Saturday, September 29, 2007

Squirrelly Gray and the Awesome Dust Jacket

Article by Scott Tingley, September 29, 2007

Now THAT is a NICE quality dust jacket.

You don't see many reviews that start by talking about the quality of paper used for a book's dust jacket. You certainly don't see it in reviews for books that are any good. Sure, you might see it in a piece where the reviewer has been told write up a book that really stinks and is looking for something good to say (By the way, when opening an awful gift in front of the giver, the correct and foolproof response is for you to enthusiastically say: “Would you look at that! Would you just look at that! Wow. Just look at that.” You will thank me this holiday season).

This is not such a book. This book is as cool as monkeys fighting robots.


The creator of the book, James Kochalka, is an indy comic creator famous for comics like Peanutbutter & Jeremy and…..Monkey vs Robot! As wild and fun as his books are, some are for a youngish audience and others are so far from being for kids it's unreal (I am speaking of his superhero comic – funny, but woah!). I was really pleased to see that he had done a book specifically for kids. I was even more pleased when the book turned out to be good…….and what a dust jacket.

With a dust jacket like that Kochalka could have phoned it in, but no, he went and made something kids would like. The book follows a pattern of rhyming text on the left and a comic page on the right. This allows him to go with his strengths as a comic storyteller, but also to play with language in the longer poetry/text pieces. This is my first exposure to that side of the creator and he does a fine job. The poetry is light, but there seems to be a bit of the edge that is found in the best works for children. The comic pages can be read independently of the text and vice versa – but together the book is a lot more fun.

So, what happens? Well, Suirrelly Gray wiggles away his front teeth, prompting the tooth fairy to come. She gets caught in a spider's web. Gray saves her. There is a magic acorn involved and the thing that helped him get the nut causes him problems with the nut – so, enter a hungry fox! Actually, it all turns out to be a legend. A legend telling the tale of what I will leave for you to discover.

Squirrelly Gray is a must read, must share. It is funny and wacky in the tradition of Jon Scieszka , but completely Kolchalka. Even with a quality dust jacket like that he pulled out all the stops.

This got an immediate two “Read it”s from daughter Mariah. Not bad for a book that just entered my home this afternoon.

Random House Books for Young Readers
Hardcover · Ages 2-7 · August 28, 2007 · $12.99
978-0-375-83975-7 (0-375-83975-5)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Police Cloud: Okay, I’ll read it….AGAIN!

Review by Scott Tingley

Hokey Smokes, am I glad this book is cool beans or I would be seriously sick of it right now (please keep reading despite the odd word choices in this sentence...please). For instance, there are only so many times a man can read Care Bears What Makes You Happy? before contemplating the positive merits of book burning.

Some of my favorite books and comics (both for kids and adults) employ the use of “child logic” to tell the story. This can be crazy and fun and a completely natural way to tell a story. If you have ever tried to get a classroom of six year olds to write individual or whole class stories that make sense, you know what I’m talking about. Teachers have to spend a long time explaining to new writers that you can’t have aliens come down and blow everything up in EVERY story. And how did everyone get into the kitchen when they were just out swimming at the beach? And who is Charlie and why are the two of you flying over the desert in a hot air balloon when you were just in school last sentence?

Kid logic stories are a lot of fun to read (when the kids are not about to write state/province standardized tests J ) and The Police Cloud is no exception. A cloud becomes a police officer (on the recommendation of his friend, the police helicopter) and hijinks ensue. Nothing seems to work out but then it all works out in the end with the help of a panicking burning building. Phew! The story is silly and solid and simple and the amazing art goes along for the crazy ride.

The art is bright and alive and it sticks to the same child logic of the writing. For instance, things change size to fit the scenarios all the time. One minute the police chief is regular sized in his office and the next he is outdoors and as big as the tallest high-rises. I think author/illustrator Christoph Niemann is my new favorite find of the year. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with yet.

It is crazy fun, and my little girl loved it. It is a quick read, which is great because she won’t stop asking to have it read. Over and over and over and over (get the point?) again. When I first brought it home we read it at least five times before bed.

So Mariah gives this one 543 out of 543 “read it again”s

That one will be hard to beat.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Summerhouse Time Review

Note: I wrote this right before starting back to school this September 4th.

I am a public school teacher. Some days end with me feeling like I've been kicked in the gut, but I love my job so much. I have no say when I take it, but I have the best vacation package of almost anyone (no, we don't technically get paid during the summer, but this is not the place for such arguments). I have to start work again tomorrow. Life stinks.

That would have been a better beginning for my Moxie Maxwell review, but it also fits with Summerhouse Time, another creatively put together end-of-summer-book that has nothing at all to do with comic books.

Every year a rented pink cottage full of family, swapping stories, and riding waves mean Summerhouse Time for Sophie. Best of all is sharing a room with her favorite cousin and laughing and trading secrets like two happy peas in a cousin pod. Sophie can't wait! But when she asks the now-a-teenager Colleen if she's looking forward to their time together, Colleen just says "I guess so."

What? It's the best time of the year, the time they both love. In just a little bit, they will all be together in the cottage on the beach. Will this year be just as wonderful, just like always?

The story is sweet and genuine. The whole extended family goes off for a month to live in a single cottage; one aunt and uncle set is fighting a bit too much, another aunt loses her job, something is wrong with dad and the favorite cousin is being standoffish. Oh, and Sophie has a thing for a boy back home and anyone she confides in comes back with “But you're only eleven.” I like how all of the conflicts are dealt with and nicely resolved, but none are treated as trivial. The book is written with the POV of an eleven year old. All of these problems are bigger and more real to an eleven year old – especially the thing with the BOY. It was real without being too heavy. It is a perfect summertime cottage book.

At first glance I thought this was a book of summertime poetry and I almost didn't read any further than a quick flip. That would have been a mistake, because not only would I have missed a charming book full of real problems that kids can relate to, but I would have missed a book that could be used to inspire young and old writers to write. The format was at least as enjoyable to me as the story. Most chapters are only 30-100 words in length and there are lots of black and white sketches throughout. This is the kind of book that I could see being written during a summer vacation at the cottage. As talented as the writer, Eileen Spinelli is, the best compliment I can give is that the writing, illustrations (by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff), and format make the reader come away with a feeling of “I could do that” or “Why didn't I think of that?”

This is an inspiring little (aprox 7x5 inches) book that would be suitable for readers aged 9-12. I think it might be better enjoyed by girls, but it is not necessarily written and intended for girls. I liked it.

Ages 9-12, 224 pages, Knopf Books for Young Readers (May 22, 2007), ISBN-10: 375840613, ISBN-13: 978-0375840616