Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

a curse so dark and lonely by brigid kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer (9781681195087)

Prince Rhen has been cursed along with his entire kingdom into repeating the same season over and over again until a girl falls in love with him. At the end of each season, he fails and turns into a monster who slays his own people. Now he is left with a single guardsman, Grey, who has pledged to stay at his side. Each season, Grey transports himself to Washington, D.C. and steals a girl to try to break the curse. Then one year, he steals Harper, a girl who was not his chosen one but instead one who tried to attack Grey and save the girl he was attempting to kidnap. Harper may not have been Grey’s choice, but now she is the only chance they have at breaking the curse since the sorceress who placed the curse has declared this the final season. As Harper steps into the role of princess, she refuses to conform to expectations. She is intent on making a difference to the suffering people of the kingdom even if they underestimate her due to her cerebral palsy. But will it be enough to end the curse? Will love come?

I approach every retelling of a fairy tale with trepidation. There are few that can really transform the tale into something new and fresh. Kemmerer does exactly that with her retelling of Beauty and the Beast. She creates two amazing male characters, each compelling in their own way and with their own special bond with one another too. She adds one of the nastiest sorceresses around, Lilith, who is willing to provide endless pain to Rhen, Grey and anyone else she can. Kemmerer then laces this story with the psychology of reliving the same year again and again, with immense failure, slaughter, remorse and despair. The result is a dark rather than dreamy story, filled with pain, blood, battles and strategy.

Harper is an incredible heroine. Her having cerebral palsy is interwoven into the story, not as an aside but as a part of her life experience that gives her context for helping others and seeing beyond the surface to their potential. She is honest and forthright, and yet willing to use subterfuge and lies to make a positive difference for those she cares about. She is entirely complicated and every inch a princess and heroine.

A great retelling of Beauty and the Beast, this book stands on its own merits. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

Review: Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri

Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri

Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri (9781626725355)

After dinner, Tiger takes an extra plate of food to share with her monster. Monster had been under Tiger’s bed, but they soon became friends. Now they spend time together playing games until bedtime when Monster scares Tiger’s nightmares away. All of Tiger’s family thinks she has an imaginary friend, but Monster is real. Monster fights all sorts of nightmares away until she encounters one that is too big and scary to chase off. As Tiger starts to have nightmares, she realizes that the two of them will need to work together to get rid of this huge nightmare.

Tetri, a cartoonist, has written a captivating graphic novel that is just right for the picture-book set. The pacing is brisk with a concept that shines. There is plenty of humor on the pages that sets off the more dramatic parts of the story. The art is done in watercolors, adding a wonderful traditional feel to the book. One of the more delightful parts is when Monster battles one nightmare after another. The pace slows beautifully in this part and mimics epic battle montages in comic books.

A tale of friendship and teamwork, this is a great early graphic novel. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by First Second.

 

Review: Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

Sweep by Jonathan Auxier (9780735264359)

Released September 25, 2018.

Nan Sparrow is one of the only girls working in London as a chimney sweep and she’s one of the best that ever climbed a chimney. She works for a brute of a master who pits her against the other top sweep, dangling an apprenticeship in front of them both. The work they do is dangerous with possible falls, and tight spaces where children can get trapped. Even skilled Nan can get stuck and one day that happens to her and the chimney is set ablaze. As she burns alive, Nan is rescued by a mysterious creature, a tiny char she has been carrying in her pocket that was left behind for her by the Sweep, a magical man who cared for her as a baby and child until he disappeared. Nan and her creature live together away from everyone since they all think she died in the fire. They build a family with one another until the time comes for Nan to stand up for chimney sweeps throughout London.

My goodness, this book is remarkable. I loved the London that Auxier has created for us with all of its Victorian charms. He peels away the charming veneer though and shows us the brutality of child labor, the dangers and the cruelty of chimney sweeping in particular. He blends his fantastic golem into this world, adding a fantasy element to a world that desperately needs some magic to brighten it. Without Charlie, the golem, this book would have been too hard and cold to bear. The same goes for the Sweep, who filled Nan’s early years with care and love.

Nan is a remarkable heroine who is witty, intelligent and caring. She has a wonderfully tough exterior that allows only a few people inside her real life. And yet, she gathers an amazing group of people who care for her and she for them. Throughout the book, Auxier warns readers that Charlie will be leaving eventually and readers will see him start to change through the story. Still, even with that warning, expect the heartbreak of the end of Charlotte’s Web as you read the final chapters. Have tissues at hand.

A new children’s classic that reveals the dark underworld of London and the incredible magic of making your own family, monsters and all. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Puffin Books.

 

3 Fun-Filled Picture Books

These three picture books are wild romps of fun:

I Love You Like a Pig by Mac Barnett

I Love You Like a Pig by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (9780062354839)

This picture book celebrates all the different forms that love can take, beginning with being loved like a pig and moving to other unique ones as well. At first they may seem silly or unlikely, but the book shows what each one means through the illustrations. The text stays very simple, offering new ways of loving: I love you like a window, I’m smiling like a tuna, and You’re sweet like a banker. Then the illustrations shows how each analogy works and brings it all to life. Barnett comes up with far-fetched analogies that then are transformed into meaning. The selections are clever and will appeal specifically to children and their experiences. Pizzoli’s bright illustrations invite readers to explore the words and find the meaning too. An ingenious book about love and delight. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABCs (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABCs (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell (9780316502467)

When the little red cat heads outside, he discovers a world of surprises and dangers that follow the ABCs. Readers will have to puzzle out what matches each letter along the way (though there is a key in the back of the book to help if you get stuck.) With a merry chase throughout the book, it has the feel of a Gingerbread Boy gallop across the pages. The book is wordless, offering only the letters along the way, providing a visual treat as the cat is joined by an alligator, a bear, a chicken, a dragon and an egg on his adventure through the alphabet. Filled with moments of humor, like the stop at the rest room for R and the lovely use of N and O, this picture book is a delight of an alphabet book that is great fun to share. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Nibbles The Dinosaur Guide by Emma Yarlett.jpg

Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide by Emma Yarlett (978-1-61067-643-4)

This is the second Nibbles book where the little yellow monster invades a book by munching his way right into the pages. Here a serious informational book about dinosaurs is what he enters and causes all sorts of mischief. The book names beloved dinosaurs and explains facts about them before being interrupted by the chaos created by Nibbles as he chews through the pages. Nibbles flees from Triceratops charging him. He has an eating contest with a family of Diplodocus. He is surrounded by Velociraptors and then runs right into a Tyrannosaurus Rex before escaping the book.

Yarlett has a real feel for what children love in picture books. She includes poop and fart jokes along the way, and offers lift the flap and die cut pages. Along the way, various side characters offer puns and jokes that will have readers giggling. Still, there is real information on the various dinosaurs offered as well, creating a book that combines silliness and seriousness into just the right mix.

Yarlett’s illustrations work to combine the serious and silliness. The pages on the dinosaurs are done in serious muted colors, sepia tones. But when Nibbles is around, those colors burst into fuller colors with oranges, greens and yellows. The die cuts are cleverly used to move through the book, some of them appearing through multiple pages for even more effect.

Another delicious Nibbles book that combines interactive elements and dinosaurs for what is sure to be a popular pick. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Kane Miller.)

3 Scary-Good Picture Books

 

Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds

Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown (9781442402980)

Jasper returns for a second gently-scary story. In this picture book, Jasper needs some new underwear. He decides to get one pair of green creepy underwear, because he is big enough for them. When he wears them to bed, he finds out that they glow with a green light. Jasper quickly changes to plain white underwear, hiding the creepy underwear in the bottom of the hamper. Waking up the next morning, he realizes that he has the creepy underwear on! Jasper tries all sorts of things to get rid of the underwear, from mailing it to China to cutting it into bits, but the underwear keeps on coming back. What is a bunny to do? This picture book is a delightful mix of funny and scary with echoes of classic monster movies. Exactly the right pick for Halloween reading. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Review copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

The Pomegranate Witch by Denise Doyen

The Pomegranate Witch by Denise Doyen, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler (9781452145891)

Deftly written in rhyme, this picture book features a mouthwatering pomegranate tree that is watched over by a witch. Still, the children of the town desperately want a pomegranate from the tree and are willing to go to war with the witch to get one. The children tried again and again, but the witch stopped them with water cannons and rolling walnuts. In the end though, the children got one delectable pomegranate to split among themselves. The next day, the tree was picked bare and the war was over. It was time for Halloween where a Kindly Lady gladly shared out pomegranates from her home. A lady that looks a lot like the glimpses readers get of the witch.

Doyen’s writing is spooky and rich. This is not a picture book for preschoolers, since the writing demands a longer attention span. Elementary classes would enjoy it or it could be added to a read aloud for older children on Halloween. Perhaps with pomegranate seeds to try. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Review copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea

The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea (9781484730461)

A spooky ghost lives by a frightening dark forest in this picture book. The ghost is the one who is scared, asking the reader to keep on checking on what is happening in the forest. But the forest isn’t nearly as scary as the ghost expects, which adds a zingy humor to this story. The tone of the book is deftly handled, walking a line between shivery ghost story and Halloween party for friends. It’s a book that will invite children to be just as scared as they might like, but also enjoy doughnuts and some costumes too. The art is lovely and graphic, filled with zaps of bright color emphasized by white and black. A great read aloud for slightly older children. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Rodzilla by Rob Sanders

Rodzilla by Rob Sanders.jpg

Rodzilla by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Dan Santat (9781481457798, Amazon)

An enormous chubby monster is heading for the city! News crews are reporting on the disaster as the monster releases stink-ray farts. There are slime missiles of snot and even one big upset tummy effect. Hoses try to push him from the city, but it just ends in a belly flop. But the monster gets back up and continues his rampage. Until two brave people are willing to take on the disaster directly, by picking the terrible toddler up.

Sanders channels Japanese monster films in his text, offering just the right tone of awe and fear into the text. The book is great fun to share aloud, using an announcer voice that just makes the humor even funnier. Sanders offers just enough gross moments for children to be engaged and then moves on to other sources of humor. The switch from monster to toddler is also well handled and will not surprise readers who have been given clear hints about the end.

Santat uses his signature style here. The reactions of the people on the ground to Rodney’s gross emissions is particularly effective, as they run in fear or try to survive. Santat’s illustrations also offer clues to Rodney actually being a human toddler, ones that become more clear as the text progresses.

A funny look at the destructive nature of toddlers that will be appreciated by older siblings and parents alike. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.

The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing

the-creepy-case-files-of-margo-maloo-by-drew-weing

The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing (InfoSoup)

Charles and his parents have just moved to Echo City where they are going to be living in The Bellwether, an apartment building that used to be a hotel. Charles is worried by the state of the building, knowing immediately that it must be haunted. When Charles tries to sleep in his bedroom for the first time, he discovers he is right and there is something in his closet. Luckily, a neighbor gives him a card for Margo Maloo, Monster Mediator. Charles considers himself a journalist and wants to interview Margo, but she is having none of it though she lets him join her in negotiating with the troll who lives in the basement. Charles finds himself in a parallel world to his own, where there are trolls, goblins, ogres and many more monsters than he could ever have dreamed.

Weing’s graphic novel tosses readers into a new world that is strongly based in our own. With Margo as an expert guide, this book is much less about battling monsters. It is more about how monsters can get along and live alongside humans in a urban setting. Weing has created a complete monster society and ensures with his stories that the monsters are not the bad guys, just easily misunderstood. The writing is clever, the dialogue solid and the pacing is fast.

The art of the graphic novel is modern and filled with plenty of action. The city and characters are filled with diversity that includes humans and monsters in different skin tones. Weing uses the real estate of his panels in smart ways, lengthening them to share more scenic detail, focusing the scope closely when necessary and broadening them for large buildings.

Just the right book for Halloween, expect this and future books to be popular thanks to a wise mix of humor and shivers. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Monster Trucks by Anika Denise

monster-trucks-by-anika-denise

Monster Trucks by Anika Denise, illustrated by Nate Wragg (InfoSoup)

A revved up mix of trucks and monsters, this picture book will delight fans of either topic. Monster trucks are ready to race as their engines moan and rumble. There is Frankentruck, jumped alive by his electric cables. Werewolf Truck stops to howl at the moon. Zombie Truck is glowing and green. Ghost Truck appears suddenly out of the shadows. Vampire Truck is on the hunt for everyone’s fuel. As the race begins though, there is an unlikely entry, Little Blue Bus all cute enters the race. Soon the monster trucks are after her and she’s in a race for her life!

Denise writes in engaging rhyme that speeds the book alone, accelerating the pace along with the racing trucks. The addition of the little blue bus is wonderfully refreshing, playing on the horror movie motif and also adding a character that children can relate to. The rhythm of the book is also great fun to read aloud and this one will charm anyone listening with its dynamic subject matter.

Wragg’s illustrations are fabulous. He thoroughly embraces the idea of “monster” trucks and transforms them into real monsters while still making sure they are trucks as well. The headlight eyes are expressive and often evil, the bumper and hood leers are cleverly done, and the lightness of the little bus plays up the twist at the end.

A strong entry in the Halloween book race, this picture book will be adored by truck fans and those looking for a little monster thrill. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

 

Rules of the House by Mac Barnett

rules-of-the-house-by-mac-barnett

Rules of the House by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matt Myers (InfoSoup)

Ian loves to follow the rules while his sister Jenny breaks all of them. So when they go on a trip with their father to a cabin in the woods, Ian loves that there is a list of rules on the wall. Jenny though, ignores the rules, breaking each one of them. The final rule is not to open the red door, which Jenny does. Nothing happens. Until later that night, when the mud-tracked bear rug, the dirty bathtub and the empty woodstove come into the children’s room. At first, Ian flees while his sister is captured by the monsters. But he returns to try to help her. But it may mean breaking the rules!

This book is a delight. It’s a riff on classic horror movies as well as Bluebeard with the forbidden door in an isolated house. Barnett keeps the tone light at all times, making sure that the book is just frightening enough to give shivers but not too frightening for young readers. The focus on following rules is turned on its head with the culmination of the story and learning that sometimes rules are meant to be broken in the right circumstances.

The art by Myers is dark and atmospheric. It plays up the horror motif with long shadows, a scratched up red door that looks like things have tried to break in, and objects that look like monsters even before they fully emerge as monsters. The long moment after the door is opened is drawn out even farther by the full double page spread, showing the quiet house. Wonderful timing!

A great just-right scary read for Halloween that is just creepy enough to enchant. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.