Book review: Summer, by Cao Wenxuan, illustrated by Yu Rong, translation by Yan Ding, adapted by Erin Stein

Cao, Wenxuan. Summer. Illustrated by Yu Rong. Translation by Yan Ding. Adapted by Erin Stein. Imprint, 2019. $18.99. ISBN 9781250310064. Unpaged. Ages 4-8 P7Q8

It’s a hot summer day, and animals and people alike are finding ways to escape the heat. However, on the savanna, relief is hard to come by  and all the animals are desperate for some shade. Thinking of only themselves, the animals quarrel as they try to cool off. When a human father and son walk across the dry grassland, creating a shadow, the animals suddenly become silent, and an idea is born. The middle pages of the book cleverly portray this idea as the animals find that cooperating and working together is the answer to their dilemma. The cut paper and pencil artwork in the book add to the overall message of the power of kindness and sharing.

Verdict: A fun book to read with a great message. Children will enjoy the novelty of the pages in the middle section of the book.

September 2019 review by Denyse Marsh.

[Editor’s note: The book, originally published in China, argues the benefits of cooperating to find solutions to mutual problems, but falls a bit short of the goal.  Though the illustrations show what appears to be an African savannah scene, the animals include a lynx and a brown bear–animals not found in Africa–and the solution leaves the largest animal still standing in the hot sunshine.]

Book review: The Wolf Who Solved the Mystery of the Missing Mask, by Orianne Lallemand, illustrated by Claire Frossard, translated by MaryChris Bradley

Lallemand, Orianne. The Wolf Who Solved the Mystery of the Missing Mask. Illus. by Claire Frossard. Trans. by MaryChris Bradley. Auzou, 2019. Unp. $14.95. ISBN 978-1-7338-67402-2. Ages 4-7. P8Q8

Quirky bold illustrations begin with a black wolf sporting a huge, long nose who grumpily goes to a museum with his friends because he wants to be with Wolfette. The narrative proceeds with punny artists’ names, beginning with Leonardo da Wolfinci, and Wolf wanders on by himself. A missing tribal mask traumatizes the little guard, Barnabas, and Wolf sets out to uncover the perpetrator, finding more clues and pieces of the museum. The gentle story finishes with the discovery that Wolf’s friend, Miss Yeti, had taken the mask because it looked like her father. All ends happily when Miss Yeti buys a replica of the mask in the gift shop and Wolf falls in love with a painting that looks like his forest.

Verdict: Twists and turns take the reader through a museum, a mystery, and a relationship that ends in pure joy.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: A Surprise for Little Mole, by Orianne Lallemand, illustrated by Claire Frossard, translated by MaryChris Bradley

Lallemand, Orianne. A Surprise for Little Mole. Illus. by Claire Frossard. Trans. by MaryChris Bradley. Auzou, 2019. Unp. $14.95. ISBN 978-1-7338-6732-7. Ages 4-7. P8Q8

Watercolors in soft hues provide the background for Little Mole’s discovery of a baby on the doorstep. She feeds the panda-like creature that she calls Who-zit before they set out to find the parents. Each animals’ family sends her on: the rabbits to the bear family, the bears to badgers, and the badger to an owl before a wolf tries to take the baby. The forest families rescue Little Mole and Who-zit, and owl guides them to the zoo. Leaving Who-zit with its parents, Little Mole goes home, lonely, where she discovers that her friends have given her a birthday party.

Verdict: The warm, loving story shows the importance of caring and friendship, and the lovely illustrations highlight the tale.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Hey There, Earth Dweller! Dive into This World We Call Earth, by Marc ter Horst, illustrated by Wendy Panders, translated by Laura Watkinson

Horst, Marc ter. Hey There, Earth Dweller! Dive into This World We Call Earth.  Illus by Wendy Panders. Trans. by Laura Watkinson. Beyond Words/Aladdin, 2019. 176p. $19.99. ISBN 978-1-58270-656-6. Ages 9-12. P7Q7

From the earth’s core to the top atmospheric layer, fascinating information is enlivened and enriched by whimsical cartoonish drawings and photographs of natural phenomena. The book begins with the creation of the universe and moves on to the solar system and the earth’s depths and water before moving on to climate change and the end of the world. Chapters begin with entertaining stories such as the man who went 24 miles into the atmosphere in 2012, four times higher than airplanes travel.

Verdict: Sometime the author stretches his analogies a bit—for example—using groups of mice to explain how the moon’s gravity creates tides, and he claimed that “your grandmother” probably didn’t have a watch. First written and published in the Netherlands, the book has a European emphasis but still contains great charm and pieces of universal knowledge. The pieces on surviving extreme weather events are useful, and the migration of humans around the world interesting. No index.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Farmer, by Ximo Abadia, translated by Grace Maccarone

Abadia, Ximo. The Farmer. Holiday House, 2019. Translated by Grace Maccarone. $17.99. ISBN 9780823441587.  Unpaged. Ages 3-6. P6Q7

Paul is a farmer. And like most farmers, he never rests. He is working from dawn until dusk, and when the rain doesn’t come, he despairs for his crops. The rain does come, though, and all is well. I really enjoyed this odd book. The text is simple and spare, and the illustrations seem childlike at first, but they actually have a lot of humor in them (especially the mole holes that have moles, and as the book progresses, we see Pauls in the holes too- keeping watch over his farm) and are quite clever. The spread with the huge orange sun beating down on the poor seedlings makes a big impression. Originally published in French in 2017.

VERDICT: This book would be a good story about farm life to read to a child who likes to look closely at details.

May 2019 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: A Surprise for Mrs. Tortoise, by Paula Merlán, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, translated by Ben Dawlatly and Kim Griffin

Merlán, Paula. A Surprise for Mrs. Tortoise. Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer. Translated by Ben Dawlatly and Kim Griffin. NubeOcho, 2017. $16.95. ISBN 9788494633348. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7Q7

This story, originally written in Spanish, is about friendship. Mrs. Tortoise is depressed after seeing her reflection in the pond. She feels old and tired, and doesn’t know what to do. Her best friend Birdie tries a variety of things to cheer her up- covering her in starlight, flowers and clouds, and eventually finds a way- a bright paint job on her shell. The lush watercolor illustrations were my favorite part of this book- there are lots of small, strange details to look at, and the rich colors and whimsical style made me happy. The story is odd but cute, and Mrs. Tortoise makes a heartfelt apology for being mean to Birdie- it’s nice when children see characters trying to make things right.

VERDICT: The artwork and sweet story will appeal to children and parents too.

May 2019 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Deogratias: a Tale of Rwanda, by J.P. Stassen, translated by Alexis Siegel

Stassen, J.P. Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda. Trans by Alexis Siegel. Intro. By Beata Umubyeyi Mairesse. First Second. 2018. $21.99. 78p. ISBN 978-1-250-18964-6. Ages 15+. P9Q9

Early in the 20th century, Germans and Belgians made one Rwandan tribe, the Tutsis, the elite ruling group over the poorer farming Hutus. In 1994, the Hutus rose in rebellion to exterminate the Tutsis and killing 800,000 people in 100 days. This genocide is seen through the eyes of Deogratias, “thanks be to God,” a Hutu teenager in love with Apollinaria, a Tutsi. As darkness descends through the brutal revels in the graphic novel, he goes from an ordinary boy to believing that he is a dog, possibly from the toxic banana beer that he drinks to forget the past. The narrative also includes the hypocrisy of whites, some of them priests, who go to Rwanda to help the people but simply use them for their own means. Black bordered panels depict current events, and borderless panels represent the past war and carnage as the boy goes through his transformation by being forced into murdering two Tutsi friends. The heaviness of the boy’s experiences is heightened by the black outlines of people and the dark hues.

Verdict: Some people may consider Stassen’s grim narrative inappropriate for teenagers, but it shows the life of many people in the world as massacres occur throughout the world and people continue their inhumane behavior. This brilliant work communicates the horror and heartbreaking lives of ordinary Hutus who were unable to avoid the tragedy of their country.

April 2019 review by Nel Ward.

[Editor’s note: Originally published in Belgium by Dupuis, Deogratias won the 2000 Goscinny Prize for outstanding graphic novel script.]