BooksForKidsBlog

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Boo! Even Monsters Need Haircuts by Matthew M. Elligott

MY DAD IS A BARBER.

I LIKE TO WATCH HIS WORK.

I'M A BARBER, TOO.

TONIGHT WILL BE A FULL MOON.

Ever wonder how vampires keep their pompadours so perfect? Well, even monsters have to do something with their hair now and then. And for that trip to the barbershop, there's always the night of the full moon and their personal tonsorial specialist.

In Mathhew McElligott's latest, Even Monsters Need Haircuts (Walker, 2010), our hero is a young barber who arises in the dark and takes the midnight bat down to his dad's barber shop to take care of his monster customers:

SOME CUSTOMERS ARE EASY.

SOME ARE MORE DIFFICULT.

SOME ALWAYS GET THE SAME THING.

SOME ALWAYS WANT TO TRY SOMETHING NEW.

AND FOR SOME CUSTOMERS IT'S HARD TO KNOW WHAT THEY WANT.

Frankenstein's monster gets his customary flattop buzz. No sweat there. But shaggy werewolves clog the clippers. And then there's Medusa--she's what you call a difficult client. It takes a tall stool and a good blindfold to braid her dreadlocks. Does she like her do? Don't look. Take her word for it! And the skeletons? There's no hair there to trim! Maybe a little, er, hair restorer?

But the scariest ding-dong at the door is a surprise client--an ordinary human being. The barbershop buddies go silent as they stare in disbelief.

"Can you take a little off at the top?" the man asks mildly.

But then he nonchalantly reaches up and lifts off his head and hands it to the young barber. Relief floods the clip joint as the customers relax, realizing he's one of them after all.

It's all in good fun, and young readers will have a monster ball perusing the clientele of this midnight tonsorial parlor, executed whimsically by McElligott in mixed media, digitally enhanced. His PJ-clad young barber wears his monster-feet slippers and provides his own pocket-sized shamp-ewww, as he narrates this witty story of a barber who does his own comic version of moonlighting.

"SEE YOU NEXT MONTH!"

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

She Stoops to Conquer: Hawksmaid by Kathryn Lasky

"This is not girls' work, Matty," Fynn said.

Fury flared within her. "It's outlaw's work is what it is.... A thief can be a man, a woman, a girl, or a boy. I found the rubies! I want you to trust me. We all need to trust one another. I think we need to make a blood oath."

Fynn drew out his hunting knife. Each one slashed the tips of their thumbs. They went around and pressed their thumbs to one another's and repeated the words after Matty.

"I do solemnly swear upon this oath of blood never to reveal my knowledge of the rubies to any human being. The riches we have found will be used only in service to our lawful king, Richard, and to defeat the tyranny that prevails in this land but never for our personal gain. This I swear in the name of our Lord."

It is 1192 and King Richard is imprisoned, held for ransom in Austria, and Prince John's reign has brought tyranny and hunger to all save his co-conspirators in England. With her mother murdered by John's henchmen and her father impoverished and dispirited, Matty has nothing but her skill in falconry and the loyalty of her birds to feed the household. But she has friends from childhood, Fynn and his spirited companions, who through their skills in the ways of the forest manage to help feed the poor with their poached game and daring robberies, staying just ahead of Guy of Gisborne and the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Then Matty spies the sheriff's sister, the Abbess, hiding jewels under the banks of a brook, and realizes that these are jewels stolen from the golden chalice in the local church. With the help of Fynn and friends she secretes them in the hollows of five dead trees in the Barndale woods, and together they swear to use them to ransom Richard and bring just rule to their land.

And thus Robin Hood, his Merry Men, and his love, Maid Marian, are born.

Disguised as a serving maid, Marian Greenleaf, Matty spies upon the household of Nottingham Castle and manages to avert the poisoning of the Bishop of Ely, their only ally against Black John. But the evil Abbess discovers her identity and manages to capture her in a deadfall snare in the forest. Held captive, Matty refuses to betray her secrets and at last finds her only recourse to be a hunger strike, knowing that the Abbess must keep her alive to locate the jewels hidden in the forest. But at last Matty lies near death, hidden amidst lepers, her location unknown except to her loyal falcon, Marigold.

In her latest, Hawksmaid: The Untold Story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian (Harper, 2010) stretches her admirable range as a writer, venturing into the hybrid genre of historical fantasy. A Newbery winner (for Sugaring Time) and the prolific author of the best-selling Guardians of Ga'Hoole and Wolves of the Beyond series and numerous historical novels and biographies, here Lasky sticks to straightforward historical fiction until near the end, where she slips a bit disjunctively (although not without artful foreshadowing) into a fantasy conclusion which brings about the delivery of the jewels to Richard the Lionhearted's mother Eleanor of Aquitaine, ransoming the young king and allowing the return of law and order to his domain.

Still, the appeal of the drama and timeless romance of Robin and his Marian make for an intriguing adventure story with a strong female character which will spellbind middle readers. Hawksmaid: The Untold Story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian will appeal to fans of the similarly fantasy-tinged historical series, Nancy Springer's Tales of Rowan Hood, as an imaginative reworking of the evergreen Robin Hood legend.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Boy for All Seasons: Guyku: A Year of Poetry for Boys by Bob Raczka


IN A RUSHING STREAM,

WE TURN ROCKS INTO A DAM.

HOURS FLOW BY US.

What is it like to be a kid with the whole outdoors there just for us? Bob Raczka's and Peter Reynolds' up-coming GUYKU: A Year of Haiku for Boys (Houghton Mifflin, 2010) reminds us, in case we have forgotten, what childhood should be--a chance to find ourselves in the world beyond ourselves.

Raczka's haikus are alternately whimsical...

IF THIS PUDDLE COULD

TALK, I THINK IT WOULD TELL ME

TO SPLASH MY SISTER.

and lyrical...

WITH THE EMBER END

OF MY LONG MARSHMALLOW STICK

I WRITE ON THE DARK.

Although in its classical Japanese form, the haiku stresses quiet contemplation of nature, the punchy, seventeen-syllable format lends itself perfectly for action-oriented boys (and girls), making the haiku a popular teaching tool for elementary language arts. In the hands of the skilled writer and illustrator here, the spirit of the haiku is perfectly captured for the young reader. The book is designed to follow the four seasons, with poems fitting each season and each season given its iconic color--green for spring, blue for summer, brown for fall, and white for winter. Three boys are featured, in combination and individually, doing those things boys do--flying kites, throwing snowballs at trees, dueling with icicles, catching grasshoppers, and skipping stones over the water. The words and pictures show simple, everyday things, but in the spirit of the classical haiku, make the reader stop, immersed in the moment, and glory in it.
HEY, WHO TURNED OFF ALL

THE CRICKETS? I'M NOT READY

FOR SUMMER TO END.

Author Raczka and illustrator Reynolds have created a keeper here, a little poetry book that should be on every library, classroom, and poetry shelf. See also Andrew Clements' story, cleverly narrated in haiku, Dogku, reviewed here.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Wild Thing! If You're A Monster and You Know It by Rebecca and Ed Emberley

IF YOU'RE A MONSTER AND YOU KNOW IT

SNORT AND GROWL!

And if you are that monster, you'll surely want to show it--and that's just what all little storytime listeners will be sure to do when they experience Rebecca and Ed Emberley's just published If You're A Monster And You Know It (Orchard, 2010).

Set to the familiar nursery tune of "If You're Happy And You Know It," and done up in Caldecott winner Ed Emberley's ebullient mature style, this newest collaboration of father and daughter Ed and Rebecca Emberley is a real knockout! Artist Emberley, always a groundbreaker in creative style, makes good use of technology, setting his day-glo foreground colors against a shiny black background that makes them almost explode off the page with excitement. Emberley's monsters here are arresting but not a bit scary, composed of irregular but familiar shapes, suggesting more than anything else the kind of joyous excitement that Maurice Sendak's famous wild things' rumpus inspired.

If You're A Monster And You Know It is made for audience participation, and youngsters will be happy to oblige as the monsters "snort and growl, smack claws, stomp, wiggle warts, twitch tails", and "give a ROAR" as the story progresses. And be sure there's plenty of room when the story comes to its grand finale:
IF YOU'RE A MONSTER AND YOU KNOW IT

THEN YOU'LL SURELY WANT TO SHOW IT.

IF YOU'RE A MONSTER AND YOU KNOW IT

DO IT ALL! (Snort and growl, smack your claws, stomp, stomp, twitch your tail, wiggle your warts, roar roar)

Preschoolers and Kindergarteners will have a monster mash with this one, but a word to the wise--don't schedule this one right before rest time! Send them outside to let off steam. And then have plenty of colorful shapes, pop-out warts, and lots of glue ready to have fun creating make-your-own monster masks and stage a dress performance of If You're A Monster And You Know It all over again.

Note: For a little musical assistance, Scholastic/Orchard Books offers with the book a free download of the song "If You're A Monster and You Know It," performed by Emberley's granddaughter Andrian. A great way to kick off the scary season ahead!

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Boo! Trick or Treat ?(With Scary Flaps) by Melanie Walsh

LET'S DRESS UP AS

A RATTLY SKELETON

AND A WITCH'S CAT!

Tots just old enough to set forth for their first Halloween forays get a treat with Melanie Walsh's little board book, Trick Or Treat? (Candlewick Press, 2009), "With Scary Flaps," which offers all the pseudo-scary sights of Halloween--dangling spiders, owls silhouetted on a bare tree limb, skeletons, haunted houses, bats, playful ghosts, and of course, trick-or-treat candy behind a friendly door just waiting for a knock.

Walsh, a veteran of the venerable board book format, offers up sturdy flaps and simple but glowing images in a bright Halloween palette of greens, golds, oranges, and basic black which urge the littlest baby spooks to get out there and say "BOO!"

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sneezles: A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead

Amos McGee was an early riser.

Every morning when the alarm clock clanged, he swung his legs out of bed and swapped his pajamas for a fresh-pressed uniform.

Amos McGee lives a very orderly life. Skinny and slightly stooped, gray-haired, and nondescript, each morning he has his pot of tea and takes a very early bus to his job as a zookeeper.

Although he is a diligent worker, Amos always has time for his animal friends. He takes the time for chess with the elephant, although his opponent takes a rather long time to make up his ponderous mind over each move. He sits for a while with his friend the penguin, runs a race with the big tortoise, a provides a clean hankie for the rhinoceros, who seems always to have a rhinovirus in his nose. Amos even stays after quitting time to read a story to the owl, whom he knows is unaccountably afraid of the dark.

Then one day, Amos is not an early riser.

Amos awoke with sniffles, and sneezes, and chills.

He swung his legs out of bed, swung them back and said, "Ugh. I don't think I'll be going to work today."

At the zoo, Amos is very much missed. His friends grow anxious about his absence, and as the day wears down, they solemnly assemble at the gate, walk down the street to the bus stop, the penguin bringing along a red balloon for the absent Amos. Amos' companions fill the small bus, balloon and all, and make their way to Amos' house.

There they find Amos alone in bed, still a bit under the weather, and his friends know just what to do to make him feel better. Elephant sets up the chess board and plays a gently-paced game, while penguin warms his feet. Since Amos is not up to races, the tortoise plays a quiet game of hide-and-seek. Rhino produces a supply of clean handkerchiefs for Amos' snuffly nose. Owl prepares a light supper and pours everyone a cup of tea.


Amos wound his alarm clock.

"It's getting late," he said. "After all, we have a morning bus to catch."

And when twilight darkens the room, the owl reads Amos a bedtime story, just in case he is afraid of the dark, and they all settle down in for a friendly sleep-over.

Philip Stead's and Christian Phillips' A Sick Day for Amos McGee (Roaring Brook Press, 2010) is as modest and unassuming a little book as its main character, but one that speaks volumes about the nature of friendship. Erin Stead's carefully constructed woodblock illustrations carry infinite quiet details which will draw children's attention long after the simply-told tale is done.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Science Snafu: Oh, No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) by Mac Barrett

OH, NO!

OH, MAN.

I KNEW IT.

I never should have built a robot for the science fair.

Everything was going so well...

Until the rampage started, that is.

In the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster, Mac Barnett's hot-off-the-press picture book Oh No!: Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World (Hyperion, 2010) seems positively prophetic, absolutely allegorical, a parable of the human propensity to think big without necessarily thinking through our creations.

Our young heroine, doubtless the star science student in Mrs. Turnham's fifth grade class, certainly is thinking big when she rolls out her giant robot--blueprints and all. Surrounded by the usual baking-soda-and-vinegar volcanoes and paper mache solar system models, it's impressive, all right. Unfortunately, in the way of scientific devices, this one follows the law of unforeseen consequences, leaving its designer wishing she'd thought about the unthinkable a little more here.

Giant stainless steel claws? Maybe unnecessary add-ons here. And when the unfortunate creator tries voice commands--"Hey, Robot, knock it off already!"--she discovers that what she forgot to add was ears! Hastily, she scribbles a sign to halt the carnage, only to discover that she "forgot" to teach the robot to read. Brute force doesn't work, either; she neglected to program into her robot the power to feel pain! Quickly improvising, she grabs a nearby toad from another kid's exhibit, and radiates it into a giant mutant monster and orders it to destroy the rampant robot. Her ploy works, but then... (deja vu all over again) TOAD doesn't stop the destruction there. Oh, no! She forgot to irradiate the annihilative amphibian's DNA to self-destruct as soon as the runaway robot is disarmed.

OOOOPS!

The saga of the science experiment gone amuck has been around since Mary Shelley penned Frankenstein in 1818, and that fictional parable is still as powerful as ever. Author Mac Barnett probably didn't know just how timely his publication date of June 1, 2010, was to be when he wrote this little tale, but his story of a science exhibit gizmo that destroys everything in its path now seems predictive of what can happen when scientists fail to build in plenty of fail-safe redundancies. Dan Santat's illustrations are a perfect foil, in a tour de force design that extends the simple text with touches of whimsy and humor which will keep kids pouring over each page. His deadpan-serious little scientist has all the right technical moves, but realizes with horror that she's neglected to foresee the big picture, and when Santat's perspective zooms out as the scope of mayhem enlarges, we see just what her half-baked science hath wrought. As Kirkus Reviews puts it succinctly, illustrator Dan Santat's design is a seamless blend in which "comic-book, picture-book and movie styles come together in a well-designed package."

And that's more than we can say for that science project!

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Autocratic Management: The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee

FROM THE MOMENT THAT THE BABY ARRIVED...

IT WAS OBVIOUS THAT HE WAS THE BOSS.

When this baby shows up, dressed in a natty black drop-seat onesie with spiffy white shirt and tie, toting a formidable briefcase, these parents know that their CEO has taken charge of management. He sets up his office, his "desk" the circular tray of his walker, and demands 24/7 hustle from the "staff," his increasingly pooped parents.

HE CONDUCTED MEETINGS.

LOTS AND LOTS OF MEETINGS.

MANY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.

This boss demands his executive perquisites--drinks to order summoned around the clock, his own spa for relaxation, his private jet, and a personal gym for his workouts. In true administrative style, his interoffice communications are virtually unintelligible. The Boss is happy, but worker morale is definitely at a statistical low.

THEN, ONE DAY ALL ACTIVITY GROUND TO A HALT. THE BOSS SURVEYED HIS SURROUNDINGS, EYEBALLED HIS WORKERS, AND FROWNED.

HE CALLED A MEETING. THE STAFF DID NOT RESPOND.

It looks like employee insubordination. The parental workers are apparently on a sit-down strike. In fact, they're slumped in an exhausted slumber on the couch.

When all else fails, The Boss comes to an executive decision. The usual communication media are obviously ineffective. He tries a new, more employee-sensitive management style:

MA-MA? DA-DA?

Weary new parents and even older brothers and sisters will instantly recognize the imperious management style adopted by all newborns in Caldecott Award-winning author/illustrator Marla Frazee's just published The Boss Baby (Beach Lane Books, 2010). The perfect book for new parents or parent-to-be, anyone who's ever spent time around a new baby will recognize this scenario, and Frazee's retro-stylized comic illustrations of the boss baby, his "desk" adorned with his intercom (baby monitor) and beverages (bottles), his spa a bubbly baby bathtub, and his executive jet an airplane-shaped baby swing seat are a real hoot. Lots of laughs here for all the family.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ghost Busters? Ghost Hunters by William M. Lace

Donald and Sarah Wrenn were puzzled--and a bit scared. Their four children were having recurring nightmares. Three of them--Karen, Jesse, and Adam--said they had seen black shadows in their rooms. The youngest, five-year-old Ellen, said she had spoken with a woman who lived in her bedroom closet.

Who you gonna call?


Ghost hunters!

People have probably been fascinated with tales of ghosts and spirits as long as stories have been told. In modern times, when many mysteries of nature have been explained by science, there are still weird experiences which are unexplained, and that is when people turn to scientists who investigate such phenomena. Enter the ghost hunters!

In William Lace's Ghost Hunters (The Library of Ghosts & Hauntings) (Reference Point Press, 2010) the reader waits with the famous team from TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) called upon in 1997 to investigate the mysterious goings on in the Wrenn's house. As sometimes happens, when the team attempted to video strange shadows within the house, they found that their camera's battery, believed to be fully charged when they arrived, was suddenly and inexplicably completely drained. Then during a midnight vigil two ghost hunters saw the figure of an old woman, seated on some boxes in the closet. When told of the appearance the next day, something clicked for Mrs. Wrenn--her great aunt has just died, and all her belongings were stored there in the family's closets and basement. When the personal effects were removed from the house, the nightly visits ceased.

Did the battery discharge because someone left a switch on? Did the ghostly apparition stop appearing because the family felt they had met its wishes, or did the children just outgrow their nightmares?

Author William Lace takes the reader through the history of paranormal investigations, describing the famous hoaxes and hoaxers of history, the stories and "evidence" of some of the world's famous ghosts and haunted places as well as stories of some scientific debunkers of the mythology of hauntings. Lace has to report that, despite motion sensors, temperature gauges, magnetic field detectors, infrared and video cameras, ultra sensitive recording devices, and other electronic gizmos, however, there is no unquestionable external proof of paranormal phenomena resulting from all this investigation.

Still, some people persist in their belief that ghosts exist, either because they offer proof of life after death or because the believers have had convincing personal experiences. Others just love the adventure of the quest. For those readers who find the subject intriguing, Ghost Hunters (The Library of Ghosts & Hauntings) is a good place to begin the rational study of such fascinating phenomena and its long history.

Other books in the new Library of Ghosts & Hauntings series include Graveyard Companion (Ghost hunters' library), Ghosts (The Library of Ghosts & Hauntings), Hauntings (The Library of Ghosts & Hauntings), and Poltergeists (The Library of Ghosts & Hauntings), all of which include tantalizing informational sidebars, text boxes, illustrations, and a well-documents appendix of notes, books, web sites, and an index.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Trial by Water: Sports Camp by Rich Wallace

On the bus ride into Camp Olympia, eleven-year-old Riley Liston is beginning to feel that he's made a big mistake.

He loves sports, and a two-week camp where he gets to do every sport--from fishing to basketball--had seemed like a good idea last winter. But Riley's heart sinks when he sees that he's going to be the runt of the camp, one of the youngest among a bunch of bigger, hairier, scarier guys, especially the show-off "Fat Barry," ruler of Cabin 3. A dedicated swimmer, Riley even feels the lake losing its appeal when Barry launches into his first campfire story, the "legend" of Big Joe, the resident giant snapper turtle of Lake Surprise.

"That thing had my foot in its mouth last year, I swear!" said Barry Monahan... "I've still got a scar."

"That thing" was Big Joe, the legendary resident of Lake Surprise. Said to be as wide as a wheelbarrow and as fierce as a mountain lion, the snapping turtle had been the subject of all kinds of stories on the three-hour ride from the city. They told of kids who'd lost fingers and toes, and of others who'd barely escaped.

Riley quickly finds out that, like it or not, Cabin 3 is his tribe for the duration, and, as counselor Shawn tells them at the start, kids in the other cabins are simply "your rivals." Everything in the camp is set up around a two-week drive for cabin points in daily rounds of competition--in softball, basketball, canoeing, the camp's own extreme version of water polo, even karaoke.

The older guys--Barry, Hernando, Vinnie--give Riley a hard time after his weak defensive play contributes to his team's loss in their first match-up in basketball, and in the after lights-out bull sessions, Riley fares no better.

"So how many girls have you made out with, Liston?" Barry said with a laugh.

"I don't know," Riley mumbled. He'd been hoping to stay out of the conversation.

"Can't count that high, huh, Riley boy?" Barry laughed again, and everybody else laughed with him.

"Don't worry, twerp, it'll happen one of these years."

"Leave him alone," Tony said. "He can't help it if his hair hasn't sprouted yet."


But Camp Olympia's all-sports program is actually a good fit for Riley's strong point--his endurance, both physical and psychological. Riley plugs along at his worst sports, basketball and softball, screwing up sometimes but occasionally managing to contribute to some wins for his cabin. A solid swim team veteran, Riley's quickness and staying power turn out to be an asset in water polo, and his speed and endurance begin to pile up some points in distance running. His quiet perseverance begins to win him some grudging respect from the older boys, and the rituals of midnight pranking between the cabins draw him into a kind of fellowship even with Barry and his cohorts. Then Cabin 3 canoers have a peculiar bonding experience when they are privy to a rare sighting of the legendary but unfortunately all-too-real Big Joe in mid-lake.

And then there's the big event--the speed swim across the lake and back. Just recovering from an all-nighter in the "Larry" (the latrine) caused by eating a proffered piece of Barry's five-day-old Jersey Chicken, Riley barely manages to qualify, but he doggedly begins to swim extra laps every day, keeping one eye out for Big Joe at all times. And when the date of the big swim race rolls around, it is obvious to Cabin 3 that Riley is their only hope of carrying off the all-sports Big Joe Trophy for the summer.

Veteran sports fiction writer Rich Wallace's recent Sports Camp (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010) is fast-moving tale with a likable and believable underdog character who learns to play to his strengths, with the additional theme that each member of a team has something to contribute. Short and easy-going reading, with each chapter's quotes from the Camp Olympia Bulletin updating the reader on current cabin standings, this one is a good choice for reluctant guy readers and for the fans of the sports novels of Dan Gutman, Tim Green, and Mike Lupica.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Peas and Queues! L M N O Peas by Keith Baker


WE ARE PEAS--ALPHABET PEAS.

WE WORK AND PLAY IN THE ABCs!

And these are no proverbial peas in a pod, either. Each group of peas has a different vocation or avocation, and the animated, anthropomorphic peas with jolly faces and stick arm and legs show us, not tell us, what their own special thing is.


WE'RE GARDENERS, GIGGLERS, GIVERS, AND TAKERS.

WE"RE HIKERS, INVENTORS, AND INVESTIGATORS
Against large, bright white pages, over-sized block capital letters in warm pastels are surrounded by personable peas, panting as they bike, grinning when tickled with feather dusters, and even safecracking (outlaws taking more). The big D for drive is enmeshed in a superhighway, with traffic circles, exits and entrances, and clover leaves all entwining the letter while varied vehicles drive along with their passengers. The text even takes time for some wordplay (the farmer farms at Happea Farm and four pea-ple perform in a band called The Pod.)

There are bunches and bunches (or pods and pods) of alphabet books out there, but Keith Baker's latest, LMNO Peas (Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, 2010) has a lot to offer the young letter learner. With big pages and one or two large letters per page for most of the alphabet, this one performs well with a group of preschoolers, and the fascinating activities of the personable peas will keep individual readers poring over these pages long after the story is done. Word choices for each letter are very creative, and the overall effect is, well, peas-fully pleasing, considering that it stars some oft-maligned vegetables as protagonists.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Placebo Pets: The Best Pet Ever by Victoria Roberts

"Mom, can I have a pet? PLEASE!

Mom, Mom, can I have a pet?

Can I?"

"We'll see."

It's a classic conversation that almost all children and parents have somewhere along the line. Unlike some kids, this little girl takes her mom's provisional "We'll see," seriously. Setting out to prove that she's got the right stuff to take care of a pet, she undertakes a series of trial adoptions.

First it's a rock she names "Fluffy." She takes Fluffy for a walk, although he's apparently not in the least leash-trained. Then he somehow seems to earn the privilege of walking off-leash, but fails in his part of the deal when he makes his escape down a steep hill.

The girl turns to a single glove she finds. It has its appeal: it's soft and woolly and looks cute in its cozy basket. And named "Nibbles," it lives up to its moniker by agreeably consuming everything the little girl stuffs it with--acorns and leaves mostly--for a couple of days, until Nibbles apparently reaches her capacity.

Then the prospective pet owner finds a candy wrapper and submerges it in a handy clear glass fruit bowl in the kitchen. Filled with water, the sinuous wrapper, christened "Swishy," obligingly swims around and around when its owner swirls the liquid, twisting and turning cheerfully for a day or so until sogginess sets in.

Finally, the girl seems to have found the perfect substitute pet--a red balloon which she names "Bruce." Bruce gets a cheery black marker face and filled with static electricity, clings to the girl when he's warmly hugged. It looks like Bruce is the best pet yet, until...
BANG!

Now the girl is sad. Bruce was the best pet yet, but now he's a popped pet!
"Oh, that's a shame! Maybe we can find another pet for you to play with," Mom says.


And there, in the kitchen, is an interesting looking brown box, with big, round holes cut in the sides. What could be inside?

Victoria Roberts' The Best Pet Ever (Tiger Tales, 2010) is a neat imaginative take on the may-I-have-a-pet story. Written with a childlike simplicity and illustrated agreeably by Deborah Allbright, this book will intrigue kids with her improbable pinch-hit pets and empathize with this girl who proves she's worthy of the privilege, and it looks like Timmy is going to be one lucky little black-and-white kitty.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ups and Downs: One Pup's Up by Martha Wilson Chall

ONE PUP'S UP.

TWO PUPPIES TUMBLE.

THREE PUPPIES ROLL IN A FUNNY PUPPY JUMBLE.

It's a chain reaction, as each of the ten puppies awaken from their snuggle next to Mama, and stumble out to look for puppy action. And where there are puppies, there is always action--and fun--and a mess! And these ten pudgy puppies are no exception. Mama probably wishes that they could have slept a little longer!

FOUR PUPPIES DRINK.

FIVE PUPPIES HUDDLE.

SIX PUPPIES PIDDLE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MUDDLE.


Soon all ten plump pups are up and scouting for a bite, and their owner obligingly comes along to fill ten little bowls with kibble, in a Line-'Em-Up Canine Cafe.

The pups already know what to do after their dinner--they wash and play and then, one by one, begin to head back toward their sleepy mother, until they're almost all accounted for in another naptime.

Of course there's one, always one, who fights the urge to sleep to the last yawn and twitch, and then for one glorious moment, Mama has them all asleep around her. Until--well, you know who is up again!

Martha Wilson Chall's latest, One Pup's Up, is a clever little counting book which takes us up to ten and back down again as ten of the cutest canines you can imagine get up and go down for another nap. Chall's verse seems simple, but her word choice stretches her audience's vocabulary while remaining completely understandable in context, courtesy of the wonderful Henry Cole's fetching pen and brush, which gives us ten roly-poly little pups with plenty of personality. Toddlers will love the rhyme and alliteration while they count up the puppies on each page, some cleverly concealed amid the tangle of puppy tot toys. Large clear numerals on each page keep the count going until we're back to one pup up again. One Pup's Up is one to count on for the youngest picture book fans.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Pink IS the New Black: Polly's Pink Pajamas by Vivian French

POLLY LOVED HER PINK PAJAMAS.

WHAT DID SHE WEAR TO BED? PINK PAJAMAS.

WHAT DID SHE WEAR WHEN SHE GOT UP? PINK PAJAMAS.

WHAT DID SHE WEAR WHEN SHE ATE BREAKFAST? PINK PAJAMAS.

WHAT DID SHE WEAR ALL DAY LONG? PINK PAJAMAS.

Polly sees nothing wrong with making her little pink pajamas with big red hearts the heart of her wardrobe. Until--she gets a party invitation from her friend Fred. Suddenly Polly has that universal thought--she has nothing to wear!

What's a girl to do on short notice? Of course, Polly turns to her friends for help, and they come through in the pinch. Mia makes the offer of her red ruffled dress; Jo provides a green sweater; Harry has striped socks to contribute to the ensemble; and Claire comes through with some lovely blue shoes.

Back home Polly tries out the loaners in front of a full-length mirror ... and bursts into tears. The borrowed duds are each all right in and of themselves, but together they are a mis-matched and ill-fitting ensemble indeed. There's no way Polly can go to that party looking like this!

But then Fred calls to inquire why she's not there.

OH, FRED! I CAN'T COME. I HAVEN'T GOT ANY PARTY CLOTHES!"

"BUT, POLLY, IT'S NOT A PARTY-CLOTHES PARTY! SAYS FRED. "IT'S A PAJAMA PARTY!"

All's well that ends with pizza, and Fred's party concludes with pizza, bedtime stories, and pajamas for the whole sleepover gang. Vivian French's Polly's Pink Pajamas (Candlewick, 2010), illustrated amiably by Sue Heap, provides a cheery vehicle for reinforcement of basic color concepts (not that many preschool girls need any of that for the color pink!). This one pairs well with other books of the pink persuasion--Cherise Mericle Harper's recent Pink Me Up (see my recent post here,) any of Victoria Kann's best-selling Pinkalicious series, and, of course, Jane O'Connor's many best-selling books about that mother-of-all-pinkanistas, Fancy Nancy.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Through the Looking Glass: The Mermaid's Mirror by L. K. Madigan

Lifting the lid of the trunk, the scent of salt air drifted into her nostrils. It was as if she had stepped outside.

Her name jumped out at her--SELENA. Lena pulled an envelope out of the pile and stared at it--a cream-colored envelope with no other adornment, just her name. It was sealed. Lena opened the envelope.

My darling Selena,

You are four weeks old today, and already I cannot imagine life without you.

But I take up the pen today knowing that if you are reading this, it means that we have been parted. The unthinkable has happened.

The only force that could take me away from you is as ancient as mother-love, magic. On this day in the future when you read these words, know that I would never leave you. I may have been taken from you by magic...but please know, my precious maid, I would never go willingly.
Your loving mother


Lena has always been drawn to the sea, despite her father's refusal to allow her to surf, inexplicable in the face of his own love of it as a young man. But as her sixteenth birthday nears, Lena finds herself suddenly waking on the nighttime beach, where she has sleepwalked the two blocks from her home, drawn irresistibly to the place where her father and her dead mother were said to have met, Magic Crescent Cove. Although her strange behavior obviously worries her dad and step-mom Allie, Lena makes plans to defy their ban against learning to surf. She finds herself an apparent natural at the sport and impulsively sets out to surf at Magic's despite its dangerous waves. But when she wipes out and is thrown against the bottom, she feels unknown hands lifting her up to safety and pressing a golden key into her hand.

As if under some enchantment, Lena searches her home for a lock that fits her key, and when she discovers the chest concealed under her parents' bedroom floor, she finds her real mother's letter and her mother's coral comb and mirror inside. The letter hints at magic, and when Lena gazes long into the mirror, she suddenly gets a glimpse of the magic in her mother's world.

Lena sees in the mirror her mother's present life with merfolk in the California coastal waters near her home. She already has seen what she believed to be a mermaid watching her from offshore. Now she knows her mother has somehow regained her memory of her life on land and is longing for Lena to come to her, and at last she is compelled to go. And when she finds her mother waiting on the rocks at midnight, Lena cannot resist, following that overwhelming call to go with her, slipping inside the magic sealskin coat which enables her to join her mother's welcoming family undersea, but which begins almost imperceptibly to deprive her of the memory of her human family. Undersea, the mermaid's daughter feels herself inexplicably at home, even finding love with a beautiful young merman, Nix. But Lena has brought the mermaid's mirror with her under the sea, and instinctively knows that its magic will work both ways if she chooses to look into it.

L. K. Madigan's The Mermaid's Mirror (Houghton Mifflin, 2010), forthcoming in October, draws upon the folklore motif of the halfling, born between two worlds, the earthly and the supernatural, deftly flipping the plotline of Andersen's familiar mermaid tale and fitting it into a credible modern framework of a California surfside town. Although the climax involving Lena's choice is a bit Deus ex-mirror, Lena is a believable modern girl, rooted within deep love in her two families and yet forced to find a third way which is her own. A different sort of young adult fantasy, blissfully absent of blood and fangs, The Mermaid's Mirror is a dip into the supernatural which nevertheless plumbs the depths of the adolescent search for a place in the world that fits their own skin.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Boo! Scaredy-Cat Splat! by Rob Scotton

"We have all made jack o' lanterns and everyone is dressing up in costumes, and Mrs. Wimpydimple is going to tell a ghost story, and there is a prize for the scariest cat, and I want to be the scariest cat!

So please, can I take the spider to school... P-L-E-A-S-E?" said Splat without taking a breath.

Rob Scotton's first-grade cat is back in his new Halloween story, Scaredy-Cat, Splat! (Splat the Cat) (Harper, 2010). As always, Splat is a strong-minded little cat who this time sees himself copping the prize as the scariest cat in the classroom. "I'm a scary witch's cat," he tells himself.

But Splat's imagined glory begins to look like a disaster when he trips and breaks his witchy broom. His mom is sympathetic and quickly comes up with a creative spider costume of her own design, and Splat sets forth for school with his usual high hopes and his own cheering squad, a black spider in a jar and Seymour the mouse in costume as well. But his classmates have been equally creative. Spike is swathed in white as a mummy, and Plank is a skeleton, and Splat's usual self-confidence is shaken.

"Awww," Splat sighed. "Spike and Plank are both scarier than me.

I'll never win the prize for the scariest cat."


But when Mrs. Wimpydimple comes to the punch line of that famous jump tale "In a Dark Dark Wood," Splat is so taken aback that his startled tail slaps his own jack o' lantern spinning into the air and right down on his own head. Amazed, the whole class of little scary cats agrees that Splat has topped the competition--as the scariest cat of them all!

Scotton's illustrations, his googly-eyed, spiked-haired little hero set off on white in strong spot art, carries this slight little story to a satisfying and chuckle-provoking conclusion for picture book fans. His latest, Scaredy-Cat, Splat! (Splat the Cat), joins its now lengthening list of series mates, Splat the Cat, Merry Christmas, Splat (Splat the Cat), Love, Splat (Splat the Cat), Splat the Cat: Where's the Easter Bunny? and Splat the Cat: Splat the Cat Sings Flat (I Can Read Book 1).

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