The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street by Lauren Oliver 

The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street by Lauren Oliver 

The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street by Lauren Oliver (9780062345073)

There are monsters in the world, though few people believe they are actually real. Cordelia and her father help monsters that get hurt, moving them into their house on Cedar Street. The house is bedraggled and unkempt, but the monsters love it, each one finding their own special space inside. The only place that no one is allowed to enter is Cordelia’s mother’s study which has been forbidden since her disappearance nine years ago. Cordelia is used to a house filled with weird noises, so when she awakens to silence one morning she knows that something has happened. Her father and all of the monsters have disappeared. The only ones left are hiding in the oven: a baby dragon and an old filch. As Cordelia sets off to find them, she is joined by Gregory, a boy who lives on the streets and has a monster of his own, a zombie puppy that Cordelia helped save. They must find the monsters and her father, rescue them and perhaps even expose a sinister organization that is targeting monsters of all kinds. It’s a harrowing journey for a girl, a handful of monsters and a new friend. 

The book begins with passages from Cordelia’s mother’s book about monsters which explain the monster themselves and then also link them to how they evolved. This clever use of a book mentioned regularly in the story also allows Oliver to keep the story streamlined and not filled with monster exposition when each new one arrives. The story itself is animated and great fun with wild dashes of action, near catastrophes, kindred spirits and harrowing danger. It’s a story that could feel out of control, but Oliver keeps it pointed in the right direction even when the reader isn’t quite sure which way is up. She also asks larger questions about who the monsters really are and how humans become a true evil monster on the inside. 

The characters are marvelous, each one unique and interesting. Cordelia is brave and creative, nicely solving some of their most dire situations. Gregory is a natural with the monsters and is always willing to lend a hand even if he might get nipped. The monsters are fascinating and varied with just enough similarity to other animals and creatures to be able to be pictured clearly in one’s mind. After all, who wouldn’t want a zombie puppy!

Fast paced fantasy with lots of monsters both wild and human. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Review: Old Rock (Is Not Boring) by Deb Pilutti 

Old Rock (Is Not Boring) by Deb Pilutti 

Old Rock (Is Not Boring) by Deb Pilutti (9780525518181)

Old Rock has sat in the same spot on the edge of a clearing in a pine forest for a very long time. Tall Pine, who stands next to Old Rock, thinks that being a rock must be very boring. Spotted Beetle and Hummingbird agree. Hummingbird talks about flying to different parts of the world. Old Rock then mentions that he flew once when he was erupted from a volcano. Spotted Beetle talks about what he can see from different vantage points. Old Rock then tells about watching dinosaurs walk past and riding a glacier. He even had a vantage point when the glacier left him high on the top of a ridge. Old Rock may never have danced, but he talks about somersaulting down from the ridge and meeting mastodons. And that’s when a very small pine tree started to grow next to him, and he met a beetle and a hummingbird too.

Pilutti pushes back against assumptions that could be made about rocks or others that are content right where they are. As the tree, bird and beetle brag about their own experiences, Old Rock can match them and share his own tales that are far more interesting. Old Rock’s clear contentment and stillness add a wonderful grounding to the book, even as he sometimes teeters on a ridge.

The illustrations are marvelous, filled with the emotions that go across the face of Old Rock. They contrast modern day with the past nicely using different color palettes for different times. Old Rock though stays solid and gray throughout.

A clever book that includes evolution, dinosaurs and a little rock and roll. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Review: The Iron Will of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee

The Iron Will of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee

The Iron Will of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee (9781419731457)

Fans of the first of the Genie Lo books will adore this second novel in the duology. Genie has been busy doing her job keeping the demons in the Bay Area under control and settling their disputes. Meanwhile, the Jade Emperor has disappeared just as Genie finally takes some time off to visit a college campus with her best friend. As supernatural things start happening on the campus, it is up to Genie, Guanyin and Quentin to try to keep things in line. But the disappearance of the Jade Emperor has opened up competition for his throne. Genie nominates Guanyin for the throne, but accidentally sets her friend up to take on an unstoppable force. As Genie and her friends set off into parallel worlds to battle the supernatural, they discover that their combined strength may not be enough to save the world this time. 

Impressively, three years after the first book, readers will be able to simply pick up this sequel and start reading without needing to go back to review the first. Yee doesn’t backtrack much but carefully constructs his sequel so that the names and characters fall effortlessly into place for the reader. Yee’s characters are so vividly drawn. Add in the setting of a college campus and partying and you have a great setting for this second book. 

It is great to also see growth in Genie herself as she explores what she wants to do after high school, despite being a Guardian now. Genie remains as irreverent and sarcastic as in the first book, as well as being a great friend to those around her as well. She is brave, ferocious and full of tenacity, but it may take all of her cleverness to win rather than brute strength this time.

Smart, funny and full of great fights, this novel is the second in a marvelous pair. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from copy provided by Amulet Books.

Review: The Hike by Alison Farrell

The Hike by Alison Farrell

The Hike by Alison Farrell (9781452174617)

Three girls head out on a hike together. It’s their favorite thing to do. They bring along a notebook, a flag and some feathers. At the beginning, they run as fast as they can, stopping only to eat some thimbleberries. They make leaf baskets to try to bring some berries along with them, but end up eating too much. They get lost, pull out maps and find their way again. They get tired, get carried, and eventually make it all the way to the peak. That’s where they let the feathers go on the wind. Then they head back down and back home.

Farrell captures all of the stages of a hike from the initial burst of energy at being in nature to the discovery of things in the forest to startling deer to making it to your destination after being quite tired by the walk. She adds all sorts of details into her book, offering images and names of some of the most common items children will find on their own hikes. The book ends with images from the notebook brought along on the hike, that show even more information about what the characters have seen and experienced.

The illustrations serve as a merry invitation to join the three friends on their hike. Filled with labels and details, they are worth taking the time to pore over with a child and have discussions about what you may have seen before and what is new. Various animals, plants and birds are labeled on the pages which are also filled with the exuberance and friendship of the three girls as they all take turns leading and solving issues.

Any day is a grand day to take this hike. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Penny and Penelope by Dan Richards

Penny and Penelope by Dan Richards

Penny and Penelope by Dan Richards, illustrated by Claire Almon (9781250156075)

When two very different girls get together for a play date, it turns out their dolls are just as different. Penelope is a very sweet princess with a tea set and a pony. Penny is a secret agent with a motorcycle. When danger arrives outside the castle, Penny rushes forward. She defeats the crocodile in the moat and then moves on to take out the werewolf lurking in the woods. Soon Penny and Penelope are riding together on the motorcycle trying to escape, but the werewolf makes its way into the castle tower. It turns out that a princess might be just right for taking out a werewolf as long as she has a cunning plan!

Written entirely in dialogue between the two girls, this book has a breezy quality that makes it perfect for reading aloud. Their voices merge with those of their dolls, and are shown on the page in different colors and fonts. There is a certain amount of doubt in the beginning about whether they want to play together, but as their imaginations take over the adventure begins and both dolls are right in the mix of things. The notion that girls can be secret agents, princesses, robots and more resonates clearly here, and the book celebrates all of the options equally.

Almon’s illustrations are bright and bold. They celebrate both the dazzling gown of the princess doll and the slick leather of the secret agent. The action is captured nicely as are the differences between both girls and their dolls.

This playful picture book is just right for your little princess or secret agent. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler

Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler

Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby (9781452170909)

Rabbit is the sort of creature who stays close to home, never venturing far from his home in the wheat fields. He does dream of leaving at night, but never does. He also loves to hear about Dog’s adventures on his motorbike. Dog is older now and doesn’t ride any longer, but his stories are wonderful and carry Rabbit far from his home. When Dog dies, he leaves his motorbike to Rabbit. Rabbit tries to make it part of his life, leaving it in his garden, taking it inside his house, but never riding it. Then one day, he decides to just ride the bike to the end of the road. But roads are long, and soon Rabbit is off on his own adventure that echoes that of Dog, who he can feel riding along with him at times.

Hoefler’s skill at poetry is apparent on the pages of this picture book. Her words here loop the reader into the quiet of Rabbit’s wheat field, the beauty of his dreams at night, and the reluctant return to his regular life after listening to Dog’s stories. The longing in the story is beautifully drawn out, lingering across the wheatfield and whispering stories of the road as Rabbit weaves the motorbike into his everyday life.

That same emotional tug is shown in the illustrations as well, wheatfields in the sunshine and also wheatfields at night with the moon illuminating single blades. The drama of Dog (and later Rabbit) riding the motorbike is accompanied by swirls of color, showing the freedom and delight of the ride. The colors are a great mix of dramatic night and gentle colors in the daytime scenes that are airy and inviting to sink into.

A picture book about taking risks and finding freedom. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: River by Elisha Cooper

River by Elisha Cooper

River by Elisha Cooper (9781338312263)

Explore the Hudson River alongside an intrepid canoer in this picture book. The book takes readers from a mountain lake on a journey of 300 miles to where the Hudson meets the Atlantic. The woman meets moose, otters, a bear cub, ducks and more on her journey. She faces rapids and sometimes has to drag her canoe in shallow waters or portage it across a dam. She uses a lock to get past a waterfall. She stops at times to restock her supplies at towns along the river. She paddles for days and days, sleeping in a tent at night. She faces a storm and has her boat overturned, but she eventually reaches New York City and her home.

There is something so invigorating and inspiring about this glimpse of someone making a journey of a lifetime. At the same time, this is a quiet book, one that inspires thinking, drawing and taking time for one’s self. It’s a lovely balance of a book, and thanks to Cooper’s unique style it is told in a way that honors the woman’s courage and skill and yet makes it all less daunting to imagine doing. It’s just what we want picture books to do for children.

Cooper’s art really shines here, reading more like a journal at times with scenes just barely captured before they changed. Other pages which feature the landscape and vistas along the way are spectacularly done whether in broad daylight or filled with stars at night.

A journey worth taking again and again. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Review: Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly (9780062747297)

Lalani lives on the island of Sanlagita during a long drought where all of the plants are dying and water is growing scarcer by the day. The residents of her island pray every day for mercy from the large mountain they live near. There are tales of another mountain across the sea that is on an abundant island where all of your needs are met. So the island sends out ships of their strongest men trying to journey to this other island and mountain. Nothing returns from these journeys but broken pieces of the ships. Lalani is a regular girl inspired by the tale of another island girl who died trying to make her own journey. As Lalani finds herself caught up with a magical exile, she wishes for rain and the unending rain that results brings disaster with it. Shunned by others on the island, Lalani makes the choice to take her own journey across the sea.

Inspired by Filipino folklore, this is an amazing novel by a Newbery-award winning author. The barren and limited world that Lalani lives in is filled with anger, bullying and still love and friendship. The entire society feels tense and on edge, one step from coming to blows. It makes what Lalani finds on her journey all the more incredible. Kelly has created a world of magical and unusual creatures that spring to life. Several of them are given special treatment where the reader is asked to imagine themselves being that creature which is a marvelous invitation to change perspective.

As always, Kelly’s writing is so skillful that one doesn’t even realize it. Her books read so easily and well, this time carrying readers into a fantastical world filled with creatures from dreams and nightmares. Lalani is a great protagonist. She is brave, audacious with just the right amount of regular person mixed in too.

A glorious fantasy from a master storyteller. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Bruce’s Big Fun Day by Ryan T. Higgins

Bruce's Big Fun Day by Ryan T. Higgins

Bruce’s Big Fun Day by Ryan T. Higgins (9781368022811)

Nibbs, the mouse, wants Bruce to have a fun day, but Bruce doesn’t seem to be having any fun at all. Breakfast in bed turns into a messy disaster. The long walk is exhausting. A picnic turns into a feast for the ants. The boat ride is wet, particularly when Nibbs uses Bruce himself as the boat. They do make it back home in time for supper, but supper is too dainty and fancy for Bruce and dessert is even worse. By the time they are in bed, Bruce is very, very grumpy. Which is really nice, since Bruce loves to be grumpy. It might have been the perfect day out after all.

Higgins cleverly turns his picture book series about Mother Bruce into an easy reader format. His use of limited vocabulary is done seamlessly with the story. It helps that there is zany action on many of the pages that can be explained in Higgins’ rather dry tone in just a few words. The illustrations help too. Done in full color and with Higgins’ signature style, they show the story playing out on the page with great clarity and additional moments of silliness.

A great addition to easy reader shelves, this one is big fun. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.