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Monday, January 30, 2012

Next Year's Caldecott All Sewn Up? New Books — Extra Yarn

Courtesy HarperCollins

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Every now and again, I come across a picture book that has such a classic feel that I have to flip back to the copyright page and double-check to make sure I couldn’t possibly have read it as a child. The most recent book to send me into such warm and glorious bouts of nostalgia is Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Like so many favorite picture books of my own youth, this one has a story that is simple, yet full and rich.  It’s the kind of plot you could retell at a bedtime years later, even if you couldn’t find your old copy of the book. It’s the kind of fable that, despite being completely fresh and unique, feels like it has been told and retold for generations. Not stale, not clichéd – just timeless.

It’s the story of a young girl who finds a box of never-ending yarn and sets about knitting sweaters for everybody and everything in town. Her spirit of generosity is tested (as is the magic of the yarn itself) when a greedy archduke comes calling. The paintings by Jon Klassen (who is fast becoming one of my favorite illustrators ever) could not be more perfect. With a bright array of changing colors for the yarn and muted earth tones for everything else, his sweet and comical pictures help tell the tale in just the right way.

Together, the story and art scream “Instant Classic.” No, scream isn’t the right word. There’s nothing screamy about this book. It’s got a much quieter, more nuanced power. It put me in mind of Leo Lionni with a slier sense of humor, or Tomi Ungerer on one of his brighter, happier days. But Extra Yarn feels most like a classic Barnett/Klassen book, which is how I expect people will be complimenting other picture books a few decades from now.

Best for: Picture book lovers of all kinds; fans of wry fables; people who liked I Want My Hat Back, but were hoping for something a bit gentler.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Wishes Fulfilled: New Books — Bigger Than a Bread Box

Courtesy Random House

Bigger Than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder

I’ve made it pretty clear on this blog how much I enjoy magical realism. But my affection for lovely, entertaining, suspenseful, and moving Bigger Than a Bread Box goes far beyond the presence of a wish-granting bread tin. What really made me love Laurel Snyder’s new book so much is its protagonist.

            Twelve-year-old Rebecca is a eminently realistic tween girl — flawed and likable. She gets bored by Civil War documentaries, she gets frustrated by her little brother who she really loves very much, she shares laughs with her best friend by sneaking peeks at dirty greeting cards (just one of the wonderful little details in the book). Everything she does is believable. Which is why, reading about her from a parent’s perspective, I so often felt like I wanted to be there to comfort her through her angst — or warn her against the ill-thought, disaster-bound choices she was obviously making. Kids are so much more interesting to read about when they make mistakes.
            In the story, Rebecca’s parents split up and she is forced to move with her mother into her grandma’s house. Adjusting to a new house, new school, new neighborhood, and new friends is just as difficult as you’d imagine. But it’s made a little easier (or at least more surprising) by Rebecca’s discovery of a magical old bread box. Whatever she wishes for appears from within its tin confines. She starts off by wishing for exactly the type of things you’d expect a kid to wish for: money, an iPod, macaroni and cheese. But when her newfound loot doesn’t immediately change her life for the better, she ups the stakes, wishing for more unexpected (and harder to explain) prizes. And of course, the one thing she wants most — a reunion for her parents — is not something that can appear in a bread box. And when she learns a dark and morally challenging secret about the bread box, the tension increases exponentially.

            This is a tale of dangerous magic, the kind that looks incredibly promising and appealing, but which — if misused — can lead to ruin. Be-careful-what-you-wish-for predicaments start snowballing. And you, the reader, want so badly for things to work out for this girl, that you can’t help but be drawn in.

Best for: Lovers of magical realism; readers looking for tween drama with a unique twist; collectors of antique bread boxes