Mr. Scruff by Simon James (9781536209358)
Explore the bond of dogs and their owners in this funny picture book. All of the dogs’ names rhyme with their owners. There is Polly and Molly. Eric belongs to Derek. But Mr. Scruff, well he has no one. He’s in a cage waiting to be adopted. Mick has Rick. There is Lawrence and Florence. When Jim comes to pick a dog, he likes Mr. Scruff and Mr. Scruff likes him too! But Mr. Scruff is big and Jim is small. Mr. Scruff is old and Jim is young. None of that matters though to a boy and his new dog. But wait, who is this entering the dog adoption center? It’s Mr. Gruff! What will happen now?
James keeps this picture book oh so simple. He fills it with a collection of dogs and their owners. And yes, everyone’s names rhyme which makes it a galloping read. There are wonderful moments of hesitation built into the text, where the lack of rhyme gives room to pause and wonder a bit. Masterful and playful. The watercolor illustrations have loose lines and are filled with dogs of all breeds. There is a sense of loneliness in the adoption center, but not neglect at all.
This one rhymes its way into your heart. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
Spencer’s New Pet by Jessie Sima (9781534418776
A boy leaves a circus tent with a pet dog made from a red balloon. The dog walks on a leash, does tricks, and begs for treats. The two read books and sleep together, the dog snuggled under the covers. When they head to the vet, the boy notices a sharp quill on a hedgehog in the waiting room and quickly moves away. The boy and dog head to the park where the dog plays with the other dogs, chasing a Frisbee, but they leave when the boy notices the sharp teeth of a large dog. The wind catches the dog, carrying him through the park and into a birthday party. The party is full of potential threats to a balloon, like burning candles and the pinata. When the dog gets lost in with other balloon animals though, the boy stops paying attention to sharp things. And that’s when the book gets all the more interesting!
Sima has created a book where one thinks they know what the story is, but it is something else entirely. The joy of discovering the real story will make readers demand to hear the book again and explore that new story fully. Sima’s book is wordless, the images done in grays and blacks with the red balloon dog serving as the only color on the page. There is a grand sense of drama throughout, as readers see the dangers alongside the boy.
Clever and with an ending that reinvents the entire book, this one is amazing. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
I Want a Dog by Jon Agee (9780525555469)
A little girl heads to the Happydale Animal Shelter to get a dog. The man there agrees that a dog makes an excellent pet, but keeps on offering the girl different animals. Perhaps an awesome anteater? A python? A baboon? Maybe a frog that barks and hides bones? Except frogs can’t do that. How about a lizard dressed up as a dog? It turns out that Happydale Animal Shelter doesn’t have a dog, so the man asks the girl why she wants a dog. Based on her list, he offers her a seal. And you know what? It’s just the right pet for her.
Agee has such a great way of incorporating the surreal with the normal in his books. In this one, we have the normal process of adopting a pet entirely sidetracked with wild animals that would make horrible pets. Readers will love seeing each of the interesting animals and not knowing what is coming next. Agee merrily breaks his series of animals with a dead goldfish and then with the final twist of the seal as the right pet. Agee’s art is his signature watercolor with thick black lines and subdued colors.
A great pick for dog storytimes, even if it doesn’t actually have a dog. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.
Stormy by Guojing (9781524771768)
The author of the award-winning The Only Child returns with another lovely picture book. In this wordless picture book done in graphic-novel format, a woman discovers a puppy sleeping under a bench at the top of a hill. When she tries to approach the dog, he runs away, returning to hide under the bench after she leaves. On her next visit, the woman brings a ball for the dog, then pretends to ignore him. He slowly moves out from behind the nearby tree and sniffs at the ball, picking it up but not returning to the woman. The third visit has the two of them beginning to play fetch together. This time, the dog follows the woman home, but she doesn’t see him. When a huge storm appears, she heads into the deluge to save him but he isn’t where she thinks he will be.
If you look at the lighting and beauty of that cover, you will have a sense of the incredible illustrations throughout this book. Guojing beautifully paces her story, showing the patience and time it takes to create a sense of safety and trust between the woman and the stray dog. There are achingly lonely moments at night, the dog alone, the dog with just his ball, the dog outside her window. Guojing gives those moments space in the book to just be there, haunting and lovely.
A great wordless picture book about building trust and finding a home. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade Books.
One Shoe, Two Shoes by Caryl Hart, illustrated by Edward Underwood (9781547600946)
With a clear nod to Dr. Seuss and his iconic Red Fish, Blue Fish, this picture book celebrates rhymes, colors and footwear. The book begins with the dog having one shoe and the human having one shoe, then the two shoes are worn for a walk. There are different colored shoes, knotted laces, cowboy boots, and much more. Then a little mouse makes an appearance near the shoes. Could it be that the shoe is a house for a mouse? How many mice? The counting begins and eventually ends at ten. The dog investigates the mice for awhile but then heads out on another walk after fetching some shoes.
Hart’s text is simple with a bouncy rhyme that keeps the book merry. The pace is fast and jaunty, with plenty of action words along the way to make the book wonderfully playful. The concepts of colors and counting are nicely woven into the story. The circular feel of the book beginning and ending with shoes and walks makes for a book that feels complete.
The illustrations are done in a modern flat style in pencil, ink and collage done with computer assistance. The images are large enough to use with a group and guessing games could be played along the way, matching the shoes with their names, counting the mice (who tend to hide) and finding colors.
A happy book about counting and colors. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.
The Peculiar Pig by Joy Steuerwald (9780399548871)
Penny is an unusual pig, since she’s actually a dachshund puppy. She doesn’t get bigger like her pig siblings, instead she gets longer. She’s different in other ways too, like her bark compared to their oinks. But her mother pig loves her just the same as her litter mates. When the piglets root in the mud, Penny digs with her paws instead. Penny also prefers to practice her barking instead of playing in mud puddles. Her piglet siblings teased her about how different she is, but Penny just kept being herself. Then one day, a snake appeared in the barnyard and suddenly Penny started growling and barking. She chased that snake away! Her own unique abilities saved the day.
Steuerwald has written a lovely little picture book about the value of being yourself and your own peculiar traits being your strengths. She nicely skirts the impact of bullying, keeping the piglets from being too aggressive, instead focusing on Penny and her personal gifts. The writing and story is told briskly and with a directness that will work well with small children.
The artwork is particularly captivating with each of the pigs unique from one another as well as from Penny, of course. The small brown dog stands out on the page against the pink and black piglets. The bright eyes and smiling mouths of the different animals make for a happy tone throughout the book.
Embrace your differences with this neat little picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Your Turn, Adrian by Helena Oberg, illustrated by Kristin Lidstrom, translated by Eva Apelqvist (9781773061498)
Adrian doesn’t fit in at school. Bullied by some of the kids in the schoolyard, he spends his time in class hoping not to be called on. When he is, his heart pounds and his mind goes blank. He can’t answer even the easiest of questions out loud. He spends lunch alone and his recess dangling from tree branches. On his way home, he does head stands and walks on his hands. At home, his father works early and his mother works late, Then Adrian meets Heidi, a large wolfhound, who bonds with him immediately. The two of them spend all of their time together, she even goes with him to school. With Heidi at his side, Adrian doesn’t need to worry about bullies and he can focus in class and answer questions. But Heidi was someone else’s dog, and eventually Heidi found her owner again. Adrian was left alone again, missing Heidi dreadfully. Until Heidi found him again too. Adrian got to meet Heidi’s owner, and discovered a world of tightropes and performances.
This unique and fascinating book explores the life of a lonely boy who is different than the other children. He is quiet, unpopular and prone to anxiety, and yet he is also brave as he swings from tree branches and does hand stands on ledges. The text in the book is minimal with many of the pages showing only the illustrations and not having any words on them. The words often downplay the emotions that Adrian is feeling, though after he loses Heidi, his grief is palpable in both words and illustrations.
The illustrations are truly the heart of the book. They move from multi-paneled pencil drawings to full two-page paintings. The pencil drawings show Adrian’s everyday life while the large illustrations capture his emotions with a lush clarity. The small moments captured in Adrian’s day make up his life, one after another, small and yet also meaningful.
An incredibly moving graphic novel that invites readers to see beyond a person’s surface. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.
Good Boy by Sergio Ruzzier (9781481499064)
This is a story of a boy and his dog. It starts simply enough with the boy issuing commands and the dog obeying. He sits, rolls over, jumps, fetches and… juggles! Then the dog makes them a meal and cleans the house. The two of them head outside where the commands become more like requests to have fun together and the pair head off on an adventure. It leads them to build a boat, find an island, build a rocket and then leave earth. They come to a lovely planet where they make new friends but soon miss home. Returning back, the two get ready for bed together and finally fall asleep side-by-side.
Ruzzier cleverly turns the relationship of owner and pet on its head in the book. He begins the book with the more traditional roles and then steadily makes their relationship one of equals and friends. By the end, the tone is entirely different from the beginning, something that is very impressive given that there are only one or two words on each page of the book. It is a beautifully structured book and very intelligently designed.
Ruzzier’s illustrations have his unique feel with surreal landscapes filled with sherbet-colored hills and a green ocean. The illustrations have a friendly cartoon style but also a sophistication that one expects from a book by Ruzzier.
A smart look at a boy and his dog and their adventures together. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (9781626720664)
In her follow-up to Green, Seeger once again explore all aspects of a single color. With blue, there are baby blue blankets, blue berries, ocean waves, blue skies, and deep night blues. Blues can also feel different from one another. Some can be silly, others stormy and still others icy cold. Told through the lens of a boy and his dog, the book explores different seasons and the blues that accompany their days together.
I must say that this book cannot be summarized easily at all. The text is entirely simple, just naming each color of blue and each mood being depicted. It is the illustrations that are awe-inspiring. They use a cut-out mechanism to lead from one blue to the next, one image to the next, connecting each image to the next.
This is done by a master though, the cutout sections to surprising and unique. I found myself running my fingers over the page to find the holes in the page because they are not obvious at all. Then I would flip back and forth, back and forth to see how the images somehow incorporated those cut areas flawlessly. Even when I knew where to look they disappeared into the images. And the images are grand, beautiful and full of depth. They invite readers into this world of blue.
A picture book to marvel at. Appropriate for ages 1-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.