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.

Review: The Book in the Book in the Book by Julien Baer

The Book in the Book in the Book by Julien Baer

The Book in the Book in the Book by Julien Baer, illustrated by Simon Bailly (9780823442430)

This picture book features three nested books, each smaller than the last. Thomas and his parents are on vacation at the beach in the first and largest book. His parents decide to take a nap and Thomas is bored, so he heads off and explores the beach. When he can’t find his parents, he stops and sits down, noticing a small book abandoned in the sand. He opens it and discovers the story of Thomas who is on vacation with his parents in the snowy mountains. His parents take a nap; Thomas wanders off. Thomas can’t find them and notices a book nearby. When he opens it, he discovers the story of Thomas and his family visiting outer space. Each book ends with Thomas finding his family right near him and as the smaller books close, the reader is once again back in the beach story and the family heads home.

Originally published in France, this book is very unique and exploring it for the first time is a remarkable experience. The nesting of the books physically represents the way that the stories nest together, rather like a Russian nesting doll where the smaller ones are on the inside. Still, in these books the stories get wider ranging as the books shrink down. The text is simple and accessible, feeling almost like a vintage tale until the nesting begins.

The art and book design here are fantastic. The nested books even feel right inside the larger images that form a frame around them. Each book has a cover that represents what is inside it, much like the main cover does with the boy in snow gear reading on a beach under a ringed planet.

Clever and funny, this is a rewarding book to explore. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Holiday House.

Review: King Alice by Matthew Cordell

King Alice by Matthew Cordell

King Alice by Matthew Cordell (9781250047496)

Home on a snow day with her family, Alice declares herself “King Alice” and demands that her father plays with her. They settle on making a book together, a story about King Alice and her royal knights. At first, the book is really short, just one chapter. But after her parents suggest that there may be more to the tale, Alice has more ideas. She occasionally takes a break to play with toys but is soon back again creating more chapters. After lunch, the idea is a Unicorn Party in the book but when King Alice gets too enthusiastic and hits her father with her unicorn toy she has to sit in time out. With apologies made, the book and the story continue with new ideas all the way through dinner, bathtime and in bed.

There is such honest on the pages of this picture book. From parents who are loving and also set limits and consequences to Alice’s attention span for a large project like this. It is delightful to have a creative process documented with new ideas taking time but also being immensely exciting. Alice’s parents are involved, but it is also her book done with her father’s support. It’s great when he is caught up in the project and Alice is ready to walk away.

The illustrations are loose and flowing. They show an active family willing to make messes with their daughter. Alice’s book is shown in crayon illustrations and neatly written words by her father.

A creative and imaginative picture book sure to be king of the shelves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Feiwel and Friends.

 

Review: Building Books by Megan Wagner Lloyd

Building Books by Megan Wagner Lloyd

Building Books by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Brianne Farley (9781524773687)

Katie loved to build with blocks, from the noises that they made to the way they wobbled and then fell. Most of all, Katie loved building something new. Owen loved reading books, from the smell of the paper to the rustle of turned pages. Most of all, Owen loved reading something new. The two argued about which was best and then the school librarian stepped in. She gave Katie a stack of books to read and Owen a stack of books to shelve. Katie couldn’t settle in and read at all. So she started to build with the books until after a very large topple of a tower, a book on castle engineering caught her eye. Owen meanwhile was reading the books he was supposed to shelve. But then he noticed that books could balance on one another and soon he was building with them. The two admitted to each other that the other had been right, but then they come together and put building and stories into one big idea.

Lloyd writes the stories of each child in parallel with one another. The rhythms and patterns of each of their experiences match one another, creating a great structure for the book. The intervention of the librarian amusingly does not go as she plans, with the children taking their own approach to everything. Beautifully, it isn’t until Katie discovers just the right book for her that the world of reading opens up. Meanwhile, Owen is having a similar experience with building.

The illustrations by Farley add so much to the story. He manages to create amazing structures out of blocks and books, including elephants and giraffes that will have readers looking closely at them and wondering if they could actually be built. The final pages with the two children working together is also incredible. I also love the librarian’s response to what she has inadvertently created.

Funny and accepting, this book shows the power of reading and how it can build into something brand new. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf.

Review: Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein (9780763688424)

This is the sequel to the Caldecott Honor winner that returns us to the silliness of the first. The little red chicken has homework to do. At school, he learned all about the “elephant of surprise” and how it appears in every story. Papa tries to correct his little chicken, but as they share stories the element of surprise is at play. Who knew that even Ugly Duckling, Rapunzel and The Little Mermaid have a shocking surprise for Papa too? Spend some more time with these two chickens in a book that celebrates surprises and shared stories.

Stein’s second story about this little chicken family has the same warmth as the first. There is a wonderful coziness about Papa and the little chicken and the home they share. At the same time, it has a dazzling sense of humor that children will adore with truly laugh-out-loud moments of surprise and elephants.

The art continues the feel of the first book in the series with a home filled with small touches and rich colors. The stories the two share are drawn in ink and have an old-fashioned feel to them. But then the blue elephant of surprise will break through and bring color into those books.

Full of surprises and joy, this picture book is a worthy follow up to the first. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

 

Review: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (9780823440559)

This book garnered high praise long before its release, all of which is well deserved. It is the story of immigration to the United States, based on Morales’ own experience as she came to the U.S. with her child. This is a story of immigration, of carrying your personal gifts with you to a new country and allowing them to blossom. It’s the story of learning a new language in order to communicate and along the way discovering the power of public libraries to inspire. It is about the importance of books, of shared stories and of finding your own abilities to tell unique tales personal to you and make those into books. It is a book that sings the vitality and importance of immigrants to our country.

Morales has written a book that I hope sweeps some major awards this year. I knew that it was the powerful story of immigrants, but I was delighted and surprised to see the role of the public library highlighted so clearly on the pages. The text on the page is just right, poetic and brief, inviting young readers and listening children deep into the storyline. Morales has created a timely book for today’s America and all of its children, but it is also a book that will be read again and again.

The art by Morales is amazing. Alight with the moon and searingly brilliant when the gifts they carry escape the pack they have been stored in for so long. There are beautiful symbols throughout the illustrations like this, connection and creativity alive on the page. She also pays homage to so many books in her library scenes, each one a testament to the voices that have been part of children’s literature for so long and some newer ones too.

A dazzling and incredible picture book that is sure to win awards this year. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

3 New Picture Books Where Imaginations Soar

Blue Rider by Geraldo Valerio

Blue Rider by Geraldo Valerio (9781554989812)

This wordless picture book tells the story of a little girl who discovers a blue book on the ground. She lives in a bustling gray city filled with people moving in all directions. Taking the book home, she reads it and the blue horse on the pages inspires her. Soon the blue horse is flying above the city and then moving to the countryside where the art becomes more geometric and even more colorful. Out of that burst of color, the girl emerges riding the blue horse. Then we are back in her bedroom where her dreams and her room are filled with color.

Valerio tells the story of how art can inspire and create wonder and a space to dream. The illustrations are done in mixed media, combining paintings with paper collage. The edges become more frayed as the art from the book takes over the page. The movement to a more abstract type of illustration is particularly effective, bursting across the page. A great picture book to share with art classes who will be inspired themselves. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Stone Bird by Jenny McCartney

The Stone Bird by Jenny McCartney, illustrated by Patrick Benson (9781541514553)

Eliza finds a stone shaped just like an egg on the beach one day. She keeps it, even though her mother says it’s not an egg. She sleeps with it under her pillow and then places it on her nightstand, until one day it transforms into a little gray bird made of stone. Eliza takes the stone bird with her everywhere. Then one morning there is a little stone egg next to the bird when she wakes up. Eliza makes a nest out of a pair of socks because winter has arrived. When spring comes again, there are two stone birds in the nest. Then one summer morning, the birds are gone. Eliza misses them dreadfully until her birthday morning when she sees two gray birds on the roof outside her window.

A story of transformation and belief in magic, this picture book is a gentle tale. Eliza is shown mostly alone or with her family and the focus is on her relationship with the stone egg and stone birds. That narrowed focus serves the story well, allowing it to be about seasons passing and the way that birds would act. The illustrations are soft and show the changing seasons with clarity. They have an intimate feel, particularly when it is Eliza and her rocks. A quiet book that asks you to let your imagination soar with Eliza’s. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Andersen Press.)

Groundwood Logos Spine

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki (9781419728518)

This rich picture book looks at colors and inspires children to look deeper at what the colors inspire. While the sky is blue, so is water, until you hold it in your hand and it is clear and sparkles like diamonds when tossed in the air. There are hidden bright colors like the gold of an egg yolk and the red of blood in our bodies. Golden waves of the field look like they could be sailed on with a boat. Until the gray clouds come. Seasons bring their own colors. Black is the color of hair and also the crows outside the window who fly off into the colorful sky.

This is one of those books that you can read over and over again, different words and illustrations touching you each time. For a picture book for very young children, it has an unexpected depth, inviting children to see in a new way as they experience their days. The playfulness of color and imagination delight. The illustrations are exceptional, created with acrylic paint and PhotoShop. Rich and filled with color and sweeping lines, they carry the reader away into dreams of seasons, weather and wonder. A great picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 Picture Book Biographies about…Books!

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9781627792455)

A picture book biography of E.B. White, this book focuses on White’s love of animals and how that combined with his love of writing to become the stories he is known for. Featuring moments from his life, including a friendship with a mouse as a young child, White returns to his beloved Maine to continue to write and soon discovers a story of a pig who needs a hero to save him. Herkert uses a lovely spare poetic tone in this picture book, allowing White’s personal inspirations to shine from his animals to his sense of place. The illustrations by Castillo are wonderful, creating moments of time and beautiful spaces that show White on his journey to becoming one of the most beloved children’s authors. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Review copy provided by Henry Holt.)

Miguels Brave Knight by Margarita Engle

Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Raúl Colón (9781561458561)

This picture book biography of Miguel de Cervanes Saavedra shows his childhood in Spain. He grew up the son of a barber and surgeon. His father though had a gambling habit and was even jailed for his debts. Just as the family rebuilt after each loss, his father would once again gamble and send the family into debt and moving to a new town. Along the way, Miguel got to attend school sometimes and once he was older his writing gained some attention. Even as a child, he dreamed of fantastic stories to counter the disarray of his family. Engle writes with a natural poetry in this book, showing the brutality of life for Miguel but also the way in which his unique upbringing created his love of stories for escape. The art works to tie the entire book together, showing Miguel’s imagination and scenes from Don Quixote. A great introduction to a legendary Spanish author, this picture book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (E-galley received from Edelweiss and Peachtree Publishers.)

Schomburg The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (9780763680466)

This picture book biography shows the important impact one person can have when on a quest for knowledge. Schomburg was a man of Afro-Puerto Rican heritage who collected books, manuscripts, letters and more to show the achievements of people from African descent. These achievements were not in history books and not reflected in the national narrative at all. As he studied, he proved over and over again that black culture was unrepresented despite the incredible discoveries and art it contributed to the world. Schomburg’s library was eventually donated to the New York Public Library where you can visit it today. Weatherford highlights not just Schomburg’s own contribution to knowledge of black culture, but also shows other individuals that Schomburg discovered in his research. She does so via poems, some about specific people others about the books and research and many about Schomburg’s own life. The art by Velasquez is rich and beautiful, offering a dynamic visual for the fluid poetry. An important and timely read. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

3 Wolfish Picture Books

Baabwaa & Wooliam by David Elliott

Baabwaa & Wooliam by David Elliott, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (9780763660741)

Wooliam and Baabwaa are sheep who spend their time together reading books and knitting. When they decide to head out on an adventure together, they find a distinct lack of adventure in the sheep pasture. Then a stranger appears and suddenly they are on an adventure. The stranger turns out to be a wolf! When the sheep discover that the wolf needs their skilled help, they band together to teach him to read and knit him something better to wear. This picture book celebrates the mix of quiet life and excitement that makes life an adventure. The writing by Elliott has a strong narrative voice that adds a dash of humor to the tale. Sweet is an exceptional illustrator and it’s great to see her doing a lighthearted picture book filled with her watercolors and collage. A great pick for fans of books, knitting or sheepish wolves. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

When a Wolf Is Hungry by Christine Naumann-Villemin

When a Wolf Is Hungry by Christine Naumann-Villemin, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo (9780802854827)

Edmond Bigsnout is a hungry wolf on a mission: a mission to catch and eat a city rabbit. But when he travels out of the woods and to the city, he discovers that it’s not that easy. The rabbit lives in an apartment building with lots of neighbors and Edmond is mistaken for a new neighbor. Edmond makes plan after plan to capture the rabbit, but somehow ends up helping all of the neighbors instead. Edmond soon realizes that he may just have to join them instead, particularly when he meets a lady wolf who also lives in the building. The pacing of this book is beautifully done with rushing to and fro that adds a dashing pace and then the slower moments of helping others that lead to the natural conclusion. The art uses unique perspectives that are appealing and visually interesting. A little dark and a lot of fun, this picture book is just right for ages 4-6. (Review copy from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.)

The Wolf Who Fell Out of a Book by Thierry Robberecht

The Wolf Who Fell Out of a Book by Thierry Robberecht, illustrated by Gregoire Mabire (9781423647973)

When a book falls to the floor, a wolf is ejected from his story. At first he thinks he can just hide under the book, but a hungry cat starts to stalk him. When he tries to enter the book he came from, he can’t seem to find the right place in the story to come in. He tries another book then, but that one is filled with princesses and dancing and the wolf is expected to dress up. Trying another book, he discovers the dangers of dinosaurs. The wolf finally discovers a book where the wolf has gone missing, and it’s just the right choice. This fractured story is a lot of fun and unlike other fractured tales doesn’t expect the readers to know many fairy tales or folk tales. Readers will enjoy the pitch black wolf struggling to enter the candy-colored story books around him. This is a story of stories worth the read. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)