Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Queen of France

The Queen of France by Tim Wadham, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, Candlewick

One day Rose wakes up feeling royal. She layers costume pieces and jewelry until, volia! The Queen of France is up and about. Throughout the day Rose changes between herself and the Queen of France, her delightful parents taking it all in stride. But when the Queen of France tells Rose’s mother that she would like to trade places with Rose, Rose’s mother tells her that she will miss Rose “Infinity times infinity.”

The Queen of France is a simple story that probably occurs in many households everyday, yet it retains a feeling of magic. Denton’s ink and watercolor illustrations capture the expressiveness of an energetic child. The simplicity of a pointed toe or uplifted finger reveals Rose’s (or as the case may be, the Queen of France’s) every opinion.

The best book with glitter on the cover.

Friday, March 11, 2011

"More Mo Willems!" demanded the Pigeon. The Alligator agreed.

Hooray for Amanda and her Alligator!
by Mo Willems
HarperCollins, May 2011
Reading Amanda and her Alligator, I could not help but be reminded of Maurice Sendak, particularly his nutshell library (alligators all around floated through my head). Yet Willems crates a story all his own. Told in chapters like a beginning reader, we learn of Alligator's life: his delights, his worries, and his terrific discoveries. He's a sweet and lovable character- even if he is only worth seven cents. Willems' story will have kids laughing as usual in this delightful book- a next step for readers of Elephant and Piggie.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Holly Black's White Cat

Cassel killed his best friend, though he doesn’t know how. His family members are able to magically curse people with the touch of a finger, instantly changing memories or emotions. But Cassel has shown no sign of the ability to curse. His mother is a con artist. His brothers are mobsters. All Cassel wants is to go to school.

Holly Black’s White Cat, the first book in the curse workers series, is a complex modern fantasy full of dark deeds and strange creatures. When a white cat enters Cassel’s life and starts to take control of his dreams, Cassel begins to doubt his own memories. Maybe he is a curse worker. Maybe he didn’t kill his best friend. Maybe he, himself, is cursed. And maybe his deeds are even worse than those perpetrated by his brothers. As Cassel uncovers secrets and curses, he realizes the only way to learn the truth is to engineer a con even his family will fall for. From politics to murder to the possibilities of romance, Holly Black crafts of web of mystery and danger in this dark teen novel.

*This book is now available in paperback. If you listen to WHMP (in the Pioneer Valley) you may hear me talking about this book.

Gut reaction to Okay for Now

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt will be released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 5th, 2011. It follows Doug's life during the Vietnam war. Doug's oldest brother is in the army, his next oldest brother is a bully, and his father is the biggest bully of them all. When Doug's family moves to the Catskills, he seeks refuge in the library where he discovers a book of Audubon's birds. Though he protests that he is no artist, Doug itches to start drawing. Between Audubon's book and a delivery job for the local deli, Doug manages to have a life - an escape- from his family and it becomes his mission to retrieve the missing Audubon pages that the city has been selling off.

So I started Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now yesterday and finished it this morning. And it blew me away. Each aspect of the story was beautifully woven into the rest. Audubon's birds were incredibly effective at pulling together the story- effective due to the emotional descriptions paired with brief formal analysis (composition, balance, etc). I'm always interested to see how writers depict the visual arts; often they get it staggeringly wrong, but Schmidt manages to explain principals of design that can later be translated and expanded upon by Doug to explain other events in his life.

For the first half of the book I was a little worried that there would be too much depressing realism for me to deal with (the world has enough terrible things happening in it for me to constantly be reading about fictional ones as well) but I was intrigued by Mrs. Windermere (the eccentric playwright to who Doug delivers groceries) and honestly, I needed to know about the birds. Would the book be whole again? (Though I must say, having Doug create one of the pages was pretty obvious from early on.)

I like books with, if not a happy ending, at least a settled one. I love that Schmidt left the book so open-ended. Yes, he resolved aspects of Doug's life that need closure, but he also ended with hope tempered by the reality that sometimes, no matter what you want, things don't always turn out the way you want them.
And no, I'm not giving you more information about the ending- I wouldn't want to ruin it for you, now would I?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

THE Book of THE Summer. (Don't let the cover or title discourage you)

Beauty Queens
by Libba Bray
Scholastic, May 24th, 2011

So I didn't get to read Beauty Queens as quickly as I wanted, making the fatal mistake of letting someone else know what I was reading. Thrilled by the first page (a brief message from the corporation) I began reading the book aloud to my boyfriend, thinking I'd stop at the first chapter and continue reading to myself. The problem was, he wouldn't let me stop reading. So we've now spent two weekends taking turns reading aloud and have finished the book. My new dare is for someone to read the message from the corporation and then put the book down and walk away; I don't think it can be done. I also think the possible audience for Libba's novel goes beyond teens and adult women- I intend to purchase a copy as a 21st birthday present to my brother and my boyfriend (background in neuroscience- he won't pick up fiction on his own) has already told me to bring home a first edition for him. Basically, Beauty Queens is the book of the summer for teens plus- regardless of their gender.

I enjoyed Going Bovine, but Beauty Queens is a tighter book, the satire more finely honed and it doesn't lag near the end the way Going Bovine does. The social satire and blunt look at stereotypes makes this a strong choice for bookclubs. From Shanti and Nicole discussing how they are each others' competition because "you have to have one candidate of color in the top ten," to being a transsexual, to trying to bring down the competition from the inside, to pressures from parents and repressed feelings of sexuality, Beauty Queens covers quite the spectrum of topics facing teens today. But what really sets Beauty Queens apart from any other book trying to explore these issues is the humor and social satire Libba expertly employs. Any mention of the Corporation is hysterical, yet also terrifyingly realistic (reminding me of Jasper Fforde's Goliath Corporation: for all you'll ever need. Ever.*). Issues, tempered by humor, combine with action-paced sequences and a dollop of all varieties of romance to create a summer blockbuster of a book.**

*And what do you hand someone after you'd got them wowed by Beauty Queens? Good Omens, Douglas Adams, or Jasper Fforde.
**I've no doubts that this will be a movie (released by the corporation, complete with subliminal messages urging the audience to purchase popcorn and clothing from Ladybird's clothing line).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

We recently received copies of Eric Rohmann's 2003 Caldecott Award-winning My Friend Rabbit in board book format and I absolutely love it! Because the story is largely told through the illustrations, a young child can begin to piece together events even without a parent's help. The variation in line expresses texture and movement, helping children to begin to understand basic visual concepts. As the book continues, the visual language actually gets quite complex, with instances of simultaneous succession and the use of motion lines. For the very young, simultaneous succession (the depiction of a character in multiple poses in one frame) can be confusing, but I think Rohmann's usage of it and motion lines are wonderful in a boardbook, especially as he builds up to them. If a child sees such devices from a young age, he or she will learn how to read them more quickly. On a more basic level, the bold lines and bright colors will attract even infants who are beginning to pick out shapes and colors. From basic visual concepts to more complex storytelling devices, My Friend Rabbit is a book that grows with a child, providing an enjoyable story and visual education elements for a number of developmental stages.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Things to get excited about from RandomHouse Kids

A Ball For Daisy
by Chris Raschka
Schwartz & Wade Books, Random House Kids: May 10, 2011
Chris Raschka is able to express a motion or emotio
n with just a wiggle of a line. His dynamic characters are capable of holding an entire story- even on a blank page. Raschka's newest book, A Ball for Daisy, does away with words entirely, allowing the pictures to deliver the full story. Daisy the dog loves her red ball, she cuddles up against it on the couch and chases it about. But what will Daisy do when another dog pops her ball? Bright colors, ecstatic lines, and a dynamic framing sequence makes A Ball for Daisy a strong wordless picturebook children will delight in "reading" to themselves.
Edwin Speaks Up
by April Stevens illustrated by Sophie Blackwell
Schwartz & Wade Books, Random House Kids:
I'll admit it, I have to pick up every Sophie Blackwell bo
ok I see. Her combination of pencil and watercolor is soft, yet her colors are strong, her quirky and odd with fun details. The candy palette of Edwin Speaks Up is a mix of bright funky colors and softer shades that brings flair to her 50s inspired costumes and cars. The story, written by April Stevens, follows an absent-minded mother and her brood of children as they trek to the supermarket. The children, all but little Edwin, roll and tumble, wrestling about, while the mother forgets one thing after another- and no one listens to little Edwin's babble. But astute young readers will quickly decipher Edwin's messages, bringing laughter with each line.

If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet

by Leslie McGuirk
Tricycle Press, Random House Kids: May 24th, 2011
I'm often surprised at how literal some young children an be. If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet, will challenge these children, asking them to see subjects in seemingly abstract rocks. If the alphabet rocks were spotted on the beach, some might pass them by, but Leslie McGurik places them with text, and their purpose is immediately apparent. Other found rocks, which she uses in the illustrations for each letter, might be overlooked if not for the props and text McGuirk uses to hint at their role. Some children see subjects in rocks, leaves, and clouds already- If a Rock Could Sing will validate their creativity. For less visual children, If Rocks Could Sing will encourage them to really look at the abstract, and challenge their preconceptions.

Everything I Need to Know Before I'm Five
by Valorie Fisher
Schwartz & Wade Books, Random House: July 26th, 2011
Brightly colored, quirky illustrations made from small toys fill the pages of Valorie Fisher's Everything I Need to Know Before I'm Five. From numbers (six penguins totting purses), to opposites (little cleaning ladies on a big ladybug), to shapes, colors, seasons, and the alphabet, Fisher packs all the board book basics into one eye-catching gem.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Two books in brief

Follow Me
by Tricia Tusa
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2011
Tusa's abstract text transports readers, bringing them on a colorful poetic journey. Her soft colors and cloudy textures create a sweet dreamy atmosphere that makes me want to lounge in a hammock under a tree while I languidly flip through the book time and time again.

Daphne's Diary of Daily Disasters: The Name Game!
by Marissa Moss
Simon & Schuster, July 2011
I grew up on Marissa Moss' Amelia books so I was excited to find Daphne's Diary of Daily Disasters in a box of ARCs. Not only that, but the bright, eye-catching colors, flocking, and colored pages make it a special book, one to carry around and read in public. With the recent Diary of a Wimpy Kid buzz, I think some people have forgotten that doodle diary books are not a new thing. It's wonderful to see new books by Moss. Her ability to combine humor with actual problems kids face makes for a good read. That, and who can say no to such a fabulous cover?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Four Fun Picturebooks

Animals Home Alone
by Loes Riphagen
Seven Footer Kids, Publisher Group West
One day, a little girl and her father go out, leaving fifteen animals alone in the house. In the wordless story that follows, the animals get up to all sorts of things. The book opens with images of all the animals and closes with the results of the animals' actions. These final images are paired with questions asking readers what happened to the animals over the course of the story. These questions are a good place to start, but careful readers will pick up many more adventures than the questions reveal.

by Tom Lichtenheld
Henry Holt
Cloudette is only a little cloud, which can be fun when it comes to hide-and-go-seek or watching fireworks, but when the big clouds make storms, Cloudette feels left out. After one particvularly big storm Cloudette finds herself in a new place, a place that once had a pond. And it is here that Cloudette learns how to make a storm. A story about finding one's place and learning new things, Cloudette is also great for tired parents. Side notes and comments hidden in the illustrations will hold the attention of both parents and children.

Manners Mash-Up: A Goofy Guide to Good Behavior
by Leuyen Pham, Lynn Munsinger, Joe Berger, Judy Schachner, Adam Rex, Peter H. Reynolds, Tao Nyeu, Bob Shea, Kevin Sherry, Henry Cole, Sophie Backall, Dan Santat, Frank Morrison, Tedd Arnold
Reading through the long list of author/illustrator contributors, I'm sure you've gotten an idea of the sorts of fun that await you inside. Yes, I just said fun in regards to a book about manners; this is no ordinary guide to etiquette. Each spread is illustrated by a different contributor and takes on manners for different occasions, including party manners, doctor's office manners, supermarket non-no's, etc. Children will laugh uproariously at the horrid behavior of the characters. Some of my favorite pages include Tao Nyeu's "Please don't pick in public" and Judy Schachner's "Party manners". Great fun for the all ages, from the rudest person you ever did see to the absolute angel.

On the Road & Busy Boats
by Susan Steggall
Frances Lincoln
These two books are perfect for the car, truck, or boat enthusiast in your life. Sparse text illustrated by intricate cut and ripped paper collage allows children to find larger stories in the illustrations. They'll love pointing out details in the background or identifying the names of the many vehicles whose names they know. On the Road is a light paperback, easy to tuck into a backpack for a car journey, while Busy Boats would be a wonderful gift for children headed to the shore.

Summer Middle Grade Books

Junonia by Kevin Henkes
HarperCollins, June 1st, 2011
Every year Alice and family go to Florida for vacation, living in a cottage and spending time with other families who vacation at the same spot every year. This year it is Alice's tenth birthday-a very important number- and she has high hopes for the week until she learns that her usual playmates can't come and new poeple are arriving. Mallory, a younger girl, arrives with Alice's favorite adult, Kate. Mallory is shy, angry, and sad in turns and Kate's attention is usurped by her needs. Though Alice would like to help Mallory and show her the wonders of the beach, she finds Mallory difficult to deal with. Despite this, Alice is sustained by her hope of finding a junonia, a very rare shell, but the odds don't look good, and as the week progresses, neither does the vacation. Ten is a special number-will Alice's birthday live up to her hopes?

Early Middle Grade readers will empathize with Alice, feeling her disappointment and jubilation while desperately wishing for a junonia to wash ashore. As emotional as the sea, this summer book is wonderful for readers of Ivy and Bean and Clementine.

Kevin Henkes is known for his picturebooks, including Kitten's Full Moon, a Caldecott Medal winner, and he received a Newbery Honor for Olive's Ocean. Snippets of his illustrations can be seen in the small ink drawings that head each chapter, and the dynamic yet intimate cover design.

Invisible Inkling written by Emily Jenkins with illustrations by Harry Bliss
HarperCollins, May 1st, 2011
Hank's parents' own an ice-cream shop in the shape of a large pumpkin, which is pretty cool since it means Hank gets sprinkles in his lunch everyday. And when Inkling, an invisible bandapat with a need for squash, runs into his life, things get interesting. But Hank's life isn't as pretty as an ice cream sundae (with a cherry on top). Bruno Gillicut is a lunch-stealing bully who demands sprinkles everyday. Luckily, Inkling has some ideas of how to deal with bullies- as long if there's some squash (and maybe a slice or two of pizza) in it for him.

Readers will laugh aloud at Inkling's antics while worrying what to do about Hank's very really bully problem. But don't worry- there's a happy ending! Wonderful for readers of Sarah Pennypacker and those making the transition between beginning readers and middle grade books.

Friday, March 4, 2011

From the illustrator of The Quiet Book

The LOUD Book!
Written by Deborah Underwood illustrated by Renata Liwska
April 2011
I loved The Quiet Book with it's small format an
d sweet characters. Upon hearing there would be a LOUD book from the same duo, I wondered if it would be as successful. Liwska's muted colors and soft, round characters seemed innately quiet. While The LOUD Book isn't bright-shapes-and-sharp-angles loud, it is toddler-roaring-like-a-bear loud. Liwska's characters are still soft and sweet, but her compositions are chaotic with characters expressing strong surprise. It is these aspects that bring LOUD to life, making a sweet companion to The Quiet Book.

Red Wagon by Renata Liwska
Penguin Renata Liwska is the illustrator of the best-selling The Quiet Book. In Red Wagon, a little fox named Lucy takes her brand-new red to market. Even though this sounds a lot like chores, Lucy sets out. Along the way, the red wagon becomes all sorts of things as Lucy and her friends pretend. As it turns out, doing chores can feel a lot like playing after all! Lucy's imaginings build as the story continues, until the red wagon is illustrated as the rocket ship or truck of Lucy's imaginings. The cute critters of The Quiet Book are just as charming in Red Wagon; be prepared for them to become frequent storytime visitors!