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Adrift: An Odd Couple of Polar Bears: Jessica Olien

Book: Adrift: An Odd Couple of Polar Bears
Author: Jessica Olien
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

AdriftAdrift: An Odd Couple of Polar Bears by Jessica Olien is a tale of how opposites not so much attract, but rather come to appreciate one another gradually over time. Hazel is a book-loving polar bear who just wants to be left alone to read. Olien calls her shy, but I would classify her as introverted. Karl is an extrovert who loves to talk, and who wants to be noticed. He also smells like fish. They do not approve of one other. However, when an iceberg breaks off from the shore, taking only Karl and Hazel with it, the two opposites gradually learn to get along. 

This premise could have come across as didactic, but Olien keeps things light. I think that the book's 40 page length helps, giving her time to develop the two characters, and their rapprochement, slowly. She also uses the device that the iceberg is melting, forcing the two bears to physically become closer over time (and lending a small bit of worry that they might not make it to another shore at all). 

It could be that I just identified with Hazel, of course. Here is how she is introduced (wearing an orange scarf and reading Moby Dick):

"She doesn't talk very much.
She likes to sit and daydream in a 
quiet spot by the water." 

So of course I love her. But I also liked this exchange, as the two start to accept that they are stuck together:

"Of all the polar bears, Karl is stuck with
the one who doesn't like to talk.

Of all the polar bears, Hazel is stuck with
the one who talks too much."

Karl has a delightfully nervous expression, while Hazel stands with hands on hips.  The bottom line is that the two polar bears are well-defined characters, their described personalities reinforced by their actions, and by Olien's bold illustrations. I like them, and found myself rooting for them, even as I smiled over them building a wall of ice blocks to divide up their little floating island. The happy ending will make young readers smile.

Adrift: An Odd Couple of Polar Bears is an appealing book about friendship, survival, and learning that opposite personalities can complement one another. It could also be used by parents to introduce the concept of introverts vs. extroverts, those these exact terms are not used in the book. Recommended for library purchase, and an especially good fit for fans of books about polar bears. 

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: January 3, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Things to Do: Elaine Magliaro & Catia Chien

Book: Things to Do
Author: Elaine Magliaro
Illustrator: Catia Chien
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

ThingsToDoThings to Do, written by Elaine Magliaro and illustrated by Catia Chen, is a book of short poems, each focused on something a child might encounter as she makes her way through the day. Topics begin with "Things to do if you are dawn" and move on through nature (acorns, spiders, the sun, the moon) and school (erasers and scissors) and on to nighttime. 

Elaine Magliaro's poems are joyful and read-aloud friendly. Some are quite brief, like this: 

"Things to do if you are BOOTS
Splish in puddle.
Splash on the walk.
Make the fallen
raindrops talk."

While others are longer, particularly those later in the book. While the poems technically speak to the item in question (e.g. the sky), they often offer advice useful to the reader, too. For example, "Things to do if you are a snail" concludes:

"The wonders of your world are small.
Don't hurry by.
Enjoy them all." 

Good advice for snails and kids, even as addressing the advice to the snail keeps the book from feeling didactic for kids. Nicely done! 

The poems are presented using varied fonts, with important words shown larger for emphasis (splish and splash above, for example). The word "stretch" is shown stretched out on another page, while the letters in "bumpy" bump up and down. This is definitely a book to look at while reading it, not just one to listen to. 

This visual display of the words is set against Catia Chen's luminous acrylic illustrations. The blurred edges of the pictures contrast with the crispness of the fonts, allowing words to stand out, even against full-page illustrations. The (somewhat androgynous) child seen on the cover makes an appearance in most, but not all, of the pages, interacting joyfully with her surroundings. The image surrounding the last poem, about the moon, brings Peter Pan's London to mind. 

If you are looking to introduce a young reader in your household to the beauty of poetry and the wonders of nature, Things to Do would be a great place to start. I could also see this as a classroom read-aloud for second or third graders, though I think it's a bit long for library storytime. Recommended, and a book that brightened my day.  

Publisher: Chronicle Kids (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


When An Elephant Falls in Love: Davide Cali & Alice Lotti

Book: When an Elephant Falls in Love
Author: Davide Cali
Illustrator: Alice Lotti
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

WhenAnElephantWhen an Elephant Falls in Love, by Davide Cali and Alice Lotti, is a rather charming little picture book about the foolish things that a person (well, an elephant) might do upon having a crush on someone. While some of these things are funnier when an elephant does them (such as hiding whenever he sees her), the actions themselves are universal. Like dressing with extra care or lying staring at the clouds for hours. Here's my favorite: 

"When an elephant falls in love,
he leaves flowers at her door.

But he runs away after ringing the bell."

We see the elephant shyly approaching the door with the flowers clasped in his trunk, and then the flowers lying at the foot of the front steps. Both text and illustrations are quite spare (the above is about the most text-dense page spread), with lots of white space, leaving room for the reader's own imagination. 

Although I personally love this book, I do have to point out that I'm not quite sure who the audience for it is. Your average first grade boy, while he might have a crush on a girl, is not taking extra baths or leaving flowers outside the girl's door. He is more likely to be punching his crush in the arm or chasing her on the playground. The actions taken by the elephant feel more like those of a middle schooler, if not an adult.

Then again, my daughter likes watching certain G-rated depictions of people falling in love in movies, so perhaps an audience for this book is five to seven-year-old girls. And if the "foolish" things that the elephant undertakes were to influence a generation of young boys to move from spitballs to flowers, this would certainly not be a bad thing. 

Recommended for those who would like to see a sweet portrayal of the goofiness that can accompany falling in love. 

Publisher: Chronicle Kids (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: December 20, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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 Outsmart A Billion Robot Bees: Paul Tobin

Book: How to Outsmart A Billion Robot Bees
Author: Paul Tobin
Pages: 320
Age Range: 8-12

HowToOutsmartBeesHow To Outsmart A Billion Robot Bees is the second book in the Genius Factor series by Paul Tobin. It follows How to Capture An Invisible Cat, which I adored. In this book, as you might gather from the title, the enemies of genius inventor Nate send an army of robot bees after him. His friend/crush/partner in crime-fighting Delphine, together with his intelligent car, talking dog, and robotic pelican, all join the battle, while various other friends and parents remain oblivious to the entire situation. Except for the bees - everyone is aware of the bees. 

I continue to find narrator Delphine's voice highly entertaining, and Nate's quirky genius highly appealing.

Here are a couple of examples:

"There was an immediate panic, because as any soldier can tell you, guns are not very useful against bumblebees, not unless you are a very good shot. (Page 29, ARC)

"From my side, I've constantly puzzled why Nate does these things, but I've come to accept his oddities, because that's what friends do. After all, he never complains about my Cake vs. Pie meetings, or how I collect photographs of my meals whenever I eat macaroni and cheese at a restaurant (eighty-four of these photos, to date), and so we just ... accept each other the way we are." (Page 55, ARC)

"Seriously, the jets kicked in and they were powerful. The jet suit nabbed the car up into the air and then dropped it on the next car, making a noise that I'll just describe by saying that it sounded like one car dropping on top of another. Add in a few exclamations of surprise, and you've pretty much got it." (Page 59, ARC)

How to Outsmart a Billion Robot Bees is full of intriguing gadgets, dangerous situations, and engaging banter. The actual plot of this second book didn't grab me quite as much as that of the first book. However, I remain delighted by the humor and the characters, as well as the general focus on the things that can be accomplished by sheer brainpower. This is a series that I will happily recommend to any fans of fantasy, science, or middle grade/middle school male-female dynamics. Highly recommended for any reader, age eight and up, and a must purchase for libraries everywhere. 

Publisher:  Bloomsbury Kids USA (@KidsBloomsbury) 
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
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).


Bob, Not Bob!: Liz Garton Scanlon, Audrey Vernick & Matthew Cordell

Book: Bob, Not Bob!
Author: Liz Garton Scanlon & Audrey Vernick
Illustrator: Matthew Cordell
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-7

BobNotBobThe title of Bob, Not Bob! only begins to make sense if you notice the text above the title: "To be read as though you have the worst cold ever." And what word sounds an awful like "Bob" when you have a really stuffed up nose? Why, "mom", of course. Little Louie has a terrible cold. And although generally getting to be more independent, when he is sick, all he wants is his mom. All the time. But when he calls for her in his stuffed-up voice, what comes out instead of "Mom" is "Bob". This gets a bit confusing, because his dog is named "Bob". Silliness prevails, all set against the strong force of maternal love and a sick child's need for comfort. 

Bob, Not Bob!, written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, is a perfect picture book for the winter cold season, with just the right mix of humor and universal suffering. Like this (illustrated with a series of separate vignettes):

"Today, Little Louie's nose was clogged.

His ears crackled

and his brain felt full. 
(He didn't know of what.)

But mostly, his nose.
It was disgusting.

Little Louie didn't want to color.

Or watch TV.

He didn't even want to shoot baskets with wadded-up tissues. 
All he wanted (besides maybe some hot chocolate) was his mother.

BOB! called Little Louie with his weird,
all-wrong, stuffed-up voice."

Definitely fun text to read-aloud, especially if one is willing, as directed, to read Louie's lines in a properly stuffed up voice. 

While the text suggests Louie's mother's endless patience, as does the cover image above, Matthew Cordell does occasionally slip in hints that Mom is suffering, too. My favorite page is one in which Louie is ranting loudly about his misery, clinging to his mom's legs, while she holds a laundry basket and puts her free hand over her face. 

Speaking of the illustrations, bonus points for Louie and his family being brown-skinned, in a book that it not "about" diversity, but instead about something completely universal: the common cold. The text and illustrations together convey Louie's utter misery, as well as the melodrama that can accompany any sick child. 

Bob, Not Bob! is a book that belongs in libraries everywhere, to be taken home during or after a bout with sickness. Bob, Not Bob! offers a humorous take on a winter cold, but also honors the love and patience of mothers. The fact that the mom ends up sick at the end of the book seems inevitable and appropriate. Recommended for stuffy-nosed listeners of all ages. 

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


A Greyhound, a Groundhog: Emily Jenkins & Chris Applehans

Book: A Greyhound, a Groundhog
Author: Emily Jenkins
Illustrator: Chris Applehans
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

GreyhoundGroundhogA Greyhound, a Groundhog isn't so much a story as an extended bit of wordplay centering around a greyhound and a groundhog. Emily Jenkins' spare text reads almost like a tongue-twister, as we follow grey dog and brown hound around through the pages of the book. There's a minimalist narrative about the greyhound and groundhog becoming friends, playing together and celebrating nature. Like this (over three page spreads):

"A greyhound, a groundhog,
a found little 
roundhog.

Around, round hound.
Around, groundhog!

Around, brown hog.
Around, grey dog."

You almost have to stop and check yourself, to make sure you are reading it right. The similar and repeating words, and rhyming words, make A Greyhound, a Groundhog a poem in picture book form. I think it would work best as a read-aloud for preschoolers, with a soothing rhythm that would comfort before naptime. 

Chris Applehans' watercolor and pencil illustrations use a restrained color palette with lots of purple-tinged gray and brown, and plenty of white space. The spare illustrations reinforce the minimalist text, while also capturing Jenkins' wordplay around the shape of the animals. For instance, the "roundhog" mentioned above is shown rather like a ball, uncertain in the face of the cheerful and very different-shaped greyhound. Later in the book, as the animals' play becomes more active, both text and animals leap around the page, with slightly blurred edges representing speed. Ultimately, Applehans is able to capture the joy the greyhound and groundhog take from their friendship. 

A Greyhound, a Groundhog is a certainly a quieter picture book. It is also a lovely celebration of friendship.

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: January 3, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).A 


Hello, Mr. Dodo!: Nicholas John Frith

Book: Hello, Mr. Dodo!
Author: Nicholas John Frith
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

HelloMrDodoHello, Mr. Dodo! is a very cute picture book about a little girl named Martha who loves birds. One day, while looking for birds in the woods behind her house, Martha encounters a dodo. Of course dodos are supposed to be extinct, but this doesn't stop Martha from befriending the bird. She learns that he really can't fly, and that he loves donuts. She keeps the dodo a secret to protect him, but one day she slips up, and the dodo's life is threatened. Only some quick thinking by Martha saves the day. 

Nicholas John Frith offers a read-aloud-friendly text, with occasional italics for emphasis, and a clear trust in children to a) cope with mildly disturbing things and b) take responsibility on their own (as when Martha does her own research into the history of the dodo. Here's a snippet:

"It was a dodo -- and it was supposed to be extinct!

Once there had been thousands of them,
then they had all disappeared. People had
hunted them and eaten them for dinner.

No one had seen a dodo for hundreds of years.

"Poor things," thought Martha.
"Well, they're not going to eat my dodo."
And she decided to keep him a secret.

This is accompanied by an illustration of Martha in her room, surrounded by books, set against sample pages (in a muted gray, so that they don't take over) of texts describing dodos and showing their hunter-induced fate. Frith's illustrations (except for the sample pages) are colorful and vaguely cartoonish (e.g. Martha with oval, pure black eyes), and filled with details that highlight Martha's love of birds. Her bedroom slippers are birds, her binoculars are always around, her kite has large feathers attached to the tail, etc. My six-year-old particularly enjoyed a picture of Martha imagining the dodo covered with snow and looking like a misshapen snowman during the winter. 

Here's the true endorsement for Hello, Mr. Dodo! After I read it to my six-year-old, she immediately asked me to read it again. She used to do this as a small child, but now rarely wants an immediate re-read. Martha and Mr. Dodo found their way immediately into her heart. And into mine. Hello, Mr. Dodo! is going to be one of my favorite picture books of 2017, I believe. Highly recommended! This would make a great preschool or K-1 read-aloud.

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books  (@Scholastic
Publication Date: January 31, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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 Impossible Clue: Sarah Rubin

Book: The Impossible Clue
Author: Sarah Rubin
Pages: 304
Age Range: 8-12

ImpossibleClueSarah Rubin's The Impossible Clue features a 12-year-old girl, Alice Jones, who is a math geek and mystery-solver. To date, Alice's mysteries have been small-time. But when a famous local scientist, the business partner of one of Alice's classmates, disappears, Alice finds herself dragged into investigating a grown-up crime. There are thugs in suits, limo rides and high-end research labs. The professor has disappeared from a locked room, and evidence points toward the possible development of an invisibility suit. Alice, together with one geeky classmate and another who is a charming troublemaker, tracks down clues.

The Impossible Clue isn't the most realistic story out there, but it is a lot of fun. Alice lives with her scoop-hungry reporter father, while her drama-obsessed twin sister normally lives with their mother. Della is spending the summer with Alice and their dad, however, adding some domestic conflict to the story. Alice's banter with cute guy Kevin lends a hint of what I would classify as pre-romance. I can imagine further mysteries for Alice and Kevin to solve, and their relationship growing somewhat. 

But really, I just love reading a book about a girl who loves math. Alice had planned to spend her summer vacation proving Goldbach's Conjecture. She notes:

"Mysteries are a lot like math, word problems especially. Some are simple, some are complicated, but it's the same process. There's something you want to know, and a lot of information swimming around. The hard part is coming up with the right equation, figuring out which bits of information are important and which bits are just there to confuse you. Then it's just a matter of solving for x." (Page 4) 

And here's a passage that I think illustrates Alice's personality (and Della's) quite effectively. Alice and Della are discussing what to do on a possible trip to Italy with their mom. Della wants to shop, while Alice wants to see the Archimedes museum:

"It was the story of my life. Everyone understood that Della loved being onstage and that she hated math. Because that was normal. But when I said I loved math and hated performing, people looked at me like I had a screw loose. And because the things I liked weren't normal, I didn't have any right to ask other people to do them with me." (Page 141-142)

Now, I would like to think this perspective is a bit of a stereotype in this day of STEM and GirlsWhoCode, but the bottom line is that it's nice to read about a girl who loves math, and also has relatively normal sibling rivalries and relationships with boys. AND she gets to solve a mystery involving a disappearing scientist and a possible invisibility suit. It doesn't get much cooler than that! I recommend The Impossible Clue for middle grade readers, especially those who love math and/or mystery. I hope that Alice returns for further adventures. 

Publisher: Chicken House (@Scholastic
Publication Date: January 3, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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 Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island: Dana Alison Levy

Book: The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island
Author: Dana Alison Levy
Pages: 272
Age Range: 9-12

FamilyFletcherRockIslandThe Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island is the sequel to The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher (my review). Both books feature a family with two dads, four adopted sons (two brown-skinned and two white-skinned), two cats, and dog. This installment is set on a small island off the coast of New England, where the family is spending the month of August in a long-beloved cottage. The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island is an episodic story, with viewpoint shifts between the four boys and an entertaining mix of adventure and chaos. They're a bit like a more diverse, and more male, Penderwick family, off to Point Mouette

Although members of the family have been visiting the island since Papa was a boy, this summer things are a bit different. The old lighthouse located next to the family's cottage is fenced off, pending possible sale and/or repairs. A weird artist guy is prowling around making mysterious phone calls. The big house nearby that is usually empty is now occupied, and two teenage girls promise to be annoying. And the boys are discovering that as they get older, their divergent interests can lead to moments of isolation, even in the place that they look forward to visiting all year. 

The plot thread surrounding the looming fate of the lighthouse lends a helpful degree of narrative interest to The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island. While there are plenty of diversions around kayaking, picnics, and trying to teach a cat to swim (who knew that this was even possible?), Levy ties the story together around the lighthouse. A lemonade stand fundraiser for lighthouse repairs goes comically awry, and a common interest brings the boys together with their new neighbors. Through it all, Papa and Dad guide the boys with light hands, sympathetic shoulders, and occasional bouts of exasperation.

One thing I especially liked about The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island is that the family's status as a two-dad household is treated completely without comment. I've long been a fan of "incidental diversity" in children's literature, and I like to think that having read about the Fletchers would make kids equally blasé on meeting a new friend's same-sex parents. The book does take a direct look at racism, however. There's a scene in which second son Jax is presumed by a visitor to be a pickpocket, at least in part because of the color of his skin. This leads to discussions between Jax and his parents, and with an African-American uncle who can speak more from personal experience than can Jax's dads. Levy treats these discussions with a soft touch, not letting them overwhelm the book, and also not dismissing the fact of racism. Like this:

"Jackson," Dad repeated. "There are more good ones than bad. More Captain Jims and Officer Levees and Natalia Galindos and Elon Reynoldses than there are Sheldons. I wish there there were none of him. Seriously, if I could have one wish that would probably be it."

"I would wish for an invisibility cloak," Eli interrupted. He was sitting behind them, listening. "Think of how we could get back at Sheldon if we had that! Poison ivy leaves rubbed on the inside of his clothes. Burrs stuck in his hair." (Page 252)

And the topic moves on. The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island is most of all about the joys of summer, the outdoors and family. Like this:

Jax agreed, and then, since they had caught up to the others, the boys all had to listen to Frog sing his special ice cream truck song again and again until Jax threatened to gag him with his dirty sweat sock. And so they tumbled back to the Nugget, loud and laughing. The sun was low and warm in th esky, and the breeze had picked up, rustling and shivering the tall grass so that it looked like rippling water. The smell of the sea was stronger now, and Jax couldn't wait to head to the beach." (Page 22)

Spending a month in a small cottage with four boys, two cats, and a dog would send me over the edge, but reading about the experience for a couple of hours was quite enjoyable. Of course I'm not the target audience anyway. Kids who enjoy realistic fiction, about families and doing fun things outdoors are sure to enjoy The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island. There's such wish fulfillment in the idea of spending a month of summer in a beloved cottage on an island, with an ice cream truck stopping by regularly, and a puzzle to solve. Levy also includes quite a bit of mapcap, kid-friendly humor (particularly a memorable scene involving flying butter). In short, The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island is not to be missed. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: Delacorte Press (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: May 10, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Simon Thorn and the Viper's Pit: Aimée Carter

Book: Simon Thorn and the Viper's Pit
Author: Aimée Carter 
Pages: 304
Age Range: 8-12

SimonThornVipersPitSimon Thorn and the Viper's Pit is the second book in Aimée Carter's Simon Thorn / Animalgam series, featuring a race of people, hidden in plain sight, who can turn into animals. This review does contain spoilers for the first book. Simon, as introduced in Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den, has discovered that he is the grandson of two ruthless, competing Animalgam leaders from different kingdoms.

After growing up in seclusion, Simon is now living in the L.A.I.R, a hidden school located beneath Central Park Zoo in New York City. He's living with an uncle who he's not sure about and his newly discovered twin brother. But his real loyalty is to his group of three Animalgam friends (and a friendly mouse). In Simon Thorn and the Viper's Pit, Simon and his friends set out on a road trip hoping to rescue Simon's kidnapped mother and keep an important artifact from his grandparents. 

This second book is full of relationship strife: particularly between Simon and his newly discovered family members and (sometimes) between Simon and his friends. Simon and his friend Winter are both Hybreds, children born of parents from different animal kingdoms (e.g. bird and mammal, in Simon's case). With conflict rampant between the kingdoms, their situations are inherently conflict-ridden. Winter, in particular, struggles with the rejection from the bird-Animalgams who raised her, after learning that she transforms into a reptile, not a bird. Simon is never quite sure who to trust. 

Carter also explores the discovery by the Animalgam kids of skills that go along with their animal transformations. For example, Simon's friend Jam turns into a dolphin, and has a remarkable sense of direction. For Simon, this is more complex than for most, because of a secret regarding his own transformations. A secret that he doesn't even share with his close friends. For all of the kids, learning to work with and gain strength from their dual natures becomes part of the process of growing up, a proxy for other adolescent growing pains. For example:

"Jam straightened and pulled his padlock from the pocket in his jeans, fiddling with the lock pick still stuck inside. "The general planned my whole life for me," he said. "I've had a daily schedule since I could walk. That's just how we do things underwater--if you leave no room for error, there won't be any. But there's no room for fun, either, or figuring things out on your own, and that's what I like to do. I like swimming off in the wrong direction to explore a cave I've never seen before, and I like having an hour or two when I can do anything I want. But our kingdom is so big that if everyone did their own thing, nothing would ever get done, so I always feel like I'm stuck in a routine I can't stand." (Page 143, ARC)

Occasionally the growing up messages imparted to the kids by the adults (or by each other) are a bit more overt than I might personally choose, but  I don't think that this dominates the story. Carter has taken a premise that most kids find fascinating (what if I could turn into an animal) and built a fully-realized, conflict-laden world around that. In Simon Thorn and the Viper's Den she introduces readers to the luxurious citadel of the reptile branch of the Animalgams. Other branches are sure to follow in future books. 

The Simon Thorn books are recommended for kids who enjoy reading about fantasy worlds hidden within our own, and for anyone who has ever wished they could transform into an animal. I look forward to reading about Simon and his friends' future adventures. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@KidsBloomsbury) 
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
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).


Little Big Girl: Claire Keane

Book: Little Big Girl
Author: Claire Keane
Pages: 32 
Age Range: 3-5

LittleBigGirlLittle Big Girl by Claire Keane is a particular take on what happens when a one-time only child becomes a big sister. We see various vignettes of "Little Matisse" as she scoots up onto the counter to "brush her little teeth" and puts on her "little shoes", shown as small compared to those of her parents. When she travels in the back of her parents' car, we see how little she is, compared to the big city. But when Matisse meets her baby brother, she has an instantaneous shift in perspective. Suddenly her clothes and shoes and fingers are big, in comparison to those of the baby. Keane tells us about this perspective shift in words, but she also shows us in pictures, with Matisse growing larger relative to the background in many of the later images. 

Two things make Little Big Girl stand out for me in the sea of new sibling books. The first is the use of the perspective shift, as described above. When else in life does someone go from being small to being big overnight? Keane's bold illustrations capture this beautifully. The second this is the sheer joy that Matisse shows in her every interaction with her brother, and his clear fascination with her. While I think that it's useful to have books in which the new sibling cries a lot and is annoying and takes away attention, I found Little Big Girl's pure focus on a positive to be rather a joy. 

Like this: 

"He slept in a little bed, and wore the clothes Matisse was now too big for.

Suddenly, Matisse realized that she wasn't actually little at all.

She was big."

The first line of this quote is accompanies by a tender image of Matisse kissing the sleeping baby in his cradle. The second shows her putting on his tiny little shoes. We see her medium-size shoes, still small compare to the surrounding shows of mom. And with "She was big" we see Matisse looking at herself in the mirror, a stylish preschooler with hands on hips, self-confident and growing more so before our very eyes. 

Little Big Girl is not a complex book, but it's a nice, positive spin on what happens when someone becomes a big sister or a big brother. The illustrations are heart-warming (just look at that cover above), and the minimal text will keep the attention of even the youngest of big sisters. Little Big Girl would make a great gift for anyone you know who is expecting a second child. Recommended!

Publisher: Dial Books (@PenguinKids) 
Publication Date: November 8, 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).


The Princess and the Frogs: Veronica Bartles & Sara Palacios

Book: The Princess and the Frogs
Author: Veronica Bartles
Pages: Sara Palacios
Age Range: 4-8

PrincessAndTheFrogsThe Princess and the Frogs is a reinvention of the classic Frog Prince story featuring a princess who wants a pet frog, but who has no interest whatsoever in princes. Princess Cassandra has everything she could ever want, except for a best friend. She decides that what she needs is a pet who matches her favorite green dress and will play with her all day. The Royal Pet Handler eventually brings her a frog. She has a great time playing with the frog, right up until she loves the frog so much that she kisses him on the head and he turns into a prince. He wants to marry her, but she just wants a pet frog, and so sends him off to work in the kitchens. This happens again, and again, until a solution is found. 

Who knew that ALL frogs were princes in disguise? Hopefully this is just in Cassandra's kingdom, because otherwise, things could get a bit awkward. I just love that Cassandra, confronted by prince after prince, keeps saying: "Princes aren't pets. I want a frog!" She's a delightful heroine, with a big smile, round glasses, and a determination to play and read. Who wouldn't like her? 

My favorite page is one in which Cassandra has sent all of the princes away and is attempting to prove to herself that she doesn't need anyone. We have:

"Cassandra played in the empty courtyard and read books in the silent library.

But even her favorite green dress didn't make her happy. And she still didn't have a friend."

This is accompanied by images of Cassandra jumping rope, while two bored servants turn the rope for her, and having a sad tea party with a real cake and a stuffed rabbit. Finally, she sits dejectedly in a hopscotch grid. The bored servants cracked me up. And perhaps I thought of my own only child, constantly begging for playdates (though never with frogs). But I do quite like the way that Sara Palacios brings Cassandra to life. 

The Princess and Frogs is an engaging story featuring a non-traditional princess with a refreshing twist on happily ever after. It will make kids, especially girls, laugh. Recommended for home or storytime use. 

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: November 15, 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).