This past weekend I went to the Tucson Book Festival and had a bit of a fangirl moment when I got to see Young Adult author Chris Crutcher and got him to sign my copy of his latest book. I was first introduced to the author’s work when I was in Grad School for Library and Information Science and was taking a class on YA literature. We had to do a paper on a banned book and why it was banned. I picked Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes  (to be further abbreviated as SFFSB) because I had never read any of his stuff and I liked his book the best out of the ones we had to choose from. I read a couple of them, for example The Perks of Being a Wallflower, just to figure out which I wanted to write on. It’s weird but I had never heard of  SFFSB, even though it came out when I was a teenager, but I rather enjoyed the book. The funny part was trying to explain the book to my mother, who immediately thought the book was horrible based on the number of times it cursed (there was a lot, I counted) or mentioned delicate topics like masturbation or abortion. I was also excited to see Chris Crutcher because I know how firmly he is on preventing censorship for teens, a topic that he has spoken on in length not only on his website (including SFFSB) but other public forums like magazines and the Book Festival. I sadly missed the lecture there because I mixed up the times. I also saw a very brief glimpse of Lois Lowry (who had signed a copy of The Giver for me about 5 yrs ago in South Carolina) and sat for part of a talk given by Laurie Halse Anderson, who wrote Chains.

I’ve been making some real progress on the Newbery Challenge list this last month, so I’m rather proud of that. I’m trying to get better about picking advanced reader’s copy books that I can actually finish and write a review on, as I have been finding books that are very visual (graphic novels and children’s nonfiction) but can only be viewed in Adobe Digital Editions, and not my Kindle. Now that I have a laptop again, that problem should be a little bit easier to solve. I’m currently listening to Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata on audiobook. I’m reading Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, the newest Newbery Award winning book, which is absolutely hilarious

As usual I rate books on a scale of 1 – 5 stars, with one being the lowest and five the highest. I am still trying to finish my Caldecott (need link) Challenge, and with all the winners and honors. I’m down to 18 books left to read. I’m also completing a Newbery Challenge, where I’m reading all (need link) the award winners and at least one honor book. I apologize in advance for the length of this post. It seems I have been a lot busier than I thought in the last month. So much so that I will have to split my normal book reviews post into two. The first one will be Children’s books and Caldecott, and the second one will be Newbery (Children and Young Adult), Young Adult, and Adult books.

Children

Pomelo Explores Color written by Ramona Badescu, illustrated by Benjamin Chaud

The Happy Gray of Rain - Pomelo Explores Color

I like the idea of a tiny pink Elephant named Pomelo, the illustrations were super cute (they would be great for individual prints to decorate a child’s bedroom), and the ideas for color descriptions were very original. However, I think this book, like its predecessor (insert title) fell a little flat. Let me explain. The book is all about Pomelo and his friends learning about different colors and how amazing it is to live in a multi-colored world. That part is fine. It seems like the intended audience for this book is toddlers/preschoolers who are just learning their colors, and despite the small pages, I don’t think this age group will pay attention for the entire length of the book. It is something like 70 pages. My 2 ½ year old lost interest somewhere around the second color. They definitely thought outside the box when picking the color descriptions, like “the mysterious blue of dreams”, “the comforting white of dandelions” and “the foamy white of hot milk”. The book would make a fun creative book for older kids, maybe do a lesson on colors or poetry. Recommended for ages 3+, 3 stars.

Clickety Clack written by Rob and Amy Spence, illustrated by Margaret Spengler

I picked this up for my son because of his train obsession and it was funny because as soon as he saw the cover, he yells out “Clickety-Clack” and I was like “Wow, can he read that?” (he’s only 2 ½ ). Then I realized he probably has listened to it at daycare, and he said some of the repeating phrases along with me as I was reading the book. Needless to say, it was a huge hit with him. I enjoyed it too. I mean how can you not love a book with talking yaks, quacking ducks and mice who use fireworks! As I said earlier, the text repeats itself so a child can easily follow the pattern. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

The Mysterious Tadpole written and illustrated by Steven Kellogg

The Mysterious Tadpole

I love Steven Kellogg’s illustrations, they just remind me of my childhood.  So when I saw this book for sale at a local used bookstore, I immediately bought it. I enjoyed the story more than my son did, mostly because I’m not sure he really understood what was going on, but he liked the illustrations. I have to admit I was cheering a bit when he went to the librarian for help.

Every year, Uncle McAllister gets a really cool present for Louis’ birthday. This year he sent Louis a tadpole, which Louis just loves and even brings to show and tell at school. He names it Alphonse, discovers that he likes cheeseburgers, and Alphonse just keeps getting bigger and bigger. He outgrows the jar he came in, the kitchen sink and the bathtub. He is definitely not the frog that his teacher originally thought he was.

So Louis smuggles Alphonse into the junior high swimming pool, and becomes a paperboy so he can keep feeding him his favorite food. When the swimming coach finds out about the creature, he tells Louis he has to be removed immediately. What is Louis going to do? He needs a permanent place to put Alphonse, but his parents can’t afford to buy a pool. So he enlists the help of Miss Seever, the school librarian. Will she be able to help Louis and Alphonse? To find out, read this charming story.  Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

All Aboard! written by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Amiko Hirao

Another train book I picked out for my son, but he lost interest after a couple of pages. The concept was an interesting one, but some aspects of the story weren’t immediately recognizable, and thus made the book rather confusing. The book starts off with a rabbit named Mr. Barnes, who is going on a long train trip. He is completely surrounded by animals on the train, except for a little girl, who no one else seems to be able to see. I liked pointing out all the animals and getting my son to name them. But the story just keeps going and going, with no possible end in sight. At the end of the book, the reader finds out that the little girl is the actual subject of the book and Mr. Barnes is her stuffed rabbit that she brought along with her for the extended train trip to her grandparent’s house. I enjoyed the illustrations. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 ½ stars.

Huge Harold written and illustrated by Bill Peet

I will admit that when I saw the cover illustration for this book, I wondered if it was influenced by Harvey, that Jimmy Stewart movie about man with the imaginary 6 ft tall rabbit companion. I really enjoyed this story about a young rabbit who can’t stop growing, though I know my son was a bit disappointed that there weren’t any trains in it. Harold outgrows his family and must seek refuge in the deep forest, but he only finds predators though, so he must run away.

He finds a field full of yummy vegetables, but the farmer doesn’t appreciate him eating his produce and tries to shoot him. Harold hides in an abandoned mansion during a storm and my favorite illustration from this scene is Harold completely overwhelming a tiny twin bed as he is sleeping in it. Two boys see him and tell some farmers, who chase him for months. Harold finally finds refuge in a barn, where a kind farmer lets him stay and then he ends up being a “thoroughbred” racer. Recommended for ages 4-7,  4 stars.

The Insomniacs written by Karina Wolf, illustrated by the Brothers Hilts

I picked this one up not because I thought my son would like it, but because I loved the cover art (it is even better inside). The book was about the Insomniac family, a working mom, a stay-at-home father and their daughter Mika. The mom takes a job on the other side of the world, twelve hours away, and the family is unable to go to sleep at night. After the whole family is falling asleep in the morning, they decide to do something about it. They try to go find a bear, thinking that they hibernate through the winter so must know how to sleep at night, but are unsuccessful. So they decide that they will stay awake at night and go to bed in the morning, this plan is pretty successful. I loved the illustrations by the Brothers Hilts, they were so quirky and fun. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Train written by Elisha Cooper

I picked this up immediately when I saw it at the library, for my son. It starts out with a commuter train, which goes from the small towns to the big city, then switches to a passenger train that goes longer distances. From there, we see a freight train with an incredibly long line of attached freight cars containing things like steel, oil and wheat. Next is the Overnight Train with its sleeping berths and tiny bathrooms, and finally the High Speed Train.  I loved the illustrations of all the different kinds of trains, and the little details like the animals that were passed by the train at the bottom of the pages. My only gripe was that the book was way too long for my son, as a read-aloud book. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 ½ stars.

While Mama had a quick little chat written by Amy Reichert, illustrated by Alexandra Boinger

While Mama Had a Quick Little Chat

I picked this one up for myself because the premise seemed amusing. I really enjoyed the look of the illustrations. The premise to this rhyming story is that Mama gets a phone call from Uncle Fred and just wants to have a “quick little chat”, and so her daughter Rose must get ready for bed. But before Rose can really get started, there is someone ringing the doorbell saying they’ve got party supplies to deliver, so she lets them in. Then all these guests, waiters, and musicians start arriving and pretty soon she has a full house, and her mother is still on the phone. Part of me wondered how on earth the mother couldn’t hear all these people coming in to her house and a party going on, and the other half was just in awe of the story wondering how it would end. Will Rose be able to get rid of everyone and make it to bed before her mother finishes her chat? To find out, read this captivating book. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 ½ stars.

Chester the Worldly Pig written and illustrated by Bill Peet

I had seen this book at the library book sale, but had not picked it up because I had never read the book, but decided to try to read it at the library when I got the chance. I’m glad I did. It was a cute story. Chester decides as a piglet that if he wants to avoid the common ending of a pig (being made into food), then he needs to do something extraordinary. He eventually manages, after much trial and tribulation to balance on his nose on the top of a fence post. He waits for the circus train to pass the farm so he can be noticed, but ends up taking it upon himself to do it as the circus folk were all asleep when the train passes. He is quickly discovered and put in the show, though after being put in an act with some tigers and being so terrified he couldn’t perform, he is re-delegated to the clown’s baby buggy and later chained up so he can’t escape. He does eventually manage to escape off the train, only to run into a wild bear and then a group of Hobos, who both try to eat him. He decides that he’s had enough and goes to a farm, where he does live the life of a pig and grow fat. On the day he is to be slaughtered for food, he is saved by a traveling showman for double his worth. Can you guess why? To find out, read this enchanting story. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Fortunately, the Milk Written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young

Fortunately the Milk's Aliens

I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages, but it is always checked out. This book is Neil Gaiman at his zaniest, which I just love! The illustrations were hilarious and really made the story even funnier. The book is all about a family with two kids. The mom has gone away to a conference and the father is left in charge. When the kids get up in the morning to eat cereal for breakfast, they realize that they are completely out of milk. So the dad goes to the store to get some more and he is gone “for ages and ages.” When he finally returns he has quite the tale to tell. He claims he was on the way back from the shop when he is abducted by aliens, goes back in time and end up on a pirate ship, gets rescued by a dinosaur professor, does some more time travel and meets some vampires. All in one morning, of course! The children do not believe his story, as they think he just took elements from around their kitchen, like the sister’s book on vampires and the son’s dinosaur toys. But they’re not quite sure as he does have the infamous milk. Highly recommended for ages 6-10, 5 stars.

Hello Mr. Hulot! by David Merveille, according to Jacques Tati

I picked up this book browsing the children’s section. This is one of those books that I think I would like if I had grown up in a French-speaking country or knew the films of Jaques Tati, who was apparently famous for originally creating the tragic comic character. David Merveille took Mr. Hulot and converted him to a wordless picture book, which is pretty ingenious if you think about it. I loved the 1930s-looking illustrations and the crazy situations Mr. Hulot seems to constantly find himself in. Recommended for ages 6-10, 3 stars.

Clickety Clack written by Rob and Amy Spence, illustrated by Margaret Spengler

I picked this up for my son because of his train obsession and it was funny because as soon as he saw the cover, he yells out “Clickety-Clack” and I was like “Wow, can he read that?” (he’s only 2 ½ ). Then I realized he probably has listened to it at daycare, and he said some of the repeating phrases along with me as I was reading the book. Needless to say, it was a huge hit with him. I enjoyed it too. I mean how can you not love a book with talking yaks, quacking ducks and mice who use fireworks! As I said earlier, the text repeats itself so a child can easily follow the pattern. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

All Aboard! written by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Amiko Hirao

Another train book I picked out for my son, but he lost interest after a couple of pages. The concept was an interesting one, but some aspects of the story weren’t immediately recognizable, and thus made the book rather  confusing. The book starts off with a rabbit named Mr. Barnes, who is       going on a long train trip. He is completely surrounded by animals on the train, except for a little girl, who no one else seems to be able to see.  I liked pointing out all the animals and getting my son to name them. But the story just keeps going and going, with no possible end in sight. At the end of the book, the reader finds out that the little girl is the actual subject of the book and Mr. Barnes is her stuffed rabbit that she brought along with her for the extended train trip to her grandparent’s       house. I enjoyed the illustrations. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 ½ stars.

Caldecott Challenge

All Around Town written by Phyllis McGinley, illustrated by Helen Stone

An inventive ABC rhyming book written for city kids, this book is a little dated. It won a 1949 Caldecott Honor. Some of the subject words were a little weak, but I thought overall the rhymes were excellent with good vocabulary. I will say that I always get a little bummed when people can’t come up with good word for the letter X and like to use “X-tra Large” or “Xtra Cheese” instead. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Mr. Wuffles! Written and illustrated by David Wiesner

Every time David Wiesner creates another wordless picture book, I swear he gets more and more imaginative. Though this one had been on my to-read list for awhile, it made an appearance sooner rather than later after winning a 2014 Caldecott Honor. Mr. Wuffles is a black and white cat (reminds me of my cat growing up). His owner keep buying him toys to play with, but he is never interested in any of them, until he finds a small spaceship-sized one. Only it’s actually a tiny spaceship complete with aliens, intent on colonizing our planet. They manage to escape from Mr. Wuffles under a countertop, and it is here that they meet ants and a ladybug. They befriend one another, and help each other to escape Mr. Wuffles’ clutches, and allow the aliens to return to their ship. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle

Flora-and-the-Flamingo_03

I realized after I read this book, that the author/illustrator also created Tea Rex, another recent book I’ve read that I thought was really creative and different. This books follows in the same vein, though this one is wordless. It reminds me a lot of Fantasia 2000 as the flamingos in that movie were practicing ballet as well. This book won a 2014 Caldecott Honor and rightly so. I just love not only the ballet positions but also the facial expressions on the little girl as she mirrors the flamingo. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

The Wild Birthday Cake written by Lavinia R. Davis, illustrated by Hildegard Woodward

I had been putting off this one for awhile due to its length (a bit too long to read to my son). I really enjoyed the last book, Roger and the Fox, that I read by this author and illustrator team. This book won a 1950 Caldecott Honor, and it’s the best one I’ve read so far from that year.

Johnny is a young boy who has bought a backpack for himself, filled it with a lunch, and intends on going hiking in the woods. On the way there, he sees some of the people he regularly helps out with chores, but is too intent on his mission to stop. He also runs into the Professor, who is always rescuing animals from the nearby woods, and who reminds Johnny about his birthday party that afternoon. Johnny totally forgot about it, so he starts rushing around trying to find a suitable gift. He makes the Professor a card out of a piece of birch wood.

While on the edge of a pond, he spots some ducks flying overhead and then sees one in the pond. He decides that he wants to catch it for himself. He of course gets completely covered in mud in the process, and his mother refuses to allow him to keep the duck, even though it is injured. He brings it with him to the Professor’s house, and he shows the boy three ducklings that he’s found. Johnny adds his duck to the Professor’s pond, which turns out to be female, and she starts leading the ducklings. He asks the professor to keep the duck and fix its wing, and the professor decides to name the duck Birthday Cake. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.

Journey written and illustrated by Aaron Becker

Journey

This seems to be the year for wordless picture books, as all 2014’s Caldecott Honors books are wordless. This one has almost no color in the beginning, all white and grey illustrations, except for one item of importance that is colored in bright red. The basic storyline is a girl who is ignored by her parents and sister, so she finds a red crayon and draws a door on her bedroom wall. This opens and she finds herself in a forest somewhere else. It is here that the illustrations get more way more colorful. Her adventures continue until she meets a boy with a similar magical purple crayon. The illustrations, despite their lack of color, are full of imagination, whimsy, and lots of little details. I couldn’t wait to see what the girl would do next with her magical crayon. Recommended for ages 4+, 4 stars.

Juanita written and illustrated by Leo Politi

Juanita

The author and illustrator Leo Politi can do everything. He creates delightful multicultural stories with adorable illustrations, and writes music and lyrics for his books (though some are traditional songs I believe). This is the third book I’ve read of his for the Caldecott Challenge, and this won a 1949 Caldecott Honor. The book is another book that starts on Olvera   Street (the same as his book Pedro, the Angel of Olvera   Street), which is the Hispanic part of Los Angeles. On the street are shops owned by Mexican families, including one named Juanita after the shop owner’s young daughter. Juanita is turning four years old and her parents have bought her a dove for her birthday, and her mother has sewn a beautiful pink and lace dress. Juanita takes the dove everywhere with her. On the day before Easter, the local Catholic Church has a Blessing of the Animals ceremony and all the local families and their pets attend, including Juanita in her new dress with her dove. After the day’s excitement, Juanita’s dress is hung back up for Easter Sunday and her mama sings her to sleep (the music/lyrics are included in the book). Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Locomotive written and illustrated by Brian Floca

Locomotive

There was a bit of a wait on this book and I can understand why. This was a truly fascinating book and I know this, and the fabulously detailed illustrations, is why this book was the 2014 Caldecott Award Winner. The first thing I thought of while reading it was that it was like a G-rated version of the show “Hell on Wheels”, as it too is about building and traveling on the newly-created Transcontinental Railroad. We follow a family traveling from one end, which starts in Omaha, Nebraska and ends in Sacramento, California in 1869.

If you think about it, considering that sixty years earlier, people were using covered wagons to travel across the country, a steam-powered train was a pretty revolutionary way to travel.

Although the book was way too long for my son to sit down and listen completely through, he loved the up-close-and-personal brightly-colored watercolor, ink, and gouache painted illustrations of the train.

The end pages in the back of the book featured a diagram of a steam train and showed where all the components talked about in the book were, like the Johnson Bar (kind of like a car shifting control) and how the fire builds up the heat for the water, that is carried from the tender to the engine, to boil and create the steam used to power the train. The end pages in the front of the book show the route of the Transcontinental Railroad, which is helpful as they don’t always mention the state or territory in the book, usually just the city or town name that the train stops in. It also features the piece of legislation that created the idea for the Transcontinental Railroad, signed by President Lincoln. It is long for a picture book at 64 pages, but well-worth the effort of reading it aloud. Highly recommended for ages 5-10, 5 stars.

Henry, Fisherman: A Story of the Virgin Islands written and illustrated by Marcia Brown

Henry, Fisherman

One thing I love about the Caldecott Challenge is that I get to read and find all sorts of lovely new books, authors and illustrators. I have fallen in love with Marcia Brown’s work. This book was a 1950 Caldecott Honor. It is about a young boy named Henry who lives in the Virgin Islands. All of the male members of his family have been fishermen, and he can’t wait to be one himself. The story tells about Henry and his family, and what he does on a normal day. I love the bright and colorful illustrations! One day, Henry’s father lets him go fishing with him, and sends him down to unhook the fish traps, where Henry narrowly escapes from a shark. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

The Two Reds, written by Will, illustrated by Nicolas

I wasn’t a huge fan of their other book, Finders Keepers, but since this is also a Caldecott book, 1951 Caldecott Honors this time, I figured I would give it a try. It was a charming story. The Two Reds of the title are a young boy named Red (not his real name but he has red hair) and a homeless cat (whose real name equivalent is hilarious) also named Red that live in the same neighborhood. The boy and cat don’t like each other because they both like fish, but for different reasons. It is early in the morning and the cat is hungry, so he goes in search of food.

The boy goes out to play, and wants to ride a fruitman’s horse, but he is a work horse not a riding horse. Both Red the boy and Red the cat try to catch a pigeon. Red watches a group of boys called the Seventh Street Signal Senders performing a secret initiation, after he smells a fire, but they catch him watching and start chasing after him. Red the cat steals one of the fishman’s fresh fish and runs away, where he collides with Red the boy and each get away from their pursuers. They decide the other is not as bad as originally thought, and spend the rest of their time together. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

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