Two outstanding new children’s books are sure to delight young readers and are destined to achieve contemporary classic status. These novels capture the best of children’s literature with appealing stories, engaging characters and unforgettable adventures.
Settle back and enjoy an old fashioned tall tale in the latest from Newbery Honor-winning author Kathi Appelt. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is a rollicking story told from the perspectives of human and animal residents of the Sugar Man Swamp. Rich in local color, with a quirky cast of characters, Appelt’s masterful storytelling will immediately engage readers. Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’Miah, 12-year-old Chap Brayburn and the Sugar Man (who just might be a distant relative of Bigfoot!) join forces to prevent the development of the swamp by greedy bad guys. The short chapters create a sense of urgency and add to the fast-paced storytelling while lessons about conservation and development are delivered gently. This entertaining story is perfect for reading aloud as demonstrated by Lyle Lovett, whose impeccable narration on the audio edition is unforgettable.
The Doll Bones by Holly Black wraps themes of friendship, storytelling and growing up in a deliciously spooky quest story. For years, Zach, Poppy and Alice have played an intricate game involving pirates, mermaids and warriors in an imaginary land ruled by the Great Queen — a bone-china doll who resides in Poppy’s family china cabinet. But Zach’s dad thinks a 12-year-old boy should only be playing sports and forces Zach to quit the game. Then Poppy removes the Great Queen from the cabinet and unleashes the ghost of a girl named Eleanor whose ashes were used to make the doll. Eleanor’s ghost demands a proper burial for the doll, and Poppy convinces the others to help execute this request. The three embark on an epic journey and must face percolating issues, including conflicts at home and their own changing relationships, all while dodging danger and staving off the supernatural. Thrills and chills enough to satisfy any scary movie fan!
The son of two famous stage magicians, Max Flash is himself a great escape artist, contortionist and illusionist. These very qualities prompt his parents’ true employer, the Department for Extraordinary Activity (DFEA) to recruit him for a special assignment. In Game On, Max’s first mission is to close the portal between the video game world (Virtuals’ world) and the real world (Gamers’ world) before the Virtuals take over. With the use of a special USB gadget, Max is thrust into the Virtual world via a computer hard drive. His task is to locate the escaped Virtual, Deezil, and close the portal between the two worlds. As he travels from game to game looking for the portal and the evil Deezil, Max must avoid race cars, battle centurions and flee farmers in his quest to save the Gamer world. Relying only on his own cunning and special skills (and some nifty gadgets from the DFEA), Max defies death and suppresses the Virtual uprising before returning home.
The first in the Max Flash series by Jonny Zucker, Game On is a fast paced adventure and the start of a fabulous series for young readers. Max’s further missions will have him battling aliens in space, robots in a parallel universe, an Egyptian curse, and mysterious beings in the Antarctic. With original stories, a likable hero and short, action-filled chapters, Max Flash is an all-around great read. Fans of the television series Phineas and Ferb will enjoy this series for its quirky storylines and action-packed heroic adventures.
A recent book to hit our children’s nonfiction shelves features an arresting cover image: a familiar red octagonal stop sign shape with the unexpected imperative “Go.” This also happens to be the title of renowned book cover designer Chip Kidd’s volume for the younger set, Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design. The text for this highly creative book begins right on the inside cover, grabbing readers and plunging them headfirst into the influence of graphic design.
Go teaches as much by example as it does by narrative. Kidd takes the reader on a vibrant, visual field trip through the real world, where we make choices based on the design choices of others. A soda can label, baseball, remote control and a hand-lettered chalkboard are examples of everyday items that are influenced (and influencing) by design. A timeline takes us carefully through high points in the history of graphic design, with pithy comments relating to the accompanying illustrations. Did you know that the familiar smiling logo for the children’s toy Colorforms is an example of the simplicity of Bauhaus?
Never preachy, never boring, Kidd is the best art teacher you’ve never had. He takes on subjects like scale, focus, image quality, color theory and positive and negative space, bringing them to life in a memorable way. A fascinating chapter on typography, including a history of 30 different fonts, is set in the fonts themselves. Content gets its due (“form follows function”), as does concept (“your idea of what to do”). A final section is devoted to design projects, inviting readers to put what they’ve learned to use. Kidd encourages readers to share their creations online.
Go is one of five nominees for The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, to be awarded by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, at the end of January 2014. This book is highly recommended for not only older children but also for teens and adults as well.
Check out Old Mikamba Had a Farm by Rachel Isadora, a fresh rendition of the classic nursery song set in majestic Africa. The illustrations radiate in vibrant collages through the use of pencil shading, newspaper clippings, textile designs and watercolor. With all new animal sounds, you can find out along with your child what noises warthogs, springboks and dassies make. Perfect for preschool through second grade, this bright picture book’s melody and theme are familiar enough to have children singing along while introducing lesser known animals to help broaden both their vocabulary and global cultural awareness. The glossary of animals in the back is a fun and informative feature, too.
Off to Market, written by Elizabeth Dale and illustrated by Erika Pal, tells the story of a drive to market on Joe’s bus. While driving through a Ugandan town, Joe picks up a variety of community members such as women with baskets of fruit, a woman with two goats and an elderly nun. However, trouble begins when Joe’s generosity causes him to overload the bus with passengers. It’s up to the little boy Keb to save the day with heart, smarts and kindness.
In The Race for the Chinese Zodiac, Gabrielle Wang introduces the 12 animals who raced across a river in order to have a year named for them by the Jade Emperor. From the courageous tiger to the wise snake, each animal is exquisitely illustrated by Sally Rippin, who used Chinese painting techniques. This fanciful retelling shows the character traits each beast embodies as they brave the waters to claim a cherished spot. The descriptions of each zodiac animal, their years and their attributes make this an easy yet delightful way to introduce children to the Chinese zodiac.
Do you enjoy a good mystery? Are you fascinated by science and technology? If you answered “yes,” then Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith is definitely for you. This is the first book in a new series that follow 11-year-old siblings Nick and Tesla as they spend a summer in California with their quirky uncle Newt, an eccentric and somewhat absent-minded inventor.
The twins almost have free range of their uncle’s lab in the basement of his home. They build a rocket out of PVC pipe and an empty soda bottle and some other odds and ends they find around the house. Something goes wrong on the rocket’s maiden launch. Instead of just going up and back down, the rocket ends up in the yard of a spooky old house. But this is not just any spooky old house. This one is surrounded by a fence and guarded by dogs. Even worse, when the rocket didn’t initially take off like they expected, Tesla got too close while checking a seal. The rocket took off with the necklace her parents had given her. Will they be able to retrieve the rocket and Tesla’s necklace? Who’s the mysterious girl in the creepy house’s upstairs window? And why is a black SUV following them wherever they go?
This book is great for kids who have advanced past first chapter books. There are five illustrated experiments that show the reader – with the help of an adult, of course – how to make the gadgets that Nick and Tesla make in the story. A fast-paced adventure novel, Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab is sure to bring out your inner mad-scientist.
A boy’s first summer of independence and puppy love is described in the charming novelette, Meeting Cézanne, by Michael Morpurgo. Set in 1960’s Provence, France, Meeting Cézanne tells the story of 10-year-old Yannick’s summer infatuation with Provence, his cousin, and the artist Paul Cézanne. When an unfortunate misunderstanding leads to Yannick destroying a drawing by the “most famous painter in the world,” Yannick tries to repair the damage by asking Monsieur Cézanne for a new one.
Paired with colorful illustrations by Francois Place, themselves reminiscent of Cézanne’s work, this re-release of Morpurgo’s short story is a wonderful book for the elementary school set. Morpurgo’s first person prose will resonate with young readers. Yannick’s yearning for his cousin to like him, his desire to fix his error and his confusion over the famous artist are realistic and relatable. Morpurgo is the award-winning author of many children’s books, including War Horse which was made into a movie directed by Steven Spielberg. He was also named Children’s Laureate in the United Kingdom from 2003-2005.
Besides being a great read, Meeting Cézanne is sure to pique an interest in painters for the reader. 13 Painters Children Should Know by Florian Heine is a great introduction to the many various painting styles of the great artists. Heine provides a brief biography of each artist as well as a detailed description of what makes each special. Additionally, Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! by Jonah Winter is a delightful picture book describing the ups and downs of Picasso’s art career. Beautifully illustrated with artwork by Kevin Hawkes, Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! is a quick and easy foray into the world of Picasso.
Two new visually stunning picture books capture the essence and energy of the train, a holiday staple and year-round hit with kids of all ages. Celebrated author/illustrators Brian Floca and Elisha Cooper each tackle this transportation wonder and provide entertainment and facts sure to entice readers again and again.
Floca explores America’s early railroads in Locomotive. Illustrations and vibrant text bring the sounds, smells and strength of these mighty vehicles alive on the page. Using the travels of a mother and her two children on the newly constructed Transcontinental Railroad as a framework, Floca masterfully succeeds in presenting the history of the magnificent train and capturing the impact this new mode of travel had on shaping America. Free verse, heavy with alliteration and onomatopoeia, along with frequent changes in font and typeface capture the movement and splendor of the train. The nuanced paintings complement the text and detail the mechanics of the train as well as the beauty of the surrounding landscapes. Endpapers and an author’s note offer enlightening details. Every page offers facts which will delight and educate even the most ardent train aficionado.
Fast forward 150 years and board a variety of trains in Elisha Cooper’s Train. Cooper invites the reader to join him on an adventurous trip as he examines today’s train travel. The action starts with a commuter train heading west and switches to a passenger train rolling through the Midwest. A freight train loads its cargo and rumbles toward its destination past an overnight train climbing the Rocky Mountains. Finally, there’s the dramatic high-speed train, a bullet-shaped beauty. Cooper’s fluid language and dappled watercolors capture nature’s grandeur and the movement, speed and power of these mighty trains. Further reading is provided with a glossary, facts section and brief author’s note. Readers will want to punch multiple tickets and take repeat rides on this journey of discovery.
The days are getting shorter, and the weather’s getting colder. This can only mean one thing: winter is almost here. With the changing of the seasons come some new winter themed picture books that you can enjoy with your kids. If It’s Snowy and You Know It, Clap Your Paws! by Kim Norman and illustrated by Liza Woodruff uses a well-known children’s participatory song and brings the reader along on an adventure in the chilly outdoors. Whether you are tasting a flake, grabbing your skis or building a fort, you will have fun following along as a group of arctic animals enjoy a day playing outdoors together. If you like this book you may also want to check out the author’s other winter-themed book, Ten on a Sled, an alliterative counting story featuring the same cast of characters.
When Lulu wakes up and looks out her window, she sees that an unexpected snow storm has blanketed everything in fluffy white in Ladybug Girl and the Big Snow by David Soman and Jacky Davis. Putting on snow gear, along with her trademark tutu and wings, Lulu, aka Ladybug Girl, steps outside with her dog Bingo to play in the winter wonderland. This book shows the joys of imagination, perseverance and cooperation. A great choice to read while curled up in front of a fire while waiting for some snowflakes to fall.
Winter Friends by Charles Reasoner features forest creatures playing outdoors on a snowy winter night. This die cut book has adorably illustrated animals, simple rhyming text and thick cardboard pages which make it a perfect choice to share with babies and toddlers. It may be cold outside, but it’s a great time to snuggle up with a good book.
Three new books take on the perennial favorite topic of dinosaurs, but with new information being discovered all the time, adults as well as kids will find themselves learning – or relearning – about these fascinating creatures from the past.
Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Know What Dinosaurs Really Looked Like? by Catherine Thimmesh focuses on the new developments in paleontology with regard to the outward appearance of dinosaurs. She teams with a group of six acclaimed paleoartists who have worked with museums, movie studios and magazines to properly depict dinosaurs based on the latest research. This includes the discoveries made in the past two decades of the existence of feathers on many dinosaurs. The author, a Sibert medalist, explains in kid-friendly terminology how scientists have come to current conclusions, and how each future discovery could change their minds.
In Tracking Tyrannosaurs: Meet T. rex’s Fascinating Family, from Tiny Terrors to Feathered Giants, Christopher Sloan discusses the many other tyrannosaurs that lived in the Mesozoic Era among their more well-known cousin Tyrannosaurus rex. This National Geographic production features the publisher’s usual excellent art. Graphs and timelines help explain when each of these tyrannosaurs lived, and sidebars discuss the theories that paleontologists have regarding their close relationship to the birds of today. Particularly clear is the explanation of the simultaneous eras of the dinosaurs and the breakup of supercontinent Pangaea resulting in the continents that now exist.
For younger readers deciding on a favorite, The Greatest Dinosaur Ever by Brenda Z. Guiberson contains many options. Gennady Spirin’s double-page oil paint on paper illustrations are in soft but clear colors. Each dinosaur explains the reasons (huge claws, best parent, club-like tail, etc.) as to why it is the greatest dinosaur ever. Sure to spark debate among dino-loving youngsters, there is really no right or wrong selection. The author also focuses on a number of bird-like dinosaurs, again showing the relationship between the “terrible lizards” of long ago and the feathered creatures of today.
In an alternate Victorian-era England, all towns have a resident monster whose job is to scare and thrill the residents, as well as to protect them. Stoker-on-Avon has a problem: their monster is suffering from depression and a general lack of confidence. Much to the townsfolk’s dismay, Rayburn hasn’t attacked in well over a year and a half. Rob Harrell’s graphic novel Monster on the Hill chronicles the efforts of Charles Wilkie, doctor and inventor, who has been dispatched by the town fathers to “fix the monster.” Timothy, the self-proclaimed town crier/street urchin, stows away in the doctor’s trunk in order to be a part of the mission.
Rayburn, a heavy-lidded, horned, winged, rust-colored creature, boasts no special skills or talents. He doesn’t breathe fire and he can’t fly. After diagnosing his problem, Wilkie suggests a restorative road trip to visit other town monsters to pick up some “tricks of the trade.” His old school chum Noodles, better known as Tentaculor, may offer just the boost he needs. This edgy, drolly humorous graphic novel will capture the imagination of a wide range of readers, much like Jeff Smith’s popular Bone series. Harrell captures a Victorian feel while sprinkling in modern anachronisms to good comic effect, as vendors hawk Tentaculor merchandise (like trading cards and Tentacu-Pops) after a recent attack. Older children who enjoy tales of adventure and dragons will enjoy the twist on the usual trope. Harrell’s wide-eyed villagers and thoroughly detailed monsters are enormously visually appealing, as is his choice of a bright, colorful palette. Readers will eagerly await upcoming books in this ongoing, all-ages series.