Hello Nature: Draw, Color, Make and Grow by Nina Chakrabarti

Hello Nature: Draw, Color, Make and Grow by Nina Chakrabarti is an absolutely amazing new hybrid of activity book - a coloring, doodle, craft, science, botany book that will get your kids off their screens and outside exploring, thinking , collecting and making. And, because Hello Nature is published by Laurence King, a repsected publisher of books on all aspects of the art world, from advertising and architecture to art, fashion, textiles, film and animation, interior design, and photography. Their books are acclaimed for their inventiveness, beautiful design and authoritative texts, as well as the care taken over their production and Hello Nature is a perfect example of this!

While Chakrabati's illustrations and activities speak for themselves, having perused all 224 pages of Hello Nature, I can tell you that this cleverly designed book is so much more than an activity book. Users are encouraged to observe the patterns and designs found in nature, guided by Chakrabarti's marvelously engaging patterns and designs.

Readers are asked to color and finish off an illustration, like adding wings to dragonflies, birds to telephone pole wires and creatures to underground dwellings, or design something entirely new. There are also educational close-ups of the rings in a tree and the anatomy of flowers, mushrooms, feathers and birds as well as and recipes for botanical treats like rose petal perfume, and instructions on how to make a daisy chain, a grass whistle, a bird feeder from a soda bottle, grow an avocado tree from a pit, a herbarium and a fernarium.

Hello Nature takes users through the seasons. Starting with a quote from Rachel Carson encouraging appreciation of the world around you and ends with a quote from astronaut Yuri Gagarin about appreciating the beauty of earth from outer space and endeavoring to increase it, not destroy it. Chakrabati takes a similar view, starting with a view of the earth and a page asking the user to draw her or himself as they are right now.

Hello Nature: Draw, Color, Make and Grow by Nina Chakrabarti is an amazing book that is going to keep someone special busy through all four seasons. Give as a gift and get one for yourself!

More fantastic books by Nina Chakrabarti!

Source: Review Copy


Frida and Bear Play the Shape Game by Anthony Browne, illustrated by Hanne Bartholin

**Before I talk about this book, I have to say that Frida and Bear Play the Shape Game has to be one of the most popular picture books I have read out loud to my students since I started working as a librarian three years ago. Of course, they love the story but what they really love is actually playing the shape game with me after we finish reading the book. If you buy this book, I guarantee that it will be universally adored by anyone seven and under!**

In 2003 Anthony Browne wrote and illustrated The Shape Game, the story of a family that takes a trip to an art museum (the Tate in London, where he was the illustrator-in-residence.) The family, a father, two sons and a mother, are there, reluctantly, because it's how Mom wants to celebrate her birthday. Mom poses questions that inspire her family to think about the art they are viewing and they eventually find themselves in the paintings - with twists and updates here and there. The title of Browne's book comes from a game that Mom teaches them how to play. Using pens and a pad they bought at the museum gift shop, one person draws a shape and the other turns it into something specific. In Frida and Bear Play the Shape Game, Frida teaches this game to bear.

The story is short and sweet. The fun of Frida and Bear Play the Shape Game comes from Bartholin's illustrations and seeing what Bear and Frida make with the shapes they trade back and forth. Bear takes the game from traditional drawing paper to an envelope, then a scrap of paper (in a lovely nod to Browne and the primates that populate his books) to a twig. The final two-page spread shows a variety of drawings that came from playing the Shape Game! 

The Shape Game by Anthony Browne

In my review of Silly Billy by Browne, I also mention several of his other books, including The Shape Game. If you aren't familiar with his amazing body of work, the wonderful details of his illustrations and sensitive, thoughtful stories, I urge you to take a look!

Source: Review Copy


Brian Bigg's Tinyville Town Gets to Work! by Brian Biggs

I grew up with Richard Scary books and by the time I had kids, Scary's Busy Town was being marketed in all forms, television, computer games, toys, clothes and backpacks. The details in every illustration, the humor and the the way that Scary never talked down to his young audience made me a lifelong devotee of his work. And, while there has never been and probably never will be another Richard Scary, I always appreciate any attempt to come close to his unique, marvelous contribution to the world of picture books. And, as someone who has been on the lookout for decades, I can tell you that Brian Biggs comes the closest to the magic of Richard Scary as any author-illustrator I've encountered. A few years back, Biggs created the delightful transportation filled Everything Goes trilogy with accompanying board books. Now Biggs is doing the same for towns and workers with a new series that kicks off with Tinyville Town Gets to Work! Like the Everything Goes books, companion board books give you even more to love about these books.

In Tinyville Town Gets to Work Biggs sets the stage and introduces the cast of characters with a clever plot problem: the bus isn't coming to the Mayor's stop, the trash collectors can't pick up the trash and there are no donuts at the bakery. But why? There is a traffic jam on the bridge! The old Tinyville Town Bridge is just too small for all the inhabitants of Tinyville. The city planner, the engineer and the mayor get busy planning a new bridge, ensuring plenty of construction vehicles, from bulldozers to steamrollers. The grand opening of the bridge is a festive celebration, leaving readers wanting to know more about the inhabitants of of this busy town.

Tinyville Town board books:

And coming soon!

Greetings from Tinyville Town from Brian Biggs on Vimeo.

Fans of Richard Scary should not miss the EVERYTHING GOES series by Brian Biggs!

Source: Review Copy


Wildings by Eleanor Glewwe, 330 pp, RL 4

I love high fantasy, a term coined by Lloyd Alexander in 1971 for a subgenre of fantasy in which the setting is an alternative, imaginary world, like Tolkein's Middle Earth, although I don't read it that often. In fact, writing this review inspired me to go back through all my reviews and create the label High Fantasy. However, reading high fantasy can be a challenge, especially when there is a new vocabulary to learn. I realized this as I read Wildings by Eleanor Glewwe. Wildings is a sequel to Glewwe's debut from September 2014, Sparkers, which I didn't realize and wish I had read first. A powerful novel, Wildings can stand alone, but, knowing the plot of Sparkers, threads of which return in Wildings, I strongly suggest reading Sparkers first. And, while I now know one of the big reveals of Sparkers, I can't wait to get my hands on a copy and return to this incredible world that is filled with turmoil and social injustice, much like our own today.

Rivka Kadmiel lives in a world that is segregated. There as the kasari, who possess magical abilities and make up the ruling class, and the halani, the non-magical lower class. However, a mysterious plague that swept the city-state of Ashara four years earlier (and also forms the plot of Sparkers, so I will not reveal any more about it here) has resulted in some small steps toward desegregation. Now, one or two of the smartest halani are allowed to attend kasari schools. However, for Rivka, the daughter of an ambassador to Ashara, the most personally devastating aspect of segregation is the forcible adoption policy. If, at the age of ten, kasari children do not display magical talents, they are removed from their families and placed in halani homes. The same is true for halani children who possess magical talents and both are called wildings. Their former identities are erased and families must proceed as if the child never existed or face punishment. Rivka has spent the last four years mourning the loss of her twin brother, Arik, who failed to demonstrate magical abilities.

When Rivka's father takes a post in Ashara, a city she knows Arik has been sent to live in, she is more determined than ever to find him, despite the knowledge that it could lead to imprisonment for both of them. During a visit to Parliament at her father's invitation, Rivka hears the famous halan activist Marah Levi, speak out against forced adoptions and call for a moratorium on the policy until studies can show if it should be continued or ended for good. When Rivka befriends Caleb Levi, Marah's younger brother and the sole halan allowed to enter Firem Academy, fulfilling the desegregation of schools policy, she becomes involved in something greater than being reunited with Arik and her life is changed forever. Rivka is a complex character and is sometimes hard to like. In her singleminded quest to find her brother, she befriends people for their usefulness and is often unconsciously bigoted and unaware of her privileges. Yet, she is also self-aware and she grows as a character, making some hard, selfless choices.

Glewwe does a fine job world building in Wildings, which is expressed best through the forms of magic practiced in the different city-states and how the classes differ because of it. However, what Glewwe does best with her world building is create a structure that makes the social injustices both believable and horrible. The arguments for segregation from the kasari, especially the desire to remain "pure" are chillingly familiar. I especially appreciated and found relevant a discussion between characters about lifting formerly halan children out of poverty and giving them a good education versus the pain of separating them from their families. With Sparkers (which is a derogatory term for halani) and Wildings, Glewwe creates a believable world where segregation and discrimination go hand in hand with magical abilities, populating it with characters who passionately fight for change.

Source: Review Copy


Animal Planet: Strange, Unusual, Gross, & Cool Animals by Charles Ghinga, 128 pp, RL 3

Last year I enthusiastically reviewed Animal Planet Visual Encyclopedia. Filled with hundreds of great photographs and chunks of information, this visual encyclopedia is highly engaging and informative. Now, Animal Planet and Charles Ghinga bring us something kids will definitely love but parents might want to avoid - Strange, Unusual, Gross & Cool Animals.

Once again, fantastic photos and chunks of information scattered across the pages make for a visually engaging book. And, true to the title, Strange, Unusual, Gross & Cool Animals is divided into four sections, one for each descriptor! The book is divided up further with Gallery spreads, Featured Creatures, Creature Collections and Macroviews of specific animals. "Creature Features" boxes can be found for Featured Creatures, letting readers know the scientific name, class, length, habitat, diet, range and conservation status. Featured Creatures also devote a portion of the page to a different animal that has a similarly strange, unusual, gross or cool trait like the star-nosed mole and the naked mole rat. No doubt, the chapter titled Gross, with a two-page spread on poop, another on animals that vomit and my favorite spread on "Blobby, Slimy, Stretchy Creatures," featuring some really weird slime mold, will be the big draw for readers.

To me, every animal and insect in this book is strange, unusual, cool and occasionally a little gross. I especially like the page on Newly Discovered Creatures where I learned about the Ghost Octopus, which has no pigment and the Peacock Spider, which was discovered in Australia in 2015! It is amazing to me that new creatures are still being discovered. Back matter includes a glossary, further reading suggestions and an index.

Source: Review Copy


Pigsticks and Harold by Alex Milway, 64pp, RL 2

I intended to review Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey by Alex Milway when it was first published in 2014. Even though I ordered copies for my library and it is constantly checked out, the second and third books in the series, Pigsticks and Harold and the Tuptown Thief and Pigsticks and Harold and the Pirate Treasure sat on my desk awaiting my attention. Happily, on this morning after setting our clocks back, I am taking this extra hour in the day to give these marvelous books the attention they are due.

Like all great beginning readers and bridge chapter books, odd couples make for great stories. Pigsticks and Harold are more Jeeves and Wooster than Frog and Toad, swapping emotional dilemmas for slapstick laughs. And, like all good beginning and bridge chapter books, Milway's have magnificent illustrations, many of which have the feel of a graphic novel with notations, explanations and names popping up in little boxes here and there. While Pigsticks and Harold are always at the center of each story, MIlway populates Tuptown with a large cast of curious creatures, including Bobbins the Angry Mouse and Pirate George, a hippo in a jaunty skull and crossbones jersey.

In the first book, Pigsticks and Harold and the Incredible Journey, we meet Pigsticks, the last in a noble line of pigs. Pigsticks sits in his study, "reading about his forepigs" and their great accomplishments and makes a momentous decision: he is going to travel to the ends of the earth.

Although he conducts many, many interviews, Pigsticks cannot find the perfect assistant and decides to be his own assistant. That is, until Harold the hamster arrives with a package that was mistakenly delivered to him. The package holds all the things that Pigsticks will need to carry with him on his journey and, lo and behold, that sturdy little hamster is carrying the whole thing on his shoulders without much effort! However, it does take some convincing on Pigstick's part to convince Harold to join him, especially when Harold says that he has a tea party to go to the next day. Pigstick wins Harold over with the promise of three Battenburg cakes. That "spongy center, the checkered pattern, the lovely almondy outside," are too much for Harold to resist. The Battenburg cake features in each story and, as a huge fan of the BBC reality competition show The Great British Bake Off and all the delightfully different bakes they make, I had to include a picture of this unique cake here. . .

In Pigsticks and Harold and the Tuptown Thiefthe Butterfly Ball is approaching and, as a prize for the winner of the Spirit of Tuptown prize, Harold has sculpted a statue that, short of his famous Battenburg cake, is the best thing he has ever made. But then the statue is stolen!

Pigsticks, although he has never actually solved a crime, insists that he is a first-class detective who will solve the crime! The crime scene is scoured, motives are uncovered, forensic gear is donned and, finally, as a sting is set up, and disguises and danger ensue. In the end, an oversight and misunderstanding are revealed and the Butterfly Ball begins.

In Pigsticks and Harold and the Pirate Treasure, the mean and wicked Sir Percival Pig, distant relative of Pigsticks who, when they were at school together, was a copier of homework and cheater on Sports Day, appears in Tuptown with a shocking announcement. Waving around a suspicious deed, Sir Percival insists that he is the heir of Tuptown, which he intends to bulldoze completely so that he can, "build a gold-plated mansion . . . IN THE SHAPE OF MY HEAD!"

Pigsticks convinces Percival to give him until noon the next day to come up with the money to buy him off. Of course, no one in Tuptown has this kind of money so Pigsticks decides to find buried treasure, using the map belonging to his ancestor, Pigbeard. Of course, a big part of the adventure, as always, is the preparation. Gear is packed, gear is donned, a ship is secured. Passing up the jet propelled speed boat that drives itself offered by Otterly, Pigsticks makes his choice, as seen above. The pair quickly find themselves shipwreck and pursued by an enormous, almighty albatross named Alan. Harold saves the day, tossing a Battenburg cake in the opposite direction, Alan following and contentedly gobbling it up. The treasure is unburied, but WHAT IS IT? Convinced that Pirate Pigbeard would never fail him, Pigsticks hurries back to Tuptown with the treasure and, at the last moment a marvelous hidden surprise is uncovered and a secret on the back of the treasure map is revealed, saving the town from Sir Percival. Unfortunately, Pigsticks decides to use the newfound treasure to build himself a new house . . . gold-plated and in the shape of his head!

Alex Milway's books are a joy to read, his illustrations a treat to pore over. Milway, who happens to be a baker himself, has said that he believes all books should have illustrations and I heartily agree with that.

 More books by Alex Milway:


The Mythical 9

 Source: Review Copies


Because of an Acorn by Lola M. Schaefer and Adam Schaefer, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon

Lola M. Schaefer is the author of the marvelous non-fiction picture book, Lifetime that looks at the natural world in terms of numbers. Facts like, a rattlesnake will add 40 beads to its rattle and a male seahorse will give birth to and carry 1,000 baby seahorses in one lifetime, fill this fantastic book. With Because of an Acorn, Schaefer takes a different look at the natural world, introducing readers to the concept of food chains and ecosystems, beautifully illustrated  Frann Preston-Gannon.

Because of an Acorn begins, "Because of an acorn, a tree." A cutaway on the first page that forms the cup of the acorn reveals a sprouting sapling with a page turn. This cutaway and sapling return in the final pages of the book, this time the leaf of the white oak revealing a forest with a page turn.

Schaefer's gently poetic prose takes readers through the forest, from an acorn to a tree to a bird who knocks seeds from a pod in the tree. These seeds lead to flowers, fruit and . . . a chipmunk. The chipmunk attracts a snake, but the snake attracts a hawk. Landing in a tree, the snake in its claws, the hawk causes an acorn to fall to the ground, taking the text back to the opening lines, ending with, "Because of an acorn, a forest."

With Because of an Acorn, Schaefer gives readers another marvelous visit with nature. Because of an Acorn also introduced me to a marvelous illustrator, Frann Preston-Gannon. I plan to keep my eye out for more books by the British illustrator and author in the future!

A little bit more from Frann Preston-Gannon!

Source: Review Copy