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

no shambling zombies here

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Ten: Zombelina by Kristyn Crow, illustrated by Molly Idle

Walker Books (Bloomsbury), 2013.

zombelinacoverEven the undead have dreams and Zombelina’s family would see hers realized. They decide to enroll her in ballet lessons with living girls, one of whom seems to have a delightfully weak stomach. Zombelina practices her way through the demi-plies and chasses she learns from Madame Maladroit (nice name for a ballet instructor/studio owner). The night of the recital finds Zombelina dead in her tracks, stage-frightened she becomes inadvertently frightening, and soon her solo act finds all the audience she needs to shine—her family.


This is a good book for your young performer’s jitters. And that the rhymes are smart and entertaining shouldn’t hurt any child reader/listener either. The illustrations compliment the sweetness and charm of Crow’s text. Idle has already demonstrated her skill composing elegant lines for the dancer’s grace and poise in Flora and the Flamingo; she does no less in Zombelina. Zombelina is cute, her amputations likewise. I really enjoyed the details Idle brings to the story: the family portraits are hysterical, the arm from under the table which is actually a casket, and the foot; the girl looking to vomit when Zombelina extends her leg at the bar; the bored sibling in the recital audience; the monster under the bed as Zombelina “dead tired” rests in peace clutching her black roses.


Zombelina is fittingly pretty and girlish and pleasantly dark. Zombelina isn’t Wednesday Adams, but neither is she Fancy Nancy. Crow and Idle’s book would have been an easy purchase for Natalya when she was still small and spinning about the house to the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack (who am I kidding, she still does this at 13).

Do not leave this one only for Halloween.


{images belong to Molly Idle}

See yesterday’s Illustrator Spotlight for two more books illustrated by Molly Idle

"review" · fiction · horror/scary · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

{book} mister creecher

Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley

Bloomsbury (2011).

The most successful read is to go in without synopsis or review; that said, it is still really good anticipating a few things as well.

Billy is a street urchin, a pickpocket, and a petty thief. Mister Creecher is a giant of a man whose appearance terrifies everyone he meets. Their relationship begins as a matter of convenience. But before long, a bond develops between these two misfits as they embark on a bloody journey that will take them from London northward on the trail of their target . . . Doctor Victor Frankenstein. It seems the good doctor had promised Mister Creecher a bride, and Mister Creecher will stop at nothing to get what he’s been promised. Nothing.

Perfect for fans of horror novels, this frightening new book from Chris Priestley reinvents a classic literary monster for a new generation of readers.—publisher’s comments

Mister Creecher is being pitched as a gateway drug to the classics—and it should be pitched as such.* Familiarity with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist deepens the impression of awe with what Priestley is doing here in Mister Creecher. He creates more than a mash-up of Dickens and Shelley, but an intersection; less a reinvention or re-imagination but acts more of an imaginer alongside these two great literary texts. He fills in some blanks in the creation of his own monster story.

Mister Creecher would have been a failure, however precious the attempt if not for Priestley’s caliber of writing. He is not new to the horror genre. He has had readers peeing their pants from horror and delight for a while now. He can keep up with Shelley and Dickens. I had only read his short stories with the heavy thread that he employs in his Tales of Terror series so I was curious how he did in sustaining character and atmosphere at length. He is painfully consistent, by the way.

Billy is a bit of a — difficult one. And while charming in the way rebellious boys on the streets can be in literature, nobility does not come easy, if at all; which we are unused to in our young people stories today. The bond that develops between Mister Creecher and Billy is hard-won even though their mutual need is fairly evident from the beginning. And note that absence of the word friendship in the publisher’s synopsis. Friendship is an uneasy word, and the search for an easier word to describe the two’s relationship is part of what makes the book so marvelous.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein there are spans of time where the creature is away, having run off and then waiting, waiting for the doctor to construct a bride so he won’t be alone. What was going on with the created while Shelley contemplated the creator? Priestley wonders, too, and so he writes. We spy on Frankenstein (with Henry Clerval) as he travels because Mister Creecher has made arrangements with Billy to watch and follow the doctor and his companion as they tour London and beyond, moving northward toward a final confrontation between–?–. Priestley minds the intersections and holds fast to his characterization of Frankenstein’s monster. Those familiar with Frankenstein know the inevitable and Priestley uses this to enhance that forboding, that sweet anticipation of collision. And for those unfamiliar with where Frankenstein’s dilemma culminates, the dilemma Billy gnaws on for the sake of the reader (and his own characterization)? They are hardly short-changed as Priestley manages horror of diverse types and multiple levels. There is also the part where the two’s company is ever being tested, moving toward a culminating decision that you can bet holds some heartbreak and some horrifying revelations (and results).

I believe this book is recommended 12 & up and that makes sense as Billy age 11/12 and streetwise to the world wonders about anatomy and sexuality and procreation, though hardly gratuitously (e.g. “He had no navel,” 298); the older audience will get how the wonderings play thematically/philosophically. Priestley also includes things Frankenstein thinks about, transporting its observations into Mister Creecher’s own, like Billy noting how Mister Creecher looked like he might have been made beautiful before animation took hold of his features.

Mister Creecher is a lovely lovely character whom Priestley does not rob of some pretty terrible aspects. But any compassion gifted adds to the reader’s torment, and Billy’s, and this works to illustrate the struggles Mister Creecher wrestles with, as well as its reference materials. Yet for all the references that add weight and texture, this really is Priestley’s creation and Mister Creecher sees it through to its own ends. Ends that should have reader’s looking for other endings—and other beginnings.

A benefit of even a passing familiarity with Oliver Twist is the dread it brings, that dawning horror as clues begin to shed subtlety nearing the end of the book. Confirmation is the cold bit of ice to the spine and that churn in the stomach you’d hoped to avoid. Then you realize that you’ve been mourning the boy Billy was throughout the book and not in these final pages alone. Those unfamiliar are in for an unsuspected horror as they crack the pages of Dickens’ classic, not that Priestley doesn’t offer a blood-soaked taste of him first.

There is a complexity to that which horrifies us and I like Priestley’s implementation and exploration of it. I like the focus on companionship and the relationships that shape us. I like how he could make me feel sad, and hopeful though I am a bit pissed he couldn’t change some endings there… Priestley does creepy really well, which involves knowing just when to relent and allow a peek of sunshine which serve a breather even if only to cast the deeper shadows to come. His pacing pulls the reader in deeper even as one really should look away. Christ Priestley in Mister Creecher creates dread and dreadful anticipation that is so very very beautiful.


*I adore the inclusion of the character, Bradbury whose stage name in the carnival of freaks is “The Illustrated Man.” It is a gorgeous use of Ray Bradbury’s story, too (p268)—very haunting actually (279). There are many references in keeping with the novel’s themes and its historical period with meetings of actual historical persons (to include Mr. and Mrs. Shelley packing for their move to Italy; a Mr. [Pen] Browning (the son of famous Browning parents (?), etc), also reading works available at the time, like Jane Austen novels and poems by Keats and Coleridge, as well as paintings/artists of that inclination.

of note: the author offers a note about Shelley and Dickens. It would be great for an accompanying glossary of reference, a bibliography. Must see if there is one.

a good R.eader’s I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) read


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

{book} freckleface strawberry

DAY 15

Freckleface Strawberry by Julianne Moore

illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Bloomsbury, 2007.

I reviewed sequels Strawberry Freckleface before and was pleased to find that the Library happened to have the first on the shelf to read. Whichever book in the series you pick up first, just be sure to pick up the others. These are not some quaint little foray by a celebrity into picture books. Moore is good and she and Uyen make a great team.

If you have freckles, you can try these things:

1.) Make them go away. Unless scrubbing doesn’t work.
2.) Cover them up. Unless your mom yells at you for using a marker.
3.) Disappear. Um, where’d you go? Oh, there you are.

There’s one other thing you can do:


Because after all, the things that make you different also make you YOU.

From acclaimed actress Julianne Moore and award-winning illustrator LeUyen Pham comes a delightful story of a little girl who’s different…just like everybody else.—jacket copy.

A little girl aka Strawberry Freckleface shares similarities with her playmates, but she also has differences. And it is a difference within her family, too; and though her baby brother has freckles, “he was just a baby.” It would be one thing if the difference aka the freckles did not invite comments from people and make her feelso different. But trying to get rid of them draws unwanted attention as well. And hiding? well, hiding her freckles means making herself unrecognizable and the little girl did not care for this option either. It was uncomfortable—and she was missed! “Who cared about having a million freckles when she had a million friends?” She comes to learn that she is just going to have to embrace the fact that she has freckles—even if it does make her unusual among her friends and family.

Freckleface Strawberry would be good for the len’tiginous one in the family, but it works with any visible or less visible difference, because the jacket copy has it right, Freckleface Strawberry is “delightful story of a little girl who’s different…just like everybody else.” Julianne Moore sets up the story for the reader/listener to understand how similarities and differences work, even if the little girl herself is still going through the process of learning her lesson: how differences come about can be mysterious, and they vary, and while awkward at times, it isn’t always terrible to be unusual, actually it is quite normal.

The very talented illustrator LeUyen Pham is not without her own valuable contributions of course. Besides translating a vivacious red-head with freckles into energetic visuals, she populates the pages with children who sport their own obvious and sometimes more subtle differences. A tall boy says she looks like a giraffe while a shorter boy corrects the simile by referencing her own short height. A boy in a green space suit (?) asks if he can smell her freckles—and if that isn’t weird… There is a set of identical twins. There are different colors of skin and hair, shapes of facial features and bodies. There are differing abilities and personalities—and capturing their personality is all Uyen.

Freckleface Strawberry is humorous and smart. It makes no promises that the whatever it is that makes you unique or stand-out is going to “go away a little” or that it will garner less attention or that you will stop wishing to be a little less unusual. In Freckleface Strawberry, what promise can be found is in how a change in perspective can make all difference better.

{images belong to LeUyen Pham}

"review" · Children's · concenter · Illustrator · Picture book · poet-related · recommend

{illustrator} LeUyen Pham (pt 2)

Yesterday I posted a bit of what I learned about LeUyen Pham. Today I am looking at a few of the picture books she illustrated.

A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play by Marilyn Singer (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012).

Marilyn Singer, a renowned poet, offers 18 poems involving outdoor play with games like double-dutch, hop-scotch, monkey in the middle, and swinging on the swings. What I loved was how this is not a collection of poems that excludes the urban landscape with its expanse of pavement, sidewalks, stoops, and diverse population. The poems vary, and some were more difficult for me to read aloud than others (more to do w/ my pronunciation, no doubt). My favorite poem was “Upside Down” and the book closes rather sweetly with “Stargazing.”

The images echo the energy in the poems; there is always movement. The skin tones are warm and the clothes vibrant against the colorful backdrops which project the idea of landscape onto the children themselves. They are where the action, the creativity, the relationships take place. They are unleashed upon the out-of-doors, walking on edges (in “Edges”) and running and chasing and crashing (in “Really Fast”). There is something classic in the images, old Golden Books come to mind. I’m not sure how intentional this is, but it is brings a certain nostalgia for old school outdoor play and the carefree summers running about the neighborhood (or ‘hood in “Hopscotch”) with your friends. But as the reviewer for School Library Journal points out, LeUyen Pham gives the book a modern seasoning to its nostalgia eliminating the all-white cast and putting girls on skateboards and placing jump-ropes in boys’ hands. Although, no one seems interested in demystifying the hopscotch fascination with girls.

[stick rumpus]

I noticed the lack of scrapes or band-aids, and Library School Journal questions the cleanliness and glow of the imagery in the illustrations and poetry. Monkey in the Middle can be fair, and splashing in the gutters isn’t a health hazard. The spirit of it is good though, and will no doubt be avoided by helicopter parents. I am hoping that librarians are putting this one on the end-caps and at eye-level, maybe above a nice pile of sticks.

A fantastic review by School Library Journal.


Once Around the Sun: Poems by Bobbi Katz (Harcourt Books, 2006)

In her 12 poems dedicated to each month on the calendar, Bobbi Katz subjects seasonal objects to personification in the most delightful ways. My favorite poem, and the first, “January” wishes the “sled would stop whispering “one more time” and once—just once—pull you back up that hill! The poems and the illustrations bring people together. “Grandma tells you how each spring she falls in love with the world all over again—and you understand” (“April”). It is multi-cultural, multi-generational, mult-geographical (love the urban inclusions) experience.


I enjoyed how in Marilyn Singer’s A Stick is an Excellent Thing, LeUyen Pham uses a cast of characters throughout, but I also enjoy her following a boy who has a little sister and a mom and dad and a dog and a grandmother) through Once Around the Sun. The child-oriented contemplations of the months and what they mean or bring seem suited to a singular character. The choice also allows for the illustrator to adapt the mood each poem brings more readily. The little boy becomes a thread and a joy.

see the story in this textless image that accompanies “September” on the facing page? New backpack being noticed, crisp clean (new) white shirt (that won’t say that way)…

I adore the color-work, and while it has a tinge of nostalgia, Katz and Pham are creating a sentimentality all their own, and in the present.


{from Freckleface Strawberry: Best Friends Forever}

Freckleface Strawberry was checked out so I ended up with two of the following books. LeUyen Pham told “Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast,” this about the experience:

Freckleface Strawberry (Bloomsbury Books), by Julianne Moore […] was great to do. Julie apparently was sent several artists’ work to select from, and she loved the book Big Sister, Little Sister I had done a couple years ago. She’s the sweetest person, and really let me go at it with the character. In fact, she even asked me to cover the little girl in freckles — initially, I was shy about putting too many dots on her! Contrary to popular opinion, I never saw pictures of Julie as a child. My editor and Julie were pretty adamant about the fact that the character should just come from my imagination. I was pretty surprised afterward to discover that the little girl I had drawn looks almost exactly like Julie’s daughter!”

Freckleface Strawberry and the Dodgeball Bully by Julianne Moore (Bloomsbury, 2009).

This is one of those rare bully stories these days where the bully isn’t actually a bully. Much of the mistaken identity is attributed to the power of the imagination—perceiving the big strong kid as a bully and the dodgeball as something that is out to seriously harm you. –but isn’t it though? We had mornings where Natalya felt the same kind of dread, hoping against all odds they would not be playing dodgeball. The book does not downplay the existence of bullies or monsters or even fear, and it doesn’t downplay the role of the imagination on a person’s life.

Freckleface Strawberry’s thought the ball would hurt, and had avoided play with Windy Pants Patrick. She also thought she could become a monster, practicing her role at the back while the game was being played. She imagined herself to be strong and fierce and agile. The power of the imagination can work for and against you.

The story has some lovely rhythmic moments. The sentences are as declarative as the expressions on Freckleface Strawberry’s face—no, her whole body. LeUyen Pham fluidly sketches a distinct personality into the character. There is this beautiful moment where Freckleface Strawberry is curled into herself a bit in dread, and in some memory of a wince—already anticipating the sting of the ball. She hadn’t left the house yet. I don’t know if the Monster is in previous books, but I adore its appearance here. Her imagination is projected into a looming shadow of a Monster behind her, echoing her movements—until at last it goes to tip-toe away, anxious, too, about Windy Pants Patrick and the dodgeball. With Moore’s dramatic tension and Pham’s ability to create dimension we arrive at the moment of truth with the same sentiment to which Freckleface Strawberry comes—“Oh!” I love learning the lessons alongside the character, and Moore plays off common misperceptions and worry well to deliver a nice turn. Pham artfully brings the inner workings to the page. It is a lovely partnership.

Freckleface Strawberry: Best Friends Forever by Julianne Moore (Bloomsbury, 2011).

First thoughts: Could this book be any sweeter? I love it. Windy Pants Patrick is back as Freckleface Strawberry’s best friend. The other kids thought they were too different to be best friends, let alone friends. So even though it was their differences (from others) that brought them together (both being odd sizes, having nicknames, and families who love them, loving to read and eat lunch), their differences viewed differently, however, could keep them apart. Classic scenarios where boys don’t play with girls and vice versa ala “boys stink.” Each gender and height and interest and family make-up has its own place—so they really don’t have enough in common. Except they do. And it is a nice aspect to the story how they drift apart and drift back together again. While the reader/listener understands social dynamics and has probably witnessed or experienced the story themselves, we are rooting for the friendship—and likely inspired.

The story feels too real to be message-y. It is another snapshot from Freckleface Strawberry’s life and again it just resonates. I would have loved to have read these to N when she was younger. Moore and Pham offer very relevant, if not strictly entertaining work. Fortunately, Natalya isn’t too grown-up to read picture books and found Freckleface Strawberry charming and fun—and familiar.

The presentation of the book is fun and colorful, but not overwhelming—simply stated and straightforward in language and illustration; and yet the texture is there. While Pham provides more color and setting, I thought about Ian Falconer’s Olivia and how much of an impact an inked figure of a pig in a tutu could have. There is no mistaking the driving force in the text and images in either Olivia or Freckleface Strawberry.


LeUyen Pham’s site.

{All images belong to her and their respective publishers}

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · mystery · sci-fi/fantasy

{book} the magic half

Fairy tales and science fiction* make the odd pairing in The Magic Half. Magic makes the time-travel easier—at least to explain, anyway. And The Magic Half may be a nice introduction to time-travelling for the younger set; as well as serve as a reminder of the perils of being a sibling, an orphan, and/or living in 1935.

Miri is a single child in the middle of a family with two sets of twins–older brothers and younger sisters. When the family moves to an old farmhouse, Miri travels back in time to 1935 and discovers Molly, a girl in need of a family to call her own.~publisher’s comment

Siblings will quickly recognize and empathize with Miri, and while the mother is loving, she is stern enough to set the angst in motion. Sent to her room in the attic of their new old farmhouse, Miri finds a portal that sends her backward in time to 1935, within the same room, that is then occupied by a girl of the same age. Molly claims it is the work of fairies, and indeed, she is of a lineage of fairies, so she would know. Miri doesn’t know what it is, but if she ever wants to go home again, she better find out.

Molly’s home-life complicates the adventure of Miri’s search for a way home–even as it facilitates the return. The problem is Horst, Molly’s cousin who truly is a terrifying figure. He is abusive to Molly in ways the author restrains, while still making Miri (and Reader) feel rescue is imperative. Fortunately, Miri is a clever girl and works out how she was able to travel through time. Which creates a new problem to solve. How to maintain the time-stream, so as nothing major is changed to interrupt the loop.

Magic steps aside for a thoughtful construction of consequences, and “we’re running out of time, hurry before something irreversible happens!” steps up the pacing of the novel. Plotting and Panic are in carefully balanced to create the puzzle and propulsion. Yes, today’s review is brought to you by the letter “p.”

By fretful end, both the intellectual and emotional, Magic makes its return to ease that troublesome finale. The question of that final hour? What will the mother of 5 do with the addition of another? I think I was so relieved everything worked out, I didn’t want to puzzle out that twist. Time travel is fairly exhausting.

As gifted as Barrows was at infusing this story with personality and plausible explanation, I was a bit disappointed by the summation: “Magic is just a way of setting things right.” Like Miri, I “didn’t really know what it meant, but it made [me] feel better” (191). Sure, it took wits and guts on Miri and Molly’s part throughout this adventure, but in the end, Magic was a necessary ingredient to make it all shine–for them and the novel. The Magic Half infuses a sense of sweetness and optimism into the otherwise dire hopelessness of both Miri’s and (especially) Molly’s lives. I suppose, sometimes big interventions do feel like magic. I know I wouldn’t mind a few magic lenses and a fairy grandmother.


recommendation: primarily girls, ages 8-12. The peril and the concepts may be too old for 6/7 crowd. The novel creates a nice intersection for lovers of either Historical, Mystery, Fantasy, and/or Science Fiction (however light). Is a reasonable precursor to the wondermous YA novel Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer.

of note: Both girls wear glasses (which is key to the plot) but neither sport them on this otherwise cute cover, which is disappointing. a quote that isn’t disappointing: “I think [ghosts are] more like echoes of people who aren’t there anymore.” […] “Grandma May said something like that once. […] She said that some places can hold on to the past. In some places, everything that ever happened there is still happening, but just an echo of it” (55).


*I asked Carl V. this; Sean and I have discussed this: “Is time-travel an element of sci-fi even in fantasy or hist fic? or is it a free-for-all?” Carl’s reply: “Hard core SF fans will argue about this, but I always consider it a sci-fi element.” and we kinda think it is, too. Chime in at will.


The Magic Half  by Annie Barrows : Bloomsbury, 2008. hardcover, 211 pages.

Annie Barrows is the author of the beloved Ivy+Bean series with illustrator Sophie Blackall, so I checked out Ms. Barrows’ solo middle grade novel effort from the Library. 

"review" · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · series · Tales

tales of terror from the black ship

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship

by Chris Priestly

Illustrations by David Roberts

Bloomsbury, 2008.

Hardcover, 243 pages

I will never look at snails the same way again. –Thank You Chris Priestly for adding another neurosis, and Thank You Carl V. for the book recommendation.

I am not one who boasts a fearlessness when opening a book of scary stories meant for children. I’ve learned my lesson, but I didn’t think Priestly’s Tales of Terror from the Black Ship was going to get me, especially after the mysterious Thackeray’s first tale. Sticking with the read I was eventually rewarded by becoming both grossed out and properly horrified. It is my fondest wish that after reading this book, you will feel the same.

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship is a collection of scary stories set at sea, or involving the sea-faring. The stories are woven into a narrative involving a boy, Ethan, and his younger sister, Cathy, who are left ailing and alone at the family Inn while their father is fetching medicine for them. A stranger comes and due to the fierceness of the storm outside, they feel obliged to let him stay until it passes. Thackeray is a suspicious figure, but he keeps the morbid children entertained with stories of the macabre (their favorite). Between tales, the interactions between characters create a growing sense of unease. It doesn’t help either that the stories themselves become increasingly scary. And after Thackeray has finished his last tale for the evening, there is yet one more tale of terror to be finished, it had been drawing itself out.

The tale I found the most delicious in sensation? The Scrimshaw Imp. The Monkey had me laughing in that hysterical way; nice, and terrifying. Nature and The Boy in the Boat had wonderfully grotesque moments and lingering unease. I did appreciate the overall story, though I admit there were times I felt the Tales and tales went on a bit long; which is likely due to my impatience or those anxiety-induced moments of “oh dear, there’s more!?” Oh, but the ending is nicely done, Priestly’s devisements work.

The addition of David Roberts’ illustrations are delectable. They are wonderfully Edward Gorey-esque. Each tale is given an illustration incorporating a title, a more seamless way to mind how the tales are all part of a greater story. And you’ll be looking forward (with some trepidation) to the full page illustration that comes with each story. They capture the mood and are always worth lingering upon.

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship is the second in a series of Tales of Terror by Chris Priestly. Unfortunately, the Library here only had this one. I am assured that the first book Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror is brilliant (and likely better). I’ll be looking forward to the others. If you are curious about them, check out Carl V.’s reviews for Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror and Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth. You’re sure to be persuaded to try one of these volumes, if not all—even if that means adding a new fear of something.

>>>note: this book can be pretty gorey and violent–a bit of a given. However, like Carl, I feel a caution is necessary on the language; ” for a book that is published for children, I was a little taken aback by the amount of swearing and by a few sexual remarks.” I agree with Carl when he suggests it fits the coarseness of the setting/lifestyle. The book being published in the UK first might have to do with it as well. But a caution just the same, at least for the 8 and change crowd.

this has most definitely been considered a Reader’s Imbibing Peril (RIP) VI read.