Garlic and the Vampire by Bree Paulsen

Cover image for Garlic and the Vampire.

Garlic and the Vampire by Bree Paulsen (9780062995094)

Garlic works at the farm market with the other living vegetables brought to life by the witch. Garlic tends to stressed and anxious, and is even more so when she accidentally sleeps in again on market day. The next day, the witch encourages Garlic to try using some magic to get her garlic to grow, encouraging Garlic to look beyond helping her in the garden too. But Garlic doesn’t want adventures at all, she’s much happier staying on the farm. So when a vampire moves into the abandoned castle nearby, it seems that Garlic is exactly the right one to send to get rid of him. After all, vampires can’t abide garlic.

This debut graphic novel for children is a look at anxiety and stress, all in one garlicky wrapper. With one bully on the farm to contend with, Garlic can’t seem to see the kindness of the others around her, instead getting fretful, sleeping too much, and doubting her own abilities. When she is sent on her mission, she finds her footing and eventually takes care of it in her own special way, making the ending satisfying on multiple levels.

The art style is unique and is something that will draw readers into the story. It has a great vintage feel to it from the classic vampire to the vegetables themselves. The humanoid veggies are marvelous characters, their emotions clear on both their faces and in their body language. The book plays characters that one might be afraid of against their tropes, showing dimensions to them in inventive ways both in the storyline and in the images.

A cozy graphic novel full of witches and vampires. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Quill Tree Books.

The List of Unspeakable Fears by J. Kasper Kramer

Cover image for The List of Unspeakable Fears.

The List of Unspeakable Fears by J. Kasper Kramer (9781534480742)

The author of The Story That Cannot Be Told returns with her second book for middle-grade readers. Essie is scared of a lot of things, so many things that she keeps a list of the things that scare her like cats, electric lights, closets, darkness, and doors. Her mother has remarried after the death of Essie’s father and the two move from where they live in poverty in the Bronx to North Brother Island where Essie’s new stepfather runs a hospital for those with incurable contagious diseases. Of course, Essie is also terrified of disease, and is particularly worried when she learns that Typhoid Mary is a resident of the island. Once on the island, Essie starts to see a girl her age and have nightmares about the red door that leads to the attic, which is just like the one that she has seen in her dreams for years. Essie must follow the clues to see if her new stepfather is conducting horrible experiments on his patients and who the girl is, a process that will force Essie to face all of her fears.

This historical novel for middle-grade readers is a fascinating look at contagious diseases in the past. It is given particular weight given the Covid pandemic, adding to the tension and fears of the book. The setting of North Brother Island plays a large part in the story, giving it a gothic loneliness, foreboding mists, and a marvelous creepiness both due to its landscape and to its purpose as a quarantine hospital.

Essie is a character who changes and grows as the book progresses. At first entirely paralyzed by irrational fears, she slowly reveals the grief and reasons behind her frights. Her willingness to face a ghost along the way, plays against her fearfulness and shows exactly who she is without her shame and grief clouding her world. It’s a complex rendering of a character that is immensely satisfying as she untangles the mystery she finds herself in.

A creepy and ghost-filled read that also offers historical context of our current pandemic. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Harry Versus the First 100 Days of School by Emily Jenkins

Cover image for Harry Versus the First 100 Days of School.

Harry Versus the First 100 Days of School by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Pete Oswald (9780525644712)

This chapter book invites readers to experience the first 100 days of school alongside Harry. Harry has worries about his first day of school, helped quite a bit by his older sister showing him the way things work. He has a real fear of guinea pigs, a creature he believes is much more like a wild pig than the small furry rodent it actually is. Harry decides that his goal is to become an expert on something, though he isn’t sure what. Perhaps an expert on Fluff Monsters, a video game he loves. Harry quickly makes friends at school, surprising himself by who he actually gets closer to. He learns to set healthy boundaries with classmates who like to play jokes and also finds himself overcoming a lot of his fears along the way. In fact, he turns out to be an expert on quite a lot!

Award-winning author Jenkins sets exactly the right tone here. Throughout the book, there is humor that will have children immediately engaged and that is layered beautifully with empathy for Harry and the others in his class. Harry and his classmates are multidimensional characters who reveal themselves over the course of the book. Readers will laugh out loud at the humor here and be drawn deeply into the story of how Harry survives first grade.

The illustrations by Oswald work well to break up the text and make this a more approachable book for young readers. Oswald captures the diversity of Harry’s class and community. The urban setting is vibrant and colorful while the classroom is warm and inviting.

Funny and clever, this is just the right book for first graders and any others who may need a good giggle about school starting. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Children’s Books.

Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée

Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée

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

What about Worms by Ryan T. Higgins

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.

Review: The Wolf Will Not Come by Myriam Ouyessad

The Wolf Will Not Come by Myriam Ouyessad

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.

Review: Dragon Night by J. R. Krause

dragon night by j. r. krause

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

home-at-last-by-vera-b-williams

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

The Best Worst Thing by Kathleen Lane

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.