well. From the cover with Raymond carrying a to-go coffee. There is a lovely parallel world of dogs and humans in the images, showing a rich world that Raymond gets caught up in. For their modern touches, the illustrations still have a vintage appeal to them in their flat colors and lines.

A modern fable of the balance of life and work and the joy of chasing balls and spending quiet time together. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.