Bronze and Sunflower

  • Bronze and Sunflower
  • written by Cao Wenxuan
  • translated by Helen Wang
  • published by Candlewick Press (2017)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Bronze and Sunflower is 381 pages of pure poetry. The book is so beautifully written that every paragraph – nay, every sentence – dances off the page and is so powerfully evocative and lyrical that it’s hard to believe Helen Wang (for I give her the lion’s share of the credit here, in the new English translation from Candlewick Press) can keep it up for the entire book. But she does.

Author Cao Wenxuan is a professor of Chinese literature at Beijing’s Peking University and is considered to be one of China’s preeminent authors of children’s literature. Though he has written some 15 novels (and several other short stories and picture books), Bronze and Sunflower is his first to be translated and published in English.

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Tinyville Town Gets to Work!

I must admit, though I would’ve guessed that my kids were beyond the target audience for Brian Biggs’s Tinyville Town series, the books were nevertheless a surefire hit. My son (5), especially, fell in love with them.

Tinyville Town Gets to Work! is the “core” book in the series and is a picture book very much reminiscent of Richard Scarry’s Busytown series. If you know and love Busytown, then there’s a lot to love in Tinyville Town. The book establishes some of the residents of the town as they come together to build a new bridge.

Three of those residents then take center stage in complementary board books. I’m a Firefighter, I’m a Librarian, and I’m a Veterinarian dive a bit deeper into those characters and what they do each day.

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Triangle (Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen)

  • Triangle
  • written by Mac Barnett
  • illustrated by Jon Klassen
  • published by Candlewick (2017)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

In my house, the sign of a good book is when we finish reading it and the first question my kids ask is, “Is there a second one?” They’ve become so used to series and multiple books that all feature the same characters. When they find a story or characters they like, they just want to live in that world and read everything there is.

When we finished Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s new Triangle, my son (5) immediately asked, “Is there a #2? Maybe a book about Square or Circle or something?” This meant the book was a winner.

At the time, I thought Triangle was a one-off, so he was a bit disappointed. But I’ve since learned that it is, indeed, the first of three books from Barnett and Klassen. And the other two will be, indeed, Square and Circle. However, they’re not due out until 2018 and 2019, respectively. Bummer.

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Be Quiet!

  • Be Quiet!
  • written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins
  • published by Disney Hyperion (2017)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Be Quiet! is a gorgeous wordless picture book. Well, at least, that’s the idea. But the characters don’t seem to get the message or understand what “wordless” actually means.

Before we even get to the first page (the story actually begins on the inside front cover), Rupert the mouse breaks the fourth wall and informs us that he’s going to make a wordless book. They’re very artistic.

The trouble is, Thistle and Nibbs are two incredibly chatty mice who are in love with the idea of a wordless book. They just can’t seem to stop talking long enough to actually make one. And Rupert is quickly running out of patience.

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Spill Zone

  • Spill Zone
  • written by Scott Westerfeld
  • illustrated by Alex Puvilland
  • published by First Second Books (2017)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Spill Zone does something I don’t think I’ve seen before. It tells a totally dark, creepy, twisted story with a striking color palette saturated with vibrancy. Flipping through the book, you’d be excused for assuming the story is a lot more uplifting than it really is.

The book also pulls you in and compels you to keep turning pages, desperate to find some meaning to the madness that Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland create.

Addison and her little sister, Lexa, live just outside Poughkeepsie, NY, which is now completely off-limits and known as the Spill Zone. Po’Town is no more. A mysterious “event” occurred that basically destroyed the town, turned all of the people into floating zombies, and created a psychedelic version of Stranger Things’ Upside Down.

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Amina’s Voice

  • Amina’s Voice
  • written by Hena Khan
  • published by Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster (2017)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Amina has always been a shy kid. She does her own thing, is content to stay out of the spotlight, and stays out of trouble.

But now she’s in middle school. And of course, all bets are off. Especially when it seems like absolutely everything around her is undergoing massive change – change she can’t control.

On top of typical middle school struggles, Amina is facing several unexpected challenges that rock her world.

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Blog Tour: Spy on History + Giveaway

Thanks to Hamilton and our constant National Park Service Adventures, my daughter is currently fascinated by American history. Living near Washington, DC, has only stoked that interest. In fact, we recently had the opportunity to sleep over at the National Archives and literally spent the night right next to the Constitution. My daughter couldn’t have been more thrilled.

It’s no surprise, then, that Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring is right up our alley at the moment. It’s therefore a thrill to take part in this blog tour in support of the new book by Enigma Alberti (a pseudonym for a group of authors writing the Spy on History series) and illustrated by Tony Cliff (Delilah Dirk).

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Doodle Adventures: The Search for the Slimy Space Slugs!

Now might be a good time to admit that I adore books meant to be scribbled in. Growing up, I completed My Book About Me several times, crossing through previous notes if they had changed. I loved that book.

A few months ago, my daughter was gifted a copy of Wreck This Journal and had a similar love affair. It was a mindblowing experience to be expected to actually write on the pages and “destroy” the book.

So when we saw this new Doodle Adventures book from Workman, we knew it was love at first sight. And we weren’t disappointed.

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Faraway Fox

  • Faraway Fox
  • written by Jolene Thompson
  • illustrated by Justin K. Thompson
  • published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Most picture books with an environmental message (and there are a lot of them) practically hit you over the head with the moral or takeaway. Faraway Fox takes a subtler approach, though it’s still effective and powerful.

The story is told in the first person from the perspective of a small fox, lost and alone in suburbia. As he wanders through backyards, playgrounds, and parking lots, he’s recalling what everyplace was like before it was developed. When he was younger and still with his family.

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Mighty Jack

  • Mighty Jack
  • written and illustrated by Ben Hatke
  • published by First Second Books (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Ben Hatke is a favorite in my house. His Zita the Spacegirl trilogy is pure magic, and his other books (Little Robot, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, and Nobody Likes a Goblin) are just downright enchanting.

We look forward to each new book as a major event. So it was with much excitement that we dug into his current major undertaking: Mighty Jack for First Second Books. The first book in the series came out a few months ago, and Book 2 – Mighty Jack and the Goblin King – is set to release this fall.

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Big Bob, Little Bob

  • Big Bob, Little Bob
  • written by James Howe
  • illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson
  • published by Candlewick Press (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

James Howe wrote my favorite series of books as a kid, which also happens to be the world’s best series about a vampire bunny and his fellow housepets: Bunnicula!

Seriously, the Bunnicula series was right up there with Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby books and Choose Your Own Adventure as my reliable go-to books. The books haven’t aged at all, and they’re just as entertaining and fun in 2016 as they were in 1986.

But James Howe is so much more than Bunnicula. He’s written close to 100 books, which is simply astonishing, and his books cover a spectrum of styles and genres: picture books, children’s nonfiction, beginning reader chapter books, kids novels, YA fiction, and screenplays.

And Big Bob, LIttle Bob – his newest picture book – might be one of his most personal. And the message contained in these 30 pages is also incredibly important for kids to hear, maybe more so now than ever before.

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Kid Beowulf: The Blood-Bound Oath

I’ll admit it: the Beowulf legend has never been my jam. I read it in high school (don’t remember the translation) and read it again when that critically adored translation by Seamus Heaney came out years ago.

I just couldn’t get into it. I appreciated the story, and – yes – I understood it, but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t sink my teeth into it like I could with other myths and legends. King Arthur? Sure. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? Yep. Edith Wharton’s Mythology? Why not? But Beowulf? Just didn’t do it for me.

So when Kid Beowulf appeared on my radar, I’d be lying if I said it immediately rose to the top of my reading pile. I liked the twist of making the story accessible to young readers, but…well, it was still Beowulf.

But I’m here to tell you I wish I had read this a lot sooner.

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Poppy Pickle: A Little Girl with a Big Imagination

  • Poppy Pickle
  • written and illustrated by Emma Yarlett
  • published by Templar Books (Candlewick Press) (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Emma Yarlett’s previous book, Orion and the Dark, was one of the most fantastic surprises of 2015 for us, in terms of picture books. So it shouldn’t come as much surprise that her follow-up, Poppy Pickle, is near the top of the list for 2016.

Where Orion and the Dark was about a young boy who brings the darkness to life, Poppy Pickle is about a young girl with a similar power. Except instead of animating her biggest fear, she uses her imagination to conjure a bit of magic and make life just a shade more interesting.

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Ada Twist, Scientist

  • Ada Twist, Scientist
  • written by Andrea Beaty
  • illustrated by David Roberts
  • published by Abrams Books for Young Readers (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

There’s something about a good rhyming picture book that just hits the spot for me. And a rhyming picture book with a great message? All the better.

Look, I read a lot of picture books. Most of them are well written. Many of them are gorgeous. Some of them have sweet, memorable themes. But only a few of them are automatic winners right out of the gate.

If Ada Twist, Scientist were a person, I’d give her high-fives until her hand got sore. I’d bring her around to meet the extended family. I’d hug her until it became uncomfortable.

In other words, if any book deserves a full 5 out of 5, Ada Twist, Scientist is it.

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That’s Not Bunny!

  • That’s Not Bunny!
  • written by Chris Barton
  • illustrated by Colin Jack
  • published by Disney Hyperion (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

There are some picture books you pick up and reread for the story. They have powerful lessons or morals, or they reach you on a personal level. There are other picture books you pick up and reread because of the art.

That’s Not Bunny! is one of the latter. The fact that it’s tons o’ fun to read aloud is also a mark in its favor.

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Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus

  • Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus
  • written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway
  • published by Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Do you have a grumpasaurus in your home? Let me rephrase…do you have a child of basically any age in your home? You do? Then you also have a grumpasaurus.

I must also come clean right here at the top that I have a soft spot for books that disguise themselves as field guides for fictional creatures. (The same is true for travel guides to fictional places. Love ’em.)

So…a field guide to a grumpy toddler who’s incognito as an adorable stegosaurus? Yeah, you had me at hello.

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Mango and Bambang: The Not-a-Pig

In my house, we’re all about series at the moment. If a book has a sequel or is part of a multibook series, my kids will gobble it up. So it wasn’t surprising when they took to the charming Mango & Bambang right away.

The good news is that this book is the first of a trilogy that came out in the UK last year. However, Candlewick is publishing them here in the States, and so far they’ve only released the first one. We’re patient, but I’d be lying if I said we weren’t anxiously champing at the bit for Books 2 and 3.

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The King of Kazoo

kingofkazoo

  • The King of Kazoo
  • written and illustrated by Norm Feuti
  • published by Graphix/Scholastic (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

I’ll admit it: I was unfamiliar with Norm Feuti before The King of Kazoo arrived at my door. But fewer than 10 pages in and I was a fan. With this book, Feuti has created something that is both familiar and fresh.

King Cornelius (the titular king of the land of Kazoo) is a bit of an idiot. He came into his position and inherited a country at peace, and he hasn’t yet had a chance to earn an epithet (like those that came before him, such as Founder of the City, Defender of the Realm, or Simplifier of the Taxes).

Cornelius spends his days “thinking kingly thoughts” and suggesting inane solutions to non-problems. In short, he’s pretty much a joke.

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Questions from a Kid: Raina Telgemeier

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(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of Questions from a Kid. Today, Zoey chats with best-selling graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier.

Raina burst onto the scene with 2010’s Smile and then followed that up with Sisters, Drama, and this year’s Ghosts. All four books have dominated the best-seller lists and have won nearly every award for which they’re eligible. And in the process, Raina has become a superstar talent in the industry.

Just how big has she become? At this year’s National Book Festival, she was one of six presenters to take the main stage. The others? Stephen King, Bob Woodward, Shonda Rhimes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Salman Rushdie. Not too shabby.

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Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts

ghosts-front-cover

  • Ghosts
  • written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
  • published by Graphix/Scholastic (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Raina Telgemeier is back with her fourth original graphic novel, and we’re all the richer for it. This week marks the release of Ghosts, and in it she explores the nature of family and friendship against a backdrop of self-discovery and the Mexican Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) holiday.

It’s easy to forget that Raina’s first original book, Smile, came out as recently as 2010. That’s because the effect she’s had makes it hard to remember what graphic novels were like beforehand. Really, it’s hard to recall what the publishing industry in general was like.

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