Mina by Matthew Forsythe

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

It has been a while since I’ve discovered a picture book so hilarious and heartwarming that I am compelled to read it aloud, unsolicited, to all of my friends, family, and co-workers. Well, I’ve been carrying Mina around for the past week, reading it out loud to everyone, and laughing every single time.

Mina tells the story of the titular bookish mouse who is extremely content with her cozy life until her father brings home a surprise that changes everything. Despite the simplified shapes of the characters, Matthew Forsythe is a master at conveying thoughts and feelings in each facial expression.

As a fan of his previous picture book, Pokko and the Drum, I had an idea of the lush, earthy art style and zany story I was probably getting into, but I did not know that the pacing would be so perfect, the page-turns so dramatic, and the characters quite so brave and loveable.

I brought my copy back today for you to check out but, now that I think of it, I haven’t had a chance to read it to the mailman yet…

Available through the Bridges Library System

Madly Marvelous: The Costumes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel by Donna Zakowska

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

I checked out this oversized book thinking I would flip through the pictures and take in the details of the gorgeous clothes from Amazon’s brilliant comedy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. However, to my surprise, I ended up reading every single riveting word of it.

I found it fascinating to see Donna Zakowska’s process and point of view for creating each look. It opened my eyes to the nuanced story she’s telling with color throughout the series, the external representation of each character’s mental landscape, and the impressive attention to detail paid to countless extras.

The concise text is balanced nicely with glossy images of initial sketches, fabric swatches, cast fittings, and final shots of the clothing onscreen. If you’ve enjoyed watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, this is a must-read. (Oh, but make sure you’ve watched through the end of season 3 first as there are many spoilers throughout.)

Available through the Bridges Library System

The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

Marnie takes up tea leaf reading as a way of embracing her family’s weirdness instead of pretending it isn’t there. However, what started out as a harmless statement of individuality takes a menacing turn when the symbols begin leading Marnie deep within the mystery of a classmate who disappeared one year prior.

The seedy mystery kept me guessing and the October atmosphere added a welcome chill. Pairs well with a steaming cup of tea, although your tea might go cold as you’re swept into the unraveling secrets.

Located in Teen Fiction (TEEN FIC ARSENAULT)

King of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin by Stephen Costanza

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

With the very first lines (“In the valley of the Red River, / where the soil was as rich / as most folks were poor”) I knew I could trust Stephen Costanza to lead the way through the uplifting story of ragtime legend Scott Joplin.

Throughout the book, he paints Joplin’s rise to the ragtime throne using a patchwork of perfect words and heaps of hues in each image. The sophisticated folk art style expertly reflects how Joplin pieced scraps of music into original compositions – “He’d patch in a riff from a work song, / a thread of gospel here, a string of ring shout there– / sewing together new tunes”.

The large spreads of undulating images and dynamic text make you feel the ragtime rhythm, even though you cannot hear it. A toe-tapping treat.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

When I first flipped through this book, I had no idea who it was written for. Children? Adults? Mystery readers? Breakfast enthusiasts? Having a keen interest in breakfast myself and a history of enjoying Lemony Snicket’s writing, I thought it’d be worth taking a chance on.

Part mystery, part philosophy, this meandering little book follows the author through a one-day investigation prompted by a note he receives in the morning which reads “You had poison for breakfast.” Liberally sprinkled with humorous statements and sage observations, it is classic Snicket–he still tells you what words mean but also makes you think deeply about ordinary subjects.

I laughed out loud more than once and was delighted by the Notes section at the end where the author gives titles to books and movies he described (which I assumed were fictitious) and credits quotes he referenced throughout. Plus, the mystery is resolved in a clever and surprising manner (though I’m not sure why I would expect anything less).

After having read the whole book, I still have no idea who it was written for, except to say with certainty that it WAS written at least a little for me, as I enjoyed it very much.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Oliver Jeffers: The Working Mind & Drawing Hand by Oliver Jeffers

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

Before picking up this book, I didn’t know much about Oliver Jeffers. I had read a few of his picture books and would recognize his art style and signature handwriting in passing, but that was it. I have to tell you, though–this oversized deep dive into his artistic process entranced me and got me to check out every single Oliver Jeffers book.

I learned that in addition to writing and illustrating picture books, Jeffers also produces high-concept philosophical and political art that is displayed in galleries. I especially loved learning about a series of portraits he painted, which he would then dip almost completely in paint at a very small exhibition of around a dozen people. Those people would be the only humans to have seen the completed portrait, which now exists only in their memory.

This is a quick read, with far more pictures than words, but you could conceivably spend hours poring over the details in the immersive matte spreads. I recommend checking it out to see which details surprise you.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Darling by K. Ancrum

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

Darling turns the classic Peter Pan story into a mind-blowing and fast-paced dark thriller.

New to Chicago, Wendy Darling is enticed out of her bedroom window by the sexy and sinister Peter, who invites her to a warehouse party. What follows is a treacherous adventure through the city where Wendy must navigate the shifting dynamics of a large cast of characters and their relationships to the protective and predatory Peter. Ancrum imposes the familiar elements of the Peter Pan story so thoughtfully and brilliantly into modern times–for example, the Mermaid Lagoon is a drag club and the pirates are the police force taking liberties with their power, helmed by ruthless Detective Hook.

The bright spark of dangerous glamor drew me into the story, but the ever-unexpected and continually rising stakes propelled me through to the end. Absolutely astonishing.

Available through the Bridges Library System

American Royals by Katharine McGee

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

With a fabulous cover and a premise like “What if America had become a monarchy with George Washington as its first king?” I was looking forward to seeing what this book had to offer. It ended up not what I expected and yet I was not at all disappointed.

We had four narrators: Bea, the duty-bound future (and first!) queen of America; Sam, the wild “spare” to Bea’s “heir”; Nina, Sam’s best friend who likes Sam’s twin brother, Jeff, but does not like the spotlight; and Daphne, the picture-perfect ruthless ex-girlfriend of Jeff who still has her eye on the crown. American Royals explores the concepts of duty, celebrity, and being true to yourself, all with witty banter, steamy romance, and wish-fulfillment glamor.

If you go in expecting a probing exploration of an alternate history, you will be let down–the American monarchy angle turned out to be merely fancy set dressing that didn’t penetrate into the fabric of the story. However, if you go in expecting less history and more histrionics, even the most hearty appetite for drama will be satisfied. This book is not going to change your life but it sure is fun.

Located in Teen Fiction (TEEN FIC MCGEE)

Bartali’s Bicycle by Megan Hoyt & Iacopo Bruno

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

This picture book tells the remarkable true story of Gino Bartali, celebrated Italian cyclist and winner of the 1938 Tour de France who performed heroic acts throughout World War II but kept them secret for over 50 years.

As Bartali always said, “Good is something you do, not something you talk about,” and so he kept quiet the fact that he hid forged identity papers in the hollow bars of his bicycle, sheltered a Jewish family in his cellar, rescued POWs, and used his celebrity to cause diversions when necessary.

Iacopo Bruno’s vibrant illustrations play with color and shadows to convey the mood of a world at war and in Bartali’s facial expressions the reader can almost see his mental wheels and sprockets churning a plan to fight injustice. Gorgeous and inspiring.

Located in Children’s Picture Books (E HOYT)

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery by Renee Treml

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

In this silly graphic novel mystery, Sherlock Bones is the skeleton of an Australian bird who lives in the State Natural History Museum. When a giant blue diamond goes missing, Sherlock is on the case, assisted by his partner Watts (an inanimate stuffed parrot) and Grace (a street-smart raccoon interloper). The reader is also invited to assist in the case, as visual clues are cleverly sprinkled throughout the panels. The expressive art, slick humor, and way that Sherlock chats directly to the reader reminded me so much of the Bad Guys series. So far there are 2 books in this new series. Just plain fun.

Located in Children’s Graphic (J GRAPHIC TREML BK.1)