BooksForKidsBlog

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back to School: There's No Place Like School: Classroom Poems selected by Jack Prelutsky


IT'S TODAY?

FRANTIC
PANIC.
SINKING
SORROW.
THE SCIENCE TEST
IS NOT
TOMORROW.

All the highs and lows of life are part of the school experience. Finding out that you thought you had another day to study for a dreaded test is not one of life's best moments, but it's one all but the most nerdy of students has known. But the school day also has its moments of joy:


B-BALL

REBOUND.
SWISH SOUND.
BOUNCE PASS.
BREAK FAST.
THREE IN THE KEY.
OVER TO ME.
HOOK
SHOT.
I'M HOT.
BACK COURT SHOT!
ROUND THE RIM--
ALMOST IN
FREE THROW.
WAY TO GO!

There's No Place Like School: Classroom Poems, (Greenwillow, 2010) selected by best-selling and award-winning children's poet Jack Prelutsky, hits all the highs and lows and the middling in-between moments, like being lost in the limbo of the school bus ride, in this latest edition just in time for back-to-school-days. Selected by Prelutsky from a wide range of children's poets, from Lee Bennett Hopkins ("School Bus"), to Kenn Nesbitt ("The Drinking Fountain") and Kelli Davos ("Countdown to Recess"), this collection also includes a couple of his own poems, "We're Shaking Maracas," a tribute to the glorious sounds of music class, and "Grasshopper Gumbo," a salute to those mystery meat concoctions in the cafeteria. With bright cartoons by Jane Manning, there's a poem there that captures most of the emotions and humor of the school day. A great choice for a young scholar or a teacher preparing for the first day of school.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Back to School! Pinkalicious: School Rules by Victoria Kann

RULES ARE SOMETHING I DO NOT LIKE ABOUT SCHOOL, AND I REALLY DO NOT LOVE THE RULE ABOUT NO UNICORNS.


Pinkalicious likes her classmates, and she likes her teacher Mr. Pushkin. But she misses Goldilicious, her very own unicorn. Going to school without Goldie is almost too much for her. Mr. Pushkin is sympathetic, and finally gives Goldie a stay of removal:
"OKAY, PINKALICIOUS," SAID MR. PUSHKIN. YOUR UNICORN MAY STAY, JUST THIS ONCE." I STOPPED CRYING.

"BUT IF YOUR UNICORN STAYS, YOU MUST TEACH HER THE RULES. DO YOU THINK YOU CAN DO THIS?"

Pinkalicious agrees to the Mr. Pushkin's terms, and as the school day wends its way toward dismissal time, she proves that she and her best friend Goldie have mastered the school rules--no talking during silent reading time, lining up without pushing or cutting, and playing nicely at recess with the other students.

By the time Pinkalicious retrieves her backpack from her hook, she and Goldie have had a good day, and with her unicorn's example in mind, Pinkalicious has even changed her mind about the rules.

"SCHOOL RULES!"

Victoria Kann's latest, her new entry into the notable I-Can-Read series, Pinkalicious: School Rules! (I Can Read Book 1) (Harper, 2010) is sure to find a warm pinktastic welcome from the many fans of this best-selling series, tailored as it is the early beginning reader and the beginning of the school year with its many rules and reasons.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Back to School: Kindergarten Diary (by Me, Annalina) by Antoinette Portis

SEPTEMBER 1: THE DAY BEFORE THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.

I don't want to go to Kindergarten. I only like preschool.

I don't want to go to Big School with big kids.

What if they're mean?

There are a lot of "what ifs" about going to Big School. What if the teacher is scary? What if nobody shares? What if I cry? What if....

Annalina hasn't even thought of one "what if?" What if her name is too long to write over and over on those lined practice sheets? But our brand-new scholar figures that one out all by herself:

ANNALINA TAKES TOO MANY LINES.

I AM GOING TO CHANGE MY NAME TO ANNA AND SAVE LINA FOR WHEN I AM BIGGER.

And Anna takes it one day at a time, mastering those school kid skills day by day. She and David M. figure out how to take turns on the monkey bars, and by the end of the month Anna is the "second-best monkey in the universe!" Anna and Zoe become recess friends, even though Zoe loves socks and Anna still hates them, wearing her cowboy boots resolutely every day. She has stage fright when she stands in front of the class for Show-And-Tell, but she warms to the task so quickly that her teacher has to call time with a perky "Thank you, Anna. Now let someone else have a turn." Anna's journal covers the events of the first month, including losing her fear of the big kids when first graders visit the Kindergarten playground and turn out to be just slightly bigger kids who know how to share, too.

By the end of September, Anna's diary is filled with the small triumphs of Kindergarten. Her last entry tells it all:

SEPTEMBER 30: Too busy to write anymore!

P. S.: We are Room 2K and we are fine!

Antoinette Portis' latest, Kindergarten Diary (Harper, 2010) uses an authentic child's voice to describe the all-important transition to "Big School." Portis, the award-winning author of the amazingly creative Not a Box and the best-selling sequel Not a Stick, here offers a poignant and engaging entry into the first-day-of-Kindergarten genre.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Where the Heart Is: Home by Alex T. Smith

Once there was a house...

...a house that was a home. And in the house lived four best friends.

They were called One, Two, Three, and Four.
They lived happily ever after until....

...until, well, ennui sets in as it does in the happiest of households. The four friends find their lives cozy but not altogether...fulfilling. One decides that they should broaden their experiences by becoming pirates. Two opts for climbing mountains and learning to yodel; Three nixes yodeling and suggests that they all live in a deep cave, collecting the flora and fauna to be found there. Four has an altogether different agenda:

"We should move to the big city and go to parties and boogie-woogie all night long!"

Obviously there is no way to compromise on such diverse dreams! Finally the dissension rises to such a peak that the four friends decide to divide their mutual shares in their former home and part company to pursue their own bliss.

One takes the door and with the addition of a mast with a Jolly Roger, begins to sail the seven seas. Two takes the walls and stomps off up the nearest mountain to begin her vocal exercises; Three scurries off with the windows and wends his way to the deepest cave he can find to collect bugs; and Four takes the floor and two-steps off to the city to boogie all night. The four become their own best friends and begin to follow their dreams happily.

But in the best tradition of picture book friendships, they soon discover that their new lives, while exciting, lack something that they also need just as much. Finally, they return to the site of their former dwelling to reconstruct their home and their friendship under new arrangements. Their cozy house is restored with just one new feature--wheels--so that the four friends can share their new interests and the coziness of home at the same time!

"Now we can go everywhere together," they said.

And they did.

Alex T. Smith's latest Home (Tiger Tales, 2010) is a light-hearted look at a heavy issue in friendship and love, how to be an individual and yet part of a happy relationship with others. Smith's charming and quirky illustrations give this little parable zest and kid appeal. Young readers may not be able to verbalize the life lesson here, but like their elders, they will sense it in this sweet little story which shows that sometimes you can go home again.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

What's That Under the Bed? The Great Monster Hunt by Norbert Landa


EARLY ONE MORNING A FUNNY NOISE WOKE UP DUCK.

IT SOUNDED LIKE pshh pshh! AND IT CAME FROM RIGHT UNDER HER BED.

DUCK WAS NOT QUITE SURE WHAT IT WAS AND SHE WAS MUCH TOO AFRAID TO LOOK.

Duck sounds the alarm, and her pal Pig is appropriately alarmed. Off he goes to enlist reinforcements from big, strong Bear:


IT GOES pshh pshh! Grrrr! Bang BANG!" HE RELATES.


Having thoroughly alarmed each other by now, Bear and Pig hustle off to find Wolf, who is just warming up for his morning howl, and the two friends shout out their tale of the dreadful thing under Duck's bed as they approach:

"IT GOES pshh pshh! Grrrr! Grrrr! bang BANG! WHAM WHAM! ALL THE TIME!" BEAR SAID. "WE THOUGHT YOU CAN HELP US FRIGHTEN IT AWAY!"

The story escalates into mass hysteria as the news spreads, and the forest recruits, equipped with nets, ropes, and various poking implements, finally regroup around the now sleeping Duck's bed for the rescue.


"DUCK, YOU'RE IN GREAT DANGER!" WHISPERED BEAR. "THERE'S A MONSTER UNDER YOUR BED!"

"MONSTER? HOW DO YOU KNOW?" SHE WHIMPERED.

"BECAUSE IT GOES pshh pshh! grrrr grrrr bang Bang WHAM WHAM! GRRRRRRROWL!

AND "OWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

Norbet Landa's new giggle-provoking reworking of the Chicken-Licken motif has the added advantage of Tim Warne's illustrations, which bring along a charming coterie of critter cronies reminiscent of his work in Jane Chapman's best-selling Bear Snores On and sequels, to heighten the humor of this cumulative tale of rumor magnified. Kids will be chiming in along with the refrain "pshh pshh! grrrr grrrr bang BANG" as soon as this one gets underway and will be delighted when the "monster" under the bed turns out to be a happily snoring mouse. The Great Monster Hunt (Good Books Press, 2010) is an easy story-time treat for preschoolers which will practically read itself, with a zany cast of critter characters whose facial expressions will keep kids chuckling all along the way.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Blue Period: The Ransom Note Blues (An Alec Flint Mystery) by Jill Santopolo

Dear Newspapermen and women:

Please print this in tomorrow's paper. I have reclaimed something from the town of Laurel Hollows that is rightfully mine. I am not asking for ransom. I will not return it. All I ask is that Laurel Hollows agrees not to press charges and lets me leave the town peacefully. I will be at the art show Wednesday night, before the event begins. Please have an agreement there, transferring the ownership of the hidden object.

If you do not, I will turn your town blue."

Alec Flint and his partner sleuth-in-training Gina Rossi have been yearning for a juicy new mystery to solve after the success of their first case which made them front-page news. But when Gina's reporter mom receives a strange non-ransom ransom note, the super sleuths don't know where to start. Alec's dad, police officer Flint tells them that the town officials haven't reported any missing public property, and even after checking all the town's monuments and outdoor sculpture, they find nothing suspicious either.

Back in art class at school, working on their own drip paintings in the style of Pollack, the two admit that they seem to be at a dead end in their case. Then their class's study of artist Jackson Pollack takes them on a field trip to the public library, where Alec and Gina decide to look for the missing object among the art and rare books there. Persuading the school library volunteer "Mr. Grandpa," on fill-in duty at the temporarily short-handed library, into taking them to the lower floor to check on missing valuables, they discover that their library actually owns a famous Pollack painting, "Full Fathom Five," which Mr. Grandpa proudly shows them. Required to check out a book report book with his class, Alec opts for a biography of Pollack, and to his surprise, the color photo of "Full Fathom Five" in the book does not match the one they have just seen in the library basement. Now the kids think they know what is missing, but they must figure out why it is, where it is, and who the thief may be.

Back at school Alec sends Gina a note in their own secret code:
Trmz,
Blf szev gl tug blfi nin gl wirev bif gl nb sifhv zugvi gsv yfh wilkh nv luu. Du szev gl tl levi ifi xofuh uli gsu xzhv yvoliv gsv zig hsld. Rg'h lfi ozhg xszmxu gl urtfiv. Ifg dszg ' h hglovm yvuliv gsv gsrvu hsldh fk.
--Zovx*

*(Gina,
You have to get your mom to drive you to my house after the bus drops me off. We have to go over our clues for the case before the art show. It's our last chance to figure out what's stolen before the thief shows up.
--Alec)

At the library, Alec and Gina find their class's look-alike drip paintings in a beautiful display, ready for the public show, but as the kids search for the real Pollock painting among the dozens of faux abstractions, they realize that all the paintings have been switched, with the wrong name on each one. Can they find the real Pollock painting in time to sleuth out the thief and save the whole town from its threatened blue period?

As in her first mystery, The Nina, The Pinta, And The Vanishing Treasure (Alec Flint, Super Sleuth), Jill Santopolo's second, The Ransom Note Blues (An Alec Flint Mystery) Scholastic, 2009), combines a great deal of incidental learning about modern art embedded within an engaging beginning chapter mystery adventure. Alec and Gina are kid sleuths in the same tradition as Donald Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown, combining believable clues, close observation, and logical detecting skills within a comfortable elementary school setting. An appendix translates the encoded messages and an author's note adds to the information about Jackson Pollack contained within the text. For fans moving up from David Adler's Cam Jansen, Ron Roy's A to Z Mysteries, and George Stanley's The Third Grade Detectives, Alec Flint is the super sleuth with just the right stuff.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Back to School: Frankie Stein Starts School by Lola M. Schaefer


Frankie Stein stood on the steps of Miss Wart's Academy for Ghosts and Ghouls. He had been waiting for this night for a long time.

During story hour, Mrs. Wart read a book about ghosts. Frankie scooted closer so he could see and hear the scary parts.

"EWWWWW!" howled Wilma. "I'm not sitting next to HIM. He's WEIRD!"

It's finally the first day of school for young Frankie N. Stein, but although he finds delightful all things frightful, his boy-next-door good looks are a real turn-off for his classmates, especially Wilma Witch, Skelly Skeleton, and Vinnie Vampire. With a blond Beach Boy hair do and his favorite preppy threads, he just doesn't fit in at the Academy.


"We don't like you," said Vinnie.

"Yeah," said Skelly. "You don't look like US!"

"So what?" said Frankie. "I can still be scary, even scarier than you. Watch and see!"

Frankie is used to battling the stigma of his conventional good looks, even in own his monster family, so the initial rejection at Mrs. Wart's Academy comes as no surprise. Frankie just digs in and does the work, diligently delving into his textbook--How to Be Gross--and coloring his face purple and his nails black in art class.

"Bone-chilling" pronounces Skelly in approval.

Soon Frankie is at the head of the class in dino-fang counting, howling, and concocting gurgling potions, and his school mates have to concede that he's the bloodcurdling, ghoulish star of the class.

Back home, his mom asks about his first day.


"What did you like best?" asked Mrs. Frank N. Stein.

"Friends!" said Frankie. "I made a lot of frightening friends."

"That's our Frankie!" said Mr. and Mrs. Frank N. Stein.

Following up on her 2007 Frankie Stein, Lola Schaefer's Frankie Stein Starts School (Marshall Cavendish, 2010) brings back her atypical little monster in a back-to-school story of a nerdy non-monsterish kid who proves he's got the right scary stuff to hold his own and even make friends at monster school. Just in time for the first days back in class, this quirky tale of finding a way to fit in when you're different from the norm will resonate with reluctant scholars, especially those who are already looking forward to the scary season upcoming soon.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Iced! Fancy Nancy and the Delectable Cupcakes by Jane O'Connor

The style-conscious Nancy Clancy is not one to let a hot trend catch her napping! Just in time to latch on to the, er, rising nationwide cupcake fad comes Nancy's latest beginning reader adventure, forthcoming August 24, Fancy Nancy and the Delectable Cupcakes (I Can Read Book 1) (HarperCollins, 2010).

Decor is practically her middle name, and decorating her cupcakes with bright colorful sprinkles comes natural to fashionista Nancy. But there are a few spills and thrills along the way before the famous Clancy family's recipe produces perfect cupcakes for the young artist's finishing touches.

Beginning readers (and cooks) will find Nancy Clancy's new adventure a tasty treat! Get 'em while they're hot!

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Monday, August 23, 2010

A Most Fearsome Oath: Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers School: We the Children by Andrew Clements


Mr. Keane grabbed hold and pressed something into his palm, quickly closing the boy's fingers around it. Then he clamped Ben's fist inside his leathery grip.

"This thing in your hand? I've been carrying around with me every day for forty-three years . . . and before that, the other janitors had it--everyone of them--all the way back to the very first man hired by Captain Oakes himself when he founded the school."

"Look at it...but first promise that you'll keep all this secret." He squinted up into Ben's face, his blue eyes bright and feverish. "Do you swear?"

Ben's mouth was dry. He'd have done anything to get this scary old man with bad breath to let go of him. He whispered, "I swear."

It was a large gold coin with rounded edges, smooth as a beach pebble.

FIRST AND ALWAYS MY SCHOOL BELONGS TO THE CHILDREN. DEFEND IT. DUNCAN OAKES, 1783.

Ben is late for homeroom, running down a back hall in hopes of avoiding detention by making it into his seat before roll call, when he sees the school's elderly head janitor in obvious pain struggling down the hall. Ben tries to help, but instead of sending him for someone, the old janitor seems compelled to pass on some sort of secret talisman to him, something to do with the fate of the old building which has been the town school for more than 200 years.

Ben Pratt knows that his historic school is slated for the wrecking ball at the end of his sixth grade year. Although he loves the old school, given to the town by an eccentric and wealthy sea captain to be its school in perpetuity, Ben has other things on his mind as the school year draws to its close. Not just middle school next year and his parents' painful separation, which is with him like a familiar pain, but more immediately the big sailing race coming up on the weekend where he and rival Robert Gerritt will face off again in the individual heat.

But when the intercom breaks into their afternoon routine with the announcement that Mr. Keane has passed away, Ben suddenly feels the power of the old man's charge hit him full force. And then, there's the mystery of the meaning of this secret that he swore to uphold. How can he defend an old school that is already sold and set for demolition to provide land for a theme park, Tall Ships Ahoy! which the whole town believes will bring nothing but prosperity to Edgeport?

Ben turns to the smartest person he knows, his friend Jill. Together they read the inscription on the back of the gold coin, cryptic directions to someplace "amidships on the top deck, north-northeast." Immediately Jill remembers the compass rose outside the girls' bathroom on the third floor of the school. "The top deck, of course," Ben intuits, and behind a strangely short piece of molding on the wall they find a copper plate engraved and signed by three students in 1791. Hurriedly Jill and Ben walk to Ben's dad's boat to read the message in private:

If you have found this message on purpose, then an evil day besets us.... Captain Oakes has given this school to us, the children, but he feared others would one day try to take it away.

What follows are cryptic clues to the steps the "Keepers of the School" must follow to defend it from demolition. Ben hastily copies the message onto his laptop, and as the two walk down the pier toward home, they are stopped by Kevin at the marina security booth. "This is for your dad," he says, handing Ben a business card which reads JACKSON SWERDLING YACHT BROKER.

Ben is puzzled. His dad hasn't said anything about selling his beloved boat. Jill's suspicions are aroused, and when she questions Kevin about the appearance of the so-called broker, both realize that he must be the school's assistant janitor, Mr. Lyman--an apparent spy for someone. But why? Could Lyman have heard something from Mr. Keane, and knowing that Ben was the last one to talk to him, could he have actually bugged his dad's boat to find out what Ben knows about the mysterious gold coin and its strange charge? Suddenly Ben and Jill realize that they, willing or not, are now the Keepers of the School, and that it is their charge to stop the destruction of the centuries-old school and prevent the construction of the multi-million dollar theme park on its waterfront site. But how?

In this first of a planned series of six novels in the Keepers of the School series, We the Children (Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School) (Atheneum, 2010), best-selling author Andrew Clements lays the groundwork for what looks to be a page-turning mystery/ adventure series. No one knows how to get inside the heads of the upper elementary/middle school protagonist better than Clements, and this series looks to both familiar and new territory for this very capable author. In this first volume, Clements provides plenty of intriguing clues and irresistible hints, along with a daring rescue at sea to wind up the action, as We the Children (Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School) kicks off what promises to be a a page-turning new adventure series for middle readers.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Roundabout: Maggie's Ball by Lindsay Barrett George

Maggie is a young, big-eyed, lop-eared pup with just one thing in mind--finding someone to throw her yellow ball for her. But then....


SUDDENLY...A MIGHTY WIND BOUNCES HER BALL DOWN THE HILL AND IT ROLLS....

INTO TOWN!

WHERE IS MAGGIE'S BALL?

Downtown it's a whirl of activity. There is The Pizza Shop, T.T.'s Clock Shop, and Campbell's Critters, and The Market. Hey, wait! There is something round and yellow!


IS THAT MAGGIE'S BALL?

No! It's just a round dollop of frosting on the sign advertising cupcakes in the window. Is that round yellow thing over there her ball. No! It's a golden pocket watch on a chain on the vest of the happy man coming out of the clock shop.


IS THAT MAGGIE'S BALL UP THERE?

Nope. That's a pizza on the shop's sign! Suddenly Maggie realizes that there are round shapes everywhere--a circular perch for the parrot inside Campbell's Critters, a goldfish bowl in the window, spots on a slow-moving turtle, a ball of yarn that Kitty is chasing, the gerbil's exercise wheel, apples on a tree, a girl with a hula hoop and a round scoop of lemon ice cream on her cone, a bass drum, and, and, AND.... . How will Maggie ever spot her ball?

What's a sad pup to do?

Then Maggie spies a girl sitting on a bench in the park. And beside her on the ground... there is something round and yellow!


"HELLO, LITTLE DOG. DO YOU WANT TO PLAY WITH ME?"

Early readers, lap sitters, and story circle listeners will love helping Maggie spot that ball at last in Lindsay Barrett George's latest Maggie's Ball (Greenwillow, 2010). For kids learning colors and especially shapes, this one might be called a concept book: there are indeed circle shapes everywhere, all naturally integrated into bright, almost primitive-styled illustrations which are a departure from George's realistic nature pictures in such books as In the Woods: Who's Been Here? (Mulberry books). In this one George's flat primary colors and eye-catching pages show off her versatility and creativity in a book that combines a "do-you-see-it?" plot line with some solid preschool learning, beginning reader practice, and just plain fun.

Kirkus gives it a coveted starred review and says, “A consistent, directional progression of the story, large, easy-to-read type, the challenge of finding the characters and naming the objects and places, and the gentle, sweet ending make Maggie’s adventure a perfect title for young readers, who will want their own pup to play with by tale’s end.”

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Key Knowledge: The Piano and Other Keyboard Instruments by Rita Storey

For a "just the facts, Ma'am" introduction to pianos and other keyboard instruments, Rita Storey's The Piano and Other Keyboard Instruments (Let's Make Music) (Smart Apple Media, 2009) offers plenty of spotlighted color photos to introduce the very young to this family of musical instruments. Storey begins with the fundamentals:

The piano is a musical instrument. You sit down and use both hands to play it.

To make a sound on a piano, press the keys with your fingers.

Each key makes a different sound or musical note. You can press them one by one or several together.

The author tells the reader that there are 88 keys, white and black notes, their sound produced by the action of metal strings caused to vibrate by the strike of a hammer and stopped by dampers triggered by the key's release, facts which are accompanied by featured photos of an upright with the front cover removed. She then discusses pitch, the types of pedals which change the dynamics of the notes, and a color-highlighted text box shows the basics of the scale and chords, with a diagram of the musical staff showing notation.

The discussion then switches to a brief presentation of the upright and grand piano forms and the difference between the natural (white) keys and the sharp and flat (black) keys. The discussion then broadens to the various uses of the piano for vocal and instrumental accompaniment, as a solo instrument, and as part of groups from duets, trios, and quartets to symphony orchestras, followed by a brief explanation of the harpsichord, electronic keyboard instruments, pipe organs, electric organs, MIDI keyboards, and even the accordion.

A final section describes the styles--from jazz to rock--in which the keyboard instruments are used. The final section titled "Listen!" is a very useful list of web sites, such as http://www.pbs.org/jazz/lounge/lab_virtual_piano.htm where youngsters can click on any key and hear the note or listen a melody played on different instruments and in different rhythms. At http://www.classics for kids.com/games/, kids can compose their own tunes and visit the Composer Time Machine. A suggested list of CDs to supplement the book is provided in the appendix, along with a valuable glossary with simple definitions of terms introduced in the text, and an index.

For the parent or teacher introducing the wonders of music and the myriad of instrumental types to youngsters, this book and its Let's Make Music series companions, which include The Drum and Other Percussion Instruments (Let's Make Music), The Violin and Other Stringed Instruments (Let's Make Music), The Recorder and Other Wind Instruments (Let's Make Music), The Violin and Other Stringed Instruments (Let's Make Music), and The Voice and Singing (Let's Make Music), could be the start of something big for a young musician.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Rebus Reader: Meet Martha (Martha Speaks) by Susan Meddaugh


Sometimes Martha surprises people.

Words can be fun. Words can also be very useful.

Words helped when Martha was in the dog shelter without her collar.


Composing one's memoirs is usually undertaken in the, um, mature years, and Susan Meddaugh's Martha certain qualifies as a mature mutt. She's just turned twenty-one if we count her, er, whelping date from her first appearance in the highly original The Witches' Supermarket as the non-talking but cat-costumed familiar of little Helen, who, dressed as a witch for Halloween, accidentally ventures into a supermarket usually patronized by real witches. The next year Martha made her debut as the logorrheic pooch who starts to talk and doesn't know when to quit in the hilarious hit, Martha Speaks, the first in a series of best-selling, full-color picture books which made her creator Susan Meddaugh famous. For a mutt who must be 147 in human years, Martha is a pretty perky pooch indeed, one who, as the star of her own weekly show on PBS, is certainly celebrating her majority in a big way in 2010!

In her just-published Martha Speaks: Meet Martha (Picture Reader) (Green Light Readers Level 1) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010), Martha debuts in her first rebus reader, as she recounts the high points of her life as a picture book diva for the very youngest readers. With a picture vocabulary of 12 words or word combinations (alphabet soup, family, burger, pizza, telephone, all presented in an introduction) Martha revisits some of the high points of her career as Helen's garrulous pet--her first words ("When's dinner?"), her now forbidden telephone pizza orders ("I was going to share!"), and her unfortunate incarceration as a homeless mutt in the doggy shelter (with a plaintive "Come get me, Helen!" on the phone), not to mention her famous foiling of the unlucky home-invading burglar who tries to outwit the family's loyal guardian.

Included in the back of this "Picture Reader" are a set of sturdy punch-out flash cards with the twelve rebus pictures on one side and the matching words in large lower-case type on the opposite side, so that emergent readers can practice their vocabulary, making Martha Speaks: Meet Martha (Picture Reader) (Green Light Readers Level 1), a fun way to "play school" between classmates or between older and younger siblings or to help preschoolers learn to "read" the book along with an older reader or parent. Books for the earliest of emergent readers are an important step along the way to literacy, and as always Martha is the go-to girl when words (or dinner) are being served up.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Big Bad Ty: Crunch, Munch Dinosaur Lunch! by Paul Bright

I'M BIGGEST. I'M BADDEST,

AND I'M READY TO EAT.

I NEED SOME FRESH

STEGOSAURUS MEAT!!

Ty Rex is big. He's mean. He's totally BAD. He's got big, big jaws with big, big teeth and big, big claws to boot. He's got the whole package to terrorize those veggie munchers in the swamp, and when he's hungry, and he's ALWAYS hungry, it's look out, herbivores.

There's just one problem--his little sister. Teri has tiny, tiny teeth and tiny, tiny claws that couldn't scare a scutellosaurus, and whenever Ty picks out suitable prey, she turns up right behind him:

"HUG OO, TY RANNYNORMUS!" BURBLED TERI, AS HIS STEGOSAURUS PADDLED OFF THROUGH THE SWAMP, SNICKERING.

It's hard to look big and bad when there's an adorable little sister hugging your hind leg. Ty knows he's never gonna crunch and munch some lunch unless he can ditch Teri before she can attack him with more hugs and a plaintive little "Kiss oo, Ty Rannynormus!"

At last Ty manages to sneak away from his sister and is ready for some serious stalking for herbivore hamburger. But then he hears that familiar little voice, this time not cooing,

"TY RANNYNORMOUS!!" SQUEAKED TERI.

IT WAS SPINOSAUROUS! HE WAS HUGE--BIGGER THAN HER BROTHER TY.

HE HAD A HUGE MOUTH AND HIS MOUTH WAS OPENING WIDER AND WIDER!

"DON'T YOU TOUCH MY BABY SISTER!" TY ROARED.

It's big brother to the rescue, in Paul Bright's new Crunch Munch Dinosaur Lunch! (Good Books, 2010). Michael Terry's bright illustrations manage to make both Ty and Teri as cute and charming as, well, a T. Rex can be, and the familiar tale of the pesty little sister and the brave big brother who saves the day goes down well as Ty lives up to his doting little sister's "Wuv oo, Ty Rannynormous!" Pair this witty tale with Kate McMullan's I'm Bad! for a dynamic dino duo.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back to School: Orange Peel's Pocket by Rose Lewils

Nicknamed "Orange Peel" because as a baby she tried to eat the peels along with the fruit, Chan Ming knows she was born in China and adopted by her American mom. But one day at school her teacher pulls down a map of a very large country--China. And when her classmates turn to Orange Peel to tell them all about the land of her birth, she realizes that she can't answer their questions.

"I don't know, but I'll find out," she says.

Mom suggests that she interview some of the Chinese-American storekeepers nearby, and Orange Peel finds out that they are delighted to tell her bits of Chinese history, illustrated by their wares. Mr. Fan, the tailor, pulls out some shiny dark thread. "The best silk comes from China," he tells her, fine but strong, and as Orange Peel and her mother thank him for his story and turn to leave, he slips a little somethng into her pocket.

At Ma Sang's antique shop, Orange Peel is amazed at the beautiful treasures she sees, all from China, and as she leaves, Ma Sang slips something into her pocket--one of her own poems, this one about the mountain, lakes, and flowers in her homeland. At Mrs. Lo's flower shop, she is shown some of the famous flowers of China--peonies and chrysanthemums--and the proprietor slips a peony into her pocket.

Ready for a snack, Orange Peel and her mother head for Mr. Yo's Noodle Shop, for bowls of "the best noodle soup in the world" and she learns that he uses an very old family recipe to make his own noodles: "long noodles, long life," he says with a smile, and slips his soup recipe into her pocket.

For dessert, they stop off at Jasmine's Ice Cream Shop, and as Orange Peel tells Jasmine about her Show-And-Tell project at school, she is amazed to learn that ice cream was invented, not in America, but in China, and another surprise is slipped in her pocket secretly as she counts out the change to pay for their cones.

What Orange Peel finds in her pocket that night is a little bit of Chinese lore from each of the shopkeepers--silk thread, a recipe for noodle soup, a flower, a poem, and best of all, a tassel from Jasmine, "red for good luck." With something to show, something to tell, and her good luck red tassel, Orange Peel's report to her class is a success.

Rose Lewis' new Orange Peel's Pocket (Abrams, 2010) is a welcome addition to the literary offerings for Chinese American adopted children. Grace Zong's stylized illustrations in chrysanthemum colors are picturesque, and although this book contributes only tidbits of information on Chinese history and culture, it provides a warm introduction for early elementary children to the heritage of Chinese adoptees.

For more of the personal history of Rose Lewis and her daughter, pair this new one with her earlier autobiographical picture books stories, the wonderful I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, the story of her adoption of her daughter from China, and its equally loving sequel, Every Year on Your Birthday, which journals the story of each of her child's successive birthdays, from her first toy-filled celebration through her second, marked by a red-white-and-blue cake to celebrate her citizenship, to the gift of her first puppy, and finally her "graduation" on her school-aged fifth birthday. Another story of Chinese American adoption is award-winner Grace Lin's moving The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale, which begins with the beautiful Chinese proverb which says, "an invisible, unbreakable red thread connects all who are destined to be together."

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