Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Snow Magic: Outside by Deirdre Gill



His toy dragon mounts an attack on his brother, who sits immobile in front of a screen, oblivious to red plush fantasies.

So the boy suits up in coat, tall boots, and scarf and leaves him behind.

He steps outside... into a different world, and on the bottom step turns around and falls backward...



Looking up at the sky, with just a few wispy clouds, he sees in them the shape of an angel, and makes his own angel in the snow. He knocks on the window and writes on the frosty glass, "Come outside," but his brother is lost in a game on another screen.


And when the snowball is taller than he is, he sculpts a snow creature.

The snow creature and the boy regard each other seriously and then they begin to build...



A castle calls for a dragon, and waving goodbye to the snow creature on the ground, the boy mounts the dragon's back and soars, over the trees, over his house, and beyond the village, which grows tiny below him as the sun begins to set.

Then it is time to leave his snow dragon and head back inside, except... there is his brother, finally in his parka and boots and ready to go out, and together by starlight the boys


Not even the most jaded adult commuter can miss the magic of a new-snow morning, all angles softened and all the drab colors of winter vanquished beneath sparkling white. Deirdre Gill's debut book, Outside (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). forthcoming today, takes the reader outside, outside the house, yes, but also outside the usual world to a place where trees and snowmen become magical beings and even a sunset dragon offers a flight above the everyday world. Gill's narration is simple, set against her illustrations, done in retro style and soft pastels, the grays, blues, and whites of the snow, the soft green of the gingerbread-trimmed farmhouse, and the dragon's-breath red and orange glow of the dragon that evoke everychild's dream of a snowy day. Possibly the best snow book of the year, this one is perfect for reading alone or pairing with the classics, Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day or Raymond Briggs' The Snowman.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

There's A War On, You Know! Susan Marcus Bends the Rules by Jane Cutler

Dear Marv, I wrote,

You were right about baseball. I am the only Yankee fan in town. So I just do not bother with baseball. I have other stuff to worry about. One thing is trying to get rid of my New York accent before school starts. Another thing is Jim Crow. That is the name they give to laws they have to keep Negroes and white people separated from each other. Can you believe it? I would love to do something against old Jim Crow, but I don't know what. What could a kid do against laws like that, anyway?
And one more thing. I have an ugly haircut that I hope will grow out in time for school.

Please write back.

Still Your Best Friend, Susan

In 1942 there's a war on, and a lot of things have changed. There are air raid drills, and Joe DiMaggio has been drafted and won't be around if the Yankees play the Cardinals in the Worlds Series. And now Susan's dad has to take a job in St. Louis, where everyone is a Cards fan.

Susan knows that things will be different in Clayton, the small town just outside St. Louis where they move. But there are still young men away in the armed forces, still double-feature movies on Sunday night with her parents, and even a tiny "hole-in-the-wall" Chinese restaurant like they one they loved back in the Bronx. And there is a girl her age, Marlene with her bossy little sister Liz in her building who make friends with her right away and show her how to roller skate in the cool downstairs garage and introduce her to the town's swimming pool and its high dive.

But some things are very different. People talk differently and tell her they can't understand her New York accent. Marlene's grumpy grandmothers complain that she shouldn't play with Susan because she's a Jew, something she never heard back in the Bronx. And then she meets Loretta, a black girl who lives in the basement with her mother who is the building custodian, and when she wants to invite Loretta along to the pool, Susan's dad has to explain that Missouri has something called Jim Crow laws that mean that black and white people can't go to the same swimming pools, schools, movies, or even restaurants.

But as the steamy summer goes on and the girls share monopoly games, Kool Aid, skating, and Loretta's mother's homegrown tomato sandwiches, their friendship grows. Then Susan discovers that there is an interesting loophole in Missouri's Jim Crow laws. Public transportation is not segregated, and Susan comes up with an idea for an August adventure they all can share.

"What in the world can you be thinking, Miss Susan New York Marcus?" asks Marlene.

Maybe she can't change Missouri's Jim Crow laws, but Susan believes the friends can bend them a little. Her plan is that she and Marlene get on the midday bus to St. Louis, and Loretta will get on two stops later. They will all move to the wide seats around the back of the bus and see all the downtown St. Louis sights together.

We all got dressed up that day.

Cranky Liz would not keep up. Nobody was waiting at the stop where we had planned to be, so the driver just kept on going. Now what?

The girls take the next bus, wondering if Loretta noticed that they weren't on the first bus, but when the bus came to the stop, Loretta is there waiting.

"She waited," Marlene whispered.

"She broke the rules," I grumbled, smiling. "Maybe that is what they mean when they say 'rules are made to be broken.'" Marlene said.

"Marlene, did you just make that up?" I demanded.

"No, honest, it's a saying. I think it means you sometimes have to think for yourself, like Loretta did."

And when Susan leads the girls off the bus near her parents' favorite movie house and takes them to their favorite little Chinese restaurant, the girls are ready to try to bend one Jim Crow rule. But when they get there, they find something scary:

Half the window was smashed, and on it, in thick black paint, someone had written JAPS GO HOME! JAP TRAITOR was written in black paint on the sidewalk.

"Let's get out of here," said Marlene.

Loretta and Liz did not budge. Liz moved closer to the window and peered through it.

And the Chinese chef and his wife recognize Susan and motion them inside. "Not Jap! Chinese," he says, seating them together at one small table. Susan's plan to integrate a restaurant is a success. Take that, Jim Crow! she thinks. She breaks open her fortune cookie and reads the fortune inside.

"The future sleeps in the present."

Jane Cutler's Susan Marcus Bends the Rules (Holiday House, 2014) portrays the world of 1942 vividly, with the sounds of radio baseball games through open windows, fans whirring in the summer heat, the smells of warm tomatoes on the vine and bus exhaust and Chinese food that remind Susan of home, all combined with the different views of race and laws in World War II America--a time when there were many changes and many more soon to come. Cutler writes comfortably for middle elementary readers, portraying a child's world that is different in some ways but the same as today's children share in the most important ways, the ways of friendship and family and fairness. "Rebelling against discrimination is only part of this appealing story, but it’s the most memorable part. An enjoyable chapter book with great potential for discussion," says Booklist.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Critter Quarters: Julia's House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke



It seems that Julia can settle down wherever she wills, being that her rambling but tumbledown old house sits upon the back of a giant tortoise.

Her cottage by the sea is picturesque, but soon it is too quiet for Julia's taste.

Up goes a sign, JULIA'S HOUSE FOR LOST CREATURES, and it doesn't take much time to attract tenants. But they are a fantastical lot--and a troublesome lot as well. It's not too hard to see why this bunch are homeless.

There's an annoying troll who constantly moans the lack of a bridge to lurk beneath. Patched-up Kitty walks up the walls. The mermaid monopolizes the bathtub, and everyone demands fresh towels. As more and more creatures come to stay, Julia is suddenly too busy, providing cozy fires and tea and toast at all hours. Quiet it's not.

And Julia's motley visitors are a sloppy lot as well. Washing up, sweeping up, and mopping up behind everything from yellow duckies to dragons has her run ragged. Julia's House for Lost Creatures requires a little rethinking.

And soon another sign goes up:


Ben Hatke's Julia's House for Lost Creatures (Roaring Brook Press, 2014) is a piquant little tale of the perils of innkeeping for fanciful beasties. Like the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, Julia, in her tidy green kerchief and apron, and her prosaic housekeeping dilemmas, are all too ordinary, while her roomers are exceedingly extraordinary. All these tea-drinking ghosties and ghoulies make for some humorous illustrations, done delightfully in Ben Hatke's light black line and pleasant blue and green-hued palette.

Kirkus Reviews observes, "Hatke steps from graphic novels (Zita the Spacegirl) to the picture-book format with aplomb, blending tropes from both worlds for a sweetly weird domestic adventure. Readers will want to move right in."

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

What's Behind That Door? Haunted House (Funny Faces) by Roger Priddy



What is behind that orange door guarded by the black cat?

Little fingers will do the walking as very young trick-or-treaters opt to go inside and see for themselves! And there are plenty of jolly Halloween treats inside.

Gwen the spider is spinning a web to fill her rumbly tummbly. D. J. Bones is looking funky, and Headless Harry the Knight seems to have found his helmeted head! Wendy Witch flies through as a Ghost says Booooo!

Roger Priddy's Funny Faces Haunted House (Priddy Books, 2012) has all the usual suspects inside his little shaped board book. Hanging out with the Halloween gang gives little fingers lots to explore--googly eyes persist on every sturdy page along with cut-out shapes and fuzzy creatures to feel. A first book about Halloween from Roger Priddy's Funny Faces series that is a treat for little eyes.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

What to Wear II: Llama, Llama, Trick or Treat!


Llama Llama is shopping with Mama for his Halloween costume. He peers through the show window at the choices. Green ghouls? Little monsters? Inside, he goes through the costumes hanging on the rack. An astronaut? A bumblebee? It's so hard to choose!

Back home, Llama Llama and his best friend Nellie Gnu have fun decorating the house for the big night. They scoop out the pumpkin's insides to get it ready to be a Jack-o'-Lantern. They fill the big and little candy bowls for doorbell ringers and guests.

But what will Llama Llama be when it is time to go out trick-or-treating?

Anna Dewdney's admittedly adorable little llama is back with a must-have Halloween board book, Llama Llama Trick or Treat (Viking Press, 2014). Dewdney cleverly keeps the suspense going until the final last-page reveal in which Llama Llama greets the princessy Nellie wearing a very spooky disguise. Dewdney's candy-corn decorated holiday offering features her trademark short and punchy rhymes and her inimitably appealing little cast of characters for a Halloween book that toddlers and preschoolers will love to have for their first Halloween treat.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

National Book Award Finalists Announced

The finalists for the National Book Award for the best book in young people's literature have been announced. The five finalists include three novels, a memoir, and one historical nonfiction book.

Eliot Schrefer's Threatened (Scholastic Press, 2014) is an eco-thriller that takes young Luc and mysterious "Prof" into the forests of Gabon, to investigate the dangers to the survival of the endangered bonobo chimpanzees, where they find the chimps are not the only only endangered.

Deborah Wiley's second book in her historical fiction trilogy,Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy) (Scholastic Press, 2014) follows two characters, a white girl in sleepy Greenwood, Mississippi and a young African American boy, who meet and live through their life-changing Freedom Summer of 1964. (See my July, 2014, review here.) The first book in Wiles series is Countdown (Sixties Trilogy).

In John Corey Wiley's science fiction coming-of-age novel Noggin (Atheneum Press, 2014) finds that even a second chance to live has its problems. Travis dies of leukemia at the age of sixteen, but five years later his medically preserved head is transplanted to a donor body. But even though he's still a sophomore in his head and at school, everyone else, his friends, his first girlfriend, and his parents, are five years older and have moved on. Learning to be himself in a different body in a much changed world teaches Travis a lot about what it means to be and to live.

In her Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014), award-winning novelist and poet Jacqueline Woodson tells her own story of growing up in the 1970s as an African American girl in Columbus, Ohio, Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York, in a free-verse memoir that documents the family life and teachers who helped her realize her talent as a writer. "I know" she says, "that I was lucky enough to be born during a time when the world was changing like crazy--and that I was part of that change."

Multiple-award winning author Steve Sheinkin's The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights (Roaring Brook, 2014) looks at a little-known civil rights event in the midst of World War II. An explosion in the armaments-shipping facility at Port Chicago, in which over 300 African American sailor were killed. Sheinkin documents how the survivors refused to return to work until dangerous practices were changed and how fifty of them were court martialed as deserters in one of the first cases in the civil rights movement.

The winners of all the National Book Awards, including the prizes for adult fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, will be announced on November 19, 2014. See the complete shortlist of finalists here.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

More Mutton! The Complete Adventures of Johnny Mutton by James Proimos








And with the convenient surname of Mutton, nobody else seems to object to Johnny's being a sheep either. (Although Mr. Stockman is heard to observe "There's something odd about that boy.")

Johnny Mutton is certainly silly, but so sweet that he gets by with it. When his classmates all bring an apple for their teacher, Johnny brings a bag of Poofy Marshmallows, easier on Mr. Slapdash's false choppers. At Halloween, when all his friends show up as pirates or witches, Johnny Mutton comes costumed as a runny nose, with two long green socks hanging out of the nasal openings. Luckily, he meets his certain soulmate, Gloria Crust, attired as a giant box of tissues.

Momma Mutton is a terrific basketball player, but Johnny can't shoot, dribble, or catch a pass, except in his mouth. But Momma is understanding when Johnny reveals his secret desire.


Johnny Mutton went on to become a national hero by winning twenty gold medals in the Olympics for water ballet.

Whether it's bonding with his nemesis Mandy Dinkis in the dark in a game of Hide and Seek, or playing Pin The Tail On The Jell-o at his surprise birthday party for Gloria, matriculating at Mrs. Bottom's School of Manners, or showing scary Old Man Stagglemyer how to skateboard, Johnny Mutton is well,...


James Proimos' brand-new compendium of Johnny Mutton cartoons, The Complete Adventures of Johnny Mutton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), is guaranteed goofiness, certified silliness, and warranted wacky stuff. Great for fans of Harry Allard's and James Marshall's The Stupids series, Dav Pilkey's The Dumb Bunnies and Captain Underpants series, and Lincoln Peirce's Big Nate series, Proimos' over-the-top cartooning and pizazz-y zany stories are fluffy but rib-tickling fare for reluctant readers or giggle groupies.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cyber Crusader! The Junkyard Bot: Robots Rule! by C. J. Richards

George plugged his ears. "Jackbot!" he shouted.

The door opened, and three feet of scrap and spare parts rattled into the room. Jackbot's head tilted toward the bed and his green eyes flashed."
Yes, George," he said in his expressionless mechanical voice.

"Shut that thing up, would you?"

Jackbot scooped up the alarm clock in his pincer and put it on the floor. He raised a metal foot.


"That was--uh--a little extreme," George said. But it was no use blaming Jackbot. Robots just do what they are told.

George Gearing is a lonely orphan, living in a rundown suburb of Terabyte Heights with his grumpy junkyard manager uncle. But George is a born gearhead. Lacking the funds to buy his own deluxe model, he has built his own ramshackle robot, and secretly thinks of him as something like his best friend.

So when Jackbot is hit by a robocar owned by the top robotics expert of TinkerTech, Dr. Droid, George quickly accepts the offer of its passenger, Droid's daughter, Ann Droid, to help him rebuild Jackbot. Sneaking into the spare parts department of TinkerTech with Ann, George outdoes himself. Although the rusty and dented Jackbot looks the same on the outside, George is able to rewire him with AI, artificial intelligence, the Holy Grail of robotics, and he has powers no other robot, even Dr. Micron's best at Tinker Tech, possesses. Jackbot can think for himself.

But soon word of George's brilliant breakthrough reaches Dr. Micron, who quickly realizes that gaining the secrets of Jackbot's operating system will give him control over the robots of Terabyte Heights and eventually allow him every evil genius' goal--to rule the world. He kidnaps and downloads Jackbot, and when George and Ann try to rescue the robot, they find themselves captives of the nefarious Dr. Micron and ironically held as the prisoners of a traitorous Jackbot, with a timebomb ticking away inside him. Only George can save himself, Ann and Dr. Droid, and the rest of the world by his insight into Jackbot's most inner circuitry.

"Jackbot! I can see you're in there! And you're fighting to override Dr. Micron's program. This is no time to die!" said George.

"I'm a robot," said Jackbot. "My existence is merely a bunch of data streams. FIFTEEN SECONDS!"

"You're not just a robot, Jackbot. You're my friend."

"Sorry, George," said Jackbot. His eyes turned red again. "THREE, TWO.... "

George crouched on the floor and covered his head with his hands, waiting for the explosion. Nothing happened. He peered through his fingers.

Jackbot's eyes were green. "Just kidding!" he said. "You had me at a minute to go."

But with the evil would-be world despot Dr. Micron at large, George, Jackbot, Ann and her dad Dr. Droid, are the only cyber saviors able to take on Micron's legions of slave robots and defeat his evil plan. Readers will suspect that sequels are set to follow (the words Book One on the cover are a clue), and there is hope for mankind, as George learns when he returns to school and finds that they have reinstated their old employee as custodian after seriously bad experiences with his robotic replacement.

"It's great you got your job back, Mr. Cog." said George.

"Yeah," said the janitor. "On account of the robot was the tool of a homicidal maniac who wanted to take over the world... and I ain't."

C. J. Richard's just published The Junkyard Bot: Robots Rule, Book 1 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) is a cyborg savant's dream. George can't wait to work as Dr. Droid's apprentice at TinkerTech, and with Dr. Micron still on the loose, the stage is set for another humorous robot romp through the easy-reading pages of Book Two. While the plot of The Junkyard Bot: Robots Rule, Book 1 is a recognizable chunk of fictional code, Richard's wit makes this robot tale one that is mostly character-driven, with the strong portrayal of George, Ann Droid, and the star of the show, Jackbot. With edgy cartoon illustrations, blueprint endpapers, page decorations by illustrator Gora Fujita, and page-turning heroic action that will entice even reluctant readers, it looks as if robot lovers are set for rip-roaring cyber sequels for a while.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

The Wave of the Future: The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans by Elizabeth Rusch

Mike Morrow and Mike Delos-Reyes grew up together near Salem, Oregon.

Mike Morrow was a whiz at reverse engineering, even though he didn't know what his favorite activity was called. With a screwdriver, he could open up up anything electric.

His friend Mike Delos-Reyes was the perfect complement, though--he had a real knack for building things. Together the Mikes helped start McNary High School's Science Club.

The Mikes went to college together, both majoring in mechanical engineering. And that's where their opposite skills came in handy.

To graduate, students were required to complete a senior project. Mike and Mike were given a list of possible projects sponsored by companies like Hewlett-Packard. But the Mikes wanted to come up with something on their own.

"That's not really the way we do this," the administration told them. If they wanted to try, they'd have to design a project, define the scope, recruit an advisor, and track down their own supplies. The two Mikes wanted to do something in the hot field of renewable energy. Mike had a vague idea: he remembered visiting a wave park and how his ears popped when he stayed underwater as the breakers rolled over him. If they could somehow use the water pressure of rolling waves to push a fluid past a turbine, they might be able to generate endless electricity from the sea bottom.

The Mikes started scrounging materials around the campus. A bit of down-and-dirty dumpster diving turned up big plastic bladders from a milk dispenser in the cafeteria that could work to hold the air to be compressed, and plastic spoons formed the paddles in the turbine. Mike Delos-Reyes even refurbished a cast-off wave chamber he found behind the engineering building. Stabilizing the air bags inside milk crates and connecting the two improvised airbags to the turbine with PVC pipe, the Mikes gave their prototype a spin. It worked! The Mikes made the grade, won an international science prize, and graduated. Then their flimsy model was packed away as they went off to find jobs.

But the Mikes had an idea whose time was coming. Scientists all over the world were beginning to give serious thought to renewable energy. Hydroelectric dams had been around for decades; windmills were old technology that could be refined to produce electricity, and solar power was feasible, but still expensive; so sea power seemed to be the next frontier.

In the efforts to ride that wave, engineers tinkered with several methods: one was a type of buoy which could capture the up-and-down of wave motion to generate electricity; another model used a sort of floating ocean dam to produce flow to rotate a turbine. Others used floating or sea bottom platforms with turbines powered by wave flow. All of these prototypes worked, but some produced little power, some had problems weathering storms, and most had to be anchored to the seafloor by cables that can break, snarl, interfere with boat traffic, or injure passing sea creatures. All had to be linked to the continental grid by long electric cables connecting the devices to onshore transformers. The Mikes' seafloor generators, located just offshore, began to look better and better.

Elizabeth Rusch's forthcoming The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans (Scientists in the Field Series) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) is a highly readable report on the state of the art of ocean motion generation. Using young would-be inventors to capture the readers' attention, Rusch's narration reveals the ebb and flow of inventing, failures, partial successes, and working models, many of which are currently in operation in the proving grounds of coastal areas all over the world. Rusch's text provides fact boxes, diagrams, and many photos, with appended glossary, chapter notes, and index, to explain the principles of generating electricity from the restless motion of the seas, all of which are variations on the familiar principles of turbines turned by air or water pressure, but all of which have variations which make them adaptable to the differing tidal conditions. Fortunately, as Rusch's wave intensity world map shows, ocean motion is greatest in the coastal areas where our populations are most dense, a lucky coincidence for mankind.

Wave power is attractive as an energy source because it is always there. Winds can still. Drought can reduce water flow; clouds can obscure the sun, but the oceans are always there, always in motion. Using that motion most efficiently is a challenge, but it is mainly an engineering problem, one that is well within human power to solve.

The mighty Mikes might just have caught the wave of the future.

Ultimately, the Mikes imagine multiple arrays of their Delos-Reyes-Morrow-Pressure device at various locations up and down the coast, making potentially dozens of megawatts of electricity.

Award-winning author Elizabeth Rusch's The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans is another absorbing entry into Houghton Mifflin's stellar Scientists in the Field series which takes readers right down to the nitty-gritty of doing science, as we say, on the ground, or in this case, into the waters of the world.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Please Don't Pet the Bats! Vampire Pets (Funny Faces)


But then, all the residents living there, in what is clearly a vampire's lair, are ready for Halloween.

There's an ghostly owl named Ollie,  there's Freaky Freddie, a toad who swims in a slime-filled cauldron, and of course some black bats who love to flap through any empty haunted house. And then there are Suzy and Sammy Spider, ready to spin webs to add atmosphere to your Halloween party.

Roger Priddy's new seasonal addition to his Funny Faces series. Funny Faces: Vampire Pets (Priddy Books, 2014), features a flocked cover and die-cut, moving googly eyes for his cover boy, Chester. But open this sturdy board book and the little reader finds those round black eyes staring back from the face of Ollie, and then Freddy the Frog in his black cauldron. Bats and spiders fill out the crew of this haunted cadre, all with that Here's lookin' at you charm. Rhymes describe the denizens of this haunted house where a spooky beat invites dancing feet.  With just a touch of frightfulness and lots of inviting Halloween characters, this one is just right for the youngest ghosts and goblins.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Bushel of Fun! Bad Apple--Perfect Day by Edward Hemingway




Mac's and Will's friendship had a downright disturbing start. Will is a kind of worm, not an "earworm," one of those songs that keeps playing in your head, but an actual green worm, who took up residence inside Mac's head, in their first book, Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship. At first, all his other apple friends picked on Mac, calling him "Bad Apple" and shunning his company, jeering that he would spoil their whole barrel. Lonely Mac soon discovered, however, that Will was a worm with more a-peel than any of the Sour Apple gang, and, making the best of a bad situation, the two became, er, close friends.

Now the besties decide to celebrate with a perfect day's fun, having a duo dip in the ol' swimming hole. But alas, when they arrive, they find the watering hole had been mostly evaporating in the summer sun, leaving nothing but its muddy bottom in sight. But Mac has a way of looking on the bright side of every scene.



Mac and Will jump right into building a mud city, complete with skyscrapers and an apartment complex Will names Casa de Worms. By the time the Sour Apples come by and pause to jeer, the mud city is a magnificent thing, and they can't resist joining in the fun. Granny Smith gets into the game, and when the little Crab Apple gang parachutes into Mud City, it's a fruit basket turnover!

But just as everybody is getting down and dirty, a sudden rainstorm comes along and re-fills the watering hole with fresh water. Mud City submerges like Atlantis, but Mac's buoyant spirits never sink.

For Mac and Will, at last it's time to make a splash on the scene.


And all the apple dive in and float in the pond together along with Mac and Will.

It's bobbing for all the apples in Edward Hemingway's Bad Apple's Perfect Day (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2014).  Hemingway's upbeat story line and retro-styled comic illustrations seem to have considerable ap-peel, despite the the story's rather unusual premise.  For a bushel and a peck of apple fun,  pare, er, pair this one with its predecessor, Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Dynamic Duo in Danger! The Twin Powers by Robert Lipsyte

Hercules' smile encouraged me.

"So is it going to happen? Are we going to save the Earths?" said Eddie.

"Doesn't look too good right now, does it?" said Hercules.

"I don't get it. If the Primary People have all these powers, why don't they save the Earths?"

Hercules sighed. "When the Primary people began their scientific experiments, the Supreme Council made a law that could not be broken. We would never intervene in the affairs of a planet we were studying."

"You would just stand there and let terrible things happen?"

"We know it sounds cruel, but we had to stay scientists, not gods."

It's not easy being a halfling--as Harry Potter and Percy Jackson can attest, and Tom Canty has two Earths to save, one the Earth in the present, and the other the 1958 Earth where his twin Eddie is currently enjoying the role of basketball star and all-around great guy. Some hard-nosed government agents are on Tom's tail, and the aliens are out to get him and Eddie, too, even if they are half alien themselves. Tom and Eddie's father and grandpa are aliens, but he doesn't know where they are, and it's not looking good for Eddie over on 1958 Earth with the Cold War and those hydrogen bomb tests unless the half-alien twins can come into their powers pronto. And Eddie is just getting the message that he's got a steep learning curve ahead of him.

There is a lot going on in the second book in veteran author Robert Lipsyte's Twinning Project series, The Twin Powers (Twinning Project) (Clarion Books, 2014), a lot of mind-to-mind communication between Eddie and Tom as they learn how to stay in touch, a lot of time travel in various extraterrestrial vehicles, and a touch of thought-generated mayhem as they come into conflict with both the alien Primary People's high council and the ever present X-Men types also trying to capture them at every turn. But they have their developing powers, their friends Ronnie, Alessa, and Britzky, earthlings from each planet, their dad and grandpa making cameo performances, and of course, the aliens' favorite sage, Mark Twain (get it?) to guide them.

It's a hard job, but someone's got to do it, and it may require several more sequels!

"Will we ever get back home?" said Alessa.

"Hard to say," said Grandpa. "Might depend on what happens."
I could sense dark clouds in the minds of Britzky and Alessa. They were feeling sad about their families, wondering when they would see them again.

Grandpa stood up. "We better get going. Can't let the 1958 space agency find a 2012 rocket ship."

Ronnie smiled. "If you're so smart," she said, "what are we going to do now?"

"Lots to do on this planet," said Britzky. "Check the timeline. We could be Freedom Riders."

"Count me in," said Ronnie.

Robert Lipsyte, who won the Margaret Edwards' Award for lifetime achievement in young people's literature, is one of the pioneers of the modern "junior novel," and in this latest installment whizzes his characters through the process of coalescing into a force for good. In the midst of all the trappings of a rip-roaring, time-traveling, and quite funny science fiction romp is the serious theme of how human beings can use their powers toward the good of their planet, whichever one it may be.

But then we've got Mark Twain to guide us. As he said, Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.

"Chock-full of action and suspense, this series will get readers thinking about important social and environmental issues," says School Library Journal.

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

You Lookin' at Me? Creature Features by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

DEAR EGYPTIAN VULTURE: Why no feathers on your face?

Are you sure you want to know? Really?

Okay. I'll tell you.I stick my face into the bodies of the dead animals I eat, and the feathers would get pretty messy.

If the bald-faced truth is what you want, have I got the book for you! Steve Jenkins' and Robin Page's forthcoming curious critter book, Creature Features: Twenty-Five Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), tells it like it is. Here's lookin' at you, Human!

DEAR AXOLOTL: Why do you have feathers growing out of your head?

Those aren't feathers! They're gills. They let me breath underwater.

DEAR GIRAFFE:Why is your tongue purple?

I live in Africa, where the sun is very bright. My tongue, which I use to pluck leaves and grass, is dark purple so that it won't get sunburned. and as you can see, I have a lot of tongue to protect.

While Jenkins' and Page's creatures hold their tongues about how funny we look to them, they are happy to describe the perfectly sensible reasons why they look the way they do. The thorny devil (a spiny Australian desert lizard) sports his spikes to discourage predators from trying to swallow him, but his thorns do double duty, also sluicing rare rainwater toward his mouth. The spicebush swallowtail caterpillar has a faux snake face on his rear end to fend off angry birds who might otherwise slurp him up. The icky-looking pink growths on the star-nosed mole's nose are actually finger-like feelers which help him navigate his dark tunnels. And as most rodent-lovers know, a hamster's fat cheeks are not fat at all; they actually act as grocery sacks to carry his grub until he gets home to unpack it into his pantry.

Authors Jenkins and Page also unpack the mysteries behind the features of such strange creatures such as the pufferfish, the leaf-nosed bat, the frilly lizard, and the colorful mandrill in their latest fact-filled nature science expose'. With the Caldecott-winning Jenkins' full-page, eye-catching cut-and-torn-paper collages of each of 25 wildly different animals from varied climes and habitats and brief question-and-answer text, primary and middle readers alike will find this facebook irresistibly designed and humorously written for curious kids, while slipping in the subliminal message that Mother Nature has good reasons for what she does.

As all good nonfiction authors should, Jenkins and Page include an appendix with a bibliography and double-page spread featuring scale silhouettes of each creature as compared to a human, in the order in which they are presented in the book. For young aspiring graphic design artists, there is even a link to a site showing how Jenkins did his impressive artwork and layout for Creature Features: Twenty-Five Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do. "... this is a winning picture book that is sure to inform as well as entertain." says School Library Journal in its starred review.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Tracing the Tree Assassin: Beetle Busters: A Rogue Insect and the People Who Track It by Loree Griffin Burns

The Asian longhorned beetle (ALB for short) is a stunner. Its 1.5-inch body is a deep black speckled with white, and its head bears a set of shockingly long striped antennae. These antennae and the beetle's six feet are tinted blue, and its mouthparts, if you get close enough to see them, resemble a miniature lobster claw.

If an Asian longhorned beetle landed next to you right now, you would probably never forget it.

And it's a good thing that the ALB is such a memorable bug. In 1996 a man in Brooklyn noticed some small round holes in some maple trees. He blamed teen vandals and mounted a one-man surveillance program on his own. What he spotted was a large, black beetle with long, striped antennae and blue legs, caught in the act of emerging, well fed and ready to mate, from the trunk of one of his favorite trees.

It didn't take long for local officers to ID the perp. The ALB had a long rap sheet with the tree police. It had been discovered chomping up newly planted American poplar trees in China in the early 1980s. The Chinese discovered the pests and leveled the infected trees, but instead of chipping or burning the wood, they thriftily used it to build thousands of shipping pallets, which were loaded with manufactured goods and shipped to the East Coast of the U.S. The alien stowaways hatched and matured and emerged at the ports of New York and Boston, and got busy doing what tree beetles do. They found a lavish beetle buffet on the American ash, sycamore, horse chestnut, willow, elm. hackberry, mimosa, ash, and maple entrees in their new home.

When the Brooklyn tree watcher collared the suspect, the tree scientists of New York went into action. An urban forest has fewer trees, usually not in close quarters, so tree surgeons figured that they would locate all the diseased trees, cut them down, chip them up finely to kill the larvae inside, and that would be that. But before long, infestations showed up in Boston, and the tree men went on red alert, playing whack-a-mole as each infestation was found and eliminated. The ALBs are inept fliers, so they attack trees that are close by, so the hope was that each area could be cleared easily enough once it was located.

But then the pest was discovered in the leafy suburbs of Worcester, Massachusetts. Suburban forests are denser, spread over many independently owned plots of land, and even worse, located near real woodlands, part of the great North American forest that stretches from eastern Canada to the Great Lakes area and southward through the Appalachians into the deep South. If the beetles infected that great expanse of trees, millions and millions of our most beautiful trees might be lost, with serious consequences for human and wild animal habitat across almost half of the country.

Teams of tree scientists descended on Worcester, trudging through briers and undergrowth, suffering though ice and snow in winter and ticks and mosquitoes in summer, and climbing into the canopies to identify affected trees for removal. Homeowners and park visitors grieved over the loss of majestic maples and elms. Entomologists studied the beetles' two-year life cycles, and botanists and foresters studied cross-section "cookies" of tree trunks to determine how infestation affected growth. Zoologists observed how the loss of these trees affected all the creatures who depend on forest trees. Chemists created ALB pheromones to attract mating adults to traps, and sniffer dogs were trained to detect the characteristic smell of chemicals released by the beetles to speed up surveying.

Many pesky suspects were arrested, but the Asian longhorned beetle's crime wave has not been stopped, They are now being fought all over the world, in Austria, France, Italy, England, Japan, and Switzerland. Resolute scientists never give up, but so far, the fight depends more on amateur observations of new infestations than on miracle pesticides, exotic new predators, or evolving resistance among the affected trees.

Loree Griffin Burns' Beetle Busters (Scientists in the Field Series) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) details the struggle with one of the pests that threaten our forests in an easy middle-reader text stacked with information. These are truly "scientists in the field" (actual fields) revealing how teams of experts with varying specialties cooperate in the their assignment. Many color photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz document the work of these insect CSI experts. In fact, any reader of this book is well prepared to identify this insect pest if it is encountered. In the tradition of Houghton Mifflin's estimable Scientists in the Field series, a glossary with terms such as dendrochronology and vascular cambium, a bibliography, and an index is appended

The fight against the ALB is not a skirmish, but a real war. America loves its leafy towns and cities, its glorious shady glades, and its forested state and national parks. What do we have to lose? The shade of towering elms, the autumn glory of red maples, and the inimitable taste of sugar maple syrup, the songs of birds, and the beauty of our woodlands.

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