Friday, July 20, 2012

MARY'S PENNY by Tanya Landman

Landman, Tanya. Mary’s Penny. Illus. by Richard Holland. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-7636-4768-1. $15.99 US

In a time long ago, an old farmer faces a dilemma: which of his two sons will inherit and run his farm? He proposes a challenge: the son who could, with one penny, buy something that will fill the whole house would inherit the farm. But the old farmer has forgotten something very important: his daughter Mary! When both sons, Franz and Hans, fail to complete the challenge, Mary asks for her penny, and she succeeds, filling the house with “light and knowledge and music and joy.”

Landman’s retelling of the feminist fable uses a beautifully traditional folk-style voice, perfect for reading aloud. Holland’s illustrations, made in mostly cut-paper mixed media, are whimsical and child-like. The two brothers, one beefy and one brawny, are portrayed almost as caricatures, and Holland’s manipulation of scale keeps the reader just enough off-balance so as to evoke whimsy, as if the characters are floating through their own landscape.

Mary’s Penny is a beautifully told text with a great message, perfect for school or family.

Marisa Behan

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I'M NOT by Pam Smallcomb

Smallcomb, Pam. I’m Not. Illus. Robert Weinstock. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-375-86115-4. $15.99 US/$17.99 CAN. Ages 4-8

This book is NOT: boring, dull, or confusing. It’s NOT lacking in color, in humor, or in story quality. It IS a captivating story of two friends who celebrate each other for all that they are, and all that they are not, as long as they remain good at being friends!

Evelyn is many things that the narrator is not: mysterious, enthusiastic, fashionable, excitable, and artistic. But the narrator is many things Evelyn is not: good at spelling, at karate, at sleeping in the dark, and at baking cookies. But both girls are good at being the other’s friend!

The illustrations are colorful and playful. Evelyn is a bright green dinosaur with ever-changing fashion accessories. The narrator is a brown dinosaur with a single pink bow. The two dinosaur friends bounce their way through a world of geese, snakes, octopi, walruses and other dinos. They put on funny costumes and fly through the air. Implausible perhaps, but fun and interesting to look at! With its positive message and fun illustrations, I’m Not is a wonderful book for classroom read-alouds or birthday gifts!

Marisa Behan

Monday, July 16, 2012

CLOUD TEA MONKEYS by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham

Peet, Mal and Elspeth Graham. Cloud Tea Monkeys. Illus. Juan Wijngaard. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2010. 978-0-7636-4453-6. $15.99 US/$20.00 CAN. Picturebooks, Ages 4-7

Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, in collaboration with Juan Wijngaard, have created a masterpiece of story and art. Tashi, a little girl in a tiny village, accompanies her ailing mother to work on the tea plantation each day, but while the women pick tea, Tashi plays with the monkeys. Finally her mother’s illness keeps her from work, so Tashi tries to pick in her place, but she can’t reach the top of tea bushes! When she shares her woes with her friends the monkeys, they steal the giant basket and disappear into the mountains, returning with a full basket of tea. And this tea isn’t just any old tea – it’s CLOUD TEA – out of reach of ordinary men. Tashi’s rare success is rewarded with enough gold from the Royal Tea Taster to pay her mother’s doctor, to keep her mother out of the fields, and to feed the monkeys!

The prose, particularly the descriptive language, evokes the rhythm and pattern of a traditional fairy tale, as does the ambiguous setting. The illustrations are lush, with vibrant green foliage, deep blue night skies, luminous shadows filtering through the forest, and glowing faces of the characters.

Cloud Tea Monkeys is a beautiful book, a bedtime bookshelf treasure.

Marisa Behan