Thursday, April 17, 2014

Goodbye, George! Galapagos George by Jean Craighead George


1,000,000 years ago a giant tortoise lived in South America. Giantess George ate prickly things like cactus and ground-growing greens that grew in her ancient desert.

But Giantess George's earth was a very restless planet. Earthquakes and tectonic forces were reshaping the land, and giant storms roiled the oceans, and in one such storm she was swept into the sea where she stayed afloat until she came upon a island of debris to crawl upon and drifted until to a small island of some that came to be called the Galapagos many millennia later.

Giantess George found ground vegetation there and thrived, laid her eggs, and populated the island. But a small island is dependent upon ocean air masses for its rain, and one year the rains didn't come and the grasses didn't grow.  Luckily, Giantess George had a rather long neck for her kind and she managed to live by reaching up for leaves from the lower branches of small trees. Since only the longer-necked tortoises were able to survive the frequent droughts on her island, Giantess George's descendants passed on their longer necks and her kind adapted well to life in her new habitat.

Fast forward hundreds of thousands of years on San Cristobal Island.  Darwin visits and remarks on the long-necked giant tortoises he sees and many seaman stop by and leave behind some of the animals that sailed with them.  Hungry for meat, they took the tortoises onto their vessels as a living shipboard larder when they needed it. Gradually the plentiful tortoises became scarce and then rare.

And then in the twentieth century, scientists realized that there was only one giant saddle-backed Galapagos tortoise to be found.  They named him George, moved him to their research station on Pinta Island, and a serious search began for a companion for him, a mate who would help perpetuate the species.

But no mate was ever found anywhere in the Galapagos, and George became the famous Lonesome George, living out his days alone until his species died out with his death at four o'clock on June 23, 2012.

Famed Newbery-winning author (for Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain) Jean Craighead George's last book, Galapagos George (Harper, 2014), tells this true tale of how habitat change can bring down even such a mighty species as the giant tortoise. A fascinating account of species adaptation and decline, George's book is full of portent for us, the only species on earth who can actually affect the forces that shape our planet's life. Ironically, author George and Lonesome George died within weeks of each other in 2012. Artist Wendell Minor's powerful, almost monumental, watercolor illustrations tell her final story well, and despite its sadly inevitable ending for its subject, Minor ends with a tribute to the author with whom he had worked on many books with her own hopeful words. "As long as there is life, there will always be new and unimaginable things that can happen. And they do, all the time."

Appended for nature science students is a glossary, a timeline of the giant tortoise, and a bibliography of resources which includes books and websites for further investigation.

Publishers Weekly awarded George's last book a starred review, saying "Skillfully capturing the concept of adaptation in natural selection, this succinct story continues its creators’ tradition of inspiring awe and appreciation for the natural world." Hail and farewell, Jean Craighead George.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

No Place Like Home: Nest by Jorey Hurley

Those iconic signs of spring, a nesting pair of robins have woven grasses into the age-old basket shape just as the sun begins to waken the bare trees from their winter rest.


The story begins with the father and mother robin gazing into the nest where they see one robin's-egg-blue egg. The mother settles down to shelter her egg on the nest and the dad flies off to find food and a nearby branch where he can keep watch.

As leaves and blooms peep out, the parent birds know that soon the baby will hatch and after a frenzy of feeding, he will grow feathers and the speckled orange breast of the juvenile. As he gets stronger, he can jump from the nest and from limb to limb in his tree, as Mom and Dad keep a watchful eye, knowing that soon he will fly on his own.

Soon their tree is filled with red berries and the robins feast on them, until they stop to stare in surprise--at a purple kite rising above their tree.

Soon the leaves change colors, the wind begins to blow, and the three robins snuggle together on their perch to sleep. And when they awake, the fledgling dares to soar down to the ground to explore for worms. The older robins watch, somehow seeming to know that their young one will meet another young robin and that when spring returns again, they, too, will build another nest in their tree.

Jorey Hurley's debut picture book, Nest (Simon & Schuster, 2014), uses only thirteen words, one for each two-page spread, to tell the familiar story of the robins' life cycle and the changing seasons. Hurley's illustrations are striking--with a strong but burnished palette in simple line drawings and flat color laid against a matte-white background. Her robins are realistic, without a trace of cartooning or anthropomorphism, but also iconic, without shading or detailing, and her tree is also simple and stylized without losing any of its tree-ness. Preschoolers will be drawn into the little drama as the egg becomes chick and the chick becomes fledgling and then an adult, and emergent readers will have plenty of context to help them read the natural and easy text on their own. The author adds an appendix with extra information about nesting. For classroom units, read this one as an introduction to Rita Gray's delightful Have You Heard the Nesting Bird?

School Library Journal says,"Nest's beauty and originality will stand up to countless re-readings."

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Now Ewe Know: Little Lamb by L. Rigo

Bunnies, ducklings, chicks, and the ever-popular egg get most of the ink, but lambs are traditional symbols of Easter and spring, too, and rams, ewes, and especially lambs get their due in L.Rigo's Little Lamb (Mini Look at Me Books) (Barron's, 2014).

A small (even by board book standards) book, die-cut in the shape of a sweet, sitting lambkin and endowed with undeniable cuteness, this one is tiny enough for very young hands.  Its thick, sturdy pages are easy to turn, offering the youngsters an opportunity to handle a book and learn to turn the pages all by themselves.

The soft watercolor illustrations are of pleasant pastoral scenes, as new mothers lead their lambs out for the first time into the wide world.  There is some information for a read-aloud session with the sheep-family names--ewe, ram, lamb--and a smattering of knowledge--that older sheep eat grass, while little lambs just like mommy's milk--but because of its appealing shape, this toy-and-movable-book format is more "toy" than a "book," with only a few page turns of springtime scenes, a toy book that may even find its way into the crib or toddler bed.

For Easter gifts and baskets for toddlers, this one has a lot of visual and tactile appeal. There are also a whole flock  of literary lamb stories out there, including Laura Numeroff's and Lynn Munsinger's Lots of Lambs (see its review here), Little Lamb: Finger Puppet Book (Finger Puppet Brd Bks), Usborne's finger-feely-friendly That's Not My Lamb... (Usborne Touchy-Feely Books,) or for a nonfiction approach, Judy Dunn's popular The Little Lamb (Pictureback(R)).

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Rabbit en Pointe! A Bunny in the Ballet by Robert Beck




But that does not deter Desiree Bunny, who just knows that her particular pings, jumps, and whooshes are just what the Parisienne ballet needs. Hoping for an audition for the Ecoles de Danse, Desi encounters Mdme. Molotov, the dragon at the door administrative assistant, who definitively declares...


Still, Desiree manages to slip into the practice room and impresses the dancing mistress with her whirls and whooshes, and she finds a place in the class.

Attired in pink leotard and tights, pink tutu and slippers, Desi shows up and works hard, even when she finds the class dressed all in blue and high skeptical that a bunny belongs in the ballet.  And when it is time for Mr. Cloud to assign roles for the holiday performance of The Nutcracker,  Desiree earns the part of....Marie's pet bunny. Irked at the type casting, Desiree goes along with the assignment and plays it perfectly. But when the second act is almost ready to begin, Mr. Cloud discovers that his prima ballerina for the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is unable to go on.


Pigs (Olivia) do it, mice (Angelina) do it, very fairy princesses (Geraldine) do it, even little leg-losing zombies (Zombelina) do it, so why not a bunny ballerina? At least, that's the premise of Robert Beck's new A Bunny in the Ballet (Orchard Books, 2014). Beck doesn't skip a cliche as he recycles the plot of the eager young member of the corps de ballet who secretly understudies the star and steps in when the grand jete' must go on. Where Beck's story is most improvisational is in his distinctive highly expressive illustrations, with characters and the Parisienne backdrop stylishly portrayed in a few swooping lines and soft watercolor wash. Overcoming the odds is the premise into which Beck works ballet terms and routine, in a story that will appeal to young ballerinas who plan to beat the odds of becoming prima ballerinas themselves.

For a whole corps de ballet of stories, see some of the competition here!

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hide & Peek: What Noise Does A Rabbit Make? by Carrie Weston



Little gray Bunny is thrilled to play a new game with his friends, but he's not really up on exactly how to be IT.

While he counts, the other animals dash off and hide--not all that well, actually.

But still Bunny is better at the running part than at the seeking part.  Even with the dubious help of a little mole, he can't seem to spot anybody--not even turtle, who has merely pulled his head and legs under his shell and sits there right before his eyes. Hare is visible through the tall grass.  Skunk is clearly smell-able, but Bunny doesn't follow up on the olfactory clue. Even with the little Mole hinting broadly where he should look, Bunny misses Owl, Bear, and Squirrel, hiding almost in plain sight.

Bunny is bummed. He can't find anybody! He hops deeper into the woods, and it's beginning to look like his friends are going to have to find him!

But it seems Bunny has already found good friends who won't let him worry alone for too long, in Carrie Weston's story of a bunny lost and found, Peek-a-Boo Bunny (HarperCollins, 2014).  While her sweet  story of  a novice hide-and-seeker is simple, her illustrations offer much for the reader to search out.  Done up artfully in mixed media (a collage of paint and plaster overlaid with digitally-drawn vines, grasses, and flowers that frame each page), each double-page spread provides the active reader a chance to spy out the animals that Bunny can't quite spot.  As Kirkus Reviews puts it, "Preschoolers who are just beginning to understand the game of hide-and-seek will find this irresistible." A fine find for Easter baskets or spring storytime treats.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bunny Mine: Bella Loves Bunny by David McPhail



Bella  and Bunny have got a good thing going. They do everything together.

Bunny wiggles her nose as Bella arises and slips on her bunny slippers. Bunny plants the seeds as Bella smells the blooms. Bella eats her lunch and Bunny nibbles carrot cake.

Bella tickles the ivories on her toy piano, and Bunny... does the bunny hop. They twirl and whirl, chase and race all day.

And when day is done, Bunny helps Bella choose a charming nightgown and the two slip into bed, Bunny's wee bed beside Bella's big girl bed. Paw in hand, they slide into sleepytime together.

The Caldecott-winning David McPhail's latest, Bella Loves Bunny (David McPhail's Love Series) (Abrams Applewood Books, 2013), companion book to his Ben Loves Bear (David McPhail's Love Series) offers his trademark soft pastel images with an endearing portrayal of a girl who loves her toy bunny so much he seems to come alive in her imagination. McPhail's illustrations never fail to please, and Bella and Bunny are a pair of thoroughly charming buddies.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Hippity-Hopping, Easter's On Its Way: Here Comes Peter Cottontail by Steve Nelson

Easter is on its way, and for those family members looking for healthy (or at least non-chokeable) treats for an Easter basket for the very youngest, there is a brand-new book,  a wired-for-sound version of  the evergreen hit from 1950!

Steve Nelson's Here Comes Peter Cottontail!
(Candy Cane Press, 2014) has more to offer than the average seasonal  holiday kiddy book. Within a super-sturdy brand-new board book edition, this one features quite charming and appropriately pastel pink and purple-hued illustrations by artist Jack Rollins.

Peter, an amiably bespectacled bunny, assembles a basket-barrow of spring bouquets, an Easter bonnet and orchid corsage for Mom, colored eggs and a chocolate bunny to boot, "that he's hiding everywhere!" for the children. Along with all the words to the familiar song, two lines per page, to read aloud, there is a large, easy-to-press blue button on the cover which plays a soft and pleasant run-through of the tune, with blissfully only one repetition per push, for sing-along or read-alone fun!

For more Easter basket treats for tots, add Tad Hill's best-selling board book, Duck & Goose, Here Comes the Easter Bunny!, Oliver Dunrea's Ollie's Easter Eggs board book (Gossie & Friends), Laura Numeroff's Happy Easter, Mouse! (If You Give...),  or some weebly-wobbly unbreakable Easter eggs, Playskool Weebles Spring Basket, Lamb and Chick. to brighten up that first Easter basket.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

First Born: Daisy Duckling's Adventure by Maurice Pledger

Daisy Duckling has just hatched. But something is missing! Where is everybody? An independent and determined little yellow duckling, Daisy sets out to find her family.



In Marice Pledger's bright little board book, Daisy Duckling's Adventure (Silver Dolphin Books, 2014), Daisy finds a variety of eggs, all beneath cleverly constructed flaps, but strangely enough, none of them have another duckling like her inside.

Daisy's first find is large and leathery, but inside is the scaly Sammy Snake.  SSSSSSSS!

But Sammy is curious, too, and they set off together along the river bank in search of more eggs. There's a big one, almost covered in sand.

Timmy crawls out, ready to join the egg hunt, however, and  the next ovoid they encounter is even more surprising!

By this time, Daisy is leading quite an egg delegation. There's a hopeful hunk of yellow fluff under that egg there....

But under that shell is Charlie Chick. And then... there are two bigger eggs, and from under their shells Daisy sees... Sally and Sydney Cygnet!

Lots of things are hatching all over, it seems, but Daisy is beginning to wonder if she's the only duckling to be found. Tired, she falls asleep with her friends until she's awakened by a new, but strangely familiar sound:

First-born Daisy finally finds her family, and introduces them to her other hatchling friends, in this jolly little lift-the-flap treatise on things that come from eggs. With touch-and-feel patches and sturdy flaps for young fingers, there's a little lesson on nature and a lot of fun in this nicely illustrated springtime story. Pair this new one with Jill Esbaum's endearing latest, I Hatched! (see review here) for a springsome twosome. Or for a hatch-batch, add Jennifer Ward's delightful die-cut egg book, What Will Hatch?  (see the review here) for an Easter egg-stravaganza.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Calendar Haiku: Hi, Koo! by Jon Muth


In the time of the turning of seasons, we look at nature more closely. Notable author/illustrator Jon Muth believes that a "haiku... is an instant capture in words of an image [which] reminds us that our own human nature is not a separate form of nature," and uses this heightened awareness as the backdrop for his "year of seasons."

As his spokesman, Muth brings back his little panda character, Koo, and lets him wander gently through the seasons, showing us what we might otherwise overlook in each time. Here's little Koo, revisiting a memorable moment in Ezra John Keats' classic, The Snowy Day, as a snow-laden branch dumps a clump on his head:


A Caldecott award-winning illustrator, Jon Muth shows off his admirable pen-and-ink draftsmanship, married to soft watercolor wash,  giving us vignettes which invite the eye to linger, as when we see Koo celebrating his snow-clump coronation, as a bright red cardinal whose landing on the branch caused the avalanche, enjoys the results of his mischief. And during a long summer twilight, Koo and two kids stay outside to play with light and shadow:


Muth has an easy-going take in his free-form haiku, each one a word picture greatly amplified by his lovely full-page spreads done in his impressionistic realism, with touches of humor and joy. As a added attraction, Muth also tucks in a surprise alphabet lesson, with the letters in order appearing as a capital letter in each of his 26 poems.

John Muth's Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons (Scholastic Press, 2014) is a thoroughly delightful example of the high art of the picture book, a miraculous melding of language and images in which both companionship and nature itself have starring roles. A book to treasure, for quiet sharing or for use with classes studying the seasons, the alphabet, or poetry.

Kirkus gives this one a starred review, saying "Throughout, condensed poetic image coupled with spare illustration yields huge effect; in a word, magical."

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

"I know your secret...:" Cold Calls by Charles Benoit

The phone rang and he answered it.

No number came up on caller ID. There was a pause on the other end and then two quick clicks, and then a voice, computer generated and pitched low.

"Eric Hamilton."

Then a single whispered sentence that made his stomach drop.

Then nothing.

Eric has a secret, and someone, someone who knows how to make a call which leaves no traces, someone who has hacked his computer and found the picture of April that he should not have taken, the one no one should see, that someone clearly knows his secret.

Another call comes soon, demanding he play a silly prank--dumping school cafeteria mac and cheese on a freshman guy he doesn't even know--a prank that Eric knows will get him benched, suspended, and in major trouble at home. Still Eric knows he has to do it. April doesn't deserve the alternative.

Part of Eric's school suspension requires him to spend three days in system-wide anti-bullying classes. No one seems particularly engaged in the class, not even the teacher, until Eric overhears her and her assistant laughing about their students' explanatory essays they are collating:

..."claimed it was his twin brother, who, by the way, is two years older...."

..."said she didn't remember it, so it didn't count anymore..."

..."said a strange voice called her at night--"

Eric's head snapped up. Eyes wide, he held his breath, but Ms. Owens had moved on to other unbelievable excuses.

That's when he noticed the goth girl staring at him.

She nodded once--slowly--then flipped a page and went back to writing.

Goth girl, Shelly, finds him after class, and tells him they have something in common.

"It's about your secret," she says. "We need to talk."

Shelley saw Eric's reaction to what he heard, and Fatima's as well, and she has a theory that they all had the same mystery caller, one who had discovered they each had secrets that they would do almost anything to hide. When Eric and Shelley meet with Fatima, she suddenly intuits that they themselves are not the real objects of the prank: they are just the means to humiliate three strangers, three people that are the real objects of the perpetrator's revenge. Fatima offers to hack into the social media accounts of their three victims to trace their relationships back in time to discover the one person they have in common, the one victim the three must have all tormented together. The irony of the whole thing is not lost on them.

"This whole thing is crazy," Fatima said. "The people we bullied bullied the girl who's bullying us."

"So, in the end, we're all victims," Eric said.

"Yeah," Shelly said. "And we're all bullies."

But Eric, Shelly, and Fatima receive another call, asking them to carry out new orders or their secrets will be published immediately on the deadline. As time runs short, they finally identify the source of the calls, but still must find a way to purge the evidence from the extortionist's computer before she executes her threat.

In his latest, Cold Calls (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), author Charles Benoit brings together three unlikely co-conspirators in a page-turning tale in which no one is totally innocent--except those who will be hurt by the revelation of the hidden secrets. The serious theme of the long chain of school bullying is worked out amid a tangle of realistic teen relations, misunderstandings, and bad choices, as the three unlikely victims come together in a narrative that is suspenseful right down to the final, but intriguingly not concluding, page.

Other thriller-adventures by Charles Benoit include Fall from Grace and Relative Danger.

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Monday, April 07, 2014

The Eyes Have It: Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins

Most animals rely on their vision, more than any other sense, to find out what is going on around them. For these creatures, the eyes are the most important link to the world.

In the animal kingdom the eyes really do have it, for finding food, avoiding being another animal's food, communicating and reproducing, and, as any human mother knows, keeping their offspring safe while they are growing up.

But the means of vision vary, from the tiny eyespot, which only perceives light, to the basketball-sized eyeball of the colossal squid, from simple sensor cells shared by worms and sponges to the super-sharp camera eye of raptors such as the Eurasian buzzard, who can spot a rabbit from two miles away.

The eye is one of the most specialized of all organs. Some animals, such as cats and deer, have built in reflectors called tapetum which reflect external light back outward to assist nocturnal hunting and foraging. Others, such as the mantis shrimp have light and color perception that Picasso would have envied, to help them survive in among their colorful coral reefs. Atlantic scallops have dozens of bright blue eyes arranged along their shells. Some animals, such as ghost crabs and snails are equipped for a 360-degree view, while the panther chameleon can swivel its two eyes independently of each other with true double vision.  Some animal eyes, such as those of frogs,  only see motion, while others can "see" ultraviolet and infrared" waves that humans cannot. Predators like wolves and humans can take in only one view, but with incredible depth perception made possible by their binocular vision abilities which enable most of what we humans do--driving, throwing, reading--all those things that require great focus that places objects accurately in space.

Illustrated lushly with deftly painted collages, Steve Jenkins' Eye to Eye: How Animals See The World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), shows and tells the reader about the variety and wonders of vision. As is his wont, Jenkins specializes in up-close views of his subject, giving us clear views of the four eyes of jumping spider, the compound eyes of the dragonfly, or the zipper eyes of the leopard gecko. His highly readable and succinct text slips in much information while providing plenty of amazing animal facts to entice middle readers to look deeper into the subject.  For further research, the author also offers an excellent appendix with diagrams of the five types of eyes--eyespot, eyecup, pinhole, primitive lens, and camera eye--thumbnail illustrations and descriptions of  his intriguing animals and their eyes, as well as a useful bibliography and glossary.

Eye-catching and eye-opening eye candy, Steve Jenkins' tribute to the science and art of vision gives young animal lovers a close look at the nature of seeing and the seeing of nature. Recommended for curious browsers and as a middle reader research report resource, this one should have a place in classroom, school, and public libraries.

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Sunday, April 06, 2014

Counting the Chicks Before They Hatch! Ten Eggs in a Nest by Marilyn Sadler



Gwen is a superstitious sitting hen, and she asserts that it is bad luck to count your chicks before they hatch. The two anxious parents-to-be agree to take it as it comes.

So when the first chick pops out, Red Rooster struts proudly over to Worm World, and proprietor Pinky Pig is happy to sell him one worm for one coin.

Red runs back to the roost to feed Baby #1, only to discover a surprise! Two more baby chicks have hatched. It's back to Worm World for Red, where he announces proudly that he is the papa of one plus two--three chicks!  But the responsibilities of fatherhood have multiplied while Red Rooster was at the worm emporium. Back at the nest he finds three more chickies waiting for their worms.

Red puzzles over the count as he heads back to Pinky's emporium: One plus two plus three equals... six babies. Papa Red Rooster realizes that he is also out six coins! Being a family man is harder than he knew!

But the count continues to mount back at the coop, with four new chicks waiting for him in the barnyard, in veteran storyteller Marilyn Sadler's jolly new Bright and Early Book, Ten Eggs in a Nest (Bright & Early Books(R)) (Random House, 2014). Emergent readers and beginner mathematicians will find lots of fun on the way to ten in this newest beginner reader, executed by artist Michael Fleming in bright primary colors in a style reminiscent of P.D. Eastman's early reader classics. Red Rooster is a comely comic character who gets his tail feathers all a-flutter in his frantic rush to provide his new babies with provender, and he gets to play out the final comic line in fine feather.


This one pairs perfectly with Theo LeSieg's (alias Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel's) classic counting book, Ten Apples Up On Top!

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

Eggstra! Pete the Cat: Big Easter Adventure by Kimberly and James Dean





Hey! This isn't cool! A Do-It-Yourself Easter Basket?

But for Pete, it's all good. If being a substitute Bunny is what it takes to get the fun off the ground, he's up for it!

Pete pitches in, putting on the fake ears and faux bunny nose and powder puff tail, and heading out to rustle some eggs, with help of the cheerful chicks in the chicken yard.

But this thing is on a tight deadline, and Pete has to hop off fast to the tool shed for some paints, where he does an egg-cellent job of egg art . As soon as the striped, dotted, and fully decorated eggs are dry, he heads off to hide the eggs for the big Easter Egg Hunt in his neighborhood.

With the work all done, the Easter Bunny puts in a brief personal appearance, just long enough to pin an award ribbon on his stand-in--the one with a bunny tail AND a long black cat tail.

But, it's all good. Happy Easter, Everyone!

Kimberly and James Dean's latest holiday tale, Pete the Cat: Big Easter Adventure (HarperCollins, 2014), breaks no eggs in the usual omelet of the helping-the-Easter-Bunny genre, but a hippety-hoppity Pete with his ever-cool countenance and two tails is pretty funny, and the twelve ever-so-cute Easter cards, pull-out poster, and eggs-traordinary stickers will go a long way to providing the sweet treats for Easter baskets for Pete the Cat fans.

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Friday, April 04, 2014

Coming Up Next! If You Hold a Seed by Elly MacKay


A seed is such a small thing, on its own in his hand it is lifeless and still. But if a small boy plants it in the ground and waits patiently, a lot can happen. In his yellow slicker with an umbrella over his head, he waits through the warm spring rain. With his head on the ground, he listens for something to happen beneath the soil.

And a small sprout appears, and soon the boy arranges a sunshade to protect the seedling from the summer sun, and waters it. barefoot, by hand.


The boy waits through autumn and the snowy winter. He grows and so does his tree. In a few years, he can pitch his little tent beneath it for his first brave outdoor sleepover. But the magic continues, and one day the wish will truly come true.

Elly MacKay's lovely If You Hold a Seed (Running Press Kids, 2013) tells the old story of planting a tree and watching it grow. The magic in this story is in MacKay's layered tissue collage illustrations, overlaid with color in which  her retro-styled designs glow with light from within with a touch of the magic she describes. The artist's final scene shows the boy, now grown up, with his own son, sharing a seat on a branch of their tree as the cycle of life goes on. This is a special lyrical look at spring magic and the wonders of trees that carries a lovely message, text and art becoming one, for the young. Publishers Weekly puts it this way: "Glowing paper dioramas are the heart and soul of MacKay's debut. . . ."

Pair this one with another delightful song of spring, Julie Fogliano's and Ellen Stead's Caldecott Medal book, And Then It's Spring (Booklist Editor's Choice. Books for Youth (Awards)). (Read my review here.)

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

My Baby Wrote Me A Letter! Greetings from the Graveyard (43 Cemetery Road) by Kate Klise


Things are peaceful at the mansion at 43 Cemetery Road. Residential ghost-writer Olive C. Spence, and her co-author Ignatious B. Grumply are serenely working on their next haunted mystery, and their foster son, Seymour Hope, is happily illustrating a new line of interment-themed greeting cards, Greetings from the Graveyard, at the inspiration of Olive. But their restful writing is interrupted by a letter from Grumply's long-lost love, Nadia S. Richenov:

Dear Ignatius,

I hope you didn't have a heart attack when you opened this letter. I nearly had a heart attack last night when I was at a party and everyone was talking about a wonderful book called 43 Cemetery Road. "Nadia, you simply must read it," my friends said. "It's about a haunted mansion in Ghastly, Illinois." I pretended to be interested. "Who's the author?" I asked with a yawn. "Well," said my friends, it's co-written by a ghost named Olive C. Spence and the man who rented her mansion, Ignatius B. Grumply."

Ignatius B. Grumply? The man who asked me to marry him years ago? The man whose proposal I turned down like a bedspread?

I'm dying to see you, Iggy!

Love always,

It seems Nadia's finances are failing, and her old fiance' Iggy is apparently rolling in royalties, plenty reason for Nadia to hotfoot it to Ghastly to try to re-ignite an old flame. Ignatius's heart, however, has grown stone cold after being jilted, and he rightly suspects that Richenov's ardor is purely pecuniary. He commissions a personal reply, via card, stating that their relationship should merely rest in peace.

Meanwhile, there are several mysterious coincidences arising in the vicinity of Cemetary Road. Celebrity art critic, Art Smart, arrives in town. Two escaped felons, Rob Z. Lott and Liza Lott, are rumored to be in the vicinity, just as new residents, Ben and Mia Bizzy, fortuitously open a business, installing home security systems, just in time, in seems, to ride the wave or recent robberies in the formerly peaceful town. While the local librarian, M. Balm, and constable, Mike Ondolences, busy themselves collecting clues around town, the rejected Nadia S. Richenov elects to pen a tell-all book about her affaire de coeur with the noted author, including his literary love letters, still in her possession, illustrated by none other than his son Seymour Hope.  Nadia's ruthless publisher, Paige Turner, also urges Nadia to purloin the famous portrait of the long-dead but still active writer, Olive C. Spence, from the mansion's dining room, while she is in town.

But there is another felonious pair in the neighborhood, the crooked Lott/Bizzy couple, with a sinister plan to swap the original Olive portrait for a skillful replica, and make a killing selling it to Art Smart.

It looks like partners Grumply and Spence will again have to dig up their Sherlock hats and foil some dastardly deeds, coming up with a plot for a new best-selling mystery in the process, in Kate Klise's clever latest sequel in her popular pun-filled series, 43 Cemetery Road, titled Greetings from the Graveyard (43 Old Cemetery Road) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).

For kids who like their mysteries well-laced with drop-dead funny funereal wordplay, there is no alternative to Kate Klise's dazzling display of deadly double entendres. With characters like robbery victim Shirley U. Jest, Dr. Izzy Dedyet, and Olive's recently, er, revived butler T. Leeves, there are puns aplenty to keep the pages turning as the mystery gets solved and conflicts duly laid to rest in this new installment for literary-leaning elementary readers. Sarah Klise's appropriately comic pen-and-ink pictures illustrate the text, told entirely in letters, making this both a masterful middle-reader mystery and an excellent example of the epistolary tale.

For more reviews of Kate Klise's craft, see my reviews here.

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