Sunday, January 19, 2020

An Unlikely Mountain Lion: Puma Dreams by Tony Johnston

My gram says everyone needs at least one dream.

Mine is to see a puma.

Gram calls that a dream that may not ever happen.

She says pumas are elusive as a handful of wind.

Her grandmother tells her that pumas are dwindling, wary of being hunted down, keeping to secret places and blending in with the landscape. But the girl has a plan.
I invest my allowance money in a salt lick.

Now I wait.

Time and seasons pass, and the girl watches. Many animals come to the lick, from elk to little birds with tiny beaks. One time the girl finds puma tracks--almost as big as her hand, but the golden shape eludes her. But she doesn't give up looking. And one morning while she's eating oatmeal, her back to the window, she feels it.
My skin begins to prickle.

And it happens. She sees her puma at last.
For me, the puma will always be there.

In her Puma Dreams (Simon and Schuster, 2019), notable author Tony Johnston's story encompasses wistful wishing, nature lore about endangered animals, the value of perseverance, and the awe inherent in being in the presence of a rare and beautiful wild animal in a satisfying story of hope fulfilled and lessons learned. The enchantingly expressive illustrations of Jim LeMarche capture the wide views of the western landscape and what the story calls the "long dreams" of its main character in a way that put the reader deep into the beauty of Johnston's sure-footed storytelling.

An informational section "About the Puma" and a list of sites devoted to puma preservation are appended.

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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Maybe A Rainbow: Henry and Bea by Jessixa Bagley

Henry and Bea were the best of friends.

It was as if they could tell what the other was thinking without saying a word.

But one day Henry has nothing to say, except that he wants to be alone.

It's hard for a friend to know what to do when a good friend suddenly withdraws.

So when their teacher announces a field trip to a local farm, Bea hopes that the outing will help Henry feel better. But he's distant on the bus, and as the farmer takes the kids on a tour of farm animals and equipment, Henry withdraws and goes off on his own.

Seeing him go alone into the barn, Bea follows and finds Henry sitting in the loft on a bale of hay. Silently he shows her a worn cat collar, broken and dirty.
"Buddy died last week," said Henry.

"It's hard to lose a friend," said Bea.

A friend in need is a friend indeed, and Bea's understanding helps her friend deal with his loss, in Jessixa Bagley's Henry and Bea (Neal Porter/Holiday House, 2019). Bagley's gentle narration and soft, evocative spot art and full-page illustrations show readers how sharing sadness can help a friend get though it. Sometimes it is easier to show what to do than to say it. "Bagley's artwork creates an emotionally resonant experience," says Kirkus Reviews, and Horn Book adds, "A welcome addition to the shelf of books about grief."

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Friday, January 17, 2020

"Good Both Going and Coming Back": Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler

Rabbit lived in a quiet field of wheat that he never left--not even once--even though there was a road. And even though he dreamed that he did every night.

But Rabbit has a friend, Dog, who has a motorbike and once followed that road everywhere, where he saw many wonderful things.
He loved telling Rabbit about the places he'd felt most alive.

Dog made Rabbit feel that he had been with him in all those places. But one day Dog was gone, leaving Rabbit with only remembered stories and his motorbike.

For a long time Rabbit stays home, but when he looks at the motorbike and remembers Dog's stories he realizes that he, too, can now go anywhere he wants as Dog did. Still, Rabbit is timid.

Yet one day Rabbit decides to ride the motorbike--
Just down the road....But roads are long.

Rabbit forgot that.

Like all roads, Rabbit's road is connected to all the roads in the world and he saw much of it--giant redwoods, the ocean, and the great desert....
And Rabbit felt Dog right there with him.

And full of stories that are his own, Rabbit returns and finds a young friend to share them with, in Kate Hoefler's Rabbit and the Motorbike: (Books about Friendship, Inspirational Books for Kids, Children's Adventure Books, Children's Emotion Books) (Chronicle Books, 2019). This is a quiet  book with beautiful illustrations, a layered metaphoric story about the courage to discover the world and yourself, well and simply told. Says Kirkus in their starred reviews, "Exhilarating... Graceful text and evocative illustrations combine in this story about ... facing fears and trying something new."

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Thursday, January 16, 2020

CATITUDE? Bad Dog by Mike Boldt

"Look what I got for my birthday! A pet DOG!

My dog has a cute little nose.

Her name is Rocky."

But Rocky isn't your usual dog. She won't come when called. She doesn't love to go outside for walks. She refuses to walk on her leash, but she loves to plays with it.

She claws the furniture. She won't come when she's called, or sit, or stay!

And she refuses to do tricks, but she likes to lick her owner's toes.
"EEWWWW! She's a BAD DOG!"

But Rocky is good at climbing trees. She never barks at the mail man. And she never lifts her leg to go potty on the fake ficus plant. She doesn't chew shoes (although she does like to play with the shoelaces). She likes to play with the water in the goldfish bowl, but she doesn't care for baths at all!

"You know what? I think Rocky would make a pretty good CAT."

Of course, in Mike Boldt's Bad Dog (Doubleday and Company, 2019), Rocky is obviously a fluffy black-and-white cat, and despite her new owner's confusion, exhibiting clearly feline behavior throughout the story that will have kids first bemused, then amused, and finally giggling at Rocky's clearly atypical canine behavior. Mike Boldt's well-paced narration and cute and clever illustrations make this new book perfect for reading aloud and will leave youngsters rolling on the reading rug with hilarity. Not to be missed!

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

TOP THIS! Crock and Turtle: The Bestest Friends Ever! by Mike Wohnoutka

Croc and Turtle are best friends. But that doesn't mean that Croc is above showing off his prowess around little Turtle.



The rock is heavier than it looks. But with a grunt, Croc manages to get it a little way off the ground.


Elephant strolls up and asks what they're up to, and of course he hoists the rock and even tosses it high into the air. But Croc doesn't want to lose face in front of his friend Turtle, so he asks Turtle if he'd like to see him leap over the rock.

Turtle is duly impressed until Rabbit comes by and asks for a try. He hops high over the rock and declares it easy-peasy. Croc tries to redeem his reputation by running fast, but little Cheetah breezes right by him.

But Turtle has the best comeback ever.

It's a big world out there and there's always someone who is better at something, except for being your best friend's best friend, in Mike Wohnoutka's just published Croc And Turtle! The Bestest Friends Ever! (Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2020). In a sweet story of Best Friends Forever, Wohnoutka's perky, googly-eyed characters, done in black line and light gouache, take a light-hearted look at competition which proves again that there are different strokes for different folks. It's all relative, but best friends just can't be beat, in the latest sequel to author-illustrator Mike Whonoutka's earlier Croc 'n' Turtle tale, Croc And Turtle: Snow Fun!

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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

No Changes! Anxious Charlie to the Rescue by Terry Milne

Charlie is nervous. After all, bad things COULD happen any day.

But Charlie's got it all figured out. He does everything the same way every day, and so far, everything is okay.

He hops on his hind legs when he gets out of bed.

Every day, Charlie walked once around the fire hydrant on his way to the market. And he always walked on the same side of the old oak tree.

Every night he arranges his toy animals in the same order before he goes to bed. And it must work--nothing bad has happened yet!

But one morning Charlie is startled out of sleep by his phone, ringing anxiously. There's no time for protective hops! Duck is on the line, quacking frantically.
Their friend Hans was stuck.

There's no time for protective routines. Charlie runs straight to the scene, where he finds his friends looking worried and only terrier Hans' rear end and tail sticking out of a long pipe. Charlie is the only one who can get into the pipe to help Hans.

And Charlie knows what to do!

Grabbing one of Duck's feathers in his mouth, he pushes his way down into the other end of the pipe.
Charlie tickled,

and Hans giggled.

And Poof! Hans exhales and POPs out of the pipe!

Charlie can't believe it. Something bad happened and he handled it!
On the way home, Charlie didn't think about which way he passed the oak tree.

Real life is just one long ad-lib, as the Charlie learns, in Terry Milne's funny tale of an obsessive-compulsive weiner dog, Anxious Charlie to the Rescue (Candlewick Press, 2018). Charlie is an adorable dachshund hero who discovers that a little improvisation in his life can be life-changing. All of author-illustrator's Milne's animal characters are charming--Bruce the droopy-jowled hound and Hans the ring-eyed bull terrier especially--done spot-art style on each page, along with a couple of double-page spreads, in which Charlie and all his toy animals snooze in abandon, spread-eagled all over the bed. Solid storytelling and delightfully funny illustrations make this one a lighthearted look at OCD that might nudge some young worrywarts out of their routines.

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Monday, January 13, 2020

Snow Friend: Little Mole's Wish by Sang Keun Kim

It's the first snow of the winter, and Little Mole is waiting for the bus home from school. Lonely, he builds a big snowball to keep him company.

"Can I tell you something?" whispered Little Mole. "I just moved here. I don't have any friends."

But when the Mr. Bear's bus arrives, he tells Little Mole in no uncertain terms that he can't bring a big snowball on board.
"Snow's just snow. It'll melt."

Hmmm. Maybe if he sculpts his snowball into a bear, the next bus driver will let him on. But driver Fox scoffs at the idea of a snow bear on a bus and drives on.

Little Mole tries to make his bear look more like him. He sculpts a snow backpack and puts his own knitted cap on his snow bear's head. As it grows dark, the two stand hopefully together at the bus stop. Little Mole makes a wish on a falling star. Finally a kindly driver stops to pick them up.
"Look at you two! You must be freezing."

On the warm bus, Little Mole falls asleep,and when he wakes, he is alone. The driver says he thinks his friend already got off. Sadly Little Mole walks to his house and tells his grandmother about his friend's disappearance.
"I wish I could help," she says.

But in the morning there is a surprise waiting outside for Little Mole, in Sang Keun Kim's tender and sweet story of a snowy day and friendship lost and found, Little Mole's Wish (Schwartz and Wade, 2019).  Kim's soft, muted, and lovely illustrations offer a touch of the magic that friendship brings.

Definitely share this one with Raymond Briggs' magical snow fantasy story, The Snowman.

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Sunday, January 12, 2020

For Everything There Is a Season: Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney

When Ethan had to eat his pancakes with applesauce instead of maple syrup one Sunday morning, he knew it was almost sugaring time.

"Is the sap running yet?" he asked.

Dad shook his head. "Not until the days get warmer."

But the days stay cold and the nights remain long. Dad tries buttered cornbread and oatmeal with raisins and walnuts, and at least one thing changes. Ethan chomps a walnut and discovers a loose tooth.

Still the weather stays cold and his tooth stays loose.
Now Ethan had two things to wait for.

Ethan notices that the sun seems to come up a little bit earlier, but his tooth is still loose--


At lunchtime his tooth comes out and now he's got a surprise for his dad... and there is a surprise for Ethan when he gets off the school bus....

The sap is running. The maple trees are tapped and buckets are filling up, and it's sugaring off time for sure. Dad and Ethan carry in enough sap to boil up a batch of sweet syrup together.

And soon there's maple syrup for Ethan's Sunday pancakes, in Gary D. Schmidt's and Elizabeth Stickney's beautiful tale of the fullness of time, Almost Time (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion Books, 2020). Spring and maple syrup come in their own sweet time in this gentle tale of patience, wisdom, and pleasure in the cycles of the seasons and the enduring warmth of family life.

Newbery and Printz Award-winning author Schmidt paces this story perfectly for preschool and primary readers who are often impatient as they wait for good things to happen, and in his endearing mixed-media illustrations, artist G. Brian Karas slyly portrays the subtle changes in the turning of the season toward spring which young readers will no doubt spot before Ethan does. A perfect book about waiting for good things to happen and the cycle of the seasons of life.

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Saturday, January 11, 2020

Bunny in a Tree? Hi, Jack! by Mac Barnett and Greg Pizzola

Jack is a bunny who hops to a different drummer. He has a thing for living, not in bunny burrows, but in a tree--a tree house of his own.

But Jack gets tired of the "high" life, or perhaps he gets lonely, so he climbs down and goes out to find a friend. He meets an old lady Hare, and, er, borrows her purse.


Inside Jack finds some lipstick, which he tries on his own lips before returning the purloined purse, but he keeps the lipstick and leaves a trail of bright red graffiti behind himself until at last he meets his friend, a big white rabbit named Rex.

In the best-selling author, Mac Barnett's comic title in his easy reading pre-primer-level books, Hi, Jack! (A Jack Book) (Viking Books, 2019), author Barnett has his co-creator, the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winning illustrator Greg Pizzoli, along to document Jack's snacks and acts in this super-simple series of silly stories for beginners. As Publishers Weekly puts it in a starred review, "Barnett works wonders with a limited vocabulary, packing the stories with humor, tension—and admonishments of Jack. Pizzoli’s scruffy-edged, emotive cartoons are just as funny, and he carries the comedy into drawing lessons and closing endpapers.”

Other books in the Jack series are Jack at Bat (A Jack Book) and Jack Goes West. (A Jack Book)

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Friday, January 10, 2020

On the Ice! A Day for Skating by Sarah Sullivan

It's sunny and cold. The ice is dry. And it's time to give ice-skating a try!

A turn with Dad, by her side, and then it's time to for that first glide.

Tap and step,
then slide and turn.
Whoops! Fall down.

That's how we learn.

There are lots of ways to fall down before a novice ice skater gets the hang of it. It happens to everybody who tries out the ice.

But after a break to thaw out in the warming hut with cocoa and cookies, our little would-be skater takes her first solo strokes, while all about her young skating stars practice their moves, couples polish their ice dancing, young hockey skaters push the puck toward the goal, and speedy skaters race under the bridge.

The sun drops in the sky, and when there are mittens to dry, it's good there's a fire pit nearby.
Logs pop! Fire sparks.

Toasty fingers. Glowing hearts

It's home to a toe-thawing bath and a sleepy bedtime story for our young first-timer, in Sarah Sullivan's idyllic winter's tale, A Day for Skating (Candlewick Press, 2019), illustrated joyfully by artist Madeline Valentine, whose jolly illustrations will inspire young non-skaters to give it a try. Sullivan's and Valentine's rhyming skating story has the additional advantage of showing grownups at play, a notable change from their usual roles in children's books.

And just for the fun of it, author and illustrator provide an unexpected conclusion as deer, rabbits, and raccoons come out to visit the icy pond by moonlight. For a glorious winter outing, ice is nice and will suffice!

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Thursday, January 09, 2020

Not What It Seems! The Thief Knot: A Greenglass House Story by Kate Milford

Marzana and Nialla are dissatisfied. Desperate for some excitement, they had lurked at a sidewalk table with their coffees, surveilling what they earnestly hoped was a robbery about to take place inside the jewelry store. Instead, it appeared to be the purchase of a surprise engagement ring for a happy young couple.

So the guy had looked a bit shifty. A high percentage of who lived within the city-within-the-city of Nagspeake called the Liberty were shifty--or had been to one degree or another in a previous life," thought Marzana.

"I should have known it was nothing...because... we live in the Liberty, and this is the place where
nothing happens."

The neighborhood of the Liberty should be an intriguing environment, being the sanctuary city of former seafaring smugglers. And when talk spreads of the kidnapping of ten-year-old Peony Hyde, and Marzana's sometimes investigator parents receive a copy of the ransom note delivered by the mysterious Emmett, who brought up the possible involvement of someone called "Snakebird," Marzana seizes on solving the case as her remedy for ennui. With Nialla as co-sleuth, she organizes a group to help in their investigations, even calling their friend Milo, resident of the peculiar Greenglass House, where they had been previously involved in a puzzling Christmas enigma, for advice.

Marzana and Nialla recruit fans of fantasy fiction from Lucky's bookstore--Emilia, privy to many secrets of their school's historic building, Ciro, a self-declared born camoufleur, J. J., a magician, and Milo's offering, Meddie, a sometimes visible ghost resident at Greenglass House whose talents including invisibility, walking through walls, and supernatural sight and hearing. When the crew of six discover that their substitute math teacher is the great nephew of Andrew Cormorant, called "the Snakebird," they suspect that the kidnapped Peony may be hidden at the apartment of their real math teacher and indeed they find a little girl chained there--one who turns out to be a counterfeit Peony Hyde, whose real name is, interestingly, Tasha Cormorant.

Now, as Sherlock would say, "The case is afoot!" Marzana's crew, self-named the Thief Knot, discover an undercover conductor on the mostly abandoned Nagspeake subway system, the Belowground, who takes the young sleuths to a nightmarish abandoned station, overgrown with the ornamental ironwork which infests the Liberty, overgrowing buildings, walkways, and especially subway tunnels, where the real kidnap victim is perhaps to be found.

With a plot with as many convolutions as the enchanted ironwork of The Liberty, Kate Milford's forthcoming third book in series, The Thief Knot: A Greenglass House Story (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020), nothing or no one is quite what it seems in a place where time and setting overlay each other. Like the Harry Potter series, the plot draws on the strengths of the young friends to solve a puzzle with many pieces, a band of unlikely mates--differently-abled in abilities, knowledge, and exceptional powers, but one in loyalty.

This is no quick-read Nancy Drew mystery, but one to be taken slowly, savored for its atmosphere, its murky clues, and shifting plot. In the Liberty, the haven for old secrets, Marzana not only helps solve the mystery of the missing student, but also some of the mysteries of her own parents' hidden histories. Milford's over-arching theme of connection, the links between people, places, and their joint history, provides a part-fantasy/mystery tale perfect for middle readers who like to solve puzzles that range from relationships to crimes of the past.

Previous books in this series are Greenglass House (read review here) and sequel Ghosts of Greenglass House (read review here).

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Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The Challenge! Ella McQueen Kickball Queen by Beth Mills

Ella rules the playground.

She's the kickball queen whose kicks cannot be caught--not the Boomer or the Zinger, and definitely NOT the BOMB!

But one day there's a new girl at school who takes to the field and dares to get under one of Ella's kicks and shouts...



The booming ball knocks her down, but she holds onto it.

Ella is OUT.

While all the kids crowd around Riya to congratulate her, Ella loses it right there by the plate.


And then the recess bell rings. Ella knows she's broken the first rule of sports: Don't Be a Bad Sport.

And the next day, when Riya deftly fields Ella's best bouncer and tags her out, Ella is mad and then sad. But finally... She slowly walks up to Riya.

Winning is great, but Ella is lucky to learn those great truths of games and life: You win some and you lose some, and its corollary, "Wait till next time!" Ella gets it that if you choose to play, it's how you face that challenge, how you play the game, that makes sports possible. In Beth Mills' new Ella McKeen, Kickball Queen (CarolRhoda Books, 2019), her all-star girl recognizes that Riya's challenge makes her game better, and Ella is already planning how to sharpen her Zinger for her next time at the plate. Says School Library Journal, "Emotions ring true in this relatable story."

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What Would We Be Without Bees? The Thing About Bees: A Love Letter by Shabazz Larkin

Sometimes bees can be a bit rude.
They fly in your face and prance on your food.

If a bee has to sting you, it definitely hurts.
But life without bees would be even worse.

Without bees there would be no flowers, (or cauliflowers), no watermelons, no strawberry shortcake or apple pie, no mangoes for smoothies, no cucumbers for pickles on your hamburgers.
When a bee and a flower love each other, a fruit is born!

It's called POLLINATION!

Most growing thing depend on bees (and their associates--butterflies and other bugs, hummingbirds and even fruit bats) to spread pollen from flower to flower so that plants make fruits with seeds and their seeds can get planted to grow more plants that make flowers to be pollinated--well, you get the idea!

So what would we be without BEES?


In his The Thing About Bees: A Love Letter (Readers to Eaters, 2019), author-illustrator  Shabazz Larkin offers much knowledge about the bee and the life cycle of plants, and much wisdom in a sweet lesson in parental love. Parents are the first teachers, and this book offers a lot of information about living in peace with nature. A double-page spread offers "Everything You Need to Know About How Not to Get Stung" along with information about various members of the bee family, from "Kind" bumblebees to "Kinda Mean" yellow jackets and what to do to co-exist with those stinging insects. Larkin's theme is that we must all be "bee keepers," and his lively and lovely illustrations of bees doing their thing in various settings and kids encountering them is a cheery little science lesson on a very serious subject. Says School Library Journal, “Starring an affectionate family and a whole lot of bees, Larkin offers up a sparkling celebration of necessary pollinators…."

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Tuesday, January 07, 2020

To Blend Or Not To Blend: Matchy Matchy by Erin McGill


Maria's mother has a mania for matching. Maria's socks  match her shoes, which match her headband, which matches her dress, which even matches her chair!

Maria has had it with blending in with the furniture. Not to mention the walls. She designs her manifesto.

She transforms herself into a one-girl protest march-with signs.




But Mom has her own manifesto--decreeing pink and red for everything on Valentine's Day, commanding holiday sweaters for every season, and coordinated accessories for everything.

Maria fights back with her own merry mixes--foofy, feathery, stripey, mixed animal prints, with checks and plaids.

But, in Erin McGill's stylish latest, Matchy Matchy (Cameron Books, 2019), there comes a time to call a truce in the pattern wars, as Mom makes a cameo appearance in a dizzy combo of polka dots and petunias and the two agree to disagree in the "I Gotta Be Me" conclusion. A fun book for mothers and daughters to laugh together with, along with a little lesson on compromise.

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Monday, January 06, 2020

LETTER Perfect! The Thank You Letter by Jane Cabrera

Grace's birthday was almost here. She had written a list.

It's quite a wide-ranging selection of birthday wishes--a puppy, a robot, a tent, pens, a how-to-build-a-den book, and shoes with sparkles.

The celebration was everything a birthday party should be, but the next day brings a certain responsibility--writing proper thank you notes! And thanks to one perspicacious benefactor, she has just what she needs for the task--new pens and pencils!

Grace thanks her Nana and Granpops for the toy dog; she thanks Milly and Billy for the sparkly shoes. She thanks her parents for the great tent and for a top-notch birthday party. She thanks Noah for his homemade robot costume, and especially Jayla--for all the colored pens and pencils!

She even writes a note to her teacher, Mr. Jones, for his lessons on writing all 26 letters in the alphabet, and a special welcome to her kitty and her newest pet....


They must be terrific thank-yous, too, because when Grace comes home the next day, the walls of her new tent have a big surprise--
It was full of LOVE notes!

Grace gratefully read each and every one of those notes. And then there's a surprise on the last page:



Jane Cabrera's The Thank You Letter (Holiday House, 2019) embraces the ideas of gratitude and the joy of giving and receiving. Author-illustrator Jane Cabrera's well-paced text is letter perfect, and her illustrations are well-placed and picture perfect, too--adorable child-like characters, cute pets and toys, and a three-page gatefold that shows off Grace's fan mail displayed inside her new tent. A perfect read for inspiring thank-yous and a natural lead-in to primary-grade lessons on writing a personal letter.

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Sunday, January 05, 2020

Flying the Coop! Chicken Break: A Counting Book by Cate Berry

The hens are feeling fenced in! The cocks are quite claustrophobic. The chicks are ready to fly the coop!

The hens have had it with the hen house!

The hens hatch the plan.
Four chickens on the lamb.

But lambs don't make for very good getaway vehicles, so the pullets go incognito, copy the code, and sneak to the poultry yard gate to upload it.

It's the great chicken coop breakout!

What do chickens do when they split the chicken yard?

They pig out on pretzels, make like mall rats, shop till their tail feathers drop, and take in their fave show, Bantam of the Opera!

But as it gets to be time to go to roost, the hens are homesick for the old home-sweet-coop. So they fly the bright lights by any means possible--taxi, tunnels, jet-packs, sky diving, and zip-lining!

And one by one they hot-foot it into their homey coop--
Shushing, clucking, one last poop!

It's time for the hens to hit the hay in their own hen house, in Cate Berry's merry Chicken Break!: A Counting Book. Author Cate Berry takes care of the clever rhyming couplets, and artist Charlotte Adler adds her cute cartoon chickens in this quirky tale of the great poultry getaway. Pair this one with Cate Berry's  Tiny Shrimp Don't Do Bedtime! (see review here).

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Saturday, January 04, 2020

Go BIG! Roar Like A Dandelion! by Ruth Kraus

Sometimes you want to be POWERFUL.


Sometimes you want to be CHANGE THINGS.

Sometimes you just want to make things BETTER.

It's go big or go home, in the notable Ruth Kraus' never-before-published Roar Like a Dandelion (HarperCollins, 2019), in which the charming little critters created by artist Sergio Ruzzier have their way through the usual ho-hum of alphabet books. A bunny blasts a piggie with a giant cornet; trees undress for the wintry season; a kitty searches for verses under a single bedstead; a poodle plays like a pine tree, and a political piglet casts a vote for himself--and all do their thing in alphabetical order, making Kraus' manuscript come alive for youngsters today in superbly silly style.

Kirkus joins the praise in a firmament of starred reviews, saying, "This work adroitly bridges the more-than-half-century gap between two accomplished artists.... An abecedarian catalog of delights."

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Friday, January 03, 2020

The Boy With The Bull Fiddle On His Back! Double Bass Blues by Andrea J. Loney




String bass player Nic takes a bow to the applause of his peers as practice breaks up and the kids in the band pack up to go home.

After school orchestra practice Nic straps his big double bass on his back and makes his way across town. It's not an easy trip.

Nic's trip begins with a shortcut over a backyard fence--with quite a tussle between his double bass case and a determined dog. Bass fiddle on his back, he has a crowded bus ride, a run through the rain, and a clamber up several flights of narrow stairways--until he at last knocks on Granddaddy's door.


Little Nic takes his place and the jazzmen jam together--each one, but as one.

Andrea J. Loney's Double Bass Blues (Alfred A. Knopf, 2019) is told in rhythmic language, exuberantly illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez in swirling colors and firm, sure-handed line from rehearsal to jam session in a natural progression in which music, words, and feeling come together as one. Says School Library Journal, "Colorful, full of movement, limited in text but loaded with emotion, this is an ode to the diversity of music...."

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Thursday, January 02, 2020

Can You Choose Your Muse? Little Red Rhyming Hood by Sue Fliess

Once upon a time there was a girl who spoke only in rhyme.

Little Red's problem is that she's a poet. And the kids in her class know it. Everything she tries to say just happens to come out that way!

"Want to ride the swings with me?
Race our bikes or climb a tree?

It's a talent that can be enjoyable, but a problem when it's unavoidable. Constant versification doesn't make for good conversation. People find it off-putting to rhyme ALL THE TIME, and at school Brad Wolf, the class bully, makes it his job to point that out.

Brad the Bad makes Red sad. She hurries to hide at Grandma's house every day after school. Grandma tries to help by making her a pretty red hoodie, but when Red wears it to school, the kids call her Little Red Rhyming Hood. But then one day Grandma has something else for her--
A flyer for a poetry contest!

"Maybe I'll meet kids like me,
Who also speak in poetry!"

Full of hope, Little Red heads for the contest, not dozing but busy composing, when Bad Brad Wolf jumps out and scares her big time.
"EEK!" Red shrieked.

"Sweet sonnets, Brad. You startled me!
Were you crouched behind that... bush?

Must we now suppose Rhyming Red can only speak in prose? Yes, the curse is re-versed! Now Bad Brad can only speak in verse!
"Help me! Make it go away!
I don't want to rhyme all day!"

Red once longed to lose her talent for rhyming,
But this is a case of very bad timing!

It's a jolly elaboration on the value of collaboration, in this novel take-off on the Red Riding Hood trope. Rhyming Red and Bad Brad Wolf wind up cozy when they merge their poesy to take the poetry prize, in Sue Fliess' clever-as-ever latest, Little Red Rhyming Hood Albert Whitman and Company, 2019). Working with artist Petro Boulobasis, her collaborator in their 2018 hit, Mary Had a Little Lab, (see review here), there is playful wordsmithery and comic illustrative skill in this tale of making the best of the curse of verse.

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Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Summering: Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things by Jacqueline Firkins

It's an understatement to say that this has been the winter of Edie's discontent. Her mom has died and Edie and her best friend Shondra have had a horrible quarrel. And now Edie's been sent off to her wealthy suburbanite aunt and uncle in Mansfield, Massachusetts, to finish high school there and summer over with them until she can find a way to fund college. Edie hates being cast as the ragged orphan, and the rescue is a dismal prospect.

And her fears of being received as the poor relation are not unjustified.

At first the car ride was just annoying. Edie slouched in the back seat of the SUV, clutching her mom's sticker covered guitar case. Her Aunt Norah blithely rattled on from the passenger seat. "Poor Edith" must realize that she lucky to have left foster care for a "real home," she says.

"Her wardrobe was atrocious. Her posture was appalling. She had no understanding of proper diet or personal care.

And that hair!" Norah exclaimed. "Good lord, what will the neighbors say!"

The only thing Edie has to look forward to is seeing Sebastian, the boy-next-door with whom on one summer visit she had blissfully shared tree-climbing, Pixie sticks, and her first kiss at age ten. But while Sebastian is just as kind and welcoming as always, most of his time is taken up by a demanding and gorgeous girlfriend, Claire. And then her cousins, Maria and Julia, take Edie on as a potential Aschenputtel, woefully in need of a magical makeover.
"We get to go shopping!" Maria said. "Dad gave us his credit card."

"You're totally Cinderella," Julia gushed. "Which means we have to find you a Prince Charming."

"You, Miss Edie Price, are about to be introduced to Mansfield society," said Maria.

And before she's even learned to walk in high heels, Prom is approaching. It seems that in Mansfield society, she can't opt not to go. And when the dazzlingly handsome and charming Henry finds time away from his other admirers to pay attention to Edie, she impulsively asks him to Prom. She finds herself impossibly falling for the magnetically attractive Henry and for the romance of it all. But something about it just doesn't satisfy her expectations. There's still that connection to Sebastian, and when he and Claire part, Edie realises that the Cinderella role with Henry doesn't quite fit into her happy ever after....

In her just published Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019), Jacqueline Firkins clearly molds her modern novel in the format of Jane Austen's classic social romance, Mansfield Park, even using some of the same character names--Julia, Maria, Claire, Tom, and Henry-- and although Fanny becomes Edie and Edmund becomes Sebastian, Firkins keeps basic personalities easily recognizable and even leaves behind "bread crumbs" of plot links--names, games, jewelry, and places embedded for those Austen afficionados to discover.

Love and marriage and getting on in the world have changed since the early 1800s, but the process remains quite recognizable in this engaging social coming-of-age story of a girl finding her way through the twists of happily-ever-after, leaving plenty of the twists of true love left yet entangled, perhaps awaiting a sequel.

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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Condition of Employment: Growing Up Grouchy: The Story of Oscar the Grouch by Michaele Munteon


He was named for a passing garbage truck with the sign Oscar's Trash Service on its side and a motto that read "Dump It or Lump It."

And as he grows, Oscar meets all the expectations of the Grouch family. He grows a unibrow which looks as if a caterpillar is napping over his eyes. His favorite food is crabapple sauce, and for his first birthday, his family gives him his first little trash can and a starter pack of garbage.

And would you believe Oscar's second word was "NO?"

It's a hard job, but somebody's got to do it, and being a grouch is actually a condition of employment for Oscar. He takes to his frowning, scowling, and pouting lessons as if he was born to it--which it seems he was. Think about it! Because Oscar takes care of being grouchy, the other Sesame Street characters don't have to be. They're free to be fun-loving and friendly, while Oscar is the Bah-Humbug Scrooge of Sesame Street.

In celebration of Sesame Street's fiftieth anniversary, Random House has introduced a series which reveal the backstory of their star characters, and in the new Jelly Bean Books edition, written by Michaela Muntean and illustrated by David Prebenna, Growing Up Grouchy: The Story of Oscar the Grouch (Jellybean Books(R)) (Random House/Jelly Bean Books, 2019) gives toddler fans of Sesame Street a chance to meet Baby Oscar. Share this one with How to Be a Grouch (Sesame Street).

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