The Barnabus Project by The Fan Brothers

The Barnabus Project by The Fan Brothers (9780735263260)

Barnabus is a tiny creature who is half elephant and half mouse. He lives in the secret lab under Perfect Pets. The lab was where they made perfect pets, but they also had a section where they housed the creatures they made who were not quite perfect. That’s where Barnabus lived, in the Failed Projects section along with all the other imperfect pets. When the Green Suits came in and marked their glass housings with “FAIL,” Barnabus and the others found out they were being recycled. Barnabus was determined to escape, though the others thought it was impossible. He longed to see the world outside the lab. When Barnabus got himself free, he freed all of the other failed creatures. Together they made their way through the ducts. When they discovered one creature at the center of the lab who was still trapped, it was time to decide whether to save themselves or risk it all.

This is the first time that all three Fan brothers have worked on a book together. If they make things this great as a team, they should keep on working with one another. This book reads like a Pixar cartoon, full of heart and adventure and one tiny hero. Readers will fall hard for Barnabus, the unlikely mix of a mouse and elephant who is marvelously defiant and brave despite his small size. The story is particularly well done. It deals with deep issues such as what perfection is and what makes someone a “fail.” The story arc is strong and interesting with plenty of action and humor.

The art is phenomenal. It is colorful and full of small details that are fascinating to pore over. The differences between Barnabus and the “Perfect Pets” who are fuzzier and more colorful versions of himself are minute and everyone would want Barnabus on their side. The various creatures in the lab are interesting, some lovable, others squirmy, and some both.

A great picture book with a small hero sure to shatter your expectations. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Scary Book by Thierry Dedieu

Cover image for The Scary Book

The Scary Book by Thierry Dedieu (9783791374642)

This board book offers plenty of creepy shivers when you take a normal sort of already frightening creature and then extend the flap. This one is not for the littlest children, though it is in board book format. It’s preschoolers and elementary-aged children who will love the wild and scary nature of the flaps opening. You may think that a bat is already pretty scary, but extend its jaws and find how sharp and huge its teeth really are. The ghost is pretty blank until you lift its head higher and discover a skeleton and some bloody spurts underneath. The wolf has a jaw that opens wider and wider, displaying a skeletal Little Red Riding Hood inside!

The words take a firm back seat to the art in this bold book with each double-page spread filled with a solid-colored background that really lets the sinister art stand out. The book is a blend of silliness and scariness, with the first flap the most surprising as they all open much wider than readers expect. Expect a mix of giggles and gasps as children explore this one.

Not for the faint of heart, readers must take their own hands directly into the jaws of the beasts to see the surprises. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Prestel Junior.

Review: Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke

julias house for lost creatures

Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke

The author of Zita the Spacegirl has created his first picture book and it has all of the charm and zip one would expect.  Julia lives in a house carried on the back of a turtle.  They arrive on a quiet beach by the sea where Julia quickly settles in, but it is far too quiet.  So Julia makes a sign that says “Julia’s House for Lost Creatures.”  She didn’t have to wait long before something is at the door, and then more and more creatures.  Soon she has a house full of odd beasts, including a dripping troll, a patchwork cat, a dragon, a ghost, and a mermaid.  Things quickly get out of hand as they all make themselves at home.  Now Julia needs another plan, and maybe another sign or two.

Hatke’s jaunty protagonist is what makes this book work.  She moves quickly and with plenty of determination and is filled with ideas.  One can almost see her thinking on the page.  Perhaps the best part of the book is when she becomes overwhelmed and has to rethink.  The book has been galloping along and then pauses as Julia does, slowing to a pace that lets one catch their breath.  It’s a wonderfully done moment just like many others in the book.

Told very simply, the book relies nicely on the illustrations to show much of the action rather than the text explaining it.  This makes for a very readable picture book, but also one that is better for lap reading than for a group.  Listeners will want to look closely at the page even before the amazing creatures fill them.

An exceptional picture book debut, one hopes that Hatke keeps created both picture books and graphic novels for children.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

Review: Stardines by Jack Prelutsky


Stardines: Swim High across the Sky and Other Poems by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger

This poetry book takes the wit of Prelutsky and combines it with equally amazing illustrations.  Prelutsky tells of unusual creatures in his poems here.  He writes of creatures who are a mix of animal and inanimate objects.  For example, there are the Slobsters who are very messy lobsters who love being crude and dirty.  There are Plandas who are pandas that sit around and make elaborate plans but never do anything.  Tattlesnakes are snakes who are nosy and always tattling on others.  This menagerie of incredible creatures will be enjoyed by children who love puns and humor.

Prelutsky excels at creating poetry that both of interest to children but will also make them stretch their vocabulary a bit.  He throws in words like “slovenly,” “pretension” and even “lachrymose.”  Thanks to his rhythm and rhymes, these words slide by almost effortlessly and usually the definition can be figured out in the context.  He also has woven puns and humor into all of the poems, nicely creating creatures that speak more to the human condition than to the animal. 

It is Berger’s art that really makes this book an incredible read.  Thanks to her dioramas that show the creatures in collages and boxes, the book is a true exploration of the intriguing.  She has deftly incorporated pins and labels that make the illustrations look like lab specimens, but without hampering all of the action in the images by pinning down the animals themselves. 

Thrilling illustrations and superb children’s poetry create a poetry book that is wild, funny and a delight to read.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Greenwillow Books.