Pinocchio: The Origin Story by Alessandro Sanna

Pinocchio The Origin Story by Alessandro Sanna

Pinocchio: The Origin Story by Alessandro Sanna (InfoSoup)

Wordless except for a few lines of text at the beginning and end, this graphic novel picture book is a blazing wonder. It shows the epic beginning of the wood that will one day become Pinocchio. A young tree is hit by a bolt of lightning and a branch falls off, a branch with clear limbs, body and head. The branch runs and is joined by a cat and fox. The three travel together to a snowy woods where there is also fire and now the branch is alight. As the story continues, a snake eats the fiery branch then spits it out. A dove flies with it, and drops it into the water. The branch sinks and is eaten by a shark. Image after image flies past, each with a story to tell and only a few moments to tell it. Finally, spring arrives and the branch sprouts leaves and roots, becoming a full tree itself, and the story of Pinocchio begins.

Unique and wondrous, this picture book is something entirely special. It is an origin story about far more than Pinocchio himself, showing that we all originate from a certain spark. Then along the way we are filled with fire, discover companions, take adventures, grow into our own, and our story at that point is just beginning.

The illustrations are spectacular. Done in watercolor that flows on the page, creating light and energy. There is also clever detailed use of the paint with leaves flowing to create characters and allowing space for almost mythical moments to take place on the page. There are deep colors of undersea and the dark of sky against snow.

Beautiful, raw and filled with innate energy, this picture book is something very special. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Review: Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry

meet the bigfeet

The Yeti Files: Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry

The author of I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean and other picture books has released his first book for early readers.  It is the story of Blizz Richards, a yeti who lives an isolated life in Nepal.  He has a great cave for a house that he’s filled with all sorts of cool gadgets and lots of things to play on.  He is a cryptid, and as one he has taken an oath to never be seen by the outside world.  So Blizz almost never sees his family.  But all that is about to change with the announcement of an upcoming Big Feet Family Reunion.  Blizz shares the story of Brian, one of his relatives in Canada who got spotted and had his picture taken and put up on the Internet.  It was all because of George Vanquist, a man who continues to seek out cryptids and expose them.  Now Blizz has to risk it all to see his family, rescue Brian from his shame of being exposed and avoid George Vanquist along the way. 

Sherry has such a great touch for humor.  Throughout the book there are moments of hilarity that children will adore.  He also manages to create unique characters even in this very simple format.  Blizz manages to be a cool character, someone who lives a rich life despite being mostly alone.  He does have several clever smaller creatures who live with him and who help out regularly throughout the story.  The book moves along at rocket speed, helped by the large number of illustrations which will make it a welcoming read for new readers.

The illustrations have the same clarity as Sherry’s picture books.  With simple lines, he creates entire worlds here with characters who express emotions clearly.  One of the best parts of this book are the little diagrams throughout, first of what a yeti really is, then showing Blizz’s house, and next explaining cryptids,  They are clever, funny and avoid creating large paragraphs of explanation.

Filled with humor and the same distinctive illustration style as his picture books, this early reader will appeal to any child looking for some giggles.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.

Review: Poisoned Apples by Christine Heppermann

poisoned apples

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann

Released September 23, 2014.

Filled with the stark, violent and frightening truths behind the fairy tales you loved as a child, this book of 50 poems is designed for teens ready to see beyond the beauty of a princess dress.  The poems bring the fairy tales into the modern day, introducing us to the dirty side of the entire princess and beauty myth.  Here are girls who are trapped in the stories society has sold them, girls who cannot eat, girls with no hope, girls who do as they are told, until they don’t.  You will find all of the princesses on the pages here, by they are not who you think they are.  There are poems told in their voices and others that are based on rhymes.  They are all caustic, brave and vary from tragic to hilarious.  I dare you to try to put this one down.

Brilliant.  I read the first poem in this book and knew that I had found something entirely unique and amazing.  Heppermann skewers the princess trope, firmly demanding that girls realize what is happening to them.  That they recognize that it is built on them not for them, that they are all beautiful no matter what the ads say, and that if you listen too much your life becomes a mockery or a tragedy.  This is satire at its very best, paying tribute to the fairy tales but savagely tearing them apart to form a new garment and march onward.

Get this one for your teen collections, hand it directly to girls who don’t like poetry because this will change their minds forever.  This book will speak to every girl, because we have all been sold the same stories.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss.

Bunches of Board Books

I’ve got some great new board books perfect for little hands to explore and even little gums to gnaw on.

countablock

Countablock by Christopher Franceschelli, art by Peskimo

The author of Alphablock returns with a counting book this time.  With thick board pages that are die cut into the shapes of the numbers, the book gives each number two pages where first you are given a number of objects and then what those objects become.  So three boxes become three forts and eight bananas become eight banana peels with the help of some monkeys.  After number ten, the book starts to count by tens and eventually reaches 100.

be patient pandora  play nice hercules 

Mini Myths: Be Patient, Pandora! by Joan Holub and Leslie Patricelli

Mini Myths: Play Nice, Hercules! by Joan Holub and Leslie Patricelli

These two first books in the new Mini Myths series are a cheerful mix of mythology and toddlerhood.  Pandora explores the temptation of a wrapped present and how hard it can be to wait to open it.  Pandora is told to leave the present alone, but just can’t seem to stop herself from touching it, leaning on it, and accidentally opening it.  Hercules is told to play nice with his little sister, but Hercules is much more interested in knocking things down than being nice.  In the end of both books, the myth becomes more about manners and how to be with others. 

All reviewed from copies received from Abrams Appleseed.

Review: The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson

shark king

The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson

Toon Books has mastered the art of graphic novels for early readers and this book adds to the depth of their offerings.  This story comes from Hawaii and this the tale of Nanaue.  He is the child of a normal mother and The Shark King.  His parents fell in love after his father rescued his mother from drowning.  When Nanaue was about to be born, his father left.  Nanaue was an unusual child, not only because he walked at such an early age, but because of a unique mark on his back that could open into a mouth and snap.  After meeting a boy and his father, a fisherman, Nanaue started to catch fish to eat.  He followed the fishermen to find food, eating so much that he drove them further away.  Nanaue was eventually discovered by the villagers and his mark was revealed.  They chased him all the way back home and even then he had to dive to safety in the sea.  The place that his father created just for him before he was born.

Johnson keeps this rather complicated story simple thanks to the use of the images to tell much of the story.  The snapping mouth on Nanaue’s back is shown rather than described, making it completely and immediately understandable.  The book moves quickly through the story, giving extra time to the beauty of the undersea world and the freedom that Nanaue finds there.

Done in panels that are ever changing in their design, the book has a sense of motion and speed.  Johnson manages to insert welcome humor into the dramatic tale without ever undermining the amazing tale he is telling.

A rich graphic novel for young readers, this book celebrates a little-known Hawaiian story.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Toon Books.

Review: The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

brides of rollrock island

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

Released September 11, 2012.

Rollrock Island is remote and isolated with only one ferry connecting it to the mainland.  It is also a place of magic, magic that is less sparkles and fairy dust and more ocean currents, sealskin and lust.  It is where Misskaella the witch lives, a woman able to peel away the skins of seals and gather their energies together into a woman who is beautiful and biddable.  In this way, Misskaella takes vengeance upon the women of the town who never accepted her.   She charges the men for the honor of having a wife from the sea, taking not only the money they have gathered now, but future wages as well.  These men are just as dazzled and tamed by the magic as their once-seal wives.  The desperation and quiet horror of the selkie story builds steadily as the book continues, leaving it to the next generation, the children of these unions, to see if they can resolve this, or not.

I have long disliked stories based on selkie myths, so I read this because of my love for Lanagan’s work.  But Lanagan gets at the nastiness of these relationships, the sandy dirtiness of them that will not wash away.  Her writing is by turns ethereal and wondering and then turns to the baseness and cruelty of what is happening.  There is a strong sense of place woven into the story.  It simply could not take place anywhere else.  From the seals at the base of the cliff to the tiny town that is simple yet enticing, Rollrock Island is unique and astounding yet also grindingly normal.

Lanagan plays with contrasts throughout the entire book.  The women who rise from the ocean are compliant yet wrenchingly miserable, longing for a world that they have lost.  The men are dazzled and yet absent.  The children beautiful, part sea and part land, yet also unable to see the truth until it is forced upon them.  It is as much Misskaella’s story as it is the selkies.  Their destinies intertwined thanks to her magic.

Told in a series of short stories that show the different points of view, though never the point of view of one of the selkie women, this book is pure richness and beauty.  Lanagan takes a timeless myth and exposes it, yet leaves the reader hopeful in the end.  This is a glorious read.  Appropriate for ages 15-18 and a great crossover read for adults.

Reviewed from digital copy via NetGalley.