Dragon and Captain

Dragon and Captain is a fun story that celebrates the power of imagination and play.

Picture book, fiction
Interest level: K-3; Reading level: 1.4
YHBA Picture Book nominee 2017
5 out of 5 stars


There are so many things to love about Dragon and Captain — the bright illustrations, the celebration of imagination, a good friendship story, the graphic novel style format, and … who doesn’t love pirates and dragons!

The story begins with a young boy, dressed in a partial dragon costume, enjoying a bowl of cereal, when he suddenly notices there is a pirate playing in his sandbox. After introducing himself to the pirate, the dragon discovers that he is not a pirate, but just a regular captain who has lost his ship. The dragon, while slightly disappointed that he is not a pirate captain, takes charge and comes up with a plan to help the captain find his lost ship.
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What makes this story outstanding is the flow and timing of the illustrations. The story switches back and forth between depicting two boys playing dragon and captain to the story being ABOUT a dragon and a captain. This follows the way a child’s imagination perceives the world as they play. They no longer see themselves as wearing a costume and playing a part, they become the part and the way they see the world changes to accommodate immersing themselves in play.

Lucas Turnbloom utilizes graphic novel style panels to keep readers on track as they read the story. He flawlessly melds the worlds of real and make believe while keeping the plot moving forward. At no point does the storyline stop progressing.

The bright and cartoon-like illustrations capture your attention, and the strength of the story will keep young and older readers engaged. This would make a fun read-aloud, especially if done with different voices for the characters. It could also be adapted into a 4-person readers theater production.
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As an aside from the wonder of the story and illustrations, I want to note that I really appreciate the way the parents are depicted. The story primarily features the two kids playing, but in the background we see two female figures talking while one puts laundry onto an outdoors clothesline. My first thought was that the wife/mothers in the story had been placed in some 1950s-style role. However, this is balanced by the end of the story where the father/husband is inside cooking the meal. While this isn’t really integral to the plot, I appreciate books that don’t stereotype male/female roles with dad as the breadwinner and mom taking care of the domestic tasks. Kudos for parents sharing in household tasks!


Dragon and Captain
written by P.R. Attabach; illustrated by Lucas Turnbloom
Flashlight Press, 2015
ISBN 978-1-9362613-3-8

The Bear Report

A young girl undertakes a magical journey as she is working on a school report about polar bears.

Picture book, fiction
Interest level: K-3; Reading level: 1.2
YHBA picture book nominee, 2017-2018
5 out of 5 stars


The book opens with a young girl who is hurries through a book report on polar bears so she can watch TV. She writes three things: they are big; they eat things; they are mean.
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Suddenly, a polar bear is crowded onto a chair in her living room. He informs her, “We’re not all mean.” Thus begins a wonderful excursion where Sophie visits Olafur’s environment and begins to learn that there’s a lot more beauty, excitement, and interesting facts about polar bears than she originally thought.
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With sparse text and stunning watercolor and pencil illustrations, Thyra Heder provides a few facts about polar bears, but more importantly she inspires a wonder for more knowledge. The story ends with Sophie actively researching and creating tons of notes and illustrations about polar bears, but I believe that the true magic of this book is that it could be read to young children as an engagement activity to get them interested in their own arctic animal research.

There is a brief Author’s Note in the back that talks about the author’s trip to Iceland and what inspiration she found there. Additionally, many kudos to Abrams for responsibly sourcing the paper for the book!


The Bear Report
by Thyra Heder
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015
ISBN 978-1-4197-0783-4

Legend

Young adult fans of dystopian fiction will love the story of Day and June and their battle to find the truth.

Fiction, dystopian, science fiction
Interest level: young adult
2013-2014 YHBA middle grade nominee
5 out of 5 stars


Set in some unspecified time, Legend is a fascinating look into a futuristic world. Some cataclysmic event has occurred which changed both the physical and political landscape of the United States. The area of the country that we know as California is now called the Republic, and the two main characters hail from very different classes.

June is an brilliant prodigy, born into an elite military family. Day is her opposite — born in the slums, he failed the his Trial and was scheduled to die. He is street smart with a true strength of character. Day is accused of killing June’s brother, and as she sets out to seek revenge and destroy him, she learns more about the Republic and herself.

I find the worlds that authors create in dystopian fiction to be fascinating. Marie Lu has done an amazing job envisioning a society based upon class struggles, propaganda, and mystery. She gives the reader brief glimpses into what might have happened to lead to a fractured United States, but she does not offer any type of complete picture or description. A deep cover-up is also briefly hinted at, which I am assuming becomes more central to the story as it continues in the next two books in the trilogy.

Legend is told in alternating points of view between Day and June. This lets the reader into the thoughts and motivations of both characters. The characters are well-developed and multidimensional, causing readers to become highly invested in their story.

Due to a more mature theme and high levels of violence, I would recommend this book to readers grade 7 and older.


Legend
by Marie Lu
Scholastic, 2011
ISBN 978-0-545-57052-7

Gravity

This fascinating book reads like a child’s fantasy, but is a great introduction to gravity for young children!

Gravity
by Jason Chin
A Neal Porter book, Roaring Brook Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-59643-717-3
Picture book, nonfiction, narrative
32 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 23 x 29 cm
Dewey: 531; Int Lvl: K-3; Rd Lvl: 5.3
YHBA 2016-2017 picture book nominee
5 out of 5 stars


This book is a wonderful hybrid between a fantastical story and an informational text. It is a great way to introduce the concept and study of gravity to young children. The story begins up in the sky and through a series of five pages explains that “gravity…makes…objects…fall…to earth.” The object falling to earth turns out to be a book about gravity.

The book falls to the spot where a young boy is playing on the beach with a toy astronaut and rocket ship. The lesson on gravity continues with learning that “without gravity, everything would float away.” As with the book being pulled to earth as we read about that gravity fact, everything on the beach now floats away as we learn about lack of gravity. The young boy manages to hold onto a boulder, and the reader now accompanies the astronaut, rocket ship, and other beach items as they float into space.
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The book then explains that gravity keeps the sun, earth, and moon in alignment and ends with restating that gravity makes objects fall to earth. The twist to the story is that the spaceman and astronaut have not fallen back to the boy on the beach, but have landed amidst young girls operating a lemonade stand.

Chin’s whimsical and close-up, super-real, style of illustrations, combined with the fanciful story, remind me of Bill Thomson books: Chalk, Fossil, and The Typewriter. Be sure to read the final page, where we see the boy on the beach in shock as he catches a pitcher of lemonade that falls from the sky. The boy and girls have inherited each others’ items that defied gravity. Once readers understand the switch that occurs, they need to go back to other images in the story and they will see hints they might have missed during the first reading.

The story itself is not going to replace any classroom lessons about gravity, but the book would make a fun introduction or accompaniment to such a unit. There is additional information about gravity in the back of the book, as well as a bibliography.

My Grandfather’s Coat

This is a very well-done retelling of a Yiddish folksong, “I Had a Little Overcoat.”

My Grandfather’s Coat
retold by Jim Aylesworth; illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Scholastic Press, 2014
ISBN 978-0-439-92545-7
Picture book, fiction, folksong
32 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 29 cm
Dewey: 398.2
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 2.4
Lexile measure: 910
YHBA 2016-2017 picture book nominee
4 out of 5 stars


My Grandfather’s Coat is a retelling of a Yiddish folksong, “I Had a Little Overcoat.” The story begins with a young man coming to America on a ship. We see him posing as they pass in front of the Statue of Liberty. This boy becomes a tailor, meets a woman, and asks her to marry him. When she agrees, he makes a handsome blue coat to wear on his wedding day. He wears the coat until he wears it out, and then he cuts it smaller and makes a jacket.

The story features several repeated refrains. The first repeats:

My grandfather loved the jacket, and he wore it, and he wore it. And little bit by little bit, he frayed it, and he tore it, until at last…he wore it out!

Once he wears it out, the second repeated refrain begins:

He went right to work, and he snipped, and he clipped, and he stitched, and he sewed, and out of the still-good cloth of his smart jacket, he made…”

The fabric transforms from coat, to jacket, to vest, to tie, to kittens’ toy, to a cozy nest, until at last it is nothing at all, except as remembered in this story.

Barbara McClintock’s ink and watercolor illustrations perfectly accompany the story. There is an old-fashioned feel to the style which matches the folk story. McClintock has also done an excellent job aging the characters in the story in realistic and recognizable ways. She has also incorporated changing fashions and changes in the grandfather’s sewing machines to show the progression of time.

Children will enjoy this addition to the folk story genre because of the repetition and the transformation of the coat. Young children can predict what the next version of the garment may be.

A Perfectly Messed-Up Story; 4 out of 5 stars #bookaday

This is a fun, interactive story that leaves the reader with a good lesson.

A Perfectly Messed-Up Story
by Patrick McDonnell
Little, Brown and Company, 2014
ISBN 978-0-316-22258-7
33 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 22 x 25 cm
YHBA picture book nominee, 2016
Interest level: K-3; reading level: 2.1
4 out of 5 stars


The narrator begins the story with Louie skipping along and singing. Until suddenly a splat of grape jelly lands on the page halting him in his tracks. Speech bubbles now have Louie interacting with both the jelly and the reader directly, breaking through the hidden fourth wall.

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My absolutely favorite page is when Louie is complaining about people who would eat a jelly sandwich while reading his story and gets peanut butter plopped on his head! More and more keeps happening, and the contrast between the water color illustrations of the story, and the real-looking splats, plops, fingerprints, etc. that invade the story made a delightful contrast.

After a brief tantrum, Louie realizes that even with all the interruptions and smears and stains, his story is just fine and he isn’t going to let anything stop him! A wonderful message to share with children. What makes it even more special is that just when Louie takes the stand and states that nothing is going to stop him, the next page reads, “The End.”

Definitely a lot of laugh out loud moments that young readers will delight in as they share this book with an adult or read on their own.

Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears; 4 out of 5 stars #bookaday

by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Beth Coulton; illustrated by Nate Wragg
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), 2014
ISBN: 978-0-399-25685-1
Picture book, fiction, fractured fairy tale
YHBA nominee, 2016-2017
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 3.4
4 out of 5 stars


There are a lot of fractured fairy tales that remake Goldilocks and the Three Bears. So while this isn’t exactly a new idea, Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears puts a new, musical spin on the story.

In this version, the three bears play in a band and realize that they need a lead singer who can hit the high notes. So they leave their home studio to go host tryouts. Meanwhile, Goldi smells porridge and heads inside. She sees the home studio, and quickly abandons the porridge to try out the microphone, headphones, and musical instruments. As in the fairy tale, only Baby Bear’s equipment is just right. Exhausted, Goldi falls asleep on Baby Bear’s keyboard, and the bears return home. Startled out of sleep, Goldi screams in the perfect high C, and the bears have found their singer.

Goldi Rocks stays true to the original fairy tale, yet adds a decidedly fresh spin. The rhyming text sounds wonderful when spoken, and moves at a quick pace, making this an ideal read-aloud. It is also fun to see some other fairy tale characters appear in the auditions. The art was done with pencil, painted textures, and Adobe Photoshop and has a film-like cartoon quality that matches the style and plot of the story well.

This would make an excellent addition to a lesson featuring fractured fairy tales.