December 9, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Picture Books: A Love Letter to NYPL, Retellings of Classic Tales, & More | December 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Arena, Jen. Sleep Tight, Snow White. illus. by Lorena Alvarez. 32p. Knopf. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781101937136.

PreS-Gr 1 –This collection of short poems is uniformly composed of rhyming couplets, and each one offers a succinct look at the nighttime rituals of familiar fairy-tale characters. For example, “Want a fella,/Cinderella?/Eight hours’ sleep/will make you bella.” One poem advises the Princess and her teddy bear Pea stacked atop a pile of colorful mattresses that “If there’s a lump, just let it be,” though if the princess had been content to ignore the lump under her mattress, her true heritage would never have been discovered. Each poem is expanded upon by a two-page digital illustration done in rich colors to depict a detailed scene and soft lines and shapes that reinforce the quiet tone. Alvarez uses a variety of skin tones to depict the familiar characters and creates a diverse cast of expressive people and animals to populate each fairy-tale world. VERDICT A whimsical collection of poems suitable to be read aloud even to very young children; the depth of the illustrations will provide more engagement for older, independent readers.–Kelly Topita, Anne Arundel County Public Library, MD

Bentley, Tadgh. Little Penguin and the Lollipop. illus. by Tadgh Bentley. 40p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062560780.

PreS-Gr 1 –Little Penguin breaks the fourth wall and enlists the help of readers. It seems that he ate his friend’s special seaweed lollipop, and Kenneth is angry. It was a mistake, but that doesn’t make Kenneth any less upset. In an attempt to cheer up his pal, Little Penguin tells readers to yell “Razzle-Dazzle Lollipop” a few times and make funny faces. This, however, only seems to make Kenneth even madder. While dancing around on an iceberg to try and make Kenneth smile, Little Penguin slips and falls into the sea. At the bottom, he finds another special lollipop and grabs it to give to Kenneth. Once again, Kenneth is happy! On the last page, though, readers sees a whale who is not happy about his missing lollipop. Digitally colored pen-and-ink illustrations do well to capture the emotions of both main characters; Little Penguin’s cartoon bug eyes say it all. VERDICT This interactive works best in a storytime with a group of preschoolers. A solid addition.–Emily E. Lazio, New York Public Library

Capozzi, Suzy. I Am Thankful. illus. by Eren Unten. 32p. (A Positive Power Story). Rodale. Oct. 2017. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9781623369200; pap. $4.99. ISBN 9781623368760.

K-Gr 2 –A young boy expresses gratitude for all the many blessings in his life in this kickoff to a new series for early readers. The child takes readers through his day as he helps with making Thanksgiving dinner, visits his firefighter father at work, participates in the community Turkey Trot, and enjoys the warmth of his home with his extended family members. With cheerful digital illustrations that mirror the simple yet joyful text, this story offers early readers a gentle reminder to find joy and appreciation in everyday experiences. VERDICT This is a good choice to add to holiday-themed beginning reader shelves. Two pages of stickers can be easily removed for library purposes.–Jessica Marie, Salem Public Library, OR

Chriscoe, Sharon. Bulldozer Dreams. illus. by John Joven. 32p. Running Pr. Oct. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780762459667.

PreS-Gr 1 –In the tradition of Sherri Duskey Rinker’s Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site and Brianna Kaplan Sayres’s Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?, a bulldozer settles down after a full day of hard work. His vivid dream of a playground is the only time that humans appear in the brightly colored digital illustrations. In rhyming text (which is sometimes strained), he goes through familiar bedtime rituals such as a bath and a story. “He lifts up his blade./His spotlights flash on./He rolls through the gate and/lets out a yawn.” Some expressions like “he exits the bay” and “punches his clutch” might teach new vocabulary. Vehicle fans will enjoy seeing a bulldozer participate in the same activities they do at bedtime, but this book doesn’t bring anything new to the genre. VERDICT An acceptable read-aloud for young vehicle enthusiasts who can’t get enough of construction play before shifting gears for bedtime.–Amelia Jenkins, Juneau Public Library, AK

Cronin, Doreen. Dooby Dooby Moo. illus. by Betsy Lewin. 40p. S. & S. Aug. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780689845079; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9781534401761.

PreS-Gr 1 –Cronin and Lewin’s picture book by the same name has been issued in a smaller beginning reader format. Most of the original text appears in this book except for notes on the bottom of two pages, which contain sophisticated vocabulary. These omissions do not detract from the story. One quibble: when Farmer Brown “watched from the left” and “watched from the right,” the same spot illustration is used. This is a popular picture book and beginning readers are sure to enjoy reading it independently. VERDICT A solid entry to beginning reader collections.–Laura Scott, Farmington Community Library, MI

Dieckmann, Sandra. Leaf. 32p. Flying Eye. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781911171317.

K-Gr 2 –After drifting to a faraway forest on an ice floe, a polar bear attempts to fly back home in this debut picture book from British illustrator Dieckmann. The other forest animal residents fear the bear, whom they call Leaf, too much to speak to him. After Leaf’s second unsuccessful attempt to make wings from gathered leaves, the animals learn that the bear wants only to get back to his family. Confusingly, the book ends with all the animals—now sympathetic to the bear’s plight—agreeing to help Leaf fly home and to spread his story in order that “no polar bear would ever get lost again.” There seems to be a muddled message here about both climate change and xenophobia. Luckily, the fanciful illustrations glow on the page and nearly make up for the slight story. The animals are delicately and convincingly rendered, though Leaf is shown with unrealistic blue eyes. The more abstracted, lushly patterned backgrounds are reminiscent of folk art. VERDICT One-on-one sharing will be its best use so that young readers can pore over the intricate images. An additional purchase.–Sarah Stone, San Francisco Public Library

Flowers, Arthur. Brer Rabbit Retold. illus. by Jagdish Chitara. 72p. Tara Bks. Sept. 2017. Tr $29.95. ISBN 9789383145461.

Gr 3 Up –Traditional Brer Rabbit stories from the American South have been retold and newly illustrated to create a unique fusion of two distinct cultures. The narration echoes the rhythmic and informal storytelling voice of the African American reteller. The lessons and wisdom of the tales are sometimes punctuated by contemporary asides. For example, in one opening, the narrator states that “Sometime tradition, you got to play with it a little, keep it fresh, ahead of the curve, poetic dispensation, shall we say.” Each tale concludes with a phrase and an occasional blessing to advise listeners that the tale has finished. Finely lined black-and-white prints punctuated with red accents decorate the tales in a traditional Asian Indian printmaking style. The Indian folk artist is from a nomadic community that originally created votive cloths used by lower castes, historically barred from honoring deities in temples. An accompanying CD combines jazzy blues with traditional Indian music, along with the author’s rich voice, to bring a selection of stories to life. The CD is best enjoyed without the book. VERDICT This truly unique and thoroughly memorable cultural combination is likely to generate interest in both traditions.–Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at District of Columbia Public Library

Gemmel, Stefan. Cómo cazar fantasmas. illus. by Cornelia Haas. 40p. Uranito. Jul. 2017. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9788416773305.

PreS-Gr 2 –Finn is being stalked. Every single night a grisly ghost makes sleep impossible. With claws and gnarly teeth, the persistent puce-eyed phantom haunts the boy and his teddy to the point of bone-quaking terror. Should he “sob, blubber, and bellow?” No! He’s a warrior, a fighter pilot, an astronaut, a fierce pirate, a lion tamer, and a deep-sea diver—nothing scares him. He’ll deal with this spooky specter himself. He grabs his handy-dandy book of spells and begins casting anti-ghostie incantations. Is that eerily pale ectoplasm bringing on the shivers? POOF—it’s rainbow-striped and bedazzled. Sharp claws? SHAZAM—now they’re spongy-soft angora mittens. The all-out transmogrification results in an accommodating apparition that doubles as a friendly, soothing pillow. Gemmel’s how-to manual aims to empower children befuddled by night frights. By transforming the terrible into the comical, the lesson here is to face and defang the fear. Haas’s humorously spooky illustrations complement the de-escalating tension surrounding bug-eyed, red-haired Finn’s epiphany. And aside from a small inset depicting a frontal view of the child trembling in the altogether, Finn is always clad in his pajamas. This German import, however, suffers from a meandering rhyme scheme. The usual complications encountered when translating verse are probably to blame. From rhyming every other line to rhyming internally to rhyming in couplets, the starts and stutters make for an awkward read-aloud. VERDICT Many grateful children will benefit from sweeter dreams after taking lessons from Finn the Invincible. A good purchase for large Spanish-language collections.–Mary Margaret Mercado, Pima County Public Library, Tucson, AZ

Grimly, Gris. Old MacDonald Had a Farm. illus. by Gris Grimly. 40p. Orchard. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338112436.

PreS-Gr 2 –Grimly has given young children a new interpretation of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” The elderly agronomist has a white beard, overalls with a number of patches, a large hat, and very pointy feet. He appears to be well liked by animals, including chickens, ducks, pigs, sheep, a donkey, a cow—and a bear! Of course, there are lots of “E-I-E-I-Os” throughout. All the characters are drawn with great humor and whimsy. The addition of the bear, which Grimly reports is his young son’s favorite way to end the song, adds an element of surprise and excitement to the book’s conclusion. He also includes photos of his family’s Nebraska farm and the musical score. VERDICT A fun addition to any children’s book collection, especially where picture book versions of familiar songs are popular.–Elaine Lesh Morgan, formerly at Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR

Guerrive, Sophie. Dinosaur Detective’s Search-and-Find Rescue Mission. illus. by Sophie Guerrive. 32p. Wide Eyed Editions. Aug. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781786030719.

K-Gr 3 –In this search and find book, Detective Dinosaur is on the hunt, tasked with locating a missing person or animal on each page, along with four or five secondary items. Each spread contains a different environment, like the forest, the jungle, or the sea. At the end, each missing character has an additional mission to add to the adventure. Unlike some of its contemporaries, Rescue Mission doesn’t have a plethora of details and characters to pore over, so some expert searchers may declare it too easy. The difficulty is more in finding the often tiny items in a grand setting. But half of the fun of perusing books such as these is to revel in the small details and hidden jokes on each page, which Rescue Mission is at times lacking. An answer key at the back reveals where everything is located, including the extra items, which will please anyone frustrated. Guerrive’s artwork resembles an “Adventure Time” style because of the massive feel of the environments mixed with the cartoonish characters. VERDICT An interesting addition to the genre and to any collection. Get out your magnifying glasses and get searching.–Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI

Hebert, Maurice M. What Would I Do?: An A to Z Journey. illus. by Megan Tennant. 60p. Mograce Publishing. Dec. 2016. pap. $10.95. ISBN 9780998331904.

K-Gr 2 –Whimsical is a great word to describe this unique alphabet book. Fans of the Dr. Seuss classic Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! will appreciate the similarities. If it weren’t for the title announcing that this is an A–Z book, one might not even notice. The letters of the alphabet are used to depict 26 different career choices. This is done subtly: the first letter of the featured career is capitalized but not particularly eye-catching. Some of these unique jobs include a harpist, a magician, an oiler mechanic, and a xylophonist. On a two-page spread, each worker is placed in a hypothetical situation, most of which are humorously ridiculous. Each of these scenarios engages readers with the question, “What would you do?” Simple rhyme is used to tie the text together. Without a doubt, the best feature of this book is the artwork. The illustrations are colorful, detailed, and thought provoking. They clearly reflect and even enhance what is happening in the text. If a child is struggling to understand the vocabulary or other aspects of this book, the illustrations provide noteworthy support. VERDICT A conversation about career choices and creating silly rhymes are two easy follow-up activities after reading this engaging title.–Katie Darrin, Boulder Valley School District, CO

Kang, A.N. Papillon Goes to the Vet. illus. by A.N. Kang. 40p. Disney-Hyperion. Sept. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781484728819.

PreS-Gr 2 –Papillon is a light and fluffy kitty who can float in the sky like a cloud. While playing his favorite game, catch, Papillon accidentally swallows something he shouldn’t. Not feeling like himself and struck with the hiccups, Papillon is taken by his owner straight away to the vet. Not only does he feel miserable but he no longer feels special because he can’t float. After a particularly terrible case of hiccups, he is able to cough up the object and rediscovers his dance moves and his beautiful singing voice. Papillon leaves the vet’s office feeling special and proud once more, and he is determined to continue doing what he loves most, playing catch, but this time keeping his mouth shout. The cover sets the tone for this light, humourous story, and King does not disappoint throughout. VERDICT This simple story is sure to appeal to cat lovers and maybe even those who are not so fond of the felines. A purrfect read-aloud for young kitty fans everywhere.–Betsy Davison, Cortland Junior-Senior High School, NY

Kim, Ran Ju. Grandpa Max’s Wurst. illus. by Dorina Tessmann. 38p. TanTan. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781939248183.

K-Gr 2 –Hans doesn’t like change, and he is being forced to deal with his only friend, Ben, moving out of the German countryside into Munich. His grandfather doesn’t like change either; he insists on making bratwursts the traditional way, although his business is failing. The store finally gathers a following, and Grandpa Max begrudgingly makes changes to accommodate his new customers. As a story, the book feels flat, as it takes large blocks of text to relate the simple narrative. It might have some use as an educational aide, as there are notes sprinkled throughout. The last two spreads give a little more background about the culture and history of Germany, but two of those pages are devoted solely to beer and beer festivals. Um, wasn’t this book supposed to be about sausage? Tessman’s stylized mixed-media artwork is comprised of found objects with traditional black outlines to help define the characters. Although her style is impressive, it feels out of place as the characters can at times look a bit off-putting. VERDICT Additional at best, unnecessary at wurst.–Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI

Kor, Paul. Argento: El pececillo plateado. tr. from by Joana Delgado. illus. by Paul Kor. 34p. Picarona. Jul. 2017. Tr $20.95. ISBN 9788491450481.

PreS-Gr 1 –A silver fish’s brothers, sisters, and cousins always swim together “as if they were one fish,” but Argento is different. He loves exploring the deep blue sea. He swims far and wide until one day he comes upon a black “mountain,” only to discover it is a lost baby whale. Using his superlative networking skills, he sends off his family in a shimmery, silvery tide to find her missing parents. The whale family is joyfully reunited, and, of course, Argento and the baby whale become besties for life. The gatefold feature is a wonderful tool for teaching perspective, and Kor’s broad blue brushstrokes are the perfect backdrop for the bright silver of the fishes and the matte black of the whales. Parisian-born artist Kornowski became one of Israel’s most beloved children’s author/illustrators and published under the last name “Kor” until his death in 2001. VERDICT This Spanish-language incarnation of an uncomplicated story of cooperation and friendship is sure to be a favorite among fans of Leo Lionni and Marcus Pfister.–Mary Margaret Mercado, Pima County Public Library, Tucson, AZ

Petit, Cristina. Pequeña oscuridad. illus. by Cristina Petit. 40p. Picarona. Jul. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9788491450276.

Gr 1-3 –Spying a tiny glowing light from her bed at night Talia assures herself, “I’m a big girl. Surely this tiny light is not a…MONSTER!” So author Petit sets up the narrative structure, taking Talia through the various rooms of her house as she confirms that indeed there are no monsters behind the tiny lights she sees emerging in the dark spaces at night. Petit strikes the right balance between illustrating scary yet funny looking monsters. This delightful book is one to recommend to ease children’s anxiety about feeling vulnerable in darkness. VERDICT A strong purchase for Spanish-language picture book collections.–Lettycia Terrones, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Russell, James. The Dragon Hunters. illus. by Link Choi. 32p. Sourcebooks. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781492648611.

K-Gr 2 –Nothing can come between a boy and his dog, or in this case, two brothers and their beloved pet. Not even a fearsome fiery dragon. Originally published in New Zealand, this tale of searching is captivating from the start. After a dragon has run off with Flynn and Paddy’s dog, the boys set off on an unbelievable adventure to steal Coco back, and they have even packed sandwiches. Told in a catchy, ABAB rhyme scheme, this tale begs to be read aloud at home or in storytime. The sketches and full color illustrations, the latter brought to life using Adobe Photoshop, are vibrant, and the story comes to life. The tones are natural and toned, and the gentle hues carry the story and complement the mood of determination. Only the dragon is bright red and full of fearsome roar, but the boys escape with just enough wit to make it home for dinner. VERDICT Sure to be popular with most adventure-loving crowds, this is a fun purchase.–Ashley Selima, Lincoln Public Library, RI

Snyder, Laurel. The King of Too Many Things. illus. by Aurore Damant. 32p. Rodale Kids. Sept. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781623368746.

PreS-K –In this modern-day fairy-tale, a dark-skinned king orders his wizard to conjure up a dragon to add a little fun to his picture-perfect kingdom. When the addition of dragons makes a mess, King Jasper orders the wizard to conjure more and more things in hopes of solving the growing list of problems. In the end, King Jasper ends up making a friend, which fills a void he didn’t even realize existed, and, with the help of his new friend and the wizard, he cleans up the messes, this time without magic. Vibrant, cartoon digital artwork is appealing and draws upon the illustrator’s background as a character designer with experience in children’s television animation. The message is a little muddled, which makes it difficult to connect the dots from King Jasper’s wishing for fun to filling a void in his life that requires a friend. VERDICT Despite the humor and visual appeal of this modern-day fairy tale, the story’s message is hard to decipher and may be lost on young readers. A strictly additional purchase.–Samantha Lumetta, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Staake, Bob. The Book of Gold. illus. by Bob Staake. 40p. Random/Schwartz & Wade. Sept. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553510775.

K-Gr 2 –Try as they might, Isaac Gutenberg’s parents could not interest him in anything, particularly not books or the New York Public Library, not even the iconic lions. It is an antiques shopkeeper who transforms his boredom by recounting the legend of “The Book of Gold”: “Somewhere in the world there is one very special book that’s just waiting to be discovered…and when it is opened, it turns to solid gold. This is all the motivation Isaac needs to begin the quest that would take him to his twilight years, leading to many opened books, questions, answers, travel, and, ultimately, a full circle as he passes the legend on to another bored child in the library. Staake’s round-headed, diverse caricatures start their sepia-hued story in 1930s Brooklyn. Digitally composed panels and compositions of varying sizes eventually blossom into full color as books enrich Isaac’s world; they turn golden at the conclusion. White text on black backgrounds provides unity throughout. As with William Joyce’s The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, it is the caliber of the artistry that elevates what could have been just another book about books (a crowded shelf), because, of course, it is the delightful dance of words and images in a riveting narrative that creates young bibliophiles, not attempts to persuade. VERDICT While this title will especially appeal to adult book aficionados (and New Yorkers), Staake’s depth of visual detail, child-friendly style, and the originality of his questions will attract discriminating children as well. Pure gold.–Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library

Torres, Mark. Good Guy Jake/Buen Chico Jake. tr. from Spanish by Madelin Arroyo. illus. by Yana Murahsko. 56p. Hard Ball Pr. Oct. 2017. pap. $12.50. ISBN 9780997979749.

K-Gr 2 –A flawed primer on protections offered by labor unions. Jake, a dedicated and kind sanitation worker, collects discarded toys along his trash route, and he repairs and donates them to local shelters. When a disgruntled driver complains that Jake was blocking traffic while gathering toys, he is fired for violating his employer’s policy against taking items from the trash. Seeking to appeal his dismissal, Jake receives help from his union representatives, who arrange an arbitration hearing. Parallel English and Spanish text offer a concise introduction to an unfamiliar aspect of union protections, but grammatical inconsistencies make various details unclear. Jake is described as working for “a city sanitation company,” which implies a private business, but a latter part of the book refers to Jake as a “public employee.” The informational aspect of the narrative is further offset by a sentimental plot, a switch in tone that blurs the line between fact and fiction. A set of questions to accompany the story are included as back matter, but no additional resources or clarifications are offered for readers to further explore labor unions and their roles. VERDICT A topic of great value, but poorly executed. Not recommended.–Jessica Agudelo, New York Public Library

VAN Hest, Pimm. En todas partes y en cualquier lugar. illus. by Sassafras De Bruyn. 32p. Uranito. Jun. 2017. Tr $10.95. ISBN 9788416773282.

K-Gr 3 –Yolanda was with her mother when she died, holding her hand until she was there and yet not there. She hears her mother’s voice: “My dear if you look for me, you will find me.” The question “Where is my mother now?” sets Yolanda on a quest. She undertakes a journey to find an answer. One by one, she asks each of her family members and others close to her where they think her mother has gone. They each supply a different answer. Her mother is in the wind, in the earth creating new life, in a rose, and in the chair where she used to sit. Yolanda concludes that her mother is “en todas partes”—everywhere. The text is structured and repetitive in a way that makes it an excellent read-aloud. This story is ideal for one-on-one sharing. The illustrations evoke the tenderness of the relationships described in the text, such as the spread of Yolanda and her grandfather seen from a distance in a large field of wildflowers that sums up the theme of the story: how insignificant we are in the scheme of things. VERDICT Depending upon the belief system of the reader, this story is a good choice to share with children grieving a loss.–Tim Wadham, Children’s Literature Consultant, Puyallup, WA

Watkins, Kathleen. Pigín of Howth. illus. by Margarate A. Suggs. 64p. Dufour Editions. Oct. 2017. Tr $28. ISBN 9780717169726.

PreS-Gr 2 –Pigín (pronounced “pig-een” and meaning “little Pig”) enjoys three adventures in this gentle and colorful look at life in a well-to-do Irish seaside town. Pigín lives in the fishing village of Howth in a cozy house overlooking the sea. He spends his days enjoying friendship with Sammy Seal, Sally Seagull, and other animals, as well as some human pals. The three stories depict Pigín learning to swim, going for a magical picnic with fairies, and dressing up to go to the horse races. While the dialogue can be clunky in places, the tales are a little reminiscent of what Paddington and Lyle the Crocodile get up to, with love and friendship complemented by the odd, nutty activity. Suggs’s striking watercolors are up to the task, depicting the Irish town, its inhabitants, and the child and animal characters with colorful aplomb. VERDICT This is sure to be a hit in Ireland as Watkins is well known there—in her own right as a harpist but also as the wife of one of Ireland’s most beloved celebrities, the broadcaster Gay Byrne. The book should find fans on these shores, too, as well-depicted friendship and seaside outings are hard to beat. An additional but nonessential purchase.–Henrietta Verma, National Information Standards Organization, Baltimore

This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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