The Box Turtle by Vanessa Roeder (9780735230507)
When he was born, Terrance came out without a shell. So his parents gave him a box instead. Terrance loved his box shell. It fit just right, kept him dry, safe and protected. He could even share it with his best friend, a hermit crab. But when Terrance met some other turtles, they mocked his box. So he set out to find a better shell option. He tried all sorts of new “shell” like mail boxes, window boxes, a jack-in-the-box, a boom box, and even a treasure chest, but nothing worked. When his best friend offered up his own shell, Terrance realized that everyone was more than their shells. So he went back to his beloved box, which had seen some wear and tear itself. With some help from his friends and family, they transformed it into exactly what Terrance was looking for.
Told with plenty of humor, including some bare turtle bottoms, this picture book embraces being different. It also looks at how casual cruel statements can impact a person, until their self-esteem repairs enough to stand strong once again. The art is done with speech bubbles and some framing that makes it feel a bit like a graphic novel but with a softness and pastel colors that keep it very friendly for small children.
Full of resilience and tenacity, this picture book will have you thinking inside the box. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.
Truman by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins (9781534416642)
Truman is a small urban turtle. He’s about the size of a donut and lives with Sarah high above the busy streets filled with taxis and buses. He is very happy spending quiet time with Sarah. But then one day, Sarah seems different. She is wearing a bow in her hair, a new sweater and has a big backpack. She even gives him some extra green beans as a treat. Before Sarah leaves, she touches Truman and tells him to be brave. And down on the street, Sarah boards a bus for the first time! Truman tries to wait for Sarah to return, but she is gone much longer than she ever has been before. So Truman finds a way out of his aquarium and makes a long journey towards the apartment door. He is being brave and will find Sarah!
Reidy tells a first day of school story from the point of view of a pet left behind by a child. It’s a wonderful answer to what pets do when children leave for school and will also speak to younger siblings being left behind at home when their older siblings head to school. The emotions of Truman are clearly conveyed and his worry is tangible even though readers will know exactly what is actually happening.
Cummins’ illustrations play with perspective nicely as Truman’s point of view is shared as well as views of the busy city street below the apartment. Big and bold, the illustrations show Truman’s limited world grow bigger and bigger as he explores the apartment landscape alone.
A look at bravery and the deep love of a pet, even a small, green one. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
The Hug by Eoin McLaughlin, illustrated by Polly Dunbar (9780571348756)
This picture book is written as a split picture book that flips over with each character telling their side of the story, literally. Two creatures are looking for a hug. Hedgehog wants a hug, but no one will hug them. They can’t figure out why until an owl offers the information that they are too spiky to be hugged by most animals. Tortoise wants a hug too. He asks various animals as well, but they all refuse. The same owl explains to Tortoise that he is too hard for most animals to want to hug him. Then though, Hedgehog and Tortoise meet in the center of the book!
Such a simple little book, this offers a great amount of pleasure when the two animals find one another. Even though readers will know that Hedgehog hugs Tortoise, the book is worth flipping over to read it from Tortoise’s point of view too. McLaughlin’s text is fresh and simple, much like Dunbar’s illustrations. One little element that adds to the fun is watching both Tortoise and Hedgehog get more and more grimy from the animals they meet, picking up bits of dirt and fuzz along their journeys. The hug though, the hug at the middle is pure bliss.
Perfect for when you need a hug, even if you are a bit prickly or too hard. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Faber & Faber.
Giraffe Problems by Jory John, illustrated by Lane Smith (9781524772048)
Edward the giraffe hates his long neck. It’s ridiculously long and bendy. There’s no other animal with a neck like his and he just wishes it was more normal. He has tried hiding his neck under scarves and bushes, high water and trees, but nothing works. All of the other animals just stare at him, noticing his neck all of the time. Then one evening, Edward meets Cyrus, a turtle. Cyrus loves Edward’s long bendy neck and asks for Edward’s help in fetching a high banana from a tree. The two end up praising each other’s necks and figuring out that a different perspective is very helpful, particularly if bow ties are involved.
From the team that created Penguin Problems, this picture book has a great mix of humor and empathy. The writing is pitch perfect, told in the voices of Edward and Cyrus directly. Edward’s worries about his neck are presented in a conversational tone that begs to be shared aloud. Cyrus’ voice is entirely different, offering lengthy monologues about bananas but then shifting to become conversational too.
Smith’s art is textural with graphical elements that are compelling. The characters stand out strongly against the light background that hints at bright sun. Visual humor adds to the silliness of the book, creating just the right balance. The book uses different page turns and perspectives that make for a dynamic read.
A great read-aloud pick for any stories about self-esteem or giraffes. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Books for Young Readers.
Turtle Island by Kevin Sherry
The author of I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean returns with a picture book all about friendship. Turtle is very big but Turtle is also all alone and getting lonely. Then one day, a ship wrecked near him and he rescued a bear, an owl, a cat and a frog from the ocean waters. They climbed aboard his shell and Turtle supplied them with fish to eat. Happily, Owl could knit, Bear could build, Frog could cook, and Cat could draw. The four quickly went to work and created a home aboard Turtle. Turtle wasn’t lonely any more. One might think the book would end there, but instead the four smaller animals got very homesick and missed their families. They had to return home, leaving Turtle all alone in the big ocean again. What is a big lonely turtle to do, especially now that he realizes the importance of having good friends?
Sherry has a way with simple storytelling. He manages to convey complicated emotions using a combination of his storyline and his illustrations. Here the impact of having friends is looked at with humor and through a unique relationship of a huge turtle and characters riding on his back. It’s a very nice metaphor for needing to support friends in different ways.
As with all of Sherry’s books, his cartoony illustrations are child friendly and add to the humor. They keep this story from becoming overly sweet, showing goggle-eyed animals in different colors and always clearly showing that Turtle is simply huge.
Gently funny, simple and honest, this picture book is a friend to any story time on friendship or turtles. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Tortoise and the Hare by Jerry Pinkney
Wow. This companion book to Pinkney’s Caldecott Medal winning The Lion & the Mouse is another outstanding book. Set in the deserts of the Southwest, the story has all sorts of animals gathered to watch the race, including badgers, lynx, mice, and vultures. All of them wear at least one piece of clothing, from hats to bandanas to pants. As the pages of the book turn, readers will get to see how each of the animals approaches the race, from the frenzy and then sloth of the hare to the steadiness of the tortoise. Readers will get a sense of the slowness also from the words on the page that every so tantalizingly make out phrases as the pages turn.
Told in few words, the book is all about the illustrations which are magnificent. Filled with tiny details to linger over, each illustration is beautifully composed and helps move the story forward. Pinkney stays true to the classic tale, not changing any of the storyline. He manages to take stories that can become overly wordy and with images alone tell their story and make them appropriate and thrilling for a young audience. I will always see his illustrations when I hear this story. That is talent!
Quite simply, this is another masterpiece by Pinkney. A must-have book for every library serving preschoolers. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Place for Turtles by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Bond
Another strong title in the A Place for… series, this book introduces children to turtles and the role that people play in keeping them safe and their habitats viable. Each page shows a different species of turtle in their specific habitat with the main part of the page explaining an overarching theme. The inset on each page talks about scientific facts about the turtles, often including ways that humans have helped turtles survive. The combination makes for an engaging way to present the information, giving readers the sense of digging deeper into the more specific information. The emphasis here is on being a good steward of the environment and the way that humans can ensure the continued survival of turtles.
Stewart writes with an engaging tone, inviting young readers to explore the subject. The insets on the pages are filled with dramatic examples, facts and scientific information. Yet they never feel heavy thanks to the fine selection of intriguing information provided. Bond’s illustrations reveal the lives of turtles, from the sea turtles escaping fishing nets to the lethal beauty of purple loosestrife. He captures the beauty of both the habitat and the creatures.
A fine choice for library nonfiction collections, this is a great introduction to turtles and an inspiring call to action for children. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.
Mossy by Jan Brett
Mossy loved living at Lilypad Pond. She spent so much time along the banks that moss and then small plants started to grow on her shell. She became a walking garden and liked to look at her reflection in the water to see how her garden was growing. On day, she met a male turtle named Scoot at the pond. The two were smitten immediately. But just as they were about to meet, Dr. Carolina, who owned a museum, picked up Mossy and took her away to be the center of a new display. Mossy spent several seasons at the museum, missing Scoot but being well cared for. She was a very popular exhibit. So when Tory, Dr. Carolina’s young niece, noticed how sad Mossy seemed and how lonely, there was a big decision to be made.
Brett’s story speaks to the importance of leaving living creatures in their native habitat to live their own lives. It is a subject handled delicately here with no abusive storyline at all, just a general sense of sadness, which is perfect for young children. The book is set at the turn of the century with the clothing and use of horse-drawn carriages giving clues.
As always, Brett’s artwork is simply beautiful. In each two-page spread, she gives the main image a frame and then has several additional pictures that either add to the story or the setting. We get to see different plants up close, glimpses of the museum even when it is not in the storyline, and Scoot waiting at the pond.
This is not a book to be read quickly or with a group, instead it’s one to linger over and see the details of the artwork. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
Melvin and the Boy by Lauren Castillo
Released July 5, 2011.
A young boy wants a pet very badly, but his parents always say no. A dog is too big, a monkey too much work, a parrot too noisy. One day, he sees a turtle at the park who is looking at him and follows him. So the boy asks if he can keep it as a pet. His parents agree, and the boy names the turtle Melvin. But back home, Melvin won’t play. He won’t eat. Walking the turtle doesn’t work either. The only time Melvin comes out of his shell is when he takes a bath. The boy can see that Melvin is not happy in their house. So they return him to the pond, where the boy will be sure to visit him often.
This is the first book that Castillo has both written and illustrated. Her writing is pitch perfect here, offering just enough detail and with the right phrasing and tone. It really feels as if a child was speaking in first person without becoming distracting. I particularly enjoy the fact that the boy himself realizes the turtle is unhappy. His parents follow his lead with the turtle rather than them leading him to a decision.
As always, Castillo’s art is very successful. Her art emphasizes the urban setting of the book, playing the greens against the concrete colors nicely. Her use of thick lines and soft colors makes for a book that is welcoming and warm.
A great addition to any story time on pets or turtles, this is also a wonderful read to start discussions about pets and keeping them safe and happy. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Company.