BooksForKidsBlog

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hide-and-Peek? Is There a Dog in This Book? by Viviane Schwarz

"OH! HELLO!

YOU OPENED OUR BOOK!

Right away, in her latest finger-friendly flap book, Is There a Dog in This Book? (Candlewick Press, 2014), Viviane Schwarz's three comic cats let us know that this is no ordinary missing puppy tale. Her cats, Moonpie, Andre', and Tiny, let us know that we are visitors in a metabook, where the characters interact with whomever is off page. It's no problem for this practiced three, however, and right away the reader is invited to join in on their search for the dog they just know, with the mysterious intuition of cats, is hiding in their house.

"WAIT! IS THERE SOMEBODY ELSE IN THIS BOOK?

SOMEBODY DRANK ALL MY MILK!"

The last thing these felines want in their domicile is a yappish, snappish dog, so they mount a vigorous search. Could he be hiding behind the purple sofa? Can somebody help them look?

"CAN YOU MOVE THIS SOFA?" they implore the reader.

Bingo! There, behind the sofa flap, is a long-eared purple canine who looks like he's there to stay! The cats flee!

"PSSST! FRIEND.

NOW WE'RE HIDING IN THE PIANO."

The reader is enjoined NOT to lift the piano lid, but who could resist?

You can see where this one is going, as an extensive dog, er, cat hunt follows, with the three kitties eager to seek the perfect hiding place all over the house--the closet, the suitcase (Very Boring! says their sign), and even the kitchen cabinet, which opens to reveal a small but possibly smokey dragon! But finally, Tiny, the littlest and least dog-averse cat has an intriguing speculation.

"WHAT IF THE DOG LIKES CATS?"

Curiosity overtakes the cautious cats. Would it be nice to touch his furry coat? Would he be fun to play with?

There many a slip between lift-the-flaps and friendship, but it looks like when the cats finally find their doggy, there are going to be some changes made around their house in this interactive game of hide-and-seek. Viviane Schwarz's inventive flaps, so well integrated with the interior of the house, make for some surprises and lots of giggles, and her deft page-turn design keeps human curiosity as keen as the cats'. She throws in a bit of dogs drool visual humor by portraying the pup's thought balloons in the simplest of stick figures, while the cats speak only in artful language. There definitely is a dog in this book, and it looks like he's there to stay.

Schwarz's three likeable cats also star in her previous companion books, There Are No Cats in this Book and
There Are Cats in This Book, all filled with interactive feline fun. "Along with a hand-lettered text, animal figures rendered in vigorous daubs of black and colored inks give the episode an endearing, informal energy reminiscent of Chris Raschka's Daisy outings," says Kirkus.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

When The Snow Goes: Bear and Mimi in the Snow by Janee Trasler

WHEN MIMI TRIED ON HATS TO HAVE TEA WITH THE QUEEN, BEAR WAS THERE.


Mimi actually does almost nothing without her little blue Bear. So when she ventures out into the new snowfall, she pretends to ice skate in the Olympics, tips a teacup with royalty, and finally creates a scary snow monster, all with Bear at hand. But when she notices that it's getting dark and turns to go inside...

BEAR WAS NOT THERE.

She looks everywhere she has been in the snow, but there's no Bear anywhere! At last when Mimi has to go inside and go to bed, sadly there's no Bear there with her either.

The next morning Mimi bundles up to go search for Bear some more. But outside her door, everything is not as it was before.

Her championship ice rink is gone, with nothing but a muddy pond where it had been. Where she had worn her fancy hat for the Queen's high tea, there was just a muddy spot. Her hat was not there either. Mimi is sad. Where the hairy snow beast had stood tall in the snow, there was no snow at all.

BUT BEAR WAS THERE.

When the snow goes, what's below shows, in Janee Trasler's Mimi and Bear in the Snow (Feiwel and Friends, 2014), and like the sensible little rabbit girl she is, Mimi makes sure that in the future Bear travels inside her backpack--so that wherever she goes, Bear goes, too.

Janee Trasler's little snow story is told in simple, straightforward text, with only a few lines in Mimi's face revealing her feelings. But young readers, who likely know what it's like to lose a favorite toy, will spot when and where Bear makes his disappearance and love being ahead of the story all along. Trasler's rounded figures and simplified snowscape fit perfectly within the matter-of-fact narration, making this one a sweet and satisfying snowy day tale for preschoolers, a story for youngsters not quite ready for the step into fantasy in Raymond Briggs'classic story of The Snowman.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

You've Got Mail! A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier

LEO IS THE MAILMAN OF A LITTLE OLD TOWN.

HE CARRIES ALL KINDS OF MAIL: BIG BOXES, SMALL PACKETS, ENVELOPES OF EVERY SIZE, CATALOGS, LOVE LETTERS, BIRTHDAY CARDS.

LEO HAS A PLEASANT LIFE, EXCEPT FOR ONE THING.

HE HAS NEVER RECEIVED A LETTER HIMSELF.

Every day Leo trudges through town, stopping sometimes for a game of bocce with the others, or sitting and sipping tea with a hospitable hen.

But Leo, a slightly stooped, mild-mannered weasel, is clearly lonely, and the letters he delivers only remind him that he is alone most of the time.

Then one morning, when he is about to open a mailbox, he hears something strange:

"Cheep!"

What could it be? He looks inside the box and sees a little bird who seems lost.

"YOU ARE TOO LITTLE TO FLY SOUTH BY YOURSELF," SAYS LEO.

Leo gently takes the little bird home and feeds him his emergency supply of dried crickets. He beds him down in an old mail-sorting box, and soon the two settle in for the winter. They prepare and eat their meals together and sit by the fire together, and when it snows, they build a snowman together. Cheep borrows Leo's mailman's cap for their snowman and gives him birdlike feet made from twigs.

But spring comes. Cheep learns to fly, and soon they both know that it is time for him to take flight with the flocks of birds passing over and heading for their nesting territory. They wave, and with a last "cheep," Leo's friend leaves. Now Leo is even more lonely as he goes back to his solitary life.

But one day there is something in his mailbox. It's a letter--for him.

Hopefully, he opens it to read:

Cheep cheep cheep cheep. Cheep cheep cheep cheep!
--CHEEP.

Does this mean that Cheep will be back when autumn comes?

Sergio Ruzzier's latest, A Letter for Leo (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion Books, 2014). is a sweetly simple story of loneliness, longing, and friendship found that finds it way straight to the heart. Stylized and spare, Ruzzier's art speaks through his simple line drawings and expressive faces, with something of the sensibility of Dr. Seuss, with comfortably curved lines for his characters and grassy hills colored in pale yellows, lavenders, and greens, spare, almost surreal flowers and weeds, and tiled-roof houses a la Tomie dePaola's that give a hint of an Italian setting. Kids too young to have ever been alone for more than a minute will feel the pathos of Leo's loneliness, the mailman who delivers daily but never receives, and will empathize at the happiness that just one letter can bring.

See some of Ruzzier's earlier work, as author-illustrator himself or providing the artwork for the noted Eve Bunting's text, right here.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hot off the Press! How to Bake a Book by Ellen Burfoot

I'M GOING TO BAKE A BOOK!
I'LL BREAK SOME IDEAS INTO A CUP.
I'LL BEAT THEM, WHISK THEM, MIX THEM UP.

I'LL WEIGH OUT MY WORDS. JUST ENOUGH.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT ONES CAN BE TOUGH.

In her new How to Bake a Book (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, 2014) Ellen Burfoot stirs up a light and fluffy description of the process of writing a story book, a sweet concoction to introduce the idea of authorship, the combination of elements that make a story that rises to expectations.

Other things are needed--putting ideas together in the best language, adding rising action into the plot, excitement, and appealing characters, providing sounds and words that offer their own sound effects (gurgle, squelch, splash), all with the right punctuation, spelling, and capital letters make it go down smoothly and leave a good taste behind for the reader.

Burfoot's analogy of writing to baking suggests that a lot of elements go into a work of fiction, and offers young readers or students setting out on an introduction to a unit on the elements of fiction with bouncy rhymes and light-handed mixed media illustrations that will be sweet to the taste of primary readers. Says Kirkus Reviews, "As the trend of picture books praising the codex continues, few will match the light tone, originality and quirkiness of this one."

Read this one with Barbara Bottner's equally delicious story about stories, Miss Brooks' Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome) for a slightly more sophisticated but delightful lesson on what it takes to tell a good story (See my review here.)

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Automotive Abecedarius: Race From A to Z (Jon Scieszka's Trucktown) by Jon Scieszka

"CALLING ALL TRUCKS--A, B, C.

LET'S GO, TRUCKS--RACE FROM A TO Z!"

Jack Truck throws down the oil rag, er, gauntlet, and gets the Trucktown gang revving up for a race, not to a place, but from one end of the alphabet to the other!

A IS FOR AXLE, BUMPER STARTS WITH A B!

C IS FOR CONSTRUCTION, CURB, CONES, AND CRASHES!

And pistons are pounding as trucks take to the road! Dan the Dump Truck, (who dumps dirt and dashes) takes the lead, but all the citizens of Trucktown have their moments--Cool Grader Kat smoothes the way, Gabby the Garbage Truck fairly flies, Rescue Rita and Wrecker Rosie strut their stuff, while little Izzy the Ice Cream Truck trails along in the rear, with a plaintive

"ICE CREAM! ICE CREAM! DO YOU WANT AN ICE CREAM?"

"NOT WHILE WE'RE RACING!" THE BIG RIGS ROAR AT POOR IZZY.

But harsh words do not melt Izzy's determination, as he stays cool and keeps in the race. In fact, when all the rest screech to a halt at the Y is for Yield sign and get themselves in a terrible truck traffic jam, Izzy chugs by, triumphant. Z, it seems, is for IZZY!

With the help of superstar illustrators David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon on his pet crew, Jon Sciezka's latest in his top-selling Trucktown series, Race from A to Z (Jon Scieszka's Trucktown) (Simon and Schuster, 2014), offers an alphabet lesson embedded in a demolition derby that gives readers quite a ride. The trio of artists contribute a fine cast of rambunctious googly-eyed characters, full of personality from grill to tailpipe, to keep kids' heads in the alphabet game all the way to the fast and funny finish line. "Clever fun, swooshing with motion and energy, this latest in the series will keep readers racing their engines for more," says Kirkus Reviews.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Matchmaker, Matchmaker: Playing with Matches by Suri Rosen

Here's some advice if you plan on taking the Number 7 bus down Bathurst Street at 7:36 a.m. Do not sit downwind from the woman eating the industrial grade tuna fish.

I took a deep breath and squeezed myself through the maze of human heat machines to the rear of the bus. Craning my neck, I caught sight of the ginger-haired woman reading in a seat next to the sealed window. I plopped into the empty seat beside her.

Gingie-Locks eyes were trained on the book resting in her lap. I glanced over her shoulder and noticed the word "love" sprinkled across the page. The title was written in a tiny font at the top of the page. I leaned over and pretended to adjust the bow on my right shoe so I could make out the name of the book. Hope and Inspiration for the Single Soul.

Sixteen-year-old Raina has just be expelled for an cruel email prank from the New York High School where she had tons of popular friends and shipped off to her Aunt Bernstein in Toronto. With no friends, Aunt Mira's terrible cooking, her Grandma Bubby, who sleeps through reruns of 1970s sitcoms, and "family friend" Jeremy, a lonely bachelor lawyer dorky and desperate enough to show up nightly for one of Mira's drab dinners, her exile in Toronto is bad enough, but when her older sister Leah shows up with the news that her wedding is off because her fiance finds Rain's prank proof of poor family values, Rain feels permanently trapped in the role of Resnick family pariah.

Rain is lonely enough to make friends with Tamara, the ginger-haired woman on her bus, who confesses that she is twenty-seven and has no marriage prospects, practically a hopeless spinster for a Jewish girl who is supposed to be married with children by age 25.

Suddenly Rain has an inspiration. What if she fixes up the pretty and perfectly nice Tamara with the annoyingly needy Jeremy? Two problems solved, perhaps.

And the match works. A whirlwind courtship begins. Tamara begs Rain to email her advice as the romance proceeds, and Rain, buoyed with her success, sets up an anonymous email under the name of matchmaven.com, (safe from Aunt Mira's prying eyes) and soon after, Rain gets an unexpected email:

Dear Matchmaven,I'm hoping you can help me. I've had such an awful time getting dates. I'm twenty-nine, attended the University of Toronto and work as an occupational therapist. I got your email address from Tamara, and I understand you work anonymously. Will you please, please help me?

Thanks, Deb Cohen

On the same day Matchmaven gets another pleading email, from the desperate Daniel Sharfstein, age 30, and Rain thinks, Why not?

And before she realizes what she's doing, Rain is beset with lovelorn single souls, begging to be fixed up by the marvelous Matchmaven. Soon she has so many clients that she asks Dahlia, the nerdy classmate assigned to help her "integrate socially" at school, to design a spreadsheet to keep track of her matches. The job begins to take over her life, and even with her new assistant, she's up half the night coaching her clients and, unfortunately, failing most of her classes.

And the match that she wants most to make, finding the jilted Leah the perfect husband, is still to be made.

Suri Rosen's Playing With Matches (ECW Press, 2014) develops a novel premise for a high school heroine, involved not with her own romances, but the unwed twenty- and thirty-somethings of Toronto. In a nice twist, Rain even pulls off a soul-mate match between a seventy-something widower professor and her nemesis, Mrs. Levine, the dragon-lady principal of Maimonides High School, and it is only at their wedding that Matchmaven at last makes the match she is seeking for Leah.

Loosely but deliciously plotted and unflaggingly entertaining, the narration of Rain's double-life adventures is frantic, funny, and finally heart-warming, even promising, perhaps, a sequel, a catch readers won't want to miss. "Fizzy, funny and ultimately redemptive!" quoth Kirkus Reviews.

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Common Denominator: Pirate,Viking, and Scientist by Jared Chapman


PIRATE WAS FRIENDS WITH SCIENTIST.
SCIENTIST WAS FRIENDS WITH VIKING.
VIKING AND PIRATE WERE NOT FRIENDS.

Scientist has a problem. His birthday party is coming up soon, and he'd like to invite all his friends. But Viking and Pirate can't stand each other. And these two can cause some major mayhem when they get together.

But Scientist believes in the scientific method. There's got to be something they can enjoy together.

Birthday cake?

The cake doesn't survive the fight over it between the two.

Party games?

A furious free-for-all follows!

Results of the experiment are negative. But before Scientist scraps his hypothesis, he decides to try again to find common ground between the warring factions: he asks three questions:
"DO YOU LIKE BOATS?"

"YES!" SAID PIRATE. "YES!" SAID VIKING.

"WHAT DO YOU KEEP UNDER YOUR PILLOWS?"

"A SWORD!" THEY BOTH ANSWERED

"WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE WAY TO SPEND SATURDAY MORNING?"

"PILLAGING AND PLUNDERING!" THEY SHOUTED!

Bingo! Scientist has his conclusion. With common ground established between Pirate and Viking, it's time for something else they both like--ice cream, in Jared Chapman's Pirate, Viking, and Scientist (Little Brown and Company, 2014). While pillaging and plundering are not exactly recommended weekend pastimes, Jared Chapman's goofy little tribute to the scientific method does establish the value of negotiation to get even these ruffians to YES. Chapman's zany cartoon characters are over the top in a way that makes his point that almost any antagonists can find something to agree upon, and he does so in a way that hits a couple of curriculum targets as well. As Publishers Weekly puts it, "... it’s great inspiration for classroom science units or at-home Venn-diagramming."

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Art for Art's Sake: Draw! by Raul Colon

What if a regular kid, lying across his bed with a pen and a fresh drawing pad, were on a safari on the plains of Africa?

What would he see? What could he draw?

Himself, in pith helmet, carrying his easel across the dry, sandy earth? An elephant, apparently eager to pose for a portrait?

Would there be picturesque zebras to portray? Maybe tawny, lordly lions? Perhaps a happy hippo mudbathing?

Would there be a waiting water buffalo, big and still?

And... What if there were a charging rhino?

Yikes! This could be serious.

Will the boy run for safety behind a tree? Maybe. But what if there is a lazy leopard lying in that tree already?

Drawing can be hazardous to your health!

Raul Colon's Draw! (Simon and Schuster, 2014) is a trip!--a wordless picture book which celebrates animal art while providing a little African adventure, a sort of series of safari selfies done as terrific paintings instead of iPhone pictures.

It's a different sort of show-and-tell for this young artist which will give youngsters some ideas about what they can draw, with Colon's fine line and watercolor paintings of the wild life of the great African plains.

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Too-Much-Tail-Tale: Waggers by Stacy Nyikosi

WAGGERS TRIED TO BE GOOD. HE REALLY TRIED HARD.

WHEN HE SAW MONA AND MICHAEL, HIS TAIL TWIRLED SO MUCH IT SENT THE OTHER PUPPIES FLYING.

"THAT'S SOME TAIL," SAID MOM.

And is Mom going to want to reconsider thatstatement! Perhaps she should have paid attention to the sign in the pet shop over Wagger's puppy pen.

FREE PUPS!
RAZORTAIL WHIPPETS

When the twins get their happy pup home, Mom and Mona decide to make cookies to celebrate their new family member. Waggers is ecstatic!

HIS TAIL STARTED TO WAG.
SWOOP! SWOOP! SWOOP!

The kitchen is wrecked. Bowl, batter, oven mitts, all fly! The bowl breaks, the batter hits the walls, ceiling, floor, and sides of the oven. Is Waggers a bad dog?

Mom has to agree that he might be, but Dad tries to make light of the mess until... he flops down to watch TV and perhaps snooze on the sofa. Michael suddenly pops up with a dramatic whisper:

"MONSTER!"

Waggles pounces, his tail twirls, and the lamp, the side table and the sofa are shredded to a shambles. Dad is now on Mom's side in her opinion of Waggers, who is banished to the garage. But Waggers is so glad to see them in the morning that he can't help wagging his yards of tail, which scratches the family car catastrophically!

It's outside to the back yard with Waggers this time. But he is so excited to be outdoors that he wags again! Yikes!

"MY BUSHES!!!" MOM CRIED.

"MY YARD!!!" CRIED DAD.

But this time there's some good news. Thanks to Waggers, the grass is cut, the bushes are trimmed, and even the sagging tree branches are pruned. What a tail! What a dog! What a Waggers!

Stacy Nyikosi's Waggers (Sky Pony Press, 2014) is a tale that is as wild as her over-endowed pooch's tail. Kids will find her cartoon dog cute but quite over the top, with some snickers along the way. A funny pet fantasy that just might make kids think about what sort of dog they want!

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Never A Flower Girl? Fancy Nancy and the Wedding of the Century by Jane O'Connor

MY UNCLE CAL CALLED! HE'S GETTING MARRIED!

WEDDINGS ARE SUCH SPECIAL OCCASIONS. (OCCASION IS A FANCY WORLD FOR SPECIAL EVENT.)

I'VE PLANNED SO MANY WEDDINGS, AND NOW I'M GOING TO A REAL ONE!

Nancy's head is filled with visions of herself strewing rose petals before an elegantly gowned bride and tuxedoed groom. She packs up her laciest, frilliest dresses and best shoes in high state of excitement. Dad is not much help with the wedding details.

"PERHAPS UNCLE CAL WANTS IT TO BE A SURPRISE!"

With the car finally packed, Nancy leans back in her seat and conjures up expectations of a snazzy weekend wedding.

I MAY SHUT MY EYES FOR A MOMENT OR TWO AND GET A LITTLE BEAUTY SLEEP," SHE THINKS TO HERSELF...

...Oooh-la-la! The hotel is fit for royalty, the swimming pool is like a lake and the water slide is a mile long, and after the water fun, Nancy enjoys a spa mani and pedi and lots of pampering before she dons her fabulous flower girl gown, summoning JoJo to hold her train... and then it's almost time to be the first in the wedding party to walk down the....

"WE'RE HERE! WAKE UP! NANCY!...."

"SAY WHAT?"

The reality of the affair is nothing like Nancy's dream. They are at a lake with log cabins all around. Dawn the bride wants an all-natural service, so there is not going to be any fancy wedding, no elegante reception with molded ice sculptures, towering, tiered cake, and jacketed waiters. And there is not going to be any flower girl at all.

It is a terrible blow to Nancy's hopes, but our girl bucks up and carries it off like a proper niece should. She even offers her own coronet to add some sparkle to Dawn's white muslin dress for "something borrowed" luck. Nancy is a bit overdressed for the pre-sunrise ceremony, but she takes an aisle seat and hops up to strew a few petals before the bride after all. And, she reflects...

"OF ALL THE GUESTS, I AM THE FANCIEST BY FAR."

In Jane O'Connor's latest full-color Fancy Nancy picture book, Fancy Nancy and the Wedding of the Century (Harper, 2014), Nancy Clancy comes through to make the rustic wedding an occasion to remember. Artist Robin Preiss Glasser gets to go all out, illustrating two possible weddings in her trademark style, plus a hearty bucolic party with fun for all.

Is Nancy never to make it down the aisle as the fanciest of flower girls? Surely Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser have a rose-petal basket somewhere yet in Nancy's future! It would be tres triste if her creators let her age out of the flower girl job, especially since that means that honor will go to ... JoJo. Quelle horreur!

"Frothy and fun, Nancy's latest adventure feels as fresh as her first appearance," pronounces Kirkus Reviews.

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How Daddies DO It! Daddy Hugs by Nancy Tafuri


"I LOVE DRIPPY HUGS," SAYS LITTLE TURTLE."JUST-DADDY-AND-ME-HUGS."

With the simple theme that "little ones love hugs," Caldecott author-illustrator Nancy Tafuri gives the daddies of the wild their chance to shine. And do they embrace the opportunity!

Tafuri opens with a raccoon dad and his little one snuggling in the hollow of a tree. It's a sweet sight... but....there's more!
"I LOVE DRIPPY HUGS," SAYS LITTLE TURTLE.
JUST-DADDY-AND-ME-HUGS!"

Tafuri's hook for little ones is that each two-page spread of Dad and his little one shows, in the background, a tantalizing glimpse of at least part of the animal to be featured next, giving sharp-eyed observers a chance to figure what follows the page turn.  Adult read-alouders, on auto pilot at bedtime, may be surprised when their youngsters seem to have amazing predictive powers.

"I LOVE  WHISKERY HUGS," SAYS LITTLE FOX."

And while he's getting his version of just-Daddy-and-Me-Hugs, a big quail soars by, obviously on a mission--a hugging mission--as we see in the next double-page spread, in which Little Bobwhite gets his own "feathery hugs," from his dad.  There are also daddy hugs from Mr. Skunk, Fox, Chipmunk, Beaver, Chipmunk, and Owl, and finally a human parent and child enjoying the best of hugs....

"... GOODNIGHT. SWEET DREAMS, MY LITTLE ONE."

With a repeating and repeatable refrain and Tafuri's big, signature pencil and watercolored drawings, good to teach tots animal names and a bit about their habitats,Daddy Hugs (Little, Brown and Company, 2014) is both a bedtime story and a nature lesson in one.  Tafuri also throws in some fun-to-spot bit parts for an orb spider in her web, a dragonfly, a bee, and an ever-present lady bird beetle on every page.

The author also appends a list of featured animals and their official names (downy woodpecker, American gray squirrel) and challenges older readers to spot and point out arachnids, insects, mammals, reptiles, mollusks, worms, and amphibians depicted throughout.

Read this one with Tafuri's lovely companion book, All Kinds of Kisses, for a perfect pair of Tafuri tales.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Wingin' It: On the Wing by David Elliott


The Caribbean Flamingo
Singular, an ember waiting to ignite.                     A conflagration.
The sky is set alight!


David Elliott's On the Wing (Candlewick Press, 2014) is an invitation even for non-birders, to look up in delight. With both lyric lines, surprisingly comic wordplay, and quirky humor, Elliott includes gives us delightful descriptions of seventeen very different birds: the hummingbird, "always in a tizzy, busy, busy, busy;" the crow, "pure caw-caw-phony;" the macaw, "Who spilled the paint?" the sparrow, who "wants to roar: small cousin of the dinosaur; "and America's favorite redbird:

The Cardinal
He's a hot shot Valentine.She's a plain Jane.
But one without the other? A song with no refrain.

From ordinary urban chirpers to the majestic eagle, condor, and albatross, Elliott varies his poetry from decorous couplets and quipping quatrains to haiku and free verse, all set to the elegant artwork of Becca Stadtlander, whose illustrations are both as natural as a snapshot or as stylized as a Greek frieze. This is a poetry book that soars as gracefully as the crane on its cover, a delightful way to see all sorts of birds in all of their glory. As Kirkus Reviews says in a starred review, "From the graceful cranes flying across its wraparound cover to the single feather on the title page to the soaring eagle at the end, this book astounds."

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Snow Trail Snow Tale: Blizzard by John Rocca

THE FIRST FLAKE FELL BEFORE RECESS.

From his desk, a boy spots the first flake through his school's tall windows. The excitement is palpable in the classroom, as the students hope that this will be the first big snow of the winter. Yea!

SCHOOL CLOSED EARLY.

The boy and his sister trudge home in the snow, already high up on their boots. By the next morning the snow is too deep for them to open their front door.

SO WE WENT OUT THE WINDOW!

The kids play in the snow until they are too tired and wet to have fun anymore, and they resort to cocoa and camping out before the stove. The boy bones up on blizzard lore, reading Arctic Survival.

As more snow days go by, the children begin to tire of snow play and the family begins to run out of their favorite foods. Without milk, their cocoa is not the same, and their snacks are down to raisins dug out of the back of the pantry.

Snowbound for six days, the boy decides that only a certified survivalist like himself is up to the task of resupplying the family larder. And... there is one more thing...

HE WAS THE ONLY ONE LIGHT ENOUGH TO WALK ON THE SNOW.

He suits up, fashions tennis rackets into snowshoes, and with a list of necessities (peanut butter, coffee!) and sled in tow, heads out to the store, stopping by the neighbors to see if they need anything.

It's a post-blizzard scene outside as the boy plods through the snow-obliterated streets. He is a Arctic explorer, stopping to make a snow angel, checking out an igloo some kids have built, getting into their snowball fight, and breaking a trail toward the store, which he is happy to find OPEN.

He's a celebrated returning hero when he drops off supplies at the neighbor's house and when he stomps into his own yard, his dog barks out a fanfare:WOOOFFF!

There's milk for the cocoa, coffee for his parents, and the next day brings a loud but welcome sound in the snow-deadened landscape.

"SNOWPLOWS!"

It's civilization at last for the snow-weary family in Caldecott artist John Rocco's personal memoir of the blizzard of 1978, in his latest, Blizzard (Hyperion Books, 2014). Telling the story primarily through his art, Rocco makes good use of a palette of wintry whites and hues of blue, providing a delightful fisheye lens view of the town's snowbound landscape on a four-page foldout painting. In Rocco's impressive illustrations, it's a child's dream of the biggest blizzard ever, with snow fun and seven days off from school to boot. Special touches, such as the day of the week shown cleverly on each page--Monday in careful cursive on the class blackboard, Tuesday written in the snow by squirrel tracks, Thursday spelled out in spilled raisins from the box---add touches of humor throughout. As Kirkus says "The Caldecott honoree's pencil, watercolor and digital paint illustrations are reminiscent of Steven Kellogg in their light and line and detail, and readers will pore over the pages as they vicariously live through a blizzard,"

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Buddy Wrote Me A Letter! Herman's Letter by Tom Percival

DEAR HERMAN,

HOW ARE YOU? MY NEW HOME IS OKAY, BUT IT'S NOT THE SAME WITHOUT YOU.

THE WEATHER IS NICE AND SUNNY AND I HAVE MADE SOME NEW FRIENDS.

IN FACT, THEY HAVE JUST COME OVER!

GOTTA RUN!

YOUR BEST FRIEND,
HENRY

Herman and Henry had been friends forever. They spent all their time together, playing pirate in their treehouse or concocting secret codes and a secret handshake for their hidden clubhouse. When Henry has to move far, far away, the two old friends promise to write each other faithfully.

Herman is happy to find Henry's first letter in his mailbox, but when he opens it, what he reads makes him even sadder. Henry, it seems, has a new life and new friends, while he is just moping alone. He knows he should write back to Henry, but what is there is say? He has no new friends and no fun to report. Miserable, he puts off answering that letter. Finally, he gets another letter from Henry.

DEAR HERMAN,

GUESS WHAT?

I HAD A RIDE IN A HOT-AIR BALLOON! I WISH YOU COULD HAVE BEEN THERE.

I HAVEN'T RECEIVED ANY OF YOUR LETTERS. I MISS YOU SO MUCH!

YOU ARE MY BEST FRIEND IN THE WORLD. I HOPE YOU WILL VISIT SOON.

Herman is filled with hope. Henry is still his best friend! He sits right down and writes that letter to Henry, but when he hustles through the snow to mail it, he finds that the Post Office is closed for the winter. Although his hibernation time is fast approaching, Herman realizes that he must deliver the letter to Henry himself.

Growing sleepier and sleepier, Herman sets out. He crosses frozen rivers, only to find himself facing a climb up a very tall mountain.

"OH, BOTHER!"

Will Herman hand deliver his letter before hibernation sets in? Will the best friends be reunited? In Tom Percival's Herman's Letter (Bloomsbury, 2014), there's some suspense as Herman fights his way over frosty hill and dale, crevasse and cliff, but the main fun in that this story is told through the best friends' letters. Many kids have lost a best friend to a move, and readers need only to lift the flap of the carefully addressed brown envelopes to know what's going on in the best friends' minds. Along with Percival's appealing illustrations, the epistolary picture book has a lot of emotional and interactive appeal for young readers not to mention a curriculum tie-in for kids just learning how to write a friendly letter for themselves.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Raining Jelly on the Parade: A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnel

ONCE UPON A TIME, LITTLE LOUIE WENT SKIPPING MERRILY ALONG.

"TRA LA LA LA LA" HE SANG.

LOUIE KNEW EVERYTHING WAS JUST... "HEY!"

WHAT WAS THAT?

Little Louie is skipping through a meadow in his own story, when somebody drops a blob of... JELLY(?) right on his own story. He licks it. Yep, it's jelly. What the....?

Then a blob of peanut butter lands on his head. Who's so rude as to eat a peanut butter (the chunky kind!) and jelly sandwich while reading his story? Hey!

Then sooty fingerprints appear all over his page, and with the next page turn there is an orange juice ring all over the nice white background ARG! And now someone is scribbling with crayon between the words!

"MY STORY IS GETTING ALL MESSED UP!

YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING!"

The joy of opening your very own story book all laid out on nice clean pages is spoiled. Who can read a book that is all messed up?

Patrick McDonnell joins the crowd of author-illustrators in his interactive metafiction, A Perfectly Messed-Up Story (Little, Brown and Company, 2014), in which Little Louie learns a life lesson. STUFF HAPPENS. Life gets messy, and yet your story can still be pretty good if you keep on singing. Little Louie, with his big eyes and new-potato nose , is the perfect protagonist, a stand-in for everyone whose story has not turned out the way it was planned, "The pleasures of watching a book depart from its conventions and address its sticky-fingered reader will tickle even the littlest postmodernist," says the New York Times Book Review.

Pair this one with Drew Daywalt's still best-selling The Day the Crayons Quit (see review here).

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

That Won't Fly! Ewe and Aye by Candace Ryan

EWE LOVED WHEELS AND AYE LOVED WINGS.
Both Ewe and Aye were born to move, but Ewe yearned for wheels, and Aye eyed wings. Ewe is a woolly sheep who fashioned herself a little four-wheeled cart, figuring if She got up enough speed on a downhill run, she could achieve escape velocity and fly through the air. Aye (pronounced like "I") is a kind of lemur called an aye-aye who straps on wings straight out of Da Vinci's drawing book and leaps off the highest objects he can find, trying to soar through the air like a bird.

They both crash land. Aye fails to soar, and Ewe just gets sore.

EWE HAD A FLAT TIRE, AND AYE GOT FLAT TIRED.

Ewe and Aye have to help rescue each other from their failed inventions.

It's not working! They will never get it off the ground this way!

It's back to the drawing board, this time with the two members of this odd couple collaborating to combine wheels and wings. What results is a sort of ultra-light tandem bike with wings. With the two of them pedaling for all they're worth down their ramp, they manage to obtain enough air speed for lift off and find themselves sharing their dream together, flying with the birds, soaring past the clouds. After all, a joint venture worked for the Wright Brothers!

THERE WASN'T ANYWHERE THEY COULDN'T FLY... TOGETHER!

In Ewe and Aye (Hyperion Books, 2014), author Candace Ryan has some punny fun (and some funny puns) with her Ewe and Aye (you and I) doublespeak, which make good sense either way you read some of her clever constructions:

THEN ONE DAY WHEN EWE(YOU) GOT INTO TROUBLE, AYE (I) WAS THERE TO HELP.

Artist Stephane Ruble's ebullient cartoon characters and the strong, bright colors are rather, um, uplifting, as she creates a demolition derby with the pair first experiment with wheels and wings but finally rise to the occasion. It's all good (as Pete the Cat would say) when, in a glorious four-page gatefold, we get to see them lift off and jointly take to the air in full flight through the clouds in their fantastical flying bicycle built for two.

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Downhill! Peppa Pig and the Day at Snowy Mountain

PEPPA AND GEORGE WAKE ONE DAY.

"IT'S SNOWING!"

"WE'LL GO UP SNOWY MOUNTAIN," SAID MUMMY PIG.

Mummy sees that the kids bundle up, and Daddy Pig loads up and warms up the car. They're all set, right?

But when they get to Snowy Mountain, they realize they are missing something important.

"WE DON'T HAVE A SLED!

Daddy Pig makes a noble gesture: he lies down headfirst and invites Peppa and George to climb on his back. He kicks off and they begin to slide down the mountain. Peppa and George whoop with joy as they speed past the other little sledders. Daddy Pig winds up with a snoot full of snow, but it's worth it.

Now it's time for some skiing. But first they have to take the ski lift UP the hill. From their chairs they marvel at the view. But Daddy Pig gets a little too enthusiastic about ogling the landscape and falls out of his chair and... splat!

"HE'S A WALKING SNOW DADDY!" GEORGE AND PEPPA SHOUT."

But Daddy Pig is a good sport, and after he shakes off his snowman disguise, the family take a few skiing lessons from Madame Gazelle, who leads them to the beginner's slope for their first run. Mummy Pig says she remembers how to ski, and pushes off for a run all the way down the mountain. There's just one problem!

"SHE FORGETS HOW TO STOP!"

It's Mummy Pig's turn to wind up with her face in the snow, in Peppa Pig and the Day at Snowy Mountain (Candlewick Press, 2014). The popular Peppa Pig television series shows the various snow sports that winter offers, including a spot of ice skating as well. Preschoolers get a taste of winter sports, learn a little about planning ahead, and generally enjoy a chilly but silly day of family fun in the snow.

Pair this wintry one with Peppa Pig: Peppa's Christmas Wish, Peppa Pig and the Lost Christmas List,or Peppa's Christmas. (Peppa Pig), for a seasonal storytime for Peppa fans.

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Friday, January 09, 2015

Where's Sgt. Mom? Coming Home by Greg Ruth

At the airport people wait, some holding up a banner.

WELCOME HOME, TROOPS

A boy and his big dog wait as well.  The boy's face is serious as he watches the big plane land, roll to the gate, and its passengers disembark.   He keeps looking for someone he doesn't yet see.

The crowd pushes forward, preschoolers waving flags. Around the boy,who holds his dog's leash tensely to his chest, people find each other. Couples embrace, fathers hoist little children  to hug and put up high on their shoulders.  A soldier looks with wonder at his very pregnant wife and a girl tries on her dad's fatigue cap with a big smile.  Cameras click, parents brush away tears as they embrace their soldier children.

But the boy keeps looking.  Families start to move away, but he pushes through the figures, looking for just one soldier. Then both he and his dog see someone.
"MOM!"
It's a happy homecoming in Greg Ruth's beautifully illustrated Coming Home (Feiwel and Friends, 2014). In this almost wordless book, Ruth's lovely realistic paintings tells the whole story. The artist uses a variety of palettes and perspectives, from the view of the distant approaching transport plane to the up-close illustrations showing just arms and shoulders as the boy pushes through straining for a view of the one he wants to find.  This is a timely story, but one as old as humankind, that reveals so much about a soldier's coming home. "A stirring tribute to the resilience of both soldiers and those they must leave at home," says Publishers Weekly in their starred review.

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Thursday, January 08, 2015

Shell Game! Marcel the Shell: The Most Surprised I've Ever Been by Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate

THIS IS ME, MARCEL!

ONE THING ABOUT A NEW DAY--YOU ABSOLUTELY NEVER KNOW WHERE IT IS GOING TO GO
.

Marcel the Shell (With Shoes On) is enjoying the morning by taking a stroll across a blanket with his surrogate dog Alan (a piece of lint). It's not his bed. His bed is a slice of bread. But this bed has a fluffy blanket, which somehow gets Marcel lost in musing about how much he loves cake.

And then someone comes in to make up the bed. Not noticing tiny Marcel and the likewise fluffy Alan, she lifts the blanket and gives it a shake.

I AM SAILING THROUGH THE COOL MORNING AIR 2000 CENTIMETERS OFF THE GROUND.

EVERYTHING LOOKED SO SMALL. I COULD SEE THE WHOLE RUG AND ALL OF ITS FAR-FLUNG FRINGES.

Marcel's world view is changed in a moment. He can see Nana Shell, sleeping in her fancy French bread bed. He looks down on the baby in his crib and ponders what it means.

I DON'T KNOW WHY THEY PUT HIM IN JAIL.

Then Marcel feels that he's reached the apogee of his trajectory in space.

I FELT WEIGHTLESS. I THOUGHT ABOUT ASTRONAUTS.

But what goes up must come down, as so does Marcel, in a most surprising touchdown.

SPLAT!

And Marcel the Shell makes a most propitious soft landing in the fluffy frosting of a birthday cake, in Jenny Slate's and Dean Fleischer-Camp's second Marcel story, Marcel the Shell: The Most Surprised I've Ever Been (Razor Bill, 2014). Marcel is an ironic, solipsistic shell. The world is huge and mostly unknown, but Marcel's naively self-centered but philosophical take on the world is a unique narration, and Fleischer-Dean's unusual drawings, making full use of the chance for a mollusk-eye-view of Marcel's known world from space, set this one off with just the right touch of sly irony. Best read with Slate's and Fleischer-Camp's first book, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On: Things About Me (See review here).

"Visually clever and verbally unusual," says Kirkus.

For an animated view of Marcel's one-of-a-kind voice, watch Marcel's gone-viral introductory film here, where can also see Marcel and his creators interviewed by the like of Brian Williams and Conan O'Brien.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Off to See the Wizard: Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

I'd expected them to be waiting, to give me a sermon on the sin in which I've no doubt been reveling. But they're not in the living room, the dining room, the kitchen. I sigh in relief. Maybe they never noticed that I was gone. I sit on the couch and open the paper, expecting Rapture headlines, but there's no mention on the front page, just stories about all the usual disasters--tsunamis and tornadoes, terrorist attacks, fast-spreading viruses. I can't focus on the words. All I can think about is how empty the house seems.

I stand. "Mom?" I call out. "Dad?" I pull myself to my feet and walk up the stairs, down the hall to their bedroom.

I don't wonder when no voice answers my knock, and I'm not jolted by the sight of their bed, empty and made. I feel nothing at all, until I happen to glance up at the ceiling above and see the twin holes, rough at the edges, opening though the roof like perfect portals into the vast, cloudless sky.

Beaton Frick, powerful leader of the evangelical Church of America, had pronounced that the Rapture will occur on the previous night, and although her recently converted Believer parents had urged her to believe and join them in waiting, seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple has spent the night before at a "Rapture Night" party, drinking champagne with her non-believer friends Harp and others who are looking forward to saying "I told you so" the next morning.

But like her parents, thousands are missing, apparently raptured, and the left behind quickly split into two camps, the relentlessly non-believing and the believers who hold to a verse in the Book of Frick which promises a second coming of deliverance for the Believers who persist. In a world racked by strange turmoil--earthquakes, monster storms, heat waves and massive snowstorms in March, power outages, and the dissolution of civil order--it is easy to believe that those who are left are living at the time of the end of days, even those that believe Frick to be a total charlatan, manipulating the gullible through his fear-mongering control of the media, At first, Vivian meekly goes to New York City with her dutiful but detached grandparents. But then she gets a call from an exchange in California, a call in which there is only silence at the other end. Somehow Vivian feels that the call is from her mother.

Vivan reunites with her friends, taking her grandparents' lumbering old sedan, and with Harp and Peter, a boy she met at the rapture night party, they head for California, feeling that if they find Vivian's parents in a secret enclave of Frickian believers, they will discover the truth of what is really happening.

What follows is the road trip to end all road trips, in which the three try to find the like-minded New Orphans, a loose group of young people seeking to rebuild a social order free of the Church of America. Their leader, who calls himself "Goliath" offers food and shelter in his commune, but is ironically a mirror image of Beaton Frick. But one Orphan points them toward the redoubt of Beaton Frick himself. That pilgrimage discovers Frick as a degenerating old man who has lost control of his own apparatus, but no sign of Vivian's parents or the other missing rapturees. Vivian's hopes are focused on finding her mother in California, feeling that is the secret to understanding what is happening to her and her world.

To compare Katie Coyle's timely Vivian Apple at the End of the World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) to the Yellow Brick Road trip in the Wizard of Oz is no slap at Coyle's smart, satiric, and insightful novel of our own times. Like the Wizard, Coyle's Frick uses the false screen of media to induce fear and loyalty, and like the Wizard, Frick is revealed to be impotent without his apparatchiks, The are good witches, bad witches, and a few flying monkeys along the way, and Vivian Apple, whose very name seems symbolic, is a vibrant, ultimately rebellious Eve, who discovers, like Dorothy, that with the loyalty of her friends, she has the power to make her way wherever her future lies. Coyle has shaped a new take on the evergreen brave new world theme, a Pre-Apocalyptic dystopian novel, a coming-of-age futuristic story that promises no illusive "Kansas" at its conclusion but gives young adult readers a look at one possible future to be found.

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