Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill

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
Winter Themed Picture Books Roundup

Winter Themed Picture Books Roundup

 

WINTER THEMED PICTURE BOOKS ROUNDUP

Winter is definitely here! With parts of the country still under a blanket of snow, it’s a good time to share some cold-weather stories. So find a comfy chair, gather up your books, blanket, and a mug full of hot cocoa and read on.

Curious About Snow Winter-Books-Curious-About-Snow-book-cvr.jpg
by Gina Shaw
A Smithsonian Book
(Grosset & Dunlap; $3.99, Ages 6-8)
Winter time = snow in many parts of the world. Curious About Snow is a great book for curious minds! It helps little children to understand the basic structure of ice crystal, shows many photographs of snowflakes, and will probably make you want to go play in the snow! The book introduces the reader to Wilson Bentley, a man born in 1865, who dedicated his life to studying and photographing snow. You’ll be sure to learn a lot of facts while reading this book! While this Smithsonian book can certainly be loved by all ages, its target audience is elementary school children.

Winter-books-The-Little-Snow-plow-cvr.jpg

The Little Snowplow
Written by Lora Koehler
Illustrator by Jake Parker
(Candlewick; $15.99, Ages 3-7)
The Little Snowplow reminds me of The Little Engine That Could for all the right reasons. You’re sure to love this book if you’re craving a story to encourage your little one about perseverance and practice. The little snowplow practices everyday just in case he’ll be needed for a big job. He continues to try hard even though the bigger snow equipment don’t think he’s useful. Then comes the day where his size and his capabilities save the day! Click here for an activity.

The Bear ReportWinter-Books-The-Bear-Report-cvr.jpg
Written and illustrated by Thyra Heder
(Abrams; $17.95, Ages 4-8)
Great storytelling happens within the beautiful artwork of Thyra Heder in The Bear Report. A young girl named Sophie is reluctant to do her homework about polar bears. After doing a minimalist job, a kind real-life polar bear shows up in her house to show her there are more interesting things where he lives. They go exploring the arctic while the polar bear shows her his favorite things – eating, sleeping, sliding. Sophie and the bear thoroughly enjoy the day together. When she returns home, Sophie is excited to share information about her new friend. This book received a star from Kirkus Reviews.

Winter_Books-Toys_Meet_Snow_Cvr.jpgToys Meet Snow: Being the Wintertime Adventures of a Curious Stuffed Buffalo, a Sensitive Plush Stingray, and a Book-loving Rubber Ball
Written by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
(Schwartz & Wade; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
This trio is loveable! Who knew a stuffed buffalo toy, a plush stingray, and a rubber ball could be so entertaining? Even though I had not read the previous trilogy of Toys Go Out, Toy Dance Party, and Toys Come Home I was easily able to fall in love with these characters as I got to know them. While their ‘Little Girl’ owner is away, the toys see the first snowfall of the season. The inquisitive buffalo gets replies from the poetic stingray and bookwormish ball. They proceed to make their way  to the wintery outside world and return after a full day of outdoor play. A great book for a winter’s day!

Winter’s Child Winter_Books_Winters_Child_cvr.jpg
Written by Angela McAllister
Illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith
(Templar Books/Candlewick $16.99, Ages 3-7))
The fresh illustration style and heartwarming story in Winter’s Child are sure to make this book a classic! This is a storybook, which has much more text than the trending picture books, but it is well worth the read. A young boy, Tom, lives with his mother and Nana. It has been the longest winter they have ever seen and they begin to run out of needed food and supplies. Young Tom goes out to play each day as young children do and he meets a friend. They explore and have fun together for several days, but as time goes on the little family is getting worried that they won’t be able to eat or stay warm much longer. Eventually we find out Tom’s friend is Winter’s child and he didn’t want to sleep. Winter’s child, upon seeing that Tom’s family is being negatively affected, calls for his father. Winter takes his child and the following day signs of spring appear. This beautiful story almost made me cry as I read it to my kids. I was moved by its many great messages of friendship, family bonds, and sacrifice. I highly recommend it!

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath

Hopping Good Fun! Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire! by Mrs. Bunny (Schwartz & Wade, trade paperback, $8.99, Ages 8-12), Translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath, illustrated by Sophie Blackall and reviewed by Hilary Taber.

Madeline has had a very rough time lately. Her hippie parents have been kidnapped! The only lead Madeline has is a note left on the refrigerator written in code. She’s also been the witness of a most amazing thing. She thinks she saw a car full of foxes, with a fox for a driver, leaving her small hometown around the time that her parents went missing. With only these leads to go on, Madeline meets Mr. and Mrs. Bunny who are just as astonished as Madeline to learn that she can understand Rabbit. Madeline, amazingly enough, understands every word Mr. and Mrs. Bunny say!

Bunny-Detectives-cover.jpg

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire! By Mrs. Bunny. Translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath with illustrations by Sophie Blackall, Schwartz & Wade.

The story takes many amusing detours, and Madeline learns something wonderful about her parents. For all their annoying candle making, jewelry making, and general hippie ways, she loves them dearly. Madeline misses her parents so much that she is willing to trust two sometimes muddled, always adorable (and even occasionally correct) fedora-wearing rabbits in order to get them back.

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny have their own story, of course, as to why they are interested in solving crimes. One day Mrs. Bunny said to Mr. Bunny, “I think we should be detectives!” Mr. Bunny, she firmly believes, should give up his job, they should immediately go buy fedoras, and therefore be detectives. Mr. Bunny does bring up a sore point though, which is that they have no license to prove that they are, in fact, detectives. To that bit of logic Mrs. Bunny replies, “I think fedoras are enough. Anyone who sees a bunny in a fedora will not feel the need to see a license.”

At this point in the story I was more than amused. I was laughing and reading parts of it aloud to my family. Although it is extremely funny, this book delves down deeper. It seeks to answer the eternal question, “Why do I put up with my crazy family? Why do I love them so much that I would do anything for them?” while adding detective bunnies on the side. You just can’t ask much more than that from a book. There is a sequel out now titled Mr. and Mrs. Bunny-Almost Royalty, which I am looking forward to reading very much! Well done, Polly Horvath!

almost_royalty_cover.jpg

Lord and Lady Bunny – Almost Royalty! By Mr. & Mrs. Bunny. Translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath, Schwartz & Wade, 2014.

This book would unquestionably make an adorable gift to fans of Mr. Roald Dahl’s or even Mr. Lemony Snicket’s books. Horvath is just as clever, but infinitely sweeter. Additionally, her characters are just as much fun. Mr. and Mrs. Bunny-Detectives Extraordinaire! won a Parent’s Choice Gold Award, and got starred reviews from The Horn Book Review, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly. As if that were not enough, there is a bonus to these books because Mrs. Bunny has her very own blog! It’s not a mystery why your children should be reading these books now, is it? No, it’s more a mystery why we aren’t all reading these books because they are so much fun! Case closed!

Sparky! by Jenny Offill

Savor the Silly, Slothy Delights of Sparky!

sparky!.jpg

Sparky! by Jenny Offill with illustrations by Chris Applehans, © 2014 Schwartz & Wade/Random House Books for Young Readers.

Sparky!, written by Jenny Offill and illustrated by Chris Appelhans (Schwartz & Wade Books, $16.99, Ages 4-8) is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

An earnest young girl asks her mother every day for a month if she can have a pet. Mom finally acquiesces, as long as “it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed.” A bit of research in the Animal Encyclopedia leads her to select a sloth, which arrives by Express Mail. Our sweet narrator optimistically names him “Sparky,” finds him a tree home, and attempts to engage him in games like Hide-and-Seek and Kung Fu Fighter.

Sparky! will delight any young reader who has or desires a non-traditional pet. The narrator is a fine role model who exudes patience and acceptance, allowing her new friend to acclimate at his own very, very slow pace. All is well until she endeavors to teach Sparky “countless tricks” to perform in a Trained Sloth Extravaganza. Funny scenes ensue as she implores the be-glittered Sparky to play dead, roll over, and speak.

Appelhans’ warm brown illustrations are both subdued and comical, perfectly capturing the dull but endearing expressions of the sloth on a limited creamy colored background. Splashes of blue-green and gentle red add warm, bright accents in soft detail. Offill’s text is spot-on for the reflective and thoughtful child, expressing a lovely balance between hope, humor and twinges of doubt.

Sparky! is filled with slow sweetness and quirky humor that is appealing and fun. Don’t speed past this story without savoring its silly delights.

– Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

NOTE: This book will be on sale March 11, 2014. In the meantime, kids can begin enjoying some slothy activities by clicking here.

Where obtained: I received a review copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

Writer’s Block, Not Just for People

This book may have been written for children, but it certainly resonated with today’s reviewer, Debbie Glade.

Looking at the adorable front and back covers of Rocket Writes a Story ($17.99, Schwartz & Wade Books, Ages 4-8) by Tad Hills, made me eager to read what’s inside. And I wasn’t disappointed. Rocket is a lovable mutt who loves to read. (An earlier book, How Rocket Learned to Read was a NY Times Bestseller and a winner of several children’s book awards. Click here for our review.) Rocket also loves to write down words on small pieces of paper, and he hangs them on a beautiful tree. His friend and teacher is a tiny yellow bird, who encourages Rocket to write his very first story.

But Rocket experiences something all too familiar to me and all the other writers out there – writer’s block. Ugh! He walks through the wilderness by day and looks up at the stars by night searching for inspiration for his story. He gets frustrated and irritated and he doesn’t know what to do.  But then one day, he meets a bright-eyed owl, who is perched up in her tree on a nest. That owl inspires Rocket to start writing his story. Will meeting that owl be enough for Rocket to finish what he starts? Read the book and find out.

What I love about Rocket Writes a Story is that it lets kids know that writing doesn’t always (actually maybe never) comes easy. You’ve got to work at it. The way Rocket writes words down is also a great tool for teachers of young readers, since that’s one of the best ways to learn new words. Kids will see Rocket’s frustration and determination by reading the story and looking at the wonderful illustrations. They too will know that this is a perfectly normal part of the learning process. Now we all know that writer’s block is not just for people; it’s for dogs too!

Author/illustrator Tad Hills has a dog named Rocket at home, which obviously inspired him for the character in this book. Even though Rocket is clearly original, I have to wonder also if another dog inspired him to write his stories? Let’s just say he’s a well known white dog with black spots, who has a small yellow bird as a sidekick.

This book is a real winner. It’s beautiful to look at, inspiring to read and it enchants the reader. I’d even buy it as a gift to some of my fellow (adult) writer friends. After reading this, it’s all the inspiration I’m going to need to get me through my writing deadline this afternoon. I think I’ll start with jotting down a few words and hanging them on a tree . . .

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