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: 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.

Book review: Cloud and Wallfish, by Anne Nesbet

Nesbet, Anne. Cloud and Wallfish. Candlewick Press, 2016. $16.99. ISBN 9780763688035. 385 pgs. Ages 10-13. P7Q8

Noah, with his Astonishing Stutter, lives a relatively happy life with his family in Virginia. One day, everything changes, when his parents pick him up from school and whisk everyone off to East Berlin. Noah is now to go by the name Jonah Brown, his birthday is now a different date, and his life is to be regulated with rules like Don’t call attention to yourself, Don’t use our old names, They will always be listening, and Don’t talk about serious things indoors, because… they will always be listening. Noah is very confused- his parents’ explanation that his mom needs to do research to finish her PhD explains some of the situation, but not all of it. Why are they there? Are his parents spies? When he finally makes a friend, Claudia from downstairs, things become even more confusing. Claudia’s parents have been killed in car accident in Hungary, and she is living with her cranky grandmother. This story also makes some sense, but Noah begins to wonder if it’s really true. The grandmother tries to keep the children apart, since Americans are dangerous elements, but they manage to build a friendship based on shared imagination and loneliness. Noah calls the girl Cloud Claudia (from the German pronunciation of the name), and she calls him Wallfish (Jonah makes her think of a whale, which is “Walfisch” in German). Passages of story alternate with “Secret File” sections, which give historical and cultural context. The story comes to an exciting end when Cloud-Claudia and Wallfish are arrested during a demonstration, and Noah and his family are deported.

VERDICT: I loved this story. The complex character of Noah/Jonah is fascinating- he’s a bright and very resourceful, and doesn’t let his severe stutter hold him back. His relationship with his parents is loving and supportive, even during confusing and frightening situations. The blend of adventure, friendship, mystery, history and politics in this unusual setting will keep kids reading.

April 2017 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Alphonse, That Is Not OK to Do, by Daisy Hirst

Hirst, Daisy. Alphonse, That Is Not OK to Do. Candlewick Press, 2016, $15.99. ISBN: 0763681032. 40 pages. Picture book. Ages 2-5 years. P3 Q2

Natalie doesn’t always get along with her little brother Alphonse. On this particular day, nothing is going right and Alphonse is on her nerves. When Natalie lets her anger get the best of her, she is mean to Alphonse. In the end, the siblings make up and Natalie realizes how fun it can be to have a little brother.

Verdict: This book could be used in a preschool setting to teach about getting along with siblings. The story line is lacking, and children older than 3 may lose interest. The price of the book seems a bit expensive for the quality of the story and the awkward phrasing that is used.

December 2016 review by Victoria Harris.

[Editor’s note: Very simple brightly colored illustrations add interest to the story of sister and brother monsters who squabble when the younger brother damages a book and then make up.]

Book review: A Bike Like Sergio’s, by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

Boelts, Maribeth. A Bike Like Sergio’s. Illustrated Noah Z. Jones. Candlewick Press, 2016. $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-6649-1. 40 pages. Age 5-8. P8 Q8

Ruben wants a bike, but his parents do not have a lot of money. Sergio has a nice bike and encourages Ruben to get one like his. Ruben finds $100.00 on the ground at the store. He knows who the money belongs to. When he thinks he lost the money, he feels how the lady who lost the money must feel. He returns the money and feels better. The story is realistic that it ends with Ruben feeling good, but he still does not get the bike. Illustrations were done in watercolor, pencils and ink and assembled digitally.

Verdict: This book stimulates conversations around honesty and empathy. I recommend it for classroom libraries to emphasize character building.

December 2016 review by Tami Harris.

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: Frida and Bear play the shape game!, by Anthony Browne, illustrated by Hanne Bartholin and Anthony Browne

Browne, Anthony. Frida and Bear play the shape game! Illustrated by Hanne Bartholin and Anthony Browne. Candlewick Press, 2016. Unpaged. $15.99. ISBN 9780763678371. Ages 4-7. P7Q7

Frida the elephant and Bear enjoy drawing together.  When Bear cannot think of anything new to draw, he and Frida come up with the shape game: one draws a shape and the other turns it into a picture.  The story itself is rather thin, but as an introduction to a fun drawing game, this is excellent.  Illustrations from two artists highlight the difference between the drawings of the two characters.

Verdict: Give this to your favorite art teacher or share it with children on a rainy Sunday.   Recommended for kindergarten, elementary and public libraries.

November 2016 review by Jane Cothron.