The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor by Shaenon K. Garrity

Cover image for The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor.

The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor by Shaenon K. Garrity, illustrated by Christopher Baldwin (9781534460874)

Haley loves Gothic romances and has turned in four English papers on Wuthering Heights. So when she sees someone drowning in the river, she knows just what to do. After rescuing the drowning man, Haley awakens to find herself in Willowweep, a manor filled with characters who are Gothic novel tropes. There is the housekeeper who looms and lurks, the three brooding brothers, and even a ghost who haunts the manor. But there is more happening in Willowweep. The external features of the manor hide the fact that this is a pocket universe, created to keep two larger universes from colliding: a universe full of evil and Earth. Willowweep’s defenses are beginning to crack and crumble, allowing the evil to enter the Gothic world. It is up to Haley to figure out how to use her deep knowledge of Gothic novels to stop the evil invasion.

This uproariously funny graphic novel plays beautifully upon Gothic tropes. Haley serves as the voice of the reader, exclaiming as each new trope becomes apparent. The twist of being in a decaying pocket universe works really well with the Gothic overlay. The clockwork style of the universe’s inner workings are a delight as is the solution worked out in the ending. Add in that all beings must stay in the Gothic style, and the evil monk who arrives is perfection. It’s all a very funny yet great adventure with a well-read smart heroine at its center.

The illustrations are a delight as well, leaning into the Gothic elements like the looming housekeeper, the ghost only Haley can see, and the three brothers. The green glowing eyes of those taken in by the evil add to the marvelous joy of the book.

A delight of a graphic novel that mixes Gothic and science fiction into something new and wonderful. Appropriate for ages 12-16.

Reviewed from copy provided by McElderry Books.

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.

The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen

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The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen (9781536215625)

Returning to the world that Klassen has built in his previous picture books is pure joy. In this picture book, he presents a series of short chapters that tell the story of a tortoise, and armadillo and a snake. In the first story, the tortoise has his own favorite spot to stand that is near a flower. The armadillo though prefers a spot near a small sapling. Readers know a huge rock is hurtling towards them. But who has decided on the right place? In the second story, the tortoise climbs the rock and falls off, yet he doesn’t want any help at all getting turned back over. The third story has the friends imagining the future. Plants will grow up around the rock and there may be a terrifying one-eyed creature too. The next two stories deal with feeling left out until that same terrifying creature returns.

Klassen has such a delightful darkness to his stories. This one still has hats in it, but they aren’t the focus of any of the stories. Instead it is the rock itself that literally anchors the stories together along with the three animals who find themselves near it. Klassen creates real drama with the tension he builds in his stories, moving from the rock hurtling to the quiet of it afterwards. He also moves from imagining what could happen to that happening very quickly in reality. These elements add a dark humor to everything, making the books immensely funny even as they take a turn.

As always, Klassen’s art is simple and powerful. He uses the pages as almost a stage with a line of horizon that stays consistent throughout the book. The dialogue is either on its own page or on a distinctly separate part of the illustration, allowing the action to continue to play out in front of the reader and listener.

Dark, funny and full of surprises. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

We Love Fishing by Ariel Bernstein

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We Love Fishing by Ariel Bernstein, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal (9781534438644)

Bear, Porcupine, and Otter love fishing. Squirrel isn’t quite as enthusiastic as the others. Bear, Porcupine and Otter love eating fish. Squirrel thinks fish smell too fishy. Bear, Porcupine and Otter love walking through the woods on their way to catching fish. Squirrel doesn’t like the bugs, the steep terrain or the rocks. In fact, he’d much rather take a taxi. The others love the hours it takes to catch the fish while Squirrel is horribly bored. The other don’t mind the rain which makes Squirrel’s hair frizz. After a mishap with the only fish they manage to catch, the others realize they love Squirrel and his offer to buy dinner more than they like fishing.

Told in marvelously “factual” statements that the entire foursome love the same things, this picture book shows Squirrel’s opinions in a wry and funny way. Bernstein’s very simple writing is just right for sharing aloud. The change from enthusiastic fishing to frustration is one that most people on fishing trips have experience at one time or another. Happily, this group has Squirrel and his phone to save the day and fill their stomachs.

The art is simple and bold, showing clearly the emotions that each creature is feeling on their day out together. Rosenthal uses body language and facial expressions to great effect. The images use plenty of white space, inviting readers to both enjoy the outing and also to understand Squirrel’s point of view too.

For anyone who has ever gone fishing, particularly those of us who fall asleep in the boat. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

Attack of the Underwear Dragon by Scott Rothman

Cover image for Attack of the Underwear Dragon

Attack of the Underwear Dragon by Scott Rothman, illustrated by Pete Oswald (9780593119891)

Cole has a favorite knight of King Arthur’s Round Table. So he writes Sir Percival a letter asking to be his assistant knight. Sir Percival received the letter and cried, because knights do cry and he too as a boy asked to be an apprentice. Cole had a lot to learn in his new position. There were many things to do and figure out how to help Sir Percival be a great knight: lugging stuff, getting knocked down, and cheering him along. Sir Percival was also terrified of the Underwear Dragon, unfortunately that dragon arrived and destroyed the kingdom. All of the knights lost! So Cole wrote another letter, this time to the Underwear Dragon. But dragons can’t read, so the dragon ate the letter and just kept on destroying things. The Underwear Dragon finally faced off against Cole. Cole was scared, but had also learned a lot of skills. He used them all until finally the underwear flew off, and the dragon left. Cole became a member of the Round Table, but needed a nap before he could choose his own assistant knight.

Rothman has created a very funny picture book that plays against knight stereotypes, making them marvelously open about their feelings. He has a great sense of comedic timing where the impact is increased by page turns. The book has several montage scenes of things like “why knights cry” and “what Cole needed to learn” that are funny and boisterous. The Underwear Dragon himself gets his own montage of things that he cannot read, which makes for great comedy as well.

The illustrations are just right for reading aloud, whether to a group or individuals. There are many sight gags, offering just the right amount of silliness to an already funny book.

Funny, silly and full of knights and dragons. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

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

See the Cat by David LaRochelle

See the Cat cover image

See the Cat: Three Stories about a Dog by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (9781536204278)

In this hilarious easy reader, the main character is a dog. But the narrator of the story has other ideas. The first story is simply called “See the Cat” and the dog must insist he certainly is not a cat, definitely not a blue cat in a green dress, and most definitively not riding a unicorn. Still, there’s a nice twist in the end that ends with an embarrassed “red dog.” In the second story, the dog is happily snoozing when the narrator announces that you can “see the snake.” The snake is under the dog, and then gets quite angry. But before the snake can bite the dog, the way the narrator says, the dog comes up with his own solution involving a pencil. In the last story, the reader is told to “see the dog” but then the dog is ordered to spin, jump and even fly or else he will get sat on by a hippo! In the end though, the dog does some bargaining and can go back to napping with no snakes or hippos in sight.

LaRochelle’s easy reader is very funny, just the right sort of humor for young children. The pacing is great with the page turns adding to the moments of reveal and drama. The text is very simple, with the humor playing up the format of an easy reader and it’s straight-forward language. The result is a book that is silly and a delight, something that could be read again and again by new readers who will giggle every time.

The art suits that of an easy reader too, done in simple lines and nice large formats. The dog’s expressions are classic cartoon and add to the humor of the book. When things like the snake and hippo appear, it increases the merriment.

A great addition to easy readers, this one is a hoot! Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex

Cover image for On Account of the Gum

On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex (9781452181547)

After falling asleep chewing gum, it ends up in your hair. When your father tries to cut out the gum, the scissors end up stuck there too. They look online and discover that all the website advise to use two sticks of butter. But the websites were wrong, and the butter is also now in your hair. Your aunt adds the grass. Your grandpa adds the bacon and noodles. Your rabbit eats grass, but ends up stuck too. Perhaps the cat will help? Or scaring the cat away from your head with the vacuum cleaner? Nope, those are stuck too. But don’t worry, the firemen are on their way!

Rex writes this book in the second person, inviting the reader to feel what it’s like not just to have gum in your hair, but all of these other things. It makes the book feel personal and also adds to the wild hilarity as the story builds. The focus of the illustrations is just like the cover, with the desperation building. Rex continues to add to the humor all the way to the end, creating a real catastrophe that will have children entirely engaged.

The illustrations are marvelous with the various family members coming in with their own solutions. The desperation in the main character’s eyes adds to the hilarity, even as they look right at the reader. There’s a wonderful blankness there too, a sense of despair.

Hilarious, this is one you are bound to stick with until the end. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Chronicle Books.

Wink by Rob Harrell

Wink by Rob Harrell

Wink by Rob Harrell (9781984815149)

Ross desperately just wants to be normal, but that isn’t working out for him. After being diagnosed with a rare eye cancer, he has a permanent wink. He goes for treatments each week, making friends with an old guy who is always there as well as with one of the technicians who is desperate to improve Ross’ taste in music. Meanwhile at school, he is steadily becoming stranger as his hair starts to fall out in clumps, he has to use gloppy creams, and he starts to wear a hat all the time. He’s the opposite of normal and the bully in his class definitely notices. But even as he gets further from normal, he starts to figure some things out, like how great it feels to play the guitar even if your fingers are ready to bleed, how amazing it is to play in a band, and how a ton of humor can get you through almost anything.

Based on the author’s personal story, this book takes a unique look at a cancer journey. Harrell’s book is downright hilarious, never allowing the book become too full of the harrowing nature of having a rare cancer and the impacts of the treatment. Ross and Rob are too funny to let that happen, incorporating the adventures of Batpig to help. Through all of the humor a poignancy shines through, allowing those moments of serious crisis to really stand out with their importance and yet also their impermanence.

The book is filled with comic pages, art, and notes. It has hair clumps, face goop, music mixes and more. These graphic elements help to break up the text but also really demonstrate Ross’ skill with art and his quirky sense of humor as he deals with his cancer.

Funny, sarcastic and honest, this is a cancer book with laughter and head-banging music, not tears. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

I Hate Reading by Beth Bacon

I Hate Reading by Beth Bacon

I Hate Reading by Beth Bacon (9780062962522)

Exactly the right book to pick up when a child has to read for 20 minutes but doesn’t want to. Filled with humor and plenty of empathy for their plight, this book will have the pages turning quickly. Done with very little text on each page and large graphic elements, the book first looks at the rules of reading: Eyes on book. Butt on chair. Easy words are then offered in a list, and then a handful of hard words too, though you are encouraged to just skip words like “plutonium” and “photosynthesis.” Ways to escape your reading exile are also suggested like going to the bathroom or getting a bloody nose. A few blank pages make them turn even faster. Still, in the end, the book actually will get reluctant readers to not only open it up but to read!

The tone of this book is exactly right. There is a wonderful sneakiness to it, inviting children to scheme along with the narrating voice about how to stop reading. And yet, in order to play that naughty game, they have to read. The humor is broad and inviting, while still offering real tips for readers that actually work.

The book design plays a huge role here too. With minimal text on the pages done in large fonts, the rest of the page is designed to be bright and lively with large graphical elements like zippers, flashlight beams, movie film, and the play of black pages and white.

Funny and effective, get this into the hands of reluctant readers. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.