Sunday, January 31, 2010

Not Always Room for One More! The Mitten, retold by Jim Aylesworth

...On the cold, cold day of this story, a little boy dressed warmly in his hat, his scarf, and his mittens and went outside to play.

He played and he played and he played. But when at last he came home, he discovered that one of his mittens was lost.

"OH, NO!" said the little boy.

"Don't worry," said his grandmother. We'll find it tomorrow."

The little boy is sad to lose his mitten, one from the set--matching warm, woollen red hat, scarf, and mittens--his grandmother had knit him, but one boy's loss is another squirrel's gain. Finding the bright mitten beside the boy's sled tracks, a chilly squirrel knows just what to do with it.

My toes are cold as ice.
This mitten looks so cozy.
And warm toes would be so nice."

The squirrel squeezes inside and is soon snoozing cozily inside his warm new bed. But soon comes a rabbit, then a fox, and finally a bear, all with the same icy toes and the same desire to share a warm red mitten-shaped sleeping bag. All three manage to squ-e-e-e-ze inside and snuggle up for a long winter's nap, but when a little mouse requests the same privileges, there is more than a little resistance:

"WE CAN'T!" said the bear.

"TOO FULL!" said the fox.

"NO WAY!" said the rabbit.

"IMPOSSIBLE!" said the squirrel.

"PL-E-E-E-A-SE!" said the little mouse.

The already toasty animals relent reluctantly, and the little mouse begins the struggle to wiggle inside the well-stretched red mitten. At first their luck--and Grandmother's knitting--seem to be holding, but suddenly the mitten, stretched to its limit, explodes in a tangle of shredded red yarn, and the snowy sleepover is over.

"What could have happened?" asked the little boy the next morning, as he and his grandmother gaze in amazement at the bits and pieces of his little red mitten scattered all over the snow.

"I have no idea," said the grandmother, "but don't worry. I can knit another." And because she loved him, that is exactly what she did.

Jim Aylesworth's recent retelling of the old Ukranian tale, The Mitten (Scholastic, 2009), combines his warm rhymes with the folksy illustrations of Barbara McClintock in a winning winter's tale, rivaling Jan Brett's fine and venerable version, also titled The Mitten (20th Anniversary Edition).

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

'S No Day Like A Snow Day: In the Snow by Peggy Collins

"Look out the window! It snowed--while I was asleep!"

I put on my fuzzy hat, long socks, warm mittens, cozy coat.

And big, clunky boots. I am all ready.

OOOPS! I forgot my snowpants!

An excited preschooler hurries his bearded dad outside into the snow, where they soon get their baptism in the cold, white stuff, stumbling and flopping flat in the deep, crunchy drifts. Undeterred, Dad rises from the snow, abruptly pretending to be a monster Yeti, chasing his son across the yard until both suddenly stop to observe the variety of animal tracks left by the little animals also fleeing the "Yeti."

While the boy trails after a bunny's tracks, his dad begins an enormous snowball. "I wonder what it is for?" the boy says. Of course, it's the base for an extra ambitious snowman, taller than Daddy, with the boy's toy wrench and screwdriver for arms and a yellow Bob hard hat for a topper. The boy is ready to play with his snowman, but Dad, having moved at least a ton of snow, has a sudden need to sit down and lean against that snowman for a while.

Then the boy realizes he's ready for a change as well.

"I'm tired now, too. My tummy is grumbling. My nose is running. And my toes are a little bit cold. It's time to go inside now.

And Dad has just the remedy for snow symptoms--some lunch, dry socks, and a cuddle in their favorite chair.

"Our house is warm and cuddly. My tummy is full. My toes are toasty.

And Daddy and I are very... very... sleepy."

A dad who has the formula for a snow day never to be forgotten is the heart of Peggy Collins' new In the Snow (Applesauce Books, 2009). For youngsters, there's no time like snow time. It's a time of special joy only accessible in childhood, and this dad knows how to make some historic tracks in that new-fallen white stuff.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Stepping Back: Night Wings by Joseph Bruchac

To us time is not a straight line, and the past is never left behind. Instead, everything is a circle, and things keep happening again and again. Like the turn of the seasons or the movement of the earth around the great sun that makes day and night, day and night, in an endless circle.

I'm not talking about time travel like in one of those corny movies when someone goes back in a machine or a souped-up car.... I'm talking about stepping into a past that is always with us, a past that was then and is also now, where the flow and the balance remain unchanged.

With his parents both deployed to Iraq, thirteen-year-old Paul Fortune moves in with his Abenaki Indian grandfather, a retired guide for the wilderness area around Mt. Washington and famed for his knowledge of the forest and Native American lore. As Paul is settling into his new life, his grandfather Pete turns down the offer of a job by Darby Field, a sleezy television producer leading an expedition in search of the mystery of Pmola, the legendary bird-like monster said to guard a treasure atop Mt. Washington. Darby, a sort of Indiana Jones gone bad, produces and stars in a hyperbolic cable series which Grampa Pete intuits is merely a pretense to plunder cultural treasures wherever he can.

Undeterred by Grandpa's refusal, Darby and his stereotypical henchmen Stazi, Louise, and Tip capture Paul and Grandpa Pete and take them on a forced march through the wilderness toward the peak of Mt. Washington, where legend has it that Pmola hid his treasures. But when Paul notices that the usual air traffic over the area has mysteriously vanished and spots a small group of caribou, extinct in this region for centuries, he realizes that his grandfather is cunningly leading the kidnappers into a time warp which will eventually lead them to a face-to-face encounter with the legendary monster they seek to exploit.

A strangled cry comes from up the mountain. And although I probably shouldn't look back, I can't help myself. Field and Louise have fallen to the ground and are looking up at the tall dark figure above them, its wide black wings spread, blotting out the setting sun.

Paul, too, is touched by the encounter with the giant and deadly Pmola in a coming-of-age adventure that will keep middle readers enthralled as this high altitude adventure unfolds. Bruchac, the skillful author of other perennially popular Native American monster cliffhangers such as Skeleton Man, Whisper in the Dark, and The Dark Pond, knows how to fashion a taut, page-turning suspense novel which nevertheless imparts knowledge and wisdom to its target audience along the way, and his latest, Night Wings (HarperCollins, 2009) is no exception.

As Booklist's reviewer puts it, "Bruchac's fast-moving tale is steeped in Indian lore that injects this otherwise straightforward thriller with a sense of meaning and even spirituality. A perfect book to gobble up in a single, sweaty sitting."

And for a sample of the prolific Bruchac's excellent historical fiction, young adult readers should not miss his terrific Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two, reviewed here.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Three Little Words: How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You? by Jane Yolen

Dinner was a disaster! You made such a mess!
Did you stay up past bedtime? The answer was YES!

But when you smiled sweetly and held back your roar,
When you kiss me and hug me, once, twice, even more...

That's when you give love, and I know this is true.
Because that's how a dinosaur says "I Love You!"

In their ninth collaboration in this series, Jane Yolen and Mark Teague once more successfully explore the ways preschoolers try their parents' patience and yet win their hearts all over again.

Kicking the back of the driver's seat, flooding the bathroom as they play in the sink, throwing sand from the sandbox, all those annoying behaviors that try parents' souls are illustrated engagingly by artist Mark Teague in the now familiar style as a variety of moms and dads cope with spilling sippy cups, grumpy awakenings, and missed naps when their offspring show their inner beasts.

What's a parent to do? Well, confront the misdeed squarely, but love the mis-doer, and in this now familiar format, that's what happens in How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You? (Blue Sky Press, 2009). But little dinosaurs have their lovable sides, as well, and when all is said and done, "That IS how dinosaurs say "I Love You!"

The various dinosaurs are featured on the book's endpapers, and, as is his custom, Mark Teague also hides the name of each dinosaur within each double-page spread, all ten of them, from Antaretosaurus to Tsintaosaurus, to add to the fun. Good for Valentine's Day and any bedtime night, this latest in their How Do Dinosaurs.... series makes a great pair with Yolen's and Teague's How Do Dinosaurs Play With Their Friends?

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Heart-y Reading: Jon Scieszka's Trucktown: Melvin's Valentine by Jon Scieszka

Melvin got a Valentine!

But he didn't know who it was from.

This made Melvin worry.

Of course, everything makes Melvin the cement mixer worry. Trucktown's favorite worrywart asks everyone he meets, Kat the earth-mover, Pete the payloader, Lucy and Pat the firetrucks, but everyone denies the deed.

Only little Rescue Rita, following Melvin about with an occasional "Beep Beep," has nothing to say about the surprise missive until Melvin's anxiety level reaches the point of popping his oil pan, when she finally takes ownership of the card.

"Hey, Melvin! I'm so glad you showed everyone my Valentine!" says Rita.

"Your Valentine?" said Melvin. "Oh."

"I'm glad, too!"

For those emergent readers for whom Fancy Nancy's fuchsia glitter Valentines are just a few frou-frous over the line, Jon Scieszka's recent Trucktown easy reader, Melvin's Valentine (Trucktown Ready-to-Roll) (Aladdin, 2010) is just what Cupid ordered.

Scieszka, with his powerful pit crew of prize-winning illustrators (David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon), is the gearhead-in-chief in his jolly Ready-to-Roll books for young emergent motorhead readers. See also his recent additions to this series, Snow Trucking! (Ready-to-Read. Level 1) and Kat's Mystery Gift (Trucktown Ready-to-Roll).

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Holding the Line: Longitude Zero Degrees by Dianne C. Stewart

With no time passing in the present, they would appear in broad daylight. Liv hoped the tourist crowd would be focused on the brass strip with the red LED printout that marked zero degrees longitude and so fail to notice the peculiar-looking foursome.

But there was no crowd.

The spacious brick-paved area in front of the Greenwich Observatory was planted
with grass. "Look, guys!" said Anthony. "It's gone!"

He was right. The dividing line between the Eastern and Western hemispheres, the Prime Meridian, was nowhere to be seen.

Liv read aloud the words on a brass plaque:

"After the assassination of George the Third, champion of John Harrison's H4 timepiece, which made possible the determination of longitude at sea, and the ensuing madness of Royal Astronomer Sir Nevil Maskelyne, England's prominence in that science was threatened. In 1884, the official Prime Meridian of the world was declared to be in Paris, France."

In Diane C. Stewart's latest time-travel fantasy, Longitude: Zero Degrees (Beanpole Books, 2009) Liv, Anthony, and Cal travel to London for a summer holiday where Liv's father is working. But on the airplane over the Atlantic, Anthony and Cal spot a familiar face, the former eighteenth-century pirate Robert Francis Morehouse, the man who tcaptured Cal and Anthony in 1772 and then saved the boys in exchange for his own safe escape to the twenty-first century. Now a semi-legitimate antiques merchant, Morehouse is travelling with two suspicious characters whom Liv immediately senses are tied up with Morehouse's past in a way which promises to be a danger to them as well.

Fearing that it might bring harm to any unsuspecting person who might find it, the three kids had decided to bring along the mysterious wooden box which has the power to move them through time. Then, trying to befriend Frederica, the troubled daughter of her mother's London friend, Liv accidentally spills the box from her backpack, and before she can stop her, Frederica opens it, taking them on an unexpected time trip back to 1772. There, in the garden of the Greenwich Observatory, they find themselves witnesses to a plot to thwart the astronomer John Harrison's plan to push his invention, a timepiece which will enable England's seaman to calculate longitude and thus rule the seas, a plot which results in the assassination of King George III right before the startled eyes of Liv and Frederica.

Knowing that this change in history will greatly alter England's future place in the world and endanger America's eventual independence, the four realize that they must return to 1772 to make sure that the proposed murder of George III does not occur, and to do so, they must enlist the aid of the only person who holds the key to the chain of events in 1772, the former pirate Robert Morehouse himself.

In this sequel to her 2008 fantasy Quimbaya (See my review here.) Stewart again shows that she can create believable and appealing young characters within a fast-paced historical chase which takes place simultaneously across four centuries.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Heart-y Reading: Fancy Nancy Heart to Heart by Jane O'Connor



Nancy, enjoying a Valentine box of raspberry chocolates, is all decked out in hearts, from the heart-y boppers springing from her headband to her ruffly pink slippers, and her fancy pooch Frenchy is togged out as Cupid, wings, quiver and all. Even her plain-Jane denim and khaki-clad parents are into bouquets in this magnifique new holiday book (with STICKERS!), Fancy Nancy: Heart to Heart, from Jane O'Connor.

In this one Nancy ventures into new literary territory, the mystery genre, as she tries to detect the sender of a fancy Valentine from an apparent secret admirer. Clues abound in Carolyn Bracken's on-the-mark illustrations. The shopping list on the fridge even reads "butter, ketchup, juice, fuchsia glitter." But Nancy has first to dress the part of a detective, of course, slipping on a seriously sleuthy bush jacket and preparing a list of suspects--Robert, Bree, her grandparents, for starters, all of whom turn out to have airtight alibis.

Then she detects another clue. A tell-tale trail of suspicious purple stuff leads to the real perpetrators, her mom and sister, caught fuchia-fingered in the process of making homemade Valentines. With a hug Nancy gives her little sister her own personal Valentine:

"I tell her her Valentine is magnifique. Then I give her a Valentine and the last raspberry cream chocolate."

A plentiful supply of stickers to create original Valentine cards or make Nancy Clancy even more fancy (if that's possible) are included in this happy Valentine's Day book. And when the stickers are gone, the book reminds you that there are plenty more fun games and educational activities to be found at Nancy's website here.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dog Dreams: I Want a Dog! by Helga Bansch

Lisa loved dogs.

BIG dogs, small dogs, short dogs, TALL dogs, shaggy-eared dogs, curly -haired dogs, any kind of dog.

"I want a DOG," she said, 21 times a day.

Lisa gets toy dogs--plush dogs, wooden dogs, tiny shiny dogs--but never a real one. Her parents are kind, but firm. "Our apartment is too small for a dog," they say. Mom and Dad point out the inconveniences of owning a dog. "A dog can't go with us to the beach," they point out. "Dogs LOVE the beach," Lisa argues.

Lisa tries kid bribery:

"I will be good as gold," she said.

"That will be lovely," said Mom, "but our apartment is still too small for a dog.

Lisa tries threats:

"I will be TRULY TERRIBLE!" she counters.

"Still too small," said Dad.

"I need a better plan," thinks Lisa.

The next day signs go up in a nearby park:


And Lisa's plan pays off. She gets Rollo, a smart, clever, and under-exercised dachshund, to walk in the park and play ball with daily, and old Mr. Lewis gets a dog-loving friend who keeps his beloved Rollo slim and happy.

The apartment is just the right size for a dog who doesn't live there.

Author-artist Helga Bansch's new I Want a Dog!, (NorthSouth, 2009)features illustrations of irresistible dream dogs and the upbeat story of a little girl who knows how to craft a compromise to get the dog of her dreams.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cousin Cuisine: Mud Tacos by Mario Lopez and Marissa Lopez Wang

One morning at Nana's house, Mario found a big cardboard box.

"Hmmm!" he said. "This has possibilities."

Marissa giggled. Whenever her big brother said that, fun followed.

In their imaginations, brother and sister soon turn the box into a restaurant table and Mario scours Nana's yard for floppy big leaves, suitably malleable mud, and flower petals for garnish, turning his creation into a "wormy, squirmy, muddy, leafy" taco for his customer. They're admirable as a work of art, but Marissa's appetite is turned off! "Ewwwww!" is all she can say.

But real tacos for lunch sound like a good idea, and the kids are soon off, with Nana's blessing, to pick up their cousins Chico and Rosie and make a grocery store run for the ingredients for real tacos. Back home, with Nana in the kitchen with the taco fixings, Mario and Marissa invite the two cousins back outside to visit their pretend restaurant, Chico proclaims himself too big for such childish games of make believe.

"Now that I'm big, I never pretend," boasts Chico.

But the three younger cousins together are too smart for Chico, and soon they have him worming and squirming his way out of eating their mud tacos for real.

It's saved by the lunch bell for Chico, and as they head inside for Nana's, the cousins all agree that while it's fun to make mud tacos...

"...the best thing about them is NOT having to eat them!"

Free-form imaginative play is the subject of Mario Lopez' and Marissa Lopez-Wang's apparently autobiographical tale, Mud Tacos (Celebra Books, 2009), exuberantly illustrated by Maryn Roos. Pair this one with Aaron Reynolds' spicy Chicks and Salsa to cook up a story time topped with plenty of OLEs!

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Friday, January 22, 2010

What A Difference a Letter Makes: Friend or Fiend? by Judy Blume

"The name of this story is Ben," I said. I cleared my throat twice. "Ben is my fiend." Maggie laughed. I didn't know why. So I kept reading. "I'm glad he's my fiend because...."

Everyone but David laughed this time. Justin laughed so hard he fell off his chair. When he did, his chair toppled over too. That made everyone laugh harder.

"What?" I said to my group.

"Fiend?" Maggie said. "Ben is your fiend?" Even David laughed.

Judy Blume's latest installment in her The Pain and the Great One series, Friend or Fiend? with the Pain and the Great One (Pain & the Great One), is appropriately titled. First Jake, called The Pain by big sister Abigail, misreads a single word and becomes the laughingstock of his whole class. As far as Jake is concerned, even his best friend David is now a fiend with whom he refuses even to go trick-or-treating.

Meanwhile, sister Abigail, whom Jake nicknamed The Great One because of her superior attitude, runs into some peer problems as well. Best friend Sasha makes Abby's confidential story of a disfunctional visit with her surly teenaged cousins into a class writing project and refuses even to apologize for her plagiarism. Embarrassed and feeling her confidence betrayed, suddenly Abby is confronting the fiend-friend dilemma herself.

Siblingitis is the recurrent theme in this honest and hilarious series of beginning chapter books by Judy Blume, but exposure to their thoroughly unpleasant cousins' bickering brings Jake and Abby up short, and commiserating over their mutual friends crisis eventually helps them realize that their family has a lot going for it and that their friends, however imperfect, are still worthy of their loyalty. And as always, family cat Fluzzy writes the final chapter, revealing one of his own closely-kept secrets and showing why he continues to make his home with the Pain and the Great One after all. Occasional illustrations by the master, James Stevenson, add just the right touch to this realistic but upbeat addition to a charming series.

Even a sophisticated high school freshman I know was compelled to laugh out loud throughout this one, proving once more than Blume's got the right stuff when it comes to family stories. Add this one to the collection of beginning chapter novels!

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Big War: A Faraway Island by Annika Thor

The farther out along the island road they get, the fewer and further between the houses are. The road twists and turns among bare gray rocks.

Aunt Marta pedals slowly up a long hill and stops at the crest. In front of them is the endless, leaden-gray ocean. In the distance, just barely visible, there's the brown silhouette of a sail against the backdrop of sea and sky. After that there's nothing but the horizon, a thin ribbon of light at the far edge.

The end of the world, Stephie thinks. This must be the end of the world.
As Hitler's army invades Austria, Stephanie and little sister Nellie Steiner are sent by their parents from Vienna along with 500 other Jewish children to a promised refuge in Sweden. Nellie settles in and learns Swedish quickly with the lively young children of "Auntie Alma" and her family, but Stephie is placed with a older and childless couple, the distant "Aunt Marta" and the seldom seen "Uncle Evert," a fisherman. Their parents have promised to come for them and take them to American as soon as they get visas, but the promised short stay in Sweden turns into months.

Nellie adapts happily in her warm, easy-going family, but Stephie struggles to relate to the silent and undemonstrative Marta as she tries to make the best of life on the small coastal island. Always a gifted student, she forces herself to learn Swedish as fast as possible and to excel at her studies, made easier by the fact that she finds herself repeating sixth grade, the final grade of schooling offered in the small village school.

Even on a faraway island in the Baltic Sea, Stephie encounters ill will against Jews, and she is constantly teased and tormented by a clique of girls led by their hateful ringleader Sylvia. Still, most people are polite and some are kind, and Stephanie tries to please by fitting into the community as best she can, earning the affection of the friendly Evert, the admiration of her teacher, and eventually the respect of Aunt Marta.

But still underlying prejudice bursts forth when Ragnor, a summer tourist, reveals what lies beneath the surface even there:

"We know why you're here," the boy says. "You get out of Germany with your money and your jewels and think you can just buy up our country like you were trying to do in Germany. But you'll never get away with it. The Germans will be here, too,...and they'll deal with people like you--you filthy Jew-kid."

Then, surprisingly, Stephie sees her stern foster mother comes to her defense, confronting the boy's family bravely, and Stephanie knows that in her own way Marta has come to love her:

"No one," says Aunt Marta, "no one is going to come along and say such things to my little girl."

My little girl, Aunt Marta had said. MY little girl! As if Stephie were her very own child.

Long popular in Sweden, Annika Thor's partly autobiographical A Faraway Island, the first of four books and the subject of a long-running television series, has just been published in the U. S. in a skilled translation by Linda Schenck. Beautifully and sensitively written, this fine historical novel joins other books such as Lois Lowry's Newbery Award-winning Number the Stars Norma Fox Mazer's Good Night, Maman (Harper Trophy Books), Judith Kerr's When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Marilyn Sachs' A Pocket Full of Seeds, and Johanna Reiss' The Upstairs Room (Trophy Newbery), in telling the story of Jewish children during World War II in Europe. It is hoped that the rest of the series will soon be published here as well.

On January 18 A Faraway Island was awarded the prestigious 2010 American Library Association's Mildred L. Batchelder Award for an outstanding children's book translated from a foreign language and subsequently published in the United States.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Enchanted! Leprechaun In Late Winter by Mary Pope Osborne

"Inspire her? What does that mean?" asked Jack.

"'Tis a beautiful word," said Kathleen, her sea-blue eyes sparkling. "It means to breathe life into a person's heart, to make her feel joyful to be alive."

Book #43 of her best-selling Magic Tree House series, Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Tree House #43: Leprechaun in Late Winter (A Stepping Stone Book(TM), finds Jack and Annie once more on a Merlin Mission, in which, counselled by magical assistants Teddy and Kathleen, the two are dispatched to convince young artists, as yet unaware of their unique powers, to use their blessed gifts to bring joy to the world. Having restored the petulant young Mozart's joy in his music and revealed his destiny to the ragtag delivery boy Louis Armstrong, Annie and Jack now find themselves in the Ireland of 1862, equipped only with a magic whistle and the charge to convince an unhappy young girl that she has much to give to the cultural life of Ireland.

When the two time travelers climb down from their magic tree house, they find themselves knocking on the door of a "Big House," where the landed gentry live in far greater comfort than their impoverished Irish neighbors. There, the young Augusta is unhappy with the dull prospects of a lady of the rural nobility and is devoting her energy to helping the poor. Although she loves the Irish tales of fairies and leprechauns than her Irish nursemaid Mary Sheridan had told her as a child, the rational teenager despairs of ever seeing "the Shee," the wee legendary folk of Ireland, and finds the limited role of a proper young lady of her station totally uninspiring.

Enter Jack and Annie, armed with only Merlin's magical instrument, transformed into a silver pipe which Annie plays while Jack improvises a song that gives Augusta the power to see and speak with the Shee. Taken by the fairy folk to their secret redoubt, young Augusta suddenly learns her own mission from their Queen:

"I am Queen Aine of the Shee. This boy said you love stories--and that you remember every word. Is this true?"

Augusta nodded.

"Go home now with your friends, human child." said the Fairy Queen. "Go back for our sake. Seek out the old story-tellers and ask them to tell you the tales of my people. Learn the old language. Read the old manuscripts. Write our stories down and share them before they are lost completely."

Inspired and energized by what she has seen with Jack and Annie, Augusta goes on to become Lady Augusta Gregory, founder, with poet William Butler Yeats, of the Irish National Theatre, and famed conservator of Celtic language and literature.

As always, Osborne pairs her latest in the series with its own Magic Tree House Research Guide #21: Leprechauns and Irish Folklore: A Nonfiction Companion to Leprechaun in Late Winter (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)), written by the author and her sister Natalie Pope Boyce for the use of teachers and parents in broadening the educational use of these time-travel adventures in the exploration of historical and cultural correlations. While there are many exciting, well-written fantasies out there, few combine the love of human history with appealing adventures for the early elementary reader as well as do the marvelous and varied Magic Tree House books.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Heart-y! My Heart Is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall






Award-winning designer Michael Hall's first picture book effort, My Heart Is Like a Zoo (Greenwillow, 2009), constructs a menagerie of charming animals from overlapping hearts, set forth appealingly against solid-color double-page spreads. Although some of his text lines, all similes which compare heartfelt feelings to animal behavior, work better than others, the illustrations alone are so cleverly creative in their construction that they will hold the attention of preschool listeners and older readers throughout this book.

Particularly engaging is Hall's walrus, reclining massively but comfortably on a striped beach towel, head, bulky body, and front feet all inverted hearts, hind flippers formed from a recumbent heart--all instantly recognizable as this slow and stolid animal, with an appropriate caption...


and followed by an equally clever clam, consisting of two hearts, one split down the middle and on its side to form the shell, and the second, peeping out to form the clam inside, with its line...


The first reaction of youngsters will be to focus on the heart shapes in each collage-style illustration and to react to how, with a few snips and artful positioning, Hall creates the essence of each animal from just one basic shape, very much in the manner of Lois Ehlert's wonderful die-cut and color-blocked book, Color Zoo. Proving that his book is not mere eye candy, Hall adds an appealing appendix to the book which encourages number-loving kids to count the hearts in each illustration and even total them up ("over 300," promises the author).

To this celebration of shape, Hall also brings a brief language lesson in the use of similes, exploring feelings of the heart tied to well-known animals, as in "...quiet as a caterpillar wearing knitted socks." The book closes with a comfy kid, cozily sleeping while his zoo of heart-shaped animals keep watch from the shelf above his bed, making this warm and reassuring offering a good choice for both sleepy time and an exciting stimulus for classroom art and language and math activities.

HarperCollins rolls out the red carpet for this one with a delightfully animated trailer backed up by a toe-tapping tune, to be seen here:

Readers will definitely *heart* this brand-new delight, for Valentine's Day and all year round. A great introduction to the creative work of a very promising new author/illustrator!

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