BooksForKidsBlog

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Back To School: I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson's Blackboard by Jennifer K. Mann

MRS. BENSON GIVES STARS FOR STUFF LIKE SPELLING OR NEATNESS OR RAISING YOUR HAND AND SAYING THE RIGHT ANSWER.

NOT FOR DOODLING AND DAYDREAMING.

Mrs. Benson is clearly a stickler. She wears pointy shoes and pointy glasses through which she seems to look down her long nose at Rosie, a doodling, dreaming, and drawing-in-the-margins kind of girl.

Rosie knows she's not the star-by-her-name type, but she still longs to please her teacher. One day during math she's sure she knows the right answer. She raises her hand and goes to the board to do the problem.

3 + 2 =5

But Rose hadn't started listening soon enough. Mrs. Benson writes the problem she wanted on the board.

3 + 0 - 2 = 1

No star for Rosie for math.

She tries again in reading. She goes politely to the front of the class and starts to read the story aloud.

But not aLOUD enough! No reading star for Rosie.

Rose is disappointed. But then the class is visited by an artist named Mr. Sullivan. Rosie pays perfect attention as he tells them all about how he created his artwork.

I WAS STILL THINKING ABOUT IT WHEN I SERVED THE SNACKS...

WHOOPS!

The snacks and juice cups wind up on Mrs. Benson's desk and lap. No star for Rose for being a good classroom helper, either.

To make things even worse, Mrs. Benson decides that today is the day to inspect everyone's desks.

She looks inside Alan's desk and pulls out a forgotten bologna sandwich. EWWW! Jodi's desk is even worse, with a wad of used tissues. ICKKK!

Rosie knows hers is worse! But then, she gets lucky!

THEN THE BELL RANG. "CLOSE CALL, HUH, ROSIE?" SAID MRS. BENSON. "I'LL LOOK AT YOURS TOMORROW."

Rosie is there early to clean her desk until it is spotless and neat, inside and out.

But then, Mrs. Benson gives each of them a great assignment--to design a personal thank-you card for Mr. Sullivan. Rose is inspired. She sketches, paints, cuts, collages, glues, and make a very special card. But she and her tidy desk are both a mess again. But Mrs. Benson smiles.

ROSE, YOU ARE A TRUE ARTIST -- LIKE MR. SULLIVAN!

And Rose gets to give herself--AND Mrs. Benson--special hand-drawn exploding stars, in Jennifer K. Mann's I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson's Blackboard. And for her delightful artwork and well-paced storytelling, Publishers Weekly give author Mann a star, too--a starred review, adding "Mann, in her second book as both author and illustrator, works with assurance as she puts her jittery ink line and layered washes of color to work in the service of both emotional vulnerability and schoolroom slapstick without missing a beat."

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind? What Pet Should I Get? by Dr. Seuss


I WANT A PET, I WANT A PET.

WHAT PET SHOULD I GET?

Mom says go ahead, but Dad says be done by noon.

It's not much time to make such a truly weighty decision.

At first the brother and sister think inside the box. Dog... or ....cat? But once at the pet store, with talking birds, monkeys, burbling fish, and bunnies, it seems an impossible decision.

I SAW NEW KINDS. THEY WERE GOOD, TOO.
HOW COULD I PICK ONE?
NOW WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
WE COULD ONLY PICK ONE.
THAT IS WHAT MY DAD SAID.
BUT HOW COULD I MAKE UP
THE MIND IN MY HEAD?

They consider the merits of each logically, but then, in true Seussian fashion, their fanciful sides take over and they move on to consider more exotic animalia.

What about a yent? Could he live in a tent?

SOMETHING IT IS TO MAKE UP A MIND!

Mrs. Geisel recently re-discovered a box with odds and ends from her husband's old office she had gathered up after his death. Inside, along with sketches and doodled story ideas, was this story, in a form called a dummy, complete blackline drawings, with typed text cut and pasted in place on each page, for some reason put aside when Theodor Geisel turned to another story of siblings and critters, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. (I Can Read It All by Myself) (Random House, 1960.)

So now we have another classic tale, with Seuss-inspired coloration, Theodor Seuss Geisel's just-published What Pet Should I Get? (Classic Seuss) (Random House, 2015). But also in true Seussian form, the good Dr. cannily doesn't reveal what pet the kids get!

IT IS A TEASE TO LEAVE US STUCK WITH THIS QUESTION.
PLEASE, MIZ SEUSS, DO COME UP WITH THE NEXT ONE!

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Back to School: Ready for School, Murphy? by Brendan Murphy

Murphy is not (ready for school, that is).

He's not dressed, and he's got a serious, cowlicky case of bed-head. And that's not all he's got.

"MAYBE I SHOULD STAY HOME FROM SCHOOL TODAY.

I FEEL LIKE I'VE GOT ANTS IN MY PANTS
AND BUTTERFLIES IN MY STOMACH."

Murphy suggests that maybe he's got some kind of bug that's going around.

His dad thinks he might be right. Hmm... could be the heebie jeebies? Or goose bumps? Maybe he needs to visit the doctor for a shot. Murphy hopes not.

Or then, again, it could be a computer virus. His pixels do look a bit peaked.

That thought makes Murphy's bristly hair stand straight up.

Dad offers to get dressed and grab the car keys for a trip to the doc or the geek shop, whichever. Then he adds the zinger.

"BUT, MURPHY--

"IT'S SATURDAY."

It's an instant cure for the malingering Murphy, in Brendan Murphy's Ready for School, Murphy? (Hyperion Books, 2015). The I-forgot-it-was-Saturday storyline may be a bit familiar, but author-illustrator Brendan Murphy has one sure-fire sight gag left, as little Murph strips off his pajamas and heads for the great outdoors--clad only in his whitie tighties! Sure, it's a cheap laugh for the primary set, but Brendan Murphy's little malinger is classic, created as he is from geometric shapes and bright acrylic colors that pop off the page, and big round eyes that react to his savvy dad's curative suggestions. A fun book for the back-to-school blues.

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Sweet Solitude? Templeton Gets His Wish by Greg Pizzoli

TEMPLETON WANTS HIS FAMILY TO LEAVE HIM ALONE.

HIS MOM IS GRUMPY.

And, as the folk saying goes, When Mama's not happy, nobody's happy.

Mom stands over him until he cleans his room right, and she even follows him into the bathroom to make sure his scrubbing meets her specifications.

Dad is cranky, too, and Templeton's little brother keeps snitching his best toys.

If only he could just make them all vanish!

But wait! An advertisement in the newspaper for a diamond that grants wishes catches his eye. Templeton sneaks some money from his little brother's piggybank (After all, it's rent due on his snitched toys) and places his order.

When the magical diamond arrives, Templeton wastes no time in placing his order.

AND TEMPLETON GOT HIS WISH.

HIS FAMILY WAS GONE.

Let the solitary partying begin!

Templeton plays with all his toys at the same time. The floor of his bedroom is littered with toys, candy wrappers, and cereal bowls. He even adds a few cool murals to his walls! He stays up very late, the rest of the house dark, and smiles through his window as the midnight moon rides high in the sky.

The bathtub grows dusty, as Templeton gives it a wide berth. He notices a few flies circling, and maybe a bird nest on his head? But, hey! It doesn't bother him! Baths are for mama's boys!

BUT AFTER A WHILE THE HOUSE SEEMED REALLY QUIET.

AND SOMETIMES IT WAS A LITTLE SCARY.

Greg Pizzoli's piquant tale, Templeton Gets His Wish (Hyperion Press, 2015), is a clear case of the the old be-careful-what-you-wish-for premise, executed to point up the upside of family life, shown cleverly in the contrasting illustration when a wiser Templeton mournfully looks out the one lighted window, the others dark and abandoned, into a dark night of scary sounds. As might have been predicted, he soon decides it's time to undo that wish.

Greg Pizzoli's charming illustrations are done up in mid-century cozy kitsch, and with effective but minimal text, he lets Templeton's expressions and body language reveal his second thoughts about family life. "Cheerful entertainment, with just a touch of snark," as Publishers Weekly puts it.

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Taking Care: The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc


LION WAS WORKING IN HIS GARDEN ONE DAY WHEN HE HEARD A SOUND.

Lion looks around and sees a fallen bird, with a broken wing.

"OH, YOU POOR LITTLE THING!

LET'S BANDAGE YOU UP!"

As Lion gently picks him up, he follows the bird's anguished gaze and see his flock vanishing over the horizon.

Lion reassures the bird that he will be welcome to stay over the winter in his warm safe house, and he keeps his promise.

Bird's wing heals, but he remains with Lion, and slowly Lion's lonely life changes as he shares it with his new companion. Tucked warm and safe in little nest inside Lion's woolly winter cap, Bird looks out as Lion ventures outside in the strange, wintry snowscape.  Lion takes him on his toboggan, where they whiz down hills or stop for a bit of ice fishing at the lake. At night they enjoy the warmth of the fireplace, Bird tucked snugly inside one of Lion's slippers, and spend the long evenings in quiet companionship. Lion realizes that winter is not so hard and long with a friend.

But as the winter passes into early spring, as snowdrops poke their buds through the melting snow, Bird seems to grow restless with the fireside. And one day, when they are outside, he perches on a limb and looks up to see a flight of birds heading north, and he knows what he must do.

HE LOOKS DOWN AT LION.

"YES," LION SAYS. "I KNOW."

Bird flies away with the flock, looking back, as on the ground Lion grows smaller and smaller in view behind him.

"SOMETIMES LIFE IS LIKE THAT," SAYS LION SOFTLY.

Lion is alone again. He is sad to be without Bird, but he still watches the sky, in hope that his friend will not forget him.

Marianne Dubuc's The Lion and the Bird (Enchanted Lion Books, 2014) is a gently told parable that touches on many of the qualities of relationships--caring, sharing, and finding closeness, but also giving the other the freedom to do what he must. Like the prodigal, of course, Bird returns when the cold winds begin to blow, to share Lion's cozy house for the winter as their friendship continues. Although there are deep meanings in this story, Dubuc's easy narrative, combining humor, loss, longing, and love and her nuanced, evocative drawings make it easy for young readers to sense these truths. "... a remarkably moving, and—considering it features two animals—deeply human story," says Publishers Weekly in their starred review.

For slightly older primary students, this one makes a great compare-and-contrast read aloud along with Sergio Ruzzier's similar A Letter for Leo.

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Dogged Handydog: It's Only Stanley by Jon Agee

THE WIMBLEDONS WERE SLEEPING.
IT WAS VERY, VERY LATE.
WHEN WILMA HEARD A SPOOKY SOUND. (HOWOOOO!)
WHICH MADE HER SIT UP STRAIGHT.

"THAT'S VERY ODD," SAID WALTER.
"I DON'T RECOGNIZE THE TONE.
IT'S ONLY STANLEY," WALTER SAID.
"HE'S HOWLING AT THE MOON!"

Stanley is a dog, and dogs do that. So with a shrug and a shake of his head, Walter sends all the Wimbledons back to bed.

Then, even later than before, another Wimbledon comes to report another scary sound.

WENDY HEARD A CLANKY SOUND
BELOW HER BEDROOM FLOOR.

Dutifully, Walter gets up to investigate what's going in in the basement. It's Walter, with a Rube Goldberg array of assorted metal objects which he is connecting to the furnace piping. Walter dispatches little Wendy back to her beddy-bye with a Stanley status report.

"IT'S ONLY STANLEY, FIXING THE OIL TANK."

As it grows even later, as late as it can get, late beyond belief, little Willie, Wanda, and Wylie make the pilgrimage to their parent's room to report more strange sounds and smells, which Walter ascertains are just Stanley adjusting the TV, making some smelly stew in the kitchen, and clearing the bathroom drains. "It's only Stanley," he reports soothingly.

But just as the Wimbledons think they might actually get some sleep, there is a BIG bang, a really big bang. All the Wimbledons are thrown from their beds, even Max the cat.

"I'LL GO AND LOOK," SAID WALTER."I'LL BE BACK VERY SOON!
IT'S ONLY STANLEY," WALTER SAID.WE'RE GOING TO THE...

It's a lift-off and touch-down on... you guessed it, the MOON, as the Wimbledon's tall house, re-engineered by the inventive Stanley, lands, peaked roof embedded in the cratered surface. The bemused, pajama-ed family finally files out to find out what all the noise was really about in Jon Agee's latest absurdist tale, It's Only Stanley(Dial Books, 2015). Agee's predictable rhymes lull his readers as he prepares them for the surprisingly goofy ending in which, tongue-in-cheek, he shows them what Stanley has really been up to--and why on the final double-page spread. It's sheer silliness and typical Agee-style fun, which will have kids going back to trace Stanley's rocket science throughout the story. Says Booklist, in their starred review, "Very strange, and very, very wonderful."

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Keep Your Eyes on the Ball! Magic Bat Day by Kevin Christofora

IT WAS MONDAY MORNING, AND IT WAS MY SECOND DAY OF BASEBALL PRACTICE.

I WOKE UP BEFORE MY ALARM WENT OFF.

What can get a boy up and dressed faster than a brand-new uniform with a cap that says Hometown All-Stars on the front? At school Nick is proud to walk down the hall and wave at his All-Star teammates as they head for their classrooms in their own matching uniforms.

During reading, it is as if he sees baseballs everywhere he looks. In math class the addition problems remind Nick of a scoreboard. And for lunch there are even hot dogs, just like at the game!

But at practice the real fun begins after their warm-up, when Coach lets the teammates pick out just the right bat for each of them. Nick knows his bat is magic--it has the word BOLT on one side and a streak of lightning on the other! At last the coach takes them out on the field for their very first batting practice.

AT THE PRACTICE AREA, WE ALL GOT OUR OWN HITTING STATION. WE GOT A HELMET, A BATTING TEE, A BUCKET OF BALLS, AND TWO CIRCLES ON THE GROUND

I PUT MY FEET IN THE CIRCLES.

Coach shows them how to grip the bat, lining up the second knuckles on both hands. He even draws a line of black marker down the knuckles so the kids can get the right grip on the end of the bat. He shows Nick how to take a relaxed stance in the batting box, with the bat on his shoulder. And then it's time for Nick to hit the ball waiting quietly on the tee.

Or not.

"SWING AND A MISS... STRIKE ONE!"

Hey! Where's the magic?

Then Coach does some real baseball magic. With his marker he draws a big, fat BLACK circle on a fresh ball, right between the laces.

"THIS TIME, WHEN YOU SWING, STARE AT THE BLACK DOT AND THEN SLAM IT!"

CRACK! This time Nick meets the ball right on the sweet spot. A tingly feeling runs through his hands as he watches it sail up and over the grassy field.

It's BATTER UP, in Kevin Chistofora's second book in his Hometown All-Starsseries, Magic Bat Day (Hometown All Stars Book 2) (Clarens, 2015). Real-life Coach Christofora takes his young team through the initial tips on hitting, beginning with "Keep your eyes on the ball." As an introduction to playing on a team for a rookie or even as early vicarious experience with the game for the littlest wannabe sluggers, this series hits it out of the park.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Flicker, Flicker! Good Night, Firefly by Gabriel Alborozo

THE ELECTRICITY WENT OUT!.

NINA WATCHED AS SCARY SHADOWS CREPT ACROSS HER WALLS.

Nina didn't exactly know that she was afraid of the dark, because her bedroom nightlight had always shed just the right amount of cozy yellow light.

But when the electricity went out... so did her nightlight! It was scary.

But Nina is too big to yell for her mom and dad. She tries to be brave, but it is SO dark! Wait! What's that?

OUTSIDE HER WINDOW NINA SAW A SOFT YELLOW GLOW.

Now Nina knows just what to do. She runs down the stars and outside the back door with her jar.

"COME ON, LITTLE GUY! COME WITH ME!"

Nina has her nightlight! With the little firefly in her jar, she goes upstairs and makes a tent from the sheet on her bed and reads her book. Then she makes shadow pictures on the walls, and she's still not tired.

Wait! Is the firefly light getting dimmer? Nina knows what she has to do next!

It's outside again with the firefly in the jar, and when Nina opens the lid, off her little nightlight flies, up into the trees, where she and her friends give Nina a gentle hint, spelling out...

"GOOD NIGHT, NINA!"

Luckily, Nina gets her little glowbug safely out of the jar and back to firefly business in time for their light show, in Gabriel Alborozo's Good Night, Firefly (Henry Holt and Company, 2015). Alborozo's digitally assisted drawings illuminate the dark in a light-hearted story of lighting the night the natural way. "The grand finale is lovely," says Kirkus Reviews.

For kids who are afraid of the dark, pair this one with Lizi Boyd's ALA Notable book, Flashlight (see review here), and for kids who just like the magic sparkle, read this one with Eric Carle's classic The Very Lonely Firefly.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Book Thief (alt. ver.): Where Are My Books? by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

SPENCER LOVED BOOKS. HIS FAVORITE BEDTIME STORY WAS NIGHTY-NIGHT, NARWHAL.

EVERY NIGHT SPENCER PUT THE BOOK BACK WHERE IT BELONGED. THAT WAY HE'D ALWAYS BE ABLE TO FIND IT.

UNTIL ONE MORNING....

Still in his beloved red narwhal pajamas, Spencer searches for his book.

It's nowhere. Not under his bed or on his shelf or in his closet.

His parents are not worried, sure that it'll turn up. But instead other books disappear from his shelves.

It's sad when Send In The Clown Fish vanishes. But when Sea Monkey Bob goes missing, that's IT! Spencer is sure there's a book thief in the house. Spencer shakes down his little sister, setting off a meltdown that requires way too much tea partying with her to make up for his false accusation. Then Spencer has a thought. Everywhere his books were, he finds odd stuff lying around--a rusty bolt, a tulip petal, a nut--in place of the missing books. Hmmm! Who or what would do that....?

Spencer sets up a trap, tying a stout length of yarn around an attractive book as bait and following the trail back in the morning to the real thieves (or thieves)--a bibliophilic squirrel family who have mistaken his room for a used book store. It takes some persuading, but eventually they hit on a compromise: the squirrels can borrow one book at a time, IF they return it whenever they're ready for a new one.

Spencer's Lending Library is soon more popular than a new crop of pecans, in Debbie Ridpath Ohi's Where Are My Books? (Simon and Schuster, 201), a book about books which makes a good introduction to good library use. Ohi's cartoons are detailed and whimsical and even non-book-lovers will go for the mystery and Spencer's nifty snare for his brushy-tailed book-nabbers. "The brightly colored, digital cartoons are expressive and sweetly endearing. Muted posters on the wall proclaim, "Turn it off and READ A BOOK!" says School Library Journal.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Friend Is Forever: Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert

WINDS HISS OVER DESERT SAND
THE MOON SHINES DOWN ON EMPTY LAND.

AND LONG AGO......THE PHARAOHS HID
THEIR TREASURES IN THIS PYRAMID.

DEEP WITHIN THIS MAZE OF STONE
A CREATURE WAKES UP ALL ALONE.

FOR THE FIRST TIME
IN A HUNDRED YEARS

HE SHAKES OFF DUST.
HE FLICKS HIS EARS.

With the rustle of his wrappings, a mummy cat cat arises from his case and sets off through the chambers of a pyramid, hoping that this will be the once-a-century night that both he and his mistress, the girl-queen Hat-shup-set, are reunited.

OLD AND SMALL,
HE SHUFFLES SLOWLY DOWN THE HALL.

Followed by a retinue of three mice, the royal cat begins to purr as he sees the paintings of happy days with his girl-queen, floating on the Nile, napping in her lap on their golden couch in the shade of palms, posing for Hat-shup-set's drawings as her sister kneels before a writing desk.

But all the memories are not happy, as he views the mural of his death with Hat-shup-set, both victims of a deadly scorpion's sting.

AN END TO DANCES, GAMES AND FEASTS:

TWO SMALL BODIES WRAPPED BY PRIESTS.

Hopefully, Mummy Cat enters the queen's burial chamber, where all her favorite things are arrayed around her sarcophagus.

THIS COLD GOLDEN COFFIN--IS THIS ALL HE GETS?
WHERE IS THE GIRL HE CAN NEVER FORGET?

There is at last the happy, long-hoped-for reunion for the queen and her purring pet, in Marcus Ewert's just published Mummy Cat (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2015), a sweet ending for the youngest readers. And for the older reader, there is another dimension of Mummy Cat's story. Told in hieroglyphs shown in thought bubbles and labels in the wall paintings is the backstory of the Hat-shup-set's envious sister, whose jealousy leads her to capture and release the fatal scorpion which ends her sister's reign and the life of the brave cat who tries to save her.  It is a mystery of an ancient murder revealed and just desserts duly dispensed. Artist Lisa Brown's glowing illustrations tell the story beautifully through detailed drawings done in shadowy shades of gray and tarnished gold which evoke the ghostly presence of evil vengeance, as well as the joyous centennial reunion in which the cat's sad hieroglyphic ME-OW awakens his queen.

An appended author's note, "Mummies, Cats, Queens, and Hieroglyphs," and a table of hieroglyphs appearing in the story give older readers a chance to decode the clues to the whole story which dot the illustrations. This is a layered story which can be read on a dual level with much to intrigue cat-loving youngsters and budding Egyptologists with an ancient story of crime and punishment.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Not-So-Nice Icy Land: Tacky and the Haunted Igloo by Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger

HALLOWEEN WAS COMING TO NICE ICY LAND.

AND THIS YEAR WAS SPECIAL, BECAUSE THE PENGUINS HAD DECIDED TO TURN THEIR IGLOO INTO A
HAUNTED IGLOO.

All the penguin gang--Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect--get together to decorate with hanging bats, spiderwebs, carved pumpkins, and skeletons and stir up the treats, yummy gummy Swedish fish, batsicles, and awful waffles.

Tacky the Penguin exercises his special talent: he taste-tests the treats diligently and pronounces them all-too-tasty.

The penguins turn to choosing costumes, deciding to dress as the things that frighten them most. Angel dresses as a monster. Neatly is afraid of storms and crafts a black cloud beset by lightning bolts get-up. Goodly is attired as a wingy, buzzy insect, dark-fearing Lovely is gowned in black with a dark and droopy mustache,  and Perfect is covered in bubbles. (Don't ask.)

Only Tacky hasn't come up with his costume. What is he afraid of most? He retires to his thinking place to reflect on his attire, with the usual result. ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz!

The Halloween haunted house is a hit! The trick-or-treaters line up at the haunted igloo to shriek and fill their bags with Swedish fish, batsicles, and awful waffles. The scarily attired revelers party hearty and their guests depart with tons of treats.

THIS WAS THE BEST HAUNTED IGLOO IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.

BUT WHERE, OH WHERE, WAS TACKY?

Then the penguins are shocked out of their post-party glow.

KNOCK-BANGITY-KNOCK!!!!!!!!!!!!

They open the door of the igloo to find ... three ghosts wearing vaguely familiar hats.

"We're trick or treating ghostzies
And we ain't no toothie fairies.
So give us all yer yummy treats,
Or we do something skearies."

The penguins would be all too happy to hand over their yummies. But it seems that between the handouts to their guests and the awesome amount that Snacky Tacky sampled, there are no more treatzies to share. The testy trick-or-treaters unmask themselves!

GASP! THE HUNTERS WERE BACK!

The chase is on, as the petrified penguins run for their lives. Luckily for the flippered and feathered hosts, Tacky has, er, finally dreamed up a fabulous costume of the thing he fears most--A Hunter--and arrives just in time to bamboozle the bad guys, in Helen Lester's latest Tacky the Penguin tale, Tacky and the Haunted Igloo (Tacky the Penguin) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books, 2015). The usual suspects. the predatory Hunters, take to their heels as always, in the new collaboration by author Helen Lester and ace artist Lynn Munsinger in a Nice Icy Land treat for the upcoming scary season. Munsinger's illustrations, set in spot art on single pages and flowing, full-bleed, double-page spreads, are filled with tasty details for kids to pour over as the bad guys get their comeuppance in a clever twist that makes the penguin pack again appreciate their own "odd bird" Tacky.

Illustrator Lynn Munsinger was awarded the Caldecott Honor Award for her collaboration with Helen Lester on their ever-popular Hooway for Wodney Wat.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Salvaging Hope: Jonesbridge: Echoes of Hinterland by M. E. Parker

As Myron's arms and legs adjusted to the pull, the clock struck again. Pain shot through his limbs when the gears, one at each corner of the table, advanced another notch, threatening to tear him apart.

An unseen projector parted the darkness with a beam of light. Flickering on a screen above him, a grainy film entitled A New Day for Jonesbridge began with a bugle corps sounding the anthem. "Welcome to the Jonesbridge Industrial Complex, the jewel of the Continental Alliance," a pleasant female narrator stated.

Hours on the rack with only propaganda films for relief is Myron Daw's introduction to being a slog. Jonesborough is the last redoubt of the Continental Alliance, a brutal government which evolved following a nuclear apocalyse in 2043, one which left only a remnant of humanity and "clean land" to raise food crops. The alliance is under siege by the E'sters, the Eastern Alliance, and protected only by the Great Gorge, too wide for the enemy to traverse. The Jonesbridge operation has only one major mission--salvage--recycling the detritus of a ruined civilization to sustain their defense--and Myron soon finds himself a slog,, one of the ill-fed laborers who get minimal rations and work twelve-hour shifts in a setting grimly reminiscent of Nazi slave labor camps.

When Myron's time on the "stretcher," aimed at breaking his will, is over, he becomes a cog in the salvage operation, almost without hope. But then he remembers the time his grandfather showed him how to build a coal-fired hot air balloon, and realizes that he could construct an aircraft capable to flying over the Great Gorge to some sort of freedom beyond. Myron smuggles bits of salvage and fuel out and begins to assemble it in easily concealed parts. Then, a girl named Sindra comes to work on his floor, and the two are drawn to each other's spirit of rebellion and hope.

Myron and Sindra find ways to communicate, fall in love, and he shares his plan with her just as the Alliance comes under artillery fire from the other side of the Gorge. In the confusion Myron and Sindra escape to the wild lands outside the Complex. But an explosion at the heart of the salvage operation sends the guards searching for infiltrators, and Myron is captured and brought back for possible execution, and Sindra, desperate to save the baby she is carrying, is left to make the voyage by Myron's aircraft alone, finally coming down to a seemingly benign enclave on the coast.

Sindra awoke to the sound of water lapping against the airship. She soaked in the sights of the ocean as she drifted toward a collection of debris. In the side of the largest of the landmasses, tall white letters formed a word,.

H-LLYWO-D.

When the current brought her to the edge of the pier, Sindra climbed out of the basket. Her eyes connected with a woman carrying a basket. People dressed in patchwork clothes approached, not to harm but to welcome her.

If she had made it, then Myron could, too.

Despite the grim, gray portrait of existence in this sober post-apocalyptic novel, there is hope that life for humankind goes on, and it seems a sequel is built into the concluding chapters of M. E. Parker's Jonesbridge: Echoes of Hinterland (Diversion Books, 2015). Young adult readers seem to be more than ready to stomach the grim worlds portrayed by the many dystopian novels, beginning with Huxley's Brave New World, Lowry's Newbery-winning The Giver, and continuing to her well-known books-to-film Collins' The Hunger Games, series, and the popularity of such books suggests that young people still seek out those books that strip down civilization as we know it to reveal what is really important for human life.  This book shows the worst and best of humankind in a riveting novel that ultimately makes the choices starkly clear.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Just Between Friends: Ballet Cat:The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea

"WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO TODAY, BALLET CAT?"

"YOU PICK, SPARKLES."

"LET'S MAKE CRAFTS!" SAYS SPARKLES.

"YAY!" ANSWERS BALLET CAT.

Best friends Ballet Cat and Sparkles the Pony never disagree. But when they spread out their art supplies and start to work, Sparkles spots a problem.

"OH, NO! WE SHOULD NOT LEAP WITH SCISSORS!"

Ballet Cat can't seem to curb her yen to dance while she crafts. And everyone knows it's not safe to jete' with sharp objects!

Time for a new plan! Sparkles produces the checkerboard and starts to set for a match. Ballet Cat is enthusiastic, so enthusiastic that she can't resist some high kicks. Kerplop goes the checkerboard with pieces sailing everywhere.

Sparkles the Pony picks them up politely and suggests that they set up a lemonade stand. But then, on the basis of recent experience, he nixes the idea right away, pointing that Ballet Cat's spins are sure to spill the lemonade sooner or later. Thoughtfully, Sparkles suggests that she might eschew spinning for the day. Ballet Cat replies, just a bit sarcastically.

"HA! GOOD ONE, SPARKLES!"

Like that's going to happen! It seems there's only one choice that accommodates Ballet Cat's spinning, twirling, and kicking. They will have to play ballet yet again today!

But as Ballet Cat fluffs her tutu and starts twirling, she notices that Sparkles is not getting a kick out of kicking and his twirls are half-hearted. Something is wrong, she says to Sparkle. (Ballerinas know these things, you know.)

"I CAN'T TELL YOU. IT'S A SECRET SECRET."

"IS IT THAT YOU ARE NOT SO GOOD AT BALLET? THAT IS NOT A VERY SECRET SECRET, SPARKLES."

"NO, NOT THAT." SAYS SPARKLES SOFTLY.

Sparkles tells Ballet Cat that he knows she won't be his friend if he tells HER his secret secret. Ballet Cat promises that nothing can change their friendship.

"SOMETIMES I DON'T WANT TO PLAY BALLET," HE CONFESSES, WITH A TEAR.

But Ballet Cat has her own surprising secret secret to tell, in Bob Shea's Ballet Cat The Totally Secret Secret (Hyperion Books, 2015), a brand-new easy reading tale of BFFs who put their friendship above everything else. In the straightforward style of Mo Willems' award-winning Elephant and Piggie stories for beginning readers, Shea's bold black line and boisterous colors contrast with the sensitivity of his narration in which real friends understand each other's feelings. (Cat reveals that even she is tired of ballet play every day.) Shea's expressive comic drawings--which use three dots and squiggles for Ballet Cat's necklace and tutu--are full of movement and his spare but skillful cartooning clearly reveals the emotions of his best-best friends. "Shea mines Ballet Cat’s dialed-up enthusiasm and Sparkles’s hangdog expressions for everything they are worth," says Publishers Weekly's starred review. A promising new series for young readers takes the stage, a fantastic follow-up for kids familiar with Shea's hilarious emergent readers' favorites, his Dinosaur Vs. series (see reviews here).

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Time and Tide! Fancy Nancy: Sand Castles and Sand Palaces by Jane O'Connor

WE ARE GOING ON AN OUTING! THAT'S FANCY FOR A SHORT TRIP!

CAN YOU GUESS WHERE?

IF YOU THINK IT'S TO THE BEACH, YOU ARE 100 PERCENT CORRECT!

That's not hard to figure when you notice Nancy's beachcombing coiffure, with shell-decorated barrettes to hold her curls in place. Mom packs the trunk with a picnic basket, beach balls, an umbrella, towels, and sandpail and shovel, and Nancy, her best friend Bree, and little JoJo climb into the car and hit the busy highway to the shore.

Finally there, Bree and Nancy head for the main attraction.

RIGHT AWAY WE RUSH DOWN TO THE OCEAN AND FROLIC IN THE WAVES.

FROLICKING IS FANCY FOR JUMPING AROUND AND HAVING FUN.

After a bit of refreshment, it's time to get serious with a sand castle.  Nancy hauls buckets of  sea water up to the building site so that  Mom can show the three girls how to make dribble turrets on top of their castle walls.  JoJo helps gather shells to decorate the battlements and discovers one shell (with a hermit crab inside) making its escape. They pronounce their sand creation a palace.

Hot and sandy, the girls head into the water, but Mom soon calls them out, saying the waves are getting too rough for frolicking. They decide to have their picnic higher up the beach under the big umbrella, and when they look back, something bad is happening!

OH, NOW LOOK WHAT THE WAVES ARE DOING!!

OUR PALACE IS IN RUINS!

Time and tide wait for no sand castle, however fancy, in Jane O'Connor's Fancy Nancy adventure, Fancy Nancy: Sand Castles and Sand Palaces (HarperFestival, 2015), but although Jojo sheds a few tears for her lost castle, Nancy points out that there's no shortage of sand on the beach, and a new edifice soon arises, bigger and better, and even more fancy--above the high tide line. All's well at the end of a great day at the beach, and to add to the fun there are over 30 sand-and-surf-themed stickers which young readers can use to add detail to Carolyn Bracken's sunny illustrations or create their own fun-in-the-sun pages themselves.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Counting on One Paw: Bear Counts by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman

MOUSE AND BEAR SHARE BREAKFAST.
BASKING IN THE MORNING SUN.
BEAR LOOKS UP AND POINTS,
AND THE BEAR COUNTS... ONE!

Fresh from his mastery of colors, here comes Karma Wilson's beloved Bear in his second concept book, Bear Counts (The Bear Books) (Margaret K. Elderry Books, 2015). This time it's numbers, numbers everywhere for Bear as the day begins.

There's just one robin up in the nest, and just one fresh berry left, which Mouse offers Bear before they begin the day. Down the path they meet Hare with a pair of apples, so Bear adds them to his count. Soon the story begins to get crowded.

BEAR HEARS FUNNY SOUNDS
COMING FROM AN ASPEN TREE.
IT'S RAVEN, OWL, AND WREN,
AND THE BEAR COUNTS... THREE!

NUMBERS, NUMBERS, EVERYWHERE.
1, 2, 3!

As they have throughout their best-selling Bear Books,  author Karma Wilson and ace artist Jane Chapman work together to re-create the charming friendship circle of Bear, Mouse, Hare, and the rest, this time to teach a counting lesson set in Wilson's familiar bouncy verses ("lovely lily pads" rhymed with "pinching crawdads") which count up to five and offer plenty of review in the easy-going "numbers everywhere" refrain which follows each quatrain.

Artist Jane Chapman alternates spot art and full-bleed spreads to introduce the usual forest crew in bright acrylic paintings loaded with lots of countable things besides those in the text. In the final two-page spread Chapman gives the reader a glorious underwater scene as the animals, even the clawful crawdad, jump into the pond for a refreshing swim. For the youngest who may have not met Bear before in Wilson and Chapman's large format picture books, this new series is a great introduction to the friends and fun the longer books offer. Pair this one with its predecessor concept book, Bear Sees Colors (The Bear Books), (see review here) and you can count on requests to "read it again!"

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Take Me Out to the Ballgame: Nick's Very First Day of Baseball by Kevin Christofora

TODAY MOM SIGNED ME UP FOR BASEBALL.

I CAN'T WAIT UNTIL THE FIRST PRACTICE ON FRIDAY.

Nick is psyched! He has baseball on the brain, and even though Dad takes him to pick out the perfect fielder's glove, his head is full of the crack of the bat on the ball and solid sound of the baseball thunking into the glove. He even wears his new glove to play catch-the-cracker with his dog, Yogi, who never misses a throw.

At last the big day comes. Dad and Yogi come along to watch as Nick meets his team and coach. Nick spots some old friends on the team--Carla, Kareem, Lucy, and Larry.

Then the team get their new uniforms--blue caps with red logos and blue shirts with numbers on the back. Coach even writes their names inside each cap and jersey,

The team is suited up, and Nick can't wait to start throwing, catching, and batting. But Coach motions them to form a circle and places his own cap--a white one--in the middle of the circle.

"THE LEADER ALWAYS WEARS A WHITE HAT!" HE SAYS.

"NOW LET'S START WITH JUMPING JACKS!"

Coach leads them through their warm-up routine. Coach teaches them the "rocket" and "pencil" positions for doing jumping jacks. and they are soon shouting enthusiastically along with the warm-up: "Rocket!" "Pencil!"  they chant.

There's a lot to learn about paying attention to Coach and following directions. Coach awards baseball cards as prizes for answering review questions from his pep talk. It's fun, and Nick gets a Babe Ruth card.

But Nick looks around. When will they get to play baseball?

Coach closes with the warm-up tradition of running laps around the bases, and Nick is thrilled to get the white cap and lead his team in touching all the bases. He can't wait for the next practice.

Kevin Christofora's Nick's Very First Day of Baseball (Clarens Press, 2015) begins at the beginning with team-building and basic baseball vocabulary, backed up with a short glossary with necessary baseball lingo such as "lefty," "righty," and "home plate." With just the right amount of information for first-time rookies to take in, Christofora's introduction to being a teammate realistically opens with the all-important practice in listening to Coach and working together. There's plenty of game play fun in store for Coach's little rookie Tee-ballers in the upcoming series Hometown All-Stars.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Early Bird! Good Morning to ME! by Lita Judge

There is a cottage, a cozy cottage, where everyone is sleeping, everyone but ONE....

"GOOD MORNING TO ME!" SQUEALED BEATRIX.

Beatrix the parrot is an early riser, a very early riser. She's wide awake! She knows she's supposed to use her quiet, inside voice while others are still sleeping, but she just can't help herself!

Her patient but drowsy friend Mouse has no desire to salute the rising sun, but he bestirs himself to try to keep Beatrix from waking up the whole household. But this bird can't stop talking.

"I LOVE MOUSE! TODAY I WILL BE A GOOD BIRDIE!

OH, LOOK! THERE'S KITTY. I LOVE KITTY!"

Kitty is a grouchy Siamese who clearly does NOT love Beatrix or enthusiastic early awakenings. With eyes still half closed, her hackles are rising and her claws are already flexing.

But Beatrix is oblivious. Scatting the Jaws theme, she stalks Kitty.

"DAH-DUH, DAH-DUH, DAH-DUH....."

Beatrix moves in, and Kitty grabs with her clawed front feet. Suddenly the tables are turned.

"uh... MOUSE!!! (HELP!)

Mouse grabs a fork and gives Kitty a poke, and Beatrix escapes away to her perch. Kitty sits below, thumping her tail angrily on the floor. But to Beatrix it's all a good game of tag.

Suddenly she remembers that she hasn't greeted Goldfish yet. Enthusiastically, she sticks her head under the water into Goldfish's bowl. Bad move.

Beatrix falls in. Blub! It's crowded in there! Mouse has to run and wake Gracie the Bassett hound to pull Beatrix out of the goldfish bowl. It's a rough wake-up for Gracie, but, unfazed, Beatrix flaps her wet wings with glee.

"NOW WHAT CAN WE PLAY?"

Beatrix is not a good birdie, but her joie de vive is infectious in Lita Judge's giggle-fest-filled Good Morning to Me! (Atheneum Books, 2015). Judge's animal illustrations are joyfully comic, set in both framed vignettes on the page or spreading ebulliently across double-page spreads as full of life as her vibrant feathered heroine. This is a book that would be hilarious if you couldn't read a word of the text, with Beatrix and her buddies' facial expressions telling the whole story. As Publishers Weekly adds in their starred review, "... a lovely book... Judge uses aqueous, shimmering blues for her environments so that the furs, feathers, and marvelous expressions of her cast pop."

This is terrific picture book fun even if you, too, are not an early bird, one which will also resonate with night-owl parents who have a nest full of early risers. It's a book worthy of pairing with that classic tale of sleep disturbed, Audrey and Don Wood's The Napping House.

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