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I Am a Story

Dan Yaccarino. Harper, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-241106-8

In understated words and bold cartoons, Yaccarino (Billy and Goat at the State Fair) traces storytelling from humanity’s earliest days to the present. Writing in the voice of story itself, he portrays evolving methods of conveying stories, printed and otherwise, while illuminating the pivotal roles they have played across eras and cultures. The opening lines (“I am a story. I was told around a campfire”) accompany an image of a group of primitive humans gathered around a roaring fire, the storyteller’s arms aloft as outlines of zodiac figures float in the night sky above. Yaccarino’s sparse narrative avoids historical specifics while including enough details to make explicit the numerous ways stories can be told, including hieroglyphics, medieval tapestries, theater, radio, film, and other technologies. Scenes of book burnings and protests text speak strongly to the power of words, along with the more positive imagery. Yaccarino’s global scope, as well as a contemporary campfire scene that brings the book full circle, cements the idea that the stories we share are a profound source of human connection. Ages 4–8. Agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Home at Last

Vera B. Williams, illus. by Chris Raschka. Greenwillow, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-134973-7

Lester loves living in his new home with Daddy Rich, Daddy Albert, and their funny old dog, Wincka. Keeping his suitcase packed with his “best action toys” makes Lester feel safe, but every night, he appears by Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert’s bedside. It takes Lester weeks to voice his fears: “What if somebody comes and takes me away right in the middle of the night?” It’s Wincka who finally solves the problem, and she does it so well that Daddy Albert says, “Maybe Wincka should have adopted Lester instead of us.” Full of tender everyday moments, Raschka’s sunny, loosely stroked paintings lull readers into Lester’s new life. The family lives simply in a peaceful neighborhood, they share pancakes in bed on Sundays, and Williams and Raschka embrace the challenges of building a new family (Daddy Albert blows his stack in frustration, and Daddy Rich cries at the sight of one of Lester’s tears), as well as the joys. Williams’s gift was capturing candid moments of pure love, and this, her final story before her death in 2015, offers a string of them. Ages 4–8. Illustrator’s agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon

Torben Kuhlmann, trans. from the German by David Henry Wilson. NorthSouth (IPS, dist.), $19.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-7358-4262-5

Kuhlmann’s Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse is a hard act to follow, but this companion book doesn’t disappoint. Its young mouse hero is plagued by difficulties from the moment he resolves to explore space. Although he finds an ally in an elderly mouse at the Smithsonian (the mouse from Lindbergh grown old, readers will conclude), he loses his workshop and most of his designs in a fire, then has to elude G-men in fedoras who pursue him on arson charges. The agents and their German shepherds are on the mouse’s heels as he launches his tin-can rocket through the chimney. His mission is a success, though only the mice know about it—until human astronauts land on the moon and discover a tiny flag. As with the previous book, Kuhlmann’s artwork is the real star. Every spread is drafted with remarkable imaginative power (the mouse’s handsewn spacesuit enchants, as does an early experimental vessel, a firecracker attached to a roller skate), while the space scenes are NASA-worthy. This adventure will easily win Kuhlmann even more fans. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Toby

Hazel Mitchell. Candlewick, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7636-8093-0

Inspired by her own dog’s adoption story, illustrator Mitchell’s (Kenya’s Art) first book as author centers on a boy who has moved into a new neighborhood with his (presumably single) father. Featuring a pale color scheme dominated by blues and beiges, the mixed-media art, displayed in full-page and panel configurations, dominates the pages. The perfunctory text consists of the boy’s succinct commentary and dialogue with his father. “Well, if you promise to take care of it, we can,” says the man in response to his son’s request for a dog. At a shelter, the child selects Toby, a furry, floppy-eared dog who has difficulty adjusting to his new life, despite the boy’s prodding and training efforts. After the father suggests, “Maybe Toby isn’t the right dog for us after all,” the dog rapidly picks up a few tricks. But while it seems clear that Toby has found his home, the story doesn’t end so much as stop, abruptly. The highlight of this getting-to-know-you tale is Mitchell’s visual channeling of her characters’ emotions, both human and canine. Ages 4–6. Agent: Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Halfway Wild

Laura Freudig, illus. by Kevin M. Barry. Islandport, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-934031-48-3

A tight-knit family shifts into a variety of human-animal hybrids as they spend a day together. One of the children narrates, explaining that her family is “never the same from one day to the next.” When they “start to buzz and tumble” at daybreak, “we’re a family of bumblebees,” writes debut author Freudig. And when the siblings and their grandmother splash around in a puddle, “we’re a family of ducks,” all three gaining webbed feet and long, feathery wings. Barry’s (Schnitzel) caricatured aesthetic fits the unusual goings-on, even if the results aren’t always appealing in a traditional sense (during the family’s antlike walk to the beach, Dad uses his bulging insect abdomen to balance a beach ball, umbrella, and other supplies). Additionally, the logic to the transformations can be fuzzy: while it makes sense that the family would become seals while playing in the sea or skunks when baths are overdue, it’s less clear what gulping down water after a spicy meal has to do with foxes or why getting paint-spattered during an art project would invoke (mostly black-and-white) puffins. Ages 3–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Ants ’n’ Uncles

Clay Rice. Familius (IPS, dist.), $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-942934-68-4

Rice takes a more playful tack than he did in 2014’s The Stick in this story about an uncle with literal ants in his pants, which send him on an around-the-world dance-a-thon. The man’s niece, a girl with twin braids and a plaid dress, narrates his journey, which Rice captures in swoopy, cut-paper silhouettes that caricature the man’s features, especially his oversize, ever-moving feet. As the girl’s uncle travels, “He two-stepped through Texas/ Merengued through Mexico/ As he cancanned through Costa Rica/ He really put on a show.” Postcards and scenes framed to look like vintage travel posters bring a cosmopolitan air to the pages as Rice highlights the Eiffel Tower, Egyptian pyramids, and other landmarks. A repeated refrain (“Ants ’n’ uncles, uncles ’n’ ants,/ dancin’ the world with ants in his pants./ Goin’ where he’s never been before/ on his un-ant-ticipated world tour”) gives the rhymes a musicality that reflects the author’s songwriting background. Though the closing joke fizzles (“If you see my uncle, tell him... he’s three months late for summer”), there’s enough silliness throughout to keep readers entertained. Ages 3–6. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Ninjabread Man

C.J. Leigh, illus. by Chris Gall. Orchard, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-545-81430-0

A sensei bakes a gingerbread cookie treat for his animal pupils, but the ninja cookie who emerges from the oven has other ideas, as every fan of this cumulative tale knows. In Leigh’s pseudonymously written version, the Ninjabread Man runs toward, rather than away from, the other characters, challenging each one to a fight and winning (“Try, try as best as you can, you can’t beat me, I’m the Ninjabread Man!”) until a fox dispatches the cookie by maintaining his meditative cool. Leigh’s story is at its best when it’s taking advantage of the comedic disconnect between action-movie seriousness and yummy baked goods, which extends to both the narration (“Suddenly, a sweet scent filled the night air. Danger was near”) and dialogue (“Ninjabread Man!” shouts Ninja Bear. “You will make a mighty morsel!”). Gall’s (Little Red’s Riding ’Hood) flat compositions, rendered in muted tones, don’t really tap into the humor to the same degree, though, and the cast of animal martial artists (which includes both panda and snake characters) can’t help but feel like a Kung Fu Panda redux. Ages 3–5. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Monday Is Wash Day

MaryAnn Sundby, illus. by Tessa Blackham. Ripple Grove (Midpoint Trade, dist.), $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-9913866-6-6

A young unnamed narrator describes helping her mother and sister, Annie, with the family’s weekly laundry chores at a time when crank-operated wringers and clotheslines were integral to the process. “First we work and then we play” is the family’s motto, but this story, the first children’s book for both Sundby and Blackham, is mostly concerned with the former. In exacting detail, the girl describes how she and Annie gather soiled items from around their farmhouse (a green early-20th-century oven sits in the kitchen, primly patterned wallpapers and white wainscoting line the walls), fill the washer and rinse tubs, and help wash and dry the linens (“Sheets and towels on the outside line. Shirts and blouses on the middle line”). Washes of pale color, delicate pencil detailing, and cut-paper collage elements create an expansive and inviting domestic backdrop, as Blackham uses wrinkled paper to evoke rumpled fabric and white string for clotheslines and apron ties. Beyond offering a glimpse of bygone household routines, the story is a quiet reminder of the pleasures of a job well done. Ages 2–7. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Is That Wise, Pig?

Jan Thomas. Beach Lane, $14.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4169-8582-2

Mouse is cooking up some soup, and Cow and Pig are eager to help. But while Cow grasps the concept of “soup ingredient,” Pig does not. “Here is one onion!” Mouse says. “Here are two cabbages!” Cow says. “And here are... three umbrellas!” Pig says. Cow and Mouse respond to Pig’s unconventional contributions with the declaration of book’s title—a relatively even-tempered approach that nods to nonconfrontational, teachable-moment parenting techniques. Even when it’s Pig’s turn to toss six of something into the pot, and he offers an armful of galoshes, his friends refuse to throw in the towel (figuratively speaking, of course). Not only does Pig finally get the hang of it but he also proves that bringing galoshes and umbrellas to a soup-making session might not be such a bad idea—if one has invited 10 messy pigs. Thomas (Let’s Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy) keeps the detail in her candy-colored cartoons to a bare minimum: with characters this expressive and comic rhythms this sharp, why gild the lily? Bonus: “Is that wise, Pig?” makes an excellent family catchphrase. Up to age 8. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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