Thursday, July 31, 2014

Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light (Candlewick Press)

Steve Light has proven time and again that he knows how to engage our youngest readers. With Have You Seen My Dragon?, Steve takes us on a counting tour of New York City in search of a missing friend.

Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light
A boy's dragon goes missing and so he does the most logical thing to do when faced with a predicament such as this: search all of the places that remind you of your dragon. Did he take the bus downtown? Was he looking for something to read? Did he get hungry for ice cream? Or go to the playground? But no matter where he searches, the boy just can't seem to find his dragon anywhere.
There are so many wonderful things going on in this book, but greatest source of delight for me was in experiencing the book for myself. So, take a minute to explore these spreads... closely. (click on the image to enlarge)
You'll notice that the dragon is, in fact, hiding in each of the pages. But since the dragon is no longer in color, it becomes more difficult to locate (although that's the first thing your readers will do). The book is also about counting, and Light's presentation of a painted object appearing several times throughout the page creates a eye-catching effect without taking away from the earnestness of the text.

Steve Light's line art in Have You Seen My Dragon? is as much a work of art as it is a tribute to New York City. From the map of NYC and of the story's journey depicted on the endpapers to the beautiful colors that pop from the page with each page turn, Light has created a truly special book for young readers and those reading to them to enjoy over and over. BONUS: The book counts to 20! How often do you see counting books count through the teens? A welcomed and worthwhile change.


Additional Resources:
Steve Light's homepage
Steve Light on the Let's Get Busy podcast
Purchase Have You Seen My Dragon? from an independent bookstore near you

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine Books)

Shaun Tan is renowned throughout children's publishing for his ability to transport readers to unexpected and fantastical locations. His newest book, Rules of Summer does that and more.

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan
The text begins, "This is what I learned last summer", and the experience is of what is shown through Tan's beautiful paintings is at times incredible and, at other moments, alarming, but never is there a moment when you want to turn your eyes away. The text is a series of simple rules that, when taken out of context, carry a tinge of threat, but ultimately feel like those rules parents have been saying to kids for generations. However, when paired with Tan's illustrations the text tells a whimsical story of two boys encountering menacing creatures, curious phenomenon, and the importance of looking out for one another, even when the other keeps making mistakes.
Each spread is laid out the same way, with a single line of text centered on a neutral tone background on the left-hand page paired with a beautifully painted, enticing-to-the-eye illustration taking the text in an unexpected direction. Tan's use of scale and perspective play a large role in developing the world of Rules of Summer as strange and dangerous to the unfamiliar eye, yet familiar to the two boys. Only once do we see the boys cower in fear (an incident involving a red sock), which adds an incredible contrast to the way the boys handle themselves in later situations in the story. In a way, it's as if Tan is actually helping to establish the rules of this world for the readers, as if to say, "these are not things to be afraid of, but that over there... now that is a reason to worry."
Shaun Tan's art is in top form and he once again demonstrates the wonder at work in our imaginations. My mind races to what drawings children would create for summer rules of their own, before and after reading Rules of Summer.


Additional Resources:
Shaun Tan's homepage
Rules of Summer homepage
Videos illustrating Tan's creative process on Rules of Summer
Purchase Rules of Summer from an independent bookstore near you

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Let's Get Busy with author Audrey Vernick

Audrey Vernick (@yourbuffalo), author of So You Want to be a Rock Star (@BIGPictureBooks), Brothers at Bat, and Screaming at the Ump (@HMHKids), stops by to talk about writing critique partners who are magic, the good stuff in manuscripts that sometimes gets cut, and getting the facts just right.
Download for FREE on iTunes, using the Stitcher mobile app, or at LibSyn.

Episode Notes
Audrey Vernick homepage
"The Magic of Research" written by Audrey for NerdyChicksWrite blog
Screaming at the Ump book trailer
Picture book author illustrator Matthew Cordell
Here Comes the Easter Cat by Deborah Underwood
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Purchase Audrey Vernick's books from your local independent bookstore


Monday, July 28, 2014

New from Flowerpot Press.

I recently had a chance to check out more titles from Flowerpot Press and I'm happy to share them with you now..

Why Do Sea Turtles Look Like They are Crying? by Jennifer Shand, Illustrated by T.G. Tjornehoj
Our youngest readers are full of questions. Why Do Sea Turtles Look Like They are Crying? answers a selection of queries children might have about sea creatures using humor and clear explanations. Why do blue whales not have teeth? Why do starfish have sticky feet? Why do fish not have eyelids? You can see where this is going. Before giving an explanation, the text offers up a silly reason. Do starfish have sticky feet because "they spilled maple syrup all over the floor?" Of course not! The explanation is straightforward and the animals included offer enough variety to attract readers to multiple readings. The watercolor illustrations in this series are realistic and allow for readers to explore the physical characteristics of the animals. This, juxtaposed with the same lifelike illustrations depicting sea turtles with boo-boos and fish with night lights, works nicely for the target audience in helping to make a meaningful connection to the text.
Other titles include:
Why Do Pigs Roll Around in the Mud? (previously reviewed here)
Why Do Camels Have Long Eyelashes?
Why Do Bush Babies Have Huge Eyes?

Simple Simon by Melissa Everett, Illustrated by Carrie Wendel
This retelling of the classic nursery rhyme has bright, attractive illustrations and colorful text. This particular variation on the text has clever simon tricking the pie man with a sort of riddle. The rewritten text reminds readers, "Simon taught us a lesson. Calling people names is a mistake." The illustrations center on Simon and the pie man, but in the background visitors to the carnival are busy riding the merry-go-round, buying sweets, and being entertained by the musings of a clown. Upon retellings, readers can track different background characters to see how they spent their day at the carnival. Despite being tricked out of a slice of pie, it's nice to see the pie man depicted as good-natured and willing to accept Simon's cleverness.
Other titles in the Re-Versed Rhymes series include:
Horsey Horsey
Star Light Star Bright
This Little Pig (previously reviewed here)
There as a Crooked Man
Where Oh Where as my Little Dog Gone
Three Little Kittens
Pocket Full of Posies

The Book That I Love to Read by Joe Fitzpatrick, Illustrated by Mark Kummer
The narrator of The Book That I Love to Read speaks directly to the reader in order to communicate why he loves the book so much and to discover why it may also be the prefect book for you. This includes sharing that everything that he loves because everything that he loves is included in the book. Pirates, monsters, cool words, and things that are silly are just a few of the things that his boy loves. (But "this book definitely does not have dolls!", explains the narrator after discovering that his little sister got into his book and added some illustrations of her own. 
The text is engaging and keeps up great energy while remaining inviting and conscious of the reader. The illustrations have a cartoon quality and are reminiscent of Nick Bruel's art in Who is Melvin Bubble? This would make a great read to share with young children to start a conversation about reading interests and finding friends through reading.

Children's Picture Dictionary (World of Wonder I Know About series) edited by Tammy Hunter, M. Ed.
This children's picture dictionary boards "over 1,234 word" and includes full color images to accompany a selection of the words appearing on each page. While the layout is colorful and the images eye-catching, the font size for the definitions (which is smaller than that used for the words and parts of speech) may be difficult for some children to read. 
It is unclear how the publisher selected which words would include an accompanying picture and some words, such as double, equator, or extinct included in the page above, may have benefited from an image to help support understanding for the young reader. Overall, the bright, clear images and colors used in this dictionary's layout should encourage exploration of the source from young to school-aged children.

The Rocket's Red Glare by Peter Alderman, illustrated by Bea Moritz
Have you recently stopped to think about the words contained in The Star-Spangled Banner? Those inspired words carry a deep history, the extent of which most people know broadly at best. I've lived in Maryland for most of my life and our home is a 30-minute drive from Fort McHenry, known famously for its role in the War of 1812. Did you know, for example, that Mr. Francis Scott Key boarded a British ship voluntarily in attempts to free his friend, Dr. William Beanes? The men were not taken prisoner, but were also not allowed to return to their ship until the battle had ended. Did you know that the flag that flew over Fort McHenry throughout most of the battle (the storm flag) was replaced with an even bigger and brighter set of stars and stripes (the garrison flag) at the order of Major George Armistead to signal that the United States had persevered?
The words of the famous poem are accompanied by a narrative explaining a sort of play-by-play from the perspective of Mr. Key throughout his time on the H.M.S. Tonnant, along with paintings rich with cannon explosions, surrounding ships, and a war-torn flag. The text concludes with an explanation of how Mr. Key's stanzas were first set to music by an actor named Ferdinand Durang, but later became widely recognized when Baltimore newspapers printed the stanzas and instructed readers to sing the words to the tune of "To Anacreon in Heaven," a popular English pub song. It's an incredible history and it's captured beautifully in this picture book. The book also includes a CD with a version of The Star-Spangled Banner recorded and sung by Grammy nominee Jo Dee Messina. 


Note: Review copies sent from the publisher. Want to review these and other great reads from Flowerpot Press on your blog? Send them an email here

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Zoo Box by Ariel Cohn and Aron Nels Steinke (First Second Books)

First Second is the publisher of outstanding graphic novels for readers of all ages. They're the publisher behind Zita the Spacegirl, Astronaut Academy, Sardine, Adventures in Cartooning, and a ton of other instantly recognizable titles. This month they bring us a picture book that just might make you wild and crazy by way of The Zoo Box by Ariel Con and Aron Nels Steinke.

The Zoo Box by Ariel Con and Aron Nels Steinke
(July 14, 2014)
Mom and dad go out for the evening and leave a brother and sister to put themselves to bed in the opening scene of The Zoo Box. With a promise to take the kids to the zoo the next day if they're good, the siblings are left to their own accord and not long after find adventure in their attic. A box marked "DO NOT OPEN" is too enticing to leave be, and what follows is a romp of a story.
Steinke's art style draws these characters to life and places them in a threatening situation without ever giving the reader a sense that there's anything to worry about. In this way, the surprise and shock of what the children discover as the animals lead them to the zoo feels less dreamlike and more something for readers to ponder. And I mean that in the very best way. The message that the reader is left with is never one that was preached or overly emphasized. Like good stories, The Zoo Box calls for readers to themselves become the siblings in the story trying to put right the predicament they've found themselves in.
Cohn's story is her perfectly complemented by Steinke's pastel palette and round-edged illustrations. There is something so unfailingly kid-like in the dialogue between the siblings and each beat of the story, from discovering the box to following the train of animals through the woods to the brother asking to buy popcorn at the zoo, feels natural and true to how a school-age child would react if brought into a magical world such as we see in The Zoo Box.
In a paneled picture book that will have wide appeal with readers of many different ages, this graphic novel will also appeal to the adults reading aloud the story. Pair with zoo and wild animal read alikes such as Jumanji, Wild About Books, and A Sick Day for Amos McGee.
You can preview the first pages of The Zoo Book on McMillain's homepage by clicking here or browse some of the book's cool layout on First Second's blog here. As for Aron Nels Steinke and wife Ariel Cohn, let's hope there are many more collaborations in the future!
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