Review: Good Boy by Sergio Ruzzier

Good Boy by Sergio Ruzzier

Good Boy by Sergio Ruzzier (9781481499064)

This is a story of a boy and his dog. It starts simply enough with the boy issuing commands and the dog obeying. He sits, rolls over, jumps, fetches and… juggles! Then the dog makes them a meal and cleans the house. The two of them head outside where the commands become more like requests to have fun together and the pair head off on an adventure. It leads them to build a boat, find an island, build a rocket and then leave earth. They come to a lovely planet where they make new friends but soon miss home. Returning back, the two get ready for bed together and finally fall asleep side-by-side.

Ruzzier cleverly turns the relationship of owner and pet on its head in the book. He begins the book with the more traditional roles and then steadily makes their relationship one of equals and friends. By the end, the tone is entirely different from the beginning, something that is very impressive given that there are only one or two words on each page of the book. It is a beautifully structured book and very intelligently designed.

Ruzzier’s illustrations have his unique feel with surreal landscapes filled with sherbet-colored hills and a green ocean. The illustrations have a friendly cartoon style but also a sophistication that one expects from a book by Ruzzier.

A smart look at a boy and his dog and their adventures together. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Review: Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech (9780062570734)

When Louie’s father brings home a newborn mini donkey, Louie finds himself immediately attached to the sickly little thing. His parents try to warn him that the donkey may not even survive the day, but Louie is determined. He goes out to get supplies and food for the donkey that he names Winslow. Winslow lives in their basement where Louie also sleeps in order to care for him. When other kids come to visit, they warn Louie that Winslow won’t make it. Nora, a quirky girl from the neighborhood, is particularly worried about getting attached. She lost a baby brother soon after he was born. One fragile baby donkey shows readers all about survival, love and hope.

Creech is an amazing author. Her books are so readable by children, the length just right, the story incredibly focused. Here she tells the story of Louie and Winslow, offering small glimpses of school and the community but focused always on the pair. She offers just enough drama throughout as well with Winslow getting severely ill and also disappearing at one point. Even once Winslow seems larger and healthy, there are threats to have him removed from Louie’s home. The ending is completely satisfying and will leave readers optimistic and cheered.

Another great read from Creech, a master storyteller. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Review: Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant (9781534412774)

Flora is a quiet child, who loves the purple chair in the window of the used book store more than any other place. That’s particularly true now that her parents are separated and living in different houses from one another. Flora has also lost her dog recently, so things feel very off kilter. Even fourth grade seems very different from other school years. Still, as Flora navigates the changes in her life, she also has some happy surprises. She meets Yury, a boy from the Ukraine, who enjoys animals and survival stories too. The two become close friends and soon each of them have new pets in their lives too. Flora’s other friend Nessy is steadily discovering her own talents. And though Flora hasn’t discovered her own yet, she soon will.

Set in Indiana in 1972, Rylant has created a book that captures being a worried and anxious child just right. Flora is quiet and a tad shy, unless she knows something. She worries about different things and her family is gentle and understanding with her. Even as she grows in this short novel, that aspect of her personality is embraced and not being fixed by others. The book itself is gentle in tone, slow paced and lovingly written.

A book that will have a specific audience who will adore it, this one may not be for everyone but will be just right for some children. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

3 New Picture Books with Everyday Heroes

Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss

Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss (9780062644107)

This is one delightful graphic novel picture book that is almost wordless, making it a great pick as an early graphic novel experience for little children. When Grace is told that the class will contribute to a fund to get their class pet, Gus, a new friend, she decides that she has to help. She heads home through an urban landscape, filled with nods to iconic New York people. Once her fathers are asleep, she heads out into the nighttime city and in one scene after another raises money uses her special talents, each of which is a nod to the vibrancy of arts in urban settings.

Lovers of New York and classic cartoons will have lots to spot in the illustrations. Even children who don’t know the references though will get the feeling of New York and its vibrancy from this graphic novel. The use of images to primarily tell the story invites children to fill in the tale themselves and makes the book all the more engaging and uplifting. An empowering read that makes the quiet child the hero and the star. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Islandborn by Junot Diaz

Islandborn by Junot Diaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa (9780735229860)

When Ms. Obi told Lola’s class that their assignment is to draw a picture of the country they are originally from, Lola is very worried. She doesn’t remember the Island at all, since her family left when she was only a baby. Ms. Obi suggests that Lola talk to others who might remember more. Soon Lola is speaking to lots of people in her neighborhood from the Island and they each have a favorite memory. For some it is the music, for others it’s the colorful homes, others miss the fruit. When Lola asks Mr. Mir about what he most remembers, he is gruff and won’t answer. Lola’s grandmother though wants Lola to try to ask him again, since Mr. Mir knows so much about the Island. What Mr. Mir tells Lola though is about a monster that came to the Island and was turned back only when heroes stood up to the darkness. It’s a history that Lola has never heard before, but is proud to include in her drawings of the place she was born.

Diaz’s text is rich and invites readers into visualizing the Island for themselves with its lush foliage, colorful homes, beautiful beaches and much more. The book depicts an urban neighborhood filled with echoes of the Island, a community built from the heroes who fought back. The illustrations are bright and cheery, filled with Lola’s imaginative take on what she is being told. Children may need more explanation about “the monster” if they are interested, but this book firmly celebrates resistance and standing up to those who would take your rights. Timely and important, this picture book celebrates where children came from and what it took to survive. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.)

Teddy_s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer

Teddy’s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer, illustrated by Madeline Valentine (9781481480796)

Teddy has lots of toys he likes, but only one favorite one: Bren-Da, the Warrior Queen of Pacifica. They have tea parties together and she has great manners. They fight battles together and she does a wonderful kick. She can dress up in different styles. But then one day, when Teddy is playing with her, Bren-Da’s leg snaps off. Teddy tries to fix her, but has to leave for school and he keeps her wrapped up in bandages until he can return. Unfortunately, Teddy’s mom cleans up his room and accidentally throws Bren-Da out with the trash. What can they do? It’s up to Teddy’s mom to become a Warrior Queen herself.

There are several book out there about children playing with toys that may be seen as unusual for their gender. This one though has a great twist and really is about far more than just playing with a doll as a little boy. Instead it’s also about heroism, favorite toys and the ability of a mom to become a hero. The book is told simply but without any bit of didacticism. The illustrations are bright and friendly, offering great moments of play that are then mirrored by the rescue mission. A great picture book that breaks gender stereotypes in more than one way. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.)

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.)

The Teacher’s Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi

The Teacher's Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi

The Teacher’s Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora (9781484743645, Amazon)

Mr. Stricter, the teacher, has always wanted a pet. So when the class hatches tadpoles, he tells them that they can keep one. They choose Bruno who grows very quickly and unexpectedly. Soon he has left the fishbowl and entirely taken over the classroom. He farts, eats furniture, and munches school supplies. He also hasn’t turned into a frog at all! But Mr. Stricter can’t see how troublesome Bruno is until one day Bruno proves it once and for all.

Rissi uses plenty of humor in this picture book that turns the tables on teachers and their responsibility. The class of children must be the ones who see the problem and then rescue their teacher from his own blindness. This twist makes the book all the more exciting and fun to read, especially for children. Add in the humor of what Bruno actually grows into and you can expect when you share this aloud with children for them to be delighted at the huge creature and call out warnings to the oblivious Mr. Stricter.

Ohora’s illustrations are filled with bright colors that zing and zap. He plays the colors against each other with orange-yellow floors and deep red walls. This adds a lot of energy to the book and gives Bruno a dynamic background to appear against in all of his vastness.

The power of children is embraced in this picture book that will have everyone laughing along. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC received from Disney-Hyperion.

Hey Boy by Benjamin Strouse

Hey Boy by Benjamin Strouse

Hey Boy by Benjamin Strouse, illustrated by Jennifer Phelan (9781481471015, Amazon)

A boy finds a dog and takes him home. The two of them love playing together, but then the boy gets hurt. The dog is taken to an animal shelter and someone else adopts him. The boy is told that he simply isn’t old enough yet to care for a dog. Happily, the boy still gets to visit the dog and tries to grow up fast enough to take him back. As time passes, the boy grows up and the dog ages. When the dog is finally too much for his adoptive family, the boy is given the chance to take him. This book is an allegory for the love of pets and the unbreakable bonds they forge.

Strouse writes in prose that is simple and straight forward. Yet the story is much more of a fable, one that doesn’t follow logic but emotion instead. The story is about the bond between human and animal, one that defies time and distance to keep connections fresh and strong. Strouse embraces this even as he tells it in his simple prose, hinting at the true depths of emotion that lie beneath.

Phelan’s illustrations make this book sing. From the dogs in the shelter that are striped with bars to the way the black dog is such a strong graphic on the page, her images are iconic and beautiful. They match the simple prose with their own profound simplicity, allowing the white space on the page to speak too.

Strong illustrations make this allegory all the better to share with children and adults who love their pets. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Colette’s Lost Pet by Isabelle Arsenault

Colette's Lost Pet by Isabelle Arsenault

Colette’s Lost Pet by Isabelle Arsenault (9781101917596, Amazon)

Colette has moved to a new neighborhood and her parents won’t let her have a pet. She angrily kicks a box over the fence and meets some new kids. Colette wants to be friends but doesn’t have any good answer for them when they ask what she is doing, so she invents a pet that she has lost, a parakeet. The children take her to meet other neighbors who can help her find her pet. One after another the children help and then Colette adds to her fib. Her pet soon has specific colors, a name, a sound it makes, and a poster to help find it. Then Colette’s fib grows into a full-blown story. How will the others react when they realize she’s made the entire thing up?

Done in graphic novel style, this picture book is a delightful mix of a story about moving to a new place, the impact of telling lies and making new friends. Colette’s small fib grows far beyond what she had ever intended as she tries to cover up that she was frustrated and angry. With each new person involved, the lie builds to the find crescendo where it turns into something else entirely, something shared and wonderful despite how it all began.

The illustrations have a unique feel to them. They are done in blues and grays with pops of yellow in Colette’s jacket, small touches in the neighborhood and the color of her imaginary pet. This limited palette is beautifully done, the blues and yellows vibrant against the subtler grays.

A great graphic novel pick for young readers, this book looks at large themes with kindness and grace. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

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

 

I Got a New Friend by Karl Newsom Edwards

I Got a New Friend by Karl Newsom Edwards

I Got a New Friend by Karl Newsom Edwards (9780399557019, Amazon)

A little girl gets a new puppy and the two of them work to become friends. At first the puppy is scared, but she quickly becomes more friendly. The two play outside together, nap on the chair after making a mess, and sometimes get stinky. The puppy gets lost and then found again. They get dirty and wash up. They make noise and give tons of kisses and hugs.

Edwards uses frank and simple text to tell the story of the two new friends in this book. The little girl narrates the book and tells it from her point of view. The illustrations though show the entire story which is that she is getting just as dirty as the puppy, making just as much noise and eating just as sloppily. This clever twist adds to the pleasure of reading the book and will be enjoyed by young readers.

A warm welcome to a new pet, this picture book is a celebration of newfound friends. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.