Tag Archives: book review

Booktalking Picture Books

Typically it seems that the books that I booktalk are chapter books or non-fiction titles. But any length of book can be promoted with a booktalk–I know I’ve caught more than one person’s interest with just a few words describing a picture book. Here are a few particularly compelling titles:

Monkey Truck Monkey Truck, Michael Slack. He’s a monkey and a truck, he races around doing adventurous things, rescuing people, and maybe even eating bananas. If your toddler enjoys animals, trucks, and running around, this is the book for you–plus it has sturdy pages!

Shark vs. Train Shark vs. Train, Chris Barton, Tom Lichtenheld. Who here likes sharks? How about trains? In an epic battle between Sharks and Trains, who do you think would win? How would they even fight? Who is stronger? Faster? Smellier? Find out who wins in this crazy match up by reading Shark vs. Train.

When Dinosaurs Came with Everything Elise Broach, David Small. Who here’s ever had to run errands with your parents? It can sometimes be boring. What if every time you went somewhere you got a special treat? And what if that treat was a free DINOSAUR!? Would your parents let you keep them? Where would they stay? What would they eat? Read all about what happens in When Dinosaurs Came with Everything.

Ashfall–or the world is still ending!

Ashfall (Ashfall, #1) Continuing the apocalyptic theme, I recently read an engaging story called Ashfall by Mike Mullins. Alex, a nerdy 16 yr old boy who loves World of Warcraft and karate, stays at home in Iowa for the weekend while his parents and sister go to visit an uncle on his farm in Illinois. He settles in for an uneventful weekend of computer games and junk food when his house is hit by something and starts on fire, trapped under his desk, Alex has to climb out to save himself. This is just the beginning of the action, as Alex is thrown into one bad situation after another. He discovers that a giant volcano has erupted under Yellowstone, but the ash interferes in all communication and Alex is left alone. Determined to find his family in Illinois, Alex sets off on his own–most of his supplies are destroyed in the initial blast. Unprepared and slogging through a drift of ash feet deep, Alex encounters numerous dangers, both starvation, dehydration, violent weather, and violent people.

This is a quick and engrossing read, that caught me from the beginning and didn’t spit me out until the last word. I found myself willing to believe all kinds of crazy things because the story moved so fast and with so much action, only after the story was over did some of the issues start to emerge. Alex is freakishly lucky, he should have died pretty much every chapter–something terrible would happen, and somehow he’d miraculously survive. Just when he was about to starve food would turn up–to such a great degree that I stopped really worrying about if he was going to die. In some ways this is an unusually optimistic apocalyptic vision, people take him in and help him, food turns up, he doesn’t get infections from grievous injury or die from horrendous exposure.

In many ways this is a more action packed variation of Life as We Knew It, but less reflective and less dark. Both feature 16 yr old ordinary kids who face a world that is rapidly changing, but Alex never really has to face the sort of real immediate personal devastation of the destruction. In addition, Ashfall skips right from the blast to a world turned upside down, just vaguely referring to things that happened while Alex is hiding out.

Kids who enjoyed Life as We Knew It will enjoy this as well, but of the two I find Pfeffer’s vision to be more powerful and effective in showing a world falling apart.

Non-Fiction Mondays What to Expect When You’re Expecting Joeys

What to Expect When You're Expecting Joeys: A Guide for Marsupial Parents (And Curious Kids) (Expecting Animal Babies) In an obvious follow up to the earlier title about Larvae, this volume tackles marsupials. While the format is very similar, I actually found this to be more informative and successful. The primary reason for that is that there are MILLIONS of different species of insects but only about 250 species of marsupials. Many of these are interrelated, which makes it easier to cover the life cycle of all the different varieties.

The downside to this book, as with the previous volume, is the balance of technical information with the format and the illustrations. The question and answer format is fun, the illustrations echo the amusing tone, but some of the vocabulary and detailed descriptions of giving birth are beyond what an entertainment seeker might want, particularly with the young audience attracted by the illustrations. For those kids doing serious research, this would be more difficult to use, it doesn’t have real pictures of the animals and it would be hard to find the specific information you might need.

Still, for collections in need of a general marsupial book this might be a fun choice.

Fashion Kitty and the B.O.Y.S.

Fashion Kitty and the B.O.Y.S. Kiki Kittie is a fashionista. After a disaster with some fashion magazines falling on her, she has the ability to turn into a Fashion Kitty superhero! She saves the day during Fashion Emergencies. In this latest installment, Kiki faces her new nemesis the brother of her good friend. He hates Fashion Kitty and tries various schemes to capture her using his family’s quirky inventions, most notably the Ball of Yellow String. He tries to rally the school for a Catch Fashion Kitty Club, though not everyone realizes he hates her.

This is a fun read, and my first Fashion Kitty book. One aspect I really liked was that though it was a graphic novel, it still had a good balance of text to image. Sometimes there is not much to read, which some people like, but I liked the amount of story that could be expressed with the greater amount of text.

I will be adding this to my juvenile graphic novel collection!

Non-Fiction Monday Lily Renée, Escape Artist

Lily Renée Wilhelm was a young girl when Austria was invaded by Nazi Germany, her life story provides a fascinating glimpse of the changes and struggles that many people faced during these tragic and dramatic times. Her family had been well off, but as the Nazis rose to power her whole life changed, she was fortunate to find an escape on a Kindertransport to England, though her parents stayed behind. Once there, though she was poorly treated by her sponsor family, which led her to take a number of jobs. When England declared war on the Nazis, she was classified as an Enemy Alien and required to report to the government. She worked as a nurse during the Blitz. At this point the government began to crack down more on these “enemy aliens” and started rounding them up, Lily tries to escape but eventually turns herself in. She’s fortunate that her parents have escaped to America and she is allowed to join them there. Once there she finds that her parents have grown old struggling under Nazi rule and Lily takes a huge variety of roles to support her family. Fashion model, pieceworker, catalog artist, and eventually becomes a comic book artist.

Lily’s life was fascinating, and a good fit for children who want to learn about the period. Nothing TOO bad happens to her, her parents live, she escapes Austria and England. In Lily Renée, Escape Artist the story is told in graphic novel format. The art is evocative of the era, capturing the spirit of the age and the terror of Lily’s experiences. Unfortunately, the narrative of the story really fails to bring the story to life in that it doesn’t always match the format. The appeal of a graphic novel biography is that it brings the action and drama of the figure to life, and the actions they took and experiences they had are visually depicted. However, this book reads like a non-graphic novel biography superimposed upon the graphic novel format. There is a lot of tell and not as much show, which makes it hard to see Lily as a real character. It is a fine balance, to provide information while still telling a story, and certainly this book succeeds at providing enough information to show that there are great stories in Lily’s life. It also leaves the reader wanting those stories, wanting that closer knowledge and personal connection. If I couldn’t get more stories, I wanted more facts. I’d never heard about the British detainees, and would have loved to learn more, and see pictures and some of the newspapers they said they wrote.

How cool is this--Lily Renee drew this--this is what I want to know more about!

While not a perfect biography, I still think that the story of Lily Renée is compelling enough to draw reluctant readers into her world. Hopefully, we will find more biographies of fascinating characters like this.

Aliens on Vacation

Aliens on Vacation The summer in between his sixth and seventh grades could have been awesome. It could have been basketball camp. It could have been lounging by the pool. It could even have included winning the ultimate challenge with his best friend, and kissing a girl.

But no, instead David (aka Scrub) is sent by his mostly absentee parents to spend the summer with the grandmother he’s never even met, in the middle of nowhere, with no cel reception or internet access. His grandmother who dresses like a hippie, only cooks things made of soy or grown in her garden, and worst of all, runs a bed and breakfast for crazy people who want to dress up like extras from Star Trek. His parents, his grandmother, and all the guests must be insane.

At least that is what David thinks. But the evidence that meets his eyes on arriving at the Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast makes him wonder if he is the crazy one. A nearly seven foot tall ashen skin man sniffing the mailbox. A family of four of unusual proportions walking on all fours down the hall. And things just get stranger from there. The house rules, posted in his room, are as following:

  1. Leave nothing behind
  2. Take nothing with you
  3. Dress appropriately
  4. Two arms, two legs, one head
  5. No harming the natives

David’s suspicions are confirmed when his grandmother reveals that her guests are all tourists from around the universe, and she needs him to help her keep things going. Can he keep the tourists from revealing their origins to the suspicious town? Will his summer suck as badly as he thought? Well you’ll just have to pick up a copy of Clete Barrett Smith’s Alien’s on Vacation.

Somehow, in this science fictiony story, Smith has managed to capture more realism and humor then are found in many supposedly realistic fiction books. Rather then trying to write the next Harry Potter, or the next Percy Jackson (sort of the same thing really), Smith writes a book that will resonate with boys and girls, make them laugh, and look at the people around them a little different. The afterword refers to the author’s critique group criticizing this as having too much Narnia in it, but unlike most fantasy this book isn’t about entering or discovering a strange world, but about looking at the real world and discovering that, if we let it, the strange things will come out. And that most of the really strange things are us.

I’d recommend this book for middle grade kids. It isn’t violent (though Scrub does have things thrown at him, including rotten fruit and someone’s elbow), and has less of the potty humor of Wimpy Kid books. There may be a first kiss, but it is pretty innocent. In many ways this is The Strange Case of Origami Yoda on summer vacation.

Reviewed from Advanced Reader’s Copy obtained from NetGalley.

Six Sheep Sip Thick Shakes–Say that Six Times Straight

Six Sheep Sip Thick Shakes: And Other Tricky Tongue Twisters
In Six Sheep Sip Thick Shakes: and Other Tricky Tongue Twisters Brian P. Cleary combines his experience with explaining basic linguistic concepts to early readers with a hefty dose of fun, to create a book that will appeal to children still working to master reading. Bright illustrations by Steve Mack are a perfect companion to the text, though they don’t actually always accurately depict what the tongue twister says, they are as fun to look at as the words are to say!

One part I particularly liked was the instructions for how to write your own twister, included on a page at the end, but I wish there had been more included on what makes a twister twist!

Recommended for public libraries looking to add to their collection of riddle books.

The Great Moon Hoax

Having studied history for many years I can tell you that even before newspapers were officially invented, people have found ways to spread sensational tales of mysterious creatures, moon beings, and fish falling from the sky. In fact modern newspapers developed, in my opinion, in the intersection between business correspondence, political doggerel, and sensational gossip and rumor. Only recently have concerns over truthfulness and integrity in journalism been particularly important, and the continuation of publications like the National Enquirer shows that the tradition of sensational journalism continues.

After reading so many early newspapers and broadsides, I was excited by the premise of Stephen Krensky’s The Great Moon Hoax, and hoped that it could communicate some of the wonder and excitement of a world where it could be true that a telescope had found people and beings on the moon. Based on a true series of events from the 1830’s, Krensky’s story focuses on two “newsies” who have a string of good luck selling papers when a series of news stories featuring marvelous discoveries from out of space before it is discovered it was all made up.

The Great Moon Hoax (Carolrhoda Picture Books) I loved the idea of this story, but found that some aspects of the story didn’t work for me, partially from a historical stand point, but particularly because of issues I had with the presentation for the intended audience. Historically, it is not likely that two homeless very young boys living on the streets in the early years of the 19th century would be reading well. Most likely they would have some one read the paper to them or only make out the rough details, not the rather large words used by the newspaper. The bigger issue, however, was the way this book presents this story as a ploy for the newspaper to make money. Things like this are more complicated than true or false. For example, stories of alien abductions are not about someone lying about their encounters, but rather about people who may have a range of degrees of belief that something happened to them. Similarly, speculation like this about the moon is more hypothetical then hoax. Centuries earlier, in England, pamphlets were published with discussions of people on the moon and whether or not they could be converted to Christianity. In a time period, when journalism was still being formalized, the imaginative, far-fetched reporting that places the speculation about what might be on the moon in the mouth of a famous astronomer is less a hoax than business as usual.

These little historical complains are not really important in the long run, the larger problem for me is that this book doesn’t seem to have an intended audience. Since some of the text is from the actual newspapers, the vocabulary used might go right over the heads of a picture book audience. Here’s a quote:

Unexpectedly, “four successive flocks of large winged creatures” appeared. “They averaged four feet in height, were covered except on the face, with short and glossy copper-covered hair, and had wings composed of a thin membrane, without hair, lying snugly upon their backs…”

This could be overcome if the illustrations could bring these descriptions to life, but Josee Bisaillon’s look like tissue paper ghosts and fail to bring life into the stilted text.

Overall, this book did not work for me, but still did leave a smile on my face as I thought of all the fantastic newspaper articles through the centuries.