3 New Noisy Picture Books

Blacksmith_s Song by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk

Blacksmith’s Song by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, illustrated by Anna Rich (9781561455805)

Told in first person, this picture book shows how communication worked for the Underground Railroad. The boy’s father is a slave on a plantation, working as the blacksmith. He uses the rhythm of the forge to send messages that carry to those waiting to escape. The boy wonders when it will be their turn to escape to freedom. But day by day, his father is growing weaker and more ill. Soon he may not be able to even send the messages from his hammer. When it is finally their turn to leave, it is the boy who takes up the hammer, sending his first message and his father’s last as they head to freedom.

Rich with language, this picture book takes the words of the forge and let them shine. Throughout smoke, sparks and the hammer’s rhythm form a steady beat that the book uses very successfully. The added tension of the father’s illness brings even more pressure for the family to escape in time. While slavery is painted with a gentler brush here for younger audiences, the feeling of oppression is strong and the need to escape is clear. The illustrations are deep and dark, lit by the light of the forge and showing that dark unknowns are safer than slavery. A look at the Underground Railroad that is appropriate for young listeners aged 5-7. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Peachtree Publishers.)

The Great Dictionary Caper by Judy Sierra

The Great Dictionary Caper by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Eric Comstock (9781481480048)

When the words in Noah Webster’s dictionary get bored just sitting around, they escape and create plenty of word fun in this picture book. They form a word parade made of works like “clang” and “boom” and “crash.” There are short words and long words, action verbs pick up the pace. Homophones, contractions, antonyms and palindromes fill the pages too. Rhyming words and words with no rhymes as well as interjections and conjunctions make merry. There is plenty to enjoy here, including witty humor and a rip-roaring pace. Children won’t even realize they are learning concepts as each of the letters has a personality that suits the word they are in. Jazzy and delightful, this picture book is a celebration of our language. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.)

Rumble Grumble...Hush by Kate Banks

Rumble Grumble…Hush by Kate Banks, illustrated by Simone Shin (9781101940495)

The day starts with a few small noises until the little boy starts to play loudly with his imaginary friends. There is roaring, banging, rumbling and dumping. Then it’s time for a bit of quiet with breakfast and thinking until once again the rumbling and grumbling starts. More quiet comes, with a bag of quiet games, puzzles and art projects, books to read and a nap. Then noise is welcome again with balls and toys and blocks and trains. Dinner comes and goes and bedtime approaches with its own quiet. The way that noise and quiet are presented here is lovely, showing they both have places and special ways of playing that allow them to happen. Loud and quiet times are filled with play and imagination here and parental expectations are shown with lots of love and support. The illustrations are playful with friendly huge imaginary friends that fill the page, dark wood floors to sit on and play, bright walls to hang art on, and plenty of room for imaginations to fill. A warm and loving look at play and noise, this picture book is a gem. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade Books and Edelweiss.)

Fish by Liam Francis Walsh

Fish by Liam Francis Walsh

Fish by Liam Francis Walsh (InfoSoup)

A boy and his dog head out onto the lake to fish one morning. Both boy and dog have their own fishing poles. They first catch the letter F. Then the letter I. The letter S is next. But beware the huge letter C that is circling the boat. When they hook a Q, it is thrown back into the water. Soon though they are caught in a whirlpool of letters, swept underwater among schools of them zigging and zagging. When the boy makes it back to the boat, he has the H under his arm, but loses it as the huge letter C reappears. Not to worry, his dog has saved the day with the H to complete FISH. But was that what they were trying to catch?

This wordless picture book depends on its wonderful illustrations to carry the story. And do they ever! Done with a limited color palette of pale blue and bright red, they shine on the page. Each character also shines with personality and energy. The ending of the book is very satisfying, especially since all readers will think that the goal was to catch FISH when actually it was to do something entirely different. It’s a great twist that is filled with jolly cheer.

A standout wordless picture book that illustrates how letters form words in the most energetic and playful of ways. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

There Is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith

There Is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith

There Is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith (InfoSoup)

A boy sets off on a journey alone and encounters all kinds of creatures along the way. There is a tribe of young goats (kids). There is a colony of penguins, a pod of whales, a flight of butterflies, and much more. He also sees different groups of objects like a formation of rocks, a family of stars, and a growth of plants. Finally his journey ends as he meets up with a tribe of children (kids) who wear outfits of leaves just like he does. He is clearly home again.

This book is filled with collective nouns. There is one after another that manage not only to show children the beauty of the language of collective nouns but also move the story ahead. They form into a cohesive journey for our young hero to embark upon. It is a book that only works this well due to the skill of the author.

Smith is of course also a great illustrator and here his illustrations shine. They show a playful magic that is impressive. They are filled with textures that were created by oils being sprayed with acrylic varnish. The result looks like sponge painting and fills the book with space and light.

A masterful look at collective nouns that is also a great read aloud. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Will’s Words by Jane Sutcliffe

Wills Words by Jane Sutcliffe

Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk by Jane Sutcliffe, illustrated by John Shelley

Though she set out to write a book about the Globe Theatre and Shakespeare himself, the author was quickly caught up in all of the ways that Shakespeare has impacted our modern language and wrote the book about the instead. The result is a book that is immensely engaging and great fun to read. It is still in so many ways a book about the bard, his work and his theater, but it is also a vibrant and fascinating book about language and how modern colloquialisms hearken back to Shakespeare himself.

Sutcliffe clearly tells the story of Shakespeare and his theater on one part of the page and then in a side note shown on a scroll on the other page she pulls words directly from her explanation and shows exactly how they connect with Shakespeare and his writing. So many of the words are surprising words like “fashionable” and “hurry.” Other phrases have interesting connections like “dead as a doornail” or “green-eyed monster.”

Shelley’s illustrations are playful and vibrant, showing the bustling London streets and the crowded theater jammed with people. Some pages show the Globe Theatre from above while another shows how the stage appeared from the audience on the floor of the theater. Care has been taken with each face even in the crowd, each person reacting in their own way to what is happening in the scene.

This book should generate lots of “excitement” and “amazement” allowing people to read about Shakespeare to their “heart’s content.” Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

 

Review: The Right Word by Jen Bryant

right word

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

The incredible and award-winning team of Bryant and Sweet return with a picture book biography of Peter Roget.  The book looks deeply into his childhood as a boy who grew up moving around a lot in Switzerland.  He found that books stayed good friends through the many moves he made.  Roget was also a boy who enjoyed making lists, lists about all sorts of things:  Latin words, elements, weather and words for things in the garden.  As a teenager, he spent time silent and alone outside, making lists of birds and insects.  Then one day, he realized that it would be great to have a book that listed all the different words to choose from, and his idea of a thesaurus was born.  But it would take many years of hard work to come to fruition.

Bryant’s text has just the right amount of information about Roget and his life.  She wisely chooses to focus on his interest in lists as a child and how that grew into the thesaurus as Roget himself grew up.  This natural progression of interest from youth to adult is something that children will enjoy seeing in both Roget and in their own lives.  Bryant’s Author’s Note at the end of the book speaks to all of the research that goes into writing a biography for young children and the inspiration she herself found in Roget.

As always, the illustrations by Sweet are a highlight of the book.  Here, as she explains in her Illustrator’s Note at the end of the book, she has incorporated the Latin words that Roget used in his notebooks.  The other words that she weaves into her art are found in the first edition of his thesaurus.  Her art incorporates different papers, watercolors, and objects.  There is one page where it feels like it pops off the page, a book that contains words, creatures, plants and ideas.  Simply amazing art.

A noteworthy addition to the already impressive shelves of Bryant and Sweet, this is one that belongs in every library and in the hands of all young wordsmiths.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Review: Cat Says Meow by Michael Arndt

cat says meow

Cat Says Meow by Michael Arndt

A fresh new take on animal noises in a picture book, this is a clever and artistic reinvention.  Blending animals with a typological representation of the animal and its noise, this book is pure font bliss.  The book offers 25 animals that pop against the white background. 

Simple in the extreme, this picture book explores the curves and zig zags of letters, turning them into tongues, feet, ears, whiskers and tails.  The words are sometimes obvious in the drawings but others take a bit more squinting and thinking to make out.  The art becomes a visual puzzle and makes the entire book a joy to explore and decrypt. 

Get this into the hands of art teachers and writing teachers who will adore the creativity that it displays and the way it engages on many levels.  Appropriate for ages 3-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

hold fast

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

Early lives in a warm and loving family.  Her father Dash is a lover of words and word games.  Her mother Sum and little brother Jubie make up the total of four in their family.  But when Dash gets involved in something shady, their loving family becomes three.  Then people raid their home, breaking down the door and they are forced to head to a shelter without knowing where Dash is or how he will find them again in the big city of Chicago.  Early finds she has to be the strong one as her mother begins to falter and her brother is so little.  Shelter life is difficult and it takes Early some time to realize that she is in the middle of a mystery that she can help solve. 

Balliett demonstrates her own love of words and wordplay throughout this novel.  Told in beautiful prose, she writes poetically about the city she loves, the beauty of snow, and the power of family.  She incorporates wordplay through her protagonist, who looks at words the way her father taught her to.  Many times words sound like what they are, points out Balliett, and just reading this book will have readers seeing words in a new way.

Balliett also introduces young readers to the poetry of Langston Hughes.  One of his books is at the heart of not only the mystery of the book but at the heart of the family.  As Hughes muses on dreams and their importance, both Early and the reader are able to see his words and understand them deeply. 

The aspect of the homeless shelter and the difficulties the family and Early face there is an important one.  Balliett is obviously making a point with her book, sometimes too obviously.  There are also some issues with plotting, with the book dragging at points and struggling to move forward.  That aside, the writing is stellar and the characters strong. 

Another fine offering from Balliett, get this one into the hands of her fans.  It will also be great choice for reading aloud in classrooms with its wordplay and strong African-American characters and family.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.