#PictureBook Review: Moletown by Torben Kuhlmann

#PictureBook Review: Moletown by Torben Kuhlmann

MoletownMoletown by Torben Kuhlmann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher: North South Books

older reader picture book

Moletown is a thinly veiled cautionary tale of the history of Moletown. It all started when one mole moved under a lush green meadown. Then a few more moles came. And some more… and things underground began to change.

This is an almost wordless story. Kuhlmann puts text at the beginning and the end and there are words throughout the illustrations. But the story is mostly told by his beautiful illustrations. I almost hesitate to say beautiful because the story is not a pretty one. What starts out as a lush green field soon becomes grimy, overcrowded, congested, and industrial.

“Generations later, the moles’ green meadow had completely disappeared. Almost.” We see the field covered in molehills with smokey chimneys coming out of the ground. There could be hope because the end papers show a newspaper headline “Agreement on Green”. There are images of two moles shaking hands, a mole holding a “Save the Trees” protest sign, and wind turbines instead of chimneys coming out of the ground. But one wonders… does this change come too late?

This is a good title for an older reader (4-6 or 7) who will be able to grasp what is happening. I think my 3 year old would comprehend what was taking place and become emotionally burdened by it. Not to say that isn’t an appropriate response…

This would also be good for those who love the message of Seuss’ The Lorax (as I do!). I would highly recommend this for purchase of a public library collection and possibly even a book tween book club Lorax comparison.

Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced edition in exchange for my honest opinion!

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Book Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Book Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books

middle grade science fiction

Is time travel possible? Will Miranda’s mother win $20,000? And why did her closest friend, Sal, suddenly push her out of his life? On top of all of this, an anonymous person sends Miranda four mysterious notes warning her of the future and giving her proof that the warnings are real. But she cannot accept that they are really for her or are serious until the proof begins revealing itself to her.

This was a great story about getting out of your comfort zone which is such an important concept during the middle grade years. Miranda branches out and meets new friends, befriends her enemies, and learns that not everything is to be envied… that things are not always as they appear.

Stead includes a lovely nod to L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time. It is Miranda’s favorite book that she carries with her wherever she goes. I love that her interest in a book makes the seemingly impossible things that happen over the course of the story seem possible to her. This could be Stead’s way of reminding that books are incredibly powerful.

Stead gives us a roller coaster filled with sweet moments, troubling puzzles, and revelations that change Miranda for the better. I really enjoyed this book!

Unrealistic fiction for middle grade books tend to be heavy on the fantasy and lighter on the science fiction. When You Reach Me has the classic middle grade elements of focusing on family and friends, coming of age, etc. But this title would be good for the middle grade reader who shows an interest in science fiction over fantasy. It could be a special read for those who really loved Wrinkle in Time.

I would recommend this title for purchase for a public library collection. I would also recommend this title for a book club.

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#PictureBook Review: Max the Brave by Ed Vere

#PictureBook Review: Max the Brave by Ed Vere

Max the BraveMax the Brave by Ed Vere
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Max the Brave
by Ed Vere
Puffin

picture book, storytime

Source: NetGalley

Max, the curious and brave kitten. He would find and catch a mouse… if only he knew what one looked like. In the style of Are You My Mother?, Max goes about asking anyone he sees if they are a mouse. Mouse wisely tells him he is a monster and points to where Mouse (the REAL monster) is sleeping peacefully. He didn’t realize Mouse would be so big. He didn’t realize Mouse’s teeth would be so big. Perhaps he should stick to chasing monsters!

The pages are rich with bright colors! This would make a great storytime book offering lots of chances to interact with children each time Max asks another animal if they are a mouse.

I would purchase this title for a public library collection and I would use this for a toddler storytime.

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Book Review: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Book Review: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita the Spacegirl (Zita the Spacegirl, #1)Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Zita the Spacegirl, #1
by Ben Hatke
First Second Books

graphic novel, middle grade science fiction

There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place. ~ G.K. Chesterton

Hatke opens with this appropriate quote from Chesterton. Two friends are ripped out of normal childhood activity after stumbling upon a device that opens a portal to another planet. They lose each other in this raucous new world and Zita spends her time trying to find her friend. She meets many new friends and makes some enemies along the way. Oh, and she and her friends save the planet.

I am actually rereading Zita right now because I recently recommended it to someone seeking out middle-grade science fiction. I read it previously and gave it four stars then. But upon rereading it I bumped it up to five stars.

This is a great read that explores science fiction themes in an nonthreatening way for young readers. There are touching moments between friends, silly sidekick characters, and I am always a sucker for a good female lead. Even better, Zita could have been ambiguously gendered and nothing would have changed. Hatke gives her depth by showing her fear and strength. He shows silence and movement beautifully in his illustrations.

I would purchase this title for a public library collection and definitely recommend it (again) for anyone seeking out middle grade science fiction!

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#PictureBook Review: Not a Box and Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis

#PictureBook Review: Not a Box and Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis

Not a BoxNot a Box by Antoinette Portis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s a mountain, a car, a building on fire, a robot costume, a pirate ship, and a hot air balloon! But definitely NOT A BOX!

Not A Box and her follow up Not A Stick will be appreciated by youth and adult alike. Children will be able to relate to the ability to see a rocket when looking at a cardboard box and a paintbrush when looking at a stick. Adults will be reminded to encourage a healthy imagination and hopefully be able to see these things for themselves.

The cover of Not A Box is made to feel like a corrugated box, includes a “Net Wt. 11.5 oz” in the bottom right corner, and the end papers are kraft paper. Portis’ simple lines are black and white on the pages where an unknown person is asking about the box. The pages where the bunny responds, “It’s not a box” are colorful. She shows the same black lines as on the previous page with red lines outlining a car around the box, highlighting the bunny’s more colorful imagination.

These books are quite fun and will spark some adventurous imaginary play for everyone that reads them!
Not a StickNot a Stick by Antoinette Portis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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#PictureBook Review: Wild by Emily Hughes

#PictureBook Review: Wild by Emily Hughes

WildWild by Emily Hughes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No one remembered how she came to the woods… A little girl grows up happy learning to talk, eat, and play from the birds, bears, and foxes. Until one day, she is discovered by some hunters. She is taken to the city where she is expected to follow rules… and no one is happy.

Hughes’ illustrations are florid and wild like our feral protagonist. Earthy tones abound bringing nature to the page. This book is a nice reminder to parents and caregivers. We must give our children room to be themselves. Forcing them to be something they aren’t will only make everyone unhappy. In a lighthearted way, Hughes addresses a somewhat difficult subject: the ever present friction between child and adult. Rules vs freedom. My daughter gets a little upset when she makes a mess of the toys. I take the opportunity to talk about how she doesn’t know their rules and expectations. I hope I can only remember that next time I get frustrated when someone isn’t “doing it right”.

Great reminder, Emily Hughes. Thank you!

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The Yarn, A New Bookish Podcast!

The Yarn, A New Bookish Podcast!

ICYMI, Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp recently launched a new podcast closely examining one book from many different angles. In a nod to the hugely popular podcast Serial, each episode looks at an upcoming book from Jennifer Holm called Sunny Side Up from the perspective of the different individuals that worked on the book. They have released the episodes in quick succession, Netflix-style.

Schedule for Season 1 of “The Yarn”:

Aug. 17: Introduction/”This Season on The Yarn”

Aug. 18: Raina Telgemeier (graphic novel expert)

Aug. 19: David Levithan (editor/author)

Aug. 20: Phil Falco (cover designer)

Aug. 21: David Saylor (founder/publisher of the Graphix imprint)

Aug. 22: Lark Pien (cartoonist/colorist)

Aug. 23: Matthew Holm (illustrator)

Aug. 24: Jennifer Holm (author)

It is amazing how many people put so much work into one book. This podcast offers a really great look into the creative process and the publishing industry. Check it out… if you haven’t already!

#PictureBook Review: Wild and Tame Animals by Dahlov Ipcar

#PictureBook Review: Wild and Tame Animals by Dahlov Ipcar

Wild And Tame AnimalsWild And Tame Animals by Dahlov Ipcar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wild and Tame Animals
by Dahlov Ipcar
Nobrow Ltd

Source: Edelweiss

picturebook, nonfiction

Ipcar’s beautiful drawings introduce young readers to the complex relationship humans have with animals, past and present. They started out wild but were tamed over time and many of them “work for man” by providing milk or food.

Ipcar provides beautiful illustrations and uses a Wes Anderson-like palette. Unfortunately, the accompanying text fell flat and is less inspired.

This would be a good title for a child or caretaker of a child who has become interested in where food comes from or why we invite some animals into our homes and not others. I would purchase this for a public library collection.

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Book Review: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Book Review: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

AuroraAurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is it really possible for humans to settle on other planets? Or did we only evolve as we did because of the conditions on Earth? Is it possible to make planets outside of our solar system habitable for humans? What about the life already there? Could we cohabitate? Once again, KSR asks the big “what if” questions that are eye opening, thought provoking, and horrifying in his latest book, Aurora.

Readers are dropped in the middle of mission on a generation ship taking humans from Earth to the Tau Ceti star to explore a habitable planet there. Passengers on the ship are dealing with balancing elements in their flying petri dish and genetic degeneration in human, flora, and fauna. The kinds of problems one expects on a mission of this nature. Once they reach their destination, they are dealt many other difficulties that don’t really let up until the end.

Devi and Freya, mother and daughter, are the main human characters but I believe our protagonist is the AI/Pauline/Ship. Ship is by far my favorite character and KSR does a phenomenal job of taking this character from quantum computer to conscious being. Ship becomes fixated on metaphor and as Ship evolves begins to use phrases like “its as if” more and more. Towards the end, Ship even begins to use the pronoun I and the possessive adjective my in the narrative.

KSR puts so much research and technical information into his writing and yet makes it very accessible. In fact, as I read this and other books of his I find myself asking questions and doing research on things he mentions. He writes beautifully.

I read the book and listened to the audiobook simultaneously. When Ship begins to speak to passengers, Ship discusses the level of decibels that are painful to the human ear. They applied some nice effects on the voice of the narrator during these scenes. I didn’t care for the voices used to differentiate between characters but the female voice that narrates Ship was appropriately computer-like.

This will be a good read for those who enjoy creepy AI and thought experiments. If you enjoy 2001, I believe you will enjoy this book. It is a haunting story that makes reader question how one would feel as passenger on such a voyage.

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Book Review: Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry

Book Review: Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry

Peter and the Starcatchers (Peter and the Starcatchers, #1)Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dave Barry’s take on Peter Pan takes us back to when Peter was an orphan making a trip on a ship called The Neverland. He gets entangled with a girl named Molly whose family has long been tasked with protecting starstuff that falls from the sky. They protect it from falling in to the hands of The Others who only want to use it obtain power. The Starcatchers seek out starstuff that has fallen from the heavens, hide it, and return it to the sky during very specific times.

Peter ends up helping Molly which takes us on a wild and funny ride slowly introducing us to the elements of the Peter Pan story so familiar to us: Captain Hook and his pirates, the crocodile, the island, the mermaids, Tinkerbell, and “pixie dust”.

Peter, cocky kid who refuses to grow up from previous adaptations, is shy and insecure, going along for the ride in this story. Over the course of this and the following title in the series, Peter and the Shadow Thieves, we see him grow into that character. I wish that Tinkerbell had been given more depth instead of being immediately the jealous female. Molly, daughter of a major player in Starcatcher circles, takes the lead in this adventure. Until Shadow Thieves, that is. I found her to be pretty lame in Shadow Thieves which is why I might not make it past the second book in this series.

Over all, I found this first book a delightful read that added a layer to the now familiar tale of Peter Pan. I actually listened to the audiobook of this title read by Jim Dale. It was fantastic! Jim Dale’s expressive voice adds so much to the stories he reads. I was taken back to the time I listened to him read me some of the Harry Potter books. He alone adds a touch of magic.

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