Thursday, July 21, 2011

Along A Long Road

Written and illustrated by Frank Viva
$16.99, ages 4-8, 40 pages

One read through Frank Viva's debut and you'll feel as if you've sailed the coast in a bicycle.

The New Yorker illustrator celebrates the exhilaration of riding a bicycle and going as fast as your feet will pedal in his first picture book.

A rider flies down a seaside road through woods, between electrical towers, up a hill, around a town, into a tunnel, over a bridge and through a city, only to want to do it all over again.

The images are fluid and freeing and give you the sense of being let loose on a journey that could be endless, like a boat gliding out to sea, even as you keep to the road.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Noodle and Lou

A charmer about being there for a friend.
Written Liz Garton Scanlon
Illustrated by Arthur Howard
$15.99, ages 2-6, 32 pages

Noodle the worm wakes up with a rain-cloudy heart, fretting about all of the things he doesn't like about himself.

"His bright side was muddy. His high points sank low. / The grass grew much greener in other worms' rows."

So he does exactly what a Noodle should do. He leans on his pal Lou, a blue jay with a big heart.

Noodle unloads on Lou all of his insecurities: how he doesn't have eyes, feet or feathers, how he lives in dirt and how most birds think he's a snack (though, definitely not Lou).

Then Lou tells Noodle that life's a surprise and reminds him of what he admires about him: Noodle, he says, you're long and sleek, wiggly and plucky, and all of these things make you complete. How could a worm be a worm without any of these?

What a boost, what a friend, thinks Lou. But the bigger surprise? "Seeing yourself through your best buddy's eyes."

Here's a buddy book beyond compare written by the author of last year's best-seller, All the World. The back-and-forth between the two is a delight, with Noodle's deprecating words always getting a positive replay from his unshakable friend.

This is one of those books that leaves you wishing for a Lou of your own and to remain grounded in the happy side of life. And the message for all who've felt like Noodle? Love who you are, no matter how different you feel.

(And to all those blue jays who've been maligned for being churlish and snappy, fear not, you've got a poster boy in Lou.)


A perfect way to begin a talk about diversity.
Written by Kyo Maclear
Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Kids Can Press, 2010
$16.95, ages 3-7, 32 pages

Spork feels like an outcast. "What are you, anyway?" the other utensils ask.

He's neither all spoon like his mum or all fork like his dad, and in the world of utensils, blending cutlery is taboo.

So Spork decides he'll try to be a single thing. Maybe this way he won't be passed over when the table is set.

First he pulls a bowler hat over his points to appear more spoonish, then a crown to look more forkish. But none of it seems right, and all the while he's still left out.

At dinner, Spork glumly watches on as spoons play pea hockey and forks rake swirls in the mashed potatoes, then as they all splash into a sudsy bath.

But then one morning a messy thing arrives in the kitchen and none of the forks or spoons can handle it. Could Spork be just the thing to keep its smears, spills and drips under control?

Playfully billed as a "multi-cutlery" tale, this smart, adorable book shows that everyone has something special to give and it's our differences that make us shine.

I loved that it took a baby, untainted by prejudices, to help this lonely fellow. And the fact that sporks really are handy for babies only adds to the charm.

The illustrations -- soft, retro charcoal sketches with splashes of color and a sprinkle of woodcuts -- endear you to this utensil even before you know his story.

At one point, Spork imagines other utensils with no matching kind and they swirl about him, all adorably different: a hand juicer with beater legs, a pie spatula with a potato masher body.

There is a coziness to the gray palette and a subtle sparkle to select pages: faint jacks-like stars glisten in the backdrop always hinting at a happy ending.

Sweet and gently instructive, this is a must for sporks, spoons and forks alike. The perfect book to bolster a child's spirit and spur a discussion about how to treat one another.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

King Hugo's Huge Ego

A charmer about the follies of being a windbag.
Written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Candlewick, 2011
$16.99, ages 3-6, 40 pages

A boastful king is brought down to earth by a maiden who zaps him with a curse that makes his head swell in Van Dusen's hilarious fairy tale.

With playful, clever rhymes and illustrations that pop, the two-time Caldecott winner introduces us to King Hugo, a tiny guy who's a glutton for gloating.

Though Hugo is only three foot three and requires a ladder to reach his throne, he thinks himself much loftier than anyone else.

He struts about, ordering gardeners to clip topiaries to his likeness and sculptors to top fountains with statues of himself in a cocky pose.

His subjects, all longer legged than he, are required to bow to the ground when he passes. For if they bowed at the waist, the king still couldn't look down at them.

And every Friday, King Hugo's guards herd his subjects to the base of his tower and force them to listen to him go on and on about how much the king adores himself and why they should too.

But then one day, as King Hugo's gold coach is rolling down the road from his castle, a maiden walking down the middle of the road refuses to step aside and bow to him.