Lily Leads the Way by Margi Preus,  illustrated by Matt Myers

Lily Leads the Way by Margi Preus,  illustrated by Matt Myers. Candlewick Press, 2022. 9781536214031

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  Lily’s a small sailboat with a tall mast and needs the lift bridge to open so she can go out onto the lake to see the tall ships visiting her harbor. With her white hull, large “eyes” (the windows of her cabin), and painted smile, she’s cute and friendly-looking. But the big boats also need to get out onto the lake and keep pushing ahead of her, each with its own unique loud horn: first an ore boat, then a seagoing vessel, a tugboat, and a coast guard cutter. Finally Lily manages to slip under and greet the beautiful old sailing ships. But when they parade back toward the harbor, the big ships are silent. It’s up to Lily to blast her small horn, “Meee-me! Mee-Me!” and hope that the bridge goes up in time! 

This is a book for young readers who are fascinated with all things nautical. Myers’s stunning oil paintings bring each ship to life and give us closeups of their unique features: smoke stacks on the oar boat, bumpers on the tug, and communications arrays on the cutter. The tall ships are the stars though, with their snapping flags, crisp sails, and even a King Neptune figurehead on the barquentine. Myers’s work is so eye-popping and crisp, so full of texture and depth that it really shows up the flatness of the digital art that’s taking over children’s picture books. Back matter includes information on types of bridges and the location of this unique one (it can be found at the westernmost end of the Great Lakes). Preus also relates her own adventures in a small sailboat with a tall mast and how they inspired Lily’s story.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book?  This would make a good read aloud for students ages 4-8 who love boats and adults who want a story to read instead of yet another DK book with pictures of various ships. Storytime might get noisy as you ask students to make the ships sounds along with you! The small but brave Lily makes an appealing heroine and kids will appreciate her perseverance and grit.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: May 22, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, *Starred Review, Margi Preus, Ships | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Homework by Ashwin Guha,  illustrated by Vaibhav Kumaresh

The Homework by Ashwin Guha,  illustrated by Vaibhav Kumaresh. Karadi Tales, 2021. 9788194407126

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Paperback picture book

What did you like about the book?  Bhattu and Kittu (possibly twin brothers?) have short, shaggy black hair and two different styles of nerdy glasses. They’ve forgotten to do their homework, which involves gathering facts about a land mammal and creating a report and poster. Caught short, they turn to their know-it-all big sister Meena, who has a wealth of information about the rhinoceros. She fills in all the brothers’ knowledge gaps: it’s a big animal with a horn on its nose, it’s as big as a van, it has 4 legs, etc. Bhattu begins to draw while Kittu takes notes. The next day, they read their hand-written report, but the laughs come when they show their drawing, which resembles a 4-legged armored tank with a bicycle horn on the end of its nose. The artwork for the book was very slapdash and scribbly in a way that recalls last minute homework assignments, which was well-suited to the story and lots of fun. The figures are collage cutouts drawn with heavy markers and then set against spiral bound notebook paper, with lots of smudges. The last page shows the drawings of the entire class: a lion, a cow, an elephant, a giraffe, and right in the middle, the boys’ ridiculous rhino. Everyone in the book is Indian.

Anything you didn’t like about it? As a school librarian, I didn’t care for the assignment (fill-in-the-blanks with no critical thinking tasks) or the reliance on Meena for all the answers! I guess one of the takeaways could be that you need to set aside time to do homework and find an authoritative source so you don’t end up like Bhattu and Kittu. But the situation was really just played for laughs, so I’m not sure that message comes through very well. It did also seem unlikely to me that elementary-school age boys would be that ignorant about rhinos…

To whom would you recommend this book?  It could be useful in library lessons or in a classroom setting when talking about good and bad homework strategies.

Who should buy this book? Elementary school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: May 22, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, Ashwin Guha, Homework, Vaibhav Kumaresh | Tagged | Leave a comment

Quiet! By Céline Claire,  illustrated by Magali Le Huche

Quiet! by Céline Claire,  illustrated by Magali Le Huche, translated by Mirielle Messier. Milky Way Picture Books, c2018, 2021. 9781990252044

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  What happens when what you wish for turns out to not be what you want? Mr. Martin, living alone with his black cat, loves peace and quiet. His neighbors try to oblige, even holding down the noise when a circus comes to town, but it’s so much fun that eventually the sound leaks out. Angry Mr. Martin storms into the hardware store and decides to try an expensive magical solution. Following the directions on a mysterious can, he creates a giant blue bubble that encases his house and yard. It works! Inside the shimmery walls, everything is peaceful. But the silence is also deafening; Mr. Martin feels cut off and alone. One little boy notices his distress and rallies the town but alas, the tough bubble resists their efforts to break through. Finally the children all combine their soft sweet voices and burst the bubble, freeing Mr. Martin who begins dancing. He’s learned his lesson: enjoy the sweet music of life. The very cute pen and ink illustrations with bright digital color accents show an energetic, diverse, and colorful town and reminded me of master illustrator Jules Feiffer, especially his classic drawings for The Phantom Tollbooth.

Anything you didn’t like about it? There wasn’t much suspense – it was pretty easy to predict that Mr. Martin was going to end up regretting living inside a giant bubble, cut off from all human contact. I also found it hard to work up much sympathy for him; his only defining characteristic was a need for quiet. The translation from the French was a bit stiff.

To whom would you recommend this book?  The illustrations are very quaint and interesting, which may draw young readers. Maybe children who have family members who always want QUIET!  (here I’m thinking older relatives) may relate to Mr. Martin’s desire for silence.

Who should buy this book? Public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: May 21, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, Céline Claire, Magali Le Huche | Tagged | Leave a comment

Bumblebee Grumblebee by David Elliot

Bumblebee Grumblebee by David Elliot. Gecko Press, c2021, 2022. 9781776574025

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Board book

What did you like about the book?  Very cute illustrations anchor this board book that has a lot of fun with rhymes and animal names. On each left-side page, we see the animal and its name as it starts a human activity, for example, an elephant holds a pink tutu. On the facing page, she’s stepped into her outfit and become a balletphant! A buffalo takes a bath but on the facing page picks up a blow dryer, turning into a fluffalo. A pelican walks along…to the toilet where he’s now dubbed a smellican. And so on. The adorable drawings are done with watercolor and pencil, and the animals are cuddly but recognizable, in both their before and after shots. By the end, the turtle has become a squirtle as he grabs a hose and sprays all his friends. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book?  Perfect for sharing with a toddler. Although the rhymes and puns will mostly be fun for adult readers, even young children will enjoy laughing at the silly animal antics. This board book is creative and different enough from what’s out there to be worth adding to your collection.

Who should buy this book? Day care centers and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Board books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: May 21, 2022

Posted in Board book, *Picture Book, *Book Review, Animals, Rhyming, Author, David Elliott | Tagged | Leave a comment

Big Truck Little Island by Chris Van Dusen

Big Truck Little Island by Chris Van Dusen. Candlewick Press, 2022. 9781536203936

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  In a book as big as the vehicle in question, a heavily laden truck makes its way to a small island via a ride from a snub-nosed tug boat. “The cargo it carried was all under wraps, tied to the trailer with buckles and straps”, which heightens our anticipation. Next we see the small, lush,  green, and rocky island from the air, and the (only) twisty turny road, which the truck will be taking. We zoom in on the driver seated in the big red cab and then gasp as his eyes bug out; rounding a curve he feels the load sliding and his tires skidding off the road into the soft mud. The truck’s not going anywhere for a while and the traffic starts to back up in front and behind. On one side, families are bound for swim meets and ballet classes, while on the other side, kids are late for homework projects and a skunky dog’s bath is threatened. It’s the kids who figure out that the families can simply switch cars and still keep to their schedules, trading back once the truck gets towed. And what’s under the tarp? A glittering Ferris wheel that’s the star of the island fair. 

This book showcases many terrific themes in an attractive package. The gouache illustrations are vivid and gorgeous, with many entertaining details to pick out: the driver’s “Mom” tattoo, the wild animals quizzically examining the crisis from afar, the poor mom stuck with her stinky dog and wearing a clothespin on her nose… Of course, there’s lots of vehicles to examine, for those obsessed with things that go. The island inhabitants are diverse, with White, Asian, and Black kids and parents; sharp eyes will also see a boy in a wheelchair at the fair. The concrete example of decision making is great and you’ll want to stop in the middle of the book to ask young readers for their ideas on how to solve the problem. Van Duen’s rhymes are simple and effective and definitely add some propulsion to the story as the minutes tick by and everyone’s worried about being late. Apparently the story was inspired by a real life stuck truck on the island of Vinalhaven in Maine, which resulted in exactly the solution shown here (although that truck was carrying wind turbine blades).

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book?  Perfect for story time! I can see this being a big hit with kids from ages 4-8. Van Dusen has cleverly created a book with many valuable lessons that nevertheless proves exciting and engaging. Great for lessons on critical thinking and cooperation!

Who should buy this book? Elementary school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: May 21, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, *Starred Review, Chris Van Dusen, Illustrator, Transportation | Tagged | Leave a comment

How to Bake a Universe by Alec Carvlin,  illustrated by Brian Briggs

How to Bake a Universe by Alec Carvlin,  illustrated by Brian Briggs. W.W. Norton, 2022. 9781324004233

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  This frothy picture book looks and feels zany even though it’s also providing solid information on cosmology and astrophysics. Even before we get to the sly text, the cover with its Pop Art explosion of colors pouring out of a vintage oven, about to be opened by a girl chef, and its bright pink endpapers signal that the science lesson we’re about to get will be fun. Using recipe talk, Carvlin matter-of-factly reels off everything we’re going to need for our baking project: a whole lot of nothing, a temperature dial that goes up to Absolute Hot, and 377,000 years to wait while the universe cooks. Then a “bang” will signal more waiting, about 180 million years to see stars start to form, and then another 13.6 billion years before the whole thing will be ready to “serve.” Heavy black lines and eye-popping colors dance across all-white pages, with the girl’s apartment and surroundings recalling Lyle Crocodile’s house on East 88th Street. There’s a nice message of inclusivity at the end as the little girl (who’s White) sees other universes “next door”: one with a Black boy and another with a green ET “because a universe isn’t complete until it belongs to everyone.” According to the author information, this is Carvlin’s first picture book and he doesn’t have a science background, which may help explain the book’s charm and accessibility. He has provided endnotes on each part of the fanciful text with more solid information, a glossary, a timeline of the Big Bang, and a list of his sources.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book?  A great read aloud choice for children interested in astrophysics. Carvlin incorporates lots of sensorial details into the text that could make this a participatory text as the girl baker yells “I’m ready!” or the planets begin to pop up and dance around. With its bright, simple illustrations, it could even work with larger groups or classrooms. I can imagine some wonderful craft projects to go along with this book!

Who should buy this book? Elementary school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes! 

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: May 22, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, *Starred Review, Alec Carvlin, Brian Briggs, Humor, Physics, Science, STEM | Tagged | Leave a comment

Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Adventure by Lewis Hancox

Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Adventure by Lewis Hancox. Graphix, 2022. 9781338824438

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Paperback ARC (publication date June 7, 2022), graphic novel

Genre: Memoir

What did you like about the book?  This graphic memoir of a trans teen growing up in early aughts England uses a unique framing device: adult Lewis (as a man) narrates and occasionally interacts with teenage Lois (as a girl), awkwardly navigating high school and college. We get to follow Lois from, according to Grandpa,  “tomboy” behavior and a childhood rejection of dresses, into puberty, as curves and breasts undermine the teen’s male identity. Skateboarding, goth-wear, art, and a best friend named Jess help Lois survive St. Hell (short for St. Helen’s) and a divorced set of parents are loving, if a bit clueless. Lois also struggles with questions about sexual orientation; one kiss with a cute guy named Barney is enough to assure the teen that boys are not the desired love object. Is Lois a lesbian? That doesn’t seem to fit either. It’s not until art college, an eating disorder, and a string of failed romances that Lois finally finds a doctor who passes the teen on to a psychologist who delivers the news: in order for the National Health Service to pay for Lois to begin transitioning, the teen must live for a year as a man without medical treatment (remember, it’s the early 2000s). It’s a great relief to finally begin hormone treatment, eventual top surgery, and meet other trans patients. 

Hancox has a great ear for dialog and this is a complex but ultimately uplifting story with plenty of awkward humor. Lois’s divorced parents are lovable goofs: Mom always wearing a shlubby bathrobe, pushing salmon patties and a vacuum while Dad is a former rock-and-roller, pot-bellied and slightly dense. Working against type, they support Lois through all the confusion and decision-making, as do the loving grandparents. Friends, too, support Lois, although Jess initially expresses confusion. The black-and-white artwork is simple, blocky, literal, and frank with conventional panel arrangements that make it easy to follow the story. Lois is White, and Hancox used gray for Jess’s skin tone, indicating she’s a POC.

Anything you didn’t like about it? The British slang in the book and the mysteries of nationalized health care may be confusing for teen readers. There will apparently be an author’s note in the final version of the book that will hopefully provide more details and context, but it wasn’t present in the ARC. Similarly, I couldn’t tell if the published book would feature color illustrations or stick with the black-and-white.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Teen or adult readers interested in memoirs with queer characters. Lewis’s honesty about his early life and the supportive care of friends and family who helped him chart his “hellish” years will find many admirers.

Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Graphic novels

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: May 21, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, Memoir, LGBTQIA+, *Young Adult, Lewis Hancox | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Book of Living Secrets by Madeleine Roux

The Book of Living Secrets by Madeleine Roux. Quill Tree Books, HarperCollins, 2022. 9780062941428

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Supernatural, fantasy

What did you like about the book? Dreamy Adelle adores the romance novel Moira, about a tempestuous, beautiful, and wealthy heroine living in 19th century Boston. Her best friend Connie, sporty and loyal, has joined her in reading and re-reading the rare copy; both girls know it by heart. A visit to a shady local magic shop sends both girls into the book, although they land in different parts of the plot. But the Boston they enter bears no resemblance to the novel. Instead of enjoying garden parties, the city is derelict and lawless with its adult residents tormented by horrible dreams that send them marching into the sea. Connie ends up in a gang of bike riders called the Penny Farthings, led by a cowgirl named Mississippi. They steal from the rich in order to support those orphaned by the evil power roiling in the harbor. Meanwhile Adelle blunders into Moira’s world. Moira turns out to be a horrible person, but her best friend Orla is kind and helpful. In alternating chapters, Adelle and Connie work to find each other and once they do, combine forces to save the city.  The main characters are White, although taking a cue from Bridgerton, some characters of color are mixed in with anachronistic disregard.

I enjoyed parts of this escapist tale, with its shocking scenes of disorder and darkness. Roux’s eerie and creative world building owes a significant debt to H.P. Lovecraft’s Elder Gods and tentacled monsters. Adelle and Connie seemed like real friends, caring and accepting but also brave and resourceful, with well-developed personalities. During their dangerous sojourn, Connie finally feels comfortable with her queerness and gets to kiss a girl while Adelle learns that minor characters in the novel can be more helpful and virtuous than its stars. A twist at the end of the book may hint at a sequel and offers an intriguing extra bit of darkness. Great cover art!

Anything you didn’t like about it? Many chapters start with long italicized sections of the Moira novel, which were hackneyed. I couldn’t tell whether Roux meant them to be deliriously awful or if they just were. Occasionally the overbaked writing spilled over into the rest of the novel.   

To whom would you recommend this book?  Teens looking for supernatural stories crossed with historical fiction may enjoy this book as will Roux’s Asylum series fans. The fact that it can be read as a stand alone adds to its appeal.

Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA fiction, either in horror or fantasy

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: May 21, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Young Adult, Horror, Madeleine Roux, Supernatural, Time-travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mommy’s Hometown by Hope Lim,  illustrated by Jamie Kim

Mommy’s Hometown by Hope Lim,  illustrated by Jamie Kim. Candlewick Press, 2022. 9781536213324

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  A little boy grows up hearing his mom tell stories about her childhood in Korea, in a village surrounded by fields and graced with a beautiful river. Imagine his excitement when he learns that they will visit this wonderful place! But when they arrive, the city has encroached and nothing remains of the pastoral beauty she’s described. Then one afternoon, they find the river, now bordered by a bike path. Even though so much has changed, the river is still lovely, and they take off their shoes to wade on the edges, joining the many other families walking, playing with their dogs, and pushing strollers. As they head home to dinner with Grandma, the boy imagines that his mom is a child again and that they are playing under the red sky as the sun sets. This is a sweet and gentle story about childhood memories, going home, and overcoming small disappointments. The digital illustrations are cute and slick, with the cityscape in particular providing lots of interesting urban details: an old house amid the modern skyscrapers, pedestrians of all ages, and Korean-language signs.  

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book?  A great recommendation for families planning a trip to an ancestral home, whether it’s inside the U.S. or farther afield. Single moms and others seeking diversity will appreciate the warmth between mom and son in this small family. Everyone appears to be Korean or Korean-American, so libraries looking for books with Asian characters will want to add this one.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: May 19, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, Asian Americans, Author, Hope Lim, Korean Americans, Motherhood, Travel | Tagged | Leave a comment

Hummingbird Heart: A Memoir by Travis Dandro

Hummingbird Heart: A Memoir by Travis Dandro. Drawn & Quarterly, 2022. 9781770465626

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Paperback graphic novel

Genre: Memoir

What did you like about the book?  This introspective and truthful graphic memoir looks back at a sorrow-filled stretch in Dandro’s life as a teen. As the novel opens, Travis is reeling from the loss of his mostly absent father, caused by a drug overdose. Close on the heels of this tragedy comes his grandmother’s decline and eventual death from cancer. She’s a tough old bird, with a head that resembles a giant stalk of broccoli and Travis and his mom split her caretaking now that she’s bedridden. Emptying Grandma’s bed pan and colostomy bag requires all of Travis’s massive and loving heart; he’s so sleep deprived that we often see him nodding off in class. When his mom takes over, he’s released for short stretches, which he fills with an impromptu road trip to NYC, a job at a college cafeteria, a date with a cute girl, and a pumpkin-smashing prank with his buddies. The black-and-white artwork is textured and interesting, and the talk-bubbles don’t shy away from gross, teen banter or from frank and existential moments with Grandma. I especially enjoyed Travis’s frequent dream sequences, which sometimes took several pages to unravel and decode. Inanimate objects such as a grandfather clock, an elephant figurine, or an old painting, come to life periodically and reveal layers of sadness and loss. I liked the way Dandro was able to quickly convey plot points and background details with wordless panels (for example, the loss of his grandfather). Except for Travis’s friend Zung, all characters are White.

Anything you didn’t like about it? Although I enjoyed Dandro’s art, I often found it maddeningly difficult to identify characters or figure out exactly what was going on in the narrative, although this may be a matter of personal taste more than a deficit in the book. Other than Travis and his grandmother, other characters lacked depth, especially his mom, who remained a mystery.

To whom would you recommend this book?  The main character is in high school, but I wondered if this age group would find the book appealing. It’s pretty depressing and Travis’s caretaking responsibilities feel heavy. On the plus side, I did appreciate seeing a teen boy be so tender and caring with an elder relative. An obvious read alike would be Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Dando is also a Massachusetts author, from the town of Leicester.

Who should buy this book? There’s quite a bit of salty language in the book, plus a tame but obvious dream sequence with a hot nurse, so I’d say it’s for high school or more likely, adult collections.

Where would you shelve it? Graphic novels

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: May 19, 2022

Posted in *Book Review, *Young Adult, Coming of Age, Death, Grandparents, Travis Dando | Tagged | Leave a comment