Review: Puma Dreams by Tony Johnston

Puma Dreams by Tony Johnston

Puma Dreams by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim Lamarche (9781534429796)

The narrator of this book, a young girl, longs to see a puma before they disappear entirely. There have been reports about sightings near her gram’s home. Puma kittens were found in a barn, pumas have stalked horses, and been seen dozing on a tree limb. But the girl has never seen one herself. So she spends her allowance on a fifty-pound salt lick that she put out in the field. Other animals visit the salt lick, including deer, cattle, elk, but no puma appears. The salt lick dwindles down. There are signs of a puma in the area, large paw marks left in wet dirt. Then one day at breakfast, the girl feels a prickle and looks behind her and there at the salt lick is a puma in the golden morning light.

Johnston writes in poetry in this picture book. She paints entire pictures with her words, sharing the delicate balance in nature where a species is on the decline. She shares the young narrator’s wistfulness and wonder at the puma, dreaming along with her about its life and what it is doing right then. The amazement and delight when the puma finally appears is so satisfying after the longing she has conveyed on all of the previous pages.

Lamarche’s illustrations are exceptional. They capture the landscape of grassland and mountains, illuminated by the time of day with the colors of dawn or the golden light of evening. The setting is depicted so clearly that one could almost walk to the salt lick from the house. He also shows the little girl and her gram in the images, living in connection with the land around them. The beauty of the hidden puma is also there, sometimes featured on the page and other times elusive but there.

A gorgeous picture book about dreams, plans and patience. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

Review: The Night Bear by Ana and Thiago de Moraes

The Night Bear by Ana and Thiago de Moraes

The Night Bear by Ana and Thiago de Moraes (9781541555099)

At night, the Night Bear takes the night bus and heads out searching for his favorite nighttime meal, nightmares. Each type of nightmare tastes different from the others, but equally delicious. “Monsters with hideous eyes taste like burgers and fries.” “Scary pirates being mean taste like strawberries and cream.” On and on the Night Bear munches until he comes to one package of dreams he thinks is completely disgusting! It’s rainbows and unicorns, ick! So the Night Bear heads out to see if he can give it to a dreamer. He discovers a child who is awake in the middle of the night because of a bad dream and exchanges his awful unicorns for the child’s spiders and snakes (that taste like chocolate cake!)

The rhyming here is what makes the book a great success. It has a wonderful galloping pace as well as being filled with delicious surprises as each nightmare has a distinct and fully-described flavor. That pace nicely slows as the bear looks for a child to share the unicorns with and then picks up again at the end. The illustrations are filled with deep colors of night and vivid depictions of the various nightmares combined with the flavors they have.

Whether you find nightmares or rainbows delicious, this book is just the right flavor. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Andersen Press.

Review: Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri

Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri

Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri (9781626725355)

After dinner, Tiger takes an extra plate of food to share with her monster. Monster had been under Tiger’s bed, but they soon became friends. Now they spend time together playing games until bedtime when Monster scares Tiger’s nightmares away. All of Tiger’s family thinks she has an imaginary friend, but Monster is real. Monster fights all sorts of nightmares away until she encounters one that is too big and scary to chase off. As Tiger starts to have nightmares, she realizes that the two of them will need to work together to get rid of this huge nightmare.

Tetri, a cartoonist, has written a captivating graphic novel that is just right for the picture-book set. The pacing is brisk with a concept that shines. There is plenty of humor on the pages that sets off the more dramatic parts of the story. The art is done in watercolors, adding a wonderful traditional feel to the book. One of the more delightful parts is when Monster battles one nightmare after another. The pace slows beautifully in this part and mimics epic battle montages in comic books.

A tale of friendship and teamwork, this is a great early graphic novel. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by First Second.

 

Review: For Every One by Jason Reynolds

For Every One by Jason Reynolds

For Every One by Jason Reynolds (9781481486248)

This book is a single poem, one that is a clarion call for young creatives to continue their work. Originally performed at the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and then again as a tribute to Walter Dean Myers, this poem is striking and powerful. There is no claim here that Reynolds has the answer to make money at your dream, to be successful at your dream, but there is a demand that you continue to dream and create as a young person. That it is important for you and for the world.

Reynolds shares personal set backs as a young adult, showing how hard it can be to stay on course when your work is not being noticed. Still, he continued and he asks that everyone continue to speak, to share, to be out there and demand to be heard and seen. It is a book about perseverance and resilience, a poem about life, hard knocks and getting up and continuing onward.

This one belongs in every library and every creative writing and art room. It is inspiring and beautiful. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Review: The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

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.

Review: Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton

Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton

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.

Review: Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle

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.

Review: Good Night, Knight by Betsy Lewin

good night knight

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.

Review: Dream Dog by Lou Berger

dream dog

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.