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This inventive book’s $20,000 Pyramid category would be “What Mona Lisa Might Say.” Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa closely observes the people who come to see her in the Louvre: “People with up hair. People with down hair.” She hears the guide ask, “Is it a growing smile or a knowing smile? A shy smile or a sly smile?” and can even smell garlic on museum-goers’ breath. One fateful night in August 1911, she hears footsteps. Someone rips her framed self right off the wall. (“Ouch!”) Her Italian thief adores her, but he stows her under his stove for safekeeping: “Now, instead of crowds, I saw cobwebs. / Instead of admirers, ants.” The engaging, rhythmic-but-not-rhyming text fuses deliciously with McElmurry’s marvelous artwork—its flat, decorative style, skewed head angles, strong lines and rich gouache colors echo both illuminated manuscripts and the Sienese school of painting. Mona Lisa’s ever-changing expressions and comical details (such as a Maine fisherman with his lobster at the Louvre) are priceless. Ornamental borders and an occasional cartoon bubble contribute to the arresting design. A gem. (author’s note) (Informational picture book. 5-8) 

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59990-058-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2010

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Curiously uninvolving, but it may get children to thinking about stuff and maybe inventing some gizmos of their own.

Early humans about 3 million years ago had “no things,” and Layton wants to show us how they—we—got them.

The artistic style is squiggly and agitated, with occasional collage photos and other overlays. Pictures run in double-page spreads punctuated by tiny identifiers (“No Plates to eat off”), foldouts and larger pop-ups. The left-hand, lower corner of each spread gives a time frame (“12,000-4,000 YEARS AGO”) as readers and humanity move from pointy stones as tools to fire to civilizations, freely dispensing gags along the way. Did the ancient Greeks really invent the hula hoop? “Wheels are wheely useful!” Noting the invention of champagne by Dom Perignon is a nice touch for adult readers. “Ye Book of ye Middle Ages” centers on Europe of course, with a nod toward China for the invention of gunpowder. Perhaps the most amusing paper-engineering effect is the steam engine, which makes a chugga-chugga sound while smoke billows and three bearded guys bounce around behind. At the end, bigger and faster engines give way to smaller and faster microchips. There are several images of this title in various places within the text—very meta indeed—but no references and a lot of generalities. One might say that there is little gender or ethnic mix, but the figures are so abstract or cartoony that it may not matter. There isn’t a lot of matter here, period.

Curiously uninvolving, but it may get children to thinking about stuff and maybe inventing some gizmos of their own. (Pop-up/nonfiction. 5-7)

Pub Date: June 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-340-94532-2

Page Count: 22

Publisher: Trafalgar Square

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

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Despite the book’s clarity, many young listeners still may not understand the enormity of the enterprise or its importance...

Brown brings to life a complex undertaking that had important repercussions, though his early-elementary audience may not be quite ready for it.

The book’s trajectory is clearly laid out: A simple map traces an almost-300-mile path through the wilderness from Fort Ticonderoga in New York to Boston. The first line draws readers firmly into the past—“It was the winter of 1775”—and defines the problem: British soldiers occupy Boston, and the Americans have no way to dislodge them. Despite the seeming impossibility of transporting heavy cannons over snowy roads, across icy lakes and through forbidding forests, young Henry Knox, a bookseller and militia member, volunteered to get the job done. As he has in other informational picture books, Brown uses a variety of page layouts, including some sequential panels, to convey the action. Cool blues and icy whites evoke the wintry landscape; figures and faces are loosely drawn but ably express emotion and determination. Likewise, the brief text employs lyrical language to both get the basic facts across and communicate the feelings and experiences of Henry and his band of hardy helpers. Children intrigued by Brown’s succinct summary will want to follow up with Anita Silvey’s Henry Knox: Bookseller, Solider, Patriot, illustrated by Wendell Minor (2010).

Despite the book’s clarity, many young listeners still may not understand the enormity of the enterprise or its importance in U.S. history (bibliography) (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59643-266-6

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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