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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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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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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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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Sam and Jump

SamAndJump

  • Sam and Jump
  • written and illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann
  • published by Candlewick (2016)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

When you find a book with a character who shares a name with one of your children, it’s kind of mandatory to have in the house. And as common a name as Sam is, it’s kind of surprising that there aren’t more books about Sams.

But Sam and Jump is here to fill that void. The book is a simple story about a young boy (Sam) with a favorite stuffed animal (Jump). They go everywhere together. They do everything together. They’re best friends. Sound familiar?

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Playing from the Heart

playing from the heart peter h reynolds

  • Playing from the Heart
  • written and illustrated by Peter Reynolds
  • published by Candlewick Press (2016)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

I might as well get this out of the way right now: we’re big Peter Reynolds fans around these parts. You’d be hard pressed to find better books celebrating art, imagination, and creativity than his books The Dot and Ish.

And they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Reynolds has an entire library of beautiful books in which kids are allowed the freedom to express themselves and not suppress the art they have inside of them.

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How the Sun Got to Coco’s House

coco

The sun will rise tomorrow. It’s one of the few absolutes and completely reliable events in life. But that’s not to say it’s uninteresting or uninspiring. Quite the opposite, actually.

The sun is on a continuous journey that quite literally brings life to billions along the way. It’s an adventure worthy of the greatest epics . . . or the smallest details.

In How the Sun Got to Coco’s House, Bob Graham relates one day in this continuing adventure and focuses on some relatively minor — yet nonetheless poignant — effects that sunlight has on our delicate planet.

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The Wonder

TheWonder-cover

  • The Wonder
  • written and illustrated by Faye Hanson
  • published by Templar Books/Candlewick Press (2015)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” –Pablo Picasso

I have to admit, I’m kind of a sucker for books that extol the wonders (excuse the pun) of one’s imagination. And The Wonder by Faye Hanson does this beautifully.

We follow a young boy as he makes his way to school with his head full of wonderings and musings about the world around him. He of course wonders about some of the common things all kids wonder: where birds fly to and how clouds are formed. But, somewhat unusually, he also wonders how street signs taste.

This is a kid after my own heart.

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Seen and Not Heard

seen

  • Seen and Not Heard
  • written and illustrated by Katie May Green
  • published by Candlewick Press (2015)
  • Roar Score: 3/5

Here’s a book that’s perfect for Halloween without being too scary. It is a picture book, after all. But it’s a picture book that begins like this: “In a big old house, up creaky stairs, in a silent little nursery fulls of dolls and teddy bears, you’ll find the children of Shiverhawk Hall. They’re children in pictures on the wall – seen and not heard.”

What a fantastic setup for this slightly spooky story that got banned from my 4-year-old’s bedroom for being “too creepy.”

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Troll and the Oliver

troll

  • Troll and the Oliver
  • written and illustrated by Adam Stower
  • published by Templar Books (Candlewick Press) (2015)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Just reading the title should clue you in that this is a twist on the standard “monster vs boy” tale. Every day, Troll goes out and tries to catch and eat an Oliver. But Olivers are pretty sneaky and – as it turns out – exceedingly hard to catch.

The cat and mouse game, as it were, continues for some time. And the Oliver, though seemingly quite innocent, is all too eager to tease Troll and literally sing about his failures right to his face.

When Troll finally gives up, the Oliver immediately notices his absence. And just when life returns to “normal” (cue the clickbait headline writers)…you’ll never guess what happens next!

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Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise

hoot

  • Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise
  • written by Sean Taylor
  • illustrated by Jean Jullien
  • published by Candlewick Press (2014)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise might be my favorite book of a recent spate of bedtime storybooks we’ve read here at Roarbots HQ. The art is adorable, the main character is a total joy, and the story is a genuine pleasure.

Hoot Owl is, as the title would suggest, a master of disguise. Or so he thinks. Everywhere he looks is a tasty treat. Here’s a rabbit, there’s a lamb, over yonder is a pigeon … and is that a pizza??

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Orion and the Dark

orion

Orion and the Dark is an absolute charm from beginning to end. The story is about a little boy (Orion) who is scared of a lot of things … but mostly the dark. As you can probably guess, he’s not a big fan of bedtime and all of the darkness that usually comes with that.

But one night, something strange happens. The Dark comes alive and creeps down into Orion’s bedroom … and it turns out not to be as scary as Orion thought. In terms of bedtime / scared-of-the-dark stories, there’s really not much new ground to tread, but this one, like I said, is a charm.

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Blog Tour: Eden West with Pete Hautman

EdenWest

Today, I’m thrilled to be joined by Pete Hautman, the extraordinarily talented writer of Eden West, out now from Candlewick Press. Pete’s 2004 novel, Godless, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Eden West covers similar ground in that both books deal with the interplay between religion and control.

However, where Godless was about inventing a new religion, Eden West is about the world of cults. It is about the 12-square-mile land of Nodd, a “paradise” run by the Grace. Specifically, it’s about 17-year-old Jacob who knows nothing else about the World, except that it’s wicked and doomed to destruction. That is, until he meets Lynna and the two test their belief in the Grace with the temptations of the World.

It’s a tough YA book that tackles some serious issues in a thoughtful, respectful way. Thankfully, Pete Hautman also knows how to laugh. Which is a good thing, because for his blog tour stop here at the Roarbots, I decided to throw him some curveballs.

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Littleland Around the World

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This is the second in what will presumably be a series of books set in Littleland, “a very busy place indeed.” Both books follow 10 friends and are designed to be first picture books for very young children.

The text simulates conversational speech and is meant to help young kids build their vocabulary with practical new words. The illustrations are filled with small details for little eyes to discover. Each spread even encourages kids to look deeper by including specific “Can you see…?” look-and-find objects.

In short, it’s very reminiscent of Richard Scarry’s Busytown books, which I have incredibly fond memories of from when I was a kid.

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Just Right for Two

justright

  • Just Right for Two
  • written by Tracey Corderoy
  • illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
  • published by Nosy Crow (Candlewick Press) (2014)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

We’re in a weird phase right now in this house regarding picture books. The oldest (5) is into comics and graphic novels in a huge way and likes to listen to chapter books read aloud to her. She still enjoys picture books but doesn’t often request them. The youngest (3) is beyond board books and should be in the middle of the prime picture book years. But he just wants to sit with his sister and listen to her stories.

Therefore, when picture books make it into our bedtime rotation, it’s often because I pull them out and add them to the pile.

Such was the case with Just Right for Two, a relatively recent title from Nosy Crow, a British publisher. (In the U.S., Nosy Crow books are published by Candlewick Press under an imprint of the same name.) And, as per usual, it was enormously well received at bedtime.

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Cast Away on the Letter A

lettera

  • Cast Away on the Letter A (A Philémon Adventure)
  • written/illustrated by Fred
  • published by Toon Books (Candlewick Press) (2014)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

There’s something about a book that begins with a map. Maybe it appeals to my inner explorer. Maybe it appeal to the inner 9-year-old who pored over world maps, lost in the wonder of what those little dots and intersecting lines represented.

Whatever it is, when I open a book and am immediately confronted with a mid-century National Geographic world map…I’m in.

I have to admit that before cracking open this beautiful little book, I was wholly unfamiliar with the character of Philémon. I’d hazard a guess that most Americans are. The character began in the French magazine Pilote in 1965 and was eventually successful enough to merit its own series of books.

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The Princess in Black

PrincessInBlack

  • The Princess in Black
  • written by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale
  • illustrated by LeUyen Pham
  • published by Candlewick Press (2014)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Princess Magnolia is having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower when….wait a minute, wait a minute. Duchess Wigtower? How awesome a name is that? And it doesn’t end there.

How can you not love a book with a passage like this:

 In the courtyard, Frimplepants was nibbling an apple. He swished his sparkly tail. He pranced on his golden hooves. He gave the horn upon his brow a little toss.
 Clearly, Frimplepants was a unicorn.
 Or was he?

Stupendous! Isn’t the suspense killing you? Was he or wasn’t he a unicorn??

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The Extraordinary Mr. Qwerty

9781406355901

  • The Extraordinary Mr. Qwerty
  • by Karla Strambini
  • published by Candlewick Press (2014)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Books about the imagination are almost a surefire win in my house. Kids usually don’t need much encouragement to use and get lost in their imaginations, but I’m still a sucker for books that embrace the imagination as the wondrous playground it is.

The Extraordinary Mr. Qwerty runs with this idea but presents a conundrum for the reader: What if you were embarrassed by your imagination?

What if you had exceedingly “strange” ideas? What if they were so strange that you thought other people would laugh at you for even thinking them in the first place? Would people then think that you, too, were strange?

Would you, like Mr. Qwerty, end up feeling alone?

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Hansel and Gretel

hanselgretel_cover

  • Hansel & Gretel
  • written/adapted by Neil Gaiman
  • illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti
  • published by Toon Books (Candlewick Press) (2014)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

They reached a river, and their father showed them where to ford it, where the river was shallow and the rocks stuck up from the water. They shook off their shoes, and they carried them until they reached the far bank, where the trees were thick, and old, and gnarled into shapes that looked like angry giants, frozen in time.

“Hansel and Gretel” is one of those stories that seems older than time. It is one of the most recognized of the Grimms’ fairy tales, yet it still remains unfamiliar. Elusive. Intangible.

Perhaps that’s because there have been so many different versions over the years. Tamer versions that smooth over some of the “unpleasant” aspects of the original. Children’s versions that soften the witch into someone more likable or change the parents’ roles entirely. Modern Hollywood versions that imagine the title characters as badass monster hunters.

Ask most kids nowadays, and their impression of the story more than likely centers on the witch’s candy house. “Hansel and Gretel” has, through the years, become known as a lighthearted romp through the woods to a Willy Wonka-style candy house.

Leave it to master storyteller Neil Gaiman, then, to bring us back to the story’s dark, gruesome, and haunting roots.

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5 Questions with Frank Cammuso

FrankCammuso

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

Welcome to another installment of 5 Questions with a 5-Year-Old. Today, Zoey chats with Frank Cammuso.

Zoey is most familiar with Frank from his work writing and illustrating the The Misadventures of Salem Hyde series (Amulet Books) and the Otto series (Toon Books). But Frank has also created the Knights of the Lunch Table and Max Hamm: Fairy Tale Detective series (Graphix/Scholastic and Nite Owl Comix, respectively).

In short, he’s a kids comics powerhouse.

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