Book review: Cicada, by Shaun Tan

Tan, Shaun. Cicada. Arthur A. Levine. 2019. $19.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-338-29839-0. Ages 7-10. P9Q10

After 17 years of dedicated work as a data entry clerk, Cicada retires with no appreciation for his willingness to have no resources—not even permission to use the bathroom. He heads to the roof to say “goodbye” only to shed his husk and fly off into the forest. Black and white oils on canvas and paper are highlighted only by Cicada’s green head until he and the other cicada nymphs shed their skins and fly away as orange adults.

Verdict: The strong symbolism of corporate bullying blends with the sense of freedom after retirement with the 17 years representing the time required for cicadas to develop. Another magical book from this creator.

April 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Tales from the Inner City, by Shaun Tan

Tan, Shaun. Tales from the Inner City. Arthur A. Levine, 2018. $24.99. 221p. ISBN 978-1-338-29840-6. Ages 12+. P7Q10

“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons.” This quote by Alice Walker introducing the book sets the tone for these 25 pieces completed with masterful full-page paintings. The book begins with “Crocodiles live on the eight-seventh floor,” and my favorite ends with “The cattle are here … with lawyers.” In between the magic never stops. These imaginings of alternative worlds follow Tan’s Tales from Outer Suburbia.

Verdict: This astonishing book displays the power and dignity lacking in humans that displays their relationships in lyrical language, especially seen in the opening sentences for each piece.

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Lotterys More or Less, by Emma Donoghue, illustrated by Caroline Hadilaksono

Donoghue, Emma. The Lotterys More or Less. Illus. by Caroline Hadilaksono. Arthur A. Levine, 2018. $17.99. 285p. ISBN 978-1-338-20753-8. Ages 9-12. P7Q8

The family of 11 plus a grouchy grandfather that includes a gay couple and a lesbian couple, first seen in The Lotterys Plus One, has returned in a Christmas adventure when the loss of electricity, first for their neighbors and then for themselves, mixes with the need to care for a visitor from Brazil who damaged his eye while sledding behind a car. In this book about a diverse group, two are missing–one of the fathers and the older son are trying to trying to return from a visit to India in the midst of the storm.

Verdict: Since the first book in the series, Donoghue has found a voice and direction, and the author spends less time working with the introduction of the characters. With less wordplay, the narration moves more smoothly, and the nine-year-old narrator shows how a disaster can result in the building of a community.

February 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Zog and the Flying Doctors, by Julia Donaldson, illustrations by Axel Scheffler

Donaldson, Julia. Zog and the Flying Doctors. Illustrations by Axel Scheffler. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-338-13417-9. 32 pgs. Ages 3-9. P9 Q9

A beautifully written and illustrated book from the creators of A Gold Star for Zog, and Superworm, Zog and the Flying Doctors is another sure to be hit. The story follows a young princess who is a doctor, a knight who is a surgeon, and a dragon who is wonderful at flying (but hasn’t yet perfected landing) on their adventures. Unfortunately when they stop to say hello to her Uncle, the King, he informs her that Princesses aren’t meant to be Doctors and locks her in the tower. Not content to spend her days sewing and wearing “frilly dresses” she sets out to prove to the King that Princesses can be anything!

Verdict: This book does a great job delivering a message in a fun way. The rhyming text and fun illustrations make it a quick and enjoyable read. It would be a wonderful read-aloud. I gave it a 9 for Popularity because it will engage readers for different reasons. Any child interested in knights, dragons, and princesses will enjoy it. Also, this would be a great book for a child who feels they aren’t accepted for who they are. The rhyming makes it an easy read and the humor is a plus as well. I found myself smiling as I read it more than once because it is such an engaging book. The rating of 9 for quality is due to the detailed illustrations as well as the placement of the text. Though the text was around the pictures I never felt as though I was searching for the words or missing any of them. I am excited to buy this book to add to my kids’ collection as well as reading it in the library during story time.

November 2017 review by Michelle Cottrell

Book review: Shadowhouse Fall, by Daniel José Older

Older, Daniel José. Shadowhouse Fall. (Shadowshaper Cypher series, Book 2). Arthur A. Levine, 2017. 357 pgs. $18.99. ISBN 9780545952828. Ages 12-17. P8Q9

This is the second book in the Shadowshaper Cypher series. The story continues with Sierra and her friends and family, as they develop their skills as shadowshapers (people who use art and music as a tool for interacting with spirits) and learn more about the Shadowhouse they belong to. As the book progresses, we learn that besides the Shadowhouse and the House of Light, there are also the House of Iron and the House of Blood, all represented in the creepy Deck of Worlds (interesting that the House of Light are clearly the bad guys here). There is a lot of action and suspense in the story, and a clever ending that I didn’t expect. A strong element in the books in this series is the dialog- the author uses slang and Spanish phrases in a way that feels “real” and is easily understood.  The story is suspenseful and unusual, with magic and mythology, and current and pressing topics like police brutality, racial profiling, gender, and empowerment skillfully woven together. Older has commented in interviews about his efforts to bring people of color into YA SF/Fantasy in a very authentic way. I think he has succeeded.

VERDICT: Teen readers who like urban fantasy will love the characters, setting and story. I highly recommend the series and can’t wait for the third book to come out. By the way, the first book in the series, Shadowshaper, was named one of Esquire’s 80 Books Every Person Should Read.

December 2017 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan

Tan, Shaun. The Singing Bones.  Arthur A. Levine, 2016. $24.99. 185p. ISBN 978-0-545-94612-4. Ages 12+. P8Q10

tan-singing-bonesAustralian artist, writer, and Oscar-winning film winner has delved into a new artform for his latest book: sculpture. The purpose of his creations is to illustrate 75 Grimm fairy tales. Each two-page spread provides a brief “teaser” of an ancient folk tale showing its “hard bones” and a full-page photograph of the figures made from clay and papier-mâché, finished with acrylics, oxidized metal powder, and shoe polish. The Artist’s Note explains that the figures vary between 2.25 and 16 inches although the photographs make them appear to be similar. Notes continue to explain that Tan also used a diversity of other substances such as gold leaf and rice. The feeling of the evocative figures in the beautifully staged and lighted images is of stone carvings, sometimes grotesque and frequently abstract, with pre-historic style. Tan started the project four years ago after his German editor asked him to do cover art and a few other illustrations for Philip Pullman’s 2012 Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version. His work on that book evolved into this “art book,” released in 2015. The new edition includes a foreword by Neil Gaiman and an introduction by scholar Jack Zipes about the Grimms’ work on these folk tales.

Verdict: This elegant and haunting book stands among the top of titles that I have seen in the last five decades although it may be more for adults than youth. As Gaiman wrote, “I want to hold these sculptures, to pick them up. I want to squeeze them in my hands.” They bring new life to these timeless stories.

January 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older

Older, Daniel José. Shadowshaper. (Shadowshaper series, book 1.) Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015. $17.99. ISBN 9780545591614. Ages 12+. P8Q9

Older ShadowshaperSierra is a Puerto Rican teen living in Brooklyn. When she encounters a zombie-like creature one night at a party, a new world opens up for her. Sierra’s family legacy is the ability to Shadowshape- to channel the spirits of the dead into art, which can then come to life. She was kept in the dark about this ability by her grandfather, who thought women either couldn’t or shouldn’t shadowshape. This novel is fast paced, beautifully written, and gives a fascinating glimpse into the Puerto Rican and Dominican communities in Brooklyn, with Spanish words and phrases used liberally. I loved reading about a bright, brave, strong, interesting heroine of color in a fantasy novel. Sierra has to make decisions about some important things- should she embrace her shadowshaper heritage, or try to be a normal teen? Should she confront her racist aunt and tell her that she is okay with her Puerto Rican skin, body shape and hair, and that the aunt’s opinion about Sierra’s dark skinned boyfriend isn’t welcome? Should she get more serious about her boyfriend even though he isn’t always reliable (translation- he seems to disappear and leaves Sierra alone in dangerous situations). Race and gender are crucial in this story, and while it is clear how oppression and discrimination has shaped the characters, there isn’t any self pity in them. Teens of color may identify with Sierra and her friends, and readers who are looking for something different in YA fantasy or urban literature will like this book. Review based on audiobook version.

May 2016 review by Carol Schramm.