BooksForKidsBlog

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Going Dotty: Not Just a Dot by Loryn Brantz

What's a dot? It's only a spot.

Or so Dot feels.

"I'M JUST A LITTLE HOLE. NOBODY NEEDS ME."

Poor Dot doesn't seem to know what to do with herself.

But then--she gets some salient suggestions.

THIS DALMATIAN LOOKS LIKE HE NEEDS YOU.

A Dalmation is missing just one spot, and then a one-eyed cartoon guy is short of an eye... and who can ask a question without a dot at the bottom of the question mark? And little Dot has got the right stuff to fill those slots!

"I GUESS I AM JUST A LITTLE BIT USEFUL," DOT ADMITS.

Loryn Brantz' Not Just a Dot (Sky Pony Books, 2014) uses her stylized illustrative style to set off her main character, who manages to project a lot of personality with her eyes, not a small feat for a black circle. Dot finds her place in the grand scheme of things, and, as Brantz points out, if you get far enough from Earth, we all are just little dots, a philosophical point of view that gives Dot a different perspective on it all.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

When It Rains....: Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Who I Am--A Girl Named Rose (Rows)

I am Rose Howard and my first name has a homonym. To be accurate, it has a homophone.

I like homonyms a lot. And I like words. Rules and numbers too. Here is the order in which I like these things.
1. Words (especially homonyms)
2. Rules
3. Numbers (especially prime numbers.

My official diagnosis is high-functioning autism, which some people call Asperger's syndrome.

Although she's advanced in reading and math skills, Rose has a hard time in school. As she is able to observe, only one person in her class, Parvani, has any interest in her long list of homonyms. Rose deals with anxiety by shouting out prime numbers, which even Parvani has no interest in and which her other classmates find either scary, bizarre, or hilarious. And Rose feels obligated to point out the slightest lapse in rules, even her teacher's, so that she is assigned an aide to sit with her and take her out into the hall when her outbursts distract the class.

But Rose has her dog, Rain (with seven white toes and three homophones, reign and rein), which her father brought home, wet and lost late one night, from the Luck of the Irish Bar where he was drinking. Rain greets her joyfully every afternoon when Uncle Weldon drives her home from school and keeps her company at night when her father is out. Rose knows the rules of dog care, and she makes sure that she follows them all with Rain.

Then when a Hurricane Susan moves inland to where she lives, her father lets Rain out into the storm during the night, and she doesn't come back. To keep herself from falling apart, Rose works out a methodical strategy to find her pet. On a local map she draws concentric circles with her house at the center and enters the names of all the animal shelters in the area.  She begins calling with the nearest ones, and when Rain is not reported found, moves on to the next circle. Then, in the last circle, the manager of Happy Tails Shelter tells her that she has a dog with seven white toes, and Rose knows it has to be her Rain.

But she also finds out that Rain has a microchip who shows that her owners are a family named Henderson who have left their storm-damaged house and cannot be located right away. But for Rose, rules are rules, and she feels that she must find that family and return their dog to them. But her father doesn't understand.

Rose's father seems furious. Out of work and silent, he leaves every night after supper, and Rose spends a lot of time alone in her room, staying out of his way, glad that Uncle Weldon still drives her to school and back. But Rose is still anxious, and one afternoon, something happens.

"Do you have a minute?" Uncle Weldon asks.

My father steps away from the hood of his truck. He wipes his hands on a rag that is hanging out of his pocket. "I guess."

"Well, I've been thinking. Rose here... Rose here should have another dog. Don't you agree?"

My father snorts. "
Rose here didn't appreciate the dog she had, the one I got her. She gave it back when she could have kept it."

I was trying to do something nice for her. The one great thing I did. The one
great thing...."

"But a dog--" Uncle Weldon said. "It's lonely for her. I mean, when you aren't around."

"You think you know best? You don't know best. NOT ANOTHER WORD!" My father slaps his hands on the side of his truck.

"Are you sure you know what's best for Rose?' Uncle Weldon asks quietly.

And then one evening, after midnight, Rose's father wakes her with one sentence.

"I'm taking you to Weldon's."

"My father is gone," Rose says to her uncle when she is left at his door.

Newbery author Ann M. Martin's Rain Reign (Feiwel and Friends, 2014) displays the essence of realistic fiction in a novel that has the power to reveal human personality with all its flaws and virtues. Rose is an admirable and resilient character who tells it as she sees it; as flawed as he is, her father loves her enough to see that his brother is right about what is best for his daughter; and even Rose's teachers and classmates are finely drawn from life. In its depth and the insight revealed for each character, this book is a real tour de force for this notable author, one that should be in every library for every child. Kirkus Reviews says, "... no fluff here, just sophisticated, emotionally honest storytelling." And Booklist concurs, "A strong story told in a nuanced, highly accessible way."

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

And the Winner Is.... 2014 National Book Award For Young People's Literature

... Jacqueline Woodson, three-time finalist and first time winner) for her free verse novel Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014), winner of the 2014 National Book Foundation Award for Young People's Literature.  (See my review October 27 review here.)

Woodson was also a 2009 Newbery Honor Medal winner for After Tupac and D Foster.

Other short-listed finalists of books for young adults were Eliot Schrefer, for Threatened (Scholastic Press), Deborah Wiles, for Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy), (Scholastic Press), John Corey Whaley, for Noggin. (Atheneum Press), and Steve Sheinkin, for The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights (Roaring Brook Press).

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Jack's Back! A Bean, A Stalk, and A Boy Named Jack by William Joyce

Once upon a time, there was trouble, right here in Royal City. Not famine or fire or feuding, exactly, but still big trouble.

THE KING'S ROYAL PINKY
HAD BECOME STINKY!

The rains hadn't come in quite a while, and well, frankly, the King was as stinky as the rest of the unwashed peasants in the kingdom..

At first he sent for noblemen and women and ordered them to weep and wail until he collected enough tears for a bit of a wash! But there's a limit to tears, even under duress! And besides, the Princess is totally embarrassed by the whole thing.

People begged the Royal Wizard to do something!

"PUL-LEEZE!"

And...

THERE WAS A SMALLISH GREEN BEAN, AS REGULAR AS THEY COME.

And...

THERE WAS ALSO A SMALLISH KID

WITH THE SMALLISH NAME OF JACK

AND A SMALLISH COW. NO GREAT SHAKES.

Everyone knows what happens when a smallish boy gets his hands on a smallish bean, and this Jack soon has an enormous beanstalk. There's nothing left to do but climb it, and so he does.

At the top he follows some impressive plumbing until he comes to a room and sees a giant bathtub full of giant bubbles, and lolling in the suds, he sees ...

A SMALLISH GIANT KID NAMED DON.

Jack thinks it's time to make a deal.

"SO, DON--"

"YES, JACK?"

"BEEN IN THE TUB LONG?"

"A LONG TIME. MY PINKY WAS STINKY."

Jack thinks he's found the reason that the rains haven't fallen on the kingdom. He and Don's mom agree that it's past time to pull the plug on bath boy.

It's down the drain with Don's bathwater and Jack, as the water cascades down the beanstalk, and soon the kingdom has plenty. The king's pinky is no longer stinky, and Jack and Princess Blah ("You can call me Jill!") find they share a mutual fondness for water pails.

Everyone lives happy (or at least clean) ever after, sorta, in William Joyce's fractured take on the venerable Jack tale, A Bean, a Stalk and a Boy Named Jack (Monobot/Atheneum Books, 2014). Nobody gets eaten or even chased down a beanstalk here, but with tongue in cheek, Joyce's narration, assisted well by the quirky and clever cartoon illustrations of Kerry Callicutt, pokes gentle fun at the familiar fairy tale which will tickle some giggles out of folktale-savvy young readers. Says Kirkus, "Joyce and Callicutt royally fracture the familiar folk tale in this high-concept romp."

Pair this one with Tomie dePaola's rewrite of the Jack tale, in his brand-new picture book, Jack

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Roots: Gus & Me by Keith Richards

Who knew?

Before there was "Satisfaction" and "Brown Sugar," there was "Malaguena" and Grandpa Gus.

Keith Richards, rhythm guitarist and co-writer with Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, first heard a guitar played by his grandfather, Theodore Augustus Dupree, "Grandpa Gus" to Keith. An only child. little Keith loved to spend the day with his grandfather "who lived in a house full of instruments and cake." Gus, who had led a dance band called Gus Dupree' and his Boys, played piano, violin, and saxophone, but it was his guitar that sounded best to his admiring grandson. Gus like to take Keith for long walks with his dog, Mr. Thomas Wolff, sometimes talking, and sometimes just singing or humming, symphonies or jazz ballads or hot dance tunes. Once they walked all the way to London, to a shop that made and repaired musical instruments, and Keith was never the same.

MY EYES FOLLOWED A LINE OF GUITARS THAT SNAKED AROUND THE ROOM ON A CONVEYOR BELT. IT WAS MAGIC. AND RIGHT THEN, RIGHT THERE, I FELL IN LOVE WITH INSTRUMENTS.

WHEN GUS AND I GOT BACK TO HIS HOUSE, I TOOK A LONG LOOK AT THAT GUITAR THAT ALWAYS SAT ON TOP OF THE PIANO. IT SEEMED MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN EVER. ALL I WANTED WAS TO MAKE THE STRINGS GO. BUT I COULDN'T REACH IT.

"WHEN YOU'RE TALL ENOUGH, YOU CAN HAVE A GO," GUS SAID.

ONE DAY I FELT LIKE I WAS TALL ENOUGH TO GRAB IT.

"ALL YOURS," GUS SAID.

HE SAT BESIDE ME. "WHEN YOU CAN PLAY "MALAGUENA," HE SAID, "YOU CAN PLAY ANYTHING."

With Gus's lessons, Keith worked day after day at the difficult Spanish song, until at last Gus nodded.

"I THINK YOU'VE GOT THE HANG OF IT," GUS SAID.

And indeed he had. Keith Richards' lovingly crafted memoir of his Grandpa Gus, Gus & Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar (Little, Brown, and Company, 2014), portrays the story of how a grandfather passed along his love and his love of music to his talented grandson, and the rest is, as we say, rock and roll history. Richards' writing has its own quiet rhythm and harmony as he reveals through the eye and voice of a child how a grandparent gave him the best of himself, his time and his talent and his love for music. Paired with the evocative illustrations of Richards' daughter, Gus's namesake Theodora Dupree Richards, and with family photos and a CD which features Keith's performance of "Malaguena," just as Gus taught it to him, this is a memorable book for youngsters who perhaps don't know they are music lovers yet.  "Told so naturally and with such sweet verve, readers may not notice that this is the legendary guitarist of the Rolling Stones." says Kirkus in their starred review. "A beautiful example of artistic bookmaking, a story of family love and lore, and the magic of music personified in a way that's utterly accessible to children."

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Monday, November 17, 2014

After the Fall...: Tiptop Cat by C. Roger Mader

OF ALL THE GIFTS SHE GOT THAT DAY...THE BEST ONE WAS THE CAT.

And he's a beaut! A perfect tuxedo cat with white-tipped paws and tail, we first see him at the birthday party, amid confetti, balloons, with a strip of curled ribbon draped over one ear.

Curious, he explores his new home, peeping into the kitchen, strolling through the chair legs under the table, peering his image in the bathroom mirror, and checking out the fireplace. But there is one place that begs for further inspection--the balcony.

Through the decorative black railing, the cat looks down seven floors to the street far below.

But that's not what intrigues him most. A short jump from the railing takes him from one rooftop to another, along window ledges, and soon he climbs, past a crowd of chimney pots, to the tiptop flue, where he admires the view, the roofs of Paris and the Eiffel Tower.

But one day there is an intruder on his balcony, a pesky pigeon with a can't-catch-me attitude.

A LITTLE JUNGLE BEAST AWOKE WITHIN THE CAT AND SAID....

POUNCE!

The teasing pigeon launches himself out of reach and the cat sails over the railing and

DOWN...

DOWN...

DOWN......

. . . DOWN!

The surprised cat falls, twisting, past an amazed piano player's window, righting himself as he passes a startled gymnist standing on her head and a bemused beagle, right through a red awning and into the incredulous arms of the fruit seller on the sidewalk. The vet's x-rays show no harm done to his bones. Everything seems intact but...

... HIS SPIRIT!

He's a chastened and changed cat. His green eyes are dull and timid. He cowers in the linen closet, tunnels into the laundry basket, and scoots under a rug. It seems there will be no more leaps, no further fun on the rooftops. Until... a cheeky crow appears on his balcony.

AND THAT INNER BEAST STIRRED AGAIN.

Will our spirited cat make that leap of faith to the top of the world once more? In his forthcoming latest cat tale, Tiptop Cat (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), C. Roger Mader takes his little tuxedo kitty to the heights of the rooftops of Paris. Mader's text is both taut but evocative, and his illustrations are totally delightful, capturing cat body language perfectly and using varying perspectives with great skill. A more endearing storytime kitty would be hard to imagine--peering through one opened bright green eye at the pesky pigeon, falling through space with his mouth a surprised O, landing, with startled eyes crossed, in the storekeeper's strong arms, and sitting silhouetted against the sunset sky of Paris. Even Mader's endpapers are lovely, done in midnight blue with a trail of little cat prints across the rooftops. A fresh, funny, and truly lovely picture book that has appeal to all ages.

Roger Madur is also the illustrator his equally charming Lost Cat Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). See my review here.

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Seriously Seeking Housing! Jack by Tomie dePaola

ONE DAY JACK SAID, "I WANT TO SEE THE WORLD AND MAKE NEW FRIENDS AND LIVE IN A HOUSE IN THE CITY."

"WHY DON'T YOU GO TO THE CITY AND ASK THE KING?" SAID JACK'S GRANDPA.

Since time immemorial, young folks have set out into the wide world to find their fortunes, to make their way in their own way, and in his adaptation of folklore's "Jack tales," Caldecott-winner Tomie dePaola's Jack (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) is off on his personal quest.

Jack is a mellow redhead who soon attracts a following, beginning with a tiny yellow chick who peeps out a greeting and scoots along behind Jack. In short order, a duck spots the small procession and asks if he can go along.

"YES, PLEASE DO!" JACK SAID.

With his peeping and quacking friends behind him, Jack soon welcomes a retinue of animals, a goose, dog, frog, pig, cow, cat, sheep, horse and owl, and even a crow who flies along without asking permission. With all the honking, woofing, croaking, oinking, mooing, meowing, baaing, whinnying, hooting and cawing, Jack's reputation precedes him as he enters the city.

"GOOD AFTERNOON, KING," SAID JACK.

"MY FRIENDS AND I WOULD LIKE TO LIVE IN THE CITY. CAN YOU HELP US FIND A HOUSE?"

Fortune smiles on Jack as usual. It seems that there is a run-down house in one neighborhood that needs a tenant to sort it out.

"YOU MIGHT NEED TO FIX IT UP, BUT I KNOW YOU CAN DO IT."  SAID THE KING.

The house is dilapidated, but soon the critter cacophony is joined by the sound of sawing and hammering, and when the house is repainted in a bright pink and orange coat of paint, the animals find that each one of them has his own window on the street. Peeps, quacks, honks woofs, ribbits, oinks, moos, meows, baas, neighs, hoots, and caws (from the roof) fill the street with happy noise.

"THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD," GRUMBLED THE NEIGHBORHOOD CURMUDGEON.

"ABOUT TIME!" SAID HIS WIFE.

In a light-hearted palette and his familiar folkloric style, Tomie dePaola's latest introduces primary students to the Jack tale. In the many tales in English literature, Jack is a sort of everyboy, eager to try his luck in the world, best known in the classic Jack and the Beanstalk.

In this simple tale, there are no giants or ogres, just an amiable lad setting out on a modest quest. But getting there is half the fun, and dePaola populates the background behind Jack's little parade with many folktale characters setting off into their own adventures--Jack and Jill with their pail and Red Riding Hood heading off the path and into the wood--which will give sharp-eyed readers a chuckle with each page turn. DePaola has a way of giving each of his stories its own irresistible eye appeal, and he pulls out all the stops in this lovely book, filling the pages with colorful rubber stamp interjections from his animal characters and setting his glowing colors as standouts against his characteristic bright white pages. In this playful introduction to English folk literature, dePaola shows that he's still the master of picture book art.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Go For It! The Great Thanksgiving Escape by Mark Fearing

IT WAS ANOTHER THANKSGIVING AT GRANDMA'S.

Gavin drops off their casserole in the kitchen and is ushered by his mom to his assigned station--the combination coat room and kiddies' room, a bedroom mostly populated by crawling and toddling babies with suspiciously sagging diapers and drooly pacifiers. Luckily, Gavin's audacious cousin Rhonda is already there, looking woeful. She grabs Gavin's hand with an appealing idea:

"WHAT DO YOU SAY WE BREAK OUT OF HERE AND HEAD FOR THE SWING SET IN THE BACKYARD?

THE WAY I SEE IT, GAVIN," SHE SAYS, "SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO MAKE YOUR OWN FUN!"

But there are obstacles. First, they have to escape without a toddler on their tails. Gavin and Rhoda adopt protective cover (somebody's overcoats), and trying to blend in with the natives, crawl stealthily for the door.

But once outside, the conspirators find that there is a maze of hazards to navigate. First there is the dreaded "Hall of Aunts!" Rhonda remembers having to ice her face after the marathon of cheek pinching there last year. Then they discover that the front door is guarded by several scary guard dogs, all pretending to be fat and lazy pets snoozing on the rug. Deciding to let sleeping dogs lie, they head for the back door, only to find more gabbing, snacking, guffawing relatives blocking the way.

OH, NO! THE GREAT WALL OF BUTTS!

Avoiding the den where there is a squad of uncles yelling "Hit 'im!" at the football game on TV, Gavin and Rhonda decide it's better to try to sneak out the through the basement rec room. But seated on the floor down there are a group of teen-aged, vacant-eyed, slack-jawed creatures, all staring, mesmerized, and poking mechanically at a variety of electronic screens.

"ZOMBIES! THEY'LL EAT OUR BRAINS!" WHISPERS RHONDA DRAMATICALLY.

It's not easy being a young 'tweener who just wants a place to play at the family Thanksgiving. There's no place to have their kind of fun except outside, where now it's... raining!

"THE WAY I SEE IT, RHONDA," GAVIN DARES HER,

"SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO MAKE YOUR OWN FUN!"

Mark Fearing' The Great Thanksgiving Escape (Candlewick Press, 2014) pokes good-natured fun at the perils of the family holiday assemblage from the viewpoint of the elementary-aged guests in a story that strikes a chord with kids and with adults who remember trying to escape with their cousins and have some FUN at the feast. Fearing's cartoon characters are spoofy but recognizable family types, shown mostly from a kid's eye view as the two young escape artists make a break for it. "Fearing's first solo picture book, based on his memories of Thanksgivings past, is a hoot for all ages," says Kirkus Reviews.

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Stuff Happens! Frank! by Connah Brecon

FRANK WAS LATE!  FRANK WAS ALWAYS LATE.

Frank is a good guy, always ready to pitch in to help a stranger in need.

But when school starts, it seems stuff always happens to make him late. The first day of school he arrives after dismissal.

On the second day he vows to do better... and he does.  He gets there right after lunch. It seems there was a cat stuck up high in a tree, and there was no one but Frank to get her down. Teacher is not pleased, but who can punish a kitty rescuer?

On the third day Frank does much better. He makes it to class just in time for lunch. Questioned, he has quite a tale to tell:

FRANK HAD BEEN MISTAKEN FOR FAMOUS DANCER AND CHALLENGED TO A CHARITY DANCE-0FF, WHICH TURNED OUT RATHER WELL!

It gets worse. The next day Frank almost makes it before the morning bell stops ringing. But he has a good excuse--something about motherless baby bunnies and a evil ogre!

By the end of the week, Teacher has had it. Just as Frank opens his mouth to explain why he's late again, the teacher shouts

STOP!!

But before she starts her tirade on chronic lateness, everything goes dark! Boom! Flash!

Are those plumes of red-hot fire shooting past the window? Are those Zombie King Lizards at the door?

And here's Frank, just in time!

Even without super powers, Frank never fails, in Connah Brecon's funny, tongue-in-cheek tale of a tardy but timely hero, Frank! (Running Brook Press, 2014). In Brecon's piquant cityscape, there seem to be many opportunities for this capeless crusader, as Frank the bear nonchalantly makes his way to school through streets seemingly filled with peril. "Quirky appeal," promises Kirkus Reviews.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Fashionable Foliage: Fancy Nancy and the Fall Foliage by Jane O'Connor

HOORAY!

FALL IS MY FAVORITE SEASON. I LOVE HOW THE FOLIAGE CHANGES COLOR. (FOLIAGE IS FANCY FOR ALL THE LEAVES.)

For a redhead like Nancy Clancy, the colors of the fall leaves are a natural backdrop. She changes into autumnal shades ("fabu" hues!) and heads out to get into the fun of raking up the falling leaves.

Her little sister JoJo and dog Frenchy have other ideas about what to do with the fluffy piles of fall-tinged foliage, but Nancy is in such an ebullient mood that she joins them in a few seasonal dives into the leaves herself.

While Mom and Dad persevere with the raking and bagging, Nancy notices a maple leaf in an arrestingly unusual color--burgundy (fancy for reddish purple) and Ooh-la-la!--the decorative possibilities that present themselves to Nancy's aesthetic side!!

Mom suggests an autumn leaf scrapbook, but Nancy's been there and done that--last year yet! Dad's idea is leaf prints, but that's not quite innovative enough for Nancy either!

I WANT TO DO SOMETHING EXTREMELY CREATIVE!

Always fashion forward, Nancy comes up with a craft idea that combines autumn leaves with the season which follows--a fall foliage wreath for the front door that celebrates autumn and hints at the December holiday to come:

IT'S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START GETTING READY FOR CHRISTMAS!

Jane O'Connor's Nancy always has an eye for fashion and decor, and in her latest celebration of the season, Fancy Nancy and the Fall Foliage (HarperFestival, 2014), she pictures the Clancy clan pitching in to make even yard work an opportunity for family fun. Robin Preiss Glaser and associate artist Carolyn Brand pitch in as well with exuberant illustrations of Fancy Nancy doing what she does so well. Pair this one with O'Connor's top-selling and wryly witty portrayal of an extended family Thanksgiving feast, Fancy Nancy: Our Thanksgiving Banquet.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Turkey Day Resister: Thanksgiving for Emily Ann by Teresa Johnston

EMILY ANN HATED TO SAY
SHE WAS NOT THANKFUL FOR THANKSGIVING DAY!

Most grownups like Thanksgiving. For some it's their favorite holiday. It's a day off from work; there are no gifts to select and wrap; the decorations are mostly edible; and it's a day when it's considered polite to overeat. What's not to like?

But for little kids, it may not be so enticing.

Emily Ann is one of those. Her grandpa gets to snore in her comfy bed, while she gets a sleeping bag on the floor. Her mom's attention is focused on preparing food, and the house is too full of loud, gabbing people who aren't usually there. To Emily Ann, it all feels like an invasion.

SO EMILY ANN, FEELING QUITE ALONE AND SAD,
CHOOSES NOT BE THANKFUL
AND INSTEAD TO BE BAD.

But with all the hubbub it's hard to find something noticeably bad to do.

So Emily Ann decides to GO BIG. On the kitchen table crowded with everyone's special dishes, she see something really BIG.

SHE DUCKED BY THE TABLE TO PLAY A FUNNY TRICK.
SHE REACHED FOR THE TURKEY, TO HIDE IT REALLY QUICK!

But Mom is not as oblivious to her daughter's dilemma as Emily Ann thinks. Instantly spotting a turkey-napping in progress, Mom slyly co-opts the little prankster.

"HI, EMILY ANN. WHAT A BIG HELPER! YOU'RE SO GREAT!"

Emily has no choice but to lug the turkey dutifully into the dining room to put it on the table, and when she gets there, she notices that her mom has set the table with the Thanksgiving placemats she made in school, "the best in her grade." Suddenly, she sees Thanksgiving in a different light. She looks at all the food everyone has contributed, all her relatives smiling at her contribution and getting ready to sit down together.

BY THE TIME SHE SAT DOWN ON THANKSGIVING DAY,
"I'M THANKFUL FOR MY FAMILY" WAS ALL SHE COULD SAY.

Teresa Johnston's Thanksgiving for Emily Ann (CarolRhoda Books, 2014), may slip in a too-easy transformation for this little conscientious objector, but it does offer a bit of a contrarian child's-eye view of Thanksgiving gatherings. It can be intimidating for youngsters to have a crowd of noisy adults, rowdy cousins, or strange guests taking over their space, and at least here Emily Ann gets to make her statement and her mother gets to model the ideal of making even the youngest feel part of the big day. Vanessa Brentley-Newton adds reassuringly humorous cartoon illustrations of various family types to add to the holiday atmosphere. For another salty look at Turkey Day, pair this one with Mark Fearing's brand-new The Great Thanksgiving Escape (Candlewick Press, 2014).

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Finding Autumn: Penguin and Pumpkin by Salina Yoon

IT WAS FALL AND VERY WHITE ON THE ICE, AS ALWAYS.

"I WONDER WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE OFF THE ICE?" MUSED PENGUIN.

"LET'S GO TO THE FARM AND FIND OUT!" SAID HIS BUDDY BOOTSY.

Penguin's baby brother Pumpkin clamors to go, too, but Penguin has to tell him he's still too little to travel so far.

Waving good-bye to his sad little sibling, Penguin and Bootsy hop the nearest northbound ice floe and finally arrive at the farm, where fall is in full swing. There are big pumpkins in the pumpkin patch and red, gold, and orange autumn leaves sailing through the air and covering the ground. It's gloriously colorful, but Penguin can't help thinking about poor little Pumpkin back home in the snow. Then he gets an idea.

Penguin and Bootsy pick the biggest pumpkin, carve it out to make a floating freighter, and load it up with a little pumpkin and and crate full of colored leaves. They even add a few autumn storybooks for good measure. Boarding a southbound floe, they tow their cargo back toward Penguin Land, where little Pumpkin is busy trying to imagine what Fall looks like. Is it perhaps in outer space? Are Penguin and Bootsy taking a spaceship to Planet Pumpkin? He can't wait to tell his big brother all about his own imaginative adventures.

The returned explorers are impressed at the little penguin's fantastic ideas.

"SPACE-TACULAR!" THEY SAY.

"BUT I WISH I GOT TO SEE WHAT FALL REALLY LOOKS LIKE," PUMPKIN SAID.

Penguin puts on his thinking cap. He's got a pumpkin and he's got a lot of autumn leaves. How can he re-create the farm in the fall for his little brother?

In the Penguin Queen Salina Yoon's latest South Pole story, Penguin and Pumpkin (Walker Books, 2014), Penguin uses his creativity to find a way to set his autumn leaves to blowing all over penguin country.

"FALL LOOKS LIKE... IT'S SNOWING LEAVES!"

Yoon's illustrative style, with her thick black outlines and rich autumnal colors are perfect for youngsters just learning about the seasons. Her characters, shown mostly in profile, are iconic cartoon penguins, with Penguin himself sporting an orange scarf, while Bootsy sticks to her pink hairbow and signature boots. making this unusual location for a fall story into a unique fall story for young readers. Kirkus Reviews says "Readers with a generous tolerance for quirkiness will find that this seasonal tale, that’s also a bit about little brothers, adventures and the endless diversity of pumpkins, hits the spot."

Salina Yoon's other Penguin books include Penguin and Pinecone, Penguin on Vacation, and Penguin in Love.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Are We There Yet?: The Long Haul (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) by Jeff Kinney

The last thing I need is to turn into some kind of were-pig, because that could really mess up my dating life.

Mom took a look at my finger, and I could tell she was a little worried. She tried to find an emergency-care place on the GPS, but there was nothing in a fifty-mile radius. But she DID find a VETERINARIAN'S office five minutes up the road. A few minutes later we pulled into the parking lot.

A minute later Mom came back with a clipboard and some paperwork to fill out. All I can say is, I hope this stuff doesn't get filed on my permanent record. because if it comes up later in life, it could be embarrassing.

EMERGENCY PET CARE
Patient Registration

Pet's name: "Greg"
Owner's name: Susan Heffley
Species: Human
Last vaccination: January 12
History of worms? X Yes* (*as a toddler)
Last rabies shot: N/A
Spayed/Neutered? XNo


You'd think I'd get some priority as a human, but I got put behind a gerbil that swallowed a cigarette and a cat with its face stuck in a yogurt container.

Mom has been spending way too much time reading Family Frolic Magazine, and when school's out there's no deterring her plan for a fun-filled family road trip. She's got it all planned, but when the Heffleys stop at a roadside FUN FAIR, toddler Manny wins a piglet, and when the prize piglet tries to escape through the sun roof while Dad is driving and handing at hostile client from work, Greg grabs the pig and gets bitten. And that's the good part of the trip.

As only he can tell it, Jeff Kinney's latest in his best-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (Amulet Books, 2014) may be the best Heffley saga yet. Once more the hapless middle child Greg plays straight man to one of the funniest family series of all of literature. (In less than a week, it's already #1 on Amazon's sales of all books!) Car breakdowns, the world's sleaziest motel, a piglet who figures out how to raid the mini-bar, and a series of perfectly normal mishaps take the family on the funniest car trip ever, and when the Heffleys finally limp home, towed by a couple of friendly, non-English speaking hombres, the car's leaking radiator patched together with glue and duct tape, Mom and Dad's credit cards, phones, and clothes supposedly stolen from their locker at Water World, and a pet piglet they can't seem to give away, it looks like home-sweet-home for the Heffleys for a long time.

Trust me, this one is as drop-dead funny as the earlier books, funny enough to make me laugh out loud, in my parka, in my chilly garage, late at night, into my second hour on an exercise bike! Although its target 'tweener audience will undoubtedly devour this one in one sitting, the humor in Kinney's artfully clever stick cartoons and this hilarious but somehow believable tale will tickle the ribs of anyone, kid, parent, or grandparent who has ever gone on an "eventful" family car trip.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Winter Doesn't Last Forever! Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman

Nature has taught all of its creatures how to cope with the coming of winter. The ectotherms, cold-blooded reptiles like the garter snake, are among the first to sense the earth's turning:

BROTHER, SISTER, FLICK YOUR TONGUE
AND TASTE THE FLICKS OF AUTUMN SUN.
BEFORE YOUR COILS GROW STIFF AND DULL,
YOUR HEARTBEAT SLOWS TO WINTER'S LULL,

SEEK THE SINK OF SHELTERED STONES
THAT SAFELY CRADLE SLEEPING BONES.


As winter comes, even the wings of swans know what to do:

DUSK FELL
THAT NIGHT WE DREAMED THE JOURNEY:
WE DREAMED OURSELVES SO FAR ALOFT
THAT THE EARTH CURVED BENEATH US.

Snakes hibernate together, huddled in coiled communities of hundreds or thousands underground, and birds fly to comforting climes. Moose switch to a diet of twigs and shoots, and bees squeeze together in a "sizzling ball ... like a golden sun." Beavers winter in wigwams of sticks and mud, sending a youngster forth for takeout from the cached twigs and branches stored nearby, and wolves and ravens travel together, the birds sounding an alert that prey is near, even pecking at the wolves' tails to rouse them, and the wolves doing the work of making the kill for both of them.

Newbery-winning poet Joyce Sidman's latest, Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), turns her considerable poetic skills to colder climes and times. Foxes, voles, chickadees, even snow fleas, all have their ways of wintering and readying themselves to spring into spring. Sidman's specialty is lyrical language, set in varied verse forms, that can enchant even the most reluctant poetry reader with its cleverness, beauty, and insight into the natural world. Rick Allen's appealing artwork, lovely double-page spreads in wintry palette, set off Sidman's rhymes and add movement and accurate portrayal of the animals and plants, even the stinky skunk cabbage, first in spring to pierce the snow cover, in its wintry world. Informational passages on each spread add additional knowledge to Sidman's poetic text, and an appended glossary provides definitions of vocabulary used in the text, all making this slim volume the best poetry of the year.

As Sidman's chicadees sing...

QUICK AND BOLD AND BRAVE AND CLEVER,
WE PREEN AND FLUFF EACH DOWNY FEATHER.
SING FEE-BEE--LAUGH AT THE WEATHER--
FOR WINTER DOESN'T LAST FOREVER!

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Sunday, November 09, 2014

Going for the Gusto! Mr. Putter and Tabby Turn the Page by Cynthia Rylant and Arthur Howard

Mr. Putter and Tabby love quiet time together, especially quiet reading time, when Tabby listens from Mr. Putter's lap, from on his feet, and even from on his head.

So when Mr. Putter spots a sign in the library, he was not sure it is a good idea for him and Tabby.

READ ALOUD WITH YOUR PET AT STORY TIME.

Mr. Putter is intrigued. He has fond memories of story time at school. But story time at the library is not necessarily quiet time.
Still, maybe reading doesn't always have to be quiet.

Excited, Mr. Putter signs Tabby up.

AFTER SIGNING UP, MR. PUTTER MADE A MISTAKE.

HE FORGOT THAT MRS. TEABERRY LOVED ANYTHING NEW.

ANYTHING.

As always, when Mrs. Teaberry hears about it, she takes the idea over the top. She shops for a new hat. She rehearses her good dog Zeke for his part in her reading. And Mr. Putter is worried that story time at the library with Zeke might get a little too exciting for Tabby's taste.

But Mr. Putter decides to make the best of it and go along with Mrs. Teaberry. He and Tabby rehearse their bear book every day, too.

At the library the children assembled for Story Time are very excited. Tabby purrs and Zeke licks lots of kid faces. Then Mrs. Teaberry takes her seat in the reading chair and begins reading a story about a dog.

ZEKE MADE ALL THE SOUND EFFECTS.
WHEN THE DOG IN THE STORY HOWLED, ZEKE HOWLED.
AND WHEN THE DOG IN THE STORY RAN AWAY, ZEKE RAN AWAY.

Mrs. Teaberry knows Zeke always comes back, so she gives the reading chair to Mr. Putter. Just as he's getting into his bear story with gusto and Tabby is trying out different laps and heads in the story circle, Zeke re-enters. He's obviously raided the librarians' lunchroom, and there's something in his mouth.

HE HAD SOMEONE'S CHEESE SANDWICH--AND A DIFFERENT HAT.

HE ALSO SMELLED LIKE GRAPEFRUIT JUICE.

Mr. Putter and Tabby have definitely done something new, in Cynthia Rylant's forthcoming newest in her beloved series, Mr. Putter & Tabby Turn the Page (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). As usual, his friendship with Mrs. Teaberry leads the mild-mannered Mr. Putter into the fun of a new experience, Meanwhile, Newbery artist Arthur Howard's inimitable portrayal of Tabby's and Zeke's body language comically reveal the differences in their personalities that mirror those of their devoted owners. Story time is always a good time, and fans of the first 22 books in the best-selling Mr. Putter and Tabby series will find themselves with a strange desire to munch a cheese sandwich while they curl up with this one with their pets for a bit of reading.

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Saturday, November 08, 2014

Time for a Brief-ing! One Big Pair of Underwear by Laura Gehl and Tom Lichtenheld

ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR.

TWO LITTLE BROWN BEARS WHO HATE TO SHARE.

ONE BEAR WEARS THE UNDERWEAR.

ONE BEAR CRIES, "THIS ISN'T FAIR!"

Right away you can see where this one is going.

In Laura Gehl's new One Big Pair of Underwear (Beach Lane Books, 2014), the author's silly verses set forth the situation: somebody's sure to get shorted when the supply of briefs is tight in the whitie department!

And they're not the only ones. While Gehl is counting up the critters, each batch is one short of a match!

There are three yaks with backpacks, but only two sacks of snacks. Alack!

With only three scooters painted teal and four pale seals ready to ride, one seal has to steal a set of wheels.

It only gets worse as the count goes up:

SEVEN JET SKIS, SHINY BLUE.

EIGHT COWS CRAVE SOMETHING NEW.

SEVEN COWS CALL "MOO-HOO-HOO!"

ONE HOT COW STEWS: "MOO-BOO-HOO!"

And the shortage persists as the numbers grow.

Ten baboons battle over nine trombones. Nine get in line and sound so fine:

NINE BABOONS MARCH WITH THE BAND.

ONE BABOON GETS LESS THAN PLANNED.

One baboon stuck with only a triangle to ting is a sad thing! But... wait! A solution is in sight!

Twenty pink pigs wanting a playground slide are stuck with only ten slides to ride. Now what?

It's pigs to the rescue! Piggyback is the only way to go, and the rest of the crew take their cue from the pigs' two-by-two. Even the little bears figure out how to double up in those tightie whities, and with that plug for sharing, all's well that ends well.

With the certified silly illustrations of Tom Lichtenheld, who did the best-selling artistic honors for Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, Shark vs. Train, and Everything I Know About Pirates. and newcomer Laura Gehl's quirky couplets to do the counting up, the end product is a rib-tickling Seussian-style story-in-rhyme that kids will care to share again and again. You can count on it.

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Friday, November 07, 2014

Looking for Home: The Perfect Place by Teresa E. Harris

Dad started for the door.

"You act like we're a burden to some other life you want to live," Mom said to his back.

Dad turned. His eyes and shoulders seemed to droop as he stared at the three of us. As if we truly were too heavy for him to bear.

"I'm just trying to find the perfect place for us." he said. "The perfect place."

I believed him.

As Mom's Aunt Grace had warned her, Dad is a rolling stone, always chasing the perfect place. He moves them often, but never to a perfect place, and she's learned not to make friends that she'll just have to leave over and over.

Now Dad's gone again, without a word, and Mom's only clue is a credit card receipt from some little town down in North Carolina. Leaving at night, Mom loads them up, with only their clothes and little sister Tiffany's Mr. Teddy Daniels in pillowcases, and heads south with five dollars and three-quarters of a tank of gas.

Her first stop is down a gravelly road in Virginia, where Treasure and Tiffany meet their Great-Aunt Grace and learn that their mom is going on to search for their dad alone, leaving them behind with her aunt.

"Here we are," Mom says. We're face to face with a green and white house that looks like the victim of a serious beat down, with grubby aluminum siding and a porch screen with more holes than screen.

"Let's get this over with," Mom says. The heat hits every square inch of my body. It's humid in Jersey, but this--this is like being inside someone's mouth. "Listen to me and listen good. Great-Aunt Grace does not tolerate nonsense, so you need to be on your best behavior and more grateful than you've ever been."

Great-Aunt Grace is tall and broad-shouldered, with big thick-fingered hands and feet like stretch limos. She does not smile.

"Have you lost your mind, Lisa? What about these kids?"

Great-Aunt Grace didn't invent the term, but she's a believer in tough love, as Treasure and Tiffany soon learn. She may have been arrested for confiscating a teenager's too-loud radio one time, but there's no doubt that she's a person to be reckoned with in Black Lake, Virginia. She assigns chores, gets them up at dawn to a breakfast of dry eggs and burnt bacon, hikes them three miles to town, and puts them to work in her candy store, Grace's Goodies. She dresses them up in the best clothes they've got and hauls them off to church on Sunday, where over their protests she signs them up for Camp Jesus Saves Summer Bible School. Giving Great-Aunt Grace some sass about Bible School gets Treasure nowhere. She gets it that Black Lake is a long way from New Jersey.

Treasure is used to being a loner, but when the rich and mean Jaguar and her sidekick Pamela trash Grace's store and start picking on Tiffany, she and Jaguar get into trash can-spilling fight at Camp Jesus Saves. And in a first glimmer of empathy, Great-Aunt Grace gets to the truth and heads off to give Jaguar's father, Reverend Burroughs, a piece of her mind. Jaguar backs off with the bullying, and Treasure accepts the erudite professor's son Terrence, who admires her vocabulary and figures they're kindred spirits, as her "associate," not quite friend and certainly not her boyfriend. And spying on Aunt Grace late at night, she discovers that her aunt is knitting new clothes for Mr. Teddy Daniels to replace the ones Mom left behind. Treasure hangs tough and puts all her hopes into the rock-skipping wishes that Terrence teaches her at the lake.

But when Treasure screws up her courage to call their landlord back in New Jersey, she learns that a letter from her father has come in the mail. And there's a return address on the envelope. Inside is a note:

I'm sorry. I love you all.

Treasure secretly calls her mom with the address, but when they arrive, they find an empty rusty trailer and Dad is long gone.

"Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in," said Robert Frost, and as the three turn around and head north, Treasure realizes that the perfect place is where someone loves you enough to give you a home, and she knows where that place is.

In a notable debut, Teresa E. Harris' forthcoming The Perfect Place (Clarion Books, 2014) offers a realistic novel starring a spirited main character and a cast of all-too-real characters, true-to-life situations, a couple of sidebar mysteries to solve, plenty of down home humor and homespun wisdom, and above all, what Beverly Cleary's Ramona called "a good, sticking-together family." Each character is lovingly fleshed out in full humanity, and there is a setting that you can feel and taste and a crackling plot that doesn't flag. This story's closest literary relatives are Richard Peck's depression-era Newbery-winning A Long Way From Chicago and sequel A Year Down Yonder, pretty illustrious company.

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