Madame Badobedah by Sophie Dahl, illustrated by Lauren O’Hara (9781536210224)
Mabel lives at the Mermaid Hotel near the sea where she goes on many adventures without shoes. When a strange new guest arrives at the hotel, Mabel becomes a spy to try to figure out the story of the woman she dubs Madame Badobedah. The lady comes with her pet tortoise and lots of bags and trunks that could be filled with anything, including stolen treasure. After watching her for awhile, Mabel decides that the woman must be a supervillian who is hiding out at Mermaid Hotel. When Mabel’s spy cover is blown, Madame Badobedah invites her into her room for tea. Soon the two are traveling on imaginary adventures together that feature pirates and mermaids, a partnership of young and old.
This picture book has more text than many, but please don’t let that stop you! Dahl’s writing is sharp and witty, offering exactly the right amount of detail to conjure up the hotel fully and craft interesting characters who are fully realized. Told in Mabel’s voice, the book has the feel of a vintage book but with a modern sensibility as well. Filled with creativity and imagination, the stories Mabel conjures are fascinating and the journeys the two kindred spirits share are marvelous.
The illustrations by O’Hara capture the vivid red hair of Madame Badobedah, the wonders of the hotel, and intrepid Mabel on her many adventures. Real life swirls effectively with the imaginary worlds on the page in both text and illustrations.
An adventure worth taking with two great partners. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Walker Books.
Unstoppable by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laura Park (9781452165042)
Beginning with almost wordless panels of a cat jumping at both a crab and a crow, this book quickly transforms into a picture book that is made to share aloud. Crab and Crow join forces to be able to both fly and pinch the cat with claws. They are unstoppable now! But then they both thought about being able to swim too, so they talked to a turtle and transformed into something even more unstoppable. When an angry bear tries to attack them, they invite him to join in too. Upon finding out that forest demolition is what is making the bear angry though, they have to take action and become truly unstoppable!
As always Rex delights and surprises with his story lines. While this seems like a straight forward cumulative story at first, it transforms much like the animals themselves into something far more interesting by the end. Rex injects the tale with plenty of humor as the creatures come up with a variety of mash-up names for each of their combinations. The refrain of unstoppable will be a great way to get audiences participating in the book too.
Park’s illustrations are crisp and clear, bright colors against a white background. They will work particularly well with a group, adding even more to the readaloud appeal of the title.
Funny, surprising and empowering. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.
What Will These Hands Make? By Nikki McClure (9781419725760)
A grandmother’s special birthday party brings together an entire community in this picture book. Celebrating what can be done with one’s hands and created for another person, this book looks at the power of using hands for kindness and creativity. An old sweater is made into a fish-shaped pillow, hands make the six-tier birthday cake, a blanket is woven, a wooden box whittled, bread is baked, and children are cared for. The party is prepared for by the family and community, the event is held, and the book closes with the quiet afterwards.
McClure excels in all of her books in making small moments meaningful and impactful. Here, she does exactly that with making things with one’s hands. In her note at the end, she points out that the art for her books is done entirely by hand by cutting paper with an exacto knife. Her poetic text invites readers to think about all the ways they can use their hands to create something too. Her art is as lovely as always, remarkable in that it is cut paper creating the faces of characters and their world. She uses selective colors to create special moments like the grandmother’s white hair, the red sweater, and the deep browns of wood. The entire book is done on darker paper that evokes brown paper bags and wholegrain bread.
Another delight of a book from a master artist. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.
The Imaginaries by Emily Winfield Martin (9780375974328)
Told in fragments of stories with stirring paintings to accompany them, this book is like a series of gems on a necklace, each discrete and beautiful. Just like the necklace, they also work together side-by-side to create something larger than themselves. There are glimpses of large sea creatures. A girl journeys in the forest, but she is not alone. Cats and birds, flowers and lions appear on the pages. There are masks to conceal and masks to reveal. There are bats that soar and an alligator to ride.
Each image is paired with writing on a literal scrap of paper. Torn from envelopes, carefully folden, sometimes corrected, on the backs of postcards, each one is different and fascinating. Take those lines from untold stories and pair them with images that create something incredibly moving, bright glimpses into one story and then the next. These are tales you long to be completed, where girls perch on the moon and libraries are filled with music and animals. It is to Martin’s credit that they feel like a whole piece rather than transient images and words set side-by-side. They form a universe of stories to linger in.
The illustrations are whimsical and beautiful. The effect is rather like looking into a series of windows and being able to linger with a story for just a moment before moving on. There are repeating themes of companionship, concealment and surprise on the pages, each captured in a painting that is lush and carefully done.
A very unusual book and one that is at times almost surreal, this is one to celebrate. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House.
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.
Hum and Swish by Matt Myers (9780823442867)
Jamie spends her time at the edge of the quiet beach near the waves. She is hard at work making something, but she isn’t sure what quite yet. People walk past and ask her pesky questions, but Jamie just wants to be alone with the swish of the waves and her own humming as she works. Then someone else comes to the edge of the water. She has a lot of things along with her and sets up an easel to paint. She starts to work, and Jamie asks her what she is making but the painter isn’t sure yet. Jamie agrees. The two work side-by-side silently with only the hum and swish of their work making noise. Still, they are clearly friends. Finally, Jamie is done with her sandcastle, bridge and creatures made of rocks and objects. The painter is done too and they share their work with one another.
Myers captures the intensity of a young artist who just wants to be left alone to quietly work on their project. The importance of silence and space to think and be creative is emphasized here, along with the need to not explain during the creative process. The simple and limited text in the book is used very successfully to show Jamie’s brisk responses to those who ask her questions and also her connection to the ocean and her kindred spirit.
Myers, who has illustrated several picture books previously, shows great skill in his illustrations here. From the images of Jamie and the ocean together in their isolation to the lovely connection she forms with the painter. There is a strong sense of place, of art and of introversion on the page that is very welcome.
A lovely look at creating art and finding space to be quiet. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.
Imagine by Raul Colon (9781481462730)
This wordless picture book invites readers to be inspired by fine art in a playful yet profound way. A boy skateboards over to the Museum of Modern Art. He views several paintings that make him stop and look. Soon the paintings have come to life with the boy entering the scene and the characters in the paintings entering the real world. Together they all traverse New York City and have several seminal experiences together. They climb the Statue of Liberty, ride the Cyclone, take the subway, and even stop for a hotdog. After a visit to Central Park, they return to the museum. On his way home, the boy is inspired to create a mural on a blank wall near his home, inspired by the three paintings.
Don’t miss Colon’s Author’s Note at the end of the book where he speaks to the power of fine art to inspire young artists. Colon saw master artworks later in his life and was still inspired by them, yet he wonders what impact seeing them as a child would have had. Colon has created a picture book that is a tribute to the power of art and the ability for it to inspire creativity and new ways of thinking. It is also a tribute to New York City as they tour around the sights and enjoy a day on the town.
In a wordless picture book, the onus is on the art to carry the entire book. As always, Colon’s art is inspiring itself. His use of texture through lines and softening by using dots makes his work unique in the picture book world. His illustrations glow with light, whether they are interior images or out in Central Park.
An exceptional wordless picture book, this one is a must-have for libraries. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (9781524719371)
An entire neighborhood of children steadily join together into one epic summer of fantasy fun built entirely out of cardboard. The book begins with The Sorceress, a boy who finds great power and identity in an evil sorceress character who uses magic and a sibling minions to try to take over the world. She is battled by the girl next door who dresses as a knight with a large sword to save the world. As more children join in, they take on characters who speak to what they need in their lives and to who they are deep inside. There are roaring creatures, a rogue, a prince, a huntress, and many more. Even the neighborhood bully ends up joining in as part of the epic final battle of summer.
Filled to the brim with diverse characters, this graphic novel is something very special. There are characters of different races and cultures, and LGBTQ characters. Written by several different authors who all drew on parts of their own childhood, the book speaks in a variety of voices that really feel like a neighborhood of children. There is a real spark here that demands creative thinking by the reader, looks beyond the cardboard and tape and sees the magic of imagination happening.
The art is bright and colorful, filled with family dynamics that are clearly felt deeply by the children in the book. Some stories like The Sorceress are told mostly in images while others have speech bubbles. This book embraces the fantasy motif and has a dynamic mix of superhero and classic fantasy elements that come together into one great adventure.
This one belongs in a every public library. Make sure to have some boxes on hand to build your own castles and creations. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.)