Author/Illustrator: Marcus Pfister
Translator: J. Alison James
My rating: 4.5 of 5
The Rainbow Fish is very beautiful, and he knows it too. But he’s not about to share any of his beautiful scales. And he wonders why he has no friends?! When the Rainbow Fish takes some wise advise and learns to be generous with his beauty, he finds that the other fish’s attitude toward him changes as well.
The Rainbow Fish is an established classic children’s picture book, although I have to admit that I didn’t read it until I was an adult. I’ve had numerous people tell me it was a favorite when they were growing up, however, and my little niece adores this book. Understandably so. The text is simple enough for young children to understand, yet it has a nice flow. And the message of the story is something everyone needs to be reminded of–although I think a discussion of not being friends with someone just to get stuff from them may be necessary in some cases. What seems to stand out in most people’s memory–and in most children’s reactions–however, is the lovely art. It really is attractive, and I love the cool-tone palette. And of course, the holographic foil is eye-catching. I would recommend The Rainbow Fish to anyone looking for an all-around good book for children ages 18 months to around 4-years-old.
Author/Illustrator: Stephen Collins
My rating: 5 of 5
Dave lives on the island of Here in a neat, tidy house on a neat, tidy street. Every day he follows the same, orderly routine. In fact, he detests disorder, as do all the denizens of Here. But one day everything changes for Dave, one day all the disorder that haunts his nightmares seems to burst forth from his nearly bald body to form a beard. An enormous beard that won’t stop growing no matter how it’s trimmed and treated. A beard so disorderly and gigantic that is seems ready to devour the entirety of Here. So of course, the people of Here do what they have to do; they deem the beard “evil”.
I really enjoyed The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil much more than I expected to. It felt like a mix of Shaun Tan, Dr. Seuss, and The Stanley Parable, not that that makes any sense but it’s true nonetheless. There’s exactly that sort of combination of silliness paired with a deep, unsettling underlying tension. Because this story really is a parable about us all, not one that I could spell out the moral to but one that’s valuable to consider nevertheless. It’s a scary but important reflection on human nature. The textured, stylized art and the sporadic, sometimes-rhymed writing work remarkably well with the theme. Actually, the entire graphic novel is just fitted together in every detail in a way that just works. If you’re at all of a philosophical bent, I would definitely recommend The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil.
Author: Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5
Kevin Midas knows what it is to be the kid everyone else picks on. It seems to be his lot in life to be the favored punching bag of the all-school bully. So it’s no surprise when a scuffle during the class camping trip (seriously, what kind of teacher takes their class on a camping trip?!) ends in Kevin’s glasses being totally destroyed. When a teacher’s spooky campfire tale leads to Kevin and his best friend Josh climbing the mountain nearby though, things become a bit more surprising. At the very top, Kevin discovers a sleek pair of glasses, just like they were waiting for him. And not only do those glasses fit his prescription perfectly, they instantly make him feel cooler, more confident. But that’s not all they can do, as he’s about to find out. . . .
I love Shusterman’s writing–always original, refreshing, and meaningful. The Eyes of Kid Midas has the feeling of a cautionary tale or a fable without ever being demeaning or pedantic. It reads like an exciting middle-grade slice-of-life adventure with a crazy fantasy element thrown in . . . except that the further you read, the more you get the picture that stuff and power just aren’t worth as much as we sometimes think they are. The costs of seeking them too much are just too high, as Kevin quickly found out. Which isn’t to say that they aren’t addictive–another thing Kevin discovers to his horror. This story does get quite terrifyingly end-of-the-world disaster-zone towards the end, but it’s all middle-grade appropriate in tone. The characters are well-written, although more of the focus in this story seems to be on the plot; it’s still definitely a plot that wouldn’t have developed as it did unless the characters were who they are, that much is obvious. I don’t think I liked The Eyes of Kid Midas quite as much as I have liked some of Shusterman’s other stories, but it’s still an excellent read and one I’d definitely recommend.
Author: Lloyd Alexander
Illustrator: Trina Schart Hyman
My rating: 4.5 of 5
A young carpenter has become disillusioned with his career and uncertain of his future. So one day, on a whim, he visits an old fortune-teller who has set up business over a cloth merchant’s shop. The fortune the old man gives him is absurd–but couched so cleverly that it sounds impressively positive. The young man leaves, convinced his future is bright, but he soon comes back with more questions . . . only to find that the old man has disappeared and the family he was staying with is convinced that he transformed himself into the young carpenter. And clever enough to see an opportunity when it presents itself, the young carpenter decides to take up a new career in fortune-telling, with surprising results!
If you’ve read any Lloyd Alexander, you’ll quickly recognize his distinctive, fable-like style in The Fortune-Tellers. Although, unlike most of his books, this is a short story–a children’s picture book, actually–it carries much the same feel as longer works such as the Prydain books or The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian. It’s quite the charming tall tale, full of wit and irony in good measure as well as a hefty dose of humor. It’s notable that the text itself is–like many of his stories–very unspecific regarding the location; this is the sort of story that could happen anywhere (which I love about his books!). But this picture book does something very interesting; it takes a story that could happen anywhere, anytime, and through the use of illustrations, sets it in a very specific location–the country of Cameroon. Hyman’s pictures are exquisite–colorful, intricate, and full of life and personality. The portray the place and the individuals involved so well that it gives an entirely new flavor to the text. It’s quite charming. I especially love her work with all the fabric patters–they’re really beautiful. I think The Fortune-Tellers is a fun and fascinating tall-tale sort of story that would be enjoyable for both children (probably around 5 and up) and for adults as well.
Author: Kobi Yamada
Illustrator: Mae Besom
One day, a boy has an idea. His world has changed, but at first he pretends everything’s the same as always. But his idea sticks around, following him and demanding attention. It kind of grows on him after a while. And grows, and grows until one day he turns around to find that his idea has changed the world for everyone.
This book is magical! I came across What Do You Do With an Idea? randomly at a bookstore, and I’m so glad that I picked it up. The text itself is told in first person from the boy’s perspective, and it really is a great exposition on dealing with those pesky ideas that sometimes pop up at the back of your mind. Furthermore, it’s an excellent reminder to encourage and foster creativity, in others and in ourselves. This is a wonderful, captivating story to read to children, but it’s also a meaningful fable for adults–a reminder to not always stay caught in the mundane. Besom’s illustrations are wonderful: monochromatic textured pencil for most of the story with pools of color drawing the eye always to the “idea” (which is, fascinatingly, portrayed as an egg with chicken legs and a crown; I’m not sure I “get it,” but it works). I really love the use of colors and motifs to enhance the storytelling. I would highly recommend What Do You Do With an Idea? to anyone from creative children to adults who need to rekindle that creative spark–it’s truly a beautiful picture book.
Author: David Almond
Illustrator: Dave McKean
The gods have mostly finished creating a beautiful world full of all sorts of interesting things, but they got bored and lazy before they finished, and now they’re lazing about napping and dining. Meanwhile, the world is left with areas that are simply . . . empty. Living in this world are three children–Harry, Sue, and Little Ben–who take the time to really look at these holes in reality and to imagine what ought to belong there. But they go further than dreaming–they create their dreams out of sticks and clay and will them into life. It’s all wonderful and exciting until Harry and Sue dream up something terrifying . . . something that might be to terrible to be undone.
Well. Mouse Bird Snake Wolf is an imaginative illustrated short story, I must admit. To give it its due, it is creative, bright, cohesive, and has an interesting twist at the end. But . . . I don’t know. I’ve tried reading a few of David Almond’s books, and they never quite resonate with me–I think because there’s a lot of unusual philosophies woven deeply into them so that it’s hard for me to take them at face value. For that very reason, I don’t think I would give this book to children to read, even though it’s pretty clearly marketed as a children’s book; I posit that it is definitely an adult book with adult implications. I’ll let you read it for yourself and form your own opinions regarding that. As for the art, well, being a Neil Gaiman fan, it’s sort of a given that I also greatly enjoy Dave McKean’s work. I think his pictures suit this story nicely, in a weird sort of way. The colors, textures, contrasts, and shapes are probably my favorite part of this book . . . but I think most people would find the pictures to be the weirdest and most disturbing part. Sooo . . . if you’re interested in an unusual, philosophically challenging, and creepily-illustrated short story, you might find Mouse Bird Snake Wolf worth checking out. Frankly, I probably won’t read it again, for what it’s worth.