Waking Brain Cells
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Barnett and Klassen are an amazing picture book duo who have created with this book an instant classic. Sam and Dave are two friends who set out to dig a hole on Monday. They decide that they won’t stop digging until they find “something spectacular.” They keep digging, deeper and deeper, missing jewels by just a few inches. They stop and have chocolate milk and animal cookies and then continue to dig. Maybe another direction will help them find treasure? But readers will see as they take the turn that they miss the biggest gem yet. The dog that is along with them though seems to realize that there are things right under the surface, but Sam and Dave don’t pay any attention to him. They dig and dig, missing everything along the way until they are right above a dog bone. The two boys take a nap and their dog continues to dig down until suddenly they are falling down from the hole into a world very like their own. Readers who are paying close attention though will realize that it is a subtly different place.
Children love to dig in the dirt and I think every child has dreamed of digging a truly great hole and finding something amazing. Barnett keeps his text very straight-forward and simple, allowing the humor to be in the near misses of the illustrations and the perceptiveness of the little dog. It is this frank delivery that makes the humor of the illustrations really work, giving them a platform to build off of. The ending is wonderfully open-ended, and some readers will miss the subtle differences and assume they are back home again. Others though will see the changes and realize that no matter what Sam and Dave have discovered their “spectacular” something.
Klassen’s illustrations are wonderful. I adore the way that he lets his characters look out from the page to the reader. He did the same thing in both of his great “Hat” picture books and there is a strong connection from the page to the people enjoying the book. His illustrations have a textured feel to them, an organic nature that reads particularly well in this dirt-filled world.
An instant classic and one that will get readers talking about the open ending. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: digging, dogs, friendships, holes
BLOGGING & BOOK REVIEWS
Filed under: Recommended Links
Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers
Released November 4, 2014.
The third in the His Fair Assassin trilogy, this book follows a third sister from the convent of Mortain. Annith has been kept at the convent longer than her two friends and has never been sent on assignment. Now she has excelled at all of her training to such an extent that she has surpassed the skills of many of her teachers. With their Seeress very ill, Annith is proposed to be the next Seeress for the convent, but that would mean that she would never leave, be stuck in stuffy rooms all the rest of her life, and would never put her skills to use. So Annith works to make sure that the existing Seeress survives her illness, spending long hours nursing her back to health. When she discovers that even then she will not be sent into the field, she begins to question whether the convent and the Abbess are truly doing the work of Mortain. So Annith escapes, heading out to see what Mortain has planned for her and her life. Soon Annith is caught up in the perils of traveling across a war-torn country, fighting for her and her country’s freedom, and falling in love.
LaFevers ends her trilogy on a high note with this book about Annith. Her trilogy has focused on a different daughter of Mortain in each book, offering a strong cohesion across the series but also a unique perspective and voice with each new protagonist. Each of the girls is quite different from the other, yet all of them have their demons to face and problems to overcome. Placed against a backdrop of war and political intrigue, the books ride that wave of ferocity, honor and strategy to great effect.
Annith herself is a very intriguing character. While the other two books in the series showed her as friendly but rather aloof, this book delves deeply into her motivations and how she came to be the person she is. As each layer is revealed, her complex personality makes sense and as she begins to leverage it to create the life she wants and deserves, she becomes all the more passionate and powerful. LaFevers writing is so readable, it gallops along at a fast pace but also is clearly trained and focused.
A fitting end to a grand trilogy, I can’t wait to see what LaFevers has for us next! Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from HMH Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Teen Tagged: fantasy, historical fiction
The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak
No pictures? In a picture book? Is it still a picture book? Is it still for preschoolers? The answer is a resounding yes! And even better, this is a book filled with words and no images that preschoolers will delight in. First, the audience is told that the rule with reading a book aloud is that the reader has to say everything that is on the page, whether they like it or not. Even if the words are nonsense, even if they have to be sung, even if they insult themselves. Completely silly, this picture book is filled with funny things the reader has to say aloud and then clever asides about what the reader is thinking to themselves.
Novak understands child humor wonderfully. Reading this book to a group of preschoolers will be a delight, particularly when they realize that the author has you under their control. Play up your dismay at having to be silly and you will have the children rolling with laughter. Novak walks the line perfectly here, never taking the joke too far into being mean, but keeping it just naughty enough to intrigue youngsters to listen closely.
This is one of those picture books that you save to end a story time, since it is guaranteed to keep the attention of the entire group of children. It’s a winner! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: humor, readalouds, Reading
The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Macbeth by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Zack Giallongo
When the gates shut at night at The Stratford Zoo, the animals come out to play. They steal the keys from one of the zoo keepers as they leave and all of the cages are unlocked. Vendors walk the aisles selling treats like peanuts and earthworms to the growing crowd. Then on stage, the theater begins with the lion as Macbeth. After meeting with the witches, the question is whether Macbeth will eat the king. Lady Macbeth proposes different preparations to make the king taste better, and Macbeth finally succumbs and eats the king. But then, as with any Shakespearean tragedy, others must be eaten too. This is a wild and wonderful combination of Shakespeare, hungers both human and animal, and plenty of humor.
Lendler takes great liberties with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. He combines all of the moments that people remember in the play, from Lady Macbeth trying to wash out the spots of blood to the visits to the three witches and the way their predictions play out. He also adds in lots of slapstick comedy, plenty of asides from the audience and actors, and also shortens the play substantially.
Giallongo’s art is colorful and dramatic. He plays up the drama of the ketchup stains, the growing stomach of the lion, and the ambitions of Lady Macbeth. Comic moments are captured with plenty of humor visually. This zoo is filled with fur, claws, fun and drama.
A perfect combination of Shakespeare and wild animal humor, this will please those who know Macbeth and people knew to the play alike. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School, Graphic Novels Tagged: humor, Macbeth, Shakespeare, theater, zoos
Call Me Tree: lámame árbol by Maya Christina Gonzalez
Released November 1, 2014.
This poetic picture book combines a celebration of trees with one of human diversity. A boy starts to grow under the earth, reaching his arm up to break the surface of the ground. His arm and fingers becomes a trunk and branches and soon he too is up in the air next to his tree. Just as trees have freedom, so does he. Just as each tree is different from another, he is different from the other people too. Yet they all have roots and they all belong on the earth and in the world.
This very simple book is written like a free verse poem in both English and Spanish, closely tying biodiversity to human diversity in a clever way. The connection of humans and trees is beautifully shown as well, in a way that ties each person to a tree like them. It’s a book that is radiant in its delight in our connection to nature and the way that nature’s diversity reflects on our own.
Gonzalez both wrote and illustrated this picture book. Her illustrations are colorful with deep colors that leap on the page. The characters on the page are bold and different, each with their own feel of exuberance or quiet contemplation or strength. Along with each different child, there is a tree connected to them that equally reflects their personality. It’s a very clever way to clearly tie humans to nature.
This book could serve as inspiration for children to draw their own personal trees that express themselves or it can be a lullaby to dreams of blue skies and green leaves. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Children’s Book Press.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: diversity, freedom, trees
The nominations for the 2015 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals have been announced. The Carnegie Medal is awarded for an outstanding book for children and young people. The Kate Greenaway Medal is for an outstanding book in terms of illustration for children and young people. These awards from the UK can be seen as very similar to the Newbery and Caldecott Awards in the US.
Filed under: Awards
Celebrating the role of Australian authors, the shortlists for the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards have been announced. Two of the shortlists are for teen and children’s fiction:
Kissed by the Moon by Alison Lester
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan
Silver Button by Bob Graham
Song for a Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt
YOUNG ADULT FICTION
The First Third by Will Kostakis
Girl Defective by Simmone Howell
The Incredible Here and Now by Felicity Castagna
Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil
Pureheart by Cassandra Golds
Filed under: Awards
Any Questions? by Marie-Louise Gay
Where do stories come from? How are books made? These questions that authors often get from children are the subject of this picture book from an author who has written and illustrated many picture books. Together the author and a group of children asking delighted questions create a story right in front of the reader. They take inspiration from the kind of paper the story is written on, the colors of the page. They talk about how ideas happen, and how sometimes they are great ideas but don’t become a book or that not all ideas fit into a single story. Ideas sometimes don’t appear and you have to wait for them, doodling and dreaming of other things until they arrive. And then something happens, and it starts to become a story! The children in the book get involved and the story takes a surprising turn. Luckily story telling is flexible and able to deal with wild purple monsters who come out of the woods. This is a great look at the creative process and how books are made, written at a level that preschool children will enjoy and understand.
Gay is so open and inviting in this picture book. She is refreshingly candid about the creative process and all of the bumps and twists along the way. The invitation to the reader along with the child characters in the book to be part of creating a story is warm and friendly. All ideas are welcome, some work and other don’t, and that is all embraced as part of creativity.
Gay’s illustrations continue the cheerfulness of the text. They combine writing in cursive with story panels and speech bubbles with characters in the book. It’s all a wonderful mix of styles that gets your creativity flowing.
Expect children to want to write their own stories complete with illustrations after reading this! Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School, Picture Books Tagged: books, stories, writing
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
In 1959, desegregation of schools had become law and could no longer be delayed but that does not mean that it was welcomed. Sarah Dunbar and her younger sister are two of the first black students to attend Jefferson High School. She walks a gauntlet the first day of school just to enter the building where adults and students alike spit on her, scream racist remarks, and throw things. It doesn’t get much better inside with the abusive language continuing, no one willing to sit near the black students in class, and the teachers doing nothing to stop it. Linda Hairston is one of the white students that attends Jefferson High. She is also the daughter of the owner of the local newspaper, a man who is fiercely critical of the attempts at desegregation. Linda has been taught all of her life to fear her father and to keep separate from black people. Forced to work together on a school project, Linda and Sarah spend more time together and learn about each other. To make things more complicated, they are also attracted to one another, something that neither of their communities could understand much less embrace. This is a powerful story about two girls caught in a city at war about desegregation where their own secrets could get them killed.
Talley has created one of the most powerful fictional books about desegregation I have seen. Using the worst of racist terms that flow like water across the page, again and again, yet never becoming numbing, the language alone is shocking and jarring for modern readers. Add in the physical and emotional abuse that the black students suffered and you begin to realize the pressure that they were under not only to survive day to day but to excel and prove that they are worthy to be in the school. The gradual transformation of the attitudes of both Sarah and Linda are done believably and honestly. Nicely, Linda is not the only one who grows and changes in the process.
Adding in the LGBT element was a brave choice. While the book is about desegregation as much of the story, the attraction and relationship of the two girls is an equally powerful part of the book. Modern readers will understand their need for secrecy and somehow the hatred of gay people allows readers to better understand the hatred of African-Americans depicted on the page. It is clear by the end that bigotry is bigotry and love is love, no matter the color or the sex. Talley beautifully ties the two issues together in a way that strengthens them both.
Powerful, wrenching and brutal, this book has heroines of unrivaled strength and principles that readers will fear for and cheer for. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Harlequin Teen and Edelweiss.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Teen Tagged: desegregation, historical fiction, LGBTQ, racism
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