The Wild Piano: A Philemon Adventure by Fred, 39 pp, RL

Last year, TOON Graphics brought us Cast Away on the Letter A, the first  Philemon Adventure by Fred, published in 1972 in France. Philemon and his adventures are unlike almost anything that we have seen on these shores. Fred's illustrations are intricate and filled with action, humor and imagination. I am often reminded of the interstitial animated flights of fancy (and weirdness) that Terry Gilliam created for Monty Python's Flying Circus. In his first adventure, Philemon, a teen living in the country and helping his father on the farm, falls down a well along with his mule, Anatole. After a strange, arduous journey in a new world, Philemon meets Bartholomew, legendary well digger who disappeared 40 years ago. Bartholomew reveals that they are actually on the letter "A" that spells "Atlantic" on the globe. Philemon makes his way home, but without Bartholomew, who is stuck in a labyrinth on the Letter A.

In The Wild Piano, Phil is back home and frustrated by his father, who refuses to listen to his stories. However, his Uncle Felix is more than interested. He gives Philemon a way to return to the Letter A and rescue Bartholomew. Of course, things don't go quite as planned.

In a story that has echoes of Alice in Wonderland, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Gulliver's Travels, all of which are noted in the fantastic end notes that are part of ever TOON Graphic, Philemon wanders through an alien world. After meeting a man who can walk (and camp) on water, Phil lands - with a bounce - on the Letter N, just one letter away from his intended destination. He is quickly put on trial for bouncing on the lawn and sentenced to a brief time in a zebra jail (the stripes are the bars) before having to confront the Wild Piano. Dressed in a tux and alone in a bull ring, Phil takes on the charging baby grand and manages to eke out a chord, winning him his freedom.

But, that's not the end of the story! Phil finds himself in a curious hallway that just might be the labyrinth of the Letter A!

More strange adventures coming October 6, 2015 with The Suspended Castle!


Orpheus in the Underworld by Yvan Pommaux, 56 pp

Yvan Pommaux, beloved, multiple award-winning author and illustrator in France, has a detailed research and illustration style that we were treated too on this side of the Atlantic when TOON Graphics published  Theseus and the Minotaur last year. Pommaux's books are a very welcome addition to the shelves of graphic novels and Greek mythology. George O'Connor's graphic novel series The Olympians is hugely popular in my library while Rick Riordan's books are not. More graphic novels featuring Greek myths, especially those not quite as well know, are fantastic. With Theseus and the Minotaur Pommaux presented a story rich with characters, plot and aspects of the myth that I never knew. Orpheus in the Underworld is yet another myth that I knew a little about and learned so much more after reading this book.

One thing I love about TOON Graphics are the extras that come with each book. Besides the phonetic pronunciations on each page, the cast of characters is presented, baseball card style, with pertinent information. There is a two page index that adds more depth to the story along with suggestions for further reading and resources, including websites. 

Orpheus in the Underworld follows Orpheus from his birth to his death. The son of the Muse of epic poetry and the king of Thrace, Orpheus's musical gifts lift him to the peak of adoration and the the Three Fates bring that crashing down. Orpheus's visit to the Underworld to find Eurydice is compelling and will draw in young readers and make them want to know more about peripheral characters in the story like Hades, Charon, Cerberus and the Fates. 

Hopefully there are more books like these from Pommaux because my students and I are dying to read them! Pun intended...

Source: Review Copy


Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman & Sergio García Sánchez, RL: 2

Something that I adore and deeply appreciate about TOON Books is the attention to detail that goes into each book. Of course the writing and illustrations are exemplary. The packaging is superb, from the trim size to the recognizable TOON wallpaper pattern that appears on the spine to the way that the books look so wonderful lined up on the shelf. TOON Books are so visually appealing and engaging that I often forget the rigorous and thorough educational attention that goes into these books. There is a lengthy section of Educator Tools on the website with a wealth of connections between the texts and Common Core State Standards. After taking a course for Instructional Media and Resource Assistants (librarians have so many different names these days! I am known as a "school library technician" in my district, which I think is a fancy way to get around compensating me for all that I do . . . ) I have a basic understanding of CCSS, what is expected and ways to teach it. I appreciate the way that CCSS focus on non-fiction and fiction texts together. I love making connections between books and CCSS gives me a directed way of doing that. It may be a coincidence or just plain serendipity and not a specific response to CCSS, but I feel like there is an increasing number of highly illustrated books being published that combine non-fiction with great narrative and stunning visual elements. Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman and Sergio García Sánchez is a perfect example of this.

The plot of  Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure is pretty simple. Pablo is the new kid in Mr. Bartle's class, arriving on Field Trip Day. Pablo tells his parents that he's not nervous, even though this marks yet another new school, and begs them to leave. Fortunately for Pablo, he gets partnered with Alicia, a stand-out kid, both for her cheery pink and green stripped leggins and for her super attitude. Despite telling his parents he is fine, Pablo has a bit of an attitude and is understandably wary of settling in.

This creates just the right amount of friction that results in Pablo and Alicia getting separated from the class and then from each other as they make their way through the underground world of the New York subway system and toward their final destination, the Empire State Building. Yes, this is a nightmare for teachers and parents, but the texts presents this situation and how the kids handle it with a calming level-headedness, intelligence and common sense that I hope all kids who ride the subway alone have. And the author notes reveal that Nadja Spiegelman began riding the subway alone when she was eleven! Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure is dotted with maps, archival pictures and fascinating facts about the subway. García Sánchez's illustrations are magnificent! He is masterful when it comes to packing an illustration full of detail - usually with busy, commuting New Yorkers - and at the same time making each face and feature crisp, recognizable and engaging. You will want to pore over the pages of Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure for hours, noting each expression on every face, each piece of graffiti and every sign - and you will be rewarded for doing so!

Like every TOON BookLost in NYC: A Subway Adventure is filled with extra information at the back of the book, including facts about the history of the subway and the Empire State Building, existing - and non-existing lines, and a picture of a TBM - a tunnel-boring machine! A special "Behind the Scenes" reveals that Sergio, on his first visit to New York City, "filled notebook after notebook with sketches and rode the subway for days." Entering the 96th Street subway station, he began taking photos of all the details he would need to create this book. Realizing that he had attracted the attention of a cop in this post 9/11 world, he headed down the stairs quickly and resumed taking photos until he realized the cop had followed him! He jumped on the train that was just pulling in and escaped the "unwanted attention." To "celebrate his own adventure," Sergio decided to draw himself and the cop on (almost) every spread in Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure!

I hope that TOON Books might consider turning Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure into a series! While I don't (and have never) lived in a city with a subway, I have been on a few and they are AMAZING in so many ways! I would love to see Lost in Boston, Lost in London, Lost in Paris, and maybe even a Lost in LA . . . 

Nadja & Sergio!

Source: Review Copy


Benjamin Bear in Brain Storms! by Philippe Coudray

Hopefully by the publication of Benjamin Bear in Brain Storms!, you know Philippe Coudray's creatively thinking bear and his forest full of friends. Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking, came out in 2011 and is now in paperback and Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas! in 2013. If you have never had the pleasure of meeting Benjamin Bear on the page, quotes from these reviews create a perfect picture. Of Benjamin Bear, School Library Journal wrote, "Think Far Side for the elementary set." The Horn Book Magazine said, "It is original [and] deep-down funny . . . most important, the adventures are steeped in the rare quality of imaginative kindness." And Kirkus Reviews aptly noted that Coudray's books are a "visually formatted joke book to inspire thinking as well as laughs."

While I love all those very accurate quotes, I want to emphasize the quality of "imaginative kindness" and the way in which reading the very visual Benjamin Bear in Brain Storms!Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking, or Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas! does genuinely inspire thinking. Readers are required to pay close attention to each panel, usually anywhere from 3 - 6 per page, in order to get the joke, some of which are mind benders. These books are great for emerging readers, but don't let that limit how you think of them. I have a set in my library and they see a lot of action with 4th and 5th graders at recess when students don't have a lot of time (or necessarily focus) to read a novel. Coudray's books are perfect for everyone!


Source: Review Copy


We Dig Worms! by Kevin McCloskey, RL 1.5

There are SO MANY super cool things about this new TOON Book We Dig Worms! by Kevin McCloskey I don't know where to start. How about the beginning? We Dig Worms! came about when McCloskey, who teaches illustration at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, was asked for a "fun worm book" by his wife, a librarian. What McCloskey created is a fantastic non-fiction book that is filled with great facts (I never knew why we see more worms after a rain, although I always wondered) and excellent illustrations and  is written in an engaging writing style that reads like a narrative. To top it off, McCloskey who believes in recycling, "just like worms," painted all the illustrations on recycled grocery bags!

McCloskey begins We Dig Worms! by introducing readers to the many different kinds of worms, including, with a well placed page turn, gummy worms, then narrows his focus to earth worms. The "friendly" Bluebird flies onto the scene with a greeting for the little worm, frustrated when the worm doesn't seem to notice him. At the same time, the text tells readers that worms do not have eyes or a nose, but they do "a lot of important work."

A colorful group of kids add to the story, slipping in facts and commentary, like a well placed, "EEW!" when one page teaches us that worm poop, also known as castings, is very good for the soil. The kids also ask "Mister Worm" questions, like, "How big is the biggest worm in the world?" (10 feet long, in case you were wondering...)

There is a superb two-page spread map of the worm, with all the scientific names for the various parts on the inside and the outside. Near the end of the book, as Bluebird makes a final play to "have lunch with" Mister Worm, he wiggles off, citing "important work to do." The next page shows all the wormy work being done underground and the beautiful results above ground. As always, this superb TOON Book ends with tips on how to read comics with kids!

Françoise Mouly, founder, publisher and Editorial Director of TOON Books and Kevin McCloskey, digging some worms!

Source: Review Copy


TOON Books! TOON Books! TOON Books!

It has been a struggle to keep up with book reviews and related blog duties during this, my first full year as an elementary school librarian. Every day, I would come home from work, staying much later (and off the clock) than I intended and look, both longingly and sadly, at the stacks of amazing books on my desk waiting to be read and reviewed. One especially sad moment was realizing that I had missed reviewing the new Spring titles from my ABSOLUTE favorite publisher, TOON Books. July was my month to read, read, read, and review, review, review before heading back to the library at the start of August and it took a little longer than I expected to work my way through the stacks. However, one day near the end of the month I spent an entire, glorious morning reading the new TOON Books for Spring AND Fall 2015 and have reviews to share with you this week and in the fall, as titles are released. Hopefully, you love TOON Books as much as I do and are already enjoying these marvelous books. If not, you are in for a treat! 

Spring 2015 titles from TOON Books 
reviewed this week:

More TOON Books Reviews coming soon!

September 15        September 29

September 1             September 8

October 6


The Trap by Steve Arntson, 245 pp, RL 4

I am so excited to read and review The Trap, Steve Arntson's third book! I loved his debut, the creepily marvelous post-apocalyptic tale, The Wikkeling, with amazing illustrations by the superb Daniela J. Terrazzini. His second book, The Wrap-Up List, is a stunning YA novel in which a sixteen-year-old chooses the things she wants to do in the week before her scheduled "departure" from a world where 1% of the population is chosen to knowingly meet their end. In his three books, Arntson has exhibited a phenomenal ability to write books with wildly different settings and fantastical aspects while always creating memorable characters you want to know more about.

The Trap intrigued me immediately because it recalled a book I read as a kid that involved astral projection as part of the plot and left a deep impression on me. It was probably Stranger with My Face by Lois Duncan, although none of the past covers match my spotty memory. Regardless, I was fascinated by the supernatural as a kid (remember In Search Of . . . hosted by Leonard Nimoy?) and thrilled to see this kind of out of body experience show up in a kid's book now. Arntson presents this phenomenon with seriousness, earnestness and adventure while layering in real life struggles and anxieties. The Trap is set in hot, dusty Farro, Iowa at the end of the summer of 1963. Narrated by Henry Nilsson, he and his twin sister Helen are about to start junior high. Despite their outward and personal differences, the siblings find themselves facing the same anxieties about friends, crushes and dances. They also find themselves faced with stress and anxieties at home as their parents, who work night shifts for the Burlington Norther Railroad, find their jobs in jeopardy. Money is tight and tensions are high, financial and racial, with the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom approaching. On top of this, Helen's best friend, Nicki, is the child of immigrants from China, and Henry's best friend, Alan, is Native American. All this alone could make for a riveting story, but Arntson introduces Carl, Alan's older brother, who is behaving erratically and violently before he disappearing one night.

In the camp where Carl was hiding, the four friends find a box of damp paperback books with titles like AIRMAN CRUSADER VERSUS THE CENTIPEDE KING by an author named A. Møller. There is also a book with a plain, black cover co-written by Møller and a man named J. Brody titled Subtle Travel and the Subtle Self. Following the book's detailed instructions, Henry finds himself, with some difficulty and effort, standing beside his bed looking down at himself. Soon after, all four friends are exploring the subtle world, looking for Carl and stumbling into a very dangerous trap. In the real world, the four befriend the recently widowed Maria Brody, wife of the co-author of Subtle Travel and the Subtle Self, and co-author herself, along with her husband, of a series of popular travel guides called, International Understanding Travel Guides that were written with the intent of inspiring and spreading universal acceptance and an end to intolerance of people who are different. With her help, they learn more about the authors and what might have happened to Carl.

Arntson's writing is marvelous and often poetic, as in this sentence," The musical branches called down from overhead, as if to warn that whatever happened from here on out would be our own fault." I could see Farro easily and feel the heat of the summer. Helen and Henry are equally opposite and intriguing. Henry's favorite television show is called, "The Dead of Night," and is a Twilight Zone, thought provoking series that leads him to look at the world from a different perspective. Henry is an observer. He hangs back, assesses the situation, weighs the pros and cons and writes things down to help his thought process. Helen is all action, movement and energy. For her, writing things down "was like standing around after hearing the starting gun." In a really lovely twist, a special gift given to Henry that will only reveal itself at a specific moment turns out to be the start of a book that he will write. The book is titled, "The Trap," and the final sentences already written serve as the end to The Trap and close the book perfectly: "My heart fluttered in my chest, and the pen felt shaky in my fingers. The whole universe unfolding, Mr. Brody had said - like a story written out. I was going to have to think about this."

Steve Arntson's other books:

 The Wikkeling                             The Wrap-Up List

Source: Review Copy


There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight by Penny Parker Klosterman, illustrated by Ben Mantle

There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight is the debut picture book by Penny Parker Klostermann with fantastic illustrations by Ben Mantle. It may seem that there is no room to improve upon or add to (especially with Lucille Colandro's many variations on the cumulative rhyme) but Klostermann and Mantle had added a fantastic new twist to this old tale with There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight.

What Penny Klostermann brings to the story of There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight, besides the great concept to begin with, is a text that is rich with vocabulary perfectly suited for a medieval tale. There is a steed, a squire, a lady and a moat.The dragon swallows a "savory cook and his recipe book" along with a castle that gets swallowed "down to the last golden tassel."  

By the end of the book the dragon, who has  started to bloat, wonders if he has been "a tad impolite. Perchance I should only have swallowed the knight." Klostermann's rhymes are perfectly paired and paced.

Ben Mantle's illustrations are perfectly paired with Klostermann's story. His dragon is just the right amount of menacing with a touch of cartoon goofiness. His depictions of the characters who make up the dragon's meal inside the dragon's ever expanding stomach are excellent! There is a skull floating around, but there are also little clouds of dust that trail behind the steed as he goes "clippity, clippity, clippity, clop" around in the dark. Mantle's illustrations are filled with movement, which makes sense since he has a background in illustration.

As a former bookseller who read the original and (sometimes wearily) the knock-offs of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (Simms Tabak's version with the die-cuts is my favorite) I am surprised that it was even possible to write a version that feels so fresh and is so entertaining!

Source: Review Copy


Seen and Not Heard by Katie May Green

Seen and Not Heard is the debut picture book from Katie May Green. On the jacket flap, Green writes that she was inspired to create this book after looking at a 16th century portrait of three children and wondering what it might "feel like to be trapped in a painting for four hundred years?" The answer is a playfully rhyming, marvelously magical, midnight romp with the occasional dash of eeriness.

A black cat and three white mice lead readers on a journey through Silverhawk House, the "big old house" with "creaky stairs." In the nursery we find "children in pictures on the wall - seen and not heard." Each child's name appears on the painting and the text details traits that are anything but spooky. Lily Pinksweet is a "dainty delight." The Plumseys are grown-up and very polite. Billy Fitzbillian is the cleverest boy and Percy is always happy to share a toy. However, the DeVillechild girls are . . .
Well, those DeVillechild girls can be a little bit disconcerting, despite the fact that Green tells us they are "perfect angels." As night falls and the children leave their paintings to play throughout the house, cavorting, galloping, jumping and basically running riot, the twins, Lila and Vila, keep themselves at a cautious distance. 

In fact, it's fun to try to spot the twins (and the three mice) amidst the chaos at times. Green's story is unique and exciting for a picture book, but her illustrations make Seen and Not Heard a truly stellar book. They are delicate and somber when needed, but always embodying a quiet cheerfulness that can be seen in the faces of the children and, once they are out of their paintings, their impish mischievousness. The historical details, from the clothes to the furniture to the food, are fantastic without weighing down the illustrations.

As the sun rises, or, as Lily says, "the moon is getting tired," the children head back to their frames. A pink glow warms the room where they "stay still and sweet and good, just as children should." But, be sure to look closely at the last page - there just might be a bow or two out of place!

I absolutely ADORE Seen and Not Heard! It is a book that I know I will read over and over and I'm sure that your children will want to do the same. In fact, Katie's book was nominated for the Read It Again award in the UK! Over 14,000 children voted on which book they wanted to read again. What a great idea! I think we need that in the States. 

Katie did a special reading of her book in the National Gallery in London where she got to read her book about children in a 16th century painting while surrounded by children and paintings from the 16th century! How cool is that?

Katie's second book, Stone Angel by the multi-award winning Jane Yolen, came out in the US in March of this year. Stone Angel is the story of a girl and her family who must flee their home in Paris when the Nazi soldiers arrive during WWII. While hiding in the forest, encountering resistance fighters and crossing tall mountains, the girl thinks of the stone angel near her home in Paris and imagines it watching over her.

Source: Review Copy