Showing posts from October, 2014

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Mac BarnettJon Klassen are the brilliant team that brought us Extra Yarn, winner of the Caldecott Honor Medal. With Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, Barnett and Klassen have created yet another book that readers (and little listeners) will instantly bond with. Seemingly simple, this book will satisfy adults and kids and is sure to get repeated readings wherever it lands, in part because of the wry humor of the story and illustrations as they play against each other, but also for the simple fact that KIDS LOVE TO DIG HOLES.

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole begins, "On Monday, Sam and Dave dug a hole." Dave tells Sam that they are on a mission and they will not stop digging until they find "something spectacular." The boys dig and dig, always just missing that "something spectacular" that the readers are treated to in illustrations that are cross-sections of the earth. Over and over, no matter which way they decide to dig (and they do some pretty creative digging) they c…

Rex Wrecks It! by Ben Clanton

I almost didn't review Rex Wrecks It!by Ben Clanton. I reviewed Tyrannosaurus Wrecksby Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illustrated by Zachary Ohara in April of this year and the world play of "wrecks" and "rex" feels a little done. But . . . well . . . Clanton draws a mean monster, an adorable uni-rabbit and an endearing little robot. And then there are the building blocks. Clanton does amazing things with building blocks in Rex Wrecks It!.
With the title and jacket art, you know what you are going to get with Rex Wrecks It!, and getting there is a lot of fun. Clanton's illustrations are especially engaging, but his story has some nice wordiness as well. Gizmo, Sprinkles and Wild are the victims of Rex and stand-ins for toddlers. Gizmo builds a rocket out of blocks. Sprinkles makes a magical heart using only red blocks and Wild builds a "Wooden Wonder of Wowdom."

The trio of friends decides to work together to stop Rex. Building something bigger and strong…

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis and illustrated by Gilbert Ford is a revelation! I had no idea that this structure that I always thought of as a slightly sketchy carnival ride had such an interesting inception and remarkable beginning.

When, with only ten months to go before the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, a contest is announced inviting Americans to outdo the star of the 1899 World's Fair, the Eiffel Tower. George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., an "ambitious young mechanical engineer" who has already designed some of the country's biggest bridges, tunnels and roads, is inspired. Where all the other entries seem to be shooting for a bigger, better version of the Eiffel Tower, Ferris has an amazing idea - an idea for a structure that will be "both stronger and lighter" than the Eiffel Tower. Based in Pittsburgh, Ferris wants to build his marvel out of steel.

Ford's illustrations, done mostly in twilight blues and purples, are full of motion…

Ivan: The Remarkable Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine ApplegateG. Brian Karas is an invaluable addition to the shelves and ideal companion to Applegate's 2013 Newbery Gold Medal winner, The One and Only Ivan. Written in free verse, The One and Only Ivan is one of a handful of Newbery winners that can be read and understood by younger readers, which is especially nice. Now, with the picture book companion, even younger readers (and listeners) can learn the story of this amazing creature and, hopefully, be inspired to read The One and Only Ivan one day.

What Applegate, with her carefully chosen words and Karas, with his earth-toned illustrations with occasional bursts of red (Ivan's favorite color, as we learn in a note from his main keeper at the Zoo Atlanta) do in this book is present an act of human brutality, followed by inhumane treatment that went on for decades in a way that young audiences can begin to grasp. While I was in tears reading The One and On…

Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire, 479 pp, RL 5

Many of you probably know Gregory Maguire as the author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. I discovered it a year or so after it was published in 1995 in the bargain section of the bookstore where I worked and remember how thrilling it was to read back then. Long a fan of fairy tales, I was amazed to learn that a meal could be made of a behind the scenes, adult visit to these stories and worlds. Since then, many authors have tried their hands at this new genre and Maguire has made a career of it. He set Snow White in Renaissance Italy with the Borgias as characters in Mirror, Mirror, took a sideways look at Cinderella in Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and added a new character to Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl" in Matchless. Maguire started his career writing children's books and, post the phenomenal success of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and the three other books in this series, he has w…

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer, 272 pp, RL: YA

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer is just flat out brilliant, both for the subject matter and how the author chooses to tell the story.  And in this, Belzhar is ideally pitched to its audience, in tone and content. Even the cover image is perfect! Wolitzer is an award winning writer of books for adults, most recently The Interestings, as well as The Ten Year Nap, which I read and enjoyed immensely. Wolitzer is also the author of a middle grade novel, The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman (review to come). I was immediately intrigued as I read Amber Dermont's review of Belzhar in the New York Times, having been a devotee of Sylvia Plath myself during my teenage years and into college. But I'm getting ahead of myself. 
We first meet narrator Jam (short for Jamaica, she was named after the place where she was conceived) Gallahue as she is being driven to the Wooden Barn, a private school for "emotionally fragile, highly intelligent" teens that eschews medication over education and stri…

Construction by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock

Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock are the creators of fantastic books about all the things that gigantic, hardworking vehicles specialize in. The illustrations provide all the details little listeners love and the texts are packed with onomatopoetic words that make these books fun to read and especially entertaining. Their newest book, CONSTRUCTION, begins, Dig the ground. Dig the ground. Bore down in the mud. Shove the piles in one by one. Slip! Slap! THUD!" In CONSTRUCTIONwe witness a building being built from the ground up. The reader gets glimpses here and there, but it isn't until the penultimate page of the book that we learn what the workers have been building - a library! The final page of CONSTRUCTION, as in the final pages of DEMOLITION and ROADWORK, shares Machine Facts for readers who need all the details!
I could only find the one interior illustration fromCONSTRUCTION, so here are some from DEMOLITION (and a link to my review) andROADWORK, both of which are availab…

I'm Brave! by Kate & Jim McMullan

I'm Brave is Kate & Jim McMullan's fifth book about things that go. When I was a book seller, these were my "go to" books for toddlers into all things that go. The McMullan's happen to be among the rare creators of picture books featuring garbage trucks. Considering the fervor with which many toddlers adore garbage trucks, I am always surprised by how few picture books about them are on the shelves. I guess it's not easy to come up with a good story about these vehicles, though. This is what makes the McMullan's books so brilliant! Told in the first person, these things that go tell little listeners all about themselves. Illustrations, and text, are packed with the kind of details that toddlers soak up like sponges.

Using all the appropriate lingo, the firetruck narrates a 911 call from start to finish. As with all the books in this series, the humans are absent, which works for me. It leaves streamlines the story and illustrations and allows the focus…

Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance by Birgitta Sif

In her debut picture book, OliverBirgitta Sifexplored the experience of an introvert with sensitivity and creativity that resulted in a memorable and worthwhile book. With Frances Dean Who Loved to DanceSif visits similar, well worn terrain with the same fresh perspective that makes for another memorable picture book.

Frances Dean loves to dance, but only when she is all alone. When people are around she can "feel their eyes on her" and she forgets how to dance. One day, she discovers a little girl sitting on a park bench and singing the most beautiful song to herself. That night, she can't stop thinking about that little girl and "how she shared her beautiful song." The next morning, Frances Dean "felt the wind and heard the singing of the birds" and something shifted inside her. 

Frances Dean starts her dance alone, but soon she is dancing for the birds, then the neighbor's dog and even an old lady in the park! Happily, she dances past the littl…