Review: Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

number one sam

Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

Sam wins every race, so he’s not worried at all at the big race.  His best friend Maggie is racing too, but Sam know that he is the best.  He quickly leaves everyone behind, except for Maggie who stays right with him and then wins the race!  Sam is devastated.  He didn’t sleep at all before the next race and is so distracted that he’s late starting the race!  Even starting after everyone else though, he quickly takes the lead.  But then, he sees a flock of chicks on the roadway and though he can get around them safely, he worries about the other racers not seeing them in time.  So Sam stops and saves the chicks who ride along with him to finish the race.  Sam finishes last, but as he approaches the finish line he can hear people cheering – for him!

Winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for his first book The Watermelon Seed, Pizzoli has a knack for using simple language for big ideas.  His books are straight forward and have a classic feel about them, perfect for the smallest children.  At the same time, his books are not predictable.  I thought this book might deal with jealousy as its primary focus, but it changed in the middle of the book to be more about good decision making and being a good friend.  I appreciate that he was able to pivot a simple story like this into something with depth.  That takes real skill.

Just like his writing, Pizzoli’s art is simple.  He uses strong lines and bright colors to really create a feel that is distinctly his own.  This book fairly glows with yellow on the page, sunny and bright as the racers speed on the page.  Other pages with different emotions have different colors, something that really works to convey a change in feeling directly.

Another winner from Pizzoli, this book will appeal to children interested in cars and racing immediately but is also a great book about making good choices.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

unicorn thinks hes pretty great

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

Goat is disgruntled.  Everything was going just fine and then Unicorn came along.  Goat rides his bike proudly until Unicorn actually flies by.  Goat brought treats for the class and then Unicorn made it rain cupcakes.  Goat was doing great at the dance but Unicorn won first prize.  Goat does some simple magic coin tricks and Unicorn turns things to gold.  It just is not fair.  So Goat is not ready for Unicorn to come up to him when he’s having lunch and talk about how much he loves goat cheese, how he adores cloven hooves, and how jealous he is of Goat’s curved horns.  The book ends with the two deciding to be friends and imagining what they would look like as a superhero team. 

Shea always does comedic writing very nicely with a great sense of timing and books that are ideal for reading aloud thanks to the strong character voices.  Here Goat steals the show despite Unicorn’s more flashy attitude.  His dour attitude is nicely enlivened with humor and his own wry take on life. 

Shea’s art is done in his signature simple yet rather zany style.  Unicorn’s magical traits are portrayed in a flashy, wild way that makes them all the more funny and impressive.  With only a few lines, the mood of both Unicorn and Goat are clearly shown.

Funny and wild, this book proves that the cupcake is always fresher on the other side of the rainbow.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci

year of the beasts

The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci and Nate Powell

Told in chapters that alternate Castellucci’s writing with Powell’s graphics, this is the story of two sisters.  When the summer carnival comes to town, Tessa, her younger sister Lulu and her best friend Celina get to go to the carnival without their parents for the first time.  After meeting up with a group of boys they know, the three girls and the boys head to the sideshow tent with its darkness and opportunities.  But Tessa’s plans don’t quite work out, and the boy she has a crush on, Charlie, ends up entering the tent with Lulu instead.  Tessa is left to go in with Jasper, a boy who is known as a strange loner.  When they exit, Tess has rebuffed Jasper’s attempts to kiss her, but something has obviously happened between Charlie and Lulu that has sealed them together as a couple.  Now Tessa has to deal with her jealousies and their dark results.

Castellucci’s prose is lush and wild.  The emotions in the book sizzle, coming right off the page.  On page 97, there is a great example of this:

If there were such a thing as a dark cloud over someone’s head, Tessa had one.  It was a stormy little thing.  With hail and lightning and thunder.  And no silver lining.

She explores the feelings of confusing lust and potential love, the ability for those same feelings to alienate and discourage, and the intensity of sisterhood.  The book is character-driven with Tessa at its center in all of her confusion, desperation to not be jealous, and constantly feeling as if she is second best.  There are no easy answers here, nothing is let go of easily, and emotions twist and turn.  It is a beautiful storm of a book.

Then you have the other chapters done in graphic novel format that show Tessa as Medusa with her nest of snake hair.  The graphic portion moves along in advance of the text portion, foreshadowing things that are yet to come.  Medusa finds that her school is also filled with other monsters, her best friend is a mermaid, and Charlie is a centaur.  She has turned her parents to stone with her gaze and now must live with the consequences of that unless she is able to reawaken as a human again. 

The pairing of these two makes this book even more original and powerful.  It also makes the book much more welcoming for reluctant readers or those who have discovered Castellucci through her graphic novels. 

An emotional ride of a teen novel done with beauty and power, this book has an innate appeal thanks to its graphic novel portion and the dynamic writing.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.