Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

More Moomins! The Moomins and the Great Flood

The Moomins and the Great Flood, by Tove Jansson, (July 2018, Drawn and Quarterly), $16.95, ISBN: 9781770463288

Ages 7-12

This Moomin tale is an illustated novel, rather than a picture book or graphic novel, and gives us a bit of a Moomin origin story. Moominmama and little Moomintroll are in search of a winter home, and in search of Moominpapa, whose restless nature led him to wander off with the Hattifatteners. As they wander through a precariously dark forest, they meet a small creature who joins their journey, despite being a bit cranky; they also meet a beautiful, blue-haired girl who lives in a tulip. Throughout the arduous journey, Moominmama and Moomintroll face each adventure with courage and kindness, helping every creature they meet, always hoping that maybe… just maybe… their journey will reunite them with Moominpapa.

Originally written during the 1939-1940 Finnish-Soviet Union conflict, The Moomins and the Great Flood was author Tove Jansson’s escape from the horrors of war. She uses a catastrophic flood to unite her characters, who could even be seen as refugees, all experiencing some kind of loss, displacement, or danger from the flood. The sepia and white artwork lends an old-world feel to the artwork, and the prose reads like adventure stories I read growing up. The book is relentlessly optimistic, with moments of near despair; it illustrates perseverance and the strength of family units when facing adversity. I’ll booktalk this with picture books like Nicola Davies’ The Day War Came and the Children in Our World book series.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

As I write this, it’s almost 70 degrees in New York. In November. So what’s left to do when you’ve unpacked all your Fall and Winter clothes? Think SNOW. So, join me in thinking chilly thoughts with some of these books.

How to Build an Elf Trap, by Larissa Juliano, (Oct. 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $9.99, ISBN: 9781492663904

Ages 4-8

This fun nonfiction companion to Adam Wallace & Andy Ellerton’s How to Catch an Elf (2016) is all about STEAM for the holidays! Learn how to build 12 elf traps this Christmas, and take your pick of 12 bonus Christmas activities! Projects tend to run fairly simple, with most of the materials being found around the house. The projects encourage you to experiment with materials, too: swap things out! Add things! Take each construction and make it your own! Difficulty is measured in candy canes (1 for easy, 2 for intermediate, 3 for difficult) and Elf Appeal (how it will appeal to the elves you’re trying to nab). Projects are laid out step by step, with photos to guide you along, and digital artwork adds a fun flavor to the festivities. There are STEAM connections that explain how each project connects to science, and Did You Know? facts boxes add some fun Christmas facts throughout. Make an Elf Door, stick some tea light snowmen on your fridge (or locker), and get to work on your Elf Snatcher 500 while you snack on a Reindeer Cupcake.

Librarians and educators: PROGRAM IN A BOOK. This, my friends, is your December STEAM programming, right here!

One Snowy Day, by Diana Murray/Illustrated by Diana Toledano, (Oct. 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492645863

Ages 3-7

Two siblings enjoy a snowy day in this rhyming counting story! The story begins, as the best ones do, with a snowfall, while two children of color sleep snug in their beds – until their ONE pup wakes them up! The kids rise and shine, play with the pup and eat their breakfast, then it’s time to go out and play, as sister and brother meet their SIX friends for some winter fun and games. The text is light and fun, counting everything from a pup to ten snowballs – and then we count backwards, from nine buttons on a snowman’s chest to one sleepy puppy at the end of the day. The children are a multicultural group, and the detail on their clothes and the scenery itself is breathtaking. The mixed media artwork brings winter scenery to life, from sweaters with intricate Fair Isle designs, and beautifully detailed snowflakes. One Snowy Day pairs up nicely with other snowy day books and makes a nice winter concept book for your shelves.

Holiday Heroes Save Christmas, by Adam Wallace/Illustrated by Shane Clester, (Oct. 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $10.99, ISBN: 9781492669708

Ages 4-7

Sourcebooks is rocking the Christmas picture books! This is the latest book by How to Catch… series author Adam Wallace, and this time, Santa needs help from his fellow holiday heroes! Santa’s too sick to deliver Christmas presents, so it’s up to the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Witch, and Leprechaun to save Christmas – but they’re not so great at this Christmas thing. The Tooth Fairy is hiding presents under pillows, and the Leprechaun is taking spare change from the houses they visit. Santa’s got to step in, but is it too late? Is Christmas done for? C’mon, you know it’s not. The gang gets their act together after a quick pep talk from Santa, and each hero plays to his or her strengths to make Christmas amazing! This is a fun story about teamwork, and a laugh out loud comedy of errors. (Psst… if you want to screen the movie, Rise of the Guardians, you can compare the heroes in the book versus the ones in the movie.) The digital art is bright, kid-friendly, and cartoony; end papers offer brief character descriptions of Santa and the gang. The book is set up with graphic novel-type panels and word balloons, so you can offer this one to your fledgling graphic novel readers to get them in the holiday spirit. This one’s a fun take on the “Santa needs help!” story theme, and should go over pretty well in libraries (and as a stocking stuffer).

Once Upon a Snowstorm, by Richard Johnson, (Nov. 2018, Faber & Faber), $16.95, ISBN: 978-0-5713-3928-0

Ages 2-7

A boy and his father go into the woods to hunt, and are separated during a snowstorm. The boy is rescued by a group of animals, who care for him and befriend him. When the bear in the group takes the boy back through the snow to find his father, Dad is grateful, and befriends the animals, too.

The art says it all in this stunning, wordless story. As father and son head into the woods, the snow comes down in the shapes of woodland animals: deer, foxes, hares, ethereal in their delicacy and beauty. Lost, the boy sleeps, shivering, under velvet skies with constellations creating animal shapes around him. When the animals accept the boy into their group, they dance, feast, and paint on cave walls; at that moment, the boy remembers his father and how desperately he misses him (Mom is present only in old family photos hanging in the home), signaling to his new friend, Bear, that it’s time to find Dad. At the story’s end, father and son enjoy a spring day, sitting on a hill with their animal friends.

The artwork alternates between panels and full bleed pages and is dreamlike in its subdued beauty. The endpapers bookend the story, with driving snow on the front papers, and a cave painting of the boy, his father, and the animals, playing together, on the back papers. The artwork is soft, and goes from the cold outdoor artwork to warm interiors both in the family home and in the company of the animals.

I love this book, and can’t wait to share it with my little readers, so I can hear their stories. This one’s a wonderful add to your winter collections – booktalk this one with Raymond Briggs’ wordless classic, The Snowman.

Posted in Uncategorized

Little Whale has a long voyage ahead of him…

Little Whale, by Jo Weaver, (Oct. 2018, Peachtree Publishers), $17.95, ISBN: 9781682630495

Ages 4-8

Little Whale and Gray Whale are heading off to the North to join the rest of their family. It is not an easy journey, and Little Whale doesn’t know where this place called “home” is; the only thing he knows is that his mother is next to him, keeping him safe. Through underwater forests and midnight skies, cold and dark waters and menacing orcas, Gray Whale urges Little Whale on, keeping him safe and guiding him home, until they hear their family welcome them home.

Little Whale is as much a story for parents as it is for children. Gray Whale is a strong, silent presence, leading her little one through an exhausting journey. Little Whale is afraid of the unknown – he’s surrounded by it! – but implicitly trusts his mother. Like a child on a long journey, he often asks, “are we there yet?”, but Gray Whale never grows impatient; she just keeps swimming. Little Whale is also an exploration of the ocean: the gray-blue and white charcoal art reveals shadowy coral reefs, murky underwater plant life, schools of fish, and a mother guiding her baby on. A brief author’s note talks about gray whale migration.

A nice cuddle-time story that sea life fans will enjoy. See more of Jo Weaver’s artwork on her website.

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Bigfoot Files searches for Bigfoot and even mother-daughter ground

The Bigfoot Files, by Lindsay Eagar, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763692346

Ages 10-13

Mirando Cho is tired of being the parent. The 12-year-old student council president is dead set on securing a spot in a leadership camp this summer that will get her out of the house and away from her cryptozoolist mom, Kat. Kat’s obsession with mythical monsters, especially the ever-elusive Bigfoot, has taken center stage in her life: bills have gone unpaid, the house is in danger of foreclosure, and neither her father nor her grandmother is interested in helping out. It’s time for Kat to grow up, and Miranda has a plan to make it happen. The two set off together for another Bigfoot hunt, where Miranda plans to confront her mother with everything; once she breaks her down, she’ll help her get back on track to being a responsible adult. But nature has a different plan, and Kat and Miranda end up lost in the woods together. Miranda may have a thing or two to learn about magic after all.

The Bigfoot Files is an interesting take on the “irresponsible single parent, stressed out smart kid” story. We’ve got a mom who still has that spark of magic in her, but she’s let it take over her life, to the detriment of her daughter and the family finances. She’s always ready for the big score: the picture of Bigfoot, the big research grant, the one moment where the proof will magically appear. Miranda has overcompensated for her mother’s flightiness by becoming an overachiever with compulsive tendencies – she pulls her hair out to soothe herself and obsessively focuses on her planning, research, and lists, lists, lists. Kat is frustrating, and Miranda isn’t always sympathetic, which – let’s be real – is spot on. Both parties need to give a little to get somewhere, hence the trip into the woods. And that’s where things get interesting. Miranda is the ultimate skeptic – and as readers, so are we – until a pivotal moment that threatens to turn everything upside down. We get a touch of the speculative in our realistic fiction, inviting readers to keep the faith; there is magic to be found out there, if you’re willing to find it. Ultimately, readers and our characters come to a compromise and understand that somewhere in the middle lies the best way to go: bills still need to be paid, and magic can still exist.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A dad and son share special time during the Night Shift

Night Shift, by Karen Hesse/Illustrated by G. Brian Karas, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763662387

Ages 4-7

It’s a Friday night, and a boy and his dad head out at sundown for his father’s night shift as a school custodian. The pair ride to school on the boy’s father’s motorcycle, and as Dad cleans, the boy finds ways to himself busy; the two listening to a ball game on the radio. They eat their packed lunch together, and the boy reads to his father until he falls asleep on the couch. When Dad’s shift has ended, he wakes his son up, and they share a ride back home, where the boy cleans out his father’s lunch box, and curls up next to him on the recliner, drifting to sleep in his father’s embrace.

This gentle story shows a special relationship between father and son. The quiet blues and brows and mixed media are calming and provide a feeling that we’re getting a private glimpse into this family’s loving bond. The moment father and son unwrap their sandwiches and eat together is such a touching moment, the son genuinely happy to share this time with Dad as he leans into him, smiling; Dad smiling down on him. Dad gently puts his sleepy son into his jacket as they get ready to leave at 4 a.m. The boy curls into his father, head nuzzled into the crook of his father’s neck; his father’s head is turned away from readers, cheek on his son’s head. It’s a wonderful story that tells readers that quality time is what you make of it.

Narrated by the son, the prose shows a boy so aware of everything around him: the smell of the fish as they drive over the bay; the scent of the lilacs by the school; the sigh of the building as his father opens the door to the school; even what he imagines is the scene at the baseball game on the radio, “where the sun is shining on an emerald field”. Karen Hesse gives readers a feast for the senses and G. Brian Karas uses color to accent special moments throughout the text, be it the green couch that the boy naps on, his red sneakers, or the purple lilacs by the school building.

Night Job is a Junior Library Guild selection and has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Karen Hesse is a Newbery Medal and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction winner. G. Brian Karas has illustrated more than 90 children’s books.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Guest YA Review: Picture Us in the Light, by Kelly Loy Gilbert

My colleague, Amber, is back with another YA review! Enjoy as she talks about Kelly Loy Gilbert’s Picture Us in the Light.

Picture Us in the Light, by Kelly Loy Gilbert,
(April 2018, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484726020
Ages 13+
I picked up “Picture Us in the Light” as an ARC at PLA last March. The cover popped, and I grabbed. I’m so glad I did. To my delight, just as I finished reading it, the finished copy showed up from central purchasing, all laminated and ready for my teen shelves!
 
The plot: Danny Cheng is the son of immigrant Chinese parents. His best friends, Harry and Regina, are dating. It’s a tad awkward because Danny has a secret crush on Harry. His parents are thrilled because Danny got into a prestigious art school, but Danny hasn’t been able to draw in a year. He’s harboring major guilt over his role in a tragedy that affected his whole friend group.  When Regina asks Danny to draw a portrait for the school paper related to the tragedy, Danny worries that his inability to do so will be seen as insult to those affected most. Then Danny finds a mysterious box of papers in his father’s things and his parents clam up when he asks about it.
It’s Danny’s senior year. He might not see his friends again because his college is across the country. Will he tell Harry he likes him? What about hurting Regina? Can he break his dry spell? What’s with that secret box of his dad’s? Why won’t his parents tell him anything? 
 
Review: This book made me feel so many ways. Kelly Loy Gilbert gets right to the heart of the teen experience. Her bio says she “believes deeply in the power of stories to illuminate a shared humanity and give voice to a complex, broken people.” That is certainly what happens here. While Danny is the center of the story, his parents are the heart. If anything, Danny’s position emphasizes how important he is to them and makes their sacrifices for him hit harder as they are uncovered.  Did they make the right decisions? Did their decisions hurt Danny? You decide. There are plenty of opportunities for debate in this book, which would make it a great choice for book club.  Here is a boy who deeply needs his parents’ open love and support, but because of secrets they are forced to keep from him, their relationship  with him, while loving and devoted, is not supportive in the way he needs.  Danny reflects that closed nature, keeping his own secrets from his parents and his friends. No one has any idea he hasn’t drawn in a year or why.
 
The best thing about “Picture Us in the Light”, in addition to the wonderful characters and how they are all real and recognizable, is the unfolding story. Mystery upon mystery come to light (yes, I did that, omg I just realized that ‘in the light’ here probably refers to the characters’ dawning awareness—look, I never claimed to be sharp about this kind of thing). OK, sorry. Had a moment there. I’m not going to name the mysteries because part of the joy is discovering them. If  you savor mysteries stemming from secrets so deep they can tear a family apart if they’re kept and might do the same if they’re discovered, you’re in for a treat. 
 
Recommended for teens 12 and up. Good for readers who enjoy: Mystery. Coming of age. LGBT. Personal relationships. Teen friendship issues.  Parent/child issues.  Chinese-American and Chinese immigrant experiences. Family secrets.
 
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Interrupting Chicken discovers The Elephant of Surprise!

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise, by David Ezra Stein, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763688424

Ages 4-8

The current storytime favorite in my home is the newest one from David Ezra Stein! Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise is the follow-up to 2011’s Caldecott Medal winner, Interrupting Chicken, and reunites readers with the dynamic duo of Chicken and his dad. In this outing, Chicken has learned about a valuable literary tool: the elephant of surprise. Papa tries to correct him, telling him that he must be referring to the element of surprise, but Chicken knows what he heard. He and Papa turn to the books for proof, and sure enough, through three classic fairy tales and one of Papa’s own stories – drawn by Chicken, naturally – darned if that elephant doesn’t show up at the most hilarious moments!

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise is laugh-out-loud hilarious. My 6-year-old and I cackle through each reading, especially when the delicious moment of suspense arises. We read the fairy tale excerpt. I give him the side eye as I linger over the page. He giggles uncontrollably, turns the page with me, and…

Just like that.

 

There’s everything to love about this story: the so-familiar feel of the dialogue between caregiver and child (especially when that child is convinced they are right), the fun of playing with language and following a kid’s thought pattern through storytelling, and the vibrant, fun artwork throughout the book, especially the handwriting dialogue fonts and the drawn-in, colorful elephant inserting itself right into those fusty, bland-colored classics.

Add this one to your shelves, right next to its companion book, Interrupting Chicken. It’s essential bedtime, storytime, anytime reading for kids, and would make a fun surprise guest in a creative writing program or ELA class. I think I may have to add this one to my Mock Caldecott list for 2018.

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist.