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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

 

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

ALL’S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL
Written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson
(Dial BYR; $20.99, Ages 8-12)

 

cover image for All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly
A New York Times Editor’s Choice
An Autumn Kids’ Indie Next List top pick

 

Victoria Jamieson’s graphic novel, All’s Faire in Middle School, provides a much-needed glimpse into alternative lifestyles. Twelve-year-old Imogene has been homeschooled by parents who work at Florida’s Renaissance Faire. When Imogene starts public school for the first time, she faces a very different world than at the faire where she is a knight-in-training.

Each chapter begins with brief synopsis of the brave heroine’s plight, conveyed in somewhat Old English. With much of the book set at the faire, readers gain insight into this medieval reenactment where people choose which role to play. Imogene never wanted to be the princess, but she questions whether she is destined to be a knight—maybe she’s more like Cussie, the hermit. Sometimes, Imogene behaves like the dragon.

The story explores Imogene’s turbulent journey to self-discovery. This is a tale of acceptance, forgiveness, friends, and blossoming sexuality. Imogene is every preteen, learning what it takes to fit in at school. She is teased for wearing thrift-store clothes with the wrong shoes. Imogene’s family becomes an embarrassment to her when they show up still dressed in Elizabethan costume and think nothing of it. Before entering sixth-grade, Imogene hadn’t noticed her family was different and how this is viewed suspiciously.

As with Jamieson’s successful Newbery Honor Book Roller Girl, in All’s Faire, the protagonist is a tough girl struggling with prepubescent emotions. The love of Imogene’s family—including her “faire-mily”—is a constant. Even when at odds with her parents and brother, in the end, Imogene realizes that the bullies and popular kids at school are something to suffer in passing. Her philosophy of what’s important shifts—and that makes all the difference.

Imogene makes unkind choices, acting out against others because of her own frustration. Her journey to finding the right path is a realistically portrayed ongoing battle. In life, there are no easy answers. Family can embarrass us by just being themselves. We all make mistakes, yet, each day, we can choose which character we wish to play. The book concludes with an understanding that, if you believe there are happy endings in sixth-grade, then you haven’t attended middle school—a declaration which will resonate with readers everywhere.

 

 

  • 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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Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman & Sergio Garcia Sanchez

Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure
Written by Nadja Spiegelman
Illustrated by Sergio Garcia Sanchez
(Toon Books; $16.95, Ages 8-12)
Also available in Spanish

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A Junior Library Guild Selection
Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal & Booklist

Ever gotten lost on a subway? In New York? I have and I’m from New York! But once you’ve navigated your way around and feel you’ve got the hang of the subway, it’s like you’re on top of the world, not 35 feet underground (like at the 42nd St. Station). You might never take the bus again.

intimageLostinNYC.jpgI’ll start this review by pointing out that a purchase of Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure, is like getting multiple books in one! First there’s the graphic novel adventure featuring Pablo, a boy new to both his school and to the city. Alicia, a classmate, volunteers to partner with him on a field trip to the Empire State Building using public transportation. At the uptown Manhattan subway station (96th St.), the pair get separated from their class and have to find their way alone. Eventually even Alicia and Pablo get separated which may seem frightening, but it’s never presented that way. In fact, it’s empowering for kids to see their peers commuting this way successfully. Demonstrating common sense, the two make tracks individually to the Empire State Building, one on foot, the other using a cross town train. Ultimately, across a crowded lobby, Pablo and Alicia are reunited in time to join the tour, running towards each other like in a scene from a film. They’re clearly overjoyed, but Mr. Bartles, their teacher, is not as impressed.

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Interior image from Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman with illustrations by Sergio Garcia Sanchez, Toon Books ©2015.

In addition to the adventure, there’s the budding friendship story. As the bungled journey evolves, Pablo eventually comes to appreciate Alicia’s gesture of kindness to buddy up on the field trip which he so vehemently rejected at the beginning of the book.

“I was only trying help.” – Alicia
“Help?” – Pablo
“What makes you think I need help! I don’t need anything.” – Pablo
“I thought maybe you wanted a friend…” – Alicia

It’s through this friendship that Pablo is able to  look at New York with new eyes and begin to feel at home.

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Interior image from Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman with illustrations by Sergio Garcia Sanchez, Toon Books ©2015.

Another draw is the NYC subway system, like an extra character, with its express and local lines, the colorful maps, and the various stops or stations in the city. I was delighted to see my old subway stop in Queens even made it into the book! Fans of transportation trivia will enjoy the enlightening repartee between Mr. Bartle and his students as he educates them on their subway knowledge. I lived in New York for 30 years and had no idea why the Y and U letters were never used. After reading the fact-filled end pages I learned it’s because the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) worried the public would be confused thinking they sounded too much like “why” and “you.”

Last but not least is the inclusion of archival photographs from old New York taking readers back in time to the 1800s and into the 20th century for a glimpse of what early subway stations and construction on them looked like. There are also more details about the Empire State Building and a Further Reading & Resources for those who, like me, cannot resist finding out more about the Big Apple’s history. Author Spiegelman has packed a plethora of interesting information into this engaging and extremely original book. I had no idea that the Empire State Building, where my uncle once worked, has its own zip code (10118) and had its grand opening on May 1, 1931, 84 years ago today! Lost in NYC closes with Tips for Parents, Teachers, and Librarians to make young readers’ experience of diving into a TOON graphic novel more pleasurable.

I have to give a shout out to the amazingly detailed illustrations by Garcia Sanchez. My favorite is the angled perspective of the Empire State Building as the school children zoom up to the observation deck in one of seventy-three elevators. Early on I noticed a man taking photos in almost every scene, but I didn’t notice the policeman watching him. Sanchez, while on a reconnaissance mission for the book, must have aroused suspicion. In a humorous touch, the artist has cleverly inserted himself and the cop who followed him into the story so be on the lookout!  Between the diverse cast of characters, the compelling storyline and the excellent artwork, I have to say I am very happy to have found Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure. 

Click here to download a guide for teachers.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Bird & Squirrel on Ice by James Burks

Bird & Squirrel on Ice
Written and illustrated by James Burks
(Scholastic/Graphix; $8.99, Ages 7-10)

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I knew I was in for a treat when I picked up James Burks’ most recent Bird & Squirrel graphic novel called Bird & Squirrel on Ice. This second book in the series brings the buddies to the South Pole where they’ve crash landed, despite Bird’s over-confident insistence on calling it “Another perfect landing!” They immediately encounter spear-wielding Sakari, an absolutely adorable purple-hued penguin who proclaims Bird to be The Chosen One.

“Legend tells of a day when a winged bird will fall from above …
And bring peace and prosperity to our penguin village.”

But there’s a catch. Being The Chosen One means battling to free the villagers from the voracious and exhausting appetite of The Great Whale. It doesn’t take long before the honor of becoming The Chosen One goes straight to Bird’s head, annoying the heck out of Squirrel. However, Bird’s antics while soaking up his newly found celebrity, will crack kids up! Burks definitely gets the mix of humor and adventure right in Bird & Squirrel on Ice, and is certain to pull in even reluctant readers. His colorful characters, gallivanting through panels filled with lots of chilly blues, are perfect for the South Pole setting. Scenes of ice and snow are fantastic as are all the ones including the penguin villagers and The Great Whale.

When Squirrel and Sakari learn that Bird is actually going to be sacrificed to appease the whale “for the good of the village,” these two team up and eventually get a rather reluctant Bird on board. The buddies and their penguin pal launch a last ditch effort to save Bird from being served up as whale food and in doing so demonstrate the bonds of friendship and trust.  This fast-paced story with its fantastic artwork and several satisfying plot lines invites multiple reads for those just getting into graphic novels, as well as for those more well-versed in the pleasures of this format.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper

Lowriders in Space written by Cathy Camper
and illustrated by Raul The Third (Raul Gonzalez III)
(Chronicle Books, 2014; paperback $9.99, hardcover $22.99, Ages 8-12)

✩Starred Reviews – Kirkus & Publishers Weekly

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Last month I met the editor of Lowriders in Space at an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers an Illustrators) event and her enthusiasm about this new graphic novel was contagious. I couldn’t wait to read it and find out what all the buzz was about.  Now I know and intend to spread some serious bajito y suavecito (translation: low and slow) love your way! Lowriders in Space worked for me on so many levels, but I’ll start with Camper’s creative storyline since that’s what will capture kids’ attention and it’s what drives this novel forward.

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Interior artwork from Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper with illustrations by Raul The Third, Chronicle ©2014.

Middle grade readers will easily get on board with Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria, the three amiable and unusual main characters whose impressive automobile-related skills help them reach new heights. The trio are eager to leave the used car dealership where they work and in order to do so they decide to enter the Universal Car Competition. With its grand prize haul of  “… a carload of cash and a solid gold steering wheel,” winning the UCC would provide the seed money needed to open their own garage. They immediately get started with a broken down shell of a car, ” … so slow it didn’t even go.” Then, utilizing their individual expertise (Lupe’s a self-taught auto-mechanic – YES, she fixes cars like a girl, Elirio’s a detail artist, and Flapjack’s an eight-armed cleaning marvel), they make a plan of action. The three contribute whatever funds they can muster up and find spare rocket parts at an old airplane junkyard. Will the resulting lowrider be special enough to win first place?

Camper’s tale is unique and engaging. It’s obvious she had a blast writing it. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t imagine it with anything but Raul’s original artwork and the impressive interplay between text and illustration. His ballpoint pen illustrations in black, blue and red on a yellowy-beige background are going to grab readers (even the most reluctant ones), pull them in and keep them thoroughly entertained. He’s created a retro feel that joyfully took me back to my youth, when buying comic books with my allowance was a much anticipated weekly outing. This book deserves multiple visits to pick up the many details included, so read, observe and admire.

Another highlight for me was how Camper’s incorporated many Spanish words and phrases for the reader to learn. Whenever there’s an * readers can find the translation below, plus there’s a glossary in the back with Mexican-American slang, car and astronomy terms (oh and don’t miss this section because there’s more to read afterwards and readers can get their appetites whet for Book 2).  So, in addition to having a strong Latino female character who repairs cars, Lowriders in Space also introduces readers to the culture of lowriders, it mixes in facts about outer space, and is equally accessible to reluctant readers as well as those simply seeking a rollicking ride that’s totally cosmic and caliente. In other words, this lowrider delivers!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Big Nate: Great Minds Think Alike By Lincoln Peirce

Big Nate: Great Minds Think Alike by Lincoln Peirce
is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

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That mischievous boy with a winning personality is back in a new compilation of colorful comic strips called Big Nate: Great Minds Think Alike (Amp! Comics for Kids/Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2014, $9.99 paperback, Ages 8-12). Nate has a lot of big ideas for fun and achieving greatness and tries his hand at Sudoku, life skills coaching, painting, business, and a world record holder of anything (the only record he holds is for detention).

Big Nate fans will be pleased to see favorite characters from past volumes: his clueless dad; Mrs. Godfrey, his strict teacher; teacher’s pet, Gina; and Nate’s best buddies, Frances and Teddy.

Hilarious vignettes include a planned YouTube video of Nate jumping off a shed onto a trampoline while dunking a basketball into a hoop ends in a flop. Attempting to form his own lawn mowing business, he works during a heat wave and is unable to finish even one lawn. Turning to something less strenuous, Nate offers to cool people off with his water hose for $1.00. Unfortunately, he doesn’t adjust the nozzle spray, creating very unhappy customers.

 

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Interior spread from Big Nate: Great Minds Think Alike by Lincoln Peirce, Amp! Comics for Kids/Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2014.

Nate also tries to propel his friend Frances to greatness by competing against Nate’s archenemy “brainiac” Gina for “Outstanding Scholar” medal (p. 100). Unfortunately for Nate and Frances, Gina is one step ahead of them.

Nate’s instructions to Teddy on how to write a three page report on the Boston Tea Party in just one page are an absolute riot. Many teachers are on to student tricks like these: large font and dragged out sentences and words. Here’s an example: “When King George III received news of the Boston Tea Party, he flew into a rage.” A super-long “ARRRRRRRRRRRRR” fills up three panels of the strip, and of course, several lines on Nate’s paper.“Just call me Dr. Filler’!” quips Nate (p. 72).

Finally, my favorite: Nate’s outburst in the (quiet) library when teased about reading a comic strip popular with the girls catches the attention of the librarian. “The life of a school librarian is never dull, “ she muses stoically ( p. 79). Amen, sister.

Big Nate fans, those who enjoy comic anthologies, and reluctant readers will appreciate this collection. Also steer them to Peirce’s well-illustrated Big Nate novels. Big Nate is a growing hit at my school library and I look forward to putting this book into eager hands. Recommended for ages 8-12.

Visit Lincoln Peirce’s Big Nate website www.bignatebooks.com for info on his books, videos about the author, games, a link to the comic strip, and more. See Lincoln Peirce discuss how he works in this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TOTYCrLKSM

 

 

Comics Squad: Recess! Review and Giveaway

IN HONOR OF SAN DIEGO COMIC CON WE BRING YOU A REVIEW & GIVEAWAY!!

Comics Squad: Recess! written and/or illustrated by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, Dan Santat, Gene Luen Yang, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Raina Telgemeier, and Dave Roman, Ursula Vernon, Eric Wight, Dav Pilkey. (Random House Books for Young Readers, July 8, 2014, paperback $7.99, Ages 7-10) – reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

“WARNING: this book may cause excessive laughter and possible silliness.”

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Comics Squad: Recess! from Random House Books for Young Readers, 2014.

This lively and humorous collection of eight novellas that is Comics Squad: Recess! features comic strip style stories by well-known author and/or illustrators such as Gene Luen Yang, Dav Pilkey, Jarrett J. Krosoczka and Raina Telgemeier. Popular characters like Babymouse and Lunch Lady make their appearance and new characters are introduced. All the stories are tied together by one theme: recess, one of the high points of the school day (second only to dismissal time!).

The stories feature a lively variety of styles, characters and situations from the geeky boy who struggles to join a recess ninja club in Yang’s “Super Secret Ninja Club” to two squirrels who find a rather unusual acorn in Vernon’s “The Magic Acorn.” Pilkey’s “Book ‘em, Dog Man,” features the hero, Dog Man (and lots of invented spelling), who sets out to stop the diabolical Petey from destroying all books in order make the world “supa dumb.” In Telgemeier and Roman’s “The Rainy Day Monitor,” a restless 5th grade class, confined to their classroom on a rainy day, is pleasantly surprised when a “boring” student finds a way to engage her classmates. Two boys struggle to complete an assignment during recess in Santat’s “300 Words” with hilarious and poignant results. Babymouse’s daydreaming makes her late for classes and lands her inside for recess where she takes off on an imaginary quest in the Holms’ “Babymouse: The Quest for Recess.”

Highly recommended for grades 3-6, this anthology serves as a great way to attract new fans and will be enjoyed by those already familiar with the authors’ and/or illustrators’ characters.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS: We’re delighted to be giving away two copies (value $7.99 each) of COMICS SQUAD: RECESS!.

RULES:

1. Please send an email to Ronna.L.Mandel at gmail.com and write COMICS SQUAD: RECESS! in the subject. Please supply your name and address, too!

2. Be sure to LIKE US on either Facebook and/or Twitter to be eligible and let us know you have. You must be a US or Canadian resident to enter.

3. Contest ends at midnight on August 5, 2014, and (2) winners will be notified on August 6, 2014.

GOOD LUCK!
See Random House’s awesome trailers–and meet the authors and illustrators — at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiTRmUGRAeA and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jHXAvpd-9I

Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman

Looking at Lincoln, written and illustrated by Maira Kalman (Nancy Paulsen Books, $17.99, ages 5-8), is reviewed by Rita Zobayan.

Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman

Looking at Lincoln written and illustrated by Maira Kalman, from
Nancy Paulson Books.

AMERICA’S 16th PRESIDENT, THE CIVIL WAR AND THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS

Abraham Lincoln is probably one of the most recognizable American presidents, and with little wonder. His profile is on the penny, his portrait on the $5 bill, and his legacy is taught in both language arts and history classes at an early age. With today being the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, Maira Kalman’s non-fiction picture book Looking at Lincoln is a perfect introduction (or curriculum supplement) to this venerable leader.

The book features many details about Lincoln, ranging from his birth through his assassination. For example, Lincoln only attended school for a year and a half and was mostly self taught; as a youth, he was kicked in the head by a mule; he always had an apple on his desk; he loved Mozart’s music. These details on the intimacies of his life help humanize Lincoln, so that he seems more of a person as opposed to a figure. Children will be intrigued to know that Lincoln liked to argue a lot and to eat vanilla cake. He stuffed notes in his stovepipe hat.

To her credit, Kalman presents the difficult subjects— slavery, the ensuing Civil War, and, of course, Lincoln’s assassination—delicately but realistically.

Terrible things happen in a war. The Civil War ground on. Lincoln went to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of a big battle. Thousands of soldiers were buried there. Many with just a number on their grave. On that sad land, Lincoln gave one of history’s greatest speeches, The Gettysburg Address. It was short—only 272 words—ending with “…government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” The war finally ended in 1865. Almost a million people had been killed or wounded. The North had won.

Odd is the New Normal: Meet Cecil Castellucci

Ronna Mandel interviews Odd Duck author Cecil Castellucci. Odd Duck, published by :01 First Second Books, $15.99, ages 6-10, is illustrated by Sara Varon.

mail-3Cecil Castellucci, an L.A. author, has written everything from picture books to young adult novels. Her latest projects are Odd Duck and Letters for Kids, a bi-monthly subscription program through The Rumpus. In Odd Duck we meet Theodora and Chad, neighbor ducks who both waddle to the beat of a different drum yet actually have tons in common. Although the two become BFFs each one thinks the other is the strange one. Upon overhearing someone call one of them, odd, Theodora and Chad clash over which duck was being referred to. This winning picture book is a salute to individuality and uniqueness, a recurring theme for Castellucci.

mail-2How much of you is in Theodora?

I think all of me is in Theodora and Chad. It took a long time for me to figure out that my oddness was also what made me interesting.

Why do you think opposites Theodora and Chad attract?

I have always been a big fan of opposites. Some of my favorite friendships are the ones where we see the world in a similar way but we like radically different things. In Odd Duck, Chad and Theodora might move through the world very differently, but I think fundamentally they feel the same way about things.

Why do people shy away from what they don’t consider “normal”?

It’s hard to be odd. I’m no psychologist, but I think that we tend to gravitate toward groups to feel safer and that is what “normal” means. But I think that being odd is normal to other odd people. So I say, find your odd tribe and you will be “normal”! Because I think really there is no such thing as normal. And I think that everyone on the entire planet is a little odd about something.

Learn more about Cecil Castellucci and her other books at misscecil.com. For info about Letters for Kids and more about Odd Duck, read the extended interview at LAParent.com.

Find the extended interview at LAParent.com and remember to pick up their new May issue.

Click here for the link to my review of Castellucci’s First Day on Earth, a fantastic YA novel from 2011.

A Very Odd Couple Indeed

Bird & Squirrel: On the Run! ($8.99, Scholastic, Ages 7-9) is the humorous story of  a squirrel, a bird and one very aggressive cat.  Author/illustrator James Burks STK466877used his 15 years of animation experience to create this most entertaining, fast action graphic novel for young readers.

Squirrel, who is blue with a square head covered with an acorn top, is busy hoarding acorns to prepare for the long winter ahead. He bumps into goggle-wearing Bird, who wants desperately to befriend Squirrel and even travel together. But Squirrel is just not interested – that is until he has to unload his stash of acorns to save Bird from the big, mean, orange Cat. With no food for winter, Squirrel has no choice but to head south with Bird to a warmer place. So he packs everything he owns (which is a lot!), and the two set out on their way. The entire book revolves around the challenges Bird and Squirrel face while trying to dodge Cat’s attempts to eat them. With one rather frustrating, yet hilarious adventure after another, Bird and Squirrel do all they can to survive.

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The cartoon illustrations are crisp, bold and so much fun to look at. I was happy to discover that both the words and the pictures are of equal importance to the story. Because there are so many illustrations, graphic children’s novels like this can really encourage reluctant readers to get interested in reading a book. The story is entertaining, adorable, and Squirrel and Bird remind me a bit of the unlikely friendship of the amusing characters in the Odd Couple. Despite their differences, they work together to reach their goal, and I promise you will be enchanted by the way this adorable story ends.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade

Fridays Featuring Flintridge – An Easter Basket of Books

An Easter Basket of Book Reviews from Hilary Taber …

Recently, I’ve realized that there are a wealth of words that we never use. “Haberdasher”, for example, or “perchance” are words that come to mind.  Certainly, “hodgepodge” falls into this category. During an Easter season when, if one is lucky enough, there are baskets filled to the brimful with a lovely hodgepodge of all sorts of delights, then surely there is absolutely nothing wrong with a literary hodgepodge. Who knows what I might put in this one? In the spirit of the whole thing, I’ve mixed all kinds of books together for this week’s reviews. Old will meet new, and these “introductions” will hopefully lead you to some new book friends. Just think of these reviews as the different kinds of candies you might find separately packed into those colorful plastic eggs in your Easter basket, and you can’t go wrong!

DreamFriends_JKT_mech2_sm_smDream Friends (Nancy Paulson Books/Penguin, $16.99) by You Byun, Ages 3 and up

This exquisite picture book débuted at story time last week at Flintridge Books and my young audience was especially appreciative of how many beautiful things we could find on each page. The main character, Melody, has a Dream Friend that visits every night in her dreams. Is it a huge, white dog? A huge, white bear? While we couldn’t settle on a definite species we all agreed that the Dream Friend is wonderful, and takes Melody on all kinds of adventures through a world filled with opal-like colors, tiny cats that look like potential astronauts, spiral staircases, giant tulips, and paper cranes that sail the sky. Through this dream world, Melody and her Dream Friend fly together. However, back in the real world of the schoolyard, Melody is in need of a friend. Will Melody be able to make a real friend who will understand how important and magical her Dream Friend is?

This is a treasure box of a book that is simply enchanting. Many smaller illustrations make the book fun to explore. On each page my story time pals picked out what illustration they would like to take home to have in their room if such a thing were possible. With a Dream Friend really anything is possible, and that is the charm of the story. With a happily-ever-after-ending this makes a wonderful bedtime story that I’m sure will leave a child wondering if they will make a Dream Friend of their own. Dream Friends is a Publisher’s Weekly starred reviewed winner, and I wholeheartedly agree with that!

TrixieTen-240x300Trixie Ten (Henry Holt & Co., $16.99) by Sarah Massini, Ages 3-7

Ah, poor Trixie Ten’s life is filled with the burden of brothers and sisters! Not just one or two of them, but nine of them. Trixie is the tenth child. All of her siblings are particularly annoying in their very own way. One always sneezes, another always stumbles on things, another always makes a sound like a roaring lion, and so on. How annoying! Trixie Ten can’t take it anymore! One night she grabs a trusty flashlight and leaves to find somewhere that is quiet, and definitely not filled with noisy siblings. Yet, when she finally finds that place, she’s not quite as pleased as she thought she would be. While it’s true that everything is very quiet it’s equally true that Trixie misses her noisy family! While Trixie Ten is gone, her family is busy counting everyone to make sure that the whole family is accounted for. In cozy beds they begin counting, “Wanda One, Thomas Two…” and so on until they get to Trixie Ten. On my! Where is Trixie Ten?! The whole family sets out on an adventure to rescue Trixie.

My young story time audience was just pulled into this book. Annoying brothers and sisters that you wish you could ditch now and then? I could just feel that they totally understood that! Yet it was the question of “Who are we without our family?” (that Ms. Massini cleverly poses) was what kept their attention until the very end. Highly recommended for any child, but can you imagine if you came from a large family how much you would connect with this story? Also, if you are a teacher, well here is a book that begs for some really great discussions about family, counting, and colors. Also, this book is a great basis for a fantastic craft. Every character is a fingerprint of a different color with a little face, making finger and hand print activities ideal. Have fun!

80171Fairy Tales (Liveright, $17.95) by e.e. cummings, illustrated by Meilo So, ages 5 and up

I made the discovery of this book a few years ago, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading the fairy tales that poet e.e. cummings wrote for his grandson. While a few of the stories would be more suited to a grown-up audience because of the symbolism, most of them are just fine for their intended audience. I especially like “The Elephant and the Butterfly” (these character are meant to be cummings and his grandson), and “The House that Ate Mosquito Pie”. They are both touching, beautifully written stories about unlikely friendships. A few lines just took my breath away. “A bird began to sing in a bush, and all the clouds went out of the sky, and it was Spring everywhere.” This next line just make me shiver it was so pretty, “In a little while the house heard a new sound, which was as if five or six (or maybe even seven) brooks were laughing about a secret; and this sound grew higher and clearer until the house knew that it was somebody singing and singing and singing.”

What can I write about writing like that? e.e. cummings is a poet whose prose in these stories is simple, yet profound. More than that I dare not venture, but I do hope you will find out for yourselves!

TangleKnotsRevisedBasket__2__2_394x600A Tangle of Knots (Philomel/Penguin, $16.99) by Lisa Graff, Ages 8-12

In this finely spun tale told in multiple points of view, almost everyone has a Talent that borders on being magical. Some have a Talent for knitting, for spitting, for whistling, but eleven-year-old Cady has a Talent for cake baking. She can take a good look at any person and match them up with the perfect cake. When Cady was left at Miss Mallory’s Home for Lost Girls, Miss Mallory had no idea that Cady would stay for so long. Having a Talent for matching her girls with the perfect family Miss Mallory has no idea who would be the perfect family for Cady until a series of events begins to unfold, each one mysteriously tied to the other, that reveal a Talent Stealer, a man with a Talent for tying knots, and a certain blue suitcase marked “St. Anthony’s” among other mysteries. Other child and adult characters join Cady with their secrets, Talents, and searches for Talents. This book is sure to please fans of Ingrid Law’s Savvy if what drew them to the book was the idea of people having varying magical talents and gifts. An intriguing puzzle for mystery lovers, and a thoroughly enjoyable book that links the Facts of the characters with their Fate. All through the book there are Cady’s recipes for cakes matched with all the key characters in the book which would be especially pleasing to young bakers. A Tangle of Knots earned a starred review from Kirkus, which was much deserved!

9780060846169Miki Falls: Spring (Book One) (HarperTeen, $8.99) by Mark Crilley, Ages 12 and up

Miki is beginning her final year at high school, and she’s determined that this year will be the best year ever. There is nothing so tempting a fate as to announce that very soon you will be planning to control everything, and Miki soon learns that lesson in the form of a tall, handsome new student named Hiro. There’s definitely something mysterious about this new guy in town, and soon Miki becomes determined to find out exactly what he is up to. Yet, as Miki learns, sometimes knowing someone else’s secret is a pathway to an adventure. This adventure will turn Miki’s life upside down, and challenge everything she ever thought she knew about love.

Although Miki and Hiro are high school students, I think that readers still in middle school would find it very enjoyable. It’s just enough romance (but not too much) for a young girl just beginning to be curious about love, and has enough action to keep the reader engaged for the rest of the series. I would definitely recommend buying at least the first two books in the series because once you’re hooked you can’t wait for the next sequel! I’m just beginning to explore the world of graphic novels for children and teens more thoroughly. “Miki Falls” really caught my attention because it’s so beautiful, and Mark Crilley’s experience as an American living in Japan is evident in every page. This may be seen in the thoughtful attention to detail in the scenery, which is done with an expert touch. Fans of “Fruits Basket” will be sure to enjoy this American foray into manga-inspired graphic novels.

HilaryTaberPlease visit the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads  and relax over a great cup of coffee.  Also visit the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events. And when you stop by, keep a lookout for Hilary peeking out from behind a novel.

Dare to Doodle

Debbie Glade gets doodly with today’s review.

The Pirates vs. Ancient Egyptians in a Haunted Museum ($6.99, Nosy Crow, Ages 7 and up) is the fourth book in the Mega Mash-Up series by Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson with more due out December. Basically the reader draws his way through the comic-style book to put his own mark on the story. There are a handful of pirate and Egyptian characters living separately. But both groups run into some financial distress, and they each have maps to the city’s abandoned museum where a valuable statue of a Golden Howler Monkey is housed. The real fun starts when the two groups of robbers both search desperately for the treasure and collide inside the museum. Kids can read the book and doodle their way to the end to find out who gets the treasure and what happens after that.

Due to the nature of the subject, this story may appeal to boys more than girls. What works so well in Pirates vs. Ancient Egyptians is that the story is silly, fun and easy to read and stirs the imagination of the reader. Plus readers get to draw and participate in the story. They can create original art and also add to what’s there already. (There are some drawing tips and a picture glossary.) Reluctant readers will have so much fun with this book, they won’t even realize it is helping to hone their reading skills. Another bonus? This humorous book is really affordable and would make a great gift for a themed birthday party.

Of Moths, Masks and Music

Guest reviewer Rachel Glade shares her take on this unique graphic novel.

On the planet Sirene, everyone wears masks and communicates through an array of musical instruments. Edwer Thissell, an ambassador to Sirene, has to adjust to the strange customs of this new planet while trying to solve a mystery of murder and mistaken identity. But how can he be sure who he’s dealing with when everyone hides behind a mask?

Based on the classic sci-fi short story by renowned author Jack Vance, The Moon Moth ($17.99, First Second Books, ages 14 and up), adapted by Humayoun Ibrahim, captures the intricate beauty of the original in the form of a graphic novel. Breathtakingly unique artwork combined with a fascinating plot make this book stand out among others. While the book contains dialogue and narrative, only the pictures tell the whole story. Though this can make the plot a bit difficult to follow at times, it really pushes the reader to pay attention to the pictures to figure out what’s going on; I found this particularly fun and engaging. Blending themes of foreign culture, social hierarchy, problem solving and courage, The Moon Moth packs a lot of big topics into a short story. This is a book that should be read many times to get the full meaning. Highly recommended for young adult readers.

Rachel Glade is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Geology. Though passionate about science, she is also an avid reader and writer. Rachel enjoys traveling and learning about foreign cultures, and has done science field work in Mongolia and Puerto Rico. Rachel loves books in almost any genre, including classic literature, science, and science fiction.

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