BooksForKidsBlog

Sunday, June 26, 2016

High and Dry? Don't Splash the Sasquatch! by Kent Redeker


"HELLO, LIFEGUARD BLOBULE!

MAY I PLEASE SIT BY YOUR POOL? I HOPE I DON'T GET SPLASHED. MY FUR GETS ALL SQUZZLEFIED!"

"OF COURSE, SENOR SASQUATCH!"

Sasquatch is a bit of a dandy, determined to be always impeccably turned out, but it seems his fur becomes quite unruly when wet. Lifeguard Blobule helpfully pulls out his megaphone, stands up, and loudly gets the swimmers' attention.

"D0N'T SPLASH THE SASQUATCH!"

But no sooner has Senor Sasquatch settled himself in his poolside lounge chair and donned his stylish sunglasses than a new swimmer has a request.

"LIFEGUARD BLOBULE, MAY I PLEASE TAKE A DIP IN YOUR POOL?" ASKS MISS ELEPHANT-SHARK.

"OKAY, BUT PLEASE DON'T...."

SPLASH!!!

Senor Sasquatch is splattered. He towels himself off, smooths down his fur, and settles down again for some sun.

But there's no snoozing in the sunshine in store for Sasquatch. First Octo-Rhino, then Miss Goat-Whale, and then Miss Loch-Ness-Monster-Space-Alien appear, and one after the other, cannonball into the pool. Sasquatch is soaked, and as he feared....

Sasquatch is squizzlefied! And ANGRY!

Whoops!

But not to worry. It seems that all the swimmers are also skilled hairdressers, and they all get busy. They spin, and shimmy the squizzlefied Sasquatch, and with brushes and blow dryers, and styling gel they soon have him looking spiffy again! So snazzy indeed that he's inspired to plan his own party for all of them...

A POOL PARTY?

Oh, NO!

In Kent Redeker's newest, Don't Splash the Sasquatch! (A Sasquatch Picture Book) (Hyperion Books, 2016), the author uses the cumulative tale format which will have listening youngsters predicting what is going to happen next, right down to the final splash. Clever book design, with a four-page gatefold that incorporates the joint restyling of the squizzelfied Sasquatch, set off the quirky cartoon style of Bob Staake's chimerical crazy critters in a kaleidoscope of comic action.

Pair this one with its companion book, Don't Squish the Sasquatch! See review here) for giggles in a saga in which a nattily-dressed Sasquatch tries to preserve his personal space as more and more wacky characters squeeze on board the bus.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Teller of Tales: Duncan the Story Dragon by Amanda Driscoll

DUNCAN THE DRAGON LOVED TO READ.

WHEN DUNCAN READ BOOKS, THE STORIES CAME ALIVE.

AND HIS IMAGINATION CAUGHT FIRE.

UNFORTUNATELY, SO DID HIS BOOKS.

After all, Duncan is a dragon, and for a dragon, fiery breath goes with the territory, right?

But for a bibliophilic little dragon, that's a major glitch in the system.

Duncan never gets to finish a book. Just when it starts to get good, POOF! It's up in smoke.

Duncan tries to cool it. He sits in a circle of every electric fan in the house. The good news is that the pages turn themselves in the breeze, but the bad news is that he stills spouts flame and vaporizes his story. He scrunches himself into the fridge, but it gets defrosted when he scorches the story.

He tries chilling out in a bathtub full of ice cubes. His booty is freezing, but his breath is as flaming as ever.

He looks for someone to read the stories to him. Strangely, his friendly neighborhood raccoon declines the honor. A 'possum up a tree elects to play dead. PLOOP! The big bull in the meadow chases him right up a tree. Yeow!

Will Duncan ever get to that last page, with those two words as sweet as the last slurp of a milkshake?

THE END.

Sometimes it just takes a special mouse to finish a book in Amanda Driscoll's Duncan the Story Dragon (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), a tale of a book lover who provides plenty of heat for the treats--roasted hot dogs and toasted marshmallows--for his designated reader. Duncan is a darling dragon in little coming-untied red tennies in Driscoll's charming full-page and spot-art illustrations. A nice story of friendship found and books finally finished. As Kirkus Reviews adds, "Like the last sip of a chocolate milkshake, it's very satisfying."

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Unbear-able! Horrible Bear by Ame Dyckman


A girl peered into a bear's cave.

She reached, but he rolled.

CRUNCH!

Never mind how the girl's new kite manages to blow right into a sleeping bear's cave!

But just as she's about to sneak the kite back, the bear rolls over in his sleep and the kite's sticks crack apart!
"HORRIBLE BEAR!"

The girl is furious! How dare that bear slight her kite! She stomps off furiously toward home with a sour face.

Bear is seriously ticked off. What'd he do? He was just sleeping happily in his own cave!
"She barged in!"

Bear barges off after her, clomping through an innocent goat's picnic, and crashing right through the girl's clothesline, festooning himself with clothespins and undies and working himself up to a full-blown wrath!

RAWR!

Meanwhile the girl vents her spleen, snatching up her toy rabbit and giving him an earful of her anger!

Oops! In her temper, she grabs up Bunny by one ear and it rips off.

She didn't mean to do that.

Hmmm! Maybe Bear didn't intend to break her kite either.

"OH."

All's well that ends well, in Ame Dyckman's Horrible Bear! (Little Brown and Company, 2016), as the misunderstandings and misintended deeds are confessed and forgiven and hurt feelings, the kite, and the bunny are patched up. Peace and kindness rule again, except for one thing....

The wronged goat is chomping away joyfully on the kite's tail.

An ironic and wry telling of mistaken intentions is made even funnier by Zach Ohara's bigger than life characters and Dyckman's overblown emotions. "A perfectly over-the-top look at tantrums, friendship, and forgiveness that is sure to resonate with preschoolers and parents alike," says Booklist's starred review.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Picky, Picky, Picky!: Mr. Particular: The World's Choosiest Champion by Jason Kirschner

YOU WOULDN'T KNOW TO LOOK AT IT, BUT INSIDE THIS HOUSE LIVES THE GREATEST HERO OF OUR AGE.

He's got the red cape. He's got the big letter on the front of his blue shirt. He's got his own team that rivals the Justice League--the Super Duper Group, with Atomic Bear and Daring Duck.

Except... Mr. Particular has a few crotchets that cramp his super style.

HE LIKES THINGS THE WAY HE LIKES THEM.

He can't stand anything SQUISHY, or GREEN (no exceptions), or that SMELLS LIKE COCONUT. And he totally can't stand TUCKED-IN SHIRTS!

So when the villainous Kickin' Chicken attacks Daring Duck's sandcastle, Mr. Particular can't venture inside the squishy sandbox. He is also useless when Lizardbreath attacks, because his breath smells like coconut.

The Super Duper Group is forced to shun him for his persnicketiness, and Mr. Particular realizes his options for friends are pretty much limited.

MR. PARTICULAR RETURNED TO HIS FORTRESS OF FUSS TO THINK.

IF HE DIDN'T LEARN TO BE LESS PETTY, HE WOULD BE STUCK AT HOME PLAYING WITH SUPER POOPER, THE DEFENDER OF DIAPERS.

His baby brother's super powers are pretty much limited to maintaining perpetually loaded diapers, and the social prospects for a finicky superhero are pretty much limited at home.

Heroically, Mr. Particular resolves to overcome his super-selective predilections, in Jason Kirschner's Mr. Particular: The World’s Choosiest Champion! (Sterling Books, 2016).

Set in the panels of the action hero comic books of yore, Kirschner's artwork utilizes some of the familiar tropes of the superhero to good effect, while poking fun at picky-picky preschooler fussbudgetry with great good humor and a touch of sympathy for those sensitive to the inevitable icky aspects of life. Kirschner's endpapers are a masterful catalog of goofy gear from Super K Outfitters--Dino Skeleton-Actual Fake Dinosaur Bones (Not Dug Up in Deserts) and Box-o-Slime (Just Add Water). Older primary readers will appreciate the sly tongue-in-check satire of their nit-picky preschool siblings, and younger kids will giggle at the absurdity of a fear of the color green, not to mention the mere reference to stinky diapers. "A particularly appropriate tale just right for a choosy crowd," says Kirkus Reviews.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Sun, Sea, and... Pianissimo? If You Ever Want to Bring a Piano to the Beach, DON'T! by Elise Parsley

IF YOUR MOM SAYS TO GET READY TO PLAY AT THE BEACH, SHE'S NOT TALKING ABOUT A PIANO. SHE MEANS A FRISBEE OR A SHOVEL.

IF YOU ROLL OUT THE PIANO ANYWAY, SHE'LL TELL YOU, "YOU BETTER NOT LOSE IT!
"

Get a grip, Mom. How could you possibly lose a full-sized upright piano? What could possibly go wrong?

Magnolia even promises to push the piano down the walkway herself, so Mom packs up the usual beach gear--umbrella, blanket, snacks, shovels and pails--in the red wagon, pops the baby in the stroller, and heads off toward the beach.

It's a sweaty trek, but with her instrument of choice at last on the sand, Magnolia serenades her family with beach music down by the sea.

The trouble begins when Maggie decides to eat her egg-and-cheese sandwich on top of her piano and is joined by a flock of uninvited seagulls who join her for lunch. They drape the piano with sandy seaweed and proceed to decorate it with their distinctive black-and-white, er, droppings!

THIS, YOU WILL SAY, IS NOT GOOD FOR THE PIANO.

BUT YOU'LL KNOW JUST WHAT TO DO.

BATH TIME!

THE PIANO WILL BOB UP AND DOWN.

THEN UP AND AWAY....

Time and (especially) tide wait for no one, as the stubborn Magnolia finds out, in Elise Parsley's companion book to her New York Times best-seller, If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't!, her just-published If You Ever Want to Bring a Piano to the Beach, Don't! (Little, Brown and Company, 2016). As Ben Franklin might have observed, "Experience keeps a dear school, but Magnolia will learn in no other." As the sun sets in the west and on the horizon her piano floats out to sea, Magnolia wishes she'd given her plan a little more thought. Maybe a Frisbee or a shovel would have been a better choice.

Paisley's opinionated protagonist again provides a comic cautionary tale as, she learns that just because she can do something doesn't mean that she should. Paisley's illustrations tell the tale all too well, as her swarms of seagulls and the salty waves have their way with Magnolia's beloved piano. Will our heroine ever learn to curb her enthusiasm? To be continued.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

It's A Bird! It's a Plane! It's SPACE CHICKEN! Chicken in Space by Adam Lehrhaupt

ZOEY WASN'T LIKE THE OTHER CHICKENS. SHE HAD DREAMS.

SHE HAD PLANS.

Clearly Zoey's eyes are on the skies. With a tiny satellite dish atop her space helmet, she is ready for launch.

Well, not exactly. There are plenty of naysayers among her peers.

Henry the napping hound yawns and opens his sleepy eyes.

"I HAVE PLENTY OF SPACE RIGHT HERE."

Pip the mouse is intimidated.

"SOUNDS DANGEROUS!"

"NOT DANGEROUS!" SAID ZOEY. "AN ADVENTURE!"

Clara the cow points out that Zoey has no space ship. But to the ebullient Zoey, that's just an opportunity!

She grabs an empty basket in the barnyard, and caught in an apple tree she spots a bunch of helium balloons.

"ZOEY ALWAYS FINDS A WAY!" SAID SAM THE PIG.

Sam has some reservations about leaving for outer space before lunch, but with pie in the back of his mind, he parks his trotters in the gondola of  Zoey's spacecraft and they cast off for the stars. Their capsule rises above the trees.

The view from space IS spectacular! Spread out below them are the farm fields and the baseball field, a game in progress. A pop fly sails by.

"AN ASTEROID!"

Sam warns Zoey to steer away from a loose kite soaring by.

"A COMET!"

But even when an attack of aliens (a.k.a., a flock of crows) proves the downfall of Zoey's space mission, Zoey proclaims their sudden touchdown in a truckload of corn to be a perfect landing and presents Sam with an appropriate reward.

A MOON PIE!

But while taking a bow to her public, the opportunistic Zoey is already eyeing an open sea chest in the corner of the barn, with an intriguing pirate hat and scimitar inside, in Adam Lehrhaupt's Chicken in Space (HarperCollins, 2016), and while Clara the cow may declare Zoey a bit spacey, youngsters will be happy to follow her into more adventures. You can't keep a good chicken down, and Zoey is one chicken who is sure to rise to the occasion.

Much of the fun of this story comes from the clever illustrations of artist Shahar Kober, who zooms in on Zooey's prosaic barnyard buddies and zooms out for some eye-catching perspectives from our heroine's voyage to outer space. No need to worry that youngsters may be lured by this fanciful tale into ill-conceived space flights; author Lehrhaupt makes it clear that Zoey is all too aware that hers is mostly a jolly flight of fancy, the sort of game of "play like..." that kids love. "A fun story for inspiring positive thinking, problem-solving, and old-fashioned imaginative play," says School Library Journal.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

What's In A Name? A Crash of Rhinos and Other Wild Animal Groups by Greg Danylshyn

SOME ANIMAL GROUPS HAVE NAMES YOU'VE HEARD.

LIKE A SCHOOL OF FISH OR A FLOCK OF BIRDS.

Some group names are naturals--a band of gorillas, all hanging out together and making music, or a cry of hounds, howling on the chase.

Some are more inventive. For example, who are these guys?

HONKING THEIR HORNS, HURRYING TO ARRIVE,

WITH SUCH POOR EYESIGHT, THEY REALLY SHOULDN'T DRIVE!

It's a crash of bespectacled rhinos in a tangle of fender-bending collisions on the savannah throughway, of course.

And what group of animals might be termed a tower?

Giraffes, of course! They're a one-critter watchtower!

There are teams of hogs,  scrimmaging in the mud,  a run of salmon, streaming upstream, and a committee of vultures, all hunched over their clipboards.

And, of course, a parade of elephants, orderly marching trunk to tail, is a natural.

The fun of animal group names is what Greg Danylshyn's A Crash of Rhinos: and other wild animal groups (Little Simon, 2016) is all about. Artist Stephen Lamp's digital comical illustrations and apt book design (a vertical two-page spread is reserved for the giraffes, of course) make the animal's group names both memorable and humorous.

Pair this one with Betsy Rosenthall's An Ambush of Tigers: A Wild Gathering of Collective Nouns (Millbrook Picture Books) for a double dose of collective creature nouns (see review here).

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Don't Call Me Ugly! The Blobfish Book by Jessica Olien

Scientists study sea life miles beneath the surface. Submersibles are underwater vehicles used to explore the deepest parts of the ocean.

The blobfish was voted the ugliest animal....


"WAIT! WHAT? I'M A BLOBFISH.

BLOBFISH CAN BE FANCY, TOO!"

It's hard to be a science writer when the animals you study want to be the star of the show. And this deep sea critter is determined to make the argument for his side, in Jessica Olien's just published The Blobfish Book (Balzer and Bray, 2016).

Blobfish bursts right into the scholarly text. Just as author Olien is holding forth on epipelagic zones in the ocean, he interrupts to defend his looks. He's soft and curvy, his nose is snubbed, and hey! he's pink. What's not to like?

See, there's a lot of pressure on animals below 13,000 feet! Blobfish defends his shape, pointing out that there are plenty of creatures who are uglier. How about the giant spider crab with twelve-foot legs, huh? How about anglerfish with those ugly sharp teeth and that silly little dangling thingie sprouting from his upper lip? And that northern stoplight loosejaw is certainly not just another pretty face, either, especially when he throws that lower mandible out of joint to gobble some hapless fishie! After all, if you live in the abyssa pelagic zone, you've got to make a few cosmetic adaptations.

"WE DEEP SEA ANIMALS HAVE TO STICK TOGETHER!

Author Olien manages to squeeze in some enlightening factoids along the way, but as the cover indicates, Blobfish forces his way into the narration and becomes the main attraction, Olien sets her crayoned cartoons on top of the factual text in a nifty parody of the serious science nature study book, furthering the metafictional spoof with a realistic book card and pocket as the frontispiece for the text and offering an informational appendix of  "Deep Sea Facts," and a bibliography as backmatter. As a fun alternative to serious sources for a classroom unit on deep sea life, Olien's The Blobfish Book slips in reinforcement of some key concepts while offering a memorable diversion.

Pair this one with Jess Keating's nonfiction exploration of the pinkanista persuasion, Pink Is For Blobfish: Discovering the World's Perfectly Pink Animals (The World of Weird Animals)

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Not Just Another Cute Face! Extremely Cute Animals Operating Heavy Machinery by David Gordon


ONE BEAUTIFUL SUMMER DAY, KAREN, AN EXTREMELY CUTE ANIMAL, WAS AT THE PLAYGROUND MAKING A SAND CASTLE.

It's an idyllic scene--Karen, an exemplary and endearingly tutu-ed little pink rabbit is busy sculpting a charming little medieval village with her cunning little plastic shovel and pail, surrounded by equally engaging and cute chums.

But this is no pink paradise! Enter the bad guys--Skylar, the head honcho, and his henchmen Mike and Trent, who declare this a cute-free zone.

WHAT DID I SAY, KAREN?

I SAID THIS IS MY PLAYGROUND AND
NO STUPID SAND CASTLES!

Down come the cute castles and lovely little cottages. SMASH! CRASH!

Still the dainty Karen is undaunted, and she and her cute cronies rebuild the village, bigger and better, and with a moat to keep the riff-raff out.

But the bully boys were just waiting for the chance to crush the castle, crash the cottages, and maul the moat once more.

Okay, that's it!

EXTREMELY CUTE... DOESN'T MEAN ... YOU CAN'T GET EXTRA MAD!

The cutesy crew commandeers the construction equipment in the park--the heavy-duty dozer and the sky-crane 'copter--to steamroll the bullies and build the biggest and best playground ever. Karen wields her acetylene torch welding girders without scorching her tutu, and Josh pilots the copter to construct a veritable Taj Mahal of a water slide and bumper car track, surrounded by a stout security fence, all with...

NO BULLIES ALLOWED!

But you should never underestimate the empathetic qualities of extremely cute animals, in David Gordon's Extremely Cute Animals Operating Heavy Machinery (Simon and Schuster, 2016), as the almost excessively cute critters craft a truce with Skyler and his mean-spirited minions, and peace reigns over the play space. Gordon slyly slips in a bit of satire at the expense of the cuddly cast of characters in many a fanciful animal tale, in which all ends in extreme peace in the playground--where everyone agrees to limit the occasional smashing and stomping to their own castles only.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Ennui By The Sea: Barnacle Is Bored by Jonathan Fenske

Barnacle is tired of just hanging around from his shell under the dock. There's a certain monotony about the sea, day after day, tide after tide.

THE TIDE COMES IN.

I AM WET AND COLD.

As Barnacle hangs from his shell under the pier, the rising tide inundates him and he shivers in the chilly sea.

THE TIDE GOES OUT.

Now he's hot and dehydrated, dangling high and dry. And all that happens every twelve hours. Unpleasant, and BO-RING!

The sun rises. The sun sets. Same old same old, every day.

The only novelty is the size of the waves. Sometimes they just splash. Sometimes they crash! At least it's a change! Barnacle is weary with watching the world pass him by. Barnacle is bored stiff. Well, technically, part of him is.

Then he spots something new. It's a cute little spotted fish with big round eyes. Gee whiz! Look at him go, free to roam the sea!

THE LITTLE POLKA-DOTTED SHOW-OFF!

I BET HIS DAYS ARE SO FUN.

Barnacle imagines what it must be to be free to swim through the sea--to dive deep with dolphins, flap with the flounders, play tag with plankton, and sound with whales. Life would never be boring if only Barnacle could be like that fish. He's lost in vivid images of what life might be if he were free.

But...Wait!! As the little polka-dotted fish swims insouciantly under the pier, Barnacle sees that he's not exactly alone. He's being followed... no, pursued by a giant moray eel with his mouth wide open. And then...

GULP! Little Polka-Dot Fish is... gone!

Barnacle shrinks way up, as far as he can go, inside his shell and hopes that morays don't crave crustaceans. Then he realizes something else. Maybe he is...

NOT BORED.

Jonathan Fenske's newest, Barnacle Is Bored (Scholastic Press, 2016) is a seemingly simple little picture book with a line or two of text per page and simple illustrations which have a lot more going on than might first appear.

With its premise that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, artist Fenske skillfully uses pared-down blackline drawings and a light touch of pastel watercolors, but his cartoons use the few lines in his character's' face and his four dangling appendages to reveal Barnacle's mood, from listless to sulky to terrified, as the story unfolds. Suddenly he gets it that his shell is not just what is holding him back: it's what is protecting him, too, with irony in Barnacle's final statement as he contemplates the risk-to-adventure ratio of life in the sea. And then Fenske saves a last bit of ironic humor for the final page, one that will probably evoke a new round of giggles from preschool and primary readers.

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

No One Else: I Love Dad by Joanne Walsh

NO ONE ELSE MAKES BREAKFAST INTO A FESTIVAL.

NO ONE ELSE MAKES THE BEST MORNING PARTY EVER.

There's always something special about dads--their bristly, pre-shave stubble, their piggy-back rides on their shoulders that make their kids feel like giants, their way of making going for a bike ride into a championship road race that ends on a downhill run for his tired companion.

This dad is a master fixer-upper, and he can make a campfire and roast corn and carrots like a chef.

And when it's bedtime, his stories are fanciful improvisation, with lions or kung-fu-kicking toy men!

Joanne Walsh and Judi Abbot's little book for daddy-loving youngsters, I Love Dad (Simon and Schuster, 2015) portrays some of the things that make daddies special--loud snores and the world's biggest yawns included.  Authors Walsh and Abbot lay out the narrative logically, beginning each paragraph with "Nobody else..., whether it is assembling a child's bike or flipping a flapjack. The illustrations are done is soft pastels with no attempt at realism; the softly molded father and child dinosaurs are lavender and orange, and trees have blue trunks with pink foliage and all shapes are rounded and approximate, in the same format as their companion book, I Love Mom.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Not MY Job! Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask To Be in This Book!) by Julia Falatko

SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR WASN'T FEELING LIKE HIMSELF.

HIS SKIN FELT BAGGY. HIS TAIL DIDN'T SWITCH THIS WAY AND THAT.

AND WORST OF ALL, HIS BIG JAW DIDN'T SNAP.

Snappsy heads out to do some routine shopping at the local grocery store. But the unseen hand of the Rude Narrator has other ideas.



Snappsy the big mean alligator looked for food. He liked to eat tiny defenseless birds and soft fuzzy bunnies!"

Hey! Snappsy protests the Narrator's story line.

"IT'S JUST A STORE! A GROCERY STORE! IT'S WHERE I BUY FOOD!"

So the rude narrator alters the story line to fit the setting.

"He loads his cart with pudding, peanut butter, pita bread, and popcorn.

(Snappsy the Alligator was particularly fond of certain letters in the alphabet.")

Snappy protests that the Narrator is way out of line and is clearly in cahoots with the illustrator, who persists in portraying inaccuracies. But the Narrator perseveres in his plot. He describes how Snappsy heads home to his splintery shack and throws himself into party preparations, aimed at improving his reputation. Snappsy objects to this whole story line.

"YOU KNOW WHAT? I DID NOT ASK TO BE IN THIS BOOK!"

But in Julia Falatko's new Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book) (Viking Books, 2016), poor Snappsy discovers that in the popular genre of meta-fiction, the poor protagonist has little recourse but to accept his fate, and in this case Snappsy finally casts his fate to the winds and enjoys playing the host with the most as best he can. Falatko's witty back-and-forth banter between the meta-narrator and his hapless hero is a lot of fun for young readers, who may like having a look through that fourth wall to see how fiction gets done. Artist Tim Miller's comic drawings of quirky critters gives this one plenty of visual humor for the savvy consumer of picture books. "More than merely meta, Snappsy is clearly a book, if not a protagonist, with bite," puns Kirkus.

And if kids ask for more, pair this one with Mo Willem's masterful meta-movie spoof, That Is Not a Good Idea! (see review here).

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Making the Grade: The Scandal by John Grisham

Theo tucked himself into his sleeping bag, warm and comfortable.

He was thirteen and unwilling to grow older. The entire week had been about the future, about testing for placement in high school and the mysteries of ninth grade. Theo liked where he was in life. He loved camping, he liked his school and friends and teachers. He liked being a boy on a bike, zipping around town. If he got into trouble his excuse was always, "Hey, I'm just a kid."

Why couldn't a kid stay thirteen forever?

But time and tide wait for no kid, and when the ever-optimistic Theo's test score misses the benchmark for high school honors classes by one point, he finds himself unwillingly in the middle of the simmering issue of state-mandated tests and college-track exams for eighth graders. And then his best friend April drops a bomb on him.

"I have something to show you," she says. "I couldn't sleep, so I decided to do this. She reached into her backpack and removed a plain white envelope. "Just read it." Theo removed a letter:

To Dr. Carmen Stoop, Superintendent of Strattenbury City Schools

I am a concerned citizen. The rise in scores at East Middle School is very impressive. But you should know the real story, On the Saturday after the tests, a group of eighth-grade teachers met at the school and behind a locked door began replacing wrong answers with correct ones....

Suddenly, Theo finds himself in an ethical dilemma. As the son of two lawyers, the complete kid insider at the local courthouse, he has become the de facto "kid lawyer" for his classmates, but Theo can't help wishing April had never written that letter or "consulted" him about her involvement in the scandal. And when the school system examines the actual tests, they find clear evidence of substantial tampering. As the news of scandal spreads through town and the controversy widens to the validity of state testing to determine placement in classes at high school becomes fierce, April is seized with whistle blower's remorse. And yet she has a point: if cheating at East Middle can put certain students unfairly into the magic top ten percent, aren't students like Theo and herself being cheated out of the best classes and teachers at high school? Is using one test to lock the other students out of advanced high school classes even fair? And then, has an actual felony been committed by the guilty teachers?

And when Theo's parents take on the defense of the five accused teachers, the usually cheeky Theo finds himself a somewhat unwilling insider and potential witness, in John Grisham's latest in series, Theodore Boone: The Scandal (Dutton Books, 2016). Although this latest in Grisham's Theodore Booneseries lacks the danger of investigating a murder, rescuing a kidnap victim, or helping the FBI capture a killer as he did in earlier books, the subject of mandated testing is one in which his 'tweener readers have a real stake, willingly or not, and the real-world ethical dilemmas that the author lays out for Theo, the informer April, his lawyer parents, and even his friend Judge Gantry are all too real. Grisham's blithely corner-cutting young legal eagle seems to be taking a turn toward more mature ethical sensibilities as the move to ninth grade comes into sight. Still, this teen sleuth tale has the page-turning suspense that his readers require and is already a near best-seller. Will "Kid Lawyer" Theo survive a fourteenth birthday and graduation from middle school and go on to solve more cases? That's one mystery John Grisham doesn't reveal.

For middle readers who haven't yet met the irrepressible Theo Boone, the previous books in this series are Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, Theodore Boone: the Activist, Theodore Boone: the Abduction, and Theodore Boone: The Accused. (Read my reviews here)

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Mega Hero: Super Jumbo by Fred Koehler

FOR LITTLE JUMBO, BEING A SUPER HERO WAS NOT AN EASY JOB.

NO ONE SEEMED TO APPRECIATE HIS SUPER STRENGTH,

HIS SPEED,

OR HIS EXPERT CRIME-FIGHTING TECHNIQUES.

Little Jumbo seems to have watched a lot of super hero cartoons. He cuts himself a chunk of the living room drapes to serve as a cape. SHAZAM! Instant caped crusader! Dad is not impressed.

LITTLE JUMBO HAD TO ACT QUICKLY TO EVADE CAPTURE.

Outside, Little Jumbo takes his heroics out on the street, vowing to right wrong and fight crime wherever he finds it. No mission is too minute for Super Jumbo! Noticing a family of snails on the curb, he charges into the crosswalk, both hands extended to stop traffic from both directions. A few fender-benders and the snarled traffic threaten to ignite a touch of road range, but our hero is off to another challenge.

A small cat is beginning to climb a tree. Little Jumbo "borrows" a ladder and leans it against the tree for the cat's convenience. The cat looks confused. But it's on to more good deeds for our hero. He spots a man with a bag of popcorn, some spread out on the ground around him, and a flock of pecking pigeons scarfing it up. Super Jumbo springs into action, his cape billowing behind him.

HE TIRELESSLY CRUSADED AGAINST THE FORCES OF EVIL!

Charging into the scene, Little Jumbo scatters the pigeons, picks up the popcorn, and presents it to the man with a flourish. No need for thanks.

BEING A SUPER HERO IS A THANKLESS JOB!

Feeling that he's earned a little reward, Little Jumbo spots the goodies in the display window of a bakery. But there is a little boy with a red wagon with a wheel which has just fallen off. Foregoing cupcakes, Super Jumbo pulls out his handy wrench and throws himself into the task at hand! Soon the rubber hits the road as super hero and boy climb the hill, jump into the wagon, and hurtle downhill--heading for Dad, happily fishing on a pier and totally unaware of what is about to happen next.

Being a caped crusader is a thankless job, in Fred Koehler's newest, Super Jumbo (Dial Books, 2016). Fred Koehler's super-hero wannabe means to do great things, but as illustrator Koehler shows in his clever sight gags, his do-good adventures leave comic mini-disasters in the wake of his cloak for young readers to enjoy. As Publishers Weekly puts it, "[Koehler's] thick black outlines give his characters a reassuring emotional groundedness, and he finds the comic sweet spot in each composition."

Fred Koehler's previous book was the well-reviewed How to Cheer Up Dad (see my review here).

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Canine Cameo: My Dog Spot by Jack E. Levin

MY DOG SPOT IS WHITE WITH BLACK SPOTS.

He's just a dog. A middle-sized dog.

He's got a black circle around one eye and a black spot on top of his head.

So his name is SPOT. (What else?)

His ears are pointed and upright--most of the time. He barks BOW WOW when he's excited and YIP YIPS when he laughs.

HIS TAIL GOES UP WHEN HE'S HAPPY

--AND DOWN WHEN HE'S SAD.

He likes to eat and knows how to sit up and bark for his supper. He loves to chase cats and play tug-of-war with Daddy's slipper when he can get it. He likes to dig holes to bury his bones. And he loves to go for a ride in Daddy's car with his head out the window, his ears all askew.

He's just a dog. A middle-sized dog. But....

MY DOG SPOT LOVES ME.

Frank E. Levin's My Dog Spot (Aladdin Books, 2016) gives youngsters a portrait of the iconic dog in all his glory, the perfect pet every child wants. Norma Levin's illustrations bring Spot to life, executed in textured chalk on rough brown paper stock in simple childlike lines which catch the ebullient personality Spot brings to the family circle. He's just a dog, but to look at Spot is to love him. Perfect for a lap-sit read and easy enough for beginning readers to share with younger siblings, this book is the next best thing to having a dog like Spot of your own.

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Wonder Land? I Wonder by Essea White

I wonder...

If sheep knit woolen socks?

Hmm! The rest of the sheep's bodies look snug in their woolly fleeces, but their little black legs do look a bit chilly. And what else would they use to knit with but organic wool yarn?

But how about goats eating ice cream sundaes?

Well, goats will eat anything! So why not?

Essea White goes the gamut from the conceivable to the ironic and all the way to downright silly in her I Wonder (Redemption Press, 2015), an essay on imagination that takes the reader on a trip down-the-rabbit-hole to her own Wonder land. As Alice said, Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast,”and author White offers fifteen rather absurd possibilities in rhyming quatrains, one line per double-page spread. One spread even offers a would-be stand-up comic beaver who's not quite ready for Comedy Central and who completely befuddles his straight man:


Knock, Knock!

Who's there?

I forgot!

I forgot WHO?

Um, I forgot the joke!

Sigh.

It's quite the show with their offbeat pooches, rock-dancing llamas, kite-flying skunks, and a mariner bear sailing the catboat Clara Mae, all of them done up in pen-and- ink line and lovely color-coded pastel pages that charm the eye.

What impossible things can you imagine before breakfast? Join the free-range fun in I Wonder.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Buyer Beware! Baa Baa Smart Sheep by Mark and Rowan Sommerset

LITTLE BAA BAA WAS BORED.

THEN ALONG CAME QUIRKY TURKEY.

If idle hands (or hooves) are the devil's workshop, so are idle brains.

And when Baa Baa is bored, well....

Quirky Turkey appears, wishes Baa Baa a good day, and notices a pile of roundish things on the ground nearby.

"WHAT'S THAT?"

"SMART PILLS," SAYS BAA BAA.

"IT LOOKS LIKE POO," SAID QUIRKY TURKEY.

Huh! Quirky Turkey is no bird brain. Little Baa Baa can't hoodwink him.

Turkey asks if the pills can really make him smarter. Sure, Baa Baa says, adding that Turkey could become a real brainiac. But he has to swallow them, right? asks Turkey. Well, sure.

What's the price? queries Quirky Turkey cagily.

"FREE," SAYS BAA BAA.

"ONLY TODAY."

Then Baa Baa moves in to close the deal.

"AND ONLY TO TURKEYS!"

Hmmm! Can't beat that deal, Quirky Turkey muses. And he IS a turkey....

He gobbles the smart pills.

"IT IS POO!"

"SEE?" SAYS BAA BAA. "YOU'RE SMARTER ALREADY! "

There's one born every minute, and in Mark and Rowan Sommerset's timely trickster tale, Baa Baa Smart Sheep (Candlewick Press, 2016), con man Baa Baa knows a mark when he sees one and pulls the wool over Quirky Turkey's eyes. It's a pretty stinky trick to play on a gullible friend, one that, er, doesn't go down well, but after all, author Rowan Sommerset posts his caveat emptor right there on the cover:

WARNING!
MISCHIEF INSIDE

Youngsters, of course, will find this story of a flim-flamming, sheep scam the source of hearty belly laughs, illustrated as it is in modestly simple style, with sly dialog that builds toward the inevitable punch line. "Barnyard high jinks that won't be to everyone's taste," wryly warns Kirkus Reviews!

But just in case it is, watch for the companion book forthcoming in August, I Love Lemonade, (think about it!) in which would-be trickster Quirky Turkey attempts to turn the tables on Little Baa Baa.

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Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Great Prehistoric Panty Raid! Aliens Love Dinopants by Claire Freedman

A BAND OF PANTS-MAD ALIENS
ZOOMED DOWN HERE, WHEN... SURPRISE!
BRIGHT LIGHTS HIT THEIR SPACESHIP--BANG!
AND HURLED THEM FROM THE SKIES.

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE!

No, not the asteroid that supposedly led to the demise of the dinosaurs. Here's the true story of how it went down.

The alien spaceship's pants-tracker beeps boisterously. The aliens hone in on the undies signal, which leads them to land near a jungle redoubt.

"WOW! WE MUST BE CLOSE," THEY CRIED.
"LET'S TAKE A PEEK INSIDE!"

And inside that hidden cache, the aliens discover a treasure trove of --

BOOTY FOR THEIR BOOTIES!

A HAUL FOR THEIR HEINIES!


Inside they uncover underwear--skivvies and shorts, boxers and briefs and bloomers and bikinis and BVDs. The pants-mad aliens have a pantie party, There are dozens of drawers for every duff!

But the drawers-hoarding dinosaurs are furious at the looting of their derriere-wear! This means WAR! It's the cosmic Cretaceous clash for keister coverings, and the battle of the bottoms is fearful, until one alien warrior proposes a peace plan:

WE'LL LAUNCH YOU INTO SPACE!
"WE'LL SEND YOU TO THE PLANET ZOOM,
A MOST PANT-TASTIC PLACE.

And so, according to Claire Freedman's Aliens Love Dinopants, (The Underpants Books) (Aladdin Books, 2015)...

Somewhere, in a galaxy far, far away,
Earth's top-drawered dinosaurs are still at play.


In this most recent of her undies series, Freedman's merry rhyming quatrains are back to tell us what really happened to the dinosaurs, a happy ending to the Great Underwear War. Nobody loves tails, er, tales of bottoms and briefs more than young readers of the primary grade persuasion, and fans of this series will definitely sit still for a new installment of The Underpants Books. Artist Ben Cort is in top form on this one with his signature comic characters undertaking all sorts of adventures in their never-ending search for the perfect pair of knickers. For this book Cort even provides delightful, er, end-papers showing a colorful collection of backside couture. As the Bard said it so memorably, "All's well that ends well."

Enjoy more knickers snickers from Freedman and Cort here.

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