The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom

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THE CRUELTY
by Scott Bergstrom
(Feiwel & Friends; $18.99, Ages 14 and up)

 

cover image for The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom

 

Initially, seventeen-year-old Gwendolyn Bloom’s worst things in life include being bullied by rich girls at her “diplobrats” school and aching from the tenth anniversary of her mother’s brutal death. Gwendolyn’s worldview is soon upended when her father’s kidnapping propels her to action.

With the help of friends (including a blossoming first love), Gwendolyn escapes to Paris in pursuit of her first lead. She discovers that cruelty has no borders as she travels through the underbellies of France, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Surviving in the shadows using intrigue and deception, Gwendolyn perseveres.

The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom is a fast-paced read; with each chapter, Gwendolyn grows more deeply involved in gambling, arms smuggling, and human trafficking. She sacrifices everything in the hope of freeing her father—then finds bigger causes to fight for.

While this modern-day spy book exemplifies female strength and independence, the life of this spy is rarely glamorous. The title tells all: cruelty rules. Opting for activism means becoming tougher and craftier than her enemies. Gwendolyn learns there’s no going back from these irreversible choices.

Find Scott Bergstrom’s website here.

The Cruelty is available on February 7, 2017.  Book two, The Greed, is scheduled for release next year.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com


Ada Twist, Scientist Written by Andrea Beaty

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ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST
Written by Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by David Roberts
(Abrams Books for Young Readers; $17.95, Ages 5-7)

 

Cover image from Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

 

Ada Twist, Scientist is the third rhyming picture book from Andrea Beaty and David Roberts featuring an extraordinary child whose talents can be problematic. Ada Marie Twist doesn’t speak until age three then asks “Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose?” “Why are there hairs up inside of your nose?” Her parents tell her that she will figure it out.

Throughout the chaotic story, Ada tries to find the source of a terrible smell. Though the reader is never told where it comes from, children will be happy to help Ada out. The crazy antics of Ada’s experiments are illustrated in vivid detail.

When her parents finally have enough, they send Ada to the family’s “Thinking Chair.” In this pivotal page, we see small Ada surrounded by white space—with a sharpened red pencil surreptitiously nearby. Kids gleefully grasp what comes next as Ada cannot contain her big thoughts.

Thankfully, her parents understand. “They watched their young daughter and sighed as they did. What would they do with this curious kid, who wanted to know what the world was about? They smiled and whispered, ‘We’ll figure it out.’” Together, they help Ada become a young scientist . . . if only Ada could figure out where that awful smell originates.

Readers of Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect will notice that Miss Lila Greer’s second-grade class (including students Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck) make cameo appearances in Ada Twist, Scientist. Graph-paper backgrounds again evoke mathematical calculations which contrast nicely with the colorful, humorous images.

Teaching guide and activities available here.

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com


Christmas Tree Picture Books Roundup

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CHRISTMAS TREE PICTURE BOOKS ROUNDUP
By Christine Van Zandt

 

Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree
Written and illustrated by Lori Nichols
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

What happens when it seems your sister is allergic to Christmas? Find out in Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree, a thirty-two-page children’s picture book, the fourth in the series. What begins as the best Christmas ever—the first year sisters Maple and Willow are getting a real Christmas tree—soon becomes problematic when Maple starts sneezing.

To quell Maple’s symptoms, the tree is placed outside. Willow’s sharp words make Maple feel sad about ruining their Christmas. That night, Willow regrets her outburst and has an idea to mend the bad feelings between them. Her ingenious solution takes some hard work but she can’t wait until morning time and, instead, wakes up Maple to show her the big surprise.

Nichols’ slim text complements her whimsical artwork which captures the girls’ emotions well. The cheerful pencil drawings leave plenty of white space on the page, evoking a cold winter scene, a nice contrast to warmth of the sisters.

 

The Christmas Eve Tree
Written by Delia Huddy
Illustrated by Emily Sutton
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

The Christmas Eve Tree begins in a forest of Christmas trees where one was planted carelessly, “so that when the wind blew strong it fell sideways onto its neighbor and had no chance to grow.” In this thirty-two-page children’s picture book, we find this little tree is about to get thrown out on Christmas Eve until a homeless boy asks if he can have it. Taking care to not snap its crooked branches, the boy plants the tree in a cardboard box. We share the tree’s thoughts, finding it goes from feeling pitiful to proud when recognizing that it belongs to someone.

In the boy’s homeless village, the tree’s boughs are decorated and an accordion plays a Christmas song to which they sing along. Soon the passersby stop to join in, creating a lively community. “The little fir tree felt it would burst with happiness, because clearly the boy had forgotten that tonight he would be sleeping in a cardboard box.”

Days later, the boy moves on, sadly leaving the mostly dead tree behind. The street sweeper notices some green shoots and, instead of discarding the tree, cleverly plants it in a corner of the park where it lives on, providing a gathering place for people and animals.

The book’s rich watercolor images by Sutton have an old-time feel; their saturated colors contrast with the ivory paper. While the fir straightens out and grows a thicker trunk, the concluding pictures show us that its branches are still sparse. Yet, it doesn’t matter because, in the end, everyone is happy—including the tree.

NOTE: “Delia Huddy worked as an editor in children’s publishing in a long career that included many happy years at Julia MacRae Books in London, after which she became editorial director at Random House UK. She was also an author of novels, picture books, and younger fiction. At the end of her life, in 2005, Delia Huddy was working on the text for The Christmas Eve Tree.”


The Great Spruce

Written by John Duvall
Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

The great spruce, Alec’s favorite climbing tree, captures the attention of some men who are passing through town. Astounded that his parents agree to let the tree be cut down for the city’s Christmas celebration, Alec places himself between it and the chainsaw, imploring that they borrow the tree instead. Soon everyone is digging.

A tugboat transports the tree to the city; Alec and his grandpa accompany their tree on this delightful voyage. In downtown, when Alec flips the switch to light the tree, a young girl declares it the most wonderful tree ever and asks if it can stay. Alec explains that the tree is just visiting then gives her a pinecone and instructions on how to plants the seeds.

The tree returns home to grow even taller. Later, when Alec climbed the tree and “looked hard enough through his telescope, he could just make out the tiny sapling that took root in the big city square.” Alec’s love of nature demonstrates how one person’s courage and creativity can directly impact the environment.

The Great Spruce is a forty-page children’s picture book enlivened with colorful images. Gibbon’s acrylic ink and colored pencil style works for both the serene country scenes as well as the busy cityscapes.

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/


Debbie Powell’s Walk This World at Christmastime

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WALK THIS WORLD AT CHRISTMASTIME
Written by Big Picture Press
Illustrated by Debbie Powell
(Big Picture Press; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

Walk This World at Christmastime, a twenty-four-page picture book, is an interesting and unusual addition to your holiday books. Set up as an advent calendar, the relatively sturdy lift-the-flap windows numbering one through twenty-five reveal images and accompanying text. Each page has additional flaps for curious fingers to discover, bringing the total of interactive windows to more than seventy. The left-hand page contains a four-line loosely rhyming poem and the concluding line “Where am I?” Beautiful background illustrations and clues beneath the flaps help readers solve this question (the answer is provided on the right-hand page).

A younger child will enjoy the many tactile experiences and the colorful, abundant pictures. Older kids will gain a deeper understanding of how different cultures celebrate Christmas around the world, learning our similarities such as “Candles at Christmas are a symbol of the triumph of light over darkness.” New ways to celebrate will be discovered as well: “The Gävle goat is a giant Swedish Yule goat made from straw.” Diversity in religious practices are explained: “In Lalibela, Ethiopia, Christian pilgrims dressed in white robes flock to the beautiful rock churches.” Interspersed historical tidbits inform, for example, that the first advent calendar was made in Germany in 1851.

Many pages have fun food facts. “The Chinese give gifts of apples on Christmas Eve,” “Enjoy a Lebanese Christmas feat of kibbeh pie—made from minced meat and bulgur—along with tabbouleh and honey cake.”

Walk This World at Christmastime concludes with an easy-to-follow world map depicting the book’s journey. A dotted line connects the countries and continents, uniting our world through our holiday celebrations.

Read about illustrator Debbie Powell here.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/


The Darkest Dark by Astronaut Chris Hadfield

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THE DARKEST DARK
Written by Col. Chris Hadfield
Illustrated by The Fan Brothers
(Little Brown BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

 

 

the-darkest-dark-cvr

 

The Darkest Dark takes place on July 19, 1969—the night before Apollo 11’s Moon landing. We meet Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield when he was a boy. Chris can’t sleep because “his room was dark. Very, very dark. The kind of dark that attracts the worst sort of aliens.” These creatures, a combination of shadow and imagination, appear on the book’s cover and throughout the story.

Young Chris believes he is an astronaut and, of course, “an astronaut’s work is never done, so astronauts do not like to sleep. But their parents do.” Chris’s parents kick him out of their bed and dutifully check his room for aliens. Finally, the possibility of missing tomorrow’s special event helps Chris fall into his favorite dream.

 

the-darkest-dark_interior1

Interior artwork from The Darkest Dark by Col. Chris Hadfield with illustrations by The Fan Brothers, Little Brown Books For Young Readers ©2016.

 

The next day, most everyone on Stag Island crowds into a neighbor’s living room to watch the Moon landing. When Chris discovers that “outer space was the darkest dark ever,” he views his house’s darkness differently. Chris now understands that “the darkness of the universe was so much bigger and deeper than the darkness in his room.”

The Fan Brothers’ lively and whimsical illustrations creatively blend reality and fantasy. Many pages feature Chris’s pet pug and the not-so-scary mysterious aliens.

The Darkest Dark concludes with biographical information about Chris Hadfield’s journey to becoming an accomplished Canadian astronaut. His personal message and photographs encourage young readers: “The dark is for dreams—and morning is for making them come true.”

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/


Witch-Themed Halloween Picture Books Roundup

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WITCH-THEMED HALLOWEEN BOOKS ROUNDUP

 

Goblin Hoodgoblin-hood
Written by Sue Fliess
Illustrated by Piper Thibodeau
(Grosset & Dunlap; $3.99, Ages 3-5)

In this Halloween-themed rhyming picture book, Goblin Hood and the gremlins of Scarewood Forest work together year-round making candy. “In the forest of Scarewood, where gremlins made sweets, a creature named Goblin Hood guarded their treats.”

Everything is going well . . . until a witch swoops by, stealing the candy and turning the gremlins against Goblin Hood. Silly illustrations depict the witch directing gremlins to bag it all up and load it on her broom while she reclines on a mountain of candy, feasting on the spoils.

Lurking outside, the Halloween hero of Scarewood Forest, Goblin Hood, plans. Soon, he leaps into action, capturing the witch using licorice, taffy, and gum stashed in his pack.

Goblin Hood reprimands the witch, “You’ll have to make up for the things you did wrong. And help make the Halloween treats all year long.” Not a bad deal for the witch.

The morale of the story: work together while fostering friendships—even with candy-stealing witches. And, don’t disappoint those cute trick-or-treaters on Halloween night.

Piper Thibodeau’s vivid, funny illustrations in Goblin Hood are a treat for a young child with a sweet tooth and sense of humor.


grimelda-the-very-messy-witchGrimelda: The Very Messy Witch
Written by Diana Murray
Illustrated by Heather Ross
(Katherine Tegen Books; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

In Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch, Grimelda wants to make pickle pie, but cannot find her pickle root. “She used her broom to fly, not sweep. Her floors had dirt six inches deep.”

Clever wordplay leads us through Grimelda’s house as she searches for the missing ingredient. We discover her scream cheese spread and rot sauce, but no pickle root—not even in the swamp out back where she finds last summer’s bathing suit.

As any cook knows, it’s critical to use right ingredient. Grimelda flies over to the general store where, alas, pickle root is sold-out and, “All Baby Dragon Sales Are Final.”

Reluctantly, Grimelda sweeps up. When the clutter clears, along with the pickle root, she discovers her long-lost comb. Finally able to untangle her locks, another surprise enables her to return her house to disarray. “Grimelda breathed a happy sigh. At last, she’d make that scrumptious pie!” Or, will she . . .

Heather Ross’s ingenious illustrations show a spider sneaking off throughout with the pickle root—sure to be a favorite with kids who notice subtly hidden pictures. Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch provides a wealth of images for young readers to explore.

hubble-bubble-the-super-spooky-fright-nightHubble Bubble, The Super-Spooky Fright Night
Written by Tracey Corderoy
Illustrated by Joe Berger
(Nosy Crow; $6.99, Ages 6-9)

Hubble Bubble, The Super-Spooky Fright Night, the first book of a new middle-grade series, contains three stories: The Super-Spooky Fright Night, Teddy Trouble, and Granny Makes a Splash. On the opening pages, we are introduced to Pandora and her witchy grandmother, Granny Crow whose ideas are, well, “just a bit . . . different.”

The tales follow Pandora and Granny Crow from Halloween party with musical broomsticks to birthday party where stuffed animals talk, and, finally, on a delightful school trip at a swimming pool. With each occasion, we find Granny ready with her wand, casting spells to help out: “It was time to liven things up a bit, Granny style!” Of course, her well-meaning ways have funny consequences.

Joe Berger’s illustrations on every page make the book visually bewitching. Black, white, and orange ink enlivens the text with color. The abundance of images may help advance picture-book readers to chapter books with these visual clues.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/

 


We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

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WE FOUND A HAT
Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen cover image

 

We Found a Hat concludes Jon Klassen’s terrific hat trilogy. In this book, two turtles find a hat. One hat. It looks good on both of them, creating a dilemma.

Unlike Klassen’s other “hat” books, this one is told in three parts: Finding the Hat, Watching the Sunset, and Going to Sleep. Each section advances the story with Klassen’s expected deadpan humor. With slim text (less than two hundred words), the images carry the story.

 

We Found a Hat interior spread

Interior spread from We Found a Hat written and illustrated by Jon Klassen, Candlewick Press ©2016.

 

As night begins to fall in the desert, the two turtles settle in. One, however, can’t quite take his eyes off the hat. We expect the turtle to misbehave—that’s been the theme in the other two books. Does it? As the stars come out and the other turtle falls asleep, we find out.

 

We Found a Hat interior spread of desert at night

Interior spread from We Found a Hat written and illustrated by Jon Klassen, Candlewick Press ©2016.

 

Jon Klassen is the author and illustrator of many award-winning books, including the first two books in the hat trilogy: Caldecott Medal recipient, This is Not My Hat, and the Theodor Seuss Geisel award winner, I Want My Hat Back. His minimal text and clever illustrations meld to bring us unexpected conclusions.

WE FOUND A HAT. Copyright © 2016 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Click here for an activity kit and teachers guide

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/