The Steadfast Tin Soldier

•December 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This is an absolutely sumptuous version of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, adapted by Tor Seidler and Fred Marcellino. Publisher’s Weekly: “This graceful retelling of Andersen’s touching story of true love between a malformed toy soldier and a paper ballerina is charged with both romance and heroism. Alternating perspectives achieve striking visual effect–toys and animals loom large as seen through the stoic vision of the brave soldier; at other points during his perilous journey he appears as a mere sliver of blue and red amid the city’s bustle. The soft glow of candlelight imparts a shadowy warmth to the interior scenes, which feature a gaggle of handsomely turned out children admiring their Christmas bounty. Seidler’s polished prose perfectly complements the artwork: ‘The tin soldier was so touched that he would have shed tin tears–if he hadn’t been in uniform. As it was, he just looked at her, and she looked at him, neither of them saying a word.’ Though perfect for the holiday season” — the setting is Christmas — “this exquisite book may well stay on the shelf year-round.” Giggle factor: not applicable. Adult enjoyment: if you like art. Illustrations: five jelly jars. Be warned: this version does not have a happy ending.



•December 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

By the same author as Interrupting Chicken, David Ezra Stein‘s Leaves is a short, simple paen to fall. Publishers Weekly: “pen-and-ink illustrations conjure a place readers will wish they could visit, a tiny island that pokes up out of a bay. Drawn in mossy greens and golds, the island is home to a very young bear—so young that when the leaves start falling in the autumn, he’s a little shocked: He tried to catch them and put them back on… but it was not the same. The bear doesn’t despair; he grows sleepy, goes off to hibernate and wakes in the spring. This set of events is depicted in a series of panels trained on the entrance to the bear’s den; the single tree above it loses its leaves, is blanketed by snow, and receives visits first by a rabbit and then by a pair of cardinals.) Eventually the bear sticks his head back out to greet the spring sunshine and spies the tiny buds on the trees. ‘Welcome!’ he cried. And, he thought, the leaves welcomed him. Many things contribute to the success of Stein’s tale: the joyously colored panels that hang on the pages like paintings—more intimate, somehow, than double-page spreads—the island’s eight trees and their leaves, which seem lively and animate and entirely worthy of friendship; the innocence of the bear; and Stein’s willingness to let the story assume its own haiku-like shape. His autumnal pictures seem to glow, while the bear himself has the irresistible appeal of a well-loved toy.” Giggle factor: not applicable. Adult enjoyment: likely. Illustrations: four jelly jars.

Roberto the Insect Architect

•September 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

PB&J is back to bug you with one of our favorite books, Roberto the Insect Architect. Publishers Weekly: “This good-natured tale, whose striking collages incorporate wood products and city photographs, introduces a termite who ‘went against the grain . . . Roberto didn’t eat his food. He played with it.’ While other termites picnic on ‘wood chips’ and shotgun shacks, Roberto yearns to build. He also exhibits a philanthropic streak. His first project is a neighborhood for homeless bugs, including a fireproof stone dwelling for a ladybug whose first house, per the nursery rhyme, burned down. Nina Laden (When Pigasso Met Mootisse) wittily imagines a termite with a social conscience, one who ensures that bedbugs have ‘their very own beds.’ She incorporates woodworking tools into her bug-themed spreads and creates furniture from carefully cropped pieces of cork and veneer. Ant-like Roberto hunches over a mahogany-brown drafting table, busily drawing blueprints for a milk-carton shelter and a conical hive with neat circular windows. Even if children don’t get the gags about Hank Floyd Mite (seated at a Guggenheim-shaped desk with a sketch of Fallingwater) and Fleas Van Der Rohe, nonstop insect quips and humorous bug house illustrations keep this book buzzing along.” Giggle factor: higher for adults than children, but don’t let that deter you. Adult enjoyment: high. Illustrations: four jelly jars.

The Sea King’s Daughter

•July 17, 2011 • Leave a Comment

By the same illustrator as Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Gennady Spirin and Aaron Shepard‘s The Sea King’s Daughter is a Russian version of the legend of the little mermaid. Publishers Weekly: “In the medieval city of Novgorod the Great, Sadko, a poor musician, longs for love as he sits by the River Volkhov and plucks his 12-string gusli. His music wins him the favor of the Sea King, who invites him to visit his palace under the sea. In pale watercolors sparked with lustrous gold, the royal attendants, including mermaids, lobsters in metal armor and crabs in puffed Elizabethan-style sleeves, float across a double-page full-bleed spread or a vignette panel in spiraling curves. Spirin renders them with a mistiness that creates the sensation of opening one’s eyes under water. The king insists Sadko marry his daughter Volkhova, the nymph of the river the musician loves. When Sadko learns that kissing her would separate him from his beloved homeland forever, he reluctantly forsakes Volkhova’s affections and returns from whence he came. ‘He wept,’ writes Shephard, ‘perhaps for joy, perhaps for sadness at his loss, perhaps for both.’ A short afterword gives a history on Russian legends, but no facts can detract from the mood of eloquent enchantment created here.” Giggle factor: not applicable; somewhat sentimental instead. Adult enjoyment: if you like art. Illustrations: five jelly jars.


•July 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Graeme Base‘s Animalia is an abecedary that is also a bestiary, with many fantastical creatures, all alliteratively tied to the letter at hand. (Apparently, it also has a tie-in television series and an iPad app, but I prefer the old-fashioned, turning pages kinda book myself.) Publisher’s Weekly: “Base has created an ABC book that goes far beyond a simple listing of items in alphabetical order. There are captions or headlines accompanying each letter’s scene, such as ‘Eight Enormous Elephants Expertly Eating Easter Eggs,’ or ‘Two Tigers Taking the 10:20 Train to Timbuktu.’ Each picture is replete with an apparently random choice of objects that have in common (on every page but the one for the letter X) their first letters. This Australian import makes for a delightful visual feast, though it lacks a clear conceptual coherence . . . No matter: readers will have a fine time guessing at objects and searching for a small child who hides among the pages; and the meticulous artistry is far-reaching in its innovation, detail and humor. . . If books could be honored for the sheer number of hours readers could pore over crammed pages, and for the inexhaustible supply of extra touches, this one surely would be a winner.” Giggle factor: varies. Adult enjoyment: if you like art. Higher if you like puzzles. Illustrations: four jelly jars.

Lost & Found

•July 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Shaun Tan‘s Lost & Found is a collection of three stories of varied quality but stunning illustrations; the title story in particular is expertly conceived both in terms of the dazzling multimedia, collage-like illustrations and the storyline of a lost, friendless machine. So good, indeed, is this story that the animated version won an Academy Award, propelled by Tan’s excellent artistry. Publisher’s Weekly: “There isn’t really a bad time to win an Academy Award, but Shaun Tan’s timing is impeccable. His animated short film, The Lost Thing, picked up an Oscar just as the book upon which it was based returns to print in this collection. The three stories within—”The Red Tree,” “The Lost Thing,” and “The Rabbits”—were previously published (separately) in Australia . . . This compilation also incorporates new background and notes on each from Tan (and, for “The Rabbits,” from John Marsden, the author of that story). With glowing critical receptions for The Arrival and Tales from Outer Suburbia, Tan’s career had already been ascendant before his Oscar night success, and this offering should only further raise his profile.” Giggle factor: not applicable; has a “wow” factor instead. Adult enjoyment: likely. Illustrations: five jelly jars.

The Red Chalk

•June 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Initially, I had mixed feelings about this Dutch import by Iris van der Heide and Marije Tolman, but after several readings The Red Chalk has won me over through the sheer glory of the children’s imaginations. School Library Journal: “Sara, unable to draw a satisfactory picture on her bumpy sidewalk, sees that Tim is having more fun playing with his marbles. Instead of discarding the chalk, she tells him that ‘everything you draw with it will come to life.’ They make a switch and Sara’s claim proves true for Tim. She doesn’t know exactly what to do with the newly acquired marbles, however, so she trades them for a lollipop, telling a girl that they are pearls from the sea. Sam immediately turns into a smiling mermaid while Sara discovers that the lollipop is cherry, a flavor she doesn’t even like. So, she barters again, acquiring a ‘broken’ yo-yo, an ‘out-of-tune’ flute, and a hopscotch board that disappears in the rain. But all is not lost as Sara is again in possession of the red chalk. She uses it to draw a very large hopscotch board that she shares with the other children” — and all the fantasies that they have created. “Delicate pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations are the highlight of this story and deftly detail the make-believe scenarios that the other children enjoy.” Giggle factor: not applicable. Adult enjoyment: likely. Illustrations: four jelly jars.