February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Picture Books: An African Orchestra, Young Magicians, and More | September 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Ackerman, Peter. The Screaming Chef. illus. by Max Dalton. 32p. David R. Godine. May 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781567925982.

K-Gr 2 –A boy prone to screaming takes up cooking in this muddled picture book. The unnamed child begins as a terror—his parents have no solution for the fits that occur frequently and without any obvious provocation. Fortunately, the boy’s parents are excellent cooks, and the child is happy when his mouth is full of food. Unfortunately, he quickly becomes rather rotund. The solution: teach him to cook for himself. Before long, he is dicing daikon and filleting fish and even singing instead of screaming. Next comes his own restaurant, Boy, where his innovative creations cause increasingly ridiculous reactions from customers enraptured by his flavors. Trouble arrives one busy night when the boy loses his focus and accidentally mixes up his recipes. Upset over his errors, he relapses into a tantrum that threatens to chase away his customers. Surprisingly, all it takes is a stern word from his parents and the possibility of losing the restaurant to quiet him down and turn him into a singing, happy chef once again, a far too easy resolution. Former screenwriter Ackerman’s attempt at a humorous tale of bad behavior has moments of silliness that may elicit giggles, but overall, it fails to cohere into an engaging narrative. The overly long narrative feels labored by the list of amusing customer antics, and the protagonist lacks any sort of personality. Dalton’s cartoon illustrations are relatively static, frequently repeating the same narrow range of facial and body expressions for the boy and his parents. While appropriate for the simple story line, they fail to elevate the text. VERDICT Mildly amusing but ultimately unsatisfying fare.–Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Hennepin County Library, MN

Boyd, Lizi. I Wrote You a Note. illus. by Lizi Boyd. 36p. Chronicle. Jun. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452159577.

PreS-Gr 2 –A young child lounging in a flowery meadow writes a note and leaves it for a friend. A variety of animals discover it first and transform it according to their needs. When Turtle comes across the note, he makes a raft out of it; Duck uses it as a dock for her ducklings; Spider crosses the creek on it; and so forth. Eventually the wind blows the note over to its intended recipient, another child. The last page reveals the missive’s contents—an invitation to go exploring, something the note’s author has been doing all along while waiting for a friend to arrive. Boyd’s stylized gouache illustrations are reminiscent of Matisse’s cutouts, with their vivid colors and dancing shapes. Sharp-eyed readers will enjoy spotting the animals on the spreads as they make their appearance and cameos throughout the story. Hand-lettered text is a fitting accompaniment to the images both in its simple refrain of “I wrote you a note. Did you find it?” and in making the entire book feel like the note itself. VERDICT A delightful adventure through the great outdoors, best shared one-on-one to pore over the engagingly designed pages.–Yelena Alekseyeva-Popova, formerly at Chappaqua Library, NY

Brooks, Gwendolyn. We Are Shining. illus. by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. 32p. HarperCollins/Harper. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062570666.

K-Gr 2 –How do you see the children of our world? Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Brooks sees unity and acceptance as her words leap across each page with joy. Brooks shares specific examples of life from around the globe (“the people in Afrikan tents, the people in English cathedrals, the people in Indian courtyards”), celebrating the strength of all children and their families. One page shows a girl dancing through the universe with the line, “Inside me, I feel stars.” There are one or two sentences on each page, resulting in the perfect pace for young readers. Coretta Scott King Award–winning illustrator Gilchrist’s joyous visuals of children playing inspire readers to build a better world together. The vibrant colors capture the bright open skies and smiling faces. The artwork prompts kids to take in the wide world and the undiscovered places around them. On occasion, the text and images appear in the gutter, but overall, this is a shining example of poetry in the form of a picture book. VERDICT An enjoyable selection, perfect for storytime, music class, and movement activities.–Paige Bentley-Flannery, Deschutes Public Library, Bend, OR

Clickard, Carrie. Magic for Sale. illus. by John Shelley. 32p. Holiday House. Jul. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823435593.

K-Gr 2 –Georgie McQuist has been double dared to enter the scariest place around, a shop filled with oddities and marvels that will fascinate young readers. There, he meets a trapped ghost tasked with inventorying the shop. Georgie isn’t scared, though, so he promptly begins to help his new friend, checking off each item like so: “flutes that play a banshee’s wails, armor made of dragon scales, talking owls complete with tree, a book on ancient alchemy.” With the task complete, all that’s left is to meet the owner. After introducing a moment of suspense, the author produces a satisfying twist and a funny conclusion—children will love what Georgie brings in for show-and-tell. The book is told in alternating poetic schemes: first limericks, then rhyming pairs, then limericks again. The illustrations are just as whimsical, with their layers upon layers of occult items. Despite the clutter of Miss Pustula Night’s shop, India ink clearly distinguishes the objects from one another. This also proves to be a wise design choice because many of the spreads feature a different complementary palette of watercolors. Georgie himself always pops out, thanks to the assorted colors that make up his geeky adventurer’s garb. VERDICT For children who always have their heads in the clouds, this title will whisk them away with its fantastical setting and fun rhymes.–Rachel Forbes, Oakville Public Library, Ont.

Colfer, Chris. Trollbella Throws a Party. illus. by Brandon Dorman. 32p. (A Tale from the Land of Stories). Little, Brown. Jul. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316383400.

K-Gr 2 –Expanding on his best-selling series, Colfer focuses on supporting character Trollbella, the Troll Queen. The monarch throws a lavish birthday party for herself, complete with a clown, musicians, and rainbow kittens. Despite the excitement, she is still unhappy until she learns to share her wealth with her subjects and a special child who shares her birthday. The plot is nothing new, of course, but it’s still delightful to see it unfold, given Colfer’s knowledge of folktales. By using classical folktale elements, Colfer crafts an entertaining story that seems straight out of a forgotten Grimm collection. Dorman’s artwork also greatly contributes to the piece; similar at times to the style of Paul O. Zelinsky’s classic fairy-tale books, it recalls a Renaissance setting but with some modern elements mixed in that truly make this selection a joy to read. VERDICT Definitely for fans of the series, but this title certainly has legs of its own—highly recommended.–Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI

Fitzpatrick, Marie-Louise. Owl Bat Bat Owl. illus. by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick. 32p. Candlewick. Jun. 2017. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763691615.

K-Gr 2 –In this charming wordless tale, a family of snoozing owls quietly perch on top of a branch until a family of bats arrive and hang directly below them on the same branch, interrupting the owls’ slumber. The now grumpy adult owl makes the little owls move over. Peace is briefly restored, until one of the little owls’ curiosity wins and it joins the bats on the underside of the branch. The adult owl retrieves the miscreant, but a sudden wind storm scatters everyone, including the bat family. As the worried adults spring into action, they end up rescuing each other’s youngsters and realizing that they might not be so different after all. Ultimately, the parents look on as the little bats and owls play together in the moonlight. Nearly full-page digital illustrations are laid out against a white background, creating a zoomed-in comic panel effect. The color of the sky changes from light blue to dark, with the moon slowly emerging. Fitzpatrick’s cartoon animals are cute and funny but very expressive. VERDICT A warm and clever tale celebrating tolerance and friendship. Best shared one-on-one or with a small group.–Yelena Alekseyeva-Popova, formerly at Chappaqua Library, NY

Gallaher, Jason. Whobert Whover, Owl Detective. illus. by Jess Pauwels. 40p. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Jul. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481462716.

PreS-Gr 2 –Goofy, birdbrained owl Whobert Whover finds his friend Perry the possum on the ground and unresponsive, and he is determined to discover who is responsible. Gallaher’s whodunit is full of puns and misunderstandings that might elicit some giggles from a storytime audience as they talk back to the befuddled detective. Alert readers will notice that each clue that Whobert comes upon is actually left by the detective himself, not the string of forest animals he wrongly accuses. Pauwels uses pencil, felt-tip pen, digital tools, and a bright palette. Her exasperated characters have comical expressions that tell the real story. The action is established on the title page; readers may want to go back to the beginning to search the cartoonish illustrations for more clues that Whobert missed. VERDICT Recommended for group and one-on-one sharing.–Jennifer Costa, Cambridge Public Library, MA

Graham, Bob. Home in the Rain. illus. by Bob Graham. 32p. Candlewick. Jun. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763692698.

K-Gr 2 –Little Francie and her pregnant mom are making their way home from Grandma’s house through an epic downpour. Stuck in traffic on the highway, they wind up at a picnic area and wait out the worst of the storm in their cozy red car. As they snack, they discuss what to call Francie’s future baby sister, but nothing seems quite right. Resuming their journey, they drive to a gas station, where Francie’s mom has an unexpected epiphany and decides that the new baby’s name will be Grace. They share this joyful moment and are on their way again, the rain now over and “sun cover[ing] the countryside—far off and away from Grandma’s place to home and out across the sea.” The recto shows mom and Francie happily reunited with Francie’s dad. Interspersed throughout the story like jazz riffs are smaller observations of concurrent rain happenings. A field mouse hides from a kestrel, fishermen shiver by the canal, two men argue on the side of the road after an accident, all illustrated in Graham’s signature ink and watercolor washes in gentle, muted colors. Graham works his magic yet again. VERDICT A lyrical and charming tale from an author who specializes in showing the extraordinary in the most ordinary, everyday moments. Perfect for one-on-one and small group sharing.–Yelena Alekseyeva-Popova, formerly at Chappaqua Library, NY

Haft, Sheryl. Baby Boo, I Love You. illus. by Jane Massey. 32p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399547829.

Toddler-PreS –A round-faced little girl playing with her doll pretends to be a mommy in this sweet offering that will resonate with children. She poses hypothetical questions while reassuring her baby that she will always be there. The chorus (“Me and you./One and two./Wherever we go,/whatever we do,/Baby-Boo,/ I love you.”) will make little ones and their grown-ups smile. The gouache and pastel watercolor illustrations match the book’s sweet tone and are a nice fit for the rhyming text. VERDICT Perfect for little ones everywhere who have a cherished doll or stuffed animal.–Brooke Newberry, La Crosse Public Library, WI

Hartmann, Wendy. The African Orchestra. illus. by Joan Rankin. 32p. Crocodile. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781566560481.

PreS-Gr 2 –Nature is music to humans and is celebrated in this lyrical picture book about Africa’s sounds and the instruments used to re-create them. Hartmann produces harmony and rhythm relying on rhyming couplets to introduce native flora and fauna. The prevalence of onomatopoeia helps the verse “snap,” “crackle,” and “huummmm,” making this an attractive selection for storytime. Rankin’s watercolor illustrations envelop each page gently, seamlessly intertwining with and reinforcing the text. On one spread, “We are the herds/that gallop and run/We ‘rumble’ and ‘boo-oom’ in the African drum.” On the left, brown hands thrum on a drum, while galloping hooves of bright and varying hues mimic the same pattern of human arms and sound. One can hear the “rumble” and “boo-oom” replicated in the drummer’s beat. Like Lloyd Moss’s Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, this is a great examination of onomatopoeia and instrumentation, but pair it with Eric Carle’s I See a Song for a true sensory experience. The only minor drawback is a generalization of Africa inherent in such works. However, it’s worth noting both contributors are native to the continent. VERDICT A beautiful addition to any library serving young children.–Rachel Zuffa, Racine Public Library, WI

Hill, Susanna Leonard. The Road That Trucks Built. illus. by Erica Sirotich. 40p. S. & S./Little Simon. Jul. 2017. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781481495462.

PreS-K –Kids love construction and are especially fascinated with the big trucks and equipment that make things happen. This winning title playfully yet accurately shows the different machines that are involved in building a new road. Simple, large-font, rhyming text describes each step of the process in a way that will captivate young ones. The engaging illustrations depict the vehicles with smiling faces. Portraying everything from a whimsical pink bulldozer clearing the open land to a scrappy paint marker applying the finishing yellow and white lines, the pages provide much to explore. An interactive turning wheel on the cover is a nice touch that is sure to grab children’s attention. VERDICT Toddlers and preschoolers will delight in sharing this again and again as they learn about road construction from the ground up. A strong purchase for most shelves.–Mary Jennings, Camano Island Library, WA

Leannah, Michael. Most People. illus. by Jennifer E. Morris. 32p. Tilbury House. Aug. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780884485544.

K-Gr 2 –“Most people love to smile. Most people love to laugh,” begins this well-intentioned work of bibliotherapy. In a bright, clean city, a large cast of recurring diverse characters go about their day, illustrating the book’s message that “Most people want to make other people—even strangers—feel good. Most people are very good people.” Of course, some people do bad things, like swear, lie, steal, bully, and destroy, but the book repeatedly reassures readers that they are in the minority. Doing something bad doesn’t necessarily make someone a bad person; people make mistakes and can change. People can be sad or mad or have a bad day, but most would rather be happy. The friendly cartoon illustrations do a great job showing the connectedness of the community, emphasizing how each person can positively affect others, and dispelling stereotypes. Some parents may be chagrined to find that swearing is lumped into the “bad person” category. Additionally, the spread that discusses the total ratio of good to bad people is a little alarming, as it crowds all the bad people together “in a dark and gloomy room” and the shadowy figures are the opposite of reassuring. This book may be useful for kids struggling with general anxiety, but its simplistic message belies the lived experiences of many children. VERDICT Buy to spark classroom discussion or to fill a very specific gap in collections.–Anna Haase Krueger, Ramsey County Library, MN

McCloskey, Kevin. Something’s Fishy. illus. by Kevin McCloskey. 40p. (Giggle and Learn). Toon. Apr. 2017. Tr $12.95. ISBN 9781943145157.

PreS-Gr 1 –This latest addition to the series is a beginning reader’s introduction to fish. From the get-go, McCloskey submerges readers in his underwater ABCs—from angelfish, beardfish, and clown fish to X-ray tetra, yellow tang, and zebra fish. Even the pesky Q gets a good one (Quillback rockfish). After this dive into the depths of the ocean, readers return to land to Fish School, which immediately bring to mind Joanna Cole’s “Magic School Bus” series but without as many speech bubbles. The overarching message that kids should avoid picking trendy or exotic fish, such as clown fish and blue tang, as pets and should instead choose a fish better suited to a home aquarium is an important one. Fish School is full of fun factoids, such as, “not all fish have scales” and “in a big aquarium, a Goldfish can grow to over a foot long,” balanced with humorous commentary. McCloskey is adept at selecting sight words and slightly longer beginner vocabulary appropriate for his audience. He also sprinkles in just enough history and enjoyable details. What kid would want a goldfish when there is a blue tang at the pet store? One who has read here that “Goldfish can remember faces!” How could they resist? VERDICT There is nothing stinky about this slender volume, just perfectly suited illustrations with a lovely hand-drawn font and an appealing format attractive to burgeoning graphic novel and comic book readers.–Kristy Kilfoyle, Canterbury School, Fort Myers, FL

Philip, Simon. You Must Bring a Hat! illus. by Kate Hindley. 40p. Sterling. Aug. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781454926887.

PreS-Gr 1 –Philip’s new picture book revolves around one impossible rule. If you want to attend Nigel’s party, you must bring a hat. But all the hats in the town of West Trilby have been sold out. What ensues is a succession of bent rules that involve more than just the young invitee listed on the invitation. Other invited guests include a tutu-wearing elephant, a penguin carrying a suitcase full of sliced cheese, and a piano-playing badger who wears a monocle. When the boy finally has what he needs to enter the party, he finds out he’s at the wrong address, and he’s late. VERDICT A zany addition to storytime and party shelves.–Tanya Boudreau, Cold Lake Public Library, Alta.

Roberts, Justin. The Great Henry Hopendower. illus. by Deborah Hocking. 32p. Putnam. Jun. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399257445.

K-Gr 2 –A young aspiring magician reflects upon lessons learned from his grandfather. Henry puts on a red checked suit, grabs a vintage brown leather suitcase, and heads to the backyard to assemble an audience of stuffed animals and curious squirrels. As the tousled-haired, freckle-faced boy prepares for his magic show, he reminisces about time spent with his beloved mentor. Henry fondly remembers his grandpa’s outstanding coin tricks, the smell of his “magic-scented water” aftershave, and his tasty, gravity-defying “leaning tower of pancakes.” When his own attempt at magic flops, he finds solace and creative inspiration in Grandpa’s sage advice: “To be a magician, you have to notice that magic is everywhere.” In Hocking’s watercolor, graphite, and colored pencil illustrations, Henry’s recollections appear in sepia tones, capturing the warm, loving intergenerational relationship. In a particularly moving scene, the little boy and his mother, holding hands, stand in Grandpa’s empty house. VERDICT Probably best shared one-one-one, but Henry’s resilience could spark a discussion about loss and keeping memories alive.–Linda Ludke, London Public Library, Ont.

Schössow, Peter. Where Is Grandma?: My Trip to the Hospital. tr. from German by Sally-Ann Spencer. illus. by Peter Schössow. 64p. Gecko. Aug. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781776571543.

K-Gr 3 –This rich story, translated from German, follows Henry, who is going to the hospital to see his grandmother with his Kurdish nanny Gulsa. When Gulsa receives a phone call, Henry, anxious to see his grandma, enters the hospital on his own. He seeks help at the information desk but has little luck. When Henry is asked his grandmother’s name, all he can say is, “We call her Grandma.” He attempts to find her, wandering through several corridors, trying doors, and meeting patients and doctors in various wards. He runs into a classmate with a bean stuck in her nose and finally goes to the downstairs control room, where he is connected to someone who takes him to his grandmother’s room. Schössow’s digital art, which makes stunning use of light, captures the immense feeling of the hospital and often shows the passing of time with multiples scenes taking place on one spread. Using the sterile squareness of the hospital’s architecture, he frames his characters, giving them life in the two-dimensional world of the hospital. After Henry finally sees his grandmother, who readers learn has been in an accident, his worries are eased. When he is leaving the hospital with Gulsa, he tells her, “Grandma’s in very good hands…. I found out myself.” VERDICT This upbeat exploration of a hospital through a child’s eyes might demystify aspects of the potentially scary experience.–Danielle Jones, Multnomah County Library, OR

Seithumer, Ingrid. La Noche. illus. by Parastou Haghi. 36p. Picarona. May 2017. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9788491450177.

PreS-Gr 1 –A young boy imagines night as a female magician painting the sky pink, then gray, and eventually black. He knows that the sky will be more beautiful once she has painted the moon and the stars a brilliant yellow. Every night after supper, Gabino pulls a chair up to the garden window and waits for night to arrive. He has tried to imitate night by painting some of the objects in the garden, but only with yellow, as black can be a little scary. His parents haven’t been too pleased, and it is tiring work. Gabino wonders if night consults with day to know when to work and when to rest. He also wonders if night asks the birds to be quiet at nightfall. When Gabino’s mother calls for him to get ready for bed, he does so with eagerness, knowing that at the end of the next day he will meet night again. The comfort of permanence and routine, as well as the fascination with night, is a feeling shared by many children, and the gentle Spanish text makes the tale very relatable. The colored pencil illustrations rely heavily on dark blue and purple, appropriate for a night theme, and have a flatness that imparts a whimsical quality to the whole. VERDICT A perfect choice for bedtime sharing. Recommended for all libraries with a Spanish collection.–Lucia Acosta, Children’s Literature Specialist, NJ

Watkins, Adam F. Raybot and Weebot. illus. by Adam F. Watkins. 32p. Penguin/Price Stern Sloan. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780843183016.

PreS-Gr 1 –After making some friends in his previous book, Raybot is back and about to receive a new family member. When Weebot (a robot who looks like a TV set on a unicycle) arrives, Raybot is delighted. Here is someone who is energetic and fun. But this also means that there is no downtime, and a lot of messes, too. What is a robot to do but try to “return” his little brother? Raybot’s actions reflect the thoughts of many children who find a sibling’s actions annoying. He also comes to the same realization that they usually do. Without Weebot around, Raybot misses him. As a visual reminder of their contrasting personalities, the older bot is painted in orange and red stripes, while Weebot is primarily blue. Even though the story itself is told by Raybot, Weebot does have a voice. Children will enjoy every “Bap Bop” and “Bee Bop”; sticking with the theme of the little bot’s messy creativity, the dialogue looks like it was stencilled on in yellow paint. The illustrations were made in a combination of oil paint, ink, and pen. VERDICT Raybot and Weebot stand as a nice reminder to siblings about why they should appreciate one another.–Rachel Forbes, Oakville Public Library, Ont.

Wolff, Kathy. What George Forgot. illus. by Richard Byrne. 32p. Bloomsbury. Jul. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781619638716.

PreS-Gr 2 –Most children are apt to forget something on a typically hectic morning getting ready for school. George, however, always remembers “never to forget anything…. Except when he forgot.” The only logical thing to do is to make an itemized account of everything he has to do. This begins with waking himself up in the morning, followed by waking Mom and Dad and beating his slinky down the stairs twice. Several other indispensable matters are accounted for in between, such as finding things (a raisin, popcorn, a straw) to fit in the hole where his tooth used to be and inventing a “flying backpack-putting-on machine.” George’s bulbous head perhaps alludes to the many things he has to keep in mind during his frenetic morning routine. The illustrations, done in perky pastel reds, pinks, and yellows, cheerfully complement the laugh-out-loud story line. Observant youngsters should be able to readily spot the one thing more embarrassing than George walking out the door without his shoes, riotously depicted without text on the final page. In some ways, this book parallels Jonathan London’s Froggy Gets Dressed, though children should relate more easily to George’s getting-ready-for-school routine. This selection should have a broad appeal to most youngsters and be a first purchase item for school collections. VERDICT A hilarious, first-rate picture book that’s sure to capture the interests of storytime audiences who have embarked on their first day of school.–Etta Anton, Yeshiva of Central Queens, NY

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

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