Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada, illustrated by Hyung-Ju Ko (9781945820427)
This timely read captures the work of protestors and underground activists in South Korea in the early 1980s. Hyun Sook was the first in her family to go to college. Her family and she had high hopes for her future. But on the first day of school, she has to cross through a demonstration to even enter campus. Soon she finds herself in the midst of a group of activists, even though she just wanted to join a folk dance group and a book club. As Hyun Sook starts to learn more about the Fifth Republic and the political situation she is in, her views start to change and she begins to help the revolutionaries. The work is seriously dangerous, as members of their group are taken by the police regularly and tortured. Hyun Sook must decide if she will stay and fight or quietly head back to simply going to college.
This graphic novel is so powerful. It looks at a totalitarian regime and the efforts to overthrow it, particularly the ideas and books that the regime forbids. It’s a deep dive behind the lines of the activists in the 1980’s a fictionalized graphical version of a true story that the author lived through. The courage and tenacity shown on the pages is remarkable, calling for all of us to lead our own revolutions or at least read revolutionary books.
The art is done in black and white, stark at times, violent at others. It doesn’t flinch from showing what truly happened when police took people into custody. The echoes between this and our own society are strong, making one ask questions about totalitarianism in our own western world.
A call to action, filled with anger, activism and books. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Iron Circus Comics.
Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb, illustrated by Kevin Cornell (9781984835482)
The book begins with Chapter One, of course, where it is discovered that Chapter Two is missing! A phone number for the police, an email and even a place to tweet is offered to the reader. When the page is turned to Chapter Two, the reader only sees some erased and illegible text on a few pages. Then the book picks up again in mid-story. The chapters move past quickly, with even the characters noting the brisk pace. The detective arrives, the janitor redecorates with M’s and messes with punctuation. Another story merges in for some chapters and then some are blank as characters think hard about the mystery. In the end, the culprit is identified but not caught. Perhaps the reader though can find proof in their own home. Take a look!
Lieb has written a chapter book full of wild humor and a twisting mystery. The book has only three characters: the first person narrator, the detective and the janitor. So the potential suspects are limited. The joy of the book comes with the silliness of the premise, the jaunty pace and the knowledge that each turn of the page will bring something fresh and different. Lieb uses blank pages, inserts a different genre, mirror writing, and messes with punctuation to great effect.
While this may present as a chapter book, it actually bridges between a chapter book and a picture book as it is filled with illustrations and often the chapters are single pages. Done in black and yellow-orange, the illustrations are very funny, often interacting directly with the text on the page.
Funny and fast, this chapter book is a silly mess that really works. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Razorbill.
The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come by Sue Macy, illustrated by Stacy Innerst (9781481472203)
Aaron Lansky’s grandmother came to America from Eastern Europe. She brought with her precious books in Yiddish, which her brother threw into the sea along with her other possessions as a sign they must break with the past. Aaron grew up firmly American in Massachusetts. When he went to college he began to study Jewish scholars and had to learn to read Yiddish to be able to read what he needed to. But Yiddish books and the language were in serious trouble in the 1960s after the impact of World War II. Aaron found himself rescuing Yiddish books from destruction. He filled his apartment with books and asked the leaders of Jewish organizations across the country to help save the books. But they believed that Yiddish was no longer worth saving. So Aaron created his own space in an old factory building that he named the Yiddish Book Center. As word spread, he continued to save books from destruction and meet with people who handed their beloved books over to him. The Center continues its work to this day, having saved Yiddish books from destruction for decades.
Macy writes with a wonderful tone in this nonfiction picture book. She shares the importance of what Lansky accomplished with his work but also has a playful approach that works particularly well. The insertion of Yiddish words in the text adds to this effect. The story of Aaron Lansky’s work is one of finding a personal passion and getting swept up in it. It is a story of hard work, resilience and determination in the face of even those who should care not finding your work valuable at first.
The illustrations by Innerst move from playful in depicting things like running in pajamas at night to save books to dramatic when looking back at the Holocaust. They are done in acrylic and gouache with textures added digitally. The images suit the subject well with a feel of modern design combined with connections to the past.
A fascinating biography of a little-known man who saved a written history of his people. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
This Book of Mine by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small (9780374305468)
A lovely quiet book about the power finding that book that is just for you. Told in simple words, this picture book explores the joys of reading at all ages. From being so young that you chew on books while you read to having that perfect book of music that you play all your life. From needing a great bedtime after-lights-out read to being inspired to make your own illustrations for a book you love. There is the pleasure of burying your nose in a book and breathing in that smell and the joy of becoming a character from your favorite book. There are books that teach and book that are just for pleasure.
All bibliophiles will adore this book written by a gifted husband-wife team who have brought us award-winning books in the past. This one is such a warm tribute to the immense pleasure of books and reading. It escapes being overly sweet nicely by having a wry sense of humor in its images. Small’s illustrations are done in a dynamic purple with pops of color from the covers of the books. He fills his illustrations with diverse people and makes sure to capture the steps and lions of the New York Public Library.
A wonderful read all about books! Appropriate for ages 3-5, and any age of book lover.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.
Look! I Wrote a Book! (And You Can Too!) by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Neal Layton (9780399558184)
A little girl explains to readers what it takes to write a book. First, you need a “Good Idea” that you can get from all sorts of places, including your own brain or staring out of the window. You have to know what you are talking about in your book and also know who you are writing it for. Grandmothers are a very different audience than kids who like dump trucks. Books for babies should not be incredibly scary. Then you must concentrate and create a plan for your book. A good title is necessary too. Start strong and then fill in the middle. The ending comes last. Share the book with friends, revise as necessary. Create a cover and an “About the Author” page. Then start selling your book, perhaps with cookies as an incentive and if that doesn’t work tying a person to a chair. Maybe it’s time for a sequel?
The best part about this book is that it is a combination of complete silliness and also good information about the steps in writing a book. Lloyd-Jones uses zany humor to really get her point across about writing taking time, creativity and a willingness to revise. Still, the book is also about frightening babies, boring grandparents, tying people up, and being interesting along the way.
The illustrations help tell the story with their clever depictions of the little girl’s imaginative stories. Using a mixture of textures and patterns, they also incorporate collage elements as well. The result is a modern and silly mix that suits the book nicely.
Silly and serious all at once, this really is a book about writing a book where you will giggle along the way. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (9780062307811)
What a treat to have a picture book from a Newbery Medalist and a Caldecott Honoree! This is a picture book about how to read a book told through poetry and imagery. The book begins with finding the right place to read, like under a tree or on a stoop. The book should be peeled open like a bright orange clementine. The scent will be of morning air and butterfly kisses. Read it page by page, plump orange section by section. Inside you will find new friends, places to wander, drops of magic created by the words. No need to rush, just let it create new dreams and hopes that you may never reach.
Alexander doesn’t shy away from writing a real poem for young readers. It’s one that will stretch them, using a lot more imagery than they may be used to. He plays with colors, turning moons purple and zinging orange throughout. He also speaks to what books can do to us and for us in our lives without getting narrative or preachy about it. Instead his own book embodies this, taking us on a new journey of exploration.
Sweet’s illustrations are incredible. She works Alexander’s words into her art, forming them out of zinging bright neon colors, or quiet steady blues. She creates smaller pages at times, pages that are special and make you slow down and really feel the words and the illustrations.
An incredible work of poetry and art, this one should win awards. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.
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.
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.