BooksForKidsBlog

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

You Go, Ghost! Ready, Steady, Ghost by Elizabeth Baguley


MIDNIGHT! IT WAS TIME FOR GILBERT TO GO HAUNTING.

READY, STEADY, GHOST!

It is midnight on Halloween, and it's showtime for all ghosts!

With BOOOOs and WHOOOs, all the big ghosts wisp away, heading for caves and castles, and tall haunted houses. But it's Gilbert's first haunting, and he feels very small as he floats off into the darkness. He knows that he's not supposed to be afraid of the creatures of the night--howling wolves and slithery snakes, and roaring, red dragons, Gobble-Mes and Sizzle-Mes all--but  he feels like he's not up to the job of scaring them!
"SHIVER-ME, SHAKE-ME!

I NEED TO FIND A HOMEY HOUSE TO HAUNT, A COZY HOUSE, A LITTLE HOUSE!"

Lonelier than lonely, Gilbert slips through the darkness, growing even more intimidated by the deserted mansions and looming tombs where the big ghosts are busy haunting. He drifts on through the scary shadows, until he comes to a castle. It is big, but there is a dog there, one who looks like he might want to play. Gilbert wafts inside and up and up the grand staircase, with the dog following, until he comes to a door. It has a small keyhole, but not too small for Gilbert.

And inside the castle's attic there is... a small castle, a homey castle, with its teeny tiny king and queen, and parapets just the size for a very small ghost to haunt!

Elizabeth Baguley's Ready, Steady, Ghost! (Hyperion Books, 2014) is a good fit for those would-be little spooks and monsters who are still a little leery of venturing out into a darkling Halloween night themselves.

Baguley's text has just the right mix of enticing rhyme and alliterations with just the right teeny tiny touch of scariness. Artist Marion Lindsay's enticing illustrations in deep shades of blues and blacks are warmed by accents of orange and yellow, with well-placed page turns that build suspense, and Gilbert is a most non-threatening little spirit on his first venture outside. A few Britishisms dot the text, including in the title, which is the equivalent of American English for "ready, set, go," but all are understandable in context. This story has great eye appeal and empathy for preschoolers in the run up to the scary season, with plenty of charm and a cozy, homey conclusion that is a perfect fit for youngsters.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Boo! The Ghosts Go Haunting by Helen Ketteman

The kids are back to school at Mt. Tombs Elementary, assignments are written on the board, and their books are open on their desks, but the kids are still haunted--haunted by the ghost of summers past. If only something fun could happen!

And then...

THE GHOSTS GO HAUNTING, ONE BY ONE.
THE PRINCIPAL LEAPS FROM HIS CHAIR AND RUNS.
AND THEY ALL GO SCREECHING ALL OVER THE SCHOOL. BOO!
FOR SOME HALLOWEEN FUN.

What is this? The principal and teachers are all aghast! But their students are thrilled with the diversion of a spooky intrusion into the day's deadly drill.

The scary invaders continue: There are witches flying two by two, and then goblins groaning, moaning WOE, WOE, WOE! three by three. They chase the librarian away from her circulation desk, but not without a fight, as she bravely stamps one OVERDUE.

A diversion was overdue, the kids giggle, as they watch bats flying down the hall, four by four, FLAP! FLAP! FLAP! FLAP! as the teachers exit through the front door.

Monsters come five by five, stomping and clomping, capturing the computer repairman alive. Black cats hiss, six by six, and the nurse goes down like a load of bricks.

Spiders creep, seven by seven, and mummies moan, eight by eight. Nine by nine, skeletons come rattling their chains, and then come the zombies, stumbling and mumbling

BRAINS! BRAINS! BRAINS!

No one is left, not the janitor, not the coach, not even the lovely lunch ladies, except for the kids, of course. And they declare it a holiday ...

AND THE WHOLE SCHOOL PARTIES FOR THE REST OF THE DAY.

Helen Ketteman's latest jolly Halloween fare, The Ghosts Go Haunting (Albert Whitman and Company, 2014) combines a counting lesson with some pre-holiday Halloween fun for the students at Mt. Tombs Elementary. To Ketteman's rhymes, borrowed from the familiar "The Ants Go Marching" nursery song, artist Adam Record adds some visual humor to the mix as the students make the most of his comic Halloween preview. Ketteman even appends diagrams of one by one to ten by ten for some early grade counting/multiplication practice to add to the counting fun in the text itself. For another Ketteman Halloween treat, pair this one with her At the Old Haunted House.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

To See the Sun: Ivan--The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate

IN LEAFY CALM,
IN GENTLE ARMS,
A GORILLA'S LIFE BEGAN.

Not yet named Ivan, a baby gorilla was born into an Eden-like place, a family of low-land gorillas. He played and learned gorilla ways with other young ones.

But this idyllic life ended abruptly.

POACHERS WITH LOUD GUNS
AND CRUEL HANDS
STOLE THE LITTLE GORILLA
AND ANOTHER BABY.

At the age of six months, the little gorilla and another infant were taken by poachers and sold to a company in faraway Tacoma, Washington. In the 1960s, in the early days of indoor malls, owners tried all sorts of attractions, and in this one there was a small zoo, one with an elephants, chimps, and a seal. The owners publicized their exhibits by running a contest to name the new young gorillas, and the winning names were Ivan and Burma. Although little Burma did not live long in captivity, Ivan was raised by the mall's keeper at his home and in some ways lived like a human child with this family for three years.

HE SLEPT IN A BED,
AND WENT TO BASEBALL GAMES.

HE HAD TO LEARN MANY THINGS
GORILLAS IN THE WILD
DON'T NEED TO KNOW.

But Ivan soon outgrew his human family. Befitting his size and strength, his new home was a concrete enclosure at the center of the mall with a window where shoppers could watch him and he could watch them. He watched his own television set, a reminder of his life with humans, and he still loved to make pictures.

HE FINGER-PAINTED,
SIGNING THE PAPERS
WITH HIS THUMBPRINT.

Although he never saw the sunlight and the colors of the outside world, Ivan remembered them and usually chose bright colors for his paintings. Red was his favorite.

Ivan was Tacoma's "Shopping Mall Gorilla" for 27 years. But over those years, attitudes about captive animals changed. Finally, groups of animal rights protesters campaigned to have Ivan removed from his concrete prison and taken to a more natural habitat for an adult gorilla. Because he had had no life with other gorillas since infancy, Ivan didn't know what he was. He was moved to the zoo in Atlanta and spent some time alone in a transitional enclosure, until at last he was ready to return to a sunlit, green world with others like him.

PEOPLE CHEERED
AND WEPT WITH JOY.

IVAN, THE SHOPPING MALL GORILLA,
WAS IN A PLACE WITH TREES
AND GRASS.
IN LEAFY CALM.
A GORILLA'S LIFE BEGAN AGAIN.

Katherine Applegate's forthcoming picture book, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2014), tells the real story of the gorilla Ivan that she had fleshed out in her Newbery-winning 2013 novel, The One and Only Ivan (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2013).(See my 2013 review here.) For younger readers here, Applegate's lovely language conveys her theme, drawing together the story of a very intelligent animal, caught between two worlds, two worlds in which he is compelled to live as an alien in both.

Noted artist G. Brian Karas captures the story perfectly in evocative line and wash illustrations, transitioning from Ivan sheltered in his mother's arms in his glady home to charming images of little Ivan in baseball cap and yellow sweater and under his blankie in bed, only to contrast his stark and sterile life in the mall. Karas varies his palette appropriately, from the greenery scenery of Africa to the dark captivity of the shipping crate, from the homey human world of cookies and motorcycle rides, to his lonely and bleak existence as a mall amusement, and finally again to the sun and companionship of other gorillas in his final long-term home at ZooAtlanta.

Ivan's true story gives young readers a new understanding of animals, especially captive wild animals and how they should be allowed to live among us. As in her earlier book, the author respectfully shows that each individual life, even that of a gentle and artistic great ape, can have meaning and impact on the lives of others.

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

On Duty: I Am a Witch's Cat by Harriet Muncaster

MY MOM IS A WITCH AND I AM HER SPECIAL WITCH'S CAT!

Our girl is observant, and all the evidence points to her conclusion: Mom is a witch!

There are bottles and vials of potions on the vanity in the bathroom that Mom forbids her to touch!

Mom stocks up on jars of green and red eyeballs and warty little green fingers!

She has an garden with strong-smelling herbs which she picks and dries in little bundles!

Her friends gather sometimes at night, sitting in a circle and cackling a lot!

She can make a cut finger or scraped knee stop hurting instantly!

Cauldrons simmer and steam on the stove! And she has a very nice broom!

The only thing a good witch like her mom needs is a familiar, a special companion animal to sit on her lap and help her in the garden.

It's a hard job but somebody has to do it! And our girl has a head-to-toe cat costume, complete with ears and tail, so she's all set to be the witch's cat, ready to go on duty or to hop on the broom at any time her mom says the magic words.

Harriet Muncaster's latest, I Am a Witch's Cat (Harper, 2014), features a fetching little witch's familiar, her darling daughter, ready for action on Halloween or any time at all. Muncaster's readers will giggle at the little girl's interpretation of her mom's beauty creams as potions and her jars of stuffed olives and gherkins as eyeballs and shrunken green fingers, and the author's charming multimedia artwork extends the simple text humorously by slyly and subtly revealing the true nature of Mom's supposed magic craft to sharp-eyed readers. Publishers Weekly gives this one a starred review, and Kirkus Reviews adds, "This heartwarming look at the close bond between mother and daughter stands out for its clever twist and stunningly detailed artwork."

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Light and Dark: Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

Before moonrise, a child can be seen, reading with a handlight inside a tent in the woods. It is very dark. But...

He has a flashlight. What a difference a little light can make.

In the spreading beam of his little light he ventures out to join the creatures of the night--mice nibbling on fallen strawberries, bats at work, a big-eyed owl, a sneaky skunk, two deer in his headlight, a big raccoon and then three little ones, fish in a pond, a beaver dam, and, where there's a beaver dam... there's a beaver.

As the rising moon slides higher in the sky, one little moth seems to be shadowing the boy as he steps lightly under the trees. The moth poses on a tree trunk for his moment in the limelight, while the animals trail him from the undergrowth. He turns back to his tent, and crawls inside, leaving the flashlight out there for the mice in the moonlight to hold for him while he finishes his bedtime story.

In her wordless new picture book,  Flashlight (Chronicle Books, 2014), helps children appreciate the world of the summer night.  Artist Boyd makes the most of the darkness, with a soft black background and figures done in gray line. With the added use of cutouts, the flashlight illuminates the colors of plants and animals on succeeding pages. A perfect die cut circle first highlights the moon, and as the pages turn, the die cuts foreshadow what the next page turn brings--flowers, mushrooms, and creatures peeping from their dens.  There are plenty of discoveries on each page for young readers as our little nocturnal adventurer explores night in the woods. School Library Journal gives this one a starred review, as does Kirkus, who calls it "soothing and gently humorous."

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Friday, September 26, 2014

What Else Is Out There? Lives of the Explorers: Discoveries, Disasters (And What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull

This book is about the explorers as human beings--warts, egos, and all. Some were not well-liked by their neighbors or anyone else; many were cruel. But all were bold and determined. They were men and women who took a deep breath, got up out of their chairs, and went adventuring by land, sea, or air.

One thing is certain: explorers were not like everyone else.

Who knew that Leif Ericson and his Viking sailors slept doubled up in animal hide sacks to save space on their longboats? Or that Leif had his own woodworking shop to while away the long, dark hours when he and his family were Greenland's lonely, only remaining settlers?

Who knew that the western Indians thought the unwashed Lewis and Clark explorers were too smelly to powwow with? Or that Meriwether Lewis was shot in the backside by one of his men, who somehow mistook him for an elk?

And then there was Isabella Bird, a thrill-seeking Englishwoman who loved Hawaii, did not love Australia, and who gave serious consideration to marrying a mountain man, the one-eyed Rocky Mountain Jim, who won her heart (but not her hand) when he hoisted her onto his broad shoulders to reach the summit of Pike's Peak.

And there was the amazingly staid Quaker discoverer, Captain James Cook, whose success in circumnavigating the globe was due in no small measure to his penchant for cleanliness, calisthenics for his officers, and daily servings of sauerkraut, which kept his crew free of scurvy. But who knew that this world-class mariner, who survived not one, but two round-the-world ocean voyages, succumbed on his third voyage because he had neglected to learn to swim?

Kathleen Krull's forthcoming Lives of the Explorers: Discoveries, Disasters (and What the Neighbors Thought) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) is her latest expedition in her remarkably readable collective biography series, What the Neighbors Thought. Not only does Krull cover the accomplishments and eccentricities of better known explorers such as Marco Polo, Daniel Boone, Henry Hudson, Richard Byrd, and Sally Ride; she also includes lesser-known luminaries of the age of discovery--Ibn Battuta, born in 1304, who traveled the known world from Gibraltar to Russia to the site of Beijing in China, Zheng He, Chinese admiral who commanded a fleet of fifty ships to establish contact with India, Arabia, and East Africa in the fourteenth century, and Matthew Hensen, African-American polar explorer who was actually the first human to set foot on the North Pole.

In short, humorous, but fact-filled vignettes, illustrated with humorous caricature portraits and clear maps by Kathryn Hewitt, Kathleen Krull brings her twenty quirky and courageous discoverers to life with choice factoids (African explorer Mary Kingsley once shared her boat cabin with four corpses the crew couldn't fit into the hold) and gossipy tidbits about how their contemporaries often viewed their behavior (Kingsley picked up swear words in several languages and took both God's and Allah's name in vain, shocking her neighbors back in England). Author Krull's historical "lives" are not your father's biography tomes, but lively accounts of those extraordinary but very human discoverers in history who brought the whole world home to us.

Appended is an extended bibliography for those young readers whose appetites for the weird and wonderful trailblazers of history are whetted by Krull's accounts.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Morphing the Monster: The Monsterator by Keith Graves

MASTER EDGAR DREADBURY
FOUND HALLOWEEN A BORE.

THE WHOLE BUSINESS OF COSTUMES
WAS A MISERABLE CHORE.

Master Edgar has the spooky mansion, the scary tree outside his window, the jack o' lantern on his candle stand, and the Eddie Munster haircut already. He hardly needs any Halloweenification. But duty calls, and after Edgar rejects his old vampire, zombie, and clown costumes, he drags himself downtown to shop for something suitable. Suddenly he spots a store he'd never seen before, The Emporium. It certainly has the right atmosphere.

IT WAS DANK AND DARK AS A CELLAR.

"SERVICE!!" HE CALLED.

When no one appears, Edgar looks around on his own. But there are no costumes to be seen.

But then he does see something that looks promising. It's a musty, dusty contraption with an enticing name:THE MONSTERATOR! The phlegmatic Edgar guesses instantly what this machine is supposed to do.

"OH, WHY NOT?"

Edgar puts his dime in the slot, steps inside, and ....

As electric sparks crackle through his body, his hair stands on end and Edgar quivers, shivers, and...

EDGAR WAS MONSTERATED

FROM HIS KNEES TO HIS NOSE

AND MONSTERATED SOME MORE; FROM HIS TEETH TO HIS TOES.

And it's GREAT! Edgar has horns. He's hairy and scary, with dragon scales and tail. He's gorgeously gruesome and he scares the heck out of everyone. It's the best Halloween ever.

But when Edgar is done chasing yowling black cats, squeamish squirrels, and terrified trick-or-treating tots, he returns for his de-Monsteration! But... The Emporium, Monsterator and all, has vanished.

Has Edgar learned his lesson? Has he seen the folly of trying to fool Mother Nature? Is he filled with regret? Is there some wise wizard troll or hairy fairy ready to reverse his monstrous transformation?

Uh, NO. And Edgar likes it that way, in Keith Graves' duly droll The Monsterator (Roaring Brook Press, 2014). As illustrator, the appropriately surnamed Graves offers all the trappings and tropes of the monster mansion, done up in suitably somber and murky tones, and as author his quaint and curious quatrains summon up the spirit of that other Edgar (Poe), while providing some delightfully funny rhymes.

But... THERE'S MORE! At the back of the book Graves provides readers with their own chance to monsterate Edgar with a stack of quarter-page flip pages so that kids can re-form Edgar from head to toe with a total of 625 new monsterated versions of our hero. This book is a total hoot--one kids will love to share as they combine and re-combine the possibilities. The book will wear out before the kids do, making Graves' The Monsterator a sure-fire hit for scary season reading.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Don't Forget the Lights! Little Blue Truck's Christmas by Alice Schertle

Christmastide is near, and Blue Truck is loaded with cheer!

Well, he will be when he fills his load bed with Christmas greenery. And what does Little Blue Truck do as Christmas draws nearer?

FIVE TREES READY
TO TAKE A RIDE.
HOW MANY TREES
WILL FIT INSIDE?

Stopping by Toad's Trees, Blue counts them up as Toad loads them up, and one by one Little Brown counts them down as he delivers them to his best friends.

Who needs a tree? Goose honks for Blue to stop and unload tree #5. It's a big one, and Goose needs it as her ten goslings, in festive red hats, climb up to perch on its branches.

At her barn with its jolly colored fringe of lights, Cow moos for the tallest tree, and now Blue has only three.

As befits her size, Pig orders up a fat one, and Goat selects a short one to hoist high to her three-storied stalls for her three kids. Now Little Blue Truck has only one evergreen left in the load bed.

Who will get the very last tree?

"BEEP! BEEP, BEEP!
THIS ONE'S FOR ME!"

And kids' eyes will shine as with the last page turn, Little Blue Truck's tree comes to life with its own blinking, twinkling lights for Blue and Toad to enjoy. In her just-published Little Blue Truck's Christmas (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) veteran holiday storyteller Alice Schertle's scintillatingly simple verses and illustrator Jill McElmurray's bedecked anthropomorphic little truck and seasonal scenes provide the perfect kickoff to the holiday fun, especially when it's time for trimming the tree. Of course, author and artist take the opportunity to provide a bit of preschool counting practice in the process. The publisher even kindly provides instructions for replacing the batteries for Little Blue's lights so that they may sparkle for many a season.

Schertle and McElmurry's other terrific Little Blue Truck books are the best-selling Little Blue Truck Board Book and Little Blue Truck Leads the Way board book (see reviews here).

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Mystery of the Missing Maps: The Map Trap by Andrew Clements

Alton's thing for maps began before he was born.

It wasn't like there had been some kind of master plan to turn Alton Zeigler into a map nut. Lack of planning was what started it all. If Alton's mom and dad had planned better, they would have studied one of those "name your baby" books and had a name all picked out. But they hadn't done that. And therefore, as his dad was driving Alton's mom to the hospital, she pulled a coffee-stained Illinois road map from the pocket of the car door and began reading aloud from the long list of town names.

"...Alma, Alpha, Alsey...Alto Pass, Alton, Amboy--"

"Wait!" his dad said. That's it!"

"What?--Amboy! That's a terrible name for a..."

"No, no," his dad said, "Alton! Alton Ziegler!"

Alton it was, and to commemorate the naming, Alton's mom framed and hung the Illinois map over his crib. His family got in on the act, sending a rug with a U.S. map and a globed lamp of the earth to revolve over his crib.
And mappish things started to happen.

Alton's first crawl was on that rug, from Texas to Michigan. And by the time he was seven, the maps in the National Geographic magazines were his favorite reading matter. Soon Alton began to make his own maps, not just of places, but of other sorts of information. He started geo-caching in the primary grades, and eventually, his wardrobe featured nothing but map tees, and so, by sixth-grade, Alton Zeigler was known far and wide at Harper Middle School as their greatest geo-geek.

And that's when creating maps got Alton into a dilemma.

He had branched out into charting all kinds of information besides landforms. There was his map of the sizes of his classmates, done in the format of a topograpical map, from the shortest kid, Cal Virden as Virdon Valley to the tallest, Emma Wilson at five feet eight inches, as Mount Wilson. There was the map of "Mrs. Wheeling's Brain," complete with her mass of frizzy hair, and a Venn diagram of his class in the cafeteria, with circles for the nerds, jocks, nobodies, and the populars. There was even a chart of how often the principal said "um" when she made morning announcements. Alton thought they were pretty witty, but he had enough wit to realize that he'd be dead meat if his teachers and classmates got a look at them, so at school he kept them hidden behind a bookshelf near his desk.

That is, until the day when he couldn't resist showing some of his maps to Quint. Quint was smart, in the cafeteria's popular circle, and a pretty funny guy himself, and he thought those maps were a hoot. But the next time Alton reached for his folder behind the bookshelf, it was gone. He quickly determined that Quint wasn't the one who swiped the folder, but when he started finding mysterious ransom notes tucked into his books or desk, Quint realized that someone has his incriminating maps and knows just how to use them as blackmail. Surprisingly, Quint seems eager to help him figure out the whodunit, delighted to be a detective in what he calls "The Mystery of the Missing Maps." He even offered a suspect, Elena, who was watching them in the library when Alton showed Quint the maps.

And Alton knows he and Quint had better sleuth out the thief and get the maps back pronto, or he's going to be in big trouble with the principal, his teachers, and everyone in the sixth grade.

Andrew Clements' latest, The Map Trap (Atheneum Books, 2014), like his many middle grader novels, offers a main character who wants to do the right thing, whatever that is, along with solid supporting characterizations, witty dialog, and and crackling plot that leaves the real perpetrator in doubt all the way to the final pages. Author Clements amazingly turns out hit after hit, and this one is abetted by the drawings of notable artist Dan Andreason. As the New York Times punningly reports, "...this stand-alone story is off the charts."

Other killer-diller middle reader fare from Clements includes his perennial best-selling award-winner Frindle, No Talking, The Report Card, and Lunch Money.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

I Vant to Be Alone! Pardon Me! by Daniel Miyares

It's roosting time, and an odd yellow bird apparently has had a bad day. Cruising over the swamp, he lands on a small hummock and settles his feathers grumpily to rest.

But some other creatures have the same idea. A big white crane soon plops down beside him. The yellow bird is peeved.

A friendly frog hops ashore and politely asks permission to join them. The yellow bird is aggrieved. A turtle crawls up and asks politely for space. Yellow bird replies sarcastically:

"PARDON ME?"

"SURE, THE ENTIRE SWAMP'S HERE ALREADY.

WHY SHOULDN'T YOU BE?"

Yellow bird's feathers are ruffled, and he's spoiling for a fight, when a fox jumps over and speaks with some urgency.

"PARDON ME, BUT YOU'RE SITTING ON A ..."

Yellow bird has had it with the interlopers, the whole lot of them!

"WELL, PARDON ME! THIS IS MY PERCH! NOW LEAVE ME ALONE!"

Suddenly the whole lot of them fly, swim, and leap away. Yellow Bird settles down, self-satisfied at the way he dispatched the squatters. Alone at last.

Or not. What did the fox want to say? Just that that hummock in the swamp isn't what it seems. With an artful page turn we see that it's... an alligator, one who also wants to be alone. Right after dinner.

BURP!

PARDON ME!

There's safety in numbers is the wry premise of Daniel Miyares' Pardon Me! (Simon and Schuster, 2014). His main character's end comes ironically, but not regrettably, in this tart little swamp fable that will surprise and tickle the funny bones of kids who loved Jon Klaasen's notable I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat. Miyares' illustrations are equally spare and effective and display an artful use of color to set off this story of a just comeuppance... and a lot more.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Under Cover: The Boy on the Page by Peter Carnavas

ONE QUIET NIGHT, A SMALL BOY LANDED ON THE PAGE.

AT FIRST THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE.

Falling seemingly from nowhere, gaining form and color as he drops to the page, he finds himself in a featureless landscape. He picks himself up and tentatively begins to explore.

VERY SLOWLY, A WORLD BEGINS TO APPEAR.

The boy finds companions, a pink pig and a black and white penguin, and trees, fields, cows, birds, and then buildings come into view as he moves forward.

ONE QUESTION TROUBLED HIM.

WHY WAS HE HERE?

Courageously, the boy moves on, despite his unanswered question, as he grows older. He swims, rides a horse, even plays an accordion as they come to him. He paddles a canoe, grabs jumping fish, and clearly grows bigger, becoming a man. He builds a house, has a family, and celebrates birthdays. But he still wonders what he is doing on those pages.

Finally, as an old man with a long beard but without any answers to his question, he tries something else. He takes a brave leap and....

JUMPS OFF THE PAGE...

Ah, sweet mystery of Life! The one-time boy finds himself in a new place that is the old place, with everything and everyone he thought he had left behind, in Peter Carnavas' intriguing The Boy on the Page (Kane Miller, 2014).

Young readers will find author Carnavas' metafiction tale mystifying, unsettling, yet somehow satisfying. There are endless philosophies hidden in all this, nicely portrayed in familiar story-book style, in lovely black line and water colored illustrations, for young readers to puzzle over, although the conclusion lies not on the page. "A picture-book allegory about life and, to some extent, love," remarks Kirkus Reviews, for what it's worth. Author Carnavas playfully leaves us with a left-behind blank page, an open ending, upon which, we assume, we are free to picture whatever we want to make of it.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

All Together Now! Colors Vs. Shapes by Mike Boldt

"WE ARE GOING TO SHOW YOU HOW GREAT SHAPES ARE!"

"WAIT! WAIT! WAIT!

YOU SERIOUSLY THINK YOU'RE MORE TALENTED THAN WE ARE?

THIS BOOK IS ALREADY SQUARE!"

The talent competition on stage has just begun, and already the contestants are duking it out for the spotlight.

A crusty old alligator, acting as judge, tries to enforce some order, as the blobs of color rush forward to strut their best stuff.

"FOR STARTERS, STEP BACK AS BLUE AND YELLOW MIX IT UP!
HELLO, GREEN! ENVIOUS?"

But the shapes are not intimidated. They push their way to the front of the stage as two triangles bounce off a trampoline and, ta dum! land as...

A SQUARE!

And it's game on, in a match of Can You Top This? as the Shapes and Colors vie for applause.

Blue and Red make Purple! And the Shapes counter, adding a few more triangles. Voila! A Pentagon! A Hexagon!

The colors go wild, blending into a kaleidoscope of pink and turquoise and maroon and amber all over the stage.

The shapes knock themselves out, morphing into a nonagon, a rhombus, and, egad! An irregular polygon!

The colors and shapes get all mixed up on stage, and then...

SPLAT!

The Unthinkable occurs. RED and OCTAGON collide! The Unthinkable becomes SOMETHING NEW!

Realizing the possibilities that their combination makes actionable, the combined colors and shapes sort themselves into a whole multi-hued cityscape, with trees, houses, skyscrapers, a ship, and even a rainbow! Shapes take on colors, and each color takes its shape.

Everybody is a winner in Mike Boldt's latest concept book, Colors versus Shapes (Harper, 2014), a novel way to teach the basics (and the not-so-common) colors and shapes while slipping in a small plug for cooperation.  Pair this one with Boldt's comic companion book, 123 versus ABC for more competitive concept fun.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hear Life Murmur or See It Glisten! Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi

SOME BUGS BUILD

SOME BUGS MAKE

SOME BUGS HUNT

AND SOME BUGS TAKE.

It's a jungle out there!

Paper wasps build light, strong, homey hives. Some spiders make webs, and jumping spiders hunt. And columns of ants take whatever they want back home with them.

Grasshoppers glide, and leaf hoppers hide. Spiders bite, and Hercules bugs fight, locking horns in battle. Caterpillars crawl, while a sow bug rolls into a ball.

And just where can all this action be found?

..KNEEL DOWN CLOSE.

LOOK VERY HARD,

AND FIND SOME BUGS

IN YOUR BACKYARD.

How to identify all these busy bugs? Angela di Terlizzi's Some Bugs (Beach Lane Books, 2014) offers all of these creepy, crawly, flitting critters, along with an appendix, What's That Bug? with thumbnail drawings and names and information about her cast of characters--thrips, nymphs, earwigs and all. But DiTerlizzi's jolly verses almost take a back seat to the absolutely cutest bugs in non-fiction picture book land, created by artist Brendan Wenzel in fabulous design and colors that are fascinating to follow from page to page. Superstar illustrator-author Eric Carle calls this one "a delightful combination of pictures and words," and Publishers Weekly stars it and says, "Readers will feel transported to a summer day, when the air is musical and life is literally buzzing."

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Canned! Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000 by Dav Pilkey

If you're concerned about what is going on here, don't worry. George and Harold are confused, too. You see, George, Harold, and Captain Underpants had just undergone an epic adventure that started out in the dinosaur age and ended at their school, forty years in the future. Now, thanks to Melvin Sneedly (the tattletale genius) and his time-traveling Robo-Squid suit, they were all hurtling backwards in time. Back a long, long time ago to that dull, old-fashioned age known as the present.

Oh, I almost forgot. Traveling with them were three purple-and-orange-speckled eggs laid by their pet pterodactyl, who with their other pet, Sulu the bionic Hamster, had just saved the planet.

See? That wasn't confusing at all, was it?

Got it? Well, never mind, because George and Harold arrive back at their old school just at the moment they left, flushed down the Purple Potty. Sneedley informs the lads that they no longer are on the lam for the bank heist, back then, er, yesterday. He's hacked into the bank's computer and altered their surveillance tapes.

"Just don't grow a mustache or a beard anytime soon, and you guys'll be fine."says Sneedley.

So, with the evil Turbo Toilet 2000 stuck in the future, or whatever, the guys are fine. All they have to do is pretend to do their work in school while they draw comics to sell to their classmates to fund their fun and... But wait! The boys forgot that the next day back in the present was the big multiple-choice, timed-test day--and if they don't pass, they'll be stuck in Principal Krupp's elementary school for even more eons. Exhausted, they go to bed early, but awake to find that they've slept through their testing. Nooooo! Not another year in Ms. Ribble's miserable class at Jerome Horowitz Elementary School!

But wait! They can fix this. They sneak into Smedley's garage and borrow his time-traveling Robo-Suit and set it to take them back to yesterday so they can pass their tests. What could go wrong?

George and Harold ace their tests and dash to their tree house for some R & R and discover one tiny glitch...

George pushed the tree house door open and looked inside. "Oh, NOOOOOOO!" said George.

Harold climbed up and looked inside. There, sleeping at the table, was Harold himself. And next to him, snoring on the beanbag chair, was George.

"I don't understand," George whispered. "How come WE'RE here?"

"Oh, I get it," said Harold. "This is us from yesterday!"

George, Yesterday George, Harold, and Yesterday Harold are now a doppel gang of their very own, and the more the merrier, in Dav Pilkey's latest silly graphic novel saga, Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000 (Scholastic Press, 2014). In this eleventh book, not only are there two of this dynamic duo, but Mr. Krupp morphs into Captain Underpants on cue and Melvin Sneedley, Super Diaper Baby, and Mr. Krupp's faculty--Miss Anthrope, Mr. Meaner, Miss Labler, and Mr. Rected--all get cameo roles in the plot, until the hullabaloo flushes out the Turbo Toilet 2000 and he's finally sent down the tubes... But ...what about those extra Harolds and Georges?

"Oh, yeah!" said Yesterday Harold. " I guess there are a lot of loose ends in this story."

"Uh-oh! That can only mean one thing!" said Harold.

"Another SEQUEL!"

Kids need not despair. With two pairs of their heroes to screw up, there are bound to be still more Captain Underpants stories. "Subversively hilarious." says Publishers Weekly. "Dizzyingly silly!" adds Kirkus Reviews.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Can't Catch Me? Catch That Cookie! by Hallie Durand

IT WAS DECEMBER AND MARSHALL'S CLASS HAD HEARD STORIES ABOUT RUNAWAY GINGERBREAD MEN ALL WEEK LONG.

MARSHALL DIDN'T BELIEVE A WORD OF IT.

Marshall is one of those kids for whom the literary conceit of "a willing suspension of disbelief" is not an option.

Still, he buys into the idea of eating tasty gingerbread men, so he pitches in to mix the molasses into the stiff dough, wielding a mean mixing spoon. His teacher, Mrs. Gray, shows the class how to roll the dough out and use the cookie cutters to cut out the little guys, and then she lets each student design his own. Marshall gives his cookie a martial belt with silver balls, and since he really likes them, he give his man six raisin eyes. Finally, the gingerbread men go onto the cookie sheets and into the oven.

But when the class comes back and opens the oven...

THERE WAS NOTHING INSIDE!

"THEY RAN AWAY!" EVERYBODY YELLED!

MARSHALL DIDN'T BUY IT. "THEY CAN'T RUN!" HE REMARKS.

Marshall is skeptical, but he goes along with the group and they find a note pinned to a door. Mrs. Gray seems just a little too excited as she reads the rhyming clue to the class. "Candy" leads them to "sandy," which their sand table definitely is, where they find another clue, and then another as they make their way down the hall toward the gym. On the way Marshall spots a clue of his own--an oven-crispy raisin.

Now Marshal begins to doubt his own doubt.

And then the clues lead them to the gymnasium, where Marshall discovers indisputable proof, a silver dragee from his gingerbread man's belt. And in the middle of the floor, there are tiny tracks, like those a gingerbread man might make, if a gingerbread man could make tracks!

Okay. Marshall decides just to get his head inside the game. If gingerbread men could get tired of running away, what would they do next?

"THOSE GUYS PLAYED HARD," MARSHALL THOUGHT.

"THEY'RE TAKING A NAP!"

And if they did, Marshall knows exactly where to find them, in Hallie Durand's brand-new Catch That Cookie! (Dial Press, 2014). Given that tracking down those runaway gingerbread men is a popular ploy for taking preschool kids on a tour of their new school, Durand's book is likely to get around schools as fast as her cookie dudes do. Caldecott-winning artist David Small provides the quirky details of the chase, with his dubious, red-headed and stubborn Marshall finally playing along with the pursuit for the fun of it--that is, until the cookies are discovered and come to their, ahem, usual conclusion, true to their folk tale tradition:

Now, what does the fox say? Oh, yeah!

Snip! Snap! Snout!
My tale's told out
.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Middle school is like one of those highway restrooms in the middle of nowhere. It's dirty and smelly, and crowded with strange people.

Like the goth kid. He's always in black. He has a pierced ear, eyebrow, and nose; he must set off metal detectors in airports.

When her best friend since Kindergarten splits off to bond with the volleyball girl-jock clique, Ellie feels lost in the crowd at her new middle school. It seems everyone has their thing, but Ellie is a girl who hasn't found her thing yet. And that's not her worst problem.

A tray smacks down on the table across from me.

"Can you believe this?" my grandfather demands.

He's wearing navy-blue polyester pants, a button-up shirt with tie, and a V-neck sweater with his tweed jacket. He definitely stands out, fashion-wise.

"Three dollars for a school lunch?" he says. He polishes off his corn dog in a few bites and then looks at my lunch.

"Are you going to eat that?" he asks.

I sigh and push it over.

It seems Ellie's 76-year-old grandfather, with two PhDs in biology, has discovered the genetics of jellyfish regeneration, and being dedicated to reversing aging through science, has done the first human trial on himself. It worked. But since he's now a thirteen-year-old boy, with a massive adolescent appetite and zits to boot, he has to live with Ellie and her mother. And since he's now a minor, he can't drive and he has to be enrolled in school--Ellie's middle school, unfortunately.

Riding the bus and eating lunch with a "cousin" who is her persnickety science-obsessed grandfather is hard enough. But Melvin, whose sudden disappearance as a professor emeritus and loss of access to his university lab has made it impossible for him to continue his work, is determined to get his T. Melvinius specimens and publish what he is sure will be a Nobel-prize winning discovery; and for that he enlists Ellie's help to break into his lab and steal back his jellyfish genes before they expire. But for this caper, Melvin and Ellie need someone suitably stealthy with access to a car and driver. The black-garbed goth boy, Raj, is drafted because he is smart and has an older brother with an inconspicuous car and need for additional income. Grandpa Melvin is certain that with his specimens he can continue his work that will end human aging and save the world. Persuasively, he introduces Ellie to the work of Madame Curie, Salk, Oppenheimer and Einstein, scientists whose discoveries did change human existence.

At first, Ellie is intrigued with the adventure of science--discoveries that can expand human possibilities:

"Scientists never give up... because they believe in the possible." proclaims Melvin.

"The possible?" I ask.

"That it's possible to create a cure for polio. That it's possible to sequence the human genome. That it's possible to reverse aging. That science can change the world." he says.

And I get it.

Ellie agrees to help Melvin complete his work. It is exciting to think that it is possible to end the diseases of aging. That seems like a good thing.

But as she reads more about those scientists Melvin describes, she realizes that there is more than one possible outcome from some of these discoveries. She reads Oppenheimer's words after the first detonation of the atomic bomb.

"We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent."

And Ellie sees what her grandfather in his passion for discovery does not--that an end to human aging would mean that the world would never be the same, in many, many ways, some not so good. She determines that she cannot be one of those who keep silent.

Three-time Newbery winner Jennifer L. Holm's just published The Fourteenth Goldfish (Random House, 2014) is a middle-school novel that has it all, comic family conflicts in which her 13-year-old grandpa tries to tell her mother how short her skirts can be, a believable middle-school social scene with all the usual suspects, action episodes of lab break-ins and car chases, and a plug for science, all entertainingly wrapped around a serious theme of looking at all the possibilities of scientific discovery. Holm's writing is light-handed, respectful while it pokes fun at its well-drawn characters, but leaving the middle reader with an introduction to what possibility really means in human life.

Publishers Weekly gives Holm's latest a starred review, and The New York Times adds "Youth, old age, life, death, love, possibilities and—oh yes—goldfish all come together in this warm, witty and wise novel."

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

What Everyone Needs: The Little Bear Book by Anthony Browne

"HELLO, GORILLA.

I KNOW WHAT YOU NEED."

A little white bear, wearing only a jaunty red bow tie and carrying only a pencil, sets out for a walk in a forest.

First he meets a gorilla, a sad and lonely gorilla. Little Bear sees that what Gorilla needs is a friend. Quickly he draws a miniature version of himself and hands it to Gorilla, who sits down against a tree and cuddles his new little bear.

Little Bear walks on until he meets a crocodile, his big, scary mouth wide open. Little Bear knows what to do: he draws a trumpet and sticks it quickly in Crocodile's mouth. That should keep Croc busy... and making music.

Little Bear meets a disgruntled lion and intuits just what he needs--a kingly crown--and Lion departs with his royal head held high.

Finally, he greets an elephant and Little Bear just knows that Elephant needs a little white mouse to protect. Leaving the two to get to know each other, Little Bear walks away, his work done. But he soon comes to a wall. How can he get himself out of this story?

In a simple story in which most youngsters will recognize the premise used so famously in Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon Board Book, the much-loved Anthony Browne's offers The Little Bear Book (Candlewick Press, 2014). Browne is one of those author-illustrators who finds no imaginative limits within the flat and foursquare pages of a book. His ventures into magical realism go back to his early Piggybook, in which greedy piggish behavior spreads throughout the house, with the big roses on the wallpaper morphing into pig faces as the sloppy dad and boys become more piglike daily, and have continued through his more recent books such as Gorilla and Little Beauty (see my 2009 review here). Little Bear's special powers to give others what they need is a metaphor for the writer and artist, a meaning that children will understand with their hearts.

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