Tag Archives: illustrations

Book Reviews: December 2014 Picture Book Roundup

Standard

51nu98rtJML

Romeo & Juliet: A BabyLit Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver. Gibbs Smith, 2011.

I’d like this BabyLit primer better if the numbered items corresponded better to the story. Unless there actually are ten kisses (I found five in a cursory search of the text)? BabyLit counts eight love letters never sent by either Romeo or Juliet, and nine streets and bridges, which seems highly unlikely in a city the size of Verona (modern-day Verona certainly has more than nine bridges over the Adige). Oliver’s illustrations, however, are as cleverly detailed and whimsical as ever.

**

819667

Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner and illustrated by Mark Buehner. Dial-Penguin, 2002.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The story provides a whimsical explanation for why snowmen might have crooked hats or arms in the morning, supposing that snowmen, in the style of Raymond Briggs, come alive and congregate to play in the snow at night after children have gone to bed. I was more taken with Mark’s illustrations than Caralyn’s story. The illustrations are clever, detailed, colorful, beautiful. The story just seems a little obvious and overdone, with no real surprises.

***

23294741

The Dark Lord and the Seamstress by J. M. Frey and illustrated by Jennifer Vendrig. 2014.

I won a copy of this picture book via Goodreads‘ giveaways.  I was intrigued by the title and by the summary and, yes, the cover.  I was a bit let down to open the book and discover line drawings.  While I won’t vehemently protest black and white in a picture book as I heard one girl do this month, I admit that I expect color, especially from modern picture books, and I certainly at least appreciate shading.  This book allows for black and no other color, though it does use crosshatching to indicate shadow.  I and later my roommate consoled me by deciding that this will just have to become a coloring book as well as a picture book.  (I’ve taken no colored pencils or crayons to it yet.)  The illustrations show an anime style influence but manage to avoid seeming too cartoonish, and the characters are expressive.  The text is written in rhyming verse, which was really rather well executed though in places the rhyme slipped just a little.  I think it will be best read aloud because of that format.

On the whole, I appreciate the story as a clever adaptation of the old fairy tale type (perhaps AT425C: Beauty and the Beast or maybe AT 425J: The Heroine Serves in Hell for her Bridegroom).

The last few pages at first threw me. I balked at the idea of the angels wearing the badge of the devil’s love on their robes, but the more I thought about it, the less it bothered me, and the less I saw it as a marking angels as belonging to the devil, and the more I saw it as an idea that servants of the Judeo-Christian God would wear badges denoting the power of love over the darkest evils.

comment

Wait a minute!  First, the author found my blog post!  And that’s exciting!  But more exciting still is that this book was designed as a coloring book, and this means that this book is something new.  There are a few coloring books that will attempt to tell a story (usually these are movie adaptations), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture book meant to be a coloring book.  So let’s revise my opinion.  This is a purposefully interactive picture book, one that invites the reader to capture their imagination on the pages.  Kids love coloring books.  Or I did as a kid.  I also loved picture books.  But there are probably kids who enjoy one or the other.  This book might invite artists to enjoy a story.  It invites readers to become artists.  Interactive picture books (like Hervé Tullet’s) are on the way up, but I don’t think I’ve yet seen one this interactive.

****

These reviews are not endorsed by any one involved in their making.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Advertisements

Book Review: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is a Poorly Formatted, Solid Story

Standard

9780810984257

I found a copy of Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda used some time ago, and recognizing that it sold well and was therefore probably something that I should read, I took it home. It sat unread on my shelves until I thought that I’d be able unexpectedly to see Angleberger. I hurried through it, reading nearly half of it in two hours before leaving for the supposed signing. By the time that I left for the signing, I was so far into the book that I couldn’t very well stop. I finished it in two days. So take my review with those things in mind.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is written as if by a number of different characters reporting on encounters with one character, Dwight, and his finger puppet, Yoda. Several different fonts are used to distinguish the characters, though some characters share fonts, and all of the fonts are similar enough in style for the font changes themselves to not interfere with the flow of the novel as a whole.

The text and format of the book as collected narratives, however, do make it disjointed, and that I think is what keeps it from shining for me. If there had been less acknowledgement of its form within the texts, if the characters hadn’t kept referring to the book and complaining about being asked to write in it, I would have been less thrown from the novel with each new chapter.

Each report is headed by a drawing of the POV character. Illustrations pepper the report as well. In their loose, sketchy style, the illustrations remind me of those that I’ve seen on Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, though Kinney’s are somehow both better at conveying emotion and more cartoonish. Kinney’s books also sell enormously well, and I have to wonder if the similarities between the two illustration styles contribute to Angleberger’s success.

A few quick notes: I will be the first to admit that trying to capture the essence of my characters in drawings is one of the hardest things, but I recognize that I am not a professional artist and plan on accepting help—or foregoing illustrations more likely. Angleberger accepts help from Jason Rosenstock with whom he has co-illustrated the book. I don’t know which illustrations are Angleberger’s and which are Rosenstock’s, but I suspect that the more professional illustrations are Rosenstock’s, so I applaud Angleberger accepting some help, but maybe he didn’t accept enough or was overenthusiastic about having illustrations at all. On the whole, the illustrations may make the books seem less frightening to a young reader, but they don’t for me add anything to the plot or to my understanding of the story. Applause for the text there. (Though I would argue that an overreliance on illustrations might signal too little confidence in children’s imagination and in the strength of the text. “How can you read this? There’s no pictures.” “Well some people use their imagination.” It’s not as though Angleberger is describing unique experiences—apart from perhaps the origami Yoda itself, and that is illustrated on the cover by Melissa Arnst.)

So overall, I don’t feel as if the format of the book as collected narratives or the inclusion of illustrations were particularly good choices and feel that these choices may have limited my enjoyment more than enhanced it. However, the content is solid.

This is a school story, and its focus is on the everyday challenges of interacting with classmates.

Dwight is unpopular. He does odd things like wear the same t-shirt for a month. This book was not part of the curriculum for Giving Voice to the Voiceless, but I think that it easily could have been. There’s no explicit mention of any neurodevelopmental disorder that might explain the quirks in Dwight’s behavior, but I suspect that Dwight might fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, explaining his difficulty relating to his peers, the difficulty that he has in speaking to them, and the ritualistic behaviors in which he engages.

While Dwight is unpopular, the finger puppet that accompanies Dwight gives wise advice to Dwight’s classmates, some of whom believe that the puppet may even be able to predict the future.

The premise of the book is to determine whether or not this is the case—though that mystery is never solved—and the end makes it seem less about Yoda and more about Dwight—particularly Tommy’s relationship and reaction to Dwight. The book takes the form of an apology. Tommy decides after examining Dwight and Yoda that he’d “rather be on Dwight’s side than Harvey’s. Dwight is weird, but I guess I’ve started to like him, and I hated to let him down. Somehow I didn’t mind letting Harvey down” (138).

Tommy’s relationship to many of his classmates changes over the course of his study. Harvey begins as one of his better friends, and Dwight as just the odd kid of the class. Dwight is able by standing out more than usual by the adoption of his puppet to influence the whole of the school for the better, bringing partners together, exposing bullies, healing peer relationships, and making traditionally disappointing school events more fun.

It’s a story of the power of the outcast and of acceptance, and I really like the conclusions that Angleberger and his characters come to.

This book has a great title, and it’s a good middle-grade read for its morals, but I really wanted to be blown away by this book. I wanted it to deserve its bestseller status. Especially as Angleberger is now among those local authors that I might one day have a chance to meet in a relaxed setting.  I wish that I could be more pleased with the book’s format.

***1/2

Angleberger, Tom. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. Illus. Tom Angleberger and Jason Rosenstock.  Cover art by Melissa Arnst.  New York: Amulet-ABRAMS, 2010.

This review is not endorsed by Tom Angleberger, Jason Rosenstock, Melissa Arnst, Amulet Books, or ABRAMS.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: January Picture Book Roundup: Part One

Standard

I read a lot of picture books this January, and so I’ve decided to break the roundup into two parts.

Big Snow by Jonathan Bean.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux-Macmillan, 2013.  Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

The illustrations in this one are pretty fantastic, so detailed, so realistic—not just in style, but also in not whitewashing the neighborhood or the surrounding town.  Speaking of whitewashing, a reader on Goodreads commented about how this is an African American family—and that was the first that I’d taken notice of it.  This is an African American in a book with no social message or message of equality.  Better still, Jonathan Bean himself is not African American.  The story is every child’s experience of watching snow fall (and though it’s not explicitly stated in the story) waiting to see if the snow will be deep enough for snowy play like sledding.  It’s a story with which any child can empathize.  The mother distracts her son with household chores and baking.  The father comes home to play with him.  The only thing I can really complain about in this story is that the mother was home, cooking and cleaning, while the father was out at work—but isn’t that the typical American experience.  It would have been a nice choice to break the gender stereotype since Bean so nicely broke the whitewashed vision of the American family.  I do appreciate though that this is a family with both mother and father present and active and interested in the child’s life.

****

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle.  Philomel-Penguin, 2013.  First published 2011.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I think most people know Eric.  The Hungry Caterpillar left quite an imprint on my childhood, though not as great an imprint as did the illustrations of Bill Martin Jr.’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? et al.  I was sadly unimpressed by The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse.  The prose would have benefited from more zest, though I approve of Carle’s message that a good artist is not necessarily one who sticks to reality, promoting creative thinking and creativity, prompting children to put away enforced ideas of correct and incorrect.  At the same time that message seems self-aggrandizing even though the artist at the end of the book does not look like present-day Carle (it might be a boy Carle).

**1/2

The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle.  HarperCollins, 1996.  First published 1977.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

In retrospect, this was not a story I ought to have chosen for story hour.  It begins with two ladybugs who want to eat the same leafful of aphids.  Now aphid is a strange word, so I thought I had better explain it.  And then I realized what was going to happen to the aphids, and I wished that I hadn’t called them “baby bugs.”  And this whole story is about a ladybug that wants to fight—not exactly a great role model.  I tuned my voice to make the ladybug sound at least like it wanted to pick a fight for fun, for the challenge, the way a kid might ask, “You wanna race?”  In retrospect, I may have learned my lesson at least about screening Carle books before I take them to story hour.  As a story hour book too, the clocks in the top corner of the pages were nearly invisible to the children.  I explained where the hands were on the clock faces, at least at first, and was able to work that explanation pretty easily into the prose, but I didn’t really think any of them were there to learn to tell time and stopped after the first few pages.  Also, analog clocks are disappearing, though I think they are still more often in classrooms than digital clocks, so maybe it will be something that they’ll need to learn.  Reading this book makes me feel old.  Not only because of the analog clocks but also because of the political correctness that makes me wonder if such a violent little ladybug would have made it past an editor today.  The kids did pick up on Carle’s lesson that you shouldn’t be mean and that you should share, but it seemed like there were few pages on that.  Most of the pages were devoted instead to the grouchy ladybug asking larger and larger animals if they wanted to fight then dismissing each as too small—and I think at least one my kids was frustrated by the ladybug’s idiocy (she kept commenting that she was pretty sure this or that animal was large enough).  It made a better bestiary than a story it seemed to me as I read the same few words over and over with a slight variation.  That being said, that repetition can be very lulling.  I found it very easy to read and to play instead with my inflection than focus on the words when I was caught up in the repetition.

*1/2

What’s Your Favorite Animal? edited by Eric Carle.  Contributed to be Eric Carle, Nick Bruel, Lucy Cousins, Susan Jeffers, Steven Kellogg, Jon Klassen, Tom Lichtenheld, Peter McCarty, Chris Raschka, Peter Sís, Lane Smith, Erin Stead, Rosemary Wells, and Mo Willems.  Henry Holt and Co.-Random, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8 (Grades Pre-K-3).

As a student and lover of children’s literature, I personally loved this book.  Some of the illustrations in this are amazing.  A lot of the memoirs are truly sweet and endear readers towards either the animal or the author.  Some of the poetry was humorous.  The book provided an interesting view into the minds and lives of some of my favorite illustrators.  The kids at my story hour were less enthralled.  I knew more of the illustrators than they did (many of them having not recently produced any bestsellers), and taken all together, this is a long book.  The eldest of my story hour friends was maybe eight.  Much beyond eight, it’s hard to see a child being thrilled with being read any picture book.  This book lacks the cohesion that can hold a younger child’s attention.  There’s not a story.  There’s no conflict.  The book includes flash memoirs, poetry, and cartoon panels of facts about octopi.  I think only the one (Nick Bruel’s) got a laugh out of any of my friends and that because of Bruel’s interaction with Bad Kitty, a familiar face for some of the kids, I’m sure, and the humor of Bruel’s entry.  Bruel’s didn’t read very well aloud, though, I thought.  There were so many individual panels and I don’t know how many of my friends were able to follow my eyes across the pages as I read.

****

Knight Time by Jane Clark and illustrated by Jane Massey.  Red Fox-Random House UK, 2009.

I loved this book, though I was biased towards it from the beginning as the cover was of an adorable towheaded young knight and a young dragon, each looking terrified into the dark forest.  Towheads and dragons, how could I not love this book?  It was cute in the way that I expected.  The knight fears dragons.  The dragon fears knights.  They meet and become friends after each seeing that the other is not so frightening.  I did not anticipate the inclusion of the knight’s and dragon’s fathers.  Both wander into the woods looking for their fathers and are each found by the other’s father.  The book is lift-a-flap.  If anything this made the book too interesting, too intriguing, too busy, but I loved that there was so much to look at and explore in this adventure.

****

Smile, Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen and illustrated by Dan Hanna.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux-Macmillan, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 1-4 (Grade Pre-K).

I’ve never read the original Pout-Pout Fish so I think this book meant less to me than it is supposed to.  I think this would be fun to quote at young kids.  “Smile, Mr. Fish.  You look so down, with your glum-glum face and pout-pout frown.”  Followed immediately by, “Hey, Mr. Grumpy Gills.  When life gets you down do you know what you gotta do?”  I do dislike that the implication seems to be that a peck on the cheek by a strange should illicit a smile from someone who’s down.  I don’t really think that’s true, and I’m not sure it’s something that we should be teaching our children.

 **

Little Owl’s Orange Scarf by Tatyana Feeney.  Knopf-Random, 2013.

The trick is in the details with this one.  There’s a lot of humor from a careful inspection of Feeney’s illustrations, from the attempts of Little Owl to send his orange scarf to Peru to how he finally rids himself of the hated scarf.  While I sympathized with Little Owl’s plight and I really want to like this book even more than I do, I had a kid pipe up during story hour that he liked orange, and there’s was such sadness and hurt in his tone.  The scarf of course could be hated for being any color, and Feeney had to choose some color. There’s something so implicitly realistically childlike about Owl’s dislike of the scarf not only because it’s too long and scratchy but especially because it’s orange.  It reminds me of friends who hated and refused to wear anything pink simply for its color—and I’m glad that Feeney chose a color other than pink.  Pink would have seemed cliché.

***1/2

Buzz, Buzz, Baby!: A Karen Katz Lift-the-Flap Book by Karen Katz.  Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 1-4.

This lift-a-flap book is all about insects and bugs—perfect the adventurous and outdoorsy child in your family.  Katz’s protagonists are not strictly male even though the book is about bugs.  Katz’s illustrations and the use of flaps are what really appealed to me in this book.  The insects peek out from behind foliage making it easy to see where a child being read too could be prompted for an answer to the questions that the text poses.  The colors are bright—as are all of Katz’s.  Rhymes help with the rhythm of the text.

****