Book review: Lines, by Suzy Lee

Lee, Suzy. Lines. Chronicle, 2017. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4521-5665-1. Ages 3-7. P9Q9

The wordless picture books starts with just one penciled line that transforms into a skater that flies across the ice before falling, paralleling the frustration the artist sketching the image. Both recover, showing that everyone fails, but success can come from one person helping another. A red hat provides relief to the stark white pages with lines until Lee fills a page with multi-ethnic children and a dog on a frozen pond in the midst of snow-covered trees.

Verdict: A thoughtful tale that begins with solitary action and ends with joy and comradery in purely visual language.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

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Book review: Bob and Tom, by Denys Cazet

Cazet, Denys. Bob and Tom. Richard Jackson/Atheneum, 2017. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4814-6140-5. Ages 5-8. P9Q9

The author of lovable and hapless pairs of friends such as Minnie and Mo and Snail and Slug has a new silly pair in these two clueless turkeys. As usual, the ridiculous dialog carries the plot of this chapter book from morning rain showers to swimming in the afternoon and the loss of their names. Mixed-media illustrations carry out the delightfully absurd action for example when Bob uses a magnifying glass to see if Sam’s head has anything inside.

Verdict: Cazet has a great understanding of satire, but I still prefer Minnie and Moo. 

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Mermaid, by Jan Brett

Brett, Jan. The Mermaid. Putnam, 2017. $18.99. unp. ISBN 978-399-17072-0. Ages 4-7. P8Q7

The story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” moves underwater in this tale about mermaid Kiniro. With her friend Puffy (puffer fish), the dark-haired creature with an Asian appearance tries out the breakfasts, chairs, and beds of the octopus mother (Okasan), father (Otosan) and Baby. With the answer of “just right,” Kiniro goes to sleep in Baby’s clamshell bed, and Puffy protects her when the family returns.

Verdict: The watercolor illustrations are cluttered and can be confusing to the story—for example, Baby’s stingray “hat” that Kiniro replaces with a tiara. Jan Brett fans will love it.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Can an Aardvark Bark?, by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Stewart, Melissa. Can an Aardvark Bark? Il. by Steve Jenkins. Beach Lane, 2017. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4814-5852-8. Ages 3-7. P9Q9

Representational cut-and-torn-paper double-page collage depictions of animals highlight the noises—barks, grunts, squeals, whines, bellows, growls, and laughs—that animals use to communicate. The author asks a rhyming question about the sound and then explains other animals that make this sound. The last page asks readers to make the same noises, making this a fun, albeit noisy, read-aloud.

Verdict: Fun plus educational!

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: What’s the Big Deal about Freedom, by Ruby Shamir, illustrated by Matt Falkner

Shamir, Ruby. What’s the Big Deal about Freedom. Il. by Matt Faulkner. Philomel, 2017. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-399-54728-7. Ages 7-10. P7 Q7

In a sequel to What’s the Big Deal about First Ladies, this fact-filled optimistic view of people winning freedom in the United States explains responsibilities, information about the Revolution, writing the U.S. Constitution, freeing slaves, gaining voting rights for women and immigrants (but not indigenous people), and human rights. The idealistic perspective of American freedom for the past several centuries is enhanced by energetic watercolor and pencil illustrations.

Verdict: Although the book begins with clichés, it moves in to a more realistic view of freedoms that the U.S. Constitution did not originally provide when it considered blacks to be three-fifths of whites and failed to give rights to Native Americans and women. The book still gives a more optimistic view of rights than minorities may perceive. The cautionary note that freedom requires vigilance is valuable. The book would be a great beginning for discussion although it might be overwhelming for its audience. the lively watercolor-and-pencil illustrations are consistently engaging and occasionally endearing. A hopeful, idealistic portrayal of freedom in America.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Listen: How Peter Seeger Got America Singing, by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Raul Colón

Schubert, Leda. Listen: How Peter Seeger Got America Singing. Il. by Raul Colón. Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, 2017. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-62672-250-7. Ages 4-8. P7Q7

Beloved writer, folksinger, conservationist, pacifist, and activist Pete Seeger died at the age of 94 after a rich life. Colorful illustrations and texts of three dozen songs he wrote and/or performed add to the text about his performances and his fight for laborers. Detailed is his mandatory appearance before the House committee on Un-American Activities when he was accused of being a Communist because of his support for the workers’ cause. His conviction was later overturned.

Verdict: The extensive timeline shows the changes in the United States during Seeger’s lifetime, and the text surpasses the pixelated work of the illustrator. Older readers will benefit from reading Anita Silvey’s Let Your Voices Be Heard. 

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Ben’s Revolution: Benjamin Russell and the Battle of Bunker Hill, by Nathaniel Philbrick, illustated by Wendell Minor

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Ben’s Revolution: Benjamin Russell and the Battle of Bunker Hill. Il. by Wendell Minor. Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, 2017. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-399-16674-7. Ages 7-11. P7Q9

The Battle of Bunker Hill, recounted in the author’s 2013 adult book about the 1775 British versus America encounter is the focus of this story of a 12-year-old boy who goes with his classmates to follow British troops toward Concord. His home in Boston is sealed off, and he becomes a clerk to the Revolutionary general Israel Putnam and watches the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Verdict: The narrative uses the myth that the Revolutionaries were protesting taxes instead of the opposition to the monopoly of the British East India Company, but the text is generally accurate and the story of Ben Russell entertaining, especially because the book is based on an actual person. Beautiful gouache and watercolor illustrations add to the depiction of the events, including the Boston Tea Party and the battles of Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill in Charlestown. An excellent adaptation from an adult book to introduce young readers to an engaging person.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.