Review: Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (9781524719371)

An entire neighborhood of children steadily join together into one epic summer of fantasy fun built entirely out of cardboard. The book begins with The Sorceress, a boy who finds great power and identity in an evil sorceress character who uses magic and a sibling minions to try to take over the world. She is battled by the girl next door who dresses as a knight with a large sword to save the world. As more children join in, they take on characters who speak to what they need in their lives and to who they are deep inside. There are roaring creatures, a rogue, a prince, a huntress, and many more. Even the neighborhood bully ends up joining in as part of the epic final battle of summer.

Filled to the brim with diverse characters, this graphic novel is something very special. There are characters of different races and cultures, and LGBTQ characters. Written by several different authors who all drew on parts of their own childhood, the book speaks in a variety of voices that really feel like a neighborhood of children. There is a real spark here that demands creative thinking by the reader, looks beyond the cardboard and tape and sees the magic of imagination happening.

The art is bright and colorful, filled with family dynamics that are clearly felt deeply by the children in the book. Some stories like The Sorceress are told mostly in images while others have speech bubbles. This book embraces the fantasy motif and has a dynamic mix of superhero and classic fantasy elements that come together into one great adventure.

This one belongs in a every public library. Make sure to have some boxes on hand to build your own castles and creations. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.)

3 New Picture Books Where Imaginations Soar

Blue Rider by Geraldo Valerio

Blue Rider by Geraldo Valerio (9781554989812)

This wordless picture book tells the story of a little girl who discovers a blue book on the ground. She lives in a bustling gray city filled with people moving in all directions. Taking the book home, she reads it and the blue horse on the pages inspires her. Soon the blue horse is flying above the city and then moving to the countryside where the art becomes more geometric and even more colorful. Out of that burst of color, the girl emerges riding the blue horse. Then we are back in her bedroom where her dreams and her room are filled with color.

Valerio tells the story of how art can inspire and create wonder and a space to dream. The illustrations are done in mixed media, combining paintings with paper collage. The edges become more frayed as the art from the book takes over the page. The movement to a more abstract type of illustration is particularly effective, bursting across the page. A great picture book to share with art classes who will be inspired themselves. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Stone Bird by Jenny McCartney

The Stone Bird by Jenny McCartney, illustrated by Patrick Benson (9781541514553)

Eliza finds a stone shaped just like an egg on the beach one day. She keeps it, even though her mother says it’s not an egg. She sleeps with it under her pillow and then places it on her nightstand, until one day it transforms into a little gray bird made of stone. Eliza takes the stone bird with her everywhere. Then one morning there is a little stone egg next to the bird when she wakes up. Eliza makes a nest out of a pair of socks because winter has arrived. When spring comes again, there are two stone birds in the nest. Then one summer morning, the birds are gone. Eliza misses them dreadfully until her birthday morning when she sees two gray birds on the roof outside her window.

A story of transformation and belief in magic, this picture book is a gentle tale. Eliza is shown mostly alone or with her family and the focus is on her relationship with the stone egg and stone birds. That narrowed focus serves the story well, allowing it to be about seasons passing and the way that birds would act. The illustrations are soft and show the changing seasons with clarity. They have an intimate feel, particularly when it is Eliza and her rocks. A quiet book that asks you to let your imagination soar with Eliza’s. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Andersen Press.)

Groundwood Logos Spine

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki (9781419728518)

This rich picture book looks at colors and inspires children to look deeper at what the colors inspire. While the sky is blue, so is water, until you hold it in your hand and it is clear and sparkles like diamonds when tossed in the air. There are hidden bright colors like the gold of an egg yolk and the red of blood in our bodies. Golden waves of the field look like they could be sailed on with a boat. Until the gray clouds come. Seasons bring their own colors. Black is the color of hair and also the crows outside the window who fly off into the colorful sky.

This is one of those books that you can read over and over again, different words and illustrations touching you each time. For a picture book for very young children, it has an unexpected depth, inviting children to see in a new way as they experience their days. The playfulness of color and imagination delight. The illustrations are exceptional, created with acrylic paint and PhotoShop. Rich and filled with color and sweeping lines, they carry the reader away into dreams of seasons, weather and wonder. A great picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 New Noisy Picture Books

Blacksmith_s Song by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk

Blacksmith’s Song by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, illustrated by Anna Rich (9781561455805)

Told in first person, this picture book shows how communication worked for the Underground Railroad. The boy’s father is a slave on a plantation, working as the blacksmith. He uses the rhythm of the forge to send messages that carry to those waiting to escape. The boy wonders when it will be their turn to escape to freedom. But day by day, his father is growing weaker and more ill. Soon he may not be able to even send the messages from his hammer. When it is finally their turn to leave, it is the boy who takes up the hammer, sending his first message and his father’s last as they head to freedom.

Rich with language, this picture book takes the words of the forge and let them shine. Throughout smoke, sparks and the hammer’s rhythm form a steady beat that the book uses very successfully. The added tension of the father’s illness brings even more pressure for the family to escape in time. While slavery is painted with a gentler brush here for younger audiences, the feeling of oppression is strong and the need to escape is clear. The illustrations are deep and dark, lit by the light of the forge and showing that dark unknowns are safer than slavery. A look at the Underground Railroad that is appropriate for young listeners aged 5-7. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Peachtree Publishers.)

The Great Dictionary Caper by Judy Sierra

The Great Dictionary Caper by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Eric Comstock (9781481480048)

When the words in Noah Webster’s dictionary get bored just sitting around, they escape and create plenty of word fun in this picture book. They form a word parade made of works like “clang” and “boom” and “crash.” There are short words and long words, action verbs pick up the pace. Homophones, contractions, antonyms and palindromes fill the pages too. Rhyming words and words with no rhymes as well as interjections and conjunctions make merry. There is plenty to enjoy here, including witty humor and a rip-roaring pace. Children won’t even realize they are learning concepts as each of the letters has a personality that suits the word they are in. Jazzy and delightful, this picture book is a celebration of our language. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.)

Rumble Grumble...Hush by Kate Banks

Rumble Grumble…Hush by Kate Banks, illustrated by Simone Shin (9781101940495)

The day starts with a few small noises until the little boy starts to play loudly with his imaginary friends. There is roaring, banging, rumbling and dumping. Then it’s time for a bit of quiet with breakfast and thinking until once again the rumbling and grumbling starts. More quiet comes, with a bag of quiet games, puzzles and art projects, books to read and a nap. Then noise is welcome again with balls and toys and blocks and trains. Dinner comes and goes and bedtime approaches with its own quiet. The way that noise and quiet are presented here is lovely, showing they both have places and special ways of playing that allow them to happen. Loud and quiet times are filled with play and imagination here and parental expectations are shown with lots of love and support. The illustrations are playful with friendly huge imaginary friends that fill the page, dark wood floors to sit on and play, bright walls to hang art on, and plenty of room for imaginations to fill. A warm and loving look at play and noise, this picture book is a gem. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade Books and Edelweiss.)

It’s Great Being a Dad by Dan Bar-el

It's Great Being a Dad by Dan Bar-el

It’s Great Being a Dad by Dan Bar-el, illustrated by Gina Perry (9781770496057, Amazon)

One by one, mythical creatures appear and tell the reader how great a life they have. The unicorn loves prancing and their gorgeous horn, but the horn does make it very difficult to eat, particularly if you get a table stuck on it. Bigfoot has a great time being strong and helping his friends, but his big feet can be a problem. The robot loves his flashing lights and memory, but rain is an issue. Then there is the Loch Ness Monster and the “fairy queen ballerina doctor” who help the others. But there are always problems like the sneaky flying alligator pirate. Who can help all of these mythical beasts? Dad, that’s who.

This book embraces the idea of creative and imaginative play completely as the children first introduce themselves as the characters they are pretending to be. Steadily though, the illusion breaks a bit as each new character is introduced and their personas get more complicated. Bar-el does a lovely job of allowing the fantasy to fracture steadily and then break altogether as Dad enters the picture.

Perry has created first a lovely fantasy world with rainbow colors, deep forests, lochs and castles. She then goes on to morph that into a multicultural family filled with children of all ages who are trying to play near one another if not together. The connection between fantasy and reality is strong in the illustrations and children will love seeing the ties.

A warm look at imaginative play and great parenting, this picture book is a celebration of dads. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

The Carpenter by Bruna Barros

The Carpenter by Bruna Barros

The Carpenter by Bruna Barros (9781423646761, Amazon)

In this wordless picture book, a little boy is playing with his electronic device. His father works near him on a carpentry bench. Suddenly, the little boy is distracted by the zigzag folding ruler that his father has been using. He imagines at first that it is a snake hissing at him, but is soon building with it by folding it into shapes. He creates a house, a car, a large tree, an elephant and even a whale! When the whale spouts water that floods the floor, his father saves him by pulling him up onto the table and into the boat that he’s been building. Now they can float safely and the ruler can become the sail.

Barros embraces the nature of children at play in the modern world by capturing the little boy’s love of digital devices at the very beginning. The ruler though sparks new creativity in the boy, allowing his imagination to guide him through all sorts of playful ideas. The wordless format also invites readers to use their imaginations to fill in the story. The bright pictures have a great graphical nature to them that has a strong boldness.

As a child I managed to break my share of zigzag rulers, so I completely understand their appeal. This book is filled with imagination for children and memories for us older folks. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Rain by Sam Usher

Rain by Sam Usher

Rain by Sam Usher (9781783705467, Amazon)

Sam and his Grandpa are spending a rainy day together. Sam wants to head out into the rain, but Grandpa asks that they wait until the rain stops. Sam spends the time reading books, drinking hot chocolate and dreaming of adventures. Meanwhile, Grandpa writes at the table and eventually has a very important letter ready to put in the mail. The rain ends just in time for them to have the adventure together that Sam has been dreaming of.

Usher has combined the tedium of waiting for the weather to change with the pleasure of escape into imagination. Sam waits reluctantly for the weather to change and yet manages to amuse himself without devices or television during the long wait. Merrily, the imagination and reality merge towards the end of the picture book, as Grandpa and Sam float directly into his dreams.

The illustrations are particularly effective. Usher creates a crispness in the interior images, filled with details done in fine lines and bright colors. Through the windows though, readers can see the weather. Outside the streets are awash in smears of light and color, filled with rain and raindrops. There is a real sense of a wash of water happening in the street and the light plays across the puddles realistically and beautifully.

A rainy day book brightened by a fantastic adventure. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Templar Publishing.

Argyle Fox by Marie Letourneau

Argyle Fox by Marie Letourneau

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.

My Valley by Claude Ponti

my-valley-by-claude-ponti

My Valley by Claude Ponti (9780914671626)

This imaginative picture book tells the story of the Twims, a type of creature that lives in a specific valley. One Twims narrates the book, explaining life in the valley. He lives in a House Tree up on the cliffs. He has many siblings, a mother and a father and two sets of grandparents. He plays games in the woods, watches all sorts of weather arrive, including once children falling from a house picked up by a hurricane. Twims use theater to get over feeling angry, have a cemetery with grave markers that speak to the interests of the Twims buried there, and enjoy the changes of each season.

First published in France, this book has a gorgeous otherworldly feel to it. It balances the wonder of these little creatures with the small details of their lives. It strongly reminded me of my childhood love for the Gnomes book by Wil Huygen. This new book touches those same emotions, the exploration of something small and clever, the beauty of a simple life and the magic inherent in it as well.

Ponti’s illustrations are lovely. He intersperses the image on the cover of the book throughout the book, focusing on the valley as it changes through different kinds of seasons and weather. The valley almost becomes so familiar that readers will identify with it themselves as each type of event makes it all the more spectacular. There are also the small details of the Twims’ lives, the floors of the House Tree, playing outside, and stories of events that had happened.

This unique picture book invites readers to imagine along with the author and delight in a new creature. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Elsewhere Editions.

 

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez

nightlights-by-lorena-alvarez

Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez (9781910620137)

Released March 14, 2017.

At bedtime, the air in Sandy’s room fills with small lights that float in the air. When she catches one, she is transported to a fantasy world filled with beautiful creatures. During the day, those same creatures fill her drawings that she makes at her Catholic school. Then one day, a new girl approaches her and talks to her about her drawings. Her name is Morfie and no one else seems to know her. That night, Sandy is visited by a strange girl-like creature who changes what Sandy creates from the lights into something stranger and darker. Sandy continues to spend time with Morfie at school and gets help from her too. Morfie appears at Sandy’s home and suddenly her connections to the strange darkness is made clear. Now it is up to Sandy to outwit them with her creativity.

Alvarez has created a graphic novel that is abundant with creativity and beauty. While the world of Sandy’s imagination is exceptionally wondrous, the real life part also has small touches that make normal life seem special too. Sandy’s ride to and from school has interesting plants along the path that seem to come from her imaginative world rather than our own. These touches tie Sandy’s imagination into her real life experience very subtly.

The art in this graphic novel is filled with deep colors and wild creativity. There is a distinct anime appeal to the art, particularly in the characters themselves. The creatures in the light-filled imaginative world also have the playfulness of Pokemon about them as well as a gorgeous ethereal quality that floats on the page.

A dynamic and creative graphic novel for children, this one will light up readers’ imaginations. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Nobrow Press.