Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shaun Tan Collection!

Lost and Found

by Shaun Tan
Scholastic, April 2011
Lost and Found is one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen. The reproductions are incredible, I found myself stroking some of the pages as if I might feel the texture of the paint. Each page is a marvel, with spaces that would be "empty" in other books containing layers of texture or related print. Shaun Tan's Arrival astonished me, but I've always found it difficult to get a hold of his other books in the United States. Now, there is no excuse. I have spent hours pouring over this book, dipping into a page or story, or reading from beginning to end, and I intend to spend many more hours marveling at the splendid work.

Each story has a weight to it, at once melancholic and fantastic, uplifting in its hidden details. The story of the rabbits is a dark, sad tale, based on our own history. The Red Tree more uplifting, finding magic in the world. The stories are deep, and the illustrations do them justice, extending and expanding them in unsuspected ways.

This is a books that needs to live on a table, not a shelf. Out where people can pick it up and become amazed by stories and images that will stay with them for weeks afterward.


The Lover's Dictionary
by David Levithan
Farrar, Straus, Giroux
January 4th, 2011

A novel in dictionary entries that range from a word to a few pages. Some of the words are what you might expect, others are surprising. The story (and there is an overarching narrative) is not arranged chronologically, but alphabetically, as a dictionary would be. Due to this, I thought I'd be able to dip into it, but instead I couldn't put it down. I had to see how the pieces would fit together; I got lost in the moments. Love stories are easily overdone, but I found this story sweet (though that could be due to the teen books I usually read). Then again, sometimes a quietly sweet book is wonderful. The only regret I have is not reading it when other people were around- then I could have read passages aloud- and some of them beg for this. Buy this book before Valentine's day, and bookmark passages as you read (or annotate) and then present it as a gift.

I read some reviews of the book on ipage before I began. Some say the story is of a heterosexual couple, one of a homosexual couple. I tried figuring it out as I read, but I found I didn't care, it worked in my head either way, and eventually I just went with those images. But I still wonder what David was thinking when he wrote it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fun Books for Winter Break

It’s still winter break, so why not pick up something fun? Here are five books guaranteed to bring some fun to your vacation.

Lunch Lady and the Bake Sale Bandit

By Jarrett J. Krosoczka

The fifth book in the best-selling Lunch Lady series is now out! Lunch Lady’s school is having a bake sale to raise money for a field trip. But before anyone can buy a tasty treat, someone steals all the goodies! There are a few people in the school who dislike bake sales, and it’s up to the Breakfast Bunch kids and Lunch Lady to discover who really stole the goodies. A wonderful addition to the Lunch Lady series, complete with an appearance by Buszilla!

Sock Monkey & Friends

9 different fun-to-make sock animal projects

by Samantha Fisher and Cary Lane

Sock monkeys are cute and easy to make, but how many people have actually made one? This kit includes directions and the materials you’ll need to make a sock monkey. Once you see how easy and fun it is, you’ll be off, rounding up all the pairless socks in your house. Besides, who can resist a sock squirrel, alligator, or owl!

Kid Made Modern

By Todd Oldham

This has got to be the coolest kid’s craft book I’ve seen. Forget the “kid’s” part, I’m ready to make these things for my apartment and myself. Using easy-to-find materials, Kid Made Modern gives easy directions for creating crafts inspired by mid-century modern design. Beautiful photographs accompany each project and each section is introduced by a profile of a mid-century designer.

The Cleaner Plate Club

More Than 100 Recipes for Real Food Your Kids Will Love

By Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin

This colorful cookbook is great for kids or adults. The introduction profiles different ingredients, as well as shopping strategies and information on nutrition and food in the United States. Other sections include how to cook seasonally, how to convert recipes for your slow-cooker, and why to shop at farmers’ markets. Fun, colorful illustrations and photos accompany these sections. The recipes include such delicious dishes as Pumpkin-White Cheddar Soup, Carrot-Quinoa “Biryani”, and Pumpkin Gnocchi. An informative cookbook for children, parents…just about anyone, really!

Papertoy Monsters

50 Cool Papertoys You Can Make Yourself!

By Castleforte and 24 papertoy designers from around the world

Silly, fun, wacky, gross, and sometimes utterly ridiculous monsters fill the pages of this book. The colors are bright, the directions are simple, and there’s no cutting involved! Each papertoy punches out of the page and is accompanied by directions for creating your wacky 3-D monster. Blank templates are provided at the back of the book so that you can create your own monsters.

Happy vacation!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie
by Julie Sternberg illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Amulet (Abrams) March 2011

It's the summer before third grade when Elinor receives terrible news, news worse than pickle juice on cookies. Bibi, the best babysitter in the world is moving away. Elinor doesn't want to do anything fun without Bibi, because fun things remind her of Bibi. But soon her parents have found a new sitter, Natalie. And while Natalie is not Bibi, maybe that will be okay.

This sweet book is shorter than it seems and Cordell's fun illustrations bring whimsy and life to the page. Great for lovers of Ivy and Bean and Clementine. Hopefully, we'll see a whole Elinor series in the future...

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Wow. Just, wow. I'm absolutely stunned by the ending of Lauren Oliver's Delerium, which I finished not 5 minutes ago. Romeo and Juliet has never been a favorite of mine, due to death by miscommunication. But death because of sacrifice is completely different. Sometimes I feel that teen romances are taken too far, there is often a sense that this is the one, the perfect partner, despite the fact that the protagonist is but sixteen. Here, I don't feel any of that. Having your ability to feel (love, hate, everything inbetween) cut off at eighteen means young romance is the only thing that's even possible, let alone probable.

In Lena's world, a person undergoes an operation at eighteen, effectively curing them of love. For if one doesn't love, there is no pain or loss, and everyone will be happy. Lena counts the days until she'll receive the cure and everything will be good and right. She'll be matched with her husband and together they'll live a safe, predictable life. But then Lena the perfect citizen, the good girl, finds someone to love. And things will never be the same.

The world Oliver has created is so real. Her reliance on everyday objects, places and activities grounds the dystopian environment and cements the connection between the reader and Lena. The one scene that truly clinched my love of this book was when Lena went to the cell in which her mother had been held, and saw one word carved over and over into the walls, a word that was both her downfall and her savior. As Lena walked the halls to the cell, smelling the refuse and mold, I felt snatches of V for Vendetta run through my mind. At other points I couldn't help but think of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. From teen romance, best friends, high school, and illegal parties to a totalitarian government, Oliver seamlessly weaves a classic tale of love with the danger and despair of a dystopia.

It'll be out from HarperCollins in February.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Picturebooks about Winter

There are Christmas books galore, Hanukkah books, books for every possible religious holiday. But what about the books that celebrate winter? Here in Massachusetts we are lucky enough to get real snow in the winter. Snow perfect for skiing, sledding, snow-shoeing, throwing, and building. Winter is my favorite season and I like nothing better than going out to play in the snow. But for those of you less inclined to go outside, here are some winter picturebooks to enjoy with a nice cup of hot cocoa.

Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee

By Chris Van Dusen

Chronicle Books

Mr. Magee and his dog Dee set out one winter day. Mr. Magee doesn’t know how to ski, but he climbs up the hill and sets out to give it a try. But Mr. Magee isn’t good at steering or stopping yet, so what’s he to do when he runs into a moose and a ravine?

Van Dusen’s illustrations are bright, colorful, and dynamic. He has an astounding ability to capture the light of winter and the myriad of colors reflecting in snow. A perfectly delightful book for skiers or those for whom skiing is a terrifying activity. Ages 4-7.

In My Forest

By Sara Gillingham & Lorena Siminovich

Chronicle Books

This sweet boardbook features a finger puppet deer as a part of the picturebook. Babies will enjoy the bright colors, die-cut book, and finger puppet. The collage illustrations are lovely and the message perfect for a book read before bed.

Counting on Snow

By Maxwell Newhouse

Tundra Books

As we count arctic animals, snow begins to fall on the tundra. Thicker and faster it falls until the animals are almost obscured. This is a quiet book, dark but beautiful. Each scene portrays the vastness of the tundra and there is a sense of beautiful space in each illustration. Ages 2-4.


A Caldecott Honor Book

By Uri Shulevitz

Farrar Straus Giroux

It is a gray day, but a boy sees a few snowflakes in the sky. The adults dismiss the snow and the radio denies the weather but a boy and his dog go out to celebrate. This is a beautiful celebration of the magical qualities of snow. While the book begins gray and dark, the snowstorm changes the scene, leaving bright white and sky blue in its wake.

This quiet book celebrates the magical qualities of snow and the wonder it can bring. Ages 4-8.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Liked Lunch Lady? Try this.

Super Amoeba No. 1: Squish

By Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

Random House, May 24th, 2011

Let me just start off by saying my favorite graphic novel series for the 2nd-3rd grade crowd is Lunch Lady- hands down. But what do you give the kids who have exhausted that series? Squish is a great option, especially for teachers. Setting: a world much like our own, where kids read comic books, dream of being super heroes, and there’s always a class bully. The Catch: this world is populated entirely by amoebas. That’s right, our protagonist is a single-celled organism. The opening pages introduce amoebas, giving basic scientific facts that the narrator warns, “You’ll be tested on this someday so you’d better be paying attention.” And, most kids will be tested on this someday. So, fun graphic novel with a side dish of biology facts, what’s not to like? Arrows throughout the book contain snarky narrator comments for some additional humor.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grimm & Grimmer

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

This story doesn’t start with Hansel and Gretel, but it is about them. And, as the narrator will warn you, this is a dark an bloody tale not suited for young children, but closer to the original stories than any silly kiddie movies might be. Gidwitz strings a number of Grimm’s stories together, each featuring Hansel and Gretel. Despite the darkness and the blood, this is a fun book, the narrator’s warnings adding humor to the tale. I love remixed fairy tales, but instead of changing the setting or reversing gender roles (as one usually sees) Gidwitz has found a successful new way to retell the tales.

A fabulous combination of humor and tragedy, A Tale Dark and Grimm is precisely what it says it is. Ages 9 and up. –Marika

2 Spring Picturebooks

Wiener Wolf by Jeff Crosby

Wiener dog leads a good but boring life with Granny. When he discovers the wild life of the wolves on television, he sets out to experience the great outdoors. With just the removal of his sweater, Wiener Dog becomes Wiener Wolf! And life is great with the wolves, until Wiener Dog realizes just what wolves eat; maybe life with Granny isn’t so bad after all.

The illustrations are wonderful. Crosby’s pacing of the story and dramatic reveals (such as the transformation into Wiener Wolf) are perfectly planned for rip-roaring laughter. Readers of all ages will cheer for Wiener Dog, enjoying the quirky characterization Crosby has crafted. So put a sweater on your pooch, wrap someone’s tail around your legs, and prepare yourself for a great adventure.

Blackout by John Rocco

When the city experiences a blackout, one family, and eventually the entire neighborhood, learns the importance of unplugging and participating. From seeing the stars to having a party on the street with the entire neighborhood, Blackout celebrates friends and family. And one family learns that you don’t need a blackout to enjoy time together.

John Rocco tells his story in a comic-panel format. His illustrations, and even the font, reference Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, though his style and medium have their own flair.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Luka and the Fire of Life

It's out today!

What is?


Luka and the Fire of Life When Luka’s father falls into a deep sleep, Luka must venture into the world of magic, and steal the fire of life, in order to save his father. Luka’s adventure takes the form of a video game, complete with saving points, as he travels through a land populated by gods, goddesses, and characters from his father’s stories. A companion book to Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Luka is a celebration of story telling, filled with classic characters and fun word-play. Age 9 & up.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Spring books from Scholastic

Where's Walrus
by Stephen Savage
February 2011
Tired of the zoo and looking for something new, walrus heads out into the city. In each spread he hides somewhere new, trying to elude the zookeeper out to bring him back. With a delightful surprise ending, children will be able to tell different stories about the illustrations each time they read it. Savage tells his wordless story through c
lear, graphic illustrations that will delight even the youngest child while design-conscious adults may wish to pick up a copy for their coffee table.
Hippo and Rabbit: 3 Short Tales
by Jeff Mack
February 2011
Three sweet stories about a new duo who are sure to become a fast favorite. Hippo is silly and bumbling, his friend Rabbit quick and ready. But together they are a great team and the best of friends. The cartoony illustrations in an eye-catching palette are sure to appeal to youngsters. Hopefully this is just the first in a series starring Hippo and Rabbit. While Frog and Toad are forever, this generation may have found a new team.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

WAMC Book Picks

Listen to Emily Crowe and myself talking about books on WAMC's Round Table.

Books I mention:
Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems
Odious Ogre by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer
Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon
Dust City by Robert Paul Weston
Shadow by Suzy Lee
Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

It's very strange to listen to yourself.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Winter & Spring HarperCollins Children's Books

HarperCollins Children’s books
Written by Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrated by Matthew Myers
April 5th, 2011
In the Robot Shoppe, there are robots who can do all sorts of amazing things. But poor old Clink can only make burnt toast and play crackly old music. Clink tries to do the things the other robots do, but he only causes trouble. One day a boy comes to the shop, and he’s not interested in all the fancy new robots. Is this Clink’s chance to have a home?

Though a relatively conventional story, Myer’s illustrations are zany and fun. His characters, especially the robots, are fun and quirky with classic feel reminiscent of William Joyce’s work. With dynamic compositions and bright colors, this book is sure to appeal to robot lovers of all shapes and sizes.

Dear Tabby
By Carolyn Crimi
Illustrated by David Roberts
February 8th, 2011
Tabby is an alley cat, but with the help of a typewriter he’s also an advice columnist. Over the course of the book he hears from another cat, a parrot, a hamster, a skunk, a groundhog, an ex-circus bear, and a dog. Through letters and newspaper articles we trace the lives of these animals and how, over time, they eventually find happiness- including Tabby himself.

This wordy picturebook is perfect for those in early grade school to read to themselves. Readers will find themselves trying to figure out and patch together each animal’s story, something made especially fun by inserts of newspaper advertisements, posters, etc. Roberts’ illustrations are fun and balance the text well; I especially love his full-page spread of the runaway circus bear on her tricycle.

Bedtime for Bear
By Brett Helquist
December 21st, 2010
Bear is just settling into bed for a nice long hibernation, when his friends come to beg him to play outside. Knowing he should be beginning his hibernation, bear tries to sleep instead. But the sound of his friends playing is just too enticing so he sets out for one last day of snowy fun.

Helquist is an incredible illustrator and his illustrations are what make this book. Special attention is paid to the movement of bear and his two raccoon friends. The palette changes from oranges to blues as the sun sets and the colors of the sky are reflected in the snow. Delightfully expressive characters and beautiful illustrations make this a wonderful holiday gift for any young child. Ages 2-4.

New Picturebooks on the Shelves

The 3 Little Dassies
by Jan Brett
Penguin Young Readers Group
This retelling of the three little pigs has an African twist. Instead of three little pigs setting off, three little dassies, cute furry creatures who live in Namibia, set out to find a cooler, less-crowded place free of eagles. But the place to which they move is within the territory of an eagle, who would love a tasty dassie (or three) for his chicks. The story unfolds as you might think, excepting the addition of an agama lizard, who rescues the dassies of the straw and stick houses.

The illustrations, as always, are exquisitely detailed. Jan Brett is a master at using frames to expand upon her story. On some pages the frames show impending danger as the eagle heads out to find some food. On others, we see the rescue taking place while the larger illustration is concerned with the dassie of the stone house. Brett's vivid colors and intricate patterns make this book, like her others, a glorious work worthy of the hours children will spend pouring over it.

by Suzy Lee
Chronicle Books
From the creator of the award-winning Wave comes a stunning new book. In Shadow, Lee utilizes the gutter to create two worlds- the real one and that of shadows. Using the objects she finds around her, a little girl creates worlds and characters with the shadows she casts. But as her creations become more intricate, the shadows begin to take on a life of their own.

This book is practically wordless and incredibly designed. I wonder at the stories children might weave about each page as each shadow scene presents opportunities to explore what the little girl might be pretending. Lee's use of the gutter is ingenious; here is a book that embraces its form. If there's one book I'll buy for myself this fall, it'll be Suzy Lee's Shadow.

13 Words
by Lemony Snicket
Illustrated by Maira Kalman
On the inside flap of the dust jacket 13 words are listed. There are words you might expect in a picturebook, like bird, dog, hat, and baby, and some absolutely splendiferous words like despondent, haberdashery, panache, and mezzo-soprano. And here's the thing, children love large interesting words, especially when they sound a little funny. Snicket's humor is, as always, spot on. As I read this at my desk I was giggling so much a coworker decided to come investigate. I ended up reading the book aloud, the two of us laughing with each turn of the page. Customers came over and we ended up with a small, impromptu storytime. What better recommendation is there?

Maira Kalman, who you may recognize from her work for New Yorker magazine, creates vibrant, quirky illustrations. Her gouache paintings are luscious with bright, sunny colors. Her work, with its references to art history and whatever happens to catch her fancy, is a perfect match for Snicket's writing; I'd love to see more from this bizarrely fabulous pairing.

Flora's Very Windy Day
by Jeanne Birdsall
illustrated by Matt Phelan
Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

From the author of the Penderwicks series comes a picturebook perfect for a blustery fall day.
One windy fall day Flora and her brother go outside to play. Flora has super-special heavy-duty red boots that keep her from flying away, but her little brother Crispin doesn't have super-special boots and is so small he gets blown away by the wind. What will Flora do?

Birdsall's story explores the complex relationship older children have with their younger siblings. As Flora realizes, younger siblings may be annoying, but that doesn't mean you should give them up.

Three Little Kittens
by Jerry Pinkney
Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin
Though the cover is a little too cutesy for me, Pinkey's retelling is a wonderful rendition of the classic rhyme. He begins his story on the endpapers, where we see the three kittens longing to go outside. The illustrations are beautifully composed and young children will have no trouble following the story even without knowing the words. An added bonus, music for the text is provided on the inside of the dust jacket, so a musical storytime may be had by all.

I was lucky enough to get the chance to hear Pinkney talk about this book. Each page turn, each rotation of viewpoint, is carefully considered and as someone studying the picturebook, it was interesting to hear Pinkney talk about his choices, and changes, during the creation of the book.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dick and Jane and Vampires

Dick and Jane and Vampires
Written by Laura Marchesani, Illustrated by Tommy Hunt
Grosset & Dunlap, Penguin Young Readers

Let’s face it, there have been a lot of zombie & vampire mash-ups, more than I’d like to deal with as a matter of fact.
But sifting through the jumble you occasionally find a good one. Dick and Jane and Vampires is one of these. We always knew Dick and Jane were a little frightening, so why not throw a vampire into the mix? Told with classic Dick and Jane syntax and featuring the blond-haired children you may remember (I’m a little young for that) Dick and Jane and Vampires is a perfect early reader for you and your child. After all, having a bat in your house really is a terrifying idea (rabies, etc) and one really should look out for strangers (especially those with pointed teeth) so why not frighten your child with the very real possibilities he or she faces?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2011 Picturebooks!

Blue Chameleon
by Emily Gravett
Simon & Schuster, March 8th
Poor chameleon feels blue and goes looking for a friend. But though he can change his color to look like a snail or a sock or a rock, none of these are willing to be his friend. Who can he find who will appreciate him for being a chameleon? This simple book is wonderful for very young children. Simple words on each page indicate the pattern or color of the chameleon and the object he mimics. But being a copycat is not a good way to make friends and, as chameleon learns, the best way to find a friend is to be your colorful self. 1 year plus, this book would make a wonderful baby gift- hopefully we’ll see it in board book form in the future.

Say Hello to Zorro!

By Carter Goodrich

Simon & Schuster, March 22

Mister Bud is a dog, and he leads the good dog’s life. He has his own things and his own schedule, and life is good. But one day a little pug named Zorro shows up. The two are grumpy until they realize they share the same schedule. And guess what? You can be louder and more persistent when there are two.

Goodrich’s illustrations capture the exuberance of the characters. Though the watercolor paintings are soft and light, the colors have a wonderful warmth and richness. The expressions of the dogs are hysterical and children will delight in their battles and companionship, seeing a similarity to their own relationships with their siblings.

The Secret River

By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon

Simon & Schuster

January 4th, 2011

A Leo & Diane Dillon cover will make me pick up a book and, if it’s a picturebook, take it home before I even open it. The Secret River is beautiful story with the feeling of a folk tale. When hard times come to the forest and Calpurnia’s father can’t catch fish to sell, Calpurnia sets out with her dog to catch fish and help her father. Following her nose, she finds the secret river, bursting with fish.With hard work, determination, and belief in the extraordinary, Calpurnia brings softer times to the forest and reaches the understanding that sometimes the answers are in your own mind.The Dillons’ illustrations bring depth to the story, expanding the text and showing the magic and imagination present in Calpurnia’s world.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Luka & the Fire of Life & Haroun & the Sea of Stories

Haroun & the Sea of Stories
Luka & the Fire of Life

[Random House, September 16th, 2010]
by Salman Rushdie

Have you ever had a child ask you why? The ubiquitous why, followed by your fumbling to come up with an answer that, if it is buried in your mind, is too complicated to explain? Rushdie gives you an answer: the P2C2E (problem, or process, too difficult to explain) perfect to use in the rush of life, when most of the objects around you are too complicated for you to understand, let alone explain.

If you’re an adult and have browsed the Rushdie selection at your local bookseller or library you may have seen Haroun and the Sea of Stories, though my experience tells me the odds are not that good. What you most definitely have not seen is a Rushdie in the children’s section and I think we ought to change that.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is loved by both children and adults. It is very much a nonsense adventure, reminiscent of The Phantom Tollbooth and full of Carroll-esque wordplay. P2C2Es, iffing and butting, glumfish, these words beg to be read aloud, told over nights to intent yet gigging children, and yet no audio version is available, meaning the story must be personally experienced in the act of reading aloud. Containing such marvels as the Ocean of the Streams of Story, Wishwater presented by a genie, and a city in Perpetual Night, Haroun is a marvelous story full of beautiful embroideries. But Haroun is also an allegory, and adults familiar with Rushdie’s personal story will see aspects of his life played out by the Shah of Blah.

Luka and the Fire of Life, written for Rushdie’s second child, is an adventure for the Shah of Blah’s second child. Again, we follow a classic journey into lands of the unknown and through a series of trials our protagonist comes of age. Like Haroun, Luka is aided throughout the book by an afflicted version of his father, in this case his father’s death, Nobodaddy. But unlike Haroun, this book resonates more strongly for children than adults, having references to current culture and following the form of a video game.

The World of Magic is a world of Luka’s father, Rashid Khalifa’s, creation. It is the stories he has told that populate this world, from characters of Egyptian mythology to Doctor Who. As such, Luka recognizes aspects of it and is able to navigate it based on his interactions with his father. But no child knows all the secrets of his parents and Luka faces the unknown as well (otherwise it wouldn’t be an adventure).

At the same time, this is very much Luka’s adventure. A child of the twenty-first century, video games are a part of Luka’s life. His adventure takes the form of a video game with literal levels for each stage of the hero’s journey. Lives can be accumulated and are tracked in a counter at the edge of Luka’s vision. Additionally, there are saving points at the ends of levels, and, like a video game, saving allows one to return to the same point upon obliteration. While this format may be awkward for some adults, I think it will resonate with middle grade readers, for whom such a structure is commonplace.

Yet the old myths and stories are utilized by Rushdie as well. The one strong female character in the World of Magic is a young woman named Soraya, the same name as Rashid’s wife and Luka’s mother. Being the most important woman in the lives of both Rashid and Luka, she naturally is the woman in Rashid’s world. In a classic nod to Oedipus, Luka is not only in awe of this woman, but slightly attracted to her as well. This nod to Greek tragedy may well pass over the heads of middle readers while jumping out at adults. It is this duality, this melding of both old and new tales, that allows Rushdie’s work to resonate with both adults and children. However, I wonder at the choice to publish this novel as an adult book.

Unlike Haroun, which can be read on many levels, Luka and the Fire of Life doesn’t push as far. There is less word play, less struggle between good versus bad and the eventual discovery of grey, things that are associated with classic crossover stories. Luka’s initial curse, and the resulting counter-curse, are a classic way to begin a story and his companions, Dog the bear and Bear the dog, are the sort of things you know you’ve read before. But when Luka enters the World of Magic, his experiences, and the video-game format of them, feel more easily accessible to middle-grade readers than adults. This may also be attributed to the number of references thrown together in the World of Magic and the segmentation the levels bring to them; giving the book a slightly episodic feel that doesn’t follow as smooth an arc as Haroun.

Like many books primarily classified as middle-grade, Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events coming immediately to mind, Luka and the Fire of Life is also an enjoyable read for adults. But now that adults are getting more used to venturing into the children’s department for their novels, Luka and the Fire of Life may find a more comfortable home in the middle-grade section. After all, who can resist “the World of Magic” with “Elephant Birds, and Respecto-Rats, and a real, honest-to-goodness Flying Carpet, and then there was the little matter of becoming a Fire Thief” (ARC, pg 216).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Enola Holmes

Have I seriously neglected to mention Enola Holmes? Dear me, how utterly dreadful to have kept such wonders from you.

Last summer I went through a phase in which I listened to Sherlock Holmes as I worked. BBC radio dramas, the stories read aloud with and without supporting casts....if the library had it I grabbed it. When I exhausted my library's selection, I ventured into the middle grade section, hoping to catch up on middle grade novels published during my college years. I ran across an Enola Holmes mystery and was back the next day to grab all the audios they had. Katherine Kellgren reads for the audio versions and her voice is perfect- and that's not a word I generally like to use. The novels are written in the first person- we see the world through Enola's eyes. Kellgren's talents are wonderful and her voice as Enola's is captivating.

Enola Holmes (series)
by Nancy Springer
Enola Holmes is the younger sister of that most famous of detectives. Her name backwards is alone, which is important if you're the sort of person who believes in fate or destiny. When her mother mysteriously disappears, Mycroft and Sherlock descend upon the country house. Refusing to be sent to finishing school by Mycroft, Enola disguises herself and runs away to London where she solves her own cases while also managing to evade her brothers. Enola is a strong, intelligent character with sly sleuthing skills to rival Sherlock’s. A fast-paced period-perfect series of adventures. 12 & up.

Patricia Polacco

The Junkyard Wonders
by Patricia Polacco

Polacco books tend to make me cry. And once I've gotten over the story itself, I'm hit with a wave of amazement at the number and breath of books Polacco has created. Her ability to handle issues, cultural differences, and difficult events in the format of a picture book is frankly astonishing- and something few people can accomplish so beautifully.

Polacco's newest book is no exception. The story follows children in the "junkyard" classroom, those who are different in various ways. But as their teacher, Mrs. Peterson, tells them, they are junkyard wonders, for it is from these different children that the true geniuses will come. It is through the eyes of young Trisha that we experience the trials and miraculous inventions of Mrs. Peterson's class. Polacco's illustrations combine the detail of photographs with the color and movement of life, bringing vitality to every page.

This personal account was made even more wonderful by the delightful note on the last page of the book, in which Polacco relates the futures of her fellow junk yard wonders. It is a story so perfect and wonderful it could only be found in real life. And I'll leave it as a delightful surprise for you as well.

Mo Willems

The final book in Mo Willems' Caldecott Honor-Winning Knuffle Bunny series is coming out in September. I'm currently in the process of planning an event for the book release and am very excited about the third book; I think it is a fitting ending to the series.

For those of you who don’t know who Mo Willems is, you may wish to inquire of a four-year-old “Why can’t the pigeon drive the bus?” Or perhaps ask him, “What exactly is a Knuffle Bunny?” It will be rather surprising if you are not answered with elaborate explanations or lots of giggling. But for those of you without a four-year-old in the vicinity, the answer will be a little longer.

Mo Willems is a writer, illustrator and cartoonist currently living in Northampton, Massachusetts. He began his career as a writer and animator for Sesame Street, where he was awarded 6 Emmy Awards for his writing. He went on to work on shows for both Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network and it was during this time that he began creating children’s books.

In 2004 Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus won a Caldecott Honor. In this silly book, a bus driver asks the reader to watch his bus for a little while, with one important instruction, not to let the pigeon drive the bus. The rest of the book is taken up by pigeon, who wheedles and begs and cries and rages- like any human three-year-old- to be allowed to drive the bus.

Willems’ first Caldecott Honor was followed by two others, one for Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale in 2005, and the other for Knuffle Bunny, Too in 2008. This delightful series stars Trixie and her stuffed Knuffle Bunny, who she can’t live without. The highly-anticipated last book in this Caldecott Honor-winning trilogy, Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion will be released September 28th.

More recently, Willems wrote City Dog, Country Frog, which was illustrated by Zen Shorts creator Jon Muth, and which has spent two months on the New York Times Children’s Bestseller list. Willems continues to create cartoons with Weston Woods Studios and his animated version of Knuffle Bunny won Best Film in 2008 at the New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion
Trixie and her parents (and Knuffle Bunny, of course) get on an airplane to visit Trixie’s Oma and Opa in Holland. But upon arriving at her grandparent’s house, Trixie realizes that Knuffle Bunny hasn’t arrived with them! A frantic phone call to the airline reveals that Knuffle Bunny was left on the airplane, now bound for China (which is very far away indeed). Trixie feels terrible, but when a dream about Knuffle Bunny meeting other children makes her feel better, she begins to realize that perhaps she’s growing-up. And then, on the plane back to the United States, a crying baby and a startling surprise in her seat pocket cause her to make an important decision.

Willems’ Knuffle Bunny trilogy celebrates the bond between child and stuffed animal with humor and respect. It’s a bond many so many children have shared, one that goes beyond toy to playmate, companion, and confidante. While the end of a series is always difficult, this one ends with the possibility of future adventures for Knuffle Bunny and delightful possibilities for Trixie’s own future, ones that will have adults tearing-up as they read aloud.

A crime-fighting Lunch Lady

Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown
By Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Everyone has wondered what lunch ladies do in their spare time. The answer? Fight crime! Lunch Lady has already brought down cyborg substitutes and the League of (evil) Librarians (with the help of the Breakfast Bunch Kids).

It’s summer time and Lunch Lady is looking forward to a relaxing vacation job at summer camp. But when the legendary Swamp Monster starts terrorizing the camp, she’ll have to break out her super-hero skills. Armed with fish-stick nunchucks, lunch tray laptops, and s’more throwing stars, Lunch Lady is out to save the day in her fourth graphic adventure.
Grade 1 & up.

Monday, August 9, 2010

David Wiesner

Art and Max
by David Wiesner
Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I love Wiesner's work. Tuesday is one of my top three pictures books of all time (I say top three because actually ordering such a thing is impossible). The incredible detail of his illustrations creates such miraculous magical realism. The preview I've seen of Art and Max (coming this fall) is no exception. The atmosphere, breathtaking detail, and bizarre story is all you could possibly want. This is not a book I can review or blurb- it must be seen.

Good and bad

Not a Scary Story About Big Scary Things
by C.K. Williams & Gabi Swiatkowska
In the woods there lives a big scary monster that likes nothing better than to scare little children. But what happens when a boy walking through the forest doesn't believe in the terrifying monster?

I love this story. The dialogue between the boy and the monster, the scary descriptions of how the monster may's all wonderfully fun. I am not, however, a fan of the illustrations. There's a stiffness, a trying-too-hard-to-be-messy quality to them. While I can understand the desire to leave the actual monster up to the imagination of the reader, I find the varried depictions of both monster and setting inconsistent. Rather than giving the book a more universal feel, these inconsistencies break up the story and make me apt to forget them altogether and focus on my own imaginings. Additionally, the boy character, the only unchanging character in the book, is an old-fashioned depiction, a sort of old European children's book illustration with styling like that of a doll. I feel this depiction will only alienate viewers from the character, especially children today. So, fabulous text for a classic story, read it and forget the rest of the package.

Perfectly Sinister

Dillweed's Revenge: A Deadly Does of Magic
written by Florence Parry Heide with Roxanne Heide Pierce, David Fisher Parry, and Jeanne McReynolds Parry
illustrated by Carson Ellis
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I was immediately drawn to this book, being a fan of Carson Ellis' illustrations-think Decemberists' posters and the covers of The Mysterious Benedict Society series. The story is dark and strange, complete with nasty adults and a series of coffins that immediately gets one thinking about Edward Gorey. Which, it turns out, is exactly where one's mind should go, as Edward Gorey illustrated Heide's Treehorn series in the 1970s.

Dillweed and his strange pet, Skorped, are forced to do the servant's work when Dillweed's parents are away having fun, which is often. It's a miserable existence, but at least they have each other. That is until Perfidia, the maid, decides to get rid of Skorped.

This is a dark adventure that will be enjoyed by strange children, followed by terrible teens, and laughed at by absurd adults.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Some Fall Picture Books

Piggy Pie Po
by Don & Audrey Wood
Harcourt Children's Books, September
This Fall, from the creators of The Napping House, Piggies, King Bidgood's in the Bathtub, and my personal favorite, Heckedy Peg, comes a silly new story of an adorable pig named Piggy Pie Po. Piggy Pie Po likes many things and he is a very accomplished little pig- the only thing he can't do is tie his shoes. Piggy Pie Po loves to eat. He eats his way through a table-full of food, until he makes a terrible mistake, eating a red-hot chili pepper!
The colorful pictures, are, as always, delightful. Very young children will enjoy the rhyming text and speedy pace of the story. Though Piggy Pie Po will be released in Hardcover in September, it would make a delightful board book. Great for the 2-4 crowd, Piggy Pie Po would also make a wonderful baby shower gift.*

*I know there are a lot of people intent on purchasing only classics for baby showers. But the fact is, many people already have the classics, especially if this isn't a first child. So why not pick a new book by award-winning author/illustrators of classics?
Diary of a Baby Wombat
written by Jackie French
illustrated by Bruce Whatley
It's not often I love books for being cute, but baby wombat, is, well, cute. And who has he discovered to be his new friend? A human baby. Meanwhile, mum wombat is trying to find a bigger hole for her and baby to sleep in, and baby wombat, while trying to be helpful, is only causing trouble as usual. Will mum find them a bigger hole? And will baby wombat help her?

The interactions between the human baby and baby wombat are sweet while the mum and baby wombat interactions are classically fun (especially for parents). Just looking at a sequence of mum and baby sleeping will win you over.
The Boy in the Garden
by Allen Say
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October
Allen Say is an undisputed master of both story and illustration. His books are quiet and strong, using few words to tell deep and complex stories that always leave me feeling a bit melancholic. It is important when approaching The Boy in the Garden, to make sure you read "The Story That Mom Read to Jiro: the Grateful Crane," on the first page for this legend is the basis for the story and not one common in the United States.
Pocket Full of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes
illustrated by Salley Mavor
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September
I tend to be ambivalent when it comes to nursery rhymes; there have been so many collections and so many illustrators, and, for me, they were never as good as a story. But Salley Mavor's illustrations are incredible. Using beads, felt, thread, wood, and other natural found objects Mavor has crafted a soft, warm, and infinitely charming world. Every tiny piece of clothing (to give you a sense of scale, acorn tops are hats) is embroidered with textures or patterns. The most difficult part of executing a three-dimensional illustration is the lighting and photography, and the reproductions here are beautiful. The texture is soft and visible, but not overly emphasized or overwhelming. Objects have a soft shadow to give depth, and the colors retain their earth to jewel tones. While I wouldn't ordinarily think of purchasing a book of nursery rhymes for myself, Mavor's illustrations are something I want to revisit often.

Monday, August 2, 2010

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

by Charles Yu
Pantheon, September
A novel about a man coming to terms with his father and his place in the world while travelling in (or avoiding, as the case may be) time. Part Neal Stephenson, part Dave Eggers, with a dash of Douglas Adams.

Charles Yu's father invented time travel before disappearing, his mother lives in a loop of time in which she makes dinner over and over again, and Charles, a time machine repair guy, spends his life existing out of time, searching for the time/space to which his father disappeared. From explanations of tenses as a basis for time travel to job opportunities in the Death Star's accounts receivable, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe covers the spectrum of science fiction today.

Back to school

It has officially started. That time of year when parents and grandparents come searching for the going-to-school books. Surprisingly enough, I've found a wonderful picture book which works for this occasion and as fun read aloud.

A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade
Written by James Preller
Illustrated by Greg Ruth
There are many books with the theme of going to school, but only one has a pirate’s approval. Using only terms and language fit for true pirates, this book will have even the most reluctant children excited for school, even if they insist on speaking like pirates for the rest of the day. This book is great to read aloud and would be a perfect way to win over an elementary teacher’s incoming students….

Not a Child's Picture Book

It’s a Book
By Lane Smith
Macmillan, August 31, 2010
So accustomed to our electronic devices: lap tops, phones, e-readers, not to mention all of Apple’s goodies….
And a book, well, what is it good for? Because you can’t blog or tweet or email with it...
An explanation of a book for the chronically plugged-in and a scathing way to remind people of their worth, It’s a Book has had multiple Odyssey employees roaring with laughter.

The book trailer is quite fun.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Picture Books about Reading

This week two books have come in about dogs who love reading. Before I knew it a selection of books had congregated on a display wall- all of which are about loving reading and books.
Dog Loves Books
by Louise Yates
Dog loves books so much he has decided to open a bookstore so that he can share them! But when the only people who visit want directions or tea, he gets downhearted. So Dog begins to read, traveling to different places and having exciting adventures, until someone arrives looking for a book. A sweet story about sharing one's love of books with airy illustrations and a drawing style reminiscent of Peter Sis.

How Rocket Learned to Read
by Tad Hills
Schwartz & Wade Books
While napping one day, Rocket the dog is interrupted by a little yellow bird intent on teaching him to read. But Rocket has more important things to do, like playing, chasing, and running. That is until Rocket realizes that if he learns to read, he can read stories! A quiet book for the kindergarten crowd.
Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don't)
by Barbara Bottner
illustrated by Michael Emberly
Librarian Miss Brooks is so excited about books she dresses up for every story-time. But no book can get our narrator excited. Finally, it's book week, and everyone must find a book to share with the class. But everything is too flowery, sweet, nice, good, or normal for our narrator until her mother mentions warts. And just what book is gross enough to win over our narrator? You'll just have to read to find out.

Lola at the Library
by Anna McQuinn & Rosalind Beardshaw
Every Tuesday Lola and her mommy go to library. Lola returns her old books, checks out new ones, and takes part in a story time or activity as well. This simple story is accompinied by loose and colorful illustrations that will have young children excited to return to the library. A simplified board book version is also available for the youngest of book lovers.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Two September Teen Books

Clockwork Angel
By Cassandra Clare
September 2010
When her aunt dies, Tessa journeys from New York to Victorian London to live with her brother. Arriving in a strange city she is sweep up by so-called friends of her brother and locked away. Forced to use a magic she didn't know she had and desperate for any outside contact, Tessa is relieved when she's rescued. But instead of answers, Tessa finds herself tumbling into the plots of warlocks, Nephilim (half human, half angel), vampires, and some conniving humans. Desperately searching for her brother while coping with her own power, Tessa finds her entire world-view challenged in this dark and dangerous adventure.

Steampunk with just the right amount of love interest and an ending that will leave you begging for more.

Zombies vs. Unicorns
Edited by Holly Black & Justine Larbalestier
September 2010
When I saw the authors who’d written for this book, I just had to check it out. With hysterical introductions from Holly and Justine, I soon found myself reading every story and keeping score. From ridiculous stories with rainbow-farting unicorns to life-and-undeath situations,
Zombies vs. Unicorns is a funnily serious and seriously funny book perfect for lovers of the recent spate of zombie and vampire spoofs as well as avid fantasy readers.

The cover illustration under the partial dust-jacket, done by Josh Cochran, is fantastically fun with great details and an eye-popping palette.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Holly Hobbie's Horse Book

Everything but the Horse: A Childhood Memory
written and illustrated by Holly Hobbie
Little, Brown & Company, October 2010
Based on her own experience as a child, Hobbie writes about the dream of many children: owning a horse. Young Holly has a stable, pasture, and hay, everything she needs for a horse. She even hangs her drawings of horses around the house, telling her parents that a horse is her greatest wish. But when young Holly goes out to the barn on her birthday, what will she find?

This is a sweet story of longing, but also of acceptance when owning a horse doesn't become a reality. Unlike the disappointment many children face when they don't receive their expected horse, young Holly is delighted when she receives a bicycle for her birthday instead. The watercolor illustrations are classic Hobbie and make this book a wonderful gift for young horse lovers.

The Taking Tree: A Parody for Grown-ups

Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree was one of my mom's favorites. The classic story of a selfless tree who gives her very life to help a boy, aiding him from childhood through adulthood. Some people dislike this story, viewing the boy as someone who takes advantage of the tree. Well, for them, and as a laugh for the rest of us, is The Taking Tree: a Selfish Parody by Shrill Travesty and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins.

Despite the fact that the tree is the kid's best friend, the kid has no qualms taking it's branches and acorns to hurt people with or carving "McCain Palin" into it's trunk. The kid is a total jerk, forcing the oak tree to grow apples and other such ridiculous things. But the tree will have it's revenge in the end....

A riotous picture book for grown-ups that needs to be on your coffee table.

Simon & Schuster, Fall 2010