Review: Another by Christian Robinson

Another by Christian Robinson

Another by Christian Robinson (9781534421677)

In his first solo picture book, award-winning illustrator Robinson creates a wordless experience for young book lovers. A little girl is in bed with her cat sleeping at her feet, when a portal opens in the wall. Through the portal comes a cat who is just the same as her cat except that it wears a blue collar rather than a red one. The portal cat steals the girl’s cat’s red mouse toy and heads back through the portal with it. What ensues is a literal cat and mouse game through a series of portals that lead to Escher-like rooms, reversal of gravity, and much more. Finally, the girl meets another version of herself and retrieves the red mouse, returning home. The adventure is over, or is it?

Cleverly designed, this wordless picture book is a joy to experience. Readers will love figuring out that gravity is different, or that stairs don’t actually look like stairs, or that there are other worlds out there much like our own. The use of portals adds a delightful science-fiction quality to the book too. As always, Robinson’s illustrations are exceptional. His use of repeating polka dots is used on the end-pages and under the book jacket as well as throughout the story. From the girl’s hair to entire landscapes of dots, the book is a cohesive whole even as it journeys through other worlds.

An exceptional picture book made all the more impressive by being wordless. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Review: The Epic Adventures of Huggie & Stick by Drew Daywalt

The Epic Adventures of Huggie & Stick by Drew Daywalt

The Epic Adventures of Huggie & Stick by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by David Spencer (9780399172762)

The adventures of Huggie and Stick are told in diary format from each character’s point of view. Stick is an eternal optimist, always seeing the best in every situation. Huggie, on the other hand, is a delight of a pessimist and is regularly complaining and seeing all of the problems surrounding them. As the two friends make their way around the world and visit each continent, readers will delight in the humor on the page and enjoy the way the two points of view show the same voyage from very differing points of view.

Daywalt has a way with humor, creating wonderful timing on each page. He knows when to use plenty of text and other times to let the humor just sit for a moment on the page. The juxtaposition of the two characters is written with flair. Readers may at first be drawn to Stick the optimist but by the end I was entirely in Huggie’s camp as he bore the brunt of the journey. The humor is all the better for the illustrations which show Huggie steadily falling apart on their journey and the ramshackle ways that Stick helps patch him back together.

A journey definitely worth taking, this one would be great to share aloud with elementary-age children. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty (
9781338255843)

Bronte has been raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler since she was a tiny baby. Still, it’s a shock when she discovers at age 10 that her parents have been killed by pirates. Her parents send her on a journey with strict rules and a tight schedule where she will meet all ten of her aunts and then everyone will come together for a party in her parents’ honor. Bronte may even get to meet her maternal grandfather, who lives near where the party will be held. As Bronte sets off on her travels though, they become more and more unique and strange. There are fairies, magicians who can whisper directly into your brain, potions, and spells. Then there is the question of who Bronte herself actually is and whether she will ever discover the truth about herself. 

I am not one for travel stories where the protagonist takes all sorts of conveyances through a magical world, and yet this one is so very charming with pieces that click together so beautifully that I could not put it down. Nicely, Moriarty minimizes the travel pieces by often skipping them altogether, something that is downright applause-worthy on its own. Moriarty sets just the right tone here, allowing readers to gather that they are in a magical world slowly and then explore what that means alongside Bronte. Her world building is complex and yet also compact, keeping the story very tightly focused and enjoyable.

Bronte is a marvelous protagonist mostly because she is not the adventurous type and has spent much of her life alone with adults. Moriarty writes her like that throughout the book. She enjoys the company of other children, and yet has a wariness that makes sense given her upbringing and recent loss. As Bronte and the reader slowly piece together the full puzzle, this book really comes into its own, ending up being a grand and magical adventure where each element was necessary and important. 

A marvelous fantasy for young readers, this journey is one worth taking. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.

Review: Up the Mountain Path by Marianne Dubuc

Up the Mountain Path by Marianne Dubuc

Up the Mountain Path by Marianne Dubuc (9781616897239)

Every Sunday, Mrs. Badger walks to the mountain peak. Along the way, she greets her various animal friends and finds gifts to give others later. She helps anyone who needs it too. When a young cat asks to share Mrs. Badger’s snack, she invites the cat along to the mountaintop. They need to find the little cat her own walking stick and take breaks along the way, but the two eventually make it to the peak. They enjoy one another’s company and the trip so much that they continue to make the trek together again and again. Eventually, Mrs. Badger grows older and has to be the one taking breaks and finally she can’t make the trip any longer. The cat continues to make the walk, finding her own young animal to mentor on the way.

This gentle picture book has such depth to it. Mrs. Badger is a fabulous character, exhibiting deep kindness and thoughtfulness for others. She knows everyone she encounters on the walk and makes connections easily. She demonstrates how to make and keep friends with all of her actions. This becomes even more clear as she walks with the young cat, teaching them how to make the long climb to the peak. The book can be read as a metaphor for life but children can also simply enjoy the story of the friendly badger and a young cat who become friends.

Dubuc’s illustrations move from full pages of images to smaller unframed pictures that offer a varied feel throughout the book. She makes sure to have a special feeling when the characters make it to the mountaintop. The vista is striking but it is the journey itself that makes the book sing.

A quiet book about connections and community. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (9781524715953)

After brothers Caleb and Bobby Gene get into trouble for trading their baby sister for a bag of fireworks, they are sentenced to a summer of labor alongside the boy who traded with them. Caleb is determined not to be an ordinary person in life, something his father seems obsessed with him staying at all times, even calling him extra-ordinary! So when Styx Malone enters their lives and offers them a way to trade the ill-gotten fireworks for something even better, the two brothers eagerly join him. But Styx is not telling them the whole truth about his life or even about the trades they are making. As the boys are pulled farther into Styx’s world, Caleb worries that it will all fall apart and that he will be left being just ordinary again.

Magoon has created a story that reads smooth and sweet, a tale filled with adventures and riotous action. At the same time though, she has also created a book that asks deeper questions about family, the foster care system, children in need, and what makes a good friend. Readers may not trust Styx as quickly as Caleb does, so the book also has a compelling narrative voice that is naive and untrustworthy. Even as Caleb, in particular, is drawn firmly into Styx’s plans, readers will be questioning what they are doing. It’s a great book to show young readers an unreliable narrator who is also charming.

The book has complex characters who all rise beyond being stereotypical. Even the adults in the book show glimpses of other sides that create a sense of deep reality on the page. Styx himself is an amazing character. He is clearly doing things on the edge of the law, hustling for deals and acting far tougher than he actually is. The moments where Styx shows his softer side are particularly compelling, like the hotdog cookout and seeing him interact with a father figure. Beautifully nuanced, these moments take this book from a madcap summer to a book that speaks deeply about being a child.

A top read of the year, expect to find incredible depth in this novel about friendship and family. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Wendy Lamb Books.

 

Review: Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan (9780062686237)

King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table love to tell tall tales of their adventures, but they are all lies. There just aren’t enough mythical beasts for them to battle. When Sir Erec brags that he’d slain forty dragons, he knew that he’d pushed the storytelling too far. It caught Merlin’s attention and Merlin suggested that Sir Erec, Sir Bors, Sir Hector and the Black Knight explore one particular cave. As they did so, along with Bors’ brave squire, they are transported back in time to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Now there were more than enough “dragons” to battle! But they may just prove to be too much for our hearty knights. The question becomes who would win in a battle, a knight or a dinosaur?

Phelan clearly has had a ball writing this book. It is filled with jaunty references to King Arthur’s court and has a humor that children will love. The knights have distinct personalities from one another and beautifully grate on one-another’s nerves. The knights enter a world of real peril where Phelan creates moment after moment of battles, dangers and sword-swinging good times.

There are a couple of reveals here that invite young women to see themselves as knights too. In fact, the female knight completely rocks! The dinosaurs who battle one another with a joyous abandon add so much to the tale, something that dinosaur fans will love to see. The book has illustrations sprinkled throughout, breaking up the text for young readers.

A boisterous, battle-filled book that will appeal to young knights and young dinosaur experts and anyone looking for a good read. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Review: Sun by Sam Usher

Sun by Sam Usher

In the third book by Usher that focuses on a specific type of weather, this one is sun-filled and summery. Told in the first person by the boy, he awakens to a sunny day that is just right for an outdoor adventure even if it’s “hotter than the Atacama Desert.” The two set off together with provisions and a large map. They walk and walk until they discover just the right place for a rest. Then they walk some more until they found some shade. More walking brought them to a huge cave. But when they enter, they discover some real adventure inside.

Usher’s books are told very simply. This picture book starts out as entirely reality based and then takes a marvelous fantastical turn when the pair enters the cave. All along, it is hinted at that they are walking on a real journey. The illustrations help tell this tale, showing huge skies, long areas to traverse and a changing landscape. User uses watercolors for the skies, creating vistas filled with summer heat colors that swirl on the page.

A winner in a great series, this one is just right for summer reading. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Peter & Ernesto by Graham Annable

Peter & Ernesto by Graham Annable

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable (9781626725614

Peter and Ernesto are two sloths who are best friends and live together in the same tree. They spend their days looking at clouds, eating snacks and singing songs. Then one day, Ernesto realizes that he wants to see more of the sky than that above their tree. So he sets off on an adventure. He has to cross a shaky bridge and a river, then find a way across the ocean. Ernesto makes friends along the way, discovering oceans, mountains, deserts and arctic places each with different skies. But Peter is worried, and he sets off too, making his own friends along the way. He doesn’t journey as far as Ernesto, but is there waiting when Ernesto returns to the beach. Two very different friends who support one another in their own ways.

Annable’s graphic novel is simple and friendly. The cells of the story are edged in black, sometimes distinct from each other and other times playfully running together to form a single picture broken by the frame. The sloths are nicely distinct from one another visually and also in attitude, each brave in their own way. The adventures they have are distinct from one another but also alike enough to contrast effectively.

A great early graphic novel for elementary-aged readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.)

 

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell (9781481419451)

When their plane crashes in the Amazon, four children are the only ones who survive. Now it is up to them to figure out how to survive in the vast jungle. There is Fred, a teen who has always dreamed of exploring wilderness and of the fame that comes with it. There is Con, a girl with almost no family and even fewer friends. Then Lila and her five-year-old brother Max complete the group. Lila only wants to keep Max healthy and alive, despite all of his attempts to get into trouble. As they forage for food, they discover a man-made shelter and then a series of clues that lead them to a crude map. Having built a raft from wood and vines, they follow the map to discover another human surviving in the jungle, someone so angry that he may not help them at all.

Rundell’s body of work is one of the most varied in children’s literature. The unifying feature though is her ability to bring a setting fully to life for the reader. Here, the setting is incredibly detailed and readers will get to learn about things like eating grubs, vines that make your skin itch, the right way to cook a spider over an open flame, and much more. Rundell doesn’t just present this information, she injects it into her story, showing how rich and beautiful the Amazon is even as she presents its dangers.

The four young characters make a strong group as they work together to survive. Rundell does not give any of them perfect characters, allowing the oldest to wrestle with his wish for fame, others to struggle to communicate, and the youngest to simply be awfully annoying at times. This too adds to the realistic feel of the novel, and in the end shows that friendships can be forged with even the most unlikely of people.

Filled with adventure, wilderness and plenty of icky moments, this is a gripping and fabulous look at the Amazon. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.