Book review: Morris Mole, by Dan Yaccarino

Yaccarino, Dan. Morris Mole. Harper, 2017. Unpaged. $17.99. ISBN 9780062411075. Ages 4-8. P8 Q7

Morris is the smallest of his many mole brothers. He is also a snappy dresser, and full of good ideas. When the moles face a food supply problem, will Morris let his small stature and soft-spoken nature prevent him from finding a solution? Morris Mole is another creation from the designer of The Backyardigans and other Nickelodeon productions. Yaccarino’s graphic, colorful style gives life to this story of subterranean sibling dynamics. In the story, Morris is an overdressed, big-hearted champion for the disregarded little guy.

Verdict: The book seemed short; perhaps as a nod to Morris. Fans of Yaccarino’s work won’t be disappointed by this image-driven work. The message is positive and it is recommended for school and public libraries. It may accompany a lesson on subterranean animals, as moles aren’t terribly common characters.

April 2018 review by Lillian Curanzy.

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Book review: Two picture biographies about Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Krull, Kathleen. No Truth without Ruth: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Illus. by Nancy Zhang. Harper, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-06-256011-7. Ages 6-9.

Winter, Jonah. Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Equality. Illus. by Stacy Innerst. Abrams, 2017. $18.95. unp. ISBN 978-1-4197-2559-3. Ages 7-10.

Both books begin with the childhood of the person who grew up to be the first Jewish woman Supreme Court judge, highlighting her mother’s life as she was forced to find a job to support her brother in college and then stay home after her marriage. Both authors describe how Ginsburg adored her mother and skipped her high school graduation because of her mother’s death the day before. Other anecdotes, such as Ginsburg hiding in the bathroom to study in college to hide her intelligence from males, are repeated in both books. From there, they diverge: Krull’s concentrates almost entirely on Ginsburg’s legal cases whereas Winter addresses her observation of prejudice while she is young and her devotion to her husband. The real differences between the books are the stylistic approach toward Ginsburg’s activism and the artwork.

Zhang’s digital art in the Krull book is very colorful and almost pretty at time. Ginsburg, who is much shorter than most people, seems to be equal in height or even loom over others except for the illustration of her with Bill Clinton when he names her justice. Both he and Jimmy Carter are unrecognizable, and Clinton is pictured with gray hair which he didn’t have at that time. Innerst’s gouache, ink, and Photoshop in Winter’s book are more somber with muted shades and a diminutive Ginsburg. The narrative uses the framework of a court case to give biographical information, and a break partway through the book uses pages from yellow pads to show evidence of the “more outrageous nonsense Ruth endured,” beginning with her demotion and loss of wages at her first job after college because she was pregnant. Winter’s book also has a helpful glossary and one-page Author’s Note that gives more about Ginsburg’s life. Krull’s narrative may be slightly more accessible, but Winter’s book is a fuller picture of its subject.

Verdict: Although both books are worth purchasing, I would pick the Winter book if making a choice of just one because it is a fuller depiction of Ginsburg.

Krull: P7Q7; Winter: P6Q9

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Shiaparelli, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Maclear, Kyo. Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Shiaparelli. Illus. by Julie Morstad. Harper, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-06-244761-6. Ages 5-8. P7Q9

Growing up in Rome during the end of the 19th century, the only bright colors that Elsa saw outside her home were the flowers outside. Her mother called Elsa’s sister “bella” (beautiful) and Elsa “brutta” (ugly), perhaps because of the seven moles on one side of her face. Yet Elsa developed her adventurous nature with the help of a beloved uncle who said to her, “Let’s fly.” And fly was what Elsa did with her imagination as her world of pretend developed her adventurous fashion designs under her last name, Schiaparelli. Elsa’s failures turned to successes, and her bold fashions changed women’s styles during the 1920s and 1930s as well as influencing styles throughout the 20th century. Two pages at the end list her innovations in dress design as she followed her motto, “Dare to be different.”

Verdict: The shift in Morstad’s watercolor, gouache, and pencil crayon illustrations from the drabness of her childhood to the vivid colors of her adult life greatly contribute to the narration’s depiction of Elsa’s courage in following her dream despite her mother’s harshness.

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly with Winifred Conkling, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Shetterly, Margot Lee with Winifred Conkling. Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race. Illus. by Laura Freeman. Harper, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-06-274246-9. Ages 5-8. P7Q8

In 2016, the movie about four black women crossing the color barrier at NASA became the highest grossing domestic film at that year’s Academy Awards. Conkling helps Shetterly adapt her New York Times bestselling book for children. Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden are the four names made famous. They were engineers and mathematicians at Langley Research Center beginning in the 1940s when women were not often given these positions, and black women were even more rejected. Paintings highlight each woman as they are treated separately from one another with scenes from the Center in the background. A two-page timeline goes from the 1903 Wright Brothers flight to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon.

Verdict: The inspiring stories of these black women are important to the understanding that neither race nor gender necessarily needs to be a limiting factor and that persistence pays.

January/February 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World, by Susan Hood, illustrated by 13 women

Hood, Susan. Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World. Illus. by 13 women. Harper, 2018. $18.99. 40p. ISBN 978-0-06-269945-9. Ages 6-9. P8Q10

Highlighted on these pages with poetry, a full-page illustration, and a brief biography are women in age from a fire-fighter in the 1780s to a black six-year-old girl who integrated a white New Orleans school in New Orleans. Two-thirds of the subjects are from the U.S., and the 13 adults cover a wide range of fields: paleontology, librarianship, secret agents, astronaut, architecture, journalism, anti-hunger activism, education activist, etc. Varied media for illustrations including collage, watercolors and paintings. The artists are Shadra Strickland, Hadley Hooper, Lisa Brown, Emily Winfield Martin, Sara Palacios, Erin K. Robinson, Sophie Blackall, Melissa Sweet, Oge Mora, Isabel Roxas, Julie Morstad, LeUyen Pham, and Selina Alko. Notes at the end for each of the subjects include sources and resources.

Verdict: The impressive compendium in this picture book exhibits extensive research and a love for the subject. Highly recommended.

January/February 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Good Day, Good Night, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Loren Long

Brown, Margaret Wise. Good Day, Good Night. Illustrated by Loren Long. Harper, 2017. $18.99. ISBN 9780062383105. Unpaged.  Ages 4-8. P9 Q9.

Brown follows the beloved pattern of the book Goodnight Moon with a bunny greeting the day, playing, and then saying good night.  I was surprised to see an illustration of a milk truck which is not relatable to children of this generation.  I would have thought she would have a delivery truck of packages instead. Otherwise, I just love the book and the cute bunny with the clothes help children make a connection to the personified animal and there is a little adorable orange tabby cat (Kitty) that is on most of the pages beside the bunny. The first end pages show a sunrise and the last one of a sunset.

Verdict: Libraries should make sure it is part of their collection.

November 2017 review by Deborah Gwynn.

[Editor’s note: Released on the 70th anniversary of the publication of Goodnight Moon, this previously unpublished work by Margaret Wise Brown echos the rhythm and cadence of the earlier beloved bedtime story.  Nostalgic illustrations by Loren Long, the creator of the Otis the Tractor books, pay homage to the work of Goodnight Moon illustrator Clement Hurd, and pair daytime and nighttime scenes of the bunny and the village.]

Book review: The Bad Seed, by Jory John, illustrated by Pete Oswald

John, Jory. The Bad Seed. Illustrated by Pete Oswald. Harper, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9780062467768. Ages 4-8. P8Q9.

I loved this book with its dark, funny illustrations and can almost hear a film noir character reading the lines. The Seed is a sunflower seed who had a traumatic experience and was almost eaten by a huge man. After that, he became a Bad Seed. He began to do really baaaaaad things; he was bad on purpose, kept to himself, became a drifter, and didn’t care at all. He lied, cut in lines, stopped washing his hands, and was late to everything. Being bad suited him. At least for a while. But then he realized that he wanted to be happy, and made a conscious decision to become less bad. It’s hard to be good when you’ve been bad so long, but now the Bad Seed is trying, and it is paying off.  Other seeds are noticing and his life is changing. This book might strike a note in kids who get angry or scared about things and behave badly as a result, or in kids who know someone like that.

VERDICT: This will be an excellent read aloud for public libraries and elementary school classrooms. There is plenty to talk about- attitudes, manners, and the meaning of “bad seed,” for example.

October 2017 review by Carol Schramm.