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Little Babymouse and the Christmas Cupcakes: Jennifer L. Holm + Matthew Holm

Book: Little Babymouse and the Christmas Cupcakes
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrator: Matthew Holm
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-7

BabymouseChristmasCupcakesBabymouse, the intrepid, cupcake-loving heroine created by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, has appeared in 20 graphic novels to date. Little Babymouse and the Christmas Cupcakes is Babymouse's first foray into the world of picture books. As a longtime fan of Babymouse, I found the new picture book delightful.

As the story begins, we find a young Babymouse, perhaps three or four years old. Her little brother is a (very loud) baby. It's Christmas Eve, and Babymouse, alas, eats all of the cookies meant for Santa. But that's ok, because she decides to make Santa some Christmas cupcakes. However, in classic Babymouse fashion, things do not work out quite as expected. A fantasy element roars in, and, well, let's just say that it's a good thing Santa doesn't need very many cupcakes. 

I do love Babymouse. I love that she adores pink, but also wants a suit of armor for Christmas, "because of all the dragons." I love that baking cookies for Santa isn't unique enough, and the fact that she considers (though happily rejects) making a tuna casserole. As in the graphic novels, the dry voice of the narrator interacting with Babymouse lends humor to the story. And I love, love, love the ending, which made me laugh, and also nod with recognition. 

This is, I believe, Babymouse's first time appearing in full color (the graphic novels are black, white, and pink), and Matthew Holms' eye-catching illustrations are sure to draw in the youngest of readers. I challenge any reader to resist the illustration in which Babymouse leaps into the air, positively bursting with excitement, when she hits upon the idea of Christmas cupcakes. There's also a quite fetching pink dragon. 

Fans of the Babymouse books will definitely want to add Little Babymouse and the Christmas Cupcakes to their holiday wish lists. For those children too young to already be fans, Little Babymouse and the Christmas Cupcakes is a perfect introduction for preschoolers to an imaginative, stereotype-busting character. It's difficult for me to assess objectively how this book will work for people meeting Babymouse for the first time, but I strongly suspect that it will be successful. There are fun, read-aloud-friendly sound effects and typical small child behaviors (like making a huge mess when helping out, and not being able to resist eating too many cookies). And there is Babymouse. 

My only slight regret (though I agree with as a creative decision) is that Babymouse does not, in this book, mutter "Typical." I am hoping for a future picture book in which she says that for the first time.  

Babymouse and the Christmas Cupcakes is highly recommended for in-home holiday reading, and a must-purchase for libraries. I can't wait to read it with my own young dragon-slayer. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Children (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Buddy for President: Hans Wilhelm

Book: Buddy for President
Author: Hans Wilhelm
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

BuddyForPresidentJust in time for Election Day, Harper Children's brings us Buddy for President by Hans Wilhelm, in which a boy lobbies hard for his dog to become the next President. Buddy's qualifications including appreciating the great outdoors (like President Theodore Roosevelt) and a (slobbery) ability to kiss babies right and left. Here's a high point of the book:

"Buddy will be our top dog! He will put his presidential paw print only on good laws, like bedtime just for grown-ups and more playtime for kids."

The very next passage felt a bit overly sentimental to me:

"Everybody will cheer when Buddy introduces a law so that all kids must have a safe lace to live with grown-ups and dogs who love them with all their hearts."

But mostly, Wilhelm sticks to fun characteristics of dogs that translate well into leadership, like being good listeners, and being good at playing. The new National Anthem, all in woofs to the tune of Take Me Out to the Ball Game is a lot of fun, as are the campaign posts for dog leaders of other countries (a poodle for France, of course). Wilhelm's bright, cheerful illustrations, with Buddy always a smiling figure, help to keep Buddy for President on the humorous side. I think that kids will find this one entertaining. 

Buddy for President would make a light-hearted classroom or library read-aloud (for kids five and up) on or before Election Day. There are a few facts thrown in that could form a basis for discussion (what is a summit, etc.), as well as a nice plug for reading aloud. 

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: July 12, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Before Morning: Joyce Sidman + Beth Krommes

Book: Before Morning
Author: Joyce Sidman
Illustrator: Beth Krommes
Pages: 48
Age Range: 3-7

BeforeMorningBefore Morning, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes, is simply beautiful, in words and text. It's about the power of wishes, and quiet respite that a snow day can bring. The story is told mainly through the pictures, accompanied by a spare poem from Sidman, sprinkled line by line across the book. We see a girl pause at a bakery window, dragged past by a busy parent. We see the girl at home with her parents, trying to hide her mother's pilot hat, so that her mother won't leave. We see the mother leave for work, while her husband and daughter are sleeping. And then we see it start to snow, and snow, and snow. 

Here's just a hint of Sidman's text:

"Let the air turn to feathers,

the earth turn to sugar,

and all that is heavy
turn light."

This was across three page spreads. You want to read it aloud, slowly. This would make a wonderful bedtime book, soothing and uplifting, and celebrating family. 

Krommes' scratchboard and watercolor illustrations are rendered in a deep palette. Everything is textured and slightly abstract looking. She fills in details that tell us more about the girl and her family. The father standing in the kitchen, having clearly prepared the dinner on the table. The girl's room, full of model airplanes. A picture of the mother in uniform on a side table. And at the end, as any reader would hope and expect, we see the family stop at the bakery, and take home the cake that the girl wanted in the first place. 

In the middle of the book the authors' focus turns to the snow storm. We see skies full of snowflakes and birds, over snowy town scenes. But throughout these images, we also follow the mother's journey, into the airport, and then home again. This is a book that rewards close observation, a slow reading of the text, and a slow perusal of the pictures. 

Before Morning is lovely, through and through. This story that celebrates a child's love of her parent would make a perfect new baby gift. It's especially wonderful, of course, that it's the mom who is the breadwinner, and has the job that inspires and saddens the child. Before Morning belongs in libraries and on home bookshelves everywhere. I think it will work best for preschoolers, but I hope that my six-year-old appreciates it, too. Because it would make me very happy to read this to her. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Enzo's Very Scary Halloween: Garth Stein + R.W. Alley

Book: Enzo's Very Scary Halloween
Author: Garth Stein
Illustrator: R.W. Alley
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-8

EnzosHalloweenMy daughter and I love Enzo, who debuted in Enzo: Racing in the Rain and has also been seen in Enzo and the Christmas Tree Hunt! The Enzo books are written by Garth Stein and illustrated by R.W. Alley. Enzo is an irresistible little dog who lives with race car driver Denny and his daughter Zoe. The stories are told from Enzo's first person (dog) perspective, and reflect his limited understanding of the things that people do. They also incorporate Enzo's affinity for running, an appropriate trait in a dog belonging to a race car driver. 

In Enzo's Very Scary Halloween, as Zoe and Denny prepare for a ghoul-filled Halloween, Enzo braces himself to protect them. He has no idea why Zoe thinks that an "impending invasion" of ghosts and goblins will be fun, and he worries as the neighborhood is gradually transformed into a scary place. When Halloween night comes, Zoe dresses Enzo up as a dragon. When people's reactions convince Enzo that he really has turned into a dragon, he runs away, determined not to hurt anyone AND afraid that creatures are chasing him. There's surreal fright for a few pages, but of course things turn out ok for Enzo in the end.

One minor nit that I noticed when reading this book is that for a year-old puppy who doesn't understand when people are pretending to be scared, Enzo has a remarkably advanced vocabulary, using words like "sneering", "revelation" and "transformed". I doubt that this concern will bother child listeners, but it does mean that Enzo's Very Scary Halloween is a book better read to kids than read by new readers. It's also quite text-heavy for a picture book. Like this (one page spread):

"Over the next week, Denny's prophecy begins to come true. Each day, more houses on our street become haunted: giant spiders weave webs on porches, gravestones appear on lawns, and pumpkins try to sneak into people's houses. They are evil pumpkins, with sneering, demonic faces, but they're very slow moving, so we should be able to escape their evil spells. (I have never trusted a pumpkin." 

R.W. Alley's gentle illustrations ("pen and ink, pencil, watercolor, gouache, acrylics, and coffee spills on paper") keep Enzo's Very Scary Halloween from being too scary for young listeners. Enzo's worried eyes  and questioningly cocked ears convey his feelings throughout. Even on the page spread in which Enzo starts to believe that he might actually be a dragon, his wide eyes remain recognizable. I especially like Alley's use of fall colors in the dragon scenes.

Fans of Enzo will certainly not want to miss Enzo's Very Scary Halloween. I think that the advanced vocabulary and relatively dense text make this a better choice for early elementary school kids than for preschoolers. It's also a relatively advanced concept for readers to put themselves in Enzo's shoes, and understand why he would find Halloween so frightening. I don't think it's necessary to have read the previous Enzo books to appreciate this one, however, and it could happily join other Halloween stories in a library or bookstore display. It's a lovely portrayal of the full spectrum of Halloween traditions and decorations. Personally, I love Enzo, and was happy to see him back in a new adventure. I look forward to sharing this one with my daughter. 

Publisher: HarperCollins  (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: July 26, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch: Diana Murray + Heather Ross

Book: Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch
Author: Diana Murray
Illustrator: Heather Ross
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

GrimeldaGrimelda: The Very Messy Witch is a humorous tale of a young witch who lives on her own, and is very, very messy. Grimelda is so messy, in fact, that sometimes she can't find things that she needs. When a craving for pickle pie sends her on a quest to find her lost "pickle root", Grimelda searches high and low, through grime and squalor. But eventually she concedes that there is no help for it: she's going to have to clean her house if she wants to find the lost pickle root. Happily, however, there is a kid-friendly twist at the end. This is no "and the moral of the story is, keep your room clean" didactic picture book. No, Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch is a celebration of dirt and clutter, and of being yourself. 

Diana Murray's rhyming text is pitch-perfect and read-aloud-friendly. I especially like how she inserts remarks by Grimelda in with the poetry. Like this:

"One night, Grimelda long to try
a recipe for pickle pie
She found the flour and egg of newt,

but where'd I put that pickle root?

Here the last line is shown in a text bubble, and in purple text, to make it extra clear that Grimelda is speaking directly. Sometimes rhyming text doesn't work in picture books, but my sense is that Murray has the poetry chops to pull it off. 

I also like Murray's incorporation of unusual witch-paraphernalia. Like this:

"This other stuff won't do!" she said.
She tossed aside the scream cheese spread,
the rot sauce,
and the dragon fruit.
She had to find that pickle root."

There are also things like "stinkweed potpourri" and "wormy apple core". Just quirky enough to be interesting, without being wholly disgusting or actually scary. 

Heather Ross's digitally created illustrations are chaotic and cheerful, capturing details of Grimelda's mess not necessarily covered in the text (like a sink so full of dirt that grass is growing in it). There are cute snails living in the house, not to mention toadstools and spiders. Grimeda is shown with two enormous pigtails of tangled red hair, and a missing shoe. She wears swim goggles to fly to Zelda's General Store (where a sign warns that "ALL baby dragon sales are FINAL"). 

Together, this combination of bouncy, rhyming text and cheerful, quirky illustrations makes for a kid-friendly read-aloud. This would be a great addition to a library storytime for Halloween - entertaining but  not at all scary. Here at home, I'm looking forward to reading this one to my six-year-old, especially as fall approaches. Recommended!

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books  (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: July 26, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Imagine a City: Elise Hurst

Book: Imagine a City
Author: Elise Hurst
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-7

ImagineACityImagine a City by Elise Hurst is a highly visual celebration of the imagination. Both text and color are minimal, and are not needed. It's best to just sit back and let Hurst's detailed pencil and ink illustrations sweep one away. We begin with a mother and two children getting onto a train, and then settling in for a journey. The text says: "Imagine a train to take you away". Closer inspection reveals whimsical details, such as a possible face on the front of the train engine, and a waiter who seems to have a teapot for a hand. A neighboring passenger sits upright behind a newspaper, with bunny ears peeking over the top of the page. 

Things get more unusual from there, as we:

"Imagine a city and drops of rain

A world without edges

Where buses are fish

and the fish fly the sky"

Each of the above lines graces a single page spread. Some have no text at all. But the reader will delight in seeing the little family riding in a basket on the back of an enormous flying fish. In Hurst's world, animals and people intermingle in unexpected ways. Most of the animals wear clothing, and there's even an inter-species couple displayed arm in arm, unremarked. My favorite scene is a bookstore with books literally flying off of the shelves, and a lion reading a book with an image of a horse and rider that literally steps out from the page. There's also a page with a flying carpet. 

The same mother and children are shown on every page, moving through the city (flying on the carpet, etc.), lending consistency for the young reader. This isn't like plot-driven nearly wordless books, in which the adult reader will use the illustrations to tell a story. Rather, Imagine a City is more like an illustrated poem, or perhaps a dream. This is a book that kids can pore over on their own, or listen to, soothingly, right before falling asleep. 

Imagine a City is gorgeous and special and a must-read for anyone who appreciates the art of picture books. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: Doubleday Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: October 11, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Infamous Ratsos: Kara LaReau + Matt Myers

Book: The Infamous Ratsos
Author: Kara LaReau
Illustrator: Matt Myers
Pages: 64
Age Range: 5-8 (illustrated early chapter book)

InfamousRatsosThe Infamous Ratsos is a very early chapter book about two motherless brothers who aspire to be tough guys. Their father, Big Lou, is "tough, tough, tough. He drives a truck and a forklift and sometimes a snowplow. He hardly ever smiles." Big Lou reminded me a lot of Big Mean Mike from the picture book by Michelle Knudsen and Scott Magoon. Every day when he leaves for work, Big Lou tells the boys to "Hang tough." Louie and Ralphie try their very best to be tough. But all of their bad guy schemes backfire, and to their chagrin they end up praised instead of feared. 

As an adult reader, I found some of the coincidences that turned things around for the Ratso brothers to be a bit implausible, like when they try to pile snow in front of a local business but have difficulty seeing what they are doing, and end up clearing the sidewalk instead. But I think that Louie and Ralphie's failed efforts will make kids giggle. 

One thing I really like about this book is that although the characters are animal instead of human, the Ratso family is clearly from the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Big Lou struts around in his uniform shirt and hat. They live in a not at all posh apartment. They live in a city, and walk past graffiti on their way to school. Most of this is not overtly addressed in the story, but it's there for kids to absorb anyway. 

I also like that Louie and Ralphie WANT to be tough guys. Even though it doesn't work out as planned, I think that their desire will speak to young readers, especially boys. They have hot chocolate mugs that say "Hug Someone Today". They've each crossed out and replaced the first letter of "hug", so that one mug says "Slug Someone Today" and the other says "Bug Someone Today." If you ask me, this is a completely plausible rebellion by two boys with no mother and a strong but silent father. 

Kara LaReau's text is at a reasonable difficulty level for new readers, with a mix of longer and shorter sentences. Like this:

"As for the Ratso brothers' mother, she's been gone for a little while now, which is very sad. The Ratso brothers don't like to think about Mama Ratso. Big Lou doesn't like to think about Mama Ratso either." (Page 2)

and

"When they climb the steps of the front porch, the Ratso brothers can see that Mrs.Porcupini's sour-pickle expression is gone. In its place is an expression that looks very much like delight." (Page 42)

I love "sour-pickle expression" and the way that LaReau uses vivid description, while maintaining an accessible vocabulary. 

The font is large and wide-spaced, and there are illustrations every couple of pages, all of which also helps to keep the book accessible to younger readers. Matt Myers' illustrations add detail and humor to the story, as when Florinda Rabbitski is shown with droopy long ears and ill-fitting but glamorous glasses. Older brother Louie Ratso wears a tough-guy scowl most of the time, but the younger Ralphie is less able to pull this off. 

In short, The Infamous Ratsos is a fine addition to the ranks of early chapter books, with humor, heart, and socioeconomic diversity, all in a new-reader-friendly package. This would make a great addition to classroom libraries serving first and second graders, and is one that I think my six-year-old will be ready for fairly soon. Recommended! 

Publisher: Candlewick Press (@Candlewick)  
Publication Date: August 2, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Fuddles and Puddles: Frans Vischer

Book: Fuddles and Puddles
Author: Frans Vischer
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-7

FuddlesPuddlesI reviewed Frans Vischer's first book about spoiled cat Fuddles back in 2012. [There's also a Fuddles Christmas book.] In Fuddles' newest adventure, Fuddles and Puddles, Fuddles has to learn to share his home with a rambunctious puppy (named Puddles for obvious, but kid-friendly, reasons). Fuddles is aloof, exasperated, and eventually, well, mean to the hapless Puddles. But when Fuddles gets himself into trouble, it's Puddles who saves the day. 

This is not, of course, a unique theme (Charlie and the Christmas Kitty, Wolfie the Bunny, Glamourpuss, ... ), but Vischer brings both humor and a clear affection for the foibles of cats. For example, when the kids name the new dog Puddles, we hear: "Fuddles was so disgusted, he lost his appetite." We see Fuddles struggling to sleep, teeth gritted, the puppy keeps him awake at night "whining, crying, and howling." My favorite illustration is the one where Puddles follows Fuddles to the litter box, to Fuddles' quiet fury. 

Visher's illustrations are lively and humorous. Fuddles is a bit of a cartoon-ized representation of a cat, with exaggerated expressions and poses. When he climbs a tree in pursuit of a "yummy avocado", young readers will know right away that trouble is afoot. 

Anyone who has ever tried to introduce a dog into a household ruled by a cat will be able to relate to Fuddles and Puddles. Older siblings may also see themselves in Fuddles' prickly response to a new young family member who wants to follow an older sibling around. Fuddles and Puddles has characters with clearly delineated personalities, and a slapstick, humorous tone. This would be a fun addition to library collections, and will be especially welcomed by fans of the earlier books. 

Publisher: Aladdin Books (@SimonKids) 
Publication Date: September 27, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


How To Be A Hero: Florence Parry Heide + Chuck Groenink

Book: How To Be A Hero
Author: Florence Parry Heide
Illustrator: Chuck Groenink
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

HowToBeAHeroHow To Be A Hero, written by Florence Parry Heide and illustrated by Chuck Groenink is my new favorite picture book. To be honest, I didn't appreciate this one until my second read though, but now I think it's genius. How To Be A Hero is about a nice boy named Gideon who wants to be a hero. He feels initially that he should be brave and strong. But then he actually studies fairy tale heroes, and concludes that all that's really needed is to be in the right place at the right time (e.g. the Prince who happens by a sleeping Snow White and kisses her). Even his favorite hero, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), happens onto the magic beans, without any real effort.

So Gideon decides to keep his eyes open, and spot opportunities for heroism. And this is where the book gets great. Because Gideon misses out on a number of opportunities for helping people, had he but noticed them, and ends up becoming famous for ... being in the right place at the right time. I was prepared for Gideon to catch a falling baby or whatever, and that would have been ok, but the way the book actually ended was much better. 

What we have here is satire in picture book form, without any mean-spiritedness. (Betsy Bird is going to love this one, too, I bet.) This book warms my sarcastic heart. 

There is humor throughout How To Be A Hero, but it's mostly subtle - you have to look for it. In the first scene, where we learn about Gideon and his nice parents, we see his mom reading a newspaper that has a headline "Adults Do Boring Stuff." When Gideon is practicing with his sword to be a hero, we see one of his stuff animals with stuffing coming out. When Gideon is thinking about the story of Snow White, the prince looks just like him, and there's a sad-looking frog watching the scene. There's a bookstore called "Grimm's Books", located near "Andersen's Tearoom". 

Or there's this:

"He noticed that some of them got to be heroes just by kissing someone. Gideon didn't much like the kissing part, but he'd probably do it if he could get to be a hero that way.

Once the babysitter fell asleep watching television and he wondered if that would count, if he kissed her, but he didn't think so and he didn't do it."

This is accompanied by images of a frowning Gideon approaching the elderly, sleeping babysitter.

In general, I think that the marriage of text and illustration is extremely well done in How To Be A Hero, particularly for a book with a separate author and illustrator. Groenink's pencil and Photoshop illustrations have a muted palette, a faintly stylized look, and an old-fashioned feel, like a dusty book of fairy tales. This is a book to reward close examination, and reading over and over again. 

And there you have it, folks. How To Be A Hero is my new favorite picture book. While the satirical story may not be for everyone (and certainly not for the youngest of listeners), I think that it's witty, original, and thoughtfully produced. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Chronicle Kids (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother: Jennifer Gray Olson

Book: Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother
Author: Jennifer Gray Olson
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-7

NinjaBunnySister

Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother is the sequel to Ninja Bunny. I haven't read the first book, but in this installment, a young bunny is on a quest to find The Golden Carrot of Awesomeness, the world's largest carrot. He wants to lead his friends on the quest, only to be pestered by his tag-along sister. In the grand tradition of parents everywhere, mom tells him to "Play with your sister, dear." There's a classic back and forth, as the sister keeps following, saying "Me too!" and the brother says things like "Only BIG bunnies can be super awesome ninjas." But the sister finds a way to use her small size to her advantage in the end. 

Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother has a deliciously melodramatic tone. My favorite page is when the bunnies find "The Golden Carrot of Awesomeness", only to also find "the insurmountable vines of protection." Bonus points for a picture book that uses words like "insurmountable." The latter is accompanies by an image of the bunnies, all of whom look pretty small, confronting a huge tangle of vines, and various unfriendly signs.  

The book is also full of ninja moves, of course. I know that my own six-year-old loves all things ninja, and I think that this book will be a hit. It's a nice mix of cool ninja stuff ("Ninja chop", etc.) and classic sibling dynamics. Most of the illustrations are minimalist, with vignettes of the bunnies doing ninja moves against a white background. The boy bunny is in blue, while his sister is in red, making it easy to tell them apart. The brother's friends are just bunnies, without ninja costumes, keeping the visual focus clearly on the siblings. 

Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother is a nice addition to the recent ranks of books about ninjas, with plenty of dynamic jumps and kicks, and a small but determined sister. Fans of the first book will definitely want to give this one a look, as will libraries serving preschoolers. Recommended. 

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Bronze Key (Magisterium, Book 3): Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

Book: The Bronze Key (Magisterium, Book 3)
Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Pages: 256
Age Range: 8-12

TheBronzeKey

The Bronze Key is the third book in the five-book Magisterium series, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, following The Iron Trial and The Copper Gauntlet. This is a fine series for fans of middle grade fantasy. It has echoes of the Harry Potter series, but with plenty of unique attributes, too. We have a boy who is special (and connected intimately with someone evil) because of something that happened to him as a baby. We have a magical school, fleshed out via inventive world-building. We have two best friends, one male and one female. And we have, in this installment, an overhanging threat, a spy to be uncovered, and dating dynamics between young teens. Yes, this is a must-read series for fans of epic middle grade fantasy, school stories, and/or twisty plots. 

I don't feel the need to recap the plot of this third book. If you haven't read the first two, any description will contain spoilers for those. And if you have read the first two, you don't need me to tell you what to expect. You already want to read The Bronze Key. So I'll just say that The Bronze Key does not disappoint. I liked it better than the second book, probably because more of it takes place at the atmospheric Magisterium and I quite enjoy spending time there. Here it is:

"The caverns were humid but cool. Water dripped down from the jagged icicle stalactites to the melted-candle stalagmites below them. Sheets of gypsum hung from the ceiling, resembling banners and streamers from some long-forgotten party. Call walked past it all, past the damp flowstone and the pools shining with mica, where pale fish darted. He was so used to it that he longer found it to be particularly creepy." (Page 57)

Black and Clare are masterful at characterization (especially for main character Call), and at blending action, mystery, and humor. I especially like Call's dry, self-deprecating voice. Like these examples:

"Call knew they were in trouble when he saw there were chairs up on the dais. Chairs meant a long ceremony. He wasn't wrong. The ceremony went by in a blur, but it was an extended and boring blur." (Page 19)

"Yeah I've been..." Call's voice trailed off. He wondered if it was possible to have a conversation entirely in sentences that trailed off. If so, he and Celia were definitely on their way to an epic example." (Page 83)

I also appreciate the way that the authors incorporate Call's disability (from an infant leg injury) throughout, without making it feel like a big deal. Each of the characters has something that makes life difficult for them, but they continue moving forward. The dynamics between Call and his friends remain complex (particularly in light of developing dating interests, an area in which Call seems to lag a bit). 

Developments at the end of The Bronze Key left me surprised, and certainly wanting more. The Bronze Key is a strong addition to a solid series, one that will be, and should be, eagerly awaited by fans everywhere. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Scholastic Press (@Scholastic) 
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


This Is My Dollhouse: Giselle Potter

Book: This Is My Dollhouse
Author: Giselle Potter
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

ThisIsMyDollhouseMy daughter brought This Is My Dollhouse by Giselle Potter home from the library, and we both enjoyed it very much. It's about a girl who has made her own dollhouse out of a cardboard box. She's made most of the furniture and other items, too. There's a block with burners drawn on it to make a stove, a couch made from a green and yellow kitchen sponge, etc. The girl plays with the cobbled-together dollhouse family every day, making them foods like noodles from cut pieces of yellow string, and singing them to sleep.

Her friend, Sophie, in contrast, has a "perfect" dollhouse, with plastic people and plastic food. Acceptable play with Sophie's dollhouse is dictated by the available, pre-made accessories. No creativity is allowed. When Sophie comes over to play, the narrator worries about the potential rejection of her home-made dollhouse. Instead, however, Sophie is charmed, and the two girls take the dollhouse family on a delightful vacation. 

This Is My Dollhouse is a celebration of creativity and imagination. It feeds the child reader's fascination with making things, and with little things. My own daughter was inspired to make a cup of "popcorn" (tiny balls of rolled-up toilet paper), like the one in the book. I'm rather surprised that she has yet to build her own dollhouse, though she has been asking to make some dioramas out of old shoeboxes. 

Potter's text is straightforward, written in the first person, and demonstrates occasional flashes of humor. Like this:

"I made a TV by cutting a hole in a little silver box and gluing a picture inside. I can change the picture whenever I want.

The rug is a very small piece of carpet I cut off the one in my room. (So far, no one has noticed.)" 

That last aside made me give a little snort of laughter. Here's one more snippet:

"Mommy makes them fried eggs (circles cut from white paper, with yellow colored centers),

and then the twins take the elevator up, up, up and 
swim in the rooftop pool in their bikinis."

Potter's illustrations fill in more of the details, such as the method of making the popcorn, the girl's choice to use a shoe as an airplane, etc. Her distinctive illustration style, with its old-fashioned feel and sometimes skewed perspectives, is a perfect fit for this story. The expressions of the two girls, when bored at Sophie's house, are priceless, as is the narrator's look of quiet satisfaction on the book's final page. 

This Is My Dollhouse would be a great choice for any child who enjoys making things. It belongs in libraries everywhere, particularly those serving early elementary school children. It would make a wonderful birthday or holiday gift, especially if accompanied by a large cardboard box. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: May 10, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).