Thursday, February 22, 2018

Read with the CAT! Imagine That! How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra

1954 was a great year to be a kid. There were 5 cent doughnuts and 1 cent lollipops. Bookstores brimmed with books like Charlotte's Web, The Lord of the Rings, and Horton Hears a Who.

Except a lot of the kids those books were written for couldn't read them. Kids in first grade were having a hard time learning to read.

What could the problem be? Kids knew the answer. School readers were just plain boring.

A grown-up writer named John Hersey realized that the kids were right. And he knew just who might write the kind of books kids couldn't stop reading--

The funniest writer in the land....Dr. Seuss!

Theodor Seuss Geisel--Dr. Seuss--already had written some best-selling children's books, and he was intrigued by John Hersey's idea. He had fun coming up with his fanciful characters and he loved making up silly words and funny names for them--like Ooblecks and Yergas and Whos. How hard could it be to write a short little book for first graders? He put on one of of his collection of funny writing hats and sat down at his desk, waiting for an inspiration.

But there was one big problem--THE OFFICIAL LIST.

The reading experts had a lengthy list of words that first graders were supposed to "master." They were not very inspiring words, nothing like the weird words he loved to put in his stories. Ted (as he preferred to be called) looked with dismay at the long, long, long list of rather dull words.

Dr. Seuss had writer's block.

Then he spotted the word CAT and the word HAT. "CAT rhymes with HAT, so I'll start with that," Ted thought.

But how could he work those ordinary Official Words into a story about this cat? Ted tossed some of the words around in his head and Whiz Bang! He had an idea! He would start with two bored and boring children, Dick and Sally, on a boring, rainy day, whose boring house is invaded by a Cat in the Hat who juggles, and the things he juggles would be those on the official word list--rake, cup, ball, book--even their fish goes up there in the air as the amazed (but no longer bored) kids stare. Sally is not sure the Cat can can keep all those things up as he jumps on a ball, and when they fall, oh, dear! Their goldfish comes down and lands in a pot.

He said,"Do I like this?

No! I do not!"

But the beginning readers of the land liked it, and they couldn't stop turning pages to find out what happens to the fish in the teapot and to the two kids whose mother they spot returning from the store to discover chaos indoors! The Cat in the Hat was a hit, and Ted, Dr. Seuss, soon followed it up with a series of beginner books, all built around The Official List, and all with the essential addition of Ted Geisel's rhythm, rhyme and sly and wry humor.

Author Judy Sierra, ably assisted by notable artist Kevin Hawkes, tells Ted's story well, and their Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote The Cat in the Hat (Random House, 2017), (just in time for Dr. Seuss's annual birthday bash, Read Across America Day) celebrates Ted Geisel and the legion of other beginning reader authors who keep kids laughing, reading, and turning pages to this day. Geisel, who freely admitted that his trademark style of weirdly shaped animals and curious kids, houses, cars, and trees were done that way because he wasn't very good at realistic art, brought his fantastical characters and characteristic verse form to children's literature and his beginner books remain best sellers to this day. Author Sierra adds Ted Geisel's tips to young readers to "Write, Rewrite, Recycle Polish!" and appends a full list of his works up to the last published book. About this essential purchase for children's libraries, Kirkus Review says in their starred review, "Buoyantly told, rich in insights into the creative process as well as the crafts of writing, illustrating, and storytelling."

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Getting to the Mountain: Martin Luther King, Jr., Peaceful Leader by Sarah Albee

Once Martin's father took him to buy new shoes. The white salesman told them to move to the back of the store.
They left.

Martin grew up in a pretty yellow house with plenty of books and music. He was firmly disciplined but encouraged to ask questions. His parents and the members of his father's church were supportive, and he became a bright student, entering Morehouse College at age fifteen.

Martin was a happy child. But as he grew older, he realized that black and white people were treated differently.

After briefly considering studying law, Martin finally chose to become a minister, finally graduating with a Ph.D. from Boston University, and soon became the minister at a large church in Montgomery, Alabama, where Rosa Park's bus boycott had just beginning. He was chosen by his fellow black ministers as leader of the movement, and the rest is history.

Sarah Albee's just published Martin Luther King Jr.: A Peaceful Leader (I Can Read Level 2) (Harper, 2018) traces King's biography and the development of his philosophy of nonviolent resistance through many of the watershed moments of his life, from the desegregation of city buses in Montgomery through the Brown vs. Board decision of the Supreme Court, the sit-ins, the Birmingham marches and bombing, the March on Washington, his winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and his assassination in Memphis.

Albee's account for newly independent readers is written to appeal to early primary students, mentioning little Martin's loss of his best friend, a white neighbor boy, when he had to attend a black school while his friend went to a white school. Without dwelling on the violence of the period, Albee shows that King's choices were not easy during his life, and that standing up for equal rights brought both honors and an early death.

Dr. King had known that he might not live to see liberty and justice for all.
But he believed there were things worth dying for.

Artist Chin Ko provides realistic illustrations that reinforce the text well, and the author includes a timeline and photos from family and public events that catch the flavor of the times of King's life. For Black History Month, young history buffs, or biography books reports, this informative easy biography is perfect for young readers who are just learning to add to their knowledge of how the world they live in came to be.

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Under the Sea: The Mermaid by Jan Brett


Baby Octopus's floppy hat is clamped firmly down on his head, as Mama Okasan and Papa Otosan leave their meal waiting inside the cozy undersea house and set out for their morning constitutional. But their home soon has an unexpected visitor.

A dark-tressed mermaid, Kinira, soon swims by, with her pet pufferfish Puffy, and she has no compunctions about swimming uninvited into the lovely little shell house.


But Kinira is enchanted by the little house, especially the meal set forth, with three charming shell plates waiting for someone. She tries the food on the biggest shell, but quickly finds it too crunchy. The second breakfast is seriously slimy! But Kinira pronounces the food on the smallest shell perfectly pleasing.


Despite Puffy's cautions, Kinira tries out the chairs in the sitting room, breaking the smallest shell seat. Still undeterred, she swims into the bedroom, where she spots the sweetest and the smallest sleeping shell and curls up inside for a nap.

By this point, savvy kids will know exactly where this story is going, in noted author-illustrator Jan Brett's latest, The Mermaid(G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2017). As she did in her best-selling The Three Snow Bears, which also takes the familiar folktale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears out for another walk around the literary block, Brett provides a unique setting in a re-imagined version inspired by the undersea world around the Pacific island of Okinawa. Brett's heroine is an appropriately Asian mermaid, not with golden locks, but a golden crown which she leaves behind for Baby Octopus in a visually delightful re-creation of the beloved story of the intrepid young home invader. Children will giggle as Baby Octopus delivers his big line--along the lines of "Somebody's been crunching my crustaceans!" and they will cheer as the loyal Puffy pokes away at his sleeping mistress, waking her just in time to make her getaway, dodging the 24 outreaching tentacles and leaving behind her tiara as a consolation for Baby Octopus.

Brett's elegant artwork, done with touches of Japanese style and deliciously delicate colorization, is, as always, the centerpiece of the story, not to mention her trademark frames around each page, which reveal additional details of the story. Author-illustrator Brett is at the top of her game in this resplendent new picture book. As School Library Journal says sagely, "... readers could spend hours diving into all there is to explore. A one-on-one treat for folktale aficionados and, of course, for Brett's many fans."

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Art of Science: The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

A girl kneels in her garden. It is 1660, and she has just turned thirteen; too old for a proper German girl to be crouching in the dirt, according to her mother. She is searching for something--eggs no bigger than pinpricks, leaf edges scalloped by the jaws of an inching worm.

Ah! She has found it; a crinkled brown cocoon, anchored on a branch like a sailor's hammock. Any changes since yesterday?

Her neighbors despise the creatures that fascinate her. They believe all flying, creeping things are born if filth and decay. But for years she has gathered flowers for her stepfather's studio for his still-life paintings. She has studied the creatures who ride on their petals. She has sketched and painted them. In learning the skills of an artist, she has learned to look and watch and wonder.

Despite the tales that insects and worms were the devil's creatures, the minions of witches, Maria Merian suspected that the lovely butterflies (called summer birds) she added to enliven her flower paintings were born from eggs just as birds were.

Maria's father, Matthaus Merian, and stepfather, Jakob Marrel, were noted engravers of flowers in Frankfurt, and early on, Maria's artistic talents were recognized. She was set to gathering flowers, coloring the drawings by her stepfather and his craftsmen, and even taught the art of copper engraving to produce prints to sell. Girls were not allowed to become apprentices, but Maria worked as one without the title. She became a master of the art of water coloring, making brushes, grinding the materials for the pigment, preparing the paper or parchment for the image, and etching the copper plates. Soon she was turning out works worthy of sale to the most discriminating customer.

Marrel noticed her energy and her deft hands. She should not be encouraged to master oil paints, or paint figures or city scenes. These were the province of men. But she was one of the best students he'd ever had. He taught her all he knew of painting flowers for profit.

But Maria had something else besides artistic ability. She had scientific curiosity. In the midst of her womanly household duties and her work in the studio, she made time to study the insect life that were occasionally added to the flower prints the Marrel studio produced. She collected the tiny eggs of flies, moths, and butterflies, gathered cocoons and chrysalises and watched them carefully, making detailed drawings and keeping notes.

And she made a startling discovery--the concept of metamorphosis. Even flies did not, as Aristotle had taught, generate spontaneously from dung and carrion. Flies laid eggs, which hatched into larvae, maggots, which finally morphed into flies. Vivum ex vivo! Life arises from life.

Meticulously documented with images and observations, Maria's discoveries replaced superstition with empirical science. Without Merian there could have been no Darwin.

Maria Merian produced three celebrated illustrative texts of flowers, plants, and insects, and in her work she persisted in picturing her insect subjects in their natural environment, with the plants they needed for survival, making her also one of the first ecological scientists of her time. The pinnacle product of her work involved a year spent in Dutch Surinam in South America, and her paintings and descriptions of the exotic animals and plants she studied there became a landmark work picturing an almost unknown world.

The rains come, and the blazing sun. I must find a safe place to become who I was meant to be.

Like her butterflies, becoming what Maria was meant to be was not easy. Joyce Sidman's extraordinary biography of Maria Sibylla Merian, The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), extravagantly illustrated with the Caldecott-winning artist's own art as well as the prints created by her her subject, Maria Merian, portrays the metamorphosis of this enlightened seventeenth-century woman whose energy and talent transformed her into one of the foremost observational scientists of her time. Sidman uses this metaphor, staging her narration of Merian's life and work to parallel the stages of insect development, even utilizing the vocabulary--Egg, Hatching, Instars, Molting, Pupa, Eclosing, Expanding... and Flight as chapter headings in a exquisitely-told story of a landmark life, with an opening glossary, and appended timeline, quote sources, bibliography, further reading and index. To tell Maria Merian's full story requires both art and science, and Sidman's latest book is a stunningly glorious and beautiful biography of a woman whose love for both art and life, against all odds, helped transform human science.

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Monday, February 19, 2018

City Gardens: Florette by Anna Walker

When Mae's family moved to the city,
Mae wanted to bring her garden with her.

But there was no room
among the crowded buildings
for apple trees and daffodils.

Mae missed her greenery scenery, and she missed the many animals who shared the woods and the rolling fields of daisies and grasses.

The signs said KEEP OFF THE GRASS!

And the only wild animal was a angry-looking stone lion. Mae was lonely for the birds nesting in apple trees and for the cones and nuts she gathered in her treasure jar.

But the buildings are tall and gray, and the paving stones cover the streets and walkways.

Mae tries. She draws a garden in the courtyard with colored chalks--with butterflies, caterpillars, trees, birds, and beetles. But the gray rain soon washes them away. Inside, in Mae's room, with her crayons she turns the still unpacked moving boxes into blooming trees and flowers and sets up a picnic among them. But eventually the boxes must go, and that is the end of her garden.

Mae spies on the neighborhood with her binoculars and spots an empty space with trees and a swing. With her dog, her mother, and the baby in a stroller, Mae leads an expedition to the park. But it is paved with small stones. No grass.

But then Mae sees something--a familiar bird singing in an apple tree.

With her mom and dog trailing behind her, Mae follows the bird to a store seemingly filled with trees and ferns and flowers and vines. She looks wistfully through the big plate glass windows at the garden inside. It is so like her old out-of-doors. But the store is closed.

Still, growing from between the wall and sidewalk, Mae finds a small plant, and she gently takes it home to plant in her treasure jar.

With enough space for a plant to grow.

And little Mae's plant starts a movement, and soon potted plants crowd the windows and the courtyard below her building. Mae has her garden again, in Anna Walker's forthcoming Florette (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2018), and readers can rejoice that Mae has brought spring green to her neighborhood, blooming and putting down her own roots as well. Author and artist Anna Walker shows again that cityscapes can be green and alive, and her courtyard of hanging vines and evergreen endpapers are glowing and vibrant with her watercolored art.

Share this one with Peter A. Reynolds' Rose's Garden or Peter Brown's The Curious Garden.

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Clocks to Computers! Grace Hopper--Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Willmark





That was Grace Hopper, super woman of her century.

Grace was one of those kids who had to know how everything worked. She took apart all the clocks in the house, and put most of them back together so that  they kept on tickin'. Instead of doll buggies, she got a construction set for Christmas and with it built an elevator that worked. She was always trying to fix things to work better.

She was great at math and managed to finish high school in two years, but her entrance into college was delayed because she flunked Latin. (Dead languages are hard to fix!) But when she had to do it, she passed the exam and was admitted to Vassar College, where she, of course, shone at math and science--and pranks. She continued at Yale, where she didn't mind being the only woman in her Ph.D. program, and with her advanced degree, returned to Vassar to teach. But then World War II began, and, and eager for adventure, Grace tried to enlist in the Navy. The Navy said she was too small, but Grace's amazing skills were soon needed managing the new Mark I computer, and Grace Hopper became a WAVE and a computer geek along with the best of them.

But the huge mechanico-electric computers of the time had a lot of problems. One time Mark I refused to run a new program. The crew worked frantically trying to find the problem, until finally Grace pulled a pocket mirror from her purse to peer inside the giant apparatus.

There was a moth trapped inside, preventing a vital switch from working. Carefully, Grace DE-BUGGED the computer.

And from that day to this, a computer glitch has been called a BUG!

Grace went on to work on the UNIVAC, an even more monstrous apparatus. And she had a better idea--to write the code in English, so that everyone could use it or change it, so she devised a different machine language, using English commands, which eventually became known as... (wait for it!) COBOL!

It was a significant breakthrough, and nothing could stop Grace's rise in rank in the Navy--until she reached mandatory retirement age at 60. It was a short retirement, however, because the Navy was forced to call her back into active duty, where she remained for the next 20 years, ultimately reaching the title of Admiral Grace Hopper.

It's no wonder the Navy called her "amazing Grace," and in Laurie Willmark's new picture book biography, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (Women Who Changed Our World) (Sterling Books, 2017), elementary readers can get to know that amazing Grace who broke the mold for women in mid-century America. Along with Katy Wu's charming and witty illustrations, author Willmark's lively narration of Hopper's life story is short and breezy enough for a read aloud, but detailed and pithy enough to serve as an inspiring science book report or biography report, and with a full bibliography, ("Women in STEM") and a timeline, this introduction to the adventurous code-breaking Grace is a perfect subject for International Women's Day study on March 8.

And for a great class read aloud novel, share this one with a story of the world's first computer programmer ever, Ada Byron Lovelace, in Jordan Stratford's The Case of the Missing Moonstone (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, Book 1) (see my 2015 review here.)

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

THE BARK KNIGHT RISES! Dog Man and the Cat Kid by Dav Piikey

George:"What up, Poochies? We're George and Harold."

Harold: "Me, too! As you may remember, we're in 5th Grade now."

George: "That means we're totally mature. Anyhoo, our new teacher has been making us read all of these old-timey books lately. So anyway, East of Eden is actually a pretty cool book about good and evil and stuff."

Harold: "It totally inspired us! So now we started making a brand-new Dog Man graphic novel!

It's a tale of good... ... a tale of evil... and STUFF!"

Yes, dear readers, Dog Man (that modern medical transplant miracle--a canine police dog's head on a sturdy human cop's body) is back again. It seems that Petey (The World's Evilest Cat) is back, bent on revenge against his arch enemy, Dog Man. In the last installment of their story, Petey attempted to clone himself, the better to defeat Dog Man, but to his dismay, his clone comes out of the box as Petey, an itty bitty kitty, too sweet for maleficent mischief, who is adopted from the Free Kitty box by the unknowing Dog Man.

But Pete the Evilest Cat has plans to pervert his clone by way of the worst sort of cat chicanery. Disguised as the Mary Poppins-ish Kitty Sitter, Pete tries to flip poor Petey into an instrument of evil, but it's a hard sell--until Pete discovers that kittens are suckers for ice cream cones--and pretend-play as supervillains.

Pete the Evilest Etc.: "Finally I get to dump this old lady disguise and dress like my true self... A filthy...rotten... deplorable... despicable... loathsome... IGNOMINIOUS... SUPERVILLAIN!

And now it's your turn! We start with a mask... add a cape... and finish with retractable steel claws....

Dude! We are TOTALLY rockin' these bad guys costumes!"

Petey the Kitty: "This is just for PRETEND, right?"

Pete the Evilest: "Sure kid! It's ALL just for make-believe!"

Can Pete the Evilest Cat corrupt Petey the Kitty's innocence in a nefarious plot to sink the hortatory movie of Dog Man's crime-fighting career being filmed at Gassy Behemoth Studios? Or will Petey's basic goodness and a bunch of Dav Pilkey-esque gizmos overcome evil once more? Will Pete find himself foiled yet again? It's all there in the already best-selling sequel, Dog Man and Cat Kid: From the Creator of Captain Underpants (Dog Man 4) (Graphix/Scholastic Press, 2018). Filled with Pilkey's usual story-telling devices, hilarious sight-gags, fun flip pages, kooky characters, a cameo, er, ending from Captain Underpants, and a bunch of sly John Steinbeck take-offs that adults will appreciate, this one is yet another example of that certain brand of frenetic silliness unique to Pilkey's trademark type of graphic comic novel.  Pilkey is surely the genius of his particular and peculiar genre.

Other books in this series are Dog Man: From the Creator of Captain Underpants (Dog Man 1), Dog Man Unleashed: From the Creator of Captain Underpants (Dog Man 2), and Dog Man: A Tale Of Two Kitties (Dog Man 3) (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition), and the forthcoming Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas: From the Creator of Captain Underpants (Dog Man 5).

Watch the terrific and appropriately clamorous book trailer here!

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Catamorphosis! Bad Kitty: Camp Daze by Nick Bruel



Ever since Kitty got hit in the head by her food dish in a game between Baby and Puppy, she's been acting like a dog. Her ears flop forward. Her tail curls up. Her tongue laps out of her mouth and she pants excitedly. She growls. She barks at the mailman. She chews up the mail. And she wants to play chase with Puppy constantly.

Poor Puppy is too pooped to play. Kitty begs.


Kitty! Don't whine! Since when did you start whining? Play with Baby!"

Puppy collapses in his bed, exhausted.

Nobody but Baby has figured it out.

"KIDDY DOG!" she says.

"No, Baby. Kitty is a cat."


The head of household decides that what Poor Puppy needs is a few restful days at a dandy camp for dogs, run by (who else) Uncle Murray. Kitty howls in dismay, but Puppy can't wait to escape his new playmate. But Kitty Dog is clever enough to stow away in Puppy's duffel bag. And though she fails the sniff test, her WOOF passes muster with the other canine campers. Uncle Murray launches into a pep talk aimed at raising morale.

You guys are really on edge. That's why you're out here, in nature with no stress, and especially no--


Kitty Dog fakes it pretty well, until she fails the Fido fetch tryouts, sustaining repeated tossed bones to the head which set off a series of multiple personality changes.


Dog camp is a HOWL with Kitty carrying off her counterfeit canine identity well until she and Uncle Murray find themselves eyeball to eyeball in a standoff with a bear, at which time Kitty's inner cougar comes through--thanks to the mystical materialization of Bastet, Egyptian patron goddess of cats.

It's a case of I AM CAT! HEAR ME ROAR!


Bad Kitty comes through once more, in Nick Bruel's latest in his best-selling beginner chapter book series, Bad Kitty Camp Daze (Roaring Brook Press, 2018). Author Nick Bruel Cartoonist Nick handles the transmogrifications of Kitty from cat to dog and back again comically and capably, with Bad Kitty at last happily exchanging her camp tent for her comfy cat bed, still trying to catch her daily 22-hour catnap. School Library Journal finds this latest Bad Kitty book doggone good, saying "A seamless melding of text and illustrations. A must-have for early chapter book readers."

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Plethora of Pets! Fancy Nancy: Oodles of Kittens by Jane O'Connor

As Bree and I split the last pastry, suddenly we hear crying. It's coming from outside!

EE-yewww! EE-yewww!

On a dismally drenching day, Nancy Clancy and her best friend Bree are drowning their sorrows at a tea party in Mrs. DeVine's parlor when they hear an arresting sound. The two throw on their raincoats and dash outside to investigate. The sound is coming from inside Mrs. DeVine's doghouse, Chateau Jewel.

And inside there is a cat! A fluffy orange cat--and oodles of teeny-tiny kittens....

1, 2, 3, 4, 5!

Mrs. DeVine opines that the cat is a stray, with no home, and as she helps the girls carry the little feline family inside, she tells them that a new mother cat is called-- A QUEEN!

"OOH-LA-LA! How fancy!" says Nancy!

Nancy and Bree spend a lot of time after school at Mrs. DeVine's house with the kittens as their eyes open and they begin to chase each other and explore all over. Mrs. DeVine names the mother cat "Maj," short for "Majesty," and Nancy and Bree claim the little white and black kittens--which they name "Sequin" and "Rhinestone," for their own.

Nancy absolutely dotes upon her new pet.

"I shower Sequin with oodles of affection. Taking care of a kitten is a full-time job!"

Nancy is so taken with her new kitten that she has no time for her "old" pet, Frenchy! Frenchy begs and begs, with her food bowl and then her leash in her mouth, but Nancy is to absorbed in kitten care to notice.

But Frenchy is clearly not pleased with the new pet. She growls and barks at Sequin. Nancy can't understand why her dog is not happy with the new member of the family.

Maybe Frenchy is jealous," says Mom. "She sees you giving Sequin so much attention!

You don't remember," Mom adds, "but after JoJo was born, you were very jealous."

Even grown-up dogs get jealous, and Nancy gets it that even "mature" pets need their share of loving care, and when Sequin escapes from the house and can't be found, it's Frenchy's turn to show what good grownup dogs do best, in Jane O'Connor's newest full-format picture book, Fancy Nancy: Oodles of Kittens (Harper, 2018). With a cover that is lavish with glitter and with the chichi and charming-as-ever illustrations by artist Robin Preiss Glasser, this one will please Nancy Clancy fans and pet lovers of both the canine and feline persuasions.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

One Size Fits All! Not So Small At All by Sandra Magsamen

Have you ever felt like you're just too small

To do important stuff in the world at all?

But look closely! There are plenty of teeny-tiny creatures that do really significant things for us all.

After all, bees are pretty small, but what they do is neat. They pollenate, so we have flowers, grains, and veggies, to eat.

Ants are mighty mites who can move big freight. All they have to do is cooperate!

A little worm can squirm and turn soil over, acting like a wiggly little bulldozer.

Sandra Magneson's brand-new Not So Small at All(Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, 2018) points out the great things that small things do, and reminds youngsters that they have what it takes to do important work in the world, too.

You see, small can be big in so many ways.

It's just by being you that you'll always amaze!

Fun, kind, caring, creative, honest YOU.

And to make little ones feel that they have the power within to do great things, author Magsamen appends an empowering list of "Big Facts About Small Things." Artist Magsamen offers simple blackline faux naif illustrations with humorous small ones doing big things to inspire the little ones to think big as they grow big.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

And the Winners Are.... 2018 American Library Association's Youth Media Awards

The American Library Association has announced their prestigious 2018 Youth Media medals, including their most famous awards for youth fiction, nonfiction and picture books at their annual conference in Denver, Colorado. And here are the winners!

Taking the John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature was Hello, Universe, by Erin Estrada Kelly, published by Greenwillow Books.

The three Newbery Honor Award Books for 2018 were Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut," by Derrick Barnes, Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds, and Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson.

The Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book went to Wolf in the Snow by author-illustrator Matthew Cordell, published by Feiwel and Friends. Caldecott Honor Awards went to illustrators Elisha Cooper for his Big Cat, Little Cat, to Gordon C. James for Crown, an Ode to the Fresh Cut, to artist Thi Bui for A Different Pond, and to Jason Chin, for his Grand Canyon.

The Coretta Scott King Author Medal went to Renee Watson for Piecing Me Together. King Autor Honor Awards went to authors Derrick Barnes' Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds, and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, earned the King Illustrator Award, and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Medals went to Gordon C. James for Crown: An Ode to a Fresh Cut, and to James E. Ransome for his artwork in Before She Was Harriet: The Story of Harriet Tubman.

The Coretta Scott King/Virginia Hamilton Award for lifetime achievement went to author-illustrator Eloise Greenfield.

The Michael L. Printz Medal for Excellence in Young Adult literature was awarded to Nina LaCour for We Are Okay, published by Dutton Books.

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the the best book for beginning readers was given to author Laurel Snyder and artist Emily Hughes for Charlie & Mouse, and the Young Adult Nonfiction Award was given to Deborah Hiligman for her Vincent and Theo: the Van Gogh Brothers. The Pura Belpre' Award for Latino literature went to La Princessa and the Pea, written by Juana Martinez-Neal.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for continuing contribution to children's literature went to author Jacqueline Woodson, and Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961, written by Larry Dane Brimner, received the Robert Sibert Medal for the most distinguished informational book for children.

Other awards and prizes for contribution to children's literature can be seen here.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Father of Our Country: George Washington The First President by Sarah Albee

In 1776, the colonists in America declared independence from Britain. The two sides called it the American Revolution.

Of course, to King George and his subjects in Great Britain, it was a rebellion, and he sent warships, cannons, and more troops to put down the uprising in his largest colony.

The Americans needed an army, and for that they needed a general.

George Washington was the general who led the American army. He was brave and fair. 

After a long and difficult war, with some battles lost and some won, the British Army surrendered, and the Revolutionary leaders asked Washington to continue to lead the country. But Washington declined. He chose to return to Mt. Vernon, the farm in Virginia he had inherited from his brother Lawrence. He had married a widow, Martha Custis, with two children and even more land, and Washington wanted to become a successful planter.

He said, "I retire," he announced.

But the new country needed help, and Washington returned to public life to help write the Constitution and became the first president of the new United States, guiding the nation through two terms. Sarah Albee's George Washington: The First President (I Can Read Level 2) (Harper-Collins, 2017). This Level 2 beginning reader is a fine introduction to historical biography for early independent readers. It provides a full summary of Washington's life, including his family story, his early work for the British Crown and service with the British army in the French and Indians' War and his leadership in the formative days of the new American republic.

Illustrator Chin Ko supports Albee's narrative well with active and realistic illustrations with much visual information for young readers, and the book offers a substantial supportive appendix with a timeline of Washington's life, a special photo essay on slave life at Mt. Vernon, with a fascinating section on the black double agent spy who was part of Washington's critical spy network that helped win the war. This is a great book for classroom libraries and an informative and rather absorbing read for early primary students suitable for a biography or history report in that period leading up the Presidents Day.

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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Yikes! Stripes! Bumblebee Boy Loves... by David Soman and Jacky Davis

What does Bumblebee Boy drive?


There's a new caped crusader on the job.. He's got the striped shirt. He's got the boots, the mask, and the cape..., and he's ready to BUZZ!

He can leap (block) cities in a single bound.

He can save his little brother from a monster (who look a lot like the family cat)!

If he has to, he can even read his little brother Owen a story that banishes the bedtime blues.

Who is that masked marvel? In Jacky Davis' and David Soman's new board book, Bumblebee Boy Loves... (Dial Books, 2017), preschoolers who love their best-selling Ladybug Girl series have a new character to follow--her neighborhood friend Sam. With a three-dimensional die-cut cover and Soman's charming illustrations, there's a lot to love in this pair of adventurous boys. Says Kirkus Reviews, "A sweet addition to this growing series about would-be superheroes."

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Vampires Love Valentines? Vee Is For Valentine (Vampirina) by Chelsey Beyl

It's an exciting day at the Hauntleys.

It's Ghoulentine's Day.

Vampirina wakes up early to a breakfast of spooky scones made by the Hauntley's Chef Remy Bones, a kitchen festooned with Ghoulentines, and scream-filled chocolate treats from her Mom, Oxana Hauntley. Vampirina loves the festive display, but she has something else on her mind.

"Happy Valentine's Day," says Vee as she walks into the kitchen. "Today is Valentine's Day in Pennsylvania." she explains.

Now nicknamed Vee, Vampirina, a recent transplant from Transylvania to Pennsylvania, is on top of both holidays. She has made special ghoulentines for her vampire family and ghostly friends and another set of Valentines for her human friends and classmates at her new school. And as she is handing out her Ghoulentines, her classmates Poppy and Bridget arrive to walk to school with her. Vampirina grabs her backpack and bag of Valentines and rushes off to school with her best friends. On the way she explains Ghoulentine's Day to her friends.

"It's like Valentine's Day for spirits," she explains to her friends. She hands Poppy and Bridget the magical Ghoulentines she made just for them.

"These are amazing!" says Poppy.

But When Poppy worries that Ghoulentines might be too scary for the kids at school, Vee assures her friend that she's got regular Valentines to hand out to everyone at school.

What could possibly go wrong?

But back at home little ghost Demi discovers that inside the envelope carefully addressed to him by Vee, there's a regular Valentine. That can only mean one thing--somebody in Vee's class is going to get a magical Ghoulentine that may completely spook that kid out!

Demi panics. "I've got to warn Zee!"

And when Demi materializes to Vee at the Valentine party, Vee is just noticing that her special friend, Edgar, is just about to open the envelope from her--the one with a Ghoulentine inside!

It's the old Valentine mix-up story, in Chelsey Beyl's Vampirina Vee is for Valentine: 8x8 with Punch-out Cards (Disney Press, 2017). Can Zee come up with a way to make the switcheroo just in time?

Based on the original Vamperina Ballerina series by Anne Marie Pace (see reviews here), this latest paperback title features the star of the Disney Vampirina TV series, Vee Hauntley, and her continuing adventures as she adapts to the curious local customs in the exotic surroundings deep in darkest Pennsylvania. This title also features eight punch-out Valentines and ghoulentines (sadly without magic) for real kids to give to their friends.

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Friday, February 09, 2018

Who Wrote the Book of Love? Pete the Cat's Groovy Guide to Love by Kimberly and James Dean

So are we supposed to take advice on LOVE from a blue cartoon cat?

Pete the Cat gets by with a little help from some pretty good gurus on the subject, from Picasso to Confucious, Audrey Hepburn to Oliver Wendell Holmes, from Paul Tillich to Paul McCartney, from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Pierre Beaumarchais, from Virgil to Van Gogh.

There are some of the best words of wisdom in Pete's list, each given its own page:

"If you want to be loved, be loving." -- Ovid

"Love is friendship set to music." -- James Campbell

"Love is patient. Love is kind." I Corinthians 13: 4-8.

Kimberly and James Dean's Pete the Cat's Groovy Guide to Love (Harper) has both deep thoughts from all sorts of sages and upbeat and breezy interpretations for kids in Pete's take on the book of love, and for adults there is some good advice as well, as Paul Tillich advised, "The first duty of love is to listen." Dean's famous cheery indigo feline offers some lively insights on all sorts of love, even self-love, while keeping the mood on the sunny side of the street.

Based on the style of Kimberly and James Dean's earlier Pete the Cat's Groovy Guide to Life, this one adds to Pete the Cat's library of his philosophy of life-- "It's ALL good."

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Thursday, February 08, 2018

Sweet-Heart! Beecause I Love You by Sandra Magsamen


Sandra Magsamen's little toy-and-movable book is a Valentine card with a cover--and antennae--just made for a favorite youngster.

Filled with similes to sweet ladybugs, glowing fireflies, dipping and dancing butterflies, and even a whale swimming delightedly, Magsamen's Beecause I Love You (Made With Love) (Scholastic Press, 2017) begins with a comparison to a bee who wears his heart on his vest, so to speak, and whose wings are heart-shaped, like hand-sewn appliques.

Each page in this smallish board book shows another lovable creature doing something winsome, but the final profession of love is saved just for THE ONE at the very end--


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Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Getting By With A Little Help From My Friends! Snapstreak: How My Friends Saved My (Social) Life by Suzanne Weyn

"We're pretty sure you have a concussion," the doctor tells us. "We're going to want you to rest your brain and your eyes," the doctor adds. "The first thing is no electronics for a while."

"I can't do that!" I say. "I'm in a Snapstreak competition. My entire school is depending on me. We have to win this free concert by BBD."

"Who's BBD?" asks the doctor.

Is she kidding?? "Boys Being Dudes!" I tell her. "I'll be letting down my whole school!"

"Vee!" Dad cuts me off. "You heard the doctor!"

Eighth grade is going great until Dad drops the bomb. Vee has two great friends, Lulu (screen name Luloooney) and Megan (screen name Megawatt) and they Snapchat constantly, especially about their crushes on the boy band BBD's drummer Joe and singer Derek. But then Dad tells Vee (screen name V-Ness) that they have to move after she graduates from Pleasant Hill Middle. She'll lose her best friends and have no friends at all at Shoreham High.

"I don't want to be the new kid. I'll be shunned!"

But then fate throws Vee a social lifeline. Visiting the potential new house, she meets a cool-looking girl, Gwynneth, and they exchange Snapchat names. If she can just convince Gynneth (screen name GQB2the2ndpwr) that's she's cool enough, she will have ready-made friends at Shoreham High. And then Lady Luck, in the form of local news anchor Heather May, appears at Pleasant Hill M.S. to recruit and interview participants in a SnapStreak citywide school competition with Shoreham Middle and Pleasant Hill partnered, and with the prize a free concert by Boys Being Dudes! She videos Lulu, Megan, and Vee for the evening news spot, and Vee realizes that if she can just get Gwynneth to Snapchat with her every day, she can win the concert for her school. What luck!

And then her luck runs out. It's lacrosse day in PE, and Vee asks Megan to phone-video her scoring a goal to impress Gwynneth, but instead, Lulu's pass hits her in the head and she's grounded with a concussion at home, and even worse, ordered off her phone for weeks. But her best friends don't fail her: they get their hands on her phone and keep the SnapStreak going, pretending to be Vee messaging Gwennyth.

The plan is working great, with the girls conferring daily about what "Vee" is going to Snapchat next. Vee's real-life crush Ethan has asked her out as soon as she recovers, the SnapStreak win is in sight, and BBD concert looks like a sure thing. What could go wrong?

But Megan gets soaking wet on the way to school and has to hand Vee's phone over to Madison, who promises to keep it dry and keep up the SnapStreak. Then, when Megan gets too sick to go to school and Lulu breaks her arm, Madison passes the phone to Bella, who hands it over on to a seventh grader named Maria who wants to be part of the action, who gives it to Emmett to make a video of his band class....

"I sent that Gwyn girl a video of Rae Gonzalez playing tuba. She loved it!" says Emmett.

"Great!" said Megan. "Can I have the phone?"

"I gave it to somebody." He looks at the ceiling, thinking. "I don't remember who it was, though."

Will "friends" she doesn't even know she has come through for Vee? In Suzanne Weyn's lighthearted look at social media mania, Snapstreak: How My Friends Saved My (Social) Life (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018), there's more than a little help from her friends, as all of Pleasant Hill Middle School comes through in an ending worthy of an after-school sit-com. High school (whichever one she attends) is looking pretty friendly for Vee.

Since ace authors Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger took their joint epistolary series online with their 2000 hit, Snail Mail, No More, inventors of young teen fiction have made use of social media, and with a varied cast of characters and lots of cutesy facsimile Snapchat photos with oodles of emojis of the four main characters, this one is a quick and fun outing for even reluctant middle readers.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

All Of A Kind: Your One & Only by Adrianne Finlay

She'd never seen a face like this boy's. His eyes were almost colorless, an odd bluish-gray. Althea-310 shook herself, realizing that was not simply what he looked like that was disturbing. She also felt nothing from him. It certainly seemed like he felt nervous in front of the class. Emotions like that should have been radiating off him like a fever, infecting the whole class. Everyone was rustling and shifting in their chairs. They felt the bone-chilling detachment from the boy as well.

"What's wrong with its face?" Carson-315 asked.

"Nothing. He's simply different from the nine models," Samuel-299 said. He nodded to the painting on the wall. "He's human, like they were."

"So he's not Homo factus," a Carson said, grimacing. "Where are his brothers?"

"No. Like I said, he's human--Homo sapiens. He's alone." said Samuel-299

Three hundred years before, when the human race was in danger of eradication from the Slow Plague, a group of nine scientists had fled to a remote part of the Americas to create a new form of humanity, nine sets of clones, identical to each of themselves, but with DNA altered to eliminate susceptibility to disease and all defects. New clones were cultured every ten years, each group carrying one altered genome and name of one of the Original Nine and its generation number, and each group are identical with each other, capable of communing silently with their clones, and assigned to a task group that fits their nature.

But their scientists have realized that they and the others clones are deteriorating slowly with each re-copied generation, causing eventual "fracturing" and the need for their termination. Faced with another "slow plague," this one from within the core of their own cells, two leaders, Inga-296 and Samuel-299, determine that they must revive a living model of Homo sapiens to procure fresh DNA. Inga-296 mothers the rebuilt child, Jack, to age 15, when he is introduced to the clone colony of Vispera and learns the reason for his existence.

"Why?" Jack asked.

"Because we're dying. Inga-296 wasn't wrong. We've manipulated the code so much... the problems we face now will only get worse. The only answer is new variations from freshly cloned humans. Like the variations we can get from you."

Most of the clones are repulsed by the differences they sense in Jack, his attacks of asthma, an actual defect in his DNA, and his urge to make disturbing sounds from something he calls a guitar. The more aggressive Carson clones bully Jack relentlessly and when someone sabotages the tank where the next generation is being gestated, the Carsons lead the rest in blaming Jack for everything.

But somehow, Althea-310 feels a connection to Jack, even coming to hear the beauty in the music he makes, and despite her ties to her eight sister Altheas, she chooses to help him escape from the colony. And then Jack and Althea discover that Jack is not the only human, that he has a brother, Jonah, who is trying to destroy the colony and The Ark, the secret chamber in the Tunnels where not only human artifacts, but multiple specimens of DNA are frozen. Jack and Althea agree that they must stop him before the hope of human life on earth is ended forever.

Among the plethora (some would say glut) of dystopian novels these days, there is that recurring question, as old as the story of Eden--can humans obtain a perfect society before they destroy themselves? Adrianne Finlay's Your One & Only (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) suggests that humanity's destiny depends on something hidden deep inside itself that is necessary for the species to survive and thrive. If the quest for a biological perfection which promises perfect empathy is not the answer to survival, if it attenuates that necessary individual spark within, then what is to be the answer? Is the urge and ability to create something new what makes us human?

It is the human dilemma, to blend and be safe, or to strike out to find a new way to be in a place we cannot completely control, with selves that we cannot completely control, especially in a post-apocalyptic world. Young adult readers who have already encountered Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus (Oxford World's Classics), Aldous Huxley's Brave New World or any of a number of current dystopian novels, may well wish our new Adam and Eve, Jack and Althea, better luck the next time around. These star-crossed lovers, from what indeed are two different worlds, make for a compelling love story, and author Finlay closes this book with Jack and Althea still to be tested in their own brave new world.

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Monday, February 05, 2018

How Do I Love Thee? Love by Emma Dodd



A most loving mother rabbit counts the ways she loves her child. Their day begins early in their warm burrow and continues as they venture out into a field deep with blooming yellow daisies like sunlight.

They continue their day in the quiet of the deep woods. Mama Rabbit is there to catch Baby as he almost tumbles off a big rock, and to keep him warm as they huddle to shelter from a sudden shower, and to smile with joy when they stop to sniff a flower. Mama Bunny loves her baby, even when he's naughty and does something wrong.


The love between mother and child fills Emma Dodd's Love (Emma Dodd's Love You Books) (Nosy Crow, 2016). Dodd's couplets are simple but expressive, and her illustrations are lovely, with blackline outlines and soft, digital colorization highlighted with gold-leaf accents that give the fields and woodlands a soft glow. Mother love is the first love, and Emma Dodd knows how to show it in this and others of her small books for the very young, such as Together,(Emma Dodd's Love You Books) Happy (Emma Dodd's Love You Books), Always (Emma Dodd's Love You Books), and Forever (Emma Dodd's Love You Books).

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