Wow, what a long strange few months! I have been reading, but have not had the chance to do my traditional visits to libraries and bookstores to review books…until today! There are so many great new books out there and I am thrilled to get back into reviewing them for you!
Title: We Will Rock our Classmates!
Author/Illustrator: Ryan T. Higgins
Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion (July 21, 2020)
The “gist”: This is a sequel to We don’t Eat our Classmates and finds Penelope Rex anxious about performing in a class talent show.
My favorite part: One of my favorite things about Ryan’s writing is that there are always little extra treats to find– in the illustrations, but even more so in the dialog bubbles which are often pretty hilarious asides. For example, one awesome aside by Penelope is her description of how she will perform her rock music: “…and look angry, but I’ll actually be really happy!” That line really captures passion for rock music.
My response as a reader: You have to love Penelope, who is so earnest and excited in all she does. Her fear sparks my “mom” instinct and makes me really want her to realize that we are indeed cheering for her.
My “take-away” as a writer: With all due respect to the genius that is Ryan T. Higgins, the plot here is not earth-shattering. But is a story kids NEED to hear over and over, and it is done with such charm and spunk, I am sure it will be another bestseller. Come up with a relatable character (who is cute, to boot!) add in attractive illustrations with funny asides, and you have a winner. Too bad that is much easier said than done!
Title:The Ugly Doodles
Author/Illustrator: Valeria Wicker
Publisher/Date: jimmy patterson (July 7, 2020)
The “gist”: Inspired by paintings she loves in museums, Raven tries her hand at art, but is unsatisfied with her own creations.
My favorite part: I loved what happened when her dad brought her home more paper from the recycling center….
My response as a reader: As I thought about the masterpieces Raven had seen in the museum compared with her drawings, I thought about all the process sketches I have seen in museums over the years– I would have loved to see that idea in the story somehow, but the concept lesson is in there– the final product does not show all the work that was required to get there!
My “take-away” as a writer: There is a slight “supernatural” aspect in this book which reminds me of Aaron Reynolds’ great book, Creepy Pair of Underwear. My first fear as a writer would be that I needed to explain this somehow, but the story works as is, and isn’t creepy at all, so my take-away is: if it is fun and it works, don’t think too much!
Title: Dozens of Doughnuts
Author: Carrie Finison
Illustrator: Brianne Farley
Publisher/Date: G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR (July 21, 2020)
The “gist”: LouAnn is excited to sit down and enjoy some doughnuts she has made, but her friends come by and she is worried there won’t be enough left for her!
My favorite part: It so happens that 12 is my favorite number. I love that you can divide it evenly into so many other numbers. One person gets 12 doughnuts, two people get six each, three get four each, etc. As a greedy kid I was constantly figuring out “How many do I get?” from a box or batch of something– my kids are the same way!
My response as a reader: I got hungrier and hungrier as I read this book and I can imagine kids feeling badly for LouAnn and wanting her to get doughnuts. I can’t be the only one who has been unexpectedly asked to share something! Like We will ROCK our classmates, above it is not so much the originality of the plot here, as the charm of the characters– and in this case some excellently executed rhyme as well!
My “take-away” as a writer: Since I frequently write in rhyme too, I am always on the lookout for interesting turns of phrase or new things to try. I love that there were a couple spots where Carrie left out the final word (like rhyming pan with LouAnn but stopping short at finishing the line so the reader has to do it). I love how that moves the story forward and I will have to keep it in mind!
Title: That’s Life!
Author: Ame Dyckman
Illustrator: Cori Doerrfeld
Publisher/Date:Little, Brown BYR (March 31, 2020)
The “gist”: Life can be weird and unpredictable, but it is also fun and amazing!
My favorite part: As you can see from the cover, “Life” is an adorable cross between a hedgehog and a dust bunny– who wouldn’t want to go on adventures with that kind of perkiness?
My response as a reader: I have loved Ame Dyckman’s work for years–from Wolfie the Bunny to Horrible Bear and beyond, she is great at creating endearingly quirky characters, so why shouldn’t she be able to personify life itself? I can definitely see this book as a read aloud for teachers at the beginning (or end) of the school year, or even as a graduation gift. (Not to mention how timely it is for our current Covid-Chaos).
My “take-away” as a writer: Who doesn’t dream of penning a book that becomes the next “Oh the Places You’ll Go”? Congratulations, Ame! How do I top this one?
Title: The Fort
Author: Laura Perdew
Illustrator: Adelina Lirius
Publisher/Date: Page Street Kids (April 21, 2020)
The “gist”: A wooden fort can be a pirate ship or a royal castle…but the kids doing the pretending have very specific opinions about that!
My favorite part: I love that the pirate is a young black girl– and that the gender and ethnicity of neither character is particularly important or emphasized.
My response as a reader: There is a really great timeless feeling of imagination here– two kids seeing something with completely different eyes. There’s a little bit of the feel of two of my favorite kids TV series: “Craig of the Creek” and “The Backyardigans,” where you can do anything and go anywhere in the magic of your backyard. You don’t need parents to solve your problems, you just work things out.
My “take-away” as a writer: The biggest takeaway here is to keep kids as your focal point. It is all about sparking that magic and capturing their interest. While there is a tiny bit of a moral here, it is more about the excitement of playing pretend. Reading this, I feel like all I need to do is put myself in the shoes of those kids and take off writing…