Category: Book Reviews

Hey Boy by Benjamin Strouse

Hey Boy by Benjamin Strouse

Hey Boy by Benjamin Strouse, illustrated by Jennifer Phelan (9781481471015, Amazon)

A boy finds a dog and takes him home. The two of them love playing together, but then the boy gets hurt. The dog is taken to an animal shelter and someone else adopts him. The boy is told that he simply isn’t old enough yet to care for a dog. Happily, the boy still gets to visit the dog and tries to grow up fast enough to take him back. As time passes, the boy grows up and the dog ages. When the dog is finally too much for his adoptive family, the boy is given the chance to take him. This book is an allegory for the love of pets and the unbreakable bonds they forge.

Strouse writes in prose that is simple and straight forward. Yet the story is much more of a fable, one that doesn’t follow logic but emotion instead. The story is about the bond between human and animal, one that defies time and distance to keep connections fresh and strong. Strouse embraces this even as he tells it in his simple prose, hinting at the true depths of emotion that lie beneath.

Phelan’s illustrations make this book sing. From the dogs in the shelter that are striped with bars to the way the black dog is such a strong graphic on the page, her images are iconic and beautiful. They match the simple prose with their own profound simplicity, allowing the white space on the page to speak too.

Strong illustrations make this allegory all the better to share with children and adults who love their pets. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.

The Skydiving Beavers by Susan Wood

The Skydiving Beavers by Susan Wood

The Skydiving Beavers: A True Tale by Susan Wood, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (9781585369942, Amazon)

When people start to move into McCall, Idaho in the 1940’s, they encroach on the beavers who were already living there. Soon the new human homes and roads are flooded as the beavers build their dams. In this sort of struggle, it is always the humans who win. But a unique conservation effort is undertaken by the Idaho Fish and Game Department to move the beavers to a safer and more sheltered habitat. The problem is how to get the beavers into the pristine wilderness where there are no airports and no roads. Perhaps the solution can come from World War II parachutes and one brave beaver named Geronimo.

Wood takes care with the amount of prose she has on each page, offering just the right amount of detail and action for young readers. Her prose is also playful, as she describes both the beauty of Idaho and the damage that the beavers can do. The tone serves the book well with the whimsical use of parachutes and boxes that can open when they hit the ground. The story is a fascinating one and the book makes sure to explain that this sort of solution would not be done today where it is expected that humans and nature find a way to co-exist.

The illustrations are a mix of workshop images and desks where plans are made and then the Idaho landscape and horizons. The images settle the book deeply into the wilderness and the setting in which the book takes place. There is a sense of isolation and beauty in the images where the beavers land in their new habitat.

Fascinating and fun, this nonfiction picture book tells the story of a unique solution to a wildlife issue. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Sleeping Bear Press.

The Good for Nothing Button by Charise Mericle Harper

The Good for Nothing Button by Charise Mericle Harper

The Good for Nothing Button by Charise Mericle Harper (9781484726464, Amazon)

Part of the Elephant and Piggie Like Reading series, this early reader is a philosophical joy. Yellow Bird has a button that does absolutely nothing, or does it? He shows it to Red Bird and Blue Bird. When Blue Bird tries the button, it surprises him. And that’s not nothing! It doesn’t surprise Red Bird, which makes Blue Bird sad, also not nothing. Then Yellow Bird gets angry at their responses, which is also not nothing. Soon the button can make them do lots of things, even get funny and silly. Perhaps the button does everything?

Harper has created a wonderful mix of humor and philosophy in this early reader. Done with just the right jaunty humor and wild zaniness, the book moves at a fast pace towards its philosophical conclusion. The ties to Elephant and Piggie are clear and this feels like a natural extension of their humor and attitude, making it exactly the right kind of book for this series.

The illustrations are bright and simple. Done with similar speech bubbles to Elephant and Piggie, they convey the emotions of the birds clearly, something that is very important in this book in particular.

A zingy riot of an early reader, this one is a winner. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence (9781626722804, Amazon)

Avani’s father has signed her up for Flower Scouts so that she can make friends in her new town. But all of the other girls are interested only in talking about makeup and boys. Then Avani is accidentally teleported into space by an alien named Mabel, who is working on her own badges for her scout troop. Being a Star Scout like Mabel is a whole lot more interesting than being a Flower Scout, so Avani starts joining them instead of her earth-bound scouts. As Avani learns to build robots, teleport things, drive space ships, and race jetpacks, she finds a place where she fits in. Now she just needs to get her father to sign off on a permission slip for her to go to Camp Andromeda for a week!

This friendly science fiction graphic novel is filled with humor and lots of action. Avani is a main character of color with her Indian heritage that plays a role throughout the graphic novel in things like language and food. She is game for the entire adventure, allowing herself to try new things, push herself to learn and even form a real rivalry with another troop of scouts.

The art is playful and fun with the dialogue working well to move the book forward at a fast pace that will please young readers. There is lots of action, plenty of space exploration and even camp pranks and jokes. The pleasure is in seeing camping tropes used on an asteroid by alien creatures.

Funny and warm, this graphic novel has strong STEM overtones and even a few poop jokes. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

 

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall (9780763678388, Amazon)

Jabari is ready to jump off of the diving board, or so he tells his father. Jabari has finished swimming lessons and passed his swim test, so he should be ready. He declares that he isn’t scared at all. Then they get to the pool, where he sees other kids diving off the board. Jabari lets others go ahead of him. He climbs part way up and then down again to rest a bit and stretch. His father tells him that it’s alright to be scared and how to handle it because it may feel like a surprise at the end. Jabari tries one more time, reminding himself that he loves surprises. Can he do it?

Cornwall depicts a very loving African-American family here with father, son and a little sister. Throughout, the father is very supportive. He is there to hold hands, give a little squeeze and then offer direct advice. Best of all, he is there to celebrate the success too. The writing builds the pressure and emotions that Jabari is experiencing as he keeps trying. It emphasizes the height, the fall, and the bravery that the jump takes.

The illustrations are done in pencil, watercolor and collage with digital color. They have a wonderful texture to them, the sidewalks with subtle words on them, the pool water a swirling blue-green. Again, the height of the diving board is emphasized to great effect.

A summery splash of a book that is just right for reading when afloat in a pool, whether you are brave enough for the diving board or not. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

And Then Comes Summer by Tom Brenner

And Then Comes Summer by Tom Brenner

And Then Comes Summer by Tom Brenner, illustrated by Jaime Kim (9780763660710, Amazon)

With summer officially starting this week, the timing for this book could not be better. It’s a celebration of everything that makes summer great. Written in a consistent pattern of statements throughout, the book focuses on moving into summer from school and establishing summer traditions from year to year. There are lemonade stands, cleaning out lockers, green grass, bumblebees, ice cream, games, and even a visit to the lake and camping outside. Come along and enjoy summer in one big gulp!

Brenner truly shows what makes summer fantastic as a child. The focus is on being outside and playing with friends. There are all sorts of activities shown. Brenner also captures the little things that make summer special. There are smells and sounds, things to see and things to eat. It’s a smorgasbord of summer senses. Written with a light playfulness, the strong structure of the prose works well to set up a rhythm which makes it a pleasure to share aloud.

Kim’s illustrations are buoyant and merry. As children head out of school and into the summer, there is feeling of freedom on the page that continues throughout the book. Fireworks splash on the page, parades march, sprinklers spray.

A shining summery picture book, this is just right for celebrating this season with children. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker (9780425288504, Amazon)

Felix’s life changed when he was caught in an accident in his father’s lab at three years old. A fourth dimensional being named Zyx was fused inside him. Now the time is coming when Felix and Zyx have to be separated or they will both die. Felix begins a secret blog where he shares his experiences of being fused with Zyx and the days leading up to the Procedure. There are details about normal things like his family, bullies at school, and his crush on a cute boy at school. Then there are the Zyx related aspects that draw Felix to the beauty of jazz music and immensely gifted chess playing. Even as Felix hopes to be able to fix the physical manifestations and pain brought by being with Zyx, he wonders about what his life will be like without him and if they will both potentially die as they are separated.

Bunker has created an exceptional book for middle grade readers. She has seeped it full of diversity of the LGBT community. Felix himself is gay, his mother is bisexual and his grandparent is gender queer. The beauty is that this is not the focus of the novel, just background information, a matter-of-fact look at what openly queer families can be.

The real focus of the book is Felix himself, caught in a unique situation that makes him the target of bullies. He still connects with others, his crush on a boy growing with natural pacing. He speaks in a voice that is witty and rich, his writing filled with small details of his life but also with humor. There is a sense of an impending ending but also the slim possibility of a future as well that keeps this book steeped in the small wonders of life but also immensely hopeful.

A dynamic mix of LGBT, science fiction and growing up, this novel is entirely unique just like its main character. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.