BooksForKidsBlog

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Rock On! Charlie the Ranch Dog Rock Star by Ree Drummond

YAWN! RELAXING WITH MAMA IS THE BEST AFTER A LONG DAY OF RANCH WORK.

Charlie stretches luxuriantly for a little down time watching the tube--when he sees something  that perks his ears up, if that were possible, that is.

Hey!  Check that cool cat, er, dog!

COOL SHADES! EVERYONE CHEERS FOR HIM!

I WANT TO BE A ROCK STAR DOG! NO MORE WORKING MY PAWS TO THE BONE!

HEL-LO, CHARLIE THE ROCK STAR!

No more working cowdog! Charlie decides to go for glitz and glam!

He rustles up some stylish sunglasses and the au courant slouch cap, tosses a silk scarf carelessly around his neck, and admires his makeover in the mirror.

"I'M THE GREATEST!"

Now it's time for the de rigueur celebrity photo shoot. The boy and his sister get the camera and take some publicity shots. Ahh, yessss! Charlie has finally found his look and is living the life!! No more chasing muddy cows for him. He's a changed dog.

Or is he? What's that smell? Is Mama makin' BACON?

Charlie's second career is put on hold as he heads to beg for bacon in his bowl, in Ree Drummond's I-Can-Read Charlie the Ranch Dog: Rock Star (I Can Read Level 1) (HarperCollins, 2015). With school underway, or about to be, all over the land, it's time to brush up on those reading skills, and who better to read with than that laid-back Bassett, Charlie the Ranch Dog. Luckily for early readers, Charlie the Ranch Dog has many starring guest appearances in his own series which practically offer every reader star status.

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Chopper to the Rescue! Yellow Copter by Kersten Hamilton and Valerie Petron

The Ferris Wheel stopped turning round.

Our teacher's stuck--she can't get down!

Who're you gonna call?

"YELLOW COPTER!

The pilot climbs into the cockpit, the rotors begin to sing their song--Whup! Whup! Whup! and the chopper lifts off for the fairgrounds.

Everyone pitches in to do their part. The radio operator directs the copter to the rescue. The harness descends from the copter, the teacher slips into it and is pulled safely to the cabin.

Hurray!

Down comes Yellow Copter, and the teacher is welcomed by her anxious class, in Kersten Hamilton's and Valerie Petron's jolly Yellow Copter (Viking Books, 2015). With simple rhymes and simple, stylized illustrations by Valerie Petron, this little board book introduces preschoolers to one of those many community helpers, the rescue copter crew who stand by until needed. Great for those early childhood education transportation and community helpers storytimes, or for fans of aircraft anytime.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Hey! Listen to THIS! National Geographic Kids 2017 Almanac


EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT

EVERYTHING!

Although that claim may be just a bit hyperbolic, the perennially best-selling  National Geographic Kids Almanac 2017 (National Geographic Childrens Books, 2016) is packed with plenty of fascinating facts, fabulous color photos, and fun features (comics, games, nifty crafts, jokes and riddles), and wacky and wonderful info to wow friends.

A section titled Trash Drop Off features the facts on how long various items consigned to landfills hang around--a football can be found fifty years later, a plastic water bottle pollutes for 20 years, and glass jars are actually awesomely resilient, lasting a million years!

There are chapters on celebrities of all walks of life, from sports to films, to halls of fame in almost every field, awesome adventures in paleontology, finding fossils with the well-known Leakey family, all sorts of animals, from pets to wild things, and weird and wacky weather phenomena and natural disasters.

Google is great for single factoids, but almanacs are compendiums of many subjects, best for browsing, with one thing leading to another, and National Geographic Kids provides the sort of irresistible and alluring literature that is the perfect gift for middle readers for birthdays, holidays and backseat reading during daily commutes and family holiday trips. With something of interest for everyone, parents may be tempted to "borrow" this book after bedtime to read for themselves!

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Making Grade A: Milk Goes to School by Terry Border

IT WAS THE MORNING OF THE FIRST DAY OF HER SCHOOL, AND MILK WAS FEELING A BIT SCARED.

"DON'T WORRY," SAID DAD. "YOU'RE LA CREME DE LA CREME--THE BEST OF THE BEST!"

So with a sparkly new backpack and a jaunty polka-dot bow, Milk is feeling fresh and filled with goodness as she arrives at her school, ready to make friends.

"I LIKE YOUR BACKPACK!" SAID CUPCAKE.

"THANK YOU!" SAID MILK. "MY DAD SAYS I'M THE CREME DE LA CREME!"

Waffle immediately decides that Milk is just too full of herself and fake whispers to Cupcake,

"I THINK THIS MILK IS SPOILED."

Milk's merry mood curdles a bit. First impressions are important, and now perhaps her efforts to upgrade herself have dampened her attempts to be nice. Still, she tries to make friends, asking Cupcake to sit by her and offering to share her crayons with Carrot.

"I DON'T CARROT ALL!" CARROT REPLIED. "LETTUCE ALL BE FRIENDS."

But Waffle is on a roll by now, trying to turn everything Milk says and does into evidence of being spoiled. Milk says she'd like to be Queen when she grows up, she tries to impress everyone by getting Grade A on the spelling test, and berates Soup for splattering her paper. Name-calling follows.

"SPOILED!" SAYS WAFFLE AT EVERY TURN.

"AWFUL WAFFLE!" RETORTS MILK.

Things have certainly gone "off" in her classroom. Milk is beginning to sour on this whole school thing and is sure nobody will ever be sweet to her again.

And then she slips on Banana's peel and spills herself all over the floor.

"QUICK! SOMEONE BRING IN THE KITTENS!" QUIPS EGG.

Beans suggests jumping up and down in the spilled Milk and making milk shakes. Waffle suggests cottage cheese. But Mrs. Pear steps in and the kids are reminded that Milk has tried to be nice sometimes, and they all stir themselves to return most of her to her carton. All the class find themselves a bit soggy.

Will Milk be really steamed? Is the first day of school spoiled for everyone?

In Terry Border's tongue-in-cheek latest in her comestibles series, Milk Goes to School (Philomel Books, 2016), all ends with a laugh as Milk points out that, thanks to her, everyone is now a little la creme de la creme, too. Savvy second or third-grade readers will find the punny food quips comically cheesy, while young kids will be amused by Border's anthropomorphic groceries with bent wire arms and legs, seated at desks and doing Kindergarten activities. Fans of Border's sweet 'n' silly foodie stories, Peanut Butter and Cupcake and Happy Birthday, Cupcake! will likely eat this one up.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Coulda Fooled Me! This Is Not a Book by Jean Jullien

It looks like a book--until you open the door that makes up the cover.

Inside you have to flip it to the horizontal, because what you see is a laptop, a screen with three file icons (DOG, STUFF, DOG STUFF) on top and the familiar QWERTY keyboard at the bottom.

Turn another "page" and you may find sheet music in the holder above a black and white piano keyboard. Another vertical page turn produces a refrigerator with the door wide open.

One two-page spread only makes sense when you prop the open book, inverted V-style, and peer in to see that you're looking at is the inside of a pup tent. Another double spread opens up horizontally to form the inside of a tool kit.

Some page turns let you look down at a scene--a tightrope walker bravely treading lightly over an abyss between buildings.

Illustrator Jean Jullien even packs a surprise inside a four-page gatefold, which opens into the room behind the door cover, with the other half of the cat exiting the cat door.

Artist Jean Jullien's This Is Not A Book (Phaidon Press, 2016) is filled with different ways to look at familiar scenes, with a surprise with every page turn of this Not-A-Book that shows off the power of changing perspective in a sturdy board book format filled with funny details that will fascinate kids of all ages. Publishers Weekly calls this one "...a tour de force of visual transformation."

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bearly Dancing! Ballet Cat: Dance, Dance, Underpants by Bob Shea

"LEAP, BUTTER BEAR, LEAP!

JETE'! HERE I COME."

Cat and her ballet buddy Butter Bear have stretched at the barre. They have rehearsed the positions, the steps: the eleve' and the releve'. Now Ballet Cat is ready for that money move of the balletomane!

But Butter Bear won't lunge. She won't leap! Butter Bear just will not jete'.

Ballet Cat cajoles.

"LEAPS ARE GREAT! THEY ARE SHOWY!

THEY ARE DANGEROUS!" SAYS BUTTER BEAR.

She gestures pointedly at the chandelier dangling above their heads. It's clearly hazardous to the heads of those who leap high!

Ballet Cat hauls out her ladder and tools and raises the fixture.

"NO PROBLEM!"

But Butter Bear is not ready to jete'! She needs a bowl of cereal. She needs a drink. She needs to go to the bathroom. No, not to the powder room. . . ! Bear must go in the woods!

"I AM A BEAR. I GO IN THE WOODS."

Ballet Cat tries to wait patiently. She frets as she fiddles with finishing a a puzzle. She scowls as she builds a ship in a bottle. Finally, much later, Butter Bear re-appears, yawning prodigiously.

"MY GOODNESS! IT'S VERY LATE."

Butter Bear declares that she is ready to head off to hibernate. But Ballet Cat stops her and demands to know why she is working so hard to avoid a few leaps. Sheepishly, Bear whispers something in Cat's ear that makes her procrastination perfectly clear.

Yes, it involves that item of undergarment that leaps will reveal, those unmentionables the very mention of which sends youngsters into gales of giggles, in Bob Shea's newest in series, Ballet Cat Dance! Dance! Underpants! (Hyperion Books, 2016). But Ballet Cat knows her specialty, and so does Bob Shea, who provides the reluctant Butter Bear with the proper underpinnings, a pair of rainbow underpants that wow their audience during the duet. It's a Brava! for the dueting ballerinas and a Bravo! for Bob Shea, whose illustrations, done in wide black line in pastels on pastel pages, tell the tale with just the right touch of squiggly silliness And with a text that is just right for primary grade readers, author Bob can take a bow for a fitting addition to this series.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

A Horse of Another Color: A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young

Lucy couldn't believe the ad in the newspaper!

UNICORN: 25 Cents

What a deal! She sends off her order with her quarter posthaste!

SHE COULD HARDLY WAIT!

"I'LL NAME HIM SPARKLE!

HE'LL BE BLUE, WITH A PINK TAIL AND PINK MANE!"

Lucy is lost in rapture as she dreams of bedecking her unicorn with flowers, feeding him upon pastel-frosted cupcakes, riding upon his white back under canopies of rainbows. It's a girl's dream.

But when the truck arrives and opens up the back doors, what emerges is not what Lucy was looking for.

Her unicorn is short and squat. His ears are way too big and his horn is not exactly magnificent. He has spots and ... well, fleas. He doesn't smell at all nice. And his voice is anything but mellifluous.

B-A-A-A-A!

Okay. This unicorn might need a bit of a makeover.

Lucy drapes a garland of flowers s around Sparkle's short scrawny neck.

HE ATE IT.

She dressed him in a pink tutu.

HE ATE THAT, TOO!

This is not a good unicorn! Lucy stomps off, but Sparkle follows right behind, nibbling her skirt.

This will not do! Lucy phones the Unicorn Man.

"TAKE HIM BACK!" SHE ORDERED.

The unicorn man promises to re-possess Sparkle tomorrow. Lucy is not happy being stuck with a defective unicorn who follows her everywhere and, (ugghhh!) licks her. She can't wait for the truck to arrive.

But that night there is a dreadful thunderstorm and Sparkle is terrified.

W-A-A-A-A!

Lucy hurries to help, bringing along her Bear-Bear to comfort him. When that doesn't do the trick, she tries warming some milk and reading him her favorite bedtime books. Finally, Sparkle closes his big eyes and Lucy falls asleep against his soft fur. (Presumably Lucy had managed a flea bath during page turns!)

And when the unicorn man's truck pulls up the next morning to haul Sparkle away, he bleats piteously and...

Well, young readers will guess what happens next, in Amy Young's latest charmer, A Unicorn Named Sparkle (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016).

As Mick Jagger sang sardonically in the sixties,

"You can't always get what you want.
You can't always get what you want.
But if you try, sometime... you get what you need!"


The perfect pet is the one who loves you, as Lucy learns that even a goat with one weird horn can be just plain loving and lovable, too. Young's pen and watercolor illustrations are comic and charming, with just the right touch of glittery fairy dust about Lucy's unicorn dreams and the right touch of reality as the stubborn girl meets the ornery goat and both emerge as winners.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Spoiler Alert! Let Me Finish! by Minh LE


Ah! Nothing like a quiet spot and a good book!"

Except... it's not. Just as our bespectacled young reader settles down under a tree to get into his book, his attention is interrupted by a small flock of self-styled feathered book critics:
"OOH! I loved that book!" gushes a bird from the tree.

"Me, too!" says a blackbird. "Can you believe his best friend turns out to be a robot? "And..". adds a red bird, "her hat was actually a time machine?"

The little reader protests that he's just trying to read the first page, flees further into the forest, and spots a solitary cave. Ah, peace at last.

But a bear ambles in, and taking note of the book, asks if he's gotten to the page where the little dog runs off. But not to worry....

"Grandma to the rescue!" he volunteers.

"LET ME FINISH!" THE BOY SHOUTS!

But no matter where he tries to settle down, our young reader runs into some critter who's already read the book and just has to tell him all about the best part!

If this kid is ever going to get into this book, desperate measures are called for--a metabook move! He's literally got to get inside the book, and  with a literary leap of faith, he does, right through the page.

Authors these days can't seem to resist throwing in a touch of old metafiction trick, and Minh Le's Let Me Finish! (Hyperion Books, 2016) is no exception, although with a wink and a nudge, the author can't resist letting the characters inside the book be the spoilers for a change. Savvy young readers who are up on their Herve' Tullet (see reviews here) will be hep to what's going on, and artist Isabel Rexas gets into the act with her goofy cartoon-style animal characters in fanciful colors that move the story, left to right, deftly across the pages to ... you guessed it!... THE END.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Which Way? UP...DOWN...ACROSS by Corina Fletcher and Natalie Marshall

Everything's relative!

And when it comes to locating things in space, that's tricky! Human speech does it with special words that indicate relative position, words that are hard to explain except in concrete examples.

And that's where a preschool toy-and-movable book like Corina Fletcher's Up Down Across (Sterling Books, 2015) can come in handy. In a very appealing design and with striking use of color, this board book features charming illustrations of different sea creatures illustrating words like BELOW, BEHIND, BETWEEN, AND ACROSS, as well as the basic UP and DOWN.

A mother seal bear and young one are up on an ice bank, down on the ice floe, and below the sea as they swim away. One jellyfish is in front of another, behind the other, and in between two jellyfish. Four different colored fish take turns as they go inside the kelp and through it and out the other side.

To make the words expressing position change more concrete Fletcher and illustrator Natalie Marshall provide pull tabs which allow the sea creatures to move from one rectangular opening in the pages to another as they change position in space. And to begin the transition to reading, not only do the animals move, but also the words themselves, so that when the seals move below sea, the word below moves into view, making the concept of spatial position concrete.

This book is a fun way to teach relative position to the very young while also exposing tots to the concept of the book as a way of representing what goes on in the physical world as well.

Pair this one with Fletcher and Marshall's companion board book, Small Smaller Smallest.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Creator of The Cat and All That! Dr. Seuss: The Great Doodler by Kate Klimo

He got his love of reading and wordplay from his mother.

Thanks to his father, Theodor, Ted became interested in machines. His father tinkered, making wacky inventions in his shop daily.

From an early age, Ted liked to doodle.

Put together a penchant for playing with words, offbeat inventions, and doodling strange characters and what do you get?

In the case of young Theodor Seuss Geisel, you get a cartoonist, an adman, a beloved author, the creator of a genre for beginning readers, a publisher, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of children's literature.

Young Ted loved to visit the nearby zoo and draw the animals, even though his father once remarked,

"His animals never did look like the real thing!"

But undeterred, Ted took his wacky animal doodles with him to Dartmouth College, where his curious critters became the stars of cartoons, signed simply "Seuss," in the college humor magazine. At Oxford, he met an English girl, Helen Palmer, married her, and the new couple returned home for Ted to try to turn his cartoons into a career. His comic drawings in the Saturday Evening Post caught the eye of an advertising agency, and he was tapped to create a series of ads for a new insect spray called Flit, in which Ted combined his own idea of his father's wacky inventions, his mother's wordplay, and his doodly characters to create comic advertisements with the popular slogan "Don't Get Bit! Get Flit!" Ted Geisel the adman was on his way, soon having a blast drawing mechanical gizmos for his popular EssoLube advertisements.

But when World War II intervened, Ted was drafted to create everything from humorous educational posters on how to avoid malaria mosquitoes to propaganda in which he deftly caricatured Nazi leaders, along with other up-and-coming cartoon artists such as Chuck Jones and P. D. Eastman.

And when the war ended, Ted Geisel turned to his first love, children's picture books, and began to create a series of classics, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, The Cat in the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (Classic Seuss), and funny/serious looks at ecology such as The Lorax (Classic Seuss))and nuclear war (The Butter Battle Book: (New York Times Notable Book of the Year) (Classic Seuss)). Ted Geisel also invented the easy reader genre and founded his own publishing group, Beginner Books, hiring his old Army buddy P.D. Eastman, (who created best-selling books like By P. D. Eastman Are You My Mother (I CAN READ IT ALL BY MYSELF.) and Go, Dog Go (I Can Read It All By Myself, Beginner Books) for emergent readers) and nearing the end of his life, he finished his forty-fourth book, the optimistic and still best-selling Oh, The Places You'll Go!

It was quite a life, chronicled here by noted author Kate Klimo, with illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, in Dr. Seuss: The Great Doodler (Step into Reading) (Random House, 2016).  Just right for those first biography book reports and for Read Across America Day, yearly celebrating Dr. Seuss's own birthday, this Level 3 mini-chapter book is perfect for youngsters just learning to read for information as well as pleasure.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

When Pigs Fly! The Cow Who Climbed A Tree by Gemma Merino

TINA WAS A VERY CURIOUS COW.

SHE HAD A THIRST FOR DISCOVERY.

HER MIND WAS FULL OF WONDERFUL THINGS.

ALL OF WHICH HER SISTERS FOUND VERY SILLY.

Her sister milkers were mostly concerned with consuming grass. They gave Tina's aspirations short shrift.

"IMPOSSIBLE!"

"RIDICULOUS!"

"NONSENSE."

Not deterred, Tina leaves her pedestrian siblings to their grazing in the meadow and takes off for the woods. The forest itself is magical, the tall trees suggesting mysteries to be discovered. And inspired, Tina decides to take leave of convention and climb one tree. Up she goes, and in the tip-top she discovers---a dragon!

Fortunately, this dragon is both vegetarian and friendly. They hit it off right away.

Tina can't wait to share her adventure with her sisters. But the conventional cows are not impressed.

"DRAGONS DON'T EXIST!"

"COWS CAN'T CLIMB TREES!"

"RIDICULOUS!"

But when Tina doesn't show up the next day for breakfast, her siblings decide to take charge of their wayward sister and set out into the woods, udders swinging resolutely, to bring Tina back to her senses and to her proper place in the pasture. But as they clomp through the woods, they can't help feeling the beauty of the greenwood. And then they see something they can't quite conceive.

A pig is climbing a tree with a sign that says...

FLYING LESSONS TODAY

Can the three bovine sisters believe their eyes? Do pigs fly? Can cows fly? And should they join in the fun?

WHY NOT?

Gemma Merino's The Cow Who Climbed a Tree (Albert Whitman/Macmillan, 2016) is a delightful flight of fancy, with both Tina and the Pig parasailing along behind the accommodating dragon. This satisfyingly silly story of thinking outside the, er, stall will resonate with kids who find it easy to think of six impossible things before breakfast. To add to the fun, Merino's illustrations are fancifully lovely, her trees straight lines with blue-green circles for foliage, abstract but capturing the sense of an enchanted wood in which a free-thinking cow can meet a vegetarian dragon and pigs can fly. This is a picture book that is a joy to the eyes, one that begs to be read with joy. School Library Journal gives this one a starred review, and Publishers Weekly adds, "... a lighthearted and amusing endorsement of leaving one's comfort zone and ignoring naysayers and giving dreams a chance."

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

One Big Trick! POOR Little Guy by Elanna Allen

Life is fraught when you're a little Caspar Milquetoast of a fish--bright yellow, spherical, with big glasses, rotund and definitely not built for speed.

He's surrounded briney deep predators who figure he's an easy mark.

An Octopus eyeballs him and decides he's the perfect bully-bait.

"HEL-LO, LITTLE GUY. LET'S PLAY... CATCH OF THE DAY!

FISHKET BALL!"

Octopus tosses Little Guy back and forth.  He chases him through the maze. He plays with the little fish like a cat with a mouse. He tells Little Guy that he's so little and adorable that he must even taste cute.

And finally Octopus is ready for the ultimate taste test. He opens his mouth and chunks Little Guy in.

AAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!

Little Guy doesn't have natural camouflage. He doesn't have speed. He doesn't have a mouthful of sharp teeth. He doesn't have any of nature's usual attributes to protect against predators.

But he does have ONE BIG TRICK that trumps the rest.

He's a pufferfish. He can blow himself up, which activates hundred of spiny spikes!

It's Big Guys, BEWARE in Elanna Allen's clever tale of a little pufferfish who is the little one who gets away to live to swim another day, in Poor Little Guy (Dial Books, 2016).  Youngsters will chuckle as the little guy bests the bully just by being himself. Author Clark sets this one up with wry wit as the big predators of the deep learn that size isn't everything and her sly, unstated humor also comes forth in her simple but telling illustrations that practically tell the tale on their own. Publishers Weekly likens this one to Jon Klaasen's award-winning This Is Not My Hat (see my review here) and quips that Allen's tale "proves that revenge is a dish best served wet."

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Please, Mr. Postman! It Came In the Mail by Ben Clanton

LIAM LOVED GETTING MAIL.

TOO BAD HE NEVER GOT ANY. (BOOGERS!)

THEN ONE DAY AN IDEA STRUCK HIM.

IF HE SENT SOME MAIL, THEN MAYBE HE'D GET SOME!

Liam gets a clean sheet of notebook paper and, using his lessons in writing a friendly letter, pens a nice, neat note:

Dear Mailbox,

I would like to get something in the mail. Something big! Please!

                              Love, Liam

To his surprise, as soon as he pops the letter into the box and closes it, it starts to jiggle and make strange squiggling noises.

And when Liam opens the mailbox, there's a blast of flame and lots of smoke. And inside is a green dragon, tagged [FOR LIAM.] He wipes the soot off his freckled face, hugs his dragon, and names him Sizzlefritz!

But Liam thinks big. He write another note, asking his mailbox to send more stuff!

And stuff he gets! Pigs and pickles, a trombone and a tricerotops! A funny bone with endless knock-knock jokes.

But that's not enough for Liam. He posts another request, and soon the STUFF--everything but the kitchen sink (and there may be one of those at the bottom of the pile)--loom in a stack over his head. Liam seems to have the Midas touch for mail.

But he's beginning to have deep thoughts. When is enough ENOUGH?

And what is he going to DO with all this STUFF?

In Ben Clanton's be-careful-what-you-wish-for fantasy, It Came in the Mail (Simon and Schuster, 2016), Liam learns that he loves, not only to get stuff, but to give stuff away. Liam keeps his dragon Sizzlefritz and a horse that his best friend has taken a shine to and sits right down to write a thank- you note to his mailbox, with one more request:

Can you help me send some of this stuff to other kids?

                                           Love, Liam

Clanton's little wish-fulfillment fantasy has something to say about greed, overconsumption, fairness, and the joys of philanthropy, all while retaining the humor of Liam's multiplying embarrassment of riches. thanks to his classic illustrative skills and clever thought balloons that add to the fun. Pair this one with Tomie Da Paola's Newbery classic tale of too much of a good thing, Strega Nona. Other books by Clanton include Rex Wrecks It!, Something Extraordinary, and The Table Sets Itself (see reviews here).

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Changes:The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

"The season changes when the last cherry blossom falls," said Papa.

Twelve-year-old Yuriko feels nothing but changes around her. Since Mama died, Papa has always been the center of her life, but then Aunt Komiko and her annoying five-year-old son Genji come to live with them. And then Papa tells her that he is going to marry Sumiyo, a kind woman who has helped out since Mama died, and the new people in the house all seem to come between her and her precious time with Papa. Komiko is always critical, ordering her around and seeming to find endless fault with her, while making her watch the rambunctious Genji, and though Sumiyo is good to her, Yuriko hates to share Papa with her.

In the Hiroshima of 1945, the long war, once so far away, now intrudes on everything, even at school:

"Get under your desks--now!" Yakamura-sensei shouted above the lonesome wail of the air raid siren. The teacher's voice did not waver, yet her hand had a light tremor as she pointed at the floor.

The familiar hum of the B-sans--what we called the American B-29s that flew overhead--thundered in my ears. The engines were so loud that the floor vibrated beneath my desk. I worried. Will we actually get bombed? Will this desk protect me? Is my papa safe?

Her best friend Machiko is forced by her father to destroy her beloved jazz records under orders of the government, although she hides her favorite under a mat in her bedroom. At school the students are given bamboo stakes to make into spears and made to practice defending their homeland. Strict rationing of metal, food, and fabric make life harder, and then news comes that Tokyo has been almost completely destroyed by a firebombing raid from the feared B-29s.

And then a chance remark by a neighbor lady forces Papa to tell Yuriko a family secret that seems to shake the very ground beneath her feet. She learns that she is actually Aunt Kumiko's daughter, the product of a dishonorable out-of-wedlock birth, that her beloved Papa is actually her grandfather, and no one will speak of her real father. Suddenly, Yuriko feels like an interloper in her once favored place in the family.

The friend she has relied on, Machiko, is forced to leave school and go to work at an aircraft factory, and Yuriko feels very alone at school and home. When she and her friend manage to be together, they listen to Machiko's secret record and try to look forward to the coming Cherry Blossom Festival.

We managed to find a picnic spot right under a beautiful cherry tree in full bloom. Petals of light and dark pink rippled with white hung on the branches.

Machiko and her family joined us. We began to unpack the delicious food we would share.

"Yuriko, the cherry blossoms seem pinker than usual. Do you think so?" said Machiko quietly. "I think we need to enjoy the beauty more this year since there is so much ugliness with the war."

I took a bite of my sweet rice cake. "We are both very lucky to have our families."

"And each other!" we added in unison.

And as that last blossom falls from Hiroshima's cherry trees, older readers who know history will foresee the great changes that will soon come for Yuriko and everyone in Hiroshima, Japan, and all the world, in Kathleen Burkinshaw's The Last Cherry Blossom (Sky Pony Press, 2016). Younger readers may not know that history, and the terrors the first atomic bomb brings will let them experience anew what it was to live through that significant moment in history.

Published today on the anniversary of the surrender of imperial Japan, in this beautifully but realistically written first novel author Burkinshaw lets Yuriko's honest first-person narrative recount what that moment in history was like. Chapter headings which feature headlines changing from "Imperial Army Continues Successful Attacks in China," to "Prepare For Final Battle on Imperial Soil," foreshadow the coming end of the war, as the author sensitively but honestly portrays the horror of the atomic attack and the following struggle for survival with emphasis on individual and family resilience and hope for the future.

Intimate and detailed, a poignant immersion in a particular time and place, this story is yet universal in its timeless theme of coming of age in a time of life and death, of war and peace, a time of the breaking of nations.

"Told with reverence and authenticity... tragedy and hope collide in this promising middle-grade debut." says Kirkus Reviews.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Back to School: Back to Dog-Gone School by Amy Schmidt

FIRST DAY JITTERS

I am ready for school.
It's my first day.

I see the bus

Heading my way!

Even an adorable golden Lab pup has holidays, and when it's time for back-to-school days..., well, things can get a little scary and hairy.

Well, who wouldn't have the jitters? Will he miss the bus? Will the driver fuss?

If not, will he get a seat? Will his teacher be sweet? Who's he going to meet?

And even if old friends Simon and Ralphie are in his class, will math be too hard for him to pass?

Will he remember the alphabet? Who will be the teacher's pet?

Will the water fountain be too tall? Will he find the Boys' Room down the hall?

This little Lab has a lot to think about on his first day of school, in Amy and Ron Schmidt's easy reader, Back to Dog-Gone School (Step into Reading) (Random House, 2016), which offers a vicarious run-through of the first day of school for kids with the opening-day willies. Poet Amy Schmidt provides the pup-themed verses, and Ron Schmidt provides the cute canine photos (the boys' bathroom door has a fireplug icon to make it easily recognizable) in this rehearsal of that epic day, including math class, lunchroom sharing, know-it-all golden girls, and the best part of the day. D.E.A.R. --Drop Everything And Read!

Random House, the pioneer of the I-Can-Read genre, offers a bit of school orientation for nervous new scholars in this title in their Step-into-Reading series, Level Two, which offers controlled vocabulary, visual cues, and rhymes to ease the way for practice for newly independent readers.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Hi! and Bye! Hello, Hippo! Goodbye, Bird! by Kristen Crow

"HELLO, HIPPO!" SAYS BIRD.

"GOODBYE, BIRD!" SAYS HIPPO.

Hippo wants to be alone. The river is cool and the grass growing at its bottom is tender and delicious. The last thing he needs is a big goofy blue bird on his head.

But this long-legged blue bird is not deterred.

Spreading his wings wide, he perches on hippo's snout to look like a big blue handlebar mustache. Hippo blows him into the air with a couple of jets from his wide nostrils.

But Bird raises his wings and offers himself as an umbrella before the snorted geysers start to fall like rain.

Hippo has his own subterfuge ready. He submerges.

"ULP!" Bird has to take to his wet wings and perch in a tree.

Hippo rises to the surface and surveys the area. Good! NO Bird. He lumbers out of the water and takes a celebratory solitary roll in the grass. Alone! Ahhhh! Peace at last!

Hippo rolls right into the tree, and sets loose a nest of angry hornets, all headed straight for him! Luckily, Bird swoops down, opens his big beak, and glug! The hornets are both history and dinner!

"DON'T WE MAKE A GREAT TEAM?" ASKS BIRD.

"FOR THE LAST TIME, BIRD," YELLS HIPPO, "GOODBYE!"

Bird does not take no for an answer, and the third time is the charm, in Kristyn Crow's story of unlikely chums who find friendship at last in her new Hello, Hippo! Goodbye, Bird! (Alfred A. Knopf Books, 2016). Polly Bernatene's illustrations take center stage, with her charming, vaguely Disneyesque African animals with their comic expressions telling the story in both spot art and full-bleed double-page spreads filled with plenty of attitude and action. Adds Booklist, "Crow’s warmhearted buddy tale is generously infused with energetic humor, and Bernatene depicts both Hippo and Bird with a perfect balance of gruff and goofy."

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Twister Chaser! Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado

FREDDY THE FROG WAS BACK AT THE FROG NEWS NETWORK, KEEPING HIS EYES ON THE SKY AND REHEARSING HIS WEATHER REPORT IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA.

That's fine fun for Freddy when the skies are fair, with blue skies over the little town of LilyPad. But today the weather is looking to be foul. A front is moving across the countyside and cold and warm air masses are colliding. That means it's time to start singin' "Stormy Weather."

LILYPAD IS IN FOR SOME DANGEROUS WEATHER!

Down at the TV station, a call comes in from Tad Polar, the local storm chaser with an invitation to ride shotgun with him in his Tadmobile and scan the skies for funnel-shaped clouds.

Freddy the Frog is a famous forecaster, and when there's talk of a twister, he's on it, poised to prognosticate.

Waving goodbye to his on-air colleagues, Sally Croaker and Polly Wroggins, Freddy the Frogcaster is off with Tad, who heads straight for the roiling bank of storm clouds to the west of Lilypad. Freddy focuses his binoculars on the weather front.  Suddenly, Tad points out a cloud and shouts a warning.

THAT'S A CUMULO NIMBUS!! THERE'S A FUNNEL CLOUD TOUCHING DOWN!

Freddy gets on the radio and broadcasts the warning!

"HOLY CROAKS, FOLKS!

TORNADO!"

Sally Croaker broadcasts the warning to the public. The town of Lilypad goes into emergency action. Storm sirens wail and people head for their shelters.

Tad the Intrepid and Freddy the Frogcaster are in the thick of it. But he's a pro and he stays on the job, firing a photo of the funnel cloud back the to the Frog News station as they trail the twister safely out of town.

It's a close encounter with a twister for our fearless forecaster, in Janice Dean's latest, Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado (Regnery Kids, 2016), another amphibian adventure of Freddy the Weather Frog. Author Dean, a TV meteorologist herself, works plenty of science into her story of storm chasing that will fit right into classroom primary science units on weather. And again artist Ross Cox provides the funny froggy illustrations of Freddy's forecasting feats, as he did in the other books in this series, Freddy the Frogcaster, Freddy the Frogcaster and the Huge Hurricane, and Freddy the Frogcaster and the Big Blizzard.

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