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Showing posts from May, 2015

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon, 372 pp, RL 4

Castle Hangnail is the special treat that we get from Ursula Vernon that comes between the ending of her fantastic  Dragonbreath series and the start of her eagerly anticipated new series, Hamster Princess, featuring Harriet, a an extraordinary princess who excels at checkers and fractions, despite the curse that a wicked fairy god mouse cast, leaving her looking toward a Sleeping Beauty-like curse that will plunge her into a deep sleep when she turns twelve, but also leaves her invincible (and unable to die) until then. Princess Harriet makes the most of this, fighting Ogre-cats and cliff-diving with her faithful friend Mumfrey, a quail. While Hamster Princess promises to continue Vernon's awesome combination of graphic novel panels and traditional chapter book, Castle Hangnailoffers a bigger bite for readers sink their teeth into.
Castle Hangnail reminds me very much of the novels of one of my favorite authors, sorely underrepresented here, Eva Ibottson. Ibottson, who began her c…

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Katie Kath, 216 pp. RL 4

I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones with perfect illustrations by Katie Kath! First, it is an epistolary novel, one of my favorite kinds of books. Next, in Sophie Brown, Jones has created an ethnic character who speaks matter-of-factly about being discriminated against because of the color of her skin. I am always thrilled to find culturally diverse characters in books and I especially appreciate it when an author can write about race in a way that is present, sensitive and comprehensible for young readers. Finally, with her unusual chickens, Jones has created a truly fantastic cast of characters that gives Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmera quintessential touch of magic (along with a ghost or two) that makes it truly memorable, as you can see in the image below.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer begins with Sophie's letter to Redwood Farm Supply in Gravenstein, CA, requesting a catalog…

William and the Missing Masterpiece by Helen Hancocks

William and the Missing Masterpiece is the second picture book from Helen Hanckocks. Her first book, Penguin in Peril, was the biggest selling picture book in the UK last year! Hancocks has a fantastic, wry sense of humor that expresses itself perfectly through her cat and penguin main characters as well as the plots and illustrations of her books. Crime seems to be a theme in Hancocks's books as well! In Penguin in Peril, cats kidnap a penguin from the zoo, convinced it can get them all the fish that they want. With William and the Missing Masterpiece, fine art, cheese and very devious rodents are involved.

William and the Missing Masterpiecebegins, "William, international cat of mystery, was planning a vacation when he was interrupted by a telephone call." Monsieur Gruyère was calling from Paris to say that the Mona Cheesa (in this version, Lisa has an array of cheese spread before her) had been stolen from his museum! And what's worse, it's National Cheese Week…

Grandma in Blue with Red Hat, written by Scott Menchin and illustrated by Harry Bliss

Building a picture book around actual works of art can be a tricky task. With Grandma in Blue with Red Hat,  Scott Menchin, illustrator of several picture books and author of more than a few, creates a masterpiece. In addition to his work in picture books, Menchin is an award winning illustrator and teacher at the Pratt Institute Graduate School. This makes him very well poised to write a story that takes place, mostly, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is not only about art but about what is art. 
Fortunately, like the narrator of Grandma in Blue with Red Hat, Menchin, and Harry Bliss, picture book illustrator and cartoonist for the New Yorker, have great senses of humor, even making a couple of underwear jokes and including an AARP magazine with R. Crumb on the cover. Grandma in Blue with Red Hat begins with the narrator waving goodbye to his Grandma as he heads into the Met, telling us that Saturday is the best day because that's when he has art class. Ms. Montebello, his t…

Art Lab for Kids AND Art Lab for Little Kids AND 3-D Art Lab for Kids by Susan Schwake, photographs by Rainer Schwake

Susan Schwake is an artist with over two decades worth of experience teaching in a diverse number of educational settings, running her own art school and creating and curating a permanent installation of children's artwork for a new wing of her local library. As a bookseller, I was immediately drawn to her first book, Art Lab for Kids: 52 Creative Adventures in Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Paper and Mixed Media because well written, visually appealing art books for kids are rare. As the title tells you, Schwake covers a lot of ground in this book. Even more rare are good art books for little kids. Happily, Schwake has also published Art Lab for Little Kids: 52 Playful Projects for Preschoolers. All three of Schwake's books, Art Lab for KidsArt Lab for Little Kids and 3-D Art Lab for Kids are highly readable. From the layout to the photography (done by Schwake's husband) to the text,  these books are very engaging and highly readable. Both books are divided into 6 unit…

The Paper Playhouse: Awesome Art Projects for Kids Using Paper, Boxes and Books by Katrina Rodabaugh

I am SO in LOVE with The Paper Playhouse: Awesome Art Projects for Kids Using Paper, Boxes and Books by Katrina Rodbaugh for SO many reasons. The only thing I don't like about it is that it did not exist 10 years ago when my kids were little and would have loved the projects inside. First, though, I have to commend publisher Quarry Books, creators of "high-end, beautifully designed, visual inspiration and reference books on art, crafts, foods" and more. I have read and reviewed several of their books for children and they are all consistently wonderfully produced and packed with fantastic projects and information.

Before I talk about the fantastic projects in The Paper Playhouse: Awesome Art Projects for Kids Using Paper, Boxes and Books, I want to talk about the penultimate chapter of the book, Gallery: Artists as Inspiration where Rodabaugh features artists who all use paper, books or boxes to make art. By sharing a bit about their art, Rodabaugh hopes to inspire reader…

Amelia's Middle-School Graduation Yearbook by Marissa Moss (except for words and pictures by Amelia) 80pp. RL 5

Wow! It's hard to believe that Marissa Moss's creation, Amelia and her composition book/diary, first hit the shelves 20 years ago! Amelia was not new to me, having just started as a children's bookseller, and having a daughter and a collection of American Girl dolls. Amelia and her notebooks have had a variety of publishers, starting with Tricycle Press. After publishing an excerpt from the original book in their magazine and getting great reader response, American Girl bought the backlist of four titles and went on to publish 11 more before being bought by Mattel. The Amelia series was then sold to Simon & Schuster. However, Amelia's Middle-School Graduation Yearbook has a very special publisher - Creston Books, founded by Marissa Moss! Creston Books is a brand new publisher of children's books, which is dedicated to publishing a wide range of creative, quality picture books, filling a void left by major publishers. In 2010, I reviewedAmelia's Notebook, whe…

The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake by Robin Newman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke, 38 pp, RL 2

The Case of the Missing Carrot Cakeby Robin Newman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke is a fantastic new book from Creston Books, a homegrown publisher of books printed in America that launched in Fall of 2013. Of course I love a good story, but I also love a beautifully made book and all of Creston's books fit this bill, as you can glimpse in the photo below, and by taking a look inside The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake. When you open the cover, the first page looks just like an open manila folder with a (very funny) case report and paper clip for added detail. The book ends with another folder that includes a carrot cake recipe from the marvelous Mollie Katzen, grand dame of vegetarian cooking and staple of my college years.

The Case of the Missing Carrot Cakeis exactly the kind of book kids will love. Detective Wilcox is a policemouse and his boss is Captain Griswold and they are both MFIs - Missing Food Investigators. Their day begins early with call from Miss Rabbit and a "…