Sunday, September 24, 2017

Pull Yourself Together! Bonaparte Falls Apart by Margery Cuyler


Bonaparte is a little skeleton who has a hard time keeping it together. If he peddles his bike a bit too fast, a foot falls off. If he catches a fast-ball pitch, his baseball glove AND his hand fly off, ball and all. When he takes a big bite of pizza, his jaw actually drops!



It's not like all the kids in Boney's group aren't a bit, er, unusual--Franky Stein, Blacky Widow, and Mummicula are not exactly your average school kids. They try to be helpful, retrieving his boney limbs--when they can find them. But sometimes their playtime turns into a tiresome scavenger hunt for Bonaparte's parts.

Franky offers mechanical assistance, gluing and screwing Boney's legbones back on. But Boney winds up too uptight to move! Blacky offers a protective web to keep it all together, but when Boney tries to play, he and the web turn into a tangle-jangle. Mummicula tries out his skills, but he gets a little over-zealous with the winding wrap and covers Bonaparte's whole skull.


Bonaparte knows his constant bone shedding is not going to be cool for school. Even his monster pals are weary with chasing down his body parts. But then Mummicula spots a dog running by with a bone in his mouth and has a brainstorm!

What if the pooch can be trained to retrieve Boneparte's missing parts?


With an, er, "service dog" on the job, Bonaparte's missing parts problem is solved in Margery Cuyler's Bonaparte Falls Apart (Crown Books, 2017). Cuyler is an author well known for her holiday books and funny pun-ditry, plying the power of paronomasia (the fancy word for wordplay) in a witty story great for the first weeks of school and for the upcoming scary season. Fitting in (and fitting together) with classmates is hard to do, but with the appealing illustrations, with Will Terry's blackline drawings set in spot art style on bright white pages, this pair of storytellers manage to make skeletons and little monsters appealing and even charming.

Pair this one with Cuyler's and Terry's clever Skeleton for Dinner (read review here) in which little Skeleton fears that for the witches' dinner, he's wanted to flavor, not savor, the stew.

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Scare Compendium: In a Dark Dark Room and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz

Everyone loves a scary story, even beginning readers, and for primary graders beginning to read independently, Alvin Schwartz' In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories: Reillustrated Edition (I Can Read Level 2) (Harper, 2017) is a collection of several oldies but goodies which don't lose much in the translation into easy readers.

"In A Dark, Dark Room" is one variation of the traditional folk "jump tale," a story which takes the reader into a darkened room, to an dark, dark chest, to a dark, dark shelf inside that chest where a dark, dark box waits. And inside that dark, dark box there is...


"The Night It Rained" is a one variant of the venerable tale of "The Haunted Hitchhiker," in which a driver gives a pale young person named Joe a ride home on a dark and stormy night, kindly offering his shivering passenger the comfort of his jacket before he drops him off at his house. When on the next day the driver remembers his coat, he is told by grieving parents that Joe has long been dead and buried in the local graveyard. And when the curious driver goes to the grave, guess what he finds neatly draped over Joe's tombstone?

Another golden oldie included is "The Green Ribbon," in which a lovely woman refuses to explain to why she always wears a green ribbon tied around her neck, until her her husband discovers why at her death.

Along with these classic tales, Schwartz offers several other short and spooky anecdotes, and closes with a historical appendix titled "Where The Stories Came From." Newly independent readers will enjoy being able to read these scary tales to themselves, or, more likely, may find it more fun to read them to kids just a bit younger than themselves... on a dark and stormy night.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Please See Me! Boo Who?" by Ben Clanton



Breaking in to a new group is hard to do.

Rex, the ebullient little dinosaur, and his gang--Gizmo the robot, Wild the little monster, and Sprinkles, the unicorn rabbit--are a rowdy group of old buddies.

Boo, a pale little ghost, doesn't exactly stand out in a crowd. He longs to play, but he doesn't really have the right stuff for their games. When Rex bounces him the ball, it goes right through him. With no hands, Boo's not a standout at a game of pick-up-sticks. And a game of tag is out when no one can feel his touch.

He floats off toward the edge of page right, clearly marginalized, becoming more and more pale and imperceptible as he goes.


Things are looking grave for Boo.

Gizmo starts a game of hide-and-seek, counting down while everyone hides. Boo watches from almost off-page as Sprinkles, Rex, and Wild choose not-so-effective places to hide. Suddenly Boo realizes that this game is made for him!



Boo smiles to himself as Rex and his friends look everywhere for him, and as he does, he begins to materialize. Boo is clearly the winner of this game!


Kids new to a neighborhood or school who may feel themselves disappearing into the woodwork will know just how it feels to go unnoticed in the crowd, and Ben Clanton's new Halloween-friendly book about Rex and his gang, Boo Who? (Candlewick Press, 2017) does a fine job of making Boo's feelings palpable even to youngsters who haven't yet found themselves on the outside looking in. Clanton's understated text and simple ink, pencil, and digital colors tell the story beautifully. The ability to portray a limbless, generic ghost with great expression shows the high art of the cartoonist which the artist-illustrator has shown in his earlier book, Rex Wrecks It! (read review here.)

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Be My Guest! Scare B and B (Vampirina) by Chelsea Beyl

This is Vampirina Hauntley. Her friends call her Vee.

This is Vampirina's house. It's also a Scare B and B.

Vee's house is specially styled with the latest creepy accouterments for their clientele, who frankly tend to be on the spooky side themselves. Her mom has advertised on the WorldWideCobweb, and the family is all set to greet their very first bed and breakfast guests, Edna, Edgar, and their daughter Poppy, who need a place to stay while their house is being painted.

Poppy knows Vampirina is a vampire. Edna and Edgar do not.

That's ONE problem.

But Poppy knows Vampirina and is glad to share her bedroom, and Edna and Edgar find the guest room charmingly quaint.

But then Vampirina's two grown-up sisters fly in unexpectedly, weird as ever, and expecting a warm welcome and appropriately weird accommodations for themselves.

Now the Hauntleys have humans and vampires, but only one guest room!

Now that is ANOTHER problem.

Vampirina has an idea. Since vampires are active at night and humans are busy all day, perhaps the Hauntleys can arrange for both sets of guests to, er, share, the room--without their knowing it, of course! Poppy agrees to help. Can they carry off their their double-booking plan?

There are plenty of laughs along the way in Chelsea Beyl's World of Reading: Vampirina Scare B and B: Level 1 with Stickers (World of Reading: Level 1) (Disney Press, 2017). The young hostess and her friend show their mettle in their two-timing plan, with a lot of near misses, quick thinking, and humorous scenes, and beginning readers will find this one an intriguing independent read. Artist Jeff King provides the funny sight gags and visual cues that help primary readers keep up on the action, and a stay with the Hauntleys is one bed and breakfast experience that is definitely unique.  A fun book for young would-be Halloween vampires to cut their read alone teeth on.

For the upcoming scary season, this one also pairs well with the first book in this series, Vampirina Going Batty and together or separately, these inexpensive paperbacks (with stickers) make nice "treats" for the Halloween pumpkin for a favorite creepy costumed kid.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Boo Time! Honk! Quack! BOO! (Duck and Goose) by Tad Hills

"So, Goose, what are you going to be tomorrow?" asked Duck.

"Tomorrow? Well, I think I will be myself, Duck. It's important to always be yourself."

"Tomorrow is Halloween! It's a day to not be yourself," Duck explained to Goose.

Little gray goose Thistle joins the conversation and announces that her costume is a secret, leaving Duck and Goose with a cryptic warning.

"Beware of the Swamp Monster!"

Duck is unfazed by Thistle's bravado, but Goose announces that he's no fan of swamp monsters. He decides that dressing as Super Goose might keep the shivers at bay.

The next evening he gets suited up in super-hero style and is met by a ghost who claims to be Duck.

"I'm not really a ghost! Look at my feet!"

Goose relaxes a little, and the two friends head off for some trick-or-treating, Goose still looking around apprehensively for a Swamp Monster. He spots a bee and a butterfly, a princess and a daisy, all clearly friends in costumes, but no sign of Thistle in her secret disguise. But then.... some scary footsteps are heard, coming closer, and closer, and....

Duck and Goose turned and saw the slimiest and most hideous Swamp Monster ever.

Goose groaned. "We're goners!"

Duck and Goose are scared, but sharp-eyed young readers will not be if they have spied Thistle in the background gathering moss from the pond for her secret Halloween disguise, in Tad Hill's Duck and Goose, Honk! Quack! Boo! (Schwartz and Wade, 2017).

Luckily, Goose rallies, remembering that he is after all a brave superhero, and Thistle gets a surprise comeuppance scare of her own, in author-illustrator Hills' newest story of his beloved web-footed characters' Halloween adventure. Hills offers youngsters some vicarious experience with the minor fears of Halloween, along with enough scares and treats to go around for all. Hills' adorable aquatic characters play out their little holiday excursion in both full-bleed and spot-art style on alternating pages, giving the youngest trick-or-treaters just the right preview taste of the spooky fun and sweet rewards of Halloween. Says Kirkus Reviews, "Goose and Duck are wonderfully childlike in their innocence and naiveté. Gentle Halloween fun from two beloved friends."

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Picky Picky! But I Don't Eat Ants by Dan Marvin





What do you call an anteater who can't eat ants?

This little anteater can't be called a picky eater! In fact, he's quite the omnivore!

Tortellini is totally terrific! Liverwurst is the best wurst!

Noodles and strudels are consumed by the oodles! Antipasta is awesome, but hold the ants!

His anteater aunts try to set him a good example, guzzling their daily Formicidae. But he prefers burgers and fries!

What's his anteater mama to do to get him to eat what she puts on his plate? But his mother is wise; she sneaks in a subtle compromise.

A zesty little garnish on his salad??


Mom looks a bit smug as she reveals the origin of those piquant crispy toppings. Would you believe... fire ants?

YUM! They are delish! He will eat them here and there; he will eat them anywhere! (Thanks, Dr. Seuss!)

Dan Marvin's new But I Don't Eat Ants (Pow Books, 2017) pokes fun at picky eaters, while purposefully parsing the many type of eaters out there.  Young reluctant tasters may take some comfort in Marvin's character who thinks eating ants is just weird, until he tries one type that is definitely to his taste. Kelly Fry's illustrations are colorfully executed with just the right soupcon of silliness that just suits the tale of an anteater who chows down on everything but eschews eating ants! And with the mention of unusual foods such as gazpacho and tortellini, finger foods like stuffed olives, and exotic dishes like escargot, this book is perfect for the necessary class unit on food and for the tasting party that often often follows. Share this one with the ever-popular Green Eggs and Ham and Jan Yolen's and Mark Teague's How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? (Book & CD). (see review here.)

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Red Riding Hood, Reconceptualized! Little Red Riding [SHEEP] by Linda Raven Lodding

Every production needs a caped creative consultant, right? That's Arnold's story, and he's sticking to it.

He tries out for the role of Little Red Riding Hood, but despite some "scooching down," the director is not convinced he's right for the part.

"You're not a girl. You're a sheep, Arnold!" he points out.

"Heidschucke sheep, to be exact," says Arnold.

"But the main character in this book is NOT a sheep," insists the director.

That's what all the authors say, Arnold thinks. Sheep are usually relegated to the background, munching. Bo-ring!

Arnold calls for a few daringly edgy changes in the setting. Those deep dark woods could be sunnier with just a few strategic erasures, he suggests. Then he offers his friend, a muskrat named Einar, who would be an inspired choice as the Big Bad Wolf. And his friend Frankie Warthog is perfect for the role of the Grandmother.

"She's won a Granny Award," Arnold offers.

But then Einar points out that as a dedicated vegan, his personal values won't allow him to gobble grandmothers.

"I get GOBBLED?" cries Frankie, suddenly fearful.

CUT! There's such a thing as too much creative license, in Linda Rave Lodding's take off on reconceptualizing the classics, in Little Red Riding Sheep (Atheneum Books, 2017), and even Arnold confesses that it's his b-a-a-a-ad. Some tales just don't benefit from too much freewheeling.

Sometimes it pays to get your actors from central casting after all. Artist Cale Atkinson's comic illustrations of the fleecy Arnold caped as Little Red, the muskrat Einar as the big, bad wolf, and a tusky warthog as Red's granny, make this fractured fairy tale fun for primary readers who know the original all too well. And it's definitely not boring. Says Booklist, "A fun, meta, fractured fairy tale.”

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

BE WARY! Mary McScary by R. L. Stine and Marc Brown


With her spiky red hair and glaring eyes, Mary's BOOOOO! seems to be fearfully frightful. She scares the cat into spike-tailed flight.

At breakfast, when she plasters two fried eggs over her eyes with a yellow-eyed glare, her dad almost spills his hot coffee all over himself. And her mom is more than alarmed when Mary appears from the kitchen juggling a tray loaded with a full pitcher and assorted large fruits precariously on her head. At dinner, with meatballs for eyes and spaghetti for bloody worms dangling from her mouth, she clears the room. Even the goldfish is frightened of Mary.


But Mary can't seem to scare her Cousin Harry.

Harry McScary seems to be Mary-McScary proof, so when she hears he's coming for a visit, Mary McScary pulls out all the stops to make Harry scream. She dons werewolf getup and greets him at the door with RRRROOOAAARRRRR!


Mary should be wary of Harry McScarry!

Mary's jar of big black spiders falls flat. Her gorilla act is a flop when Harry hops on for gorilla-back ride. Slimy, slippery snakes and a giant purple hippo don't get a rise out of Harry. Mary McScary's mettle is being sorely tested!

What can a girl do to make the unflappable Harry McScary run screaming out the door?

What does a third-grade boy fear more than any monster?

(Spoiler Alert: It's the hideous cousinly KISS with a few girly Cootchie Coos, and all Mary has to do is pucker up!)

A scary book without a single ghost or vampire or bat, without a single haunted house or spooky tree? Master of the middle reader macabre, R. L. Stine (creator of Goosebumps), joins forces with picture book giant Marc Brown (of Arthur Adventures fame) to bring a new character to the scary season in their latest collaboration, Mary McScary (Orchard Books, 2017). Author Stine cunningly knows how to build suspense, but Marc Brown's clever collage illustrations carry the flag, with Mary's cat acting as a reactive Greek chorus, and assorted spoofs of famous paintings (such as Munch's "The Scream") also backing up what's going on in the foreground. It's not a new plot point, but Stine and Brown make the most of it in this different book for the spooky season, a first purchase for primary graders for October reading.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Cold Case: George Catches A Cold (Peppa Pig)


Mummy and Daddy insist that Peppa Pig and her little brother George wear their full rain gear when they play outside in the drizzle. Peppa wears her full set-raincoat, waterproof boots, and rain hat, but despite her sisterly advice, when she and George come inside, George's head is cold and wet. And then he sneezes. ATCHOOOOO!


Daddy orders George up to bed and makes sure he has plenty of warm blankets.

But in the morning when Peppa reports that George is still feeling poorly, Daddy sends for Dr. Brown Bear.

Peppa fears that her little brother may have to go to the hospital but George is afraid to open his mouth so Dr. Brown Bear and take his temperature until Peppa does it first. And sure enough, the doctor diagnoses a cold and tells George he has to stay in bed. He prescribes a glass of nice warm milk at bedtime, and that is a doctor's order than George finds easy to follow.

The next day George wakes up with a ROAR like his toy dinosaur's and says he feels much better, and since the day is warm and sunny, Mummy lets George go out in the sunshine with Peppa.

But George refuses to go out without his rain hat. In fact, he never again goes out without his hat, no matter whether the weather is rainy or not.

It's better safe than sorry, in this new paperback edition of George Catches a Cold (Peppa Pig) (Scholastic Books, 2017 rev. ed.) This is an new episode of the Nick, Jr., animated cartoon, available as in hardback, paperback, or Kindle edition that will be new to young viewers, reminding them to always remember to dress for the weather.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

This Little Light of Mine! I'm Not Afraid of the Dark by Helena Harastova



There's nothing worse than waking to things that go bump in the night.

There's a something in Tommy's closet.

But Tommy's got his Teddy bear AND his secret weapon. Inside his close it reveals--only his clothes and some toys!


Now there's a something bumping around in the garage. Could it be aliens from outer space?

Nope. Just Daddy, getting some luggage down from the shelf.

Wait! What's that squeaking around the garbage cans? A troll?

Oh, no, silly me! It's just a rabbit. Now I see.

What is Tommy's secret weapon? His magical flashlight reveals just ordinary stuff going on.

In Helena Harastova's reassuring story, Tommy's theme song is "This Little Light of Mine," as he lets his flashlight shine on all the seemingly scary places that reveal the sources of ordinary noises of the night, in her I'm Not Afraid of the Dark (Chronicle Books, 2017. Sometimes a flashlight is truly the the secret to taking the fright out of those bumps in the night, and with Harastova's little flap-and-pull-tab book, youngsters are in control of when and where the flashlight's beam is directed. Artist Jakub Cenkl adds to the fun by adding a little humor with his illustrations to each night noise in a different sort of bedtime story.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Messin' With the Rhyme Scheme: Nothing Rhymes With Orange by Adam Rex

Sure, Orange has that one claim to fame. He's got an major fruit named after him. It is a bit of a distinction. After all, nobody calls a banana a "yellow."

But in the world of fruit, Orange has a hard gig. Being the color of highway warning signs and traffic cones doesn't build much of a fan base. And being practically un-rhymable, Orange is pretty much left out of the coveted end-of-line position in versification.

When there's a sunny fruit tale to be told,
Orange is left out alone in the cold.



Hey! How much worse than that rhyme can it get? Orange is ready to audition for any line in this book. I mean, when this author stoops to rhyming cantaloupe with "antelope," how picky can he be? And anyway, a kid doesn't have to be dense not to know what a quince is!

And get a load of this seriously forced quatrain!




What's a cute fruit, nutrish and delish, got to do to get at least a walk-on line in this book?

At least author-illustrator Adam Rex gives the sadly neglected but colorful orange top billing in the title, in his latest, Nothing Rhymes with Orange (Chronicle Books, 2017). The author takes silliness seriously, and his artwork is no less playful, filled with fruity characters (and a bearded Fred Nietzche) with stick limbs and expressive faces that finish with a fruit bowl turn-over party. This is a great goofy book with comic characters for preschoolers, but for learned primary schoolers, the wry and sly wordplay with rhyme and rhythm is quite sophisticated, with a humorous nod to philosopher-savvy adults who get the good fortune to read this one aloud.

As a creator, Adam Rex has a genius for playing with the concepts of language and literature, as displayed in his spiffy spoof of the toddler bedtime classic Goodnight Moon in his parody classic Goodnight Goon: a Petrifying Parody, (see my 2008 review here.) And then there are last year's back-to-school hit, School's First Day of School, (review here) and this spring's hit done with Drew Daywalt, The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors. (see review here,) all off-beat and all hard to beat.

Thus spake Booklist: "Cheers for not only nutrition but for thinking outside the bowl to include the unfairly marginalized."

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Finding Fall! Autumn--A Pop-Up Book by David A. Carter



Autumn is a lively time. The trees are bright and animals are everywhere, stocking up food for wintertime. Birds flock to fly away to their winter habitats, and some can be seen in formation high in the autumn sky.

David A. Carter makes the most of this lively and colorful scene in his newest creation, Autumn: A Pop-Up Book (Seasons Pop-up) (Abrams Appleseed Books, 2017). There are pop-up books and there are pop-up books, and Carter's creations are quality art, done without spurious cuteness, and with design and construction that is a wonder to the eye and mind. The author-illustrator works in the many plants and creatures to be seen in the fall by the watchful eye--from blue jays to bald eagles, quail to porcupines, kestrels to meadowlarks; from corn stalks to shocks of wheat, pomegranates to persimmons, all the lovely things that ease the transition to winter and more are to be found in Carter's fine art illustrations. A

This latest one is a highly recommended purchase for preschoolers just learning about the cycle of the seasons, joining Carter's earlier salute to the season pop-up board books, Winter: A Pop-up Book (Seasons Pop-up), Spring: A Pop-up Book (Seasons Pop-up), and Summer: A Pop-Up Book (Seasons Pop-up).

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Too Much of a Good Thing! Wakem the Rooster, Up All Night by David Fitzsimmons



All his farm friends value Wakem's work. He wakes them in the morning so that they can start the day bright and early. And they are lavish in their praise.

Unfortunately, fame goes to Wakem's head.

His powerful voice is heard ringing throughout the day. And then he begins to crow all night!

All night?


A few bracing morning Doodle-Doos are one thing! Doodle-doing all night long is another! The barnyard animals grow more and more groggy from loss of sleep. Even Wakem realizes it's too much of a good thing. He can't sleep either, and when he's awake, he's just gotta crow!

Wakem asks his friends for advice on how to cure his insomnia. Dog suggests exercise and a healthy diet, but that just seems to give his a lustier voice. Cat advocates yoga and meditation. Owl proposes counting sheep. But Wakem can't find the sheep. They're not in the barn and not in the farmhouse, not out in the pasture, nor hanging out at the pond. Wakem climbs the hill to look for them. He's more tired than ever, but not quite too tired to doodle doo!

But then he hears a faint baaaa coming from the cave. It's the sheep, trying to find a quiet place to sleep. Wakem starts counting and soon...., he sleeps all night!


Is Wakem the Rooster finally back on schedule? David Fitzsimmons' Wakem the Rooster: Up All Night (Wild Iris, 2017) takes on the dilemma of getting your days and nights turned around, an especially pesky problem for any farm's feathered alarm clock. Artist Richard Cowdry, illustrator of the popular Bad Dog, Marley! and others in the I-Can-Read series, offers up vivid, comic scenes of the sleep-deprived barnyard denizens in a funny farm fable of too much of a good thing.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

B-Napped? Did You Take the B from My _ook by Beck and Matt Stanton

THIS _OOK IS _ROUGHT TO YOU _Y THE LETTER _. That is, if we can find it.

The letter B can make sounds. Can you say bubububub?


Yes, it is a bit cold in here! Aaaaaaa-CHOO......!

Now where were we? Oh, yes! Where's my _ed?

The Letter B has been _lown away! And it's really cramping the writer's style! He tries to go on, telling us he has what is indu_ita_ly the _est of _eds!

He's also fond of _ulls. Small _ulls. _ig _ulls!

Oh, dear! Something is amiss here. Can he kick his _all? Apparently NOT!

I think my favorite letter has gone from this _ook!

_unches and _unches of perfectly good words are inuttera_le! This is really _AD! No ham_urgers and fries! No _ase_all games! No _irthday _alloons!

It's time to call on his dear readers for help! He _egs them to _ring _ack the __!

Can you say it?

It's an experience in crowd sourcing, as all the readers together bring back the B, in Beck and Matt Stanton's missing B mystery, Books That Drive Kids CRAZY!: Did You Take the B from My _ook? (Little, Brown and Company). There's lots of intriguingly word fun as youngsters get to fill in the _lanks (er, blanks) of the letter of the day. Bravissimo! The Stantons together make the best of this bad business of the B-napped letter B. Youngsters learning their letters will realize that doing without even one of the 26 letters of the alphabet can _e a _it of a pro_lem! As Publishers Weekly puts it, "It’s a winning bit of interactive silliness that offers insight into the way small changes can have big results!"


Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Way You Play The Game: Game Change by Joseph Monninger

Later, in the week that followed, Zeb Holloway watched the injury again and again. T.T. Monroe, the finest quarterback ever to play for Rumney High School in Grafton County, New Hampshire, turned the corner on an option play in the last minutes of their win over Hampton, and Zeb knew something had to give.

Zeb had turned halfway to check the college scouts in the stands, the ones who came to watch T.T. and see him pull off yet another spectacular run or pass--he was a highlight reel--and by the time Zeb pulled his eyes back, he caught merely the end of T.T.'s leg buckling under him, heard the bone snap, heard T.T. scream like a fox.

And in that moment Zeb's life changes. Zeb is the stolid back-up quarterback, the guy with the strong, dependable arm, but no speed, the guy who has warmed the bench all year without making a play, who is now the quarterback for a team going into the state championship game. T.T.'s cheerleader girlfriend Stella seems ready to switch her affections to the new quarterback, and Zeb, a low-profile, just okay student, is the new town celebrity.

Now the hopes and ambitions of his small, struggling town are pinned on him. It's his chance to be a home-town hero, the golden boy of Rumney, New Hampshire. Zeb knows he can throw better passes than T.T., but he also knows he can't pull off the thrilling moves and heart-stopping option plays that T.T. gave the fans and the media week after week. Will Zeb get the girl and, against all odds, win the game and go on to football fame?

That's the stuff of many a YA sports novel, but not this one.

Joseph Monninger's Game Change (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017)  is a better novel than that, giving Zeb Holloway more than just a big game-day win. At first Zeb takes on the leadership role reluctantly, but there's no one else but a third-string sophomore quarterback on the team. It's down to him, pure and simple.

In that Thanksgiving week before the championship game, a lot happens in Zeb's life. He gets a call from a college in Kansas looking for a quarterback with a solid, long-ball arm, and for the first time, realizes that he can have a life beyond Rumney. He sees that the glam Stella is not for him and begins a promising relationship with a girl who admits she had a crush on him since second grade, and as he faces the game, he realizes for the first time that his mom, Coach K, his Uncle Pushee, all the hard-scrabble adults around him are doing what he now has to do--do the best he can with what he's got. Zeb runs into an opposition line so aggressive that he can barely get a pass off before he's hit. But he throws one beaut of a long touchdown pass, he doesn't fumble, and he doesn't throw an interception. His team loses, but it's an honorable loss, and Zeb realizes that he's got what it takes to throw the long ball and maybe make it through the long haul.

Football as metaphor for life is not a new trope for authors, but Zeb's is a coming-of-age story which offers a protagonist whose character grows as he faces a life-changing moment and makes it through it with honor and hope. Monninger's writing is honest and straightforward, with no thrills in the ending, no frills, like his character, but one that young adult readers will like and understand. Winning is great, but in life, a lot of the throws go long, and in the end, it is the way you play the game.

Good game, Joseph Monninger.

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Saturday, September 09, 2017

Miraculous Beast? Agnes Loves Unicorns by Universal Studios

Agnes has two things she wishes for more than anything.

To start with, she (and her two sisters) are orphans.

Every night she dreamed that a mommy and daddy would adopt them soon.

She also wanted a unicorn.

Well, who doesn't?

And POOF! Suddenly the sisters do get adopted by nice parents. Now Agnes' bucket list is down to one thing.

Every night she keeps her sisters Margo and Edith awake with her unicorn song.

"I love unicorns, uni, uni, unicorns..."

It's not very inventive, but it is annoying, according to her sleepy sisters.

Then, when their new daddy, Gru, takes the girls to a theme park, Super Silly Land, Agnes picks out the Unicorn of her dreams....

Perhaps the fluffiest unicorn ever!

And is that the happiest ending ever? Well, no, not just yet, in Universal Studios' new movie, Despicable Me3, not with Minion Kevin and the usual despicable suspects lurking around, in Despicable Me 3: Agnes Loves Unicorns! (Centrum Books, 2017), with its uber-cute characters, sure to be the next big thing in preschool motion pictures--now screening at the cineplex near you!

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Friday, September 08, 2017

With A Little Help from My Friends: The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo, Book Two) by Rick Riordan

To westward palace must the Lester go;
Demeter's daughter finds her ancient roots.
The cloven guide alone the way does know,
To walk the path in thine own enemy's boots.
When three are known and Tiber reached alive,
'Tis only then Apollo starts to jive.


Chapter I Lester (Apollo)/ Still human; thanks for asking/ Gods, I hate my life

Being the Sun God used to be a good gig, but when you are on Zeus' hit list, things can take a turn for the worse.

That's right, dear reader.

I, the most important passenger, the youth who had once been the glorious god Apollo, was forced to sit in the back of the dragon. Oh, the indignities I had suffered since Zeus Stripped me of my divine powers. It wasn't enough that I was now a sixteen-year-old mortal with a ghastly alias. It wasn't enough that I had to toil upon the earth doing (ugh) heroic quests until I could find a way back to my father's good graces, or that I had a case of acne which simply would not respond to over-the-counter remedies.

Apollo has been demoted, not just to being a semi-good-looking demigod, but all the way down to mere mortal. Not just that, but the glorious former god of light finds himself ejected from the dubious camaraderie of Camp Half Blood and reduced to having no immortal powers. None. To add further indignity he is now a scrawny, pimply-faced teen-aged boy named Lester Papadapoulos, on a road trip somewhere in the wasteland, the very middle of the Midwest, Indiana, yet, with, of all people, his bossy sister, Calypso. Sure, his ride is a gold-ish dragon named Festus, but the company in the backseat is not what Apollo/Lester might have chosen. Not only that, but his quest requires he discover the secret of the next Oracle or face death, or maybe just life in America's pressure-washed midlands.

If, dear reader, you think Rick Riordan's second book in his The Trials of Apollo, Book Two), The Trials of Apollo Book Two The Dark Prophecy (Disney Hyperion, 2017) is an irreverent tale of the trials of a titan of the Greek pantheon as told by a teenager with a snarky, slangy tongue in cheek and offering much magnificent mayhem from coast to coast, you are correct.

"Sunny," as his dubious traveling aides refer to the former sun god, may have had his immortal GPS system canceled, but he's still quick with a quip, and in this installment of the series, it's one melee' after another, dodging Nero and company, subject to the whims of a teen queen demi-goddess, Meg McCaffrey, as the band of Zeus's minions make their way across North America to complete their quest. Lester gets by with a little help from his friends, just in time to make a promissory peace with the ghost of Agamethus. And, at the completion of this task, is Apollo/Lester met with accolades and the music of lyres issuing from the heavens? No, but he is met with the his favorite satyr, Grover Underwood, bearing a white paper sack of enchiladas from Enchiladas del Rey, the snack purveyor to the gods. But Grover is not there just as a late-night fast-food delivery guy.

"Wait! This isn't Palm Springs? Where am I?" Grover blinked.

I smiled. "Hello, Grover. I am Apollo. And you, my lucky friend, have been summoned to lead us through the Layyrinth."

It's just one trial after another in Rick Riordan's latest adventure with the gods series, The Trials of Apollo, begun in 2016 with The Trials of Apollo Book One The Hidden Oracle (Special Limited Edition). by Rick Riordan (2016-05-24) Written for slightly older readers than Riordan's Percy Jackson books, this trial is obligingly aided by an appendix that helps Riordan's readers keep track of the seemingly endless identity-shifting characters as well as a pull-out leaflet listing "Apollo's Least Favorite Roman Emperors."

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Thursday, September 07, 2017

School Days! Fancy Nancy: Best Reading Buddies by Jane O'Connor

Violet is a fifth grader and very mature.

That means she acts grown-up.

The kids in Nancy's class have been assigned "reading buddies" in the upper grades, and Nancy is very happy with hers. For example, Violet wears cool, interesting outfits unlike any Nancy has ever known.

"I don't like to match," Violet says. "I like to look original."

Nancy is totally taken with her new mentor. Suddenly she's dressing in combinations she would formerly have disdained. She tries to explain her new sense of style, but her little sister JoJo is not really interested in cool clothes or the kind of books Nancy and Violet like to read together.

Violet and I like all the same books. "You're a great reader," Violet says.

"Merci," I say. That's French for "Thanks."

Nancy and Violet have a lot in common, including little sisters who get into a lot of mischief. They share photos of their families and funny stories about their sisters. Nancy can hardly wait for Mondays to roll around so that she and her reading buddy can read together. But then, things happen.

On the next Monday, Nancy wakes up with a cold, too sick to go to school. The following Monday is a field trip day for Violet's class, and the Monday after that, Nancy learns, is a school holiday. On that Monday Nancy mopes around in her pajamas, wishing that she were getting ready for school.

"Why do you look so sad?" Mom asked.

I started to explain about missing my reading buddy, but the phone rings. Mom answers it.

And it seems that Nancy is not the only one missing her Monday reading buddy, in Jane O'Connor's Fancy Nancy: Best Reading Buddies (I Can Read Level 1) (Harper, 2016), in a little beginning reader book that celebrates both reading and new friendships. Many schools pair young readers with middle reader buddies, and in Nancy's case, it's a chance to get to try out a new style and find a new friend. With his pleasingly pastel palette, Ted Enik's illustrations add much to this simple story of making friends and finding new books, just right for beginning independent readers.

Share this one with another read-aloud-worthy story of books and buddies, Bonny Becker's A Library Book for Bear (See review here).

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