Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet (9781536206197)
Darleen has grown up in the movie industry, first appearing as a baby and now at age twelve as “Daring Darleen” in a series of silent films. It is 1914 and the trend is to have the worlds of film and real life converge, so Darleen’s uncles make a plan for her to be kidnapped from outside a movie theater while being filmed by them. Everything seems to be going to plan until Darleen is snatched by the wrong kidnappers and discovers that she has been taken along with Victorine, a girl just her age who is an heiress. The two must figure out how to escape, using Darleen’s natural penchant for heights and daring moves that her dead mother also had. Still, she had promised her father to keep her feet on the ground, but that’s hard to do as her adventures continue almost like being in a real screenplay.
There is so much to love here! Nesbet creates the daring and inventions of early film-making in this middle-grade novel. The chapters are meant to be episodes, some offering a great cliffhanger until the next installment. The series of adventures makes for a page-turner of a book with two girls at its center who form a grand friendship along the way and adore one another for being just who they are.
Darleen is a heroine through and through from her day job in front of the camera but even more so in real life as she skillfully figures out puzzles, finds ways to escape, and does it all with real courage. In many ways, Victorine is her opposite. She wants to tell the truth at all costs, knows all sorts of facts and loves books and travel. The two together form an unstoppable force. It is also great to see Nesbet pay homage to Alice Guy Blache by having her as a secondary character in the novel.
A grand adventure of a novel that will have readers enthralled. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.
Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (and Cry) by Gary Golio, illustrated by Ed Young (9780763697617)
Growing up on the streets of London, Charlie Chaplin was raised by a single mother who performed as a singer. At age five, Charlie himself started to perform in place of his mother as her voice quit. The family ended up in the poorhouse and when they managed to get back out, Charlie went to school. That was where he learned of his love of attention and the spotlight. At age nine, Charlie joined a boys theater troupe and among other jobs, he worked his way up on stage. Eventually, he made his way to the United States. He starred in a movie but when people in the industry saw how young he was, they doubted him. With one clever costume choice though, Charlie Chaplin invented his iconic tramp character.
Golio’s poetic approach to this nonfiction picture book suits the subject completely. It has a sense of lightness and playfulness with plenty of optimism in the face of hardship. Even as Charlie’s childhood turns bleak, there are moments of light and wonder too. The writing is rich and invites readers to better understand the subject and where he came from. I’d recommend sharing some Chaplin clips with children so they can watch the genius at work. Young’s illustrations are exceptional. The images are bold and full of strong graphical elements. Using colorful silhouettes, they play with light and dark, whimsy and reality.
A mix of humor and sadness, just as Chaplin would have wanted it. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
Lights! Camera! Alice!: The Thrilling Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Simona Ciraolo (9781452141343)
Alice Guy-Blache was the first woman film-maker in the world. When motion pictures were first invented, they were used to show dull things like people boarding a train. Alice saw an opportunity to use them to tell stories, like the stories she had loved since she was a child. Alice figured out how to run film backward to show people flying upwards among other clever tricks. She made colored films by hand and created the first movies with sound. Alice moved to America with her new husband and discovered that no one had ever heard of her there! So she set out to create more films and eventually opened her own studio in New York State. Unfortunately, everything changed when Hollywood became the place for movies and Alice had to return to France without even a movie camera. Still, she had one last story to tell, her own.
This eye-opening picture book biography will introduce readers to an amazing woman whose vision of what movies could be led the way to new developments and implementations. Most importantly, Alice realized that film could be used to tell stories and set out to do just that. Throughout her life and this book, Alice shows a fierce determination, artistic eye, and a desire to share her imagination with others.
The art by Ciraolo is bright and full of action. It shows vintage images of ads as well as the brightness of Alice’s ideas. Some of the images take an entire page while others are small vignettes of big moments in Alice’s life. The variety makes for a dynamic book visually.
An introduction to a woman that we should all know. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.
This Is a Moose by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
A movie director is trying to create a documentary about the Mighty Moose. You know, the ones that eat plants and drink from lakes. But instead what he gets is a moose who wants to be an astronaut. And his grandmother who wants to be a lacrosse goalie. And somehow a giraffe who wants to be a doctor is also brought into the movie! Then there is a grand plan to get the moose who wants to be an astronaut into space. No matter what the poor director does, no one pays him any attention just doing what they want to do. There are plenty of more twists along the way too in this hilarious picture book.
Morris writes with an ear for dialogue and yelling. The book reads aloud perfectly, the tones matching the fonts, the silliness reaching amazing heights. At first the book is serious with the mighty moose, but that lasts only for a page or two before it becomes pure farce, which will delight young listeners. They will also delight in the fact that the “adult” voice of the director is ignored for much more fun pursuits as the character join forces to launch the moose into space.
Lichtenheld’s illustrations add to the laughs as the characters stand up to the structure of the book and completely mess with the system. Lichtenheld plays with perspective, throws the characters bodily around, and adds plenty of motion to the page. This is one wild and silly book, a farcical festival.
Got silly kids? Get this book! Guaranteed giggles in no time at all. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Day & Night by Teddy Newton
The Pixar short film that accompanied Toy Story 3 in theaters has been transformed into a picture book. Showing the same style, humor and charm of the film, this book captures the interplay between day and night. Told in short sentences on black paper, the two characters immediately see their differences but through their interaction develop a friendship. In the end, they discover they have a lot more in common than they had thought at first glance. There is a wonderful whimsy about their interaction as they both use their bodies as a canvas for communication. Each shows off the wonders of their time of day. There are parades, rainbows and butterflies for Day. Night responds with fireworks, outdoor movies and fireflies. Told mostly in images, the story will appeal to young and old.
Newton’s illustrations carry this story, infusing it with appeal. The use of the black background makes the characters really pop. This creates a dynamic look and feel for the book. The most effective piece of the book is the ending when day changes to night and night changes to day. When their bodies fit together to create the horizon and to complete the sunset and dawn, it is very visually arresting.
Children who have seen the short film will enjoy this picture book version, but so will children who are looking for a friendly book with inviting illustrations. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe
Kyle can’t remember what happened in the moments before his best friend Jason died. He tries to write the scene many different ways in the styles of his favorite film directors, but nothing fills in that blank in his memory. Did he mean to kill his friend? What happened in those few seconds? And why can’t he remember?
Ayarbe’s first novel is a dark nest of tension, doubt and fear. Her ingenious use of film and novels as a language to psychology will make the book very accessible to teens who enjoy movies. Kyle is a fascinating protagonist who feels such guilt for what happened, no matter his own personal role in it. His family’s reaction as well as the reaction of Jason’s family is so well done and gut wrenching that it could be a novel of its own. Beautifully, taut writing with great characters. No one could wish for more.
I just have to mention the inclusion of a vivid school librarian who is a large part of Kyle’s recovery. What a joy to have the librarian be not only a character but an intriguing and strong one.
Highly recommended for teens who enjoy a good psychological mystery. Even better if they enjoy films too. Appropriate for ages 13-16.