Books by John O’Brien

BEN FRANKLIN by Alan Schroeder
ABC BOOKS
Released: April 1, 2011

"Outstanding. (Alphabet biography. 6-10)"
Two words in the subtitle totally encompass the approach of this highly creative alphabet biography—wit and wisdom. Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 15, 2009

"One nit: The font of the explanatory paragraph is quite small. (author's note, other anecdotes, timeline) (Poetry/informational picture book. 6-10)"
Need a clever book on sports to entice boys—and one of poetry, at that? Read full book review >
ALL ABOUT SLEEP FROM A TO ZZZZ by Elaine Scott
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 2, 2008

"The lack of index and the fairly vague chapter titles make it difficult to locate specific topics, so this one is definitely aimed at the leisure reader rather than the student on a quest for specific information (afterword, sources). (Nonfiction. 8-12)"
In ten brief chapters dotted with the occasional black-and-white cartoon illustration and inset factlet, Scott relates a great deal of interesting information about the nature of sleep. Read full book review >
UNDERWEAR by Ruth Freeman Swain
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 15, 2008

"EWSLUGp1998 uncovers the basics better than any. (Informational picture book. 7-9)"
Swain doesn't really delve into her topic, but does provide a snappy general overview that is animated by O'Brien's big, tongue-in-cheek cartoon illustrations. Read full book review >
OUR LIBERTY BELL by Henry Jonas Magaziner
CHILDREN'S
Released: June 15, 2007

"A good follow-up to Megan McDonald's Saving the Liberty Bell (2005), clearly explaining how the marred instrument became at least as important an American icon as the flag. (index, glossary) (Nonfiction. 8-10)"
In a narrative that seems tailored for reading aloud to young audiences, Magaziner, former Architectural Historian for the National Parks Service, traces the history of the hard-luck Liberty Bell, from its very badly made first incarnation (1751), through many recastings and repairs to its role as a powerful symbol in the Abolitionist, Women's Suffrage and Civil Rights Movements. Read full book review >
COOL BOPPER’S CHOPPERS by Linda Oatman High
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 1, 2007

"Not the weightiest tale on the shelves, but still good silly, be-boppin' fun. (Picture book. 3-8)"
When Cool Bopper, the saxophonist of the Snazzy Catz Jazz Club, loses his false teeth during a particularly impassioned scat, he loses his bop at the same time. Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2006

While allowing that fossils have plenty to tell us about what dinosaurs were like, Hort notes that there are still plenty of unanswered questions—from what they ate and how those massive but tiny-headed plant eaters managed to down enough chow to maintain their weight to what all the spines and spinal plates were for. Read full book review >
THE BEACH PATROL by John O’Brien
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 1, 2004

"Readers will enjoy searching for this highlighted info in the larger illustrations, and no one who spends time with this homage to our seashores will ever again take them, or the highly-trained-and-organized teams of people who staff them, for granted. (Picture book/nonfiction. 5-10)"
From a writing team composed of two Jersey-shore lieutenant lifeguards with combined service time of some 67 years comes this eye-opening look at just how much work is involved in preparing, policing, and patrolling our sandy shorelines, and in keeping those who visit them safe. Read full book review >
I KNOW A SHY FELLOW WHO SWALLOWED A CELLO by Barbara S. Garriel
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2004

"The dynamic line of the illustrations, full of swoops and squiggles, provides excellent accompaniment to this silly reworking of a familiar rhyme. (Picture book. 4-7)"
Surreal illustrations add disturbing and enjoyable vigor to this adaptation of "I Know an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly." Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 15, 2003

"An average American eats 25 pounds of candy per year—indeed, how sweet it is! (brief bibliography) (Nonfiction. 6-10)"
Kids and candy naturally go together and this brief history of types of candies and chewing gum is cunningly sweetened with O'Brien's finely crosshatched, stippled illustrations. Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 15, 2001

"Still, this is a must for elementary grades studying America's early years. (Nonfiction. 7-12)"
How well do you know your country? Read full book review >
MORE TRUE LIES by George Shannon
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 31, 2001

"Here's grist for storytellers and smooth talkers of any age. (Folktales. 8-12)"
Shannon follows up True Lies (1997) with more retold anecdotes, drawn from a variety of folk traditions, in which words say more, or less, than they seem to. Read full book review >
WHO WAS BEN FRANKLIN? by Dennis Brindell Fradin
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Feb. 1, 2001

"Two timelines are appended—one on Franklin's life, and one on world events. (Nonfiction. 8-12)"
Benjamin Franklin "snatched the lightning from the sky and the scepter from tyrants" and his story is told here in many informative and amusing anecdotes. Read full book review >
THE BOOKWORM'S FEAST by J. Patrick Lewis
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 1, 1999

"In perfect harmony are O'Brien's marvelously textured lines, dots, stipples, and colors; his bookworms serve books-on-a-plate as a frontispiece to each section, and the characters have the bright energy of the verses. (Picture book/poetry. 3-9)"
PLB 0-8037-1693-1 Lewis (Doodle Dandies, p. 896, etc.) has created an almanac of words at play, using tongue-twisters, puns, alliteration, and many forms and fancies of rhyme scheme in an unabashed celebration of language. Read full book review >
STRIPPER LESSONS by John O’Brien
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: July 1, 1997

"But the essential element of character chemistry never clicks here, so that plot contrivance and cool observation remain mostly visible for what they are."
When O'Brien's first novel, Leaving Las Vegas (1991), became a hit movie, making his reputation as a chronicler of social misfits, his early death (196994) was properly mourned. Read full book review >
TRUE LIES by George Shannon
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 1, 1997

"A collection that confirms for children what they may have guessed already about life's many shades of gray. (notes) (Folklore. 8-11)"
Recognizing a half-truth is one of life's harder lessons, but Shannon (Still More Stories to Solve, 1994, etc.) makes a sport of it in this collection of 18 stories that challenge readers to discover what is true and what is fabricated. Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: June 1, 1996

"Nevertheless, this is entertaining reading, with whimsical black-and-white drawings, places to write for more information, a brief bibliography, and an index. (Nonfiction. 10-12)"
In this entertaining companion volume to Mistakes that Worked (1994), Jones describes more of the often humorous incidents that resulted in inventions, products, and fashions. Read full book review >
DEAR OLD DONEGAL by Steve Graham
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 20, 1996

"The full song appears on the endpapers. (Picture book. 5-8)"
A flat, unimaginative book based on a tune made popular by Bing Crosby and best known for its chorus of rhyming Irish names: ``Meet Branigan, Fannigan, Milligan, Gilligan, Duffy, McCuffy,'' etc. O'Brien (The Twelve Days of Christmas, 1993, not reviewed, etc.) follows a lad out of Cork who rises from street-singing urchin (where improbably, a woman drops dollars in his box) to concert hall tenor with his name up in lights. Read full book review >
MYRNA NEVER SLEEPS by Beth Peterson
ADVENTURE
Released: June 1, 1995

"Each episode repeats the same formula, and without offering a sense of Myrna as herself, the fantasy wears a bit thin. (Fiction. 6-9)"
The reason Myrna never sleeps is that she's busy dreaming up amazing adventures. Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 19, 1992

"Brief bibliography. (Nonfiction. 8-12)"
The author of 11 lively books that bring a delightfully light touch to such subjects as idioms, homographs, and wordplay provides a joke book-cum-manual subtitled How to Make Up Jokes and Riddles with Wordplay. Read full book review >
SIX CREEPY SHEEP by Judith Ross Enderle
ANIMALS
Released: Aug. 10, 1992

"O'Brien's textured pen-and-watercolor art adds immensely to the fun; the fine detail and varied layout invite close inspection, while his ability to capitalize on the riches offered in the deceptively simple text deserves special notice. (Picture Book. 2-6)"
Six gray-faced sheep, in individualized ghost costumes, set out for trick or treating; but each time they encounter other costumed creatures, ``one creepy sheep turned tail with a shriek,'' until just one remains. Read full book review >
BROTHER BILLY BRONTO'S BYGONE BLUES BAND by David F. Birchman
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 28, 1992

"Good fun. (Picture book. 5-10)"
In a cadenced narrative dancing with wordplay, Birchman describes a hot band that includes ``Rex the King Tyrone on the slide trombone...a mean allosaurus saxophonist nicknamed Lizard Lips Grace...[and] the heart of the band...Brother Billy Bronto. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: March 1, 1992

"Builds to a strong climax while undermining skepticism."
Fascinating Chicago murder procedural resolved by a voice from the afterlife, told here by the two Chicago reporters who first broke the story. Read full book review >
WHAT HIS FATHER DID by Jacqueline Dembar Greene
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 1992

"O'Brien's pen drawings, which capture the humor and old-world flavor in lively crosshatched detail and softly glowing nighttime colors, are rendered broadly enough to use with a group. (Picture book. 4-10)"
En route from Minsk to Pinsk, trickster Hershel hasn't enough money for a meal after spending his last kopek for a place to sleep, so he threatens the innkeeper: ``If you will give me nothing to eat, I shall have to do what my father did.'' Terrified, the woman goes to her neighbors, who contribute food. Read full book review >
DAFFY DOWN DILLIES by Edward Lear
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 20, 1992

"An unusually felicitous introduction to this well-loved, zany humorist. (Poetry/Picture book. 4-8)"
A frequent contributor to The New Yorker selects 37 of his favorite limericks and illustrates them with witty, detailed pen drawings; O'Brien's odd characters and their calm acceptance of the ridiculous situations described in the verses are much in the spirit of Lear's own simpler, but notably adroit, sketches. Read full book review >
THE IRISH PIPER by Jim Latimer
ANIMALS
Released: Sept. 30, 1991

In a humorously laconic voice, Latimer puts a fresh spin on the ancient story of the Pied Piper. Read full book review >
LEAVING LAS VEGAS by John O’Brien
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 1, 1991

"Transitions are occasionally awkward, but the story's mostly affecting—characters with little hope are given their due but aren't cheapened with an excess of optimism or sentimentality."
Gritty first novel about the bittersweet relationship between a brutalized prostitute and a boozer at the tail end of his last binge: a stark and plausible account of life on the hard-luck side of town. Read full book review >