Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias

Posted on

SNOW SISTERS!
Written by Kerri Kokias
Illustrated by Teagan White
(Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Cover image from SNOW SISTERS! Written by Kerri Kokias with art by Teagan White

 

When swirling snowflakes fill the morning sky, two creative, independent Snow Sisters! react in unique and complementary ways throughout author Kerri Kokias’s debut picture book.

The title page, a peek into their cozy shared bedroom, hints at the distinctive personalities of each sister. One girl lies sprawled across her bed with toys and clothes strewn about, while the other sleeps tucked in tight with toys in a row and an alarm clock nearby. After they wake, the first sister, on left hand pages, dresses in snow gear and rushes outside. She throws, builds, and tracks alongside a fluffy squirrel. Her sister, on right hand pages, opts for indoor comforts. She keeps busy with books, baking and snowflake making.

 

Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias Interior artwork by Teagan White

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White, Knopf BYR ©2017.

 

Kokias’s clever parallel text draws us into their individual worlds right up until an exciting mid-book switcheroo. When the outdoors becomes too cold and wet for one sister, the second is drawn outside after spotting a chubby bunny from the window. “Bye!” the sisters greet one another as they trade indoor and outdoor delights. Each embarks on re-visiting fresh interpretations of the words we heard in the beginning: baking, making, throwing, building, etc. The short, simple, active verbs make this book a reading experience that is very accessible for young ears and eyes.

 

Interior artwork from Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias illustrated by Teagan White

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White, Knopf BYR ©2017.

 

White’s homey illustrations utilize a purple-pink palette for one sister, and orange-peach tones for the other, complementing their respective brunette and auburn hair colors. Interior scenes are accented with mellow teal greens, contrasting with the beautiful outdoor images glowing with purple and pale grey snow. Young readers will enjoy discovering amusing repeated details from scene to scene, whether it be favorite stuffed toys or paper snowflakes.

 

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias illustrated by Teagan White

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias with illustrations by Teagan White, Knopf BYR ©2017.

 

The final spread repeats the book title, Snow Sisters!, and shows us how the two have found a time and place to come together and share their snowy fun. Readers young and old, with or without siblings, will appreciate the abundant and inclusive approaches for having fun and celebrating snow in this delightful, cheery debut.

Click here for author tour dates.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained: I reviewed a copy from my local library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Love, Mama written and illustrated by Jeanette Bradley

Posted on

LOVE, MAMA
by Jeanette Bradley
(Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan; $16.99, Ages 2-6)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Love Mama Cover Image

 

 

A mother’s temporary absence feels unfamiliar, deep and distant for young Kipling, a fuzzy penguin starring in author-illustrator Jeanette Bradley’s debut picture book Love, Mama.

 

Love Mama Interior spread 1

Interior spread from Love, Mama by Jeanette Bradley, Roaring Brook Press ©2017

 

As Kipling waves goodbye to his Mama, floating toward a ship with her rolling luggage and travel satchel, she promises to come home soon. But what does “soon” mean for Kipling if Mama is not back by dinner, or bedtime, or even the next morning? Although another parent penguin has remained at home, the child-like penguin’s longing for Mama is powerful and pervasive. Kipling gets busy creating substitute but unsatisfactory Mamas from pillows, pictures and snow. Finally there is nothing left to do but wish and wait for Mama’s return.

 

Interior spread 2 from Love Mama

Interior spread from Love, Mama by Jeanette Bradley, Roaring Brook Press ©2017

 

Then – a delivery! A special, soggy box arrives. It carries the scent of the ocean and makes a mysterious thunk-rustle noise. Mama has sent a package of thoughtful mementos and a reassuring heart-shaped note of love. Hugging the note just as Mama has done in an enclosed photo lifts the little penguin’s spirits. Soon Kipling starts to compile a similar treasure box for Mama.

 

Bradley’s soft illustrations depict a cool grey and blue-white landscape that warms to a gentle gold glow inside the penguin home. Pops of red on boots, belts, boats and especially Mama’s glasses add just the right note of playfulness and cheer. Bradley utilizes a variety of unique perspectives from land, sky and sea to help young readers imagine the distances stretching between Kipling and Mama. My favorite spread depicts the young penguin from above, plopped down in the snow, carefully arranging rocks in a circle. Can Kipling’s special, striped wishing stones help speed Mama’s return home?

The delicate balance of carefully chosen text and images underscore the simplicity and resonance of loving and longing from a child’s perspective. Love, Mama will reassure and reconnect parents and young readers separated by distance but not imagination. Perfect for Valentine’s Day or any day for that matter

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained: I reviewed an advanced reader copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien by Caroline McAlister

Posted on

JOHN RONALD’S DRAGONS:
THE STORY OF J.R.R. TOLKIEN
Written by Caroline McAlister
Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
(Roaring Brook Press; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

John Ronald's Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien cover art

 

Even a passing glance at the brilliant cover of John Ronald’s DragonsThe Story of J.R.R. Tolkien will reveal tantalizing clues about the carefully woven, beautifully illustrated tale inside. A boy, heavy book open in his lap, sits beneath a tree that is morphing, Daphne-esque, into a curious dragon. Utterly fantastic from its root-like tail swirling up the trunk to its leafy green scales, we share the boy’s delight and surprise in the dragon’s appearance as a peaceful, shire- styled village awaits in the distance.

 

Using dragons as a child-friendly entry point, McAlister frames this picture book biography of J.R.R. Tolkien around his rich imagination and love of language. The book paints an idyllic early childhood that nurtured John Ronald’s passions, allowing them to flourish among stories, family, friends, and invented vocabularies. Those passions then simmer quietly beneath the surface, sustaining him in later years through unhappy times and adult responsibilities.

 

The magic of this book lies in how well Wheeler’s illustrations build upon McAlister’s text, never failing to seize an opportunity to portray a smoky wisp from cup, chimney or pipe that will connect us to a dragon’s steamy breath. Likewise, architectural details ground the reader in the time period while also stretching to hint at fantasy features in the imagined worlds Tolkien eventually creates. The subtle green-gray-yellow palette keeps the focus squarely on the main character, until finally bursting into glorious red-gold when the dragon Smaug is revealed. Gorgeous endpapers pay delightful homage to William Morris design.

 

Young readers who may not have yet heard of Tolkien nor seen The Lord of the Rings movies will be gently introduced to Middle Earth world through this charming book. Surely many will identify with the desire to daydream about powerful dragons, misty mountain journeys, or Hobbits and elves. The text includes informative notes from the author and illustrator, Tolkien quotes on dragons, a Tolkien dragon catalog, and bibliography.

 

John Ronald’s DragonsThe Story of J.R.R. Tolkien is a wonderful initial investment in world-building and imagination for young readers. Once engaged by the dragons and dreams of John Ronald, one cannot help but assume the book will spur future interest in reading more of Tolkien .

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a preview copy of John Ronald’s DragonsThe Story of J.R.R. Tolkien from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

Posted on

GO BIG OR GO GNOME
Written by Kirsten Mayer
Illustrated by Laura K. Horton
(Imprint, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.  

 

Cover image of Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

 

 

There may be princess stories and fairy tales a plenty, but good goblin or troll tales can be difficult to find. Now Go Big or Go Gnome, written by Kirsten Mayer and illustrated by Laura K. Horton provides a lighthearted and entertaining look at life from a verdantly impish perspective.

A tiny gnome named Al lives and works in a lush green garden. He trims shrubbery alongside a crew of friendly fellows who bathe birds, fluff dandelions, and rake rocks. While the gnomes keep busy tidying the sweet scenery, they are also grooming impressive “imperial beards and illustrious mustaches.” Everyone, that is, except Al. Al has nary a whisker on his smooth pink cheeks. This bothers Al tremendously, because he dreams of participating in the Beards International Gnome-athlon.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Al attempts to enter the contest by faking a beard using tiny white butterflies. They fly away and expose his trickery, so he tries again with a squirrel tail, and then with some moss. Thinking he’s doomed to be a plain, bare-faced gnome forever, Al heads home to trim some topiary and keep himself busy. Luckily he still has his clippers in hand when his best friend Gnorm has an emergency – sap is stuck in his beard! He snips, clips and trims Gnorm’s whiskers into an award-winning look. What will the other gnomes think of Al now?

Mayer’s sweet and upbeat tale is a funny fantasy addition to the beard-book genre. Clever language and gnomish word puns add to the appeal. Her text is a delightful set-up for illustrator Horton, who maximizes the opportunity to create inventive, elaborate and impressive beard styles on a pleasant array of diminutive creatures. She also establishes a imaginative garden setting accented with birds, flowers and mushrooms, using a green and blue palette that offsets the gnomes’ de rigueur red pointed caps and boots.

Clever and cute, Go Big or Go Gnome is an encouraging tale for young readers in search of their special talents and ready to embrace their true selves far before they reach the whisker-sprouting years.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a preview copy of Go Big or Go Gnome from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Also An Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

Posted on

ALSO AN OCTOPUS
Written by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Illustrated by Benji Davies
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

  • is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

also-an-octopus

 

Looking for a terrific tale about waffle spaceships and eight-legged ukulele players? Well Also An Octopus is definitely the book for you! Wondering how writers come up with ideas for books about waffle spaceships? Then this is STILL the book for you! Debut author Maggie Tokuda-Hall has crafted a funny, clever story about following the spark of an idea through wild gallops of imagination until it takes shape as a book. But this can happen if and only if one follows the basic rules of the road, which are explained with flair and humor.

The tale begins with a blank page. An unseen narrator gently reminds us that all stories do begin this way, on an empty page, screen or canvas, until a character appears. Perhaps it is a little girl, or an adorable bunny, or a ukulele-playing octopus. But that grinning octopus, surrounded by bloopie bubbles and wearing a pom-pom topped knit cap, has to want something. What the character wants, explains the narrator, will make the story become interesting. And if the octopus wants an awesome purple spaceship, it has to be difficult to get. If he can simply get one from the drugstore the story will be too silly, short and dull. So perhaps the octopus will have to make the spaceship himself, out of odds and ends like soda cans, glue, string, umbrellas, glitter and waffles.

Have you fastened your seatbelt yet? Because this story is just about to take off! Or is it? “I’m not really qualified to build a spaceship ….” remarks the octopus, a tentacle rubbing his puzzled head. Nope, that spaceship doesn’t fly, so now our hero has an even bigger problem to solve. He has to find a rocket scientist!

Tokuda-Hall subtly teaches the constructs of story-telling within the boundaries of this absurdly whimsical tale. Step-by-step, the hapless octopus is tossed and turned through the imaginary gyrations of the narrative, experiencing the emotional highs and lows of a plot-driven concept. As illustrated by Benji Davies, the engaging and expressive characters will appeal to readers young and old.  The seemingly retro color palette ranges from mustard yellow to blue, orange, and luscious deep eggplant, displayed in large, bright spreads nicely balanced and evenly spaced. Davies tucks amusing random details into the scenes, like a curly-tongue armadillo and motorboat-driving hamster. Those details, in turn, will inspire young listeners to create new stories of their own.

Create new stories? Yes, because everyone has a bit of nothing, a virtual “blank page” on which to begin. And thus Also An Octopus comes full circle after a rollicking adventure that is as awesome as a purple spaceship dotted with waffles. Remember those bloopie bubbles that swirl around our eight-limbed hero? They burst into sparkly stars once he reaches outer space, a twinkling celebration of this delightful adventure into the world of story-making.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Also An Octopus from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Mervin the Sloth is About to do the Best Thing in the World by Colleen AF Venable

Posted on

MERVIN THE SLOTH
IS ABOUT TO DO THE BEST THING IN THE WORLD
Written by Colleen AF Venable
Illustrated by Ruth Chan
(Greenwillow Books, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

Cover image of picture book Mervin The Sloth is About to do The Best Thing in The World

 

Lots of letters and cute, colorful animals fill the picture book page stage in Mervin the Sloth is About to do the Best Thing in the World. Mervin moves so, so, slowly, just as one might expect a sloth to do. Thank goodness for the quirky cast of energetic and inquisitive characters that show up to pepper him and his red panda buddy with questions!

The title of the book drops slowly into the book pages and hangs as a continuous prop for a bird, gazelle, prairie dogs and many other animals. Puzzled by the meaning of the title, they all make suggestions about exactly what it isill he fly? Dig? Or even go “gazelling”? It’s a great opportunity for reading partners to imagine and discuss what activities other species might think are the “Best Things in the World.”

So slowly, almost imperceptibly, Mervin’s arms are lifting up. Does this offer any clues to impatient readers? Will he fight a shark? Turn into a robot? The animals wait, wait, wait. Their quirky speech bubbles get quieter, then a little testy, before they stride off to more thrilling adventures. But Red Panda patiently persists – he must know Mervin better than anyone. In fact, he just might be Mervin’s best friend!

Chan masterfully builds suspense by adding comic critters one by one onto a simple background, allowing young readers to get to know their personalities through goofy expressions and funny speech bubbles. By the middle of the book, the pages have filled with a colorful riot of animals, bubbles, and letters crowding Mervin, who steadfastly maintains his center stage placement. Venable’s simple, silly dialogue compels readers to continue flipping pages until the final reveal.

It’s high time that a picture book combined a red panda and a sloth as main characters, and Mervin the Sloth is About to do the Best Thing in the World will definitely appeal to young readers that appreciate their comic and cuddly friendship.

Click here for Mervin’s sloth-themed paper craft and more!

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Mervin the Sloth is About to do the Best Thing in the World from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Let Me Finish! by Minh Lê

Posted on

LET ME FINISH!
Written by Minh Lê
Illustrated by Isabel Roxas
(Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, Ages 4-8)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

let-me-finish book cover

 

 

With its colorfully eye-catching and engaging cover, exhuberant endpages, and enthusiastic speech bubbles, Let Me Finish!  by Minh Lê with art by Isabel Roxas, thrums with an energy that practically propels the book into young readers’ hands.

Our unnamed protagonist is a reader extraordinaire. Sure, his over-sized red eyeglasses are one clue, but so is his broad, contented smile as he settles under a tree to enjoy his new book in peace and quiet. Alas! Three jabbering birds swoop down to chatter enthusiastically about the book’s ending, thus spoiling the surprise for our hero. He politely asks them to hold their commentary next time until he’s done, and heads home to select a different title – one he’s “been meaning to read forever.”

This time it’s a bear who pops in, revealing the ending much to the reader’s consternation. And those pesky birds are back too, chirping in with even more spoilers. “Oh no!” moans our bespectacled main character, who returns home and joyfully discovers that a new book has just been delivered to his front door. Will he finally be able to read in peace, or does someone spill the beans once again?

Let Me Finish! is a real page turner, enticing us to keep flipping and uncover what will happen next. With increasing text size and ever-bolder page spreads, this tale cleverly depicts the mounting angst of the young reader who just wants to enjoy his books. The zany menagerie of talking birds and beasts is a color-filled fantasy, unbound by rules of geography, gravity or nature. It’s a wacky, delightful dilemma for the boy, who demonstrates superhero skills and determination to finish his story.

Roxas’ vivid, softly textured images are tightly woven with Lê’s text and packed with detail. Words written with a scribbly crayon effect add greatly to the kid-appeal, as does the variety of cartoony chase spreads that never become monotonous. There’s a meta-twist or two at the end to keep young ones musing about the story within a story and invites re-reading from multiple perspectives.

You might want to read Let Me Finish! on your own, but it would certainly be a good one to share with friends. Just don’t give away the ending!

Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of Let Me Finish! which I won in a blog giveaway and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey