Thursday, March 23, 2017

All Around Us! Round by Joyce Sidman



A young girl and her dad are out for a spring walk, surrounded by the sinuous shape of the round and spherical things all around them.

Some seeds are tiny globes of grow power, as are the eggs she spots a turtle laying in the soft soil, her shell also marked by circular spirals. The fungus and the flowers in the field both morph into the roundness of mushrooms and blueberries on the bush and then go into the child's round gathering basket.

Sunflowers stretch toward the sun, and round raindrops fall downward, to form widening circles in the water of the pond. The moon grows toward full roundness and the sun and stars are rounded spheres eternally circling in the skies, while the bubbles the girl blows in the air are transparent and transient spheres.

What goes around comes around, and in her latest, Round (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) author Joyce Sidman celebrates the shape of round things--from the ubiquitous sun to the concentric growth circles hidden inside the tree and the evanescence of soap bubbles. Roundness is everywhere, an efficient shape that can roll gently or roughly through the world, a self-reinforcing shape that is super strong and satisfying to the eye.

From the circle of life in nature, from seeds and eggs to the seasons, Sidman at last comes around to the human circle, as the little girl and friends form a circle in the grass, holding hands "with no one left out," and with a big hug from dad's circling arms.

Even without rhymes, the Newbery-winning Joyce Sidman's narration is poetic, in her short lines and in her word choices that suggest more than they say: her heavenly bodies "spin together slowly..." and her blueberries "swell into roundness" with subtlety and sibilance, and artist Taeenun Yoo portrays the youthful roundness of a little girl as she moves through her world. Yoo's illustrations subtly move through the circle of the seasons, beginning with spring seeds, through the fullness of summer, and toward the ending of the year, cycling through autumn colors in the fields to the warmth of the wintry comforter inside which the girl curls into a warm ball with books and cozy cup of chocolate.

This is a outstanding "concept" book that focuses on the ubiquitous shape of the circle and sphere, not in the concrete way of isolated geometrical shapes, but in a lovely look at how the concept of roundness is built into everything around us. Lovely language is perfectly paired with Yoo's soft full-bleed illustrations. Sidman also appends an appealing little author's note, "Why are there so many things in nature that are round?" that makes perfect sense of things most of us never think about. This one is a certain first purchase for home or school libraries.

For another of Sidman's books on shapes in nature, see her Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, also by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, reviewed here.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Waking Up Is Hard to Do! Boris and the Worrisome Wakies by Helen Lester

Boris is a little badger who thinks bedtime is bad news.

Sure, lots of little ones resist calling it a day, or, in the case of nocturnal badgers, calling it a night, when badgers are wired to be awake. Sunrise is supposed to mean snooze time, but Boris is always wide awake.

Boris bombards his weary parents with all the usual timeworn kid complaints:

"I need a turkey sandwich!

My PJs are on backwards!

My cuddle bunny is hogging the bed!

I'm scared of the light!"

At sundown, Boris's sleep-deprived mom and dad practically dress him and drag him off to school, where he falls asleep and dozes for most of the, er, night. He's a zombie all through P.E. In art he's too pooped to paint, and at lunch he uses his pizza for a pillow. He even catches forty winks on the floor, where his classmates use him for a wastebasket. He curls up in his cubby for a really long catnap. By early dawn, he's all caught up on his shuteye and ready for fun, but by then school is almost over.

"What did I miss?" he asks his classmates.

His cubmates have had a ton of fun and they hit the highlights for Boris, beginning with field day, er, night.

"We all got medals!

Oh. What else?

"Birthday cupcakes.

And class picture day!

Your chance to be Line Leader!"

Boris also missed the big Thanksgiving play about the Pilgrims and the Indians.

But in a way, he was the star. The napping Boris played Plymouth Rock.

"Oh," said Boris. "Hmmm."

Boris determines that from now on there'll be some changes made, in popular author Helen Lester's just published picture book, Boris and the Worrisome Wakies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), with humorously illustrated winsome critters by the award-winning artist Lynn Munsinger, who skillfully uses sly sight gags and page placement, font changes, and curvy lines of type to make each page a standout. Bedtime problems can be no laughing matter for parents, but in the hands of these two expert storytellers, catching some Zs on schedule can be quite comic. This is one story not to sleep through!

Partnered with Munsinger, the award-winning Helen Lester has proven that she can make nearly-comatose critters funny, as she did in Score One for the Sloths (Laugh-Along Lessons), and together they have racked up many a classic comic tale, including Hooway for Wodney Wat. and sequels, Tacky the Penguin, and sequels, and Hurty Feelings.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

GOT-TA Dance! Dance by Matthew Van Fleet

A teeny-tiny baby chick goes to the dance hall to get some kicks. He's got his snappy blue bowtie and he's got those hap-hap-happy feet, but he doesn't know how to use them.



The little chick protests that he's just hatched and has no idea how to do that. "I won't dance... Can't make me!" seems to be his song, but the rhythm-lovin' rhinos drag him out on the floor and then...

Let the lessons begin!



The band is swingin' and Bunny and Gator join Rhino and jump right in to teach him the Hippopota Hula, the Bouncy Bunny Hop, and the Gater Mashed Potater. Then Pig and Beaver do their share with demos of the Crazy Piggy Tap and the Busy Beaver Bop.



In Matthew Van Fleet's latest interactive board book, Dance (Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2017), the youngest readers get to get in on the infectious rhythm and rhyme, thanks to the heavy-duty pull tabs that give them control of the shimmy and the shake, the rap and the tappity tap, and the hop and the bop in this toy and movable book. The irresistible rhythm of the shake-it-and-break-it narration are enough to get preschoolers eager to hit the dance floor themselves, but the editors also provide a downloadable song to form the soundtrack for kiddy audience participation. And as all good Broadway musicals do, this one ends in a grand finale--a two-page pop-up which has all the dancers on stage for a show-stopper of closing number.

This new one by the noted author-illustrator Van Fleet joins classic movement books like Sandra Boynton's Barnyard Dance! (Boynton on Board) and makes a fine Easter basket treat, better'n jelly beans, especially when paired with the go-with Dance Chickie Baby Doll plush toy.

Other interactive board books by Van Fleet include Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings, Heads, and Tails.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

The Show of the Season: A Season to Bee: A Stylish Book of Colors by Carlos Aponte

We know that spring brings April showers and May flowers.

But to the fashionistas of the bug world, the new season brings something else--spring fashions and spring fashion shows.

All of those insects who have spent the winter clad in dull cocoons and other drab metamorphological stages are ready for a change--a BIG change. The fashionistas of the arthropod persuasion are ready to burst out and flaunt their brand-new shapes and brand new look! There's excitement in the spring air!

It's spring in the meadow.
Time to shuck off the freeze.
What's the New Look from?
The flowers and trees?

It's time for the bugs to strut their stuff on the runway--under the direction of our fashion first designer.

"It's a season to bee!" exclaims Miss V. McQueen,
Editor of BUZZ Fashion Magazine.

Long-limbed bugs leg it across the stage, their high heeled shoes clacking out a rhythm,

Ladybugs are pretty in red polka-dotted wings, and grasshoppers copy the color of the season--green.

Some sport another stylish shade of the month, copying the iris and the violet. Fireflies favor the cool look of biolumenescence and a quick flash of glimmer glam. Some choose the blue of the spring sky, and some are bold like the bees in flashy, clash-y, black and gold stripes. The paparazzis' cameras flash like stars in the spring sky.

So much to see!

But the best thing, says Diva McQueen, is to bee yourself in your true colors, in Carlos Aponte's A Season to Bee (Price Stern Sloan/Penguin Group, 2017). While preschoolers may not get all the references to high fashion models and famous fashion house designers, they will love the dressed up insects in their flashy fashions in this spring-themed story of the rainbow of seasonal colors.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sing Me to Sleep! Goodnight Songs: A Celebration of the Seasons by Margaret Wise Brown


Big and little, little and big,
A little bunny and big fat pig.

Give that poem to award-winning illustrator David Smalls and you know what happens next is going to funny and fun.

And in the this lovely compilation of poems by the inimitable Margaret Wise Brown, each one has its season and its charming animal spokesperson, and each one has the talents of a famous picture book artist featuring the joys of the season.

Molly Idle illustrates Brown's "Advice to Bunnies," beginning with "Don't go to sleep in the afternoon sun..." and Frank Viva, known for his on-the-move style, gets to portray the still of a new "Snowfall:"

Slow, slow. In the soft mysterious fall of the snow.
Walking in wonder.
The children go.

Home from school, their laughter low.
Catching falling flakes
Of snow.

And Ellie McKay portrays a girl making snow angels under her favorite "Cherry Tree," who instead is torn between the fun and the sadness of the season:

... My dear tree,

Where the cherries were red
Is frozen and gray,
The birds are all fled.

With twelve poems, one for each month of the year, and artwork by twelve award-winning illustrators, the included classic children's rhymes offer a variety of styles and emotions to celebrate the transit of the seasons through another year. In this second collection of Margaret Wise Brown's timeless children's poems, A Celebration of the Seasons: Goodnight Songs: Illustrated by Twelve Award-Winning Picture Book Artists (Sterling Books, 2016), the editors include an unusual appendix featuring thumbnail illustrations from each poem and the artist's reflections on each. Included also is a CD by Tom Proutt and Emily Gary of their original songs for each poem.

Says Publishers Weekly, ... The spectrum of artistic styles provides a rich accompaniment to Brown’s mix of playfulness and subtle contemplation." And School Library Journal adds, "Whether read or sung aloud, this essential collection is made to be shared."

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Cyborg Selfie Pete the Cat: Robo Pete by James Dean

What a great, sunny morning!

Pete the Cat can't wait to play baseball with his friends.

Pete heads outside with his glove, looking for someone to play catch with him. But everyone else has a different idea of how to spend a sunny day.

Larry is heading for the library.

Seriously? Inside, on a day like this?

Collier is going biking. John is making like Tom Sawyer and painting a fence.

Pete wishes his friends would do what he wants to do.

Playing catch takes two! What to do?

But Pete's fertile imagination comes up with an inspiration. He builds a cyborg self, a robot which looks just like him. He programs it himself to make it think just like he does. Pete wants to play catch, and so does Robo-Pete.

The only problem is that robots don't get tired, and they don't come up with new ideas. Pete is weary of trying to catch Robo-Pete's fastballs and long throws! He suggests that they play some other game, and Robo-Pete repeats robotically...

"I want to do whatever you want."

But Hide-and-Seek doesn't work out so well. Robo-Pete always knows exactly where Pete hides. Of course he does! His mind works just like he's programmed to do.

Maybe having only robot Petes for pals isn't as much fun as he thought, in James Dean' Pete the Cat: Robo-Pete (HarperCollins, 2016). It's fun for young readers to follow Pete as he finds out that different strokes for different folks make for more fun in the long run, and James Dean's signature faux naif illustrations add to the fun of this fantasy day of play for Pete. Complete with a Pete-the-Cat poster and stickers, this little paperback is sure to please.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Nature or Nurture: Antoinette by Kelly DiPucchio

Mrs. Bulldog watched her puppies race through the yard.

(Ridiculously cute, aren't they? But please don't tell them that!)

Mrs. Bulldog knew (
as mothers do) why each of her puppies was special. Rocky was clever! Ricky was fast! Bruno was strong!

And Antoinette? Well, unlike her burly brothers she still hadn't quite discovered what she was good at.

"Chin UP!" barked her mother. "You have something extra special! I can feel it in my bones"

Antoinette, a svelte, lithe, and dainty little poodle among her brawny brothers, feels as if she doesn't quite belong in her muscular family and is not totally reassured by Mrs. Bulldog's promise. Still, she is able to forget herself in the daily romp in the park with her brothers and their playmates, a dog family that is the mirror image of her own--three dainty poodle siblings--Fifi, Fou-Fou, Ooh-La-La--and the one sturdy bulldog Gaston.

But one day little Ooh-La-La goes AWOL from the group.

"Where is Ooh-La-La?" Mrs. Poodle asked frantically.

The playdate in the park turns into an instant search party. Clever Rocky spots footprints. Quick Ricky races to follow them around the lake. Strong Bruno leaves no boulder unmoved. But Ooh-La-La is not to be found. Ah, mon dieu! No one knows what to do.

Antoinette felt a tug in her heart and a twitch in her nose.

Following her nose down the Paris sidewalks, Antoinette takes charge, leading them through the busy streets to the Louvre Museum, where heedless of the grumpy guard she sniffs and darts through the crowd and discovers quite an unsuspected scene. It seems Ooh-La-La, in her pursuit of butterflies, has followed one to the perilous tippy-top of the statue of Winged Victory. Brava, Antoinette!

All's well that ends well, in Kelly DiPucchio's latest adventure among the ever-popular Parisienne French poodle and French bulldog pups, Antoinette (Gaston and Friends) (Atheneum Press, 2017), with a satisfying rescue and an even more happy ending (no spoiler here) for those odd ones in their families, Antoinette and Gaston.

Author DiPucchio tells this tale with verve and plenty of Gallic panache, and Caldecott-winning artist Christian Robinson's faux naif acrylic paintings portray the oh-so-French ambiance in this lost puppy tale, told en famille in a pastel palette that catches the French street scenes winsomely and winningly, so well done that Kirkus says in their starred review, "Robinson's seemingly simple artwork belies his masterful ability to imbue his characters and the places they live with an authenticity and humanity that move readers beyond the surface of the page."

See the review of Kelly DiPucchio's and Christian Robinson's companion book Gaston (Gaston and Friends)(Atheneum, 2014) here.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Missing Horn Mystery: The Jazzman's Trumpet (A Kit Mystery) by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

"And now, ladies and gentlemen," said the announcer, "the moment you've all been waiting for. The King Jazz Hour will announce the winner of the free concert tickets...right after a word from our sponsor, Sudso Soap."

"Another commercial? I just want the waiting to be over!" Kit exclaimed.

The announcer's voice returned. "Okay, folks, we've picked a postcard at random for the lucky winner who will win two front-row tickets to Swingin' Slim Simpson's one-night show at the Burns Theater right here in Cincinnati Saturday night. So without further ado, the name of our winning listener is...

Miss Kit Kittredge!

Like most folks in 1934, twelve-year-old Kit is swing jazz crazy. So is her dad, and when he tells her that he remembers Slim Simpson, the famous bandleader, from his high school days right there in Cincinnati, girl reporter Kit suddenly has an idea. Perhaps there's an article for the Cincinnati newspaper in this for her to write. Perhaps she can wrangle an interview with the jazzman through Mrs. Burns, the owner of the theater for whom Kit had already solved the mystery of her stolen cashbox. Kit quizzes her dad for information about the famous trumpeter and his band, and prepares her pitch for a story with the news editor. Gibb thinks it sounds like a good story about a big event and a local guy who's made the big time in jazz and gives her some clippings from the newspaper's "morgue," the file of earlier stories for background information.

After school the next day, with her notebook and well-sharpened pencil, Kit heads down to Burn's Theater and discovers something disturbing. The big glass display case at the front of the theater has been smashed and the promotional poster for the concert has been torn up and tossed on the sidewalk. Mrs. Burns is dismayed at the broken case, but agrees to help Kit meet Swingin' Sam Simpson and some other musicians and arrange an interview for the following afternoon. But then they discover that a strange message has appeared on the marquee out front:


It look like somebody wants Swingin' Slim's show to be a flop. But Kit's interview with Slim goes well, and with her background information and some great quotes from the star about swing jazz, Kit has high hopes that her by-line article will be good enough to run in the metro news section of the Sunday paper. But when she returns to the theater, something has happened that may mean there will be no concert at all by Swingin' Slim Simpson.

Hootie Shay, the baritone sax player, was barreling up the aisle at full speed. "Did you see anyone go through that lobby?" he asked Kit sharply.

", I didn't," Kit said.

"Darn!" said Hootie, wringing his hands. "Sorry, kid, but we're in the middle of a situation here. Somebody got into the theater and got into the greenroom while Slim went for an interview.

Somebody stole Slim's trumpet!"

It looks like Kit Kittredge is going to be wearing both her girl detective and girl reporter hats in Elizabeth Cody Kimmel's The Jazzman's Trumpet: A Kit Mystery (American Girl Beforever Mysteries) (American Girl, 2016). It's up to her to solve the theater mystery and find Slim's one-of-a-kind trumpet to save the show and her article. The show must go on, and the resourceful Depression-era heroine of the Kit Kittredge series is on it, in this installment in the spin-off Kit Mysteries series.

There are plenty of unexpected twists and turns and some sidekick sleuthing with her friend Stirling and some unexpected help from her mysterious new friend Trixie in a detective story set engagingly in the early 1930s swing music scene. Author Kimmel adds an appendix "Inside Kit's World," which brings young readers up to speed on the Depression days when the big bands ruled the radio and great horn players were becoming media stars. For fans of all the American Girl mysteries and particularly those who are fans of swing dancing, this one is the cat's whiskers.

The Kit Kittredge series, begun by author Valerie Tripp with Meet Kit: An American Girl, 1934 (American Girl), introduces middle readers to the period of the first year of the Great Depression, when Kit's father loses his job and heads west to find work while her mother turns their comfortable two-story home into a boarding house, Kit pitches in with her newspaper route, and the parlor radio is the main source of entertainment. Middle readers get the sense of a time different from their own, a time of great change, and get to know a resilient and adventurous character who manages to adapt to her own time.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Friend in Need: Dot in the Snow by Corinne Averiss

Miki wanted Mom to play in the snow, not fish on the ice.

Snow was soft, and fishing looked hard. Miki wasn't reading to dive.

Mom is busy with grown-up stuff, and Miki wants to have some snow play, so leaving Mom with her head down a seal hole on the ice, he clambers up a snow ridge, looking for some fun. At the top, he looks across the wide space of white below. And that's when he sees it.

A dot in the snow.

Miki keeps his eyes on the red dot, which seems to be growing bigger and bigger. Suddenly he realizes that it's a person, a little girl in a red parka and mittens, walking straight toward him. Miki has never seen such a thing. But he is intrigued.

He liked its twinkly face.

And the gurgling sound it made.

And Dot Girl likes to play. She smiles and giggles as they make and throw snowballs and slide down the snow slide they build. But suddenly Miki notices one of her red mittens is missing. Her bare paw looks very cold! Miki sees that Dot Girl is sad, but just then the ice begins to crack and separate under their feet.

The red mitten drops through a crack and into the sea. Somehow, Miki knows just what to do.

Miki dives.

But when he comes back up with the mitten, there's another problem. He and Dot are marooned on an ice floe which is beginning to float away from the land. This is not what he had in mind when he went off to play! But Miki sees what he has to do.

Miki showed the Dot how to jump!

Safe back on land, the two notice that it is beginning to snow. Now the air is almost all white, too, just like the land. But then through the flakes they see a larger red dot coming closer. It's the Dot's mom in her own red parka, looking for her. Dot is happy to see her mother and gives Miki's nose a quick rub with her own before she runs to join her mom.

Making a new friend is fun, but seeing Dot going away with her mother makes Miki miss his own mom. Where is she? He looks all over and at last has an idea. He bravely puts his head under the cold green sea, and -- and there, under the water is his mom, swimming to find him.

Miki has had fun, made a new friend, and gotten over his fear of diving into the sea. Fishing seems like something he can handle now, too!

But right now Miki needs a ride home on Mom's furry back and a bit of a sleep back at the den, in Corinne Averiss's A Dot in the Snow (Sterling Books, 2016). Averiss's story of a little wandering polar bear cub is told cleverly by the charming illustrations of artist Fiona Woodcock, shown in both panels and full-and double-page spreads, with little Dot's red parka the only spot of warm, strong color amid the whites of snow, ice, and bear, and the cool aquamarine of the sea, in a charming story of an unexpected rescue and an unexpected playmate, and with just a bit of a nudge toward a welcome bedtime.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Ready for Takeoff: North, South, East, West by Margaret Wise Brown



Mother Bird has done her job. She has taught her little fledgling how to fly high, above the storms and with the wind, but now it is time for her young one to fly forth to find her own home, and she cannot tell her where that is.

The little bird quails at the thought of leaving the comfort and safety of her familiar nest in the safe sycamore tree. But somehow duty calls, and her now strong wings bear her away into the unknown.

But the North is too icy cold and blown bare, and she dreams of the warmth of southern breezes. But when she arrives in the South the weather is too hot and steamy. The young bird goes west, but finds the sun sinking into the sea and night falling. North, South, West--they are all different, but none of them feel like home.




And in a new sycamore she builds a nest for her babies, in this first-time publication of the notable Margaret Wise Brown's heretofore-unknown North, South, East, West (HarperCollins, 2017), in which the little feathered pilgrim finds her way, literally trying her wings, exploring her world, and finally coming down to where she is meant to be. This early but never-illustrated story by the famed author of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny drew the services of the award-winning artist Greg Pizzoli, whose flowing lines and bright colors form stylized illustrations that make each page come alive. Says Horn Book Magazine,, “Pizzoli’s style is defined by a bright palette and crisp geometric forms that combine to create a Mid-century modern aesthetic befitting a story written by Brown, the mid-century master of picture-book texts.”

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Something in Common: A Greyhound, A Groundhog by Emily Jenkins

What do a greyhound and a groundhog have in common? Um, their names are both compound words?

A svelte, elegant, and regal greyhound looks little like a lumpy, dumpy brownish groundhog, but in the the hands of wordsmith Emily Jenkins and artist Chris Applehans, together they become a stylish little picture book that plays with words and images in a delightful way.

Round little groundhog.

Brown little groundhog

The sinuous greyhound bows to the frumpy, grumpy groundhog, and together they romp through the rhymes which flow in playful fonts through the pages, in Jenkins' latest, A Greyhound, a Groundhog (Schwartz and Wade, 2017).This is a book with a modish look that charms the eye and ear at one and the same time. "...a feast for the eyes and ears, and it will hold up well to repeated demands from eager young listeners," says Kirkus in their starred review!

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Plenty of Pete! Pete The Cat--5-Minute Pete the Cat Stories by James Dean

If one Pete the Cat story is good, plenty is better. The more the merrier!

And there are twelve adventures of Pete the Cat and company in James Dean's just published Pete the Cat: 5-Minute Pete the Cat Stories: Includes 12 Groovy Stories! (HarperCollins, 2017), a collection of quick-reading tales of that other famed storybook cat, the groovy cat in the headband.

Author-illustrator James Dean's bright and simple faux naif illustrations transfer well to the large-page format of this book, which lies open easily on a lap for reading by parent or beginning reader.

These stories include some favorite and familiar ones from Dean's earlier I-Can-Read books--such as "Scuba Cat," "Pete The Cat at the Beach," and "Valentine's Day Is Cool"--perfect for emergent and beginning independent readers and for quicky reads for bedtime. Pete The Cat's motto is an upbeat look at life, "It's all GOOD!" And this one is a good choice for home libraries as well as for school and public libraries.

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Me? What Do You Love About You? by Karen Lechelt


A white cat poses an interesting question  to a girl, and gets a surprising answer.


The girl, nattily attired in a pink dress with a gray sweater, repeats the cat's question to a leggy pink water bird, who quizzically responds with a pun:


If the girl is looking for a straight answer, she's not exactly getting one, but she perseveres.

A hamster cheekily says he loves his puffy checks because he can store up a passel of kisses for her.

A beaver remarks that he loves his teeth because with them he can change the world, and he fells a tree to prove it. A reindeer loves his antlers because his feathered friends perch there and keep him from feeling lonely. A squid loves his tentacles because they make it easy to hug himself.

Everybody has an unexpected and puzzling reply, until at last the the cat repeats the question of the day, and the girl, too, responds with a enigmatic answer.


Love is no doubt a complex thing, in Karen Lechelt's What Do You Love About You? (Bloomsbury, 2016), in which the author's premise suggests that love is the good side of give and take, all the while keeping the tone lighthearted and fanciful, with a giraffe's reaching for the stars, and a spouting whale tail-walking, singing and dancing in his own rain.

The author brings it all home, as the animals become plush toys piled on a bed where the girl and cat snuggle up for sweet and loving dreams. Artist Lechelt's illustrations are piquant, with animals sporting snappy, preppy outfits of pink and gray, executed with black-line drawings and flat, matte palette.  "... a charming bedtime read-aloud," says Children's Literature.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Tech Talk! Quarks! (Baby Loves) by Ruth Spiro

Baby builds with blocks.

Nature builds with quarks.

Ruth Spiro takes on the job of explaining the quark, defined as "an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter," to tots perhaps still in diapers. It's quite a task!

Quarks are the building blocks of protons or neutrons, which together form the nuclei of atoms, which can combine to form molecules, which form, well. . . everything!

There's more to the physical world than meets the eye is the indisputable premise of Ruth Spiro's Baby Loves Quarks! (Baby Loves Science) (Charlesbridge, 2016), undoubtedly true, but hard to explain to tots who are still learning just to name... everything.

But perhaps opening up the mind to seeing the "invisible" facts of "observable" science is a good thing to introduce while the mind is fully flexible to new concepts, and author Spiro gives it a good try, aided by illustrator Irene Chan's friendly hand-holding quarks who love to get together and her bright almost three-dimensional models of atoms and molecules of nitrogen and oxygen, water and methane shown in motion. Little ones who delight in demolishing their block buildings will even be intrigued by the idea of smashing a nucleus, whatever that is. Author Spiro, artist Chan, and Charlesbridge Publishing get a A for Aspirational.

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Thursday, March 09, 2017

Take Off! Aerospace Engineering (Baby Loves) by Ruth Spiro


Tiny tots notice right away that birds do something special, doubtlessly asking the same question that little Leonardo da Vinci must have asked. How DO birds stay up and travel through the air? And the natural follow-up query.... Can I DO that?

Taking advantage of that wonder, Ruth Spiro's Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering! (Baby Loves Science) helps the very young let their curiosity carry them far, describing how the aerodynamic shape of the bird's wings allows air to move more slowly above her curved wing than below, providing lift.

Then the curious kid wonders if the same is true for airplane wings.


Spiro explains that airplanes need engines to provide speed so that the shape of their wings, like the bird's, allow them to ride the air above the earth. With an accompanying drawing, the effect of lift is explained. But how about higher above the earth? How can a bird fly into space? Her wings won't do it!


That takes a rocket with a large engine that makes hot gas to provide the thrust to take bird (and people) into space.

Spiro's Baby Loves book is planned to pique the interest of the youngest in the basics of flight, with a trajectory from the toddler's ground level into outer space. It's the Bernoulli effect and Newton's laws of motion in a suitably simplified nutshell. With engaging but simple illustrations by Irene Chan, this tot-friendly little board book encourages the natural curiosity of the toddler to lift off into the scientific side of the natural world all around.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Foodies Unite! Samson, the Piranha Who Went to Dinner by Tadgh Bentley

Samson is a different sort of fish. He doesn't follow the leader and swim with the old school.

While the other piranhas stick to the same old routine, Samson likes to try new things. Even when it comes to their daily grub, the other piranhas form a feeding frenzy without savoring a single bite. But Samson swims to a different drummer.

Most of all, Samson dreams of eating fine food in the finest restaurants--lily linguine and crisp kelp cakes.

So one day Samson decks himself out in a debonair fedora, and with his dispatch case of cutlery jauntily over his shoulder, heads off to one the finest restaurants in town. With a big smile, he even invites some patrons to dine with him. Yikes!


A restaurant is no place for a ..


Samson clears the place in a trice when the other fish fear that they are about to be the catch of the day!

Undeterred and disguised in a set of Groucho glasses with bushy brows and mustache, Samson ventures out to the Cafe Pierre, determined to remain incognito. But he can't help smiling at the friendly waiter who comes to his table....


Still those kelp cakes beckon, so this time Samson tries a curly wig and a big floppy hat and books a reservation under what he hopes is a clandestine name, Samson P. Rana.

But when the obsequious waiter tries to take his hat and coat, Samson's cover is blown, and the fearful fish flee the dining room, leaving their dinners behind.


It seems Samson can't catch a break, much less a shrimp scampi, until he gets a new idea. Perhaps he and some of his fellow predatory fish foodies can open their own private restaurant. With a chef who knows his way around a toothsome crab souffle and a nicely seasoned Coquille St. Jacques, Samson and his buddies, sharks, barracudas, and the like can at last dine in style. On opening day the food is fabulous, and business is great--suspiciously so.... Samson takes a closer look at the clientele.

Hey,... wait! Isn't that a sea turtle wearing a fake shark fin strapped around his shell and chomping a kelp croquette?

In his Samson: The Piranha Who Went to Dinner (Balzer and Bray, 2017) Tadgh Bentley pokes some fun at foodies and their tendency to flock to the latest hotspot eateries. Bentley's cartoon-style under-the-sea illustrations make the most of spoofing his dining denizens of the sea, The illustrator's disguises for poor Samson will definitely look "fishy" to young readers, while the discovery of Samson's impressive dental equipment underneath will have sharp young readers piping up with "PIRANHA!" at all the right points in this tasty fish tale. As Kirkus Reviews quips, "Young readers will be hooked."

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Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Free To Be: Fish Girl by David Weisner and Donna Jo Napoli

Welcome to Ocean Wonders, the realm of Neptune, god of seas and storms. I am the most powerful of the gods. Everything you see here obeys my commands.

Here you find specimens from the deepest, darkest depths, where no human has ventured--but where I, Neptune, travel with ease.

The Fish Girl! Is she fish or is she girl? She is the last of her kind, seen only at Ocean Wonders. I control her!

At the seaside stands a tall, narrow, vintage building, presided over by a proprietor who wears a crown, bears a trident, and calls himself Neptune. Inside the glass cases on all three floors are ocean animals, sharks, sea turtles, even a large octopus, where Mr. Neptune controls everything, creating stormy seas, winds, and as he sees it, to...

... I bring disaster to those who defy me.

Her job, Neptune orders, is to show herself briefly, in part, in a flashing glance, a hand, or a waving tail, to keep the viewers coming and tossing coins into her tank. He brandishes his trident and roils her waters and warns her that he is her protector from the human scientists who might take her away to their labs and cut her open.

But Fish Girl has a mind of her own. She sees a girl named Livia and wants to get to know her better. Little by little, she shows herself more and more to her, and finally they touch hands over the top of her tank. Through the window, she sees Livia and others walking and running on the beach and swimming freely in the sea. Livia names her Mira, short for Miracle,

Fearfully Mira begins brief excursions outside her tank in the night, with her friend Octopus providing the splashes that make it possible for her to slide across the floor, and she discovers that Neptune's trident is actually a decorative remote control that creates the storms in the tank.

And then on one midnight foray, she tries on a souvenir Fish Girl tee-shirt, and makes a discovery.

I look human. I look like someone who can walk. And talk.

And then Mira discovers that her mermaid's tail vanishes when she is out of the water. She ventures outside at night and discovers that she can speak with Livie. Now she sees that she, not the man who calls himself Neptune, is the one with the balance of power on her side.

In their NOT-the-Little-Mermaid story, David Wiesner's and Donna Jo Napoli's fantasy graphic novel, Fish Girl (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2017), gives the fairy tale character a modern consciousness, a liberated mermaid who gives up nothing to gain her freedom, but finds her real self outside the protective prison of her glass case. Napoli and Wiesner tell a modern fantasy tale of the power of a friendship, from both Octopus and the girl Livia, and the power of self-realization that comes with personal freedom. Told in vivid and detailed full-page and comic-book-framed illustrations by the multiple-Caldecott Award-winning David Wiesner and with the added narratives of author Donna Jo Napoli, this is a book rich with many sub-texts--domination, economic exploitation, personal liberty, self-emancipation, and the power of friendship--all in an engrossing format that will engage middle readers deeply.

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Monday, March 06, 2017

Too Late for Normal: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz

I have a memory that is almost like a dream; the yellow leaves from Mima's mulberry tree are floating downs like giant snowflakes. Mima is raking, singing something in Spanish. I bathe in waters of those leaves.

I pick up a few leaves and hand them to her with my five-year-old hands. She takes the fragile leaves and kisses them.

I have never been this happy.

Now that golden time seems far away. Sal is seventeen, a senior in high school, and things are changing too fast. His grandmother, Mima, is slowly dying of cancer. Sal is suddenly filled with new, raw emotions and he finds himself on the winning side of two fistfights in the first week of school, the first because a bully calls his stepfather a faggot and the second to rescue Fito, a homeless, always hungry classmate who comes to school when he is between three jobs.

Sal's father gives him a sealed letter from his mother, written a few weeks before she died when he was three, but the courage to open and read it won't come. Sal can't get his thoughts together to finish his college applications. Mima's last Thanksgiving comes and goes, and Sal feels her coming death like an open wound in his heart.

And still, stuff happens.

His best friend Samantha's mother dies in a needless car accident, and she moves in with Sal and his father to finish her senior year. His stepfather's former love, Marcos, returns to town, and finally Fito moves in with them, too.

Sal wishes he could go back in time, or that he could make time stop, take off a year and maybe figure everything out. It's all coming at him too fast.

Sam leaned over and kissed me on the forehead. "Maybe it's not such a bad thing that you're going though a crisis," she said.

Fito's life was complicated, with a capital C. I guess all our lives were complicated. Even mine. Sam's mother was dead. Fito didn't have a place of his own. Mima was dying, and everything was changing.

I felt as if I needed to do something to fix everything that was wrong with all the people I loved. But I couldn't fix anything. Not a damn thing.

"I've decided I'm going for normal," I told Sam.

"Too late for that, Sally," she said.

And then Mima dies.

In Benjamin Alire Saenz' forthcoming The Inexplicable Logic of My Life (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2017), Sal manages to turn that corner in life with a knowledge that the love of family and friends will go with him into his future. Writing in brief, first-person, stream-of-consciousness chapters, the award-winning author sets this universal coming-of-age story in a definite time and place, and, and in the broadest sense, within members an uncommon family, each of whom share changes in their own lives. Saenz writes lyrically, yet colloquially, in the words and text messages of his main characters, with the voice of a particularly thoughtful and compassionate boy on the verge of finding his own manhood. Life is complicated, its logic inexplicable, except that, sometimes, with a little luck, with the love of those around us and those who have gone before, we don't have to face it alone.

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