Review of Juan Hormiga, by Gustavo Roldán

Juan Hormiga

by Gustavo Roldán
translated from Spanish by Robert Croll

Elsewhere Editions, 2021. First published in Spanish in 2012. 64 pages.
Review written July 31, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This long picture book is more suitable for young elementary school students than for the preschool crowd. I hope they can find it in its lovely picture book packaging.

Juan Hormiga is a lazy ant. He’s incredibly good at napping. But he’s also good at telling tales about his grandfather, an intrepid adventurer.

Juan Hormiga knew all of those stories, and he knew how to tell them, and, best of all, he could do it just as if he’d lived through them himself.

A fun part of this book is that when the text describes Juan Hormiga telling the stories, the accompanying illustrations show an ant having hair-raising adventures. On the page quoted above, we see an ant falling “Plaf!!” from a swinging vine into deep water.

But one day Juan Hormiga decides to go off on a journey of his own, like his grandfather. After he leaves, there’s a heavy storm that floods the anthill.

The ants discuss what must have happened to Juan Hormiga. He was headed for the river, which turns into an angry beast when it rains. Surely the current swept him away and he drowned.

Poor Juan Hormiga. As brave as he was, to meet an end like that.

A hero through and through. Juan Hormiga was braver than anyone in this anthill since his grandfather.

Astute readers will no doubt guess that’s not actually what happened. And the quiet fun that happens when they discover the truth.

This book celebrates the power of story, but also shows how tales can grow if not tempered by truth.

elsewhereeditions.com

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Review of Some Dinosaurs Are Small, by Charlotte Voake

Some Dinosaurs Are Small

by Charlotte Voake

Candlewick Press, 2020. 28 pages.
Review written September 3, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a picture book that would be perfect for Toddler Storytime (if I ever get to do those again!). It’s short and sweet, with not a lot of words on a page. It has pictures of dinosaurs and a fun kicker at the end.

The book begins with a happy little dinosaur in a jungle with a basket.

Some dinosaurs are small.

They have tiny flat teeth for munching through fruit and leaves.

On that second spread, we see parts of big dinosaurs behind the trees. Sure enough, what comes next is:

Some dinosaurs are BIG.

The little dinosaur is clearly in danger from the big dinosaurs. They steal the food from his fruit basket and are still hungry.

But the punchline, drawn out over several spreads, is:

Some dinosaurs . . .

are simply . . .

E N O R M O U S !

And the little dinosaur caps it off with the words, “Hello, Mommy!”

A kid may be small, but this is a fun reminder that they’ve got grown-ups looking out for them. And it’s got dinosaurs!

candlewick.com

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Review of The Eyes and the Impossible, by Dave Eggers

The Eyes and the Impossible

by Dave Eggers
illustrations of Johannes by Shawn Harris

Alfred A. Knopf, 2023. 256 pages.
Review written 2/4/24 from a library book.
Starred Review
2024 John Newbery Medal Winner

This book is told by a dog who lives in a park. He introduces himself:

I am a dog called Johannes and I have seen you. I have seen you in this park, my home. If you have come to this park, my vast green and windblown park by the sea, I have seen you. I have seen everyone who has been here, the walkers and runners and bikers and horse-riders and the Bison-seekers and the picnickers and the archers in their cloaks. When you have come here you have come to my home, where I am the Eyes.

Three Bison live in an enclosure in the park. They rule over the park, but can’t leave their enclosure, so they appointed Johannes to be their Eyes. He has Assistants who help, and together the Bison keep the Equilibrium.

But as the Equilibrium gets upset, the animals devise a plan to do the Impossible.

Meanwhile, Johannes is delightful company.

I have seen all of you here. The big and small and tall and odorous. The travelers and tourists and locals and roller-skating humans and those who play their brass under the mossy bridge and the jitterbug people who dance over that other bridge, and bearded humans who try to send flying discs into cages but usually fail. I see all in this park because I am the Eyes and have been entrusted with seeing and reporting all. Ask the turtles about me. Ask the squirrels. Don’t ask the ducks. The ducks know nothing.

I run like a rocket. I run like a laser. You have never seen speed like mine. When I run I pull at the earth and make it turn. Have you seen me? You have not seen me. Not possible. You are mistaken. No one has seen me running because when I run human eyes are blind to me. I run like light. Have you seen the movement of light? Have you?

But some new things come into the park that Johannes has not seen before. Mysterious rectangles with things inside that are Impossible. And new animals that eat even the prickly grass that took over the tulip field. And thus new adventures and plans begin.

I like it that the Newbery this year went to a book that is truly for children — not even a middle-grades book. Now, like most great books, everyone in a wide age range will enjoy it, including this old person, but this would make a fabulous read-aloud even for young elementary school children. In fact, I hope that winning this award will make The Eyes and the Impossible the read-aloud choice for classrooms across the country.

daveeggers.net
rhcbooks.com

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Review of Hey Otter! Hey Beaver! by Brian Pinkney

Hey Otter! Hey Beaver!

by Brian Pinkney

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2023. 36 pages.
Review written March 20, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

This picture book with swirly-twirly art joins the tradition of friendship stories in books for young children.

“Hey, Beaver!” said Otter.
“The water is flowing. Let’s play!”

“Hey, Otter,” said Beaver.
“Look, flowing water! Let’s get to work.”

This beginning sums up the approach of the two friends. They find sticks, branches, and twigs. Otter wants to play with them, and Beaver wants to build with them.

Their conversation and rivalry is fun and begs to be read aloud. Otter gets to the things first and plays with them. And Beaver says things like:

“Hey Otter,” said Beaver.
“Give me those branches. I need those branches.
Please give me give me give me
those branches right now!”

Yes, there’s some rivalry and taking things back and forth, but it’s all in good fun, with a nice big crash at the end, and the two friends ready for more play and work together.

brianpinkney.net
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of You Go First, written by Ariel Bernstein, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal

You Go First

written by Ariel Bernstein
illustrated by Marc Rosenthal

A Paula Wiseman Book (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers), 2023. 48 pages.
Review written July 27, 2023, from a library book
Starred Review

This book begins with pictures of many animal-children playing on a playground. Then we zoom in on two of them, happily arriving.

Cat and Duck,
two very good friends,
arrived at the playground.
They wanted to go on the slide.

But then we see that it’s a new slide — and the new slide is very tall and has a chute that loops around twice. Duck is excited, but Cat looks wary.

What follows is Cat making many excuses to put off trying the new slide — because Cat is a very good friend.

When Duck finally uses her own cleverness to let Cat go first, we’ve got a wonderful scene of Cat joyfully going down the slide with a large “WHEEE!”

Duck tells Cat she knew Cat could do it!

Duck was a very good friend.

This story is beautifully paced, with a story of friendship and overcoming fear that all kids can relate to.

I love the way the emotions are not spelled out — but show clearly on the characters’ faces. A wonderful way to discuss feelings with children — and readers will feel clever when they know what is going on.

One of those first exercises in understanding emotions behind things that people don’t say, this book will be a hit in storytimes.

ArielBernsteinBooks.com
Marc-Rosenthal.com

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Review of Boom! by Paul Meisel

Boom!

by Paul Meisel

I Like to Read Comics (Holiday House), 2023. 32 pages.
Review written July 3, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

Oh, this graphic novel for beginning readers is brilliant!

When we open the book, we see a sunshiny day, but a dark cloud coming into the picture with a big RUMBLE RUMBLE.

As the story begins, we see a dog and a cat sleeping. Another RUMBLE RUMBLE happens, and the dog sits up, wide-eyed, and says, “What is that?”

The cat opens one eye and says, “Nothing.”

As the book continues, the dog is hyperaware of every sound and flash from the storm. The cat? She’s playing with her mouse toy, oblivious. But the noises are getting louder….

Then, a giant BOOM BOOM with lightning takes up an entire spread, as both animals look out a sliding glass door. But as it goes on, the dog panics and the cat plays with a new toy.

Finally, a BOOM so big that even the cat is startled comes. The dog goes and hides in a closet. The cat plays with yet another toy.

But while in the closet, the dog falls asleep and dreams. He dreams he is a superhero fighting the storm.

So, when he wakes up and sees the storm is gone, his last happy line is, “I made the storm go away.”

As usual, my description just doesn’t do this book justice. The pictures of the panicking dog and the unconcerned cat will delight kids, picking up on the beautifully-expressed emotion in the illustrations. The dog taking credit for chasing away the storm is the perfect reversal ending. This light-hearted look at a pretty scary storm may help kids deal with their own fears of real storms, as they watch dog’s antics from a safe place outside the book.

The perfect easy reader is one where you forget it’s easy to read because the story is so engaging. This book achieves exactly that.

HolidayHouse.com

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Review of Simon and the Better Bone, by Corey R. Tabor

Simon and the Better Bone

by Corey R. Tabor

Balzer + Bray, 2023. 40 pages.
Review written July 27, 2023, from a library book
Starred Review

This picture book utterly charmed me. It may be my favorite picture book of the year so far. An Author’s Note at the front says that it’s based on an Aesop’s fable, “But Simon gets a happier ending (he is a good boy, after all).”

From the start, we know this book is different, because you turn the book on its side to have the picture right side up. Then the pages turn from bottom to top instead of the usual side-to-side.

On the title page, we see a sweet brown tail-wagging dog digging something up. There’s a pool reflecting the picture on the lower page (the bottom half of the spread), with some water bugs skating on top of the water, so you clearly understand there’s water there.

As the book begins, now the pond page has the reflection and a few ducks (still reinforcing that there’s water in the bottom half of the spread) and on top (reflected), the dog is proudly carrying a bone and still wagging his tail happily.

Simon was out playing by the pond when he found a bone. If there was a better bone in all the world, Simon hadn’t seen it.

But then Simon spots something in the pond!

It was another bone.
A better bone.

There was a dog holding the bone. But it was a scrawny little dog.
Certainly no match for Simon.

So you can guess how the story goes — lots of facing off with that other dog and his better bone. Posturing, challenging, growling…. Meanwhile, pond critters and other cues remind kids reading that this is Simon’s reflection he’s facing off with.

Finally, there’s a pounce!

But yes, Corey Tabor cleverly finds a sweet way to give Simon a happy ending. Such a good dog!

Part of why I loved this book so much is that I’m a Big Sister – who did a lot of babysitting my younger siblings. (I was third of thirteen kids.) One of my favorite Big Sister Tricks was something a bunch of us discovered. We had a long mirror with a wide shelf in front of it. If you sat a baby in front of the mirror with a ball — the baby will try to get the Other Baby’s ball. Every time. They have an identical ball. But they want the Other Baby’s ball. This greatly amused us older siblings.

And putting this story into this delightful picture book will give kids the joy of knowing what’s really going on. I see an instant storytime classic in this book. So much fun!

coreyrtabor.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of The One and Only Ruby, by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ruby

by Katherine Applegate
illustrated by Patricia Castelao

Harper, 2023. 217 pages.
Starred Review

Katherine Applegate has done it again! She’s written a third book about The One and Only Ivan and his friends. This one features Ruby, the little elephant whom Ivan resolved to protect, and the reason everything changed for them.

In this book, Ruby’s tusks are growing out, and the other elephants in her herd at the Park are teasing her and getting her ready to celebrate her Tuskday.

But Ruby has complicated emotions about growing tusks. In this book, we get her story, back in Africa, of when her mother was killed for her tusks, and what happened to Ruby afterward.

I wasn’t as enchanted by the voice of this book as I was with Ivan’s story, which I could easily believe was a gorilla talking, and a gorilla who’d heard lots of television. I’m not quite sure how Ruby’s vocabulary got so big, but her story was moving. And we did come to understand how mixed her emotions would be about growing up.

Once again, this will motivate young animal lovers to want to help, while entertaining them in the company of long-time friends.

katherineapplegate.com

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Review of Odder, by Katherine Applegate

Odder

by Katherine Applegate
with illustrations by Charles Santoso

Feiwel and Friends, 2022. 274 pages.
Review written January 15, 2023, based on an advance reader copy I got at ALA Annual Conference
Starred Review
2022 Cybils Award Finalist, Novels in Verse

Katherine Applegate does it again! Like The One and Only Ivan, this novel in verse for young animal-loving chapter book readers takes the perspective of a wild animal and completely wins readers’ hearts.

Odder is a young sea otter living in a slough near Monterey Bay off the coast of California. When Odder gets a little too adventurous and ventures into the bay, she’s bitten by a shark and needs the assistance of the scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium — the same people who nurtured her when she was an orphaned pup — to recover and survive. This is Odder’s story.

Along the way, we learn about this endangered species and how humans are learning to care for them so their numbers can increase. Odder’s story is based on actual sea otters helped at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The story is mostly told from Odder’s perspective. And she’s a sea otter — there’s nothing cuter! Her perspective is all about adventure and play. The accompanying illustrations are of course adorable, and this book will oh-so-easily win kids’ hearts.

The story is told in verse, so it’s a much quicker read than it might appear at first. I think the final version may have more cute drawings than my advance reader copy does, but my hold was taking a long time to fill, so I’ve needed to order the library more copies. This book will bring smiles wherever it goes.

katherineapplegate.com
montereybayaquarium.org
mackids.com

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Review of Woo Hoo! You’re Doing Great! by Sandra Boynton

Woo Hoo! You’re Doing Great!

by Sandra Boynton

Little, Brown and Company, 2023. 36 pages.
Review written April 10, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

I’ve loved Sandra Boynton’s work ever since I found her greeting cards in my college bookstore. Recently, she’s moved beyond board books to picture books — and as usual, all ages will enjoy her humor and distinctive style.

I like the flap copy so much, I’m going to quote it here:

We all get overwhelmed sometimes, small people and big people and fictitious animals alike. Probably ESPECIALLY fictitious animals — just imagine how difficult it must be for THEM to believe in themselves.

So if you or someone you know or an imaginary friend of yours could really use a one-chicken cheerleading squad, this is the book for you!

And that’s what this book is about — a one-chicken cheerleading squad, telling various animals they’re doing great.

There’s a fun rhyme scheme, addressing the reader if they might be feeling low.

Or are you feeling quite upended?
Underprepared
and overextended?

If that is the case, you are in luck! Here’s an enthusiastic chicken all set to cheer you on and encourage you!

But when the chicken makes a little blunder, fortunately someone comes along to encourage them.

And that friend reminds us that we can also say these words to ourselves:

WOO HOO! YOU’RE DOING GREAT!

(And you know what? You really are!)

sandraboynton.com

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