Combining graphic wit and wordplay, Niemann delivers a joyful package.

READ REVIEW

WORDS

The cartoonist and picture-book illustrator offers a chunky book of some 330 or so words, one per page, each illustrated by a cartoon.

Niemann introduces his effort by explaining that he hopes to make “the discovery of words as fun and inspiring” as that of images, which, he argues, are learned “through happenstance or playful discovery.” Many, though not all, of the double-page spreads ponder relationships. A child gazes hopefully at a cupcake on a shelf to illustrate “could” on verso, while on recto, a pair of adult hands offers the cupcake on a plate, illustrating “would.” Other relationships are more opaque or even evidently nonexistent. On the very next spread, a freaked-out face illustrates “what,” while opposite, a satisfied diner sits back smiling over a plate that contains only crumbs—evidently “good” ones. The author plays with homographs, as in one delightful spread in which a “long” dachshund dreams “long”ingly of a (very “long”) sausage. Some pictures require a beat or two to understand, as in the one of a smiling saucepan about to be covered by a similarly smiling lid—clearly made “for” it. Some words are far beyond elementary but are beautifully clear in illustration, as when a dismayed child regards a “scintilla” of ice cream (represented by an atom falling into a cone), while opposite, a figure marvels at the “Brobdingnagian” ice cream cone that dwarfs skyscrapers.

Combining graphic wit and wordplay, Niemann delivers a joyful package. (index, parts of speech) (Picture book. 5 & up)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-245550-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Greenwillow

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

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Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs.

WAYSIDE SCHOOL BENEATH THE CLOUD OF DOOM

Rejoice! 25 years later, Wayside School is still in session, and the children in Mrs. Jewls’ 30th-floor classroom haven’t changed a bit.

The surreal yet oddly educational nature of their misadventures hasn’t either. There are out-and-out rib ticklers, such as a spelling lesson featuring made-up words and a determined class effort to collect 1 million nail clippings. Additionally, mean queen Kathy steps through a mirror that turns her weirdly nice and she discovers that she likes it, a four-way friendship survives a dumpster dive after lost homework, and Mrs. Jewls makes sure that a long-threatened “Ultimate Test” allows every student to show off a special talent. Episodic though the 30 new chapters are, there are continuing elements that bind them—even to previous outings, such as the note to an elusive teacher Calvin has been carrying since Sideways Stories From Wayside School (1978) and finally delivers. Add to that plenty of deadpan dialogue (“Arithmetic makes my brain numb,” complains Dameon. “That’s why they’re called ‘numb-ers,’ ” explains D.J.) and a wild storm from the titular cloud that shuffles the school’s contents “like a deck of cards,” and Sachar once again dishes up a confection as scrambled and delicious as lunch lady Miss Mush’s improvised “Rainbow Stew.” Diversity is primarily conveyed in the illustrations.

Ordinary kids in an extraordinary setting: still a recipe for bright achievements and belly laughs. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296538-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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An all-day sugar rush, putting the “fun” back into, er, education.

IF I BUILT A SCHOOL

A young visionary describes his ideal school: “Perfectly planned and impeccably clean. / On a scale, 1 to 10, it’s more like 15!”

In keeping with the self-indulgently fanciful lines of If I Built a Car (2005) and If I Built a House (2012), young Jack outlines in Seussian rhyme a shiny, bright, futuristic facility in which students are swept to open-roofed classes in clear tubes, there are no tests but lots of field trips, and art, music, and science are afterthoughts next to the huge and awesome gym, playground, and lunchroom. A robot and lots of cute puppies (including one in a wheeled cart) greet students at the door, robotically made-to-order lunches range from “PB & jelly to squid, lightly seared,” and the library’s books are all animated popups rather than the “everyday regular” sorts. There are no guards to be seen in the spacious hallways—hardly any adults at all, come to that—and the sparse coed student body features light- and dark-skinned figures in roughly equal numbers, a few with Asian features, and one in a wheelchair. Aside from the lack of restrooms, it seems an idyllic environment—at least for dog-loving children who prefer sports and play over quieter pursuits.

An all-day sugar rush, putting the “fun” back into, er, education. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-55291-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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