Sunday, May 24, 2009

Natalie and the One-of-a-Kind Wonderful Day! by Dandi Daley Mackall

Natalie and the One-of-a-Kind Wonderful Day! by Dandi Daley Mackall
Geared Towards: Ages 6-9
Published By: Zonderkidz
Publication Date: May 2009
ISBN: 978-0-3107-1566-5

With my oldest daughter, now five, reading at about a second to third grade level, I am always looking for great chapter books that she can read on her own. I look for books that aren't too advanced, yet ones that will still be something more substantial than your basic beginning reader. This is exactly what I was hoping to find when given the opportunity to preview and review Natalie and the One-of-a-Kind Wonderful Day! by Dandi Daley Mackall. Guess what, folks? It was!

Readers who remember enjoying the popular juvenile fiction series about Ramona Quimby should most definitely add this book to their TBR (to-be-read) list. The first in a new series, That's Nat!, by Zonderkidz and, more specifically, Dandi Daley Mackall, this is a book that I simply could not get enough of. I have incredibly great expectations for the series, as it comes together, as a whole, and I can hardly wait for the next book to release.

Even as an adult, I found I was so excited to read Natalie and the One-of-a-Kind Wonderful Day! because the cover illustration was cute and the story sounded like something that I could have written about my own girls. Having read it, I am even more excited to let my daughter(s) have a go at it. My only worry about introducing the ever big hearted Natalie, star of the series, to my own daughters is that she has an uncanny way of getting herself in to quite the mess. I'd hate for my kiddos to be inspired by her, in the wrong ways, and repeat the five year old's off the wall "of the heart" mishaps. (LOL)

"What", you might ask, "is the book about?" To find the answer to that question, readers need look no further than the title of the book itself. Natalie and the One-of-a-Kind Wonderful Day! is all about how one little girl, aka Natalie, strives from the very first moment in the morning until the very last moment of the night to do something truly remarkable, amazing, and wonderful for her parents. She's an utter sweetheart, but despite Natalie's best intentions everything she sets her hand to goes wrong in some fashion or another. It starts with her trying to make her mom and dad some grape omel-nats (grape omelets) for breakfast. Then the day quickly goes down hill as one by one, from her attempts at prettying up the bathroom and dad's Sunday church shoes to rescuing her friends the ants, Natalie's grandious schemes fall flat. More so, they don't just fall flat. They crash and burn!

I really enjoyed the dynamic between Natalie and her parents because literally I could have written the book about my own daughter. The way Nat thinks and acts, the things she does, they are all things my daughter has it in her to do if she hasn't done them already. (LOL) Better yet is how spot on the author portrays the parents. Mom and Dad know Natalie doesn't try to create the trouble she finds herself in, but even having that knowledge does not stop mom and dad from getting upset and imposing punishments when necessary.

All Natalie wants is to do something really special- something one-of-a-kind special. She wants to do something that will make her mom and dad stand up and say "that's wonderful!" More than anything, she wants them to be pleasantly surprised by her endeavors. Alas, nothing goes quite as expected. What Natalie doesn't want is to upset her hurt her mom and dad; however, at the end of the day it feels like she's done nothing but disappoint them. She wants to make them proud, and she wants to feel important. But as Nat quickly discovers, being a five-year-old girl in a grown up world can be very stressful. This is why she finds it so reassuring that even when it seems the rest of the world is against her, God is on her side.

God is all around us, and I adore how seemlessly Mackall manages to work Him in to Natalie's story. In such easy to follow terms, Mackall touches on God's forgiveness, His love for us, even His creations. It's perfect because the way she has written Natalie to think is most certainly the way most children that are going to be reading this book will also think. How awesome to be able to introduce God or help establish God's presence in your child's life than through a light hearted read like Natalie and the One-of-a-Kind Wonderful Day!?

OUR RATING: 5 hearts

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Q & A with Tony Fucile- Let's Do Nothing!

To coincide with my earlier review, I thought it would be fun to share what Tony Fucile, author of the new picture book Let's Do Nothing!, had to say about this, his May 12, 2009, release.

Q. How and when did you become interested in art and animation?

A. I was lucky to have been exposed to some of the greatest animation at a very early age. We had a local TV cartoon host who showed early 1940s Looney Tunes, which were on the air every day after school. Those Bob Clampett Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons in particular just mesmerized me. Then came my first viewing of Pinocchio. Of all the movies I’ve seen in my lifetime, none compares to that one screening in terms of dramatic impact. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I knew its characters weren’t “real,” but to me they were more alive than anything. Later came Ray Harryhausen’s wonderful stop-motion monsters, the Peanuts holiday specials, Chuck Jones, and Tex Avery. All of this is what inspired me to learn how to draw.

Q. How did you make the leap from films to books?

A. I spent most of my career in animation making hand-drawn animated features, as both an animator and a character designer. Pixar brought Brad Bird up to develop The Incredibles, and I came along to join the team, helping to create and build the characters and supervise animation. I was intrigued by the computer. It was an amazing experience, but I did miss drawing, and acting with drawings. In the meantime, the hand-drawn form of animating movies was slowly being phased out at all the studios, including Disney. A very sad development.

I had always wanted to make picture books, but thought it was something that would be very tough to break into. I had collected many little tidbits over the years that I thought would make fun books. I began developing an idea about a kid who climbs his huge grandfather like a mountain. But my wife spotted a review of The Daddy Mountain in the newspaper, and that was the end of that. It actually energized me. I thought to myself, Wow, the great Jules Feiffer thought this idea was worth making a book out of. Maybe I have a chance here!

Q. How is creating a book different from or similar to working on animation?

A. The biggest difference for me is the writing. In animation, I never wrote or worked in story. I was an animator. My responsibilities were similar to what an actor gives a director in a live-action film. I was addicted to it, the notion of breathing life into characters with a pencil and paper. Making this book was kind of like animating, but without the in-betweens. In an animation shot, we call it the “storytelling pose”— the single visual idea that must be conveyed to the audience, to connect them with what you’re trying to communicate. When you animate, you usually begin with that dominant pose or poses in mind. Let’s Do Nothing! is really a series of key animation storytelling poses. It scratches that animator itch in me that I’m afraid will never go away. Also, with a book you are a one-man show — you lay it out, draw locations, research, and color the thing all by yourself. I used to live in a black-and-white world as an animator. That may have been the toughest challenge for me with this book: color. I hope that I stink at it a teeny bit less than I did before painting the book.

Q. Why did you want to write a book about doing nothing? How did you get the idea?

A. I vividly remember those childhood moments of excruciating boredom. We tend to remember the interesting and exciting parts of youth, but what about those times when you feel like you are stuck in a vat of molasses? A kid experiences that with such conviction. It was horrible! That said, I think those moments can be hugely catalytic. Great ideas come out of a bored mind. Or quiet mind. The concept of nothing wasn’t the impetus for the book; it was
a product of the characters and situation. I visualized these two bored boys — one kind of like me, and
the other kind of like my childhood friend Steve.
Then I had them interact. The idea of doing nothing
really sprang from these characters yapping at each other.

Q.Describe the process of illustrating Let’s Do Nothing!

A. Most artists who use computer paint programs use them to do their final art. I went the opposite way with this project. I used computers for roughing it all out and real materials for final art. I used a Cintiq monitor, which allows you to draw right on the screen. I completed all versions of the dummy on the Cintiq using the program Painter. I find the program great for playing around with layouts and placing text. It has all sorts of cool brushes, and experimenting with color is very fast. Being slightly detached from the work is strangely liberating for me as well. It keeps me loose. When it came to doing the final art, I went with traditional materials: acrylics, ink, and pencil. You still can’t beat real art supplies for tight control (and happy accidents). It was fun! And I like getting dirty.

Q. What artists, writers, and/or experiences have most influenced your work?

A. I’ll always be somewhat a product of my experience as an animator. My drawing style is very much influenced by some of my favorite animators. Many of my heroes from the golden age of the art form made the transition to picture books: Bill Peet, Mary Blair, J.P. Miller,The Provensens. I love Marc Simont, Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, William Steig, Roger Duvoisin, Robert McCloskey, Richard Scarry, Jules Feiffer, Charles Schulz, N.C. Wyeth, Ronald Searle, Hank Ketchum. I can go on and on. Many current artists and writers inspire me as well. I should mention one book that cast a spell over me: Dmitri the Astronaut by Jon Agee. Like Where the Wild Things Are, this is a book that I can endlessly chew on, like a dog with a bone. I love the appearance of something that at first glance feels breezy and spontaneous but at further inspection reveals tremendous complexity. I love it. I think that books as much as anything inspired me to try to create one myself.

All Illustrations Copyright © 2009 by Tony Fucile


Monday, May 11, 2009

Let's Do Nothing! by Tony Fucile

Let's Do Nothing! by Tony Fucile
Geared Towards: Ages 4-7
Published By: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: May 12, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-7636-3440-7

Have you ever sat still and tried to do nothing? Better yet, have you ever told a child to sit still and do nothing? Were you met with the realization that even when you try your best to do absolutely nothing it's actually an impossible goal to achieve? That's what the boys, Frankie and Sal, discover in Tony Fucile's debut children's picture book, Let's Do Nothing!

Having done seemingly everything there is to do and having played seeminly everything there is to play, Frankie and Sal look for something to occupy their time with. When they decide to play a game of "do nothing" they quickly discover that doing nothing isn't as easy as it sounds. Every time they set their minds on a "do nothing" task, such as be a still statue, a tree, and a sturdy sky scraper, Frankie finds that while he can make his body respond properly at first he can't maintain the still facade. For you see, all the while his body is trying to stay still, his mind is working overtime as he imagines himself in each scene but with added distractions.

My three year old and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book together. It was fun to see what the kids would attempt to do on their "do nothing" adventure, and even more fun was trying to act out those same scenes together along with them. Every child has surely, at one time or another, played the statue game. And that's basically what the children in this book were attempting to do. So, more less, reading Let's Do Nothing! is not just a book for storytime, but inspiration to play a game as well. That's what made it all the more exciting.

If you enjoyed the animation is such cartoon films as The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles then you'll be thrilled to learn that the author/illustrator of this book had his hand in the character design and animation of all of them and more. Having been in the design/animation field for over twenty years, Fucile provides solid and creative illustrations to accompany his humorous literary debut. Each picture is simple, but totally grabs the reader's attention. Fucile has perfected the ability to infuse life in to otherwise flat characters on the page. It is true artistry when even such unadorned illustrations can show such emotion and give the reader a clear picture of how the characters displayed are truly feeling. The illustrations mirrored the gaiety inspired by the story, and allowed for the author's humor to really shine through his art as well as his words.

As a parent, I appreciated how the author showed kids having fun and using their imaginations. I also thought it was great because this book makes you think about how much our bodies really do even when we try our hardest to not do anything at all. It showcases the intricate complexities of our person, and how amazing we really are. And through it all it shows how to really have fun, even when you don't have a million and one toys at your disposable. A great inspiration for the kids of today's techno savvy, digital age.

Thanks to Candlewick for the review opportunity! This was one of the most fun children's books my daughter and I have read as of late!

OUR RATING: 5 hearts

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Fairest Star: Friends & Enemies Part III by David Field

The Fairest Star: Friends & Enemies Part III by David Field
Geared Towards: YA
Published By: Athena Press
Publication Date: November 2008
ISBN: 978-1-84401-363-8

I was asked to review this book, and at first I was going to send along my thanks but also decline the offer. The book's cover turned me off right away, and as a rule of thumb I usually steer clear from the fantasy genre. Yet, when I read through the synopsis a second and third time, I couldn't help but feel like this Field guy just might have something here. So, I agreed to review the book. I think what really did me in was the fact that I just had to read more about how a kid from the 21st century could take his cell phone back to the 16th century. Try picturing it. It's really quite funny; wouldn't you say?

Actually getting in to the book and following along was another story all together though. I found that not having read the first two books to the Friends & Enemies series really put me at a disadvantage because this wasn't a stand alone book. This, from what I could tell, picked right up from where the second installment left off. I was at a total loss when it came to keeping all the characters and their stories straight. Thank God for the list of characters included at the beginning of the book because I had to switch back and forth to and from those pages constantly. Didn't really make for an incredibly pleasant reading experience, but it helped in a huge way compared to if the list hadn't been included.

I think that if a reader has already taken the time to read the first two books in this series he'll most likely enjoy reading this final part. I found it hard to get in to because I couldn't keep up, as already mentioned earlier. But as far as stories go, it was pretty exciting- full of action, adventure, and appeal. Then there's the bit which initially caught my eye, the technology from today in yesterday's world. Maybe I'm being too hard on it, but while I found the concept intriguing initially, I found it to be a little too far fetched in the end. It was a fun twist, but when push comes to shove I couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that the phones would actually work in the year 1599. Not just work, call back to modern time! Using a GPS from the future to help guide the horse in the past was also a bit bizarre for me. I guess it all depends on how you look at it, and maybe if I were actually of the age this book is marketed to, I'd not think twice about it.

As Tommy (from the 21st century) and Eloise (from the 16th century) try to hunt down the priest, Drogo, to exact revenge for his taking Eloise's mother's life, they must also fight for their own lives and those of their friends. There's also a brewing romance, but it's winsome- not like so many of the relationships portrayed in YA fiction. Even in books geared towards pre-teens and teens, today the focus on sex or sexiness is more often than not actively written if not implied. However, the hero and heroine in this story have a sweet and innocent relationship that shows their affection without overdoing it. It was quite refreshing. It was also nice to see the author keeping their relationship believable in the sense that Eloise, despite her love of the modern day life, was born and bred a girl of the sixteenth century. In that day and age, today's advanced relationship styles would have left the people aghast. So it was believeable to see Tommy and Eloise showing their attraction in a much more delicate light.

All in all, I would recommend this book. I would do so though while making note that the reader should be sure to start out with book one. This is a series with too much going on to simply skip straight to book three.

OUR RATING: 4 hearts