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Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Child of Books, by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016.$22.00 all ages

"Some people have
forgotten where I live

But along these words
I can show you the way.

We will travel over
mountains of make-believe

Discover treasure in the
darkness ... "

If you have not yet returned to some of the classic stories that your family read together, or that you read on your own after you scanned lists of books worthy of your time and attention, this might just be the ticket you need to inspire you to take that step back and reread some of them.

Two artists have merged their equally impressive talents to produce a book that pays homage to the power of story to impact and change lives. Sam Winston's fine art is displayed in museums and galleries around the globe. Oliver Jeffers has written and illustrated a number of much-loved books for children. Their collaboration is unique, detailed and full of color and action. Mr. Winston has designed wordy ingenious landscapes, while Mr. Jeffers has hand-lettered the text and added the characters and other fine details. The excerpts taken from many classic books, nursery rhymes, and fairy tales are cleverly placed to have a real impact. Together, they provide a journey sure to captivate all readers.

The child of books is keen to lead her traveling companion on a voyage of discovery across the seas, through forests, and over mountains as they navigate the adventures that books provide. Their joy manifests itself in colorful and vibrant images and words. I love the final transformation from a row of varied colorless homes into a bright gathering of real books.

There is much for the audience to read as lines from a number of works make up the landscapes - clever and inspiring. The titles of all books excerpted are listed on the endpapers in endless repetition. I have a smile on my face every time I read it. What a celebration!

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill. Algonquin Young Readers, Thomas Allen & Son. 2016. $25.95 ages 10 and up

"She closed her eyes and laughed. Antain stepped backward. He felt a shiver at the sound of her laugh, as though someone was slowly pouring a tin of cold water down his back. He looked up at the paper birds hanging from the ceiling. Strange, but all of them were suspended from what looked like strands of long, black, wavy hair."

The people of the Protectorate have been brainwashed to believe that the Day of the Sacrifice (the abandonment of the community's youngest baby) is the only way to keep themselves safe from the evil clutches of a fearsome witch who makes her home in the nearby forest. Indeed, a witch does live there. She is not in any way as she is portrayed by the elders.

In fact, she is appalled by the elders' actions, and cares for those abandoned babies by feeding them starlight and taking them to loving homes on the other side of the forest where they will be happily adopted. Captivated by the beauty in her dark eyes, her crescent moon birthmark, and her obvious delight in the world, Xan accidentally feeds this baby both starlight and moonlight.

"There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. But because the light travels such a long distance, the magic in it is fragile and diffused, stretched into the most delicate of threads. There is enough magic in starlight to content a baby and fills its belly, and in large enough quantities, starlight can awaken the best in that baby's heart and soul and mind. It is enough to bless, not to enmagic. Moonlight, however. That is a different story. Moonlight is magic. Ask anyone you like."

Xan cannot, in good conscience, find Luna a home with an unsuspecting family. So, she returns home to raise Luna along with the bog monster and dragon who are already part of her family. Luna is happy, and has no idea of the powerful magic that is hers. Xan tries to protect her with a spell meant to keep the magic in check until Luna is 13, and can better understand what it is and how to control it.

Always overwhelmed with sadness after the loss of another child each year, the people of the Protectorate feel the effects of Luna's emerging magic and they begin to change, which does not make the elders happy. Bereavement has held them captive and kept them controlled by their leaders. There are many twists and turns as the story unfolds; each strand of this somewhat complicated tale has love at its heart, and the author is able to weave those strands together in a way that is sure to satisfy readers and leave them wanting to know more about the characters they have come to know, love, and admire. There is, after all, magic involved.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Du Iz Tak, written and illustrated by Carson Ellis. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2016. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Du iz tak?

Ma ebadow unk plonk.

Du kimma plonk?

Ma nazoot.

Ru badda unk ribble.


This entirely unique and imaginative new book from Carson Ellis is going to make some people very uncomfortable - those who need to know exactly what is going on. In fact, it is not that difficult to work out what you think these insects are saying to each other. They do speak their own language. For those who need answers, there are none. We are left to our own devices to assume we know how their conversation goes. That is what makes it so witty and rare.

From the opening spread, we are introduced to their talk as two winged and elegantly dressed creatures point to a green shoot, one asking: "Du iz tak?" The other responds: "Ma nazoot." And so it goes. They watch carefully as the green shoot grows and changes. They are accompanied by a ladybug who also has something to say.

Meanwhile, on the facing page, we spy a caterpillar as it makes its way up a twig, says its goodbye to all and quickly forms a chrysalis. The insects take note as well, making a fuss over it. They then call on the inhabitant of the log to take a look at their plant. He proffers the ladder requested, sits back to watch the action. Others are more interested during nighttime hours. The action builds, the reader becomes more involved in everything that is happening, and in the additional stories being played out.

The insects are beautifully crafted. The author uses white space to encourage our full attention to all that is happening on each spread, to the creatures' sizes, and to the seasonal changes. (I was not always sure where to direct my attention at the turn of a page - and that is part of its charm.) Their story is told solely in dialogue between the characters who are mesmerized by their quite remarkable discovery.

When all attention is focused at the very top of their plant, each one of them stops to share  amazement at its beauty ... "Unk scrivadelly gladdenboot!" Their tale is done. They quietly disappear; the scene returns, through a series of quiet actions, to its nearly original state, and to the title question. It makes one consider what is happening on the ground beneath our feet. Carson Ellis has created an
impressive version of just that might be.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Red: The true story of RED RIDING HOOD, witten by Liesl Shurtliff. Alfred A Knopf, Random House. 2016. $21.99 ages 9 and up

"The tunnel smelled of stale earth and mold. Within five steps, we were submerged in pitch black. The only thing to guide us was the dwarf's insults echoing from the stone walls. It sounded like there were several dwarves speaking instead of one. I heard the words "ugly," "stupid," "vile," "putrid," "half-wit," and "witch" over and over." Goldie held tight to my hand, and Wolf walked closely ... "

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know that I really enjoyed Liesl Shurtliff's previous refashioned fairy tales - Rump (2013) and Jack (2015). Please add this new tale to your to-be-read list. It is a companion book to Rump, as it reintroduces Granny and Red from that first book.

Red has some pretty special powers, inherited from her Granny. She is somewhat reluctant to use them after a close call for Granny some years ago. Now, Granny is very ill; the potion that might make her well is called the Curious Cure-All. For the making, Red sets out to find: 5 prickly chestnuts, 1 handful of wild cherries, 1 bunch of gnomeswort, 1 drop of pixie venom, 1 pair of tree-nymph wings, 7 wolf hairs - all essential to its success.

Distracted by a grumpy dwarf with promises of eternal life should they gather the proper ingredients, Red changes course. With Goldie and Wolf as her companions, she determines that eternal life is a much more appealing alternative for a young woman never wanting to lose her much loved grandmother. It's pretty powerful magic and she needs to work quickly. Their journey forces them to realize that the dwarf has not been entirely forthright about the dangers they will face. As she becomes privy to those dangers, Red begins to wonder if her wish for Granny is in Granny's best interest. Each suggestion seems to come with excruciating results for the person they are meant to cure.

Magic both fair and foul, untold adventure, lasting friendship, bravery, life and death, and unconditional love are at the heart of this welcome addition to Ms. Shurtliff's entertaining and imaginative tales. It weaves a number of familiar stories into one, allowing for discussion between readers concerning the characters and those connections made.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Who Wants A Tortoise, written by Dave Keane and illustrated by K.G. Campbell. Alfred A Knopf, Random House. 2016.$23.99 ages 4 and up

"I don't have a list of cute tortoise names, so I don't name him anything. "Hey, you, tortoise." He doesn't seem to mind, but it's impossible to tell what a tortoise is thinking. I decide to see what my new lump of a pet can do."

What is a girl to do when she has spent her entire life wishing for a puppy? She certainly can voice a plethora of complaints when what she gets is a tortoise. She does know her dad is allergic to dogs; what if she is allergic to cold-blooded reptiles? Anyone think about that? She should have known her birthday was going to be a big  disappointment.

Her demeanor is evident on the front cover and remains so as she contemplates life with a tortoise. She has a whole list of things it cannot do, and knows very little about what it can. On the other hand, she knows a lot about dogs, has a long list of names that might suit, and has dreamt often of the many adventures they might share. Phooey! Following the departure of her party guests, her grumpy behavior results in a time out.

In an attempt to accept her new reality, she discovers what she can do with her new pet - make him over. Paint its toenails, decorate its back, make it over into something else entirely. Mom is none too pleased at her choice, and maybe the tortoise feels the same. Grammy and Grandpa bring a book filled with information about the newest family member. As she begins to discover more can than can't, the attachment grows. When the tortoise loses itself, a search is on! She is worried about him, and counts on others to help her. It takes time; the concern grows. Will he be found in time to save him, or never?

Softly textured watercolor and colored pencil artwork provides all the context that young readers will need for this lively new book about pet ownership. Perspectives change, allowing a clear look at family dynamics, friendship and a growing attachment of the young owner for her previously unwanted companion. Front and back endpapers are evidence of a shift in attitude, and are most informative.

Can you guess what familiar dog's name you might give a tortoise whose inquisitive nature and need for fresh garden food lead to a walkabout? Give it a go ... let's hear what you think.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Pinny In Summer, written by Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant. Groundwood, 2016. $16.95 ages 6 and up

"On the way home, Pinny
bumped into her friends Annie
and Lou. They were carrying
pails for blueberry picking.
Perfect," said Pinny.
"I'll come, too. If we
pick enough blueberries, 
I'll make my wild blueberry
cake and we can have a party
to celebrate summer."

Pinny loves life; in four short chapters we learn why.

We first meet Pinny on her own and learn a little something about her. She is on the hunt for a 'wishing rock' and doesn't even mind making a mess of her knee as she scrambles to pick up the most perfect one. Happy to be alone as she explores, Pinny takes joy in the sights and sounds of the world around her.

Then, Pinny and her friends, Annie and Lou, are lost in admiring the clouds instead of picking the blueberries they will need for the cake Pinny has promised to bake for a summer celebration. When a certain cloud reminds them that they have a job to do, they are off! A sudden rainstorm sends them scurrying for home, blueberries in hand.

Each of the two following chapters allow further insight into the little girl, her life and her love of nature. She is a sweet girl with a sunny disposition, always up for adventure and seeing the best in every situation. Isabelle Malenfant captures her joyous nature in warm artwork, created with soft pastel, graphite pencil, Q-tips and an electric eraser. Full of the charm that is Pinny and a picturesque setting full of wonder, this is a book that is sure to be appreciated.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Lucy, by Randy Cecil. Candlewick, Random House. 2016. $24.99 ages 6 and up

"Suddenly he was petrified. He felt dizzy, and his hands went numb. The Paris globe fell to the stage floor with a crack. And then London, Istanbul, and Cairo, one at a time, shattered all around him. The audience fell silent as a large hook reached out and pulled Sam from the stage. As he left the theater, he turned to see Umberto the Boneless Wonder ..."

What an amazing story illustrated books can tell! Too often we push kids to move beyond them into chapter books, somehow feeling that it the next important step to really being a reader. Too often older kids miss the real pleasure of the art and voice found in illustrated books. Please don't fall into the trap of feeling they are EASY, a designation once given to all books where art and text had equal billing.

This new book by Randy Cecil proves my point exactly! It is the story of a young girl and her father. Eleanor Wische is lonely and left to her own devices while her father works. Her father, Sam, is an aspiring juggler, always practicing his craft and wanting to perform for an audience. Lucy is a little dog, fed by Eleanor in the mornings and wandering the streets for the rest of the day in a bid to procure food to sustain herself. Loneliness is evident in each of them, and all want a place to belong. That is the end of Act I.

In succeeding acts and chapters within, we watch as they do their best to make good things happen. It is a long story, told in spare, often repetitive, text and accompanied by detailed oil illustrations. There is so much to see, to enjoy and to admire about the characters, their days and their dreams. It resembles a silent movie, with its shades of gray illustrations and its heartwarming scenes. There are surprises here, but you must be diligent in poring over each page if you want to discover them.

The pace of the telling allows readers the time they need to fully appreciate its every nuance. It is a story about family, isolation, longing, Vaudeville, confidence, connection and finding home. It is humorous and hopeful. It is unlike any other book you will read this year.