Digby O’Day In the Fast Lane

  • Author: Shirley Hughes
  • Illustrator: Clara Vulliamy (The author and illustrator are mother and daughter!)
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Intended for: Ages 5 to 8
  • Perfect for: Anyone who appreciates beautiful bookmaking.

Digby cover

This book sure is beautiful to look at. I admit that I’m featuring this book because of its parts, and how well they’ve been put together to create a great reading experience. Don’t get me wrong, the story is good too, but I think the overall package of the book brings the story to another level.

In order to make any book, there are a million decisions to make, by many people. Just some of the things are:

• What font should be used?

A readable font is certainly necessary, especially at the early chapter book stage of reading, but additional “fun” fonts add to the design of the book as well and add some tone to the book (seriousness, scariness, playfulness, messiness, etc.).

• What size should the type be?

Type size is important for readability and accessibility. If type size is too big for a chapter book or middle grade novel, it may come off as babyish. If type size is too small for an early chapter book, it may put off a struggling reader. But type size can also be a design element as well, adding emphasis (if a character is yelling the type size may be increased. If a character is whispering, type size may be reduced).

• How much leading should there be?

The amount of space between lines and words is more important than you think. Too much or too little can make a book look appear that it’s for a much younger or older audience than intended. When it’s just right for the age group, everything feels, well, just right. Younger books should be very airy with enough room between words and sentences so the pages aren’t crowded and allow for the earliest of readers to be able to follow along with the text with no problems. As readers get older, space can be tighter (but not too tight) and more words can be on the page.

• What should the trim size be?

This, in my opinion, is one of the most important decisions in book creation. Whether it’s a picture book, early chapter book, or middle grade or young adult novel, trim size communicates something to the reader. It may communicate tone or alert readers to what’s inside (something BIG or something special and dainty). An unusual trim size (basically anything that’s not the norm) will always make me pick a book up. I always want to see why the trim size was chosen, and what it adds to the book.

• What type of paper should be used?

You may not think of it in a conscious way, but the paper used has a subtle (but big—or at least to me) impact on the reading experience. Decisions have to be made on the weight of the paper, the color, and the smoothness. For example, the pages in Digby O’Day are stark white, which lends itself well to the pencil and ink drawings and makes the pinks and reds throughout the book really pop. If the pages were more ivory, the colors wouldn’t appear as bold. One of my favorite “page feels,” or the smoothness of the pages, is in the first couple of Harry Potter books. The pages have a substantial feel to them, and they are smoother than the rest of the books in the series. Like I said, it’s a subtle difference, but when I first began reading the series, it stuck out to me. The book felt special because of the extra weight and slickness to the pages. That type of paper must be very expensive because as the books got bigger, the weight and feel of the pages were different. (On the adult side of books, I cannot even imagine the cost of the paper in Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. Those pages are slick and thick like the best cardstock out there. Holy moly!)

I could go on and on about decisions, but this is already getting long. What it comes down to is that I think that the people involved in this book made some very good choices. One of those choices was to add images to the Contents page. This gives readers a little taste of what the chapters will be about and I love it! Crowded sheep in chapter five? What’s going on? Feet in the air in chapter seven? I gotta find out what that’s all about!

Digby interior 1

Another good decision was adding some elements I’ve never seen before in an early chapter book:

• An introduction to the characters in the book

• An interview with the main character

• An full spread at the end of the book introducing the author and illustrator

These are fun additions that make the book feel extra special.

Digby interior 2Digby interior 6

Maps are another fun element.

Maps are another fun element.

The story is truly child-friendly in that there is lots of action, the main characters are dogs (most kids love dogs, right?), and there are mishaps galore. What I especially like about the story is that no matter what troubles Digby comes across, he likes to do the right thing. So even if it means not winning the race he’s entered, he’s happy to stop and offer help to the people in a broken down car on the side of the road.

Pick up a copy and tell me what your favorite element of the book is. 

Found

  • Author/illustrator: Salina Yoon
  • Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers                     Pub date: 2014
  • Intended for: Ages 3 to 6
  • Perfect for: Anyone who has ever grown attached to a favorite stuffed animal or toy. Anyone who loves a friendship story. Anyone who loves sweet artwork.

Found cover

Two things made me pick this book up. First, the cover is undeniably cute and the artwork just begs me to open up the book to see even more of its cuteness. Second, the book is by Salina Yoon. I had the pleasure of interviewing the author/illustrator back when I was working at Publishers Weekly. I wanted to do a story about her because back in the day I noticed that she was writing a lot of different kinds of book yet I didn’t know much about her. Ms. Yoon ended up being such a joy to talk to. She’s very humble and hardworking and someone who seems to truly love what she does. She even reached out to me years later to thank me for the article I wrote about her. That’s crazy sweet.

I love Ms. Yoon’s seemingly endless imagination and her innate ability to know what young children want to read about.

Found is a heart-tuggingly sweet book. I may be especially fond of it because I have a stuffed animal that means the world to me, so I know that bond one can have with a beloved furry friend.

Really what I want to do is just scream GO CHECK THIS BOOK OUT because honestly, it’s that sweet. What happens in the story is that Bear finds a toy bunny and realizes that a lost stuffed animal means someone’s heart must be broken, so Bear takes it upon himself to find the owner of the lost bunny. HOW WONDERFUL IS THAT? That is one super sweet bear.

Found interior 1

Found interior 2

And Bear goes to great lengths to find Bunny’s rightful owner. Lots of signs placed in many different places.

Found interior 3

Someone wanted to be part of the photo shoot today. He likes to be involved.

Someone wanted to be part of the photo shoot today. He likes to be involved.

But it’s not just the great lengths that Bear goes to that warms my heart so much, but also how well he treats Bunny, and the utter happiness that is on his face when he’s with Bunny. The love he has for his friend absolutely shines forth from the pages.

Found interior 5

But then…Bear finds Bunny’s rightful owner—Moose. Oh how sad Bear is when the reunion happens. Bear didn’t realize how hard it would be to part with his new friend.

Found interior 6

Until…Moose realizes that he no longer needs Bunny, and sees that Bear and Bunny are perfect together. In fact, Bear promises Moose that he will take care of the bunny forever. And with that, Bear is crazy happy again. This book makes me crazy happy.

Found interior 7

I think kids will truly relate to the pure, unadulterated emotions in this book. I think kids will also love the bright, primary colors throughout the book and the sweet artwork. The story is paced beautifully and children will love hearing or reading it again and again.

Very highly recommended.

Finding Ruby Starling

  • Author: Karen Rivers
  • Publisher: Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books                    Pub date: 2014
  • Intended for: Ages 10 to 14
  • Perfect for: Twins! Long-lost twins. Anyone who has ever wished for a twin. Really, anyone who enjoys a well-told story about friends and family.

Finding Ruby Starling cover

As I’ve said time and time before (because it’s true. So true), I really enjoy a book told in a unique or different way. Finding Ruby Starling is told completely in emails (and a few letters) and while that’s not anything brand new, it’s different enough to set itself apart from a regular middle grade novel.

I’ve been looking forward to this book coming out because of my love for Karen Rivers’ last book and I’m happy to say that the author has done it again. She’s created a fun yet emotionally deep story that middle schoolers, and high schoolers alike, would enjoy reading.

Ruth Quayle is a 12-2/3-year-old who accidently comes across a girl (Ruby Starling) online who absolutely must be Ruth’s unknown twin sister who lives in England because they look exactly the same. Ruth reaches out to Ruby by—you guessed it—email, and after some fears on Ruby’s part that Ruth is some crazed stalker, the girls connect and find out that indeed, they are twins separated at birth. Ruby is living with the birth mom in England and Ruth is living with her adopted family in the U.S.

But the book isn’t just about twins finding each other. Nope. It’s so much more emotionally involved than that. Ruth has to solve the mystery of why she was put up for adoption and why neither girl was told that they had a twin sister. She also has to deal with the knowledge of being the one that wasn’t “chosen” by her mom, but rather was left behind.

Ruby is dealing with the loss of her dear grandmother, and not only that, but in the process of finding out the details behind her sister’s adoption, she learns that her grandmother did something that upsets Ruby to her core and she feels like she doesn’t know the woman she loves and misses so dearly anymore.

What Rivers does really well in the book is developing the secondary characters so that they are fully formed and a very important part of the story. We get to know Ruby’s friends, her grandmother and mother, as well as Ruth’s best friend and her parents. Though we only get to learn about all of these people through what they write in emails and letters, I appreciate that the author is adept at slowly giving readers lots of information about these characters instead of doing an information dump in early emails. Instead, personalities, emotions, motives, and actions are revealed in such a manner that readers are kept on the edge of their seats as they wait to find out the story behind the sisters and their separation at birth.

The book is emotionally complicated and is a nice exploration of what family can mean, as well as finding out who you are. Highly recommended.