Friday, October 9, 2015

The Wonder Garden

The Wonder Garden
by Jenny Broom
Illustrations by Kristjana S. Williams
Wide Eyed Editions. 2015. Informational.

 Have you or your child been yearning for an exciting nonfiction book? One with incredible illustrations that rival even the most beautiful picture books? The Wonder Garden explores some of Earth's most diverse habitats, from the Himalayan Mountains to the Great Barrier Reef -- even stopping in the southwestern American desert. The book is overflowing with facts about animals and the environments in which they live, but that information is not what makes The Wonder Garden truly special.

While most informational books aim for photorealism (or simply photography) in their depictions of nature, The Wonder Garden draws inspiration from the field guides of the 18th and 19th centuries, with highly detailed and stylized illustrations of creatures and plants. Readers will want to search for every last animal, with some cleverly hidden in the wildly-colored illustrations.

This is a truly remarkable book that blends hard science with unsurpassed artwork, and any fan of nature books, picture books, or any books should leap at the opportunity to explore The Wonder Garden.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast

Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Brendan Kearney
Sterling Children’s Books, 2015. Picture Book

Lady Pancake and Sir French toast live happily as friends amongst all of the other food in the refrigerator. That is until they learn from Miss Brie that there is only one drop left of syrup and they both want it! Both begin to make a mad dash through the fridge towards the syrup. They trek through places like “Broccoli Forest” and “Potato Mash Mountain” as they seek to outsmart and out-travel each other in order to get to the last drop of syrup. Finally, after a difficult and contentious race they arrive at their destination. What they find there stops them in their tracks and makes them realize that perhaps it would be better to not fight next time.

Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast is a fun romp through the refrigerator written by Josh Funk, a childhood friend of B. J. Novak. Funk’s creative and exciting story written in rhyme is aided by Brendan Kearney’s colorful and pleasantly chaotic illustrations. A great read-aloud for all ages!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

McToad Mows Tiny Island

McToad Mows Tiny Island
by Tom Angleberger
illustrated by John Hendrix
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015. Picture Book

McToad usually mows the Big Island,  but on Thursday (his favorite day) he takes the long trip to the Tiny Island to mow there.  He loads his mower on a truck, which takes him to a train.  Then he puts the mower on a boat and finally a helicopter caries the mower to the island.  After he is done, McToad drinks a lemonade before taking the treck back.  The text is understated, but the illustrations are delightfully funny. There is much here for kids to like, from the colorful vehicles, to McToad's confident "mower guy" expression. We would expect nothing less from Angleberger and Hendrix.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Tucky Jo and Little Heart

Tucky Jo and Little Heart
By Patricia Polacco
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015. Picture Book.

Based on a true account, this picture book conveys the story of Johnnie Wallen, as shared with the author. Lying about his age—he was only 15—in order to enlist in the army during WWII, Johnnie became known as “the kid” to his unit but when he proved himself as a marksman the nickname “Kentucky Kid” became a badge of honor. While fighting in the Philippines, he was bombarded by bugs and suffering from welts left by the bites. While out on patrol one day, he saw a village in the distance, and a little girl appeared. She showed him plant leaves that were like medicine to his bites, providing instant relief. He thanked her with chocolate but she would not speak. The girl had a heart shape birthmark on her arm so he called her “Little Heart”; she called him “Tucky Jo” after he introduced himself as Kentucky Johnnie. Over the weeks he would meet her by the river and give her part of his K rations and try to make her laugh. When he told his unit about the village, which was suffering because the enemy had taken away their men, supplies, and fishing nets, they helped out as well. Then one day the enemy returned to the area and attacked the village; Tucky Jo, with permission from his leaders and help from his troops, helped evacuate the village—and that was the last he ever saw of Little Heart.

This heart-warming story shows how even in times of war a little kindness goes a long way, as well as showing how Little Heart’s small act of kindness led to her village being saved and how helping Little Heart and her village brought peace to Tucky Jo’s heart and gave him the perspective to continuing fighting, as he realized he was fighting for children everywhere like Little Heart.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth
By Judd Winick
Random House Children’s Books, 2015. Graphic Novel, 193 p.

Unlike his siblings, there is nothing special about Daniel Jackson (DJ) Lim. He is just average at everything. He lives a mundane day to day life, especially since his best friend, Gina, moved away. That all changes when DJ witnesses a boy fall from space and crash into the earth. Clad in silver underwear, the boy is extremely intelligent and energetic but lacks bits of everyday knowledge as well as an understanding of social norms. He also has no memory of who he is or where he came from, though he eventually remembers that his name is Hilo (High-Low). DJ takes him in and begins helping him assimilate. During Hilo’s first day of school DJ is surprised to find that Gina has recently moved back and is in their class. Memories begin to periodically come back to Hilo and he slowly realizes some of the dangers that have come with him. DJ, Gina and Hilo must now learn about Hilo’s past in order to save Earth’s future.

The three main characters are extremely likeable and the colorful illustrations help tell an exuberant, face-paced story full of diverse characters, hilarious exchanges and exciting moments. The scenes with DJ’s family alone are worth a reading. The theme of friendship is ever-present as DJ discovers what is truly special about him. This is a great choice for children in grades 3-6.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Blackthorn Key


The Blackthorn Key
by Kevin Sands
Aladdin, 2015.  371 pgs. Fiction

     Christopher Rowe feels blessed to have been rescued from an orphanage to serve as apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn, apothecary. Chosen for his ability to make good soup, Christopher is soon learning to mix more frightening ingredients and he and his friend Tom manage to unman the shop's stuffed bear when Christopher mixes gunpowder and fires off a makeshift cannon. But soon Christopher's mischief gives way to much more serious concerns:  someone is systematically killing and gutting the apothecaries of London. Master Benedict is preoccupied and often absent, and rumors of a mysterious Cult of the Archangel begin to circulate as the deaths draw ever closer to Christopher's beloved master's shop.  Filled with secret codes, deadly potions, explosions, guy humor,   powerful friendships, baleful treachery, and terrific period detail, The Blackthorn Key is a cracking good read for sixth graders on up, including their parents and grandparents.

The Wonder

The Wonder
by Faye Hanson
Templar Books. Picture Book. 2015.

This is a story about a boy whose head is filled with wonder.

Throughout his day, he uses his imagination to turn a drab reality into an incredible fantasy world -- but the adults in his life stifle him by reprimanding his creative daydreams. After being repeatedly scolded, the boy visits his art class, where the teacher hands him a blank sheet of paper and gives him a single instruction: "just use your imagination." With this freedom to use his creativity, his imagination runs wild, resulting in a work of art that his teacher calls "wonderful."

The Wonder is a celebration of childlike imagination. The lush illustrations provide a contrast between the soft, brown real world and the wild technicolor of the boy's fantasies. Once the boy is given license to use his imagination, the book becomes a series of full-page illustrations, which overflow with gorgeous details. This book is both an affirmation to children and a warning for adults not to suppress their little ones. In any case, both children and their parents will adore this tender, encouraging story.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Papa's Backpack

 Papa’s Backpack
By James Christopher Carroll
Sleeping Bear Press, 2015. Picture book.

The subtitle describes this book as “a tribute to the bond between a child and a military parent.” A little bear knows his father has to go away sometimes to be a soldier, but imagines what it would be like if he could go along with him in a backpack and offer support as they faced adversity together.

The text is gentle and poetic but has a wonderful rhythmic rhyming that makes for an enjoyable read-aloud. The idea of war is represented in a very general and symbolic sense, suitable for young children. Although designed to be about a parent’s deployment, the subject is ambiguous enough, and the feelings of love and longing universal enough, to cover any and all separations.

The illustrations alone would make this book extraordinary. Earthy tones, semi-abstract textures, stark contrasts, and swirling colors beautifully amplify the emotions of this sweet but deeply felt tale.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Painting for Peace in Ferguson

Painting for Peace in Ferguson
By Carol Swartout Klein
Treehouse Publishing Group, 2015. Nonfiction.

When the city of Ferguson was overrun with so much hate and despair that homes and businesses had to be boarded up to protect property, citizens of the community decided to bring a message of hope by painting the boarded windows. Klein’s rhyming text supports the photographs of the hundreds of artists and volunteers and their artwork as they bring the messages of peace, hope, love, and that by being united they can make a difference. A great book to show children how a community rallied to make a positive change and that even a small gesture can make a huge difference. A great discussion opener on how we should treat each other.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Leo: A Ghost Story

Leo: A Ghost Story
Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Chronicle Books, 2015. Picture Book

Mac Barnett has done it again with this charming story about a lonely ghost. Leo the ghost is excited when his abandoned home is finally purchased by a new family. He is pleased to have some company. But when he tries to be helpful around the house, the new family doesn't seem to appreciate his efforts. (Not that I blame them, I'd probably be a little freaked out by objects randomly floating around my house too. ) Being the kind and polite ghost that he is, Leo decides to leave the new owners in peace and find another place to live. And that is when his real adventures begin. This is the perfect ghost story for younger readers who might need their ghosts just a little gentler and sweeter than some of the more frightening tales available this time of year.