Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Croc-o-smiles! Lyle Walks the Dogs by Bernard Waber






Lyle the Crocodile is back, and when he strolls out the door of the house on East 88th Street, he has a big crocodile smile on his face, on his way to pick up his first charge--a dog named Frisky. Frisky is, well, frisky, and Lyle has to shift out of his usual measured steps and into skipping gear. But that's no problem. Lyle loves skipping.

But over the next nine days, Lyle adds a new dog's leash each day to his capable hands, and each dog brings his or her own challenge. Morris is even friskier, but Pokey, on the other hand, is always lagging behind. Rosie is big and loves to stop and greet every bird, bug, or child along the street. Snappy, on the other hand, is a yappy, snappish mutt, and Tulip is so shy she hides under the couch when it's time for a walk. Scrappy is quirky, dashing ahead and then sitting down and refusing to continue their stately progress down the sidewalks.

And then, on day ten, Lyle adds Sniffy to his job list. Sniffy has a nose for trouble, and when he startles a squirrel, all ten dogs--with poor Lyle in tow--are off to the Squirreltown races. Lyle hangs on gallantly until the squirrel makes his escape.





The return of Bernard Waber's Lyle the Crocodile is a welcome treat. Waber's droll and unflappable hero, one who has delighted generations of children since his debut in 1975 in The House on East 88th Street, last seen in Lyle at Christmas (Lyle the Crocodile) (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), is back in his beloved cityscape in Waber's forthcoming Lyle, Lyle Crocodile: Lyle Walks the Dogs (Houghton Mifflin, May, 2010). In his latest, a 1-10 counting book, great for counting tots or beginning readers, children gets to count Lyle's growing pack of pooches, each one with his own quirky personality. And Lyle, of course, as always is up to his duties, although, on the last page, Waber depicts that competent crocodile, smile intact, gladly resting in his welcome easy chair--with a quiet CAT on his lap.


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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mouse House: A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole

With a tip of his hat to Robert Lawson and his classic Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos, illustrious illustrator Henry Cole's first novel, A Nest for Celeste: A Story About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home (HarperCollins, 2010) tells the story of another mouse who, befriended by a famous person, becomes closely involved in history.

It is 1821, and Celeste, an independent young mouse, lives beneath the floorboards of Oakley Plantation in Louisiana. Happy among her artisanal paw-crafted baskets, Celeste has only two concerns: Illiana and Trixie, cantankerous rats who order her to forage in the upstairs dining room floor for their treats, and Miss Eliza's cat, Puss, who snoozes fitfully as she guards that domain against rodent incursions. On one unwanted foray, Celeste hears the master of the house welcoming two visitors, Monsieur John James Audubon, hired to tutor young Eliza in art and dance, and his thirteen-year-old apprentice Joseph, an art student who is to do the backgrounds for the bird portraits Audubon plans to complete while at Oakley.

But Celeste's food-gathering mission is interrupted by Puss, who chases her upstairs, where the little mouse scoots under a closed door and finds refuge in a boot pushed far under a cot in the small bedroom. That boot turns out to belong to young Joseph, who is lonely and adopts the little field mouse as his pet, carrying her about in his shirt pocket and letting her watch as he struggles with his art assignments. Then one day Celeste is appalled to see the determined Audubon killing a bird to use as his model, directing Joseph to pin it to a board in a lifelike pose for the portrait he is painting. And when a young wood thrush named Cornelius is captured and stuffed into a small cage, Celeste is sure the friendly bird will meet the same fate unless she can intervene. Later, when she hears Cornelius warble his thanks for her gift of a sprig of dogwood berries, she has an inspiration:

"Do that for Joseph!" she says. "Sing just like that. Promise me."

Celeste coaches Cornelius in just how to sing and strike live poses to please the two artists, and his life is spared until Celeste is able to help him escape. And when Lafayette, an osprey who rescued and flew Celeste home when she was lost in the woods, is captured, Celeste teaches him how to model for Audubon and saves his life as well. Lafayette is quite a character, returning the favor by managing to rid the plantation house of the disagreeable Trixie, who orders him to take her for a flight in the woven basket gondola Celeste designs. As the bossy rat enjoys the scenery, Lafayette pays his debt during the tour by dropping her off "accidentally" for an extended holiday.

"Oh, Holy Crawdad," says Lafayette. "I'm afraid Miss Trixie won't be coming back."

Henry Cole, whose notable illustrations have enlivened many a picture book, rises to a new level with soft, pencil drawings which become the heart of his first novel. Cole's work, subtle yet evocative, flows seamlessly from page to page, changing focus and perspective, now taking in the whole plantation house from above, now focusing in on Celeste's tiny artisan's paws, and supports his graceful storytelling elegantly. Celeste is a wonderful little heroine, a mouse who inspires art and friendship while dodging a determined mouser and who, with the help of her feathered friends, finds her own perfect attic refuge at last. Cole has given elementary readers memorable illustrations and a wonderful cast of characters headed by a mouse who can stand tall with such company as Stuart Little and Despereaux.

As the writer for Kirkus Reviews says, this book is "a rare gift: a novel with artwork as whole and vital as a picture book's."

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Prairie Apocalypse : Years of Dust: The Story of the Dust Bowl by Albert Marrin

I noticed a low dark line of what I first thought was a cloud along the northern horizon. It made no sense. There was not a cloud in the sky. As I watched, it got taller and spread from the west to the east horizon. The black mass was coming on so fast.... The front of the cloud was a rolling, tumbling, boiling mass of dust and dirt about two hundred feet high, almost vertical, and as black as an Angus bull. It came across the prairie like a two-hundred-foot-high tidal wave, pushed along by sixty-mile-per-hour wind. After the front passed, the darkness rivaled the darkness inside a whale resting on the bottom of the ocean at midnight....

On "Black Sunday," April 14, 1935, a monster dust storm, over 1000 miles long, stretching from Canada to Texas, appeared out of a brilliant blue sky, travelling 1500 miles before it blew itself out over the Gulf of Mexico. The overcast from its fallout darkened skies as far east as New York City and left most of the Great Plains adrift in dust which covered houses, barns, and roads up to fifteen feet deep.

Residents of the high plains, most first- and second-generation pioneers drawn to the cheap and seemingly fertile land of the Great Plains after the Civil War, felt as if they were trapped inside a deadly Armageddon, a cycle of unexpected drought and unimaginable dust storms unknown to people of European descent up to this time. Crops, already pitiably sparse from several years of drought, were totally destroyed. Farmers, who only a decade before had known rich harvests and built prosperous towns and neat farms, saw the double demons of Depression and dust destroy everything they had worked for.

In financial ruin, repossessed and dispossessed, the once independent landowners and thrifty tradespeople of the entire region piled whatever they could carry into whatever vehicle had not been taken away by the banks and headed, heartbroken but still hopeful, toward the West Coast in hope of finding work, any work at all, even sending their unschooled children out to pick cotton or strawberries in the fields of California or Oregon. Those less fortunate hopped freight trains or even set out on foot, trying to make it to any place that could offer them food and work. "Hoovervilles" sprouted at highway and railroad crossroads, and men fought over piteously low wages just to keep their families alive.

It was a time for those who experienced it perhaps worse than any our nation has known, when nature itself seems to have foresaken us. Yet, it was in many ways our own doing, born out of our own lack of knowledge of the land. The earliest comers nearly exterminated the indispensable buffalo and the prairie dog, no friends to farming, and their plows, the fabled "sodbusters," broke up the shallow-rooted grasses which had held the scant moisture and thin topsoil in place over the centuries; and when the unnaturally rainy cycle of the early twentieth century faded, the high plains became the semi-arid area which they truly are. Wind had always been a constant there, its steady roar enough to drive some early settlers mad, and with drought and no grass to hold the soil, it began to blow away, taking a fragile, shallow-rooted farm culture with it.

Albert Marrin's Years of Dust (Dutton, 2009) is an absorbing and rich account, rendered in beautiful but child-friendly language, which with its eyewitness accounts brings home the very feel and taste of the time:

All we could do about it was just sit in our dusty chairs, gaze at each other through the fog that filled the room and watch the fog settle slowly and silently, covering everything--including ourselves--in a thick, brownish gray blanket. The doors and windows were all shut tightly, yet those tiny particles seemed to seep through the very walls. It got into cupboards and clothes closets, our faces were as dirty as if we had rolled in the dirt; our hair was gray and stiff and we ground dirt between our teeth.

A beautifully designed book, with cover, photographs, and headings in the same sepia-gray as the dust itself, Years of Dust brings history home in lovely, evocative prose which puts the reader right into those hot, dusty farm trucks creeping west:

The desert had no mercy. Anyone who wandered into it, even a short distance, was bound to get lost and die of exposure. There was no air-conditioning back then, so those crossing in daylight wrapped damp towels around their heads. The windows stayed open, sending a hot breeze through the car.

This epic exodus brought vast changes to America which reverberated far into the second half of the century, and in its apocalyptic warning against imposing our will, willy-nilly, upon Mother Nature still rings strong today. Gradually, rains returned, albeit unpredictably, to the region, but prairie towns continue to vanish to this day and farmers have had to adapt their methods to the harsh environment which is the true nature of the high plains.

Filled with strongly evocative photos, many those iconic stills created by Dorothea Lange, this is a piece of nonfiction perfectly adapted to the middle reader who wants to get behind the quick paragraphs in their history textbooks and see into the heart of those terrible, yet valiant times which tested the timbre of our people. A generously designed book, it offers informative sidebars, maps, posters and newspaper pages, and glimpses of such figures as Woody Guthrie, Franklin Roosevelt, and Chief Seattle, whose prophetic words still speak straight to us today. Marrin covers the man-made remedies to the Depression-Dust Bowl tragedy--the New Deal programs which put millions of men to work and millions of children back to school, the changes in agriculture which stabilized the soil, and the voluntary relocation of population to more productive locales--but it is the faces of the people, especially the children of the Dust Bowl, whose eyes look straight out at us and say to us that they are willing and determined to do what they have to do, that best tell the story of those times.

The author concludes with a brief consideration of "future dust bowls," mapping the current deforestation of areas such as the Amazon basin and the Sahel. He writes

The worst tragedies in history have owed more to human folly than to nature. But what has been, need not be forever. People make their own history--it does not make them.

Ample appendices--with glossary, bibliography of nonfiction and fiction, film, music, and web links--make this book a solid source for further study.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Suitcase Named Desire: Hey, Rabbit! by Sergio Ruzzier



It seems everyone wants a wish granted by Rabbit's magic blue suitcase. Cat asks for a ball of yarn to play with, and when Rabbit obliges by opening his valise, a whole room of yarn appears, big balls, small balls, skeins and skeins of yarns in every color of the rainbow--all for Cat's amusement. Dog gets, not just a bone, but a birthday cake made of bones; Crab gets a whole coral reef with abalone, an octopus, bright tropical fish, and, yes, a shell as well. Rat wishes for a piece of cheese and finds a medieval castle town, all made of delicious dairy stuff.

Sergio Ruzzier's wish-fulfillment fantasy, Hey, Rabbit! (Roaring Brook Press, 2010) features a quizzical blue-eyed rabbit with, not a basket of pastel goodies, but a nondescript little suitcase, which he pushes onto page one of this imaginative picture book and which opens into everyone's heart's desire, displayed on beautiful double-page spreads. There is a tropical forest for Toucan, and a soft pillow and bed, spread with a honeybee-sprinkled comforter. for a sleepy Bear.

But what about their benefactor, the long-eared wizard of wishes?


Rabbit is not the only master of magic here! The illustrator has a surprise in his bag of tricks, for when Rabbit's suitcase opens one last time, it opens to a full spread of friends, Dog, Crab, Bear, Cat, Toucan, and a well-stuffed cheese-loving Rat--and, just for Rabbit, a delicious radish that he didn't even know he wanted!

Ruzzier's fantasy of desires and of friendship offers engaging illustrations and a mind-opening little tale of wishes granted. As the writer for Kirkus Reviews puts it, "The colors are soft and clear; the line is vivacious and the little anthropomorphized animals are sweet. Their satisfied imaginations fill whole pages, and friendship emanates from every wriggle."(Starred Review)

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hard-Cover Comic: The Disappearance of Dave Warthog (The 3-2-3 Detective Agency) by Fiona Robinson

A serendipitous setting brings together unlikely traveling companions who decide to seek their fortunes in the big city as partners in a detective agency under the lead of Jenny Donkey.

They met on the 3:23 train to Whiska City. They started off as strangers, but quickly found something in common. Each wanted to start a new life in the big city...

What the travelers have in common is their intraspecies eccentricity! Roger the Dung Beetle, for example, hates dung, but, like Ratatouille the sous chef rat, yearns to become a gourmet cook. Slingshot is a sloth who never sleeps; he can't sit still and likes nothing more than high-speed chases. Priscilla the penguin longs to shed her basic black and white for colorful costumes and characters on stage, and Jenny the donkey longs to be a leader. Only Bluebell the rat is true to type: she likes to shrink into the landscape and observe the scene unseen. Suddenly Jenny sees that together her new friends have the right stuff to realize her dream--a detective agency where everyone's quirky special abilities can be put to good use.

And in Whiska City their dream seems to be an idea whose time has come. Beginning with Dave Warthog, animals are unexplainedly disappearing all over town, and Jenny hardly has time to equip and train her sleuths before clients are lining up, asking them to locate their missing loved ones. All of the missing seem to have one common link--all were potential customers of the NEW YOU SALON, Pootles Le Frizz, proprietor.

Jenny sends Priscilla in as undercover agent, impersonating a penguin with a personal problem--split ends--but when Priscilla penetrates the intricacies of the hair salon, she realizes that the pink-coiffed hairdressers and customers seem to have lost all individuality. Slingshot shadows the fast-moving Pootles LeFrizz, and all clues lead to nefarious goings-on inside Pristeena, a gated community which seems to accept only perfect (and pink-coiffed) residents. Can all the missing Whiskans be found as automaton servants, perfect prisoners inside Pristeena? The P.I.s of the 3-2-3 Agency, always spontaneously creative, turn cotton-candy from a nearby pushcart into pink coiffures for themselves and pretending to be potential buyers, penetrate the perilous Pristeena preserve, and the case is about to be cracked!

Robinson's appealing faux naif cartoon art, bright primary colors, and fast-moving story will appeal to beginning chapter mystery lovers and elementary graphic novel fans alike in the first book of her 3-2-3 Detective Agency Series, The 3-2-3 Detective Agency: The Disappearance of Dave Warthog (Amulet Books, 2009).

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Busy-ness: Busy Chickens and Busy Bunnies by John Schindel



And--chickens doing practically everything that chickens can do are the subject of John Schindel's amazing little board book, Busy Chickens (A Busy Book), which puts the personality into poultry!

No pedestrian poultry here, as the vivid and dynamic color photos go up close and personal. Schindel's creative verse features verbs, as chickens zoom and groom, flap and nap, care (for eggs) and share, and peek and sneak. The various fowl vary from oh-so-cute golden fuzz-balls chicks to exotic crested capons, and the wonderful Steven Holt shots of chickens in action seem to be come alive on the pages. It's high art to make chickens beautiful and arresting, but this book for the youngest lap-sit audience does the job.

And for the upcoming spring season, add Schindel's and Holt's equally jolly photo essay Busy Bunnies which puts a variety of young rabbits up front and center in spring-tinged pastels. Young ones do the bunny hop and then plop down for a bunny nap. Bunnies go riding on Mother Bunny's back and go hiding inside a flower pot, and look darn cute doing it all.

Perfect for a pre-Easter read or pre-farm outing, these two board books in the Busy Books series are wonderful signs of spring for adult and small child to share.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Booting Up: These Boots Are Made for Stalking (The Clique, Book 12 ) by Lisi Harrison


EHMAGAWD! Has Derrington wiggled his backside for Dylan for the last time?

May be. As Halloween nears, Massie Block, the Clique alpha, has turned on her deadly BiteMeBerry-glossed smile and toasted her latest crush, ninth-grader Landon Crane, with a double Draculatte. Following her lead, the other Pretty Committee girls seem to be ditching the eighth-grade boys at Briarcliffe for ninth-grade hawties at Abner Doubleday Prep as well. And at the least, Massie's pup Bean has it bad for Landon's doggie Bark, and Massie is not above sending Bean in for a puppy playdate with a spycam collar to make sure that her new crush is faithful, especially since hearing rumors that he's been seen with a tattooed mystery girl Massie calls "Anklebird."

But as always, the Pretty Committee ranks are restive. Massie has coped with palace coups before, especially from co-alpha wannabe Alicia Rivera, but this time it's the compliant Claire who refuses to go along with the program. Kuh-laire clings to her eighth-grade crush Cam and even invites Massie's anti-pop nemesis, Layne Abelay, clad in a tacky LBR orange Ghouls Just Wanna Have Fun tee, to the Clique's pre-Halloween planning party for their trick or treat appearance as Trampires (hawt vampires).

And when Claire discovers her inner thespian and starts spending all her free time onstage and off with Layne's Westchester Kids Theatre, Massie decides it is time to boot up for a text message shootout at the karaoke corral:

"this. is. war." she texts.

"bring. it. on." Claire replies.

Lisi Harrison's just published sequel, The Clique #12: These Boots Are Made for Stalking (Clique Series) (Little, Brown, 2010) takes her best-selling series into new territory as Massie Block attempts to stake out a place in the Transylvania of high school hawties for herself and her Pretty Committee. And there's no need to worry that the Clique is going to stalk right out of our lives any time soon: Harrison's next installment, The Clique #13: My Little Phony (Clique Series) is going to come galloping into publication, appropriately enough, on July 13, 2010.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chick Lit: There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Chick by Lucille Colandro




But, of course, if you've encountered Lucille Colandro's old lady before, you know she's not heading for digestive distress at all. Not this gal. Her consumption always ends in gustatory glory, and in her latest alimentary adventure, There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Chick, this old lady has an appetite for Easter excitement.

In short order, so to speak, this old lady goes on to gobble an egg, some straw, candy, a basket, a bow ... and, well, you can see where this one is going. As she skips down the trail on a day that is sunny, there's a strategic stumble, and OOOPS! out pops the entire Easter basket, chick, egg, straw, candy, with perky bow somehow tied jauntily atop the handle!

And...surprise, surprise, surprise...



With Jared Lee's familiar illustrations, the author's newest addition to her seasonal stories of the old lady who always gets it together for a holiday, There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Chick (Scholastic, 2010), with its familiar folksong rhythm, rhyming triplets and cumulative story line, is a fine addition to the Colandro catalog. Kids who already know the There Was an Old Lady 3 Pack: There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bat! / There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow! / There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Shell! There Was an Old Lady 3 Pack: There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bat! / There Was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow! / There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Shell! stories will immediately chime in on the building refrain in a rhyming Easter story just made to be read aloud. And, after all, for Easter, it's more than appropriate to ham it up!

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hitting a Slump: The Batboy by Mike Lupica

When he was at the ballpark, Brian was always where he wanted to be. Sometimes he felt more at home at Comerica than he did at his own home.

He still couldn't believe he'd gotten the job, over all the other kids in the Detroit area who wanted to spend the summer getting paid to be at Comerica for Tigers home games.

Even when he learns that he'll be sweeping up trash in the dugout and shining players' shoes until midnight, Brian Dudley knows that every time he puts on the Tiger's batboy uniform, he's living his own personal dream.

Brian knows that his hard-won ball skills which made him the last one picked for his summer travel team will never get him into the big leagues like his dad, Cole Dudley, whose junkball smarts earned him a few years in the majors. Now his dad has left the family, is thousands of miles away physically, coaching pitching in Japan, and millions of miles removed emotionally. Brian understands why his mom professes to hate baseball, the game itself, but even more the baseball dream which she blames for ending her marriage. "For most of my marriage," Brian's mom said to him one time, "I looked at baseball as the other woman." Still, Brian almost unconsciously hopes that his job with the Tigers will earn his father's attention and even bring back the closeness they use to share when they cheered from the stands together.

And then Brian's summer gets even better. His idol Hank Bishop is back as a designated hitter with the Tigers after a suspension for a failed steroid test. With Hank only a few homers short of the big 500, Brian just knows that this summer will be his hero Hank's comeback season and his chance to win his long-time hero's approval.

But Hank turns away all of Brian's attempts to make friends, even on his first day with the club:

"I just wanted you to know how happy I am you're back," Brian said.

"I get that," Hank said. "What I don't get is...was I talking to anybody?"

"Were you....?" Brian said. Not getting this. "No, sir."

"Then don't talk to me." Hank Bishop said.

Somehow his father's ignoring his emails and Hank Bishop's flat rejection of all overtures are all mixed up in Brian's mind, and his play with his own team, The Sting, usually his escape into another world, goes into a prolonged slump. Then, one night, when Brian decides to do some BP in the Tiger's batting cage after the game, Hank suddenly offers to give him some coaching, and Brian's hitting immediately improves. Even more inexplicable is the sudden attraction between his baseball-adverse mom and the laconic Hank.

Despite the disappointment of his distant father's overnight visit to scout players at Tiger stadium, things begin to look up for Brian's dream summer, and it looks like the race is on to see which one of them achieves his big goal first--for Brian hitting his first homerun and for Hank hitting number 500 for his career.

Mike Lupica, author of such best-sellers as The Big Field and Travel Team, fails to hit his personal best in his latest, The Batboy (Philomel, 2010). Although Lupica works some of his well-written game play action into this novel, putting his main character in the role of batboy rather than player puts most of the weight of the story on the psychological struggle within Brian, his efforts to win the approval of his dad and his boyhood baseball hero through his job with the Tigers. Lupica delineates Brian's emotional situation well enough, but then arranges an out-of-nowhere happy ending which manages to solve all his problems--his mom falls hard for Hank at first sight and becomes a red-hot, geared-up fan overnight; Brian finally gets his long ball with two down in the ninth to win his playoffs; and Hank accepts Brian's batting advice to pull out of his slump and looks to be in line for a return to stardom and a new role as Brian's step-dad. It's all a bit too much of a happy ending, a bit too easy a solution to life's problems, like a big fat slow pitch right over the plate in a clutch. Lupica has proven he can write upbeat but believable sport stories, and despite some really good moments, this new one is at best a scratch single.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Too Cool for Middle School: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Movie

"You'll be dead or home schooled by the end of the year!"

It's his first day of middle school, and big brother Rodrick just has to scare the living daylights out of Greg Heffley.

It's out, at long last, the movie based on Jeff Kenney's mega-best-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which transforms a comic novel in, yes, comic form, into a live-action movie featuring plain old actors and actress, and actually does it rather well.

Many of the genuinely big laughs from the book make the transfer to live action seamlessly, reinforced by occasional combinations of Kinney's comic drawings and the live characters on screen together. Director Thor Freudenthal (Hotel for Dogs) consciously chose to omit or integrate many of Greg's humorous musings into a plotline--dealing with the shocks to the friendship of Greg and grade school friend Rowley Jefferson as they hit the social rough spots of middle school--on the way to the required happy fadeout which he tacks on to Kinney's book. Still, the ending, while not exactly there in the text, doesn't stray too far from the sense of the story.

The casting is inspired, with everyone from Rodrick to Fregley coming off exactly as author Kinney conceived them. Devon Bostick is a standout as big brother Rodrick, drummer of the self-important garage band Loded Diper, who plays the downright wicked prankster with apparent relish, for example, shaking poor Greg awake at 4 a.m. to tell him he's late for his first day at middle school. Robert Capron is spot on as the chubby and unconsciously uncool Rowley, Greg's best friend, and Grayson Russell virtually upstages everyone with his manic portrayal of neighborhood weird kid Fregley. Zach Gordon as Greg plays his straight-man role well, toeing the fine line between portraying his character as an insecure, but bravura six-grader and the self-serving jerk that Greg sometimes is.

There are plenty of laughs for audiences of all ages here. Kids who have read the books (and most of Kinney's fans have read each one multiple times) may lament the loss of favorite episodes and laugh lines and resent the film footage devoted to the necessities of structure that moviemaking demands. Kids who haven't read the books (if there are any of those left in North America) will love the film and probably head off to their nearest bookstore or library to pick up the books soon.

Kids who both like the books (four in the series so far) and the movie will enjoy reading about the making of the movie in The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) (Amulet, 2010), describing the scripting, story-boarding, casting, and shooting of the movie itself. With so much great material in the remaining books to work with, it's likely there will be more on-screen sequels to this one down the line

Diary of A Wimpy Kid is rated PG and runs 93 minutes.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ace and Place: Ace Your Space Science Project: by Robert Gardner and Madeline Goodstein

Once astronauts are in orbit, they float inside the orbiter along with everything else that is not fastened down.

Actually, astronauts at 200 miles up are still well within Earth's gravitational field and are not completely weightless. Instead, the astronauts are falling all the time, in the same way that the Moon "falls" around Earth. However, all the objects in the space vessel, and the vessel itself, are falling together, so they all seem to float together.

You experience free fall on a swing when it reaches the top of the arc and is about to change direction. You can get a similar feeling at the top of a roller coaster as it first starts to descend. At that moment, you and the seat... are weightless.

A competent science project book must contain several elements. It must describe the scientific method; it must teach or reinforce the process of designing and controlling an experiment to test an hypothesis and how to interpret observations, stressing safe practices in carrying out these experiments. And finally it should counsel the student in how to deliver the project in a satisfying presentation.

But a really good science project goes beyond these basic requirement: it messes with students' minds in a good way, taking common phenomena (such as the angle of sun throughout the year or the weightlessness of water relative to its falling cup) and intrigues and motivates the reader to try the concepts out for themselves in simple hands-on activities. Veteran science writers Gardner and Goodstein, in their new Ace Your Space Science Project: Great Science Fair Ideas (Ace Your Science Project) (Enslow, 2010) offer concepts and applications that can grab the attention of the middle grade student. Award-winner Gardner eschews the colorful spot art page design which characterize many recent science activity books, opting for solid, step--step conceptual material with ample and appropriately placed diagrams and charts, a style which, while less gee-whiz eye-catching, often proves less confusing to the student project designer.

In addition to demonstrating the concept of relative weightlessness with a leaky Styrofoam cup, Gardner and Goodstein cover many basics of astronomy, with activities all of which utilize common materials--building an astrolabe to determine latitude, a sundial, a sky clock, a spectroscope, a model of a solar eclipse which requires only a stick and a coin, and a diagram which teaches the "fist clock" which requires nothing more than two human hands. An appendix includes the requisite bibliography of books and web sites for further research, and index.

Other titles with high kid appeal in the recent Ace Your Science Project series include Ace Your Sports Science Project: Great Science Fair Ideas (Ace Your Physics Science Project) and Ace Your Science Project Using Chemistry Magic and Toys: Great Science Fair Ideas.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spreading the News: The Jungle Grapevine by Alex Beard

Turtle and Bird walked under the African sun.

"The watering hole is always good for a laugh," said Turtle. "But lately the humor has been drying up."

Bird took off. As he flew, he wondered. "What did Turtle say?"

Bird saw Elephant. Bird said, "I just saw Turtle. He told me the watering hold is drying up!"

Alex Beard's newest, The Jungle Grapevine (Abrams, 2009), recounts European folklore's Chicken Little with a delightful African setting and attractive faux naif black-line and watercolor illustrations that are both pleasing to the eye and especially effective in bringing this venerable tale to life. The big news spreads from Bird to Elephant to Snake, who slithers off to see for himself and pass on his opinion to Crocodile:

"The watering hole issss not too dry. It'ssss too high! If anything, it will flood!"

Crocodile, fearing that a flood will wash away the banks of the watering hole where he sleeps and waits for his prey, splashes into the water in fear, shouting, "My gracious! It has begun!" His warning sets off a chain reaction in Flamingo, Gazelle, Lion, and Wildebeest, all of whom believe that Crocodile is proclaiming "The migration has come!" setting off the annual movement by the vast herds on the African plain.

Of course, it's all a big mistake, compounded by multiple misunderstandings. Hippo finally figures out the cause of all the ruckus and grumbles aloud,

"Don't believe everything you hear!"

Beard's wry text and creative and unique artistic style, with his African animals bouncing, flying, and slithering right out of his page frames, finds a new way to tell this old story with a brand-new setting and style that kids will relish. And, as the School Library Journal reviewer points out, "This offering is ripe for lessons on idiomatic expressions, rumors, gossip, the age-old game of telephone, and life at an African watering hole." And that's a lot for one tale that deserves to be re-told!

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Friday, March 19, 2010

New Sleuths on the Block: The Milo and Jazz Mysteries by Lewis B. Montgomery

Life is full of mystery--if you know how to observe. Keep a sharp eye out for anything strange or unusual. You never know when your next case will fall into your lap...
---Dash Marlowe, Super Sleuth

Milo is thrilled when he finally receives Dash Marlowe's free Super-Sleuth Kit--as advertised in Whodunnit Magazine. There's some really cool stuff inside--rear-view sunglasses for surveilling suspects behind him, a pocket notebook, and a pair of invisible-ink pens with ultraviolet decoder lights. And as soon as he figures out that he has to use the special pen light to read his first lesson, printed in invisible ink, he's ready to go out to find and solve his first case. But it seems that FINDING his first case IS Milo's first case!

Luckily for him, Milo's quest is soon joined by his classmate Jasmyne (a.k.a. Jazz,) an assertive, girl gumshoe wannabe, who soon comes up with his first client--her teen brother, star baseball pitcher "Thrillin' Dylan," whose lucky gym socks have apparently been snitched. Dylan is convinced that those never-washed socks have powered his pitching through the season and that their arch rivals the Eagles have swiped the stinky socks to make sure that lackluster backup pitcher Tim will sub for Dylan in their upcoming game.

Milo and Jazz begin their investigation by questioning possible witnesses in the locker room. A bit of ratiocination involving mirror images of the name on the back of a team jacket soon leads the junior sleuths to the perpetrator of the purloined socks in time for Dylan to take the mound and save the big game, and the young detectives are ready for their next Dash Marlowe lesson and their next case.

Now that author Ron Roy has written himself right through all twenty-four letters in his popular A to Z Mysteries series, beginning chapter mystery fans who are looking around for a similar set of sleuth stories will do well to start with Lewis B. Montgomery's The Case of the Stinky Socks (Milo and Jazz Mysteries) (Kane Press, 2009). Nicely and profusely illustrated by Amy Wummer's nifty drawings, this series offers well-differentiated characters and homey settings as well as realistic cases and believable clues for readers wanting to try out their powers of observation along the way.

Included is an appealing appendix which offers detective-style brainteasers and trial cases for young Sherlocks to practice their skills on before they go on to the next titles in this promising series, which already includes The Case of the Poisoned Pig (Milo and Jazz Mysteries), The Case of the Haunted Haunted House (Milo and Jazz Mysteries), and The Case of the Amazing Zelda (Milo and Jazz Mysteries).