Picture Books from Madeleine L'Engle, Jane Yolen, & More | July 2018 Xpress Reviews

A stellar exploration of Ojibwe powwow heritage; elderly Pettson and his trusty cat Findus go green in their newest adventure; Touché the poodle adjusts to a family addition in L'Engle's picture book.

Arai, Hiroyuki. Where Has the Moon Gone? tr. from Japanese. illus. by Yukiko Kobayashi. 24p. Starberry. Jan. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781575659701.

PreS-Gr 1 –Two gray mice, dressed in pants with suspenders, notice that the moon follows them at night and doesn’t during the day. They wonder where it goes and set out to find it. They see a yellow round shape in a tree and climb the tree to see if it is the moon. It is a balloon. The duo’s adventure continues from round shape to round shape until they are spied by a cat and chased. They make a great escape via the yellow balloon floating into the now night sky. There, they discover the real moon. Engaging two-page illustrations, in bright springtime colors, make good use of space to express size and perspective. The black cat looks ominous enough to give young readers a gasp and then a smile of relief as the cute mice escape. Conversational text between the mice keep things lively with just the right amount of narrative to keep the story moving. Originally published in Japanese, this charming and simple tale translates well and is sure to entertain. VERDICT A solid addition for storytime and small group sharing.–Mindy Hiatt, Salt Lake County Library Services

redstarChild, Brenda J. Bowwow Powwow. tr. from Ojibwe by Gordon Jourdain. illus. by Jonathan Thunder. 32p. Minnesota Historical Society. May 2018. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781681340777.

PreS-Gr 2 –Windy Girl tells about finding her dog, Itchy Boy, and the various activities they do with her uncle. She enjoys the stories that Uncle sares as they ice fish or travel to a powwow. One such story is about tribal members going door to door singing, “We are like dogs,” before a powwow. Windy Girl falls alseep and dreams of a dog powwow, with canine elders, veterans, various dancers, and drummers. When she wakes, “Windy Girl understood the powwow is always in motion, part old and part new, glittering and plain, but still wonderful, almost like a dream.” Ojibwe text in italics is shown below the English in italics. Most of the vibrantly colored, energetic illustrations are spreads. The peoples’ faces are simplistic, but expressive. The dogs’ powwow attire highlights the intricacy of the dancers outfits. The end pages are the northern lights. A brief author’s note explains how the customary song and dance were called a “Begging Dance” by anthropologists, when in fact it was an exchange of gifts. VERDICT A simple, but imaginative story celebrating Ojibwe powwow heritage. This is a good first purchase for large libraries, or an additional purchase for smaller ones.–Tamara Saarinen, Pierce County Library, WA

Farber, Katy. Salamander Sky. illus. by Meg Sodano. 32p. Green Writers. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780999076644.

Gr 2-5 –In this STEM-minded story, a girl named April is excited to help spotted salamanders make their way home. April’s mother is a scientist, who tells her about these animals who travel to ponds or pools every spring. They are in danger because of “pollution,/roads,/buildings,/climate change” disturbing their environment. April dreams of saving them, too. The lovely watercolor landscapes and salamanders are created with more beauty and skill than the characters. Although informative, the text is set in inexplicable verse that adds nothing to the story or lyricism. The book also neglects to offer some necessary cautions: salamanders should be handled by people who know what they are doing, and infrequently at that, since oils from hands can hurt these delicate creatures. Another concern is the little girl wandering at night on a road with a flashlight looking to protect salamanders from oncoming cars. It’s a nice idea, but parents and teachers might want to consider brainstorming other ways to help salamanders and their environments rather than putting themselves—and the salamanders—in harm’s way. VERDICT An additional purchase.–Elissa Cooper, Helen Plum Memorial Library, Lombard, IL

Howell, Troy. Whale in a Fishbowl. illus. by Richard Jones. 42p. Random/Schwartz & Wade. May 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524715182.

PreS-Gr 3 –Whales don’t usually live in fishbowls, but Wednesday spends her days doing just that. In the center of a city, Wednesday’s daily leaping routines entertain the crowds of onlookers. One day while leaping in her fishbowl, Wednesday becomes intrigued with a bit of blue that she spots in the distance. Her longing for the blue seems natural and heartbreaking. When a little girl taps on her glass and talks to her, Wednesday realizes that she doesn’t belong in the fishbowl. The muted colors of the understated illustrations convey a soft, sad feeling of loneliness and longing. When Wednesday finally manages to tip over the fishbowl and ends up floating into the sea, she realizes her dream and finds where she belongs. Expressing joy and excitement, the illustrations become bright blue and extend across the spread. Wednesday’s story requires suspending disbelief and allowing yourself to follow the emotional journey to the sea. VERDICT This thought-provoking story would be a great read-aloud or read-alone choice.–Susan Small, Salve Regina University Library, Newport, RI

Ikegami, Aiko. Seed Man. illus. by Aiko Ikegami. 32p. Sleeping Bear. Mar. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781585363797.

PreS-Gr 1 –Seed Man, a Santa–type character but without the portly build, plants toy-producing trees with the help of vibrant, cherubic fairies. These fairies deliver the gifts to sleeping recipients of all ages. Seed Man, however, fades into the background as the story turns to focus on an elderly gentleman, saddened by the loss of a woman and child. One night the fairies deliver to him a puppy reminiscent of Tad Hill’s lovable Rocket, but more energetic and mischievous. Suddenly, the man has a reason to nurture another creature and pulls back the veil of his grief. Shortly thereafter, Seed Man determines that he is ready to pass the torch and his successor is right in front of him. The subtle climax feels honest and is a perfect example of how the arc of a story needn’t give one whiplash. Ikegami’s style, soft yet luscious watercolor and ink work, gives a dreamlike quality to the spare story. Each word is carefully selected and meaningful, with a hint of humor. There is no fat to trim here. She deftly transitions between spreads with a great deal of white space and others with sky blue, steely gray, and mauve backgrounds. Punches of color appear throughout in the fairies’ clothing, in the toys and in nature. Seed Man has all of the appeal to win the heart of preschoolers who are willing to look closely. VERDICT A quiet, magical tale that sparks the imagination.–Kristy Kilfoyle, Canterbury School, Fort Myers, FL

Isern, Susanna. Dormouse and His Seven Beds. tr. from Spanish by Ben Dawlatly. illus. by Marco Somà. 40p. NubeOcho. Apr. 2018. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9788494692666.

PreS-Gr 2 –Dormouse upsets the animals of the Green Forest when they awaken to find him asleep in their rooms. Rabbit, Deer, Tortoise, and others confront the small mouse, asking him to please sleep in his own home. They learn from Owl that the tiny creature is simply afraid to sleep alone. Not seeing him for days arouses feelings of guilt that propel Rabbit and the others to search for Dormouse. They find him in Wolf’s home in the dreaded Gray Forest and sneak him out before either Wolf or Dormouse awake. The animals then make arrangements for Dormouse to sleep over with them—that is, until Dormouse finds a way to sleep in his own bed. Elongated figures are highlighted by their placement on horizontal double-page spreads that use a limited palette. Intricate lines add detail to rather humanlike characters. Translated from Spanish, informal expressions sometimes do not complement the more formal tone of the illustrations. VERDICT Though not an essential addition, this story of friendship and hasty judgments may be useful.–Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at District of Columbia Public Library

L’Engle, Madeleine. The Other Dog. illus. by Christine Davenier. 48p. Chronicle. May 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781452171890.

K-Gr 2 –Touché the poodle learns to share her home with a second, lesser creature, called a “baby.” Touché has been the unequivocal ruler of her household for many years, and is utterly shocked when her mistress returns one day with another dog! She cannot imagine why they would need another dog, especially not one that can’t even feed itself. The baby is suddenly the center of attention, and Touché notes with much consternation the many upsetting discrepancies in her family’s treatment of the new pet. Fortunately, with some time and patience, Touché eventually realizes that she doesn’t mind the baby quite so much and decides that perhaps each household should be limited to just two dogs. Written about 50 years ago, L’Engle’s story is based on her first real pet, the original Touché. Bright and energetic illustrations are done in watercolor, and Touché graces each page with bouncing joy and haughty nonchalance. The often grandiose prose conveys Touché’s charm and intelligence with ample tongue-in-cheek humor. A foreword from L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voiklis precedes the story, and endpapers include an author’s note, along with some illustrations created by L’Engle for the original manuscript. VERDICT This fun and fanciful picture book for dog lovers everywhere is recommended for purchase for larger collections.–Laken Hottle, Providence Community Library

Levine, Amy-Jill& Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. The Marvelous Mustard Seed. 40p. Flyaway. Apr. 2018. Tr $16.00. ISBN 9780664262754.

PreS-Gr 2 –Two children plant a tiny seed in an empty, urban lot. After the rain falls and the sun shines, up comes a shoot that turns into a sprout and then a bush. The small bush continues to grow until it is a humongous, majestic tree that provides a home for birds, shade, and leaves and seeds to make medicine. The bright, textured, and expressive illustrations depict a diverse and multigenerational neighborhood community and beautifully complement the story. At first glance, this is an inspiring tale of how one tiny seed, just like one small child, can blossom into something unexpected and extraordinary. However, readers familiar with the New Testament will likely recognize it as the Parable of the Mustard Seed. As the text states toward the end of the story, “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed in the garden right outside our windows, growing from itsy-bitsy, teensy-weensy to colossal, from impossible to see to unable to miss…Helping us to imagine what can be.” In the appended note to parents and teachers, Levine and Sasso explain the origin of this parable and the many different interpretations that have evolved over time. They list suggested questions for discussion: “Where are you in this story? Are you like the children who have a mustard seed?” VERDICT The audience for this picture book will likely be limited to parents and teachers interested in introducing Jesus’s words and teachings.–Rachel Kamin, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park, IL

Nordqvist, Sven. A Ruckus in the Garden: The Adventures of Pettson and Findus. tr. from Swedish by Tara Chace. illus. by Sven Nordqvist. 32p. North South. May 2018. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780735843110.

PreS-Gr 2 –In yet another adventure together, old man Pettson and his ever-helpful cat Findus attempt to plant vegetables, potatoes, and a meatball (Findus’s idea)—but their efforts are thwarted, first by a gaggle of worm-obsessed hens, then by a potato-digging pig, and finally by a small herd of clueless cows. Written by one of Sweden’s most notable and award-winning children’s authors, this title was originally published in Swedish in 1990. Chace’s translation is seamless, allowing readers to stay fully immersed in Nordqvist’s quirky world. Blocks of text are surrounded by illustrations that transport readers to Pettson’s country farm, with its lush garden full of giant daffodils, colorful singing birds, and a rickety old tree house. The whimsical pen-and-ink illustrations, with washes of spring-bright colors, often combine a sequence of action into one spread. Nordqvist is especially adept at using body language and facial expressions to bring out the humor of a situation, and the relationship between the old man and his spitfire cat is especially charming. These details and more provide plenty to explore while the lengthy but compelling narrative is read aloud. VERDICT Read as a stand-alone or as part of the series, this delightful adventure makes for a wonderful family read-aloud.–Amy Seto Forrester, Denver Public Library

Oklejak, Marianna. A Magical Adventure. illus. by Marianna Oklejak. 64p. Kane Miller. Mar. 2018. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781610677363.

Gr 1-3 –Welcome to “A Magical Adventure,” where readers can choose their own path and solve the puzzles to arrive at the end of the story. An original fairy tale, the story begins with two brothers who, after suffering misfortune, decide to leave their home to find their fortune elsewhere. Along their journey, they make the decision to head out on their own. Readers can follow along by solving the puzzles and making choices for the characters. The puzzles vary and include seek-and-find, mazes, and spot the difference. The difficulty level varies as well. Some are very easy and take a limited amount of time, whereas others are more difficult and would take several minutes or more to solve. The book itself does not include an answer key, but one is available on the publisher’s website. The artwork is folklike, with bright, bold colors, and a flattened perspective. While the art is flat, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t stand out as appealing and unique. Originally published in Poland, this translation will appeal to English-speaking readers ready to tackle the array of puzzles and enjoy an interesting story along the way. VERDICT An additional purchase for your seek-and-find book fanatics.–Jayna Ramsey, Douglas County Libraries, Parker, CO

Phumiruk, Dow. Mela and the Elephant. illus. by Ziyue Chen. 32p. Sleeping Bear. Mar. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781585369980.

K-Gr 2 –In this new Thai fable, Mela learns the virtue of kindness. After spurning her brother’s request to accompany her on a river adventure, Mela becomes lost in the jungle surrounding Thailand’s Ping River. One by one, she offers her belongings to the creatures of the jungle in exchange for their assistance in finding her way home. “ ‘Leopard I am lost.....You can have my sweater. It will keep your cubs warm on cool nights.’ Mela held her sweater out for the leopard to see. But the leopard snatched it up and leaped away.” Only after she has nothing left to offer does the elephant come to her aid, showing that reciprocity is not necessary; kindness is its own reward. The illustrations are mostly spreads in muted jungle colors. Mela, her brother, and the animals are in a cartoon style with minimal detail, but not without a guileless charm. The font is black or white, depending on the background, and with the exception of a purple-lettered maxim highlighted on the final page, offers nothing additional to the story. An author’s note about Thailand offers general information and adds context and perspective to Buddhist interpretations of gifts and gratitude. VERDICT This simply told, pleasant story extolling the virtue of unconditional kindness should be welcomed in school and public libraries.–Lisa Taylor, Florida State College, Jacksonville

Scotto, Thomas. Jerome By Heart. tr. from French by Claudia Zoe Bedrick & Karin Snelson. illus. by Olivier Tallec. 32p. Enchanted Lion. Apr. 2018. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781592702503.

Gr 1-3 –Raphael narrates his affection for his friend Jerome, opening with the line “He always holds my hand./It’s true.” He goes on to describe Jerome’s kindness and charm before introducing his parents’ perspective on Jerome and their friendship. Tallec’s watercolor illustrations feature Jerome and Rafael holding hands while riding bicycles, admiring butterflies during a soccer practice, and sharing a snack in the park. The translations from the original French are often poetic, filled with both the innocence and intensity of a first love. Raphael is aware of his parents’ disapproval—“Dad’s voice is like sharp fish bones in my hot chocolate”—which readers can interpret as their discomfort with the appearance of Raphael being gay, but this is left ambiguous. Raphael returns to feeling confident at the end, dismissing their displeasure (“It’s not like Jerome is a bad word”) and coming back to the certainty that “Raphael loves Jerome./I can say it./It’s easy.” VERDICT While relevant to readers experiencing the intensity of new love or recalling it, this book will appeal particularly to readers seeking sweet, tender depictions of same-sex affection.–Amanda Foulk, Sacramento Public Library

Yolen, Jane. A Bear Sat on My Porch Today. illus. by Rilla Alexander. 36p. Chronicle. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781452102498.

PreS-Gr 1 –A toddler walks up the front porch steps to discover a bear lounging around waiting. No matter what the toddler says—“Boo! Shoo!”—the bear does not budge. Reluctantly the youngster allows him to stay. This cumulative tale uses repetitive phrasing and rhyming words to describe a day when a squirrel, a skunk, and a bevy of other wild animals decide to join the crowd sitting on the front veranda. Yolen provides a surprise ending that fills the spread with onomatopoetic sound (“CRASH! SMASH!”), compelling readers to push forward to an even larger four-page gatefold. In conclusion, readers will see the entire cadre of friends gathering on one extremely large porch that almost surrounds the house. The endpapers sport a sign, “Everybody Welcome.” Large typewriter-style font will foster prereading skills. The cheery palette of lemon yellow, ice blues, and tangerine orange blend well with the upbeat plot. VERDICT A fine universal friendship tale that is well suited as a storytime or classroom read-aloud.–Blair Christolon, Prince William Public Library System, Manassas, VA

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