August 27, 2015
by Samantha R. Vamos
illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke
Do you have an train crazy kid in your life? If you do, you need to pick up a copy of Alphabet Trains.
Tear the ticket.
Load the freight.
Sound the whistle.
Raise the gate.
The opening sets the tone for this fun, fast-moving alphabet book. Vamos takes readers on a trip around the world, introducing them to trains throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia.
The book is written in rhyme which helps make it a fun read aloud. Readers work their way through the alphabet as they learn about auto trains, Zephyrs and more. I especially appreciated the fact that she didn’t cheat on X. To find out what train she found that begins with this letter, you’ll have to read the book.
O’Rourke’s illustrations add to the fun with their light cartoony style. He works the appropriate letters, both upper and lower case, into the illustrations. At the very least, the letters are on the trains but they can also often be found throughout the artwork itself in the form of Y-shaped trees and track supports shaped like E’s or M’s where appropriate.
The backmatter for this book includes details on the trains themselves including where each can be found. This could easily be turned into a geography game as you challenge your reader to puzzle out (cold, cold, warmer!) where each country is on a world map.
Share this book with your young train lover and you’ll find yourself reading through it for the fun of the rhyme but then paging back through the illustrations as your pre-reader or new-reader looks for the letters found within. That said, the book isn’t so rowdy that you couldn’t use it to settle a child down for nap or bed-time.
A fun addition to the bookshelf of your train-loving child.
August 24, 2015
Is That a Cat?
by Tim Hamilton
More than anything, the cat wants another cat to play with. Looking out the window, the thinks he’s spotted another cat’s tail . . .
. . . but it’s the handle of an elf’s umbrella. When it begins to rain, they look up only to discover a teary bear crying because he’s lost his boot. They think they’ve spotted it but . . .
. . . on and on the story goes with one tricky bit after another. The group grows bigger and bigger as they try to help each other. In the end, they haven’t found another cat, a boot or any of the other items on their list but they’ve had a great time together and manage to be the solution that one small boy needs to make his birthday special.
My first thought when I read this was that it reminded me of Rick Walton’s Once There was a Bullfrog with it’s verbal and visual tricks revealed in the page turns.
But the illustrations also reminded me of David Shannon’s No David!
Not that I’m saying Hamilton’s work is derivative. Lot’s of picture books use the page turn to surprise the reader and picture book readers love the surprises so revealed. And the artwork is only like Shannon’s in that it isn’t highly polished. Yes, it looks deceptively like something the young readers could create on their own. I say deceptively because I once read in an interview how hard this style can be to do convincingly.
These types of illustrations can make the story more accessible to young readers. Hamilton used pen, ink and watercolor finishing it all digitally to create art that is cartoony and fun while also fueling the tricky bits of the story.
Use this book as a jumping off point to discuss creatiavity with your young reader. If they were to write this story, what would they have done differently? Instead of a cat tail, what would the cat have seen? Instead of another elephant, what would the elephant have spotted? You might even want to have paper and pencil handy so that they can start building their own story complete with tricky page turns.
August 20, 2015
For the first time in Kami Glass’s life, she is well and truly alone. Even as a child, she always had someone to comfort her when she was scared or sad. But since she broke the magical connection that connected her and Jared mind to mind and also allowed him to pull magic through her, she knows what loneliness is.
The irony of this is that she is almost never actually alone. She wants to connect again with Jared even if it can never again be magical. She’ll settle for romance. But Jared wants nothing to do with her since she broke their connection. That doesn’t stop his cousin, Ash, from trying to forge the same cousin. Always the good boy that others could rely on, he’s sick of always being second to his rebellious cousin. He wants this fun girl for his own. He also believes that this will give him the magic he believe will help him in the coming battle.
Their town knows that a battle is coming. The family of Lynburn wizards has always ruled their town, demanding payment in blood and goods to make sure the town prospers and that the Lynburn magic continues to flow. But now one Lynburn wants to take the right to rule from another and doesn’t care who gets killed in the process, even if these people happen to be other Lynburns.
As is always the case with one of Brennan’s novels, I’m not 100% certain I’m doing the story justice. Her work is always deliciously complicated and rich. Her characters are deeply drawn and compelling and her setting is so well-imagined that you would recognize it if, heaven forbid, you should ever find yourself there.
As always, Brennan’s insane sense of humor keeps these books from being to dark to tolerate. It’s hard not to love these characters, no matter how imperfect, who sass a wizard just because she ticks them off, and are willing to stand beside their friends in the face of certain disaster.
The beauty of coming to a series late in the game is that I don’t have to wait a year for the next book to come out. Yeah, I get it. That can be an amazing thrill but I have to admit that I’m enjoying the fact that I just finished book #2 and can move immediately to book #3. Book #1 was Unspoken.
As with Brennan’s books in general, the plot and characters of Untold are complex enough to hold the attention of adult readers as well as teens. Pick this one up for the reader on your list who loves contemporary fantasy, gothic horror and romance.
August 17, 2015
When a security guard is brutally killed at the Lincoln Park Zoo, the police call in the only man who can get to the bottom of things when the cause of death is supernatural. Harry Dresden is the only professional wizard who consults with the Chicago police, not that all of them are thrilled to have him around.
Most people, after all, simply don’t believe in magic. Even if they see something magical, like when Dresden uses his powers to save the life of one of the keepers, this just doesn’t compute for most people. They know they saw something strange but it isn’t long before they begin to talk themselves off the magical ledge.
Dresden knows the guard wasn’t killed by a person — finger tips don’t rip throats out like that. Local police want to blame the zoo’s silverback, dominant male gorilla. The keepers don’t believe the animal is guilty but their hostility towards police hampers Dresden’s investigation.
He has to admit that he doesn’t really know what the killer was. As Dresden investigates, he finds signs of ancient magic, blood and spell after spell. He knows he’s facing someone or something powerful and hopes he lives to see the end of the investigation. Ultimately, the end comes about with help from an unlikely ally who proves both his innocence and his amazing strength.
I picked this graphic novel up because of a quiz — what wizard are you? When my results came back, Harry Dresden, I was a bit embarrassed to admit that I had no clue who Dresden was. Hey, we live in a satellite free household so our TV viewing is a bit limited. That said, I’m making up for lost time, beginning with the graphic novel since the first one takes place before the novel series begins.
This may have been Butcher’s first graphic novel but he did quite a job. He also praised illustrator Ardian Syaf, whose depiction of Dresden matched the image in Butcher’s own mind.
This worked well as an introduction to the world and the principal character, so if you haven’t read any of the novels, this is still a good place to start. I would recommend this book for tweens and teens simply because there is murder and mayhem. Granted, none of the human deaths occur on-screen but magical battles against ancient foes can be messy business.
Pick this up for your young fan of urban fantasy and share a read together.
August 13, 2015
Mr. Putter and Tabby Spill the Beans
by Cynthia Rylant
illustrated by Arthur Howard
Harcourt Children’s Books
Mr. Putter and Tabby head off to another adventure with Mrs. Teaberry and Zeke. This time they are taking a cooking class. Mrs. Teaberry is sure it will be fun. Mr. Putter will admit that some of the new things they try, like the tandem bike, are great fun. Other things? Not so fun.
On the way to the cooking class, Mrs. Teaberry’s tells him it is 100 ways to cook beans. Mr. Putter is pretty sure this will not be the most fun he’s ever had but he’s not ready to give up on his friend. Not surprisingly, they are the only two people to show up to class with pets. The instructor tells them it will be okay as long as Tabby and Zeke stay under the table.
During the first recipe, Mr. Putter was wide awake. By recipe 7, he’s yawning. By recipe 14, he’s snoring and Zeke has found the granola bar in someone’s purse. All hilarity breaks out when the lady reaches into her bag for her granola bar and finds Zeke instead. I don’t want to ruin the funny parts so you’ll have to read it to find out what slap stick things occur.
Finding good early readers can be tough. Many of them don’t really have a story so it is hard to keep your new reader engaged from beginning to end. The great thing about the Mr. Putter and Tabby books is that they have two things that young readers love — an actual story and humor. Some of the humor is in the text, but Arthur Howard ramps it up with the additions he makes to the story through the illustrations. As Mrs. Teaberry takes notes, we learn what it is they are learning to cook. Tacos. Pretty basic. Lima bean gingersnaps? Ewww! Three bean jello? Ugh!
A new reader doesn’t have to read each story from beginning to end. Because these stories are a little longer, they are broken into seven chapters. The ability to conquer just a few pages in one sitting will help booster your reader’s confidence. Share this story with the new reader in your life.
August 10, 2015
by Cheryl Blackford
illustrated by Laurie Caple
Minnesota Historical Society Press
Coyote is watchful as he sneaks past the group of people. Down by the lake, he hunts for voles. He sniffs and pounces but the voles get away.
Some days the hunt goes poorly, but others it goes well. Soon the pair of coyotes have a den full of pups and the hunting continues as the seasons change. In spring, the coyote hunts for frogs. In the summer, he raids carelessly watched picnics.
As the seasons pass, the pups grow and the city skyline can be seen in the background.
I love so many things about this book. The seasons aren’t the main feature but they are there, one flowing slowly into the other. It is about urban wildlife without dwelling on buildings and pollution. It is about an animal that people think they know a lot about while actually knowing very little.
This layering of stories is accomplished largely through the illustrations. Snow falls. Plants sprout. Leaves change colors. Snow falls again. Coyotes go about their business and in the background readers spot street lights, a plaque on a boulder and even a curb. The illustrations are detailed enough to be interesting and engaging without looking like a science text.
One reason that I picked this book up at our local library is that I’ve seen the coyotes who live in our area. My first thought is always that I’ve seen a dog that managed to get off his leash. Part of this impression is that our coyotes don’t seem particularly shy. No, they aren’t at my backdoor but I always see them trotting across the frisbee golfcourse or watching traffic go past. The coyotes in the book are much shier than those I’ve seen but its a survival skill that has served urban coyotes well. It is a large part of why they manage to thrive in urban settings.
Pick this up for your classroom and use it as an introduction to ecosystems and wildlife.
August 6, 2015
B.P.R.D. 1947 (From the pages of Hellboy)
By Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart, Gabriel Ba, and Fabio Moon
B.P.R.D. 1947 is one of the last installments to the B.P.R.D. series. This series tells of the events before Hellboy became a superhero. WWII has just ended and the United States is still very active in Europe rounding up SS officers to face justice for their war crimes. However when US officials open the train car in which the SS officers were being transported, the prisoners have been slaughtered by someone or something. After several of these incidents action must be taken.
Professor Bloom, who is in charge of the infant Hellboy, sends a team of soldiers to France to investigate the killings. A vampire is being blamed for the killings so the team plans to locate and dispatch him. The team of four soldiers was put together carefully and includes Jacob Stegner, a D-Day Survivor; Simon Anders, a merchant marine who survived twenty-four days alone in a lifeboat on the South Pacific; Frank Russel, a crude man who worked bomb and mine disposal in the African theatre; and Gabriel Ruiz, a Marine Raider who specialized in jungle warfare. This rag tag team must find the connection between this vampire and a gruesome opera written 200 years ago.
This book is an excellent mixture of occult thrill and mystery. It is the first book in the Hellboy universe I have read and I wasn’t lost or confused. This book explains the setting well without too much repetition that would bore someone familiar with Hellboy Lore (always a problem in so many book series). I would recommend this book for readers 13 and older interested in reading Hellboy. Although Hellboy, the character, makes only a brief appearance in this book, it is still an excellent introduction to the lore. This book does contain gore and violence so proceed with caution if this makes you squeamish. This book will get you into the Hellboy books or comic books in general if you are looking at a first book.
Reviewed by Jared (16 year-old son of SueBE)
August 3, 2015
The Flight of the Cliff Bird
by Leslie J. Wyatt
Royal Fireworks Press
Life isn’t easy in the cliff dwellings along the edge of the green mesa, but it is the life that Cliff Bird and her family know and love. Cliff Bird lives with her Grandmother and helps the village women grind corn and takes her turn chasing birds out of the fields.
Cliff Bird loves to run along the top of the mesa, pushing herself to flow like the wind. When she and her cousins, Summer Sky and Mesa Flower learn basket weaving and pottery making, Cliff Bird learns that her fingers are as swift and nimble as her legs. Her baskets and pots are graceful and pleasing and the potter compares her work to that of her father.
But mentions of her father are bitter sweet. A runner, he left several years ago to carry news to other pueblos. Why has he not returned? Cliff Bird worries he has died. Summer Sky’s father says that he did not love her enough to come back. Why are he and his wife so mean since her mother has
The life that Wyatt describes in this book will be new and strange to young readers who know nothing of the cliff dwellings. That said, she describes the mesa, the pueblos and the kiva so vividly that readers will easily picture the world she paints.
As strange as the details may seem, readers will easily identify with Cliff Bird who yearns for love and approval even as she learns to connect with Summer Sky whose life may not be as easy as Cliff Bird once assumed.
This is a young middle grade story. Although Cliff Bird worries about what will become of her and her people if they must leave the pueblo, it is not as angst ridden as a young adult story might be and it ends with a strong note of hope. No matter where they ended up, for the people did eventually abandon the cliff dwellings, they left together.
July 30, 2015
A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design
by Chip Kidd
Do you have a teen who likes to write and create his own books, comics or memse? Then Kidd’s book is a must.
Kidd takes readers from the basics (what you do through design) to how to do it. And it does it with the quirky style that anyone will recognize who has seen his TED talks. Not familiar with his videos? Think two parts unique perspective and an equal part of sass. That’s why his work will speak to teen readers. He tells it like it is, knows his stuff and never takes himself too seriously.
What are the basics? They can best be described if you think of an EXIT sign. The function is to tell people how to get out of a given area. The form is the sign itself. Font? Clean, simple, and easy to read. Color choices? White font on red or red font on white. Either choice is high contrast and easy to read.
Kidd doesn’t stop here. He shows how the pairing of BIG and small elements can draw viewers in as can a large scale, horizonal and vertical line, symmetry, assymetry and more. He gets into font choice, color, graphics and illusion.
It all sounds a bit dull and dry but it is anything but when combined with Kidd’s irreverent take on the world. Face it, this is the man who did an impromptu slithery dance just because the TED people gave him a “skanky head mic” instead of a “stand mic, the sensible shoe of public address.”
Kidd ties the book up with ten projects that he invites readers to not only comoplete but to share. This is where I got my big surprise. One project involves taking some that you always see in one specific color, like an orange, and painting it. Kidd painted it blue. The surprise came when he told readers to get an adult’s permission to spray paint. What? Why do I need to talk to an adult? I am an adult! Then I flipped the book over and discovered it is part of the libraries teen collection. Yeah, I’m quick like that every day.
The information is thorough enough for an adult learner but presented in a way that is suitable for tweens and teens who will live the fact that they are dealing with an adult, or so the rumor’s go, who is probably twice as sassy as they are.
Read and laugh and learn.
July 28, 2015
The Stand: Soul Survivors
by Stephen King
This book tells of the journey of several groups of survivors in a post-apocalypse America. A deadly plague has wiped out most of the known World and most of the survivors are plagued by terrible nightmares instructing them to go to Mother Abagail in Nebraska. Other survivors are corrupted by the dark man and go to the West.
Nick Andros is a deaf, mute man with an eye patch over one eye. However this does not keep him from surviving. He seems to be an unlikely match for Tom Cullen, a mentally challenged boy who cannot read the notes that Nick normally communicates with. After meeting him while searching for a drugstore, Tom struck Nick as an irritant. After seeing how helpless Tom would be without him Nick convinced him to join him on his trek to Mother Abagail’s farm in Nebraska. Nick and Tom continue together until they meet another group of survivors. They then continue by truck to Nebraska.
The Stand: Soul Survivors mixes the post-apocalyptic journey featured in the Walking Dead with Stephen King’s storytelling ability. The story is definitely more of an adventure than an action book. It is a little slower paced but it’s slow pace gives it a more story vibe than a action packed comic book vibe. You won’t find the gore splattering firefights and running from hordes of undead that the Walking Dead comics feature but you will still find yourself loving the characters and turning the page.
I would recommend this book for readers ages 14 on up. If you liked the Walking Dead or any more of Stephen King’s novels this is a good read. This has several graphic scenes so be wary. That said, the novel is not too scary so don’t be afraid to read it before bed but does have a creepy feel to it.
Reviewed by Jared (16 year-old son of SueBE)
Note from SueBE: Yes, those of you who are familiar with King’s work will recognize the title. This is a graphic novel retelling of The Stand, my all time favorite King novel.