Dear Dragon

deardragon

Image Credit: Viking (Penguin Young Readers Group), Josh Funk/Rodolfo Montalvo

Like the dragon Blaise Dragomir, this excellent book has flown a bit under the radar. Josh Funk writes really amusing books and this is my favorite one so far! Dear Dragon has themes of kindness, inclusiveness and discovery; kids will enjoy watching these characters fall into friendship!

Blaise Dragomir (dragon boy) and George Slair (human boy) are matched through a poetry/pen-pal assignment in their classes. I love how the language they use is formal at first but as they get closer, it becomes more familiar. The boys have no idea that they’re different species; their friendship grows over several months. It’s fun to see how each boy imagines the life of the other; different experiences lead to different perspectives. When Blaise reads about George building a fort with his dad, he imagines two dragons hammering A REAL FORT, that protects a castle! He has no idea that George’s fort is built of cardboard (and that he is human! 😉  ). Their classes finally meet in the spring and though it’s quite a surprise, they roll with it!

deardragon1

Image Credit: Viking (Penguin Young Readers Group), Josh Funk/Rodolfo Montalvo

 

Though dragons and humans don’t have the best history of peaceful interactions, these boys overcome that and recognize the goodness in each other. Children can relate to overcoming differences (and learned prejudices and fear) to connect with others. Also, at first Blaise and George don’t enjoy writing much, but though the project, they gain more confidence in their skills (as they gain a friend).

As with most excellent picture books, the synergy between the text and illustrations is phenomenal. Montalvo’s watercolor, ink and graphite illustrations are warm and so detailed! I happened to see the book’s cover months before it published and I remember being SO excited to see a brown boy with bushy hair! It’s not common to see brown boys on the cover of picture books so I’m glad to have one more gem to recommend. Montalvo brings Funk’s writing to life in a beautiful way.

I really enjoyed Dear Dragon and I hope you will too! In addition to being a very good read aloud, this book is perfect for pen-pal projects. Maybe a new (dragon?) friend is waiting…

 

 

Recommended for: 1st Grade and up
Great for: Friendship, Open-Mindedness, Courage, Acceptance, Read-Aloud, Rhyme, Humor, Pen-Pal, Inclusiveness, Diversity, Adventure, Animals
Book Info: Dear Dragon: A Pen-Pal Tale by Josh Funk/Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo, 2016 Viking (Penguin Young Readers Group), ISBN: 9780451472304

Advertisements

Oh No, Astro!

OhNoAstro

Image Credit: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, Matt Roeser/Brad Woodard

What a blast this book is!

Oh No, Astro is great for kids who love astronomy but also enjoy a fun storybook. Astro is QUITE the character. If you think ALL asteroids like to bump and bang into each other, you’re wrong! Astro is all about keeping his personal space intact; he likes his comfy solitude, thank you very much!! But one day a happy little satellite lurks closer and closer until BAM! it knocks him off orbit and before he knows it, he’s on the fast track to Earth!

OhNoAstro2

Image Credit: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, Matt Roeser/Brad Woodard

What initially drew me to this book is the art (and my friend’s enthusiastic recommendation); Brad Woodard’s style reminds me of Dan Yaccarino/Bob Shea/Bob Staake and if you follow my blog, you know that I adore their art! Bold and cute at the same time, the digital illustrations really stand out and are well designed. I love the cover!! Astro is so cute with his polite surliness; he has the best annoyed expression and his little arms are so expressive.

Oh No, Astro has so much potential for the classroom and can boost an Astronomy lesson. At the end of the book, Roeser includes helpful (and very funny) space facts that really enhance the story. If a child has a question about asteroids, the planets featured in the book, etc., answers can be found on these pages. This is a cool little book and I hope your family or classroom will jump right into this space adventure!

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Humor, Friendship, Science, Girls in Science/Stem, Astronomy, Action/Adventure
Book Info: Oh No, Astro! by Matt Roeser/Illustrated by Brad Woodard, 2016 Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 9781481439763

Toys Meet Snow

ToysMeetSnow

Image Credit: Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House), Emily Jenkins/Paul O. Zelinsky

It’s starting to get cold out where I am and though I’m not a fan of cold weather, I can’t deny how beautiful snow looks as it blankets the earth.

Toys Meet Snow celebrates the wonder of curiosity and play. It’s both simple and complex with excellent characterization. First, we’re introduced to our characters; Lumphy, a stuffed Buffalo, StingRay, a plush stingray and Plastic, a rubber ball. Their Little Girl has left for winter vacation and they’re staring out the window in wonder at the first snow of the season. Teamwork gets them out the door and into the snow (not before taking the necessary protective measures of course!).

We get to see the personalities of each toy and Jenkins writes the story so that it’s easy to anticipate their reactions on each spread, which can be great for children who’re learning to read (the predictability in story format). Lumphy is very inquisitive, StingRay is poetic and visual and Plastic is all about the facts! They study the snow, ask questions and make a snowman. Plastic even gets a special boost of self confidence before heading back in for the day.

ToysMeetSnow2

Image Credit: Schwartz & Wade Books (Penguin Random House), Emily Jenkins/Paul O. Zelinsky

 

I like the way Emily Jenkins writes. There’s a quirky cuteness to this story. Her writing pairs well with Zelinsky’s soft, beautiful digital illustrations. My favorite spread is the one where the toys leave indentations in the snow to make snow angels! It’s fun to guess which toy made which angel. With glittery snow on the cover, you’re ready to dive into a winter story, but you’ll find that it’s quite warm. 🙂 Toys Meet Snow is a large book with wide beautiful spreads. The blustery white snow covers the pages and you’ll feel like you’re out with the toys, on an adventure. Can you tell how much I love the illustrations?The red strawberry syrup sunset is lovely and so is this book. Check it out and enjoy!

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Friendship, Learning, Curiosity, Inquisitive Minds, Learning, Relationships, Action/Adventure, Snow, Animals, Personalities, Read Aloud, Play
Book Info: Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins/Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky , 2015 Schwartz & Wade (Penguin Random House), ISBN: 9780385373302

Wild

Wild

Image Credit: Flying Eye Books, Emily Hughes

I love this one. 🙂  Her big, expressive eyes draw you in, don’t they? She is unashamedly content and happy with her wildness.

Hughes’ story is about a young girl who grows up in the woods and is embraced and raised by its creatures. Bird teaches her how to talk, Bear teaches her how to eat (by catching salmon with her teeth on the edge of a waterfall!!) and Fox teaches her how to play. But one day strange animals take her away and attempt to raise her “properly.” From her perspective, they speak wrong, eat wrong, everything is WRONG and she is hopelessly unhappy. Will she find the strength within herself to be wild and happy again? This book touches on issues of acceptance, inner-strength, difference and perspective. Just because she’s “wild” does that make her lifestyle wrong? Perhaps “wild” is just a matter of perspective…

Wild2

Image Credit: Flying Eye Books, Emily Hughes (click for a closer look)

In addition to a great story, Hughes crafts gorgeous illustrations. The earthy brown, green and blue colors of the woods contrast with the girl’s pink skin and wild green hair. Though they contrast, it’s obvious how much she is a part of her surroundings. Her expressive eyes tell most of the story, as readers can easily read her emotions. Hughes loves to draw fauna and foliage and she’s very good at it; this is also also evident in her newest book The Little Gardener. I hope you’ll enjoy this book with your wild ones! Never let anyone make you forget who you really are!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Perspective, Family, Inner-Strength, Action/Adventure, Animals, Community, Determination, Discussion, Friendship, Humor
Book Info: Wild by Emily Hughes, 2013 Flying Eye Books, ISBN: 9781909263086

Joshua by the Sea

JoshuabytheSea

Image Credit: Orchard Books, Angela Johnson/Rhonda Mitchell

I first discovered this sweet little board book at my bookstore, sitting outside in the bargain bins. It celebrates a black family’s day at the sea. I’m so happy to see the main character is a black boy because it’s still a rare thing to see in picture books.

In Joshua by the Sea, Joshua introduces himself as a boy who loves the sea and all its wonders. He happily plays with his toys in the sand and also introduces readers to his family as they relax and enjoy the beautiful day. He goes exploring with his big sister and also explores on his own, running happily through the water. My favorite page is the last one where Joshua gazes off into the sunset, his day at the sea coming to an end.

Mitchell’s watercolor illustrations are beautiful. She paints crisp blue foamy waters, white sea gulls and a beautiful rosy sunset. It’s easy to see why Joshua loves the sea. Your toddler or baby will enjoy looking through this book with its simple text, story and beautiful images. If you enjoy this book, there are a few more books in this series; Joshua’s Night Whispers, Mama bird, Baby Birds and Rain Feet.

Recommended for: Babies and Toddlers
Great for: Family, Sea, Vacation, Friendship, Adventure, Inquisitive Minds, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, African-American
Book Info: Joshua by the Sea by Angela Johnson/Illustrated by Rhonda Mitchell, 1994 Orchard Books, ISBN: 9780531068465

Two Mice

TwoMice

Image Credit: Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Sergio Ruzzier

 

Two Mice.
One (awesome) Friendship.

Two Friends.
One (big) Adventure.

Two Mice is a nice little mouse-sized adventure book. I imagine in the mouse world, if Roger Cheesebert rated books, he’d give it four cheddars and I suspect this book is already legend. I’m imagining little mice children sitting around the fire while Grandma Mouse reads this tale.

This little book has a big heart. The simple text focuses on numbers and counting; younger readers can read this book and feel confident that they know all the words in front of them! It also shows that sometimes you don’t need many words to tell a great story. In this story, two mice live together in one house and after a meal of three cookies (one mouse looks a little annoyed!) they set out for the day. Three boats with two oars…what adventures await?

I’m a big fan of Sergio Ruzzier’s storytelling and art. I recently reviewed his book A Letter for Leo which is one of my favorites! I love how he creates complete little worlds on each spread. His attention to detail is wonderful and the watercolor paintings are lovely (I always love his skies!). You’ll love all the funny expressions of his characters. Teachers, this book would be perfect for lessons about travel, adventure, storytelling (beginning/middle/end) and “best travel stories.” Hope you will enjoy Two Mice!

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Animals, Friendship, Action/Adventure, Counting, Determination, Vocabulary, Humor, Read-Aloud, Discussion
Book Info: Two Mice by Sergio Ruzzier, 2015 Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), ISBN: 9780544302099

 

Ace Dragon LTD.

AceDragonLTD

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Russell Hoban/Quentin Blake

This US re-issue of Ace Dragon LTD. (originally published in the UK in 1980) is right on time. A clever story filled with quirky writing, it fits right in with our 2015 picture book sensibilities.

In Ace Dragon LTD., John, equipped with his sword on his belt, discovers a manhole-like cover in the ground that says Ace Dragon LTD. After stomping three times, a voice answers his many questions. We find out that LTD. means limited, which means that someone can only do some things, not all. Ace Dragon tells John all the things he can do (like breathe fire and fly) and invites him to go flying BUT, John has to fight him. They meet up, and after proper introductions, fight. John wins best of three and they go adventuring! Ace is a pretty special dragon; maybe he’s not as limited as he thinks.

Hoban and Blake are quite a team in their storytelling/illustrating capabilities. The illustrations are perfectly suited to the story. John is an inquisitive little boy with wild orange hair and Ace Dragon is just the right amount of fierce and friendly; he’s wearing red Wellingtons for goodness sake! 🙂  Quentin Blake’s signature scratchy style with ink and muted watercolors makes for great visual storytelling. Looking for a great adventure and friendship story? Read Ace Dragon LTD.!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Fantasy, Friendship, Dragons, Animals, Inquisitive Minds, Action/Adventure, Humor
Book Info: Ace Dragon LTD. by Russell Hoban/Illustrated by Quentin Black, 2015 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763674823

 

Beyond the Pond

BeyondthePond

Image Credit: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), Joseph Kuefler

Sometimes it takes a new experience to see the “exceptional” in our everyday lives.

Ernest D. is an adventurous boy who finds life to be rather drab until he realizes that the pond in front of his house is infinitely deep. He grabs his supplies and with his trusty dog, takes a dive into the unknown. Underwater, it’s pretty amazing but when he reaches the other side of the pond, he finds a land of wonder and fantasy. Soon it’s time to go home though, but Ernest D. takes a bit of that wonder home with him and…his drab world isn’t so drab anymore. He sees it with more color!

The message of this book resonates with me because I lived abroad for several years and as any person who’s lived abroad/outside of their home for a long time knows, you’re quite changed by that experience. When I came back from Korea, I experienced some reverse culture shock and now that I’m well settled back into my home, I still carry a bit of “color” from my Korean life. I can’t help but be affected by my experiences on the other side of that large pond, the Pacific Ocean.

The digital illustrations in Beyond the Pond are very well done and I especially love the murky blue scenes underwater. Kuefler uses a mostly blue, green and brown palate for Ernest D’s world, but Beyond the Pond, the colors explode in brightness. Ernest D’s big expressive eyes reflect his feelings of excitement, fear and content. This book is excellent for discussion and for children who have a natural sense of exploration! Go forth and explore. 🙂

P.S. Pay attention to the front and back endpapers!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Adventure, Exploration, Discussion, Perspective, Friendship, Dogs
Book Info: Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler, 2015 Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins), ISBN: 9780062364272

The Circus Ship

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Chris Van Dusen

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Chris Van Dusen

 

The Circus Ship is inspired by the real shipwreck of the Royal Tar in 1836 off the coast of Maine (author’s note included in the back of the book). Van Dusen writes the story in rhyme which makes it excellent for reading aloud. There are also lots of great vocabulary words like thrashing, helm, daft, bothersomebedraggled, menagerie!

The story begins with a ship carrying fifteen circus animals bound for their next show in Boston. Despite the dangerous weather, the mean Circus Master pushes the captain on through the fog. The ship crashes and the animals are left to fend for themselves in the waves. Luckily they swim to shore but unluckily, the people of the small town they land in are annoyed by their presence! One night, a shed goes up in flames, one animal saves the day and in the process, changes the minds of the townspeople. There’s a page where all the animals hide from the Circus Master and you have to look carefully to find each animal in the illustrations; it’s so very clever and interactive!

Van Dusen is a masterful illustrator; I love his attention to detail and characterization. Pay attention to how sad the animals look while aboard the circus ship compared to how happy they are to be accepted as members of the community. The gouache paintings are lush; this is the “perfect” animal book and your child will enjoy pointing them out. I love the page where the Circus Master stomps into town, legs astride, fingers pressed into his chest, with a haughty expression on his face. The Circus Ship is an excellent story of community and friendship that is sure to please and become a favorite.

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Adventure, Friendship, Read-Aloud, Animals, Community, Vocabulary
Book Info: The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen, 2009 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763655921

Good Crooks: Missing Monkey!

Image Credit: Egmont USA, Mary Amato/Ward Jenkins

Image Credit: Egmont USA, Mary Amato/Ward Jenkins

In Good Crooks: Missing Monkey!, Billy and Jillian Crook just want to do something nice for someone; you know, a good deed. This is no easy task because their parents are crooks and expect the worst from them!!  >_<  Early one morning, Billy is lured to the zoo for Volunteer Day and his sister catches up with him. Unfortunately, mom and dad find them…and steal a monkey! Before they know it, their parents have taught the monkey the art of pick pocketing and he’s a natural, a little too natural and causes all kinds of trouble!

This book is fast paced and hilarious. The humor is so clever and dry. I love the relationship between the twins; it may seem that Jillian is the brains of the pair but don’t count Billy out, he has a few tricks up his sleeve! Jenkins’ art is very cool and compliments the story well. Though they aren’t color illustrations, they add an extra element to the story and might convince reluctant readers to pick up the book!

Good Crooks is a beginning chapter series and beginning chapter books are great transitional books for kids who are becoming more confident in their reading yet aren’t quite ready for longer chapter books. This is the first in a series and I highly recommend it for a family read-aloud and for young readers who love humor and unconventional stories…oh and crazy monkeys. There are even activities in the back of the book! If you get hooked on Good Crooks (trust me, you will), be sure to check out the next two books in the series, Dog Gone! and Sniff a Skunk!

Recommended for: 1st/2nd Grade and up
Great for: Siblings, Friendship, Twins, Humor, Animals, Adventure, Read Aloud
Book Info: Good Crooks: Missing Monkey! by Mary Amato/Illustrated by Ward Jenkins2014 Egmont USA, ISBN: 9781606845097