BooksForKidsBlog

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Play With Me? One Busy Day by Lola H. Schaefer


MIA WANTED TO DO SOMETHING.
ANYTHING
WITH HER BIG BROTHER, SPENCER.

It's the younger sister's dilemma. Big brother Spencer is so cool! Not only does he have a wild imagination; Spencer is born to move, and little sister Mia longs to get in on the action. Spencer zooms from flying his dragon kite to careening his trike, pretending to be a dragon slayer and a race car driver at almost the same time. Deep in play, he pretty much ignores Mia.

Mia has a choice. She could whine and tattle, appealing to Mom.

Or, she can come up with her own fantasy fun.

Mia pretends to be a famous painter. She whirls and twirls like a prima ballerina. Making mud cakes, she imagines herself as a grand chef, surrounded by her fabulous pastries. She constructs a sand mountain with a towering castle on top. She turns her plastic wading pool into an ocean and her floatie toy into a dolphin who carries her bounding over the waves. She throws a blanket over some chairs and crawls inside to explore her deep, dark cave.

As she has hoped, little by little Spencer becomes intrigued with Mia's fanciful adventures, and soon the two are swashbuckling with toy swords, defending their redoubt against fiery dragons, and sailing the seas in tandem imaginings.
MIA AND SPENCER WERE BOTH BUSY. VERY VERY BUSY--TOGETHER.

Author Lola Schaefer revisits the brother and new baby sister characters in her noted first book, One Special Day, a few years later, with the hyperkinetic Spencer still going strong, but with his equally creative sister Mia just old enough to want to get into the act. Schaeffer paces the story well, with Mia's intriguing solo play incrementally catching Spencer's attention, and the illustrations by Jessica Meserve are just as telling and tender in their just published second book, One Busy Day: A Story for Big Brothers and Sisters (Hyperion Books, 2014). Kirkus Reviews gives this sequel a starred review, saying "Hooray for sibling revelry!"

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Unlocking the Past: Nancy Clancy: Secret of the Silver Key by Jane O'Connor

"Next week, I would like each of you to bring in something from present time. Nothing big. Something that tells about what life is like today. We are going to put everything in a box."

"You mean, like a time capsule?" Lionel asked. "Ooh--and can it have a sign that says "Do not open until 2064?" Nancy added.

"Maybe in fifty years my child will go to this school and open it!" Clara said.

Grace rolled her eyes. "Clara! Do the math. In fifty years you'll be nearly sixty. Your children will be grown ups, too."

"And for Monday," Mr. Dudeny went on, "I'd like you to interview somebody who was your age a long time ago. Find out what it was like being a kid back then.
"

Nancy and her best friend Bree decide to interview their glamorous older friend, Mrs. DeVine, who brings over an album with photos of herself and her best friend taken in an photo booth at the state fair. Mrs. Devine tells them that she and her friend vowed to be best friends always, just like Nancy and Bree. But then, she added a little sadly, her friend moved away and they lost track of each other over the years.

Nancy can't imagine being 50 years older and not best friends with Bree!

Nancy mulled over Mr. D's words. Once the past hadn't been the past. It had been just like this very moment. The present. And in the future, this very moment would turn into the past.

And the next day, as the family hits the Saturday tag sales to find her a desk for her own room, Nancy finds herself in her own history mystery. At the first stop, she falls in love with a small rolltop desk, with cubbyholes and small drawers above the writing surface. And when they get the desk home, Nancy discovers that one of the two drawers is shorter than the one above, and in it there is a key which appears to open a keyhole in the hidden drawer behind it.

And in that secret drawer is.... another key, a fancy silver key on a chain.

A key which unlocks nothing else on the desk is a mystery, and would-be detectives Nancy and Bree gleefully have themselves a new case! As the two put their heads together to discuss strategy, pushy Grace bikes by and has to hear all about it. As usual, Grace cuts to the chase.

"So, duh! Just go back and ask whoever used to own that desk what the key is for."

Grace was right! Why hadn't they thought of that themselves? Maybe their sleuthing skills were getting rusty.

Grace invites herself along to "interrogate" the desk's former owner, and the three bike over. The former owner says the key was there when she bought it from the LaSalle's next door, who moved to Washington, D.C., years before. Disappointed, Nancy and Bree turn to leave, but Grace butts in.

"Listen, if you do find an email address or something," she said, "you could write and see if your old neighbors would let us email them."

Soon Nancy gets an email for the LaSalle's daughter Olivia, who says the key was in the desk when she got it from her Aunt Elizabeth, who also has now moved back in town.

This investigation is getting intense. Olivia takes the girls' hurried call and digs out her Aunt Elizabeth's email address in a retirement complex nearby. Elizabeth is excited about the silver key and agrees to drop by the girls' detective headquarters. And she recognizes the secret key, her silver key on a chain, like the one her best friend also wore, the one she'd locked in the drawer in Nancy's desk long ago.

But there's something else familiar to Nancy about that silver key. Noticing that Mrs. DeVine had left her photo album behind after her visit, Nancy turns to the photos of the two best friends at the fair. She pulls out her rhinestone-rimmed magnifying glass for a closer look. And in the third photo pasted on the page, Nancy then sees that both girls are holding up ... silver keys on chains around their necks!

Is her new desk's drawer itself a time capsule? Has she discovered Mrs. DeVine's best friend from the past? Is Nancy Clancy's history mystery solved?

Jane O'Connor does it again in her latest Nancy Clancy chapter book, Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy, Secret of the Silver Key (Harper, 21014), in which she creates an intriguing, multi-faceted mystery for her two girl sleuths, with their sometime frenemy, Grace, who, they admit, is no slouch as a sleuth. Worked seamlessly into their investigations is the working out friction with wannabe friend Grace, not to mention Nancy's deepening thoughts on the nature of time and the relationship of the past with the present and future and her usual new and fancy words. As always, artist Robin Priess Glasser's many humorous black-and-white drawings are an asset in extending the easy-reading text and revealing personalities of the characters. A first-choice for young readers just getting into the mystery novel genre, with plenty of references to Nancy Clancy's favorite girl sleuth, Nancy Drew, to move them along to middle-reader status.

There are many authors who can write good beginning mysteries, but few who can blend the primary grade social scene and curriculum, vocabulary lessons, and a growing maturity into the characters, one who can write a genuinely moving denouement as O'Connor does in this one.

Other not-to-be-missed books in this best-selling series are Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth (Fancy Nancy), Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy, Secret Admirer, and Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy Sees the Future.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Egg-regious Adventure: Oliver and His Egg by Paul Schmid


WHEN OLIVER FOUND HIS EGG...

Well, it isn't exactly an egg. It's a large oval rock that looks like...

... an EGG!

But when Oliver sits on top of it, the fertile imagination that lives under that tousled head of hair goes to work immediately. The rock becomes an orange egg, from which hatches....

... an orange-spotted... something-or-other.

It looks like a dinosaur or a sea serpent and it looks like a friend, and as soon as Oliver shares his cookies and milk, his friend begins to grow.

It grows into something like a giant Viking ship pool float, and Oliver dons his Viking helmet as they sail off to have adventures on a deserted island, where happily there are marshmallows for roasting.

Then it's back to adventuring, as Oliver's friend morphs into an orange spaceship, and they land on their own planet, space helmets in place for some space walking. But just then a girl's voice is heard from far-away earth.

"OLIVER!..."

"WHY ARE YOU SITTING ON THAT ROCK?"

Poof! Oliver looks down. By George, he is sitting on a rock. Oliver and the girl size each other up silently.

Should he tell her what the rock really is?

Paul Schmid's second Oliver story, Oliver and his Egg (Hyperion Books, 2014) is a celebration of the imaginary adventures kids hatch in their fertile fancy. Schmid makes the most of his simple palette of lavender, orange, gray, and white, done up in his characteristic black line drawings, as he lets his story emerge naturally, even using a final four-page gatefold spread to reveal the possibilities when all of the kids let their fancies fly free.

Other books by Schmid include his notable back-to-school story, Oliver and his Alligator (see my review and Schmid's comment here), his A Pet for Petunia and Hugs from Pearl.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Barely There! NAKED! by Michael Ian Black

LOOK AT ME, EVERYONE!

WHOOOOOHOOO!

A small boy bounces out of a bubblebath and suddenly is beset with the desire to streak the house.

His hair still wet and wild and stray bubblets trailing him, he runs through the house, as slippery as a wet seal, giving his bemused parents and startled baby brother a travelogue of his nude progress.  Racing through the rooms, sliding down the stairs, he even contemplates where else he might go in the... altogether!

I COULD GO TO SCHOOL NAKED!

His parents have that how-long-is-this-going-to-last look, but opt for ignoring the show. Mom goes on with the laundry, and Dad, with sidelong looks, pretends to be unimpressed as his bare boy does a demo of the Hokey Pokey's moves, cleverly shown on page in a birds-eye view.

And then our boy spots his beloved cape in the laundry basked, and putting it on over his bare skin inspires him to create a new superhero, Captain Naked, the nemesis of evildoers everywhere!

BEING NAKED IS GREAT!

BEING NAKED AND CAPED IS ... BETTER!

But just when Mom and Dad seem to have about had it with their in-house exhibitionist, the natural order asserts itself.

COLD!!!

Our impromptu nature boy discovers on his own why people don't go around naked as he reaches for his warm jammies and slippers in Michael Ian Black's Naked! (Simon & Schuster Books, 2014). Debbie Ridpath's exuberant comic illustrations show the joy of our au natural boy, all the while cleverly managing her point of view to figleaf those private zones most artfully with a leg, foot, or, in the schoolroom scene, with a scrupulously placed piece of paper. This is, of course, one of those books which youngsters will find truly funny: if the mere mention of the word "underwear" sets off giggles, this one will engender gales of laughter. (Don't say I didn't warn you! Parents, read this one after the kids are in their pajamas! Teachers: schedule this one right before recess or just before the buses appear.)

Black and Ridpath also collaborated on their popular I'm Bored.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

You Can Count on Octopus! Thank You, Octopus by Darren Farrell

BEDTIME, AHOY!

AWWWW!

A boy and his babysitter begin the bedtime routine, with the usual resistance.

But when the bedroom is in a tubby little tugboat and the sitter is a red octopus, you can be pretty sure this is not your ordinary every-evening bedtime book.

Octopus tries to lead the boy toward bed by offering a nice, warm bath first.

But the tub is filled with nice, warm... egg salad!

Er...

GROSS!

NO THANKS, OCTOPUS!

Octopus is helpful. He offers to dry the boy off with the breeze from his tuba.

Politely, the boy declines. Sheesh!

Octopus suggests the boy put on some pajamas. But... Octopus tosses them on top of the Statue of Liberty.

Things only get goofier, as Octopus clearly tries to make a game out of getting ready for bed. He cranks up the amp, tunes up his guitar, and offers a rock-and-roll lullaby. The boy politely demurs.

Octopus blithely assures his charge that monsters under the bed will be NO problem.

He's put all of them in the closet! He reaches for the closet door to prove it.

"NO THANKS, OCTOPUS!!"

But when it's time for a good-night hug, the boy finds a way (bear-ly) to turn the tables on his silly sitter, in Darren Farrell's inventive little bedtime story, Thank You, Octopus (Dial Book, 2014).  Using a picturesque backdrop of the New York City harbor, Farrell sets his plush-toylike characters in chubby, blocked flat colors, adding to the quirky tone of this awesomely absurd sleepy time tale. Super-giggle fare to take time-for-bed resistors under the sheets with a smile on their faces! Kirkus Reviews says, "A maritime—and bedtime—delight."

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Between the Ocean and the Air: Breathe by Scott Magoon

PLAY ALL DAY!

Baby mammals are the ones who play, who must play to learn, and the ones who show such obvious joy in doing so.

A little beluga whale sets out for a day of adventure, his mother reminding him that he has to remember to come up and breathe, breathe, breathe. He spouts a little plume of vapor, gulps a deep breath, and dives down to see what he can see in the clear, cold, blue-green Arctic waters. He swims through colorful schools of fish and graceful strands of kelp swaying in the current. He swims past a gray and ghostly wreck of a whaler, its masts still standing as it rests on the sea floor. He watches puffins, with their bright orange bills and sleek black bodies diving past him into the blue-black deeps and coming back up toward the sky.

He rises to take a breath in a cove where small icebergs and a broken ice field share the icy waters, and sees the silhouette of a polar bear looking down at him through the ice and swims away, away, away toward another breathing hole where it is safe to come up for a breath. And then, as young ones do, he looks around for his mother, watching nearby, and joins her for a snack and a bit of a sleep, floating where air and water meet, under the wide and starry sky.

Scott Magoon uses the familiar story strain of the little one discovering his world in his first adventure out on his own, but his lyrical illustrations of the watery, icy world of a little whale are a lovely setting for this story. Magoon's just-published Breathe (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster Books, 2014) makes great use of several forms of artistic media, even digital, to show the beauty of the Arctic waters and those who live there. Kirkus Reviews give this one a starred review, adding "The simple adventure concludes with an anthropomorphic yet welcome invitation: "Most of all, love/and be loved." Richly composed and sweetly appealing—just right for toddler storytimes as well as one-to-one sharing."

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Dinner at the Gross-Out Diner: Spider Sandwiches by Claire Freedman

COME EAT WITH MAX.

HE HAS A MONSTER APPETITE.

HE EATS SUCH YUCKY MUCKY FOOD,

HIS MEALTIMES ARE A FRIGHT!

After a home-cooked breakfast of toenail omelet and grasshopper leg smoothies,  Max orders some delicacies from the internet--space ants, and moon-goop globs--to tide himself over until lunch, when he tucks in to his rainbow lice and rice stirfry. (Better eat 'em before the lice jump off the plate!)

This disgusting gourmand gobbles globs of slimy, gooey glop, some his own creations from his favorite recipes from Squealia's Monster Cookbook and The Monsters' Cookbook-- his cookies have sprinkles (beetle bits), and his delicious side dishes, such as French-fried hairy bats' ears, hors d'oeuvres like squashed fly caviar on crackers or fish-eye finger foods--are famous. Rat-tail pizza is a treat, and blue mold chips are hard to beat.

Is there no comestible gruesome enough to make Max gag?

Well, there is one--the one thing that youngsters all seem to regard as barf bait!

BRUSSELS SPROUTS SOUP!

For surefire eeeeuuwws and yuucckkks from the preschool/primary crowd, Max's menu is certain to meet all expectations, in author Claire Freedman's just published Spider Sandwiches (Bloomsbury Press, 2014), with splendidly silly illustrations by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet. It's a beginner's gross-out appetizer before kids move on to seriously stomach-sloshing classic entrees such as Adam Rex's Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich.

Claire Freedman's other "well-versed" best-sellers include Aliens Love Underpants, Dinosaurs Love Underpants (The Underpants Books), Aliens in Underpants Save the World (The Underpants Books), and Aliens Love Panta Claus.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

HiYAAA! Ninja! by Aree Chung

HAVE NO FEAR. A TRUE NINJA CAN OVERCOME ALL OBSTACLES.

"I AM NINJA!"

If the clothes make the man, the gear makes the ninja, and with his dad's tie for a headband, a pool cue for his fighting stick, little sis's jump rope for climbing,  and mom's rubber gloves from the kitchen, our young ninja is ready to make some ninja moves.

A NINJA SNEAKS, CREEPS, AND IS FAST ON HIS FEET...

Our master of the dark is on a mission, stealthily making his way through the shadows, outflanking the guard beasts (the family pug) and lithely leaping over any obstacles (like the sofa), he uses his climbing rope to achieve the heights as he surveils his target--his little sister's milk and cookie. Then as she watches in amused glee, he makes his final assault... dropping down on his napping dad's chest.

"SURPRISE!!!"

Arree Chung's Ninja! (Henry Holt, 2014) creates plenty of atmosphere with his subdued acrylic palette, set off with accents of dragon-breath red. Chung's little ninja creates some tension as he steals through the scene, only his dark eyes visible, with a sinister laugh and a final satisfied bow:

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Publishers Weekly puts it well: "With a dark and saturated palette, long shadows, and graphic-novel framings, Arree hits the sweet spot between sinister and spoof,"  and School Library Journal throws it a star, saying, "Laugh-out-loud fun!"

For more jolly ninja exploits in a sly spoof on the Big Bad Wolf, see my review of The Three Ninja Pigs, here.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Nothing Ever Happens Around Here! Codename Zero by Chris Rylander

There I was in the parking lot of my school, minding my own business, when some mysterious dude shows up and hands me an even more mysterious package. Okay, so I wasn't so much minding my own business as I was putting the finishing touches on the fourth biggest prank in Erik Hill Middle School history. But the point was the same--I was busy.

"Hey, kid," the guy said. "Take this."

Suddenly I was holding a package. "What am I supposed to....?"

"Just listen," he said, glancing over both shoulders. "Guard this with your life; the fate of the world depends on it. You must deliver this to Mr. Jensen.Trust no one."

Carson Fender is bored. Nothing ever happens in Minnow (a.k.a., Minott),  North Dakota. Or when it happens, it's the same old thing that always happens, like the annual circus with the same old tired tiger and tilt-a-whirls.

To maintain his joie de vivre, Carson is forced to carry out ever-more elaborate pranks at school, and he's right in the middle of a doozie involving a herd of fainting goats on the lawn in front of the school while his co-conspirators Dillon and Danielle use the distraction to glue down everything on every teacher's desk in the school. And then the dude in the black sunglasses appears in his life.

Now Carson can't even enjoy the chaos engendered by his prank. There's that mysterious package, in plain brown wrapper. He's supposed to deliver it to Mr. Jensen, but which one?  There are two Mr. Jensens at his school. That night Carson can't sleep until he finds out what is inside that package, but then... when he loosens the paper at one end, he triggers a warning that makes him wish yesterday had just been a regular, boring day.

YOU NOW HAVE FORTY-FIVE HOURS AND FORTY-FIVE MINUTES TO INITIATE FAIL-SAFE MEASURES BEFORE SELF-DESTRUCTION.

Carson Fender discovers that his weirdo conspiracy nut friend Dillon has been right all along. Things are not what they seem in Minnow, North Dakota. Below the boring surface, literally, underground below their favorite sledding hill, is the world headquarters of The Agency, the mega-spy system from which the CIA, FBI, and NSA take their orders. The two Mr. Jensens are, of course, Agency secret agents. Carson is deputized as Agent Zero, given cool spy gear like night-vision contacts, fog shooters, and small explosive charges disguised as fruit chews, and assigned to protect a Russian twelve-year-old named Olek until his parents can testify against a ring of terrorists on trial at The Hague.

The terrorists who have infiltrated the area know Olek is in hiding in Minnow, but they don't know who he is, so Carson is given the task of making Olek look like an average North Dakota kid, invisible in the crowd of other dark-haired seventh graders. But of course, the plan goes awry, Olek is captured, and Carson finds himself on his own to save his friend ...and the world.

At least, it's not boring.

Chris Rylander's latest Codename Zero (The Codename Conspiracy)(Walden Pond Press, 2014), offers middle readers a witty and game main character who gladly exchanges seventh grade ennui for international espionage, at least until the game gets a bit more deadly than he expected. Plenty of bad-guy spies from central casting, a couple of best buddies who are up for anything, and a Russian kid who does Russky stand-up comedy like a young Sacha Baron Cohen doing Borat make for a funny and fast-moving read in the best Spy Kids tradition. Just the thing for those summertime blahs.

Chris Rylander is also the author of a comic middle-school big operator series, The Fourth Stall. Fans of James Patterson's best selling Rafe Khatchadorian Middle School series will find Rylander's books suits their common comedy core to a T.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Basic Brief-ing: Veggies With Wedgies by Todd Doodler

It all begins when Farmer Jones carefully hangs his family's laundry outside to dry.

What can happen, right?

If the clothesline features undies, lots of super silly storybook lines are sure to follow, at least if author-cartoonist Todd Doodler is in the vicinity of the vegetable garden.

"WHAT ARE THOSE?" ASKED PUMPKIN.

Cuke hasn't a clue, but thinks they are cool. Beet thinks they look beguiling. Mushroom thinks they look mysterious. Nobody knows what they are, but Asparagus aims for a pair anyway. Pea pipes up with a supposition that they are undies brought by the Underwear Fairy.

Carrot pops up and pointedly offers a brief explanation of the purpose of undergarments.

"UNDERWEAR IS WHAT PEOPLE WEAR UNDER THEIR CLOTHES!

UNDER WEAR! GET IT?"

Of course, nothing will do but that the vegetables take down the Jones' family's drawers and try them on, with many comic misfits ensuing. Mushroom puts one pair of tighty whities on his head. Corn does a lot of hopping and wiggling to stretch the underwear to fit. Onion winds up wearing his backwards, thong style.

"THE VEGGIES ALL HAD TERRIBLE WEDGIES."

Only a Todd Doodler story would set up such a preposterous plot line just to get to that internally rhyming punchline, but as he so ably proved in his top-selling Bear in Underwear books, a man can create a career with unlikely characters drawn in, well, drawers, as he does in his latest, Veggies with Wedgies (Little Simon, 2014).

Underwear is a subject that preschoolers universally perceive as hilarious, and the penchant persists well into the primary years. A stalk of broccoli in briefs or an onion giving himself a wedgie is bound to draw a drawer-ful of giggles from tots just coming to terms with their own underthings. Get to the bottom of undie humor by pairing this one with Claire Freedman's Aliens Love Underpants, Dinosaurs Love Underpants (The Underpants Books) or Aliens in Underpants Save the World (The Underpants Books).

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Monday, July 14, 2014

The Nose Knows! Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World by Nancy F. Castaldo


Zack gets up in the morning, pricks his finger, and checks the level of his blood sugar. He's one of thousands of kids living with type 1, or juvenile diabetes. His normal blood sugar should be between 110 and 180, but at its highest it was reaching 2,000 and at its lowest, 28. Zack adapted his lifestyle to pricking his finger up to twenty times and day and using insulin injections to keep his blood sugar levels regulated.

For many kids living with this condition, it might mean homeschooling, no playdates, or anything that will protect them from a drastic change in their blood sugar levels which lead to diabetic coma or diabetic ketoacidosis. For Zack, it meant he often had trouble attending a full day of school.

But that was before Alan, a fox red Labrador puppy and trained diabetes alert dog, a DAD, arrived to live with Zack
.

Dogs do a lot of sniffing, as any owner who's tried to make short work of a pre-bedtime walk in the rain can attest. But a dog's nose is one of the wonders of the natural world, an organ so sensitive that a a diabetes alert dog can actually detect slight abnormalities in its owner's blood sugar from over three miles away, as his dog Alan did when Zack was off at a football game. Back at home Alan signaled Zack's mom relentlessly to alert her that his blood sugar was dropping.

Amazingly, medical dogs have also proven able to sniff out impending seizures, cancer, and life-threatening allergens such as peanuts or shellfish, the dreaded bedbugs, and dangerous hospital bacteria such as C. difficile.

With hundreds of millions of sensory neurons on board to analyze every scent in the air, approximately 1000 to 10,000 times more smell-ability than humans, dogs have been useful to man since their wild cousins first adapted to living and hunting with us.  And since those early days, we have learned many other ways to use dogs' ability to sense, recall, and analyze smells.

Nancy Castaldo's forthcoming Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) documents the many jobs that sniffer dogs do--as search and rescue (SAR) dogs, as military and law enforcement K-9 corps members, as bomb or explosive sniffers, narcotics locators, and as eco-sniffers, able even to locate whales underwater or invasive snails in trees.

Being a sniffer dog requires different qualities from those of the usual quiet indoor pet: like other working dogs, good sniffers need a high energy level with a strong urge to play and interact with a handler, a drive to work until they can go no more, and a high intelligence to learn challenging routines. While some sniffer dogs, such as those who search for survivors of earthquakes, landslides, and avalanches, bark to alert their partners, other tasks require atypically un-canine silent alerts--pointing, sitting down motionless, or pawing different places on their handlers' bodies.  DAD Alan, for example, prods Zack's knee or shoulder, depending upon whether his blood sugar is falling or rising.

Castaldo describes the selection, training, and field work of a variety of such dogs--war dog Eli who detects IEDs in Afghanistan, Sage,  the feisty little search-and-rescue who did duty after 9/11, Buford, the relentless live-find bloodhound tracker of criminals, Kura, finder of lost children, eco-dogs, Fargo and Bob, finding endangered whales at sea, and bone-sniffer dogs like Zuma and Jax who can locate decades- or centuries-old human remains in long-forgotten graveyards, wartime crash scenes, or ancient tombs.  It is fascinating stuff, written in an engaging narrative just right for middle readers and accessible to dog-lovers of almost any age, with a various-sized photographs of the featured dogs at work and inset fact-box bios of these mighty mutts.

This is a perfectly executed nonfiction book, from its appealing subject right down to its useful appendix with bibliography of books and articles, listings of web sites, places to visit, "Ways to Get Involved," and a useful glossary. For serious dog fanciers, research report writers, and almost any school or public library, Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World is definitely "Best in Show."

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

What to Be...: Be Happy! by Monica Sheehan


SING AND DANCE!

That's a good place to start, in Monica Sheehan's just revised compilation of cartoons from Real Simple magazine, Be Happy: A Little Book to Help You Live a Happy Life (Little, Brown, 2014).

And if sitting quietly is more your cup of tea, Sheehan has a single-frame panel advising that you just READ A BOOK. Her little spotted pooch is seen engrossed in a doggy tale by F. Spot Fitzgerald.

In feel-good one-frame comic vignettes Sheehan urges that you follow your bliss, whatever you particular pleasure is--doing what you love, following your heart, shown as a red heart with stick legs, leading the way

Other admonitions are to do the right thing--being kind, sharing, not comparing yourself with others but being the best you know how to be, by being open to making mistakes as you stay true to your dreams, and being thankful for what you have.

With short captions and funny depictions of cartoon characters--people, animals, and anthropomorphized objects--this book is good as a pick-me-up read for both grownups and kids.

And if a little book cannot totally "help you have a happy life," at least this little book can make you smile. And that's a start.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Growing Up Green: Maple by Lori Nichols

Maple loved her name.

When she was just a whisper, her parents planted a tiny tree in her honor, and even though Flavia, Millie Jane, Lena, Lily and Constance were good names... Maple was the perfect name.

So even though Maple is the only child in her family, she is not alone. Her maple tree grows up with her. Her parents put her cradle under the tiny leaves of her tree during her first summer, and as she gets bigger, her tree is always there.

When she learns to dance, her tree dances in the breeze with her. She brings dolls outside and makes a playhouse in the shade of her tree.

Sometimes when Maple was noisy (it was a lot), her parents sent her outside to play.

Her tree didn't mind.

One day Maple notices that her tree has lost most of its leaves. It looks cold, so she takes off her new red coat and wraps it around her tree to keep it warm.

Bur even though Maple loves her tree, sometimes she is lonely for a playmate. And again, her parents are way ahead of her. One day they plant a new tree, a willow, and before too long, Maple has a baby sister. She names her sister Willow and starts teaching her how to play, and to the baby's delight, the two trees dance for them both.

Lori Nichols' Maple (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) is an insightful look at growing up, a parallel story of a lucky girl who comes into the world with her very own tree to grow up with her. Nichols' soft full-bleed illustrations are simple and sweet, helping tie a child's growing up to the natural world around her. This is a fine choice for young families expecting a new baby, especially for those who can gift the child with his or her own tree, or a a memorable project for a Kindegarten class, who can come back every year for a snapshot with their tree. With starred reviews for Nichols' first picture book, School Library Journal adds "This is a fresh addition to the standard new sibling fare, and young naturalists will identify with Maple's adventurous and tender spirit."

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Night Life: Sleep Tight, Anna Banana! by Dominique Rogues

IT'S LATE AT NIGHT. ANNA BANANA IS STILL READING, EVEN THOUGH HER PARENTS SAID "LIGHTS OUT!"

Anna is lost in her book, but her plush compatriots are pooped. Her reading lamp is keeping them awake.

"WE'RE SLEEPY!" GRIPES GRIZZLER.

Anna suggests they close their eyes and keeps turning the pages. Foxfire tries to switch off the light, but she yanks him back by his tail without missing a single syllable. The rest of the plush pets try to sneak into a dark corner to get some shuteye. Anna Banana notices and retrieves her entourage rather roughly.

"ANNA LIKES TO HAVE ALL HER STUFFED ANIMALS AROUND HER!"

It's a banana republic in Anna's bedroom! Nobody sleeps till Anna sleeps, apparently.

But at last Anna begins to yawn and snuggle under her comforter. The reading lamp finally goes off with a welcome CLICK!... and so does Anna, drifting into dreamland almost instantly.

CLICK! BOING BOING BOING! HONK! HONK! BANG! THEY'RE OFF!

Her stuffed animals are out to give Anna Banana a little taste of her own medicine. They're ready to rumble! They're bouncing on the bed! They're ready to party hearty!

"ARE YOU NUTS?" SHOUTS ANNA.

Turn about is fair play, her plush pets say, pointing out that they are just taking a page from her book, so to speak. And at last Anna gets it.

"SORRY, MY LITTLE PEEPS!"SHE SAYS.

And it's a good night at last in Dominique Rogues' Sleep Tight, Anna Banana! (Roaring Brook Press, 2014). With a light-hearted lesson in doing unto others, artist Alexis Dermal's droll little plush peeps--Fuzzball, Foxface, Grizzler, Whaley, and the penguin PingPong--give readers plenty of punch lines to ponder in their thought bubbles as they struggle to get some zzzzs. It's a bedtime tale that leaves them laughing and hoping for more Anna Banana.

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