Sunday, May 31, 2009

Who's on First? Say Daddy by Michael Shoulders

On the day I was born, Mother welcomed me into the world with tears of joy and read me my first book.

She said, "This is a book about life--and how wonderful love is."

When Mother closed the last page, she held me close and whispered, "Say Mommy, say Mommy!" She hoped "Mommy" would be my first word.

Baby Bear is a much-loved child, with an extended family just waiting to hold him, read him a story, and teach him his first word. Daddy Bear has his own first storybook ready, one about promises and how daddies make them come true. "Say Daddy, say Daddy," he smiles, hoping that "Daddy" would be my first word.

Brother Bear, Aunt Grace Bear, Uncle Roy Bear, and Grandma Bear all bring their own chosen books to read to Baby, each with its own wonderful message, and each followed by a whispered suggestion: "Say Brother," "Say Grace," "Say Uncle." Even wise Grandma Bear has the same agenda:

When Grandma rocked me for the first time..., she said, "This is a book about families--and how they celebrate our joys and hug our tears away. .... A family's love is forever.

Say Nana! say Nana!"

But when his first birthday rolls around and Baby Bear opens his first gift, he instinctively knows how to satisfy his kin without slighting anyone.

"BOOK!" I said.

"What's that I hear?" Daddy asked.

"BOOK!! I said again.

Everybody cheered. Everybody danced.

"Now," said Daddy, "say DADDY!"

Daddy just won't give up!

Author Michael Shoulders' Say Daddy! (Picture Books) (Sleeping Bear Press, 2008) is a book for Father's Day which sweetly includes the whole family, with their affection and aspirations for the new child among them. Artist Teri Weidner's soft, charming illustrations, from the pregnant couple walking nervously to the hospital to the loving storytime scenes with Daddy, Brother, Auntie, Uncle, and Grandma as the baby grows are the essence of family love. A strong story for Father's Day or for any day in the year.

Michael Shoulders is also the author of V Is For Volunteer: A Tennessee Alphabet Edition 1. (Discover America State By State. Alphabet Series) and D Is for Drum: A Native American Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Alphabets).

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dad's Day: Daddy Hug by Tim Warnes

Daddy spiky, (PORCUPINE)
Daddy fluffy,(OSTRICH)
Daddy dirty,
Daddy scruffy. (WARTHOG)

Across the animal kingdom, daddies come in all sorts, from the squeaky, chirping otter to the hiccuping, burping moose. English husband-and-wife team, Tim Warnes and Jane Chapman, who created the Mother's Day classic Mommy Mine, have collaborated on a picture book just for celebrating fathers, Daddy Hug. On this side of the big pond, Jane Chapman is the celebrated creator of all the lovable critters in Karma Wilson's Bear Snores On series, and in this lovely festival of fatherhood, she again puts her skill at portraying charming wild animals to work illustrating Warnes' bouncy rhyming text honoring the daddies of the wild.

Daddy buzz,
Daddy bumble. (BUMBLEBEE)
Daddy hungry,
Tummy rumble. (ORANGUTAN)

Ending with a happy hug between the many and varied daddies and their young, this little book offers much--opportunities to name different wild animals, from anacondas to walruses, and learn new adjectives, chances to rhyme words, and count the babies--and, oh, yes, a chance to give a hug back to daddies everywhere, all while enjoying the simple affection in the illustrations of young ones playing under their parents' proud protection.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

More I Spy! At Last! I Spy A to Z by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick

After a long hiatus, author Jean Marzollo and photographer Walter Wick have collaborated on a new sequel in their long-running, best-selling I Spy books, titled I Spy A to Z.

This new entry in their picture riddle tradition features Marzollo's rhyming riddles and forty-six pages of Wick's photo montages of objects from which to find the correct items. Fans of this series range in age from two to ninety-two, and many find them addictive. (Betcha can't stop at just one page!) I Spy A to Z is, of course, an alphabet book as well as a vocabulary builder, brain teaser, and source of hours of fun, perfect for kids who are just learning their alphabet and for those who just love to find those pesky objects hiding in full view on each page.

Forthcoming on June 1, I Spy A to Zis already a pre-publication best-seller, to the delight of devotees everywhere.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wait 'til Your Father Gets Home! When Papa Comes Home Tonight by Eileen Spinelli

When Papa comes home tonight, dear child,
I'll let you help me cook.
We'll try that recipe for rice.
It's in the yellow book.

And when we wash the dishes,
You'll teach me that new song--
The one you learned a week ago.
I'll try to sing along.

Daddy's home! There's a special drama, a special warmth, in that moment of reunion with a doting dad and his son, portrayed with dignity and sweetness in Eileen Spinelli's just-in-time-for-Father's Day book, When Papa Comes Home Tonight (Simon & Schuster, 2009). From the moment Papa comes whistling up the road and opens the gate to a hug from his boy, there's a good time to be had--making and eating dinner, washing up and catching up on the day's happenings. Then it's on to a game of knight--played by the boy with his wooden sword--and dragon--acted out by Papa in a giant paper bag mask--and a bit of guy time as boy and son haul out the tools to repair the wheels on his wagon.

As shadows fill the backyard, father and son get ready for bed with a story which puts Papa right into snooze mode:

I'll read you a bedtime story.
Before it ends I'll doze.
You'll tap me on the shoulder.
I'll kiss you on the toes.

But Papa's work is not done even after boy and Teddy Bear are kissed goodnight and the child is fast asleep.

When you wake up tomorrow,
You'll find a brand-new kite.
I'll make it while you're asleep--
When Papa comes home tonight.

A companion piece to her When Mama Comes Home Tonight (Simon & Schuster, 1998) Spinelli's nostalgic and loving story of Papa's evening fun with his boy is brought to life in the gentle watercolor and line illustrations of the noted David McPhail, who finds a way to work one of his signature bears into the pictures, along with an attentive puppy and ever-present cat, all of which together create a warm lamp-lit tribute to fatherhood.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Days with Dad: It's the Best Day Ever, Dad! by Brooke Shields

Is there a perfect dad anywhere in the world?

Well, there's definitely one--just in time for Father's Day--in Brooke Shields' newest picture book, It's the Best Day Ever, Dad! And, apparently, it's not because he's well rested!

Violet and I wake Daddy up by playing music and doing a dance. We call ourselves the Alarm Clock Girls.

Does Daddy roll over and give Mom a nudge to take over her dancing daughters? Nope, not this dutiful dad. He sneaks out of the bedroom to let his wife get her day of rest, stirs up shaped pancakes, and whisks the girls out to the dog park, where he teaches the older daughter to throw a Frisbee like a pro, with a warm "Good throw, Frankie!"

Then, after a stop for ice cream, Dad takes the girls home, puts little Violet down for her nap and joins Frankie on the couch for a little father-daughter B-ball-watching. "Defense, defense," Frankie cheers, while Dad slips into a much needed sofa nap. Then when Violet is up again, the three go outside and chalk up a home-designed hopscotch game on the driveway, one that even Darla the dog manages to enjoy.

Lots of hopping builds up a bit of an appetite, so it's up to the girls' bedroom where Frankie and Violet set up the Sister Cafe, where the girls dress up in heels and toe shoes, tutus and tiaras, while Dad cheerfully dons beads and a boa for a full-dress tea party.

Dad just has time to turn into the tickle monster as he oversees the cleanup of the tea parlor before heading down to the kitchen, where he and Mom are the lead cooks on a SUPER DUPER SPAGHETTI SURPRISE created by the FIVE FAMOUS CHEFS. Spreading a plaid blanket on the grass outside, the whole family has a moonlit picnic supper to wind up a wonderful day.

"Wow. We had the best day ever, Dad!"

Dad kisses me goodnight and says, "Tomorrow we'll go to the beach

Cori Doerrfeld's jaunty daddy and his delighted daughters bounce through her illustrations of their perfect day in Shields' tribute to this paragon of papas. It's the Best Day Ever, Dad! is fun for daughters who dote on their dads, and, we hope, an inspiration to fathers everywhere.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Good Boy! Boys Are Dogs by Leslie Margolis

Annabelle had lived a sheltered life. Her elementary school was just for girls, so through fifth grade, for her and for her girlfriends Mia and Sophia, boys were not an issue. At dance night at summer camp, however, Annabelle gets her first inkling of the fact that boys are a different species, if not actually aliens from planet Mars.

On the night of the dance we decorated the room with streamers and decorated ourselves with cool outfits, cherry flavored lip gloss, and glittery eye shadow.

We looked fabulous. We tried out our goofy new dance moves, wolfed down pretzels, and sipped punch. It was a blast. Fantastic. Some even called it blast-tastic. But that was all before the boys showed up.

They filed off the bus, messy-haired and slouchy. Every single one of them wore regular old shorts or jeans and ratty T-shirts.

Once inside, they stood in one corner in an unfriendly, lumpy clump. Instead of dancing, they pushed each other around. Rather than eat our food, they threw it at one another. Then they tore down our streamers. At some point a bunch of them snuck out and threw eggs at our cabins.

Then Annabelle is forced to move and finds herself in a regular middle school with a bunch of tweener boys whose behavior is even worse than that of the regrettable boy campers. Eighth grader Jackson, whose sister kindly befriends Annabelle right away, calls her Spazabelle, steals her book report and drops it in cafeteria catsup, and generally makes her want to hide whenever he comes into sight. Tobias, the boy behind her in English, kicks the back of her seat every 60 seconds throughout the whole period and when he turns out to be her science lab partner, hogs the microscope and refuses to let her do her assignment.

The rest of the boys she meets are, from her point of view, rude, sloppy, and totally out of control. Finally, Annabelle surprises herself in English class on Monday:

Something weird happened at school on Monday. As soon as Tobias' foot made contact with my chair, I turned around and said, "Tobias, stop."

And Tobias actually looked at me. He seemed surprised and a little alarmed, like he didn't know me and maybe realized that I was someone he didn't want to mess with.

Where did that come from? Annabelle wonders. And then it hits her. She is using the same techniques as those in the book she got to train her puppy Pepper.

Talk to dogs in their own language. Your tone is just as important as your words. Don't ask them. Tell them. You're the boss, so act that way.

At home she flips through the dog training book to the section called "HOW TO BE THE DOMINANT DOG."

Think about it this way: in a group of dogs you can always spot a dominant dog in the pack by his swagger. He walks with his chest pushed forward, confidently. This designated leader is in control.

Annabelle thinks about the way Jackson swaggers down the hall, his loyal pack trailing a few paces behind. Then she suddenly gets a mental image of herself at school:

Then I thought about how I'd been walking around school--rushing from place to place, totally lost and confused, my eyes on the ground, my posture hesitant. I'd acted totally weak. No wonder boys picked on me. I was sending out wimpy signals.

Suddenly Annabelle knows what she has to do: train these boys the same way she is teaching Pepper, with confidence, strength, rewards, and praise for good behavior. And it works. Middle school boys don't become gentlemen overnight, but most of them begin to treat her with a decent level of respect. Even in the final showdown, eighth-grade top dog Jackson backs down, and Annabelle knows her days as Spazabelle are almost a thing of the past.

Leslie Margolis' Boys Are Dogs takes on dealing with bullying boys as one of challenges of making it in middle school with ready humor, insight, and skillful writing. In her forthcoming sequel,Girls Acting Catty due out in the fall of 2009, Margolis takes on an even bigger challenge of middle and junior high school--the snooty girl clique. Good luck with that one, Leslie. A lot of girls will be waiting for your take on this challenge!

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Cartooning Prehistory: When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm by Hannah Bonner


What? You don't recognize Pennsylvania? That's not surprising. Nowadays the countryside in Pennsylvania is covered in greenery, but 430 million years ago the tallest plants around would have been knee-high to a grasshopper, had there been any grasshoppers. There weren't.

Ah, yes. Things were way different back in the Silurian/Devonian days. National Geographic's author/illustrator Hannah Bonner takes young readers on a whimsical visit in the way-back machine, to a time long before the dinosaurs roamed--when lichens and mosses were the landscape plants du jour and the view was mostly "just rocks, rocks, and more rocks." Tiny mites and millipedes ruled the land, but the shallow warm seas which covered Pennsylvania and most of North American were teeming with a myriad of very different animals and plants. Racine was a reef, and the big predator back then was an ancestor of the scorpion, the six-foot Pterygotus, who ruled the sandy bottom of the sea.

In When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long Before Dinosaurs, author Bonner takes us on a tongue-in-cheek tour of those ancient days as fish slowly got jaws, ocean plants grew cuticles and stomae and spores, and bugs acquired waxy shells and spiracles to survive and breath on land. The reader sees taller plants help create soil and shade on the land to support the worms and bugs that came to enjoy the environment.

And then--break out the champagne, all you worms; it's the Devonian Era, and big changes are in store! The continents are still floating around, sorting themselves out, and fish are still trying out their new teeth and building up their bones, but in this period things are shaping up on that shaky land mass--trees get leaves, and lobed-fin fish (like the recently discovered Tiktaalik) become tetrapods (four-legged animals) when they begin to spend their spring break on the shore.

Bonner's account of all this life is punctuated with rather funny cartoons which fix the details of early life forms in the minds of the readers. Simple, explanatory text and lots of illustrations make the evolutionary changes easy to understand and recall. It's a fun way to walk through ancient times, bolstered by two appendices, the first a pictorial timeline of lifeforms, the second a chart which keeps the vertebrate genealogies straight for the reader. Also offered is a helpful "Where to Learn More" section which points young biologists toward their local libraries (children's and adult sections) and includes seven interesting web sites for further study. A pronunciation guide for scientific terms, a glossary, and a short index round out the back matter of this appealing browsing book for the biologically curious reader.

Can't wait to find out what happens next in this suspenseful saga? See Bonner's When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life before Dinosaurs. for another skillful blending of fact and funnies appealing to middle readers who dote on dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasties.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dog Days: Be Gentle with the Dog, Dear! by Matthew J. Baek

"She's a precious baby... when she's asleep."

That's the honest appraisal of Matt's and Jin's dog Tag, who suffers at the hands of baby Elisa whenever she is awake. Elisa pulls Tag's tail, squeezes him too tight, tackles Tag and sits on him, and even eats his birthday dogbone biscuit. Matt and Jin demonstrate kind behavior and admonish Elisa with a soothing "Gen-tle, gen-tle!" but her idea of being gentle is making Tag miserable.

Finally it's all too much for the long-suffering Tag. Elisa takes his favorite toy bone, and Tag has had it. "Grrrrrr!" His long controlled doggy discontent comes out to his dismay in a definite growl, and Elisa lets out a loud "Waaaaaaaaaa!" which brings the parents on the double. Tag hangs his head, and the suddenly chastened Elisa contritely hands over the doggy toy.

Gen-tle, gen-tle," Elisa murmurs, as she strokes Tag softly, and the two are soon napping happily together. "She is a precious baby," Tag reflects as he dozes off.

Of course, there's still the cat, who, wary of Elisa's bright-eyed chase, knows that the baby hasn't learned to be gentle with the cat--yet.

Matt Baek's first picture book, Be Gentle With the Dog, Dear!, has appealling, laugh-out-loud illustrations of baby Elisa's too affectionate handling of the wary family pets which will bring a smile to anyone who has raised a baby and pets at the same time.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Who's That? Knock, Knock! Who's There? by Tad Hills

If you've read my earlier reviews of riddle and knock-knock books, you know that I have extolled the use of the much maligned pun to develop an early appreciation of the English language, with its enormous vocabulary and myriad of nuanced, layered meanings.

Just when to introduce joke books using such wordplay is the problem. Appreciation of this most simple form of humor develops some time after age three and peaks at ages eight through ten. Introduce the pun-ny knock-knock or riddle too early, however, and the joke flies right over the listener's head and falls flat!

Tad Hills, in his Knock Knock Who's There: My First Book Of Knock Knock Jokes seems to have hit upon the perfect device to make these jokes accessible to younger readers: all of the knock-knock puns are based upon fairly common male and female names.

Knock, Knock!

Who's there?


Anita who?


Hills backs up this verbal format with clever design: Each double page spread features the "call" on the left-hand page and the "response" on a gatefold right-hand page, so that in the above joke we see a pristine little porker in her crisp yellow sunfrock and hairbow on the left, while the lifted flap shows the piggy in the puddle plaintively asking for a scrub in the tub.

To stay with the hygiene theme, the next page shows a little skunk with his rubber ducky all ready for a bath, while the flap reveals another skunk already immersed in a tub full of bubbles:

Knock, Knock!

Who's there?


Duane who?


Stout board covers and stiff card stock pages with sturdy flaps make this book safe even for tots too young to appreciate the verbal humor but not too young to enjoy the mildly slapstick action hidden under the gatefolds. Illustrations are engaging, with little animals with expressive faces playing the leading roles. Vocabulary is simple enough for the early emergent reader to navigate the book alone--with the exception of the proper names, all of which are phonetic enough to be decoded fairly easily with a minimum of adult assistance:

Knock, knock!

Who's there?


Sid who?


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Friday, May 22, 2009

Alien Amphibian: Green Wilma, Frog in Space by Tedd Arnold

It's been some years since Tedd Arnold's irrepressible amphibian heroine Green Wilma (Puffin Pied Piper) first hopped into critical and popular success, but now it's Welcome Back, Wilma time as she finally has her own solidly deserved sequel, the just-this-week published Green Wilma, Frog in Space. (Dial, 2009).

Green Wilma, of course, is still concerned, not with thoughts of outer space, but with her mind fixed firmly on inner space--her innards, that is, which she is busy trying to fill with an all-out chase for a loudly buzzing fly. At least, Wilma thinks it's the buzzing of a fly she's pursuing, but we know that it is really the sound of an approaching alien spacecraft, which lands quietly behind the unsuspecting amphibian hunter.

Out pops little Blooger, a blue-skinned and bug-eyed alien whose parents have lovingly parked to allow their little one a bit of R & R on planet Earth. Blooger quickly sheds his spacesuit and dives with happy abandon into Wilma's pond.

But just as Green Wilma comes into close range with her prey, Blooger's parental units decide it's time to take off.

"Time to depart, Sweetheart!" they call, and a mechanical arm deploys, stuffs the nearby Wilma into little Blooger's spacesuit, and beams her aboard the craft for dinner, leaving the abandoned little alien despondently waving frantically at his departing mother ship.

Once aboard, though, the aliens can't help noticing that little Blooger seems to have become a disgusting shade of green. "It must have been the pond water that turned our little Blooger green," they opine, but to be sure nothing is amiss with their little darling, they connect up the robotic Health-o-Mat machine to diagnose his condition fully.

But just as the robo-doc sounds the alarm, "Data indicates alien being," the ever-hungry Wilma hears a familiar buzz and takes off after the fly, who also seems to have been inadvertently abducted into space. In her reckless chase, Wilma careens off the control panel, sending the spacecraft back into its previous flight plan--right back to Miller's Pond. Green Wilma is quickly booted out, and little Blooger is just as quickly boarded, and soon Wilma finds herself alone, except for the surviving fly, back on the pond's edge as though nothing had happened. Except--where did she get this handy ray gun, just right for shooting down high-flying flies?

Tedd Arnold's art is just as engaging, and googly-eyed Green Wilma is just as goofy as ever in this happy return of an old and favorite fictional friend in Green Wilma, Frog in Space.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Family Music: Jessie's Mountain by Kerry Madden

In the final volume of her Maggie Valley Trilogy, Kerrie Madden takes up her account of the Weems family of Maggie Valley, North Carolina, with twelve-year-old Olivia's own story.

Livy's dad Tom, a gifted songwriter and banjoist, has suffered a brain injury in a car accident on his way to perform on the Cas Walker Show in Knoxville. Tom's speech is halting, his memory is still cloudy, and the only music he can make are the songs he hears in the form of auditory hallucinations in his head. Mama Jessie is struggling to feed her ten children with her knitting crafts, sold at the nearby Ghost Town in the Sky theme park, and her domineering mother, Grandma Horace, has decreed that since the family can't pay the mortgage on their farm, they must move to her house in Enka, known to the family as Enka-Stinka Land for its proximity to smelly paper and textile mills.

Then inexplicably Grandma Horace gives Livy her mother Jessie's journal kept the year she was twelve, and Livy suddenly sees the bright, hopeful girl her weary mama once was. With her mother's abandoned dreams in mind, Livy Two sees her singing and songwriting talents as the family's only hope to keep them in their Maggie Valley home.

Determined to market her music to radio station WSM in Nashville, Livy saves her wages from her job with the local bookmobile and plans a quick trip to Music Row on the Trailways Bus. Stowing away in the back of Matthew the Mennonite's truck, Livy finds herself trailed by her bossy ten-year-old sister Jitters, who demands to go along on pain of tattling on her big sister. Livy reluctantly pays for her sister's bus ticket and the two make the 18-hour trip, only to be turned away by her hoped-for music agent, Mr. George Flowers. In Nashville the two encounter an old con man who steals Livy's guitar and a kindly barbecue stand owner, Moses from Memphis, who advises the girls to get back home to face the music with their distraught family.

Arriving home in an ice storm, Livy realizes that instead of saving her family, she has violated their trust. Things are even harder without her guitar to inspire new songs, but despite the loss of her instrument and her job with the bookmobile, Livy is energized by her daring and by the possibilities she saw in Music City. At last an idea comes which offers a way to ease her father back into performing in public and make enough income to keep her family out of Enka-Stinka and on their Maggie Valley farm. It takes the whole family-- Gentle's singing, Louise's paintings and murals, and even Jitter's persistent management skills--to bring Livy's plan into reality, but in the end Tom Weems takes the stage to combine his banjo with Livy's guitar before a receptive audience, and Jessie's Mountain Music Notes, named for Livy's mother, becomes Maggie Valley's newest attraction.

Kerrie Madden's Jessie's Mountain (Maggie Valley Novels),, like the two previous novels, Gentle's Holler (Maggie Valley Novels) and Louisiana's Song (Maggie Valley Novels), is filled with memorable characters--mean Uncle Buddy with his pet iguana, Grandma Horace with her varied-colored glass eyes, Livy's spirited and individualistic brothers and sisters, and even Madame Cherry Hat, the landlady whose threat to foreclose on their mortgage hangs over the Weems family like a rising mountain storm. The world of the 1964 community of Maggie Valley--with its untouched hollows, river-fouling mills, and roadside tourist stands--is already fading into the homogeneous blur of the I-40 corridor between Memphis and Greensboro, but Madden's portrait of a loving family with a strong sens of their place and their past but high hopes for the future rings sure and true.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More Hindquarters Humor: Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo by Ayun Halliday

If you hang around the cages at the zoo,
Watch closely! And you'll learn a thing or two.

From the feathered booty of the cockatoo.
To the hairy haunches of the caribou,

Some are smooth and some are shiny;
Some are swimming in the briny;

No one tries to hide his heinie
At the zoo.

Booties and patooties are big in publishing this spring! Hard on the hindquarters of Michael Black's recent chuckle-athon, Chicken Cheeks (reviewed here on February 10) comes Ayun Halliday's just published Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo, which also celebrates and catalogs the seemingly interminable terminology of the tushie.

There's a rear for every deer,
A caboose for every moose.
Glutes on newts and bandicoots
At the zoo.

Like Black's paean to the posterior, Halliday's text is clever and his rhymes sometimes gleefully surprising, while artist Dan Santate's illustrations are humorous but tasteful as he pictures the varieties of patooties paraded by the population at the zoo.

But Halliday reserves her final derriere description for one particular group of critters whose cans are cannily covered:

In our research, we found just one species who
Keeps its keister clothed in cotton at the zoo
(And in corduroy and polyester too).

Care to guess? It's people just like me and you....
But three cheers for all those heinies at the zoo.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Time Travelers: Wild Horses: Galloping Through Time by Kelly Milner Halls

Watching those sleek three-year-olds, long, delicate legs stretching out to cover the track in the famous races of the Triple Crown, it is hard to imagine that the first ancestor of the horse was an eight-inch high creature with four horny toes on its front legs and three on its rear legs. No majestic master of the steppes was this little "dawn horse" either; preyed upon by land and river carnivores, the shy Hyracotherium met its extinction 45 million years ago, long before any would-be human wrangler appeared. But its relatives persisted, evolving through the Mesohippus to Merychippus as a grazing herd animal progressively running faster as its toes evolved into speedy hooves.

By the time Pliohippus evolved, with its one sturdy and swift hoof on each foot, its kind, still small at 12 hands high, had acquired wide-set eyes to spot predators and special adaptations of the skull which enabled the characteristic range of whinnies with which the herd communicated, and this nearly modern horse ranged widely across North America. Despite its land of origin, however, its inheritor, Equus, the modern horse, which successfully emigrated across the land bridge to Asia, soon became extinct in the Americas, leaving its migrant descendants across Asia and Europe to become the horse of human history and legend.

Kelly Milner Halls' Wild Horses: Galloping Through Time (Darby Creek Exceptional Titles) goes on to tell the story of Equus and how they became the work horse and war horse of our own story, changing the face of civilization throughout Eurasia.

Halls features especially the intriguing story of the Przewalski horse, the last and almost vanished descendants of those wild horses first hunted for food and depicted by our early ancestors in those famous cave paintings at Lascaux. Like their cousins the zebras, Prazewalski horses have short stiff black manes, no forelocks, a dark strip down the center of the back, and even occasional barred hindquarters. A "rescued" species, less than 1900 Przewleskis are alive today, despite heroic efforts to shelter them in the wild and breed them in captivity after their numbers were decimated during World War II.

Halls also describes the historic horses of Europe and the Middle East--the Tarpan, the Sorraia, the Camargue and the Konik, and the Caspian and the Arabian, and does not neglect the wild horses of Africa--the various zebra relatives, the Namibia horse, and the wild ass. She then turns again back to North America where Equus began, with the story of the wild horses reintroduced by the Conquistadors and other explorers--the mustangs, Abaco Barbs, and even the burros of our own recent times.

Illustrated lushly with colored photos and detailed drawings, Wild Horses: Galloping Through Time (Darby Creek Exceptional Titles) is a fascinating study of the animal which, with its strength and speed, so thoroughly shaped much of human life. Author Halls also appends listings of sources of information and sites where wild horses may be studied and observed in North America, organizations which specialize in wild horse rescue, and an extensive bibliography of journal articles, books, and web sites, as well as a full index, to round out this thoroughly researched and readable nonfiction book.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Sam's Story: Library Mouse: A Friend's Tale by Daniel Kirk

Sam was a library mouse who lived in a little hole in the wall behind the children's reference books. Sam loved to read and he loved to write, too. Everyone loved his little books, but Sam was very shy, and no one at the library had ever met him.

Sam, the book-writing mouse first introduced in Daniel Kirk's Library Mouse, (reviewed here just in time for American Library Week on November 7, 2008) is back in his second adventure just in time for Children's Book Week. In this story a boy named Tom finds himself sadly without a partner in the library's Book Week project. Each team of two children are to collaborate, one writing the story and the other creating the illustrations, but the class doesn't come out even, and Tom is left without a friend to work with.

Although Mrs. F., the librarian, offers to partner with him, Tom has another idea which he hopes will work. A big fan of Sam's hand-crafted mini-mouse sagas, Tom's observant detective work leads him to believe that the library's mystery author must be the mouse who left his author's notebook and footprints on the circulation desk, and he soon discovers the entrance to Sam's hole under the reference shelf. Hopefully, Tom secretly slips his carefully written story, "The Shy One," into the opening in the hope that Sam will agree to be his collaborator.

Tom worries that Sam will be too fearful of revealing his identity to take on the job of teaming up with him on the book, but Sam, as always, rises to the creative challenge, and his clever but enigmatic illustrations keep his full identity a mystery.

"So tell us," said Mrs. F., "just who is this Sam who writes so many books? I just have to ask, 'Is it you?'"

"Oh, no," said Tom. "I just wrote the story. Sam is real, but he likes his privacy, so that's all I am going to say. A friend knows how to keep a secret."

Daniel Kirk's new Library Mouse: A Friend's Tale, with its equally engaging illustrations, is a story which emphasizes both the fun of making original stories and illustrations and the power of teamwork in creating literature. Kirk cleverly includes his tribute to many of the authors and illustrators who make children's literature what it is by placing popular books--Frindle, Little Bear, Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon, The Doll People, Goodnight, Moon, Henry and Mudge, and Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type, to name a few--in the background as the story develops, a device which kids will love to point out as they read.

Library Mouse: A Friend's Tale, is an appealing sequel and, like its predecessor, a really fun way to introduce a classroom unit on writing, illustrating, and book production in general. Sam the Library Mouse looks like he has a long career ahead of him--one of teamwork with young writers and artists.

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