Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall by Derk Hughes, illustrated by Nathan Christopher (9781524793029)
This modern twist on Humpty Dumpty is a dark and yet hopeful version. Humpty Dumpty is just one of many fairy tale creatures who works for hours for the King under fluorescent lights. They all work and live in the dark shadow of the wall, in a world where they have been forbidden to dream. But Humpty Dumpty has a dream, a dream of seeing over the wall. He had many ideas and decided to build himself a very tall ladder. He finished the ladder, brought it to the wall, and climbed up, up, up to the very top. But the next morning, all that was left were shattered pieces of egg shell and a broken ladder. The wall and the King had won, or had they?
The rhyming text of this book is so cleverly done. It plays with the convention of rhymes in fairy tales and nursery rhymes, yet it never has a jaunty tune here, playing out more like a funeral dirge. The modern touches of fluorescent lights and TV blend into the fairy tale world that Hughes has created. This is a story that mixes our national issues with political walls along with a capitalistic monarchy to great result, a mix of sorrow and hope that is so powerful.
Christopher’s illustrations are simply incredible. Done in pen and ink with no color, they are filled with fine lines and details. It is those details that create an entire dark world for Humpty Dumpty and the others. Walls are built with skulls, thorns fill the borders, roots tangle the floors. The pages are populated by all sorts of fairy tale creatures, some with specific names like Chicken Little and the Mad Hatter and others who are more general like gnomes, fairies, and giants. These are pages to lose yourself in, looking at the details, seeing new things each time.
Incredible, political and edgy, this picture book is for slightly older children who will enjoy the details and the tone. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Penguin Workshop.
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks (9781250312853)
Deja and Josie are completing their last night working at the Pumpkin Patch before they leave for college. The two have worked at the Succotash Hut together, perfecting the stirring technique. Josie has won most valuable employee every year but one and is definitely in the running again. He’s also had a huge crush on a girl who works at the pie stand, so it’s Deja’s mission on their last night to get him to actually speak to her for the first time. So the two of them leave the Succotash Hut and head out to find his crush. But it won’t be easy to find her and their quest takes them on a full tour of the Pumpkin Patch complete with delicious snacks like Freeto Pie, S’mores and candy apples.
These two very talented teen book creators have designed an amazing graphic novel together. They take the Midwestern pumpkin patch experience of corn mazes, picking pumpkins, and treats and turn it into a quest for love that is charming and enticing. It’s very rare to find a teen book that is this seasonal. When you read this one though, you can almost smell the cinnamon autumnal scents on a breeze.
The two main characters are wonderful. They have a clear chemistry on the page. Deja is bisexual, having dated several of the other workers at the Patch over the years. Josie is marvelously shy except with Deja with whom he really shows his personality. The entire book is a delight of a read thanks to these two characters who are such a joy to spend time with.
A tremendous graphic novel that I dare you not to “fall” for. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.
Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai (9780062229236)
Hang has lived with the fact that she was responsible for her little brother being taken away to American in the last days of the Vietnam War. She had hoped for them both to be taken together, but instead he was ripped screaming from her. Now, six years later, Hang has come to the United States herself and is determined to find her little brother by following the only clue she has, an address on a card. Not finding anyone at the address, Hang is helped by an urban cowboy, LeeRoy, who longs to ride in rodeos and follow his dreams. LeeRoy is quickly caught up in Hang’s quest and the two of them discover her brother with some lucky help along the way. But that is just the beginning of a summer spent laboring on a farm together, learning about the work of being a cowboy, and finding ways to connect their pasts and their present.
The first chapters of the this book and many of them throughout are so laced with pain and ache that readers will feel it in their own bones. Lai tells the story of Hang in bursts of memory, escaping from the tight hold Hang has over them. The reader and Hang are powerless as the searing memories escape, glimpses of the truth and eventually the full story of a girl strong enough to survive pirates, parasites, icy water, and war. Lai takes two very unlikely protagonists and creates a love story for them, one that captivates with its honesty and originality.
Hang is one of the most remarkable protagonists I have read in years. Far from being broken by her wartime trauma, she continues to fight back, literally at times. She is raw, sarcastic and not defined by her past, but still continuing to be haunted by what happened. She is complicated and so profoundly human. Lai made a brave and smart choice to write Hang’s accented English with Vietnamese typography, echoing Hang’s own notebook that tells her own English is pronounced. Readers will struggle along with Hang at first, but join LeeRoy in understanding her quickly.
Painful and traumatic, this book is filled with sweat, work and more than a little love. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.
Cicada by Shaun Tan (9781338298390)
Cicada has worked for seventeen years in a high rise office. He isn’t given any benefits, because he’s not human. He can’t use the office restroom because it’s for humans. He works hard, finishing people’s work for them. He lives in the space between the walls, since he can’t afford rent. The company knows about this but ignores it. Sometimes humans beat him up because he’s different. Finally, it comes time for Cicada to retire. There is no party or fond farewell, just clearing his desk and leaving. Cicada heads up to the top of the building and….
I can’t ruin the ending of this book for you. Just know that it is incredibly moving and powerful. This is a book that is impossible to categorize. It comes closest to being a picture book for teens, since it doesn’t really have a graphic novel feel. In libraries, I’d put it with the graphic novels for teens though, because those young adults will enjoy it most. Tan speaks directly to those in soul-killing jobs, who work day after day for a pay check that isn’t enough. Cicada’s voice is particularly haunting. Written in abruptly disconnected sentences that are distinctive, Cicada also ends each page with insect noises that create poetry.
Tan’s illustrations are very effective. With gray layered on gray, the world is washed out and faded. Walls, floors, cubicles, furniture. Everything is despairingly monotone. But then you have bright-green Cicada, wearing his fitted gray suit and trying not only to fit in but to help out. The final images in the book stick with you too.
An incredible book for teens, this one is sad, surprising and uplifting. It’s my new choice for graduation gifts. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Night Job by Karen Hesse, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9780763662387)
Released on September 11, 2018.
On Friday nights, a little boy goes with his father to work. They leave after dark on his father’s motorcycle, head across the bridge, and enter the closed school. His father has a big ring of keys to open the door. They clean the gym first, while the little boy plays basketball. They bring a radio with them from room to room, listening to baseball games. At ten at night, they eat the lunch they brought with them. While his father cleans the library, the boy falls asleep reading on the couch. His father wakes him at four in the morning to head back home, across the bridge. The two fall asleep together curled in the big recliner.
Newbery Medal winner Hesse captures the wonder of going to work with a parent and brings in the beauty of being out at night as well. Along the way, the work of a parent who has a night job is honored. As a child of a teacher, I enjoyed the empty hallways of a school closed for the weekend or summer. It’s a beautiful thing to have those areas be silent and just for you. That feeling is shown here clearly, as the boy makes the spaces his own.
The connection between father and son is a focus of the story and the illustrations. The pictures by Karas are done in his signature style and use darkness and light cleverly. The father and son are shown as a pair throughout the book, highlighting their special time together whether in the bright gym or on the dark road.
A quiet book about jobs, connections and families. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang (9781338157802)
When Mia and her family first moved to the United States from China, she expected to live in a big house with a car and have plenty of money. But her parents have struggled from the beginning to find jobs. When they become caretakers of a motel, the job gives them free rent, but requires one of them to be on duty at all times and Mia’s parents to spend all of their time doing laundry and cleaning the rooms. Mia steps up to help by manning the front desk. She gets to know the “weeklies” who are the people who stay at the motel long term. Her family quickly realizes that the man who owns the motel is dishonest but Mia has a plan to help her parents get off of the roller coaster of poverty. All she needs is to write a perfect letter in English and somehow find $300.
Based on her own childhood growing up as a family managing motels, Yang tells a vibrant story of hope in the face of crushing poverty. It is a book that shows how communities develop, how one girl can make a big difference in everyone’s life and how dreams happen, just not in the way you plan. Yang’s writing is fresh, telling the tale of Chinese immigrants looking for the American dream and not finding it easily due to prejudice. She valiantly takes on serious issues of racism and poverty in this book.
Mia is a great protagonist. She never gives up, always optimistic and looking for a new way to problem solve. Her own desire to be a writer plays out organically in the novel, showing how someone learning a new language can master it. The examples of her editing and correcting her own writing are cleverly done, showing the troubles with American expressions and verb tenses.
A great read that embraces diversity and gives voice to immigrant children. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.
Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli (9781452167008, Amazon)
This detailed, wordless picture book shares the story of one professional working crocodile’s day. Crocodile is awakened from his dream of floating in a swamp by his alarm clock. He gets ready for work, uses the bathroom, brushes his teeth and selects an appropriate tie. He has jam and bread for breakfast and heads out. He window shops on his walk to work and takes the subway. He picks up flowers, the newspaper and a treat from the bakery. He finally reaches his destination, the zoo, and takes his place in the exhibits after changing out of his clothes.
This book plays up the mundane little activities in life, making them all the more important. Clearly European, this book captivates, showing small details of life and then suddenly switching into wild animals at the zoo with a satisfying ending. The illustrations are filled with little details, like other animals on the streets and subway, and humans looking just a tad nervous as they see Mr. Crocodile near them.
It is the use of human life details with the crocodile character that work so well here. That tension plays throughout the picture book, making it a look at humanity and our lives just as much as being a crocodile. There is a real appeal to the illustrations and the story line that draws the reader in and will have them leaning over the page to see more.
Great illustrations and a whimsical crocodile character make this a winner. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Raymond by Yann & Gwendal Le Bec (9780763689506, Amazon)
Raymond was just a regular family dog, adored by his family. Then he thought one day about joining the family at the table as they ate. Raymond was soon walking on two legs and becoming more and more human. He got a job at DOGUE magazine, being a reporter and soon became an anchor on a dog news show on TV. Raymond didn’t have time for his family anymore and they only got to see him on his show when they tuned in. Finally, his family persuaded him to take some time off. Can Raymond find a way back to being more of a dog and less of a workaholic?
This witty book shows how even a family dog can be drawn into the work life too deeply. Using a family dog as the main character is a smart choice, playing against the typical dog roles. Throughout the book, there is a criticism of our modern work culture that is presented at a level that children will understand. Adults and children alike will cheer when Raymond rediscovers his love for life and ear scratches.
The illustrations have a zing to them as well. From the cover with Raymond carrying a to-go coffee. There is a lovely parallel world of dogs and humans in the images, showing a rich world that Raymond gets caught up in. For their modern touches, the illustrations still have a vintage appeal to them in their flat colors and lines.
A modern fable of the balance of life and work and the joy of chasing balls and spending quiet time together. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Who Put the Cookies in the Cookie Jar? by George Shannon, illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Lots of hands can take the cookie from the cookie jar, but even more are involved in getting the cookies there in the first place. There are the hands that mix the dough and put it on the cookie sheet. Then there are the ones that made the cookie sheet and oven mitts too. Hands feed and milk the cow that makes the milk. Hands churn the butter. Hands plant and harvest the wheat. Hands feed and gather the eggs. Many hands doing important work, make that cookie arrive in the cookie jar.
This is a great spin on a traditional song. I’d pair it with the more traditional version in a program to get kids to see it from both sides. Shannon celebrates all of the hard work that goes into things that we take for granted. He focuses on their efforts but also on all of us being part of a larger global community that really matters.
Paschkis’ illustrations have a warm feel to them. They hearken back to more traditional images yet depict a modern and multicultural world. Their bright colors really make the book pop and will work well with a large group.
Perfect for a cookie story time, I’d advise having some cookies to share when reading this and other cookie books. Yum! Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Company.