Posts from the ‘Children’s Literature’ Category

2 The Point Tuesday Explorer: The Lost Islands

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Explorer Lost IslandsTitle: Explorer: The Lost Islands
Editor: Kazu Kibuishi
Contributors: Jake Parker, Chrystin Garland, Jason Caffoe, Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier (colorist Braden Lamb), Michel Gagne, Katie and Steven Shanahan (colorists Eric Kim and Selena Dizazzo), and Kazu Kibuishi (colorist Jason Caffoe)
ISBN: 9781419708817
Pages: 127 pages
Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, c2013.

There’s a rabbit with a helpful robot. A young child discovers there is more than you think behind a carnival mask. A teenage boy stranded on a deserted island finds help from a ghost crab. A teenage girl discovers a woman whose life sounds eerily similar to her own. A flying fish rescues her friends from an erupting volcano. A mage in training learns the value of the radio as she tries to hatch a pixie egg. A boat full of fishermen almost becomes fish food. These seven stories all revolve around exploring lost islands and what you might find on their shores and in their waters. A compilation of graphic novelists take turns sharing through vivid colors their interpretations of the theme, some complete and some with open endings leaving readers to wonder what is next in the adventures of the characters.

Counting By 7s

Counting by 7sTitle: Counting By 7s
Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Narrator: Robin Miles
ISBN: 978162406902 (audiobook)
Pages: 380 pages
Publisher/Date: Penguin Audio, c2013. (audiobook)
Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2013. (print book)

I’ve got some toddler memories, but my first sequence recall is kindergarten; no matter how hard I’ve tried to forget the experience. [...]
I can still hear Mrs. King, spin straight and shrill voice booming:
“How does this book make you feel?”
She then made a few exaggerated yawns.
I recall looking around at my fellow inmates, thinking: Would someone, anyone, just shout out the word tired? [...]
So when the teacher specifically said:
“Willow, how does this book make you feel?”
I had to tell the truth:
“It makes me feel really bad. The moon can’t hear someone say good night; it is two hundred thirty-five thousand miles away. And bunnies don’t life in houses. Also, I don’t think that the artwork is very interesting.” [...]
That afternoon, I learned the word weirdo because that’s what I was called by the other kids.
When my mom came to pick me up, she found me crying behind the Dumpster. (16-18)

Willow Chance, adopted into a loving family, has an obsession with the number seven, medical conditions (particularly skin disorders), and plants. She is analytic, reserved, and highly gifted and lacks social skills, which makes it difficult to make friends but easy to memorize complex languages and scientific concepts. She finds an ally in older student Mai, who visits with her brother Quang Ha the same slacker school counselor that Willow is forced to see after being falsely accused of cheating on a test. These three unlikely companions, along with Mai’s mother and brother, are thrust together upon the sudden death of Willow’s parents. Forming a bond from secrets, everyone’s lives begin to change as they struggle to help Willow. What will come of quiet girl who has now lost her family for a second time?

Full disclosure: I have not yet read Wonder R.J. Palacio, which everyone I’ve talked to keeps comparing this book too. I will soon, I promise. I found myself comparing it to Rules by Cynthia Lord or Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. In any case, Willow is an instantly intriguing character. Narrated by Robin Miles, Willow’s voice is given the subtle nuances that it deserves. She is self-assured when dealing with numbers, details and scientific facts, but quiet and reserved when faced with making decisions affecting her own life and social interactions. Miles distinguishes between the characters well, even realistically portraying the counselor Dell Duke’s stutter, but it’s Willow who readers are understandably drawn to, as she tries to make sense of things.

Mai’s brother Quang Ha is understandably upset by the new living situation, as the family has few resources to begin with and they are essentially taking care of a stranger. There’s little explanation behind Mai and her mother’s immediate acceptance of Willow’s circumstances and instant claim to her, and I find Dell Duke’s passiveness and eventual involvement in the lies hard to reconcile, but the whole situation changes everyone for the better. This is a story of a whole community coming together to aid in a girl’s recovery, and becoming a very nontraditional family in the process. I don’t think this would be the outcome in real life, but if readers are willing to suspend belief they will be richly rewarded with this engrossing tale.

Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things

Mister Max Book of Lost ThingsTitle: Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things
Author: Cynthia Voigt
Illustrator: Iacopo Bruno
ISBN: 9780375971235
Pages: 367 pages
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., c2013.

“No Flower of Kashmir is presently berthed in my harbor. What’s her country of registration?”
“India,” Max guessed confidently.
“Nor are there any Indian registered vessels. We have, presently, one American, one Moroccan, one Dutch, one Canadian, and that’s all of them.”
Max considered this. “Which vessels sail at noon?” he asked.
“None, as it happens. Though three left their berths by ten-thirty this morning, so as to catch a favorable tide out of Porthaven.”
Something was very wrong here. (32)

Max’s parents are owners and actors in a renowned theatrical company that has just been invited by the Maharajah of Kashmir in India to establish a theater company for him. But when Max arrives at the designated dock to take the trip with his parents, there is no boat and no parents. Returning to his home, he alerts his Grandmother of the problem and the worrying begins. What is Max going to do for income to take care of himself? Max starts using his acting and observation skills and markets himself around the neighborhood as a problem solver, being hired to find a missing dog, a lost spoon, among other things. But the question he really wants to answer is where are his parents? Are they safe?

Max’s grandmother is the voice of reason among the excitement of the invitation to India, but of course no one listens until it’s too late because their egos are so inflated that dissenting opinions can’t reach their ears. The mysteries are lightly intertwined, and the clues are all there for listeners to discover the answers before being revealed by Max in flourishes that mimic his father’s theatrical style. Max’s independent thinking and unique problem solving skills make me think of an earlier Encyclopedia Brown or a younger Sherlock Holmes. His ideas are complemented by a young girl named Pia’s insistence at being his assistant, a much more loquacious version of Holmes’ friend Watson. Max ascertains “whatever she might claim for herself, her real talent was for asking questions. The girl was always asking questions, and some of them were just what Max needed to hear in order to discover his own ideas.” (259) We’ll have to keep asking more questions as this story continues.

Paul Boehmer’s booming voice serves Cynthia Voigt’s descriptive text well, setting the vivid scenes for listeners. His fully voiced narration distinguishes between Max, each of his parents, his grandmother, and the colorful cast of characters that Max interacts with as he searches for his parents and the things he is hired to find. But like so many of the audiobooks I’ve recommended recently, if you pick the audiobook you’ll miss out on the illustrations by Iacopo Bruno. I’ll be recommending this series whole heartedly, and the second book in the trilogy, Mister Max: The Book of Secrets, will be released in September 2014.

Kingdom of Fantasy

Kingdom of FantasyTitle: The Kingdom of Fantasy
Author: Geronimo Stilton
ISBN: 9780545980258
Pages: 314 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic, c2003. (English translation c2009.)

The Kingdom of Fantasy? I gulped. It sounded like a horrible scary place. Oh, how I missed my safe, cozy mouse hole. I took off my glasses so I could cry freely. Scribblehopper didn’t notice. But he did notice the music box in my backpack.
“Great jumping tadpoles!” he croaked. “That belongs to Blossom, Queen of the Fairies!”
In a flash, Scribblehopper had pulled the rose-colored scroll out of the music box. “This message is written in the Fantasian Alphabet,” he went on. Suddenly his eyes bulged out. “Leaping lizards!” he cried. “Queen Blossom is in terrible danger. She says that only you can help her!’I twirled my tail nervously. I wasn’t a hero. I was just an ordinary mouse. (29-30)

Geronimo Stilton has found a music box in his attic that transports him to the Kingdom of Fantasy, where a talking frog informs him he has been called to save the queen. He travels through lands populated by witches, mermaids, dragons, pixies, gnomes, giants, fairies, and trolls. Along the way he makes friends throughout the realms, but the true question he’s asking himself if he will ever make it back home.

This is my first Geronimo Stilton book, and I was hoping that it would interest me because it was longer than the typical paperback novels in the series. But it didn’t. I can only imagine that adults must have felt the same way about the Baby-Sitters Club series that I read when I was younger. The writing felt like a fourth grader wrote it, with no build-up of plot, characters, setting, or suspense. I really don’t know what to say, except that I really wasn’t impressed. That obviously doesn’t mean that I won’t keep recommending or purchasing them for the library since kids gobble them up like potato chips, but I do think there are better books out there.

2 the Point Tuesday Extraordinary Warren: A Super Chicken

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Extraordinary WarrenTitle: Extraordinary Warren: A Super Chicken
Author/Illustrator: Sarah Dillard
ISBN: 9781442453401
Pages: 59 pages
Publisher/Date: Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2014.
Publication Date: February 11, 2014

Warren is an ordinary chicken who is tired of pecking and peeping. So when he overhears Millard the rat wishing for a special chicken, a chicken supreme, Warren jumps at the chance to be something special. Millard is excited to hear there are more chickens, and invites everyone to a barbecue. But when Warren realizes that having “chickens for dinner” could mean two totally different things, he jumps into action. With graphic novel like panels interspersed with short chapters containing bright pictures, this eye-catching title defies expectations, just like Warren.

2 the Point Tuesday Winter Sky

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Winter SkyTitle: Winter Sky
Author: Patricia Reilly Giff
Narrator: Arielle Sitrick
ISBN: 9780804121422 (audiobook), 9780375838927 (hardcover)
Pages: 152 pages
Discs/CDs: 2 hours, 51 minutes, 3 CDs
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, an imprint of the Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, c2014.
Book Publisher/Date: Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, c2014.

Something was moving across the stage!
She leaned closer. That terrible dog–
How had he gotten in there?
He ran back and forth across the stage, almost as if he didn’t know how to get down.
And then she saw the curl of smoke. One of the long curtains was on fire. She dropped the cookies and reached into her pocket for her cell phone. But it was on her dresser, forgotten at home.
The dog was barking now, howling. (38)

Siria, named after the star Sirius, fears for her firefighter father every time she hears the sirens. So during the night, she sneaks out and chases the trucks, watching over him until she knows he is safe. She worries about the increasing frequency, and dreads there is an arsonist on the loose, starting fires for fun. Clues point to an unlikely suspect, and Siria debates whether to turn him in. Narrator Arielle Sitrick maintains Siria’s innocence but conveys her readiness to grow up and take on responsibilities. Newbery Honor-winning author Patricia Reilly Giff provides a heartwarming tale of community and family bonds amid a cold winter backdrop as fire and ice literally collide.

City of Light, City of Dark

City of Light, City of DarkTitle: City of Light, City of Dark
Author: Avi
Illustrator: Brian Floca
ISBN: 97805311068007
Pages: 192 pages
Publisher/Date: Orchard Books, c1993.

People! The land you wish to build on belongs to us, the Kurbs. Still, we are willing to lend you this island as well as our power so you may have the light and warmth you humans require. But there is a price. Each year you must enact a ritual to show you acknowledge that this island remains ours and is governed by our rules. If you fail to perform this ritual-be warned!-the consequences for you will be dire! (8)

Before people had arrived in New York, the Kurbs controlled the lightness and darkness. When people landed on the island, the Kurbs agreed to hide the power somewhere on the island and give the people six months to find it as the land progressively got colder and darker. If it wasn’t returned noon on December 21st, it would be plunged into darkness, but if it was returned it would gradually get lighter and warmer until it was hidden again on June 21st. One woman needs to find the power and return it to the Kurbs, but a greedy blind man, his reluctant assistant, and a young girl and her friend are all searching for it too for very different reasons. Who will find it first?

This is Avi’s version of the Persephone myth, adapted for modern-day New York. I liked the concept, but with my love of Avi’s stories, I was surprised at the narration, which seemed rush and disjointed. The book starts as a mixture of text and graphic novel panels, and then eventually transitions to only graphic novel format. There is too much plot time between the background setting flashback in the beginning and then the bulk of the story. It took him that long to track down the token… Really? Maybe other reviewers are right and it would have been better as a textual novel, as large amounts of the plot are layer out in stilted, expository dialogue.

With Floca’s recent Caldecott Award win, and repeated recognition by the Sibert committee, I was surprised by this first effort at illustrating a novel. Maybe he should stick with the picture book format and continue to color his drawings. I expected more of the sweeping skyline that we see on the cover of the original publication, but the black and white renderings found in the interior seemed rushed, vague, and not detailed. On page 35, he actually draws arrows to guide readers from panel to panel, which seemed unnecessary and awkward. All told, it would be a nice thing to provide readers who are interested in stories influenced by mythology, but it is not the best work of either the author or illustrator.

Wonderland

WonderlandTitle: Wonderland
Author: Tommy Kovac
Illustrator: Sonny Liew
ISBN: 9781423104513
Pages: 160 pages
Publisher/Date: Disney Press, an imprint of Disney Book Group, c2008.

“Seems you’ve been incriminated, bunny-rabbit. For suspicious dealings with the Alice monster…”
“But, I–“
“Monster? What’s this about?”
“While you were gone, there was an impostor here! She wrecked some of the rooms, and shot the groundskeeper out of the chimney like a pea out of a peashooter.”
“I thought she was you at first!”
“Thought she was me?”
“Well, she was a girl like you, and was wearing some sort of dress, and she had some sort of hair on her head–I don’t know! I suppose I was distracted at the time.”
“Am I that nondescript? I know I’m just a maid but…”
“Bong! Bong! Bong! Time’s up, Rabbit! Your days of favor with the Queen are over!” (21-22)

Mary Ann has just returned to Rabbit’s house when they are told by the Chesire Cat that the Queen is on her way. She’s been wrongly informed by the Tweedles that Mary Ann is “the Alice monster” who wrecked so much havoc in Wonderland. When the cat tricks Rabbit into calling the Jabberwock, Mary Ann finds herself plummeting down another hole and meeting another Queen. But will this queen be anymore helpful than the first, or has Mary Ann gotten herself into deeper trouble?

When I think of fractured tales, I think of Grimm or Andersen fairy tales and not necessarily Alice in Wonderland. But first we had this graphic novel, then Wondla, then the movie, and now there is the television series Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, and suddenly it’s become a classic. The inside jacket informs readers that this book “collects six Eisner Award-nominated chapters originally published as single-issue comics”.

Tommy Kovax and Sonny Liew prove to be a successful team. Just paging through it you realize the variety of layouts, which I think contributes to the unsteadiness of the reader. It is Wonderland after all, and you never know what you will find in this tops turvy world. We also see the political rift that Alice’s visit caused, as a back story is added involving a group that the Mad-Hatter describes as “followers [...] who call themselves “The Curious” (96). It’s lines like that and many more, along with the somewhat disjointed narrative, that harken back to the original and the Disney movie (especially the artwork) but the team makes it their own story. Readers never quite get the definitive answer they are looking for in comparing Mary Ann and Alice, who have multiple differences but even The Curious recognize that they might have an advocate in the mild-mannered maid after their original departed.

There is no author’s note that reveals how the illustrations are done or what was used, but here again there is variety. The Queen of Hearts garden scenes and the Mad Hatter’s tea party are bright and full of light. Then with literally a flip of the page in some cases, Mary Ann and her companions find themselves underground or in the Tulgey Wood, with a shadowed background and more muted browns and blues. Overall, I wonder how satisfied Mary Ann will be when she finally has a chance to return to her duties of cleaning Rabbit’s house after her adventures. Readers however should be satisfied with the tale.

Caldecott Honorees and Winner 2014

The American Library Association Youth Media Awards were announced in January, and I’m slowly working my way through the winners and honorable mentions. The Randolph Caldecott Medal is awarded for the most distinguished American picture book for children. There was one winner and three honor books named this year.

LocomotiveTitle: Locomotive
Author/Illustrator: Brian Floca
ISBN: 9781416994152
Pages: 64 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, c2013.

I had actually included this title in a local newsletter article about train books, so I will let my earlier comments about the book stand on its own. For older readers, there is the incredibly detailed Locomotive by Brian Floca. Starting with the cover and continuing inside on more than one occasion the watercolor illustrations appear to burst from the page. The book follows the story of a family traveling by rail across the country from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California in 1869. You’ll find this title not with the picture books, but with nonfiction due to the detailed narration. Packed with information, Floca uses short sentences that mimic the steam engine, and his generous use of onomatopoeia means the pages are filled with banging, clanging, huffing, puffing, and chugging. The various jobs on board are distinguished from one another, and the mechanics of the train are outlined not only in the text but also in the back jacket where steam power is explained with words and pictures. Pay careful attention to the little details too, as each station and location are identified by name and small details such as the cowboy’s horse running away at the sound of the train might be missed on first glance.

Three Caldecott Honor Books also were named, with two out of the three Caldecott honorees this year being wordless and the third one is nearly wordless. Has it ever happened where all the honorees are wordless?
JourneyTitle: Journey
Author/Illustrator: Aaron Becker
ISBN: 9780763660536
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press,c2013.

Bored children have been escaping into other worlds for years, including Max in Where the Wild Things Are, Harold with his purple crayon, Alice and her looking-glass, and the siblings who visit Narnia through the wardrobe. The same applies to this unnamed young lady in Aaron Becker’s wordless picture book. With her dad on the computer, her mom on the phone, and her big sister on a handheld device, the girl draws a door on her bedroom wall with a red crayon and escapes into another world. The red crayon creations, including a boat, a hot air balloon, and a flying carpet, pop against the primarily blue, green, gray and yellow landscapes. The other part of the pictures that is unique is the purple bird that requires the girl’s help to escape its own cage. It is a story of imagination brought to life, and two kindred spirits finding each other at the end.

Flora and FlamingoTitle: Flora and the Flamingo
Author/Illustrator: Molly Idle
ISBN: 9781452110066
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books LLC, c2013.

Personally, this is not my favorite honoree. On minimalistic white backgrounds bordered by pink flowers, a girl in a yellow bathing cap, pink swimsuit, and dark flippers tries to imitate the actions of a flamingo. Initially perturbed by the unwanted admiring copycat, the flamingo eventually extends a wing and they engage in a ballet that ends in a cannonball and a bow. While the fold out spread works for the double page cannonball spread, there are other pages with lifting flaps that I think instead would have worked better as a page turn. But you can definitely see the author’s background with Dreamworks, which is mentioned in the back jacket biography. The emotions are beautifully portrayed through the body language and slight changes in facial features for both the girl and the flamingo.

Mr. Wuffles!Title: Mr. Wuffles!
Author/Illustrator: David Wiesner
ISBN: 9780618756612
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2013.

I talked in my Coretta Scott King post about authors and illustrators whose names have come up for awards again and again and again. David Wiesner is one of those people for the Caldecott. He has won the award three times (Tuesday, The Three Pigs and Flotsam) and this honor now makes three honors (Free Fall and Sector 7). Give someone else a turn already! But I do see the appeal and the reason for the ongoing admiration. This latest title appears to be partially influenced by Wiesner’s own cat, and the observations of the cat’s attitudes and movement show. There is disdain towards a handful of toys until Mr. Wuffles the cat stumbles across a tiny silver spaceship occupied by even smaller green spacemen. We can’t say the work is completely wordless, as the cat’s owner courts the cat with new toys at the beginning and end of the story, spacemen talk in geometric symbols and the ants they encounter communicate with tiny dots. But the thing that really caught my attention was how Weisner conveyed the sense of motion with the cat, especially on the penultimate page where we see multiple tails as it flicks back and forth in anticipation. It’s a technique that is repeated several times in the book, designating motion with the cat’s paws and head. The pictures are vibrant, colorful, oversized, and action packed as the aliens try to repair their broken ship and escape the cat with the help of their new ant friends. And those claws on the cat… Watch out! Give this to any cat owner, as they will be able to relate.

Monster on the Hill

Will Eisner Week 2014Did you know it’s Will Eisner Week this week, from March 1st through March 7th? Neither did I until I stumbled upon the announcement of the celebration in January. Will Eisner Week “is an annual celebration honoring the legacy of Will Eisner and promoting sequential art, graphic novel literacy, and free speech.” Looking for more information? Visit the website. In honor of Will Eisner Week, I’m going to take this opportunity to review graphic novels, which I’ll readily admit I don’t read enough of. My third featured book will be last year’s Monster on the Hill, by Rob Harrell.

Monster on the Hill

 

 

Title: Monster on the Hill
Author/Illustrator: Rob Harrell
ISBN: 9781603090759
Pages: 185 pages
Publisher/Date: Top Shelf Productions, c2013.

“That reminds me. Who do you ‘ave watchin’ over your town while you’re here? One of the retired guys? Jimmy the Gomper?”
“Umm…”
“YOU LEFT YOUR TOWN UNMONSTERED?? ARE YOU CRAZY? The Murk senses these things, Rayburn!! He could be on his way there now! What, did you sleep through town guarding 101?”
“Actually, yes. It was dreadfully dull.”
“He Guys. Check out this rock I found! It looks just like Town Father Stevenso… What’s the matter?”
“We may have a problem.” (70-71)

Rayburn is a horrible monster, who really doesn’t venture into the neighboring 1860s English town and certainly doesn’t ravage it like he is supposed to in order to promote tourism. So a disgraced doctor and a loudmouth newsboy embarks on a journey to give him the confidence he needs. Their journey takes them away from town to visit an old friend. But while Rayburn’s gone, the town might have a real monster to worry about. It’s a race to see who gets back to town first, Rayburn who can protect the townspeople or the Murk who wants to terrorize them.

Rob Harrell’s oversized drawings really pack a punch with this story that plays on just about every genre’s stereotypes. I envision Timothy the town crier/urchin/newsboy as a distant ancestor to Loud Kiddington from the 1990s TV show Histeria!, repeatedly shouting in a cockney English that just begs the word “governor” to pass his lips (and it actually does). The distracted and disgraced doctor Charles Wilkie speaks in a prim and proper manner that brings to mind Giles from Buffy, with his stoic face accentuated by his glasses and white hair covering his head, chin, and eyebrows. When Rayburn fights a venus fly trap like plant, your guess is fulfilled when he promptly gets his head stuck in its jaws and is shaken like a rag doll, being flung up and down, at one point doing the splits across its gaping mouth before emerging triumphant and doing a victory dance mimicking an end zone dance at the Superbowl.

The energetic text is filled with exclamation points, which seem to appear on almost every page. Sound effects are thrust into the pictures comic book style, and I’m sure words like “Ka-THOOMP!” and “YEEAAUGH!” would just improve a read-aloud experience in some story-tellers capable hands. My one quibble with the story is the whole premise of cities reaching out to a monster to continually rampage a village doesn’t strike me as a smart PR move. The monsters are treated like athletes, with trading cards and toys made in their likeness. Maybe it is similar to disaster tours of volcanoes and mob scenes, or maybe it’s like the Godzilla movies where as long as it’s another city, it’s fun to cheer on the monster? All I know is that readers who enjoy those types of things will welcome this over the top addition to graphic novel collections. One idea for a curriculum connection would be to have children design a monster for their own town.

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