BooksForKidsBlog

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Canned! Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000 by Dav Pilkey

If you're concerned about what is going on here, don't worry. George and Harold are confused, too. You see, George, Harold, and Captain Underpants had just undergone an epic adventure that started out in the dinosaur age and ended at their school, forty years in the future. Now, thanks to Melvin Sneedly (the tattletale genius) and his time-traveling Robo-Squid suit, they were all hurtling backwards in time. Back a long, long time ago to that dull, old-fashioned age known as the present.

Oh, I almost forgot. Traveling with them were three purple-and-orange-speckled eggs laid by their pet pterodactyl, who with their other pet, Sulu the bionic Hamster, had just saved the planet.

See? That wasn't confusing at all, was it?

Got it? Well, never mind, because George and Harold arrive back at their old school just at the moment they left, flushed down the Purple Potty. Sneedley informs the lads that they no longer are on the lam for the bank heist, back then, er, yesterday. He's hacked into the bank's computer and altered their surveillance tapes.

"Just don't grow a mustache or a beard anytime soon, and you guys'll be fine."says Sneedley.

So, with the evil Turbo Toilet 2000 stuck in the future, or whatever, the guys are fine. All they have to do is pretend to do their work in school while they draw comics to sell to their classmates to fund their fun and... But wait! The boys forgot that the next day back in the present was the big multiple-choice, timed-test day--and if they don't pass, they'll be stuck in Principal Krupp's elementary school for even more eons. Exhausted, they go to bed early, but awake to find that they've slept through their testing. Nooooo! Not another year in Ms. Ribble's miserable class at Jerome Horowitz Elementary School!

But wait! They can fix this. They sneak into Smedley's garage and borrow his time-traveling Robo-Suit and set it to take them back to yesterday so they can pass their tests. What could go wrong?

George and Harold ace their tests and dash to their tree house for some R & R and discover one tiny glitch...

George pushed the tree house door open and looked inside. "Oh, NOOOOOOO!" said George.

Harold climbed up and looked inside. There, sleeping at the table, was Harold himself. And next to him, snoring on the beanbag chair, was George.

"I don't understand," George whispered. "How come WE'RE here?"

"Oh, I get it," said Harold. "This is us from yesterday!"

George, Yesterday George, Harold, and Yesterday Harold are now a doppel gang of their very own, and the more the merrier, in Dav Pilkey's latest silly graphic novel saga, Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000 (Scholastic Press, 2014). In this eleventh book, not only are there two of this dynamic duo, but Mr. Krupp morphs into Captain Underpants on cue and Melvin Sneedley, Super Diaper Baby, and Mr. Krupp's faculty--Miss Anthrope, Mr. Meaner, Miss Labler, and Mr. Rected--all get cameo roles in the plot, until the hullabaloo flushes out the Turbo Toilet 2000 and he's finally sent down the tubes... But ...what about those extra Harolds and Georges?

"Oh, yeah!" said Yesterday Harold. " I guess there are a lot of loose ends in this story."

"Uh-oh! That can only mean one thing!" said Harold.

"Another SEQUEL!"

Kids need not despair. With two pairs of their heroes to screw up, there are bound to be still more Captain Underpants stories. "Subversively hilarious." says Publishers Weekly. "Dizzyingly silly!" adds Kirkus Reviews.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Can't Catch Me? Catch That Cookie! by Hallie Durand

IT WAS DECEMBER AND MARSHALL'S CLASS HAD HEARD STORIES ABOUT RUNAWAY GINGERBREAD MEN ALL WEEK LONG.

MARSHALL DIDN'T BELIEVE A WORD OF IT.

Marshall is one of those kids for whom the literary conceit of "a willing suspension of disbelief" is not an option.

Still, he buys into the idea of eating tasty gingerbread men, so he pitches in to mix the molasses into the stiff dough, wielding a mean mixing spoon. His teacher, Mrs. Gray, shows the class how to roll the dough out and use the cookie cutters to cut out the little guys, and then she lets each student design his own. Marshall gives his cookie a martial belt with silver balls, and since he really likes them, he give his man six raisin eyes. Finally, the gingerbread men go onto the cookie sheets and into the oven.

But when the class comes back and opens the oven...

THERE WAS NOTHING INSIDE!

"THEY RAN AWAY!" EVERYBODY YELLED!

MARSHALL DIDN'T BUY IT. "THEY CAN'T RUN!" HE REMARKS.

Marshall is skeptical, but he goes along with the group and they find a note pinned to a door. Mrs. Gray seems just a little too excited as she reads the rhyming clue to the class. "Candy" leads them to "sandy," which their sand table definitely is, where they find another clue, and then another as they make their way down the hall toward the gym. On the way Marshall spots a clue of his own--an oven-crispy raisin.

Now Marshal begins to doubt his own doubt.

And then the clues lead them to the gymnasium, where Marshall discovers indisputable proof, a silver dragee from his gingerbread man's belt. And in the middle of the floor, there are tiny tracks, like those a gingerbread man might make, if a gingerbread man could make tracks!

Okay. Marshall decides just to get his head inside the game. If gingerbread men could get tired of running away, what would they do next?

"THOSE GUYS PLAYED HARD," MARSHALL THOUGHT.

"THEY'RE TAKING A NAP!"

And if they did, Marshall knows exactly where to find them, in Hallie Durand's brand-new Catch That Cookie! (Dial Press, 2014). Given that tracking down those runaway gingerbread men is a popular ploy for taking preschool kids on a tour of their new school, Durand's book is likely to get around schools as fast as her cookie dudes do. Caldecott-winning artist David Small provides the quirky details of the chase, with his dubious, red-headed and stubborn Marshall finally playing along with the pursuit for the fun of it--that is, until the cookies are discovered and come to their, ahem, usual conclusion, true to their folk tale tradition:

Now, what does the fox say? Oh, yeah!

Snip! Snap! Snout!
My tale's told out
.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Middle school is like one of those highway restrooms in the middle of nowhere. It's dirty and smelly, and crowded with strange people.

Like the goth kid. He's always in black. He has a pierced ear, eyebrow, and nose; he must set off metal detectors in airports.

When her best friend since Kindergarten splits off to bond with the volleyball girl-jock clique, Ellie feels lost in the crowd at her new middle school. It seems everyone has their thing, but Ellie is a girl who hasn't found her thing yet. And that's not her worst problem.

A tray smacks down on the table across from me.

"Can you believe this?" my grandfather demands.

He's wearing navy-blue polyester pants, a button-up shirt with tie, and a V-neck sweater with his tweed jacket. He definitely stands out, fashion-wise.

"Three dollars for a school lunch?" he says. He polishes off his corn dog in a few bites and then looks at my lunch.

"Are you going to eat that?" he asks.

I sigh and push it over.

It seems Ellie's 76-year-old grandfather, with two PhDs in biology, has discovered the genetics of jellyfish regeneration, and being dedicated to reversing aging through science, has done the first human trial on himself. It worked. But since he's now a thirteen-year-old boy, with a massive adolescent appetite and zits to boot, he has to live with Ellie and her mother. And since he's now a minor, he can't drive and he has to be enrolled in school--Ellie's middle school, unfortunately.

Riding the bus and eating lunch with a "cousin" who is her persnickety science-obsessed grandfather is hard enough. But Melvin, whose sudden disappearance as a professor emeritus and loss of access to his university lab has made it impossible for him to continue his work, is determined to get his T. Melvinius specimens and publish what he is sure will be a Nobel-prize winning discovery; and for that he enlists Ellie's help to break into his lab and steal back his jellyfish genes before they expire. But for this caper, Melvin and Ellie need someone suitably stealthy with access to a car and driver. The black-garbed goth boy, Raj, is drafted because he is smart and has an older brother with an inconspicuous car and need for additional income. Grandpa Melvin is certain that with his specimens he can continue his work that will end human aging and save the world. Persuasively, he introduces Ellie to the work of Madame Curie, Salk, Oppenheimer and Einstein, scientists whose discoveries did change human existence.

At first, Ellie is intrigued with the adventure of science--discoveries that can expand human possibilities:

"Scientists never give up... because they believe in the possible." proclaims Melvin.

"The possible?" I ask.

"That it's possible to create a cure for polio. That it's possible to sequence the human genome. That it's possible to reverse aging. That science can change the world." he says.

And I get it.

Ellie agrees to help Melvin complete his work. It is exciting to think that it is possible to end the diseases of aging. That seems like a good thing.

But as she reads more about those scientists Melvin describes, she realizes that there is more than one possible outcome from some of these discoveries. She reads Oppenheimer's words after the first detonation of the atomic bomb.

"We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent."

And Ellie sees what her grandfather in his passion for discovery does not--that an end to human aging would mean that the world would never be the same, in many, many ways, some not so good. She determines that she cannot be one of those who keep silent.

Three-time Newbery winner Jennifer L. Holm's just published The Fourteenth Goldfish (Random House, 2014) is a middle-school novel that has it all, comic family conflicts in which her 13-year-old grandpa tries to tell her mother how short her skirts can be, a believable middle-school social scene with all the usual suspects, action episodes of lab break-ins and car chases, and a plug for science, all entertainingly wrapped around a serious theme of looking at all the possibilities of scientific discovery. Holm's writing is light-handed, respectful while it pokes fun at its well-drawn characters, but leaving the middle reader with an introduction to what possibility really means in human life.

Publishers Weekly gives Holm's latest a starred review, and The New York Times adds "Youth, old age, life, death, love, possibilities and—oh yes—goldfish all come together in this warm, witty and wise novel."

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

What Everyone Needs: The Little Bear Book by Anthony Browne

"HELLO, GORILLA.

I KNOW WHAT YOU NEED."

A little white bear, wearing only a jaunty red bow tie and carrying only a pencil, sets out for a walk in a forest.

First he meets a gorilla, a sad and lonely gorilla. Little Bear sees that what Gorilla needs is a friend. Quickly he draws a miniature version of himself and hands it to Gorilla, who sits down against a tree and cuddles his new little bear.

Little Bear walks on until he meets a crocodile, his big, scary mouth wide open. Little Bear knows what to do: he draws a trumpet and sticks it quickly in Crocodile's mouth. That should keep Croc busy... and making music.

Little Bear meets a disgruntled lion and intuits just what he needs--a kingly crown--and Lion departs with his royal head held high.

Finally, he greets an elephant and Little Bear just knows that Elephant needs a little white mouse to protect. Leaving the two to get to know each other, Little Bear walks away, his work done. But he soon comes to a wall. How can he get himself out of this story?

In a simple story in which most youngsters will recognize the premise used so famously in Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon Board Book, the much-loved Anthony Browne's offers The Little Bear Book (Candlewick Press, 2014). Browne is one of those author-illustrators who finds no imaginative limits within the flat and foursquare pages of a book. His ventures into magical realism go back to his early Piggybook, in which greedy piggish behavior spreads throughout the house, with the big roses on the wallpaper morphing into pig faces as the sloppy dad and boys become more piglike daily, and have continued through his more recent books such as Gorilla and Little Beauty (see my 2009 review here). Little Bear's special powers to give others what they need is a metaphor for the writer and artist, a meaning that children will understand with their hearts.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Can't Make Me! Big Whoop! by Maxine Lee

FOX NEVER SMILES. HE READS, HE EATS, BUT HE NEVER SMILES.

ROMAN AND HARRISON THINK IT'S NOT HEALTHY.

But Fox's friends have a plan.

They're taking him to the zoo. The animals there are sure to make him smile.

"BIG WHOOP!" SAYS FOX.

Roman and Harrison's efforts grow more heroic. Harrison pilots a helicopter to rescue kittens from three planets. The two stroll on the surface on the moon--on stilts--made out of green cheese.

YAWN!

Roman brags that he's had a dinosaur living in his garage... for a long time.

Fox is unimpressed.

For 200,000 years?

BIG WHOOP!

Roman and Harrison are mystified. Is nothing funny... or amazing... or even possibly pleasing?

Wait. They haven't tried... BACON!

It's war between a super sophisticate fox who's seen it all, and his two friends who are not afraid to get super silly to make him smile, in Maxine Lee's Big Whoop! (Powerhouse Books, 2014). Kids who've played the betcha-can't-make-me-smile game will have another idea about how to top a sly and supercilious friend who's above it all. Whimsy wins out as Fox falls for a bacon "sanglewich" and gives them a smile... and everybody wins.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

She Still Loves Books: Miss Brooks' Story Nook by Barbara Bottner

MISS BROOKS HAS STORY NOOK FIRST THING BEFORE SCHOOL, AND I DON'T LIKE TO MISS IT.

BUT WHENEVER I TAKE A SHORTCUT PAST BILLY TOOMEY'S HOUSE, HE GRABS MY HAT AND YELLS, "I'M GOING TO GET YOU, MISSY!"

IT'S VEXING.

But this morning it's raining and Missy makes it to Story Nook just in time. But before Miss Brooks. decked out in pirate hat and eyepatch, can start reading her seadog tale to the early birds, with a clap of thunder the lights go out!

Being a crackerjack librarian, Miss Brooks improvises instantly.

"IT'S TOO DARK TO READ. SO LET'S HUDDLE IN CLOSE AND MAKE UP OUR OWN TALES," SAID MISS BROOKS. "EVERYONE HAS A TALE TO TELL."

"I GOT NOTHING!" MISSY SAID.

With complaints from Plum, who prefers a kitty story, Violet, who wants ghost stories, and Wilbur, who demands there be aliens, Miss Brooks points out that all stories begin with an interesting character and a problem that requires action. Missy knows that kitties, ghosts, and even aliens can't solve her Billy Toomey problem, so she goes for broke.

"AN OGRE LIVES DOWN THE STREET FROM ME. SHE HAS A BUNCH OF WILD ANIMALS!"

Miss Brook draws out more details, and before she knows it, Missy is clearly skewering Billy Toomey. Her ogre is named Graciela, and she has scary pets in her basement--hyenas, lions, alligators, and a giant snake that escapes from its cage. Plum quails at this development and whispers that kittens would be nicer.

Miss Brooks points out that Missy needs to keep developing her plot. Glad to comply, Missy cheerfully has the giant snake slither into Billy's house and constrict him so tightly his eyes pop.

"WHY CAN'T THERE BE KITTENS?" WHIMPERED PLUM.

Missy ignores the interruptions, and goes on to have her lion dispatch Graciela the Ogre. The End, she thinks.

But there're no shortage of literary critics in that story circle.

"WHY WOULD YOU GET RID OF GRACIELA? SHE WASN'T BOTHERING ANYBODY!" SAID PLUM.

"SHE GETS ON HER SPACESHIP AND RETURNS TO HER PLANET..." OFFERED WILBUR. "THE GHOST PLANET...." ADDS VIOLET.

"I'D LIKE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS TO THAT SNAKE," SAID MISS BROOKS.

Miss Brooks suggests that there are some loose ends dangling in Missy's plot. That snake is still loose, and presumably Billy Toomy survives to snatch her hat the next time she takes a shortcut to school. What Missy's story needs, she points out, is a satisfying ending, a resolution.

Barbara Bottner's newest tale, Miss Brooks' Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome) (Random House, 2014), is a satisfying sequel to her best-selling Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don't) (see review here) continuing the account of Missy, the former book hater, who is now also a storyteller whose hat is strangely safe from Billy Toomey, thanks to her inspired conclusion just for Billy. Michael Emberley again does the artistic honors in clever and comic portrayals of the Bottner's "interesting" characters and plenty of snicker-provoking details that illustrate the twists and turns of Missy's story for kids to peruse.

"Characters come alive with distinct voices and appearances, and the twin plots flow smoothly, if purposively, to the requisite "happy ending," reports Kirkus Reviews.

And for special celebrations of reading and libraries, pair this one with Bonnie Becker's just published A Library Book for Bear (Bear and Mouse). for a whang-dang-doodle duo.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bad Hair Day: Eva and Sadie and the Worst Haircut Ever by by Jeff Cohen

WHEN I FINISHED, I LOOKED DOWN AT THE PILE OF HAIR ON THE FLOOR...
AND THAT'S WHEN THINGS WENT TERRIBLY WRONG.

"SADIE, ARE YOU SURE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING?" ASKED EVA.

Standing in the bathroom with Mom's sewing scissors, with a pile of her little sister's blond curls around her feet, Sadie realizes that it might not have been a great idea to give Eva's wild hair a little trim.

It was wild. Eva's hair is lush and has grown down to her tush. It's whirly and twirly, hurly-burly, and way too curly. Her waves work their way out of Mom's tightest braids. Her curly mop escapes from hair thingies, bounces out of barrettes, overwhelms headbands, and brushing only makes it frizzier. Something clearly needed to happen. And Big Sis Sadie, in her sensible brown bob, thinks she knows just what Eva's coiffure calls for.

But now Sadie realizes that Eva's mane is more that she can manage.

SOME PARTS ARE SHORT, AND SOME PARTS ARE LONG.

"THIS IS BAD, BAD BAD!"

BUT EVA LIKES IT.

Sadie knows that she's crossed the haircut Rubicon at this point, in Jeff Cohen's new Eva and Sadie and the Worst Haircut EVER! (HarperCollins, 2014). The impromtu haircut (by sister, best friend, or selfie) is almost a rite of passage of childhood, and Jeff Cohen's comic account of Sadie's growing panic as she feverishly snips and snips to try to even out Eva's haircut, along with Elanna Evans' sympathetic illustrations of the big sister and her complicit little sister, makes for an easy-going finish to this all too common story. Pair this one with the boy-pleasing [ { THIS MONSTER NEEDS A HAIRCUT } ] by Barton, Bethany (AUTHOR) Jul-05-2012 [ Hardcover ] by Bethany Barton.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Say "Yes" to the Nap! No Nap! Yes, Nap! by Margie Palatini

MAMA SAYS, NAP!

Baby thinks otherwise.

And the chase is on! Baby streaks, his blankie streaming, with Mama giving chase, from room to room, through the house, each of them repeating their mantra...Yes, nap! No nap! as they go.

Mama chases Baby energetically, under the table and into the kitchen, with her speedy little one always a couple of steps ahead.

Baby also knows how to stall. He demands a drink, downs a whole glass of milk, and then speeds off again. He starts a clapping game, and although Mama joins in, growing closer, he slides out of her grasp again. He sings, Mama chimes in, but he slips away once more.

Finally, he wants a story.

Aha! Mama senses an opening, taking the storybook onto her lap in the big comfy chair, and Baby can't resist climbing up and settling down, head against Mama's shoulder. There's a yawn, and then Baby rubs his sleepy eyes, and as Mama settles the blankie over them both, she knows she's got it made.

NOW BABY NAP.

BIG LONG NAP

ON MAMA'S LAP

At last Baby says yes to the nap. But it's not just Baby who catches a few winks, in Margie Palatini's latest, No Nap! Yes Nap! (Little, Brown Books, 2014). Artist Dan Yaccarino catches the spirit of the chase in his ebullient illustrations which move from left to right throughout the book, until drowsiness catches up with both Mama and Baby on the final pages and they come, happily, to rest. Yaccarino's running redheads are cheery and in great spirits throughout, and Palatini's brief text quickly becomes a refrain for little ones and an easy read for emergent readers. A jolly new way to "catch a nap!"

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

He's Back! Clifford Visits the Zoo by Norman Bridwell

I'M EMILY ELIZABETH, AND THIS IS MY DOG.

HIS NAME IS CLIFFORD.

For more than two generations of preschoolers, Emily Elizabeth has explored the world around her with the help of her pet, Clifford the Big Red Dog. And it seems that Clifford is still sniffing out new adventures.

TODAY WE ARE GOING TO THE ZOO!

THE PEOPLE AT THE ZOO HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE CLIFFORD.

To the animals at the zoo, Clifford is their exhibit, and they all peer from their enclosures at the giant red dog while Clifford studies them. They are all animals, but they are different from Clifford.

The penguins are small and Clifford is big. The howler monkeys are noisy. Clifford is quiet. The muddy hippos are dirty, but Clifford is clean. Butterflies are light, while Clifford is heavy.

Emily Elizabeth compares ten very different zoo animals to Clifford, introducing contrasting adjectives as well as unusual animals like sloths, koalas, and chameleons to youngsters as  she strolls through the zoo, with Norman Bridwell's famous dog in Clifford Visits the Zoo (Scholastic Press, 2014). An appendix, Animal Facts, fills in other details about each animal, including geographic habitat, diet, and fun factoids: the howler monkey can be heard three miles away; seals can hold their breath underwater for an hour; and Monarch butterflies migrate 2000 miles in the winter to stay warm.

A popular preschool character, television cartoon star, and everyone's favorite red dog, Clifford is still teaching kids and still has all his star power. As Emily Elizabeth says,

CLIFFORD IS MANY THINGS, BUT MOST OF ALL, HE IS LOVED!

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Monday, September 08, 2014

All for Love! Family Ties by Gary Paulsen

I'm the happiest guy alive. Because Katrina M. Zablinski is my girlfriend.

I'm also the greatest family member you'll ever meet.

Lack of confidence is not Kevin Spencer's problem.

But he's under a lot of pressure. He is totally head-over-heels smitten with Tina, and he's sure she's the one for him for life. So naturally, he's got to plan a first date with her that will sweep her off her feet in awe with what a wonderful family man he's going to be.

So Kev starts the ball rolling by e-mailing his dad's brother Will, whose last visit practically wrecked the house, to come for the weekend and mend some family fences with his brother. Of course, Kevin's parents have not a clue about this amnesty project, so when the doorbell rings, Dad has a big surprise on his doorstep.

"Michael!" Uncle Will's voice boomed, "Got a big hug for your favorite brother?" Uncle Will put his arm around a woman stand just outside the door and pulled her into the house. "This is Brandee! Two ees! Because she's Extra Excellent.

Brandee's my new wife!"

Brandee's excellence wasn't so obvious to my folks. "Nice to meet you," Mom and Dad muttered.

Uncle Will reached behind Brandee and yanked a small boy forward. "And this is her son Larry. I call him Sparky....!"

It seems that Larry's nickname was chosen with care. Sparky is fascinated with fire, especially starting them.

Uncle Will had saved the best for last. He reached behind Brandee again and pulled forth a polar bear on a leash. "And this is Athena. Athena is part Great Pyrenees, he added.

"Oh, yeah, Athena's got a bladder infection. She can't always hold it real well!"

It looks that pulling off a miracle mending these family ties is going to be just the ticket to impress Tina, Kevin figures, and he heads off to school full of enthusiasm. In short order, he signs up for the school art fair, because Tina's old buddy is on the committee, and agrees to partner with Tina's best friend Katie in the social studies family project, where he has to take care of his and Katie's "baby," simulated by a popcorn-kernel-stuffed onesie, so that they get extra credit for family stress.

But Kevin is on a roll. He's got a great idea for that first date with Tina--he'll plan and stage a wedding celebration for Will and Brandee. That ought to knock Tina's socks off and show what a caring husband he will make.

But things at home get even more complicated. First, Grandma Lucille hears about the big event and shows up on that doorstep, packing a utility belt stuffed with cleaning supplies. Lucille is an compulsive cleaning fanatic and immediately gets to work scrubbing and cleaning the upstairs bathrooms.

Then the doorbell rings again. On the well-worn stoop is Kevin's grandfather, Lucille's ex-husband, Papa, with his flashy girlfriend Lola, a Vegas showgirl way back in the day. Lola takes over the introductions.

Lucille looked uncomfortable and stated toying with a bottle of tub and tile disinfectant jutting out of her fanny pack. Lola zoomed over and threw her arms around her boyfriend's ex-wife.

"I feel like I know you, like we're sisters or old friends already." Lola squeezed Lucile and rocked back and forth. She tucked her arm through Lucille's and grinned, clearly believing she'd just made a new BFF.

Kevin's mom is treating a sudden headache by resting her forehead on a bag of frozen peas in the freezer by this time, but Kevin volunteers to take care of all the wedding arrangements. He gets as far as making a to-do list, but as the week goes by, he finds that he's falling behind, way behind, as wedding planner, especially since there are suddenly two other potential happy couples, Papa and Lola and Aunt Buzz and her boyfriend Jim. Then Athena's "problem" turns out to be an unrecognized pregancy, as she gives birth to a litter of giant Pyrennes puppies. The more the merrier, Kevin thinks, all the more likely to secure Tina Zabinski's eternal love when she sees him as the complete family man, toasting all four couples suavely at the wedding.

And it's all in the name of love, in Newbery author Gary Paulsen's latest in his comic Kevin series, Family Ties (Random House, 2014). This time Kevin is not outdoing himself at daring deeds or raking in cool cash, but presiding over yet another sit-com-style adventure in Gary Paulsen's comic novel series celebrating the world's funniest dysfunctional family.

Other short, laugh-a-minute titles in this series are Liar, Liar: The Theory, Practice and Destructive Properties of Deception, Crush: The Theory, Practice and Destructive Properties of Love, Flat Broke: The Theory, Practice and Destructive Properties of Greed, and Vote.

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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Dino-Pet: If I Had A Raptor by George O'Connor

IF I HAD A RAPTOR, I'D WANT TO GET HER AS A BABY, WHEN SHE'S TEENSY AND TINY, AND FUNNY AND FLUFFY.

I WOULD GIVE HER A LITTLE BLUE BELL.

And it's a good thing our little would-be pet owner has that bell handy!

She finds her ideal pet with its litter mates in a cardboard box marked FREE RAPTORS. It's blue and furry and cuddly, and just as she'd hoped, it likes to snuggle on her lap and sun herself on the windowsill.

Just like most new pets, her baby blue raptor is a night owl, playing around "like crazy" at night and waking her up at ungodly hours of the morning so that they see a lot of sunrises together. She makes it no secret when she's hungry, but she's not above walking away from her dish, nose in the air and tail swishing, if she's not pleased with the entree.

But unlike most kitties and puppies, raptors grow and grow and GROW.Our girl has to fetch some lopping shears from the garage to trim her long claws and teach her where it is NOT a good idea to sharpen them. And that blue bell around her neck warns the birds and other potential prey when the raptor goes out for a bit of stalking practice.

But this raptor is always ready for a hug, in George O'Connor's  If I Had a Raptor (Candlewick Press, 2014).  This furry, fluffy raptor's behavior bears a close resemblance to that more common household predator pet, the cat, and ever since Syd Hoff's Danny and the Dinosaur strolled through town, kids have dreamed of a dinosaur pet, and author O'Connor obliges with a clearly fanciful dino and a young pet owner who is just as doting and delightful as can be. Artist O'Connor provides plenty of visual humor in the illustrations, while his pom-pom ponytailed pet owner shows just how it's done. Publishers Weekly gives this one a starred review, with words of high praise, saying it "strikes an ideal balance between visual sophistication and warmth."

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Saturday, September 06, 2014

Things That Go Bump in the Night: Small Blue and the Deep Dark Night by Jon Davis

SMALL BLUE THOUGHT OF CREEPY THINGS.

"GREMLINS AND GOBLINS, WITH EMPTY, RUMBLING BELLIES,

LICKING THEIR LIPS, WAITING FOR ME IN THE DARK!"

"BIG BROWN! BIG BROWN!" SHE CALLED.

Small Blue, a rabbity young thing, awakens in the middle of the night and thinks of terrible night visitors.

Big Brown, a rumpled sleepy-eyed brown bear, comes into her room, pats her head, and suggests that the things she imagines could just have likely been a "delightful doggies' unicycle convention!"

Little Blue doesn't think so, but when Big Brown turns on the light, there's nothing to see but her cozy room, toys scattered on the floor and books neatly shelved. Big Brown suggests they share cups of hot milk and talk about it all.

But the hall is dark, and Small Blue is sure that furry spiders and flappity bats are skulking there. Big Brown suggests perhaps a "smily spacemen's zero-gravity shindig" in progress instead.

"WELL, MAYBE..." SAID SMALL BLUE.

Big Brown hoists Little Blue to his shoulders as they head into the kitchen, where Little Blue opines that witches with warts and clacking skeletons await her. Big Brown adds an alternative: there could be ex-pirates sitting and  knitting socks at their yearly convention.

Small Blue admits that that could be true.

A flip of the light switch reveals just a homey and tidy tiled kitchen in soft chartreuse and yellow. Big Brown settles down with Little Blue in his lap, and as they sip their milk, they watch the moon and stars in the dark sky outside the window. Little Blue is getting into the spirit of things.

"MAYBE THE STARS ARE RUNNING A RELAY RACE AROUND THE MOON, WHILE THE PLANETS CHEER THEM ON," SAYS LITTLE BLUE....

From time immemorial, kids have wakened with night terrors of ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties, and all things that go bump in the night. Jon Davis' new book, Small Blue and the Deep Dark Night (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), takes a look at the flipside of the bedtime willies by suggesting that if we can conjure up scary critters, we can just as surely imagine silly stuff as well.

Davis sketches the perfect setting for this gentle tale, with his worried and wrinkly little rabbit and his rounded, rumply big brown bear, who, rather than ridiculing the youngster's imaginings, simply tops them with preposterous tall tale possibilities. The artist's backgrounds are homey and reassuring, done in a palette of pinkish browns and soft greens and grays and wiggly, broken black line, and his characters, even the imagined ones, are a bit retro, rather reminiscent of Herriman's Krazy Kat cartoon style, with just a hint of Pooh and Piglet's adventures--all calculated to banish the night terrors for young readers. This is a fine "bednight" story for young children to help keep the things that go bump in the night at bay.

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Friday, September 05, 2014

Sleep-In: Sleepover with Beatrice and Bear by Monica Carnesi

Bea and Bear met in the spring.

Checking on her seedling carrots, Beatrice Bunny is perturbed to find a large-bottomed bear sitting in the middle of her garden. Getting Bear off her crop requires that Bea be a bit pushy, but soon their friendship gets off the ground, and Bea and Bear become buddies.

During the rest of spring, all of summer, and the early fall, Beatrice and Bear are always together. But then...

... one day Beatrice couldn't find Bear.

"Bear is gone to hibernate," explained the squirrel.

Where is that? Bea wonders, consulting her map. So the squirrel patiently explains that bears sleep in the winter.

"Like a sleepover?" Beatrice bubbles.

Beatrice Bunny packs her overnight bag, heads off to join Bear in his den, and announces her intentions.

"Bunnies are great hibernators!"

All goes well through the hibernation preparation process, with Bea reading stories and serving up cups of warm milk. Bear loves the hibernation party so far. Sleepily, he settles down for a long winter's nap.

"Honey dreams, Beatrice!"

Bear snores on, but Beatrice can't seem to handle the actual hibernating part of the party. She snuggles under her carrot blanket, tries a sleep mask, re-reads all her bedtime stories, and wills herself to fall asleep. But Beatrice has got nothing! Maybe bunnies just aren't cut out to be hibernators after all.

Is winter without her buddy Bear a bust?

Bear is going to miss out on all the winter fun--sledding, skating, building snow bunnies and snow bears, tasting snowflakes and making snow angels. Beatrice Bunny is bummed.

Or not. If Beatrice can't share hibernation with Bear, maybe she can share her winter fun with him. Bea puts her energy and arts and crafts skills to work to make a scrapbook, and when Bear finally emerges in early spring, she has a wake-up gift--a book of her own Winter Delights--waiting for him to share, in Monica Carnesi's brand-new Sleepover with Beatrice and Bear (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014). It's a virtually vicarious seasonal experience, between the covers instead of under them, the next best thing to being there for Bear.

Carnesi's apt cartoon art, done in engaging black-line drawings with watercolor wash, establish the personalities of the three characters instantly. Plenty of visual humor and speech bubbles show off the strong bond between these somewhat mismatched buddies, with the easy-going theme that friendship can always find a way to keep in touch despite differences. Like that other odd couple, Bear and Mouse in Bonnie Becker's delightful best-selling series, begun with A Visitor for Bear (Bear and Mouse), Beatrice and Bear are the sort of picture book friends that deserve another outing together. "Sure to be a hit in every library!" says School Library Journal in its starred review.

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Thursday, September 04, 2014

Turn, Turn, Turn! : Fall Leaves by Loretta Holland

WHEN SUMMER LEAVES. . .

BIRDS LEAVE

APPLES FALL

And when the sun leaves, we take notice!

As earth rolls on in its annual revolution, the sun smiles on the southern hemisphere. Folks on the northern half notice that things are changing relentlessly in another direction.

Loretta Holland's forthcoming Fall Leaves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) makes artful use of wordplay and page design to show the inexorable changing of the seasons.

Playing upon the double meanings of the words fall and leaves, the author describes the ways of autumn. Flowers, birds, and, slowly but implacably, the sun, too, leave us behind in a chilling landscape, albeit one made more jolly by the colors of the falling leaves and the richness of the harvest. Daytimes grow short, rain falls on the fallen leaves, and the world seems to be trying to hold on to its last warm breath. And then....

TEMPERATURE FALLS

SNOW FALLS

As things move inexorably toward winter, the movement of Elly McKay's lustrous illustrations is from left to right, as, with each page turn, her palette darkens from bright yellows, oranges, and greens to ambers, ochers and browns, until at last, as fall itself leaves the scene, the colors are the grays and blues, lavenders and whites of winter. Her young autumnal time travelers, a boy and girl, also constantly in motion, run, bike, boat, jump, dash, and lastly sled in the snow, also moving left to right through the pages, emphasizing the measured march of earth-time from season to season.

Author Holland's narrative pages offer two forms of text: her evocative words feature the dual meanings of fall and leaves, in large capital letters, whereas in a smaller font she offers the scientific rationale behind what is going on in the cycling of the seasons. Since she offers none of the usual visual diagrams of sun and earth, the book is best read by children who already understand how earth's revolution on its tilted axis causes seasonal changes, while the vivid child-pleasing illustrations connect planetary motion to the palpable experiences of calendar cycles with considerable visual and emotion impact; as the pages turn, so does the world.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Two Worlds: Where I Belong by Mary Downing Hahn

I'm sitting at my desk, drawing on the back of my math worksheet, not even trying to solve the problems. What's the use? They'd all be wrong, and Mrs. Funkhauser will make some sarcastic remark about my inability to learn long division--as if I cared.

I look at the picture I've drawn of the Green Man. I just learned about him in a book of British legends. My Green Man is treetop tall and his face is framed with oak leaves. His wavy hair falls to his shoulders like mine.

Suddenly Mrs. Funkhausen is beside me. "What's this?" Her eyes are eagle sharp.

"Boys and girls," she says. "Look at this. Brendan Doyle thinks drawing pictures is more important than math."

For Brendan, drawing is more important than math, which he is no good at anyway. Drawing is a way out for him, that and escaping from his foster mother Mrs. Clancy to the woods whenever he can. It is a place where he can leave her "real life" and all her rules behind and be safe and alone in a world where he might see a unicorn or even the Green Man who takes care of the woods and its creatures. Brendan finds the tallest tree in the woods and builds a treehouse high up, sure that it will be a world where real life cannot reach him. He hopes he fails sixth grade. At least that will keep him out of middle school for one more year.

But when Brendan does fail and is forced to go to summer school, real life intrudes. A girl named Shea in the class follows him, finally managing to slip so quietly behind that she discovers his tree house and insists that she should be allowed to climb up to it and watch for unicorns with him.

"You and me, we're right for each other," she says. She turns those eyes on me full force. "See, what I know about friends is, you have to pretend to like what they like. But you, I don't have to pretend to like what you like, because I like what you like."

And then the Green Man comes. At least, Brendan and Shea believe he could be the Green Man. His beard and hair are long, with leaves caught in the mass of it, and he can appear and disappear in the trees soundlessly. He must be magical, although he says he's just a man, just an old man named Ed who lives in a hidden hut in the woods. But Brendan is sure that he's found someone from a world away from the real lifers back in the town.

But still, real life catches up with him. Brendan sees a gang of tough kids rob a store in the mall, and they beat him severely and one hacks off his long hair with a long knife to keep him quiet. Brendan tells the police and Mrs. Clancy that he doesn't know any of the gang who did it, but when they attack Ed and he dies in the hospital the next day, Brendan realizes that it's time to face up to real life, and with his friend Shea, he knows what he has to do.

Mary Downing Hahn's latest, Where I Belong (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2014), takes on an unusual character in Brendan, one whose life has forced him to rely on an imagination that has been both comforting and yet misleading. He sees that he is capable of succeeding in school when he has the right teacher, and he suddenly understands that the critical voice he hears in his head as Mrs. Clancy's is really his own creation, that just as his Green Man was really a kind old drifter, his foster mother is just a tired middle-aged woman who does the best she can and is as lonely as he is.

In this coming-of-age story, the outsider finally comes in out of the cold, into a new real life that offers what he needs most. Here Hahn, that veteran teller of ghost tales and creator of wispy spirits, dips less deeply into the supernatural, walking the fine line between the objective and the subjective mind in a way in which middle readers, standing so briefly on that boundary between childhood and maturity, will understand.

Other classic tales by Mary Downing Hahn include Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story, The Old Willis Place All the Lovely Bad Ones, and The Doll in the Garden: A Ghost Story.




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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Slipping Off the Edge of the Earth: Zac and Mia by A. J. Betts

At this point, the standard sequence is as follows: The new patient's "significant other" comments on the view, the bed, and the size of the bathroom. The patient agrees. Often, there's nervous laughter at the gray stack of disposable urinals and bedpans, prompted by the belief that the patient will never be weak enough or desperate enough to use them.

Then there's a stretch of silence that follows their gaze from one white wall--with its plugs and label-makered labels and holes for things they can't even imagine yet, They track the walls, north to south, east to west, before they sag with the knowledge that that this has become real, the treatment will start tomorrow, and this bed will become home.

Zac knows the drill. He heard it in person, still in his school uniform on the first day, and through the thin walls of his room, over and over as new patients arrive in the adult oncology unit, where he's waiting out the isolation period after a bone marrow transplant.

But soon a full blast of pop music from next door lets him know that the new patient is a teenager like himself.

Then it hits me.  The newbie's gone Gaga. The girl's got cancer and bad taste.

But as days go by, loneliness pushes Zac to respond to Mia's tap on the wall and soon they swap taps for Facebook messages and a sort of black-humored conversation in which Zac reports that Mia's odds, with a small cancer in her ankle, Google out far better than his leukemia, which has already failed to be cured after chemotherapy. At first, Mia moans about missing her friends and the prom, but as her tumor fails to respond and she faces surgery, her mood darkens, while Zac goes into remission and heads for home on an olive farm near Perth.

But Mia's surgery turns into an amputation when the cancer is too large to remove. She feels trapped between her boyfriend's and BFFs' awkward turning away and her angry relationship with her mother. She finally takes flight, crutches and all, on a bus, not knowing where she'll stop.

I've learned a lesson today--no more unplanned detours. Life doesn't favor the curious. No more hopping on or off. No more trying my luck with bus drivers or girlfriends or ex-boyfriends or mothers or doctors or random strangers who once stayed in adjoining hospital rooms and fed me bullshit lies.

Everyone lies. So just take your backpack and go, Mia. Go....

But on the run Mia's leg becomes infected. Sick and weak, she turns to Zac and his family, and their care and Zac's good sense begins the healing process for Mia. But then Zac's leukemia returns, and he goes back to the same hospital room for yet another transplant. Mia realizes that he needs her. She follows and makes some peace with herself and her mother to be near him. But this time Zac's beloved Google doesn't offer much in the way of odds.

I know I feel too much. But I want. I want Zac to live. To want to live. I don't want to be in the world without him.

"We're all going to die sooner or later," Zac says.

"Then later, choose later!"

A. J. Betts' forthcoming American edition of Zac and Mia (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) is a hopeful, funny, sad, and unresolved love story of two young people caught between love of life and the fight for life. Author Betts uses the alternating voices of Zac and Mia to chronicle the path of their illness and their increasing feeling for each other, with no descent into smarmy "sick lit" cliches. Like John Green's best-selling The Fault in Our Stars, this novel takes an unsentimental look at love and at death in the midst of life and life in the midst of death.

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