Mama Lion Wins the Race by Jon J. Muth (9780545852821, Amazon)
It is race day for Mama Lion and Tigey. Tigey works on their car while Mama Lion reminds him that winning isn’t everything. In fact, she may have spotted just the right prize for Tigey and it isn’t the big trophy. When the race starts, Mama Lion and Tigey are immediately in the lead. Unfortunately though, when swerving to avoid an obstacle, their wheel comes off. Nicely, one of their competitors, the Flying Pandinis stops and helps them repair their car. They are soon passed though by Bun Bun who is scattering seeds as she rides her motorcycle and the Knitted Monkeys who are always a little naughty. As they race toward the finish line, Mama Lion and Tigey have a decision to make. Should they win the race?
Muth is the author of the acclaimed Zen Shorts series of books. It’s a joy to see him use those same ideas and concepts in a picture book about racing that is also about so much more. Muth has embedded Buddhist thought and ideals in this picture book in a way that is natural and never didactic. This is a picture book with a message that is so deeply ingrained in story itself that the message flows and never feels forced. The characters of Mama Lion and Tigey along with the other toy animals are dynamic and complex. This is a rich picture book that turns the concept of winning entirely on its head.
Muth’s illustrations have a zingy energy to them that matches the subject matter beautifully. They are filled with animals that are clearly toys. The Knitted Monkey team is exactly that. The Flying Pandinis are small round stuffed pandas. Mama Lion and Tigey are clearly beloved stuffed animals with whiskers, buttons and of course racing goggles.
A truly special picture book, this one is for those kids who love racing and those who love toys and those who love a great read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Harry Miller’s Run by David Almond, illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino (9780763689759)
Developed from the short story that appeared in Half a Creature from the Sea, this children’s fiction version is illustrated in full color. Liam wants to be out with his friends practicing for the upcoming Junior Great North Run, but his mother wants him to come to help Harry clear out his home. As they visit with Harry, he shares the story of his own run as a boy when he and some friends ran from their town all the way to the sea. It’s a story of friendship, shared experience, a hot sunny day, and the wonder of ice cream at the end.
I enjoyed this short story immensely in the original short story collection and was very pleased to discover it again in this illustrated format. The story is immensely fun, beginning with the mistake of how far the boys were actually going to run and then their determination to finish anyway. Framed by the story of Harry as an old man telling the tale and Liam listening, the story within a story shines with the brightness of a summer day against the more somber tones of aging.
Rubbino’s illustrations make this version of the story accessible for younger audiences who will appreciate the text being broken up by bright-colored images. The illustrations reflect the story with the modern illustrations done in blacks and grays with a pop of blue provided by Harry’s cap. The illustrations for Harry’s memories suddenly turn into full color with Harry still in the same blue cap.
A lovely new version that makes this story available to more people, this is a winner. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Monster Trucks by Anika Denise, illustrated by Nate Wragg (InfoSoup)
A revved up mix of trucks and monsters, this picture book will delight fans of either topic. Monster trucks are ready to race as their engines moan and rumble. There is Frankentruck, jumped alive by his electric cables. Werewolf Truck stops to howl at the moon. Zombie Truck is glowing and green. Ghost Truck appears suddenly out of the shadows. Vampire Truck is on the hunt for everyone’s fuel. As the race begins though, there is an unlikely entry, Little Blue Bus all cute enters the race. Soon the monster trucks are after her and she’s in a race for her life!
Denise writes in engaging rhyme that speeds the book alone, accelerating the pace along with the racing trucks. The addition of the little blue bus is wonderfully refreshing, playing on the horror movie motif and also adding a character that children can relate to. The rhythm of the book is also great fun to read aloud and this one will charm anyone listening with its dynamic subject matter.
Wragg’s illustrations are fabulous. He thoroughly embraces the idea of “monster” trucks and transforms them into real monsters while still making sure they are trucks as well. The headlight eyes are expressive and often evil, the bumper and hood leers are cleverly done, and the lightness of the little bus plays up the twist at the end.
A strong entry in the Halloween book race, this picture book will be adored by truck fans and those looking for a little monster thrill. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Titans by Victoria Scott
Astrid’s family has been destroyed by the Titans, mechanical horses raced at a track near her Detroit neighborhood. Her father lost everything betting on the horses and now they may lose their home. Yet Astrid also finds herself drawn to the Titans and spending time figuring out the math to create the best approaches to turns. So when Astrid meets a strange old man who has a Titan of his own, the first generation ever made, Astrid knows that she just has to try to ride it. It is up to Astrid now to secure the future for her family if she can only prove that a poor girl and an old horse can win.
Scott has written such a rip-roaring story. It is a book that will hook those who love horses as well as those who love racing. It’s a book that is science fiction, but a near future that is all too possible, where the division between rich and poor is even more strong than today and where impossibly complex robotic horses come to life. Even better, it is a world that makes sense for the reader, one with great appeal and a strong heroine to cheer for.
Astrid is an amazing heroine. She has a brain that thinks in mathematics and physics, naturally bounding ahead of others. And she uses it not just to ride differently than the others but also to face the horrible traps set into the race track that change from one race to another. Astrid is complex. She is deeply loyal to her family, yet does not tell them what she is doing. She also takes longer than the reader to fall for her Titan, something that works very nicely so that the reader is cheering them on together.
A riveting read that is compulsively readable, this teen novel has great appeal and will set anyone’s heart racing. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.
Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli
Sam wins every race, so he’s not worried at all at the big race. His best friend Maggie is racing too, but Sam know that he is the best. He quickly leaves everyone behind, except for Maggie who stays right with him and then wins the race! Sam is devastated. He didn’t sleep at all before the next race and is so distracted that he’s late starting the race! Even starting after everyone else though, he quickly takes the lead. But then, he sees a flock of chicks on the roadway and though he can get around them safely, he worries about the other racers not seeing them in time. So Sam stops and saves the chicks who ride along with him to finish the race. Sam finishes last, but as he approaches the finish line he can hear people cheering – for him!
Winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for his first book The Watermelon Seed, Pizzoli has a knack for using simple language for big ideas. His books are straight forward and have a classic feel about them, perfect for the smallest children. At the same time, his books are not predictable. I thought this book might deal with jealousy as its primary focus, but it changed in the middle of the book to be more about good decision making and being a good friend. I appreciate that he was able to pivot a simple story like this into something with depth. That takes real skill.
Just like his writing, Pizzoli’s art is simple. He uses strong lines and bright colors to really create a feel that is distinctly his own. This book fairly glows with yellow on the page, sunny and bright as the racers speed on the page. Other pages with different emotions have different colors, something that really works to convey a change in feeling directly.
Another winner from Pizzoli, this book will appeal to children interested in cars and racing immediately but is also a great book about making good choices. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Tortoise and the Hare by Jerry Pinkney
Wow. This companion book to Pinkney’s Caldecott Medal winning The Lion & the Mouse is another outstanding book. Set in the deserts of the Southwest, the story has all sorts of animals gathered to watch the race, including badgers, lynx, mice, and vultures. All of them wear at least one piece of clothing, from hats to bandanas to pants. As the pages of the book turn, readers will get to see how each of the animals approaches the race, from the frenzy and then sloth of the hare to the steadiness of the tortoise. Readers will get a sense of the slowness also from the words on the page that every so tantalizingly make out phrases as the pages turn.
Told in few words, the book is all about the illustrations which are magnificent. Filled with tiny details to linger over, each illustration is beautifully composed and helps move the story forward. Pinkney stays true to the classic tale, not changing any of the storyline. He manages to take stories that can become overly wordy and with images alone tell their story and make them appropriate and thrilling for a young audience. I will always see his illustrations when I hear this story. That is talent!
Quite simply, this is another masterpiece by Pinkney. A must-have book for every library serving preschoolers. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Race You to Bed by Bob Shea
Shea returns with another silly, zany picture book. Readers race to bed with a white, fluffy bunny as he runs uphill, drops downhill, makes lots of noise, and escapes a wide variety of traps and troubles. Young readers will be laughing aloud at the manic rhymes, fast pace, and pure silliness of this book. Perfect for children who don’t want to go to bed and would much rather be running around. The ending is charming and provides the perfect button to the book.
Shea excels here at writing verse that is strong, fast and funny. It is also beautifully short which adds to the fast pace and will keep young listeners very happy. Make sure that you keep control of the pace as you read, because the illustrations offer a lot of the humor and are worth slowing down for. The illustrations are done in Shea’s trademark simplicity that has a great graphic quality to it.
Perfection for bedtime or pajama story times, this book is pure fun. Race you to see who can read it next! Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from library copy.