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.

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Book review: Home at Last, by Vera B. Williams, illustrated by Chris Raschka and Vera B. Williams

Williams, Vera B. Home at last. Illustrated by Chris Raschka and Vera B. Williams. Greenwillow Books, 2016. Unpaged. $17.99. ISBN 9780061349797. Ages 4-8. P7Q8

williams-home-at-lastBeloved author Vera B. Williams died October 20, 2015.  In this, her last book, Lester who lost his parents in a car accident is really and truly adopted by Daddy Albert and Daddy Rich—and their dog Wincka.  Problems rise at night when Lester fears being alone and being taken away from his new home.  After nights upon nights of Lester asking to sleep with in his new Daddies’ bed, Wincka solves the problem by sleeping with Lester.

Two-time Caldecott honoree Vera B. Williams wrote the book and set it aside for a number of years.  In the spring of 2015, she invited her friend Chris Raschka to work on the illustrations with her.  Together they drew the pictures and Raschka colored them.  The author’s note is a wonderful tribute to the friendship between the two.

I wondered, after reading that Williams had written the book and set it aside, how it would have been received if it had been published earlier.  Michael Willhoite’s book, Daddy’s Roommate, has been widely challenged and banned many times since it was published, but it still filled the desperate need for books addressing families with gay parents.  Home at Last normalizes the two daddies and addresses the problems of dealing with what sounds like the adopted child’s PTSD.  I am glad that it is now available.

Verdict: The artwork is lively and colorful, but not exactly realistic.  That, combined with the large amount of text makes this a picture book for older children.  On the plus side, it is the only picture book I remember reading that addresses the lingering difficulties of adopted children adjusting to a new home after living through the emotional trauma of losing parents– and of adoptive parents dealing with the stress.  Libraries with picture book collections should purchase this book. Highly recommended.

October 2016 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Anyone but Ivy Pocket, by Caleb Krisp, Illustrated by Barbara Cantini

Krisp, Caleb.  Anyone but Ivy Pocket. Illustrations by Barbara Cantini. Greenwillow Books, 2015.  $17.99.  ISBN 9780062364340.  382p.  Ages 8 – 12.  Q7P8

Krisp Anyone but Ivy PocketIvy Pocket is a 12 year old orphan who has become an English lady’s maid.  Ivy was abandoned by her recent employer with the instructions “DO NOT FOLLOW ME!”  Ivy takes this as a sign of her employer being “barking mad” and strives to find employment elsewhere (a challenge given all suitable patrons have witnessed Ivy’s behavior with her previous employer).   Ivy is wonderfully self deluded and thinks all of her mishaps and misadventures are due to the ignorance of people around her and not of her own making.  The humor lies in how she interacts with those around her.  She is blunt and seemingly as uncaring as she is ignorant.  I found myself wondering if she has deluded herself on purpose, and maybe this is the point.  The author’s sense of humor and mischief are prevalent on every page.  The only downside to this extremely entertaining book is the heavy use of hyperbole, which may confuse younger and/or more literal readers.

June 2016 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: Waiting, by Kevin Henkes

Henkes, Kevin. Waiting. Greenwillow Books, 2015. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-236843-0. Unp. Ages 1-4. P8/Q9

Henkes WaitingThis is a beautiful book with soft, simple, muted, color pictures to tell the story of different toys who sit on a window sill and look outside waiting for different weather and seasons. They have visitors who come and go. At the end of the story there is a nesting cat toy that joins the toys on the window seal. This is a beautiful story of waiting and imagination.

December 2015 review by Melinda Dye.

[Editor’s note: A 2015 Caldecott Honor and Geisel Honor Book.]

Book review: The Doldrums, by Nicholas Gannon

Gannon, Nicholas. The Doldrums. Greenwillow Books, 2015. $17.99. ISBN 9780062320940. 368 pgs. Ages 8-12. P8Q9.

Gannon DoldrumsArcher’s adventuring grandparents are missing and presumed dead. The lonely boy can’t quite believe it’s true, and when a box is delivered from his grandparents, he knows they must be alive. He and his two unusual friends, Adelaide and Oliver, begin to plan a great adventure to rescue the two travelers from an iceberg in Antarctica. After a while, we see that the focus of this book isn’t really the adventure itself, but the planning and friendship that develops among these three lonely children. The author does a great job with character development, and I found the personalities of the three kids really appealing. The atmosphere is dark, quirky, and humorous; this is added to by the adults in the story who all seem to be “types” (mostly unpleasant types) and aren’t very helpful toward the children. The art work is wonderful- a lot of it is full color, and there are some black and white bits too. I really enjoyed this book and think it will do well with middle school age children who like interesting characters, but don’t demand a lot of action.

December 2015 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: A Riddle in Ruby, by Kent Davis

Davis, Kent. A Riddle in Ruby. Greenwillow Books, 2015. 425 pgs. $17.9. ISBN:978-0-06-236834-8. Gr. 5+. P8 Q8

Davis Riddle in RubyIt is 1781 and Ruby Teach, thief-in-training and the daughter of a pirate, is being sought by the government in this alternate history novel of Colonial America. The government in this story uses both magic and science to govern their people. There is never a dull moment as the plot twists its way through the story. Ruby is a very strong and independent young girl who knows nothing of the magical power she possess. Her goal is to rescue her father from the clutches of the government as she tries to elude capture herself. Will there be a sequel, I asked myself and answered, yes.

November 2015 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Sound, by Alexandra Duncan

Duncan, Alexandra. Sound. Greenwillow Books, 2015. 489 pages. $17.99 ISBN 9780062220172 Ages 14-up. P7Q8

Duncan SoundSixteen-year-old Miyole, of Haitian ancestry, used forged identity documents to gain a research position aboard the deep space exploration vehicle Ranganathan.  When the ship is attacked by pirates and Miyole lets one of the invaders escape, she begins to have flashbacks of her early life in the Gyre and of her mother’s death saving Miyole from a tsunami. After the attack, Cassia, escaped from the pirates, demands that the Ranganathan’s captain pursue the pirates to free her kidnapped brother before he is sold into slavery.  When Miyole and Cassia meet, Miyole is drawn to Cassia and this attraction, combined with her guilt over allowing the pirate to escape, leads her to help Cassia steal a space shuttle to try to rescue the brother.  The situation rapidly worsens as Miyole and Cassia capture one of the Ranganathan’s security officers, become involved with smugglers, slavers, ship system malfunctions, and others caught in the underbelly of humanity in the wastes of space.

This is gritty science fiction with lots of action and the fragile beginnings of new love.  Characters come in the full range of human culture and skin tones.  Well written lesbian characters in young adult fiction are not common and Miyole is a fully developed, complex character who matures over the course of the story arc.  Occasionally the flashbacks–which usually happen in the middle of an action sequence–seemed to slow the story, but they also functioned to flesh out Miyole’s history without sidetracking the action.  Sound is a stand-alone companion to Duncan’s 2014 book, Salvage.  Highly recommended for public and school libraries.

November 2015 review by Jane Cothron.