BooksForKidsBlog

Saturday, August 29, 2015

What If? You and Me by Susan Verde

Lovers love recalling "How We Met!" Romantic comedies love the "cute meet" scene where something serendipitous produces that certain spark. Songs celebrate that "Some Enchanted Evening," when "I Saw You Standing There" moment. Even best friends almost always remember how they first got together and why they became lifelong buddies.

What if that magic moment hadn't happened at all?

IF THAT DAY HAD CHOSEN A DIFFERENT WAY TO UNFOLD,

OURS IS A STORY THAT MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN TOLD.

A devoted pair of friends, two angular, long-limbed cats, recall the many unforeseen events that had to happen (or not happen) in order for them to meet.  What if the orange-striper had slept late, or if he'd lingered longer in the shower? What if his clock had been slow and he'd gotten there too late?

OR IF I HADN'T GONE BACK FOR MY HAT?

For without that hat, they would never have met at the bus stop, just at the right moment for a chance breeze to blow his boater away and for the other cat to catch it. Things click between them, and it's...

FOREVER FRIENDS, YOU AND ME!

Susan Verde's and Peter H. Reynolds' latest is one of those serendipitous collaborations.  You and Me (Abrams Books, 2015) offers Verde's rhyming couplets and Reynolds' utterly charming illustrations in a perfect pairing of picture book crafting. With their cats' tails entwined on the cover, the reader can tell that this friendship was meant to be, brought together by "that tug, that mysterious tether" that sometimes brings two together. Peter Reynolds provides the whimsical artwork (done in ink, gouache, watercolors, and, improbably, tea) that makes this book irresistible for all ages.

Author Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds are also the co-creators of The Museum.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

The Art of Bull Fighting! Debunking It: How to Stay Sane in A World of Misinformation by John Grant

Call it bogosity, bulls&Xt, baloney, bunk, bullfeathers, or balderdash, anyone who ventures into the murky waters of public discourse these days, particularly into the fable-larded cable-land, internet medical guru-dom, the blogoshere, and social media, needs hip-high waders or the proverbial paddle to get through it all.

With all the clashing pseudo-data and truthiness-metered trivia from blowhards, bloviators, pocket-padders, and sometimes even genuine experts, how is a young person to begin to think about so-called controversial subjects like climate change, universal vaccination, end-of-the-world apocalypses, and for whom to vote in the next election?

John Grant's Debunk It!: How to Stay Sane in a World of Misinformation (Zest Books, 2015) takes on the fraught case of how we "think about the things we do think about."* In his chapters "Building Your Own Bullshitometer" and "On Weasel Words" he offers advice to both young adults and those of us who have logged some years since our debate team or college logic class on recognizing those obfuscations peddled by spinmeisters--quote mining, cherry picking, the argument from authority, anecdotal evidence, the straw man, false balance, the gods of the gap argument or most famously the science isn't settled line once favored by cigarette manufacturers to keep people cheerfully puffing (and sadly dying) for decades, as well as our own self-deluding beliefs powered by confirmation bias and motivated reasoning.

By way of example, Grant engages some of the famous delusions and misinformation mongers of time, pointing out that the pre-apocalyptic concept of "The Rapture" was only developed in 1842, by someone named John Darby, surprisingly late in the history of Christendom. And then there's the assertion that the Apollo moon landing was actually faked and filmed by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. Such beliefs as psychics leading seances, The Laetril "cancer cure," the end-of-the-world prediction in 2012, the admitted fraudulent data showing a relationship of the MMR vaccine with autism, and even the hyped Y2-K calamity logged double-digit positive poll numbers in their time. Without media hyper-attention, most of these bits of misinformation might not have gone viral, but the world we live in apparently requires a lot of examination of sources and quite a bit of critical thinking about the things we should think about.

Our survival and that of the planet requires serious thinking about the things we do think about, and this humorous and engaging book is a good how-to start. With John Grant's working title of "The Young Person's Guide to Bullshit," this can't-miss title is great recreational reading for budding skeptics as well as an outstanding addition to units on science, current events, or debate. "A must-have," says School Library Journal's starred review.


*At the Scopes trial, William Jennings Bryan took the stand as his own expert witness on the Bible. When defense lawyer Clarence Darrow asked him if he believed passages on Creation in six twenty-four-hour days and the sun standing still in the sky, the exasperated Bryan said, "I do not think about things I don't think about." Darrow then asked, "But do you ever think about the things you do think about?"

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Everyone's a Comedian! My Teacher Is An Idiom by Jamie Gilson

MIND YOUR MANNERS!

The banner in the lunchroom was new. And red. You couldn't miss it.

A bunch of third graders painted it. They got caught spitting watermelon seeds and cherry pits. The watermelon seeds won.

But manners are far from Richie's mind. He's still at the lunch table, trying to eat without his missing front teeth (thanks to Patrick's gummy candy octopus), when Patrick, who fancies himself a future stand-up comic, sits down. Patrick is usually bad news, and this time he has to show off his latest gag, the Mosquito, sucking Richie's warmish red Jello through a straw and letting it dribble out of his mouth like Dracula. At his urging, Richie reluctantly agrees to give it a try and sucks so hard the Jello goes up his nose, just as the vice-principal, Mr. E., heads over to investigate, and the resulting sneeze spatters all over Mr. E's Sumac School t-shirt.

How does Patrick come up with these goofball schemes? Why does Richie always fall for Patrick's gags? Now they are both in trouble. Mr. E. hauls them to his office, taking the new girl, Sophie from France, along as an eyewitness.

"Sophie," he said. "Tell me, what did these boys do?"

Richie cringes. Now the whole humiliating story of how Patrick got him in trouble once again is going to come out. But Sophie hesitates. And then she decides not to tattle. She shakes her head.

"I am making white cabbage." she said.

Richie and Patrick look confused. But Mr. E. explains that Sophie is using an idiom, which in French means she's drawing a blank on just what happened.

Richie gives Sophie a relieved smile. But Mr. E. still has just the punishment to fit the crime. Richie and Patrick will have to make a speech on good manners to the second- and third-grade assembly on Friday. Richie starts obsessing over the speech, but Patrick sees it as yet another chance to perfect his stand-up comedy routine. And worst of all, his joke-loving father is going to help with the speech. Richie cringes again. This is going to be VERY embarrassing.

And Richie is right. Patrick's dad manages to "crack up" the program, in more ways than one!

Veteran author Jamie Gilson's latest in her Table Two series, My Teacher Is an Idiom (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2015) introduces a little wordplay with French and English idioms along with a lesson in lunchroom etiquette for the kids in Mrs. Zookey's second grade, while Paul Meisel's black and white drawings add to the slapstick primary-grade humor. Will Patrick ever learn to put a lid on his pranks? Will Richie ever learn not to get sucked into them? Hopefully, not in this cheery beginning chapter series from a real pro in kid comedy.

Jamie Gilson is also the author of classic comic elementary grade novels such as Thirteen Ways To Sink A Sub by Gilson, Jamie (2014) Paperback and Bug in a Rug Paperback 2003 ]

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"Gotta Go!" Kyle Goes Alone by Jan Thornhill


"I HAVE TO GO," SAID KYLE.

KYLE WAS A THREE-TOED SLOTH. HE DID EVERYTHING SO SLOWLY THAT HE ONLY HAD TO "GO" ONCE A WEEK

AND THAT ONCE A WEEK WAS...

...NOW!

Little Kyle lives in the highest canopy of rain-forest trees. Slow-moving sloths never leave the safety of the treetops--except when they have to go. And it's a long trip down to potty.

Since he was born, his mom has taken him with her for the weekly necessities. But now Mom says something surprising.

"I THINK YOU'RE OLD ENOUGH TO GO ALONE."

"ALONE?" SAID KYLE.

Kyle has never been alone, away from touching distance with his mom. But now it's time for him to solo.

Kyle screws up his courage and starts down... and down... and down.

"I'M ALL ALONE!" CRIED KYLE.

"NO, YOU'RE NOT!" SQUAWKED ONE OF HIS NEIGHBORS, A RED-SPECTACLED PARROT.

Kyle stops to consider his next move. Up? Or down? But now he really has to go!

Mom calls out that he's doing just fine. Reassured, Kyle keeps climbing down. slowly, slowly, slowly. Whenever he begins to feel afraid, one of his tree neighbors--a green and red whipsnake, a tiger-legged monkey tree frog, and a leaf-cutter ant--is there to point out that he's not exactly alone.

But it is a long, slow, scary trip for a little sloth. Should he turn around and climb back up to Mom?

EXCEPT NOW HE REALLY, REALLY HAD TO GO!

When nature calls, even little sloths have to do their duty.

In a genuinely original plot for a "potty book," Jan Thornhill's Kyle Goes Alone (Owlkids Books, 2015), has her brave little arborial hero courageously arrive in the best tradition of "just in time," to the applause of his tree-dwelling neighbors.

Author Thornhill's well-paced narration builds quite a bit of suspense into Kyle's long and anxious solo descent, and artist Ashley Barron provides charming cut-paper collage illustrations which portray the protective coloration of the supportive neighbors and artfully partly conceal Kyle's watchful mother, camouflaged in the leaves, but staying close behind him as he worries his way down. Kyle Goes Alone manages to combine nature study and an exotic but all-too-familiar rite of passage that will have youngsters chuckling appreciatively all the way.

Thornhill appends two informative author's notes: "The Poop about Three-Toed Sloths" and "Camouflage: Hiding in Plain Sight" that provide useful jumping-off points for early childhood animal behavior studies.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Adopt-A-Pup-Day! I Love Dogs by Sue Stainton

STRONG DOGS, LONG DOGS,

NAUGHTY DOGS, HAUGHTY DOGS.

RACY DOGS, LAZY DOGS!

The park is full of pups of all sorts, doing what they do when dogs get together.

And there's a boy who clearly dotes on canines, but with no mutt on his leash, making his progress, from page left to page right, through a plenitude of pooches, proclaiming...

"I LOVE DOGS!"

Where is he going? He pushes on through the park...

DOGS THAT ARE FAMOUS, DOGS THAT ARE SMART.

DOGS IN THE NEWS, DOGS IN FINE ART.

There is one clear clue, a modest sign posted along his way through the park, for sharp-eyed readers.

ADOPT A DOG TODAY!

At last the would-be dog owner arrives at the doggy adoption center to claim his own canine, and together they go back through the park, the barky park, the pooch-filled park, on their way home--pals forever!

In their new I Love Dogs! (Katherine Tegen Books, 2015), Sue Stainton provides an amazing amalgam of internally rhyming lines, while artist Bob Staake provides the savvy retro-styled illustrations that make this a doggone good read aloud, and one that's also super for kids (and adults) who like to peruse and point out what's happening on every page. (such as a billboard for the latest cultural attraction--Poochini: The Opera and the news stand hawking The New Bark Times.) Full of color and movement, this one is as much fun as a basket full of puppies!

Pair this one with Stainton's and Staake's kitty companion book, I Love Cats.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Beary Contrary! Not This Bear: A First Day of School Story by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

IT WAS BEAR'S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL. MAMA GAVE BEAR AN EXTRA HUG AND AN EXTRA KISS.

"HAVE FUN, BEAR. ALL THE BEARS LOVE SCHOOL!"

"NOT THIS BEAR," SAID BEAR.

Bear is not filled with the power of positive thinking. He is sure he'd have more fun at home with Mama.

His perky teacher sees him looking at the art easels and suggests that he hang his jacket in his cubby and try some painting.

"PUT ON A SMOCK LIKE THE OTHER BEARS," SAID MRS. BROWN.

"NOT THIS BEAR!" SAID BEAR.

Bear insists on holding on to his jacket while he paints, and soon it is time for story circle. Mrs. Brown suggests that all the bears like to choose a mat to sit upon. Bear is NOT one of those bears. He prefers a lap for listening to stories. But there is no lap available, so Bear picks a plush toy instead and lets the furry bunny sit on his lap as Mrs. Brown reads a very good story.

At snack time, Bear is NOT one of those bears who like school snacks. But he does like to pass out the napkins. Then it's playtime outside.

"ALL THE BEARS LOVE TO SWING AND SLIDE," SAID MRS. BROWN.

"NOT THIS BEAR," SAID BEAR.

"NOT THIS BEAR EITHER!" SAID ANOTHER BEAR.

But before Mrs. Brown can get too fussed over her very contrary little bear boys, they are busy drawing with sidewalk chalk and careening around and around on the trikes.

It's a good first day of school with a compatible friend, in Alyssa Satin Capucilli's Not This Bear: A First Day of School Story (Henry Holt and Company, 2015), especially with charming illustrations by Lorna Hussey, who catches our contrary bear's first-day fears about school in his telling body language. Lots of little "bears" share contrariness on the first day of school, and this book offers a bit of vicarious experience at being a rookie scholar.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Back to School: Steve, Raised by Wolves by Jared Chapman

STEVE WAS RAISED BY WOLVES.

THEN, ONE DAY, MOTHER WOLF WALKED HIM THROUGH THE WOODS...

AND TO THE... BUS STOP.

"STEVE," SAID HIS MOM, "I KNOW YOU'RE ANXIOUS ABOUT GOING TO SCHOOL. IT'S NOT ALWAYS EASY TO GET ALONG WITH HUMANS, BUT JUST BE YOURSELF.

I KNOW YOU WILL HAVE A GREAT DAY."

Mama Wolf could have been a little more specific in her advice. Steve's experience with other humans has been mostly scaring campers with his authentic wolf growls, so when the obviously intimidated teacher calls the roll, Steve answers with his best "HOOOOOOWWWWLLLLL!"

Enjoying the attention, Steve shows off a little, shredding banners and posters welcoming the kids back to school. He pounces on a few of his classmates, and (I am sorry to report) scent-marks the playground slide!

In the cafeteria he opens the lunch bag his mom had lovingly packed and pulls out his lunch--a dead bird, feathers and all. Needless to say, no one enjoyed sitting at Steve's table. His teacher sends him home with a note:

Mrs. Wolf,
Steve had a hard time staying out of trouble today.
--Mrs. Meadows

Mrs. Wolf was patient.

"I LOVE THAT YOU ARE BEING YOURSELF," SAID MRS. WOLF.

"I KNOW YOU CAN FIND A WAY TO MAKE THIS WORK."

The next morning when Steve bounds into his classroom, he finds everyone in a tizzy. Reggie, the classroom pet hamster, is missing! The kids are frantically looking under cabinets and behind equipment. Some of them are near tears.

But then, Steve's wolf training comes into play. He sniffs around the room and gets a whiff of hamster. Following the scent he lopes down the hall to the cafeteria and follows his keen nose right to the fridge. And inside is Reggie, cheerfully chomping on a stalk of the lunch ladies' celery.

AND HE LOOKED DELICIOUS!

But this time Steve's human instincts are beginning to kick in, and he senses that eating their pet is not going to work with his classmates. The kids all cheer for Steve. He's their new class hero! They all want to sit with him at lunch, where fortunately, they see that his mom has discretely packed his dead bird this time between two slices of bread!

In his forthcoming, Steve, Raised by Wolves (Little, Brown and Company, 2015 Jared Chapman's off-beat sense of humor documents the familiar story of the kid who doesn't quite seem to get the school thing at first. After all, Steve was raised in a cave. But Steve seems on his way to settling in with his new pack and he proudly delivers another note to his mom when he gets off the bus that afternoon.

Mrs. Wolf,
Steve had a GREAT DAY!
--Mrs. Meadows

Every child comes to school out of a unique family culture and has to find a way to be himself or herself in the school setting, and kids will howl with self-conscious glee at Steve's faux pas on his first day.

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Location, Location, Location! Home Tweet Home by Courtney Dicmas

THERE WERE TEN BROTHERS AND SISTERS: EDGAR, MAUDE, RUPERT, HELENA, WINNIE, CECIL, BEATRIX, ROSALIE, PIPPA, AND BURT.

"THIS NEST IS TOO SMALL!" GRUMBLED PIPPA.

"WELL, THE WORLD IS BIG, AND SO ARE WE," CHIRPED BURT.

A couple of fidgety fledglings decide it's time they flew the coop and find a more commodious roost of their own.

Burt and Pippa don't get too far out over the sea when they spot a comfy, cozy island.

"PERFECT!" CHIRPED BURT.

"IT'S BIG AND STURDY."

No, it's not. Their personal island turns out to be a sea turtle's back, and he's about to submerge.

Pippa and Burt quickly decide to wing it. But they're young, too young to realize that finding the perfect home means location, location, location.

A cheetah's back is soft and furry, but it moves too fast! A sea crocodile's back is too pointy and so is his toothy smile that invites them to stay... for lunch!

The flighty house hunters try out a kangaroo's pouch, a fox's tail, an octopus's, er, "head,"--but none of them quite meet their specifications. Where is their dream house?

In Courtney Dicmas' latest, Home Tweet Home (Doubleday Books, 2015), "there's no place like home "is the theme of this piquant reworking of the little runaway theme, as the young swallows decide that maybe Mom and Dad's house isn't so bad after all. Dicmas' tale may be familiar, but her illustrations are something special, with soft colored pencil lines and splotches of gouache and acrylic pastels, in a careful design that reveals with each page turn why Burt and Pippa's spur-of-the-moment choices are not so choice. This one is a natural to pair with P.D. Eastman's similarly themed classic, The Best Nest (Beginner Books(R)).

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Friday, August 21, 2015

The Hole Story: Outstanding in the Rain: A Whole Story with Holes by Frank Viva

"ICE CREAM!" I SAY, MY BIRTHDAY SURPRISE.

A boy and his mother get off the subway at Coney Island, set for a birthday treat at the amusement park.

A celebratory ice cream cone is in order right away, but no sooner has the lad claimed his treat than the big scoop falls off the cone.

"OH, NO! I SCREAM!"

"The medium is the message," is the premise of Frank Viva's latest book, Outstanding in the Rain (Little, Brown and Company, 2015) a die-cut "toy and movable book" which utilizes holes placed strategically into the illustrations and text of the pages. The opening cut-out of the rows of subway cars opens to become the boy's screaming mouth, while the "ICE CREAM" on the vendor's cart becomes the second-page caption, "I SCREAM!"

What follows is retro day at the amusement park set in mid-twentieth-century Coney Island. The boy and his mother take a crazy, splashy slide ride and enjoy a picnic on the sand, where a beach umbrella's handle opens to a candle on his birthday cake.

And at the day's end, mother and son wait in the light summer rain to take the subway back home.

OUT STANDING IN THE RAIN

which, with a page turn, yields to

A NIGHT TRAIN

...and the birthday outing ends well, as AN ICE MAN opens to become A NICE MAN, who provides the birthday boy with a replacement ice cream cone with a smile.

As in his earlier noted works, Along a Long Road and A Long Way Away Viva's art, done in unusual eggplant, mango, and aqua tones, is both retro-styled and avant-garde, while his die-cut-revealed wordplay in the use of "oronyms," words and word parts which change meaning with context and shape-shifting detail is clever and creative. Some kids will be charmed and drawn into the well-executed illustrative details and wordsmithery on each page, while more literal-minded readers may wonder where the story went in this quiet progression through a birthday outing.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Back to School: Ally-Saurus and the First Day of School by Richard Torrey

"WAKE UP, SLEEPHEAD!" SAID MOM.

"MY NAME IS NOT SLEEPYHEAD! IT'S ALLY-SAURUS!"

It's no secret what Ally's favorite subject is! She sleeps with a toy dinosaur, her pajamas have dino prints all over them, and with a ROAR! she jumps into her first-day outfit, sporting a dinosaur on her tee.

"YOUR PANTS ARE ON BACKWARD," SAID FATHER.

"THAT'S SO MY DINOSAUR TAIL CAN STICK OUT!" SHOUTED ALLY-SAURUS.

And the girl's got a point--a spiky pink, pointy Crayola-ed tail and crest are clearly visible on her person. She's a dino-devotee all the way.

"DO YOU THINK THERE WILL BE ANY DINOSAURS IN MY CLASS?" ALLY ASKED.

But it's not looking good for fellow dino fans at school. At snack time, Ally-Saurus shows the kids at her table how a dino chomps up her grapes with a ROAR. Her table mates seem to be all princesses, judging from their pink crayoned tiaras, the frou-frou on their dresses, and their tiny genteel bites.

Then it's time for alphabet practice, and Ally-Saurus roars out her contribution (D IS FOR DINOSAUR!) as the princess coterie looks on, a bit aghast. The teacher tries to smooth Ally's faux pas over.

"I THINK EVERYONE LIKES DINOSAURS," MRS. W. SAID.

"NOT AS MUCH AS PRINCESSES," VOLUNTEERS ONE OF THE TIARA TRIBE.

At free play, Ally-Saurus leaves the Cinderella set and joins the other oddballs, kids dressed as an astronaut, a lion, a pirate, and especially the dragon, who sports similar pink spikes and wings! Soon everyone is playing together, even the princesses, collaborating on a script for all their favorite characters.

Much is made of the cliques in upper elementary and middle school, but media-savvy preschoolers sometimes have their own favorite roles already sketched out, and Richard Torrey hints at that with his tongue-in-cheek crayon costumes that only kids can see in place, in Ally-saurus & the First Day of School (Sterling Books, 2015). Ally's enthusiasm is contagious among her varied classmates, as the kids feel free to be themselves and try out a few new personas as well on the first day of school.

Says Kirkus' starred review, "Torrey nicely tackles lots of first-day issues in this imaginative offering—making friends, getting along, keeping an open mind, the everyday routines of kindergarten—and he does so with aplomb. Ally is an empathetic guide for young children facing their own first days, no matter what or who they imagine themselves to be."

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"It Ain't Braggin' If Y'Can Back It Up!" Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang by Carolyn E. Mueller

THE LEADER OF THIS GANG IS A FEW CARDS SHORT OF A FULL DECK.

HE CLAIMS A LOT OF DIFFERENT NAMES.

BUT WE CALL HIM DIZZY, DIZZY DEAN.

By 1930 the Great Depression had settled in like a cloud of coal dust on St. Louis. Their Cardinals were short on winning games. A lot of folks were out of work, and soup kitchens and bread lines were the only places doing much business. People needed jobs and money, but they needed a few laughs even more.

And fast-ball pitcher Jay Hanna, a.k.a. Jerome Herman, alias Dizzy Dean, was just the man for the job.

Not only did he win 30 games in his first season as pitcher; he talked funny and played pranks to keep the fans laughing and coming back to the ballpark.

He and his cronies on the team, brother Daffy Dean, Pepper Martin, Dazzy Vance, and Ducky Medwick, known as the Gashouse Gang, kept some kind of foolishness going on most of the time. They water-balloon-bombed their manager Frankie Frisch from above, and Dizzy and Pepper chose a steaming hot day to wrap themselves in blankets and shiver in front of a campfire they built in right field, They once brought a sidewalk hillbilly band into the clubhouse for a pre-game dugout hoedown. Even when the team lost the game, the fans went home chuckling with a good story to tell.

Dizzy and Daffy even parked themselves in the grass beside the tracks when the Cardinals' train chugged off to an away game, on strike for better pay from the managers.

"ME AND PAUL ARE GONNA WIN 45 GAMES!" DIZZY BOASTED.

And by September 21 of that season, Dizzy had won 27 and Daffy had won 18.

"IT AIN'T BRAGGIN' IF YOU CAN BACK IT UP!" DIZ SAID.

But Dizzy's best punchline wasn't even his. When he was hit in the head by a pitched ball while running bases, the newspaper's headline reported...

"X-RAY OF DEAN'S HEAD REVEALS NOTHING."

St. Louis fans kept laughing at the capers of the Dean brothers and their teammates, and Depression or not, they were all smiling on that day in 1934 when the Cardinals won the Worlds Series, thanks to Dizzy Dean and his Gashouse Gang.

Carolyn E. Mueller's just published Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang (Reedy Press, 2015) tells the story of one of baseball's genuine legends. Dizzy was voted Most Valuable Player, won a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and retired to a memorable career broadcasting major league games on radio and television, keeping ball fans at home laughing out loud along with the crowd. Mueller's text, narrated by a crusty veteran of the newspaper's dugout beat, tells it pretty much like it was in those colorful days, relating just a few of the anecdotes that made Diz infamous as well as fabled, and artist Ed Koehler scores with his comic acrylic illustrations, using a variety of perspectives to get up-close and personal in telling Dizzy's story to young baseball lovers. A winning baseball picture biography about a winsome and winning American sports hero.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Mersey Beat Boys: Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the Beatles by Susanna Reich

THAT SPRING BRIAN EPSTEIN KNOCKED ON THE DOOR OF EVERY RECORD COMPANY IN LONDON. THE ANSWER WAS ALWAYS THE SAME--NO ONE WANTED A BUNCH OF SCOUSERS FROM GRIMY OLD LIVERPOOL.

"GUITAR GROUPS ARE ON THE WAY OUT," THE BOYS WERE TOLD.

THEN THE BOYS RECEIVED A TELEGRAM. ONE LAST RECORD PRODUCER WAS WILLING TO HEAR THEM PLAY.

That record producer was George Martin, and the rest is history.

Fabulous fame didn't exactly seem to be a likely fate for the four youngsters who grew up in the bombed-scarred old port city of Liverpool, a bit down at the heels in the austerity of post-war days. Growing up as working-class lads, they had one thing in common, a strong desire to make music. Only Paul McCartney's family was musical and encouraged him, but somehow John Lennon got his hands on a guitar, formed a scruffy skiffle band, and kept banging away at the guitar.

SOME OF THE BOYS WERE READY TO QUIT. NOT JOHN. NOT WHEN THERE WAS ONE MORE GIG COMING UP--THE ST. PETER'S CHURCH FAIR.

PAUL MCCARTNEY HOPED HE'D MEET SOME GIRLS AT THE CHURCH FAIR. BUT WHO WAS THIS BLOKE IN THE BAND, MAKING UP NEW WORDS TO "BE-BOP-A-LULU?"

John met Paul and liked the way he sang and played, and even though they didn't know it, their fate was serendipitously sealed that day. Soon Paul introduced John to his younger friend, George. George knew all the good chords, major and minor, on his guitar, and John quickly saw new possibilities of making music with the two of them. The boys shared a feeling for the American music that was flooding their homeland, with its amalgam of blues, rhythm and blues, jazz, country music, folk songs, and pop tunes, and they tried to sound like their favorites--Buddy Holly's mid-America proto-rockabilly, Little Richard's wailing Southern rooted R and B, Motown's sophisticated sound, and of course the early Elvis.

But the thing was, they were Brit lads, and they couldn't quite sound like the American bands. But what these four fortunate friends sounded like was something different, maybe better, and just right for the times. Teens were growing prosperous enough to buy stacks of 45s, and kids wanted their own music to dance to. Marrying that early rock 'n' roll sound to George's subtle new harmonies, John and Paul's memorable melodies with a feel for the pop tune, and adding Ringo's backbeat to the mix, the Fab Four were ready for fame.

Susanna Reich's forthcoming Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the Beatles (Henry Holt and Company, 2015) introduces the fab four one at a time, John, Paul, George, and lastly Ringo, as children and young teens, revealing the individual experiences that made them a unique group and the seeming inevitability of their future when they finally come together. The evocative paintings by notable artist Adam Gustavson capture the period and the energy and optimism of the young four before they were fab. Author Reich also adds impressive Beatle backmatter--an author's note, glossary of Liverpudlian lingo, notes that include many quotations by and about the boys, and a substantial bibliography of books, articles, and web sites.

School Library Journal says this one is "a gorgeous love letter to an unforgettable band," and Kirkus Reviews calls it "a grand and archetypal tale.... the first steps on the long and winding road."

See also Susanna Reich's celebrated previous picture biography, Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat. (Read review here.)

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Monday, August 17, 2015

The Past Is Prologue: Malcolm Under the Stars by W. H. Beck

When Malcolm, Mr. Binney's classroom pet rat, learns that his special nutter friend Amanda is moving away, he thinks that is the worst thing that could happen. But that night there is an emergency meeting of the Midnight Society, and his world seems to crumble beneath him.

Honey Bunny's whiskers twitched at Malcolm. Tank the turtle finished in a rush. "They're saying the electrical system may not be up to code. They'll have to rewire the whole school, which will make the boiler room incident look like loose change. The whole thing--well, it was proposed tonight that maybe McKenna's time has come."

It was Malcolm who stepped forward. "Time for what? Repairs?"

Tank pulled his head inside his shell. "It's official now. The school board has scheduled two "listening sessions, where lankies can say what they think. And then they'll vote." Polly the parakeet and Tank exchanged looks. "They're talking about closing the school."

For longer than the memories of any of the classroom pets whose secret Midnight Academy has looked out for the welfare of their school--the lankiess (teachers) and the nutters (students)--McKenna Elementary has been their home. Sure, fifth graders graduated, but there were always new nutters who needed them. But now, with major structural problems everywhere, it looked like the city was determined to terminate McKenna Elementary and disperse their own nutters and lankies to two other schools.

But Malcolm and others of the Midnight Academy rally to save the school. They uncover the history behind McKenna, once Clearwater's only high school, and get the nutters to present a program with a plea to preserve the historic school, to rally graduates of the high school and former students to keep it alive. And in the course of their investigations of old high school annuals on a bottom shelf in the library, they uncover a legend, the mysterious philanthropist who funded their now crumbling auditorium and gym, and a series of coded hobo ciphers which hint of a time capsule from 1938 and a "Loaded Stash" that might just cover the cost of the old building's repairs and more. But none of the "Inside critters" currently serving as class pets have memories that go back to that time to help find that stash in time to save their school.

Unless.... Malcolm remembers how he saved Beert the barn owl, trapped in the clock tower, and how Beert had introduced him to some of the "Outside critters" who had helped him save the school from the evil cat Snip's plan to poison the nutters' water supply. Desperate, Malcolm screws up his courage to ask the legendary Striped Shadow across the river in his abandoned factory redoubt for help.

And then...the Shadow tells him that there is one critter living there, one whose memory from kittenhood goes back far enough to link them to the secret of the Stash.

Malcolm can't believe it, but that critter is Snip, the feral cat who haunted McKenna School, the villain he though he had vanquished in the boiler episode, the only one who may know how to find the hidden secret that can save their school and keep the Midnight Academy critters together with their nutters and lankies.

As William Faulkner famously said, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." And Malcolm's midnight quest under the stars indeed reveals that the past is still alive, a past that provides a way to a totally surprising ending that promises a future for McKenna Elementary School, in W. H. Beck's eagerly awaited Malcolm Under the Stars (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015). Malcolm, a mere runty ratling who gains entry to Mr. Binney's classroom by pretending mousehood, is the intrepid crusader who leads the way to save his fellow critters' mission to befriend and mentor future nutters on their way to growing up. A engrossing history mystery, with colorful and courageous critter characters and a cast of varied and resourceful kids and teachers who come together to save their community makes for a page-turning adventure that has a lot to say about the courage, perseverance, and initiative it takes to maintain any community.

For a perfect classroom read-aloud, pair this one with its noted prequel, Malcolm at Midnight (see my 2012 review here.)

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

I Want To Be a Ballerina by Anna Membrino


I WANT TO BE A BALLERINA--JUST LIKE MY SISTER.

Mia's got a case of sibling rivalry--and a touch of tutu lust, too. Like a lot of little would-be ballerinas, it's the couture as much as the art that gives her a yen to dance.

She's got the tights, the leotard, the soft ballet shoes, and, of course, the tutu. But, as her big sister reminds her, the clothes don't make the ballerina. She needs balance.

BUT MIA," MY SISTER SAYS, "YOU TRIP ON THE STAIRS."

And then Sis goes on to enumerate the qualities that Mia also lacks--co-ordination and graceful moves, for starters. But the spunky Mia comes right back at her with the right attitude.

"I JUST NEED PRACTICE!"

Sis relents and takes Mia to observe her ballet class, and Mia tries to follow along from the sidelines. It's hard, Mia agrees, even if her tutu is as fluffy as anyone's. But she still believes that practice makes perfect and she won't quit until she can be a ballerina, too. And her sister is convinced that she has the right stuff.

"NOW WE CAN PRACTICE TOGETHER!"

It takes more than the tutu, as young ballerinas soon discover, in Anna Membrino's I Want to be a Ballerina (Random House, 2014). Preschool prima ballerina wannabes will giggle at Mia as she tries to improve her grace, trying not to clomp in Mom's high heels, and her sense of balance by stacking blocks and building a pyramid of cards, while absorbing the warning that dance requires discipline as well. Artist Smiljana Coh's bobble-head ballerinas, both boys and girls, keep the mood light as Mia tries to make all the right moves. Pair this one with Marilyn Singer's delightful Tallulah's Tutu and sequels (see reviews here).

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Starlight, Starbright! Touch the Brightest Star by Christie Matheson


MAGIC HAPPENS EVERY NIGHT.

WAVE GOODBYE TO THE SUN'S BRIGHT LIGHT.

GENTLY PRESS THE FIREFLIES.

OH! PRESS AGAIN TO LIGHT THE SKIES.

"Darkness stirs and wakes imagination," says the famous song from Phantom of the Opera, and in her own nocturnal song author Christie Matheson takes the young reader seamlessly into the "Magic of the Night" in her new Touch the Brightest Star (Greenwillow Books, 2015). Matheson's mixed-media collage illustrations draw her palette from the nighttime sky, limited to blues, except for touches of silver and gold foil, from the turquoise-tinged last light of day to the deep, midnight blue of the starlit sky, with one double-page spread of flat black that mark the nadir of the darkest hours just before the dawn.

And again author Matheson's softly soporific speaker invites the listener to "help make the music of the night" with a soft voice that asks the child to interact with the pages, to touch the stars, trace the constellations, and blow up a night breeze over the twilight-grazing deer. Still, so still animals placed gently into the nighttime landscape set the stage for sleep, as even the owls come home to close their eyes just as the first glow of dawn lights up the opening morning glories. Matheson carefully ties her song of the night to the daylight world, explaining that the moon's silver light only reflects the sun's golden light in a cycle that is itself magical, and she extends her text with an appendix, "How the Magic Happens," that offers simple explanations of shooting stars, crepuscular animals like her deer, and the changing shapes of the moon.

Metheson's companion interactive book about daytime is Tap the Magic Tree.




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Friday, August 14, 2015

A Diller, A Dollar, A Midnight Scholar: Mouse's First Night at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock

THE NIGHT BELL WAS ABOUT TO RING AT MISS MOON'S MOONLIGHT SCHOOL, AND BAT AND CAT AND OWL WERE ALL ON THEIR WAY.

BUT SOMEBODY WAS MISSING....

Mouse is, well, as timid as a mouse, but she's not tardy. She's already inside Miss Moon's schoolroom, but she's shy and already concealed behind a curtain. Miss Moon calls the roll and catches the whispered sound of Mouse's "Here!" from her hiding place.

Kindly but witchy Miss Moon comes up with a break-the-ice game to suit all her students--hide-and-seek. It's just right for bat, who can echo-locate anyone; it's calming for cat, who is curious about the darkest corners, and it's a natural for Owl, who wisely chooses to perch behind a book in the bookcase.

But where is Mouse?

"MOUSE IS REALLY GOOD AT HIDING!" SAID MISS MOON.

"OH, DEAR! MOUSE'S MOTHER WILL BE UPSET...."

"TEE HEE!" GIGGLED MOUSE.

Mouse emerges, a proud winner of the game, from inside Miss Moon's tall black hat, and her first day, er, night fears are gone, in Simon Puttock's Mouse's First Night at Moonlight School (Nosy Crow Books, 2015). Feeling nervous on the first day of school is a common problem, even for creatures of the night, and Puttock's gentle text has the right tone for those students who just wish they could just be invisible on opening day. Ali Pye's nocturnal palette of grays and deep blues, accented by the yellow glow of lanterns and the full moon give this story a late-night setting that is barely scary and mostly cozy for her nighttime scholars.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Meet Me For Lunch? Fish Food by Andy Mansfield and Henning Lohlein


A LITTLE SEA WORM SWIMS AROUND, HAPPY AS CAN BE.

CHOMP!

Sic transit sea worm!

What is a food chain? Well, for one thing, it's an important primary grade science concept. Anything and everything plays a powerful role in that process, as Andy Mansfield's intriguing and inventive Fish Food (Little Bee Books, 2015) makes clear. You might be on the bottom of the food chain, or you might be at the top of the food chain in your native ecology, but if we eat, we're all linked together in it.

Even lowly little sea worm, who gets chomped by a Nemo look-alike, has doubtless just chowed down on some plankton, and the little clownfish who eats him soon gets gulped by a bigger spotted fish, who in turn is preyed upon by Jaws II himself, who fills the page with a catastrophic super-sized CRUNCH!

Author Andy Mansfield, whose resume' identifies him as a "paper engineer," is the designer of the pop-up devices which portray and propel the jaws of the three predator fish, all just looking for the right bite, while artist Henning Lohlein is the creator of the deep-water setting and fish face illustrations that make this one an outstanding toy and movable book. Adding humor to the fun of each unfolding scene of opening and closing jaws are Mansfield's supporting cast of undersea bystanders, a little crab who's scuttled into a bottle with a relieved "Whew," a duo of clams that cry out "Here comes trouble!" a queasy eel who mutters "I can't look!" and some small fry who squeak"Time to go, Fred!" It's a visible and funny presentation of the marine food chain that will please toddlers and early readers alike.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wha'sup? The Next BIG Thing by Richard Faulk

The next big THING. It's a marketing cliche' as old as advertising itself. But in the digital age, the concept has gone viral.

Humankind's sense of time has not always been so manically compressed or our craving of novelty so insatiable. But even in history's most static and tradition-bound moments, there have still been disruptive innovations that change the way we think and live.

More and more, homo sapiens stands out as the species most driven to explore--i.e, to discover the next big thing. Fads, foibles, fights, trends, and also paradigm-shattering discoveries make up the stuff of our history. Some BIG things--monotheistic faith, alcohol, the movable type printing press, the Newtonian universe--(and the internet) have made a major shift in world history. Some once touted BIG things now litter the historical landscape--the chariot and the Segway (See! Some of you don't even know what that was!), the food pill, the midlife crisis--all came and went like tulipomania, leaving people wondering what the fuss was all about.

Some one-time BIG deals left a lasting imprint. Take the case of Mr. Thomas, the traveling turkeys, and the TV Dinner. As the (perhaps apocryphal) story goes, the Thanksgiving of 1952 was a bust for turkey sales for Swanson and Sons. Loath to waste all that white meat, Swanson froze the unsold turkeys, but short on freezer space, they loaded them on ten refrigerated railroad cars and kept them traveling the midwest to keep them frozen. Enter an enterprising salesman named Gerry Thomas, who had a brainstorm aboard a Pan Am flight and fashioned his in-flight aluminum meal tray into three sections and persuaded Swanson to transform the traveling turkeys into turkey, stuffing, and green pea frozen dinners. Concurrent with the mania for the "I Love Lucy" show scheduled around the dinner hour, millions of Americans welcomed the Swanson TV Dinner onto the latest thing in home decor, their brand-new TV trays, and voila! instant dinner and a movie, with no dishes to wash after the Desilu credits rolled! Although the iconic packaging and title are no more, replaced by Lean Cuisine, Budget Gourmet, and dozens of others, sixty-two per cent of Americans still eat dinner in front of television sets, usually consuming some sort of frozen-microwaveable descendant of the traveling turkey.

Other crazes that came and went, leaving some lasting impressions on the world, were the Kodak craze (the granny of the selfie), "scientific racism," the concept of the teenager, the "boom box," the "masculine renunciation," (the shift from fur, fancy breeches, and fripperies to conservative suits for men), plastic everything, and the dance craze of the 20s and 30s. (Swing dancing, tango, anyone?)

The lasting impact of current BIG things--tranquilizers like Prozac, personal music beginning with the Walkman and on through the iPod, smart phones and the game console, the microbiome, and, of course, the Pill--seem assured, but others--molecular gastronomy, "the end of history," and world metrification--are still in iconic limbo.

Richard Faulk's The Next Big Thing: A History of the Boom-or-Bust Moments That Shaped the Modern World (Zest Books, 2015), is a feisty, funny, and insightful look at the movements, manias, temporary insanities, and great advances in human society. Faulk does a masterful job of keeping his style light and lively, while setting each BIGGIE in its time and place context and evaluating its effects for hype factor and impact factor, sometimes with wisdom, sometimes with tongue in cheek, and sometimes with a bit of well-placed snark. With a short chapter for each phenom and clever illustrations by Ramsey Beyer, this book has a lot of appeal for teenagers (always up for wha's happenin')--and for adults (with perhaps a dusty boombox and a few tangled cassettes in the closet) who can relish recalling their own youthful BIG things as well.

For those homo sapiens with truly exploratory minds, pair this one with the brief but historical 30-Second Twentieth Century: The 50 Most Significant Ideas and Events, Each Explained in Half a Minute (Ivy Press, 2015), edited by Jonathan T. Reynolds.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Into the Woods: I Know Sasquatch by Jess Bradley

Everyone thinks they know what Sasquatch is like: He is...

VERY SMELLY!

VERY LARGE! VERY MEAN!

But who's afraid of the big, bad Sasquatch?

Not our girl--even though she's read scary things about him in a book.

Bravely she ventures forth into the woods behind her house, hoping for a spotting of the legendary "monster."

THEN SUDDENLY, I SPOTTED A MYSTERIOUS CLUMP OF FUR.

AND A LARGE FOOTPRINT!

Her first impulse is to scream and run, but as she takes to her heels, her Super Bub bubble gum packet spills behind her on the path. And when she finally turns for a quick look....

...I KNEW I HAD NOTHING TO FEAR.

Who could be afraid of a furry blue Bigfoot blowing an enormous Super Bub bubble as big as his head?

He politely presents his signed photo ID from the Society of Cryptids. Sasquatch then takes our girl on a genteel tour of the woodlands, introducing some of his friends, Yuri the Bear and Sandy the Bunny, not to mention the more, er, exotic cryptids Ogopogo and Jackalope. He shows off his family tree and points out that most of the media frenzy sightings are really those of his eccentric second cousin Murray. Over a tasty picnic he bemoans the bad press his family usually gets.

But our creative girl has a solution for that cryptid dilemma, too:

INVITE HIM TO MY HOUSE AND MAKE THIS BOOK!

Jess Bradley's just published I Know Sasquatch (Fiction Picture Books) (Capstone Books, 2015) offers young readers a light-hearted introduction to one of North America's most notorious legends. Her Sasquatch and main character are blackline cartoon characters collaged over photos of genuine woodlands and set against a blue-lined notebook background, and her kid-friendly soft blue, pink-nosed "monster" smells like blueberries (although he also apparently loves watermelon when he can get it). Big fun with Bigfoot!

Pair this one with Dan Santat's Caldecott Award-winning The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend or Kent Redeker's Don't Squish the Sasquatch! (see my review here) for more tales from the wild side.

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