Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Friend Indeed: Noodle and Lou by Liz Garton Scanlon



When a worm is feelin' down, he's really got the low-down blues, and Noodle's spirits are draggin' lower than his nether end. Who's he gonna call to get him out of his muddy funk?

It's Lou, of course, a perky blue jay who's never down, even when he flies down to earth for a mood elevating session with Noodle. Noodle complains that he's always dirty and that even so, birds think he's a neat treat to eat. But with an upbeat friend like Lou, eventually things start looking up--even for Noodle.


In their just published Noodle & Lou (Beach Lane Books, 2011), Liz Garton Scanlon's easy rhymes and Arthur Howard's charming and personable illustrations are downright uplifting. If a bird and a worm can find common ground, there's hope for us all!

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Down Memory Lane: Your Mommy Was Just Like You by Kelly Bennett


Grandma pulls out the treasured family photo album and begins to share pictures inside with her granddaughter--snapshots of her mom as a baby giggling as her toes were tickled, a toddler clutching her favorite lovey doll--Whiney Baby--and taking her everywhere she goes, even on a ride with Uncle John.

Mom grows up to be an adventurous little girl--one day her mom's sweet potato, and the next a terror sent to do time-out in the corner. One day she is a frog in flippers; the next day she is a fairy with wings and wand. Mom starts to school, worried that she still can't quite tie her shoes, but she works hard and learns what she needs to be a mom herself.





Kids are fascinated with photo albums because visualizing their parents as kids, doing the things they like to do, gives them an understanding of the meaning of growing up and a glimpse into the river of time of which they, too, are a part.

Grandma brings it all home, though, when she hugs her own dear daughter and explains how it is for moms--and grandmoms:




Kelly Bennett's new Your Mommy Was Just Like You (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2011) is a great book for sharing around Mothers Day, dealing as it does with the chain of love passed down from mother to child through the generations. Bennett and illustrator David Walker's latest collaboration joins its artful companion volume, Your Daddy Was Just Like You for boys, both of which make wonderful Mothers Day selections.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Big War: World War II: Fighting for Freedom by Peter Chrisp

World War II was the biggest and deadliest conflict in history. Many countries took part and fighting took place all across the world.

More than 55 million people were killed, most of them civilians.

If any war ever earned the dubious title of "the Big War," it is World War II. It was so huge a human folly and human endeavor that it would seem an act of hubris to try to encapsulate its history in one book. But young people have to begin somewhere, and notable history writer Peter Chrisp's latest, Fighting For Freedom (Scholastic, 2010) offers elementary and middle school students an absorbing and broad overview, bolstered by a multitude of photographs, including many of the iconic pictures of that period on the war front and on the home front.

Chrisp's book indeed offers a snapshot of the war from many angles. His text is crisp but informal, providing a insight into many of the war's aspects without overloading the reader with facts, dates, and figures, stressing the human aspects of the conflict. Beginning with chapters such as "The Gathering Storm" and "Steps to War," the author carefully picks up the narrative in post-World War I Europe with the rise of Hitler and the precipitating events which began the war with the invasions of Austria and Poland.

Other chapters, such as "Blitzkrieg," "Battle of Britain," "The Blitz," and "Homefront Britain" reveal Chrisp's British roots. He concentrates on the Big War's epic moments and events, the desert campaign in North Africa, Operation Barbarossa, the Enigma machine, D-Day, and the Holocaust especially, letting the many excellently reproduced illustrations from this highly-photographed war tell the story of the European campaign in the faces of the combatants and homefront participants, from kids sheltering in the Tubes of London to women on the aircraft production line to soldiers in the sands of D-Day.

The book unfortunately gives shorter shrift to the causes and events of the Pacific war, although it does cover the high points of that campaign in chapters such as "Island Campaign," "Assault on Japan." and "A-Bomb." Chrisp does add a substantial contribution to the understanding of the results of the war in his chapters "End of War" and "Nuremberg." Students cannot come away from even a quick reading of this book without some awareness of the magnitude of this conflict and the massive changes it wrought, not the least of which were new technologies and international organizations, the effects of which continue to play out in world events today.

Although only a glossary and index are appended, many embedded-in-text maps, graphs, and of course, those telling photos, from a family's food ration book to the rubble of Nagasaki, bear witness in a way which will lead beginning history buffs to further reading.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Squirrels 1, Cat 0: Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door by Adam Rubin




Of course, professional neighborhood grump, Old Man Forkwire, "so old that when he sneezed, dust came out," has learned his lesson, having already been forced to make a reluctant peace with Those Darn Squirrels! (Clarion, 2009), but now it looks like those pesky rodentia have met their match.

A new neighbor moves in, Little Old Lady Hu, the town baker, with her preternaturally portly, malevolent-looking cat, Muffins. Mrs. Hu's beloved "Snookums," Muffins is a holy terror of a feline, and he soon establishes his reign over those pesky squirrels with just a few well-placed wet willies, noogies, and wedgies. Then Muffins terrorizes Mr. Forkwire's beloved birds, earning the squirrels a rare bit of sympathy from their frenemy Forkwire.

Mr. Forkwire contacts the Mayor about the menace, but the squirrels go him one better in revenge. They hold another of their famous strategy all-nighters, fueled by cheese puffs, and emerge with a plan involving the one thing cats fear above all others--a good dousing.

A typical squirrel Rube Goldberg device dumps a bucket of freezing water all over Muffins just as he's about to feast on Mr. Forkwire's bird friends. The result is, shall we say, deflating to Muffin's ego and reputation.



With Muffins now a humiliated house-bound kitty, the birds and squirrels are sitting pretty, and Little Old Lady Hu shares her pastry wares freely with them every Saturday while Old Man Forkwire is free to paint his beloved birds undisturbed, which is, grouchy to the end, the way he likes it.

In their latest collaboration, Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door (Clarion, forthcoming May 2, 2011) Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri have another winner under their creative belts, a clever and jolly blending of text and the illustrator's art that is a sure kid-pleaser. Publishers Weekly has given this one their coveted starred-review thumbs up, adding "Having already proved they are ideally matched in their debut, Those Darn Squirrels!, Rubin and Salmieri go for two--and succeed."

A glorious giggle-getter!

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hands On: The Manatee Scientists: Saving Vulnerable Species by Peter Lourie

Today is windless, sunny, cold, and perfect.

Why conduct a manatee survey during a cold snap? During the cold periods in south Florida, manatees congregate and find refuge either in the warm 72 degree water of natural springs or in the warm water discharges from big power plants up and down both coasts.

Seeing manatees from a plane is a remarkable experience, John Reynolds says. "You're only seven hundred feet above the water, and you can see them rise to breathe and interact with one another. You see the moms and the calves beside them, many with boat scars on their backs."

Protecting the endangered and threatened species of this planet can be as exciting as flying low, one wing straight down, over Florida's waterways to prepare a yearly census of Florida's beloved manatees,. It can also be as saddening as finding the bones of a Amazonian manatee, raised from a bottle-fed calf only to find she has failed to survive when released in an ogapo, a dark-water tributary of the Amazon, as did Brazilian naturalist Fernando Rosas in his difficult work to support the shy river manatees of South America.

Or perhaps the most exciting biological find could take place on dry land, deep in the Congo's forests, behind the wooden hut of one of the river's most seasoned manatee hunters. Hoping to buy the recently deceased hunter's well-worn harpoons to discourage his sons from taking up his trade, marine field scientist Lucy Keith stumbles upon a treasure trove of biological information in the extensive piles of manatee bones behind the hunter's home, invaluable sources of life cycle and genetic information on the rarely seen and little known African manatee.

It's all in a day's work for a practicing field scientist, as documented in the richly illustrated The Manatee Scientists (SITF): Saving Vulnerable Species (Scientists in the Field Series) (Houghton Mifflin, 2011), the latest in the extensive and noted Scientists in the Field series. Author Peter Lourie doesn't hesitate to take the reader "into the weeds" as he follows his working scientists about their daily work, glamorous and not so glamorous--work which involves not only caring for and releasing injured or abandoned calves, but also capturing healthy specimens to take blood samples, scooping feces from cloudy streams deep in the rain forest, or collecting found remains of deceased animals to learn as much as possible about this reclusive plant-eating water mammal. Knowledge about the life cycle, normal physiology, reproduction, and threats to existence facing these animals is vital to their preservation. As a large (up to 3600 pounds) marine mammal with no means of self defense and a need to eat huge quantities of plant matter daily, this distant cousin of the elephant and aardvark is but one of nature's large water mammals that scientists worldwide are following to reinforce the work of conservationists.

Author Lourie portrays each of these scientists in their regions of the three major Atlantic varieties of the manatee, and backs up his text with lavish color photos of every stage of their work, followed by an appendix with author's notes, an extensive glossary, and a full index to assist in middle school and high school reports.

Just a few of the intriguing titles in this fascinating series are Extreme Scientists: Exploring Nature's Mysteries from Perilous Places (Scientists in the Field Series) (see my review here), Mysterious Universe: Supernovae, Dark Energy, and Black Holes (Scientists in the Field Series), Diving to a Deep-Sea Volcano (Scientists in the Field Series), and Science Warriors: The Battle Against Invasive Species (Scientists in the Field Series).

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Shirley U. Jest! Till Death Do Us Bark by Kate Klise

There once was a rich man who said,
While lying on his deathbed:
"I'm really too ill'
To write a new will."
So he wrote some verses instead.

When multi-millionaire Noah Breth breathes his last, he leaves behind quite a mystery--a mystery which soon involves the whole town of Ghastly, including the residents of 43 Old Cemetery Road.

Seymour Hope, the hopeful adopted son of mystery writer Ignatius B. Grumply and his spectral co-author and everyone's favorite ghost writer, Olive C. Spence, has always wanted a dog. When a large, shaggy wolfhound named Secret adopts him, Seymour takes him home, neglecting to mention to Olive and Ignatius that the dog recently was the beloved companion of the recently deceased town millionaire, Noah Breth. Noah's offspring, the greedy Kitty Breth and brother Kanine Breth, only want to get their hands on their father's money, and Seymour hopes that neither would give a dime of it for the now ownerless dog, since they come to town purely to harry lawyer Rita O'Bitt into giving each of them all of the estate.

And then strange things begin to happen around Ghastly. M. Balm, town librarian, finds a rare wheat penny worth thousands at the back of a bookshelf; Then town restauranteur Shirley U. Jest discovers an even more valuable 1872 two-cent piece in her counter tip jar, and the proprietor of Ghastly Grocers, Kay Daver, finds an even rarer yet half-dime worth $25,000 in the green beans. Now that's a lot of long green!

Meanwhile, back at Spence Mansion, things aren't going well. Secret's all-night barking keeps everyone in town awake. Ignatius, beset by loss of sleep and a sudden-onset of cat allergies, is not a fan of Seymour's hound, and Olive, fearing the dog has driven her missing cat Shadow away, is no fan of Secret either. Seymour is wracked with guilt for lying about the dog's former owner, and decides that he is a bad son and must run away.

Meanwhile, Kitty and Kanine Breth are spreading nasty rumors about each other all over town. Everyone else is looking for valuable coins, and when they're not, they remember to help Sheriff Mike Ondolences search for Seymour, too. Olive feels so badly about Seymour's flight that she writes Ignatius a farewell letter and does a ghostly vanishing act. But in her postscript she mentions that she's leaving a funny gold coin dated 1796 found in front of the house on the dining room table for Ignatius, hoping that they will happily ever after without her.

Things are even stranger than usual in Ghastly, and only Rita O'Bitt has the information that will explain all of these ghastly goings on, the will of the late Noah Breth. And when the ghost of Noah summons Seymour and Secret, still barking, to sit in on the reading of the will, the dear deceased shares the wisdom of his 95 years of life and his one week of his ghostdom:

You make a SMALL CHANGE. It's a grand arrangement that you have there when you're living.

Now start all over when you have to. Make a second draft. Or even a third. Embrace the chance you have to do things over again while you're still alive.

At last everyone gets what Noah Breth was up to when he sold all his property and converted it all into "small change," those aptly chosen rare coins which showed up in chosen places around Ghastly. Now there's just the final and fifth coin to find and those small changes in the lives of Ignatius, Seymour, and the battling Breth scions to be made to make their lives, if not their bank accounts, much richer.

In her Kate Klise series, aptly titled Till Death Do Us Bark: 43 Old Cemetery Road: Book 3, (Harcourt, 2011, forthcoming in May) author Kate Klise and illustrator M.Sarah Klise share the honors in another delightful epistolary novel, leaving no graveyard pun unturned along the way.

With a several interwoven mysteries, even that of Grumply's sudden cat allergies even as the cat Shadow is nowhere to be found, there is plenty to keep the reader turning pages. The text, told totally in letters between the principals and news stories about the coin-cidences about town written by Cliff Hanger, editor of the Ghastly Times, make good use of design and fonts to move the mystery along, but a great deal of the fun is in the black-and-white drawings and the funny funereal wordplay along the way. Previous titles in this series are Over My Dead Body: 43 Old Cemetery Road: Book 2 and Dying to Meet You: 43 Old Cemetery Road: Book One, This is a series that elementary readers will definitely, er, dig.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Why? Questions, Questions by Marcus Pfister



Marcus Pfister's just published Questions, Questions (NorthSouth, 2011) asks the eternal questions, those with answers from the sublime to, well, the practical--from "to glorify God" to "I dunno. I'll Google it for you!" Pfister, author of the Rainbow Fish books, offers no answers, to these eternal questions which humans begin to ask at a very young age. Who paints butterflies with so many colors? Why? Who teaches birds to sing all the songs they know? How do they know where to go in the winter? How many shells make up the shore?

Pfister offers no answers to the sorts of questions small children ask. What he does offer are gorgeous pages of color, page after page of glowing prints in gorgeous color on bright white backgrounds which, if they offer no science or philosophy, reflect the wonder in this beautiful universe that these youthful questions imply. Using his own technique of cardboard shapes and strong acrylic paint, Pfister creates textured prints which invite touch and which are a joy to the eye, only randomly lighted by the trademark metallic color which characterizes his beloved and best-selling Rainbow Fish books.

Questions, Questions is a book to look at with wonder, to inspire wonder, and start discussion with young readers.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

To Friend or Unfriend: Friends (Mostly) by Barbara Joosse


There are bazillions of children's books chronicling the process and joys of friendship, but as the bards have reminded us down the ages, the course of true friendship does not always run smooth.

So it is with BFFs Ruby and Henry. Ruby picks the best birthday presents for friend Henry--not just another coloring book, but a fake nose with adjacent mustache, and she's the professional mourner at his goldfish funerals. And only Henry knows that what Ruby really wants for her birthday is her very own lipstick. But sometimes they disagree, and sometimes they even fight.



But being unfriended is scary, too. What if the former friend finds a new best friend? Who else likes to do all their favorite things together? And will saying "I'm sorry, really sorry!" bring back their friendship?

In the award-winning Barbara Joosse's newest, Friends (Mostly) (Greenwillow Books, 2010) the classic tension between staying independent and being a friend is delineated for the youngest readers, not as a steady state but as an ebb and flow, even on the final page, where we see a snoozing Henry on his beach towel and Ruby, with a devilish gleam in her eye, sneaking up with a fat balloon and a pin poised to give him a rude awakening. Lively and colorful cartoons by Tomaso Milian fill the pages with plenty of motion to hold the reader's attention. It's not Shakespeare's King Lear, but it's a easy beginning to the understanding of human relationships as a never-ending process.

Joosse's ending?


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Friday, April 22, 2011

"A Poem As A Gift:" Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies

"A poem is like a globed' fruit," a poet once said, and some special books of poetry give the same feeling: full and ripe, rich and beautiful, and offering much in the way of experience. Such a book is Julie Andrews' book of poems and songs.

Being, as she says in her preface, always aware of the natural music in poetry, Andrews and her co-selector, daughter Emma Hamilton, have seamlessly blended hymns, ("All Things Bright and Beautiful,") venerable pieces ("Loveliest of Trees by A.E. Housman, "There Is No Frigate Like A Book" by Emily Dickinson," "When in Disgrace with Fortune" by William Shakespeare, and "Pied Beauty" by Gerard Manley Hopkins) modern children's authors ("Sick" by Shel Silverstein, "September" by John Updike, "Be Glad Your Nose Is On Your Face" by Jack Prelutsky, "Skyscrapers" by Rachel Field,) and song lyrics ('Oh, What A Beautiful Morning" and "A Cockeyed Optimist" by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and "My Ship" by Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill.)

Combining Johnny Mercer and John Masefield together, or William Blake, A.A. Milne, Edward Lear and Robert Frost, or Ogden Nash and Robert Louis Stevenson, for that matter. Andrews includes, along with some surprises such as Stephen Sondheim, most of the noted children's (and adult) poets--Longfellow, Tennyson, Eugene Field, Mary Ann Hoberman, Nikki Grimes, and Langston Hughes, and even sneaking in a few of her own poems along the way.

Divided into sections (All Things Bright and Beautiful, Talk to the Animals, Sea-Fever, et al), this is a balanced collection, lyrical poems with limericks and lullabies, humor and the joy of living in The Wonderful World from whatever source, with the common thread of good taste and the premise that, with or without music, well-chosen words can sing.

Artist James McMullan's lovely paintings set off the selections in a way which augments rather than distracts from the poems themselves, and an accompanying CD of Andrews reading some of her selections is appended. If you add just one poetry anthology to the bookshelf this April and haven't already gotten this one, Julie Andrews' Collection of Poems, Songs, and LullabiesChildren's Fairy Tales, Folk Tales & Myths Anthologies) (Little, Brown and Company) is the one.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bloodhate: Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler

So what if people called her a poser, a loser, a goth? It didn't matter. None of it mattered. Missy walked on, eyes straight ahead, clutching her books to her chest.

"Freak alert," crowed one of the guys--either Matt 1 or Matt 2, one of Adam's bro-hos, his adoring fans who thought he was God.

"Emo cutter girl," said the other Matt. "Careful, she'll bleed all over you."

"Or cry all over you."


After Adam ditched her and told everyone about her secret scars, Missy has resolved to leave Adam and all he represents behind, telling herself over and over, "I don't need the blade." But when the pressure builds--her popular sister's bitter resentment, her high-powered parents' inability to recognize what she is doing to herself, and Adam's final searing betrayal--Missy finally seeks out the white box in the back of the closet, and what is meant to be a cleansing cut turns into a severed artery.

All that mattered was the blood. She had to bleed out the badness, bleed until she could breathe again.

Bleeding out, Melissa Miller began to die

As she tries to reach the phone beside her bed, Death appears, in the form of a guitar-strumming Kurt Cobain look-alike, with an ironic smile and a deal for Missy. As her life ebbs, he places a box before her.

"Either take the box, Melissa Miller, or take thy rest." Death's words echoed in her bones, frosted her soul. "Choose now."

And as she opens the box, Melissa becomes War, the second horseman of the Apocalypse, recruited by Death for duties she cannot imagine. She is given a red cloak, a red warhorse, and a sword that she can summon at will, a sword which is the mythic expression of rage and hate, one which, as she flies above the world on her red steed Aries, gives her the power of visiting violence upon the world below.

But as Missy begins to understand the dread powers of her role, Death also reminds her of two other powers, control and balance, and as Missy understands and assumes the responsibility for her own slashing rage, she sees herself and her role very differently.

In the wake of the first book in this series, Hunger (Riders of the Apocalypse), in which she dealt with teen anorexia, Kessler moves on to that other scourge, self-mutilation. Her premise, that the drive to mutilate stems from pent-up rage against the high school social scene, a condition in which hate is expiated by turning on the self, has its advocates, and her theme is that as Missy comes to understand and control her rage, she gains that control over herself, her life, and as Kessler suggests, may, in her role as War, wield the cleansing power of her double-edged sword as destroyer-preserver.

Author Kessler's writing is indeed gripping, her characters vivid. However, the mythological setting of the Four Riders seems strained, especially in light of her hopeful ending for the heroine of her first novel, Lisabeth Lewis, who becomes Famine. Famine seems to have gone over to the dark side between books, and here becomes Missy's enemy. But Kessler's writing has matured, grim and disturbing as the scenes she portrays are. Rage (Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Book 2) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) is not for everyone, suggesting as it does that a disturbed sixteen-year-old can vanquish the pain and suffering of the world by taking it into herself and mastering it. But it is an admirable attempt to cast the well-publicized teen problem of self-mutilation into some sort of framework for the reader who has the stomach for its grim realities.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What's YOUR Cartouche? Hieroglyphics by Sean Callery



With our mentor Dr. Cameron Stone, esteemed Egyptologist, we are off on a quest to solve the mystery of the missing golden cat, learning to decipher hieroglyphics which within their code carry the clues to to the secret chamber where the much-sought prize will be found.

In an Indiana Jones-style frame story, Sean Callery's CodeQuest: Hieroglyphs: Solve the Mystery from Ancient Egypt (Kingfisher, 2010) takes us into a dark and mysterious Egyptian museum, where we are met by an equally mysterious green-eyed girl, her face covered by a green scarf, who is our guide.

As we race after the elusive Nefret, she takes us through chamber after chamber where the mystery of hieroglyphics is revealed. Glowing illustrations, photographs and digital art show off the beauty and secrets of this ancient writing. The many fold-outs, sidebars, notes to translate, and a succession of clues which use what is taught along the way will keep the reader moving through the book while deciphering the messages she leaves behind and get them writing and reading hieroglyphs as they go. An accompanying CD gives the reader the option of using the included hieroglyphic fonts to construct their own names (cartouches) and write their own messages like the ancient Egyptians did.

For kids who are fascinated by codes and ciphers, there is plenty here to reward the reader who persists through the quest. Another fun book in the CodeQuest series include Inca Gold: Solve the Mystery of the Golden Corn (Codequest).

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Odd Couple: Ribbit Rabbit by Candace Regan

Frog and Bunny are what you might call inseparable friends. In fact, you might as well call them Ribbit Rabbit.





But like all good friends, they sometimes get out of sorts with each other. Bunny wants to play with Frog's robot but Frog nixes the switch, so Bunny grabs the all-important key which makes the toy run.


It's a standoff. Things are at an impasse between the best friends, each clutching their prize defiantly.

Except... a key is no good without a robot to wind up. A robot is no good if it won't move. Now no one can have fun!

It's time to negotiate a truce and pool their assets!


In Candace Ryan's brand-new Ribbit Rabbit (Walker, 2011), it's finally one for all and all for one in this classic tale of friendship, told cleverly in Ryan's sophisticated but simple rhyming wordplay, and artist Mike Lowery's just-right wry illustrations. Done up in a subdued but appealing palette, with each of the protagonists given their signature color, Lowery's stylized characters' body language and droll facial expressions tell the story in parallel with the fun-to-hear text. There are lots of possibilities for using this one with the youngest of possible friends, despite their occasional differences.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Songs of the Book: I Am the Book, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Who's rich?
The boy who has a book he hasn't read yet.
The girl with a tower by her bed....
Her life starts everywhere.

April is Poetry Month, and notable editor Lee Bennett Hopkins, the dean of children's poetry publishing, has selected thirteen modern poems which celebrate the adventure and fun of reading. Artist Diego Herrera gets in on the fun with bright acrylic illustratons which personify the familar form of book as a pirate ship, a whale's tail, a treasure chest of riches, as poets explore the reading experience from a child's point of view.

This book is the best! I woke up this morning to read it before I got dressed. This book is so cool! It's the first thing I grabbed after school.

The just-published I Am the Book (Holiday House, 2011) features familiar authors such as Jane Yolen, who's imagination vivifies the reading experience as "Words/Nudge each other/like bumper cars/at the fair"....while Kristine O'Donnell celebrates the quiet side when she says "If you have a book...this great new book to read/Who needs a window seat?" Bennett's appendix offers thumbnail biographies of each of his poets and his selections offer plenty of instructive examples of poetic language--alliteration, onomatopoeia, simile and metaphor--and all of them offer vivid word pictures to delight the mind in the way that only a book can.

This book is just right. I'm reading it by flashlight deep into the night.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Where, Oh, Where? Disappearing Desmond by Anna Alter



Camo-clad Desmond appears on the title page of Anna Alter's Disappearing Desmond (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010) disappearing into the foliage behind him, and as the story points out, his whole family has a way of blending into the wallpaper as well.

At school Desmond is both there and not there. In library, he peers through the bookshelves at everyone and on the playground he quickly climbs into the refuge of the tree house tower. He shows up on an aquarium field trip in wet suit and snorkel inside the tank with the fishes and sea turtle. He even dons an Elizabethan mustache and hides in plain sight in front of the Shakespeare poster, making himself undetectable to the teacher's casual glance. Something must be done!

And then GLORIA happens. The class gets a new girl who loves to be the center of attention. She wears bright colors and likes to put herself center stage in every activity. And wonder of wonders, Gloria seems to have a thing for noticing the retiring Desmond no matter how well concealed he thinks he is. Then, one day during free-reading time, she turns the sunshine of her attention right on him.


And in that magical way that a popular friend can transform the class shrinking violet into a star, Desmond disappears no more. He even shows up at school wearing a loud plain sweater and everyone sees him for the first time. Desmond wonders why he ever shrank from view and sets out to bring all the other "disappearing" kids into the game as well.

With intriguing patterned backgrounds among which our hero and his shy cohorts find refuge, Alter's nicely illustrated Disappearing Desmond provides a bit of visual fun spotting the elusive Desmond and his bashful mates, while providing an easy-going bit of bibliotherapy for the group gifted with the undiscovered riches of the shy classmate. As School Library Journal remarks, "a reassuring tale of friendship that gives voice to young wallflowers and their secret desire to connect with others."

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Camp Rocks: The Jelly Beans and the Big Camp Kickoff by Laura Numeroff

It's summertime and the Jellybeans, a group of girls united by their love for those little oval, bright-colored candies and their passion for their individual interests are off for their first sleepover camp experience. They are a bit nervous on the bus, but with each other for support, they feel they'll fit in just fine.

And they all do, except for Nicole. Emily hangs out at the studio with the other devoted dancers and builds leg strength on long nature walks. Artsy Bitsy starts making everyone personalized macaroni necklaces. And bookworm Anna hits the camp library for books on the local flora and fauna. But to her dismay, Nicole finds that there is NO soccer team at Camp Pook-a-Wow. Bummer!

"I'm sorry, Nicole," said Mrs. Jangley-Cheezer, "but Camp Pook-A-Wow doesn't have a soccer team. There are lots of other sports you could try."

Gamely, Nicole tries out all the camp sports. A self-proclaimed tomboy, she's good at most of them--swimming, archery, kayaking--but for a girl who takes her soccer ball to bed, she feels somehow out of sync at camp despite the usual fun of campfire ghost tales and marshmallow roasts. The other Jellybeans are right at home at Pook-A-Wow, but Nicole still feels like the odd Jellybean out.

Then she gets an inspiration! The nearby rival camp has a soccer team. Perhaps she can recruit some campers, share her skills, and give Camp Pook-A-Wow a winning team. Now if she can just get her best friends to lend their skills to the action, she may just salvage her summer.

Laura Numeroff and Nate Evans again combine the authorly skills with noted illustrator Lynn Munsinger in the latest in their best-selling series, The Jellybeans and the Big Camp Kickoff (Abrams, 2011) in a light-hearted confection of a picture book which makes the potentially traumatic first camp experience go down like a spoonful of sugar. Numeroff's little heroines again show that their individual differences and interests provide strength to their group of friends as they master yet another of the milestones of childhood with their friendship still alive--and kickin'.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Verb Play: Bedtime Bunnies by Wendy Watson



Along with the familiar sandbox and slide set, our kids have another playground to explore and master as they grow--the English language.

Veteran author Wendy Watson's newest, Bedtime Bunnies (Clarion, 2010) is a simple-seeming little bedtime story, with cute, rounded bunnies bundled off to bed with the usual familiar routines--snacks, toothbrushing, pajama-ing, snuggle-story time, and lights out, all comforting and predictable pro forma steps in the traditional bedtime tale. Watson, however, measures and weighs her language sparingly and expertly, with each activity described by only four words--onomatopoetic verbs, with plenty of alliteration and rhymes sprinkled throughout to give them punch.

The bunnies don't just eat their bedtime carrots--they chomp, they munch, they gobble, they crunch. They don't just brush teeth--they squirt, they scrub, they splutter, they spit. Watson's rounded little bunnies bounce exuberantly through this nighttime ritual, four of them compliant, one just a little bit of a maverick, until all are finally tucked in bed for the final goodnight hugs and kisses.

It's a sweet story that'll have most kids moving toward nighty-night time themselves, but not without a little language lesson along the way. Bedtime Bunnies offers almost irresistible opportunities for parents to encourage a little bedtime wordsmith improvisation of their own and a bit of fun at the end of the day that sends the little ones off to dreamland with a smile.

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