November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Beautiful Beginning Readers, Chuckle-worthy Chapter Books, and Strong Debuts Top Holiday House’s Spring 2016 List

Looking for BongoAt a recent preview for Holiday House, librarians enjoyed homemade apple tart and decades of original art by children’s book creators scattered along the walls of their modest midtown office. And the publishing house founded in 1935 hasn’t stopped collecting fantastic illustrators, as evidenced by their Spring 2016 list. The preview opened with Eric Velasquez, bard of Spanish Harlem, introducing his latest picture book, Looking for Bongo. Velasquez shared the inspiration and process behind this charming tale of a young boy searching for his favorite stuffed antelope. Drawing on his own childhood and the adorable youngster who served as the model for the main character, Velasquez adds another gem to the slim pile of books featuring Afro-Latino families.

As the proud publisher of 54 “I Like to Read” titles, Holiday House continues to stack their early reader series with enviable authors and illustrators. Geisel-winner Ethan Long contributes an outsized feline hilariously under siege from his loving family in Big Cat. Ted Lewin (Animals Work, Look!) returns with I See and See, his lush watercolors illustrating the sights a young boy observes in an urban environment. In Nate Likes to Skate, Bruce Degen tackles a falling out and reconciliation between two skateboarding cat friends.

NoodleheadKids moving on from early readers—especially Fly Guy fans—may want to check out Noodlehead Nightmares, Tedd Arnold’s new collaboration with Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss. In a goofy graphic novel for the chapter book set, Arnold brings his bubbly artwork to a pair of silly brothers with actual macaroni noodles for heads.

In picture book news, Jane Cabrera reimagines There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe with an conservationist twist: the woman and her diverse household of children resourcefully recycle and reinvent their household belongings. Hans Wilhelm’s A Hole in the Wall was inspired by Mark Twain’s “A Fable,” and features cartoon illustrations and the text of the original story in the back matter.

Those searching for high culture in their pictures books can check out Here Is Big Bunny by Steve Henry. With nods to artists such as Matisse, Calder, and Picasso, each spread reveals another piece of the mystery animal floating through the city: an oversize bunny balloon. Allegra Kent follows up Ballerina Swan with Ballerina Gets Ready, described as The Philharmonic Gets Dressed for dancers.

Whose EyeTwo nonfiction pictures books focus on animal biology. Shelley Rotner’s Whose Eye Am I? takes a very close photographic look at animal eyes and the adaptations that make each different. In Run for Your Life!: Predators and Prey on the African Savanna, author Lola M. Schaefer and illustrator Paul Meisel examine the life-and-death races that take place between carnivores and their potential targets in the grasslands, with back matter on camouflage, speed, and more.

We’re currently experiencing a golden age of picture book music biographies. Following Troy Andrews’s Trombone Shorty, Bonnie Christensen’s Elvis: The Story of the Rock and Roll King, Margarita Engle’s Drum Dream Girl, Carol Weatherford Boston’s Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century, and the duo’s own Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage As the First Black-and-white Jazz Band in History to name just Louis Armstronga few, wife and husband Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome team up once more for Just a Lucky So and So:The Story of Louis Armstrong. The book incorporates quotes from Armstrong and utilizes James’s signature painterly illustrations to trace the story of the jazz virtuoso from childhood to successful musician.

Two illustrated novels bring a zany spirit to middle grade fantasy fiction. Mystery fans might enjoy Snowize & Snitch: Highly Effective Defective Detectives by Karen Briner, featuring spies, inventors, terrible parents, and invisible ice cream. Readers with an off-kilter sense of humor could check out I.J. Brindle’s Balthazar Fabuloso and the Lair of the Humbugs, in which the only non-magical member of a magician family must square off against a towering evil to rescue his relatives.

In the tradition of Rob Burea’s Mr. Terupt, Our Teacher Is a Vampire and Other (Not) True Stories by Mary Amato appears as the handwritten notebook passed around an entire class, as students speculate onApploe whether their teacher’s new behavior means she’s actually a vampire (she’s not) and then express their feelings when a long-term substitute takes her place. In Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s The Apple Tart of Hope, reminiscent of Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish, 14-year-old Meg uncovers the bullying of her former best friend, who has gone missing and is presumed dead. Comparisons to Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park  for younger teens suggest a certain amount of uplift among the bittersweet, and only a dash of despair. YA readers seeking blockbuster adventure may want to consider Desert Dark by debut novelist Sonja Stone, set in a secret CIA training school in the wilds of Arizona.

Robbin Friedman is a children’s librarian at the Chappaqua Library in Chappaqua, NY. 

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