Review: Homer by Elisha Cooper


Homer by Elisha Cooper

Homer is out on the porch when the day starts.  Everyone seems to have something that they want to do that day.  The other dogs want to run around and play chase.  Homer doesn’t want to.  He doesn’t want to play in the field either, or walk to the beach, or swim, or go to the market.  He stays on the porch.  One-by-one the others return from their day and everyone tells Homer about it.  The dogs are tired from running. He gets to smell the flowers from the field and even wear one. There are shells to smell, wetness from the beach, and produce from the market.  People finish their days out on the porch with Homer.  At the end of the day, Homer heads inside, eats his dinner, and happily falls asleep in a chair.

Cooper does several things in this very simple picture book.  First, he pays homage to the relationships of dogs and humans, the sort of dog that is quiet, steady and always there.  Homer is the sort of dog everyone wants on their porch too.  Second, Cooper speaks to the importance of simplicity and a life well lived.  This is done quietly as one watches Homer’s day, realizing the bliss that it brings him. 

The setting of the seaside and the summer activities, make this a great book to share when you have sand between your toes.  Even better if a dog is thumping his tail nearby.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey by Mini Grey

traction man beach

Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey by Mini Grey

Traction Man and his faithful sidekick Scrubbing Brush are on the way to the beach.  There they explore the depths of the Rockpool to discover what creature live beneath the calm surface.  They are then called upon to guard the picnic from any intruders.  Unfortunately, Truffles the dog decided to bury Traction Man.  Happily Scrubbing Brush was there to dig him free.  But just as they are feeling safe, a wave comes and sweeps both of them out into the ocean.  When they resurface, they have been discovered by a girl who carries them to the Dollies’ Castle where there are garlands, sweet treats, and plenty of pink.  Truffles returns to save Traction Man from the castle, and Traction Man and the dolls head off on a shared adventure, to explore digging to the Center of the Earth.

This is the third Traction Man book, and I continue to delight in them.  Grey has exactly the right tone in the writing with Traction Man often speaking like a movie announcer and always in capital letters.   She incorporates plenty of humor into the book, but the reader is not laughing at the adventures or the play of the children.  Instead it is the inherent humor of action figures, their worlds, and that strong dialogue voice. 

Grey also uses small details throughout the book to really create a full world for Traction Man.  Garbage on the beach has brand names and logos, the text of the book is shown on graph paper with torn edges, action sequences are put into frames and read like comic books.  The end pages of the book are just as fun with details about Beach-Time Brenda, one of the dolls, at the front of the book and a comic featuring both Traction Man and Brenda at the end. 

A great summer read for Traction Man fans, this third book can stand happily on its own.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Sea of Dreams by Dennis Nolan

sea of dreams

Sea of Dreams by Dennis Nolan

This wordless book begins with a normal scene of a girl building a sand castle on a beach.  When the sun sets, she reluctantly leaves the castle with its turrets behind.  As the tide comes in and the waves batter the ramparts, a light turns on in one of the sandcastle windows.  Then faces appear as the waves surge again.  A boat heads out to sea, rescuing the stranded people.  It heads into the waves and one of the small people is lost in the sea, tempting large fish to eat him.  Happily, the boy is discovered underwater by some mermaids who rescue him and return him to the boat.  They make it safely to a beach where there’s a cave.  The scene changes to the girl returning to the beach to build a second castle.   Once again, she leaves it behind on the beach at sunset, the waves roll in, and a light turns on.

Nolan has created a captivating story line here that blends real life and magic together seamlessly.  When one starts the book, there is no sense that it will suddenly change into something utterly different.  Part of this is the success of the realistic paintings that illustrate the book.  It seems grounded in reality until that amazing light turns on. 

A wondrous book that entrances and delights, this is a great read to share on a trip to the beach or in any quiet time where there is room to dream.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Lexie by Audrey Couloumbis


Lexie by Audrey Couloumbis

The shore has always been one of ten-year-old Lexie’s favorite places in the world.  She would spend the summer there with her parents, playing on the beach, finding treasures in the sand, and reading picture books.  Now though, her parents are divorced.  So her mother isn’t going to be going to the shore at all.  Lexie is spending a week there with just her dad.  Or so she thinks!  On the way there, her father announces that his new girlfriend will be joining them, and her two sons too.  Lexie is pushed out of her usual bedroom into one that is as tiny as a closet.  Teenage Ben is also not enthusiastic about being stuck together.  Little Harris is messy and doesn’t even want to head outside at first.  As the two families try to live together, Lexie discovers that connections can be created over the smallest things and that there is still room for everyone even if the house is a lot more crowded.

This is a book that takes a moment in time, a week at the shore, and creates a world out of it.  Couloumbis writes with a voice that celebrates the small things, yet doesn’t wander.  The characters are real, each written with an honesty that is surprising.  The adults have faults, make mistakes.  The young people are struggling with this new situation, facing it with various emotions that all read as true.

Lexie is child who can see past her love for her father and see him through the others’ eyes.  At the same time though, she has to spend time with the others to understand them as deeply.  It all works well as the reader is also learning about these characters.  When truths are revealed is a crux of the story.  Throughout the book, honesty is explored.  Lexie struggles with trying to be kind and then finding herself in situations where it may have been better all along to tell the truth.  The situation with the adults mirrors this as well.

This is a radiant read that explores deep issues of divroce and truth while never losing the sunshine of the shore.  It would make an intriguing pairing with Junonia by Kevin Henkes which is for a similar age and also is set on the beach. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.

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Book Review: When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore

when a dragon moves in

When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore, illustrated by Howard McWilliam

One day at the beach, a little boy builds the perfect sandcastle and immediately a dragon moves right in.  Together the boy and dragon roast marshmallows, fly kites, float in the water, and defend the sandcastle against bullies who would knock it down.  The little boy tries to disguise that he is hosting a dragon in his castle, but then wants to tell his family about it.  He can’t get his mother’s attention, his father just tickles him, and his sister insists she knows better.  But trouble comes along with dragons too, and perhaps this one is more trouble than he’s worth.  Perhaps.

Moore uses the engaging second-person point of view, referring to the reader as “you.”  It draws you directly into the story and gives it a strong and inviting structure as well.  The story moves quickly from one moment to the next, which creates a vibrant feel to the story.  It’s a story that speaks to the power of imagination in creating a special time.

McWilliam’s art has a cinematic quality to it that children will immediately respond to.  He captures emotions on faces with comedic skill.  This is a refreshing style to have in a children’s book because it closely mimics what they see in films.  It’s a friendly and lovely thing to see.

A great beach read, this will have children scrambling to get their castles up and welcoming to dragons.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Flashlight Press.

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Book Review: Junonia by Kevin Henkes


Junonia by Kevin Henkes

Alice always celebrates her birthday on Sanibel Island in a beach cottage named Scallop.  This annual vacation from winter in Wisconsin is filled with the familiar.  Her parents accompany her, her aunt stays with them, and their neighbors in Sanibel are people she considers her extended family.  But this year, when Alice is turning 10, nothing is familiar.  First, some of her beloved neighbors do not come to Florida this year.  Then her Aunt Kate joins them along with her new boyfriend and his daughter, Mallory.  The entire vacation is thrown into chaos in Alice’s eyes, as she struggles to accept the changes and the new situation that is so different from her planned perfection of a trip.

This short novel looks deep into Alice as she searches for perfection embodied by the junonia shell that she has not yet found.  This deep look is not always flattering for Alice, as she can be jealous, petty, and prickly at times.  Yet the book speaks to acceptance of the reality of life and not constantly seeking the perfect birthday, the perfect day, the perfect circumstances.  It would never have worked as a novel to have Alice be an ideal protagonist.  Instead, seeing her with her flaws allows readers to see themselves in her.  It is a beautiful, quiet point Henkes is making.

Henkes writes of emotions with great detail, capturing Alice’s many moods.  He manages to put a name on the feeling and then create imagery that builds beyond that label.  In other words, he is carefully creating a book that children can read and understand, but that will lead them on into something deeper as well.

Henkes also captures Sanibel and its beaches and wildlife with beautiful imagery.  The images are ones that children will relate to.  Here is one of my favorites from Page 49:

“From their table on the deck at the restaurant, Alice could see the ocean perfectly.  And the sunset.  The sky and the sea were full of colors – yellow, peach, pink, blue, green, purple.  The water was like liquid color, like melted glass swirling around.”

This book is about big things understood through small.  It is about emotions, acceptance, forgiveness, disappointment and delight.  It is about life.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed on digital galley format from HarperCollins via NetGalley.

Book Review–Three by the Sea by Mini Grey


Three by the Sea by Mini Grey

Dog, Cat and Mouse all live happily together by the sea with their household chores neatly divided.  But when a Fox comes ashore, he causes all sorts of trouble.  He brings tempting items from The Winds of Change company that will change their lives.  Dog’s gardening is criticized for only being buried bones, so the stranger offers Mouse herb seeds and new cookbooks.  Dog is encouraged to wear a new collar and is upset at Cat’s laziness.  Cat is shown how dull and repetitive Mouse’s cheesy recipes are by the Fox offering some canned fish.  Soon all of them are at odds with one another.  In the end, Mouse heads away along the shore, but is picked up by a wave and carried out to sea.  When Cat tries to help, she has trouble floating.  So finally Dog, rescues them both.  Now the lives of the three look very different, so was the Fox actually helpful or harmful?

Grey’s book is about cooperation, working together, and also outside influences which can be seen in different ways.  She has created a picture book that is not definitive about the Fox and his influence.  The nuanced conclusion offers room for discussion and speculation.  Grey’s illustrations continue to charm.  She incorporates photographs and cut paper art into them to great effect.  They have a whimsical charm that invite readers right into the world she creates.

Another winner from a great picture book author and illustrator, this book will be a great addition to any beachy story time.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf.

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Ladybug Girl at the Beach

Ladybug Girl at the Beach by David Soman and Jacky Davis

The latest Ladybug Girl book explores what courage means.  Ladybug Girl and her family head to the beach in the book, and it’s Lulu’s first time on a beach.  She is sure she is going to love it.  But when she sees the huge waves and hears the roar of the surf, she is afraid to get into the water.  Lulu and her dog Bingo spend a lot of time avoiding the water.  They build a sandcastle, fly a kite, go for ice cream, and plays on the shore.  It isn’t until the emergency of her bucket floating away gets her into the water that she realizes that she was right!  She does love the beach!  And even better, she’s not afraid any more.

Soman and Davis have once again captured the emotions of childhood with humor and honesty.  Lulu continues to be true to the character she was in the first Ladybug Girl book, still wearing her antennae and her wings.  It’s great to see a character who is so self-assured be scared and overcome it.  Soman’s art is wonderful.  He uses lines to capture emotions with such skill.  Even background characters have great body language and facial expressions.  His use of large washes of color for the beach, sea and sky add to the summery, sunshine, sand feel of the title.

Recommended for any library where Ladybug Girl is popular, this book stands just fine on its own and will have new families and children asking for the other titles.  A perfect summer beach read for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

A Beach Tail

A Beach Tail by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

When Gregory drew a Sandy Lion in the sand on the beach, his father suggested that Sandy needs a tail.  He also told Gregory not to go in the water and not to leave Sandy.  Gregory drew a tail with his drawing stick.  When he came to a jellyfish on shore, he draw a loop around it.  He went up and over an old sandcastle.  He zigzagged around a horseshoe crab.  He swirled around the hole of a ghost crab.  He wrote his name.  Then he turned around and realized how far he was from his father!  How could be find him on the huge beach?  Gregory followed Sandy’s tail back to the beginning all on his own.

This is a story of a beautiful day at the beach combined with a boy’s imagination.  The words use some repetition of the father’s instructions not to go into the water or leave Sandy.  I also appreciate a book where a child moves some distance away from a parent with no fear and uses his own ingenuity to return safely. 

It is the pastel illustrations by Cooper that really bring this book to life and raise it to another level.  The entire book is done with the detail you see on the cover image above.  Gregory’s face reflects his moods, his intentness, his creativity so clearly.  The use of a fairly limited tan and brown palette really works here, uniting the boy and the beach without losing either one of them.  The soft grainy illustrations capture the gritty feel of a sandy beach.

You will almost be able to smell the salt air with these illustrations.  A vacation in a book, it is appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Check out Karen Lynn Williams’ blog and Floyd Cooper’s website.