Sunday, November 30, 2008

Too Much of a Good Thing! Too Many Toys by David Shannon

Author-illustrator David Shannon, creator of the hilarious No, David! series, obviously knows whereof he speaks in his soon-to-be published new book, Too Many Toys. His hero Spencer presides over what can only be called an embarrassment (even a harrassment) of riches.

Spencer had too many toys. They covered the floor of his bedroom. They spilled down the stairs and into the living room. He had big toys in the backyard and little toys in the bathtub....

Everyone gave toys to Spencer. Of course, his mom and dad did. But also did Grandma Bobo and Poppy and Grandiddy and Auntie Mim and Uncle Fred and Cousin Drew. They gave him toys for every holiday (even the Fourth of July) and his birthday. He also got toys from his friends on his birthday and on their birthdays, too, when he went to their parties. He got toys at the drive-through with his Kidburger and at school for having lots of Peaceable Person Points, and at the dentist's and doctor's when he didn't squrm.

When hauling a load of laundry through the obstacle course that the toys created, Mom takes a fall and has finally had it. "You have TOO MANY TOYS," she cried. ("That's impossible," thought Spencer.) Mom orders Spence to fill a large box with toys he can live without, an ultimatum which ushers in phase two--the dreaded negotiation phase.

"How about this Alien Space Ninja. You haven't played with it in years!"

"But I was just about to!" Spencer said.

"Fine," said Mom. "But this can definitely go." She put down the Alien and picked up a filthy, one-eyed bunny.

"NOT MR. FLUFFERS, Mom. How COULD you? Grandma Bobo gave me that on my fourth birthday, and I'll never be FOUR again!"

"Tell you what," countered Spencer. "I'll let you have the pig, but I get Johnny Choo Choo."

"What ARE you, a LAWYER now?" asked his mom.

Finally Mom plays her best card. "How about all of them go into the box or you don't watch any TV for a week!" Somehow Spencer discovers he can part with a lot of the toys and at last the box is filled. Mom makes room in the car trunk and heads upstairs for her prize, a whole box of relinquished toys, only to discover them in a pile in the hall and the box apparently AWOL.

"Spencer! What have you done? We had a DEAL!" she screamed.

"You were right, Mom!" Spencer called from his bedroom. "I do have too many toys. But we can't give away this BOX!"

There sits Spencer inside the box, at the controls of his make-believe spaceship.

"It's the best toy ever."

Grownups who have been there and done that will love it, kids will get it, and everyone will have a few laughs at the happy problem of too many toys in the house. David Shannon's characteristic illustrations work well here with his all-too-realistic dialogue in this thoroughly modern toy story.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Packin' It In: There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bell by Lucille Colandro

There was a kids' author whose name was Lucille,
Who for greedy old ladies had quite a feel.
Whether bell or bat or shell or snow,
There's no gustatory challenge where she won't go.

(So for strange holiday cravings, call Ms. Colandro.

And for the Santa season, the symbols of Christmas are not off limits to Lucille Colandro's favorite old lady's appetite either.

There was an old lady who swallowed a bell!
How it jingled and jangled and tickled as well!

Now I don't know why
She swallowed a bell.
I wish she'd tell!

Surrounded by plenty of fluffy snowflakes and festive greenery, the capacious old lady puts away bows, gifts, a sack, a sleigh, and some reindeer in short order.

There was an old lady who swallowed some reindeer,
Those reindeer in full gear, those soaring reindeer!
She swallowed the reindeer to steer the sleigh.
She swallowed the sleigh to carry the pack,
She swallowed the pack.
It was easy to pack, a very big sack.

The seasonal symbols all go down smoothly, until the the old lady gets a yen for a candy cane treat to top it all off.

But when she heard a jolly "Ho! Ho! Ho!"
She knew it was time for her to go.
So she whistled loudly and soon by her side
Was Santa Claus waiting for a ride.

The old lady whistled up everything she had swallowed, now all neatly pre-packed in Santa's sack and loaded on the sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. With a "Happy Holidays to All," the old lady and old St. Nick are off into the Christmas sky.

Famed illustrator Jared Lee (known for his illustrations for the wildly popular The Teacher from the Black Lagoon series) provides his comic googly-eyed characters to keep the jollity coming in merry measure. To all kids familiar with the "there was an old lady who swallowed a fly" folk song, Lucille Colandro's There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Bell! is as welcome as the first signs of Christmas coming


Friday, November 28, 2008

Congratulations: 2008 AESOP AWARD goes to Ain't Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry by Scott Reynolds Nelson

Interestingly enough, the American Folklore Society has given its 2008 Aesop Award, not to a retelling of an American folk tale, but to a nonfiction book, Ain't Nothing but a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry, a learned and absorbing account of the author's investigations into the origins of the well-known folksong and legendary railroad builder.

Author Scott Nelson provides young readers with an example of how a modern historian works to separate the mythic from the historical in the story of this landmark American character. Illustrated with numerous photos and drawings by National Geographics' editors and filled out with scholarly back matter, this learned study reads like a page-turning mystery as the author methodically works his way toward that glorious "aha!" moment when he comes upon just the right dust-covered box of crumbling documents which lead to what appears to be the real person behind the myth of John Henry, that steel drivin' man.

For my review of this outstanding work of nonfiction for young readers, see my post of July 7, 2008, here.

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Super Sleuthing: The Nina, the Pinta, and the Vanishing Treasure by Jill Santopolo

Leroy Brown, meet Alec Flint, Super Sleuth! Fans of Donald Sobol's still-going-strong Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (Encyclopedia Brown) series will love this new middle-grade gumshoe created by Jill Santopolo. Encyclopedia and Alec have a lot in common: both have dads who are police detectives, both have girl partners who add brains and brawn to the mix, and both keep their detective notebooks ready for any hint of an engaging mystery.

In this first book, Nina, The Pinta, And The Vanishing Treasure (Alec Flint, Super Sleuth) (Alec Flint, Super Sleuth), Alec wakes up to two enticing mysteries. On his way to school his dad takes him along to investigate a novel burglary--the overnight theft of some gold coins and other historical items from the local museum's Christopher Columbus exhibit. At school he soon learns from a new classmate, Gina Rossi, that the art teacher, Ms. Blume, suddenly seems to have left town, strangely only four days before her wedding to Dr. Glumsfeld, the museum's director. Gina is intrigued by the missing person mystery, and Alec can think of little but the museum mystery, and since the two puzzles seem to be related, the two decide to join forces to solve the two cases together.

The would-be sleuths visit the library to research Columbus' first voyage as part of their classroom study and uncover an enticing lead: all the historical evidence suggests that Columbus was seeking gold, not taking it along to trade to the hoped-for natives of Cathay. With the theory that the robbery was faked to collect insurance for the "anonymous donor" of the Columbus artifacts, the case develops quickly as Alec and Gina stealthily search the art room and Dr. Glumsfeld's office for additional clues--clues which strangely lead them to a sarcophagus in the museum's dark and dusty Egyptology section and a surprising prisoner inside.

Santopolo works in plenty of humor and detail--including a secret code Gina teaches Alec to use to good effect in solving their case--which will engage elementary readers instantly. Coded messages are deciphered in the appendix, which also includes some historical notes on the voyages of Christopher Columbus. Alec Flint, Super Sleuth falls handily into the Encylopedia Brown niche for elementary readers in the middle grades, with accessible length and reading level, solid plotting, and plenty of humor for readers moving on from such beginning chapter mysteries as Ron Roy's A to Z Mysteries right into the solid fictional neighborhood where Encyclopedia Brown and Sally Kimble have been detecting local crime for decades. Look for more sequels to this promising entry!


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Just a Number: Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff

It's the night before his eleventh birthday, and Sam McKenzie has searched all the usual places to find where his gifts are hidden. At last he climbs out onto the roof and into the attic above his grandfather Mack's bedroom, and in an intriguing metal box finds a newspaper photo of himself.

Almost a non-reader, Sam sounds out the headline--MISSING and below the photo of a toddler, the name--SAM BELL. Sam knows that he is that little boy; he remembers the sweater the boy is wearing, and with that memory come a flood of other scary memories--a dark house with the number 11, unhappy children, an angry woman, loud shouting, his cat cringing under the table, and someone pulling him from icy water and bringing him here, to the place where he and his grandfather live above the woodworking shop.

Sam is overwhelmed with fear--fear that Mack may not be his grandfather and that the stories he has heard of his parents may not be true. But Sam has the same intuitive skill with wood that Mack has and he still has Night Cat--the same cat--from his memory of that terrifying night. Sam has to find out who he really is, but to investigate the contents of that box he needs a friend, a friend who can read and who will keep his secret.

When a freewheeling new girl joins his class, Sam knows he has found someone who can help him solve the mystery of his own identity. Luckily, Sam and Caroline are assigned to work as partners on a castle model for their class's medieval unit, and while Caroline is visiting, the two snatch an opportunity to slip the contents of the metal box out of the attic. Caroline reads the whole newspaper clipping, and they now know the place where the haunting images originated.

Just as Caroline finds out that her family will be moving again, Sam and Caroline visit the small nearby town where Sam was placed in a Children's Home. They find the house, number 11, on Eleventh Street, closed and rundown, but seeing the place in the light of reality, Sam is able to face his fears and finally ask his grandfather for the true story behind the memories which have haunted him.

Patricia Reilly Giff's Eleven tells an affecting story of a remarkable but dyslexic boy in an unconventional but supportive family formed by his grandfather and his old friends Onji and Anima, all loving Sam but concealing the family secret which has kept him from feeling whole. When Caroline helps Sam to ask the right questions, Mack's truth-telling gives him back his identity and his confidence, and we know Sam's going be be all right.

Giff begins each chapter with a short blank-verse poem. Here is how she ends her story:

So Eleven.

It could be anything.
A street, a house number, a pair of chimneys that didn't
frighten him anymore
His eleventh birthday.
The year he met his best friend.
It might even be the double masts on the boat
he'd sail every summer on the St. Lawrence,
with all of them, Mack, Onji, Anima, and Caroline
It was the year he began to read.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Journey Is the Treasure: The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio by Lloyd Alexander

Twice a Newbery winner (for The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain) and The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain)) Lloyd Alexander's last of thirty-nine books, published posthumously, shows that he retained his ability to tell a cracking good adventure story right to the end.

Such a tale is The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, which begins with Carlo, nicknamed Chuchio, or jackass, a callow and dreamy young man whose head is too full of the quest for treasure and fame to attend to the lackluster details of his work in his merchant uncle's counting house. Caught in a catastrophic accounting mistake, his uncle boots Carlo out with curses but also a final purse of gold to seek his fortune where he may.

But in a tattered copy of Arabian Nights given to him by a mysterious bookseller, Carlo finds a map of the Road of Golden Dreams which he fervently believes will lead him to a vast treasure. Joined along the way by Baksheesh, a good-hearted but lazy, lying, and loquacious camel tender, Salamon, a grizzled but still visionary seeker, and Shira, a beautiful girl bent on the revenge of her father's death at the hands of a villainous slave trader, Carlo blindly sets forth on his quest.

On the road with these unlikely companions, Carlo cheats death over and over through the silver-tongued skills of Baksheesh, comes to feel with Shira the desire for vengeance for her cruel oppressor, shares a dream of their love with Shira bought from a magical dream seller, and finally discovers the location of the long-sought horde of riches when he is able to read his treasure map with the eye of experience and wisdom gained on the road.

But the ultimate treasure is not the gold and jewels he knows are buried below the caravanserai where Shira was born, but the joys and of the journey he has shared with his companions, At last, Carlo and Shira set forth to resume their quest for knowledge and novelty together. As Carlo recalls,

"I could hear Salamon's words when he learned I was seeking treasure."

"What a shame if you should find it," he had said. "Your quest would be over. And then, what? No, the journey is the treasure."

For Lloyd Alexander, it was the journey--the story yet to be told, not the end of the quest--which was indeed the treasure in his many books, as The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio proves. As Alexander reminds his young readers through the words of the finally older and wiser Carlo Chuchio to Shira's young brother, "You'll make your own journey, when you're ready."

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dog Run! Doggone Dogs! by Karen Beaumont

As the morning sun peaks through the dark,
Doggone dogs begin to bark.
"No, dogs. Down, dogs. Sit, dogs. Hey!"
Doggone dogs do not obey!

It's barely daylight, and ten dogs, in all their goofy morning exuberance, bounce onto their bleary-eyed owner's bed. But before he can get out of his jammies, the dogs are downstairs and out the door for their morning run.

They turn and run the other way!
"Lucky, Lady, Retta, Curly!
No, dogs, NO! It's still too early!
Queenie, Wienie, Meanie, Moe!
Bubba, BeeGee, NO, DON'T GO!

Trailing ten leashes behind him, the pajama'd owner lumbers after the runaways, but in no time the dogs streak toward their favorite dog park, Central Bark. Inside, the Perfect Pooch Obedience School is already in morning session, but not for much longer, as the doggone dogs overrun the perfect pooches and lead them all astray deeper into the park.

Ignoring the signs which pointedly warn "IF YOU STOP TO POOP, PLEASE STOOP TO SCOOP," and "NO DOO UNTO OTHERS!," the doggies doo what dogs do so well:

"No, dogs. NO! Don't GO! PEEEUUUWWW!
Doggone dogs! What did you DO?!

But running amok, so to speak, has its consequences, and all ten of the doggone dogs soon find themselves rounded up and housed in the doggy hoosegow, looking out at their beloved park through chainlink fencing.

Six dogs, seven dogs, eight dogs, nine.
Doggone dogs begin to whine

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and when the Animal Control guard dozes off (with the aid of a couple of Bark Bloc tablets) the ten dogs make their escape over (and under, in the case of one expert digger) the fence and turn for home, passing their weary owner, entangled in ten as yet unused leashes, as they dash through the door.

Three dogs, two dogs, one dog. Done!
Bow-Wow-Wow. That was fun!
Doggone Dogs from one to ten...
Cannot wait to go again!

Karen Beaumont's pitch-perfect "doggerel" verse and David Catrow's silly, awkwardly-ugly but lovable pooches make their brand-new collaboration, Doggone Dogs, a doggone good counting book that will keep youngsters sitting and staying from one to ten and back again.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

The DaVinci Machine: Nick of Time by Ted Bell

And there, hanging by his heels among the shattered rigging and tattered canvas, with the acrid smell of cordite stinging his nostrils, the oddest recollection popped unbidden into his upside down head. A memory from a childhood book, the matchboy who lost his arm to a French cannonball. But still he'd bent down to pick up his still-burning match from the deck with his remaining arm, touched it to the gun's powder hole, and then laughed at the thunderous roar his cannon made. Laughed!

Hanging in the rigging, his comrade dead and the cannonballs flying, Nick had no idea what fate had in store for him.... But he knew he, Nick McIver, had done one quite amazing thing in this life.

He had laughed in the face of danger!

It was the last thing Nick remembered before the upper third of the foretopmast, smashed by a thirty-two-pound ball, came hurtling down from above and struck his head a horrible blow.

How does the twelve-year-old son of a lighthouse keeper, a lifelong resident of a sleepy community on a remote Channel Island, find himself in the thick of a naval battle with a turncoat pirate fighting for the Napoleonic French Navy in a to-the-death battle with Nick's own great-great-great grandfather, captain of HMS Merlin?

Well may you ask.

When sea-struck Nick McIver finds a strangely new-looking sea chest washed up on the beach of little Greybeard Island, its mysterious contents lead him into the kind of adventures Nick had poured over in the many accounts of Lord Nelson's epic naval battles in which his ancestor served. It is 1939, and Messersmitts patrol the skies over the French coast and a giant U-Boat, the secret weapon of the Nazis, is spotted by Nick as he sails his little boat, the Petrel, along the treacherous island coast. Nick learns that the chest contains something of great value to William Blood, a seeming seadog from a previous era who appears as if from thin air to demand it on pain of death.

With the aid of his friend, innkeeper Gunner, a naval gunnery veteran of the Great War, Nick and his six-year-old sister Kate secretly sail into the coastal bastion of Lord Hawke, who alone, Nick guesses, is the only one who can open the sea chest and explain the strange golden globe preserved within. There Nick learns that the globe is itself one of two time machines created by Leonardo da Vinci, the other being in the unfortunate possession of the evil Billy Blood himself, who uses his machine to travel through the centuries, kidnapping youngsters, including the two children of Lord Hawke himself, and enriching himself through the ransom paid by wealthy parents.

What follows is a sweeping, swashbuckling, corker of an adventure story told in the time of two great conflicts, the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and the beginning of World War II in 1939. While Nick and Lord Hawke time travel back to to the nineteenth century naval clash to rescue Nick's namesake, his great-great-great grandfather, whose ship is breached below the waterline and sinking at the hands of the nefarious Captain Blood, little Kate and England's top spy Hobbes set forth from Lord Hawke's coastal redoubt to deliver Nick's description of the Nazi super submarine to the secret accomplices of Winston Churchill, whose goal is to turn the pacifist British government by convincing them of the Nazi peril growing off their southern shore.

In alternating chapters, the readers see Nick, directing the Merlin's escape through the coastal waters of Greybeard Island known only to him, while Hobbes, with Kate's steely and invaluable assistance, must convince their Nazi captors that he is her father, a disgruntled English lighthouse keeper who is willing to spy for the Axis for a certain sum of money.

Best-selling author Ted Bell's first venture into children's literature, Nick of Time, keeps these dual plot lines humming along with constant close calls and heroic acts which prevent page-turning readers from questioning this audacious plot line too closely. Nick McIver is an old-fashioned boy hero right out of Robert Louis Stevenson--courageous and undaunted by the challenges of any century, a boy whose greatest desire is to laugh in the face of danger. Filled with colorful and well-drawn villains and heroes and chockful of historical detail, this novel will leave suspense, science fiction, and historical fiction fans calling for a quickly delivered sequel. Those adventure-seeking guys who complain that there are not enough books written for a real boy should find plenty to satisfy their danger lust in this heroic-sized novel.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Twilight, the Movie: A Review

It's a dream scene for a teen girl. A distant mother absorbed by her new husband, a rather passive, job-obsessed dad befuddled by his new job as parent, no history of boyfriend breakups, not even a long-time girlfriend,--there is nobody on Bella's case. And then she meets an incredibly handsome boy who is irresistably attracted to her very essence and falls in love with her chastely and totally.

Isabella (Bella), a petite, pale girl of unremarkable prettiness, moves in with her estranged father to finish her junior year in a remote, rain-soaked village in coastal Washington. When she finds herself attracted to an incredibly handsome but undeniably strange boy, Edward Cullen, there is no one to warn her of the potentially dangerous relationship ahead of her. Slowly, despite an obvious struggle to the contrary, Edward seems to be preternaturally attracted to her. It is only when he saves her life from a careening minivan in a display of what can only be described as supernatural speed and strength that Bella knows that there is more to this young man than she can possibly imagine.

What she cannot imagine but nonetheless realizes is that Edward Cullen is a vampire and that she is in love with him, body and soul.

This is the plot of the first book of Stephanie Meyer's best-selling four-book series, Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1).

And now comes the movie.

Early reviews are, as one might expect, mixed. Noted reviewer Kenneth Turan, with the disclaimer that he is not and has never been a 13-year-old girl, nevertheless seems to have found merit in the film In his Los Angeles Times review, he describes the film as "...a movie which has been targeted to that demographic with the delicious specificity of a laser weapon.... Director Hardwicke has connected so intensively to the Meyer novel that it's hard to imagine any one else making a better version."

On the other hand, an anonymous teen-aged male's comment makes his case wittily: "Man, this movie sucked."

That remark seems to separate the moviegoers by gender: many teen guys hate it because the vampire Cullens don't bite and suck; the girls love it because they don't.

I found the movie quite faithful to the novel. The fatal attraction, the star-crossed lovers, the classic demon lover theme,--all were there, spelled out clearly, often in the very words of the novel. Cinematography took advantage of the misty, dark landscape of the Olympic peninsula to good advantage, fitting the mood of the film well and lighting the faces of the players extraordinarily. I (admittedly no longer thirteen either) was distracted by the sensation that in lead Robert Pattinson I was seeing a gaunt Elvis Presley on a bad hair day speaking with the voice of a young Marlon Brando, but I'm sure that no one else in the theatre was troubled by that particular presentiment from the past. Likewise, Kristen Stewart's persistent open-mouthed confusion wore on the viewer a bit, but considering that the two young actors carried 98 per cent of the dialogue, they performed reasonably well in sustaining predetermined roles (requiring nearly constant close-ups) with some degree of success.

All in all, for readers of the first book of Meyer's series, the director chose well to adhere closely to the words and mood of the novel. Fans will love this movie for that faithfulness and will doubtless anticipate the sequel, shamelessly hinted at in the final moments of the film.

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Sail Away Home: The Toy Boat by Randall de Seve

A little boy had a toy boat. He made it from a can, a cork, a yellow pencil and some white cloth.

The boy loved the boat and they were never apart.

In this allegorical tale of a beloved toy, a toy boat longs to set forth free in the lake where its owner sails it at the end of a tightly held string. When a sudden tug of his mother's impatient hand forces the boy to drop the string, however, the toy boat is blown out into the frighteningly enormous expanse of water which soon surrounds it. As it drifts further from shore, a series of larger anthropomorphic boats--a tugboat, giant ferry, speedboat, and several sailboats--almost crush it with their huge hulls or swamp it in their wakes. Intimidated by their indifferent and angry faces, the toy boat drifts fearfully under a sad-faced moon, afraid that it will never find the way back to its home with the boy.

At last a friendly fishing boat spots the toy boat and begins to circle carefully until the little craft turns with the wind, and as the tiny sail catches the breeze, it begins to move steadily back the way it has come. Only then does the toy boat realize the hoped-for joy of skimming across the water under its own power. Soon the boy is seen on the shore, calling "Boat, boat!" and the two are at last reunited in the shallows.

That night they bathed together and slept together, and the next day they went down to the lake together. But the little toy boat always came back. It knew just where it wanted to be.

Randal de Seve's Toy Boat uses the metaphor of the toy boat to recount the familiar prodigal story in which the child, here represented by the boat, longs for freedom until confronted by the very real dangers as well as the pleasures of such liberty. With good fortune the little one returns home with hard-earned wisdom and a new appreciation for a safe haven.

De Seve's simple language is deepened by the almost surrealistic illustrations of Loren Long. While one reviewer found the features of the big boats possibly frightening to small children, the majority view it as an appealing tale which will resonate with those children who share with de Seve's toy boat a curiosity about--and fear of--the great unknown.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

War of Words: Max's Dragon by Kate Banks

Kate Banks and Boris Kulikov, who first introduced us to a talented young wordsmith in the notable Max's Words, have a sequel, Max's Dragon.

As this story begins, big brothers Carl and Ben are playing croquet and ignoring Max, who obviously wants to join them. Instead of whining, though, Max pulls out the old Tom Sawyer trick. Opening an umbrella and crawling under it, he begins to rhyme.

"There's a dragon in my wagon.
We're playing hide and seek,
So please don't peek."

Karl and Ben just laugh at their silly little brother's verse as Ben hits the ball across the lawn.

Looking up at a dark dinosaur-shaped cloud moving in, Max ominously rhymes on.

"My dragon's sneeze made quite a breeze.
My dragon's fury makes me worry.
My dragon's roar has made it pour.

As thunder rumbles and a storm begins to wash out their game, Max finally has Carl and Ben's attention.

"What can we do to make it stop?" cries Carl.

"You need to make a rhyme!" says Max.

"The dinosaur fell into the well," says Carl.
"Where he had to stay for the rest of the day," finishes Ben

Suddenly the pouring rain and roaring thunder begin to move away. Carl and Ben look at their little brother with new respect. "Would you like to play croquet?" offers Carl.

"I don't know how but I'd like to learn," says Max.

"Then take a turn," says Carl.

As the three play the game, the showers return. Bringing the story around full circle, Max calmly pops open the umbrella (remember the umbrella?).

"Don't be upset about getting wet," he rhymes nonchalantly.
Because, as you can see, there's room for three."

Once more, Max's way with words makes the game his own and wins the war, and without a blow being landed, big brothers Carl and Ben concede this skirmish in the battle of the brothers. Banks' wondrous wordplay and Kulikov's wonderfully creative illustrations in his signature style have created another picture book that plays the game on several levels.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Doggone! I Got Two Dogs by John Lithgow

I've got two dogs, Fanny and Blue.
Bet you kind of wish you had two dogs too!

Fanny's all white. Blue's kind of gray.
They never ever run away.

They're not too smart, but they're loyal and true.
Oh, there's nothing I'd trade for my Fanny and Blue.

Triple-treat John Lithgow, best-selling children's author, performer, and Emmy and Tony Award winning actor, has a just-published title for the picture book set about his own two mutts, I Got Two Dogs: (Book and CD) which includes a toe-tapping song CD. Together the two are as much fun as -- Fanny and Blue!

No stunt dogs here. No hero dogs they, Lithgow's two canines are just plain dogs who find so much joy in each other's company that they have plenty to spare for their owner--and everyone else they meet.

Fanny's kind of slow. Blue's real quick.
Neither of them ever learned a single trick.
But they're always there to greet you
When your day is through.
Oh, there's nothing I'd trade for my Fanny and Blue.

John Neuberger, creator of the noted Wow! City! (Ala Notable Children's Books. Younger Readers (Awards)) and Wow! School!, adds his exuberant drawings of the mutt twosome which perfectly extend Lithgow's bouncy text, which Lithgow also performs on the engaging singalong CD.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Running Free: Paint the Wind by Pam Munoz Ryan

Newbery winner Pam Munoz Ryan (for Esperanza Rising) returns to the American West, this time the high plains, in her latest novel, Paint The Wind.

"The only way to capture a ghost is to paint the tail of the wind." Maya's violet eyes widened, her voice breathless with conviction.

With one hand, she picked up the small brown and white plastic horse and moved it in swift arcs over the chenille bedspread. The June sun eased a notch lower in the southern California sky and flooded through the west windows of the two-story house where she had lived with Grandmother. Maya made the figure prance through the shimmering air and whispered, " I am a mysterious phantom, belonging to the stars. Who will find me?"

With the other hand she chose a black stallion and swept it upward after the ghost horse. She raced the black horse forward and said, "I am riding the wind. I am coming for you."

As the novel begins with echoes of The Secret Garden, orphaned Maya lives a shuttered life with her coldly controlling and neurotically protective paternal grandmother. Forbidden to speak of her mother, whom Grandmother holds responsible for the accident which killed both her parents, Maya has only a few fleeting mental images, one photograph of her laughing mother, waving at someone from horseback, and a shoebox of her mom's toy horses, to keep her memories of her alive, and these Maya keeps hidden away from her Grandmother's sight.

But when her grandmother suddenly dies, Maya learns that she indeed does have another family, a family which Grandmother Menetti despised as "living like animals," a grandfather Walter, great uncle Frederick, and great aunt Violet Limner, who live and work a ranch seemingly in another world. In two days Maya finds herself sleeping in her mother's old bed in her room in the fascinating old ranch house filled with photos of her mother, even a duplicate of the one Maya has secretly held dear. Maya learns that she was the one her mother was waving to in her photo, and begins to feel that she has come out of a long captivity to her real home.

But too soon Maya is whisked away to the summer camp on the Sweetwater River where her Aunt Vi is doing summer research, a camp where she soon learns that she will be doing chores, riding horses, and dealing with her difficult younger cousin Payton for the season. At first lonely and fearful, Maya soon discovers that she has the Limner knack for handling horses and when her riding skills are strong enough, Aunt Vi takes her on a long ride to see the wild horses. In a small herd there, Maya sees the brown and white mare Artemesia, the once-wild mustang that her mother trained and rode before her death and who has escaped to join the stallion Sargent's harem herd.

When the government rounds up Artemesia's group in a scheduled "gather" of the wild mustangs, the mare and her foal escape, and on a day when Aunt Vi is away from camp, Maya decides to tack up and look for Artemesia and her baby on her own. When a sudden earthquake causes an avalanche which blocks the course of the Sweetwater, Maya's saddle horse flees and Maya finds herself with serious injuries, feverish and unable to walk, with no one knowing her whereabouts. Her only hope of quick rescue is to coax Artemesia to allow her to ride her across the river and back into camp.

In alternating chapters, Ryan weaves, as she says "like a braided rein," the story of Artemesia, the "ghost" horse, and the story of Maya into a gripping but poetic story of love lost and found. With the high desert's beautiful mountain ranges as a backdrop, Paint The Wind is a modern story which has the feel of old-fashioned horse classics like Misty of Chincoteague or King of the Wind: The Story of the Godolphin Arabian which will appeal to today's readers and perhaps draw them back to those shimmering, satisfying novels of C. W. Anderson, Marguerite Henry, or Walter Farley.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

2008 National Book Awards Announced

At the 59th annual National Book Award ceremony tonight, Judy Blundell was presented with the medal for excellence in literature for young people for her book What I Saw And How I Lied, reviewed here on October 28.

An interview with the winning author can be found here.

Other winners in the adult categories are for poetry, Mark Doty, Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins), for nonfiction, Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (W.W. Norton & Company), and for fiction, Peter Matthiessen, Shadow Country (Modern Library) (Modern Library).


Watch This Spot! National Book Award Medals To Be Presented Tonight

The National Book Foundation will be presenting its 2008 medals tonight in the categories of adult fiction, adult nonfiction, poetry, and young people's literature.

The five finalists from which tonight's winner will be chosen in the young people's literature category are as follows:

Laurie Halse Anderson, Chains (Simon & Schuster).

Kathi Appelt, The Underneath (Atheneum).

Judy Blundell, What I Saw And How I Lied (Scholastic).

E. Lockhart, Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, The (Hyperion).

Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now (Alfred A. Knopf).

With the exception of Appelt's The Underneath, covered before its nomination here on August 8, reviews of the other final five have been posted here beginning October 28. Scroll down or use the Search box to take a look at these finalists. These five nominees offer quite a range of style and subject: all mix great characterizations, humor, and serious substance directed at the "young adult" reader.

I'll post the NBA Medal winner here as soon as it is made known tonight!