By Christopher Myers
Disney/Hyperion. $16.99. Ages 4-9.
Just in time for graduation, here’s a reminder that it’s not only about the journeys you take but the survival equipment you choose. Tools, like journeys, offer a way to widen the world and embolden people to reach for more. One of the most powerful, humble and versatile implements is the pen: Used for drawing or for writing, it brings dreams into focus. In his poetic sketchbook, writer and illustrator Christopher Myers demonstrates the magic of this simple everyday device. Imagining himself as a young boy wearing a fedora and a solemn expression, he shows how writing and drawing can empower him, even when others make him feel small. The black-and-white drawings conjure up a dreamlike escape: A tall man stands in the palm of a girl’s hand, a boy rides a Tyrannosaurus rex, an elephant peers from a teacup. Myers’s words and art play together, improvising, working in syncopation like jazz. The powerful message here: The pen and artist — or the pen and the poet — can triumph with flexibility, endurance and scope.
THE BLUE WHALE
By Jenni Desmond
Enchanted Lion. $17.95. Ages 4-8.
In the opening pages of Jenni Desmond’s beguiling new book, a young boy wearing a red crown opens a picture book about blue whales. Next, the boy is happily leaning out of a small wooden boat to look at the massive creature moving beneath him. With a lovely balance of whimsy and fact, Desmond’s “The Blue Whale”immerses the reader in the big, blue sea while imparting intriguing information about the enormous mammal. For instance, did you know that 50 people can fit inside one whale’s mouth?
Desmond playfully conveys a sense of scale throughout the book. To show how high whales can blow air, (32 feet), she stacks nine 7-year-old boys (including our hero) in that little wooden boat. Filled with strikingly beautiful watercolor illustrations, the book shows what impossible fun it would be to hang out in such close proximity to the majestic blue whale.
RETURN TO AUGIE HOBBLE
By Lane Smith
Roaring Brook. $16.99. Ages 8-12.
The shabby amusement-park setting of author and illustrator Lane Smith’s first novel should tip readers off to the wordplay, upended conventions and plot shenanigans in store. For example, there’s a playground called “Lord of the Swings.” As he works a summer custodial job at Fairy Tale Place, narrator Augie Hobble contends not only with the usual muscle-bound bullies but also with werewolves, federal agents, a clairvoyant food vendor and a creative arts project that he must do over or fail. Into this lively, pun-rich narrative, Smith, a two-time Caldecott honoree, layers Augie’s drawings, comics and haphazard ideas for that school project. Finally, in a panicked attempt to fulfill the assignment, Augie turns in some odd poetry from his sketchbook — and sets in motion events that prove transformative, literally and figuratively. Augie and his best friend, Britt, are two smart, unpopular kids trying to survive middle school, and their friendship provides entertaining repartee and emotional depth to this fantastical novel. Like the late comic master Terry Pratchett, Smith knows how to make profound points lightly as he holds a funhouse mirror to the larger world.
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