October 29, 2015
Bug in a Vacuum
by Melanie Watt
Bug, a house fly by trade, is enjoying a leisurely fly through the house when he finds himself pulled deep into someplace he doesn’t want to be. I’m not sure he knows what it is but the reader will know by the pictures that Bug has been sucked into a vacuum cleaner. That’s the story told in the text.
Through the illustrations, readers see a second story. The same day that Bug is sucked into the vacuum, so is the pup’s favorite toy — a cloth dachshund that looks much like the dog in question. The rest of the story takes place both inside and outside the canister vacuum as Bug and pup learn to cope with their loss.
Because that’s what this picture book is really about although the only place it says so is the brief author’s note at the end. There Watt briefly explains the 5 stages of grief — denial, bargaining, despair, anger, and acceptance. Face it, at 96 pages, this book had to be about more than a house fly stuck in a vacuum.
That’s right. 96 pages. Most picture books are 32 pages. Some are 48. Don’t let the fact that this one is super-sized freak you out. It is well worth the time it will take to flip through the pages taking in Watt’s amazingly detailed illustrations. Watt’s illustrations and her reputation are what first drew me to the book — the fact that it is by Watt.
Although we always laughed at Scaredy Squirrel, Chester was always a household favorite. If you don’t know Chester check out this cat who does his best to take over the book that tells his story.
Whether or not your child is experiencing a loss, this book is worth checking out. As you read each section, discuss with your young reader times that she or he has felt this way. You may be surprised by some of the answers.
And do read through to the end. This is more than a story about grief. It is also a story about a bug who gets caught in a vacuum and a dog that loses his favorite toy. In the end, they both have something new, something neither of them thought to desire.
October 26, 2015
The Dog that Nino Didn’t Have
by Edward van de Vendel
illustrated by Anton van Hertbruggen
When readers first meet him, Nino doesn’t have a real dog. At least not a dog that is real in the sense that other people can see it. He has an imaginary dog that goes with him wherever he goes — into the lake, into the woods and to visit his great-grandmother. His dog is adventuresome and fun and ready companion, especially when he’s missing his father, a pilot.
But then the dog “he doesn’t have” is replaced by a real dog, the kind that his mother and great-grandma can see. I love the way that the real dog looks a little like the “didn’t have” dog but that this dog is still completely different. He doesn’t chase squirrels. He chases rabbits. He prefers sand to lake water.
Anyone who isn’t a picture book fan, anyone who thinks that these slender books are slight needs to pick this one up. This is a book with substance. I love that without actually saying it, without preaching, this book lets young readers know that what we imagine and what we get are never quite the same but that this is okay.
When I opened the package and pulled out The Dog that Nino Didn’t Have my first thought was “who sent me an old book?” But it didn’t smell old. It didn’t feel old. Yet something about the colors and the art work just give off that “old” vibe. I checked the Library of Congress information in the back of the book and it isn’t old but it is other — published first in Belgium. I don’t know if it is typical of Belgian books but I do know that this is a book you should share with the young reader in your life who has an active imagination or is having problems facing change. Hmm. I think adults who are having problems with change would benefit as well.
Add this book to your classroom shelf, your counseling shelf or your shelf at home.
October 22, 2015
by Jessica Olien
Shark lived in a hotel room in the city. He loved to watch old detective movies. He was sure that he too could be a detective but it is really hard to find a case when you’re a shark. Finally, he sees a poster about a missing cat and he has his case.
Ridiculous? You bet. But that’s part of what makes this book so fun.
Shark lives in a residential hotel and wants to be a detective. The only way the book could get more film noir would be if Olien had illustrated it in black and white. Although there is plenty of black, she also uses a lot of intense colors and silly cartoony characters. Why does she need silly cartoony characters?
She has a shark roaming the streets, silly reader. And half of the fun of the book is watching people react to being approached by a shark in the street. The illustrations are so fun! But half the fun is the fact that Shark is absolutely clueless about the effect he has on people. Clueless. Which is hilarious since he’s a detective.
Although he solves the case, it turns out to be more than a case of a missing cat. Cat, apparently is missing his favorite toy, and needs help finding it. If that doesn’t sound like a cat, I don’t know what does! Realistic believable bits like this combine with the absurd to create a fun book that is sure to be a hit at story time as young readers share in the fun, picking out fun details in the story, reacting to seeing a shark in the streets, and coming up with new cases for Shark and his new buddy, Cat.
This is definitely a younger picture book and short enough to make a good story time read.
October 20, 2015
Don’t be fooled by the cover. This may look like a picture book but it is not for the picture book crowd. Who is it for? Tweens up.
Little Worm pitches a fit when he finds a hair in his dirt because the dirt is, after all, his dinner. He’s had it. Worms are the lowest of the low. They eat dirt morning, noon, and night. And he’s had it.
Father Worm is sure that Little Worm will change his mind if he will just listen to Father’s story. What appears to be a long, ramgling yarn is actually a story about the interconnectedness of nature, an insider’s look at what nature is really all about (flowers? all about sex), and just how clueless people tend to be about the web of life and their part in it. The “star” of Father’s story is a princess who comes into play again in the end.
I don’t want to go into a lot of detail because this is definitely one you need to read for yourself. It is a delightful combination of fantasy (hello! Talking worms) and fact (grey squirrels being an invasive species). Although this is a book written for adults, I think it is adults who will have the greatest problem accepting this combination of flip humor and science fact.
Who will this book appeal to? Larson is the cartoonist behind the Far Side. If you are or were a fan, pick up There’s a Hair in My Dirt. If you love science but aren’t afraid of sarcastic, goof ball humor, this is the book for you. And if you’re a little brainy and love a good laugh, again, pick this book up.
The reader who recommended it to me is a high school teacher who brings the book in for her biology classes. This is definitely teen humor — it is off beat and a bit gross at one point but it is fact and it is nature and it is a hoot.
October 15, 2015
Death Cloud: The Legend Begins
by Andrew Lane
Farrar Straus Giroux
I tend to have mixed feelings about the “well-known literary figure as a teen” books but something about this one intrigued me. Maybe it was just the thought of Sherlock Holmes before he was a know-it-all. Yes, I do actually like Sherlock Holmes but sometimes . . . sometimes I’d just like it if he would make a mistake.
As a young teen, Sherlock is pretty much a mistake looking for a place to happen. He is book smart but people clueless. I get the feeling that part of the problem is that he’s never had the chance to make friends. Let’s just say that he and his siblings have never been encouraged to fraternize with the rabble.
But that’s exactly what he does on this particular summer break when he isn’t allowed to go home. His father, a military man, has been shipped out to India. His older brother Mycroft is already employed in London. His mother isn’t taking things well. So Sherlock is shipped off to an aunt and uncle he’s never met.
Although he gets in trouble for striking up a friendship with an orphan who lives on a narrow boat, he and Matty hit it off. Matty may not have much formal education but he’s naturally observant and proves an able ally when Sherlock decides to investigate two deaths that the local authorities first mistake for plague.
Lane has created a believable teen version of Holmes. Already some of his quirks are evident and it is easy to see how some of the others will develop. The characters are all well-developed and believable although sometimes the villain seems over-the-top. That said, the story is a wonderful mystery with a healthy dose of adventure. There are hints of romance but I don’t remember anything more than a bit of hand holding, and if you can’t hold hands when you think you are both about to die, when can you do it?
If you have a middle grader who likes Sherlock Holmes or anything set in this period, share this book with them today.
October 5, 2015
Me . . . Jane
by Patrick McDonnell
Little, Brown and Company
When Jane was a little girl, she has a stuffed animal named Jubilee. Jane took this toy chimp everywhere she went and, for Jane, that was most often someplace outside. She watched birds and spiders and squirrels. She read books about alligators and other animals from all over the world. She and Jubilee even hid in the hen-house to find out where eggs come from.
Jane felt very connected with this magical world, from the trees to the wind. She read about Tarzan of the Apes and dreamed of a life in Africa. And eventually, her dream came true.
For those of you who haven’t guessed, this is a picture book about primatologist Jane Goodall. The last spread is simply amazing with a photo of Jane reaching out to be touched by a baby chimpanzee. Goodall was sent to study chimpanzees by paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey. She didn’t know exactly how to be a primatologist so she adapted the practices of the naturalists that she had read about. She went out into the wild and she watched.
This book doesn’t really get into that, except in the author’s note, but it does tell the story of a young girl who loves the natural world as well as her stuffed buddy, Jubilee. This isn’t a wild, rowdy picture book as much as it is a touching story about hopes and dreams and heart. Lots and lots of heart.
The funniest thing about writing this up is that I wanted to point out that Patrick McDonnell’s art work reminded me of the art work in the comic strip Mutts. Guess what? He’s the creator of the comic strip too. As it is in the comic strip, his artwork in the book is both simple and expressive. I especially love when Jane and Jubilee discover the origin of eggs.
This book won’t be your best choice for a high energy story time but it is definitely an excellent choice for cuddle-time reading, indoors or out.
October 1, 2015
(Book 1 of The Zodiac Legacy)
written by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore
illustrated by Andie Tong
Steven Lee is on a field trip with his class when he realizes that something just isn’t right. They are touring a Hong Kong history museum but the guide seems clueless. No matter what she says, Steven is certain the ancient Chinese never wrote on plastic.
He keeps an eye on her and follows her through a basement entrance into what looks like a high tech cavern. They are definitely underground but the covern is strung with cables and wires and odd green lights periodically shine down onto liquid pools in the floor.
When one of these lights draws near, Steven sees a long line of Chinese people — peasants, farmers and royalty. Just as the light strikes him, he spots his grandfather smiling at him. Stephen has been struck by the power of the Tiger, his life changed forever as he now has the strength, the stealth and the bravery of this great cat.
Two people have captured the power of the Dragon, one working for Good, the other Evil. Each of them hurries to find the newest Zodiac recruits and recruit them to their way of thinking.
Steven joins Jasmine and works to recruit the Rabbit, The Ram and the Pig to work for good. Maxwell, the evil dragon is a former mercenary with very deep pockets and firm belief that whatever he wants is right. And he wants all 12 Zodiac powers for himself. He has already recruited the Horse, the Rat, the Monkey, the Dog and the Snake. A few more recruits and no one will be able to stand in his way.
Lee and Moore bring readers a true comic book style story in this struggle between good and evil. Young people find themselves in posession of super powers that the struggle to understand even as they try to learn to work together. Tong’s art work pulls the story together, giving it energy and power.
In truth, it is an over-simplification to say that Maxwell and his side represent evil. As always Stan Lee’s baddies work believing that their cause is rightous and the end for which they work both desirable and just. Share this with the young comic book fan in your life today. Book 2 is due out in January.