The Not-So-Faraway Adventure by Andrew Larsen

The Not So Faraway Adventure by Andrew Larsen

The Not-So-Faraway Adventure by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher (InfoSoup)

Theo’s grandfather, Poppa, had traveled all over the world. He has a big trunk packed with items from his travels. Now it is Poppa’s birthday and Theo wants to give him the perfect gift. She realizes that it would be wonderful to go on an adventure together. When he speaks of traveling to the ocean once, Theo decides that they will head to the beach and eat at a restaurant. They create a map of their plans together and the next day their board a bus. Soon they reach the beach and the water which they pretend is the ocean. It’s a beach where Poppa came as a little boy. The two spend time on the beach, eat gazpacho and then head home on the bus. Now Theo has items to add to the trunk that are from their adventure together.

A dynamic picture book, this book demonstrates that adventures can be right in our own cities and need not take much time, money or effort. It is also a beautiful look at a granddaughter spending time with her Poppa and a grandfather who has more than enough energy to keep up with her. The urban setting is captured with people of various ethnicity on the page. It’s a bustling and busy place but also welcoming.

Luxbacher’s illustrations are done in PhotoShop and have the feel of collage. Textures and patterns are used throughout, creating a setting that is rich and layered. The city is done with just enough pops of color to keep it dynamic and not so many to make it entirely overwhelming. The page on the beach where they imagine the water is the ocean is captivating with the water entirely swallowing the page and filled with glimpses of their imagination.

A lovely look at a grandchild and grandfather going on their own personal adventure together. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Kids Can Press and Edelweiss.


Review: Special Delivery by Philip C. Stead

special delivery

Special Delivery by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Sadie knows that you can’t just put an elephant in the mailbox, instead you have to go to the post office. So she heads there to see how many stamps it will take to send the elephant to her Great-Aunt Josephine who lives alone and could use the company. It takes far too many stamps and too much money to mail the elephant, so Sadie looks for another solution and decides to fly. But elephants are heavy and the plane sputters out and crashes before they reach their destination. Sadie asks a nearby alligator to guide them down the river and then jumps aboard a train where a group of monkey bandits armed with bananas try to rob them. Sadie and elephant join them and have a great time until they tire of eating beans for every meal. Finally, they board an ice cream truck after purchasing ice cream sandwiches for the bandits and arrive at Great-Aunt Josephine’s. However, she may not be as lonely as Sadie thought!

Stead has written a rich imaginative tale that takes readers on a wild journey. Sadie is undaunted by adversity, simply figuring out what to do next to get them closer to their destination. The entire book is unhindered by logic like pilot licenses and the thought of mailing an elephant.  Instead the world in this picture book is filled with an off-center zing that means each of Sadie’s original ideas are embraced by everyone. It’s a refreshing and fun approach to the story.

Cordell’s illustrations are wonderfully scribbly and loose. They capture the wild spirit of the book, the silliness and the move from one awesome idea to the next. I particularly enjoyed the illustrations of the post office and the great-aunt’s home. Both are simply people standing underneath trees that are shedding their leaves. This cheery openness and connection to nature immediately will have every reader knowing that this is an unconventional book.

A terrific picture book that offers up a cheery, silly and fun-filled journey with an elephant as a companion. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Vanilla Ice Cream by Bob Graham

vanilla ice cream

Vanilla Ice Cream by Bob Graham

This is a story of the journey of a sparrow from a rural truck-stop in India to a metropolis in the south.  Told in simple writing, readers follow the sparrow as he tries to steal food from a customer of the truck stop.  Then he flies aboard a truck carrying bags of rice.  The rice is loaded aboard a ship and the sparrow follows the food aboard.  They head south and he is able to find food and water on the long slow journey.  When the sparrow arrives in the city, he spots Edie Irvine, a toddler walking with her grandparents.  And so the two worlds of sparrow and child mash together in a wonderfully sweet way.

Graham has created a story built upon little moments and small decisions.  Happily, the culmination of the story is not about all of those moments building to something monumental, but instead they lead to another small and lovely moment.  In that way, the chain is continued rather than ended and readers can think about what might happen next to either the characters or to themselves. 

As always, Graham has written this book with a gentle touch.  His art reflects that as well with its soft color palette set against white backgrounds blushed with colors.  Graham also uses art to allow moments to linger longer, to show their importance, and to create drama in his story. 

A book of small moments that is certainly worth spending some time of your own reading.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Snowcial by Chelsea Prince


Snowcial: An Antarctic Social Network Story by Chelsea Prince, photography by Keoki Flagg and Robert Pittman

This nonfiction book follows the journey of a family to visit the Antarctic Peninsula.  They travel aboard an icebreaker ship that has an ice breaking hull but sails only in warmer temperatures.  Along the way, the children in the family, Anna and Rory explore the ship.  They watch the different birds that follow the ship and find out information on their habitat and how they survive out at sea.  Soon they are seeing icebergs, glaciers and lots of snow and ice.  They also get to visit places where penguins and seals live.  They even spot some killer whales hunting in the ocean.  A mix of science and exploration, this book invites readers along on a journey to an icy world that is full of life.

Price sets just the right tone with her book.  She writes with a merry voice, one that invites children reading the book to learn right alongside her and her characters.  Throughout the book there is a sense of adventure and a strong tie to information and science.  This is a book that teaches in an easy and welcoming way.

While Price sets the tone, the incredible photography from Flagg and Pittman truly capture the setting.  Their close ups of wounded penguins, hunted seals, and the activity of a penguin colony truly allow readers to see Antarctica up close.  Their photography is visually beautiful but also a way to learn more about this incredible place.

Brilliant science nonfiction, join the journey to Antarctica with this gorgeous book.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Chelsea Print and Publishing.

Review: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

just one day

Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Allyson has always been the good girl, following her mother’s expectations of her completely.  That’s why she’s on a whirlwind tour of Europe.  Allyson is the girl who follows the rules, rarely goes out in the evenings with the others, and fades into the background next to her flashier best friend.  So when Allyson suggests that they go see an underground performance of Shakespeare and cut out of the tour, it’s very out of character.  When she discovers one of the actors, Willem, on their train the next day to London, the two of them just click.  Quickly, she and Willem decide to head to Paris together for just one day before they both have to return home.  As they travel together, the spark they had on the train becomes something even stronger.  So when Willem is gone the next morning, Allyson struggles to figure out what happened even as she returns home and starts college.  But the memory of Willem won’t leave her, coloring everything she experiences.

Forman is the author of If I Stay and Where She Went.  Here she explores the world of a sheltered teen girl who decides to take a huge risk and break free of her confines if only for just one day.  Forman captures the fatigue of travel where one day blurs into the others and the way that tours can dull the wonder of even the most amazing places.  She then shows the difference between that way of travel and the travel of discovery and serendipity where your entire being is caught up in experiencing things.  Forman writes of Paris and then also the Netherlands with a true affection, creating moments that are splendid and transformational. 

Forman’s writing is assured and skilled.  Upon opening the novel, the reader knows that the book will be solid.  They will be delighted to also find that her writing is romantic and beautiful, truly recreating the experience of falling in love as a teen.  She has also created a very compelling teen heroine in Allyson, who struggles mightily with the expectations set upon her.  One roots for her to find her way free and also to find her way back to what she lost.

This exceptional teen novel is a whirlwind romantic trip to Europe that will have you wrapped up in its arms much faster than just one day.  Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Dutton.

Review: Flight 1-2-3 by Maria van Lieshout

flight 123

Flight 1-2-3 by Maria van Lieshout

Take a ride on a plane in this follow-up to Backseat A-B-See!  The trip begins with a cab ride to the airport and asks readers what they see.  There is 1 airport, 2 luggage carts, 3 check-in desks, and the book progresses to very large numbers, like 100 passengers and 33,000 feet.  Van Lieshout uses all of the official signage you see around the airport to inspire her art.  Those signs are on each page, right next to the numbers to help with counting.  The characters too have a graphic, sign-like quality to them, though the main family has its own quirks like yellow tennis shoes and hair in a black ponytail. 

With minimal text and art that is a playful look at official signage, this counting book will appeal to kids who love planes and also to those heading out on their first plane trip.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: Hit the Road, Jack by Robert Burleigh

hit the road jack

Hit the Road, Jack by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Ross MacDonald

Opening this book, I was surprised that it was not based on the song at all.  Instead, this is a tribute to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.  Jack in this picture book is a jackrabbit who longs to travel America.  So he leaves New York and rides his bicycle to Boston and then Buffalo.  Pennsylvania and Cleveland are next with Detroit too.  Jack spends some time in Chicago before heading back into the countryside and hopping a train.  A car carries him to the Great Plains and Mount Rushmore.  He sees the Rockies and the desert mesas before arriving at the Golden Gate.  Jack has reached his west coast destination, but the road still calls. 

Burleigh takes the picture book done in verse to another level here.  Never forced, always brimming with honesty and joy, this verse rhymes but does so in a sophisticated way.  It has all of the rhythm of the beat poets inside of it too, paying double homage to Kerouac both in subject and style.  Young readers will explore the United States in this book, but even better, they will get a feel for what makes America great. 

MacDonald’s illustrations have a playfulness and joy that matches the text well.  Done with a vintage feel, Jack has huge ears but is more human than rabbit most of the time.  Shown in his leather jacket and rolled-up jeans, Jack is the ideal companion on the road.

This is a special book where subject matter and form combine to create something all the more amazing.  It may be difficult to get this into the hands of the right kids, but it is worth the challenge for a book this good.  It will also make a great book to share with elementary classes studying the United States.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Review: Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg

laugh with the moon

Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg

After her mother dies, Clare’s father takes her to Malawi where he had worked as a young doctor.  Clare is determined to never speak to her father again.  She has lost not just her mother, but her best friend and the potential for her first boyfriend at school.  Now she is stuck in Africa where there is little hot water, mosquito netting over the bed, and monkeys screaming outside.  As Clare starts to relax into life in Africa, she begins to make incredible friends at her new school.  Memory, a girl from the local village, quickly becomes her closest friend.  Memory too has lost her mother, though the girls don’t speak of their losses together.  Memory makes sure that Clare has things that she can eat, explains the school day to her, and even warns her of the bully in class.  As Clare faces her new school with its new language, visiting chickens, and scurrying insects, her relationship with her father starts to get better.  Clare still has big issues to face, including teaching English, putting together a play, and another large loss in her life.

Burg truly brings Malawi to life with its strong culture, the stark differences between America and Africa, and the warmth of the people.  Her writing is an invitation to explore Africa.  She celebrates both the differences in cultures and the universal aspects of life, filling the book with details that paint a full picture. 

Clare is a complex character, grieving from the loss of her mother, at first she seems remote and difficult to relate to.  Happily, she soon grows past that, becoming a vivacious personality with opinions and skills.  Her art forms a connection between her and other people who may not speak the same language, but it is her open personality that does the rest. 

The book would make a good choice for reading aloud in a classroom setting since it explores so many themes and topics.  There is plenty to discuss from death and grieving to dealing with living in another part of the world.  The glorious cover will get this moving from the shelf into young hands directly too.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Delacorte Press.

Review: Around the World by Matt Phelan

around the world

Around the World by Matt Phelan

In this graphic novel, Phelan tells the story of three adventurers at the end of the 19th century who attempt to travel around the world.  There is Thomas Stevens in 1884 who had been working in the mines but then started bicycling.  He first bicycled across the United States, and then attempted to cycle around the world on the difficult-to-ride old-fashioned bicycle with one larger wheel.  The next adventurer is Nellie Bly in 1889, who set herself the task of beating Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days.  The men running the New York World newspaper did not like her idea, but eventually came around to having her attempt it.  Her race became a national obsession and sold many newspapers for them.  Finally, there is the story of Joshua Slocum in 1895.  He restored an old sailing vessel in a time when sailing was becoming outdated.  Then all on his own, he set off to sail around the world, becoming the first person to sail around the world alone.  These three adventurers all have their own reasons for circumnavigating the globe, but they are united in their attempts.  These are all stories of determination, courage and bold ideas.

United under the umbrella of Jules Verne’s novel, these three stories are beautifully connected and yet stand entirely on their own merits as well.  The three intrepid souls are also equally connected and yet uniquely themselves.  Their journeys are made for different reasons and received differently by the public, but they are all powerful stories of independence and resourcefulness.  All three stories show the power of taking charge of one’s life and following your dreams.

Phelan’s art suits each of the stories individually and also has a cohesive whole.  There are subtle changes from one story to the next, the colors shift from blues and greens to oranges and creams and then to deeper blues and grays.  The art style stays much the same but beyond the colors there are changes in mood that are amazingly deep yet subtly done.  Stevens’ story of bicycling has a merry joei de vive to it.  Bly’s adventure is filled with energy and zip.  Then there is the lonely sailing tale that has a deep grief embedded in it that almost aches.

Beautifully done, this is one of the top graphic novels for children, period.  It is honest, emotional, and a rousing adventure-filled read.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

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