Friday, April 30, 2010

Mother Knows! My Mother Is So Smart! by Tomie de Paola

I knew from the time I was really little that my mother was smart.

She always knew when to change my diaper.

She always knew I was hungry BEFORE I cried.

Every little one knows that their moms have superpowers. Not only can they make the best cookies and homemade Popsicles in the freezer, but they can perform difficult and dangerous feats without even visiting a phone booth to don a crusader's cape.

She knows how to drive my grandfather's old delivery truck.

Sometimes she takes me to school in it!

And mothers definitely know best. A mom EVEN knows better than your teacher--or even the principal!

Once a teacher told me that I had to wait outside after school.

I said, "My mother told me to wait for her right here, and my mother knows everything."

"Well, your mother must be very smart," the principal said.

"She is," I answered. "My mother is so smart she can stand on her head."

And she can!

In his newest picture book memoir, My Mother Is So Smart (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2010), Caldecott and Newbery winning author-illustrator Tomie dePaola has given us the perfect Mother's Day book, a portrait of mom as seen by the very young--beautiful, strong, wise, the provider of all good things. Mothers know that no one will ever see them in the special way their little ones do, and dePaola's charming illustrations, set off by his signature borders, portray this beautiful time in the mother-child relationship perfectly. Give it to your mothers to remind them of those tender days, and read it to your youngsters, and if you can stand on your head while doing so, go for it!

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Coldfast: MouseGuard Winter 1152 by David Petersen

The icy season has settled over the mouse territories. The Mouse Guard are short of food and medicine. The small band of adventurers has been forced to split up, leading them to terrible choices.

The elder mouse Calanawe tells his young companion Leiam, "You should always aim to be your own mouse."

Scarcely recovered from Midnight's Rebellion, the Mouse Guard find that the winter of 1152 falls hard upon the Mouse Kingdom. Their leader Gwendolyn is forced to send her elite Guards--Saxon, Kenzie, Lieam, and Sadie--forth from Lockhaven to the other Mouse Territories to beg them to send food and medical Elixir back to her stronghold.

And the Mouse band struggles bravely onward, reaching their Mouse Outposts and obtaining sustenance and two bottles of Elixir to take back to Gwendolyn and the gravely ill Rand. But the strength of the winter storms force the group to tunnel under the snow, where they fall into Darkheather, the underground redoubt of their former enemies in the Weasel Wars, and where they are menaced by the hungry and vicious bats below.

Celandawe and Lieam are chosen to press on to their home base with the vital supplies, but they soon find themselves face to face with a terrible predator, the Owl who flies by night and who has a vendetta against all mice since Kenzie's powerful sling scored a direct hit which robbed him of the sight of one of his eyes.

Lieam is young, brash but brave, and with his black axe in hand is foolish enough to take on the Owl alone. Celandawe, the wise old warrior, has counseled him to be his own mouse, but the elder's ultimate courage, sacrifice, and loyalty to all mice also teach him that the greatest deed is to put the needs of all before our own, to "serve the greater good."

John Peterson's new graphic novel, Mouse Guard Volume 2: Winter 1152 (Mouse Guard Graphic Novels) (Archaia, 2009) is a beautifully illustrated sequel to his earlier Mouse Guard Volume 1: Fall 1152 (Mouse Guard Graphic Novels) (v. 1). Medieval warfare adventure combined with the stuff of middle earthian fantasy, Petersen's comic-style stories are a bit short on dialogue and storytelling detail, but his gorgeous cinematographic illustrations, here tempered to an icy palette by the snowy winter setting, leave other, cruder mangas and graphic novels in the dust stirred up by his fierce mouse warrior heroes. Sequel to follow.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Turndown Turnabout: Bedtime for Mommy by Amy Krouse Rosenthal




In a routine reversal of the famous bedtime stall, a freckled and forceful girl moves her mom along through the familiar bedtime ritual, making her tidy up her work folders and shut down her computer, shoving her upstairs firmly, running the bath and presenting her with her "bath toys" (razor, bath gel, lotions) and giving her feet a loofah scrub that makes her giggle. Then it's into bed with a bounce or two for the still wide-awake Mommy, who begs for two bedtime books but has to settle for just one (Anna Karenina).

With a kiss, a last sip of water, a this-time-it's-final hug, one more kiss, and endless adjustments to the closure of the door, the frazzled girl heads off back downstairs with a sigh all too familiar to parents.



Skillful cartoon-style illustrations by LeUyen Pham set against a white background amplify the action, while speech balloons carry much of the storytelling dialogue in Bedtime for Mommy (Bloomsbury, 2010), a fun and funny role-reversal tale of bedtime travail, with a final page showing the real Mom and Dad peeping in the door as the tired child finally snoozes soundly. A between-the-sheets switcheroo which is fun for both generations in the family, especially at Mother's Day.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Making It in Middle School: Big Nate in a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce

Not that I'm an average sixth grader. Okay, I'll admit that I'm not exactly Joe Honor Roll, but answer me this: When I get out there in the real world, is anybody going to care whether or not I know who was vice president under Warren G. Harding? (And don't try to pretend that YOU know who it was, because you don't.)

The point is, I want to use my talents for more than just memorizing useless facts. I'm meant for bigger things. I am...


At first look, Nate Wright doesn't look like destiny's child. He's not dumb, but he is a devoted slacker in class, totally out of the running in any competition with his perfect big sister, Ellen, or his brainiac buddy Francis. He's not a talented charmer, like Artur, whose earnest broken English has the girls, especially Nate's secret love Jenny, falling all over him and the teachers wrapped around his artistic pinky. Nope, Nate's special talent is his ability, defying all external evidence, to believe that he is destined for great things.

So when friend Teddy gives him a fortune cookie which prophesies TODAY YOU WILL SURPASS ALL OTHERS, he just knows that today is the day he will achieve greatness before his awe-stricken classmates. But when attempts to slip his artwork into the hall display case on top of Artur's and an abortive love poem to Jenny in creative writing class go awry, Nate finds himself with two pink detention slips long before lunch! The rest of the day goes downhill from there, until at the final bell, Nate finds himself with a pile of pink slips, standing once more before the desk of Mrs. Czerwicki, dragon of the detention room.

"Nate," she asks, "just how many teachers wrote you up?"

"All of 'em," I say.... "And the principal."

Mrs. Czerwicki looks a little stunned. She spreads out the slips on her desk like she's playing solitaire. She shakes her head. "Nate... "You appear to have established a new record."

"Over the years, several students have received four detentions in a single day. A few have had five. One even got six. Until now...."

Wait. "Does that mean I've... SURPASSED ALL OTHERS?

Mrs. Czerwicki grimaces. "Well... I suppose you could put it that way."

The legions of fans who wait eagerly for the next book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series will find veteran cartoonist Lincoln Peirce's first venture into the book format for his famous comic hero, Big Nate: In a Class by Himself (Harper, 2010) just the sort of source of solid laughs which will find a place in their backpacks, along with a bag of Nate's favorite junk food, Cheez Doodles, as provender for surviving those perilous middle school years.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Letters and Lyricism: R Is for Rhyme: A Poetry Alphabet by Judy Young

---Japanese Tanka verse

Simple as A-B-C! Everything you ever needed to know about poetry in 26 letters! Well, not may be everything, but a whole lot more than most of us know about lyrical arts and letters is here, in a brand-new, fresh-as-spring paperback edition, which English teachers, librarians, and just plain poetry fanciers need on their ready reference shelf.

Okay, maybe you know what a cinquain is. But do you that G is for ghazal and that a ghazal is an ancient Persian verse form of five to twelve couplets? You already have a nodding acquaintance with haiku? Well, meet the haiku's big sister, the tanka, a form with five lines, with five, seven, five, seven, and seven syllables per line, usually written on the subject of people or nature.

Poetic rarities and oddities such as these join the more familiar terms of the art in Judy Young's R is for Rhyme: A Poetry Alphabet (Alphabet Books) (Sleeping Bear, 2010). Acrostics to xanadu, they're all there--onomatopoeia, iambs, doublets, couplets, quatrains, metaphor, ballads, and sonnets, limericks and jingles, each term strikingly illustrated by Victor Jahase on its own double-page spread, with highly informative sidebars which describe the term, its history, and usage, and for each term, a poem in that form worthy of reading for its own sake. It's a poetry course in a nutshell library which can be read as a diverse and beautifully illustrated anthology, a poem-a-day source for Poetry Month, or as a quick but surprisingly detailed reference source.

I is for Inexpensive, H is for Handy, and B is for Beautiful!

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Scheduled for Closing: Ella's Umbrellas by Jennifer Lloyd




For Ella's friends and family, birthdays are a no-brainer. Each celebration brings her umbrellas in unusual shades and bumbershoots with bows, and she loves them all. Soon her collection crowds her own room and begins to spill out into the rest of the house.

The one day her mom gives Ella an umbrella ultimatum. Her favorite aunt is coming to visit, and plans are for Aunt Stella to bunk with Ella. But Ella's rainbow collection is stashed all over her upper bunk, her closet is all a-clutter with them, and there's no place for Aunt Stella among all of Ella's umbrellas.




Sadly, Ella gathers together her striped umbrellas, her polka-dotted umbrellas, her umbrellas with hearts, and all those which opened with a satisfying POP! Loading them into her wagon, she sets up for business on her front lawn with a teeny, tiny sign that reads FREE UMBRELLAS.

Carefully setting aside her favorite robin's egg-blue umbrella to keep, Ella waits for a customer. But she soon learns an important business principle: no one really wants an umbrella--at any price--on a sunny day.

Equipped with a slightly bigger sign, Ella heads downtown looking for people who perhaps need a parasol for the sun, but no one gives her beloved collection a second glance. Until--PITTER PATTER SPLASH--a sudden sprinkle turns into a torrential downpour, and Ella serendipitously finds her umbrellas a sudden hot commodity.

Under her remaining and most beloved blue umbrella, Ella is splashing home when she suddenly sees her friend the postman, dripping and drenched by the deluge, his mailbag heavy and his usual cheery whistle squelched, slogging through the shower.


And what do you suppose Aunt Stella has for Ella when she arrives? Yes, a long, thin box that can contain only one thing, "the most beautiful umbrella Ella had ever seen."

Jennifer Lloyd's Ella's Umbrellas (Simply Read Books, 2010) is a light-hearted antidote to April showers, illustrated fetchingly by artist Ashley Spires in sunny pastels that set off this story of an earnest little character who successfully copes with the perils of collecting, learning that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing and that sharing is better than hoarding.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

In a Mist: The Clearing by Heather Davis

"What's going on here?" Amy crossed her arms over her chest and glanced back at the farmhouse, at the shiny truck in the driveway. "That's a new truck, isn't it? That's not a classic."


"And the apple tree--and the summer days..." Amy's eyes clouded with emotion.

"Well--" Henry began.

"You're not from here," she murmured.

"Yes, I am."

"No. No. It can't be. This isn't possible." Amy backed away from him, backed all the way through the empty field, watching him while she vanished into the mist like a ghost.

Fleeing an abusive boyfriend, Amy moves in with her great-aunt Mae, sharing the small trailer and beginning her junior year at the small rural high school far from home. Mae, who never married after her fiance Joe died at Iwo Jima, gives Amy the space to find her way, and a kind local boy, Jackson, tries to draw her into school activities, but Amy is a girl hoping to leave her past life behind but having no hopes for the new one before her.

Then, chasing Aunt Mae's dog in the nearby fields, Amy's curiosity is drawn to a deep mist in the woods at the edge of the field, and pushing through the strangely deep fog, she finds a clearing where she meets a boy resting in the shade beside an old rotary push mower. A compelling friendship soon develops between the two and they begin to meet in their place often.

But Henry is a boy, the only one in his family, who realizes that they are living in a cocoon of suspended time, in a life with a past but with no future, only a recurring and inescapable present.

Gradually the situation unfolds to both of them. Henry sees that the time loop began when his mother received a telegram from the War Department, notifying her that his brother Robert was missing in action in the war in the Pacific. Fearing for his mother's sanity and health, that night Henry prays that the feared future, with the news of Robert's death, will not come and finds himself in a world in which it is always early June of 1944. Days are always sunny and warm and the new apples never ripen there, but soon, as Henry and Amy fall deeply in love with each other, they realize they are from two different times, and together they must find different futures in which Henry can live out his family's and his own future in his time.

Although Heather Davis' The Clearing (Houghton Mifflin, 2010), shares a supernatural element with the current run of teen vampire and werewolf romances, the similarity ends there. A novel romance of great sweetness and poignancy, this one successfully builds parallel worlds, both of which seem as real as the young lovers who try to move between them. Avoiding an easy ending in which the two discover a way to be together through time, author Davis yet finds a believable way for Henry to change Amy's own life for the better in a final proof of his love, an ending in which true romantics will be satisfied and the novel's theme of timeless love remains uncompromised.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Showdown at Cooperstown: Rivals by Tim Green

"Great players always want to go up against the best," his dad would say, "even if they don't win. A real rivalry is when teams or players go back and forth between who wins and loses so when they play each other, both are at their very best."

It bothered Josh that he didn't relish the thought of a good rivalry. He just couldn't help wishing for the kind of games where they swamped the other team. That's how it had been in this qualifying tournament so far, but Josh knew that it wouldn't be true today.

Josh LeBlanc, the twelve-year-old phenom from Tim Green's best-seller, Baseball Great, is back in a sequel which again combines a taut gameplay narrative with a mystery which shows the seamy underside of sports.

After having suffered a potentially vision-threatening intentional beanball in the playoffs leading up to the tournament at Cooperstown, Josh LeBlanc is forced to decide between a forced hiatus from baseball while his occipital fracture heals or surgery that will leave a noticeable scar but make it safe for him to play in the Hall of Fame tourney. Josh and his dad and coach opt for the surgery over his mom's objections, and three weeks later, his sight and his desire to play are as strong as ever, especially when Josh overhears his parents' conversation that reveals that their financial security may be riding on this series. With his meatball sidekick Benjie Lido rooming with him and his sort-of girlfriend Jaden Niedermeyer along as sports reporter for their local newspaper, Josh keeps up his miraculous homerun-hitting pace through the opening rounds of the series.

But in one of his games, Josh's Titans are up against an opposing pitcher who throws real heat--when he's not a bit wild. Josh can't help but notice that the umpire, a down-on-his-luck local named Seevers, is giving the pitcher an unfairly wide strike zone. Josh's suspicions are further aroused when he realizes that the ump seems to be tipping the bracket to make sure that the Titans will play the Comets in the final two, a team whose star pitcher, Mickey Mullen, Jr., is the mediagenic son of ex-Big Leaguer Mickey Mullen, now a celebrity movie leading man who seems determined to make sure his son follows in his footsteps to baseball glory. It doesn't help that Jaden appears to be intrigued with the good-looking young Mullen and seemingly enjoys the comforts of Mullen's limo and his first-name contact with such ESPN lights as Bob Costas. "I'm just doing research," she reassures Josh as she heads off with Mickey, but Josh can't help wondering if the the lure of celebrity journalism isn't coming between them.

Then, in a restaurant Josh sees Mullen's PR man Milton slipping a suspiciously stuffed packet to Seevers. A quick look at the schedule confirms his hunch that Seevers is set to call the final game in which he and Mullen will face off at the plate, and Josh realizes that unless he and Benjie can come up with some solid photographic evidence of these payoffs, Seevers very well may manage to throw the title game to Mullen's team. Josh ponders what he can do about this obvious setup:

"Your dad's a sharp cookie," Benjie said. "Whatever's meant to be, right? We just let it happen and enjoy the whole thing. I love that."

"No!" Josh said. "He's not right! Not about that. We can't just let it happen, Benjie. We've got to win this thing tomorrow, and I'm not talking about winning it just for us. I can't let Mickey Mullen think that he gets whatever he wants, like he's acting in some movie and we're all just a bunch of extras. We've got to win this thing."

"We've got to win it for my dad."

A bit of serious sleuthing in which Jaden and Benjie play a significant part, culminating in an exciting speedboat chase with Jaden crashing an ESPN event with her scoop, brings the book to its climax, the final game, in which the two teams and Josh and Mickey, Jr. face off in a fair contest. Author Green graciously gives the final heroics, not to Josh, whose bat of course keeps them in the contest up to the final inning, but to his chubby, wisecracking, and laid-back pal Benjie, who finally lives up to his self-proclaimed title as the "heavy hitter."

Tim Green's latest, Rivals: A Baseball Great Novel (HarperCollins, 2010), has all the page-turning qualities of its predecessor and will keep sports and mystery fiction readers in play all the way through. Some fans may miss the preponderance of gameplay action which makes Green's novels so riveting, but this one concentrates a bit more on character-driven action which has its own appeal to maturing readers. As a writer of hard-hitting sports fiction, Tim Green proves that, like his young hero Josh LeBlanc, he's still very much in the game.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Time for Poetry: The Tree That Time Built: A Selection of Nature, Science, and Imagination selected by Mary Ann Hoberman and Nancy Winston

by Lilian Moore

Older than
Than scrolls.
Older than
The first
tales told.
Or the first words
Are the stories...
in the long bones of dinosaurs.
The fossil
stories that begin
once upon a time.

Before Poetry Month is gone again, this is a good time to take a look at a significant new anthology, The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination (Jabberwocky, 2009), which unites a remarkable collection of poems--old and new, short and long, funny and profound--all focused broadly on nature science. Editors Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Winston have brought together a diverse selection of poems by a wide variety of authors, from earlier centuries (Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and William Blake) and from renowned "modern" poets (Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Theodore Roethke, D. H. Lawrence), as well as children's poets such as Jack Prelutsky, Lilian Moore, Alice Schertle, and Hoberman herself.

The nine chapter headings are drawn from famous titles--"The Sea Is Our Mother," "Meditation on a Tortoise," and "Everything That Lives Wants to Be Free" for example. Appended are extensive notes, information on poetic forms and vocabulary, and suggestions for use of the book in the classroom. A special CD of well-known poets reading their own works and other specialized readings is included with this attractively designed book--an outstanding first choice for any school, public, or home library--even when April is past.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Free the Tree! Clarice Bean:What Planet Are You From? by Lauren Child

Mrs. Wilberton wants us to do a project called The Environment, which is nature study really.

Nature is something I know a lot about. We have got lots of it in our backyard. There's even nature in the Baldini Brothers yard (although you wouldn't think so to look at it! It's got many cans and concrete and pieces of old cars.)

Robert Granger lives next door, and he's always trying to walk home with me. Lucky I'm a fast walker.

When Clarice Bean gets to school late for the second day in a row, she finds to her dismay that she's assigned to work with Robert Granger on the project. She's underwhelmed by his choice of subject--documenting the racing records of snails and worms--but when Clarice arrives home, an exciting cause is waiting for her. Her 'tweener brother Kurt arrives all hot and bothered about the city's plans to cut down everyone's favorite 100-year-old tree on Navarino Street.

"I won't have any dinner because I am too depressed to chew!" Kurt says.

Grandad switches off the television, so, of course, we know he's upset.

Soon it's a family protest movement. Kurt and his friend Morten set up a tent, prepared to camp around the tree's base to prevent the cutting crew from having their way. Clarice and little brother Noah set out to make signs which read FREE THE TREE, Dad makes veggie spaghetti to feed the demonstrators on site, and Mom climbs right up in the lower branches of the famous tree. Even Robert is intrigued by the sudden eco-activity on Navarino Street.

"Why is your brother camping, Clarice Bean? Is he on vacation?" he asks.

I say, "No one takes a vacation on their own street, nitwit. They're having a protest!"

The protest soon draws the media, and the local newspaper prepares an article with a dramatic photo of the FREE THE TREE protesters, under a banner headline TREE TO BE CHOPPED DOWN ON NAVARINO STREET. And when Clarice arrives for school the next day even later than usual, Mrs. Wilberton threatens to call her mother right away.

Mrs. Wilberton wants to know why I am late again and where the Dickens is my snail and worm project.

"We have been up 'til all hours saving the planet on our street," I say, "She can't get to the phone right now, Mrs. Wilberton, because she's up a tree."

Mrs. Wilbertson says, "Right. That does it, young lady. We do not tolerate nonsense in this class!"

But Robert Granger says, "But it's true, Mrs. Wilberton!" He shows her the picture from the paper. And that's the only time Robert Granger has been useful EVER!

"I have been being an ecowarrior!" I say.

Mrs. Wilberton's smile is a little tight at the edges.

But of course she has to say "Well done, Clarice Bean."

Lauren Child's Clarice Bean, What Planet Are You From? (Candlewick, 2010) has been niftily recycled in its first American paperback edition, with intriguing die-cut covers and Child's perky and popular Clarice Bean's frank asides and expressive face put to good use in a hometown eco-adventure just right for reading during Earth Day activities. The author offers plenty of ecological information along with her droll story of a heroine who is always in on the action, even if it takes her right up a tree.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wish Come True: You Are My Wish by Maryann Cusimano Love


It is a beautiful spring day, and a grandmother and toddler teddy bear set out to spend a day together, celebrating what each brings to the relationship in quatrains which compare and contrast, in poetic metaphors, the differences and the family ties between the generations.

In her sequel to her highly popular You Are My I Love You, Maryann Cosimano Love shows a fun-loving and sturdy grandmother as the two approach their outing in their different ways. Grandma waits patiently for a fish to bite her line, while the youngster happily chases a butterfly with his fishing pole; she admires the fountain and he splish-splashes in the water; she swings him high over her head, while he spreads his arms and soars like an airplane.

And at last both of them run out of energy and so it's time for a quiet song on Grandma's guitar, a story, and a well-deserved rest.


Maryann Cusimano Love's latest, You Are My Wish (Philomel, 2010) is a sweet look at cross-generational love and fun, illustrated in Satori Ichikawa's lovely soft pastel water-colored paintings that are so appealing to the eye.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dyna-Math! Math Attack by Joan Horton

It was Monday at school and our teacher Miss Glass,
Announced, "Now it's time for arithmetic, class.
Can somebody tell me what's seven times ten?"
She was looking at me when she said it again.

I was thinking so hard all my circuits were loaded.
Then all of a sudden, my brain just exploded.

A temporary attack of dyscalcula causes our heroine a catastrophic overflow in the number processing part of her brain. Numbers spew forth, stampeding her classmates, who dash out of the room to escape the ricocheting digits. The nurse begins her triage with a question about causation.

But every time our heroine repeats the problem which caused the eruption, more numbers flood forth. The police are called, but when she repeats the offending problem to the investigating officer, the renewed cascade of numbers sends the police scampering. Downtown the numbers bounce and stick to everything, driving the dogs to bark exponentially, totalling telephone numbers and setting the town clock bonging madly. Down at the town grocer's, Millie's cash register spouts amounts which change all the prices in the place.

Back at the school, the Channel8 News
Arrived with their TV equipment and crews.
"We're live from the school," the anchorman said.
The camera zoomed in for a view of my head.
"How did this happen?" he asked me. "And when?"
I told him, "It happened on seven times ten."

Just as the National Guard appears, only to run for their lives, the heroine gets the gears turning upstairs, and out pops the product in question from her overheated brain.

"Three cheers!" yelled the crowd. "At last," Miss Glass sighed.
"Ten-four," said the cops. My classmates high-fived.

There are not many picture books out there which can provide a fun introduction to (or respite from) times table drill for the third-grade math class. Joan Horton's Math Attack! is a clever story in rhyme which diagnoses a serious problem of math block, with Kristen Brooker's lively and humorous illustrations which are sure to multiply the laughs from primary math classes all over.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

The Trouble with Parents! Too Much Kissing and Other Silly Dilly Songs about Parents by Alan Katz

(to the tune of "My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean")

My mother just rushes through
With stories, she sure cuts them short.

If she keeps this up you can bet
I'm taking her to fairy tale court.

Mother, Mother, I know that down deep you do care, do care.
But, oh, brother, Goldilocks met more than one bear!

Alan Katz and David Catrow, those madcap muses of ludicrous lyricism, have combined their writing and artistic talents in a new title in their popular Silly Dilly Songs series, this time taking on the prickly problems of parental behavior. It seems that parental units are always doing things to mortify or just plain annoy their offspring--kissing, talking endlessly on their cells, and, er, "editing" classic tales to fit their own tv-watching schedules--and worst of all, eating disgusting dishes at dinner:

(to the tune of "My Favorite Things")

Entrees so yucky and
Side dishes squishy.
Mealtimes that for days make
The house smell all fishy.
Can't bear to see what tonight's dinner brings.
Mom and Dad only eat disgusting things.

With this entry in this killer-diller series, Too Much Kissing!: And Other Silly Dilly Songs About Parents (Simon & Schuster, 2009), the off-beat but irresistible rhymes of Katz and the goofy caricatures created by Catrow offer the best antidote for those kids who groan "I hate poems" whenever Poetry Month rolls around. These "silly-dilly songs" are the spoonful of sugar that make the introduction to poetry units slip down sweetly. There's no philosophy and lovely lyricism here, but there is insightful imagery and plenty of the major mechanics of the craft--rhyme scheme, meter, verse structure, and wordplay--to make this one a delightful dip into the great world of English poesy, not to mention a time for classroom and family car trip sing-alongs.

Other mega-popular books in this series include their inaugural issue, Take Me Out of the Bathtub and Other Silly Dilly Songs, Are You Quite Polite?: Silly Dilly Manners Songs, Going, Going, Gone!: And Other Silly Dilly Sports Songs and the world's best anthology of potty parodies, On Top of the Potty: And Other Get-Up-and-Go Songs (see my review here.)

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pink Goes Green! Fancy Nancy: Every Day Is Earth Day by Jane O'Connor




Even though Nancy confesses no fondness for the color green, she takes to the Earth Day assignment like a duck to clear water. Earth Day "is like a holiday for the Earth!" she says, and Nancy is soon busy enforcing Ms. Glass's rules for going green at home with her own family.





Her fond family is familiar with Nancy's penchant for following her passions, shall we say, enthusiastically, and they cheerfully go along with her suggestions until Nancy's zeal causes a few problems. Finding her mom's computer left on, Nancy switches it off, only to find that her mother returns with a needed book to find that she has lost the document she was doing for work. Then, that night, Nancy sneaks back into her sleeping little sister's room to turn off her night light.



Nancy bursts into tears of remorse when she realizes she is the cause of her sister's midnight fright. Naturally, Mom and Dad are not exactly happy to find both girls awake and crying in the wee hours of the night. In the morning they have a little talk with Nancy about making choices.



And to mark their agreement on sustainable conservation, the Clancys celebrate that night with a special dinner, lit by candlelight and with cloth napkins on the table.


Jane O'Connor's newest I-Can-Read offering, Fancy Nancy: Every Day Is Earth Day (I Can Read Book 1) (Harper, 2010) does a fine job as a first introduction to the concept of Earth Day and provides some simple precepts of conservation (such as turning off faucets and electronics when not in use), while also hammering home the need to be considerate of others' needs. Earth Day, once an welcome opportunity to talk about the need to curb pollution and conserve nonrenewable energy, has now turned into a thorny green thicket for writers for children, and O'Connor shows a bit of courage in taking on the subject. Although the author has already gotten some criticism for being "preachy" here, "waste not, want not" has always been good advice, and O'Connor has taken pains to have Nancy learn to be thoughtful of others' needs before making blanket pronouncements, good advice as well. This book, in keeping with its reading level, does not go into the complex details of environmental education, but makes a great early-grade jumping-off place for classroom activities built around the Earth Day observance.

As always, the illustrations, here done in Robin Preiss Glasser's signature style by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov, are delightfully detailed and appropriately fancy, and a glossary ("Fancy Nancy's Fancy Words") and a list of Ms. Glasser's tips for going green ("What Nancy Learned") is appended.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Marry Well!" The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette by Carolyn Meyer

Several ladies of the French court stepped forward, and, smiling grimly, proceeded to remove my grand habit. "The bride must retain nothing belonging to a foreign court," the countess explained as the ladies worked. I thought this was outrageous. But I dared not speak up.

I waited for them to bring the new grand habit to replace the one taken from me. But I was in for a shock. They had not yet finished undressing me. Piece by piece, every item I wore--panniers, stays, slippers, stockings, even my chemise--was removed and claimed by the ladies of the French court. Now I stood completely naked before a crowd of strangers.

Outside, the rain beat down and the wind whistled through the cracks in the pavilion. I shivered with an ugly mixture of fear, cold,
and utter humiliation.

It is an inauspicious but prophetic introduction for the fifteen-year-old Princess Antonia of Austria, as on an island in the Rhine between Germany and France she suffers through the ritualistic remise which serves to strip her of any trace of her origin before she is to be wed to the dauphin, Louis-Auguste, someday to become Louis XVI, King of France.

Antonia, now Marie-Antoinette, the future queen of France, arrives at Versailles, and despite years of diligent education and dire admonitions offered by her mother, Holy Roman Empress Maria-Theresa, she finds herself in a world for which no one could have prepared her--her royal husband a fat and unformed sixteen-year-old who has passion only for eating, hunting, and his hobby of metal working, and a court so rife with scandal, rumor, and political machinations that the young princess is overwhelmed even by its extreme rituals of etiquette in which her very attiring and retiring is daily attended by dozens of courtesans and in which she has no friend or advocate in whom to trust. Gradually, Marie-Antoinette wins the affection of the old king, Louis XV, and a warm friendship develops between her and her effete husband, who remains too reticent even to share a marriage bed with her.

It is years before the young dauphine, with the intervention of her older brother Emperor Leopold, persuades her husband to do his conjugal duty for the good of France, and during the interim before her pregnancies, Marie-Antoinette finds diversion only in ordering ever-more elaborate gowns, royal amusements, and accommodations at the Petite Trianon, her personal theatre, and a faux peasant village where she retires to escape the constant rules of etiquette at court. Outside the gilded palaces of Versailles and the Tuilleries, and her rounds of opera and grand balls in Paris, however, the public grows ever poorer and more resentful of the reckless extravagances of the royals, and the prophetic cold winds at the remise return to blow away the court, the monarchy, and with with it Marie-Antoinette herself. With her husband and three of her children dead and the last to be exiled to Russia, she faces death by guillotine as the "Widow Capet" in 1793.

In her forthcoming The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette (Young Royals) (Harcourt, 2010), author Carolyn Meyer takes us behind the familiar outlines of Marie-Antoinette's story, to her personal thoughts as confided only to her personal journal. Marie-Antoinette is a conflicting and conflicted heroine, at once a pawn in the scuffle for power between the crowned heads of Europe, virtually sold to the highest bidder by her own mother, and yet a willing participant in the excesses of the court which bring it to a bloody end in the Revolution. Marie is both refined and educated yet horribly ignorant of the real world in which she must live, a prisoner in a royal marriage to a gentle but ineffectual king who fiddles while Rome burns, tinkering with his handmade locks while his kingdom falls apart, assuring his own death and that of his hapless queen and crown with him.

Meyer, a noted historical fiction writer, author of the popular The Young Royals series, provides intricately detailed accounts of Marie-Antoinette's life at court--her gowns, her hairstyles, her residences, her flirtations and friendships, even her pets--which provide plenty of fodder for both history fans and the princess fanciers among young adult readers. While the details of daily life seems almost overwhelming at some points in the novel, her writing of the account of the final days of Marie-Antoinette is deeply moving, with its small, poignant details and its story of a woman who, at the last stripped bare, stood by her king and did her duty with dignity and grace, dying as a fascinating character who yet seems very much the pawn of history.

Meyer's other notable historical fiction works include Mary, Bloody Mary: A Young Royals Book, Anastasia: The Last Grand Duchess, Russia, 1914 (The Royal Diaries), Beware, Princess Elizabeth: A Young Royals Book, and her dramatic Where the Broken Heart Still Beats: The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Growing: My Garden by Kevin Henkes


Grownups have learned that getting there is half the fun, but to a youngster, digging, weeding, watering, even chasing away hungry rabbits from the new lettuce is short on excitement. But if she had a garden....

An imaginative girl imagines her dream garden, one where sunflowers come up, not just a bright golden color, but in polka dots and plaid as well. A new blossom would instantly replace any she picked. Planting jellybeans would produce a huge jellybean bush, ripe for the harvest any time she wants. Her crops would be designer plants, producing buttons, seashells, and umbrellas, and birds and butterflies would fill the air with the humming of their wings. On the other hand, things she doesn't care for, like carrots, would just refuse to grow there!

And those pesky rabbits? Well, our gardening girl knows just what to do with them!


Caldecott artist Kevin Henkes lays out his latest, My Garden (Greenwillow, 2010) in lusciously muted but glowing spring-like color, accented by his broad pen-and-ink line, this time executed in a dark blue which gives this book a different look from his wide black line in his Caldecott book Kitten's First Full Moon, giving the picture book reader an imaginative and sweet spring treat. "Mary, Mary, quite contrary" never had it so good.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Hyde and Seek: Jekel Loves Hyde by Beth Fantaskey

...suddenly the whole world seemed as topsy-turvy as a boy in the girls' room. I saw everything from a distance, like I was a character in a movie filled with ambiguous heroes and unexpected villains.

The most gallant, self-sacrificing guy in school was a murderer. The hottest, most popular stud had just propositioned the plainest, least popular virgin. The virgin became some sort of crazy slut when night fell. Fathers stole from daughters and attacked their sons. Mothers were too damaged and preoccupied to hold their own children....

Chemistry, where I'd once found order in the universe, wreaked havoc on souls.

And that's just the first half of the novel.

Beth Fantaskey's forthcoming Jekel Loves Hyde (Harcourt, 2010) begins, with eery overtones of Stephanie Meyers' Twilight series, as Jill Jekel is magnetically drawn to the handsome and brooding Tristen Hyde, whom she first encountered at the brink of her father's grave, when he appears in her chemistry class. Beyond the almost comic coincidence of their names with the characters in Stevenson's classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, both feel some deeper connection drawing them together despite themselves.

Their teacher Mr. Messerschmidt unexpectedly brings them together by suggesting that their literary names on a collaboration for an upcoming chemistry competition for a $30,000 scholarship prize, will help them catch the eye of the judges. But although both at first resist the idea, there is a deep and deadly reason why they must bring all their skills and intelligence together in what is not a mere science project, but a matter of life and death for themselves and their surviving parents.

Tristen convinces Jill that the premise of Stevenson's novel was true, that the Dr. Jekyll of the story indeed did exist and concoct a potion which created a monster, a monster who did not die as at the end of the fictional tale, but lived and procreated, passing down his twisted drive to morph into a murderous monster, and that he, Tristen, is the living heir of that evil line. Jill, too, discovers that she is the descendant of that very Dr. Jekyll and that her father's seemingly mysterious murder is part of that centuries-old man-made curse.

Together Jill and Tristen discover in her father's locked study complete notes from Dr. Jekyll's experiments. For Jill, who had just learned that her father pilfered her college account before his murder, the discovery seems at the least a way to win the chemistry prize and fund her studies. But for Tristen the notes mean much more. As their friendship and nascent love develops, he at last confides his deadly inheritance, confessing the murderous dreams which he has nightly, dreams in which he finds himself bloodily slaying a girl who is finally revealed as Jill herself. Tristen sees their replicating the original experiments successfully as a way to recreate the formula which will destroy the monster within himself and the monster he detects more and more in his father, a noted psychiatrist. And as the two move deeper into their own romance and come upon final success with their experiments, Jill, too, is tempted to try to escape her own reserved nature and experience briefly the power that Jekyll's formula imparts, while Tristen, temporarily cured by one administration of their formula, realizes that with his dark side has gone his powerful musical creativity.

At times the turns of plot here may strain the necessary willing suspension of disbelief a bit, even for this imaginative example of the Gothic genre. Yet Fantaskey fearlessly touches on the serious theme amidst the gory twists of her plot, the question of the role of the dark side of the human spirit in generating its core energy, its very creativity.

This sort of dark fantasy is not for everyone, of course, but those young adult readers who were fascinated with the demon lover theme in the Twilight series may find Jekel Loves Hyde very much to their taste.

Beth Fantaskey is also the author of the humorously satiric and very highly-reviewed Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, which also turns upon the demon lover theme, but this time with a wickedly comic twist which combines romantic sizzle with an ironic poke at this popular and strangely glamorous genre,

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