Fancy Party Gowns

Fancy Party Gowns.jpgTitle: Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe
Author: Deborah Blumenthal
Illustrator: Laura Freeman
ISBN: 9781499802399
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: little bee books, a division of Bonnier Publishing, c2017.

Ann thought about what she could do, not what she couldn’t change.
So she sat down and sewed the dresses herself. Then she stood up and ran the business.

Ann Cole Lowe was the designer of Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding dress when she married future president John F. Kennedy. Primarily covering her role in that momentous event and her career but skimming over her personal life, some of her other designs can be seen in the end papers and cover of the book. Many appear timeless and could grace the award show invitees today. The focus remains squarely on Ann, with most of the illustrations only featuring her face. Although I don’t know what materials were used to make the illustrations, they have a layered quality that pulls readers into the drawing and makes it seem as if you’re standing next to her, watching her struggle and succeed. Pay attention to the scene where she is watching a television in a store front window, and you’ll see her impressively rendered reflection! The repeating refrain quoted above is inspiration for anyone struggling, and also showcases that while her lack of business sense had her floundering financially, Lowe never lost her talent, spirit, and drive to succeed. A forgotten piece of history has been brought to new life.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

Geisel Awards 2017

WINNER

We Are Growing!.jpgTitle: We Are Growing
Series: Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!
Author/Illustrator: Laurie Keller (and Mo Willems?)
ISBN: 9781484726358
Pages: 53 pages
Publisher/Date: Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group, c2016.
Awards: Theodor Geisel Award Winner (2017)

Possibly taking a page from Dr. Seuss’s Bright and Early Book Readers, Mo Willems has created Elephant and Piggie like reading. Maybe it’s because it’s difficult to determine how much Willems contributed to the story within, but I wasn’t impressed. Elephant and Piggie introduce and conclude the story of grass growing. Yep, you read that right. Each of the blades of grass can claim to be the most something, whether it be curliest, tallest, crunchiest, or pointiest… you get the idea. When a lawn mower removes some of their unique attributes, they are all reassured with a page turn and a rather abrupt ending that they will grow again. It’s unfortunate that they all had to be the best at something, although refreshing that not every attribute was physical in nature and that they were cut down to size (quite literally) during the telling and had to deal with their loss of individuality, however temporarily it might be. Obviously a necessity due to Willems’s association, but I had trouble finding the humor, charm, and character that made the originals so enjoyable.

HONORS

Infamous Ratsos.jpgTitle: The Infamous Ratsos
Author: Kara LaReau
Illustrator: Matt Myers
ISBN: 9780763676360
Pages: 59 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2016.
Awards: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

The Ratso brothers live in the Big City. They live in this apartment with their father, Big Lou.
“There are two kinds of people in this world,” Big Lou likes to say. “Those who are tough, and those who are soft.” […]
Let’s do something,” Louie says to Ralphie. “Something to make us look tough.” (1-7)

Fifth grader Louie and his brother, third grader Ralphie, want to be tough like their father. Every time they try to be tough — including stealing hats to covering their neighbor’s windows with soap — their actions are mistaken for good deeds. Due to the length of the book, the brothers are basically interchangeable and the supporting cast is barely developed. However, the pranks pulled would make this a unique selection for April Fool’s Day, and are mostly harmless. It’s also an informal introduction to perspective and perception, as the brothers think they are being tough and bad, but everyone else sees them as being kind, generous and helpful. The illustrations reinforced this idea, with the opening page showing the brothers with armfuls of water balloons, and the very last page closing out the story with an image of how those balloons are used. Their father also offers a lesson that “Life is tough enough […]. We might as well try to make it easier for one another, whenever we can.” (55) Classroom connections like these make this a welcome addition.
Go Otto Go.jpgTitle: Go, Otto, Go!
Author/Illustrator: David Milgrim
ISBN: 9781481467247
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Simon Spotlight, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2016.
Awards: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

See Otto go.
Bye-Bye, Otto! (unpaged)

Author and illustrator David Milgrim returns after a decade-long hiatus for a sixth adventure featuring his little robot named Otto. Otto yearns to return to his home among the stars, but the rocket he builds takes him “up, up, up” and then develops a glitch, redirecting him down, left and right, and here and there. Finally depositing him back where he started, Otto realizes that this is his home, surrounded by all his friends. Extremely reminiscent of the old Dick and Jane stories, the repetition of the simple text (only one word has more than one syllable) should encourage beginning readers.

Good Night Owl.jpgTitle: Good Night Owl
Author/Illustrator: Greg Pizzoli
ISBN: 9781484712757
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group.
Award: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

Owl was settling into bed when he heard a noise.

A baby blue owl with a heart-shaped face and pink bathrobe is preparing for bed when hears a “SQUEEK!” (which is never detailed in the text but solely in the pictures). After searching outside, in the cabinet, and under the floorboards. When he eliminates those possibilities, his blame turns to the house itself, tearing down the roof and walls before finally learning the cause of the noise is a mouse, which readers have seen as he hides around the house. What starts as an amusing game escalates quickly, and while the owl doesn’t seem phased by the destruction of his house, you can see by the mouse’s sliding smiles that he at least is getting concerned. Owl though seems content to sleep under the stars (aren’t owls nocturnal?) and even invites the mouse up into his bed to spend the remainder of the night (don’t owls eat mice?). Regardless of what adults might see as inconsistencies, children will love knowing before Owl the cause of the noise, the repetition, the building suspense, and the over the top actions that Owl takes. The pictures include nods to previous works by Pizzoli, and the only reason I didn’t miss the beautiful cross-stitched cover underneath the jacket is because Rotem Moscovich’s work was referenced on the copyright page.

Oops Pounce Quick Run.jpgTitle: Oops Pounce Quick Run!: An Alphabet Caper
Author/Illustrator: Mike Twohy
ISBN: 9780062377005
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2016
Award: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

Asleep
Ball
Catch
Dog

So starts the adventures of a mouse, who wakes up from his nap when a dog’s ball bounces into its whole in the wall. The dog scrambles, the mouse skitters, and the chase is one through the house until the dog recovers his ball. Cleverly bookended with sleep (Asleep followed by “ZZZZZ”), the story is told primarily in pictures with one alphabetically appropriate word or phrase per page accompanying them. The accompanying background is minimal, with almost no color and the focus is squarely on the participants and the ball. A missed opportunity might have been using “victory” instead of “very cool,” but all of the words are ones children would use and hear in daily conversation.

Leave Me Alone!

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a 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.

Leave Me Alone!.jpgTitle: Leave Me Alone!
Author/Illustrator: Vera Brosgol
ISBN: 9781626724419
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishings Holdings Limited Partnership, c2016.

Once there was an old woman.
She lived in a small village in a small house . . .
… with a very big family.

The nameless old woman is simply looking for some peace and quiet in order to finish her knitting for her family before winter arrives. Asserting herself with a shouted “Leave me alone!”  she retreats to the forest, to the mountain, and to some literally out of this world locations in search of solitude. Vocabulary is slightly advanced for this audience (I don’t want to spoil the surprise ending, but pre-reading is a must) but the illustrations convey the meanings. Each locale has its own color scheme, which separates them from each other, but the double page spreads provide reference to how far the woman has gone in her search. Something totally unique and sure to spark conversation. How far and where do you go to be alone? Perfect pairing with Let Me Finish by Minh Lê.

Ned the Knitting Pirate

Ned the Knitting Pirate.jpgTitle: Ned the Knitting Pirate
Author: Diana Murray
Illustrator: Leslie Lammle
ISBN: 9781596438903
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2016.

We’re pirates, we’re pirates, out sailing the sea
So scruffy and scrappy and happy are we.
We’re tougher than gristle and barnacle grit.
We heave, and we ho, and we swab, and we . . .

KNIT! Or at least that’s what Ned does. The other pirates, especially the captain, aren’t so enthusiastic about Ned’s hobby, and orders the needles to be stowed. But Ned’s knitting might be the only things that saves the Rusty Heap from becoming an ocean beast’s feast. Jaunty, rollicking rhymes can be sang as a sea shanty, although the uneven numbering scheme makes a sometimes rough transition from the narration to the song the pirate’s sing, which gets repeated but not verbatim. Readers get an advanced glimpse of the threatening sea monster (resembling if Slimer from Ghostbusters had been crossed with an octopus and a mermaid’s tail) on the title page, along with a fully clothed mermaid (she wears a shirt instead of a bikini top) who seems to be its caretaker. It’s little details like that, along with the anthropomorphic critters scattered throughout the ship and the ever-growing knitting project which matches Ned’s knit, tri-cornered hat, that add whimsy to the story. Keep in your trunk for a new spin on Talk Like a Pirate Day in September.

Two Roaring Press Books about knitting in the same year (the other one being Leave Me Alone, being reviewed tomorrow)! Is this one of those weird trends that pop up on occasion?

Cat Knit

Cat Knit.jpgTitle: Cat Knit
Author/Illustrator: Jacob Grant
ISBN: 9781250051509
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillan, c2016.

Cat and Girl had always been good friends.
One day, Girl brought home a colorful new guest.
His name was Yarn.

Purple-furred Cat at first enjoys Yarn’s company, but then Girl “wanted to play with Yarn” and Yarn changes from a round red ball to a sweater for Cat. Cat does not appreciate this change, but when cold weather arrives he learns to accept his friend Yarn’s new form. Cat’s antics mimic the behavior of real cats, and his eyes show all his emotion as he glances with first mild interest, then joy, then anger, and finally reluctant acceptance at Yarn’s appearance and reappearance, although children unfamiliar with the concept of knitting and yarn crafts might need some explanation of exactly what happened. The last laugh is that Cat might have more to get used to than he originally thought. Girl was smart to buy a cat and sofa that matched in color, and digitally colored charcoal and crayon illustrations have a retro feel, with the focus placed solely on Cat.

Preaching to the Chickens

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a 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.

Preaching to the Chickens.jpgTitle: Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis
Author: Jabari Asim
Illustrator: E. B. Lewis
ISBN: 9780399168567
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, c2016.

Like the ministers he heard in church, John wanted to preach, so he gathered his chickens in the yard.
John stretched his arms above his flock and let the words pour forth. The chickens nodded and dipped their beaks as if they agreed.

Before John Lewis became a civil rights activist, a protester, and a congressman, he was a boy on a farm in Pike County, Alabama. Caring for about sixty chickens, he got up early every day to feed them, water them, line their nests with straw, and preach to them. He cared for those chickens, even going so far as to naming them, and that concern for poultry would eventually translate to people he helped and professions he held. A gentle story that extols the attributes of practice, persistence, hard work and faith, the watercolors provide a hazy backdrop for the words to lay on, which would perfectly suit the reading on a porch swing looking across a foggy farmstead similar to John’s home at a steamy summer sunset. Slow down and invoke the attributes of a time where feeding the chickens was a right, a responsibility, and a privilege.

Illuminae

Illuminae.jpgTitle: Illuminae
Series: Illuminae Files (#1)
Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrators: Olivia Taylor Dudley, Lincoln Hoppe, and Jonathan McClain, with a full cast
Book Design: Heather Kelly and Jay Kristoff
ISBN: 9781101916629 (book on cd), 9780553499117 (hardcover)
Pages: 599 pages
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 11.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Listening Library (audiobook), Borzoe Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015 by LaRoux Industries Pty LTD. and Neverafter Pty Ltd.

Interviewer: Tell me about yesterday.
Kady Grant: I was in class when it started. This is going to sound stupid, but I broke up with my boyfriend that morning, and he was right there on the other side of the room. I’m staring out the window and coming up with all the things I should say to the jerk, when these ships fly right overhead and all the windows start shaking.
Interviewer: Did you know something was up?
Kady Grant: No. You don’t jump straight to an invasion. […]
Interviewer: You evacuated at that stage?
Kady Grant: You make it sound way more organized than it was.
Interviewer: How was it?
Kady Grant: All kittens and rainbows. Apart from the screaming and explosions. (2-3)

Kady Grant and Ezra Mason are two teenagers who have just broken up, when their illegal mining colony is attacked by a competing mining corporation. Their hasty evacuation puts them on different ships, with a warship following close behind their tiny, limping fleet intent on finishing the job. But a virus has found its way onto one of the ships, and command is not sharing information in an attempt to stop rumors and panic. Hacking into the system, Kady is more knowledgeable than most, but even she is still in the dark about just how much trouble they are in. Forced to work with Ezra in order to piece together this puzzle, Kady has a hard time trusting anyone, including the supposedly unalterable AI system aboard the ship that seems to be updating itself with a mind of its own. And she’s unfortunately not the only one, as command  is conflicted regarding their course of action. With the odds clearly stacked against them, it’s anyone’s guess if they will make it out alive, and if they don’t what will finish them off first.

First, let’s talk design and production. In listening to the audiobook, you get a full cast narration, in which listeners can experience what it must have been like for people when War of the Worlds radio broadcast was first released. There are sound effects, there are harried voices talking over each other, there is the robotic monotone of the AI and other electronic system alerts. When a tremendous explosion rocks through the story, there is a pregnant pause in the audio of silence. Reminiscent of the Death Star explosion scene in Star Wars the audiobook stops completely and allows you to attempt to come to terms with desperately trying to overcome the shocking turn of events. You’re continually scrambling to figure out what is happening, and the audio allows you that time in its unhurried spooling of the story.

This brick of a book is designed beautifully, and some librarians were surprised to hear my raving reviews of the audio that it translated so well into an audio presentation. There are censored words throughout the book, blacked out with heavy marker. There’s paraphernalia paper clipped to reports. There are logos and letterhead for each of the ships involved, and spiraling script that conveys the chaotic events. I didn’t miss any of it, and in looking at the print version I am more thoroughly impressed with the quality of the audiobook. They took into account every detail and it shows.

The story itself reads like the Star Wars epic space opera/drama that it is. While there is a romance involved, for most of the story the two main characters are separated by space so there is very little PDA. Because the story is told in transcripts of verbal and textual conversations and summaries of surveillance footage, there is also surprisingly little technological jargon. The two primary characters, Ezra and Kady, don’t start out as soldiers or scientists or computer specialists, and that allows a very different story to take place than compared to other science fiction thrillers, like The Martian. The dialogue is riddled with censored swear words, incomplete sentences, and it’s refreshingly realistic. Kady is already sarcastic and suspicious, and her blatant disregard for authority is only amplified as the lies and secrets are uncovered. Ezra is slightly less skeptical than his ex, and is willing to go along with orders, until even he can’t ignore the writing on the wall. They play off each other extremely well, and their growing concern for each other evolves naturally as they cling to whoever they can as feelings of trust begin to dwindle. The other characters are fully realized, and everyone is struggling to reorient themselves in this ever-changing, perilous situation.

There is so little true science fiction available for teens, regardless of the quality this title would have been included on reader’s advisory lists. But because it exceeds all expectations that I had, I’m placing it as one of my favorites. The sequel Gemina is already available, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series and finishing the trilogy when the third one arrives at the end of the year. Highly recommended.

%d bloggers like this: