Rot: The Bravest in the World by Ben Clanton

Rot The Bravest in the World by Ben Clanton

Rot: The Bravest in the World by Ben Clanton (9781481467643)

This follow-up to Rot: The Cutest in the World is a squirmy, squelchy, muddy read. Rot is a mutant potato and just like all mutant potatoes, he loves mud. They play in it, eat it, even sleep in mud. So when Rot found a massive mud pit, he couldn’t wait to jump right in. But before he can, his older brother Snot tells him to watch out for the Squirm, a monster that lives in deep mud, slimy and gross and hungry! Snot leaves laughing, but Rot is not deterred. He just needs a good plan. Perhaps a superhero costume will make him brave enough? When that wasn’t enough, he adds a knight costume on top, but even that doesn’t work. Perhaps adding something that loves mud too? Soon Rot is dressed up as “Sir Super Rot, the Pigtato!” When he goes back to the puddle, he discovers that there is something squirmy in the mud. Will he be brave enough to find out what it is?

Clanton imbues his picture book with a marvelous sense of humor from beginning to end. At the same time he has created a picture book with a strong story arc with Rot as a central compelling character that children will root for. When he begins to put on costumes to make himself more brave, the humor is there but also a strong sense of empathy for this courageous potato.

As with the first book, the art is bold. It is filled with rich potato and mud browns. The handwritten dialogue is shown in bubbles that look like potatoes too. Keep an eye out for the little pink insect who follows Rot on his adventures.

Squidgy and muddy fun. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street by Lauren Oliver 

The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street by Lauren Oliver 

The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street by Lauren Oliver (9780062345073)

There are monsters in the world, though few people believe they are actually real. Cordelia and her father help monsters that get hurt, moving them into their house on Cedar Street. The house is bedraggled and unkempt, but the monsters love it, each one finding their own special space inside. The only place that no one is allowed to enter is Cordelia’s mother’s study which has been forbidden since her disappearance nine years ago. Cordelia is used to a house filled with weird noises, so when she awakens to silence one morning she knows that something has happened. Her father and all of the monsters have disappeared. The only ones left are hiding in the oven: a baby dragon and an old filch. As Cordelia sets off to find them, she is joined by Gregory, a boy who lives on the streets and has a monster of his own, a zombie puppy that Cordelia helped save. They must find the monsters and her father, rescue them and perhaps even expose a sinister organization that is targeting monsters of all kinds. It’s a harrowing journey for a girl, a handful of monsters and a new friend. 

The book begins with passages from Cordelia’s mother’s book about monsters which explain the monster themselves and then also link them to how they evolved. This clever use of a book mentioned regularly in the story also allows Oliver to keep the story streamlined and not filled with monster exposition when each new one arrives. The story itself is animated and great fun with wild dashes of action, near catastrophes, kindred spirits and harrowing danger. It’s a story that could feel out of control, but Oliver keeps it pointed in the right direction even when the reader isn’t quite sure which way is up. She also asks larger questions about who the monsters really are and how humans become a true evil monster on the inside. 

The characters are marvelous, each one unique and interesting. Cordelia is brave and creative, nicely solving some of their most dire situations. Gregory is a natural with the monsters and is always willing to lend a hand even if he might get nipped. The monsters are fascinating and varied with just enough similarity to other animals and creatures to be able to be pictured clearly in one’s mind. After all, who wouldn’t want a zombie puppy!

Fast paced fantasy with lots of monsters both wild and human. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Review: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (9780525647072)

Jam lives in Lucille, a place cleansed of monsters by the angels who still live among them. There are no monsters in Lucille any more. But just as Jam is learning about the original angels, who looked more like monsters than humans, she accidentally releases a creature from her mother’s painting. The creature is Pet, who has crossed dimensions to hunt a monster. Pet reveals that the monster is living in Jam’s best friend, Redemption’s house. Now Jam must figure out how to enlist Redemption’s help without accusing his family of doing something terrible and harboring a monster. Or perhaps Pet is the real monster as he hunts without remorse? Jam must learn the truth and then get others to believe her.

Wow. What a book! The voice here is what hits you first, unique and strong, it speaks in a Nigerian-laced rhythm that creates its own magic immediately. Add in the power of Jam herself, a black, trans girl who often chooses not to speak aloud but with sign language. Then you have the amazement of Pet, the nightmare creature who hunts for monsters but also explains the importance of not hiding from the truth. Surround it all with families who love and care and are wonderfully different from one another.

Emezi leads readers through this wonder of a book, filled with LGBTQIA+ moments that are so normal they become something very special. They insist that you understand what is meant by a monster and by an angel, that one can be disguised as another, that monsters are normal people, but must not be tolerated. It’s a book about abuse, about standing up, about angels and demons, and about humans.

An incredible middle-grade fantasy full of power, monsters and beauty. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Make Me a World.

Review: Otto and Pio by Marianne Dubuc

Otto and Pio by Marianne Dubuc

Otto and Pio by Marianne Dubuc (9781616897604)

Otto the squirrel happily lives alone in the biggest tree a very old forest. One morning, he discovers a strange green ball outside his door. He steps over it and ignores it, but later the ball cracks open and a very furry creature emerges. The creature calls Otto “Mommy” and Otto decides to continue to leave the creature outside as night falls. But then later, he reconsiders and invites the small creature in. The creature says “Pio!” so that becomes his name. Pio begins to grow, doubling in size every night while he sleeps. Otto tries in vain to find Pio’s mother, but none of his neighbors know anything. Pio continues to grow as Otto tries different ways to find his mother: posters and visiting other trees. Pio takes care of the house while he is gone, making soup, sweeping and decorating. When Pio is too big to stay in Otto’s house anymore, Otto knows something must be done. So once again he heads out to try to find a solution. He is so distracted, he puts himself in danger. Perhaps one huge furry monster could be a help?

First published in Canada in French, this picture book is another charmer from Dubuc. She has a way of capturing changing deep emotions and emerging friendships that is gentle and filled with empathy. Here, Otto is often frustrated with being burdened with Pio, though Pio works hard to make life good for both of them. As Otto tries to get rid of Pio, his anger grows but then is refreshingly resolved when he understands what a loss Pio would be. The book builds to that new understanding, steadily increasing the pressure on the small squirrel.

Dubuc’s illustrations are very effective. She creates a grand tree for the pair to live in, huge and leafy. The prickly green ball that Pio emerges from is completely alien, and Pio himself looks rather like a very small abominable snowman with his white fur and rosy cheeks. Otto himself is busy and rushing, often avoiding really thinking about how he feels.

Another great read from Dubuc, this one is all about unlikely friendships and family members. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Princeton Architectural Press.

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.)