Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Shelf Awareness--A Couch for Llama

PB Review: A Couch for Llama

A Couch for Llama by Leah Gilbert (Sterling, $16.95 hardcover, 40p., ages 4-up, 9781454925118)

This charming and silly picture book begins by announcing that "[t]he Lago family's couch was very well-loved." But now, after playing host to many cozy activities, including "snuggling... fort building, and hiding and seeking," it's clear that the couch has seen better days. The family decides it's time to replace it. After trying a couch that is "too big" and one that is "too small," the Lago family happily finds a replacement that is "JUST RIGHT." They pack their perfect new couch on top of their car and head home. Unfortunately, before they get there, the new couch flies off the car and into a field, where it lands at the feet of a rather startled llama.

Llama is intrigued. He sniffs and brays and tries to share his lunch, but the couch doesn't say anything or seem very hungry. It doesn't taste good either, so Llama concludes the couch is useless. But, just as the Lago family discovers their couch is missing, Llama realizes his new couch is not as boring as it seems.

The illustrations showing Llama making friends with the couch are not to be missed. Llama has a big round belly and teeny-tiny legs, making his jumping and twirling very comical indeed. He exudes plenty of emotion, moving from a "stubborn, couch-loving kind of llama" to a dejected, couch-less llama in a jiffy as the family takes away his "smooshy-mooshy, fluffy-puffy cushions" that he "completely" loves. A Couch for Llama manages to be both tender and action packed, and shows the rewards of spreading the happiness around. It's a thoroughly entertaining read, especially while ensconced on a suitably comfortable couch of one's own. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI. 

Discover: When a family tries to bring a perfect new couch home from the store, it falls off the car, landing at the feet of a very startled llama.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

February Recommendations

WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING, by Mariana Ruiz Johnson, is a work of stunning picture book magic. Beginning with a close up of a little girl going to bed, the artist pulls back to depict a night full of wonder taking place around her while she sleeps. Johnson’s world is a fantastical blend of human and animal, city and nature, all of it vibrantly portrayed.

A WALK IN THE FOREST, by Maria Dek, follows a boy as he spends a day in “the best playground ever,” where he can shout, follow footprints, find treasure, and maybe meet a fox. As with the book talked about above, gorgeous art brings magic into the picture.

In spare, rhyming text, MY FAMILY FOUR FLOORS UP, written by Caroline Stutson and illustrated by Celia Krampien, describes the simple joys of a girl walking to the park with her dad and her "small brown pup.” Swinging and playing in the sandbox come to an end when a storm blows in, but there’s still the pleasure of “splash, splash, splashing in the tub” to look forward to, along with supper, a story, and bed. A sweet read-aloud for younger kids.

In A COUCH FOR LLAMA, by Leah Gilbert, the Lago family needs a new couch so they drive to the store to buy a replacement. Unfortunately, on the way home it flies off the top of their car and into a field. Where Llama finds it. At first, he’s not sure what to do with a couch but, by the time the Lagos have come back to claim their errant furniture, Llama has figured it out. The illustrations of Llama bouncing and twirling on the couch are not to be missed!

In I WANT TO BE IN A SCARY STORY, by Sean Taylor with illustrations by Jean Jullien, Little Monster finds he's afraid of all the spooky stuff, so he and the narrator try to put him in a funny story instead. This interactive picture book, with its brightly colored, cartoony illustrations, manages to be scary, funny, surprising, AND adorable!

LOVE, by Matt de la Peña and Loren Long. Well. This incredible partnership of gorgeous prose and stunning art somehow manages to be an homage to so many different kinds of love and ways there are to experience it, while also somehow feeling like a love poem to America. Not to be missed.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Tess of the Road

YA Review: Tess of the Road

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman (Random House, $18.99 hardcover, 544p., ages 13-up, 9781101931288, February 27, 2018)

When high-spirited Tess Dombegh is six, she becomes "immoderately obsessed" with "the mystical origins of babies." Tess's energetic attempts to discover the mechanics behind brother Ned's birth disappoint her very devout, very unhappy mama, who gives her a spanking "for the ages." Mama requires "the wicked punished," and years of spankings have let Tess know she is "singularly and spectacularly flawed." Tess realizes that she'll have to work much harder than her twin sister, Jeanne, to make it into heaven.

Ten years later, Tess is a lady-in-waiting at court, tamping down her more "esoteric interests." Tess (now with a much more thorough understanding of those "mystical origins of babies") has the "whiff of scandal" about her, so it's up to sweet, mild, virtuous Jeanne to marry and save the family. Since it was discovered that their father's first wife was a dragon in human form ("illegal five times over"), he was stripped of his license to practice law and the family has suffered much ill fortune. When the very eligible Lord Richard proposes to Jeanne, Tess dares to hope that "[a]fter two years at court, diligently securing her family's future," she might be set free. But Mama wants her sent to a convent and, after making a horrible, drunken mess of Jeanne's wedding, the abhorrent plan becomes Tess's only apparent option. 

That is, until Tess is gifted with a pair of fine leather boots that "[seem] to be a suggestion"--she runs off to a distant city to make a new start as a seamstress. On the way, she meets up with her old best friend, the "lizardy" quigutl (a subspecies of dragon) named Pathka, who is on a journey of his own. Pathka's quest is an old dream of Tess and the two agree to adventure together. Eager to be rid of her past, Tess disguises herself and desperately tries to keep the unbidden voice of her mother--accusatory, destructive and quoting vindictive saints--out of her head.

Tess of the Road, first in a duology, is a companion book to Seraphina and Shadow Scale, which introduced Tess's half-dragon half sister. Now, author Rachel Hartman returns to this same world to share the story of fully human Tess, whose life has been constrained by shame and the medieval expectations of others. Her growing awareness of the inequality and unfairness she has been subjected to, along with an unfolding sense of herself and her potential, will captivate any reader. Tess's ultimately unquenchable spirit, her struggles and adventures--be they at home or on the road--are a delight. --Lynn Beckerblogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: Tess's spirit has been crushed by the weight of her mother's vindictive saints, but when Mama decides to send her to a convent, Tess runs off to make her own way.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

February's Book of the Month--All the Wind in the World

February’s Book of the Month is the lyrical, magical YA novel ALL THE WIND IN THE WORLD, by Samantha Mabry.

Sarah Jac and James have a dream. Even though they work in dusty fields of the American Southwest, they want their own place someday, a ranch on the East Coast where they can work with horses and dip their toes in the ocean. Unfortunately, like so many others, they are stuck harvesting maguey, the plant used to make pulque, mescal or, for the very rich, tequila. It’s the only thing that grows now that more than half the continent is desert, with what water that’s left being “salty, unfiltered, and full of the dust-remains of dead fish and birds.” When Sarah Jac steps in to help a fellow worker and a foreman ends up dying, she and James flee to a strange ranch in Texas where they know they’ll find work. Cursed fields, an owner who hexes his workers, drugged food, and strange injuries are just some of the rumors muttered about The Real Marvelous.

Sarah Jac and James know how dangerous it can be to show weakness to others, so they harden their hearts and trust no one. Even though they’re a couple, they routinely run a scam where James takes up with another woman. But, at The Real Marvelous, when James manages to catch the eye of the owner’s daughter things begin to spiral out of control.

Long-listed for the National Book Award, ALL THE WIND IN THE WORLD evokes a tough and gritty landscape where only a lucky few have the means to live a decent life. Author Mabry sets up a terrific conflict when she shoves the temptation to be one of them at James. I think he’s perhaps the most interesting YA love interest I’ve ever read, and Mabry plays it well—do we ever really know what’s going on in the heart and mind of James? Beautiful language, the element of magical realism, and a romance that’s being scoured by the dusty desert make this one heck of a page-turner.