Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving! Give Thank You A Try by James Patterson

Every morning Dad always says, "Thank you for being Emma and Olivia.

Thank you for being Jimmy!"

It's always good to think about being thankful, and Dad's words inspire Jimmy to comes up with two things to be grateful for right away--his parents (of course) and PB and J sandwiches in their PJs!

The kids at the table brainstorm things to be thankful for--raindrops on their heads and the petting zoo, and of course, Christmas mornings, and people who remember to say "thank you" and "please" back to them!

And there are lots of little things that make life more pleasant--like a night light at night, a furry kitten to cuddle, some strong shoulders to sit on at the parade, clouds with shapes, and all those happy family moments.

Then there is the teacher who thanks each child for working hard as he says goodbye for the day.

It's never too soon to learn to be thankful, in James Patterson's little manual on manners, Give Thank You a Try (Give Please a Chance) (Patterson Books, 2017), especially when the learning to say and appreciate the emotion of gratitude is the focus.  Being truly thankful is the goal, and this little book may at least give that hope a try.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

It Takes All Kinds! Good Night, Families by Adam Gamble

Good morning, Mommy and Daddy!

It takes all kinds to make a world, and it takes all kinds to make a family, in Adam Gamble's little board book that celebrates all sorts of families and what they do together, in Adam Gamble's Good Night Families (Good Night Our World) (Good Night Books, 2017), as little ones wake up to an assortment of families.

Families vary. Some kids wake up to two parents. There are families with just one child or just one single parent. There are families with many children, and families with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins galore.

There are adopted kids, step-brothers and step-sisters, half-brothers and half-sisters that come with step-moms and step-dads, even step-grandmothers and step-grandfathers, cousins-in-law, great-aunts and great-uncles--the combinations seem almost endless, but all of them have one thing in common--they are those who thankfully come together to care for and love a young child.

In this little board book author Adam Gamble and illustrator Mark Jasper  try to portray all the kinds of people who come together to make a family, and Jasper's homey illustrations make everyone feel at home in their own sort of family.

Good night, different kinds of families, all filled with love.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Strangers in Paradise: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway by Jeff Kinney

We were just having a normal December, and I was really looking forward to Christmas. But Mom and Dad were getting all stressed out. Nothing was going the way it was supposed to. I'm sure we could have gotten our act together in time for Christmas. But one night an ad came on TV. The commercial was for this place where Mom and Dad went for their honeymoon.

The reason I know is because every time an ad for that place comes on TV, the two of them get all kissy-faced.

The night after that ad came on, Mom and Dad announced that THIS year, we were gonna SKIP Christmas and all go to Isla de Corales instead.

It was to be the Great Holiday Getaway, but for the Heffleys' ventures, Murphy's Law is way ahead of even the law of gravity.

It's way below freezing when they leave home, with Rodrick dressed for the tropics, so Greg gets to schlepp the bags from the economy lot, finishing last in the run for the gate, where they find the dreaded traveller's notice:


After all the indignities of a delayed pre-holiday flight (including Greg having to charge his phone in the only unused socket--in the entry to the women's bathroom), they arrive at their vacation paradise with someone else's luggage. Ever-positive, Mom declares that they'll just wash they are wearing every night. But Greg has a close encounter of the arachnid kind: he says something no tourist ever wants to have to to say... There's a giant spider on the underside of the toilet seat!

So the marbled bathroom is pretty much unavailable to him for any purpose... and so are most of the all-inclusive fine-dining spaces, since their traveling clothes don't pass the dress code, especially Rodrick's bare chest and shorts. Their diet is limited to beating the birds, bugs, and slugs to their burgers and turista-safe sodas in the outdoor "family dining" area.

Greg has iguana encounters, Dad comes down with Montezuma's Revenge, Rodrick, having found a girl to smooch with in the Teen Zone pool, gets a second-degree sunburn, and Manny, mostly corralled in the "Pirate's Playhouse" toddler zone, nevertheless manages to capture a deadly box jellyfish in his little sand pail and clear the pool in an instant. Their inflatable banana boat trip is a bust (literally), but Greg does make the best of an aborted snorkel cruise to swim with the dolphins, the top item on his bucket list.

And through it all, Mom relentlessly pursues the only thing that will make all of this worthwhile, a photo of a fun-in-the-sun family vacation for next year's Christmas card. (See Exhibit A below)

You'd think that after their last family vacation, hilariously chronicled in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, Greg's family would not have fallen for the siren song of a tropical paradise vacation, but author-cartoonist Jeff Kinney's latest in his top-selling series, Getaway (Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book 12) (Amulet Books, 2017), is another winner for the Wimpy Kid, slayer of the best-selling list, a gentle, laugh-out-loud trip through the foibles of family life, in which author-artist Kinney is the phenomenally funny master of mirth for anyone of almost any age.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

SPLOINK! Peanut Butter and Jelly Aliens--A Zombie Culinary Tale by Joe McGee


It wasn't always so. When the Zombies first invaded Quirkville, they shambled through the heretofore quiet streets, arms stretched before them--in search of (YIKES!) brains. But one young zombie--Reginald--was a more adventurous eater, one who actually craved exotic food, namely Abigail Zink's peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and soon all the zombie invaders turn into PB and J fanciers. Now at lunchtime the busy streets of Quirkville are filled with various people and zombies, all happily in search of that classic sandwich.

But now there are new invaders in Quirkville, a small squadron of space aliens equipped with blasters, and all are clearly looking for lunch in all the wrong places!

But what?




Firing their blasters, the aliens storm through the town. At the Downtown Grill Greta hastens to flip grilled cheese sandwiches for them, but the aliens fire back with cosmic grape jelly. Icky-sticky!

SPLOINK! SPLOINK! they demand! What can they want!

It's Abigail and Reginald to the rescue, as they figure out that the aliens are there to find the missing ingredients they need to go with their cosmic grape jelly, in Joe McGee's latest, Peanut Butter & Jelly Aliens: A Zombie Culinary Tale (Abrams Books, 2017). Humans and zombies UNITE in serving up the necessities for Quirkville's signature sandwich at the newly christened SPLOINK CAFE, and again all is well in Quirkville.

It's a silly story, as befits one with kids, zombies, aliens, and sticky sandwiches, in this sequel to McGee's 2015 hit, Peanut Butter & Brains: A Zombie Culinary Tale (review here). As in the first book, author McGee gets a major culinary and artistic assist from illustrator Charles Santoso, whose comic drawings offer more fun with food for the primary reader. Kids who favor fantasy stories about aliens and zombies may want to get their sticky PB and J fingers on this one.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Birdwatching! Max and Bird by Ed Vere



That's the way it usually is. Nature takes its course.



Bird may be a fledgling, but he wasn't born yesterday. Being a potential cat treat is not on his bucket list. And besides, he's never even learned to FLY. He observes that eating each other is not part of being friends, either. Bird launches into a lesson on how friends help each other. As a diversion tactic, he slyly suggests that Max give him flying lessons. Max is intrigued, but his knowledge of the principles of flight is pretty paltry.



So far, so good, thinks Bird. At the library they make their way to the section on flight, but there's a problem with this delaying technique. There are a lot of books, but Max is a quick study. He boils the principles of winged flight down right away:

3. FLAP!

Max tries to demonstrate, but does not achieve lift off. Neither does Bird. At the end of the day they are too tired for any chasing games. The next day Max's flaps are still unproductive. Bird, however, has (as Pooh's friend Owl wisely pointed out) "the necessary dorsals," and eventually his practice is rewarded with a short solo flight. Max is a changed kitten. He's truly proud of his friend and finds he has no desire to eat him.


In Ed Vere's latest story of his adorable little black kitten Max, nurture trumps nature in Max and Bird(Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, 2017). Friendship changes everything, and Max and Bird look forward to lots of happy future fun. Ed Vere's artwork is deceptively simple, placing his little black bird and his little black cat front and center, spot-art style, against bright backgrounds, directing the eye to his two very different youngsters working out how to be friends. Vere's illustrations make use his characters' big round eyes to portray most of their feelings, with just a touch of body language in Max's tail and Bird's little wings to tell the story, making this funny tale perfect for preschoolers still trying their young wings in beginning friendships.

Ed Vere's other Max books are Max the Brave and Max at Night (see reviews here.)

Says School Library Journal, "This book is a fun read about forming meaningful friendships and learning from others."

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Lost and Found! Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

There once lived a mother fruit bat and her new baby. Oh, how Mother Bat loved her baby.

"I'll name you Stellaluna," she crooned.

Each night, Mother Bat would carry Stellaluna clutched to her breast as she searched for food.

The little bat, lovingly named "Stars and Moon," meant everything to her night-flying mother. But even the most loving mother cannot elude all dangers.

One night, as Mother Bat followed the sent of ripe fruit, an owl spied her.

In the struggle Stellaluna loses hold of Mother and falls, her baby wings useless.

But as she falls into the forest of trees, she just manages to catch a branch by one foot. When she grows too weary to hold on, she falls, down, down--but happily she lands in a nest of new-hatched birds.

When Mama bird returns with early breakfast of bugs for her brood, Stellaluna is too hungry to be a fussy eater.

She climbed into the nest, closed her eyes, and opened her mouth.

Plop! in dropped a big green grasshopper.

As time goes by, the little bat learns the ways of birds, sleeping at night, and waking at dawn. She thrives on Mama Bird's provender, but she still sleeps hanging upside down by her feet. One day the nestlings decide to try sleeping Stellaluna's way.

"Eek!" cried Mama Bird. "You're going to fall and break your necks!"

Stellaluna has to obey the rules of the nest, and as she and the baby birds grow bigger, the nest grows full and fuller. But the little birds seem to know just what to do. One by one, Flitter, Flap, and Pip test their wings and then fly away. Flapping like her adopted siblings, Stellaluna discovers that her now strong wings work, too.

She tries to join the fledglings on a branch, but her feet seem not to be made for perching. She flew as long as she could, and still trying to follow the rules, compromised by hanging by her thumbs to rest. Stellaluna is sleeping soundly when loud voices wake her. A group of young bats are gathered 'round to see the strange bat hanging what to them seems upside down.

Stellaluna told them her story.

"You ate b-bugs?" stuttered one.

"Wait!" A big bat pushed through the crowd. "You are my baby, Stellaluna!

The lost-and-found bat is back, wrapped in her mother's welcome wings, in Janell Cannon's classic story of the foundling bat with two families, Stellaluna (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) in its small-hand-sized board book format.

Cannon tells a heartwarming story of the love of a mother and child, with the added message that adopted siblings have a loving bond as well. There is plenty of humor as the little bat tries to imitate the baby birds, and they in turn try to imitate her, and at the happy conclusion, Stellaluna can't wait to share her newly discovered sweet fruit treats with her adopted feathered nestlings. Cannon's illustrations are both lovely and softly realistic, in a narration with a warm salute to mothering, however it happens, a worthy edition for new listeners and fledgling readers alike.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Logophiles, UNITE! Mouseling's WORDS by Shutta Crum

Every evening I woke up surrounded by words. Aunt Tillie collected them from the Swashbuckler Restaurant, where words were SPECIALS OF THE DAY. Then she brought them to my family's nest--along with bits of food.

"Noodles," I said, puckering up my mouth, as I pulled a scrap if paper from the nest. Aunt Tillie had taught all of us mouselings to read.

It's a cozy nest beneath the restaurant, with tasty tidbits and new words to learn from the menu. Mouseling is happy to snuggle down with his word scraps with his family each night.

When one by one, his mouseling siblings begin to leave the nest to find adventure, Mouseling remains, happy with his family nest and his favorite words. But his parents have other ideas.

"You need to get a job," Father said. "You need to find your path in the world," Mother said, pointing to the passageway through the walls.

Then Aunt Tillie promises that there are many new words out there in the big world. Mouseling pulls out a word--if--out of his word pile. What if? He is intrigued. Then Aunt Tillie draws him a map, with a big X marking where home is, some of the new things he will see, and a scary critter labeled "The Beast!" A CAT! She says she put it there so he will know to beware out in the world.

At last Mouseling decides to venture out, with the map, through the passageway to outdoors. The first thing he sees on the outside is a word, blowing by in the wind. SING! Mouseling figures it out all on his own.

Then and there I decided that discovering words would be my job.

And Mouseling hits the jackpot. He wanders into a big brick building. It's nice and quiet, and there are rows of blocky things on shelves and signs with words in big letters:



But there is also something else in the quiet building. He recognizes it right away from Aunt Tillie's map. It's a cat! Mouseling knows he has to beware. But one day when he's tiptoeing past the napping cat with a new word, the cat wakes up and stares at him, twitching his tail.

Quickly I mashed that word into a ball and threw it at him. The cat pounced and batted it with his paw.

Maybe the library cat is not such a beast after all. And one night he jumps up on one of the shelves and knocks one of the blocky things out of its place. He swipes it open with his paw.

What was this? Words--so many, many words--words inside all these things?

Mouseling realizes that the cat wants to hear this story about a mouse and a lion, and the little pilgrim has found his path in the world after all, in Shutta Crum's new Mouseling's Words (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion Books, 2017), a charming story about the power of words to charm any beast, or at least a bibliophilic cat, illustrated appealingly by Ryan O'Rouke, who sets up cozy scenes and humorously matches the words Mouseling finds to the action on the pages, fittingly adding illustrations from Aesop's fable of the Lion and the Mouse to the final pages as cat and mouse settle down to share the story together. A dandy story which hits the marks for preschool and primary picture books--homey, funny, sweet--and educational!

Share this one with Bonnie Becker's Mouse and Bear story, A Library Book for Bear.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Windfall! Pine & Boof: The Lucky Leaf by Ross Buroch

Boof the Bear has a tendency to fixate on found objects.

Sometimes Boof the Bear finds treasures left by campers.

But his favorite find was...

... his lucky red leaf. They did everything together.

But fall is an unsettling time for a bear...

and one windy day. . . .

Well, you know the ways of wind and fallen leaves. But Boof the Bear is devastated by his loss.

Enter Pine the Porcupine.

There are two things you should know about Pine. He is always looking for adventure.

He is not always looking where he is going.

OOF! Pine runs smack into Boof, following his wayward leaf. Pine wants to help Boof with his search, but while his ideas are proactive, they are not always productive. He spots the leaf resting on the snout of a sleeping boar and brags that he's an expert is sneaking up on scary critters. But it turns out... he's not! With the boar right behind them, he advises Boof to speed up the chase by swinging across the river on a vine, not noticing that the vine is no vine. It's a snake!


Gee! That didn't go so well, either, in Ross Buroch's new tale of a pair of unlikely pals who forge a bond in mutual pursuit of a red leaf, a hopelessly ephemeral talisman at best, in Pine & Boof: The Lucky Leaf (Harper, 2017) Boof is a bit of a goof, and Pine is bit of a provocateur who is only too glad to butt in with an impromptu plan for every occasion, but together they are an unlikely couple of friends who bond in the pursuit, another odd couple of friends like Milne's Pooh and Piglet, Lobel's Frog and Toad or Becker's Bear and Mouse. Buroch's clever illustrations keep the zany pair front and center with just enough slapstick fun to keep kids turning the pages. Says Kirkus Reviews, "A predictable yet humorous origin story for an endearing pair."

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"Let Us Probe the Silent Spaces..." Lily's Mountain by Hannah Moderow

"Please tell me you're kidding," Sophie says. A mosquito lands on her forehead and she doesn't bother swatting it away. "It'll take days to get to the mountain."

"No way. It's only twenty miles," I say.

"Twenty miles of danger," Sophie says. "We promised Mom we'd stay in the campground."

"But I have Dad's expert map," I say, "so we can follow his route."

"...To where?" Sophie asks. "To find his grave?"

Their dad had fallen into a sudden crevice in a glacier near the peak of Mount Denali, but Lily persists in her belief that his mountaineering knowledge and skills would have enabled him to survive, sure that if she and her sister Sophie can get to the slope of Denali, they will be able to rescue their father. Convincing her reluctant mother that a camping trip with her sister is the best way to honor their father, Lily uses what she has learned from her dad to prepare for a climb to the glacier where he disappeared.

But nothing could prepare Lily for what she and Sophie encounter. They are attacked by mosquitoes and a grizzly, but the pepper spray her dad always carried saves them this time. But Lily stumbles in crossing an icy river, losing her backpack, her food, and all her gear. Wet and cold, she and Sophie fight off hypothermia as they ascend above the tree line, and even with a broken rib from a fall down a scree-covered slope, Lily resolves to continues toward the glacier, determined to try to find her father alive.

"Soph!" I say. No answer. She's either asleep or just plain ignoring me. She doesn't know I just ate all our food.

I was sure Dad would be here at the base of the glacier.

Now I'm going to have to walk up the glacier alone to find him.

But what Lily finds on Muldrow Glacier is the edge of a new crevasse, hundreds of feet deep. And just before it is a strip of red tape held up by bamboo stakes, with three words written in black marker.

DANGER! Crevasse ahead.

The hole is massive and bottomless, sheet ice on all sides. "Dad," I whisper, one last time. I don't expect an answer.

I know that the silence will be long.

There's a certain peace in knowing the truth for Lily, in Hannah Moderow's, Lily's Mountain (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). Moderow's story-telling is fast-paced, with short chapters and plenty of outdoor action to keep middle school and young adult readers involved to the end, but in this riveting coming-of-age debut novel, the mountain is both metaphor and an all-too-real challenge to find a way to deal with the death of a beloved parent. Learning emotional courage as well as physical courage is an significant journey for Lilly, and although Sophie's journey is different, both sisters find a closeness and a solace in knowing that their father is with them yet.

"It's a miracle we made it," says Sophie.

"No, it's not," I say. "Dad taught us exactly what we needed to know."

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Terra Incognita: Life on Surtsey: Iceland's Upstart Island by Loree Griffin Burns

Surtsey began with a big bang.

On November 14, 1963, the newest earth on Earth arrived with no warning. When ash and rock and cinder began to spew violently up from the sea, creating a plume of smoke eight times taller than the Empire State Building, all Iceland watched in mild surprise. By the morning of November 15, pilots flying over the area could see land where none had existed before.

Icelanders are no strangers to volcanic action. They know their own homeland and its small offshore islands are volcanic, and volcanic vents inland actually provide a source of thermal energy to their electric grid. A recent volcanic eruption created a spume of ash that grounded airline flights all over Europe in 2010. Still, a new and visibly growing island within sight was quite a dramatic event for the average Icelander, but for scientists around the world it was something else, a chance to observe how life takes root on the sort of volcanic land that Earth was in its early days, made especially observable because Surtsey's location on the Arctic Circle makes the acquisition of plant and animal life a relatively slow process, an accessible wrinkle in time--a wormhole--to Earth's distant past.

Enter Erling Olafsson and his fellow scientists, doing what science does--observe. By 1967 scientists were on Surtsey, their boot soles sometimes melting on the still-warm surface. They named the island after Surt, the Norse god of fire, and even in those early days saw would-be animal colonists.

"The first visitation of life on Surtsey occurred only two weeks after the island had pushed up through the waves," reads a 1965 newspaper article. "It was a seagull."

The first gulls surely found it too hot to trot on Surtsey, but as the land cooled, seabirds slowly flocked to a place with no predators as the perfect incubators for their eggs, and soon Olafsson, then a college student, delivered proof of animals reproducing on Surtsey:

"I saw one of the guillemots flying toward the cliff with a fish in its bill and disappearing somewhere in the cliffs."

There was only one way to find out. Erling had to investigate the cliff face forty feet above the North Atlantic Ocean. "I fetched my two fellow botanists--the cook was sunbathing--and two ropes. So down I went."

In one narrow crevice, about twenty feet above the ocean, Erling found more than eggs. He found two half-grown guillemot chicks!

It was indeed the seabirds, who find their food at sea, who were first seen raising chicks on Surtsey's barren rocks. And successive seabird colonies fertilized the island. Plants and their seeds washed up on the shores and hitchhiked on the birds and flotsam that drifted ashore, and in the following decades whole areas became green with grass and even wildflowers. And arriving on the ocean's debris and animals came small lifeforms, worms, insects, spiders and mites. And the study of those ever-widening circles of life became the lifework of Erling Olafsson and his colleagues over the decades as Surtsey, created in fire and ice, became a living island with its own cycle of life.

Earth's newest land is documented in Loree Griffin Burns' Life on Surtsey: Iceland's Upstart Island (Scientists in the Field Series) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), an unique account of scientists in a one-of-a-kind field, the first ever to see what they have observed, illustrated amply with color photographs and boasting appendices on the Icelandic language, a glossary, a mediography of books, films, and websites, footnotes, and an index.

As an old dairy farmer friend once said about the value of land, "They aren't makin' any more of it." And for the most part that's true. But this old planet still has some volcanic life in it, and in this book readers get to be current witnesses to how new land is created by volcanic action, and more importantly, how life comes to transform a dead island, a chunk of lava in an icy sea, into a living ecology in which that new life nurtures and enables successive waves of newcomers to flourish. Life is tenacious and life is grand. A unique source for young vulcanologists and biologists, and an essential purchase for middle and high school libraries.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

What a Difference a Dot Makes! Little i by Michael Hall




The rest of the alphabet is discombobulated. Little i didn't look like one of them anymore! He looked like a ... number! Weird!

"no way" said n and o and w, a, and y.

There is nothing for Little i to do but follow his missing dot as it is tossed away upon the waves. He finally made landfall and followed the beach all the way around the island, but everywhere he looked, his dot was NOT.

But there were exciting things to see as he searched. He saw a cascade of exclamation points, a garden of green sprouting commas, and a dazzling grotto of bright, gemlike asterisks. And beyond a scary bridge, what did he spot? His DOT.




Something had changed about Little i. Now he was...



Even little letters can can grow up and find themselves, in Michael Hall's latest, Little i (Greenwillow Books, 2017). Author-illustrator Michael Hall's trademark tissue collaged art is gorgeously colored, and his text takes on both typology and growing up, no small feat, sending his little letter out on an allegorical quest literally to find himself, while along the way introducing young readers to quite a few new punctuation marks--hyphens, exclamation points, and question marks, to name a few, with even his outgrown dot re-purposed as the absolutely essential period (which I will now put to use).

"Little i may be a mere cutout letter, but his humanity shines through,” says the New York Times Review."

Other books by Michael Hall which teach and delight are his Red: A Crayon's Story, Wonderfall, Perfect Square. and My Heart Is Like a Zoo. (see reviews here).

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Single Step: Come With Me by Holly McGhee

All over the world, the news is told and told and retold of anger and hatred.

The little girl was frightened.

Kids can't be kept from hearing about bad things. Sometimes it's hard not to be frightened. What can this little girl do to make it better?

Her Papa said, "Come with me."

Her father takes her by the hand, out on the street and down into the subway. The girl is confused. They ride through the long tunnels, and everyone looks sad and shut up inside themselves. But then her papa tips his hat, and some of the people smile back.

They won a tiny battle over fear.

Still the people-against-people news is bad, and the little girl asks again what she can do about it. Her mother takes her hand and takes her out to get things for dinner.

The grocery store is full of foods and people from all over the world, and her mother tells her,

"One person doesn't represent a family, or a race or the people of one land."

But what can she do to make the world better? The child ponders as she sets the table and eats with her parents, while her little dog lies under the table. Maybe she can take him out for a walk all by herself.

Her parents look like they are not sure about that. But maybe the boy across the hall can go with her.

He opens his door.

Two together are better than one.

The longest journey begins with a single step, in Holly McGhee's hopeful Come With Me (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2017). Perhaps making the world better really is one step at a time, one day at a time, and McGhee's simple story with its simple message for youngsters is that everyone and everything they do matters in this world, and that may be the best that can be said. At least, it's a good start. It's an old message, but Pascal Lamaitre's retro-styled illustrations (a little reminiscent of Syd Hoff) are so quintessentially childlike and unprepossessing that they persuasively carry the premise that a little caring and courage are sometimes all anyone has to offer the world and its ills. Says The New York Times Book Review, “Together, the words and pictures work seamlessly to deliver a powerful message: What we do matters.”

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Emblem of the Land I Love: Blue Sky, White Stars Sarvinder Naberhaus and Kadir Nelson



Much has been written and photographed and portrayed about the Stars and Stripes, and yet author Sarvinder Naberhaus sums up its appearance in eight short words.

But our flag is much more than a graphic combination of stripes and stars on a blue field, interestingly called the "union." Yes, the colors, red, white, and blue, have a meaning in the traditional language of symbolism; the stars represent the fifty states; and the stripes represents the original colonies that came together to gain our liberty.

And that is where award-winning artist Kadir Nelson comes in, with his realistically crafted images of what gives the flag its many meanings--the Statue of Liberty, our brilliant autumn trees, snowy mountains, and ocean waves, but also the face of Abraham Lincoln, a Mars moon rover, a crowd upholding signs and freedom of speech, the flag proudly planted on the moon, and a baseball field, a rocket launch, Betsy Ross sewing a brand-new flag, a soldier standing with pride at his post, a girl in a graduation gown standing with pride at a podium, and most of all, our faces as we watch the flag going up before us.

The flag is a symbol, and more than that--it is one of those things that unite our experience as citizens, in Naberhaus' Blue Sky White Stars (Dial Books, 2017).  This is a book for any national holiday, with some of the iconic experiences of our history portrayed to make us think about the values shown in the background illustrations, conceived and executed in striking artwork that inspires close examination.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Mess Up! JoJo and the Big Mess by Jane O.Connor

Hi! I am JoJo. I make messes. I can't help it.

Nancy Clancy's little sister is a mess--a walking, talking mess, who leaves a trail of disorder behind her.

Nancy tries to teach JoJo how to make things. Making pasta sounds like fun, but JoJo seems to have a talent for sloshing the sauce and spilling the spaghetti. JoJo becomes er, SAUCY! OOPS!

Dad is mad.

Time to hit the tub! Heavy on the shampoo!

Okay, maybe if JoJo does something outside, it won't be such a fiasco! She puts on her fireman's hat and offers to wield the hose to water the flowers. Oops! Water and dirt = MUD!

Dad is mad.

He plops JoJo and Frenchie the dog into the plastic pool to get the worst of it off, and then it's inside for a proper bath for JoJo.

Can't this kid do something that doesn't require a trip to the tub?

Bree's little brother Freddy comes over to play, and Dad tells them to play someplace where it's dry. and please, no more messes! They head inside to JoJo's room, where a nice, dry pillow fight follows.

"Look!! Feathers are flying!"

Guess what? Dad is..., well, you know!


It's back outdoors, where JoJo and Freddy decide on some finger painting on the picnic table. It's guaranteed to be messy, but at least it's easy to clean up, and when JoJo hands Dad her painting of a great big red heart, he's .... NOT MAD a bit, in Jane O'Connor's first I-Can-Read book about Fancy Nancy's younger sister, Fancy Nancy: JoJo and the Big Mess (My First I Can Read) (Harper, 2017). In this My-First-Reading book starring JoJo, the typeface is large and the words are few, and with Rick Whipple's comic illustrations filled with reading cues, the text is easy to sound out for emergent readers. For the youngest Fancy Nancy fans, this one is just what the reading specialist ordered, with most of the usual characters getting in on the action. Share this one with Fancy Nancy: JoJo and the Magic Trick (My First I Can Read) and to be fair to younger sisters, perhaps return to that first book about Nancy herself, Fancy Nancy, in which a trip to the ice cream shoppe turns into fancy fiasco for a fun look back at Clancy family history.

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Thursday, November 09, 2017

Leading the Way: This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer by Joan Holub

Ada Lovelace.This little trailblazer helped think of a way to do math with machines, called computers today.

Ada Lovelace wrote one of the first computer programs, named ADA in her honor by the United States Government.

Ada, Countess Lovelace, the aristocratic daughter of English poet, Lord Byron, is an unlikely modern heroine, but her early love of mathematics, unheard of in the early 1800s, led her to her work with  a Cambridge mathematician, in which she wrote the world's first computer program for his "Difference Machine."

The formerly little-known Ada Lovelace joins more famous young women who were trailblazers in their careers or in public life. She joins women like Rosa Parks, who stood up for her rights by sitting down on a bus, Coco Chanel, who became one of the first women fashion designers by popularizing simple, comfortable, but stylish couture for twentieth-century women, Maya Lin, the youthful architect who was selected to design The Vietnam War Memorial which draws millions of viewers each year, and Ruby Bridges, the first-grader who all alone integrated a school and ultimately her hometown.

There are a disparate group of women pioneers in veteran author Joan Holub's This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer (Little Simon, 2017). Included among these women firsts are Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina woman justice of the Supreme Court and Florence Nightingale, the nineteen-century founder of modern nursing, Maria Tallchief, first Native American prima ballerina, Wilma Rudolph, first African American Olypic gold medalist, and Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. A brief appendix lists other famous women--Abolitionist and Women's Suffrage leaders Harriet Tubman and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Bessie Coleman, first licensed African American woman aviator, and Indira Ghandi, prime minister of India. More than a history lesson, this little board book informs and challenges all girls everywhere to be trailblazers themselves.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Take Me Wit'cha When You Go! Bruce's Big Move (Mother Bruce) by Ryan T. Higgins

Bruce was a bear who lived with four geese because he was their mother.

And three mice, because they would not leave.

It all started in two earlier books when Bruce, the curmudgeonly bachelor bear whose only hobby is as an epicure of fresh eggs, swipes four goose eggs from Mother Goose, all of which hatch as soon as he gets them home and imprint instantly on him. Impromptu Mother Goose Bruce grumpily attempts to be a good goose parent, even taking the goslings south for the winter. But when Mother Bruce and his brood return to his den, he finds it manned by way too many mice who have appropriated it as a popular backwoods inn which is literally a zoo!

Now Bruce has had it with his messy menage, littered with goose toys and assorted wildlife, and he concludes that the only way out is to lose the lot of them and move. Bruce mails his resident mice off to Tasmania, the Mojave Desert, and the Yukon, packs his confused goslings into the sidecar of his motorcycle, and roars off in search of suitable housing sans mice!

Bruce buys a roomy cabin in the deep woods, hoping for solitude and hopefully a bit of hibernation this year, only to discover he has a friendly neighbor, Miz Beaver, eager to offer her thirteen little sisters as perfect playmates for his little geese.

And if that isn't enough, when the mice drive up with all their worldly goods in a truck labeled MUSCULUS MOVERS, Bruce knows that his goose is cooked (and his sorely needed hibernation cancelled), in Ryan T. Higgins' third book in series, Bruce's Big Move (Mother Bruce) (Hyperion Books, 2017). Like it or not, Bruce Bear is stuck with being head of an unruly household, with a lawn party constantly in progress. Higgin's illustrations are hilarious, with the beetled-browed Mother Bruce steadfastly attempting to parent his clueless goslings while trying to rid himself of the manipulative mice he simply can't lose. Mother Goose Bruce is back and primary-graders will welcome the return of his merry menagerie.

Earlier books in this hit series are Mother Bruce, Hotel Bruce (Mother Bruce), and Higgins' companion backstory of the squatter mice, BE QUIET! (See reviews here).

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Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Still Endure: Victoria: Portrait of a Queen by Catherine Reef

"The city was all mob, thronging, gaping at everything," a man wrote in his diary. It was June 28, 1838. Four hundred thousand people poured into London to celebrate the crowning of Queen Victoria.

The young queen herself had gone to bed the night before with a sense of foreboding, "a feeling that something awful was going to happen." Cannons firing yanked her from sleep at four that morning. At ten o'clock trumpets blared. Bands played and the crowd hurrahed. Then the spectators caught sight of the queen.

They saw a tiny girl just nineteen years old. She wore a robe of white satin and red velvet, a circlet of diamonds atop her brown hair. The crowd roared. "Long live Queen Victoria!"

That storybook coronation did not reflect Victoria's state of mind. A sheltered and uncertain teenager, product of a overprotective mother and an unfaithful and disinterested father, the young queen was hardly prepared for what lay ahead. Her education was perhaps better than that of an average noblewoman of her time but her inexperience made her a potential tool of the warring Tory and Whig politicians and her jealous and grasping relatives. And Britain under her rule was riven with income inequalities, made more difficult by frequent wars to hold onto the empire.

A far-cry from the late-life photographs of the stout and dour black-clad queen, the young Victoria was naive, fond of beautiful clothes, dancing and jewels, pretty and yet possessed of a strong-willed sense of duty and wariness of sycophants that led her to form an early alliance with the current Whig prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who was loyal and schooled her in statecraft despite the whispers by opponents that he was for a time the de facto King of England. There was great pressure for Victoria to marry immediately, but her stubbornness stood her in good stead and enabled her to marry for love. Despite objection to yet another impoverished "German" in the British line, she chose her first cousin, Albert of Saxe-Coburg, and the marriage was sometimes passionate, sometimes contentious, but always a source of strength to the young monarch. When her beloved consort died at age 42, Victoria chose to wear black in continuous mourning until her own death at age 82. Of the many deaths that go with a long life, Victoria wrote:

"Oh! how I miss all, all!" she cried in a letter to her daughter Vicky. Victoria thought about killing herself, but, as she confided to her oldest daughter, she decided against it: "'A Voice told me for His sake--no! Still Endure.'"

And endure she did. In many ways Victoria was one of the earliest of modern women. She deeply loved Albert, but would not make him king, asserting that she herself was the sole monarch. A strict mother and an indulgent grandmother, she was a working woman on the job every day until she reluctantly took to her death bed. That Victoria became the longest-reigning queen of Britain (until her descendant Queen Elizabeth II recently entered her sixty-fourth year on the throne) and that her reign was so seminal in modern history could not have been predicted on her coronation. The granddaughter of George III (that George III, whose purported mad misrule brought on the American Revolution), Victoria was the niece of King William IV, herself the product of the loveless political marriage of George III's last son, Edward, and at birth only fifth in the line of succession. Born in 1819 in the final year of the life of George III, the robust Victoria handily bore nine children between 1840 and 1857 and survived an assassination attempt from a lone shooter and other near-miss attempts. Victoria's against-all-odds reign began by candlelight and ended lighted by electricity in a world with telephones, telegraph, and automobiles, in the apex of the British Empire, and through it all she carried off the responsibilities of the sovereign faithfully through many decades of enormous change, joining the two Elizabeths in presiding over long, historic reigns, keeping the ship of state afloat and delivering it intact into the twentieth century. Of Victoria Regina, all that can be said is What a woman she was!

Victoria is now enjoying somewhat of a revival as a media darling. With the BBC Masterpiece series, Victoria, second only to Downton Abbey in viewers, a new movie of her later years currently in wide distribution, Daisy Goodwin's Victoria: A Novel, and the forthcoming Victoria and Albert: A Royal Love Affair, the queen who gave her name to an age is a hot property, and Catherine Reef's forthcoming Victoria: Portrait of a Queen (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2017) is sure to be a definitive new biography of that queen. Filled with fascinating facts and deep insights, this biography is lively and highly readable for young adults and just plain adults, one which vividly puts the reader right into both the personal lives and the zeitgeist of the turbulent times Victoria lived.

As historical nonfiction, it is bounteously filled with glorious period paintings and portraits, drawings by the queen and her children, and sumptuous illustrations, offering an intimate look at a life (right down to the surprising objects Victoria took to the grave with her) that also shaped our own times. As scholarly nonfiction, it boasts an appendix with a list of Britain's monarchs beginning with Egbert in 802, Queen Victoria's family tree, ample footnotes, picture credits and additional captions, an extensive bibliography, and a detailed index. A first choice for libraries and fans of royalty.

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