Review: Camp Tiger by Susan Choi

Camp Tiger by Susan Choi

Camp Tiger by Susan Choi, illustrated by John Rocco (9780399173295)

A remarkable picture book about saying goodbye to summer with one final September camping trip that just happens to involve a tiger. A boy heads out on a camping trip with his older brother and his parents. He is dreading the end of summer and going to first grade. They arrive at Mountain Pond, filled with lots of quiet and nature. But as they are setting up the tents, a tiger enters their camp. It’s a real tiger who talks. The tiger asks if they have another tent that he could use as he feels cold now even in his cave. The family sets it up and the boy climbs in along with the tiger. They nestle together for a time. The tiger stays all weekend with the family, going on hikes, heading out in the canoe, even helping with the fishing. But then, the tiger is gone. The family heads back home, but it’s a trip that no one will ever forget.

I am trying not to simply gush in superlatives about this book. Choi captures the tension of growing up, of wishing time would stand still, of hating the new responsibilities of chores, and longing for kindergarten again. She writes of that with a clarity and ease that honors the child’s feelings. Then the tiger enters, realistic and bold, and at first readers try to puzzle out if the talking tiger is real or not. By the end of the book, it doesn’t matter. Just knowing the tiger, experiencing the tiger was enough. It doesn’t have to be answered as they head back to school and home.

Rocco’s illustrations are just as well done as the text. His illustrations make the tiger almost more realistic than the humans in the story. The tiger swims, sits in firelight, snuggles close, and weighs down the canoe. The final night they have together is filled with starlight and quiet that Rocco captures so beautifully.

Surreal and realistic in the best possible mash-up. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Review: When You’re Scared by Andree Poulin

When You're Scared by Andr Poulin

When You’re Scared by Andree Poulin, illustrated by Veronique Joffre (9781771473651)

A little boy is scared to jump down into the water from a branch, even with his mother waiting below to catch him. A little bear cub feels the same way as he considers jumping from a branch into a dumpster. The mother and son each lunch together after swimming. The cub has lunch too, in the dumpster. When the boy goes to throw away their bag of garbage, he meets the mother bear standing outside the dumpster. The boy is scared of the bear, the cub is scared that he can’t get out. Mother and son decide to help the bears and bring a big log so that the cub can climb out, they are all very scared. Their plan works and the day ends with darkness and no one scared at all.

This Canadian picture book addresses the different aspects of fear. It uses the perspectives of both a human child and a bear cub to show that fear is universal. It also demonstrates that fear can be overcome and that doing so can make a positive difference in the world. The book uses words sparingly to tie the two perspectives together, allowing the story to really be told in the illustrations.

The illustrations are done in collage. They are bright and bold, showing the forest setting of the camping site and the dumpster. In certain images, the emotion of fear is shown as obliterating the sunny day entirely. It’s a very effective use of illustrations to convey emotion.

A book about fear that also encourages moving beyond fear to action. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Owlkids.

2 Great New Swedish Picture Books

These two picture book are imported from Sweden. Each one is written by one of the Adbage Sisters, two of Sweden’s top picture book makers.

The Grand Expedition by Emma Adbage

The Grand Expedition by Emma Adbage (9781592702459)

Two children head out into the backyard on a camping adventure. For their expedition, they try to pack everything they need. Unfortunately, there are no snacks to take along although their father offers them some pickles for their adventures. They head out to the backyard where the tent is already set up. They make their beds and discover a squished ant in one of the books they brought along. Soon they were out of pickles, one of them has to poop, and there’s a mosquito buzzing around. They head back to the house, tell their father about their adventure, and watch a movie all together.

There is something entirely lovely about this quiet book. Any child who has camped in the backyard will see themselves here. From the little drama of the ant in the book to the pickles to the need to suddenly return home, each element is so clear, so child centered, so realistic. The strong relationship the children have with their father is another highlight of the book. The illustrations have a supporting quiet simplicity to them and yet the busyness and clutter that also accompanies childhood.

A charmer of a picture book that is recommended reading at your next camp out in the backyard. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Koko and Bo by Lisen Adbage

Koko and Bo by Lisen Adbage (9781592702589)

Koko is always saying “I don’t want to” to her caregiver Bo. Over and over again, Koko refuses to cooperate. She stays in the park alone because she doesn’t want to leave. She doesn’t want to go to bed, but eventually sees how cozy it is. She doesn’t want to wake up in the morning and almost misses breakfast. Each time, Bo allows Koko to decide and to live with the results of her decision. In the end of the book, Bo turns the table a little bit on Koko and uses her phrase back at her.

Like her sister’s book, there is a beautiful tone throughout this picture book. The playfulness and love shines on the pages, gently demonstrating a way of parenting a child who is going through a contrary phase. Both characters are wonderfully depicted, each of them dancing along gender lines in a natural and open way.

Another charmer of a picture book just right for bedtime, even if someone doesn’t want to read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Both books provided by Enchanted Lion for review.

 

Review: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (9781626724457)

Based on the author’s own childhood experiences, this graphic novel looks at the perils of summer camp. Vera has always wanted to go to summer camp like the other girls in her class. But she knows that her life is very different from theirs. Just look at her disaster of a sleepover birthday party and the way that her Russian family approach scared off the other girls. But then Vera finds the perfect summer camp, a Russian camp where the girls should be just like her! She drags her younger brother along too and just knows that this will be the best experience ever. But when she discovers that the girls she has to share a tent with are five years older that she is, that there is no electricity and no running water, Vera finds herself feeling just the way she always does, not fitting in and unsure she’s going to survive.

Brosgol is such a gifted book creator, moving skillfully from picture book to graphic novel. She has a wonderful twisted sense of humor in all of her work that marks it as uniquely hers. Here she beautifully creates a story that rings with truth, about not fitting in even in the place you should fit in the best, of not finding your place, and then eventually of finding it in an unlikely place but only after you accept that you are different. It’s a lovely package of a book, showing that being yourself is all you can do.

Brosgol’s art captures the humor as well. The book is done in a palette of green and black, mimicking the natural setting but also quickly moving from darkness to light. Vera herself is a great character, with her huge glasses and limitless hope that things will improve.

A wonderful middle grade graphic novel just right for summer. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

 

Me and You and the Red Canoe by Jean E. Pendziwol

Me and You and the Red Canoe by Jean E Pendziwol

Me and You and the Red Canoe by Jean E. Pendziwol, illustrated by Phil (9781554988471, Amazon)

In this incredible poetic picture book, two children wake up in their tents on the shore of a Canadian lake. Quietly, after drinking some hot chocolate, they head out onto the water with their fishing tackle and rods in a red canoe. Paddling quietly through the water, they see a moose in the shallows, a beaver repairing its home, and hear a chattering squirrel. As the sun rises the light changes and they see an eagle flying and an eagle’s nest. The children start to fish, battling and landing a trout before heading back to the campsite. The morning continued with fish for breakfast for everyone.

Pendziwol is a gifted writer. Her verse bring the Canadian wilderness to life with all of the creatures going about their morning business, the silence of the lake and the wonder of it all. The fishing is a dynamic contrast to the quiet of the morning, the battle with the trout and the final win. It punctuates the book much like the appearance of the animals do, in little bits of delight. Her poetry flows much like the water on the lake, clean and clear, quiet but not ever dull. It invites readers into exploration of their own in canoes and on lakes.

The illustrations by Phil are rough and rustic. They are painted on wood with nail holes and cracks running straight through the pictures. These illustrations suit the entire book perfectly, creating a feeling of natural warmth and timelessness.

A winning picture book for those spending their summers on lakes or those who only dream of it. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence (9781626722804, Amazon)

Avani’s father has signed her up for Flower Scouts so that she can make friends in her new town. But all of the other girls are interested only in talking about makeup and boys. Then Avani is accidentally teleported into space by an alien named Mabel, who is working on her own badges for her scout troop. Being a Star Scout like Mabel is a whole lot more interesting than being a Flower Scout, so Avani starts joining them instead of her earth-bound scouts. As Avani learns to build robots, teleport things, drive space ships, and race jetpacks, she finds a place where she fits in. Now she just needs to get her father to sign off on a permission slip for her to go to Camp Andromeda for a week!

This friendly science fiction graphic novel is filled with humor and lots of action. Avani is a main character of color with her Indian heritage that plays a role throughout the graphic novel in things like language and food. She is game for the entire adventure, allowing herself to try new things, push herself to learn and even form a real rivalry with another troop of scouts.

The art is playful and fun with the dialogue working well to move the book forward at a fast pace that will please young readers. There is lots of action, plenty of space exploration and even camp pranks and jokes. The pleasure is in seeing camping tropes used on an asteroid by alien creatures.

Funny and warm, this graphic novel has strong STEM overtones and even a few poop jokes. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

 

Review: Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

flashlight

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

Released August 12, 2014.

The author of the fantastic Inside Outside returns with another wordless book featuring the same little boy.  Here the boy is outside in a tent at night and uses his flashlight to explore.  As he moves around, his flashlight shows white and color against the deep black and greys of the rest of the scene.  He locates his lost yellow boot, finds different animals out at night, sees plants and fish, and finds an apple to eat.  But then he trips and his flashlight goes flying until it is found by a raccoon who uses it to show the boy himself in the beam.  Then all of the animals get a turn with the flashlight until they lead the boy back to his tent.

I adore this book.  It is so simple with the pitch blackness of the page, the grey lines that show the characters and nature, and then that surprising and revealing beam of light that cuts a swath through the darkness.  One reason it works so well is that the rest of the page is not complete darkness, instead you get a feel of the woods around and the animals, but when the light does shine on them even more is shown. 

Boyd uses small cutouts on the page to great effect.  They reveal dens, flowers, small touches.  In their own subtle way, they too shine a light of attention on even smaller components of the illustrations.  They are a subtle but important part of the book.

Beautiful, dark and mysterious, this picture book is a wordless story of exploration and wonder.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping by Melanie Watt

scaredy squirrel goes camping

Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping by Melanie Watt

Scaredy Squirrel is back!  This time he wants to stay far away from camping outside, much happier to watch a TV show ABOUT camping.  Unfortunately though, he needs to plug his TV in for it to work.  So he has to find an electrical outlet which means heading outside and into the campground.  As always, Scaredy plans his trip carefully.  He lists what he is scared of, packs important survival supplies, picks out a wilderness outfit to keep himself safe from things like nasty odors and bugs, and has a map of his mission timed to the minute.  But things do not go as planned, showing Scaredy that sometimes it’s not about the plan itself but the journey on which it takes you.

Watt has a wonderful comedic timing that she displays in all of her Scaredy Squirrel and Chester books.  It is all about those moments of hesitation that make the humor all the more funny.  Scaredy is a great character with his obsessive planning and worrying.  Many children will see themselves in Scaredy and also be able to see the humor as well.  As always, the illustrations are clear, clean and add to the fun.

Another great book in a strong series, this one is perfectly timed for spring and summer camp outs.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.