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.


Also An Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

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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.


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/


dear Dragon by Josh Funk

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DEAR DRAGON
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo
(Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

starred review – Kirkus Reviews

 

dear-dragon-cover-image

 

Back in the olden days when kids still wrote letters, I had a pen pal named Melanie Vafiades from London. I never met her so for all I know she could have been a dragon like George’s pen pal in dear Dragon (I mean don’t most dragons live there?), or perhaps she was a unicorn (England’s full of enchanted forests, right?). I’m all for active imaginations and making new friends sight unseen which is exactly what author Josh Funk’s new picture book inspires. Kids’ll love the premise of this endearing story that pairs human students (unbeknownst to them but not their teachers) with dragons as pens pals.

 

interior-spread-1-from-dear-dragon

Interior artwork from dear Dragon by Josh Funk with illustrations by Rodolfo Montalvo, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

Between Funk’s cheerful, well-paced rhyming text (the students were told to put their correspondence in verse) and Montalvo’s light-hearted, inviting illustrations, readers will get a strong sense of how the two main characters grow from being reluctant about having to actually write something to someone they don’t know, and do it in rhyme no less, to discovering interesting things about each other over the course of the assignment.

 

interior-spread-2-from-dear-dragon

Interior artwork from dear Dragon by Josh Funk with illustrations by Rodolfo Montalvo, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

The illustrations capture how George, the human, and Blaise, the dragon, innocently interpret the descriptions in each other’s letters based on their personal paradigms. Consider George’s science project volcano (see first image above) as compared to Blaise’s real one, or George’s backyard cardboard fort (see second image) versus Blaise’s and you’ll get the point both author and illustrator have humorously driven home. As the two students continue to write, readers will notice the degree of familiarity increase with every new letter. What ensues when our earthbound boy and his new flying, fire-breathing friend ultimately meet up in person can only be described as pure positivity in picture book form. Funk’s story presents the perfect opportunity to reinforce the important message that you simply cannot judge a book by its cover, although the cover of dear Dragon is pretty darned adorable!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Visit Josh Funk’s website here.
Visit Rodolfo Montalvo’s website here.

 


Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill

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WOLF CAMP
Written and illustrated by Andrea Zuill
(Schwartz & Wade Books, $16.99, Ages 4-8)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill picture book cover

It’s not Labor Day yet!

The shelves at the library and bookstore may be spilling over with “back-to-school” titles, but let’s hold on to summer silliness and camp craziness for just a bit longer. Truly, there is no one season for learning about how to tackle new experiences, face your fears and make new friends. Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill is a hilarious and heart-warming picture book that will encourage young listeners and little learners to be brave and have fun, and howl in harmony as one of the pack.

Our hero is Homer, a hound dog with scrawny neck and legs, big nose and a tail that wags frantically when he’s excited. Sometimes he acts “wolfish” pouncing playfully on his pink stuffed toy moose from behind the sofa. Homer believes all dogs have a bit of inner wolf, and fantasizes about living like one of the pack, racing through the wilderness with purpose. It seems like a dream come true when an invitation to Wolf Camp (“Where every dog can live as a wolf – for an entire week!”) falls into his kibble bowl.

Homer really wants to go to Wolf Camp. He pesters his human family, bringing the invitation to their attention over and over, until they relent and agree that he can go. “I’m going to be a wolf!” thinks Homer excitedly as he heads off on a big yellow bus. The camp counselors, Fang and Grrr, are actual wolves, sharp-nosed, pointy-eared, shaggy giants. Homer’s fellow campers are a bumbling, fuzzy golden retriever named Rex and Pixie, a teeny-tiny gray Chihuahua. Homer thinks the counselors seem nice, but the wolves appear slightly skeptical about the well-hidden potential in their new recruits. Nonetheless, after a detailed safety talk, the Wolf Camp lessons begin.

Zuill’s pen and ink drawings with watercolor wash are zany, charming and unbelievably expressive. She masterfully contrasts wolf and dog postures and body language, perfectly positioning their poised or clumsy bodies for stalking, howling, tracking and sleeping. The animals’ eye rolls, ear tilts, and tail movements convey oodles of meaning and emotion that enrich the wry, witty text and funny speech bubbles. It’s a guaranteed giggle when Homer pens a classic camp letter to his “people” at home, complaining about the food and bugs.

Wolf Camp is filled with loopy, lupine humor and heart. Readers will root for Homer, Rex and Pixie as they bond, persevere and slowly master the skills necessary for wolf-y, woodsy living. The new pack members succeed in earning Honorary Wolf certificates by the end of the week, but perhaps Homer has been changed forever by his wild experience. You’ll be howling with laughter throughout this silly, sweet and smart story for campers and canines alike.

 

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

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Splashdance written and illustrated by Liz Starin

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SPLASHDANCE
Written and illustrated by Liz Starin
(Farrar Strauss Giroux $16.99, Ages 4-7)

 

Splashdance by Liz Starin book cover

 

Splashdance, a funny, wacky picture book by Liz Starin is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

One MILLION dollars! That is the prize awarded to the winners of the water ballet competition at the community pool. So Ricardo, a mustachioed, knobby-kneed gentleman and his water ballet partner Ursula, a well-groomed but furry polar bear practice their routine diligently. All at once, a new rule bans bears from the pool, and Ricardo summarily ditches Ursula for a new partner, a giraffe named Hortense.

Ursula is devastated at the betrayal and heartbroken to lose her chance in the competition. After all, she really loves water ballet! Eventually Ursula dons a striped bikini and sneaks down to the community pond for a quick dip. Alone, she executes her best double back albatross and half twist chanterelle in the weedy green swimming hole.

 

Interior_artwork_from picture book Splashdance

Interior spread from Splashdance written and illustrated by Liz Starin, Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR ©2016.

 

Then one day Ursula arrives at the pond only to meet a large group of water ballet enthusiasts practicing their routine. They, too, were cast out of the pool due to their ursine members. This group – this TEAM – has stuck together and continued to practice. Ursula is inspired to join them, and she devises a plan to ensure that they can participate in the water ballet championship after all.

Starin’s text is smart, vibrant and playful. A balanced mixture of short and long sentences filled with cut-to-the-chase emotions keeps the storyline popping along. Young listeners will remain eager to turn the page and discover what happens next. Starin’s illustrations are spectacularly funny, inventive and ridiculous, adding implausible wacky details that appeal to the eye and the funnybone. Clever signs, wild bathing costumes, and a hilarious menagerie of swimming critters mix together to produce a divinely humorous tale.

Ursula finally gets to perform her impressive triple banana flip in the water ballet competition – but will it be enough to win the million dollars? Or is there an even bigger prize at stake? Splashdance is a lighthearted, inspiring winner from beginning to end.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

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

 


Where’s the Party written and illustrated by Ruth Chan

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WHERE’S THE PARTY?
Written and illustrated by Ruth Chan
(Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 3 to 6)

– is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Wheres The Party book cover

 

 

Filled with silly charm and endearing characters, Ruth Chan’s debut picture book WHERE’S THE PARTY? is a cheerful delight for fans of parties, plans, cats and cake.

Georgie, our furry feline hero, is the hostess with the mostest when it comes to special celebrations. He’s gathered friends for pool parties, topiary competitions, Pie Day, and ice cream truck fests. So it is no surprise when he wakes up with a smile on his face, ready to plan a spectacular party, choose the biggest cake in the bakery, and invite all his friends.

 

Interior artwork from Where's The Party? by Ruth Chan

Interior spread from Where’s the Party? written and illustrated by Ruth Chan, Roaring Brook Press ©2016.

 

With his furry arms wrapped around a triple-tiered pink, white and blue party cake, Georgie sets out to each friend’s doorstep to issue his invitations in person. Alas, his best friend Feta the dog is too busy making pickles, and Lester the mouse has to untangle a string of lights. Ferdinand the mole can’t be enticed from his hole, and Sneakers (non-specific species) is intently snipping away at his latest evergreen masterpiece.

One by one, Georgie realizes he will not be able to round up any guests for his fiesta. His party hat droops, his whiskers dangle dejectedly, and he nibbles at the party cake to console himself. Eventually it is dark and there is no cake remaining, so Georgie trudges home. But wait, it can’t end there can it? No! Of course one’s picture book friends always come through in magnificent fashion, and it is best to discover the tiny, delightful details for oneself.

Chan’s critters are simple and goofy, with exaggerated features like buck teeth, floppy ears, and fanged underbites. Georgie the cat is a wide-eyed, cuddly character, full of strong feelings that he expresses clearly in toddler-like fashion. Chan tucks tiny, noteworthy details into every illustration, slyly winking at urban architectural excesses and applying silly Scarry-style labels on mugs, posters and cross-stitch samplers.

 

Interior artwork from Where's The Party? by Ruth Chan

Interior spread from Where’s the Party? written and illustrated by Ruth Chan, Roaring Brook Press ©2016.

 

A super fun Activity Guide available on the publisher’s website provides a cake recipe, printable cake toppers, a party hat pattern, games and coloring pages. Download your own at this link and get ready to party!

For Ruth Chan’s website click here.

Find out more about Georgie and Feta at georgietales.com.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of WHERE’S THE PARTY? from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.