You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2008.

Squirrelly Gray

Kochalka, James


Random House Children’s Books, New York. 2007. 40 p.


So apparently I’m not only on a graphic novel/picture book kick, I’m on a James Kochalka one as well. But what can I say? He writes and illustrates amazing books that are meant for kids but appeal just as much to adults.


Little Squirrelly Gray’s story is no different. He lives in his tree and is bored out of his mind because he only has a TV to keep him occupied. His life is dull, drab, and simply put, gray. One day he decides to try and humor himself by wiggling his teeth. He wiggles them so much they pop out, so he does the logical thing and waits for the tooth fairy to come and pick the teeth up. To him, this will surely be the event that makes his life a little more exciting.


Well, he’s right. The poor Tooth Fairy gets herself in a predicament on her way to Squirrelly Gray’s, and he has to save her. Because of his bravery, the Tooth Fairy rewards Squirrely Gray with a very special acorn. The story goes on from there with Squirrelly changing his life and the world around him. Pretty big stuff for a little squirrel and an acorn!


Unlike Kochalka’s other books, this one is a true picture book and is written in short rhyme. But like his other books, this one has vivid and simple illustrations that convey the message without getting too cluttered or complicated. Kochalka proves you can tell a wonderfully rich story with very little fluff. Except for Squirrely Gray, of course… he’s a little fluffly.


Owly: Tiny Tales

Runton, Andy


Top Shelf Productions, Marietta, Georgia. 2008. 172 p.



Imagine my excitement when I saw the new Owly book on our shelves! I can’t keep going on about how much I’m loving juvenile graphic novels right now because I know it has got to get old, but how about one more time for OWLY! (and then once more when the next Jellaby comes out).


So, I should say this isn’t a full, brand new Owly book. It’s a collection of shorter tales. Maybe Runton is just trying to keep his fans sated while he works on his next full length book. Doesn’t matter, because this book is just as adorable as a regular Owly book. Most of the stories are very short, only a few pages, and just tell brief stories about Owly’s daily life. He hangs out with Wormy and visits Raccoon at the Nursery and makes new friends through his activities around the woods. Now, I have been known to say to some people that I think Owly is a little on the weepy side, and there is some crying in this book, too, but I have to give Owly some credit, he doesn’t cry as much in this one. (Sorry Owly).


However, the best part of this collection to me is the back section that shows us how Owly began and how he progressed. It’s really cool to see how Runton started and how different Owly and Wormy look now. It’s also heartening to see how something so simple and ordinary can become a major success.


Tiny Tales, thumbs up!

If You Come Softly

Woodson, Jacqueline


GP Putnam’s Sons, New York. 1998. 181 p.




Ah yes, you guessed it already. Another heart-smashing (“breaking” doesn’t cut it this time) book about young people in tragic circumstances. This book is the saddest one I’ve read from Woodson yet, and I just don’t know if my heart can take any more.


The book centers on two young people in love, Jeremiah and Ellie. They live in New York City with fairly good parents and in good homes and neighborhoods. But of course, there’s a catch. Jeremiah is black and Ellie is white. Neither has ever dated someone of a different color, so they have to deal with their own mixed emotions as well as their parents’ and the people around them. As if that’s not enough strife and upset, the book ends quite abruptly with unforeseen violence and tragedy of Greek proportions. Why, Jacqueline, why???


Jeremiah and Ellie are both bright and likable characters who really represent their generation and situation well. I don’t know how Woodson gets into people’s heads the way she does, but she does it amazingly well, and this book really resonates truth and purity. The kids are really still just kids in high school coping with hormones and parental misunderstandings and peer pressure and everything we all dealt with during our teenage years. But add to all that the pressure on Jeremiah as the only son of a genius filmmaker and genius author, and the pressure Ellie has as the youngest daughter of protective parents, one of which has already nearly abandoned the family once. The way the two meet is very sweet and romantic, and the way it all ends just makes every moment they shared even more tender and special. When you’re a teenager in love everything seems so important and so tragic, but in Jeremiah and Ellie’s case, it all really is that big.


The setting of New York City in the winter is beautiful and a perfect backdrop for these two young people in love. The city is big and vibrant, but people are still set in old ways and there is evil just underneath the surface. It always sounds so perfect to be young and in love in the big city, but Woodson gives us quite the opposite with this book. Read this book, but be prepared for heartache.

The Lump of Coal

Snicket, Lemony


HarperCollins Children’s Books, New York. 2008. 40 p.


If you know me, you know that I am a HUMUNGOUS fan of Lemony Snicket. I won’t say Daniel Handler because his adult books just never grabbed me, but when he’s Lemony Snicket, I go bananas.


I’ve seen that some people aren’t as impressed with The Lump of Coal as they were with The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story, but I don’t know if I entirely agree. I liked this book, though I will admit it seems a little watered-down for a Snicket creation. There is the usual dark humor and use of lofty vocabulary that we all know and love, but as weird as it sounds, I really don’t feel Snicket’s normal passion in this book. It’s funny and clever and has dashes of typical Snicket themes, but (it pains me so much to write this) it falls a little flat. Just a little! But it is cute and the end is probably as warm and fuzzy as Snicket could ever get, so overall it’s a great book. As good as Latke or the amazing Series of Unfortunate Events? Hmm.. maybe not.

Monkey Vs. Robot

Kochalka, James


Top Shelf Productions, Marietta, Georgia. 2000. 144 p.


Well who knew James Kochalka had a literary life before Pinky & Stinky? He did. And he had this amazing graphic novel, Monkey Vs. Robot, which is every bit as good as Pinky & Stinky but in a completely different way. Whereas Pinky and Stinky were adorable pigs in space just trying to make friends, the titular Monkey and Robot in this book are at odds with each other after a fatal misunderstanding.


The book opens with a monkey slinking across the page looking forlorn and maybe a little suspicious with the sentence: “Why can’t we all love each other, Monkey and our Robot brother?” With that sentence, you can probably guess where this book is headed.


One night a monkey is in the jungle minding his own monkey-business while a robot is farther away being built in a factory. The robot wanders out into the jungle to get a rock, and the monkeys watch in shock and awe from afar. The robot takes the rock back to the factory where it is turned into a thick sludge that pours out of a tube into the jungle. Sadly, one of the monkeys is in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets doused in the black sludge and dies. The other monkeys see this and spread the word that it’s the fault of the robot and his sludge. Things get out of hand from there.


Angry feelings and language barriers lead to more death and suffering for the rest of the book. Robots attack monkeys, monkeys attack robots. Neither side is willing to back down because each sees his own cause as the just one. The book concludes with one of the monkeys in the remains of the destroyed former robot factory. Is there hope after all that has happened? Possibly. Chances are good because I’ve seen there is a sequel to this book.


It’s not warm and fuzzy like Pinky & Stinky, but it’s well drawn and thoughtful and every bit as enjoyable.

Not a Stick

Portis, Antoinette


HarperCollins Children’s Books, New York. 2008. 32 p.


This is the long-awaited (at least in my world) sequel to Not a Box, and it is just as endearing and clever as the first one. Portis has found an incredibly fun niche and I hope she is able to find more ideas for this concept of animals, really representing human children here, finding their imaginations through inanimate and everyday objects.


In this book, a little pig comes across a stick which becomes a vehicle for all sorts of imaginary items. The pig imagines it as a fishing rod, a marching band baton, a paint brush, and a sword, to name a few. This book is in the same format as Box, with a parental voice on one side of the page warning the pig to “be careful” with the stick and wondering why on earth someone would play with a stick, and the animal on the opposite page and following pages showing us what sorts of wonderful things a plain object can become.


These books show children, and adults, that our imaginations are so endless and amazing that we’re really selling our minds short when we don’t use them and let our ideas flow. My childhood was filled with sticks and leaves that became galloping deer and little birds or ducks to me. It’s not that I didn’t have every toy I wanted; it’s that I found joy out of using my imagination and was never told I was being silly or odd. Children who use their imaginations early become some of our most beloved artists later and find great inner happiness, and that’s something that we can’t put a price on.


Not a Stick is not just a book. It’s a key to unlocking inner potential.