Joseph Elliott’s debut novel, The Good Hawk (Walker Books, 368 pages, $17.99) takes young-adult readers to a mythical, violent Scotland, where war and plague have ravaged the land and the only children of a local clan to evade capture by enemy combatants are a most unlikely trio who must beat the all sorts of death-defying odds to save their family. Featuring a heroine with Down’s Syndrome, Abby couldn’t put this book down, and neither will your kids. Here’s her take:
I Need a Hero: Abby Reviews “Willow the Armadillo”
Good Friday, readers! In Willow the Armadillo by Marilou Reeder and Dave Mottram (Abrams, $16.99), our bespectacled purple armored protagonist wants nothing more than to become a hero just like the ones she reads about in her books. Does she succeed? Well, I’m not going to spoil it–but clearly, heroes are born in the most unexpected of circumstances. Abby provides her take below.
And: thank-you to all the health care heroes on the front lines right now.
Thank You for Being a Friend: Abby Reviews Two Picture Books for Kids and Adults
Abby looks at two titles today: a new picture book for grown-ups set to the lyrics of Andrew Gold’s theme song for The Golden Girls, and Castle of Books, Alessandro Sanna’s joyous introduction to the worlds waiting to be unlocked by the gift of reading. Both are uplifting celebrations of friendships and a reminder that we’ve all got each other’s back, even when going gets a little dark. Brighter days ahead–
Abby Shares Her (Current) Favorites
Today, Abby selected her current favorites–no, they’re not new–Restart and The Bitter Side of Sweet came out in 2017–but she’s reading them purely for pleasure. Sometimes, old favorites provide the best comfort.
Abby Reviews Just Bunny
Good Monday to everyone out there. Here’s Abby’s latest review of Just Bunny and the Great Fire Rescue, by Jean LaSala Taylor and illustrated by Ana Sebastian (Mascott Books, $15.95). It’s a sweet reminder that we owe a hearty thank you to all the first responders out there, especially at this moment.
A Little Levity for Friday
It’s been a week. Abby made this video today. It’s not a book review, but a look at books from a different perspective. A sampling, if you will, of some of the books she’s been reading these past few days.
Be well. Stay safe.
Abby reviews “Skycircus”
Today, Abby absconds to the circus with her review of British children’s book author Peter Bunzl’s Skycircus ($12.99, Jolly Fish Press). Bonus: Bunzl posted free resources for teachers, librarians, and homeschoolers to use with his books.
La Dolce Vita: Abby Reviews Paolo: Emperor of Rome
With Italy and its people in our hearts, Abby brings you Mac Barnett’s latest children’s book about a dog who yearns for freedom in the Eternal City. The book will be available March 31 in both Kindle and print format.
If you’ve never heard of Barnett, check out Barbara’s 2014 interview with him when the Caldecott winner spoke about what he called the literary bargain children happily make when choosing something to read.
Abby Launches Video Book Reviews for Kids
Ok, we’re all home, but we can keep boredom at bay with great books. Abby, our roving 5th grade reporter, has stepped up with video book reviews for kids of all ages. Accompanying each review will be pertinent data (publisher, price, etc.) and links to where books are available in both digital and print format.
Here is Abby’s welcome video for a series we’re calling, “Book Reviews from Inside the Hot Zone.” The Hot Zone refers to where we are currently located–that this, a stone’s throw from New Rochelle. Be safe everyone. We will get through this together.
Brad Meltzer and Chris Eliopoulos Debut TV Series on PBS That’s Anything But “Ordinary”
The men who brought you the Ordinary People Change the World book series have created a TV show! Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum premiered November 11, 2019. I spoke with author Brad Meltzer and illustrator Chris Eliopoulos about how they paired up, why they like writing and drawing, and what they hope kids will learn from the new series.
Chris and Brad share a love of comic books, and got closer with the power of Twitter. Brad proposed they write a series, and Chris was happy to help. They’ve written dozens of books in the Ordinary People series since 2014.
You might be a bit curious about the name of the new TV series: Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum isn’t something you hear too often. As a kid, Brad always liked names with the letter X in them. Xavier is one of these rare few. He also loved riddles. Puzzling things out was a favorite activity of his. Hence the name, Xavier Riddle.
Brad was inspired to become a writer thanks to his ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Spicer. She told him he could write. Brad was dubious — he didn’t expect to be a writer. However, when he wrote his first book, he visited his teacher’s classroom, thirty years later, and said to her, “My name is Brad Meltzer, and I wrote this book for you.” The teacher started crying. When he asked her why, she explained that she was planning on retiring that year, because she didn’t think she influenced anyone. Clearly, she was wrong.
Brad picks his subjects with a particular characteristic in mind: “I always chose a hero, not because they’re famous, but because their life provides a lesson that I can give my own kids, and, truthfully, that I need myself.” The hero’s childhood is what strikes Brad as the most interesting for young readers. When talking about his biography of Amelia Earhart, Brad said that, “I loved the idea that there was this little girl, and everyone said to her, ‘You’re never going to be successful. You’re never going to be able to do what you want to do.’ And she just didn’t care. She just kept plowing forward. She wouldn’t let anything stop her. That’s the lesson I want for my sons, it’s a lesson I want with my daughter.”
Now let’s talk about the illustrator. Chris always knew he was talented at art, especially as a kid. “If you’d asked me back then, ‘Would you rather go to Disneyland or would you rather sit and draw pictures?’ I’d rather draw,” he said. He grew up a shy child, and Chris drew pictures to tell other people what he was feeling. “I would give these drawings to my parents, and they would read these stories and go, ‘Oh, okay, now we know what’s going on in Chris’s life.’” As an adult, he decided that he wanted to be a children’s book illustrator.
Brad and Chris work closely when it comes to the book or television creating process, as Chris explained: “Brad writes a script, and then sends it to me, and we talk about it a little bit, and then I go off and I draw the whole book out in pencil, so that everybody can see it. We decide if something works or doesn’t work. He’ll suggest things, or I’ll throw things in. Once everybody’s in agreement, I go back and I fix the things that need fixing, and I ink it up in ink, and then I send it back again. And then they all decide what looks good, what looks bad, what needs to be fixed. And then I go back and fix it, and then I color the whole book and I send it back.”
Sometimes, the people in the books have a say in how the book will look. During the creation of I Am Caring: A Little Book About Jane Goodall, for example, Jane read the book and made Chris go back and re-draw over ten pages because she was holding hands with wild animals in the pictures, and she didn’t find that appropriate for children. Chris told me that it was tiring to go back and redraw so many pages, but, in the end, the book did turn out to be better!
When I told Chris that his work seemed to resemble the Peanuts cartoons, he replied, “They’re my favorite thing in the whole wide world!” he explained why he adored them: “Peanuts was the biggest influence in my life. When I was a little kid, my uncle owned a remaindered book shop — basically where all the leftover books went. I used to take all of the Peanuts books–I still have them here in my studio–and I would just read them, cover to cover, all the time.” As he got older, Chris discovered Calvin and Hobbes, a popular cartoon by Bill Watterson about a boy and his tiger. Look at Chris’s drawings: big heads, tiny bodies, strange squished faces. The Peanuts cartoons look quite similar.
Xavier Riddle aims to teach kids the same message that the books do: that kids, no matter what, can be extraordinary. Brad said that making sure these stories are exciting is important to keep kids interested: “If you remind kids that these aren’t the stories of famous people, this is what we’re all capable of on our very best days, suddenly kids will look and go, ‘tell me more about that.’”
Abigail C. Richter is a fifth grader and lives with her parents and two basset hounds in New York.