7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross Macdonald (9781484717790, Amazon)
I was dozing in his office when 6 came in looking for help. 7 was after him! There was a rumor going around that 7 ate 9 and now he was coming for 6. So I went out to figure out what was going on. Following a series of clues after talking with letters and numbers, I deduced that 9 had disappeared but that 7 could not have eaten him since 7 was on vacation. Suddenly, I figured it all out and realized exactly what was going on in this topsy-turvy mystery.
Filled with puns and jokes, this picture book is a lot of fun. Using the framework of a vintage detective agency, this picture book borrows the lingo from that period as well, adding to the humor. Children may figure out the mystery along with I, but they may be surprised as well. No matter, the fun is in the language, the humor and the ride.
Macdonald’s illustrations allow the letters and numbers to pop on the page. They pay homage to vintage images using similar lines and colors. The letters and numbers have plenty of personality so they are distinct from one another as characters. Pay close attention to the small details as well. You wouldn’t want to miss the pi joke in the restaurant scene.
A mystery filled with humor, you can count on this to be a great read. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Disney-Hyperion.
XO, OX: A Love Story by Adam Rex, illustrated by Scott Campbell
A romantic ox writes a letter to a gorgeous gazelle professing his love for her. At first, he only receives form letters back, but Ox is determined. He commends her for how smart she must be to send two identical letters to him. Gazelle finally does reply in person, still aloof. The two begin a letter correspondence filled with Gazelle’s not-very-subtle insults to Ox and Ox returning only compliments. Gazelle insists that the letters have to stop, but Ox continues writing. He sees only humor in her replies. Finally Gazelle has had enough. Or has she?
Rex’s writing is a joy. Using only the letters they write as text in the book, he captures both animals’ personalities. Each is far more complex than they seem at first and just as they learn about each other in their letters, the readers learn about them as well. It would have been easy to set the Ox up as hero and the Gazelle as villain, but Rex is more subtle and skilled than that.
Campbell’s illustrations are done in watercolors and colored pencil. Just as with the letters, there is a wonderful difference between the illustrations of either animal. Ox is rather rougher and wears the same outfit in all of the illustrations. Gazelle changes outfits in almost every scene and is surrounded by opulence rather than the simplicity that surrounds Ox.
The joy of letter writing and receiving letters is captured in this picture book romance. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (InfoSoup)
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles lives in a small house on a hill near the sea where he watches for the glint of glass in the waves. It is his job to deliver any messages found in bottles to their rightful owner. Sometimes that means walking only a short distance and other times he must go on a long journey to deliver them. He wishes that one day he would find a message in a bottle that is meant for him, but he never does. One day though, he does find a message with no recipient mentioned. It is an invitation to a party on the beach. He heads into town and asks person after person if this is their message, but it doesn’t belong to any of them. He decides he must go to the party to apologize for not delivering the message to the right person. But what he finds there shows him that some messages are meant for him after all.
Cuevas writes with real poetry in this picture book. Her prose captures the essence of moments with gorgeous descriptions like, “Sometimes the messages were very old, crunchy like leaves in the fall.” The book celebrates the connection that letters bring each of us and takes readers back to a time when messages were written by hand, even if rarely placed in bottles. It is also a book that speaks to the importance of community and feeling like you belong, but also the vitality that can be found in taking the first step towards making that connection.
Stead’s illustrations are dreamy with their pastel colors and fine lined details. Some of them are almost like looking through a keyhole and watching while others encompass the page. There are pages filled with the water of the sea that show both the difficulty of the job and the loneliness of it too. Moments looking alone out of a window capture the isolation the Uncorker is feeling. The colors too add to the emotions of the images both during the isolation and later at the party.
A poetic and beautiful picture book that looks at letters, community and connections in a memorable way. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.
Fish by Liam Francis Walsh (InfoSoup)
A boy and his dog head out onto the lake to fish one morning. Both boy and dog have their own fishing poles. They first catch the letter F. Then the letter I. The letter S is next. But beware the huge letter C that is circling the boat. When they hook a Q, it is thrown back into the water. Soon though they are caught in a whirlpool of letters, swept underwater among schools of them zigging and zagging. When the boy makes it back to the boat, he has the H under his arm, but loses it as the huge letter C reappears. Not to worry, his dog has saved the day with the H to complete FISH. But was that what they were trying to catch?
This wordless picture book depends on its wonderful illustrations to carry the story. And do they ever! Done with a limited color palette of pale blue and bright red, they shine on the page. Each character also shines with personality and energy. The ending of the book is very satisfying, especially since all readers will think that the goal was to catch FISH when actually it was to do something entirely different. It’s a great twist that is filled with jolly cheer.
A standout wordless picture book that illustrates how letters form words in the most energetic and playful of ways. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Numberlys by William Joyce, illustrated by Christina Ellis
In a world where there are only numbers, everything is very orderly and neat. But it’s also very gray, even the food. Then five friends started to wonder if there was something more than numbers, something different! So they started inventing and they slowly came up with letters. And when they reached the final letter Z, things started to change. Color entered their dreary lives as the letters fell into place. Once the letters formed words, real changes started and the entire world was flooded with color and yummy foods and possibilities.
Based on the app, this is a second picture book from the creators of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which also started as an app. Joyce creates a numeric and order-filled world reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984 in the first pages of the book. The text here is very simple, allowing most of the storytelling to be done by the illustrations. Joyce keeps a light hand here and uses humor to show how dark the world is. Who could imagine a world without jellybeans?
It is Ellis’ art that brings this world to life. Her orderly world has the feel of wooden toy soldiers and the five friends are wonderfully different and unique even before they invent the alphabet. The gray tones of the early part of the book give way to jellybean colors that jump on the page.
This celebration of words and books also examines the importance of independent thought and creativity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Published June 27, 2013
Duncan is all set to color, but when he opens his crayon box he finds all sorts of letters written to him by his crayons. And they are all letters of complaint! First, Red wants to complain about being overworked because of all of his work on apples and fire engines. He even works holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day! Other crayons like Beige are complaining about not being used enough. Then there is the feud between Orange and Yellow about how is the real color of the sun, since Duncan uses them both. Peach crayon is upset about having his wrapper peeled off leaving him naked and unable to come out of the crayon box. Purple scolds Duncan for coloring outside the lines and Pink complains about not being used except by Duncan’s little sister. Luckily, Duncan has a great solution to all of their complaints.
Daywalt has created a book that is such fun to read aloud. Each crayon’s letter really has its own voice, making it a pleasure to give new voices for each crayon character. This mix of tones and voices also results in a very robust story, much more than one might expect for such a simple concept. The entire book is cheerful and has laugh-out-loud moments throughout.
Jeffers’ art is as always playful with his own particular whimsical touches. His crayons come to life with just a few lines that convey emotion through eyes, mouth and arms. Simple and completely convincing.
A colorful look at crayons, personalities and ultimately creativity, this picture book should be shared aloud with plenty of paper for coloring on. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Philomel.
Love, Mouserella by David Ezra Stein
Mouserella misses her grandmother. She had to go back to the country, and Mouserella lives in the city. So her mother suggested she write a letter, and she did! The pages are filled with drawings, photographs, and plenty of great details. Though Mouserella doesn’t think there is much to share, she actually finds lots of everyday things to talk about: creating seed parachutes, visiting a museum, experiencing a blackout, and playing with her brother. The story is jolly and warm, filled with homey details, a loving family and the joys of the small things in life.
Stein’s writing and art here create a harmonious whole. The writing is winningly child-like and wandering. Mouserella’s voice is clear and personal throughout, creating a solid base for the book. Stein then embellishes the book with art that ranges from Mouserella’s drawings to photographs of her world. The combination of crayon art with Stein’s own more realistic but still whimsical art makes for a striking read.
This warm, wonderful picture book will be enjoyed by grandmothers and grandchildren alike. It is a perfect accompaniment to letter writing units or story times about grandparents. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Penguin Young Readers Group.
Also reviewed by A Year of Reading.