I Can Be Anything by Shinsuke Yoshitake (9781452180380)
At bedtime, a little girl insists that her mother play a guessing game with her. She pretends to be something and her mother must guess what she is. Her mother is reluctant and it’s clear that the little girl has gotten grumpy playing this game in the past. Readers will soon realize that this is a much more difficult game than they might have thought! The mother makes logical guesses but each time is wrong as the little girl pretends to be everything from an omelette to Mount Fuji. By the end of the game, the little girl is very tired and finally falls asleep in the middle of acting something out. Readers and the mother wonder what that might have been.
Yoshitake takes a classic moment in childhood and makes it priceless. She captures both the tired mother and the dynamic child deftly in this clever picture book. The mother getting everything wrong is pitch perfect as is the little girl’s building frustration with the situation. The relationship between them is quietly loving and filled with acceptance. The art in the book is simple and effective, showing the little girl’s version of the object and then an image of the actual thing.
Just right for all children trying to avoid bedtime. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.
A Game of Fox & Squirrels by Jenn Reese (9781250243010)
Sam has moved with her older sister Caitlin to stay with her Aunt Vicky, a person they had never met before. They arrive in rural Oregon to a small house with a chicken coop and a large woods nearby. Aunt Vicky welcomes them warmly along with her wife. Sam knows how to stay invisible most of the time, hiding behind her sister’s ability to speak with grown ups. When her aunt gives her a card game, Sam loves the characters on the cards and starts to see a talking fox and squirrels nearby. The fox sends her on a quest for the Golden Acorn, a prize that will allow Sam and her sister to go back home. As Sam starts the quests, she soon learns that showing the fox trust means starting a cycle of abuse once more.
Reese entwines fantasy elements into this book that shows the deep consequences of abuse on a young person. Sam is desperate to get back in touch with her mother and father, though they were abusive parents. The abuse is shown in pieces of comments that Sam remembers, and it does not play out in front of the reader. This results in a haunting echo of abuse that carries through the entire book and all of the characters.
Against that, the game is afoot with a sly fox who manipulates Sam, much as her own father did when she lived with him. The squirrels add a needed merriment to the book with their antics and also show a lot of concern and support for Sam. Yet they are clearly trapped in their own abusive situation with the fox too.
Rich and layered, this mix of fantasy and stark reality is powerful. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Henry Holt and Co.
Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (9781338233155)
This third in the Sunny series of graphic novels continues the story of Sunny, who is growing up in the 1970s. Sunny is starting middle school and things with her friends are becoming more and more confusing. There is the mystery of hair rollers, the unspoken rules of being a girl like when a boy bumps you he’s showing he likes you and that even if girls talk about boys all the time, it’s not OK to be friends with them. But there are things that make perfect sense to Sunny, like playing Dungeons & Dragons with her group of friends, who are mostly boys. When that too ends up being forbidden in middle school, Sunny must decide if she wants to be groovy or wants to be herself.
As someone of almost the exact same age as Sunny in the 1970s, one of the most charming parts of this series is how much of the seventies is captured in the stories without it becoming unnecessarily retro. I also love the inclusion of Dungeons & Dragons. Sunny is a girl after my own heart as I played a paladin always. The fact that D&D bridges from the seventies to today is impressive. The tone is just right as well, offering moments of real humor and empathy in the middle school years. As always, the art is right on, with the failures of Sunny to curl her hair, the beauty of tight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, and the quiet loveliness of a paneled basement for gaming.
Bright and funny, this is another great book in the series. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.
Pass Go and Collect $200: The Real Story of How Monopoly Was Invented by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Steven Salerno (9781627791687)
Explore the story of how the popular board game Monopoly was invented in this nonfiction picture book. Lizzie Magie was a talented woman, someone who was very concerned with fairness in the late 1800s. During that time, wealthy people bought up property in cities and charged high rents for them. Maggie invented the Landlord’s Game, an early version of what would become Monopoly, with two ways to play. One was buying up and owning lots of land and the other was working together and demonstrating how fairness worked better. The game was complicated but popular with different versions being created across the country. When Charles Darrow, a man down on his luck during the Great Depression, was introduced to the game, he worked to improve it. Then he started selling it rather than sharing it the way it had been done. Soon Parker Brothers was interested in selling it. But what of Lizzie?
Stone tells the poignant story of a woman with a real concern for society and the way it was headed. She created a complex game, shared it with others and was taken advantage of by the system that she was working against. Paid a nominal fee to give up her claim to the game, Darrow went on to become a millionaire in contrast. Make sure to read the author’s note at the end that shows how this book was originally about Darrow until Lizzie’s story emerged.
The illustrations have a wonderful vintage quality to them, suiting the period of setting of the book. It is very interesting to see close ups of the different boards of the Landlord’s Game and eventually the very familiar Monopoly board. Even those who don’t enjoy Monopoly, like me, will be fascinated by the complex tale behind the game.
A very intriguing tale that is a mix of women’s rights, ingenuity and economics. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Don’t Blink by Tom Booth (9781250117366, Amazon)
A little girl sits in the middle of the page, looking right at the reader. When a bird flies up and asks her what she is doing, she replies that she’s having a staring contest with the child reading the book. As the pages turn, more and more animals join the staring contest, until the page is crowded with an elephant, fox, frog, porcupine, owl, giraffe, monkey and many more. Even a slow-moving tortoise is heading to the game. But before the tortoise can get to the center of the page, everyone has blinked. Perhaps another try?
Booth’s playfulness is fully on display in this picture book. The book is entirely written in dialogue that is color-coded to the animal speaking with dotted lines to clarify who is saying something. With so many animals on the page, this book lends itself to lots of various voices which will also add to the fun. The illustrations are modern and friendly, even the alligator being more toothy than frightening. All of the animals looking directly at the reader is also very effective.
A great pick to share aloud and have children try to win the staring contest. Or maybe the next one! Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Adam Rex (9780062438898, Amazon)
This picture book takes on a very familiar childhood game and turns it into a tale of battles and glory. It begins with Rock, who traveled the mysterious Forest of Over by the Tire Swing looking for warriors to battle. He fights and wins over Clothespin and Apricot but still hasn’t found a worthy foe. Paper is in the Home Office and also looking for battles. He takes on Computer Printer and Trail Mix and wins over both easily. Now he too is searching for harder battles. Scissors is in the Kitchen where she battles Tape and Breaded Chicken Dinosaurs and wins. Now the three strong warriors are on their way to finally meet one another. Who will win?
Daywalt has written this picture book with the voice of a world wrestling announcer. One can almost hear the crowd in the background and the pounding music as the battles rage. All of the fights have a sense of playfulness and wrestling to them, rather than war. They all echo the same feel of the hand game and amp it up considerably. This book is ideal for sharing aloud and begs for big voices and cheers.
Rex’s illustrations play on the drama of the text. They are action-filled and full of humor. The battles are shown in comic-book like stills, capturing the blaze of battle and the silliness of it all at the same time. The tone is perfection throughout.
A very silly, very fun book that is just right for a crowd of restless or wrestling kids. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Argyle Fox by Marie Letourneau (9781939100092)
On a blustery spring day, Argyle wants to head outside and play. However, nothing works quite right due to the pesky wind gusts. He tries building a card tower and a gust blows it down. He tries creating a spider web of yarn and gets all tied in knots. He tries more robust games like pretending to be a knight or a pirate and each game is ruined by the wind. Argyle returns home sadly. His mother encourages him to keep on thinking about how he can successfully play outside in the wind. With lots of thought and even more work, Argyle comes up with a great solution perfect for a windy day.
Letourneau has created a picture book that celebrates the joy of playing outside even on a windy day. She shows the power of imagination as Argyle tries game after game. Then with some inspiration from his mother, Argyle himself solves the problem and finds a solution. The hard work he puts in is a critical part of the story as is his irrepressible spirit throughout.
The illustrations are very appealing. They have a delicacy to them that allows for small details that become ever more important as the story goes on. It isn’t until Argyle is in his room with all of the things he has used in his play earlier in the book that readers will suddenly see what the solution is. The clever art offers plenty of clues for children to be inspired before Argyle himself.
Perfect reading for springtime, this book invites children outdoors even on the windiest days, just make sure you have the right toy too! Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley received from NetGalley and Tanglewood.
We’re Going on an Egg Hunt by Laura Hughes (9781681193144)
This lift-the-flap picture book is a riff on the beloved We’re Going on a Bear Hunt reworked with an Easter theme. Here a family of rabbits head out to find eggs on a lovely spring day. There are ten hidden eggs on the pages and not every flap has an egg hidden behind it. Along the way, the rabbits encounter a series of obstacles and how to navigate things like lambs, bees and ducks. The final very large egg hides a wolf and the rabbits and the reader have to work together to foil him.
Hughes has done a nice job of incorporating the rhythm and structure of the original book into this springy Easter version. Even the obstacles themselves have a springtime theme. The wolf at the end makes for a delightful twist that creates the joy of rushing back through the obstacles in reverse order and returning home just in the nick of time.
The use of flaps is particularly enjoyable when combined with an egg hunt. Children will enjoy lifting the flaps which are fairly sturdy and should survive small hands well. There are surprises underneath some of them and the chance to count upwards to ten as well.
Great for sharing with a small group of children or one-on-one, there will be lots of demand to be the one to lift the flaps because it is such fun. My guess is you will be reading this one again and again. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Bloomsbury.
Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (9780375870880)
What a way to celebrate Black History Month! With plenty of games, songs, poems and stories, this volume happily combines them all into a delightful rhythm of rhymes, clapping and singing. While the book focuses on games and songs from an African-American background, children of various backgrounds will find new and familiar games on the pages. This mix of discovery and warm familiarity makes this a book that both invites exploration and gives everyone a place to stop and smile in recognition.
This book is almost an encyclopedia of games and songs. Page after page will have readers humming along, singing aloud and looking for a partner to play a newfound or best-loved game. The poetry section adds a real richness to the book, allowing it to slow from the fast pace of the games and songs. McKissack introduces each game, song or poem with a short paragraph about it. This creates a book that is far more than one game after another, adding historical information too.
Pinkney’s illustrations are pure movement on the page. They dance and swirl and tilt and play. Sweeps of color embrace the ink drawings, adding even more motion to the page. There’s a feeling of freedom in the illustrations, a playful wildness that is pure refreshment to the eye.
A book for every public library, this is a must-have. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.