Vernon Is on His Way: Small Stories by Philip C. Stead (9781626726550)
Vernon has returned for a second book following A Home for Bird, along with his friends Skunk and Porcupine. In three short stories, readers get to delight in even more time with these characters. The first story is told almost entirely in images since it’s about waiting. Vernon waits and waits until he suddenly realizes that he’s under way already! In the second story, the three of them head out to go fishing. Porcupine though worries that he is ruining the trip for everyone because he’s never been fishing before. As the story goes on it becomes apparent that none of them know what fishing trips actually are, but their version is a huge success for all of them anyway. In the last story, Vernon creates a special garden for himself filled with things he loves and that remind him of Bird. Porcupine and Skunk want to help Vernon feel better about missing Bird, but they struggle to find the right thing to bring him. Along the way they accidentally find exactly what he needs.
As always, Stead hits just the right notes with this book. The three characters are each unique and interesting. Vernon stays as the focal point of the stories but shares the limelight particularly with the worrying Porcupine this time. These books feel like instant classics, the characters will remind readers of Pooh and Eeyore. They are characters you want to spend more time with as they head out on their small adventures together. The illustrations are classic Stead where he uses the white space on the pages very effectively to create space and sometimes longing.
Another winner from Stead that belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
Catching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington (InfoSoup)
Moving away from Alabama is hard for Keet. She is moving closer to her beloved grandfather though, which helps. The two of them spend days together fishing, something that Keet used to find challenging because she loves to talk and tell stories. But at her new school, she is teased for her accent and suddenly her words start to dry up. She finds it hard to make friends and even at home she isn’t talking much. Slowly though, Keet starts to find her voice again and makes a new friend. Just as she starts to talk though, her grandfather suffers a stroke and struggles with the slow recovery. Keet though has just the solution, showing him the way forward with stories.
Harrington’s verse novel is pure loveliness. Throughout she plays with various poetic forms, delicately moving from haiku to concrete poems to narrative form with many others included too. She nicely lists them at the end of the book, talking about their difficulty and what makes a poem that form. Her skill is evident throughout with all of the forms as she tells the story of Keet and her progress from losing her confidence and her voice to finding it again. The voice of Keet’s new friend is including in the poems as well, often playing against ones in Keet’s voice.
The characters here are given time to grow and stretch on the page. Keet is a wonderful character filled with a great energy and drive, but also stuck in a lack of confidence that hits her out of nowhere. It is a book about quiet and both its power and the ability to drown in being silenced. It is a book about friendship, about family and the importance of finding your place and your voice.
Beautifully written and strikingly gentle, this book is a celebration of the individual and their ability to speak their own stories. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
I Am a Story by Dan Yaccarino (InfoSoup)
This picture book celebrates stories in all of their forms from the past through to the present. Beginning with oral storytelling around fires, the book then moves to cave paintings, clay tablets and hieroglyphics. Formats change to papyrus and paper, tapestries to printed books. Libraries evolve from private to public and books with their stories travel the world. They are censored sometimes and even burned, but they survive. They are inspiring, portable and immortal.
Yaccarino takes huge concepts and boils them down into a focused tale of the story. He uses simple language, inviting readers to think deeply about the power of story and how it transforms us all. While a lot of the book is about formats and changes as the technology changed, some of it is about the emotional tug of stories and how they move people.
The simple text is accompanied by vivid pictures alive with bright colors that range from tangerine to lemon to deep plums and chocolate browns. The illustrations are stylized and clever, using blocks of color that shout from the pages.
A cheerful picture book about the power and necessity of story. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston (InfoSoup)
This striking picture books tells the story of a young girl who loves to read, who is “a child of books.” She meets a boy who seems lonely, his father only reading the newspaper and ignoring the sea of words from fiction swirling around them. She leads the boy off on an adventure of stories. Down rabbit holes, up mountains, through dark tunnels, into fairy tale woods, past monsters in castles, into the clouds for bedtime stories, and much more. They return home, to a bright colored house on a gray street, and the boy leaves with a book under his arm trailing words behind him.
My description above doesn’t capture the beauty and wonder of this picture book. Jeffers’ poetry looks deeply into our relationship with fiction. Into the joy of discovering new adventures of heading down rabbit holes that other readers’ feet have merrily disappeared down before yours. He celebrates the shared language of story, the shared settings of tales, and the shared experiences that we have all had, separately but also together.
The illustrations are unique and very special. The merger of the painted characters with amazing typeface art is dynamic and original. It slows you down, naturally asking you to read the words that the mountains, clouds, and forest are made from. If you do, you discover old friends hiding there, beautiful words from classic children’s books. They invite you to read more, to rediscover those books of your childhood or introduce your favorites to your children. By the end of the book, I was slowly reading each word in the illustrations, lingering and sighing contentedly. My day slowed and enriched by memories.
Beautiful and luminous, this picture book is rich and unique. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Pinocchio: The Origin Story by Alessandro Sanna (InfoSoup)
Wordless except for a few lines of text at the beginning and end, this graphic novel picture book is a blazing wonder. It shows the epic beginning of the wood that will one day become Pinocchio. A young tree is hit by a bolt of lightning and a branch falls off, a branch with clear limbs, body and head. The branch runs and is joined by a cat and fox. The three travel together to a snowy woods where there is also fire and now the branch is alight. As the story continues, a snake eats the fiery branch then spits it out. A dove flies with it, and drops it into the water. The branch sinks and is eaten by a shark. Image after image flies past, each with a story to tell and only a few moments to tell it. Finally, spring arrives and the branch sprouts leaves and roots, becoming a full tree itself, and the story of Pinocchio begins.
Unique and wondrous, this picture book is something entirely special. It is an origin story about far more than Pinocchio himself, showing that we all originate from a certain spark. Then along the way we are filled with fire, discover companions, take adventures, grow into our own, and our story at that point is just beginning.
The illustrations are spectacular. Done in watercolor that flows on the page, creating light and energy. There is also clever detailed use of the paint with leaves flowing to create characters and allowing space for almost mythical moments to take place on the page. There are deep colors of undersea and the dark of sky against snow.
Beautiful, raw and filled with innate energy, this picture book is something very special. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
The Storyteller by Evan Turk (InfoSoup)
When the Kingdom of Morocco formed many years ago, it was built around fresh water sources and filled with storytellers. Then people lost their fear of the desert and the water fountains dried up and the storytellers left. A thirsty boy walked the city looking for water but found none. An old man called him closer and offered to tell him a story that would quench his thirst. At the end of his story, the little boy’s water cup was full. The story continued from one day to the next, each day resulting in water. Meanwhile, in the desert, a storm is forming created by a djinn looking to destroy Morocco. When the djinn arrives though, there is a way to battle it and bring water to the entire city. It just takes a young storyteller.
Turk beautifully weaves two stories together into one remarkable tale. The stories intertwine, showing the power of storytelling and its ability to refresh and quench thirsts. It is also about community and the vitality of shared stories and their power to change society. Beautifully, it is also about a boy learning a skill and a master storyteller showing his craft, plus it’s about a great story at its heart. There is attention to the flow of the tales here, how they work together, how repetition and rhythm are part of oral storytelling.
The illustrations are impressive, creating borders on the page that add richness. They also have a looseness to the images that is imaginative and allows the reader to fill in the blanks visually themselves. Even the text plays a visual role with different characters having differently colored fonts.
The power of story is brought to life in this rich picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead (InfoSoup)
Stead captures a day in search of a story to write. He takes a walk with his dog named Wednesday since it’s a sunny day. They greet Frank, a turtle who lives near the bridge. They wave to Barbara a neighbor who owns the home where the author used to live and where he dropped blue paint in the shape of a horse. Ducks float by. Trains rush past. They walk through town and listen to the birds and watch the blue sky. Wednesday chases a squirrel back to Barbara’s house where they have coffee together. And soon a story has been found.
This is a treasure of a picture book. It offers a glimpse into the writing process, into the importance of getting outside and taking a walk. It shows how little things turn into stories and become big ideas. It also shows the author as a product of his personal landscape, whether that is filled with a story based firmly in reality like this one or one that is more fantastical or whimsical.
Stead’s illustrations are a rich mix of media. There are photographs of Wednesday combined with collage, painting and printed words. Some of the paintings have gorgeous textures that remind me of stencils or the roughness of stamping. The entire book sings with invention and inspiration.
A perfect leaping off point for young writers, this book shows that not only can any idea become a story but ideas can become great picture books too. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly (InfoSoup)
When Sol and her little sister Ming moved from the Philippines to the United States, they knew their lives were going to change. But they didn’t realize that they would be abandoned by their father and stuck living with Vea, their mean stepmother in a tiny apartment in Louisiana. Now five years later, Sol manages to escape her stepmother’s cruelty by escaping into stories, particularly when she is sent to the closet when she has done something wrong. She shares the stories with her little sister and Ming has now started to believe in their mythical Aunt Jove and expects her to arrive to rescue them. As Ming’s hope grows, Sol despairs of their lives ever improving at all, but friendship comes from unexpected places and may be the answer to their hopes and dreams.
Kelly, author of Blackbird Fly, has created another great novel for children. In this book, she beautifully captures the complexity of the lives of some children where their families have been turned upside down through death and abandonment and they are left with those who don’t love them at all. It is a book about hope as well, about the power of stories to create new realities and the radiance of hope even in the bleakest of times.
Particularly notable in this novel is Kelly’s willingness to tell a very sad story, one filled with loss and betrayal and still one that is very appropriate for children. Sol herself reflects on the sadness of her story and her new friend:
What gloomy tales we had, I thought. I wondered what we’d look like to someone passing by. Two twelve-year-old girls – one so white she looked like a ghost and the other so dark she looked like the fields – sitting on milk crates and telling sad, sad stories in the hot, hot sun.
These are stories of poverty, of spending time on the streets to get out of the misery of your home. The novel dazzles with its truth and honesty of children who shine despite the darkness in their lives.
A powerful novel of stories and hope and how they can be used to overcome the darkness that life contains. Appropriate for ages 10-12.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Snappsy the Alligator by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Tim Miller (InfoSoup)
Snappsy discovers his day taken over by a narrator in this picture book. The book begins with the narrator explaining that Snappsy was feeling “draggy” and even his skin was “baggy.” Meanwhile, Snappsy himself actually feels hungry. The narrator keeps talking about Snappsy’s every move, sometimes just describing what is happening in each image and other times adding too much drama. When Snappsy reaches the grocery store, the narrator focuses on the letter P too much. Snappsy decides to throw a party so there is something to do, and the narrator continues to cause mayhem as the story progresses.
Falatko’s writing is very funny. Her timing is wonderful, Snappsy often reacting just the way that the reader would, calling the narrator out for doing a bad job at times and other times getting snarky when the narrator has miscalled what is about to happen. The influence of the narrator’s voice on a story is shown very clearly here and is a great way to talk about the tone of writing and how that can change an entire book to read one way or another. That said, this book can also just be read for the giggles which is the perfect reason to pick up any picture book.
Miller’s illustrations have the feel of a vintage picture book, just right for this subject matter. They add to the humor from the expressions on Snappsy’s face to the homey aspects to the house that Snappsy lives in.
A smart, silly and richly funny picture book that is sure to have people laughing when it’s shared aloud. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.