Waking Brain Cells
A fresh little counting book, this Australian import combines numbers with a jaunty rhyme. One little “chooky” chick is unable to pull a big worm out of the ground, so another chick tries to help. Three of them pull and pull then, and the worm just grows longer and longer. Eventually there are six chicks pulling and not able to get the worm out of the ground. Rooster joins them and helps to pull. They pull and pull, bracing themselves on the ground, until pop! The worm lets go and gives them all a big surprise.
Each page asks “What should chookies do?” and leads into the page turn where another chick has joined in helping. The next page then starts with the number of chicks pulling, making the counting element very clear for young readers. The text is simple and has a great rhythm to it. This picture book could easily be turned into a play for preschoolers to act out, since the actions are simple. The reveal at the end is very satisfying and make sure you look at the very final pages to see the smiling worm still happily in the dirt.
The illustrations are done in collage, both by hand and digital. The textures of the papers chosen for the collage offer a feeling of printmaking too, an organic style that works well with the subject matter. The chicks have huge eyes and are large on the page, making counting easy for the youngest listeners. The bright colors add to the appeal.
A great toddler read aloud for units on farms, this picture book will worm its way right into your heart. Appropriate for ages 2-3.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: chickens, concepts, counting, farms, toddlers, worms
Told in verse, this nonfiction picture book celebrates the life and work of Louis Fuertes. As a child, Louis loved watching birds and caring for them if they were injured. Even in his youth he started drawing and painting birds, despite the fact that his father wanted him to be an engineer. He kept drawing and painting in college, and learned to paint quickly and capture birds in action. At the time, the practice was to hunt the birds and then paint the dead bodies posed. Fuertes instead watched birds in life and painted them. Soon he was traveling the world to see different birds and paint them for museums, books and scientific record. Fuertes painted murals at the Natural History Museum and had a series of collectible cards with his paintings of birds on them. He helped make bird watching one of the most popular sports in the world by reinventing the way artists approached painting wildlife.
Engle speaks as Fuertes in her poems, giving him a voice to describe his own life and his own art. The book swirls like birds wings, moving from one colorful part of the world to another, delighting in the diversity of bird life everywhere. The format is rather like Fuertes’ work itself. She captures Fuertes in his real life, speaking as himself, traveling around the world, and then settling down to be the Bird Man in his old age. He is in his natural habitat throughout. Engle also captures the power of art and the importance of following the natural gifts you have.
The illustrations by Bereghici are bright with color and filled with birds. She labels each one, so that readers can learn about the different types of birds along the way. The book is filled with different habitats, even showing Fuertes underwater attempting to learn more about ducks so that he doesn’t have to shoot them. The illustrations of the birds are serious and detailed while there is often a playfulness to Fuertes’ image on the page.
A beautiful celebration of an artist who forever changed the way that birds and wildlife are painted. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School, Nonfiction, Picture Books Tagged: artists, biographies, birds
Fright Club by Ethan Long
Released August 11, 2015.
The night before Halloween, all of the monsters in Fright Club met for one last time to finalize their plans to terrify children. But just as they were about to begin showing their scary faces, a little bunny knocked on the door. The bunny asked to join Fright Club, but the monsters just laughed and sent the bunny away. The monsters went back to demonstrating their frightening faces, but none of them were actually scary at all. Another knock came on the door and it was a wolf insisting that critters be allowed into the Fright Club too and not be discriminated against. The monsters went back to practicing but then there was a pounding on the door. It was the critters with torches and signs, insisting that they were scary too. The monsters slammed the door and hid inside, waiting for them to go away. Instead of going away though, the critters got in and frightened the monsters, proving that they were ready for Fright Club after all. And it turned out that more frights meant a better Halloween night!
Long does great broad comedy in this picture book. The pace is fast and there are plenty of jokes combined with humorous action to keep it all moving briskly along. The kid appeal is also here with a Halloween theme as well as cute monsters who really couldn’t scare anyone without the help of the critters. The use of classic monsters like vampires, mummies, witches and ghosts makes for a book that has a classic flair as well.
The illustrations stick to a gloomy palette that adds plenty of atmosphere. Shadows and light are used very effectively, from the shine of the torches to the the monsters hiding in a room surrounded by light rather than shadow. The subtle use of color within that shadowy overall look really works well, almost popping against the grey darkness.
A Halloween treat, this picture book is much more fun than fright. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury Publishing.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: Halloween, monsters
Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko (InfoSoup)
Lizzie works alongside her father who is a doctor in San Francisco at the turn of the century. It gives her a break from the loneliness of attending a school where the girls won’t speak with her and from her brother who is getting more and more moody and secretive. It’s very unusual for a girl to be allowed to help a physician and Lizzie plans to go to college herself rather than being married off to a rich beau. But something strange is happening on the streets of San Francisco and there are rumors of plague in the city. Chinatown is suddenly quarantined and no one is allowed in or out. Lizzie’s family’s Chinese cook is caught in the quarantine and unable to return home. When Lizzie hears noises in his rooms, she investigates and discovers that his son has been staying there. The two become friends and he even convinces her to try to be friends with the girls at school too. Soon Lizzie is going from having no friends to having several, but even glittering social events can’t distract her from the medical mystery afoot in the city.
Choldenko has written a book that explores racism from a unique angle and perspective. Starting with the rumors of plague in San Francisco, she has built a mystery with a sound footing in history. Throughout the entire story, racism is a central theme as is social standing. Lizzie breaks both social conventions by befriending the cook’s son, someone who shows her just how much more there is to know about his father too. Though Lizzie is close to the servants and never demanding or cruel, even she has much to learn about their lives and the social forces at work.
Lizzie is a strong and brave heroine who risks her own social standing and reputation to do what is right. I enjoyed that she has trouble making friends, preferring books to approaching others. It is also noteworthy that she makes a great friend herself and the winning personality that readers immediately experience is the same that she shows those that she befriends. Lizzie also stands up to her aunt, someone who is trying to control her destiny and future. Yet even that aunt has another side, one that Lizzie has to work hard to discover.
Another strong historical novel from Choldenko, this book will be enjoyed by her fans who will like Lizzie immediately. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Wendy Lamb Books and Edelweiss.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School, Middle School Tagged: historical fiction, racism, San Francisco
Buckley and his mother live together in a little cabin near the ocean. Buckley loves to explore the beach near their house, collecting driftwood to build little boats. One day he sends a favorite boat out to his father, whom he thinks about often. He decides that if the boat never returns that it means his father received it. The boat doesn’t come back. From then on, on special days, he and his mother send a boat off to his father. Buckley’s boats get better and better. Then on his birthday, Buckley forgets to put the note on his boat that says that it’s for his father and how much he loves him. Buckley heads inside to find paper for the note and discovers that his mother has been collecting all of the boats Buckley has sent to his father. So when Buckley sends his birthday boat out onto the ocean, he’s made one big change.
Bagley’s book grapples with some huge issues like grief and loss but it does so in a way that allows children to approach the situation at their own level. It never forces emotions onto the reader, instead making those emotions much more intense by having characters who internalize much of their grief. The use of boats to send a message is beautiful and moving in itself. The fact that the mother is collecting them, yet allowing her son his own grieving process is also very special.
The artwork in the book is done with pen and watercolor. It offers so much detail, creating a setting that is rich and warm. It suits the story so well, giving the reader a chance to realize on their own that the mother is also sad and grieving in her own way even while supporting her young son and protecting him. The natural setting is awash in watercolors, giving it flow and a luminous quality that lets light shine from the sky and ocean too.
Grief and loss are made beautiful and tangible in this picture book that offers such grace and nurturing. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: boats, death, families, grief, loss, mothers, ocean
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Oliver and his dad have had a great summer together, playing and doing so much. Now it’s time for Oliver to start school for the first time. Oliver is all ready and excited to go. But that first morning, Dad’s stomach starts to hurt. He’s nervous and when it’s time to leave the house he even hides from Oliver. But Oliver manages to get his dad to the car, though he drives to school very slowly. Once there, Oliver happily joins the class but his father starts to cry when it’s time for him to leave Oliver in school. Back home, Dad thinks a lot about Oliver and heads off to school to check on him. Through the door, he sees Oliver happily participating in class and realizes that they are both ready for school after all.
Wohnoutka takes the first day of school jitters and turns them on their head with this cheery picture book. The father in the book acts just like a child at times, adding to the broad humor in the book. Most of the time though parents will recognize their own feelings about a child entering school for the first time. It’s a great title to have conversations about how you and your child are feeling about school and the fact that you will both miss one another even when you are both ready to start school.
The illustrations are approachable and have a cartoony appeal. Dad in particular is a wonderful rendition of a middle-aged father. There is cause for celebration when you have a back-to-school book focused on a father who takes care of his child and then also cares so emotionally as well. The illustrations amp up the emotions and then take a humorous approach to keep the book sunny and silly.
A back-to-school book for the entire family, parents too, this picture book will have families laughing even as the first day of school approaches. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Bloomsbury.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: families, fathers, parents, school
Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds by Marianne Dubuc
Released August 1, 2015.
On Monday morning, Mr. Postmouse loads up his wagon to delivery the mail. He goes from one home to the next, delivering packages that suit the needs of each recipient. There is a huge carrot-shaped package for the rabbits, nuts for Mr. Squirrel, a fancy shovel for Mrs. Mole, and some sweets for the ants. Each animal has a unique home from the long, long home filled with heat lamps for Mr. Snake to the watery home of the crocodiles and the underwater home of Mrs. Octopus. Each animal has a habitat and a space that is filled with details that children will love to take a close look at. This engaging look at the postal system is also a beginning way to talk about animals and their homes.
This French Canadian import has limited text, offering just enough to identify the animals and contents of some of their packages. The real delight here are the illustrations, filled with whimsy and detail, they offer a glimpse into a storybook world of animals and their homes. Drawn with fine lines, the illustrations have all of the detail of Richard Scarry with a modern feel. There are stories within the larger one, where a bird is wanted for theft, pigs are saving sheep from the wolf, and Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks appear.
This is a book to sit and pore over, enjoying the details and making up stories about the homes that you can see inside. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: animals, homes, mail
Released August 4, 2015.
In this verse memoir, Engle tells the story of her childhood during the Cold War. With half of her family coming from Cuba and a grandmother who still lived there, Engle had a strong connection to Cuba. It was there that as a child she found herself, connected to the island culture and lifestyle, ran wild in nature, and discovered a quieter life. It contrasted with her life in Los Angeles, filled with bustle and crowded with people. Through both of these distinct worlds, she has a constant, her love of books and words. As the Bay of Pigs escalates, Engle fears for her island family and has to deal with the increased hatred of Cuba and Cubans in America. Cut off from family with the Cuban embargo, Engle can do little to help and again turns to her words to express herself.
Engle is one of the best verse novelists working today. While all of her previous books are splendid, this one is personal in a new way, one that offers up her heart. She shows her love of Cuba so vividly and so profoundly that her connection there runs through the entire novel. At the same time, she also shares the loneliness of a girl who likes books and words and who struggles to make friends at times. Add to that the political turmoil that has continued for decades and you have a book that could have been a tragedy but instead rises beyond that and straight into hope.
As always, Engle’s verse is exceptional. She captures emotions with a clarity in her verse that makes it immensely compelling to read. There are poems that show a pig being slaughtered on the farm in Cuba that makes it sound both brutal and delicious, the perfect mix of tempting and revolting. There are poems that capture the night sounds of Cuba and the longing for a horse of her own. They show the beauty of milking cows, the strength of a hard-working hand, the joy of connecting with a horse as you ride it. It all melts together into a picture of Cuba that is both personal and universal.
Give this to children who loved Brown Girl Dreaming for another verse memoir that is sure to inspire young readers to see the world in a more diverse and brilliant way. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School, Middle School, Nonfiction, poetry Tagged: Cuba, Cuban Americans, Hispanic Americans, memoirs, poetry
My Wilderness: An Alaskan Adventure by Claudia McGehee
This nonfiction picture book tells the story of Rocky and his father, painter Rockwell Kent, who spent a winter in 1918-1919 on Fox Island, just off the coast of Alaska. Rocky was nine years old at the time. He and his father repaired an old shed and turned it into their cabin. While his father spent time painting, Rocky drew a bit and explored the island a lot. He saw wildlife in the woods, collected shells and stones and the beach. Evenings were spent in the cabin, eating dinner and sharing stories. When the winter came, days filled with different activities like taking snow baths, making snow houses. They took trips to a larger island in their dory, rowing when the weather was good. They faced one large storm when returning home, barely making it to land. All too soon, their time in the wilderness was done. It was a time that Rocky always felt was the best in his life.
McGehee takes readers along on an epic journey to Alaska. The mountains are huge, the water freezing, the woods thick and the animals are everywhere. Told from the point of view of Rocky, the book allows young readers to see Alaska through his eyes and marvel along with him at the wonder of nature. As he walks the woods and explores the shore, he dreams that there may be monsters or pirates around, but looking again he always sees something that fits into the natural scene. The days are filled with exploration and evenings spent together, one gets the sense that there was more than enough adventure to fill their days.
The illustrations are done on scratchboard giving the feel almost of woodcut prints on the page. The result is a very organic feel with thick lines and an interplay of bright colors and deep black. The more natural feel works very well with this Alaskan subject matter, creating an old fashioned feel that enhances the book as well. McGehee captures nature with an ease that makes one want to enter the deep green woods alongside Rocky.
Explore the Alaskan wilderness in all of its wonder in this historical picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School, Nonfiction, Picture Books Tagged: Alaska, American history, nature, painters
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