Review: Why? by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Why by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Why? by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (9780823441730)

A little white rabbit is full of questions for a bear who valiantly tries to answer them all. After each “why?” comes a wise answer about wind, gravity, honey, stars, plants and much more. Finally though, the bear has had enough and heads off home. The little rabbit asks him not to go and now it is Bear’s turn to ask “why” of the rabbit. Rabbit rises to the question and answers it with the same wisdom and patience that Bear has shown all along.

Seeger takes the questions of a toddler and turns it into an engaging picture book. Parents and children alike will recognize the endless questions and the patience it takes to answer them. The turn around at the end of the book adds exactly the right ending to the story. Throughout the book has a pitch perfect tone that makes rabbit’s questions interesting rather than bothersome.

Seeger’s art is lush and lovely. One can almost sink into her greens and blues, they are so deeply colored. She manages to create a friendship from two animals without anthropomorphizing them along the way.

Simple and just right for toddlers and their questions. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Holiday House.

Review: Stormy by Guojing

Stormy by Guojing

Stormy by Guojing (9781524771768)

The author of the award-winning The Only Child returns with another lovely picture book. In this wordless picture book done in graphic-novel format, a woman discovers a puppy sleeping under a bench at the top of a hill. When she tries to approach the dog, he runs away, returning to hide under the bench after she leaves. On her next visit, the woman brings a ball for the dog, then pretends to ignore him. He slowly moves out from behind the nearby tree and sniffs at the ball, picking it up but not returning to the woman. The third visit has the two of them beginning to play fetch together. This time, the dog follows the woman home, but she doesn’t see him. When a huge storm appears, she heads into the deluge to save him but he isn’t where she thinks he will be.

If you look at the lighting and beauty of that cover, you will have a sense of the incredible illustrations throughout this book. Guojing beautifully paces her story, showing the patience and time it takes to create a sense of safety and trust between the woman and the stray dog. There are achingly lonely moments at night, the dog alone, the dog with just his ball, the dog outside her window. Guojing gives those moments space in the book to just be there, haunting and lovely.

A great wordless picture book about building trust and finding a home. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade Books.

Review: Dig by A. S. King

Dig by A. S. King

Dig by A. S. King (9781101994917)

Meet five teenagers who either barely know one another or don’t know each other at all, but all are from the same broken family. It’s a family where the roots run deep into potato farming and racism. It’s a family broken by high expectations, greed, and an inability to connect. Each of the teens carries their own moniker other than their first name. There is the Freak, a girl who can flicker from one place in the world to another. The Shoveler is a boy with big secrets to tell. CanIHelpYou? works at a drive through, selling more than burgers and fries to her customers. Loretta the Flea-Circus Ring Mistress lives in a family of violence and hunger, but has her own flea circus at least. First-Class Malcolm lives with his father who is dying of cancer and jets back and forth to Jamaica. Each teen carries so much weight, so much dirt with them, and yet there is hope if they can just dig deep.

I won’t lie, this is one tough book. King wrestles with the issues, choices and lives faced by teens in the modern world. They are lives embittered by racism, poverty, drugs, violence, and lies. Still, as the reader gets to know each teen, there is grace beneath all of these layers of family crap and expectations. There is responsibility too, responsibility to be different than the previous generation and make better choices for themselves and their families.

I also won’t lie about the fact that this is a very important book. It looks at racism with an eye towards white people taking responsibility for their history, for their current state, for making assumptions, relying on friends of color for cover, and for not being allies in a real way. It lays all of that bare, insisting that the characters and readers take action in their lives to remedy things, to speak of the unspoken, to insist on change happening. So this tough read is filled just enough light through the muck of life.

A great teen novel full of depth with a strong voice and a definitely point of view. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Ultrabot’s First Playdate by Josh Schneider

Ultrabot's First Playdate by Josh Schneider

Ultrabot’s First Playdate by Josh Schneider (9781328490131)

When Ultrabot’s professor invites their neighbor Becky to come over for a playdate at their secret lab, Ultrabot is very nervous. He wonders if Becky will share or break his toys. He pictures her as an enormous furry dog-person with barrettes all over. But Becky turns out to be a little human girl. She brings a ball along with her and after some initial shyness, Ultrabot sees that they can share. The two played ball together, drew cats, and had sandwiches for lunch (with the crusts cut off.) They shared all of Ultrabot’s toys too, though afterwards the professor thought it best if they met at Becky’s house next time.

Schneider tells a very touching and funny story of a shy giant robot and his first playdate. Ultrabot’s emotions mirror those of a young child going to their first playdate or meeting a new person. The questions he thinks about, the worries he has and the resolution are all very human.

However, the illustrations show that this is still one giant robot who has toys like real airplanes, eats sandwiches made of girders and diesel tanks, and is able to do wild math calculations. The illustrations are wildly funny and set a perfect tone. I particularly love that the secret lab is ever-so-obvious and out-of-place in their residential neighborhood.

Funny and friendly, this is just right for any reluctant robot in your house. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Jasper & Ollie by Alex Willan

Jasper & Ollie by Alex Willan

Jasper & Ollie by Alex Willan (9780525645214)

Jasper and Ollie are best friends. At breakfast, Jasper wants to go to the pool and Ollie agrees. Jasper, the fox, wants to race to get there and runs out of the house. Along the way, he pull on his swimsuit, blows past the mailman who dumps his letters, jumps over a turtle painting a fence, and hustles past the ice cream truck. Now Jasper has to wait for Ollie though. And Ollie, the sloth, has a very different approach. He watches butterflies, smells the flowers, picks up the spilled mail, gets a drink, helps paint the fence, and gets an ice cream cone. Meanwhile Jasper is rushing around trying to see if Ollie is somewhere at the pool and manages to get himself thrown out. Luckily, that is just when Ollie arrives with ice cream cones for both of them.

Willan tells this story solely in speech bubbles. He uses framing techniques from comic books to great effect here. On the larger upper frame, he shows Jasper in his speedy desperation to find Ollie. Below, Ollie moves along quietly enjoying his walk to the pool. Jasper is often accompanied by a dashed line showing his movement over and under and around people and obstacles and usually accompanied by chaos in his wake.

The illustrations are brilliantly done with plenty of humor too. It has a wonderful aesthetic to it where the pattern of Ollie’s swimsuit is repeated on various things at the pool that Jasper searches. The illustrations are worth looking closely at to catch all of the funny moments and small touches along the way.

A combination of speed and sloth that makes for a great friendship and plenty of laughs. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

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

Review: Bruce’s Big Fun Day by Ryan T. Higgins

Bruce's Big Fun Day by Ryan T. Higgins

Bruce’s Big Fun Day by Ryan T. Higgins (9781368022811)

Nibbs, the mouse, wants Bruce to have a fun day, but Bruce doesn’t seem to be having any fun at all. Breakfast in bed turns into a messy disaster. The long walk is exhausting. A picnic turns into a feast for the ants. The boat ride is wet, particularly when Nibbs uses Bruce himself as the boat. They do make it back home in time for supper, but supper is too dainty and fancy for Bruce and dessert is even worse. By the time they are in bed, Bruce is very, very grumpy. Which is really nice, since Bruce loves to be grumpy. It might have been the perfect day out after all.

Higgins cleverly turns his picture book series about Mother Bruce into an easy reader format. His use of limited vocabulary is done seamlessly with the story. It helps that there is zany action on many of the pages that can be explained in Higgins’ rather dry tone in just a few words. The illustrations help too. Done in full color and with Higgins’ signature style, they show the story playing out on the page with great clarity and additional moments of silliness.

A great addition to easy reader shelves, this one is big fun. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris

Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris

Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (9780316464475)

A river flowed through the forest. The river had no idea it could have adventures until a big bear came along. As the curious bear toppled into the river, the adventure began. Soon Bear was joined by Froggy and they both climbed onto a log which headed down the river. Along the way, others joined them too. There was the beaver who could captain, the turtles who were worried about disaster, the raccoons who didn’t know how to be careful, and the duck they crashed into. Then came the waterfall…

Morris has written a book that begs to be shared aloud. From the various personalities of all of the creatures to the shared adventure that is filled with twists and turns, this book is full of fun. Morris uses an interesting turn of phrase throughout the book, with each additional animal and the river itself not knowing what they are capable of. It’s a great lens as each of the animals learns that they are not alone but instead part of a larger community and world.

Pham’s illustrations are zany and ever so funny. He completely captures the personalities of each of the characters as they head down the river. From their body language to their expressions, these creatures are in for a lot of adventure together. The added joy of the maps of the river as the endpages are great. Grayed-out at first, they are full color at the end.

A wild ride of a book that is really all about shared fun and community. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Bear Out There by Jacob Grant

Bear Out There by Jacob Grant

Bear Out There by Jacob Grant (9781681197456)

This second book about Bear and his friend Spider follows Bear’s Scare. Bear is happy staying at home all day, being cozy and warm. Spider though has a kite that he wants to fly, and he loves to be outdoors. When Spider’s kite gets away from him, Spider asks Bear for help finding it. So Bear heads out into the itchy, bug-filled, dirty woods along with his friend. The two search for a long time, Bear completely missing the charm of the woods. When it starts to rain though, the entire adventure gets bleak and disheartening. The two friends though, never quit. They eventually find the kite tangled in the trees. Now can they find a way of compromising and finding some indoor/outdoor fun together?

Grant writes with a great wry sense of humor that really allows Bear to be just as grumpy as he likes without the book ever becoming too filled with complaints. Spider helps in that way too, without saying a word, keeping spirits high and trying to show Bear how lovely the outdoors actually are. The text is simple and the pace is just right for a walk in the woods.

As with the first book, Grant’s art is perfect for sharing with a group. He fills the pages with color and large shapes. Even small Spider can be easily viewed by children seated on the floor. The art is welcoming and simple.

A look at the wonders of nature through the lens of a friendship. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Review: Abner and Ian Get Right-Side Up by Dave Eggers

Abner and Ian Get Right-Side Up by Dave Eggers

Abner and Ian Get Right-Side Up by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Laura Park (9780316485869)

Open the book and you will discover that friends Abner and Ian are stuck on the sides of the page rather than being appropriately at the bottom of the page like any other book. What will get them into the right position? All they know is that the story really can’t start until they are in the right spot. Perhaps the child reading the book can help? But first Abner and Ian have to decide who will ask the child for help and when. The first shake doesn’t help at all, but makes it worse for both of the characters. More shaking continues and the results get more funny with each shake. Can it ever be fixed and the story begun?

I had not expected to be delighted by another book that asks children to shake the book, but this one is simply superb. A large part of the appeal are the characters themselves and their unique voices. I love their complaining and the different personalities that come forward, sharing weird little factoids and just having a conversation together that sounds natural and is entirely engaging.

Add to those interesting characters some odd visual results from the shaking that are very unexpected, and you have a winner of a picture book. The simple illustrations add to the appeal here, making the various positions on the page all the more humorous.

Funny and fascinating, this is one book that will shake you up! Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.