It’s impossible to quote a wordless picture book. If you’ll remember my previous review of the first two books, I predicted that there would be a third book. This one is different than the other two, as there is more violence, which I was somewhat shocked by. The illustrations are still gorgeous, detailed, and expressive, with a flashback sequence set apart by a thicker border around each panel and darker lines composing the drawings. Ivy and her korgi Sprout have discovered a sliver of… something (it resembles a pieces of sharp glass) with a drawing on it. After asking around the village, they visit Wart, the librarian/historian for the town. (Side note, as a librarian, I’m drooling over Wart’s book collection and shelving.) Wart tells a story of where the piece may have come from, but it is almost stolen from the duo until a friend saves the day. Although the very last page seems to be the perfect ending (in a photo-copy-and-frame-that-drawing kind of way), there are still some unresolved plot points that may lead to a fourth book in the series, especially when tying the flashbacks to the current story line.
Posts from the ‘Children’s Literature’ Category
Title: Doll Bones
Author: Holly Black
Illustrator: Eliza Wheeler
Narrator: Nick Podehl
ISBN: 9780804122900 (audiobook)
Pages: 247 pages
CDs/Discs: 5 CDs, 5 hours
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2013.
Awards: Newbery Honor (2014)
“It wasn’t like a regular dream,” Poppy said, her fingers smoothing back the Queen’s curls and her voice changing, going soft and chill as the night air. It reminded Zach of the way Poppy talked when she played villains or even the Queen herself. “It wasn’t like dreaming at all. She was sitting on the end of my bed. Her hair was blond, like the doll’s, but it was tangled and dirty. She was wearing a nightdress smeared with mud. She told me I had to bury her. She said she couldn’t rest until her bones were in her own grave, and if I didn’t help her, she would make me sorry.”[…]
“Her bones?” he finally echoed.
“Did you know that bone china has real bones in it?” Poppy said, tapping a porcelain cheek. “Her clay was made from human bones. Little-girl bones. That hair threaded through the scalp is the little girl’s hair. And the body of the doll is filled with her leftover ashes.” (62-63)
Zach, Poppy, and Alice have played an ever-changing, imagination based game involving pirates, mermaids, treasure, curses, and the Great Queen, influenced by a bone-china doll locked in Poppy’s mother’s cabinet. It’s all pretend, and Zach’s father is urging him to grow up. But Poppy claims to recently receiving dreams from the Queen, urging the trio to bury the doll in her empty grave. They set off in one last adventure, with Zach and Alice not quite sure what to believe. Is Poppy possessed, or is this just play? When things start going wrong, it’s anyone’s guess whether they will be successful.
Have I mentioned before how much I love Nick Podehl’s narrations? Because I really do. While this book did not require the range and variety that I know he can create, it was still an excellent audiobook. Black paints this questionably creepy situation where the events of the book could be explained away as someone playing a trick…. except maybe it really is a ghostly presence influencing the group. It was the creepy factor that did it to me, as the doll was described so well, I was picturing a feminine version of Chucky. The cover really doesn’t do the doll justice, and unfortunately neither do the interior illustrations. The beauty of the narration is the imagining, the what if, and the illustrations pull you out of that spook factor. I read one review that compared this to Toy Story meets Sweeny Todd, which I guess is apt although I think Sweeny Todd is much more graphic in nature than this one.
You can tell that a lot of thought went into this book. For example, if you Wikipedia East Liverpool, Ohio, where the bulk of the story ends up happening, it really does exist. And it really did have a number of potteries, “once produced more than half of the United States’s annual ceramics output. Throughout East Liverpool’s ceramics history, there were more than 300 potteries.” (link) You can read all about Holly Black’s road trip to this tiny town, which she did for research. The trio’s adventures were fully realistic, whether it was getting from point a to point b, budget issues, or dealing with suspicious adults who paid a little more attention then they would have liked to three unchaperoned minors traveling together. A pivotal scene takes place in a library with a pink-haired librarian who is super savvy about the ways of teens, and you can tell Black is a fan of librarians through her portrayal of this character.
I did wish that Alice and Poppy had more personality. While there is some exposition regarding Zach’s attitudes and evolution, we never really hear about the two girls and how they feel about the game that Zach’s father is so keen in making Zach give up. I think Zach’s father’s change in attitude towards the end came about a little too neatly, and the quest’s end was very convenient in nature. But it’s the journey, that’s the part that compelled me to keep reading, and the uncertain ground that Black keeps you on, forcing you to question everything that is happening. Leave the light on, and you’ll never look at your dolls the same way again. Especially the china ones, which plays such a big roll to making the whole premise work.
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Illustrator: Jim Tierney
Narrator: Nick Podehl
ISBN: 9781480584143 (audiobook), 9781442472884 (hardcover)
Pages: 332 pages
Discs/CDs: 7 CDs, 8 hours 12 minutes
Publisher/Date: Brillance Audio, c2014. (audiobook), Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2014. (hardback)
Amidst the greenery the silver keychain is easy to spot. Will bends to pick it up. It holds only a single key, unusually thick, with plenty of notches. At once he recognizes it as the key to the funeral car — same as his father’s. The guard must have dropped it. Will pockets it.
He is hurrying back toward the shantytown to catch up with the guard, when he hears a grumble off to his right. Likely the fellow has fallen down again. Will wonders if he should tell his father. The guard’s clearly unfit for his post. Will walks through the trees in the direction of the noise. Through the thick foliage he catches a glimpse of the guard’s jacket. […]
The guard is pushed back against a tree, his eyes wide with surprise. A second man has an elbow against the guard’s throat and is pulling the knife from between his ribs. Will can’t tear his eyes from the knife, darkly wet. He feels like he’s been touched with something searingly cold. The man with the knife turns. (87-88)
In the last three years, Will’s life has a had a dramatic change ever since he and his father were involved in the laying of the last spike connecting the Canadian Railway from one side of the country to the other. Will is riding with his father on the longest and biggest train ever built, the Boundless, and in addition to all the passengers and a circus, there is also a funeral car for the manager of the railroad, who is intent on spending the rest of his days, even after death, riding the rails. Rumors fly about the treasures contained in the funeral car, and when the guard is murdered, Will protects the key but ends up isolated in the back of the train. His efforts to make it back to his father and authorities are thwarted again and again, and just when he thinks he can trust the circus folk, he learns their ringmaster might have his own motives for keeping Will and the key close.
This is the first book of Kenneth Oppel’s I’ve read, having missed his previous bestsellers. His other books will be going on the to be read pile if they are anything like this. His world building is fantastic, including descriptions of the train and details of the furnishings. Elaborate information about how technology of that day work are included, and I noticed little details like how the clothing buttons instead of zippers closed. There’s also pieces of magical realism that connect effortlessly with the story, with Sasquatches being very real, in addition to the Muskeg hag that bewitches people and magic tricks where you wonder if real magic is happening.
Will is a multifaceted character, gullible in the beginning but also suspicious once he gets the key. Originally intent on mimicking his father’s exploits and having an adventure of his own to tell people, he sets off to prove his abilities, both to others and to himself. We see him grow as a character, and assume some control over his life. I totally expected Mr. Dorian’s plot to go in a different direction, but that wasn’t the case, and I’ll admit I was slightly disappointed. If you are familiar with the classics, you may draw the same conclusions when you hear what Mr. Dorian is after. When Will finds himself in trouble again and again, his rescues and solutions do not strain credulity, and you’re left with a tale that makes you wonder “Could that have really happened?” Maren is also a capable and self-assured young lady who knows what she wants and is not afraid to go to great lengths to get it. Both Will and Maren think fast on their feet and play off the other’s strengths in order to help each person get what they want most, and their interactions with each other were highly entertaining.
Nick Podehl is probably at his best here, as he incorporates the global nature of the travelers, including accents and even a few words of Hindi. Although I can’t vouch for their accuracy, they sound authentic enough. For fans of trains, fantastical creatures, or just readers who are looking for the next great adventure, they are in for one wild ride.
The ALA Media Awards were announced today. The Oscars of the children’s and teen literature world, here’s a break down of some the winners. The complete list can also be found on their website. I hesitate to include all of them because this post would be way too long, but these are the ones I think the majority of the readers have heard of and are interested in learning. But please do check the website, as all of the winners should be considered and I may include the winners of the other awards in a future post.
“The Crossover,” written by Kwame Alexander
Two Newbery Honor Books also were named:
“El Deafo” by Cece Bell, illustrated by Cece Bell
“Brown Girl Dreaming,” written by Jacqueline Woodson
You’re going to have a sense of de ja vue between the Newbery and Coretta Scott King Author Award, so let’s get that out of the way.Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award recognizing an African American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults:
“Brown Girl Dreaming,” written by Jacqueline Woodson
Three King Author Honor Books were selected:
Kwame Alexander for “The Crossover,”
Marilyn Nelson for “How I Discovered Poetry,”
Kekla Magoon for “How It Went Down,”
I had a weird since of coincidence as well when viewing the winners of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. I give you the trio of biographies on female African American artists.
“Firebird,” illustrated by Christopher Myers and written by Misty Copeland
Two King Illustrator Honor Books were selected:
Christian Robinson for “Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker,” by Patricia Hruby Powell
Frank Morrison for “Little Melba and Her Big Trombone,” by Katheryn Russell-Brown
“The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus,” written by Jen Bryant
Five Sibert Honor Books were named:
“Brown Girl Dreaming,” written by Jacqueline Woodson
“The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, & the Fall of Imperial Russia,” written by Candace Fleming (Also recognized as a finalist for YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults)
“Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker,” written by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson
“Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands,” written and illustrated by Katherine Roy
“Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation,” written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
“The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend,” written and illustrated by Dan Santat
Six Caldecott Honor Books also were named:
“Nana in the City,” written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo
“The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art,” illustrated by Mary GrandPré and written by Barb Rosenstock
“Sam & Dave Dig a Hole,” illustrated by Jon Klassen and written by Mac Barnett
“Viva Frida,” written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
“The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus,” illustrated by Melissa Sweet and written by Jen Bryant
“This One Summer,” illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and written by Mariko Tamaki
SIX Honorees! Three picture book biographies! And the most shocking inclusion of all, is a young adult graphic novel!! While I applaud the diversity of the selections and the number of honorees is unprecedented (can anyone prove otherwise), I’m disconcerted at the range of ages that the selections are intended for. I need to gather my thoughts and reread the book before addressing this fully, so stay tuned.
This One Summer was also featured in the list of the Michael L. Printz Award books for excellence in literature written for young adults as an honoree. Am I the only one thinking “WHAT CRAZINESS IS THIS!?!?”
“I’ll Give You the Sun,” written by Jandy Nelson
Four Printz Honor Books also were named:
“And We Stay,” by Jenny Hubbard
“The Carnival at Bray,” by Jessie Ann Foley
“Grasshopper Jungle,” by Andrew Smith
“This One Summer,” by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
A list that didn’t have a single repeat on any of the other lists was the Odyssey Awards, presented for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States:
“H. O. R. S. E. A Game of Basketball and Imagination,” produced by Live Oak Media, is the 2015 Odyssey Award winner. The book is written by Christopher Myers and narrated by Dion Graham and Christopher Myers.
Three Odyssey Honor Recordings also were selected:
“Five, Six, Seven, Nate!” produced by AUDIOWORKS (Children’s) an imprint of Simon & Schuster Audio Division, Simon & Schuster, Inc., written by Tim Federle, and narrated by Tim Federle;
“The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place,” produced by Listening Library, an imprint of the Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, written by Julie Berry, and narrated by Jayne Entwistle;
“A Snicker of Magic,” produced by Scholastic Audiobooks, written by Natalie Lloyd, and narrated by Cassandra Morris.
And since we’ve covered all the other age group specific awards, let’s finish this post with the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book (which in my opinion should just be renamed the Mo Willems Award):
“You Are (Not) Small,” written by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyant
Two Geisel Honor Books were named:
What award or winner most surprised you?
Started by Donita K. Paul in 2004 to celebrate the release of Dragon Spell, Appreciate a Dragon Day is today, January 16th. In honor of the day, here are some picture books you can share.
Title: The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water
Author/Illustrator: Gemma Merino
Publisher/Date: Macmillan Children’s Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers LTD, c2013.
An unnamed crocodile sees all his crocodile siblings enjoying swimming, diving, and going underwater, but he doesn’t like it. He realizes why one day when a sneeze reveals what he could be good at instead. Debut author/illustrator Gemma Merino adds hints throughout the primarily blue, green, and red pictures that this crocodile is different, from the eggs being carried on the end pages to his shoes, his coloring, and finally the little nubs exposed on his back. A simple story that lets children know it’s okay to not be good at something, because they’ll inevitably be good at something else.
Dragon isn’t afraid of anything, and roars to prove it. But what’s that sound? That couldn’t have been him. Oh no, something else is roaring in the forest! He seeks comfort from the unknown among his forest friends, and they work together to chase it away. Kids will laugh at the dragon’s antics, being clued in by the expressive, in-the-know yellow bird that dragon is being silly. Their dynamics with each other remind me of rational Elephant and overly-excitable Piggie by Mo Willems. Add this to a dramatic read-aloud and be prepared for kids to join in on the roaring.
Title: Dragon’s Extraordinary Egg
Author/Illustrator: Debi Gliori
Publisher/Date: first published as Dragon Loves Penguin in Great Britain in 2013 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, Published in the United States of America in October 2014 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, c2013.
Through a relatively unnecessary piece of meta-fiction, Bib asks for a bedtime story from his parents and they read the book you are reading to him. Dragons come to a land of ice and snow, wait for spring, and proceed to lay their eggs. All except one dragon, who luckily discovers an abandoned egg to care for and that hatches a penguin. While the other baby dragons tease the penguin, it’s the penguin who comes to their rescue at the end. There really isn’t any rising action or suspense, and no comeuppance for the teasing dragons during the anti-climatic ending. This book does have a place where lesson books are necessary, peppered with platitudes like “Sometimes things happen for a reason” and “Little One was given love and time, the greatest gift of all.”
Title: Waking Dragons
Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Derek Anderson
Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2012.
An unnamed knight, followed by his equally fearless pooch, is reminded by his mother’s note to wake the dragons before school. This is a big task for such a little guy, especially since there are two dragons to not just wake up but get dressed, fed, and prepared for the day. While it seems questionable that the dragons would wear pajamas but not wear clothes during the day, Anderson’s details are adorable, including bed posts shaped like castle towers, a ladder for the tiny knight to ascend to the dragons’ bed, and a fire extinguisher at the ready during teeth brushing “in case of dragon breath”. The rhymes are simplistic, although the division of verses across multiple pages (sometimes just two words on a page) necessitates pre-reading before sharing aloud in a group. Good for a dragon themed story time where you’re looking for a shorter, less complex story.
An underwhelming story, Hedgehog and Rabbit stumble upon a dragon’s egg and take the resulting dragon home with them. When the dragon’s growth means he gets stuck in the house, the house gets destroyed in the process of getting him out, and Hedgehog, Rabbit, and Dragon move on to build him a new one. There is nothing to distinguish the characters from one another. The spreads with lots of white space just look like they are missing their background, and twice she resorts to double page spreads of flying objects, with the equivalent of old comic book words superimposed (BANG! BAM! BOOOOOOM!). Details would have helped draw in dragon fans.
Pastel colors yield a soothing feel to what you think is going to be a dragon hunt. But the reason the child is hunting dragons is to hug them, feed them hot chocolate, and tuck them in under warm blankets. Proving that nothing is as fierce as it seems, the bird’s eye view of the four dragons cuddled close to woodland creatures is a delight to see. Suggested as a wind-down from a busy day spent dragon taming.
This book defies explanation. Cedric the dragon presents his mother with a bedtime story book, then implores her to read it again and again and again. His mother obliges and gets more and more frustrated, seemingly altering the story to fit her mood and circumstances until… well the book ends in a completed unexpected and unexplained way. There seems to be an aspect of meta-fiction, but I’m uncertain how much that applies to the whole book. This one has me scratching my head, between the ending and the colors and the narration. Maybe I’m just not the right audience.
Let’s end this list on a high note. What personality! Martin is a dragon who dreams of flying but his wings are too small. His antics while attempting to get off the crowd are humorously and colorfully portrayed. The one page that gave me pause is when I don’t think it’s indicated as well as it could have been that Martin went down the hill instead of over the ledge, but it’s a small quibble. Martin’s body reminds me of an obese kangaroo with wings and a tail, and those wings by the end of the book are beautiful, subtly showcasing the transformation that Martin undergoes. The expressions convey so much feeling with just a tilt of a head and floppy ears, and his child helpers accept the presence of a dragon without question. This is a CUTE book, and everyone should become acquainted with this dear dragon.
Am I missing any of your favorites? Let me know in the comments.
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.
Title: What There is Before There is Anything There (originally published as Lo que hay antes de que haya algo)
Publisher/Date: Original edition c2006 by Pequeno Editor, Buenos Aires, Argentina,
Text and illustrations c2006 by Liniers
English translation copyright c2014 by Elisa Amado, First published in English in Canada and the US in 2014 by Groundwood Books
This enigmatic story features a young boy being put to bed. As soon as the lights are turned off, the ceiling disappears, a varied assortment of silent “they” descend from the sky, and a dark that extends tendrils towards him follows. Racing to his parents’ room, they allow him to crawl into bed with them, where the beings resurface as soon as the parents are asleep and the lights are out. Is this proving that fears are not so easily conquered? All sorts of questions remain unanswered. While definitely strange in their appearance, the creatures (for lack of a better word) seem quite innocuous, although the boy doesn’t stick around to prove one way or the other. Daylight readings are recommended, because children may catch this nightmarish fear from the protagonist.
Title: The Squickerwonkers
Author: Evangeline Lilly
Illustrator: Johnny Fraser-Allen
Publisher/Date: Titan Books, a division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd., c2013.
Published: November 2014
Selma, a spoiled girl with blonde pigtails, wonders into a wagon like structure. A laundry list of limericks introduces Selma to a marionette troupe, with each one assuming an undesirable trait that harkens back to the seven deadly sins, except there are nine marionettes and lust isn’t one of their traits (thank goodness). When she climbs onstage and the puppets pop her balloon, Selma threatens her grandfather will make them pay. But the grandfather is also a puppet and turns Selma over to the troupe to be made into a puppet.
Am I the only one left scratching my head trying to comprehend this heavy-handed moralistic plot meets Coraline? The only proof of Selma’s spoiled nature is the narrative. I feel like she has a right to be upset about creepy dolls popping her balloon. The introductions are so cursory that we have a name and an adjective, like those old camp pneumonic devices (Abigail’s Apple, Bobby’s Ball, etc.). There is an appropriately creepy setting and ending, but no discernible path on how we got there, no characterization, no plot. The simplistic and clunky rhymes leave me questioning how much of this is the book she originally wrote when she got the idea as a 14-year-old experimenting with Seuss like wordplay. It’s the first of a series of 18 BOOKS!? These should have been published as a collection of short stories, not individual volumes. No plot and no point. Please get better, quickly!