To Be or not to Be

Should we always follow the path seemingly meant for us? I’m not sure I ever had a path meant for me, but I doubt that I followed it. In any event, the characters in these stories took different paths. Hope you enjoy them.

 

Ice Boy

David Ezra Stein

Illustrated by David Ezra Stein

What happens when you don’t want what others expect you to want? How far can you go toward your goals? Ice Boy loves his family, and loves to play with them, though he’s not fond of the tough ice cubes at the back of the freezer. But he doesn’t think his ultimate goal should be providing coolness to somebody’s drink. Nor does he want to be in a cold compress for some injury. Instead he wants to explore the world. He wants to stand in the sun, even though his doctor told not to. He goes to the beach and rolls into the ocean, where, slowly but surely, he becomes water boy. He is part of a wave and then another wave, until finally he washes up onto somebody’s beach towel. The sun slowly turns him into vapor boy and carries him up to the clouds. He goes so high, he becomes a drop of water, but then he is high enough to freeze into an ice cube. A storm drops him out of the sky and into someone’s drink at his very own house.  His parents are in the drink with him, but when the person takes a sip, he tastes Ice Boy first and decides the cube doesn’t taste good. Out on to lawn, Ice Boy and his parents are launched. His parents worry what will become of them, but their son says, “Let’s find out.” This is a clever way to teach children about what can happen to water. The illustrations are playful and appealing.

BIBLIO: 2017, Candlewick Press, Ages 5 to 8, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-7636-8203-3

 

The second story was wonderfully done, even though it took me a bit of time to figure we weren’t in modern times. I could easily picture the old comedian with his old poodle.

 

Mort Ziff Is Not Dead

Cary Fagan

In the fall of 1965, Norman Fishbein wins $1000 for guessing the correct number Doozy Dots in a jar. Even his two older brothers are nice to him for a change while he decides what to do with his prize money. In the end, he doesn’t give the money to his folks to repair the roof. Instead, he pays for the whole family to go to Miami Beach, Florida, during the Christmas holiday. At first, the family is stunned, but then they all get into the mood. Mr. and Mrs. Fishbein say they’ll pay for the extras like food and other stuff not included in air travel and hotel rooms expenses. Norman’s brothers are actually a little kinder to him. They are thrilled to be out of wintery Canada for a week. The first day in Miami, the family is enjoying the pool when they spot an elderly gentleman dressed in a black suit, wandering around the deck area carrying a miniature poodle. Turns out he’s a comedian named Mort Ziff.  He was quite the character in his younger days. Norman’s father is thrilled to see him, having thought Mort died years ago. The boys are threatened by three sisters about the same ages as Norman and his brothers swim in the hotel pool. The older two girls and Norman’s brothers challenge each other to duels. But Norman and Amy, the youngest sister, don’t really want to fight. They’d rather just hang out in the ratty old coffee shop drinking milk shakes. They end up saving their new friend, Mort Ziff, from being fired and kicked out of his room at the hotel. The book is amusing, though it wasn’t readily apparent what decade this took place in.

BIBLIO: 2017, Puffin/Penguin Canada Books Inc/Penguin Random House, Ages 8 to 12, $15.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Middle Reader

ISBN: 978-0-14-319847-5

ISBN: 978-0-14-319849-9

 

When I was a child, comic books had bodybuilder ads in them. “Don’t be the 90 pound weakling who loses his girlfriend.” Instead become a bodybuilder. There was usually a picture of a skinny guy getting sand kicked into his face by a boorish bully. Then the next picture was of Mr. Skinny looking like Mr. Hulk and all the girls swooning over him. See what you missed out on by being born later than I?

Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth

Don Tate

Illustrated by Don Tate

Eugene Sandow was a scrawny, sickly child named Friedrich Wilhelm Müller, but he soon learned what he wanted was to be a body builder. Though his father was not pleased, Friedrich followed his dream. He worked and worked on developing more muscle and finally decided he wanted to become the strongest man on Earth. It wasn’t easy, but he kept at it until he was, indeed, the strongest man on Earth. He decided that he also needed to improve his showmanship and changed his name to Eugene Sandow. He traveled the world showing off his physique. He wrote books and magazine articles on how to be a strong man. He opened a gym and designed his own muscle-building equipment and techniques. After a much-needed rest, Eugene started a competition for bodybuilders. An interesting twist to this story is about the author, Don Tate, who was a bodybuilder in his own right. At the end of the book are illustrations of simple exercises to keep your body strong and flexible, even if you don’t want to be the Strongest Person in the World. This is a very inspiring book and has many opportunities for starting classroom discussions. It’s thought-provoking to note that the illustrations were digitally created using Manga Studio.

BIBLIO: 2017, Charlesbridge, Ages 6 to 8, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 9781580896283

ISBN: 9781607348863

ISBN: 9781607348870

 

Ah, Love

Love is a complicated problem. However, it is a wonderful experience and can last a lifetime, if you work at it. Young love is especially difficult because the lovers aren’t even sure of their own feelings and they’re generally not used to dealing with tragedy or rejection, so they take all bumps in the road as catastrophes. These two books deal with young loves ins and outs quite nicely.

 

The first one has many twists and much amusement in it. And Ms. Rider really makes the reader relate to the trials and tribulations of being stranded in a large city during a blizzard. But she also makes the reader understand the beauty of such a storm.

 

Kiss Me in New York

Catherine Rider

Charlotte is on her way home to England after spending a semester in New York. Two weeks before the story opens with her checking in for her flight, her American boyfriend breaks up with her, rather cruelly. She arrives five hours ahead of her flight and is killing time looking for something to read in an airport bookstore, where she meets a hipster hottie who buys her the book she was looking at, “Get Over Your Ex in Ten Easy Steps!” He shows her the cheesy T-shirt he bought his girlfriend and asks her opinion. As they walk out of the bookstore, they witness a very embarrassing breakup of two kids about their ages. Leaving the shunned boy standing with a dozen red roses, hipster hottie embraces the girl and does a very passionate lip-lock with her. To make things even more frustrating, Charlotte’s flight is canceled because of a blizzard shutting the airport down. She doesn’t want to spend her last New York night in a boring, probably beige, hotel room. She ends up sitting next to the kicked-to-the-curb boy, Anthony, and they start talking. She persuades him to accompany her around Manhattan and follow the ten-easy steps outlined in the book hipster hottie bought her. They have a lot of adventures, including co-adopting a dog, and not only get over their exes, but discover a bond between them. Though Anthony lives in city, he does not want to spend Christmas with his family. He doesn’t think they’re trying to deal with of his mother’s death the previous spring. At Charlotte’s insistence, the two go to his house where he discovers that his whole family is dealing the tragedy. This is sweet and funny story, with lots of good advice from the self-help book.

BIBLIO: 2017, KCP Loft/Kids Can Press/Corus Entertainment Inc./Working Partners, Ages 14 +, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1-77138-848-1

 

This second book focuses on learning how to love even in times of difficulty, when the pair aren’t reading each other’s body and emotional clues. It’s a good reminder to not shut down your conversation with your partner.

 

The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Dash, nee Dashiell, fell in love with Lily in the first book of this series, about a year before this story opens. Things go swimmingly until Lily’s precious grandfather has a heart attack. But when Lily is consumed with taking care of him, Dash blames her cool behavior on having too much to worry about. He tries all kinds of things to get her to open up, but nothing seems to work and Christmas, Lily’s favorite holiday, is getting closer. Lily’s older brother, Langston, who is not at all fond of Dash, is so worried about his sister, he even takes Dash to lunch so they can plan something special to bring Lily back to her usually sweet self. Everything Dash tries fails miserably and everything Lily tries to make things better fails miserably. Of course, in the end, Dash and Lily work their problems out and are even more in love. The story is told alternately in Dash and Lily’s voices, and is quite humorous in many places. All the characters are genuinely caring, smart and believable. Dash’s friend Boomer is a hoot. The book is a good read and a useful opening for discussion of personal relationship dos and don’ts.

BIBLIO: 2016, Borzoi Books/Alfred A. Knopf/Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House LLC, Ages 14 +, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Young Adult

ISBN: 978-0-399-55380-6

ISBN: 978-0-399-55381-3

ISBN: 978-0-399-55382-0

ISBN: 978-1-5247-0110-9

 

Hope you enjoy the books. I think I’ll do books about Autumn next week. Stay well, Sarah.

 

Are Stories Old Hat or Not?

How many ways can the same concept be told? How many picture books can be different? Presumably, there are only so many concepts in the world and only so many ways of telling the same story. But, I wonder if that is true. Two of the picture books I’m reviewing here are about common childhood problems. Not being able to fall asleep is fairly common problem.

I remember at the age of four being sent to bed for my afternoon nap. Well, my older brothers and sister didn’t have to take afternoon naps, so, why should I? I remember being tucked into bed by our maid/nanny with shades drawn and the lights out. Richard, Anne and Bill were in the garden having a fine time playing. Hardly seemed fair. I got out of bed, walked down the stairs and into the kitchen. I looked up at Ruth, a very large and stern woman.

“I don’t need to take a nap,” I said with my hands on my hips.

“Oh, yes you do,” said Ruth.

Without another word, I turned on my heel, marched myself back upstairs, climbed into bed and promptly went to sleep. Sound familiar?

Being the youngest sibling, I was frequently not allowed to have my way. Since these are my memories, I don’t remember being the bossy one ever, but I probably was upon occasion.

 

 

The first story addresses the problem of a child learning not to be bossy or selfish.

 

Me, Me, Me

Annika Dunklee

Illustrated by Lori Joy Smith

Annie, Lillemor and Lilianne are best friends. That is, until they decide to enter the school talent show as an all-girl trio. When the girls meet to plan what they’ll wear and sing and who will be lead singer, Annie hogs the show. She picks the song, what they’ll wear and what they’ll call their trio. Lillemor and Lilianne are angry because their protests are answered by Annie saying it was her idea. The two are happy when Annie decides to go as a solo act. But when Annie practices singing her song, she discovers something is missing, so she asks Penny and Ella to sing with her. Unfortunately, Ella and Penny don’t let Annie be in charge. In the meantime, Lilianne and Lillemor realize they can’t sing the high notes the way Annie does. Annie decides to ask her two friends if they’ll forgive her and sing with her at the talent show. Rather than call themselves the Mi, Mi, Mi trio, they agree on All One. The characters are different looking and come from different parts of the world. Teachers can use this story to discuss sharing and ethnicity.

BIBLIO: 2017, Kids Can Press Ltd/Corus Entertainment Inc., Ages 5 to7, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-77138-660-9

 

The second story I review here has the theme of a child not being ready for bed.

Getting a child to settle down for sleeping time can frequently be a problem. After all, there’s a lot out there to explore and do. Why waste it sleeping?

 

 

Monkey not Ready for Bedtime

Marc Brown

Illustrated by Marc Brown

It’s Monkey’s bedtime, so he pulls on his jammies, brushes his teeth and puts his favorite toy bunny in bed with him. Only problem is he can’t fall asleep. What’s a young monkey to do, if he’s thirsty and not tired and it’s too dark in his room? Mommy gives him warm milk and Daddy rubs his back, but Monkey is not ready for bed. The problem is that Monkey is too tired the next day to pay attention in school or play with his friends. Finally, his big brother suggests Monkey count his favorite things, because that might help him fall asleep. But counting bugs or red crayons or toys or even raspberry ice cream cones doesn’t do the trick. Ah ha! he remembers. Dinosaurs are his favorite animal. He starts counting them and then imagines playing with them. Soon, animals and Monkey are sound asleep. Most children love having stories read to them at bedtime and this one has enough charm to it, that reader and child will enjoy reading it again. In the future, though, the author and his editors might be a bit more careful about verb tense, though the listener probably won’t notice the mistake and the drawings are cute.

BIBLIO: 2017, Borzoi Books/Alfred A. Knopf/Random House Children’s Books/Penguin Random House, LLC, Ages 2 to 6, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-1-101-93761-7

ISBN: 978-1-101-93762-4

ISBN: 978-1-101-93763-1

 

Everybody I know enjoys looking at and reading silly stories. The pictures make us laugh and words keep us engaged.

 

Roger Is Going Fishing

Koen Van Biesen

Illustrated by Koen Van Biesen

Translated by Laura Watkinson

Next in the series of stories about Roger and his adventures, this book shows Roger pedaling his bike along a busy street. A child named Emily is riding with him holding a big fishing rod that stretches behind her waving its line and hook. In the front of the bicycle is Bob the dog standing in the carrying basket holding a book while his very large ears flap in the wind. The trio is riding along a busy city street where they pass a young postman carrying lots of boxes. Oops, the hook snags the top box. Emily hollers to Roger that she has a bite, but he tells her she can’t fish yet. Not until they get to the lake. Next, they bumble-de-bump past an elegant woman and snag her umbrella and again Emily is told she can’t fish yet. Eventually, Roger, Emily and Bob reach the lake followed by the postman, the woman, a saxophone player, a daddy pushing his baby in a carriage, a guy playing a drum, three sheep and a cow. Roger can’t stop before he runs off the dock and sends Emily catapulting into the lake. He grabs his fishing rod and calls out to Emily that he’s caught a great big…fish? No. He’s caught Emily. The drawings are quite comical and will make readers of all ages giggle.

BIBLIO: 2017 (orig. 2015,) Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers/Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Ages 3 to 8,  ??.

REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan

FORMAT: Picture Book

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5491-9