catwad: it’s me.

Jim Benton (he of Happy Bunny fame) has started publishing a new graphic novel series about a character named Catwad, and I’ve been trying for an hour to figure out how to describe it. In the first book, Catwad: It’s Me., Catwad reminds me of nothing so much as a book version of the Grumpy Cat meme. Or a cross between Grumpy Cat and a Garfield comic. Whichever way you slice it, the book is full of biting, physical humor, and it will be a hit with kids no matter their reading level!

catwad: it's me. by jim benton cover
From New York Times bestselling author Jim Benton, meet Catwad! He's blue, he's a bit of a grouch, and his best friend is a dim-witted cat named Blurmp who can see the bright side of anything. From pizza and computers, to love and happiness, this crabby tabby has a funny take on just about everything, and he's not afraid to share it.

Catwad is a cat (did the name give it away?), and star of a new graphic novel series featuring two cats (Catwad and Blurmp) who play off each other for laughs. It’s a bit like a modern, gross-out version of Amelia Bedelia, and sure to spark belly laughs. Catwad loves nothing (except coffee), and Blurmp loves everything – even when it doesn’t make sense. Their adventures, reluctant friendship, and jokes make for a hilariously meme-able reading experience that is sure to appeal to anyone who has searched the internet for “funny cat videos” (and who hasn’t, at this point??).

With a book filled with jokes about growing up, grossout moments, immaturity, wordplay, meditations on friendship, “dumbness,” and more, Catwad's adventures are destined to be a popular series. I especially appreciated the strategic use of faulty grammar for comedic effect (I might use it as an example in my 9th grade classroom). I see this book as a natural successor to Dog Man, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and other mega-popular graphic novel series that rely on physical humor. It ups the sophistication level a bit (and it’s quite clever at times), but the reading level remains low and the focus is on the contrast between visuals and text.

Speaking of the art, Catwad: It’s Me. is full of vibrant colors, simple images, and a good mix of panel sizes. The stories within also vary in length – some sections are several pages long, and others are brief, contained spreads. Since there isn’t much in the way of background, the focus is squarely on Catwad and Blurmp, and they are easily-traced shapes – so this book may inspire some budding cartoonists as well!

In all, Catwad is a hilarious addition to the elementary and middle grade graphic novel canon, and a great choice for kids who like humor and are at lower reading levels.

Recommended for: readers ages 7+ who enjoy reading newspaper comics, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and other humorous sequential art.

Fine print: I received a finished copy of this book from a publicist for review consideration . I did not receive any compensation for this post.

little doctor and the fearless beast

Imagine a girl veterinarian who lives somewhere deep in the jungle. Now imagine that she treats... crocodiles! What would her clinic look like? What kinds of injuries would crocodiles have and a Little Doctor heal? What kinds of stories could crocodiles tell? Sophie Gilmore's debut picture book Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast takes that premise and those questions and spins a yarn that is engrossing and satisfying.

little doctor and the fearless beast by sophie gilmore book cover
Crocodiles come from far and wide to seek Little Doctor’s care. She treats each one with skill and kindness—even the toughest crocs with thick skins and large, powerful jaws. Little Doctor marvels at these fearless beasts, listening to their stories, while she diagnoses and cures what ails them. But when she meets Big Mean, the largest crocodile in the land with jaws clamped tightly shut, Little Doctor can’t figure out what’s wrong. And she might be just a little bit afraid.

When one creative idea lands Little Doctor right inside Big Mean’s tremendous jaws, she is sure she’ll be munched or crunched—until she sees that Big Mean isn’t so horrible, after all. As it turns out, the crocodile is only protecting her hatchlings, all tangled in plastic, inside her mouth.

Watercolor illustrations create a richly imagined world in this awe-inspiring story about how even little kids can be fearless, and even big, mean creatures sometimes need help.

Apparently when crocodiles tell tales, their legends are full of "terrible danger, dizzying escapes, and acts of great mischief." And if you treat them well, as Little Doctor does, crocodiles will share their stories as a reward. Little Doctor and her crocodile patients are part of an absolutely beautiful and patently charming picture book that always feels just one jaw snap from disaster, but full of kindness as well. As a bonus, Gilmore's storytelling is matched (or exceeded, even!) by her fantastic illustrations.

Each page spread in Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast is full of details to be examined and pored over read after reread. There are crocodiles in every corner of Little Doctor's home, and it's fun to anticipate where the next one will be. When Big Mean (the biggest, most fearsome creature of all!) comes on the scene, the spreads get even more creative. How will such a big animal (reptile??) fit in Little Doctor's house? Especially when Big Mean is feeling mean and uncooperative?

Gilmore's watercolor and pencil illustrations are a delight. She masterfully captures light, shading, texture and color, and adds whimsy and magic to boot. Both adults and children will enjoy the dangerous suspense of sharp teeth juxtaposed with fearless kindness. Little Doctor and the Fearless Beast is an unexpected (and welcome) surprise, and a soon-to-be classic.

Recommended for: storytimes and read-alouds with little ones ages 4-7 (especially with children who love animals, reptiles, and a little bit of bite), and for fans of beautifully illustrated picture books à la Where the Wild Things Are.

the tea dragon society

It’s been an age since I updated this blog! Too long. I’m out of practice and I have the anxiety to prove it (typing up reviews is v. therapeutic, who knew??)(I did, I just conveniently forgot to make time for it… ). But enough of that. Today I want to talk about one of my favorite bookish things: dragons!  Dragons are the best. THE BEST. Most of my favorite fantasy books have dragons in, and though I know correlation is not causation… DRAGONS are deeply awesome. So when a graphic novel is titled The Tea Dragon Society, well. Let’s take it as a given that I’ll be reading it (and expecting enchantment).

the tea dragon society by katie o'neill cover
From the award-winning author of Princess Princess Ever After comes The Tea Dragon Society, a charming all-ages book that follows the story of Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, and the people she meets as she becomes entwined in the enchanting world of tea dragons.

After discovering a lost tea dragon in the marketplace, Greta learns about the dying art form of tea dragon care-taking from the kind tea shop owners, Hesekiel and Erik. As she befriends them and their shy ward, Minette, Greta sees how the craft enriches their lives—and eventually her own. 

Greta is learning the old art of blacksmithing from her mother when she happens across a tea dragon in distress. She returns it safely to its owner, Hesekial, who offers to teach Greta tea dragon lore. But what is a tea dragon? Well, it’s an adorable little denizen of the fantasy world that O’Neill creates in this book. But it is also explained in-text, and I wouldn’t want to spoil that! So take it as read that tea dragons are slightly mystical, unbearably adorable, and the rest of this story is as well.

Katie O’Neill’s The Tea Dragon Society started its life as a webcomic, and that’s how I originally came across it. In print, it’s a large format graphic novel with a gentle, LGBTQ+-positive story and absolutely gorgeous (and distressingly cute??) art. I read it for the 2018 Cybils awards, and it made the elementary and middle grade graphic novel shortlist—everyone loved it.

So what’s to love, aside from cuteness overload (but really, that’s all you need sometimes!)? Well, there are several things I’d put in the ‘plus’ column. First, the art is full of flowers, and I’m all in on flowers (see my instagram if you have any doubts). Then there’s inventive character design and characters of color. Add in LGBTQ+ rep, disability rep, and a fluffy story that will make readers feel just as happy as main character Greta… plus cool fantasy and magic world-building, and an open ending for future volumes, and there you have it. It’s basically perfect.

When I tried to think of negatives, all I could come up with was that there’s not a whole lot of urgency in the story or plot. That’s not… a fault. Oh well!

If you’re in the mood for quiet magic, soul-soothing beauty, and a moment or two of laughter, then The Tea Dragon Society is the book for you. It will make you wish that tea dragons are real and that you had a big mug of fragrant tea to sip from—even if it’s not tea-drinking weather!

Recommended for: fans of sweet middle grade graphic novels like The Prince and the Dressmaker and Nightlights, readers ages 8 and up with an eye for art, tea drinkers, and anyone who likes quiet, original fantasy in a beautiful setting.

tiger days: a book of feelings

You know that feeling when you read a book at exactly the right time? The sneaking suspicion you then have that it’s speaking directly to you and your problems (or the world’s problems!) and fate must have put it in your path? M.H. Clark and Anna Hurley’s picture book Tiger Days: A Book of Feelings has been that book for me this week. I had originally scheduled it for review on Monday, but the universe knew I needed to read it on Tuesday, and again on Thursday, and again today after hearing about the terrible tragedy in New Zealand. It’s a picture book, but a meaningful book is meaningful no matter the format or audience, and this one is delightful and indispensable.

tiger days by m.h. clark, illustrated by anna hurley
From tiger fierce to snail slow, there are lots of ways to feel and be. A walk through this colorful, rhyming menagerie helps young readers understand their feelings and the ways those feelings change.

Children will recognize their own emotions on these pages—their enthusiasm, stubbornness, excitement, silliness, sadness, and strength. And they’ll come to see that, no matter how they act or feel each day, they’re always still themselves.

In this vibrant picture book, the first person narrator associates emotions with specific animals in rhyming text. If you’re having a Tiger Day, for example, it means that “…I want to climb. I’M WILD AND I’M FIERCE. I pace around and POUNCE and ROAR…” For me, today is a Fish Day, and I feel watery, just as the text suggests. Feelings are paired with not only animals, but also actions they might take while under the sway of those emotions. With themes of naming and acknowledging emotional states, self-acceptance, and recognizing that shifting feelings are okay (or even positive!), Tiger Days is a simple, accessible guide and/or introduction to complex emotions. It’s also a joy to read.

Illustrator Anna Hurley has created lovely art to go along with M.H. Clark’s delightful text, and it is here that I think the book takes a step up from good to excellent. The animals are rendered in cut paper-like blocks, with ink detailing and some shadowing, against lively colored spreads – one color for each kind of day. And there are a few intervening “day” pages without a signature animal that are turquoise with white crayon-effect illustrations that are a lot of fun for the eye and remind the reader that different types of feelings (and complex feelings!) are okay. Tiger Days’ text and illustrations are seamlessly integrated, entertaining, and poignant, and will be popular read after read.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also take a moment to talk about the book design! This colorful title will pulled off the shelf time and again for its striped, multicolored binding. ALSO the dust jacket has a velvet touch effect for the title shadows and the tiger’s stripes! In other words, it begs to be petted! I can’t stop running my fingers over the texture, even now… so you KNOW it will be a hit with kids! Altogether, Tiger Days is a feast for the senses, and also a way to get in touch with them. A true book of feelings!

All in all, Tiger Days will be a hit with both kids and adults, and I can’t wait to recommend it to all of the parents I know!

Recommended for: anyone who is struggling to find the words to talk about complex emotions, and especially children ages 2-6. Perfect for story time, bedtime reading, and anytime reading if you like bright, fun books that encourage interaction and movement and have extra helpings of heart.

Fine print: I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. I did not receive any compensation for this post.
Older Posts Home