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Gaston

Kelly DiPucchio, illus. by Christian Robinson. S&S/Atheneum, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4424-5102-5

Mrs. Poodle dotes on her four puppies, three “no bigger than teacups” and one—Gaston—“the size of a teapot.” Although he strives to be dainty, Gaston stands out from his sisters. He learns why when he meets Mrs. Bulldog, herself the mother of four: three roundish bulldogs and Antoinette, a poodle. Gaston and Antoinette “could see that there had been a mix-up,” so they trade places: “There. That looked right... it just didn’t feel right.” They longingly gaze back at their former families, and their adoptive mothers miss them. DiPucchio (Crafty Chloe) tells a poignant tale, despite implying that gendered behavior results from nurture: raised with feminine poodles, Gaston “did not like anything brutish or brawny” like his bulldog kin, and rough-and-tumble Antoinette “did not like anything proper or precious” like her fellow poodles. They grow up to marry and breed independent puppies. DiPucchio’s narrative gets a brilliant boost from Robinson’s (Rain!) savvy stencils and acrylics, which—like Maira Kalman’s designs—simultaneously evoke fingerpaintings and elegant gallery work. Gaston’s charm is a blend of sweetness and style. Ages 4–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (June)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.)

Peter Brown. Little, Brown, $18 (40p) ISBN 978-0-316-07029-4

Context is key in this revelatory tale from Brown (Mr. Tiger Goes Wild), dedicated “to misunderstood teachers and their misunderstood students.” Bobby and his teacher are at odds, and it’s easy to see why: “Ms. Kirby stomped. Ms. Kirby roared.” Ms. Kirby—who disapproves of Bobby’s paper airplanes in class—looks like a furious komodo dragon, with her brown-speckled green skin, toothy underbite, and pointy claws. One Saturday at the park, the two accidentally meet. When a gusty wind nearly tosses Ms. Kirby’s hat in a lake, Bobby saves the day, and Ms. Kirby rejoices. As they awkwardly chat, Ms. Kirby’s fearsome features gradually transition from reptilian to human. Bobby relaxes too, and the thing that tore them asunder—the paper airplane—proves perfectly appropriate for fun at the park. Brown, imagining Ms. Kirby from a child’s perspective, handles her transformation smoothly, prompting readers to revisit earlier pages. Comic traces of monstrosity linger in Ms. Kirby (she still goes green at classroom clowning) yet Brown makes it clear that teachers are people too—even the “mean” ones. Ages 4–8. Agent: Paul Rodeen, Rodeen Literary Management. (July)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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My Pet Book

Bob Staake. Random, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-385-37312-8

Staake, whose wordless Bluebird depicted a lonesome outsider, introduces a happier child, albeit one allergic to cats. “I want a pet that’s easy!” the boy declares, so his pleased parents steer him to a bookshop, where he chooses “a frisky red hardcover.” Staake’s bouncy hero resembles a Photoshop version of Crockett Johnson’s Harold as he casually walks his obedient book across a chaotic city bridge, oblivious to the mischief of real dogs and cats. In the only spread to picture him reading, he imagines battling a fairy-tale dragon and a purple octopus, reveling in “tales/ Of awesomeness and glory.” All is well until his book goes missing, and the family maid fears she has given it “to charity” while cleaning house. There are some missteps (like that anachronistic, uniformed maid), and a few stanzas include words and phrases that feel like filler (“Most pets, you know, are cats and dogs/ Go out and take a look./ But there’s a boy in Smartytown/ Whose pet is... a little book”). The appeal of a good book gets lost in the fray, despite much entertaining stage business in Staake’s images. Ages 3–7. (July)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Midnight Library

Kazuno Kohara. Roaring Brook, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-59643-985-6

For children whose early bedtimes make them feel like they’re missing all the fun, Kohara (Here Comes Jack Frost) offers a gentle middle-of-the-night fantasy. Her library for nocturnal creatures is open all night, staffed by a young librarian with braids and her three assistant owls. They take good care of their animal patrons, guiding a noisy band of squirrel musicians upstairs to the activity room and encouraging Miss Wolf to stick with the story she’s reading, despite the traumatic part in the middle (“She was crying so much her tears fell like rain”). The ringing of a bell lets everyone know that dawn is coming, and they have to go home—even the tortoise who insists that he has to finish his book first: “I only have 500 pages left!” Kohara, a skilled visual storyteller, creates intricate linocut prints whose black outlines are accented with ochre and midnight blue. She switches nimbly between big spreads, sequential panels, and cutaway views. The curves of the library’s doorway and its black spiral staircase give the pages just the tiniest taste of charming gothic gloom. Ages 3–6. (June)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hello, Moon!

Francesca Simon, illus. by Ben Cort. Scholastic/Orchard, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-545-64795-3

Bedtime can be lonely, even with a pet cat for company, so a boy decides to chat with the moon outside his window. His questions, and the imaginary play they inspire, range from quotidian (“Do you like chocolate ice cream?) to philosophical (he imagines Moon has a “billion, trillion gazillion” friends, “But they’re all so far away”). This is a sweet book, with lush, dense acrylics—Cort’s gorgeously blue night sky makes every other color glow—and a comforting message that even a literal dark night of the soul will give way to a more confident sense of self (“I’m here” the boy tells the moon before drifting off, “Anytime you want to talk”). But despite the conceit, Simon (the Horrid Henry books) and Cort (Aliens Love Underpants!) don’t make the Moon much of a focal point. When the boy wonders whether the Moon likes to pretend it’s a pirate, it dons an eye patch, but most of the time it’s absent from the boy’s reveries altogether or a placidly smiling figure in the sky, more distantly maternal than buddy-buddy. Ages 3–5. (June)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Big Bad Baby

Bruce Hale, illus. by Steve Breen. Dial, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8037-3585-9

Hale (Clark the Shark) and Breen (Pug and Doug) have such a similar go-broad-or-go-home comic aesthetic that it’s surprising they haven’t crossed collaborative paths before. Together, they come up with a hybrid of Honey, I Blew Up the Kid and The Incredible Hulk, starring an almost naked toddler whose bad mood transforms him from kewpie doll to holy terror. “Pausing only to slurp from his sippy cup, Big Bad Baby set out to take over the world!” proclaims Hale, While the ensuing havoc—not to mention the implications of a giant, filled diaper and a torrent of drool—are almost too horrible to contemplate, Breen has a good time doing so. A highly expressive pooch named Boris, deemed Baby’s “evil hench-dog,” is actually a shocked reader surrogate, and is almost as much fun to watch as Baby himself. A surplus of maniacal jokes and sound cues ought to win the hearts of older siblings who know just how bad babies can be. Ages 3–5. Author’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. Illustrator’s agent: Teresa Kietlinski, Prospect Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hickory Dickory Dog

Alison Murray. Candlewick, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-6826-6

Hat tip to Mother Goose: Murray (Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten) uses one of the most familiar nursery rhymes to introduce Rufus, a dog who’s determined to be a constant companion to his young owner, Zack, from wake-up to bedtime. Why should a little thing like school and a “NO DOGS ALLOWED” sign come between two buddies? With nary a supervising adult in sight to protest or eject the increasingly scruffy Rufus, the dog wriggles through a fence and joins in the kindergarten fun. Art class is “make-a-mess heaven,” and lunch is divine: “Hickory, lickery, lunch,/ Some yummy food to munch./ The clock strikes noon/ Zack’s dropped his spoon!/ Hickory, lickery lunch.” Murray’s digital pictures have the cheery colors, simple shapes, and straightforward exuberance of 1950s illustration. Rufus, fashioned out of an almost continuous scraggly brown line and filled in with mustardy yellow, is the very picture of canine devotion. Analog clocks pop up throughout the spreads, offering visual cues (and subtle nudges) to those on the threshold of knowing how to tell time. Ages 2–5. (June)

Reviewed on 04/11/2014 | Details & Permalink

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