9.23.2016

Ape and Armadillo Take Over the World by James Sturm, 40 pp, RL 2


Ape and Armadillo Take Over the World by James Sturm is my new favorite book. I fell in love with TOON Books when I discovered them in 2008, just around the time my youngest was learning to read. Having been through this process with my two older children, I was not looking forward to the tired old leveled readers that we were left to slog through after classics like Frog & Toad, Little Bear and Poppleton. Françoise Mouly and her quest to bring engaging, marvelously illustrated graphic novels into the world of beginning readers has meant that there are now over 50 fantastic books to take your new reader from sight words to chapter books. 

















If you have read even a few beginning readers, you know that unlikely friends and the complexities of friendship are the staple of this genre. With Ape and Armadillo, Sturm has created the only duo who could even remotely rival Frog and Toad. And an armadillo! How many armadillo characters are there in kid's books to begin with? Happily, the title page shows Ape juggling, a curled up Armadillo among the balls in the air. Sturm's illustrations are superb - crisp and colorful and filled with motion and emotion.


Armadillo is a little guy with big ideas. Ape, his opposite, is more thoughtful and compassionate. When Ape and Armadillo Take Over the World begins, we find Ape taking issue with Armadillo's plan for world domination. While Armadillo does things fly away on the royal Pegasus, Ape has to distract a spitting serpent, fight an army of robots and escape through the sewer tunnels of the castle. Armadillo counters, saying that he is the one who thought up this plan and having ideas is not so easy. When Ape tries to come up with a plan (that involves kids, an ice cream shop, juggling Armadillo and hiding in tubs of ice cream) Armadillo shoots him down. But, like all good friends, the two manage to find common ground, coming up with a phenomenal plan for world domination that involves special suits, magic wands, creating a zoo filled only with really cool animals like griffins, dinosaurs and giant bugs and ending with ice cream. Because, as Ape points out, he likes a lot of the people in the world and doesn't want to rule it or blow it up.





The best part of Ape and Armadillo Take Over the World? Sturm includes bonus comic strips that run at the bottom of every page, giving readers a glimpse into the personalities of the main characters. Ape and Armadillo embody the creative imagination of kids, a creativity that is not bound by logic or physical limitations.

Read my reviews of the 
Adventures in Cartooning Series here










9.22.2016

What's a Banana? and What's an Apple? by Marylin Singer, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli




Marilyn Singer, author of many wonderful picture books and books of poetry for children, and Greg Pizzoli, superb illustrator and author of picture books and non-fiction picture books, have teamed up for two books that are perfect for toddlers and emerging readers. What's a Banana? and What's an Apple? combine Singer's silly, sing-song-y rhymes with Pizzoli's playfully silly illustrations for two very fun books.


Singer begins What's a Banana? like a playground chant, "You can grip it and unzip it. You can mash it with a spoon. You can trace it. Outer-space it - make believe that its' the moon." Pizzoli's illustrations show a boy, a girl, a dog and a cat, doing all these things with a banana, which is sometimes actual size and more often oversized, adding to the silliness. What's a Banana? wraps up with a reminder not to forget that it's a fruit.
What's an Apple? follows a similar path, although focuses a bit more on this versatile ingredient, reminding readers in words and pictures that you can juice it, peel it, bake it and, "caramel it." What's an Apple?, which also features a different boy and girl and the same cat and dog, ends with the kids in space suits on the moon, about to enjoy and apple "any place."
The trim size of What's a Banana? and What's an Apple? are small and square, a bit bigger than a board book. Perfect for little hands, but definitely for readers who know how to handle a book. I hope that Singer and Pizzoli have more foods to explore...




Books by Marilyn Singer:






   


     






Source: Review Copies

9.21.2016

The Cranky Ballerina by Elise Gravel


The Cranky Ballerina by Elise Gravel is a picture book for both kids AND parents. I am not a helicopter parent by any stretch of the imagination and my kids are not over-scheduled. That said, I have signed them up for various classes and worried that they weren't getting the most out of them as they whined about having to go or, even worse (and predictably) complained about having to practice. Then I worried that I was forcing them to do something that I thought was important but would never be important to them. Then I worried that they would reach adulthood without realizing their creative or athletic potential (why did my mother let me quit piano lessons? And guitar lessons??) and maybe miss out on a scholarship or two. For me, reading The Cranky Ballerina was a huge catharsis. Maybe I am reading too much into Gravel's delightfully charming book, maybe I am just carrying a ton of parental guilt around with me. Either way, The Cranky Ballerina is a fantastic read, whoever you are, whatever lessons you took and whatever lessons your parents let you quit or you let your kids quit...

It's Saturday and Ada wakes up cranky. She hates everything, from her too-tight leotard to her itchy tutu to the car ride. Ada hates ballet.  She hates to practice and her pirouettes are nearly catastrophic. Fourth position sends her swirling into the hall where she head butts a guy dressed in "some kind of pajamas" who asks, "Do you think you could do that again for my class?"



Turns out that guy in weird pajamas is a karate instructor and Ada has all the right moves for his class! "Front kick! Swoosh! Side Punch! Roundhouse kick! Swat!" Ada learns something new and feels something new - a smile spreads across her face as she feels, for the first time, successful at something. The penultimate page of The Cranky Ballerina shows Ada, in her tutu, practicing with the class. The final page turn show a classmate in his ghee thinking, "I hate karate."

Genius! Brilliant! I am in love with Elise Gravel's books and can't wait to see what she does next! 

Source: Review Copy