Here are some new reviews of children's books added to the Read That Again! website in Fall, 2010. These are new(ish) books, but might also include some older books we just found out about and liked more than others. Recommendations and submissions are welcome: please feel free to contact us about other books, new and old.
Many more books are reviewed in the site's permanent archives... These are organized alphabetically, either by Author Name or by Book Title.
"Ivy & Bean, v.7: What's The Big Idea?"
Written by Annie Barrows
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
(Chronicle Books, 2010)
"Kenny & The Dragon"
Written & Illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
(Simon & Schuster, 2008)
What if your two best friends got into a big fight, and you got caught in the middle? And what if your two best friends just happened to be a giant, gentle dragon -- who liked reading poetry and cooking creme brulee -- and an old, retired knight who liked reading poetry and killing dragons? Man, that would be awkward. Enter Kenny, a soft-spoken, shy young rabbit who likes books and conversation, and is tragically misunderstood by the other kids in his village -- when he discovers a dragon living out in the pasture of his farm, his life starts to get really exciting, both in good ways and bad. This is a fun, sweet, pro-misfit fairy tale with a gentle, humorous tone -- ideal for young readers who are just getting into the fantasy genre but might not be ready for or interested in a bunch of gory violence. Highly recommended; great re-telling of Kenneth Graeme's The Reluctant Dragon. (A)
Written by Brothers Grimm
Illustrated by Quentin Greban
No surprises in the story, but a beautifully illustrated adaptation of this classic fairy tale... Belgian artist Quentin Greban is one of my favorite children's picturebook artists: wish there was more of his stuff available here in America! (A)
"The Adventures Of Sir Lancelot The Great"
Written by Gerald Morris
Illustrated by Aaron Renier
(Houghton Mifflin/Sandpiper, 2008)
"The Adventures Of Sir Givret The Short"
Written by Gerald Morris
Illustrated by Aaron Renier
(Houghton Mifflin/Sandpiper, 2009)
This is the second volume in author Gerald Morris's totally awesome "Knights' Tales" series, which retells (and reinvents) some of the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of The Round Table. Morris has written many modern versons of the Arthurian tales, but these volumes are pitched (perfectly) at younger readers, and have a deliciously humorous tone, poking fun at the tales of chivalry and valor. Ths book tells the story of Sir Givret The Short, a shrewd little fellow who uses brains, not brawn, to solve the problems of medieval strife. He is paired up with Sir Erec, a somewhat dimwitted but stouthearted hero, who wins as his wife Lady Enide, a lovely gal who is also not the sharpest tool in the shed, and who tends to chatter quite a bit. This book, along with the first volume, "Sir Lancelot The Great," are wonderful to read aloud -- a fine chance to perfect one's most terrible English accents and delight in the wry humor, which is strongly reminiscent of "Monty Python's Holy Grail." HIGHLY recommended. (A)
"It's A Book"
Written & Illustrated by Lane Smith
(Roaring Brook Press, 2010)
Stop me if you've heard this one before: A mouse, a monkey and a jackass walk into a room together... The jackass sits down and gets out his laptop and the monkey opens a copy of "Treasure Island." The donkey looks over and asks, what's that? how does it boot up? And so on. The donkey is Lane Smith's fall-guy for a generation of tech-savvy kids who wouldn't know a novel from their elbow, unable to comprehend what this strange object is that the monkey holds in its hands -- how does it work? what does it do? Is it 3.0? Eventually he gets it, when the monkey loans him the book, and he is transported to the world of fantasy, and then doesn't want to give it back. The illustrations are great and the basic premise is fine, but what leaves a bad taste in my mouth is the big joke that the book is a set-up for: the irritated mouse and monkey finally calling the jackass, "jackass!" in an insulting way. Hardy har har. I bet that really gets 'em rolling in the aisles in second grade library period. But, frankly, I'm not really on board with Lane Smith's life mission of making the world of children's picturebooks more snarky. There's enough snark in kid's culture these days -- I don't feel the need to perpetuate it, myself. This is one of the few picturebooks I've read that I didn't want to share with my kid -- I just didn't see the point, even though the book was kind of funny. (B-)
"Callie Cat, Ice Skater"
Written by Eileen Spinelli
Illustrated by Anne Kennedy
(Albert Whitman & Co., 2007)
Do what you love - because you love it! A nice story with a nice message, about a young girl (an anthropomorphized cat) who loves ice skating, gracefully gliding on the frozen pond near home anytime she can. When a skating contest is announced, her schoolfriends urge Callie to enter, and convince her that she just has to win. Although she becomes nervous, after Callie sees several other contestants fail, she starts to believe that, hey, maybe she will win! And yet, first place goes to another girl, and Callie is crushed. On the way home, her parents are appropriately supportive, telling her that what matters is that she tried her best, although her friends emphasize how disappointed she must feel. Callie keeps quiet, though, and the next day, she puts her skates back on, and goes back out on the ice, once again skating just for fun. This book deals with several important issues in a nice, gentle way -- peer pressure, learning to be resilient and deal with failure, and also learning to appreciate and enjoy things just for what they are, not for what they can get you. A nice parable for parents and kids dealing with competitive sports and other intense, passionate interests. Recommended! (B+)
"Amelia Rules, v.5: The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular"
Written and Illustrated by Jimmy Gownley
(Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 2010)
This is the fifth volume in the "Amelia Rules" graphic novel series, about a headstrong young girl who lives in a bucolic suburb and plays with her friends, who are into playing "superhero," but maybe a little more into it than most kids would be. Actually, they *used* to be into playing superhero, but now they're growing up and it's something they mostly do as an afterthought. Life in Fifth Grade is getting more complex and the kids -- especially the girls -- have other stuff on their minds. This volume shows Amelia and her friends grappling with social pressures at school, mainly the pressure to not seem uncool... which is difficult since Amelia's clique are self-defined nerds, and have been for a long, long time. Teased by the cheerleader in-crowd, Amelia and her friends respond in different ways. Reggie, who still likes to dress up and play superhero, doesn't really care, but lanky-limbed, crazy-haired, sarcastic Rhonda, does. She's decided she doesn't want to move into her middleschool years still being an outcast, and makes a determined effort to change her course. She wants to pull her friends along, too, and forces them to read the same insidious, submit-to-peer-pressure self-help book ("The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular") that she's adopted as her road map. Gownley's self-help book parody isn't very subtle, but the decisions that the kids make are pretty interesting, particularly with Rhonda, who manages to successfully change her image and social status at school, and Amelia, who is urged to join her. Meanwhile, Amelia's home life has its ups and downs, and there's more drama with her too-cool aunt Tanner, who's had to move in with Amelia and her mom after the roof of her house collapsed. Various characters and their relationships are subtly modified, and while the series sometimes seems a little static, many of the slower-moving plot elements, with boy trouble and whatnot, do get tied up in the next volume... so stay tuned!) This is still one of the better, more thoughtful kids-level graphic novels out there... quite satisfying and highly readable, and still highly recommended! (A)
"Archie: The Best Of Dan DeCarlo, v.1"
Written & Illustrated by Dan DeCarlo
(IDW Books, 2010)
This is an absolutely gorgeous, luxurious coffee-table reissue book, featuring a trove of classic comics by the great Dan DeCarlo, generally considered the definitive "Archie" comics artist. Many things make this a great book: the smooth-lined, confident artwork is exquisite; if you are a fan of "Love And Rockets" co-creator Jaime Hernandez, then you'll delight in reading one of his main influences. The story selection is top-notch as well, a better-than-usual representation of classic Archie strips, with plenty of Betty & Veronica "good girl" art, hilarious gags and deliciously retro '60s fashion. Finally, the book itself, as an object of material culture, is fantastic. About 50% larger than a regular comicbook, hardbound, with sleek, thick, glossy pages and gorgeously clean reproductions of the original art (and bright, bold colors), this book is a delight to hold and to page through. Highly recommended! (A++)
Written by Susan Kim & Lawrence Klavan
Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
(First Second Books, 2010)
Welcome to the scariest, creepiest summer camp ever! Expecting a boring summer ahead, teen/tween malcontents Jenna and Lucas find themselves unexpectedly recruited by the folks at Camp Fielding, an academically-oriented elite retreat where weird things happen... No, I mean, really weird things, like H.P. Lovecraft weird, not Nancy Drew weird. To begin with there are all the disappearing campers... as well as the ones that disappear, and then come back. And the ones that are growing feathers and vomiting up embryonic alien birds. It soon becomes clear that the counselors are doing more than just giving kids extra ice cream at night - they are implanting them with alien brain parasites that turn kids into zombies, but also makes them model citizens and total "brains" (ie, academic over-achievers) Can Jenna and Lucas escape? And can they save their friends? This was an appealing graphic novel, with good, anti-heroic protagonists and engaging artwork... From an adult's perspective, this is a pretty fun, if creepy graphic novel read... Keep it away from your kids, though: they'll never, ever, ever want to go to summer camp if you let them see this book first! (B+)
"Donald Duck Classics: Quack Up"
Written & Illustrated by Carl Barks, et.al.
(Boom! Studios, 2010)
A new publisher has taken over the Disney comics franchise, and with the change comes a nice, new set of reissue releases. This set includes a couple of Carl Barks epics, "Luck Of The North" from 1949 and "Donald The Milkman" from 1957, as well as several fine stories from the legion of European artists who've taken up the Barks-ian legacy in decades past. This collection isn't super-different from the ongoing Walt Disney Comics And Stories series (which also includes old, archival material) but regardless, it's a lot of fun. If you enjoy Donald, Uncle Scrooge and their zany entourage, this book is for you! (A)
"G-Man, v.1: Learning To Fly"
Written and Illustrated by Chris Giarrusso
(Image Comics, 2009)
A fun, funny superhero spoof aimed at younger readers. Creator Chris Giarrusso worked on the cartoony "Mini Marvels" series, which features goofy, kid-friendly parodies of established brand-name superheroes such as Spider-Man, The Hulk, et.al. I'm actually not a huge fan of "Mini Marvels" (or DC's likeminded "Tiny Titans" series) since it requires a lot of prior knowledge on the original stories and secretly seems pitched at older, long-time readers rather than the little kids who need more accessible super-books. "G-Man," however, is a delight. A fast-moving, giddy spoof of superhero comics, the book has an inventiveness and carefree feel and shares a lot in common with the "Franklin Richards" books. The premise is simple: a young boy named Mikey wants to be a superhero, and learns how to fly when he discovers that his family has a "magic blanket" that he cuts up and uses as a cape. This isn't too surprising since Mikey lives in a comicbook world where pretty much every kid and every adult has super powers as well... sort of like "Leave It To Beaver" meets "Astro City." The first section of the book is a tongue-in-cheek origin story, followed by a bunch of one and two-page gag strips. Giarrusso rounds things out with a hilarious lampoon of the many alternate-reality adventures that crowd mainstream super comics. (In one scene, Mikey and the other kids are freaked out about an impending apocalypse, but an adult hero hardly looks up from his newspaper -- this kind of thing happens all the time.) Unlike the "Mini Marvels" strips, "G-Man" is a free-standing, self-contained story -- it plays off the conventions of super-comics, but you don't have to know the life history of all the characters in order to get all the jokes. Definitely looking forward to a second volume!
"Little Lulu: The Space Dolly And Other Stories"
Written by John Stanley
Illustrated by John Stanley & Irving Tripp
(Dark Horse, 2010)
Great stuff. This strip is one of the creative watersheds in the comicbook medium, starring a bratty little girl who makes Dennis The Menace seem like a choir boy. The stories are funny -- and sometimes really weird -- but it's the artwork that's so fabulous. Clean, stylized, amazingly economical and expressive, John Stanley's illustrations elevate the Little Lulu stories into the upper reaches of the funnybook hall of fame... Best of all, Dark Horse has been reprinting each issue in full color, which makes them even more delicious. This volume collects Little Lulu #118-123, originally published in 1958. Here, Little Itch (the baby witch) meets a bunch of leprechauns, Tubby gets covered in chocolate and put inside an Easter basket, Alvin sells some worms... And of course, there are several stories about the Poor Little Girl and her eternal search for beebleberries. Highly recommended! (A+)
"Little Lulu's Pal Tubby: The Castaway And Other Stories"
Written by John Stanley
Illustrated by John Stanley & Irving Tripp
(Dark Horse, 2010)
Lulu's neighbor Tubby is a real stinker: greedy, gluttonous and completely self-centered, Tubby stomps through life gloriously unaware of his own shortcomings. In the "Lulu" comics, he often acts as her foil and (semi-)arch-enemy... Given his own book, Tub gets to delve deeper into his little boy's world of rowdy, imaginative play and misadventure. The first story in this collection, "The Castaway," is a doozy that took up an entire issue -- Tubby and his gang go out rafting, ala Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, but Tubby winds up on an epic pirate journey that takes lots of wild twists and turns. The rest of the book is great as well, and as with the new Lulu reprints, it's all in full color. One of the best kid's comics on the market today! Snap 'em up while you can. (A+)
"Mr. Badger And Mrs. Fox, v.2: A Hubbub"
Written by Brigitte Luciani
Illustrated by Eve Tharlet
(Lerner Books/Graphic Universe, 2010)
This handsomely illustrated, emotionally resonant graphic novel picks up where the first volume left off, telling the story of two animal families -- one fox, one badger -- that come together as one. When this volume opens, it's been a year since Mr. Badger and Mrs. Fox have met and become married, and now their families are still working the kinks out. The kids are getting along fine, except that fiery Ginger, the fox girl, feels outnumbered by her three badger siblings and possessive of her mother, who she feels she is losing to her new dad and to the other kids as well, since they have started calling her "mom" as well. Generally, though, the kids get along well -- they even have harmless sneaky secrets from their parents, like a new clubhouse they've created in an old, hollow tree. And when that clubhouse gets invaded by kids from another neighborhood (some mean kittens from the nearby town) it is an opportunity for them to bond even more. When Ginger's estranged biological father shows up, it looks like the drama may shift to Ginger having her loyalties divided between her parents, but in an unexpected (and very European) twist, all the adults are cool with each other, and there is no clash between the grown-up foxes, or Mrs. Fox's new husband. They are all civilized adults. As in the first volume, the emotions are subtle and the artwork -- gentle watercolors by Ms. Tharlet -- is exquisite. Recommended, both as a comicbook and as a "message" story. (A)
"Smurfs, v.1: The Purple Smurfs"
Written and Illustrated by Peyo
I was never really into the Smurfs -- never saw the show, have no idea about what their deal is... So, these new comic books -- which have been republished as part of a wider campaign to revive the Smurf brand, in connection with some new movie -- were a welcome surprise. This slim volume contains three short, self-contained stories about the goofy Smurf villagers, who have some annoying habits (such as using the word "smurf" for various verbs and nouns) and who appear to be some sort of cuddly forest elf or something, living in a medieval world that also includes human beings. The stories themselves are okay, written and illustrated by cartoonist Pierre Culliford (aka "Peyo") in the classic European graphic novel style. Basically, they are pretty much like the old "Asterix & Obelix" books, just written for much younger readers. These stories date back to the early 1960s, but may be familiar to American readers from their TV cartoon adaptations in the '80s. The first story -- "The Purple Smurfs" -- is about a zombie-like plague that takes over the village, turning the cheerful little blue guys into mindless, biting meanies. It kinda freaked my kid out, actually: she stopped reading the Smurfs after that one, so maybe you'd want to start with Volume Two instead? (B)
"Smurfs, v.2: The Smurfs And The Magic Flute"
Written and Illustrated by Peyo
This second volume features one longer story, the first adventure to introduce the Smurfs, way back in 1958. Originally written as part of a Peyo series called "Johan & Peewit," this saga features a lot of human characters, and indeed, while the Smurfs overrun the book, they fade from sight for pages on end. In some ways that might make the story more accessible for newer readers, or grumpy anti-cutesy parents who never "got" the whole Smurf thing to begin with... At any rate, this is more of a "realistic" European comicbook, of the Asterix variety. Worth checking out. (B)
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