Sandcastle by Einat Tsarfati

Sandcastle by Einat Tsarfati (9781536211436)

The little girl who narrates the story loves to build sandcastles. She doesn’t just build regular ones though, she builds huge and elaborate creations. It has turrets and a moat. Inside are curving staircases and large windows. Soon the sandcastle brings kings and queens from around the world to visit. The royalty loved the castle, particularly the endless supply of ice cream. But the next morning, troubles started as the food got sand in it. The next day, the knights got sand their armor. The plants in the greenhouse started to wilt because they were not meant to grow in pure sand. Everything was being spoiled by the sand: locks wouldn’t open, baths were sandy, and the beds were itchy. Everyone was angry. So that’s when the little girl created one more thing out of sand: a sand ball to have a sandy fight. But suddenly, the waves came and washed everyone out to sea, the sandcastle and all. There was just one thing left to do: build a sandcastle.

This delight of a summer read captures the wonderful tales that children making sandcastles tell themselves as they build. Their creations may not be as grand and large as this one, certainly not big enough to enter, but they will recognize their own visions of grandeur and the marvel of creating a castle of their own. The entire book is wry and funny, from the variety of royalty who visit to the various complaints that living in a sandcastle creates. When the water finally rushes in, there is a moment of contentment in a job fully completed. And then started again.

The illustrations are done digitally and have a sharp crispness to them. The first pages are filled with others crowding the beach and are a joy to explore visually. That then makes way to the opportunity of building a sandcastle near the water and the marvelous details provided there.

A funny sun-drenched sandy delight. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

Review: The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker

The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker

The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker, illustrated by Mark Pett (9781419725746)

The very last castle stands in the middle of a small town. No one ever goes into the castle and no one ever comes out. A single guard looks out from the tower. The townspeople can hear noises coming from the castle. Some think it might be monsters, others think it could be giants or snakes. Ibb is a girl who lives in the town and thinks about the castle a lot. One day, she gathers her courage and knocks on the huge castle door, but no one answers and she hears a terrible hiss. Soon afterward, Ibb gets an invitation to appear at the castle gate on Sunday. Ibb goes to the castle and is let inside where she discovers the source of the noises and forms a new connection with the man who lives there.

Jonker’s first picture book is impressive. He uses a traditional picture book tone here built on wonder and curiosity. The incorporation of the various noises that emanate from the castle is a very nice touch, making the book all the more fun to share aloud. His writing is focused and tight and the story can be read both as a straightforward tale but also as an allegory for the walls we build in our lives.

Pett creates a winning young heroine for readers, someone who firmly roots this book in the modern age with her backpack and school days. The juxtaposition between the ancient castle and the young girl works particularly well. The art is playful and the reveal of the interior of the castle is worth the suspense.

A picture book worth exploring. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.

Bloom by Doreen Cronin

Bloom by Doreen Cronin

Bloom by Doreen Cronin and David Small (InfoSoup)

Bloom was a fairy who dealt in dirt and plants. She could spin sand into glass and turn small amounts of water into rivers. She lived in a glass kingdom and as the years passed, the kingdom’s inhabitants only saw the mess that Bloom left behind with her mud and not the way that she helped. Bloom finally left and went to live in the forest. More years passed and the glass kingdom started to fall into disrepair. The king remembered the powerful fairy and went to seek her help, because such a creature could only be asked by a monarch. But when Bloom offered the king to save his kingdom with mud, the king stormed off. The queen tried too with similar effect. Finally, they decided that they must send someone ordinary to ask Bloom for help and so Genevieve was selected. It will take a girl working with a fairy to save the kingdom, but even more it will take getting dirty along the way.

Cronin has created a story that is surprising and delightful. This is a fairy tale where girls save the day rather than being rescued by princes. It reads like a traditional fairy tale but with a feminist viewpoint that is not overplayed at all. There is also a beautiful attitude about getting your hands dirty and the fact that hard work is the way to solve problems along with working together.

Small’s illustrations are playful with delicate lines that swoop on the page. They are alive with action, particularly when Bloom is on the page. Small captures the delight of mud and getting dirty, the connection of the two girls, and the efforts that it takes to rebuild a kingdom even with magic. I must also mention the text design, which makes the book a joy to read aloud, creating real feeling around words like MUD and DIRT.

A feminist and intelligent fairy tale just right for modern children. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.

 

The Knights Before Christmas by Joan Holub

The Knights Before Christmas by Joan Holub

The Knights Before Christmas by Joan Holub, illustratead by Scott Magoon (InfoSoup)

Three knights are guarding the castle when suddenly out on the drawbridge there arose a clatter! Outside there is a red-and-white knight with his eight dragons who is trying to get inside the castle. He asks where the chimney is, but castles don’t have a chimney, so Santa has to go to extreme measures to get gifts to these three knights. Meanwhile the knights try to defend the castle but take the instructions a bit too literally. Santa does not give up, deciding to launch the presents at the castle using a flexible pine tree. The knights successfully defend the castle from this barrage of cookies, candy and gifts. Then they merrily bring it all indoors and set up their holiday celebration. Santa has won too!

This is such a clever play on Twas a Night Before Christmas. At first I wondered if it would work, but the author manages to pay homage to the traditional story but also strike out on her own and make a very enjoyable holiday tale. The rhythm and feel of the original story is still here, but this new version does not feel bound by it. Rather it launches the story forward and gives the author room to play. Children will love these three confused knights and their battle against the holiday.

Magoon’s art is digitally done, offering a feeling of plenty of texture and even collage. The three knights are unique from one another and Santa himself is unmistakable in his red and white costume. Each image is filled with humor. Make sure to take time to read the asides too as they add to the merriment.

A modern twist on a traditional poem, this is a welcome new version for fans of knights and castles. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Company.

Review: Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon (InfoSoup)

The creator of Dragonbreath and Hamster Princess has an illustrated novel filled with sorcery, witches, magic and minions. The minions of Castle Hangnail are worried. If they don’t find a witch, wizard, sorceress or vampire to run the castle, it will be decommissioned and sold off by the Board of Magic. But the minions did not expect a twelve-year-old girl to show up on their doorstep, especially one that does not seem as wicked a witch as she should. Molly sets out to prove herself, taking on the list of requirements set by the Board of Magic. She is a natural witch and uses her magic to successfully turn a donkey into a dragon, though the spell does last a lot longer than expected. She also befriends the moles in the garden, vanquishes weeds alongside a local gardener, and tries to find a solution to the castle’s failing plumbing. But despite her success, Molly has been lying all along and her lies are about to tumble down around her and may have her leaving Castle Hangnail for good (or evil).

This novel works exceptionally well. Vernon captures a diverse set of characters. There is the guardian of the castle who is doubtful about Molly from the start, the animated suit of armor who would fight anyone who threatens the castle except that his knees seize up, Pins the animated fabric doll who is a great tailor, and his pet goldfish who suffers from being a hypochondriac. Against this wild cast Molly is refreshingly normal. She’s a girl who is not squeamish about bats or insects, enjoying that liking them counts as being wicked. She is clever in her solutions to the list of requirements and figures out how to use her uneducated power to accomplish great things.

The book is also illustrated, adding to the delight for the reader. There are just enough illustrations to have the book still be a novel but also to break up the blocks of text very nicely for young readers. Readers will enjoy seeing what Pins looks like, what a dragon-donkey appears as, and the little bat who is sent to stay with Molly because he likes being awake during the day. All of this adds to the friendly and fascinating menagerie of characters throughout the book, with Molly the wicked witch being the foil for all of it.

Filled with humor and a strong sense of home, this fantasy novel for children has enough action and magic to win the day. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.