Monday, January 23, 2017

Heart-y! The Secret Life of Squirrels: A Love Story by Nancy Rose

Most squirrels spend their days scrambling up trees and searching for nuts.

Not Mr. Peanuts!

Hunting for nuts can make for a solitary life for squirrels. One is the loneliest number, and a glimpse of Mr. Peanut's clothesline, hung with big red hearts, suggests that Mr. Peanuts is lookin' for love!

Shopping for food would be more fun if he were cooking dinner for a friend.

Mr. Peanuts pushes his grocery cart in lonely isolation through the supermarket. He drops his penny and makes a wish at the local wishing well. He pulls out his tennis racket and heads to the park, but there's no one to make a match with Mr. Peanuts there either.

Whenever Mr. Peanuts is lonely, he goes to the bookstore.

And there, in a movie-perfect "cute meet" he encounters another squirrel reading his favorite book. She introduces herself as Rosie, and the two hit it off immediately.

He's absolutely nuts about Rosie.

There's a cozy and romantic candlelight Valentine dinner for two in Mr. Peanuts' future, in Nancy Rose's latest squirrel saga, The Secret Life of Squirrels: A Love Story (Little, Brown and Company, 2016). Author Rose not only writes the narrative, but handcrafts everything seen her cozy vignettes, from bent-twig furniture to a bunch of tiny books, all about squirrels, at the bookstore. Stage manager Rose is also her set designer, setting the stage with hidden treats to lure squirrels onto the set, and photographer Rose shoots many shots to get just the right poses out of the unsuspecting and wild bushy-tailed "actors" in her own backyard. Kids will warm to her theme of friendship in each book, but they also love to pore over and over the illustrations, noticing the delightful diminutive details of Nancy Rose's creations.

Other squirrel tales by Nancy Rose are The Secret Life of Squirrels and Merry Christmas, Squirrels! (see my reviews here).

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

What's Next? Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Bill Martin and Eric Carle

Red Bird, Red Bird,
What do you see?

I see a Yellow Duck,
Looking at me.

For anyone who grew up in the past 50 years or so, Bill Martin's rhyming picture book, done up in several different editions, is likely very familiar as an early step in naming animals and colors, with an introductory reading experience to boot.

But in this day of the "toy and movable book," this classic is back with a brand new wrinkle--a panel on each double-page spread which offers the question in print and slides open to reveal the answer in an easily recognizable picture.

In this newest edition with the timeless and still stunning layered collages of Eric Carle, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?(Priddy Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2016), Brown Bear, Purple Cat, Blue Horse, Black Sheep, and the bespectacled Teacher are all back, this time offering emergent readers the sort of rhythmic, rhyming repetition and prediction skills that makes early reading come easy. In this sturdy interactive board book format this is a board book that all youngsters--from infants just learning to recognize a dog to preschoolers learning colors, and right on to beginning readers--will love to get their hands on.

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

"Dress-up Day!" Pinkalicious--Fashion Fun by Victoria Kann

It's a playdate party and hostess Pinkalicious welcomes her pals Molly and Ross. Molly arrives with a fat folder.

"What's in there?" I asked.

"Fashion show pictures I have collected," says Molly.

Ross says, "I want dresses like that!"

Pinkalicious is just about to suggest that they raid her mom's closet for dress-up fashions, when Mom gets the drift.

"Please use your imaginations, not my clothes!

Play in YOUR room!"

And Pinkalicious rises to the occasion! She and her friends brainstorm materials that they can use to make their creations for the fashion show. Pinkie notices one fashion photo with several bows, and comes up with an novel idea.

"Bowtie pasta!"

And the young designers are off and running, collecting found objects from all parts of Pinkie's house--twist-ties, glue, glitter, bubble wrap, newspapers, even coffee filters and paper cupcake cups.

And soon the super models are ready for the runway and the photo shoot by brother Peter and his new camera, in Victoria Kann's newest I-Can-Read Level 1 book, Pinkalicious: Fashion Fun (I Can Read Level 1) (Harper, 2016). With a controlled vocabulary text and Kann's lively illustrations, this one will be a hit for young crafters and fashionistas alike and which at least makes the case for creativity and keeping the mess out of Mom's bedroom (if not out of Pinkie's!)

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Peter Pan Syndrome! I Don't Want to Be Big by Dev Petty

It all began with a nice bowl of worm-and-fly soup.



Ever since Peter Pan strutted across the stage, singing "I'll never grow up, never grow up--NOT ME!" kids have had an argument for staying kids.

Big Frog points out to benefits of growing up.


Little Frog takes one look at the horde of scary red-eyed tree frogs staring down at him. and pointedly takes a pass on that.

Being a grown up is not all it's cracked up to be! Being big makes it hard to win at hide-and-seek. Ask Elephant! There's not enough leg room and you hit your head on stuff. You're too close to the sun.

Seriously? Too close to the sun? Pig scoffs at Little Frog's dissent, pointing out that being big gets him the biggest muddle puddle and bucket of garbage in the barnyard.

Not an incentive, thinks Little Frog. Then Pig points out something that he hasn't considered.


Maybe he will have that dinner after all, thinks Little Frog, as long as it doesn't come with a mandatory bath, in Dev Petty's latest about his contrary kid frog, I Don't Want to Be Big (Doubleday and Company, 2016), in this sequel to Petty's oppositional juvenile frog, who made his first appearance in Petty's hit picture book I Don't Want to Be a Frog, (See review here).

In this sequel author Petty again uses the cantankerous preschooler model to good effect, assisted by artist Mike Boldt, whose clever book design (with much of the dialog carried out in thought or speech balloons) and hilarious cartoon illustrations put this one over the top. Boldt's textless, two-page spread of scary red-eyed tree frogs glaring down en masse guarantees giggles from young listeners, especially the ones inclined to negotiate each deal with impatient parents.

For those weary elders, it must be noted that author Dev Petty slyly ends each book with the contentious tot eating his dinner, which is the primary premise behind the whole thing. Score: Big Frog 2, Little Frog 0!

Says School Library Journal, "An amusing book about why getting big doesn't necessarily mean you have to grow up."

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Flour Power: Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off by Herman Parish

"SHHHHHHH!" said Mr. Rogers, as Amelia Bedelia came in.

"Don't mind him," said Mrs. Rogers. "He's watching his favorite television program."

Chef DuJour was saying, "I'll pick the winner of my Big Bake-Off prize, $1000!"

"Wow!" said Mr. Rogers. "That's a lot of dough!"

"Not really," said Amelia Bedelia. "A thousand bucks is a lot of deer, but there's no doe there."

Amelia Bedelia is the queen of the misunderstood homonym, and even on her day off, she's off and running. Mr. Rogers suggests that Amelia should enter her famous lemon meringue pie in Chef DuJour's Bake-Off, but Amelia points out that she's too busy subbing as chief baker at Grace's Cookie Shop for the day, assisted as usual by her partner in malapropism, Cousin Alcolu.

And soon, over at Grace's shop, Amelia Bedelia and Alcolu set out bravely to follow Grace's plan for the day. First on the list is to bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and immediately there's a problem when Alcolu reads Gracie's added instruction:

"Cut the recipe in half."

Amelia Bedelia takes care of that expeditiously. One snip of the cooking shears and the recipe is cut in half. But chipping up all those tiny pieces of chocolate takes a lot more time.

Finally they two are ready for the second item on Gracie's list.

"Bake twelve pound cakes"

"That's a mighty heavy cake!" says Amelia Bedelia.

But math is Alcolu's strong suit, and he suggests they make twelve pound cakes and stack them up. But when they follow Grace's recipe, they come out with enough batter for 13 loaf pans full.

"Baker's dozen!" says Amelia Bedelia cheerily, but when they stack all thirteen cakes up, number thirteen falls off and breaks into pieces

And the last item on Grace's note is a bit confusing.

"Make one crumb cake."

A crumb cake? Oh! So that's what the thirteenth cake was for! Amelia Bedelia packs the crumbs into another pan, adds a topping, and declares the crumb cake done, such as it is.

But there's still one more culinary challenge ahead for Amelia Bedelia, in Herman Parish's funny, punny Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off (I Can Read Level 2) (Greenwillow Books, 2016).

In this brand-new I-Can-Read paperback edition, Peggy Parish's linguistically challenged housemaid carries on with her tussle and tangle with the English language, earning heaping cupsful of snickers from young independent readers.

In this continuing series by the beloved Peggy Parish's nephew Herman, the half-baked housemaid is highlighted by the comic artwork of Lynn Sweat, who also illustrated some of the original Amelia Bedelia books (including one in which Mrs. Rogers requested a sponge cake and Amelia Bedelia made one with chopped up kitchen sponges.) But, this time Amelia's baking is not only edible, but a real winner, in a jolly ending to this merry culinary mixup. Some of Amelia Bedelia's doings may be a bit hard to swallow, but, as School Library Journal" says, "..."fans of the series are sure to eat this up."

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Pied Beauty? Lesser Spotted Animals: The Coolest Ceatures You've Never Heard Of by Martin Brown




Up to there with bears? Peeved by penguins? Testy about turtles? Weary of whales? Curmudgeonly about all those ubiquitous cute critters?

Has Martin Brown got a book for you! Brown's brand-new Lesser Spotted Animals (Scholastic Press, 2017, Am. edition) is loaded with lots of quaint and curious creatures of zoological lore that may be gnu to you.



Take the numbat, an exotic compatriot of the well-known wombat (neither of which are bats, by the way), an Aussie marsupial without a pouch, mind you, but a mighty mite of a deep-digging termite eater. Reputed to be cuter than a meerkat, with stripes and a long furry tail, he's still on the endangered list.

Then there's Sammy, the sand cat of the Sahara, who in a small sand storm could easily pass for a orange-stripper house cat. The sand cat is one of those fairly rare psammophillic (sand-loving) creatures, which is a good thing since that's that for his habitat. There is also the dagger-toothed flower bat, of southeast Asia, not a Dracula-wannabe, but a "peaceful pollinator," despite his formidable fangs. Talk about being an unwanted guest--how about the Cuban solenedon, one of the few mammals with a poisonous bite, so venomous that it's not even immune to itself (no hickeys for him!) And how about the gaur, a 2200-pound bison so big that he has had no predators to take him on since ol' Smiley, the saber-toothed tiger, went extinct, likely after breaking his long fangs on an ancestor of the gaur.

And if you think you know all about the lowland and mountain gorilla, what about the zorilla, an even stinkier African cousin of the skunk with white Groucho eyebrows! These and fifteen more quirky critters are profiled in this funny and fact-filled nonfiction book, offered up with wry, self-mocking humor within speech balloons in engaging two-page spreads illustrated by the author. An irreverent but serious nature study, this one comes complete with a glossary which adds more lore, including survival status from "insufficient data" to endangered. Great for middle-reader browsing, supplementary reading, and fine fare for a nonfiction book report, this rave-reviewed book is surely a first purchase for libraries and the zoological zealot out there.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Snow Stroll: Walking in a Winter Wonderland Lyrics by Richard B. Smith as recorded by Peggy Lee

Sleigh bells ring--Are you listening?

In the lane,
Snow is glistening.

A beautiful sight,
We're happy tonight.
Walking in a winter wonderland.

Three happy kids and their parents make the best of new-fallen snow, as they sally forth for a twilight stroll in this salute to winter, based on Peggy Lee's classic up-tempo ballad, Walking in a Winter Wonderland (Henry Holt and Company, 2016). With the original lyrics by Richard B, Smith, artist Tom Hopgood takes the song into a new medium, proffering lovely, impressionistic pastel and crayon illustrations on full-bleed double-page spreads, with the focus on family fun and woodland creatures. The artist sets his scenes in varied soft shades of blue, punctuated by bright touches of color in the children's winter garb, the red-orange fox, and the scattered accent of musical notes which remind us that these words are meant to be sung.

Foxes, squirrels, a snowy owl and several deer appear to go along as the wintry-wrapped kids throw some snowballs, take a turn sledding, and even share a warming campfire.

And of course, they build a snowman.

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
And pretend that he's a circus clown.

As poet Robert Frost put it, the family happily "watches the woods fill up with snow," ending with the sight of a beautiful bare tree bedecked with silvery ice crystals against a black sky. As Kirkus Reviews sums it up, "Both text and pictures cohere into utter cheerfulness, sure to get anybody singing along."

Artist Hopgood is also the notable illustrator of What a Wonderful World, celebrating Louis Armstrong's famous song, and Wow! Said the Owl.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

's No Day in the Park! Bunny Slopes by Claudia Rueda


Want to join me for a ski day?

But where's the snow? Could you please ((SHAKE)) the book?

From page one, this bunny takes charge, even though only the tip of his red scarf and skis are in sight on page right. He exhorts us to shake the snow right out of the clouds and onto the slopes.

Whoa! Too much snow.

Can you tap tap tap on the top of the book?

Okay. That leveled out that mound of snow, level being the operant word here. But skiing requires some slope.

Now maybe you can help me go downhill. Can you ((TILT)) the book to your right?

That's not exactly downhill. Maybe you could ((TILT)) the book a bit more?

CARROTS! What fun!

But this bossy bunny is not done with us, dear reader. He manages to ski himself over a cliff and to land tangled upside down in a tree (requiring reading the text upside down, and more shaking is in order to get him back on his downhill run.)

But... But ... Bunny! Look out for that hole!

Oh, WHEW! He straddled it. Perfect. Now off the ski jump!

LOOK OUT! There's another hole ahead!


It's down the rabbit hole for sure this time.

(Hey, hasn't that book already been written?)

Yes, but this is not it, in Claudia Rueda's latest, Bunny Slopes (Chronicle Books, 2016), and in this day of the metabook, we know what we must do to, er, advance the plot, as we say. In this day, post-Tullett's Press Here, we know we have to follow directions to do our part to get this little ski bunny safe and sound to his apres-ski happy ending, where down the second die-cut rabbit hole means he lands safe in the family burrow with a cozy cup of hot chocolate (and one for us, too) waiting from Mom. Author-illustrator Rueda captures just the right tone for her dictatorial snow bunny, and her sweet and snowy illustrations have plenty of of kid appeal, at least for that initial downhill run. A good book for that midwinter snow-time bookshelf.

Says Kirkus Reviews, "...her bunny is adorably expressive, her scenes are simple and easy to read, and that gutter cliff is a masterstroke of design."

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Retrograde Motion! Fancy Nancy: It's Backwards Day by Jane O'Connor

Nancy and friends can't wait to get to school. But it's a slow trip, because they all have to walk backwards.

Why is everything topsy turvy? (That's fancy for upside down and super silly!)

"Goodbye!" we say to Ms. Glass.

"Goodbye!" she says.

Then we all sat down. Nobody faces Ms. Glass.
All the kids are wearing their clothes backwards. Robert is wearing a white shirt, suit jacket, and tie hanging down his back. Bree and Nancy have socks on the their hands and so does their teacher, who also wears a tutu on her head. They begin class by reciting the alphabet--backwards, beginning with Z!

"This is easy!" says Lionel. He means it's hard!

Their teacher reads them a story, beginning on the last page. Then Ms. Glass has the class make themselves nametags for the day.

They giggle at each other's backwards names.

 lioneL, treboR, eerB, ycnaN

It's a topsy-turvy day, running races backward and having a retro-style fashion show, and when the day is over and everyone is in line to go home .sM ssalG bids her class a reverse farewell.

"See you yesterday!"

Who wouldn't want to spend a backwards day in Fancy Nancy Clancy's class? And beginning readers can do just that with Jane O'Connor's newest I-Can-Read book,Fancy Nancy: It's Backward Day! (I Can Read Level 1) (Harper, 2016). With ebullient illustrations in the style of Robin Glasser, artist Ted Enik keeps the retrograde motion going in retro-style, and author O'Connor adds a glossary of vocabulary-enhancing "Nancy's Fancy Words" from the text: delectable, ensemble, extremely, nonsensical, and, of course, topsy turvy.

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Strange Sights! My Weird School Goes to the Museum by Dan Gutman


"My name is Andrea and I love school.

I love tests. I love homework. I love teachers, and teachers love me.

Who wouldn't want to be teacher's pet?"

A. J. wouldn't. His ambition is to be class clown, and in that he's already been notably successful.

Andrea doesn't understand how A.J. qualified as "Talented and Gifted," but there he is, paired with her for a special tour of the art museum.

Ugh. It's bad enough to have to put up with A.J.'s silly shenanigans, but to make it worse, the rest of the class say they must be in LOVE! (Andrea thinks they are, but A.J. just doesn't know it--yet!)

At the museum, their personal guide Mr. Meezer has been informed that one of them may not be the well behaved. When A.J. persists in calling their guide "Mr. Geezer," Andrea is sure he'll know which one of them is the one prone to mischief.

But it doesn't work out that way. In the sculpture section, A.J. reacts to a nude statue.

"I can see his butt!" A. J. whispers.

"We're looking at fine art and all you can see is a BUTT?" Andrea protests.

"YOUNG LADY!" says Mr. Meezer. "You are being very immature!"

Andrea tries to explain.

"But...but... but..." she stammers.

"I TOLD you not to say that!" says Mr. Meezer.

Mr. Meezer's got it all wrong. Clearly he thinks Andrea is the misbehaving one of the pair, and as the tour goes on, it only gets worse, and finally it is Andrea who gets sent back early to Ella Mentary School in disgrace. She is humiliated. Will she lose her status as teacher's pet?

But luckily, A. J. is more worried about losing his status as class clown and cheerfully takes the rap for her, in Dan Gutman's latest in series, My Weird School Goes to the Museum (I Can Read Level 2) (HarperCollins, 2016). There's some witty wordplay and a bit of boy-girl humor in this independent reader, with Jim Paillot's jolly digital illustrations of funny field trip doings to elaborate Gutman's narrative. This more advanced easy reader is good for individualized independent reading practice and also serves as an introduction to Gutman's beginning chapter books in his My Weird School Daze 12-Book Box Set: Books 1-12. Dan Gutman is also the notable author of two very popular middle reader series, his time-traveling Baseball Card Adventures and his science fiction series, the Genius Files, page-turning novels that will take readers right into young adult status.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

A Message In A Bottle: The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles lived alone on a high spot with only one tree for shade.

He always kept an eye on the waves, watching for a glint of glass.

He had a job of utmost importance.

The shabby, worn old beachcomber, reeking of seaweed and perpetual damp. is the postman of the sea. As he sees his job, it is crucial that any message found in a sea-tossed bottle be delivered to its intended destination. Delivery is not easy. But still he is steadfast in his duty, searching till his compass grows rusty.

Sometimes the messages were old, crunchy, like leaves in the fall, written by a quill dipped in sadness.

But the old beachcomber, whose real name has long since been forgotten, loves his work, because sometimes the messages make people happy. He wonders if he will ever find a message addressed to himself so that he might be glad, too. But who would send him a message?

Each time a part of him hoped to to see his name winking at the top of a page. But then he remembered he had no name and no friends.

Then one day the old sea scrounger finds a message with no intended recipient and no signature, just an open invitation to a party at the village seaport at eventide. It ends...

"Will you come, please?"

He asks about the village. Does anyone know anything about the sender, he asks the baker and a sailor and a resting seagull. The chocolate seller and a girl in a green dress and everyone deny sending the message, but they all agree they would love to dance at such a party. Disappointed that he cannot find anyone to claim the invitation, he decides to go to the appointed place and time of the party and if the sender is there, to make his apologies for failing to deliver.

And when the man arrives at the seaport at sunset, he finds the place decorated in seaweed garlands studded with starfish, and bright candles floating in seashells. The baker is there with a huge cake, and it seems the whole village is there also, even a band, and he himself dances to the music with a girl in green.

It seems that everyone, like he himself, was waiting for an invitation.

In her little parable of loneliness and friendship found, Michelle Cuevas' new The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles (Dial Books, 2016) is as misty and lovely a tale as her seaside setting. The author takes the idea of the message in a bottle and its intriguing mystery as a symbol for the very human desire to make contact with each other, and the lonely figure of the nameless postman of the sea trying to make that human connection is one that people of any age will understand. Cuervas' narrative language is as lyrical as any poem, and Caldecott Award-winning artist Erin Stead sets the mood magically, with wispy, fog-ridden, and evocative images of seaside flotsam and salty citizens that fit the premise perfectly. "A perfect pairing of text and art. Share this quiet story with your wishers and dreamers," says School Library Journal.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Snickers, Giggles, and Guffaws! Belly Laugh: Riddles and Puns for Kids by Bethany Straker

What is there a lot of in the Pacific Ocean?

Water. [Duh!]

In Bethany Straker's just published new edition of Belly Laugh Riddles and Puns for Kids: 350 Hilarious Riddles and Puns (Sky Pony Press, 2016), there are purely silly riddles. And then there are some downright literary ones.

When is it possible for Friday to come before Thursday?

In a dictionary.

How is the letter "E" like London?

Because "E" is the capital of England.

Some riddles are downright ancient.

What is tiny and sharp and has only one eye?

A needle.

And some are quite modern.

Why do you always find the remote in the last place you look?

Because when you find it, you quit looking!

It takes all kinds, and this sturdy joke and riddle book has all sorts of them, 350 in all, for kids from primary grades up, and just in case you don't have a sarcastic big brother or sister handy, it also comes with a handy DUH! button to provide the silly, snarky sound effects. This one provides enough witty, quirky, punny, silly, and intellectual humor to please everyone who appreciates a good quip.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Where Y'at! Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews and Bryan Collier

"Lots of kids have nicknames. I want to tell you how I got mine.

But before you can understand just how important music is to me, you have to know how important it is to my hometown. I grew up in a neighborhood in New Orleans called Treme'.

Any time of day or night, you could hear music floating in the air."

Floating along with the music in the air, little Troy Andrews always knew he'd follow his brother James into fronting a band. But first, he had to learn to play an instrument. Along with other kids in the neighborhood, he improvised all sorts of ways to make music, and every chance he got he marched along behind the street bands. But then his instrument found him.

"Then one day I found a broken trombone. It looked too bent up to make music.

It wasn't perfect, but with a real instrument in my hands, I was ready to play."

The trombone was twice as tall as little Troy, so brother James took to calling him "Trombone Shorty," and Trombone Shorty he was from that day on. He worked on learning to play, carrying his horn with him everywhere. He even slept with it at night.

And then one day, in the crowd watching R and B star Bo Diddley performing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, little Troy started to play along and caught the attention of the star singer:

"Who's that playing out there?" he said.

Mom held me up. "That's my son, Trombone Shorty!"

"Well, come on up here, Trombone Shorty!" said Bo Diddley.

The crowd passed little Shorty over their heads up to the stage, and he played along with Bo Diddley's band. Trombone Shorty was on his way.

Soon, at the age of six Trombone Shorty had his own band, and the rest is, as they say, history. In his Caldecott and Coretta Scott King award-winning Trombone Shorty (Abrams Books, 2015), the now world famous trombonist tells his own story, illustrated brilliantly by Bryan Collier in his trademark mixed-media collage artwork which captures the rhythm and blended harmonies of what Trombone Shorty calls the "musical gumbo" of the town of New Orleans and of the American roots music he now shares with the world.

With an author's note that describes Trombone Shorty's Foundation and Music Academy, affiliated with Tulane University, and with charming childhood photos of the author as a trombone-toting little preschooler, this one is great for reading during January's Black History Month.

Says Booklist's review, "Sharp panels of color and image, perspective that dips and soars, and layers of mixed-media collage unite to feel like renditions of brass band music itself."

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

On Beyond Pluto! Mission to Pluto: The First Visit to an Ice Dwarf and the Kuiper Belt by Mary Kay Carson

"It may be that the dwarf planets are not only the most common kind of planet in the solar system; they may be the most common abode for life in the solar system."

Kuiper Belt Objects like Pluto also hold clues to how our solar system came to be and why it looks the way it does. KBOs are like fossils--bits of ancient history. "There a real record of the early history of the solar system out there in cold storage," said New Horizons scientist John Spencer.

New Horizons was built to go farther than Pluto, billions of miles further. Said Spencer, "This is the one chance in my lifetime to get a spacecraft out there and look up close at one of these Kuiper belt objects."

There were myriad moans of anguish, many from school children, back in 2006 when Pluto was demoted from ninth planet to dwarf planet. But the one-time planet has become the Comeback Kid of the solar system in the subsequent years, In fact, even before Pluto's reclassification, in 2001 director Alan Stern got the go-ahead for his team to design a mission called New Horizons to make a photographic fly-by of Pluto and outward to reveal the mysteries of the Kuiper Belt Objects. On July 15, 2015, this unusual spacecraft was launched and threaded the needle of its trajectory to photograph the former ninth planet up close and personal, and it still sails outward into the outer reaches of our solar system.

And what a comeback this was! This mission has helped revealed much about the beloved little has-been planet, first discovered by farmboy Clyde Tombaugh with his homemade telescope. We now know that Pluto is an icy dwarf, possessed of icy mountains, glaciers, and perhaps frozen oceans and maybe even carbon-based life forms. We now know Pluto has five moons--Charon, Hydra, Kerberos, Nix, and Styx, and some of its features photographed on that flyby have been mapped and named. We also now know that Pluto, unlike Mercury or our own moon, is strangely geologically active and has an atmosphere that extends 1000 miles above its surface. Pretty cool stuff for a demoted icy dwarf!

"This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity can have on many other icy worlds," say John Spencer.

"Finding out that Pluto is geologically active after 4.5 billion years--there's not big enough typeface to write that [headline] in," said scientist Alan Stern. "It's unbelievable."

Thanks to this unusual spacecraft, appropriately launched with some of Clyde Tombaugh's ashes, this craft continues to sail on beyond Pluto to help reveal the mysteries of the Kuiper Belt and its space bodies, those keepers of the history of our solar system. Young men and woman at its inception, the builders of New Horizons may someday be delaying retirement, still excited by the discoveries yet to come from their historic mission.

Mary Kay Carson's Mission to Pluto: The First Visit to an Ice Dwarf and the Kuiper Belt (Scientists in the Field Series) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) is the latest in the noted Scientists in the Field series, but unlike many of the earlier entries, these scientists don't go outside into "the field" to study sharks, dolphins, and feathered raptors, or even down into the depths of a cave. Their field is truly far-out--flying into the outer reaches of the solar system, and although they do their work inside their facilities, they, too, are also virtually cruising with their creation through the oceans of space, the Kuiper Belt sea, and beyond. And among space-loving middle readers, this new book will take them along on a remarkable space voyage as well, from the first idea for the New Horizon vehicle to its ongoing discoveries for years to come. "Come fly with me," this book says, until we reach the boundaries of our solar system, perhaps finding the real "Planet Nine" along the way.

This book documents with ample photographs the whole story of the New Horizon mission from the beginning, and author Carson adds an appendix with glossary, bibliography, links to websites, and an index.

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Monday, January 09, 2017

BEWARE OF THE HAMSTER! Ferocious Fluffity by Erica Perl

Mr. Drake's class has a new pet.She's tiny and cute; she looks so sweet! They love her fluff and her neat little feet. But Mr. Drake has an important pet point to make.

"Look, don't touch!
She's too little. It's too much!

Though the children nodded YES,
Did they mean it? Take a guess.

The kids in Room 2-D all secretly plan to get their hands on Fluffity at the first opportunity.

And then fate steps in. Mr. Drake sleeps late. The unsupervised class shouts HOORAY! Today is the day for Fluffity's first hands-on experience!

No one's sure who held her first.
Things got bad. Then things got worse.

She was tiny, she was cute.
She was also quite a brute!

Bert is the first to be bit, but when he yells, (Yee-OUCH!), another student catches Fluffity and gets chomped. The hamster goes from hand to hand, with the same results, from Zonder and Zuna to both Kevin K and Kevin B. Fluffity takes it on the lam down the hall, with Nathan getting the worst of the capture effort.

She bit "Dathan" on his "dose."

She bit Perrie, Pam and Paul.
She bit them, bit them, bit them all.

As the kids from Room 2-D take refuge in the library from their mighty-bitey mite, Mr. Drake rushes in, just in time to get bit on the ankle. It's not exactly the sharing and shared experience he had in mind for their first classroom pet.

All's well at last, as Mr. D. calms Room 2-D and restores Fluffity to her hamster habitat, explaining that hamsters have to be handled tactically until they settle in and suggests letting their pet release some of her nervous energy on her exercise wheel before approaching her again. And then he surprises the class with their second classroom pet--Jake the Snake. The kids are thrilled, but Fluffity finds that she is NOT.

Lila Perl's Ferocious Fluffity: A Mighty Bite-y Class Pet (Abrams Books, 2016) features her funny couplets in this witty tale of their tiny terror, with notable children's artist Henry Cole taking over the visual storytelling with his usual hilarious illustrations, from the fearful Fluffity to the well-individualized kids in the class and the mega-cool Mr. Drake. Cole even manages to put in a plug for books and reading in the bulletin boards posted in the classroom, hall, and particularly the apropos BOOKS YOU CAN SINK YOUR TEETH INTO! in the library. A perfect cautionary tale for kids (and teachers) contemplating a new class pet!

Lila Perl and Henry Cole are the co-creators of the noted giggle-fest pair, Chicken Butt and Chicken Butt's Back! (See reviews here.)

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Sunday, January 08, 2017

Blitz the Blizzard! Pete the Cat--Snow Daze by James Dean




Pete and brother Bob bundle up in caps, coats, and mittens and head outside for a bit of snowball tossing. Then they build a snowcat outside their house.

They follow their friends' tracks and spot Emma and Trey already at the top of the sledding hill. Quickly Pete and Bob crunch up the hill with their sleds for some bellyflopping.


It's a day of snow fun to remember, followed by hot chocolate for all at Trey's house. Pete and Bob head home, tired and damp, and ready for an early bedtime.

But there's more.


It's Pete and Bob Have a Snow Day, Part II. They build a snow fort, throw bigger snowballs, make a snowdog. They sled down the hill. They drink more cocoa.

Ditto for Day 3. There's yet another sequel: Pete and Bob Have A Snow Day, Part III. More snow to sled in. More snowballs to toss. There's lots more snow to shovel....



S'no joke! There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and the kids are almost happy to see the roads plowed and the big yellow school bus coming, in James Dean's jolly little Pete the Cat: Snow Daze (My First I Can Read) (Harper, 2016), in Harper's venerable series for emergent readers, as Pete exchanges his snow boots to walk in his school shoes again. This one is good to have on hand before snow days set in, and if they last too long, there's always a vicarious winter vacation with Pete in his sunny Pete the Cat: Pete at the Beach (My First I Can Read).

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Saturday, January 07, 2017

Swing Kids! Dinosaur Dance! by Sandra Boynton



Watch your step with a tibbity-tapp!

Dancing with dinosaurs is the tiny-tot version of dancing with the stars! All those celebrity dinos--the brontosaurus, who makes the ground shimmy and shake, the Tricerotops who tap-dances, and the pterodactyl, the original jazzy flapper, are there for the dance contest.

Velociraptor does the Bump, while Tyranosaurus Rex dances the Stomp, and iguanodon? He does the Deedly-Dah, and everyone tries out the...


Everyone is on the dance floor in Sandra Boynton's latest board book for little dancers, Dinosaur Dance! (Little Simon Books, 2016). Boynton scats the nonsense syllables that get everyone up and sashaying in her newest picture book for tots, featuring nonsense syllables and rhyming words and a pastel palette in which her lumpy, dumpity dinosaurs steal the show.

Pair up this one with Boynton's companion book, Barnyard Dance! (Boynton on Board) for
storytime assets that will make little ones dance with delight.

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Friday, January 06, 2017

To The Rescue! Cleonardo The Little Inventor by Mary Grandpre'

Geonardo's work shop was built on top of his house, on top of a hill at the foot of the mountains. Like his parents and grandparents and great-grandparents before him, Geonardo was an inventor. He hammered and welded materials of all kinds to build big inventions.

He live with his father, Leonardo, and his daughter, Cleonardo Wren.

Little Cleo Wren wants to be an inventor, too. But instead of big metal machines, she prefers materials from nature--vines, twigs, feathers and flowers, and sometimes even includes birds and butterflies.

Cleo's attention was planted in plants.

She builds a delicate whirligig, hoping to impress her father and her famous grandfather Leonardo, but he gives her only a pat on the head and benevolently dismisses her invention.

"Oh, what a sweet little toy!" he said.

As the time for the yearly town fair approaches, Geonardo spends most of his time in his workshop, crafting his masterpiece, a fantastic mechanical flying bird. While he works, he misses his little daughter, who seems to be spending even more time than ever in the forest that borders the town. What can she be doing?

Secretly, Cleo, inspired by the moon, is perfecting her own orb, a sphere woven of vines and powered by many butterflies.

And when the great day arrives and Geonardo cranks up the machine which drives his metallic flying fowl, it seems to be a soaring success.

"FLY, BIRD, FLY!" he shouts.

But suddenly disaster strikes, in the form of a great gust of wind which caught the mechanical fowl. It falters, wobbling off course.

Everyone was frozen in fear. Everyone but Cleonardo Wren.

It's girl power (well, actually, butterfly power) to the rescue as Cleo' Wren's nature-craft vine and butterfly contraption lifts off and rises to the occasion, in Mary Grandpre's latest, Cleonardo, The Little Inventor (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic Books, 2016). And with the assistance of her tiny but mighty mite whirligig, Cleo's inventions guide Geonardo's bird to a safe flight and little Wren is honored as a true inventor in the family tradition.

"Amazing!" pronounces the great Leonardo.

Artist Mary Grandpre', best-known for her decorative drawings illustrating the Harry Potter series, has a winner in her Cleonardo, The Little Inventor (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2016), brilliantly illustrated in glowing Renaissance palette and charming detail, which tells a story of a young scientist who perseveres and in her unique work finds a place in the family pantheon. As Publishers Weekly puts it, "GrandPré's spreads glow with richly embroidered textiles, exotic foliage, and dramatic lighting.... It's GrandPré's visual pyrotechnics that will entrance readers."

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Thursday, January 05, 2017

Beset by Regret! Nanette's Baguette by Mo Willems



Nanette, a charmingly bedecked young French frog, has yet to be sent to get her first baguette. Is she ready for the task?


Nanette is excited to be trusted with the task of buying the day's bread, and she is proud to set forth solo to the bakery.

But her trip is beset with temptation to loiter along the way. There's Mr. Barnette's pooch Antionette to pet, and her friends Georgette, Suzette, and Bret with his clarinet. Will Nanette forget?


She arrives at the boulangerie and from Baker Juliette she gets the very best baguette, pays her debt, and is proudly all set for the return trip. Is Nanette's mission accomplie? Not YET!

That baguette is still hot from Juliette's oven, and the aroma of the fresh bread goes straight to Nanette's head.

Soon there is nothing left of it but a few crumbs on Nanette's fingers and face.

Now Nannette frets.



Will Mama ever forget? Will Nanette ever get to get the baguette again?

But back home Mama's understanding embrace is warm and wonderful, in the welcome return of the warm and wonderful Mo Willems, in his latest yet, Nanette's Baguette (Hyperion Books, 2016). Author Willems' wordplay is as wizardly as always, as he makes the most of a selected set of rhyming words, while his wit is as wondrous and his insight as wise as in his other beloved books. Artist Willems sets his story in front of a Frenchified, cardboard-constructed street scene and with charmingly collaged characters (even sneaking in his popular Pigeon) in his own inimitable style, and all ends well with a welcome reset--yet another baguette which Nanette and Mama ate--together.

Let's hope Mo Willems will yet beget more stories of Nanette.

Among Willems' many Caldecott-winning books are Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, and sequels, There Is a Bird On Your Head! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) and companion Elephant and Piggie books, and his masterful treatises on toddlers and parenting, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale and sequels.

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