Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Bear and Spider return in Bear Out There

Bear Out There, by Jacob Grant, (June 2019, Bloomsbury Children’s Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-68119-745-6

Ages 3-6

Bear and Spider’s newest adventure – the follow-up to 2018’s Bear’s Scare – sends the two friends on an outdoor hunt for Spider’s kite. Bear is just not an outdoorsy bear. Why bother? Everything he needs is inside! But Spider really wants to fly his new kite, so Bear relents and goes out for a little while. Spider’s kite gets pulled away by the wind, and Bear reluctantly offers to help him find the kite, but he complains the whole time, not noticing the nature all around him; focusing only on what he perceives as noise and weeds. When the rain comes, Bear is even more miserable, until he realizes that he hasn’t been a very supportive friend. He offers to help Spider keep looking, and sure enough, the rain stops and they locate Spider’s kite. The two friends end the day with a sweet compromise: they sit outdoors, having tea, and flying kites together.

As in his earlier story, Bear has a bad habit of not seeing what’s in front of him. His perception is skewed; something the art lets us readers in on as an inside joke. What he sees as “filthy ground, itchy plants, and pesky bugs”, we see as a sedate forest spread; what he sees as “yucky weeds”, we see as flowers that a turtle enjoys smelling; what he calls “noisy twitter” is the hooting of baby owls. Spider is there to be our “can you believe this guy?” foil, descending from his thread, wide-eyed and staring off the page, directly at us. At a rushing waterfall amidst gentle, rolling hills and butterflies, Bear’s exclamation of “such an unpleasant forest” is met with Spider, legs thrown up in the air in frustration. When Bear realizes he’s been selfish, letting his pessimism get in the way of helping his friend, things lighten up – literally; the rain stops falling and the kite is located. It’s all about perception, and friendship is all about compromise.

This one is a sweet follow-up, and reminds me of Arnold Lobel’s classic friends, Frog & Toad. Visit Jacob Grant’s website for more of his artwork and information about his books.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A little post-Halloween fun: Bear’s Scare

Bear’s Scare, by Jacob Grant, (June 2018, Bloomsbury), $16.99, ISBN: 9781681197203

Ages 3-6

Bear keeps a tidy house for himself and his friend, a stuffed bear named Ursa. He loves to clean the house every day, but one day, he notices something: a cobweb! As he searches his home, he notices another web! And another! Convinced he has a spider problem, Bear works himself into a frenzy – the spider is covering the house with webs! It’s making it sticky mess! – and tears his home apart, searching for the spider. The pictures belie what Bear imagines is happening, as we see the spider very politely knitting, painting, and reading a book as Bear turns his house upside down. In his panic to get the messy spider out of his house, Bear traps Ursa’s arm under a chair and tears it off when he pulls her. Stunned into realization, Bear focuses on getting Ursa some first aid, only to discover that the spider has stitched Ursa’s arm together with its own silk. Bear discovers that getting to know someone is a much better way to determine one’s character, and embraces his new friend – who invites some more new friends to visit.

Bear’s Scare is an adorable story about how our own perceptions can get away from us, and the havoc it wreaks. The charcoal and crayon artwork lends a hand-crafted feel to the story, with digital coloring adding a depth of warm color. Bear is a deep navy blue; he stands out against his earth-toned home yellow spider neighbor. Pages are mostly bright white, with the artwork standing out against the background, with some full bleed spreads, usually for a more dramatic moment. The plain black font lets the artwork tell the full story while the text is there to let the storyteller be as tongue-in-cheek as they want to be.

Bear’s Scare is adorable fun with a smart message about friendship and judging others on appearances. It’s a nice add to picture book collections where kids enjoy a little wink, wink, nudge, nudge humor.

See more of Jacob Grant’s artwork and information about his books at his website.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads

June Picture Book Roundup

There are so many good books for Summer Reading hitting shelves in June! Let younger readers explore new worlds and meet new friends with some of these picture books.

Seven Pablos, by Jorge Luján/Illustrated by Chiara Carrer, Translated by Mara Lethem, (June 2018, Enchanted Lion Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702534

Seven boys share the same name. Seven short vignettes share the stories of seven lives, taking readers from the copper mines in Chile to a refugee family living in Mexico, from a garbage dump in Peru to a streets of the Bronx, New York. Seven Pablos sheds light on the living conditions of children around the world in sparse, quietly powerful text. Graphite pencil art creates a dreamlike atmosphere for this lyrical story by Poet Jorge Luján.

Seven Pablos is deeply moving and continues to call attention to the plight of migrant and refugee families around the world. One scene expresses the rage these kids hold within them, as one Pablo tells a visiting poet that he wants to be a “big guy in a uniform” so he can “beat people up and get away with it”. A refugee Pablo recites a poem – in actuality, written by a 9-year-old Argentine child – where he imagines soldiers crushing roofs with their boots. Luján ends his story with the beautiful reminder that there are many Pablos in the world, and each one has a heart that beats with the rhythm of our world.

The Turtle Ship, by Helena Ku Rhee/Illustrated by Colleen Kong-Savage, (June 2018, Lee and Low Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781885008909
Recommended for readers 6-12
This folk tale is based on Korean history. A boy named Sun-sin dreams of seeing the world with his pet turtle, Gobugi, and discovers his chance when the king announces a contest: design the best battleship to defend the land. The winner will receive ten bags of copper coins and the chance to travel with the royal navy. After a few failed attempts at a design, Sun-sin notices that his turtle is strong, slow, and steady, and decides that the best design will be based on Gobugi. At first, he’s laughed at in the king’s court, but when a cat tries to attack the turtle, the king and his court all see that there is something to the boy’s idea. Thus, the Korean Turtle Ships were created, and the boy grew to be famed Admiral Yi Sun-sin.
The story is best served by the incredible paper collage artwork, created using paper from all over the world. The art gives the story drama, color, and texture, and the story itself is as good for read-alouds as it is for independent reading. This is a nice addition to historical collections and cultural folktales. An author note on the Korean Turtle Ships provides some background on the legend of Yi Sun-sin and the Turtle Ship design.

Johnny, by Guido van Genechten, (June 2018, Clavis Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9781605373775

Recommended for readers 3-5

Johnny is an adorable spider with a secret to share, but everyone’s afraid of him! Wanna know his secret? It’s his birthday, and he wants to share his cake! This adorable book by Guido van Genechten is a good story to read when talking to kids about judging others based solely on appearances.

I have to admit, I needed to read this one a couple of times because I felt so bad for Johnny! It’s his birthday, and he’s all alone because everyone’s afraid of him! And then I figured it out: that’s the point. I mean, I know it was the point to begin with, but having Johnny celebrate with only the reader by the story’s end leaves a reader feeling badly – and that’s the time to talk about empathy. Ask kids how they would feel if people didn’t want to be near them because someone didn’t like the way they looked. Ask how they would feel if they had a birthday party and no one came! And then, for heaven’s sake, throw Johnny a birthday party: have some cupcakes and fruit punch, and sing Happy Birthday to the poor guy. He deserves it. Guido van Genechten’s cute, expressive, boldly outlined artwork is instantly recognizable and appealing to younger readers.

 

Swim Bark Run, by Brian & Pamela Boyle/Illustrated by Beth Hughes, (June 2018, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510726963

Recommended for readers 3-7

Daisy the Bulldog is so proud of her humans, Brian and Pam, when they compete in triathlons. She wonders if she could train and compete like they do, and decides to enlist the help of her fellow doggie buddies, Rascal, Atticus, and Hobie, to hold their own Dog-Athlon! Daisy is full of energy at first, but when she starts getting tired, a familiar face at the finish line gives her the boost she needs!

Swim Bark Run is a cute book about physical activity, competition and cooperation, and determination. The digital artwork is bright and cute, giving the dogs happy, friendly faces and includes a nice amount of action as the pups train for their big day. There are positive messages about working together and encouraging one another. This is a cute additional add for readers who like animal books and books about physical fitness.

Seven Bad Cats, by Moe Bonneau, (June 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492657101

Recommended for readers 4-7

A child gets ready to go out on a fishing boat, but seven bad cats make progress very difficult. I love this rhyming, counting tale of seven cats who do what cats do best: get in the way! They eat from the traps, take naps on the oars and steal the child’s gloves, and generally make themselves a nuisance until the boat flips over, and the cats band together to save the day. The book counts up from one to seven until the boat flips everything over, including the story, and the countdown from seven back to one ends the fun. The watercolor artwork adds a nice, watery feel to this seafaring tale, and the cats are hilarious, using their whole bodies to get up to all sorts of no good; even appearing in mug shots on one page. They sprawl, they curl, they stretch, and they swim – they may not like it, but a cat’s gotta do what a cat’s gotta do! This one is a thoroughly enjoyable add to storytime and concept collections. Give this to your cat loving kids! (Also good for a readaloud with flannels or beanie babies.)

 

Finn’s Feather, by Rachel Noble/Illustrated by Zoey Abbot, (June 2018, Enchanted Lion), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702398

Recommended for readers 4-8

In this touching story about grief, loss, and remembrance, a young boy named Finn finds a feather at his doorstep. It’s white, amazing, perfect. It has to be from his brother, Hamish, and Finn tells his mother and his teacher, who take a deep breath and smile; Finn doesn’t understand why they aren’t as excited as he is. His friend Lucas is, though: it’s got to be an angel’s feather, it’s so perfect, and the two friends take Hamish with them on the playground, running with the feather as if it were an additional friend. Finn uses the feather as a quill to write a note to Hamish that evening, and sets the envelope holding the letter in a tree, so the wind will carry it to Hamish.

Inspired by author Rachel Noble’s loss, this moving story about a sibling grieving and remembering is gentle, understanding, and an excellent book to have available for children moving through grief. The soft pencil artwork and gentle colors provide a calming, soothing feel to the story.

 

Ready to Ride, by Sébastien Pelon, (June 2018, words & pictures), $17.95, ISBN: 9781910277737

Recommended for readers 3-7

A young boy finds himself bored on a day home, until his mother sends him out to play. An imaginary friend joins him, and together, they learn to ride a bike! This is a fun, light story about imagination and getting outdoors to play. The imaginary friend is a big, white, two-legged figure – think yeti without the shag – wearing a pointy pink hat and protectively towers over the boy, helping him learn to ride the bike. When the boy heads home after a day of play, his new friend disappears, which is a bit of a letdown. Maybe he’ll show up again. There’s a “Certificate for a Super Cyclist” at the end of the book; a cute prize for kids who learn to ride. This one is an additional add if you’ve got kids who like bike-riding.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Hanukkah picture books for holiday storytime!

I realized that my winter holiday reading has been somewhat narrow in scope, so I’m looking for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa books to read deeper and stronger. Here are some adorable Hanukkah books I’ve just read; I hope you enjoy them, too!

Latke, the Lucky Dog, by Ellen Fischer/Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke,
(Aug. 2014, Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.95, ISBN: 978-0761390398
Good for readers 4-8

Narrated by Latke, a shelter dog that’s rescued on the first night of Hanukkah, this is an adorable story about pet adoption and Hanukkah. As he gets used to his new home, Latke manages to get in trouble every single night of Hanukkah! He’s eating the sufganiyot, chewing up dreidels, and slobbering all over the gelt. Yikes! Luckily for Latke, his family is very forgiving, and gives him his very own present on the eighth night. As Latke repeats throughout the book, he is “one lucky dog”. Latke the Lucky Dog has soft illustrations and changes in font color to note when Latke is narrating (blue) versus when someone else speaks (black). Anyone who has lived with a puppy will recognize Latke doing what dogs do; the forgiving family makes this a story of compassion and empathy while also giving kids a look into what life with a pet can be like. The story touches on the foods and activities that are part of the Hanukkah celebration.

 

Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah, by Sylvia A. Rouss/Illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn,
(Oct. 1993, Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.99, ISBN: 978-0929371467
Good for readers 4-7

Sammy Spider and his mom watch from their web as their family, the Shapiros, light their menorah on the first night of Hanukkah. Sammy is intrigued, and drops down a bit. He loves the way the menorah keeps his feet warm, and he enjoys hearing the story of Hanukkah, but what he really loves are the dreidels that Josh, the young boy, receives from his parents each night! He asks his mother if he can have a dreidel, but Mom tells him spiders spin webs, not dreidels… but on the last night of Hanukkah, Mom has a wonderful surprise for Sammy. I really enjoyed this book, because it provided a nice background on the holiday itself – the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil – and incorporated family traditions. It’s also a concept book, with illustrations reinforcing numbers and colors. The artwork is reminiscent of Eric Carle, with a collage feel. There is a whole library of Sammy the Spider books, where he learns about different aspects of Jewish life, from holidays, to traveling to Israel.

Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf, by Greg Wolfe/Illustrated by Howard McWilliam,
(Sept. 2016, Bloomsbury), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1619635210
Good for readers 4-8

This story is adorable, and handles that whole Elf on the Shelf business (Shmelf on the Shelf, maybe?) while we’re at it. Shmelf is a new elf, working on Santa’s List, checking it twice, when he notices something really distressing: there are a whole bunch of kids that aren’t on the naughty list, yet they’re not receiving presents! When he asks the head elf what the deal is, he finds out that the kids on the list are Jewish, and have their own holiday, where they receive gifts from their parents. This still doesn’t sit right with Shmelf, who goes investigating and sees a family celebrating Hanukkah: they’re spinning dreidels, they’re snacking on gelt, and yes, they’re getting presents! One for each night! He hears the story of Hanukkah and is so excited, he races back to the North Pole, where Santa gives him a special task: he’s going to travel the world, spreading Hanukkah magic! He gets a snazzy blue and white outfit, a sleigh and reindeer of his own, and heads out every year – sometimes November, sometimes December – to make sure your latkes are crispy and think, your menorahs burn bright, and your dreidels win. You want to thank Shmelf and his reindeer, Asher? No cookies – they like gelt and kosher dill! How can you not love this story? It’s a great way to explain Hanukkah – I love how Mom’s story takes shape in word bubbles  – and adds a fun spin to the holiday.

That was my first foray into Hanukkah reading, and now I plan to request more!

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction

Olive & Beatrix – a fun Easy Reader chapter series!

9780545814805_30853The Not-So Itty-Bitty Spiders (Olive & Beatrix #1),by Amy Marie Stadelmann (Aug. 2015, Scholastic), $4.99, ISBN:9780545814805

Recommended for ages 5-8

Olive and Beatrix are twin sisters, but they’ve got one thing that makes them very different – Beatrix is a witch, and Olive is more of a scientist. To get back at prankster Beatrix, Olive and her best friend, Eddie try to play a prank on Beatrix involving spiders, which backfires in a BIG way!

This is a fun, new Easy Reader chapter book series; part of Scholastic’s Branches line for newly independent readers. There are bright, colorful pictures on every page, bold, easy to read text, and an interesting, fast-paced story loaded with excitement and humor. There are even discussion questions at the end fo the book, to spur some conversation. Scholastic is offering a nice PDF excerpt of Olive & Beatrix on their Branches website, so you can check it out for yourself before you buy.

I really like the Branches books. I’ve got a few of the series on my library shelves, including Eerie Elementary, The Notebook of Doom, and Lotus Lane. The kids love them, and the fact that they’re easy chapter books really helps bridge that Easy Reader-Intermediate gap I sometimes find my readers experiencing. Plus, I’ve got kids coming in, younger and younger, asking for “spooky stories”. This will be a big addition to my Easy Reader shelves for those brave little readers!

This is the first series for author Amy Marie Stadelmann, but she’s got a great resume – she works on Nick Jr. preschool programming! She’s worked on shows like The Wonder Pets and Team Umizoomi, so she knows what kids like and she knows how important learning and literacy is. Check out her author website for a look at her illustration portfolio.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Westly: A Spider’s Tale is a good, middle-grade fable

westlyWestly: A Spider’s Tale, by Bryan Beus (Sept. 2015, Shadow Mountain), $15.99, ISBN: 9781629720685

Recommended for ages 9-13

In a contained garden of a glass chandelier, a young caterpillar is born into royalty. Destined to inherit the crown of the Monarch Butterfly kingdom, he is spoiled and naïve until he emerges from his cocoon – and he’s not exactly what he expected. Instead of a regal monarch, he’s a spider. Horrified by his appearance and afraid he’ll be ostracized from butterfly society, he runs away and lives down below, among the “dirt eaters” – the bugs that live below, on the ground. Not knowing he comes from the arrogant butterflies, they take him in and teach him how to live – but what Westly doesn’t realize is that he holds the key to uniting both societies.

Blending a graphic novel feel with a moral fable storytelling voice, Bryan Beus’ debut novel is a great read for middle graders. It’s kind of A Bug’s Life meets The Ugly Duckling, with a kind-hearted, unworldly main character who goes on a classic hero’s journey to grow up, mature, and come into the leader he’s meant to be. There are wonderfully classic elements here: the villain, the wise old sage, and the curmudgeon with the heart of gold being just a few touchstones that children and adults alike with recognize and embrace. Black and white sketches throughout the book hold the reader’s interest and have a comforting, classic feel.

 

This is a solid choice for school libraries and classrooms, especially for middle grade read-alouds and units on fairy tales and fables. Animal fiction always does well in my library, so I know this one will be happily received.

Bryan Beus is the winner of the Kirchoff/Wohlberg Award from The New York Society of Illustrators. His author website offers a sneak preview of Westly‘s first two chapters, plus an adorable webcomic called Peter and Li. Westly is Mr. Beus’ first book, but I’m hoping to see more.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Tween Reads

Book Review: Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space, by Philip Reeve (Bloomsbury, 2007)

Recommended for ages 9-12
Larklight is the first in a ‘tween steampunk trilogy by Philip Reeve, and I was really looking forward to sinking my teeth into this book. Steampunk? Pirates? Pass that book over!
I was not disappointed. A great read for both boys and girls interested in science fiction and fantasy, Larklight offers a little something for everyone. The main character, Arthur Mumby, is a boy of about 11 or 12 who lives with his 14-year old sister, Myrtle (who is a very big part of the storyline – no wallflower female characters in this book!) and their widowed father upon Larklight, a floating home in space. The story takes place during the Victorian era, and the British Empire has colonized space. Aetherships cruise the skies much as Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge hunted ships in the waters on earth.
Mr. Mumby, a xenobiologist, agrees to a meeting with a correspondent who refers to himself as “Mr. Webster” – when he arrives, we discover that Webster is an evil space spider with whose spidery army traps Larklight and Mr. Mumby in their webs. Art and Myrtle escape, ultimately ending up with a band of space pirates led by Jack Havoc, a teenager with his own troubled past, and his band of alien misfits. Running from the British Empire, Jack joins Art and Myrtle on their quest to save their father and learn what made them Webster’s target.
In addition to the nonstop action and wonderfully Victorian narrative, there is mech and steam aplenty for steampunk fans. Giant, mechanized spiders, steam-driven aetherships propelled by alchemic reactions, and an assault on Queen Victoria – what more could a kid possibly ask for?

I appreciated Reeve’s strong male and female characters. At first glance , Myrtle appears solely as Art’s antagonist for Art but emerges as a strong, clever character – it’s interesting to see her character evolve. Ssil, one of Jack Havoc’s alien crew, has no idea where her origins lie, providing a sense of mystery and pathos. She has only the family she creates around her, but longs to know who she is. While scientific men are assumed to be the only ones capable of performing the “chemical wedding” that propels aetherships into space, Ssil performs it with ease – indeed, she is the only member of Jack’s crew who can do it.

There are two sequels to Larklight, also by Reeve: Starcross and Mothstorm, that I expect I shall be picking up shortly. The film rights for Larklight have been bought and a film is due out in 2013.