Review: Even More Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown

Even More Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown

Even More Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown (9781338349610)

Released July 30, 2019. 

Brown returns with another look at wildlife that never get featured in children’s book about animals. Each of these animals is fascinating and Brown offers really interesting facts and tidbits about each of them. The book includes a kangaroo that lives in trees and can jump down over 60 feet without getting hurt. It also has beaked whales with peculiar teeth that hunt fish and squid. There are giant colorful squirrels from India, a killer marten from Afghanistan who can hunt deer, and a Chinese deer with fangs who can leap into trees. Page after page has an unusual animal that demonstrate that we are still learning about wildlife on Earth and that there are more animals than tigers, lions and giraffes to discover.

As with his first book, it is Martin’s writing that makes this such a pleasure to read. I find it impossible to read this book without sharing the information and humor with those around me. The facts shared are interesting and told with plenty of attitude and aside comments that make it great fun to keep learning. Each animal has data points too, such as size, what they eat, where they live, and status. Size in particular is done very nicely, using comparisons like dogs, cats and humans. Brown’s art gives each of the animals rather googly eyes and they often seem to be looking directly at the reader. They are shown in their habitat and often in motion. Other details are called out in images as well and are embedded in the text.

Smart, funny and sure to teach you something new. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from ARC provided by David Fickling Books.

Review: A Dream of Flight by Rob Polivka

A Dream of Flight by Rob Polivka

A Dream of Flight by Rob Polivka and Jef Polivka (9780374306618)

Released on July 30, 2019.

Alberto Santos-Dumont lived in Brazil long before airplanes were invented. Fascinated by machines starting at a young age, Santos came to Paris in 1892. He took a ride with a balloon maker high above the city where they floated in the clouds. Inspired, Santos began to design his own balloon, but he wanted it to move through the air like a ship rather than just floating. He designed one airship after another, learning to follow his own instincts, create structural stability, and built a weight system. Each time he flew, something went wrong, but Santos was not deterred. He just designed a new airship and tried again. A prize of 100,000 francs was announced for the first person who could pilot an airship from the club around the Eiffel Tower and back in less than 30 minutes. Now Santos had a challenge and a prize to win!

Polivka tells the story of Santos with a sprightly tone that is just right for the subject. They share enough details about Paris at the time to firmly anchor the biography in a place and time. The information about the airships is shared with a tone of wonder and also a nod toward the dangers of what Santos was attempting. The art has a vintage feel that works well. It depicts Santos’ little automobile, the view from the balloon over Paris, and the various models of Santos’ airships.

A clever look at flying before airplanes, this picture book biography soars. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 

Review: Beastly Puzzles by Rachel Poliquin

Beastly Puzzles by Rachel Poliquin

Beastly Puzzles by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler (9781771389136)

So many guessing game books about animals are for very young children, but this one will challenge those in elementary school as well. Taking cues from historical descriptions of animals that were based on known animal elements, this book is devilishly difficult even with the extra hint provided. One might expect the animals to be unusual, but they are well-known animals like ostriches, polar bears, frogs, and kangaroos! Open the gate fold and discover how that animal can be described as made from all sorts of bits and pieces.

Poliquin’s description of each animal in terms of their elements is profoundly and delightfully confusing. A kangaroo for example is described as made up of enormous feet, an extra leg (for going slow), boxing gloves, rabbit ears, a peanut, a secret compartment, and a springboard! A large part of the joy of the book is being entirely befuddled by the clues and then learning how they all fit together. It’s not frustrating at all to be confused, but part of the fun.

The art has a great vintage vibe to it that suits the old-fashioned descriptions of the animals. It is modernized by the use of bright colors and a vibrant image of each of the animals on the reveal page. Cleverly designed with gate folds that add to the suspense too.

Fun and frustrating at the same time, much to everyone’s delight. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Our Flag Was Still There by Jessie Hartland

Our Flag Was Still There by Jessie Hartland

Our Flag Was Still There by Jessie Hartland (9781534402331)

Explore the history of the Star-Spangled Banner in this nonfiction picture book that celebrates the women who created the flag. The story begins in 1813, when the nation was once again at war with the British. Major George Armistead wanted to send a message to the British that declared that this land belonged to America. Nearby was a shop owned by Mary Pickersgill, who had been taught to make flags by her mother. The fact that a woman owned her own shop and had a staff of other women was very unusual in the 1800s. Mary agreed to make the enormous flag. They worked on it day and night, running out of fabric at times and then running out of room. They moved to a nearby brewery to be able to continue their work with enough space. The flag was finished in six week and then the war began. The flag flew throughout the naval battles, inspiring the song that we still sing as our national anthem.

Hartland tells a fast-paced and lively tale here that never gets bogged down in historical details. The book includes final pages with more information on the war and the battles. The emphasis here though is on how inspiring the flag was and continues to be and how one industrious woman managed to create a symbol that carries on to this day. The art is done in a folk-art style that suits the book well. The size of the flag is emphasized at times to humorous effect. It’s so very large and still able to be viewed at the Smithsonian.

A dynamic look at American history. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Hummingbird by Nicola Davies

Hummingbird by Nicola Davies

Hummingbird by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Jane Ray (9781536205381)

In a grandmother’s garden in Central America, a granddaughter watches the zooming hummingbirds. The birds will soon be heading north for the summer to their nesting grounds. The tiny birds must cross the Gulf of Mexico, stopping for a bit of rest on boats along the way. They continue on, following the blooming flowers as they stretch northward. When they reach their nesting grounds, the male hummingbirds defend their nearby flowers. There, the same girl, now in New York City, finds an eggshell on the ground and realizes that she has seen both the beginning and end of the hummingbird’s migration.

Davies, a zoologist, beautifully frames the story of the hummingbird with one little girl’s own travels from Central America to her home in New York City. She makes sure that readers have plenty of facts about the hummingbird, from how light they are to what their diets need to how they nest and migrate. Davies has a real skill for sharing just enough facts with young readers and still telling a compelling story that is not derailed by too many factoids.

The illustrations by Ray are phenomenal. Her delicate lines are exactly the right format for these tiny birds. She captures the beauty of their feathers and their coloring. She also shows them in mid-air but still manages to convey their speed and dexterity.

A beautiful nonfiction picture book about an amazing tiny bird. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Moth: An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas

Moth An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas

Moth: An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Daniel Egneus (9781547600205)

This nonfiction picture book explains a specific process of evolution by following the story of the Peppered Moth. The moths emerge from their cocoons after the long winter, quickly seeking shelter from predators. At first, most of the moths had speckled black and white wings. It allowed them to better hide in the bark of the woods. The ones that happened to be born with dark wings got eaten by predators. So the speckled moths were able to survive to lay their eggs. But then the world around them changed with more soot and pollution covering the bark of the trees and other objects. Now it was the dark moths that survived best and could lay their eggs. Steadily, the moths started to become darker and less speckled. Now though, pollution is lessening and there is no longer as much soot. So the speckled moths are returning alongside the dark moths.

The tale of the Peppered Moth shows many elements of evolutionary process, including natural selection and adaptation. Both of those concepts are more fully described in the final pages of the book but are fully realized in the main part of the book as well. Thomas does a lovely job with the prose, giving the reader just enough information to allow the story to unfold before them. She limits the amount of words on the page, making this accessible for quite young children.

The illustrations are marvelous, inviting readers into the darkness of a moonlit woods as the moths emerge from their cocoons. The pages fill with moths of different mixtures of black and white. When day comes, more predators enter the pages. As the pollution enters, the world becomes dark and filled with dots and specks of dirty soot. The moths glow against the new darkness, or hide well, depending on their color. It’s a stirring and rich look at evolution happening right before your eyes.

Beautifully written and illustrated, this is a very special nonfiction picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Review: Sparky & Spike by Barbara Lowell

Sparky & Spike by Barbara Lowell

Sparky & Spike: Charles Schulz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever by Barbara Lowell, illustrated by Dan Andreasen (9781944903589)

Sparky has a dog that is black and white. His dog knows fifty words, loves to each strange things, and only drinks from the bathroom faucet. Sparky and his father always head to the drugstore every Saturday night to pick up the Sunday comics. Sparky loves comics and also loves to draw himself. His teacher says that he may be an artist one day, but Sparky definitely wants to be a cartoonist. But drawing is hard, especially getting characters right in multiple panels. The kids at school love Sparky’s drawings, but ignore him otherwise. When Sparky realizes that his dog could make the comic for Ripley’s Believe It or Not, he sends it in along with his drawing of Spike. Eventually, his drawing and caption are published! It’s just the start for the kid whose real name is Charles Schulz.

Lowell deftly depicts the growth of a young artist as he develops his own dream, his own art and a path forward. It is a pleasure to see a young Charles Schulz and his connection to the dog who will inspire Snoopy. His connection to comics from a young age is also fascinating to see as well as his struggles with friendship. The art by Andreasen is cleverly done with a realistic touch that both pays homage to the work of Schulz but also stands on its own stylistically.

An inspiring look at the creator of Peanuts. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Cameron Kids.

Review: Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson

Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson

Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson (9781534431515)

Hutchinson, author of several amazing novels for teens, shares a memoir of his teen years as he grapples with being gay and having depression. Hutchinson is open from the beginning of the book that it involves a suicide attempt. He states it with great empathy for both the reader and for his younger self. That tone of self-understanding plays through the novel, never allowing himself to become overly self-deprecating. Hutchinson speaks as a person engulfed in a society telling him that because he was gay, he was broken, focused only on sex, and would live a short life probably because of AIDS. Though he had a wonderful best friend, he could not see a future for himself. Along the way, he started to self harm, started smoking to gain a boy’s attention, and sunk deeper and deeper into depression and self loathing. The spiral is filled with pain and darkness, but the book is ultimately filled with hope and a way forward into life.

It is no surprise to his fans that Hutchinson has written a moving and deep memoir. However, it is amazing how far he is willing to explore his life as a teen, how open he is about all of the things he was feeling and experiencing, and how much he shares in these pages. He bares his entire soul here, in the hopes that it will help someone else find their way out of darkness too. I guarantee, it will.

Hutchinson shares how small decisions, individual conversations, new crushes, and tiny moments shape our lives. He is honest about how he damaged several relationships in his life, how he continued to be absent and self-absorbed, and how that too changed as he dealt with his depression. While it is a book of hope, it is also one about the hard work it takes to come back from the brink, how friends and family can help, and how some questions are simply too hard to ask.

Brave, fierce and incandescent. Appropriate for ages 15-19.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

Review: The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett

The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett

The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby (9780062393449)

In 42 pages, Mac Barnett celebrates the 42 years of Margaret Wise Brown’s life and writing. This is not a traditional picture book biography, but instead a treasure of glimpses into moments in Brown’s life. Small details like her biting dog and her birth date are shared. Barnett also makes sure to point out unique things that Brown did as a child, like skinning a rabbit and wearing its fur. The rabbit element plays out across Brown’s life and writing, even publishing a book that was first published with a rabbit fur cover. These elements are all loosely woven into a story of a woman who wrote unique and strange books for children, odd enough not to be accepted by the New York Public Library. Still, it didn’t slow Brown down from writing and living her own unique life.

This book is incredible. Written with a conversational tone, inviting readers to see how writing for children needs to be expansive and go beyond cuteness and cuddles. Barnett, who also shares similar elements in his own writing for children, explores fascinating parts of Brown’s life and makes her unique voice the focus of the book. His writing is a study in how to have a strong voice in a children’s book, a narrative point of view, and yet also avoid being didactic at all, insisting that young readers think for themselves.

Jacoby’s illustrations are a great mix of showing Brown’s life, full pages of pastel and flowers, and other moments with bunnies in libraries. The mix is wonderfully odd and so exactly appropriate for a story about Brown herself.

I predict that this one is going to be win awards. It certainly should. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.