Home at Last by Vera B. Williams Book Review

Home at Last by Vera B. Williams
Illustations by Chris Raschka
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release Date: September 13, 2016

When Daddy Albert and Daddy Rich adopt Lester, he is so excited. But being part of a new family isn't as easy as he thought it would be. He can't sleep at night, creeping into his parent's room sure that if he could just be with them and their dog, Wincka, nothing bad will happen to him ever again. Yet, each night his new dads return him to his own empty room. Lester is happy with his new family, yet each night the fear returns. Until one day Wincka helps solve the problem.

The amount of books concerning adoption are very few. There are even less that deal with older child adoption. And even fewer concerning same sex couples and adoption. Which makes this book extremely special in its subject matter. The problem with this book is that it is so text heavy that it doesn't seem appropriate for its target age range in the picture book demographic. Which leaves the open ended question of, who is this book's audience? The illustrations are nice, the information is fairly accurate, the feelings very real, but there is a very small audience for this book I am afraid. This is a shame, because there is a definite need for picture books that explain older child adoption.

I think I could be even more nit-picky about this book since I am in the middle of adopting an older child from foster care, but I think I shall leave this as my last complaint: If you are adopting a waiting child through foster care in America (even if they are living in a group home/orphanage), they come live with you first before the adoption is finalized. There is usually a minimum period for this. In my state, 90 days.

Give it some time and perhaps I will make a book of my own. One that explains to young children why Aunt & Uncle suddenly have a teenager living with them. One of my nephews is very interested in the concept, but I don't think he understands it completely and I would love it if there was a book out there that helped. To a seven-year-old, it's all a bit grown-up and confusing.

Bring Me a Rock! by Daniel Miyares Book Review

Bring Me a Rock! by Daniel Miyares
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: July 7, 2016

One very power-hungry grasshopper demands a throne that will allow him to loom over all of his bug subjects. He summons them all and commands them all to bring him the biggest rocks they can carry. When one little bug can only contribute a small pebble, it is rejected out of hand. But what does the King grasshopper need when his perfect throne is precariously wobbly? Why, a little pebble of course.

Reminding me a lot of Pixar's A Bug's Life, this story is about one serious dictator and his underlings who manage to bring about equality by simply helping him out when he is about to get hurt. It's such a nice sentiment. And so completely contrary to real life. With kid's books, it is a tough balance to write nice little morality tales that teach things like equality and being honest about how the world actually works. I know this is the cynic in me, but I kind of wish someone had told me that even though karma is an interesting theory, it's simply not true. There are people out there that treat other people badly and they don't suddenly become nice when you treat them nice. They also don't get karmic justice either. My biggest bully as a kid lives a very good life now (yeah, I Facebook stalked him) with a good job and a family. One would think a kid who went around punching girls for no reason would end up somewhere other than a corner office, but no. The trick is to just walk away and say, screw you, if you treat me that way I'm not getting any rocks for you. Ever. Come talk to me when you feel like apologizing for being mean. It took me a few years as a kid to figure that one out. You mean I don't have to hang out with people who boss me around and treat me horribly?

Of course, as with anything that strikes a chord, I may be reading too much into this. The illustrations were quite lovely and I do like the message of equality. It's just that the morality part of the story felt as fantasy-like as the anthropomorphized insects.  

Secret Agent Man Goes Shopping for Shoes by Tim Wynne-Jones Book Review

Secret Agent Man Goes Shopping for Shoes by Tim Wynne-Jones
Illustrations by Brian Won
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: June 14, 2016

Secret Agent Man (aka S.A.M.) needs new shoes, which is how he finds himself on a dangerous mission to the shoe store. The problem with being a secret agent, particularly a young one, is that he looks a bit shifty and the mission's success hinges upon a pair of tiger-striped shoes that may grant him superpowers.

Although a bit jealous of S.A.M.'s tiger-striped shoes and crushing on the retro illustrations, I have to say that I wasn't blown away by this book. Although I certainly don't expect picture books to have strong plots, the story in this one was all over the place with only a tiny thread of cohesiveness holding it all together. I was confused by the dual identity of the character and his relationship with his mother. (aka K) Not to mention that the language and sloppy transitions. I understand it is about a little boy playing at being a secret agent while shopping, but even the character seemed to have a hard time keeping up with his own imaginative play. The illustrations are quite lovely, with a classic 1960s spy look, which paired with a lackluster story, made the book feel more like a showcase for Won's art.

The Sailweaver's Son by Jeff Minerd Book Review

The Sailweaver's Son by Jeff Minerd
Publisher: Silver Leaf Books
Release Date: September 1, 2016

Etherium is an air world, with mountain top cities and great seas of clouds transversed by great sail-driven airships. Fifteen-year-old Tak is the son of a prominent sailweaver, which grants him a good deal of freedom. Some in the royal court would say too much. Take likes to sail his small airship near the big naval ships, which often gets him into trouble with their captain. Until the day Take witnesses a giant gas bubble rise up from the depths and explode, taking a ship with it. In an act of bravery and folly, Tak rescues its captain. His actions are rewarded with suspicion though but Admiral Scud who seems hell bent on creating war with the Gublins, underground creatures that live far below the clouds within the mountains. And so Tak sets off on an adventure to discover Admiral Scud's true intentions, discovering new friends along the way and a level of bravery he didn't think he had in him.

There is a lot of work that goes into building a new world, particularly one that despite being fantasy in nature, is grounded in some science. Minerd handled this part of the story very well. Etherium is a fascinating planet, for lack of a better world. A place where the air is thick enough to allow ships to sail through the clouds, caught on the wind. The people who live above and beneath the clouds have evolved and adapted well to their environments. Long histories, wars, science, are all hinted at, but long exposition was rare. Appendices in the back of the book expand upon the world, but much of the information was scattered throughout the book and so the appendices felt more like a behind the scenes in a film.

As for the characters, Tak is a fun character who doesn't exactly change throughout the book, but rather discovers what kind of person he truly is. Is he really the kind of person who will board a burning airship to save a man? No one is watching. He could just leave. At the end of the book, I think that we know Tak so well that when he is confronted with a similar choice, we already know what he will do. I particularly liked that these characters felt so real as Tak has to address issues like PTSD and what it means to be privileged.

Luff, a young goat herder with a rather janky airship is the first of Tak's new friends, rescued from the tentacles of a jellyfish. I liked Luff although I wish there had been more to his character. He was a bit backward and fearful, not at all heroic like Tak, but I did expect more of him and was disappointed when he returned home 2/3 of the way through the book. On the other hand Brieze, the wizard's daughter, was a wonderful secondary character. In Etherium wizards are basically scientists and so Brieze has a bit more insight into the happenings of their world than either of the boys do. It makes her a great asset and a bit mysterious. I was sad to see her leave too, but for a completely different reason than Luff.

In the end, this was a solid science fiction book that dips its toes in the fantasy and steampunk genres. I look forward to reading book two.

Beard in a Box by Bill Cotter Book Review

Beard in a Box by Bill Cotter 
Publisher: Knopf
Release Date: April 19, 2016

A young boy wants a beard just like his Dad's. When he discovers a hair-growth product called Beard in a Box, he can't wait to get started. When it arrives he rips it open in anticipation, applies the beard seeds, and then long?! Eighteen years? How is he ever going to have a beard like his dad's if it takes that long?

As I have said earlier, the hipsters are having babies folks. Perhaps you are a hipster reading this. I have absolutely no problem with this either. I'm glad books are starting to recognize human parents (since so many picture books are animals) with varied looks. I'm glad there are books for kids who have dad's with big bushy beards. This is actually one of my favorite beard/mustache books of late. It was cute and funny and not at all weird, unlike Mustache Baby. Perfect for all the little boy's with bearded daddies and grandpas. A great conversation starter for talking about male puberty as well.

My Dad Used to Be Cool by Keith Negley Book Review

My Dad Used to Be Cool by Keith Negley
Publisher: Flying Eye Books
Release Date: July 5, 2016

A great book for both parents and kids, this is for every parent who desperately wants their kid to know that they used to be considered cool. The dad in this book is covered in tattoos. Pictures of him in a rock band and on a motorcycle hang on the wall along with an electric guitar and a skateboard. What his son sees though, is just his dad. The colors in this book are so wonderfully engaging. The little hints of the father's former life scattered throughout the pages. As parents, you know that the real reason he has "given up" some of those things is because of the child in front of him, the child who doesn't think old dad is that cool. I will say, my first thought when I started this book was, "You know the next generation are starting to have kids when we have books with tattooed daddies and a plethora of beard books." I'm happy to see those people represented in books too.

How To Eat an Airplane by Peter Pearson Book Review

How To Eat an Airplane by Peter Pearson
Illustrations by Mircea Catusanu
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: May 24, 2016

If you want to eat an airplane, one is going to have to have some decent dinner etiquette and some good friends to help pull it off.

As with most books that kids obsess over, this one is absurd in the extreme. Eating airplane parts is obviously silly, but that is the book's conceit. Yet, there is a bit of truth behind the ridiculous. Between 1978 and 1980, Michel Lotito ate an entire Cessna 150 airplane, eating his way into the record books. Not something I would recommend for the average kindergartner obviously, but it does make for a fun story. Not to mention that there is a lot of information about airplanes and their many parts. The illustrations are a brilliant use of mixed media and certainly tell a story all on their own.

Whoosh! by Chris Barton Book Review

Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton
Illustrations by Don Tate
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Release Date: May 3, 2016

Everyone knows the Super Soaker. A few pumps of air and you spray down your opponent in a fun epic water battle for the ages. What most people don't know if why created this amazing toy. Lonnie Johnson  had a love for rockets, robots, and inventions. He worked for NASA. But it was the Super Soaker that ended being his most memorable contribution to society, bringing joy to millions of kids and adults.

This is exactly what I want a picture book biography to be. Informative, engaging, fascinating, and new. I love all these stories about the inventions of things and the wonderful engineers behind them. Lonnie Johnson's story will inspire young readers to invent and learn. The text is perfect for the age of its intended audience and the illustrations are perfect. I think this book has a great deal of practical application for teachers and parents, and the diversity element in the story is also incredibly important. I am so incredibly excited to see what the next generation of young people manages to invent and I hope these kinds of stories are what inspire them to keep trying.