Book review: Mr. Putter & Tabby Hit the Slope, by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard

Rylant, Cynthia. Mr. Putter & Tabby Hit the Slope. Illustrated by Arthur Howard. (Mr. Putter and Tabby series, #25) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. Unpaged. $14.99. ISBN 9780152064273. Ages 5-7. P7Q8

On a slow, snowy day, Mr. Putter remembers the long ago fun of sledding down hills. The adventurous neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry, has sleds in her garage. Mr. Putter, Tabby, Mrs. Teaberry and her dog, Zeke, head out for an adventure, riding sleds down hills in this twenty-fifth book in the series.  Much of the charm of the long-running series comes from the simple watercolor and goache paintings that show the varied emotions of the characters—Mr. Putter’s sadness in being left without a sled, Tabby’s worried terror  as Zeke pilots the two of them down the hill, the contentment on both Mr. Putter’s and Tabby’s faces as they have muffins afterward.

Verdict: Highly recommended for preschool, elementary, and public libraries.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Blue Penguin, by Petr Horáček

Horáček, Petr. Blue Penguin. Candlewick Press, 2016. Unpaged. 15.99. ISBN 9780763692513. Ages 3-6. P7Q7

A single blue penguin is born into a flock of black and white penguins and becomes isolated in his differences.  As the blue penguin sings his songs of loneliness and dreams of a white whale, another penguin listens, learns the songs and becomes a friend.  Other penguins, too, being to listen, which changes the songs from those of loneliness to songs of friendship.  When a huge, white whale responds to the first song, and comes to take the blue penguin away, the other penguins ask him to stay.

Mixed media illustrations use spashes of color in the snowy Antarctic to carry the blue penguin’s sense of isolation and then his growing inclusion in the penguin community.

Verdict: I recommend this story of friendship and community for preschool, elementary, and public library collections.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: In a Cloud of Dust, by Alma Fullerton, art by Brian Dienes

Fullerton, Alma. In a Cloud of Dust. Art by Brian Deines. Pajama Press, 2016. Unpaged. $8.95. ISBN 9781772780000 (pbk). Ages 4-7. P7Q8.

In Tanzania, children who may spend hours walking to the village school have the opportunity to borrow bicycles from the bicycle library.  When the bicycle library truck brings bicycles to the school, Anna, a hardworking student, comes too late to get one of the bicycles.  After she helps her friends learn to ride, Anna’s friend Mohammed shares a ride home with her.  The author’s note gives more information about the importance of reliable transportation to isolated communities in Africa and lists several organizations working to bring bicycles to these communities.

The bright, appealing illustrations carry the joy that the bicycles bring to the students through gold and orange washes, though specifics of the Tanzanian countryside are often lacking.

Verdict: Highly recommended for preschool, elementary and public libraries to increase awareness of life in different cultures and parts of the world.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Come Home, Angus, by Patrick Downes, illustrations by Boris Kulikov

Downes Patrick. Come Home, Angus. Illustrations by Boris Kulikov. Orchard Books/ Scholastic, 2016. Unpaged. $17.99. ISBN . Ages 4-6. P6Q8

One day Angus wakes up angry.  His dachshund is slow, his canary is noisy, and his mother makes the pancakes too thin.  As Angus becomes angrier and angrier, he feels bigger and bigger—until he is as big as houses and he runs away from home.  Angus runs a block, two blocks, five blocks, then he stops feeling angry and remembers that he forgot to bring anything to eat.  As Angus becomes a bit scared and lonely, he feels himself growing smaller and smaller.  Fortunately, his mother, who has followed along, arrives just in time with a comforting sardine sandwich.

Artist Kulikov’s mixed media illustrations incorporate acrylic washes, pencil, pen, ink, oil pastel, and black-tea wash to show Angus’s emotional intensity.  As Angus becomes larger with anger, the illustrations show him becoming less real, less distinct than the figures around him.  One technique I found interesting was the use of crosshatching in the oversized pictures of Angus.  It was almost as though Angus was cracking apart as he lost control.  As Angus shrank back to child-size in the city, the streets and people around him took on the textures of unreality.

Verdict: This, along with Molly Bang’s When Sophie Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry should be available to young children as a way to learn about dealing with anger.  When Angus yells, “Mama, I don’t have to listen to you. I’m mad. I’m madder than mad. I don’t have to be nice,” his mother replies, “In this house, being angry doesn’t let you be rude.”  Setting limits for young children (and even for older children and adults) helps convey that emotions, though powerful, are not all-consuming.  We have a choice in how we handle feelings. Recommended for preschool, elementary and public libraries.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: A Taste for Monsters, by Matthew J. Kirby

Kirby, Matthew J. A Taste for Monsters. Scholastic Press, 2016. $18.99. ISBN 9780545817844. 343 pages. Ages 12+. P7Q7

It’s 1888 in London, and Jack the Ripper is murdering women. Evelyn, whose hard life has hurt her emotionally and bodily (she is disfigured by Phossy Jaw or phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, caused by the white phosphorus used in match factories), begins working at the London Hospital as a maid to the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick. As Evelyn and Mr. Merrick, who is sweet and fragile, get to know each other, they are afflicted with ghostly visits from the unhappy spirits of Jack the Ripper’s victims. These visitations cause Mr. Merrick’s health to suffer, and Evelyn tries to resolve the mysteries to relieve his mind. There is a bit of romance, which turns out badly, but Evelyn is successful in resolving the situations that keep the ghosts restless, comes to terms with her own fears, and finds out who the Ripper is. All in all, it was a satisfying paranormal mystery that wasn’t too gory or explicit.

VERDICT: Young adults interested in the Victorian era and lovers of mysteries will enjoy reading this novel.

April 2017 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Frogkisser!, by Garth Nix

Nix, Garth.  Frogkisser! Audible Audio Edition. Listening Library, 2017. $19.25. 11 hrs 6 min. Ages 10-13. P8Q8

Although my favorite Garth Nix books are the darker YA Abhorson series, I thoroughly enjoyed this humorous fairy tale. Spunky Anya is the younger princess of the kingdom of Trallonia. Her evil stepstepfather is a tyrant sorcerer who “transmogrifies” anyone who bothers him- that is, he turns them into frogs or other animals. Anya prefers to read in the library, but to help her sister and to escape from her stepstepfather, she reluctantly sets out on a quest to gather the ingredients for a magical lip balm that will allow her to kiss a frog (one of her sister’s suitors) and restore him to his human form. She is accompanied by one of the royal talking dogs and a want-to-be thief boy who has been turned into a newt. She finds diverse help along the way (though she says she won’t need help, because she’s not that kind of a princess), and learns some good lessons. I liked that while this was a light children’s story, there were some serious themes like how sometimes we don’t want to do something, but we must help when we can, that people have rights and responsibilities, and that being a leader means thinking about what is good for the people before doing what you want for yourself.

April 2017 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: The Tale of Rescue, by Michael J. Rose, illustrated by Stan Fellows

Rosen, Michael J. The Tale of Rescue. Illustrated by Stan Fellows. Candlewick Press, 2015. $14.99. ISBN 9780763671679. 103 pgs. Ages 10-13. P8Q9

I loved this beautifully illustrated story about a family rescued from a dangerous situation by a heroic cattle dog. The mother and father take their 10 year old son on a weekend adventure, so he can experience a snowy country weekend. They get lost while walking in the woods, and are overcome by a blizzard. The cattle dog knows that something is wrong, finds the family, and using the herd of cattle as a sort of snow plow, clears the way for them. Eight years later, the boy goes looking for the dog who saved them, and finds that her name is Angus, like all the other cattle dogs the farmer has owned. The language is poetic and beautiful, and the dark watercolor illustrations perfectly accompany the text.

VERDICT: Dog lovers of all ages will enjoy this book very much, and readers of survival stories will also find something to like.

April 2017 review by Carol Schramm.