Review: Night Animals by Gianna Marino

Night Animals by Gianna Marino

Night Animals by Gianna Marino (InfoSoup)

When Skunk walks by, he notices that Possum is hiding and asks why. She’s hiding from “the night animals” and hushes Skunk. The two hide together in a hollow tree until Skunk hears Wolf coming. Wolf shouts for help and says that something big is chasing him. Meanwhile Skunk has gotten alarmed and released his scent which has Possum fainting. Bear arrives in a panic saying that something HUGE is following him! It must be a night animal. Logic is restored by a little bat who informs all of the animals that THEY are the night animals. So what could they be afraid of? You will see!

Marino captures the hectic pace of panic neatly in this picture book. It builds from one animal to the next until it reads at almost breakneck speed as the animals grow in both size and number. The text is very simple and lends itself to lots of voices and humor when read aloud. Children may realize that all of these are nocturnal animals right away, but the final twist of the book will have even those clued into the lack of reason for any panic laughing.

The illustrations add so much to this book. With backgrounds of the darkest black, the animals pop on the page with their light coloring. Speaking in speech bubbles, they are funny and frightened. The addition of Skunk’s overuse of his scent makes for an even funnier read, particularly with it being Possum who is always hit with it.

Funny and a delight to read aloud, this picture book is ideal for sleepovers and bedtime reading, particularly if done by flashlight. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking Books for Young Readers.

Review: Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett

Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett

Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett (InfoSoup)

Orion is scared of a lot of things thanks to his big imagination, but the thing that he is most frightened of is the dark. He hates bedtime and spends the night watching for monsters and listening for scary noises. One night, he is so upset that he shouts at the dark to just go away! That’s when the Dark outside his window changed and became alive. It entered his room and Orion cautiously greeted him. Then the Dark invited Orion along on an adventure. First, the two explored the darkest and most frightening parts of Orion’s house together and it turned out that those places were a lot of fun. They faced the scary sounds in the darkness together and found out that they weren’t that frightening after all. Finally, they headed out into the darkest place of all, the night sky and there Orion discovered that not only wasn’t he scared of the Dark anymore, but they had become the best of friends.

Yarlett has written a dynamic picture book that does a lot to soothe fear of the dark. First, it turns the dark into a character who is warm, friendly and filled with stars. He’s also rounded and rather like a sparkling stuffed animal. There is certainly nothing to fear there. Then as they explore the dark places and noises together, readers and Orion realize that there is nothing to be afraid of there either. The ending of the book as they fly up into the night is magical and marvelous, offering another way to see the night.

The illustrations are done with plenty of humor. The paper switches as Orion thinks of things or plans to lined paper that makes it more like a school assignment. His ideas also show up in childlike crayon, including the fierce monsters that he imagines are in the closet. A couple of the pages have Dark’s arm as part of them, moving the arm makes the Dark shake hands with Orion, and really allows the Dark to greet the reader too.

Lovely illustrations that embrace the darkness of night combine with strong storytelling in this picture book that will have everyone wishing they too could make friends with the Dark. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

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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: The Dark by Lemony Snicket

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The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Laszlo is scared of the dark.  You know, that darkness that is always there, hiding in corners and behind the shower curtain, and especially the dark that lives down in the basement.  At night the dark would spread around the entire old creaky house and all of its staircases, but in the day it retreated to the basement.  Laszlo would visit the dark every morning, from the top of the steps into the black basement.  He would say hi, thinking that maybe then the dark wouldn’t feel the need to visit him in his room at night anymore.  But that didn’t work, the dark still came at night.  Luckily Laszlo slept with a flashlight on his pillow and a nightlight on the wall, so the dark stayed away.  That is until one night when his nightlight burned out and the dark started talking to Laszlo.

I can’t think of a stronger author and illustrator match than this one.  Snicket turns on the creep factor in this book in a way that will have children leaning in closer, cuddling tighter, and listening to every single word.  There are the noises of the house, the scary basement, and the series of staircases.  But mostly there is the darkness itself, a second character in the book and written about with almost poetic phrasing.  This is one beautifully written book.

Klassen plays so much with light and shadow here.  He uses the darkness beautifully as both a frame for his images but also as the thick lines of objects.  Then there are the pictures of the cool daylight and the fierce warmth of the nightlight that burns almost like a flame.  This is one beautifully illustrated book.

One of my favorite picture books of the year, this book reads aloud perfectly, the tension growing and growing until it’s almost explosive.  One can almost hear the dark chuckling along.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Insomniacs by Karina Wolf

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The Insomniacs by Karina Wolf, illustrated by the Brothers Hilts

When Mrs. Insomniac gets a new job, the family moves 12 time zones to their new home.  They had been a regular day-light family, but in the new place they found it hard to stay awake in the day and fall asleep at night.  They tried everything from warm milk to meditation, but nothing worked.  Looking out of their dark windows, they discovered that there were many nocturnal animals out there.  There were bats, bears, and owls.  So the family decided to spend their awake time in the darkness.  They had breakfast at dusk, grew moonlight cactuses as a garden, studied the stars and attended night school.  They are a happy night-time family.

Wolf has created a gorgeous tribute to the wonders of the night here with a delight of a strange family as the lens.  There are such lovely little moments like watching “the fishes nipping at the surface of the sea: when the family goes moonbathing.  The family adventures out and finds the flower market open and the bakeries bustling.  It makes one want to head out in the darkness and see what is happening in your community.  There is also a memorable tribute to the dark side of nature and nocturnal animals that removes the scare and makes the entire nighttime welcoming.

The Brothers Hilts’ illustrations glow with the light of the moon and play darkness upon darkness.  The entire book is shadowy, but somehow also cheery and dazzling.  Darkness is celebrated in all of its black and blue beauty.

A treat of a picture book, this is a quirky winner that will have everyone staying up well past their bedtimes.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.