Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Timely Tooth Fairy Tale: Little Vampire's Big Smile

It's the BEST!

Little Vampire's wearing his biggest smile.

The pre-Halloween party is in full swing.  All the little monsters are there, singing, dancing, and making merry to celebrate the coming holiday.

But then--Bertie the Little Vampire bites down on a chewy morsel and leaves one of his little fangs behind in the treat.

Oh, blasted batwings! A set of matched fangs is the sine qua non of vampirehood. Bertie is despondent!


A fifty percent fang count does not make for a full-fledged vampire. Will Bertie flunk the fang test and have to sit this Halloween out?

Mom and Dad Vlad advise little Bertie to put his lost tooth under his pillow, make a wish on the full moon, and he may get a big surprise.

And little listeners will soon spy the Tooth Fairy Bat fluttering down to leave Little Vampire his heart's desire--a fine new fang just in time for the best Halloween yet, in Little Vampire's Big Smile: Board Book (Little Bird Stories) (Cottage Door Press, 2016). This extra petite board book is just the right size for the hands of tiny tots about to take their first bite of Halloween tricks and treats, with a lovable little vampire and the rest of the usual mini-monster suspects to tell the tale of the missing tooth.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Cyborg Ballhog: Soccer Shocker! (Project Droid #2) by Nancy Krulik and Amanda Burwasser

"I hate Fiber Flakes," I called down to Mom. "Isn't there anything sweet for breakfast?"

"Logan, I'm busy!" my mother called from her lab. "Just add some dates and nuts to your cereal."

"I can do it!" shouted Java. He grabbed the scissors and began cutting up the calendar on the wall.

"What are you doing!" I shouted

"Getting dates for your cereal," Java said. "Here's November 17." He dropped the calendar dates into my cereal bowl.

It's not easy having a robot around, especially when you have to keep your classmates believing that he's just an ordinary third grader. But Java (James Alexander Victor Applebaum) is an android, the subject of Logan's mom's Project Droid, and now she's testing her soccer programming by signing Java up for Logan's team, the Purple Wombats. After having to cover up for the mess Java made of the class science fair, Logan is tired of trying to keep the other kids from noticing that Java is NOT human. And besides, Logan is the top scorer on the team (he scored their one point against the Lemon Yellow Lemurs, current holders of he worst team in the league title). Still, Mom is set on testing her coding, and maybe Java can help them beat the class bullies, Sherry and Jerry Silverspoon, and their team the Red Polar Bears.

And does he ever! When Java comes in to sub for Stanley, he dazzles the Bears with his lightning moves.

What was he doing?

I heard the ball whack Java in the butt.

I watched the ball soar right over the heads of the Red Polar Bears! The ball slammed Jerry Silverspoon right in the stomach... and rolled right into the net.

The game is a blowout, with Java scoring 67 goals. Logan loves seeing the Silverspoon twins go down in defeat, but he's also miffed with Java for hogging the ball throughout the whole game. He begins to think of a way to get even.

But when the toilet floods the bathroom and Java's battery is waterlogged, Logan realizes that he's the one who must take over the scoring in the big game with the Orange Tree Frogs. Is there any way he can do what Java does?

In the second book in their Project Droid series, Nancy Krulik and Amanda Burwasser give Logan his shot at showing how a real soccer star passes the ball, heroically giving his day-dreamy friend Stanley the chance to score the winning point, in Soccer Shocker!: Project Droid 2 (Sky Pony Press, 2016). In addition to a bit of gameplay fun, the authors put in a plug for fair play and telling the truth, except of course, when it comes to revealing the truth of Java's true identity.

Fans of Peggy and Herman Parish's Amelia Bedelia (I Can Read Book) series will find the similarly pun-puzzled and idiom-befuddled Java, who puts calendar dates and metal nuts in cereal and gives Logan the cold shoulder by dumping the team's ice water bucket over his head, a good source of giggles along the way. Illustrator Mike Moran's cartoons drive home the humor with his silly illustrations, such as Java's proffered, protein-packed peanut butter and jellyfish sandwiches as halftime snacks for the hapless horrified and gagging Wombats.

"Funny enough to keep fledgling readers turning pages," says Kirkus Reviews.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Demolition Derby:Monster Trucks by Anika Dean


The assembled mummies, witches and assorted spirits assemble in the stands, ready for the race!



Soon the rest of the exotic entries appear at the starting line--Werewolf Truck growls up to the line; VampireTruck alights with a green glow; and then the shrouded GhostTruck floats down into his position with a rattle of his drive chain. Of course, VampireTruck has to siphon some fuel from his competitors' tanks before he's ready to roll. At last they're ready to rev, roarin' to race!

And they're off, each one cruisin' for a bruisin'. (They're monsters, after all!) It looks like the, er, spirited fans are in for a monster demolition crash-and-mashup derby, as the monster trucks clang and bang their way around the track. It's not a pretty sight, which is just what the spectators prefer. The crowd roars.

And then there's an unexpected late entry.



Can a indisputably cutesy VW bus beat the big boys to the finish line? Does she have a few frightful tricks up her tailpipe to beat out the big, bad boys on the way to the checkered flag?

Anika Dean's newest, Monster Trucks (Harper, 2016), has just the right dynamic duo--motor racing and monsters--to please young gearheads and Halloween horror fans alike. Her rhyming couplets add plenty of horsepower to the narration, and artist Nate Wragg's surrealistic cartoon-infused illustrations add the spooky-styled atmosphere to please motorhead and monster fans alike during the scary season soon to come. “Nate Wragg creates some wicked vehicular hybrids...and eerie green skies and yellow moonlight set the stage for full-throttle Halloween fun.” says Publishers Weekly's starred review.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fair Advantage? Science No Fair! by Nancy Krulik and Amanda Burwasser

"Logan! I've got a surprise for you!"

My mom is an inventor. There's always some sort of surprise in her lab.

"Come on!" Mom said. "You've been asking for this since you were little!" Mom smiled really wide.

"A brother?" I shouted.

But there's no sign of a baby--no crib, no diapers--in Mom's lab. Logan looks under and behind all the science paraphernalia in the lab.

Then I saw the kid. He was staring at me.

"What's your name?" I asked. The kid didn't answer.

"Give him a few minutes," Mom said. "He's still charging."

Logan had wanted a little brother, not a cyborg. But a robot "cousin" could be pretty cool, too, he thinks--until he has to take his "cousin" Java to school and introduce him to his classmates. Right away, Java attracts the attention of the Silverstone twins, Logan's frienenemies. Java is really good at a lot of things, like math and tetherball, but ordinary idioms seem to short-circuit his brain.

"We have a extra desk in the front row," the teacher told Java. "Please take that seat."

Java walked over to the desk and picked it up . "Where would you like me to take it?" he asked.

And keeping his robot nature secret only gets harder when the teacher asks Java to work with Sherry and Jerry Silverstone on their science fair project. Logan is torn between trying to keep Java from doing something to give away his identity and working with his buddy Stanley on their own project, a potato battery.

Jerry manages to sabotage their first model, pretending to lose control of a water balloon and shorting out the potato, but that is nothing like the disaster at the actual fair when his friend Nadine is demonstrating her big electromagnet. Java gets too close and suddenly his circuits start fritzing out. At first he only spouts random, strange facts, to the amazement of the kids and their parents.

"Hairy spiders make milk. Cats cannot taste sweets. The longest toenail is...."

Suddenly smoke blasted out of Java's mouth. Steam blasted from his rear end!

"MOM!" I shouted. "HELP!"

Sometimes having a brilliant inventor for a mom is a mixed blessing, in Nancy Krulik and Amanda Burwasser's Science No Fair!: Project Droid 1 (Sky Pony Press, 2016). Kids will love fantasizing about having a robot buddy, er, cousin, and despite his slight meltdown at the science fair, Java comes through to embarrass the evil twins and make this the most exciting third-grade science fair ever. His cyborg secret is safe for the moment, but the Silverstones vow revenge, and it looks like there are more science fiction-ish shenanigans ahead in the Project Droid series to keep beginning chapter readers coming back for more android adventures. Mike Moran provides black-and-white comic cartoons that add action and visual humor to most of the pages in these easy-reading stories with short chapters, large print, and fast-developing plots that will entice even reluctant readers.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mind Your Ps & Qs! AlphaBlock by Christopher Francescelli

Let us look at LETTERS!

Christopher Francescelli's small board book, Alphablock (Abrams Appleseed Books) gives small children a chance to learn their letters--in several ways. Large, die-cut block letters, attached at the central scene are there to be looked at and touched from all angles as they overlay one word that demonstrates their sound.

A is, of course, for APPLE, and behind the full-page-sized letter itself, little readers can see a little wicker basket filled with apples.

B is for BALLOON, fat, round, and curvy. D is for DOG, a little DACHSHUND, an elongated wiener dog who practically wiggles off the page.

Each letter gets its own noun, even that one that activates the ticklebox of little kids, U is for UNDERWEAR! All except for that unruly Z, which ZOOMS right off the page.

Illustrator Peskimo offers the young reader thick cut-out block capital letters that can be experienced as the initial letter of words or as pure shape, with sharp points, squared-off bases, and triangles, circles, semi-circles, and angles to be explored tactilely with the fingertips, making use of two senses to help the learning process. Behind the letters themselves, artist Peskimo offers old-fashioned vignettes, temptingly partly revealed behind the letters--a hammer, a well-tended garden, even an octopus, some predictable, some unexpected. "A sharply designed package," says Publishers Weekly.

Companion early learning books include Countablock (Alphablock) Cityblock (Alphablock) and Dinoblock (Alphablock)

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Beware! Jack O' Jerks! Mitchell on the Moon by R. W. Alley

One windy fall evening, Mitchell was leading the way. Until... Gretchen said "STOP!"

"The moon is disappearing."

"Uh-oh," said Mitchell.

Crunching through the autumn leaves and costumed as a sorcerer for Halloween, older brother Mitchell is leading his trio of siblings forth for some trick-or-treating, when younger sister Gretchen notices that part of the moon is ... GONE!

Sensible Clark points out that clouds are just drifting across the moon, and Annabelle insists that the moon is still safely up there in the sky. But big brother Mitchell accepts the challenge to save Halloween from the dark.

"Gretchen is right. The moon is in trouble. Only I, the Sorcerer of Space, can save the moon!"

Commandeering a ladder leaning against a tree, Mitchell waves his wand, declaring that only the Sorcerer of Space can fly the Moon Ladder of Magic Mystery.

But unnoticed behind him, little Gretchen, carrying her little wagon full of roly-polys (little white balls with smiley faces, capable of morphing to meet the need), climbs on the ladder behind him. With a Zappity Snap! Mitchell waves his wand and blasts into space, soaring into the stratosphere and beyond. With another bit of magic he captures the moon. Hooking his magic ladder on one end of the crescent moon, Mitchell races toward the other end where something sinister is indeed in progress!

"GADZOOKS! Jack O' Jerks are biting away at bits of the moon like candy!"

Suddenly Mitchell's stowaway little sister leads the way, hurling her multi-use roly-polys at the dastardly Jack O' Jerks.

"Let's get 'em!" Gretchen shouts.

But the ravenous Jack O' Jerks look at Gretchen as if she's the pick of Halloween treats, and Mitchell sees that his sister needs some saving!

"Yes, please," pleads Gretchen.

Will the space-traveling siblings prevail? Will the moon be saved? Will Halloween even happen this year for the fantastic foursome?

Well, what do you think? In this adventure, R. W. Alley continues his "quadrilogy" about the fantasy adventures of these four imaginative kids through the four seasons in Mitchell on the Moon (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2016), a rousing autumnal tale that leaves the four brothers and sisters and their long-suffering pooch dazed and amazed, but still up for trick-or-treating expedition, now fully lit by the rescued moon.

R. W. Alley's illustrations are outstanding, filled with double-page spreads in which the land of imagination flows seamlessly from the charming New England coastal scene into deep space and back again. With a slight touch of spookiness just right for the scary season and plenty of action in each scene, young would-be holiday celebrants will find this third story in the series will inspire their own trick-or-treat adventures.

Other books in this series, each featuring a different sibling, are Annabelle at the South Pole, Clark in the Deep Sea, and Gretchen Over the Beach.

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Things That Go Bump in the Night! Love Monster and the Scary Something by Rachel Bright

It's way past bedtime o'clock in Cutesville, and everyone was fast asleep.

Everyone, that is, except one particular monster.

Love Monster has had his nightly mug of hot cocoa, read himself a soothing bedtime story, several of them--fifteen and a half, to be exact.

But sleep won't come.

It's one of those nights. The more he tries to drift off to sleep, the wider awake he gets. Even the tick of the clock downstairs is too loud.

Then he hears another sound.

What was that?

At first it's just a slight rustling, maybe outside the house.

And then --


Now it sounds like something downstairs!


Then there's a new sound--something is coming up the stairs! Something with...


YIKES! It's a a case of creeped out in Cutesville, in Rachel Bright's latest little monster story, Love Monster and the Scary Something (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016), one that plays on all the night terrors that we all, from tots to seniors, share at one time or another, Bright makes good use of the coming-closer-and-closer trope, as her furry little Love Monster goes from hiding his head under his starry comforter to choosing to confront his scary something--a little bunny, a surprise partner in late-night insomnia.

It turns out that Love Monster wasn't the only one who couldn't sleep.

Rachel Bright's Love Monster is the cutest creaturely character since Mercer Mayer's shaggy Little Critter began his picture book career, and in this fourth book in her series, Bright's illustrations are just as monstrously adorable as ever in a story that makes the most of midnight suspense just right for the upcoming scary season, but a story which will also have kids cheering for her character's take-charge courage at the climax.

Other stories in this series are Love Monster, Love Monster and the Perfect Present, and Love Monster and the Last Chocolate.

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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Loop the Loop! The Thrills and Chills of Amusement Parks by Jordan Brown and Mark Borgions


What? You mean nothing is holding those pathetically little wheels on that track?

Yes, something is, and there is a very important scientific principle behind that convenient truth!

Amusement park rides don't need much hyped-up advertising, but sometimes scientific principles aren't quite so exciting as going loop-the-loop on a coaster. Still, Simon and Schuster's Spotlights of The Science of Fun Stuff series explains why all these exciting rides do what they do in their The Thrills and Chills of Amusement Parks (Science of Fun Stuff) (Simon Spotlight Books, 2016)

In the section "The Forces Behind the Fun," this inexpensive little early reader introduces the youngsters to the concepts of Newton's laws: "A moving object will keep moving at the same speed in the same direction unless something slows it down: the speed of an object changes when outside force acts on it," and "For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction." How centrifugal and centripetal forces act on those thrill-a-minute rides will give kids something different to think about while that roller coaster car makes that long climb to the first drop,
but knowledge that those fortuitous facts are on their side on the downhill drop is comforting.

Some of the other fun stuff explained are how those trick mirrors in the fun house make kids look goofy and even how that strange machine spins grains of sugar into long pink wisps wound around a paper handle--the science of cotton candy. Other theme park experiences explained are ice cream's "brain freeze" or how those magicians of the midway use their knowledge of physics to stack those bottles in a way to make it hard to win that neon green Teddy bear!

Other books in Simon's entertainingly educational series include The Innings and Outs of Baseball (Science of Fun Stuff), The Cool Story Behind Snow (Science of Fun Stuff), and The Explosive Story of Fireworks! (History of Fun Stuff).

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Friday, September 16, 2016

E Pluribus Unum! The Class by Boni Ashburn

The alarm clock sounds on that fateful morning!


It's the first day of Kindergarten, and all over the school district, twenty kids in nineteen different houses are getting up (or not!) to get ready for school.


Some breakfast heartily on pancakes, some with butterflies in their tummies can barely swallow a bite. Some have their first-day outfits at the ready. Some can't even find socks that match. Some have new shoes, shiny and stiff. Some have "the old shoe blues." Some have ribbons in their hair and others still have bed-head tangles.


And then by the big yellow bus, by family cars, and car pools in vans, and even trudging down the block, all the different kids converge on the school, where all ages crowd in through those open doors to begin again:


Out of many... one!

Twenty different kids, all different in their different ways, meet their teacher, ready to start the job of making them into one class, in Boni Ashburn's back-to-school look at how one classroom worth of kids start to school, The Class (Beach Lane Books, 2016).

Author Ashburn has a wonderful way with rhyming couplets, portraying all the rituals, routines, and snafus of that first morning of school, as well as with honesty and humor the myriad of emotions that first-time Kindergartners must feel as they face that first day. The delightfully detailed artwork by Kimberly Gee gives each distinct child his or her own personality, style, and body language which together make clear the excitement, the anxieties, and the promise of starting school, and subtly reveals the task that that one teacher faces in bringing all that diversity together into a group that can support each other and learn through that all-important first year. It takes all kinds to make a world and a class, and each youngster who shares this book can see himself or herself in one or more of these rising Kindergartners.

As Publishers Weekly says, "the book’s biggest strength is its subtle recognition of difference: even though these kids are all headed to the same place, their individual family situations, moods, and interests all play roles in bringing them there."

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

It Takes All Kinds! Some Pets by Angela Di Terlizzi





There's a pet show in the park, and our pigtailed journalist, camera in hand, is off to photograph the whole event.

All the critters do their thing. Some hop, some crawl. Some don't do much at all. Some are quiet; some are squawky! Some are playful, and some are talky!

A hamster races around on his wheel, while horses just stand and munch in the field. Kittens just want to play, while dogs show off their "sit and stay."

There's a lot going on down in the park, with plenty of action--the focus of Angela Di Terlizzi's newly published Some Pets (Beach Lane Books, 2016). Di Terlizzi's rhythmic quatrains focus on verbs, action words which describe the varied behaviors of this assortment of animals. Verbs like slither and nuzzle expand the vocabulary of young readers, while pointing up the differences between these potential pets--fluffy, scaly, feathery, silly--underscore what it is that makes one a perfect best friend for just the right child. Which is the winner? Which is best in show? Wait till the end, and you'll soon know.

Brendan Wenzel's detailed cut-paper collage illustrations manage to control and corral the menagerie meaningfully within the pages, opening with a wide, double-page view of the whole scene and then zooming in on small vignettes of the vista, featuring each group of animals described in the author's verses. This is a picture book with plenty of possibilities as a read-aloud for a single child or a small group over a range of ages, from easy questions like "What is this pet?" to questions about vocabulary ("What animal do you see that slithers"? "Which one is being cuddled?)" or for sharing queries such as "Which pet is like your pet?" or "Which one would not be a good pet for you?" The author handily offers a helpful appendix with an illustrated glossary of the animals shown in the text, "What's That Pet?" which encourages individual kids to ponder and go back into the text to find each one.

Share and pair this one with its companion book by Di Terlizzi and Wenzel, Some Bugs (Classic Board Books). (See my 2014 review here).

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Come Fly With Me! Three Magic Balloons by Juliana Margulies


But the three sisters didn't buy candy or ice cream cones. They bought little bags of special food for the animals. Week after week, they spent their money on treats for the animals and got to know all the different animals better.


And someone was watching. Then one day the man with a bundle of helium balloons for sale came over as the kind girls were feeding their favorite zoo creatures.


But the balloon man just hands each of the three sisters a balloon, promising that if they tie each one to each of their beds and go to sleep as fast as they can, they will have sweet dreams.

Sometimes a balloon is just a balloon. And sometimes it's so much more, as in Paul and Juliana Margulies' Three Magic Balloons (Random House, 2016), in which those balloons lift the sisters, in their beds, little Jane still in her crib, into a fantasy world--a dream world of magical creatures and beautiful angels that sing just for them and promise to be with them every day...


And when the dark skies begin to glow with dawn, the girls know they need to return to their own bedrooms, and the early birds help steer them back through their windows and where they belong, to wake to share the same very sweet dreams, not to mention a lot of bright feathers on their counterpanes. Based on a story written by their father Paul Margulies, Juliana Margulies and her sisters share their story, illustrated in gracefully retro-styled illustrations, by Grant Schaffer, who takes this simple story to another dimension with his billowing, pastel spirals that add movement to this gentle bedtime story."There's an innocence here that never becomes preachy or overly sweet. Tender, winsome, and loving," says Kirkus Reviews.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

'Snow Go! Mr. Putter and Tabby Hit the Slope by Cynthia Rylant

Mr. Putter and his fine cat, Tabby liked winter.

But sometimes things were a little slow.

It's the dead of winter, and even the snow is falling s-l-o-w-l-y.

Mr. Putter and Tabby stare sleepily out the window at their beloved hammock, now swamped in three feet of snow.

"We need some fun," said Mr. Putter to Tabby.

Mr. Putter daydreams about the fun he had when he was a kid, rocketing down the slopes on his little red sled. If only he still had that sled....

He calls his next-door neighbor Mrs. Teaberry. Mrs. Teaberry has two of almost everything in her garage. And, yes, she has two sleds! Mrs. Teaberry loves adventure, and she's on it instantly.

The sled runners are soaped and Mrs. Teaberry and her good dog Zeke are soon decked out in Alpine gear. Mr. Putter pulls on his plaid parka, his boots and earmuffs, and the red scarf Mrs. Teaberry knitted for him. Tabby is wearing another piece of their neighbor's handiwork.

Tabby was wearing a sweater Mrs. Teaberry had knitted her.

It was a little itchy, which made Tabby's tail very twitchy.

Tabby is warm, but her tail is still doing some serious twitching when the two intrepid sledders and their pets arrive at the top of the sledding hill. Mr. Putter wants Tabby to sit in front of him on the sled, but Tabby is not at all on board with that idea. She digs her front claws into Mr. Putter's thick coat sleeves and scrabbles stiffly with her hind legs. Her tail is twitching and switching. It's a no go in the snow for Tabby!

As Tabby sees it, things are going downhill fast with this outing.

And as soon as Mr. Putter finally gets Tabby on the sled, good dog Zeke jumps on and down the snowy slope the two go. Zeke is in his element, but Tabby is digging her claws into the sled for all she's worth.

The next thing Mr. Putter knew, he had no sled, no cat, and no fun.

Fun was already halfway down the slope.

As usual, Mrs. Teaberry takes charge fast. With a joyful Cowabunga! she pulls Mr. Putter onto the second sled and steers downhill, passing their pets--Zeke happily waggy and Tabby anxiously twitchy--way down the slope. And when they get to the bottom, Tabby, tail still twitching, takes to the top of the nearest tree. Will Mr. Putter ever get Tabby to come down?

Of course he will, in Cynthia Rylant's twenty-fifth book in this best-selling series, Mr. Putter & Tabby Hit the Slope, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016). Tabby licks her ruffled fur and laps up some warm cream, apres' sled, and life is soon happily back in the slow lane at the Putter house.

Author Rylant's style is simple yet vibrant, with whole paragraphs of meaning expressed in a few choice words, her skillful storytelling building suspense with every itch and twitch, all of which will have kids grinning at the thoughts of taking a terrified cat downhill on a sled.

Beginning readers will also warm to Rylant's happy ending, with Tabby smoothing her rumpled fur and feelings, lovingly soothed with muffins and cream and a nap in Mr. Putter's lap. As in all the books in this absolutely charming series, the comic and cozy artwork of Arthur Howard is essential, telling everything readers need to know in the gung-ho eyes of good dog Zeke and the round, horrified eyes of Tabby as they zoom down the hill, mirror images of the body language of their respective owners. Fun may be halfway down the hill for Mr. Putter, but it's everywhere in this sweet and jolly story, like all the others a celebration of the little joys of life and friendship and a mini-chapter fun ride for beginning readers as well.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Hijacked! Girl On A Plane by Miriam Moss

The plane's roar fills my head.

The man's eyes are wild. The gun in his hand shakes. "Sit in your seats," he screams.

It can't be real.... I shrink down and stare at my hands in my lap. If the gun goes off, we'll all be sucked out. Oh, my God!

The intercom crackles: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain Gregory. We've been hijacked by the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
It is very important that we remain calm and obey these people. Please stay in your seats."

The boys on either side of me are barely breathing. I look down at my maroon shoes, the one Marni bought me yesterday. I am going to die in them.

Anna's father is a civilian employee of the British Army, stationed in Bahrain for several years, and fifteen-year-old Anna is returning for her second year in an English boarding school. The family knows that one plane has been blown up in the air already by the PFLP, and the chance of hijacking is not far from their minds. But now Anna finds herself living out their worst nightmare.

The plane full of terrified civilians lands safely, first in Beirut, where they get jet fuel but no food or water, and they then fly on to land on a sandy airstrip surrounded by low rocky mountains, mountains that will be her only view as they all wait for four days, the plane wired with explosives, while negotiations go on over a PFLP captive held by Britain. Anna helps the stewardess Rosemary go through the trays from their last meal, looking for unopened food and liquids, but after one scant meal, the passengers endure days in the broiling sun with temperatures over 110 degrees and freezing desert nights, the toilets overflowing, and a single piece of bread and half a cup of water from their captors for daily rations. The whole thing is all too real and yet incomprehensible.

Jamal leans against the galley. He's staring down the aisle.
I can't get my head around it. He seems so normal, quite nice, and yet he's prepared to kill us all.

Anna has no one to talk to but the two boys in her row of seats, seventeen-year-old David and little Tim, clutching a tin with his pet turtle, both of them also returning to school in England. Over time the three grow close as they whisper their fears and hopes to each other.  At one point the passengers are taken at gunpoint and made to pose for photos which the hijackers hope will put pressure on the British government to release their leader. The time passes slowly but all too soon it comes down to the morning of the last day, with the terrorists vowing to blow up the plane at noon if their demands are not met.

Anna's thoughts race between imagining how her dad and mother Marni must feel and contemplating the unthinkable--that she may not live beyond that moment.

Miriam Moss' Girl on a Plane (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) rings frighteningly true because it is her own true account, lightly fictionalized in the case of the minor characters, but basically her experience as a hostage in 1970. Even the sympathetic character of Jamal, whose farmhouse was set afire and whose parents were shot as they ran from it before his eyes, is a composite of several of her hijackers as he voices the moral dilemma at the root their situation.

Jamal drips his head. "I'm sorry you are here. But we were driven out with nothing, no family, no home, no education.... Nothing. Tell me, what would you do?"

Anna can't answer Jamal's question.

Moss' first person narrative is gripping, with a young teen facing death in an event totally beyond her control, a believable situation that feels all too possible these days and one that will keep readers spellbound and turning the pages as the tension builds to its not-so-certain resolution. A riveting read, an insight into recent history, and a good choice for a novel study which will doubtless inspire memorable classroom discussion.

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Wrong (Page) Turn! We're in the Wrong Book! by Richard Byrne


The two book-loving buddies, Bella and Ben, are back in another bibliographic adventure when Bella's big shaggy dog bounces right into their sack race and bumps them right out of the book, page right!


There's nothing left to do but jump back, right into the gutter (not the one between sidewalk and street, but the one between the pages of the book) and look for him.But the two buddies seem to have bounced into a wholly different book--a counting book, complete with ten lollipops, nine pencils...


Bella and Ben don't have time for the countdown and exit page right again--to find themselves in a cat-and-mouse comic book chase. Clearly, they've lost their place!

The mouse pauses and suggests they find a library professional who knows where their own book is shelved, but apparently the lovely librarian comes up with the wrong Dewey Decimal number and Ben and Bella find themselves in a travel book about Egypt, staring into the inscrutable eyes of the Sphinx! Bella tries to decipher the hieroglyphics on the wall (Walk like an Egyptian!)

This story is becoming a real page turner, as the two kids flip through a twisty maze puzzle page, dodge the Big Bad Wolf, hitch a ride on a hot-air balloon, and race down a dark tunnel, in Richard Byrne's latest, We're in the wrong book! (Henry Holt, 2016), but when they've tried all the genres they can take for one day, they poke through the page to find Bella's dog waiting, looking as if he wants to say, "What took you so long?"

In an unusual tour of literary forms, author-illustrator Richard Byrne has a new metafiction outing waiting for his young readers, especially those who have enjoyed his earlier books, This book just ate my dog! and This book is out of control! These between-the-cover adventures make good selections for Book Week storytime activities.

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

CAT-astrophe! Teddy The Dog: Be Your Own Dog by Keri Claiborne Boyle

Folks, life is great here in Teddyville.

I'm the Leader of the Pack, the Big Cheese, you might say.

Teddy the Dog is an only dog, an only pet, even, which makes Teddy the Top Dog, the only pebble on the beach, so to speak.

Life is good. He pursues his mission to stop and sniff at will.

If he's hungry, he is free to overturn the hot dog cart and scarf up all the wieners he wants and to leave his signature paw print (in pink) on the neighbor's freshly painted white house.

I'm a charming and fetching dog (who never actually fetches!)

But all that ends abruptly when a special delivery package arrives with a note from Aunt Marge:

Dearest Teddy,

Please take care of little Penelope.

And that's the end of the good life for Teddy. A kitten is an unknown quantity. What do you do with a CAT-ASTROPHE in a box?

Teddy gives it a try. He tries teaching the cat to walk on a leash. But cats don't follow the leader of the pack--or anybody else, apparently. He treats the kitty whom he names Fishbreath to a car ride with her head out the window, with an equal lack of success. A cat with windblown whiskers is not a happy camper. Teddy loves dog paddling during a dip in the neighbor kid's plastic pool, but a swim leaves Fishbreath bedraggled and mad as only a wet cat can be!

Maybe Fishbreath likes to play ball? She stares unenthusiastically as it rolls by her cozy cat bed.

I did find there was one thing we could agree on.

Neither of us is going to fetch.

Teddy the Dog decides to try a little psychology on Penelope. He follows her lead and tries sitting in a box.

A cat can be a tough customer when it comes to behavior modification. As veteran cat owners can testify, a cat's personal creed has always been "I did it MY way." But, hey! If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, as Teddy concedes that a catnap with Penelope in a comfy chair is something a dog and cat can share, in Keri Claiborne Boyle's first picture book outing for her noted cartoon dog, Teddy the Dog: Be Your Own Dog (HarperCollins, 2016). With an easy-going theme of "different-strokes-for-different folks," Boyle's text is buoyed by Jonathan Sneider's clever illustrations which poke gentle fun at both Teddy's overblown ego and Penelope's hoity-toity cat-hood on their way to a live-and-let-live Grand Alliance--for which all owners of both a cat and dog around the house can only hope.

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Friday, September 09, 2016

Holy Pajamas! Bedtime for Batman by Michael Dahl



As a young Robin finishes building his own block version of Gotham city, outside his window the Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne, climbs into his tights, cape, and Batman mask.

The little Robin wannabe also climbs into his Batman pajamas, as Bruce points to the Batclock. It's time to prepare for the night.

Our little Robin sticks to the checklist: he puts away his toys, washes up, brushes his teeth, and climbs up and up into his towering top bunk, while Batman looks down from a gargoyle atop his skyscraper at the city below. It's time for the Dark Knight to do his duty.


To sometimes weary parents, bedtime is a nightly adventure and getting youngsters to take to their beds is indeed a heroic deed, and author Michael Dahl gives young superhero lovers something to dream about in his new Bedtime for Batman (DC Super Heroes) (Capstone Young Readers, 2016.) With the help of artist Ethen Beavens' dramatic comic-book-style illustrations, the boy's bedside window becomes the movie screen upon which the Dark Knight carries out his mission during the, er, dark night. Comparing going to bed to the caped crusaders' nightly derring-do may be a bit of a stretch, but a good imagination and a pair of pajamas with a cape may make the transition a bit easier for those little bedtime resisters of the action figure persuasion.

Says Kirkus Reviews, "... this is certainly a niche read, but it hits its mark well, delivering fun without darkness. A 'bedtime checklist' at the end aptly includes 'story time.'"

Pair this one with its DC Comics' companion book, EVEN SUPER HEROES SLEEP (DC Super Heroes) or with one of Michael Dahl's noted bedtime stories for the action-oriented, Goodnight Baseball (Sports Illustrated Kids Bedtime Books) (See review here) and Goodnight Football (Fiction Picture Books).

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