Review: Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks (9781250312853)

Deja and Josie are completing their last night working at the Pumpkin Patch before they leave for college. The two have worked at the Succotash Hut together, perfecting the stirring technique. Josie has won most valuable employee every year but one and is definitely in the running again. He’s also had a huge crush on a girl who works at the pie stand, so it’s Deja’s mission on their last night to get him to actually speak to her for the first time. So the two of them leave the Succotash Hut and head out to find his crush. But it won’t be easy to find her and their quest takes them on a full tour of the Pumpkin Patch complete with delicious snacks like Freeto Pie, S’mores and candy apples.

These two very talented teen book creators have designed an amazing graphic novel together. They take the Midwestern pumpkin patch experience of corn mazes, picking pumpkins, and treats and turn it into a quest for love that is charming and enticing. It’s very rare to find a teen book that is this seasonal. When you read this one though, you can almost smell the cinnamon autumnal scents on a breeze.

The two main characters are wonderful. They have a clear chemistry on the page. Deja is bisexual, having dated several of the other workers at the Patch over the years. Josie is marvelously shy except with Deja with whom he really shows his personality. The entire book is a delight of a read thanks to these two characters who are such a joy to spend time with.

A tremendous graphic novel that I dare you not to “fall” for. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

Super Slug of Doom by Matty Long

Super Slug of Doom by Matty Long

Super Slug of Doom by Matty Long (9781338054354, Amazon)

This is the second picture book in the Super Happy Magic Forest series. This book has the same tongue-in-cheek humor as the first as it once again laughs at fantasy tropes. In this second book, our heroes (the same ones as in the first book: a unicorn, gnome, centaur, fairy and mushroom) must face a new danger. Zorgoth, an evil slug who has been trapped under a rock (and accidentally released by one of our heroes), heads out to destroy the forest by drinking the Potion of Power. Our heroes must journey through different fantasy landscapes and eventually defeat Zorgoth, who is munching his way across them leaving a trail of slime. How can our hapless heroes succeed?

Long’s writing is over the top and great fun. He frames the book with a Prophecy at the beginning that predicts Zorgoth’s emergence and ends it with what has become the Legend of the heroes, which doesn’t quite match what the reader just saw happen. Throughout the book, there is humor sprinkled everywhere. Speech bubbles and labels add to the fun, mixing modern-day with fantasy world in a gloriously haphazard way.

The illustrations are bright and colorful. Entire worlds of fantasy are depicted in double-page spreads that contrast with one another. There is a dragon world of fire (filled with fire puns), underground chambers of jewels where readers can try to find the missing rainbow jewel, and ogres doing yoga and trying to eat our heroes too.

This is another wild and very successful romp through fantasy in a picture book. Share it with individual kids or very small groups so that the pictures can be searched for small details. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Good Night, Knight by Betsy Lewin

good night knight

Good Night, Knight by Betsy Lewin

When Horse and Knight are falling asleep, Knight has a dream about golden cookies. So he wakes up Horse and sets off on a quest to find the golden cookies. They search everywhere, in hollow tree trunks and under water and in the bushes, riding from one place to the next at a brisk trot. It isn’t until they return home and Knight has collapsed from exhaustion that Knight realizes that the cookies were right in their castle all along. The two have a golden cookie feast and then go to bed, but it’s not long before Horse has a golden dream of his own!

Written for emerging readers, this picture book is written with a limited vocabulary and words that repeat on the page and from one section of the story to another. The picture book format will invite reluctant readers to give reading a try. Lewin also wisely incorporates plenty of humor and galloping around, giving the reader reasons to turn the page to see what will happen next. It’s a good mix of action and silliness.

Lewin’s illustrations break the text into nice readable chunks appropriate for beginning readers. Plenty of attention is paid to the illustrations, offering humor beyond the text itself. For example, Knight never removes his armor, even to sleep! The art is simple, funny and inviting.

Head out on a quest with your beginning reader and this simple picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Holiday House.

Review: Hunters of the Great Forest by Dennis Nolan

hunters of the great forest

Hunters of the Great Forest by Dennis Nolan

Released October 28, 2014

This wordless picture book is the story of a group of hunters who head out from their small village one day and into the forest.  Bringing only a handful of items with them, the group must face large rocks, mountains and enormous trees.  It quickly becomes apparent that the hunters are tiny people as they are forced to run from buzzing dragonflies and then from a hungry toad.  After escaping those creatures, the hunters must then flee from a bird and a chipmunk.  Sneaking out later from their hiding place, the hunters discover a girl sitting by a campfire roasting marshmallows.  But even though they have food to bring back to their village, the dangers are not over for our intrepid group of hunters.

Wonderfully detailed pictures make this a spectacular picture book to share.  The journey of the hunters makes for a page-turning delight filled with dangers, mishaps and surprises.  If you pay close attention to the illustrations, some of the surprises can be predicted with clues about the next page.  For example, you can see the toad’s legs in the corner of the page before the toad is fully revealed after the page turn.  This makes for a book that reads as a continual stream of story, rather than individual images strung into a story.

I applaud Nolan for including plenty of little female hunters on the journey as well.  There are young and old little people too.  And even better, if you watch, it is not the women who need rescuing on the journey.  In fact, the older of the little women carries the spear the entire journey and seems ready to use it at times.

Join the hunters on their quest for the elusive marshmallows in this journey through a forest filled with dangers of all sorts.  It’s a jolly read that is sure to please.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Review: The Feral Child by Che Golden

feral child

The Feral Child by Che Golden

Maddy’s parents died recently, so she is sent to Ireland to live with her grandparents.  She misses London and her friends dreadfully and doesn’t like her cousins or the town of Blarney.  Though she has been told not to enter the grounds of the castle in town, she does anyway one evening because she is so angry and just doesn’t care.  She stays longer than she means to when her grandparent’s dog George runs off.  It is then that she meets a strange boy.  That same boy returns to her house later, tapping at the window and asking Maddy to join him, but she refuses to go to the window at all, because she has realized that he is not what he seems to be.  When the boy goes to her neighbor and steals their little boy from out of his bedroom window, Maddy sees it all.  But with a changeling in the little boy’s place, no one even knows he is actually missing.  It is up to Maddy, her cousins, and George the dog to save him, because no one else can.  They must enter the faerie realm to do so and face incredible dangers on their quest.

Golden manages to not actually modernize the faeries and their world, which is quite refreshing.  Instead what you have in this middle-grade novel is a modern girl thrust into the strange and timeless world of the faeries.  She takes the most menacing and amazing parts of folklore and brings them fully to life, creating a dazzling array of faeries and beasts as the children travel.  The dangers are brutally displayed and there are times when death is so close, readers will be amazing that the characters survive.

Maddy is not a particularly likeable character at first in the novel, nor are her cousins.  Maddy is the main protagonist and undergoes a believable transformation into heroine as the novel goes on.  The same can be said for one of her cousins who comes out of her shell and into her own.  The other cousin, the bully, has too easy a transformation and it happens a bit to early in the book as well.  But that is a quibble in an impressive faerie tale.

Faeries, Ireland and an amazing quest all come together to create a book that is frightening, riveting and a rip-roaring read.  Appropriate for ages 10-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Quercus.

Review: She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

she is not invisible

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

Released April 22, 2014.

Laureth keeps tabs on her famous father’s emails, making sure that his fans are responded to in a kind and timely way.  But one day, she gets an email from someone claiming to have her father’s writing journal.  The problem is, her father is supposed to be in Europe, but this person is in New York City.  Laureth’s mother doesn’t seem to care about her father being missing, so it is up to Laureth to figure out how to reach him and find out what happened.  But Laureth has an additional obstacle to her rescue mission: she is blind.  So she must fool her 7-year-old brother into joining her on a flight across the Atlantic Ocean to a huge city to find her father.  This is a quest unlike any other, written by a master.

Sedgwick’s writing is beautiful and effortless.  He has created a truly incredible character in Laureth, a girl who doesn’t even realize how brave she is.  Her blindness is both a huge factor in the novel but also never a factor in Laureth’s self perception.  She tries to pass as sighted throughout the novel, managing it at times and failing at others.  There are frightening encounters, moments of disorientation, and other times where blindness is the reason she survives. 

Sedgwick’s book is about far more than a girl who is blind making a quest.  It is about moments of coincidence too.  Sedgwick works this theme in by pulling quotes from Laureth’s father and his research into coincidence.  But it is also a large theme of the book itself, those breathtaking moments where the universe seems to be speaking just to you.  And it is those moments that make the connections we have with others stand out clearly.

A remarkable protagonist in a magical book, this is another winner for Sedgwick.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from digital copy received from NetGalley and Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Giants Beware by Jorge Aguirre

giants beware

Giants Beware! by Jorge Aguirre, illustrated by Rafael Rosado

Claudette lives in a town protected by a huge wall to keep the giant out.  Years earlier, the town had been terrorized by The Baby-Feet Eating Giant who still figures into most of the stories to keep the children in town in line.  Claudette though knows that she is brave enough to slay any giant, so she sets out with her wooden sword to kill the giant.  She brings along her friend Marie who desperately wants to be a princess and her younger brother Gaston who is a disappointment to their father who wants him to be more brave.  Gaston on the other hand wants to be a chef.  The three children head out on their quest that will take them through the Forest of Death, across the Mad River, and up to the Giant’s Peak.  Unfortunately, their parents are following them to bring them back home before their adventure is really complete!  Can Claudette kill the giant before being dragged back to safety?

How I love a book that turns gender stereotypes on their head.  In Claudette, a spunky girl who is brave and ferocious, the author does just that.  Claudette is wild, heroic and along the way learns a lot about being a better friend and sibling.  Told with plenty of humor, the storyline is tight,  and the world building is amazing.

Rosado’s illustrations shout with color and energy.  This full-color graphic novel gets a lot of its appeal from the strength of the illustrations, their clarity and the skill with which the story is depicted. 

Highly recommended for all library collections, this is a graphic novel that has broad appeal.  Here’s hoping there are more monsters to slay in upcoming episodes of this feisty red-headed heroine!  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.