Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What Pet Should I Get?

It's been awhile since I last posted. What can I say? The summer got away from me. It didn't help that we moved house in July. Almost two months later, we're finally settled. So, it's fitting to start posting again with a review of the latest book from Dr. Seuss.

Latest book, you say? Yes. The manuscript, mostly likely from the late 1950s or early 1960s, was completed with the help of Random House art director Cathy Goldsmith and published in August of this year. Starring the brother and sister team from One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, this work is most likely an early version of that book. But a new Seuss story is still cause to rejoice, and What Pet Should I Get? has all the Doctor's signature bells and whistles.

The narrator and his sister have an opportunity most kids would give their eyeteeth for: Their father has allowed them to get any pet they want. (We know we are in Seussland since neither parent accompanies their offspring to the pet store!) However, with this privilege comes a dilemma. Of all the animals that fill the store, which one should they choose? A dog, a cat, a bird, a rabbit, a fish? The possibilities are endless. As the narrator says: "Oh, boy! It is something to make a mind up."  He goes on to imagine the fantastical creatures that are out there. But at some point reality reins him in and he realizes: "If we do not choose, we will end up with NONE."

So they choose.

The ending is an ambiguously modern one and confirms Seuss as the mischief maker he was.

The book contains a postscript from the publisher describing the genesis of the book as well as a homage to Seuss the dog lover. All in all, What Pet Should I Get? is one for the Seuss canon.

What Pet Should I Get?
By Dr. Seuss
Random House  48 pages
Published: August 2015

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Dory and the Real True Friend

Dory's back! The girl with a supersize imagination returns in another early chapter book that is sure to delight young readers as much as Dory Fantasmagory (2014) did. Dory starts a new school year and this time she leaves her imaginary monster friend, Mary, at home. Determined to make a "real true" friend Dory immediately latches on to Rosabella, the girl who sits next to her. At first Rosabella seems like everything Dory is not. She wears pouty dresses, drinks water from a little cup with her pinkie sticking out, and plays hopscotch with the other girls. Still, Dory is not one to give up without a fight, so she tries her best to make friends, taking to heart her sister's advice: "DON'T BE YOURSELF."

When that advice backfires, Dory decides (with some help from Mary) to be true to her nature and discovers that Rosabella has an imagination that rivals her own. The two friends join forces to engage in an epic battle of good versus evil, emerging victorious after vanquishing Dory's old foe, the witchy Mrs. Gobble Gracker.  

As with Hanlon's other book, the story is generously illustrated with cartoony black-and-white drawings of Dory's antics. Hanlon has a knack for getting into the mindset of a young child. Here's hoping that another book about this indefatigable heroine is in the works.

Dory and the Real True Friend
By Abby Hanlon
Dial, 160 pages
Published: July 2015

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I Yam a Donkey!

"I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam," said Poyeye the sailor man. But he'd better not say it around persnickety turnips. In Cece Bell's latest picture book, it's a donkey who seemingly makes an ass of himself as he butcher the English language. He proudly announces the book's title to a bespectacled turnip who then primly corrects his grammar: "The proper way to say that is "I am a donkey."" What follows is a hilarious version of the "Who's-on-First" routine as donkey and turnip go out of their way to misunderstand each other. Later a carrot and some other vegetables show up, allowing the turnip to conjugate the verb "to be" in its entirety. To no avail, however. The donkey remains as clueless as before, although he does cotton to one thing: Vegetables make a tasty lunch.

Bell's bold, graphic illustrations provide a visual punch to the pair's ongoing argument. While silliness prevails, the book does leave the reader with something to ponder: "If you is going to be eaten, good grammar don't matter."

I Yam a Donkey
By Cece Bell
Clarion Books, 32 pages
Publication: June 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower

Most biographies for kids feature upstanding citizens and if they do have a fault or two, the writer quickly glosses over them. Tricky Vic is a rare example of a picture book bio that chooses for its subject an out-and-out scoundrel. And what a bad seed old Vic was. Born Robert Miller in 1890, the Czech showed his true colors at an early age, dropping out of the University of Paris to become a professional gambler. Soon he took to the high seas, donning the alias Count Victor Lustig as he conned wealthy passengers aboard ocean liners. Arriving in the United States after World War I ended, Vic pulled a successful con job on Al Capone, one that allowed him to work the Chicago area with Capone's blessing.

But Vic's greatest scheme was yet to come: selling the rights to demolish the Eiffel Tower to greedy scrap metal dealers. He worked this con not once but twice! But the adage "crime doesn't pay" proved all too true in Vic's case. He was arrested in 1935 and after escaping from prison was recaptured and sent to Alcatraz. He died of pneumonia twelve years later.

Vic's crime-filled life is a great story and Pizzoli (The Watermelon Seed, Number One Sam) does a fine job telling it. Sidebars on prohibition, Parisian landmarks, counterfeiting, and Alcatraz round out the tale and put historical events in perspective for young readers. What makes Tricky Vic really stand out from other picture book bios, though, is its graphic design and artwork. Pizzoli has done a masterful job of creating jaw-dropping illustrations using "pencil, ink, rubber stamps, halftone photographs, silkscreen, Zipatone, and Photoshop." The effect is both retro and modern. His best creative decision by far was not to give Vic features. Instead his face is represented by a thumbprint, giving this consummate con artist an air of mystery. Readers will instinctively recognize that Vic's true identity and nature can never be pinned down. He remains an enigma.    

Tricky Vic
The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
By Greg Pizzoli
Viking, 39 pages
Published: March 2015

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What This Story Needs Is a Pig in a Wig

And really what story couldn't be improved by a pig in a wig? This beginning reader, told in rhyme, is a fun romp that begins: "What this story needs is a pig." In the ensuing pages the plump pink porcine acquires a wig, a boat, a moat, and a succession of animals--all squished into the teeny pink ship. Eventually the pig calls a halt to the pile-up and orders her fellow passengers off. But she soon realizes that a boat ride by oneself can be lonesome. But never fear, what the story needs now--a bigger boat--provides a happy solution for all.

Virján illustrates her story in eye-popping colors. Her flat cartoon style works well with the simple yet outrageous story line. Beginning readers will enjoy all the amusing details in the art, such as the dog and frog holding up number ratings as the goat balances on the log. Short on text but long on fun, this book is a winner!

What This Story Needs Is a Pig in a Wig
By Emma J. Virján
Harper, 40 pages
Published: May 2015

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