7.29.2016

Rutabaga the Adventure Chef: Feasts of Fury by Eric Colossal, 128 pp, RL 3



 Last year I read and loved, as I do any book that makes food and cooking a central plot thread, Rutabaga the Adventure Chef #1 by Eric Colossal. Rutabaga, his pop-up kitchen and Pot, his trusty cauldron/pet, are back for more food, fun and adventure in Rutabaga the Adventure Chef: Feasts of Fury. And, as before, Rutabaga is a little bit goofy, a little bit gullible and a very passionate about cooking and feeding his friends, and even his enemies, from time to time.






Rutabaga the Adventure Chef: Feasts of Fury finds Rutabaga and Pot in the land of the dreaded gubblins where he meets, and cooks for, an old timer who shares memories of a soup he ate more than 30 years ago, prepared - with a special, secret ingredient - by his uncle. But, as he leads Rutabaga to the spot where he thought his uncle found the secret ingredient, a big, fanged surprise is waiting for him.



 From there, Rutabaga meets a troupe of actors and inspires a new play with an old favorite from his cooking school days, Poisoned Pot Pie. The pie isn't really poisoned, but there is a bean hidden in one of the individual pies and the person who gets it has to wash up. Rutabaga meets a mysterious thief/princess/liar named Minus and a very cool ingredient is part of a fantastic recipe that involves lock picking. When those dreaded gubblins do finally materialize, I think you can guess how Rutabaga gets himself, Pot and Minus out of a very dire predicament. And, quite happily, as with book 1, Colossal shares a handful of Rutabaga's special recipes - that kids can really make - at the end of the book. There are Popping Chocolate Spiders, Gubblin Snot, No-Bake "Poisoned" Cookies!

Source: Review Copy

7.27.2016

What Can I Be? by Ann Rand & Ingrid Fiksdahl King





Holding What Can I Be? in my hands after reading it, I felt like I had just walked through a gallery at a modern art museum. I knew that there had to be a story behind this book, which was published this year by Princeton Architectural Press, but feels much older. The premise of What Can I Be?which was written by Ann Rand and illustrated by painter and architecture professor Ingrid Fiksdahl King, coauthor of A Pattern Language, one of the most influential books on architecture and planning, is simple, suggestive and playful, presenting readers with a shape and asking what could it be, then encouraging readers to imagine what else that shape could be. Reading this article at the marvelous Brain Pickings, I learned the story behind What Can I Be?









In the 1950s Ann Rand and her husband at the time collaborated on three picture books that are still in print. Her husband, Paul Rand went on to be a legend in the graphic design world, creating many of the corporate logos that are still in use today. Like Fiksdahl King, Ann Rand was an architect and trained under Mies van der Rohe. In the 1970s the two created What Can I Be? but it did not reach publication for forty years. It is always fascinating to me when creative people from different disciplines make picture books, and when it is successful, the results stand out on the shelves, and What Can I Be? is definitely successful.


What could be green and shaped like a triangle? "a Christmas tree / the sail of a boat / a tent / or maybe a kite flying high in a windblown sky." While concept books are, by their very nature, simplistic, Rand and Fiksdahl King add layers of complexity, especially in the illustrations, but also in the text, using words like "splendid," "ruffled" and "windblown." What Can I Be? will definitely appeal to parents with a background in in art, design and architecture, but I believe it will also truly inspire little listeners who will want to hear it read over and over.




Books by Ann & Paul Rand





Source: Review Copy


7.25.2016

The Yeti Files: Attack of the Kraken by Kevin Sherry, 128 pp, RL 2



It's here! Book 3 in Kevin Sherry's superbly silly series of books featuring all your favorite cryptids is here! Following in the footsteps of Monsters on the Run and Meet the BigfeetBlizz Richards and the gang go under the sea The Yeti Files: Attack of the Kraken



But, before heading to Atlantis, Alex the Elf and Gunthar the goblin are getting up to no good, out of eyesight from Blizz. Blizz thinks the two are getting along nicely in their igloo, but really, the devious duo are off tending to Gunthar's new pet whose name begins with "pt."


As Blizz gets the cryptosub ready to head out, he explains to Alex, Gunthar and Frank, the arctic fox who always seems to know what's really going on, all about the hidden city of Atlantis and the merfolk who live there. He also reminds the gang and readers how they received an urgent alert from the merfolk at the end of The Yeti Files #2of Monsters on the Run. In Atlantis, they crew are greeted by the Mayor, Julius Blacksand, who has been making big additions to the city with the help of some powerful, precious, rare crystals mined nearby. But, a determined megafan of Blizz's named Coral tells him that the mayor isn't all he seems to be and that his continued mining of crystals is threatening the health of the ocean they live in - and the mysterious Kraken. Can Blizz and the gang prove that this is true and stop Julius Blacksand? And just who is Emily Airwalker and where is she? While I always adore the humor in Sherry's books, he weaves some very pertinent themes of conservation and environmental awareness into Attack of the Kraken that I appreciated.


 The Yeti Files Books 1 & 2:

      Meet the Bigfeet          Monsters on the Run


Source: Purchased

7.22.2016

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raúl the Third, 128 pp, RL 3



In 2014 I reviewed the stand out graphic novel Lowriders in Space written by author, artist and librarian Cathy Camper and illustrated by Raúl the Third. I didn't think it was possible, but I love the follow up, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, even more than the first book! While the ingenuity of the characters, the cars, and of course, space travel were big draws in the first book, the second book manages to pack in even more fantastic features that I know the students in my school will love. Camper ups the usage of Spanish vocabulary in Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, including a coyote who puns in Spanish, and weaves characters and themes from Atzec mythology and Mexican folklore into this fast paced, action packed graphic novel with even more of the intensely detailed, superb illustrations by Raúl the Third.


Lowriders to the Center of the Earth starts with Lupe, a master mechanic and "an impala extraordinaire," Flappy, an octopus  who wears a deer stalker and often travels in a jumbo popcorn bucket, and Elirio, painter of cars who has a "beak that was as steady as a surgeon's hand, his skill in detailing cars unparalleled, heading out to find Genie, their beloved missing cat. Footprints lead them out of town and into a giant cornfield where their odyssey beings.



It seems that Mictlantecuhtli, which I know is pronounced mick-lan-te-COOT-lee, thanks to the "What Does it Mean / ¿Que Significa?" back matter which also includes definitions of the geological terms used in the text, (but do know that these translations also appear in the story itself, at the bottom of the page) has taken Genie to his raucous underworld lair, which can be reached by way of a volcano. Straightaway, they hear a crying, wailing sound and discover a beautiful, blue weeping cat woman looking for her babies. La Lllorona takes a liking to Flappy and, while her crying can be a bit much, she does prove good to have along for the ride. 


The gang have to face Mic's skeleton crew, the Wind of Knives, the challenge of transporting a bucket of water to the center of the earth and back and a wrestling match with lots of wrestling terms and a surprise from little Genie (spoiler!! their pet is really Tepeyollotl, the Aztec jaguar god who is Lord of the Animals) before they can reclaim their pet and return to the surface of the earth. There are so many more details in Lowriders to the Center of the Earth that I haven't even mentioned. I'll leave you with my favorite cameo appearance in the underworld comes when the gang pulls up to a torta shop where they see a familiar face. Perched behind the wheel of a monster truck with massive wheels, looking like a roadie for Mötley Crüe, his arm around a doe-eyed goat and a bottle of sangre de cabra in his hand is . . . the Chupacabra!

Source: Review Copy

7.21.2016

One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree byDaniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel



In 2014 I enthusiastically reviewed Some Bugs, a wonderfully rhyming book written by Angela DiTerlizzi and illustrated by newcomer Brendan Wenzel. Wenzel's  playful, colorful style reminded me of Eric Carle and it is a treat to see him at play again in Daniel Bernstrom's magnificently mellifluous One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree.




Bernstrom takes a traditional theme in children's stories - being trapped in the belly of a beast (and getting spit out) and crafts it into an onomatopoetic, adjective packed story that is especially fun to read out loud. The clever little boy (with the toy, a cool little pinwheel) figures out that if he can prod the snake to keep eating and eating he will eventually over eat...



Wenzel's illustrations frolic across the pages of One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree, distracting the reader from the fact that cool kids and cute creatures are being eaten by a huge reptile. As the snake is wiggle-waggling and gobbling up a bird, a cat, a bee hive and even a adorable green "sloth covered in fuzzy-wuzzy moss," the art is as colorful as the words Bernstrom uses to tell his story.  When the clever boy eggs the snake on to eat one final small piece of "plummy-chummy fruit," the teeny-tiny fly perched on the fruit proves to be the tipping point. "Gurgle-gurgle came a blurble from that belly deep and full" and, well, you know how it ends one day in the eucalyptus, eucalyptus tree.


Coming soon! 
Wenzel's debut as author & illustrator 
and a follow up to Some Bugs!



Source: Review Copy


7.18.2016

Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig, by Polly Faber, illustrated by Clara Vulliamy, 135 pp, RL 3




Polly Faber makes her debut as a children's book author with the story of a girl and her tapir - or maybe the story of a tapir and her girl, Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig. Illustrated by the marvelous Clara Vulliamy, who, with her mother, the venerable British children's book author Shirley Hughes, created the Digby O'Day series, this new series has a similarly charming format that is perfect for emerging readers ready to move on to chapter books. Digby O'Day: In the Fast Lane and Digby O'Day and the Great Diamond Robbery feature illustrations on every page, great characters with intriguing details, fantastic design and a great story. Vulliamy, who is a very creative person with a website worth checking out (Sunny Side Up) is also a fan of felted animals. She commissioned dolls of Digby, Charlie and Digby's beloved red convertible as well as a cute little tapir - Bambang - which I first saw on her website last year.


My kids grew up going to one of the best zoos in the world. I have known what a tapir is for decades and was so excited to see that someone chose this curious looking animal to be a character in a book! But first, Mango and the rest of the cast, as seen below.

Mango Allsorts (allsorts is a licorice candy that comes in all sorts of shapes and colors . . .) is good at all sort of things, but, as the narrator tells us, "that is not the same as being good." She lives in a big city at the top of a very tall building with her "papa who was also tall and very busy." When his job gets especially tough, she makes him buttered noodles. Mango is also good at karate, jumping off the highest diving board (without holding her nose) using the Sicilian Defense in chess and wiggling her ears while sucking on a lollipop. She is not good at playing the clarinet, but she is practicing. One day, heading home from karate and hoping to cross using the striped crosswalk, she spots a commotion. There, perfectly camouflaged by the black and white stripes is a quivering, crying tapir whispering about a tiger that chased him out of the jungles of Malaysia.

Mango tempts the skittish Bambang, who sees tigers everywhere (construction trucks, cats) with the promise of banana pancakes with whipped cream and syrup and the two become fast friends. They head to the public pool where Bambang has a bit of an embarrassment that ends up with finding another new friend. Next, they meet an enemy. Dr. Cynthia Prickle-Posset, a Collector of the Unusual tries to collect Bambang, but Mango puts an end to that. The fourth and final part of the book finds Mango and Bambang performing on stage, overcoming their nerves, side by side.

Faber's Mango is fiercely confident and the perfect match for Bambang, who is anxious and shy, understandably. Vulliamy brings these characters to life marvelously with her black and white illustrations, accented with lavender in this first book. There is just enough information about tapirs in Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig that readers will know that tapirs are real and hopefully will want to know more about this curious looking animal. I can't wait to know more about the adventures that Mango and Bambang get up to in the next two books in the series!





If you loved Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig, or if you think you will, be sure to check out the Digby O'Day series that Vulliamy illustrates, written by her mother!

     


Digby O'Day: In the Fast Lane      Digby O'Day and the Great Diamond Robbery





7.15.2016

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, 608 pp, RL 4


So, Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick has been sitting on my bookshelf for almost 5 years now, looking super cool (as seen above) as it sits between The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was one of the first books I reviewed when I started this blog in 2008, and The Marvels, which I reviewed when it came out in September of last year. I have no idea why I never read it, but I finally got around to reading Wonderstruck for a handful of reasons. It's required summer reading for my son, who enters sixth grade in the fall. My brother read it out loud to his kids at dinner and, serendipitously, they encountered the film crew for the movie version of Wonderstruck, directed by Todd Haynes while on vacation in NYC this summer and one of the cast signed with my brother. Knowing that my son has to read this book, my brother and niece and nephew enjoyed it and that it is soon to be a movie directed by Todd Haynes (I wonder if the fact that Selznick has Hollywood heritage allows him to score prime directors for adaptations of his books?) was all the nudge that I needed to read it. And OF COURSE I loved it.  
Seeing as how this is a very well known, well reviewed book, I don't feel like a traditional review is merited here so I'm going to do something a little different. Museums are a major part of Wonderstruck, which is also the name of a book within this book - a fictional book published by the American Museum Natural History about museums and curation. The main character Ben has a wooden box with a engraving of a wolf on the lid, which he comes to think of as his museum box. Inside the box, Ben has crafted cardboard dividers to house the small treasures he collected over the course of his life, which he has arranged with great care. Ben's story begins in 1977 and is told in text only for the first half of the book. In tandem with Ben's plot is the story of Rose, which begins in 1927 and unfolds in illustrations only for the first half of the book. At first, the only thing Ben and Rose seem to have in common is their deafness. But, like I said, museums have a big role in this book and when their stories collide you feel, well, wonderstruck. With that in mind, I have"curated" these collages filled with images, illustrations and other items that make up the exhibit that is the novel and film (coming in 2017) Wonderstruck.


Ben remembered reading about curators in Wonderstruck, and thought about what it meant to curate your own life, as his dad had done here. What would it be like to pick and choose the objects and stories that would go into your own cabinet? How would Ben curate his own life? And then, thinking about his museum box, and his house and his books, and the secret room, he realized he'd already begun doing it. Maybe, thought Ben, we are all cabinets of wonders. 
(Wonderstruck, page 574)


As with all Brian Selznick books, the acknowledgements and author's notes are almost a story unto themselves. Selznick is a curator, a researcher, an autodidact and a scholar of whatever subject he pursues, and it is always amazing to me to read the many areas that he studied, places he visited and people he interviewed while writing a book. Near the end of his acknowledgements, after listing all the people, places and things that influenced, informed and educated him, I was very pleased to find this nod from Selznick, as this was a book I thought of often while reading Wonderstruck, "Of course, any story about kids who run away to a museum owes a debt of gratitude to E. L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. In order to pay back that debt, Wonderstruck is filled with references to Konigsburg and her book. How many can you spot?" I am going to have to go back and reread Wonderstruck, as I only found three nods. E. L. stands for Elaine Lobl, Konigsburg's maiden name. Selznick gives the main character's mother the name Elaine and his father the surname Lobel. A character in the book is named Jamie, which is also the name of one of the main characters in Konigsburg's Newbery winning book. If you find any, be sure to let me know!


Source: Purchased

7.13.2016

The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head by Daisy Hirst


I do not think it's at all easy to capture the way children think, their logic, the black and white way that they see the world, on the pages of a picture book. Yet with her debut, The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head, which is a mix of straightforward storytelling and, as Cory Doctorow said in his review, "pure pinkwaterian nonsense," Daisy Hirst has done exactly that, creating a picture book that is immediately embraceable and ultimately unforgettable.



Isabel is The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head and Simon, who is "very good with newts," is her friend. Until he moves away. Hirst's writing is both simple and powerful as she describes how Isabel copes with this change. 

For a while Isabel hated everything. The parrot went to sit on top of the wardrobe. Until Isabel felt quiet inside and decided to like being on her own.

Isabel did not need friends because she had a parrot on her head and a SYSTEM. 

Isabel's system involves sorting her things. One aspect of Hirst's visual story telling style that I love is her choice to color in some things and leave other things as line drawings. Mostly, the line drawings are used for Isabel's toys, but also for what are abstract, imaginary items, like THE DARK and that one, nagging thing that just might be "too big for the system." The wolf. 




Isabel heads out on her scooter, her parrot flying behind, to find a box big enough for this wolf. But when she does, she discovers that there is already something inside the perfect box. A boy. Chester, who was planning on using the box for a den ("Why not a castle?" "Why not an ostrich farm? Or a space station next to the moon?" Isabel asks) but listens as Isabel tells him about her wolf troubles. Chester takes a reasonable approach with the wolf and the results are marvelous.



Hirst ends The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head with a new beginning as Isabel and Chester, who "has a way with umbrellas and tape," get busy with their space station, which "really needed two astronauts and a parrot with a teacup on its head."

Daisy Hirst's second picture book comes out in the US in November of this year and I can't wait to get my hands on it. The title alone is fantastic! Alphonse, That is Not OK To Do! is the story of monster siblings. Natalie is a patient, mostly tolerant older sister until she finds Alphonse eating her favorite book.




Source: Review Copy