“Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky” by Barb Rosenstock and Mary Grandpré shares with young readers the lonely, often tormented life of Vincent Van Gogh. Each page begins with “Vincent can’t sleep…” and begins with his childhood when at the age of nine or ten he once walked at night six miles from his home in the Netherlands to Belgium where he was “found with torn clothes and muddy shoes.” The author includes that he was moody, “Excited. Bored. Eager. Lazy. Explosive. Shy. His many-colored moods scare the customers — and he’s forced to go.” This is a wonderful book for encouraging discussion about being different. Van Gogh was different. He’s described as “A sensitive boy. A hidden genius. A brilliant artist.” But according to the Author’s Note, he may have only sold five paintings while he was alive. Questions to discuss can include what makes someone successful? Was Van Gogh successful? Was he crazy? Why are his paintings so revered and so valuable? A beautiful book about a brilliant — and tormented — artist. (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
“Cuddly Critters for Little Geniuses” by Susan and James Patterson and illustrated by Hsinping Pan includes a collection of animals that most children (and adults) haven’t heard of. Bongo and gerenuk aren’t exactly household names. And while the dik-dik is one of the most adorable animals ever to roam the wild in Kenya, it’s not an animal that is seen anywhere else. According to the Pattersons, “The little dik-dik’s funny name comes from the whistling noise it makes when it’s scared. It can do a neat trick — whistle with its nose!” While I didn’t hear the dik-dik whistle when I saw it, I did see it disappear quickly at the first sign of danger. These cute delicate creatures stay alive by running fast! Some other very unusual animals included in this nonfiction picture book are the potoo, the sunda colugo, the axolotl (which interestingly is featured in another new children’s book, “The Third Mushroom” by Jennifer Holm), and the aye-aye. Kids will like the brightly colored illustrations and teachers will like to have another nonfiction picture book for their classroom shelves. (Little, Brown and Company)
“She Made a Monster: how Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein” by Lynn Fulton and illustrated by Felicita Sala is a picture book for older readers which will fascinate science fiction readers (both kids and adults). It’s about how the idea of writing a story about a creature fabricated from body parts came into being. Shelley was with a small group of friends in Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Many of the friends were writers, and they were telling each other ghost stories. Shelley wanted to write the best ghost story of the group, but she didn’t have any inspiration. One night, while lightning was flashing and the storm crashed outside her room, she overheard parts of a conversation. With that in mind, her imagination took hold and the result was what the world now knows as the Frankenstein story. Who knew that her story was the beginning of the now-very-popular science fiction genre? The illustrations are suitably dark but also very engaging. ((Alfred A Knopf)
“The Story of Tutankhamun: Egypt’s Boy King and His Incredible Tomb” by Patricia Cleveland-Peck and illustrated by Isabel Greenberg is a perfect choice for older readers (4th or 5th grade or older) who are interested in learning about ancient Egyptians and especially the mystery around the tomb of King Tut, as Tutankhamun was called. The book shares lots of information about Tutankhamun’s family and the scene in Egypt during his life. It also goes into much detail about Howard Carter, the man who discovered the young king’s tomb. Along the way, readers learn about the process of mummification and burial. The cover is especially lovely with its liberal use of reflective gold and bright illustrations. (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
“Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon” by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez is for older readers as well as adults who will all learn through the free verse, the illustrations and the photographs how the dream of landing on the moon, first announced by John F. Kennedy on May 25, 1961, became a reality years later when Apollo 11 took off. Slade’s language is simple and easy to understand, but still thrilling and fascinating. She writes about the descent to the moon in the lunar module, “The astronauts begin their descent toward the stark, barren surface. Eagle’s metal feet reach for the Moon. Every second its computer makes hundreds of calculations — hundreds of decisions — to control the vehicle’s direction and speed.” When an alarm sounds on their descent, readers will quickly turn the page to find out what happens next (spoiler: an overloaded computer). The visual elements of the book are beautifully done. They are an amalgam of illustrations and actual photographs. This is not a short picture book — it’s an informational book filled with pictures that will entrance readers of all ages. (Peachtree Publishers)
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.