Friday, October 31, 2008

Know When to Fold 'Em: Monster Origami by Duy Nguyen

Werewolves, Draculas, vampire bats--oh, my! But don't worry--these monsters are real lightweights. In fact, they are all made from paper!

Duy Nguyen's Monster Origami manages to make even the Frankenstein Monster look good in her classy craft book for the spooky season or any other time.

Nguyen begins with the basics of paper-folding technique, spending twelve pages on clear instructions and colored illustrations which can guide even amateurs to their desired product. Following are detailed step-by-step directions, shown in several colors to make the technique easier to follow, for constructing all the usual suspects--Frankenstein, a vampire bat, Reptilia, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, a Tolkienesque demon, a werewolf, Wolfman, King Ghidora, Count Dracula, and an alien.

The author also provides advice on selecting papers to be used in the origami projects and offers tips for individualizing the product by adding details with markers, glued-on features, posing the product, and using props.

Monster Origami is a howling-good resource for home crafts, school art projects, and just plain fun for kids and adults with patience and enthusiasm for the art of origami.

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Advhenture: Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss

Newbery Medal and Honor Award winner Kate DiCamillo (for The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread (Tale of Despereaux) and Because of Winn-Dixie ) takes advantage of the skills of her illustrator, Harry Bliss, whose depictions of poultry have always been Bliss-ful, to share three adventures of her feathered heroine. A chicken she may be, but chicken she is definitely not.

Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken begins with the intrepid Louise making tracks away from the chicken yard as her mistress is busy hanging out the wash. In Chapter I, Louise at Sea, Louise has scarcely sneaked aboard a sailing ship, the sea wind ruffling her feathers, when the ship is boarded by bloodthirsty (not to mention chicken-eating) pirates. Her captor votes for fricassee, but while the crew argues over whether to fry or stew poor LouLou, a sudden storm sinks the ship with all aboard. All but the buoyant Louise, that is, who pilots a broken spar to shore, where she happily hustles back to her safe coop and her cubby with Louise over the door.

A night in the nest gives Louise some rest but fails to staunch her zest for adventure. In Chapter II, Louise Up High, the circus comes to town and Louise follows the bright lights straight to the ringmaster, where she auditions for a role in one of the rings. The ringmaster is unimpressed with Louise's wing flapping, clucking, and strutting, but Mitzi the aerialist sees some talent there.

"But, mon cheri," she said, "look at how she moves. She is meant, of course, to be on the high wire."

Naturally, Louise is unflappable on the high wire, but one day, when the wire fails, she finds herself dropping straight toward the wide and waiting jaws of the circus lion. Doing her best imitation of a flying chicken, Louise flaps just out of his reach to hide under a clown's hat. Declining a job upgrade as the death-defying poulet propelled from a cannon, she hightails it back to her spectacularly lion-free hen house on the farm for a little chicken R and R.

But Louise's adventures are not done. In Chapter III, Louise Unbored, the hopeful hen travels to a far-east bazaar, where a fortune teller foretells a "dark stranger" in Louise's future. When the dark stranger appears and snatches her high in the air, Louise is sure she's found true adventure, but alas, what she has found is captivity in a wire cage with a bunch of other dumb clucks. Resourcefully, Louise studies the cage's lock and set to work picking it. Finally, at dusk the door swings open.

"We are free," said Louise to the other chickens. The news appeared to stun them. "Free," said Louise again. She hopped to the ground and gestured to them to follow.... Suddenly Louise felt a wave of longing for the hen house.

After a long westerly journey, Louise arrives back home.

"Oh, Louise, where have you been?" said her friend Monique, and Louise looked at her.

"I'll tell you" she said. And she did.

Bliss's illustrations flesh out DiCamillo's wry text with perfect attention to detail as we see Louise motoring up the Congo aboard the African Queen and holding forth for her audience of rapt pigs, cows, and poultry back home. There is plenty to discover on each page as the heroine hen lives her dreams of high adventure.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Spooky Twosomes: You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Scary Tales to Read Together by Mary Ann Hoberman

I'm a zombie. Who are you?

Me? I am a zombie, too.

Well, we are a dreadful pair.

Yes, I know. It isn't fair.

People scatter when they see us.

Not a person wants to be us.

We are hated. We are feared.

Well, admit it. We are weird.

What a couple. What a twosome.

We scare ourselves. We are so gruesome

But this resourceful duo grab a couple of doll-faced masks and live their fantasy of being "charming cuties," bamboozling everyone before returning to their regular haunts:

Let's go home and just relax.
Have a plate of zombie snacks.
Read a zombie tale or two.
You read to me. I'll read to you!

In the latest of her wildly popular series, You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Scary Tales to Read Together (You Read to Me, I'll Read to You) Mary Ann Hoberman has left the fractured fairy tale format behind for a collection of thirteen not-too-scary rhyming stories featuring skeletons, ghouls, dinosaurs, zombies, mummies, and some intrepid children who love to be scared. Bouncy story poems, written for two color-coded voices, with color-coded conclusions to be spoken in unison, feature all the creepy critters of Halloween--a witch and her talented broom who squabble over who's the star of the show, a pair of kids who plot the mischief they could create if only they owned a skeleton, and a ghost and a mouse who are scared only of each other, to name a few. Each tale appears in a double-page spread designed by illustrator Michael Emberley, with a story-in-rhyme which just begs to be read aloud--by parent and child, by pairs of school reading buddies, at holiday parties, in school programs, or at candlelit sleepovers during the scary season.

Other fun-time titles for two voices in this series include You Read to Me, I'll Read to You Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together and You Read to Me, I'll Read to You Very Short Stories to Read Together.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

No More Monsters: Go Away, Big Monster by Ed Emberley

"Make it go away," the toddler plaintively requests, and in this classic die-cut book, Caldecott artist Ed Emberley's Go Away, Big Green Monster! gives the very young reader exactly that option.

The cover shows a not-so-scary green-faced monster with yellow eyes glowing through the die-cut circles in the board cover. As the book is opened, we hear that

Big Green Monster has two big yellow eyes.

In fact, all we see are the big yellow eyes on a jet-black page. But this is a Build-A-Monster book, and with each page turn we add a first a "long bluish, greenish nose," and then a "big red mouth" with "sharp white teeth," "two little squiggly ears," and "scraggly purple hair."

YOU DON'T SCARE ME! reads the text at that point, and turning the next page, we find out why! Now comes the fun of disassembling the monster, making each feature go away as we turn the remaining pages until at last even the big yellow eyes are all gone, leaving the black endpaper of the cover. For even more fun, we can make the monster come back and go away again by paging backward through the book!

Talk about empowering the reader! Emberley's skillful design gives the monster-averse child total control over this monster as he appears and disappears before our eyes. For kids who find spooks and monsters mostly frightful, this book is cheaper and more fun than a trip to a therapist!

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Not So Scary! Tell Me a Scary Story by Carl Reiner

"If it gets too scary for you, just say 'Stop reading' and I will, because I love you very much," croons the grandfatherly avatar of Carl Reiner as he snuggles a small child and begins a story that begins with the familiar "When I was just a boy...." opener.

Snooping on a crotchety-looking bachelor neighbor, young Carl spots what looks like a marble falling out of one of Mr. Neewollah's moving boxes. On closer view, the "marble" turns out to be a glass eyeball. Intrigued, Carl waits 'til late at night to sneak the eyeball back into the neighbor's house. Sneaking in through a basement window, little Carl meets a hairy, scary creature who cackles that he ate Mr. Neewollah and invites the boy to look for Mr. Neewollah inside him. Unable to escape, the terrified boy watches the creature twist his head and tug at his back and finally beg "Get me out of here!"

Of course, when he shakily asks how to help, young Carl is told "Unstick this darned zipper," and Mr. Neewollah (Halloween spelled backwards), emerges from his theatrical monster getup and takes the boy on a tour of his spooky costume collection.

A book and CD combination, Tell Me a Scary Story is a not-too-scary story to kick off a Halloween party, an October birthday party, or a class writing project during the scary season. James Bennett's illustrations are done in suitably spooky cartoon style, and the audio version is read by veteran actor Carl Reiner.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

National Book Award Finalist: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

A final-five nominee for the National Book Award for Young People, Judy Blundell's What I Saw And How I Lied, is a darkly realistic story in which a thicket of secrets at the heart of the lives of her mother and stepfather entangle the young main character like the mangrove swamps of south Florida where the story is set.

We first see Evie, a young fifteen-going-on-sixteen in those transitional days of 1947, a time in limbo between the war years and the booming fifties, as she and her best friend Margie practice smoking candy store chocolate cigarettes, talk uncertainly about boys and school soon to start, and walk homeward on a late summer afternoon, trying not to step on the cracks. Her stepfather has finally returned from the war and started a profitable appliance business, but their life in Queens, living in the house of her perpetually sour Grandma Gladys, goes on much as always. Evie worships her stylish mother Bev, the "dish of Queens" as her stepdad calls her, and desperately seeks the warm affection of her stepfather Joe.

But when Joe suddenly urges Bev and Evie to set off for an impromptu vacation in Palm Beach, Evie is thrown into much different world. At the La Mirage Hotel, they meet a fashionable wealthy couple, the Graysons, and a very attractive young man, Peter Coleridge, who turns out to be a wartime "buddy" of Joe's. Evie is immediately overwhelmed by a teen-aged crush on Peter which draws forth feelings she has never experienced. Twenty-three-year-old Peter appears to respond with some restrained romantic interest, but Evie's mother seems to insinuate herself into every possible moment with Peter.

And there's much more than a holiday triangle between a pretty young girl and her glamorous and experienced mother here. Joe and the Graysons quickly work out a deal to buy the La Mirage Hotel. Evie wonders where Joe's money is coming from until Peter confides to her how he and Joe looted a Nazi cache of confiscated Jewish gold and jewelry in the final days of the world. With this revelation, Evie begins to understand Joe's coolness toward his supposed old buddy and the growing conflict between Joe and her mother over Bev's suspected involvement with Peter.

Events move fast for Evie as her parents and Peter set out on a short fishing trip and Peter is supposedly lost overboard in a storm. With the revelation that no one--not Peter, the object of her youthful romantic fantasy, not her mother, who turns out to have been her probable rival for his attention, and not her stepfather, who has more than one reason to wish Peter dead--none of them is what she wanted or believed them to be, Evie sees that for her nothing will ever be the same. At the inquest over Peter's suspicious death, Evie realizes that everything depends upon her choice--and that the best choice may not be the right choice, but it must be the one with which she must live.

So here I was. I would live with Joe and Mom. I had no other place to go. Joe would carve the roast on Sundays. He would put up the Christmas tree. They would hand me the phone, pick up my socks, leave the porch light on. I would never know what happened on the boat that day, but they would be my parents. For the duration.

But while I would be their daughter, while I'd eat the roast and come home from dates and wash the dishes, I would also be myself. I would love my mother, but I would never want to be her again.... I would never tell another lie. I would be the truth teller, starting today. That would probably be tough.

But I would be tougher.

A coming-of-age story with a bit of a mystery and an unexpected ending embedded within it, What I Saw And How I Lied is a deep and complex story of a child thrown abruptly into an adult world which, unlike the sidewalk rhyme of childhood, operates under murky and constantly changing rules.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Cat-alog Cat: Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron

It was the coldest dawn of the new year in Spencer, Iowa,--18 degrees below zero--when a library clerk heard a strange sound inside the book drop. "I think there's an animal in the drop box," she told Library Director Vicki Myron. Hoping for nothing more daunting than a chipmunk, Myron got down upon her knees to open the pull-down lid.

The first thing I felt was a blast of freezing air. Someone had jammed a book into the return slot, wedging it open. It was as cold in the box as it was outside; maybe colder, since the box was lined with metal. You could have kept frozen meat in there. I was still catching my breath when I saw the kitten.

It was huddled in the front left corner of the box, its head down, its legs tucked underneath it, trying to appear as small as possible. The books were piled haphazardly to the top of the box, partially hiding it from view. I lifted one gingerly for a better look. The kitten looked up at me, slowly and sadly. Then it lowered its head and sank down into its hole. It wasn't trying to appear tough. It wasn't trying to hide. I don't even think it was scared. It was just hoping to be saved.

In the kind hands of the staff, the rescued kitten amazingly survived its cold introduction into the world of the Spencer Public Library and grew into a glowing ginger tom endowed with more than the usual measure of mellowness peculiar to his type. Christened "Dewey," for Melvil Dewey of Dewey Decimal System fame, (formally named "Dewey Readmore Books") in a "name-the-cat" contest, Dewey's protector coaxed the reluctant library board into allowing him to become the official Spencer Library cat.

It was 1988, and Spencer, Iowa, needed Dewey. It was the time of "Farm Aid," when half the local farmers were forced off their land by an array of market conditions. Vicki Myron needed Dewey, too. A novice head librarian without a graduate degree, she had bravely talked her way into the position with a promise to get credentialed, despite the fact that the closest accredited graduate school was five hours away, and despite the fact that she was a single mother already stretched near her limits. But Dewey took to life in the library like a fish to water, and his ability to charm and adore a wide range of patrons--from severely handicapped children to resistant businessmen--won the library new fame and many new users in the region.

Like all good cats, Dewey was funny. He loved napping in boxes, even working his fluffy body into a half-full Kleenex box, hind feet first, then front feet, and finally wedging his body inside with only his tail and head visible. He learned how to circumnavigate the entire library from aloft, climbing graduated book shelves to leap to the top of the hanging fluorescent light panels and deftly hopping from one to another. A long-haired cat, he was obviously embarrassed by his substantial hairballs, which he tried dutifully to hide inconspicuously. He shared yogurt and Arby's beef and cheddar sandwiches with the staff, and was not above filching the fillings from their sandwiches if the diners weren't vigilant.

Dewey also had that uncanny ability of some cats to know exactly how and where he was needed. He was always at the front door at 7:00 a.m., waiting and "waving" his front paws to meet Myron each morning. He positioned himself there at nine o'clock when the library opened to greet the early patrons one by one. He did rounds with the staff, riding on his favorite book truck as the staff shelved returned books each afternoon, and he attended all committee meetings, jumping up and circling the conference table to greet each member and choosing selected laps to grace with his gorgeously furry self and welcome purr. When Myron slaved over her library school papers on the library's one computer late at night, he always knew when she needed a quick "hide and seek" break among the book shelves to restore her soul. At story time he joined the preschoolers, who were told that Dewey might choose their laps if they were quiet and still, and seemed always to know which one needed special attention, and he even brought forth the first smile of a severely handicapped child who could not speak or move to stroke him when he unfailingly chose her lap when she arrived.

Myron called him her "publicity director," with good reason. Dewey, it seemed, could rise to any occasion. One day a family with a young girl arrived after a long, long drive made to see the now-famous library cat. The little girl had a wrapped present for Dewey, a toy mouse. Now Myron knew that Dewey would only deign to play with cat toys if they contained catnip, and she feared that the child was going to be sadly disappointed in his reaction:

Dewey was asleep in his new fake-fur-lined bed. As I woke him, I tried a little mental telepathy: "Please, Dewey, please! This one's important." He was so tired, he barely opened his eyes. The father sat down and put both Dewey and the girl on his lap. Dewey immediately snuggled up against her.

They sat like that for a minute or two. Finally the girl showed him the present she had brought, with its carefully tied ribbon and bow. Dewey perked up, but I could tell he was still tired. "Come on, Dewey," I thought. "Snap out of it!" The girl unwrapped the gift, and sure enough, it was a plain toy mouse, no catnip in sight. My heart sank. This was going to be a disaster.

The girl dangled the mouse in front of Dewey's sleepy eyes to get his attention. Then she delicately tossed it a few feet away. As soon as it hit the ground, Dewey jumped on it. He chased that toy; he threw it in the air; he batted it with his paws. Dewey gave that mouse every ounce of energy he had. The girl giggled with delight. She had come hundreds of miles to see a cat, and she was not disappointed.

Why did I ever worry about Dewey? He always came through.

Dewey did. From a town favorite to a state phenom to a nationally lionized lbrary cat, as his fame spread Dewey charmed them all--newspaper reporters, magazine writers, radio and television hosts. During the 19 years he lived in the small-town library in Spencer, he grew to be a genuine cat celebrity. When he died in 2005, his obit appeared in the New York Times.

But his truest obituary is Vicki Myron's.

The most important thing is having someone there to scoop you up, to hold you tight, and tell you everything is all right.

For years I thought I had done that for Dewey.

But that's only a sliver of the truth. The real truth is that for all those years, on the hard days, the good days, and all the unremembered days that make up the pages of the real book of our lives, Dewey was holding me.

He's still holding me now. So thank you, Dewey. Thank you. Wherever you are.

In Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World Vicki Myron skillfully weaves Dewey's story into the story of her own life and that of her small town. An account of an ordinary, yet extraordinary cat and woman and library and place, this is a wonderful memoir, a testament to the joy at the heart of life.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

New Format, Same Great Spooky Stories: Scary Stories Treasury by Alvin Schwartz

Just in time for Halloween reading and campfire story telling, Alvin Schwartz's definitive collection of scary folk tales has been republished in a new, larger book format, wisely keeping Caldecott illustrator Stephen Gammell's wonderful black and white illustrations.

Originally published in a three-book series, Scary Stories Treasury; Three Books to Chill Your Bones: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark/ More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark/ Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones is a welcome resource for teachers and other children's group leaders, but it is especially welcome for the audience for which it was originally intended, elementary and middle school readers. With a wide-ranging collection of stories, drawn mostly from American roots as well as world lore, there is something for everyone--short humorous tales of a page or two with minimal scariness, and for the hard-core can't-scare-me crowd, a few of the spike-your-hair, goosebump-raising killer-diller campfire tales which we've all heard in one version or another. This book is a great collectible for libraries whose older volumes are well-worn or for families who want a thrifty resource with which to dip into the spooky genre from time to time.

Also republished in a picture-book format is Schwartz's beginning reader spooky story collection In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories. There is also Schwartz' (to my mind, even better) sequel for the beginning reader set, Ghosts!: Ghostly Tales from Folklore (An I Can Read Book, Level 2.) which is genuinely accessible to early readers without giving up what makes these folk tales delightfully spooky.

Conscientious folklorist that he is, Schwartz appends scholarly sources and attributions to these tales in each book--a nice touch which places these evergreen stories within their historical settings.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Boo! Five Pesky Pumpkins by Marcia Vaughn

Five pesky pumpkins on a scary night
Are out to make mischief and give their friends a fright!

In a glowing orange and black flap and pop-up book, five bright orange pumpkins set out to visit a spooky castle and find a way to scare each other as well. Counting down from five, one by one they disappear--into a dinosaur skeleton's mouth, inside a locking dungeon door, with the wave of a wizard's wand, or a slurp from a warty witch--until at last only one pumpkin, now neither perky nor pesky, finds herself all alone in a dark wood beside a bare, black tree:

One worried pumpkin
All alone tonight.
Out jump the others..."BOO!"
And give her such a fright!

Marcia Vaughn and Viviana Garofoli use the surprise flap and pop-up devices to good effect in Five Pesky Pumpkins: A Counting Book with Flaps and Pop-Ups! which will delight young children who love a surprise and a sudden scare.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Boo! Where's My Mummy? by Carolyn Crimi

On a deep, dark night in a deep dark place, Little Baby Mummy did not want to go to bed!

"Just one more game of Hide and Shriek," he pleaded with Big Mama Mummy. "Count your bandages while I hide!"

But Little Baby Mummy has no intentions of hiding anywhere Big Mama Mummy might find him and put him to bed. He's off into the deep, dark nighttime graveyard. But soon, he realizes that he's all alone. "Mama Mummy, where are you?" he calls plaintively, looking over gravestones and under tombs. Tromping into the "spookery woods," he hears a frightful sound.

Clank, clink, clank woo hoo!

It's BONES, a skeleton caught brushing his big clickety clack teeth, who has one wise warning for Little Baby Mummy:

"Little Baby Mummy, GO TO BED! There are creatures that bite in the deep, dark night!"

But with an insouciant "I'm not scared," Little Baby Mummy tromps on into the deep, dark night, where he meets up with Glob who warns him of the dangers of the swamp, and Drac, who greets him from his deep, dark cave. "You're not my mummy!" asserts Little Baby Mummy.

"Little Baby Mummy," Drac says, flapping his flappy, floppy wings, "Go to bed. There are creatures that swoop in the deep, dark night."

Little Baby Mummy may not be scared of THESE residents of the night, but there is one nocturnal creature which goes rustle, rustle, SCRITCH SCRITCH scary enough to send Little Baby Mummy scuttling back to Big Mama Mummy on the double, just in time to be re-wrapped nice and tight, all scrubbed and brushed like a proper little mummy, just in time for bed.

Where's My Mummy?, Crimi's not-too-scary story of an appealing little bedtime truant, benefits beautifully from John Mander's illustrations of his funny-spooky creatures of the night, especially Drac the Vampire, interrupted in his evening toilette with washcloth and Q-Tips at the ready, impatiently dealing with the impertinent toddler as best he can. It's a humorous little adventure with a not-too-surprising conclusion, ending as all such stories should, with a motherly hug and a loving bedtime kiss for the intrepid young wanderer.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Night Flyer: Zipping, Zapping, Zooming Bats by Ann Earle

October is the month for bats--real or imagined or hung decoratively from the ceilings or taped to the windows of homes and schools all over. For basic information on bats, especially the popular little brown bat, the noted Let's-Read-and-Find-Out series has a high-flying entry in the nonfiction division.

Zipping, Zapping, Zooming Bats (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) features eye-catching acrylic and colored pencil illustrations by the esteemed Henry Cole, an easy-to-read text, and excellent back matter to back up its information. Concentrating initially upon the habits and behavior of the brown bat, Earle describes the complex, five-fingered bat wing, the bat's ability to navigate by echolocation, and its voracious appetite for insects, eating half its weight in night-flying insects such as mosquitoes in a single night.

Earle also takes us into the bats' nursery, where little bats are born, nursed, groomed, and kept warm inside their mothers' folded wings. The author dispels bat superstitions and briefly describes common species such as the hog-nosed, leaf-nosed, and gray bats, even devoting a couple of pages to the Flying Fox, the largest of the bat family. Earle discusses endangered bats and even provides directions for homemade bat houses to provide needed habitat for these fascinating animals.

Other excellent nonfiction sources are Lily Woods' Bats (Scholastic Science Readers, Level 1), Bats - Creatures of the Night (All Aboard Reading: Level 2: Grades 1-3), and Gail Gibbons' charmingly illustrated Bats.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tempest at the Tea Party: Tea for Ruby by Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York



Even little girls who dream of lifting a pinkie with royalty need some education in etiquette, and Ruby is no exception.

When she finds an elaborate invitation to tea on Sunday next in her mailbox, Ruby is ecstatic! Immediately she yells out her good news to the mailman who just delivered the envelope.

"Ruby, I hope you won't shout when you have tea with the Queen," he laughs.

Ruby races into her house where her brother is reclining on the sofa with his iPod, jumps on the sofa as she tells him her news, and spills his popcorn all over the floor.

"Ruby, I hope you won't interrupt when you have tea with the Queen!" he grumbles.

Undaunted by his complaints, Ruby runs for the playground, jumping ahead of the line to announce her good fortune from the top of the slide.

"Ruby, I hope you will wait your turn when you have tea with the Queen!" her friends grouse.

Ruby spreads her good news during a performance at Mr. Roy's Puppet Farm, rushes into her ballet class to spread the word without changing into her ballet costume, and yells out her tale to her weary dad before he can get in the door in the evening.

"Ruby, I hope you will remember to welcome people when you have tea with the Queen," he counsels.

Ruby's biggest faux pas of the day comes when she tell her news at dinner.

"BIVE BLIN BLIGHTED DOO BLAV BLEE BLIV BLEE FLEEN" she announces with a full mouth, spewing spaghetti everywhere, from her hair to her family's plates.

"Ruby, I hope you won't talk with your mouth full and won't tip your chair back and will use your fork and napkin when you have tea with the Queen!"

At last the big day comes. Pampered and primped and presumably with her best manners at the ready, Ruby and her mother drive sedately to--her grandmother's house. There on the porch is a large banner which reads "WELCOME TO TEA AT THE PALACE!"

"My princess!" welcomes Grandma, and the tea party is a huge success.

Oh, and Ruby even remembers to send "the Queen" a very polite thank-you note.

Dear Grandma,

Thank you so much for inviting me to tea. I tried to use my best manners. The treats were delicious, but my favorite thing was just being with you.

I love you,

Normally I'm not a big fan of celebrity authors, but after all, Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson should know a thing or two about having tea with the Queen, and her advice on etiquette is good even if we never tip a teacup at Windsor Palace. The chief attractions here, however, are the exuberantly elegant illustrations of Robin Preiss Glasser, best known for her work in the very popular Fancy Nancy series. Tea for Ruby (Paula Wiseman Books) is a worthy addition to what might be termed the "pinque" genre of picture books for girls who like their heroines on the unabashedly fancy side.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Love That Boy: Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech

ROOM 204.

September 12: I hate that cat.
Like a dog hates a rat.
I said I hate that cat
Like a dog hates a rat.
I hate to see it in the morning.
I hate to see that
FAT black cat.

In Newbery winner Sharon Creech's new Hate That Cat: A Novel, through his class journal we again meet Jack, the poetry-averse fourth-grader introduced in her acclaimed Love That Dog. Written in simple, heart-touching free verse, the first book shows how Jack, grieving deeply over the death of his dog Sky, works out his feelings through his teacher's skillful presentation of poetry to the class.

In this sequel, Jack's remaining grief over the loss of his dog is evident in his repeated assertions that he hates cats, especially the big black neighborhood cat whose prickly self defense Jack sees as a personal affront whenever they meet.

Today the fat black cat
up in the tree by the bus stop
dropped a nut on my head
and when I yelled at it
that fat black cat said
in a

I hate that cat.

This is the story of
and cat.

In his journal entries through the school year we see Jack learning about the tools of poetry in the work of Edgar Allan Poe, William Carlos Williams, and Walter Dean Myers, writing his way through his still painful loss of his dog, and arguing with his didactic Uncle Bill, a college professor who favors long, ponderous poems with strict rhyme and meter. Finally, we see his meeting with Miss Stretchberry's "fantastically funny" kittens, one of which he finds as a surprise Christmas gift under his tree,

The gift changes not only Jack's opinion about cats, but the kitten, whom he names Skitters McKitters, eases his embarrassment about his mother's use of sign language when she and the kitten visit the classroom at the end of the year. Here is Jack's new poem.

THE GIFT (Inspired by Willaim Carlos Williams)

So much depends upon
a black kitten
in a straw basket
at Christmas.

So much depends upon
a black kitten
dotted with white,
beside the photo
of my yellow dog.

And finally, by year's end,

LOVE THAT CAT (Inspired by Walter Dean Myers)
by Jack

Love that cat
like a bird loves to twitter.
I said I love that cat
like a bird loves to twitter.
Love to call her in the morning.
Love to call her
Hey, there, Skitter McKitter.
Love that cat.

Growing up is hard work, and as Sharon Creech shows, so much depends, sometimes, upon a teacher, a fat black cat who brings a lost kitten home, a mother who loves her boy, and a boy who finds that he can trust his love for them all.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Odd Couple: Boris and Bella by Carolyn Crimi and Gus Grimly

Bella LeGrossi was the messiest monster in Booville. None of the other monsters could stand Bella's mess, so Bella lived by herself.

Boris Kleenitoff was the tidiest monster in Booville. He vacuumed his vampires, dusted his spiderwebs, and polished his pythons daily. No one could stand Boris's persnickety ways, so Bella lived alone.

Boris and Bella can't seem to compromise on their habitual housekeeping conflict, but underneath their differences, there is a suggestion of attraction between the two. Still, Boris is not invited to Bella's holiday barbooque, and Boris sends Valentine's Day chocolate gargoyles to every monster but Bella.

But when the battling twosome compete to hold the biggest monster mash on Halloween, both are spurned by their spooky friends, Bella because her cauldrons are too crusty and Boris because his bewitched brooms never stop sweeping up his place. Instead their nasty neighbors choose to attend Harry Beastie's bash, because, as they put it, "His dust bunnies don't bite" and "He doesn't worry about claw marks scuffing the the floor."

Enraged, Bella and Boris decide to attend only to berate Beastie for daring to derail their party plans. At Harry Beasties' bash, however, the two party poopers can only hold out until the beat of the WolfMan Band gets their toes to tapping. Finally, the two relent:

Bella sighed. She loved to dance.

Boris looked at the floor. He hadn't danced in SO long!

Bella looked at Boris shyly. "Maybe we should show them how it's done," she said.

A truce follows for the terrible two. Moderating their housekeeping styles, the two remain friends and the following year they throw the "biggest bash Booville had ever seen... together."

Carolyn Crimi's Boris and Bella is full of puns, alliterations, and rhymes that fill the text with chuckles and grins. (The monster dine at a boo-ffet, Cy Clops bebops and the Bogeyman boogies, for example.) Gus Grimley's sophisticated and evocative artistic style is just right for this tongue-in-cheek tale of a couple of creeps who bury the hatchet. Pair this tried-and-true tale with Lisa Wheeler's brand-new Boogie Knights, (Richard Jackson Books (Atheneum Hardcover)), reviewed in my post here, for happy Halloween howls of laughter.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Eye of the Beholder: Daft Bat by Jeanne Willis

There was once a bat who got everything the wrong way around.

At least, that's what the wild young animals thought.

Owl sends a welcome wagon committee of youngsters to find out what sort of gift the newly arrived bat would like.

"I'd like an umbrella to keep my feet dry, please!" she responds from the tree limb where she's hanging upside down.

Baby Elephant is incensed, arguing that umbrellas are made to keep your head dry. As the conversation continues, Bat points out the virtues of an umbrella in the rain--they keep the rain out of her ears, she says--and opens the fancy new umbrella up over her feet. Goat Kid thinks she's daft. Baby Elephant thinks she's bonkers and berserk; and Owl offers to quiz her to determine if she's really crazy.

Bat sticks to her point of view. "A mountain has a flat part at the top and a pointy bit at the bottom hanging down!" she says firmly. Finally, Owl stops the clamor of disagreement from the young animals. "Have you tried looking at things from Bat's point of view?" he asks.

And of course, when the animals climb up to take a look at things while hanging upside down, they realize that Bat's world view makes sense when they look at things her way. As the rain begins to soak them all, Bat suggests that they get down from the tree, and giving them her new umbrella to keep them dry, she repairs to her cozy dry cave to, er, hang out her way.

Tony Ross's charming gray-and-pink-splashed illustrations lift this favorite fable to an appealing comic level. Like Ed Young's Caldecott Honor book Seven Blind Mice (Reading Railroad), though, the theme of looking at issues from all points of view is an essentially serious one. Daft Bat does a great job of introducing this idea with a bit of silliness and a chuckle or two.

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