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Children’s Picture Book Review – The Stray by Molly Ruttan

THE STRAY

Written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan

(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

It’s not every day that a creature from far off in the galaxy crash lands its UFO on Earth. So when it does, in The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, the thoughtful thing to do is bring the alien home if you happen to encounter it. That’s exactly what the family in Ruttan’s debut picture book does. Ironically the family doesn’t seem to get that he is not a dog, at first, like when they note he didn’t have a collar, and give him among other things, a Frisbee and a bone, which adds to the hilarity of the situation. The author illustrator has not only created an amusing and fun way to tell the story of finding a stray, she’s brought it heart and that’s a wonderful combination.

In summary, after the family find the stray, an out-of-this-world kind of dog, they bring it home and name the pet Grub. Now Grub’s no ordinary stray and gets up to all sorts of mischief. Yet, despite his errant ways, the family still love him. That message of unconditional love shines in every illustration. And adorable Grub knows how to create chaos. You’ll see exactly what havoc Grub can wreak in the neighborhood street spread below. This is a scene you’ll want to look at closely with kids because Ruttan’s ensured there’s a lot going on. In fact, the entire book’s a delightful visual romp filled with energetic art in a bluish palette, blending whimsy and emotion on every page.

 

 

Ruttan TheStray p04-05 We-found-a-stray fin
Interior spread from The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2020.

 

No matter what the family does and how much love they bestow upon Grub, he doesn’t seem to be happy. That makes them wonder “… if it was because he already had a family somewhere else.” This key element of The Stray, that everyone lost belongs somewhere and helping them find their way home is kind, will be a comforting one for children. Seeing Grub’s adoptive family go through the experience together to locate his outer space family is also reassuring. Young readers will be happy when it turns out Grub’s Earth family didn’t have to try very hard.

 

Ruttan TheStray p09 We-named-him-Grub fin
Interior art from The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2020.

 

In interviews Ruttan’s mentioned that she always wanted The Stray to have a dual story line, one in which she drew upon her own family’s experience of finding strays over the years paired with comical things going on in the illustrations which weren’t mentioned in the spare text. That works so well here that kids will be pointing things out to their parents as the story is read. Ruttan’s also added a few “Easter eggs” to the illustrations, for those hard-core fans of UFO lore, like the portrait of Barney and Betty Hill on the wall in living room, the symbols found in the 1947 wreckage at Roswell on the Frisbee, and others. Don’t forget to peek under the book jacket because the case cover art is different.

 

Stray Neighborhood AFTER
Interior spread from The Stray written and illustrated by Molly Ruttan, Nancy Paulsen Books ©2020.

 

The engaging art was created with charcoal, pastel, and a little liquid acrylic paint thrown in. The final art was made using digital media. Whether you’re seeking a bedtime story or one to share at story time, The Stray will find a way into your heart as it did mine.

Come back tomorrow for an interview with Molly about how she launched her picture book during the pandemic when bookstores were closed.

NOTEWORTHY FACT: Today is the 51st anniversary of the first moon landing! While it’s not a UFO event, it’s a significant day for humankind and space. 

 

•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Find out more about The Stray in my January 2020 cover reveal with a guest post by Molly here.

Download fun activities to accompany your reading of The Stray here.

 

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New Star Wars Epic Yarns Board Book Trilogy from Chronicle Books

If Kids Haven’t Felt the Force, Now is the Time!
Star Wars Epic Yarns Trilogy:
A New Hope; The Empire Strikes Back;  & Return of the Jedi
by Jack and Holman Wang
(Chronicle Books; $9.99 each, ages 0-2)

 

StarWarsEpicYarnsANewHopeAs fans know, today, May 4th, is Star Wars Day so what better way to celebrate than by sharing a new trilogy of board books from the creative team of Jack and Holman Wang? These 24 paged, sturdy books are ideal for introducing a new generation to an American film icon. The three books, Star Wars Epic Yarns: A New Hope, Star Wars Epic Yarns: The Empire Strikes Back, and Star Wars Epic Yarns: Return of the Jedi do not disappoint, in fact they are quite amazing when you consider how they were made.

StarWarsEpicYarnsEmpireÜber inventive twin brothers, Jack and Holman, have painstakingly recreated classic scenes (12 in fact) using felt as their medium! The 12 scenes in each book were designed using 7:1 scale. The characters and settings, including the desert, swamp, forest and snow, all have been recreated to resemble the original locales. And if that’s not mind-blowing enough, the Wangs have been able to reduce the gist of each plot line down to 12 individual words for little ones to see, hear and learn.

StarWarsReturnoftheJedi
I can picture grandparents, parents and caregivers reading the board books with a huge smile on their faces as they recall major scenes from the Star Wars films that have stayed with them for years, maybe decades.  In the first book, youngsters see the captured Princess Leia conversing with R2-D2 and so the word, princess, is introduced. Luke Skywalker discovers the hidden Death Star plans in the droid, boy, learns to use a lightsaber, meets captain Hans Solo, travels through space, and the colorful cast of characters become heroes in the end.

The story breakdown in the other two board books is similar in that the Wang brothers have perfectly paired words with characters and selected the best scenes to reproduce. Little ones are going to LOVE the Wang’s little green Jedi Master Yoda and be impressed by the commanding stature of Darth Vader, father and laugh at the marvelous monster depiction in felt of Jabba the Hutt.

I sure wish these clever books had been around when my kids were little, but now I can at least look forward to sharing them one day with my grandchildren before they, like millions of others, get hooked on the films!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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