Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kid Sleuth at Camp: Cam Jansen and the Summer Camp Mysteries by David A. Adler

As fans of the girl sleuth might expect, kid detective Cam Jansen and her co-gumshoe Eric Shelton have hardly arrived at Camp Eagle Lake when Jennifer, nicknamed "Cam" for her camera-like photographic memory, finds herself engaged in a bit of impromptu detecting. It seems that most of the campers' parents spotted a blue mailbox look-alike with a sign asking parents to use the envelopes provided to drop campers' spending money into the box for safekeeping. Strangely, the camp director knows nothing of such a box, and when the disturbed parents hurry back to where the large metal box was posted, they find it gone, along with thousands of dollars of campers' money deposited by their thoughtful parents.

Eric is sure that Cam's famous memory can come up with a clue, and after questioning the staff, other campers, their parents, and the camp gatekeeper Barry, Cam winnows the suspects down to the driver of a blue car arriving suspiciously with no kids aboard. Cam searches her memory and--CLICK!--up comes the memory of the suspect's blue car and its license plate number! Cam is a camp hero before she even meets her grateful bunk mates.

Since this edition is a "Super Special," there are still two more cases to follow--"It's a Raid," and "The Basketball Mystery." In the first, Cam and her bunkies return from lunch to find their cabin trashed, but all her picture-perfect memories show are a neat bunk house before and a messy one after the raid. Still, Cam and Eric prove that they can collect the clues and sleuth out the perpetrator the old fashioned way to solve the case.

Then, on the next to the last day of camp, the kids discover that someone has swiped all the sports equipment, the sport director's computer, and the trophies and prizes for the final playoffs. Barry reports that no one has left the camp in a vehicle, so the young detectives know that the swag must be stashed somewhere inside the camp grounds. Since all she saw was the crime scene after the gear was gone, Cam's memory bank has a big NOTHING on this one, but she does notice the camp cat, Kitty, suspiciously licking the padlock for the shed. Collecting all the clues leads Cam to the camp kitchen where a walk-in freezer seems the likely location of the loot. CLICK! she solves the last mystery just in time to restore the equipment for the final playoffs at Camp Eagle Lake. It's no surprise that Cam Jansen tops off the celebration by winning Camp Eagle Lake's first-ever Best Detective Award.

With summer camps just around the corner, Cam Jansen & the Summer Camp Mysteries (Cam Jansen Adventure) is right on time for beginning chapter book sleuths to kick off their summer's fun. Cam Jansen is into her twenty-sixth year as a preteen sleuth, and her fast-paced mysteries written at third-grade level are a good fit for early elementary readers.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hollywood Holiday: Secrets of My Hollywood Life by Jen Colonita

In an old plot line refurbished from The Prince and the Pauper (Signet Classics) and more recently Audrey Hepburn's Roman Holiday. Kaitlin Burke is the squeaky clean teen actress who has grown up on Family Affairs, a weekly soap in which she plays the good sister foile to the bad girl sister character portrayed by Skylar McKenzie. Sky really is her evil twin in real life, always scrapping for first billing, vying for off-season movie roles, wrangling dates with gorgeous co-stars, and pumping herself for a position on the Entertainment Weekly's "It List."

But when Family Affairs goes on hiatus in April, Kaitlin is ready for an escape from the endless lineup of publicity interviews and spot appearances her pushy parents and publicist Laney have scheduled for every minute of her so-called break. Snagging an anonymous pizza with her non-Hollywood friend, Liz, Kaitlin comes up with a wistful fantasy holiday: a few weeks of regular high school life at Liz's school, the upscale Clark Academy, as a disguised transfer student from England. With her retinue of makeup, hairstyle, and wardrobe experts, and with reluctant permission from her parents and manager, Kaitlin is transformed into Rachel Robbins, junior. With short, nondescript brown bobbed hair, brown contacts, a Brit accent (learned in a previous Disney spy kid role), dorky glasses, and a Discount World wardrobe, Kaitlin/Rachel slips into the spring semester with relative ease, making friends within Liz's circle and even getting attention from the hunky captain of the lacrosse team, Austin Meyers.

All goes well at school, although when Austin becomes her American history tutor, she learns that Sky has no corner on cattiness when she runs up against Austin's girlfriend Lori. Kaitlin manages to juggle both her lives, attending movie premiers and the FA wrap party as the glamorous Kaitlin Burke and scrambling to catch up in French class and write a research paper on the Civil War with Austin's help at school. Still, Kaitlin loves being accepted for herself as Rachel, and eagerly throws herself into working with Liz on planning the annual Spring Fling dance at Clark Academy.

Things start to go wrong when Lori's proposal, Night of a Thousand Stars, is voted in as the theme for the dance, with everyone dressing as their favorite celebrities. When Austin breaks up with Lori and invites Kaitlin to the big event, she's totally thrilled--until he suggests that they dress as Trevor and Kaitlin, America's favorite teen couple from Family Affairs. Ironically then, on the night of the prom, she finds herself as Rachel Robbins dressed as Kaitlin, wearing a Kaitlin Burke gown and a Kaitlin Burke wig. To make the whole thing even stranger, none other than the snarky Skylar McKenzie is making a charitable guest appearance at the dance.

When she arrives at the dance and sees the television vans surrounding the gym, Kaitlin realizes that Sky has managed to get her hands on her cell phone, now knows all, and is about to blow her cover in front of a coast-to-coast audience. It's a showdown of the teen queens (surprise, surprise) which seems right out of a made-for-TV movie. When the dust settles, of course, all's well in Kaitlin-land. Sky comes up looking like the evil manipulator that she is, Kaitlin beats her out for the juicy part in the summer action movie which Sky covets, and Austin finally forgives Kaitlin's deception. (Fade out and roll credits.)

With a wholesome, goodhearted Hollywood princess, Secrets of My Hollywood Life is a light romp through the perils of teen celebrity life. Much less snippy than The Clique and less boy obsessed than the The Gossip Girls, this one should be popular with those 'tween and teen readers raised on Disney sit coms. In fact, there are already two sequels to follow Kaitlin's progress through the publicity wars, Secrets of My Hollywood Life: On Location (Secrets of My Hollywood Life) and Secrets of My Hollywood Life: Family Affairs (Secrets of My Hollywood Life) which take our wholesome heroine through her summer movie-making and back to work on the next season's shooting of Family Affairs.

Although Kaitlin Burke seems impossibly unspoiled for a teen television queen, zipping through this series offers a lot more socially redeeming value than soaking up the latest about Britney or Paris or whoever in the gossip mags, and it's undeniably fun escapist reading.


Monday, April 28, 2008

While We Wait for Breaking Dawn...: The Host by Stephanie Meyers

Young adult readers who are anxiously awaiting the August 2 publication of Stephanie Meyer's Breaking Dawn (The Twilight Saga, Book 4) (in which the heroine Bella must decide to join with Edward Cullen in marriage and in eternal, albeit non-human, life as a vampire) have something to keep them reading. Meyer's forthcoming science fiction thriller The Host: A Novel is set for publication May 6.

A slight departure from the fantasy thriller genre, this new title has an equally innovative plot, in which an extraterrestrial species invades Earth, not through warfare, but by insinuating their worm-like beings into the brains of humans and thus taking over their physical bodies. Most human minds succumb to the takeover, while a few uninfected humans flee and set up rebel camps temporarily out of reach of the "body snatching" occupation force. One human soul, however, refuses to succumb to the takeover, and Melanie's mind co-exists in her brain along with that of its interloper, who calls herself "Wanderer."

The plot takes off when Melanie's resistant soul interacts with that of Wanderer, persuading her to search the desert for Melanie's rebel brother Jamie, who is in hiding with Jared, the boy she loves. Wanderer, too, has a missing soulmate somewhere on Earth, and the two, "the host" and the invader, sharing one body and one set of needs and still human emotions, begin the pilgrimage to find their true loves.

It's an intriguing story line, both as a romance and as science fiction. According to Publisher's Weekly and other advance reviewers, the warfare between Earthlings and Extraterrestrials takes place here not on battlefields but within the conjoined minds and souls of The Host and The Wanderer. Meyer's vampire saga has proven that she is capable of sustaining characters trapped between two worlds, and it is sure to be interesting to see how she works out this familiar theme inside this new premise.

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Power to the Poultry: Duck for President (2008) by Doreen Cronin

Just when we thought we might get a respite from bumper stickers, yard signs, and knocks at the door from bright-eyed be-buttoned canvassers! But no! Duck is back, in a refurbished, election-year edition, to make another run at the Oval Office in Doreen Cronin's classic, Duck for President.

Duck has had it with slaving away at his chores (lawn mowing and coffee grinding) on the farm. UP go the signs!


After a recount the vote is certified: DUCK 21, FARMER BROWN 6--and Duck is officially in charge.

But it doesn't take long for Duck to realize that running a farm is hard work, so he decides to find an easier elected office, and up go the signs again.


Then DUCK finds out that all governors do is listen to complaints. Up the signs go.

After all, what electorate can resist a slogan like "A FRESH BILL FOR CAPITOL HILL."

After a tough campaign, Duck moves into the White House, where things really get hairy for our feathered friend. This is the worst job in the world (and very hard work), and after deep thought in the Oval Office, Duck picks up the want ads and finds the perfect job for an ex-President:


Duck turns the country over to the Vice-President, returns to the farm, and, between taking a turn at grass cutting and coffee grinding, begins to work very hard on his memoirs.

Backing up Cronin's clever text, Betsy Lewin has a (inaugural) ball with the illustrations here, showing Duck in all the familiar past President poses--Richard Nixon, FDR, and, in that famous rear view of the President wearily leaning over his desk in the Oval Office, JFK. She even makes a sly visual reference to their earlier Caldecott Honor book on the final page, where we see Duck writing his memoir on his PC, while the old black manual typewriter from their hit book Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type lies discarded in the trash can beside him. It's a light-hearted look at how everyone's favorite poultry politician Peter Principles his way right to the top and back to his historic retirement at the ranch, and it's the perfect election-year read-aloud for the picture book crowd.

Labels: ,

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Move on Over, Rover! Stella Unleashed by Linda Ashmon


Metal bars,
A cold, hard floor.
No window seat,
No doggy door.

Countless strangers came to call,
I listened, watched,
And sniffed them all.
Then turned away,
And curled up tight.
Nice enough,
But not quite right.

Then one day I sniffed a sniff,
And got the most delightful whiff--
Dirt and candy, grass, and cake.
I stuck my paw out for a shake.

A boy knelt down.
I licked his face.
He rubbed my head;
I'd found my place.

That's how I chose this family,
Not perfect, no,
Except for me!

Stella, Unleashed: Notes from the Doghouse tells in short, pithy verse the story of a shelter dog who finds her place with the just-right family of her choice. Stella's poetic ruminations on her family members from a canine point of view are so on target that dog owners will be chuckling with self-recognition as they see themselves through Stella's eyes. One really funny spread shows Dad absentmindedly going through his wake-up routine while Stella tries to communicate in canine body language. She hopefully drops her ball in front of him, and he strolls on by; she goes meaningfully to the door, and he gives her a passing pat on the snout; she stares poignantly at her empty bowl, and he pours himself an eye-opening cup of java.

So much I'd like to talk about--
History! Science! Art!
But based on observation
It appears they're not that smart!

Other family members get put in their place as well: the cat grudgingly gets her due: "...She's acrobatic. If I could walk on tabletops like that, I would be ecstatic!" The baby gets a wary eye, with the counsel "cannot be trusted near tail." Joyful lines of verse romp across the pages, artfully integrated with Paul Meisel's pencil, gouache, and acrylic illustrations, which flow seamlessly from page to page. This picture book is as much fun for the whole family as a new puppy, and Stella is a character than few will forget. Here's Stella on the endless daily duties of dogs:


Alarm clock,
Inspector of the kitchen,
Ruler of the yard.
Protector of the house,
Retriever of the ball.

Move over, Martha, Harry, and Ike, and make room in the doghouse of honor for Stella, the poetic pooch! More Stella, please!

Labels: ,

Friday, April 25, 2008

Campaign Trail Tale: LaRue for Mayor: Letters from the Campaign Trail by Mark Teague

That king of the canine correspondents is back. Yes, it's Ike LaRue, that enfant terrible of terriers, who finds his inner civil libertarian in Mark Teague's latest, Letters from the Campaign Trail: LaRue for Mayor.

When doggie delinquents overturn a hot-dog car at a campaign rally, Ike's owner, Mrs. Gertrude LaRue is hurt and hospitalized, and Candidate Bugwort thinks he's found the law and order issue that will carry him into the Snort City mayor's mansion. The Snort City Register-Gazette's headlines scream out his plan.

Complete Ban on Animals in Public Places

Enjoying his vacation from Mrs. LaRue's supervision, Ike is roaming and frolicking with his chums Chewy, Fifi, and Buck from the Feisty Paws Club, stealing the double-play ball from the town baseball game, swiping the catch from the Fishing Derby, and holding a heist of Rocky Road ice cream from the Mr. Ding-A-Ling truck. But the prospect of being banned from his free-range romping rouses Ike, who mounts a shadow campaign against Bugwort with the help of his doggie accomplices, who plaster VOTE FOR IKE and I LIKE IKE signs all over town. After all, Ike writes to Mrs. LaRue, "if dogs are banned, cats will run wild!" "Operation Underdog" is soon underway.

Ike LaRue organizes his confederate canines to disrupt Bugwort's next public rally, setting up distracting groups of "barkers," "tail chasers," and "howlers" among the crowd. The ploy so discombobulates Bugwort that he faints and falls from the podium. It is only Ike LaRue's quick resuscitation skills and prompt commandeering of the nearest Mr. Ding-A-Ling truck as an emergency vehicle that restores Bugwort--that and the administration of the proper dosage of Rocky Road ice cream en route to the ER.

The revived Bugwort, of course, undergoes a complete change of mind about the social value of dogs and selflessly shares the ticket with Ike as candidate for assistant mayor.

"BUGWORT AND LARUE: A KINDER, GENTLER SNORT CITY," the new posters proclaim, just as Gertrude LaRue is discharged to find her pooch-cum-politician the town hero yet again.

Mark Teague's illustrations for the Ike LaRue series are absolutely wonderful, full of sly details and wonderful facial expressions which tell a tale very different from the well spun doggy dispatches Ike sends to Mrs. LaRue as the true story unfolds. Fans of the other two books will not want to miss this one!


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nonfiction That Makes the Grade: Tough, Toothy Baby Sharks by Sandra Markle

As award-winning Sandra Markle's notes for this book says, a snorkeling trip which turned into a swim with the sharks began her fascination with this best-known ocean predator. Tough, Toothy Baby Sharks is a fascinating look at the life cycle of sharks, especially the birth and "nursery" period of their young.

Illustrated with intimate photographs and information about shark eggs and shark gestation, Markle, especially in her chapter "Taking Care of Baby," points up the maternal side of sharks. For example, who knew that Draftboard Swell Shark mothers lay their eggs, which are equipped with long, threadlike tendrils, protectively close to coral or seaweed to which the eggs attach themselves immediately, or that Port Jackson shark mothers gently take their newly laid eggs in their mouths and place them into crevices to shelter them from predators? On the other hand, who knew the grim reality that some live-born shark pups feed on their smaller siblings and unfertilized eggs in their mothers' uteri? Still, the Lemon Shark dutifully bear their young in shallow mangrove lagoons which shelter them until they grow big enough to venture out into the open sea.

Endlessly fascinating, sharks are among the most popular subjects for young science readers, and Sandra Markle thoroughly covers the story of how baby sharks survive in their own challenging habitats. Backmatter includes a world map showing where the featured sharks live, an "S.O.S." (Save Our Sharks) section discussing how shark conservation is essential to ocean life, a "Sharks Are Cool" section with fascinating facts, and a glossary/index to significant terms introduced in the book.

Other notable books by Markle in this series include Slippery, Slimy Baby Frogs and Creepy, Crawly Baby Bugs. For more fascinating shark lore, see also Sandra Markle's beautifully illustrated Great White Sharks (Animal Predators) and Outside And Inside Sharks.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Deep Fantasy: Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams

With a dark (pun intended) premise and weighty descriptive passages, Gordon's and Williams' Tunnels (Book 1) is finding its place among fantasy readers who fancy the dystopia genre of thriller, in this case, an archaeological mystery which evolves into a subterranean suspense story.

Will Burrows, whose archaeologist father has involved him in various neighborhood digs since early childhood, follows the scant evidence left behind when his father goes missing, uncovering a secret passage in the cellar and digging into a centuries' old culture below ground. For help with the initial excavations Will turns to his middle school friend Chester, and when the two make a virtual breakthrough into an intricately constructed and pressurized air vent leading to a system of tunnels far below ground, the boys cannot resist pressing on.

What lies far below is a society which went to ground centuries before, governed by harsh political rulers called the Colonists and cruel enforcers called The Styx. When captured, Will learns that his life above ground as a "topsoiler" was a lie--that he is the child of a maverick mother, a member of a high-ranking Colonist family, who escaped into the world above, abandoning him in her flight, and that he was raised in an adoptive family topside as live bait to try to lure his mother to her capture. While Will is allowed to go to live with his younger brother Cal in his founding Colonist family, Chester is tortured and imprisoned by the powers that be until his case is resolved.

When Will learns that Chester is to be banished to the Deeps, the tunnels far below the comfortable world of the Colonists, he and Cal bungle his rescue and are forced to flee above ground. Will, however, is unable to go "underground," living in hiding above ground, especially when he learns that his supposed sister, Rebecca, is actually a member of the Styx who knows too much for him to escape their reach for long. Instead, Will and Cal make the decision to return to the tunnels, and with the sacrifice of the life of Cal's Uncle Tam, succeed in rescuing Chester, eluding the Styx, and descending to the Deeps to search for Will's father, Dr. Burrows.

With an epilogue which describes the assassination of Uncle Tam's confederate Imigo above ground by the Styx, this first novel in what is obviously a planned series concludes with a lead-in for the next volume:

Will opened his eyes and leaned toward Chester's ear: "No school tomorrow, then!" he shouted.

The both burst into helpless laughter, which was drowned out by the train as it continued to gather speed, spewing dark smoke behind it, carrying them away from the Colony, away from Highfield, and away from everything they knew, accelerating into the very heart of the earth.

Despite what are undeniably a few, um, holes in the plotting, this one is a page-turner of an adventure story which many young adult readers will find deliciously deep and dark. Shepherded toward publication by the editor who "discovered" J. K. Rowling, the authors are said to be already hard at work on Book 3, so a sequel to Tunnels (Book 1) cannot be long in coming to light.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bridging the Ocean Blue: The World Made New by Marc Aronson and John W. Glenn

In 1491, not one person in Italy had ever seen a tomato, nor was there a single potato in Ireland, a chili pepper in all of Asia, or a kernel of corn in Africa. In turn, no living American had ever ridden a horse, milked a cow, or eaten a bowl of rice.

It's curious to think that the Age of Exploration is rightfully noted not because of the glory of conquest, but because it made the world safe for hot chocolate, pizza, and eggplant Szechwan. Yet authors Marc Aronson and John W. Glenn's The World Made New: Why the Age of Exploration Happened and How It Changed the World (Timelines of American History) show how these major modifications of lifestyle sustain the thesis that this era should perhaps be known as the Age of Globalization. Aronson and Glenn do an impressive job of portraying the milieu of Asia and Europe which produced the explorers and conquistadores and the likewise complex culture of the Americas which influenced the old world so profoundly.

The book is divided into three sections--Causes: Why Was There an Age of Exploration?; What Happened: The Explorers; and Consequences: How the Explorers Changed the World. As to the causes in Europe, Aronson and Glenn name religious fervor, fed by the expulsion of Muslims from Spain in 1492, competition between the royal courts and city states of Europe, desire for wealth, fed by the spice and silk trade, and desire for glory, fed by the legends of King Arthur, Siegfried, Roland, and El Cid. Additionally, from the defeated Muslims Europeans gained knowledge of a much wider world and tools to advance their navigation skills. Meanwhile in the Americas, there were vast cities, larger and cleaner than those of Europe, highly sustaining food products, and of course, gold and silver, which eventually fueled the trade which changed both the New World and the Old World forever.

With timelines, old maps, and plentyyof absorbing illustrations, the authors succinctly cover the major explorers and conquests in some detail, from Columbus' voyages through the conquests of Pizarro and Cortes to Sir Francis Drake's raids upon Spain's century-old settlements in the Caribbean and Florida, spanning what they describe as "the Atlantic, once a forbidden ocean barrier... now more like a familiar lake." Europe's old kingdoms now warred in the new world as they had in the old, and the cultures of the two worlds, like their genetic lineage, were united forever.

Aronson's and Glenn's most engaging section, however, is the third--Consequences: A World Joined. The changes were vast. Diseases destroyed most of the native populations of North and South America as conquerors and colonists and their European animals--cows, chickens, pigs--brought their germs with them. The two-way spread of cultivars--tobacco, rice, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, squash, sugar cane, wheat, chocolate, coffee--all criss-crossed the Atlantic and found fertile fields on both side of the sea, changing the world's diet, agriculture--and economy-- monumentally. Gold and silver extracted from the empires of the Americas replaced salt, silk, or spices as the world's medium of exchange. Vast migrations followed the conquerors and colonists to mix their languages, genes, and culture. The human race gained an opportunity to try on new personas: Native Americans came to rival the Mongols in horse culture, European city dwellers became frontier farmers, aristocracies rose and fell, and new forms of governance were born. People realized that there was always something new--new knowledge, new opportunities to thrive, new products to make, new people to meet--and the concept of a globalized society was born.

In their conclusion, the authors ask the reader to imagine that Earth awakes one day to find fleets of extraterrestrials from another galaxy in our skies. The waves of conquest, disease, and new experiences to follow would be analogous to what lay before the people of the Americas in 1492.

The shock of that encounter would be felt everywhere on earth. And yet, for the first time we would be linked to that far solar system. We and they would form a kind of bridge across the universe, and who knows what we, together, might create?

Backed up by an illustrated biographical dictionary, glossary, sources and web sites, and index, The World Made New: Why the Age of Exploration Happened and How It Changed the World (Timelines of American History) is a highly readable, thematic, fascinating, and moving account of the era in which we all still live, one which for middle readers (and adults) will make history as immediate and enticing as the sausage pizza or beef taco which that era has given them for lunch.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, April 21, 2008

Extreme House Makeover: Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls: Moving Day by Meg Cabot

Allie Finkle's mom and dad have bought a house--without even asking her if she wanted to move!

"It looks like all of those houses on those TV shows my mom likes to watch called things like Please Come Fix Up My House and My House is Really Old. Won't Somebody Fix It Please!"

Allie Finkle loves her life. She lives in a nice, almost new suburban house (even though the closet is a little too small for her rock collection) across the street from a sort-of best friend Mary Kay (even though she's a little too bossy) and has the best fourth-grade teacher (EVER).

And now her parents say she has to move. Oh, they say the house is bigger, with plenty of room for everyone and that she can walk to Dairy Queen anytime she wants and that she can get a kitten when they are all moved in. But even the kitten doesn't cinch the deal for Allie when she goes for her first walk-through. Inside the rooms seem cold and dark, with grey walls and lots of spiders. And the turret room that is supposed to be hers is the creepiest of all, complete with creaking floorboards. Allie quickly adds a new item to her "Rules for Girls:" "Don't let your family move into a haunted house."

When pleading and arguing fail, Allie stoops to making off with the FOR SALE sign on their house, but her parents are determined that the move go on, leading Allie to post her hardest rule, "YOU CAN'T GO BACK!" Although a tour of her new school helps Allie make a good friend, the last days before the big move are filled with ups and downs. Allie stands up for a turtle which seems destined to become turtle soup at the local Asian restaurant and becomes a celebrity as an animal activist, but her last day at her old school finds her grounded for tossing cupcakes at her farewell party. Sadly, Allie realizes that there are some situations for which she hasn't yet come up with a rule.

Allie Finkle's Rules For Girls: Moving Day, published last month by the best-selling teen fictionista Meg Cabot, introduces a funny and feisty new heroine whose honest musings on the ways of the world will win fans for what looks like a sturdy new 'tween series.

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Earth Day for Earth's Children: Three Books for Earth Day, 2008

With Earth Day fast approaching, teachers and parents look for guides to help teach environmental awareness and good citizenship in keeping the earth habitable for all creatures. Some books are inspirational and motivational, some are educational, and some are resources for activities and organizations already in place.

Sheri Amsel's Everything Kids' Environment Book: Learn how you can help the environment-by getting involved at school, at home, or at play (Everything Kids Series) tends toward the latter type of book. Jam packed with information on such relevant subjects as acid rain, noise pollution, wind and solar power production, and endangered animals, this entry in the Everything Kids' series concentrates on hands-on activities in the here-and-now in which children can be easily involved in their own lives--planting trees and gardens, raising funds for projects, neighborhood and city-wide cleanups, and participation in local Earth Day events.

The book includes some "experiments" (really demonstrations) which bring home the effects of pollution and climate change, including a simulated oil spill--easily duplicated at home with water, olive oil, a feather, cat or dog fur, and liquid detergent--which brings home the implications of a a massive oil spill at sea. As a single-source guide to environmental instruction and activities, this one does a highly competent job.

Mara Conlon's cute little ring-bound Brainiac's Go Green Activity Book even comes with its own pen made from recycled materials and has plenty of activities which can be adapted to Earth Day lesson plans. There are puzzles--word scrambles, mazes, word searches--"green" quizzes, and guides for the reader to hands-on, at-home projects and pollution reducing tips, along with attention-getting facts about human effects upon the planet.

Conlon keeps a light, humorous touch throughout, making this book a guide to fun "green" activities. Here's a sample from the AIR CARE WIZARD'S QUIZ:

The ozone layer is
(a) a blanket of gas surrounding the Earth that helps protect us
(b) a fossil fuel
(c) lima beans

With a title that'll grab even the most science-averse kid, there's plenty of solid information wrapped up in a sometimes very funny package in Gas Trees and Car Turds: Kids' Guide to the Roots of Climate Change

Making the many properties of that invisible, odorless, seemingly innocuous gas called carbon dioxide understandable with good science and good humor is the main claim to fame for this short and snappy book. Kirk Johnson, Curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, has written a kid-friendly guide to the carbon cycle and our place in it. Johnson brings it all home by showing how planting trees, choosing economical cars and appliances, and making other simple changes can reduce a family's carbon footprint substantially.

Labels: ,

Friday, April 18, 2008

My River Runs to Thee: Poetry for Young People edited by Frances Schonmacher

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.

I say it just
Begins to live
That day.

Making the deceptively simple poems of Emily Dickinson alive and meaningful to modern children would seem a daunting task. Yet Houghton-Mifflin's Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson (Poetry For Young People), in one of their on-going series titled Poetry for Young People, takes on one of America's best-known and more difficult poets bravely.

Editor Frances Schoonmaker does a fine job of humanizing the voice behind the famous recluse of Amherst. An intensely alive but retiring member of a family of local superstars, Emily Dickinson lived in the shadow of her pretty and witty older sister Vinnie and her industrious father and brother, founder and treasurer of Amherst Academy. Rarely venturing out into the world, she nevertheless wrote, "To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else." Ironically, however, it is Emily for whom the Dickinson family is mostly remembered. Schonnmaker's brief biographical sections make the outdoorsy "Aunt Emily," who lowered cookies and muffins in a basket to the playmates of her nephews and nieces from her renowned kitchen, seem like a person most kids would like to know.

Interspersed with her most childlike poems ("I'm Nobody; Who're you?), her nature riddle poems, probably written for those same children, ("A Narrow Fellow in the Grass"), and an assortment of other pieces, the editors provide vignettes from Emily's life which illuminate the poems. We see Emily going for long walks with her dog, watching wild animals from the borders of her garden, and most intriguing of all, dashing off short poems and hand-binding them into little books to be hidden in the crannies of her desk for no one but herself to see.

Editorial glosses to the poems explain in simple language the themes, symbols, and organization of her poems, and Schoonmaker ties the subjects of Dickinson's pieces to corollary events in her life whenever possible. While some reviewers find fault with the light-hearted watercolor illustrations of this edition, the choice of poems and bits of biography are right on for the target readership of this book.

Better received by reviewers is Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost (Poetry For Young People). Appealingly illustrated with folksy New England scenes, the wonderfully kid-friendly pieces of Robert Frost are interpreted and extended by the editor's glosses to the poems themselves. Well-known poems such as "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," and "The Road Not Taken" are also accompanied by somewhat lesser known works such as "Now Close a Window."

As with Dickinson, the natural sights and sounds of the New England countryside are both the source and the main subject of these poems. "My poems have all gone home," Frost once said of their setting. Because both poets help the reader stop and really see a small piece of nature, the two books together make comfortable companions for classroom units on American poetry.

Schmidt's selections of Frost's poems are divided into four seasonal groups, beginning with autumn and "The Last Word of the Bluebird." As in the Dickinson volume, poems are analyzed and interpreted in short summaries on each page.

Other diverse poets featured in their own volumes in this notable series are Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg, Edna St. Vincent Millay, William Wordsworth, William Carlos Williams, Edward Lear, W. B. Yeats, Maya Angelou, Robert Browning, Lewis Carroll, Samuel Coleridge, Rudyard Kipling, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Allen Poe, William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, and Robert Louis Stevenson.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

P-r-o-c-r-a-s-t-i-n-a-t-i-o-n! Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford

It's crunch time for Moxy Maxwell. It's August 23, the last day of summer vacation, and she hasn't even started reading Stuart Little, the summer reading assignment, and Mr. Flamingo, her new fourth grade teacher, is giving a quiz on it on the first day--tomorrow. What's more, tonight is the "Goodbye to Summer Splash," and Moxy is the eighth daisy petal in the water ballet. Now Mom has gone off to do afternoon errands, leaving written orders: If Stuart Little isn't read by five o'clock, no performance, no sparklers, no delicious daisy cake at the after-show party.

Now Moxy loves reading; she just doesn't like being told what to read. Not that she hasn't tried to spend time with the famous mouse-child. Moxy has taken the book everywhere she went all summer. It's fallen into the pool during rehearsal, baked in the sun inside the car, been doused with lemonade on the porch swing, and attacked by a jillion ants soon thereafter. Moxy has figured that she'd read it when she had some "in-between time," time after she's done with one activity and it's not time for another yet. But for Moxy there's always something to do in-between, and now it's crunch time.

Moxy means to read Stuart, but a full-blown case of procrastination frenzy sets in. Moxy realizes she hasn't really cleaned her room all summer, and she can't settle down to read in such a mess. With all her stuff shoved under the bed, she suddenly feels the need of a snack and a bit of fresh air. After all, Stuart Little does have 144 pages. Heading for the hammock outside, she grabs a fresh peach for sustenance, and then another. Her little sister Pansy and neighbor Sam eat a few with her for moral support.

Suddenly Moxy has an idea so stupendous that even she is flabbergasted. A peach orchard! It could pay for her whole college education (and dental school, if that's the Career Path she chooses)! And she already has a lot of peach seeds at hand, or at least in Pansy's and Sam's hands. She has plenty of backyard to plant them in, and her mom has left a water hose conveniently nearby in her famous, fabulous dahlia garden. Briskly ordering Sam and Pansy from her command post in the hammock, she barks out directions confidently. It all makes such good sense. Even her mom is going to realize that a girl who can pay her own college expenses doesn't need to read a silly book about a mouse!

The Peach Orchard Plan accomplished, Moxy decides it's time to look for her actual copy of Stuart Little--just as her mother returns to find her dahlias flooded and currently being excavated by Moxy's dog Mudd. Questions ensue, and blame is established.

"I am going to let you do your daisy routine tonight," said Mrs. Maxwell, "but do you know why?" It was the sort of question that wasn't asking for an answer, so Moxy was silent. "Because if you don't you will let the other seven petals down. It wouldn't be fair to them."

Moxy could not believe her luck.

"But I am not going to allow you to go to the party after the show. And do you know why?"

Moxy had a feeling she did.

At last it's down to the moment of truth. The water ballet is over, and Moxy is back in her room. She picks up the book and looks at the cover. Stuart actually is a pretty cute mouse. Then she really looks at Stuart's little red sports car.

What had she been thinking? Why ever did I spend the whole summer avoiding a ride in this little car with the fabulous fenders? was the last thing she said to herself before Stuart Little hit the accelerator and the two of them sped off.

Illustrated by black and white photos, purportedly taken by Moxy's brother Mark during the Summer of Procrastination, Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little is honest and funny and not at all off-putting, even for the Moxeys of the world. A new Moxy Maxwell adventure, Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-you Notes is forthcoming in August.

Labels: ,