Book review: The Truth about Hawks, by Maxwell Eaton III

Eaton, Maxwell III. The Truth about Hawks. (The Truth about series). Roaring Brook, 2019. $16.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-250-19845-7. Ages 5-9. P9Q9

Facts about this feathered family—migration, threats, hunting, family life, and other general characteristics—come in a comic-book style complete with dialog bubbles and panels. Eaton’s earlier books about bears, crocodiles, dolphins, elephants, and hippos follow the same style.

Verdict: Bright background colors and anthropomorphic visuals from digitally-colored pen and ink illustration combine with hilarious commentary and brief matter-of-fact information to invite readers to dive into the pursuits of hawks with a few asides about other raptors such as bald eagles, vultures, falcons, and owls. The inserts of a young girl watching through binoculars and rodent sidekicks trying to avoid being caught make this book a delight to read—many times to catch the nuances. This book will definitely cause young people to search out Eaton’s other books covering “seriously funny facts about your favorite animals.”

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Stanislaw Lem’s The Seventh Voyage: a Graphic Novel, adapted by Jon J. Muth, translated by Michael Kandel

Muth, Jon J. Stanislaw Lem’s The Seventh Voyage: a Graphic Novel.  Translated by Michael Kandel.  Graphix/Scholastic, 2019. Unpaged. $19.99. ISBN 9780545004626. Ages 9-adult. P7 Q9

In Jon Muth’s graphic adaptation of Polish science fiction author Stansilaw Lem’s 1971 short story, “The Seventh Voyage,” astronaut Ijon Tichy runs into a problem with poor design when his spaceship’s steering is damaged by a meteor and, as the solo astronaut, he finds himself unable to replace the damaged part.  As the spaceship veers into time/space anomalies from gravity wells in an asteroid field, the antisocial astronaut discovers analog versions of himself at different points in his life, each one determined to accomplish the goals of his particular day, and each refusing to compromise with the other versions of himself in order to repair the rudderless space ship.  As the days go on, the accumulation of excess Ijon Tichys  grows into a committee, then a congress, of argumentative and ultimately useless individuals ranging in age from boys to ancient graybearded men.

Verdict: Jon Muth’s graphic adaptation gives both external views of a tiny ship against an infinite galaxy, and an internal view of the ship’s library, bedroom, and galley that shows an inner space much larger than could be encompassed within the bounds of the tiny ship.  I was charmed by the worn upholstered chair near library shelves full of books obviously designed precisely for a single, long-distance traveler.  I was amused by the humor inherent in a man who could not even cooperate with himself.   Like Tichy, though, I also found myself growing tired of the unending succession of uncooperative Tichys  and longed for the days of solitude, reading space ship repair manuals in the spacious library’s one comfortable chair.  Fortunately, two Tichys figured out how to use the single space suit to reach both parts of a particularly stubborn nut and bolt to replace the broken rudder, taking the space ship out of the gravitational wells and once again leaving a single, solitary Ijon Tichy to continue his long journey through space.

The story, first published in English in 1976, has sly references to Poland’s years behind the Soviet Iron Curtain as well as digs at the problems of capitalism and individuality.  Muth’s additions to the original story include an introduction identifying the artist as a recalcitrant digital drawing unit and an artist’s note on how he designed the contents of the book using household items to model the parts of the spaceship and space suit (a mock-up sewed by his wife).  The canning jar locking ring holding the helmet and space suit together was particularly fascinating.

Overall, the illustrations add charm to the original humor of the story.  The lack of diversity among the proliferation of pale, white male astronauts makes sense in the context, but I did wonder if a group of Mae Jemisons would have been able to repair the damaged ship with less intrapersonal conflict and discussion.  I recommend this as a worthy introduction to the works of Stanislaw Lem and a good addition to those library collections that already have Jon Muth’s Zen books.

May 2020 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Genius Ideas (Mostly), by Liz Pichon

Pichon, Liz. Genius Ideas (Mostly). (Tom Gates series, book 4). Candlewick Press, 2012. $12.99. ISBN 9781536201291. 307 pages. Ages 7-11. P7 Q8

This series is the British graphic/fiction hybrid that will delight the Wimpy Kid enthusiasts. Tom Gates is the first series of books Pichon has written and illustrated for older children.  The first book in the series, The Brilliant World of Tom Gates, won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, and the Blue Peter Book Award. Genius Ideas (Mostly) is book four of eighteen and can be read without having read the others while exposure to one will send youngsters seeking the others. Tom doodles and dreams of his band, DogZombies, and annoys his older sister with his antics. Tom’s narration is set in a varied typeface including handwritten notes replete with fun cartoonish illustrations and doodles. The end notes include directions for a paper banger and glossary for British lingo: biscuits = cookies; crisps: chips and so on.

Verdict: This series will entertain its young audience.

April 2020 review by Penny McDermott.

Book review: Alien Nate, by Dave Whamond

Whamond, Dave. Alien Nate. Kids Can Press, 2020. $14.99. ISBN 9781525302091. 64 pages. Ages 6-10. P7 Q7

Why would an alien want to come to earth? To find pizza of course! Vegans, aliens from the Vega system find pizza that was accidently left on Voyager 1 and send a representative to earth to get pizza. Alien Nate is chosen for the mission and he only has one thing on his mind: pizza! A child helps Nate navigate earth while men in beige suits chase after Nate. When Nate tries a variety of pizzas, the long held debate over pineapple on pizza is discussed. When Nate tries to go back to his planet, he discovers his spaceship is out of fuel. Along with his new friends, he has to find a way to refuel his spaceship before the men in beige find him. This humorous graphic novel has glossy pages, bright expressive illustrations and is full of action. Capital letters are used when the characters exclaim or yell. The graphic novel style platform works well for this adventure.

Verdict: A perfect choice for emerging readers, this graphic novel will keep the reader engaged as they learn about adaptability, teamwork, problem solving, growth mindset, and inclusivity. The action and bright colors will appeal to readers of all ages. The interactions between the characters is heart-warming and positive. I highly recommend this book.

March 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Singing Rock and Other Brand New Fairy Tales, by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, illustrated by Simini Blocker

Lachenmeyer, Nathaniel. The Singing Rock and Other Brand New Fairy Tales.  Illustrated by Simini Blocker. First Second, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781596437500. 97 pages. Ages 8-10 P8Q8

A generous genie, a singing rock (rock music!), a clever sorcerer, and an art loving ogre are all featured in this comic format collection of four original short tales similar to classic fairy tales. Each tale comes alive with colorful digital artwork and expressive characters. Just like a good fairy tale, each story has a lesson tied to it. “The Singing Rock” is particularly engaging because the sorcerer concocts all of his spells using a secret language of sorcerers: Igpay Atinlay (Pig Latin!)

Verdict: With humor and lively pictures, these stories invite readers to have fun and come away with a lesson. The first story, “Hop Hop Wish” has very little text, allowing emerging readers to confidently read the story. This book would fit nicely in a comparison of fairy tales study.

March 2020 review by Denyse Marsh.

Book review: It’s Me, by Jim Benton

Benton, Jim. It’s Me. (Catwad series, book 1). Graphix, 2019. $8.99. ISBN 9781338326024. 125 Pages. Ages 8-12. P8 Q7

Blumrp, an enthusiastic cat, annoys a cranky Catwad in this collection of short comic stories. Blumrp is overly energetic and sees the positive in everything. Catwad is like Grumpy Cat. When Blumrp asks Catwad if he likes him better than pizza, if it was covered in poison and toenails? Catwad replies that he guesses he would like him more. Blumrp says “OMG you are my best friend too!” Fast paced, brightly colored cartoons on glossy paper will keep the reader engaged. Includes a special preview of Catwad #2, which came out in September. Book three is scheduled to be come out in April 2020.

Verdict: Humorous, funny, where the cats feed off each other in their dialogue. The humor is zany and slapstick. I found myself laughing out loud while I read the comics. The perfect choice for reluctant readers. While one may think of comics being for young readers, this comic book is for a bit older reader due to its sarcastic humor. If you want to laugh, I recommend this comic.

November 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Everything Awesome About Dinosaurs and other Prehistoric Beasts!, by Mike Lowery

Lowery, Mike. Everything Awesome About Dinosaurs and other Prehistoric Beasts! (Everything Awesome about series). Orchard Books, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781338359725. 123 pages. Ages 6-12. P8 Q8 

This cartoon history of dinosaurs includes information, weird facts, drawing instructions and jokes. Did you know that the word dinosaur comes from the Greek and means terrible lizard? An English biologist coined the phrase in 1842, and it was in reference to their size, not their appearance. Readers will be mesmerized by the simply drawn and colorful cartoon illustrations. The text is mostly handwritten words written around the illustrations. The words are of varying sizes and colors which makes it feel easier to read. Includes phonetic pronunciations along with numerous facts. Readers can use the table of contents and skip around to chapters of interest. The hard cover is texturized and the pages are thick. This book will appeal to a variety of ages. Younger readers can look at the pages and older readers can read all the facts. Everything awesome about Sharks and Other Underwater Creatures is scheduled to come out Fall of 2020.

Verdict: A must have for children who like dinosaurs. Readers can spend hours looking through the pages and the illustrations while they learn facts and are amused by the jokes. Reluctant readers will find the format easy to read. I highly recommend this book for public and elementary school libraries.

September 2019 review by Tami Harris.