For all your Moby Dick picture book needs

mighty mobyI would have loved being a fly on the wall during the publishing meeting where this book was discussed.  Was this an easy sell, or did it take some convincing?  Was there really a need for a picture book about Moby Dick?

Perhaps not, but if you’ve got to have one, this is it.  Illustrated magnificently by Ed Young, and carrying snatches from Moby Dick, every page is a stunner.  To be honest, I like this version better than the original, which I must now admit I never read past the first three chapters and never plan to pick up again.  And the ending makes it more than a retelling of the original – I loved the wet feet on a bath mat – and almost makes me want to hear a sea chantey or follow up on the resources noted at the back.

Mighty Moby – Barbara DaCosta and Ed Young

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Jedi mind tricks and limited tragedy

superstarLester Musselbaum has a few struggles when he starts fifth grade.  He’s only been homeschooled up to now, so he doesn’t realize his awesomeness might not be seen as such by other kids.  He’s grieving–and his mom is grieving even more–the loss of his astronaut father.  He’s on the autism spectrum, although he doesn’t know it until later in the book.  He also has a name which seems tailor-made for bullies.  (As the book shows, we pretty much all have great names for bullies – they have an impressive creativity with words when they need to put someone down.  Unfortunately, this does not often carry over to most school subjects.)

Compared to a lot of books I’ve read and not written about lately, he’s got sunshine, butterflies, and free ice cream all summer.  Maybe this is why I liked Lester and not them.  Maybe it’s why when I thought, “This is not the book you’re looking for” after reading the inside flap, I was wrong.  I am so tired of middle grade books that pile on the tragedy.  (I have written about this. You can‘t just have one dead sibling; you have to lose at least two family members, have a sibling who’s got issues, and then find out you or your best friend are going to die or be disfigured while also fighting some other injustice.  I know.  I’m exaggerating.  I do that.)

Lester would probably appreciate the Star Wars reference, although Superman is more up his alley.  Lester tells the story and does a fine job of illustrating his world and the other characters in it without trying too hard.  He makes mistakes, a lot of them, and sometimes his words just aren’t going to be understood by others as you might mean things when you operate consistently from a scientific perspective.

This is a first novel from a Midwestern former teacher now living in the state to the north of us.  Yippee!  I can’t wait to see what’s next from her.

Superstar by Mandy Davis

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And so we’d best enjoy ourselves

Groundwood Logos SpineWhy write a book about the cycle of life?  Why talk about death with young children?  Why not?

I often wish there had been more books that could show me how to grieve when I was young and grieving, especially books like this that make death and birth and life all part of a process.  Does it make you feel any better?  Maybe not.   But it gives you space to appreciate and think about and maybe even talk about things.  We all lose people we love if we love at all.  We all have joys and sorrows, however small they might be.

The artwork is engaging and quirky.  Is that a pregnant woman or a woman with a child and a zoo on her lap?  Why is the pig riding a horse?  Do we care?  We do not.

And So It Goes by Paloma Valdivia

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Andrew Carnegie everywhere

ManWhoLovedLibraries_cover_screenRGB_1024x1024My travels around Iowa – checking in on friends, stopping on the way to state parks, seeing what I can see—often bring me to small towns with Carnegie libraries.  I may not work in one, but I can appreciate what a big deal they were (and are) to many small towns and to the community members who used them in the past and still use them today.  Free libraries are a palace of opportunities, right?

Why did Andrew Carnegie love the idea of them so much?  He and his family did not have many opportunities when he was young, although he certainly made the most of those he had, becoming one of the wealthiest people in the United States even as he started life with little in Scotland.

The Man Who Loved Libraries presents a child-friendly version of Andrew Carnegie and his life.  (You can read about his union-busting in a paragraph in the back, but there’s no in-depth look at the darker sides of his success.)  He loved his family, worked hard, and enjoyed school while he could go.  He kept reading even when he was out working, taking advantages of one successful man’s private library to continue learning.

The illustrations are simple and help fill in the story’s ideas.  Worth a look, definitely!

The Man Who Loved Libraries: the story of Andrew Carnegie by Andrew Larsen and Katty Maurey

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Love. Loss. Revenge. A little history. A little fantasy.

book of pearlIf you are looking for a straightforward action story, do not read this book.  If you are 100% anchored in reality, maybe take a pass.  If, however, you are on vacation, like to think about alternate realities, or don’t mind a love story which stretches far beyond the “normal” lives of two people, find a way to get your hands on The Book of Pearl.

I think it’s fair to say that Timothée de Fombelle has reached a status with me that almost touches Kathi Appelt.  I sought this book out, ordering a copy from England when I didn’t see it in the libraries around me. (Apparently, on further research, it won’t be released in the U.S. until Feb. 2018.  So that’s why…)  I loved de Fombelle’s Vango stories and have recommended them to several kids who like action but also appreciate good writing and story development and all kinds of twists and turns.  He’s not a popular author in the U.S., I don’t think, but maybe he should be.

And the extra work was worth it.  It’s a beautiful book, although maybe not one that you’d want to try to read in just a chapter a day.  There are a lot of characters to keep track of, characters who dip in and out and who might just seem to inhabit the fringes until suddenly they don’t.  There is evil and loss and quite a bit of sadness, but the joyful moments are almost luminous.  (I’m assuming the translators get some gold stars for that, too.)

It’s the perfect book for a long afternoon of quiet in a state forest.  Detach from technology and give it a try.  It’s not exactly a happy ending, but hey—he’s French.  Deal with it.

The Book of Pearl by Timothée de Fombelle

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Mother Goose – wannabe fairy or name-dropping gossip?

mother goose diaries“Have you noticed every village idiot with a quirk becomes national news?  Jack and Jill fell down the hill – so what?  Little Bo Peep lost her sheep – how is that my problem?”  (The Mother Goose Diaries)

Oh, Mother Goose, the secrets you know about the fairy tale world!  And now you’re visiting our reality and hanging out with everyone from Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Napoleon to Martin Luther King, Jr.

I must admit that I have read none of Chris Colfer’s other Land of Stories books.  I checked the first one out and didn’t get it read in time, and then the others piled up and I was just too lazy to face the whole thing.

This one looked like more of a companion piece, and it’s short, so it was perfect for the end of summer reading brain I’ve got.  This is not serious literature, people, but it’s a fun, silly ride through a somewhat embittered non-fairy’s life, and while time-traveling and speaking her mind, Mother Goose has a way of dropping a few words on social justice in, too.  I’m good with that.

The Mother Goose Diaries by Chris Colfer

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Read. Repeat. Now read it again.

turn on the nightI came across this one in the new picture books at another library.  (Yes, I’m just that much of a geek that I visit other libraries in my free time.)  I glanced at it, and seeing it was wordless, it went into my stack to take home.  On the first read, I thought it was a little weird.  Then I read the inside flap.  Aha… I read it again, noticing a few more details.  And then again.  More.  And again.  Even more.

It’s the best kind of wordless picture book.  You could read the story each time in a slightly different way, and it might change a little as you notice more and more of the details.  Don’t get me wrong – the pictures are not full of tiny, over-the-top drawings that make you stay on a page for five minutes.  They’re simple, but deceptively simple.  Is that another reindeer?  Are the lights different now?  What happened to the sleeping girl?  Definitely worth another look.

Turn On The Night by Geraldo Valério

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Grief and how to look at it

where do they goSome years ago, a dear friend told me to keep an eye out for blinking lights.  “When you see them, you’ll know it’s me on the other side,” she said.  Once you start noticing it, lights are blinking all the time.  So, of course, I think of her every time.  And they are always good memories – eating her cookies, talking (in a kind way) about everyone we knew in common, remembering the time she held my just-born son only a few weeks before she died.

Death and grief can be tough topics for adults to address with kids, but it has to happen, right?  It’s part of life to deal with death, and finding gentle ways to grieve and remember can help kids realize that.

Where Do They Go tackles it head on, but in a way that leaves the door open to many interpretations, religions, and backgrounds.  The pictures support the words and bring out the joy in remembering and sadness of losing someone.

Where Do They Go by Julia Alvarez and Sabra Field

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A bad guy meets his match

bad-guy-9781481460101_lgAh…siblings.  The power struggles, the down and dirty tricks, the trips to the library.  All part of that constant struggle to stay on top, right?

There’s a nice twist here.  The bad guy whose mom calls him “sweetie” turns out to have an equally evil sister, the kind who will eat the last popsicle in front of you and probably laugh her evil laugh.  And Mom?  Maybe she’s not so nice, either….

Bad Guy by Hannah Barnaby and Mike Yamada

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Wonder Twin Power ACTIVATE!

cosmic commandosI have a confession to make.  For years, my husband has randomly said something along the lines of “wonder twin power—activate!”  Because we are a family loaded up in references—many dating back to Firesign Theatre, which he listened to with his friends when he was a teenager—I have never actually asked about or looked up the reference.

This morning, however, when I was thinking about Cosmic Commandos, the first thing that popped into my mind was, “wonder twin power”, so I finally decided to look it up.  It turns out that the Wonder Twins are Junior Superfriends and were in a cartoon way back, which explains everything I need to know.  I was more of a Scooby Doo and Looney Tunes gal.

Reference explained… and now on to the book of day!  Cosmic Commandos is a light, fun read.  You could delve into the relationship between the twins – one brash and bold, the other nerdy and social – but it’s as much fun to read along as Jeremy of the “stinkish life” charges forward without thinking and ends up mostly succeeding at destroying an evil alien power.  Why not?  It’s a little bit of summer fun, right?

Cosmic Commandos by Christopher Eliopoulos

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