The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold

Cover image

The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold (9780593202227)

There are only a few people who survived the devastation of the Fly Flu, a combination of an infectious flu carried by ravenous modified bees who will eat any living thing they can find. Nico has grown up in a house with her parents, surviving from one delivery of food to the next. But her mother recently died after losing her mental capabilities and her father appears to have the beginnings of the same problem. Nico’s father has told her tales of caring for a bell that will open a portal in another town, days away. Now Nico must hope that there is truth to her father’s stories as she leaves the shelter of their home and heads into the wilds with her dog. A young person named Kit also survived the Fly Flu. He lives with his mother and adopted siblings in an old movie theater. They grow their own food and try to reach out via radio to other survivors. Kit’s mother also starts to fail, sweating and confused. Now he and his siblings must leave their shelter as well to find a new way to survive. Deliverer is the person who delivered supplies to Nico’s home. Protected by a special suit, they work to try to have as many as possible survive the flu, no matter how many tries it takes.

Arnold has written a complex and layered science fiction novel. With moments of pure horror, the book dances that fine line between sci fi and horror beautifully with the bloodthirsty swarms of insects and the dangerous humans as well. It also incorporates time travel in a way that is delicately threaded through the book, showing up in glimpses and hints before being fully revealed. The writing is exquisitely done, offering clues and puzzles that click together into a whole by the end of the book.

The characters are well written and a pleasure to spend time with. Unique and interesting, they all are fully drawn, even the secondary ones. Nico is a strong character, driven by growing up without others around, she soon finds herself sharing her journey with others. Kit manages to draw others to him naturally, often serving as the bond that holds different groups together. Arnold writes his characters with empathy, care and yet never loses sight of the dangers he is placing them in.

Terrifying, joyous and full of opportunity, this apocalyptic book is never easy or simple. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Viking Books for Young Readers.

You’re Invited to a Moth Ball by Loree Griffin Burns

Cover image for You’re Invited to a Moth Ball

You’re Invited to a Moth Ball by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz (9781580896863)

Combining detailed instructions, plenty of encouragement and vivid photography, this book invites families and classes to create their own nighttime moth ball. The first steps are understanding moths and then putting together the supplies and tools you will need: including a sheet, rope, UV collecting light, and your own camera and flashlight. Prepare the screen and then also make sure you have a snack, one for the moths of course! Now you have two types of bait: light and nectar. Patience is part of the process, as more moths will come as the night gets later and darker. Take your time, be gentle, and marvel at these creatures that live all around us.

Burns offers such a merry invitation to readers in this book, making it feel like a true celebration of insects that we often take for granted or don’t even think about. Her encouragement to do research is appreciated, dedicating time in her set up of the moth ball to model reading books and learning about the creatures you are going to view. Her instructions are child-centered, creating a process that children can do themselves and participate in directly.

The photographs also center on the children managing the entire process themselves. When night falls, the magic in the photos happens as children carry their own lights, the moths arrive and the real party begins. The images of the moths themselves show their proboscis, furry bodies and amazing wings.

A grand project to immerse children and families into wildlife, insects and spending the night outside. Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

The Paper Boat by Thao Lam

The Paper Boat by Thao Lam (9781771473637)

Inspired by her own family’s refugee story, this wordless picture book shares the story of a family fleeing Vietnam. Ant crawl around the food on the table in Vietnam, lured into a bowl of sugar water. A little girl saves the ants from the trap and prevents them from drowning. Meanwhile outside the window, tanks and soldiers appear and the family flees into the night, separating from one another. The little girl and her mother hide in the tall grass, narrowly avoiding the searching soldiers. The girl notices a line of ants leaving the grass. They follow the ants and discover the shore where they wait for the boat to carry them away. In the meantime, they make a paper boat from a food wrapper that is used by the ants to escape across the water too. In a new country, the family gathers around a table together, the ants arrive as well.

Lam’s art is exceptional. She has created a detailed world of harrowing dangers in her depiction of Vietnam. Just having the money and papers mixed with bowls of food on the family table indicates a family ready to flee. The loving family provide moments of connection even as they flee, caring for the spirits of the little one among them.

The most powerful piece of the book is when the ants venture onto the sea in their small paper boat. Some ants perish on the journey, hunger is an issue, and they barely survive, in the end swimming to the safety of the shore. That allegory allows the dangers of the journey to be shown in detail but through ants rather than the direct loss of the characters. It’s powerful and also appropriate for children to begin to understand.

This important wordless picture book tells the refugee story with empathy and strength. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Owlkids.

A Way with Wild Things by Larissa Theule

A Way with Wild Things by Larissa Theule

A Way with Wild Things by Larissa Theule, illustrated by Sara Palacios (9781681190396)

Poppy is a little girl who loves bugs and spending time alone outside. Around other people, she tends to fade into the background, disappearing into the potted plants and the wallpaper. At her Grandma Phyllis’ 100th birthday party, Poppy hides in the bushes. She enjoys watching the party from there, seeing the different people as colorful leaves. When a dragonfly enters the party, it lands on the birthday cake, and Poppy claps her hands in joy. One of her relatives leans in and calls her a wallflower. Poppy wilts, but the dragonfly darts over to land on her hand. Soon everyone is gathered around and Grandma Phyllis declares her a “wild flower” rather than a wallflower. 

Told with a great empathy towards Poppy and her need for quiet contemplation and connection with bugs and nature, this picture book celebrates solitude and being understood. All shy folks will recognize the rather pushy nature of relatives who suddenly notice a quiet child and call them out. The beauty here is that Poppy finds her own way forward with the help of an insect friend. 

The illustrations are done in cut paper, paints and digitally, combining layers together. This has created organic-feeling images that have a wonderful play of texture and pattern. The finer details of the illustrations contribute to the layered effect.

A quiet picture book just right for reading outside on a blanket. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Review: The Bug Girl by Sophia Spencer

The Bug Girl by Sophia Spencer

The Bug Girl by Sophia Spencer with Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Kerascoet (9780525645931)

This is the true story of a little girl who loves bugs, written by her. She first fell for bugs at two-and-a-half years old when she visited a butterfly conservatory with her mother. She loved books about insects and noticed them everywhere she went. In kindergarten, everyone thought that bugs were cool too. Sophia started a bug hunter club at school and had her own collection of live insects on the porch at home. But in first grade, bugs weren’t cool anymore and the other kids started to call Sophia weird for liking them so much. Sophia was dejected and tried to stop liking bugs, but that didn’t work. So her mother went online and reached out to scientists about their own love of bugs. Stories poured in, supporting Sophia and her passion for insects. Sophia was now making news herself and also got her name on a scientific article, all because of being the bug girl.

Written in Sophia’s own voice, this picture book is entirely engaging. It demonstrates how finding one’s passion in life is a powerful thing, but that the world can also be less than encouraging if you are a girl exploring science and creepy crawlies like insects. The change from kindergarten to first grade is dramatic and impactful, even resulting in one dead bug, killed right in front of Sophia. The end of the book offers an example of the sort of bug book that Sophia would love to write, filled with information on a variety of insects. 

The art is bright and fresh, done in watercolors on white pages. They move from full-page illustrations to smaller ones that capture events in a brisk and friendly way. 

A book about following your bliss, particularly if it’s a trail of ants. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.

Review: Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist by Christine Evans

Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist by Christine Evans

Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist: A True Story of a World-Traveling Bug Hunter by Christine Evans, illustrated by Yasmin Imamura (9781943147663)

Born in 1881, Evelyn Cheesman did not conform to the expectations set for little girls. She loved to go on bug hunts and play outside. As she grew up, she hoped to become a veterinarian but women at the time did not attend college much less become vets. So Evelyn became a canine nurse. Evelyn heard about an opportunity at the London Zoo to run their insect house. She leaped at the opportunity, though no woman had ever done it before. She took their dilapidated and neglected insect house and created an engaging display. She then started traveling the world to gather new species and discovering unknown species along the way. She continued to work into her seventies, still traveling the world and climbing to find the insects she loved.

Evans has written this picture book biography with a frank tone that speaks directly to the societal barriers in place against women at the turn of the century entering the sciences. It is remarkable to watch Evelyn make her own way through those barriers, creating a space for herself to learn and explore. There is a joyous celebratory nature to the book as Evelyn reaches new levels in her careers and crosses boundaries both geographical and societal.

The illustrations are done in watercolor, featuring layered elements that really create the woods and other habitats beautifully on the page. The book then moves into the sterility of Evelyn’s time as a canine nurse with the colors becoming more muted. The vivid colors of the beginning of the book return as Evelyn heads into the field and re-enters nature.

A strong STEM biography for bug lovers. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Innovation Press.

Review: The Last Peach by Gus Gordon

The Last Peach by Gus Gordon

The Last Peach by Gus Gordon (9781626723504)

Released May 16, 2019.

Two bugs happen upon the last peach of the summer, still hanging high in the peach tree. The two agree that is is the most beautiful peach they have seen that year. They decide to eat it immediately, until a grasshopper mentions that it must be the last peach of the season. They once again decide to go ahead and eat it. Then another insect says that it is probably rotten inside. The two go back and forth about whether to eat it. Maybe just one little bite? Maybe they should share it with everyone else? Maybe they should just leave it? Or perhaps each of them just wants it for their own. In the end, the two walk away from the glorious peach. But is it a peach after all?

Gordon is an Australian author and illustrator. Writing solely in dialogue in this picture book, he captures what friendship looks like with its give and take. He also shows how small decisions can become major friction in a friendship and how not to navigate those issues, since our bug friends get in a brawl because of it. This picture book reads aloud beautifully and could quickly be turned into a reader’s theater. The illustrations are done in collage that skillfully uses a variety of different types of paper that pops against the white background. The result is a minimalist feel with great pops of green and peachy colors. The twist at the end, revealed only in the illustrations adds a sense of delight to the entire book.

A tantalizing peach of a book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Cicada by Shaun Tan

Cicada by Shaun Tan

Cicada by Shaun Tan (9781338298390)

Cicada has worked for seventeen years in a high rise office. He isn’t given any benefits, because he’s not human. He can’t use the office restroom because it’s for humans. He works hard, finishing people’s work for them. He lives in the space between the walls, since he can’t afford rent. The company knows about this but ignores it. Sometimes humans beat him up because he’s different. Finally, it comes time for Cicada to retire. There is no party or fond farewell, just clearing his desk and leaving. Cicada heads up to the top of the building and….

I can’t ruin the ending of this book for you. Just know that it is incredibly moving and powerful. This is a book that is impossible to categorize. It comes closest to being a picture book for teens, since it doesn’t really have a graphic novel feel. In libraries, I’d put it with the graphic novels for teens though, because those young adults will enjoy it most. Tan speaks directly to those in soul-killing jobs, who work day after day for a pay check that isn’t enough. Cicada’s voice is particularly haunting. Written in abruptly disconnected sentences that are distinctive, Cicada also ends each page with insect noises that create poetry.

Tan’s illustrations are very effective. With gray layered on gray, the world is washed out and faded. Walls, floors, cubicles, furniture. Everything is despairingly monotone. But then you have bright-green Cicada, wearing his fitted gray suit and trying not only to fit in but to help out. The final images in the book stick with you too.

An incredible book for teens, this one is sad, surprising and uplifting. It’s my new choice for graduation gifts. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: A Web by Isabelle Simler

A Web by Isabelle Simler

A Web by Isabelle Simler (9781441328434)

A spider takes a look at the things around her and then demonstrates her skill as a webmaker and an artist. The book features all sorts of items from the spider’s world. There are twigs, feathers, pebbles, insects, leaves, flowers, and more. With each spread of a variety of different kinds of these items, each item is labeled and the pages are filled with details worth exploring. Sharp-eyed readers will notice a spider lurking nearby. At first this is subtle, but soon the black legs of the spider are impossible to miss. When her art is unveiled at the end, readers will realize the care with which she has chosen from the wide array of different pieces for her work.

Simler’s text is minimal, offering basically the category that the items fall into and then labels for each item. The splendor of this title are the finely detailed illustrations that invite readers in. Children who love to categorize items or enjoy nature will love to pore over the pages here. The addition of the art at the end is a splendid surprise for readers who thought they were in a more serious nonfiction book.

Expect children to want to hold this on their laps and really look at the illustrations. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.