A Crankenstein Valentine (Samantha Berger)

Hello friends, and Happy Valentine’s Day! Our book today is A Crankenstein Valentine, written by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Dan Santat, a hilarious sendup of Valentine’s Day traditions.

Have you seen Crankenstein? Well, come Valentine’s Day, you can’t miss him. While other kids and grownups might love all the mushy-gushiness of Valentine’s Day, Crankenstein – a little boy turned green and sour by his crankiness – has only one thing to say: “YECHHHHHH!”. Valentines, flowers, hearts, hugs? Yech, yech, yech, and double yech! As he muddles through the day of love, Crankenstein is increasingly frustrated with the holiday’s tropes, culminating with his being forced to be part of the Valentine’s pageant! But just as he thinks that the day is over, he receives a Valentine himself, one delightfully in line with his feelings on the holiday.

Silly, subversive fun. While reading this book’s prequel, Crankenstein, might help a bit to establish the main character earlier, many kids will identify with the green-and-stone-faced boy’s absolute disdain for the holiday, and find his disgusted reactions at the sentimental trappings hilarious (JJ, for instance, descended into hysterical giggles at every “YECHHH!”). There are a few instances of children expressing romantic love, of which I am not a fan in picture books, but since Crankenstein’s reaction is so throughly anti-love, it didn’t offend me too much. I especially liked that, in the end, Crankenstein found a friend who seemed to hate the holiday as much as he; it’s nice that the final focus is on friendship over romance. Santat’s illustrations are as vibrant, dynamic, emotive, and engaging as ever, and the length was great. A wonderful Valentines story that breaks the mold and brings the laughs. Baby Bookworm approved!

What If… (Samantha Berger)

Hello, friends! Our book today is What If…, written by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Mike Curato, an ode to the power of the creative mind.

With a pencil and paper, the unnamed protagonist can write stories and draw art to tell the tales that sing from within her. But what if the pencil was gone? Not a problem – she could fold the paper into origami sculptures to create her stories. And if the paper was gone? Not to worry, there is no end to the mediums she could use to create and express herself: wallpaper, wood, snow, song, dance, dirt, light and dark, on and on. There’s a whole universe of stories within her, and she will find a way to bring them to life by any means available: “As long as I live, I will always create.”

Delightful! A passionate look at the drive to express oneself through art, the charm is in the girl’s unflagging ability to find artistic outlet, and Curato’s fabulous mixed-media depictions of this. With each medium, her work grows more elaborate and fantastic: a life-sized paper airplane carved from a wooden table, a fire-breathing dragon of autumn-colored leaves, an igloo and snowman constructed of sugar cubes and marshmallows. Then even stripped down to basics – creating shadow puppets or singing into the darkness in the absence of light – she aims to artistic expression still. It’s a nice way of exploring creativity as a need, and the indefatigable drive artists have to make real the inspiration within them. For artistic young readers, this will feel like a book that speaks directly to them, and validates this drive. Otherwise, the length was fine, and JJ loved the colors and textures of the brilliant artwork. A lovely bit of encouragement for young creatives, and it’s Baby Bookworm approved!

Snail Mail (Samantha Berger)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Snail Mail, written by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Julia Patton, a charmingly original tale about four diligent mail carriers who just so happen to be snails.

Before the days of emails and digital communication, there was a thing called Snail Mail – actual, physical letters and packages sent from one person to another. And to this day, most people agree that some things are just better when sent by Snail Mail – for instance, the letter that a little girl in California is sending to a boy in New York. She made it herself, wrote it in her own hand, it even smells a little like her. Such a thing simply can’t be sent by computer, so she enlists the dedicated Snail Mail carriers: Dale Snail, Gail Snail, Col. McHale Snail, and Umbérto. The four plucky creatures carry the girl’s letter across the United States, seeing deserts, mountains, plains, and wonders both natural and man-made. At last, they deliver the letter to its recipient and are rewarded handsomely for their efforts.

A cute story with some great lessons. The main theme is a reminder that faster isn’t always better: the hand-made letter, how much the snails enjoy the sights and experiences of their journey – these are good lessons in both the virtues and rewards of patience. The character art is adorable, and imbues the friendly-looking snails with personality and charm throughout, and has some lovely, subtle details and visual gags. A few complaints: I’m not wild about children being represented as having romantic relationships in general, and that was undeniably shown here. Also, there were some spots in the art that seemed oddly pixelated, but this is likely a formatting or printing error. But overall, a pretty darn sweet story with a great lesson in slowing down to appreciate the world around us. Baby Bookworm approved!

(Note: A copy of this book was provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Crankenstein (Samantha Berger)

Hello, everyone! Today, we read Crankenstein, written by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Dan Santat, a very funny book about the little monsters we become when cranky.

You can find a Crankenstein in many places. For instance, they often appear when you wake them up for school and say, “Good Morning!” Or when there’s no syrup for their pancakes. Or when they have to wait in a long line. You can always tell when a Crankenstein is near by their distinctive “MEEEEHHHR!” But even when he’s having a rough day, Crankenstein can always find a way to cheer up a fellow crank monster like himself.

This book has a lot of humor, and it’s tons of fun to read aloud: the special monster noise that Crankenstein makes was especially amusing to JJ, and had her laughing by the third time. Plus, the illustrations are positively GORGEOUS, rich with color and depth, and they bring the characters and humor to life wonderfully. The length is great for baby bookworms, but older kids would love this too, especially since many (all) of them can relate to being an occasional crank monster themselves. We had a lot of fun with this one: Baby Bookworm approved!