The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles: A Picture Book Review

“The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles lived alone on a high spot with only one tree for shade. He always kept his eyes on the waves, watchful for a glint of glass.”

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. SteadThe Uncorker of Ocean Bottles has a very important job. It’s his responsibility to open any bottles found in the seawater and make sure they are delivered.  He wishes that he would receive a letter himself. But he knows that’s impossible when he doesn’t have a name.

When the Uncorker of Ocean Bottles receives a bottle with an invitation to a party with no recipient, he isn’t sure what to do. He asks everyone in town but no one recognizes the invitation.

He hopes he can deliver the invitation in time, but along the way discovers that sometimes parties–and friends–don’t need invitations to be wonderful in The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles (2016) by Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Erin E. Stead.

What could be a melancholy and lonely story is elevated to a more whimsical and satisfying plane with Cuevas’ text. While this story begins with a solitary deliverer of bottles, it ends with a small community coming together for a party. The serendipity and charm with which this story builds to that outcome is incredibly pleasing to follow.

This story is ideal for older picture book readers who like their stories to have a bit of mystery. Readers never do learn who, exactly, sent the bottle. And the nature of the Uncorker’s job can be a bit dizzying. Perfect for readers who are fans of both The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg and Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Paul Yalowitz.

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles is a strange, otherworldly picture book. Stead’s inimitable art style works well here to bring the Uncorker and his corner of the world to life. Desaturated colors and a light touch in each drawing further underscore that this story is something special.

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA*

Good Morning, City: A Picture Book Review

Good Morning, City by Pat Kiernan, Pascal Campion (illustrator)Most people in the city are fast asleep as the city starts to wake up. The baker, ferry boat captain, and even the TV anchorman all start their days early to open the bakery, help commuters get to work, and help other New Yorkers get ready to start their day in Good Morning, City (2016) by Pat Kiernan, illustrated by Pascal Campion.

Pat Kiernan is locally known in New York City as an anchor on NY1 news where he generally works the morning shift including the popular feature “In the Papers.” Having spent much of his career waking up in the early hours of the morning, Kiernan’s picture book debut explores the varied morning routines of New Yorkers across the big city.

Kiernan’s text hits that sweet spot that promises Good Morning, City will be a winner for one-on-one readings or when read aloud to larger audiences. Each page features a brief vignette of something that happens during the early morning as the city begins to wake up.

Campion’s illustrations are vibrant and perfectly capture the diffuse sunlight that will be familiar to early risers in any city. Large double page spreads evocatively depict skyscrapers and other buildings and situate the family found in the beginning and end of the story within the larger context of the city.

While Good Morning, City is an obvious nod to New York City, this picture book is a versatile read-a-loud about morning routines, different lifestyles (city vs. country for instance), and generally greeting the day. Good Morning, City is a beautifully illustrated story with approachable text that encourages readers to interact with the story as they, too, say good morning to the city in the story (and their own). Recommended.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Princess and the Warrior: A Picture Book Review

The Princess and the Warrior by Duncan TonatiuhMany prosperous suitors ask Princess Izta to marry them. She refuses them all. Instead it is a warrior named Popoca who steals Itza’s heart when he promises to be true to her and stay by her side.

The emperor is wary of such a match for his only daughter. But he promises that if Popoca can defeat the fierce Jaguar Claw that he and Itza will be allowed to marry. When victory is in Popoca’s grasp, the Jaguar Claw conspires to tell Itza that her true love has died. Grief stricken, Itza falls into a deep sleep that even Popoca cannot lift.

But true to his word, Popoca stays by Itza’s side forever in The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes (2016) by Duncan Tonatiuh.

The Princess and the Warrior is Tonatiuh’s reimagining of the Aztec legend of two volcanoes: Iztaccíhuatl, the princess who continues to sleep, and Popocatépetl, the warrior who spews ash and smoke, trying to wake his love.

Tonatiuh’s artwork is immediately recognizable with sharp line work and figures always shown in profile. This style, reminiscent of Aztec art itself, lends itself especially well to this story.

The text of The Princess and the Warrior draws readers in from the first page with a evocative language and a sense of urgency. The story is aptly retold in picture book form here with themes that will bring to Romeo and Juliet to mind for older readers.

The book concludes with an author’s note from Tonatiuh talking more about his creative choices for this book and the source material. The book itself is well-packaged from the dustjacket and case covers to the interior pages. Bold full-page spreads highlight action in battle scenes while smaller detail illustrations add momentum to the story.

The Princess and the Warrior is a fantastic addition to any picture book collection. An obvious recommendation for any fans of picture book versions of classic folktales and myths. Recommended.

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2016*

Ada Twist, Scientist: A Picture Book Review

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and Dave RobertsLike her classmates Iggy Peck and Rosie Revere, Ada Twist is an unusual second grader. Ada is curious and full of questions. “Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose? Why are there hairs growing inside your nose?” All day, she peppers her parents with inquisitive questions.

When a noxious smell fills her house, Ada sets out to use the scientific method to figure out what is behind that foul odor. But in her search for answers Ada also ends up scaring the family cat and annoying her brother and parents. It’s not easy pursuing scientific discovery, but luckily for Ada she has her family’s full support once they stop to think about everything this girl dynamo has already discovered in Ada Twist, Scientist (2016) by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by Dave Roberts.

Beaty and Roberts continue their delightful series of companion pictures that began with Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer.

This time around Ada is inspired by scientists such as Marie Curie and, as her name suggests, Ada Lovelace. While I am very fond of this series, previous installments missed opportunities to include a more diverse cast of characters. The author and illustrator work to correct that here with Ada and her family. Ada is a thoughtful, intelligent, black girl and aspiring scientist–something we need to see more often in picture books (and other books for children and teens).

While Ada encounters some pitfalls on her way to becoming a scientists she remains curious and persistent. This story includes rhyming text that rolls trippingly off the tongue and cartoon-like illustrations filled with details to draw readers into the story. Ada Twist, Scientist is a smart story that is sure to inspire many young scientists. A winner for storytimes and one-on-one readings. Recommended.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Little Bot and Sparrow: A Picture Book Review

Little Bot and Sparrow by Jake ParkerWhen Little Bot is thrown out with the trash, he discovers a strange new world ready to explore.

Sparrow soon takes Little Bot under her wing and teaches him important lessons including why robots should not fly.

When the snow begins to fall, both Little Bot and Sparrow know that it’s time for Sparrow to move on with the other birds. But even when Sparrow is gone Little Bot knows he has found his first friend. Thanks to Sparrow, Little Bot also has his first dream in Little Bot and Sparrow (2016) by Jake Parker.

Everything about this book is thoughtfully assembled from the case covers (featuring schematic sketches of Bot and Sparrow) to the endpapers and the story itself. Parker’s artwork is subtle and finely detailed while also being quite evocative of the mood. Whimsical, full-color illustrations and finely detailed backgrounds help to ground Little Bot and Sparrow, both sweetly drawn, in their surroundings.

The text hits the perfect balance length-wise for younger readers. This picture book would be great to include in a themed story time for unlikely friends or robots (or both!).

Little Bot and Sparrow is a charming story about discovering the big world and making friends complete with an open-ended and hopeful finish that hints at things to come for Little Bot.

Possible Pairings: Little Eliot, Big City by Mike Curato; Clink by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Matthew Myers; Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2016*

Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature: A (Non-Fiction) Picture Book Review

Ansty Ansel: A Life in Nature by Cindy Jenson-Elliot and Christy HaleWhen he was a child, Ansel Adams could not sit still. He fidgeted. He wanted to run. He did not like being indoors.

By contrast, Ansel loved the great outdoors–especially the parks surrounding his California home. When his father recognizes that his son will not thrive in a traditional school, he helps Ansel educate himself with access to books and also studying nature.

This choice will change the path of young Ansel’s life in Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature (2016) by Cindy Jenson-Elliot, illustrated by Christy Hale.

This non-fiction picture book introduces young readers to an iconic American photographer and his work documenting the country’s National Parks. Jenson-Elliot’s text is long enough to be informative but brief enough to remain approachable for younger readers.

The biographical book also includes some little known facts about Adams such as his accomplishments as a pianist (and his subsequent choice between pursuing a career as a professional pianist or as a photography). The back matter in the book has additional details, resources, and some reprints of Adams’ actual photos.

Large page spreads work to bring natural wonders to life in this vibrantly colored picture book. Hale makes “antsy Ansel” immediately fascinating along with the stunning pieces of nature that captivate Adams for much of his life and career. Detailed illustrations also reproduce some of the photographer’s iconic photos throughout the book.

Antsy Ansel is a beautifully illustrated introduction to one of the foremost photographers in the United States. A great choice for anyone looking to introduce young readers to biographic texts and a timely read for the centennial of the National Parks System.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Little Elliot, Big Fun: A Picture Book Review

Little Elliot, Big Fun by Mike CuratoLittle Elliot and Mouse are back for another fun adventure. This time around, the two friends decide to go to Coney Island. Mouse is excited to try all of the rides but Elliot isn’t so sure. With so many rides that are too high, too crowded, and plain old too scary, will Elliot find a way to have fun with his friend in Little Elliot, Big Fun (2016) by Mike Curato.

Little Elliot, Big Fun is Curato’s third picture book featuring my favorite polka dot elephant. (Other books in the series: Little Elliot, Big City and Little Elliot, Big Family.)

Curato once again brings old time New York to life–this time turning his eye to Coney Island. The illustrations in this book really draw readers into the amusement park. Curato’s signature eye for detail (and careful research) also make sure every ride is accurate to the book’s era (somewhere around the 1940s). A fold out spread from the Coney Island Ferris Wheel is especially stunning.

Readers have previously seen Elliot make his way in a big world (when he is quite small), and find an adopted family when he comes to Mouse’s family reunion. In some ways, Elliot’s problems are smaller in this one but just as universal. Coney Island is fun and exciting but Elliot struggles with the crowds, the noise, and many of the rides.

Little Elliot, Big Fun is a sweet story that shows young readers it’s okay to be scared but that it’s also important to keep trying to find things (say, amusement park rides) that work for you. And sometimes even scary things are manageable when you tackle them with a friend. Like the other picture books in this series, Little Elliot, Big Fun is highly recommended and sure to be a crowd pleaser.

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*