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Inspired by a True Tale – The Dam by David Almond

THE DAM
Written by David Almond
Illustrated by Levi Pinfold
(Candlewick Studio; $17.99, Ages: 5-9)

Starred Review – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

 

cover illustration from The Dam by David Almond with art by Levi Pinfold


Poignant words and haunting illustrations tell this tale based on a true story of love, loss, and rebirth in The Dam written by David Almond and illustrated by Levi Pinfold.

“He woke her early. ‘Bring your fiddle,’” a father tells his daughter. Through these sparse words, the book opens with an immediate sense of urgency. A dam under construction will soon flood a valley cherished by Kathryn and her father. Once home to beloved musician friends, this valley will forever “be gone” and “washed away.” Pinfold’s illustrations echo the somber tone in a palette of gray, green, and white. While his “snapshot” pictures highlight samples of the delicate flora and fauna that will be lost, his double page spreads bring a bigger perspective to the vastness of the English countryside—the vastness of the loss and of the task at hand.

 

interior spread by Levi Pinfold from The Dam by David Almond

THE DAM. Text copyright © 2018 by David Almond. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Levi Pinfold. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

“‘Take no notice. There’s no danger,’” Kathryn’s father tells her. Tearing off boards on the abandoned houses they once gathered in to dance and sing, Kathryn’s father asks her to enter the rooms and play her fiddle. I couldn’t help but pause after reading these lines in the book. No danger? Had this story taken place in America, such an area would be visibly marked off with miles of flourescent yellow “CAUTION” tape and multiple “NO TRESPASSING” signs. Though the illustrations in the book show no such signage, it’s quite possible the characters’ presence in the valley was to some degree illegal. Though whatever physical danger there may have been, they faced an even greater one: the danger of the grieving process.

I compare tearing off boards from house to house to tearing off the bandage on a deep wound, acknowledging its pain, and being present with the discomfort. Kathryn plays and “Daddy sing[s],” lifting spirits “gone and … still to come” up and out of the houses and setting them free to become part of the landscape—the earth, the sky, the animals, and people. What a profound mystery of the human spirit, that we can find the safety of healing only by taking the risk to be vulnerable. Father teaches daughter there really is no danger when we grieve fully and wholeheartedly.

 

interior spread from The Dam by David Almond with art by Levi Pinfold

THE DAM. Text copyright © 2018 by David Almond. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Levi Pinfold. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

“The lake is beautiful” the author tells us, reflecting on how Kathryn and her father embrace the new creation. And just as before, Pinfold’s illustrations give us both detailed and wide-angled views of the landscape. Peaceful blues, gentle greens, and flowy whites restore what was once lost. Even the movement of the little fish mimic the dance of the spirits. Though the valley is gone, music continues to be celebrated.

Both multi-award winners, Almond and Pinfold complement each other beautifully. I strongly recommend the book to caregivers and educators alike, especially as an introduction to issues of change and loss for younger elementary-age children and to issues of death and bereavement for older ones.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Read a review of another David Almond book here.
Read another review by Armineh here.

A Map of Days by Ransom Riggs

A MAP OF DAYS
Written by Ransom Riggs
(Dutton BYR; $22.99, Ages 12 and up) 

book cover image from A Map of Days by Ransom Riggs

An Amazon Best Book of October 2018

The much-awaited fourth Ransom Riggs YA novel in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series, A Map of Days, picks up where book three ended, in current-time Florida. Immediately we are reintroduced to Jacob Portman, Miss Peregrine, and her wards. Yet, for those of us who read the trilogy, then saw Tim Burton’s 2016 feature film adaptation, we need to reorient ourselves. In the film, Grandfather Abe ends up alive and the two main female characters’ powers are reversed. Remember, it’s Emma who can make fire with her hands and Olive who’s lighter than air. The clan arrives to stop Jacob’s family from committing him to a mental-health institution.

I like that A Map of Days explores the confusing romance between teen-aged Jacob and Emma (who was Jacob’s grandfather’s time-arrested ex-girlfriend). What a bizarre love triangle with Emma trapped in a loop for fifty years, pining after Abe as he traveled the globe, aged, and had a family of his own. Will Jacob—even with powers similar to Abe’s—ever fill his grandfather’s hollowgast monster-hunting shoes?

 

int photo from A Map of Days by Ransom Riggs

Interior image from A Map of Days written by Ransom Riggs, Dutton BYR ©2018.

 

The book’s title refers to the temporal atlas that pinpoints the location of time loops in the peculiar (supernormal) world. In the US, these loops are largely unmapped and unknown. Finding or creating an American Map of Days is a priority for Miss Peregrine and the other ymbryines (shape-shifting matriarchs of peculiardom) because the country is fractured by feuding clans and lacks centralized peculiar authority. Jacob, after his prior successes, feels ready to take on an important role, not fully understanding the awaiting dangers—and that’s where this adventure leads.

Fans will enjoy the array of vintage photos scattered throughout the novel and should find the addition of full-color photos appealing as well. With over ten million copies in print of the first three novels, the popularity of this series cannot be overstated. Collectively, the books have spent 100 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

Here’s a link to A Map of Days Book Tour.
Start reading A Map of Days here.
See a trailer 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

Punny, funny history of American English – An Inconvenient Alphabet by Beth Anderson

 

AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET:
BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER’S SPELLING REVOLUTION
Written by Beth Anderson
Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
(Paula Wiseman Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

book cover art from An Inconvenient Alphabet by Beth Anderson

 

       

Anderson’s debut picture book, AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET, will resonate with young readers who are in the thick of mastering the spelling oddities of American English. While some may doubt they have anything in common with Noah Webster or Ben Franklin, Anderson makes a convincing case why the two revolutionaries should be lauded for efforts to unite a young America through common spelling and language conventions.

Writer and printer Benjamin Franklin was frustrated by inconsistent spelling. He tried to simplify the alphabet by removing extraneous letters, but his work did not catch on. Post-Revolution, Noah Webster was also vexed by grammar and pronunciation differences. His solution was the creation of a written guide to American English, but that also did not win public favor.

 

int spread 1 from An Inconvenient Alphabet

An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin and Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution written by Beth Anderson with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, Paula Wiseman Books ©2018.

 


When Franklin and Webster finally met in Philadelphia, their shared interests in reading, writing, language and education sparked a new synergy between them. They agreed that 
“Using twenty-six letters to write forty-four sounds caused nothing but trouble.” Together they decided to devise a new alphabet in which letters matched sounds and sounds matched letters. 

Franklin, the elder partner, left young Webster to the task of winning the hearts and minds of Americans to these spelling reforms. It was a long, uphill battle, even for these two accomplished and educated thinkers, to reach their ambitious goal. Yet Webster’s ultimate solution – a dictionary – was successfully published in 1806 with 37,000 entries, laying the groundwork for the spelling and grammar resources we use today. 

 

int spread 4 from An Inconvenient Alphabet

An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin and Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution written by Beth Anderson with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, Paula Wiseman Books ©2018.

 

Anderson’s illuminating text incorporates playful examples of inconvenient homonyms and confusing phonetic spellings that readers will appreciate. Baddeley cleverly energizes the subtle wordplay with colorful block letters that envelop and accost the main characters. Whimsical wallpaper, silly signage and quirky colonial architecture offer bold and brilliant punny details. In addition, charming dog and cat characters, explained in the postscript, provide lighthearted counterpoint to the “two men wearing tights and ponytails” throughout.

Thoroughly researched and delightfully presented, AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET is a unique look at a new kind of “revolution” and a lively choice for its approachable introduction to the history of American English.

• Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Find another #Epic18 review by Cathy here

Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

 

A Bibliophile’s Dream – Lost in the Library by Josh Funk

LOST IN THE LIBRARY:
A STORY OF PATIENCE & FORTITUDE

Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Stevie Lewis
(Henry Holt BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

cover illustration from Lost in the Library

 

I practically live in my local library so I’ve always found books about them quite appealing. Josh Funk’s latest, Lost In The Library, is no exception. Even the colors illustrator Stevie Lewis has used look like library colors: warm browns and beiges, deep rusts, soft greens and grays. I could even feel the cool hallways, hear the echoes of feet and the crisp flipping of page turns and, last but not least, smell centuries-worth of books, some old and dusty, others new and slick.

That brings me to Funk’s wonderful story about two iconic library lions who sit atop plinths in front of the Main Branch of the New York Public Library. Patience and Fortitude, so dubbed by Mayor LaGuardia, have rested in those spots since the 1930s. Lost in the Library, a rhyming picture book, begins with Fortitude noticing that Patience is missing. He then heads into the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (aka the Main Branch) to find his friend and, thanks to his search, provides readers a vicarious visit inside this 100 plus years-old library. While hunting in the wee morning hours before opening time, Fortitude meets various statues, paintings and even a lion fountain located throughout the building’s abundant and beckoning rooms and halls. Each new encounter brings him closer to Patience with hints for savvy youngsters that the lion is no stranger to the vast corridors of the NYPL.

 

int spread of lion and paintings from Lost in the Library by Josh Funk

Interior illustration from Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience & Fortitude by Josh Funk with illustrations by Stevie Lewis, Henry Holt BYR ©2018.

 

During a well-timed moment of reflection, Fortitude shares how he and Patience weren’t always pals. In fact Fortitude initially mistook Patience’s shyness for rudeness but with time the lions grew close. The main feature that helped form the bond of their friendship was Patience’s gift of storytelling. “Fortitude cherished each one.” Determined now to find his buddy, Fortitude, with the help of a trusty Visitor’s Guide, finally locates Patience in the place most adult readers likely suspected, The Children’s Center. With its bright, welcoming colors, the room is filled with everyone’s favorite books by their beloved authors and illustrators. It seems the storytelling lion’s secret source was there on the shelves of the library all along! 

 

int spread by Stevie Lewis from Lost in the Library by Josh Funk

Interior illustration from Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience & Fortitude by Josh Funk with illustrations by Stevie Lewis, Henry Holt BYR ©2018.

 

There aren’t a lot of people in the story, but artist Lewis has given those who briefly appear a cool retro style which adds to the timeless quality of the library’s decor so beautifully illustrated. And I love how Funk seamlessly weaves Fortitude’s quest for Patience with the library tour and notable library attractions. I cannot wait to go back to NYC to have another visit and I bet attendance has soared since this book’s publication! The back matter includes interesting information about the library’s lions and other facts that even I, a former New Yorker, didn’t know. This touching tribute to libraries everywhere and the enduring power of great stories will endear it to readers young and old. Getting lost never felt better.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

These Birds of a Feather Seek Food Together- No Peacocks! by Robin Newman

NO PEACOCKS!
A Feathered Tale of Three Mischievous Foodies
Written by Robin Newman
Illustrated by Chris Ewald
(Sky Pony Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

book cover art from No Peacocks!

 

Maybe you know a Phil, a Jim or a Harry, but I bet you don’t know any that are peacocks! After reading Robin Newman’s new picture book, No Peacocks! with illustrations by Chris Ewald, you’re probably going to want to meet this trio, perhaps even cook for them! I know I do. The personalities of these three particular peafowls shine through on every page of this humorous story based on the real life birds.

Tired of the same old, same old—sunflower seeds—the pals, who live in Manhattan on the grounds of The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, head out to find some real food. Everywhere they venture they hear the dreaded two words from restaurant owners from whom they seek a decent meal, “No peacocks!” What’s a bird to do? Before long their caretaker turns up to take them back home.

 

interior artwork by Chris Ewald from No Peacocks! by Robin Newman

Interior illustration from No Peacocks! written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Chris Ewald, Sky Pony Press ©2018.

 

When overcome by wafts of tempting “gooey, creamy and delicious mac ‘n cheese” emanating from the church school cafeteria, the persevering peacocks hatch a plan. But even that clever scheme to disguise themselves as students ends in humiliation and lands them in the doghouse so-to-speak. Kids will delight at their wild antics especially when shadowy arrangements are ultimately made on the q.t. to swap prized feathers for the long awaited cheesy food. Can the culprit deliver? Will the mac ‘n cheese meet their expectations? Will sunflower seeds soon become history? That’s a treat even I won’t give away. What I will say is that Newman has found the right mix of silliness and entertaining storytelling to satisfy every young reader. “From the first moment I saw the dynamic feathered trio, I knew that I wanted to write a story about them,” says Newman in the back matter. After reading No Peacocks! and feeling the obvious pleasure the plucky peacocks bring to all who know them, it was obvious to me that this story just shouted Robin’s name.  

 

int illustration by Chris Ewald from No Peacocks! by Robin Newman

Interior illustration from No Peacocks! written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Chris Ewald, Sky Pony Press ©2018.

 

Chris Ewald’s art truly takes flight in this tale. His illustrations feature so many funny expressions and peacocky poses of our fab feathered friends. The spreads are richly colored in vibrant jewel tones, quite fitting for peafowls, and they’re also full of movement as the story itself leaps forward. Together with Newman’s prose, Ewald’s art easily makes No Peacocks! a perfect story time pick. Also helpful is a page of Resources at the end for peacock enthusiasts and those interested in learning more about the uptown celebrity birds that inspired the book.

 

interior art and photos from No Peacocks!

Interior illustration and images from No Peacocks! written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Chris Ewald, Sky Pony Press ©2018.

 

Click here for a Teacher’s Guide for No Peacocks!

  • Review by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

It’s Group Hug Time – A Pandemonium of Parrots

A  PANDEMONIUM OF PARROTS AND OTHER ANIMALS
Written by Kate Baker
Illustrated by Hui Skipp

(Big Picture Press; $16.99, Ages 7-9)

 

 

A Pandemonium of Parrots (and other animals) by Kate Baker is a rhyming picture book chock full of clever animal groups and fascinating facts about every type of animal. Did you know that a group of flamingos is called a flamboyance? How fitting is that?

 

A Pandemonium of Parrots interior spread 1

A PANDEMONIUM OF PARROTS AND OTHER ANIMALS. Copyright © 2016 by The Templar Company Limited. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

As a preschool teacher, I could not stop myself from becoming more excited with each page turn knowing that this excellent book is not only for fun and entertainment purposes, but it also provides the ideal opportunity for learning in a colorful and unique way. Each page features a number of colorful animals doing different activities while inviting the reader to join in a search-and-find mission by asking questions like, “Who is sleeping?” or Who is swimming backwards?” or “Who just went fishing?” etc. I can already imagine my students gleefully pretending to be each animal presented. Kids will find they can identify individually with any number of specific animals in the groups depicted.

 

interior spread 2 from A Pandemonium of Parrots

A PANDEMONIUM OF PARROTS AND OTHER ANIMALS. Copyright © 2016 by The Templar Company Limited. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

A Pandemonium of Parrots is the perfect precursor to a zoo field trip or story time on any day of the week when your child is looking for a book about their favorite creatures. The helpful back-matter includes incredible facts about each type of animal group such as the fact that some beetles are strong enough to snap a pencil! Youngsters will not be disappointed with this fresh and interesting take on animal groups with illustrations by Hui Skipp that are richly colored, captivating and full of life.

Check out A Pandemonium of Parrots and enjoy the pretend play it is sure to inspire.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

Let’s Talk Time Tales – Wednesdays With Once Upon a Time

WHAT WE’RE READING
WEDNESDAYS 
WITH ONCE UPON A TIME

Always Time for Books –
A Roundup of Time Related Reads

Books have a way of making time do funny things; slowing us down as we settle into the story and speeding up whenever a clue is about to be revealed. And of course, there is never enough time to read all the books we want to read. There is so much power in the way that books and readers interact with time and we wanted to highlight some of our middle grade favorites here at Once Upon A Time.

 

cover illustration from Saving Winslow by Sharon CreechThe slow and careful buildup of love and trust is the star in Saving Winslow (HarperCollins) by Sharon Creech. A delightful family read-aloud that skillfully weaves empathy, compassion and family into a beautifully realized story, universal, timeless and, dare I say a new classic, in the mold of Charlotte’s Web (without the talking animals). Ten-year old Louie is determined to save a sick miniature donkey even though his past animal endeavors haven’t turned out well. His parents caution him but Louie names his new charge Winslow as a sign of faith and determination in the small creature’s survival. Louie uses his plight as a way to connect with his brother’s absence while serving in the Vietnam War. Saving Winslowcaptures an innocence and steadfast belief in miracles that are real and close at hand. ★Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal.
Buy the book here: https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/book/9780062570703

 

 

 

cover illustration from Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak SpanishEverything can change in just a few days. In Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish (Viking BYR), Pablo Cartaya shows how much time and place impact who you are. Marcus Vega may look like the average bully—large, silent, and overwhelming—but inside he is just a boy too big for the quiet kids and too small to fill the shoes of his absent father. Marcus is suspended from school for protecting his brother from a bully and decides his time off would be better spent searching for answers from his father in Puerto Rico. With his mother and brother in tow and only a few days to accomplish his goal, Marcus goes down a path of misadventure leading to understanding. A fast-paced journey of self-discovery about the role of family, friendship, and home. Perfect for readers ages 10 to 14. ★Starred Review – School Library Journal. Buy the book here: https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/book/9781101997260

 

 

 


cover illustration from Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the VastlanticFor fantasy adventure readers that want to be blown away, Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic (HarperCollins) written and illustrated by Armand Baltazar is for them. First, the physical book is 400+ pages and weighs a massive 2.5 lbs! But that’s because there are over 150 full color illustrations throughout which pull the reader along the fast-paced story. And second, the premise—our world is 300 years in the future, has collapsed for a minute, and in that time reconfigured with past, present and future worlds meshed all together – without cell phones, electricity. “Diego’s middle school hallways buzz with kids from all eras of history and from cultures all over the world.” Dinosaurs are with robots (mechanical) and tall ships, sort of steam punk but not.

 

Diego is 13 and a mechanical whiz. He and his family live near the coast in New Chicago, a reimagined Chicago and its waterways. Diego has concocted a cool mechanical submarine in order to go to school! The plot goes crazy when Diego’s dad is kidnapped by a villain from Roman times. He’s aware that Diego’s dad is a mechanical genius who can help mechanize the robots and turn the world back to the proper time. Diego’s friends go with him as he tries to find his father. Help from his pilot mother and the Rangers set up this first in a series. I LOVED the vast world building, fast pace and those one-of-a-kind illustrations. Truly, this is what I think could be the next Harry Potter type series which will capture the imaginations of adventure fans all over and for years to come. Best for ages 9 and up. ★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly. Buy the book here: https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/book/9780062402363

Looking for a good way to spend your time in addition to reading? Meet Armand Baltazar, creative mind behind Timeless on Friday, October 19th at 7 pm for a special book signing and costume contest.

Find event details here: https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/event/book-signing-and-costume-contest-armand-baltazar

  • Reviewed by Jessica Palacios

NOTE: Good Reads With Ronna makes no commission or profit from the sale of any book in this post. Our goal is to encourage the love of reading great books.

 

A Sweet Bedtime Treat: Goodnight, Anne by Kallie George

GOODNIGHT, ANNE
Written by Kallie George
Illustrated by Genevieve Godbout
(Tundra Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

cover illustration from Goodnight Anne by Kallie George

 

Goodnight, Anne, a welcome tribute to L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, makes me smile! Everything about it is suitably comfortable, yet also dreamy.

interior spread from Goodnight Anne

Interior artwork from Goodnight, Anne written by Kallie George and illustrated by Genevieve Godbout, Tundra Books ©2018.

 

Anne (with an “e”) goes about her little world saying goodnight to everyone and everything around her. Page after page of Genevieve Godbout’s warm, winsome illustrations beckon the reader to join Anne as she remembers all the people and places she loves before she finally goes to sleep. Older readers already familiar with Anne will welcome the familiar names, but younger readers will not lose out. Marilla, Matthew, Gilbert, Diana, Mrs. Lynde and Miss Stacy all make appearances in the book.

interior artwork from Goodnight Anne

Interior artwork from Goodnight, Anne written by Kallie George and illustrated by Genevieve Godbout, Tundra Books ©2018.

 

Some of the things that Anne says goodnight to, such as stars, trees, and flowers, younger readers already know. There are just enough Anne references to please any fan, yet not so many that anyone would feel left out if they had not already heard Anne’s story. In fact, it will send them in search of more of Anne’s stories!

int illustration from Goodnight Anne

Interior artwork from Goodnight, Anne written by Kallie George and illustrated by Genevieve Godbout, Tundra Books ©2018.

 

Kallie George’s writing is simple yet lovely, making the book just right for children. It will see them off to bed beautifully. Anne would be so pleased to know that her story would see someone off to bed beautifully! All around it’s a treat of a book that cherishes the spirit of the original work. I have a feeling that both the author and artist worked very hard to honor Anne’s story and L.M. Montgomery’s writing. They certainly have accomplished that, and that was no easy task. Congratulations to both of them on a book Anne would have adored. Be sure to pick up Goodnight, Anne for any kindred spirit you might know who would enjoy Anne’s company at an early age. We all know someone who reminds us of Anne!

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

 

 

Ivy and Bean are Back in One Big Happy Family (book 11)

IVY + BEAN:
ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY (BOOK 11)

Written by Annie Barrows
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
(Chronicle Books; $14.99, Ages 6-9)

 

cover illustration fron Ivy and Bean One Big Happy Family

The wait is over because Ivy and Bean are back! In Ivy + Bean: One Big Happy Family (the eleventh book of the critically acclaimed series), second-grade teacher Ms. Aruba-Tate has the class draw the Important People in their lives. This leads Ivy to wonder whether she’s spoiled because she’s an only child. After the BFFs try various things to test whether this is true, Ivy realizes the “cure” is to get a sister!

 

int artwork and text from Ivy and Bean One Big Happy Family

Interior spread from Ivy and Bean: One Big Happy Family (Book 11) written by Annie Barrows and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, Chronicle Books ©2018.

 

As usual, misdirection and mayhem unfold as the girls conjure up creative ways to obtain a sibling. They discover baby sisters are almost as bad as big sisters, leaving only one solution: twins. Although One Big Happy Family tackles a somewhat common premise, the story line goes to unexpected places. Other books involve siblings issues, but Annie Barrows finds new ground in which to grow this story. She continues the series with the humor we expect from adorable troublemakers, Ivy and Bean. Fans and new readers alike will enjoy spending some time with these girls as they traverse their Pancake Court neighborhood, taking life by storm.

Sophie Blackall’s illustrations on each two-page spread convey hilarious facial expressions and silly predicaments. Images and text interweave, boosting these chapter books to something better than each half alone. Carefully placed details add depth beyond the humor. The girls tackle real-life issues but do so in a way only Ivy and Bean can. Their escapades, while outrageous at moments, also work out issues in kid-relatable ways, demonstrating why this series continues to be a hit at home and in the classroom.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

Fitting In – The Power of Belonging in Vera Brosgol’s Be Prepared

BE PREPARED
Written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol
(First Second; $12.99, Ages 10-14)

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

 

book cover illustration from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

 

Be Prepared, a middle grade graphic novel written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, is the book I needed in middle school. Aside from the fact that I never actually got to go to summer camp, I imagine my experiences would have been eerily similar to the protagonist’s trials and tribulations, including the torture of the unknown when it came to outhouse bathrooms. (I did go camping a lot and have never met a Port-a-Potty I liked, but then, who has?). The expressive and verdant illustrations truly capture the specific tumultuous emotions of tweens and beyond and captured my heart with the integrity and honesty given to this age group.

int artwork by Vera Brosgol from Be Prepared

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

Even though your kids are back to school with visions of summer lingering in their heads, Brosgol’s novel will help quell some of those summer pangs. Written from the perspective of a young Russian girl named Vera who is trying to fit in with her peers, Be Prepared simultaneously pulls the reader into an immediate place of recognition as well as a fresh perspective from a Russian family. 

int art from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

While her friends have big houses and to-die-for birthday parties, Vera struggles to gain acceptance in her smaller home she shares with her Mom and little brother. When Vera finds out from a Russian friend at Temple that a special summer camp exists geared towards Russian kids, she almost explodes with delight at the thought of going to a camp where she can relate to her peers and make some new friends. Since her school peers have been to sleep away summer camps and trips all over the world, Vera listens intently and absorbs information as they talk extensively about it all, hoping that following this summer she’ll have camp stories to share as well.

Int artwork from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

Vera and her brother have never been to summer camp, and she is determined to convince her mom that they should both go. And they do. As the first day of camp approaches, Vera is bursting at the seams. Her younger brother remains apprehensive. Thrown into the midst of a tent with two older campers who are seasoned participants, Vera’s welcome is not what she had in mind. Initially frowned upon for being so young, Vera’s artistic skills impress the older campers and they start asking for drawings. In return, Vera is suddenly at the center of attention she always thought she wanted. But giving away her art quickly turns into giving away her contraband candy stash as well as turning a blind eye to other campers she might have a genuine connection with. When Vera is caught with candy in her shared tent by the camp counselor, every bunk is raided until all the candy is gone, and Vera’s popularity with the older girls plummets. Adding to Vera’s stress and dismay is the fact that her younger brother seems to be enjoying camp just fine and isn’t anxious to leave as soon as possible like she is.

int artwork from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

The turning point for Vera is her camp counselor encouraging her to find friends that don’t ask for something in return for “friendship.” Soon Vera finds out that a young camper with a missing guinea pig is an interesting and fun person to hang out with. At the end of camp both Vera and her younger brother come to terms with some of the pros and cons of summer camp on the drive home and, in a tender moment of sibling connection, find out that they have both struggled. 

Check out Be Prepared and feast your eyes on the amazing artistry and storytelling skills of Vera Brosgol, an author your kids are sure to want more of.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

The Remember Balloons & Maximillian Villainous – Two Heart-filled Books

MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS
Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias

Illustrated by Lesley Breen Withrow
(Running Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

&

THE REMEMBER BALLOONS
Written by Jessie Oliveros

Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
(Simon and Schuster; $17.99, Ages 5-9)

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

cover art from Maximillian Villainous The monster members of Max’s family cannot understand why he is SO good and not at all villainous, as they are. MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS is kind, helpful and constantly scrambling to make amends for his family’s mischievous misdeeds. When Max brings home a bunny, his family decides to offer him the ultimate test. He must complete three devious, villainous tasks in order to keep his sweet, fluffy and otherwise unsuitable pet.

Max and bunny do try to tackle their tricky To Do list, but they are too nice! They fail repeatedly and humorously, although they persist in finding creative solutions. Eventually Max begins to despair that he can succeed in behaving badly. Will he be forced to give up his beloved rabbit? With comic antics and heart-tugging earnestness, eager readers will be delighted to discover whether Max and his bunny can uncover a solution that saves the day.

Withrow’s adorable illustrations are colorful, bright and filled with expression. Max and his family are clearly monsters, adorned with horns, fangs and claws, but they are also incredibly child-friendly, cute and appealing. Clever, whimsical elements are tucked onto every page for young readers to discover. Greanias’ playful dialogue and crisp pacing enhance the odds that MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS will become a read-it-again, monstrous favorite in many homes.

cover art from The Remember BalloonsIn THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, debut author Oliveros features a three-generation family coping with an elderly grandfather’s memory loss. Using colored balloons to represent treasured memories, each family member carries bunches ranging from small to large. “This one’s my favorite,” says the young boy narrator as he points to a blue balloon. It’s filled with special scenes from his birthday party. “When I look at it I can see the pony again. I can still taste the chocolate frosting.”

But Grandpa’s balloons are beginning to slip away, one by one, as his memories start to fade. The narrator struggles with sadness and anger as he witnesses his grandfather’s decline, metaphorically paired with the shrinking number of balloons. His helplessness is palpable, as is his deep love for his grandfather. When even a most precious memory of a special fishing trip is lost, the boy’s parents step in to offer consolation. Although it is bittersweet when the boy discovers that the number of his balloons continues to grow, the tale arrives at a comforting and heartwarming conclusion that will satisfy all.

Wulfekotte’s adept illustrations place detailed vignettes of special memories within a broad spectrum of delicately tinted balloons. The family, in soft, black and white lines and gray shading, is often nestled in close, companionable connection. Settings are simple and understated, allowing the significance of the balloons to hold the focus. Oliveros uses clear, direct language to relay this poignant story in a manner that keeps it accessible for a wide range of readers. THE REMEMBER BALLOONS beautifully expresses the enduring love and importance of family memories in a gracious and meaningful book. Kirkus, starred review

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained:  I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

The Lying King by author illustrator Alex Beard

THE LYING KING
Written and illustrated by Alex Beard

(Greenleaf Book Group Press; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

 

cover illustration from The Lying King by Alex Beard

Alex Beard’s fourth book in his Tales from the Watering Hole series is the fifty-four-page picture book, The Lying King. The bright-white uncluttered backgrounds direct focus to a self-confident warthog lacking a moral compass who aspires to be king. Though the animals notice his misbehavior, they merely “think on it sadly,” too few willing to vocalize their concerns. The warthog’s lies begin small but soon (outrageously) propel him to leadership.

Clever illustrations enhance the story line’s depth. Beard’s stylistic swirls found on the main character are echoed in the beautifully drawn peacocks and in some of the birds. The king’s fanciful crown has four tall spire-shaped points topped with ruby-red accents. Rhyming hand-lettered text gives the book a handcrafted feel.

Comical asides add another layer of fun. In a scene where the text states, “He turned loyal subjects against one another, by making each question the aims of the other,” the side note has the king declaring, “White zebras with black stripes are better than black zebras with white stripes.” In response, the zebras concernedly ask one another, “Which are you?”

 

The Lying King interior artwork

Interior illustration from The Lying King written and illustrated by Alex Beard, Greenleaf Book Group Press ©2018.

 

While parents may read The Lying King as a political allegory, children will delight in the modern images and engaging rhyme offset by a story that feels old-fashioned. Parabolic lessons include the importance of being honest, fair, and authentic.

Ultimately, the piggish king’s words ensnare him. Awakening from their stupor, the kingdom’s animals realize, “A lying pig should not be the king.”

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

Mr. Wolf’s Class – A Graphic Novel by Aron Nels Steinke

MR. WOLF’S CLASS: The First Day of School 
Written and illustrated by Aron Nels Steinke
(Graphix; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

 

Mr. Wolf's Class book cover art

 

Mr. Wolf’s Class: Book #1 The First Day of School  by Aron Nels Steinke is not your mother’s back-to-school middle grade chapter book. It’s a smart, funny, insightful look at fourth-grade in graphic novel format and I enjoyed every page. From the realistic, contemporary dialogue to the perfectly captured facial expressions on the diverse line up of teachers and students, Steinke succeeds in helping readers connect with and care about an assorted and appealing cast of characters. And that’s a good thing since this is Book #1 in a new series that is sure to captivate even the most reluctant kid.

In this first book, we’re introduced to Mr. Wolf, a new teacher at Hazelwood Elementary. In fact, even before Chapter One (there are eleven chapters in total), anthropomorphic artwork full of color and movement shows Mr. Wolf conscientiously preparing his classroom followed by frames of each student, with illustration clues, as a quick and clever way to hint at their personality or issue. There’s new-in-town student, Margot, eager to start school but nervous about making friends; there’s Penny, poor, wiped out Penny, whose constantly crying baby sibling is keeping her from getting a good night’s sleep; there’s Aziza, a dedicated student but slightly snarky; and there’s Sampson, who’s brought something special to school to share at show-and-tell.

As an elementary school teacher and parent, Steinke totally gets this age group and the ever-changing dynamic of the classroom. One minute there’s silent reading and the next there’s chaos. All types of conflicts caused by all kinds of kids can occur throughout the day and Steinke’s chosen a few good ones to portray in Mr. Wolf’s Class. He’s included geeks and smart alecks, thoughtful and mean kids. He’s also got bossy and meek ones, tattle tales and show offs. With that kind of composition, anything can and does happen under Mr. Wolf’s supervision including a missing student, show-and-tell, and a burgeoning friendship. 

I’d like to emphasize here that this book can be appreciated year round for its wit, its engaging illustrations and the delightful depiction of fourth-grade from multiple perspectives. Join Mr. Wolf and his students to see first-hand what’s happening at Hazelwood Elementary.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Back-to-School Books Bonanza! A Roundup Part 2

SCHOOL’S STARTING SO …
IT’S TIME FOR OUR
 BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS ROUNDUP 2018
PART 2

 

Back to school clip art looseleaf paper

 

Some kids returned to school in August. Have yours? Maybe your children are getting ready to begin the new school year after Labor Day. In other words there’s still time to read about and buy the latest books covering the entire school experience. Today’s titles range from first days and school staff to pet pandemonium. Don’t forget to also check out our Back-to-School Roundup Part 1.

 

No Frogs in School book cover illustrationNO FROGS IN SCHOOL
Written by A. LaFaye
Illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 4-7)

What do you do when you love pets so much that you can’t imagine going to school without one? That’s Bartholomew Bott’s dilemma in No Frogs in School. Monday meant frogs much to his teacher’s dismay. Tuesday turned out to be super for bringing in his salamander. Once again, Mr. Patanoose, was not amused and banned all amphibians from being brought to school. It worked out to bring Horace the hamster to school on Wednesday, but once on campus things didn’t go so well. Mr. P added rodents to the banned list. On Thursday Sylvia the snake had a turn and scared some classmates. Naturally no reptiles were allowed after that fiasco! In fact for Friday’s show and tell, the teacher specified that kids could bring in anything “But no more of YOUR pets.” That’s when Bartholomew had a brilliant idea. He’d bring in Rivka the rabbit who could be EVERYONE’S pet! And that made all the kids and even Mr. P happy. Kids can be so literal and LaFaye has taken this childlike characteristic and woven it into a cute and colorful tale. I give Bartholomew a lot of credit for persevering to get his beloved creatures to accompany him to school. When that didn’t work, he found an even better solution, a class pet to please all.

LaFaye’s created a clever story about a clever youngster that will appeal to pet-loving kids everywhere. This year ’round read is infused with subtle humor that is complemented beautifully by the illustrations. From the kitty in the fish bowl to a sandwich eating duck, the first spread by Ceulemans gives readers a great idea what fun the multiple media artwork has in store. I laughed upon finding a sock puppet peeking through the classroom door in the second spread that I’d somehow missed during my initial reading. I appreciated all the attention to little details whether that is a student about to eat a shovelful of dirt or Bott’s slippers. Pick up a copy today and enjoy!

 

Fairy's First Day of School book cover illustrationFAIRY’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Written by Bridget Heos
Illustrated by Sara Not
(Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

In Fairy’s First Day of School, the action starts off before the title page with a speech bubble “Wake up,” as a lady bug calls out to a sleeping fairy. Over breakfast Mama fairy explains how things will go on the first day of school which in this case means the entire routine we all know so well—swan school bus, teacher greeting, classmates meeting, circle time, show and tell, centers, recess, lunch, nap time, story time, and home—but with wings and fairy things!

This delightful twist on what children should expect on their first day works so well with the fairy angle. All the tiny things are gem-toned and appealingly illustrated. And all the activities are ideal for winged little ones such as art center, tooth center and spells center. Just remember your wand for cleaning up any messes made. It’s so much fun playing hide-and-seek behind toadstools, dining on “a petal-and-dewdrop sandwich” and eating one human-sized sprinkle for dessert. Just imagine having story time in a bird’s nest and you’ll understand how charming and enchanting this fairy-take on the first day of school is. Not’s whimsical illustrations combined with Heos’ magical language and fun premise make one reading simply not enough. 

 

School People book cover artSCHOOL PEOPLE
Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Ellen Shi
(Wordsong; $17.95, Ages 5-8)

The first thing I noticed when I read the contents page of School People, an interesting new collection of school-themed poems, is how many different jobs there are. Fifteen fabulous poems run the gamut from bus driver and crossing guard to teacher, principal and librarian and lots more important professionals in-between. I especially like that the nurse, custodian and lunch lady are also included. Even the building itself has been included. “School’s Story” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, the first poem in the anthology, is a warm and welcoming one beginning with “I am waiting – come on in! / Welcome to this house of brick. / Enter whispers, whistles, signs, / footsteps, fossils, notebook lines.”

While I was never a P.E. enthusiast as a student, I have to admit Charles Ghigna’s “Coach” felt upbeat and its ending, “life is a gym / come- / have a ball”, is terrific. So is the accompanying artwork by Ellen Shi. In it she’s presented the instructor with students from what would likely be the ball’s perspective, down low and looking up, with students’ faces fixed on the coach, replete with whistle in her mouth, hands gesturing, all under an afternoon sky. Hopkins shares the magic a librarian brings to their position, the one person I credit with turning me into a reader when I had all but given up on books as a second grader.

Notable poet names you’ll recognize, as Hopkins often includes many of them in other collections, are Ann Whitford Paul, Alma Flor Ada, J. Patrick Lewis, Joan Bransfield Graham, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Renée LaTulippe plus others new to me such as Robyn Hood Black, Michele Krueger, Matt Forrest Esenwine,  Darren Sardelli, and Irene Latham. Shi’s illustrations, done digitally, are cheerful, energetic and cover a range of emotions from the sadness of an ill child at the nurse to dramatic student performers in theater class. School People, an ideal read aloud, is a fitting tribute to the variety of important individuals whose roles throughout a typical school day help shape our children’s learning experience.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

 

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Dragons, Friendship and Magic – The Language of Spells

THE LANGUAGE OF SPELLS
Written by Garret Weyr
Illustrated by Katie Harnett
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

The Language of Spells book cover art

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus Reviews

The Language of Spells_Interior Illo 1

Interior art from The Language of Spells written by Garret Weyr with illustrations by Katie Harnett, Chronicle Books ©2018.

In the middle-grade novel, The Language of Spells, homeschooled eleven-year-old Maggie lives in a Viennese hotel with her father. She knows many things, but how to make friends isn’t one of them—until she meets Grisha (a dragon who’s spent decades observing humans and has grown up without doing any of the proper dragon things). Born in 1803, he is the last of his kind. “As the world of men built new and extraordinary things, the world of magic began to decline. No creature lives beyond its own world, and a dragon is nothing if not a creature from the world of magic.”

The Language of Spells_Interior Illo 3

Interior art from The Language of Spells written by Garret Weyr with illustrations by Katie Harnett, Chronicle Books ©2018.

All dragons were summoned to Vienna and, due to the inconvenience of their existence, most mysteriously disappeared. While the Department of Extinct Exotics controls the gold-eyed dragons who were allowed to remain, Grisha struggles to remember what happened to the others. Maggie’s determination to help sets them on an investigative journey. Though they know using magic requires a sacrifice, Maggie and Grisha travel across Europe to fight injustice and face difficult decisions.

The Language of Spells is a different sort of dragon tale—one worth a deliberate read and thoughtful introspection. Each chapter opens with a charming illustration by Katie Harnett. The uplifting scenes enhance the story’s relationships. Weyr’s slow-building, sometimes funny tale has an old-fashioned lyrical feel. The book raises questions about the cost of power, the bonds of families and friendships. When few can see the magic left in the world, does it still exist?

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

 

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