Friday, November 27, 2020

At the OLD Ballgame! Mr. Putter and Tabby Drop the Ball by Cynthia Rylant

Mr. Putter and his good cat Tabby love their naps--naps in the tomato garden, naps in the porch swing, naps in the hammock, even in the car! One day Mr. Putter wakes up from his nap with a new thought.

"We nap too much!" Mr. Putter said to Tabby. "We need a sport!"

Mr. Putter heads down to the basement and comes back with his old baseball mitt. Tabby is awake now and worried. Her frisky days are well behind her!
"We need a TEAM!" declared Mr. Putter.

When in doubt, Mr. Putter always calls his neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry.

Mrs. Teaberry knows just the team for Mr. Putter!
"The Yankee Doodle Dandies!" she says. "You will feel young on that team!

We'll both play!"

Now that he's got the ball rolling, so to speak, Mr. Putter begins to have second thoughts. What about his bad knees that don't want to bend? Is he too old for baseball?

When they arrive the game is in full swing. There is a base runner heading for home plate. He is running, sort of, very, very slowly. The crowd waits and waits and waits and waits.
"I feel pretty young!" said Mr. Putter.

The Yankee Doodle Dandies are happy to have some fresh, new recruits and put Mr. Putter in the outfield and Mrs. Teaberry in at shortstop, commanding her good dog Zeke to STAY in the dugout. Tabby is already ready for a nap.

But when a ball is hit toward Mrs. Teaberry, Zeke runs into the infield and grabs it. GLOMP! The rival team scores a run while Mrs. Teaberry and the Dandies chase Zeke all around the infieldto retrieve the ball. Zeke is benched!

Then the next batter hits a grounder into the outfield, rolling right toward Mr. Putter, who charges to field that ball. It's right at his feet. He can save the game for the Dandies! But...
His knees would not bend.

But it's Zeke to the rescue. With a timely assist, he glomps the ball and puts it right into Mr. Putter's glove. And Mr. Putter throws the ball hard, right to the catcher. The runner is out! The crowd goes wild!

Even benchwarmer Tabby wakes up, in Cynthia Rylant's beginning reader book,
Mr. Putter and Tabby Drop the Ball (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Artist Arthur Howard's jolly comic illustrations, done with verve in watercolor and gouache, add much to the fun, as Mr. Putter, Mrs. Teaberry, Zeke and Tabby celebrate with ... what else...a nap!

Kirkus Reviews calls it "A home run!"

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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

HELLO! I am Baloney. This is my book, all about me. says Baloney the pig. "And me, too!" says a blue horse, stepping into the story. "Oh, hi, Peanut." says Baloney. He starts over. "I'm Baloney. I am the star of this book. It's my first book and I hope that..."
Biz the bee buzzes in.
"What?" "Oh, hi, Biz. Anyway, I'm the star of this book and this is Peanut and Biz." "You forgot Krabbit," says Biz.
Krabbit, the grumpy Rabbit appears, page right.
"WHATEVER." he grouches. Baloney starts over. "I am Baloney and this is.... "WAIT!" Where's Peanut?" "I think she went to the bathroom," says Biz. "She said she had to and... this was taking so long and.. <you know...." "NOW? But I'm starting the book!" Baloney cried. This is taking a REALLY long time," groused Krabbit. "Are we DONE?"
Being an author is not an easy job, especially when you are also the main character, a.k.a., the STAR, as Baloney the pig finds out when he tries to corral his friends into literary form. It seems his book's characters have their own ideas in Greg Pizzoli's newest gambit, the graphic novel titled Baloney and Friends (Baloney & Friends (1)) (Little, Brown and Company, 2020). But three-time Caldecott winner and Honor book author Greg Pizzoli has assembled quite an ensemble of comic characters in his ambitious new medium, boasting at least 85 pages of comic book-framed fun. Baloney tries out magic tricks on his friends: he makes a carrot disappear by eating it while they wait with eyes closed, and when that fails to amaze, while Baloney searches for his magic tricks book, Peanut offers to buy pizza, and Baloney returns to find that they have indeed disappeared. Like magic! For kids just moving beyond beginning reader stage, this new graphic novel has plenty more comic scenes with the four friends. A good follow up to beginning books from Dr. Seuss's famous beginner books or Mo Willems' superb series, Pizzoli had just the fun to brighten the long dark evening of late autumn. "A sure bet for Elephant and Piggie fans who are ready for the next step up or want to make the move to comics, says Booklist.

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Sunday, November 22, 2020

A Taste for Literature: Library Books Are Not for Eating by Todd Tarpley


But she had this unfortunate habit....



The class was aghast. They loved their books. They felt they had to repeat that library books are not to eat!

Librarian McSmartly envisioned her book stock shrinking. What was Ms. Bronte thinking? Ms. McSmartly had to preserve her collection! MS. Bronte vowed to end her greedy prediliction. But on her way out, she gobbled a booktruck full of fiction.

Ms. Bronte promised to change her diet. The Lunch Lady dished her up stew and cottage cheese. But that didn't seem to please Ms. Bronte, who scarfed up all the kitchen's recipes.

Maybe big Coach Burley can could her straight--and alter the choice of what she ate. But the coach was more concerned that his soccer field needed mowing, which seemed to set Ms. Bronte's juices flowing! But after she ate Burley's book of soccer plays, she vowed to change her ways.


Coach Burley offered Ms. Bronte a deal.... Make his overgrown playing field her daily meal!

Author Todd Tarpley's latest school story, Library Books Are Not for Eating! (Doubleday, 2020), fits right on the menu with last year's hit gustatory yarn, We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. (See my review here). Author Todd Tarpley is the past master of wordplay, rhymes, and comic plots, and Tom Booth's, er, tasteful illustrations make this one a humorous introduction for that first classroom lecture on library book care. Other hit books by Todd Tarpley are Beep! Beep! Go to Sleep! Naughty Ninja Takes a Bath, Three Grumpy Trucks, and his classic, Ten Tiny Toes.

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Saturday, November 21, 2020

No Tooth Required? Pete the Cat and the Lost Tooth by James and Kimberly Dean


And it works! Pete puts the tooth under his pillow, and closes his eyes to sleep--and--COOL!--The Tooth Fairy appears, big blue eyes, azure tutu, wand, and wings and all.

Not only does she have his coin, but she has a job for him. She's too busy to get around to all the lost teeth before morning, so she deputizes Pete as a tooth fairy temp employee. He gets big yellow wings and a Tooth Fairy T-shirt--and his very own list of tooth-losers--all of them his friends.

Pete's first customer is Callie Cat, a sleeping beauty if he's ever seen one, and Pete takes the tooth and leaves a coin without waking her. Pete flutters on to Alligator's window and finds him snoring away, with one big bicuspid under his pillow.


Carefully putting a coin under Alligator's pillow, Pete flies on to the last name on his list--Gus the Platypus, his favorite percussionist. But there's a problem. There is no tooth under Gus the Platypus' pillow. Pete searches all around, but there is not a tooth anywhere!


There's only one thing to do. Pete bends the rules a little bit. He wakes Gus up and asks him where he's put his lost tooth. Gus puzzles at Pete's costume, but opening his mouth wide, he points out what should be obvious.


Pete gets it that Gus is just trying to get in on the tooth-fairy fun, so Pete puts the customary coin under his pillow and returns to rendezvous with a very tired Tooth Fairy, ready for her shift to end.

It's No Problem and fist bumps all around, in James and Kimberly Dean's Pete the Cat and the Lost Tooth (My First I Can Read) (HarperCollins). Author-illustrator Dean is the author of over 100 picture books and beginner reader books with their can-do theme and laid-back philosophy of life, and this one is just right for a readership who are busy shedding first teeth. The two Deans always provide a few nuggets of knowledge along with their easy reading practice, not to mention the positive view of life which comes with the fun.

For yet another Tooth Fairy tale, pair this one with one of Adam Wallace's How-To series, How to Catch the Tooth Fairy. (See review here).

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Friday, November 20, 2020

Some Like It Hot; Some Not! Federico and the Wolf by Rebecca J. Gomez

Federico is suiting up to run an errand for his mama, who is planning a batch of perfect pico de Gallo. Rico pulls on his red hoodie and laces up his sneakers, putting his shopping bag in his bike's basket. 

Cuidado!" called his Mama, as he pedaled off to the shops.

"Mind Abuelo's grocery list and don't make other stops!"

At la tienda Federico chooses all the items on his list, with especial attention to picking the perfect red-ripe jalapeno pepper to give the pico plenty of pizzazz! Pedaling along toward his grandfather's shop, Rico stops to remove a branch from the walk and is surprised to be greeted, not by his Abuelo, but by a wolf, one large lobo, who eyes his basket of groceries and begs for a bite of lunch.
Federico grabs his bike and leaves the wolf far behind.

But little did he know the wolf has other plans in mind.

By this time most savvy youngsters will have guessed just where this story is going, in Rebecca J. Gomez' Federico and the Wolf (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2020), a saucy, salsa take-off on the classic English folktale of Little Red Riding Hood.

Federico is no babe in the woods, either, and author Gomez has some fun when Rico  arrives at his grandfather's place and recognizes that his abuelo has never been so in need of a shave nor so toothy before! Stalling for time, he inquires...
"New dentures, too?"
"They help me chew!"
... the wolf snarls.
"Here's the deal: I'll make you the meal!"
All's well that ends well with a surprised wolf with a snoot full of a perfect jalapeno, hot as a firecracker, in this rowdy remake of Red Riding Hood with a south of the border flavor. Illustrator Elisa Javarri's bright colors keep the mood light, and author Gomez provides both a succulent recipe for pico de Gallo and a handy glossary of the Spanish words that add spice to this classic story, a tasty and funny, fractured fairy tale that will leave youngsters howling. 

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Thursday, November 19, 2020

Wildlife Management! Rescuing Mrs. Birdley by Aaron Reynolds



Nature Joe's specialty is restoring lost wild animals out to their proper habitats. From re-placing lost lions to helping homeless lemurs, catching coatis to transporting tortoises, Nature Joe's a good guy.
Clearly Mrs. Birdley has strayed outside the classroom where she belongs.
Well schooled by Nature Joe, Miranda knows all the tricks of the trade. She tries digging a deadfall (lined with soft cushions, of course, to be humane) to trap Mrs. Birdley. But the skittish Mrs. Birdley eludes capture. However, Miranda has observed Mrs. Birdley's habits and diet carefully, and after her drop net is all set, Miranda has the perfect lure--BLUEBERRY YOGURT!
But when the grocery clerk intervenes with a cheese ball Mrs. Birdley has forgotten at the counter, Mrs. Birdley is distracted and Miranda's net misses the mark. Not to be defeated, Miranda sneaks behind a display of large plastic trash bins until Mrs. Birdley is fully absorbed by some fresh alfalfa sprouts. Down comes the bin over her head, and her teacher is trapped inside. Miranda rolls the bin through town toward the elementary school, with Mrs. Birdley squeaking disquietly inside, and locks her safely back in her classroom. Mrs. Birdley didn't exactly look happy. But...
Miranda Montgomery strolls home, feeling proud of her efforts, when she sees something else that requires her expertise. Her principal Mr. Crankerstout is roaming around loose in the lawn mower section of the home improvement store....! As Kirkus Reviews says, "A fun story for all the kids who think their teachers live at school, because... where else would they live?"

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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Nice On Ice! Mice on Ice by Rebecca and Ed Emberley

There's snow on the ground and ice on the pond, and a troupe of young mice in colorful knitted winter garb and old-fashioned curved skates tramp to the skating area.


The skillful mice slide and glide, swirl and twirl. They leave skate tracks behind on the once smooth ice. But then, one mouse looks down, and with a frown, notices the telltale pattern of a cat face in those ice traces. Yikes!

No doubt of that! Should all the mice skat?

No dice, in Ed and Rebecca Emberley's exuberant picture book for emergent readers, Mice on Ice (I Like to Read) (Holiday House), in which the gallant mice share the ice with a skating cat. The cat in the funny hat turns out to be both benevolent and artistic and a good time is had by all. Daughter Rebecca Emberley adds an ebullient Kaleidoscope of colored-paper sculpture illustrations to her Caldecott-winning father Ed Emberley's controlled but poetic rhyming text, inviting the emergent reader to read this one solo.

All created by famous author-illustrators, other books in this top-notch series for early readers include Ethan Long's Pig Has a Plan (I Like to Read), I See a Cat (I Like to Read), by Paul Meisal, Little Ducks Go (I Like to Read), by Emily Arnold McCully, and Fix This Mess! (I Like to Read), by Tedd Arnold.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

No Chimneys? Presents Through the Window by Taro Gomi

He's not your grampa's Father Christmas, for sure. Sporting hot pink sweats and dangly white mustachios and arriving by helicopter, Santa Claus is nevertheless as rushed as the traditional guy delivering gifts on Christmas.

In a town with no chimneys, this Santa has to resort to peering in windows to decide what presents to drop off.

The plan works well on his first stop. Through the window he spies an snoring mouse and tosses in a petite pair of pink boots for the little rodent. So far, so good! At the next house, he can see a pink kitty and he promptly puts a polka-dotted bow over the window sill, failing to see that the kitty is a bedtime toy for a snoozing pig.


It's all downhill for Santa's deliveries from that point on. He mistakes the long white necks of three storks for the stripes on a zebra and tosses a long black-and-white stole. The next window is dark, so Santa Claus skips that house and moves on the next window, where he sees what he perceives to be two perky fox ears and drops off a pointy cap.

At the next window, St. Nick sees what he assumes to be two dark-haired boys sharing a bed, meriting tossing two presents inside, but failing to notice that one face is painted on a helium balloon tied to one boy's bed! When Santa perceives eight bunny ears as the pointy teeth of some large predator, he pulls out a prodigiously-proportioned sweater and hurls it through the window.

When everyone wakes, they find that Santa's pack has yielded a mixed bag. The boy with the balloon gets two gifts, one of which he shares with the overlooked black bear from the dark room. The three storks experiment with strutting stylishly with the stole entwined around all three necks. The crocodile pops the foxy cap right over two large spines on his back, and the white bunnies find sleeping space under the extra large-sized sweater. Almost all of the mistakes get sorted out, leaving the added fun for kids of figuring out who remains ungifted.

All's well that ends with a merry Christmas to all, in Taro Gomi's,Presents Through the Window: A Taro Gomi Christmas Book (Chronicle Books). It's a different take on an unusual visit from St. Nick in this noted author-illustrator's Christmas Eve tale which will give young listeners a giggle and young beginning readers a novel Christmas story to entertain the littlest ones. Taro Gomi's block print illustrations are engaging and full of festive fun, as well. "This combination holiday story and "eye spy" game is perfect for sharing and will bring a smile to young readers as they guess what's really going on through the cutout windows," says Publishers Weekly.

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Saturday, November 14, 2020

Dream Big! A Girl Like Me by Angela Johnson

I always dream. I'm flying in Supergirl underwear way up high!

You can dream of soaring high above the skyscrapers. But there are always some naysayers down below!

With everybody I know saying, "A girl like you shouldn't be flying up there in your underwear!"

In her fantasy she sees herself donning western boots, a jaunty kerchief, and a tall cowboy hat, and climbing those skyscrapers, rising from roof to rooftop.

It doesn't bother her when they say a girl like her belongs down on the ground in regular clothes like the rest of them.

But a girl can dream she swims the blue sea, one with the bright-colored fish and the waves. She can believe she belongs there instead of staying back there in dry clothes on the dry land. So she finds some like-minded girls--who dress in like somebody special, somebody who can wear crazy scarves and feathers and capes and crazy hats and parade through town to where the sea begins, where they own the beach....

...'cause a girl like me should always be thinking way up high... better than a dream."

Noted poet Angela Johnson's free-verse poem, A Girl Like Me (Millbrook Press, 2020) is all about girl power and the power within girls who come together to be all they can be, made engaging and arresting by artist Nina Crews' lighthearted collages of cityscapes through which flow butterflies and stars, ribbons, and the necessary fun hats, all strewn together with woven pastel hexagons that float and flow down to a joyful beach scene. More than a preview of Halloween costumes, this story is as light as a flying superhero, and as down to earth as a sandy parade on the beach. Publishers Weekly approves, saying--"A blithe celebration of individuality, guts, and sisterhood."

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Friday, November 13, 2020

Happy Days, All Ways: My Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali

On Musa's first day of Kindergarten, his teacher Ms. Gupta, said"Look around. You don't know them now, but these faces will be your closest friends this year. Musa looked around. They didn't look like his friends. They were total strangers.

Musa sat at his table with boys named Moises, Kevin, and Mo. None of them looked like they believed Mrs. Gupta either.

But she suggests that a good get-to-know-you activity is to find out what each other's favorite day of the year is. Musa perked up. His favorite day was Eid, he said. Surely it is everyone's favorite day! But nobody else seems to know what Eid is. But soon his mother brings everyone special food and decorations for Eid, and Musa explains that after a very early service at the mosque, everyone gets together for a big breakfast and people come all day to bring special food and presents, while the kids get to play all day.

Everyone could see why Eid was Musa's favorite day.

Later in the autumn, it is Mo's turn to share his favorite day, Shanah Tovah. He says he gets to light candles for Rosh Hashanah, and everyone eats yummy food to make the whole new year sweet. Mo and his mother bring apples dipped in honey and challah bread for the group to share.

Everyone could see why Rosh Hashanah was Mo's favorite day.

But in winter, it is Moises' turn to share the fun of Feliz Navidad. He tells about the posadas in which neighbors sing from house to house and share special foods and good wishes, and how for nine days everyone eats holiday foods and brings presents and sings special songs. And on Christmas Eve. even the littlest kids get to go to midnight church services and open their Christmas presents right after.

Everyone could see why Christmas was Moises' favorite.

Finally Kevin shared his favorite day--PI DAY. What?

Kevin explained that PI is a very special number used to solve math problems, especially with circles. He says Pi Day is a time to learn about science and famous scientists and mathematicians. And the best part, Kevin says, is picking fresh apples, in honor of Isaac Newton, who had an apple fall on his head that helped him figure out how gravity works. But Kevin's apples are used to make a special apple pi-day pie which he shares with everyone in the class.

Everyone could see why Pi Day was Kevin's favorite.

And at the end of the school year everyone looked around the room, where everyone was now a good friend with whom they had shared favorite celebrations, in A. E. Ali's Our Favorite Day of the Year (Simon and Schuster, 2020). 

With its message that the best special days are those that we share,  this story is also good to read before our annual holiday season. Illustrator Rahele Jamepour Bell's multimedia artwork glows with colors and patterns from everywhere that people celebrate, right down to the clothes that the circle of kids are wearing, with emphasis on the commonality of gatherings of friends and family and shared food and fun. The starred reviews really came out in the literary sky for this one: Kirkus Reviews says, "The dual focus on friendship and diversity makes this choice a winner,” and School Library Journal adds, “A comforting story that will help build bridges among children of different backgrounds and faiths.”

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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Making a Splash! Cannonball by Sacha Cotter

I'm always dreaming of pulling off that perfect cannonball. A booming one! A slapping one. A splashing, dripping, soaring one! Do an amazing cannonball around here and you will be something, all right. SomeONE!
The competition is considerable! The Kneelock! The Coffin Drop! The Manu! They're all a hard act to follow. His Nana tries to build up his confidence, but then one attempt from the sky-high platform leaves him clinging to the board, providing a good laugh for all the big guys below.
Sometimes I think I'm just not cut out for cannonballs!
Everybody thinks they know the secret. Weigh more. Get taller. Get bigger swim trunks! OR JUST...
But Nana has the best advice.
"Do it your way!"
So with the breeze in his hair, he dances through the air, and.... ... with a colossal, spectacular, super SPLASH, he lands a memorable cannonball that soaks everyone thoroughly. YAY! It's mission accomplished in Sacha Cotter's how-to story, Cannonball (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, 2020). Sacha Cotter's story of making the scene with a big splash is set in New Zealand, giving a bit of South Pacific color and feel to a story of achieving the milestone of that big jump that is a universal childhood experience. Populated with plenty of voluble advisors and nay-saying critics, Cotter's upbeat narration is punctuated with jolly rhymes and enlightened by a supportive grandmother to add to this joyful rite of passage. Pair this one with Gaia Cornwall's delightful Jabari Jumps (read review here), another story of making that leap of faith into the rest of your life.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

It Happened: After the Worst Thing Happens by Audrey Vernick

 It is cruel. I wake up.

Tears start before I even form and idea about how I can survive in this life in which not only did my sweet dog die, but it was entirely my fault. 

 His food and water bowls are gone. The leash is no longer hanging on a hook by the mudroom door. The small basket of balls and toys he liked are gone. All the signs of his life are gone.

 Never happened.

Leaving the double-chocolate cupcakes she'd made from her best friend's recipe to cool in the pantry, Army dashes out of the house for dinner at JennaLouise's house, leaving her beloved little white dog Maybe eating his kibble, but when she returns, her dog is already near death. She forgot chocolate is poison to dogs, and little Maybe had eaten six or seven of them. 

 Army is devastated with guilt and misses Maybe terribly. Her friend Jenna and brother Navy try to console her as best the can, and her mom is sympathetic, but already absorbed in the approaching tropical storm. Army's parents run a company which specializes in recovery and restoration of property after storms, fires, and floods. A tropical storm is worsening rapidly and her parents are busy preparing for their cleanup work in its aftermath.

No one has time to share her grief. Walking alone through her neighborhood, Army notices a small girl, about five years old, sitting on the second floor roof of the house into which new neighbors have just moved. She feels compelled to tell the new neighbors about the child, and discovers an distraught mother  alone with newborn twins. Army offers to climb out the window and sit with Madison until her mother can get the twins settled. She sits silently with her until the little girl decides to climb back inside. She learns then that Madison is mute and autistic and prone to climbing anything--utility towers and tall trees.

 And then, when Army is forced to wait through a Cub Scout meeting with her little brother Navy, their program is about service dogs, and suddenly Army decides that she must find a way to get a service dog for Madison to help keep her safe. Surprisingly, Navy gives her a box he's rescued from the trash, with all of Maybe's toys, his leash, and bowls. And when her mother finds the box in her closet, she doesn't understand.
"You have to forgive yourself, honey," her mom says.
"I don't know how." I say. "Because I can't do your Never Happened thing--act like there never was a Maybe."
Mom takes her time. "I work with people going through awful things, some because of human error. But those were just things. You have your memories and I knew it would be easier to get over it without all the reminders around."
"For you," I say. "That's what's easier for you. For me, it helps to have the actual thing that's part of the memory.
The things have meaning to me."

And her mother gets it that things can help in handling grief, and with the help of her best friend and the annoying Elsie Jennings, who  insists on befriending her, Army sets out to find a way to get a service dog for Madison and finds her own self-forgiveness in the aftermath of the storm, in Audrey Vernick's newest middle grade novel, After the Worst Thing Happens (Mary Ferguson Books, 2020).

Author Audrey Verdick is capable of penning hilarious picture books for young primary students (cf. her First Grade Dropout) (see review here), but in this realistic first-person coming-of-age story, the real focus is on Army's relationship with her stoic mother and father whose business is to remove all evidence of unfortunate events, an understanding of her mom who learned to hide grief after her father's early death, and a consciousness that she must handle loss and guilt in her own way. Kirkus Reviews says, "This exploration of family dynamics is where this novel shines."

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Shall We Dance? Mr. Putter and Tabby Dance the Dance by Cynthia Rylant

Mrs. Teaberry has been watching a ballroom dancing contest on television. She gets out her high-heeled dancing shoes and gets an idea. And when Mrs. Teaberry gets an idea, she calls Mr. Putter.

"I think we should go ballroom dancing," she said.

Mr. Potter looked at Tabby, napping in the geraniums. Tabby was old. like he was. "I am not sure I have it in me," he said.

"I have two left feet. I haven't danced since 1947."

"Dancing is good for people," said Mrs. Teaberry. "What have you got to lose?"

Mr. Potter is pretty sure he has a lot to lose--his dignity, for one thing. A lot of good napping time, for another. 

But as usual with Mrs. Teaberry's ideas, with Tabby in tow Mr. Potter finds himself escorting Mrs. Teaberry and Zeke (in a doggie tux and top hat) to the very sparkly Crystal Ballroom. All the dancers look spiffy and Tabby loves chasing the dancing sparkles. Mr. Potter says he does not know how to rumba or do the fox trot, so they wait at their table until the band plays a cha-cha-cha.

They told Tabby and Zeke to stay. One of them was good at staying.
One of them was not.

Mr. Putter is actually getting the knack of the cha-cha-cha, and he and Mrs. Teaberry are having a good time--when...

Zeke stopped staying and ran out on the sparkly floor and grabbed a man's tuxedo tails and danced with him for a while.
Then he grabbed a lady's poodle skirt and danced with her.

And when the band swings into a tango, Zeke whirls with a rose in his teeth. Some dancers stop dancing and watch Zeke.

And no one notices that Mr. Putter has two left feet, in Cynthia Rylant's story of quite a night on the town in Mr. Putter & Tabby Dance the Dance (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). 

In a happy combination of author Rylant's endearing and well-portrayed characters and artist Arthur Howard's personality-filled illustrations done in pencil, watercolor and gouache, along with notable page designs with large font and drawings set spot-art style, this one makes beginning chapter book reading a joy for primary graders to pursue. Encore, Mr. Putter and Tabby--right after you have a good nap!Labels: , , , ,

Monday, November 09, 2020

Storms Always End: Hurricane Heroes in Texas (Magic Tree House) by Mary Pope Osborne

Jack and were waiting for Mom to take them the baseball practice. A few raindrops spattered on the porch. "Sorry, kids! called Mom. Coach Don just emailed. No practice today. Annie smiled at Jack. "We can go to the woods... "Really? Do you think...?" he asked. "I woke up with a feeling.... Something really important is going to happen today," said Annie.
The date is September 8, the same date as the Great Galveston Hurricane, as the kids learn when they reach the magic tree house and find a book about the most deadly storm of the century which occurred on that date in 1900. The magical librarian Morgan le Fay has left a message for them on their destination: To help the people in Galveston they must learn important truths from a hero. And there is another message:
The magic tree house rises and spins, taking them through time to come to rest in a large oak tree in the yard of a large blue house. It's breezy and rainy, but the street is bustling with people with umbrellas going about their business. Jack and Annie discover themselves dressed in old-fashioned clothes and high lace-up shoes and walk away, trying to blend in with the crowd in what seems to be a large, prosperous city. Turning a corner they spot the Lone Star Cafe and hurry inside, taking a small table beside a well-dressed elderly couple who give them friendly smiles.
Annie turned the gray-haired woman. "Excuse me. We're tourists from Pennsylvania. Where is the high ground in Galveston?" The old man pointed to the right. "We call it 'uptown.' The lowest ground is the Strand, the street beside the Gulf," he said, pointing left.
Then Jack has a frightening thought. He looks at Annie. She looks back, her eyes wide.
"Excuse me again, but do you know what is today's date?" she asked the couple. "You don't know that?" said the man. "It's September 8, 1900."
Jack and Annie thank the couple and hurry outside into the rain.
"We got here just in time... said Annie. ....for the worse disaster in U.S. history," said Jack.
Jack and Annie know what they must do. Rushing down the street toward the Strand to warn the kids gawking at the big waves, they shout to them to run for high ground, when a huge wave and ocean surge begins to flood the beach. The waters rise swiftly and Jack and Annie find themselves splashing and swimming down the main street, borne on the flood. They spot their tree house ahead in the backyard tree of the big blue house. A woman holding a baby is on the porch looking fearfully down the street. She beckons Jack and Annie inside and tells them that she's watching for her husband to come home from downtown. Jack and Annie try to warn her that she must get to higher ground, but the flood waters are already rising around them. and they flee first to the second floor, then to the attic, and finally to the roof, which breaks away and carries them, clinging to it. Jack spots a tall building in the distance--the Ursuline Academy, a school run by nuns.
"That's the safe place in our Texas book!" cried Annie. "People survived the hurricane there!"
Paddling with a broom and fence picket, Jack and Annie manage to get the woman and her baby and themselves to a window and inside, where they are welcomed by the Mother Superior, Sister Mary Joseph, helped along to a large room near the top of the building, and given blankets and dry clothes. Jack and Annie watch in awe as Sister Mary Joseph hurries about, making sure that the frightened and injured people are cared for and everyone has a place to warm up and sleep, calming them with her wise words:
"Deadly storms are terrible, but they always end. Then we start over and look at the world a little differently."
Sister Mary Joseph is indeed known as the hero of the Great Galveston Hurricane, and with her wise words, Jack and Annie know this mission is complete, in Mary Pope Osborne's Hurricane Heroes in Texas (Magic Tree House (R)) (Random House, 2018). In what is surely one of the most genuinely exciting stories in Pope's many Magic Tree House books, this one is solidly based on the history of what is still the most deadly hurricane in American history, taking 8,000 to 12,000 lives, and obliterating the then most populous and prosperous port on the Gulf of Mexico. For young readers just moving into chapter books, this one has it all--historical facts and fantasy adventures with likable main characters who definitely have the coolest tree house ever.

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Sunday, November 08, 2020

Dereliction of Duty? Gus, the Pilgrim Turkey by Teresa Bateman

Gus loved being a turkey. He gobbled with his friends and was fed almost every time he turned around. Life was fabulous!

Gus had a good life. Every day brought a new pleasure. In the spring he gobbled the bugs that were everywhere. In the summer he cooled his feathers under the water sprinkler and basked in the sunshine. And then fall came, with colorful trees,  sweaters, and scarves. He couldn't wait for winter, to celebrate New Year's Day in his brand-new turkey tuxedo.

"I wouldn't worry about New Year's," said the Horse.

"Turkeys don't make it to January," added the Dog.

The goose explained Thanksgiving. They all told Turkey about the Pilgrim's hardships and the friendly Indians and the big harvest feast party.

Turkey didn't see the problem.

"What's on the menu?" he asks.

So his friends break the news that turkeys are on everyone's menu on Thanksgiving. GULP!

Sadly Gus packs his fall scarf and his tuxedo and takes his leave of the farm. But everywhere he goes, he sees pictures of roasted turkeys on Thanksgiving tables. Gus finds himself a fall fugitive!

Taking a cue from migrating birds, Gus stows away on a steamer heading south. He steals ashore in Mexico and sees blindfolded children hitting a colorful turkey with long sticks!

That's not good, so Gus goes back to his hiding place in a lifeboat. The weather gets rough and Gus gets seasick. The next time he ventures out, it's very cold, and the port is covered with heavy snow. He climbs out to take a closer look and meets two seamen who seem very happy to see him!

"Get a load of that! A real turkey--just in time for our Thanksgiving feast!"

Whoops! Gus disembarks from the ship quickly and tries to conceal himself among a flock of large black and white birds standing around in the snow. It's not a successful subterfuge, since he sticks like a sore thumb among the penguins, until... Gus remembers--he packed his tuxedo!

Veteran comic author Teresa Bateman's story of a very well-dressed penguin, Gus, the Pilgrim Turkey (Albert Whitman Publishing). With artist Ellen Joy Sasaki's funny watercolor illustrations, this terrified Thanksgiving turkey story is just right for preschoolers and primary students who like a silly holiday story. Share this one with Eve Bunting's classic giggle-getter,A Turkey for Thanksgiving (HMH Clarion Books) and Dav Pilkey's 'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving (Scholastic Press)  (Read my reviews here).

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Saturday, November 07, 2020

The Dark Lord of the School Cellar: The Custodian from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler

Somewhere in the dark caverns beneath our school lurks the custodian.

His name is Fester Smudge.

Schoolkids have long wondered about their school custodians. Seldom seen but sometimes heard opening mysterious doors with huge, jangling rings of keys, doors opening onto mysterious bins, buckets, stairs, and worrisome smells, they make their rumbling way through halls, mostly unseen. What do they know? What do they do? Hubie wonders.

I've never seen him because he waits until everyone's gone home before he emerges. He knows all the secret passages and tunnels below the school--just like the Phantom of the Opera.

Older kids whisper rumors of a smoldering fiery dragon, bizarre gurgling noises, and strange music coming from down there in the nether regions of the school. Old stories have been passed down over the years, like the time Fester is said to have electrocuted a visiting convocation speaker with a hot microphone. Freddie says you can tell he's coming by the swarm of flies that accompany him everywhere. Only one thing is certain:

He's trained to make the school boiling hot all summer... and freezing cold all winter.

And then one day it happens! Hubie has a problem opening his locker. And he comes face to face with the feared Fester Smudge, jangling keyrings and all. But all's well that ends with an opened locker, and Hubie is soon his way to class before the bell rings, in Mike Thaler's Custodian From The Black Lagoon (Scholastic/Cartwheel Books). It seems that the fearsome Fester is great guy who polishes his locker handle and wishes Hubie a good day. Whew!

Mike Thaler has a lot of fun with schoolkid folklore about the dreaded deeps* of the school in this tale of the gullible Hubie, The Principal from the Black Lagoon, illustrated in the signature style by cartoonist Jared Lee, who fills the pages with all the fearful and slithery legends beloved of easily duped pupils. For more comic stories of Black Lagoon Elementary, pair this one with Thaler's The Principal from the Black Lagoon.

*Editor's Note: Thaler only exaggerates somewhat. I once asked an experienced janitor what was down in those service tunnels under the school, and he said, "Believe me, you don't want to know!"

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Friday, November 06, 2020

To Find A Friend: My Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us by Lauren Castillo

<There was a series of events that brought us together

Between the great forests, in the center of a river, on a teeny, tiny island, lived two dear friends, Hedgehog and Mutty. Life was good. Until the night of the Terrible Storm. A wind swooped down and carried Hedgehog's friend away. Hedgehog is alone.
The next morning Hedgehog knows that she must find her stuffed dog friend. She bravely dives into the stormy river and makes the difficult swim to the other side. There she entered the deep forest. It was scary, but she had to find Mutty. Very tired, Hedgehog finds a pile of not-too-wet leaves to rest in, but when she lies down... she feels herself falling, down, down into a hole.
It was Mole's Hole. "Bonjour, Dearie!" said Mole.
At first Hedgehog just sobs, but Mole seems so kindly that finally she is able to explain. "I lost my friend," she whimpered. Mole understands loneliness, and takes her to Owl for advice. Owl gets the drift immediately and offers to use his sharp eyes to help her find her friend. Hedgehog draws Owl a picture of Mutty, and Owl takes them downstream to see if Mutty has washed up at Beaver's dam. And Hedgehog recognizes Mutty's red scarf that Beaver is just tying around his neck at a jaunty angle.
"I found it! Look how dapper I am!" Beaver says, possessively.
Wisely, Owl compliments Beaver on his appearance and asks where he found the scarf. Beaver leads them to the marshy area where Hen and her chicks live and find her happily collecting the flotsam and jetsam of the storm which she calls her treasures! And there, along with pizza boxes and bottles and a soggy red notebook is a photograph--a photo of Mutty in front of a strange house. Hen is happy to show them the way to the place she found the photo--so long as she gets to keep the picture and the notebook. With her chicks trailing and peeping behind, Hen leads them up Tall Hill to a tall house, where a girl named Annika Mae is busy taking pictures of everything, including them, with her new Polaroid camera. Owl explains that they are searching for Hedgehog's friend, and shows Annika the photo of Mutty.
"My Polaroid!" Annika Mae cries. "His name is not Polaroid. It's Mutty!" said Hedgehog. "He's your dog? Does he have a chocolate brown stitched nose?" Annika Mae asks. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out ... MUTTY!
Hedgehog has her old friend back and some new friends and many more adventures ahead, in Lauren Castillo's latest, Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us (Alfred A. Knopf, 2020). In a cozy little chapter book of an only child, a stuffed animal, and whimsical animal friends written with all the warmth and gentle humor of A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh, this latest one by the Caldecott-winning author-illustrator is a delightful addition to any bookshelf, home or library. Every character, right down to the bouncy chicks, are skillfully delineated with personalities of their own, and this story of friendships found in the midst of adventure makes this a lively read-aloud book for lower grades and an amusing and exciting early chapter book for primary readers, all in the spirit of Kenneth Grahame's classic The Wind in the Willows (Sterling Illustrated Classics). Says Kirkus Reviews in their starred review, "An outstanding new chapter book with the cozy feel of a classic.”

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