Wolf Won’t Bite! written and illustrated by Emily Gravett
In a seeming role reversal from the original fairy tale, three little pigs capture a big, toothy wolf and put him on display in their very own circus where, no matter what they do, “wolf won’t bite!”
Sure of their safety despite their antics, the three little pigs (dressed in a strongman leotard, ringmaster suit, and frilly tutu) continue to up the ante in their circus acts, rejoicing in the knowledge that they are safe no matter what. Kids will delight in going from one page to the next as the pigs lift Wolf in the air, make him jump through hoops, and even shoot him from a cannon. While the pigs twirl in excitement, safe and sound, wolf looks confused at his predicament, and kids will laugh at the ridiculous pictures and, in a twist from the original story, perhaps even feel sorry for the poor wolf as he’s dressed up and put on display. In the end, predictably, wolf is tested to his limit and the three little pigs… Well, let’s just say things don’t go according to plan! Continue reading No Matter What, “Wolf Won’t Bite!”
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
Jack Gantos has a whole summer planned full of baseball, history books, and war movies when suddenly, caught in the middle of his quarreling parents, he becomes “grounded for life,” ruining everything. Even though he lives in the dying town of Norvelt (originally founded by Eleanor Roosevelt to help poor families) and there’s not much to do, when his mom volunteers him to help an aging neighbor type up the town’s obituaries, he’s less than thrilled. Soon, though, Jack finds himself absorbed in the town’s history and the “original” Norvelters, as his spunky neighbor calls them, and he’ll do anything to get out of house arrest and over to help her in her task. Soon he’s involved not only with the obituaries but in a feud with an old man who ride’s a trike, play-acting the Grim Reaper, distributing Girl Scout cookies, digging a fake bomb shelter, and a near-constant nose bleed, not to mention a potential murder. Suddenly his summer is anything but dull!
Described as “melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional,” Dead End in Norvelt is a most-times funny and sometimes heart-breaking story of a boy coming of age in an old town past its prime full of wacky yet believable characters. Both darker and lighter themes blend with Gantos’ humor as Jack finds himself imbedded in nearly everything going on in town. The relationships between Jack’s parents and himself are enough to fill a book, but author Gantos has woven an entire town’s worth of personalities and interactions together seamlessly. Continue reading History Turns Into Itself in This Newbery Winner
When you first meet author Erik Korhel, he comes across as quiet, subdued. When you open up one of his collections of poems, though, you realize he’s anything but.
When we met Erik, he was doing a story-time event at the store, reading from his books with the help of an actor to bring the pages to life. (His books, as mentioned in the review of The Kid with the Red Juice Mustache I wrote a couple of months back, have also been turned into plays that are performed across the state in theaters, schools, and libraries.) Afterward I got the chance to interview him–here’s what he had to say!
You said that The Kid with the Red Juice Mustache was written and illustrated after your own childhood experiences. What is your favorite story that you incorporated into a poem from childhood?
I think my favorite is called “Sizzle”, which is about using your imagination as a child [for example] playing the hot lava game. That really sums up how I was as a kid.
I definitely played the hot lava game as a kid. There were though alligators in the lava. They were mutant alligators.
Yeah, hot lava was enough for us!
What inspired you to start writing for kids?
I think it had a lot to do with my childhood just being so wonderful. I had a fantastic childhood, and as I started to get older, I started to become more nostalgic for those times when it was easier and we weren’t paying bills and didn’t have to work. Continue reading Author Spotlight: Interview with Erik Korhel
A while back Ruby and I had the amazing opportunity to read an advanced copy of Aliens on Vacation and then have dinner with the author, Clete Barrett Smith. We loved his book and pestered him with tons of questions, but of course we didn’t have our notepads handy. That was months ago, but we’ve kept in touch, and for some reason he’s still willing to talk to us despite our annoying e-mails. We’re proud to finally share our interview with such a great, fun author! Enjoy!
Aliens on Vacation is about a 13-year-old boy, Scrub, who is sent to spend the whole summer with his hippy grandma at her Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast (which turns out to be a vacation hot spot for aliens). How did you come up with the big idea?
I’ve always loved alien-visitation stories, but it seemed like everything that I saw at the time was really dark and violent; the aliens were coming here to enslave us, or eat us, or steal our resources or whatever. The spark of the idea was: “Wait a minute . . . what if they are just coming here to hang out?” I thought that would be a fun way to do an alien story with a lot of humor mixed in with the action.
When I was ten years old I was sent from my little hometown to spend the weekend with my grandpa in the big city of Seattle. My grandpa was a great guy and real character . . . but not always the best babysitter. On Friday morning, he said, “I have to work all day, here’s $20. I’ll see you at 6:00 and we’ll have dinner.” I was pretty nervous in downtown Seattle, so I walked to the nearest movie theater to buy a ticket to anything so I’d have a safe place to hang out. The only PG offering was a brand-new movie premiering that day that I had never heard of: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Continue reading Author Spotlight: Interview with Clete Barrett Smith
Cheesie Mack is Not a Genius or Anything by Steve Cotler; illustrated by Adam McCauley
You would think that graduating from the 5th grade would be a piece of cake after the school year itself, but Cheesie Mack’s life is anything but boring. When Cheesie and his best friend Georgie find an old envelope with mysterious contents, they decide to track down the owner. When it turns out that the things they found are valuable, they must make a decision between doing the right thing and having the coolest summer ever. On top of that, “Goon” (Cheesie’s yucky older sister) is always trying to make him look dumb, his best friend Georgie can’t afford to go to their annual summer camp, and the mystery they’re trying to solve involves a haunted house. Things are getting complicated!
Cheesie is a curious kid and a great character, always looking to learn something new about the world and ready to share his information, whether it’s a list of the differences between frogs and toads, illustrations of pennies and secret hideouts, efficient breathing techniques for winning bike races, or ways to gross out your sister. (Feel free to check out his website to help add to his archive of facts: www.cheesiemack.com!) Full of funny comments from a young, probing mind, Cheesie Mack is a fun romp through fact and fiction, and author Steve Cotler won me over with the believability of his characters. The book’s narrative is paired with Cheesie’s own illustrations to help the story along (maps, caricatures, instruction guides, etc.), and together they bring you into the mindset of a regular, inquisitive boy. Continue reading Curious Kids and Summer Adventures
Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith (The Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast series, Book One)
My name is Jenny, and I have a problem: I read too many books.
Okay, so there’s no such thing as “too many books”, but I certainly read more than I’m able to review regularly. Aliens on Vacation became one of my many victims–a book I loved but did not write about, a book I read prior to its publication back in May. My apologies to Mr. Smith! With that said…
Aliens on Vacation by Clete Smith is a fun romp with science fiction, summer vacation, the Pacific Northwest, and a thirteen-year-old boy named Scrub who can’t believe he’ll be spending the summer with his grandmother. When Scrub arrives at his grandma’s Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast, an old house covered in brightly painted stars, spaceships, and planets, he thinks that his summer is doomed for boredom and geekiness. Meeting his hippy grandmother for the first time doesn’t help the feeling, and when he realizes there’s no internet, he knows it’s going to be a long vacation. Little does Scrub know, the B&B isn’t for Trekkies and science-fiction fanatics: it’s actually a vacation spot for alien visitors from across the galaxy! Soon Scrub finds himself helping Grandma costume aliens of every shape, size, and attitude (some are very cranky customers indeed!) so the aliens can enjoy their “primitive” surroundings in the local town and forests without being discovered. Continue reading Summer Vacation with Aliens & a Hippy Grandma
Acting Up by Ted Staunton
In this coming-of-age novel, Sam Foster is an eleventh-grade boy trying to face the ever-changing life in his small, Canadian hometown of Hope Springs. Maturity is the ever-important word as Sam tries to convince his parents that he can handle the responsibilities of a driver’s license and house-sitting, all the while trying to balance his spunky, anarchist girlfriend; his goofball buddies; school work; volunteer time at the library; and a coerced participation in the school play. At times funny (and can you say hilarious-but-awkward?), Staunton strikes a believable chord as the characters develop. The situations Sam finds himself in are realistic, hilarious, and embarrassing all at once, and even the adults in the book have are wacky enough keep the reader interested. Teenagers–guys especially!–will relate to Sam’s mishaps, crazy cohorts, and even crazier adult mentors as he struggles to find balance in the turmoil of becoming a so-called “grown up”.
Acting Up is the third in a trilogy focusing on Sam’s town and the people in it, a further development of Sam’s character as a growing teenager. Mostly comic with relate-able, embarrassing situations and a cast of characters trying to figure out what they want and how to communicate with one another, it also has a few deeper notes that lend some weight to the story. Though the theme of “maturity” is often overpowering and the outcomes of some plot points are a bit predictable, Staunton’s overall story and creative collection of teenage adventures and catastrophes makes it a good, solid read. Sam is every-guy in any-town (albeit Canadian), and his miscommunications, misunderstandings, and personal goals relate to the shared experience of teenage life. If you enjoy “real world” fiction, this will make a good summer read. Continue reading Sometimes Maturity Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be
Masters of Disaster by Gary Paulsen
This book is a riot!
As Henry Mosely states pompously to his two friends Riley and Reed, “We may be the most boring twelve-year-olds on the planet.” Whether or not that’s true, the rambunctious trio agrees that something must be done so that they may become “Men of Action and Daring” in order to better “Impress Girls” and “Alter the Course of History.”
The first course of action, obviously, is to tie their friend Reed to a bicycle and have him attempt to ride down a neighbor’s roof, somersault in mid-air, and bounce off of the swimming pool diving board unharmed, all in the name of creating a new world record. (Kids: do not try this at home!) While Reed is amazingly uninjured by the stunt, he does end up deep in a dumpster and smelling pretty gross. (It turns out this is a theme.)
One crazy stunt follows the next as Henry, the architect and the logistics planner; Riley, the meticulous observer-and-reporter of all attempted manly exploits; and Reed, the hapless guinea pig, try their hands at bigger and better things, all followed by Manly pronouncements on Adventure and Fame (from their directing supervisor Henry, of course). Paulsen breaks the chapters down into individual adventures, three of which are based on previously published short stories for Boy’s Life magazine. There is an attempt at outdoor survival with only school supplies at hand (and an escaped circus animal), solving a local hundred-year murder mystery (in a haunted house), and being rodeo cowboys at a family ranch (involving a great deal of smelly manure), to name a few. Continue reading Boys Will Be Boys
The Pig Scrolls by Paul Shipton
*Great for fans of Percy Jackson and mythology!*
Here’s the thing: Gryllus is a pig. Literally. You see, he was a crew mate for Odysseus on the way back from the Trojan war, and when they hit Circe’s island… well, you know the story. The thing is, when all the other guys got returned to human form, Gryllus thought, Gee, snuffling around for food all day? Sleeping? Not working? Now this is the life for me!
Until, that is, the day he was captured by some snot-nosed guys who decided to make some money off of a talking pig. Along comes some hilarious pig-hosted dinner theater, a pimply teenage Homer, and an assistant prophetess from Apollo’s temple, Sibyl, who claims that Gryllus is destined to save the world (including those pesky gods and goddesses). Off he goes–kicking and screaming and proclaiming he really isn’t that interested in hero duties–on a riotous journey through ancient times with a great cast of characters, some familiar and some a little more unique.
Through Gryllus’ narration–cheeky, self-important, and more than a little exaggerated–Shipton keeps the laughter and action going along the whole adventure. Awesome, snarky lines will have kids and adults alike rolling on the floor, such as “puzzlement crossed the big lad’s face, like a cloud across the moon on a night when the moon is looking especially puzzled” and “[he] wasn’t the brightest–clearly several Spartans short of the full three hundred.” Continue reading Ancient Greece from a Porcine Perspective
Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher by Laurel Snyder; illustrated by David Goldin
Baxter is “a curious sort of pig,” so when an old man at the bus stop starts wishing it were sundown, he can’t help but ask why. The old man describes Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, and Baxter thinks it sounds great, so he asks how he can be part of Shabbat dinner. Another man tells him he can’t: he’s not kosher!
Baxter tries everything to be kosher: he eats jars of pickles and loaves of challah; he even tries to be a cow! Nothing works. But then one day, he meets a rabbi, and she tells him there’s been a terrible misunderstanding—he cannot be kosher, but that just means he can’t be eaten! Everyone is welcome at Shabbat dinner!
Each page has a mixed-media illustration, containing both drawings and photographs combined to create a scene. These make for interesting pictures that some kids may find off-putting while others will greatly enjoy. The big, googly eyes of each character keep the illustrations light. A letter from the author at the back gives a brief description of the social aspects of Shabbat, and a glossary of terms—with fun definitions—supports the narrative. Though this book does not cover any religious aspects of Shabbat or Judaism, beyond “mitzvah” (good deeds) and a mention of the Sabbath, it’s a fun and cute introduction to this weekly Jewish occasion. Definitely recommended!
And besides, any picture book that talks about the deliciousness of kugel (a “traditional Jewish casserole of sorts”) is a winner for me!
Copyright February 2011
Image from www.inerfaithfamily.com