Naughty Kitty!

  • Author/Illustrator: Adam Stower
  • Publisher: Scholastic/Orchard Books
  • Pub date: 2014 (in the U.S. First published in the U.K. in 2012)
  • Intended for: Ages 3 to 5
  • Perfect for: Anyone who loves a funny story. Anyone who loves a good cat story.

Naughty Kitty cover

I love when a story is told in an inventive way. While having the reader know what’s going on behind the scenes in the story isn’t a new way of telling a story, it’s definitely inventive when it’s done well and Naughty Kitty! is a great example of this.

Right from the outset, on the endpapers of the book, the readers are given insider info. We see an excerpt from a newspaper that a wild animal is loose, and there’s a LOST poster of a tiger from the local zoo. Hmm. Curiosity is piqued from the get-go.

Naughty Kitty interior 1

Once we get inside the story, we see that Lily, a little girl with a sweet face and only the best of intentions, is bringing home an adorable gray kitten. Lily actually wanted to adopt a dog, but her parents said they were too much trouble. In the background, readers can see the stripes of a tiger behind the hedges surrounding Lily’s yard. Trouble definitely looms.

Naughty Kitty interior 2

Lily dutifully feeds the kitten and leaves the room. But while away, the kitten is shocked to see the tiger enter the house and devour a cake that was on the kitchen table. Of course by the time Lily comes back, the room is a huge mess and the kitten is blamed. He appears to be a naughty kitty.

Naughty Kitty interior 3

Naughty Kitty interior 4

Time and time again Lily asks the kitten to behave while she goes off, but when she returns everything is mayhem and in tatters. Each scene gets more ridiculous than the next, as at one point Lily doesn’t even realize that the tiger is eating a sausage right off of her fork as she scolds her kitten. Readers are always aware that it’s the tiger doing all of the dirty work and kids will love that they know more than Lily.

Naughty Kitty interior 5

The big finale is especially funny, as Lily is in the backyard and she hears a growl. It’s something with teeth…and claws…and stripes. It turns out to be a neighbor’s little dog in a striped sweater yapping at Lily and the kitten. Kitty gives a scared little “Mmrowl” and Lily is so proud of her kitten because he saved Lily from the scary dog. Or so she thinks. Readers will see that the HUGE TIGER behind Lily is what actually scared the pup away.

Naughty Kitty interior 6

 

Naughty Kitty interior 7

The confused looks on the kitty’s face throughout the book are hilarious. And Lily is a hoot to watch as she blissfully goes through her day, completely unaware of what’s going on around her, to the reader’s benefit.

Stower varies the size and number of illustrations on the pages to good effect, with large images of the (huge) tiger taking up full spreads as he wreaks havoc, and smaller vignettes and spare art showing the diminutive kitty as he goes about his day.

There are surprises around every corner in this book and I think kids will absolutely love it! The pacing of the story is wonderful, and readers will hungrily turn page after page in an effort to find out how the story will end (Hint: with another surprise!). Highly recommended.

All Four Stars

  • Author: Tara Dairman
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons                     Pub date: 2014
  • Intended for: Ages 8 to 12
  • Perfect for: Children ages 8 to 12. Anyone who likes a good novel about food and cooking.

All Four Stars cover

I’m so glad I came across a mention of this book. I honestly don’t remember where I heard about it, but wherever I saw it made it sound interesting so I added it to my Books to Read list about a month or so ago. It turns out that this book is quite a treat (Ha! Food pun!).

As the story begins, 11-year-old Gladys Gatsby is in her family’s kitchen, trying to make crème brûlée. By herself. With her father’s blow torch. Things were going swimmingly until her parents surprised her by coming home early, and she accidently set her kitchen curtains on fire when she tried to hide the fact that she was cooking with a blow torch. Her punishment: No cooking, or reading cookbooks, or watching cooking shows on TV for six months. That sentence was the worst possible thing that could happen to a quiet girl who loved cooking more than anything.

She fell in love with food and cooking when her Aunt, who lives in Paris and loves to eat, was visiting and brought Gladys to some delicious restaurants in New York City. Gladys was used to eating her parents terrible home cooking, as well as mostly terrible take-out because her parents didn’t like to cook. The introduction to food that had a variety of flavors and were popular in other countries, along with the gift of a cookbook and journal in which to record food thoughts and creations from her aunt, changed Gladys’s life forever.

The author has created a wonderfully likeable character in Gladys. She’s smart, kind, curious, and is both unlike and just like her fellow sixth graders. She isn’t into teen magazines and being popular, but she does worry about fitting in and not having many friends. She lives on this fine line where she’s comfortable with being a bit odd because her hobby and passion isn’t the norm for someone her age, but she’s also doesn’t want to be a social outcast because of who she is so she keeps it quiet (although not hidden).

I like how the author has created a story that many middle graders can relate to. Not necessarily because of the cooking, because I’m not sure how many middle graders are crazy passionate about cooking and food, but because so many of them want to be taken seriously by adults. The great turn that this book takes is into a world where Gladys enters a writing contest about what she wants to do with her future—write restaurant reviews for the New York Standard newspaper—and by happenstance, her entry ends us being seen as a cover letter for a job doing just that at the New York Standard. She is hired as a freelance reviewer and gets to write about a dessert shop in Manhattan.

All of the details that go into Gladys trying to get to the city in order to review the restaurant are what make this unreal job seem possible. Along the way she makes some new friends, and the best part is that they enjoy her passion for cooking and they don’t see it as a weird thing. True friends that come about from unlikely places is very nice to see depicted in such a genuine way. The friendships aren’t hurried and that makes them feel all the more real.

The book is well written so it would be a fun, truly enjoyable read for any child who loves food and/or loves to cook. Also great for those who would love to read about a child succeeding in an adult’s world. Highly recommended.

Gaston

  • Author: Kelly DiPucchio
  • Illustrator: Christian Robinson
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers             Pub date: 2014
  • Intended for: Ages 4 to 8
  • Perfect for: Anyone who loves a great picture book. Anyone who loves dogs. Anyone who loves a sweet story. Anyone who loves adorable artwork.

Gaston cover

Holy moly.

I could keep this post to just those two words because—holy moly—is this book good. But it deserves more, so I’ll start with that fact that I haven’t seen such sweet storytelling in a picture book in a dog’s age (ha!). But seriously, this is my new favorite picture book of the year so far.

As this beautifully told story begins, Mrs. Poodle is the proud new mama of four little puppies. Three of them, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo-, and Ooh-La-La, are clearly baby poodles. Gaston, the fourth pup, is clearly not a poodle. The author is very clever and funny in her way of not telling the reader outright that Gaston is different from the other pups, but rather, she writes, “Would you like to see them again?” and the artwork shows the puppies from different angles, showing how Gaston is clearly different from his siblings.

Gaston interior 1

Gaston interior 2

Then one day Mrs. Poodle takes her pups out to the park and she runs into Mrs. Bulldog, who has with her four pups of her own, Rocky, Ricky, Bruno, and Antoinette. And one of those pups is clearly not a bulldog. In fact, one is clearly a poodle.

Gaston interior 4

The mothers realize there has been a terrible mix-up and they agree to let the pups decide what to do to make the mistake right. The dogs go with what looks to be their correct family—poodles with poodles and bulldogs with bulldogs. But right away, they know something is wrong. “That looked right…it just didn’t feel right.” writes the author.

Each dog goes home with its new family, but things are not working out. Antoinette wants to do things that aren’t “proper” and Gaston doesn’t want to do the aggressive things that the other bulldogs want to do. The artwork on each page is filled with so many details, and for me a highlight is Gaston wanting to just read and sip his tea while the other bulldogs play with garbage. And Antoinette aggressively pulling apart a pink pillow and knocking down other dainty, pretty things like a vase of flowers is just the kind of addition to the story that make it more than just a good picture book, but a great one.

Gaston interior 5

Once the two families are back at the park the next morning, they immediately trade places back to their original mismatched families. But they stay in touch and help each other learn the ways of poodles and bulldogs. Gah! Gaston showing the other bulldogs how to be tender is heart-wrenchingly sweet.

Gaston interior 6

And the ending of the book…can we talk about how awesome this final spread is? It actually brought a tear to my eye because it’s so perfectly wonderful. The author writes, “And many years later, when Gaston and Antoinette fell in love and had puppies of their own, they taught them to be whatever they wanted to be.” The illustration shows a bulldog with a poodle tail and a pom-pom on its head, for goodness sake. And then there’s another puppy that has one bulldog ear and one poodle ear and the markings of both poodles and bulldogs. The illustrator gets major kudos from me for creating something so visually sweet and sentimental yet crazy funny at the same time. That scene is picture book perfection in my eyes.

Gaston interior 7

I could go on for days about this book. About how the pacing of the text is so wonderful. About how the story has such a great message, yet it’s not heavy-handed in any way, shape, or form. About how the colors are so vibrant. About how the different angles we see the dogs at adds so much humor to the book. About how happiness just exudes from the pages because of the infectious smiles on all those dogs. About how the family photos on the walls of the houses are just some of the background details that make reading this book so much fun.

Honestly, I don’t know how anyone could not fall in love with Gaston. Super highly recommended. In fact, the copy I read of this book is from the library, which sadly means that I have to give it back. But I love it so much that I told my husband that I think today should be named National Buy Your Wife a Picture Book Day because I really want to own a copy of it.