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Showing posts from March, 2016

Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steve Goetz, illustrated by Eda Kaban

Maybe because I am the mother of two boys, but, more likely because I loved Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go as a child, I always love a good picture book with trucks and trains, of all kinds. And Old MacDonald Had a Truck by debut Steve Goetz, perfectly, marvelously illustrated by Eda Kaban, is a VERY good truck book. In fact, it's the kind of book that, after reading, will make you smack yourself on the forehead and wonder why you didn't think of this idea.

First of all, Kaban's endpapers show a fantastic assortment of tools that will grab any little truck lover's interest right away. Old MacDonald Had a Truck begins with a grey haired couple driving down a dirt road in a big, old truck. As they pull into the farmyard, we see that the animals are abuzz with activity. Tools are out, hard hats are on and something is definitely going on.

As the song/story unfolds, page turns reveal that Old MacDonald has TRUCKS and not animals on his/her farm. I re…

The Only Child by Guojing, 112 pp, RL: ALL AGES

The gorgeously rich illustrations, magic filled setting and wordless story of The Only Child by Guojing reminded me immediately of The Arrival by Shaun Tan. While Tan's book always feels deeply rooted in our world and the immigrant experience, despite the magical creatures and moments, Guojing's book beings in a foreign but familiar feeling city then flies off to a magic filled world of wonderful creatures and billowy clouds.
The Only Child begins with an author's note that frames the story perfectly. Guojing writes of growing up in China in the 1980s under the one-child policy. Her graphic novel grew out of a childhood experience that was common for children her age, which she refers to as a "very lonely generation." Put on a bus to her grandmother's as a six year old, Guojing fell asleep and woke up lost, crying and walking as she tried to find her way home. The Only Child begins with a cheerfully rumpled little girl waking in the morning just as her mother …

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox, 400 pp, RL 4

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox has a fantastic set up for either a work of historical fiction or a fantasy novel. Intriguingly, it is both! Katherine, Robbie and Amelie Bateson live in London with their parents and their Great-Aunt Margaret. As the bombing of the city increases, the Batesons take the first good opportunity to get their children to safety. In this case, it is Rookskill Castle in remote Scotland. The owner of the castle is Aunt Margaret's cousin, Gregor, the eleventh Earl of Craig. Recently married, the Earl is in need of money and also has recently taken ill. His new wife has converted the castle into a boarding school for a small number of evacuees. But, from the moment they arrive, Kat knows that there is something very wrong at Rookskill Castle.
While there are murmurs of a German spy hiding somewhere in the castle early on in the novel, another, more compelling story unfolds, starting in 1746. Lenore is the lady of Rookskill Castle but, un…

Chuck and Woodchuck by Cece Bell

I love Cece Bell's kooky sense of humor, best on display in her Sock Monkey Trilogy. Bell is also a great storyteller, as her fantastic, award winning graphic novel El Deafo proves. With  her newest picture book, Chuck and Woodchuck, bell combines both these gifts for a silly, sweet story of friendship.


It's show and tell and our narrator, Caroline, has brought her grandfather's ukulele to share. Other kids brought a sombrero, a baseball, a tiny pencil and a tadpole to share. Chuck brought a woodchuck, saying only, "This is woodchuck." Woodchuck turns out to be a hoot - and helpful. Especially to Caroline. When Caroline is cold out on the playground one day, Woodchuck gives her a hat to wear. It turns out to be Chuck's, and he will not let Caroline give it back.


This kind of thoughtful, sweet behavior from Woodchuck, along with silence from Chuck, continues. Dropped cupcakes are replaced, paintings are replaced and lines are whispered during the school play as …

little butterfly by Laura Loga

little butterfly by Laura Logan is a little bit of magic. While monarch butterflies, their migratory path and their recent comeback are infinitely fascinating, Logan's book is not about this aspect of these lovely creatures. In the author's note at the end of the book, Logan does touch on the journey of the butterflies, adding this quote from Aesop, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted," to give depth to experience of the main character in this wordless picture book. Instead, Logan and her main character, a little girl with a torn cape and an injured butterfly, have an imaginary migration of their own.

The palette for little butterfly is limited to oranges, greys and browns and the occasional dash of sky blue and the trim size is small, adding to the delight of the book. Arriving home from school and getting off the bus, the girl's cape snags and tears. As the bus pulls away, the girl abandons her backpack and runs across a field. A cat watches…

The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson, 367 pp, RL 4

Two years ago I enthusiastically, excitedly reviewed The Mark of the Dragonflyby Jaleigh Johnson, saying that it was the best fantasy novel I had read in quite a while. I also speculated about a sequel, hoping to learn more about the curious artifacts that arrive in the world of Solace by way of dangerous meteor storms. With The Secrets of Solace, Johnson delivers a novel that, while not a sequel to The Mark of the Dragonfly, is set in the same world and, if possible, even better than the first. And, best of all, The Secrets of Solace is takes place in the Archivists' Strongholds, where the artifacts are taken to be studied and experimented with. In the eight years since I began my blog, and in the fifteen years before that while working as a children's bookseller, I read a lot of middle grade fantasy novels, especially when the genre exploded after the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 1997. However, I hit a saturation point where, while the books were g…

The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny by James Kochalka, 128pp, RL 2

The Glorkian Warrior has delivered himself a pizza, had his brains sucked almost dry by a baby alien and discovered the head of a Space Snake that spits out pie. Now, in the third and final book in this series, he and his pals face his biggest challenge ever - a possibly prophetic dream about a giant, flying mustache in The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny!



A post-dream, pre-Glork patrol cup of invigorating coffee that, naturally, GW thinks can talk when it's really Super Backpack, sets the story rolling. Along with a boisterous bunch of mini-Glorks that Gonk has invited in, GW and Super Backpack head out and inevitably end up in a giant hole. But, this giant hole leads to the Temple of Quackaboodle! 


And, in a rare appearance, the Glorkian Supergrandma arrives, beaming down a special light from her spaceship that turns Gonk's little pals into full grown, adult Glorkians! After some minor drama, Gonk gets beamed into adulthood also, now sporting a stunning stache. Ko…

Human Body Theater: A Non-Fiction Revue by Maris Wicks, 240 pp, RL 4

Human Body Theater: A Non-Fiction Revue, the new graphic novel by Maris Wicks is a fantastic way to learn a vast amount of information in a very fun format. Wicks is the illustrator of one of my favorite non-fiction graphic novels, Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas, written by Jim Ottaviani. In eleven acts, a skeleton takes readers through the main systems of the body, beginning with the skeletal system and working up at the excretory system just before intermission. After that, five more systems are visited, from the endocrine system to the reproductive, immune and nervous systems, ending with the five senses. And, as you can see, Wicks's illustrations are fantastic. Crisp and clear, with a bright color palette and images outlined in black, Human Body Theater is a treat to look at that you will find yourself poring over.
After a quick introduction to the hardworking stage hands, the cells, bones then muscles are explored. I'll be h…

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova, 224 pp, RL 4

I love it when I find a graphic novel that is as enjoyable as any by Raina Telgemeier, and Awkward by Svetlana Chmakovais right up there, along with Newbery Honor winner Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. Chmakova's illustration style is reminiscent of Japanese manga - her characters have exaggerated expressions that add to the humor and emotions of the story. And her color palette is pale yellows, pinks and blues with occasional pops of darker colors. The plot of Awkward shows good kids making bad choices and working hard to making things right. Above all else, the kids in Awkward are creators - they make, they build, they draw. Chmakova ends her wonderful story with these words, "Cardinal Rule #3 for Surviving School: Build. Build things. Build Friendships. Build yourself. Bit by little bit. It may feel like you're not adding that much . . . but in the end, it will add up to a lot."
But, before we get to those wise words, we need to go back about 200 pages to the beg…

The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson, 64 pp, RL 3

Victoria Jamieson is the author of the superb, Newbery Honor winner this year, Roller Girl. With her newest graphic novel, Pets on the Loose: The Great Pet Escape, Jamieson shifts from the rough and tumble world of roller derby to the dangerous lives of classroom pets. Jamieson's bright palette, way with edgy but cute creatures and attention to details make Pets on the Loose a treat to read - one you will want to read over and over while waiting for the sequel.

Before we get to chapter one, we get a close up look at the grim life of the narrator, a hamster who has been imprisoned for three months, two weeks and one day in a second grade classroom. Captured along with his friends Biter, a guinea pig, and Barry, a rabbit, GW (short for George Washington, something he is deeply embarassed by) has been plotting their escape. He has invented the Sunflower Slingshot (and there is a hilarious illustration of GW playing the sweet class pet, happily taking a sunflower from the fingers of a …

Apollo: The Brilliant One by George O'Connor, 80pp, RL 4

Second only to fairy tales, Greek mythology is a favorite of mine. A few years ago, I created a post featuring reference books, story collections and retellings of The Iliad and The Odyssey for kids that you can read here. And, while I love Greek mythology, I am very picky about what I choose to read, give my kids to read and, now as a school librarian, purchase for my students to read. I am grateful to Rick Riordan for making Greek mythology interesting to kids in a huge way, but I am not always happy with the ways that he tweaks the myths. And, while my personal taste does not keep these books - or the graphic editions - off the shelves, I am thrilled that my students share my taste, making George O'Connor's SUPERB Olympians series of graphic novels the most checked out in my library.

O'Connor is a true scholar of Greek myths and this is evident in each of his books, from the various stories about each god and goddess that he chooses to present in each book to the way he …