Princess Cora and the Crocodile

cora cover

Princess Cora and the Crocodile

By Laura Amy Schlitz, Illustrated by Brian Floca

 

Published by: Candlewick (March 28, 2017)

Available in: hardcover, audible

At the time of this review this was a standalone book.

 

Disguised.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile is a lovely chapter book that masquerades as an elegant, long picture book. Truly, it could work as either, with the end result being children who are utterly delighted.

Newberry Medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz writes a contemporary tale based on historical fantasy and fairy tales. The text is deft, spare, hilarious, and told with a firmly modern sensibility that keeps it from feeling like a tired old story. To wit: “The crocodile peered out from behind his claws. ‘This is what I’m telling you,’ he said.”

Like fairy tales of old, the story powers through actions and words that are usually considered too violent or inappropriate. Which makes the story smile-cracking funny. The crocodile, in trying to help the princess, torments the nanny, locks up the queen, and bites the king’s bum, finding it “the wrong kind of chewy.”

Meanwhile, the princess, while asking for help, finds a way to fix everything herself. She’s kind and lovable and naïve and, in the end, one smart cookie. Or cream puff, as used to such sweet comedy in the plot.

Not to be overshadowed by the text, Caldecott Medal winner Brian Floca’s subtle and imaginative four-color illustrations slide through every page. It’s a visual enchantment.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

 

 

Harry Miller’s Run

Harry cover

Harry Miller’s Run

By David Almond, Illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

 

Published by: Candlewick (February 7, 2017)

Available in: hardcover, paperback

At the time of this review this was a standalone book.

 

Real.

Harry Miller’s Run is a tender, funny, quirky, exuberant chapter book with… no chapters. Particularly for American readers, the dialect-heavy text is a bit of a treasure hunt for meaning, but a hunt worth every effort. This book inhabits a kindness, whimsy, hard truth, and compassion rarely found in children’s books.

Harry is an old man, and the bulk of the story is his re-telling of an epic afternoon in his youth. “And it was a day of daftness and joy, and if we’d never started and we’d never kept on going, just think of what we’d missed,” he says. This is what I love about this book: things are hard, but the challenge is worth the lovely exhilaration of doing something incredible. Friendships are begun, kids make stupid mistakes but live with it, and exploration wins out over logic.

Harry’s young neighbor, 11-year-old Liam, doesn’t shy away from the fact of Harry’s age. Liam’s supremely youthful voice introduces us to Harry and his apartment with blunt truth. “It smells of old bloke in here. Suppose it’s bound to. Suppose he can’t help it. Suppose I’ll smell like old bloke myself one day. Pee and sweat and ancient clothes and dust. The sun shines through the window. Dust’s glittering and dancing in the shafts of light….”

Because the dialect can be difficult to understand, and because this book is a pocket of surprise adults will love as well, it’s a good idea for children to read this aloud with a parent or other adult. That way, lines that are hard can be dissected together, such as, “’But we’re half knackered already’, sez Stanley. ‘By the time we run aal the way back again we’ll be bliddy deed.’” As you can see, spelling is anywhere near the norm in this book, and the manner of speech is definitely affected.

The illustrations are a loose, giddy romp that perfectly suit the depth and humor of the text. Especially appreciated are the publisher’s notes on the media used: watercolor, gouache, pencil, and ink.

Harry is a lovable curmudgeon who has much to give young readers. As he says, “Me great achievement is that I’ve been happy, that I’ve never been nowt but happy.”

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

Year One Re-Post #7: Daisy Dawson Is on Her Way!

Originally published in September 2013. One of my top five favorites of the year for its sweet nature and originality.

Daisy Dawson Is on Her Way!

By Steve Voake, Illustrated by Jessica Meserve

 

Publisher: Candlewick; Reprint edition (March 24, 2009)
Available in: paperback, hardcover

At the time of this review, there were seven Daisy Dawson books available through various publishers.

 

What a charmer!

Daisy Dawson is a quiet, innocent, tender, positive, sweet girl who just happens to get distracted. A lot. She is often told not to dawdle, and that alliteration and creative use of language is just one of the joys of this chapter book.

But there are actually three very distinct aspects of this book I love.

1. The subtle yet inventive, surprisingly thrilling plot. It starts slow, and you get the idea that Daisy will be a lovely, nature-centered, quiet book. And then it explodes into a tense, nail-biting drama. Still, it retains the simple, evocative, nature-centered core. Brilliant. Also, the use of animals and their relation to Daisy and the plot is enchanting.

2. The deceptively artful illustrations. At first glance they feel very bulky and rough—almost as if they were drawn with a big marker. But on closer inspection, Meserve’s deft skill brings out sensitive emotion and feeling with simplicity and contrasting use of bold and light treatments. I find it reminiscent of Japanese calligraphy: modest, unassuming and yet powerful.

Side note here: the front matter of the book lists the media used (ink and pencil). Now why isn’t this done more often? How many times have we wondered, How was that done? And if the art media were listed more often, would kids be inspired to try techniques they otherwise might not consider? I personally love that it’s listed and wish that were a more common practice.

But, back to the highlights….

3. The language. It respects kids and their intellect. The writing avoids being pompous or presumptuous, but it brings in a vocabulary and clever descriptive quality that is rare in chapter books. The prose is elegant and smart, but still simple and clear.

Daisy Dawson Is on Her Way! respects kids with gorgeous but not too advanced language. It’s heart and soul wrapped in nerve-racking drama. It shows clear insight into how a child can live in the moment, and yet it places children squarely in our modern world. Daisy is one refreshing charmer who the quieter child, somewhere between ages five and eight, will love as a new chapter book friend.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

Year One Re-Post #4: The Lion Who Stole My Arm

Originally published in March 2014. This is, hands down, my favorite book of the year.

lion cover

THE LION WHO STOLE MY ARM

By Nicola Davies, Illustrated by Annabel Wright

 

Published by: Candlewick (February 25, 2014)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, Kindle, NOOK

 

Evocative.

Newly released The Lion Who Stole My Arm is an exquisite journey into the culture and community of a small African village.  It’s also a taut drama of survival and a moving, authentic emotional transformation.

And yet zoologist and children’s writer Nicola Davies keeps this smart and clever tale perfectly tuned to the newly independent reader. The simple sentence structure and mostly easy language is scaled just right. When new vocabulary or science terms are introduced, they are either defined at the end of a chapter or are made clear through usage. Given the bold, photography-based cover and broad marketing, it seems the publisher is steering clear of marking this a chapter book, even while it easily fits the criteria. This is not a surprise; the book could easily be considered a middle grade crossover. I’ve even recommended this book to adults—it’s that good.

The science aspect is no small matter that adds a third dimension. The issues of animal habitat/behavior and human encroachment/survival are given fair, equal treatment. Both kids and adults will find the research and use of tracking tools intriguing and cool. The thoughtful explanation of the food chain fits naturally into the story.

I’d say boys in particular will like this book because the protagonist is a young boy, and of course there is the infamous lion. And yet girls will eat this up as well… arms and all.

Annabel Wright’s black and white watercolors add to the exotic authenticity with a quirky, old-school feel. Spare and lovely, they invite the reader to imagine what is not shown: the wide African sky above, and the thick bush just beyond the picture. Her unique perspective also adds a sense of personality, space and importance.

This book is a gift to young readers entering the world of literacy. It is human and wild, exotic and accessible, and is imbued with an emotional heft that lands with a soft touch. The Lion Who Stole My Arm is a masterwork of what contemporary chapter books can achieve. Bravo, Ms. Davies. Bravo.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

Rare Judy Moody

judy moody book 1 cover

JUDY MOODY WAS IN A MOOD

By Megan McDonald, Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

 

Published by: Candlewick; Reissue edition (August 24, 2010)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, MP3 CD, audible, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were 10 books in this series as well as few special editions and activity books.

 

Hear her ROAR.

Judy Moody Was in a Mood is the first book in this enormously popular series about a girl with sparkling imagination and spunk. In fact, the book’s plot is quite simple: the making of a ME collage for school. But that’s just the structure on which her personality is allowed to take off and soar into our worlds. Judy Moody is that incongruous mix of character-driven and action drama: it shouldn’t work, but oh my, does it.

Judy captivates because she is so involved in life. Even in a bad mood, which she is quite often, the action is hilarious and lively. There’s a hamburger-eating Venus flytrap, a toad that pees on hands, a bothersome paste-eating schoolmate, a brother (of the equally infamous Stink series) who sells moon dust and spills purple juice on the all-important school project.

Life in Judy’s world is full of big dreams (she wants to be a doctor) and small concerns, like the fact that she doesn’t have an exciting summer vacation to brag about on the first day of school. It is a fast-paced read that newly independent readers can get truly excited about: she’s fun, daring, breathes with life and is fall-off-your-reading-chair funny.

Reynolds’ illustrations add to the text with a simultaneously quirky and elegant feel, and the inclusion of many ethnicities in the pictures make the book feel contemporary and right.

Judy is quite a machine in the publishing world: translated into more than 20 languages, she is known as Fleur Humeur (the Netherlands), Dada Nalada (Slovakia) and Hania Humorek (Poland). No matter what you call her, she’s a rare jewel in the chapter book world.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

 

Captivating Lion

lion cover

THE LION WHO STOLE MY ARM

By Nicola Davies, Illustrated by Annabel Wright

 

Published by: Candlewick (February 25, 2014)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, Kindle, NOOK

 

Evocative.

Newly released The Lion Who Stole My Arm is an exquisite journey into the culture and community of a small African village.  It’s also a taut drama of survival and a moving, authentic emotional transformation.

And yet zoologist and children’s writer Nicola Davies keeps this smart and clever tale perfectly tuned to the newly independent reader. The simple sentence structure and mostly easy language is scaled just right. When new vocabulary or science terms are introduced, they are either defined at the end of a chapter or are made clear through usage. Given the bold, photography-based cover and broad marketing, it seems the publisher is steering clear of marking this a chapter book, even while it easily fits the criteria. This is not a surprise; the book could easily be considered a middle grade crossover. I’ve even recommended this book to adults—it’s that good.

The science aspect is no small matter that adds a third dimension. The issues of animal habitat/behavior and human encroachment/survival are given fair, equal treatment. Both kids and adults will find the research and use of tracking tools intriguing and cool. The thoughtful explanation of the food chain fits naturally into the story.

I’d say boys in particular will like this book because the protagonist is a young boy, and of course there is the infamous lion. And yet girls will eat this up as well… arms and all.

Annabel Wright’s black and white watercolors add to the exotic authenticity with a quirky, old-school feel. Spare and lovely, they invite the reader to imagine what is not shown: the wide African sky above, and the thick bush just beyond the picture. Her unique perspective also adds a sense of personality, space and importance.

This book is a gift to young readers entering the world of literacy. It is human and wild, exotic and accessible, and is imbued with an emotional heft that lands with a soft touch. The Lion Who Stole My Arm is a masterwork of what contemporary chapter books can achieve. Bravo, Ms. Davies. Bravo.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….