Review: The Scarecrow by Beth Ferry

The Scarecrow by Beth Ferry

The Scarecrow by Beth Ferry, illustrated by The Fan Brothers (9780062475763)

Throughout the seasons, Scarecrow guards the fields, keeping the deer, crows and other animals away. He has no friends and none of the animals have any contact with him. He is alone. Then one spring, a baby crow falls from its nest. Scarecrow does something he has never done before. He beds down and saves that little crow, tucking it safely into his overalls. The two become immediate friends and steadily the crow grows larger and is able to fly. They spend their days and nights together, until one day the crow flies away. Scarecrow is left along again, on a broken pole in the winter snow. Still, seasons change and as spring returns there is hope.

Ferry has written a captivating story about a very lonely scarecrow who makes one compassionate choice that changes his entire existence. Ferry takes time to make sure that readers understand the profound loneliness of the scarecrows time on his pole and then the delight of him moving is a wonderful surprise. The story has a great structure and arc that children will love, watching the relationship build and the seasons change.

As always, the Fan Brothers are superb. In this book, the illustrations are done in pencil, ballpoint and digitally. The landscapes are lush are seasonal, the golden sun of autumn, the muted colors of winter. The painted face of the scarecrow manages to show real emotion somehow without really moving until he is truly distressed.

A great fall read that will work for springtime too. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden (9780525515029)

This shivery novel for middle-grade readers will give just the right amount of creepiness for kids reading Goosebumps. Ollie’s mother died in an accident last year, and Ollie found solace in her books, withdrawing from the kids who were her friends and not talking in class. Her father continues to create a warm home for her filled with fresh-baked bread and other treats. When Ollie meets a strange woman about to throw a book into the lake, Ollie rescues the book and runs away. She reads the book, learning about the “smiling man” and the deal that a local man made with him. When she heads out on a field trip with her class, Ollie is surprised to find herself on the farm in the book that has graves for the people in the story. On their way back home, the school bus breaks down and Ollie escapes with two other students from the clutches of the scarecrows and the smiling man himself. Can they avoid capture and find a way back home before nightfall?

There is so much to love about this book. It is so readable for kids, a story that is well-paced and actually frightening, but at just the right level for young readers. The scarecrows are particularly effective as they pivot to watch the children go by and come to life at night. The ghosts are eerie as is the hungry gray bus driver. Young readers will also appreciate Ollie’s growing connection to her mother through her mother’s broken watch, something that tells her what to do and by when. It’s a clever addition to the story, offering a sign of hope and a way out of grief.

Throughout the book, there are characters who will surprise readers by going directly against stereotype. First, there are Ollie’s parents with her domestic father and adventurous mother. Then the two children who accompany Ollie through her adventure are a jock who reads and quotes literature at just the right time and a girl who looks tiny and frail but can climb almost anything and is actually brave and strong. These unexpected little touches add up to a team that is unbeatable as they face real demons.

Written with rich prose that is a delight to read, this eerie tale will be enjoyed by any young reader looking for some spine tingles. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

3 New Picture Books Full of Animals

Honey by David Ezra Stein

Honey by David Ezra Stein (9781524737863)

This is a companion book to Leaves with the same bear. This time the bear has woken up from hibernation and is hungry for honey. Everything around him reminds him of aspects of honey like the golden sun and the flowing river. But it is too early for honey to be ready, so the bear tries to forget about it. Still, he keeps on thinking of the sweet treat as he spends his days. He enjoys the rain, swimming in the water, and exploring his surroundings. Finally it is time for honey! And then the days start to cool again and fall approaches.

A great companion book to the first stellar picture book, this one feels so connected to the first. The art has the same free and flowing style as the first that was so compelling. In this book, honey is the focus and Stein cleverly shows how different parts of the bear’s day remind him of honey even when he is distracted. The illustrations are compellingly summerlike, the sunshine clear on the page. A welcome new sweet treat of a book to share. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Moon Man by Isabel Harris

The Moon Man by Isabel Harris, illustrated by Ada Grey (9781680100785)

One day Cat, Rabbit and Squirrel discovered a new addition to the wheatfield they lived near. It was a scarecrow, but only Rabbit knew that. The friends played near the scarecrow because he smelled nice and had a friendly face. That night, Fox, Owl and Hedgehog came out into the field and see the scarecrow. They think that he’s a moon man and leave him food to eat. The next morning, the other animals believe the scarecrow has left them some treats to eat. They in turn give the scarecrow flowers. The nocturnal animals see the flowers and think that the moon man has picked them because the moon doesn’t have any flowers. Perhaps they should build him a rocket to return home. When the farmer returns, he finds his scarecrow quite different! He moves it to another field, so the nocturnal animals believe their rocket has worked!

Grey’s picture book has young readers in on the joke immediately. The day animals know what the scarecrow is and their jubilant reaction sets the tone for the book. The nocturnal animals are the most confused, but their story is what makes the book really work. It is particularly nice that their story of what is happening is never disproven and instead remains intact throughout the book. The illustrations are bright and summery, filled with golds and greens. The nighttime illustrations fade to grays and pastels. A book about imagination and creativity, this picture book is full of humor and friendship. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Pignic by Matt Phelan

Pignic by Matt Phelan (9780062443397)

An adorable family of pigs head out on a sunny day for the perfect picnic. A friendly turtle helps the littlest pig climb up into a tree. As other pigs want to fly a kite, a wolf sneaks up on them. There isn’t any wind, but luckily the wolf has a solution and fixes the problem with a “Huff puff.” Called to eat, the pigs leave the wolf holding the kite. Soon storm clouds gather and rain pours down in a gush. It leaves lots of mud behind, much to the joy of the pig family!

With one problem after another, the pigs still manage to have a wonderful picnic together. The text is very simple, with a natural rhythm that ends with a chorus of “Hooray!” when each obstacle is overcome. This playful book shows the power of helping one another and having a positive outlook. The illustrations are done in watercolors and pencils, showing pink pigs of all sizes ready for a great day together. Even the blue wolf is not scary, just right for the littlest listeners. A book that will have everyone planning the next picnic. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Review: Scarecrow Magic by Ed Masessa

Scarecrow Magic by Ed Masessa

Scarecrow Magic by Ed Masessa, illustrated by Matt Myers (InfoSoup)

A shivery and wonderfully strange autumn read, this picture book explores what happens on the night of a full moon. It all starts with the moon bright in the sky and a scarecrow that starts to move. Magic is building all around, and creatures begin to emerge from the ground and the shadows. As the others arrive, the scarecrow unties himself, removes his clothes and then his skin! As a skeleton, he dashes around ready to play. He jumps rope with a vine, takes a dip in the pond, bowls with pumpkins, plays hide-and-seek. At snack time they all feast on worms and slug balls. By the time the sun rises, it’s all tidied up and Scarecrow is back to work on his post.

This picture book is not sweet and quiet, rather it’s a wild raucous picture book that has some darkness mixed in. So it may not be for every child and may not be ideal for right before bed. There is joy in a picture book that takes a autumn figure like a scarecrow and unveils the skeleton underneath. The magic at play all around in a rural area is also a treat to see come alive. The book is written in rhyme that bounces and dashes along, carrying this zingy story forward even faster. Halloween is not mentioned at all, but this would be a great pick for a read aloud at a Halloween event where scary darkness is to be expected and embraced.

Myers sets a great tone with his illustrations, creating a wonderful glow of the moon and a deep darkness of night. The skeleton’s white bones pop on the page as he gallivants around. The dark purples, blues and greens capture nighttime in the country. Against that backdrop, the strange creatures who come from the shadows and the ground are a mix of friendly and fearsome that works very well. They are just enough to be creepy but not really frightening.

Jaunty rhyme, a spooky night and one wild skeleton make for a treat of a book for a Halloween read. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.