Book review: The Secrets of Winterhouse, by Ben Guterson, with illustrations by Chloe Bristol

Guterson, Ben. The Secrets of Winterhouse. (Winterhouse series, #2). With illustrations by Chloe Bristol. Henry Holt, 2018. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-250-12390-9. 371 pages. Ages 9-13. P7Q7.

A year after the thrilling events of Winterhouse, Elizabeth finds herself returning to her grandfather’s notorious Winterhouse Hotel for Christmas break. She delights in learning that this move will be permanent. The value of friendship is highlighted between Elizabeth and her mutual-anagram-loving inventor friend, Freddy. The perks of living in a hotel with its own candy factory, colossal library, mountains and lakes for skiing and ice skating are charmingly detailed. Anagrams are included in every chapter title and there is an intriguing seal that includes clues to be discovered leading to mysterious doorways. Moreover, there is some dark magic lurking with two sets of unpleasant guests who are behaving suspiciously and the remnants of grandfather’s sorceress sister, Gracella, who may not be dead as originally portrayed in the denouement of the first installment.

Verdict: This book is a blend of mystery, magic, and perplexing puzzle-solving that will keep the readers seeking more.

April 2020 review by Penny McDermott.

Book review: Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker, illustrated by Junyi Wu

McKay Heidicker, Christian. Scary Stories for Young Foxes. Illustrated by Junyi Wu. Henry Holt and Company, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781250181428. 314 pgs.. Ages 9-14. P8 Q9

In this Newbery Honor winner, seven young foxes beg their mom for a scary story. When her stories aren’t scary enough, she sends them to Bog Cavern, where the ancient storyteller lives- she will tell them a story that will “put the white in your tail.” Over the course of the night, the kits hear a series of terrifying stories- all feature foxes in fear for their lives. As the night goes on, we see that the stories are related and two main characters emerge. Mia loses her family to rabies (the Yellow), which makes infected foxes seem like zombies. She ends up on her own in the dangerous wild. Uly, who has a withered paw, is tormented by his evil father and cruel sisters. He also ends up on his own. The two come together by the end of the book and survive frightening situations together- monsters, traps, injuries, and a shockingly creepy Beatrix Potter (who, after sketching trapped animals for her stories, kills and stuffs them).  Middle grade children who like horror will love this book, but those who are sensitive or have a soft spot for animals might find it hard to finish. I liked the design and appearance of the book: the way the book is broken up into different tales, the interspersed black pages with white text and scattering of dark pencil illustrations give the reader a chance to catch her breath from the suspenseful storyline.

VERDICT: This book will become a favorite with kids who like to read scary stories at night and will also appeal to those who love a good story about friendship and survival in difficult circumstances.

May 2020 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: I Am Perfectly Designed, by Karamo Brown with Jason “Rachel” Brown, illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Brown, Karamo with Jason “Rachel” Brown. I am Perfectly Designed. Illustrated by Anoosha Syed. Henry Holt, 2019. $18.99. ISBN 9781250232212. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7 Q8

It is important for children to know that they are perfectly designed. A father and a boy reminisce about all the adventures they have had together as the boy is growing up. As the father and son go through their day, the love they have for each other shines forth. The ending reads, “we are perfectly designed for each other.” The text from each person is a different color so the reader is able to keep track of who is talking. Rich earth tone illustrations make the story feel warm and inviting. Every moment we have with our children is a gift and this book helps one realize the importance of those moments. The end pages show various families, including children with two moms, an African American lady holding hands with a Caucasian lady and the Queer Eye Fab 5; Tan, Bobby, Antoni, Jonathan. This picture book is written by Jason and his father Karamo. In 2007, Karamo found out that he had a biological son, Jason, who was 9 years old at the time. He gained full custody and went on to adopt Jason’s half-brother. Jason dreamed of writing a story inspired by the lessons his dad taught him and how his dad always told him he was perfectly designed. Karamo an openly gay African American, is the culture expert on Queer Eye.

Verdict: It was heartwarming to read a book about a boy and his father. While this sweet story will touch family’s hearts, it will especially show fathers and sons how important strong bonds and daily activities are. I feel that children can never hear enough how much they are loved, cared for, and “perfectly designed.”

February 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Pretty Kitty, by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis

Beaumont, Karen. Pretty Kitty. Illustrated by Stephanie Laberis. Henry Holt, 2018. Unpaged. $17.99. ISBN 978-0805092325. Ages 4-6. P9 Q9

This book involves an older single man and a fun story that includes a counting and picture book all in one. A lonely man at home sees one kitty on his front step. He exclaims how he doesn’t want a kitty, so it needs to go. Then, with fun illustrations, each day an additional kitty shows up… then another… then many more. The man exclaims on each page what they might mess up, or problems they would create. As the story draws to a close, the lonely man finds he is no longer lonely. The illustrations are full of color and movement, and are great fun.

VERDICT: Children and adults will love reading this one out loud together. One can’t help but smile with every turn of the page.

December 2019 review by Lynne Wright.

Book review: Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races, by K.D. Halbrook

Halbrook, K. D. Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races. Henry Holt and Company, 2019. 323 pgs. $16.99. ISBN: 978-1-250-18107-7. Gr. 5+. P8 Q7

Silver Batal dreams of being a water dragon racer, which is hard as she lives in a part of the country which is covered by sand. Silver’s parents want her to follow in her father’s footsteps–he designs jewelry, something Silver does not want to do. When the king comes to her village the country’s greatest dragon racer is coming too.  She is Silver’s idol and Silver can’t wait to meet her. Silver is shocked to find out how rude she is. An old woman helps Silver to see her dreams when Silver discovers that she is hiding a water dragon, which also has a baby. All they have to do is make their way through the underground tunnels getting as close to the capital as possible without being discovered.

Verdict: Silver is a strong, determined young woman who is not afraid to go after what she wants, even though some of her choices get her into trouble. I love strong female characters who inspire young girls. I look forward to reading the other books in this series.

September 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Bunny In The Middle,by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Christopher Denise

Denise, Anika Aldamuy. Bunny In The Middle. Illustrated by Christopher Denise. Henry Holt and Company, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781250120366. Ages 3-9. P8 Q9

Being in the middle isn’t so bad. A lovable story following a sweet little bunny family and the bunny in the middle. An inspiring and uplifting story for any child deemed the “middle child”. This book shows all the positives to being the child in the middle. Helping your siblings, problem solving and exploring are just a few of the things you can accomplish being the bunny in the middle.  Empowering for all children. Beautiful colorful illustrations full of detail and character help you feel like you are in the book itself.

Verdict: A must have for any library. Teaches self confidence, love and working together.  Illustrations are so full of detail you never get tired of admiring them.

November 2019 review by Melissa Roberts.

Book review: The Great Gran Plan, by Elli Woollard, illustrated by Steven Lenton

Woollard, Elli. The Great Gran Plan. Illustrated by Steven Lenton. Henry Holt, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9781250186034. Unpaged. Ages 4-6 P8 Q8

What do you get when The Three Little Pigs crashes into Little Red Riding Hood? The Great Gran Plan! This story combines two beloved fairy tales and turns them into a new story full of fun twists and turns. Told in verse, the story begins with pig finding a note from the wolf revealing an evil top secret plot that involves Red Riding Hood’s Gran. Pig goes on a mission to foil the plot. Along the way he makes several hilarious stops to gather equipment to “Save That Gran!” Not finding exactly what he is looking for adds up to a surprising twist when he finally meets up with the wolf. Each page features vivid, colorful and humorous illustrations that will delight both child and adult readers. There are many other nursery rhyme characters embedded in the pages which add to the fun of reading the story.

Verdict: A fun read aloud, this book will do well in classrooms and the library. Young readers will love the new twist on two beloved stories. It would also be a great addition to a unit on fairy tales.

November 2019 review by Denyse Marsh.

Book review: Bunny Built, by Michael Slack

Slack, Michael. Bunny Built. Henry Holt, 2018. ISBN 978-1-62779-270-7. $17.99. 40 pages. Ages 2+. P8Q8

Super colorful illustrations digitally printed and collaged in Adobe Photoshop tell the story of an industrious bunny who cannot continue his work until he finds a carrot to satisfy his rumbly tummy.  On my first read through I thought the author spent far too much time on LaRue, the bunny, looking for a carrot, but by the end of the story it all comes together!  LaRue wouldn’t know how to help his friends without the backstory.  A great book based solely on the kindness of one very special bunny.

Verdict:  Cute artwork for a cuter story.  I recommend for everyone!

June 2019 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins, by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Ebony Glenn

Meadows, Michelle. Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins. Illustrated by Ebony Glenn. Henry Holt and Company, 2019. Unpaged. $17.99. ISBN 9781250127730. Ages 4-7. P7Q7

Graceful, though somewhat generic, Photoshop illustrations accompany the simple verses to create a biography of African American ballerina, Janet Collins.  Born in Louisiana in 1917, Collins faced racial segregation and discrimination to devote her life to dance.  Her first lessons were paid for by her mother sewing costumes for dancers and when Collins was finally invited to join a major ballet company, it was with the stipulation that she whiten her skin in order to blend in with the white dancers. She declined the “honor” and in 1951 became a prima ballerina with the Metropolitan Opera House.  Includes author’s note, list of resources, and websites.

Verdict: This is a pleasant book about an exceptional dancer who broke racial molds and opened the way for dancers of all races.  The “House that Jack built” rhyme style flows pleasantly, but nowhere in the verses is the ballerina named.  I think this is a major oversight in a biography about a pioneering artist.  The author’s note helps make up for the lack. Recommended for kindergarten, elementary and public library collections.

May 2019 review by Jane Cothron

Book review: Emerson Barks, by Liza Woodruff

Woodruff, Liza. Emerson Barks. Henry Holt, 2016. $16.99. ISBN 978162779167. Unp. Ages 6-10. P8 Q9

When Emerson’s bark scares the neighbor’s cat, causing her to run away, he is not allowed to bark. Although he loves to bark, the dog shows self-discipline and restraint in doing what his owner Eva needs him to do. Finally, he barks when he finds the neighbor’s lost cat, and everyone is grateful.

Verdict: The fun ending and cute illustration is enhanced by the meowing kittens that annoy the neighbor.

January 2017 review by Deborah Gwynn.