"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 · 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" · cinema · sci-fi/fantasy · Tales

{film} a winter’s tale that left me a bit cold

Young Willa (Mckayla Twiggs) & Jessica Brown Findlay (Beverly Penn). spinning romantic tales.

The promise of an urban fantasy in director Akiva Goldsman’s Winter’s Tale (2014) was tempting. I have yet to read Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel of the same name, but I do not recall it being panned. Nor had I heard much about the critical reception of the film. I hadn’t sought it out. I figured Winter’s Tale would be an enchanting watch, I didn’t figure it for being so cloying. I spent most of the film digging around in my body for that necessary romantic bone—femur-sized preferably. I think I arrived at this film too many years too late.

The film opens with the riveting vocals of Jessica Brown Findlay (Sibyl of Downton Abbey) telling us about this belief that there is this “world behind the world where we are all connected” and how “time and distance are not what they appear to be.” Her voice is the world-builder where we have come to expect some moving and/or trending song to play over a time collapsing visual narrative (aka dumb show, theatrically speaking). I didn’t think I’d need to time the prologue, but I was thinking I should have long before the title appeared on screen. Maybe it was its lyricism that made the voice-over so lengthy and laden, or was it the necessity to situate the film’s premise.

winter's tale colin farrell
Colin Farrell as Peter Lake. …are you sure we shouldn’t just go now?…

Besides the title bearing the words Winter and Tale, Colin Farrell as the lead, and a white horse figuring in somewhere, this is the only other thing I knew about the film: Internet Movie Database’s proffered synopsis: which you should refrain from reading.

Set in 1916 New York, burglar Peter Lake (Farrell) falls in love with an heiress Beverly Penn (Findlay) during an attempted robbery. Unfortunately for them both, each are imperiled in their own way. He is being hunted by the convincingly evil and also ridiculously named gangster Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). She is nearly-dead of consumption—a pulmonary disease the orphaned Peter’s immigrant parents were diagnosed with and refused entrance into New York.

It may be that in the truly magical world, Beverly is misdiagnosed with consumption, a prevalent disease at the time, because her symptoms are better suited towards her transitioning into a star—the after-life destination she is anticipating. The stars feature prominently, their lore, their connection to the universe. The film also draws from angel/demon and Native American mythologies.


Winter’s Tale alludes to the interconnected, renaming, and shared history of every mythology in the opening. How it all plays out is the slow-reveal. By the time the tale begins to make real sense, you are near the close and understand why they had to be so mystifying—to compel you with the intrigue.  The other option is to compel you with the romance, which is the predestined sort, which may not be as compelling as the growing dread of unanticipated tragedy it could have supported better. Peter has to save Beverly somehow and how all that is to work out is the most mystifying of all.

The film is one to be patient with and of a certain humor. It has a dated feel already, and I am still in awe of how Colin Farrell can deliver the lines he does with such earnest sincerity. The awkward delivery in the film was in the editing.


Winter’s Tale has a wonderful cast, great scenery…I think the offense arrives with understanding its potential to be a truly magical—what, because I think the failure is anticipating an adventure out of a standard memoir. I should check the filmographies for Lifetime network credentials. Winter’s Tale, as I understand it from the film, would make for a more interesting Indie-house attempt. Maybe someone could steampunk it—yes, let’s have a do-over.

The message of “true love gives life meaning” is a message of optimism an otherwise heartlessly harmful cultural landscape might find appealing. Only, you have to believe that the universe will still bend backwards for you, that the significant other hasn’t lost their miracle (or had it crushed) by the “agents of chaos.”



….SPOILER…[[& of likely relevance to only those who’ve seen the film]] a conversation Sean and I had that is too hilarious not to share.  After we learn that Beverly is “the girl [his] miracle is for,” the word virginity occasionally became interchangeable w/ miracle. His virginity was going to save her, but I phooey the idea because it’s a him, not the other way ‘round. Turns out, Sean was right about the virginity-concept when she dies after losing her virginity which signifies the true love that grants him the power of reincarnation, which is really just resurrection and failure to age.

On a related note, her virginal love saves him, and he in turn saves the female child of a single mother. The world is stabilized once more.…SPOILER DONE ….



Winter’s Tale (2014) Direction & Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, Based on the novel Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, Produced by Goldsman, Marc E. Platt, Michael Tadross & Tony Allard; Music by Hans Zimmer & Rupert Gregson-Williams, Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel, Edited by Wayne Wahman & Tim Squyres. Production companies: Village Roadshow Pictures & Weed Road Pictures, Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures & Village Roadshow.

Starring: Colin Farrell (Peter Lake), Jessica Brown Findlay (Beverly Penn), Jennifer Connelly (Virginia Gamely), William Hurt (Isaac Penn), Maurice Jones (Cecil Mature), Mckayla Twigg (Young Willa), Eva Marie Saint (older Willa), Russell Crowe (Pearly Soames), and Will Smith (Judge).

Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality. Running time 118 minutes.

{images belong to Warner Bros Pictures}

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

bringing art to life

30 days of pbDay Sixteen:  Brush of the Gods

by Lenore Look and Illus. Meilo So

Schwarz & Wade Books 2013

brush-of-the-gods_cover-imageWhen an old monk attempts to teach young Daozi about the ancient art of calligraphy, his brush doesn’t want to cooperate. Instead of characters, Daozi’s brush drips dancing peonies and flying Buddhas! Soon others are admiring his unbelievable creations on walls around the city, and one day his art comes to life! Little has been written about Daozi, but Look and So masterfully introduce the artist to children.–goodreads

An “Author’s Note” prefaces the story with a brief history of Wu Daozi (689-759) “known as perhaps China’s greatest painter.” Little has been written about him, and Brush of the Gods is “pieced together from references I found in translations of T’ang poetry and essays and from the many know facts about life in Chang’an during T’ang times.”

brush of the gods calligraphyEven at a young age, the classroom was no place for Daozi. He moves his creations into the community, onto the walls, earning and generously dispensing food and wonder for the impoverished. His work becomes increasingly magical, and it is not only the city’s children that become enchanted—the reader is drawn into a sense of awe. Look is eloquent and So’s brushwork likewise. Rendered in watercolor, ink, gouache, and colored pencil, So’s artwork seeks to transport the reader not only into a historical narrative but into an understanding of how captivating art can become.


Brush of the Gods is a beautiful and inspiring story of a human artist’s restlessness that rewards him his imagination, daring, and charitable life. It took time and perseverance and belief for Daozi–as well as a healthy dose of rebellion; his story encourages the same for the young artist.


Lenore Look is the award-winning author of numerous children’s books including the popular Alvin Ho series and the Ruby Lu series. Her books have been translated into many languages. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Meilo So Country of origin- China/ Made in Hongkong/ Packaged in England/ Domiciled in the Shetland Isles/A tangled history/ Or a kind of freedom/ Many cultures make a world citizen/ Not a purist/ Methods and media change as required/ Pen and ink, brush drawing, gouache/ Subjects endlessly varied/ Magic, history, animals, humour, children, sex/ Or a quick sketch from life (via “about“)

Her Children’s Books include: Water Sings Blue by Kate Coombs and Tasty Baby Belly Buttons by Judy Sierra.

{illustrations belong to Meilo So}

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

gorgeously rendered

30 days of pbDay ElevenNasreddine

By Odile Weulersse, Illus. Rébecca Dautremer

Translated by Kathleen Merz

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers 2013

Orig. Flammarion 2005 (Fr)

nasreddine cover “No matter what Nasreddine tries, it seems that someone always finds something to disapprove of. Nasreddine is a legendary character popular in stories told throughout the Middle East, and this clever story will bring him to a new audience. Accompanied by stunning artwork, this tale offers a gentle reminder to readers that it isn’t always necessary to listen to the world’s criticisms.”–goodreads

nasreddine 1758327Nasreddine is worth picking up just to admire the cover and the artwork inside, but you should go ahead and read the delightful tale Weulersse has recorded inside. This one will go a long way for children and adults alike because no matter what young Nasreddine does, someone in the public sphere has something critical to say. Can such an old figure of wisdom in lore be any more timely?

nasreddine-pg-8Nasreddine is so small on the page, but always the most present that he does not risk insignificance—an important lesson to notice in and of itself. His father is marvelous and the world is rendered in such beautiful angles, colors and light.


Nasreddine is just a gorgeous book from text to image and back again. No doubt someone will want to read the French, but I found no trouble with Merz’s translation. This one is an absolute must!

* There is a “Historical Note” at the close. It tells us that Nasreddine is spoken of in many stories throughout the Middle East as a man who has the “ability to offer both wisdom and delight.” I am enchanted by the decision to render him as a child learning from his own wise father. Imagine this child growing up to continue in his delight and wisdom.


Odile Weulersse is an accomplished French author of children’s literature, writing historical fiction mainly. All this, of course, after earning impressive degrees at a young age before lecturing on Film and writing screenplays for television.

Rébecca Dautremer was born in 1971 in Gap in the South of France (Hautes Alpes). She attended classes in the ENSAD of Paris and got a degree in graphic edition in 1995. She afterwards became a graphic editor and illustrator. A few years ago, she started to write books of her own. Now living in Paris with her husband Taï-Marc Lethanh and their three children, she also works for the press for children (Milan-Presse and Fleurus-Presse), school publishers, and in advertising.  Her picture books are very poetic, with a hint of humour. Bio via goodreads

Dautremer has illustrated these books: The Secret Lives of Princesses by Phillipe Lechermeier (Sterling 2010), music-cd book Swing Café by Carl Novac (The Secret Mountain 2010), and many, many more that have yet to be translated from French into English, but might find in Spanish. And I’m interested to see her picture book app Eleanor’s Secret.

check out Kirkus Reviews

{images belong to Rebecca Dautremer}


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

{book} cello girls

rooftoppers coverRooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

w/ illustrations by Terry Fan

Simon & Schuster, 2013.

Hardcover, 277 pages.

newly owned, juvenile fiction (8-12).

‘On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.’ Sophie may have survived a shipwreck as a baby, but her life really began when an eccentric but loving bachelor brought her home. Charles uses toast as a bookmark and welcomes Sophie writing on the walls. But when a child services organization threatens to remove Sophie to an orphanage, she and Charles flee to Paris to search for the one thing that might save her: her long-lost mother. (jacket copy)

If you guessed that I based this book purchase on the promise of the whimsical, you’d be right. And it imparts plenty of imaginative charm as the story cartwheels its way toward Parisian rooftops. The whimsy moves from quaint to less precious fascinations: like limited food resources, climate, and clothing. As with the tale itself, real life intrudes. It is questionable whether Charles and Sophie can go on like they are, in their own little world, and reality takes the cold and crude form of social services. In all honesty, they should’ve been just fine, but that persistent belief that her mother did indeed survive the sinking ship is finally able to be tested.

The benefit of beginning with an embrace of the unusual is the ability to continue in it. The story continually asks the reader to test probability, indeed, Charles’ family motto is: “You should never ignore a possible.” It takes imagination and Rundell proves she is fanciful in spades in introducing a world of rooftoppers.

Sophie is a strange and clever girl with fellow characters of just as appealing (read compelling) personality. However, it is in the meeting a young male rooftopper Matteo that we realize not all of Sophie’s quirks have been randomly generated. She is well-suited for this adventure, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a few fears to overcome.

While the beginning chapters leading to Paris do not feel hurried, the novel relaxes into the fascination with the rooftops and its whys and wherefores. The “mother hunt” is never far from the teller’s consciousness, but the rooftoppers are evidently the reason the story is being told. It becomes a difficulty, in this relatively short novel, when spending an evening with Matteo competes with the greater premise of finding Sophie’s mother so she isn’t separated from Charles and doomed to the cold and sinister halls of institutionalization. Matteo is an appealing Peter Pan, Sophie is not as obnoxious as Wendy (which isn’t that hard to do, but still), and the rooftops make for an intriguing Neverland. But the story must close, and it is a fairly tidy ending with plenty of daydreams for readers to detach and carry with them. My impulse though is to not look for a sequel, but an anime.

I really adore Charles, the interactions there are completely lovely. And the plucky heroine and charming voice of the storyteller make for an entertaining read. I know exactly where to keep it on the shelf, when I am not lending it out.

recommendations… ages 8-12, love the fantastic, the fairy tale, and/or a bit of the improper. If you recoil at the idea of spitting, you needn’t bother.

of note: was a 2013 read.

"review" · Children's · fiction · juvenile lit · Picture book · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Tales

{book} bound-picture-page-funny-tale-carrier

fortunately the milk coverFortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman

illustrated by Skottie Young (as this is the U.S. edition)

Harper (HarperCollins) 2013. hardcover.


While mum is off at a conference presenting her paper on lizards, dad is tasked with minding the kids’ schedules, heating pre-made casseroles, and groceries–like the milk supply. Mum isn’t gone long and the milk supply is depleted. So dad, wanting to provide a breakfast of cereal for his son and daughter, as well as some milk for his tea, heads to the shop and takes a very long time returning. Once home, he has quite the story to tell.


“I bought the milk,” said my father. “I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: thummthumm. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road.”

Hullo,” I said to myself. “That’s not something you see every day. And then something odd happened.” (jacket copy)

The eldest sibling is skeptical, the younger only cares if there are ponies–which there are, suddenly. The tale is marvelously outlandish with a time-travelling stegosaurus, pirates, a primitive tribe who worships a volcanic god Splod, and, of course, aliens (who bring Douglas Adams to mind…). There is a musical interlude put on by space dinosaurs (yes, Whovians, dinosaurs in space), and it is hilarious–and it is a reminder that this book should be enjoyed by the older crowd who will appreciate some of the humor.


Fortunately, the milk (always emboldened in the text) happens to save the dad from all sorts of scrapes. Too, is his and Professor Steg’s wit. It is all pretty silly. And It is left up to the children and the reader whether the tale is true or not. It all depends on how you read the evidence, or how possible you think the world can be…


Skottie Young illustrates the US version and Chris Riddell the UK*. They are fun, the rough sketch and energy reflect the tale the dad and book (as narrated by the son) tells. And there are a lot of illustrations, so the slim volume is chock full of visual and textual wit you won’t mind revisiting time and again, w/ or w/out the young-read-to-person in your life.



*Child-Led Chaos (provider of above image) compares the US/UK versions–it is excellent, so check it out–for instance the dad in Riddell’s version is inspired by Gaiman himself. and spoilers–it comes down to preference, the reviewer is happy to own both.

{all images belong to Skottie Young (whose linked deviantart page is fab), except the final pairing where the upper is evidently Chris Riddell’s doing, and as such,  belongs to him.}



the time travel (“transtemporal metascience” (88)), the aliens, and the outer space makes this a Sci-Fi Experience!