November 16, 2019
The Crayons’ Christmas by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Yes! The crayons are back and in top form! We have loved the previous two Crayon books: The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home. We’ve waited a while for the next in the series, and this one is a winner. The story begins when peach crayon’s parents send a note to peach crayon. (You remember, peach crayon was left naked and embarrassed when Duncan had peeled off his paper wrapper. . .) The story unfolds from here, as other crayons receive letters, cards, gifts, and notes, with Daywalt and Jeffers’ hilarious and perfectly matched text and drawings. The book carries on other stories from past books (yes, orange and yellow crayons are still arguing) and also includes the actual letters in their own envelopes. Not to mention ornaments, posters, a pop-up tree, and more jokes and stories to share as a family (especially if you’ve read the previous two books.) I hear a publisher’s rumor that a new book will be out in time for Valentine’s Day, so stay tuned.
For new Crayon readers, here’s our thumbnail review of the first book when it came out:
This one is hot-off-the presses–and a keeper! When you open your box of crayons, you expect to be able to color, not be surprised by a packet of letters from each crayon, proclaiming that they have had enough. No more coloring for them! Their complaints are as varied as their, well, individual colors. Black, for instance, is sick of only being used to outline. Blue is worn down to a little stub by being overworked–all those oceans and blue skies! And orange and yellow are feuding over which one is the true color of the sun. I love the different personalities and voices of each crayon in the pack. And Duncan’s ultimate solution. . .Of course, Oliver Jeffrey’s off-beat sense of humor comes through in each drawing.
November 7, 2019
The Trials of Apollo, Book 4: The Tyrant’s Tomb by Rock Riordan
If you’ve been following Apollo’s difficulties and adventures, you know that here in the 21st century, Zeus has punished his son Apollo by changing him from a god to a mortal and banishing him from Olympus. And not just any mortal, but an out-of-shape adolescent mortal named Lester Papadopoulos. Lester must accomplish a series of tasks restoring five ancient oracles and reclaiming his godly powers. In book 4, his trials continue. Luckily, he works with several demigod allies, familiar to readers of Riordan’s Greek and Roman mythology-based novels, as well as the entire Roman legion. But will these noble allies be able to stop the evil emperors, Caligula and Commodus, from attacking Camp Juniper and unleashing the army of the undead?
Hazel, Reyna, Frank, Tyson, Ella, and many other old friends need Apollo’s aid to survive the onslaught. It’s wonderful to meet old characters and new, and see “Lester’s” growth as he becomes accustomed to his mortal status. I love the way each chapter begins with a simply terrible haiku, as the former god of poetry tries his hand at the genre as a mortal. And of course, there are numerous plot twists, hilarious dialogue, and thrilling adventures. It is Rick Riordan, after all.
The good news continues, as we are left with a satisfying conclusion that also lays the foundation for the next adventure in Book 5. So stay tuned!
October 27, 2019
March (Book 1): A Graphic Novel by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, Illustrated by Nate Powell
John Lewis is one of my heroes for his work as a leader of the Civil Rights movement, with his courageous stances and his commitment to nonviolence and justice. As a member of the “older generation” (ahem), I grew up reading about this remarkable man and taking inspiration from his acts and words. So naturally, I am so excited about his current work: bringing his story in graphic novel form to a new generation of readers, at the same time highlighting the ups and downs of the larger civil rights movement.
Book 1 in this trilogy focuses on the younger John Lewis: his early life as a sharecropper in rural Alabama and the impact of Jim Crow laws in the South. His meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr. was a turning point, and we learn about the work they did together to form the Nashville Student Movement. The graphic novel format is perfect for depicting their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, and builds to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.
Nate Powell brings the riveting story to life through his dramatic art. There is such energy that the images seem to leap off the pages–and into our hearts and minds. The stunning lighting adds to the drama–even in a black-and-white graphic novel! We recommend the whole trilogy, but at a minimum, dig into Book 1.
October 12, 2019
How to Put Your Parents to Bed by Mylisa Larsen, illustrated by Babette Cole
Last week, I reviewed a wonderful toddler and pre-school bedtime book, Goodnight Everyone. I had my youngest great-nephew in mind. Now I am thinking about books, bedtimes, and kids, I decided I’d look for one for my next-youngest family, Charlie (age 4) and Roger (age 7). And I have found the perfect book in How to Put Your Parents to Bed. I’ve read role-reversal bedtime stories before, but none like this! The illustrations are perfect complements to the text as the narrator talks to her audience about how to get those parents into bed. My favorite picture is of the parents clearly “not looking their best” as the child stresses the need for them to get into bed. Though her parents are clearly tired, they still put off their bedtime routines until their daughter takes them firmly in hand. It’s a story to read and reread with young ones, taking time to delight over the humor and the terrific pictures. Sure to be a hit with your family and friends!
October 5, 2019
Goodnight Everyone by Chris Haughton
The first time I encountered Chris Haughton’s delightful toddler books and brilliant artwork was his award-winning board book, Shh! We Have a Plan. This became a book beloved by my little nephews and a big hit with other family and friends who visit. I discovered the text and artwork were not only captivating for the toddler and nursery school set, but also fun for early readers. The sly wit, simple text, and intriguing illustrations made even grownups chuckle with delight as they turned the pages. My admiration has only grown as I’ve come to know Chris Haughton’s other books.
This week, I was choosing a book to send to my youngest great-nephew Elias. At two years old, he is a charming loving little boy who also adores books. (He also loves his Great-Uncle Jim, and has named numerous toys and stuffed animals “Jim.” ) So I definitely wanted to choose a winning book for the little guy. I knew I had found the right book when I reread Goodnight Everyone. I imagine it as the perfect bedtime read for Elias–and other two -year-old children who just want to stay a wake a little bit longer. Even though everyone in the forest is getting sleepy, Little Bear isn’t quite ready. The images of the different forest animals snuggling up with their families and getting cozy in their beds for the night are sweet and comforting. In a simple pattern, ideal for storytelling, Haughton sets the tone for how each animal gets ready for bed. Readers then say good night to each animal family in its home, starting with the mice. A dandelion appears, and a mouse’s gentle snores blow seeds into the air. Dandelion seeds rise slowly into the sky on each subsequent page until the final page, where the moon is high and all are asleep. Small dots trail across the endpapers, too, like a continuation of the seeds and the animals’ dreams. Magical!
Really, I can’t recommend this one highly enough.
September 28, 2019
Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty
Where to start in reviewing this book? There is so much to explore. Beatty weaves a magical tale, set in the Great Smoky Mountains, where Willa a night spirit, lives with her 137-year-old Mawmaw, one of the last surviving “wood witches,” who knows and understand the animal kingdom as well as the natural world and can communicated across many dimensions. Willa, though determined to honor the old ways and be at peace with her friends in the natural world (both plants and animals), must also survive in a world taken over by an evil Faeren leader (Pardon, )who sows division and forces the children like Willa to thievery for survival. Willa has become the clan’s best thief, though she is an unwilling one. She slips in unseen into the human folks’ homes and steals during the night, sometimes drawing on her affinity for understanding the trees, the wind, even the stars.
It’s hard to decide which genre Beatty is writing in: there are elements of folklore, science fiction, and above all, a mystery/thriller about what happened to Willa’s parents and twin sister. The writing is lyrical, and drew me into the descriptions and each character.
Willa is an inspiration for those of us who may need a reminder to respect nature and our environment. She learns how not to be judgmental and offers great lessons in kindness and unselfishness. A wonderful read-aloud for third-grade and above, and a terrific and captivating read for middle graders.
September 13, 2019
Mighty Jack and Zita the Space Girl by Mike Hatke
Over the last few years, we’ve reviewed (and recommended enthusiastically) several books by the wonderful graphic novel writer and artist Ben Hatke. We first met Zita the Space Girl several years ago and eagerly awaited each novel in the sequence. Here’s a clip from our blog on the first in the series: Zita becomes an intergalactic hero when she flies off to rescue her friend Joseph who was abducted by aliens. The cult of Scriptorians plan to sacrifice Joseph in a ritual to prevent the destruction of their planet. Picking up side-kicks along the way and encountering amazing sights and strange creatures, Zita, our spunky hero, prevails. It’s fun and funny, clever, and ultimately satisfying. Kind of a science fiction version of Alice and Wonderland/The Wizard of Oz. And there’s more in the series!
Of course, when we found that Ben Hatke was introducing a new hero: Mighty Jack, we had to dig into that series:
You don’t have to read more than a few pages to understand that Mighty Jack is based on the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk. But in this contemporary retelling, the old tale takes a decidedly compelling twist. First, there are the modern characters: Jack, who is dreading summer, since he has to care for his sister Maddie while his single Mom works; Maddie, who is autistic and never speaks–until she does one day! At the flea market, she tells Jack to trade their mom’s car for a box of mysterious seeds. Yikes! Big mistake–or is it? What happens when the garden that he plants from the seeds runs amok? And when a dragon enters the scene? We love the cliff hanging elements throughout the book, and the thoughtful themes that make the adventures and humor even more compelling. Great storytelling, wonderful artwork. . .this is the start of a not-to-miss series of books.
So now you have the background for the new book that combines these unlikely two heroes. And their quest is a mighty one indeed: to save the world! A delightful middle school reader book for fall. Highly recommended!