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I Am Famous & Shark Nate-O: A Double Dose of Luebbe and Cattie

I AM FAMOUS
Written by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie
Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
&
SHARK NATE-O
Written by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie
Illustrated by Daniel Duncan
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

A delightful double dose of picture book pleasure reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

I Am Famous cover imageKiely, surrounded by devoted family and friends, is confident that her celebrity status is widespread and well-deserved in I AM FAMOUS, the first picture book from prolific story sisters Luebbe and Cattie.

Kids will cackle at super-cool Kiely’s misperceptions. She continually interprets the behavior of her doting family – posting videos, taking photos, indulging her whims – as signs of her special stardom. But what will the spunky mini-diva do when she stumbles and stops sparkling in the pressure of the spotlight? The intersection of fame and family is brought to a satisfying conclusion with a wink to modern parents about over-sharing the ordinary achievements of their spirited progeny.

Lew-Vriethoff’s illustrations deftly bring Kiely’s personality to life from cover to cover. Dazzling accessories and bright, bold colors spring off the page. Touches of borrowed glamour pair well with Kiely’s expressive face and energetic motion, keeping young readers entertained and amused. There is a lot of fun and flair on display enhancing the confident, snappy text. Diva-licious!

 

Cover image from Shark Nate-O by Tara Luebbe and Becky CattieNate is a shark fanatic, but must learn how to swim before he can transform into the one and only SHARK NATE-O in this pool perfect fish tale from Luebbe and Cattie.

Obsessed with sharks, Nate fills his world with shark facts that he can’t resist sharing and even acting out, much to his older brother’s chagrin. But when it comes to light that Nate can’t swim, he isn’t put off for long. Enrolling in swim lessons, Nate learns to prove his water-worthiness by blowing bubbles, using a kickboard, and eventually swimming solo. Will Nate’s determination and persistence pay off in time to challenge his brother in tryouts for the ultimate prize – membership on the Shark swim team?

Duncan’s fun illustrations make a splash in noteworthy settings by incorporating plenty of shark décor and pool puns. Filled with heart and humor, Nate’s expressions and body language invigorate the appealing story with clever, imaginative elements. The authors include more shark facts at the end for readers who just can’t get enough of this jaw-some tale perfect for enjoying between summer swims. Download an activity kit here.

 

Read about another debut #Epic18 picture book review by Cathy here.

 

Where obtained:  I reviewed advanced reader’s copies from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez

JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR
Written by Patricia Valdez,
Illustrated by Felicita Sala
(Alfred A. Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Cover illustration from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor

 

Lovely language and engaging illustrations energize Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles, an amazing picture book biography about a trailblazing scientist from debut author Patricia Valdez and illustrator Felicita Sala.

 

Interior illustration of young Joan from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor

Interior spread from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez with illustrations by Felicita Sala, Knopf BYR ©2018.

 

Fascinated by reptiles from an early age, Joan Procter followed her childhood passion for slithery, scaly, unusual animals to an internationally renowned career at London’s Zoo and the Natural History Museum. Valdez introduces us to young, curious Joan, holding tea parties with reptiles while her peers preferred dolls. As Joan grew, her interest did not wane, so at 16 years old she received a pet crocodile as a birthday gift!

 

Interior illustration spread from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor

Interior spread from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez with illustrations by Felicita Sala, Knopf BYR ©2018.

 

In due time, Joan chatted up the director of Natural History museum about his work with reptiles. She began working there, surveying the museum’s vast collections, publishing research papers, and creating detailed, realistic models and drawings for the reptile exhibits. Given her enthusiasm, experience and extensive knowledge, Joan eventually became the Curator, an unusual role for a female scientist at the time.

When invited to re-design the London Zoo Reptile House, Joan fell in love with a new and exotic creature, the Komodo dragon. This so-called fierce, man-eating lizard was “rumored to be…Thirty feet long! Faster than a motorcar! Stronger than an ox!” Joan, undeterred, could not wait to study the dragons first-hand. Her deep connection with one Komodo called Sumbawa led to some of the most stunning and innovative work of her career.

 

Interior illustration of tea party from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor

Interior artwork from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez with illustrations by Felicita Sala, Knopf BYR ©2018.

 

Valdez keeps the paces of this fascinating story lively by introducing wonderful vocabulary woven carefully and completely within a child-friendly framework and perspective. She highlights her heroine’s passion and determination in an understated yet direct manner, giving Joan relevance and timeliness that transcend her time period. Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor is an essential addition for collections on women in STEM fields, with the broad appeal of reptiles and science for many young readers boosts this title to the top.

Salas illustrates dramatically, choosing with vibrant, rich colors for the settings, the tropical plants, and the starring-role reptiles. Joan is elegant yet serious, portrayed close to and interacting with her creatures, focused on them with great intensity, delight and passion. The reptiles themselves are marvelously textured and stylized, creeping, curving and twisting with dignified realism. Throughout the story, Salas provides tantalizing glimpses of early 20th century London through architecture and fashions of the era.

 

Interior illustration from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor

Interior artwork from Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez with illustrations by Felicita Sala, Knopf BYR ©2018.

 

Valdez includes additional biographical information on Procter as well as on Komodo Dragons. A bibliography with primary and secondary sources is a helpful resource for young readers who wish to explore more. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn about this impressive scientist, her beloved ‘dragons’ and her trailblazing career in a book that is as beautiful and brilliant as it is important.

 

Where obtained: I reviewed an advanced reader copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

ABOUT JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR

For fans of Ada Twist: Scientist comes a fascinating picture book biography of a pioneering female scientist–who loved reptiles!

Back in the days of long skirts and afternoon teas, young Joan Procter entertained the most unusual party guests: slithery and scaly ones, who turned over teacups and crawled past the crumpets…. While other girls played with dolls, Joan preferred the company of reptiles. She carried her favorite lizard with her everywhere–she even brought a crocodile to school!

When Joan grew older, she became the Curator of Reptiles at the British Museum. She went on to design the Reptile House at the London Zoo, including a home for the rumored-to-be-vicious Komodo dragons. There, just like when she was a little girl, Joan hosted children’s tea parties–with her Komodo dragon as the guest of honor.

With a lively text and vibrant illustrations, scientist and writer Patricia Valdez and illustrator Felicita Sala bring to life Joan Procter’s inspiring story of passion and determination.

Starred Reviews: Booklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

 

 

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Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean written by Sigrid Schmalzer

 

MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN:
Remembering Chinese Scientist Pu Zhelong’s Work

for Sustainable Farming
Written by Sigrid Schmalzer,
Illustrated by Melanie Linden Chan
(Tilbury House Publishing, $17.95, ages 6-9)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean cover image

 

 

A farm boy in China relates the tale of Pu Zhelong, a scientist and conservationist, and introduces readers to early research in sustainable agriculture practices in MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN.

Through a series of flashbacks, author Sigrid Schmalzer reveals how invasive moths and beetles were destroying precious village crops. When villagers try to defeat the pests, their methods repeatedly fail. As the threat of famine looms, Pu Zhelong, an outsider, arrives bearing new, untested scientific ideas. Can Pu Zhelong save the rice crop without using harmful and ineffective pesticides?

With patience, restraint and deference, Pu Zhelong eventually wins over the skeptical villagers. His innovative methodology, introducing parasitic wasps to destroy the crop-consuming moths, led to a successful and sustainable victory for the farmers. Schmalzer’s imaginative and informative text weaves a tale that will engage young scientists with its ingenuity and sophistication while celebrating this little-known environmental hero.

Debut illustrator Melanie Linden Chan pairs intricate and multi-layered images with the factual content, making this book a pleasure for young readers to pore over. Structuring the narrator’s flashbacks in a journal format, Chan cleverly weaves scientifically precise illustrations against a lush agricultural setting. Elements of Chinese art, history and culture frame the narrative in an engaging, pictoral manner that both delight and inform.

An extensive endnote provides additional information on the history of the story, as well as suggestions for further reading. Also included is a detailed explanation of the decorative Chinese folk art papercuts utilized by the illustrator, and referenced to the pages where they appear in the text.

MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN offers a unique, child-friendly perspective on a earliest origins of agroscience. Add this STEAM selection to your school or classroom library to add depth to collections on organic farming, sustainable agriculture and Chinese history.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

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

 

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Rabbit & Possum by Dana Wulfekotte

RABBIT & POSSUM
Written and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
(Greenwillow/Harper Collins Publishers, $17.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

RABBIT & POSSUM cover artwork by Dana Wulfekotte

 

What goes up, must come down in Rabbit & Possum, a playful woodland adventure story from debut picture book author/illustrator Dana Wulfekotte.

 

RABBIT & POSSUM interior artwork by Dana Wulfekotte

Interior artwork from RABBIT & POSSUM written and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte, Greenwillow Books ©2018.

 

Rabbit has been busy all morning, preparing for her good friend Possum to visit her burrow. Expressive and flop-eared, she’s disappointed but not discouraged to discover that Possum is still sound asleep. Nothing Rabbit tries will rouse Possum until there is a suspicious rustling in the bushes. “DID YOU HEAR THAT?” cries Possum upon waking, and he sprints up a tree for safety.

 

RABBIT & POSSUM interior artwork by Dana Wulfekotte

Interior artwork from RABBIT & POSSUM written and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte, Greenwillow Books ©2018.

 

It’s up to Rabbit to figure out a way to help Possum down so they can hold their planned playdate. Resourceful, creative Rabbit ponders, plots and plans various scenarios for his rescue. All the while she reassures the nervous Possum as he frets, frowns and nibbles his nails. Their outward conversation and internal worries, revealed through individual thought and speech bubbles, add a delightful dimension to the story and enhance the emotional connectedness of the two friends.

 

RABBIT & POSSUM interior artwork by Dana Wulfekotte

Interior artwork from RABBIT & POSSUM written and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte, Greenwillow Books ©2018.

 

Can Rabbit successfully recruit a third party – a large, stern (and vegetarian) Moose to help save Possum? Will Possum trust Rabbit that the massive Moose is friend, not foe? Young readers will be compelled to continue turning pages as the action sprints smoothly from start to finish.

 

RABBIT & POSSUM interior artwork by Dana Wulfekotte

Interior artwork from RABBIT & POSSUM written and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte, Greenwillow Books ©2018.

 

Wulfekotte’s illustrations feature soft, light tones. Sweaters colored aqua-blue and rich red set off the two main characters nicely. Well-textured trees and bushes depict a spare forest landscape against a bright, pale sky. Spot illustrations interspersed with single and double-page spreads keep the pacing lively and interesting. A delightful pair of comic silent onlookers, a squirrel and bluebird, seem poised to tell their own story of woodland adventures if Rabbit & Possum produces a spin-off sequel. Let’s hope they do!

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained: I reviewed a copy from my local library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

To see another #Epic18 picture book reviewed by Cathy, click here.

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This Is It Written and Illustrated by Daria Peoples-Riley

THIS IS IT
by Daria Peoples-Riley
(Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Cover image from This Is It by Daria Peoples-Riley

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

When a young dancer hesitates nervously at the studio audition door, her mirror-shadow self comes to life to encourage, support and reassure her in This Is It, a charming debut from author-illustrator Daria Peoples-Riley.

“Look at me,” commands a tutu-clad shadow, hands on her hips. The young girl, stiff and uncertain, looks askance but listens to the shadow’s message about challenge, confidence and poise. Slowly, the girl stretches, bends, leans and finally embraces the shadow’s exhortations. “Listen to the hum of your heart’s song,” says the shadow and reminds her to hear the melodies that flow from her elbows to her knees.

The delightful pas-de-deux, girl and shadow, pass together through a grey, concrete cityscape where bridges, staircases and sidewalks accentuate the opportunity for movement and energy. Red, green and pink shrubbery soften the silent, stiff buildings, while the curves of splashing fountains and smoky vents echo the dynamic pair’s swirling, twirling exuberance.

Peoples-Riley employs a mixture of free-verse and concrete poetry that showcase the strength and grace of the young dancer in definitive, certain terms. Moving in deliberate, thoughtful progression, the phrases carefully build up the young dancer’s inner confidence and ultimately celebrate her beautiful self-expression. While the shadow keeps all the spoken lines, it is the girl who ultimately shines in the triumphant, starring role.

Most young dancers become accustomed to studying their reflections in the dance studio mirror. This Is It will inspire them to look for a supportive, encouraging shadow that has also been with them every step of the way, both in and out of the spotlight.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained: I reviewed a copy from my local library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

Young readers who enjoy books about ballet and dance may also enjoy:
A Dance Like Starlight, Firebird and Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova

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Let The Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson

LET THE CHILDREN MARCH
Written by Monica Clark-Robinson
Illustrated by Frank Morrison
(HMH Books for Young Readers; $17.99, ages 6-9)

is reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

The 1963 Children's Crusade Cover image Let The Children March

 

 

★Starred reviews – Kirkus, Horn Book, School Library Journal

On a warm May day in 1963, young feet took the first steps on an inspiring crusade for civil rights. Through the observant eyes of a fictionalized girl, debut author Monica Clark-Robinson depicts the momentous events surrounding the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in LET THE CHILDREN MARCH, illustrated by Frank Morrison.

As the book opens, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has delivered a compelling speech calling for peaceful protest that has touched his listeners’ hearts and minds. But the adults feel torn by their desire to take action and their responsibilities to home and family. The children, equally moved, volunteer to unite and march in their parents’ stead. Dressed in their best clothes, the apprehensive but determined marchers walk hand in hand for change and freedom. Clark-Robinson pulls no punches in her succinct and moving descriptions of the events, noting the angry crowds, potent threats, and physical dangers. Yet her poetic text is underscored by the palpable sense of pride, courage and hope that sustain the young marchers throughout their ordeal, from march to imprisonment to release.

Morrison’s vibrant illustrations powerfully enhance Clark-Robinson’s tale, bringing to life the intensity of terrible experiences that the marchers endured. Adults as well as children are represented with portrait-like detail throughout. They convey serious, determined dignity through their steady eyes and calm, straight-shouldered stances. While the faces are ultimately most compelling, Morrison incorporates signs, hoses, flags and fences that communicate the hostile environment with depth and poignancy.

LET THE CHILDREN MARCH will surely spur important and essential conversations between young readers and the adults who share this book with them. Additional information is supplied in an afterword, a bibliography and sources of quotations. A timeline, illustrated across the endpapers, grounds the tale from beginning to end by showcasing the young faces that helped sow the first seeds for justice and freedom.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

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

 

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Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias

SNOW SISTERS!
Written by Kerri Kokias
Illustrated by Teagan White
(Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Cover image from SNOW SISTERS! Written by Kerri Kokias with art by Teagan White

 

When swirling snowflakes fill the morning sky, two creative, independent Snow Sisters! react in unique and complementary ways throughout author Kerri Kokias’s debut picture book.

The title page, a peek into their cozy shared bedroom, hints at the distinctive personalities of each sister. One girl lies sprawled across her bed with toys and clothes strewn about, while the other sleeps tucked in tight with toys in a row and an alarm clock nearby. After they wake, the first sister, on left hand pages, dresses in snow gear and rushes outside. She throws, builds, and tracks alongside a fluffy squirrel. Her sister, on right hand pages, opts for indoor comforts. She keeps busy with books, baking and snowflake making.

 

Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias Interior artwork by Teagan White

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White, Knopf BYR ©2017.

 

Kokias’s clever parallel text draws us into their individual worlds right up until an exciting mid-book switcheroo. When the outdoors becomes too cold and wet for one sister, the second is drawn outside after spotting a chubby bunny from the window. “Bye!” the sisters greet one another as they trade indoor and outdoor delights. Each embarks on re-visiting fresh interpretations of the words we heard in the beginning: baking, making, throwing, building, etc. The short, simple, active verbs make this book a reading experience that is very accessible for young ears and eyes.

 

Interior artwork from Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias illustrated by Teagan White

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White, Knopf BYR ©2017.

 

White’s homey illustrations utilize a purple-pink palette for one sister, and orange-peach tones for the other, complementing their respective brunette and auburn hair colors. Interior scenes are accented with mellow teal greens, contrasting with the beautiful outdoor images glowing with purple and pale grey snow. Young readers will enjoy discovering amusing repeated details from scene to scene, whether it be favorite stuffed toys or paper snowflakes.

 

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias illustrated by Teagan White

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias with illustrations by Teagan White, Knopf BYR ©2017.

 

The final spread repeats the book title, Snow Sisters!, and shows us how the two have found a time and place to come together and share their snowy fun. Readers young and old, with or without siblings, will appreciate the abundant and inclusive approaches for having fun and celebrating snow in this delightful, cheery debut.

Click here for author tour dates.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained: I reviewed a copy from my local library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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Love, Mama written and illustrated by Jeanette Bradley

LOVE, MAMA
by Jeanette Bradley
(Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan; $16.99, Ages 2-6)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Love Mama Cover Image

 

 

A mother’s temporary absence feels unfamiliar, deep and distant for young Kipling, a fuzzy penguin starring in author-illustrator Jeanette Bradley’s debut picture book Love, Mama.

 

Love Mama Interior spread 1

Interior spread from Love, Mama by Jeanette Bradley, Roaring Brook Press ©2017

 

As Kipling waves goodbye to his Mama, floating toward a ship with her rolling luggage and travel satchel, she promises to come home soon. But what does “soon” mean for Kipling if Mama is not back by dinner, or bedtime, or even the next morning? Although another parent penguin has remained at home, the child-like penguin’s longing for Mama is powerful and pervasive. Kipling gets busy creating substitute but unsatisfactory Mamas from pillows, pictures and snow. Finally there is nothing left to do but wish and wait for Mama’s return.

 

Interior spread 2 from Love Mama

Interior spread from Love, Mama by Jeanette Bradley, Roaring Brook Press ©2017

 

Then – a delivery! A special, soggy box arrives. It carries the scent of the ocean and makes a mysterious thunk-rustle noise. Mama has sent a package of thoughtful mementos and a reassuring heart-shaped note of love. Hugging the note just as Mama has done in an enclosed photo lifts the little penguin’s spirits. Soon Kipling starts to compile a similar treasure box for Mama.

 

Bradley’s soft illustrations depict a cool grey and blue-white landscape that warms to a gentle gold glow inside the penguin home. Pops of red on boots, belts, boats and especially Mama’s glasses add just the right note of playfulness and cheer. Bradley utilizes a variety of unique perspectives from land, sky and sea to help young readers imagine the distances stretching between Kipling and Mama. My favorite spread depicts the young penguin from above, plopped down in the snow, carefully arranging rocks in a circle. Can Kipling’s special, striped wishing stones help speed Mama’s return home?

The delicate balance of carefully chosen text and images underscore the simplicity and resonance of loving and longing from a child’s perspective. Love, Mama will reassure and reconnect parents and young readers separated by distance but not imagination. Perfect for Valentine’s Day or any day for that matter

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained: I reviewed an advanced reader copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien by Caroline McAlister

JOHN RONALD’S DRAGONS:
THE STORY OF J.R.R. TOLKIEN
Written by Caroline McAlister
Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
(Roaring Brook Press; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

John Ronald's Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien cover art

 

Even a passing glance at the brilliant cover of John Ronald’s DragonsThe Story of J.R.R. Tolkien will reveal tantalizing clues about the carefully woven, beautifully illustrated tale inside. A boy, heavy book open in his lap, sits beneath a tree that is morphing, Daphne-esque, into a curious dragon. Utterly fantastic from its root-like tail swirling up the trunk to its leafy green scales, we share the boy’s delight and surprise in the dragon’s appearance as a peaceful, shire- styled village awaits in the distance.

 

Using dragons as a child-friendly entry point, McAlister frames this picture book biography of J.R.R. Tolkien around his rich imagination and love of language. The book paints an idyllic early childhood that nurtured John Ronald’s passions, allowing them to flourish among stories, family, friends, and invented vocabularies. Those passions then simmer quietly beneath the surface, sustaining him in later years through unhappy times and adult responsibilities.

 

The magic of this book lies in how well Wheeler’s illustrations build upon McAlister’s text, never failing to seize an opportunity to portray a smoky wisp from cup, chimney or pipe that will connect us to a dragon’s steamy breath. Likewise, architectural details ground the reader in the time period while also stretching to hint at fantasy features in the imagined worlds Tolkien eventually creates. The subtle green-gray-yellow palette keeps the focus squarely on the main character, until finally bursting into glorious red-gold when the dragon Smaug is revealed. Gorgeous endpapers pay delightful homage to William Morris design.

 

Young readers who may not have yet heard of Tolkien nor seen The Lord of the Rings movies will be gently introduced to Middle Earth world through this charming book. Surely many will identify with the desire to daydream about powerful dragons, misty mountain journeys, or Hobbits and elves. The text includes informative notes from the author and illustrator, Tolkien quotes on dragons, a Tolkien dragon catalog, and bibliography.

 

John Ronald’s DragonsThe Story of J.R.R. Tolkien is a wonderful initial investment in world-building and imagination for young readers. Once engaged by the dragons and dreams of John Ronald, one cannot help but assume the book will spur future interest in reading more of Tolkien .

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a preview copy of John Ronald’s DragonsThe Story of J.R.R. Tolkien from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

GO BIG OR GO GNOME
Written by Kirsten Mayer
Illustrated by Laura K. Horton
(Imprint, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.  

 

Cover image of Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

 

 

There may be princess stories and fairy tales a plenty, but good goblin or troll tales can be difficult to find. Now Go Big or Go Gnome, written by Kirsten Mayer and illustrated by Laura K. Horton provides a lighthearted and entertaining look at life from a verdantly impish perspective.

A tiny gnome named Al lives and works in a lush green garden. He trims shrubbery alongside a crew of friendly fellows who bathe birds, fluff dandelions, and rake rocks. While the gnomes keep busy tidying the sweet scenery, they are also grooming impressive “imperial beards and illustrious mustaches.” Everyone, that is, except Al. Al has nary a whisker on his smooth pink cheeks. This bothers Al tremendously, because he dreams of participating in the Beards International Gnome-athlon.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Al attempts to enter the contest by faking a beard using tiny white butterflies. They fly away and expose his trickery, so he tries again with a squirrel tail, and then with some moss. Thinking he’s doomed to be a plain, bare-faced gnome forever, Al heads home to trim some topiary and keep himself busy. Luckily he still has his clippers in hand when his best friend Gnorm has an emergency – sap is stuck in his beard! He snips, clips and trims Gnorm’s whiskers into an award-winning look. What will the other gnomes think of Al now?

Mayer’s sweet and upbeat tale is a funny fantasy addition to the beard-book genre. Clever language and gnomish word puns add to the appeal. Her text is a delightful set-up for illustrator Horton, who maximizes the opportunity to create inventive, elaborate and impressive beard styles on a pleasant array of diminutive creatures. She also establishes a imaginative garden setting accented with birds, flowers and mushrooms, using a green and blue palette that offsets the gnomes’ de rigueur red pointed caps and boots.

Clever and cute, Go Big or Go Gnome is an encouraging tale for young readers in search of their special talents and ready to embrace their true selves far before they reach the whisker-sprouting years.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a preview copy of Go Big or Go Gnome from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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Also An Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

ALSO AN OCTOPUS
Written by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Illustrated by Benji Davies
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

  • is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

also-an-octopus

 

Looking for a terrific tale about waffle spaceships and eight-legged ukulele players? Well Also An Octopus is definitely the book for you! Wondering how writers come up with ideas for books about waffle spaceships? Then this is STILL the book for you! Debut author Maggie Tokuda-Hall has crafted a funny, clever story about following the spark of an idea through wild gallops of imagination until it takes shape as a book. But this can happen if and only if one follows the basic rules of the road, which are explained with flair and humor.

The tale begins with a blank page. An unseen narrator gently reminds us that all stories do begin this way, on an empty page, screen or canvas, until a character appears. Perhaps it is a little girl, or an adorable bunny, or a ukulele-playing octopus. But that grinning octopus, surrounded by bloopie bubbles and wearing a pom-pom topped knit cap, has to want something. What the character wants, explains the narrator, will make the story become interesting. And if the octopus wants an awesome purple spaceship, it has to be difficult to get. If he can simply get one from the drugstore the story will be too silly, short and dull. So perhaps the octopus will have to make the spaceship himself, out of odds and ends like soda cans, glue, string, umbrellas, glitter and waffles.

Have you fastened your seatbelt yet? Because this story is just about to take off! Or is it? “I’m not really qualified to build a spaceship ….” remarks the octopus, a tentacle rubbing his puzzled head. Nope, that spaceship doesn’t fly, so now our hero has an even bigger problem to solve. He has to find a rocket scientist!

Tokuda-Hall subtly teaches the constructs of story-telling within the boundaries of this absurdly whimsical tale. Step-by-step, the hapless octopus is tossed and turned through the imaginary gyrations of the narrative, experiencing the emotional highs and lows of a plot-driven concept. As illustrated by Benji Davies, the engaging and expressive characters will appeal to readers young and old.  The seemingly retro color palette ranges from mustard yellow to blue, orange, and luscious deep eggplant, displayed in large, bright spreads nicely balanced and evenly spaced. Davies tucks amusing random details into the scenes, like a curly-tongue armadillo and motorboat-driving hamster. Those details, in turn, will inspire young listeners to create new stories of their own.

Create new stories? Yes, because everyone has a bit of nothing, a virtual “blank page” on which to begin. And thus Also An Octopus comes full circle after a rollicking adventure that is as awesome as a purple spaceship dotted with waffles. Remember those bloopie bubbles that swirl around our eight-limbed hero? They burst into sparkly stars once he reaches outer space, a twinkling celebration of this delightful adventure into the world of story-making.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Also An Octopus from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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Mervin the Sloth is About to do the Best Thing in the World by Colleen AF Venable

MERVIN THE SLOTH
IS ABOUT TO DO THE BEST THING IN THE WORLD
Written by Colleen AF Venable
Illustrated by Ruth Chan
(Greenwillow Books, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

Cover image of picture book Mervin The Sloth is About to do The Best Thing in The World

 

Lots of letters and cute, colorful animals fill the picture book page stage in Mervin the Sloth is About to do the Best Thing in the World. Mervin moves so, so, slowly, just as one might expect a sloth to do. Thank goodness for the quirky cast of energetic and inquisitive characters that show up to pepper him and his red panda buddy with questions!

The title of the book drops slowly into the book pages and hangs as a continuous prop for a bird, gazelle, prairie dogs and many other animals. Puzzled by the meaning of the title, they all make suggestions about exactly what it isill he fly? Dig? Or even go “gazelling”? It’s a great opportunity for reading partners to imagine and discuss what activities other species might think are the “Best Things in the World.”

So slowly, almost imperceptibly, Mervin’s arms are lifting up. Does this offer any clues to impatient readers? Will he fight a shark? Turn into a robot? The animals wait, wait, wait. Their quirky speech bubbles get quieter, then a little testy, before they stride off to more thrilling adventures. But Red Panda patiently persists – he must know Mervin better than anyone. In fact, he just might be Mervin’s best friend!

Chan masterfully builds suspense by adding comic critters one by one onto a simple background, allowing young readers to get to know their personalities through goofy expressions and funny speech bubbles. By the middle of the book, the pages have filled with a colorful riot of animals, bubbles, and letters crowding Mervin, who steadfastly maintains his center stage placement. Venable’s simple, silly dialogue compels readers to continue flipping pages until the final reveal.

It’s high time that a picture book combined a red panda and a sloth as main characters, and Mervin the Sloth is About to do the Best Thing in the World will definitely appeal to young readers that appreciate their comic and cuddly friendship.

Click here for Mervin’s sloth-themed paper craft and more!

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Mervin the Sloth is About to do the Best Thing in the World from the publishers and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
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Let Me Finish! by Minh Lê

LET ME FINISH!
Written by Minh Lê
Illustrated by Isabel Roxas
(Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, Ages 4-8)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

let-me-finish book cover

 

 

With its colorfully eye-catching and engaging cover, exhuberant endpages, and enthusiastic speech bubbles, Let Me Finish!  by Minh Lê with art by Isabel Roxas, thrums with an energy that practically propels the book into young readers’ hands.

Our unnamed protagonist is a reader extraordinaire. Sure, his over-sized red eyeglasses are one clue, but so is his broad, contented smile as he settles under a tree to enjoy his new book in peace and quiet. Alas! Three jabbering birds swoop down to chatter enthusiastically about the book’s ending, thus spoiling the surprise for our hero. He politely asks them to hold their commentary next time until he’s done, and heads home to select a different title – one he’s “been meaning to read forever.”

This time it’s a bear who pops in, revealing the ending much to the reader’s consternation. And those pesky birds are back too, chirping in with even more spoilers. “Oh no!” moans our bespectacled main character, who returns home and joyfully discovers that a new book has just been delivered to his front door. Will he finally be able to read in peace, or does someone spill the beans once again?

Let Me Finish! is a real page turner, enticing us to keep flipping and uncover what will happen next. With increasing text size and ever-bolder page spreads, this tale cleverly depicts the mounting angst of the young reader who just wants to enjoy his books. The zany menagerie of talking birds and beasts is a color-filled fantasy, unbound by rules of geography, gravity or nature. It’s a wacky, delightful dilemma for the boy, who demonstrates superhero skills and determination to finish his story.

Roxas’ vivid, softly textured images are tightly woven with Lê’s text and packed with detail. Words written with a scribbly crayon effect add greatly to the kid-appeal, as does the variety of cartoony chase spreads that never become monotonous. There’s a meta-twist or two at the end to keep young ones musing about the story within a story and invites re-reading from multiple perspectives.

You might want to read Let Me Finish! on your own, but it would certainly be a good one to share with friends. Just don’t give away the ending!

Where Obtained: I reviewed a copy of Let Me Finish! which I won in a blog giveaway and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
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Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill

WOLF CAMP
Written and illustrated by Andrea Zuill
(Schwartz & Wade Books, $16.99, Ages 4-8)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill picture book cover

It’s not Labor Day yet!

The shelves at the library and bookstore may be spilling over with “back-to-school” titles, but let’s hold on to summer silliness and camp craziness for just a bit longer. Truly, there is no one season for learning about how to tackle new experiences, face your fears and make new friends. Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill is a hilarious and heart-warming picture book that will encourage young listeners and little learners to be brave and have fun, and howl in harmony as one of the pack.

Our hero is Homer, a hound dog with scrawny neck and legs, big nose and a tail that wags frantically when he’s excited. Sometimes he acts “wolfish” pouncing playfully on his pink stuffed toy moose from behind the sofa. Homer believes all dogs have a bit of inner wolf, and fantasizes about living like one of the pack, racing through the wilderness with purpose. It seems like a dream come true when an invitation to Wolf Camp (“Where every dog can live as a wolf – for an entire week!”) falls into his kibble bowl.

Homer really wants to go to Wolf Camp. He pesters his human family, bringing the invitation to their attention over and over, until they relent and agree that he can go. “I’m going to be a wolf!” thinks Homer excitedly as he heads off on a big yellow bus. The camp counselors, Fang and Grrr, are actual wolves, sharp-nosed, pointy-eared, shaggy giants. Homer’s fellow campers are a bumbling, fuzzy golden retriever named Rex and Pixie, a teeny-tiny gray Chihuahua. Homer thinks the counselors seem nice, but the wolves appear slightly skeptical about the well-hidden potential in their new recruits. Nonetheless, after a detailed safety talk, the Wolf Camp lessons begin.

Zuill’s pen and ink drawings with watercolor wash are zany, charming and unbelievably expressive. She masterfully contrasts wolf and dog postures and body language, perfectly positioning their poised or clumsy bodies for stalking, howling, tracking and sleeping. The animals’ eye rolls, ear tilts, and tail movements convey oodles of meaning and emotion that enrich the wry, witty text and funny speech bubbles. It’s a guaranteed giggle when Homer pens a classic camp letter to his “people” at home, complaining about the food and bugs.

Wolf Camp is filled with loopy, lupine humor and heart. Readers will root for Homer, Rex and Pixie as they bond, persevere and slowly master the skills necessary for wolf-y, woodsy living. The new pack members succeed in earning Honorary Wolf certificates by the end of the week, but perhaps Homer has been changed forever by his wild experience. You’ll be howling with laughter throughout this silly, sweet and smart story for campers and canines alike.

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Wolf Camp from the library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
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Splashdance written and illustrated by Liz Starin

SPLASHDANCE
Written and illustrated by Liz Starin
(Farrar Strauss Giroux $16.99, Ages 4-7)

 

Splashdance by Liz Starin book cover

 

Splashdance, a funny, wacky picture book by Liz Starin is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

One MILLION dollars! That is the prize awarded to the winners of the water ballet competition at the community pool. So Ricardo, a mustachioed, knobby-kneed gentleman and his water ballet partner Ursula, a well-groomed but furry polar bear practice their routine diligently. All at once, a new rule bans bears from the pool, and Ricardo summarily ditches Ursula for a new partner, a giraffe named Hortense.

Ursula is devastated at the betrayal and heartbroken to lose her chance in the competition. After all, she really loves water ballet! Eventually Ursula dons a striped bikini and sneaks down to the community pond for a quick dip. Alone, she executes her best double back albatross and half twist chanterelle in the weedy green swimming hole.

 

Interior_artwork_from picture book Splashdance

Interior spread from Splashdance written and illustrated by Liz Starin, Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR ©2016.

 

Then one day Ursula arrives at the pond only to meet a large group of water ballet enthusiasts practicing their routine. They, too, were cast out of the pool due to their ursine members. This group – this TEAM – has stuck together and continued to practice. Ursula is inspired to join them, and she devises a plan to ensure that they can participate in the water ballet championship after all.

Starin’s text is smart, vibrant and playful. A balanced mixture of short and long sentences filled with cut-to-the-chase emotions keeps the storyline popping along. Young listeners will remain eager to turn the page and discover what happens next. Starin’s illustrations are spectacularly funny, inventive and ridiculous, adding implausible wacky details that appeal to the eye and the funnybone. Clever signs, wild bathing costumes, and a hilarious menagerie of swimming critters mix together to produce a divinely humorous tale.

Ursula finally gets to perform her impressive triple banana flip in the water ballet competition – but will it be enough to win the million dollars? Or is there an even bigger prize at stake? Splashdance is a lighthearted, inspiring winner from beginning to end.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Splashdance from the library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 

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