Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of The Man Who Sold The Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli

You may know Greg Pizzoli from his fantastic picture books, but his highly readable, crazy fun first non-fiction picture book, Tricky Vic: The  Impossibly True Story of The Man Who Sold The Eiffel Tower will knock your socks off. The story of Robert Miller and the brilliant way in which Pizzoli tells his story with words and pictures is superb. Apologies now for the frequent use of exclamation points...

In 1890 in what is now the Czech Republic, Robert Miller was born the year after the Eiffel Tower opened (on March 31st!) Miller moved to Paris for university but dropped out when he discovered he was a gifted gambler. He renamed himself Count Victor Lustig and spent time conning wealthy passengers on ocean liners before WWI put and end to his industry. Several arrests in Europe led Miller to the United States where he conned Al Capone himself and earned the right to work his way around the country with the Romanian Money Box scam, which is hilarious now, but understandably believable back then. With the police on his trail, Miller returned to Europe and planned his biggest scam ever. 

It seems beyond belief today that anyone could be tricked into buying the Eiffel Tower, but Pizzoli, in his text and in sidebars, sheds light on the history of the tower itself. Criticized as ugly when it debuted at the Exposition Universelle, the Eiffel Tower  was supposed to be removed after twenty years, making Miller's con, especially the way he played it out, very plausible. Miller's scam was a success, so much so that he returned to Paris to try it a second time! How Miller is finally brought to justice and where he ends up (Alcatraz!) is almost as good a story - so good that you just might finish reading Tricky Vic: The  Impossibly True Story of The Man Who Sold The Eiffel Tower and wonder if you have been conned by Greg Pizzoli. However, a thoughtful author, Pizzoli includes a glossary of terms, a selected sources page and a very illuminating Author's Note where he discusses researching and writing the book and the narrative choices he made, letting readers know that he is "clarifying it here because I wouldn't want you to feel as though you've conned." Pizzoli ends his note sharing a con that he and his wife witnessed as they picnicked in a park in Paris, telling readers to, "Stay sharp."

Pizzoli's mixed-media illustrations, the face of Miller (who was known by 45 different aliases) always appearing as a thumbprint, are filled with detail, occasionally cartoonish and playfully humorous. They keep the story flowing so that reluctant readers will not even realize they are reading. Tricky Vic: The  Impossibly True Story of The Man Who Sold The Eiffel Tower is such a great read I hope that Greg Pizzoli has more non-fiction in his future!

More books by Greg Pizzoli:
Just Itzy, written by Lana Krumwiede 
(review coming very soon!)

Source: Review Copy

Ball, word and pictures by Mary Sullivan

Winner of the 2014 Theodore Seuss Geisel honor award, BALL (note the clever credit of word and pictures) by Mary Sullivan is newly, perfectly available in board book format. Presented in a graphic novel style with multiple illustrations per page, BALL is a simple, yet highly entertaining and engaging story told with a single word - ball.

With BALL, we get to spend the day with an enthusiastic, single minded dog who has a very rich, active dream life. The day starts off perfectly with a great game of ball. But soon enough, the ball thrower, and equally enthusiastic little girl, is out the door and off to school leaving the dog to find a new playmate or entertain himself.

There is a very funny scene where the dog unsuccessfully tries to get mom, who is meditating, to engage. The baby in the bouncy chair just starts crying and the cat has a hissy fit. The laundry basket seems like a potential playmate, but the dog eventually ends up back on the bed and asleep.

Sullivan is such a talented storyteller and illustrator that BALL could have been a great read if it was just about the dog and his love for playing ball. However, Sullivan takes readers on a fantastic journey through the overheated, ball-addled dreams of the dog, a glimpse of which can be seen above. BALL ends on a happy note, the girl returning from school and resuming the game as she steps a foot in the door.

BALL is such a fun book and a joy to read - over and over again. Which is another reason it's so great that it's now in board book - it will hold up better to repeated readings!

 More books by Mary Sullivan:

Source: Review Copy

The Babies & Doggies book by John & Molly

Honestly, I should just type the name of this superb new book by John & Molly and leave it at that. The Babies & Doggies Book - it says it all. But there is an added brilliance to The Babies & Doggies Book that must be noted. As a parent and a bookseller, I have long known that babies LOVE looking at pictures of other babies. I have also long bemoaned the lack of quality board books with pictures of babies in them. And, while there are always (thanks to DK's my first board book series) great board books with superb pictures of animals that babies love, this is the first time that I have seen babies and dogs brought together like this.

The Babies & Doggies Book isn't just a collection of pictures of babies and doggies, which would be fine by me. In The Babies & Doggies Book, babies are compared to doggies. Babies reading this book will delight in seeing the dogs doing the same things as the babies, from eating and running to kissing and cuddling, the text is gently rhyming and a pleasure to read.

Source: Review Copy


Rutabaga the Adventure Chef #1 by Eric Colossal, 128 pp, RL 3

Rutabaga the Adventure Chef by Eric Colossal began life as an online and is now available in book form and in full color! I absolutely love the character of Rutabaga and the world that Colossal has created for him to wander in. When we first meet him, he is trekking through the wilds with a huge pack on his back (it turns out to be a pop-up kitchen) and a walking cauldron named Pot at his side. 

On a quest to find rare ingredients and cook amazing things that no one has ever eaten before, Rutabaga has just discovered the legendary "Bell Topped Mushroom." Unbeknownst to him, this mushroom is growing on the hilt of a legendary sword-in-a-stone that will allow the retriever to vanquish a dragon.

Rutabaga meets a ragtag group of warriors - Winn, Manny and Beef - who are after the sword and hoping to rid their kingdom of the dragon. When Rutabaga makes a "Perfect Pep Potion," (recipes are included in the story, including two at the end of the book that do not include magical items like a "white tipped honey spice root") that revives Manny, the gang decides that taking Rutabaga along with them might not be a bad idea.

Fighting the dragon - with the amazing "Pop-Shrooms" that Rutabaga discovers inside the dragon's lair, is just the start of his adventures. There is the cooking contest at the Rusty Goat, discovering what Norman, a gift from to the King from the delegates from Yiz, eats (turns out to be something very cool...) and a journey to the Grey Falls Mountains with Oleg, Thyr and Gyda to avenge the death of their mother, the warrior queen of Fnard. Despite is size (5 feet tall) and cheerful outlook, Rutabaga proves to be an asset wherever he goes, and I can't wait to see where he goes next!

Source: Review Copy


Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

Two years ago I fell in love with Flora, her flippers and her fantastic dance with a flamingo. I was thrilled to learn when author and illustrator Molly Idle had a second dance - I mean book - in the works. Idle follows up the fabulous, Caldecott Honor winning Flora and the Flamingo with Flora and the Penguin

For this outing, it's wintertime and Flora has some skates to put on.
Idle adds to the story with a view under the ice, Flora's partner, piqued by curiosity, peeks out through a hole in the ice and a friendship begins!

Part of what Idle did so wonderfully in Flora and the Flamingo and again with Flora and the Penguin comes with her use of of flaps to add action to the story.

Add to this a misunderstanding between dance partners and some hurt feelings that are soon attended to and Flora and the Penguin proves a perfect partner for Flora and the FlamingoBe sure not to miss Molly Idle's interview at Seven Impossible Things and get a glimpse at how she makes the magic happen!

Books written and illustrated by Molly Idle:

Flora and the Flamingo

Books illustrated by Molly Idle:

Source: Review Copy

Telephone by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jen Corace

Telephone, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jen Corace (two of my absolute favorites) is one of those books that makes you wonder why no one has jumped on this idea before. It's also one of those deceptively simple picture books that has so much more going on.
Taking the old game that kids still love to play as inspiration, Barnett sets the story in motion when a mother pigeon asks another young, baseball bat toting cardinal to tell her son Peter to "Fly home for dinner." The message passes from bird to bird, all sitting on a telephone wire, changing with each passing. 

Sharp observers will notice that the message changes to fit the interest of the bird passing it on and listeners will be increasingly amused by the silly iterations that occur. The story peaks when a hysterical pigeon passes the message to an owl, combining all of the craziness into one long, loopy missive.

Wise and cool, the owl is unflappable. Even in the face of the pigeon's party blower, my favorite illustration. I love Corace's colorful, detailed illustrations. Besides following the message as it is passed down the wire, she includes background details that bring the message to life as well as action with the humans underneath the telephone wires, playing, reading cooking and getting ready for dinner.

Mac Barnett's stories are always paired with the best of the best when it comes to illustrators, but I hope these two work together again soon on a picture book!

Source: Review Copy


The Fairy-Tale Handbook: An Interactive Adventure Through the Magical World of Fairy Tales by Libby Hamilton, illustrated by Tomislav Tomić

The Fairy-Tale Handbook: An Interactive Adventure Through the Magical World of Fairy Tales is the work of illustrator Tomislav Tomić, contributor to the fantastic StoryWorld series of detailed cards that encourage creativity and storytelling in kids and adults, and Libby Hamilton, contributor to the encyclopedically awesome The Monstrous Book of Monsters.

The Fairy-Tale Handbook: An Interactive Adventure Through the Magical World of Fairy Tales is made up of only nine two-page spreads, but it holds a surprising wealth of information and detail. The first spread features the Forest of Stories and a Map of the Great Forest where houses are flaps that reveal the names of the fairy tale characters who live there. Other pages feature the baddies who make the stories interesting and the "Dangerous Things," like candy, glass slippers and a red hood that get good characters into trouble. There are also "Extraordinary Aniamls," with a booklet telling the story of the Frog Prince along with flaps that reveal creatures's true identities.

There is even a page for Fairy-Tale Princesses and a fold that reveals the secrets of their dressing rooms and another featuring their "Homes & Gardens." The final spread, as seen above, features weddings with invitations and flaps that reveal gifts brought to the princes and princesses. The final words of The Fairy-Tale Handbook: An Interactive Adventure Through the Magical World of Fairy Tales invite readers to continue telling stories on their own!

The Fairy-Tale Handbook: An Interactive Adventure Through the Magical World of Fairy Tales is the perfect gift for any creative child, especially one with an interest in fairy tales, which should be almost anyone since the Grimm brothers' collection is the third most translated book in the world, after the Bible and the Quran!

Source: Review Copy


Where is Curious George? A Look-And-Find-Book - Around Town

I am a huge fan of look-and-find books, especially if they are geared towards the preschool crowd. Good look-and-find books at this level seem to be hard to find, but Curious George? Where is Curious George: Around the Town, which follows Where is Curious George?, are perfectly geared toward the toddler crowd. And who doesn't love Curious George? 

Each page has rhyming couplets that sets the scene and sets up the items for little eyes to look for on each page. Because this book is for younger kids, the items to find are shown along with the text listing them, one of the nicer features of look-and-find books for preschoolers. 

George, who is also hiding on every page, visits the playground, school, the firehouse, the farmer's market, the library, the ice cream parlor, the toy store and many more places kids will love. The illustration style imitates Margaret and H.A. Rey's original style while adding great new touches!

Source: Review Copy


The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein, 235 pp, RL 4

Back in 2013 I read and loved Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein. Besides being a book about books, which of course I adore, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library is written in a style that will attract a wide range of readers, from the avid to the unsure. In The Island of Dr. Libris, Grabbenstein once again creates an everyman main character, astutely weaving in aspects of contemporary life like gaming and role-playing game cards, then sends him on a book-based adventure. The kids in Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library were invited to spend the night in a newly built, not yet opened multi-million dollar state of the art library, solving riddles and puzzles that incorporate titles of actual kid's books and works for adults. With The Island of Dr. Libris, as you might expect by the title, Grabenstein again infuses literature into the plot of his book, taking classics like Robin Hood, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Pollyanna, to name a few, and making the characters and plots part of his story.

The Island of Dr. Libris begins with a lab note for the Theta Project, prepared by Dr. Xiang Libris, PsyD, DLit, stating that the "ideal subject for our first field test" has been found in twelve-year-old Billy G., who will be largely unsupervised for the summer. Most works of fantasy and adventure for kids require absentee parents out of necessity, and I love a book that tackles this inevitability right off the bat and without deaths. The tension between Billy's parents and their difficult financial situation is clear from the start. In need of a quiet place to finish her dissertation, Billy's mom rents the lakeside cabin of Dr. Libris, a professor at her college, for a very low price, while Billy's dad will be staying in New York City working. Billy, who has "heavy-lidded eyes and a long, droopy face," and always looks like he needs a nap, is irked to find that the cabin has no electronic devices (Xbox, TV, DVR) except for the security cameras in every room. However, he does find a friend in Walter Andrews, who lives next door in a "rambling two-story home" that is part castle, part circus tent, part upside down boat. Billy also discovers mysterious happenings on the haze-shrouded island owned by Dr. Libirs that sits in the middle of the lake.

Bored beyond belief, Billy heads to Dr. Libris's study and look for a book to read. However, the bookcase is locked and his mom can't find the key. But Billy is up for a hunt, and if you read Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library then you know Grabenstein is a master of creating riddles kids can solve. Once Billy unlocks the enormous bookcase with elaborate carvings of literary characters on the doors, he gravitates to the one book propped open on the shelf - The Labors of Hercules. A few pages in to Hercules's battle with Antaeus, Billy realizes that he can hear their voices coming from the island and he can see their enormous silhouettes through the haze. Of course Billy decides to investigate and is stunned by what he finds. Characters from the books he has been reading out of the special book case have come to life and are interacting with each other. Shaken, Billy makes it safely off the island, but a mysterious note telling him to dig for treasure on the island and the need to see his parents together and happy again sends him back into danger. This time, he takes the asthmatic neighbor Walter with him.

The story - and the characters that Billy conjures from his imagination - escalate, as does the danger, when Dr. Libris, who is tracking Billy very closely, realizes his experiment is a success that will make him extremely wealthy. Billy even gets the chance to try to bring his parents back together, reminding them of when they first fell in love, with the help of H.G. Wells and his time machine. Grabenstein wraps up The Island of Dr. Libris with a suspenseful, wonderful ending and includes a list of books mentioned within the story that Grabenstein reread while writing this book, in case readers want to have a go at them as well. I am sure that, as a child (and probably as an adult, too) all book lovers dreamed of characters from stories coming to life. The Island of Dr. Libris is the closest to this kind of wish fulfillment we may get. That said, you don't have to be a book lover or have read any of the classics woven into the story to get swept up by The Island of Dr. Libris. Maybe Chris Grabenstein is the Jasper Fforde (author of the hilarious Thursday Next series - among others - set in a world where literature is revered above all else and Next is a detective solving literary crimes) of kid's books? Either way, I hope he continues writing fantastic literary mysteries!

Source: Review Copy