BooksForKidsBlog

Friday, February 27, 2015

Shelter Pup: Puppy's Big Day (Bad Kitty) by Nick Bruel

IN CASE IT'S NOT OBVIOUS, KITTY IS IN A VERY, VERY, VERY BAD MOOD TODAY.

AND NOBODY KNOWS WHY.

IT'S WORSE THAN THE DAY SOMEONE SAID KITTY NEEDED A BATH.

IT'S WORSE THAN THE DAY THEY CANCELED HER FAVORITE TV SHOW CLAW AND ORDER.

Clueless as usual, Puppy is oblivious of Kitty's obvious body language. He's in such danger of having his hide shredded that his owner decides to call for backup to get him out of ground zero.

UNCLE MURRAY IS HERE!

Good ol' Uncle Murray is delighted to play dog-owner-for-the-day, but Bad Kitty provides a hurried cat conniption send off, and Puppy and Uncle Murray have to exit the house at top speed.

Uncle Murray soon has a run-in with the legal requirements of dog ownership. In short order he gets citations from an ornery off-page officer of the law--tickets for having no leash, no poop-scooping equipment, no dog license, and walking Puppy through a NO DOGS ALLOWED park.

"HOLY SALAMI! THIS WHOLE DOG-WALKING THING IS STARTING TO COST ME SOME BIG BUCKS!"

Finally Uncle Murray finds the dog park. Safe at last?

Not really. Puppy soon acquires an ardent admirer, the world's ugliest lady bulldog, who chooses him for her love interest. Assuming that the drooly toy mouse Puppy has been schlepping is a romantic offering, she snatches it. A bad scene ensues--and both dogs are hauled off to the doggy slammer while Uncle Murray is up a tree, protecting what remains of the seat of his pants.

In his latest, Bad Kitty: Puppy's Big Day (Roaring Brook Press, 2015), author-illustrator Nick Bruel has a fine time spoofing the I'm-in-the-Jailhouse-Now scene at the pound, adding a grizzled old Llasa Apso lifer named Gramps and a stir-crazy chihuahua called Hercules, until Uncle Murray finally appears to bail out Puppy. All's well that ends well, with old-softy Uncle Murray adopting the three pound pooches, and when the slimy toy mouse Puppy has carried all the way turns out to be Bad Kitty's lost Mousey-mouse, peace is finally restored at the Bruel/Bad Kitty household and Puppy is (temporarily, we presume) Bad Kitty's best friend.

Along with his full-format picture books, Nick Bruel's latest beginning chapter book, done in comic graphic novel style, is a fine addition to the prodigious Bad Kitty series. Bruel's slapstick sight-gags never fail to crack up youngsters, but his visual and verbal humor is so slyly sophisticated that even grownups find these books sidesplitting read-alouds. As usual, Bruel includes "informational" sections" ("Kitty's Horrible But True Facts About Dogs") on such natural questions as to why dogs must be walked (and cats don't), why dogs lick people's faces (and cats don't), and why dogs sniff butts (and cats don't) that will elicit equal measures of gagging and giggles from young readers.

"As always, Bruel's writing is hilarious, and his excellent illustrations make the story complete. Bad Kitty fans will enjoy this volume immensely," adds School Library Journal.

For more Bad Kitty tales, read my earlier reviews here.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Go To Sleep, Okay? Goodnight Already!" by Jory John

"I'VE NEVER BEEN SO AWAKE!"

Duck has just polished off a mug of strong coffee while reading his book, 101 Ways to Stay Awake, and he's wired.

"I WONDER WHAT BEAR IS DOING?"

Well, Bear has just announced that he's never been so tired and could sleep for weeks. A big grouchy bear ready for hibernation is not exactly ready to party all night!

Duck is insistent.

"WANT TO HANG OUT? WANT TO PLAY CARDS? WATCH MOVIES? DRINK SMOOTHIES?"

"NO!" SAYS BEAR.

Fine! Feeling dissed, Duck stomps out. Bear yawns and with his pink Teddy crawls into his tempting bed, just as Duck goes Pssst! at his window, offering to bake cookies. Bear repeats his message, but Duck is soon back, asking to borrow all the ingredients for the cookies. Bear sends him away, but Duck is soon back, whinging about stubbing his beak.

Bear gets downright scary.

"GOODNIGHT ALREADY!"

Sheesh! What a grumpus! mutters Duck, but he finally calls it a night.

But now Bear has another problem.

"I'VE NEVER BEEN SO AWAKE!"

Jory John's brand-new Goodnight Already! (Harper, 2015) is unashamedly a picture-book takeoff on the plots of vintage cartoons--Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, and the rest of those iconic "wascally wabbit" types. Duck is determined to keep Bear awake, with comic results, in this delightfully designed cinematographic story book. John's Bear is the perfect curmudgeonly type, and Duck the devilishly obdurate pest who keeps appearing at the door. Young readers who are fans of Jackie Urbanic's hilarious Duck at the Door and its several sequels (see reviews here) and Bonnie Becker's beloved A Visitor for Bear (Bear and Mouse), A Bedtime for Bear (Bear and Mouse), and sequels (see reviews here) will find this one a fine piece of bedtime-denier fare.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

All of Me! The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods


“To white people,” Violet thinks, “I’m half black. To black people, I’m half white.... Is that what I am, a percentage?”

Since Violet Diamond turned eleven, she's begun to notice the looks people give her family when she's out with her blonde mother and her blue-eyed half-sister Daisy, born of her mom's first marriage. Violet, whose black father died just before she was born, is tired of curious people asking if she's adopted.

And when she learns that she has a famous grandmother, a noted black artist whom she's never met, she can't let the matter rest until she gets her mother to take her to Roxanne Diamond's exhibition in Seattle. But the visit does not go well. Her grandmother still blames her mother for the auto accident that ended her son's and Violet's father's life, and asks Violet and her mother to leave.

Violet feels even more like a puzzle piece that doesn't fit anywhere.

But Roxanne Diamond has a change of heart, and invites her to visit her over a long weekend. Violet loves her grandmother's art-filled house, meets her  aunts and cousins, goes to Disneyland, and bonds with the elegant Roxanne, whom she names "Bibi," from the Swahili for "grandmother." But just as the puzzle pieces begin to come together, Violet finds her grandmother unconscious on the kitchen floor. If Bibi dies, Violet will lose her and her memories of V's father before she can complete her understanding of who she is.

But this time, Violet is the missing piece that makes certain the picture can be completed.
Mom and Daisy were standing at Bibi's bedside. All eyes were on me. "Can Bibi and I be alone?" I asked.

"How are you feeling?" she asked Bibi when they were alone.

"Better and better. I've been waiting for us to have this time alone to thank you."

"Thank me for what?"

"If you hadn't been here and called 911, I probably would have died that day. You saved my life, Violet."

I grinned. "I did, huh?"

"You did. And because you did, you and I will have lots more fun times together," she said softly.

As Bibi had told her when they talked about their favorite color, "there are fifty-nine shades of blue," Violet sees that  families can come in many shades as well, in Brenda Woods' Coretta Scott King Award-winning The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond (Penguin Group, 2014). Although author Woods takes a fairly light-hearted look at some of the feelings inherent in living in a multicultural family, she doesn't eschew a dramatic rescue by Violet that saves her grandmother's life and mends the divide within the family, and her Violet is a likable and spunky character who will win middle readers' empathy and understanding. Kirkus Reviews gives this one a starred review and says, " Infused with humor, hope and clear-eyed compassion—a fresh take on an old paradigm."

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Metro Elephant: Little Elliot Big City by Mike Curato

LITTLE ELLIOT LOVED LIVING IN A BIG CITY, BUT SOMETIMES IT WAS HARD BEING SMALL IN SUCH A SMALL PLACE.

HE HAD TO BE CAREFUL NOT TO GET STEPPED ON ON THE SUBWAY PLATFORM.

STILL, ELLIOT ENJOYED THE LITTLE THINGS.

It's not easy being a very small spotted elephant in the Big Apple. But Little Elliot takes pleasure in his snug little home, the excitement of the skyscrapers and the thronging sidewalks, and his daily strolls, looking at the wonderful things in the windows downtown. He bravely takes the subway even though he's only knee high to all the people in the crowd.

But Elliot's greatest longing is to have one of those glorious cupcakes in the bakery window. And though he holds his money high in his trunk and jumps up as high as he can, the counterman never notices him among the crowd buying pastries.

But then one day he meets someone who is smaller, much smaller than he is.

"HELLO, MOUSE. WHAT'S WRONG?" ASKED ELLIOT.

"I'M TRYING TO REACH SOME FOOD, BUT I'M TOO SMALL!" SAID MOUSE. "AND I'M SO VERY HUNGRY!"

Suddenly Elliot sees a small ally in the solution to his cupcake problem, in Mike Curato's fantasy story of friendship in the big city, Little Elliot, Big City (Henry Holt and Company, 2014). Elliot is a small polka-dotted toy elephant who goes surprisingly unnoticed in the hubbub of big city streets. Observing the metro scene is the chief charm of this book. Curato's big city has been aptly compared to Edward Hopper's cityscapes, and his muted palette and his portrayal of a small toy elephant, with the body language of a toddler, roaming a retro metropolis, provides a Paddington sort of charm to this old-fashioned story. The author pictures Elliot devising ways to reach the sink in his apartment, making his miniature way down to the sidewalk from his brownstone home, and, like a kid in a candy shop, admiring the goodies in his neighborhood bakery, al in delightful illustrations which create a warm and cozy ambiance to set off Curato's sweet story of friendship found (and cupcake shared).

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Pas de Deux: Flora and Penguin by Mary Idle

Flora is far from her former dance partner, Flamingo, as she laces up her ice skates and ventures onto the blue-white Antarctic ice. Right away she notices a penguin who seems interested in her swooping strokes.

Soon the two begin to glide over the ice together, a skating session that quickly turns into a lovely ballet, as the impromptu partners mirror each other's moves in synchronized dance. Wing-in-hand, they twirl, leap, and spring in perfect rapport, blending almost into one.

But suddenly Penguin breaks away and dives into a breathing hole in the ice. Flora feels rejected and hurt, turning her back on her partner, just as Penguin slips up onto the ice and offers Flora a fish she has caught as a gift. Confused, Flora hurries to set the fish free in the ice hole, and now it is Penguin who feels miffed and rejected.

But the joy of their dance draws them together, in a grand finale of a four-page gatefold, as Flora and Penguin understand each other, their differences and their common love for ballet, as they end their dance with quite a lot of flare, in Molly Idle's sequel to her 2013 Caldecott Honor Book, Flora and the Flamingo (See my 2013 review here.)

In her second book, Flora and the Penguin (Chronicle Books, 2014), Idle takes a different tack: instead of playing up the contrast between the Flora's chubby, short-legged shape and Flamingo's long, elegant lines, the illustrator points up the similar body forms of Flora and Penguin as they dance, contrasted against their different views toward what to do with a fish. It's a funny but short-lived tiff, as the two return gladly to their improvised girl-and-penguin pas de deux. Idle chooses a cool blue palette, accented only with touches of yellow, beautifully suited to the polar setting. Again, Molly Idle's artistic skills turn a tour jete' into a tour de force,, with the added fun of flaps which extend the story, showing what is happening under the ice as well as above and with her multi-page grand finale, with the fish below the ice serving as corps de ballet.

Idle's latest has earned starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Common Sense Media. As Booklist says, "Rings with the real emotion of friendship found, lost, and found again... a charmer."

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Running Between the Raindrops: Enzo Races in the Rain by Garth Stein

FROM THE START, I'VE KNOWN THAT I WAS DIFFERENT.

ON THE OUTSIDE, I'M THE SAME AS ALL THE OTHER PUPS ON THE FARM.

BUT ON ON THE INSIDE, IN MY HEAD, IN MY HEART, THAT'S NOT WHO I AM.

Enzo feels like a person.

He tries to tell all his people how he feels, but his words sound just like barks. No one understands what he wants.

WHAT MAKES ME HAPPY IS TO RUN AS FAST AS I CAN.

But farmers don't really like a dog that barks and chases every car that passes.

"STOP YOUR BARKING, DOG!"

But then, one of the cars he races, stops. A small girl waves and then gets out and gives him a hug. Zoe likes Enzo best of all the puppies, and to his joy he goes home with her in a car that goes VROOOM! Even better, the man and girl name him Enzo, Enzo Ferrari!

It's a neat little house, with a doggy door painted like a racing flag that leads Enzo outside into a nice little backyard. The only problem is that there's no room to run fast in that little yard. An then Enzo spies... an opening in the fence just the right size for a small, racing dog. And in front of him are open fields just right for running.

FLASH!  NOW PEOPLE ARE RUNNING EVERYWHERE--AFTER ME!

Little Enzo races until his tongue hangs out! It's glorious fun, but... suddenly he notices that it's raining and he's very wet. He's ready to go back home and warm up.... But where is his home?

Garth Stein's story of a dog who lives to race, Enzo Races in the Rain! (HarperCollins, 2014), features an appealing little brown and white pooch who is born to run who finds just the right family. R. W. Alley's illustrations take the forefront in making this lost dog story come alive. School Library Journal says "facial expressions of both man and beast, ranging from sadness, determination, joy, anger, surprise, and many places in between, add a great boost to the wordy text."

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Friday, February 20, 2015

I Gotta Be Me! RED: A Crayon's Story by Michael Hall

"First to thine own self be true," wrote Shakespeare, and in this colorful tale, "Red" has no choice in that matter. Despite the fact that his Crayola-ish wrapper looks red and clearly says RED, he has a reason to feel blue. He actually IS blue all the way through.

But his perky teacher seems oblivious to the obvious.

"I'LL DRAW RED STRAWBERRIES! THEN YOU CAN DRAW RED STRAWBERRIES!" SHE CHIRPED WITH FEIGNED ENTHUSIASM.

Teacher colors a row of red strawberries, and poor RED tries to do likewise, applying himself and pressing on with the task, but of course all his berries are blue.

Red's mom OLIVE tries to help. She arranges a playdate with little YELLOW, suggesting that they might like to combine their talents by coloring some oranges. Strangely, all of their fruits come out green! His grandparents, SILVER and GRAY, suggest he draw a self-portrait.

BUT IT SO WASN'T RED!

All his classmates are happy to offer their criticisms. Pencil pointedly suggests that RED just isn't sharp enough for the job.

"FRANKLY, I DON'T THINK HE'S TOO BRIGHT!" SAID FUCHSIA.

It seems that all of the crayons can't see beyond his label to the real RED, until he makes a new friend, BERRY, who recognizes his true hue and asks him to color the water for her boat. He even adds a blue whale to his ocean. Suddenly, RED gets it.

"I'M BLUE!"

The sky's the limit, as a whole new world opens up to RED BLUE as everyone sees, really sees, his true color, in Michael Hall's newest hit, Red: A Crayon's Story (HarperCollins, 2015). Preschoolers will have a refresher in color recognition, and older readers will laugh at the clever puns and obtuse color-blindness of all the crayons and perhaps understand the premise of looking beyond social labels to the real person inside. Hall's humorous illustrations of his crayon characters are picture perfect, with grandparents GRAY and SILVER somewhat worn down, and BERRY clearly the sharpest crayon in the box. A not-to-be-missed new classic!

This crayon tale pairs perfectly with last-year's best-seller, Drew Daywalt's The Day the Crayons Quit (Read my colorful review here.)

Michael Hall is also the author of the cleverest Valentine/color/shape book ever, his heart-y hit, My Heart Is Like a Zoo. (See my heartfelt review here.)

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Making A Name for Herself: My Name Is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth by Ann Turner


American biography has often celebrated the "self-made man,"
but never was there a noted American who was more of a "self-made woman" than Abolitionist and Women's Rights crusader Sojourner Truth.

Born Isabella Baumfree, not in the cotton fields of the South, but among the Dutch-speaking farmers of New York State, she suffered many of the indignities of slave life--cruel masters, separation from her loved husband and child, and beatings and a forced marriage with another slave of her third master, Mr. DuMont. Bella became her own person when she fled with her youngest child, Sophia, and eventually took her former master to court and won back her son Peter when he was illegally sold into the South. Along the way, she learned English and became a Methodist, and came under the wings of the early Abolitionist leaders.  In 1843 she left her old self behind, name and all.

GOD SPOKE IN MY HEART A NEW NAME THAT FITS ME LIKE A NEW DRESS, JUST MADE FOR ME.
NOW I AM SOJOURNER BECAUSE I TRAVEL FAR AND LONG TO TELL THE NEWS OF GOD'S TRUTH.
A tall, muscular woman with a powerful voice, Sojourner gave voice to the cause of the end of slavery and women's rights for the rest of her life.  She worked with other leaders, Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Tubman, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony, speaking for personal rights throughout the country. Sojourner met with presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant to urge full rights for all, and was almost a century ahead of Rosa Parks, taking a seat  and demanding equal rights on the horse-drawn trolleys of Washington, D.C.  In the years after the Civil War, when former slave men were given the right to vote, Sojourner clearly foresaw that true liberty and democracy would never be attained until all women had the same rights as white men.

Born in 1797, Sojourner was not to live to see full rights come to women, but she fully foresaw the rightness and necessity of that outcome, and those who took up her cause continue to gain strength from her vision and determination.

In her  My Name Is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth (Harper, 2015), Ann Turner's narration of an extraordinary American life uses many of Sojourner Truth's own words to tell her own story, from her heart to the hearts of young readers.  James Ransome's well-executed illustrations--from young Bella fleeing to freedom with her baby, Isabella sleeping in her first clean white bed as a grown woman, to the well-known Sojourner the civil rights crusader, travelling the nation to take her simple, moving message to her fellow citizens---extend the text well. As Kirkus Reviews says, "Against a white background, the images explode across the pages."

This is a highly recommended book for library biography and civil rights collections, a picture book that introduces one of our nation's one-of-a-kind characters to young readers. For Black History Month, read this one aloud along with Ann Petry's notable Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Home Is Where the Heart Is: I Want To Go Home Now! (A Little Princess Story) by Tony Ross

ONE DAY THE QUEEN FOUND A NEW CASTLE. "THIS ONE'S TOO SMALL, NOW THAT WE HAVE YOUR BROTHER!" SAID THE QUEEN.

"BUT... I DON'T WANT TO LIVE ANYWHERE ELSE!" SAID THE LITTLE PRINCESS.

"OH, YES, YOU DO
!"

Mom (the Queen) is super-psyched over the new castle. There is a big bedroom for the Little Princess, and her baby brother has his own room, too. There is a super-snaZZy kitchen, with all the latest features. And there's plenty of space for that lot of, um, retainers to hang out away from their castle courtyard.

But the Little Princess is homesick--homesick for the old castle.

"I WANT TO GO HOME!" SHE MOANED. "NOW!"

"YOU ARE HOME!" INSISTED THE QUEEN.

But the Little Princess continues to sulk and weep and moan about going home to the old castle. At last the Queen decides to take her back for a quick visit to their old place, now owned by the Duke of Somewhere-or-Other.

But things have changed. The Duke has painted the castle pink and taken the Princess's old room to decorate in his own style. The Duchess has re-decorated the old kitchen, and the new owners have turned the Little Princess's garden into a parking lot for their collection of  vintage cars. The Duke and Duchess are really proud of their new digs, so proud that that when they serve tea and cakes, the Duchess admonishes the Princess not to drop a single crumb.

"AFTER ALL, WE DON'T WANT BIRDS, DO WE?

WE HAVE TO VACUUM THE GRASS EVERY DAY AS IT IS!" SHE COMPLAINS.

The Little Princess looks around. This castle doesn't feel like home anymore.

"I WANT TO GO HOME!" SHE INSISTED.

The Queen concurs, and home they go, where there are crumbs and birds and mud puddles to play in, in Tony Ross's latest in his popular Little Princess series, I Want to Go Home! (A Little Princess Story) (Anderson Press, 2014). Moving from the only home they've ever known is hard for youngsters, but Tony Ross's story lets his young readers share their tears and feelings while reminding them that the things that matter--family and family ways--never change. Ross's warm and funny illustrations are classic castle kitsch, with baby brother on his royal potty, and the Little Princess, with her too-big crown down to her eyebrows and her droopy little bear with his crown riding low, offer pathos and humor in equal doses. As School Library Journal says, "Ross continues his tradition of illuminating issues that trouble young children. A great new chapter in this series."

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Spies Behind Enemy Lines: Danger in the Darkest Hour (Magic Tree House House) by Mary Pope Osborne

"JUMP, JACK!" Teddy yelled.

Falling through the air, Jack forgot everything--legs together--face earth--arch back--spread arms--count to five. But miraculously, he remembered, Pull rip cord!

As the chute's white canopy opened above Jack, it yanked him backward. The billowing silk slowed his downward plunge. Jack clutched his field pack as he drifted through the night air.

The drone of the spy taxi engine faded into the distance. Teddy was gone. Not far away, Jack could see Annie in the moonlight, floating to earth. He was filled with as strange happiness as they both drifted in a dreamlike fall.

Suddenly the earth rose up to meet him. Jack hit the ground with a thud.

"We're in France! We did it!" Annie called from nearby.

When they unrolled the message from a little red canister delivered to them by carrier pigeon from 1945, Jack and Annie knew that they wouldn't be in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania, much longer.

This time the two time travelers are summoned, not on a Merlin mission, but on an undercover mission to help the French Resistance, alerting them to the coming D-Day Invasion that begins the end of World War II. The Magic Tree House delivers them to the Allied airbase at Glastonbury, England, where a huge air armada is about to take off to bomb Nazi installations and railroads in preparation for the invasion of Normandy. There they find their old friend, Teddy, in uniform as an agent of the Special Operations Executive, who asks them to parachute into the farming area near Caen to find Kathleen, who is missing on her mission with the French Resistance in the countryside about to be bombed by the Allies. Time is short, and Jack and Annie's special skills are needed to get her back to England before the Invasion.

Jack and Annie are shown the secret "V for Victory" sign to recognize the Resistance fighters and given only a cryptic rhyme and the promise of the help of the magic Wand of Dianthus.

Three miles east of Sir Kay's grave,

Cross a river to find a cave.

Look for knights and small, round cows--

A crack in the rock beneath the boughs.

It's only as the two are dangling from their chutes that they realize that Teddy has neglected to put the Wand in Jack's field pack. With no magic to help them, Jack and Annie realize that they are on their own behind Nazi lines and surrounded by truly deadly danger.

"I guess that means we'll have to help Kathleen without magic," said Annie. "But that's okay. We have lots of skills."

"Like what?" Jack asked grimly.

But the brother and sister find that they do have the right skills--to smile bravely and pretend to be French, to get people talking long enough to gather useful information, and to decode the rhyme and find Kathleen hiding a group of Jewish orphans in a cave accessed by the crack in the rocks by the river.

Now, their mission will be accomplished--if only Jack can resurrect his driving skills, learned in an old truck he was allowed to drive around the fields at Great-Grandpa's farm, well enough to drive an old bread truck loaded with Kathleen and the orphans through the Nazi checkpoint to the field where Teddy will land to take them back across the English Channel in the long night before the Longest Day.

In her new Magic Tree House Super Edition #1, best-selling author Mary Pope Osborne has the skills to take her beginning chapter book readers across the divide and into middle reader historical fiction. Used to the thrills, chills, and spills in the earlier and simpler series, Osborne's practiced readers will find themselves inside a darker historical fiction story where Annie and Jack are in real danger as they escape from the Nazis just in time to alert the French Resistance that it is time to start sabotaging railways, armament dumps, and bridges and tunnels to help the Allies establish a foothold in Europe.

Magic Tree House Super Edition #1: Danger in the Darkest Hour (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) (Random House, 2015) drops young readers back into a time when the fate of Europe really hung in the balance and when the courage of many brave people saved the future world we now live in. An exciting and enlightening look back at a time that shaped our own, one from which most eyewitnesses are now vanishing, this rather realistic book makes a good introduction to the many novels and accounts of World War II waiting ahead for middle readers.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Mean Girl Makes the Scene: Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean by Jane Lynch


You're a mean one, Miss Marlene!

And Marlene glories in it. She may look innocuous, with her big pink hair bow and patent leather Mary Janes, but she knows how to put the moves on her classmates.

Marlene is the Grinch of the playground, the scourge of the school.

MARLENE, MARLENE, THE QUEEN OF MEAN,

WAS KNOWN FOR BEING QUITE CRUEL.

She's got the bully scowl down pat, and she's not above a well-placed kick, pinch, or shove to reinforce her power. She evens takes joy in blocking desperate kids from the bathroom.

What she needs is a takedown, and for that there's Big Freddie, who rides to the rescue to do what none of the others has dared.
"SHE'S NOT VERY TALL,
NOT REALLY AT ALL.
WE CRINGE AND WE COWER,
AND GIVE HER OUR POWER."

And Freddie is right. Suddenly Mean Marlene is not seen as a queen of anything. Freddy's got their back, and all the kids see that together they can handle anything Marlene can do. Right away, Marlene sees the point of changing her ways--fast.

There's one mean girl who will bully no more, in Jane Lynch's Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean (Random House, 2014). If Marlene's abdication seems a bit facile, Lynch does offer the sometime truism that bullies are mostly bluff, using the old Wizard of Oz-behind-the-curtain device, but award-winning artist Tricia Tusa's clever illustrations do most of the heavy lifting in this story to show where the real power resides over this beribboned bully.

For more insight into the mean girl phenomenon, pair this one with Jane O'Connor's insightful Fancy Nancy and the Mean Girl (I Can Read Book 1) (Harper, 2011) (see review here).

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Scientific History Mystery: The Case of the Missing Moonstone (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency) by Jordan Stratford

Eleven-year-old Ada Byron (Lady Ada Byron, Countess, to be exact) is in a terrible snit, hidden out in her redoubt, the wicker basket of her self-made hot air balloon moored above the roof of her London house in Marylebone. Her governess has left to be married, to be replaced by a rather silly-looking young tutor, who introduces himself as Percy B., er, Snagsby. In a further bad turn, there is a girl named Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who is to be educated with her by the questionable Mr. Snagsby, whom Ada quickly nicknames "Peebs." Ada is not pleased.

"It's not fair that Miss Coverlet had to go and marry dumb Cecil. It's not fair that she's not here and you are. It's not fair that my mother has gone to live in the country! It's not fair that I can't just be left alone."

"Lady Ada, if I'm to be your tutor..."

"You're not! Go away. There's no one for you to tute."

"I'm quite certain that's not a word," offered Percy, as he hung from the mooring rope of Ada's balloon.

Ada lives alone with her servants and her self-designed computing machine, and while she has immense mathematical understanding, encouraged by her only friend, mathematician Charles Babbage, she totally lacks any social skills, including combing her hair and changing her frock. But somehow she and Mary form a sort of friendship. Ada's tutor is Mary's only refuge from a miserable boarding school for young ladies, and being tutored in the mansion of the mad, bad, dead great poet Lord Byron is quite a thrill, so Mary turns her considerable social skills to placating Ada with her new arrangement. Glad to have escaped her mother's control, Mary is delighted to be taught by Peebs, and little by little, Ada is enticed away from her mathematical books and her computing device, named the Byron Lignotractatic Engine, or BLE. Restless under the constraint of being proper young ladies which make them virtual prisoners in Ada's lavish house, Mary casts around for something romantic and exciting to do.

She introduces Ada to the daily newspapers, and the two take particular interest in the crime reports. Then Mary comes up with an idea that excites even Ada. They are to become "a secret constabulary," The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, and solve crimes. Engaging a ragamuffin boy named Charles to place their ad with the Times, the would-be sleuths are soon presented with their first case.

According the daily news, a unique necklace, "The Acorn of Ankara," disappears from the boudoir of a young bride-to-be Rebecca Verdigris. Her maid Rosie readily admits to the crime, but will say nothing about why the necklace was taken or where it is. Her mistress believes her maid innocent, but cannot explain why she would confess. But when Mary and Ada talk their way into Newgate Prison to visit Rosie Sparrow, the maid tearfully admits that she did not take the necklace, but saw Rebecca's fiance' Mr. Datchery, walking down the corridor from Rebecca's room, starring intently at the misappropriated jewel. Still, as Rebecca points out, why would her fiance' steal her rare jewelry when it would become his, as would everything else she has, as soon as they are married?

Clearly someone compelled the young man to take the jewel against his will, for the benefit of the real thief. But how could that happen? The only explanation the Wollstonecraft detectives can come up with is the new theory of "animal magnetism" expounded by Franz Mesmer. Could the missing moonstone acorn have the power to mesmerize?

There is plenty of clever detecting and not a little harrowing adventure, including pursuing the real thief in a stolen steamboat down the Thames in Ada's hot air balloon, in Jordan Stratford's The Case of the Missing Moonstone (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, Book 1) (Random House, 2015). With two highly intelligent young girl sleuths and many unexpected twists of plot, Stratford's first book is an offbeat but top-selling entry among the many mysteries offered to middle readers. The cast of characters is a veritable Who's Who (or Who-Will-Be-Who) of 1826. Ada Byron becomes Ada Byron Lovelace, whose work with Charles Babbage gives her claim to have been the first computer programmer; Mary Godwin becomes Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley (the true identity of "Peebs") and the author of the first science fiction novel, Frankenstein; and Charles, the girls' book-loving go-between, becomes author Charles Dickens ("Who the dickens is that boy?" as Peebs asks).

There is abundant wit and a couple of young ladies way ahead of their time, the charming illustrations of Kelly Murphy, and an author's note which reveals the facts about the real Peebs, Ada and Mary, as well as Dickens, Babbage, and Ada and Mary's accomplished mothers, mathematician Anna Isbella Byron and feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft.

This new mystery series promises to please fans of Spencer's The Mysterious Benedict Society or Sherlock's wayward sleuthing little sister in Springer's rousing The Enola Holmes Mysteries (See related reviews here.)

"A good fit for Common Core curricula and a fun overall read, this is a winner," says School Library Journal.

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Heart to Heart: Did You Know I Love You? by Christa Pierce

"WHO, ME?"

Fox can scarcely believe that the pretty little blue bird loves him, but as they spend some time together, he cannot help but love her, too.

She asks him if he can feel it in her kisses and hugs. She asks if she tells him often enough, and he admits she does. She even asks,

"COULD YOU TASTE IT IN YOUR TEA?

DID IT WARM YOU FROM THE MUG?"


But her final protestation really sets his heart at rest.

"ALL MY LOVE IS FOR YOU.

AND IT ALWAYS WILL BE."

Christa Pierce's Did You Know That I Love You? (HarperCollins, 2014) offers sweetly stylized illustrations and promises of enduring love that are perfect for parents and grandparents to present to very young children. Her soft and rounded young fox is a nice stand-in for the child, and the blue bird, traditionally the deliverer of an important message in folklore, represents the parental urge to offer lasting love to a young one. Publishers Weekly says, "A sweetly assuring ode to unconditional love."

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Hands-On! Hands Say Love by George Shannon

HANDS THAT DO ALL THEY CAN DO

ARE ALSO SAYING "I LOVE YOU."

When you think of all the things humans do with their hands, it is clear that hands are perhaps the most human thing about us.

Hands Say Love (Little, Brown and Company, 2014) by George Shannon  and Taeeun Yoo help children understand the meaning of touch and gesture and all it can convey. Hands that dress and feed and cuddle little ones, support them as they learn to walk and ride a bike, that soothe a scrapped knee or play peek-a-boo, all show what it means to parent a child.

Children's hands that stroke their pets, draw pictures and fold a paper hat, Mom's hands that brush and braid hair, children who clap along while Dad plays his guitar, friends who don't forget to turn and wave a goodbye, all are part of being human in unique ways.

HANDS THAT PULL THE COVERS TIGHT,

HANDS THAT SEND A KISS GOOD-NIGHT.

Shannon's simple couplets movingly express the love in such gestures, with Yoo's easy portrayal of all kinds of families and friends which shows how hands convey love in ways that even the youngest child can understand. A Valentine from anyone, to anyone.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Makin' Friends: A New Friend for Marmalade by Alison Reynolds


ELLY, MADDY, AND MARMALADE WERE BEST FRIENDS.

ONE MORNING THEY DECIDED TO BUILD A PLAYHOUSE.

TOBY, THE BOY FROM ACROSS THE ROAD,
JOINED THEM.

Girly girls Elly and Maddy think it's a great day to build an outdoor playhouse, as Marmalade the Cat basks in the sun and looks on with interest. But just as the girls' design begins to take shape, there's a sudden interruption.

Their neighbor Toby, wearing his superhero cape, speeds through the playhouse on his scooter and wreaks some havoc on their plans, and then zooms off, red cape waving behind him.

Miffed, the girls regroup and decide to move to the sandbox, where they methodically begin to sculpt an equally ambitious sand castle city.

Obviously, Toby wants to play with the girls, but he has a lot to learn about charming les femmes. He falls back on that old masculine standby, silently showing off his athletic ability. Elly and Maddy don't seem at all impressed, but Elly's cat Marmalade seems to see some promise in Toby and rubs up against his legs.

Trying to get in on the game, Toby offers to make a moat around the castles, but when he turns on the hose, he doesn't notice that there's a lawn sprinkler still attached to the other end. Suddenly the sand castle city is deluged with geysers of water. The girls are wet and bedraggled, the castles are history, and a very wet and spooked Marmalade leaps into a nearby tree and scoots way up. Too far up, it seems, for him to come back down, even when the girls implore him. He creeps further and further out on a skinny branch.

CRACK!

MARMALADE LET OUT A SCARED "MEOW!"

Can action hero Toby save the day? There's more than one way to make use of that cape, and Toby wins the girls over with his gallant kitty rescue, in Alison Reynolds sequel to her first book, A Year with Marmalade. It turns out that Marmalade sees through Toby's rough exterior to the potential friend inside, in A New Friend for Marmalade (Little Simon, 2014). Artist Heath McKenzie shows the girls in light-handed pen-and-ink drawings, while adding emphasis to the story's stars by adding watercolors to Marmalade and Toby's cape. Soon even Marmalade is sporting a cape, and the three kids get back to work on a new and improved sand castle city. A fun story for cat fanciers, with a small lesson on accommodating to the different styles of play among friends.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sister Act: Maple and Willow Together by Lori Nichols


MAPLE AND HER LITTLE SISTER WILLOW WERE ALWAYS TOGETHER.

Maple and Willow, preschool siblings in a seemingly arboreal-obsessed family, spend so much time together than they have their own language, a special dialect of pig Latin. They like the same things--drawing, coloring, cooking, catching grasshoppers and building fairy houses out of sticks and leaves found under their twin signature trees. Almost every night, little Willow migrates shyly to Maple's bed, where the two sleep together through the night.

But Maple's maple tree is taller than Willow's willow, as befits the elder sister, and Maple mostly rules the roost. Willow, as befits her name, is very flexible and compliant--most of the time.

Until one day, when the sisters find that they have a surfeit of dandelions all over their lawn. Maple wants them to collect all the blooming ones and make a big bouquet. But this time Willow wants to do it her way. HER WAY is to snatch one up and send the seeds sailing over the grass. Maple decides it's time to pull rank, and makes a grab for the stalk. Willow fires back by blowing the seeds right in Maple's face. Maple yells at Willow, who turns and stomps on Maple's favorite toy.

That's it for Maple! Push has come to shove, and that's what she does. She shoves Willow right down on the ground!

NEITHER SISTER WANTED TO BE TOGETHER EVER AGAIN!

Willow wails and Maple is hopping Admay!!

Mom steps in and sends the two to their separate rooms, where they mutter to themselves and sulk for all of twenty minutes before they realize that they are now more bored than mad and set out to find a way to make amends. Lori Nichols introduced Maple and her name tree in her popular first book, Maple, which closes with planting a seedling willow and greeting Maple''s promised little sister. (See review here).

In Lori Nichols' second book, Maple and Willow Together (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Group, 2014), Willow has grown just past toddlerhood and is beginning to have a mind of her own, as little siblings do, setting up several possible sequels as pushy big sister and pesty little sister work out their own version of sisterhood. Nichols' illustrations in her sequel are just as deciduously dainty and delightful as her first book, with the tree sisters done up in pastel drawings, easily showing off their evocative body language which hints at their subtle differences in personality. As Kirkus Reviews puts it, "Nichols makes clever use of the book's gutter, subtly and simply representing the invisible bridge that both connects the girls so seamlessly (and here quite beautifully) and also distinguishes them from each other."  There's nothing like love, and sister love, between squabbles can be the est-bay!

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What's Mine Is MINE!: You Are Not My Friend, But I Miss You! by Daniel Kirk

YOU TOOK MY BALL.

Okay. Let's stipulate that IT IS Sock Monkey's big red ball. Patchwork Dog has clearly snatched it and run away gleefully, with a quick explanation.

YOU WOULDN'T SHARE!

I HAD TO GRAB IT BACK WHILE YOU WEREN'T LOOKING.

Sock Monkey's cause is righteous. Dog is clearly not his friend, so he is NOT going to get to play with the red ball ever again!

Monkey looks around for new playmates who will share according to his rules.

He finds three--a potted plant, a rock, and a worm. But although they never snatch the red ball, they are not much fun either.

He resolves to play by himself. He tosses the ball up and catches it. Bo-ring! He recruits a wall and tries bouncing the ball against it. The wall definitely gives it right back every time.

OUCH!!

This is not working out. Sock Monkey has the red ball all to himself, but what he DOESN'T have is FUN. Maybe he's not being a good friend. A good friend would share--share the ball AND share the fun. That thought reminds Sock Monkey of something Dog said.

MAYBE I WASN'T A GREAT FRIEND.

He looks around for Dog.

Preschoolers ethics are famously both egocentric and dogmatic, as Daniel Kirk's You Are Not My Friend, But I Miss You (Abrams Books, 2014) shows in this terrifically illustrated simple parable about empathy. Sock Monkey insists that his red ball is absolutely his to do with as he pleases, but he quickly learns that it takes two to play ball! It's a piquant little parable that has tremendous meaning for all of life, and the notable author-illustrator Daniel Kirk captures it all in a simple story with two toys standing in for youngsters in a humorous piece of vicarious experience on what it means to be a friend.

Daniel Kirk is also the author-illustrator of the popular Library Mouse series, Honk Honk! Beep Beep! and Ten Things I Love About You.

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