Last impressions are always better than firsts: A Review of Invasion of the Unicorns

Invasion of the Unicorns
David Biedrzycki
Charlesbridge
October 19, 2021
Ages 4-8

Just past midnight, in a video arcade, there’s a burst of bright and colorful light. From it emerges Secret Agent Bubble07! Although he looks like a stuffed unicorn toy, he is actually an alien and a spy. His mission: collect data and decide if the alien unicorn army should invade Earth and make humans their servants. To do this, Agent Bubble07 allows himself to be captured by an Earthling family by posing as a stuffed animal in the claw machine. After three long days, a father outwits the machine and scoops up Agent Bubble07 for his daughter. Now, with a family to study, Agent Bubble07 will observe their every move. Will he tell headquarters that Earth should be invaded or will he discover that our planet is worth saving?

Invasion of the Unicorns is a fun and humorous picture book that shows that all people and ways of life are equal. It illustrates the importance of taking the time to learn about something or someone, rather than making judgements based on first impressions. If Agent Bubble07 attacked Earth based on how he felt on his 20th day here when the school kids were being rough with him, he wouldn’t have gotten to experience snow day on his 50th day. Each illustration has a grainy texture. There are also a few panels and full bleed pictures, adding variety and something unique to look at on each page. Biedrzycki starts the book with pictures in grayscale, only using limited color to represent Agent Bubble07’s presence. However, after the unicorn discovers the amazing things Earth offers, the pictures are filled with color. An excellent way to show how good things make life happy and vibrant. Biedrzycki’s unique story is a timeless reminder that, although we may have different cultures and traditions, they are all valuable.

Looking Towards Fall: A Review of The Leaf Thief

The Leaf Thief 
Alice Hemming 
Illustrated by Nicola Slater 
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky 
August 3, 2021 
Ages 4-8 

Squirrel wakes up one day to find that some of the leaves on his tree are missing. He concludes that there is a Leaf Thief on the loose and accuses other animals of having stolen his leaves. Over time, more leaves disappear, and Squirrel continues to panic, prompting Bird to show him the true Leaf Thief. Bird explains that the wind is taking the leaves, that this happens every year in autumn, and that the leaves will grow back in the spring, finally putting Squirrel at ease. 

Hemming primarily uses dialogue to tell the story, with different fonts used for each character. The text is laid out differently on each page, with large text used to accentuate Squirrel’s rising panic. He reacts dramatically to the situation, turning to his friend Bird for guidance. Despite the humorous nature of the situation, Bird takes Squirrel seriously, aptly explaining why the leaves are disappearing. Slater’s illustrations depict rich and vivid environments through a mixture of two-page spreads, single page spreads, and pages split into panels that make the storyline more dynamic. The colors of the autumn leaves are a focal point, though even the pages that do not depict leaves are full of vibrant colors. Paint and graphite textures scanned over the digital art give it a unique feel. Back matter further explains the changes that autumn brings. The Leaf Thief is a humorous story that will leave young readers amused while also providing information about a change they see around them in a straightforward and fun way. 

Add a pinch of belly button lint: A Review of Boo Stew

Boo Stew
Donna L. Washington
Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
Peachtree
Available September 1, 2021
Ages 3-7

Curly Locks, the most disgustingly imaginative cook in Toadsuck Swamp, just hasn’t found the right audience for her culinary creations. When a group of spooky Scares (one larger than the last) make their way out of the swamp and into the mayor’s kitchen, the townsfolk are scared silly. Only Curly Locks knows what to do—cook for them! She whips up the best batch of Boo Stew east of the Mississippi and lures the Scares right back to the swamp with promises of feasts to come and satisfaction at finally finding those that appreciate her cooking.

In this twist on the Goldilocks tale, Washington’s background as a traditional storyteller shines through in the structure, repetition, and the Southern vernacular that bring the inhabitants of Toadsuck Swamp to vivid life. Her heroine breaks the mold of the most Goldilocks’, with a bolder personality, grand self-confidence, and belief in her ability to make a difference. The text is based on an oral telling from her 2006 recording Angels’ Laughter. Jeffrey Ebbeler has created a diverse cast of hilariously terrified townsfolk that help to highlight Curly Locks’ gumption and bravery, further setting her apart from the often insipid traditional Goldilocks. His sepia toned illustrations and shadowy, bear-like Scares lend a suitably spooky setting and some Southern gothic flare to this fine addition to both folktale and Halloween collections. 

Finding Kinship: A Review of I Am a Bird

I Am a Bird
Hope Lim
Illustrated by Hyewon Yum
Candlewick Press
Available February 2, 2021
Ages 3-7

A young girl joyfully embraces her morning commute, imagining herself a bird flying to school on the back of her father’s bicycle. She waves to friends and neighbors, and sings to her fellow birds as they soar by. A stern older woman is the only thing to dim her smile, when curiosity fights with anxiety about the unknown person and her unfriendly behavior. Her stranger-danger only increases until the day they discover the woman feeding and singing to the girl’s beloved birds. Maybe they’re not so different after all. Hope Lim’s gentle tale of discovering kinship in the most unlikely place is perfect for our current moment of division. The juxtaposition of the little girl’s joy and the woman’s dejected countenance help build enough tension that the revelation of their commonality feels like a celebration. Hyewon Yum’s vibrant colored pencil and gouache illustrations blend an almost architectural precision with softer, freehand coloring and embellishments (and sweet birds). Her emotive faces amplify the story’s sentiment—the girl’s joy and anxiety, the friendliness of their South Korean community, and the woman’s transformation. A sweet reminder that we can all be happier when we focus more on our similarities than our differences.

Beyond the stars: A Review of Lights on Wonder Rock

Lights on Wonder Rock
David Litchfield
Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
September 9, 2020
Ages 4-8

Heather was searching for something more—magic, friendship, adventure, and aliens! So she spends her nights at Wonder Rock, doing all she can to attract the attention of a spaceship. When she finally gets her chance to jump aboard, Heather realizes she doesn’t want to leave her family behind. She grows up, loses the wonder of childhood, and has a family of her own, but never gives up waiting for her alien friend. When at last they return, Heather once again recognizes that she might already have all she needs here on Earth.

Litchfield’s thoughtful story explores themes of longing, hope, and curiosity about what other lives may be out there for us. His use of dark and muted tones for the forest, juxtaposed with the colorful and sparkling pages where the spaceship appears, help to set off the difference between how Heather sees her life and her expectations about what might await her in outer space. Double-page spreads of wordless panels put a unique focus on the two most important relationships in the story, with her son and her alien friend, and explain the pull she feels between them. Throughout, Litchfield cleverly uses light—sun, moon, and flashlight beams—to focus on Heather’s emotions and the devotion she feels to both her family and her dreams.

Dog Meets Boy: A review of I Always Wanted One

I Always Wanted One cover artI Always Wanted One
Olivier Tallec
Quarto
August 18, 2020
Ages 4-8

Dog has always wanted a boy of his very own, but quickly learns that it’s not all fun and games. Having a boy is a big responsibility—training, feeding, grooming, and figuring out where he wanders off to all day with his bag of books. But even after all the work and all the years, where the boy has “grown bigger and takes up all the room on my couch,” Dog is proud of his boy, and they “remain the best of friends in the world.”

In this twist on the age-old friendship between a boy and his dog, Tallec flips the script and the prescribed emotions of each. Dog has the duties of responsible ownership, and his dry humor and droll observations illustrate that it can be work. But his thoughtful reflections on their evolving relationship demonstrate his devotion to boy. Tallec’s subtle pencil and watercolor illustrations complement the understated text while adding a layer of visual humor to Dog’s opinions. The sight of boy hiding under the dresser or his freshly brushed hair will surely get a giggle from young readers. The horizontal orientation of the book mimics the twisted theme. Both the orientation and detailed illustrations lend themselves to one-on-one reading. A perfect pick for a child who needs to learn what it’s like to belong to a pet.

What’s Bugging You?: A Review of Bugs Everywhere

Bugs Everywhere cover art

Bugs Everywhere
Lily Murray, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup
Candlewick/Big Picture Press
April 7, 2020
Ages 4-8

Bugs really are everywhere, whether we like it or not! This fact-filled picture book for bug-lovers proves it, exploring a wide range of topics from their history, environments, feeding, survival, reproduction, and even their relationship with people—we need them, you know? Small, and often gross, bits of trivia make this title perfect for jumping in and out of, but might induce the curious to settle in for a long, squirm-inducing read. Did you know there are millions of species of bugs? That the cicada is the loudest insect in the world? That there are bugs that live on your face?!?

Lily Murray excels at boiling down the information into concise, yet fun facts that entomologists of all ages will love. Britta Teckentrup’s collage-like, digital illustrations are reminiscent of Eric Carle and provide a vibrant full-color backdrop to the details. The metallic foil accents and friendly lady bugs on the cover will draw in the reader and delightful, yet detailed illustrations will charm even the bug-shy. This will make an excellent and informative step-up for young fans of Carle’s bug books. Originally published in 2019 by King’s Road Publishing (London) under the title There Are Bugs Everywhere, this first US publication under the new title comes from Big Picture Press.

Maybe Today or Maybe Tomorrow: A Review of Maybe Tomorrow?

maybe tomorrow

Maybe Tomorrow?
By Charlotte Agell, illustrated by Ana Ramírez

Scholastic
March, 2019
Grades: Pre-K — 2

 

 

 

 

Elba the hippo spends her days dragging around a heavy, black box. One day Elba meets an alligator named Norris who is upbeat and surrounded by butterflies. The two become friends, and as they grow closer, Elba reveals to Norris that she is mourning the loss of her friend Little Bird. Norris tells Elba that although he did not know Little Bird, that he can help Elba mourn her. Elba and Norris then notice that her box has shrunk and become much lighter and easier for Elba to carry. Elba tells Norris that she will always have her box, to which Norris responds, “Yes, maybe you will… But I will help you carry it sometimes.”

Agell’s text is thoughtful and poignant, gently teaching children not only that it is okay to be sad, but also how to help those who are feeling sad. Agell makes a point of showing that there is no simple solution to sadness and that some people may always carry some sadness with them. The text encourages the reader, via Norris, to be empathetic and patient with those who are feeling sad. Agell shows that grieving is part of the healing process and cannot be rushed. Ramírez’s beautiful digitized watercolor drawings perfectly complement Agell’s text. The soft pastel colors convey a hopeful mood and bring gentle, understanding energy to accompany the text.

Picture Book Review: Geraldine

 

Geraldine by Elizabeth Lilly

Geraldine
Elizabeth Lilly
Roaring Brook Press, June 2018

Sometimes being yourself is difficult, especially when there doesn’t seem to be anyone who looks like you. Geraldine the giraffe can relate to this feeling: her family is moving and it is the Worst Thing Ever. She has no friends at her new school, and worse, she is the only giraffe there. Now everyone knows her as That Giraffe Girl. Then Cassie comes along – Cassie is that girl who wears glasses – and she and Geraldine become friends who fit in by standing out. Whimsical pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations add humor to this charming story about boldly being who you are.

Pride Month 2018 Reads

Pride Month is here, and with it new LGBTQ+ books for all audiences. This is only a sampling – visit us to see the entire selection and more!

julian

Julian is a Mermaid – Jessica Love, Candlewick Press

When Juliàn sees three beautiful mermaids on the subway, he is both in love and encouraged to embrace his true mermaid self. Will Abuela appreciate his transformation? Filled with evocative and whimsical illustrations, Julian is a Mermaid is a delightful and thoughtful exploration of non-conforming self-expression.

 

doing it by hannah witton

Doing It – Hannah Witton, Sourcebooks/Fire

There is a chapter specifically devoted to LGBTQ+ sex education in this nonfiction resource. Since the author is a straight cis woman, she rightfully invites several own voice contributors to write each section. Sex and gender are defined, followed by profiles on being transgender, transsexual, genderfluid, queer, bisexual, pansexual, and asexual. Witton then discusses coming out and ways to be a good ally (starting with acknowledging privilege).

 

girl made of stars by ashley herring blake

Girl Made of Stars – Ashley Herring Blake, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Owen and Mara are twins, with an unbreakable bond. It was Owen who unquestioningly accepted Mara’s coming out as bisexual to their family, and Owen who consoled Mara after she broke up with her best friend and first girlfriend, Charlie. Then Owen’s girlfriend, Hannah, accuses him of raping her and lines are drawn. Mara is torn between believing her friend or her brother, while also missing Charlie. With focus on consent, victim shaming, and the insidiousness of rape culture, Girl Made of Stars has emotional and timely relevance.

 

picture us in the light by kelly loy gilbert

Picture Us in the Light – Kelly Loy Gilbert, Disney/Hyperion

With a scholarship to RISD and the loving support of his family, Danny has almost everything he needs in life. Except a future with his best friend, Harry, and an explanation for his parents’ secrets of the past. Unraveling the mystery of his family along with exploring his own feelings for Harry isn’t easy for Danny, and could disrupt everything he’s worked to achieve, but he is determined to know how his past will affect his future.