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.


FRED by Kaila Eunhye Seo

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FRED
Written and illustrated by Kaila Eunhye Seo
(Peter Pauper Press; $15.99, Ages 4-8)

 

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The back cover of FRED, a new picture book, teases readers by posing an interesting question: “What would you do if you had the ability to see and believe in things that others could not?”  It is a compelling invitation to dive into the magical and mystical world of the protagonist, Fred, a small town boy whose imaginary friends fill his world with fun.

Seo builds a fantasy story in which our ordinary day-to-day activities like walking, reading, and shopping are enhanced by kindly gentle creatures who help us by moving branches and providing shade. We can’t see these delightful furry, multi-eyed, prong-horned critters who have the best of intentions, but lucky Fred can! Together he and the creatures jump, swing, and slide and become the best of friends.

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Interior artwork from FRED, written and illustrated by Kaila Eunhye Seo, Peter Pauper Press ©2015.

 

When Fred gets a bit older, he starts school and his days are filled with new, human friends. But his faithful companions remain nearby, looking in the classroom windows, stretching beside him in gym class, and chomping in the cafeteria. After school, Fred wants to play with his new friends. Day after day, the critters wait patiently for Fred, until their hope slowly fades away. Then one day, Fred forgets about them entirely and doesn’t even see them anymore.

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Interior artwork from FRED, written and illustrated by Kaila Eunhye Seo, Peter Pauper Press ©2015.

 

Seo’s talents lie squarely in the illustration arena, and her black and white scenes are filled with delightful details and crisp composition. Fred’s imaginary friends are cuddly and fierce some at once, with wide set round eyes, horns striped like party hats, and wonderfully shaggy fur. They have sweetly fanged smiles and enthusiastic expressions. On the fateful day that Fred ages away, their sad, droopy faces will wring your heartstrings.

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Interior artwork from FRED, written and illustrated by Kaila Eunhye Seo, Peter Pauper Press ©2015.

 

Seo restores color, light and joy to the last pages through Fred’s chance encounter with a special, generous girl. This gentle tale is a sweet balm for little readers who like cuddly monsters, imaginary friends, and happy endings. FRED can’t guarantee that you will begin to see benevolent beasts, but you may find a small flicker of hidden magic in your heart.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a promotional copy of FRED from the publisher and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Click here for a Common Core Teaching Guide


The Winter Train by Susanna Isern

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The Winter Train by award winning author Susanna Isern
with illustrations by Ester Garcia

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A tale of friendship, kindness, and teamwork, can be found in The Winter Train, written by award winning author Susanna Isern with illustrations by Ester Garcia, (Cuento de Luz, November 2014; $16.95, Ages 3-5). Originally written in Spanish under the title, Tren de invierno, Jon Brokenbrow has successfully translated this beautiful story into English.

Every year, all of the animals in the Northern Forest, except for White Owl, Frog, and the fish, pack up their bags and board the Winter Train. They help each other prepare for their trip to a warmer climate in the Southern Forest before the snow hits.

Rabbit, Wolf, and Hedgehog are all on board. Wolf, Goat, and Bat have worked out their seating arrangements, and even Tortoise has managed to get to the train on time. The train chugs along, while the animals are playing games to pass the time, when Genet (a nocturnal, catlike mammal) realizes they’ve left one of their friends behind.

“We’ve forgotten Squirrel! We’ve got to go back and get her!”

“But if we go back, we could get trapped in the snow,” said Beaver, pointing to the dark clouds outside the window.

‘We can’t leave Squirrel behind. She can’t stand the cold,” said Ferret.

“Well, that’s settled then. Let’s go and find her!” said all the animals together.

In this picture book, Garcia’s illustrations show how quickly the landscape can change when autumn turns to winter, and snow covers everything. The bravery of Genet, trotting across the snowy ground to rescue her friend, Squirrel, tugs at your heartstrings. I found myself cheering the cat along on her trek.

Isern’s lyrical style of writing is both appropriate and appealing in this tender-hearted book for pre-schoolers.

“You came back to rescue me!” said Squirrel, shuddering from the cold.

But, of course the animals went back for their tiny friend. Who cares that a train can’t “turn around” or that in reality the animals would have eaten each other? Isern has managed to suspend our sense of reality in this wondrous magical picture book, which is sure to please the child in all of us.

– Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

 


Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty

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Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau
written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts

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Like a delicious French pastry, Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau (Abrams Books for Young Readers; 2014, $16.95, Ages 4-8) is a treat not only to behold, but to be enjoyed frequently perhaps with some steaming hot cocoa. After what may be my fourth or fifth reading I can still say I’m on my Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau honeymoon and continue to find wonderful things to devour on every page.

Observant readers will pick up clues that hat maker extraordinaire, Madame Chapeau is either a war widow, her soldier husband, or maybe her father, having fallen in combat; his hat on a kitchen chair as a sad reminder. Alone and lonely, even on that one night a year, her birthday, Madame Chapeau dresses up, resplendent in her birthday bonnet and takes a stroll to Chez Snooty-Patoot, “the best place in town.” But when she tumbles en route, a crow grabs her headpiece and flies off.

“My hat! My hat! Come back with my hat!
You simply can’t steal someone’s bonnet like that!
Someone quite special once made that for me.
You can’t steal my hat and fly off to a tree!”

Before she can say “baguette,” a baker offers her his trademark tall white hat and so begins the parade of people willing to help out with a loaner. From a policeman to a cowboy, to a Scotsman and a spy, to Charlie Chaplin – we all know his hat as we do the mime’s – total strangers yet lovely souls are being so very kind. I’m delighted, too, that both Beaty and Roberts chose to include such a diverse depiction of Parisians as it’s one of the most multi-cultural cities I know.

Without her special hat, but a birthday cake that’s been paid for, Madame makes her way to Chez Snooty-Patoot to dine alone or so she thinks! Meanwhile, an adorable young black girl whose mother was getting a fitting in Madame Chapeau’s earlier on in the story, is tailing the hat maker, yarn and needles in hand. (At one point we even see a mouse donning a cap matching the girl’s outfit!) NOTE: watch out for this mouse and his hats, as well as the dog and cat belonging to Madame.

“Excuse me, madame,” said a girl dressed in plaid.
“I made you a gift from some yarn that I had.
I made it myself, and I just want to say,
I hope you enjoy it … and Happy Birthday!”

This original new picture book, told in flawless, flowing rhyme is filled to the brim with exquisite, finely detailed watercolor and ink illustrations. Whether read-aloud or to oneself, Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau, is like having a front row seat at Paris Fashion Week (paying homage to many designers) without the expensive price tag that goes along with it.

Click here to download a Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau hat activity sheet.

TWITTER GIVEAWAY!

NOTE: Author Andrea Beatty added some cool info in the comment section which I’m paraphrasing here:

Beaty and Roberts show up in the restaurant. (She has a pen and is wearing Rosie Revere’s cheese hat. Roberts has a paint brush. Plus Iggy Peck’s parents make a cameo, too! All of the hats in the book are based on real hats. Some are David Roberts’ actual millinery designs.)

Click here for a link that shows some of the inspiration Roberts drew upon for his illustrations!

There’s a terrific twitter contest going right now to win 1 of 4 copies of the book. To enter, simply tweet a pic of yourself wearing a hat. #HappyBirthdayMadameChapeau. Winners will be announced on November 1!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


This Orq (he cave boy.) written by David Elliott

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This Orq (he cave boy.) written by David Elliott and illustrated by Lori Nichols, (Boyd’s Mills Press, $15.95, Ages 4-6), is reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

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Orq, a chubby-cheeked cave boy wearing a fuzzy, one-shouldered green tunic, has a pet woolly mammoth named Woma. Orq loves Woma, and Woma loves Orq. But a woolly mammoth is not a perfect pet, even if you live in a cave. Woma grows bigger and bigger, sheds, smells, and isn’t housebroken – er – cave-trained. None of this troubles Orq, but it does bother his mother who declares Woma has got to go!

Of course Orq can’t bear to part with his pet. He decides to show his mother that Woma is “smart” and “cute” by teaching Woma some tricks. Orq teaches Woma to “speak” but the mammoth’s blast knocks mom off her feet. Learning to “roll over” is also disastrous, crushing the flower garden. How will Orq convince his mother that Woma is special and loveable?

Elliott’s splendid story is told in brusque, blunted cave speak that will delight young listeners. Using the simplest of phrases, he carves a connection between boy and pet with humor and flair. This prehistoric pair is sure to have preschool fans grunting along in cave grammar style.
Nichols’ illustrations are appealing and slyly funny. Look closely in this picture book to find a stone tricycle, crayon cave art, and a comic family of brightly colored birds. The expressions and body language of boy and mammoth perfectly convey their deep emotions and enrich the spare dialogue with meaning. My favorite detail – Nichols draws thickly lined red hearts floating above the characters when expressing their love for one another.

Me love Orq… you will too!

Click here for a link to This Orq activity kit with directions to make your own woolly (aka paper bag) mammoth!

-Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I borrowed This Orq (he cave boy.) from my library and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Found by Salina Yoon

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Found by Salina Yoon is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

Junior Library Guild selection for Spring 2014
✩Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

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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.

 


Toe Shoe Mouse by Jan Carr

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See how one tiny mouse’s life changes from cats, claws, and sewers, to ribbons, sequins, and roses in this beautifully written and illustrated picture book, Toe Shoe Mouse (Holiday House, $16.95, Ages 4-8) written by Jan Carr, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell, and reviewed by MaryAnne Locher.

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Toe Shoe Mouse by Jan Carr with illustrations by Jennifer A. Bell, Holiday House, 2014.

After being chased through the sewers of the city, a mouse finds himself at the ballet on a comfy velvety cushion. He enjoys the music and dance so much, that he decides to stay…until a patron claims his seat, and a chase for the little mouse ensues. Luckily, for our adorable rodent friend, he can squeeze into places no human can, and is able to narrowly escape sword-wielding soldiers by squeezing through a small space and into a room. Tuckered out from his recent close calls, he snuggles down into a “… small, satin crevice. It was just the right size for hiding and was padded with a soft bed of lamb’s wool,” and falls asleep.

When he wakes up, little Toe Shoe Mouse discovers he’s in the dressing room of a graceful ballerina, Celeste, who he immediately begins to secretly court for her friendship. But, our narrator is a timid fellow, and flees when he comes nose to nose with his flexible object of his infatuation. A run-in with a broom-batting custodian and then a pack of rats, has the mouse running back to the safety of his pink satin bed. The bed (a toe shoe) is missing. Instead he finds a sweet treat and an enduring, albeit unlikely, friendship with someone who shares his love of music and dance.

Toe Shoe Mouse is right on pointe with artwork by Jennifer A. Bell, rendered in pencil then colored digitally in a soft romantic palette, sure to please ballerinas of all ages. The writing is as exquisite a composition as befits a ballet. The dance of friendship … timeless. It should be noted that Toe Shoe Mouse is wordier than many current picture books, but in a good way. Jan Carr’s writing is reminiscent of the late great Beatrix Potter. Bravo!

Take a peek at some pictures here.