BooksForKidsBlog

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Coming to a Theater Near You! Seven Books to Read First

Daniel Radcliffe ("Harry Potter") as Igor? The classic tale by Mary Shelley of Victor Frankenstein's experiments with revivification told from the point-of-view of young Dr. Frankenstein's lab assistant? That's the plot line of the upcoming film, Victor Frankenstein, starring James McEvoy as Victor. Anyone who thinks that Shelley's novel was just a horror story with a lurching monster needs to read the original. Subtitled "The New Promethius" by Shelley, the theme of whether humans should create life in the laboratory is at the perennial crux of science and ethics, and reading the book should help young adults get what is really going on in the movie.

Another classic, J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, the tale of the perennial adolescent protagonist, has a cinematic offering in Pan, hitting the screens big screens in July, this time with famous actors instead of cartoon characters.

Common Sense Media's current online article previews the coming attractions of 2015, from the second installments in The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner to the 1990's favorite elementary read, R.L. Stine's best-selling series Goosebumps, out August 7. Even J.K. Rowling's post-Potter wizard tale, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, done by the director of the last four Potter films, hits the cineplexes in November.

There's plenty of time to read up on these coming marque attractions during those long summer days and nights. Read all about these and many other vetted books-to-movies here at Common Sense Media's website:

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/7-books-to-read-before-theyre-movies-in-2015?utm_source=032015+Parent+Default&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly#



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Friday, March 27, 2015

But, First....! Ready Rabbit Gets Ready by Brenna Maloney

"READY RABBIT! IT'S TIME TO GET READY!"

HE KNOWS IT'S TIME TO GET READY...

BUT FIRST HE NEEDS TO BUILD A SPACESHIP.

In Brenna Maloney's newest, Ready Rabbit Gets Ready! (Viking Press, 2015), her little sock rabbit is ready for anything--except the get-ready-for-school routine.

Mama calls upstairs repeatedly with all the usual mother-talk: Get dressed! Pick up your mess! Don't make me come up there! It's almost time for the bus! But there's just so much to do. Ready Rabbit builds a mighty lego spaceship. Then he pulls out his toy bulldozer and pushes all the scattered playthings into a pile to scoop up later.

He pulls on his tightie whities and then gets lost in trying to decide what sort of superhero he wants to be. Where's his cape? Where's his mask? Hey! Wait!

RABBITS DON'T WEAR CLOTHES!

It's hard to eat his cereal when there's a whale in his bowl.

It's hard to brush his teeth when the toothpaste tube happens to squirt all over the floor.

It's hard to find his backpack when his imaginary motorcycle wants to race upstairs. VROOM! VROOM! But at last he's absolutely, totally ready.

"READY RABBIT! DON'T FORGET TO GO POTTY!"

Ready Rabbit's off-page mom must really be ready to see her little rabbit board the school bus at last, dressed for blast-off and a battle with space aliens whenever they appear. Ready Rabbit is ready!

Author Brenna Maloney (a.k.a. The Socks Queen) puts her little gray-striped sock rabbit through his paces in the morning race for the bus stop in a scenario preschool mothers will recognize. Maloney, famous for her Socks Appeal: 16 Fun & Funky Friends Sewn from Socks, and Sock It To Me: Creepy, Crazy & Strangely Appealing 16 Projects Sewn from Socks has created miniature furniture and toys to distract Ready Rabbit from the task at hand, all charmingly photographed by Chuck Kennedy. With just a few hand-drawn features, in his undies or in his aluminum foil astronaut suit, Ready Rabbit is a character ready to be loved by preschoolers who need some prodding to get really ready, too! In an enthusiastic starred review Publishers Weekly says "When Ready Rabbit finally makes it onto the school bus, readers will wish they could follow him to school. Perhaps Maloney will oblige."

Pair this one with Bethanie Murguia's Zoe Gets Ready or Sarah Maize's On My Way to School., for even more procrastinating merriment.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Words Writ in Water: A Poem in Your Pocket by Margaret McNamara and G. Brian Karas

MR. TIFFIN'S CLASS HAD NEVER HAD AN AUTHOR VISIT THEM BEFORE.

"EMMA CRANE IS A POET!" SAID MR. TIFFIN.

"AND DOESN'T KNOW IT!" SAID ROBERT. "THAT RHYMES!"

"NOT ALL POEMS RHYME," SAID ELINOR.

Mr. Tiffin's kids are used to having unusual things happen in their class. They've computed the average number of seeds in a pumpkin, and they've solved apple riddles in an orchard, but this visiting poet thing is a new wrinkle, even for Mr. Tiffin.

And when Mr. Tiffin tells the class they are going to write their own poems to share with Emma Crane, most of class takes it in stride. But superstar student Elinor worries herself right into full-blown writer's block. Writing poems has to be harder than just writing sentences with proper punctuation. Poetry is serious writing, and Elinor is afraid her poem will not be perfect, at least not perfect enough to read to a real poet.

Elinor listens hard as every day Mr. Tiffin has something new about poetry for them to learn--similes, metaphors, haiku, concrete poems, puzzle poems, and how to see with their "poet's eye." Her classmates busily pen poems that fit their personal style. Jokester Jake jots down a funny poem right away:

MOM'S COMPLAINT
by Jake

We're out of apples, kids--again.
Don't eat so many, please!
They're costing me a lot of dough.
You think they grow on trees??

But Elinor just can't get her poem to be what she wants it to be. She even tries composing six haikus with at least three metaphors and two similes!

"THIS STINKS!" she said. "THESE ARE NOT POETRY!"

The classroom bulletin board is covered with famous poems and student poems, but when A Poem In Your Pocket Day arrives, Elinor sadly realizes that she will be the only student who has no poem for her pocket. What will a real poet like Emma Crane say to her?

"NO POEM IS PERFECT." SHE SAYS.

Shyly Elinor confesses to the famous poet that when she tries to write down her poems,

"... THE WORDS DISAPPEAR LIKE CHALK ON A SIDEWALK IN THE RAIN."

Emma Crane smiles and tells Elinor that the poem in pocket of her mind is quite good enough, in Margaret McNamara's latest, A Poem in Your Pocket (Mr. Tiffin's Classroom Series) Schwartz and Wade, 2015). with all the varied characters in her Mr. Tiffen's Classroom series getting ready to celebrate Poetry Month in April. As in the previous titles in the set, noted artist G. Brian Karas provides his uniquely charming illustrations of different children, each finding his or her own poet's eye in their own way in Mr. Tiffen's busy classroom.

Namara's and Karas' previous noted books in this series are How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? (Mr. Tiffin's Classroom Series) and The Apple Orchard Riddle (Mr. Tiffin's Classroom Series) (See reviews here).

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fickle!!! Bunnies!!! by Kevan Atteberry

HELLO, TREE!

BUNNIES!!!

Declan is a little blue horned monster, whose potential scariness is softened by his shoe-button eyes and the pink pom-pom on his tail. And he is a little monster who finds everything in the forest exciting--especially four rabbits--shaped and colored like jelly beans.

The four bunnies, however, are not so pleased to meet up with him. To them, Declan is a scary-looking dude, and they hop off frantically and hide behind the trees.

BUNNIES?

Oh, nooo! They're gone! Declan is dejected. He liked those bunnies!!! He tries to distract himself by greeting other new things in the woods.

HELLO.... ROCK.

It's not the same.

But while Declan broods, the bunnies, each peeping stealthily from behind a tree, become more intrigued with Declan's interest. Just as the little monster slumps down against a tree to mope more effectively, one brave bunny approaches and taps him on the shoulder.

His bunnies are back!!!

Happy hops and hugs ensue, Declan is delighted with his new bunny buddies... until he spots something NEW!

BIRDIES!!!

In his latest, Bunnies!!! (Katherine Tegen Books, 2015), Kevan Atteberry features an appealing little monster whose toddler-like enthusiasms turn from one thing to another quickly. Atteberry's bright pastels and roly-poly characters, set forth in four-panel pages and double-page spreads, make this story especially attractive to mercurial preschoolers, who well understand the attraction of the next new thing.

Other books illustrated by Kevan Atteberry include Josie Bissett's Tickle Monster and Boogie Monster. (see my review here).

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Wolf in Bunny Clothing? Wolfie The Bunny by Amy Dyckman

THE BUNNY FAMILY CAME HOME TO FIND A BUNDLE OUTSIDE THEIR DOOR.

THEY PEEKED.

THEY GASPED. IT WAS A BABY WOLF!

"ADORABLE!" SAID MAMA. "HE'S OURS!" SAID PAPA.

It's love at first sight for Mama and Papa Bunny. They adopt little Wolfie without another thought, dressing him up in pink pajamas with bunny ears, totally smitten with their new baby. He is just so cute!

Only daughter Dot sees her new adoptive brother for what he is!

"HE'S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP!" SAID DOT.

But despite Dot's repeated warnings, Mama and Papa seem blind to Wolfie's true nature. Dot is sure Wolfie is just shamming when he appears to prefer carrots, even though he obviously chomps rather than nibbles. But Mama and Papa cite his good behavior. He's a good eater and sleeper, Papa points out. Dot resents the newcomer, but her parents are too snookered with Wolfie to foresee what she sees coming.

Dot's vegetarian friends are not fooled.

""HE'S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP!" THEY SCREAM.

"NO KIDDING!" SAID DOT. "LET'S PLAY AT YOUR HOUSE."

Wolfie grows bigger and so does his appetite. Dot is dispatched to the Carrot Patch to shop for groceries, and Wolfie, towering but still clad in a large pink coverall with rabbit ears, goes along to carry the shopping basket.

Dot is picking through the produce when suddenly Wolfie looks intently in her direction, bares his fangs, and starts to growl. I knew this was going to happen someday, thinks Dot!

Is nature about to trump nurture?

Not this time, in Amy Dyckman's delightful new bunny tale, Wolfie the Bunny (Little, Brown and Company, 2015), which cleverly stands the Ugly Duckling theme on its head. Dot is correct that Wolfie is no bunny rabbit, but Mama and Papa's nurture is vindicated when Wolfie and Dot join forces against a bear who has them both on his dinner menu. Youngsters waiting for Dot to be vindicated will be surprised but pleased when Dot and Wolfie team up to dispatch the bear and join hands, big sister and "little brother," as they head home for a big carrot dinner.

Dyckman's narrative keeps the storytelling tight but punchy, wisely keeping Wolfie out of the dialogue and leaving it to her illustrator to fill in the comic details, and Zachariah OHoro's charming acrylic artwork is pitch-perfect, with simple but telling illustrations of hip, city-dwelling rabbits in a different setting from the usual woodsy big-bad-wolf tale. A pleasant twist on the theme of family love and loyalty, this one will have young readers howling for more Wolfie and Dot stories.

"A treat of a picture book." says The Horn Book, joining most critical journals in their starred reviews.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Solving the History Mystery: Ghosts of War: The Secret of Midway by Steve Watkins

"Going to get started on my homework!" I yelled, grabbing my sandwich and a glass of milk. I ducked down the hall and into my bedroom, kicking the door shut behind me.

Right away, I noticed something wasn't quite right. I'd tossed the Navy peacoat on my bed when I first came home, but now it wasn't there. The hair stood up on my neck, and I got goose bumps all over.

Of course there were no such things as ghosts.

But there was somebody in my room!

I yelped when I saw him, and sat straight up. He was leaning against my bedroom door, holding the navy peacoat. He pulled something out of the peacoat pocket--an envelope.

An encounter with a ghost from World War II was not on Anderson's mind when he promised to clean up a basement storage room underneath Uncle Dex's antiques shop as a practice room for his band. But the old trunk caught his attention, and after his friend Greg left, Anderson couldn't resist opening it. Inside he found an old Navy peacoat and other dusty old military stuff. Feeling suddenly chilly, he impulsively pulled on the coat. And then he could have sworn he heard someone softly saying, "That's mine." But there was no one there, and resolving to ask his history buff uncle about the old chest, Anderson couldn't help anxiously looking behind himself as he hurried up the stairs and out to his bike.

But Anderson knows, he just knows, that the filmy figure in old-fashioned denim shirt and bell-bottoms who appeared in his room is some sort of ghost. And it seems he is there for the letter inside that smudged envelope.

"I might have written this to Betty. Betty was my girl. Way back before everything happened. About all I remember is there was a war against the Japanese and Germans, and I was on a ship. Seems like I've been wandering a long time... kinda, well, limbo is what I guess you'd call it. Then you found that coat and put it on and that brought me here."

The ghost seems to falter and soon fades, but Anderson can't stop thinking about the mystery the ghost has handed to him. He decides to enlist his friends, Greg and Julie, and Julie is eager to trace the identity of the young sailor, beginning with the letter to Betty.

With the name on the envelope's address, Julie tracks Betty down. She is in her nineties, but clearly remembers her first love, William Foxwell, who was among the many seventeen-year-olds who signed up for military service immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

And with that clue, the three history detectives are off on their mission to find out William's fate, an investigation which leads them to the Battle of the Coral Sea and on to the pivotal Battle of Midway and William's subsequent capture by the Japanese. Julie's internet searches lead them to books and finally to an elderly Japanese eyewitness of William's capture who provides the final heroic ending to William's story and the release his ghost seeks.

Steve Watkins' Ghosts of War #1: The Secret of Midway (Scholastic Press, 2014) offers appealing and believable young history detectives and plenty of exciting historical details that will encourage young readers to follow in their footsteps into the many fascinating stories of that war and the personal memories that remain of that time. Watkins' characters are thoroughly modern kids who deal with eighth-grade bullies while experiencing the details of sacrifice and death in the larger world this "ghost of war" introduces to them.

Military history buffs won't want to miss Watkin's sequel, forthcoming March 31, Ghosts of War #2: Lost at Khe Sanh (Scholastic Press, 2015). Maturing fans of The Magic Tree House books will move easily into this series, and it also promises to offer the appeal of Dan Gutman's best-selling Baseball Card Adventures which take their baseball-loving character back into the real history of the sport with such greats as Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Roberto Clemente and Ted Williams.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hip Hop Bunny: Hooray for Hoppy by Tim Hopgood

HOPPY WOKE UP BRIGHT AND EARLY. HE WIGGLED HIS NOSE AND SNIFFED THE AIR.

"PERHAPS TODAY'S THE DAY," HE THOUGHT.

BUT AT THE TOP OF HIS HOLE, HE SAW THAT THE WORLD WAS COVERED IN SNOW.

"TOO COLD!" HE SAID AND HOPPED BACK TO BED.

When Hoppy finds snow and ice outside, he opts to sleep in. But then, one morning everything has changed. His twitchy nose notices a change as he sniffs fresh warm air and green grass.

"TODAY IS THE DAY. THE DAY THAT SPRING ARRIVES!"

Hoppy hops out and his senses are overwhelmed by everything!

There are pink blossoms on the formerly bare tree. Young ferns are unfurling, and Hoppy hears birds calling instead of the muffled quiet of winter.

He smells sweet flowers, tastes the fresh grasses, and sees young lambs springing about the meadow.

The pads on his paws feel the warmth of the earth. Spring has definitely sprung!

Hoppy hops up to the crest of the big hill to look for his bunny buddies, but at first he sees only brown smudges among the flowers and grasses.  Where is everybody? Helloooo?

But up they hop, dozens of brown bunnies, in the appropriately surnamed Tim Hopgood's Hooray for Hoppy! (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2014), which doubles as a signs-of-spring bunny tale and an exploration of the five senses story, just the kick-off for a lesson on the many changes to be experienced in spring for the preschool set. Hopgood's illustrations are suited to his young audience--flat, textured pastel collages done in a spring-y palette--but with a twist, with Hoppy himself in blue and the morning sky in pink. A good readaloud to inspire a looking-for-spring walk or preschool seasonal class activities. The author appends a double-page spread covering the five senses and recall questions such as What does Hoppy smell? And if spring is slow in coming, Kirkus Reviews suggests that this one is..."just the ticket for a little bit of learning on a cold winter day when spring seems far away."

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Down and Dirty: There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Frog by Lucllle Colandro

THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FROG.

I DON'T KNOW WHY SHE SWALLOWED A FROG.

SHE WAS IN A FOG.

There's hardly an event on the calendar that doesn't inspire this infamous Little Old Lady to go for a gastronomical glut, so why should spring be any different?

Instead of reveling in the sounds of the first spring peepers, she eats one. As ever, however, the first course doesn't sit too well on her stomach.

Frogs don't exactly settle the tummy. They're jumpy and not that yummy. So....

THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED SOME DIRT.

IT DIDN'T HURT.

Does that put her off her feed? No indeed. She swallows some seeds.

If you haven't figured out where this one is going, here are a few more hints. Down the the hatch goes some rain, some sunlight, some gardening gloves, and finally ... a rake.

A RAKE?

"BURP!" THAT WAS A MISTAKE.

But everything coming up roses for a lovely spring garden, in Lucille Colandro's latest There Was Old Lady saga, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Frog! (Scholastic Press, 2015). Colandro's bouncy meter, unexpected rhymes, and sweet silliness, stirred up with just enough of the YUCK factor to keep youngsters gagging and giggling, work their magic with the help of trusty illustrator, Jared Lee, whose goofy artwork fits the bill for another of Colandro's tall tale romps through the calendar.

Time this one just right and you can cash in your coupon for the two-for-one special with Colandro's companion Easter entree', There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Chick!

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Going Home: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The train was miserable, of course.

The world moved outside the train windows, faster and faster. The buildings ended and suddenly there was green. "What's that?" I asked. "Grass," Jamie said. There was nothing like it that I'd ever seen. I knew green from clothing and cabbages, not fields.

"Ada! Ada! Look!" Jamie whispered.

A girl on a pony was racing the train. She was actually on top of the pony, sitting on its back. The girl was laughing, her face wide open with joy, and it was clear even to me that she meant to be on the pony. I knew ponies from the lane, but only to pull carts. I didn't know you could ride them. The girl leaned forward against the pony's flying mane. Her legs thumped the pony's sides and the pony surged forward, faster, brown legs flying. I saw a stone wall ahead. I gasped. They were going to hit it. Why didn't she stop the pony?

They jumped it.

Suddenly, I could feel it with my whole body--the running, the jump, the flying. "I'm going to do that," I said.

Nothing could have seemed less possible for Ada, born with a clubfoot and confined her entire life to the one room in which she, her six-year-old brother Jamie, and her cruel mother live. While Jamie plays freely in the streets outside, all Ada knows of the world is the view from behind the curtain of their one window. Her mam considers her deformity a shameful mark of the Devil and refuses to let her leave the room.

Then the coming of World War II threatens London, and children are hastily evacuated to the countryside before the bombing begins. Mam agrees to send Jamie with the others, and despite her fear of her mother's beatings and the cockroach infested cabinet in which she is locked for disobedience, Ada resolves that she and Jamie will not be separated. Ada and Jamie slip out while Mam sleeps, Ada managing to walk to the station and talk herself and Jamie onto the train among the others. At last they reach a station in Kent, and Ada sees her first toilet and sink. As she washes her hands and face, she sees herself for the first time in a mirror--the shabbiest, nastiest looking girl ever, she thinks.

At their destination, Ada sees her self description in the eyes of the villagers who have come to take in the evacuees. But the stern woman in charge says she has the perfect place for them.

"It's a single lady," the woman replied. "She's very nice."

Jamie shook his head. "Mam says nice people won't have us."

The corner of the woman's mouth twitched. "She isn't
that nice. Plus, it's not for her to decide."

Susan is not that nice. She is gruff and obviously not pleased with the dirty, malnourished pair assigned to her, but she gives them hot baths, and a couple of her own clean shirts to wear while she washes their one set of ragged clothes. And she feeds them--more and better food than they've ever seen. And then Ada sees something that changes everything for her.

To the right of the house a bright yellow pony puts its head through the bushes and and stared at me.

In Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's latest, The War that Saved My Life (Dial Books, 2015), the author portrays the long struggle toward trust and independence that Ada finds with Susan, and although Mam reappears and takes them back to London, Ada and Jamie realize where their real home is just as the Blitz begins in London.

Bradley's first-person narration has that magical quality of classic children's novels to put the reader right into the protagonist's mind and body, no easy task in the case of a character in 1940 who has almost no knowledge of the outside world. But somehow readers come to see the world through Ada's eyes as she, and Susan as well, find their way to a wider world and greater possibilities for themselves. With plenty of wartime action and a bit of Nazi spy-catching, there is much for middle readers to love in Bradley's exceptional storytelling. Few writers have the ability to take their characters so far, so believably, movingly, unsentimentally, and with no sacrifice of hard-headed reality, into a new life, right down to its pitch-perfect conclusion. Appropriately, this novel has been met with deservedly glowing approval by critics and merits high honors at award time, one not to be missed. "Achingly lovely . . . Nuanced and emotionally acute, this vivid tale from the wartime home front will have readers ages 10-14 wincing at Ada's stumbles and rejoicing to the point of tears in her victories," raves the staid The Wall Street Journal.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dig It! Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

ON MONDAY SAM AND DAVE DUG A HOLE BY THE APPLE TREE.

"WHEN SHOULD WE STOP DIGGING?" ASKED SAM.

"WE WON'T STOP UNTIL WE FIND SOMETHING SPECTACULAR," SAID DAVE.

For a while it's excavation heaven for the two boys as Sam and Dave succumb to the urge all kids get now and then.  Down and down goes their shaft, until they are quite a distance under the ground. Even their dog looks a little bored.

"I THINK WE SHOULD DIG IN ANOTHER DIRECTION," SAID DAVE.

Nothing spectacular appears. The cat looking down from ground level lies down for a bit of a nap.

"LET'S SPLIT UP."

The two separate, digging obliquely off from their position. It's not a fortuitous decision, though, because they just miss a gigantic diamond by a scant spade's length. Sam and Dave get incredibly dirty. They run out of chocolate milk and cookies. Finally, they vote to take a rest and before they know it, both are snoozing. Their dog, however, is still on his mission, and he smells a bone just below. He starts digging.

But just as he has the bone in his teeth, the bottom drops out of the hole, and dog, bone, and both boys are in free fall, down and down and down some more. Finally, they land on solid ground. Dazed, they look around. There's the house and the tree. They're back where they started. Or are they?

Good April Fool's Day fare, Mac Barnett's Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick Press, 2014) was a 2015 Caldecott Honor Medal winner for the illustrations by Jon Klassen, who also won the Caldecott Medal for his This Is Not My Hat. and a Caldecott Honor Award for I Want My Hat Back.

Clearly, Barnett and Klassen are a digging tale duo made in heaven, sharing as they do a penchant for wry wit and a less-is-more style. Barnett's narration is understated, leaving room for Klassen's ironic illustrations to get the laughs at the clueless boys' expense as they miss their something spectacular at every unfortunate turn. But the best is saved for last, in a tip of the hat to Lewis Carroll in which Barnett and Klassen leave it to the discriminating reader to detect that the parallel world they fall into is not exactly their own. "Part wry comedy of errors, part Twilight Zone, this book feels timeless," says Huffington Post's reviewer.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

In the Doghouse? Bad Dog Flash! by Ruth Paul

SNIFF SHOES. LICK SHOES.

GNAW 
SHOES. MORE SHOES.

YOUR SHOES?

"BAD DOG, FLASH!"




Poor Flash! He's just a pup, and he's keeping his new owner busy.

When the cat spots the new puppy, she does what any cat would do. She RUNS! Then so does Flash, with a WOOF!

The cat runs up a tree, and smirks down at the pooch while his little owner fusses.
"BAD DOG, FLASH!"
She keeps Flash outside to work off some of his exuberant energy, but then he spots the clothes hanging out to dry on the line. They snap, and flap, and flip and tease in the wind, but when Flash grabs a shirt sleeve and gets a good grip on it, there's another sound. R-i-i-i-p-p-p!

Flash is corraled and kenneled to think about it, but once he's out of the doghouse, there're more puppy problems. He jumps with muddy paws into the basket with the clean clothes. He chases the girl and catches the hem of her skirt in his little puppy teeth.

What can his well-meaning little owner do?

It's time for a cuddle, in Ruth Paul's ebullient new puppy story, Bad Dog Flash. Flash is one down dog, until his kindly little mistress pulls him onto her lap and tells him what he needs to hear most:
"GOOD DOG, FLASH."
Ruth Paul's clever and rhythmic rhymes make this story practically read itself,  With a plot that new puppy owners will recognize and expressive characters--girl, pup, and even the supercilious old cat--that inspire empathy, this new dog tale is great for readalouds with its repeatable refrain,  as well as for beginners to try out their reading skills. There is also a lot to discover in Paul's good-natured humorous illustrations of one naughty but undeniably cute little puppy.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

North America's Ape Man: Searching for Bigfoot by Jennifer Rivkin

"Bigfoot tales are not new. Stories of a strange creature roaming the woods have been common in the folklore of Native American tribes for centuries.

Some communities believe that Bigfoot (or Sasquatch, his Native American name) is part of another native tribe. Others consider it to be a shy animal that is scared of humans. Some tribes worship the creature as a guardian of the forest. For some tribes, he is a monster that attacks humans and steals children.

The physical descriptions of Bigfoot creatures from differing tribes are similar. Interestingly, Indian myths from long ago describe a figure that is eerily similar to those of the most recent eyewitness accounts."

Because Bigfoot has crossed into the common culture, almost everyone knows what a Bigfoot looks like--very tall with extremely big feet, hairy and apelike, and capable of human-like behaviors such as constructing shelters and throwing rocks at human intruders. Reputable witnesses report most sightings from California to British Columbia, and some photos and one film purporting to show a Sasquatch in the wild have been published widely. Investigators have even made plaster casts of his giant footprints, with some proven to be hoaxes and some not. Should hikers and campers worry? Probably not, since Bigfoot appears to be eager to avoid humans. And then there's that smell. Witnesses report that they smelled the Bigfoot well before they glimpsed him.

Despite the unanimity of the descriptions and with many thousands of sightings, particularly in the rain forests of the northwest Pacific coast, skeptics ask why no specimens of such a large animal been captured? Why have no bodies, or even bones of the big guy ever been discovered?

One intriguing theory is that Bigfoot is a remnant of prehistoric apes or hominids, perhaps advanced enough to live in groups and bury their dead to protect themselves from discovery or predators. Recent worldwide discoveries of fossils of homo habilus, Neanderthals, and especally Denisovans (whose DNA shows up in almost all of modern human's genotypes outside of Africa and who appear to have been larger than modern humans), have lent credence to the speculation that North America's favorite apeman could be a variant hominid which has managed to survive to modern times. Farfetched, perhaps, but the author points out that several new species of previously unknown animals have been found in the past decade.

Bigfoot is our very own homegrown mystery monster, reported from Florida to Alberta to Alaska, and Jennifer Rivkin's recent Searching for Bigfoot (Mysterious Monsters) (Rosen/PowerKids Press, 2014) is a well-designed update of the lore and investigative literature. As in the other volumes in this creditable nonfiction series, realistic illustrations and actual photos keep attention focused on this intriguing mystery, while sticking to the speculative level throughout. Myth, folklore, or whatever, sightings and eyewitness accounts of this mystery monster persist, and Rivkin's balanced account also offers a curated web link that will keep young Bigfoot chasers up-to-date on the doings of Bigfoot hunters. A solid appendix for middle readers offers a glossary, bibligraphy, and index to entice young people to further reading, and accessible page design and brief paragraphis make this one a good choice to lead reluctant readers into nonfiction literature.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

The Shape Caper: The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure by Doreen Cronin

"HELP! HELP!"

"THERE IS SOMETHING BIG AND SCARY IN THE YARD!" GASPED TAIL, THE SQUIRREL.

The Chicken Squad--the chicks Dirt, Poppy, Sweetie, and Sugar--pop out of their green shoe. Dirt sees that there is a mystery afoot, and notebook in hand, she starts to interrogate Tail for more details about the intruder. Master of the thesaurus, Tail can only add that the thing is also enormous and frightening, huge and terrifying!

Dirt goes for clarification.

"WHAT SHAPE IS IT?"

"BIG," SAID TAIL.

"BIG IS NOT A SHAPE!" SNAPS DIRT.

Dutifully, with crayon in hand Sugar takes over basic shape instruction, but when she draws a circle, Tail faints dramatically on the floor of the chicken coop.

But when he recovers, Tail suddenly comes up with details about the scary thing--it is round; it's shiny, possibly hunter green, hissing, and disturbing the atmosphere. To Sugar the identity of the intruder is obvious! It's a UFO, just landed in the backyard to abduct an earthling, maybe even a squirrel. Or maybe even a--

YIKES! Their mom, Moosh, is out in the yard!

The chicken squad mobilizes for undercover action.

"QUICK!" SAID SUGAR. "POPPY, SWEETIE, GO TO THE SUPPLY ROOM AND GET ME GRASS CLIPPINGS, A BAG OF ROCKS, A BALL OF STRING, A TANK OF HELIUM, AND AN ORANGE BALLOON."

"CHICKENS COULDN'T POSSIBLY HAVE ALL THOSE THINGS!" SAID TAIL.

"THEN YOU DON'T KNOW CHICKENS!" SUGAR REPLIED.

And when J.J. Tully, retired search-and-rescue dog, is awakened from his nap by the sound of rocks pinging off Barbara's brand-new barbeque grill, thrown by four suspicious, skinny-legged clumps of grass, he knows his fuzzy yellow charges are at it again, in the first book of Doreen Cronin's new series, The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure (Atheneum Books, 2014). Snappy comebacks and hilarious barnyard banter have been long been Cronin's forte' and Kevin Cornell's full-page comic illustrations bring back J.J. Tully and Mama Hen Moosh's chipper chicks in a happy continuation of the earlier series, which began with The Trouble with Chickens: A J.J. Tully Mystery. (J. J. Tully Mysteries).

Authoring truly hilarious beginning chapter books is a rare talent, and savvy readers of Nick Bruel's Bad Kitty series
will appreciate Cronin's ironic ending in which J.J. Tully, Tail, and the chicks share the hot dogs recovered from owner Barbara's formerly shiny new barby:

"WHAT HAPPENED TO THE ALIENS?" ASKED TAIL.

"THEY WERE AFTER FOOD. THEIR WHOLE SPACESHIP WAS FULL OF HOT DOGS. THEIR SHIP IS DOWN FOR GOOD." SAID SUGAR.

"AND WE THOUGHT THEY WERE HERE FOR US," POPPY LAUGHED SCORNFULLY.

"LIKE ANYBODY WOULD EAT A CHICKEN!"

Be sure to read this one with its latest sequel handy, By Doreen Cronin The Case of the Weird Blue Chicken: The Next Misadventure (The Chicken Squad) [Hardcover] (Atheneum Books, 2014) for more merry misadventures of the chicken squad.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Everything In Its Time: Finding Spring by Carin Berger

THE FOREST WAS GROWING COLD.

MAMA SAID SOON IT WOULD BE TIME TO SLEEP.

BUT ALL MAURICE COULD THINK ABOUT WAS HIS FIRST SPRING.

Everyone says that Spring will be something really special.

But Mama says he has to lie down and hibernate first.

How can little Maurice sleep when all he can think about is this wonderful thing called Spring?

Like a kid on Christmas Eve, Maurice can't sleep. Mama Bear snores on, but her cub steals outside to see if Spring has come yet.

It hasn't. At least, everything looks the same, and Squirrel and Robin and the rest all say it's going to be quite a while before he sees Spring.

Maurice wanders through the forest, noting the changing smell of the wind and windblown leaves falling all around him. But then something else falls from above.

MAURICE FELT AN ICY STING ON HIS NOSE.

A BEAUTIFUL CRYSTAL LANDED ON HIS PAW.

SPRING?

Maurice climbs the big hill for a better view, and strangely, the crystals are everywhere in the air and covering the ground. It's beautiful! This must be the something special everyone told him was coming. The little cub scoops up a ball of snow, wraps it in his red scarf, and sets off back to the den to show his Spring to Mama, looking like a little Santa with his pack.

But Mama is sleeping too deeply to wake, and little Maurice himself suddenly feels very tired. Putting his snowball bundle beside him, he snuggles up beside Mama and sleeps, too.

After a long sleep, Maurice wakes up with Mama.

"I BROUGHT YOU SOME SPRING!" MAURICE ANNOUNCED.

But Maurice's snowball is gone! Has he missed Spring?

Not in Carin Berger's Finding Spring (HarperCollins, 2015), when Mama and Maurice head outside to see what spring has done to their forest. The white snow is all gone, birds are busy, and buds are flowering all over the big hill.

AT LAST, HERE IT WAS!

With a literary nod to Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day and Raymond Briggs' The Snowman, Carin Berger concentrates on the coming of spring, saving the best--her gorgeous cut-paper collage art--for the beginning of spring. Berger's use of ephemera--scraps of script-filled handwritten notes, newsprint, bits of books, fabric, ticket stubs, and cut strips of of art paper--gives her illustrations a three-dimensional weight, whether picturing the tall, mossy-trunked trees of the forest, the variety of cut-out snowflakes, or the fields full of spring flowers. Even the youngest preschoolers will know that a snowflake is not a sign of spring and will giggle at Maurice's naivete' as he wraps his snowball to keep for Mama.

With shelves full of books about the cycle of the seasons and the glories of spring, this one is a standout. "Exceptional, exhilarating artwork perfectly suited for a story about anticipation, discovery and joy," says Kirkus Reviews.

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Obsession: Must. Push. Buttons! by Jason Good

What is it about a tv remote that attracts toddlers like a magnet?

Since man invented gadgets, it seems that tots have an obsession with pushing the button, or, in earlier days, twiddling the dial.

And that's the compulsion that the young lad has in Jason Good's Must. Push. Buttons! (Bloomsbury, 2015).

"I WANNA PLAY WITH DADDY'S PHONE!

I WANNA TURN THE MICROWAVE OFF AND ON!

I NEED TO PUSH SOME BUTTONS!"

Psychologists will say it's the urge to gain mastery of the environment.

Physiologists will say it's just fine-tuning those fine-motor skills.

Philosophers will say it's the will to power!

Parents will say it's exasperating.  Oh, it's cute when they teach the baby how to flip light switches--until Mom and Dad discover that that will mean that no light switch can go unflipped for about a month--or until the kid moves on to the toilet flusher and their cell phones

Not only does this tot want to open and close the fridge; he wants to pick up the cat by his neck and squeeze the toothpaste into the sink.
"I NEED TO PUSH SOME BUTTONS!"

If you really want to know what goes on in the brain of tot, Jason Good pulls out all the stops.

He's tired,  He's not tired, He thinks he peed.  He doesn't have to go. He's got to wear Mommy's shoes.  Help! He can't get his feet out of Mommy's shoes! He needs to see a dog right now.  Wait! He wants to play with the iPad. Where's Mommy? He's been abandoned!  Waah! Good's energetic mixed media cartoon illustrations catch the zany, peripatetic, and seemingly manic thoughts that flit through the developing human mind.

So many buttons.  So little time!

Tots may enjoy this little main character's stream of consciousness ideas, but parents will be the ones who get the biggest laughs out of this little slice of life with toddlers.

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