Too Tall Houses by Gianna Marino

Uh oh!  Previously good neighbors Rabbit and Owl are in a housing dispute!  Whose plants are blocking whose view?  Whose house is taller?  Will the wind blow both houses over before anybody finds out??

Watching Rabbit and Owl build increasingly ridiculous towers into the sky is great fun in Gianna Marino’s fable about getting along and compromising.  The art is rustic and colorful, with the oranges and browns of a Thanksgiving cornucopia, and the story has a great message.  Pick up a copy to see how Rabbit and Owl work it out!

– Emily

Too Tall Houses by Gianna Marino; Penguin Putnam; 16.99; Ages 3-6

Boy + Bot, a Story of Friendship

Friendships, as any child can tell you, are difficult. So many signals to mis-read. So many games and conversations to negotiate. And what if your friend isn’t even human?

Author Ame Dyckman brilliantly exploits both the comic and poignant potential of this situation in her new picture book Boy + Bot, about a little boy and his robot friend. Each views the other as a perfect equal, so when things go wrong–a battery accidentally switched off, or a tired body at the end of the day–naturally, they try to fix the problem in their own way. When Bot stops responding, it must be because he is sick, so Boy administers applesauce, stories and a blanket. When Boy won’t answer, Bot decides that oil, an instruction manual and spare batteries will fix him. Fortunately, indulgent parents (and inventor) are there to prevent mishaps and approve of play dates.

Dan Yaccarino’s illustrations provide a bright complement to the cheerful text. Some pages are laid out in panels, each one showing a different activity the two friends enjoy together. The backgrounds provide just enough detail to give a sense of place, either in the little boy’s house or the inventor’s castle, but the reader can fill in plenty of other information on their own. Yaccarino’s background as an animator is clearly evident, and the energy of  his simple shapes and clear expressions help the reader understand the story and sympathize with the characters. This is the perfect book for a small child who loves robots or for anyone looking for a sweet story of friendship. Better yet, pair it  with A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead, another story about friends whose differences don’t get in the way of their efforts to help each other.  – Cecilia

Boy + Bot, by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino; Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99, ages 3-6

Code Name Verity

I’ve decided that Elizabeth Wein must have some kind of vendetta against reviewers. Because really, has there ever been a book more impossible to review than Code Name Verity? I have read raves about this book in two different newspapers and on half a dozen blogs. And at some point, everyone says “I don’t want to spoil it for you…” Because, as the character Verity repeats “Careless talk costs lives!” Or at least it costs the reader some enjoyment for this fascinating, thought-provoking, heart-wrenching tale of friendship and mistakes.

So although I am fortunately not facing torture and interrogation by the Gestapo, I will keep my mouth shut. As Verity sings the praises of her friend Maddie, I will merely point out the many wonders of this book. The historical setting, in 1940’s England, Scotland and France is precise and vivid, helping us understand the tensions and sacrifices of living in wartime. The story is an adventure, taking both main characters far outside their experience and comfort zones. It’s a mystery, because for most of the story, neither main character knows what has happened to the other. Wein is a master of foreshadowing and irony. Everyone I know who has read the book immediately went straight back to the beginning after they finished, to try and track down the clues hidden in the text. Finally, and most importantly, it is a story of friendship. Friendship of the best kind–two people who are different in background, interests, and personality but who just fit so perfectly that they will protect each other until they die. For anyone interested in the lost heroes of World War II, spies and pilots, or just tales of unlikely and lifelong friendships, this is the book to read.

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, Hyperion, $16.99  Ages 14 and up

The Pigeon has a new friend!

Everyone’s favorite pigeon is back! In this latest escapade, the pigeon meets a duckling who simply asked for a cookie and actually got one! The poor pigeon is used to asking for simple things like hot dogs, puppies, and a later bedtime , without ever being given anything. He decides that ducklings just get everything and it is just not fair! Super silly, as one would expect from a Mo Willems book, this new adventure will have pigeon followers and new fans alike laughing out loud. Guaranteed to make you giggle!
Amanda’s review was also featured in the Spring Children’s Indie Next newsletter! Tons of great book recommendations make their way into these newsletters, making gift giving and picking out books for your own readers super easy. Make sure to grab one next time you’re in the store!
The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems; $15.99; Disney Press; Ages 3+

A Very Norton Juster November

Norton Juster is one of my Absolute Favorite Authors of All Time: so imagine my delight when the box of new books this morning contained not one, but two, new Juster books! Now, to be fair, one of them is a new-old book: the 50th anniversary edition of The Phantom Tollbooth. However, this does not make it any less exciting.

     The Phantom Tollbooth (Anniversary) by Norton Juster. Random House. Ages 6-99!

The new edition is gorgeous, with Jules Feiffer’s familiar Milo and Tock unchanged, except that Tock is definitely shinier. Philip Pullman, Suzanne Collins, Mo Willems, and more contributed wonderfully inspiring essays for the new edition: each author has a slightly different take on why The Phantom Tollbooth is such an enduring classic. Since my childhood paperback is definitely well-loved, (read: completely unreadable), I dropped a not-so-subtle hint to my mom to pick this one up for Christmas. Whether it’s for someone like me or for a child reading it for the first time, this lovely edition makes a perfect gift.

Neville by Norton Juster. Schwartz & Wade Books. Ages 3-7.

For the littler ones in your life, Norton Juster has written a funny and moving new picture book, Neville.  Most kids have had the experience of moving to a new place: Juster treats this theme with characteristic empathy, recognizing that kids usually don’t have a say in the matter! On the first page, we see a boy standing in front of his new house, his colored shirt contrasting with the black and white background, heightening the sense of isolation. “Nobody had asked him about moving. They’d just told him,” the narrator wryly comments. His mother encourages him to go outside to try and meet some neighborhood kids, and the boy reluctantly sets off for a walk. He does make friends, but in such a clever and charming way that I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you! You’ll love the warmth and ingenuity of this wonderful story. Great for ages 3 and up.

Megan K.’s Favorite Forgotten Picture Books

When I first started work at Hooray for Books in August, I was so excited to explore the picture book section, and I quickly discovered the go-to favorites that I regularly recommend to customers. Now that I’ve been here for a few months, as much as I still love The Circus Ship and King Jack and the Dragon, I decided it was high time to add to my list of favorites, and I found these three hidden gems. Enjoy!

The Incredible Book-Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers; Philomel Books; $17.99; ages 3-7

Henry loves books, but he doesn’t like to read them; he loves to EAT them! (Especially the red ones). The more he reads, the smarter he gets, until he starts to think that one day “he might even become the smartest person on Earth!” Henry eats more and more books, until he starts to develop indigestion from too much information. Can he learn to savor reading books, instead of just gobbling them up?

My favorite books are the ones that spark interesting conversation, and I can tell you from experience that “Book-Eating Boy” does. After reading it aloud to my five-year-old charge, we had a long conversation about whether it’s possible to “get smarter” from reading books. What kinds of books should you read, and how should you read them? Should you read a ton of books very quickly, or one great one slowly? It could be a weighty topic in the hands of a lesser author, but Jeffers introduces the themes in such a humorously unexpected way that the tone is anything but preachy. The illustrations are wonderfully original: Jeffers paints over the pages of used books! I really can’t recommend this book enough. Pick it up and start your own conversation!

Squish Rabbit by Katherine Battersby; Viking Children’s Books; $12.99; ages 2-6

Squish Rabbit is lovely in its simplicity. Squish “was just a little rabbit, but being little led to big problems.” No one wanted to play with him, or listen to his stories, so he made a pretend bunny out of cloth, “but pretend friends can only do so much.” When Squish notices a little squirrel in the forest, will he have the courage to speak up and make a friend?

It’s always a pleasure to find an author who understands that childhood is not all sunshine and birthday parties; that children sometimes feel loneliness, and feel it deeply. “Squish Rabbit,” however, is it not dark in the slightest; it’s matter-of-fact and elegant in its emotional honesty. The bold and bright illustrations are wonderfully direct; your little one will be able to follow the story from Squish’s expressions alone. This is a book that manages to be sweet without cloying, and take on the universal theme of friendship in a new way. I highly recommend it as a thoughtful read-aloud, even for the wee ones.

Bear’s Picture by Daniel Pinkwater; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $16.00; ages 3-7

Bear’s Picture is the simple story of a bear who paints, and two “fine, proper gentleman” who try to discourage him. On each page, we see Bear’s picture grow more and more colorful and vibrant, and the gentlemen’s protests grow more and more disgruntled. They do not know what to make of Bear’s beautiful abstract picture: is it a clown? A butterfly? They conclude that “bears are not the sort of fellows to paint pictures.” Bear responds confidently: “Why not? Why can’t a bear do anything he likes?”

It’s not very often that a picture book makes me simultaneously laugh out loud and marvel at the art. The bear, as depicted by D.B. Johnson, is as wonderfully defiant as the two gentlemen are ridiculous, matching Pinkwater’s wit perfectly. But the art is not just humorous, it’s also beautiful to look at: vaguely Cubist-inspired, the figures jump off the page, seeming almost 3D. I also love the message: it’s the rare picture book protagonist who is this self-assured! Pick it up for your own little artist, or for an adult who appreciates marvelous illustrations.

Well, there you have it. Have you gotten the impression that I love working here? If you have, you’d be right — it’s so much fun to discover the variety of picture books out there. Stop by and find your own hidden treasures!

Happy reading,

Megan K.

Grandma’s Attic series

One of Amanda’s all-time favorite classics is being reprinted!

These books are all based on stories the author’s own grandmother told her of childhood on a 19th century farm. They’re STORIES, sweet and simple, inspirational, but with character-building lessons. They remind me of the Little House on the Prairie books in term of their simplicity and the heart that obviously went into the writing. Great morals and a lot of fun!
Each story is rather short, great for bedtime reading or family read aloud. Mabel and her best friend Sarah Jane get into loads of mischief, but everything always turns out well in the end.
Great for fans of Little House on the Prairie and The Penderwicks.
In Grandma’s Attic and More Stories from Grandma’s Attic by Arleta Richardson. Ages 8-10; David C. Cook Publishing; $6.99