The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst
Sophie lives above her parents’ bookstore that is actually much more than a place to sell books. Downstairs below the store is another shop, the dream shop, where her parents deal in dreams harvested from dreamcatchers and then bottled. Sophie never has dreams of her own and she has been forbidden from ever drinking a dream. One day though she tries one and discovers that she has the ability to bring things back from her dreams into real life. That’s how she gets her best friend, Monster, a creature from a nightmare. Dealing in dreams can be dangerous business since it is done on the black market. When the dream shop is robbed and Sophie’s parents are taken, Sophie has to figure out who is responsible and the find a way to free her family that will mean trusting outsiders and breaking family rules.
Durst is a master storyteller. Her flights of fancy here are intoxicatingly original and yet also pay homage to traditions too. Monster is one of my favorite characters, a wise-cracking, fuzzy and loveable creature who is ferociously loyal, brave and hungry. Then there is a snooty pegasus who has his own attitude and speaks harsh truths, not to mention the multicolored ninja bunnies. Durst builds a story that has room for all of them and remains wonderfully clear and focused on the real story going on.
Sophie is a character who is known by classmates as being prickly. It’s difficult to create a character who is embraced by the reader as a hero but faces real issues at school with making friends. Durst does it with real skill, giving Sophie a personality that is by necessity very private but also making her warm and loving to those in her inner circle. The use of that privacy is also used to isolate Sophie, making the adventure all the more harrowing and forcing her to open up to those she would not otherwise trust.
A strong fantasy for elementary readers, this book is filled with smart humor and great characters. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Clarion Books.
Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton (InfoSoup)
A little boy has lots and lots of different wishes that he hopes come true. He wishes to be able to fly, to breathe underwater, that the robot he drew could come to life. Then they could play together in the rain that would come in seven different colors and flavors. He wishes for fangs and a tail. He wishes to be able to talk to animals and to have lots of wild and strange pets. But in the end, he mostly wishes that something extraordinary would happen to him. Something real. And suddenly, it does!
Clanton excels at taking very simple premises for his books and making them into something engaging and intelligent. In this book, it is all about wishes and dreams with a big dollop of imagination too. The bulk of the book is spent with the boy and his wild wishes that he only hopes could come true. In the end though, the book comes down to earth and the boy just wants something amazing to happen in real life. He takes a moment then to look around himself and realizes that there are wonderful things happening right there, especially out in nature.
The artwork here is understated and subtle. Even during his wildest and most colorful wishes, the colors are muted and subdued. It isn’t until the ending when the boy realizes that there is wonder around him in real life that the colors lose their subtlety and start to really sing.
Big dreams and wild wishes may not come to fruition here, but reality is certainly “something extraordinary” in the end. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Inspired by a true story, this picture book is about a girl who refused to allow societal rules to stop her from her musical dreams. In Cuba, girls were not drummers, but one girl dreamed of pounding drums big and small and making amazing music. Everyone said that only boys could be drummers though, so she kept quiet about her dreams.Everywhere she went though she could hear drumbeats that were all her own. Finally the girl dared to start drumming on real drums and she joined her sister in an all-girl band. Her father did not approve of her drumming but eventually allowed her to play for a teacher to see if she could really drum. And she could!
Engle, known for her gorgeous poetic books for older readers, has created a marvelous picture book here. Reading like poetry, the book looks deeply at a girl who refused to give up her dream to play the drums, even as she hid the dream deep inside herself. It is a book that celebrates artistic gifts even as it works to dismantle gender stereotypes and show that girls have the same artistic skills as boys do. The build up in the book is done with real skill, allowing readers to thrill at her accomplishments as her hard works comes to fruition.
Lopez gives us a bright-colored glimpse of Cuba in this picture book. Filled with lush plants, starlight, water and birds, the illustrations shine on the page. Done in acrylic paint on wood board, they have a great texture to them as well as an organic quality that adds to their depth on the page. The result is a picture book that is vibrant and rich.
A dynamic picture book that celebrates music and breaks stereotypes, this book will inspire children to follow their own dreams. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Good Night, Knight by Betsy Lewin
When Horse and Knight are falling asleep, Knight has a dream about golden cookies. So he wakes up Horse and sets off on a quest to find the golden cookies. They search everywhere, in hollow tree trunks and under water and in the bushes, riding from one place to the next at a brisk trot. It isn’t until they return home and Knight has collapsed from exhaustion that Knight realizes that the cookies were right in their castle all along. The two have a golden cookie feast and then go to bed, but it’s not long before Horse has a golden dream of his own!
Written for emerging readers, this picture book is written with a limited vocabulary and words that repeat on the page and from one section of the story to another. The picture book format will invite reluctant readers to give reading a try. Lewin also wisely incorporates plenty of humor and galloping around, giving the reader reasons to turn the page to see what will happen next. It’s a good mix of action and silliness.
Lewin’s illustrations break the text into nice readable chunks appropriate for beginning readers. Plenty of attention is paid to the illustrations, offering humor beyond the text itself. For example, Knight never removes his armor, even to sleep! The art is simple, funny and inviting.
Head out on a quest with your beginning reader and this simple picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Holiday House.
Dream Dog by Lou Berger, illustrated by David Catrow
Harry wants a dog, but his father works at a pepper factory and sneezes all the time, so he won’t let Harry have a dog. Instead they get Harry a chameleon who turns colors, but Harry doesn’t love the chameleon. Luckily a friend of his does, so he gives her the chameleon. Harry decides that he will try to imagine up a dog with his X-35 Infra-Rocket Imagination Helmet. Suddenly there is a dog in his room. Harry names the dog Waffle and the two of them do everything together. No one else can see Waffle, but that doesn’t bother Harry in the least. After all, no one could really see the chameleon either. Then Harry’s father is let go from the pepper factory and goes into ping-pong balls instead. He brings home a real dog for Harry, but what about Waffle?
Berger was the head writer of Sesame Street for over a decade and my does his expertise shine here. His tone is playful and filled with joy. He creates humor out of what could have been a sad story. The ending is heartfelt and beautiful, dancing the perfect balance of loss and cheer. This book reads aloud wonderfully, actually begging to be shared.
Catrow’s illustrations are much calmer than many of his previous books. They still have a great energy to them but they also have a distinct sweetness that mellows them as well as a focus of a tale that is all about love of a dog.
Even in the crowded shelves of dog books, this is something special. It is a picture book that speaks to the power of imagination and dreams. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade Books.
Rosie’s Magic Horse by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Rosie collects popsicle sticks that she finds on the ground, creating a collection. But the popsicle sticks miss their cold sweet ice and wish that they were something more than just discarded sticks. Maybe they could be a horse! Meanwhile, Rosie’s parents are worried about bills and how they will pay them. That night Rosie and the popsicle sticks head out on an adventure together as the popsicle sticks join to become a horse, Stickerino. Rosie wants to find treasure and first the horse takes her to a mountain made of popsicle ice, but Rosie wants real treasure. You know that that means pirates! This story is a true flight of imagination, or perhaps a gallop!
Hoban and Blake are quite a team in this book. Hoban writes in mostly dialogue here and throughout has a focus on brevity and clarity. It works well against the wild imaginative nature of the book, making the text a firm foundation from which to launch. Blake’s illustrations are quintessentially his with their jaunty lines and loose watercolor tones.
Perfect for inspiring bedtime dreams of popsicles and horses, this book requires you to just go along for the ride. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Herd Boy by Niki Daly
Malusi looks after his grandfather’s sheep during the day, taking them grazing and also protecting them from predators. Malusi has to be able to work in the heat of the sun, keep the sheep away from the ravine, and keep close watch for snakes and baboons. His friend Lungisa is also a shepherd but he has his own dog, something Malusi wishes for. He also dreams of becoming something more than a herd boy, maybe even president!
Daly weaves in African details to create a setting and society in this picture book. The details are small but vibrant such as the food, the animals out in the wild, the landscape, and language. She uses a few words and phrases of throughout the book, just enough to add some African spices to the tale. Using poetic language, she draws the strong character and large dreams of Malusi clearly. He is a young hero with large responsibilities and a willingness to lead.
Daly’s art embraces the landscape of Africa with ravines and hills framing the page, eagles soaring in the sky, and distinctive plants in the foreground. There are full color images but also sepia toned ones that show small touches of the story as well. The large format of the full-color images make this book good for sharing with a group.
Thanks to the beauty and depth of Daly’s writing, this picture book trends a little older than many. It will also lead to interesting discussions with slightly older children. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Dreams around the World by Takashi Owaki
Meet thirteen children from around the world who are ready to share their dreams with you! Photographer Takashi Owaki traveled the world, including 55 countries on six continents and interviewed over 1400 children about what they wanted to be when they grew up. In this book, he shares the dreams of some of those children. Each child and their dream is accompanied by photographs, their age, name and country, along with a short paragraph about where they live. At the end of the book, all of the countries are shown on a world map. The book is a celebration of our diversity but also our universal dreams.
Owaki’s photographs are the heart of this book, especially the full-page image of each child looking directly into the camera. The writing itself is simple, speaking to how Owaki met the child and the family they live with. The smaller images with each story also help give context, showing activities and the environment. My only quibble with the book is that it would have been nice to have the map done in a smaller way with each child to help with understanding the geography.
Originally published in Japan, this is a book that celebrates our world and the beauty of dreams. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from One Peace Books.
Clementine by Sebastian Loth
Released May 1, 2011.
Clementine is a snail who loves anything and everything round. She loves tires and balls, but most of all she loves the roundness of the moon. So she decides that she is going to head to the moon. Her best friend Paul, a worm, helps her come up with a plan on how she will get to the moon. They try a trampoline first, with poor results. The slingshot doesn’t do any better. Then they decide to try a rocket! And Clementine discovers that she has been connected all along to something amazingly round and magnificent.
The writing in this small picture book has a depth that is surprising and delightful. Written in longer paragraphs than many picture books, the text remains completely readable and enjoyable for preschoolers. It is because of the length of the text that the ideas can be explored fully.
Loth combines his poetic language with stunningly simple illustrations. The illustrations play beautifully with light and dark as well as motion. Opening with Clementine sitting near oranges, they also play with color and shape.
The result is a book that speaks straight to the dreamer in all of us. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from NorthSouth.