Pete with No Pants by Rowboat Watkins (9781452144016, Amazon)
Pete is a little elephant who prefers not to wear pants. He likes to pretend to be other things that are also gray and also don’t wear pants. Maybe he’s a boulder? But the boulders don’t like his knock-knock jokes and never respond. Maybe he’s a squirrel? But he manages to scare the squirrels away. A pigeon? A cloud? Or maybe, he’s exactly who he knows he is, a little one who doesn’t want to wear clothes.
I love that there is a moral here, but it’s for the parents not the kids. That is to let your little one be who they truly are. The ending has the mother elephant who is dressed quite conservatively and has been watching with a worried expression finally just accepting Pete for who he is. The writing is mostly done in asides spoken by Pete and the other animals. It’s wry and great fun, just right for reading aloud.
Watkins’ illustrations have a great softness to them, colors that are subtle and smear on the page. The background isn’t a pure white but a soft textured gray. The pages move from full double-page spreads to smaller comic-book framing that plays in tune with the speech bubbles on the pages. Don’t miss the denim end pages too, and notice the difference between the front and back ones.
A joyous call to support our children, whoever they are. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn (9781592702299, Amazon)
Told in the voice of a young boy who is different from the others around him. He doesn’t mind wearing different colored gloves after he can’t find his lost one. He enjoys being alone most of the time, unlike the others in his town. His favorite place to be alone is in a huge oak tree that is named Bertolt. The boy spends his days up in Bertolt’s branches, weathering storms together, making friends with the animals and birds that live in the tree. The boy looks forward to spring when Bertolt’s leaves will return and become a splendid green shelter again. But when the other trees burst into flower and leaf, Bertolt doesn’t. Eventually, the boy must admit that Bertolt is dead, but what does one do when a tree dies? The boy figures out exactly the right thing.
This is a story of an introverted child who doesn’t mind being on his own one bit. As a fellow introvert, I love seeing the depiction of a child who isn’t longing to be included but instead finds real pleasure in his time spent alone. It’s a story of independence and imagination, showing that quiet time alone can lead to creative solutions even when you have lost something you love. The book is touching, warm and celebratory.
The illustrations are lovely with the huge sweeping oak tree filling the page, the branches thick and strong, the leaves aglow with green and light. The fine-lined images capture the boy almost dwarfed by the space around him and yet eagerly also a vital part of the scene. His acorn cap speaks to his connection to nature and set him apart from the people around him as well.
A lovely look at introversion, imagination and the power of being different and embracing it. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg (9780545858267, Amazon)
A follow-up novel to Openly Straight, this second book focuses on Ben. Ben comes from a conservative New Hampshire farming family and is at a prestigious all-boys boarding school on scholarship. His life is filled with pressures of hard work and high achievement. He is told he will be the recipient of the school’s annual college scholarship and that just heaps on more expectations as does his election to be the captain of the school’s baseball team. As school pressures build, Ben is also wrestling with his sexuality. He has met a girl who makes him laugh and is distractingly beautiful, but he can’t get his best friend Rafe out of his mind. Ben is pushed to his limits in this novel that shows the importance of being honest with ourselves most of all.
Konigsberg delights in this second novel about Rafe and Ben. The use of a different perspective is refreshing and smart. The novel takes place after the first in the series, continuing the story and moving it forward. Throughout the book, other aspects of sexuality and gender are explored. Two of Rafe and Ben’s closest friends are asexual and gender fluid. They too are discovering their own identities alongside Ben, making for a rich experience for the reader.
Ben himself is a robust character with so much going on. He’s a history geek, loves to read and enjoys learning. Still, he is struggling in calculus, working late into the night just to stay afloat. Questions about teen drinking and cheating are also woven into the story, alongside the importance of being true to yourself in a myriad of ways, even if that means standing up to those around you. This is one of the best teen books with a bisexual character that I have read, even if Ben himself would not use that label.
A powerful and wildly funny look at sexuality, this novel makes me hope that future books in the series will be told from the perspectives of the other friends in the group. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.
The Catawampus Cat by Jason Carter Eaton, illustrated by Gus Gordon (9780553509717)
Released March 21, 2017.
The cat arrived in town one day and no one noticed at first. Then a grocer noticed the cat who walked entirely askew, crooked to the world. He and his wife tilted their heads to match and discovered her lost wedding ring, romance blossomed. Soon others in town were tilting too. The barber discovered a new haircut, a housepainter created modern art, the librarian pulled a different book out and found a new passion, and a young boy discovered a new way to look at math. The town entirely changed, rebuilding their houses to be crooked and having their cars made that way too. They named a day after the cat and threw a big event. But in the end, the cat had a new way once again of looking at things.
Eaton’s writing is playful and fresh. He embraces thoroughly the impact of a crooked cat on an entire city, one small change after another building to an entire shift in the society. The picture book looks not only at how one individual’s point of view can change the world but also about how being flexible enough to look at the world from a different viewpoint can change an individual and improve a life. The entire book is hopeful, funny and joyful.
Gordon’s illustrations are a mix of collage and painting. With lighthearted cartoon style, they are immensely appealing. Done in subtle colors, they combine vintage clippings, photographs of objects and loose-lined illustrations.
A winsome picture book, this one can be used to spark discussion about our own catawampus approach to life. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Crown Books.
Gary by Leila Rudge (InfoSoup)
Gary was a racing pigeon, but he wasn’t like the rest of the pigeons. On race day, instead of setting off with the others, he stayed behind and organized his scrapbook. Because Gary couldn’t fly. When the others returned, Gary listened to their stories and recorded everything in his scrapbook. But one night, Gary and his map tumbled into the race basket and he didn’t awaken until they were far from home and in the city. Gary was scared and worried that he’d never find his way home, but then he opened his scrapbook and discovered he wasn’t quite as lost as he had thought. Soon Gary had worked out a route home and arrived there via bus. This time he was the one with the stories and a new way for all of the pigeons to get around.
This picture book is pure joy. Gary is a wonderful misfit pigeon, missing exactly the key attribute that makes him a racing pigeon. Still, Gary embraces his differences and makes himself part of the team by recording their adventures. At the same time, he is always separate from the others. This picture book about resilience and self-esteem will speak to anyone who as felt different from the rest.
Rudge’s illustrations add to the appeal. She makes sure that Gary stands out from the other pigeons who are suited up in racing red. Gary meanwhile wears his winter cap and has keeps his head cocked in an inquiring way the entire time. Gary’s use of tape and his scrapbook is also lovingly detailed.
A charmer of a book about self-esteem and embracing your individuality pigeon style. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (InfoSoup)
This picture book begins with the reminder that the sky is always above you, no matter what. A little rabbit with a long scarf makes his way along an adventure with a wise narrator explaining that there are wonderful things alive in this world. There is magic where you least expect it. There is adventure if you leave the mapped roads. It is OK to both hum and cry. It’s important to trust yourself. The little rabbit gains skills on his adventure and lots of confidence too. In the end, the book returns again to the permanence of the sky above us and its beauty.
This book is completely encouraging, explaining to youth exactly what it takes to live a life filled with bravery and authenticity. In many ways it would make a great graduation gift as teens set off into the world. Yet it still works well as a picture book for younger children where the large concepts inside can be discussed and their importance reinforced in conversations. It’s a book that celebrates the individual and their personal journey through life, one that asks us all to follow our own roads and live as we were meant to live.
Cordell’s illustrations are lovely. Their fluid lines and deep colors reinforce both the necessary fluidity of life and our journey and then also the beauty of the world around us if we take time to see it. His little rabbit is entirely engaging, making sure that the book stays relevant to younger children.
An inspirational read that is all about living your personal life and following your own path, this picture book is just right for young and old. Appropriate for ages 4 and older.
Reviewed from library copy.
I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard by Jennifer K. Mann (InfoSoup)
Mrs. Benson gives stars on her blackboard for things like spelling, neatness and raising your hand. Rose though, struggles with all of those things. Plus she isn’t good at math, her voice is too quiet for a star in reading, and she spilled snack on Mrs. Benson. Rose had been distracted by the artist who came to speak with them and dreaming of all of the things that she could create. At the end of the day, there was going to be a check for desk neatness, and Rose knew that she would never get a star for that. Mrs. Benson didn’t quite reach Rose’s desk that evening, so the next day Rose came in early and cleaned her desk. Then they got to make thank you cards for the artist who had visited, but doing art was messy and Rose undid all of her cleaning. At the same time, Rose had made an incredible card and who knows maybe art was a way that she could finally get that star!
Mann captures the pressure that a student who does not conform to classroom norms can feel. Rose desperately wants to do what is right, but none of the qualities that Mrs. Benson wants come easily or naturally to her. The presentation of someone to inspire her to do her best on something that she is definitely good at makes for a natural turning point in the book and allows Rose to continue to be herself all the way to the end. This is a celebration of artistic children who may lack in social graces but make up for it in boundless enthusiasm and creativity.
Mann’s illustrations make the book very kid-friendly as does the subject matter. The friendly round-headed characters are shown in a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Rose stands out in the illustrations with her bright-colored clothing and then the fact that at the artist presentation she is standing and listening rather than sitting. It all shows that she is a vibrant kid, filled with so much zing that it would be impossible to contain her.
A celebration of kids who don’t fit into classrooms easily, this picture book celebrates creativity and being yourself. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton (InfoSoup)
Princess Pinecone is the smallest warrior in a kingdom of warriors. For her birthday, she wanted something other than the cozy sweaters that she usually got. After all, warriors want something that make them feel like champions, not cozy sweaters. So Princess Pinecone asked for a real warrior horse, a grand steed. Unfortunately, what she got was a round little pony who ate what it shouldn’t and then farted too much. The day of a great warrior battle was approaching and Princess Pinecone just asked her pony to do its best. Everyone was fighting with one another and Princess Pinecone stayed at the edge waiting for her opportunity to join in. When Otto, a huge warrior, charged right at her, he was stopped by the cuteness of her pony. One by one all of the fierce warriors stopped to look at her pony, to pet it and hug it. Otto admitted that warriors rarely get to show their cuddly side. And that’s how Princess Pinecone found a use for all of her cozy sweaters and appreciation for her cutest of ponies.
The author of the online comic Hark! A Vagrant has released her first picture book and it’s stellar. First, let’s just applaud a picture book that has a tough heroine at its center, one who uses spitballs, wants to battle, and is looking for a real steed to ride. Second, the book also has other strong female characters, women warriors on the page who are already living the life that the princess seeks. Third, they are also different races. It’s lovely and done without fanfare. Then you also have the fact that the princess is feminine and cute herself. She does not have to reject that part of her to be a warrior. And finally of course you have the cute pony that manages to win a battle in its own way. This book is all about being yourself, whoever you are and the magic that happens when you do just that.
Beaton’s illustrations add so much to the appeal of this book. I love that the pony is a zany cute with eyes that sometimes don’t look in the same direction and a penchant for farting. Round and sturdy, it is impossibly cute. The warriors are also wonderful in their own ways, wearing different types of armor with missing teeth and green hair, they are individuals to the core. And yes, there’s even ice cream at the battle, adding the sense of merriment throughout.
Funny and intelligent, this picture book will have any warrior princess clamoring for more. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Astrid and Nicole have been best friends for years, but something is changing. When Astrid’s mother takes them to see roller derby, Astrid immediately wants to do it. Nicole is more interested in doing her ballet camp. Without telling her mother that Nicole won’t be helping with carpooling, Astrid starts at roller derby camp. There she discovers that there is a lot to learn about roller skating, hitting and friendship. As Astrid struggles to keep up with the more advanced skaters at the camp, she finds herself dreaming of of being the star of the roller derby. As junior high and the roller derby show near, Astrid has to figure out how to handle her new budding friendship without losing it to jealousy and how to be a strong teammate.
Jamieson is a roller derby girl herself, so the skills and hard work depicted in this graphic novel offer plenty of detail and reality. The result is a book that shows how hard you have to work to be successful and the determination it takes to stand up over and over again after you fall down. At the same time, the tone is realistic, and does not overdramatize learning new skills and being part of a rough sport. The tone is always realistic and honest.
That same tone continues in the depiction of the friendships that Astrid has. The two friendships, one that Astrid is growing out of and one that is just beginning, are shown in all of their fragility. Astrid’s own responses are honest and depict the difficulties of a young girl trying to find her own voice and her own place in the world. Many readers will see themselves on the page, whether or not they are derby girls.
Get this one into the hands of fans of Raina Telgemeier! It’s another graphic novel with a strong and funny female protagonist. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.