Monday, August 19, 2019

What's Old Is New! Curious George (75th Anniversary Edition) by H. A. Rey

He's BACK!

Of course, he's never been away. Curious George has been a star in the panoply of children's book characters right up there with the Little Engine That Could, Little Toot, The Little House, Max, and Peter Rabbit. The original books created in mid-twentieth century by H.A. and Margret Ray have already been loved to tatters by three generations of young hands, and spin-off easy readers and television series have celebrated that too curious little monkey for decades.

But a seventy-fifth anniversary of a story book classic that has never lost its charm is a big deal. And although the cover of this celebratory edition, Curious George: 75th Anniversary Edition (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019) has been given a glossy blue ribbon banner and some shiny new lettering, and although the Times New Roman font seems a bit larger and more crisp and the pictures brighter, it's George who is still the center of the story--George, for whom each new surprise is accompanied with a big smile, George whose curiosity leads him into big adventures and who emerges a bit wiser, but no less curious--George is the star!

Author-illustrator H. A. Rey's illustrations, set in vignettes, spot-art style, against bright white pages, tell the classic story of an irrepressible, naughty little monkey whose curiosity takes him into many situations. George's yen to try dialing the telephone leads him into the custody of fat fireman and the skinny fireman and on to a high-flying balloon flight over the big city. Although his inquisitiveness gets George into some unwonted escapades, he's a good model for young readers, one who approaches life and learning with an open and infectious joie de vivre.

The houses looked like toy houses
and the people like dolls.
George was frightened.
He held on very tight.

It's a lucky kid who gets to see a copy of this classic story that hasn't already been read hundreds of times, and this sparkling new edition comes with a link to an audiobook reading of the story by actor John Krasinski. But it doesn't take a famous reader to make Curious George come alive, thanks to the author H.A. Ray's perfectly paced storytelling. And with the magic of George, young listeners may soon turn into readers, sharing the story themselves with others.

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Beach Buddy! Waiting for Chicken Smith by David Mackintosh

"HEY, LOOK!" my sister calls.

But I'm waiting for Chicken Smith.
He should be here soon.

The boy is has arrived at the beach cabin where he goes every summer and where his friend Chicken Smith always comes, with his rusty bike, his dog Jelly, and his binoculars to use to watch for whales from the base of the lighthouse.

But the boy has waited for several days and Chicken Smith has not come. Summer at the shore is not the same without his beach buddy.

Besides, Chicken Smith is cool. Together they swim far out, holding onto his dad's surfboard, and collect driftwood and special shells along the water line. Chicken Smith can kick a tennis ball all the way to the edge of the sea, and his dog Jelly will fetch it every single time. He can ride his old bike with no brakes everywhere, and every day, as the sun sinks low over the sea, they go to the lighthouse to watch with his binoculars for a whale to breach on the horizon. The boy has bought a special shell to give to Chicken Smith when he comes.

But Chicken Smith's cabin is still vacant, and there is a sign on the door,

Inquire at shop.

What is taking Chicken Smith so long anyway?
We're missing out on everything.

"JUST HURRY UP!" his sister yells, running off down the beach.

What is she yelling about? The boy follows her down the beach and up to the lighthouse. He sees something he's never seen before.

It's a whale! He never saw one with Chicken Smith. But thanks to his sister, he sees the WHALE! With her.

Named for the character who never appears and through his absence changes the story, David Mackintosh's Waiting for Chicken Smith (Candlewick Press, 2019 [Am. ed]) deals with the truth that things always change, even the most beloved things, and people go on in new ways. Like the actors in "Waiting for Godot," the boy remains stuck waiting for his usual beach buddy to arrive and make things happen. But unlike those hapless characters, the boy's sister helps him move on to a wonderful new experience. Together they bond as they spot the long-awaited whale, plan a shell hunt for the next morning, and their relationship is changed forever. A sister can be a friend, too, one hopes, for life. To this understated but powerful story, author-illustrator David Macintosh adds wonderful scratchy illustrations that capture the rustic cabins and palm trees, flotsam and jetsam at the waterline, and the wondrous whale in perfect blues and soft browns of the beach. "Mackintosh’s text perfectly captures the timelessness of childhood summer," Kirkus Reviews says.

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Much Given, Much to Give: Jumping Mouse: A Native American Legend of Friendship and Sacrifice by Misty Schroe

Long, long ago, there was a mouse.

She had heard a story the old ones told about somewhere, the High Places, where life was good.

So all alone she went to find the High Places.

But how could a mouse, the smallest of the small, hope to reach the high place, far above her desert home? She soon reaches a stream too wide to cross. Lamenting, she hears a low voice.
"I am Grandfather Frog . Your journey will be long and hard, but because of your great longing, I will give you a gift to help you. Close your eyes."

And when Jumping Mouse opens her eyes, she has long, long, jumping legs. She leaps over the water and quickly crosses the wide grassy plain at the foot of the high mountain. After a while she meets with a blind buffalo, unable to find his way, and thinking of Grandfather Frog's gift to her, she offers him her eyesight. Buffalo rises and carries her on his back as far as he can go to the foot of the mountain. Smelling the cool mountain air ahead, Mouse follows her nose until she stumbles upon a sad wolf.
"I have lost my sense of smell," said the wolf. "Without my nose I cannot hunt. I will die."

Kind Mouse gives the wolf her sense of smell and she agrees to carry Mouse up the mountain to the tree line. There Wolf must go no higher, and Jumping Mouse is left with only the touch of her feet on the rough rock of the peak. She has given away too much to make it to the High Places.

And then she hears the voice of Grandfather Frog once more.
"Jump! As high as you can."

And Jumping Mouse leaps and is transformed, in Misty Schroe's reshaping of this Native American legend, The Story of Jumping Mouse celebrating personal sacrifice and gratitude, and illustrating the sense of the saying, To whom much is given, much is required. Mouse's transfiguration as an eagle both fulfills her hopes and rewards her self-sacrifice as such fables should. This powerful story was due a retelling, since John Steptoe's 1985 Caldecott Honor-winning version is now available only in paperback. Author-artist Schloe's work is strikingly illustrated with her clay animal sculptures overlaid on color photographs of the western landscape in a setting fitted to the origins of the story itself.

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Summer at Camp Mimi: Me, Toma, and the Concrete Garden by Andrew Larson

I'm staying with Mimi for most of the summer. My mom had an operation. She has to take it easy for a while.

Most everything is pretty gray around here. It doesn't look like much of a summer.

But Aunt Mimi is nice. She lets him pick the paint to make the spare room into his own space. But there are just gray apartments all around and a fenced-in concrete space below with some cast-off bike parts. And there's a box of dirt balls on Mimi's balcony.
Kind of weird, if you ask me. "Why do you have dirt balls out here?"

"They were from a secret admirer," Mimi says with a twinkle in her eye.

"Are you sure this person likes you?" I asked."They gave you a box of dirt!"

We both burst out laughing.

But when the boy spots a kid bouncing his ball against the wall of the lot, he grabs a bunch of dirt balls and heads downstairs to ask the boy if he wants to help toss the dirt balls over the fence, adding that his aunt will pay to get rid of them. The boy's name is Toma, and soon the two are busy tossing dirt balls and bouncing Toma's ball. Aunt Mimi rewards their efforts with money for treats from the ice cream truck. Soon the two meet each day to toss dirt balls and play.

One day a grumpy old neighbor man shouts at them for throwing things into the fenced area.
"Dirt balls!" I said.

"We're actually recycling them!" says Toma.

And while the boys' friendship grows, all kinds of flowers begin to sprout from their balls of dirt. Soon the other neighbors notice that inside the fence, a garden of blooming things is growing. Mr. Grumpypants brings out a hose to water the flowers, and noticing the difference, people begin toclean out the junk inside the fence. Suddenly the drab grayish space becomes a butterfly garden. People come to plant little garden patches and neighborhood kids come to play on the grass that grows there.

It's a pretty good summer after all at Aunt Mimi's, in Andrew Larson's Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden (Kids Can Press, 2019). Sometimes friendships just grow naturally from shared experiences, and Larson's gentle narration and artist Ann Villanueve's ink-and-watercolor illustrations portray the development of friendship and a bit of a community that grow from an unlikely gift. Says Booklist's starred review, "... a heartwarming story of serendipity and connection, both among people and with the environment."

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Cat Vs. Dog! Princess Puffybottom... and Darryl by Susin Nielsen

Princess Puffybottom had the perfect life.

As the only pet and cosseted cat, the Princess has it made. Her doting owners prepare delectable dishes for her dinner, and if breakfast is a bit late, a mere touch of a velvet paw has them up and dishing food out straightaway.
And they took care of more... delicate matters!

All she has to do to keep her owners happy is a bit of purring and lap-sitting and a little cutesy cat play. It's a great gig!

But then... her owners surprise her with ... Darryl the disgusting dog.
He was horrible.

Darryl chews up socks and throws them back up, along with... revolting stomach contents. He drinks from toilets. He destroys almost anything he can get in his little fangs. Princess Puffybottom is sure his departure must be imminent. And finally one of her owners takes him away. Hurray! Darryl has been summarily banished from her kingdom.But then he returns, wearing a truly stupid, totally un-chic cone around his neck. Definitely not de rigueur attire! And to make matters worse, her people seem more devoted to Darryl than ever.
She tried sabotage.

Puffybottom plants shoes where she knows Darryl will demolish them. She even, ugh, provides evidence of an, er, accident on the carpet. But her owners seem undeterred as far as Darryl's failings go.

But then Princess Puffybottom notices that Darryl is falling under her spell. He is attentive and empathetic. He is clever at getting into the garbage for some exotic snacks. And, yes, the dumb dog clearly adores her. Maybe having a admiring doggy around isn't so bad.

It's the eternal war between dogs and cats, in Susin Nielsen's brand-new Princess Puffybottom . . . and Darryl (Tundra Books, 2019),  a cat's-eye view of  being co-pets, full of critter psychology and with a surprise ending for young readers to enjoy. Nielsen's narrative tone and well-planned page turns make for some snickers, and artist Olivia Chin Mueller comes up with just the right amount of cat scheming and charm which illuminate the text. Kirkus seconds the wish pet-loving kids will feel in their starred review: "Nielsen's tale and Mueller's digitally created pooch and puss pair perfectly. . . . Princess and Darryl need a sequel."

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Missing Lid Mystery: The Vanishing Baseball Cap by Misti Keniston

Daniel is on a field trip to the Museum of History. But...

Before he gets in the door, he notices his green baseball cap is gone.

Can he find it? Will he fail?


There are so many history exhibits, and it seems that there are hats in every one!

In the Wild West display, the  cowpoke wears a hat, but it's too wide to be a baseball cap. In the sea life tank, the diver's helmet is too big. The astronaut in the showcase wears a hard helmet, and in the early flight exhibit, the pilot's leather helmet is brown.

The early photography exhibit has a figure in a tall black silk hat, but it's way too tall to be Daniel's cap, and the pirate's hat is black and triangular. None of these hats is like his small green cap. The field trip is almost over, and the group is exiting through the gift shop. Is Daniel's cap a goner?

But with Fox and Goat on the case, Daniel's hat turns up, in Misti Keniston's third in series, The Vanishing Baseball Cap: A Fox and Goat Mystery (Fox & Goat Mysteries) (Schiffer Publishing, 2019). Kids who keep their eyes peeled through the story will probably spy the missing hat before Fox and Goat do, and to underline the lesson, author Keniston includes a brief appendix with the full rubric of color, size, and shape and texture that underlie the search. This series is great for reviewing the elements of sorting for preschoolers just learning to match characteristics--providing a basic lesson in vocabulary and reinforcing essential skills in math and science and art.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Savor the Word: How to Read A Book by Kwame Alexander

First find a tree--a Black Tupelo or Dawn Redwood will do. It's okay if you prefer a stoop--like Langston Hughes.

An author usually wants to tell you WHY you should read--preferably his or her own book-- preferably immediately.

But this author wants to tell you HOW to read a book.

And being a poet, by the way, he uses a METAPHOR!
Peel its gentle skin, like you would a clementine.

Dig your thumb into the bottom.
Squeeze every morsel
of each plump line
until the last
drop of magic drips....

The words inside a book are likened to the ripe, juicy sections of a citrus fruit, in Caldecott Medalist's Kwame Alexander's lyrical poem-book about the book, perhaps best read in a tree... or on the front steps... or perhaps in bed, as Alexanders suggests...with another metaphor.
Get cozy, between the covers...

Alexander exhorts his readers not to hurry, to take time to savor how the words go together, to think, imagine, get inside that waking dream that is a story, another time and place where you can inhabit for a while, be someone else, and live a different life before you come to...

Winner of the Caldecott Award for his top-selling middle school novel, The Crossover (The Crossover Series), and other noted works (read reviews here) Kwame Alexanader has become a strong advocate for reading and poetry, as he shows in his latest book, illustrated magically by the Caldecott-winning Melissa Sweet. To say artist Sweet uses mixed media for this book is an understatement, as she crafts her collages from found objects, including an old paint can lid, with watercolors and gouache paints and handmade papers and hand-printed text. This new book is clearly a work of love by author and illustrator in their latest, How to Read a Book. (Harper, 2019).

Says Kirkus Reviews, "A linguistic and visual feast."

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Monday, August 12, 2019

The Gorm Is Rising: The Beasts of GrimHeart (Longburrow) by Kieran Larwood

Back in the first days, it is said, the goddesses Estra and Nixha banished Gormalech the World Eater underground and set about filling the place with life (and death, because that was Nixha's job).

They chose rabbits to run the world, walking and talking as the Ancients before them once had. They gave them fire and shelter, even twelve magic Gifts. But something was missing.

Estra realized that living is nothing without the power to think, talk, and sing and to pass on those thoughts and ideas. Life, the goddess thought,
is one big story, and she needed someone to tell it.

But the Old Bard is dead and his pyre has been lit, and the bard and his apprentice Rue have been taken prisoner by the Bonedancers who will sacrifice him to their pit beast for, as he explains to Rue, "telling the wrong story to the wrong people."

The Bonedancers of Spinestone are displeased that he has told a tale about them, but by the gift of his words, the bard gets them to agree that he will tell the whole tale and let them judge if his words are true.
"Off we go," says the bard. His eyes are shining bright green.

And so the bard seats himself in front of the pit and begins to to tell the tale he knows is true.

Once an aimless and lazy little rabbit, Young Podkin One-Ear with his sister Paz have twice put down the dark forces of Gorm, the worshipers of the Gormleach who rule by the power of iron and are driven to consume the creation. Avenging their father's death, they have won victories and gained the Gifts of the copper dagger Starclaw that cuts through all but iron, the silver brooch Moonfyre that enables it wearer to hide in moonshadows, and the hammer Surestrike which can forge Gorm-piercing weapens,, and Aifew, the sickle that reveals poison. But now word comes from warrens near the edge of the Grimheart forest that the Gorm are coming, with a fearsome armored horde and giant tree-shredding iron beasts, to destroy the entire forest and slaughter the inhabitants of every warren.

Podkin and Paz, with their baby brother Pook, flee deeper into the forest where they have heard they may find another of the Gifts needed to destroy the Gorm. There they meet Mo Grim and the Wardens and the chief of the giant rabbit Wardens and receive Bloodcrun, the twisted crown that enables the wearer to read minds. Wearing Bloodcrun, Podkin One-Ear is able to speak with the giant saber wolves of the deep forest, and astride the alpha wolf Truefang, rides back to rally all the warrens for a final stand against the encroaching Gorm army.

The giant wolves are ravenous fighters, and the assembled warrens' warriors fight courageously, but their weapons are weak against the iron-clad Gorm and their machines. Then the war council determines that their only hope is Soulshot, in the possession of Pokkin's uncle, Hennic, the bow that never misses its target and the three arrows forged by Surestrike to kill Scramashank, the leader of the Gorm. But Podkin is too young to draw Soulshot. The blind warrior Crom is chosen to pull the bow, and Podkin, wearing Blodcrun, must meld his mind with Crom's strength to guide the last arrow to Scramashank's head.
"I see him, Crom!" Podkin shouted. "Draw now! NOW!

Soulshot creaked as Crom heaved the string back to his ear.

Quickly Podkin summoned up every memory he had. Scramashank drawing his sword to kill his father, all those memories, all that terror overcome--Podkin let it flood through him... until he reached out a finger and touched the taught bowstring.

In that moment he felt the bow leap. Suddenly it knew its target. He leaned down to Crom's ear.


It is this story that is told by the bard to the Bonedancers, so well told that he and Rue depart safely into the wood to continue to tell their story of how Podkin saved them all. Story, as we see, must always be told, and as readers learn at the closing, especially if it is told by the  bard, Pook, younger brother of Podkin.

Since J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, there have been a seeming multitude of fantasy novel series, (viz. Harry Potter) set in invented societies, human, alien, and animal, with a hero or heroine who is forced to lead in the iconic battle of good and evil, often within the medieval settings that Tolkien drew on so so vividly from Britain's ancient history. Few such stories move as naturally and compellingly as this one, short on warfare scenes and long on emotional understanding. Podkin himself is a wonderfully sympathetic hero for young readers, compelled by birth and circumstance and perhaps by prophecy to make himself a leader despite his lack of skill and experience, his own reluctance to lead, and his own very real fears. Unlike many such fantasies with heroes with super powers, this young rabbit, the unlikeliest of heroes, owns no powers of his own, save for the courage to do what has to be done, acquiring instead the Gifts left at the beginning of time. Podkin's sacrifice is all the more appealing and understandable for middle readers who may worry about their own powers and who can only hope and believe, like Podkin, that, despite the Dark that is always rising, the universe bends toward the Good.

Kieran Larwood's forthcoming The Beasts of Grimheart (Longburrow) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion, 2019), the supposed finale in the Longburrow series, is an accessible read and a good preface for middle graders who may soon move on the classics of this genre waiting for them. Other books in this series, cleverly also set in a frame narrative as bard's tales as the story within a story, are Podkin One-Ear (Longburrow) (see review here) and The Gift of Dark Hollow (Longburrow)

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

A NEW-NICORN? Unicorn Is Not So Great After All by Bob Shea

It's not easy being a sparkly sensation. On the first day of school, Unicorn can't help noticing that his friends are totally fascinated with an inexplicable new fad. His fan base is fickle.

Being a unicorn used to mean something around here.

But now all anyone cares about are rubber bands that look like other things.

"Goat, do people say I'm a yawn-icorn?"

"What? No! Nobody says anything about you."

It's even worse than he thought. Making it rain cupcakes seems to be passe this year.

Unicorn has got to up his dazzle quotient. He tries a makeover with a rainbow wig and tail extensions, bigger, brighter teeth, lots of rainbow tats, and a horn enhancer. Whimsy is the word.

But his attempts to come over as a novel, sassier self, a NEW-NICORN, fail to bedazzle.  He sheds sparkling glitter in everyone's lunch. He arranges for a drop of flaming birthday cakes in the middle of the soccer championship game.

Why does everyone wish the New-nicorn would just go home?

Bob Shea's latest,  Unicorn Is Maybe Not So Great After All (Disney Hyperion Books, 2019), with its theme of the dangers of too much of a good thing, is one of his best-yet picture books.  With cameo appearances of many of his comic characters--Goat, Dinosaur, and Ballet Cat--and chock-full of funny asides and the unfortunate consequences of Unicorn's blitz of self-promotion, this newest by author-illustrator Shea is good for reading aloud, but also bound to keep kids scrutinzing the pages to discover Shea's scribbly sight gags around the page which add extra fun to the story--with the extra bonus that Unicorn's classmates readily forgive his excesses and, sans sass and razzle dazzle, still count him a friend.

Share this new one with Bob Shea's earlier giggle-creator, Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great.

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Friday, August 09, 2019

Speaking Up! The Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman

"Holy cow!" I said when Sophie Bowman told me she'd be joining me at All Saints School for Girls this year. "I got thrown out of public school," said Sophie. "It was either Catholic school or boarding school. Sister Basil thinks my soul can still be saved."

"Why?" I asked.

"That's what she learned in nun school, I suppose," said Sophie.

"No," I said. "Why did you get kicked out?"

"Oh, that. For writing 'THERE IS NO FREE SPEECH HERE' on the gym floor. In paint. Red paint."

Francine is devoted to staying mostly unnoticed at All Saints, where it was more important to stay out of trouble than to excel at learning. Sophie is devoted to fighting fascism and pursuing free speech. Francine's family is conventional, devoted to blending in, avoiding criticism. But Sophie is a risk taker, and in their unlikely friendship, Francine finds herself doing daring things like wearing her uniform beanie aslant like a French beret and skipping school to take the bus to Hollywood to spot Montgomery Cliff entering a premier.
It was eight thirty before a limousine pulled up. It was only Olivia de Haviland. I was saving my cheers for Monty.

Another limousine came. Out stepped Elizabeth Taylor, gorgeous in white mink. And behind her, standing on the same earth, in the same city, on the same block as Francine Green, was Montgomery Clift, in person. "He's looking at us!" I screamed.

Next to me, Sophie, being Sophie, shouted "Ban the bomb!"

And from Sophie the sheltered Francine learns about the McCarthy hearings and its restrictions on freedom of expression and about the Bomb, and she is shocked to see the wage earners of families she knows being accused of being Communists and fired from their Hollywood jobs. Sister Basil at All Saints says the atomic bomb will save them from godless Communism, but Sophie's dad says the H-bomb could mean the end of all life on earth.

And when Sophie's father himself loses his job at the movie studio, Francine has to make a choice--on her own.
My father lit a cigarette."The FBI has a job to do--keeping us safe. Maybe a little unfairness is a small price to pay for security."

"But, Sophie--"

"I keep telling you, you shouldn't be involved with them. It's serious business. Be quiet, do what you're told, and stay out of the way."

Francine's mom tells her it's her father's job to keep them safe. Then, after a moment, she offers to makes an extra tuna casserole for Francine to take to the Bowmans.
"Sometimes we aren't sure what we should do," she says. "Be patient with us."

And in the troubled time of 1949, Francine Green finds her own voice, in the new edition of the Newbery Award-winning Karen Cushman's The Loud Silence of Francine Green (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019). Francine Green is very much a girl of her time, a time of root beer floats and movie magazines, the time of the Cold War and Congressional Commie hunts, and the H-bomb, but she is also a universal character. Sister Pete had told her to do right and be honest and do what is pleasing to God, and finally Francine finds a way to speak up, to tell her own truth. A coming-of-age book for young adult readers in any time, this one speaks to middle graders who must begin to find their own truth and their own voices in their own time.

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Thursday, August 08, 2019

First Day: The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

There will be a day when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.

Maybe it will be your skin, your clothes, or the curl of your hair.

The first day in a new class is hard. No one wants to be the odd one out, and when the teacher does the "what I did this summer" round robin. When Angelina listens to all the summer stories of flying  to other states and other continents, she feels like the only one who stayed home and looked after her little sister  and read lots of books. The teacher calls on a new boy to introduce himself.
"I'm Rigoberto from Venezuela," he says.

The class laughs, until the teacher repeats it softly and his name sounds almost like music.

And when Angelina says her long name, the kids stare at her until Rigoberto speaks right up.
"Your name is like my sister's. Her name is also Angelina."

And all at once in the room where on one else is quite like you, the world opens up a little wider to make some space for you.

And all at once Angelina feels comfortable telling how in her summer she read books to her little sister and to herself long after bedtime and realizes that like them, she, too, took flight to many places, and she begins to tell her class about what she read.

Feeling like the stranger in the room is an almost universal experience at some time in life. It may be a classroom, a college, an office, or a new town, but finding some connection with strangers makes it easier to see the things we may have in common. In her best-selling The Day You Begin (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018) the Newbery Medalist and National Book Award winning Jacqueline Woodsen's first-day story, illustrated by award-winning artist Rafael Lopez, is a sort of parable for children in dealing with new situations, finding what you have in common and valuing what you may not share at first. This is a fine book for the first day of school; as Publisher's Weekly said, "Woodsen's gentle, lilting story and Lopez's artistry create a stirring portrait of the courage it takes to be yourself."

Jacqueline Woodson has won the American Library Association's John Newbery Award for Brown Girl Dreaming, After Tupac and D Foster (Newbery Honor Book), Feathers, and Show Way. (See reviews here)

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Wednesday, August 07, 2019

"Reading Between the Lions:" The Night Library by David Zeltser

It was the night before my eighth birthday, and I was having trouble falling asleep.

My door opened. "Would you like your present now?" my father asked.

"A book," said my mother. "I thought we could read it together."

"A book?" I stared at it. My parents knew I liked toys, games, movies--not books.

But the boy's restless sleep that night is broken by a sound like loud purring from outside, and when he raises the window he sees a large lion looking up at him.
I thought it was a statue until I saw the enormous paw prints in the snow.

"My name is Fortitude, the lion said."

And somehow the boy finds himself climbing on the large lion's back and racing past Yankee Stadium and through Manhattan to the steps of a large marble building, with The New York Public Library carved over three bronze doors. Inside the lion delivers him to a huge room with towering arched windows, long tables, and many, many thick books on the shelves. But when the boy reaches for one, it seems to leap from his hands....
"Adult books can be difficult to grasp," said the lion.

But in the Children's Room the boy recognizes many books that his grandfather used to read with him--The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Cat in the Hat,--and The Polar Express, which they read together every Christmas before he died. The boy asks to take his favorites home.
"That can be arranged," said the lion

And it is all taken care of, in David Zeltser's latest, The Night Library (Random House, 2019). The New York Public Library's iconic stone lions, Patience and Fortitude, are as good as their word, for on the boy's doorstep the next morning is his own library card, brand-new except for some very large tooth prints!

Emily Dickinson wrote "There is no frigate like a book... to take us lands away," but a pair of iconic stone lions do a pretty good job at that, too, as they reawaken the joy and closeness of sharing a book for the boy in a memorable nighttime journey. Artist Raul Colon's illustrations render the midnight scenes in pale moonlit colors and dreamlike images, along with the solid but fantastic figures of the pale, monumental lions, all juxtaposed with the wispy memories of the boy's grandfather that recapture the magic of reading. "This should please bibliophiles of all ages," says Booklist.

For another flight of storytime fun for Book Week or National Library Week, share this one with Brian Lies' proven kid-pleaser, Bats at the Library (A Bat Book) (review here).

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Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Spreading Her Wings: Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman


I am delivered! My mother and I have made a bargain. I may forego spinning as long as I write this account for Edward. My mother is not much for writing but has it in her heart to please Edward, now he is gone to be a monk.


Something is astir. I can feel my father's eyes following me about the hall, regarding me as he would a new warhorse or a bull bought for breeding. He asks me questions, the Beast who never speaks to me except with the flat of his hand to my cheek or my rump.

This morning: "Exactly how old are you, daughter? Have you all your teeth? What color is your hair when it is clean?"

Catherine is a spirited lass who avoids needlework whenever possible, and the tangled remnants of her embroidery and spindles are oft found tossed into the privy. Nicknamed Birdy for her chamber filled with singing birds, she loves animals and favors the company of the villagers over learning the duties of a lady of the manor--spinning, weaving, doctoring, accounting, and management skills. But with her two elder brothers away as knights in the king's service and her beloved third brother Edward in a monastery, Catherine's father, a far-from-rich knight, has become aware that his soon-to-be fourteen-year-old daughter is a marriageable commodity and begins to shop her around to the local peerage.

And when a series of lackwit and unappealing suitors appear to audition as her future husband, Birdy hides all day from them in the privy, blacks out her teeth, mutters comments that make her seem a lunatic, and soon sends them packing. At first she assumes the Lord of Lithgow (whom she nicknames "Shaggy Beard"), is trying to arrange a marriage for his son Stephen, but she finds that the true case is much worse.
It is Shaggy Beard himself who wishes to take me for wife! That dog assassin whose breath smells like the mouth of Hell, who makes wind like others make music, who attacks helpless animals with knives, who is ugly and old! I am offered a smelly, broken-toothed old man who drinks too much. I will not consent. I will never consent.

Still the prosperous but supremely undesirable suitor of advanced age and disgusting personal habits continues to dicker tenaciously with her father for her. Catherine's best efforts seem futile. Even running away fails to move her father from making an advantageous deal with the proposed bridegroom. But the year is 1290, and all of her pleas, wit, and spirit cannot dissuade the Beast from making a lucrative deal for his wayward daughter. But fate has something more in store for Birdy, in Karen Cushman's new edition of her Newbery Honor book, Catherine, Called Birdy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion, 2019). Many things have changed since 1290, especially for girls and women, but young teens still chafe against the expectations of parents and society, and fate still favors those who bravely try to make their own way in the social milieu in which they find themselves. This novel of another time has much to say to modern young people about staying true to themselves and to what is right. The coming of age of Catherine, called Birdy, in which the lively main character makes her first non-self-serving choice, is a funny, hopeful, and moving read for middle readers just beginning to spread their wings and see the real landscape of life before them.

Karen Cushman is also the noted author of the Newbery Medal book, The Midwife's Apprentice, The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, Alchemy and Meggy Swann and Will Sparrow's Road. (Read my reviews here.)

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Monday, August 05, 2019

Unmentionables! Underwear by Jenn Harney

It's a little BARE BEAR, leaving wet footprints behind him--from the bathtub to the bedroom! His dad gives him the Papa Bear stare.


Little Bear wonders why and where!

Baby Bear is unaware of where. Papa Bear points dramatically at the pair of underpants on the chair. But when Baby Bear tries them on, he despairs. That pair of underwear has a tear! It's not fair!

Papa is getting grumpy as he offers a spare pair of underwear. But Baby Bear is getting into the fun of this rhyming game. How about he wear it up there on his head?

How about a pair that makes Baby Bear a Super Bear? Or a Scare-full Bear?

Papa Bear becomes a Bear with a Super Glare and declares that it's time for bed!

Any book that offers a bare bear and underwear is a guaranteed giggle-getter, and Jenn Harney's Underwear! (Disney Hyperion, 2019), with her inspired pair of comic bears and a fair share of underwear pairs well with the preschool and primary grade set, and Harney's clever dialogue between this pair makes this one jolly fun to share as a pair or with a gang. "This will be a riotous hit wherever it's shared," says Kirkus Reviews' starred review.

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Sunday, August 04, 2019

Scaling Up! Best Babysitters Ever: The Good, The Bad, and the Bossy by Caroline Cala

There's such a thing as too much of a good thing.  Best Babysitters, Inc., is a success: their treasury is well on its way to affording their primary goal for a birthday extravaganza- three tickets for the VERONICA CONCERT. Malia loves sitting for the Hoovers, strategically located for her primary pasttime, with super-cute Connor Kelly sightings right next door. Unknown to her nature-crazy mother, Dot has funded a secret hoard of contraband cosmetics and junk food, and Bree at last has her very own (albeit extremely cantankerous) cat which she names Veronica.

But success has its downside: the three in-demand babysitters find themselves in a time crunch: Malia's evil older stepsister signs her up for a "junior internship" for a Cruella de Ville-type boss; the science fair is growing nigh and Dot has not had time to think up a winning project yet; and Bree's cat has destroyed everything in her glitter-filled room, pooped inside the grand piano, scratched her fiercely, and she hasn't a clue how to bond with her demonic feline.

So the next board meeting of Best Babysitters is a glum session. The business is expanding exponentially, but the sitters' time is not. Their customers are happy but the girls are stressed and exhausted. It's a textbook case of business burnout.

"I have an idea," said Malia, pausing for maximum effect. "We hire satellite babysitters."

"You mean like employees?" asked Dot.

"But... we actually like babysitting," said Bree. "If we give our jobs away, won't that be sad?"

"That's why this plan seems like the best of both worlds," said Malia, campaigning hard for her proposal. "We can take the jobs we want, earn money... AND have time for everything else we have going on!"

What could possibly go wrong?

In the second book in Caroline Cala's comic middle-school series, The Good, the Bad, and the Bossy (Best Babysitters Ever) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019), the babysitting tyros discover that scaling up a business model requires some, er, modifications in operations, and perhaps even a strategic RIF (reduction in force). Their new recruits--Pigeon de Palma, Brodford Smitherington III, a.k.a. Brody, and Sage Andrews--turn out to be gifted, virtual doppelgangers of themselves, and perhaps too good at babysitting, endearing themselves to their clients too much and, in Bree's case, Brody practically moves in with her own family  Malia proposes a new management scheme.
"It was time to say goodbye to the satellite sitters. It was time to take back their babysitting business and their lives."

Perhaps it's just time to return to their boutique business model, in author Cala's delightful follow-up to her first book, Best Babysitters Ever. (review here). In a believable and upbeat look at middle-school angst, this new title offers a deepening of the characterization of the main characters and some intriguing new characters in a light and lively, truly funny look at making it through seventh grade with friends and self esteem intact. And who doesn't want that?

Be sure to watch for the third book in this series, Miss Impossible (Best Babysitters Ever), forthcoming February 4, 2020.

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Saturday, August 03, 2019

The Tinkerbell Effect: I Think I Can by Karin S. Robbins

As Tinkerbell in Peter Pan told the children, to see fairies, you have to believe, and if you believe, clap your hands.

Reading is like that, too, and in Karin S. Robbins' I Think I Can (Schiffer Publishing, 2019), it all begins with believing, when Aardvark says...

"I think I can!"

She thinks she can sing.

"What do you think you can sing?" asks Mouse.

Why, a song, of course. But first Mouse must look at Aardvark and listen to Aardvark and sit down in a listening chair, and get ready for the Surprise Song!
Sing along with me.
Oh, happy we will be.
Read along with me.
Read together, you and me.
Oh, happily we'll read.

Author and Romper Room teacher and puppeteer Karin Robbins knows that it helps to hold children's attention. Learning to read is an interactive activity that involves repeating sounds and words which are more effective if sometimes done together as a song or chant, and artist Rachael Brunson makes sure to hold attention by setting her engaging aardvark and mouse front and center on bright white backgrounds, and author Robbins gives young emerging readers their chance to CLAP a round of applause for believing they can learn to read, too.


Friday, August 02, 2019

Love, A Blanket, and a Good Book: Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog by Lisa Papp

Madeline Finn really, really wanted a puppy. And finally, Mom said yes.

Mrs. Dimple's big shaggy dog Bonnie has three puppies ready to go to new homes. But how can Madeline choose the right one?

"Why don't you see if someone picks you?" says Mrs. Dimple.

So I close my eyes and think of the name I chose. "Star," I whisper, and the littlest one climbs right into my lap.

Mrs. Dimple tells Madeline how she adopted Bonnie at the animal shelter. As she learns how to care for Star, Bonnie feeds her, forgives her for making messes, and gives her a blanket in which Star snuggles while Madeline reads to her. But Madeline worries about the animals at the shelter who have no forever home.

And when she visits the shelter with Mom and Mrs. Dimple, there is Mr. Chips, a dog who doesn't ever wag his tail. There are sad kitties and lonely bunnies with droopy ears.

Madeline goes into motion. She scours the linen closet for soft, old towels for the homeless animals, yet there are not enough for all of them.

When she reads to Star, he makes a soft little woof.
"Does anyone read to the shelter dogs," she asks Mom.

And when Mom sadly doesn't say yes, Madeline knows what to do. She makes posters for the library:

Saturday 10:00

Come read to the shelter animals.

Bring a blanket and a book.

At first, Madeline is the only reader there. But then a crowd of kids with blankets and freshly checked-out library books show up for a Saturday read-in at the animal shelter, in Lisa Papp's Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog (Peachtree Books, 2019). Papp's gentle storytelling is sweetly personal and perfectly paced, paired with her charming, softly textured pastel illustrations that warm the heart and fill it with compassion for homeless animals. Papp manages to tell a realistic story of one child and her pet while putting in a plug for both shelter animals and their supporters and libraries and reading. Pair this one with Lisa Papp's first Madeline story, Madeline Finn and the Library Dog.

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