Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant by Paul Gude



Since Giraffe is speechless, she tries to show her fondness for Elephant by serenading on the alpenhorn. Elephant tries to be tactful about the early morning honking but Giraffe is obviously hurt.

But she tries to make up for her faux pas. Elephant remarks that she has always wanted to go for a toboggan ride. She shows her friend a picture. Giraffe grabs a welding torch and stays up late to build a toboggan.Politely Elephant pulls it out to an open spot on the sunny savannah and Giraffe takes a seat behind her.


Elephant tries to soothe her friend's feelings by promising Giraffe a surprise party and urges her friend to make a list of what she would like. Giraffe's requests are specific.




Poor Giraffe's surprise party is certainly a surprise, even if it is not exactly what she asked for. Suffice it to say that request #3 turns out to be a large sheet cake with "NO" spelled out in frosting on top. But who can be disappointed with the efforts of such a good friend?

Fans of Mo Willem's Elephant and Piggie books will find the same deadpan delivery and odd-couple humor in Paul Gude's A Surprise for Giraffe and Elephant (Giraffe and Elephant are Friends) (Hyperion Books, 2015). Gude's artwork is similarly simple but telling, with flat color and strong black lines delineating the characters, and minimalist storytelling that lets the understated expressions of his cartoon characters reveal the affection between his unlikely friends. Beginning readers will find this one easy going, and the charming naivety of Elephant and Giraffe will draw knowing giggles from slightly older kids.

For a double dose of Gude's sweet silliness, pair this one with its predecessor, When Elephant Met Giraffe (Giraffe and Elephant).

Labels: ,

Friday, April 24, 2015

FIRE!! I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 by Lauren Tarshis

"Amazing, isn't it?" said Mr. Morrow, smiling. "When I was born, Chicago was just a little town on the marsh. Today, Chicago is is one of the the most important cities in the world."

"It's beautiful," said Mama.

But suddenly Mama's expression darkened. "Does the sky look odd to you"" she asked, her brow wrinkling.

"Must be a fire," Mr. Morrow said matter-of-factly. "We're having fires practically every night now. The city is bone dry."

The word
fire sent a flash of fear across Mama's face.

"Don't worry," Mr. Morrow said, giving Mama a reassuring pat. "Chicago has one of the best fire departments in the country."

Oscar had not wanted to leave their farm in Minnesota, the one Papa and Mama had worked so hard to build. But Papa was dead, and Mama had married Joseph Morrow. The farm was sold and the new family boarded the train to begin their new life together in Chicago. "We'll have dinner at the Palmer House, and the fire will be over before we finish supper," Joseph Morrow had said.

But when Oscar is separated from Mama and Mr. Morrow on the busy streets, Oscar finds himself alone as fire begin exploding all around him. Sparks rain down, burning his skin and threatening to set his clothes on fire, and the explosions spread like the prairie wildfire he remembers from Minnesota. Oscar comes to the aid of a little girl and her three-year-old brother and decides to try to find his parents in the reputedly fireproof Palmer House. But when they finally push their way through the terrified crowds on the streets, they find the Palmer House itself in flames.

A wall of fire roared down the street. The wind gusted, a hot and poisonous blast. A blazing sheet peeled off the fire. It swirled through the air, a flaming twister more horrifying than anything Oscar could have imagined. Oscar stood there, frozen in fear.

Then he heard someone calling his name.

Lauren Tarshis' newest, I Survived #11: I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 (Scholastic Press, 2015), continues her top-selling fiction series about young Americans who survive historical disasters. Tarshis's taut storytelling and well-researched detail put young readers right in the middle of this event, an epic moment in time that will keep even reluctant readers flying through its 96 pages as Oscar and his new step-father fight their way through the flaming streets and swim the burning river to escape the Great Fire. For readers who want more, such as the historical backstory of the Great Fire, the author provides a question-and-answer section and bibliographic references for further research, including Chicago's noted website on this event.

Other books in the historical fiction I Survived series include I Survived the Destruction of Pompeii, AD 79, I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912, I Survived #8: I Survived the Japanese Tsunami, 2011, and I Survived the Attacks of September 11th, 2001. (I Survived, Book 6)

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cuddly Creatures: Mommy Loves Baby by Troy Muilenburg


Mommy love (and Daddy love, too) is the simple theme of Troy Muilenburg's Mommy Loves Baby (Curtis Christine Press, 2015).

Parent and child together--from the roly-poly pandas on the cover, the s-l-o-o-w-l-y snuggling sloths in the treetops, to the emperor penguin papa protecting his chick from the chill between his feathered feet-- all are shown in fond familial poses. A gorilla father offers a young one a juicy leaf, and Mama Elephant gently touches her trunk to her baby's in a shared kiss.

Author Troy Muilenburg's easily repeated refrains are set off in facing pages with illustrator Andrea Dickkut's soft but realistic portraits of mothers and fathers separately or together nurturing their little ones. This sturdy board book also teaches little ones the names and a bit about the habitat of animals from tiger to koala, rhinoceros to hippopotamus. The notes and chords for an accompanying song are printed at the bottom of each page of text, providing a bonus lullaby for little humans at bedtime.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Out-of-Body: The Trap by Steven Artnson

The last day of summer break before my seventh grade year was the first time I ever got punched in the face.

"Why are we spending the last day of vacation trying to help Carl?" I complained, wiping sweat from my brow as we four (me and my twin Helen with our best friends Alan and Nicki) pedaled along. Every kid around Farro was anxious about Carl. He was the worst bully in Johnson County and he'd gotten twice as bad this summer. I was terrified of him and plenty nervous about scouting around his secret hideout. But I was willing to, mainly because Carl was Alan's brother, and Alan was my best friend.

There was another reason I was out here today-- Helen's best friend Nicki. I had a crush on her

Henry is a worrier, and he's right to be afraid of encountering Carl in his hideout. Just as Henry crams the damp books hidden there into his rucksack, Carl appears and gives Henry his first black eye with one mighty punch. Helen jumps on Carl's broad back with a choke hold and in the melee', the four of them manage to escape on their bikes, with Carl bellowing strangely after them:

"I'm going to live forever!"

Carl's words make no sense to Henry, but that night Henry opens his rucksack, and one of the books, Subtle Travel and the Subtle Self by Abe Moller. intrigues him as soon as he reads the first page.

"You think you are one person in one body, but that is a fault of perception. In fact, you are one person in two bodies. Your second body: weightless, massless, flow--the subtle form. Learn: the physical sleeps; the subtle awakes."

The secret to awakening this other self requires repeating a series of numbers, Fibonacci numbers, as Henry learns, while falling asleep. Henry tries it.

Looking down at myself I saw that my arm, which I'd balanced upright, was lying on my chest. My body was sleeping peacefully. I could see the black eye starting up where Carl had punched me.

When Henry follows the book's directions to rise from his sleeping physical self he finds that he sees everything in the dark in a new way. Henry shares the secret with Helen, Alan, and Nicki, and while their physical selves sleep soundly, they set out to discover the link between the mysterious book and the missing Carl.

At first walking the night together as spirit forms in great fun, but soon what the friends discover is more strange and threatening than they could have imagined. The subtle world has its own practitioners and its own system of order, policed by NFTSA, the National Flux Travel Security Association, threatened by its prophet, Abe Moller, whose goal is to find a way to live forever, free from the inevitable death of his physical body. And, as Henry and his friends discover, Carl, the not-too-bright bully of Farro, Iowa, is unfortunately Moller's chosen guinea pig.

Steven Arntson's The Trap (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) combines his spot-on setting in rural Iowa in 1963 with a sort of hypernatural uber-world, part The Da Vinci Code, part Maxwell Smart's KAOS. Arntson deftly handles the juxtaposition of the very real small town world of  four early adolescents dealing with peers, alcoholic and unemployed parents, and the all-important fall prom date with an amoral but irresistible plane of existence that promises the hope of eternal life. Fans of the supernatural will recognize that the novel's quick conclusion begs for a sequel that reveals more of the rationale behind the author's subtle realm.

"An amazing blend of mystery, romance, science fiction and social commentary," says Kirkus in their starred review.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Doze-apalooza: SnoozeFEST by Samantha Berger




But Snuggleford is not without her aspirations. Her passion is attending the biggest sleep festival in the land, the annual SnoozeFEST. She rests up all year to get in shape for the big event, packs her comfiest comforters, fluffiest feather bedding, and poofiest pillows, and heads over to the venue at the NuzzleDome.

All the pro sleepers stow their gear and head for vendors' row.



She hits the hot-milk-and-honey bar for a retire-riffic toddy and settles into her homey hammock while the opening cradle-rocker bands--Dormant Gabbana, Louis Futon, Alexander McDream, Diane Firstinbed--do their sound checks. Then the house lights go down and Chamomile Rage take the stage for the first set, a real snore from the reactions of the crowd, who settle deep in their sleeping bags. Poets go up for a sleepy slam onstage, and the classical ensembles take the limelight-the Quiet Quartet, Tranquility Trio, Drowsy Duet, Sweet Dreams, and Deep Hiber-Nation--lulling the fest-goers into an altered state of soporific consciousness.

"I'll See You In My Dreams" is the theme song of Snuggleford Cuddlebun and the other somnolent concert-goers, in Samantha Berger's latest, Snoozefest (Dial Books, 2015). A "lazy, hazy" spoof of music festivals and the notorious energy of sloths, Berger buddies with artist Kristina Litton, who offers some sharp visual humor in her funny festival signage and the loveliest lantern-lit nighttime scenes since Brian Lies spotlighted his Bats in the Band (A Bat Book). Doubling as a tummy-tickling music festival takeoff or as a sleep-provoking bedtime story, this one hits the hay, um, mark right on target. Snooze on, Hiber-Nation!!

Labels: , ,

Monday, April 20, 2015

Between the Dark and the Light: Ask the Dark by Henry Turner

I stopped.

A boy lay on the bank of the stream. He was naked, that boy, 'cept one shoe, with his body on the sand and rocks but his head partways in the water, his hair waving like weeds in the stream. I saw his face, all covered with cuts and blood.

I seen a piece of paper all red and bright, stuck to his dead ass. I bent over and snatched it up. I knew I couldn't just throw it over once I touched it, so I put it in my pocket.

Billy Zeets can't sleep. His dad's hurt, can't work, and their house is being foreclosed, and for some reason the dead, dark of night calls Billy, fitting his mood, and he wanders the streets and backyards and woods while the town sleeps. But when Billy finds the mutilated body of one of the boys in his town who have gone missing, Billy knows that someone else is using the night for darker purposes.

Billy is determined to find a way to make money to help his father, but he's just come out of a wild period, vandalizing and petty-thievery, and he's not high on anyone's hiring list. Occasionally working with Richie, a town n'eer-do-well who pays Billy to help load abandoned scrap metal into his pickup for sale, Billy is tempted to do a little shady junking himself, and on one nighttime expedition, he scales a tree up onto a roof and explores some promising storage boxes in the attic of Miss Gurpy, a once-well-to-do recluse, and finds one box filled with jewelry and vows to come back with a bag to carry it away.

Then Billy finds he's not the only one who knows what's in those boxes.

Coming into the room, I'd shut the door behind me. So what I done was step back maybe a yard, one big swooping step, to where I'd be behind the door if it opened. And all the while I was hearing somebody walking through the house. The footsteps stopped, and then they came on again, toward me. Whoever it was just come in the room and stood there.

Then I heard some shuffling and a light came on. Flashlight was that new kind that only shines where you point it. I don't think I breathed at all. I just stood there, three feet behind him.

All I could think was, If he turns, I'm caught.

'Course, I didn't know then who this fucker was, and that if he turned I was dead.

But working with Richie in a different house, Billy sees those same boxes, and something else. A sack of cement with a piece missing from the label, and Billy knows where that missing piece is--in his wallet where he'd saved it.

A little piece of torn red paper.

On my knees I went over to it, scuffing crost the floor, and where a piece was torn off the bag, I fit the piece.

It fit perfectly.

Now Billy thinks he knows who has been torturing and killing those boys in his town. And then he realizes that the murderer knows who he is and what he knows, too.

Henry Turner's Ask the Dark (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion Books, 2015). is a slow-building cat-and-mouse thriller that is as dark as its setting, taking place mostly in the dark of night and among the dark secrets of his small town. Billy is an unlikely hero, a seeming loser, but dogged and ultimately possessed of great moral courage as he stalks his psychopathic stalker to a climax in a dank cellar that will leave young adult readers breathless. With rough talk for which he often begs "Skuze my language," a protagonist from Hardtimesville who proves that despite it all, Billy Zeets is a winner. Fans of teen suspense thrillers will take to this one, set on the dark side of a leafy little town where there be monsters as dreadful as any dragons.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, April 19, 2015

What Came First! Egg: Nature's Perfect Package by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Eggs come in a fantastic range of sizes, shapes, and colors. Animals that lay eggs bury them, carry them, guard them, or simply leave them alone.

And each egg contains everything needed to create a new living creature.

If it's an animal, it's a sure thing that there was an egg involved somewhere in its past. Many animals lay them outside their bodies (even the mammalian echidna and platypus), and those who do so need to see that they stay warm or protected while they incubate. Sea turtles swim huge distances to lay eggs in sand with just the right summer temperature.  Bird parents sit on them, (or stand, in the case of the emperor penguin) and mouth brooders like the jawfish go hungry while they hold their eggs safe in their mouths. The spider wasp uses her venom to paralyze a spider and lays her eggs safely inside the quarry, with breakfast handy when they emerge. And, of course, the rest of us mammals keep our eggs on the inside, heated by our internal body heat to just the perfect temperature for maturation before they emerge to engage the weather outside.

It's an amazing and amazingly diverse process that goes on inside that incredible egg, as Steve Jenkins' and Robin Page's latest, Egg: Nature's Perfect Package (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015). Jenkins builds his egg-cellent colorful images using cut- and torn-paper collage showing dozens of detailed animals, their eggs, and their offspring. Eggs as tiny as a single printed period  or up to the bigger-than-a-toaster egg of the extinct elephant bird are pictured in graduated sizes, and one double-page spread shows the stages of  development going on inside until a baby chicken and alligator emerge from their eggs.  There is even an appendix with thumbnail illustrations and information about all 54 egg-laying animals included in Sharon Page's cogent text.

Young readers who think of eggs as just something for breakfast will gain a new appreciation of these miraculous containers of life. As Kirkus Reviews says, "Appealing, accessible and accurate, this is another admirable creation."

Labels: ,

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Just the Facts: Me And Dog by Gene Weingarten





Sid is not ordinary in one way. He knows he's not as perfect and powerful as his little dachshund Murphy thinks he is. And instead if relishing the adoration, that bothers him. Murphy seems to think that Sid is the Ruler of the Universe. Sid knows he just a third grader who occasionally steps on his dog's tail, and when that happens, to Sid's dismay, Murphy seems to think that was because he had been bad. Sid worries about how he can make Murphy understand.



The modern proverb making the rounds, "May I be as good as my dog thinks I am!" is the theme of Gene Weigarten's Me and Dog (Simon and Schuster, 2014), in which the introspective Sid worries about his appealing pooch's world view. Weingarten's illustrations of a winsome weiner dog are charming, and his humor shines in his clever rhymes. It's an uncommon concern of kids, but perhaps Sid's ruminations on canine cosmology will give some young pet owners something to think about. Says School Library Journal, "A winning example of fun and prose from an already established humor columnist, Me and Dog won't stay on the shelf for long."


Friday, April 17, 2015

Leaves, Sleeves, Breezes and Freezes: A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel

Would you take chilly-weather-wear advice from this man?

Or would you prefer to take it from a tree?






Everyone, even the can of beans in the kitchen, is an expert on winter-wear, and the girl dutifully dons it, parka, gloves, scarf, and all. It takes a long time, but finally prepared for an Arctic blast, she stiffly stomps, Frankenstein-like, to the front door, ready for snow day fun.

But by the time she finally opens the door, winter is over and spring has sprung.

She gives the reader a disgusted look and beginning with one wool-socked foot, she crawls out of her winter wear through the parka hood, leaving it standing alone in the center of the living room.



Following a quick change of clothes, the girl emerges into spring in tutu and with her wand in hand.

Puppy is willing to play knight in armor to her princess, but her sleeping pussycat is not about to interrupt her nap for a anybody's spring fantasy.

That's pretty much it for spring, as the weather morphs into a heat wave. On a four-frame page the girl and Louise (her fuchsia hippo) are walking down the steamy sidewalk. The girl is hot. In fact, she's melting.


"GADZOOKS!" says Louise, seeing that the girl is reduced to a puddle on the walk. Thinking fast, Louise scoops the girl-puddle up into her GreatGulp cup and zooms inside to stash it in the in freezer while the girl reconstitutes herself  in the cup.  But Louise gets sacked out on the couch watching the latest installment of The Can of Beans Show, and when she remembers, the girl is back in shape but frozen in a block of ice. What to do?

Not to worry. It's still hot outside.

When Nick Bruel, cartoonist and author of the drop-dead funny Bad Kitty series,takes on the cycle of the seasons, you know it's going to be, er, different from the usual apple-tree-through-the-seasons with snowflakes and blossoms. There are those changes, of course, including a talking tree who changes color from green to gold to brown and sweetly saves its last leaf as a bookmark for the reading girl sitting underneath during the shedding season. But even the tree can't resist a bit of wardrobe advice:


Bruel's latest, A Wonderful Year (Roaring Brook Press, 2015), takes a tongue-in-cheek tack on the usual story of the seasons, with his usual zany characters, unpredictable plotting, and meticulously drafted but wacky cartoon characters, done up in full- and four-frame page design. Bruel's language is easy enough for early readers, and the varied pages, some without text and some with mixed font sizes, keeps the focus on the story as it brings the year around full-circle. "Bruel offers surefire readaloud laughs as well as space for pondering," points out in Publishers Weekly's starred review.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Jie Jie! The Year of the Three Sisters by Andrea Cheng

In the middle of the night I hear a sound. It is Fan, trying to muffle her sobs in the pillow.

"Are you worried about your grandfather?" I whisper.

Fan looks at me in the dark. "Grandfather and Mama and.... Everything. And you and Andee."

She takes a deep breath. "Andee is your friend. And now you fight. It is my fault. Andee is not happy with me. I come to America for success. Not for fun. Andee is not patient."

"If she was patient, you would not be in America," I said.

When Andee and Anna visit their pen pal in China, they find that Fan has had to stop school and work as a hotel waitress to help support her migrant family in the city. Andee instantly decides that Fan should come to school in America for a year to gain the fluency in English that will open up opportunities for a better job in the hotel.

Andee's mother arranges everything, but when Fan arrives and moves in with Andee's family, Anna can see that things are not working out between her two friends. Andee is impetuous and talks too fast, and Fan refuses to join in family fun, constantly studying by herself with her door closed. Anna tries to help, but for once Andee won't talk to her, and Fan is stubborn and unwilling to change. The dream of a year of the three sisters isn't coming true for them.

But when Fan's beloved grandfather dies, in her grief she opens up to her American sisters, confessing how lonely and homesick she is, how strange she feels in Andee's big house and in her big high school, so different from her life at home. Even Andee listens, and the empathetic Anna reveals that she is lonely in middle school, too, with Andee now at high school. Andee confesses that even she feels alone, too, in her new school. The three girls see that they are all in new situations that make them feel isolated, but that their distance from each other is also a cause of their loneliness.

Andrea Cheng's fourth book in her Anna Wang series, The Year of the Three Sisters (An Anna Wang novel) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), shows best friends Anna and Andee moving into adolescence and experiencing the changes that time has brought to their relationship, and when they think about how many more changes Fan is going through, they find a way to make their friendship grow strong again. Author Cheng reveals the feelings of her characters skillfully in their own thoughts and words, a technique that helps readers interpret the emotions that come with changes. Most young adolescents feel like "strangers in a strange land" at times, that sense of living in two different worlds that children of immigrants feel in spades, and Cheng's novels provide a window into that world. "Cultural details are woven skillfully throughout, while [Patrice] Barton's comely illustrations add to the overall appeal. Another winner!" says School Library Journal.

Earlier books in this series are The Year of the Baby (An Anna Wang novel), The Year of the Book (An Anna Wang novel), and The Year of the Fortune Cookie (An Anna Wang novel).

For stories of slightly younger Chinese-American protagonists, there are also Newbery author Grace Lin's notable Pacy Lin books. (See reviews here.)

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Shuteye Shortfall! Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred) by Josh Schneider



As pajama-clad Fred brushes his teeth, his bulldog clambers into his bed, and his cat laps through his last wash-up. On his nightstand his ants snooze in their farm. On his bed a toy monkey, monster, and monkey hog Fred's pillow and his plush sheep is dozing, supine, feet in air.

But Fred's a lad who has a long to-do list, one that requires night-time overtime. While his beddy-bye pals get their ZZZs, Fred is loading up his sleepy-time scow, the USS Insomniac, with a bunch of brass band instruments for its nocturnal voyage.

In the jungle, cockatoos snooze on toucan's bills, the sloth seems to be sleeping (but how can you tell?), and somnolent monkeys dream of ballet in their tutus.

Not Fred, though. He practices leaping while the monkeys hoot at his jete'.

Down on the farm stinky hogs snore in rows and the sheep sleep, except for one count-keeping bookkeeper who schleps his antique adding machine to the sheep stall. One toucan seems to have nested with the hens, and a bit of tutu is in sight among the pig pile--until Fred blasts the barn to break the world shouting record.

At sea whales and jellyfish are asleep in the deep and ballet monkey, pig, toucan and sheep snooze in a rubber raft until the USS Insomnia steams into sight. Fred opens his act with the Alpen horn and blasts everyone awake.

Fred moves on.





But Fred is still up and at 'em, inspecting the monster dormitory for the illusive Sasquatch.

Not even the most soporific of poetry books puts Fred out for the count, even though those farm hens are roosting on the headboard of the bed and one of the ballerina monkeys is sacked out underneath. But where is Fred? Has he succumbed at last to the siren call of sleep?



Editor's Warning: Although the Library of Congress has classifed Josh Schneider's Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred) (HMH Clarion Books, 2015) as a "bedtime" book, it's not an instant snooze inducer. Youngsters will be too busy perusing and pointing out funny stuff on each page to zip through this one before calling lights out. Theodor Seuss Geisel award-winner Scheider's rhyming couplets have their own linguistic humor, but his pages are packed with visual jokes for the sharp-eyed, wide-awake reader. Monkey ballet slippers have an opening for that pedal thumb, the accountant sheep wears a green eyeshade, and the smelly hogs' stalls have hooks for their little fir-tree air fresheners to hang on their tails. Jellyfish wear sleeping masks, a stray toucan keeps a low profile hanging upside down along with the monster bats, and Sasquatch's Bigfoot shoes give away his bunk. There are lots of giggles hiding in plain sight among Schneider's jolly ink-and-watercolor illustrations that will keep pages turning backward and forward until readers quietly close the book to keep Fred asleep!

Pair this one with Doreen Cronin's recent bedtime hit, Click, Clack, Peep! (Read review here.)

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Asian Apeman: Searching for the Yeti by Jennifer Rivkin

"For hundreds of years, people living in the Himalayan mountain range have reported seeing a creature they call the Yeti (also known as the Abominable Snowman). Eyewitnesses say that the Yeti walks upright like a human. However, it is much larger, has the face of an ape, and is covered in thick brown, reddish, or white fur. Over the years, hundreds of sightings have been reported."

If North America's Bigfoot/Sasquatch is too shy for most of us to glimpse, inquisitive adventurers might head for Asia, where Bigfoot's cousins, the Yeti/Alma/Abominable Snowman, have even more spotters. After all, a mysterious monster, vouched for by no less than the famed Sir Edmund Hillary, first to scale Mt. Everest, himself saw huge footprints believed left by the Yeti. Yeti sightings are not rare, and sets of those famous footprints had been previously preserved in castings or photographs by several adventurers--B.H. Hodgson in 1832, Laurence Waddell in 1899, and N.A. Tombazi in 1925. Unlike Bigfoot's human-like footprint, the Yeti prints resembled those of great apes, but gorillas were never known to live in central Asia and the modern orangutan does not have a coat that would enable it to survive at high Himalayan altitudes.

Other sightings and reports describe a rather different beast, smaller, more human-like, and living together in caves or tunnels as families. Called the Alma, this creature is reported often in Russia, but like the Yeti and Abominable Snowman, expeditions to locate a specimen have always failed. Theories that the Alma is a surviving relative of early hominins or Gigantopithecus, an extinct giant ape which once roamed China and India, have failed to find specimens of hair or bone that have a DNA link to these actual creatures.

As Jennifer Rivkin's Searching for the Yeti (Mysterious Monsters) (Rosen/PowerKids Press, 2014) has it, Asia's apeman remains as much a mystery as our North American Bigfoot buddy. Intriguingly, the fact that the human-like appearance of the Alma suggests a relationship to the recently discovered hominins called Denisovans, whose prehistoric range corresponds closely to the reported range of the Alma (eastern Russia to southeast Asia) and whose DNA includes a gene for high-altitude survival found in modern Tibetans, is a tantalizing possibility that Rivkin does not include in this edition. (See more about Denisovans here).

But as long as spottings of reclusive humanoid critters persist around the world, scientists, monster hunters, and authors will likely explore the Denisovan link in the next round of of Abominable Snowman books. Like the various titles in Rivkin's Mysterious Monsters series this title teases the appetite of middle readers for the strange, scary, and monstrous, with plenty of appealing and realistic illustrations and actual photos by explorers and naturalists, incisive fact boxes, and an appendix with glossary, bibliography, web links and index, packed into a quite readable thirty-two page format.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Keep on Truckin': Monster Trucks by Mark Todd







Yep. Stink Brothers Garbage Company is on the move, taking on all comers and giving off a powerful parfum de refuse. But in the busy world of big vehicles, Stinky has plenty of cohorts and helpers in construction and haulage. There's Dump Truck Chuck, who tipples tons of dirt, the determined Dozer who snarls and scrapes with his shovel blade, and Suds the Sanitation Department Street Sweeper who scrubs the streets before the morning rush.

Although their names--Mr. Moo Milk Truck, Big Red Firetruck, Mr. Salty the Snowplow, and Smoosh the Steam Roller--conjure up images of cozy Sherry Duskey Rinker-esque equipment bidding the construction site nighty-night, Mark Todd's Monster Trucks! (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) are some truck-ulent bad boys, with a lean, mean look on their anthropomorphic faces. Todd's trucks are personified by windows, headlights, and grills forming their tooth-knashing, eye-glaring facial features, and these all-business builders and haulers proudly show off their metallic mechanical parts like body-builders show off their massive biceps and pecs. Preschoolers and primary-grade gearheads will love Todd's detailed but comic drawings and giggle at his irresistible alliterative and onomatopoeic rhymes constructed to fit each monster machine.


Todd's new board-book edition of Monster Trucks! belongs in the bibliographic garage with other storied giants of vehicledom, Todd's fresh and delicious Food Trucks! Jon Scieszka's Welcome to Trucktown! (Jon Scieszka's Trucktown) and sequels, Kate and Mike McMullan's mighty movers I Stink!, I'm Dirty! and sequels, and Chris Gall's Dinotrux books. (See even more mighty vehicle tales here).

Labels: , ,

Sunday, April 12, 2015

One Is The Loneliest Number: Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld

Stick is lonely.

Stone is solitary.

Stick is the only twig on the beach, blown from his tree, with only one leaf left to remind him of his fellows.

Stone is a solo igneous rock regurgitated from his volcano. All by their lonesome, they both feel like the only pebble on the beach.



Seesaws are a downer for Stone. It's a one-sided ride. Pinecone jeers when Stone rolls off the swing at the park. But Stick comes to his rescue, and with a word orders Pinecome to beat it.


An unlikely union is forged. The new friends set out together to explore, Stone going ahead, flattening a path in the tall grass for Stick to waddle along behind him. They bask together on the sunny beach--until disaster befalls them both.

A hurricane strikes! Stone stays steady, but Stick is picked up by the wind, along with Pinecone, and blown inland, leaving Stone alone, gazing sadly at Stick's lost leaf left on the sand.

Stone sets out to search, day and night, calling for his windblown friend.


At last, his search-and-rescue mission is successful--sort of. He come upon his friend, stuck upside down in the muddle of a monster puddle.

But Stone has one thing on his side--MASS! Smiling, he applies physics and rolls downhill, right into the pond, where his displacement generates enough force to splash Stick right out onto terra firma. Stick is full of superlatives for his weighty friend.


Together Stick and Stone are not just the latest storybook odd couple. Together their one and zero make... a 10, in Beth Ferry's new Stick and Stone (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015). Author Ferry not only tells her tale in a text that new readers can navigate with ease, but also with fine rhymes and a few choice puns to tickle the funnybones of youngsters lucky enough to discover this one. Not only does she show friends in need indeed, but offers a bit of comeuppance for her lightweight but eventually repentant bully, Pinecone. All ends well, thanks also to the mighty skills of Tom Lichtenheld (illustrator of the perennial best-seller, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site,) who imparts plenty of personality with two dots and a mouth line for his protagonists. It's friends to THE END of this book, or... maybe not, if youngsters refuse to let Stick and Stone get by without a sequel.