Review: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller (9781524715700)

Lily, her mother and sister move in with her elderly Korean grandmother. In the small town, Lily soon discovers that everyone knows and loves her grandmother, who wears glamorous clothes and tries to offer advice and help to her community. Halmoni has always been special to Lily too, sharing stories of tigers, girls and stars with her and her sister. So when they are heading to Halmoni’s house and Lily sees a tiger out of the car window, she knows it’s from her grandmother’s tales and that tigers are tricksters. As Lily starts to understand that her grandmother is severely ill, she believes that she can help by working with the tiger to release the stories from her grandmother’s jars. The stories emerge and shine in the darkness, returning to the sky as stars and allowing Lily to hear some of the more difficult stories for the first time. Yet, Lily isn’t sure if the tiger is actually real and if the tiger is, can she be trusted to really help Halmoni?

Keller’s novel for middle grade readers explores the complexity of stories both in terms of folklore but also stories of previous generations in a family and the difficulties they faced in other countries and in traveling to the United States. The power of stories themselves is never in question here, shining through as each tale is shared. They connect, explain and inspire. But stories here are also hidden, carefully kept from others so that their pain need not be shared. This too speaks to their incredible power and the importance of them being told. So in the end, whether you believe in the tiger or not, you will believe in the stories themselves and their magic.

This novel is so beautifully written. Readers will experience it as a series of jars to be opened and released by them. The tales themselves are told in language and tones that really make them understood to be part of an oral tradition. The rest of the book, the story of Lily and her family, is layered and fascinating. All of the characters are complex and have multiple dimensions to their personalities. Lily is caught up in her own world of tiger traps and magical jars, but everyone else has their own perspectives on what is happening to Halmoni and their family.

A powerful book of stories, magic and tigers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.

Review: Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child by Paul Fleischman

Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child by Paul Fleischman

Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (9781250151773)

This is the third book by this author and illustrator pair that looks at worldwide stories and myths focused around a single type of story. In this picture book, they look at the prevalence of underdogs and fearlessness in the face of danger from around the world. Fleischman takes elements from stories from around the world and weaves them together into a multi-stranded story that pays homage to the differences in the tales while at the same time noting their similarities. Stories are pulled from Denmark, Italy, Ethiopia, Japan, Russia, Mongolia, Indonesia, England and several other countries. Together they tell the story of a young person who stands up to power and greed, often proving his own family wrong along the way. These are stories that will make you cheer for the child and their worth.

A master storyteller, Fleischman manages to create a singular story here while never taking away the signature pieces from each of the countries. Some pages have multiple threads that appear together on the page, noting the differences. Other pages carry the story forward, offering unique elements from that country’s version of the story. Along the way, there are ogres, kings, monsters, horses, bulls, jewels and harps. Still, the entire story works as a whole as well, creating a riveting tale of ingenuity.

Paschkis has created enthralling illustrations that tell each thread of the story in turn. The illustrations are framed by images that represent the country the story comes from. The Chilean pages has boars and guinea pigs. The Greek page is done in the signature blue and white with fish. At times, the images flow together just as the stories do to create a unique whole that still works as separate images.

Cleverly written and designed, this is one for every library. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt.

Review: The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson (9781338209969)

Marinka never asked to be a Yaga, but since she is the granddaughter of a Baba Yaga, she has been learning to speak with the dead and guide them through the Gate and into the stars. All Marinka really wants is to make a real human friend and do things that other twelve-year-olds do. Making friends is nearly impossible though when you live in a house with chicken legs that can move you all over the world overnight. So when Marinka gets another chance to make friends with someone, she takes it, even if it breaks all of the rules that she has been taught. As her decision changes her entire life, Marinka is left to figure out who she really is and what she wants to be.

Anderson has a clear love of Russian folktales, taking a beautiful view of Baba Yaga and giving her a larger community, more chicken-footed houses and a longing for family. The folktales at the center of the book continue to reverberate throughout the story, offering Marinka distinct choices. Marinka makes her own decisions though, ones that readers will not agree with though they might understand. As her situation grows direr, Marinka becomes almost unlikeable, and yet Anderson is able to bring us back to loving her by the end.

Anderson surrounds Marinka with a beautiful and rich world. There is her own Baba Yaga, filling the house with good cooking, lots of love and ghosts every evening. Then there is Jack, Marinka’s pet jackdaw, who sits on her shoulder and puts pieces of food in people’s ears and socks. A baby lamb soon joins them as well. Yet by far, the most compelling member of Marinka’s home is the house itself. Filled with personality and opinions, the house is intelligent and ever-changing.

A dynamic retelling of the Baby Yaga folktale, this picture book offers a big world of magic and ghosts to explore. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Review: A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman (9780062671158)

This collection of short stories is lush and beautiful. Written by fifteen female authors of Asian descent, the stories are modern twists on more traditional tales. Using the folklore of East and South Asia, the stories in this book take those tales and modernize them with clear feminist and girl-power themes. The stories are grand, mythological, stirring, and amazing. Readers will find themselves swept away, learning of myths they have never heard before and finding new ways to love tales they grew up with.

Compiled by Ellen Oh, the CEO of We Need Diverse Books, these stories are women speaking from their own diverse backgrounds. One of the most vital components of the book are the short paragraphs that follow each of the stories, tying them to that author’s upbringing, the original tales, and explaining their inspiration. Throughout the book there are themes of love and loss, death and redemption. No matter whether they are fantasy or contemporary fiction, these stories are each tantalizing and rich.

One of the best teen short story collections I have read in recent years, this one should be in every public library. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Greenwillow Books.

3 Picture Books Filled with Wild Animals

Where, Oh Where, Is Baby Bear By Ashley Wolff

Where, Oh Where, Is Baby Bear? By Ashley Wolff (9781481499163)

This picture book continues Wolff’s series on Baby Bear and his explorations of his habitat. Here, Baby Bear and his mother head out to look for food. But every time his mother looks for him, Baby Bear has disappeared. Again and again she has to call out “Where, oh where, is Baby Bear” and then her little bear responds. Readers will enjoy spotting where Baby Bear is heading and then where he is hiding as the pages turn. The repetition is handled nicely, giving the book a lovely rhythm when being read aloud. The illustrations are crisp and filled with details of their forest home. A great read aloud pick. Appropriate for ages 1-4. (Review copy provided by Beach Lane Books.)

Where_s Halmoni By Julie Kim

Where’s Halmoni? By Julie Kim (9781632170774)

This picture book is done in a full-color graphic-novel style that will be appealing to children even beyond picture book age. It is the story of Korean-American siblings who head to their grandmother’s home to find her missing. They discover a magical passage in her home that leads to a world filled with creatures from Korean folklore. There is Tokki (the rabbit), Dokkebi (the goblins), and Horanghee (the tiger). As the children figure out how to get past each of the creatures using snacks and games, they come close to learning their grandmother’s secret. Sharp-eyed children will realize what happens to the fox at the end of this Korean adventure. The appeal of folklore combined with a modern graphic-novel style makes this book a winner. Appropriate for ages 5-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse by Mac Barnett

The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

When a mouse is gobbled up by a wolf, he discovers there is life after being eaten. Inside the wolf’s stomach, a duck is already living. The duck has a bed, a table, tablecloth, chairs and much more. The duck likes being inside the wolf, because he no longer has to worry about being eaten, since it’s already happened. Soon the mouse has decided to stay and the two have a dance party to celebrate. Unfortunately, this makes the wolf’s stomach hurt. He is spotted by a hunter and soon all three animals are in danger as the hunter takes aim. What can be done to save them all? It will take all three to save the day. Barnett has the perfect rather dark humor to work with Klassen’s illustrations. The story has a mix of fun and fate that will have readers guessing right up until the end. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Three Tall Tales in Picture Book Form

Humpty Dumpty, a southern twist on a classic, and a fresh new adventure await:

After the Fall by Dad Santat

After the Fall by Dad Santat (9781626726826)

After Humpty Dumpty has fallen from the wall and gotten as repaired as he can be, he continues living his life but with a fear of heights. He can’t sleep in his bunk bed or even reach for the cereal at the grocery store that is on the top shelf. He thinks often of the wall and finds himself watching birds flying. Then one day, he decides to start making paper airplanes. He practices and practices until he makes a perfect one shaped like a bird. But what will he do when it flies over the wall? Santat has a gorgeous way with pacing a story, allowing it to naturally grow and build towards the climax. Here there is a delight of a twist at the end, just enough to transform the story of Humpty Dumpty to another tale entirely. It is handled with care and precision, making the reveal very special. The Caldecott Award winner’s art is lovely here, done with subtlety and style with interesting perspectives. A traditional tale retold into something very special. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Review copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater

The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, illustrated by The Fan Brothers

Marco, a young fox, had lots of questions about the way the world works. The other foxes weren’t interested in his questions, so Marco headed to the harbor where he found a ship that was lost. The deer in charge of the vessel admitted they weren’t good sailors and were looking for crew members. Marco offered to sail with them and so did a group of pigeons looking for adventure. The journey was harder than expected with storms, windless stretches and pirates! Their new crew weathered all of the challenges by working together and eventually found the island they were searching for. Were their adventures done? Not yet!

This picture book is so visually beautiful. The illustrations are detailed and lush. There are small touches throughout, a sense of vast sea and sky, and a wonderful playfulness that enhances the adventures. The text is restrained and allows the images to really shine. This picture book is perfect for young pirates looking for a new beautiful adventure. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Beach Lane Books.)

Princess and the Peas by Rachel Himes

Princess and the Peas by Rachel Himes (9781580897181)

A southern take on the classic Princess and the Pea story, this version of the story is set in South Carolina. Ma Sally is one of the best cooks in town, known for her black-eyed peas. Her son John is interested in getting married and several girls are interested in him, but Ma Sally worries about their skills in cooking. So she sets up a test for them. It’s not until a girl from out of town, named Princess, enters the contest that John realizes he’s finally found his match in personality and cooking. Himes takes care at the end of this book to ensure that Princess is not just looking for a husband. Instead there is a focus on the power of women and her right to choose after getting to know John a bit more. The illustrations have folksy simplicity to them that suit the story. A great African-American version of the classic story that puts the choice back into the hands of the couple rather than the mother. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Jerry Pinkney

The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Jerry Pinkney

The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Jerry Pinkney (9780316341578, Amazon)

Pinkney continues his foray into classic folktales with this new book. With its focus on fooling a bully, this is a timely tale to tackle. Pinkney uses great skill to whittle the text down to exactly what is needed to carry the story forward. The book is not a reinvention of the original tale, but instead a focused version of the original that will have children cheering the brave goats. Pinkney does add a nice touch to the end with the troll getting harried himself and then rejected in a clever mirror of what he did to the goats.

The illustrations from this Caldecott winning artist are exceptional as always. Pinkney uses pencil and watercolor to create his rich illustrations that have small details, large landscapes and animals. The goats are winsome and courageous while the troll is a vile green with long toenails, tusk-like teeth, and rotting fish and fish skeletons around him.

Another must-have for every library by a master author/illustrator. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman

Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman

Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Divya Srinivasan (9780062399618, Amazon)

A princess who is blind also doesn’t speak. Her parents, the Rajah and the Rani, offer a place in the palace and other rewards to anyone who can get Cinnamon to talk. Though the kingdom is remote, people journey there to try but no one was successful. The one day a talking tiger came to the palace and offered to help. Though everyone was frightened, Cinnamon’s parents allowed the tiger to try. Using a series of experiences like pain, fear and love, the tiger proceeded to tell Cinnamon stories. The next morning, the princess was able to talk but things don’t quite go according to plan.

Gaiman excels at writing books with a deep ambiguity and no pressure to have a moral or lesson at the end. This book has exactly that and it is why the book works to very well. He embraces the questions, allows the wonder to simply be there, and twists the story away from where traditional tales would end and towards a more shifting place that allows more dreaming.

The illustrations firmly place this book of a mythical India. Filled with rich colors, they have a distinct flatness to them that works well with a folktale subject like this. They are also filled with small details that adds a delicacy and luxuriance to the images.

Great illustrations bring this book previously only available on audio into the world of children and stories. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Deep in the Woods by Christopher Corr

Deep in the Woods by Christopher Corr

Deep in the Woods by Christopher Corr (9781847807267, Amazon)

This picture book is a retelling of a classic Russian folktale. In the woods, there stands a little wooden house with nine windows and a red front door. When a little mouse discovers that it would make a perfect home, he is soon joined by several other animals until all of the windows and rooms are filled with happy animals living together. When a bear discovers the house though, he is far too large to even get in the red door. He keeps trying to enter the house and climbs onto the roof which collapses the house and smashes it. What can be done to fix everything?

Corr keeps the text nice and simple throughout the story, creating almost a cumulative tale as one animal after the other joins in the group living in the house. For each animal, there are repeated phrases used and they approach, ask to live there and are accepted one after the other. This repetition is nicely done, not overworked and will make the story work well for very small children. The bear’s approach cleverly breaks the pattern established and signals how different he is from the others immediately. The writing is smart and effective.

The cover of the book does not fully show the brightness of the illustrations inside. They are neon bright and almost light the page with their neon pinks, oranges and reds. The red door of the house is wildly bright as are the animals themselves. The illustrations have stylized elements like the sun in the sky and the different trees in the woods. Toadstools and mushrooms carpet the ground that can be yellow, green, purple or blue.

Wild colors add a modern touch to this traditional tale. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.