Tag: writing

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand (InfoSoup)

Finley’s parents are having trouble, so they decide that it is best that she spend the summer with her grandparents even though Finley has never met them before. Something happened that made her father leave the family and not speak to his mother again. Finley struggles with “blue days” where she can barely get out of bed and doesn’t have any energy at all. Other days, she spends writing about Everwood, an imaginary land that has parallels to the real world. When she arrives at her grandparents’ home, she realizes that Everwood is a real place and it is right behind their house, complete with a half-destroyed house, villainous pirates, and a trustworthy knight to share her adventures. As Finley and her cousins go deeper into the fantasy world, the truth begins to surface about what happened years ago to their parents and grandparents.

Legrand has created an intensely gorgeous book here that is complex and multi-layered. Finley’s writing about Everwood is interspersed throughout the book so readers can see the detailed and wondrous world she has created. Readers will also clearly see the ties between Finley’s life and what is happening in Everwood. The whole book is a testament to writing that balances strength of vision with a delicacy of execution that allows those ideas to grow and come alive. The relationships of the adults in the book also supports this with various personalities stepping out at different times. There is a humanity to the adults here, a fragility that lets young readers glimpse the truth in pieces before it is revealed.

Finley’s depression and anxiety in particular are captured with sensitivity and grace. It is shown as a part of her personality, not the only characteristic and not one that overwhelms her constantly. Rather it is a factor in her life, one that doesn’t stop her from bonding with her cousins or being creative and imaginative. This is a book that shows that mental illness may impact your life but not destroy it and that there is power in honesty and getting help.

A deep book filled with the magic of imagination, new-found family and one large woods. Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.


Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead

Ideas Are All Around by Philip C Stead

Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead (InfoSoup)

Stead captures a day in search of a story to write. He takes a walk with his dog named Wednesday since it’s a sunny day. They greet Frank, a turtle who lives near the bridge. They wave to Barbara a neighbor who owns the home where the author used to live and where he dropped blue paint in the shape of a horse. Ducks float by. Trains rush past. They walk through town and listen to the birds and watch the blue sky. Wednesday chases a squirrel back to Barbara’s house where they have coffee together. And soon a story has been found.

This is a treasure of a picture book. It offers a glimpse into the writing process, into the importance of getting outside and taking a walk. It shows how little things turn into stories and become big ideas. It also shows the author as a product of his personal landscape, whether that is filled with a story based firmly in reality like this one or one that is more fantastical or whimsical.

Stead’s illustrations are a rich mix of media. There are photographs of Wednesday combined with collage, painting and printed words. Some of the paintings have gorgeous textures that remind me of stencils or the roughness of stamping. The entire book sings with invention and inspiration.

A perfect leaping off point for young writers, this book shows that not only can any idea become a story but ideas can become great picture books too. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.



Review: Written and Drawn by Henrietta by Liniers

Written and Drawn by Henrietta by Liniers

Written and Drawn by Henrietta by Liniers

Released September 29, 2015.

A new book from the author of The Big Wet Balloon, this graphic novel for young readers encourages creating your own books. Henrietta has a new box of colored pencils and sets out to create her own book with help from her cat, Fellini. It becomes a tale of a brave girl named Henrietta who discovers a three-headed monster in her wardrobe. The wardrobe turns out to be a magic one, leading to a labyrinth filled with clothes. They search for a hat for the one head of the monster that doesn’t have one to wear. But when they find a hat they also discover another monster, this one has one head and three hats. How will they escape?

Liniers is a well-known Argentinian cartoonist. This book embraces the creative work of children, nicely capturing the simple story arc of a child as well as the colorful and loose art style. The creative process is also captured with asides from Henrietta to Fellini that show her having problems at times coming up with new ideas and at other times having problems with the continuation of the story line after something dramatic happens. It’s a clever way to demonstrate the hurdles of creativity and story writing without lecturing.

The art is wonderful. Linier uses two clearly different styles in the book, one for Henrietta’s real world and the other for her written story. The real world ones are quieter and more realistic while the story is zany. It is filled with scribbles, colors, and really looks as if a creative child could have done it. The result is a book where the real world pieces are clearly different than the story, avoiding any confusion at all.

A solid graphic novel for young readers, children with dreams of writing their own books will love this journey through creativity. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from TOON Books.

Review: Poet by Don Tate

Poet by Don Tate

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate

Released September 1, 2015.

George’s family were slaves in North Carolina. Though he loved words, George was not allowed to learn to read. But he listened when the white children did their ABCs and then got himself an old spelling book along with a book from his mother and taught himself how to read. He read everything that he could find, but loved poems most of all. He spent his workdays composing poems in his head, though he didn’t know how to write them down. Soon after, his family was split apart and he was sent to live on another farm. He worked in the fields and was sent to Chapel Hill to sell fruit and vegetables to the students. While there, he started to share his poetry aloud. The students loved his words and helped him by giving him more books to read and paying him to write poems for them. He was also taught to write his poems down and soon had his writing published in newspapers. George could then negotiate with his master to pay him for his time away from the farm where he could write. As George created the best life he could while still living a slave, the country was changing and a war for freedom was about to be fought. It was a war that would free George finally and allow him to continue writing but this time a free man.

Tate captures the life and times of this remarkable man with a tone of wonder at times. What Horton managed to do in his lifetime under slavery is amazing and a sign of the quality of the words he wielded so well. As readers watch Horton grow up and then fight for his freedom in his own way, with words, they will be devastated when he continues to be a slave despite his best efforts. Even the work of others on his behalf could not get him free.

Tate’s illustrations are exceptional. One can see the yearning for education on Horton’s face as he watches the white children learn to read. Tate also makes sure that Horton’s image shines on the page. He is regularly lit from outside lights of candles and the sun, creating a light around him. The illustrations also show North Carolina in the mid-1800s and Chapel Hill in particular. Tate also incorporates some of Horton’s poems into the illustrations, allowing them to flow past visually.

This is a choice nonfiction picture book that shows the strength of one man, his intelligence and the power of his words. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Peachtree Publishers and Netgalley.

Review: Billy’s Booger by William Joyce

Billys Booger by William Joyce

Billy’s Booger by William Joyce (InfoSoup)

This memoir in picture book format celebrates the creativity of a child destined to become an author. William has trouble at school. He wishes math were as much fun as the comics in the newspaper. He wants to play invented sports in gym instead of the normal ones. Notes are sent home from school. Then along comes a creative writing contest and William is very excited. He works and works on his entry. It’s title is Billy’s Booger and it’s all about a booger in his nose that gets super powers. But when the prizes are given out, Billy doesn’t win any of them, not even honorable mention. He is devastated and starts to act like everyone else. When he’s returning all of the book he used for research for his own book, he hears laughter in the library and heads over to investigate. A group of kids is reading his book and the librarian tells him that out of all of the entries in the contest, his is the most popular! He may not have won the actual prizes, but got something even better.

Joyce tells the story with a wonderful tone. He explains the earlier time when he grew up and children played outside rather than at playdates, when there were only three channels on the TV, and when funnies in the paper were a huge part of your day. It is a memoir about a kid who doesn’t quite fit into the school mold. It’s less about the grownups and how they dealt with him, though that is there in the background and more about him as a child and what he loved to do even then. It’s a testament to following your dream, to doing what you love and what you have always loved.

The illustrations are done in Joyce’s signature style, one that embraces vintage elements but also shines with a modern feel too. My favorite part of the book was the insert with William’s book in it. Happily, the pages are made from construction paper that feels so different in your hand. When I turned the page and saw it I cheered aloud. It is such a change from the finished and lovely illustrations in the rest of the book to move to these rougher drawings and paper. What an important element to embrace.

Fans of Joyce will love this glimpse of him as a child and it may inspire children to try their own hands at writing. Get this funny book out when creative writing projects are coming to help inspire really creative responses. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Review: Rufus the Writer by Elizabeth Bram

Rufus the Writer by Elizabeth Bram

Rufus the Writer by Elizabeth Bram, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (InfoSoup)

Released July 14, 2015.

One summer Rufus decides not to have his regular lemonade stand. Instead he will do a story stand! So he gets all set up wtih plenty of paper, pencils, pens and markers. When Millie and her little brother Walter stop at the stand, Rufus agrees to write them a story in exchange for a special shell from the beach. The story is about Walter’s favorite color. Sandy stops by with a box of kittens and even though they are free, Rufus writes a story in exchange for the black kitten, a story about cats. Rufus is reminded that his little sister’s birthday is tomorrow and he knows that a story will be the best present. Sara stops by and asks for a story about buttons, so Rufus agrees in exchange for whatever Sara thinks it should be worth. All of his customers pick up their stories at the same time and sit right down to read and enjoy them.

This smart blend of lemonade stand and creativity makes for a book premise that is very engaging and fun. Particularly pleasant is the lack of focus on money as payment and instead allowing a warm and friendly bartering system in exchange for Rufus’ stories. The values make sense, paid in kittens, shells and flowers. Also great is the way that Rufus’ stories are each designed specifically for that reader, with their favorite color or via the subject matter. The stories are engaging and fun, just brief enough to give a flavor and not slow the main storyline down.

Groenink’s illustrations are done in gouache, acrylics and pencils with Adobe Photoshop. They are warm and bright, showing a friendly neighborhood with plenty of ethnic diversity in Rufus’ customers. They have a playful feel with the trees around Rufus’ stand done in a whimsical way and various woods animals peeking at what is going on. The illustrations in Rufus’ stories are drawn with fine details and show the coloring lines. They have the same quality and feel of the other pictures but also have a distinct style of their own.

A celebration of creativity and writing, this book may inspire children to find their own variations on lemonade stands or even try their hand at writing and illustrating their own stories. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.

Review: By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman

by mouse and frog

By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman

Released April 14, 2015

Mouse wakes up early to start work on the new story she wants to write. It is a quiet story about a mouse who is setting the table. But before she can get any farther in her story, exuberant Frog hops in and starts adding new elements to the story, including cake, a king, and lots of ice cream. Meanwhile Mouse is trying to mop up all of the mess of the spilled tea, melting ice cream, while Frog gets completely out of control and takes over entirely. Finally Mouse has had enough and yells that Frog is not listening at all! They erase the entire mess of Frog’s story and start again with just Mouse’s ideas of morning tea. Frog is forlorn, unable to help until Mouse realizes that there is room in the story for her quiet ideas and Frog’s wild ones.

Freedman shows without any didactic tone that collaboration on stories and art is possible, as long as everyone listens, communicates and compromises. In fact, the end result is a lot more lovely! Showing that wild ideas are not the best way to come up with a story, but that also quiet thoughts have value, is a wonderful show of support for quieter thinkers. At the same time, that wild moment of Frog’s makes the entire book work, showing how out of control and wonderful some ideas can be. It’s a balanced look at creativity and collaboration that is welcoming and inclusive.

As always Freedman’s art is exceptional. Once again she does washes of watercolor that are gorgeously messy and free. The spilled tea and other elements of Frog’s story embrace all of that. Mouse’s story is shown in pencil drawings that are childlike and rough while also being very neat and structured. They show each characters personality clearly. At the end, it is a lovely marriage of the two styles, filled with bright colors and yet neat as a pin.

Creative and great fun to share aloud, this picture book demonstrates how teamwork and collaboration should work. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.