February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Picture Books Xpress Reviews | January 2017

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1701-pb-xpressrevAndersen. Hans Christian. The Snow Queen. illus. by Vladyslav Yerko. 32p. A-Ba-Ba Haus. May 2016. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9780996560634.

Gr 3 Up –Gerda’s long journey to rescue her beloved childhood friend Kay from the Snow Queen’s entrapment is fully and elegantly presented here. A commanding cover portrait of the steely-eyed queen with the boy wrapped in her intricate icy cloak, both gazing directly at readers, suggests a picture book. But the oversize volume, first published in Ukraine, is more of an illustrated story divided into short chapters. No translator is credited for the smooth narration, which makes few changes or omissions in the telling. Andersen’s references to God and the Christ child are gone, but the angels are still here, and the biblical conclusion remains: “Except ye become as little children, ye shall in no way enter into the kingdom of God.” The story presents a rich melange of religious faith, magic, good and evil, and a majestic natural world in which humans and animals communicate in speech, along with the fine array of women aiding Gerda’s quest. Yerko’s sumptuous paintings were prestigiously awarded in his home country. The single- and double-page views and many small vignettes vary in faithfulness to and fanciful departure from the narrative, but they’re full of detail, humor, and beauty that invite and reward careful viewing. An image of Gerda mounted on the reindeer truly reflects the snowy ride through Finland and Lapland. The large jaunty crow in human dress, hat, and vest humorously adorned with safety pins, hardware bits, and other found objects is a handsome sight that expands the action in the story. VERDICT This lovely rendering of Andersen’s complex tale offers readers much to ponder. It’s a splendid choice for library collections, wintry read-aloud sharing, and gift giving.–Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston

Barnes, Brynne. Books Do Not Have Wings. illus. by Rogério Coelho. 32p. Sleeping Bear. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781585369645.

K-Gr 2 –A brown-skinned, black-haired boy and white, blonde girl embark on a series of adventures, exploring a whirling clockwork machine, a pirate ship, and a fairy forest, in this book that is not just a book. For “this is a sculpture,/some fine work of art,/a puzzle assembled,/for taking apart./It plumps up your thinker/and fills up your heart./And where you end up/is not where you start./Surely, it’s more than a book.” While richly detailed illustrations in vibrant colors encourage readers to closely examine all the whimsy and imagination each spread holds, the text brings this work down. The oft-repeated mantra that a book is more than its physical parts ultimately feels preachy, like an enthusiastic adult trying to sell kids on the wonders of reading. The words themselves are varied and descriptive, but the message gets muddled with phrases like, “Because books do not have wings.” Surely they do, with all the magic they possess? VERDICT Those in search of precise, enthralling illustrations that can spin their own wordless story will enjoy paging through this title, but as a whole package, this selection misses the mark.–Kelsey Johnson-Kaiser, St. Paul Public Library

Dennis, Kathryn. Too Many Questions! illus. by Kathryn Dennis. 32p. Kane Miller. Sept. 2016. Tr $10.99. ISBN 9781610674607.

PreS-K –Mouse has a lot of questions—too many questions! So he ventures out to find the answers, setting off on a journey that takes him far and wide. Eventually he meets a wise man who isn’t all knowing but who does teach Mouse that answers can be found at the library. The story will sound familiar to adults who have been asked repeatedly “Why?” by an inquisitive child. It highlights the value of not only the library but also a curious mind. This important theme is expertly handled in a silly and humorous way, with happily matched, spare, two-toned images in orange and aqua. On a few spreads, the narrative line is interrupted by multiple panels with questions from Mouse, but otherwise it reads smoothly. Endpapers contain a number of questions such as, “Do dogs dream?” and “Why do zebras have stripes?” Fortunately, the answers are featured at the back of the book. VERDICT A fun offering to share with curious children, and an appropriate title for library tours.–Gaye Hinchliff, King County Library System, WA

Dumont, Jean-François. Más tonto que un zapato. tr. from French by Joana Delgado. illus. by Jean-François Dumont. 32p. Picarona. Nov. 2016. Tr $12.95. ISBN 9788416648528.

PreS-Gr 1 –This story opens with the narrator explaining that Thomas is very silly because he’s a boy and “clearly” all boys are very silly. What follows is a stereotypical depiction of playground gender wars, beginning with chasing and pushing and ending with an implied kiss after Thomas helps the narrator up from a fall. The shoe-view illustrations offer an interesting perspective on the tale, but the tired boys vs. girls narrative seems a bit uninspired. VERDICT Despite clever illustrations, this title covers very familiar and somewhat stereotypical ground.–Gesse Stark-Smith, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR

Ehrlin, Carl-Johan Forssén. The Little Elephant Who Wants To Fall Asleep. tr. from Swedish by Neil Smith. illus. by Sydney Hanson. 40p. Crown. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399554230; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780399554247.

PreS-Gr 2 –From the author of The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep, this is the second book in a series that is said to have a “sleep-promoting” effect on children (and adults). Ellen the Elephant takes readers on a long journey through a magical and “sleepy” forest while introducing a host of drowsy characters along the way. The story line is choppy, and all of the character interactions revolve around the end goal of sleep for this tired elephant. The illustrations are unexceptional and do little to enhance the narrative. The book begins with instructions to readers and explains when text should be emphasized and when it should be read in a more soothing tone. The prose is also marked with specific breaks where readers are prompted to yawn in order to induce sleep. A Q&A section in the back urges readers to adapt the title to fit the needs of each child. VERDICT Instructional in nature, this selection will interest parents who are desperate to get their little ones to sleep. However, any classic bedtime story will do a better job of creating that special bedtime bonding experience.–Kristen Todd-Wurm, Middle Country Public Library, NY

Ganz-Schmitt, Sue. Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit. illus. by Shane Prigmore. 36p. ebook available. Chronicle. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452137766.

PreS-Gr 1 –The space crew from Planet Kindergarten return to celebrate their 100th day of school. Presented as a “star log,” the story is narrated by a freckled-faced boy who recaps, with “galactic pride,” the skills he has learned so far. Showing leadership, compassion, and bravery, he helps his fellow “kindernauts” out of jams, such as episodes of “anti-gravity” sickness, misplaced “Medals of Honor,” and an errant red ball on a collision course with the classroom Popsicle-stick rocket ship. When the boy is called upon by his “commander” to deliver a report on 100 aliens, his mission hits a snafu when the box lid suddenly opens and extraterrestrials fly everywhere. The enterprising young cadet turns the calamity into an “Operation Cleanup” drill that encourages teamwork and cooperation. Prigmore’s brightly animated digital illustrations seem to glow against the jet-black backgrounds. VERDICT Intergalactic, madcap fun for storytime and classroom read-alouds.–Linda Ludke, London Public Library, Ont.

Hancocks, Helen. William Heads to Hollywood. illus. by Helen Hancocks. 32p. Candlewick/Templar. Nov. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763689131.

K-Gr 3 –William, the debonair feline supersleuth, returns in this action-packed sequel to William and the Missing Masterpiece. This time, the Golden Cuckoo Award statues have been stolen, and the lovely cat movie star Audrey Mieowski summons William to Hollywood to solve the crime. He prowls the Cuckoo Studios for clues, finding blue feathers, delicious cafeteria food, and a treasure-filled props department. But will he locate the missing Cuckoo statues before the awards show is set to begin? Of course he will—and in dramatic Tinseltown fashion! Hancocks’s strength lies in her vibrant illustrations, peppered with old-time Hollywood details. The blues, oranges, pinks, and golds that dominate the palette add to this glamorous feel. When compared with these fine illustrations, however, the book’s narrative seems clumsy, at times overexplaining the significance of the clues that William uncovers, and at other times rushing through important details. Jokes are one-note, with William and Audrey uttering cat-centric exclamations of “Oh fish sticks!” and “Something fishy is going on!” VERDICT While the illustrations are charming, Hancocks’s narrative can be skipped. Look instead to Maira Kalman’s superior “Max” series.–Laura Lintz, Henrietta Public Library, Rochester, NY

Jian, Li. The Magical Rooster. tr. by Yijin Wert. illus. by Li Jian. 42p. (Stories of the Chinese Zodiac). Better Link. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781602209954. BL

PreS-Gr 2 –Before Yun leaves to take the imperial exam in the Capital City, his mother makes him a tunic with a rooster embroidered on its back. The road to the Capital City is far and long, but the embroidered rooster jumps off the tunic at key points to help Yun on his journey. After Yun gets an official post because of his high exam grades, the rooster fetches his mother so that the two can be happily reunited. Presented in simplified Chinese characters and poorly copyedited English, this original tale is timed to come out for the Year of Rooster, starting in late January 2017. The story lacks excitement and suspense owing to its English translation. The illustrations follow suit—with the exception of the rooster’s bright red cockscomb, the large watercolor paintings mostly feature a subdued and muddy palette. VERDICT Only for collections where Li’s previous works have a strong fanbase.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington County Public Libraries, VA

Jones, Christianne. Fuchsia Fierce. illus. by Kelly Canby. 32p. Capstone. Aug. 2016. Tr $21.82. ISBN 9781515805533.

PreS-Gr 1 –Despite her feisty moniker, Fuchsia Fierce is “quiet, shy, tiny, and timid.” The child’s parents decide to help her by sending her to “Camp Confidence.” A perky counselor encourages Fuchsia to try new things such as scaling a climbing wall, swimming in the pool, and telling ghost stories, but she routinely declines. After running out of excuses, and having a boring time, Fuchsia decides to take a deep breath and participate. When nobody laughs, she is emboldened and eagerly tries new activities. In Canby’s digitally created cartoon illustrations, Fuchsia sports hot pink dyed hair, oversize spectacles, and a fuchsia-striped, lime green polka-dotted ensemble. While the text says that Fuchsia eschews the limelight, she stands out on all of the pages. This overt lesson about believing in oneself lacks nuance. VERDICT For a more authentic look at reaching beyond one’s comfort zone, try Lana Button’s Willow Finds a Way.–Linda Ludke, London Public Library, Ont.

Miéville, China. The Worst Breakfast. illus. by Zak Smith. 32p. Akashic/Black Sheep. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781617754869.

K-Gr 3 –The usual breakfast routine takes a wonderfully odd turn one day. Two unnamed sisters sit around the table one morning and recall the worst breakfast they’ve ever had. What starts out with tales of burning toast turns into accounts of “steaming slick tomatoes oozing into RANCID swill.” The descriptions of this bizarre meal become increasingly more grotesque, causing the sisters to dread their upcoming breakfast. Then, out of the giant cracked eggs emerge dinosaurlike creatures that create havoc in the kitchen. The honey attracts large, menacing bees. The sausages multiply and become food for the octopuses, squid, and other creatures feasting on the gnarly meal. The over-the-top descriptions reflect young kids’ tendency to exaggerate. Eventually, the sisters realize that their meal is not that bad and are grateful for the food in front of them. Miéville, known for his genre-defying fantasy novels for adults, makes a splash with his picture book debut. Smith’s illustrations, filled with geometric shapes and patterns, are the perfect complement to the text, although younger readers may have a hard time making out what’s happening in the frenetic mixed-media images. VERDICT Perhaps not a first purchase, this is a subversive delight for those younger readers prone to embellishment.–Christopher Lassen, BookOps: The New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library

Palermo, Sharon Gibson. Winter, Winter, Cold and Snow. illus. by Christina Song. 24p. Sleeping Bear. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781585369539.

PreS-Gr 1 –Wander through a snow-covered forest and discover some of the inhabitants. Starting with a chickadee and ending with a hibernating woodchuck, Palermo introduces readers to an array of animals in their winter home. The repetitive and rhyming text is great for beginning readers. The story opens with the question, “Winter, winter, cold and snow;/Chickadee, Chickadee, who do you know?” This same pattern is repeated throughout as each animal leads to another. Song has created wonderful winter scenes with cut-paper illustrations that bring a unique and compelling texture to each tree, animal, and background scene; young children will find the images very appealing. Similar picture books include but are not limited to Nanuk the Ice Bear by Jeanette Winter and The Wind That Wanted To Rest by Sheldon Oberman. VERDICT An excellent seasonal read-aloud, this title is perfect for beginner readers, and the engaging illustrations will be fascinating to young children.–Meaghan Nichols, Archaeological Research Associates, Ont.

Parton, Dolly. Coat of Many Colors. illus. by Brooke Boynton-Hughes. 32p. ebook available. Grosset & Dunlap. Oct. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780451532374.

PreS-Gr 2 –Country singer/songwriter Parton has, with illustrator Boynton-Hughes, turned her famous song “Coat of Many Colors” into a delightful and evocative picture book. Dolly grew up in rural Tennessee, where love was plentiful but money was scarce. Her mother was given a box of fabric scraps, but with winter coming, Dolly needed a coat. So as the song relates, Dolly’s mother pieced together the scraps and made her daughter a “coat of many colors.” As she sewed, she told Dolly the Bible story of Joseph’s coat of many colors. Of course, Dolly’s schoolmates didn’t see her coat as special, and they laughed and made fun of her. Parton tells readers that the hurt did not go away until, as an adult, she sat down and wrote this song. This title reminds children that bullying hurts and doesn’t help anyone. Boynton-Hughes presents Dolly as a blonde, curly-haired moppet, so happy to be wearing her multihued coat. The bright fall colors give the book vibrancy. The illustrations also depict the love that was abundant in the Parton family. VERDICT A significant addition to both school and public libraries.–Elaine Lesh Morgan, formerly at Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR

Rowe, Thereza. Mister Pip. illus. by Thereza Rowe. 32p. Tate. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781849763820.

K-Gr 2 –Mister Pip, a cat, is ready to sleep. But every time he settles somewhere, something rather loud or menacing gets in his way. Children with a pet cat will get a kick out of seeing Mister Pip being disturbed by the vacuum, phone, and clothes dryer, but when the stakes become a little too high, some adults and children might get uncomfortable. The surreal quality of the book and the happy ending make the sudden and real danger easier to manage, but nobody is too keen on seeing a cat almost get eaten by a snake. The inclusion of sounds will get children involved in the story. The illustrations are beautiful; with a limited but stunning palette, there’s plenty to look at even on the simplest page. While there’s no explanation as to why the little girl in the tale is so small and sleeps in a matchbox, children might have amazing takes on this subtle element. VERDICT Great for one-on-one sharing, and a worthy purchase for most libraries.–Shana Morales, Windsor Public Library, CT

Sanna, Alessandro. Pinocchio: The Origin Story. tr. from Italian by Michael Reynolds. illus. by Alessandro Sanna. 48p. Enchanted Lion. Aug. 2016. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781592701919.

Gr 1-5 –Luminous, ethereal watercolors depict a remixed Pinocchio story in Sanna’s newest meditation. In place of Carlo Collodi’s episodic moralizing, Sanna presents his character—a branch broken off from the world’s first tree after a lightning strike—as a primordial archetype, the ur-seeker traveling the world, encountering other creatures derived from the original Pinocchio. Though the artist mirrors some events from Collodi’s tale, here the secondary characters are devoid of motives, appearing as winking embellishments to the hero’s instinctual journey. Sanna opens the book with a foreword about visiting severely ill children in the hospital, and the headlong determination with which his energetic branch strides through the pages suggests the resilient joy of children even in the face of terrible disease. The barest hint of textual narrative—four sentences in all—starts with a swirling universe and ends with the branch turned into a tree, poised to become a wooden puppet. As a contemplation of life, death, and regeneration, the book may not appeal to most elementary-age readers; as a reimagining of Pinocchio, the story will also likely elude a generation of readers pretty hazy on the details of the original beyond an elongating nose and a supportive cricket. But the rich, meticulous, graphic-style illustrations, full of expressionistic color and minute, gestural details, should captivate patient readers of images. VERDICT Gorgeous visuals elevate this existential twist on a familiar but mostly unread classic. Students of art, literature, and philosophy will be the primary audience for this special interpretation.–Robbin E. Friedman, Chappaqua Library, NY

Shraya, Vivek. The Boy & the Bindi. illus. by Rajni Perara. 32p. Arsenal Pulp. Oct. 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781551526683.

K-Gr 2 –A young boy, curious about his “Ammi’s dot…a bright and pretty spot,” innocently asks, “Why do you wear that dot?/What’s so special about that spot?” His mother crouches to eye level so he can touch her forehead as she explains, “It’s not a dot…. It’s not a spot, it’s a bindi!” As for the why, her simple response resonates: “My bindi keeps me safe and true.” When the boy receives his own golden bindi—his mother’s is red—he connects with generations past and is inspired to embark on a journey of empowered discovery. Indian Canadian musician/filmmaker/writer Shraya (God Loves Hair) makes her picture book debut with gentle rhymes and warm whimsy, amplified by Toronto artist Perara’s richly hued illustrations. The author, a transgender woman, deftly explores difference and self-acceptance, the subversion of gender expectations, and the power of “making sure I don’t hide/Everything I am inside.” While acknowledging the bindi’s significance to the boy’s own family, Shraya seems to purposefully avoid discussing its historical/religious meaning or the possibility of cultural appropriation. VERDICT Imparting an important lesson on inclusivity and individuality, this multicultural, intergenerational story of young agency is a timely acquisition for all libraries.–Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC

Surrey, Elle. Giving Thanks: More Than 100 Ways To Say Thank You. illus. by Elle Surrey. 32p. Frances Lincoln. Nov. 2016. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781847808790.

K-Gr 3 –In her vintage-inspired first children’s book, Surrey delivers a message about gratitude with concrete examples, making this abstract concept more easily digestible to young people. The book follows peach-skinned, blue-eyed Andy as he thinks about the people to whom he is thankful and why. Each paneled page features the same group of characters, including family members, friends, and community helpers, as Andy describes what they have done for him and the ways that he could give back. The book can be read in one sitting or dipped into to follow individual characters and their relationships. Illustrations are bright and childlike, with bold background colors and simple lines making the people and objects pop off the page. The characters resemble those in a Little Golden book, with a hint of Christian Robinson’s style. While Andy and his family are white, the community members and friends represent a variety of skin tones. Two spreads of activities close the book: making a gratitude jar and penning thank you notes, with specific ideas and creative suggestions, such as writing a joke or making an IOU for a personalized favor. VERDICT While many books of this type are focused on the winter holidays, this thoughtful selection that explores the concept of thankfulness can be used year-round.–Clara Hendricks, Cambridge Public Library, MA

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

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