Monthly Archives: January 2012

Bake Sale

Bake Sale by Saran Varon is a quirky little confection from the talented lady who brought us the beautifully understated graphic novel, Robot Dreams. It is a treat to look at, and it has recipes from the story collected at the end, for any aspiring bakers out there.

Bake Sale is every bit as visually beautiful as Varon’s previous graphic novel, but I confess, it’s not as satisfying when it comes to the narrative. I really wanted to love this book (I mean come on, look at that cover! A-dorable). While I can say I love the soft simplicity of the illustrations, the storyline left me a little baffled. It’s never a good sign when it’s not easy to describe exactly what the book is about. Part of the problem for me here is I do not think that the concept is something that kids can connect to. They will see the cover and think, “I want to read this,” but then I’m afraid the story will leave some readers disappointed.

Cupcake enjoys his life working in his small bakery, hanging out with his band mates, and spending time with his best friend Eggplant. He starts to slip into a baking slump, so Eggplant shares that he is planning a trip to Turkey and he promises that if Cupcake comes along he can introduce his friend to Turkish Delight (Cupcake’s baking idol). This prompts Cupcake to do everything he can to raise money for the trip, but Cupcake never gets to go because he ends up giving up his earnings to fund Eggplant’s trip when he loses his job.  It feels like an odd and somewhat confusing combination of topics for a ten-year-old reader, right? The ending is very open, and I think that’s another thing that kids will find disappointing. I like an open ending. I find they are often the most realistic and rich endings in fiction, but this ending felt like an abrupt cut off, rather than a satisfying stopping point. The thematic threads related to following one’s passions, being selfless in friendship, and never giving up, are just not explored or developed enough to make this book completely successful.

Cute? Certainly. I bought it for the library because of its sheer cuteness. (Wait until you see the endpapers – maybe the most delicious I have ever seen!) I’m just worried that the reading experience for most kids will be a let down, the way some pretty cupcakes look much better than they taste, which can be really upsetting. I speak from experience. So I’ll let you know the kid-appeal verdict soon.

Bake Sale by Sarah Varon is published by First Second.

Extra Yarn. I love it (and not just because there are dogs wearing sweaters in it).

I am more than a little bit in love with Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, with illustrations by the always stylish Jon Klassen. It is not because I currently have a lot of extra yarn in my house from my former days of knitting semi-glory (some of it is in Gryffindor colours for a scarf I have yet to finish for my hubs. Sorry D. One day, one day). It is not only because it is a story that has more than one small dog wearing a sweater in it (not to mention plenty of other animals wearing tiny sweaters). No my friends, it is due to the fact that this book is perfect. There, I said it. Perfect. I cannot imagine it being better. It’s a good sign that it was hard for me to stop hugging the book to review it, right?

One day, in her cold and dreary town, Annabelle finds a box of yarn. It has every colour of yarn inside of it and she’s immediately captivated. Now because Annabelle is a useful and quirky and imaginative sort of girl, she goes home and knits herself a sweater. When she finds she has extra yarn, she knits one for her pooch, Mars. (There is a dog named Mars in this book. Don’t you love it when an animal character in a story is perfectly named?). When she’s done she finds she still has extra yarn. Can you see where this is going? Annabelle keeps on knitting. She knits for a grouchy boy and his grouchy dog. She knits for her classmates and oddballs. She knits for animals. And then she knits “sweaters for things that didn’t even need sweaters.”

This is the part of the review when I must pause and show you this:

Annabelle does not knit a phone booth cosy (the brainchild of this amazing group), but she does become a guerilla knitter. Do you know about this movement? It’s when knitters take to the street and knit things for places / objects that you’d never think require sweaters or else create knitted objects that interact with buildings / statues / stuff in the city. The group responsible for the knitted phone cosy above, is called Knit the City, and one of the reasons they give for doing what they do is to “wage woolly war on the mundane, humdrum and expected.” They believe that the world can be made better by this whimsical act. Have you ever seen the result of a little guerilla knitting? I have. On our Sunday walk we pass a park bench that has arm rests which have knitted covers. One week they were normal bench arm rests, and the next they were knitted. It wasn’t the most creative act of guerilla knitting, but we were still charmed to find it.

Back to Annabelle. Basically, she changes her whole town through her knitting. There’s a twist I won’t tell you about because I don’t want to reveal everything about the book before you have a chance to read it / hug it for yourself. Extra Yarn is about making your community better by doing something small and how that something small can sometimes become something bigger. You never really know where an idea will take you. It’s about creativity and being quirky and proud of it. It’s about magic and creating goodness. And dog sweaters. That too.

Make something. Make beauty. Be different.

And read Extra Yarn. Perhaps I will go finish that Gryffindor scarf now…

Before I go, one more delightful idea from Knit the City:

 

Extra Yarn is published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins. Thank you for sending me a copy to review!

Completely brilliant. Another reason to hug an independent bookseller.

Over the holidays, when I saw this, of course I thought the next moment of my beloved Flying Dragon.

If like me, this makes you wonder if you can keep believing in the magic of independent booksellers, maybe you should take a look at this:

There it is. Magic. Never seen a gang of e-book readers doing that, have ya? Real books are cool.

(And don’t you love the Harry Potter-esque music.? These people made it).

This has made my Thursday awesome. I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

 

AGAIN!

How is it that Emily Gravett manages to create in every book she produces something that is creative and charming and beautiful that leaves you smiling and wanting to read it all over again?

Well in AGAIN! we have not only a book that has all of the aforementioned qualities, but it happens to be about the experience of loving a book so much you want to hear it over and over. Once is never enough for Cedrick the tiny green dragon who is the star of the story. Each night he settles down with mum (or perhaps dad, it’s hard to tell with dragons) to hear his favourite story about Cedric the red dragon. He is crazy about this book. When it’s over, he asks to hear it again. This pattern continues all the way to the end. And there’s a surprise at the end that is completely delightful and is guaranteed to make every kid laugh (and be a lesson about the dangers of temper tantrums). My eyes went wide with delight. Honest.

As with all of Gravett’s books, she takes a simple concept and executes it brilliantly by letting her illustrations tell most of the story. Even though the illustrations are not overly detailed, with a clean white background on every page, you’ll notice new things the more you look. Kids will like that. This book is completely winning. It proves that Gravett is a master of the picture book form. Her books are sure to be enjoyed again and again and again for years to come.

Here she is sharing how to draw a dragon like Cedrick:

AGAIN! is published by Macmillan Children’s Books.

Cybils Finalists Are Here!

Just in case you didn’t get enough outstanding books for Christmas this year, you should be able to find plenty to entice you over at the Cybils blog since the 2011 finalists have been announced.

Of course, I’m particularly interested in the Middle Grade Fiction list, since I’m excited to be a member of the judging panel again this year. So here are those titles:

Darth Paper Strikes Back – by Tom Angleberger

Ghetto Cowboy – by G. Neri

Nerd Camp – by Elissa Brent Weissman

The Friendship Doll – by Kirby Larson

The Great Wall of Lucy Lu – by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Warp Speed – by Lisa Yee

Words in the Dust – by Trent Reedy

Read more about why you need to read these books right here. I’ve already started. Happy Reading!