Mangaka: Taiyo Matsumoto
Translator: Michael Arias
My rating: 4 of 5
During her work as a tour guide at the Louvre Museum in Paris, Cécile is introduced to a mysterious, captivating side of the museum not seen during its open daytime hours. For at night, the watchmen wander the quiet, echoing halls and tell stories of those rare individuals who hear the paintings speak to them. And at night, the cats who live secretly in the Louvre come out to play and bask in the moonlight. As as Cécile becomes more involved in this nighttime side of the museum, she finds two stories inexplicably intertwined–an old night watchman who swears his sister disappeared into a painting when they were children, and a small white kitten who never seems to grow.
Cats of the Louvre is an incredibly unique and unexpected work. For starters, although it is technically manga, the style is more artsy than your typical manga, including detailed depictions of actual works of art at the Louvre. And then, placing the setting specifically in the museum and focusing on one particular tour guide, a couple of night watchmen, a little lost girl, and an odd collection of cats . . . it’s unusual, yet it makes for something of a magical combination, actually. Throwing in a touch of magical realism–again, unexpected, but that really was the final piece that tied everything else together. Like, the plot is all kinds of odd and surreal and a bit meandering, but by the end, I found myself really involved in the story and characters, to the point that I actually cried a bit at a particularly moving scene. One thing that I found truly strange and a but off-putting is the way in which the cats are drawn sometimes looking like actual cats and sometimes as anthropomorphic cat-people, often switching between the two during the same scene. It’s part of the flavor of the story, and it actually makes some of the more fantastic bits make more sense . . . but it’s still just really strange. On the whole, though, I really enjoyed Cats of the Louvre and would recommend it to anyone who likes art, cats, and a certain amount of surrealism in their stories–whether they generally like manga or not.
Author/Illustrator: Jon Klassen
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Bear has lost his hat, and he really wants it back. He goes around asking everyone he meets if they have seen his hat. For that matter, have you seen his hat?
I Want My Hat Back is one of those great picture books that I truly enjoyed reading . . . even while I have some reservations about giving it to kids to read. I’ll discuss that in a bit. But first, the things I adored about this book. For starters, Klassen’s art style is just fabulous–simple and straightforward but with a softness that makes me want to just pet the animals. And the dialogue is perfect for the 3-5 age range; the words are simple, and you’ve got a repetitive theme with subtle variations so it doesn’t get too boring. Then you’ve got the one huge exception to the repetition–only, it’s disguised to look just like all the other interactions. It’s a fun something for kids to try to catch and a humorous inside-joke upon re-reading. Which leads us to the ending and the love/hate reaction I have to it. At the risk of totally giving spoilers for a kids’ picture book: the bear eats the rabbit who stole his hat then acts all shifty and lies when someone asks about the rabbit later. Which, when reading the story, it basically darkly hilarious, since it’s a perfect mirror of how the rabbit acted when bear asked about his hat. Trouble is, as a responsible adult who’s trying to teach kids honesty and values, I’m then conflicted . . . . I guess, read the book yourself and decide if it’s appropriate for your kids personally. But yeah, for myself, I found I Want My Hat Back to be mostly charming and darkly funny.
Author: Audrey Penn
Illustrators: Ruth E. Harper & Nancy M. Leak
My rating: 4 of 5
A young raccoon faces his first day of school with trepidation. That is, until his mother shows him a secret trick to help him be brave and remember that she loves him.
I found myself reading this adorable picture book with my niece, and I must say that it’s charming. The pictures are a delightful watercolor with a nice color blend, and the use of anthropomorphism is nicely balanced, if a bit weird to read as an adult. Don’t think about the details too much. I also liked that the writing is accessible to young readers but is also a bit more complex than the typical “see spot run” sort of thing that we see so much of. Most of all, I liked how the story presents children with a real, workable idea to help them handle difficult situations with courage rather than hiding the fact that tough things are a part of life. All in all, definitely recommended, especially for kids ages 4-6 or thereabouts.
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Adam Rex
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Chu is a little panda with a big problem: every time he sneezes, disaster ensues. As he’s out around town with his parents, they’re always worried that something’s going to tickle his nose and make him sneeze. They’re really very careful. But one evening while the whole family is at the circus, Chu’s mom and dad get so wrapped up in watching the show that they forget about Chu’s sneezing . . . and you can guess what happens from there!
I usually absolutely love Neil Gaiman’s books, so I’m really sad to say that I was a bit disappointed in this one, mostly because (sorry, spoilers) essentially the entire plot line is summed up above. It’s really simple, and kind of silly. Reading it for the first time as an adult–having come to expect insight and wonder from Gaiman’s books–I found the story to be a letdown. Having said that, I think that for younger kids, especially in the 3-4 age range, this story would probably be fabulous. It’s got a great buildup, and the denouement is really impressive. Plus, it’s funny–in a way that kids are likely to find a lot funnier than I do. If nothing else, I think kids would love it for the illustrations, which really are the best part of the book. There are big, bright two-page spreads of anthropomorphized animals of all sorts doing all sorts of normal people things. The settings are rich with design and color, and the creatures themselves full of character. You could probably spend a lot more time poring over the pictures than you could reading the actual text. Overall, in spite of not being what I expected or hoped, I do think Chu’s Day is a fun, silly book for younger children, and one with some really awesome art, which is why I still gave it a 3.5 (which is actually still pretty good, if you check out my rating scale). So yeah, if you’ve got younger readers, this would be a fun read-together story; I just wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a grown-up read-alone story.
Author/Illustrator: Tony DiTerlizzi
My rating: 5 of 5
Young Kenny Rabbit has never quite fit in in his rural farming community, what with his passion for reading–especially fantasy and books about natural history. So he’s thrilled to make a new friend, although said friend is not exactly who you’d expect a young rabbit to be befriending: a dragon, in fact. But then, Grahame isn’t like the dragons Kenny’s always read about in his stories, vicious creatures going about breathing fire, destroying crops, eating damsels in distress, and fighting valorous knights. Grahame is a gentle, well-read creature who prefers picnics over battles, Shakespeare over carnage, and conversation over destruction. All seems well as Grahame weaves his life into that of the Rabbit family in a charming, friendly sort of way . . . until the township gets word that there’s a dragon about. They might not be quite so understanding as Kenny’s family were about Grahame’s being, well, unusual for a dragon.
I can’t believe I waited this long to read Kenny & the Dragon; it’s fantastic! The writing style is absolutely charming, and the story is as well. The allusions to Kenneth Grahame’s stories, both The Wind in the Willows and The Reluctant Dragon, are frequent and obvious, but in a way that’s appealing rather than annoying. I have hopes that this book will point many children back to those older stories, as they are both excellent. DiTerlizzi’s tone, characters, pacing, and inclusion of details is spot-on throughout, making this an enjoyable and seamless read. And while this story is totally appropriate for even younger children–it’s easily understood and there’s nothing too scary–it’s educated and suspenseful enough to keep older readers engaged as well. I would definitely say this is an all-ages read; maybe even one that would be good for family read-aloud time. In addition the the excellent storytelling, DiTerlizzi’s illustrations are also charming, full of character and expression. Kenny & the Dragon comes with high recommendations; definitely go check it out!