Friday, April 26, 2013

Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever

In their third outing, Bink and Gollie are again true to form. Gollie is superior as ever and Bink as stubborn. Luckily these character traits make for some great stories. In the first of the three tales that make up this beginning reader, Gollie sees a photo of her great aunt wearing a crown. Always suspecting she came from royal blood, Gollie now has all the proof she needs. (I confess I have a slight preference for Gollie. Perhaps it has something to do with the nickname my family bestowed on me as a child: Her Majesty.) Gollie's haughty manner does not hold water with Bink, and how Gollie is brought back to her senses is subtly and touchingly portrayed.

Story two showcases Bink's pressing desire to be tall. She falls prey to an advertisement for a Stretch-o-Matic device, something akin to a medieval torture rack, only this one suspends you from the ceiling with weights. Needless to say, results don't turn out as planned, but Bink finds a way to be satisfied with her purchase. The last story has Bink and Gollie on the search for something to collect. Inspired by Flicker's Arcana of the Extraordinary, the girls attempt to get their names and photos in the hefty tome. In the end they succeed, but not in a way most readers would have predicted.

As always, Tony Fucile's illustrations are a delight and in this book they are especially strong. The image of Gollie standing all alone in the rain adds to the story's pathos and the depiction of what happens to the Stetch-o-Matic is dramatic indeed. I especially like the fun details Fucile includes, such as the portrait hanging on Bink's wall of Marcellus Gilmore Edson, inventor of peanut butter. According to Google, Edson did, in fact, hold a patent for peanut butter, issued in 1884. Who knew?

Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever
by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
illustrations by Tony Fucile
Candlewich Press  96 pages
Published: April 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013

Pug and Other Animal Poems

I love children's literature, poetry, and pugs (not necessarily in that order, mind). So when the three came together in one tidy package, I knew I had to read it. A companion book to Animal Poems (Worth and Jenkins' first collaboration), Pug and Co. more than holds its own. Worth has constructed a number of exquisitely simple poems about everyday animals, the kind a child is likely to see while out and about, such as rabbits, geese, toads, and even the humble fly. The only featured animal a child would be unlikely to meet in town or countryside is the Bengal tiger, and even that creature is seen at a zoo, so there you go.

Jenkins, with his bold collages, does a marvelous job of showing each animal off to its advantage. The bull, "hacked-out, rough-hewn, from the planet's hard side," has its massive bulk placed against an intensely red background. Sparrows and pigeons cavort above silhouetted city buildings, while a cat winds its mysterious way through shadowy bushes, "like an old familiar spirit."

As for my favorite canine, Worth describes pugs as having "goggling eyes and stumpy noses, wrinkled brows and hairy moles." And if some people consider them "plug-ugly," perhaps that's because "for dogs, they look a lot like people." How true!

Pug and Other Animal Poems
by Valerie Worth
illustrations by Steve Jenkins
Farrar Straus Giroux, 40 pages
Published: March 2013

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dodsworth in Tokyo

In this latest installment, Dodsworth and the duck continue their adventures in Tokyo, where Dodsworth  cautions the impetuous duck to be on his best behavior since "Japan is a land of customs and manners and order." The very qualities duck most certainly isn't. But for the most part duck does manage to contain himself, to the surprise of his friend. Together they take in the sights of Yoyogi Park, eat sushi, visit the Imperial Palace, stroll through the East Gardens--where duck falls in and must be rescued (even though he's a duck he never learned to swim)--and tour the Museum of Imperial Collections.

It's only when the pair travel to a temple that things start to fall apart. A festival is underway and duck disappears into the crowd. Soon he's flipping and jumping and sliding all over the place, crashing into people and knocking things over. Has duck lost it for good? No, there's a reason for his crazy antics and a very satisfying one.

Tim Egan has written and illustrated another winning easy reader featuring this odd pair of mismatched travelers. And according to a recent interview, which you can read here, their next stop is Athens. The Parthenon had better watch out!

Dodsworth in Tokyo
by Tim Egan
Houghton Mifflin, 48 pages
Published: April 2013

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Clementine and the Spring Trip

For a book featuring the high-energy Clementine, number six in the series is rather subdued. Clementine is growing up and instead of bouncing in and out of trouble as she usually does, she struggles with some big issues.

She's looking forward to the school trip to Plimoth Plantation, but her third grade class is going with the big kids, fourth graders who've enacted tough rules about eating: no sounds allowed...or else. Clementine is also having problems speaking Olive, a language invented by the new girl in class, whose name is--you guessed it--Olive. (If you want to give it a try, put "olive" into every syllable you say. "Likoliv tholivis.")

When the day of the big trip arrives, Clementine is paired with Olive and instructed with the task of making the new girl feel comfortable. When Olive opens her lunch bag and reveals a meal destined to incur the wrath of the fourth graders (celery, chips, apples, carrots, etc.), Clementine has to decide whether to play by the rules or not. On the trip she also befriends a chicken, which leads her to make a major change in her diet.

And that's not all! Clementine is also waiting for the birth of her new sibling and trying to decide if it would be better if the baby was a boy or a girl, while building a five-side table with her father as a surprise for her mother. Then there's  Margaret OCD problems to deal with (really, I think it's time for an intervention here!) and the mystery of the overpowering odors on Bus Seven to solve.

Pennypacker packs a lot of plot into one chapter book, but she weaves each thread so expertly that the overall effect is seamless. Like Beverly Cleary, Pennypacker is doing an excellent job of showing her characters maturing. Frazee's illustrations, as always, are delightful.

Clementine and the Spring Trip
by Sara Pennypacker
illustrations by Marla Frazee
Hyperion Books, 160 pages
Published: 2013

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin

Author Jen Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet joined forces to create one of the best picture book bios I've read in a long, long time. All too often picture book bios leave me underwhelmed. They either are skimpy with the facts or too much information is crammed into 36 or so pages. A Splash of Red strikes just the right balance.

Bryant does a superb job of getting at the essence of Horace Pippin, a self-taught artist who, after being wounded during WWI, reinvented himself as a painter. Pippin's early love of art, his thrill of winning an art contest as a boy, and his determination not to give up are dramatically told in clean, vigorous prose. Particularly interesting is that nowhere in this bio does Bryant mention that Pippin is a black man. Although obvious from the art, Pippin's standing as an determined artist is what's stressed, not his color.

Sweet more than holds up her share of the partnership. Her illustrations mimic Pippin's folksy style, yet she brings her own sensibilities to the mix. Sweet includes Pippin's quotes into her artwork and she uses a combination of watercolor, gouache, and collage to obtain her effects.

The book's back matter includes a historical note that gives a straightforward account of Pippin's life. There's also a list of resources (and a website) for readers who'd like more information. Highly recommended.

A Splash of Color: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin
by Jen Bryant
illustrations by Melissa Sweet
Alfred A. Knopf, 40 pages
Published: 2013