Drawn to Trouble. In a nifty idea, all the pages are sized to fit on photocopier paper so kids can print out the various exercises without having to mark up the book. Whether or not most kids will have the patience to do so is another story.
The premise behind the book is that Kitty is bored until Strange Kitty shows up to teach her how to make comics. This Strange Kitty proceeds to do, taking Kitty (and the reader) through all the steps: from tools to panel frames to writing captions and sound effects and more. Each lesson builds on the next, with a funny ongoing comic strip featuring Bad Kitty and an octopus that illustrates whatever lesson is being taught. Strange Kitty is a thorough instructor--and a clever one too. The lesson on drawing starts small--very small--with just a dot on the page (an ant standing by itself in the snow). From there, he adds another dot (two ants lying on their backs looking at the cloud). Then another dot (two ants playing catch). You get the idea. Any kid can make a dot and so, by extension, any kid can make cartoons. It's a wonderful and freeing realization, one that is bound to get kids hunting for a pencil to start scribbling.
Bad Kitty Makes Comics...And You Can Too!
By Nick Bruel
Neal Porter 144 pages
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Thursday, October 29, 2015
After a bumpy start, Diva and Flea become fast friends. Flea regales Diva with stories of what he's seen and experienced, such as "The Piece of Salami and the Broom that Missed." When Flea invites Diva to join him in his flaneur-ing, Diva needs a night to mull it over but in the end agrees to accompany Flea around the corner. There she sees the Eiffel Tower for the first time.
If Flea has broadened Diva's horizons, she repays the favor, introducing him to something wonderful called Breck-Fest. But before he can tuck in, Flea must overcome his fear of humans, especially those wielding brooms. Luckily, Diva's owner is welcoming and Flea finds a home. Not to fear, cat and dog continue to flaneur to their heart's content.
The thirteen short chapters are generously illustrated with DiTerlizzi's charming, soft-colored artwork. The illustrations have a timeless quality to them, as does Willem's droll story. An Author's Note explains how Willems came to write about this unusual pair.
The Story of Diva and Flea
By Mo Willems
Illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi
Hyperion, 80 pages
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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"!
By Brian Schatell
Holiday House, 32 pages
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
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
Monday, March 23, 2015
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
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
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
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
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Today is the 183rd birthday of Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland.
This year is also the 150th anniversary of that children's classic. To celebrate this momentous occasion, many organizations are putting on special exhibits. Here are a few of the more notable ones you might like to add to your calendar.
February 12 to Spring 2015 (Poughkeepsie, NY)
Vassar College: The Age of Alice: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, and Nonsense in Victorian England.
June 26 to October 11 (New York, NY)
The Morgan Library & Museum: "Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland"
July 4 (Oxford, UK)
Alice's Day at Oxford
September 15 to November 15 (New York, NY)
Grolier Club: "Alice in a World of Wonderlands"
October 9 to October 11 (New York, NY)
Lewis Carroll Society of North America: "Alice in the Popular Culture"
October 14 to March 27 (Philadelphia, PA)
Rosenbach Museum & Library: Alice in Philly-land" and "The Dream of Wonderland: Alice at 150"
For additional exhibitions and performances, check out the events database here.
And in you'll like to read more about Lewis Carroll and his most famous creation, here's a link to my book on the topic: Alice's Wonderland: A Visual Journey through Lewis Carroll's Mad, Mad World.
And to make this day even more special, here is a link to a video podcast of my interview with Mr. Media about my book: What Did Alice Know and When?
Friday, January 23, 2015
Kitty is having a bad, bad day and no one in the household knows why. Uncle Murray comes over to save Puppy from Kitty's wrath and the two go off for a walk in the park. If only things were that simple. Uncle Murray runs afoul of the law (no leash, no poop bags, no dog tags) and then, horrors, Puppy and Petunia, a bulldog friend, run off and end up in the pound. There Puppy meets two other strays, Gramps, an elderly lhasa apso, and Hercules, a hyper chihuahua (are there any other kind?). Luckily, Uncle Murray comes to Puppy's rescue and adopts the other dogs. And what was causing Kitty's bad mood? Puppy provides the answer.
As in the previous books, the story is interspersed with info spreads, this one narrated by Bad Kitty herself. Readers will discover why dogs need to be walked, why they sniff butts, and why they lick faces. (I didn't know the answer to the last one.)
All in all Puppy's Big Day provides readers with the series' usual combination of mayhem and mirth. A must-read for all Big Kitty and Puppy fans!
Puppy's Big Day
by Nick Bruel
Neal Porter, 160 pages
Published: January 2015