Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Undercover Hero: Superworm! by Julia Donaldson



They may be beneath Superman's radar, but toads, bees, and beetles need some super saving, too. And for that, there's that undercover master of rescue, Superworm!

When a baby toad wanders onto a major roadway, who dares to try to save him? Well, it's not much of a stretch for Superworm to pop up, make himself into a lasso, and rope him in, back to cover of the grass beside the road.

When a baby beetle falls down into the deep well, who you gonna call? Superworm, that's who.With his long, extendable body, he dangles down to the water, and hauls the little beetle baby right up to safety.  He even shapes his rubbery body into some theme park rides to amuse the bored boy and girl bees. It's unanimous! Superworm is the hero of bugs and beetles, snails and slugs! His fans break into a cheery chant:


But, alas! The chant of his followers reaches the ears of the nefarious Wizard Lizard, self-styled evil overlord of the woods. These woods are not big enough for two superpowers, and Lizard dispatches his minion noir, Black Crow, who swoops and snatches Superworm in his beak and bears him back to the evil Wizard, who puts him under a spell and declares Superworm his slave. But the wicked Wiz Liz has reckoned without a thought for Superworm's friends, who form a flash mob of many talents--bees bearing honeycombs, toted on snail-back, and a jumping spider with web-weaving skills that soon have the Wizard Lizard himself ensnared and stuck in sticky stuff and dropped off by a flight of drones in the dump.


It's a well-versed return engagement for notable author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler, the dynamic duo which gave us the evergreen best-selling The Gruffalo, the classic witch tale, Room on the Broom, and The Snail and the Whale, in their latest rhyming and romping collaboration, Superworm (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic Press, 2014). Donaldson and Scheffler are masters of the silly-premised, jolly rhyming, humorously illustrated picture book, and their unlikely down and dirty superhero is sure to draw down deep belly-laughs from their primary-grade fans.

Read this one along with any of Doreen Cronin's equally wonderful Diary of a Worm, Diary of a Spider, or Diary of a Fly, and the kids won't stop buzzing and wiggling and giggling till next week!

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Live and Kicking: Betty Bunny Wants a Goal by Michael Kaplan

Betty Bunny was a handful.

She knew this because at her very first practice, when she picked up the ball and ran with it, her coach said, "Betty Bunny, you are a handful."

Betty Bunny wants what she wants when she wants it.

And now that she's on a soccer team, she doesn't want to set herself a goal; she wants to score a goal and she wants it NOW!

Brother Henry whines about having to go to Betty's games. Teen brother Bill rolls his eyes and smirks.

"There probably won't be any goals," 

And Bill is right, at least about Betty's scoring prowess. Betty discovers she can't kick anything, except, inexplicably, her own foot. Back home, Betty stuffs her uniform into her trash can and launches into a full-time funk. Sister Kate gives her the old "try, try again" speech and reminds her that at the end of the season everybody gets a trophy, "no matter how bad she plays." Reluctantly, Betty fishes her jersey out of the trash.

But the next game is no better.

"I tried and tried, just like you said, Kate," Betty moaned.

"Maybe you're just not that
good!" points out big brother Bill.

Mom and Dad are tired of Betty's moaning and Bill's snarky remarks. They decree that Betty will finish the season and that Bill will coach her every day after school.

"Why can't I learn to keep my big mouth shut?" Bill said.

"Maybe you need to
practice," suggested Betty helpfully.

Practice doesn't make perfect, but Betty progresses and finally does score her goal.

Next to the first time she tried chocolate cake, it was the the happiest moment of her life.

In Michael Kaplan's latest Betty Bunny tale, Betty Bunny Wants a Goal (Dial Books, 2014), the fun comes from interplay between the impetuous and annoying Betty and her sister and two brothers. Sister Kate tries to mentor her insistent little sister, while Henry and Bill can't quite help lapsing into sarcastic side comments, while the parents preside over the siblingitis with perturbed patience. Stephanie Jorisch's frenetic illustrations cleverly portray the ebb and flow of emotions that swirl around Betty, a one-bunny vortex of energy who sucks the whole household into her high-maintenance manias. Preschoolers will understand Betty's whirlwind drive to have it all, and older kids and parents will enjoy the humorous interplay between the rest of the characters drawn into Betty's turbulent wake.

Other books in the Betty Bunny series include Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake (see review here) and sequels, Betty Bunny Wants Everything, Betty Bunny Is Very Busy, and Betty Bunny Didn't Do It.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Follow The Directions! DON'T Push the Button! by Bill Cotter

Larry is a purple monster with blue horns. This is Larry's book, and he has just one rule. If you open it, DON'T touch the big red button.



But who cares what a purple monster says.

And besides, he's not even sure about the rule himself.


It does. It is set in a nice wooden frame, and it's bright red and shiny. I mean, what good IS a button if you don't push it. And, anyway, this is just a book. How bad can it be?

And besides, as Larry whispers, Nobody is even watching you!

One push makes Larry turn yellow. He's okay with that, but maybe another push would return him to his purple shape.

Nope. Another push? Double the Larries! Double the fun?

Another push produces a mob of Larries in a rainbow of colors!

Better turn the page. There's that button on the left page. And on the right some smart alek has sarcastically commented on the obvious:


What do we do next? Well, there are more directions (hint: try shaking this book) ahead in Bill Cotter's fun and funny fantasy workout, Don't Push the Button! (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, 2013). What kid can resist pushing any button, especially if he or she is exhorted not to EVEN think about touching it? In a variation of the old "beans up the nose" tale, author/illustrator Cotter gives us a tempting takeoff on the instruction manual, narrated by a personable, if somewhat conflicted, little monster. The illustrations are super simple, the wry text is easily accessible to beginning readers, and kids are bound to be drawn into the concept of the faux-interactive book, a new genre in the picture book world.  For a slightly more sophisticated exposition of this same concept, pair this one with Herve Tullet's clever best-seller, Press Here. (See my review here).  Press on!

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Show Me the Baby! The Book of Babies by Il Sung Na


Mama Duck is excited to see her own babies hatching, but she knows that they are not the only new ones being born.

So Father Duck flies off to report on who's new.

It seems babies are everywhere.

Papa swims beneath the water and finds that fish have too many babies to count or care for: Mama has to get them into their school right away.

On the other hand, a mother monkey has only one baby, and she has to carry him around in her arms or clinging to her body for a while. Baby zebras, however, stand up after only a minute of getting their land legs, and know how to follow their mothers everywhere.


Baby kittens can't even open their eyes at first and take a few weeks to learn to get their legs working. Some as different as sea horse babies and little kangaroos hang out in their father's or mother's pouches for quite a while before they venture out into the big world outside. Some, like bear cubs, are born with a fluffy, warm coat to keep them warm during the first cool days of spring, and some have slippery skin or scales to help them slide over the ground or slip through the warming waters.

But after their first days in the world, all babies need to rest, and that's just what Father Duck finds his ducklings doing back in their nest, in Il Sung Ya's sweet essay on all kinds of babies, A Book of Babies (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013). The author offers a variety of babies, shown in his lovely textured and layered multimedia illustrations, giving toddler humans a view of the wide world of young ones, and as most such books do, his text brings it home to a cozy bedtime, with a subtle suggestion that babies everywhere need their sleep. Kirkus Reviews gives Na's latest a starred review, concluding that "Undulating rainbow colors, circular patterns and fibrous textures swirl across leaves, animal bodies and sky, creating a lively natural world. Here's evidence that digital tinkering can yield richly layered, cohesive artwork that captures the kaleidoscopic beauty of the animal kingdom, its shadows, lights, colors, textures and shapes."

Other best-selling books for tots by Il Sung Na include A Book of Sleep and the seasonal Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A Book of Changing Seasons.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

What's For Dinner? Monster Chefs by Brian and Liam Anderson

What does a monster king eat? ANYTHING he wants!

And for the Monster King's royal chefs, that is a problem. It seems the King has become a picky eater.



In fear and trembling the King's four chefs split up to search out a novel comestible to tempt the tyrant's palate. But the potential foodstuffs are not inclined to cooperate.

To the first chef, a tasty-looking hare points out an unforeseen consequence of eating him:

When he contemplates serving up a fine fillet of fish, the second chef gets the same story from the would-be main course.

The third Chef heads off to the desert and spots a snake, thinking he would make a novel entree.

The three chefs, having struck out in their quest for a new dish, trudge back to the Monster King's court where they prepare to slather themselves with ketchup for the King's dining pleasure. Felicitously, the fourth chef appears with his find, not a food, but a tiny chef whose creations never need ketchup. She's a pastry chef and produces a wondrously novel product for the King's consumption--a cupcake!

All is forgiven in the Monster King's kitchen, and he forgoes eating eyeballs, unless they are fake toppings for the cupcakes, in Brian and Liam Anderson's Monster Chefs (Roaring Brook Press, 2014), a super silly little monster tale that is as light and fluffy as the frosting on the Monster King's cupcakes. Author Brian Anderson cooked up this monster story with his five-year-old son Liam, and the result is a story that begs to be read aloud. As Publisher's Weekly proclaims, "The narration is a winner from beginning to end: aurally redolent (“The king, spit seething from his massive mouth, glared down at them”) and punctuated with lovely alliteration and delectable vocabulary, it’s like a tasting course for the ear—and a performer’s dream."

A recipe for the King's cupcakes, complete with directions for edible eyeballs as topping, is appended by the author.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Eggs-travaganza! Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward and Steve Jenkins

Mama built a little nest,
A cup so wee and snug,
With walls of moss and roof of sky
And a silky, cobweb rug.

Is your mama a hummingbird? If so, that's the first home you'll know. But if your mama is a weaver bird, well, there's another way to go.

Mama built a little nest.
She used her beak to sew
A woven nest of silky grass,
The perfect place to grow.

But then, there are always the outliers:

Mama built a little nest.
Well, actually she didn't.
She found one that another made,
And there she laid me in it.

Yep, if your mama is cowbird (or whydah or cuckoo), she's a squatter by nature.

As for people, it's location, location, location for bird homeowners. Falcons choose a high ledge on a cliff face called a scrape, safe from four-legged predators, and grebes fashion a floating island of sticks to outfox the foxes. Some nest builders are even daddies, as in the case of the possibly henpecked cactus wren, seriously seeking a captivating crib to attract his crush.

Daddy built a little nest.
And then he built another.
And another--and another--
Hoping to impress my mother.

There is a lot to consider for feathered house-hunters, and Jennifer Ward's latest, Mama Built a Little Nest (Beach Lane Books, 2014), covers the avian real estate scene while sharing the picture book making with outstanding nature artist Steve Jenkins in a marvelous treatise of the variety of ways birds seek their homey havens. Author and artist alternate pages of verse and illustrations: author Jennifer Ward outdoes herself in lovely and quirky quatrains with catchy punchlines which could have been penned either by the lyrical Romantic poet Percy B. Shelley or the hard-boiled Dorothy Parker,  and celebrated nature artist Steve Jenkins provides enticingly impressionistic and yet accurate paintings that beguile the eye and extend the text perfectly while offering additional information on each nest-builder.

This book works on several levels, as a primary grade science resource, an enticing read-aloud or real-alone book, and an eye-candy feast with its delightful illustrations. "A practically perfect picture book," as Publishers Weekly points out, this book offers nature study enlightened by enticing art and still manages to bring it all back home as all good storybooks should, just in time for a rest in that human nest.
A place to rest your head...
Your nest is called a bed

For more spring facts and fun, flock this one with Jill Esbaum's just published I Hatched! (see review here) and Jennifer Ward's die-cut delight, What Will Hatch? (see review here).

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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 are 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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