"review" · Children's · Picture book · recommend

{picture book} Max the…adorably funny

 

Max the Brave by Ed Vere

Puffin Books, 2014 (UK). Sourcebooks, 2015 (US)

This is Max.

Max the Brave, Max the Fearless, Max the Mouse-catcher…But, in order to be a Mouse-catcher, Max needs to know what a mouse is, so off he goes to find out.

With that cover and jacket copy, Mo Willem and Oliver Jeffers fans are already intrigued: go with your gut: find yourself a copy of this picture book.

I was charmed almost immediately, but Max the Brave still caught me by surprise. Vere is the master of the long joke and finessed an unexpected twist along the way. The close is a satisfying one that had me laughing, even later, just thinking about it.

I dig the color palette. The appeal of Vere’s decisions with Max at so many levels cannot go without saying. He makes this book an easy recommendation beyond sheer entertainment. For instance, I’m geeked about the vocabulary. The verbs used are glorious. And they make sense in that these are things mice do. Unsurprisingly, Max is focused on the nature of mice…and cats, of course…and monsters.

While I wouldn’t limit Max the Brave to the present Autumnal/Halloween season, it is a good read to indulge in with your self and maybe another younger reader/listener.

Recommendations: For fans of the aforementioned Mo Willems and Oliver Jeffers; also Jon Klassen, Mac Barnett, Alex Latimer, Molly Idle. Emerging readers. Word lovers. Those who appreciate beautiful comedic timing.

{images belong to Ed Vere}

rip10500A Reader’s Imbibing Peril (RIP) X read….

 

"review" · Children's · concenter · Picture book · recommend

{picture book} wonder-full

Just in time for a baby shower gift, one of my favorites (I have a print on my wall) came out with a new book: not that I wouldn’t have gifted the recently released board book version of Dream Animals (my review).

The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin 

Random House, 2015.

Emily Windfield Martin’s latest opens with:

When I look at you

And you look at me,

I wonder what wonderful

Things you will be.

before the narrator begins to speculate what this new child will be. Later in the book, the reader will wonder aloud as to what the child will do:

This is the first time

There has ever been a you,*

So I wonder what wonderful things

You will do.

There are some things that will go without wondering. There are some things the narrator knows about the child, can anticipate.

I know you’ll be kind…

and clever…

The sentiments are more than wonderful and I had a customer (an aunt buying for a niece) admit to becoming verklempt before hugging it to her chest and walking toward the registers with it. Natalya is still in a stage of deep-sighing when I hand her sentimental things like this to read. Fortunately, there is humor; also, she has a fondness for Martin’s art as well.

I love love love the words and pictures on the spread where a boy sitting at a sewing machine holds up tiny pants for a squirrel. Natalya recommends the one below, the one with the band (which Martin admits is a favorite).

The Wonderful Things You Will Be has a page that reads:

When nights are black and

When days are gray—

You’ll be brave and be bright

So no shadows can stay.

The image is a girl in a red coat, hood back, contemplating the red balloon stuck in the branches of a tree at the edge of a wood.

I think the endpapers are pretty sweet, too.

I mentioned the male tailor, but Martin always features a diverse population unusual to most picture books. I adore the details and I love the charmingly peculiar she includes in her books, though it makes sense if you consider successfully writing for an audience with such charming peculiarities within their own imaginations. Martin is well-suited to picture book creating.

The Wonderful Things You Will Be is a lovely, serious yet playful addition to the family library. You can’t start too young with this one, nor can you out-grow it.

——

of note: Martin fans will recognize and smile at the appearance of the Kitten Bandit among others. also, fans, check out RandomHouse’s cool little option to send e-cards!

If I’d done some real planning, I would have hunted down a red/white striped footie-pjs to pair with the book.

*a line reminiscent of Nancy Tillman books of the same genre. I’m pleased to have word-choice and image aesthetic options in these books.

{All images are Emily Winfield Martin’s; do check out her work at ‘the black apple’. You can see great spreads of the book here.}

 

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · comics/graphic novels · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · short story

{comic} BFFs

little robot cover

Little Robot by Ben Hatke

First Second, 2015.

Advanced Reader Copy (thank you First Second/Net Galley) in exchange for a fair review.

When a little girl finds an adorable robot in the woods, she presses a button and accidentally activates him for the first time. Now, she finally has a friend. But the big, bad robots are coming to collect the little guy for nefarious purposes, and it’s all up to a five-year-old armed only with a wrench and a fierce loyalty to her mechanical friend to save the day!–Publisher’s comments

LittleRobot-combined-100-25

As observed of his Zita Spacegirl series “Hatke does really good robots—seriously, spaceships, gear, and really great robots.”* So when I heard First Second was publishing his Little Robot, I was super geeked.

little robot 43

Little Robot is deceptively simple in presentation. Unlined panels, a lot of white space, silence for pages, uncluttered or uncomplicated compositions. The first text is “tap,” a sound effect on page 25. The first spoken text is on 27. The story is quiet yet brimming with expression. The reader is like the cat licking the robot, there is an initial zing, as well as a residual. We cannot remain unaffected.

little robot 45

Like other Hatke heroines we’ve met, this little girl is beautifully determined and resourceful. She is alone and capable, lonely and courageous, and likes it that way. What is awesome about the story: its point is not whether the little girl will prove acceptable or not when human children arrive at the end of the book. When the human children do arrive, she runs off with her already true friend, the little robot she fought so hard to befriend/rescue. True, she needed a friend–and she’d found one.

Little Robot is very much a story of daring, of tenacity, of not letting a monster robot get in the way of a friendship you’ve invested in, one you’ve been waiting for.

The subject of life and death is hardly subtle, and in that way, it is accessible. The Little Robot is as animated and unnamed as the Little Human protagonist. They also seem to be subject to a greater machine at work, one that leaves her to her own devices, sneaking into the yards of others’ to play—an older white male watching her from the window. What is equally left unsaid is whether the man is malevolent. “ROM!” takes on a different affect at the end of the story after the mechanism is re-adjusted, can we infer the same of its human counterpart (if said man is, in fact, its counterpart?); Industry is.

I love the juxtaposition of Machine and Nature. I love the delightful experiences of those a forming friendship. I love that the last image brings to mind Castle in the Sky (Miyazaki, 1986)… Hatke is artful in his use of of panel, in the reaches across. He is judicious in breaking the reverie of the image with text. He’s playful. And he writes the best female characters and their adventures in such a way that it makes it difficult to understand just how rare their portrayals and their settings actually are.

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Ben Hatke’s work is worth the anticipation it builds, not just the robots, but the girls, their adventures, their courage, their heart. I can’t wait to meet his next adventure, but in the meantime, I’ll indulge a few re-reads.

——-

recommendations: emerging readers through grade-school, and adults. STEM kids, and artists. Those needing greater diversity in their library/repertoire. lovers of robot art.

*Legends of Zita Spacegirl review. Here is one for Zita Spacegirl.

{images belong to Ben Hatke}

"review" · Children's · comics/graphic novels · recommend · Tales

{picture book} Hatke’s creatures

JuliasHouseJulia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke

First Second 2014.

When Julia’s house finds a new place to settle, she puts a sign out for lost creatures to combat her own sense of loneliness. But now a new conflict has arisen and a list of chores is her solution.

Ben Hatke, whom we have long since learned is a genius with young heroines and illustrated robots, impresses with his more earthbound whimsy. Julia’s house is charming and its inhabitants excite the imagination—and the fine digressions into lore.

Julia's Home for Lost Creatures II

julias house for lost creatures 2

The color palette, style, energy (I do love Julia’s hair)…Hatke manages a delightful picture book that is sweetly entertaining. And what caregiver will be able to resist a conversation on the way we can participate more harmoniously as family?—which is how we talk chores in our own creature-filled household. A lesson (besides “look at the mermaid doing the dishes, sweetie!”) that I appreciated was Julia’s understanding of her own limitations and abilities; which seem to frequent Hatke’s work. The house is too quiet, she opts for hospitality; it becomes too much for her, she asks for help. Hatke’s heroines are a resourceful lot. I was totally geeked to see Julia had a workshop.

Oh, and if you were a bit bummed by the idea that one of Hatke’s robots would not make an appearance? You’ll find a lovely invention there at the end.

julia's house chores

Julia’s House for Lost Creatures is a great little book about community. It is also a great place to join Hatke in the workings of the imagination. I look forward to what Hatke will have for us next. (another Zita??).

 ———–

Not to be categorized as girls only and it spans a good age range. I’m thinking about this one for a storytime and encourage listeners to draw their own creature (and what chore would suit them best?). You should also take this book as a hint to check out Zita Spacegirl if you’ve yet done so.

Hatke did a blog tour called “Ben Hatke’s Bestiary of Lost Creatures” that may interest you.

 {images belong to Ben Hatke}

"review" · Children's · comics/graphic novels · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · Tales

{comic} revealed

Hidden : A Child’s Story of the Holocaust

Written by Loïc Dauvillier; Illustrated by Marc Lizano

Color by Greg Salsedo; Translated from the French by Alexis Siegel

First Second Books, 2014.

Ages 6-10; Grades 1-5.

 Encouraged to talk about her evident sadness, a grandmother shares her memories long hidden about her experience as a child in 1942 Paris. Opening in the late hours of evening (the dark) in the privacy of a home, steeped in themes of hiding and silence, the novel will eventually affect a catharsis that moves the reader to compassion and tears. And yet, it will be a story the reader will loathe to tuck away and forget.

The continual exchange between grandmother and granddaughter Elsa escapes the contrived as the young Elsa struggles to understand how a young Dounia Cohen’s life is upended by the horror of a mass eradication of Jews in Paris. Elsa alongside Dounia wonders at the lies adults will tell, the sudden cruelty of her neighbors or their heroics, the loss of a parent, the importance of a courageous community. The gently told story does not skirt the horror and sorrow. The portrayal of the injustice Jews and their sympathizers faced honors the intellect of a grade-schooler. The sequences are those Hidden’s young audience would understand, the fear and heartache of losing their parents, schoolroom humiliations, inexplicable displays public violence… They will find contemporary relevance in subjects of honesty, loyalty, identity, bullying, and loss. I was struck by how contemporary the novel makes the holocaust–how present. I was moved by the silence after that final narrative line at the bottom of page 68; how its said into the quiet; how Elsa sleeps in innocence.

One of the marvels of Diary of Anne Frank is how the reader connects with her youth. Elsa’s sympathies reflect her youthful audience. Dounia as young and old help them cope. She is the wise grandmother and the child witness. She shows fear and regret and incredible courage. The story reinforces what is right and good without the heavy-handed messaging.

Dauvillier understands the power of the oral historian in couching his story. He creates a connection to the present and the past not only through a framework and a paced movement from one to the other, but in reemphasizing the connections visually. Elsa is the unfreckled version of her grandmother when young. And while the story is told, Elsa is safe in the arms of the older Dounia/Simone. Hidden closes out of doors in the daylight in a tender exchange of reconciliation that forgives the silence and celebrates sharing the unspeakable.

I admit to being uncertain about the art when the book first came out, and I did find following the text a bit tricky at first. I appreciate, however, the accessibility of the cartoon work. Lizano manages the expressive without unbalancing the gentility in the narrative. He provides meaningful settings even when the image shouldn’t be rendered in anything more than words. He provides meaningful renderings when the language for child-audiences are inadequate. A lot of frames are close-ups, emphasizing subjectivity and a sympathy with the character and situation. The viewer is just as often cast as an observer of distances and emptiness, of the foreign. Lizano and Salsedo are fearless with darkening tints and shadows.

 

I was deeply impressed by Hidden. It approaches a difficult narrative with a caution that does not underestimate its young readership*. It leaves an impression that is empowering and interventionist, rather than crippling—an impression not only meant for the youngest of us.

Hidden would be a great graphic novel for intergenerational story time, and I shouldn’t think it only for educational venues or historic commemorations. Put this one on the any-day shelf.

——–

*something I see more in translated European texts.

{images belong to Marc Lizano}

"review" · Children's · comics/graphic novels · fiction · mystery · Picture book · recommend · Tales

{picture/book} rules of summer

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan. Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic) 2013.

 “Never break the rules. Especially, if you don’t understand them.”–back cover copy.

Rules of Summer, in its most simplified description, is about two brothers’ summer adventures. The story is told by Shaun Tan so there is the surreal and the incredible wordless impact of his imagery. Fans of Tan’s work should already have the book read or on their radar. If you don’t know Tan (for whatever reason), you may begin here.

“This is what I learned last summer” is how the story begins. And it is fair to assume the voice is that of the younger brother, but as the story progresses there are moments where the elder might have inspired a new rule as well. As it is, each of the double-page spreads “tells of an event and the lesson learned*.” And as the publisher also observes, “By turns, these events become darker and more sinister.”

Like the past tense framing of the story alludes, some rules aren’t realized until after they are broken. We understand how much is left unknown and unspoken and the genius of the book is how much it reflects these notions. There is a very very clever brain behind all the beauty on the page.

I mentioned surreal, and indeed there is a strangeness to the realist settings, but there is also a surreality to the story itself. The dark and the whimsical coincide, the summery tones in the color also have texture, and it opens with a more ominous tone than it closes.

Rules of Summer also opens on the title page with the younger running; you can practically hear him calling out to his elder brother not to leave him behind. His older brother doesn’t leave him behind—which is terribly important to the narrative. The summer ends and the sun is setting outside the darkening room where the boys watch television together and the walls hold drawings that commemorate their adventures.

The books dedication reads “for the little and the big,” which is precisely who it is for. Also, a good book for brothers and for people who have a folkloric imagination.

—–

*Would be amusing to take a double-page spread and try to write a story that would inspire that image.

{images belong to Shaun Tan; read more about the book via Tan’s site, here}

—–

read in participation w/ #Diversiverseamdu150

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend

{book} mirrors

Zetta Elliott offered a free copy of her book to interested reviewers. Please do not believe that I proceeded to read and review The Magic Mirror with bias. If you’ve spent any real length of time here on ‘omphaloskepsis’, you know I’m a fair and balanced reviewer, but I felt it should be clarified nonetheless.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000419_00052]The Magic Mirror

By Zetta Elliott, Illustrated by Paul Melecky

Rosetta Press, 2014.

“When a boy at school hurts Kamara’s feelings, she goes home and asks her grandmother if the mean words are really true. Gramma tells Kamara to go upstairs and clean the old mirror in the guest room. But when Kamara starts to rub the glass, she discovers that the mirror is magical! Kamara sees brave women from the past who faced many challenges yet never gave up hope. When the historical journey ends in the twenty-first century, the mirror once again shows Kamara her own reflection. She sheds her self-doubt and instead draws strength from the courage of the women she met in the magic mirror.” publisher’s copy.

It would be tempting to only promote The Magic Mirror as a more-than-suitable accompaniment to a grade-schooler’s studies of African American History.* Elliott captures a great deal in those shifting portraits through time. I can already imagine children choosing a portrait to expound on for the class, or as a personal project to learn more about a time witnessed.

However, more should be said about its personal impact. Elliott lays the groundwork in the opening pages, the timelessness of a soul. Despite the difficulties of aging, “grandma hasn’t changed inside” (2). She has a vitality and Kamara describes her as a safe place. What Kamara comes to see in the mirror is her legacy. She sees in the mirror courageous women exemplifying perseverance, hope and determination.

Not all of the historical reflections are easy to confront. Elliott buoys the text by anchoring the scenes upon the women she wants Kamara (and the reader) to see and know. They lend their courage to face, endure and overcome to Kamara (and reader). After one sequence, Kamara recognizes that “though they are trying to humiliate her, they have not touched her soul” (24). More, Elliott wants Kamara (and the reader) to know that these women live on. Kamara takes strength in what she’s learned in the magic mirror; which for the reader is the book.** “I stare at my reflection and see traces of the brave and beautiful women from my past. I know their pride, courage, and determination are still alive in me” (30).

Elliott’s story escapes the sentimental in its declarative voice. Hers is an extremely powerful use of the first person narrative, “I stare,” “see,” and “I know.” Kamara has heard some “hard words” from a boy at school, but what she’s seen and knows to be true is there to sustain her; like the relationships where her grandma and mother provide safe, empowering, loving homes from which to become.

The Magic Mirror is the first person narrative of Kamara’s struggle, journey and discovery, but I get the feeling hers is one that can be shared. The Magic Mirror, like the most precious of books, can be a safe, empowering, loving home to inspire one to become hopeful and courageous–to know they are beautiful.

I’ve a fond wish for readers to find less academic reasons for The Magic Mirror.* I imagine children (and adults) looking in mirrors and seeking out the stories that make them proud and that speak of a timeless beauty born of courage, hope, and determination—stories not unlike The Magic Mirror.

——————–

A word on the illustrations by Paul Melecky: I feel sure I would have called the scenes captured in the mirror as “portraits,” but the illustrations are framed stills, color shaped by loose lines that grant the images movement (and thus life); too, are those facial expressions. The illustrations hold the story and historical moment as complexly as Elliott describes them, creating a wonderful partnership between author and illustration.

All of the illustrations are of the mirror. It’s of interest that the story begins with an illustration of Kamara looking in the mirror, but does not close with another one her as her legacy dawns on her. Instead we are left with the last image of a young woman in graduation robes embraced by family. “One day I will go to college, too” (30), Kamara knows, confident in the pathway since created for her. What is left for Kamara and the reader to imagine is: what scene will be played out for future generations looking in that magic mirror. It isn’t a question of what legacy she will leave, but what moment in her life might exemplify that which still lives in her.

——————–

*this is not to say I wouldn’t love public, school, and classroom libraries to stock copies of this one–I just want to avoid the party line that this is one that will educate; which it will, but it is also quite moving.

**Rudine Sims Bishop’s essay “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” came to mind as I read The Magic Mirror, “Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation.”

recommendations: obviously this is a powerful book for girls, but I wouldn’t restrict this to gender lines, nor racial either. Both the writing and book length are excellent for younger readers up through the grade school years. It would be cool to have print-outs of the mirror to encourage writing/illustrating our own legacies of courage, or imagine a present/future scene wherein the reader can describe themselves.