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Picture Books Xpress Reviews | December 2016

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For more of this month’s
Xpress Reviews:

YA

Graphic Novels

Nonfiction

Atkinson, Cale. Maxwell the Monkey Barber. illus. by Cale Atkinson. 32p. Owlkids. Aug. 2016. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781771471039.

PreS-Gr 2 –Maxwell the monkey is an expert barber who takes every challenge in stride. He has no problem taming a baboon’s wild head of hair and can tidy an unruly lion’s mane in the blink of an eye. Bear’s scraggly beard is made neat and sophisticated in a matter of moments. Maxwell uses a variety of tools and works hard to make his patrons look their best. As the animals leave the shop, Maxwell makes sure to compliment each customer. But what’s a barber to do when an elephant comes in sad and cold because he has no hair? Maxwell ponders and struggles to find a way to help his friend. All is not lost, and Maxwell comes up with the perfect solution. The surprise ending will definitely satisfy young listeners. This is a delightful book that children will enjoy hearing again and again. The narrative is told in rhyme and consists of some repetition, so children can participate in telling the story. The illustrations are bright, lively, and full of color. The characters are packed with personality and show great expressions. VERDICT A fun read-aloud for storytimes or classroom sharing.–Barbara Spiri, Southborough Library, MA

Avingaq, Susan. Fishing with Grandma. illus. by Maren Vstula. 32p. Inhabit Media. Jun. 2016. Tr $10.95. ISBN 9781772270846.

K-Gr 2 –It is a day to go fishing! Not just any fishing, but ice fishing, which requires a bit more work than the angling excursions that readers might be used to. In this book, readers experience a day through the eyes of the two grandchildren of Annanatsiaq, or grandma. It is a story of tradition and heritage in which children gain insight into Inuit methods of fishing with a jigging rod under the guidance of a matriarch mentor. The narrative covers everything from clothing to tools (“Grandma explained how to test the ice to make sure it was safe to walk on. She jabbed a long rod into the ice to see if it would break through.”). Step by step through the day, readers are privy to the precision and work that go into this type of adventure. The narrative at times falls a little flat, but the detailed images of Inuit fishing tools, combined with the Inuktitut terms on the endpapers, make this book a solid resource for learning about another culture and way of life. VERDICT An endearing family tale that will introduce children to different perspectives while maintaining a sense of intergenerational bonds.–Megan Egbert, Meridian Library District, ID

BREATHED, Berkeley. The Bill the Cat Story: A Bloom County Epic. illus. by Berkeley Breathed. 40p. Philomel. Sept. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780399546624.

K-Gr 2 –Binkley is a lonely kid who instantly falls in love with a cat; unfortunately for him, though, his pet happens to be the brainless Bill the Cat. Modern audiences might not understand that Bill the Cat and his friend Opus the Penguin come from the old comic strip Bloom County; this may alienate some, but a deep understanding of the characters isn’t necessary to enjoy the story. Bill is then quickly taken away from Binkley, leaving the boy to pine for his friend while his cat goes on an epic journey. Full-page scenes depicting Bill’s many adventures, from leading his cat sled team to herding a group of elephants, certainly make the book. Brightly colored and detailed and drawn in Breathed’s signature style, the images will delight fans and newcomers alike. With Opus reuniting Bill with his boy, Breathed focuses on the warmth of his characters and wackiness of the tale rather than on the satire of most of his comics. VERDICT Probably more enjoyable for adults than for kids, this title is an additional purchase.–Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI

Butler, M. Christina. One Noisy Night. illus. by Tina Macnaughton. 32p. Tiger Tales. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781680100341.

PreS-Gr 1 –Can a group of adorable creatures solve the mystery of the noise in the night? Little Hedgehog and his friends are curious about loud creaking and crashing noises. Fox, who is especially interested, leaves his home in darkness to investigate the noise. When Fox sees a red hat moving in the distance in the woods, he concludes that Little Hedgehog is the source of the noise, since Hedghog wears a red hat. Throughout the story, the red hat is illustrated with a rough, red feltlike material. The bright red color and the tactile experience of touching the material allow readers to enjoy searching along with Fox. Eventually, the creatures solve the mystery. Two red-hatted beavers are creating a dam, which has blocked the river and caused flooding. The beavers move a tree and save the riverbank homes, and all the creatures celebrate with hot chocolate. Prior knowledge of beaver building behavior may be needed for all readers to understand the tale. VERDICT This book is a great opportunity to make classroom connections to information texts.–Susan Small, Salve Regina University Library, Newport, RI

Grimard, Gabrielle. Lila and the Crow. tr. from French by Paula Ayer. illus. by Gabrielle Grimard. 32p. Annick. Oct. 2016. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781554518586.

K-Gr 2 –Newcomer Lila can’t wait to start school and make new friends. However, during the first recess, her dreams are crushed when the ringleader taunts her: “A crow! A crow! The new girl’s hair is black like a crow!” She tries to hide her hair, but the next day she is mocked for her black skin and, subsequently, her black eyes. After weeks of misery, she falls down on her way home, and as she sobs, a crow lands near her. She sees how beautiful the bird actually is, and she follows it to a tree filled with crows. She is full of wonder, and when the flock of birds fly off, they leave Lila with piles of glossy feathers, with which she constructs a fantastic crow costume. She wears her costume to school in triumph, happy to be called a crow, and wins the friendship of her class. The mixed-media paintings are emotive and appealing, but on most spreads Lila’s skin is hardly discernible as darker than that of her pale classmates, making it rather baffling when the bully yells, “The new girl’s skin is black like a crow!!” Aside from that, there seem to be a variety of ethnicities represented in the classroom. Lila will surely garner sympathy and may inspire children to be kinder to others. VERDICT Possibly useful as a discussion starter, this title offers little in the way of practical solutions for those being bullied. An additional purchase for most libraries.–Anna Haase Krueger, Ramsey County Library, MN

Lallemand, Orianne. The Blue Bird’s Palace. tr. from French by Tessa Strickland. illus. by Carole Hénaff. 32p. Barefoot. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781846868856.

Gr 1-3 –Natasha, a young girl living in the Blue Forest, has a life filled with love and joy. After her mother falls ill and dies, her father spoils Natasha in his grief. Although she is surrounded by beauty and luxury, the girl has an insatiable desire for more. The story is translated from a Russian tale and encapsulates the tone and feel of traditional folktales: “By the time she was sixteen, Natasha was truly beautiful. But she could change as suddenly as the weather—sweet as sunshine if she got her own way, savage as a storm if she did not.” The illustrations, full-bleed acrylic depictions, with extravagant folk-style detail, bring Natasha’s whimsical experience to life. With elements reminiscent of “The Fisherman and His Wife,” this story will remind children that they should be careful what they wish for! VERDICT This fun read with beautiful artwork will enhance any unit on folktales.–Megan Egbert, Meridian Library District, ID

Larochelle, David. This Is NOT A Cat! illus. by Mike Wohnoutka. 40p. Sterling. Aug. 2016. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781454915744.

PreS-Gr 1 –From the author/illustrator team behind Moo! comes another delightful story in which the pictures provide more information than the text. The opening spread shows three young mice heading to a one-room schoolhouse carrying, instead of apples, cheese gifts for the teacher. Lurking behind a tree is what appears to be a rat, licking his chops at the thought of a cheesy lunch. Once in class, the teacher, on a series of spreads, explains what is and isn’t a cat, until suddenly a feline appears in the room (eagle-eyed readers will see it slinking in through the window). The mice are forced to flee outside to safety. But is their unwelcome visitor really a cat? The text repeats only a few phrases but invites kids to emphasize certain words for a lively read-aloud. Children will enjoy looking at Wohnoutka’s cartoon illustrations and discovering details that tell the rest of the tale. Storytime providers and parents will find this a great way to promote both print awareness and narrative skills by pointing out the repeated words and generating discussion with young listeners. VERDICT A necessary purchase for most library collections serving young children and families. This one will be a hit both in storytime and in one-on-one sharing.–Mary Kuehner, Arapahoe Library District, CO

McCanna, Tim. Bitty Bot. illus. by Tad Carpenter. 32p. S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481449298.

PreS-K –Bitty Bot is a young robot who just isn’t ready to power down when bedtime comes. Instead, Bitty Bot grabs some tools, builds a rocket, and travels to a faraway place with new creature friends and an all-hours dance party. When Bitty Bot does finally fall asleep—clearly in bed at home under the loving eye of parents—it’s suggested that these rocket-fueled adventures may just have been the imaginings of a child trying for a later bedtime. The robotic adventure, real or imagined, makes for a fun, fanciful bedtime tale. McCanna refrains from using any gendered pronouns to refer to Bitty Bot, allowing all young readers to clearly see themselves in the creative characters. The nighttime hues of the majority of the spreads—lush teals, ceruleans, and lavenders—create a lovely, calming visual experience made all the richer by the contrast of the warm, bright colors of the daytime world. VERDICT Those looking for more preschool bedtime stories will find this a great addition to your stacks.–Amy Koester, Skokie Public Library, IL

Norman, Kim. She’ll Be Coming Up the Mountain. illus. by Liza Woodruff. 32p. Sterling. Oct. 2016. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781454916109.

PreS-Gr 1 –Using the same set of animal friends from If It’s Snowy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands and Ten on a Sled, the successful team of Norman and Woodruff has created another popular sing-along with a winter motif. Young children will relate to the happiness of anticipation as the various animals prepare for Polar Bear’s arrival. Attractive artwork is rendered in watercolor, colored pencil, and pastel emphasizing the icy winter blue with the mountain in the background. Endpapers show tracks of various animals in the snow. Even though the book does not contain the musical score, this is a familiar song where the newly created verses scan well enough to sing the words, rather than read them. The conclusion brings a joyful surprise from Polar Bear. VERDICT Whether read-aloud or sung, this book will be as popular as its predecessors. A sprightly seasonal selection. –Blair Christolon, Prince William Public Library System, Manassas, VA

Swerts, An. Dreaming of Mocha. tr. from Dutch. illus. by Eline van Lindenhuizen. 32p. Clavis. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781605372945.

PreS-Gr 2 –“Florence wants a dog. It doesn’t matter what kind of dog.” So opens a familiar story of a child’s heartfelt wish for a furry companion, her parents’ objections (paw prints, digging in the garden), and the appearance of an apparently homeless dog in her own backyard. Florence sneaks the pup into the house, but she can’t keep him hidden for long. Despite her mother’s initial shock, Mocha—a scruffy brown blur with a bright red collar—is allowed to stay until they can locate his owner. When Leon turns up to claim his dog, Florence is surprised to discover that he is “a sweet old man” and not “a villain.” Swerts highlights the complexity of Florence’s feelings: “She really wants to be happy for Mocha and Leon, but she just can’t.” Alternating full spreads and spot illustrations, van Lindenhuizen skillfully conveys the characters’ emotions (human and canine) with tiny dots for nose, eyes, and mouth. In the end, the adults recognize the bond between Florence and Mocha and they arrive at a solution that makes everyone happy. VERDICT A lovely addition to the child-meets-dog shelf. Recommended for one-on-one sharing.–Jennifer Costa, Cambridge Public Library, MA

This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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