Monday, December 09, 2019

Stage Fright? Snowflake Day! by Becky Friedman, adaptor




Daniel Tiger loves the snow, and he is excited about the decorations down in Enchanted Gardens park. It is a festive scene with music and special food and lots of sparkly lights. There are plenty of people, too, some of the youngest in snowflake costumes.

And then, there's that stage.

Daniel is a bit nervous. He has to get up on that stage with some of the kids in shiny costumes, and he has to say his LINES.



The pressure is on. Daniel is worried. He's on his mark, center stage. What if he forgets his lines?

And just as they begin the play, the lights go out!

Can Daniel save the Snowflake Day Play? In this new Daniel Tiger tale, Snowflake Day! (Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood) (Simon and Schuster, 2019), based on the popular Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood PBS program, Daniel manages to find a way to light up the stage. Becky Friedman's charming adaptation celebrates self-confidence and self-esteem in a shaped board book with lots of eye appeal and sparkle with a message that everyone is special in their own special way.

Save a place in the Christmas stocking also for Simon and Schuster's seasonal top seller, Merry Christmas, Daniel Tiger!: A Lift-the-Flap Book (Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood).

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Sunday, December 08, 2019

Deck The Walls! The Crayons Christmas by Drew Daywalt

One snowy December Day, Duncan was making Christmas cards with his crayons.

The mailman rings with a Christmas card, but it's not for Duncan. It's from Mom and it's for her favorite crayon, Peachie Pie, with some snazzy punch-out dresses for Peachie to try on.

What's going on? It's a snow storm of Christmas cards to all his crayons-- perfectly browned cookies for Beige Crayon, a banana for change of pace for a snowman's nose just for Yellow Crayon, a box of bright-colored punch-out ornaments for the Christmas tree, a Hanukkah card with a dreidel for Gray Crayon, and one addressed to TODDLER CRAYON in big letters.

There is even a surprise pop-up Christmas tree, in Drew Daywalt's holiday gift to their young fans, The Crayons' Christmas (Penguin Workshop, 2019), offering young readers the fun of opening a Christmas card on each page, with real letters and games inside for kids to open and enjoy. It's a delightful holiday toy-and-movable book, with the familiar drawings of noted artist Oliver Jeffers, done (of course) in crayon. This one is a special gift for fans that comes already "wrapped" for Christmas giving.

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Saturday, December 07, 2019

Shark Song! Meet Baby Shark


Just in time for the Stocking Stuffer Season, it's Harper Festival's Baby Shark: Meet Baby Shark (Harper Festival Books, 2019), a board book for the youngest, introducing Baby Shark's toothy family and some of his maritime friends. Mommy Shark, Daddy Shark, Grandpa Shark, and Grandma Shark--not to mention Baby Turtle, too--each gets to sing a line or two of Doo-Doo-Doo-Doo-Doo-Doos as they appear in their underwater world.

Each member of the scat-singing shark family get to doo-doo do it their own way, with their own two-page spread accessible with their own thumb tab for easy discovery. Join the world-wide GLOBAL PHENOM, for a little seasonal sing-along under the mistletoe and do it with Baby Shark.

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Friday, December 06, 2019

The Year Without A Snowflake! The Little Snowplow Wishes for Snow by Lora Koehler

The Little Snowplow loved his job on the Mighty Mountain Road Crew. All year long, he helped the other trucks with the digging, pulling, and lifting.

But the Little Snowplow loved plowing snow most of all.

Little Snowplow was proud that last year he alone had been agile enough to dig Dump Truck out of an avalanche of snow, and as his birthday approaches, he longs to distinguish himself again, but as winter comes, there's not a snowflake to be seen on Mighty Mountain.

There's no snow in November, and a dearth of the white stuff in December. January is a bust, snow-wise, and in February, there's not a snowflake to be seen. Then it's March, almost spring and almost time for his birthday. Little Snowplow has done more than his share of mundane fall leaf removal and dreary dirt moving, but he's beginning to despair of heroic snowstorm duty.

His heavy-duty buddies notice his moping and try to cheer him up by suggesting some ice-dancing.
"How about the snowkey-pokey on ice?" suggests Water Truck.

Water Truck sprays down the parking lot and turns it into a ice rink, and all the Mighty Mountain trucks shake their bumpers all about. It's fun, but all the crew admit that it's looking like this year will go down as The Year Without A Snow Storm. Even Dump Truck is down in the dumps.

Still, the Mighty Mountain Road Crew push on with plans for Little Snowplow's birthday party.
But when he woke up on his birthday--



Time to roll! Duty calls, and Little Snowplow cheerily rolls out with his big buddies to keep the streets open, and when the all-clear is declared, it's time to celebrate, in Lora Koehler's The Little Snowplow Wishes for Snow (Candlewick Press, 2019). In this sequel to her 2015 New York Times best-seller, The Little Snowplow (see review here), Koehler and illustrator Jake Parker's comedic characters celebrate the can-do spirit of those classic anthropomorphic mechanized heroes of children's literature, with the subtext that sometimes waiting makes for the coolest surprises.

And for more of the guys who go in the snow, share this one with Elizabeth Verdick's winter winners, Small Walt and Small Walt and Mo the Tow (see reviews here)

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Thursday, December 05, 2019

In the Bleak Midwinter: Wintercake by Lynne Rae Perkins

Thomas Bear is befuddled. He can't find his basket of dried fruit. He hunts for it throughout the house and then goes outside, where Lucy Bird helps him search, fruitlessly.




Lucy suggests that there's more to the holiday than cake and takes her leave, flying off into the falling snow. Soon it is snowing too thickly to fly, and she finds herself grounded and about to be buried in the wet snowfall. She pulls herself together and walks toward the lights ahead. Something smells good.

Inside the tea room, there's a bustling business. All the customers are talking about the wintry weather. Porcupine says he feels like hibernating. Squirrel says the weather is nuts. A weasel is telling Beaver about the basket of dried fruits he's found. Aha! thinks Lucy, who follows the suspicious character with the basket outside into the snow.

But he stomps through the deep snow straight to Thomas' door and hands over the basket of dried fruits, which he found by the pond, to Thomas.


Weasel takes his leave, leaving Thomas feeling a little guilty for being so forgetful, and soon he and Lucy decide that the right thing to do is to share their celebration with their new friend.

By the time the cake is baked, Weasel is long gone. Following his footprints in the snow, they set off bravely through the winter weather. But it's a terrible trip, through a tangle of vines and across a pond, where Thomas ferries the cake by doing the backstroke with the cake balanced on his belly. It's getting dark and Thomas and Lucy stumble over a cliff and into the deep snow below. They land well, and the Wintercake is no worse for wear. But now it's really dark. And cold. Then Lucy spots a light far ahead, and inside a hollow in the hill there is Weasel, all alone on Winter's Eve, with only a candle.

But now there is Wintercake!

In the bleak midwinter, when frosty wind makes moan, it's good to come together with a warm fire and some festive food, and Newbery author Lynne Ray Perkins' lovely winter's tale, Wintercake (Greenwillow Books, 2019), warms and lightens the heart with her theme of goodwill and sharing. Author-illustrator Perkin's narration contrasts her fusty Thomas Bear and buoyant Lucy Bird as she contrasts beautiful but chilly scenes of snowy storms set against dark blue sky and snug interior scenes lit by yellow candlelight and cheery firesides. There is a primeval urge to gather and make merry during the winter solstice, and young readers will subliminally understand that feeling as they enjoy Perkins' cozy and lovable critter celebrants. This is a fine story, enlivened by Perkin's jubilant palette of warm yellows and cool blues and browns, a well-told tale for the whatever wintry holiday we choose.

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Wednesday, December 04, 2019

The Secret Life of Veggies! Par-Tay: Dance of the Veggies (and Their Friends)! by Eloise Greenfield

The head of cabbage, sitting in the fridge,
hears the front door close,
hears the click of the key
turning the lock....

He opens the refrigerator door,
He looks out and sees in the moonlight,
his people getting into their car.....

When the folks are away.
The veggies PAR-TAY!

Cabbage is obviously the, er, head of this hoedown.

He rocks and rolls all 'round the kitchen.
Eggplant takes the piano,
Basil takes the bass.

All the dancers take their place. Green Bean hip-hops all around the scene. Baby Limas do the Toddle. Chili Peppers salsa, and their moves are hot--but Zucchini's Disco dance is cool as a cucumber.
The Sweet Potato Sisters
As sweet as pie,
Curtsy with a sigh

Who knew that fruits and veggies do the Boogaloo?

Eloise Greenfield clearly knew they do, in her jolly veggie tale, PAR-TAY!: Dance of the Veggies (And Their Friends) (Alazar Press, 2018). With fifty years as a children's literature standout, author Greenfield still has all her moves, even adding an appendix that explains the difference between fruits (they have seeds--even eggplants and squash) and vegetables (all the rest of the plant--from roots and stems to leaves and flowers), and even those current nutritional stars--arugula, kale, and chard--take a twirl on the dance floor. Illustrator Don Tate's dancing produce add to the fun, and young readers learn to recognize what's chillin' in their own fridges. Says Kirkus Reviews, "A rousing read-aloud begging for enthusiastic performers."

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Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Trouble! Right Here in Capital City! The Upper Case Trouble in Capital City by Tara Lazar

I was dozing in my chair when Question Mark barged into my office. He looked bent out of shape!

"What's the matter, Mark?" I asked.

Finally Mark spilled it out. "All the upper case letters are missing!"

Is this upper case minor theft, or is it a serious case of  capital crime this time?

Private I agrees to take the case, but there are a lot of witnesses and suspects to interview.
Hyphen was busy dashing all over town. Apostrophe was gathering his possessions and Comma was dividing her time on a huge list of things. Luckily, the Quotation Twins were willing to talk. "But don't quote us," they said.

Private I follows the paper trail, which leads him to the movie marquee--where the upper case letters seem to be stuck, completely out of alphabetical order.
"Exclamation is crooked! Lock him up!" the captive letters demanded.

But Exclamation complains that he's unfairly overworked these days, punctuating all those HA-HAs and OMGs.

The Grammar Police finally arrive and take Exclamation downtown to be booked.
According to the law, Exclamation would have to serve his sentence.

All is properly in order again in Capital City, again made safe for proper nouns, in Tara Lazar's capital case, her latest classic film noir detective story, The Upper Case: Trouble in Capital City (Private I) (Hyperion, 2019). Author Lazar is well known for her way with wordplay, and this new alphabet tale for young readers, comically illustrated by Ross MacDonald, is a punny and funny sequel to her hilarious numerical gumshoe story, 7 Ate 9 (see review here).

Publishers Weekly salutes Letter-Lady Lazar, saying, "Lazar hits every marker of a traditional detective story, and MacDonald's illustrations place readers on the scene of a Technicolor retro gumshoe drama."

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Monday, December 02, 2019

It's What We Do! People Share with People by Lisa Wheeler

It's good to share a window,
It's fun to share a ball.
It's best to share a cupcake
BEFORE you eat it all.

On the face of it, sharing what you have leaves you with less--right?

But the wisdom of the ages bends the other way--toward sharing--because humans, a long-lived species, have long since figured out that over time cooperation and sharing provide MORE for ALL. Sharing begins with parent and child, and families seem to have built-in belief that early sharing means more for all in the long run. Life in large societies requires that people share-- or suffer.

Of course, there are some things you shouldn't share... Keep your sneeze, PLEASE!

It's normal for youngsters to have trouble with the concept that sharing now means that someone in the future will do the same for you, and in noted author Lisa Wheeler's and Caldecott artist Molly Idle's People Share with People (The People Books) (Atheneum Books, 2019) the two creators share their considerable picture book skills to show young readers how it's done, especially in the case of playthings like balls that provide more fun when used by two, not one.
We DON'T live in a zoo!
I CHOOSE to share with you!

Of course, even most wild animals share, finding safety in numbers--family, pride, or herd--and although it's a hard lesson to teach toddlers, Wheeler and Idle's newest, with Wheeler's rhyming lines and Idle's engaging rotund tots, is a great way to understand the historical meaning of shared resources. Says Booklist, ..."this book demonstrates that learning social skills can be fun!"

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Sunday, December 01, 2019

Primate Party Pooper! Grumpy Monkey: PARTY TIME! by Suzanne Lang

One perfectly pleasant afternoon, Jim Panzee found an invitation.

You are invited to Porcupine's party!

Jim Panzee's best friend Norman is ecstatic!
"We can dance!" he exulted.

"Dance?" said Jim. "I can't DANCE!"

"CAN'T DANCE?" cried all the others.

Norman and the other animals pooh-pooh Jim's disclaimer. Hyena insists that anyone can dance. Lizard says to listen to the beat. Ostrich suggests that Jim just strut his stuff. They all demonstrate their best moves. Jim is confused by all of it.

Is Hyena hip hopping? Is Warthog waltzing? Does Lizard do the Lindy Hop?

They drag Jim out and make him try to dance. At last they declare he's ready to party down at Porcupine's bash.

Finally it's the day for grumpy Jim Panzee to reveal his dancing style. He capitulates and joins the Congo line of critters. Everyone is having a ball until suddenly Jim stops in the middle of the music and, in a moment of self-awareness, makes a pronouncement.

The dancers all stop, dumbfounded, and stare at Jim Panzee.

Then someone speaks up.
"Actually," said Water Buffalo, " I don't like dancing, but I never said anything because I thought I was the only one!"

"I always feel silly on the dance floor!" admitted Maribou.

"To be honest," added Bat, "dance floors are too LOUD!"

Porcupine is disappointed. He feels like a bad host and he bemoans the thought that all his party food will be wasted.
"WAIT!" said Jim Panzee. "There's FOOD at this party?"

It seems that there is plenty for everyone to do at Porcupine's party, in Suzanne Lang's sequel to her best-selling picture book, Grumpy Monkey (review here). In her latest, Grumpy Monkey Party Time! (Random House, 2019), with the assistance of artist Max Lang's hilarious illustrations of his curmudgeonly chimp, Lang's deft portrayal of a serious case of social anxiety offers support for those who don't enjoy boogie-ing down to feel fine about socializing in other ways. In a story that speaks to all those different drummers among its readers, Jim Panzee's latest comic adventure stands out in the crowd.

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Saturday, November 30, 2019

Catch It! Stop! Bot! by James Yang

"I have a bot!"

It's a lovely day for a walk in the city, but the boy is enjoying more than a stroll. HE has a cool, new bot.

But just as he gets in front of a high-rise apartment house, the bot's little propeller kicks in and it starts to rise, up, up, up.

The dutiful doorman offers to catch it and races up the stairs inside, stopping at a third-floor window, but the bot's already gone by.

One the next level a man tries to snag it with his broom, but it eludes him. As it continues straight up, it dodges a cook's long spoon, a trombone's slide, and a boy's baseball glove. It brushes by a lady with a hairbrush, and a long-necked giraffe, and avoids a woman's Venus flytrap!

Finally a boy claims he has the best bot catcher of all--a bunch of bananas?

But there's a surprise bot catcher on the roof. Could it be King Kong himself?

The happy but no-doubt winded doorkeeper returns the captured robot to the boy, just in time for a little girl to let go of something else.
My balloon!

James Yang's new Stop! Bot! (Viking Books, 2019) offers toddlers and preschoolers a nice slice of city life with its simple geometric building and windows and stylized people, plus a bit of fun for older preschoolers who will recognize the trope of the gorilla on the roof. Simple enough for a two-year-old to follow and yet, with its large typeface, rhyming sounds, and visual cues, this one is easy enough for emergent readers to soon read alone.

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Friday, November 29, 2019

I Am NOT Negative! The Knight Who Said "NO!" by Lucy Rowland

Once inside a castle lived
a little knight named Ned,
who always picked his toys up
and always made his bed.

Ned is the only kid in the town, and as kids go, he's pretty much perfect. No matter how unpleasant the task, Ned is Never Negative.
When asked to pick the cabbages,
Ned wouldn't whine or stress.

He always answered right away
and always answered,"YES!"

Life in the castle is never negative--except for the DRAGON who nightly swoops down low over town and terrifies the townspeople and the royal parents, too. But Ned can't help thinking that maybe the dragon needs someone to play with, too. What to do?

And one day Ned wakes up in a contrary mood. When The Queen asks him to bring in the milk, he opens his mouth and says "NO!" His royal parents are nonplussed. The townspeople are not pleased.

And when the dragon makes her daily pass over the castle, Ned walks out into the square and says--

The dragon has to confess that she only wants to stay and play with Ned. Ned is impressed with the Dragon's daring, and there's only one thing to say.

Ned the Super-Nice Knight discovers he has a mind of his own and a new playmate who even gives him the occasional night ride over the castle, in Lucy Rowland's The Knight Who Said "No!" (Candlewick/Nosy Crow Press, 2019). Sometimes even little knights have to make a statement, and artist Kate Hindley's agreeable but lonely little hero's change in mood will make perfect sense to kids. Hindley's charming geometric medieval scene, done mostly in blues and reds, and her goofy red dragon make this story almost irresistible. Says Kirkus Reviews, "This emotionally astute tale will strike chords of recognition."

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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Dress Warmly! Otto Goes North by Ulrika Kestere

There's a blueberry blue house with a grass roof by the sea, way, way up north. Beside the blue house is a little red sauna hut, which can be very handy in the far north. And that's where a little lynx named Lisa and a little bear named Nils live together.

One day Lisa was on the roof, mowing the grass. Nils was setting out afternoon tea in in the garden. They wanted everything to be nice for their friend Otto, a lemur, who was coming to visit.

His bike was red with a large shiny bell. Otto would ring it like mad, enough to be annoying

"Pling, Pling, Pling! Here I am!" he called.

As the three enjoy their tea, Otto tells his old friends of his plan.
"This evening I'll see the Northern Lights at last," said Otto.
I'll paint them so I can hang the picture on my wall at home!"

But there's a problem with the plan. Northern Lights only appear at night, and after nightfall, it grows quite too cold for Otto to work. His teeth chatter and he shivers all over.
He shook so hard he could not hold his brush!

Lisa and Nils rush Otto into their sauna, where he warms right up, but seems to be catching a cold. What to do?

But Otto's hosts have an idea. They decide to make Otto a really warm sweater--if they can figure out how to do that! Lisa remembers a book she has about how to spin wool into yarn and knit a woolen sweater. But first they need some wool--and there are no sheep on their island.

But wait! Wool is just sheep fur, and being a lynx and a bear, Lisa and Nils have thick fur, too. Following the book's directions, they brush and card and spin their fur on their neighbor Lena's spinning wheel into a quantity of yarn, which they dye blueberry blue, onion-skin yellow, and red cabbage red. By the time they are done with the knitting, Otto has recovered from his cold and wearing his snug sweater, he is busy doing two paintings, one for himself, and one for Lisa and Nils' house.

Ulrika Kestere's Otto Goes North (Gecko Press, 2019) is a lovely and quaint story set in a chilly Scandinavian scene in a charming faux naif style of illustrations very appealing to young readers, one which also offers an introduction to spinning and knitting. Says School Library Journal, "A perfect story to pair with a lesson on fiber art or dyeing."  For more, share this one with Caldecott artist Tomie de Paola's delightful and detailed account of the process of making a woolen cloak, Charlie Needs a Cloak.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Far From The Madding Crowd! Leyla by Galia Bernstein

Leyla had nine aunts and twenty-three cousins.

They are always busy, always fussy, always noisy.

They always want to groom her. She's not even dirty!

Leyla's family is a HOOT!

It's hard being a young member of a close-knit baboon troop. Someone is always wanting to kiss her and hold her, and they never stop yakking and squabbling, especially when she needs a nap. She wants to be where she can't see, or hear, or even smell her family.
So Leyla ran away.

Suddenly she is all alone. The quiet is amazing. She stumps her toe and the only sound is her own voice, yelling... OUCH! Wow!

Then Leyla spots a little lizard and tries to be friendly.
"Shhh! I'm very busy doing nothing."

Nobody in Leyla's family knows how to do nothing. The lizard shows her how to sit and listen to the breezes and think of -- nothing.

Leyla sits, eyes closed, and does nothing--all day long.

It's nice, but strangely, doing nothing makes Leyla miss her family. She runs back the way she came until... she can see and smell her family. They all sit quietly and listened to her adventures, even how she hurt her toe! And...
They ALL wanted to kiss it better!

There's no place like home and family, in Galia Bernstein's Leyla (Abrams Books, 2019). Leyla is a charming little character who returns after her a pilgrimage of self-discovery both appreciating her big, noisy family and knowing how to find her inner quiet when she needs it, in this sweet little exploration of the oft-used "little runaway" theme. Bernstein's illustrations of Leyla and her rowdy troop are humorous, charming, and endearingly winsome, set in an engaging variations of page design and deftly extending the text to keep young readers involved to the last scene.

Galia Bernstein is also the author of I Am a Cat.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Creative License: If I Built A School by Chris Van Dusen

Jack has some ideas for jazzing up his school.

For example, the foyer is dreadfully dull.

If I built a school, the first thing you'd meet
Are lots of cute puppies! They'd flock to your feet.

Heck! Jack would also add a few zoo animals to enliven the entryway! And getting to classrooms would be by pods shooting through pneumatic tubes!

Teachers in Jack's school would be spared the chores of cleaning chalky erasers or messy marker wipes:
Using a stylus, you write in the air.
No blackboard. No whiteboard. No, nothing is there.

And forget the chore of pushing your desks together for group sessions. Jack's got the best gismos to speed up those lessons.
These are my hover desks. See how they glide?
They even have bumpers in case they collide.

And Jack is thinkin' about a hologram of Lincoln--making a history lesson a 3-D session!. And to spice up gym sports, how's about trampoline-floored basketball courts? Or a cooling perimeter pool? And how about perks for the playground? Ziplines way up to the sky? And a twisty slide from three floors high?

And for sure, field trips should out-sizzle Ms. Frizzle in Jack's versatile vehicle which can morph-- from undersea to outer space--or any old place!

A guy can dream, can't he? In Chris Van Dusen's funny, fantasy picture book, If I Built a School (Dial Books, 2019), Jack's dream school has something for everyone, from critter-crazy kids to gismo geeks. Van Dusen's bouncy rhyming quatrains make this one a breeze to read, aloud or solo, and Van Dusen's brand of Seussian illustrations give Mulberry Street a run for the money in this new top-selling hit. Younger kids will laugh at the preposterous silliness, and older students will find the story line a great springboard for imaginative writers and young inventors, one that will fire up some creativity among the primary grade set.

Author-illustrator Chris Van Dusen also has two other popular book in this series, If I Built a House and If I Built a Car.

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Monday, November 25, 2019

THAT for Dinner? Octopus Stew by Eric Velasquez

When grandma saw my painting of Super Octo, she got the idea to make pulpo guisado, octopus stew, not exactly my favorite dish.

"But Dad makes that," I said.

Grandma snapped at me. "I've been making pulpo guisado since your dad era un nino, since he was a boy!"

Ramsey knows better than to argue with Grandma when she's on a roll, so he follows orders to remove his superhero cape and keep his phone in his pocket and goes shopping with her to find just the right octopus.

And when Grandma cooks, she goes BIG.
Grandma picked the biggest octopus in the store.

It looked like it was still alive...

and kind of creepy.

Ramsey googles directions for prepping octopuses for stew, but Grandma orders him to put that phone away, so he watches from a safe distance as Grandma washes the octopus and drops it in her biggest stew pot on the stove. But when he hears some scary noises from the kitchen, Ramsey has to investigate.


The giant octopus is out of the pot and grabbing Grandma!

It's up to Ramsey to use his superhero powers to rescue his grandmother...or is this just another octopus tall tale?

In his latest, Octopus Stew (Holiday House, 2019), for extra fun, author-illustrator Velasquez offers two alternate endings for this wild tale: in one, donning his superman cape, Ramsey fights his way through black octopus ink spray to free Grandma--and in a four-page gatefold there's an alternate ending, as Ramsey's dad questions his story as too far-fetched.
"DAD! It's my turn to tell the story tonight! May I please finish now?"

And in a surprising conclusion, the whole family sits down with an octopus for dinner--in more ways than one. Not only does the author offer a glossary of Spanish words, but also the family recipe for octopus stew. The award-winning Velasquez is a master story teller in words and in vivid acrylic art work, this newest picture book goes big in exaggerated tale-telling. As Publishers Weekly describes it, "Oil paintings by Velasquez have a lush, generously sculptural feel—a heightened comic realism that's perfect for this domestic tall tale, its multi-armed nemesis, and the wonderful gatefold twist that occurs at the action's height."

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Sunday, November 24, 2019

Walking the Wall: Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Senior Year Is Begun.

For Frank Li, only son of Korean immigrant parents, this is the year he must prove himself worthy of his parents' sacrifices--their thrift, his dad's twelve-hour shifts at The Store, as they call it--by getting the magic SAT score that will get him into The Harvard or its equivalent. His parents are in America, but not really of it, living in a bubble, speaking Korean-English, socializing with other immigrants, whom Frank calls "The Gathering," most of whom are more successful than his father.

Each month, they ritually attend a round-robin dinner where most of the adults compete in their success stories and the teenagers hang out together. They are not really friends, but fellow second-generation Korean-Americans who call themselves "The Limbos,"  who complain while their parents drink too much, speak Korean and play Korean board games, and hope their children will marry each other.

But Frank has a problem.  He's almost in a relationship with Brit, the perfect girl--except she's white, and he knows Mom-n-Dad will not accept that. His older sister, who married a non-Korean, has been cast out of the family and lives on the other coast in Boston. And Mom-n-Dad have already settled on Joy Song as his ideal match.
"You're stupid." says Joy. "Your parents are stupid."

"Your parents are stupid," I said. We laugh because it's funny, but then stop because the funny doesn't last.

But then Frank and Joy Song discover that they are in the same second-generation teen boat. Frank wants to date Brit, and Joy wants to date her boyfriend, Wu, a Chinese-American, equally unacceptable to her parents. They work out a plan; they will pretend-date each other. Frank will pick up Joy, she'll meet up with Wu; and Frank and Brit can actually go out alone. They'll be happy, and their parents will be happy. What could go wrong?

In a plot line that Shakespeare would (and did) love, their fake-dating plan works for a while. But life happens to interrupt their best-laid plans. Frank's dad is diagnosed with cancer, and in the hard times immediately after, Joy takes on more the role of girlfriend, and Frank realizes that he is really attracted to her, too, and in the days following the diagnosis, Frank begins to try to know his dad.
How much of my dad do I know? I realize it's not much. Dad settled into his role as breadwinner, expected me to settle into my role as disciplined academic, and we put put our noses to the grindstone and never looked up. I began to calculate our time together. A few minutes each evening. Sundays at The Store for the last couple summers. It adds up to about three hundred hours.

Who is this man who was my dad?

Is, Frank. He's not dead yet. But he will be.

In a funny, heart-rending, life-affirming, coming-of-age young adult novel, David Yoon's just published Frankly in Love (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2019) deals frankly with issues of immigration, racism (refreshingly not all white racism) and class prejudice, the stuff of our culture these days, as in the past. As in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and in J.D. Salinger's landmark The Catcher in the Rye, young people have a way of running into the social complexities in the world that they must enter and find their own way through, just as their parents and the adults around them have done by learning to be the persons they want to be. As author Yoon's punning title suggests, it is not easy, but, frankly, it's what we all have to do.

Writes the New York Times reviewer writes, "Yoon explores themes of racism, forgiveness and acceptance without getting earnest or preachy or letting anyone off the hook. And there's a universality to the story that cuts across cultures."

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I Yam Who I Yam! You Loves Ewe! by Cece Bell

"Hey, donkeys!" says Donkey.

It's a lovely bucolic scene. Sheep is grazing, and Yam the grammarian-in-chief is pontificating, as usual.
Yam points out that neither of them is a donkey. He himself is a yam and his herbivorous companion is a fluffy ewe, doing what ewes do best--look cute and eat grass.

But Donkey doesn't do homonyms.
"I yam confused. Yam I yam, or yam I ain't, cute and fluffy?"

Yam gives it another try, explaining that the grammatical way to pose that question would be "Am I cute and fluffy?"

Donkey looks at Yam and doesn't bother being polite.
You is short and lumpy.

Sheep tries to help out by holding up her hand-written placard that says EWE. Donkey corrects Yam's pronunciation, pointing out that EWE spells EE-WEE! Yam goes into his standard lecture on homonyms, words that sound alike but have different meanings: Doe and Dough, Hair and Hare, etc., etc., etc.!

And if you think this grammar lesson is going nowhere, just wait until Ram makes his entrance and is struck instantly with Ewe's woolly charms. Now everyone is in love with Ewe. What to do?

But while Donkey is a bit dense with homonyms, he gets affairs of the heart. He points out that Ewe gets to choose. Does Ewe love Ram? She spells it out for them all.

It's the wonderful world of wordplay, in Cece Bell's forthcoming easy reader, You Loves Ewe! (A Yam and Donkey Book) in this semi-educational sequel to her first comical Yam and Donkey story, I Yam a Donkey! (A Yam and Donkey Book), specializing in some of the goofier aspects of our native language (just be glad he didn't work in the homonym YEW into the text), while her delightfully daffy black line cartoon illustrations make the best of this woolly-headed tale of the fine points of our mother tongue. After all, we English speakers do specialize in puns.

Ewer kids are gonna love it!

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Saturday, November 23, 2019

Critter Counter: Five Little Bugs by Shannon Hays

Babies love bugs, but busy moms don't always want their little ones to touch them. But in Vicky Harvey's and Shannon Hays' 5 Little Bugs (Make Believe Ideas, 2019), little fingers get the touch-and-feel fun of touching the five buggy critters in the Busy Bees series of board books for the youngest book fanciers.

In Five Little Bugs, little ones get to touch the textured creatures visible through the cut-outs in the cover.

Five little busy bugs
Doing all their chores,
Bee buzzes off
And that leaves... four

And with each page turn, each critter takes off exploring, leaving one less to see and touch, until they are all gone, tired and ready for their own buggy bed for the night, in this small board book by Shannon Hays and Vicky Harvey, made just for small hands to hold with fun for the eye as well as a tactile treat for tiny fingers.

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Friday, November 22, 2019

Consider the Cat.... My Wild Cat by Isabelle Simler

For I will consider my cat Geoffrey.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.

--Christopher Smart (1722-1771)


He flops flat, but balanced perfectly, on a tiny table,
and plops down to flatten a potted plant.

Antennae ears up, he surveils, yet spares, a fancy plate of sweets.

He saves a place in an open book with his whole body, a bookmark with a tail.

He snoozes on the sofa... and rests and warms himself, fitting himself to every curve of the radiator.

He sees in pastels and excels in night vision, vanishing, merging with darkness when there is danger.

His hearing and vision are keen... His stalking is patient... And his attack is sudden and sharp.


Cats have been described scientifically, not as simply domesticated, but as self-domesticated. They chose to live with us and still cannot be compelled without their will, and the fascination with the uniqueness of cats is told in blank verse, made humorous juxtaposed with the illustrations of a cat doing what cats do, and with informative footnotes in Isabelle Simler's My Wild Cat.

In apt poetic blank verse and simple but striking illustrations, Simler portrays the child's cat as it seemingly ignores him, napping and stretching, balking at the snaky garden hose and invading a boot, concealing himself inside a bag and behind a curtain, waiting for his moment to surprise the child with his POUNCE. Meanwhile, author Simler also provides encyclopedic footnotes for most pages with fascinating facts about the cat, Felis silvestre catus: "Cats can run at speeds up to 30 miles per hour, faster than any human on record." "Cats have a total field of vision up to 287 degrees wide." "A cat's flexible spine and sense of balance allow it to land on its feet."

Says Booklist, "Truly stunning artwork. For cat lovers, the art alone will delight. Every page is worthy of framing."