Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Corps de Ballet? Dance Is For Everyone by Andrea Zuill

Mrs. Iraina and her ballerinas were surprised.

There was a new student in their dance class

They decided it was okay for her to join.

Besides, who would be brave enough to tell a 450-pound alligator she couldn't?

The big green 'gator seems to be able to follow all the moves, so Mrs. Iraina carries on with class, making a mental note to stock up on alligator snacks to keep her little dancers safe. They name the alligator Tanya.

There was one hazard, though.

Tanya didn't seem to know what was going on with her tail!

Ballet teachers have to be creative with the dancers they have, and for their recital Mrs. Iraina and her little ballerinas came up with a novel production with a setting which is, er, suited to Tanya's talents--"The Legend of the Swamp Queen," with the kids in animal outfits and you-know-who dancing the title role!

The audience was enthralled with the star ballerina--so strong and so fully immersed in her role!

And what an unbelievably realistic costume!

It's a hit, in Andrea Zuill's Dance Is for Everyone (Sterling Books, 2017). There are plenty of giggles as the little dancers gawk at their big green classmate and try not to trip on her tail, and author-illustrator Zuill provides plenty of sight gags as Tanya trips the not-so-light fantastic to extend the humor of this tale. Says School Library Journal, "The illustrations are quirky and the plot is engaging, with jokes adults will appreciate peppered throughout. The narrative coveys the story's message of inclusion in a subtle manner, but the book's title makes this important theme abundantly clear."

For a further taste of Zuill's comic picture book talents, see her delightful walk on the wild side with a trio of pampered pooches, in Wolf Camp (read review here).

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Rapping in the Stacks! Rappy Goes to the Library by Dan Gutman


It's field trip time, and Mrs. Hoopenlooper (a huge and terrifying creature, according to Rappy) is prepping her rowdy class for a visit to the library. She especially warns Rappy, who is prone to break into an impromptu rap at odd times, that she expects him to keep quiet. It's a tall order, but Rappy wants to please Mrs. H. However, when he bursts into a totally, er, fictionalized rap version of their bus trip, Mrs. Higgenlooper has to quash his recital. Okay...



Hoopenlooper calls for nothing but "inside voices," and Mrs. Darian the Librarian takes over, guiding them through the collection and to the desk to get their very own library cards.



But next comes the many-floor tour, which Rappy's class finds quite a snore. But Rappy feels sorry for Darian the Librarian, whose act is clearly bombing. She's losing her audience fast. Can Rappy come up with a rap to save the act and the field trip?

With author Dan Gutman coming up with the dialog, Rappy's soon rockin' the stacks, in Gutman's latest I-Can-Read Level 2 title, Rappy Goes to the Library (I Can Read Level 2) (Harper, 2017). Gutman, the best-selling creator of the My Weird School series, is right at home in the classroom scene, and gives Rappy a chance to rhyme "scary" with "little house on the prairie," to become the book guy of the year. Other Rappy the Raptor stories for the grades 1 and 2  readers are Rappy the Raptor, Rappy Goes to the Supermarket (I Can Read Level 2), and Rappy Goes to School.

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Boning Up On Bees: Amazing Bees by Sue Unstead

Bees are amazing. They help flowers make fruits and seeds, and they give us sweet honey.

So let's find out what makes bees so special!

As familiar as the cheery little blossom buzzers are in poem and story and in our gardens, bees themselves are as strange as any sci-fi aliens. Like all insects, they have segmented bodies with three discrete parts and six legs. They have strong wings and sensitive antennae which they use to communicate.They have two great big compound eyes, and three little ones for close work. Their bodies are very hairy, and bees' knees are all they're cracked up to be, with little pockets for that all-important pollen collection.

Sue Unstead's fact-filled but easy-reading DK Readers L2: Amazing Bees (Dorling Kindersley, 2017), offers a wide range of bee lore, from their lives from eggs to larvae to pupae to bees. Until they hatch as adults, "baby" bees in all their stages require wax cells as nurseries and much regular care from the grown-ups. When they finally emerge from the early stages, there are three main types of adults--the one-and-only queen of each hive, the drones, and the workers, but workers may be pollen and nectar collectors, or they may be baby tenders, armed guards, and maintenance workers back at the hive. Bees are indeed social insects and live in a unique society.

In addition to life in the hive, author Unstead covers many of the important aspects of bee society, such as bee communications ("dancing" and "waggling"), bee senses (bees see flowers in different colors from human eyes), bee business--collecting nectar and pollen to feed the hive and store as honey and incidentally pollinating the plants that we humans depend on for our own food, fuel, and shelter. Unstead even goes into bees other than the popular honeybee, from bumblebees to several species of smaller bees who make no honey but also serve as miniature pollinators; and she also presents those curious bees that eschew hives, building nests from soil and grass, carefully cut leaves, and those opportunists who make do with holes in trees, fallen branches, and in the ground. Illustrated by Dorling Kindersley's trademark up-close color photographs, this level two book is accessible to most primary-grade readers, and its use as a nature science book is bolstered by a self-quiz for students and an excellent glossary of terms, all of which can help any kid to BE a bee specialist!

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

It's A GO! Dig Dig Digging ABC by Margaret Mayo





For a certain contingent of kids, big machines are fascinating. Things that dig and float and fly with verve are their favorite things, and Margaret Mayo's Dig Dig Digging ABC (Henry Holt and Company, 2017), all the big boys are there--bulldozers, cranes, diggers, express trains, fire engines--all the favorites are up front to teach the alphabet.



Some of the things that go are not those usually seen in alphabet books--kayaks, scooters, windsurfing boards, and velodrome racing bikes-- but all are pictured in action, with onomatopoeic sounds to distinguish them--whooshing, cruising, bumping, whizzing, humming--full of life and action, in a a boardbook that delivers the alphabet with jolly illustrations by artist Alex Ayliffe that give it plenty of go-power.

For kids who just can't get enough of things that go VROOOM, ZOOOM, and RROOOM, here's one just loaded with sound effects and movement.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Together Forever? Ella Bella Ballerina and the Magic Toyshop by James Mayhew

Ella Bella danced along the street to her ballet lesson. Her teacher, Madame Rosa, was waiting by the door of the old theater.

The other little dancers are already on the stage, whispering excitedly at the sight of Madam Rosa's magical musical box, surrounded by a number of beautiful dolls.

"May we play with them?" asked Ella Bella.

"Why not dance with them?" said Madame Rosa as she opened the music box.

Madame Rosa tells her little ballerinas the story of La Boutique Fantastique, The Magical Toyshop, presided over by a kindly toymaker, and Ella is enchanted by the dancing dolls.

When the lesson ends, Madame Rosa invites Ella Bella to stay and help her tidy up, and as they do, she tells Ella the story of each dancing doll. Ella is especially drawn to two beautiful dolls who dance to the music box as if they were made to be together.

But just then customers come in and begin to look among the music box dolls. One family picks one of the dolls, and another snatches up the other doll. Both families get very angry. No one can buy them both!

But Ella notices that the two dancing dolls look very sad.

"They are very much in love!" she cried. "It would break their hearts to be parted!"

Can Ella Bella Ballerina save the dancing dolls from being separated forever? In James Mayhew's latest in series, Ella Bella Ballerina and The Magic Toyshop (Ella Bella Ballerina Series) (Barrons, 2017), Ella Bella gets some help from toyshop magic in a fanciful story that will please both young doll lovers and balletomaines, illustrated with the author's delicate frou-frou scenes that fit this charming story right down to the dancing French poodles. Appended is an English retelling of the original story of La Boutique Fantastique.

This story pairs well with James Mayhew's popular Ella Bella Ballerina and The Nutcracker (Ella Bella Ballerina Series). (see review here.)

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Signing Up! ABC for Me: Baby Signs by Christine Engel

Follow us through the alphabet and learn to use twenty-six essential phrases in baby sign language--a fun way to communicate with baby long before they can talk.

It's an engaging premise and promise that infants can learn to understand and, as coordination develops, to communicate in sign language before they are able to form the words with which they will speak. Christine Engel's ABC for Me: ABC Baby Signs: Learn baby sign language while you practice your ABCs! (Walter Foster/Quarto, 2017) offers parents a chance to give teaching babies sign language a try.

Experienced parents know that infants gesture before they can speak, and most parents quickly learn to recognize those little arms reaching up in the "pick-me-up" position or the "I want THAT!" gesture. Experiments have shown that babies can recognize hand signs and begin to make them before they can produce speech. Engel's little board book offers illustrations of basic signs--ALL DONE, EAT, GO!, HELP, MORE, NO, PLEASE, UP, PLEASE, READ, and even I LOVE YOU!--with verbal directions and conventional diagrams as well as illustrations of endearing infants to ensure consistency with each sign. The author also arranges the twenty-six signs in alphabetical order, with explanations in rhythm and rhyme to reinforce language development.  And who wouldn't want to have a baby who knows how to follow the familiar Shhhh! gesture for QUIET sometimes?



Engel's illustrations are charming, and, since they mimic common adult gestures, are easy to remember. The signs included cover most of the necessary communications, even one for "time for a diaper change!" She suggests, but does not emphasize, that such signs should be used along with spoken language, not as a substitute for speech. It's a fun book to read aloud and to begin communication with your baby.

Other books in the series by Christine Foster are ABC for Me: ABC Love: An endearing twist on learning your ABCs!, and ABC for Me: ABC Yoga:. Join us and the animals out in nature and learn some yoga!

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Getting It Together: After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat



Humpty Dumpty knows that he has a fragile physicality, being an egg and all, but up there, in the air, close to his beloved birds, is where he wants to be.



The Great Fall changes Humpty's life drastically. He takes a new job as a grocery store clerk, but he's so afraid of heights that even stocking the top shelves is scary. Walking by that wall on the way to work every day reminds him of what happened. He's definitely suffering from post-traumatic fall syndrome.

But the worst part is that he has to watch the birds from the ground, flat-footed. The birds soar high above, flitting happily from steeple to tower. Watching from below is not the same as being up there among them. Life on the ground is getting Humpty Dumpty down.


Actually, it was a paper airplane that floated by, but the idea of controlled flight lifts Humpty's hopes. Perhaps he can build a device that will allow him to rejoin the birds in the air. He builds several flying machines, but it seems that what goes up still comes down. It's a definite downer. And there is definitely a certain gravity in that realization. Humpty realizes that there is no easy way out of his dilemma.

It's time for Plan B.

Humpty starts to climb that wall. He's terrified. Totally. He knows that he's best known for falling. But then...

He thinks of all the things he's been missing, and he keeps on climbing.


There are second acts in children's literature, in Dan Santat's new picture book parable on the importance of getting-back-on-the bike-type courage, After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) (Roaring Brook, 2017), shows. Santat, the Caldecott Award winning author-illustrator (for The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend(see review here) is brave enough to use even the famed nursery rhyme crackup Humpty Dumpty as his doughty hero in this sweet little story of second chances in life. Even Santat's endpapers are clever, showing the iconic fish out of water trying to adapt. A funny and meaningful tale of how it's never too late to re-imagine yourself.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Wonderful Wild Kitty! Moto and Me: My Year As a Wildcat's Foster Mom by Suzu Eszterhas

As a child, I used to tell my mom that one day I would live in a tent in Africa. So it was a dream come true when I headed to the Masai Mara, a wildlife reserve in Kenya, to photograph animals.

Suzi Eszterhas found her dream up close and personal, living with all kinds of wildlife--elephants, hippos, lions, and giraffes--just outside her tent flap, just as she'd hoped. But she never expected to mother a wildcat, Africa's amazing serval cat.

Only two weeks old, little Moto found himself left alone on a road in Kenya as his mother was trying to move her litter away from a grass fire, and Suzi volunteered to be Moto's foster mom.

Anyone who has fostered domestic kittens knows that it is a big job. Kittens cry just like human babies and must be fed every few hours. They require washing and stroking similar to that of their mothers to survive. Moto especially loved being cleaned with an old brush, rough like his mother's tongue. Suzi bottle-fed him a formula of milk, fish oil, eggs, and vitamins day and night. She was busy, but Moto thrived, and soon he was purring when Suzi held him.

Like regular domestic cats, serval kittens play with toys, and Suzi gave Moto a plush duck named Mr. Ducky. He slept with it, purred for it, but as he grew, he pounced on it, wrestled with it, and carried it around in his mouth. By the time he was one month old, he was ready to explore outside. Moto also learned to enjoy rides in Suzi's jeep, watching the other animals from behind the safety of the glass windows.

Moto was shy but curious. He smelled the grass, listened to the birdcalls, and watched everything with big, wide-open eyes. The first times, we wold walk only a few feet before Moto retreated back into the tent, exhausted by his big adventure. If a noise frightened him or he lost sight of me, Moto would call out. His call was like a short, loud meow. I'd return his call by saying, "Moto," and he would call back. Hearing Moto call for me felt good. I knew I was creating a strong bond with him.

But Suzi was a working photographer, so she fashioned a cloth pouch so that she could carry him around as she shot photos outside. At first he slept, but soon the curious kitten learned to poke his head out and see what "Mom" was doing, and it was not long before he began to explore the world outside the tent. Suzi introduced pureed chicken to his formula and then began to introduce solid food to little Moto. It was a big event when he was fed his first mouse, and in a few weeks, he was learning to catch his own dinner. Suzi even helped him learn to catch fish.

To become a hunter, Moto had to explore the bush. Sometimes he would disappear for hours. He roamed freely around camp, practicing stalking, running, pouncing. Learning how to hunt was a huge step in being able to take care of himself. I was very proud.

Moto also had to learn to protect himself, mostly from the larger predators--leopards, lions, wild dogs--in the bush, and he learned to hide invisibly, his spotted gold coat camouflaging him in the tall grass, and to climb high beyond reach in the trees with his now long and powerful claws.

By the time Moto was eight months old, he was nearly the size of an adult serval. Like a wild serval, Moto was active at dawn, dusk, and nighttime and slept most of the day. Moto didn't need much from me anymore.

Despite their familiar kittenish look as babies, an adult serval cat is an impressive animal, weighing up to forty pounds, able to run like a cheetah and use their unusually long hind legs to leap eight feet straight up to capture birds on the wing. Suzi gradually saw less and less of Moto, and she was both sad and glad that he was now independent.

Eszterhas' Moto and Me: My Year as a Wildcat's Foster Mom (Owlkids Books, 2017) is a true story of that will fascinate young readers who may themselves dream of studying wildlife one day. Illustrated lavishly with the author's own photographs, this slim book gives middle readers much information (including an appendix, All About Servals) and what's more, a satisfying vicarious experience of raising a wildcat kitten and watching him return successfully to the wild. Fans of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Scientists in the Field series and National Geographics' Baby Animal series will find this new one from Owlkids Books a welcome addition to their nature reading. For kids who love animals, share this one with Owlkids' wonderful Koala Hospital (Wildlife Rescue) (see review here.)

Says Booklist, "Photos of Moto, both as a fluffy-faced baby and an active, handsome adult, are the clear scene-stealers, but plenty of interesting facts on servals are included. More than one reader will consider following Eszterhas' footsteps."

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Monday, January 08, 2018

A Bear Where? The New LiBEARian by Alison Donald





The proactive preschoolers set out to solve the mystery of their missing library storyteller. They know good sleuths look for footprints and Dee spots some right away.


The kids trek along the trail of tracks past stacks which offer galaxies, pirate ships, and aircraft. But when they come to Ms. Merryweather's own desk, they find even more quirky clues. Her desk is sticky, with a tell-tale pot of spilled honey and some seriously shredded pages scattered about. And what they see confirms their case!


Their new librarian is A LiBEARian! He's wearing a LIBRARIAN nametag taped to his fur.


The liBEARian shrugs and when the kids ask for a story of the usual sort--princesses, dragons, pirates--he yawns, but when Dee asks for a scary story, he nods and launches into a rip-roaring and growling reading of a bear book. The kids are loving the sound effects when one hears the sound of grownup footsteps approaching.

It's the missing Ms. Merryweather, apologizing profusely. It seems she has had to deal with a little problem with a volcanic eruption, presumably in Pompeii among the Ancient History stacks. Quickly, she opens her copy of The Three Bears and launches into the familiar opening about Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and... Whoa! Wait!--

Now Baby Bear is missing--right from his place in the middle of the illustration between the bemused parent bears. But Ms. Merryweather is on to her missing character's tricks.


Looking as sheepish as a little bear can look, Baby Bear takes his proper place on page. Swiftly turning to the next spread as only an experienced librarian can do to hold her audience's attention, Ms. Merryweather speeds through the familiar porridge problem until it's time for a pivotal piece of plot development. Dramatically, she makes the page turn that presents the tale's protagonist, but--

What's sauce for Baby Bear is sauce for Goldilocks, and youngsters will swiftly spot the missing heroine--seated in the on-page story circle and giving her readers outside the book a conspiratorial wink, in Alison Donald's The New LiBEARian (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2018). In this forthcoming story-within-a-story picture book, author Donald and artist Alex Willmore let that metafictional "fourth wall" fall, celebrating the ability of young children to enter right into a story and experience the characters and themselves as real participants in that "willing suspension of disbelief" that poet William Coleridge promised. Kids in the storytime group become gleeful participants when a startled Ms. Merryweather discovers Goldilocks is not on page for her big scene.


This book begs to be read aloud, with proper growls from the liBEARian and proper reactions from the iconic, unflappable Ms. Merryweather, staunchly forging on through circle time, come what may. Alex Willmore keeps his soft pastel illustrations light and funny as befits their fantastical bent, as author Donald slyly drops her final aside to her real-life readers.


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Sunday, January 07, 2018

Jane Sinner Has Left the Building: Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke

Carol barged into my room as soon as she got home from her youth group.

CAROL: But why do you have to move out? Why won't you stay home and go to school?

JS: Don't tell the parents, but their heavy-handed approach to religion and my inability to fit into their narrow, conservative framework is crushing my delicate and blossoming identity as an autonomous individual.

CAROL: Sorry, what??

JS: They're killing my buzz.

CAROL: But what about me?

JS: You'll get over it.

CAROL: You've changed, Jane.

Poor sweet Carol. She wouldn't know an existential crisis if it punched her in the face.

Jane Sinner, on the other hand, knows an existential crisis when she sees one, and one has punched her in the face.

Along with the usual teen-aged angst, her internal conflict over being an atheist in an evangelical family prompts an impromptu suicide attempt, and her refusal to continue therapy gets her expelled from high school. Now, Jane has a new thought:

Ditching high school five months before graduation isn't all it's cracked up to be.

The only option Jane sees for herself is enroll at Elbow River Community College in their high school completion program--if she can find a way to pay for a place to live near campus.

And then she is recruited by Alexander, a film student who's recruiting a mixed bag of students to participate in an online streaming reality show. All Jane has to do is to live in sleazy communal housing, The House of Orange, compete in endless aimless contests for the prize--Alexander's old car--against Chaunt'Elle, the girl in orange makeup, Marc, a 39-year-old "student" who likes to hit on teen-aged girls, and Robbie, an otherwise seemingly nice guy who seems to be OCD about germs--all the while being filmed and recorded virtually every minute. And Marc steals her food. Of course, if Jane gets voted out, the whole plan is kaput!

And just as she begins to believe that she and Robbie have a nice romance going, he finagles a way to get her voted off the show so he can win. She's got to move out of the House of Orange to... somewhere..., her heart is broken, and finals are coming up.

No stress there, right?

Luckily, Jane has two old friends, Bonnie and Tom, and an (imaginary) psychiatrist with the best shrink name ever, Dr. Freudenschade, on her side.
Jane settled down on Dr. Freudenschade's couch. Her hair is a rat's nest, and her eyes are bloodshot.
JS: Help.
DFS: What's on TV tonight?
JS: That's
it? What happened to professionalism?
DFS. You know it was all bullshit anyway. Stop trying so hard.

With much ironic talk about Chicken McNuggets and Twizzlers, theodicies and apologetics, and teen sturm und drang, progress is made toward understanding The Meaning of Life, in Lianne Oelke's first book, Nice Try, Jane Sinner (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2018). As a smart, savvy, and preternaturally comic protagonist, Oelke's Jane makes her way through her own improbably successful first semester as a semi-college student. Narrated in Jane's diary entries and script-like dialog with her cohorts, this young adult novel has the feel of a day in the life, with dry wittiness and the undercurrent of a plucky heroine feeling her way through her own coming-of-age story in which she learns a Shroedering-esque lesson, that life is, and is not, a reality show. Jane doesn't get it all together, but she's on her way.
Dr. Fraudenschade: I wish you wouldn't put your feet on the table.
JS: Who cares? It's not real.
DFS. It's the thought that counts.
J.S. So how long do I have to keep coming back here?
DFS: What did you expect? That at age eighteen you'd have all your shit together?
JS: Yes.


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Saturday, January 06, 2018

For One Bright Summer Day: One Fun Day with Lewis Carroll: A Celebration of Wordplay and a Girl Named Alice by Kathleen Krull

Lewis Carroll was an expert on fun. A day with Lewis was always fabulous and joyous--as he would say, frabjous.

Young Lewis could make anyone grin. His ten brothers and sisters adored him. He led adventures, galumphing across the leafy, tulgey woods of the English countryside. They found rabbit holes to peer down and caterpillars to befriend.

Lewis Carroll grew up in the Victorian period, a time of stodgy manners and stilted language. The fun-loving boy also became, of all things, a mathematician whose fame rested on his tome on geometry, that science of down-to-earth concreteness. But in many ways Carroll remained like that other landmark English character, Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up. Lewis refused to forfeit his boyish humor and playfulness in his personal life. And on one memorable day in literature, he went on a rowboat expedition with a friend and three little girls, one of them named Alice, and Lewis spun out a frabjous fantasy tale that the world has never forgotten.

Kathleen Krull's just published One Fun Day with Lewis Carroll: A Celebration of Wordplay and a Girl Named Alice (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018). Carroll, whose actual and professional name was Charles Lutwidge Dodson, was a bit of a fish out of water in his own time, childless in a age of large families, a man who dealt in figures and forms whose joy was playing with words, telling fantastical tales that wove elements of of his time, from the Queen right down to the creatures of the fields and woods around him, into a piece of work that broke the mold of English children's literature, formerly mostly dedicated to teaching morals and precepts.

What Carroll gave literature in his Alice was a female protagonist who at once is a great adventuress, embracing both novelty and downright absurdity with a cool head, enabling the author to poke gentle but piercing satirical fun at the actual absurdities and peculiarities of his own social milieu and times. Charles Lutwidge Dodson was himself an edgy character, a bachelor who loved children, a long-nosed respectable professor whose delight was being a surrogate "uncle" to the children of his friends, a scientist who loved playful language, even freely coining words at will into terms that children and adults adored, words like slithy (slimy and lithe?) and uffish (huffy and rough?) and frumious (fuming and furious?) that at once make complete sense and nonsense in his storytelling. Indeed, many of Carroll's neologisms have become standards of the English language--words like wow, jabberwocky, un-birthday, snark, uglification, galumphing, and of course, chortle, which readers of Krull's new book are likely to do as they read this wondrous and utterly frabjous biography of that writer who got all of us ready to "believe six impossible things before breakfast."

Krull's retelling of the Carroll's life's work is heightened by the work of artist Julia Sarda, whose pages are filled with reeling and writhing images from Carroll's stories, things tulgey and beamish that gyre and gimble across the page, sometimes bordered by more staid images of the period, sometimes spreading over several pages of curiouser and curiouser creatures and frabjous events in ways that delight the eye. As Carroll would be wont to say, the text and illustrations are all much of a muchness for a delightful literary biography for middle readers.

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Friday, January 05, 2018

That Magic Moment! Meet Cute: Some People Are Destined to Meet by Jennifer L. Armentrout et al

The morning began like any other Monday morning. The B train rolled into the station right as I swiped my MetroCard. I was going to be on time for school, and things were okay.

And then, something happened that changed my life. Something that wouldn't have happened if the constellation of minuscule events in my life hadn't aligned perfectly to deliver me to this exact moment.

I saw him.

A girl and a boy staring at each other through the windows of two train cars passing in the early morning light.

Every moment of that morning seems to have been inevitable. She has to see the boy in the blue hoodie again--which means she has to be on the same train, at the same time, in front of the same door on that side, and.... so does he. What are the odds?

The heroine of this short story happens to be engrossed in her AP statistics class, and she turns the computation of the unlikely possibility of again seeing her soul mate into her final project of the semester. But all the while, as she's calculating the probabilities of subway systems and daily crowd flow, she thinks she's in love. Can she come up with an algorithm that will put them together predictably?

But then one morning, everything goes wrong. She leaves the poster for her all-important project presentation behind at home and has to jump off her train at the next stop and catch the B train going back the other way to retrieve it. And again fate steps in a most improbable set of circumstances.

That day that our stories finally led us to meet face-to-face was the day nothing at all went according to plan, and the good ol' universe did what it wanted to do anyway.

Jocelyn Davies' story, "The Unlikely Likelihood of Falling in Love," is but one of the tales of the "cute meet" storyline celebrated in fiction and film, in the fourteen stores in Meet Cute (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018). With light and skillful storytelling, the authors ask the big question of LOVE--is it predestined for "star-crossed lovers?" Is it eternal fate or an accident of chance? The collection features a variety of genres, a future fantasy, "The Department of Dead Love," by Nicola Yoon in which teen Thomas Mark, the victim of a break-up, visits a bureaucracy, the Department of Dead Love, to meet a Heart Worker at the Relationship Autopsy desk, hoping to qualify for a Do-Over with his ex, Samantha, and finally realizes that in his heart he's actually falling for the Heart Worker herself.

In another riveting meeting, "259 Million Miles" by Kass Morgan, two finalists for the one-way mission to Mars meet in a test of compatibility and discover that they are very compatible, with only one to be chosen for the mission. Talk about your long-distance relationships!

And one of the best, "Click" by Katherine McGee, picks up the story of Alexa, clutching her smartphone with a chip directing her to a date with her purported perfect match, chosen by a internet dating service called Click. But when she accidentally leaves her phone with the Click chip behind in her taxi, she has to depend upon a helpful young man named Raden who offers his phone and help in finding her phone in time to make her big date. The two track the taxi driver across Manhattan and end up in a grimey food shop, "Jersey's Finest Tacos," somewhere across the river, in a cute meet that unexpectedly but ultimately clicks for the unplanned couple, including that traditional scenario of a meaningful kiss in the first snowflakes of winter, along with a great closing line....

"So, said Raden, holding out a hand, "now that we've found your phone, I'd like to go on a date. Can I interest you in a taco?"

"I'd love a taco," she declared and grinned. "I hear they're Jersey's finest!"

In the best tradition of "That's the story of, that's the glory of love," this collection of short romance stories is a lighthearted, yet surprisingly deep read with all the fun of falling in love--without all the problems of relationships that may follow--but which still manages to transmit some of the wisdom of the many ways of love, even at first meet.


Thursday, January 04, 2018

Red Summer: A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 by Claire Hartfield

On one rare day, the cool breezes off Lake Michigan failed the Windy City. It was a still, steamy, summer day in Chicago, and all those who could crowded the beaches along the lakefront to cool off.

The date was July 27, 1919, a day that would forever change the life of John Turner Harris and cause the whole city of Chicago to rethink where it had been and where it was headed.

As is often the case just before catastrophe strikes, that Chicago summer morning was like any other. Except that it was hot. And this heat had been building for days.

Although most Chicagoans didn't realize it, the city was already a tinder box of economic and ethnic tensions. World War I had taken away most of the men who labored in the stockyards and related industries, and in their place came repeated waves of European immigrants--Polish, Irish, and Lithuanians mostly--and a new phenomenon, the Great Migration of black families from the South, crowding the older district called the Black Belt, settled post-Civil War by its "Refined" upper class, the "Respectables," the solid middle class, as well as some "Deplorables," the unemployed, gamblers, and con-men, and all of these new residents came to take the place of those away in the the military. White ethnic and racial groups competed for living space and jobs and gangs of young men formed to protect their own turf, but the satisfaction of increasing jobs and rising wages kept conflict at a simmer, as the major meat packers scrambled to hire all able-bodied men and some women to keep the stockyards and canneries going to supply the military.

But with the demobilization in 1919 of soldiers who believed they deserved their old jobs back, competition for jobs became fierce. Unions tried to form to protect the workers, but packers like Swift and Company took advantage of the oversupply of labor now in Chicago by playing off the conflict between the racial and ethnic groups to keep wages as low as possible, and confrontations took place frequently, with the Irish against the Polish and the Polish against the Lithuanians and everyone in Packingtown against the newly arrived black workers in the Black Belt neighborhoods.

And on that 96-degree day in July, four teen-aged black boys set off to the "black beach" at Twenty-Ninth Street with a homemade wooden raft to spend the day floating in the cool lake. The boys didn't notice that they had drifted close to the "white" Twenty-Sixth Street Beach, which was already seething about the invasion of several black men. Although there were no segregation laws as such in Chicago, whites considered certain areas off limits for blacks.

And the cauldron of racism was already simmering.

It seemed that something had come over black people after fighting in the Great War. They seemed to think they could go anywhere, do anything, same as whites. And now here they were on their beach. They needed to be shown their place.

Whites starting throwing rocks at the kids on the raft, who at first took it as a sort of game, ducking under and popping up with a grin, but when one stone hit young Johnny Harris's friend Eugene William in the head, he sank and Johnny was unable to drag him up from underwater. When the boys managed to paddle back to their beach and tell their story to the lifeguard and the police took no action, an angry crowd stormed down toward the white beach, and the Chicago riot of 1919 began.

The riot raged for seven days, with bombings, shootings, and battling mobs of teen gangs and unemployed men. Houses and apartments were burned. Schools and even the stockyard and packing houses had to close, and for a time the trolleys stopped running. Thirty-eight people died, many were injured, and even more left homeless and jobless. Black leaders like Ida Wells-Barnett worked with Mayor "Big Bill" Thompson to bring the battling to an uneasy end, the Chicago Commission was formed to guide the city in improving race relations, but when the man whose rock killed Eugene Williams was acquitted of manslaughter and the discrimination in hiring continued, Chicago entered the turbulent Twenties and Prohibition era very much a divided city. Tensions between the old ethnic groups receded over the decades and Chicago's blacks gained socially and economically, but institutions like the Chicago Defender newspaper, the Urban League and NAACP remain as witnesses to that time--and to both the successes and failures of the time since.

From the last century, Ida Wells-Barnett reminds us that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," and Claire Hartfield's just published A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2018) observes that progress "comes in fits and starts." Author Hartfield offers a documentary-style narration of the events of that week, including personal stories from many people from that time, and with photographs that speak volumes of the complexity of their lives and times. With abundant endnotes, an extensive bibliography, picture credits, and a detailed index, even Carl Sandburg's poem, "I Am The People, The Mob," this new book is a powerful source for Black History Month units and research papers, and for those who want to understand how we got where we are today.

Hartfield writes,

"America's present echoes its past. Today's disparity between rich and poor is a wide as the divide between Swift and his laborers one hundred years ago. One quarter of America's city dwellers live in poverty. One percent of all Americans take home nearly twenty percent of all earnings. Black America is the bleakest of all."

Written for secondary level students, Hartfield's book is compelling and highly readable, filled with details that will feel all too familiar today, and yet with the hope that people who know their own history will not be doomed to repeat it.


Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Less to Lose, More to Gain: A Sky Full of Stars by Linda Williams Jackson

My grandpa, Papa, used to say that gratitude was the key to happiness. If that was true, then I would never be happy.

With the chill of November upon us and all of Mr. Robinson's cotton picked clean in his fields, I was finally able to attend school. But instead of school that beautiful fall day, I was cooped up in Mrs. Robinson's kitchen. I hold Mrs. Robinson's fancy gold-rimmed plates over the empty bucket she had given me and scraped off leftovers. At least our hogs could be grateful for the slop.

The waters are anything but still in Stillwater, Mississippi. The black community is anguished over the brutal murder of Emmett Till and the continued shootings of local boys and men suspected of contacts with The NAACP, and most of the white community is both fearful and angry over the possible forced integration of their schools.

Rose's heart is filled with turmoil, too. Her grandmother, Ma Pearl, makes no secret of her resentment of Rose, left for her to raise by Rose's mother, and resentment of Aunt Ruth and her five children, abandoned by their no-good father and also living under her roof. Papa and Ma Pearl are allowed to live in their crowded, ramshackle house in the middle of Mr. Robinson's cotton fields in return for her work as housekeeper and Papa's management of the Robinson plantation, so when Ma Pearl finds Rose eating an abandoned ham sandwich on its way to the swill bucket, she slaps her hard.

"Quit ack'n like a triflin' nigga," Ma Pearl says. "I feed you at home."

But just as painful are the words she overhears from what she secretly calls the Cackling Church Ladies in the parlor.

My ears perked up when another voice came through clearly. "I wish the coloreds up north would realize how happy the coloreds are down here. What colored child would want to endure the same instructions as a white child anyway?" asked Mrs. Robinson. "I don't think they'd ever be able to keep up."

Rose knows she's smart, smart enough to keep up with her grade even if she's kept out during cotton planting and picking months.

But Rose has another reason to be torn. She knows she has her ticket out of the mess in Mississippi, a standing offer from her Aunt Belle to come and live with her and go to integrated schools in St. Louis. Last summer Rose was persuaded to stay in Stillwater by her best friend, fourteen-year-old Hallelujah Jenkins, son of the preacher and high school English teacher, who has sworn to stay in Mississippi and work for full rights for all of them. But now, in the weeks after Emmett Till's murderers are acquitted, black people are terrified at the random shootings of boys and grown men in their county, one shot just for putting the wrong amount of gas in a car. Even their county leader, Reverend Howard, is selling out and moving to California. Rose wonders what a seventh-grade black girl can possibly do to help. She's sick of going to church to hear Reverend Jenkins comparing the Israelites to black people in the South, promising that God will bring deliverance. Even Hallelujah confesses that he's "sick and tired of being sick and tired." Rose understands the choice faced by them all. To leave for their own good, to stay quiet and perhaps safe, or to act for all.

But then Hallelujah brings news of Rosa Parks and the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott, and he persuades Rose to join him and a few students who call themselves the Negro Youth Council to picket on the main street of Stillwater. Rose is terrified, but somehow she gets herself there, with the excuse of delivering two of Aunt Ruthie's cakes to be sold in her Aunt Bertha's shop, the only Negro-owned store in town.

"I know you're scared," Aunt Bertha whispered. "But that's what bravery is. Being scared, but doing the job anyway."

Miss Bertha sighed. "You young people have less to lose, but you have so much more to gain."

Linda Williams Jackson's second book, A Sky Full of Stars (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), tells a deeply American story, set far from the national stage, but true not only to its time, one torn by partisan, ethnic, and religious conflict, but like the one we all now live in, but still warmed by loving and dedicated family and brave leaders. Rose decides to call herself Rosa in honor of Rosa Parks and to stay in Mississippi, not letting hate or hardship chase her away from the place her heart calls home. After all there is so much to be gained.

Jackson's first-person narrative has the ring of truth, its voice that of its young protagonist, one whose world view is widening to see both the problems and the hope in her country and what she herself can do. This sequel to Jackson's 2017 Midnight Without a Moon (see review here.) is a powerful portrayal of one girl on the cusp of the times, "the best of times and the worst of times," where history is made by leaders, but also by the decisions of one young person at a time, the ones with the most to gain. Intimate and powerfully moving, an honest witness to its era and voice which speaks to our own, this middle reader novel is a perfect choice for classroom novel studies coordinated with American history.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2018

A Child Shall Lead Them: Let the Children Lead by Monica Clark-Robinson


I couldn't play on the same playground as the white kids. I couldn't go to their schools.

There were so many things I couldn't do.

One warm spring night, my family went to church. We were there to hear Dr. King speak.

Dr. King told us the time had come to march.

It was eleven years since the Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education ruling had made school segregation illegal. But in the South, most schools were still strictly segregated. And white opposition was so strong that black parents feared to join desegregation demonstrations because they knew they would lose their jobs if they did. They needed those jobs to support their families.

"Let the children march." said Dr. King.

And on May 2, 1963, hundreds of young people, dressed in their best, met at that church, screwed up their courage, and began to walk silently through the streets of Birmingham. Angry crowds gathered along the way, shouting out insults and threats. Frightened, the children joined hands and started singing. And they kept on marching.

That day 973 children went to jail. On the next day they were met with fire hoses and police dogs and nearly 1000 were arrested, spending days in jail away from their parents. Each day there were more marchers and thousands more arrests, but more children came to keep on walking. By May 10, amid Ku Klux Klan rallies and the bombing of Dr. King's brother's house, the city of Birmingham agreed to begin the process of desegregation . On May 19, the child marchers were suspended from their schools, but the orders were quickly revoked by the courts.

One month later I was playing on a playground I'd never been allowed to play on before.

There was a long road ahead, but the Birmingham Children's Crusade was a high-water mark in the Civil Rights movement, one that inspired others to keep marching until, in 1964, the first Civil Rights Act passed in Congress and was signed by the President Johnson.

Author Monica Clark-Robinson's just published Let the Children March (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) is a dramatic portrayal of that day in May of 1963 when little children led the way for a nation.

Clark-Robinson's first-person narration is simple but vivid, giving young readers the sense and feel of walking with the Children's Crusade marchers of that time. Award-winning artist Frank Morrison's striking oil paintings take the reader up close and personal in this event. Fear and elation, determination and courage are evident in the faces of the families and young marchers, giving readers a genuine feeling of what it was like to keep going in the face of angry police officers and dogs who rounded them up and loaded them into paddy wagons to take them to jail. This new book offers young primary readers the chance to experience a moment in time when children stepped forward to lead the nation.

Share this one with Andrea Pinkney's Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down (Jane Addams Honor Book (Awards)), (Read review here.)

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Monday, January 01, 2018

True Grit! Avalanche! (Survivor Diaries) by Terry Lynn Johnson

We heard a muffled whump. We both froze and looked at each other. With growing horror, I saw the snow around us break away.

"Avalanche!" I screamed.

A big noise, like thunder, boomed. I felt the rumble. I glanced behind just in time to see the wall of snow begin to envelop me. Choking snow everywhere.

But Ashley's avalanche training kicks in as the snow buries her. She cups one hand over her nose to form an air pocket and sticks the other straight up. And when the avalanche stops, she realizes that she feels the cold wind on that arm. Breathing slowly, she claws her way up, getting her head above the snow, and fighting her way on top of the snow.

I stared at the hole I had just been in. That was almost my grave.

Ashley looks around for her twin brother, the one who always takes the lead, the one who beats her at everything. Surely Ryan was able to ski to the outside of the sliding snowfield.

There is an eerie quiet. She can't see her twin anywhere. But then Ashley sees Ryan's ski pole sticking out of the snow. Pain seers through her knee as she tries to crawl toward the pole.

My brother was buried under the snow!

Frantically Ashley digs through the snow and pulls Ryan out into the air. He's alive, with a huge bump on his head. But they are both alive.

"What do we do now?" I asked my brother.

"Who are you?" he asked.

Suddenly Ashley realizes that Ryan is too dazed to take charge the way he always does. If they are going to survive a night on the slope and find their way back to the trail, it's going to be up to her.

And Ashley knows what she has to do. She has to build a snowcave to keep them alive through the night and in the morning find a way to drag Ryan to the trail so that they can be rescued. She fashions a makeshift sled and struggles to roll Ryan onto it.

Sweat ran down my face, pooled in my shirt where the rope cut in into my waist. Keep going. Must not stop. Hot stabbing pulses ripped down my leg. Had to keep going. Our lives depended on it.

And it's going to take more strength than she ever knew she had in Terry Lynn Johnson's second book in the Survivor Diaries series, Avalanche! (Survivor Diaries) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), in which her heroine steps up to take the lead, drawing on the training and skills from her parents and instructors to know what to do. But saving herself and Ryan takes more than just Ashley's knowledge. It takes determination and perseverance, the ability to endure pain and keep going. Johnson's survival story is a real page-turner for young chapter-book readers which celebrates the love of siblings and the gritty character of a girl who learns that she has what it takes.

Author Johnson, herself an expert in dog sledding, skiing, and mountain rescue, tells an absorbing adventure story, even appending a section on Avalanche and Wilderness Survival and even the first chapter of her next Survivor Diary tile, Lost! (Survivor Diaries), forthcoming in 2018.

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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Because--Love! The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily by Laura Creedle

The day Abelard and I broke the wall, we had a four-hour English test. After the test I told my feet to take me to geography. If I didn't, I'd find myself in the quiet calm of the art wing, where the fluorescent lights flickered an appealingly low cycle. Sometimes I think I'm not attention deficient but attention abundant. Too much everything.

I sat in the back of the room because that's where the two left-handed desks were--in the row reserved for stoner boys. Thirty seconds after Coach Neuwirth left the room, the murmur of voices turned into a conversational deluge.

My feet made a decision in favor of the door, but a squeaking metallic noise stopped me. I turned. Directly behind was an accordion-folded vinyl wall. The handle moved. Now the handle jiggled up and down. It made no sense. I leaned over and grabbed the handle. I put both hands on the bar and pulled.

There was a loud pop. The bar went slack. The opposite end of the vinyl wall slid back three feet.

Love was born the day Abeland and Lily were sent to the office for breaking the folding wall. As they waited together, Lily couldn't stop looking at Abelard. There was a scar on his cheek, and she remembered a day in first grade when she was spinning wildly with her lunchbox in her extended hands and it hit him. He didn't cry, she remembered, or tell on her. And this time he takes the blame for breaking the wall while trying to fix it. Abelard is beautiful and kind, and Lily has a sudden impulse.

I kissed him, just a momentary soft press of my lips against his. A stray impulse that didn't make sense, my wires crossed by the randomness of the day.

With a full-blown case of ADHD and a touch of dyslexia, Lily's wires are often crossed. Despite her intelligence and talent, the details of time, directions, and sometimes the words she hears and reads fall apart inside her brain. She's failing geography and English because she loses assignments and forgets deadlines. Abelard is like her mirror image, opposite in almost every way. Brilliant in math and engineering, obsessive about time and details, but cut off from relationship with others by his autism, he seems as strangely drawn to Lily as she is to him.

Gradually the two begin to text each other. Lily's father, a doctoral student who had abandoned his brilliant dissertation and family to join a farm commune, had once read the Letters of Heloise and Abelard to her, and when she discovers that Abelard also loves them, they carefully choose texts from the Letters that fit their feelings. Gradually they begin to spend time together, and they realize that their feelings are growing deeper. And when Abelard begins an early college entry, the two star-crossed lovers forge an improbably escape together there. Somehow together, Lily feels, she and Abelard together will not be broken, but whole.

In Laura Creedle's The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), the premise of being broken and yet whole is central. Lily's mother hopes that first medications and then a surgical implant will fix her, but Lily fears that the treatments will leave her without the best part of herself. But as she meets her father again and comes to know his history of things not finished and people abandoned, she realizes that she doesn't want to leave a trail of broken hopes and plans and relationships behind her as he has. And perhaps Abelard's differences somehow dovetail with hers. She sends him a long text.

Abelard, in an alternate universe somewhere, there is a less destructive version of me that doesn't break things. But in a less chaotic universe, we never would've happened.

But in this chaotic universe, I broke a wall, and I got--you. Oh, lucky destruction. You made me realize that breaking is just inept fixing, inspired by the same curiosity about how things work in the world.

Creedle's is a different teen-love story with a richness of texture and personalities, with no bad guys, not even Coach Neuwirth, just people trying their best to make things work in their own worlds, an imperfect world, but with a love story with a different slant on young love and on fixing ourselves for the ages.

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Saturday, December 30, 2017

X Marks the Spot! Find Spot at the Museum by Eric Hill




Spot the puppy is not exactly in his element in the museum. He can't chew on the dino bones. He can't look behind the screen at the exhibit under construction. Oh, there's his chewy bone. Now, maybe he'll be good.

What's just through those big doors?

Oooh. A cave man and a big bear! Wow! There's a woolly mammoth. Now that's BIG!


It's hard to find a little puppy in the huge museum! There's a saber-toothed tiger, but no Spot! What's inside this cave? Let's look.

Not Spot!

Let's see if Spot is hiding in that mummy case! King Tut? No pup!

How about the Oceans Exhibit? Is Spot inside this giant clam shell? No, he's not.

Where, oh, where has our little Spot gone? In Eric Hill's latest Find Spot at the Museum (Frederick Warne, 2017), readers have to look under a lot of museum stuff to spot that peripatetic pup. Along the way they'll learn about the many interesting things to be found in the natural history museum in this jolly and educational little board book with natural surprises under each flap. X marks the Spot!

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Friday, December 29, 2017

On the Town: A Night Out with Mama by Quvenzhane' Wallis

My new blue shoes make a soft tap, tap, tap as I walk down the hall.

The sun is just up now, and it's just me, excited for the day to begin.

Today is extra special so Daddy makes everything I love for breakfast.

There's a big night out with Mama coming up, an award show, and the two are stepping out tonight. The blue shoes are just the beginning. There is a beautiful blue dress to match the shoes, and a glamorous lady who comes to create a special hairdo to go with it.

Then a big long car comes to take them to the event. Mama tells her daughter that there will be a red carpet to walk in on and photographers' flashbulbs popping all around them. The girl practices waving from the big black car. She's thrilled with the glamour of it all.

That is, until she steps out of the limo onto that famous carpet.

I fall flat on my face!

But she scrambles up like a trooper, and poses for pictures with Mama with a big smile. Suddenly she's really getting into it all.

I'm having the time of my life!

It's a time to remember, with late-night ice cream sundaes to boot, in A Night Out with Mama (Simon and Schuster, 2017), in what is an actual, if fictionalized, account of author Quvenzhane' Wallis' evening at the Academy Awards as a nine-year-old nominee for her role in the movie "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Even though most kids' nights out with mama won't include the Oscar Awards, a dress-up girl's night out can be just as memorable an occasion, and Wallis offers a kid's-eye-view of a major moment in time between mother and daughter. Illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton catches the excitement of that special night with just the right touch of glamour and sparkle, along with the closeness of parent and child in a night that makes a lifetime memory. Says Booklist, "Kids will appreciate that, whether everyday or singular experiences, it's sharing them with loved ones that matters most."