Review: Little Mole’s Wish by Sang-Keun Kim

Little Mole’s Wish by Sang-Keun Kim

Little Mole’s Wish by Sang-Keun Kim (9780525581345)

Little Mole was heading home alone on the first day of snow, when he met a snowball on the path. He brought the snowball along with him to the bus stop. He waited for a bus, but the driver wouldn’t let him on with a snowball. So Little Mole sculpted the snowball into a bear. But the next driver realized it was still a snowball. So Little Mole gave the snow bear a backpack. The two waited a very long time together for the next bus, long enough that Little Mole shared his hat in case the bear was cold. That bus allowed them both to board. On the warm bus, Little Mole fell asleep and when he woke up his friend was gone. The bus driver urged him to head home, saying his friend must have gotten off at another stop. Little Mole got home and told his grandmother all about his day. When he went to bed, he wondered where his friend had gone. In the morning, his grandmother called him with a big surprise!

There is so much magic about this picture book that was originally published in South Korea. Little Mole is an entirely winning character who problem solves along the way, creating a bear just as charming as he is. The words and illustrations work seamlessly together here as Little Mole builds a friend from snow. Readers will have a series of surprises as the book goes on, including the two riding the bus together and then the final surprise that ensures everyone will know that wishes come true.

Kim’s illustrations are soft and dreamy, done in colored pencil, pastel, pen and digital. They are full of small touches that bring the entire world to life with an owl sleeping in the hollow tree, Mole having a similar teddy bear to the bear he builds from snow, and each bus matching its driver in design, including the final bus having deer antlers.

A perfect read for the first snow. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.

Review: Albert’s Quiet Quest by Isabelle Arsenault

Albert's Quiet Quest by Isabelle Arsenault

Albert’s Quiet Quest by Isabelle Arsenault (9781101917626)

In this second book in the Mile End Kids series, Albert is looking for a quiet place to read. His house is way too noisy, so he heads to the alley behind his house. There he notices a painting of the sea at sunset and imagines he is reading on a quiet beach. But the alley starts to get busier as he sits there. Some children are working on potting a plant. Others begin a badminton game. Another girl asks Albert to watch her doll while she gets her cat. Someone else plays music and kids start to dance. It gets too be way too much for Albert, who slams his book shut and yells at the kids to be quiet. The others sneak away and quietly bring out their own books, finally shushing Albert when he tries to apologize for his outburst.

Told only in speech bubbles in the illustrations, this story is about wanting to find a bit of solitude and quiet. The building of the noise around Albert is done well, layering on top of one another. The ending though is a pleasure and a surprise as the other children get books and read too, with the picture book ending with laughter together.

Arsenault’s illustrations are wonderfully ethereal and unique. Done in a limited color palette, they have a quiet nature to them. She plays nicely with Albert’s imagination taking up double-page spreads and showing all of the children on the beach together. The cacophony takes over the pages, a brilliant show of noise and activity on the page.

Just right for quiet and loud kids alike. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

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

 

Review: Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner (9781481495561)

AJ just doesn’t feel like he fits in with his two best friends anymore. They are always daring each other to do things and have fantastic lives where they take big risks and brag about them. In contrast, AJ feels short and dull. But then he decides to take a big risk and start talking to a girl he’s had a crush on for years. He’s just not sure how to get Nia’s attention. He knows she is way into vampire novels, so he starts to read them too. Perhaps all it will take is some fake blood around the gums to get her to notice him. However, when Nia does notice AJ, she thinks he’s a real vampire and she has dedicated her life to slaying them. What none of them can see though is that there is a real vampire in their midst! Something they might figure out too late.

This graphic novel for teens and pre-teens is just right for both Twilight fans and Twilight haters. Getting it into the hands of Buffy fans would also be a great choice. Gardner wisely plays on the tropes of vampire novels, using similar character names and book titles. Throughout there is a sense that the reader is in on the broader joke of it all, something that is entirely charming.

Readers will figure out that there is a real vampire long before the characters do and Gardner then lets that play out delightfully. There is no attempt to conceal it, either through the storyline or the art work. And the art work is excellent, offering large panels in a colorful vampire-filled world. It has a cartoon feel to it that makes it approachable and then the humor completes it nicely.

A great pick for fans and haters alike, this one would make a great graphic novel to book talk to middle-schoolers and teens. Appropriate for ages 11-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 New Picture Books Featuring Friends

A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano

A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Lane Smith (9781626723146)

Two children head into the woods and discover an old house that is no longer a home. Once painted blue with an overgrown path, the house has a door that is stuck partly open. So the children enter through a broken window. Inside they find clues about the people who used to live there. There are art supplies, photographs, things in the kitchen for cooking, and beds that are still made. Could the owner have been a sea captain? Or perhaps a woman who painted in the garden? A girl or a boy? A king or a queen? And why did they leave this house waiting for them, never to return?

Such a gorgeous picture book. The writing is exceptional, the poetry invites readers to head forward slowly as if exploring an old house themselves. The writing looks at things from different angles, puts words together carefully and asks readers to think a bit before moving on. The pacing is delicious and just right, echoing the activities described on the page. Smith’s illustrations are layered and loose, the color on the page almost lifted by the breeze like pollen. It settles and lifts again.

Seriously one of the best picture books of the year. This is treat by two master artists must be shared with children!

Jerome by Heart by Thomas Scotto

Jerome by Heart by Thomas Scotto, illustrated by Olivier Tallec (9781592702503)

This beautiful, heartfelt picture book shows the incredible joy of having a true childhood friend. In this book, Raphael loves his best friend Jerome. He’s a friend who isn’t afraid to hold hands, picks Raphael as his partner at school, shares his snacks, and defends Raphael if anyone picks on him. When Raphael’s parents react rather rudely when he expresses his admiration and adoration of Jerome, Raphael heads to his room. There he looks for a great gift for Jerome, until he is distracted thinking about adventures that he and Jerome can have together. Because they will!

A French import, this picture book is childhood captured on the page. There is a merriment to the boys’ time together and an innocence inherent in the way they treat one another. And yet Raphael has beautifully concrete reasons that he loves Jerome and it’s all about how well he is treated and how Jerome makes him feel inside. The parents’ reaction may echo some of the reactions of adult readers who may wonder if there is more connection between the boys than just friends. That is neatly put in its place as Raphael heads off to be with his friend regardless of what that friendship may eventually mean for them.

Tallec’s illustrations are as masterful as ever. The pairing of the two boys is depicted with solid connections between the two of them. They have a lovely playfulness about them that capture the friendship of the boys and mimics the merriment that the boys feel when together. A delicate and touching story of friendship. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion Books.)

Rescue & Jessica A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky

Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, illustrated by Scott Magoon (9780763696047)

Written by two of the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, this picture book is the true story of one of them and their service dog, Rescue. It is the story of a dog learning to serve and a girl learning to survive after losing a leg. Both of them train long and hard separately until they are paired together. The two of them spend their days together and Rescue helps Jessica heal after she loses her remaining leg. After that, the training starts all over again, but this time they do it together. This picture book captures a story of resilience and survival after a tragedy and the difference a service dog makes in that recovery and life afterwards.

The writing here is told with a light tone where possible. It helps tremendously that readers can see Rescue training to be Jessica’s dog even as her story is deep in shadows and pain. The mirroring of their hard work is also very successful, showing the dedication they both had to have even before they meet one another. The illustrations are very effective, using white and black backgrounds to show hope and challenging times. Throughout though, there is hope, in the form on one black dog who stands strong against dark and light. A winning picture book that is inspiring and courageous. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

3 New Picture Books Full of Friends

100 Things I Love to Do with You by Amy Schwartz

100 Things I Love to Do with You by Amy Schwartz (9781419722882)

This is a companion book for 100 Things That Make Me Happy and uses the same charming format. Told in rhymes, the book shows children, adults, friends and family spending time with one another doing a variety of things. Activities range from whale watching to ice cream to stargazing to cloud watching. Throughout families of different types and children of a variety of races are depicted. There is a jolly tone to the book, a galloping rhyming form and lots to love. Spend time with this picture book and the children you love to do things with. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Elmore by Holly Hobbie

Elmore by Holly Hobbie (9781524718640)

Elmore is a porcupine, a very friendly one, but he doesn’t have any friends. Porcupines are solitary animals, but even so Elmore got lonely at times. So he put up a sign on a tree saying “Friends Wanted.” But then he overheard the other animals talking about how prickly he is. Elmore never meant for anyone to be pricked by his quills, but it sometimes happened. So Elmore spent a rainy day up in his tree thinking about what would work. With some kind words from his uncle, he had an idea! There are many things to enjoy in this picture book. One of those is that Elmore does not lose his quills or start acting any differently. Instead he comes up with an idea where he embraces what makes him unique. It’s a clever idea, one that will surprise and delight readers. The illustrations are also delightful with a wonderful whimsical feel to them. Elmore himself is quite an approachable and cuddly porcupine, though you can see the quills poking through the back of his cardigan. A picture book about being yourself, prickly or not. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Random House.)

I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoeet

I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoeet (9781524769567)

This wordless picture book tells the story of a new girl in school who is bullied. The new girl spends her first day at school separated from the others, not joining in playing games, not interacting in class and leaving quickly when school is done. On the way home, she is bullied by another child, something that is witnessed by a girl in her class. The witness spends her entire evening thinking about what she can do to help. At breakfast the next day, she has an idea. She goes to the bullied child’s home and walks together with her to school. Friends join and soon the entire school is walking with Vanessa. This picture book takes the large issue of bullying and gives children a way to not only talk about the issue but to do something about it. The book ends with information for children about bullying and a guide for parents and teachers to talk more about it. The art is engaging and lively, the bullying not overwhelming at all, but clearly hurtful and wrong. The emotions on the faces of the children are reinforced by their body language as well. A great book to start class discussions about bullying and being brave. Appropriate for ages 5-7.  (Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.)

 

Review: Half a Creature from the Sea by David Almond

Half a Creature from the Sea by David Almond

Half a Creature from the Sea by David Almond

In a series of short stories, master author Almond takes readers back to the magical times of his childhood as well as our own. The stories are all set in the places that Almond grew up in. The stories range in topic, but each one offers glimpses of wonder and deep understanding. They also all speak to the power of stories in our lives, whether they are to reveal or to hide the truth. The eight stories in the book give us characters living normal yet extraordinary lives. There is the girl rejected by school and society who finds it easy to believe she comes from somewhere far away. There is the home with a monster hidden inside it where you can hear its noises if you put your ear on the wall outside. There are the boys who run miles and miles to swim in the sea on one perfect summer day. There are poltergeists mixed with soccer games, bullies mixed with heroes. It is a beautiful collection of stories which put together make up a glimpse of a world past that still is relevant in our modern one.

Almond’s writing is exceptional. This shorter form allows him to create little worlds of magic, astonishing moments of clarity, decisions that reverberate in the community. He invites us into his home, revealing in paragraphs before each story the way that the story ties to his childhood or to a place that is dear to him. It gives us a look at his process, a way to understand the fictionalizing of memories and the beauty of turning everyday into amazement. The fantasy elements are there, dancing under the cloak of faith but there still, explained but also not completely fictional. There is a delicacy to this writing and yet a robustness to the setting that work particularly well together.

One of the best short story collections I have read in a very long time, this collection is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.

Review: Caterina and the Perfect Party by Erin Eitter Kono

caterina and the perfect party

Caterina and the Perfect Party by Erin Eitter Kono

Caterina is planning a party and she just knows that it is going to be perfect.  She creates the most inviting invitations, cooks the most delicious food, and hangs the best decorations she can craft.  Everything seems to be going perfectly, even with the twists thrown in by her little brother Leo.  But when the day of the party arrives, so does a great big storm.  Suddenly things are no longer perfect.  Everything is drenched, there is mud and puddles everywhere, and nothing is going as planned.  But one list does turn out to be the most important of all, her list of friends. 

This is a cheery book that avoids being too sweet thanks to the character of the little brother and the interrupting storm.  It is a book that will speak to children who enjoy having everything planned out and want things to be perfect.  But it is also one that spontaneous children will feel very comfortable reading too.  I particularly enjoyed that Caterina does all of the crafting and cooking herself.  Even better, that is not the part that goes wrong as I initially thought it might. 

Even though Caterina is a planner, she also has a spark of spontaneity to her that makes her much more relatable.  The little issues her brother creates are incorporated into her final designs without much fuss.  She also does not sulk at the end of the book about the failed plans, quickly adapting to the new party that is happening around her. 

Cheerful and warm, this book would make a great pick for reading at any celebration or crafting program.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial.

Review – Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick

curveball

Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick

Peter has always loved baseball and excelled at it.  About to start high school, he looks forward to being a pitching star and playing alongside his best friend AJ.  But when he ignores the pain in his arm and continues to pitch, disaster happens and he is told he can no longer pitch, ever.  Peter’s mother talks him into taking a photography class in school, inspired by his grandfather who is a well-known photographer in their community and whom Peter loves to spend time with.  Peter reluctantly agrees, but the class is too easy and he is moved to an advanced photography class along with another freshman, a beguiling girl, Angelika.  As their relationship starts thanks to photography, Peter notices that his grandfather is starting to forget things.  Peter keeps the truth about his grandfather from his parents, just as he doesn’t tell the whole truth about his arm to his best friend.  How long can he balance the lies he’s been spinning before they all fall?

Sonnenblick has created a book that is smart and charming.  He effortlessly blends the worlds of sports and photography, plus a dash of strong romance too.  Peter is a great character: a jock who is bright, funny and endearingly unsure.  A great sense of humor runs through the book as well, making the book a fast read despite the heavier issues at its heart.  The book grapples mightily with truth telling and relationships.  Readers get to see just enough of the grandfather before he starts to lose his memory to understand just how strong the relationship between the two of them is.  Though there are many issues at hand in the book, they are all balanced on strong storytelling and vivid characters.

With its blend of topics this book should appeal to many readers, get it in the hands of teens who enjoy John Green and are looking for more smart, funny books.  Appropriate for ages 14-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.