BooksForKidsBlog

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Friending and Unfriending: My Best Frenemy by Julie Bowe


Stacey is my one and only best friend. Maybe if I was taller or wider or louder or prettier I would need more than one so I could spread myself around more. Like Brooke Morgan. She’s the prettiest girl in my fourth grade class at Purdee Elementary. She’s also tall. And kind of loud. It takes a lot of friends to soak her up.

But not me.

And not Stacey.

We’re happy with just one best friend each.

But it’s the middle of the fourth grade, and things are changing. Brooke has dropped her former best friend Jenna and seems to have decided to make Stacey her new BF. And Stacey seems to like it that way. She hangs out with Ida when she’s not doing dance stuff with Brooke, still sharing a giant cookie at the Purdee Good Café after dance lessons, but the other times when the two have usually spent time with each other seem to have been lost to Brooke’s constant demands.

Then, when Jenna’s Truth or Dare game becomes the girls’ favorite recess activity, Ida is dared to shout “There’s a mouse in my macaroni and cheese,” in the cafeteria and gets sent to the principal along with Quinn, whom Randi accuses of planting the miscreant mouse in the macaroni. Ida feels compelled to tell the truth for Quinn’s sake and finds herself ostracized by the girls. Even Stacey, although sympathetic, seems to be avoiding her everywhere.

Strangely, Jenna seems to be the only one who wants to spend time with her, prickly Jenna who always seemed the bossy one in the group. Then Ida learns that her penance for “spilling the beans” to the principal is a triple-dog-dare, requiring that she let Meeka pierce her ears at Brooke’s sleepover. Ida’s parents have told her she absolutely cannot have her ears pierced until she is at least ten, and besides, Ida is really scared of Meeka’s big embroidery needles! How can she get out of this triple-dog-dare and still stay friends with the girls?

In this pivotal entry in her Friends for Keeps series, Julie Bowe’s My Best Frenemy (Friends for Keeps)(Dial Books, 2010) is a funny, poignant, and honest account of the changes in middle elementary friendship. Ida is a self-aware and clear-eyed observer of the normal shifting in relationships as the girls diverge in their interests and begin to notice that boys have real possibilities as well:


I think about how much I like meeting Stacey and sharing a cookie and talking about best friend stuff. But sometimes plans change. Sometimes friendships do, too. Not in a bad way... Just in a different way. Maybe even a good way. Because even though I still like Stacey, I know I’m not exactly like her.

And that’s okay.

Fans of this insightful series will not want to miss My Best Frenemy (Friends for Keeps) and Bowe's forthcoming-in-July sequel, Friends for Keeps: My Forever Friends and will look forward eagerly to seeing how the changes within the girls’ relationships will work themselves out as the school year comes to a close.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Talking Dog Story: RRRalph by Lois Ehlert


OUR DOG CAN TALK!

I ASKED, "WHAT'S YOUR NAME?"

"RRRALPH RALPH!"

What a talented mutt! In Lois Ehlert's just-out collage extravaganza, RRRalph (Beach Lane, 2011), Ralph has an answer for every question.

When his young owner searches for him in the yard and calls for him to tell her where he is, he answers from the top of his doghouse

"ROOF ROOF!"

Storytime audiences and young readers will quickly catch on to the device and begin to predict Ralph's answers to the next questions--what's on tree trunks? "Bark! Bark!,/span>"; that scary critter outside the fence has to be a... "Wolf" at the gate; and Ralph readily answers "Yep! Yep!" to an invitation to enjoy the sanctuary inside the house.

Ralph is a trademark Ehlert collage creation, with button eyes, a soda-can pop-top nose, and a zipper for teeth. Ehlert augments her "found object" collage illustrations with textured paints set against brilliantly bright pages, and with her giggle-getting and brain-teasing wordplay riddles, this latest is sure to earn a BOW and WOW from the picture book crowd.

As one reviewer says, "Bold and bright, filled with kid-pleasing riddles and collage illustrations, this is a perfect offering for new readers and storytime. Will these young readers want to create a sequel? Yip! Yip! --Kirkus Reviews, (starred review)

Ehlert is the undisputed master of this genre. Some of her other masterpieces of collage art books are Waiting for Wings, Leaf Man (Ala Notable Children's Books. Younger Readers (Awards)), Planting a Rainbow, Color Zoo, and the mega-cool Snowballs.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

When You're Smilin': Birdy's Smile Book by Laurie Keller

...SMILES MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY.

...I'M NOT SURE WHY, BUT CHEESE MAKES PEOPLE HAPPY, TOO. WHENEVER SOMEONE TAKES A PICTURE, THEY SAY, "SAY "CHEESE"!"

EVERYONE SAYS "CHEESE!" AND THEY SMILE.

I LIKE THAT.

Birdy is a gelotologist, which she cheerfully tells us is someone who studies smiles and smiling. She points out that she herself can smile while doing anything--standing on her head, climbing a tree. Well, almost anything. Smiling is not likely while eating broccoli.

Birdy may except eating broccoli, but she remarks that smiles make most things better. Even George Washington, with his dentures, a combination of carved hippo horn and cows' teeth, would have looked better if he had smiled for his portraits.

Of course, smiles are not all-powerful.

MY GRANDFATHER SAYS MY SMILE CAN LIGHT UP A ROOM.

I WISH IT COULD CLEAN UP MY ROOM!

But smiling can increase our endorphins, which can only improve doing chores, right?

But even Birdy admits that there are times when smiles just don't come.

IT'S EASY TO SMILE WHEN I'M GLAD.

BUT SOMETIMES I FEEL BAD OR MAD OR SAD.

MY SMILE IS SMART, THOUGH. IT KNOWS WHEN TO LEAVE ME ALONE...AND WHEN TO COME BACK.

Birdy's Smile Book (Christy Ottaviano Books) (Henry Holt, 2010) Laurie Keller's quirky illustrations enliven what is actually a fairly substantial treatise on the smile, appropriately brightened with her cheerful heroine's wit and bright grin, even when her dog, French Fry, piddles on someone's stylish shoes. And who knows? Maybe Birdy's contagious smile really can spread all the way to Timbuktu.

As a built-in bonus, readers can try out their own smiles on the full-page mirror at the end of the book. No smile? Just say "Cheese"!

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Root, Root, Root for the Home Team: Take Me Out to the Ballgame

KATIE CASEY WAS BASEBALL MAD.

SHE HAD THE FEVER AND SHE HAD IT BAD!

Katie Casey is one cat who knows what to do with a bat, and when she heads out to Sluggers Stadium to see her favorite team in action. It's a standoff between the big bat of Crocodile and the trick curve ball of Giraffe, and the crowd is ready for a dandy duel between this duo.

In rhyming verse, this frame story leads into the famous words of the song "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" which becomes the narrative of the big game. Big, vivid illustrations by Amiko Hirao take youngsters through the game, and Grammy winner Carly Simon's CD performance of the famous song in Take Me Out to the Ball Game (Imagine, 2011) make this one just right for singalong fun. Pair this one with Brian Lies' Bats at the Ballgame for big time ballgame story times.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Judy Drewdy On the Case: Judy Moody, Girl Detective by Megan McDonald

Nancy Drew was always vexed by her cases. Judy Moody was vexed and perplexed. Which was just a fancy-Nancy way of saying stumped.

Or was she?

"Jeepers! I think I've got it!" Judy cried.

Jeepers, book blog chums! Hop in the roadster and let's do some sleuthing!

Judy Moody's got the Nancy Drew fever and is reading all 56 titles in the series. And when Judy gets the fever, the whole neighborhood has an epidemic! Judy can't wait to find a real mystery to solve, and when Officer Kop's police-dog-in-training, chocolate Lab Mr. Chips goes missing, Moody, a.k.a. Judy Drewdy, alias Liz Inkwell, quickly swears in little brother Stink (a.k.a James Madagascar), and friends Rocky (a.k.a. Spuds Houdini) and Frank (a.k.a. Dills Pickle) with the Nancy Drew oath.

It seems baloney sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies have been disappearing all over town, and the connection to the missing Mr, Chips seems elementary, my dear, to Agent Inkwell. In her persona as girl detective Judy goes about town interviewing witnesses and looking for clues at the scene of...well, food disappearances, spouting retro girl sleuthisms. Still, her Drewisms don't seem to be turning up any useful clues.

Judy Moody was in a mood. An UN-detective mood. A bummed-out, not-Nancy Drew mood. Mystery UN-solved.

Then Judy has a mysterious moment of truth. Girl sleuths can't afford moods. They never give up.

Judy comes up with a plan. Taking a page from The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion, she decides to lay a trap with chocolate chip crumbs to attract the thief. and she and her gumshoe chums set up the surveillance until the crook appears. The case is as good as solved.

Megan McDonald's ninth book in the best-selling Judy Moody series, Judy Moody, Girl Detective (Book #9) (Candlewick Press, 2010), is a bit light on clues, crime, and punishment, but long on fun for the beginning chapter mystery reader. As always, Peter Reynolds' pen-and-ink drawings break up and enliven the text with his own brand of visual humor, and readers who are at all familiar with the Nancy Drew books will get a kick out of McDonald's witty allusions, even making the fictitious hack author's name (Stratemeyer) the name of a minor character.

CASE CLOSED.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Driving Dad to Distraction: Mitchell's License by Hallie Durand

MITCHEL NEVER WANTED TO GO TO BED,

UNTIL HIS DAD FINALLY SAID HE COULD DRIVE THERE.

At age three years, nine months, and five days, Mitchell is too young even for drivers' ed, but when his own personal license is presented to him by his game dad, he settles himself like a pro in the driver's seat (Dad's shoulders), grips the wheel (Dad's ears) firmly, and takes his new vehicle out for a trial spin. Hmmmm! That windshield (Dad's glasses) could use a better set of wipers.

Then, VROOM!, Mitchell is off in his own little deuce coupe for a trial run. Mitch has a small fender-bender with the wall on the first loop, but with a quick shift into reverse, he's back on track. Honk! Honk! He hits the horn (Dad's nose).

Now Mitch is getting comfortable with his brakes and transmission system, but poor Dad is beginning to pant a bit from the pace.

A spot of "oil" from Mitchell's sippy cup poured under the hood (long-suffering Dad's mouth) fixes that sputter, but Mom the Mechanic make another observation.

"YOU NEED GAS," SHE SAID.

Mitch flips on his headlights (flashlight) and motors by the drive-in (kitchen) and right up to the cookie jar.

"NO GAS," SAID THE CAR.

Mitch is taken aback. His car has never talked or balked before! Instead, the car makes an abrupt U-turn and heads for--you guessed it--Mitchell's bed, the parking place Dad has been planning for all along.

In Hallie Durand's new Mitchell's License (Candlewick Press, 2011), most of the fun for kids and for parents comes from award-winning (for Let's Do Nothing! and the 2011 Caldecott book Bink and Gollie (ALA Notable Children's Books. Younger Readers (Awards)) Tony Fucille's characters' expressions. Mitchell the driver looks more and more like a NASCAR pro on his final winning lap, and Dad, well, Dad's face changes from dogged good nature to downright grim as his son's "driving" becomes more and more wild. But Hallie Durand's clever story line leads them down the last lap and into the parking garage (Mitchell's bedroom) with aplomb and at last with a PLOP! as Mitchell's "car" turns out to be a James Bond Special with a powerful ejection device which brings Madman Mitch right down where he's supposed to be at bedtime.

As Publishers Weekly puts it, "this one is destined for family favoritehood."

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Secrets of the Dead: Ghost Dog Secrets by Peg Kehret

That night I awoke suddenly. The numbers on the clock beside my bed said 12:16.

It felt cold in my room.

Intending to walk across the room to check the window, I groggily swung my feet over the side of the bed. It was like sticking my legs into a tank of ice water.

Instantly wide awake, I looked beside my bed. The dog ghost stared back at me. The cold air that swirled around my feet came from her.

The dog ghost did not appear menacing. Instead she trotted to my bedroom door, which was closed. She turned back, as if to say, Let's go.

When Rusty notices a thin, dispirited German shepherd chained without food or water outside a dilapidated house in freezing rain, he feels called to try to do something for the dog. Despite his harried mom's warning to mind his own business, he buys dog chow and stealthily feeds the dog after school every day. As the weather worsens, he even secretly places a call to the county humane officer, who reminds him that he must have five days' photographic proof that the dog is being neglected before she can make an inquiry. Rusty begins to take snapshots of the dog every day, and when his best friend Andrew questions where he hurries off to every afternoon, he even enlists him in the mission.

At first he is afraid to tell Andrew about the ghost dog he sees lying with the German shepherd, a misty white collie who vanishes when anyone else approaches. But when the ghost dog summons him to the house late at night to find what he is beginning to think of as "his" dog obviously injured, he and Andrew decide that the dog can't wait for the county to take action. They take the dog to their treehouse hideout in the woods near Rusty's house to keep him safe from his cruel owner's beatings.

But still the ghost dog comes for Rusty at night, and following her to the house, Rusty finds what he needs to compel the officers to act quickly--clear evidence of a meth lab inside the ramshackle house and a new, obviously mistreated watchdog chained in the yard. Then, when Rusty persuades his mother to drive by the house to show her why he had to take the dog, the dog's owner spots Rusty in the car, notes the license plate number, and later follows them to their house with threats of violent retribution.

Peg Kehret's latest adventure novel for middle readers, Ghost Dog Secrets(Dutton, 2010) is more than just a page-turner of a ghost story, although it is indeed that. Her story, filled with realistically drawn characters, deals with several moral dilemmas--keeping secrets from parents, breaking family rules to save an abused animal's life, and the big question of whether removing such an animal is stealing or a brave act of mercy. The story is fast paced, and despite the element of fantasy, comes to a credible and suspenseful climax with the police at last on Rusty's side. Rusty is a believable and likable main character, and the element of fantasy is handled within the bounds of good storytelling in this latest novel from the award-winning Kehret.

Peg Kehret is also the noted author of many middle reader thrillers, including Stolen Children, Escaping the Giant Wave, and Abduction!

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

LaRue on the Road: LaRue Across America: Postcards from the Vacation by Mark Teague

SNORT CITY REGISTER/GAZETTE

HEAT WAVE HARMS HIBBINS! TWO CATS STRANDED! LARUE CANCELS TRIP!

Ike LaRue, America's favorite Airedale, is back in his fourth epistolary adventure, LaRue Across America: Postcards From the Vacation (LaRue Books) ((Blue Sky Press, 2011) co-starring his long-time arch-enemies, Leona Hibbins' two feisty felines. When their mistress is taken off to the hospital with heat exhaustion, Ike's kindly owner Gertrude LaRue gladly cancels their vacation cruise, to Ike's vast disappointment, and our canine hero finds himself an unwilling passenger, sharing the backseat of their weary station wagon with two cats who obviously are enjoying Ike's discomfiture to the max.

As Ike LaRue watches their erstwhile luxury cruise ship steam away, the two felines rejoice and set out to make Ike rue every minute of their cross country trip. Ike does his best to dump the two from the deck of the Empire State Building:

"When I tried to hold them up so that they could get a better view, they turned on me viciously"

Ike's series of postcards to Leona Hibbins grow ever more desperate as the increasingly grim Mrs. LaRue chauffeurs her pesky passengers from one scenic destination to the next across the continent.

From: Big Earl's Motel, Bazooka, WI
Dear Mrs. Hibbins, We were forced to stay in this vile motel, as none of the finer establishments will accept cats! Please reply promptly.

As Ike acquires bandaids and other insults to his person and dignity, the incompatible tourists visit Dino-Land Theme Park, Nostril Creek, Kansas, and even the Grand Canyon, as Ike regretfully learns that the U.S. Postal Service will not accept live cats for parcel post delivery back to Snort City.

At last LaRue's luck changes. Gertrude's superannuated station wagon dies in Death Valley, and the unlikely group are rescued by a true officer and gentleman, Gustave Blim, First Mate of the SS Mermaid, who gives them a lift and a complementary cruise on his own luxurious ship, where Ike and the two cats call a temporary truce over a room service fish platter.

For fans of the previous three Ike adventures or first-timers, this is a wonderfully funny road-trip tale. As in the other hilarious LaRue books, Ike's self-serving missives make for lots of fun, set ironically against his own fantasies (in black-and-white, since dogs don't visualize in color) and the actual proceedings as portrayed most comically by master illustrator Mark Teague. For a quick video look at this adventure, here's the book's trailer : LaRue Across America: Postcards From the Vacation (LaRue Books)
video

Kirkus Reviews says of this sea-to-shining-sea epistle: "This furry fiasco is fabulous fun. No pussyfooting here, just the cat's meow of a doggie's tale of woe. Bone Voyage."

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Name Game: I Am Not Alexander by Jennifer Fosberry

"GOOD MORNING, ALEXANDER," FATHER SAID. "TIME FOR BREAKFAST, AND THEN LET'S PLAY BALL!"

"I AM NOT ALEXANDER," SAID THE LITTLE BOY.

"THEN WHO'S BEEN SLEEPING IN MY SON'S BED?" ASKED THE FATHER.

"I AM THEODORE! THE GREATEST, GRANDEST PRESIDENT WHO EVER WAS."

"WELL, THEODORE, PARK YOURSELF HERE AND SAVE YOUR ENERGY FOR TODAY'S GAME."

Changeable Charlie has nothing on this little redhead, who is an obvious biography buff and changes his persona faster than the weather. When his dad tries to hurry the process along, our little boy has a mood change.

"I AM NOT THEODORE! I AM THOMAS, THE GREATEST INVENTOR WHO EVER WAS." "WELL, THOMAS, LET ME THAT BRILLIANT SMILE LIGHT UP THE ROOM."

Dad remains unruffled as his companion morphs first in to Chief Joseph, "the greatest warrior," and Fred, the "smoothest dancer who ever was," and just as they sit down for dinner, he gives his punster papa his best lines of the day:

"MY NAME IS NOT FRED! I AM JACKIE, THE BRAVEST, BALL PLAYER WHO EVER STOLE HOME PLATE."

"WELL, JACKIE, YOU STOLE MY HEART. NOW CLEAN HOME PLATE!"

And at PJ time, "Jackie" pays his patient papa the the ultimate compliment in his book; he's not Jackie, he declares.

"I AM DADDY, THE GREATEST FATHER WHO EVER WAS!"

In her new companion book to the popular My Name Is Not Isabella: Just How Big Can a Little Girl Dream? (see my recent review here), author Jennifer Fosberry and able illustrator Tim Litwin continue their famous name-dropping tour of some popular elementary school biographical figures in their latest, My Name Is Not Alexander, this time focusing on male personages. Pair these two to introduce a unit on biographies of famous Americans, abetted by Fosberry's brief appendix with biographical sketches of each of Alexander's alter egos and an ample list of web sites to explore the lives of his heroes.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jolly Jeep: Honk, Honk! Beep, Beep! by Daniel Kirk

WAKE UP, SLEEPYHEAD!
TIME'S A-WASTIN'!
OUT OF BED!

It's dark, and the two toys, father and son (both pla-skool-type figures), are early risers, up and off on the job. As a human boy sleeps on under his covers, this crew of two leaps into their red jeep and careen out of their parking spot on a search-and-rescue mission. Headlights gleam and tires squeal as the two head out to pick up all the toy people scattered over the bed. Two rabbits are located and urged to hop in as the two roll on.

WORKERS FINISHING WITH THEIR SHIFT.
"BUDDY, CAN WE HAVE A LIFT?"

The red jeep makes the rounds through the hills and valleys of the coverlet as their vehicle becomes more and more crowded. A hill looms ahead. Is the overloaded jeep up to the climb?

SQUEEZE IN TIGHT. THE JEEP IS FULL
NEARLY TOO MUCH WEIGHT TO PULL!

At last the jeep creeps to the top of the rise, a windowsill which overlooks a sunrise just stealing over the back yard. As the passengers pile out to admire the sight, their boy awakens and joins them, smiling with the prospect of another day and more play.

WHAT A DAY! HONK, HONK! BEEP, BEEP!

Daniel Kirk, notable author of the Library Mouse series, brings his vivid colors and Toy-Story-type characters into his latest solo effort, Honk Honk! Beep Beep! (Hyperion, 2010) in this chipper toy adventure, good for the early preschool and emergent reader audience. Easy text in rhythmic rhymes, with an irresistible sing-along refrain of "Honk, Honk! Beep, Beep! for the story circle make this one a good one to pair with any of the other popular vehicular tales, such as Kevin Lewis' My Truck is Stuck! (also illustrated by Daniel Kirk) or Jon Scieszka's Smash! Crash! (Jon Scieszka's Trucktown) for a rockin''n' rollin' read-up.

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

How Many Is Too Many? Too Many Fairies: A Celtic Tale by Margaret Read McDonald

There was once an old woman who hated housework. One day she began to grumble.

"WORK! WORK! WORK!"

"HATE IT! HATE IT! HATE!

But it seems that this is her lucky day. Her complaints call in a troupe of fairies.

"Your luck has come! Open the door.

Let me in and you'll work no more."

One by one the fairies enter and take up her hated chores.

"Clankety clankety!" One does the dishes.

"Swishety swishety!" Another sweeps the floors.

"Flumpety Flumpety!" A third straightens the bedclothes.

"Clickety clickety!" The final fairy makes the knitting needles fly.

The work is being done, but the racket in the little cottage is unbearable. The old woman finally shouts:

"Fairies! STOP!"

TOO MANY FAIRIES!

But instead of dropping the work and leaving, the fairies begin to undo all their work. Dishes and floor are re-dirtied; the bedclothes and knitting are all undone and tangled on the floor!What to do? The old woman locks her messy cottage up behind her and goes to see the wise woman of the village for advice. The wise woman tells her to turn everything in her cottage upside down, lock the door against the fairies no matter what they do, and then gives the old woman some special advice.

"And NEVER complain again!"

The angry fairies try all their tricks to get inside and do all the work all over again, even calling upon the broom to open the door, but the head-downward broom cannot obey. Then, with the fairies at last vanquished, the old woman sets out to put everything to rights. It's more work than ever, and the old woman still doesn't like doing it.

"Work! Work! Work! How I...

She stopped just in time.

...love it! Love it! LOVE IT!

Margaret McDonald's Too Many Fairies: A Celtic Tale (Marshall Cavendish, 2010), cheerily illustrated by Susan Mitchell, is a jolly Celtic version of the old folktale best told by Margot and Harve Zemach, It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale (Michael Di Capua books) in which a grumpy head of household learns an equally pointed lesson about constant complaints.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Loaded and Railroaded: All Aboard the Dinotrain by Deb Lund and HowardFine

"FAREWELL!" THE DINOFAMILIES CRY.
WITH CHEERS, THE DINOS WAVE GOOD-BYE,
ADVENTURES WAIT JUST DOWN THE TRACK.
"WE'RE OFF!" THEY SAY. "BUT WE'LL BE BACK!"

As clearly promised in the previous dino-adventure, Dinosailors board book Houghton Mifflin, 2011), the spirited saurians are off for another trip--this time by train. The motley crew, striped railroad caps and overalls and all, clamber atop the railroad cars and chug away. With tons and tons of dinos aboard, their train is clearly stressed. no express. In fact, as they begin their climb up into the beckoning snow-capped mountains, the dino-crew find that they have to provide a bit of motive muscle to the mix.

"WE THINK WE CAN!" THEY DINOSAY.
"OUR DINOMIGHT WILL SAVE THE DAY."

But even dino-motivation can't quite come up with the motion until they dino-download some dinofreight. At last they make the peak. Now they're rolling!

THEY DINOSCREAM AND SQUEAL,"YIPPEE!"
AND WAVE THEIR DINOARMS WITH GLEE.

But the dinoglee is short-lived. Careening down the other side of the mountain, they are greeted by a frightful dinosight!

"OH,NO!" THE DINOBRAKEMEN SHOUT!
"THE TRAIN WON'T STOP. THE TRESTLE'S OUT!"

Yep, it's another dino-disaster! On sea or land, it seems the travellin' saurians are bound to wind up soggy. As the train makes the hurdle over the broken bridge, its crew dinorockets off the bridge, to land--where else? in the dino-drink again!

"HOW CAN IT BE?
WE THOUGHT THIS TRIP WAS WATER-FREE!"

The dinos drag themselves back home, damp and discouraged. But hope springs eternal in the prehistoric heart....

"WE'LL NEVER TAKE ANOTHER TRAIN...
BUT HOW ABOUT... A DINOPLANE?"

Howard Fine's glowing gouache and watercolor illustrations, filled with up-to-date dino morphology and markings, fill the pages with dino delight in this forthcoming new board book edition of Deb Lund's jolly rhyming All Aboard the Dinotrain board book (Houghton Mifflin, 2011). And true to the form of the previous book, barring an asteroid strike in dinoland, these dinotrippers will be taking flight for their next transportation tale.

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Saurians At Sea: Dinosailors by Deb Lund and Howard Fine


DINOSAILORS CHOOSE A COURSE,
RAISE ANCHOR USING DINOFORCE.

THEY HAUL ON LINES, HOIST DINOSAILS.
AND SCALE THE RIGGING WITH THEIR TAILS.

When landlubber dinos lumber into their sloop, they take to the bounding main like old salts.

“HEAVE HO! HEAVE HO! THIS LIFE'S FOR ME!
DINOSAILING ON THE SEA!”

It’s a giddy trip for the sailorsaurs in Deb Lund’s and Howard Fine’s handy new board-bound edition of Dinosailors (board book) Houghton Mifflin, 2011), with a their doughty dino crew, a mixed mob of T. Rex, tricerotops, diplodocus, and hadrosaur, roaring out sea chanteys and besting the swells with lusty gusto, until–YAAARRRRRGGGG!–a squall strikes. The bounding main is bounding a bit too much for the dining dinos in the galley, who find themselves making a quick trip to the railings. No more heave hos, just plenty of plain old heaves as they hurl their hardtack over the side.

“HEAVE HO!" THEY CRY. "IT WON'T STAY DOWN!”

And, so it seems, their little ship can't stay up either! It's soon awash, and their seafaring adventure is a wash!

The crew comes to a quick decision. It’s u-dino-mous! No more soggy sailing for these saurians!They'll seek alternative transportation. There's gotta be a better way to go!

IN HARMONY, THEY JOIN THE CHORD...
“DINOTRAINERS, ALL ABOARD!”

And as the sopping saurians board a train for home, it's surely a cue for a locomotive sequel. There’s plenty of nautical terms here, almost worthy of a seagoing glossary, which author Lund works into her meter without a single trip of her trochaic (or iambic) feet. And with Lund’s lively couplets and Howard Fine’s merry mob of happy hadrosaurs. dancing dimetrodons and dizzy diploducuses, any journey they take is going to be a real trip!

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Backstage: Sassy-The Silver Secret by Sharon Draper

Mr. Wood has to listen to us sing. All of us. Carmelita probably has the most powerful soprano in the school. Even Travis, who got his head stuck in a chair, has a strong tenor voice. Jasmine could probably make it on one of those singing-contest shows on television.

Me? I croak. I gobble. I squeak.

Mr. Woods says to me, "Just hum, Sassy, and enjoy the music."

Sassy loves music. But she knows she can't sing. Her sister Sadora sings like a lark. The only bird Sassy sounds like is a crow. But she has discovered a way she can make beautiful music. Hidden inside her fabulous sequined Sassy Sack, along with everything she or her friends could ever need, is her silver secret, a shiny piccolo that Sassy has been learning to play for the last year.

There's no school orchestra, so Sassy doesn't know what her classmates would say about her playing the tiny and unusual instrument, so she keeps her piccolo in its tiny case deep in her Sassy Sack. But then Mr. Woods announces that the fourth grade choir is going to stage an original musical about saving the planet, and--the principal singers and dancers will wear gorgeous sequined purple costumes. Sassy longs to be wearing one of those dresses, but she knows she stands no chance of getting a singing part.

Then Mr. Woods gives her a job as stage manager. Soon her Sassy Sack is filling up with varied markers to color-code the scripts, safety pins for emergency costume repairs, and a bunch of iPods loaded with everyone's music. Sassy loves prompting from the wings and giving cues to the curtain pullers and the sound and light guys in the control booth through her headset with its own microphone. Mr. Woods is very pleased with her organizational abilities, and the show is shaping up, especially the show-stopping finale, with Carmelita and the full chorus belting out "What A Wonderful World" while a video of beautiful scenes is projected behind them.

Sassy loves that song and asks her piccolo teacher to play the song on the piano, and she discovers that she can play along completely by ear. Mrs. Rossini is amazed and tells her she has a rare talent. At last Sassu sees that she is a real music-maker even if she can't sing onstage. The weight of that little silver piccolo in her Sack somehow gives her extra confidence as the big night approaches.

But then, after a great performance by everyone on opening night, disaster strikes when it's time for the final chorus to swing into "What a Wonderful World." Sassy whispers into her mike for Bill to cue the music.

"Cue the video," I say.

Beautiful pictures of the rain forest and the oceans fill the screen behind the singers.

The choir sounds glorious. It's almost time for Carmelita's solo.

But she's not there!

I hurriedly whisper into the mike, "Loop the music and the video. We're missing a soloist!"

Carmelita is too sick to go onstage. Does Sassy have something inside her Sassy Sack to save the big number?

Sharon Draper's latest, The Silver Secret (Sassy) (Scholastic Press, 2010), brings back her spunky heroine with a perfect "the show must go on" adventure. Sassy is a great character, upbeat, resourceful, and open to experience, and this one is a worthy addition to the series, which includes Little Sister Is Not My Name (Sassy) and The Birthday Storm (Sassy), all perfect fare for the elementary reader.

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