Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A New Graduation Classic

Nightsong written by Ari Berk, illustrated by Loren Long
Simon & Schuster, September 25th, 2012

Chiro, a little bat, faces his first night alone. He is scared because he cannot see in the dark, but his mother tells him, "Sense is the song you sing out into the world, and the song the world sings back to you." With this advice Chiro sets out into the frightening night, softly singing at the world around him. As his song brings awareness, it also banishes fear and soon Chiro's song becomes louder and his world expands in vivid detail. Long's scratchy black backgrounds capture the frightening shadows of trees and unknown things. Though it fits with the visual language he uses for Chiro and his mother, the contrast between adorable bat and dark night sets an immediate tone while the strong, layered colors reveal the vibrancy of Chiro's sound-sight. A story about vanquishing darkness and fear of the unknown, Nightsong will illuminate the imaginations of children and new graduates alike.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

An emotional novel set in the near future

Safekeeping by Karen Hesse
Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan), September 18th, 2012

Radley has been volunteering at an orphanage in Hati, but when she hears that the President of the United States has been assassinated, she hops on the next plane back home. Phone access is spotty in Hati, so she doesn't get through to her parents before leaving. This doesn't worry Radley; her parents are always there to take care of her, to pick her up, to give her whatever she needs. But no one is at the airport. Her cell phone and credit card don't work, and she doesn't have a necessary paper work to cross state borders and head home to Vermont. So she walks, avoiding other people and the police, and scrounging for food. Radley arrives at an empty house. Fearful and starving, she decides to join the many walkers on the road and begins her journey to Canada. It isn't until she meets Celia and her dog that Radley realizes how lonely her life has become, and how much Celia needs her if she's to get to safety.

This could happen in a few months. Here, in the United States. Hesse's use of a possible future so close to the present makes her story terrifying. You don't need to see killings, or even need a main character to kill, in order for a book to be frighting. You just need a pinch of fear, a lack of food, and a few frightening things that people really go through. Hesse's photographs accompany the text and help carry the mood of the novel. Readers crazed by the dystopian frenzy will swallow this emotional, realistic, and deeply personal novel of a future that is closer than you might think.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner

Published by Scholastic, June 2012
Anna, Jose, and Henry have all been dragged along to a gala event at the Smithsonian celebrating the restoration of the flag that inspired "The Star Spangled Banner." As another boring adult party, the night wouldn't be remembered if it weren't also the night the flag was stolen. Stuck at the airport the next morning, waiting out a snowstorm, news of the theft breaks. Anna, a budding journalist, convinces Jose and Henry that if they're stuck at the airport, the thief (and the flag) must be, too. With a presidential hopeful trying to pin the theft on a group of international musicians and a suspicious restaurant owner with a snake tattoo, Anna, Jose, and Henry have a suspects and a mystery to solve. On their way they meet Sinan, whose musician parents have been falsely accused, and his poodle. Their meeting brings them to the maze-like depths of the airport, and all the secrets packed away in people's luggage.

Kate Messner's exploration of the baggage area, with its tunnels, drops, and conveyer belts is a mix of theme park and video game, in other words, a whole lot of fun. Anna, a nosy budding journalist, Jose the bookworm, and Henry, video game fanatic, create a well-rounded team, and readers are sure to identify with at least one. That being said, the characters, especially the adults, lack depth. While Messner begins to round out Henry when he forges a relationship with Sinan, the others never quite feel fully formed. The resolution of the novel was a little too obvious, but hopefully younger readers won't be as jaded toward politicians and will therefore find the mystery a little more mysterious. That being said, I'm interested to see where the Silver Jaguars will take Ms. Messner next...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rosemary Wells: Early Chapter Book

Following Grandfather by Rosemary Wells
Candlewick, September, 2012
Rosemary Wells is well-know for her Max and Ruby picture books, but she's recently been writing for older audiences as well. In Following Grandfather, Jenny the mouse remembers her grandfather- from a summer moment at the beach to the stories he told of first coming to the United States. When Jenny's grandfather dies, she can't let him go. She follows mice she spots, thinking they're her grandfather, only to find they're complete strangers. But when she ends up at the shore, Jenny learns to notice her grandfather's spirit in the things around her and the places he loved. This is a sweet slim novel to share with a little one learning to move on after the death of a grandparent.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Sequel to A Discovery of Witches (finally!)

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
Viking (Penguin) July 10, 2012
Waiting for this book was excruciating- but after reading it, every moment spent waiting was worth it. When Diana and Matthew time-walk to Elizabethan London, Matthew thinks he has everything under control. But time has changed him, and surprises (and secrets) lurk. Harkness has woven history and magic together, complete with accurate portrayals of historical figures, artwork, and sciences. The result is a book as much for those who love historical fiction as fantasy or romance. As with A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness's loving descriptions of manuscripts and magic are just as appealing as her descriptions of Matthew. Her knowledge of history and an ability to craft intricate plot makes Harkness the perfect writer for educated women looking for an escapist read (and the book makes a perfect post-finals gift).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Planes, helicopters, balloons...

Everything Goes in the Air by Brian Biggs
Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins) September 2012
Using bright colors and fun characters, Brian Biggs, creator of Everything Goes on Land, takes on the air in his newest book. Brian starts with a simple storyline, using it as an excuse to plunge readers into the intricacies of air travel, from airport security to the different types of helicopters to the interior of a commercial plane. Young vehicle enthusiasts will spent hours pouring over the jam-packed illustrations.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Kevin Henkes' Penny Series (is superb)

Penny and Her Doll by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow (HarperCollins) August 2012
When Penny receives a new doll from her grandmother, she loves her immediately, from her pink cheeks to her pink dress with big buttons. But unlike everyone else in Penny's family, the doll doesn't have a name. Penny worries about finding the right name for her doll. Her parents assure her the perfect name will come, and sure enough, it does. Penny is a wonderful addition to Kevin Henkes' fabulous mouse characters and children are sure to love her beautiful beginning reader series.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Summer picture book adventure

Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey by Mini Grey
Random House, May 22, 2012
Traction Man is back in an all-new, partially underwater adventure. Of course the faithful Scrubbing Brush is ready for adventure, too, as the entire family heads to the beach. But when Traction Man and Scrubbing Brush find themselves lost at sea and then picked up by a stranger, will they ever get back to their boy? This hilarious sequel co-stars Beach-Time Brenda and is a rollicking boos for boys, girls, action men, fashion dolls, and scrubbing brushes.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Where's Waldo! Yippeee!

Where's Waldo The Search for the Lost Things by Martin Handford
I haven't gone through a Where's Waldo book in years and after pouring over The Search for the Lost Things, it's obvious I've been missing out. All it takes is one glance at one page to be lost in the world of Waldo, searching, finding, and bugging friends until every last item has been found. From math games to word puzzles, memory challenges to mazes, this is truly the "compendium of puzzling puzzles" the cover promises. Martin Handford's newest book is overwhelming and magnificent-- and certain to keep anyone amused for days.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Another nice Toon book

The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson
R. Kikuo Johnson, whose work has graced the cover of the New Yorker Magazine and the New York Times Book Review, brings his stunning illustrations to a book for children. A part of Toon Books, a series of graphic novels for beginning readers, The Shark King tells the story of Nanaue, son of the legendary Shark King, who learns the difficulties of being a boy of both the land and the sea. Johnson's pacing is masterful and his palette perfectly captures the story's setting in the islands of Hawaii.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Gorgeous book of poetry

I must admit that I don't read a lot of children's poetry, but one of the things I've been trying to do is broaden my appreciation of children's books in general. I fell so in love with the illustrations & design of Outside Your Window that I ended up reading the poetry and not just the illustrations. While I try not to buy too may books, I kept going back to pick this one up and reasoned that if I waited to have children, it would probably be out of print, so if I loved it (and I do!) I had to buy it. So now it sits on my shelf and every day or so, when I'm tired of typing papers, I pull it from the shelf and randomly flip it open.

Outside Your Window A First Book of Nature
by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Mark Herald
This book is at the top of my list of most beautifully illustrated books this year. Mark Herald collages together painted papers, hand printed papers, patterned papers, and other materials to created textured scenes from nature. Each illustration reflects the tone of Davies' accompanying poem and children will be drawn to her insights about each season. Frogs' eggs are "like spotted jelly" and soil is "crumbly and moist as cake mix" while snow keeps "a diary of things that happened when you were asleep." Outside Your Window is a splendid introduction to poetry and nature alike.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Giants Beware! A great graphic novel

Giants Beware by Rafael Rosado & Jorge Aguirre
Claudette wants to be a giant slayer just like her father- but why would she wait until she grows up? The village tells stories of a terrible giant who loves nothing more than baby feet. If Claudette can just open her father's secret chest, she'll have everything she needs to defeat a giant. Once she secures the aid of her her brother, an aspiring pastry chef, and her best friend who wants nothing more than to be a princess, Claudette sets out to slay the giant. With a spunky, pint-sized heroine and a surprising ending, Giants Beware! is certain to be a hit with kids who devoured Zita the Spacegirl.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fun, fresh board book

There are so many concept board books that it's easy to get tired of seeing the same thing over and over again. But Janik Coat brings life, innovation, and laughs to Hippopposites. While the book starts with a basic small/large spread, it quickly moves to more interesting comparisons, including full/empty in which a layer of the cardboard has been physically removed from the book so that children can feel the depression. Opaque/transparent is another innovative spread- I'm certain there's a child somewhere who will pick the words as his new favorites. Clear/blurry and invisible/visible are two other opposites I've never encountered in a board book but which are important concepts for any child. However, my absolute favorite is the front/side page, where the hippo's side is simply a thin line- I laughed aloud when I came to it. Hopefully Janik Coat will be creating more board books in the future - fresh design and twists on classic concept books are exactly what we need on the shelves.