Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Shelf Awareness--There's a Hole in My Garden

PB Review: There's a Hole in My Garden

There's a Hole in My Garden by James Stewart (Albert Whitman, $16.99 hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9780807578551)

In January, a child finds a hole in his garden that's "not a very big hole." But since "it's just the right size for [his] best marble," the unnamed boy drops the marble in and hopes a tree will grow from it. When February rolls around, there's no marble tree (because "[m]arble trees don't grow overnight"), but since the hole is "a little bigger now," he drops in some candy, hoping for "a candy tree." Of course, March comes and "[t]he candy tree isn't growing either." But the hole is even bigger now, so in goes his flashlight. April, May, June... the rest of the year comes and goes with the boy expecting trees to grow out of the increasingly absurd items--robot, piano, dinosaur!--he throws into the ever-enlarging hole. Finally, by December, when the hole has grown so large it's "swallowed the garden," the boy does some research and comes up with his most spectacular idea yet.

There's a Hole in My Garden is a great deal of fun to read aloud, and the understated humor will leave audiences in stitches; the matter-of-fact depictions of the boy throwing bigger and bigger objects into a hole are hilarious. Black-and-white spot art on the left set up the main activities on the right, which play out in full color, full-page displays. Stewart provides just enough context to ground the story in a recognizable world, making the antics more effective, and his somewhat spare style nevertheless delivers plenty of details to discover on subsequent readings. Even the pickiest of young readers should find themselves drawn into the deadpan humor and wowed by the stellar ending. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Hoping to grow an unusual tree, a boy plants larger and larger objects in an ever-widening hole in his garden.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

September Book Picks


In WONDERLAND, by Barbara O’Connor, all Mavis Jeeter wants is to live in one place long enough to have a real best friend. But her mom moves the two of them, yet again, to a new job, in another state, as housekeeper for the wealthy Tully family. Luckily, young Rose Tully could use a best friend, too. But the girls are so different. And when Henry, a dog in search of a home, shows up, the girls will need to break plenty of Mrs. Tully’s rules if they want to get Mr. Duffy, the gatekeeper, to adopt a new pet… O’Connor does a great job, the writing reminds me of Kate DiCamillo, and this book will probably be mentioned in Newbery discussions. (MG)

A FESTIVAL OF GHOSTS, by William Alexander is the follow up to A PROPERLY UNHAUNTED PLACE, and it’s just as good as the first. Rosa Ramona Diaz is a ghost appeasement specialist, just like her mom. She and her new friend, Jasper Chevalier, travel around town quieting ghosts and restless spirits. When Rosa begins attending classes at Ingot Public School, the hauntings begin to escalate. To make matters worse, Rosa worries that she's being haunted by the spirit of her dad, and Jasper is determined to reopen the Ingot Renaissance Festival, even though the grounds have been taken over by dueling ghosts. These books champion respect and the power of listening. (MG)

Chapter Book:

TIME JUMPERS, by Wendy Mass, is a new time-travel adventure series, along the lines of THE MAGIC TREEHOUSE books but for less experienced readers. In the first book, STEALING THE SWORD, Chase and Ava find a mysterious old suitcase that magically transports them to King Arthur’s Court. The kids must return the hilt of Excalibur to the king before he fights in the tournament, but an angry man is trying to steal it. There’s lots of action, an intriguing setting, and plenty of illustrations to help new readers stay on track.

Picture Books:

Do “[b]unnies in their hutches" eat orange? How about gorillas and giraffes? In WHO EATS ORANGE? written by Dianne White and illustrated by Robin Page, we see a variety of animals working their way through a veritable rainbow of foods. This early non-fiction book is as fun to read aloud as it is beautiful to look at. Plenty of back matter makes it a great choice for classrooms, but kids will enjoy it just as well on laps and for library story-time.

Want a bouncy, rhyming bedtime book about robots? Give BITTY BOT, by Tim McCanna, illustrated by Tad Carpenter, a try. Follow along, in pitch-perfect rhythm and rhyme, as Bitty Bot, not yet ready to be “tucked in tight,” takes his homemade rocket ship on a trip to the moon. The art adds plenty of details, colors, and goofy moonpeople to ratchet up the fun.

Maybe you’d prefer your bedtime books a bit more dreamlike and magical. In TIME FOR BED, MIYUKI, by Roxane Marie Galliez with illustrations by Seng Soun Ratanavanh, every time her grandfather asks if she’s ready, a little girl finds one more task she needs to complete before she can sleep. But when Miyuki, with Grandfather’s help, has prepared for the Dragonfly Queen, watered her garden, gathered the snails, covered the cat, “danced the last dance of the day,” and taken her bath, she’s finally ready to be tucked in to hear a very special story. Watercolor and colored pencil illustrations are luminous.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Hey, Kiddo

YA Review: Hey, Kiddo

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Graphix/Scholastic, $24.99 hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780545902472, October 9, 2018)

In Hey, Kiddo, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author/illustrator of picture books and graphic novels for children, puts his talents to use on a more sophisticated project: delving into his own chaotic past. In his first work for young adults, Krosoczka describes how his life was shaped by his mother's addiction and his family's love.

Even though his mother, Leslie, "started using when she was just thirteen years old" and wasn't sure who his father was until Jarrett was born, the boy "came home in an oversized stocking on Christmas day" to a family that cared deeply for him. When Leslie's "terrible decisions" became too dangerous for three-year-old Jarrett, his grandfather Joe insisted on becoming the boy's legal guardian. Joe and Jarrett's grandmother, Shirley, had already raised five kids and were just about to turn into "empty-nesters" when they took in the toddler.

Jarrett's grandfather, usually depicted puffing a cigarette, frequently expressed love for his grandson, and provided for him in the best way he could. Joe saw to it that, when Jarrett's school repeatedly slashed its art program, the boy got art lessons at the Worcester Art Museum, since "[a]rt was the only thing that [he] had any sort of interest in." Shirley--also a heavy smoker and a drinker--was abrasive, though she clearly loved the boy. Still, Jarrett "always felt the void that Leslie's absence created."

When she did come around, there were good times. A birthday party at a McDonald's, months away from his actual birthday, was "a lot of fun" and "the only party that [he] ever had with friends throughout [his] entire childhood." Likewise, rare presents of a stuffed polar bear and, years later, the matching scarves Leslie knit for Jarrett and his pet gerbil, were treasured. But an even bigger gift might have been the letters and homemade cards they exchanged, where he'd "request a cartoon from her and then she'd request one back from [him]." The letters show that Leslie told Jarrett she loved him--"a lot." But her presence in his life was sporadic and "just as quickly as she'd [reappear], she was gone again."

Eventually, Jarrett found himself in art. This memoir serves as a wonderful expression of the richness of his gift, as well as a tribute to his "two incredible parents" who "just happened to be a generation removed." Rendered in black, white and a range of grays, with touches of color coming from the addition of rusty orange tones, the inked art is moody and expressive. The reproductions of actual letters and drawings from Jarrett's childhood lend authenticity and poignancy to the book. By the time he graduated from high school, Jarrett gained a measure of maturity that allowed him to come to terms with the family that, though far from "idyllic," is uniquely his. Perhaps, as Leslie told Jarrett while he was working on this book, their story "could help somebody who might be walking a similar path to the one [they] had walked." Here's hoping! --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: Jarrett Krosoczka's graphic novel is a reflection on his unconventional upbringing, which included being raised by grandparents due to his mom's devastating addiction.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

September's Book of the Month

September’s Book of the Month is another successful collaboration from that prolific picture book dynamic duo, Mac Barnett and Jon Klaassen. In THE WOLF, THE DUCK & THE MOUSE, when a mouse encounters a wolf, he’s “quickly gobbled up.” But imagine the mouse's surprise when, instead of meeting his end, he meets a duck who invites him to sit down to a delicious breakfast. Bread and jam, to be exact, and served on a tablecloth. As the duck explains, “I may have been swallowed, but I have no intention of being eaten.” The mouse decides to stay with the duck in the wolf’s belly. Life is good until too much dancing in there causes the wolf's stomach to ache, and his loud moaning attracts the attention of a hunter. So the duck and the mouse ride out to defend their home...

Klassen’s shrewd, collage-like illustrations perfectly match the droll text. For the “interior” scenes, he uses the dark browns and black of the wolf’s belly to cast a spotlight on the absurd antics in the foreground. When the action moves outdoors, he plays with light and dark there, as well. Like a previous Barnett/Klassen collaboration, EXTRA YARN, the story of THE WOLF, THE DUCK & THE MOUSE feels old fashioned, but with a modern, smart-alecky twist. Like a sardonic relative of an old pourquoi story or fairy tale, with hints of Peter and the Wolf. The subtitle of this witty E. B. White Award-winner could easily have been “Why the Wolf Howls at the Moon.”


PS—it’s really interesting to me how the emotion is conveyed in this book—the eyes are so expressive, these characters don't even have mouths most of the time! If you want to study how to infuse gobs of feeling into your characters, check out the rest of Klassen’s work and also the other master of this, Mo Willems.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Shelf Awareness--A Festival of Ghosts

MG Review: A Festival of Ghosts

A Festival of Ghosts by William Alexander, illus. by Kelly Murphy (Margaret K. McElderry, $17.99 hardcover, 272p., ages 8-12, 9781481469180)

Rosa Diaz is a ghost appeasement specialist, just like her mom. The two live in a "cozy basement apartment underneath the Ingot Public Library," where their official job is to deal with books that are "too haunted." But ever since the "huge circle of copper" placed around Ingot by its founder, Bartholomew Theosophras Barron, was broken, Rosa and her new friend, Jasper Chevalier, spend a lot of time traveling around town, quieting ghosts and restless spirits.

The previously "library-schooled" Rosa begins attending classes at Ingot Public School to perform the "emergency appeasements" her mother is certain the school will need. She's not worried when, on her first day, small hauntings become evident, including a chalkboard that displays "[e]very mark ever made on it." But when the voices of six students--and the principal--are stolen by ghosts in the water fountain, Rosa and Jasper know they have to find the key to appeasing Ingot's restless dead. As if that weren't enough work for two middle-graders, Rosa worries that she's being haunted by the spirit of her dad, and Jasper is determined to reopen the Ingot Renaissance Festival, even though the grounds have been taken over by dueling ghosts.

A Festival of Ghosts, Alexander's follow up to A Properly Unhaunted Place, is as strong as the first, with Murphy's dynamic pencil illustrations scattered throughout. Rosa and Jasper have all the makings of a terrific literary duo and as the pair grow more comfortable with each other, they affectionately banter their way through all the supernatural tasks, whether they are communicating with ghosts or keeping one step ahead of the people who believe in banishing ghosts forever. Here's hoping for a third book that's just as good! --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: The ghosts are back in Ingot, and Rosa and Jasper have their hands full trying to appease them in William Alexander's follow up to A Properly Unhaunted Place.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

August Recommendations


In THE PARKER INHERITANCE, by Varian Johnson, twelve-year-old Candice Miller, "just a girl trying to get through a horrible summer,” is plunged into a mystery when she finds a letter in the attic. Left behind by her grandmother, who lost her job with the city ten years earlier in a mysterious scandal involving buried treasure, Candace and her new friend Brandon decide to solve the puzzle, clear her grandmother’s name, and maybe find some cash in the process. THE PARKER INHERITANCE is a whip-smart mystery that delves into race relations while spooling out a page-turning plot that takes its inspiration from a classic, The Westing Game. (MG)

THUNDERHEAD, by Neal Shusterman, is the worthy sequel to series opener and recent Printz Honor Book, SCYTHE. In this installment, rogue “fallen apprentice” Rowan has gone "off-grid" and is operating as Scythe Lucifer, illegally gleaning scythes who don’t deserve to wear the honored robes. As Scythe Anastasia, Citra forges her own path. She gleans humanity on her own terms--with compassion--and unwittingly becomes the leader for a new generation of scythes. When nasty Scythe Goddard reappears from the dead, can monumental destruction be far behind? Read the first book and then enjoy this follow up, which explains more of the reasoning behind a “perfect” society ruled and managed by the Thunderhead. (YA)

Easy Readers:

MR. MONKEY BAKES A CAKE, by Jeff Mack, features the titular monkey, way too many bananas, and a grand plan. What could go wrong? Action-packed and full of fun, the clever antics and effective repetition are perfect for drawing in emerging readers. Kids will love the ups and downs of Mr. Monkey’s wacky day in and out of the kitchen.

In SERGIO RUZZIER’S FOX AND CHICK: THE PARTY, by—yup—Sergio Ruzzier, Fox and Chick’s very different personalities lead to a series of gentle, endearing adventures. When Fox tries to read, he's interrupted by the irrepressible Chick, who would rather have a party in Fox’s bathroom. When Fox gathers vegetables to make soup, Chick is too full of advice. And when Fox wants to paint a landscape, the twitchy Chick tries to convince him that a painting with a chick in it would be more exciting. Ruzzier’s distinctive character design and colors make FOX AND CHICK really stand out.

Picture Books:

 “Deep in the woods/is a house/just a house/that once was/but now isn’t/a home.” Two kids explore the ins and outs, pasts and present, of this house, in the very wonderful A HOUSE THAT ONCE WAS. Julie Fogliano’s gorgeous, nuanced language is matched by Lane Smith's equally gorgeous, equally nuanced, art.

NIGHT OUT, by Daniel Miyares, showcases stellar art in almost wordless book about a lonely boy who accepts an invitation to a fantastical nighttime party, where he meets some unlikely friends. A magical twist at the end will leave readers sighing with satisfaction.


Monday, August 6, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Grace and Fury

YA Review: Grace and Fury

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart (Little, Brown, $17.99 hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780316471411)

Serina Tessaro has spent her entire life training to become a Grace, a woman handpicked by the Heir to serve as Viridia's "highest standard of beauty, elegance, and obedience." If chosen, Serina will live in the palace, "go to glittering balls and want for nothing"--she'll never have to work as a servant or a seamstress or be forced into marrying the highest bidder. Serina's sister, Nomi, on the other hand, can't accept that the choices for women are so limited, and she doesn't understand how becoming "a possession for [the Heir] to own" is better than those other options, anyway. Despite her opinions, when Serina goes to the city of Bellaqua to "vie for this honor," Nomi goes along as handmaiden.

On their first night, as Serina is being introduced at the Heir's ball, Nomi sneaks into the palace library. Even though women are forbidden to read, Nomi has been taught, and she steals a book that reminds her of home--then immediately runs into the Heir. Although terrified, she responds defiantly to his rude questioning; the Heir, seemingly angry, proceeds to his ball. When he announces his top choices, though, Nomi is stunned to find that she, not Serina, has been named a Grace. Worse, Serina is caught with Nomi's stolen book and is banished to the nightmarish Mount Ruin. Nomi must find a way to rescue her sister while appearing to embrace her new role at the palace.

Grace and Fury's blend of fantasy, feminism and political thriller will likely appeal to fans of The Hunger Games, Marie Rutkoski's Winner trilogy and Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes. The dual narratives create plenty of suspense, and the growth and transformation of these two sisters is engrossing. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: In a country where women have few options, Serina competes to become a revered Grace, but all her well-laid plans for the future crumble when her rebellious sister is chosen instead.