Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Wait Just a Mini-Moment!! Mini Rabbit Is NOT LOST by John Bond

Mini Rabbit and Mother Rabbit are making a cake.

"CAKE! CAKE! CAKE!" chants Mini Rabbit!

But then Mother Rabbit has sad news. They are fresh out of berries!

But Mini Rabbit is adamant!
"I will find berries!"

Strapping on his little red backpack, Mini Rabbit hops off in search of that quintessential ingredient.

But there are no berries in the berry patch.

Mini Rabbit forges on. Inquisitive animals query Mini Rabbit about what he's doing, but this resolute rabbit pushes on, crossing prairies, rowing rivers, and scaling rocky mountainsides, rappelling down from snowy precipices, persevering in his dogged quest for berries. At last he discovers a deep cave and inside he finds--one berry.

And then from far away across the world, Mini Rabbit catches the scent of--Mother Rabbit's cake!

It's berry cake at last. But--What? No ice cream?

Some of us are never satisfied, as with John Bond's quixotic character in his Mini Rabbit Is Not Lost (Neal Porter Books, 2019). In this heroic quest, author-illustrator Bond sets his stylized and stylish but relentless little figure within a rather realistic background of prairies, forests, an ocean with a lighthouse, and high mountain peaks, tiny in a vast landscape, but as unstoppable as that famous battery bunny. Savvy readers will chuckle as they spot who's harvested all the berries as flocks of dark birds fly by with berries in their beaks. Be sure you've got all the ingredients for cake when you share this one!"Charming and whimsical—sure to bring smiles, says Kirkus Reviews.

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Monday, March 30, 2020

Mud-Slinging! Vote for ME! by Ben Clanton

Well, what's so great about YOU?

I'm a super cute elephant!

How can you not vote for someone as adorable as me?

Political speeches are prone to bragging, and Elephant is not above a bit of braggadocio from the podium.

So Donkey tries a bit of bribery:
If you'll vote for me, I'll give you a sucker!

So Elephant ups the ante:
If you pick me, I'll give you PEANUTS!

So the political competitors pivot to some name-calling!
STINKY Poop Scooper!


This campaign degenerates into a bit of traditional MUDSLINGING!



It's politics as usual, in Ben Clanton's Vote for Me! (Tundra Books), which offers a satiric look at campaigns and elections which prepares youngsters for some of the usual political palaver in the election scene. Ironically, Clanton gives the clandestine candidate Mouse the win this time, in a silly, sarcastic look at the traditional candidates, but this tongue-in-cheek look at elections make a good jumping-off-point for school and home discussions of the important political scene.

Other top-selling comic offerings by author-illustrator Ben Clanton include Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea (A Narwhal and Jelly Book 1), and sequels, Rot, the Cutest in the World! and It Came in the Mail. (read my reviews here).

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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Avoiding Anubis! RA The Mighty! The Great Tomb Robbery by A. B. Greenfield

RA the Mighty is the pampered, perfumed, preferred pet of the Pharoah, fed on choice morsels of spiced ibex and carried on his master's golden litter.

But for this sortie, there's a case to solve, and this litter ride is no trip to the spa for the Pharoah's cat.

"My lords!" The guard stumbled toward the Scribe and the Vizier. "I tell you, the god Anubis attacked our men and then entered a tomb!"

"Tomb Robbers!" I jumped off my pedestal, tail bristling. "Let me at them! If there's anything lower than a tomb robber, I don't know what it is. Tomb robbers mess up your afterlife. It's beyond despicable." Tail still on high alert, I pointed myself toward the gate.

"I'll track them down! They'll learn not to cross Ra the Mighty--"

But this case is no walk in the desert. RA, the Pharoah's pampered pet,  Kepri, his scarab dung beetle partner, and his sidekick, the kitten Miu, all hitch a ride to the Valley of the Kings for a bit of detection in the desert, and find themselves barely escaping packs of real jackals howling, "Anooooooobis" and "Stay away from the toooooombs!"  on the hunt for a team of larcenous sarcophagus pilferers led by a masked faux Anubis who plan to steal the dead pharoah's jewels and deface the mummy of RA's ancestor, his cat Pamui.

And when RA discovers that an imposter black cat, wearing RA's stolen gold collar, has traveled back to Thebes posing as RA the Pharoah's cat, he and his two assistants Kepri and Miu know they are on their own against the ruthless tomb robbers and the treacherous Vizier and Scribe.
"Looks like you're stuck here in Set Ma'at," said the shifty-eyed cat Sabu.

I fainted dead away.

But the crooked officials and the wicked jackals are no match for the three Great Detectives of the Desert, in A. B. Greenfield's second book in series, Ra the Mighty: The Great Tomb Robbery (Holiday House, 2019). In this tongue-in-cheek mystery with the luxury-loving RA, his sage scarab beetle, and his courageous kitty buddy, Greenfield pokes fun at the detective-and-sidekick trope while using a bit of background Egyptian lore, reinforced by his appended Author's Note and Ra's Glossary of Names. Kirkus calls this latest "fast-paced, seamlessly weaving in much information about ancient Egypt, adding "the interactions among the distinctive and delightful characters are hilarious."

The first book in this colorful mystery series for middle readers is Ra the Mighty: Cat Detective.

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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Caped Crusader Reader: Unlimited Squirrels--Who Is the Mystery Reader?: The Big Story by Mo Willems

Four squirrels approach a big yellow sign that reads STOP. But the squirrels cannot read the sign. Discombobulated, they squeak and squabble about what to do!

“Excuse me!” says a authoritative voice. "Why not READ IT?"

Who is this mysterious speaker from out of nowhere? The squirrels are awestruck!



Ah, yes! It’s that caped crusader who combats illiteracy among squirrels wherever he finds it. Equipped with the secret knowledge of that awesome power–-phonics-–he roams the forest and fields, fighting for the unlettered among his kind–-enlightening unschooled squirrels with elite knowledge of consonants vowels, diphthongs, and blends.

In the latest Mo Willems’ series of early readers, Who is the Mystery Reader? (Unlimited Squirrels) (Hyperion, 2019), young scholars are engaged with the non-reading squirrels to begin to learn the sounds of the letters to “sound out” the words along with Willems' eager reader squirrels. Like the many popular easy readers written by Dr. Seuss, author-illustrator Mo Willems is the go-to guy for engaging stories for beginning readers--a mystery reader leader who teaches with rhyme and repetition and with wit and wisdom.

The first book in this series is I Lost My Tooth! (An Unlimited Squirrels Book), which joins author-illustrator Willems' beloved Elephant and Piggy and The Pigeon series, letter perfect for emergent readers.

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Friday, March 27, 2020

The Things We Do for Love! LAWRENCE: The Bunny Who Wanted To Be Naked by Vern Kousky

Mrs. Rabbit is no clotheshorse herself. She just loves to dress up her cute little bunny. She favors outlandish styles and bold and bright hues and patterns.

Bunny Lawrence? Not so much.
And if there's the slightest chill in the air, his mom dresses him in a hand-knitted snowsuit with a couple of scarves and four stacking stocking caps--with pom poms on top. Geez!

But Lawrence only wants to hop naked through the fields.

Lawrence asks why not dare to be bare?
"You are not every bunny. You are my one and only sweet little love bunny." his mother replies.

Lawrence gets it that the "special" outfits are his mother's way of showing that he is loved. But still, he doesn't love going about in hats that look borrowed from a medieval jester, clashing billboard colors and patterns, and too-tight yoga pants.
At last Lawrence smiles--and not a sweet-little love-bunny smile.

Turn-about is fair play, and Lawrence works all night to surprise his mother with a custom-made outfit printed with ginormous shapes and trimmed with fuzzy red fringe. There's even a three-pointed jester's hat in matching fabric. Mrs. Rabbit dutifully dons the get-up and wears it on her daily rounds, but she can't wait to get home and shed her goofy get-up for her everyday fur.

But an equally silly Valentine's Day and Mothers' Day dress follows. And her Yuletide outfit makes her look like a walking Christmas tree!Finally Mrs. Rabbit gets the message.

And then Mrs. Rabbit gets a great idea. To show her fondness for her love bunny, she fashions exotic kites from all the gaudy gowns and outrageous outfits for her and Lawrence to fly together, and both of them dare to be bare and do it wearing only their furry birthday suits, in Vern Kousky's latest giggler, Lawrence: The Bunny Who Wanted to Be Naked (Schwartz and Wade, 2020). Moms who love to dress up their beloved tots will possibly get a clue from Lawrence, and kids who like to turn the tables on their parents will find this one a satisfyingly silly story. But, warns Booklist, "Be prepared for streaking toddlers!"

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

With A Little Help from My Friends! What's Up, Maloo? by Genevieve Godbout


But not today. HOP? No way!

Is Maloo too pooped to hop? His steps dragging, he walks slowly to his friend's underground burrow. He definitely feeling down!

How LOW can he go? His friends come to his assistance. They get him across the pond by finding him a beach ball to float on. They try to give him an airlift with a window fan for a propeller, but that plan flops with a plop.

Perhaps they can give give Maloo's spirits a lift from an improvised trampoline. And it works!

Maloo rises above his mood and finds the bounce restored to his step.

And in Genevieve Godbout's brand new What's Up, Maloo? (Maloo and Friends) (Tundra Books, 2020), Maloo's buddies take to their pogo sticks to share in the joys of hopping.

Godbout's text is easy enough for an emergent reader, and her storytelling bounces along, left to right, in a joyful story about the values of friendship when a friend needs a little lift from his friends. Artist Godbout's work in animation shows to good effect in her charming illustrations which extend the feeling of movement from page to page. A simple story about moving past bad feelings and the value of friendship that is perfect for reading aloud, lap-sit reading, or for beginner readers to enjoy on their own.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Busy Snakes Build? Snakes on the Job by Kathryn Dennis

Who knew snakes build playgrounds?


Yessss! Snakes put on their hard hatssss and grab their sssshovelssss.

They take the wheelssss off their truckssss.

They steer backhoessss, climb into cranessss, and drive big bulldozerssss. They sssshift their gearssss, pull their leverssss and hit their brakessss.

They sssshovel the dirt up into dump truckssss.


Brought to you by the Letter S, just for toddlers and preschoolers who love big construction equipment, Kathryn Dennis' newest, Snakes on the Job (Feiwal and Friends, 2020), delivers the big machines they favor, illustrated in pastel profiles, all steered by cute snakes in yellow hard hats, busy on the construction ssssite of a brand-new playground. Playful artwork also shows the hard-working snakes disporting themselves at last in their new park--sssswinging, ssssee-sawing, and of course ssslipping down the new, slippery ssssliding boards. Simple text makes this book a choice for emergent readers, and for speech students, this story delivers plenty of practice on those sibillant syllables in spadessss.

Share this one with Dennis' previous busy serpent book, Snakes on a Train and the perennially best-selling Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site (Board Book for Toddlers, Children’s Board Book).

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Sunshine On My Shoulders! Layla's Happiness by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie



But this exuberant girl loves a lot of things--the moon, climbing a tree, wearing purple, Dad's stories about childhood in South Carolina, or Mom's poetry.

Layla has enough "favorite things" to write her own song, and she has a favorite thing to do in her favorite place, too.

There Layla can chase her friend and catch a ladybug on her finger. She can feed chickens and pick vegetables for the farmer's market. But there are also other favorite places and things....


What's not to like in Layla's life?

How do children grow? They grow with plenty of things to love in their lives, family stories, friends to confide in, and a community that brings them joy.

In Mariahadessa Tallie's new picture book, Layla's Happiness (Enchanted Lion Books, 2019), an effervescent heroine helps readers think about what makes them happy in their lives--sights and sounds, friends and family and favorite foods, and all those ordinary and extraordinary things that bring pleasure to each day. This is a good book to motivate classroom writing and a joyful meditation on life's little joys for all of us, and artist Ashleigh Corrin's lighthearted illustrations are filled with sunlight and an airy inspiration that can bring light to anyone's day.

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Monday, March 23, 2020

A Friend Indeed! Harvey Comes Home by Colleen Nelson

Harry can't resist squirrels. The next morning, when Olivia lets him out back, he sees one race along the fence, and takes off after it. Olivia didn't know to check the latch on the gate, and it has come loose. Harry finds himself in the front yard and chases the squirrel all the way to the end of the Maggie's street. Harvey runs until a bouquet of dog scents lures him to a forest path. His curiosity takes him farther and farther from his home.

Maggie has gone on a family trip, leaving a friend to dog-sit, and soon Harvey is lost in places where he's never been, hungry, dirty, and chased by unfriendly dogs. But he is lucky to be found by Austin, a thirteen-year-old on his way to the volunteer job his grandfather makes him do at the retirement home where he works, and Austin takes him along to wait with the kind receptionist while he works. Austin makes a photograph of Harvey, whose name is on his collar and posts 50 photocopied lost-dog posters around town, but of course Maggie is far away.

At the retirement home there is one resident Austin dreads to deal with, the grumpy old Mr. Pinkerton, who is strangely drawn to Harvey.
"I had a dog. His name was General," Mr. Pickering said.

And soon Austin finds himself daily in the isolated and gruff Mr. Pickering's room listening to a continuing story of his life in the 1930s on a drought-ridden prairie farm where packs of feral dogs ranged in the dying woods and dust storms covered the dead fields deep in dust from far away. Austin is caught up in the story of a long-ago and very different world, the fatherless girl named Bertie rescued from starvation in a fallen-down shack, and the fearless love of his dog who dies defending the homestead from a marauding gang of outlaws who come to their farmhouse to steal everything they have left.

Meanwhile Maggie returns and begins a search for Harvey, but somehow Austin knows that Harvey has to stay with him for a while longer. Mr. Pickering needs Harvey for a story he has to tell, and he does, dying with Harvey beside him.

Colleen Nelson's Harvey Comes Home (The Harvey Stories) (Pajama Press, 2019) begins with a simple lost dog story and becomes much more. In Nelson's simple storytelling, her character-driven narration is told in the third person voice of Maggie, Austin, and Harvey himself, along with Mr. Pickering's moving memories set around the story of his dog, General. Austin is the pivotal character, the one with a moral choice to make that will ensure the best ending of Harvey's story for all three of them, a joyful and heartrending story of life and love and loyalty. Readers will find themselves swallowing back a lump in their throats as Harvey loses himself and perhaps a tear as Mr. Pickering finds himself along the way in this moving novel for middle graders.

This middle-reader fiction book is perfect for fifth, sixth and seventh grade classroom novel studies, perfect for teaching the elements of fiction and of human values.

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Sunday, March 22, 2020

After The Ball! Sootypaws: A Cinderella Story by Maggie Rudy

There once was a mouse, and her life was no fun. Her mother was eaten by a tabby cat and her father took a new rat wife with two daughters. Then he died leaving her alone with her stepmother and stepsisters.

The steprats made her do all the work. At night she curled up in the fireplace ashes to keep warm, and so they called her Sootypaws.

But Sootypaws was kind. She befriended Frog and his tadpoles, saved crumbs for the ants and fur from her comb to line the bluebird's nest.

Then an invitation came from the palace. The King desired his son the Prince to find a bride, and all the maidens of the land were invited. The lazy, selfish stepsisters order Sootypaws to wash and iron their frilliest, fanciest gowns, and go off chattering about becoming a princess. Sootypaws rested by the pond and wished she could go the ball.
"You will," said the frog. "There is a full moon and it is a very good night for wishes."

And the moon magic provides rose petals for a delicate dress. Bluebird provides her bluest feathers for a fluttery fan, the spiders spin their webs into lacy trim, the ants cut leaves to shape dainty shoes, and the butterflies spread their wings for a cloak. In an apple coach lit by firefly lamps and pulled by blue-bellied lizards, Sootypaws is off to the ball, looking every inch a princess.
"Be back by midnight--" warned the bluebird,"...when the magic wears off."

Of course the prince is enchanted. They dance and dine upon strawberry cream puffs and fall in love. Of course, Sootypaws is swept off her tired feet and forgets all about the curfew until the clock begins to strike the midnight peal. Leaping up, she loses her greenleaf shoes and is left, in her ashy apron, to trudge sadly home.
"DESPERATELY SEEKING DAMSEL!" her stepmother reads the next morning.

"The Prince will marry the lady whose foot fits the slipper."

And in true Cinderella tradition, the Prince finds his dainty-but sooty-footed Princess, greatly disappointing the big-footed Steprat sisters, and prepares to take her away to the palace. But in Maggie Rudy's brand-new version of the classic tale, Sootypaws: A Cinderella Story (Godwin Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2020), there's a modernist twist, in which Sootypaws, nee Rose, and the Prince decide to eschew uncomfortable shoes and palaces to be free to find adventures in the wilds, living "mousely ever after."

Gloriously illustrated by author-illustrator Maggie Rudy's charmingly constructed diorama scenes with handmade animal actors and naturally- sourced haute-couture costumes, this new reworking of Cinderella story will tickle kids' fancies, delight them with their engaging characters, and surprise them with the inventive ending.

"... full of gentle humor . . . . a refreshing adaptation." says School Library Journal.

Other handcrafted mouse tales by Maggie Rudy include City Mouse, Country Mouse and The House that Mouse Built.

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Friday, March 20, 2020

Choices, Choices: The Perfect Seat by Minh Le and Gus Gordon

As they emerge from Claire's Books, Little Moose begs Dad to read his new book right now--that is, when they find...

"The Perfect Seat."

They stroll along the sidewalk, past the doorman in front of the apartment building and into the local coffee shop. But their fancy high-back sofa is...
Too Big.

Among other problems, the fire hydrant is way too small for both of them.

A cast-off side chair in the alley is too old, and the swoopy, artsy chair in the store window is too, er, moderne. The child's seat on the back of the bike is a bit bouncy, and the top of the sliding board in the park is definitely...
Too Slippery!

The bus stop and taxi stand bench is a bit too public. And in the park, the squirrel's branch is too high, and the monument is too fancy-smancy. And when Dad gets tired and sits down heavily on the wall of the bridge, he falls off, book and all, and finds himself seated in the creek with the ducks. Dad's definitely feeling down about the whole outing as he takes a damp seat under a tree.
"Oh, I give up."

But the best seat of all is still available, as Dad's boy finds his lap, a little damp but still ready for a read, in Minh Le's The Perfect Seat (Disney Hyperion, 2019). Illustrated with great humor by Gus Gordon, his good-natured black line illustrations tell the story visually, punctuated by author Le's punchy text. Perfect for non-readers, and beginning readers as well, and satisfying for parents whose youngsters are sometimes a bit picky in their choices.

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Thursday, March 19, 2020

BEE-ing There For Spring! Beehive by Jorey Hurley

Busyness is the business of a beehive.

When the blooms of spring appear, bees emerge from their winter sleep in the hive and get busy buzzing.


All EXPLORE to find a new place to hang out, to build a new nest.

Inside the QUEEN BEE begins to do her job--LAY EGGS.

Many of the bees of the hive get very busy buzzing around the neighborhood, collecting POLLEN and NECTAR to feed the Queen, the baby bees, and to make honey for their winter fare.

Some bees are GUARDS, not afraid to STING to protect the Queen. But all are busy.

Jorey Hurley's brand-new bee book, Beehive (Simon and Schuster, 2020) is filled with pages busy with pastel flowers and black and yellow bees at work, building a beehive in a hollow tree, gathering pollen and nectar, and doing their job, which, not incidentally, is POLLENATING the plants that provide food and shade, homes and beauty for the rest of us. Hurley's artwork features lovely double-page spreads, filled with motion and with both closeups and long views of bees doing their thing, giving preschool and primary students an appreciation of all that bees do. The author also appends a more detailed discussion of the life cycle of bees, so necessary for the life cycle of many other plants and animals on our planet. Jorey Hurley's other books are Nest (Classic Board Books), Skyscraper, Every Color Soup Hop (Classic Board Books) Ribbit and Fetch.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A Work In Progress: 13 and Counting by Lisa Greenwald

"So, what's going on," I ask Ari over the phone.

"Bubbie's in the hospital. They think she had a mild stroke. But listen, I think this is happening right now for a reason."

"Why?" I ask her.

"The list, our new list, more stuff just keeps coming to me."

Kaylan remains quiet and waits. I know a lot is going on inside her head right now that I know is taking some time to get out, she thinks.

"And two more items came to me totally organically," Ari says. "One is, spend more time with Bubbie... because time is precious. We never know about the future." Ari goes on... "Also, figure out how we feel about God."

It's a tall order. Approaching their thirteenth birthdays, BFFs Ari and Kaylan feel as if everything is changing beneath their feet. School is hard, and it all doesn't come easily to them anymore. Family problems make even their attempts at lighthearted fun harder to enjoy: Kaylan's father comes to visit and announces he's marrying someone she doesn't even know; Ari feels her beloved grandmother sliding toward death.

And old friendships are shifting. Ari's camp buddies are off in various directions, Kaylan's lunch-table-girls are now unpredictable, and even Ari and Kaylan find their friendship tested. Kaylan's once-upon-a-time "boyfriend" is now Ari's. How did that happen? Kaylan is thrilled to be invited to spring break at a posh resort as the guest of Cami's well-to-do family, where she soon finds she'd rather be home, hanging out with Ari. Ari finds herself moody and dissatisfied with everything.
"I don't know what it's going to be. I am just in a weird place right now."

And both of them are planning to spend most of the next summer away, Ari at her Jewish camp and Kaylan at her stand-up comedy camp.

Working their way through it all, including "The List," thirteen aspirations before the school year is over, the two best friends have to find a way to remain close through the ups and downs, ins and outs, of life, in Lisa Greenwald's third book in series, Friendship List 3: 13 and Counting (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2019). Author Greenwald keeps it real in this book, and although there are plenty of laughs, readers will find these characters coping with a period of life when they begin to realize that their own world is part of a larger world. Ari and Kaylan find a way to be themselves and best friends as well, and readers of the first two books in the series, Friendship List 1: 11 Before 12 and Friendship List 1: 11 Before 12 will want to follow these relatable characters as they navigate being both themselves and best friends.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Pied Beauty: The Imperfect Garden by Melissa Assaly

In the spring, we plant seeds in the soil. This year Mom says I am old enough to help pick the fruits and vegetables.

In June, we find cucumbers growing on vines in all kinds of twirly-whirly shapes!

Little Jay finds one cuke in the shape of a J, the beginning of his name, and one in the shape of the number six.
"Why are the cucumbers at the supermaket all straight?" I ask Mom.

Jay's mom tells him people like only straight cucumbers. And when Jay helps dig the carrots, he find one that seems to have two legs, but he also finds that carrots taste same, no matter how many legs they have.

And late in the fall the apples are ripe. Some are yellow and red, and some are just red.
Some are bumpy. I find one that looks like a funny face.

But Mom and Jay use all of the apples to make two pies, one for them and one for their neighbor.
I am glad we had enough apples to make two. If we had thrown away the bumpy apples, we would have only had enough for one pie!

And when all the food from their own backyard is eaten up, Mom and Jay have to shop at the supermarket. He notices there are no apples with faces, or carrots with extra legs or curly cucumbers.
Don't grownups know they all taste the same?

Melissa Assaly's The Imperfect Garden (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2019) is a story that celebrates home gardens and the value of less-than-perfect produce, most of which sadly goes to waste. Illustrated with charm, this picture book is perfect for school gardening units and an effective plug for spring planting in home gardens. Author Assaly provides an appendix, "Tips for Planting with Children," for big backyard or balcony and window container gardens. Artist April Milne fills the endpapers with delightfully shaped fruits and veggies, seed packets, and garden tools.

Says Booklist, "Here's a book that's clever, sweet, and provides some very useful information. . ."

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Schemework Teamwork: Benchwarmers by John Feinstein

"Got cut, huh?" Arlow said. "I don't know why you bothered. The only reason you were even out there was that Block forced Coach J to let you try out. There was no way he was going to keep a girl on the team."

"Who told you that," Andi said, looking at the smirking Arlow.

"Coach told my dad," he said. "He also told him not to worry because you weren't going to make the team."

Now Andi was really angry. "I was good enough to be on the team and you know it," she said.

"We don't need anyone on the team who bursts into tears the minute things get tough, do we?" Arlo said.

"You see me crying, Arlow?" Andi said. "You were the biggest whiner out there."

Now that Merion Middle School has a sixth-grade soccer team, Jeff Michaels decides to try out, along with one girl who doesn't want to be relegated to field hockey, the only outdoor sport offered sixth-grade girls. Principal Block has no problem with a girl on the "boys'" sixth-grade team, but he defers to Coach Johnson, who believes a girl on the team will keep the boys from bonding.

Jeff thinks Coach J is being unfair, and he knows what to do about it. His dad is the top sports reporter on the local television station, and when he brings a full film crew to their first game, the story is picked up by the network and goes viral nationwide.

But It's not exactly a win for Andi, who, along with newcomer Jeff, is put on the team but relegated to riding the bench except for the five minutes mandated for all team members. But as the season progresses, Jeff's skills develop and Andi proves herself worthy, a player whose skills are clearly outstanding, but which also mesh well with those of superstar Arlow. Still, Coach J subs everyone fairly, except Jeff and Andi.
Jeff's crime was twofold. He was Andi's friend and his father's son.

Andi was different. She'd only done one thing wrong: being born a girl.

As the season moves on, Andi manages to get more playing time and continues to score and freely assists others in scoring, and as they approach the playoffs, Coach J is forced to reconsider his opinion on girls and soccer. In the hands of the best-selling sports writer and novelist John Feinstein, his recent Benchwarmers (The Benchwarmers Series)(Farrar Strous Giroux, 2019) features his trademark mix of exciting gameplay, believable dialogue (eschewing profanity) and a wide range of characters, from the burly bully Arlow to the game Jeff and the tenacious Andi. A solid sports novel by a top-selling author of fiction and nonfiction for adults and middle readers with plenty for both girls and boys to enjoy. Says Booklist,"...engaging characters and ... in-depth play-by-play sports action that results in a fun, fast-paced story that will appeal to readers who can't get enough sports fiction."

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Monday, March 16, 2020

Downstream to the Sea: River by Elisha Cooper

Morning, a mountain lake. A traveler, a canoe. As she paddles out into the blustery middle of the lake, she turns for a last wave to the shore. Her journey begins.

The canoe cuts across the lake, to the headwaters of the river.

She is alone.

With the river's flow doing part of the work, the Hudson River's 315 miles still requires a lot of paddle strokes. To paddle the entire course to its meeting with the Atlantic Ocean in New York City is a tremendous feat. The river flows from a mountain lake south through towering cliffs that inspired the Hudson River artists, over rocky rapids and through hills and fertile fields where deer and cattle sometimes mingle in meadows, past green forests, villages and cities, until it reaches Manhattan and gives itself to the ocean.
A seal pops its head out of the water and watches her go. And there is the lighthouse, growing larger by the minute...Now she sees them. Her family. Her children waving, her dog racing down the sand.

Elisha Cooper's River (Orchard Books, 2019) allows the reader a vicarious chance to take that journey one a day at a time, experiencing currents and rapids, rain and sunburn, the slow and dignified progress of a great river and a quick drop through locks, the jostling wakes of long barges and the busy chug-chugs of tugboats, black flies and dark nights spent sleeping on the shore, and always the timeless mumble and presence of the river, with the sandy reunion with her family as the river eases into the sea. To paddle the whole river is a tour de force, and so is traveling visually with author-illustrator Cooper, whose watercolor illustrations are both lovely and detailed.

For those kids who never see a body of water without wanting to get in it or on it, Caldecott winner Elisha Cooper's words and art provide a full immersion in one of America's great rivers. Says the New York Times reviewer, "This stunningly illustrated account of a woman's solo canoe trip down the Hudson is a remarkable example of the art of the picture book... Cooper's oversize gem is for the ages, and for people of all ages." And Booklist adds, "Evocative watercolor illustrations show differing perspectives and vary from tiny vignettes to large double-spread paintings offering many details while remaining soft-edged." 

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Sunday, March 15, 2020

Me, Too! Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

"Circle of Friendship! Ooh, that's perfect, Mila!" said Zara.
"HAPPPYYY BIIIRRTHDAAAY!" Zara shouted. She pulled Omi inside the circle. "Birthday hug! Everyone in!

The four of us crowded into the O and threw our arms around each other. "Okay, this is great, but promise you won't sing "Happy Birthday!" Omi was giggling.

"Sorry, Omi. It's required by headquarters," Zara replied.

We were just up to "Happy Birthday, dear OOOO-mi!" when something brushed my shoulders. A hand.

Suddenly we were surrounded by the basketball boys--Callum, Leo, Dante, and Tobias. Now the song was over, but the hug was still happening, Callum's hand clamping the fuzz of my green sweater. I wriggled my shoulder, but Callum's hand was squeezing. And not leaving.

Something is different in seventh grade. Zara just shrugs at the too-long birthday hug and says it was sweet, but in band class Mila feels Callum's hand sliding across her shoulder. And a few days later, something else happens.
"Mila! Today's my birthday!" Leo smiled, a cute-boy sort of smile.
"We all hugged Omi for her birthday," said Dante. "Zara hugged Leo five minutes ago. On the bus."

"Okay, fine." I said, pretending to laugh. I walked over to Leo, threw my arms around him and squeezed once. "Happy birthday."

Then Mila finds out that it was not Leo's birthday at all. She feels weird about being tricking into the hug, but Zara says it's just boy teasing. Still, in the next few days one or the other of the basketball boys pushes too close to her on the bus. Tobias abruptly hugs her on the playground and the others cheer. Zara says it's just flirting. But then, at her locker, Mila realizes that the things that have happened are not just happenstance, or teasing, or flirting, or even bullying. Still she doesn't know a word to describe what she is feeling.
That was when I felt it. Someone's hand grabbing my butt.

And then Mila finds out that all the unwanted touching is part of a game among the basketball team, all of them keeping score of their points on their phones. Mila tries talking to a guidance counselor, who advises her to ignore the boys until they grow up a little. She tries to start a conversation with her mother, who is too upset over losing her job to really focus.

Teasing? Flirting? Bullying?

Finally, at the fall band concert Callum whispers something to her that makes Mila do something dramatic which exposes the whole game, and her band teacher gives the boys' behavior a name--sexual harassment. In her latest novel, Maybe He Just Likes You (Aladdin, 2019), noted author Barbara Dee takes on that behavior. It's not an easy subject to discuss, especially in a middle-school setting, but that may be the best time to address it, at the point at which young people become more aware of each other as more than classmates.

Barbara Dee deals sensitively with those first feelings about the opposite sex, the awkwardness of seventh and eighth grade boys and girls with dealing with each other. Dee sensitively reveals the different reactions among the girls without demonizing the boys, showing how Mila and Callum, with their mutual love of music, can move toward a respectful relationship. This latest book with its varied and well-developed characters and realistic family setting offers readers a way to begin thinking about that issue for themselves.

Says Publishers Weekly's starred review, "The novel’s all-too-familiar scenario offers a springboard for discussion among middle schoolers about Mila’s experience, as well as her confusion, fear, and reluctance to discuss her situation with authority figures. Easily grasped scenarios and short chapters help make this timely #MeToo story accessible to a wide audience." 

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