Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

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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.


Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm by Antonie Schneider

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Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm
Written by Antonie Schneider
Illustrated by Susanne Strasser
(Holiday House; $16.95, ages 4-8)

 

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First published in Germany as Herr Glück & Frau Unglück, Mr. Happy & Miss Grimm shows us how kindness, unstoppable and contagious in its nature, can soften even the hardest of hearts.  

As his name suggests, Mr. Happy is happy. All the time. Morning to night time. Rain or shine. His belongings, too, have an air of cheerfulness and comfort to them. On the day he moves to his new home, Mr. Happy brings with him a big cushy chair, lots of books, a teapot, friendly pets, plants, and a ladder we come to find out he uses to climb up to light the moon’s lantern. As we read the stickers on his luggage of the countries he has visited, we know Mr. Happy has spread his cheerfulness to all corners of the earth.

Moving next to neighbor Miss Grimm, however, proves to be a challenge and a nuisance-that is, for Miss Grimm. From her “bleak little” unit #13 home to her drab clothing and suspicious disposition, Miss Grimm seems to take morbid curiosity in Mr. Happy’s everyday tasks. Mr. Happy plants flowers and trees. He “greet[s] the rain when it rain[s], the snow when it snow[s], and the wind when it bl[ows].”  The more annoyed Miss Grimm is with her neighbor, the more lush Mr. Happy’s garden grows and the more friendly her and Mr. Happy’s pets become with each other. Like children innocent of adult prejudices, the animals take an immediate liking to each other, thus beginning the slow transformation of Miss Grimm’s home.  

It first starts with the small plant on Miss Grimm’s windowsill, lifeless at first, but after Mr. Happy arrives it springs to life almost overnight. Soon enough, too, the neighbors’ roofs share a wire. Strasser’s mixed media, monoprint, crayons, and digital collage produce an Alice in Wonderland effect for Mr. Happy’s side of the spread, while, on Miss Grimm’s side, sudden bursts of color and texture highlight her gradual change. Readers will enjoy flipping the pages back and forth to mark how and when these changes take place.

Despite her every effort to remain her mean old self, even slamming the door in Mr. Happy’s face, Miss Grimm is not the same person.  Like the way the wind carries Mr. Happy’s seeds or the way his garden thrives, love grows simply because it’s there–simply because it has its own set of rules that change us to become a better version of ourselves.  

– Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 


Hermelin, the Detective Mouse by Mini Grey

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Hermelin, the Detective Mouse by Mini Grey (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014 $17.99; ages 5-8) is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

⭐︎Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, The Horn Book & Booklist

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Hermelin, the Detective Mouse as told to Mini Grey makes me ache for my childhood days in London. With pictures of terraced houses and characters named Lady Chumley-Plumley and Captain Potts, the book transports the reader across the pond and squarely to England.

The cover of this picture book caught my eye straight away with its image of an old-fashioned typewriter with Hermelin standing boldly atop with flag staff in paw. The illustrations are full of fun-to-spot details, such as candy wrappers, book covers, creatively placed paper clips, and cereal boxes. The variously placed text engages the reader by drawing the eye across the page, up and down, and to newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries, notes, and messages. This picture book has a lot going on in both the visuals and the story.

The residents of Offley Street need a detective! Various items, including a teddy bear, reading glasses, goldfish, and diamond bracelet, have mysteriously vanished. The good folks are at a loss. Who can help them? Help comes in an unexpectedly small package: a mouse in a cheese box. Hermelin (named after the Czech cheese) makes himself right at home in the attic of number 33, where he finds an old-fashioned typewriter. As he locates each of the missing items, Hermelin uses the typewriter to communicate with the residents.

Dear Dr. Parker,

You will find your reading glasses in chapter 26 of Medical Monthly (infectious diseases) which is at the bottom of your bathtub. I’m afraid it may be a bit soggy by now.

                  Yours sincerely,

                  Hermelin

The grateful residents want to thank the elusive detective, so they invite Hermelin to a “thank-you party in your honor … Everybody wants to meet you!” But a detective mouse is not what they expect and havoc ensues. Will Hermelin be recognized as more than just an “unclean, unhygienic, unwanted” pest? Your child will enjoy this book to the end!

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan


Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

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LEAP INTO ANOTHER MOLLY IDLE TALE
AS FLORA TAKES TO THE ICE

flora_thepenguin_cvr.jpgIllustrator, Molly Idle, is a 2014 Caldecott Honor recipient for her wordless picture book, Flora and the Flamingo. She’s brought Flora back by popular demand, but this time Flora has traded her pink bathing suit for a blue snow suit, and her pink flamingo dance partner has been replaced by a new blue penguin friend.

In Flora and the Penguin, an exquisitely illustrated lift the flap book, (Chronicle Books, October 2014, $16.99, Ages 3-5) Idle makes the saying, “A picture speaks a thousand words” very clear, as there is no text. Parents, don’t worry, although the book leaves room for conversation, there is plenty told through the beautiful illustrations done in shades of soft blues, yellows, and of course, white. The characters’​​​ body language and facial expressions are priceless, and at times comical.

Friendships can be tricky to navigate. Especially when they’re on ice! Flora and Penguin glide and twirl together gracefully, until the penguin takes a dive beneath the surface and comes up with a fishy gift for his friend. Misunderstandings ensue, and their friendship suffers a cool chill, when Flora throws the fish back into the icy pond. When Flora sees how unhappy this has made her friend, she comes up with a solution which involves team work, and creates a grand finale for the book.

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Interior artwork from Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle, Chronicle Books ©2014.

This is a must-have book on your toddlers shelf!

If you’re in the area, why not come meet Molly Idle who will be signing her books on October 2nd at Once Upon a Time Bookstore in Montrose, CA.? The event begins at 7p.m.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher


Peanut Butter and Jellyfish by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

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Peanut Butter and Jellyfish by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2014; $16.99, Ages 3-7) is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

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Peanut Butter and Jellyfish by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Summertime means the beach. It also means opportunities to meet new people at camps, so a story about seahorse Peanut Butter and his best friend, Jellyfish, is a perfect avenue to the themes of friendship, bullying, and coping. The pair loves to explore their ocean home. They have so much to see, such as a sunken ship and reefs. Unfortunately, their explorations take them near Crabby who taunts them every time they swim by.

Crabby was relentless. “You guys smell like rotten barnacles! Pee-yew! I’ve seen sea snails swim with more style. What a bunch of bubbleheads.”

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish do their best to ignore Crabby’s teasing and, when that doesn’t work, stand up for themselves.

Jellyfish puffed up his chest and said, “Driftwood and sea stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us.” 

Then one day, Crabby isn’t on his rock. In fact, he is in big trouble and needs Peanut Butter’s and Jellyfish’s help. The duo decides that even though Crabby has been so mean to them, they should still try to help him. With an exciting endeavor, the sea friends manage to rescue Crabby. Will their actions make a difference in how Crabby behaves?

Krosoczka’s illustrations, made from digital collage of acrylic paintings, are bright and cartoon-like. The characters are fun to look at and children can watch for a clam who appears on many of the pages. My daughter especially enjoys the continuity of the plot found on the inside of the front and back covers. She also very much likes the heart-felt nature of this story and we’ve read this picture book probably every day since I’ve brought it home. So, while she won’t touch peanut butter the food, she can’t get enough of Peanut Butter and Jellyfish.


The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

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The Lion and the Bird written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc,
(Enchanted Lion Books, 2014. $17.95 Ages 3-8) is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

The-Lion-and-the-Bird-cvr.jpgOne autumn day a lion working in his garden finds an injured bird. “You’re welcome to stay with me,” Lion assures Bird. Over the winter Lion nurses Bird back to health and the two share the comforts of Lion’s home and the wonders of the seasons. When spring returns so do Bird’s feathered friends and, after consulting with an understanding Lion, Bird rejoins his flock.

Lion returns home, lonely but philosophical, musing “And so it goes, sometimes life is like that.” But autumn returns, and as the birds begin their annual migration to warmer climes, Lion wonders if he’ll see his old friend. Suddenly, Lion hears a chirp (brilliantly illustrated with a single musical note on an otherwise blank two-page spread). Bird has returned for the winter. “Together, we’ll stay warm again this winter,” Lion assures Bird, as the two settle in the house under a starlit sky dominated by a crescent moon.

Dubuc’s picture book featuring a lion who finds and helps an injured bird is a classic story of friendship set against the cycle of the year. The simplicity and spareness of her narrative and the flat, muted, color illustrations give it a fable-like quality, rendering the story timeless. Dubuc’s layout of the illustrations is remarkable. One cozy, two-page spread depicts a series of oval-shaped vignettes, allowing the reader to peer inside Lion’s cozy home. Another lovely spread shows Lion’s house buffeted by snow and wind and is followed by a blindingly white spread representing the snow-covered countryside. Off-center, three pale pink buds, emerging from the snow, hint at the coming spring. The pages become canvases conveying the story’s narrative and wonderfully capturing the characters’ emotions and the timelessness of a seemingly simpler, rural life. Highly recommended for ages 3-8, but it’s such a well-illustrated and beautiful friendship story, it will be enjoyed by all.

Author/Illustrator Marianne Dubuc is a French Canadian author and illustrator trained as a graphic designer. She has written and illustrated several other titles for young children. Visit her web site (en Français) at www.mariannedubuc.com to learn more about her art and books. Visit Enchanted Lion Book’s wonderful web site at www.enchantedlionbooks.com to see the highly creative and imaginative books they have published from authors and illustrators all over the world.


Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison

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Extraordinary Jane, a new picture book
written and illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison,
is reviewed by Ronna Mandel.

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Extraordinary Jane written and illustrated
by Hannah E. Harrison,
Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin, © 2014.

Kids will fall in love with Jane, a circus dog, and the most adorable and extraordinary character in Harrison’s new picture book, Extraordinary Jane (Dial, $16.99, Ages 3-5). Jane might be a mutt although she reminded me of a little fluffy, white Maltese my family once rescued. But that really doesn’t matter because what Jane definitely is is lovable, precious, friendly and loyal. And while these qualities make her so very special, Jane clearly doesn’t realize these things about herself.

The book opens with a spread of antique-style circus posters, none of which show Jane. From these first illustrations readers know they’re in for a treat with Harrison’s warm, inviting and detailed artwork. Parents will love the opportunity to scour each page for the fine details Harrison’s included so they can point them out to younger children. Older kids may find them on their own. Written with few words, the story is still easily understood and helped along by the circus characters’ many expressions and emotions which say so much.

“She wasn’t graceful like her mother [who rides atop a galloping horse], or mighty like her father.” We see the daddy dog lifting a humongous elephant while Jane struggles to pull a pail of water nearby. Jane has to cover her ears when her daring brothers are blasted out of circus cannons and, fearful of heights, Jane could never attempt to traverse the tightrope like her sisters.

“Jane was just Jane.” And just being Jane meant being loved by all the circus members despite an array of things she was unable to do (and humorously conveyed in Harrison’s illustrations). My favorite image is of Jane looking down from the trapeze as “She tried to find her special talent.” She does not look happy in the least!

Everyone knew what was good about her, especially the Ringmaster and ultimately, Jane.  This ideal read-aloud book is great for story time, bedtime and any time a parent wants to reinforce the message to their child about how they should celebrate themselves. I’m looking forward to Harrison’s next book because if it’s half as good as Extraordinary Jane, it will still be super.

If you enjoy Harrison’s artwork, click here to read our review about another book she illustrated called Just Like You.