The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen

Cover image.

The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen (9781536215625)

Returning to the world that Klassen has built in his previous picture books is pure joy. In this picture book, he presents a series of short chapters that tell the story of a tortoise, and armadillo and a snake. In the first story, the tortoise has his own favorite spot to stand that is near a flower. The armadillo though prefers a spot near a small sapling. Readers know a huge rock is hurtling towards them. But who has decided on the right place? In the second story, the tortoise climbs the rock and falls off, yet he doesn’t want any help at all getting turned back over. The third story has the friends imagining the future. Plants will grow up around the rock and there may be a terrifying one-eyed creature too. The next two stories deal with feeling left out until that same terrifying creature returns.

Klassen has such a delightful darkness to his stories. This one still has hats in it, but they aren’t the focus of any of the stories. Instead it is the rock itself that literally anchors the stories together along with the three animals who find themselves near it. Klassen creates real drama with the tension he builds in his stories, moving from the rock hurtling to the quiet of it afterwards. He also moves from imagining what could happen to that happening very quickly in reality. These elements add a dark humor to everything, making the books immensely funny even as they take a turn.

As always, Klassen’s art is simple and powerful. He uses the pages as almost a stage with a line of horizon that stays consistent throughout the book. The dialogue is either on its own page or on a distinctly separate part of the illustration, allowing the action to continue to play out in front of the reader and listener.

Dark, funny and full of surprises. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

See the Cat by David LaRochelle

See the Cat cover image

See the Cat: Three Stories about a Dog by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (9781536204278)

In this hilarious easy reader, the main character is a dog. But the narrator of the story has other ideas. The first story is simply called “See the Cat” and the dog must insist he certainly is not a cat, definitely not a blue cat in a green dress, and most definitively not riding a unicorn. Still, there’s a nice twist in the end that ends with an embarrassed “red dog.” In the second story, the dog is happily snoozing when the narrator announces that you can “see the snake.” The snake is under the dog, and then gets quite angry. But before the snake can bite the dog, the way the narrator says, the dog comes up with his own solution involving a pencil. In the last story, the reader is told to “see the dog” but then the dog is ordered to spin, jump and even fly or else he will get sat on by a hippo! In the end though, the dog does some bargaining and can go back to napping with no snakes or hippos in sight.

LaRochelle’s easy reader is very funny, just the right sort of humor for young children. The pacing is great with the page turns adding to the moments of reveal and drama. The text is very simple, with the humor playing up the format of an easy reader and it’s straight-forward language. The result is a book that is silly and a delight, something that could be read again and again by new readers who will giggle every time.

The art suits that of an easy reader too, done in simple lines and nice large formats. The dog’s expressions are classic cartoon and add to the humor of the book. When things like the snake and hippo appear, it increases the merriment.

A great addition to easy readers, this one is a hoot! Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey


The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey

This Australian import is the first in a fresh new illustrated chapter book series. Wolf has decided that he’s tired of being a bad guy so he recruits three fellow baddies to his new gang where they do good deeds. But it’s not so easy for Shark, Piranha and Snake to give up their own ways, like eating meat and people. Their first mission for good is to rescue a kitten stuck in a tree, but what kitten wants to climb down if they see those big teeth smiling at them? Their next job is to rescue 200 dogs from the dog pound. It involves Shark dressing up as a little girl, Wolf making a great shot, and Piranha and Snake showing the dogs the way out. But the plan doesn’t quite work out they way they want it too either.

This book has the pep and feel of a comic book, filled with large fonts that add attitude to the pages and lots of illustrations. In fact, because of its many illustrations it will be a welcome early book for new chapter book readers who will love the humor as well as the pictures that nicely break up the text. There is a great zany energy to the entire book with one joke leading nicely to the next. The pacing is cleverly done with just enough time to catch your breath from laughing before the action starts again.

Blabey’s illustrations are a large part of that manic charm. They are hugely funny. Emotions are shown broadly and wildly on characters’ faces. The shark barely fits into the car and not without a bump out for the dome of his head. There are incidents of eating one another and being bashed against walls. Each one is hilarious and children will love the slapstick comedy of it all.

A funny delight, this illustrated chapter book will have young readers begging for the next in the series. I know I can’t wait! Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom

One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom

One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom (InfoSoup)

A little boy skipped along in the shade of the eucalyptus tree when down came a snake who ate him up! The boy told the snake that there was more room in his belly and encouraged him to eat something else. So the snake snuck up on a bird and gobbled it up. The boy told the snake he was still hungry and one-by-one, the snake ate more and more animals: a cat, a sloth, an ape, a bear, and a beehive. By then, his stomach was huge and distended, but the boy told him there was room for just one more very small thing. Perhaps not!

In the tradition of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, this picture book has a rhythm and rhyme that makes reading it aloud pure joy. This is a child outwitting an enormous snake, staying calm and being clever, adding to the appeal for children. The pacing of the book is stellar, creating moments before each new animal is devoured as well as when the boy convinces the snake to eat more.

The illustrations are bright and colorful. The eucalyptus tree is central to the story and to the art with its colored bark and large expanse. The bright yellow snake is huge and vies with the tree for the reader’s attention in the best of ways. Cross sections of the snake’s belly show the animals and the boy inside.

Great pick for a read aloud, this picture book is energetic and cheerful. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Katherine Tegen Books.

Review: A Pet Named Sneaker by Joan Heilbroner

pet named sneaker

A Pet Named Sneaker by Joan Heilbroner, illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre

Sneaker was a snake who lived in a pet store and wanted to be taken home.  But no one seemed interested in a snake until one day Pete came into the store and noticed how special Sneaker was and decided to take him home.  The two invented games together, forming handcuffs and a hat out of Sneakers’ flexible body.  Then one day Pete had to go to school.  Sneaker didn’t want to be left behind, so he slithered into Pete’s backpack.  Once they got to school, Sneaker proved to be a great snake ambassador, quickly proving that snakes are not only no slimy but are quite smart.  Sneaker continued to show how amazing he was by saving a drowning toddler at the pool and getting it so that animals were welcome to swim there too.  Funny and briskly paced, this book will have great appeal for beginning readers.

Told in very simple and friendly language, this book has a strong storyline for a beginning reader.  Sneaker and Pete have several adventures in the course of the book, moving quickly from a tale of new friendship to one of real action, which is sure to please new readers.   The art by Lemaitre gives the book a vintage feel, hearkening back to Seuss and Eastman in its simple lines and bold colors.  There is also that little zing to the eyes, that feeling that the reader is in on the joke that is conveyed through the illustrations. 

This is a book with great humor, a touch of vintage feel, and one cool cold-blooded hero.  Appropriate for beginning readers aged 3-5. 

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.

Can I Play Too?

Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems

If you are ever looking for a picture book or easy reader sure to pull a child in and get them adoring books, pull any of Mo Willems books off the shelf.  His Elephant and Piggie series is so simple, yet profound and funny.  This latest book in the series is one of the best in the bunch.  Here we see Elephant, the careful and more serious character, and Piggie, who is loud and enthusiastic.  The two of them are best friends, which alone has led to some great books.  Add Snake who wants to join them in playing ball.  Of course, that’s a problem because Snake can’t really catch since he doesn’t have arms.  But that doesn’t mean he can’t try and it certainly doesn’t mean that Piggie can’t figure out a solution that will have them all playing together.

Willems is the master of brevity, capturing entire scenes in a few words and his simple illustrations.  His book are perfection for early readers but also make great read alouds thanks to his skill in writing.  His characters are beautifully drawn, offering so much in so few words and images.  It is magic on a page.

In this book, Willem’s natural humor comes pouring forth into a vaudeville-like scene that will have children laughing aloud, guffawing even.  It is a special easy reader that will have my teenage son crowding us on the couch to be able to see.  But then, all he needed to hear was that it was a Mo Willems book and it was funny. 

Guaranteed success between two covers, this book is laugh-out-loud funny, wry and as always with Willems, big hearted.  Appropriate for ages 3-6 and the occasional thirteen-year-old.

Reviewed from library copy.

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