Book review: Niko Draws a Feeling, by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Simone Shin

Raczka, Bob. Illustrated by Simone Shin. Niko Draws a Feeling. Carolrhoda Books, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9781467798433. Unp. Ages 3-7. P7 Q8  

How do you draw the sound of the ice cream truck’s bell? How do you capture the feeling of loneliness in two dimensions? Niko, the title character in Niko Draws a Feeling, expresses himself and his experiences by drawing them. His drawings aren’t representational or typical. As a result, his art is often misunderstood by his peers, his teachers, and even his parents. Will he ever meet someone who appreciates his particular abstraction? Niko’s feeling of being misunderstood is common and relatable. Even young readers who cannot sympathize with his interest in art, will recognize his frustration at being questioned about something that, to him, is beyond obvious. Energetic crayon coils are scribbled over the book’s mixed media illustrations. These colorful tornados represent Niko’s emotions in the same style of his drawings.

Verdict: This sensitive book is an appropriate addition to the public library and classroom. It’s hard to be a kid. Niko Draws a Feeling discusses the necessity of having peers who understand and value our individuality.

May 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.

Book review: Marta! Big & Small, by Jen Arena, illustrated by Angela Dominguez

Arena, Jen. Illustrated by Angela Dominguez. Marta! Big & Small. Roaring Book Press, 2016. $16.99. ISBN 9781626722439. Unp. Ages 2-6. P7Q7

Marta! Big & Small is a study of opposites and an introduction to the Spanish language through the animal world. The text is formulaic, providing each animal’s foremost characteristic as it equates to Marta. Marta is an “ordinary girl.” So, “To a rabbit, Marta is ruidosa. Loud, very loud. To a snake, Marta is sabrosa. Tasty, very tasty.” All Spanish vocabulary is defined in the text, reiterated with illustrations after the story, and presented in a glossary at back of the book. To children familiar with Dora the Explorer, Marta is a familiar character. She is a Spanish speaking girl with a purple backpack who explores the natural world and introduces vocabulary.

Verdict: This is a fine introduction to Spanish that is simple enough for very young children to memorize. The repetition of the vocabulary is helpful. Marta is not necessarily a unique character; this may be a plus for fans of Dora the Explorer. It is a good addition to public libraries and elementary classroom Spanish units.

May 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.

Book review: Alex, Approximately, by Jenn Bennett

Bennet, Jenn. Alex, Approximately. Simon Pulse, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9781481478779. 388 Pages. Ages 14+. P7Q6

After a traumatic home invasion, Bailey Rydell, a high school Junior, moves from her mother’s tumultuous house in DC to her dad’s on the California coast. The fictional town of Coronado Cove isn’t only a well-known surfing mecca; it also happens to be home to Bailey’s anonymous online classic film-buff crush. After her move, the story quickly dissolves into a romance novel for teenage readers. The quite involved online relationship that the two shared is revealed to be merely a MacGuffin; its existence drives her personal inspection as she half-heartedly searches for him until just about the last page despite unwittingly meeting him early on. The reader knows all along and must question the believability of the two characters not coming to the same conclusion much earlier in the story. The romantic aspect of the story is age appropriate, tasteful (if the reader can disregard the author’s unrestrained use of the word “sexy”), and subtly indicative that the sex these characters are having is most likely protected. In addition to tackling teenage affection, the novel briefly addresses some weightier topics like drug use, death, personal trauma, and climate change, of all things.

Verdict: This title isn’t strongly recommended. Perhaps the anonymity of the internet bestows a certain optional fluidity to our personalities—a useful (and increasingly necessary) bonus for today’s mercurial youth. The exhibition of this benefit makes Alex, Approximately relatable to high schoolers; although, it will be more popular among the younger grades.

May 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.

Book review: Smashie McPerter and the Mystery of the Missing Goop, by N. Griffin, illustrated by Kate Hindley

Griffin, N. Smashie McPerter and the Mystery of the Missing Goop. (Smashie McPerter series, #2) Illustrated by Kate Hindley. Candlewick Press, 2016. $15.99. ISBN 9780763685355. 297 pages. Age 7-10. P6 Q7

Smashie and her best friend Dontel find out that their class is going to perform in a talent show. Smashie wants to sing, but since she does not sing well, her teacher does not want her to. In the process of creating the talent show, a jar of hair goop disappears. Smashie and Dontel decide to solve the mystery of where the hair goop went. The book takes many twists and turns. By the end of the book, Smashie and Dontel solve the mystery and the talent show is a success. The cover to the book is colorful and intriguing, which made me want to read the book. The book has black and white line drawings. The book also includes codes which are fun for readers to figure out.

Verdict: The story moved slowly, so I had a hard time staying interested in the book until the last third when the mystery was being solved. I liked the play on words, with Herr and hair. Even though it moves slowly, it would still be a good book for an elementary school library.

December 2016 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Friday Barnes Under Suspicion, by R.A. Spratt, illustrated by Phil Gosier

Spratt, R.A. Friday Barnes Under Suspicion. Illustrated by Phil Gosier. (Friday Barnes series, #2) Roaring Brook Press, 2016. $13.99. ISBN 9781626722996. 279 pages. Ages 8-12. P8 Q8

This book is the second in the series Friday Barnes. Friday is an eleven-year-old girl who attends a private school. The mystery starts out with her being arrested because she is thought to be a terrorist. While at the police station, she meets a man, Malcolm, who has also been arrested. Friday is determined to prove Malcolm’s innocence. In the process of proving Malcolm’s innocence, Friday solves several mysteries. This book was first published in Australia in 2014. It has whimsical line drawings in black and white.

Verdict: The mystery is interesting and has some unexpected twists. I found the book engaging and interesting. The idea of an eleven-year-old being arrested was far-fetched, but the rest of the book was good. The author added facts about birds and other real facts into the book. I recommend this book for elementary and middle school libraries. It made me interested in reading other books in this series.

December 2016 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Kai to the Rescue, by Audrey Penn, illustrated by Mike Yamada

Penn, Audrey. Kai to the Rescue. Illustrated by Mike Yamada. Orchard Books, 2016. $17.99. ISBN 9780545816366. 40 pages. Ages 3-5. P8 Q8.

Kai, a small, green pumper joins a team of fire trucks. The Captain thinks Kai cannot fight fires because he is too small and not red, like the other fire trucks. The other two fire trucks, Emily and Rudy, encourage Kai when the Captain puts him down. Kai colors himself so he will fit in. The four trucks arrive at a forest fire to put it out. The captain will not let him fight the fire because it is too dangerous. In the end, Kai puts out a fire the other trucks were not able to reach. The Captain admits that he was wrong and that size and color do not matter. The book has digital cartoon illustrations, which are fun and whimsical. The expressions on the faces of the trucks add to the story.

Verdict: The story teaches perseverance and grit. Kai did not give up, he kept trying to find a place to be useful. The book stimulates discussion on how to stand up for others when they are put down. I recommend this book for classroom libraries and elementary school libraries.

December 2016 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Polka Dots for Poppy, by Amy Schwartz

Schwartz, Amy. Polka Dots for Poppy. Holiday House, 2016. $16.95. ISBN 9780823434312. 32 pages. Ages 4-8 years.  P8 Q8

Poppy and her three sisters go shopping for clothes. The three sisters find clothes they want, but Poppy is unable to find clothes with polka dots. The others sisters are happy and try to interest Poppy in other things. Poppy is the only one to not get clothes at the store. At night, the sisters get up and draw polka dots on some of Poppy’s clothes. Poppy is happy with her “new” clothes. In the end, all the sisters are happy. The illustrations are fun and colorful.

Verdict: This picture book emphasizes perspective taking and empathy. It also affirms individuality, since all the sisters like different things. The book evoked feelings of empathy for Poppy and wishing that she would be able to find what she wanted. I liked the fact that the author didn’t have Poppy cry, whine or throw a fit when she didn’t get what she wanted. The book lends to a discussion about how Poppy felt, how students would feel is they were her and how her sisters showed her kindness.  I recommend this book for classroom libraries and elementary school libraries.

December 2016 review by Tami Harris.