Unstoppable by Adam Rex

Unstoppable by Adam Rex

Unstoppable by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laura Park (9781452165042)

Beginning with almost wordless panels of a cat jumping at both a crab and a crow, this book quickly transforms into a picture book that is made to share aloud. Crab and Crow join forces to be able to both fly and pinch the cat with claws. They are unstoppable now! But then they both thought about being able to swim too, so they talked to a turtle and transformed into something even more unstoppable. When an angry bear tries to attack them, they invite him to join in too. Upon finding out that forest demolition is what is making the bear angry though, they have to take action and become truly unstoppable!

As always Rex delights and surprises with his story lines. While this seems like a straight forward cumulative story at first, it transforms much like the animals themselves into something far more interesting by the end. Rex injects the tale with plenty of humor as the creatures come up with a variety of mash-up names for each of their combinations. The refrain of unstoppable will be a great way to get audiences participating in the book too.

Park’s illustrations are crisp and clear, bright colors against a white background. They will work particularly well with a group, adding even more to the readaloud appeal of the title.

Funny, surprising and empowering. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.

Cast Away: Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye 

Cast Away Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye 

Cast Away: Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye (9780062907691)

By the Young People’s Poet Laureate, this collection of poems shines a fierce light on the garbage and litter we create and toss away. The poems tie litter to larger environmental concerns as well as American politics in the time of anti-truth and fake news. Some poems question whether technology is helping us or not too. This is a collection that is thought provoking and insistent that we begin to pay attention to the large and small choices we are making each day and figure out how we too can make a difference and start picking up our own litter, both physical and figurative.

Nye has written a collection of poems with a strong political viewpoint that demands attention. Yet she never veers into lecturing readers, rather using the power of her words to make us all think differently about our privilege on this planet, how we abuse it, and how to restore balance to the world, our lives and our politics. The poems move from one to the next with a force of nature, almost like wandering your own garbage-strewn path and engaging with it. Sometimes you may lack the equipment, but the hope is that your own fingers start twitching to pick things up too. 

A strong collection that is provocative and tenacious. Appropriate for ages 10-14.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.

Review: The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin (9780763698225)

Released September 25, 2018.

The goblins and elves have found peace after a long war. Brangwain Spurge, an elf who studies goblin history, is catapulted into the goblin kingdom to deliver a gift to the strange being who rules the goblins. He is hosted there by Werfel, a goblin who studies elven history. Werfel is delighted to host Spurge, but that soon changes as Spurge is cantankerous, judgmental and hates everything goblin. He even detests an elven feast put on in his honor. Werfel also discovers that Brangwain is actually a spy, sending messages in images back to the elves. As the political intrigue grows, readers discover that Spurge is being used by his own government to start a new war, one that the elves will have the upper hand in thanks to duping him. But never doubt the ability of Spurge to ruin a solid plan!

What a pairing of master storytellers! Anderson writes the clever text, showing Werfel’s point of view and delighting in the slapstick comedy moments, the clashing of two cultures, and the dangers of hosting a guest. Meanwhile, Yelchin tells Spurge’s side of the tale through sly images alone, depicting what Spurge is sending back to the elves. The tales of course do not match and yet the also work together to tell a more complete story of misunderstandings, biases and prejudice more fully than words ever could.

The political pieces of the tale are particularly well drawn, showing how forces at work are not really in charge but may just be playground bullies who are being bullied themselves. The focus on differences and similarities is cleverly crafted into the story with the finale strengthening the connection and leaving no doubt that change is possible.

A timely look at political intrigue and getting beyond what holds us apart with plenty of humor to make it a delight. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick Press.

Inspiring Women in 3 Picture Book Biographies

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez, illustrated by Felicita Sala (9780399557262)

Ever since she was a little girl, Joan Procter loved lizards and other reptiles and amphibians. She dismissed dolls in favor of her animals, even having a baby alligator as a pet and taking it to school with her. But Joan was born in the late 1800s, so girls were not expected to study science, still she sought out the curator of reptiles and fish at the Natural History Museum rather than going to dances. With England at war, Joan was asked to work at the museum and eventually took over as curator. She designed the Reptile House at the London Zoo, using her artistic and scientific skills and created a habitat for their new Komodo dragons. Joan grew especially fond of Sumbawa, one of the Komodo dragons, who was gentle enough to walk outside with her and attend tea parties with children.

This picture book biography takes just the right tone about Joan’s life, filled with delight at her bringing an alligator to school and also relishing in her series of high-profile successes. The final pages of the book offer more details about Joan’s life and her early death at age 34. It also has more information about Komodo dragons and a robust bibliography. The illustrations has just the right mix of playfulness and science, showing the reptiles up close and also Joan’s own connection with them.

A brilliant look at an amazing woman who broke into science thanks to her skill and passion. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf and Edelweiss.)

A Lady Has the Floor by Kate Hannigan

A Lady Has the Floor by Kate Hannigan, illustrated by Alison Jay (9781629794532)

The incredible and impressive life of Belva Lockwood is depicted in this nonfiction picture book. Belva grew up playing outside with the boys and soon became a teacher in her community. Though women did not attend college, Belva did and graduated with honors in 1857. She taught school, but didn’t like that the girls in the class were not called on or asked to recite in front of the class. She worked with Susan B. Anthony to demand that New York public schools teach public speaking to all students and that girls be able to have physical education as well. Belva went to law school in a time when women were not allowed to be lawyers. She was at first denied her diploma, though she finished her courses. Even after becoming an attorney, some judges refused to hear her in their courtrooms. In 1879, Belva convinced law makers for women’s rights to be attorneys and got the laws changed. Belva fought for women’s rights to vote as well, becoming the first woman to run for president in 1884.

Belva Lockwood is a woman that we should all know better than we do. This biography of her is filled with impressive moments, ones that set her apart from even the other women working on the same issues. Belva is incredibly tenacious and resilient, never giving up and managing to get change to happen after years of work. She is a great model for today’s women’s rights movements. The illustrations by Jay have her signature folk style with cracked paint that perfectly evoke the time period and invite readers into the past.

A biography of an inspiring figure in American her-story. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington (9780062651730)

As a little girl, Dr. Mae Jemison dreamt of becoming an astronaut. Her mother in particular supported her dreams even when one of her teachers explained that someone like Mae should consider being a nurse instead. Looking at Dr. Jemison’s career through the lens of her childhood dreams makes for a powerful picture book for children who have their own big dreams for their futures. The focus here is on staying true to your passions and not allowing others to dash your dreams before you even begin to try. The mantra from Jemison’s mother is “If I can dream it, if I can believe in it, and if I work hard for it, anything is possible.”

Told in very simple sentences, this picture book biography is for younger children than many biographies. The illustrations have a luscious watercolor palette with images filled with stars and colors. A great pick to share aloud with young children and talk about dreams. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

The Queen's Rising by Rebecca Ross

The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross (9780062471345)

Brienna has never known who her father is, only that he is from neighboring Maevana. When her grandfather takes her to Magnalia House and has her accepted as a student of passion, Brienna discovers a new home. Among the handful of other students, Brienna discovers sisters as well as her own interest in history. As Brienna gets ready to master her passion for knowledge and leave Magnalia House, her plans go awry and she doesn’t complete the graduation ceremony and find a patron. Instead, her flashbacks of memories from a mysterious ancestor tie her closely to those who would restore a queen to the throne of Maevana and dethrone the imposter king. As war brews, Brienna becomes the linchpin to a plan that takes her into the heart of her homeland of Maevana and the dangers of political intrigue generations in the making.

Ross has deftly woven a story set in medieval times with glimpses of magic. Her story is firmly feminist, calling for queens to sit on thrones, the power of magic in women’s hands, and the ability of women to create plans that are daring and effective. The world created here is tightly drawn, two neighboring nations with differences in cultures that come together in Brienna. Ross also incorporates the fall of a queen and the resulting ramifications of her loss. It’s beautifully drawn, some of it revealed only towards the end of the novel to complete the picture.

Brienna is an incredible protagonist. She is humble and yet clearly bright and gifted, just with different gifts than the school for passion may be looking for. Her ability to plot and plan, learn to use a sword, and adjust her reactions to political turns shows how clever she is. There is a lovely romantic tension in the book as well, kept quite proper and reserved and yet smoldering at the same time.

An intelligent and well crafted teen novel filled with political intrigue and a woman who will lead the way to change. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HarperTeen.

Review: The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

winners crime

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski (InfoSoup)

This second book in The Winner’s Trilogy continues the story of Kestrel and Arin. In a strategic choice, Kestrel has given herself into an engagement to the prince of Valoria, never revealing to Arin that she did so to save him and his country from destruction. Now Kestrel is in Valoria, being treated like a princess, but her heart is still with Arin. The emperor is impressed with his son’s new fiancé, and works to hone her into his pawn. But Kestrel has her own political plans that include continuing to try to help Arin from her new position. At the same time, she works to keep Arin at a distance so that he never finds out the sacrifice she is making. But this fragile set up cannot be maintained forever, something must give, and it may end in complete destruction for them all.

Rutkoski’s second book keeps the political thrills of the first and continues to stir in romance and deception. As with the first, the reader and Kestrel really don’t know who they can trust or even if they can trust anyone at all. As with any second book in a series, this book is as much a bridge to a conclusion as anything. Rutkoski plays nicely with pacing throughout the book, allowing things to maddeningly slow for the reader as Kestrel is caught in a trap of her own making. She picks the pace up at the end as tension mounts, creating a book that is captivating to read.

Kestrel is one strong female protagonist. She works against the entire society she lives in to try to set her own course and to be in charge of her own destiny, even if her heart calls for her to do something else. Arin too is a finely drawn character, a romantic figure who is also thoughtful and while he may realize that Kestrel is not telling him the truth cannot force her to give up her game. It’s a dance of two people against an empire, embroidered in romance and dazzling with political intrigue.

This strong second book in this series will have readers desperate to read the third and final book to find out what happens next. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus and Giroux.

Review: Vote for Me by Ben Clanton

vote for me

Vote for Me by Ben Clanton

This picture-book look at the campaigning process takes young readers through a comical look at politics.  The donkey and elephant represent Democrats and Republicans only superficially.  They make no claims that match the party platforms at all.  Instead, it is about how cute elephant is, whether you will accept candy or peanuts as a bribe for your vote, and lots of grandstanding.  Soon the two are completely at odds with one another and slinging actual mud along with their bitter words.  The insults they use are harsh but humorous, just right for the picture book crowd.  Soon both of them have said things they regret and they agree to get along.  But it just might be too late for either of them to win the election!

This book is not an in-depth look at voting or politics.  Instead Clanton has created a light-hearted look at arguments and fighting through the lens of an election.  Adults will enjoy the clear ties to modern American elections while children will be engaged by the humor. 

The illustrations have a great vintage feel with a modern edge.  The pages are dappled like old paper that has just begun to mildew.  The two characters show lots of emotion throughout the book and it is clearly conveyed by their body language and facial expressions.

A chance to laugh a bit at the cantankerous campaign ahead of us, this book would work for discussions about arguments as well as a light-hearted look at elections.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.