Review: Monkey & Cake Books

What Is Inside THIS Box by Drew Daywalt This Is MY Fort by Drew Daywalt

What Is Inside THIS Box? by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Olivier Tallec (9781338143867)

This Is MY Fort! by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Olivier Tallec (9781338143904)

These are the first two books in the rather surreal new easy-reader series Monkey & Cake. Monkey and Cake are friends. In the first book, Monkey has a big box that he won’t let Cake open. Inside the box is a cat, but it’s a cat that disappears when the box is opened. This bothers Cake immensely, certain that the cat must be imaginary. But is it? In the second book, Cake builds a fort that he won’t let Monkey enter. Monkey though finds another wild solution to the problem, declaring that the entire world then is Monkey’s fort and turning Cake’s fort into a trap of sorts. Soon it is Cake who is begging to share forts.

With the two premises being unique and fascinating questions about perspective, trust and ownership, this series is great fun but also unusually deep. Even the two characters are a delightful and rather zany mashup where pie is the snack of choice, definitely not cake! The writing is done entirely in dialogue, making the reading snappy and fast paced. There is little extraneous here, as it’s a concise look at big questions. Tallec’s art is bright and friendly. The two main characters are always center stage and interacting with one another, arguing as only friends can.

A wild and interesting new easy reader series. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copies.

Review: Monkey on the Run by Leo Timmers

Monkey on the Run by Leo Timmers

Monkey on the Run by Leo Timmers (9781776572502)

In this wordless picture book, Papa Monkey and his little monkey are heading home from school in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The two of them are aboard his banana-cycle with a sidecar for little monkey. But from the beginning, the little one is engaging with the other vehicles along the way. He leaps on to a firetruck that is fighting a fire on another vehicle while driving. He takes a piece of cake from a royal car with a mobile kitchen and waiters. He munches the cake in the crow’s nest of a boat with wheels. He dodges a rooster after seeing a police chase. He dangles above an ambulance, gets ice cream from an ice cream truck, and ends up with a perfect wrapped present for his mother along the way.

Timmers’ traffic filled with inventive vehicles will remind readers of Richard Scarry’s Busy Town. This art though is much more modern and the interaction between the vehicles is more robust. There is a lovely logic to each vehicle, a little story being told to the reader who slows down to explore each one. The bustle and rush of the traffic would seem to make a fast-paced book, but this is one to linger over and enjoy following the adventures of a little monkey through the wildness of the different modes of transportation.

If you have a little one obsessed with vehicles, the humor and wonder here is sure to entice them. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Gecko Press.

3 New Picture Books That Get Emotional

Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang

Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang, illustrated by Max Lang (9780553537864)

Jim was having a very grumpy day where nothing was going right. He couldn’t figure out what was wrong. His neighbor Norman suggested that Jim might be grumpy, but Jim insisted that he wasn’t. As the two headed off on a walk, they met different animals who all pointed out how Jim seemed or looked grumpy. So Jim fixed those things and looked very happy on the outside, but it didn’t change how he actually felt. All of the animals had suggestions about what might help Jim, but it only made him grumpier. When he finally shouted at everyone, he decided to leave and be by himself. But when Norman also starts to have a bad day, the two discover that they will feel better soon.

The cover of this book will have children picking it up, whether they are grumpy or not. Then the inside will have them giggling, whether they are grumpy or not. Jim is ever-so-grumpy and not just a little bit, but exceptionally so. The illustrations capture this beautifully from his slump to his grimace. Perhaps the best part of the book is when he looks happy but is still grumpy as can be. Throughout, Lang keeps the pace brisk and the humor just right. The illustrations add to the fun with their jungle setting, huge trees, and vibrant characters. Grumpiness galore in this picture book that challenges readers not to grin. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Random House Books for Young Readers.)

Wallpaper by Thao Lam

Wallpaper by Thao Lam (9781771472838)

This wordless picture book tells the story of a little girl who moves to a new town. As the is unpacking her boxes, she hears talking outside her window and looks out to see three children in a treehouse next door. When they spot her, they wave but she ducks out of sight, shy to meet them. As she sits under her window, a small yellow bird made of wallpaper emerges from a tear in the room’s wallpaper. It flies out the window and the little girl peels more of the paper away and a flock of yellow birds fly out. She peels more and a jungle-like wallpaper is revealed that she steps into. Then a yellow monster appears and the girl peels the paper away to reveal the next layer. She dashes through polka-dots then watery blue and green with frogs, then black sheep. Finally the monster stops chasing her and sits there dejected. The little girl heads back and introduces herself to him. They play together until the girl heads off to lunch. Now can she meet the kids outside?

A lovely portrayal of being shy and needing to think through what to say when meeting someone new and prepare oneself for it. The wallpaper is done beautifully, the layers deep and rich. The entire book is done in paper collage, filled with layers, patterns both subtle and vivid, and offers a gorgeous depth that will have readers looking closely at the art. A superb picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Whale in a Fishbowl by Troy Howell

Whale in a Fishbowl by Troy Howell, illustrated by Richard Jones (9781524715182)

Wednesday was a whale who lives in an enormous fish bowl surrounded by a city filled with bustling people and cars. It was the only home she had ever known. If she jumped high enough though, she could see a tiny bit of blue far away. Whenever she glimpsed it, her heart would leap. She kept on leaping to see that blue in the distance and soon more people watched her, thinking that she was doing tricks. One day, a little girl visited Wednesday’s tank and told her that she didn’t belong in the fish bowl. That got Wednesday to wonder where she did belong and what it had to do with the blue in the distance.

This timely and beautiful picture book looks at animals trapped in cages and fish tanks and where they do belong and where they should be living. Using a whale as the focal character, makes the book even more touching and speaks directly to issues seen at aquariums recently. The book has an ache to it, a longing on every page until the triumphant ending. The illustrations are rich and beautiful, the contrast of concrete and seawater is mesmerizing. A celebration of freedom and a deep dive into what that means for all living creatures. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.)

3 Very Friendly New Picture Books

Can I Be Your Dog By Troy Cummings

Can I Be Your Dog? By Troy Cummings (9780399554520)

Arfy is a dog looking for a home, so he writes to each house and business on Butternut Street. One by one though, they each say no. The Honeywells have a cat that’s allergic to dogs. The butcher thinks Arfy might steal too many meatballs. The fire station already has a dog. The junkyard just sends a nasty note back. And no one is living in the abandoned house. But as she delivered each of Arfy’s notes, the letter carrier made her own decision. The book ends with tips on how children can help animals who need a home. The use of letters adds a real appeal to this book as Arfy so politely asks for space and then is turned down with a variety of responses, some friendly, some rude and others businesslike. The book will work well for children learning to write letters who need a great model like Arfy to follow. The appealing artwork adds a playful feel and readers will recognize that Arfy has a friend in the letter carrier from the start. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House and Edelweiss.)

Get on Your Bike by Joukje Akveld

Get on Your Bike by Joukje Akveld and Philip Hopman (9780802854896)

When Bobbi and William have an argument, William shouts that Bobbi should just get on his bike and leave. So that’s exactly what Bobbi does. Bobbi’s head is filled with anger at first and he doesn’t notice what is around him. But as he rides through town and out into the country, he begins to notice things around him. At each stoplight, Bobbi makes a choice of where to head. Sometimes traffic is loud and busy and other times Bobbi is alone in nature. As he rides, his thoughts move from the fight to his surroundings and he notices more and more. His ride brings him full circle back home, where William is waiting for him with dinner already made, cold but not ruined.

This picture book was originally published in the Netherlands and one can see their cycling culture strongly in the images. In most of the images, the roads are crowded with bikes which share the road with the cars and trucks. The story subtly moves through anger and shows a way of coping that allows a natural  move from frustration and anger to returning to oneself. The illustrations show a world populated with animals rather than people. Bobbi himself is a panda and William is a bulldog. There are birds, alligators, mice and more riding bikes, driving trucks and walking the towns. Refreshing and friendly, this picture book takes a look at anger and cooling down. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.)

Hi, Jack By Mac Barnett

Hi, Jack! By Mac Barnett, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (9780425289075)

Two masters take on the easy-reader format in this first in a new series. Jack is a monkey who gets into all sorts of trouble, most of it of his own making. Accompanied by two other characters, Rex the dog and The Lady, Jack steals the lady’s purse in the first chapter. He returns the purse, but soon Jack and Rex are sporting the lipstick that Jack took! When he returns the red lipstick to The Lady, Jack still has one more trick up his sleeve. Young readers will enjoy the naughtiness of Jack and how he manages to make friends and feel sorry and yet still be entirely himself in the end. The writing is simple and friendly for the earliest readers who will also appreciate the chapter book format. Pizzoli’s art is simple and bright. At the end of the book he offers a tutorial of how to draw each of the characters, inviting children to create their own pictures and stories. A great pick for early readers and early reader collections. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking.)

Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick

Baby Monkey Private Eye by Brian Selznick

Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin (9781338180619)

The amazing Selznick has taken on easy readers with this new book written with Serlin. Baby Monkey isn’t just a baby and a monkey, he also has a job (and an amazing office) as a private eye. He is asked to solve several crimes in the course of the book, but first he has to have a snack and put on his pants! Filled with eye-catching details and others that are worth poring over the pages to discover, this is a funny and smart book for new readers to explore on their own or with an adult helping out.

The book has the heft and weight of a full chapter book, but upon opening it the letters are large, the language repetitive and it’s just right for children learning to read. It is the illustrations by Selznick that make this book so special. Using his signature style, he fills the pages with details that are entrancing. At the same time, there is a lovely repetitive nature to the story that plays out in the simpler images as well with the snacks, writing notes, and putting on pants. This adds to the humor of the book as these elements play out again and again.

A winning new easy reader that pushes the boundaries of the format, this book belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

(Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.)

Review: No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart

no monkeys no chocolate

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young, illustrated by Nicole Wong

A close-up look at the favorite sweet treat of chocolate, this nonfiction picture book explains exactly what it takes to get chocolate.  The book quickly moves to the tropical rain forests of Central and South America and the cocoa beans that grow there and how they are treated to get cocoa powder from them.  The book then moves to explaining cocoa pods, cocoa flowers, and cocoa leaves, but animals quickly come into the process from the midges that pollinate the cocoa flowers as they lay their eggs to the maggots of the coffin flies that take over the brains of the leaf-cutter ants.  Lizards and monkeys play a role too, but the monkeys are tantalizingly left to the end of the book.  Told in factual information, the book also offers asides by two funny bookworms who wonder along with the reader what in the world monkeys have to do with chocolate!

This is a fascinating look at the complexities of something that many of us take for granted.  Stewart, author of over 150 nonfiction books for children, worked with Allen Young, the world specialist on cocoa tree pollination and growth.  The result is a book that is enticing both in its premise and its execution.  Turning pages lets you learn more and the entire process is both odd and amazing.

The art by Wong has a wonderful lightness to it that fits the subject particularly well.  The clever little bookworms add a whimsical note to the entire book with their ballooned speech bubbles, ballcap, flower and skirt. 

A winner of a nonfiction picture book, this is one sweet addition to any library.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

Monkey Truck: Ingenious Mash Up

monkeytruck

Monkey Truck by Michael Slack

Whenever there is trouble in the jungle, Monkey Truck races to the rescue!  He saves small lizards from crushing elephant feet.  He rescues big hippos from a shrinking and muddy water hole.  He grinds gears to get the job done with his truck bed filled to bursting.  He is Monkey Truck!  Fueled by bananas and always ready to go, he is the hero of the jungle.

This book grew on me once I got into the story.  It has a frenetic pace that toddler will enjoy immensely.  It also obviously has its own screwball humor from the premise alone!  That humor is really what makes this book work so well.  From fart jokes to bouncing stacks of muddy hippos, there is plenty of laughter to be found here.

The book has been printed on thicker pages, making it an ideal transition book for toddlers from board books to picture books.  This is clearly a book that is meant for very young children who just might demand why they can’t have a monkey truck of their very own!

If you do a toddler story time at your library or work with a toddler group, this is a book that will really work when shared out loud.  Be prepared to mash your animal sounds with engine noises and your young listeners will be sure to enjoy it!  Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt.

You can check out the wordless trailer for the book below:

Also reviewed by:

Banana!: Zany Sharing Fun

banana_vere

Banana! by Ed Vere

Told in just two words, this book is perfect for very young listeners.  One monkey in a blue striped shirt has a banana.  Another monkey in a red striped shirt enters the book and sees the banana.  He asks for it.  The monkey with the banana refuses.  The red striped monkey gets angry and then throws a temper tantrum, shouting “Banana!” all the while.  Finally, the monkey says “Please” and the banana is shared.  Or is it?

Vere does so much with just facial expressions in this book.  For a person reading it aloud, there is no question what tone of voice should be used from one “banana” to the next.  The simplicity is impressive, the clarity even more so.  The rough-edged illustrations are goofy and very friendly as are the bold bright backgrounds. 

With a cover that is sure to make it fly off the shelves, this is a book that toddlers will love.  Get ready to read the word banana again and again.  Appropriate for ages 2-3.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt.

The Purple Kangaroo

The Purple Kangaroo by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Peter Brown

Join in a silly romp of a book because you are invited by a mind-reading monkey.  He can read YOUR mind.  Close your eyes and think of something.  Then say it out loud and look into the monkey’s eyes.  Did you think of a purple kangaroo?  No?  Well monkey bets he can figure out what you’re thinking about next!

This book is pure fun.   Black’s writing is done in text bubbles, carrying the story forward at a fast pace.  The monkey is funny, irreverent and the story he tells about the purple kangaroo is so off-the-wall.  Brown’s illustrations add to the fun.  Who could ever forget the picture of the purple kangaroo blowing an enormous rainbow bubble-gum bubble out of his nose?  The humor will work for slightly older children than most picture books, making this the ideal book to take on a school visit to second and third graders.

Guaranteed to get classes laughing, this is one to share that is sure to delight.  Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

Also reviewed by Where the Best Books Are.

Check out this video of Michael Ian Black reading the book:

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