Thursday, May 21, 2015

Meet the Dullards

Mr. and Mrs. Dullard want a peaceful, uneventful life for themselves and their three offspring: Blanda, Borely, and Little Dud. And who can blame them? But it has become increasingly difficult to maintain their stress-free life in the wake of recent events. Only last fall, they experienced leaves changing color. And on the day this tongue-in-cheek picture book begins, "an upsetting commotion in the driveway" takes place. To wit, a slug crosses their driveway. As Mr. Dullard observes, "There's never a dull moment."

After catching their three children reading books about the circus, their parents take action and move. In their new home, however, things go from bad to worse. An exclamation-using neighbor brings them applesauce cake make with chunky, not smooth, applesauce, and then the family discovers a brightly colored room in their new digs. (They didn't notice this before they bought the place?) After further adventures at the paint store--where they purchase a customized paint, the color of "oatmeal left in the pot," Mr. and Mrs. Dullard hope to put the horrors of the day behind them by watching paint dry. Blanda, Borely, and Little Dud have other plans, though, and subversively undermine their parents best-laid plans for them.

Readers will be chuckling way before they finish Pennypacker's droll tale of how these two helicopter parents foolishly try to curb a child's natural enthusiasm. And Salmieri's flat, goggly-eyed characters are anything but dull. His portrayal of Mr. and Mrs. Dullard's reaction to the exuberantly painted room is priceless. Meet the Dullards belongs with other classic stories featuring conformist adults, such as Parry Heide's The Shrinking of Treehorn.

Meet the Dullards
By Sara Pennypacker
Illustrations by Daniel Salmieri
Balzer + Bray, 32 pages
Published: March 2015

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Owl Boy

Owl Boy is a hoot! Al is the boy in question and to say he likes owls is an understatement. Al's obsessed with these big-eyed raptors. Every inch of his room is covered with owl memorabilia and he entertains his family with endless facts about them. Al is living a happy life--until he's sent off to camp one summer. Forced to eat meatloaf (when owls eat mice), play on sports teams (when owls are solitary), go to bed at nine (when owls go out at night), Al takes a detour while out on a hike, deciding to look for owl nests instead. He soon becomes separated from the other campers and must spend the night in the forest. Much to his initial delight, Al finds himself eye to eye with a real live owl. Boy and owl explore the forest and Al gets to experience it like as an owl would--right down to an owl's rodent-filled diet. This last bit has an unexpected effect on Al. And while his obsessive nature isn't curtailed, it does find expression in a new, less distasteful hobby.

Schatell does a masterful job of humorously showing us Al's love of all things owl. His cartoony illustration of Al's owl-decorated room (down to the owl-patterned curtains)  is worth the price alone. As the book says, it's "an owl extravaganza"!


Owl Boy
By Brian Schatell
Holiday House, 32 pages
Published: 2015

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lion, Tiger, and Bear

Oh my! I found this Level 4 reader while browsing at my local library. Nonfiction books can be a hard sell for beginning readers. Often, the books just rehash the same topics to death or they water down the content to such a degree that they are boring to read. Not so for Lion, Tiger, and Bear. Ritchey tells a heart-warming, high-interest story of how an African lion, a Bengal tiger, and an American brown bear became an unlikely trio of friends.

The animals were discovered in 2001 in the basement of a house where the owner was keeping the cubs illegally. The rescued cubs, suffering from various ailments, were sent to Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary. The caretakers there noticed that separating the cubs caused them distress so the decision was made to keep the trio together.

Ritchey presents this information without dwelling too long on upsetting details-Baloo the bear needed surgery due to a too tight harness that had dug into his skin--and gives a strong sense of the animals' personalities. The story ends on an upbeat note with an invitation to readers to visit the three compadres in person at their Georgia-based sanctuary. Photographs of the animals as cubs and fully grown will captivate the intended audience.

Lion, Tiger, and Bear
by Kate Ritchey
Penguin Young Readers, 48 pages
Published: 2015

Monday, March 23, 2015

Ling & Ting: Twice as Silly

In their third outing, twins Ling and Ting supply beginning readers with many opportunities to giggle and guffaw. Each of the six stories showcases the zany imaginations of young children at play. In the opening story, Ting attempts to plant cupcakes, and when that plan falls through, she comes up with another silly option--jellybeans. In subsequent stories the girls have fun with red paint, swing into outer space, come up with a wild plan to get apples, read each other's minds, and, in the grand finale, write a silly story that incorporates all their earlier adventures.

Bright and colorful, the illustrations add to the silliness, as when Ling and Ting are shown staging a breakout at the monkey cage an the zoo. I especially liked the design of each story's title page, which employs a key element of the story: The title of "The Garden" is spelled out in plants, "On the Swings" in puffy clouds, and "Apples" in rosy red fruit.

Another winner from the amazing Grace Lin!

Ling & Ting: Twice as Silly
By Grace Lin
Little, Brown   44 pages
Published: November 2014

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Seuss Fans Rejoice!

Even though Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, died more than twenty years ago, new work of his continues to be published. The latest is a recently discovered "lost" manuscript--with illustrations!--titled What Pet Should I Get? The book features the same brother and sister protagonists who appeared in One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, and was apparently written sometime between 1958 and 1962. 
Published by Random House Children’s Books, What Pet Should I Get? will be on bookshelves on July 28th of this year. At least two more books are in the works, all based on materials uncovered in the good doctor's home. Mark your calendars, Seussians!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Cybils Winners announced!

Happy Valentine's Day! Here's a special treat for lovers of children's literature--the announcement of the Cybils winners. Congratulations to them all!

This year I once again had the honor of being a judge, and I'd like to thank my fellow judges for their hard work and dedication. It isn't easy selecting just one book per category when there's such a wealth to choose from.

You can peruse the list of winners here. Now go eat some chocolate!

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Wonderful Year

The talented Nick Bruel has turned his attention from his "Bad Kitty" series (of which I am a huge fan) to compose a picture book on the seasons. If you think that means Bruel has forsaken his wicked imagination for a boring concept book, think again. A Wonderful Year has all of his trademark humor and off-kilter take on life.

Broken into four "chapters," each section focuses on a specific season and features an unnamed girl protagonist. We start in winter, with snow falling. Inside, as the girl hurries to play outside, she's told by her parents to wear her boots and earmuffs. Then the family dog and cat chime in, instructing her to put on her snow pants and scarf. Next she hears from a purple hippo named Louise, a tree, the refrigerator, and even a can of beans. By the time she's completely swaddled in outerwear, it's spring and time to undress. In "Spring Splendor," the girl cavorts outdoors with her frisky (talking) dog and the pair finagle a grouchy cat into playing with them. By summer, it's so hot that the girl is melting--literally. She becomes a puddle of blue liquid that Louise the hippo slurps up  and shoves into the freezer to cool off. Fall finds our heroine relaxing under a tree while reading "a book of stories about a girl and all the wonderful things she does throughout the year."As it starts to get cold again, the tree gives up its last leaf to the girl for her to use as a bookmark and the story come full circle with the girl running off to put on a sweater.

Alternating between full-bleed spreads and comic-book-style panels, A Wonderful Year is an enticing introduction to the seasons, one that beginning readers can dip into again and again in the coming months.

A Wonderful Year
by Nick Bruel
Roaring Brook Press, 40 pages
Published: January 2015