April 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Picture Books: New Titles from Mo Willems, Jane Ray, & More | July 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Anderson, Peggy Perry. Chuck’s Band. illus. by Peggy Perry Anderson. 32p. HMH. Jun. 2017. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780544926202; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9780544926219.

PreS-Gr 1 –Chuck lives on a farm, and on one of his trips to town, he purchases a banjo, inspiring the farm animals to create a band. Flo the goat joins with a mandolin, Nip and Tuck the dogs play the guitar and the harmonica, Lou the cow joins with the washtub, and Sue the pig plays the violin. What a joyous sound they all make, having fun with a “cluck, hum, pluck.” Only one friend is left out; Fat Cat Pat does not want to play. So Chuck takes her to town, where he discovers the perfect “instrument” to accompany the band during Fat Cat Pat’s kitty nap. Anderson delivers the story via short sentences, simple concepts, and basic language. The rhyming prose flows naturally, like a song, producing a pleasing balance between words and their onomatopoeia counterpart. Beginning readers will have fun with the humorous setting and laugh at the surprising end. The lively primary colors and crayon-based illustrations add delightful details not present in the text. VERDICT An excellent addition for most libraries.–Kathia Ibacache, Simi Valley Public Library, CA

Austin, Ruth. So Many Cuddles. illus. by Clare Owen. 36p. Compendium. Jun. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781943200498.

PreS –A young dark-skinned girl, accompanied by a cat, a dog, and her teddy bear, wakes up “with rise and shine cuddles” and progresses through her day, showing readers all different types of cuddles in various situations. They are used to express emotions, such as love, sympathy, and gratitude. The story concludes as the girl gets ready for bed and the group have one last cuddle to wish one another good night. Sweet and gentle, this picture book is a unique take on the idea of hugs and hugging. Owen’s illustrations pop against the white paper. The font is usually big, bold, and black, contrasting with a solid white background, save for a few surprise splashes of color. While the book offers many reasons for why we hug, one important page depicts the protagonist declining to cuddle, showing young readers that they have the right to refuse if they do not want to be hugged. VERDICT Children will enjoy snuggling with their loved ones as they read this one together.–Laura J. Giunta, Garden City Public Library, NY

Bardhan-Quallen, Sudipta. Splatypus. illus. by Jackie Urbanovic. 32p. Amazon/Two Lions. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781503939202.

PreS-K –Platypus is lonely and just wants to play. He spends all day traveling around, looking for friends. Platypus meets kangaroos, possums, bats, and more. Some are bumpy; others are too jumpy or could climb high and even fly. After a series of failed attempts to partake in the fun, Platypus finally finds the perfect place to play at home or in the water, where everyone is wiggling and giggling. This is an adorable story with bright and cheerful illustrations that are sure to attract a young child’s eyes. The simple, rhyming text flows smoothly. Bardhan-Quallen’s use of onomatopoeia adds to the overall mood of the story. Characters are fun and expressive. VERDICT A great addition for storytimes as well as for bedtime. This one is a real crowd-pleaser.–Megan McGinnis, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

Bijsterbosch, Anita. When I Grow Up. illus. by Anita Bijsterbosch. 32p. Clavis. Apr. 2017. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781605373348.

PreS –Wild animal babies imagine what they will be able to do when they grow up. A little toucan can’t fly just yet, while a baby giraffe is too short to reach the leaves on the top of the trees, but both know this will change once they are older. A lion cub and young crocodile, snake, and elephant are also featured. While there’s nothing new or innovative here, Bijsterbosch’s crisp writing and colorful pictures appeal to children. The text is simple and straightforward, making it well suited to preschool audiences. Readers will relate to the animals, who are limited by their age in what they can do, and realize that once they grow up and become adults, they will be able to accomplish much more. The illustrations are eye-catching, with bold colors, clean lines, and cartoonish, innocuous-looking wild animals. The book also includes sturdy lift-the-flap pages, as readers are invited to switch between the young animals and their adult versions, making it enjoyable for both one-on-one and group sharing. VERDICT A solid choice for a toddler storytime.–Laura J. Giunta, Garden City Public Library, NY

Bond, Michael. Paddington’s Prize Picture. illus. by R.W. Alley. 32p. HarperCollins/Harper. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062430779; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9780062430762.

PreS-Gr 2 –Paddington is a great helper for his foster family, the Browns. So when Mrs. Brown asks Paddington to go to the market, he happily complies. At the market, Mr. Gruber is always delighted to see Paddington, and on this particular occasion, he shows the bear a painting he was “washing” to uncover a surprise. Paddington’s imagination sparks an idea, and he hastens home to use the “washing” technique on a painting that Mr. Brown has been working on to submit to a competition. Ironically, Paddington is unaware of this competition when he unleashes his artistic brushes. Will Mr. Brown recognize his own painting? And more importantly, will the painting have a chance at the competition? This easy-to-read story is told with simple sentences and a hint of new vocabulary beyond basic sight words. The appealing layout complements a natural flow between the humorous text and the pleasant pastel color illustrations. VERDICT An ideal choice for newly independent readers who are ready to read slightly longer paragraphs but need an easy-to-follow plot.–Kathia Ibacache, Simi Valley Public Library, CA

Capucilli, Alyssa Satin. This Bear’s Birthday. illus. by Lorna Hussey. 32p. Holt. Jun. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781627797016.

PreS –Little Bear is celebrating his birthday. He’s excited that he’s getting bigger every day and can do things that he couldn’t do before. Each spread shows what Little Bear can do by himself (such as get dressed by himself, mostly) and moments where he still needs his parents’ help (picking apples while on his papa’s shoulders). There are also some activities that even his parents can’t do (for instance, put the leaves back on the trees). When Little Bear’s friends arrive, there are songs to sing, a game of hide-and-seek, a puppet show, and a picnic lunch. This title is a celebration of growing independence. The watercolor artwork is soft and comforting like a warm hug. The cheerful, loving parents and the adorable Bear make reading this book a real pleasure. VERDICT Sweet as a piece of birthday cake, this is a terrific addition to the picture book section of any library.–Debbie Tanner, S. D. Spady Montessori Elementary, FL

Davies, Nicola. King of the Sky. illus. by Laura Carlin. 48p. Candlewick. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99 ISBN 978-0763695682.

Gr 1-3 –An Italian boy who recently moved to Wales is homesick and lonely. In a new landscape filled with chimney smoke and coal dust, the lad yearns for “sunlight, fountains, and the vanilla smell of ice cream” from his nonna’s gelateria. He soon befriends Mr. Evans, an old man who keeps and trains racing pigeons. The boy names one of the birds “Re Del Cielo,” “King of the Sky,” and hopes that the white-headed flyer will be a champion, despite the bird’s unimpressive record so far. Davies’s spare, lyrical text pairs beautifully with Carlin’s evocative use of color and texture; washes of gray, muddy browns, and subtle crayon rubbings convey the oppressive environment and the protagonist’s melancholy, while punctuations of sky blue, soft pink, and luminous yellow depict his growing hope and comfort in his new surroundings. After a terrible storm and a harrowing two-day wait as the birds make their way on a 1200-mile trek home, the King of the Sky returns triumphant, flying down into the boy’s waiting arms. It’s a subtle but effective metaphor for finding one’s place in a new land. VERDICT Striking mixed-media artwork combined with a timely message for anyone struggling to fit in in a strange and seemingly hostile place make this a strong purchase for large collections and/or curricula with a global focus.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

De Bruyn, Sassafras. Cleo. illus. by Sassafras De Bruyn. 24p. Uranito. Mar. 2017. Tr $11.95. ISBN 9788416715367.

PreS-Gr 2 –In this Spanish-language title, imagination and a new friendship offer a young girl respite from a mundane life of regimen. Alone on the playground, a downcast Cleo is lamenting the daily directives to brush her hair, pay more attention, and rush to catch the bus. She decides to head somewhere far, where no one will make fun of her big, round glasses. Leaving the gloomy playground behind and joined by her black cat Amadeus, whom she admires for his insouciant spirit, Cleo sets off on a skiff. Eventually she meets an unnamed boy on a small boat, accompanied by a parrot. Together they share stories, battle mythical creatures, and nap in the clouds. Full-bleed watercolor spreads depict the expansive imaginations of the characters and evoke a true sense of wonder. The illustrations are rife with symbolism, employing flocks of birds and the sea to mirror Cleo’s newfound freedom and the possibilities before her, a sophisticated touch that will inspire further discussion. The descriptive language and vivid illustrations are aptly suited for read-alouds and one-on-one sharing. The text itself, however, is often difficult to read against some of the more polychromatic spreads, almost disappearing in some instances. The font choice may also exclude independent readers, who might struggle with the cursive text style. VERDICT A charming but additional purchase for Spanish-language collections.–Jessica Agudelo, New York Public Library

Deal, Laura. How Nivi Got Her Names. illus. by Charlene Chua. 36p. glossary. Inhabit Media. Apr. 2017. pap. $10.95. ISBN 9781772271379.

K-Gr 2 –Deal offers an explanation of Inuit naming customs in this tale about young Nivi, who is exploring the meaning and reason for each of her five names. The book starts with a two-page introduction to Inuit traditions and how they differ from Western ways of naming. The narrative follows Nivi as she plays with her mother and asks the history of each of her names. The illustrations are playful and inviting and help bring to life the oral storytelling tradition. Inuktitut words are sprinkled throughout, with a glossary highlighting the words at the end. (“ ‘Baabi was an intelligent and kind soul,’ Nivi’s mother said with a smile. ‘A man full of integrity and character and a special family friend. He appeared one night in a dream your anaana had.’ ”) Nivi has been adopted through an Inuit custom in which a pregnant woman provides her child to someone who needs one. VERDICT An informative picture book that is useful for introducing concepts of Inuit culture, naming, and adoption but is best shared one-on-one.–Megan Egbert, Meridian Library District, ID

Dyer, Sarah. Monster Baby. illus. by Sarah Dyer. 28p. Otter-Barry. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781910959275.

PreS –A cute twist on the concept of gaining a new member of the family. Children will love that the author has chosen adorable monsters to depict the family of the new addition. The author explores an only child’s reactions to all the new changes. Everyone has to eat healthy food now because Mommy must. The child is sad that Mommy can’t hold him anymore (because of her growing belly), but it’s exciting to see the unborn baby on a screen at the doctor’s office. The child feels a little frustrated at first after the baby is born (“I have to play quietly even though the baby is allowed to make as much noise as he likes”) but finally embraces his sibling, wanting to share EVERYTHING. This leaves the monster parents with slightly concerned looks as big monster shows baby monster all his toys and games. There are plenty of humorous details in the mixed-media and collage artwork. VERDICT A sweet, reassuring book about a new baby that should find a welcome home in most collections.–Meghan Oppelt, Whitehall School District, WI

Foges, Clare. Kitchen Disco. illus. by Al Murphy. 32p. Faber & Faber. May 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780571336975.

K-Gr 2 –“At night when you are sleeping/there’s a party in your house.” And of course that party is an amazing fruit dance off! The lemon break-dances, the banana spins records, and the grapes start a conga line. But this title isn’t meant to be read so much as it’s supposed to be sung! The beginning of the book lists a website that offers an animated video of all of the characters and the actual melody to the song, which gives off a hilarious early 1980s hip-hop vibe. Much like the early “Pete the Cat” series or the new Eric Litwin books, this volume works even better when paired with the actual music, and readers can easily follow along to the beat. But the melody and lyrics of “Kitchen Disco” are slightly more complex; kids and adults will still be jumping and dancing around in excitement, but they will have difficulty singing along in a storytime setting. A creative storyteller will be able to come up with ways to incorporate the audience, but the author doesn’t leave clear moments for participation, which feels like a missed opportunity. The illustrations are simplistic, and sharp, fat lining and blinding color add to the wild atmosphere and experience. VERDICT A fun and funky addition guaranteed to get storytime kids moving.–Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI

Gaarder, Jostein. Questions Asked. tr. from Norwegian by Don Bartlett. illus. by Akin Düzakin. 72p. Archipelago/Elsewhere Editions. May 2017. Tr $14. ISBN 9780914671664.

Gr 3 Up –This layered philosophy primer from Gaarder of Sophie’s World fame tells the story of a nameless young boy who works out the loss of a sibling during a trip into the woods. The entire narrative consists of a series of thought-provoking questions, mashed up with Düzakin’s dreamy, calming illustrations. A ghostly figure follows the boy to a clearing and looks on as he digs up a box full of black-and-white photos, a journal, and other trinkets. Past and present alternate to reveal a boy who is devastated after losing his twin brother. The profound questions (“How do I talk?” “Can those who are not with us any more know how we are?” “Can anyone know what I think?”) give clues to the boys’ relationship, but we are left wondering how the twin died, and the boy’s rebound from a near-fatal walk into a nearby pond seems abrupt. The unique presentation allows for the book to be read in multiple ways. The questions can stand alone as inspiration for a creative writing or journal exercise. The delicate illustrations, akin to those of Peter McCarty, function in much the same way as a wordless picture book does. Together, they weave a melancholy tale of grief and the healing that inevitably comes with time. VERDICT This is a special book for mature readers and budding philosophers who won’t be afraid of the deep sense of sorrow. They will find a lot to chew on and discuss.–Kristy Kilfoyle, Canterbury School, Fort Myers, FL

Gerber, Carole. A Band of Babies. illus. by Jane Dyer. 32p. HarperCollins/Harper. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780061689550.

Baby-Toddler –A nursery school class of babies are fretful during a morning playgroup until a newcomer named Benny arrives. Benny rallies the now excited troops, and, as the title suggests, they form a makeshift band. Cheerfully marching with instruments, the babies parade around town, including to the market, where they get some snacks and cause some light mischief, before growing tired. The story concludes with the sleepy babies heading back to their nursery school, returning their instruments, and snuggling together for a nap. This adorable title makes for an engaging read, particularly for toddlers. While lively, the book never feels too frenetic or raucous. Gerber writes succinctly, with short, bouncy rhymes that fit well with the musical theme. Dyer’s gentle illustrations, created using colored pencils and featuring several spreads, are detailed, with warm, muted colors and soft lines. The cast of babies are happily diverse, and Benny, the leader of the babies’ band and the only child named in the story, is African American. While the little ones march throughout town, their adult caretaker is depicted alongside them, ensuring that they have safe travels. VERDICT A charming picture book that is sprightly in tone and text. A rollicking read-aloud.–Laura J. Giunta, Garden City Public Library, NY

Hall, Kirsten. The Gold Leaf. illus. by Matthew Forsythe. 48p. Enchanted Lion. May 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781592702145.

PreS-Gr 2 –One green-filled spring, a single gold leaf shimmers and tantalizes the forest animals. A spry warbler snatches up the leaf for her nest, but quick as a wink, it’s stolen by a chipmunk. Animal after animal plucks the precious treasure from its new owner until the leaf is nothing more than a pile of tattered pieces. The seasons pass, but no other gold leaves appear until the following spring. No one picks the leaf this time, for the animals’ happiness lies not in possessing the object but in the knowledge that it has returned to them after all. Rich mixed-media illustrations layer color and texture, creating a quiet, glowing atmosphere. The titular gold leaf shines in its embossed glory. The simple, unassuming text adds to the magic of the forest. Art and text are kept separated, with all text printed on a strip of white along the bottom edge of the pages. At times, the lyrical narration contradicts itself. For instance, it tells us that none of the animals saw the gold leaf among the newness of spring. Without transition, the next sentence reads, “Each one wanted it more than anything else in the world.” The message at the heart of this allegorical tale is a rather obscure one for young audiences but could be used to spark discussion. VERDICT A beautifully illustrated selection for classroom or one-on-one sharing.–Amy Seto Forrester, Denver Public Library

Hodgkinson, Leigh. A Place To Read. illus. by Leigh Hodgkinson. 32p. Bloomsbury. Jun. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781681193236.

PreS-Gr 2 –When the reading mood strikes, a young bibliophile looks for a comfy place to sit. In “Goldilocks” fashion, the floppy-haired boy tries out several possible spots, all to no avail. An oversize, overstuffed armchair with floral patterns attracts too many “buzz-buzzy” bees. A furry, monster-shaped chaise is uncomfortably “growly, itchy, FUZZY.” Heading outdoors, the child tries reading in the woods, but it’s too dark and a hooting owl is a distraction. Other rejected locales include a “smelly, stinky, grimy” garbage-strewn alleyway; a “slippy, slimy” lily pad; and a faraway, star-filled galaxy. Hodgkinson’s whimsical multimedia and digital collage illustrations are bursting with color, pattern, and texture. The brief, conversational text comes alive with figurative language and creative typefaces (the letters in “cold” look like they are shivering, and the letters in “tree” sprout branches and leaves). When the perfect hidey-hole seems to be elusive, the child has an epiphany: “It doesn’t matter where you sit…a book is best anywhere…a book is best when you SHARE.” VERDICT A surefire storytime crowd-pleaser.–Linda Ludke, London Public Library, Ont.

Honey, Elizabeth. Hop Up! Wriggle Over! illus. by Elizabeth Honey. 40p. Clarion. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544790841.

PreS –In this vivacious Australian import, a rambunctious family of assorted baby marsupials (e.g., quoll, wallaby, echidna, wombat, numbat) start their day by waking their kangaroo dad and koala mom and demanding breakfast. Having eaten, they go to the playground, enjoy a picnic, and return home for a messy and noisy supper, followed by a bath and bedtime. Honey’s playful watercolor artwork overflow with the energy of the mischievous youngsters (all nine babies appear on each spread), mixed with an undercurrent of tenderness as the grown-up animals care for the wee ones. Short, mostly onomatopoetic exclamations accompany the double-page illustrations for extra zing, though the vignettes of this unique family are so expressive, they could have been wordless. An illustrated pronunciation guide for all of the animal names is included in the back. VERDICT Though not the best pick for storytimes owing to its minimal text, this is a delightful choice for a one-on-one introduction to the variety of Australia’s wildlife (even if it is a highly fictionalized one).–Yelena Alekseyeva-Popova, formerly at Chappaqua Library, NY

Joosse, Barbara. Wally Wants To Hug. illus. by Rebecca Ashdown. 32p. little bee. Jun. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781499804041.

PreS-K –Joosse and Ashdown have created a cuddly and sensitive boa constrictor named Wally. He comes from a happy family who love to show their affection for one another. Wally wants to hug his classmates at school, but his animal friends are frightened. Wally feels isolated, so he seeks help from his family. His brother reminds him of the harsh facts about boa constrictors and their hard squeezes, while his mother advises him to just be his cuddly self, believing that his schoolmates will come around soon. However, Wally discovers that even after being his most creative and charming self, his friends still won’t hug him. It is Wally’s tears, along with his promise not to squeeze hard, that finally convinces his school friends to accept a hug. The story is sweet, and the bit of suspense at the end—will Wally get carried away when he finally gets a change to hug his friends?—will have children listening intently and hoping for the best. Ashdown’s illustrations are bright and happy, and they are particularly endearing when depicting Wally with his round glasses and hopeful smile. Wally’s silly squeezing antics on the end pages will bring a smile to every reader’s face. VERDICT A delightful read-aloud about the importance of inclusion in spite of daunting differences; perfect for preschoolers and kindergartners.–Sally James, South Hillsborough Elementary School, Hillsborough, CA

Lamb, Anne. Beat Bugs: Meet the Beat Bugs. illus. by Josh Wakely. 32p. HarperCollins/Harper. May 2017. pap. $3.99. ISBN 9780062640666.

PreS-Gr 1 –Beat Bugs Village is home to a variety of beat bugs. There is Jay, a beetle who lives in an old boot; Kumi, a ladybug who loves to solve problems; and Buzz, a tiny fruit fly who lives in a juice carton. There are other inhabitants in the village as well, such as a singing slug, an ingenious cricket, a postman bee, a shiny dragonfly, and a not very trustworthy cockroach, among others. These faithful friends take care of one another. Lamb’s title introduces this series, based on a TV show, which presents the bugs in a plot-free setting structured with simple sentences, familiar words, and straightforward concepts. The double-spaced black text font size is set on a white background inside color-coded boxes. These boxes are complemented with digitally produced illustrations that represent each of the beat bugs. The artwork complements the text and allows the individual bugs to shine. VERDICT Kindergartners and early elementary schoolers will enjoy this beginning reader. A solid addition for most libraries.–Kathia Ibacache, Simi Valley Public Library, CA

Le Bec, Yann & Gwendal Le Bec. Raymond. illus. by Yann Le Bec & Gwendal Le Bec. 32p. Candlewick. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763689506.

PreS-Gr 2 –Raymond is an ordinary dog who enjoys a “pretty nice life,” complete with his own place by the sofa, lots of affectionate ear scratching, and surprise birthday parties. When he decides to sit at the dinner table with his human family, he starts to abandon his canine ways. Spotting the latest issue of DOGUE magazine on the newsstand, the newly urbane pooch is inspired to become an ace “rover-ing reporter.” The stress of meeting deadlines and the constant pressure to “sniff out” breaking news take a toll, and the once carefree spaniel works himself “to the bone.” Le Bec’s digital cartoons show bleary-eyed Raymond hunched over his laptop, surrounded by a stack of paperwork and an extra-large takeout coffee cup. It takes a bouncy red ball to remind the workaholic hound of the simple pleasures in life. VERDICT Although brimming with clever puns and wordplay, this cautionary tale about the dog-eat-dog world seems to have an adult sensibility and less to offer the intended audience.–Linda Ludke, London Public Library, Ont.

London, Jonathan. Duck and Hippo in the Rainstorm. illus. by Andrew Joyner. 32p. Amazon/Two Lions. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781503937239.

PreS-Gr 2 –A sweet story of friendship between a proper hippo and a vivacious duck. One spring day, Duck knocks at the door and invites Hippo to take a walk in the rain. With very little convincing from Duck, tentative Hippo dons his yellow rubber wellies and bow tie, and once they figure out how to share an umbrella, they begin their adventures. They have a grand time walking, jumping, and splashing. They even figure out, through trial and error, how to sail down the creek in the umbrella. When they sink in the pond, Duck has a moment of panic while looking for his friend in the water. No worries. They both regain their soggy footing until Duck is carried away by a strong wind. All’s well that ends well, and they make it back to Hippo’s house just as the sun comes out. Though the book is a tad wordy, the large cartoon art is lively and engaging. VERDICT This unlikely duo show that friendship comes in all shapes and sizes and pals are there for each other through thick and thin. Sure to be a storytime staple.–Gwen Collier, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, NY

Meng, Cece. World Pizza. illus. by Ellen Shi. 32p. Sterling. Jun. 2017. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781454919469.

PreS-Gr 2 –During a night of stargazing, Mama spots a wishing star and begins to ask for world peace, but when a sneeze erupts at the end of her wish, she ends up asking for world pizza. What follows is pizza delivery via the sky all around the world. Pizza appears in deserts, on mountains, in cities, and in remote villages. It appears with traditional toppings and with seaweed and chocolate and pickles and whatever else anyone around the globe can dream up. The pizza becomes something everyone has in common and ignites friendships and an exploration of different cultures as neighbors and strangers break bread together. By story’s end, world pizza looks a lot like world peace after all. Digital artwork highlights the humor behind the idea of pies falling from the skies, but it aims for some realism in depicting people of different ethnicities, as well as the variety in pizza toppings. The text is at times repetitive. Overall, there’s a good balance of humor and heart. Meng leaves readers with some food for thought: What would it take to unite the world? VERDICT An engaging read-aloud and a thoughtful take on a funny misunderstanding; recommended for most picture book collections.–Samantha Lumetta, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH

Mercado-López, Larissa M. Esteban de Luna, Baby Rescuer/Esteban de Luna, ¡rescatador de bebés! illus. by Alex Pardo DeLange. 32p. Piñata. May 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781558858473. BL

K-Gr 2 –A sweet bilingual picture book that tells the story of Esteban, a little boy who loves his superhero cape and wears it everywhere. The only problem is that “his cape cannot do anything” (“su capa no hace nada”)—it won’t let him fly, become invisible, or make things disappear—and he has trouble actually being a superhero. Esteban decides to sell his cape, but before he is successful, he takes a detour with his family to the park and “rescues” a baby doll left behind by another child and takes her home to care for her, which makes him finally feel like a superhero. Children will no doubt sympathize with Esteban, in part because of the earnest illustrations. A few of the sentences are rather stiff (in both languages), but overall, this is a well-crafted picture book that young readers will relate to. VERDICT A solid choice where tales about superheroes or self-confidence are needed.–Molly Hone, Pequannock Township Public Library, NJ

Pace, Anne Marie. Vampirina at the Beach. illus. by LeUyen Pham. 40p. Disney-Hyperion. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781484773420.

PreS-Gr 2 –Pace and Pham have combined their talents to create another mesmerizing story of Vampirina. It’s time for Moon Monster Madness, so all the monster families head to the beach for a night of fun. The watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations bring the summer festival to life (or should that be undeath?). The protagonist’s tips combine her optimistic outlook with her love of ballet. For instance, she says in a game of volleyball, “You must leap high, stay light on your toes, and always hit your mark.” Vampirina’s advice for beachgoers is always positive but never cloying. Vampirina and her friend try everything from surfing to building sand castles. Their participation in an underwater treasure hunt is depicted on a rich spread of blues and greens, filled with pops of color from pink starfish, purple coral, and the big red X that marks the spot. Pham’s artwork delicately depicts nighttime scenes without making them appear gloomy or frightening. The four-page foldout of the dance contest is a feast for the eyes and shares some good advice: “Whether or not you come out on top, finishing with grace is what makes you a real winner.” This is a story that will be read and reread, with new details springing out of the illustrations each time. VERDICT Perfect for existing fans of Vampirina and newcomers to this feisty character and her nocturnal world. A sublime seasonal storytime selection.–Suzanne Costner, Fairview Elementary School, Maryville, TN

Parda, Piotr. Graduation Day. illus. by Piotr Parda. 52p. Ripple Grove. Mar. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780991386673.

K-Gr 3 –This surreal wordless tale opens with a bleak cityscape; in the center square, there is a run-down school with a banner reading “Graduation Day.” Peering out contentedly is a small child with brown skin, huge brown eyes, and glasses. On the next page, a group of bullies blow a spitball toward the bespectacled youth. Briefly discomfited, she peers down at the object that hit her, then tucks it into a pocket. After a collegial-looking ceremony, the other graduates are collected by happy families, and the bullied child is happily alone in the empty school. She visits her locker and, with a smile, pulls a sunflower seed out of her pocket to add to a huge jar full of identical seeds—presumably the bullying has been going on for some time. The bullies see the seeds only as weapons, but the child, leaving the school with finality, plants all the seeds in the cracks of the schoolyard. In a beautiful sequence that introduces the first bright colors into the bland world, the seeds begin to sprout until the square is awash with vibrant sunflowers. In the final spread, the school is nearly submerged and flowers escape into the rest of the city. There are still cracks, but the city looks revived. VERDICT The striking watercolor and ink illustrations are well executed, but close inspection creates more questions than answers, making this a supplemental purchase.–Anna Haase Krueger, Ramsey County Library, MN

Paul, Miranda. Blobfish Throws a Party. illus. by Maggie Caton. 32p. little bee. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781499804225.

PreS-Gr 2 –Lonely Blobfish is tired of no lights, no friends, and no treats down at the bottom of the ocean where he lives. He can think of only two ways to change that: throw a party or save the world like a hero. Choosing to throw a party, Blobfish calls out, “Deep-sea party! Bring a treat to share!” Though his request is simple, it becomes jumbled immediately. The mermaids hear something different, as do the shorebirds, and so on. Eventually everyone is partying when aliens attempt to steal Earth treats. Luckily, the strange party styles of the earthlings cause the aliens to abort their mission, and when everyone wants to know who to thank, the party announcement is traced back to Blobfish. In the end, he accomplishes his mission and becomes a hero all at the same time. In Caton’s picture book illustration debut, she offers whimsical and colorful artwork that plays up the humor of Paul’s perfectly plotted story. VERDICT The text begs to be read aloud, and the humor is aimed squarely at the preschool audience, making this a great pick for storytime. Highly recommended for school and public library picture book collections.–Samantha Lumetta, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH

Petty, Devorah. Claymates. illus. by Lauren Eldridge. 40p. Little, Brown. Jun. 2017. Tr 16.99. ISBN 9780316303118.

PreS-Gr 2 –After an artist leaves, two hunks of talking clay begin molding themselves, testing the limits of their physical forms and their imaginations. The gray blob, originally designed as a wolf, goes from an elephant to a snout-nosed “Pig-e-phant,” while the brown blob, sculpted to be an owl, turns into everything from a peanut to a walrus. The two continue to stretch and bend into different forms and animals until they hear their artist coming. But how are they going to change themselves back?! Petty, author of I Don’t Want To Be a Frog, has written another wonderfully humorous story, but this one embraces the characters’ desire to shape their own identities. The clay lumps play off each other well, quickly escalating the situation until it hilariously spins out of control. But the real star may be Eldridge’s models, since this title is not drawn but rather told through a series of photos of actual clay figures. Each design is vividly detailed and expressive; the characters clearly revel in the challenge and are excited by each transfiguration, and the look of panic on their faces as they try to change back is priceless. VERDICT Another win for Petty and a great debut for Eldridge. A highly recommended read-aloud.–Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI

Pfister, Marcus. You Can’t Win Them All, Rainbow Fish. illus. by Marcus Pfister. 32p. North South. Jun. 2017. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9780735842878.

PreS-Gr 1 –Fans of Rainbow Fish will not be disappointed with Pfister’s most recent installment of his classic children’s book series. Rainbow Fish engages in a game of hide-and-seek with his friends and learns a difficult and humbling lesson: he is not the most adept player in the game. Not only is he unsuccessful at finding the other fish but he is also the first to be discovered when Little Blue becomes the seeker. Frustrated by Little Blue’s victory, Rainbow Fish quits the game and angrily swims away. Red Fin, a newcomer to the shoal, immediately goes after him. In the end, Red Fin gently reminds Rainbow Fish that it’s OK to lose. Pfister uses this very simple story line to address complex social and emotional development skills. At times, the writing is slightly predictable. However, the characters are multidimensional and relatable, often mirroring realistic childlike behaviors. The trademark illustrations of vibrant, sparkling scales provide great visuals and often compensate for the monotonous text. VERDICT Teeming with rich lessons about the value of good sportsmanship, this straightforward tale is a useful resource for teaching the importance of good character. A serviceable addition to most picture book collections.–Andrea Jamison, Lincoln Elementary School, Calumet City, IL

Postgate, Oliver. Noggin and the Moon Mouse. illus. by Peter Firmin. 48p. Hardie Grant Egmont. May 2017. Tr $8.99. ISBN 9781405281416.

K-Gr 2 –One of the Noggin of Nog stories is brought back to life in this latest reprint of the 1967 classic. The Nogs are celebrating a new horse trough when a strange round object lands in the middle of it. The Nogs are afraid, but when a small mouselike creature pops out of it, the children begin to chase it until they finally catch it and put the mouse in a cage. Queen Nooka is not pleased and makes the children release the mouse, and then befriends it. The Nogs help the mouse fix his ship so he can return home. This is a sweet story, and the original illustrations by Firmin add to the appeal. It is a simple tale about being kind to those who are different, which is still an important message to share even 50 years after the original was published. VERDICT A sweet offering about kindness and a must-buy for fans of the series. While it isn’t ideal for storytime, owing to its small size, it would be fun to share one-on-one and is perfect for newly independent readers.–V. Lynn Christiansen, Wiley International Studies Magnet Elementary School, Raleigh, NC

Ragsdale, Linda. How I Did It. illus. by Anoosha Syed. 32p. Flowerpot. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781486712113.

PreS-Gr 2 –This is the story of the letter “I,” who sees a world of possibilities at every turn. I pops off the page of a classroom notebook and in spite of the skepticism of the other letters sets out to look around. After a tumble off the desk, I picks itself up and realizes “I could do it!” and is joined on this new adventure by the letter “U.” The book is part of a series whose goal is to empower young readers to overcome adversity through compassion and peace. The cartoon illustrations use bold, saturated colors, with exciting sequential art driving the narrative. Each of the letters has a distinct personality conveyed through expressive facial features and the text. The writing encourages literacy skills and makes heavy use of alliteration and creative vocabulary. VERDICT With a range of characters, amusing wordplay, and a positive message, this title makes an engaging classroom read-aloud in a kindergarten or early elementary setting, while older readers would also enjoy exploring the text and illustrations independently.–Kelly Topita, Anne Arundel County Public Library, MD

Ransom, Jeanie Franz. Cowboy Car. illus. by Ovi Nedelcu. 40p. Amazon/Two Lions. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781503950979.

PreS-Gr 1 –Little Car has big dreams. He wants to head west and become a cowboy. He wants a big hat, pointy-toed cowboy boots, and the chance to round up cattle and sleep under the stars. His parents want him to stay in the city, encouraging him to choose the life of a taxicab (like his dad) or the life of a family car. Despite being told that cars can’t be cowboys, Little Car sets off alone to pursue his dream. Eventually, he finds a ranch and meets a cowboy named Dusty who is willing to give him a chance, even though he can’t ride a horse. Throughout the story, Little Car shows resilience and perseverance, eventually earning the respect of Dusty and his parents (along with some MooTube fame). There are several other puns in the story (Little Car does a “brake dance”) that will appeal to children and their parents, and Nedelcu’s mixed-media illustrations really bring the story to life. Little Car is so darn cute, particularly when he is wearing his giant cowboy hat. VERDICT A charming read-aloud selection with an empowering message about following one’s dreams and never giving up that will appeal to children, parents, and educators.–Sally James, South Hillsborough Elementary School, Hillsborough, CA

Ray, Jane, retel. The Elephant’s Garden. illus. by Jane Ray. 32p. Boxer. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781910716229.

PreS-Gr 2 –A traditional Indian folktale is retold and strikingly illustrated in this gorgeous picture book. When a girl discovers an elephant eating the best fruit in her garden, the elephant offers to repay her by showing her his own garden in a place beyond the moon and the stars. To reach this garden, Jasmine must hold on to the elephant’s tail as the large animal flies through the deep blue night to his garden in a cloud. The elephant’s garden indeed appears to be full of enormous fruit, but the girl soon realizes that each piece of fruit is actually a precious jewel. What follows is a story of gossip and greed, as the members of Jasmine’s family each hope to see the elephant’s garden for themselves. Ray deftly uses paper collage and paint to create flat, stylized scenes in vibrant jewel tones that fill the spreads with color and energy. Both gardens feature large trees with textured paper trunks and multicolored cut-paper leaves and fruits, resulting in a magical backdrop for the characters. But it is the scenes of Jasmine’s family flying through the night sky that are both the most simple and the most expressive. Share with other tales about the folly of selfishness and greed such as “The Fisherman and His Wife” and “The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg.” VERDICT A beautifully illustrated, well-written offering that deserves a place in all folklore collections.–Teri Markson, Los Angeles Public Library

Reynolds, Aaron. Sea Monkey & Bob. illus. by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. 40p. S. & S. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481406765.

PreS-Gr 2 –Sea Monkey is afraid he will sink to the bottom of the ocean, and Bob the puffer fish worries that he will float right up to the surface. Their solution? Hold on to each other and never let go. This is a humorous story of friendship and a great way to introduce the concept of buoyancy in a classroom. There are so many extension ideas here, such as a sink or float lesson. Bright illustrations will keep children’s attention, though the dialogue-only text could cause confusion without the benefit of a good storyteller using tone and inflection. VERDICT A fun addition to any library and especially as part of a science lesson.–Betsy Davison, Cortland Free Library, NY

Rivoal, Marine. Are You A Monkey?: A Tale of Animal Charades. tr. from French by Marie Tunney. illus. by Marine Rivoal. 40p. Phaidon. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780714874173.

PreS-Gr 2 –In this tropical land, the animals are not just monkeying around—they are playing charades. The birds are all aflutter high in the trees, causing excitement to ripple through the area. Parrot starts the fun by pretending that she is a lion and having all of the animals try to guess what she is. Is she a pineapple? No! Of course not! Crocodile is curious about the game, so Cockatoo explains. Crocodile thinks this sounds like great fun, so he pretends to be an ostrich. Soon, all of the animals are joining in, even the little starfish, who thinks that her physical constraints prevent her from playing. The English translation of this French title reads like a fun guessing game, and children will giggle with excitement as they play along. Many of the animals’ guesses are outrageous, sure to induce laughter. The block print illustrations are bright with orange, gold, blue, and green. Although most of the animals will be familiar to children, they will enjoy figuring out which animal is being described and what creature might be named next. VERDICT “Sounds like”…a winner!–Amy Shepherd, St. Anne’s Episcopal School, Middleton, DE

Rodari, Gianni. A jugar con el bastón. illus. by Anna Laura Cantone. 40p. Picarona. Mar. 2017. Tr $9.95. ISBN 9788416648740.

PreS-Gr 1 –An unexpected gift inspires a young boy to make imaginative use of an ordinary item. Red-haired and rosy-cheeked, Claudio is happily playing in his front yard with his (possibly imaginary) pet, who resembles the Cheshire Cat. When an elderly man passing by drops his walking stick, Claudio picks it up and attempts to hand it back. The man refuses, saying he doesn’t need the cane anymore. In fact, he seems to stand a little straighter without it. Although puzzled by the gift, the boy instinctively bangs the cane’s tip against the ground three times and straddles it, which is just the trick to unleash its magic. Claudio’s new possession transforms into everything from a galloping black horse with a star on its muzzle to a spaceship navigating the stars. This tale, originally published in Italian, is filled with themes of imagination and kindness. The ambiguity of the adventures will allow readers to draw their own conclusions about the cane’s enchantment and the existence of Claudio’s never mentioned but ever-present pet. The digitized illustrations fail to add any novelty to the story, though. Most of the spreads are enclosed by a gilded, floral frame or set against a striped, pastel background, with text awkwardly arranged to fit around the designs. The inconsistent and at times tawdry layout weakens the impact of the narrative. The text lends itself nicely to storytelling or one-on-one sharing, but the small trim size and disappointing visuals might not be effective for large groups. VERDICT An additional purchase for Spanish-language collections.–Jessica Agudelo, New York Public Library

Scott, S.A. The Big Blue Chicken. illus. by S.A. Scott. 56p. Whispering Bluffs. Dec. 2016. pap. $10.95. ISBN 9780692841327.

K-Gr 2 –A message-driven retelling of the familiar folktale “The Little Red Hen,” with a twist. In this version, the protagonist is male. The Big Blue Chicken finds a box of heirloom wheat seeds buried on the property that years previously was occupied by L.R.H. (Little Red Hen). The dog, the goose, the cat, and the pig offer to help, but surprisingly the Big Blue Chicken turns them down. Vintage-looking illustrations, with a sepia outline on cream-colored pages, emphasize Big Blue Chicken in red and turquoise colors on almost every page. The slim horizontal shape of the book is reminiscent of Wanda Gag’s Millions of Cats. Text and illustrations are mildly humorous. Titles of cookbooks piled on the floor are amusing (“Kernel Sanderz Kingdom”). While comparisons to the original tale will generate discussion questions, the dedication page includes the Bible verse John 12:24, which could lead the conversation in still another thought-provoking direction. VERDICT Supplemental fare only if variations on folktales are in demand.–Blair Christolon, Prince William Public Library System, Manassas, VA

Sif, Birgitta. Swish and Squeak’s Noisy Day. illus. by Birgitta Sif. 32p. Knopf. Jun. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399556227.

PreS-Gr 2 –Readers tag along for an adventurous day shared by mouse sisters Swish and Squeak. Their day is marked by the many wonderful sounds that accompany their activities, from the crunch of breakfast cereal to the stomps of imaginative play to the ring ring of the school bell, and the perfect quiet of the library. The sounds vary, but all have positive and creative associations. Swish and Squeak are the best of friends, and the soft, pastel colored illustrations echo that sweetness by adding fun details to each spread. Swish and Squeak’s world is enchanting. Swish stands upon a spool of thread to reach the sink, and the matchstick box is the perfect size for a mouse wagon, as is cheese, the lunch of choice for studious little mice. VERDICT An upbeat celebration of sound and sisterhood; recommended for most picture book collections.–Samantha Lumetta, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH

Singleton, Linda Joy. A Cat Is Better. illus. by Jorge Martin. 32p. little bee. Jun. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781499802788.

PreS-Gr 1 –An orange cat is adopted, but oh dear—so is a blue dog. A boy takes both animals home. The cat struggles to demonstrate how felines are superior to dogs. For instance, a cat is self-entertaining (illustrated by claw marks across upholstery), while a dog plays fetch with its owner. A dog gets dirty, but a cat is self-cleaning. The cat tries different ways to steal attention away from the dog until the boy gives her a sparkly necklace. The cat decides that the canine can stay and might even be a perfect friend, particularly when she gets lonely. This simple tale of cat vs. dog, told from the feline’s perspective, is illustrated in a childlike style, with bold swashes of color, loops and squiggles for shading, and thick lines. VERDICT A short and silly pet tale sure to please young pet lovers.–Mindy Hiatt, Salt Lake County Library Services

Stiefel, Chana. Daddy Depot. illus. by Andy Snair. 40p. Feiwel & Friends. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250058898.

K-Gr 2 –“From Acrobats to Zookeepers, we have the perfect dad for you! Exchange your old dad for a brand-new one…TODAY!” When little Lizzie sees the ad on her computer for Daddy Depot, she thinks that all her problems are solved. She loves her dad, but he is always watching football and telling the same old jokes, so she hauls him off to Daddy Depot to trade him in for a better model. Well, the grass is always greener on the other side. Lizzie finds Rocker dad, Astro dad, and Chef dad before realizing that the very best dad in the store is her own. This colorful, humorous tale is sure to be a read-aloud hit. The digital cartoon art adds to the lighthearted tone. While the lesson that Lizzie’s dad is imperfectly perfect is a good one, her father’s stereotypical actions at the beginning of the story, such as watching football while ignoring Lizzie, could be problematic. VERDICT A slight but satisfying addition to larger collections.–Betsy Davison, Cortland Free Library, NY

van Genechten, Guido. Little Kangaroo. illus. by Guido van Genechten. 32p. Clavis. Jun. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781605373386.

PreS-Gr 1 –Mother Kangaroo wants her little one to leave her pouch and explore the exciting big world. Unfortunately, her youngster has a completely different idea. Little Kangaroo has no desire to leave her comfortable spot. She’s warm and safe. There’s milk in case she feels hungry, and she finds her mother’s tummy sounds very soothing. Every time her mother attempts to ease her out of the pouch, Little Kangaroo jumps back inside. Her wise mother comes up with a plan. She takes her daughter to see the different animals around them. They hear birds singing and see elephants playing in the water and giraffes running across the plain. In spite of herself, the young kangaroo slowly makes her way out of the pouch. This is a sweet story about learning to let go. The illustrations are bright, simple, and colorful. Young children will love the variety of wild animals and birds. Little Kangaroo is a somewhat typical child and thinks the elephants are “stupid.” This might not please some parents/caregivers, but it provides a perfect opportunity for discussion. VERDICT This is a good option to help young and older children with separation anxiety.–Barbara Spiri, Southborough Library, MA

Vásquez, Paula. Not What It Seems. illus. by Paula Vásquez. 40p. Gibbs Smith. Mar. 2017. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781423646914.

PreS-Gr 1 –This simple and silly title introduces a group of animals in clever and unusual ways. It opens, “This is not a rooster,” and with the turn of a page, explains, “It is an alarm clock,” as the bird throws back his head with a loud “cock-a-doodle-do!” An elephant is revealed to be a shower, a kangaroo subs as a shopping cart, and a deer is a clothes hanger. The illustrations are whimsical, cheerful, and very colorful, and the book lends itself to different interpretations. VERDICT Pair with Jan Thomas’s A Birthday for Cow and Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Pig a Party for a hilarious and interactive birthday or celebration storytime, or Antoinette Portis’s Not a Box for an imagination storytime. A suitable purchase for most libraries.–Shana Morales, Windsor Public Library, CT

Willems, Mo. Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals. illus. by Mo Willems. 32p. Disney/Hyperion. May 2017. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781484767467.

Baby-Toddlers –A humorous, loving take on the excitement and nervousness, tenderness and heartache, and worry and fear of new parenthood. Bold graphics in vivid colors are interspersed with equally bold text in various font sizes. The front and back covers feature large mirrors to include youngsters in the story, making each reading unique to the two people sharing it. Most pages end with the refrain, “while we read this book together” to reinforce the idea of sharing stories and laptime together. Each page starts with a statement, such as, “THANK YOU FOR JOINING US/your arrival has been anxiously awaited.” Upcoming highlights focus on music, cats, and stories. The graphic drawings are designed to look like universal signs, and while they will certainly engage young readers, they are also designed to make the presumably older book sharer chuckle. Willems perfectly captures the essence of parenthood: “We will strive to make your stay as comfortable as possible. However…there will be TURBULENCE. There will be UNEXPECTED EVENTS. There will be HUMAN ERROR. Fortunately, we are happy to provide you LOVE. At no extra cost.” VERDICT A fun addition to parenting collections and to possibly circulate next to Knuffle Bunny, Pigeon, and Elephant and Piggie.–Lisa Kropp, Lindenhurst Memorial Library, NY

Wright, Maureen. Share, Big Bear, Share! illus. by Will Hillenbrand. 32p. Amazon/Two Lions. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781503951006.

PreS-Gr 1 –Wright and Hillenbrand continue a winning recipe with their latest book. This time Big Bear has collected a giant pail of blueberries and plans to eat them all himself. His friends spy the delicious-looking stash and wish they could have some, too. Enter the old oak tree, who reminds the protagonist, “Share, Big Bear, share!” Of course, Big Bear isn’t paying attention and mishears the oak tree’s entreaties. Sublime silliness ensues until Big Bear finally hears properly, gets the message, and shares with his friends. VERDICT Rhyming text and charming colorful illustrations make this an easy go-to for a read-aloud and lessons on sharing. A sure bet for any library.–Betsy Davison, Cortland Free Library, NY

Ying, Jonathan. Lost and Found, What’s That Sound? illus. by Victoria Ying. 32p. HarperCollins/Harper. Jun. 2017. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780062380685.

PreS-Gr 1 –At the peculiar Lost and Found desk, items are found by their sound. A poor little mouse has lost his thing that goes “toot! toot!” It’s not a bike horn or a train; his lost item is a trumpet! A succession of animals follow, each having lost a particular instrument. The final animal is in fact the conductor (a bat) who has lost his whole band. They are all reunited in a happy musical ending. With its simple, rhyming text, use of onomatopoeia, and musical theme, this book is sure to be a winner. The bright cartoon illustrations on a white background are very appealing. VERDICT This musical rhyming book is an excellent choice for any library. It would be great for an instrument-themed storytime or a read-aloud in music class.–Jasmine L. Precopio, Fox Chapel Area School District, Pittsburgh

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



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