Category: Book Reviews

The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling by Timothy Basil Ering

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The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling by Timothy Basil Ering

Captain Alfred is heading home with his boat full of ducks for his farm and one special duck egg that’s about to hatch as a present for his wife. But his boat is hit by a storm and everything including the egg is thrown overboard. Luckily, the egg survives the storm, kept afloat in the Captain’s fiddle case. When the duckling hatches from the egg, he is all alone until he spots something else floating in the sea. It’s the Captain’s fiddle and when the duckling hugs it closely it produces a beautiful sound. But how can one little duckling and one fiddle survive the open sea? It will take the magic of music.

Ering is the illustrator of The Tale of Despereaux and has created other picture books of his own. This picture book has a gorgeous tone and pace, each moment shining and special as the story unfolds. Ering allows the story space to speak, giving time to the duckling finding the fiddle, a moment to pause when the duckling reaches land, and many other such moments too. Each is beautifully told with a voice that reads aloud beautifully. It’s a tale that children will enjoy, an adventure of wonder and music.

The illustrations are a wonderful mix of cartoon and lush realistic settings. The duckling has a personality all his own, glowing yellow on the page. Other moments like the storm approaching are filled with nature in all of its beauty and fury. The pages turn and one is never sure if it will reveal a sweep of nature or a new comical moment. The entire book works as a whole, the surprise of page turns, the comic elements and the natural details.

A picture book about music and friendship that is a great pick for a read aloud. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

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Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King (InfoSoup)

Everything has changed for Obe over the last few years. His family’s farmland has turned into a housing development. His best friend is now friends with the kids living in the new development. He has constant nose bleeds caused by something he doesn’t like to talk about, but it has a lot to do with his ex-friend and the new development. Obe spends a lot of time at the creek on his family’s remaining property, cleaning up the trash left by others. Then he meets an unusual animal. It is an odd mix of pig and dog and it eats plastic. Obe names the animal “Marvin Gardens” and knows that he has to keep it a secret from everyone. But when his ex-friend discovers the animal too, Obe has to decide who to trust and who can help Marvin Gardens survive.

A.S. King is best known as a writer for teens. She has made a lovely transition to middle-grade writing here in a novel of environmentalism and self-acceptance. King wrestles with the problems of middle-grade friendships, the loss of green space, and the question of how one kid can make an impact on climate change or even on his local environment. Throughout, her writing is a call for action, for personal responsibility and for staying true to what is important to you as a person.

Obe is a fascinating protagonist. At first, he seems young and naive, but as the book progresses, one realizes that he is simply interested in the environment, understands deeply changing friendships, stands up for others, and speaks out for the rights of animals and nature. King manages this without giving Obe a major shift or change, rather it is the reader who grows and changes and understands the character in a different way. It’s all thanks to King’s skill as an author, her way of showing adults as fools at times, and her willingness to allow Obe to simply be himself.

A strong book about the environment and a rousing call to be responsible for your own patch of earth, this will be a joy to share aloud in a classroom or with children who love nature and don’t mind a bit of muck on their shoes. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

 

Best in Snow by April Pulley Sayre

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Best in Snow by April Pulley Sayre (InfoSoup)

A companion book to Raindrops Roll, this book celebrates the wonder of snow. Combining lovely photography with a poem on the changing nature of snow, this picture book invites readers to see beyond the chill of winter and into the beauty of it. The book moves from freezing weather and gathering clouds to a full snowstorm where snowflakes land on a squirrel’s nose. The snow covers things and the wind blows. Then the sun returns, water starts to seep and icicles drip. But wait, there’s more snow on the way and another squirrel’s nose too.

Sayre has a beautiful tone here, one of wonder and deep understanding. She writes more detailed information about snow and water in a note at the end that also includes a bibliography of more resources. The progression of the book is lovely, moving from one storm into a brief respite of sun to another storm, something that those of us in a cold climate will recognize. The poetry is a mix of playfulness and natural facts that is very appealing.

Sayre’s photography is truly beautiful. She captures the motion of snow, the various way that the light hits it, the different forms it takes. She has images of animals and birds, allowing the reader to see snow from a natural point of view rather than a human one.

This is a wintry journey worth taking, perfect with a mug of cocoa. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

 

 

Why Am I Here? by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen

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Why Am I Here? by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen, illustrated by Akin Duzakin (InfoSoup)

A child wonders aloud why they are here in this specific place and in this life. They could instead be in a crowded place with lots of other people. They could be in a place torn by war. They could be a refugee, searching for safety. The land could be desert or snow and ice or rivers with trees. Does anyone else wonder about why they are where they are? Will this child ever leave this place and adventure to the spots they have dreamed of? Are they right where they are supposed to be, after all?

This is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking book that demonstrates empathy throughout. It’s a book that explores the “why” of our circumstances, looking at other places and how different a life could be just by being moved somewhere else with a different situation and a different family. The book takes the time to stay in that ambiguity and wonder about it, before releasing readers in the final pages into an understanding that we simply are where we are.

The illustrations by Duzakin have a quiet thoughtfulness about them. The main character who speaks in first person can be interpreted to be either gender adding another layer to the ambiguity of the book. The illustrations capture dreamlike settings of war, desert, ice or greenery that allow readers to wonder along with the story.

A quiet and contemplative picture book that will create opportunities for conversation. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

 

Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

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Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos (InfoSoup)

When Jared Stone discovers that he has terminal brain cancer, he decides to sell his life to the highest bidder on eBay. He gains the attention of a nun, a psychologically-disturbed man of leisure and wealth, a video-game playing teen, and a TV producer. When his posting is pulled down on eBay, only one person is left, the TV producer. So Jared and his family become the focus of a reality TV show and lose their privacy entirely. Jackie, Jared’s 15-year-old daughter, will not willingly participate in the show, figuring out how to avoid the crew and the cameras. But perhaps there is even more that she can do as she starts her own behind-the-scenes YouTube show that tells the truth about the editing and manipulation of her family by the reality show.

Vlahos tells a story of our time, about the dangers of believing in what we see on TV, of the siren call of money and the problems and advantages that come with using the internet for connections. Told from a variety of points of view, including Jared’s tumor, the book has a dark sense of humor throughout. Despite that humor, there is a sense of claustrophobia that pervades the novel as well, one that is built on the invasion of privacy from the TV cameras and then exacerbated by the manipulation and deviousness that surrounds the family.

Still, there is not despair here, even with a terminal illness as a central theme. It is instead a book about fighting back, being true to yourself and finding a way forward against the odds. A large part of that is Jackie, a girl who doesn’t fit in at school and appreciates her privacy. This is her nightmare scenario as the TV cameras roll and it forces her to reach out for help to people who are like her and can aid in fighting back. Through Jackie, we see how the Internet is more than darkness, it is also a source of hope and connection. It is both things at the same time.

A book of complex issues, the fakery of reality TV, and the dual sides of the Internet, this is a riveting read. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

 

 

I Dissent by Debbie Levy

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I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (InfoSoup)

The life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is told in this first picture book about her. Ruth grew up in Brooklyn in the 1940s where her mother took her to the library so she could learn. She was taught that girls could do anything they wanted. As a Jewish girl, Ruth knew racism with signs posted that Jews would not be served at specific establishments. Ruth learned that there were limits to what she was sometimes allowed to do, and sometimes she won when she protested and sometimes things stayed the same. She went to college in the 1950s when most women did not attend. She was one of nine women in her law school class of over 500. She went on to become a law professor even though she had a baby daughter at home. She was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 and has continued to be a voice for change and equality. She has made a difference in the country by being willing to disagree.

Levy cleverly uses the framework of one disagreement or dissent after another to frame Ginsburg’s life. From her mother originally disagreeing with how girls were meant to be raised to the way that Ginsburg and her husband’s roles in their marriage to the work she has done in courtrooms and the justice system. There is a clarity to the writing that keeps it very readable and Ginsburg is a great figure for children to know better.

Baddeley’s illustrations capture the expectations of the 1940s and 1950s in images and move into 1970s showing that Ginsburg continued to break the rules. There is a merriment to the illustrations that captures Ginsburg spirit and her intelligence as well.

A robust look at an amazing woman’s life, this is one for every library. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

 

Don’t Cross the Line by Isabel Minhós Martins

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Don’t Cross the Line by Isabel Minhós Martins, illustrated by Bernardo Carvalho (InfoSoup)

This very original picture book comes from an award-winning author and illustrator team from the publisher Planeta Tangerina and was first published in Portuguese. The book opens with an armed soldier standing towards the middle of the book surrounded by white space. A small dog enters and starts sniffing around and then a man comes on the page, but when he tries to head across to the right-hand page, the soldier stops him and tells him no one is allowed to go there by order of the general so he can join the story whenever he feels like and have plenty of room. More and more people arrive and the left-hand page gets crowded. Then some boys accidentally bounce their ball across the page and head over to retrieve it with others following along. The general then arrives and threatens to arrest the soldier who allowed them onto the other page. But the people stand up to him, rejoicing together in their new-found freedom to fill both pages.

This book is all about standing up to those in power and peacefully creating change. There is a wonderfully subversive tone to the entire book, winking and laughing at the threat of not being able to cross what is not usually a boundary in a book. Still, there is a real general and a real threat that is disarmed by numbers and action. It is a wonderful book to share when talking about the importance of demonstrating and standing for causes.

Carvalho’s illustrations are a delight. Filled with bright colors that add a wild and festive note to the story, they jump on the page. The end papers are filled with the characters of the book and their names. Looking into the crowd, one can follow each character through the story, from the astronaut who has trouble breathing to the escaping prisoners to the ghost and several animals. It’s a bright and vibrant group of people with large noses and lots of personality.

A great read perfect for our current political climate, this picture book is about peaceful demonstrations and the power of the people. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Gecko Press.