BooksForKidsBlog

Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Twenty Degrees and a Hockey Game's On:" A Winter's Tail (Martha Speaks) by Susan Meddaugh

IN THE HEAT OF JULY
IT'S HARD TO SEE WHY
WE'D READ A STORY OF ICY TRAVAIL.

BUT MONTHS WILL FLY BY,
AND SNOWFLAKES WILL FLY.
SO HERE'S, STARRING MARTHA, A WINTER'S TAIL.

Martha and her friends were watching the hockey playoffs.
"Go, team," yelled Carolina. Then she noticed Skits cowering nearby. "I think my cheering scared your dog," she said.

"Skits isn't afraid of cheering. He's afraid of hockey pucks," Martha told her.

Why, you may ask, would a big shaggy dog have a phobia of--hockey pucks?

Well, as Helen tells the story, it all goes back to when Skits was just a puppy. Even then he has small fondness for snow and ice, and when the gang decides to head out to the (mostly) frozen Dog Head Lake for a pick-up hockey game, Skits refuses to come along. Finally, Helen tosses his favorite chewy toy out into the snowy yard, and Skits finally takes the snowy plunge to get Mr. Chewy and follows the kids to the pond.

Ronald carefully marks off the limits of the safe ice, and the game is soon underway, with Martha and Skitsy as spectators, when suddenly things take a dangerous turn. As the puck slides by enticingly, Skitsy hits the ice and gives chase--right onto the thin ice in the deepest end of Dog Head Lake. The ice begins to crack all around him, and little Skits is frozen with fear. Can Martha come up with a way to get him to safety?

Forthcoming October 4, Meddaugh's seasonal story, Martha Speaks: A Winter's Tail (Houghton Mifflin, 2011), explains another Skits mystery to new friend Carolina:
""And ever since then," Helen concludes, "Skits has been afraid of hockey pucks."

"That doesn't make sense," Carolina said, scratching her head. "He should be afraid of thin ice."

"Well, it comes in handy," Helen smiled, (motioning toward a hockey puck strategically placed on top the trash bin lid.) "Now we have a great way to keep him out of the garbage."

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

But Can I Tease A Weasel! Never Smile at a Monkey by Steve Jenkins



And a final word of advice:

NEVER smile at a monkey

But monkeys are funny! Why not smile at their antics?

Noted author-illustrator Steve Jenkins' Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember (Houghton Mifflin) has the answer:

If you smile at a rhesus (ree-sus) monkey, it may interpret your show of teeth as an aggressive gesture and respond violently!

Jenkins' latest arresting picture book combines wonderful paper collage illustrations reminiscent of Eric Carle with nature lore about some of the world's exotic and intriguing animals. Never pat a platypus? It is nature's only poisonous mammal, equipped with spurs spouting venom on its hind legs. Never jostle a jellyfish? Most jellyfish can sting, but the box jellyfish's sting can be swiftly deadly. Never caress an electric caterpillar? Its hairy bristles can induce severe illness and death. And NEVER swim with a squid. Especially if it's a Humboldt squid. Why? Yikes! You don't want to know!

In appealingly alliterated advice to the wildlife novice, Jenkins' beautiful full- and double-page spreads impart information about some of the world's rare and not-so-rare animals. Luckily, most of these animals--the cassowary, spitting cobra, cane toad, and cone shell--live far from our shores and aren't a threat in our daily lives--except for the tang, a favorite aquarium fish which is equipped with slashing spines. So if a tang flops out on the floor, don't try to pick him up with bare fingers! Never touch a tang! Many--the hippopotamus and kangaroo--are usually safe inside zoo enclosures where we can't even think of harassing or confronting them, so most of Jenkins' readers can be informed but need not be worried. (And you Aussies already know about cassowaries and cone shells and the like, right, mates?)

Jenkins offers a very informative afterword which explains why nature equips animals to find food and fend off predators. Each featured animal is shown in the order presented in the main text with an explanation of its behavior in the wild. For early elementary nature study, this short and irresistible book is a natural, imparting information while delighting the eye and inspiring wonder at the natural world.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Friends Forever? Charlie and Lola: My Best Best Friend by Lauren Child



LOLA AND LOTTA ARE BEST BEST FRIENDS.

THEY SHARE EVERYTHING.

LOTTA SAYS, "I DO NOT LIKE MY ORANGE TODAY. IT IS TOO ORANGE."

LOLA SAYS, "I DO NOT LIKE MY BANANA TODAY. IT IS TOO BANANA.

LET'S SWAP!"

A best best friend is one that will swap part of her lunch for yours, even though your reason is, well, tenuous to say the least. Lola and Lottie are that kind of friends. They watch the tadpole pond for changes every day. They take turns on the swings and hang their coats side by side in the coatroom.

But then a new girl, Evie, turns up at school. Lotta seems to be taken with Evie's NEW-ness. She shows her around the classroom. She tells her all about the tadpole pond. She points out a coathook for Evie right beside her own. She invites Evie to join her modelling clay house to her own. "You can come and visit..."she tells Lola.

Suddenly Lola is the odd girl out and she is downhearted.


"I DON'T THINK LOTTA LIKES ME ANYMORE," SHE TELLS HER BROTHER CHARLIE

"PERHAPS SHE WILL BE YOUR BEST FRIEND TOMORROW."

Charlie is older and wiser in the ways of friendship, but he's not content to let nature take its course. Perhaps he can find a way to get his little sister and her best friend back on track during recess the next day, and with his own best buddies at hand, Charlie knows just what to do to get Lotta's attention.

Lauren Child's Charlie and Lola: My Best, Best Friend (Charlie & Lola) (Penguin, 2011), done-up in a brand-new paperback easy-to-read edition, breaks no new ground in the area of girl world friendships, but it does put the ebb and flow of relationships into proportion in this easy-going spin-off for fans of the popular Playhouse Disney series.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Thief on Nob Hill: The Silver Guitar (A Julie Mystery) by Kathryn Reiss


"IT'S NOT EVEN A REAL FENDER STRATOCASTER. IT'S JUST A CHEAP FAKE!" THE SHOP OWNER TOLD JULIE.

Oil from a disastrous tanker spill in San Francisco Bay is reaching the shoreline, fouling the grasses and beaches and threatening to kill pelicans and other seabirds. As president of her school's student council, Julie has to do something to help.

The council decides that each class should create a quilt square honoring one type of sea life in the Bay and auction the resulting quilt to raise money to help rescue the birds. As a possible venue for the quilt's sale, Julie's mom invites her to go along to a pre-auction viewing of donated treasures in the Vernon mansion on posh Nob Hill, and Julie's friend T.J. tags along, drawn to the guitar collection of Robert Vernon, an eccentric and eclectic buyer of objects relating to the rich and famous.

Julie is intrigued by an old black hat purportedly belonging to Abraham Lincoln, but T.J. spends his time admiring famous guitarist Danny Kendrick's silver Fender Stratocaster. When Mr. Vernon's cat Mr. Precious takes a liking to him., Mr. Vernon asks T.J. to care for his favorite pet while he is away on a trip. But when Danny returns to Nob Hall the next day to feed Mr. Precious, he just has to sneak a peek at that famous guitar once more. Quietly he tiptoes into the guitar room, Mr. Precious trailing behind him, and takes it gingerly down from the wall. But while he is reverently fingering the strings, Mr. Precious tries to jump onto his shoulder, and the startled T.J. drops the valuable guitar, cracking the sound box.

T.J. is horrified, and when Julie discovers what has happened, she urges him to have the guitar quietly repaired. In the guitar shop, the owner and his helper, a curly-haired boy their age named Matt, tells the two something shocking. The Stratocaster is a fake! Apparently, someone has taken the original from Mr. Vernon's display and substituted a cheap copy. Who could have taken the real Danny Kendricks guitar?

There are plenty of suspects--ditzy and nosy neighbor Mrs. Bizbee, Robert Vernon's indolent unemployed nephew Jasper, Mr. and Mrs. Olgivie, the photographers who were working on site during the society event and have motive and means to steal objects from Vernon's collection. And why does Matt suddenly seem to be shadowing them as they investigate? Unless Julie can sleuth out the real thief before Mr. Vernon's return, it looks like T.J. is going to be the leading suspect. Can the two young detectives concoct their own sting operation to flush out the real thief?

Kathryn Reiss' latest addition to this historical mystery series, The Silver Guitar: A Julie Mystery (American Girl Mysteries) (American Girl, 2011), again takes the reader into a complex mystery built around the scene in San Francisco in the early 1970s, this time beginning with the investigation of a tanker accident which threatens the ecological stability of the Bay itself. As always, the mystery story is backed up by an appendix providing history of the period and photos of artifacts from the time, including one of Jimi Hendrix's famous guitars which serves as a model for the silver guitar of the fictional "Danny Kendricks." Plenty of local color in its setting, convincing red herrings in the case, and a hint of danger make this story a great read for fans of the detective mystery genre and of the well-written and popular American Girls Mysteries.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

NOT A Happy Camper! Postcards from Camp by Simms Taback


DEAR DAD,

I HATE CAMP. COME GET ME! PLEASE!

MY COUNSELOR IS AN ALIEN--AND VEGETARIAN!

YOUR LOVING SON,
MICHAEL

In a stream of postcards, hand designed in the crafts hut, Michael chronicles his first rocky days at Camp Woodland. Not only is the counselor of dumpy Bunk 8 an alien; his bunkmates are a bunch of jerks!


DEAR DAD,

LAST NIGHT I FOUND A BIG WET FROG IN MY BED.

IT WASN'T FUNNY, BUT MY BUNK MATES LAUGHED AND LAUGHED.

MY BUNK MATES HATE ME! I HATE THEM!

His dad Harry shoots him right back a hand-drawn postcard depicting the residents of New York City about to expire in the city's heat wave and bucks Michael up by telling him how "lucky" he is to be cool in camp. Back at Camp Woodlands, however, it's rained every day and Michael worries that fungus may soon start growing between his toes.

But at last the sun comes out and Michael passes his swimming test to become a bona fide SHARK, second level, and despite the mystery meals in the mess hall, smelly bunkmates who swipe your underwear. the green, gunky algae on top and the world's only North American freshwater shark under the water in the lake, Michael's epistles begin to take on a slightly more positive note:


I WOULD LIKE TO GO CANOEING WITH MY FRIEND STEW.

The canoeing trip, with its campfire, ghost stories, and toasted marshmallows is a blast, and soon Michael is up to his unwashed armpits in camp activities and pranks. A final postcard has a throw-away line that says it all:


MAYBE I COULD COME BACK NEXT YEAR.

Not since Alan Sherman warbled his famous ballad of life at the fictional Camp Granada, "Hello, Mudda, Hello, Fadda," has there been such a hilarious camp story as told here in epistolary form by Caldecott artist Simms Taback, Postcards from Camp (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2011). Taback's childlike drawings are perfect for this story told in a exchange of postcards and letters between Michael and his dad. Postcards are shown front and back with a turn of the page, and included among them are actual envelopes which open to reveal letters from camp on yellow lined paper from the homesick Michael. This is a wonderful book which almost anyone who has ever been to camp will enjoy, and for those contemplating their first few weeks in the wild, it gives a light-hearted look at the all-too-real, well-remembered joys and travails of summer camp.

As Kirkus Reviews says, "Share with kids before and after camp—newbies will be astonished at how typical Michael's experience is; seasoned campers (and their parents) will laugh all the way through."

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

MMMMRRRROWW! HISSSS! GOO? Bad Kitty Meets The Baby by Nick Bruel

IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS KITTY.

JUST KITTY, ONLY KITTY.

KITTY ALL BY HERSELF.

LIFE WAS GOOD.

Then the folks go away, leaving Kitty with her ridiculous excuse for a co-pet, Poor Puppy, in the dubious care of Uncle Murray, who is an unfortunate choice as pet-sitter, as the local first responders soon learn:
Day One: “Hello, fire department? Hi, I have a cat stuck in a tree.”

Day Two: “Hello, Fire Deparment? I have a dog stuck in a tree. That’s right, I said dog.”

Day Three: “Hello, Fire Department: Hi, it’s me again. Heh Heh. Well, you’re not going to believe this, but the cat and dog are both stuck up in that tree. You know the address.”

Day 4: “Hello, Fire Department? You are not going to believe this, but I’m stuck in the tree this time. It’s kind of a funny story, ...you see.... Hello? HELLO?

Day 5: “Hello, Fire Department? Hi. Still stuck in the tree here, so if you get the chance.....”

Things do not go well for Uncle Murray, but at last the folks are back with their promised surprise for Kitty and Puppy. They plop the new adoptee down on the rug right in front of them. It makes funny noises (from both ends) like Ma! and Bye-bye and BLORP!!; it drools a bit, it crawls a bit, and it smells more than a bit.

For once, Kitty and Puppy share the same thought:

WHAT IS THAT THING?

Kitty is sure it’s a dog, but Puppy thinks it’s a cat. Kitty calls on her friends to give their opinions–Big Kitty, Twin Kitties, Stinky Kitty, Chatty Kitty, Pretty Kitty, and Strange Kitty. Pretty Kitty takes charge, calling for some field tests–The PussyCat Olympics--to determine if the THING is a cat--and it’s a clean sweep for the THING. The Kitty Club calls for a poll: the vote is CAT-7, DOG-1. Bad Kitty is not convinced.

But whatever it is, even Puppy is now unhappy with the new acquisition. Bad Kitty and Puppy are together on this one. Take IT back! Pl-e-e-a-s-e! Or else.

But the folks point out that both displeased pets have a lot in common with the Baby. They all three make messes. They all eat a lot. And... they all once needed a home. They are all ...adopted!

Nick Bruel’s newest, Bad Kitty Meets the Baby (Roaring Brook Press, 2011), may be the funniest Bad Kitty saga yet. Heck, it may be about the funniest book I’ve ever read. My giggles drew bemused glances as I waited in line to pay for it, but like all of cartoonist Bruel’s Bad Kitty series, his quirky illustrations of Kitty and company and wry storytelling are hilarious to all ages. Any adult who’s ever had a cat or a baby will get it, and beginning readers with siblings will hone in on the jealousy thing right away.

As usual, Bruel tucks in off-the-wall added features such as Kitty Quiz Show and “Uncle Murray’s Fun Facts” which add to the fun. There’s no kitty like Bad Kitty, and this one is too good to miss.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Get Yer Yarr Yarrs Out: Pirates of the Sea by Brandon Dorman


"No cryin.'
No dyin.'
No brushin' yer teeth!
No stealin.'
No squealin.'
No eatin' Parrot Pete!

No nappin,'
No scrappin.'
No wimpy moans or groans!
No veggies.
No wedgies.
No disobeyin' Cap'n Bones!"

Cap'n Bones runs a tight ship, but with his very motley crew on board, the Dragonfish of Doom sails off to be the scourge of the seven seas, with would-be buccaneers like Sourpuss Sam, Twitchy Billy, Peg-Leg Magee, Smelly Fred, and Sea Slug Nate sworn to uphold the Pirate Code.

All is well until a financial crisis looms. This ship needs a quick stimulus package! The treasure chests are down to their last doubloon, and the boys need to ramp up their piratin' fast. But the high seas are no place for sissies, with evil mermaids who want to lure them to wreck in their lagoon, sharks who want to chomp them, and sea monsters ditto. If Cap'n Bones' seadogs can't find a galleon to plunder on the high seas, maybe they can find some other pirate's buried treasure on the shore. Every man Jack into the longboats and start diggin' in the sand!

Brandon Dorman's latest, Pirates of the Sea! (Greenwillow, 2011), offers plenty of pirate talk, zesty verse, colorful characters aplenty, and with the author's comic digital illustrations, this one provides a lot of fun for a corsair storytime. Pair this one with Johnny Duddle's hit, The Pirate Cruncher, (Templar, 2010) for a double-doubloon pirate party.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Dogs? by Jane Yolen

HOW DOES A DINOSAUR
KEEP HIS DOG CLEAN?
DOES HE SCRUB IT TOO HARD?
DOES HE ACT REALLY MEAN?

Even if he's a pachycephalosaurus, a dog owner has to be kind, empathetic, and loving. In their best-selling style, Jane Yolen and Mark Teague's How Do Dinosaurs Love Their Dogs?
(Blue Sky Press, 2010) show kids how to keep their dogs happy and healthy. Feeding walking, grooming, all the nitty-gritting jobs of pet ownership are covered, with Mark Teague's winsome dinosaurs showing the wrong--and right way for a little dinosaur to love a dog.


HE LOVES HIS DEAR DOGGY,
AND DOES EVERY CHORE.
PAT IT NOW,
BOW WOW WOW--GOOD DINOSAUR

And for slightly older kids who dote on dinosaurs, rhyme, and riddles, don't miss Yolen and Teague's latest, How Do Dinosaurs Laugh Out Loud? (Cartwheel, 2010), their first dedicated joke book starring their troupe of dinosaurs.


WHAT DO YOU CALL A DINOSAUR SLEEPING IN YOUR BED?

A DINO-SNORE!!

AND HOW DOES A JOKE FAN WAKE A DINO-SNORE?

HE ASKS SWEETLY BUT LOUDLY--GIVE US MORE!!

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

These Boots Are Made for Dancin': Every Cowgirl Needs Dancing Boots by Rebecca Janni

EVERY COWGIRL NEEDS DANCIN' BOOTS, AND I HAVE A BRAND-NEW PAIR.

BUT YOU CAN'T GO DANCIN' ALL ALONE.

MAMA SAYS, "HOW ABOUT MAKING FRIENDS WITH THOSE NEW GIRLS ACROSS THE STREET?"

"THE GLITTER GIRLS?" I ASK.

It's complicated being a cowgirl in her suburban neighborhood, but Nellie climbs into the saddle of her trusty pink two-wheeled bronco and rides off, not into the sunset, but in search of potential hoedown partners. The Glitter Girls like dancing all right. But it's the wrong kind of dancing. Instead of pink cowgirl boots and Stetsons, they go for tutus and ballet slippers. Instead of do-si-dos, they choose a demi-plie.

Nellie needs a way to find common ground. So she takes the bull by the horns. She hangs out her shingle:

FIRST ANNUAL BARNYARD BASH!
Y'ALL COME! DANCE TONIGHT!

But the Glitter Girls give her invitation a supercilious look.

"BALLERINAS DON'T BELONG IN BARNS," SAID AN OLDER SISTER. "BUT WE'LL THINK ABOUT IT."

MY BRAIDS WERE DROOPIN.'

But Nellie Sue screws up her cowgirl courage and spunkily prepares for a bash which she fears may be a bust. She drags in hay bales, hangs up lanterns, pops lots of popcorn. stirs up pink lemonade, and dudes herself up in hopes that someone will come to her party in Rebecca Janni's cute little cowgirl tale, Every Cowgirl Needs Dancing Boots (Dutton, 2011), and with the artistic assistance of noted illustrator Lynn Avril, the garage is rockin' as the sissonnes and sashays come together in a dancin' good time. Janni's text offers a nice twist on a "new kids on the block" story, with a spunky heroine who dances to a different drummer but shares her pink polka-dotted boots with Anna and finds herself a new best friend to boot

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Friday, July 22, 2011

From the Mouths of Babes: Edwin Speaks Up by April Stevens

MRS. FINNEMORE WAS RACING AROUND THE HOUSE.

"Cloo Poop SHOE noogie fron KEY!" BABBLES BABY EDWIN..

HE WAS ALL DRESSED UP AND READY TO GO TO THE SUPERMARKET.

"OH, FOR PETE'S SAKE! THERE THEY ARE!"

Mrs. Finnemore, who presides absentmindedly over her busy brood of five, is all sixes and sevens, frantically searching for her car keys, as she tries to get her four older kids and baby Edwin into the station wagon for that outing dreaded by all moms--the critical grocery run with all the kids in tow. It's almost Baby Edwin's birthday, and along with the usual shopping list, she must remember the the necessaries for that special day.

At last retrieving her car key from young Fergus' shoe, she hustles the kids into the big blue Chrysler. Distracted by loading Edwin into his carseat, key in hand, she finally settles into the driver's seat and off they go to the store--with her handbag riding along on the the car's ample roof where she stuck it as she settled Edwin into the back seat.

"Figgy noo noo POCKY-BOOKY fropping ROOF!" EDWIN BABBLES.

"NOW, CHILDREN, WE ABSOLUTELY MUSTN'T FORGET THE SUGAR FOR EDWIN'S BIRTHDAY PARTY TOMORROW" SHE SAYS.

Mrs. Finnemore panics when she begins to unload the kids in the parking lot. Where is her pocketbook?

THE CHILDREN GROAN!

"Frigle dee ROOFY plank!" EDWIN SAID, KICKING HIS LITTLE FEET.

A nearby shopper, loading his groceries, points out the rooftop purse to the frantic Mrs. Finnemore, and the group finally enters the store. Edwin is plopped into the shopping cart seat as the other four quarrel about who gets to ride on the front.Mrs. Finnemore manages to remember the all-important blue-and-white box of sugar, but when she absentmindedly leaves the cart in one aisle to retrieve the sugar from another aisle, she thoughtlessly misappropriates someone else's cart, Left all alone, Edwin has to speak out.

"Coody pooper DO NO LEAVEY!" BABY EDWIN IMPLORES!

Luckily, Mrs. Lutzhammer is on her game that day and spots Mrs. Finnemore making off with her cart, with the special sugar safely inside, and Mrs. Finnemore is reunited with her cart and Edwin. But Edwin spots Mrs. Lutzhammer rolling her cart away with the sugar for his birthday cake still inside.

"Rootin papel cart NO NO SWEETY! Gimpin chalk lil wizzu SWEETN do a BYE BYE!"

Oblivious to Edwin's frantic babbling, Mrs. Finnemore mindlessly rolls the cart at last to the checkout. If there's going to be any birthday cake for Edwin, he's going to have to take matters into his own little hands. So while Mrs. Finnemore aimlessly chats with the clerk, Edwin climbs down and fetches the familiar blue-and-white box from its shelf and slips it into the cart just in time for the checker to ring it up. Whew!

Mrs. Finnemore again loads the kids into the car and with a sigh of relief, heads for home.

"TOMORROW IS BABY EDWIN'S BIRTHDAY! HE'S GROWING UP SO FAST!

SOON HE'LL BE TALKING!"

"ROOFUM SWEET! ROOFUM SWEET!...." CALLS BABY EDWIN
.
But Baby Edwin's warning goes unheeded, as the family car rolls toward home with the grocery bag holding the sugar riding along (securely, we hope) on the roof.

April Steven's latest, Edwin Speaks Up (Schwartz & Wade, 2011) is a little gem of understated irony, coupled with the award-winning Sophie Blackall's piquant illustrations which catch just the right retro note for this very funny tale of a baby who's the only one paying attention to the task at hand. Booklist gives this one a coveted starred review, saying "Stevens’ spot-on story about every mother’s nightmare, the group grocery-store shop, is matched by Blackall’s delicious art...This is a book that’s clever in every sense of the word: skillful, original, and witty."

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Going Full-Time: Always a Witch by Carolyn McCullough

"As you do know," says Cera, "our power comes from the elements."

"Earth, Air, Water, Fire," I quote.

"Yes, but Blood and Time are also considered elements. Those we rarely touch or call upon. They can be dangerous. They can so easily spiral out of control."

"But the Knights aren't afraid of that."

Her mouth twists downward. "Clearly not."

In the long-awaited sequel to her Once a Witch, Carolyn MacCullough picks up the story of the wizardly Green family without a hitch. Tamsin has settled in with her new-found Talents, like those of the other members of her family, secure that she can repel spells and and freeze anyone, magic or mortal, with a touch to the forehead. Things are going well with boyfriend Gabriel Snowe, and her only annoyances are sister Rowena's pre-wedding jitters and her manipulations to force Tam into an unflattering bridesmaid gown.

But this relative calm ends when the time-travelling Alistair Knight appears and reveals that the Knight family, immobilized by Tamsin's earlier time-travel encounter and control of the Donati talisman, are now scheming to regain their full powers back in the nineteenth century and destroy her own family more than a century before her birth. Tam knows that obliterating their last obstacle to power will mean that she and her modern family will also cease to exist.

Tamsin is determined to Travel back to 1877 to prevent this outcome. Declining Rowena's jproferred help and Gabriel's protection, she goes alone back to nineteenth-century New York City and wangles a maid's job in the Knight mansion, a position which has strangely come open with the mysterious disappearances of a sucession of lady's maids to daughter Jessica Knight. Tamsin, as household domestic Agatha, finds that the job has its ordinary perils from the rude advances of oldest son, Liam Knight. But Tam soon learns that these advances are not merely a matter of master-servant lust, but indeed a blood lust which is both horrifying, and, as she comes to realize, a means to magical powers which will enable Liam and his evil mother La Spider to destroy the nineteenth-century Greens and all of their issue.

Grandmother Green has warned Tamsin that she will soon face a choice, and as the episode with the Knights plays out, Tamsin realizes that her prophecy is indeed true, and that in making this dangerous choice, her life and future will depend upon one member of the Knight family, one who is different from the others, one who is also willing to use the elements of Blood and Time to change the present and the future.

A tightly woven and gripping sequel which is sure to please her fans, Carolyn MacCullough's Always a Witch (Clarion, Houghton Mifflin, 2011) is forthcoming August 1.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Talk-Back! You're Finally Here! by Melanie Watt

YOU'RE FINALLY HERE!

BUT WHERE WERE YOU? DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG I'VE BEEN WAITING?

It's a bit disconcerting to open a book about a bunny and be berated by an in-your-face character for tardiness in opening his book. This bunny has definitely internalized the message to be assertive.

The lecture continues. It's rude to make people wait so long. Blah-blah-blah. Don't you get how boring it is to sit immobile on a page waiting for some action? The bunny's Bored-O-Meter has gone from "Bored" to "Bored Up To My Ears" already! It's as annoying as an itchy sweater...Yadda-yadda-yadda! The page focus dollies into a closeup of nothing but the bunny's glaring eyes and beetled brows.

STAY!

And to seal the deal the bunny whips out a contract which states

YOU, THE READER, HEREBY AGREES TO STAY WITH ME, THE BUNNY (THE BOOK CHARACTER WITH WHICH YOU'RE FAMILIAR).

Just as the Bunny thinks he's reeled in a reader for life, his cell phone rings. With a breezy "Hold that thought" to the waiting reader, he throws himself into yakking with an old friend.

As the reader beats a hasty retreat, the clueless bunny suddenly notices the departure.

WAS IT SOMETHING I SAID?

Melanie Watts' latest, You're Finally Here! (Hyperion, 2011) joins Mo Willems' delightful recent We Are in a Book! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) and Jef Czeka's witty Cat Secrets in the book-about-a-book genre. Whereas Willems' childlike characters are thrilled to find a reader looking back at them and Czeka's character has an appropriately cautious cat-itude of his own, Watts' full-of-himself brazen bunny gives the reader an earful of the trials and tribulations of a character just waiting for the tardy reader. It's a different point of view for the young reader, one which older picture book fans will probably find quite funny and certainly unique in the world of bunny books.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Times A'Changin': When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan by Gary Golio

"All I could do is be me, whatever that is."

Like many of America's iconoclastic twentieth-century artists, young Bob Dylan was deeply immersed in his time, but not of his time, an American original.

In fact, he wasn't even Bob Dylan at first. He was just another mid-western kid, skinny little Bob Zimmerman, and he didn't exactly fit in in Hibbing, Minnesota. In his Heartland hometown he was one of the few Jewish kids. He liked odd music, weird sounds. Everything from the foghorns and seagulls of Lake Superior to the jazz and blues he sometimes could find on the radio--all of them called to him. Ignoring his family's wishes and his piano teacher, he persisted in a search for a sound he could only half imagine:

"I'm going to play the piano the way I want to," he said.

Bob taught himself to play a guitar and harmonica the same way. He listened to records by the great bluesmen of the time, Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, roots music from the countryside, and finally was drawn as a teenager into the burgeoning folk music movement. There he discovered the works of Woody Guthrie, and all those strands of American music suddenly came together for Bob, who renamed himself Bob Dylan after the Welsh lyrical poet Dylan Thomas. And he began to write his own poetry--lyrics done his way--and found his place in the historic music which was suddenly going mainstream.

He listened to Pete Seeger, the Weavers, everyone who had kept this music alive and met and played with Joan Baez in the coffeehouses of New York City. To the ears of middle America, accustomed then to the romantic ballads of the commercial crooners of the day, Bob Dylan's music and lyrics still sounded strange, but people who first scoffed at his rough style soon came to respect and love it.

As Bob found some early recognition, he finally achieved his dream of meeting Woody Guthrie himself. Hospitalized with the hereditary disease which was soon to end his life, Woody happily received the young folksinger, and the two formed a close friendship. At last, Bob got up the courage to play and sing a song he had written for Woody:

"Hey hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song..."

When Bob finished, Woody's face lit up like the sun
.

Gary Golio's When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan (Little, Brown, 2011) makes good use of the picture book format to bring another iconic musician to life for elementary readers. The author of the acclaimed Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix with artist Javaka Steptoe, Golio is again blessed with an illustrator who brings the right touch to artwork which lights up Golio's excellent but straightforward text. He tells the story well as he brings the young Bob to life for younger readers. As the New York Times reviewer says of Golio's work, "He charmingly delivers the boy behind the ragamuffin troubadour, doing justice to young Zimmerman's jumbled early musical interests…"

Like those musicians, artists, and writers who went before and wove all our diverse strands together in a new but altogether American way, Bob changed and enriched our music. As American as apple pie? As American as Bob Dylan.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Spoofing the Grimms: Ponyella by Laura Numeroff and Nate Evans


ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS A BEAUTIFUL HORSE NAMED PONYELLA.

HER COAT WAS AS WHITE AS MARSHMALLOWS AND HER MANE WAS LONG AND SILKY.

Ponyella is beautiful and beloved by her owners, but when the farm is sold, alas, she falls on hard times. No more the pampered favorite, Ponyella is relegated to a tiny, smelly stall by the new proprietors' darlings, Plumpkin and Bun Bun, and our heroine is demoted to lowly cart-horse chores, pulling the coal wagon around the farm, a job which colors her glorious hide in a sooty gray.

Of course, groomed and with their hooves professionally polished, Plumpkin and Bun Bun strut their stuff when Princess Penelope pays a state visit to the farm, knowing that Her Highness will be picking the Champion of the Tippington Grand Royal Pony Show.

"WHEN IS THE SHOW?" ASKED PONYELLA EXCITEDLY.

"WHAT DOES IT MATTER? YOU'RE NOT GOING!" SAID BUN BUN.

Ah, but the wicked Plumpkin and Bun Bun have reckoned without the Fairy Godmare, who takes pity on poor Ponyella, and with a few professional POOFS and seemingly simple swishes of her magical tail, transforms an old farm trailer and the barn mouse Sam into a lovely carriage and performs a few improvements in Ponyella's personal hygiene as well:

"CHEESE LOUISE!" SAID SAM.

"HOME BY THE STROKE OF NOON!" COMMANDS THE FAIRY GODMARE.

Of course, we know where this one is going. Ponyella, poshly turned out as Fifi Frou Frou from Paris, pleases Princess Priscilla perfectly, but after giving her a thrilling ride, has to dash as the clock strikes noon, leaving behind one of her diamond horseshoes. But the princess knows a perfect pony when she sees one, and after an bit of the pro forma unpleasantness with Plumpkin and Bun Bun back at the farm, Ponyella's shoe fits and she is happy to wear it, going off with Princess Priscilla for a fabulous "bridle party," happy ever after, leaving the coal-cart haulage and drayage duties to the repentant Plumpkin and Bun Bun.

In Laura Numeroff's and Nick Evans' Ponyella (Hyperion, 2011), it's a perfect pairing of a pony and a princess, in a perky parody of a favorite fairy tale which will give even the most-Disney-princess-stricken reader more than a few giggles of recognition. Lynn Munsinger, illustrator of the award-winning Hooway for Wodney Wat and the Tacky the Penguin tales, pinks it up in the best princess tradition here, all the while tossing in some spoofy touches of her own in her accompanying artwork. As Publishers Weekly puts it, "A sweet, playful adaptation that's just right for the My Little Pony crowd."

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

What's Up? Little Mouse's Big Secret by Eric Battut

OH! WHAT A DELICIOUS TREAT!

I'LL HIDE IT!

Mouse is NOT a share-the-wealth kind of guy, and he's NOT a carpe-diem kind of guy either. When he finds a perfect red apple, does he eat it on the spot? Does he look for a friend to share it with?

None of the above! He furtively digs a hole and hides the apple in the earth.

IT'S MY SECRET AND I'LL NEVER TELL!

And he doesn't. First Squirrel, then Bird, and in succession Turtle, Hedgehog, Rabbit, and Frog query him about his secretive behavior, but Mouse stonewalls them all, resolutely repeating his pledge not to tell.

But in Eric Battut's just published Little Mouse's Big Secret (Sterling, 2011), there's something to be said for taking the long view. While Mouse takes the fifth, so to speak, behind him the little seeds in the apple begin to give their own testimony to Mother Nature's generosity. First a seedling, then a sapling, and then a budding tree grows from his hiding place, a tree that leafs out and bears fruit. And when the bountiful red apples drop their own largesse to the ground all around, Mouse finally sees the value in sharing the results of his secret.

Artist Battut tells this simple parable of plenitude through his striking illustrations. The animals are small, almost lost in the amplitude of his large, square pages done up in a creamy background, and as the tree grows bigger and bigger, filling the page right behind him, young readers will chuckle with glee at the oblivious Mouse and the secret that is a secret no longer. This is a story with a humorous but subtle lesson about hoarding. as well as a nice one to use with a preschool springtime unit as they plant their own seeds and wait to see what Mother Nature does with them.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Childhood's End: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2--The Movie

It's over. For better or worse, more or less, the Harry Potter media phenomenon is completed. Over a decade for the seven books and over 22 hours of film have told J. K. Rowling's story of the boy who lived, the boy who fought against burgeoning evil and became a man to stand as the last mortal in single combat with the ultimate evil.

The one theme of themes, the sweeping spectacle of human and magical forces battling it out and mere mortals rising to battle heroically with only the armor of their human bonds with each other and their own courage--it is almost too much for any book, any movie, to encompass. And whatever may be said, about the special effects, the cinematography, the actors, it cannot be said that the final movies lost sight of the serious theme that Rowling took on. And the final two, under Director David Yates, are therefore well worth seeing.

Like its immediate predecessor, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, this movie has little of the humor and none of the light-hearted fun of the early books. Dumbledore is dead. Sirius is dead, and this movie begins with Harry completing the burial of Dobby, the last comic relief in the series, and the pall that filled the first half continues here in full force. (See my review of Part 1 here.) But unlike Part 1, there's no time left for the characters to explore their new maturity, no time for the quest, the sleuthing out of the horcruxes and for destroying them one by one. There remains only one, and the three friends first agree that it must reside inside Nagini, Voldemort's enormous snake and constant companion.

But then Harry returns to Hogwarts, with the traitorous Snape now headmaster, to consult an eyewitness, not a living one, but the legendary Gray Lady, ghost of Hogwarts. And what the Gray Lady tells him leads Harry at last to what he has unknowingly known long since--the final horcrux and last locus of Valdemort's power lies indeed within himself, transformed there when Voldemort killed his parents but was unable to end the life of the infant Harry.

So, as with all the great heroes of literature and legend, the struggle comes down to one within the hero himself. Harry knows that the final destruction of Voldemort must include his own end. In a dramatic scene with the cherished dead of his life, Lily, James, Sirius, and the rest, Harry confronts his own death, and in the end, as the dying Snape reveals his lifelong love for Lily, Harry sees that the story has come full circle, and there there is only one choice for him. And he knows that Snape himself has prepared the way for that epic battle and its ultimate outcome.

Viewers and critics will argue endlessly over how the movie ends. I felt that the film's ending, with Harry's resurrection, only made Rowling's equivocal ending less definitive, but others will be satisfied with knowing "what happens next" after Harry and Voldemort fulfill their mutual destiny, seeing Voldemort's final disintegration and Harry's son, Aldus Severus Potter, off to Hogwarts, full circle once more.

So it is done. Harry Potter began as books that belonged to children, something that was their own special world, their own thing. Now those readers are entering adulthood and have passed their well-worn books on to those who come after them. So too, now with the films. After all, that is the way with literature: it belongs to its fans, and then it belongs to the ages. Loved or judged, literary legend or religious allegory, whatever, Harry now belongs to the next generation and the next.

“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry," said Dumbledore, "but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, Warner Brothers, 2011, 130 minutes, Rated PG-13.

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Odyssey: Hopper and Wilson by Maria Van Lieshout



HOPPER AND WILSON LOOKED OUT OVER THE BLUE SEA.

AND WONDERED.

"WHAT" HOPPER ASKED HIS LITTLE FRIEND WILSON, "DO YOU THINK IT'S LIKE AT THE END OF THE WORLD?"

"WELL, THERE'S ONLY ONE WAY TO FIND OUT, "HOPPER SAID.

Since Christopher Robin's beloved toys, Piglet and Pooh, set out to find the Heffalump, there have been many pairs of pals on their own quests. Marian Van Lieshout's new Hopper and Wilson (Philomel, 2011) captures that same primal childlike desire to set forth and discover what's out there in their vast world.

Hopper, a rotund two-toned blue elephant, and his sidekick Wilson, a big-eared yellow mouse, are a delightful couple of innocents abroad as they sail off into their folded newspaper boat, a jaunty balloon on a red string in hand, to find their own dreams: for Wilson the end is simply all the lemonade he wants, but for Hopper, who dreams big, it is to touch the moon.

But in the best tradition of such adventures, things don't go as planned.. The breezes turns to gusts, and the gusts become a storm. Their red balloon is blown away, and a giant wave washes Hopper overboard. Wilson, tiny and rudderless, drifts along, all alone, until he hears something that lifts his heart.

"WILSON? IS THAT YOU?"

A rotund shape, floating on a familiar red balloon comes into view, and the two shipmates are reunited, wet, but none the worse for wear. And then they see just what they seek. The moon rises on the horizon right in front of them, close enough, it seems, to touch and looking like a very big lemon. And then they see their own little pier with their little cactus plant standing watch right where they had left it.

"AREN'T WE LUCKY THAT OUR HOME IS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, WILSON?"

WILSON CLOSED HIS EYES. "AND AT THE BEGINNING, TOO," HE PEEPED.

A simple story of a cosmic odyssey, illustrated with Van Lieshout's soft old-fashioned illustrations gives this toy story a certain satisfying depth and poignancy in a gentle tale of setting forth, and as all odysseys should, of coming home.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Back to School: Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson

Okay, so imagine the day your great-great-grandmother was born. Got it? Now go back a hundred years or so. And then another hundred. That's about when they built Hills Village Middle School.

Of course, I think it was a prison for Pilgrims back then, but not too much has changed.

Now it's a prison for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.

For Raphael (a.k.a. Rafe) Khatchadorian, his unpronounceable, unspellable name is the least of his worries. Unlike the Wimpy Kid, who at least has Rowdy, Rafe doesn't have a best friend, unless you count Leo the Silent, who mostly draws instead of talking to him. His sister is a fourth-grade snoop who is only on his side when it comes to his mother's loutish and lazy fiance, who rouses himself from the couch only to issue orders to Rafe or raid the fridge. His mom Jules is great, but she's working two shifts at the diner since her boyfriend Bear moved in just to keep the family afloat, leaving Rafe mostly under Bear's thumb.

And as Rafe stumbles into his homeroom and tries to take his first seat for the first day of middle school, he runs afoul of the class bully, Miller the Killer:

"You're in my seat," said Miller.

"I don't see your name on it," I told him, and I was just starting to think maybe that was the worst thing to say, when Miller put out one his XXXL paws around my neck and starting lifting me like a 100-pound dumbbell. "Let's try that again," he said. "This is my seat. Understand?"

"SIT DOWN, NOW!" bellowed Mr. Rourke.

Since nobody else was stupid enough to sit right in front of Miller, that was the only seat left.

And because I'm the world's biggest idiot, I didn't look back when I went to sit in my chair. That's why I hit the dirt as I went down--all the way down--to the floor.

The good news? Given the way things had started off, I figured middle school could only get better from here.

The bad news? I was wrong about the good news.

The usual middle school stock characters are in attendance here--Dragon Lady Donatello for English, Principal Dwight with his 93 pages of school rules, Coach Lattimore, an apparent undergrad sadism major, the hair-netted lunchroom ladies with endless supplies of toxic meatloaf, and, to break the monotony of pain and boredom, the pretty and popular Jeanne Galleta, who occasionally gives our hero a smile.

But Leo the Silent has a plan: as Principal Dwight drones on at assembly, plowing through the HVMS Code of Conduct, Leo sketches out a way to make the misery fun--a challenge even. Can Rafe break every school rule and rack up a million points before the school year ends? Rafe hesitates, but then takes the Operation R.A.F.E. challenge. His first mission: set off the fire alarm in the middle of the reading of the rules. Rafe wheedles his way to a bathroom pass, doing his best whiny potential pants-wetter voice, and races to the nearest fire alarm box. Chaos! Success! 50,000 points already. And it's only the first day!

And the game is on. Rafe progresses from simple chewing-gum-in-class infractions, finally earning major points with a three-day suspension for burning his first failing report card. His sixth-grade year is going splendidly, game-wise, that is. And then his pranks hit the wall. He breaks his own rule, No One Gets Hurt, and inadvertently gets Jeanne sent to detention too.

Then disaster strikes. Miller the Killer seizes his notebook with the Operation R.A.F.E. scoring system and Leo's cartoons, and threatens to blow his cover unless Rafe pays him an ever-increasing price scale for each page. Rafe is forced to purloin soft drinks from Bear's hidden cache in the basement and set up a contraband trade out of his locker to make the payments. The game spins out of control, and Rafe becomes more and more desperate.

And then it gets worse! Jeanne points out that the consequences for Operation R.A.F.E. and the ensuing failing grades are going to qualify him for the booby prize--summer school--or even worse--repeating the whole sixth grade fiasco again next year! Help!

James Patterson's just published Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life (Little, Brown, 2011) uses the same devices--first person narration and kid-style cartoon illustration--as Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid series, and gives us the story of a kid with two strikes against him who nevertheless takes a futile swing at the one that is high and outside. But despite Rafe's eleven-year-old take on his first year at middle school, there are some adults who know how to offer him what he needs to break the loser mold. Dragon Lady Donatello is actually on his side, and working with his mother, who finally boots the Bear, finds a way for Rafe to get another chance at hitting it out of the park.

This is a highly-readable,very funny best seller which nonetheless slips in a lot of insight into the middle school mind. Middle readers can always do with a bit of self-understanding, and Patterson's and co-author Chris Tebbetts' dose of this rare quality goes down easy here, coupled as it is with Laura Park's cartoon illustrations which mix sixth-grade reality and fantasy well. As Susan Carpenter, reviewer for The Los Angeles Times, puts it,"Middle School" does a wonderful job of channeling the anxiety, and (il)logic, of the middle-grade mind. "Middle School" is a perfectly pitched novel exploring an important and under-covered topic: the unhealthy ways in which disempowered kids express themselves to obtain some sort of control over situations in which they find themselves helpless."

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Where the Wild Things Are? Weiner Wolf by Jeff Crosby

WEINER DOG SELDOM WAGGED HIS TAIL ANYMORE.

HIS TOY HAD LOST ITS SQUEAK. HE WAS HUNGRY FOR SOMETHING NEW.

LIFE WITH GRANNY HAD BECOME TOO TAME.

We first see Weiner Dog, dozing on his back, feet in the air, in his little plaid bed, in Granny's cozy little house, the picture of domesticated indolence. But inside, he feels doggy discontent rising. Granny dumps a can of the same-old-same-old in his dish and fills his water dish with the same dull drink. Ho Hum! Then it's into Granny's hand-knit doggy sweater for just another totally predictable day.

But wait! What's that on the telly? Weiner Dog feels his heart leap and his paws long to lope as he watches a pack of wild wolves streaking through a darkling woods. He hears the ancient call stirring deep in his DNA: AROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

HE HIGHTAILED IT OUT OF THERE AND HITCHED A RIDE.

HE TOOK TO THE WILDERNESS IN SEARCH OF ... FRIENDS?

In the forest Weiner Dog finds himself the center of a circle of slavering wolves, the real deal, hoping that they will see his true nature beneath his man-bred shape. He sheds the sweater, his last vestige of civilization, and faces them bravely.

And he is accepted into the fraternity of wolves! His new water dish is a forest pool, his new backyard, the forest, and his new squeaky toys a litter of cute cubs to play with.

And he has a new name--Weiner Wolf!

Now it's time for that moment he saw on the screen: it's time to run with the wild wolves. Weiner Wolf becomes sleek and swift as he follows his new comrades deeper into the forest, taking a few shortcuts under the fallen logs that the pack leaps effortlessly in pursuit of a family of deer. At last the pack stops abruptly. This is the moment for which the wild wolf lives, the moment when the chase is done and he moves in for the .....

YIKES!

WEINER WOLF SUDDENLY FEELS LIKE WEINER DOG.

...AND WEINER DOG BELONGS AT HOME....

Jeff Crosby's just published Wiener Wolf (Hyperion, 2011) makes perfect use of his spare but evocative text and his beautiful cinematographic illustrations in a fine reworking of the old "back in your own backyard" theme, so ably executed in recent years in Avi's excellent novel, The Good Dog and Susan Meddaugh's comic Martha Speaks: Leader of the Pack, and a tale which recalls Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are. Jeff Crosby here has the right stuff, gorgeous dog's-eye views of Weiner's world, from Granny's sunbeam-lit cottage to the glades of the deep woods where shafts of sunlight spotlight Weiner Dog's temporary transformation in the wild. This one is a must-have for the year thus far, a standout that has all the components of a memorable picture book for all the right reasons.

As Publishers Weekly puts it succinctly,"This wiener's a winner!"

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