Posted by Venus Bradley on Thursday, December 19, 2013
The big undersea art show is about to get under way and Whale wants to be a part, but he isn't sure how since he has no real talent, at least none like the hammerhead shark or octopus. However, with the help of his plankton friends, Whale discovers that he can bring his unique view of the world to all of his friends.
Apparently the ocean is a secret Greenwich Village where Jackson Pollock is a fish and hammerhead sharks use shipwrecks as their artistic canvas. I enjoyed this in spite of myself. The writing felt a little flat to me, but there was enough charm and some serious underwater trivia as well as some outstanding art that I found delightful.
Posted by Venus Bradley on Tuesday, December 17, 2013
In this wordless picture book, a little boy discovers a rock, but when he accidentally trips and the rock breaks open he finds a fossil, one that comes to life before his eyes. Yet, he invites disaster when he finds the fossil of a pterodactyl.
On the one hand I loved this book, simply because it was wordless. I love the idea of telling a story simply through pictures and Bill Thomson's illustrations are beautifully realistic. However, for a book that has a disclaimer at the beginning about what a fossil is, it concerns me that the book is basically encouraging children to smash rocks open to find fossils and then smash the priceless fossils...that is if you imagine a pterodactyl has come to life. So basically, although the book seems like a non-fiction title, it is not. Purely fiction here folks, which is fine and this is a fine addition to the wordless picture book genre.
Posted by Venus Bradley on Sunday, December 15, 2013
Illustrated by Viviane Schwarz
This is Rat Law: Cheese Belongs to You
Unless another rat comes along who is bigger, quicker, stronger, scarier, hairier, dirtier...or the boss wants it.
I can't say I love pictures of hair, scary, dirty rats, but I like that in essence it is a concept book in that it teaches adjectives through a fun medium. And unlike some recent picture books that I have read, there is a nice solution that encourages sharing rather than a all-mine attitude. I think this would be a perfect storytime book.
Posted by Venus Bradley
It's almost Christmas and the farmer has given Otis his first real Christmas present--a shiny new horn. The animals are all excited because although a big storm is approaching, the horse is about to give birth. Then, in the middle of the night, something goes wrong and the horse is in desperate need of a doctor. But with the heavy snow outside, no one can make it to Doc Bakers...except Otis who begins the perilous trek on impassable roads. Upon arriving though, no one is awake and Otis has to use his new horn. Making it back in time the farm is given a wonderful Christmas gift--a brand new foal.
With the inundation of Christmas picture books, I still find it a wonder that anyone is actually allowed to publish new ones. There are so many out there and they all share such a similar theme that I get bored. And then I remember, children don't remember and don't care if this story may be similar to another story I read 10 years ago. They didn't read it. This is completely new to them. Otis is a cute tractor with an engine of gold and rather fearless. For those who are looking for a Christmas story with no particular religious slant or simply want a story about self-sacrifice and courage, this may be a perfect addition to your library.
Illustrated by Colin Bootman
In 1891, Reverend Daniel Joseph Jenkins opened an orphanage in Charleston, South Carolina. Needing a way to support them, he asked for the townspeople to donate old band instruments, sometimes left over from the Civil War in an effort to start some kind of orchestra or band. He found teachers and soon the orphanage had a band. And what a band it was. The people of Charleston loved the Jenkins Orphanage Band whose unique style of music "rag", a rhythm inspired by the African-American people who lived on the South Carolina and Georgia coast. The band became world famous and performed as far away as Paris and London and still exists today.
What a fantastic biography. A little wordy, but told at a pace that would keep the 6-9 crowd engaged, I felt like I learned a ton after reading this story. How "The Charleston" came to be such a famous dance, where "rag" originated, and more importantly the story of the band and a very generous man who started it all. Illustrated to perfection , I think this is a must for anyone looking to add something to their collection of books dealing with subjects like music, history, biographies, or social-studies.
And since the band, not the orphanage, has been disbanded, here is a clip from the 1930's of the Jenkins Orphanage Band.
Posted by Venus Bradley on Tuesday, December 10, 2013
As a child, I along with a number of classmates got Lice. The feelings of embarrassment and ickiness and baths with weird soaps created an indelible imprint on me. If only this book had existed then, to relieve me of my worries, to let me know I was not alone, and to let me laugh at these crazy bugs having a party in my hair. With his unique illustrations David Shannon sheds light on a rarely written about subject in a way that will bring a smile to your face whether you are currently suffering a louse problem or not. Not to nitpick (see what I did there?), but I kind of wished it had shown that other kids had gotten it too and that he wasn't alone...but hey.
America has been ravaged by a disease that has left the eastern half of the country uninhabitable. Protected by a wall in the west, sixteen-year-old Lane lives with her father, never having known the destruction of the disease that killed millions. When her father goes missing, Lillie learns that her father is a 'Fetch', someone who illegally travels into the east to collect items that were left behind like personal artifacts, heirlooms, and artwork. And Lane must find him or face execution. However, things have changed in the eighteen years since the wall went up, the virus that killed so many has weakened, and instead of killing its victims it mutates them into half-human half-animal variations that would boggle the mind. As Lane travels through the east she learns that her kindness, strength, and training are both a blessing and a curse and not everyone is what they seem.
This is a purely plot-driven book. The plot is set from the first few chapters. The disease, her father's sordid work in the east, and a time frame of 5 days to travel to Chicago and return with Lane's father and a family heirloom. It is this time frame that draws the story forward, rather than anything the characters say or do. This is not to suggest that a plot-driven book is bad, in fact as far as plots and story lines go, this one is quite intriguing and helps keep the pacing rolling along at a good speed. I found the idea of people who can be transformed into animals and may at any time go mad, to be very intriguing as is the question of what it truly means to be human.
What happens in plot-driven stories though is that the characters are thrown around like a pinball within the plot, ricocheting from one moment to the next and the reader is left scrabbling for scraps of characterization wherever we can find it. And as is apparently the standard in Young Adult novels, there is the usual love triangle. I am all for the rouge like character, in fact some of my favorite characters in novels have been rogues, however Falls made her rogue so unlovable and unlikable that all I could think was that if Lane ended up dating/loving/liking this guy, I would just be done with the story. I understand having a rough life and such, but Rafe had very little redeemable qualities and I would have disappointed if the author had gone in that direction.
All that to say, as far as plot-driven books are concerned, this was a fun quick read. I look forward to the second, with some hope as to more controlled characterization and some fun revelations.
Posted by Venus Bradley on Saturday, December 7, 2013
Despite William Joyce's always solid illustrations, this was probably my least favorite among his collection. The initial premise is interesting albeit a popular topic within picture books--what happens to all the things that disappear? Joyce's concept is that it is creatures known as Mischievians the Homework Eater, Danglers, Lintbellians, RemoteToters, etc. What doesn't work is that not only are the naming conventions of these creatures rather uncreative, but the humor is limited and the text not so much. With explanations that go on for far too long and the length being much larger than that of a regular picture book at 52 pages, I was quickly bored and if I was bored, I can't imagine how much more a child would be. It's only saving grace was the encouragement for children to create and add their own mischievians to the back of the book, which would make it an interesting read for a storytime if it wasn't so darned long.
Posted by Venus Bradley on Friday, December 6, 2013
Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka & Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Matthew Myers
Who wants to read a boring book about a Birthday Bunny? Sappy, sweet, and all-together forgettable, Alex decides to make this book a tale for the ages, converting the tale with his own pictures and story, one that requires a true hero in order to stop the Battle Bunny.
Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett are two very inventive picture book writers who aren't afraid to play around with traditional modes of storytelling. Mac Barnett had Chloe & the Lion with Adam Rex last year that broke down the 4th wall and was metafiction at its finest. Jon Scieszka's varying tales and retold fairy tales always made me smile. So what a great combination it is when children's writers work together. Battle Bunny is cute, deviously funny, and full of the kind of wit that any kid will love. My only fear/hope is that this book may encourage future storytellers to rework their "boring" picture books.
Posted by Venus Bradley on Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Illustrated by Glin Dibley
A lot of the picture books I have read lately have been written and illustrated by the same person, which I am wondering if this is a new trend or simply the kinds of books I have been getting my hands on. That is beside the point though.
Where you a messy kid growing up? How often did your mother have to dunk you in the bath to wash off your recent shenanigans? In my case it was usually tree related messes. I destroyed an Easter dress once when climbing in a tree covered in sap. In Kid Tea, each day the children get into various kid-related messes like mud, Popsicles, paint, makeup, grass, and blueberries and after being dunked in the bath they turn the water different colors as they bathe. I like the concept of kids in the tub being Kid Tea. Dibley, whose has illustrated Don't Laugh At Me, Tub-Boo-Boo, and The Stupendous Dodgeball Fiasco, was a perfect choice with his cartoon stylized illustrations.
Posted by Venus Bradley on Saturday, November 30, 2013
So I couldn't review the second installment of this picture book series without first reading the first and I can tell you this, the words "Red Knit Cap Girl" do not roll off the tongue. Trying to apply logic to the story was even harder since the moon apparently appears only when all light has gone out as it doesn't like to compete with paper lanterns. In the sequel, in which Red Knit Cap Girl she must rescue a polar bear cub who has gotten trapped on the ice. Since I was already aware that this is a completely whimsical series it was no surprise that she managed to save the bear cub using a hang glider made of paper and doesn't get eaten by polar bears. The illustrations, which are created with acrylic, ink, and pencil on plywood are simply beautiful with just the right amount of whimsy and like Emily Winfield Martin, I could see on paraphernalia of all sorts, although I would settle for a Red Knit Cap Girl notebook. Oh, and there is a narwhal.
Posted by Venus Bradley on Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Way back in 2012 I read a strange little book called Oddfellow's Orphanage by Ms. Martin that lacked in plot or storyline but more than made up for in the charming illustrations. I commented then that I wouldn't have minded some paraphernalia like paper dolls and clothes that had these delightful illustrations and that still stands and more so. Dream Animals is an adorable bedtime storybook with whimsical characters and a sing song text that will lull any child toward dreamland. Martin's illustrations lend themselves to a picture book of this type and she isn't afraid to show characters of color or strange animals like narwhals and who doesn't love narwhals?
Posted by Venus Bradley on Sunday, November 24, 2013
Allen Say, author of one of my favorite children's biographies Grandfather's Journey, is no doubt a prolific artist. Sadly, although he is capable of writing good prose and telling a great story, The Sign Painter had neither of these. Although it reads like a non-fiction, I was confused as to whether this was a story that had happened to Say or whether this was simply a tribute to art with a loose storyline for children. Unlike some of his other books, there was no emotional through line and I found myself confused by where the characters ended up. It felt like there was a page missing or that I wasn't getting it and after reading it through twice, I am afraid that whatever meaning Say was trying to allude to, I am clearly missing. Perhaps it is simply about a transient worker and how art doesn't always have meaning, or perhaps it is about how art finds a way to express itself even when confined. Who know.
Posted by Venus Bradley on Friday, November 22, 2013
From the wonderful and talented brain of Lauren Child, author and illustrator of Charlie & Lola one of my favorite children's programs of all time, comes the story of one little girl who desperately wants a pet despite her parents protestations. The illustrations are in typical Lauren Child fashion, which makes it likeable for me even if the content is just a rehash of an oh so familiar theme. Child wants a pet, parents suggest a stuffed animal, child dreams of exotic animals that should never be pets and in the end settles for....an egg. That's right an egg. What's inside? Who knows. That is the best part, because I can imagine the things that a child will come up with if they were to be asked what they think is inside the egg.
Posted by Venus Bradley on Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Labels: Young Adult Review
Sadie was in the wrong place at the wrong time. After going to a party Sadie finds herself in the car with a very drunk and high sister and two losers who insist that she take them to a local convenience store. Before she knows what is happening she is caught up in a drug bust and soon her carefully planned future is spiraling out of control. In order to save her sister from being locked up and to protect her niece Lulu, Sadie agrees to lie and say she knew about the drug sale. As a first-time offender she was only supposed to get probation and some community service, but when the judge demands she give him the names of the two guys (who she doesn't know), Sadie is sent to Juvie for 6 months. What are the chances that Sadie can ever get her life back together again? Will her sister clean up her act? And what is the difference between not guilty and not innocent?
First off, I must admit that I know very little about the correctional system either for adults or children. It is not a world that I have ever had to experience or be a part of. What little I do know is from television programs and documentaries, but since this is not a subject I am highly interested in, even that knowledge is limited. So I went to the best resource I knew to answer some of my questions, my husband, who worked as Corrections Office and has a degree in Criminology.
In the beginning I was confused by the set-up within the prison. All the children and teens placed in one cell block, the severity of the crime not seeming to be a factor, all treated equally harsh by the guards and wardens. My husband was quick to point out that even children can be violent and since a guard never knows when something may happen or when someone will hurt them, they must be vigilant at all times, treating everyone as a potential threat. Harsh to some, but then these people, both in this book and in real life, have done some really gruesome things and some don't blink an eyelash at hurting other people.
As for the story itself, I felt that the parts that took place in Juvie were very well done. We get to see Sadie as she ponders how she got to this place and what she wants to change as she moves forward. There are good people and bad people. Some may be innocent, most are not. There's the girl who poisoned a dog and shows no iota of remorse. The teen who shot her boyfriend in the hand. And you can't forget the young middle schooler who decided she wanted a bike so bad that she was willing to beat a little boy with a metal rod in order to get his.
However, I wasn't so caught up in the back story. Like Fallout by Todd Strasser the story bounces between the present (Juvie) to the past (events leading up to Juvie). However, much of the information that is told in the present was more than adequate for informational purposes and I found the back story did little to add to the characterization of Sadie or those close to her. It also slowed down the pacing sometimes. Honestly, I wanted more of Juvie. I wanted to see more of her classes, more action, perhaps a therapist of some kind (where were the therapists?), and more of a conclusion. The story ends at month 3 of the 6 month stint and I honestly felt a little jilted. I wanted to see Sadie leave. Instead, I feel like she was just left in jail and unless there is a sequel (not likely for this type of book) poor Sadie will always be in jail--stuck.
Posted by Venus Bradley on Friday, November 8, 2013
Labels: Young Adult Review
Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids. Due to a little rule breaking the semester before (he used a cell phone), Ryan Dean is now living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for all the troublemakers at Pine Mountain. Despite Ryan Dean's genius mind though, he is really just a regular teen. He is in love with his best friend Annie, always thinks about sex, plays Rugby, might be cheating with his roommates girlfriend, loves drawing comics, and thinks he may or may not be a total loser.
Contemporary YA is a genre that seems to cater to a mostly female audience. Of course, boys are reading, but they move into the realm of comics, sci-fi, and non-fiction. Winger is one of the few successful contemporary teen books that I have read as of late and I believe it is successful for two reasons. The first is simple, language. Ryan Dean is all boy. He speaks, thinks, and self-deprecates in a language that sometimes feels alien to this girl and yet I have the strong suspicion that boys will understand every moment. (after all, it is written by a guy) The second reason is far more complex. The story is not particularly action packed. There are very few rugby games, with the majority of the book centering around Ryan Dean's relationships with the girls and guys in his life. His constant pining after two girls, complicated friendships with his friends, and the struggle to be a friend with a guy who is openly gay. I think it works because it is funny. That's right, the humor is what makes this work and would, for some guys, be an interesting read. That being said, for those guys who just want non-stop action, they should probably head over to Ender's Game or The Maze Runner.
Interesting point, I noted a few reviews back that there are a lot of books coming out these days with gay characters. Sometimes it works for the story and at other times this is an abysmal failure. This is one of the books where it works.
Honestly, I had a hard time getting into this book. Another boarding school, another high school romance, but once I made it past the first chapter, I realized that this book had so much more to offer. So far I have read three separate Andrew Smith novels and I have to say, I am a fan.
The earth has fallen. Humans are no more than mindless shells. Only a handful of people seem to be immune. Aliens have arrived on Earth and Sam knows, whatever their plans are, it cannot be good. On his own for nearly 19 months, Sam almost goes crazy with the knowledge that he is the only one not a "Walker", but then he meets a rag-tag army run by a scientist and an ex-military man. Sam knows there is something more going on then what they are being told, but their lives and those of the entire planet depend on them finding out.
This is how I look at books and my massive consumption of them. I know there are wonderful books out there, ones that make you hold your breath as you turn the page and gasp in horror when the big twist is revealed. Sadly, not every book can be that book and to be quite honest, within my average book reading of 100-140 books a year, I read quite a few duds. Most of the really bad ones never get reviewed here either because I feel bad for disliking it so immensely or because it wouldn't be fair to read a book that I simply skimmed (or sometimes skipped) through. This year there have been quite a few good books, but as anyone who has read this blog for long may know, I have a pension for science fiction. I am an equal opportunity reader of course, but I am always on the lookout for a good or even decent sci-fi. Earthfall falls into the category of great.
Earthfall reminds me of the sci-fi I used to read when I was a kid, books by H.M. Hoover, Anne McCaffrey, John Christopher, and Robert Heinlein. There is no doubt who the bad guys are and Walden is not afraid to let the reader know there is something so much bigger at stake and secrets that are just as big to go along with them. The pacing was right, the main character engaging, and the world, our world, devastating. However, this doesn't feel like a dystopian sci-fi in the way that Divergent or Hunger Games does. No, this is like a teen version of Independence Day, and just like the aforementioned film, there will be a sequel.
In fact, this is my only complaint. Earthfall wraps up fairly nicely, but I take issue with books that don't advertise themselves as a series if that is in fact what they are. This is definitely not a novel and it was open-ended enough for a series. It doesn't have to be a trilogy. Call it the Earthfall: The Chronicles of Sam or something equally understandable and ambiguous, but don't try to fool me either. I hate starting a series and not knowing that it is one. I feel like I have been tricked somehow.
I do not think everyone will love this book though. Truly, it is a book for lovers of the authors that I mentioned above. If you have been searching for a good YA sci-fi, I definitely think Earthfall falls into that category quite nicely. I may need to go in search of more of this author's titles.
Posted by Venus Bradley on Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Meet Katherine Olivia Sessions, a woman who nearly 100 years ago, set about turning San Diego from a desert wasteland to a beautiful green place that people could enjoy. She attended college in a time where woman do not get higher education and she did something that everyone said was impossible.
A beautiful and inspirational children's biography, The Tree Lady is everything that I want out of a picture book biography. Informative yet sparse in language, the reader is given all the necessary information and none of the filler. It also inspired me to look up a few pictures of Kate and Balboa Park and it is simply fascinating to see such beautiful foliage in a place that was once desert.
Posted by Venus Bradley on Saturday, October 26, 2013
Illustrated by Patrice Barton
Brian is sure that he in invisible, after all that would explain why no one seems to notice him or includes him in their group, game, or parties. Then a new boy comes to class and for the first time Brian has a friend, who doesn't ignore him and Brian finds himself not so invisible anymore.
A common discussion about children's picture books is the lack of people of color. Outside of the historical fiction realm, it is not uncommon to see a plethora of bunnies, chicks, cows, turtles, and every other animal as the artist muse. This solves a quick solution for one doesn't have to deal with race at all if they are bunnies and publishers still have the notion that a white family will not buy a book with black or Asian characters on them. Does anyone else see a problem with this?This is not to say that there aren't people of color in picture books or that artists do not want to draw them, they are just vastly outnumbered by animals.
So I was surprised to see children of all ethnicities represented in this book, but more importantly that there was a Korean child who tries to explain his meal of Bul go gi to his new friends at school. The author and illustrator went out of their way to create an American child with a very specific ethnic background and I thought it was great.
The illustrations are adorable, with Brian, the invisible boy, slowly becoming less and less invisible as each chapter progresses. The story had a didactic nature, but I think children can easily relate and there is even a discussion guide on the last page for teachers and librarians. A rather well-thought out story that I wouldn't mind owning. (Most of my picture books come from the library.)
Posted by Venus Bradley on Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Labels: intermediate book review
Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno
Max's parents are actors, owning their own theater company and always performing and twelve-year-old Max has played many parts in their various shows. Then one day a mysterious letter arrives asking for the two Starlings to come perform and set up an acting troupe in India. Not wanting to turn down such an opportunity the two pack their bags, get an extra ticket for Max, and make their final preparations. However, when Max shows up at the docks the boat his parents are supposed to be on doesn't exist and his parents have disappeared with only a cryptic letter as a clue. Max returns to his home and librarian grandmother heartbroken over the turn of events but determined to make his own way, for twelve he feels, is old enough to be on his own. Purely by accident, Max falls into the line of work most would call detective work, but can he solve the biggest mystery of all, what happened to his parents?
Mister Max is a cute story that I guess would be considered historical fiction although there is little historical information within. I could never really pinpoint the exact time period, the use of money completely skewing this (Max earns $50 for his detective work. A portly sum in Victorian London, yet this amount only lasts Max a week or two). There was also the issue of independence, which Max desperately wanted and was willing to maintain, which would not have been such an issue in this time period. Apprenticeships cost money and once Max had earned enough through his sleuthing, he should have been able to find a decent clerk position with the money he had pocketed, boys did that kind of work all the time.
Histocracy aside, the plot was really a series of vignetted mysteries that, in the end, combine to create a greater mystery and help Max solve a matter of the heart. On the downside is the fact that although Max's parents are clearly missing, he doesn't seem as interested in solving that particular mystery, leaving it up to his grandmother to do the sleuthing. There were so many hints, letters in code, mysteriously heavy paintings, etc. that made the reader all too aware that Max's parents were in trouble and yet he is so concerned about remaining independent and not being forced to live with his grandmother that he sets it aside, sure that they know what they are doing. Let me point out here that his parents are overly-dramatic morons who don't seem to have a bit of sense between the two of them. In fact, they are so careless that they have been known to forget about Max altogether, being so caught up in their own theatrics. Max sees this drama in a warm light, but it made his parents highly unlikable and goofy.
It is a cute book, but a long one and I think if I was to recommend a middle grade mystery this would not be it. I believe I would steer readers toward Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms, which I somehow didn't review on this blog when I first read it, but I can assure you, it is brilliant.