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.
Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Divya Srinivasan (9780062399618, Amazon)
A princess who is blind also doesn’t speak. Her parents, the Rajah and the Rani, offer a place in the palace and other rewards to anyone who can get Cinnamon to talk. Though the kingdom is remote, people journey there to try but no one was successful. The one day a talking tiger came to the palace and offered to help. Though everyone was frightened, Cinnamon’s parents allowed the tiger to try. Using a series of experiences like pain, fear and love, the tiger proceeded to tell Cinnamon stories. The next morning, the princess was able to talk but things don’t quite go according to plan.
Gaiman excels at writing books with a deep ambiguity and no pressure to have a moral or lesson at the end. This book has exactly that and it is why the book works to very well. He embraces the questions, allows the wonder to simply be there, and twists the story away from where traditional tales would end and towards a more shifting place that allows more dreaming.
The illustrations firmly place this book of a mythical India. Filled with rich colors, they have a distinct flatness to them that works well with a folktale subject like this. They are also filled with small details that adds a delicacy and luxuriance to the images.
Great illustrations bring this book previously only available on audio into the world of children and stories. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
How This Book Was Made by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex (InfoSoup)
How is a book made? Well this book was made in the regular way with an author making many drafts, and editor offering firm advice, an illustrator taking a long time to create the art, and it being printed halfway around the world. But it is also an amazing story and one that will surprise when the tiger keeps reappearing, the pirates raid the slow boat full of books, and the news that there is one last important piece to the book really being A BOOK. You will just have to read this book to see what that is.
Any book by Barnett and Rex is going to be wonderfully surprising and funny. This book is no exception. Barnett immediately makes sure that this book is not taken too seriously by starting it with him arm wrestling a tiger. The tiger then returns at important moments in the book, sometimes to be scared off and other times with a posse. The editor’s role is also depicted in the book with a lot of tongue-in-cheek but also honesty too. Throughout there is real information on how books get made with plenty of imagination added as well. Just like any book.
Rex’s illustrations are done with pencil on paper combined with photography. Some of the illustrations have cotton clouds and others are 3-d objects or 2-d objects photographed. This gives a great sense of space and distance, shadows lengthening across the page. Throughout the art is as clever as the words, which is a compliment to both.
A funny and imaginative look at the making of this book, both unique to this book and universal to the process. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber, illustrated by Joohee Yoon
Released September 15, 2015.
Thurber’s profound story is brought to vivid life in this new picture book version. Tiger wakes up and decides that he wants to be king of the beasts, declaring to his wife that he will be king before the night is over. He believes that others are calling for change as well and that the moon will rise in his colors, striped and orange. Lion though is not willing to give up his title. The two start fighting and soon all of the animals in the jungle are fighting too, though many don’t know why they are fighting. Eventually after an immense battle, there is only one survivor, Tiger. He may be king, but there are no beasts to rule any more.
Yoon takes the words of Thurber and creates a picture book that is startling and incredible. She captures in expressions, the pride of declaring yourself to be a ruler, the shock of the old ruler being challenged. The epic battle is shown on pages that fold out to a four-page spread that brings to mind Picasso’s Guernica in its confusion and brutality. Done in only two colors, the green and orange capture the moist heat of the jungle. Though the illustrations appear to be prints, they are actually done with a combination of hand drawing and computer art. However it was done, it is pure brilliance.
A great book to spur discussion about war, pride and costs, this picture book will resonate with young readers. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Naughty Kitty! by Adam Stower
A follow up to Silly Doggy!, this book also features Lily and now a very large cat. From the end pages, readers will know that there is an animal loose from the zoo. Lily though is far too taken up with bringing her new kitten home. Her mother was sure that Kitty wouldn’t be any trouble at all. At first that was true, but when Lily left the kitten alone in the kitchen for just a moment, she returned to find it completely trashed. What Lily doesn’t know but the readers could see clearly was that the tiger that had escaped from the zoo was the one who made the mess. The same thing happened when Lily left Kitty alone in the living room. There is even a rug that is ruined with an accident of large proportions. Happily, Lily remains completely oblivious to the tiger and in the end Kitty gets the credit rather than the blame for what the tiger has done.
Stower’s humor is zingy and broad here. He doesn’t hold back on the visual jokes or on Lily’s reactions to the actually sedate little cat. Children will immediately get the humor of mistaken identity and will pay close attention to spot the tiger on the pages where Lily can’t seem to see him. The ending is completely satisfying, particularly because Lily continues to be oblivious to what is actually happening around her and readers will be surprised by a full view of the truth as well.
The art tells much of the story here with the narrative almost entirely from Lily’s perspective. The tiger can be spotted right before each disaster and right afterwards too. The illustrations are energetic and filled with action and the entire book reads like a cartoon episode.
Funny and a great read aloud, this book is sure to keep attention focused and kids giggling. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Orchard Books.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
Mr. Tiger was bored with the proper life he was living. Filled with tea and stilted conversation each day, he longed to get wild. Then one day, he does just that by starting to walk on four legs instead of two. He felt better immediately. And each day, got wilder yet: roaring, casing people, bounding across rooftops. Then he took it one more step and left his clothes behind. The other disapproved and sent him off to live in the wilderness unless he could change back and act properly. So Mr. Tiger headed off. The wilderness was glorious and Mr. Tiger went completely wild. However, he also missed the people he left behind in town. When he headed back to society though, he found that he’d had quite an impact without even knowing it.
This is a stellar picture book. Brown tells a story that all children can relate to, that of being too wild and too loud and not acting appropriately. The storytelling is exemplary with perfect pacing and plenty of humor. That story is well-matched with the bright and bold illustrations. From the get-go the orange of Mr. Tiger pops from the page, particularly when everything else is dirty sepia toned. There are glorious moments, including the one where Mr. Tiger is wearing no clothes at all.
This picture book is a welcome antidote to books on manners. After all, we all need more wild in our lives. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Tiger in My Soup by Kashmira Sheth, illustrated by Jeffery Ebbeler
When a boy is left in the care of his big sister, all he wants her to do is read his book to him. But she’s too busy reading her own book. He tries to read his book on his own, but it isn’t the same. She just keeps ignoring him until he asks for lunch. Then she heats up some soup and gives him a bowl. That’s when the action starts and a tiger comes out of the soup. The boy battles him, stabbing him with a spoon and chasing him around the kitchen. His sister continues to read, ignoring all of the ruckus. It isn’t until the tiger is chased back into the soup that she agrees to read the book to him. But wait, this book has a final toothy surprise.
Sheth has created a loving older sister who is just too caught up in her own book to have any time to spend with her younger brother. It makes me very happy to see two siblings arguing over which book to read right then. I also enjoyed the boy trying to read to himself, turning the book this way and that and even trying with his eyes closed. Throughout the book there is a wonderful sense of playfulness.
Ebbeler’s illustrations are just as playful. He plays with perspective especially in the outdoor scenes. Then when the tiger arrives, he is wonderfully real, his fur stands on end, his claws threaten and his teeth gleam. The action scenes are rivetingly fun, the escapades daring.
Jaunty and devoted to reading, this book is a compelling mix of stories and action. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.
It’s a Tiger by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Jeremy Tankard
The story starts in the jungle filled with vines and trees. You can look at the monkeys swinging around, but wait! That’s not a monkey. It looks like… a tiger! Run! Whew. Now we are safe inside a cave. You’ll have to watch for bats and duck your head. Wait, some of those shadows look like… a tiger! Run! The escapade continues through the jungle with snakes, but then you head on a boat to a deserted island. Sure you are safe there. Right? Roar!
This fast-paced race through the jungle is exactly what squirmy toddlers need at the end of a story time. The book has a great sense of timing and plenty of action. The repetition of the tiger appearing over and over again, will have children merrily joining in and shouting along. This is not a quiet book for contemplative reading, but instead a jolly book that will have children making plenty of noise.
Tankard’s art is a huge part of the appeal here. The thick-lined, orange ferocity of the tiger plays against the finer lines and subtler colors of the background. The little boy who joins you in your trek through the jungle is also drawn in the thicker lines and pops on the page. There is a feeling of motion and action throughout the book that brings the story even more fully to life.
A great pick for toddler story time, this is one book to have in your pile for when kids get restless. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Dorje’s Stripes by Anshumani Ruddra, illustrated by Gwangjo and Jung-a Park
In a small Buddhist temple in the Himalayas, the monks have an unusual visitor, a Royal Bengal tiger named Dorje. Dorje is very unusual himself, because his coat has no stripes. In the two years since he arrived at the monastery, they disappeared one by one. One evening, the youngest monk noticed that Dorje had one stripe again! One of the monks tells the story of when he entered Dorje’s dreams and saw that as Dorje lost each stripe, a tiger had died. Now there was a new tiger in the wilderness, a female tiger, who seemed to have taken a liking to Dorje. Soon perhaps, his coat will fill again with stripes.
Inspired by the tragic loss of tigers in India, this story vividly tells of the loss in a way that children will easily relate to. The story is quietly told through Dorje himself and the voices of the monks. It is a story that speaks gently about horrors beyond children’s comprehension, making them tangible and understandable.
Ruddra’s tone is one of respect and awe for this creature. He takes his time to tell the story to its fullest, offering inspiration along the way. The illustrations are glowing with bright colors that capture the coat of Dorje and the world of the monastery. The watercolors have been allowed to bleed a bit, creating auras around things. At other times, the painting is tight and controlled. The two play against each other, showing the wild next to the tame.
This is a lovely and inspiring book about threatened species. It captures the plight, the loss and the recovery in one beautiful story. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Kane Miller EDC Publishing.