Pirate’s Lullaby: Mutiny at Bedtime by Marcie Wessels

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PIRATE’S LULLABY: MUTINY AT BEDTIME
Written by Marcie Wessels
Illustrated by Tim Bowers
(Doubleday Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

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I first heard about Pirate’s Lullaby when Marcie Wessels spoke at a writer’s conference almost a year ago and it’s been worth the wait to get the book knowing all the hard work that went into. So did I enjoy reading Wessels debut picture book, Pirate’s Lullaby: Mutiny at Bedtime? Arrrgh! Can ye hear me, mateys? It’s a keeper alright. Kids love a good pirate tale and with Wessels’ perfectly metered rhyme and illustrator Tim Bowers’ adorable artwork, they’ll be in for a treat.

The story isn’t complicated, but it’s charming and one that so many parents and children will relate to, which is why the subtitle, Mutiny at Bedtime is so apt. Papa Pirate wants his young son, not-so-sleepy Ned, to get to bed, but alas the little scalawag balks at the suggestion.

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Interior Artwork from Pirate’s Lullaby by Marcie Wessels with illustrations by Tim Bowers, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

Bowers portrays Papa Pirate as a kind, smiling man. Wessels gently demonstrates that, despite Ned’s dad being nice, he’s also a limit-setting father, who dearly loves his son and gets a kick out of his stalling antics. Still the laddie must get some shut-eye! Thus the story pits the persistent papa against the procrastinating pirate-in-training in a playful back and forth that never misses a beat.

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Interior Artwork from Pirate’s Lullaby by Marcie Wessels with illustrations by Tim Bowers, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

First Ned has some chores to finish up. Then he can’t locate Captain Teddy, his eye-patched cuddly companion. Could he have fallen overboard?

There’s the requisite request for water followed by a plea for Papa to spin a yarn or two and, last but not least is Ned’s desire for Papa Pirate to sing “a shanty of the oceans vast and deep.” The clever twist at the story’s end will surprise and delight readers young and old.

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Interior Artwork from Pirate’s Lullaby by Marcie Wessels with illustrations by Tim Bowers, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, ©2015.

Of course, Wessels has included all the appropriate pirate verbiage kids love such as:

Ned shimmied up the mainmast, grinning ear to ear.
“Walk the plank to catch me,” cried the little mutineer.
“Ho, ho,” laughed Papa Pirate, “I’m afraid ye’ve met yer match!
Gotcha, little rascal. Down ye go into the hatch!”

                         OR

“Ye’ve got yer mate, ye’ve had a drink,
Ye’ll have yer bedtime tale.
Ye must be getting sleepy.
Ain’t the wind out of yer sail?”

And though Talk Like a Pirate Day is soon approaching, why wait until September 19th to practice your Aye, Ayes, your Batten Down the Hatches and your Yo, Ho Hos? Pirate’s Lullaby just begs to be read aloud with the best pirate voice ye can muster!

It’s hard to resist a well-crafted picture book with artwork that’s warm and inviting coupled with rhyme that’s top notch, so what are ye waitin’ fer, mateys? Add this little gem to your own little pirate’s bedtime book treasure chest so yer both can go catch yer forty winks with satisfied grins on yer faces!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

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Chasing Secrets
Written by Gennifer Choldenko 
(Wendy Lamb Books; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

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⭐︎Starred Review – Booklist

Lizzie Kennedy, 13, lives in a house on her aunt and uncle’s fashionable Nob Hill estate with her widowed father and her brother, Billy, 16, once her best friend, but now surly and secretive. Their beloved servants, Jing and Maggy, also reside with them. A brief prologue gives the readers some insight into Lizzie’s world at the dawn of the 20th century and the ominous developments to come:

 

“In the Palace Hotel, electric lights blaze as ladies in shimmering gowns
and gentlemen in black waistcoats waltz in a ballroom gilded with gold.

In the bay, a steamer from Honolulu is fumigated, scrubbed, and
smoked … and given entry to the port of San Francisco.

At the dock … rats slip off the ship. They scurry onto the wharf
and climb the sewers to Chinatown …”

Thanks to her aunt and uncle’s wealth, Lizzie is able to live a fairly privileged life. However, her strict and proper Aunt Hortense insists that she attend finishing school. Lizzie is not interested in becoming a society lady. She prefers science to etiquette, and, much to Aunt Hortense’s chagrin, enjoys assisting her doctor father with his house calls.

Stories begin to surface about the large numbers of dead rats found in Chinatown, and soon that community is quarantined. Despite her father’s and her uncle’s insistence that there is no plague and the quarantine is unjustified, Lizzie has her doubts. One day she discovers that Jing, the family’s cook, has smuggled his son Noah out of Chinatown and has secretly hidden him in the servants’ quarters. However Jing is now missing. Did he get caught up in the quarantine … or something worse? Stunned by the discovery that Jing has a secret life, Lizzie promises the frightened boy, Noah, that she’ll help keep his secret and try to find out what has happened to his father.

As dead rats and plague rumors mount, Lizzie boldly attempts to determine the veracity of the plague rumors and secretly undertakes some dangerous trips to Chinatown to find Jing. Her friendship with Noah and her trips to Chinatown, help her realize the gender, racial, and class inequalities which exist in her society. When Lizzie realizes she can’t find Jing on her own and illness strikes close to home, help comes from some surprising quarters.

Like her earlier Newbery award-winning work, Al Capone Does My Shirts, Choldenko’s middle grade novel, Chasing Secrets, is a wonderful coming-of-age-story that blends historical fiction, mystery, and humor, while providing a fascinating glimpse into San Francisco’s colorful past. Complex topics (some sadly similar to today’s concerns) of inequality, medical science, and immunology are made accessible to young readers through Lizzie’s experiences.

The author, a long time resident of the San Francisco Bay area, concludes with a note about the historical background, a chronology of the plague, and notes which provide information for further reading. Visit Choldenko’s website for more information about her work and find a fascinating Writing Timeline and Educator’s Guide for Chasing Secrets too.

Highly recommended for ages 8-12.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

My Cousin Momo by Zachariah OHora

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MY COUSIN MOMO
by Zachariah OHora
(Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

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Momo, sporting tricolored head and wrist sweatbands along with a 35mm camera strapped around his neck, is exotic from the moment he arrives at his squirrel cousins’ home. From his hardsided yellow suitcase plastered with travel stickers (ACORN AIRWAYS, BUNNYLAND), we know that Momo likes to travel. After all, he is a flying squirrel.

Momo’s cousins and their forest friends can hardly wait for the visitor to soar into the air, but Momo seems shy. Alternative activities – such as playing superheroes or Acorn Pong – are not successful either. Poor Momo is deemed an awkward outsider. The narrator’s younger sister doesn’t hold back in expressing her disappointment, plonking her face with the pong paddle and kicking mushrooms in frustration.

Momo, tearful and dejected, starts to fill his suitcase. Even his camera gets packed away. Pangs of remorse grip his cousins. Thankfully, they redouble their efforts to make Momo feel at home, and discover the upside to trying things in new and different ways.

OHora’s text is direct, dry and funny. He nails the tone of an elementary school age narrator with precision. The illustrations are quirky and hip with inventive twists that capture the characters’ emotional highs and lows in bold, minimalist lines. Chunky black outlines and a dense but muted color palette give MOMO a rich vibrancy that bounces off the page. But there is still enough detail to delight the eye, from fluffy swirled squirrel tails to crisp cupcake liner pleats, OHora excels in depicting enticing textures. Peek under the dust jacket for a hidden surprise!

The last page leaves readers anticipating further funny, squirrely adventures. What could be better than mo’ Momo?

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of MY COUSIN MOMO from my library and received no other compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

 


Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

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 RED QUEEN
written by Victoria Aveyard
(HarperTeen; $17.99, Ages 14 and up)

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In yet another riveting tale that falls somewhere in-between the Dystopian and Fantasy genres, we see The Hunger Games, The Selection, and Divergent collectively mirrored in Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen, particularly in the unbalanced caste system, a displaced protagonist, an alluring romance, widespread uprising, and unbridled betrayal.

Mare Barrow is a young girl working to survive in a society with two castes, the silver-blooded elite and the red bloods who serve them. The Silvers are the upper echelons of society with superhuman powers, but perhaps the most important ability they have is to keep the Reds in their place. Mare gets mistakenly drawn into the walls of palace life where she discovers that she, too, has powers of her own. What she really wants, however, is the power to take down the Royals who keep her family and the rest of the Reds nearly starving and struggling to survive. While one of the most difficult things to endure is leaving her family and worrying about their safety, Mare finds that what’s even harder is discovering who she is and whom she can trust.

While some parts were a bit predictable, others had surprising little twists that kept me quickly turning pages to see what would happen next. I found myself rooting for Mare Barrow and the Reds, and I’m looking forward to Aveyard’s next installment of this colorful saga.

– Reviewed by Krista Jefferies


Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert

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MUMMY CAT
Written by Marcus Ewert & illustrated by Lisa Brown
(Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Reviewer Cathy Ballou Mealey just can’t keep mummy about this picture book!

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A loyal and loving feline searches for his devoted owner, a young Egyptian queen in Marcus Ewert and Lisa Brown’s clever picture book MUMMY CAT. The catch? He’s just woken from a hundred year’s sleep after having been mummified and entombed in a beautifully decorated pyramid.

For young readers, the tale works on the simplest level as the pet seeks to reunite with his owner. The determined, inquisitive cat is appealing and adorable despite his elaborate linen wrappings. The tomb is bright and colorful, filled with interesting artifacts, a swirling moth, and cute little mice. Even a few spiders and cobwebs are so delightfully depicted that timid listeners will have nothing to fear.

As he wanders though the pyramid, the cat gazes fondly at painted murals showing his past life with the queen, Hapshupset. Indeed, the murals tell a more complex story within the story about a jealous, scheming sibling that complicated the young queen’s life. This aspect of the book will hold enormous appeal for older readers. Looking beyond the captivating mural images, we slowly decode the devious actions of Hapshupset’s sister and her evil lion-monkey.

An author’s note explains mummies, cats, queens and hieroglyphics for readers who want to know more, and seventeen hieroglyphs hidden within the illustrations are spelled out in more detail.

Ewert’s rhyming text is short yet descriptive, moving the story forward at a steady pace. Deep within this maze of stone, a creature wakes up, all alone . . .Spanning the full scope of this once-a-century event, Ewert leads us from the sun setting over hot desert sands into the tomb, through the night, and closing as the sun is beginning to rise. The spare but rich narrative leaves plenty of opportunity for Brown’s engaging, creative illustrations to flourish and add poignant, tender touches.

Just as Egyptian priests tucked magical amulets and symbolic treasures into a mummy’s linens, Ewert and Brown have slipped countless sweet delights into the pages of MUMMY CAT. Turn the pages slowly and savor them one by one. I’m certain you will also be en-wrap-tured by its many charms!

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of MUMMY CAT from my library and received no other compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own.

 


Dinoblock by Christopher Franceschelli

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DINOBLOCK
by Christopher Franceschelli with artwork by Peskimo
(Abrams Appleseed; $16.95, Ages 1 and up)

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If you have a budding young paleontologist (and even if you don’t), this book’s inventive and colorful graphic design will delight and engage both children and adults.

Two children stop by the museum to “meet the dinosaurs” as the banner outside proclaims. Wait-don’t be so quick to turn the page: the first two pages fold out to form a four-page spread of the diorama-style exhibit.

But the children want to know:

WHO ARE THE DINOSAURS?

and

WHERE ARE THE DINOSAURS?

 

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Interior artwork from Dinoblock by Christopher Franceschelli with illustrations by Peskimo, Abrams Appleseed ©2015.

And the dinosaurs, peeking out from the jungle brush, call out:

HERE WE ARE

Pairs of two-page spreads combine to create clues and answers, comparing the characteristics of contemporary objects with dinosaur features. The design of the “clue” spread interacts with the “answer” spread and links the present to past.

A tall building is compared to the Sauroposeidon, a dinosaur that reached heights of 18 meters (almost 60 feet).

I AM TALL LIKE A SIX-STORY BUILDING …

The straight-edged tab on the shared page of the clue and the answer emphasizes both the building’s height and the long neck of the Sauroposeidon and gives children a peek into the stylized prehistoric environment.

 

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Interior artwork from Dinoblock by Christopher Franceschelli with illustrations by Peskimo, Abrams Appleseed ©2015.

In one two-page spread, the two friends float in a small boat over a large whale. The text of the clue reads:

I AM LONG LIKE A WHALE …

The next spread reveals the answer:

I AM A DIPLODOCUS.

In these two spreads, the shared tab follows the curving back and tail of both the whale and the diplodocus.

Not sure how to pronounce those complicated sounding dino names? Not to worry-the author provides a phonetic *translation” beneath the scientific name. Boy, I could have used this years ago when my sons and I struggled to pronounce names like MICROPACHYCEPHALOSAURUS (MY-cro-PACK-ee=SEFF-ah-low-SORE-us).

The final two pages fold out to reveal a four-page spread of the skeletons of each of the dinosaurs depicted in the book.

Simple words typed in capitol letters and some repetition in the sentences make the text accessible to toddlers and preschoolers. The diversity of the children and the dinosaurs they discover hint at the diversity of life and demonstrates that many children share the same wonder and amazement over dinosaurs.

Bold and colorful illustrations over two-page spreads, cheerful faces (Peskimo’s T-Rex is nothing like the raging monster in Jurassic Park), and the larger board book format guarantee interactivity. A block (buster) of a book (forgive the pun). Be prepared to read and play with this book more than once!

Christopher Franceschelli is the publisher and president of Handprint Books and the creator of other concept books like Alphablock and Countablock. See GRWR’s reviewer Rita Zobayan’s earlier review of Countablock, and check out School Library Journal’s interview with the author. Peskimo, a British husband and wife team, did the artwork on both books. Visit their website to see more of their nostalgic, retro artwork.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro


The Perfect Percival Priggs by Julie-Anne Graham

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The Perfect Percival Priggs
Written and illustrated by Julie-Anne Graham
(Running Press; $16.95, Ages 3 and up)

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            Everyone in the family will love this silly and heartfelt story about doing too much, and trying to be perfect!

 

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Interior art from The Perfect Percival Priggs by Julie-Anne Graham, Running Press ©2015.

Percival’s parents are perfect and they have all the awards to prove it. Percival wants to be perfect, too. He enters every competition, for everything, including the things he doesn’t even like. He’s sure that if he doesn’t do this, his parents won’t love him anymore.

But, being perfect is quite exhausting! So, Percival comes up with a perfect plan to make things easier. Only, it doesn’t. It just makes a big mess!

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Interior art from The Perfect Percival Priggs by Julie-Anne Graham, Running Press ©2015.

That’s when Percy finds out that being perfect is not what makes his parents love him. They show him all of their mistakes hidden away in the attic.

It’s then that Percy learns that doing what you love, and working hard at it, is what really matters.

With fun and wonderfully detailed illustrations, and just the right amount of text to tell the story, this book is, well … Perfect!

– Guest Reviewer Jo Ann Banks

 

Jo Ann Banks is a writer of children’s stories, poems, and silly songs. Jo Ann has such an incredible love of children’s stories that some people say she never grew up. When she hears that, she just covers her ears and sings, “I’m not listening, I’m not listening …”

To learn more silly facts about her, go to joannbanks.com