Benny and Penny in how to Say Goodbye

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Posted by Danielle | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 12-07-2016

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Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 4.07.39 PMBenny and Penny in How To Say Goodbye
Geoffrey Hayes
Toon Books
September 2016

While playing in the fall leaves, Penny finds that Little Red (a somewhat beloved salamander) has passed away! Penny, shaken and sad, wants to honor Little Red by burying him. But Benny wants nothing to do with this at all! Red was always mean to him, or so he says. Penny and young friend Melina look for the perfect spot to lay Red to rest. Benny though begins to ponder how Red treated him…and perhaps discovers that Red wasn’t as mean as he though.

Death is never an easy subject to talk about, particularly when you’re talking to younger readers. Its hard to know what to say and how to describe what happens or how to deal with the emotions that crop up. And yet, that’s what Geoffrey Hayes does in this touching and heartbreaking story. Following in the tradition of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, Hayes does not shy away from dealing with direct facts or feelings, things that often become overlooked when talking with children about death. While Hayes does not directly talk about what caused Little Red to pass away, he allows Benny to think of a couple of reasons why. But more importantly he discusses the feelings that occur and that it is ok to be sad, but also that there are ways that you can honor the departed and let their memory live on in you. And just like young ones that are likely to be reading the book, their attention on the sadness is somewhat short, focusing instead on the future. While the book is short, it is good way to discuss the feelings that come up about death.

Hayes award winning illustration work, really shines in this story. The soft colored pencil illustrations allow the crisp fall weather to shine through and the emotions to stand out on the faces of the characters. Readers are sure to recognize themselves in the portrayal of the characters, from movements to bury Little Red to interacting with each other.

 

I’m focusing less on Hayes illustrations in this review, mainly because his illustrations are already widely recognized and to be honest, that’s not what caught my interest in the book. It was the story. The story about death and the emotions that rise up from it. And I’m sure that there are going to be people that react negatively to this book, saying its too short or that the kids move away too quickly from it. But I’ll disagree. I made the comparison to Sesame Street and Mister Rogers for a reason. Both of those shows chose to talk about death and what happens with it. They chose to not dumb it down or pretend it didn’t happen for their viewers. They talked about it plainly and calmly to explain what happened, why, and that it was ok to feel this way. And that’s what Hayes does.

I highly recommend this book for young readers and it should be on the shelf of every school library and in public library collections.

Review copy provided by Toon Books

Birdsong

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Posted by Danielle | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 10-07-2016

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Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 2.55.45 PMBirdsong
James Sturm
Toon Books
April 2016

*Disclaimer: I attended Center for Cartoon Studies and know James Sturm*

One red bird, two cruel children, and a powerful wizard come together to tell a story unlike any other. Because in this book, you tell the story. You write the words. You…decide what the pictures mean and what’s happening in them. Told in the tradition of Kamishiabi, Japanese paper theater, James Sturm has crafted a series of illustrations that may tell the most heartbreaking story ever.

How do you write a review for a story that changes, depending upon who tells the story? The answer is…its difficult. Because you can’t write about the story, since what you read might not be what the next person reads. And it’s difficult to write about the pictures, because, again you’re reading the story and the next person might read something different!

So here’s what I’ve come up with: In this book you get to decide the story. YOU. The reader. Or maybe the child next to you. Or the child next to them. Or you can all take turns. Whatever the case may be, the basis for the story is that two cruel kids are mean to animals and then apparently get turned into animals themselves. But what happens in between? What happens at the end? That’s up to you. And the book allows you to write the story in, if you choose to, as the left handed pages are blank with white space. Maybe you can erase it after you tell it one way and write down a different way. Or maybe you can just insert pages so that you can see the different ways that you’ve told the story and keep your favorites. Or maybe you just let the blank pages speak for themselves. That’s up to you though.

This is the type of book that would be great to engage reluctant readers, by allowing them to submit what they think happens. Let them be the author for the day, with a master illustrator by their side, already having provided the images. They can inspire and engage each other and the group can talk about the different things they see in this book or don’t see. That’s what this story is about. You getting to make the choices. What do the characters learn from their (mis)adventures? Do they find forgiveness? Do they continue on their path to cruelty? Or maybe something else all together.

The one quibble I have with this book, is that in Kamishibai, you can move the pages into different orders. Which really adds a different element to the story being different each time. While that may be somewhat more difficult to produce in book form, it would have been an interesting challenge that I’m sure could have led to a special edition of the book being published.
While the book is geared towards younger readers, I would recommend it for all ages, for the critical thinking skills that are needed to interpret the images and to create a cohesive and compelling story.

Review copy provided by Toon Books

Flop to the Top

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Posted by Danielle | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 09-07-2016

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Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 2.30.55 PMFlop To The Top!
Eleanor Davis & Drew Weing
Toon Books
September 2015

“I’m a superstar!” so says Wanda. Her brother and sister are her loyal “fans”, but her most loyal of all, is her dog Wilbur. She and Wilbur do everything together, including watching their favorite show “The Star Show” and Sassy Cat! Wanda is ready to show the world how Wanda-ful she is and has just posted her latest selfie. When she wakes up in the morning she finds it has 20 million likes! And Wanda is ready for her fame! Except…they’ve come for…WILBUR???!? Now Wilbur is the famous one! And Wanda is all alone. What’s a girl to do?

In this fun and engaging book cartoonists Eleanor Davis & Drew Weing create a story that is sure to resonate with many young readers (and older ones as well.) In this day and age of “superstars” where you compete for your fame on every show possible, Davis & Weing have given us the most superstar of superstars in Wanda, who is ready to be famous, just because…she’s Wanda. But what happens when Wanda discovers, she isn’t the superstar she thought she was? That’s where the story really starts to pick up and Davis & Weing have Wanda start to take a close look at herself and wonder…maybe she isn’t all that, just because she wants to be? Maybe, just maybe, she’s just Wanda and that’s all that the world might need.

The bold, warm colors in the story capture Wanda’s energy and lively spirit and her wide eyed smile will help readers relate to her, even if she is bossy. In fact, the only muted color in the entire book is Wilbur. The down to earth, humble, yet big star, dog. It sets him apart from the bright colors of his endearing fans and Wanda’s own energy, allowing the reader to easily follow him along his journey. The varying panel sizes and perspectives on each page help the reader follow the energetic pacing of the story and the excitement that the reader feels as they wait to see what happens between Wanda and Wilbur. They keep up the varying panel sizes and perspectives until the very end when…well I can’t tell you that part. That would spoil the story! But you’ll see how it fits.

This engaging story will keep readers giggling as Wanda prances around the early part of the story declaring herself a superstar and pause to think as Wanda begins to realize maybe…she’s not the superstar she thinks she is. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll learn something along the way. This book is recommended for all ages, as well all can use a dose of humility and learn that we aren’t all superstars and that perhaps we don’t need to be.

Review copy provided by Toon Books

The Real Poop on Pigeons

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Posted by Danielle | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 08-07-2016

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Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 1.50.34 PMThe Real Poop on Pigeons!
Kevin McCloskey
Toon Books
April 2016

OK, OK, OKKKKK!!! Pigeons!?! Seriously? A book about pigeons? I mean…pigeons!!! Aren’t they just rats with wings? Heck no! Pigeons can fly faster than car and father than a small airplane!  They’ve played a vital role in history. Heck, even Picasso named his daughter after them!

Kevin McCloskey, author of We Dig Worms, comes back to Toon Books with well-researched facts, sense of humor, and fun visual style to tell us about…pigeons. Kevin tells us the story of pigeons through a group of young children in pigeon costumes who learned all they needed to know in P.S. 101 (pigeon school 101) as they correct our misconceptions about the wonder of pigeons. Yes pigeons. And yes one of the characters even calls them rats with wings. But after reading this book, you’re likely to reconsider your stance. At least on all pigeons. Because pigeons have had a vital role in our history, from bringing us our mail to being used during the war to deliver important messages to just helping us better understand the world around us. Having kids dressed as pigeons is a fun way to deliver facts and help correct misconceptions that readers, both young and old, are likely to have about the birds.

Kevin painted each image in the book, yes painted, on pigeon-blue Fabriano paper, that gives the illustrations a much different feel. While blue would normally be used for a somber mood, the blue here is more…lively. More like the pale blue of the sky on an early spring day, just as you start to notice the animal young around you. It also allows Kevin to show different details than he normally would. By using blue paper, he’s able to paint white pigeons, allowing some of the blue to show through to give it a sense of depth and life that he would have been unable to do with other colors of paper. The illustrations are lively and the characters are fun to follow around as they talk about pigeons, in their pigeon costumes. My favorite page is actually the last page though, where one of the characters learning about pigeons decides squirrels are the bad ones instead. And we see him saying this in the background where some young children are seated on the swing set dressed in…what else? Squirrel costumes. I really hope Kevin does a book about squirrels next because that would be awesome.

This fun little book gives readers a chance to learn more about pigeons and how they aren’t quite as ugly as one might think. In fact, some of them can be downright fancy. While this book doesn’t contain enough information to do a full report on pigeons, it does contain enough to give readers a sense of where to start looking for information and to start changing their perception on what they think. Recommended for collection for K-2 grade.

Review copy provided by Toon Books

A Goofy Guide to Penguins

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Posted by Danielle | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 07-07-2016

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Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 1.21.32 PMA Goofy Guide to Penguins
Jean-Luc Coudray (Author), Philippe Coudray (Illustrator)
Toon Books
May 2016

Have you ever wondered how to tell penguins apart? I mean, they all look the same after all don’t they? Heck no! You tell them apart by the color of their snow gear of course! Hats, mittens, boots, what color do they wear? And what type? This book will teach you all of that, plus so many more questions that you probably never thought to ask!

So first question to answer, are these facts true? Of course not! Which is why the book is titled “A Goofy Guide” and “Everything you never, ever asked about penguins.” Twin brothers Jean-Luc and Philippe Coudray, best known for their Benjamin Bear series, continue to use their delightful sense of humor to answer questions that many of us probably never thought of, much less ever really wanted to know.In this fun and charming book the brothers tell us everything from “How do penguins stay out of the wind” to “why do they carve bottles out of ice” (to serve drinks of course!) The writing is simple enough to engage young readers to look for the answers to the questions (told through illustrations) while making older readers laugh at the types of questions being answered.

The best part of this book for me is that the brothers never directly answer the question, instead allowing the reader to look for the answer within the illustrations. The illustrations are filled with bright colors and funny antics of penguins trying to stay warm or playing hide and go seek. The colors and actions of the penguins will draw the reader in to the illustrations, noticing the tiny details of the small fish swimming next to the big fish or the rain falling sideways. Oh and how can I forget the baby penguin! The baby penguin (which is as cute and adorable as it sounds) stands outside the frame of the story narrating and asking the reader questions that they want answered. The baby penguin rolls about, catches its feet as it giggles and laughs at us, giggling and laughing at the penguins.

If you’re looking for a book to learn true facts about penguins never fear!…this book has a grand total of two pages at the end with real facts. Ermm…basically if you’re looking for a book about real penguin facts, look elsewhere. If, however, you are looking for a book that will engage the reader and use critical thinking skills to answer questions (even if they are weird and off the wall) then this is the book for you. And oh yes, if you’re just looking for a fun read this is a good book to pick up.

Review Copy provided by Toon Books

 

Oedipus Trapped by Destiny

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Posted by Danielle | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 06-07-2016

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Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 12.35.07 PMOedipus: Trapped by Destiny
Yvan Pommaux (Illustrator), Richard Kutner (Translator)
June 7, 2016
Toon Books

Gather around and hear this ancient story of a young man born to a terrible fate. One which he cannot escape. King Laius and his lovely Queen Jacosta are delighted with the news that they will have a child. Sure that it is to be a boy Laius traveled to the oracles to confirm, whereupon he is told a horrible prediction: the young prince will kill his father and marry his mother. Laius decides to kill his son before that prophecy can ever be filled and a trusted servant leaves the child in the fields to be eaten by the wild animals nearby. But fate cannot be avoided so easily. And the child survives. And the gods will not be denied.

One of the things that I’ve grown to love about Toon Books, well basically since the first time I read one of their books, is that they seek the best of the best to create books that will be loved and cherished, and that most importantly don’t talk down to their readers, which to me is the most important thing to look for in a books geared towards a younger audience. They don’t try to hide the story of what happened to the characters that we’re reading about or the trials and tribulations they went through. Because far too often in a book like this, you wouldn’t see this type of tale told in comic style, because of the types of questions that younger readers are likely to ask. Like “How the heck can Oedipus marry his mom??” But Toon Books encourages questions and that is important for all ages.

In this retelling of Oedipus’s tragic story French Cartoonist Yvan Poummaux brings all of his talents to bear to weave a story that will capture the reader’s attention and enthrall them with the tale that they’re reading. While the story itself is a fairly traditional retelling of poor Oedipus, the artwork is what makes the difference in this story. Poummaux allows the reader to see the faces of the characters close up and pays particular attention to their expressions, to show their shock and horror as they hear their fate or realize what they’ve done. Given that this is a tale of tragedy (as most Greek tales are) are muted and dim, allowing the subtle grimness of the tale to seep into the art. Even the pages themselves are tinted to a somber paleness too never give off the impression that there is hope. Even for a second.

In terms of pacing some readers might be a bit confused as Poummaux varies his grid panel depending upon what part of the story he’s at. And while the story always moves downward, the reader should pay particular attention to how the panels are moving, as it emphasizes parts of the story more than others. Full panel pages allow the reader to see the horror in the characters faces, while panels spaced three or more on a page give the reader a broader sense of the beats of the story, allowing them to build tension and start to visualize what might come next. This type of storytelling while common in Europe, has been less common in the States. Although this is slowly changing as more publishers, like Toon Books and First Second, seek to bring the best stories to their readers.

My one minor quibble with the book is that they include pronunciations of the names of the characters at the very bottom of the page, which sometimes get lost amidst the illustrations. I would say that a bounding box would help with that, but honestly it would take away from the story even more. I think the best solution is one that they already have in the closing endpapers are an index of characters and locations, providing more information on each, including pronunciations. I think this would be less confusing and help keep the flow of the story. The opening endpapers are also part of the story, giving readers a map that show the location of the various events in the book.

This is a solid book and continuation of the Toon mythology series. I would recommend this for any library system, young or old, as it will help readers better understand the story they’re reading about.

Review copy provided by Toon Books