Snow Days…and a Review

We got snow in my neck of the woods  city and while it wasn’t as much as the east coast got it was enough to get a couple of snow days. What’s a librarian to do–drink coffee, read, nap, eat chili…..or blog? Coffee drinking, reading, napping and chili eating beat out blogging this week. #Sorrynotsorry  What else did I do while I wasn’t blogging? I call this “toys in snow”……..

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On Monday this little masterpiece got left behind after storytime……

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Review of The Bear Report

Oh, this book! Thyra Heder, who also did Fraidyzoo, does tremendous work here. The story: a girl has to find facts on polar bears to share with her class. After deciding that the only thing to say about them is that ” They are big. They eat things. They are mean”, a polar bear suddenly appears in her house. He takes her on a grand adventure to show her what life is like in his Arctic home, from fish sticks to the Aurora Borealis. By the end, she’s overflowing with inspiration and resolved to tell everyone all about her new friend.

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In the author’s note, Heder talks briefly about a glacier hike she took in Iceland. She draws on that experience to create a funny, understated and beautiful picture book. And what a beautiful picture book it is. Full of hazy watercolors in muted shades of aqua, turquoise, lavender and white, it’s a sweet depiction. Heder, via her talented approach, has made the Arctic seem warm and inviting rather than cold and bleak. You want to see Heder’s Arctic. Do read this one. Recommend for preK and up.

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Wonder Garden, a Review

We were setting up a display of children’s new nonfiction books when this book found its way to me. Wonder Garden illustrated by Kristjana S. Williams and written by Jenny Broom is quite simply one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen.

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It’s an over-sized trip around the world to explore the habitats of the Amazon, Black Forest, Great Barrier Reef, Chihuahuan Desert and Himalayan Mountains. Each page is covered in bright illustrations  with a gold gate overlay on the cover which gives the reader the feel of setting off on an exotic, psychedelic adventure.

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Each section includes a summary of each habitat, brief descriptions of animals with their scientific names as well as an index. This is one of those books with the wondrous detail that a kid could get lost in. With such visually stunning illustrations even non-readers will want to sit with this one awhile. Recommended for readers of all ages.


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Mock-Cotts: Gimme My Medal!

Having recently given a “What’s New in Children’s Lit” staff training I am completely steeped in picture books which, Imo, represent some of the best books being published and, as I tell adult library patrons, are some of the best books in the library. If you don’t know, you better ask a librarian! I’m always surprised by the award committee’s choices so who knows which book will win? But if any of these do…..remember you heard it here.

Let me say right off the top that just about everyone is putting Float at the top of their list. It’s good. But it’s not as good of a story or as visually interesting as any of these below. Moving on.

I just came across this one the other day. First, the illustrations are beautiful with exquisite textural detail. You can’t see all that from the picture so just trust me on this; it’s beautiful. It reminded me of Hello, My Name is Ruby, another book that shows a character dealing with loss, grief and finding their way.

The Song of Delphine

Delphine is a servant girl for the queen. She’s alone in the world and when she’s down she “sings out the loneliness”. So heart-wrenching and precious. The queen’s niece comes and stirs up trouble for Delphine: making messes for her to clean, blaming her for breaking things and even getting her locked up. Wisely, the worst parts of Delphine’s story are shown not told. This softens the harshness of Delphine’s reality for young readers while at the same time being honest with them and true to the story. That respect for the reader and the story is one of the qualities that separates great books from the rest. (Dessert anyone?) As a singer who also has sung out the loneliness, this one resonated with me. I don’t think it has a chance of winning but it certainly deserves to be considered.

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I bypassed this one at first because the cover didn’t grab me. I’m picky about my picture books. If the cover doesn’t grab me, I probably won’t read it. But I eventually read this one and loved it. It’s the simple story of a Vietnamese family in a fishing village. It’s a specific story about a specific culture, but it still feels universal because it’s about the comfort of home and those you love. The beautiful, serene, painterly illustrations drew me in. With so much realistic detail I felt like I could smell the pot of soup on the stove, like I could hear the dog walking across the floor. It was almost a multisensory experience. I also loved the change in perspective throughout where we go from having a bird’s eye view of the scene to a macro close up of what the dog sees. When you consider that this is a debut for the author and only the second book for the illustrator it’s incredible what they accomplished here. I expect it to at least get an honor.

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I love Kevin Henkes. This, in my opinion, is probably his best picture book yet. It’s the story of watching and waiting for something wonderful to happen told from the perspective of toys on the windowsill. Things happen, yet the toys only know part of the story and it’s the reader who’s able to figure it out from the illustrations. There’s so much happening here from the adorable pastel toys to the ever-changing scene outside the window. It feels like a child’s dream, a lovely reminder that there’s wonder all around us if we just look.

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I won’t go into detail about this here since I’ve already talked about it. All I’m going to say is that a story this well done deserves to be recognized.
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I’ve talked about this one before, too. I don’t care what the critics say–it’s a gorgeous, whimsical book with an air of fairy tale about it, and it’s one of the best looking books to come out this year.
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I started this blog talking about this book. It’s a great post. This book is wonderful on so many levels and if there’s any justice in the book world it will get the recognition it deserves.

Honorable Mention

 

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Another one I initially bypassed and ended up really enjoying. There’s a lot to speak of for this book. First, DIVERSE CHARACTERS! And it’s not about them being diverse! They’re not being oppressed! It’s not stereotypical! No cultural misappropriation here! The Reading While White bloggers can’t possibly have a complaint about this story of a little girl who wants a giraffe for her birthday and will go to great lengths to make her case. Cute illustrations, big words, a glossary, text that is actually funny, this book has it all. This will be making the rounds at storytime for sure.

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My library just got this in this week. I’d been waiting to read it for a while. Let me see if I can accurately convey how good this book is. Um………….it rocked. If this book were a rockstar, it’d do a kickass show then smash its guitar at the end in a blaze of pyrotechnics. If it were a comedian it’d do a killer set then drop the mic.

BOOM.

BOOM.

Okay, I may be overselling it just a bit but, hey, it’s a free country. First, the art is amazing. Love the stylized cartoon realism. The endpapers are wonderful with the sunlight shining through the forest. The bear, oh, the bear! Do you know how many picture books feature bears? 24, 847. Just kidding–I don’t know. I made that up but it’s a lot. This may be the best bear ever to be illustrated in a picture book. The grumpy face, the body language is spot on. It’s hilarious and includes humor that adults will appreciate. Definitely check this one out!

After all these picture books, I’m going to attempt to read a few chapter books. Next up, a 600-page book about a harmonica. It better be good.

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Circus Mirandus, a Review

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If you keep up with the children’s book world then you already know that everyone’s talking about this book. It’s received glowing reviews from all the major players (read a few here, here and here), readers and it’s getting lots of award buzz. There’s even talk of making it into a movie. So of course I had to read it. Actually, I listened to it as I usually do with middle grade novels. Let’s face it, sometimes it can be a real chore to slog through a book meant for 10-year-olds. It’s narrated by Bronson Pinchot. For the most part I enjoyed his voice but there were a couple of characters whose voicing really grated on me, i.e. Chintzy.

Balki from Perfect Strangers, remember him?

Nothing ever lives up to the hype; I know this, and yet I still go in with high expectations only to be disappointed after. Here’s the premise:

Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather.

This is an interesting premise which sounds promising. It’s supposed to be a book which “celebrates seeing magic in the world”. The writing is solid, a vivid description here, a nice turn of phrase there. However, for a book about powerful magicians and a magical circus I expected more fantasy, whimsy but instead it felt pedestrian to me, clunky. I was underwhelmed. That might have to do with the complete lack of character development. We’re given very little about the main characters and the character with the most backstory, Micah’s mother, is only talked about in bits of flashback and the climax of her story ends abruptly. All the other characters seem flat. Or it might be a result of the jumps between Circus Mirandus and the real world which happen suddenly and at odd times. Maybe I was underwhelmed because the magic doesn’t seem all that….well, magical. Grandpa’s talent for knot tying plays all through the book and is touted as being magical, but I didn’t get it. I see kids being confused by the ending. What really happened–a grim reality or magic? That’s for other readers to decide. Maybe they’ll enjoy this circus more than I did.

Vive la Paris!

Our hearts and minds are with France in light of recent events. I thought of my favorite Parisian children’s books. There’s a lightness, a joie de vivre that the French do better than anybody. Reading and sharing these stories seems like a way, be it ever so small, to celebrate this beautiful city. How fitting that Paris is the “City of Light” since Light always triumphs over darkness.

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There are lots of kids’ books set in Paris and these are a few of my favorites. Whimsical stories and sophisticated illustrations lend a worldly air to these Francophile adventures.

Diva and Flea

Loved everything about it. This book is beautiful and sets the standard for early chapter books. From the thick pages, the sprinkling of French, the delicate pen and watercolor illustrations to the Eiffel Tower spread this book is a reminder of all the things that make reading an actual book a much more pleasurable experience than reading a screen which could never do this book justice. The story–of taking a chance, being brave and having grand adventures–is just as sweet as the illustrations. Having read this the day after the Paris attacks it feels like a wonderful little ode to Paris. A must read.

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à bientôt!