Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade

Henry and the Chalk Dragon unleashes imagination!

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton/Illustrated by Benjamin Schipper, (Apr. 2017, Rabbit Room Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9780986381881

Recommended for readers 8-12

Henry Penwhistle is a young boy with an active imagination. He’s an artist and a dreamer who draws his quests in secret, afraid to share his art with anyone – even his best friend, Oscar. His mother used blackboard paint to transform Henry’s door into a canvas; a canvas on which he’s drawn a dragon. A dragon that has managed to escape and wreaks havoc all over Henry’s school! Henry, Oscar, and their classmate Jade – who chronicles the boys’ heroism in epic poetry – try to save their classmates and teachers and bring an end to the dragon’s mischief. What Henry discovers is something far deeper.

This book is so many things. It recognizes the dreamers, the artists, those of us who look at life a little differently. It’s a gentle squeeze, a hug, a reminder to us grownups that we don’t really have to give up our robots and superhero personas, just because we’ve gotten older. And it’s a call to action to readers – grownups and kids alike – to rethink ways of tackling problems. Henry has his own hero’s quest through Henry and the Chalk Dragon, as do – to a slightly lesser degree – his teacher, lunch lady, and principal, and he emerges as a very different boy at the book’s close.

Henry and his friends are stuck in dreary school life, but so are the grownups in that school. His principal, beaten down by the School Bored, tells Henry, “the world doesn’t care about your art… the world only cares about facts and numbers and budgets. I’m sorry, but it is my job to prepare you for the world you’re going to have to live in, Henry: the real world.” His lunch lady is an artist who wails that “everyone wants pizza, and meatloaf, and macaroni and cheese made from a box. A box! How can anything beautiful come from a box?” They’re artists and dreamers who’ve been worn down by the world around them, but Henry is here to show everyone, with a child’s innocence and imagination, that things are so much better than that. Finally, Henry and the Chalk Dragon is about the enduring power of friendship: Henry and Oscar spend the better part of the book working out an argument that took place before the events of the book, and Jade makes sure that Henry and Oscar know that the old boys’ club isn’t a formula that works for her; she’s going to be part of this adventure.

Give this book to your dreamers, artists, and adventurers. Give it to your teachers and your parents that used to be superheroes, and should be again.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.

Would you like a chance to win your own copy of Henry and the Chalk Dragon? Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway!

About the Author

Jennifer Trafton is the author of The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic (Dial, 2010) which received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal and was a nominee for Tennessee’s Volunteer State Book Award and the National Homeschool Book Award. Henry and the Chalk Dragon arose from her lifelong love of drawing and her personal quest for the courage to be an artist. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where, in addition to pursuing her love of art and illustration, she teaches writing classes, workshops, and summer camps in a variety of schools, libraries, and homeschool groups in the Nashville area, as well as online classes to kids around the world. To learn more, and to download free materials, visit jennifertrafton.com.

Praise for HENRY AND THE CHALK DRAGON:

★“A delicious face-off between forces of conformity and creativity run amok, spiced with offbeat names as well as insights expressed with eloquent simplicity.” —Booklist (starred review)

★“A perfect title to hand to young readers looking for laughs along with a wild and crazy adventure.”

—School Library Journal (starred review)

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Preschool Reads

Have visual vocabulary fun with Wordplay!

Wordplay, by Ivan Brunetti, (May 2017, TOON Books), $12.95, ISBN: 978-1-943145-17-1

Recommended for readers 3-8

Kids learn about compound words – two words that come together to form a whole new word, like housework – in this visual feast for the eyes. Ever see a house vaccuming? A moon in an easy chair, reading under a bright light? You will here, as the kids in the story think up and visualize compound words that will make kids (and you) laugh and think.

This book is made for classrooms and programs. Ask your kids what compound words they can come up with – then draw it! Make a bookmark for one of the easiest compound words: Bookworm! The fun, bold art leaps off the page, and bright white word balloons make for dialogue that you can ask kids to read out loud, turning the book into a performance. Display Wordplay with other fun word books, like Lynne Truss’ younger readers’ version of Eats, Shoots and Leaves and Patricia Byers’ One Sheep, Two Sheep: A Book of Collective Nouns. Wordplay is a TOON Level 1; Levels E-J in Guided Reading. Teachers’ Resources are forthcoming.

Wordplay received a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Posted in Preschool Reads

Sam Usher’s Rain explores patience and celebrates imagination

Rain, Sam Usher, (March 2017, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9296-4

Recommended for readers 3-7

It’s raining out – and the young boy sitting inside can’t wait to go outside and have an adventure! Grandpa suggests they wait for the rain to stop, and putters around the home while the boy fidgets and waits for the weather to let up. When the rain finally lets up, Grandpa and grandson go out to mail a letter, and have their own adventure together.

I adore the quiet adventure of Rain: it’s got a soothing repetition while pulsing with the excited impatience a child knows all too well when waiting for an adult to give him or her the go-ahead to do something fun. The boy tries to talk his grandfather into heading outside by talking about things one can do in the rain (catch raindrops splash in puddles) and expressing a desire to go on adventures, like voyaging with sea monsters or visit a floating city. Grandpa, unruffled, continues to tell the boy to wait for the rain to stop. We feel the boy’s impatience when he repeats, “But did the rain stop? NO!” When it’s finally time to venture out, the excursion is every bit as exhilarating as the boy expected. When they return home, grandfather and grandson sit together, with warm socks and hot chocolate, sharing a perfect moment together, complete with the dispensing of grandfatherly wisdom: “…the very best things are always worth waiting for”.

Sam Usher’s art reminds me of some of my favorite British illustrators, Tony Ross and Quentin Blake. His use of watercolor makes grandfather’s home warm and cozy, and the rain outside looks almost dewy and real as seen from the boy’s window. His rainy scene spreads are properly gray and stormy, with sparks of imagination wandering into the picture to prepare readers for what’s coming: a prow of a boat here, an upturned umbrella there. The endpapers extend the story, with puddles and birds, and a cameo by the penguin from Usher’s previous book, Snow.

This is the second in a four-part celebration of the seasons. Snow (2015) saw the boy trying to get Grandpa out of bed to adventure in the snow. I can’t wait to see what Mr. Usher has in store for the next two seasons.

This is a great read-aloud for toddlers and preschoolers alike, and a wonderful companion to nonfiction books about weather and the seasons. Ask the kids what their adventure in the rain would look like; talk about what to wear in the rain (raincoats, boots), and let them decorate their own umbrellas. I really like this one from MamaJenn that incorporates glue raindrops.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Little Blue Chair: the power of sharing, the power of home

Little Blue Chair, by Cary Fagan/Illustrated by Madeline Kloepper, (Jan. 2017, Tundra Books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-77049-755-9

Recommended for readers 3-7

A little boy outgrows his favorite blue chair, so his mother puts it on the curb with a sign reading, “Please take me”. From there, Little Blue Chair follows the chair as it’s passed from hand to hand: it’s used as a replacement seat on a plant stand; a ferris wheel; a bird feeder; a throne, and a chair for elephant rides. It travels to amusement parks, houseboats, and beaches, ultimately coming full-circle as it arrives back where it began. It’s a sweet story about a favorite belonging – it could easily be a toy, as in Kate DiCamillo’s The Mysterious Journey of Edward Tulane – and the power of home, but it’s also a story about the permanence of objects. The chair is never thrown in the trash; it’s used again and again, serving different purposes for different people, all of whom love the chair while they have it. It’s a journey home.

Madeline Kloepper’s ink and pencil illustrations, finished digitally, a soft and gentle, calming to the reader. The palette of opaque greens, reds, dark yellows, and gray-blues gives the story almost dreamlike feel; a child’s imagination realized, from one boy using the chair as a tent, to another using it as a throne, his stuffed toys as subjects. Everything in this world has a story; everything has a value. Read this with your little ones and talk about the stories their toys hold. If you’re in a school, talk about the desks: what stories could they tell?

courtesy of Madeline Kloepper’s website

I’d love to pair this with Mirielle Messier’s The Branch and compare the two stories. They’re both books about reusing and repurposing; one, a child’s chair; the other, a branch from a favorite tree.

Cary Fagan is an award-winning children’s author. See more of Madeline Kloepper’s illustration at her website.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate

Narwhal & Jelly: Besties under the sea!

narwhalNarwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, by Ben Clanton, (Dec. 2016, Tundra Books), $7.99, ISBN: 9781101918715

Recommended for ages 5-8

Narwhal is a happy-go-lucky narwhal is a wild imagination. Jelly is… not. That’s okay by Narwhal, they both bond over a mutual love of waffles, parties, and having adventures! Together, the two friends recruit other sea friends into their own little group and read the best book ever – so what if it doesn’t have words or pictures? They have imagination!

This hybrid intermediate novel/graphic novel is perfect for beginning readers (psst… and grown-ups) who love silly jokes, adorable art, and fun. Kids will enjoy this Odd Couple under the sea, and learn that friends don’t have to enjoy all of the same things to get along. The art is squeal-worthy adorable, and the dialogue between the two friends is light and fun. Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea has hit it big with readers, too: the book has received multiple awards and praise, including a starred Kirkus review, designation as the Best of the Year in 2016 by both Amazon and Kirkus, and was put on the Texas 2×2 Reading List.

 

If you lovsupernarwhaled Narwhal’s first book, get ready: Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt (May 2017, Tundra, $12.99, ISBN: 9781101919194) is coming in May! In their second outing, the two best friends become super heroes – now, if they could just figure out what their powers are… As with the first book, Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt features three short stories connected by the overall plot thread: in this case, being a superhero and a friend. Friendship, imagination, and self-esteem are enduring themes.

Ben Clanton has some fun extras available online. His website links to his Instagram, if you want to see even more of his art as he posts it; the site hosts his blog, which spotlights even more of his artwork, including this awesome “Jellin'” piece:

jellin

There’s also a Narwhal and Jelly site, with comics, printables, jokes, and early art mock-ups. This is a super-fun set to add to your graphic novels and intermediate books, and you can display with the veritable plethora of narwhal-related books coming out, like Jessie Sima’s Not Quite Narwhal and Wendell the Narwhal by Emily Dove. Make a display and feature some non-fiction narwhal and jellyfish-related books, or get a whole sea life shelf up, featuring fiction and nonfiction for some related reads.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

A rabbit mother and child find The Way Home in the Night

the_way_home_in_the_nightThe Way Home in the Night, by Akiko Miyakoshi, (Apr. 2017, Kids Can Press), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771386630

Recommended for ages 4-7

A mother bunny carries her little bunny home at night. Narrated in the first person by the young bunny, readers see what he sees from the its vantage point in bunny’s mother’s arms. Shops are closing; phones ring; bunny smells a pie. Neighbors have parties, watch television, and say goodbye, all visible through their open windows. As the father bunny tucks the little one into bed, little bunny wonders about all the neighbors: are the party guests saying goodnight? Is the restaurant cook taking a bath, and is the bookseller reading on the couch?

Children love being out at night. It’s a magical thing; everything looks different. The bunny’s descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells of night time, carried in mother’s arms, will appeal to readers who have had the same experience. The story also provides an opportunity for interactivity – ask kids to think of a time they, like the bunny, were carried home, and what they remember. Take your own kids outside at night for a walk down the street – what do you see together?

Akiko Miyakoshi’s black and white pencil, charcoal, and acrylic gouache artwork adds gently placed color for emphasis, and the hazy look to the artwork makes the story almost dreamlike; like the young bunny’s sleepy memory. Invite kids to draw their neighborhood at night – what are the neighbors doing? Do they hear cars, people talking, a train rumbling by, a dog bark, or silence?

The Way Home in the Night received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. The original Japanese release received a 2016 Bologna Ragazzi Award. Miyakoshi’s first picture book, The Storm (2016), won the Nissan Children’s Storybook and Picture Book Grand Prix.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads, Realistic Fiction

What is it that Lou can’t do?

louThe Thing Lou Couldn’t Do, by Ashley Spires, (May 2017, Kids Can Press), $17.95, ISBN: 9781771387279

Recommended for ages 3-7

Lou and her friends are adventurers! They run faster than airplanes, build mighty fortresses, and rescue wild animals. One day, though, Lou’s friends decide to make a nearby tree the location of their pirate ship, and Lou balks. She’s never climbed a tree before. She likes her adventures to be down, on the ground. Her friends scurry up the tree, but Lou’s not going. What will it take for Lou to get up that tree?

Kids will recognize themselves in Lou, whose got a vibrant imagination, a great group of friends, and a healthy fear of a climbing a tree, which – let’s be honest – can be a pretty scary thing. Like most kids, Lou tries to divert her friends’ attention by suggesting “not-up-a-tree games” and stalling (changing her shoes, claiming an injury, spotting an asteroid heading right for them). With her friends’ encouragement, Lou does attempt that climb – and when she doesn’t make it, her friends are right there for her, heading for a playground to continue their game. Is Lou defeated? Nope. She’s going to try again, maybe even tomorrow. Showing a child overcome her fear and her self-reliance when she doesn’t succeed the first time sends a positive message to kids who may struggle with anxiety over new situations; surrounding her main character with supportive friends sends a message to all kids, to support one another and to compromise.

The digital art is fun and will appeal to all kids; the group of friends is diverse and no one is relegated to “girl” or “boy” roles here – they’re all pirates, race car drivers, or deep sea divers. They’re kids, playing together, like kids do.

I loved Ashley Spires’ award-winning book, The Most Magnificent Thing, and her Binky the Space Cat series has been a winner at any library I’ve worked at. I love her positive messages of self-reliance and the power of imagination, and I can’t wait to get this book on the shelves next to my other Spires books. A great book for elementary collections and kids who are learning that it’s okay to be scared sometimes.

Check out Ashley Spires’ website for more of her artwork and information about her books.