Tag Archive for: animals

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Hello, fellow reader. Before going too far I must confess something to you: I had ulterior motives when deciding which book my review would focus upon. Nothing nefarious, but with you in mind. My motive is Remarkably Bright Creatures is the book selection for Joplin Reads Together, the library’s premier community read. Common at public libraries across the country, a community read encourages participants from the community to all read one book, and the library provides programs that coincide with the selected book. Through the month of April Joplin Public Library will have a multitude of programs that relate to themes within Remarkably Bright Creatures. There is no cost to participate in Joplin Reads Together or any of the related programs, AND I’m not done with the awesomeness yet – Shelby Van Pelt is visiting the library April 27th to discuss her book. Another plus to the community read is participation is whatever you’d like it to be; you can read the book and come to all the programs in April, or simply read the book and come just to the author visit (or don’t, that’s an option, too!). However one is inclined to participate, Joplin Reads Together offers a shared experience with the library and readers in the community.

In a small tourist town in northern Washington septuagenarian Tova Sullivan works at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, cleaning the outside of aquariums and mopping the floors after closing. As she makes her way from aquarium to aquarium she talks to the sea creatures inside. While Tova acknowledges the animals don’t know what she’s saying and don’t respond (or so she initially thinks), this characteristic made Tova instantly likable to me for her kind, calm manner. A widow, Tova’s husband recently passed away, a sorrow she carries with her along with grief for her son, who died under mysterious circumstances 30 years prior. At the Aquarium Tova seems to find some solace for her loneliness.

Also at the Sowell Bay Aquarium is Marcellus McSquiddles, an irritable giant pacific octopus that vehemently rejects, among other things, his mortifying last name (he is an octopus after all, NOT a squid). Marcellus has a lot of opinions; he spends his days observing the people that come to the Aquarium, perplexed by their human ways and possessing an uncanny ability to pinpoint facts about them just by observation. In Marcellus, Van Pelt creates an entertaining and funny character that pulled me in. I found myself looking forward to the chapters told from his perspective. Also in Marcellus Van Pelt creates a friend for Tova; Marcellus listens to all Tova has to say as she cleans, and finds his own way to communicate back. As a result of this friendship and the grief Marcellus sees within Tova he is determined to assist her in uncovering what happened to her son all those years ago.

In addition to Tova and Marcellus the novel is full of characters from around the town that are friends to Tova and invested in her life. There’s grocer Ethan who has a crush on Tova, the Knit-Wits who are Tova’s closest friend group, and new-to-town traveler Cameron who is searching for his family. Many of the novel’s characters seem to be on the verge of a new start, driven by their unique searches for that certain something missing in their life. Tova especially is haunted by her past and how to move forward with her future. Can Marcellus help her?

Within Remarkably Bright Creatures Shelby Van Pelt creates a realistic fiction that pulls at the heartstrings. Van Pelt manages to address the heavy burden of loss and grief in a relatable manner, all while maintaining a gentle, often humorous narrative. Tova’s struggle with how to leave the past in the past, while also bringing its memories to the future, is something I think many readers could identify with, especially those that have lost a loved one. While I myself am not 70 years old like Tova is, I found her additional struggle with aging, particularly after losing those closest to her, a necessary conversation that should be examined by a community often and purposefully. How can we assist those in our community that are, day to day, alone? What is the difference between the community we live in, and the community we choose to make for ourselves? If this is a book you pick up to read I hope it brings you the entertainment and thought provoking questions it brought to me. And if Joplin Reads Together is something that interests you I hope to see you at one of the library’s April programs to hear what you thought of Tova and Marcellus.

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Review by Sarah Turner-Hill, Adult Programming Coordinator

How to Be A T. Rex by Ryan North and Armadillo Antics by Bill Martin, Jr., and Michael Sampson

How to Be A T. Rex by Ryan North, illustrated by Mike Lowery

Armadillo Antics by Bill Martin, Jr. and Michael Sampson, illustrated by Nathalie Beauvois

As grateful as I am for the magic of finding titles in the Library’s electronic catalog and as helpful as it can be when searching, I still think nothing beats leisurely browsing the shelves for something new (or new-to-me). There’s nothing like strolling through the stacks looking for a title that strikes my fancy. I found a pair of picture books hanging out together, just waiting for someone to pick them. They just so happen to be about animals (of one sort or another) and sources of eye-catching art. Both titles are fun, engaging, and great for reading aloud to little ones.

How to Be A T. Rex, written by Ryan North and illustrated by Mike Lowery, is a great place to start! Its bold art matches well with its brash main character. Sal is a little girl with a BIG agenda–she wants to be a Tyrannosaurus Rex when she grows up. (Or maybe even before then!)  A dinosaur super fan, she loves that T. Rexes get to roar and stomp around and swat things (and people) with their tails. By sheer force of will and to spite her older brother, Sal turns herself into one and immediately initiates a mission of stomping, roaring intimidation. That is, until she’s sent to her room. There she learns the downside of living the dino life–she can’t wear her nifty shoes, her dog doesn’t like her as much, and it’s hard to be anything other than grumpy when all you can do is roar. Fortunately for Sal, she realizes the best of both worlds (human and dino) and invites her friends to be pretend dinosaurs with her.

Sal’s independent spirit comes through in Mike Lowery’s art. Vibrant orange and green and blue saturate the book cover to cover, emphasizing Sal’s energy and determination to live her best dinosaur life. Drawn in comic book style with bold black outlining and lettering (but minus the panel structure), most of the illustrations are full page with boisterous scenes and spirited, exclamatory text. Lowery’s technique is very effective at grabbing the reader’s attention, especially when it comes to showing all the amazing things a T. Rex can do. His illustrations also have a sense of humor and are great for exploring with a little one; Sal’s dinosaur-saturated bedroom is packed with details and worth a second or third look. Find a young person (or T. Rex) to delve into the book with or give it to a young reader to explore. How to Be A T. Rex is silly, rollicking good fun either way.

Despite its name, Armadillo Antics is less a madcap romp and more a relaxed opportunity to revel in rhyme and art. The book is an unhurried journey of the nocturnal mammal as it moves through its “day”. Each two-page spread features a rhyme and illustration depicting a different activity during the animal’s waking hours. For example, antics begin with “Armadillo, Armadillo, Armadillo, run. Romp and play till the night is done.” The rhyme is spread across two pages interspersed with frolicking cut-paper armadillos, cacti, and moon. “Armadillo” is a funny word to say no matter what, and this is no exception. The short rhymes and repetition of the text make this a great book for reading aloud to little ones. Reading aloud, observation, and language exploration are important components of early literacy and are put to good use here. Definitely share this one with toddlers, preschoolers, and early readers.

If Armadillo Antics seem vaguely familiar, it’s because the title is a collaboration of veteran picture book authors who have partnered with a contemporary illustrator who works in similar media as their earlier collaborators. Bill Martin, Jr. had a long career as a picture book author, including the well-known Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? with legendary illustrator Eric Carle and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom with the equally legendary Lois Ehlert. All of the word repetition and rhyme and charming story of those classics are evident in Armadillo Antics. Although Martin died in 2004, he left an unpublished manuscript of this book, a collaboration with teacher and literacy advocate Micheal Sampson with whom he worked regularly.

Argentinian illustrator Nathalie Beauvois has a style that meshes well with that of Carle and Ehlert. Her collages of cut paper and paint create texture and motion on every page. The armadillo on the front cover wears armor in a tapestry of gold, rust, and brown triangles that are vibrant against the velvety blue background. Most of her palette is more subdued than those of Carle and Ehlert–less vibrant primary colors and more an exploration of natural, earthy tones–yet still full of nuance. This is a great title for practicing observation skills and starting conversations with pre- and early-readers. As a bonus, an armadillo fact sheet is included at the end of the book.

These two picture books proved delightful and fun to read. You can find them and a lot more stories about animals in the Children’s Department. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Happy reading!

Review written by: Beth Snow, Teen Services Librarian

Connie Miller’s “C is for Color”

Post Art Library presents Connie Miller‘s “C is for Color” exhibit in our Bramlage and Willcoxon Foundation Gallery from Saturday, June 12-August 31, 2021. Although enjoyed by people of all ages, “C is for Color” is an exhibit especially for children, as it’s hung at their eye-level and consists of a series of colorful acrylic paintings of animals–just in time for the Tails & Tales summer reading challenge! Starting Saturday, June 12, 2021 artist-provided take-home kits will be available in the Children’s Department on a first come, first serve basis while supplies last. For more information, contact Jill at 417-623-7953 x1041.