Book review: Mervin the Sloth Is About to do the Best Thing in the World, by Colleen A.F. Venable, illustrated by Ruth Chan

Venable, Colleen A.F.  Mervin the Sloth Is About to do the Best Thing in the World.  Illustrated by Ruth Chan.  Greenwillow Books, 2016.  $17.99.  ISBN 978-0-06-233847-1.  40 pages.  Ages 4-7.  Q8P8

A silly cute story about Mervin the sloth working up to doing the best thing in the world.  Because he’s a sloth this takes some time, much to the frustration of almost every animal around him.  Watercolor illustrations and simple text depict the other animal’s thoughts of what the best thing in the world could be, all from their perspective.  What does the Gazelle think the best thing in the world is?  Gazelling of course!  But what is the best thing for Mervin?  It’s worth the wait to find out at the end of the story!

Verdict:  Great illustrations and positive message!  This book is fun to read aloud book, and a peaceful sit-and-enjoy-the-pictures book for those children with the patience to do so.

June 2017 review by Terri Lippert.

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: 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: A Friend for Mole, by Nancy Armo

Armo, Nancy. A Friend for Mole. Peachtree, 2016. $16.95. ISBN 9781561458653. Unpaged. Ages 2-6. P8Q7

Mole gets disoriented when he ventures out above ground. He finds a hiding place under a bush, and meets Wolf, who is afraid of the dark. They make a plan to help each other, and while passing the time become fast friends. The simple watercolor illustrations aren’t too busy on the page and make following the story from a distance an easy thing. Even the end papers are cute! Children who understand being afraid of something will like this sweet story.

VERDICT: Armo’s book will be a popular checkout among parents with young children. It will make a good bedtime story.

April 2017 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel, by Charise Mericle Harper, illustrated by Ashley Spires

Harper, Charise Mericle. Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel. Illustrated by Ashley Spires. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. $15.99. ISBN 978-0-544-63063-5. 120 pages. Ages 6-10. P6Q7

June loves to play with her dog Sam, particularly because the two are able to communicate unbeknownst to others. When her grandmother sends her a big chalkboard on a wheel,  June is thrilled.  She and Sam are entertained with completing the suggested tasks. It’s even more fun when a new girl moves in next door and ends up in the same class. Mae seems really nice, but classmate April is bound and determined that Mae will be friends with her and not June. The girls have to learn to get along, and eventually become fast friends.

Verdict: This is a very positive, fun story for beginning readers. The illustrations add to comprehending the story. Other nice touches are June’s grumpy teenage sister, the fact that Mae is a character of color, and the adventure of the wonder wheel.

May 2017 review by Penny McDermott.

Book review: Pen Pals, by Alexandra Pichard

Pichard, Alexandra. Pen Pals.  Aladdin, 2017. unp.  $17.99. ISBN: 978-1-4814-7247-0. Gr. 2+. P8 Q8

Despite their differences, an ant and an octopus become friends while writing letters back and forth to each other. The ant, Oscar, lives on land and his pen pal, Bill the octopus, lives under the ocean. By writing letters to each other, they learn that they also have much in common. By the end of the book they plan to visit each other, they just have to figure out how. Using colored paper for the letters, yellow for Oscar and blue for Bill, makes it easier for the reader to follow who is doing the writing. The illustrations help to show the growing friendship between these two unlikely friends. Originally published in France in 2014 as Cher Bill by Gallimard Jeunesse.

Verdict: This is the book to use for anyone planning a unit on letter writing.

April 2017 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: A Friend Like You, by Andrea Schomburg and Barbara Röttgen, illustrated by Sean Julian

Schomburg, Andrea, and Barbara Röttgen. A Friend like You. Illustrated by Sean Julian. Little Tiger Press, 2016. $16.99. ISBN 9781680100310. Unpaged.  Ages 4-8 years. P8 Q8

Squirrel and Bird become friends. Bird flies down and lands next to Squirrel. Squirrel offers Bird a variety of things and each time Bird replies that he has never tried it before. Bird tries what Squirrel offers him and ends up liking it. In the end, Bird stays with Squirrel and enjoys the things that Squirrel likes along with the things that he likes. This book was originally published in Great Britain.

Verdict: The illustrations are fun and whimsical. This is cheerful story about trying new things and being friends with someone who is different from you. This is a good book for character education. It emphasizes kindness, sharing, and accepting individuality. I recommend this book for elementary and classroom libraries.

January 2017 review by Tami Harris.

[Editor’s note: A warm and simple story of two animals with different backgrounds and tastes, who, through shared kindnesses, become friends.]