Warthog: A Counting Adventure, by Birdie Black, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw; Nosy Crow Books, $14.99, 32 pages, ages 1-3.
A playful combination of poetry and numbers makes this introduction to simple counting a welcome addition to the lift-the-flap genre. As little Warthog goes a-wandering, each adventure leads to another, with suspense building as he quickly reaches double-digits and a big surprise. Beardshaw’s bright mixed-media illustrations of a cheery menagerie of warthogs, birds, and butterflies matches Black’s quick-paced rhythm, creating just the right amount of suspense and adventure for the preschool set.
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean; Folio Society, $120.00, 560 pages, ages 14+.
Fans of Neil Gaiman’s award-winning American Gods (2001), rejoice: the Folio Society has recently released a commemorative edition of the 560-page genre-crossing tale of myth, fantasy, and faith. The timing is spot-on; recently adapted for television, American Gods debuted last month on the Starz network to such fanfare that the show has already been renewed for a second season.
In the Folio Society edition of the book, Gaiman’s exploration of faith in ancient and modern mythology leaps off the pages with the assistance from longtime collaborator Dave McKean, who previously illustrated Gaiman’s Sandman and Violent Cases. Here, twelve surreal acrylic and cut paper illustrations, including three double-page spreads and an otherworldly slipcase design, create, as McKean writes in the introduction, “an off-kilter, unrealistic place, where perspective doesn’t work.”
For the uninitiated, American Gods centers around a recently released convict named Shadow, who wanders aimlessly after learning of his wife’s fatal car accident during his time in prison. Shadow hooks up with con man Mr. Wednesday, and together they travel across America encountering Mr. Wednesday’s various associates–manifestations of old gods from ancient mythology now half-forgotten and wholly unimportant to 21st century folk. Gaiman’s premise is that the gods only exist so long as people remember them, and some gods resort to desperate measures to remain relevant. While the old gods fade into memory, a new breed of gods have taken over the American psyche, ones who represent humankind’s newfound obsession with social media, narcissism, and sexual power. A battle is looming, and Mr. Wednesday (who turns out to be an incarnation of the Norse god Odin) is leading the charge in a fight for the soul of America.
The Folio Society’s version of American Gods includes Gaiman’s “preferred text,” from the 2003 edition as well as the introduction from the 2005 edition, and fans unable to procure a Hill House 2003 limited edition–which fetch anywhere from $450 to over $1,000 these days–will find $120 for the Folio Society’s American Gods a relative steal.
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Fox? by Benjamin Renner; First Second Books, $15.99, 188 pages, ages 5-8.
Can’t a fox get a break? Apparently, no–not even the fluffy egg-laying hens are afraid in Benjamin Renner’s mapcap graphic novel making it’s English-language debut next month. Originally published last year in French as Le Grand Méchant Renard, the book chronicles the woes of a wannabe terror, a hungry fox whose antics only provoke the ire of his intended victims. Even under the tutelage of the old master of fairy-tale disaster, the wolf, this fox “as ferocious as a geriatric tortoise,” appears destined to nosh on berries and twigs for the rest of his days. At least, until the wolf hatches a plan to steal some eggs. The fox succeeds, but can he bring himself to eat these fluffballs? And what happens when he develops an attachment to his brood–who soon enough believe themselves to be baby foxes? Will the new family escape the clutches of the scheming wolf? Will the hens have pity on a poor fox seeking redemption? Renner’s slapstick, subversive, and sly saga will keep readers of all ages clucking with joy. While the artwork certainly has the feel of a cartoon strip, there’s a freshness and sophistication here that reveals a master at work. Pre-order this finely executed graphic novel to ensure hours of summer reading enchantment.
First Words; Lonely Planet Kids, $12.99, 208 pages, ages 4-8.
Lonely Planet Kids has expanded its product line-up in recent years with an intense focus on the pre-k to third grade demographic with interactive travel journals, guidebooks, and now, phrasebooks. In the age of Google translate (which is no substitute for learning a second language, but that’s another topic altogether), it’s reassuring to see publishing houses recognize that language acquisition is a skill best learned young. The First Words series enters the market with three languages–Spanish, French, and English–and each volume introduces the same 100 words. Each book uses the same images, so there’s continuity across the series if not cultural diversity. (But really, a gato is a chat is a cat, right? Sometimes it’s best not to overthink these things.) Every page is devoted to one word with a pronunciation guide, and Lonely Planet’s website offers free audio clips spoken by a native language-speaking child, for all 100 words. (Check it out here.)
The First Words series is a cute introduction to second language acquisition, and Lonely Planet plans to add Italian, Mandarin, and Japanese to the lineup in the near future. The trick now is for Lonely Planet to follow up with an equally engaging series that takes readers to the next level of language acquisition, because it’s at this secondary stage that many companies falter, and kids lose interest. Here’s hoping Lonely Planet will change the trend.
British poet John Keats (1795-1821) published fifty-four poems during his brief life, yet those pieces secured his place among the “second generation” of Romantic poets like Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe. Keats wrote the three-part A Song About Myself while traveling through Scotland and included it in a letter to his fifteen-year old younger sister, Fanny. The whimsical, cheeky verses about Keats as a naughty boy wandering the world are a departure from the poet’s better-known odes and sonnets. Keats describes the world outside of London and reveals that no matter where he is, some things remain the same.