Book Review: Importantly Diverse Cast of Relatable Characters in Hello, Universe

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, trailer, kaleidoscope instructions, and author's bio.

This review contains minor spoilers.

We were lucky enough to have an ARC of Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello, Universe show up at our store. Isabel Roxas’ cover art caught my eye, and then I enjoyed the first chapter or two that I read quickly on a lunch break, but it was the wonderfully diverse cast of minority and under-represented characters that made me hug the book to my chest and stuff it into my bag.

The story opens with Virgil Salinas, a Filipino-American. He is a self-described “grand failure” and it’s not till several chapters in that the reader discovers why: because he failed to talk to the girl that he is crushing on and with whom he believes he is fated to be friends. He is very shy and lonely. He is a black sheep in his outgoing family, teased and misunderstood by his parents and brothers, closest to his Lola (grandmother) and, of course, to his guinea pig, Gulliver.

The following chapter introduces us to Valencia Somerset. Valencia has been having a repeated nightmare. She is lonely too, isolated by her impairment (she is deaf in both ears and wears hearing aids to help her interact with the world) and her mother’s lack of understanding. Valencia wraps herself in observing nature, taking detailed notes in her notebook and hoping to be like Jane Goodall. She seeks solace in religion but lacks any religious schooling and so has pieced together her own religion, centering mostly on Saint Rene, a martyr who was deaf, whom the Canadians believed was hexing a boy instead of blessing him.

Next comes Kaori Tanaka, whom I suspect is Japanese-American from the name alone, a self-proclaimed psychic with colorful past lives, whose assistant is her younger sister, Gen.

Last of the POV characters is Chet Bullens, a bully from Virgil’s and Valencia’s school, who comes by his prejudices and fears of others honestly.

Because this book takes place at the very onset of summer vacation, the problems and drama of the book are less about school and more about family, friendships, and budding romances, personalities, and overcoming fears.

There is danger and action and heroism.

Virgil goes to rescue his guinea pig, and Valencia, Kaori, and Gen come to rescue him.  And to quote another book in another genre entirely, “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other.

It wasn’t till after I’d finished the book and was pondering the title that I realized that what I’d taken as a writer manipulating a plot was meant to be a helpful and caring universe manipulating lives and interactions. That’s a clever way to hide a writer’s work in plain sight, Kelly. Every action the characters take is leading the three—Virgil, Kaori, and Valencia—towards friendship.

There are still choices that Kelly made that I don’t yet understand fully, even though I now am confident that she has a good reason behind what she does. Only Valencia’s chapters are headed with her name, every chapter but her last, which is called “Messages.” Every other character’s POV chapter is headed by a more traditional chapter title. Each POV character is assigned a particular illustration instead to denote that the chapter is from his or her point of view: a snake for Chet, Gulliver the guinea pig for Virgil, a songbird with her nest for Valencia, and an astronomy chart for Kaori. I didn’t actually notice till another reviewer pointed it out that Valencia is also the only one to have her POV chapters written in the first person, so close is the third person writing of the others.

I think it particularly important to have brave, strong, no-nonsense Valencia as a heroine and shy, quiet Virgil as a hero, no less so because he is so shy and quiet.  Though Virgil is changed by his experience, having gained more self-confidence from facing danger and his worst fears and at the end of the novel does stand up for himself both to Chet and to his family and does talk to Valencia, he is still shy, still quiet, and not faulted for being so–at least not by Valencia and it seems not by Kelly, who allows him to still mutter and avoid eye-contact.  This book is important for those who will see themselves in its pages, see examples of their cultures, of their struggles—and for those outside of those cultures to both recognize the unique perspectives and struggles of those others and to see their own struggles—of loneliness and shyness and hardheaded parents and feeling an outsider—in these characters from other cultures. Moreover, these were characters I enjoyed spending time with—all except Chet. I felt for them all, hoped for them all, enjoyed their perspectives and observations. I’ve already begun recommending it to readers who enjoy realistic fiction and school stories.

****

Kelly, Erin Entrada. Hello, Universe. New York: Greenwillow-HarperCollins, 2017.

This review is not endorsed by Erin Entrada Kelly, Greenwillow Books, or HarperCollins Publishers.  It is an independent, honest review of an ARC by a reader.

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Book Reviews: March 2017 Picture Book Roundup: Springtime

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Toddler Reads

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, description, sample pages, and reviews.. 

Really Feely: Farm by DK Publishing-Penguin Random. 2017. Intended audience: Ages 0-2.

This is truly a really feely book. The full spread of every page incorporates touch-and-feel elements on almost every inch of the page—if it’s only raised markings to imitate the direction of an animal’s fur or feathers. Besides these raised markings, there are more standard touch-and-feel elements too: a cow’s short, coarse hair, a duckling’s feathered belly, a piglet’s squishy snout. Each illustration features two images of the animal, which is nice because it offers the child two perspectives, the creature’s name, and the animal’s tracks, as well as a few environmental elements. Each page of text asks two things of the child, either directing them to both touch-and-feel elements or asking them to find, for example, the cow’s “big, shiny nose.” This is a really well-imagined, very interactive board book primer.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, description, sample pages, and reviews.

Will You Be My Sunshine by Julia Lobo and illustrated by ­­­­Nicola Slater. Cottage Door, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 6 months+.

Using anthropomorphic mice as protagonists, this board book reinforces a parent’s perpetual love for her child. The illustrations are generally nostalgically vintage and cutesy, but there was something about smiling sun that I found more disturbing than cute.  I think the vintage quality of the illustrations will help this one get a little traction in this difficult genre.

****

Click to visit Christian Book Distributors for links to order, description, and sample pages.

Somebunny Loves You! by Melinda L. R. Rumbaugh and illustrated by Cee Biscoe. Worthy Kids/Ideals, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

The illustrations of the bunny protagonists are cute with soft pastels and bunnies that are sometimes more bunny than anthropomorphic with long fur that lends movement to the protagonist’s forms. As the story takes the bunnies through a day of play outdoors, each page spread ends with “Somebunny loves you!” The text does make one mention of “find[ing] God’s joy,” but is otherwise secular. I have did not pull the tab on the book to find out what tune the book plays.  It’s becoming very difficult for books on this theme–the eternal and unfailing love of a parent for a child–to stand out for me.  Not as many of these exist that are explicitly religious, but that is the what I remember most about this book for that being the most original thing about it.  Perhaps the music would have stood out more?

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, description, sample pages, video, reviews, activity sheet, and author bio.

Dance by Matthew Van Fleet. Paula Wiseman-Simon & Schuster, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 2+, Grades PreK+.

The movable pieces—all animated by pulling various tabs—were definitely the greatest part of this book, and the best of those was by far the clackety tapping toes of the tap dancing pig. A newborn chick somehow stumbles to the entrance of an animals’ dance hall and is greeted by a rhino—one of the band?—who invites him inside. The animals each show him a different dance and the chick incorporates all of them into his own routine on the final pages. There’s the Gator Mashed Potater and the Hippopota Hula. There’s a definite stereotyped jazz tone to the language, with phrases like “Crazy, Chickie Baby.” There’s a rhythmic pattern to the language too—“boom baba BOOM”—you can hear the beat, and it’s so easy to make the characters dance to that beat, hard to avoid pulling the tab in rhythm with the words. I read this story aloud while standing, hoping to get the kids and parents to dance with me. I got a little participation, interestingly mostly with the Gator Mashed Potater.

****

(Nearly) Wordless Books

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, video with rice krispie treat recipe, activity, educators' resources, reviews, and author's bio.

Egg by Kevin Henkes. Greenwillow-HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Egg was a pretty cute story, but it was a poor choice to read aloud. How does one read aloud a story that uses so few words and that relies so heavily on page spreads with no text at all? What text there is serves almost more as a part of the illustration than as text for reading. The repetition of words and the absence of repetition serve to say more than do the actual words. There are four eggs. Three hatch into birds (“Crack. Crack. Crack. Egg. Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! Egg.”). The last does not hatch. (“Waiting. Waiting” ad nauseam.) The birds return and peck at the remaining egg to help stimulate its hatching, but the “surprise!” is a bit more than they were expecting. It becomes a story about accepting those who seem different at first glance and perhaps at beginning to accept and expect the unexpected. (Did that bird hatch from the sun?) There may be more of a message that could be read into it, more of a metaphor in the different-ness of the crocodile/alligator (I’m not cool enough to remember how to tell the two apart, and I doubt he drew for scientific accuracy). Could this perhaps be a beginning reader book? I feel like this book presents opportunities for learning, maybe for therapy, helping kids understand their feelings as much as recognize the sounds that letters form, though I cannot vouch for either.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, description, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio.

Nope! by Drew Sheneman. Viking-Penguin Random, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This is an almost wordless picture book. It’s only words I think are “nope,” “yep,” and some onomatopoeias: “boop” and “flap.” A baby bird is reluctant to leave the nest on his first flight. He imagines terrible things waiting on the forest floor—cats, wolves, gators—all creatively illustrated as his imagination through a thought bubble and lighter coloration from the rest of the page but otherwise seamless with the “real” forest floor.  It occurred to me that this could be another fun alternative graduation gift, if a little more tongue-in-cheek than other graduation gift books.

***

Picture Books

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, preview, video, storytime kit, and author's bio.

You Don’t Want a Unicorn! by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Liz Climo. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

A little, brown-haired boy who loves unicorns—his shirt proclaims it so—uses a magic fountain and coin to wish for a unicorn—and it works! It’s “awesome” at first. The unicorn flies, and there are rainbows, but the unicorn ultimately proves to be a troublesome pet or houseguest. He sheds glitter—and we all know how impossible it is to get rid of glitter. He scratches up the couch. Worst of all, unicorns get lonely, and they can magically summon friends, and soon you’re hosting a party, and the house is completely destroyed. Luckily, unicorns can be wished away as easily as they can be wished for. The open ending leaves plenty of room for a sequel or a reader’s imagination to expand into another story. The text is told as if advising the character. It’s playful and imaginative—its imagination and playfulness only heightened by the illustrations, which really add the details to the unicorn’s destructiveness.  Did I mention how awesome it is that the human protagonist of this story is a dark-haired boy?

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, educators' resources, and author's and illustrator's bios.

When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes and illustrated by Laura Dronzek. Greenwillow-HarperCollins, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This book takes the world through the end of winter into the wonder of spring and to the longing for summer, drawing on the melting of the snow and the reawakening of the plants, the blossoming flowers, the hatching of the birds, the “more rain and more rain.” There’s much about the necessity of waiting. Alliteration and repetition lend a poetic quality to a text that relies pretty heavily on simple words and simple sentence structures. Distinct reference is made to the senses, which was a good opportunity to include my audience in the storytelling (What does spring smell like? What does it hear like?). None of the human characters are recognizably people of color, but many are noticeably white.

***1/2

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, activity, educators' resources, and author's bio.

Plant the Tiny Seed by Christie Matheson. Greenwillow-HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I’m sort of on the fence about this book, written in the style made popular by Hervé Tullet. The book reads a bit like an interactive app, really, like a tamigochi, a game to grow and keep alive a plant by following the instructions and going through the steps and providing for the plant what it needs to be healthy and strong, Farmville on a single-plant scale. On the one hand, it’s not an app, so it gets the kids away from a screen, even if they are still interacting with the book as if it were a screen. On the other, it would make a cooler app because the illustrations could be animated to respond to the reader’s interaction with the page/screen. The pages are bright and colorful, and it’s a fun way to explain the various things that a plant needs to grow, but there’s really no plot other than the plant growing because it is getting x, y, and z from its environment because of the reader’s interaction with the page.

***

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, description, reviews, trailer, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Chronicle, 2013. Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

Having recently read Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site and Mighty, Mighty Construction Site, it made sense to finish up this pair’s repertoire and read this book. This book has a team of animal railway workers packing up a steam train for an overnight journey. This explains the different types of train cars and parts—again, a primer for me. Each type of car is bolded, so it’s obvious that the pair’s intention was to make a primer. Several of the pages make a point of mentioning how many of an object there are—giving this a chance to be a numbers primer too, though there does not seem to be an order to the numbers. I didn’t see as much of a lesson or as much of a story in this book of theirs than the others. Like the others, the text rhymes. There are a lot of onomatopoeias. I did like the end where the unlikely crew makes more realistic sense when revealed to be a child’s toy, and the story presumably a work of his imagination or dream.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

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Book Review: Quick Thoughts on Blue Lily, Lily Blue

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and reading levels.

This book… I struggled through a little bit. And I don’t know why. I don’t know what caused it. But I suspect the fault is somehow mine and not the book’s. It took me more than a month. I started it sometime around January 9 and didn’t finish till February 16, and you see how long it’s taken me to even begin the review. I love Maggie Steifvater’s writing no less. I love Henrietta and its surrounding settlements and wilds no less. I love these characters no less, and I may have found new favorites in this book. (“She drifted toward the bedroom, on her way to have a bath or take a nap or start a war.” That’s the moment I decided I would love this character despite her very glaring faults. And then of course “I AM JESSE DITTLEY. DID YOU NEVER EAT YOUR GREENS?” Maybe not as many of them as I should have done, Jesse, and I’m sorry, Jesse.) I still sent a flurry of photographs of fantastic quotes that spoke to me to my friend Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master (or at least took the pictures. Did I send them to you, Gwen?).

I don’t know why it took me so long.

This book does not so narrowly focus on a single one of the quintet the way that Dream Thieves did. We are given glimpses into each character’s psyche, though perhaps Blue’s and Adam’s most vividly as each has a more personal quest (or two) here that intersects with the search for Glendower.

This story is about madness and sanity. This is about magic and mundane, past and present and future. It is about the line and the crossover between these “divisions.”

This is about friendship and family and love: the different expressions of each, the irrevocability of each, the growth and loss of each.

Like in the last book, the prologue is creatively laid out. There are three parts and three perspectives to the prologue: Above, Between, Below. This pattern was not repeated in the epilogue, and I was a little surprised and upset that it did not—but not really, because the epilogue. Three has always been and is explicitly an important number for this story. Which makes me wonder and worry about the five in our quintet. One of whom, I suppose, is already dead, so four. That’s still one too many, but I suppose if the prophecy of book one cannot be outrun or outmaneuvered: three. Oh gosh! Is this a series about winnowing down to three, about the sacrifices necessary to make three?

As I’m sitting down to write this review, and skimming back through the book, and thinking about all that I read, I’m falling more in love with this book. I really can’t wait to finish this series so that I can reread this series (one more book to go!).  It didn’t hurt me as much as the previous book did do, but the quest moves forward, and the players advance, coming out of the shadows.  This might be a set-up book, but I expect the final moves of the game will be bone-chilling in the best way.

Update: I stumbled back into The Raven Boys after writing this review, and that book at least is every bit as magical and wonderful and relaxing and awe-inspiring to re-read as I hoped it would be.

****

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Cycle, Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue. New York: Scholastic, 2015. First published 2014.

This review is not endorsed by Maggie Stiefvater or Scholastic, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Challenge: Silencing Half of the World to See Who Is Still Heard

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The inspiration for today’s blog post has come from Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights, OH, who for part of the month of March, Women’s History Month, turned around the books in their store written by male authors so that their spines, where are the names of the authors and the titles, were hidden.  The pictures from their store are stunning.

Before I even begin to discuss this display and my attempt to recreate it, I want to acknowledge that this social experiment is flawed in one glaring way:  This experiment relies on a binary gender system, erasing transgender, genderqueer, or nonbinary identities.

When I was uncertain of an author’s gender I relied first on the names and decided not to dig deeper if the name sounded stereotypically masculine or feminine (that’s laziness on my part, which I acknowledge too, but there are a lot of books and lot of authors in our house).  If I was still uncertain I went to the author’s bio and looked for gendered pronouns–a better clue to an author’s gender; I hope that most author’s bios use their preferred pronoun, but I cannot guarantee it, not in this day and age.

Recreating their experiment on the shelves in my home is not as stunning.

All of these pictures I’ve cropped quite fiercely because I really wanted to highlight the books, the spines and not the photograph itself.

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With picture books, I decided that if a book was authored by a man but illustrated by a woman–or vice versa–it could remain spine-out, which means that all of the books that you see turned around at the right of the bottom-most shelf in this image are written and illustrated by men and that some of those that have their spines facing out still make room for men’s words–or for men’s illustrations.

The bookcases in my home are curated.  They consist only of books on which I or my roommate have spent money or one of us has deemed worthy to adopt–and only those that we deemed worthy of keeping.  We are both cisgendered women.  We both graduated from a women’s university.  We both consider ourselves feminists.  And we’re both writers.  That means some voices won’t be represented on our shelves.  Our collection ranges from Gilgamesh to books released just days ago, but I would guess that the majority of our books were all published within the last 30-40 years, a time when being an author was not an unacceptable choice for a woman of any means, though a time during which publishers still worried and possibly worry that a woman’s book about a boy won’t be read as widely as a man’s book about a boy (as in J. K. Rowling’s case.  She uses a gender neutral pen name rather than any combination of the feminine sounding Joanne Kathleen, and that’s the reason I’ve heard given for that choice).  I know that I have a penchant for books with “strong” (three-dimensional) women–which is not to say that one-dimensional women are absent from my shelves; that’s not the case, and I know it–I’m looking at you, Mr. Bradbury–and not to say that my shelves are devoid of books where women are a mere prize, a sidequest if you will (though admittedly, I’m having a harder time thinking of any book that might be on my shelves where that is the case at the moment).  I think it might be fair to say that one-dimensional female characters are less likely in women’s writing.

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This is the most fiercely curated of my shelves.  It’s the only one that lives in my bedroom and consists only of favorite books of mine or (but mostly and) the ones I’m mostly likely to want to reach for at any given time to visit the characters, the world, a scene, a line.  That bookcase in particular features really only a few authors.  10 authors got turned around.  10 remained spine-out (myself excluded; the bottom right are photo albums)–Olivia Berrier, Cressida Cowell, Diane Duane, Eva Ibbotson, Ursula K. LeGuin, Jennifer Nielsen, J. K. Rowling, Sharon Shinn, Jo Walton, and Patricia C. Wrede.

Our shelves are not organized (particularly) by genre (the picture and board books are all shelved together, and nonfiction and poetry each have their own sections, not shown here).  I think performing this experiment on shelves divided by genre would be an interesting and probably enlightening twist.  As Cassandra Claire in her Draco Trilogy once pointed out, men aren’t expected to write those mass market romances, and I expect there is some discrimination against men who try to break into that market–or that there may be men writing romances under feminine pen names.  Science fiction and fantasy were for a long time a genre written primarily by and for men, and I think some of that prejudice against female writers still lingers–at least in epics and fantasy and science fiction written for adults.  I would be interested to see how children’s literature breaks up.  More picture books than I would have expected got turned around on my shelves, even allowing for women’s illustrations to counter the male authors.  Books shelved by the age of the intended audience would be another interesting twist.

It was very interesting to me see what did and didn’t get turned.

I was surprised that all of the manga my roommate owns (three series surveyed here) are written by women.  I was surprised that the American graphic novels (two series, one of which is a graphic novel series for the TV show Charmed, and a stand-alone) all got turned around, save one–and that is an older series that started in the late 70s, Elfquest, created by the husband and wife pair, Wendy and Richard Pini.

I noticed a lot of the swaths of white in our shelves were created by series–or by multiple books by the same author.  I think that’s true too of the swaths of color.  It seems once we find someone or something we like, we stick it out.  I know it’s true of the bookcase in my room, where 13 of the turned books belong to one author, and 11 of the spine-out books belong to J. K. Rowling.  It happened again in the case that has only two shelves.  One male author accounts for nine of those books, one accounts for five books, and another two have four books each turned around.  Meanwhile Diana Gabaldon accounts for six of the spine-out books.

I also just got a good laugh–a somewhat sad laugh–realizing that if J. K. Rowling was left out of the these pictures–or if she was only allowed to be represented with each book only once (13 individual titles), the shelves would look a lot whiter.  I know she’s the voice of our generation but between the two of us we own 29 of her books (most of that onus is admittedly on me.  Oops).  But then she is not the only writer from whom we own together more than one copy of a title, and I don’t know that that phenomenon disproportionately effected women.  In fact, it happened with 17 male authors but with only 14 female authors: Louisa May Alcott, Olivia Berrier, Suzanne Collins, Susan Cooper, Diane Duane, Cornelia Funke, Ellen Kushner, Madeleine L’Engle, Anne McCaffrey, Robin McKinley, Stephenie Meyer, Tamora Pierce, J. K. Rowling, and Patricia C. Wrede.  Though Rowling is the only author from whom we own four copies of one title.

These photos don’t represent all of our bookcases, just a sampling really (excluded are the ones for which getting a clear shot of the shelves in their entirety meant moving furniture and one the top of which was just too cluttered and messy for me to want to show the Internet).

All photos are my own.  Click to embiggen.

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Book Reviews: February 2017 Picture Book Rounds: Lessons Abound

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Sharing, showing mercy, being a friend, compromise, teamwork, hard work, trying new things, resisting oppression and tyranny, admiring nature truly, and accepting yourself–lessons abound in picture books this month.

Click to visit the author's page for links to purchase, sample page, reviews, and awards list.

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey. Scholastic, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 3-5, PreK-K.

I was a bit… shocked by this book, mostly because a coworker had recommended it, so I didn’t screen it for story time. The bullying, greedy pug, Pig, in a very Disney-villain type of accident falls from his perch and out the window. He is next seen all wrapped in bandages while the Dachshund dog, the hero, “good” or “poor” Trevor, finally plays with a toy and with Pig. This was a hit with my story time audience though. A little boy, maybe… four? I saw that family again and was told that he told all his family and friends about it. The ending is a bit grim, but no more grim than most fairytales.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and description.

Hotel Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins. Hyperion-Disney, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I loved this book more than the first in the series. Somehow this one seemed to better understand its audience, to play less to the parents, leaving more space for the kids (though there is still plenty for parents to laugh at, never fear). It begins with a quick recap and yet another migration South for the winter. The geese and Bruce return to Bruce’s cave to find that a group of mice have turned it into a hotel for all types of woodland creatures, with whom Bruce now has to share a bed and his kitchen, while the geese are pressed into service as bellhops. The grumpy bear as before finds he has a surprisingly soft heart, making him a laudable protagonist for children’s literature.

****

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Dinosaurs Don’t Have Bedtimes by Timothy Knapman and illustrated by Nikki Dyson. Candlewick, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7, Grades PreK-2.

The redheaded protagonist, Mo, dressed in a dinosaur costume, imagines a dinosaur’s life is one of no rules, doing whatever he wants. To his mother’s argument that dinosaurs must get hungry with no dinnertime, he says they eat whenever they want. Dinosaurs of course are always messy.  In his imagination, Mo is a dinosaur, shown as such every few pages before flashing back to himself and his mother as they are.  Mo is a contrary child, but his mother obviously loves him. There don’t seem to be any real consequences to Mo’s contrariness, but he also seems to do all that his mom asks or tells him directly—at least eventually. The colorful illustrations—and particularly the creativity that allows the reader to see Mo and his Mom in their dinosaur-forms—are the biggest draw here.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, and reviews.

Play with Me! by Michelle Lee. G. P. Putnam’s Sons-Penguin Random, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Pip is eager to play with Nico, but Nico is focused on his own playing—of the cello. Pip offers activity after activity to do with Nico, and Nico just keeps saying he’s uninterested and keeps playing his instrument. Finally, Pip shouts, “I MEANT PLAY WITH ME!” and Nico realizes that he’s excluded his friend with his solo playing. So he finds a way to include her without giving up on his own activity. It’s a story of compromise, and it’s a story of listening and paying attention to the desires of others. Nico and Pip are primarily illustrated on a white background with little distraction from their characters and actions.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, trailer, educator's guide, and author's and illustrator's bios. Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, trailer, educator's guide, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Chronicle, 2011. Intended audience: Ages 1-6.

Mighty, Mighty Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Chronicle, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

It took six years for this team to write a sequel to the popular Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, and it took a required story time to get me to read either of the books. Let me preface by saying I have never much been fascinated at any age as some are with construction vehicles. I learned loads (pun intended) from this book—at least, I learned names of vehicles it had never occurred to me to wonder over. Or I learned that I have a fun resource available when someone asks me what that vehicle is called—it would take more than one or even two readings for me to memorize those names.

Both are bedtime stories in the end; each ends with the vehicles tucking themselves in for the night. In Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site that is the whole drive of the plot. Each vehicle gets a few pages, its actions humanized and its bedtime regimen tailored to reflect its daytime activities and function. Each vehicle’s section ends with “Shhh… goodnight, [vehicle], goodnight.”

Both texts emphasize the importance and fun of hard work, but the second underscores teamwork. A job too big for the team of the first book has arisen, so they call in a backup team. Here female vehicles are added to the cast, which I appreciate. And these female vehicles aren’t feminized; they are not pink or purple, are not given long lashes, and are just as eager to work hard as the male vehicles. This second book seems almost a prequel story. The first book has about two pages of daytime activity then the vehicles go to bed. This second book focuses on the daytime work, but ends with the vehicles going to bed—with a shorter bedtime routine than in the first. Both texts are told in rhyme.

Lichtenheld uses bright colors, cartoonish faces that use primarily the windshields and front ends of the vehicles, and some creative layouts. Little details like teddy bears and nightlights make the pages extra fun. Some of the illustrations from the first book are reflected in the second.

****      ****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, awards list, and author's bio.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. Penguin Random, 1988. First published 1960. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I read first One Fish, Two Fish and then I tried Mr. Brown Can Moo. This book I read by popular request. I’d grabbed this too as a possibility, but it was a favorite of one family who told me they had been collecting the book in different languages, and a favorite with a few of the other members of my audience too. It’s a lot of fun to read aloud not only for the rhyming text but also for the emphatic tone that the protagonist uses in refusing to try green eggs and ham.  And of course, he does end up liking the new food after he tries it and ends up enthusiastic about eating it anytime, anywhere.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss. Penguin Random, 1988. First published 1960. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This story was so much longer than I remembered it being, and so much less of a story. It’s more like… snatches of poetry, some of it loosely connected, but most of it independent. Several of my favorite snatches of Seuss are in this collection, though: “One fish, two fish” of course but also “My hat is old, my tooth is gold.” Many of these poems are rhyming tongue twisters that would be good for helping kids laugh along while they learn to sound out words.

***

Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, and author's bio.

“Yertle the Turtle.”  Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss.  Penguin Random, 1958.  Intended audience: Ages 5-9.

I remembered “Yertle the Turtle” as one of my favorites of Seuss’.  It must have left a profound impression on me.  I did not realize till I was partway through the story at a story time this past month just how relevant it is to today’s politics.  Because of that, this story twisted my stomach more than I had thought that it would, the king’s boasts and poor Mack’s complaints and protests sounding both all too familiar.  It was not the distant fable that I remembered.  It is lived reality.  It is now.  It is protest fiction.  But it was, I think, a fable.  “I know, up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”  Oppression, a kingship built on the backs and forced labor of others cannot last forever.  Protest will be rewarded.  One lowly turtle on the very bottom can have an impact and a voice.  That voice, that rebellious act, that existence may topple a king.  When I’d finished, I sort of took a deep breath, and the mother of the child who’d requested one last story (she was about seven; I don’t know if she saw the real-world parallels as clearly as her mother and I did) and I shared a look, and sort of danced for a moment around saying how relevant the story seemed to today.  I did not read either of the other stories in this collection.  Just “Yertle.”  The other two stories in this collection are “Gertrude McFuzz” and “The Big Brag.”  “Yertle” is in other collections as well, including Six by Seuss.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Round by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

Joyce Sidman wowed me before with her book Before Morning illustrated by Beth Krommes. She has a unique way of seeing and describing the world. She is one of those writers that you can just tell pays attention to every word and every meaning and emotion of every word.  This book focuses on all things round: seeds, the sun, the moon, eggs, mushrooms tops, oranges, raindrops, ripples…. As it was with Krommes’ cover, it was Yoo’s cover illustration that drew me to this book, and it was only later that I realized I’d read and enjoyed another of Sidman’s works. Yoo uses a small child and her dog and a goose and a parent or other adult to interact with the round things that the narrator—an “I”—describes. Yoo’s human characters seem to be Asian, but I wouldn’t swear to it (though Kirkus Reviews agrees with me), and they are never given names or described themselves within the text.  She adds extra circles into the illustrations. The two artists together make a game of the book and a game of the world. Once you start seeing round as they see round its hard to un-see. Definitely the focus here is on nature. The final pages of the book describe some of the reasons so many things in nature are round in fairly simple terms—these pages are definitely more for the older picture book audience though, maybe 7-8 with an adult to explain some of her more difficult words in these explanations.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio.

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima. Simon & Schuster, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This is going to be one of my new favorite books, I’m fairly sure. Kelp is born and lives under the sea, but he isn’t like the narwhals—his horn isn’t as long, and he’s not as good a swimmer—but the other narwhals don’t seem to mind, so he tries not to mind either. But a current pulls him above the surface and far away he sees a creature that looks like himself. He learns how to walk, walks through a “strange and beautiful” land, and discovers unicorns—and that he himself is a unicorn. He learns all about being a unicorn, and loves it, but he misses his friends. He returns to them and in a conversation very much (it seemed to me) couched in the cultural script we have for “coming out” explains to his friends that he is not a narwhal but a unicorn. They all “t[ake] it very well” and knew he was not a narwhal but a unicorn all along. So Kelp begins to live as a unicorn who knows he’s a unicorn with the narwhals.  But Kelp soon begins to fret over whether he wants to be “a land narwhal with the unicorns or a sea unicorn with narwhals,” and finally finds a way to not have to choose between the two.

Perhaps because of the national dialogue right now, I saw this as very much about either gender or sexual identity; I couldn’t quite ever decide which metaphor worked better (the rainbows made me wonder if the unicorns represented gay culture, but the question over whether he was a land narwhal or sea unicorn or both/neither made me think more about trans identity).

Beyond all of that, the pictures are adorable! They are colorful and they are playful and creative.  This book is just wonderful.

*****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

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Shelfie 1: December 9, 2012: Shared Shelves: a Holiday Card

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I think my photoblogging days might be coming to a close.  For a year I posted a photo or happy thought almost every day at Nine Pages Every Day.  I haven’t yet decided whether I will continue that blog or save my pictures for myself and my Facebook friends and my records of something beautiful everyday to a Word document I’ve been adding to since January 31 (and using since then to generate posts for Nine Pages Every Day).

That being said, I like photography, and I like sharing my photography, however mediocre it might be, because photographs are a captured instant, a captured space, a condensed memory.

But you’re here for books and storytelling.

Today, I can’t provide you any fresh book reviews; I haven’t any I could get done before midnight.  There are–you know–many weeks like this.  More than I care for there to be.

So I’m proposing this:  When I can’t provide you with new bookish text, let me provide you with bookish photography.  I’ve combed back through my photos, a set in this library ranging back to early October 2012, and found all the shelfies I’ve taken (before I knew the word shelfie).

Let me share with you these snapshots of my life, this story of my life as captured by books.

I’m guessing if you’re here, you probably like looking at books and photographs of books too.  And you probably understand the insight that a shelfie can offer.

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Book Reviews: January 2017 Picture Book Roundup: Almost a Red Carpet Affair

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Click to visit B&N for links to order and summary.

Begin Smart TM: What Does Baby Say? Sterling, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 9 months-2.

An action prompts the question, “What does baby say?” A lifted flap reveals the one word answer. It’s a sturdy-seeming book, and reviews corroborate my guess. The colors are bright. The pictures are simple. This book was originally published in 2008, and I’ve seen complaints about a baby in that book drinking juice from a bottle, which reviewers seem to find confusing and some claim is dangerous. “Juice” was my first word, so I wonder if the writer had such an experience in mind. The version of the book that I read, put out by Sterling in April 2016, has revised the text to say milk instead of juice. Babies of color were included in the illustrations.

***

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary,

Clifford the Big Red Dog: Vintage Hardcover Edition by Norman Bridwell. Scholastic, 2016.  First published 1963.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5, Grades PreK-K.

This vintage edition of the book uses only a few colors: black, red, pink, and the off-white of the pages themselves. In many ways, Clifford is an average dog: He plays fetch. He chases cats and cars. He likes shoes. He eats and drinks a lot. But Clifford’s problems are unique because of his size. Emily Elizabeth can’t take him to the zoo anymore because he chases the lions. Sometimes he catches a car and brings it back to her. He mistakes the policeman’s baton for the stick Emily Elizabeth throws and brings the policeman to her. His bathtub is a pool and his brush is a rake. Clifford’s size may be problematic, but Emily Elizabeth would never trade him for any dog.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and reviews.

Clifford the Small Red Puppy by Norman Bridwell. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 1985. First published 1972. Intended audience: Ages 4-6, Grades PreK-1.

Clifford began as the tiniest of puppies, a puppy as small as our four-six week old kitten—or smaller. Love and the prayer of a little girl make him grow larger than the largest dog in two days. I love the sass of Emily Elizabeth at the end: “Tell me again how you got your dog.”

I have vague memories of enjoying the books about Clifford the puppy more than the books about Clifford the dog but only I think at the time because he was a puppy and cuter by default. Plus, he was small like me.

Reading this and the original Clifford story back-to-back, I realize that there is much more story and much more personality here than there was in that first book. Whether that’s true of all of the books in the puppy series, I don’t now feel qualified to say.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

I’m Going to Give You a Bear Hug! by Caroline B. Cooney and illustrated by Tim Warnes. Zonderkidz-Zondervan, 2016.

I am very pleased with this book. It is sweet without being cloying and poetic, creative, and clever without indulging in florid vocabulary. In the rhyming text, the narrator (or mother) insists that she is going to give the listener (or child) the hug of an animal and then describes the hug using phrases that are associated with that animal, making the incomprehensible hug suddenly vivid: example: “I’m going to give you a dog hug. A knock over chairs, Chase up the stairs, And sleep like a log hug.” The illustrations are fairly simple, but small details enliven the story. Each animal sports in some small way the yellow, red polka-dotted pattern of the mother’s dress. (I say mother, but it could be any older woman.) The child’s teddy bear is also in each illustration, alive and independently active.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and a behind-the-scenes video.

Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Willems loses points here for portraying as frogs his characters with French names on a quest for a baguette. That was unnecessary and not very nice, Mo. This book could otherwise have been perhaps a five-star book for me. I enjoyed the story of the young girl given a responsibility by her mother, but falling into temptation, fearing her mother’s wrath, that fear proving unfounded because her mother is understanding, and then her mother falling into the same temptation when she goes with the girl to complete the task. I like the tongue-twister nature of the text, which got kids and parents laughing. I liked the bright colors and creative layout.

****

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's and illustrator's bios.

How Do Dinosaurs Choose Their Pets? by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mark Teague. Blue Sky-Scholastic, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5, Grades PreK-K.

As always, I love that this team always includes male and female dinosaurs without attributing male and female characteristics to the dinosaurs and also always appreciate the inclusion of people of color. This is a fun animal primer too. The beginning of the book questions whether a dinosaur goes and picks out outlandish pets—tigers, elephants, dragons, sharks—but concludes that the dinosaur of course chooses something small and harmless and tractable from a shelter, store, or farm—a dog, kitten, bunny, hamster…. This would be a fun book to share for sure when a family is trying to decide whom or what to adopt. Pair this with Seuss’ What Pet Should I Get? The two are similar enough, but one includes dinosaurs, and one focuses on the difficulty of the decision. Both celebrate the wealth of good choices to be made. Teague’s illustrations are more colorful for sure, and more detailed.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

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