Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Patootie Poetry! The Tushy Book by Fran Manuskin

Life is comfy, you will find,
When you have your own behind.

Sitting down would not be cushy,
If you didn't have a tushy!

After the publication this year, first of Chicken Cheeks, and then Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo, (my reviews here) we might have assumed that the patootie poets would be, well, pooped, but then here comes nimble rhymster Fran Manuskin with her tasteful new story-in-rhyme The Tushy Book (Feiwal & Friends, 2009).

Unlike the two earlier picture books, this one is not a workout for the wordsmith or a tour de force for the slangster. Manushkin's little picture book for the very young, who will doubtless dote on the heiny humor imbedded so skillfully in her rhythmic rhymes, focuses totally on but one term:

Tushy's so much fun to say.
Say it ten times every day!

Where would you put your underwear,
If your tushy wasn't there?

Ever entertained that thought? And then there's the unquestionable universality of the tush...

Every dog and every kitty
Needs a tush for sitting pretty.

Grown-up tushies, firm or droopy;
Baby tushies, cute but poopy!

Equal credit for the appeal of this book should go to artist Tracy Dockray, beginning with her cover art of an appealing preschooler in her sparkly underwear, preparing to go keester over teakettle in a somersault. Dockray's dainty derrieres and prudent posteriors--toddlers and puppies in the style of the old Coppertone ads, elephants and apes in the zoo, cats and kittens, ice skaters and bed bouncers, Barbies and bears--all (except for one tot, partial backside visible in his bath) appropriately covered, make for some drop-dead darling duffs and cute cabooses on every engaging double-page spread. Executed in pencil and transparent ink on vellum, the illustrations have a tactile sueded glow that is as soft and warm as, well, a baby's bottom.

And, there's even a happy, er, ending!

Beneath the picture of a happy toddler seated on his potty, with high-five-ing parents celebrating in the background, we read

Stand up tall; be proud to say,
"I use my tushy every day!"


Monday, June 29, 2009

Wish Fulfillment Fantasies: Wishworks, Inc. by Stephanie Tolan

The buzz-cut kid was coming out of the boys' room with an evil grin on his face. The halls were empty. Max found his lunch box in the toilet.

He wouldn't be able to eat his apple. His sandwich was in a zip-lock bag. Ziplocks were supposed to keep water out. Even so, he knew he couldn't make himself eat the sandwich now. What made him maddest was the butterscotch brownie his mother had let him take. It was the last one. Max had almost eaten it on the school bus. He wished now that he had.

He opened the lunch box and emptied everything into the trash.

Max has to begin third grade in a new school, in a cramped new apartment in a whole new neighborhood, and now he's got to face bully Nick Berger every morning before school. He has reasons "not to be crazy about real," to wish he were somewhere else, and for that he's got Adventure Time.

Adventure Time is Max's escape into his own world where he has a big, plume-tailed dog named King with whom he shares amazing adventures in which he is always the hero. Max has always been able to tailor his daydreams exactly as he pleases, but one day his reverie takes a new turn. Max finds himself at the counter of an intriguing little shop called Wishworks, Inc., where the little white-haired proprietor encourages him to wish for anything he wants. "WISHES GUARANTEED," the sign says.

"This is the hard part," the man said. "Think very carefully before you answer. Very carefully. What's your wish?"

Max knows what he wants. He wants a big, beautiful dog like King, a dog that will sleep with him every night, have wonderful adventures with him, and keep bullies like Nick at bay.

"I wish for a real dog," Max says.

And that's when "real" sets in. In short order Max sees his mother, who has always nixed the idea of a dog, adopting an ugly little yellowish puppy, with a skinny, rat-like tail, a genuinely ugly little mutt which commandeers most of his bed, barks in an annoying high-pitched yap, and which Max must walk and feed twice a day. His mother and little sister fall in love with the little yapper right away, and Max can't believe his wish could turn out so badly. "Ratty" is REAL, all right, Max thinks as he walks her in the chilly rain, pooper scooper and plastic bag in hand, but she's NOT the dog he wished for.

But when Max returns to Wishworks, Inc., to try to fix his wish gone wrong, things go from bad to worse.

"I need customer service. I need refunds and exchanges," he tells the elderly shop owner firmly.

And Max buys another wish, a wish that Ratty would disappear, and when he returns home, he learns that indeed the little mutt has escaped from his sister and can't be found anywhere in the neighborhood. But in true wish fulfillment fantasy tradition, Max soon learns that, having gotten his wish, he really doesn't want it. His mom and sister grieve for their missing puppy, and after having had a real dog, an unpredictable, messy, and definitely uniquely real dog, Max finds that his fantasy dog King is downright boring. The question for Max is whether he can make the right wish this time, the one which will make them all happy.

Stephanie Tolan's Wishworks, Inc. is a tantalizing look at the old theme of being careful what you wish for, crafted realistically and skillfully for the early independent reader. Tolan, winner of the Newbery Honor Award for her acclaimed Surviving the Applewhites and the Christopher Award for her sensitive story of a girl and an abandoned dog, Listen! reviewed here, knows how to craft a story well for her targeted audience, and this short novel fits perfectly into the niche between beginning chapter books and the full-fledged junior novel genre. Funny, poignant, and satisfying, it should find its place with many young readers.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Beast Inside: ROAWR! by Barbara Joosse

One dark and snarly night when Papa was away and Liam was a-snuggled in, he heard a forest crack and snap! His heart thumped. DANGER!

Barbara Joosse newest, Roawr! is a fresh and creative take on the same subject Maurice Sendak covered so well in Where the Wild Things Are.

Like Max, Liam is a boy whose mama is a bit tired of his rambunctiousness. "Use your inside voice! No sticks in here! And NO double cake!" She sends him off to bed and is soon asleep herself.

But his father is away, and mama is in danger from whatever is out there in the dark! Liam is just a small boy, but a brave one, and he realizes that it's up to him to protect his mother. As he assembles the materials to build a fort, the forest begins to take over even in his own room, with huge, jungle leaves upholstering the chair and covering the wallpaper, and rocks and sticks all around. And there is that sound again. ROAWR! Still, fortified with provisions, even the forbidden double cake, Liam confronts the huge bear out there, constructing a deadfall and taking the big, loud beast prisoner in the deep pit.

But the bear is now more scary than before, even confined in Liam's trap.

Bear! He rumbled in the hole, slashing the moonlight bloodily with his claws and bellowing. ROAWR!

"Now what?" Liam shivered. He was just a boy!

But Liam is a clever boy who figures out how to tame a snarly, hungry bear, and when the bear's loud ROAWR is tamed, Liam takes himself sleepily back to bed where both he and Mama are safe for the night. In his no longer forested room, Liam is secure and ready to sleep, toy bear by his side.

Now back at home, Liam slippered off his fuzzy feet and crawled into his cave to sleep. zzzzzzzzzz!

In artist Jan Jutte's evocative illustrations, little Liam, like Max, tames his inner and outer wild thing just in time for bedtime, banishing the forest inside. Joosse, who has shown that she understands the ways of boys in her I Love You the Purplest has reworked this theme delightfully in her story of a boy who puts his inner ROAWR! to sleep.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Squeals on Wheels: Stink and the Great Guinea Pig Express by Megan McDonald

Stink Moody a guinea pig whisperer? Judy Moody's irrepressible little brother is many things, but who knew he had a special way with guinea pigs?

But when Stink and his friends Webster and Sophie find three of the little rodents in their "Great Wall of Cereal Boxes" construction, they soon learn that they are escapees from Ms. Birdwhistle's surplus guinea pig population at Fur and Fangs Pet Shop. In fact, there are 101 of the little squealers there, and after the three friends help Ms. B. corral them again in their cages, she confesses that she needs help finding homes for these fluffy little critters fast!

Stink has already fallen in love with one of the escapees, whom he names Astro, but when he hints that he would like to keep him, sister Judy points out that a guinea pig would not exactly be a compatible pet with their cat Mouse. So he and his buddies throw themselves into the guinea pig adoption project with characteristic energy. They industriously scrub down the inside of Ms. Birdwhistle's old camper van, arrange cages inside, and paint the outside to resemble a giant guinea pig, complete with blue eyes like Astro's, fluffy whiskers, moons, stars and rainbows, and a catchy name.

"It's a traveling guinea pig palace," said Sophie.

"A piggy parade," said Webster.

"Squeals on Wheels!" said Stink.

In the piggymobile Ms. Birdwhistle and the three friends set off on a pig placement project, first to the local mall, and then on The Great Guinea Pig Giveaway Tour, all the way to Virginia Beach, where a guinea pig rescue group promises to take some of the little squeakers off their hands. Along the way, the kids stop at all the tourist attractions--Bull Run Castle, where bunch of young wizards and witches at a Harry Potter party take six, the Reston Zoo, where a few more find homes, Norfolk's sudsy city fountain, where ten squeaky clean pigs find owners, and the Beatles Museum at the beach, where guinea pigs John, Paul, George, and Ringo find families among the mop-top fans. At last they arrive at the rescue headquarters, where Stink says a sad goodbye to the blue-eyed Astro.

Still missing his favorite, Stink returns home, only to find that his cat Mouse has a strange fascination with his backpack. Inside he finds a squeaky stowaway--Astro!--and wonder of wonders, it's love at first sight between Mouse and the little guinea pig. Soon there's a purring contest underway between guinea pig and Stink's pet, and the Moody household finds it has another furry friend in residence.

Megan McDonald's Stink and the Great Guinea Pig Express (Book #4) is but the latest in the beginning chapter adventures of Stink Moody, including Stink (Book #1): The Incredible Shrinking Kid, Stink and the Incredible Super-Galactic Jawbreaker (Book #2), Stink and the World's Worst Super-Stinky Sneakers (Book #3), Judy Moody & Stink: The Holly Joliday, and Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt, all illustrated in the inimitable comic style of Peter H. Reynolds, making this popular series serious boy reader bait.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Heading Home: Carolina Harmony by Marilyn Taylor McDowell

Carolina reached up and felt the wood carving she wore as a pendant. She rubbed her finger over its wings and its tail, feeling where he daddy had made the cuts and where he'd sanded it smooth.

"It's a present for you, Carolina.
It's a catbird, case you couldn't tell."

She remembered that clear June night, when they were camping up near Grandfather Mountain.

"Lift your hair so I can tie a knot in the cord."

She remembered leaning into the crook of his shoulder and gazing into the night sky with the campfire crackling and blazing before them.

Fans of Anne of Green Gables, that classic tale of a red-headed, pigtailed orphan girl which celebrated its centennial last year, have a new novel of an extraordinary red-haired orphan to enjoy, in Marylyn Taylor McDowell's recent Carolina Harmony (Delacorte, 2009).

When Carolina Campbell's parents and baby brother Caleb are suddenly killed in a car accident, she moves in with her dad's foster mother, "Auntie Shen," (so called after her baby pronunciation of the Gaelic seanmhair for grandmother.) It's 1964, but life in the high mountains of western North Carolina is still primitive for that time. Auntie Shen supports them with cash from her her wild berry jams and jellies and her paintings of mountain plants and animals sold at her Morning Glory Jelly Stand. Although memories and dreams of her lost family haunt Carolina, Auntie Shen's stories of her father's boyhood and frequent "I just love ya, girl!" give her a feeling of continuity and security.

But when Auntie Shen has a stroke and is moved to a nursing home, Carolina learns what being an orphan really means. Taken away from the care of Auntie Shen's Black friend Ruby to "be with people of your own kind," Carolina is sent first to an unkind and autocratic minister's family. When Carolina runs away, she is found and moved to Boone to stay with Miss Lily Jean, a woman motivated mostly by the money she gets for fostering children. Athough befriended by Lily Jean's mischievous nephew, Russell, Carolina is frightened by her trucker husband and once more flees to the woods, finally making her way to Harmony Farm, where she is quietly taken in by Ray and Latah and their son Luke. A wonderful summer passes in which Carolina feels that she has found a family who will keep her and love her for all time.

But when Russell turns up with his Uncle Sims, come to shear the sheep at Harmony Farm, he tries to convince Carolina that Ray and Latah only keep her for her work on the farm. When Sims carelessly sets the barn on fire, Carolina is afraid that she will be blamed and, fearing that she has lost her family all over again, stows away with Russell aboard a freight train heading for Tennessee.

Strong and unique characters, a strong sense of time and place, and plenty of orphan-style adventure make this novel both a sensitive and suspenseful story. Carolina is more than lucky in her many rescuers, from the grandmotherly Ruby to the soft-hearted Knoxville beauty school student Georgia, who sweet-talks her sheriff's deputy boyfriend into giving Carolina a second chance at Harmony Farm. A bit of an old-fashioned tale of a 1960s "Annie," Carolina Harmony is an engaging story of a resourceful orphan who finally comes home to stay.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Semi-Saurus: Dinotrux by Chris Gall

Millions of years ago
Prehistoric trucks roamed the earth.
They were HUGE!
They were HUNGRY!
But they weren't helpful like they are today.

Kids love dinosaurs. Kids love trucks. So what could be better than dinosaurs that are trucks, or trucks that are dinosaurs? That's the picture book world where author-illustrator Chris Gall's Dinotrux (Hachette, 2009) rule.

Look! There in the branches! CRANEOSAURUS!

He was always sticking his nose where it didn't belong.

CRACK! MUNCH! Look out, birds!

Then there is the DUMPLODOCUS, the morph monster of the dumptruck and the Diplodocus, who littered the ancient landscape with the contents of his loadbed, and the GARBAGEADON, which gobbled up and compacted everything in his path. ("Look out, cave man!") There was ROLLODON, who subdued his prey by rolling them flatter than Flat Stanley, but even worse were CEMENTOSAURUS and BLACKTOPADON, who trailed their gucky droppings behind them everywhere they went. In contrast, though, some Dinotrux were pretty laid back--especially the DELIVERADONS, which mostly napped during work hours, piled up like a litter of puppies. But the worst of all was TYRANNOSAURUS TRUX, before which all the others, even FIRESAURUS and DIGASAURUS, fled in fear.

So what happened to all these mighty monsters? Well, Gall says that a terrible storm transformed the Earth into goo and mud, into which the biggest and dumbest of the Dinotrux sank and expired. But fortunately for mankind, it wasn't a total extinction.

But the smart ones went south in search of better weather, and hundreds and thousands, and millions of years later they shed their teeth and their toenails and their misbehaving ways.

Come on, Dinotrux, lend a hand! Good work, Dinotrux!

Now they are always on the job.

And they never ever quit!

Chris Gall's clever text and strong inventive illustrations work together well in this tall tale of truckdom which has wide appeal to preschoolers and primary graders alike. For example, his endpapers feature a left-hand side which shows the morphed dinos/truck and a right-hand page which shows the modern truck version so that kids can match the two. Chris Gall has also created a cave family--dad, mom, and boy--who react humorously to the moto-monsters among them, and whose modern descendants are seen excavating the fossil Dinotrux from their prehistoric tar pits on the last pages.

Mike Mulligan and His Digasaurus? Danny and the Dozeratops, anyone?

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Right Near Silly's Mile: My Hippo Has The Hiccups, And Other Poems I Totally Made Up by Kenn Nesbitt

1 Crazy Place

Instead of having streets with names
Like Broadway, Park, or Main,
We have a street called Rowboat Row,
And one called Winfirst Place.

There's Ginger Route and Tennis Court
And also Upson Downs,
It's fair to say we have
The most unusual of towns.

So come and find your Happy Place;
It's right near Silly's Mile;
We hope you like our town so much
You'll move to Stayaw Aisle.

Kenn Nesbitt, poet author of the brand-new My Hippo Has the Hiccups with CD: And Other Poems I Totally Made Up, (Jabberwocky, 2009) obviously lives just down Silly Street from Jeff Foxworthy, near Where the Sidewalk Ends, and next door to The New Kid on the Block. In that poetic precinct where Jeff and Shel and Jack are the life of the block party, here's a new poet who can rhyme and pun with those bigtime wise guys on the corner.

For a quick example, here is Nesbitt's nimble way with a pun, in his "Alphabet Break":

I'm learning my ABCs.
I'm good at D, E. F, and G.

I have memorized H and I and J,
And memorized the letter K.

I've studied L, M, N, and O,
But now I really have to go.

Before I learn one more, you see,
I really must get up to P.

With over 100 funny poems, Ethan Long's hilarious black-line drawings reminiscent of Shel Silverstein's books, and an CD read by the author, the performing top banana of the school circuit, My Hippo Has the Hiccups with CD: And Other Poems I Totally Made Up, has it all for elementary readers of rhyme.

Other comic collections of poems by Nesbitt include When The Teacher Isn't Looking: And Other Funny School Poems and Revenge of the Lunch Ladies: The Hilarious Book of School Poetry.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

History Mystery: The Tangled Web: A Julie Mystery by Kathryn Reiss

Julie, one of American Girl Collection's newer historical characters, returns in her first historical fiction mystery. As the story begins, Julie is still trying to settle into her new life in a tiny apartment above her mom's store, Gladrags, on a busy urban street in the San Francisco of 1973.

"It's a mystery we manage to live here at all," Julie declared.

"This apartment is no bigger than my locker at school!"

Julie misses her big old house in the suburbs, with her best friend Ivy Ling just next door. However, being the new girl at the beginning of the school year does make her sympathetic with Carla, a new girl in her class, and Julie determines to make her feel welcome. And at first Carla seems perfectly at ease, telling Julie and her friends about her big new house in the historic "Painted Ladies" neighborhood, her talented brothers Tom and Tim, who are attending a private school, Maxwell Academy, her successful physician parents, and even her adorable Kindergarten sister Nancy. But gradually Julie and her friends begin to suspect that Carla's stories can't be true, and Julie realizes that her new friend is a real mystery.

Shadowing Carla only adds to the suspicious inconsistencies in her story. On a weekend sleepover, Ivy agrees to help follow Carla to find out if her story about her beautiful new house is true. The girls see Carla, walking a large, friendly dog, about to enter the house, and when they call out to her, she reluctantly invites them in for a quick visit, nervously adding that she is not allowed to have friends over when her parents are away. Carla hastily answers a few questions about family photos on display, but when a middle-aged man appears at the front door, Carla quickly pushes Julie and Ivy out the back.

But when Carla is absent from school the next day, Julie returns to the house, ostensibly to take Carla her missed work, planning to investigate further. Entering through the open front door, she meets the man she and Ivy saw the previous day, who seems puzzled when she asks about Carla.

"Carla lives quite a way from here. Carla's our dog walker," he says.

When the man good naturedly offers to give Julie Carla's address, Julie decides that she must pay a visit to Carla to ask her to explain her deceptions and to make sure that she is not in any danger. What she learns is not at all what she expected, and she soon sees that Carla's secrets have a story which goes much deeper than Julie imagined.

The Tangled Web: A Julie Mystery (American Girl Mysteries) gives the young reader a view of life in the early 1970s, a time in which girls and women found their lives changing radically. In the first book of the series, Meet Julie: An American Girl (American Girls Collection), Julie has to become an activist under Title IX to be allowed to play basketball for her school, and in this latest installment in the series, she and her mother and sister become involved with the rehabilitation of Viet Nam veterans in her community. There are no stereotypical hippies and flower children here, just ordinary people dealing with the challenges of their time.

As always for books in the American Girl Collection, an illustrated appendix illuminates the events and sights of those times, including, interestingly, those picturesque "painted lady" houses on Steiner Street which figured in the familiar opening to the television show "Full House."

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Common Ground: Extra Credit by Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements' books are all about finding a common ground. In his best-selling Frindle, Nick Allen's free-wheeling ways with neologisms (in this case "frindles" for ballpoint pens) comes up against his teacher's linguistic purism. In No Talking (reviewed here) the clash begins with the usual one between boys and girls and goes on to become a conflict between the kids and school authorities, with the students asserting that they "have the right to remain silent" to the eventual consternation of their teachers, and in his last novel, Lost and Found, (reviewed here) identical twins come to grips with their commonalities--and their differences.

But in his just published Extra Credit, (Atheneum, 2009) Clements takes on the search for common ground between two very divergent cultures.

In the search for enough extra credit to ensure that she is promoted to junior high, Abby Carson reluctantly takes on a cross-the-curriculum semester-long extra credit pen pal project, one which has her writing letters to a student in a village school in Afghanistan. Abby chooses the location only because she loves climbing the simulated rock wall in her school gym, and after all, Afghanistan has lots and lots of rocky mountains!

When Abby's hasty penciled letter arrives at its destination, however, the school authorities are in a quandary. Their best student is eleven-year-old Sadeed, by far their most proficient in English, but "Abby in America" is obviously female, and by local customs it would be unacceptable for Sadeed to correspond with a girl. Finally a compromise is reached, and Sadeed is asked to have his younger sister Amira dictate her replies to him to translate into his neat handwriting and formal English.

But when Abby receives his long, painstaking reply, she is suddenly ashamed of her slapdash first letter, and in truth, of her lack of attention to her own school work altogether. As Sadeed points out, he has no time or energy for climbing mountains; to him the Hindu Kush is a beautiful but overwhelming presence, whose ice and snow are a hindrance to communication and sometimes a threat to life. As the letters continue, Sadeed begins to put more of his own feelings into his "dictated" letters, and Abby is touched by the tiny rock Sadeed sends her, telling her that if she looks closely, she will see that it is a little mountain in itself. Feeling a bit ashamed that she called her level and fertile farm "flat and boring," she sends him a sample of rich Illinois soil, saying that if he looks closely, he will see in it a bit of an American field.

"I like that idea, that of all the people who have ever lived on the Earth, I am the very first one to touch this spoonful of soil. And now you are the second one.

It's the kind of thing that makes you think." she writes.

But just as Abby and Sadeed are beginning to understand each other's lives, fundamentalists in his village discover the project, and Sadeed writes one last letter to tell Abby that their correspondence has become too dangerous to continue. He is afraid, he says, that these people will make it impossible for his sister to continue to go to school. Sadly and thoughtfully, as Abby prepares her final oral report, she re-reads his letter. "Wishing you every happiness in your life," he had written.

It felt so final. Like a last good-bye. It felt like from now on she would be going along one road in life and he would be taking a different one.

In his first letter he had talked about the field of tall corn, the one in the picture she'd sent to him. What had he called it? Then she remembered--"like a smile of God."

And for the first time in her life, Abby really looked at the land speeding past her eyes in the June sunshine. She saw it through Sadeed's eyes.

And it wasn't flat and boring. It was beautiful.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Savanna Superman: Elephants of Africa by Gail Gibbons

Gail Gibbons has made her name as the queen of the nonfiction picture book, with books on holidays, plants, animals, and even ecosystems, as in her Coral Reefs, a little jewel of an introduction to this subject for primary graders.

In Elephants of Africa Gibbons takes on an animal so big and powerful that it almost creates its own ecosystem as it goes. Gibbons first briefly describes those enigmatic ancestors of the modern elephant--mammoths and mastodons--and then jumps right into the fascinating facts of the African elephant.

For example, who knew...?

Elephants can swim for several hours and several miles at a time, "snorkeling" along with their trunks above water and most of the rest of the pachyderm submerged.

Elephants often deliver food to other disabled animals who cannot forage for themselves.

Elephants need up to 40 gallons of water daily.

The matriarch of each family group has the responsibility for remembering where water can be found at any season. She is said to be able to smell underground water miles away and lead her charges to the spot where they then dig a water hole with their powerful tusks.

Elephants have very thick skin--1.5 inches thick. What they do not have is a layer of fat under the skin to protect them from cold.

Elephants see poorly in bright sunlight, only up to about 60 feet away. Their eyes function better in subdued light, however.

Gibbons organizes these and many other facts logically, with colored drawings illustrating the information fully. For preschoolers and the primary grades, Elephants of Africa is a great place to start for knowledge about this largest of living land animals.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Celestial Carousel Ride: Enchanted Lions by David T. Greenberg

The sea is a mass of swirls.
The night is ablaze with pearls.

The blossoms on the pear tree,
Suddenly rustle and sigh.

Anticipation all a flutter,
Rose flings open her shutter.

On a blue-black twilight evening, in a white-washed cottage by the sea, a red-haired girl opens her blue shutters to the night breeze. And what she sees begins a dreamlike fantasy of a ride through the sky.

Out of the ocean appears a pride of lions, and when Rose rushes outside to stroke one of the lions, he takes her upon his back and leaps into the sky. They fly past the constellations, past Pegasus and Pisces and Monoceros, the Unicorn. They hopscotch the asteroids and frisk through deep space, until Rose feels them being drawn like dust before a vacuum into a black hole. But quickly she snatches up a passing comet's tail and lassos the flukes of Cetus the Whale, who swims them strongly to safety.

At last the enchanted lions leap back to earth, and with a final hug for her celestial steed, Rose returns to her very own bed, where she falls asleep with a smile and is lost in her own continuing dream.

Enchanted Lions (Dutton, 2009) draws deeply on the illustrative skills of Kristina Swarner, whose glowing artwork lights up the pages as it brings the light and airy story to life. A good tale for a bedtime dreamer with stars in her eyes and the moon in her head.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Hero Hermit: The Hermit Crab by Carter Goodrich

The hermit crab in this story didn't set out to be a hero. And he wasn't particularly brave.

He was actually very shy. Whenever all the neighbors would get together, the hermit crab was happy to linger just out of sight.

It's no surprise that the hermit crab is reticent. After all, hiding inside cast-off crustaceans' exoskeletons is his chief talent.

But even a cautious little crustacean has an eye for the extraordinary found object, and when a bizarre but strangely beautiful hollow object floats down from the surface, he has to close in for a look. The upper body of a purple toy action figure comes to rest on the ocean bottom, and the little crab is intrigued enough to crawl right inside the fancy new shell. "It's even got moving parts!" he says to himself.

But just as he is getting comfortable in his new plastic home, a mysterious wooden box, emitting a most appetizing essence, floats down to flatten a flounder on the sea bottom. The local crabs, shrimp, lobster, and bluefish are afraid to approach the odd object, but the little hermit crab, now incognito inside his new purple shell, is drawn by the delicious smell straight to the trap, just at the moment when the fishermen above decide to raise it to the surface. The flounder is freed, as if by the magical power of the mysterious purple object, and the denizens of the deep have a new idol.

"That," cried a lobster, "that is our brave champion, our HERO, come to save us!"

But the attention is too much for the self-effacing little crustacean, who slips away to find his old shell, leaving the heroic purple action figure for his neighbors to reverence, while he himself escapes to enjoy his return to anonymity.

In his newest, The Hermit Crab, noted artist Carter Goodrich illustrates his simple little tale with some of the most beautiful undersea illustrations since David Wiesner's Flotsam (Caldecott Medal Book). Executed in wonderful soft watercolors and muted colored pencil blues and greens, the backgrounds are entrancing, while the expressive faces of the sea creatures form a comic counterpoint to the elegance of the scene.