BooksForKidsBlog

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Egg-cellent Book Bonus! There's a Dragon in Your Book by Tom Fletcher

LOOK! THERE'S AN EGG IN YOUR BOOK!

That's a NOVEL surprise!...

But as we know, an egg doesn't stay an egg

It's cracking and ... hatching out a baby dragon--an adorable baby dragon!

TICKLE HER LITTLE NOSE!

A-CHOOO!

OOPS! There's one thing we didn't know. When baby dragons sneeze, they make little sparks fly all over. We have to blow out the little fires and hurry and turn the page!

But when the page is turned, there are little fires there on both pages. And when we turn that page to tamp down the fire, there's smoke escaping under that page.

LET'S USE IMAGINATION. IMAGINE A BIG WATER BALLOON, READY TO POP!

You DID it!

SPLASH!

The little dragon does a great job! The fire is out! Now, how about imagining up a giant ice cream cone for her reward? YUM! But that huge double decker leaves the little dragon sleepy and too full to fly! Oh, NO! How will she get back home?

Where there's a will, there's a way, in Tom Fletcher's latest in the Who's In Your Book? series, There's a Dragon in Your Book (Random House, 2018), another interactive story book with, thanks to artist Greg Abbott, the cutest baby hatchling dragon ever! Set in spot-art style in large figures and colorful text against bright white pages, this book is a cheery imagination workout for toddlers and an easy and fun book for emergent readers as well. For more fanciful brain workouts, see other books in this interactive book series, There's an Alien in Your Book (Who's In Your Book?), and There's a Monster in Your Book (Who's In Your Book?) (see my review here.)

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Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Mooshy Squooshy! The Piggy in the Puddle by Charlotte Pomerantz

SEE THE PIGGY,

SEE THE PUDDLE.

SEE THE MUDDY LITTLE PUDDLE.

SEE THE PIGGY IN THE MIDDLE

OF THE MUDDY LITTLE PUDDLE?

SEE HER DAWDLE, PLUMP AND LITTLE,

IN THE VERY MUDDY MIDDLE.

This can't be good! Piggy in her dainty little bonnet in a muddy puddle seems an anomalie. Whatever is she thinking?

Her brother Billy admonishes her sternly, but she continues to wiggle and giggle with glee, until Silly Billy gives in to his impulse, and joins her for a wallow.

From her tiny tea table, her mother exhorts her:

"FIDDLE FADDLE! GET OUT OF THERE! SKEDADDLE!"

Fuddy-duddy Daddy, in his plushy bathrobe with bar of soap in hand, has his plan.

"WHAT YOU NEED IS LOTS OF SOAP!"

BUT THE PIGGY ANSWERED,

"SQUISHY SQUASHY--NOPE!"

The Pig Family gives in and lets nature take its course, and they all succumb to the wish to wallow very merrily!

In this super silly rhyming story, author Charlotte Pomerantz gives in to a delicious and delightful wallow in deep wordplay with rhyme, alliteration, and shifting vowels that make this one a bit of a tongue twister, aided and abetted by the celebrated illustrator James Marshall, whose stuffy, fin de siecle-dressed pig family revert to their natures and dive way down derry into the so oofy poofy mud. A sheer joy to read aloud and a great giggle getter, this one is a gift to kids and grownups alike.

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Monday, May 03, 2021

Mountain Top Experience! Hiking Day by Ann Rockwell

 

TODAY MY MOTHER, MY FATHER, AND I ARE GOING TO CLIMB HICKORY HILL--THE MOUNTAIN I SEE FROM MY WINDOW.

Lacing up her sturiest sneakers and wearing her floppy sunhat, she loads fills her water bottle and stows it in her backpack. After a twenty-minute drive, they arrive at the bottom of the mountain and choose the red trail to follow. The leaves crunch under their feet as they reach the tall trees. Squirrels are stowing away nuts and woodpeckers are tap-tap-tapping the tree trunks for insects to eat.

"YUCK! BUGS!!" THE GIRL AND HER DAD SAY AT THE SAME TIME!

They stop to look at a fat brown toad, blending into the leaves, who greets them with a croak. The trail gets steeper, and Mom worries about finding the trail marker until they spot a porcupine going up a tree and see the blaze of red paint on its trunk. They spy yellow mushrooms and red berries along the trail, which is growing steeper. The girl sees a deer with big antlers leap away vanish among the trees.The girl notices that the trees are not so tall and the trail is stonier than before. Looking up, she can see glimpses of blue sky above. And then...

SUDDENLY THE GROUND IS A BIG FLAT ROCK.

"WE'RE AT THE SUMMIT!" SAYS DAD, "THE TOP OF HICKORY HILL."

"WE DID IT!"

The first mountain to climb is quite an experience, in Ann Rockwell's Hiking Day (A My First Experience Book), illustrated with the detailed and realistic drawings of daughter Lizzy Rockwell, much in the style of her famous father Harlow Rockwell. Getting to the top is a milestone for a young child, whether it's a mountain or the Washington Monument, and this vicarious "first experience" may get young children ready for their own first hike or walk up the mountain. Although they may not "climb every mountain," they will always remember their first climb with mom and dad. Says School Library Journal, "Anne Rockwell knows how to create a narrative that is engaging, soothing, and informative—just right for inquisitive young readers."

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Sunday, May 02, 2021

Sharing Shtick! Interrupting Cow and the and the Chicken Crossing the Road by Jane Yolen

The cows in the barn are enjoying a brunch of hay, chatting with the other bovines, until... Interrupting Cow intervenes.

"KNOCK KNOCK."

The cows are not the brightest beasts in the barn, so they answer:

"WHO'S THERE? (They never learn.)

"MOO!"

As always, Interrupting Cow cracks up, giggling helplessly, at her joke, while the rest of the herd, along with all the other inhabitants of the barn, run for the tall timber.

HUMMPH!

Interrupting Cow is nonplussed as she watches her companions vanish into the woods. Even the ducks in the pond swim away so fast that they leave foamy wakes. Owl and Crow change their flight plans when they spy her from the sky. What's the matter with everybody? Doesn't anyone like a good joke?

SHE'D ALWAYS BEEN CONTENT.

NOW SHE WAS LONELY... AND POSSIBLY JUST A LITTLE SAD.

But ahead Interrupting Cow spots a single elderly rooster standing at the edge of the asphalt, wanting to cross the road, but afraid of the cars and trucks and tractors whizzing by, his feathers blowing in the breeze from each of the speeding vehicles. Interrupting Cow feels the need to intervene.

"KNOCK KNOCK?" SHE SAYS.

"TOO LATE FOR BAD JOKES," SAID THE ROOSTER, "IF THAT'S WHAT YOU'RE PLANNING."

MY JOKE IS NOT BAD," SAID INTERRUPTING COW. "IT ALWAYS MAKES ME SMILE."

Rooster is not convinced. He suggests maybe she's been working the wrong audience or needs some new material.

"MOO!" INTERRUPTED INTERRUPTING COW.

Rooster is not amused.

"MIGHT AS WELL ASK WHY THIS OLD CHICKEN IS STANDING BY THE ROAD! GO ON! ASK!"

Interrupting Cow is suspicious that she's about to be made the straight man in this act. But she can't help herself."

"WHY ARE YOU STANDING BY THE ROAD? ARE YOU CHICKEN?" SHE ASKED.

"I AM A CHICKEN!" SAID ROOSTER.

Interrupting Cow felt like interrupting.

"MOO!"

It was the first thing that came into her head.

"ANY JOKE CAN GET TIRED," SAID THE ROOSTER.

"LIKE COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO?" COW ASKED.

Rooster giggled.

"SEE?" SAID ROOSTER. YOU JUST NEEDED SOME NEW MATERIAL."

Rooster gets safely across the road and Interrupting Cow gets a dubious new punchline in Jane Yolen's Ready to Read Level 2 latest, Interrupting Cow and the Chicken Crossing the Road (Simon Spotlight, 2021).

Any parent who has lived through the "Guess What?" "What?" "That's What!" stage of youthful humor, will be familiar with its inevitable "groaner" comedy, but this second book in Simon and Schuster's new beginning reader series combines the noted author Jane Yolen with illustrator Joelle Dreidemy's wacky rustic characters in a way that will keep emerging readers turning those pages. Share this one with Yolen's first in series, Interrupting Cow. As Kirkus Reviews writes,"Yolen tackles yet another classic inane joke and infuses its subject with heart and humor."

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Saturday, May 01, 2021

Strange Friends! Smell My Foot (Chick and Brain) by Cece Bell

"HELLO, BRAIN," SAID CHICK.

"YEAH, I KNOW!" SAID BRAIN.

"NO, BRAIN. I SAY, 'HELLO, BRAIN!' YOU SAY 'HELLO, CHICK!'"

LIKE THIS," SAID CHICK, FLYING UP ON BRAIN'S NOSE AND REPEATING, "HELLO, CHICK!"

"MY NAME IS NOT 'CHICK!'"

"BRAIN, YOU LOOK SMART. BUT YOU ARE NOT VERY SMART!" SAID CHICK.

"OH, NO?" SAID BRAIN. "SMELL MY FOOT!"

"I WILL NOT! COME ON, BRAIN. NO!" SAID CHICK.

By the end of this dialogue, young readers will know that they are in for a classic noodle tale in Cece Bell's Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot! (Candlewick, 2019). Whether Brain's foot smells good or not, Chick refuses to smell it until Brain says PLEASE. Chick demonstrates:

"SMELL MY FOOT, PLEASE!"

Brain gets down on all fours and smells Chick's foot!

Things continue in the same vein as Chick and Brain meet a dog named Spot, who agrees that Chick's foot smells good--because it smells like chicken, and he loves chicken! Flattered, Chick accepts Spot's invitation to come for lunch, neglecting to find out whether he will be a diner or the dinner. After much coaching, Spot says please and thank you as he ushers Chick to sit down in a bowl and sprinkles him with salt and pepper. But before Chick becomes chicken dinner, Brain arrives to rescue him. He asks Chick if he knows what food dogs eat. Chick guesses dog food.

"AND CHICKEN!" ADDS BRAIN!

Maybe Brain is pretty smart after all, in this beginning chapter book sure to gain giggles from early grade readers just trying their skills in longer books. Author-illustrator Cece Bell, already a Newbery Honor Medal winner, also earned the 2019 American Library Association Theodor Seuss Honor Medal for this clever first in series book for young readers. Set in comic book paneled page format, with four chapters and with plenty of silly interchanges between the two characters, kids will get lots of laughs (and perhaps a few etiquette hints) in this first title. Says Kirkus, "In this first series entry, Bell flips the repetitive primer structure on its head and transforms it into a winning oddball comedy."

Cece Bell's next book in this series is Chick and Brain: Egg or Eyeball?

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Friday, April 30, 2021

The Thrill of the Chase! Follow That Frog! by Philip C. Stead

KNOCK! KNOCK!

Dutiful niece Sadie enters her snoring Aunt Jane's chamber, bearing a tray with teapot and cup. The rooster is already on the foot of the bed crowing and the rest of the hens are pecking and grooming and squatting here and there. Aunt Jane protests!

CLOSE THE CURTAINS, SADIE! THAT COULD BE A SUITOR, BUT MY DAYS OF ROMANCE ARE JUST A MEMORY."

But the knocking persists, louder and more insistent, and reminds Aunt Jane of a memory of being bivouacked in the Peruvian jungle, cataloging amphibians for science when a giant frog swallowed the Admiral's quirky son.

"FOLLOW THAT FROG!"

"I DIDN'T CARE MUCH FOR THE ADMIRAL'S SON, BUT IT WAS MY JOB TO CATALOG THAT FROG!"

With devotion and not a little distress, Aunt Jane commandeers a motorcycle and gives chase, switching to tortoise back when the frog takes a bad turn at the Panama Canal. Aunt Jane switches her vehicle of choice to a seagoing bathtub headed for the Canary Islands, where indeed, there were an excess of... canaries, and where Aunt Jane takes the next blue whale going her way!

KNOCK! KNOCK!

Ignoring the increasingly loud noises at the door, Aunt Jane continues to describe the chase, past the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids and the ruins of Rome, and even gay Paree, where she says she and Sadie will one day see

"FOLLOW THAT FROG!" SHE WENT ON.

"ARE YOU SURE YOU DON'T WANT TO GET THAT DOOR, AUNT JANE?" VENTURED SADIE.

"I MAY NEVER, EVER, FIND THAT FROG, SADIE!" SAYS AUNT JANE, RESIGNEDLY.

KNOCK! KNOCK!

But Aunt Jane may see the giant frog sooner than she thinks, in the hilarious new picture book, Follow That Frog!(Holiday House, 2021)

With a jolly, cumulative, and outrageous plot, this new one from the award-winning Philip C. Stead, illustrated in the scratchy fine-line illustrations of Caldecott illustrator Matthew Cordell in the style of Quentin Blake, this story makes a good read-aloud in which kids will be chiming in with ever louder KNOCK! KNOCKS! throughout the charmingly ridiculous story. Says Horn Book's review "Text and art duel with each other to make the antics more and more outlandish, and every page-turn yields an unexpected and wonderfully ridiculous plot development. . . . All the while, someone keeps knocking at the door, where the perfect ending awaits on the other side."

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Thursday, April 29, 2021

Where There's a Will, There's a Way: Shy Willow by Cat Min

THERE WAS ONCE A RABBIT NAMED WILLOW.

WILLOW DIDN'T LIKE BEING OUTSIDE.

There were cars speeding by and soccer balls to dodge out there. But one day something novel happened inside: a blue envelope slipped through the mail slot into her house. Willow read the letter.

Dear Moon,

It's my Mom's birthday tomorrow. If you're not too busy, could you shine your brightest at midnight?

(Signed) Theo in the purple house on Eris Street.

It was a very sweet request, but Willow knew that someone was going to have to make a personal delivery of the letter. Who? And how?

WILLOW COULDN'T DO IT. ...COULD SHE?

She tries jumping with her strong rabbity legs, but falls far short. She climbs a tree, she hitches a ride on the back of a bird, but all those efforts, er, fall short.

But with a little storybook magic, Willow finds a way to deliver Theo's letter, and that night at midnight... a bright and full Moon comes down and shines right over Theo's house.

THEO AND HIS MOM SEE THE MOON!

Employing soft, wispy mixed media, Min creates gentle scenes give a dreamy quality that befits this tale of courage and empathy with a stranger that brings a new friendship.

Where there's a will, there's ... Willow! in Cat Min's brand-new Shy Willow (Levine Querido, 2021), a gentle fantasy with illustrations striking enough to make this gentle story a moving read-aloud and a message that venturing forth into the world to help someone is well-worth the telling in this self-absorbed world. A special story for a special child.

Says Publishers Weekly, "Employing watercolor and colored pencil, Min creates gentle scenes—the most striking of which are wordless—that radiate with hints of sunset pink, lending a luminous quality that befits this earnest tale of bravery begetting self-realization."

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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Treasure Quest: Oona by Kelly DiPucchio

OONA WAS SWEET... AND A LITTLE BIT SALTY....

... All of which behooves a little mermaid who lives in the deeps of the sea with her best friend, a cute sea otter named Otto, although not without frequent visits to the beach to collect seashells for her collection and visit with the folks in the shallows. But being a mermaid, Oona had a penchant for searching for treasure, too--coins, bottles, keys. Otto even found a pair of glasses.

BUT THERE WAS ONE SPECIAL TREASURE OONA COULD NEVER QUITE REACH--THE CROWN. IT WAS EXTRA SPARKLY!

STILL, OONA WAS DETERMINED.
.

But the crown was stuck in a deep, narrow rift in the sea bottom, and Oona couldn't quite fathom how to extract it, until, beachcoming with Otto, she found a long, spiraled and pointy shell that had distinct possibilities. But there was always a significant problem--a giant squid, a shark, a conk on the head from a drifting plank, and...

CRABBY CRABS! WAVY WAVES!

ALTHOUGH MERMAIDS ARE GENERALLY NOT QUITTERS... OONA SAID, "I QUIT!"

But without her quest, Oona feels as if she's lost her spark and finally, wearing the glasses to protect her eyes from swirling sand and carrying her spiraling shell for drilling purposes, she decides to dive deep in a final quest to fetch the crown. And even if all that glitters really is gold, Oona finds what she really needs to retrieve her spark may lie beyond, in Kelly DiPucchio's Oona (HarperCollins, 2021).

In lovely lush, watery greens, blues, and purples, Raisa Figuroa's illustrations of endearing marine animals are appealing, and little Oona is definitely not your usual Hans Christian Anderson OR Disney mermaid. Writes School Library Journal in their starred review, “This title celebrates independence, self-confidence, and bravery to try the new even after defeat as Oona becomes aware of the true treasure in her personal effort.”

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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Teach Your Children Well: Watercress by Andrea Wang

WE ARE IN THE OLD PONTIAC, THE RED PAINT FADED BY YEARS OF GLINTING OHIO SUN. THE CORNSTALKS MAKE LINES ZIGZAGGING ACROSS THE HORIZON.

"LOOK!"MY MOM SHOUTS--AND THE CAR COMES TO AN ABRUPT STOP.

"WATERCRESS!" THEIR VOICES ARE HEAVY WITH MEMORY.

The boy and girl in the car look at each other, while from deep in the trunk, their parents pull a paper bag and a pair of rusty scissors. Mom and Dad tell them to take off their socks and shoes and help them gather some strange green plants growing in the murky water in the ditch beside the road. It's called "watercress" in English, and it's something they remember eating in China.

The girl hates the cold water in the ditch, the mud squishing up between her toes, and pulling the soggy plants, some with tiny snails still clinging to them, out of the water and stuffing them into the bag. Their outing is forgotten as her parents happily load up their find and head for home to wash and cook their prize. The girl sulks to herself in the back seat with her brother.

ON THE DINNER TABLE THAT NIGHT IS A DISH OF WATERCRESS, GLISTENING WITH GARLICKY OIL AND FRECKLED WITH SESAME SEEDS.

THE MUD AND SNAILS ARE lONG GONE, BUT I STILL DON'T WANT TO EAT IT, THE GIRL THINKS.

Her parents point out that the watercress is fresh and free.

I SHAKE MY HEAD. FREE IS BAD. "I ONLY WANT TO EAT VEGETABLES FROM THE STORE," I SAID.

Mom sadly gets up and returns with an unfamiliar photo of her family--her parents with her and a younger brother.

"DURING THE FAMINE WE ATE ANYTHING WE COULD FIND. . . BUT IT WAS NOT ENOUGH," MOM SAID.

The girl is silent as she realizes that their mother's little brother must have died of starvation in the famine.

I LOOK AT THE DISH ON THE TABLE, AND I AM ASHAMED.

TOGETHER WE EAT IT ALL AND MAKE NEW MEMORIES OF WATERCRESS.

Andrea Wang's Watercress (Holiday House, 2021) is a poignant reminder that family stories matter, that we are all alive and here because of those who came before, and that there is an almost sacred meaning to the food that they provide to nurture us to live and grow. Wang's family story is especially relevant to recent immigrants, but all of us have ancestors whose struggles, however long ago, made our lives possible. Caldecott-winning artist Jason Chin provides the gentle realistic illustrations, justaposing the first generation children and their immigrant parents with the robust American corn in the field and the delicate wild plant on its own in the wayside, which remind us of all that sustains us.

Says Booklist, "The story reveals the chasms that can separate first-generation immigrant parents from their Americanized children and how confronting past traumas from another country and time can bring a family closer together. Chin’s illustrations masterfully bring to life the vast cornfields and colors of rural America."

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Monday, April 26, 2021

Grapefruit, Anyone? Every Night Is Pizza Night by Kenji Lopez-Alt

"TONIGHT IS PIZZA NIGHT. SO WAS LAST NIGHT. WE'RE MAKING PIZZA TOMORROW, TOO," THIS SCIENTIST SAYS.

"BECAUSE I'VE DONE THE TESTS! IT'S THE PIZZAGOREAN THEOREM!"

Pipo is a picky eater. She only eats pizza! Mr. Gonzalez at the grocery agrees pizza is tops. Pipo's papa pays him for the pizza ingredients and moans...

"I LONG FOR GRAPEFRUIT!"

Mom suggests other famous, fabulous foods:

Chicken pot pie? Chicken NOT pie.

Peking Duck? Peking--Yuck!

But finally Pipo agrees to do a neighborhood favorites taste test. She tries a bite of Eugene's mom's babimbap, fried egg on top and all!

Wow! It's plenty spicy and crispy, and pretty sensational. But better?

"I NEED MORE DATA!"

Pipo checks out Dakota's mama's red beans and rice. Uggh, they look like mud with beetles in it. But... Holy Pepparoni! Yumsome!

Then there's Farah's family's tagine. Who'd think apricots and chicken could be so good together! Dumplings from Ronny and Donny's food truck are like little purses of deliciousness. But better? Pipo has her emergency pizza slice in her pocket and does a comparison tast test! Hmmmm! It's close, but pizza is is still tops.

Pipo consults the food expert, Mr. Gonzales, who makes a Solomonic judgment:

"PIZZA IS THE BEST, BUT IT'S NOT THE ONLY BEST!"

Any way you slice it and dice it, there's a difference in favorite food for every time, place, and taste, in Kenji Lopez-Alt's hilarious battle of the tastebuds, Every Night Is Pizza Night (Norton, 2020). Author Kenji Lopez-Alt's lively language creates a intrepid and inimitable young taster who knows what she likes, but admits, as Pete the Cat would say, "It's all good." It's all in good fun, too, in Lopez-Alt's testy taster's scientific study of foodstuffs, illustrated zestfully in artist Gianna Rogierro's busy pages, full of fun. And for holdouts in the favorite food department, the author has her protagonist provide a simple recipe for a family pizza, in which Pipo prefers a topping of oregano and Parmesan cheese, Mom comes down for Hawaiian, and Dad perhaps wonders how grapefruit would go as a topping!

"Bold, bright colors, dynamic illustrations, repetitive refrains, and catchy, well-paced text make this book utterly rereadable." Kirkus raves.

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Sunday, April 25, 2021

All Kinds of Best Friends: Izzy in the Doghouse by Caroline Adderson

ISABEL AND ZOE WERE EACH OTHER'S FAVORITE FRIEND--MOST OF THE TIME.

They make each other friendship bracelets and wear them until they are gray and brown. At school they hang their coats in side-by-side cubbies so that their sleeves are in each other's pockets.

"OUR COATS HANG OUT SO MUCH THAT THEY HATE TO SLEEVE EACH OTHER!" JOKES IZZY.

But Izzy tends to take her ideas a bit over the top. They get into trouble as, with toilet paper streaming from their waistbands, they twitter like lizards running down the halls at school, and when at recess she tries to get a Kindergarten boy to pretend a pinecone is cookie and take a bite, both girls find themselves on the carpet in the principal's office.

Zoe blames Izzy for getting her in trouble and chooses a less rambunctious playmate after school. Bernadette turns Izzy down: Patty has piano lessons after school; and Nima says she has soccer practice. Izzy has a dull afternoon at home with her nanny Rosa, who wants to watch her soap opera in peace, and to make it worse, Mom is away on a business trip and won't be home until late. Izzy sleeps downstairs waiting for mom to get home and when she does, Izzy gets more bad news: Mom has an important business meeting the next day, so they can't have their usual Hooky Day and stay in their PJs together all day.

IZZY IS IN THE DOGHOUSE.

But when the next day Mom declares a Make-up Hooky Day, she has another great surprise for Izzy! They are going to adopt a puppy! Since Izzy herself is adopted, she is delighted. But when they bring Rollo home, she realizes that it takes a lot of thinking ahead to take care of a baby puppy.

"HE COULD CHEW CORDS THAT AREN'T UNPLUGGED OR GET STUCK UNDER SOMETHING. OR KNOCK SOMETHING OVER AND GET SQUASHED!"

And when Zoe asks for a playdate so she can see Rollo, Izzy forgets to lock his crate when he naps, and she's horrified when they can't find him anywhere!

"ZOE! WE HAVE TO FIND HIM. YOU CAN'T LEAVE A BABY ALONE! SOMETHING TERRIBLE COULD HAPPEN!"

But then Izzy realizes that she is the one who knows exactly how to find Rollo, in Caroline Adderson's Izzy in her Doghouse (Kids Can Press, 2020). In her new series for early chapter book readers, author Adderson has a character who is even more "over-the-top" than Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby. Adderson goes bravely into the weeds of an unusual family with a more rambunctious and less perceptive young heroine, but catches the moment when the impetuous Isabel suddenly discovers what responsibility to others means.

This is a endearing story, with an infectuously funny character that promises to equal Adderson's beginning chapter success with her Jasper John Dooley: Left Behind series, and Kelly Collier's funny line drawings break up the text and enrich and advance the story line with pazzazz that just fits Izzy. Says Kirkus Reviews, "An endearing, energetic take on chapter books for transitioning readers.

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Saturday, April 24, 2021

Pouches, Pouches! Super Marsupials Kangaroos, Wombats and More by Katherine Kehne


Humans keep their babies in cribs and car seats and carry them in their arms, but all 300 kinds of marsupials protect them in pouches on their bodies!

Marsupials are different from mammals like humans and bats, and dogs and cats.

All marsupials are born pink and hairless, tiny as a bean. They can't see or hear. They have no hind legs.

Marsupial newborns must make their way into their mother's pouches, where they are rewarded with milk and a leisurely period of growing legs and hair and finishing up with their ears and eyes and whatever else they need. This process can even last for months, as in the case of kangaroos, before they hop out, and they can still hop back, performing an amazing somersault, into the pouch for protection until they are big and strong.

Kangaroos live on the ground, have large tails that they use for balance, hopping high and far in groups called "mobs," and eating greenery. But other marsupials, like koalas and tree kangaroos are arboreal, preferring to spend most of their time climbing around in trees with their strong claws. Sugar gliders, sometimes called "flying squirrels," have "wings" of loose skin that they spread to glide between branches and even trees. The only marsupials outside of Australia, the North American opossum, can actually hang by their tails from branches, although they also spend part of their time on looking for all kinds of foods on the ground. And back in Australia, wombats dig underground tunnels and chambers.  And the rare Tasmanian devil is one scary-looking critter on the ground, screaming and spinning to frighten predators away!

But all marsupials have the pouch in common, a cozy way to spend their baby days!

Illustrated in full color by Stephanie Kizer Coleman, Katherine Kehne's Super Marsupials: Kangaroos, Koalas, Wombats, and More (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 1) (Harper, 2019) introduces the varied and fascinating life forms of marsupials, perfect for reading aloud to preschoolers and for young animal researchers in the early grades. Kids love animals, and the marsupials are certainly a fascinating part of the animal family, exotic, awesome, some seemingly cute and cuddly, and some fearsome, but all likely to spark more interest in the varied wonders of zoology on this planet!

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Friday, April 23, 2021

Goodies, Inc.: The Cookie Baker by Monica Wallington

EARLY IN THE MORNING MR. COOKIE BAKER GETS READY TO MAKE COOKIES.

As the sun rises over the town, Mr. Cookie Baker is already in his snug cookie shop, attired in his crisp red-checked apron and chef's hat, with his ingredients--butter, sugar, flour, vanilla flavoring, spice boxes, and eggs--arranged around him as he consults his recipe book. He assembles the tools of his trade, too--graduated measuring cups and spoons, whisks, beaters, scrapers, spatulas, and a big red spoon to stir up all his ingredients.

With the sweet-smelling dough on a floured board, he pulls out his rolling pin and rolls out the dough just so and sets out his collection of cookie cutters. He cuts out stars and hearts, bears and bunnies, cats and chickens, and even Santas and angels, and with his spatula lifts them carefully onto cookie sheets, and pops them into his big ovens. Soon the cookie store is filled with the appetizing aroma of cookies baking.

It's still early when Mr. Cookie Baker takes the cookies out of the oven, perfectly browned, decorates some of them with icing and some with sprinkles, and transfers them to the cooling shelves behind the counter in his cozy shop, now filled with the delicious smells of warm cookies.

And his shop is soon to be filled with hungry cookie lovers.

NOW HE IS READY FOR THE CUSTOMERS.

HERE COME THE HUNGRY CHILDREN!
.

And the cookies soon vanish into festive boxes, paper sacks, and happy mouths, in Monica Wallington's joyful story, Mr. Cookie Baker (Board Book Edition) (Dutton Childrens Books/Penguin).

What's not to like about a a cookie shop presided over by a rosy, smiling baker? Author-illustrator Monica Wallington has a jolly story of sweets and kids together in a cheery shop with red-and-white checked tile floors and a smiling Mr. Baker in his red-checked apron. For toddlers learning shapes, for preschoolers prepping for a field trip to a bakery, for emergent readers and precocious cooks, this simple story with its simple line drawings and bright colors is a charming choice for young readers, with a sly suggestion of holidays to come. And of course, nobody doesn't like cookies!

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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Don't Fly Away! Lali's Feather by Fahana Zia

LALI FOUND A FEATHER IN THE FIELD. WHOSE FEATHER?

LALI SET OUT TO FIND THE FEATHER A HOME.

The first bird she saw was Crow, but he said "Na!" His feathers give him speed.

"THAT FEATHER IS POKEY!"

Peacock says his feathers are fancier than the one Lali has. Lali points out that the lost feather is good for fanning the fire. Hen is not impressed, saying her feathers are good for keeping her eggs and chicks warm. Duck denies ownership, and Blue Jay says his feathers are admired everywhere for their color, not like that pokey feather.

Lali likes her pokey feather. She tickles her sister's nose and makes her sneeze. She tickles her dad's feet and wakes him up! Her feather is fun!

Lali takes her feather outside to show off all the things it can do, but a whooshy wind carries it away on the breeze.

Lali is sad and begins to sob. All the birds in the barnyard offer her one of their feathers, but she only wants her pokey feather back. So all the fowl set out to find that feather, and soon Lali has her feather back and her feathery friends to play with all day.

AND THE NEXT DAY LALI FOUND--A BLUE BUTTON!

In Fahana Zai's Lali's Feather (Peachtree Publishing, 2020), she creates a "light as a feather" story, portrayed by Stephanie Frazer-Coleman in light and bright illustrations, folkloric art and dialog which adds a touch of the exotic to this barnyard tale of fun and friendship. Says Booklist, "A surprise ending will have readers predicting the sequel to this just-for-fun story.”

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Goin' NUTS! I Want That Nut! by Madeline Valentine


Mouse and Chipmunk are pals who happily play and share together all the time Until when one day they are startled by a loud. . .

KER-PLUNK!

And when they investigate, they see...

. . . a NUT! A BIG, BEAUTIFUL NUT!

Mouse and Chipmunk look at that perfect fat acorn. Both want it. But they try to be generous.

Chipmunk says Mouse should have it. Mouse says Chipmunk should have it. After this goes on for a couple of rounds, Mouse admits that he did see it first, but Chipmunk takes Nut and heads home.

Now the twosome is Chipmunk and Nut. Chipmunk reads story books, the kind with lots of pictures, to Nut. They cloud-watch together. They sleep together. Mouse, on the other hand, is alone and jealous. And he wants that nut! When Chipmunk flaunts his ownership and invites him to tea with him and Nut, Mouse arrives promptly, wearing a festive bowtie. He seems congenial, but he is only waiting for his moment!

"THIS IS LOVELY," SAYS MOUSE.

"OUR PLEASURE," SAYS CHIPMUNK," GESTURING TOWARD NUT, SEATED AT A PLACE AT THE TABLE.

"LOOK! A DINOSAUR!" SHOUTS MOUSE."

Now Mouse has taken possession of The Nut. He plays Tic-Tac-Toe with Nut, dances with Nut, and naps with Nut, but Chipmunk is not done. Disguised in mustache, fur stole and high heels, he claims to be the judge of the World's Most Beautiful Nut Contest and dashes off with Nut.

Mouse has had it with his one-time friend and the two square off at each other, each claiming ownership of Nut, until... they hear a new voice.

"ACTUALLY, IT'S MINE! THANK YOU FOR FINDING MY NUT!"

It's Squirrel who claims full ownership of Nut and has the bulk to enforce possession.

Mouse and Chipmunk agree that the whole thing had gotten totally out of hand, in Madeline Valentine's charming little parable of greed grown all out of proportion, I Want That Nut! (Alfred A. Knopf). Friendship wins out over acorn lust, with the help of a domineering squirrel claiming precedence of possession, in this comical and adorable story for preschool and primary students. As Mark Twain observed in Tom Sawyer about whitewashing a fence: To make something desirable, you must first make it hard to get!

Easy enough for emerging readers, page-plotted perfectly by author Valentine to set off her comic illustrations, and with its varying font size and speech balloons, this is a versatile picture book for reading aloud or as a beginning reader. Says School Library Journal, "Expertly drawn and designed to keep the action moving as tails fly off the page.

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Monday, April 19, 2021

WILD THING! Wolfboy by Andy Harkness

THE MOON WAS FULL.

Of course it was.

WOLFBOY WAS HUNGRY.

And not a rabbit in sight. Where are they?

Wolfboy was ...

HUNGRY!

Wolfboy stomped through the dark woods and through the clouded creek, and slogged his way through the soggy bog, not noticing the snorkel-masked rabbit watching from underwater or the one hiding under a lily pad.

HE WAS HUNGRY AND HUFFY AND DROOLY.

"RABBITS! WHERE ARE YOU?"

He climbs an old oak tree, not spotting the rabbits running out of the forest. He marches across Moonberry Meadow getting even more cranky.

WOLFBOY WAS HUNGRY AND HUFFY AND DROOLY AND GRUMPY AND FUSSY!!


Where are those wascally wabbits?

But what's that he spies in the tall grass? Rabbit ears? He charges, his snout wide open as the rabbits keep coming. But what's that they are all carrying high over their heads?

"WE MADE YOU A MOONBERRY PIE!"

WOLFBOY CRUNCHED AND MUNCHED..

.

YUMMY! Wolfboy is...

... HAPPY!

All's well that ends with a well-fed Wolfboy in Andy Harkness' jolly story of besting the Hungries, Wolfboy (Bloomsbury, 2021), illustrated delightfully with author-illustrator Harkness' clay sculptures in strong color contrasts and with a wolfish hero-villain, both cute and cantankerous, and some crafty cooks among the coneys in his woods. This brand-new picture book is clever eye-candy and wonderful wordsmithery, with irresistible rhymes for read-aloud fun with all kinds of possibilities for interactive reading with preschool and primary children.

With the fanciful, psychological, and visual power of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, Harkness has created a new classic for children today, crafted beautifully in humorous clay sculptures that portray a hopeful theme that when creatures have all they need, the lion figuratively lies down with the lamb, and the wolf knoshes on pastries with the bunnies.

Says Booklist, "“The text is delightful and simple, using repetitive variations that naturally encourage participation in read-aloud settings, but it's the exceptional artwork that truly makes this a masterpiece. . . . An imaginative and completely immersive reading adventure.”

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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Just the Right Word! Wanda's Words Got Stuck by Lucy Rowland


Wanda is a little witch who has a problem with spelling--but NOT the black C-A-T kind of spelling. Wanda liked cauldrons, black cats, witches' hats and black bats, and learning to cast spells. But there seems to be a spell on her voice..

IT WAS TALKING--SHE TRIED

BUT NO WORDS WOULD COME OUT.

One day a new girl named Flo appears to join Wanda's class. Their teacher, Miss Cobweb, calls on all to make her feel welcome. All the student witches and warlocks except Wanda shout a loud "Hello!" But the shy new girl can only blush at the sudden rush of greetings. Wanda feels a kindred spirit and offers her a welcome wave and a smile. Flo thankfully waved back. No words required!

FLO SMILED AT HER FRIEND AND THEN WANDA KNEW

(THOUGH SHE NEVER QUITE SAID IT) SHE'D FOUND A FRIEND, TOO!

But then Miss Cobweb announces the annual MAGIC CONTEST in which everyone will have to perform an animal spell in front of the whole school. Wanda has that sinking feeling when she realizes that she will have to speak her spell in front of everyone. But Flo seems unworried and promises that they will practice their spells together in the park every day. Will Wanda be struck with a tongue-tied spell before an entire audience?

But in the Contest, Flo and her partner Jake go first. Wanda waits for her turn as her stomach starts to churn.

Jake conjours up a black cat and then a dog! And when the dog predictably chases the cat...

JAKE MAGICKED A... LION!

So far so good. Flo steps forward for her grand finale!

HUBBLE BUBBLE! SHE CONJURED A... DRAGON!

YIKES! When the flame-spouting dragon turns on Flo, she is totally SPELLBOUND! Not a single magic word can she speak! Of all times to have the cat get your tongue! But after all those practices in the park, Wanda knows the right spell-breaking word to save her friend....

"ALAKAZAM!"

And although Wanda's shyness vanishes like the dragon with the applause of the croud, there are times when between her and good friends like Flo...

SHE DOESN'T NEED WORDS AT ALL.

Lucy Rowland's forthcoming Wanda's Words Got Stuck (Candlewick Books, 2021) takes on extreme shyness by dealing humorously with the problem in a sensitive story useful in the classroom for the beginning of school, a tongue-tied new student, and even as a multi-purpose scary season read-aloud witch tale. With the spirited illustrations of artist Paula Bowles and Rowland's lively rhyming text, younger students will get the message that indeed words (and friendship) can have magical powers!

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Loyal to the List: 13 and 3/4: Friendship List #4 by Lisa Greenwald

Everyone needs to have at least one person in his or her life who makes them feel like everything is right in the world even if it's not. Just one person.

Best friends Ari and Kaylan are anxious about their upcoming school year and all the changes that will bring.

But for their summer, they've chosen separate summer camps again, Ari at Camp Silver, where her little sister Gemma is also going, and Kaylan back at Comedy Arts camp. They have friends from the previous year, and even special boys, Golfy and Otis, who will be there. How will that turn out? they worry. Will everyone have changed over the school year?

Kaylan has cold feet about it all.

"I don't want to be thirteen and three-quarters. It's too hard.

I want to be little, still. Little forever."

As since the summer before sixth grade, the two turn to making The List for the summer to guide them. Of course, #1 is "Keeping Their Friendship Strong" "Write Each Other Once a Week," and "Make A Time Capsule of Our Lives at Exactly 13 3/4 and Bury It." But the other items they come up with are special to their camps. Some are serious, like "Make a Difference," "Keep a Gratitude Journal" and "Help a Young Camper Start Their Own List," and some are silly camp things like "Master the Art of Tie Dye," "Help Two Counselors Fall in Love," "Sneak Out at Night," and especially, "Do Something Daring."

Some of the things on the list work out. After several weeks of what seems like constant weeping, Ari's little sister suddenly begins to love being away at Camp Silver. Kaylan and her Improv partner crack up even their fellow Comedy campers, but Kay suffers through Family Day with both her mother and her dad with "his person" both attending. Golfy and Otis give them their first real kisses. But when Ari and Golfy sneak out after curfew on their "dare to be daring" goal to drive a camp golf cart (Golfy's idea), they are caught and face the possibility of being unable to return to camp again--ever.

Ari and Kaylan have a lot to share with each other when they return home. School looms just ahead, and they feel both excitement and sadness as they say goodbye to their thirteenth year and bury their Time Capsule together.

The best friends realize that things are changing fast, and that they, too, are changing, but they are still grateful to have each other.

"The whole world is like a narrow bridge. But the most important thing is not to be afraid."

In her fourth book in her Friendship List series, Lisa Greenwald's Friendship List 4: 13 and 3/4 (Katherine Tegin Books, 2020) follows close on the heels of her third, Friendship List 3: 13 and Counting, and join her Friendship List 1: 11 Before 12 and Friendship List 2: 12 Before 13, (see my reviews here. Greenwald has a good ear for the voice of middle-class middle school girls in a time of life in which the change from childhood to young adult comes all too fast for them, a time when the ground beneath their feet seems to constantly shifting. Although Ari and Kaylan have comparatively comfortable lives, they face difficult situations with their parents' marriages, shifting peer relationships, sibling problems, the health of aged relatives, and with their own friendship which they must navigate, knowing when to be (or not to be) "loyal to the list," as they make their way through the changes of early adolescence.

Says author Lauren Myracle, "Brilliant, laugh-out-loud hilarious, and heartbreaking (in a good way)."

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Friday, April 16, 2021

Too Much Speed! Not So Fast, Bash and Dash! by Rev. W. Audry

THIS IS BASH.

THIS IS DASH.

Bash and Dash are two small and new steam engines. You can tell by their names that they are all about SPEED! Every trip is a race!

Actually, Dash and Bash only like one speed--full speed ahead. They careen around the tracks, ignoring warning signs, not slowing down at junctions or watching for loaded crates swinging from cranes about their cab. There's a near miss at the crossroads, where logs from the log car tumble toward Dash!

WHO CAN STOP THEM?

Thomas tries to override their runs, but Dash and Bash barely miss the beeping bus crossing the rails. The two young engines turn and twist down the tracks without braking, trying to beat each other. They zip. They zoom. They don't observe the signs.

Watch out for that traffic jam! Oh, dear!

WHEW!

That near collision at the crossing seems to have take the steam out of Dash and Bash at last, in Rev. W. Audry's Not So Fast, Bash and Dash! (Thomas & Friends) (Step into Reading) (Random House). Poor Thomas is run ragged all over Sodor, trying to oversee and train these young engines to exercise proper speeds and caution, and perhaps they have learned their lesson, as the wise Thomas keeps the youngsters rolling down the rails in this introduction to two new engines in the Thomas and Friends series, which appropriately is set for the youngest beginning readers just revving up their reading engines.

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Turn the Tide! Crab Cake by Andrea Tsurumi

UNDER THE SEA WHERE SUNLIGHT TOUCHES SAND LIES A PLACE THAT IS HOME TO MANY INCREDIBLE CREATURES.

Clownfish, Manta Ray, schools of Tangs, Sea Turtle, and Octopus--all are doing their thing. Scallop hops. Deadly poisonous Lionfish does anything he wants!

AND CRAB BAKES CAKES!

Life goes on swimmingly!

Until one morning when there's a SPLASH and a CRASH! Trash sinks all around, metal junk rains down all over the sandy bottom.... The sea creatures are all aghast! What to do? Everyone freezes in place--except for Crab.

CRAB MAKES A CAKE

With Crab providing delicious provender to all, minnow has a suggestion:

WE HAVE TO HELP OUR KELP!

The other sea creatures do what they do best.

SNAPPER SHOVES. DOLPHIN DRAGS. LOBSTER LIFTS.

And Clam claps as the sea animals dump the trash where it belongs, piled on the people pier, topped by placards inked by Octopus:

COME GET YOUR JUNK!

And the kindly Crab goes back to bake more cakes, in Andrea Tsurami's adorable anti-littering, down-by-the-sea story, Crab Cake: Turning the Tide Together (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019). Author Tsurami makes good use of rhyme and alliteration in her very readable text and her nautical illustrations and speech balloons give this one the vibes of a comic graphic novel while she reminds her young readers that we've got more than kelp to help in our own treatment of trash. Says Publishers Weekly's starred review, "[A] wholly original and moving affirmation of one crab’s power to bring a community together."

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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Something from Nothing! The Whole Hole Story by Vivian McInerny

 

ZIA HAD A HOLE IN HER POCKET. THAT DIDN'T STOP HER FROM STUFFING SMALL THINGS IN IT--SPARKLY ROCKS, JUMPING FROGS, GOLFBALLS. SOMETIMES THEY FELL OUT AND GOT LOST.

But as holes do, Zia's gets bigger and bigger. One day the hole gets so big that it fell out of Zia's pocket. Zia doesn't think that was scary. After all, it could only be as scary as she could imagine.

"I HATE SCARY STORIES!" ZIA SAID.

So she imagines it as a fishing hole, where she catches a fish, and then a swimming hole. As she floats on her back, she imagines one fluffy cloud as a thirsty lion, who tries to frighten off all the other cloud animals. But they are all well-equipped with puns...

"THE GIRAFFES FOUND IT ALL HARD TO SWALLOW."

"WHAT BUGS ME," SAID ONE ANTEATER, "IS THAT I THINK THE LION IS LYING."

"SOUNDS LIKE A TALE TO ME," HISSED THE SNAKE, (who was mostly tail himself).

But their puns become no fun, so Zia dives deep down and pulls the plug on the watering hole, leaving her with nothing but a mudhole. When Zia gets mud, however, she makes mudpies, lots of them. But what to do with a big hole? BIG makes Zia think of elephants, so she spreads a blanket over the hole to make a deadfall trap, and sure enough, she catches an elephant. But now, what DO you do with an big elephant in a bigger hole?

But Zia is not wholly out of ideas yet, in Vivian McInerny's funny, punny story, The Whole Hole Story (Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021), in an expansive story of a girl whose imagination makes something out of nothing, which after all, is what a hole is. With the help of artist Ken Lamug's fanciful and outlandish illustrations, young readers will chuckle at the many forms a hole can be imagined and enjoyed and how Zia returns it to its proper place in her pocket by the book's end. Booklist is wholly pleased with this one, saying, "This charmer of a picture book takes an Alice in Wonderland approach to a young girl’s discovery of a hole... A vivacious tribute to creative thinking and play."

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Blues Are Best! Sweet Pea Summer by Hazel Mitchell

MOM HAS TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL, SO DAD WAS TAKING ME TO GRANDPA AND GRANDMA'S HOUSE FOR SUMMER VACATION.

Strapped into the back seat, hugging her toy rabbit on her lap, the little girl shares snacks and sings with Dad, but she misses her mom more and more as the miles roll by. But in their pleasant little village Grandpa and Grandma welcome her warmly, and a litter of kittens play around her in her cozy bedroom.

And the next day, Grandpa proudly shows off his garden, one with carrots and lettuces coming along, but the girl is drawn straight to the fragrant sweet pea patch, especially the blue ones, the most beautiful of all. Grandpa suggests that if she cares for them well, she can enter them in the town Flower Show. He warns her gently that the blue ones are the hardest to raise. Every day she gently ties the new vines to the poles, pulls weeds, and waters them with Grandpa's secret flower formula. But one sunny morning there's a tragic scene.

ALL THE FLOWER BUDS HAD FALLEN OFF THE SWEET PEAS.

She looks for clues to the problem in Grandad's gardening book. She tries protecting them from chilly nights and shading them during sunny, hot days, and she waters them carefully from the watering can every day. But the new buds continue to fall off before they can bloom. Until one day when Grandpa is spraying his vegetables in the next patch, she gets sprinkled with the icy-cold water from his hose! Aha!

GRANDPA! STOP! STOP!

And with no more icy-cold showers, her sweet peas flourish, especially the blue ones, the prize-winning, only blue sweet peas in the village Flower Show. And that's not the only surprise at the flower show! Her parents are there!

I GAVE THE SWEET PEAS TO MOM!

It's a happy conclusion to Hazel Mitchell's Sweet Pea Summer (Candlewick, 2021), a sweet story of family solidarity with the kindness and gentle care that nurtures both a young child and fragile flowers together. Shown rather than told through author-illustrator Hazel Mitchell's homey pencil and water-color drawings, this lovely picture book portrays a warm and loving family working together to do what good families do, care for each other and their world.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Best Badge! Bug Blonsky and His Swamp Scout Survival Guide by E. S. Redmond



 

Abner Vanderpelt has six merit patches on his Swamp Scout vest. I have only three. OK, two--the yellow one is just a mustard stain.

Bug Blonsky has little hope of winning a bunch of merit badges at the weekend campout at Camp Win-Kee-Noo. For one thing, Abner Vanderpelt's mom is the Marsh Mother for the trip. Not only does her perfume attract mosquitoes (to Bug, mostly), but she is prejudiced in favor of scouts whose skills tend toward listening and following directions.

Bug's abilities, such as armpit farting and being a true Bigfoot Believer, seem unlikely badge producers. It doesn't help that Bug's mom packed his stuff in big sister Winnie's Sweet Dreams sleeping bag with the glitter-sprinkled pink cupcake on it. She also fails to pack toilet paper, of which there is a dire lack in the Camp Win Kee Noo, and the outhouse is already stinky enough to repell Bigfoot. Mom does, however, redeem herself by packing emergency supplies--Swamper Doodle chocolate cookies.

Since Bug has made paper airplanes out of his Swamp Camp Survival Guide, he has to wing it by composing his own camp manual, beginning with Rule #1...

Go to the bathroom BEFORE the bus ride.

It's a memorable day for Bug, his buddy, Louie, and the tenderfoot campers, with bug spray overkill, rubbery hot dogs, poison ivy, and a canoeing adventure in which Louie and Bug both lose their paddles and have to be rescued by the Buttercup Brigade girl scouts from across the lake, loudly chanting ...

"BUTTERCUPS RULE! SWAMP SCOUTS DROOL!"

At lights-out time Bugs and his best friend Louie decide to break out his cookies for a midnight snack for two, which tattletale Abner spies and says....

"You shouldn't eat sweets before bed, especially if you've already brushed your teeth!"

To which Bug replies...

"... Not a problem. We have no intention of brushing teeth or going to bed."

Bug and Louie have a daring plan: they use some of the cookies to set up an irresistible hairy monster trap and plan to pull an all-nighter waiting to capture Bigfoot. Just as they are about to fall asleep on stakeout, they hear woeful sounds coming from inside their trap. Is it Bigfoot? Or is it Abner Vanderpelt caught red-handed with Swamper Doodle crumbs all over his face?

It's Bug's best-of-a-lifetime chance to get even by ratting out goody-goody Abner to his freaked-out Marsh Mother. Should he?

But all's well that ends with Abner Vanderpelt's heartfelt nomination of Bug for the Steadfast Scout Award, in E. S. Redmond's forthcoming slapstick Blonsky saga, Bug Blonsky and His Swamp Scout Survival Guide (Candlewick Press, 2021). With type-cast cartoon characters and bad boy Bug Blonsky, still a believer in the powers of Bigfoot, coming together in Redmond's second book in series, this is a beginning chapter book just right for early elementary readers who go for wacky, boy-pleasing high jinks. E. S. Redmond's opener in this series is Bug Blonsky and His Very Long List of Don'ts.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Sorry, Darwin! Orangutan Hats and Other Tools Animals Use by Richard Haynes

MAN THE TOOLMAKER! So proclaimed natural history scientists until the last decades of the twentieth century.

Darwin himself had noted what appeared to be incidental tool use, but when Jane Goodall observed chimpanzees choosing and shaping twigs to extract high-protein termites from their mounds and demonstrating to their offspring how to do it, she realized that what she was seeing was a tool-using, tool-making culture being passed down through generations.

Soon researchers in the New Caledonian tropics observed native crows coaching the young into intentionally shaping stiff leaves into hooks to fish nutritious grubs out of logs. Once primed to look for that trait, nature scientists soon noted tool use among a wide range of animals, from the heron who dangles earthworms as lures for fish to primates who defend themselves by throwing rocks or coconuts and welding clubs and spears against preying lions. Nature science would never be the same.

Author Richard Haynes introduces middle readers to recent research into animal tool use in his fascinating book, forthcoming today Orangutan Hats and Other Tools Animals Use (Candlewick Press, 2021), divided into chapters on tools for hygiene, health and healing, hunting and harvesting, comfort and pleasure, with humorous and realistic illustrations of Stephanie Laberis. Beginning with cleanliness, Haynes describes how primates like chimps and gorillas use leaves as napkins, toilet paper, and handy-wipes for freshening their fur. They choose plant parts as toothpicks, and fibers for tooth flossing, including macaques who snatch hairs right off passing human heads for dental floss!

Tropical animals like hippos and elephants smear mud, dust, and leafy debris as a sunscreen on their wide backs, and elephants choose sharp sticks to loosen ticks from their skin. Spider monkeys use crushed ants and noxious millipedes as insect repellants. Other primates know the right leaves for disinfecting wipes, and orangutans know the best plants for poultices for easing pain.

And for defense against other animals, monkeys and apes are skilled at collecting and hurling objects--rocks, logs, and even feces--at enemies and fending off snakes and preying cats with forked or pointed sticks or dropped rocks. Small boxer crabs wave poisonous anemones in their claws. Sea otters put flat stones on their bellies, place a mollusk on top and batter it with a big stone until the shell is broken and the nuturitious meat is all theirs! Capuchin monkeys pound dry soil into dust with stones to get at roots and tubers. And then there are the probe makers--monkeys and apes have learned to probe or dig with prepared sticks. The bottlenosed dolphins of Shark Bay, Australia, use their noses to probe the shallow sea bottom for burrowing fish, teach their young to protect their tender noses by shaping live sponges to fit over them for foraging the rocky sea floor.

Animals also teach their young how to make themselves more comfortable. Noticing that branches can offer shelter from rain, orangutans figured out that separated from the tree, they became portable umbrellas to take along in the rain. Elephants select the best branches as fly swatters, and the tailorbird sews large leaves together to make homes for their brood. And just for fun, crows convert found objects like jar lids into sleds for sliding down roofs, and ravens choose objects for games of catch on the wing or as toboggans in snow. Animals as large as American bisons have been observed "ice-skating" just for joy of it.

Should we humans feel displaced from our lofty position as the only tool user on Earth? Or should we rejoice that we are not the only ones planning ahead on the planet? We share many characteristics with our fellow creatures which we now recognize, one of which is the ability to shape and use tools. As author Richard Haynes puts it...

"LIKE US THEY THINK, THEY STUDY, THEY CONSIDER. WHAT SEEMED IMPOSSIBLE IS NOW POSSIBLE, THANKS TO THE USE OF A TOOL.

Haynes also adds those helpful human literary tools, a glossary, bibliography, and index. Says Kirkus, "Readers will devour this dynamic and informative explanation of the inventiveness to be found within the animal world."

For more astounding books on toolmaking animal geniuses, see my reviews here and here.

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Monday, April 12, 2021

Coming Home: Leonard (My Life As A Cat) by Carlie Sorosiak


This was not the way it was supposed to go!

It's unclear when things started to go wrong. Perhaps it was when I began to sprout a tail....

I was a cat, crashing into North America. Faster, faster, landing paws-first in a tree. And what a sensation--to feel.

For almost three hundred years, I had wished for hands. Humans might take these things for granted, but I promised myself, centuries ago, that I would not. It was so tremendously exciting, as I hitched a ride on that beam of light. This trip to Earth was about discovery. And I was ready. I chose the most magnificent creature on Earth: the common human--a national park ranger.

But instead of a ranger in Yellowstone National Park, the space traveler finds himself a cat, being rescued from a tropical storm in Turtle Beach, South Carolina, saved from drowning by a smallish girl in a yellow slicker, proving her claim to be a Girl Scout by grabbing the scruff of his neck and pulling him to safety.

Glimpsing a human up close was something like a miracle.

Olive, too, is not exactly where she would have chosen to be. Her mom has parked her for the summer with a grandmother she hardly knows while she and her fiance' head west to find a new home for all three of them in California--where Olive doesn't want to be. It's hard enough not fitting in with kids she's always known, and she has no idea what kind of creatures California middle school kids will be.

But Olive explains to her grandma Norma that she couldn't let the cat drown, and the once incorporeal being begins getting used to a real body--with a tail he didn't quite know what to do with--and the strange feeling of affection he feels for the the girl who saved him, the girl that seems to understand and want to care for him. Humans are both like and unlike the ones in "I Love Lucy" or "Dora the Explorer" that he had studied before. Olive helps him get used to a dish with crunchy things to eat (eating was new) and his own litter box (another very new experience) and a collar and leash so she can take him everywhere she goes. She begins to tell him all about everything, and he realizes that on earth, there is both the feeling of touch and personal feelings--fears, hopes, love. She even gives him a name--Leonard. How she knew he wanted a yellow raincoat like hers, he doesn't know, but she ordered it for him. She takes him to the aquarium where Norma and her friend Q work, and Leonard knows just the way to call the penguins, and Olive begins to suspect that he is no ordinary cat. And when she falls asleep with her laptop open and on, Leonard decides to type a message to tell her what he really is.

"I am an alien."

Leonard confesses how he came to be a cat in a storm-tossed tree in South Carolina instead of a ranger at Yellowstone Park, and he has to tell her that he must be there, beside the geyser Old Faithful at just the right instant in a month if he is ever to return to his own helium planet and re-claim his immortality as member of his Hive. Olive is both amazed and sad at the thoughts of losing Leonard, but she promises to try to come up with some way to get him to the right spot to return to his own place in space. In the days it takes Olive to persuade Norma and her friend Q to drive them to Yellowstone, Leonard has the surprising experience of enjoying everything he does. Even the long car ride--that most human of trips--the roadside cafes where they eat pancakes, the long dark nights of driving through rainstorms, the camping out under the trees and skies, and the feeling of being part of a sort of family is wonderful. Leonard knows that Norma and Q's making the drive straight through from South Carolina to Wyoming come out of their love for Olive, and that Olive, who loves him deeply, deeply enough to make him a Yellowstone Ranger's badge for his raincoat, enough to do everything to help him go back, is doing it all because she loves him.

"I realize that even though I've lived in a different body, I have really and truly lived."

Leonard realizes that as a mortal, even a cat, he can make a choice. As he nears Old Faithful, he hears the Hive counting down to activate his energy beam.

THREE, TWO....

Which way is home?

In a unusual fantasy filled with pathos and humor, Carlie Sorosiak's just published novel, Leonard (My Life as a Cat) (Walker Books, 2021) is about how and what it is to be mortal, from the tap of beginning raindrops, sunshine on shoulders, the surge of the ocean, the touch of a hand, and the love they are capable of sharing, even with a supposed stray cat. In a parallel with Olive, who has to choose to stay with Norma or go to California, Leonard has to decide to forfeit the immortality of the mind-meld of the Hive for the mortal life in the deep relationship of belonging in a impromptu family. What is it to be a mortal creature in the one part of the world he can call home? Young readers will love Leonard, alien or mortal, and also feel the warmth of love and place in this genuinely moving, very human science fiction novel.

Writes Kirkus Reviews, "A comforting read about connection and compassion."

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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Color of the Seasons: One Yellow Sun by Michael Arndt

The countdown begins with ten and goes down again as far as it can go, ending with zero, a nice round number. (We'll keep negative numbers for another numerical day!)

First comes a set of ten silvery beads, then nine round rocky pebbles in a conservative gray, and eight equally rounded raisins. (Raisins are more oval shaped, but that's a book for another day.)

Following the sweetness of the raisins, it's please pass the seven green peas! Rolling out next are blueberries, six of them, and yes, they are blue! Then we see five rounded, rollable purple grapes, four pink and spherical, burst-able bubbles, three red bouncy balls, two orange (of course) oranges warmed to summer sweetness by one bright yellow sun, and hiding, somewhere out of that sun... perhaps in Ultima Thule...

Zero snow-white snowballs.

Author-artist Michael Arndt draws upon his graphic imaging chops and a little die-cut, board-book wizardry to make each one of the pages count, in his brand-new One Yellow Sun (M books: see + read) (Andres MCMeal, 2020), with natural colors as seen in something round, in his introductory concept book which covers shapes and colors through the seasons. For the littlest color-lover, this is a tasty combination done with warmth, bright hues, and a surprise on each page as it is turned. A brightly designed "graduation" page for emergent readers takes youngsters up and down again numerically and verbally. Early preschoolers will enjoy guessing what comes next beneath each die-cut color clue, and beginning readers will be able to identify the word for each rounded object. Says Kirkus Reviews, "Simplicity at its finest—-don’t miss this innovative board book that’s as beautiful as it is educational.”

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