Review: Good Boy by Sergio Ruzzier

Good Boy by Sergio Ruzzier

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.

Review: Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

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.

Review: Stop, Go, Yes, No! by Mike Twohy

Stop, Go, Yes, No! by Mike Twohy

Stop, Go, Yes, No! by Mike Twohy (9780062469335)

The author of Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! brings his fast-paced dog to a new concept book this time. In this new title, opposites are the focus. A dog and cat character demonstrate each set of opposites. The cat is asleep, the dog is awake. A chase ensues when the dog wakes the cat up, sending then over and under, smiling and frowning, high and low, hiding and seeking. Along the way the cat gets wet, a mess is made, and finally a compromise is reluctantly agreed to.

Twohy has a great sense of dynamics in this picture book, creating moments of humor and hijinx while still giving readers a compelling story arc. He uses his art to tell the tale, the only words being the pairs of opposites that are shown on the page. The emotions of both the cat and dog are clear and add to the funny nature of the story. Expect plenty of giggles.

An outstanding opposites picture book. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from libray copy.

Review: Deadendia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele

Deadendia The Watcher's Test by Hamish Steele

Deadendia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele (9781910620472)

Barney has just gotten a job as the janitor at the Dead End theme park in the haunted house. His best friend Norma works there too. But Dead End is not just a haunted house, it’s much more a portal to literal hell. There are visiting demons, some of them friendly like Courtney who serves as an ambassador and others terrifyingly evil and powerful like Temeluchus. Temeluchus is the demon that Barney and Norma defeat in the early part of the book, who ends up possessing Pugsley, Barney’s dog. Pugsley gains magical powers and the ability to speak. Soon the three of them discover the dangers of running a portal to hell but also manage to work on their love lives along the way.

Steele has created one of the zaniest, twistiest and most demonic graphic novels around. The novel is a collection of his web comics and sometimes starting a new chapter is rather like starting a new story. That’s not a complaint, because it suits the spirit of the book but those looking for a more linear tale will find themselves confused at times. Just go with it!

The diversity here is very strongly represented. Barney is a transgender character and the book deals with this in an upfront way and also allows readers to see glimpses of Barney’s past. Perhaps the best part is the love storyline for Barney and Logs, though I also appreciate his friendship with Norma who is equally enjoyable, strong and multidimensional, sometimes literally.

A graphic novel for teens that has enough demons, laughter and romance to entice anyone. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies (9780062671271)

Evan, a fox, and his dog did everything together from taking rides in the truck to sharing ice cream. What they loved to do most of all was work in Evan’s large garden together. Evan was known for growing large vegetables, competing for the largest pumpkin. But when his dog died, Evan saw his garden as a bitter place. One day, he went out and smashed it into emptiness. But things grow in empty spots, weeds and brambles rose up. They matched Evan’s mood, so he cared for them. Soon his garden was prickly and grim, just like him. When a pumpkin vine came into the garden, Evan cared for it too because it had prickles. Just as the pumpkin turned orange and huge, Evan realized it was time for the fair. Evan found himself enjoying the fair, meeting old friends and eating treats. And the grand prize was just right to set his life and his garden on a new course.

This book is so poignant. Lies captures grief and loss vividly on the page, the bitterness of loss, the emptiness it leaves, and prickliness of emotions left behind. Evan the fox though is a gardener through and through, so he cared for those prickly things, those weeds, and allowed them to flourish. It is a perfect allegory for the process of grief, moving from anger to despair to sadness and finally to acceptance and looking to the future. The arc is beautifully shown.

The illustrations are exceptional. Done with marvelous small details, even Evan’s grief garden is depicted with care from small signs warning of poison to the fences of the garden made of pitchforks. The use of light and dark is done so well, as Evan looks out from the darkness of his home into the light of the garden and gets violently angry.

One of the top picture books of the year, this is a dead dog picture book worth reading. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

Review: Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo

Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo

Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Harry Bliss (9780763689797)

Released on September 4, 2018.

Rosie is a dog who lives with George. She gets lonely without any other dogs to play with. Still, George takes her on walks and that makes her less lonely. When George sees a dog in the clouds in the sky one day, he is inspired to take Rosie to the dog park. There are lots of dogs there, but Rosie isn’t sure how to make friends. She doesn’t like big Maurice who is too loud. She also doesn’t like Fifi with her sparkly collar and jumping around. But when Maurice plays too roughly with Fifi, Rosie knows just what to do. Soon all three dogs are learning to make friends and play together.

As always, DiCamillo’s storytelling is skilled and warm. She introduces us to a new heroine here, a little friendly dog who is just not quite sure how to make friends yet. Children will relate to the struggles to make new friends on a playground. The two very different dogs that Rosie meets are also a pleasure. One bumbling in his enthusiasm and the other yipping around for attention. Rosie remains firmly a dog throughout the story, not becoming overly anthropomorphized along the way.

The illustrations by Bliss give the book the feel of a graphic novel. They are multi framed and yet the dialogue is not in speech bubbles, so this is a mashup of a chapter book and a graphic novel that is very successful. It is partly the illustrations that keep Rosie firmly a dog. They are realistic and lush, the sort of illustrations that make you want to reach out and pet the dogs on the page.

A dog-gone good chapter book with graphic novel appeal. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

Review: A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker (9780763665968)

A wordless picture book, this tells the story of a girl’s first summer without her beloved dog at her side. As the family heads off on their camping trip, she finds herself on the lake shore alone. She starts skipping stones and as one sinks, the story turns to one of a crashing meteor and dinosaurs. From that meteor comes a rock that moves through time, starting as a large rough chunk of stone and becoming smaller and smaller as it is redesigned. It is the heart of a large statue, the keystone in an arch for a bridge, an elaborate treasure box, and then it sinks beneath the waves when a ship goes down. It is still there until the girl finds it, yellow and bright in her hand, timelessness and connection in a single stone.

This picture book shines with its strong message about the passage of time, the deep feeling of loss and the resilience to recover. It is a book filled with beauty, one that really comes alive with the turning of time deep into the past. That twist at its center is brave, surprising and is what really makes the book ring so true. As always with Becker, the art is exceptional. He captures emotions so clearly on the page and imbues his images with wonder.

An exceptional read by a master storyteller. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 New Picture Books Featuring Friends

A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano

A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Lane Smith (9781626723146)

Two children head into the woods and discover an old house that is no longer a home. Once painted blue with an overgrown path, the house has a door that is stuck partly open. So the children enter through a broken window. Inside they find clues about the people who used to live there. There are art supplies, photographs, things in the kitchen for cooking, and beds that are still made. Could the owner have been a sea captain? Or perhaps a woman who painted in the garden? A girl or a boy? A king or a queen? And why did they leave this house waiting for them, never to return?

Such a gorgeous picture book. The writing is exceptional, the poetry invites readers to head forward slowly as if exploring an old house themselves. The writing looks at things from different angles, puts words together carefully and asks readers to think a bit before moving on. The pacing is delicious and just right, echoing the activities described on the page. Smith’s illustrations are layered and loose, the color on the page almost lifted by the breeze like pollen. It settles and lifts again.

Seriously one of the best picture books of the year. This is treat by two master artists must be shared with children!

Jerome by Heart by Thomas Scotto

Jerome by Heart by Thomas Scotto, illustrated by Olivier Tallec (9781592702503)

This beautiful, heartfelt picture book shows the incredible joy of having a true childhood friend. In this book, Raphael loves his best friend Jerome. He’s a friend who isn’t afraid to hold hands, picks Raphael as his partner at school, shares his snacks, and defends Raphael if anyone picks on him. When Raphael’s parents react rather rudely when he expresses his admiration and adoration of Jerome, Raphael heads to his room. There he looks for a great gift for Jerome, until he is distracted thinking about adventures that he and Jerome can have together. Because they will!

A French import, this picture book is childhood captured on the page. There is a merriment to the boys’ time together and an innocence inherent in the way they treat one another. And yet Raphael has beautifully concrete reasons that he loves Jerome and it’s all about how well he is treated and how Jerome makes him feel inside. The parents’ reaction may echo some of the reactions of adult readers who may wonder if there is more connection between the boys than just friends. That is neatly put in its place as Raphael heads off to be with his friend regardless of what that friendship may eventually mean for them.

Tallec’s illustrations are as masterful as ever. The pairing of the two boys is depicted with solid connections between the two of them. They have a lovely playfulness about them that capture the friendship of the boys and mimics the merriment that the boys feel when together. A delicate and touching story of friendship. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion Books.)

Rescue & Jessica A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky

Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, illustrated by Scott Magoon (9780763696047)

Written by two of the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, this picture book is the true story of one of them and their service dog, Rescue. It is the story of a dog learning to serve and a girl learning to survive after losing a leg. Both of them train long and hard separately until they are paired together. The two of them spend their days together and Rescue helps Jessica heal after she loses her remaining leg. After that, the training starts all over again, but this time they do it together. This picture book captures a story of resilience and survival after a tragedy and the difference a service dog makes in that recovery and life afterwards.

The writing here is told with a light tone where possible. It helps tremendously that readers can see Rescue training to be Jessica’s dog even as her story is deep in shadows and pain. The mirroring of their hard work is also very successful, showing the dedication they both had to have even before they meet one another. The illustrations are very effective, using white and black backgrounds to show hope and challenging times. Throughout though, there is hope, in the form on one black dog who stands strong against dark and light. A winning picture book that is inspiring and courageous. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

3 Very Friendly New Picture Books

Can I Be Your Dog By Troy Cummings

Can I Be Your Dog? By Troy Cummings (9780399554520)

Arfy is a dog looking for a home, so he writes to each house and business on Butternut Street. One by one though, they each say no. The Honeywells have a cat that’s allergic to dogs. The butcher thinks Arfy might steal too many meatballs. The fire station already has a dog. The junkyard just sends a nasty note back. And no one is living in the abandoned house. But as she delivered each of Arfy’s notes, the letter carrier made her own decision. The book ends with tips on how children can help animals who need a home. The use of letters adds a real appeal to this book as Arfy so politely asks for space and then is turned down with a variety of responses, some friendly, some rude and others businesslike. The book will work well for children learning to write letters who need a great model like Arfy to follow. The appealing artwork adds a playful feel and readers will recognize that Arfy has a friend in the letter carrier from the start. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House and Edelweiss.)

Get on Your Bike by Joukje Akveld

Get on Your Bike by Joukje Akveld and Philip Hopman (9780802854896)

When Bobbi and William have an argument, William shouts that Bobbi should just get on his bike and leave. So that’s exactly what Bobbi does. Bobbi’s head is filled with anger at first and he doesn’t notice what is around him. But as he rides through town and out into the country, he begins to notice things around him. At each stoplight, Bobbi makes a choice of where to head. Sometimes traffic is loud and busy and other times Bobbi is alone in nature. As he rides, his thoughts move from the fight to his surroundings and he notices more and more. His ride brings him full circle back home, where William is waiting for him with dinner already made, cold but not ruined.

This picture book was originally published in the Netherlands and one can see their cycling culture strongly in the images. In most of the images, the roads are crowded with bikes which share the road with the cars and trucks. The story subtly moves through anger and shows a way of coping that allows a natural  move from frustration and anger to returning to oneself. The illustrations show a world populated with animals rather than people. Bobbi himself is a panda and William is a bulldog. There are birds, alligators, mice and more riding bikes, driving trucks and walking the towns. Refreshing and friendly, this picture book takes a look at anger and cooling down. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.)

Hi, Jack By Mac Barnett

Hi, Jack! By Mac Barnett, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (9780425289075)

Two masters take on the easy-reader format in this first in a new series. Jack is a monkey who gets into all sorts of trouble, most of it of his own making. Accompanied by two other characters, Rex the dog and The Lady, Jack steals the lady’s purse in the first chapter. He returns the purse, but soon Jack and Rex are sporting the lipstick that Jack took! When he returns the red lipstick to The Lady, Jack still has one more trick up his sleeve. Young readers will enjoy the naughtiness of Jack and how he manages to make friends and feel sorry and yet still be entirely himself in the end. The writing is simple and friendly for the earliest readers who will also appreciate the chapter book format. Pizzoli’s art is simple and bright. At the end of the book he offers a tutorial of how to draw each of the characters, inviting children to create their own pictures and stories. A great pick for early readers and early reader collections. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking.)