Books for Younguns, Young Adults and the Young-at-Heart

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Night Before Christmas

An illustrated adaptation of the classic poem that ventures outside the usual scenario.

The Night Before Christmas written by Clement C. Moore and illustrated by Jan Brett is a new take on the timeless tale.

Everyone is familiar with versions of this poem that depict the silent encounter between the narrator and St. Nicholas before the Christmas tree.  In Brett's imagining, these scenes play out in the margins as we are treated to two stowaway elves taking the sleigh for a joyride.  A bustle of activity is packed into the pages as a tabby cat and a pug get sucked into the hijinks.  The Old World style of illustration keeps things from getting too cartoony, making this an enjoyable holiday read for all ages.  A bonus DVD narrated by Jim Dale with music by Boston Pops is included.  (I was not able to review the DVD.)

The Night Before Christmas is published by Putnam Juvenile and retails for $20.00 (hardcover).  I read my copy by picking it up from the shelves for a few minutes.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Book Thief

Leisel has had a fascination with books ever since she picked up a copy of The Grave Digger's Handbook that had been dropped in the snow after her brother's funeral.  As she lives out her adolescent years in the poor section of a small town in Nazi Germany, she is drawn to steal more books, each one marking a section of her life.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak has won multiple awards and become a book club favorite.

This is a beautiful book that deserves all the accolades it has received. It successfully illustrates the extremes of beauty and horror mankind is capable of, all delivered in the poetic voice of Death itself.  The choice of narrator may seem like just an odd gimmick, but it adds a truly unique dimension to this basic tale of survival by clinging to what little comfort you can find in a cruel world.  You come away from reading feeling that you have experienced a life in full, from the heights of happiness to the depths of agony, through events both catastrophic and mundane.  This is a perfect gift to digest slowly, although I challenge you not to feel the need to finish the last 50 pages in one sitting.

The Book Thief is published by Knopf Books for Young Readers and retails for $12.99 (paperback).  I bought my copy with my very own money.  You can get yours from Left Bank Books today!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse

Horses aren't blue, elephants aren't orange and donkeys aren't polka-dotted.  Unless they're in an artist's imagination...

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse is a new picture book written and illustrated by beloved favorite Eric Carle.

There isn't so much a story here as a simple affirmation that an artist can create a world that doesn't adhere to the rules.  In the case of the young boy here, this means he can depict animals in all the colors of the rainbow.  This is a marvelous motivation for Carle to give us his classic illustrations in vibrant two-page spreads.  These are surely some of the most striking of his career, and his unique style is perfect for the slightly surreal creatures.  Small ones will love the bright colors and simple text, making it a sure-fire go-to book for reading alone as well as together.

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse is published by Philomel and retails for $17.99 (hardcover).  I read my copy by picking it up from the shelves for a few minutes.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chanukah Lights

Each night of Chanukah is an opportunity to learn about a different aspect of Jewish history.  From the ancient temples to the shtetl to modern skyscrapers, the ever-present menorah links a people to their past.

Chanukah Lights is written by Michael J. Rosen and designed by Robert Sabuda.

Rosen's lyric poem nicely sets the tone for a journey notable locales in Jewish history.  Sabuda's pop-ups transform each page into a complicated tableau.  From tent to townhouse, each structure is fully realized in stark white.  Upon careful examination, each features a single dark window with the flames from the menorah visible within.  Forget the single and double fold pop-ups of the past; these are true works of artistic engineering.  Details from the rigging of a ship to clothes hanging on a line bring each scene to life, even in the absence of people.  The delicacy involved makes this a book to keep away from the littlest ones, but entire families will be able to appreciate the beauty and workmanship that went into creating this tribute to the Jewish experience.

Chanukah Lights is published by Candlewick and retails for $34.99 (hardcover).  I read my copy by picking it up from the shelves for a few minutes.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Little Jane loves spending time with her stuffed monkey, pretending to explore the jungle and take car of the animals there.  Perhaps one day her dream can come true...

Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell is one of The New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books for 2011.

This picture book takes anecdotes from Jane Goodall's autobiography to illustrate her childhood.  Young Jane's interests and strengths are shown naturally progressing into her career as anthropologist studying chimpanzees.  Rather than emphasizing her work, this is all about how Jane was allowed to play at what she found fun and managed to turn that into something she could do for the rest of her life.  The dreamy illustrations have a cute comic style.  (McDonnell is the creator of the popular Mutts comic strip.)  The jungle simply springs up around Jane's suburban home, and the scenes of her swinging on vines in her plaid skirt epitomize a childlike playfulness.  The scientific diagrams and photorealism that accompanies the text pages add a great atmosphere beyond that of the formulaic picture book.  At the conclusion of the story, a more straightforward biography of Goodall is included for older kids.

Me...Jane is published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and retails for $15.99 (hardcover).  I read my copy by picking it up from the shelves for a few minutes.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Monday, December 19, 2011


The pigs are back!  This time they are in search of a way to cool down their island.  Their adventurous spirit takes them on a quest for ice, no matter how far it may take them from home.

Ice by Andrew Geisert is one of The New York Times' Best Illustrated Children's Books for 2011.

This wordless tale brings back the creativity and ingenuity of Geisert's pigs, featured in many of his previous children's books.  Their search utilizes fanciful creations such as flying ships to find unique solutions to escaping the heat.  The illustrations are detailed with such a fine hand that each one can be explored for quite some time.  The lack of words leaves enough room for interpretation that the story becomes almost interactive.  It's a fun guessing game to figure out what the pigs might do next.  This is delightful little book that kids of all ages will want visit time and time again.

Ice is published by Enchanted Lion Books and retails for $14.95 (hardcover).  I read my copy by picking it up from the shelves for a few minutes.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Down the Mysterly River

Max the Wolf, Boy Scout Detective, suddenly finds himself in an unfamiliar forest with no memory of how he got there.  And when he  meets a talking warrior badger, he's pretty sure he's in for an adventure like none he's had before.  Soon they are joined by a rough-and-tumble tabby cat and a bear sheriff in their escape from a band of swordsman known as the Blue Cutters who seek not to kill them, but to change their very nature.  Their only hope is sanctuary, but that's all the way down the river...

Down the Mysterly River is written by Bill Willingham and illustrated by Mark Buckingham, marking the Fables graphic novels team's Middle Grade debut.

This is a charming tale in the vein of traditional fantasy:  Outsiders discovering a new world, a motley crew banding together as friends, ultimately putting all the pieces together to solve the mystery of what's happening and why.  The real attraction here, however, are the characters.  Max is a classic detective straight out of the Hardy Boys/Encyclopedia Brown-era.  Banderbrock the badger is reminiscent of the noble beasts from the Chronicles of Narnia.  McTavish the cat is so ornery you have to love him and Walden the bear is one of the most cuddly creatures from a non-picture book in recent memory.  Even though this isn't a picture book, the illustrations starting every chapter are a great addition, making this book an aesthetic pleasure in addition to a literary one.  Any kid with a sense of adventure should find this enjoyable reading.  Plus, word is there may be another book in the same universe, this time with a girl as the hero of the day...

Down the Mysterly River is published by Starscape and retails for $15.99 (hardcover).  I bought my copy with my very own money.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!  (And if you hurry, you might be able to nab one of the autographed copies from Bill Willingham's visit in September!)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Here Comes the Cat!

A mouse goes on an epic journey to warn everyone he sees that the cat is coming.  But is it really as bad as it seems?

Here Comes the Cat! is written by Frank Asch and illustrated by Vladimir Vagin.

This is a very simple story, told entirely through richly detailed watercolors with speech bubble dialog in both English and Russian.  Kids will have fun examining the nooks and crannies of each illustration while adults will appreciate the masterful artistry.  Both will love the sweet surprise ending.  This edition includes an afterword by Asch and Vagin detailing their collaboration, couriering panels between the U.S. and Russia during the Cold War, all while speaking two different languages.  This story, coupled with the bilingual nature of the book, is a great opportunity for kids to learn about being global citizens.  As another bonus, the dust jacket folds out to make a poster.

Here Comes the Cat! is published by McSweeney's Books and retails for $12.95 (hardcover).  I bought my copy with my very own money.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Five Flavors of Dumb

Piper has spent her whole life trying to blend in, but despite the fact that she uses hearing aides and reads lips, her deafness has marked her as different.  And sometimes she just can't resist speaking her mind, like to the members of the Seattle Teen Battle of the Bands, who promptly give her one month as manager to find them a paying gig.  Can she get past their clashing personalities, lack of ability and the fact that she has no understanding of music to make them a success?

Five Flavors of Dumb is by Antony John, a local St. Louis author.

First of all, the obvious:  It is great to see a deaf protagonist.  Disabilities of all stripes are underrepresented in YA fiction and this is a very honest depiction.  Piper is strong and doesn't let her deafness define her, but the difficulties she encounters aren't glossed over.  Some of the most compelling scenes are those where something prevents her from hearing/lip reading what's going on, so she describes her impressions from the snatches she does get.  Also depicted realistically are Piper's family relations.  Between her overworked mother, completely dense father, troublemaking brother and baby sister whose cochlear implants give her a chance Piper never had, these are complex relationships that shift dynamically throughout the book.  As far as the band goes, this is an unabashed tribute to the power of music and the effect it has on the members of Dumb will be familiar to many readers.  This is a book about finding yourself and realizing your potential in directions you never even thought of exploring, and it will leave you on both a literal and metaphorical high note.

Five Flavors of Dumb is published by Speak and retails for $8.99 (paperback).  I bought my copy with my very own money.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Antony John will be a Celebrity Bookseller Left Bank Books--Central West End tomorrow (Saturday, December 17) recommending his favorite books for holiday shoppers.  Plus, 1% of sales from his suggestions will benefit Gateway 180: Homelessness Reversed!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Onward Is Best: A Christmas Journey

Dolly loves living with Santa at the North Pole, so when she's told she's going to be wrapped and given to a little girl, she decides to hide instead.  She thinks she'll just wait until after Christmas, then go back to her old life.  But soon she begins a journey to all sorts of strange lands, making new friends along the way.  Will Dolly ever get back to the North Pole?  And if she does, will she still want to stay there?

Onward Is Best: A Christmas Journey by Sarah Jean Linquist* was published after the author's death by a collective of her family and friends.  It is available exclusively at Left Bank Books and through the book's website.

Dolly's adventures make up the classic journey of self-discovery.  As she makes her way through magical realms such as Paper Land, Metal Land and Desolation Land, she grows into herself and finds she might not be happy playing it safe by living with Santa.  The friends she makes are tried and true, and she quickly finds she could never make it back to the North Pole without their help.  The natural geographic divisions of her travels parcel this tale into neat sections, making it perfect for reading together over a series of nights.  Best of all are the marvelously detailed illustrations, made up of photographs of landscape dioramas.  The aesthetic is reminiscent of the classic I Spy books, with endless facets to explore.  This story could easily become a holiday tradition for families to share for years to come.

Onward Is Best: A Christmas Journey is published by On the Wall Productions, Inc. and retails for $40.00, with a portion of proceeds benefiting Cancer Support Community of Greater St. Louis.  I got my copy by taking the spiral-bound sample edition off the shelf for a while.  (The real books are hardbound and shrink-wrapped.)  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

*In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I worked briefly on two different projects with Sarah (once in late 2007, again in early 2008).  We only met briefly, and she was working as a scenic artist, not in any literary capacity.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


First-generation Canadian Maya is accompanying her father back to India to scatter her mother's ashes when they are caught up in the riots following Indira Gandhi's assassination.  Maya finds herself in a small village, stricken mute by the trauma and trusting her life to a boy named Sandeep.  But she must work through her pain or risk never returning to the life she knows.

Karma by Cathy Ostlere is a novel in verse.

Perspective shifts between Maya and Sandeep as each journals in poetry form.  This format lends itself well to the beautiful, as in Maya's recollections of her mother, as well as the horrifying, as with her depiction of a Sikh man being hunted and burned alive.  The cross-cultural love story is depicted more realistically than most I've encountered and seeing Maya and Sandeep's flirtation unfold through notes passed in the journal pages is sweet.  Ultimately, although the narrative is most compelling in the first section, there is more than enough interest to propel you through the rest of the story.  This is a culture and a historical setting largely unrepresented in Young Adult fiction, and great service is done here.

Karma is published by Razorbill and retails for $18.99.  I got my Advance Reader Copy from the publisher (although this review was neither solicited or compensated).  You can get yours from Left Bank Books today!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Never Forgotten

The only son of the village blacksmith, Musafa is raised by his father, Dinga, after his mother dies in childbirth.  They lead a happy life, blessed by the Mother Elements, until Musafa is captured by slave traders.  Earth, Fire, Water and Wind track his journey, reporting back to Dinga his son's strength in the face of adversity.

Never Forgotten by Patricia C. McKissack and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon is the focus of one of Left Bank Books' Author Events.

Told in verse, this is the story of a side of slavery that is seldom discussed:  The grief of the loved ones left behind by the Taken.  Dinga and Musafa's lives are filled with a deep spirituality and respect for the natural world from the beginning.  When Musafa is captured, it is his spirit that keeps him going and Dinga's relationship with the Elements that brings him solace.  The gorgeous woodcut-style illustrations are richly evocative of both setting and character.  The reading level is higher than that of most picture books.  This would be an excellent book to discuss as a family with slightly older kids, but it would also be a wonderful gift for anyone with an interest in African history, children or no.  Regardless of age, this would be a respected addition to most any library.

Never Forgotten is published by Schwartz & Wade and retails for $18.99.  I bought my copy with my very own money.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Patricia C. McKissack will be at Left Bank Books--Central West End at 7:00 tomorrow (Wednesday, December 14) at 7:00 p.m. to discuss and sign Never Forgotten (along with some of her other books).

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Bad Kitty Christmas

Bad Kitty is up to Christmas shenanigans, destroying all the gifts and decorations before heading to Uncle Murray's house.  But on the way there, she takes advantage of an open car window and ends up on the street.  Soon, a kindly old lady has taken her in.  Will Bad Kitty find her way home for Christmas?

A Bad Kitty Christmas by Nick Bruel is the first picture book featuring Bad Kitty, the star of several beginning reader chapter books.

Our title character is in classic form here, causing no shortage of unapologetic havoc.  The extremely expressive illustrations explode with color.  Things go from funny to touching when Bad Kitty unites with a sweet old woman who reminisces about  her family and friends while spending her Christmas season alone.  The lesson on what's really important during the holidays is simple and affecting.  As a bonus, several alphabet lists are scattered throughout the story (with some very creative items for the tougher letters).

A Bad Kitty Christmas is published by Roaring Brook Press and retails for $15.99.  I got my copy by picking it up off the shelves for a few minutes.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Emerald Atlas

Kate, Michael and Emma know they aren't orphans because their parents died, but because something is preventing them from coming to get them.  They've bounced from one orphanage to another until finally landing in the strangest one yet.  They are the only kids in a giant house in the middle of a dismal village.  Their explorations lead them to a book in the basement that seems normal...until it transports them to the location of a photograph stuck between the pages.  Soon the siblings find themselves transported into the village's past where they just might be able to change the events that lead to its downfall.

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens is the first book of the eventual Books of Beginning trilogy.  It's also my current staff pick at Left Bank Books.

The most immediate comparisons this book will draw are with other normal-children-discover-magic books like Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia; the Ps (no last name, just an initial) have stumbled into a parallel world with a complex history and mythology they must learn on the fly.  Of course, they also happen to be the only ones who can save it, so their amazement at their surroundings is always cut short by the urgent need to act.  Here, however, is a surefire sure for readers who complain that boys have all the fun in this genre.  Each sibling has his or her own distinct personality and interests, each of which is allowed to shine when they are separated for a hefty chunk of the narrative.  The plot is extremely intricate and involved.  Any one of the obstacles faced by the children could have served as its own book if Stephens had preferred.  Instead, there is non-stop action, sometimes in multiple locations simultaneously.  While there is no gratuitously graphic violence, things can get scary.  I know I found myself horrified (in a good way) more than once.  Adventure and fantasy fans are sure to love this book.  Now, to wait for Book Two!

The Emerald Atlas is published by Knopf Books for Young Readers and retails for $17.99.  I got my Advance Reader Copy from the publisher (although this review was neither solicited nor compensated).  You can get yours from Left Bank Books today!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Artsy-Fartsy, Bogus, Cahoots & Dumbstruck

When Aldo Zelnick's grandmother gives him a sketchbook, he isn't sure what to do with it.  After a few half-hearted sketches, he discovers that if he adds writing to his illustrations, he can have a lot of fun recording his life.  Now he just fills one book after another, one for every letter of the alphabet!

Artsy-Fartsy, Bogus, Cahoots and Dumbstruck are the first four books in the Aldo Zelnick Comic Novels series written by Karla Oceanak and illustrated by Kendra Spanjer.  They are also Left Bank Books' holiday picks for Reluctant Readers.

In Artsy-Fartsy, Aldo laments the fact that everyone is good at something except him.  His brother Timothy is a star athlete.  His best friend Jack is a master rock hound.  The only thing Aldo's ever been recognized for is drawing, and all that got him was the nickname Mighty Geek.  Can Aldo finally find his calling?

Bogus finds Aldo and Jack recovering a ring from the sewer.  Aldo thinks it's totally bogus, but Jack thinks it might just be a real diamond.  They get their answer when it shows up in a newspaper article offering a $1,000 reward.  The only problem?  Aldo already lost it...

For Cahoots, the Zelnick family makes their way to the family homestead for a technology-free farm vacation.  Aldo is not happy to be without video games and computers, but he's even less happy when it starts to appear the farm may be haunted.

Dumbstruck brings the start of fifth grade and a new art teacher at Dana Elementary.  She proposes a pop art contest Aldo is determined to win, but his throat seems to close up whenever it comes time to talk to her.  And his stomach feels funny.  And he gets tingly when their fingers touch.  Could Aldo be not just sick, but lovesick?

Each book follows the same format, reading as Aldo's journal/sketchbook, complete with margin notes and interjections from his friends.  Many kids will recognize themselves in Aldo, a guy who prefers summer to school, loves bacon and Slushies and excels at any activity that involves sitting in front of a TV.  Despite some all-to-understandable shortcomings of the variety that just goes along with being a kid, he is an endearing narrator.  His deadpan sense of humor is enjoyable even for adults.  The illustrations are well-matched to the writing style:  clever and well-done enough to be enjoyable, but retaining a childish simplicity.  The lessons put forth are worthwhile:  Not to worry about what others think of your interests since everyone has a little something they geek out about, not to be selfish and to consider others, not to rely on technology for all your entertainment and how to deal with first crushes.  The characters are charming and diverse, ranging from the homeschooled tomboy (who still likes to draw flowers) to the new boy in school who happens to be deaf.  As a great bonus, the alphabetical focus leads each book to focus on vocabulary beginning with a different letter.  The words are peppered throughout the story (mostly very naturally) and marked with an asterisk that leads to a glossary (or "word gallery") at the end of the book with definitions written in Aldo's entertaining style.  Each book is a fast-paced, enjoyable light read, perfect for the kid (or parent) looking for a transition from comics to chapter books.  Look for Egghead and Finicky in 2012.

Artsy-Fartsy, Bogus, Cahoots and Dumbstruck are published by Bailiwick Press and retail for $12.95 each.  I got my copies with my very own money.  You can get your copy from Left Bank Books today!  Also the second one!  And the third!  And fourth!

Friday, December 9, 2011


In this dystopian version of Chicago, people are divided into five factions.  Each year, the 16-year-olds take a test designed to show which faction they are most suited for.  But Beatrice's test gives three results instead of one, a fact she must hide as it puts her life at risk.  When she selects her faction, she shocks everyone, most of all her family.

Divergent by Veronica Roth was recently voted not only the Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction Book in 2011's Goodreads Choice Awards, but also Favorite Book of 2011.  It's also Left Bank Books' holiday pick for Best Book for Teen Girls.

This first book in an eventual trilogy, spends a lot of time world-building and developing characters, but this turns out not to be a bad thing at all.  The majority of time is spent on Tris's initiation (the first day of which involves renaming herself from Beatrice).  This is full of action, violence (not for the squeamish) and fierce competition.  I was often reminded of Ender's Game.  Pepper in some cutthroat politics and swoon-worthy flirtation and this book will keep you reading.  The relationships are complicated and the characters dynamic.  Tris is a wonderfully strong female lead.  The only way her gender (and size and unassuming appearance) affect her behavior is to set others' low expectations that she continually smashes.  There will be some revelations involving others who aren't as they seem that blindside you, but in retrospect, they all make sense.  (To be fair, there are also some twists that were fairly easy to predict as well.)  Roth is unafraid to pull punches and plenty of room is left for the sequels to up the ante even more.

Divergent is published by Katherine Tegen Books and retails for $17.99.  I bought my copy with my very own money.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Everybody Sees the Ants

Lucky Linderman's life sucks.  His father is emotionally distant, his mother is in denial, he's been bullied his whole life, and now his school has identified him as a suicide risk because of a misguided social studies project.  But every night he the jungles of Vietnam to rescue his MIA grandfather from a POW camp.

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King is Left Banks Books' holiday pick for Best Book for Teen Boys.

While this is serious subject matter dealt with respectfully, in Lucky, King has given us an extremely likable character who infuses the story with wry humor and self-awareness.  Through his narrative, we find the not-so-happy events unfolding in a manner that instead of being depressing is highly entertaining.  Magical realism is added as Lucky's dreamscapes start to enter real life, deftly introducing a literary style not often encountered in young adult fiction.  While bullying is a hot topic for teenagers right now, this is definitely not a book that gets bogged down in message or resolves itself with contrived redemption.  However, Lucky is an admirable character while remaining a realistic recognizable 15-year-old boy.  Bottom line, isn't a book that boys will be embarrassed to read.  (Just look at the cover!)

Everybody Sees the Ants is published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and retails for $17.99.  I got my Advance Reader Copy from the publisher (although this review was not solicited or compensated).  You can get yours from Left Bank Books today!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Apothecary

It's 1952, and when Janie's parents love her from Hollywood to London to escape McCarthyism, she thinks her life has taken a turn for the boring and dreary.  That is, until the son of the apothecary down the road befriends her.  Soon they're in search of the mysterious Germans who have kidnapped the apothecary after he entrusts them with a book full of potions that show he wasn't just a chemist, but a magician of sorts.  Soon it seems the stakes might be even higher than the apothecary's life and work...

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy with illustrations by Ian Schoenherr is an Indie Bestseller.  It's also Left Bank Books' holiday pick for Best Book for Girls 8-12.

This is some highly engaging writing.  The story is told by a grown-up version of Janie, a la To Kill a Mockingbird, but her adolescent sensibilities are maintained as she juggles life-threatening situations, learning that magic is real, her first love and what to tell her parents about where she was all night.  She is an admirable heroine amid a cast of well-developed characters.  The action is non-stop, filled with things that aren't as they seem and situations you can't imagine the way out of.  The romance is deeply sweet and innocent.  Throw in a Dickensian street urchin pickpocket, and you have everything you could ask for in a historical tale of mystery and intrigue.  Speaking of history, everything you'll need to know is explained in the book, but there's plenty for the curious to sink their teeth into researching later, from the real-life apothecary's garden in London to the shifting power dynamic in world politics post-WWII.  The illustrations at the start of every chapter add a vintage feel with an atmosphere of suspense, but none of the characters are depicted outright, nicely avoiding the "but that's not what she looks like!" moment.

The Apothecary is published by Putnam Juvenile and retails for $16.99.  I got my used copy with my very own money.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda & Darth Paper Strikes Back

Everyone in McQuarrie Middle School's sixth grade thought Origami Yoda was just some really cool paper folding.  That is, until his Jedi wisdom turned out to be really good advice that Dwight, his creator, couldn't possibly come up with.  Could it be that his powers are real? Later on, in the seventh grade, Origami Yoda's greatest detractor shows up with Darth Paper.  Soon Dwight is in danger of getting kicked out of school!  Then everyone will lose Origami Yoda's advice!

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and its sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back, by Tom Angleberger are an Indie Bestselling series.  They are also Left Bank Books' holiday pick for Best Books for Boys 8-12.

The first book is comprised of a case study designed to investigate whether Origami Yoda truly possesses Jedi powers.  Each chapter is a personal testimonial from a member of the sixth grade about how Origami Yoda's advice has touched them.  This is followed by a brief rebuttal from the skeptic Harvey and a statement from Tommy, the case study's mastermind.  Kellen doesn't like to write, so he provides illustrations in the margins.  The writing is fast-paced; mostly straightforward, with enough humor and variety in styles between characters to be really engrossing.  The illustrations are amusing and instructions to create your own Origami Yoda are included.  Written between the lines is a great lesson:  Although it's never explicitly stated, it becomes evident that Dwight likely suffers from some form of mental health issues.  While he is obviously very intelligent and creative with a lot of empathy, he has a lot of difficulty communicating with his classmates and relating to them in everyday situations.  The characters' reactions to his various strange behaviors are realistic for the age group and provide talking points for issues kids may see in their own social groups.

Book Two picks up the next school year.  Dwight's antagonist Harvey appears with Darth Paper, intent on taking down Origami Yoda.  Soon he has talked one of the popular girls into interpreting Yoda's advice as a threat and reporting Dwight to the principal.  From there, procedures to have Dwight transferred to Correctional and Remedial Education are started.  It's up to Tommy and Kellen to put together another case study to show Dwight and Origami Yoda's benefit to the school.  This installment includes instructions to make Darth Paper and an emergency 5-fold Yoda.  The subtle theme of this book is the dangers of teaching for the test while ignoring students' unique qualities, with the administration treating Dwight as a problem to solve rather than recognizing his strengths.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is published by Amulet Books and Darth Paper Strikes Back: An Origami Yoda Book is published by Harry N. Abrams.  They retail for $12.95 each.  I bought my copies with my own money.  You can get your copies from Left Bank Books today!  Of both books!

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Man in the Moon

Have you ever wondered exactly who the Man in the Moon is and how he got there?

The Man in the Moon by William Joyce is Left Bank Books' holiday pick for Future Caldecott Winner.

This origin story is the first installment in the new Guardians of Childhood series.  There will eventually be six picture books and a parallel series of six middle grade novels (starting with Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King) about a set of characters focused on protecting the children of Earth from the Nightmare King and his minions.  The Man in the Moon is depicted as a child from another world, traveling the universe with his parents.  He is stranded on Earth's moon after an attack from the Nightmare King, and, under the protection of a set of mystical creatures, he sets his sights on curing Earth kids of their bad dreams.  The writing is more dense than most picture books, making it suitable for ages approaching middle grade, or perhaps good for siblings with a bit of an age gap to read together.  The illustrations are lush and detailed, pulling you into a thorough examination of each one.  Everything from sweeping moonscapes to spaceship schematics are rendering with extraordinary care.  These pictorials harken back to classic picture books of the ages.  This one can be passed down through generations.

The Man in the Moon is published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers and retails for $17.99.  I got my copy by picking it up from the shelves for a few minutes.  You can get yours a Left Bank Books today!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Grandpa Green

A young boy discovers his great-grandfather's life story through the topiary in his garden.

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith is one of The New York Times Best Illustrated Childrens' Books of 2011.  It's also Left Bank Books' holiday pick for Best Gift for Grandparents to Give.

This book offers a significant departure from the tongue-in-cheek humor of much of Lane's best-known work (including It's a Little Book).  Instead we find sweet sentimentality that manages to avoid vering into the maudlin.  The great-grandfather here has experienced sickness and war, created art and a family and commemorated it all in his hedges.  Our narrator guides us through that life in simple, child-like terms that show his appreciation and love for the older generation.  The monochromatic illustrations add an ethereal, yet playful, note.  The story ends with a gorgeous fold-out spread depicting the entire garden.  Each time you look at it, you will find something different.  This is a great book to introduce children to the concept that their older family members have lots of unimaginable experiences and stories to share.

Grandpa Green is published by Roaring Brook Press and retails for $16.99.  I got my copy by picking it up off the shelves for a few minutes.  You can get your copy from Left Bank Books today!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

It's a Little Book

What is this thing I'm holding?  What does it do?  How do I use it?  Why, it's a book!  You read it!

It's a Little Book is Left Bank Books' holiday pick for Best Book for Babies.

The little brother of Lane Smith's It's a Book, this charming board book teaches babies the very basics of reading:  How to recognize a book.  The donkey experiments with all sorts of potential uses for this object he has found.  Is it a computer for e-mailing?  Should he make it a beak to aid his duck impression?  After he's exhausted all his options, the monkey informs him that this is, in fact, a book.  It's for reading.  This smaller version works perfectly to imitate the donkey's attempts to make sense of things, and the cardboard pages won't get damaged nearly as easily.  This is a great introduction for the very earliest of readers, using adorable illustrations and comic situations to create interest in physical books.

It's a Little Book is published by Roaring Brook Press and retails for $7.99.  I read my copy by picking it up from the shelves for a few minutes.  You can get yours at Left Bank Books today!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Symphony City

On her way to an orchestra concert, a young girl gets lost and instead discovers the rhythms of everyday life in the city.

Symphony City by Amy Martin is Left Bank Books' holiday pick for Best Picture Book for Girls.

While the story here is simple and sweet, the real impact is in the artwork.  The woodcut-style illustrations practically explode off the pages with vibrant colors.  As we travel from the subway up to the rooftops, percussionists, string players and even some ballet dancers show each tableau's inherent rhythm.  The visualization of musical concepts is done effectively with minimal fuss.  You can see the nameless main character's confidence build until she is comfortable in her urban environment--even though the warmth of home is still best.  This book is great for helping kids growing up in the city to see the beauty all around them.  As a bonus, the dust jacket folds out to make a double-sided poster.

Symphony City is published by McSweeney's McMullens and retails for $17.95.  I got my copy by picking it up off the shelves for a few minutes.  You can get yours from Left Bank Books today!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I Want My Hat Back

The bear's hat is missing.  He asks everyone, but no one has seen it.  Or have they?

I Want My Hat Back, written and illustrated by Jon Klassen, is one of The New York Times Book Review's Best Illustrated Children's Books for 2011 and has been on the Picture Books Indie Bestsellers List for several weeks.  It's also Left Bank Books' Best Picture Book for Boys for the holidays.

The immediate impact of this book is best described as striking.  The cover will catch your eye from across the room.  In fact, I first read it before it hit the bestseller list or received any awards because I saw it on the shelf and got an undeniable urge to pick it up.  Inside, the stark lines and muted colors of the illustrations perfectly match the minimalistic text.  There is only dialogue here, accompanied by pictures which eliminate the need for narrative.  Rather than dialogue tags, each character's words are color-coded.  Each animal's back-and-forth with the bear follows the same basic pattern, giving kids the repetition they love.  But a wicked sense of humor pervades the story which has no age limit.  The ending has gotten at least a chuckle from the adults I've talked to, and kids are sure to giggle, especially if it's read out loud by someone willing to ham it up.  This is a great book to share across the generations.  It's become a fast favorite at Left Bank with multiple booksellers recommending it.  One has even made it a Staff Pick!

I Want My Hat Back is published by Candlewick and retails for $15.99.  I got my copy by picking it up from the shelves for a few minutes.  You can get yours from Left Bank Books today!