Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée (9780062836717)
Jenae goes through life being invisible. It’s her own superpower, just like her favorite show, Astrid Dane. At school she is entirely ignored, and she prefers it that way. Her family is different, though with her mother always rushing, her brother’s injury and her grandfather’s health problems, Jenae can end up invisible there too. So it’s very strange when the new boy at school notices Jenae immediately. Aubrey is also different from the other kids. He too loves Astrid Dane. But Jenae isn’t looking for a friend at all. She keeps pushing Aubrey away, but Aubrey just keeps coming back. Soon Jenae realizes that she has found a friend. It’s too bad that circumstances are creating a time when she will have to ruin their friendship to avoid having to do the thing she fears most, giving a speech in front of a crowd.
There is so much to love in this book. The warm family that Jenae comes from gives the book a wonderful heartbeat, including a brother who won’t really talk to her after his accident and his return home from college. Her grandfather is full of advice, pushing Jenae to face her fears head on. Jenae blames herself for much of what happens in her family, including her brother’s accident. She deeply believes that she can think strong thoughts and make things happen.
Still, that’s not true when it comes to Aubrey, a new friend who brings lots of mixed feelings for Jenae. Jenae with her unique view of the world, her ability to be alone and not lonely, and her independence is also full of fears at times. She’s marvelously complex, geeky and individual. Aubrey is much the same, yet where Jenae is quiet, Aubrey always has something to say.
Full of fascinating characters, this book is about finding your voice, standing up and insisting on being heard. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.
What About Worms? by Ryan T. Higgins (9781368045735)
Part of the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading series, this easy reader is about a tiger who is big and brave. In fact, he’s not afraid of anything… except worms. Worms are slimy and wiggly and confusing. Tiger loves flowers, but wait! Flowers grow in dirt, and you know that worms live in dirt. Tiger throws the flowerpot into the air and breaks it. No worms there though. Tiger also loves apples, but wait! Worms love apples too. He throws the apple into the air, splat. No worms in the apple. Then he finds a book, that just might be all about worms. It’s too much for Tiger to take, and he runs off. Now the worms come out of the ground. They discover the dirt, the apples and a nice book. They are scared of tigers usually, but this one seems to have left them all their favorite things. Time for a worm hug to thank him!
Higgins sets just the right pace and tone in this easy reader. The page turns are well done, allowing some sentences to hang between pages, building the suspense. He creates plenty of angst and drama here with so few elements, just flowers, apples and a book. It’s a remarkable feat to have so much emotion about worms.
Higgins’ art is marvelous. With nods to Calvin and Hobbes, Pigeon that appear occasionally, and even a likeness of himself and Willems on the back of the book that should not be missed. Tiger’s emotions show not only in his facial expressions but through his entire body, emoting clearly on the page and drawing children in.
Smart, funny and fast, just what you want in an easy reader. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Hyperion Books for Children.
The Wolf Will Not Come by Myriam Ouyessad, illustrated by Ronan Badel (9780764357800)
A little bunny is going to bed, but he has lots of questions for his mother about wolves. She reassures him that a wolf will not come that night. Still he isn’t satisfied. She explains that wolves are not as common anymore due to hunting. She explains that they live in woods. But there is a small woods near their house. Perhaps the wolf is a very good hider too, plus he looks like a big dog. It sounds like he might be able to get to the rabbits’ house after all. Still, he has to cross traffic, find the right address, sneak inside without the door code, and take the elevator. But the little rabbit has answers for all of these obstacles. So will the wolf arrive?
The story is cleverly told with one page reflecting the little rabbit’s quiet bedroom and the other the wolf steadily making his way closer and closer through the obstacles the mother rabbit is describing. There is a great tension and expectation to the book, but I doubt that anyone will see the twist of the ending coming. It’s a wonderful surprise even as one sees the wolf heading towards the rabbits.
The illustrations play a huge role in the book, showing the wolf as the mother rabbit describes things. The book uses shadows, light and dark very effectively to show danger and safety, fears and expectations.
Funny and surprising with just the right touch of danger. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Dragon Night by J. R. Krause (9780525514244)
A boy who is scared of the dark night meets a dragon out of one of his story books who is scared of the knight too. The two set off on a flying journey to explore their fears together, thinking they are talking about the same thing. They find a carnival where night has been driven away but it has a castle. There is a city street with bright lights and no night, but there is a big king. The stadium even has a knight mascot. When the two realize they are talking about different fears, they work together to face them. The dragon helps the boy realize that dark brings the stars out. The boy then creates a new story for the dragon where the knight doesn’t try to hurt him at all.
Krause tells an empowering story of facing one’s fears with a friend in this picture book. His use of a homophone to start the misunderstanding adds to the fun of the story with an element of grammar and a reason for two unlikely beings to connect. Readers may expect the story to end when the boy begins to accept the night, but it continues with a more complicated solution for the dragon. The fact that the child thinks of the solution and creates it himself is a key to the success of this story.
Krause is an animator of shows like The Simpsons, so it is no surprise that the art in this book is compelling. Done in thick lines and limited colors, it has a vintage feel that makes for a great bedtime story. The art is deftly done, the illumination of the boy and the dragon throughout is skillfully and dramatically done.
Let your bedtime take flight with this winning read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Home at Last by Vera B. Williams and Chris Raschka (InfoSoup)
Lester is adopted by Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert, who pick him up with their dog Wincka once the adoption is formalized. They head home, put Lester’s new clothes away. But when Daddy Albert tries to put Lester’s suitcase in the attic, Lester shows them that it is full of his action figures and insists that they have to stay right in the suitcase in his room. Lester is happy during the day, playing with his toys and spending time with his new fathers. At night though, he packs up his suitcase and stands near his fathers’ bed. This happens night after night, despite cocoa and toast, singing songs, and explanations that Lester is safe. Finally, one of the fathers loses his temper with the situation and then Lester really opens up about what he is worried about. A solution to the problem is found by Wincka, the dog, who was listening to Lester’s story too.
This was the book that Williams was working on when she died. Raschka had been involved from the beginning with the book and completed the vision that Williams had shared with him. Williams captures the deep-seated fear that adopted children can have, the understanding at one level of newfound family love but also the change that comes at night where fears become larger. Williams also shows two loving gay men, both delighted to be fathers and each different from the other. The two of them together parent Lester with kindness and concern and deep love.
Raschka finished the book, basing his art on sketches by Williams. His large colorful illustrations have a loose feel that ranges across the page, capturing both the mayhem of a family short on sleep but also the warmth of that family too. His watercolors convey deep emotions from the frustrations of sleepless nights to the power of coming together afterwards. All is beautifully shown on the page.
A tribute to adoptive families, LGBT couples who adopt and the importance of love and patience, this picture book is a grand finale to the many books by Williams. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
The Best Worst Thing by Kathleen Lane (InfoSoup)
Maggie is starting middle school and is getting more and more worried. She has rules to live by that keep the people she loves safe, but there is much more to worry about than that. There is the murderer who was loose in their neighborhood after shooting someone at a local mini mart. There is the boy at school who is going to get a gun for his birthday. There are the rabbits next door owned by a man who doesn’t seem to really love them. Plus there are issues in her own family with a teen sister who is pulling away from Maggie and her little sister and a father growing more and more distant too. Maggie starts to plan new ways to protect her family from danger as her fears mount, but it’s all too much for one person to try to control.
Lane has written an incredible novel for middle grades, particularly as a debut author. She captures the intoxication of danger, the thrill of fear, and then what happens when it becomes more than that, toxic and dark. She shows the problems with fear and worries, the way they mount and the intricate ways that children have of coping in a world where nothing seems firm and solid for them, not even their families. As Maggie copes with OCD tendencies, she is also courageous and caring, striving to control the uncontrollable around her.
Lane captures the real world with honesty here. Rabbits are sold for meat. Children are sometimes not cared for. Marriages have problems. Sisters withdraw. It is all there in this book, but there is more too. There are loving parents, helpful neighbors, friends, apple trees and baby rabbits. So not all is dark and dreary, there is light too and hope here. If only one can see it for the worries.
A bright new voice in children’s literature, this debut novel is delicious and rich. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
I Used to Be Afraid by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (InfoSoup)
Explore things that are frightening in this picture book and then see that you can turn it all around and not be frightened any more. Spiders are creepy but also very cool. Shadows can be scary, but you can also create shadow puppets. The dark is frightening, but change your perspective and you can see the stars. One after another, this book takes a fear and then looks at it in a fresh way. From moving to a new home to being alone, each fear is shown and then re-examined. This is a good book to start a conversation about what a child is afraid of and then talking about how that too can be seen from a different perspective.
Seeger brings her clear understanding of the child’s perspective to this picture book. Die cuts and sturdy pages add to the toddler appeal here. The words are simple with only half a sentence on each double-page spread. Yet the concepts explored here are large and beg for deeper exploration on a personal level. The book will work with a group or one-on-one.
Seeger’s illustrations add to the appeal. Her use of acrylic paint and collage creates illustrations that are bold and bright. The die-cut aspect creates a delight with each turn of the page, physically moving something scary to a new view.
A fresh look at fears, this picture book will inspire conversations and that’s nothing to be afraid of! Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (InfoSoup)
This award-winning husband and wife team return with another winner of a picture book. Peter knows that moving to a new house is a bad idea, especially when he sees the dark woods. Their new house is on the other side of a bridge from the woods. Peter and his dog Harold spend a sleepless night watch the bridge to make sure nothing crosses it from the woods. Then they head out and use pillows and blankets to create Lenny, a guardian. Unfortunately, they worried that Lenny might be lonely out there at night all alone, so again they did not sleep. The next day, they took blankets and leaves and created a second guardian, Lucy. That night, everyone slept. And the next day, a visitor arrived, one who shows that despite the scary woods this might be a good place to live after all.
Stead has the beautiful ability to create a story out of leaves, pillows and blankets. This book speaks to all children who have moved and those who have been afraid of other things too. There is a menacing sense from the woods, and Stead combats that with a concrete feel of normalcy but also a strong creativity. This all feels like childhood to me, capturing that wonder mixed with fear that turns into something else all the more powerful.
Erin Stead’s art has a delicacy about it that matches Philip’s tone in his prose. She creates a linear forest, uncluttered and somehow all the more strange and alien because of that. The hulking bodies of Lenny and Lucy are so solid on the page that they combat that feeling just by being there. Readers will immediately see the safety in these creatures.
This is a story of moving but also about wonder and fear. It’s a brilliant picture book, one to finish with a contented smile. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
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.