Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev Book Review

Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev
Illustrations by Taeeun Yoo
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 27, 2015

Pet Club is meeting today, but when one little boy wants to join, he is met with a sign that states 'Strictly No Elephants'. This is a problem seeing as the boy has a pet elephant. His solution--create a pet club for unusual animals and their owners. One that is all inclusive, even if the animal isn't the most desirable of pets.

In this picture book debut, we are introduced to a world in which children can own pets like and elephant and a skunk. The concept is adorable and the message isn't so much about pets, but in being inclusive of everyone and letting everyone join in the group. Frankly, I don't know why anyone wouldn't want a baby elephant at their pet party, but some people are weird. A very cute book that would make a great storytime book. If I was still doing storytime I would tell the kids that we were having a special pet-themed storytime and they should bring their favorite stuffed animal...the stranger the better. Elephants are encouraged as are skunks. Regular animals are welcome too. Some days I really miss those storytimes.

I am also going to assume that this book was inspired by the picture below.

My Life in Pictures by Deborah Zemke Book Review

My Life in Pictures by Deborah Zemke 
Publisher: Dial Books
Release Date: March 8, 2016

Bea Garcia is an artist. She draws everything in her little notebook. She draws when her friend Yvonne moved to Australia. She draws when the loud boy monster moves in next door. He is absolutely nothing like Yvonne and seeing the awful boy next door just makes her miss her best friend even more.

A cute little chapter book, perfect for readers who are transitioning into intermediate books with plenty of pictures for those who aren't quite ready to let go of needing pictures in their books. Bea Garcia has the usual kinds of problems and struggles, which is why she is so relateable. Her friend moving to Australia adds just the right amount of different to give the story some added flavor. The doodles throughout the book are cute and I found myself lingering over more than a few. I loved how the story resolved itself, although I think someone needs to put a fence around the tree in their backyard because her brother gets stuck in it way too often.

The Quickest Kid in Clarkesville by Pat Zietlow Miller Book Review

The Quickest Kid in Clarkesville by Pat Zietlow Miller
Illustrations by Frank Morrison
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: February 9, 2016

It's the day before the big parade and all Alta can think about is one thing: Wilma Rudolph. Three time Olympic gold medalist, Wilma will be riding through their town. Wilma is Alta's role model because Alta is the quickest kid in Clarksville, Tennessee just like Wilma was. Sure, Alta's shoes have holes in them, but that just makes Alta try harder and run faster. Then a new girl arrives with shiny new shoes and challenges Alta's status as the quickest kid in Clarksville.

What a wonderfully rich and complex story this is. On the surface, this is the story of one little girl who is enamored with an athlete, but Miller does such a good job of  making it more. Wilma Rudolph wasn't just a role model because she was a good athlete, it was also about where she was from and the color of her skin. She inspired a generation of little girls to run faster. Alta's story is also about budding friendships, socioeconomic status, and proving oneself. That's a lot to pack into one picture book, but Miller does so deftly. A great addition to any classroom and anyone wanting to inspire this generation to greatness.

Tiger and Badger by Emily Jenkins Book Review

Tiger and Badger by Emily Jenkins
Illustrations by Marie-Louise Gay
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: February 9, 2016

Tiger and Badger are best friends, except when they aren't. The two are constantly fighting over toys, chairs, and even oranges. In the end, they always make up, but there is a lot of bickering along the way.

I know kids fight with their friends. We all did. I also know that kids make up rather quickly. However, I loathe the message that all friends fight and it is inevitable, especially when you are best friends. One of the greatest things I discovered as I got older was that fighting with someone is a choice and one can simply choose not to. Of course, this is something that was learned over time, but isn't that the better message to convey to children? Learn how to stop fights before they happen. Control your emotions. Allow your friends to be themselves. Be kind. Be generous. Be forgiving. Friendships built on see saw emotions are at best, stressful and at worst, emotionally abusive.

Tiger and Badger are actually rather horrible friends to one another. They aren't even friendly to one another. Their fights are petty and are rarely resolved in a healthy manner. They remind me of those friend that you were forced to play with because your mothers were good friends or because they lived next door. You never really got along, but they were the only other kid around. I'm sure they would be able to be good friends to one another, but since their only real communication method is making funny faces at one another, they definitely are not at the point where they can be.

Peddles by Elizabeth Rose Stanton Book Review

Peddles by Elizabeth Rose Stanton
Publisher: Paula Wiseman Books
Release Date: January 5, 2016

Peddles the pig is on a mission to make his dreams come true, because he wants to be different. He doesn't like to do the usual pig things like oinking and sleeping. He would much rather be standing, climbing, and dancing. When Peddles runs into a pile of shoes, he finds a pair of red boots that fit just right. Of course, pigs aren't really supposed to wear shoes and Peddles finds himself flat on his back, unable to walk let alone dance.

An adorable fantasy story about one pig's quest to become a dancing swine. Peddles is cute and quirky in a way that only an anthropomorphized pig can be. He is persistent and adorably drawn and although the story itself was simple, I can't help but feel like this is the Happy Feet of the pig world. Oh and there is actually one picture of a pig pooping, which as base as it is, will make the little ones giggle. Something that happens often in this book.

Big Friends by Linda Sarah Book Review

Big Friends by Linda Sarah
Illustrations by Benji Davies
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Release Date: January 19, 2016

Birt and Etho are best friends. They play together inside big cardboard boxes as kings, soldiers, astronauts, and pirates. No matter what though, they are best friends. Then Shu arrives. He is new and threatens to change the friendships and Birt isn't so sure he likes that. They soon learn though that there is always room for a new friend, even if things are a little different.

A nice story about friendship and how it can change. I have read a number of books lately that deal with the issue of losing friend, the sad reality of being human and growing up, but sometimes friendships don't end but rather change and grow. Benji Davies' (The Storm Whale, Goodnight, Already!) illustrations are beautifully done, colorful and full of life. One can't help but fall in love with these children. Although this could be read as just a nice story, I think there is a lot to unpack in this story and is a perfect opportunity to discuss with children how to be open to new friends. Of course, life isn't as neat and tidy as a picture book, but I think this book is perfect for its intended audience.

Bunny Dreams by Peter McCarty Book Review

Bunny Dreams by Peter McCarty
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Release Date: January 5, 2016

In bunny dreams, anything can happen. A bunny might know the ABCs, or count by 1-2-3s. A bunny might find the perfect carrot. A bunny might hop. . . or even fly! But every bunny needs a cozy place to rest.

It appears that bunny dreams are actually rather boring dreams full of non-sensicals like unexplained chickens and flying. Which wouldn't be too bad, except that the choices felt a bit odd and drug-induced. This is a shame, because Peter McCarty's illustrations are quite lovely, but they can't carry the story on their own. The bunnies are cute, but once they enter the dream realm things are just too bizarre and the story can't decide what it is. Concept book? Bedtime story? Fantasy? I actually think it would have been more interesting to imagine what a bunny really would dream about, what a nightmare may be, and how a momma bunny might make everything better.

No, No, Gnome! by Ashlyn Anstee Book Review

No, No, Gnome! by Ashlyn Anstee
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 9, 2016

Gnome is so excited to help his friend in the school garden. The only problem is, Gnome isn't very helpful. It's hard to stay mad at him though, especially when Gnome tries to do everything he can to make it right.

I like a good planting book, but the idea that a gnome with a full beard going to school was a bit confusing. Then again, there are a few bunnies in his class. So maybe gnomes in this fantasy world are born with full-grown beards. That said, Gnome is definitely not given enough direction, which allows him to run amock, something that some little ones can probably relate to. It is a shame that Gnome isn't able to learn how to behave him before he tears everything up and lucky for him that it is fixable. I liked Gnome, but I am a bit lukewarm with this book.

Tree by Britta Teckentrup Book Review

Tree by Britta Teckentrup
Publisher: Doubleday Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 9, 2016

Through a little hole on the front cover, readers are introduced to a little owl who then introduces us to a majestic tree and a beautiful forest. Readers are walked through the changing seasons full of peekaboo holes throughout, revealing playful animals.

I think I have a soft spot for peakaboo books. Like a child, I love the magic of turning a page to see what was hidden beneath. This book was so expressive and colorful and although the concept was simple, the changing of seasons and their relation to nature, it felt like an adventure.

Shape Shift by Joyce Hesselberth Book Review

Shape Shift by Joyce Hesselberth
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
January 12, 2016

Round, curvy, pointy, or straight-shapes are all around us.

There have been a lot of shape books coming out lately. As someone who used to work at a bookstore, I can tell you that concept books like shapes were not exactly the most popular books around although people did certainly buy them. Like the issues books about sadness or having a baby sister/brother, these books are geared at a very specific demographic and after a while they do start to all feel the same. Last spring I was blown away by Steve Light's Have You Seen My Monster? that included both a story and interesting shape concepts. For me, this book lacked that kind of pizzazz. The illustrations were vibrant and inviting, but there wasn't much in the book that set it apart. It very much reminded me of when I was a kid and they used shapes in school to teach basic geometry and mathematical concepts. Although this book tried to make shapes whimsical, identifying what shapes could look like, as if they were Rorschach clouds, it felt like too much for the age group that this is geared towards. And maybe this is a bit petty, but the children in this book look a little creepy. 

123 Dream by Kim Krans Book Review

123 Dream by Kim Krans 
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 27, 2016

In the companion picture book ABC Dream, young readers were introduced to the beautiful illustrations. With pen-and-ink drawings and watercolor accents, Krans makes good use of the black and white space. The bright colors and lively animals make a very simple counting book into an interactive experience. Normally, I don't post reviews so early in their process, but I think fans of the first book should know now that a new one is coming out and it is worth having on your bookshelf. The only thing that makes me sad about this book is that I can't find more pictures (still too early in the process I guess), which just means I will have to review this book again in a few months.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt Book Review

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release Date: October 6, 2015

When fourteen-year-old Joseph comes to live with the Hurds, Twelve-year-old Jack isn't so sure about his new foster brother. He is surly, angry, damaged. Yet, Jack feels an affinity towards the hurt teenager and stands by him even if it means walking the two miles to school in the cold, just so they can avoid the rude bus driver. Even if it means getting into fights. After all, it was four against one. What would you do? As Joseph acclimates to life on a farm with his new foster care family, he begins to open up. His story is one of loss and pain. Joseph's father is abusive. Then Joseph fell in love with a thirteen-year-old girl and before they knew it, she was pregnant. That's when things went crazy. Her parents put a restraining order against him. Joseph's bio dad put him into foster care stating that he couldn't control him anymore. When Joseph tried to see his girlfriend, he was hit with a restraining order. When she had the baby, he wasn't allowed to see it or the love of his life. He was told that being a minor he had no rights and the most loving thing he could do was sign away the rights to his newborn baby daughter, Jupiter. And then Joseph learns even more devastating news that sends him into a tailspin that lands him in Juvie. At this point, Joseph will do anything to see his Jupiter. Anything. Because he is a dad and despite what all the grown-ups in his life seem to think, he loves her with every fiber in his being.

With such a description, one can imagine that this is a rather heartbreaking tale. Everything is against Joseph. No one listens to him, no one seems to care about how he feels, and they invalidate his deep love at every turn. He is quickly labeled a troubled teen. The teachers at his new school see nothing beyond his record at Juvie and his foster care status. None of them know these dark secret that he harbors, nor do any seem to care. The foster care system seem to be cold and callous when it comes to his feelings and seem more concerned about appeasing Jupiter's maternal grandparents than they do about the two teenage parents. It is a tearjerker for sure.

It is also wildly disproportionate in both good and bad ways. The Hurds are angelic and kind. Too angelic and kind. They are the perfect foster family, kind, patient, caring. All the time. Even Jack comes across as this really angelic kid who does nothing wrong. On the other hand, we have Joseph in which it seems like every bad thing that could possibly happen to a kid happens. Abusive father, disconnected from girlfriend, can't see his daughter, forced to give up his rights, no one listens to him, attacks a teacher, end up in Juvie, and even after all of one listens except his foster family and there seems to be absolutely nothing they can do.

As I have said before, because I am in the midst of this adoption/foster care process and know a lot of people who have been through the system, I am perhaps a bit more harsh with these books than I should be. Things have changed a lot over the years and it would be a pretty bad social worker who tells a kid someone died in their life and then didn't tell anyone that this could be the reason he was acting out. Also, Jupiter is also in the foster care system and yet no one, not a single social worker, psychologist, etc. thought that Joseph deserved to at least get a picture of her...or hold her? Every single one thinks that because he is fourteen he has absolutely no right to see his child and that his love is less than simply because of his age? It is disgusting, which is the point I think, but I don't find it credible either. The maternal grandparents have already stated that they are not interested in taking Jupiter and have given up their claim to the child so why do they have such a say in what happens with Joseph? Where are the therapists? And why don't the foster parents have a greater say in what is happening, which they would. Last complaint, I promise, there is no way that Joseph's father would have a visit in the foster parents home when he has already been hostile and shown up unannounced. No way. The supervised visit would be somewhere neutral and safe. But showing up unannounced to the foster parents house would probably have also gotten him a court ordered restraining order. That visit would never have happened.

All in all, this was a tearjerker featuring a really great kid who can not catch a break. There is no real happy ending, because the circumstances around the ending are simply too tragic. If Joseph were a real child, and I know there are many out there like him, he would be the kid who the system failed. I know they exist, but I also know that there are a number of people who care about Joseph, enough that he shouldn't fall through the cracks.

Alfie's Lost Sharkie by Anna Walker Book Review

Alfie's Lost Sharkie by Anna Walker
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release Date: April 5, 2016

Alfie cannot find his favorite and most important stuffed toy. He has checked all the usual places, but the lost toy is ruining the bedtime routine.

A simple, silly story, this adorable book really captures the essence of a young child and their thought processes. Originally published in Australia, I am happy to see this series make its way to the states. Alfie is cute, despite being an alligator. And he deals with situations in ways that little ones are sure to relate to. The watercolor illustrations are bright and engaging and sure to appeal to preschoolers.

Violet and Victor Write the Most Fabulous Fairy Tale by Alice Kuipers Book Review

Violet and Victor Write the Most Fabulous Fairy Tale by Alice Kuipers
Illustrations by Bethanie Murguia
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 19, 2016

Violet and Victor are going to write the most fabulous fairy tale that has ever been imagined. That is, if they can agree.

Like the first Violet and Victor story, this one is essentially a book about writing a story and doing so as a team. Personally, the idea of writing a story with another person has always seemed rather scary because what happens when you don't always seem eye to eye. Violet and Victor certainly don't agree on how their story should be told. Like the first, I like the mixed media illustrations, the creativity, and the emphasis on what it takes to tell a good story.