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.
Classic fairy tales are enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to a number of imaginative retellings, both in print and on screen. Adults and children alike will want to read the original stories in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, first published in 1823, and reissued in a brand new collection. This volume includes detailed etchings of the period by noted English caricaturist George Cruikshank, supplemented by a half dozen color illustrations by popular artists like Quentin Blake and Helen Oxenbury. The German tales, handed down through oral tradition, were published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who called them “House Stories.” They were meant to be enjoyed and appreciated by anyone in the house, not just children. This collection contains 55 stories, from the familiar “Ashputtel” (German for Cinderella) to the lesser known “Faithful John,” many of which contain creepy or unsettling elements—these are not the happily ever after Disney versions.
Author Adam Gidwitz begins The Grimm Conclusion, the third book in his popular series of retellings, by noting “once upon a time, fairy tales were grim.” He further states that the versions of the stories that most people know are “incredibly, mind-numbingly, want-to-hit-yourself-in-the-head-with-a-sledgehammer-ingly boring.” The narrator of this novel follows Grimm characters Jorinda and Joringel as they become participants in other Grimm stories. Infused with a dark sense of humor, Gidwitz’s popular novels embrace the blood, gore and general horror of the original tales. As a former school teacher (and Baltimore native), Gidwitz knows how to enthrall his audience.
Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists edited by Chris Duffy presents a plethora of stories from various sources Grimm and beyond. Cartoonists represented include a veritable who’s who, some new to children’s storytelling. Each story is rendered in full color comic panels. Perennial favorite Raina Telgemeier (known for the graphic memoir Smile) takes on Rapunzel, while Gilbert Hernandez (of Love and Rockets fame) shows us his version of Snow White. Fairy Tale Comics is a visual smorgasbord for the imagination of readers of all ages.
As Gabby tells it, she was named after the angel Gabriel. Yet, her mother cannot seem to understand her imaginary world. In Gabby’s words: “Mom names me for a/creature with wings, then wonders/ what makes my thoughts fly.” Nikki Grimes has created a very memorable young girl in Words with Wings. We come to know Gabby through a series of poems. Similar to author Karen Hesse in style, Grimes manages to tell a good story that is lyrical and a quick read to boot.
Gabby faces many issues that modern children can relate to: divorcing parents, moving to a new home, starting over at a new school and trying to make friends. Her inability to fit in is due to what her mother and teachers call “daydreaming.” However, her imagination allows Gabby to escape the sadder parts of her life. The book may be short at just over 80 pages, but the scope of what Grimes is able to communicate in so short a space is remarkable.
Additionally, students who are studying poetry will find that a variety of types of poems are used to tell Gabby’s story. From haikus to longer free verse stanzas, the book provides examples of poems that could stand alone for their expressive language and imagery, but put together, they tell a compelling tale.
Missing books and a missing dog are the focus of two fabulous new picture books.
What is happening to all of the stories in Burrow Down? In The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty, a mysterious creature called the Snatchabook has come to town. This adorable, sad little flying animal has no one to read to him at bedtime. His solution? Steal the books to read by himself. He mends his ways after Eliza the bunny catches him and all of the little animal creatures of Burrow Down let the Snatchabook listen to their bedtime stories. Told in a catchy rhyme with bright colorful illustrations, this celebration of the bedtime story is a true delight and is itself a perfect read-aloud for bedtime.
In Daisy Gets Lost by Chris Raschka, Daisy the dog is playing fetch when she is distracted by a squirrel. After a fun game of chase with said squirrel, she looks up and realizes she is lost! Raschka’s amazing watercolor illustrations display the worry and fear in both Daisy and her girl. He perfectly captures their complete joy when, after frantically searching for each other, they are finally reunited. Even the squirrel seems content at the end. Daisy was first introduced to readers in A Ball for Daisy, for which Raschka won the Caldecott Medal. Daisy Gets Lost is a worthy sequel and a treat on its own.
Winners of the 64th annual National Book Awards were announced last night at a black-tie dinner held at Cipriani Wall Street. This morning, the literary world is abuzz about James McBride’s win in the Fiction category for his novel The Good Lord Bird. With a strong list of finalists, many considered McBride’s novel to be an underdog. McBride seemed shocked by the win. He shared that writing the novel became an escape for him during a difficult season of his life. McBride also expressed his pleasure about the win, remarking, “Had Rachel Kushner or Jhumpa Lahiri or Thomas Pynchon or George Saunders won tonight, I wouldn’t have felt bad because they are fine writers, but it sure is nice to get it.”
Mary Szybist was presented with the Poetry Award for Incarnadine: Poems, her second collection of poetry. The award for Young People’s Literature was given to Cynthia Kadohata for her novel The Thing About Luck. George Packer’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America won the award for Nonfiction.
Congratulations to all the winners!
Who could be afraid of some cute little bunnies, birdies and a deer? Well, when they are making strange noises and shadows at night they could frighten anyone, even a big furry Yeti. Authors Greg Long and Chris Edmundson and illustrator Wednesday Kirwan creatively address the common childhood issue of being afraid of the dark in Yeti, Turn Out the Light! As the day comes to an end, Yeti returns home from the forest and gets ready for bed. He gets cozy under the covers and turns out the lights. Even though Yeti is tired, he can’t seem to fall asleep because of the frightening shadows in his room. Is it a monster coming to get him? No! It’s just some of his woodland friends who have joined him for an impromptu sleepover. Bright illustrations and rhyming text make this an excellent book to share with your little one.
To further help your child explore their fear of the dark at bedtime, try Let’s Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy by Jan Thomas. Using bright, cartoon-like illustrations, Thomas shows how a brave cowboy’s imagination gets the best of him as he tries to sing the cows to sleep. Children may also like I Want My Light On!: A Little Princess Story by Tony Ross. When the little princess goes to bed, she insists that the light be left on because she believes there are ghosts in the dark. As it turns out, little ghosts are just as afraid of the dark.
Barbara Park, bestselling author of the beloved Junie B. Jones series, among other children’s books, passed away on Friday at the age of 66 after a long battle with ovarian cancer. The series Park was best known for followed the irrepressible Junie B. and her kindergarten (and later first grade) classmates as they encountered everyday situations that vex the average 5- or 6-year-old. Starting with Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, these books have entertained countless first-time readers. Aside from activity books and other related Junie B. material, Park published 28 Junie B. Jones titles.
Beyond Junie B., Park also excelled at writing other children’s books. Two of her best-known have been contemporary classics since their publication. Skinnybones follows the smallest kid on his baseball team who unfortunately also has the biggest mouth. For older kids, the tragic story Mick Harte Was Here covers the aftermath of a sister coping with the biking death of her brother. Acclaimed author Judy Blume was among the many who, over the weekend, spoke about Park’s enduring legacy, stating that some of Junie B.’s admirers confused the two: "I'd always say, 'I didn't write them, but I wish I had."
Twelve years ago on the day she was born, Cassie Romano’s town was flooded to make way for a new dam and the residents of Old Lower Grange were moved uphill to a brand new town, New Lower Grange. The whole town turned out to celebrate the flooding except for Cassie’s family. They were busy racing to the hospital to deliver Cassie eight weeks earlier than planned. In Meg McKinlay’s children’s novel, Below, Cassie is envious of her family’s memories of a place she will never know and she grows up imagining a mysterious town underneath the still waters of the manmade lake. Fascinated with the past, she has spent hours studying old pictures, maps and historic documents and knows where every oak tree stood and where every road leads.
When a summertime drought causes the water levels in the lake to recede dramatically, Cassie and her friend Liam stumble on a long kept secret, a secret that was submerged under 200 of water. Despite their own physical limitations, they work together to solve the mystery below the water.
Below is based on the author’s own experience as a teenager standing next to a drowned town and wondering what remained underneath the water and the mud.
Nick and Maxine are off on another adventure with their babysitter in Mrs. Noodlekugel and Four Blind Mice by Daniel Pinkwater. In this delightful sequel to Mrs. Noodlekugel, the four mice friends make a terrible mess at tea-time, causing Mrs. Noodlekugel to realize that it is time to have them checked by an eye doctor. Nick and Maxine keep Mrs. Noodlekugel and Mr. Fuzzface, her talking cat, company on the bus trip to the oculist’s office. It is a story loaded with whimsy (talking cats), eccentricities (the mice can’t talk, but they do need glasses), and a little bit of mystery. The absurdity of a monkey waiter, mice riding on hats and eye doctors who treat mice will make the reader giggle. An unexpected family reunion ties the story together and provides a neat conclusion.
The charming narrative is broken up into easy-to-manage chapters with large print, making this series a perfect choice for the new chapter book reader. Engaging illustrations by Adam Stower add to the overall appeal. Reminiscent of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, but without the character building lessons, the Mrs. Noodlekugel series is pure fun.
In Sharon Creech’s latest book, The Boy on the Porch, a young couple find a boy asleep on their front porch one day and decide to take him in. The child has a note in his pocket stating: “Plees tak kair of Jacob. He is a good boy. Wil be bak wen we can.” With that little bit of information, John and Marta begin to care for the boy who does not speak, yet communicates to them by tapping and painting pictures such as they’ve never seen before. As the bond between the three of them grows stronger, they all realize that any day someone may take Jacob away from them and tear apart their newly formed family.
Newbery Medal winner Creech effectively uses short chapters and sparse descriptions to draw a wonderfully fleshed out story and characters that are quirky yet totally believable. Jacob stands in for the child that John and Marta never had, but he is also able to bond with the animals on the farm better than the couple ever could. As the story unfolds, all three main characters go through changes that are heartwarming yet never maudlin. The different ways that Jacob is able to share his innermost thoughts and feelings without ever saying a word is both inspirational and eye-opening.