A Junior Library Guild Selection
★Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal & Booklist
Ever gotten lost on a subway? In New York? I have and I’m from New York! But once you’ve navigated your way around and feel you’ve got the hang of the subway, it’s like you’re on top of the world, not 35 feet underground (like at the 42nd St. Station). You might never take the bus again.
I’ll start this review by pointing out that a purchase of Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure, is like getting multiple books in one! First there’s the graphic novel adventure featuring Pablo, a boy new to both his school and to the city. Alicia, a classmate, volunteers to partner with him on a field trip to the Empire State Building using public transportation. At the uptown Manhattan subway station (96th St.), the pair get separated from their class and have to find their way alone. Eventually even Alicia and Pablo get separated which may seem frightening, but it’s never presented that way. In fact, it’s empowering for kids to see their peers commuting this way successfully. Demonstrating common sense, the two make tracks individually to the Empire State Building, one on foot, the other using a cross town train. Ultimately, across a crowded lobby, Pablo and Alicia are reunited in time to join the tour, running towards each other like in a scene from a film. They’re clearly overjoyed, but Mr. Bartles, their teacher, is not as impressed.
Interior image from Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman with illustrations by Sergio Garcia Sanchez, Toon Books ©2015.
In addition to the adventure, there’s the budding friendship story. As the bungled journey evolves, Pablo eventually comes to appreciate Alicia’s gesture of kindness to buddy up on the field trip which he so vehemently rejected at the beginning of the book.
“I was only trying help.” – Alicia
“Help?” – Pablo
“What makes you think I need help! I don’t need anything.” – Pablo
“I thought maybe you wanted a friend…” – Alicia
It’s through this friendship that Pablo is able to look at New York with new eyes and begin to feel at home.
Interior image from Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman with illustrations by Sergio Garcia Sanchez, Toon Books ©2015.
Another draw is the NYC subway system, like an extra character, with its express and local lines, the colorful maps, and the various stops or stations in the city. I was delighted to see my old subway stop in Queens even made it into the book! Fans of transportation trivia will enjoy the enlightening repartee between Mr. Bartle and his students as he educates them on their subway knowledge. I lived in New York for 30 years and had no idea why the Y and U letters were never used. After reading the fact-filled end pages I learned it’s because the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) worried the public would be confused thinking they sounded too much like “why” and “you.”
Last but not least is the inclusion of archival photographs from old New York taking readers back in time to the 1800s and into the 20th century for a glimpse of what early subway stations and construction on them looked like. There are also more details about the Empire State Building and a Further Reading & Resources for those who, like me, cannot resist finding out more about the Big Apple’s history. Author Spiegelman has packed a plethora of interesting information into this engaging and extremely original book. I had no idea that the Empire State Building, where my uncle once worked, has its own zip code (10118) and had its grand opening on May 1, 1931, 84 years ago today! Lost in NYC closes with Tips for Parents, Teachers, and Librarians to make young readers’ experience of diving into a TOON graphic novel more pleasurable.
I have to give a shout out to the amazingly detailed illustrations by Garcia Sanchez. My favorite is the angled perspective of the Empire State Building as the school children zoom up to the observation deck in one of seventy-three elevators. Early on I noticed a man taking photos in almost every scene, but I didn’t notice the policeman watching him. Sanchez, while on a reconnaissance mission for the book, must have aroused suspicion. In a humorous touch, the artist has cleverly inserted himself and the cop who followed him into the story so be on the lookout! Between the diverse cast of characters, the compelling storyline and the excellent artwork, I have to say I am very happy to have found Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure.
Click here to download a guide for teachers.
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Found by Salina Yoon is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.
Junior Library Guild selection for Spring 2014
✩Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
Salina Yoon has created a wonderful story with Found (Walker Books for Young Readers /Bloomsbury 2014; $14.99, Ages 2-6. Bear finds a toy bunny in the forest and wants to find its owner, so he posts “found” flyers in the forest. Time passes and no one claims the bunny, and Bear becomes attached to it. It is, after all, “the most special thing he had ever seen.” But eventually Moose, the owner, spots Floppy, and Bear must prepare to part with his new, treasured toy. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that it has just the right touch.
The magic of this picture book is its simplicity. The storyline is straightforward and the words are chosen perfectly for the young audience. My kindergartener greatly enjoys Found, and is transported into Bear’s world. When Moose arrives to claim Floppy, my little one’s thumb goes right in her mouth (nervous trait), and when Bear sheds a tear at the thought of parting with Floppy, my little one’s eyes well up, too. Children understand simple, pure emotion and Found presents that to them through the themes of friendship, sacrifice, and love.
The artwork is colorful and appealing. The characters are just adorable. Parents will appreciate the clever play on words and the cultural and historical references on the “lost” flyers. My favorites are “Lost Seasons 1-6,” Peter Pan’s “Lost shadow,” and “Lost my marbles! HELP!”
Your child will get lost in the world of Found, and that’s a good thing.
To read a review of Yoon’s Penguin in Love, click here and watch this space for a review of Penguin and Pumpkin.
Today, reviewer MaryAnne Locher weighs in on Wedding Wings by Kiki Thorpe.
Disney Never Girls #5: Wedding Wings by Kiki Thorpe with illustrations by Jana Christy, Random House Books for Young Readers, 2014.
Believing in magic and fairies from the bottom of your heart can make extraordinary things happen. So, get out your fairy wings and fairy wands and get ready for an enchanting adventure!
The Never Girls are Gabby, Mia, Kate, and Lainey – four ordinary girls who have found their way into the magical realm of Never Land. In Disney Never Girls #5: Wedding Wings by Kiki Thorpe with illustrations by Jana Christy (Random House Books for Young Readers; paperback, 5.99; Ages 6-9) the fifth book in Disney’s Tinker Bell and Fairies series, Gabby has been asked to be the flower girl in her babysitter Julia’s wedding.
Gabby’s bubbling over with excitement so she puts on her dress-up fairy wings, breaks the pact she has with the other girls to never go alone into Never Land, and visits her fairy friends Tink, Prilla, Rosetta, Dulcie, and Bess to tell them her big news. The fairies are curious about what a flower girl does and what a wedding looks like. Gabby demonstrates how she’ll be throwing flower petals, but the fairies are less than impressed. Tink gives Gabby a thimble-full of fairy dust to take to the wedding so the petals will flutter and float to the ground. Gabby wants the fairies to come to the wedding so they can see her walk down the aisle, but the fairies haven’t been formally invited, so they decline. Bess can’t think of anything else she would rather do than go to the wedding. She sneaks out of Never Land and into Gabby’s room on the day of the big event. Gabby is delighted to see her, but knows she must hide her in her flower basket so no one else sees her.
What havoc can one little girl and one even tinier fairy create? Well…A LOT! Will they ruin Julia’s wedding day? Or will it be even more magical?
Although this chapter book is intended for early readers, even littler ones would enjoy the magic of having this read to them, too!
NOTE: Never Girls #6: The Woods Beyond (Disney: The Never Girls) and Never Girls #7: A Pinch of Magic (Disney: The Never Girls) will be released this April and July respectively.
Looking for Love in All The Ice Places
Penguin in Love, written and illustrated by Salina Yoon, Walker Books for Young Readers, 2013.
Penguin in Love, written and illustrated by Salina Yoon (Walker Books for Young Readers, $14.99; eBook $6.99, Ages 3-6), is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
The adventures of penguins and puffins will warm your heart in this cozy, kooky story about a perfect pair of thoughtful friends. Fans of Yoon’s Penguin series (Penguin and Pinecone, Penguin on Vacation) will cheer with delight to read her newest yarn, spinning Penguin’s tale across oceans, ice floes and mountain tops.
When Penguin isn’t knitting, he is usually discovering curious objects and exploring faraway lands. In this adventure, he finds a lost mitten on the ice, but cannot find its owner. He stitches up a new mate, but offers it to a chilled puffin. Then Penguin and his friend Bootsy begin giving away warm knitwear to various cold creatures until they run out of yarn. The puffins hatch a clever plan, leaving Penguin and Bootsy to follow a wooly trail of adventure.
Yoon’s simple text is perfect for the youngest listeners to follow. She blends short dialogue and humorous asides into the bright images. Parents could read these aloud as desired, thus breaking up the story narrative with a lighthearted tone.
Interior image from Penguin in Love, written and illustrated by Salina Yoon,
Walker Books for Young Readers, 2013.
The cuddly penguins and huggable arctic critters are thickly outlined in black with bold colored accents. The genius of Yoon’s illustration is the tiny clues and themes woven seamlessly throughout. The penguins’ yarn swirls across the page in sweet heart-shaped loops: Bootsy in purple and green, Penguin in orange and yellow. They float out to sea, singing a silly shanty, atop a heart-shaped ice floe. Finally, a cover image reappears on the last page in a simple, satisfying argyle pattern that symbolically ties up every loose end.
If you have yet to discover the cozy charms of these friendship tales, I recommend that you scoop up the entire trio of Penguin and Pinecone, Penguin on Vacation (read Ronna’s review in the April 2013 issue of L.A. Parent here) and definitely this newest heart-warming delight, Penguin in Love.
– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where Obtained: I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own. Disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Sophie’s Squash (Random/Schwartz & Wade Books, ages 3-7) by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf, and reviewed by MaryAnne Locher, is a perfect fall book.
Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf, Schwartz & Wade, 2013.
As parents, we all hope our children will love vegetables, right? Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated in watercolor, Chinese ink, and ink by Anne Wilsdorf, gives a whole new meaning to loving your vegetables. I’m not saying that this book will help you get your children to eat their vegetables, but it might save you some money on toys. After all, who needs expensive toys, when a trip to the farmer’s market will get you a squash?
This book reminded me of how truly creative children are when we allow them to be. Sophie and her parents bring a squash home from the farmer’s market. Her parents intend to cook it for dinner, but Sophie has already drawn a face on it, wrapped it in a baby blanket, and named it Bernice. Like any good mother would do, Sophie’s mom orders pizza.
Bernice and Sophie are inseparable, doing summersaults in the garden, taking trips to the library, and visiting friends at the farmer’s market together. Though “love springs eternal,” nothing lives forever. Especially not a squash that has been bounced and tumbled and hugged. So, who do you go to for advice when your squash looks ill? Why, the farmer who sold it to you, of course. Sophie follows his expert advice, and with a little patience, gets a nice surprise from Bernice!
This is a great book of love, letting go, and renewal. I recommend it for youngsters with an appetite for imagination, and for parents to start a conversation about friendships in all its glorious forms.
Click here for a fun fall activity.
HOLY BAGUMBA! It’s An Interview with Kate DiCamillo (As of 1/27/14 the 2014 Newbery Medal)
About FLORA & ULYSSES: THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES
Image credit: Photo courtesy of Candlewick Press
Good Reads With Ronna recently had the good fortune to meet multiple award-winning (including a Newbery medal) author Kate DiCamillo and illustrator K. G. Campbell at Vroman’s in Pasadena. It was standing room only for DiCamillo on her extensive publicity tour for Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 8-12), now a New York Times Bestseller. Today’s interview features DiCamillo and next Friday’s interview will feature Campbell. Please click here for Hilary Taber’s review of Flora & Ulysses posted here last month.
GRWR: You mentioned at Vroman’s that finding an ill squirrel by your front doorstep and your late mom’s love of her Electrolux vacuum cleaner were a serendipitous comedic collision – is happenstance the genesis for many of your stories or do you usually begin with a plot outline or a character’s journey in mind?
KATE DICAMILLO: Oh, I never begin with a plot outline. I never know what’s going to happen. The origins of a story aren’t always as unusual as the collision of a vacuum cleaner and an unwell squirrel, but a story for me almost always begins with an image or two. Or a voice. Sometimes I hear a voice. And then I just follow the voice or the image.
GRWR: In Flora & Ulysses you give a powerful voice to underdogs, outsiders, lonely and grieving characters by giving them hope, love, joy and friendship. Do you feel your books set out to honor these types of people?
KATE DICAMILLO: I set out to tell a story. I set out to honor the world. All of it. All of us. That said, I guess I am preoccupied about the miracles that can happen when we see each other.
GRWR: William Spiver’s character has so many unique traits. A lot of kids and adults who read Flora & Ulysses may know someone similar to him from school or in their family. Is he simply a socially awkward genius or does he have Asperger’s?
KATE DICAMILLO: I never thought about William Spiver having Asperger’s. It is surely possible. But to me, he is just William Spiver—irritating, wonderful, complex, tender-hearted, and yes, very, very smart.
GRWR: You are to children’s book writing what Monet and Renoir are to Impressionism. Your words are like brush strokes of pigment. Do they flow effortlessly out onto the page or is each sentence finely and laboriously crafted?
KD: What a lovely thing to say. You are kind. And would that the words flowed effortlessly. Alas, they don’t. I work and work and work. I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.
GRWR: Can the two pages you write daily take two or ten hours or do you limit the amount of time you devote to a manuscript?
KD: The two pages usually take me an hour. Sometimes a little more. Sometimes less. And I limit the time in the first stages of telling, but when I am working on rewrites for my editor, I will spend all day working—short sessions of two pages at a time.
GRWR: Have you ever liked a character you’ve created so much that it’s hard to say good-bye at the end of the book or series?
Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses from Candlewick Press with illustrations by K. G. Campbell.
KD: I still miss Dr. Meescham.
And I miss Ulysses. And Flora.
And William Spiver.
It’s hard to say goodbye.
GRWR: Light and dark play an important role in Flora & Ulysses. There’s mention of illuminated adventures, the stars, William Spiver’s temporary blindness, the shepherdess lamp called Mary Ann, the neon Giant Do-nut sign, Incandesto and his arch-nemesis, the Darkness of 10,000 Hands. Were these intentionally woven into the book?
KD: They weren’t! I read through that list and I am kind of amazed because I didn’t know that I was doing that. It’s this wonderful thing where the story is smarter than I am.
GRWR: Can you please tell us what books you’re working on right now?
KD: I’m working on some stories about the secondary characters in the Mercy Watson stories. So: Leroy Ninker, Francine Poulet and Baby Lincoln are all getting their own stories, their own books.
I’m also working on another novel.
GRWR: It was wonderful to meet illustrator K.G. Campbell at your Pasadena signing. Although you did see illustrations in advance of publication, and made some alterations to the text to include both K. G. and the art director’s idea of comic strip-style artwork in the book, you never met or collaborated. Is it a scary feeling as an author to know that your imagination and vision are in someone else’s hands?
KD: Yes, but I have learned to trust Candlewick so implicitly in this respect. Art director Chris Paul’s vision of what the book should be is always something wonderful and astounding.
GRWR: Was the novel originally titled just Flora & Ulysses and, after the extra artwork, did The Illuminated Adventures get added or was it always intended to be The Illuminated Adventures?
KD: Originally, the book was entitled simply Ulysses, or the Squirrel.
I thought that this was very funny. Other people were not quite as amused. So, after many rewrites, the illuminated aspect came to the fore.
GRWR: I adore the bohemian look of Phyllis. Were you particularly fond of any character’s rendition more than others?
KD: I LOVE William Spiver.
Keith brings him to life so accurately and lovingly.
GRWR: On your website you advise aspiring authors to “Listen. Read. Write.” Do you have time to read as much as you used to and whose books are you reading now?
KD: I make time to read. It is so important to me. I can’t survive without a book. Right now I am reading Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue.
GRWR: Could the book’s premise have worked with a dog or cat as a superhero instead of Ulysses, the squirrel?
KD: Well, I love the notion of vacuuming a cat. I really do. But as impossible as it seems to vacuum up a squirrel, it seems even more impossible to vacuum up a cat. Or a dog.
But who knows? Anything is possible, right?