BooksForKidsBlog

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fortitude Triumphs: Wisdom's Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdoch

Trudy began weeping even before she awoke the next morning. "What is it?" Tips whispered.

Trudy pulled away. "I don't want to be your family. I want to be your wife!"

Gently, Tips shook his head. "We haven't talked in six years. This is my life here---"

Wisdom opened her eyes. "Where are we?"

"It doesn't matter," Trudy said bitterly. Tip, overcome, stared at the floor.

"Doesn't matter?" said Wisdom. "It's the future of Montagne. It's my future, my sister's, it's...."

Trudy glared at her. "It's my future, too! My future is over. You stole my future."

Wisdom recoiled. "How dare you!"

"How dare I? What's that, princess talk? You can have anything you want, in the whole world. Why did you have to take him?"

"I didn't "take" him. I love him."

Happiness is many things. In Catherine Gilbert Murdoch's forthcoming Wisdom's Kiss (Houghton Mifflin, 2011), the human quest for happiness is played out from the multiple perspectives of its characters--Queen Mother Benevolence (nee Princess Ben), her spinsterish older daughter Temperance, her ditsy and adventurous younger daughter Wisdom (Dizzy), childhood sweethearts Tips the miller's son and Trudy (Fortitude), an orphaned kitchen wench of dubious lineage, the avaricious Queen Wilhelmina of Farina, her effete son Roger, dispatched to woo Temperance but enamored of Wisdom, and Felis El Gato, the showman who apprentices Tips for his agility and takes him away from Trudy and off to the court of Wilhelmina of Farina.

It all begins when Queen Wilhelmina sends her dim son Roger to woo Temperance in order to acquire the riches of Montagne for her kingdom, but when he chooses instead the anti-princess Dizzy, the unwieldy plot swings into motion, sweeping up the beauteous (and strangely clairvoyant) Trudy as a substitute lady-in-waiting along the way. Wisdom and Tips fall into a star-crossed love; Queen Wilhemina is unable to conceal her evil intentions; and Queen Benevolence (nee Princess Ben), reviving her renounced wizardly skills, takes a page from Juliet's faux suicide scene to confound the dastardly Wilhelmina's imperial lust and unite the true lovers, to the vast dismay of the thus lovelorn Roger and Trudy. Then, with a Deus ex machina resolution involving a magically-driven hot air balloon escape, Trudy's clairvoyance, and assorted transformations, including that of a doppelganger cat, it all concludes with a happy-ever-after for all...and, incidentally, the historical genesis of several of Europe's best-known fairy tales.

Just your average teenage love triangle novel--with appended glossary and author's notes, that is.

Told not in straight-forward narration, but in eight parallel literary sources--encyclopedia entries, bombastic memoirs, journal postings, various epistles and missives, and a sixteenth-century drama--the story almost founders under the weight of its clever complexity, saved by an enticing pair of romances, a cut-throat royal rivalry, and curiously talented black cat. If the plot sometimes struggles to move forward under the weight of its several narrative threads, it becomes apparent that it is through their different takes on the same events that the diverse characters are developed in what is ultimately revealed as a supremely character-driven plot.

Sometimes confusing, occasionally tedious, and ultimately delightfully satisfying, this novel is not one for the reader seeking a light, quick read. Murdoch, author of the poignant and hilarious Dairy Queen trilogy and this novel's prequel, Princess Ben, nevertheless emerges as the real magician behind this literary legerdemain. "An ebullient fairy tale," as Kirkus Reviews has it, this novel joins Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted and Fairest in the pantheon of the popular young adult genre of plucky-princess fractured fairy tales.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Page Shunner: I Will Not Read This Book by Cece Meng

WAIT!

BEFORE I READ THIS BOOK...

I HAVE TO FLOSS MY TEETH...

AND CLEAN UNDER MY BED.

Kids in the middle of the bedtime routine are masters of stalling, and this little PJ-ed boy is right up there in the Stallers Hall of Fame.

But when the fish are fed and his itchy nose is scratched, it's crunch time. For that, there's always the preschooler's famous, feared fall-back position.


YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!

I WILL NOT READ THIS BOOK EVEN IF YOU HANG ME UPSIDE DOWN BY MY TOES....

The boy pictures the whole scene for his patiently waiting mother. She's hanging him upside down by his big toe from a cliff and his sock monkey is tickling his feet, over a sea filled with sharks, in dragon-filled sky in a lightning storm, with a speeding train bearing down on an improbable ocean-spanning track....

No way. After all, as the little lad admits, reading is hard and there might be strange words, and it will take forever...and...and...

But what if the rope breaks and he falls down, down, down toward an imagined doom?

But, then, what if Mom is there to catch him?

That's different.

THEN I WILL READ THE BOOK WITH YOU.

Cece Meng's newest I Will Not Read This Book (Clarion, 2011), to be published September 6, takes our reading-phobic little hero to the heights of hyperbole before he cracks and agrees to crack that bedtime book with Mom. Artist Joy Ang gives this cliff-hanger the appropriate hilarious hyper-preposterous treatment as well, setting her comic protagonist against a bright white background as he dangles over the dangers he imagines, clutching the offending book despite it all. Even reluctant readers will have to giggle at the super silly perils he summons up, and all kids will be tickled by the cover which shows the boy holding up the book in question, aptly titled I Will Not Read This Book.

Pair this one with Barbara Bottner's Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don't) for an empathetic book fest for the bookophobic.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Back to School: Hands Off, Harry by Rosemary Wells


GUESS WHAT HAPPENED AT SCHOOL TODAY?

HARRY RAN ALL THE WAY DOWN THE HALL AND INTO SCHOOL BACKWARDS!

HE KNOCKED BABETTE, TINA, AND BENJAMIN OUT OF FRIENDLY CIRCLE AND ONTO THE FLOOR.

HARRY LAUGHED, BUT NO ONE ELSE DID!

Harry is obviously challenged in the personal-boundaries department, the one kid in Miss Harmony's class who seems to careen around the classroom causing mess and mayhem wherever he goes. He spills poster paints all over Benjamin's back-to-school outfit and pokes Miracle in the ribs, making her spill glue in her new shoes.


"IT WAS AN ACCIDENT," SAID HARRY.

Harry is an accident waiting to happen, a bull in the china shop, and a candidate for a time-out in the thinking chair. But "thinking time" away from the others and frequent "re-directions" from Miss Harmony seem to go unheeded. Something must be done!

The Kindergators come to a conclusion that Harry needs a way to be reminded to keep a proper distance between himself and others, and in a Friendly Circle intervention Babette comes up with a great solution--an inflated rubber tube to pop around his waist to make sure that he can't possibly invade anyone's personal space! Harry thinks it's a hoot and by the end of the day finds out that people like him a lot better when he's got his own perimeter under control.


"I WANT TO SAY I'M SORRY," SAID HARRY!

I THINK HE MEANS IT!" SAID MISS HARMONY.

Rosemary Wells (of Max & Ruby fame) shows she knows the ways of Kindergartners in her introductory title in her new Kindergators series, Kindergators: Hands Off, Harry! (Katherine Tegen Books, 2011), which promises to be a fun way to explore the early days of Kindergarten. Wells' illustrations offer a bit of a change from her usual style in her mixed-media (collage) art and her story line offers a new cast of characters for the preschool set.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rebus and Rhyme: We Love Our School: A Read-Together Rebus Story by Judy Sierra



"IT'S THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!"
SAID THE [FROG] IN THE POOL.

WITH [TWO] BOOKS IN HIS PACK
THAT HE WORE ON HIS BACK.
HE SAILED OFF TO SCHOOL.

The first day of school is hard, even when you have friendly [DUCK], [SNAIL], and [RABBIT] for classmates and a [TURKEY] by the name of Tom Burkey as a teacher. ABC games and blocks and artwork are fun, too, and soon the new students are settling down happily.


"THEY SANG ABOUT SHARING,
AND HELPING AND CARING.
AND EVERYONE FELT LIKE A [STAR]!"

What sets this gentle little introduction to early childhood classes apart are Judy Sierra's lively rhyming text and the frequent introduction of iconic pictures for words--FROG, GUITAR, PIE, BLOCKS, and RAINBOW, for example. Children of preschool age can already "read" pictures, symbols, and icons, and with plenty of these rebus clues scattered through the simple verse in the text, they can readily participate in the flow of meaning available on the printed page. Judy Sierra's newest, We Love Our School!: A Read-Together Rebus Story Albert A. Knopf, 2011) uses her rhyming skills to offer textual cues, while Linda Davick's stylized and simple illustrations provide the visual clues to help the early emergent reader bounce through this upbeat story.

"This is a simple but thoroughly charming little gem of a book," says Booklist, and Kirkus Reviews adds, "A comforting and empowering build-up to the big day—kindergarten (or preschool), here we come!"

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Alpine Avalanche Adventure: Dogs in the Dead of Night (Magic Tree House #46) by Mary Pope Osborne

"His name is not Wild Dog, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always."
---Rudyard Kipling in The Just So Stories
Packing up for their usual school day, Jack and Annie are summoned by a desperate message from their magical friends Teddy and Kathleen. It is time for them to search out the second magical thing needed to restore Merlin's beloved penguin Penny to him, and this time their trip back in time takes them to the Swiss Alps in the early 1800s in search of the rare yellow glacial buttercup.

But finding a fragile flower seems an impossible assignment when their enchanted tree house sets them down in a howling Alpine snowstorm. Jack and Annie find themselves buried in a sudden avalanche until a team of huge shaggy dogs digs them out and a group of torch-bearing monks guides them to a monastery high in the Alps. Recovering with the help of the monks and the company of a rowdy young St. Bernard pup named Barry, Jack and Annie learn from the Abbot, Friar Laurent, that the flower they seek does indeed bloom briefly in the nearby Alpine meadows, but only when the snow has melted in the spring. To while away the time, Annie offers to help train the seemingly clueless Barry, who proceeds to escape the monastery into a blizzard and is soon in need of rescue himself.

Jack and Annie use the magic potion Teddy and Kathleen provided to turn themselves into a pair of rescue dogs and experience the thrill of running strongly through the storm and saving the lost themselves. When the potion's power fades and Barry is safely back where he belongs, Friar Laurent introduces them to the visiting Consul Napoleon Bonaparte and in the monastery's vaulted library shows all of them his life's work, a botanical catalog with many rare specimens--including the Ranuncululs glacialis, the "yellow flower" of their quest. Barry seems to have been matured by the experience into a promising rescue dog himself and with the feeling of having accomplished more than their original mission, Jack and Anne return to their Magic Tree House and home, just in time to head off to school.

Mary Pope Osborne's best-selling Magic Tree House series has a marketing magic of its own, as in this latest entry, Magic Tree House #46: Dogs in the Dead of Night (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)) (Random House, 2012), debuting this month, which has already taken its place among the top sellers. A touch of wizardry and a taste of European history, as presented in the appended "Author's Note" on the Napoleonic Wars and the history of St. Bernard's famous dogs, one of whom is always given the distinction of being named "Barry," make this adventure for early chapter readers educational as well as engaging fun.

As always, Osborne provides a companion study guide, now known as a Fact Tracker, titled Magic Tree House Fact Tracker #24: Dog Heroes: A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House #46: Dogs in the Dead of Night (A Stepping Stone Book(TM)). Children are guided in research on the original Barry and his successors as well as many other famous and not-so-famous heroic dogs of history.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sub Flubs: Peanut Butter and Homework Sandwiches by Lisa Broadie Cook

It's Monday, and all Martin MacGregor wanted to do was go to school.

Mr. Elliott was the coolest teacher ever, and this was the day he was going to bring in his pet, Harriet the Tarantula
.

Mr. Elliott is just too cool for school, and Martin MacGregor makes sure he arrives at his classroom door nice and early to please his wonderful teacher.

But that's not Mr. Elliott at his desk. It's a substitute, aptly named Mrs. Payne, whose style turns out to be definitely old school. School is suddenly not cool, and at the end of the day, she piles on the homework!

But Martin is a good student and he doesn't want to disappoint Mr. Elliott with bad marks when he returns, so he goes straight home and tackles his mountain of homework. Just as he is almost finished with his math problems, he has an attack of the munchies and returns to his desk with a thick peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Disaster strikes. The gloppy jam escapes its boundaries and a big blob lands right on Martin's math paper. And when Martin hurries back with a wet paper towel to try to salvage his work, he finds his dog Sadie has already, er, cleaned up the spill.

"Sadie! You didn't just eat the peanut butter--you ate the whole paper," yelled Martin.

"This gives a whole new meaning to 'the dog ate my homework!'"

Mrs. Payne is neither amused nor pleased with Martin's true tale, and he has to stay in at recess and do his math homework all over again.

Things go downhill from there. The next day, as soon as Martin gets home, his mom hustles him out of his jeans to fill out her laundry load, and his forgotten spelling paper comes out all faded and stiff. Mrs. Payne finds that unacceptable also, and Martin misses another recess while he does a redo. The next day Martin's little sister mistakenly takes his backpack, with his carefully completed and unlaundered homework to school with her, and Martin winds up with a backpack full of nothing but a doll named Miss Nettie belonging to his sibling. More recess redos.

Even Mother Nature is out to get him. When he carefully hand-carries his homework to school the next day, the wind blows two pages onto the school roof.

"I learned that homework on the roof didn't count with Mrs. Payne," Martin says ruefully, as he spends another recess on a two-page redo.

Homework seems hopeless. Martin complains and his dad suggests that he make up his own assignment and offers his computer for Martin to research any topic he wants to write about. Martin is delighted, and all weekend he works on a report on tarantulas. If he can't have Harriet in his classroom, at least he can know all about her and make his own model of her at home.

But substitutes don't stay forever, and when the next Monday rolls around, Mr. Elliott, broken arm in a sling, is back, along with the promised Harriet, and a new assignment--to find out everything the class can about tarantulas. The student with the best report is going to get to take Harriet home for the weekend! This time Martin is ahead of the game!

"I wonder how my mom and sister will feel about a weekend guest?" Martin grinned.

In Lisa Brodie Cook's newest Martin MacGregor story, Peanut Butter and Homework Sandwiches (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2011), perseverance pays off, even when luck seems to abandon our poor scholar. Jack Davis's comic illustrations add a lot to the fun of this bad-luck back-to-school story.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ties of Blood: Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer


I felt the now familiar wave of panic wash over me. It was my punishment for being defiant. If I couldn't be Quiet-Never-Make-A-Fuss Willa, Mom and Jack, Brooke and Alyssa, wanted no part of me.

I couldn't even blame them. Quiet-Never-Make-A-Fuss Willa was gone, replaced by the self-pitying scene-making daughter of a....

I couldn't bring myself to define Budge, to put a label on him. Because whatever he was, I was his daughter and whether I loved him or not, whether I even knew him or not, he was a part of me, so entwined with my body and my soul that he could never be disentangled.

Susan Beth Pfeffer is a fearless writer of fiction, writing about those family relationships where others fear to tread. In her forthcoming Blood Wounds Harcourt, 2011) she goes deep into the weeds of a superficially happy blended family, with a conflicted protagonist who submerges her own feelings to maintain a surface calm and sometimes finds release for her fears only in secretly cutting herself. She watches her own mom subjugate herself and Willa to the needs of stepsisters Brooke and Alyssa, whose wealthy mother provides them with dressage training, tennis lessons, and trips abroad. Willa admits to feeling like a Cinderella sister, taking their unwanted clothes and living a much less opulent life to please her stepfather Jack.

But when Willa's barely remembered biological father Budge suddenly murders his second wife and three little girls and is seen heading toward their hometown, everything changes for Willa and her family. Warned by the police, they flee their house for concealed locations, but when her father is killed by the police staking out her house and one of her half-sisters is found decapitated in his car, Willa is forced to face the importance of that unknown family, struggling to understand how those ties of blood have left wounds on her and her mom which can damage their new family life.

Willa feels compelled to attend the funeral of her little sisters in Pryor, Texas. Suddenly Willa finds a family there, a failed family to be sure, but one that recognizes her as "all Coffey," one to which she realizes she is bound by blood and circumstance, and one which strangely helps her see the lack of honesty in her current family. Blood binds and blood wounds, but it also is the source from which she comes, and with her new understanding Willa is able to help her blended family see beyond their assumed roles to the real people beneath them.

Part thriller, part psychological drama, part coming-of-age novel, Pfeffer's latest is an honest and solid look at one family, like all families unique, at a critical turning point in their lives together. Young adult readers will find this a page turner, but will also find much to think about in Blood Wounds. As Publishers Weekly has said, "This intense psychological drama, showing the brightest and darkest sides of humanity, offers remarkable acts of courage and disturbing images of domestic violence. Willa's frankly portrayed grief, confusion, and uncertainties will have a strong impact on readers."

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Off to School: Mouse's First Day of School by Lauren Thompson


ONE BRIGHT MORNING MOUSE FOUND A HIDING PLACE...

THAT TOOK HIM TO A BRAND-NEW PLACE!

Unbeknownst to him, Mouse stows away in a school backpack, and soon he finds himself whisked away to a preschool classroom filled with delights for an adventurous mouse.

Mouse first finds blocks--blocks that count: One, Two, Three Four!, and books that spell with the A B Cs. There is a mouse-sized toy car that goes VRRIM, VRUM, VROOM! when he climbs into the driver's seat, and paints--RED, BLUE, AND YELLOW--just waiting for artwork. Even the snacks have their own appeal:

SSIP, SSLURP, CRUNCH!

SNACKS!

There are BLINKY, CUDDLY, CURLY dolls in the play corner and FEATHERY, FLOPPY, BOPPY hats in the dress-up center, and CLANG, BANG, STIR pots in the cooking center. Mouse tries out all the centers before it is time for everyone to gather together in a friendly circle--wiggly, giggly friends to make and remember when the day is done!

Lauren Thompson's top-selling Mouse's First Day of School (Little Simon) is now newly available in a handsome and sturdy board book edition for those little ones just getting ready for their first day at preschool or day care. Mouse makes a merry model as he explores the pleasures of the classroom, complete with plants and puzzles, toys and various types of hands-on learning opportunities, and, as in all the Mouse books, artist Buket Ertogan adds his bright acrylic illustrations to delight the eye of the youngest budding scholar. A great ice-breaker which gives the very young child a chance to become familiar with the preschool classroom and draws out questions about what the world of preschool will be all about.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

On the Trail of Tears: Season of the Cold Moon by Diane C. Stewart

Cold. Only cold.

Daniel could hardly remember being warm.

Daniel curled into a ball, slid his hands under his armpits, and listened to the bouts of coughing that never seemed to stop in the camp. He was very wary of going to sleep. Lately, many who lay down at night did not wake up in the morning. For those who did, in their hearts it would always be the season of the Cold Moon.

Anthony Westcott was restless. Seventh grade had turned out to be even worse than he had expected. He seemed to spend most of his time dreading "Monday Morning Smackdown," in which class bullies Neal and Colby, as Anthony puts it, "would do the smacking and he'd take care of the down part." Anthony's refuge during the hazards of lunch time was the library, where Mrs. De Losada was happy to help him research an intriguing mystery from his town back in 1831, in which the son of a wealthy resident of Adelaide Village had been kidnapped and rescued by a young Cherokee who had then disappeared in the "Removal," Andrew Jackson's euphemistic term for the forced march of the Cherokees to Oklahoma.

Stuck as bully bait in his present life, Anthony is more and more tempted by the possibility of escape into the past. He, his friend Cal, and sister Liv had already used the Quimbaya chest to travel into the past, and when his library browsing uncovers the unsolved mystery of a missing person and a land-grab conspiracy back in the time of the Cherokee removal from eastern Tennessee, Anthony cannot resist the pull of the past and finally persuades Cal and Liv to go back with him and try to right a wrong in the early days of their town.

But what was meant to be a quick time travel trip turns into a trek through the turbulent times in Tennessee on the Trail of Tears. Traveling with Liv and Cal on foot and by horseback, wagon, and steamboat to Louisville, Kentucky. Anthony finds the kidnapped Eugene, rescued by Daniel Kingfisher, and together the four young people set out return the good deed, to locate and free Daniel from the Trail of Tears. Along the way they find that they call upon former pirate Rob Morehouse, now a prosperous Florida businessman, a sometime foe and recent ally who owes his current life to their Quimbaya device, and together they plan a daring rescue which will right an old wrong and return Daniel to his own time and place and give his descendants a chance to be born in their ancestral homeland.

The third book in Diane C. Stewart's Quimbaya Trilogy, Season of the Cold Moon (Beanpole Books, 2011), combines a strong sense of place, believable characters, and fast-paced adventure with a microcosmic view of the event known as The Trail of Tears, in which thousands were forcibly rounded up and marched overland from the North Caroline/Tennessee Appalachians to the Oklahoma reservation where the survivors' descendants still live today. Stewart's exposition of this sad chapter of history is done straightforwardly, without undue sentimentality, but her inclusion of these events provides a serious backdrop to a rousing time-travel tale.

Other books in this historical series include Quimbaya and Longitude: Zero Degrees.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Board the Big Bus: Off to School!


IT'S THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.

WE SAY GOOD-BYE TO OUR MOMS AND DADS AT THE BUS STOP AND GET ON THE BUS.

Leaving the preschool days behind and taking a seat on that official (and very large) yellow bus is one of the rites of passage in early childhood. Some kids find the big bus the scariest part of the day, and others can't wait to enter those special, swishing doors, the portal to leaving their "baby" days behind, and climb into that "big kid" zone that only "big school" kids can claim as their own.

Barron's attractive little die-cut (with the top of all windows open) board book, Off to School (Barron's, 2010) takes rising Kindergartners on a virtual tour of that epic bus ride and the first day of school that follows. A teacher's aide lines up each class and leads them to their classroom where (Gulp!) their TEACHER awaits them--luckily with a smile. What follows is a birds-eye tour of stuff to know for the first day--the coat hooks, cubbies, their all-important seats with their names already on them, the story circle, the morning snack time, arts and crafts, the playhouse and interest centers, music (with real instruments), and the playground with its big climbing toys--before the big yellow bus pulls back into the driveway to take the kids home to their parents, eagerly awaiting to hear all about it.

For kids just beginning to take that first giant step out into the world, this little yellow bus-shaped book makes a good place to start the countdown to Kindergarten.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Kids Cookin': Paula Deen's My First Cookbook by Paula Deen and Martha Nesbitt

Everyone from Dora the Explorer to Harry Potter have had a crack at cookery for kids, including Paula Dean, the doyenne, yea, the dimpled diva of dining.

Dean's little volume, Paula Dean's My First Cookbook (Simon & Schuster) has been among the best sellers in this genre of publishing for some time. Her cookbook touches most of the bases, with the necessary introductory chapters on cooking safety, a glossary of terms, such as mince, pare, and saute,' which also features a picture glossary of equipment such as whisk and oven mitt, directions for common practices such as measuring, dicing, and kneading, and sections on manners and proper table setting--a neglected skill!

Dean then launches into her recipe section, beginning with separate chapters for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She includes chapters on snacks ("I'm Starving!"), birthdays ("Happy Birthday to Me!") cooking for holidays, cooking for parents, special drinks, and non-edible crafts with foods. Included are drawings of ingredients within each recipe, and plenty of colorful photos illustrating each dish in progress. Dean also thoughtfully includes a table of contents and a fairly detailed index, all within a handy-sized volume, spiral-bound to lie flat or stay open when propped up during the preparation period. Dean's recipes include plenty of fresh ingredients, but she does not shy away from including pre-prepared ingredients in some recipes, a plus or minus depending on personal choice. While the reading level is fairly low, adult supervision is, of course, counseled for younger children where recipes require heat, electrical appliances, or sharp implements. Dean's only downside here is an absence of nutritional information for recipes or advice.

All in all this is an pleasant, easily utilized cookbook for youngsters, featuring child-friendly foods with a lot of kid appeal. Porcupine Meat Balls anyone?

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Back to School: Back to School Tortoise by Lucy M George

SUMMER WAS ALMOST OVER.

IT WAS TIME TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL.

TORTOISE STARTED THINKING, "WHAT IF....?"

Each new school year is a step into the unknown, and Tortoise is wary of the unknowns ahead on the first day. What if he does something dumb, like stumbling in front of his whole class? What if the lunch is so bad he can't eat it? What if the kids in his new class are mean to him?

It might even be worse!

WHAT IF HE TRIPPED WHILE GETTING LUNCH, AND ALL THE KIDS WERE MEAN TO HIM?

"I CAN'T GO IN!" TORTOISE THOUGHT.

Tortoise takes a time-out outside the school door to think about it. The new class could be awful. It happens. But then...he looks at it from another angle.

WHAT IF IT WAS FUN, WITH HIS FAVORITE LUNCH, AND... LOTS OF NEW FRIENDS?

It might be too good to miss. Tortoise screws up his courage, picks up his backpack and pushes through the schoolroom door, with a brave smile for everyone inside.

"GOOD MORNING, EVERYONE!" HE SAID.

"GOOD MORNING, MR. TORTOISE!" THEY SHOUTED BACK.

Even teachers have first-day jitters, and Lucy M. George's Back to School Tortoise (Albert Whitman, 2011) has a surprise conclusion that shows that opening-day anxieties are very much the same for teachers and their students, Merel Eyckman's gentle pastel pencil and watercolor illustrations help give a soft edge to this story of first-day-of-school fears.

For double read-aloud fun, follow up this one with Julie Dannenburg's First Day Jitters. which shares the same plot device and see how long it takes little listeners to pick up on the partially concealed visual cues that reluctant scholar Sarah Jane is really Ms. Sarah Jane Hartwell, a new teacher about to face a brand-new class in her brand-new school.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Waning: Dark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett

My mother was with me.

And not only my mother, but her mother and all our Mothers invisible but present nonetheless.

I could not see her, but I felt her presence. I looked out over my people and felt a rush of love. They were so imperfect, and different from the other, yet so beautiful, even the old ones deformed with suffering and the tall, young ones... They were all My children, and they were all beautiful.

I had been Goddess since time was time, and I would be Goddess forever.

Just coming into her own womanhood, Ariadne knows that her loving and so human mother is also She-Who-Is-Goddess and that somday on her death, she herself, now Goddess-Who-Will-Be, must pass through a ceremony in which the goddess of the moon will enter her own body, and make her the living essence of the the deity. But Ariadne's mother unexpectedly dies in childbirth, and her young daughter, not fully prepared, must face the ritual which will make her Goddess incarnate. Then, filled with the essence of that deity, she must choose a consort at the Spring Festival, a mortal man who will briefly take on the spirit of Velchanos and who will be made a blood sacrifice on the third day to insure a good harvest for Crete.

Crete is a matriarchal theocracy, ruled by the living incarnation of the Goddess of the Moon as high priestess, and her oldest blood brother as the Minos, the judge and lawkeeper of the realm. But Ariadne's oldest brother, the Minotauros, is Asterion, huge and hideously deformed gentle but severely limited in mind, bound by her mother's spell in a chamber below the palace, and Ariadne knows that when she becomes Goddess, he will never be able to function as her Minos.

Into this unsettled time before her initiation comes a tribute ship from Athens, bearing the required sacrifical youth and Theseus, the king's son, set to be killed to atone for the death in Athens of Crete's own Minos-to-Be in the previous generation. Theseus has only just learned that he is a son of King Aegeus of Athens and is an open and curious young man as yet unaware of his fate when his ship arrives at Knossus. He and an Athenian girl, Prokris, befriend Ariadne, whom non-priestly Creteans are forbidden to speak with or touch, her only confidantes as she fearfully prepares for the fateful day. But Prokris is a shrewd young woman and soon makes herself a place as the youngest wife of the Minos, Ariadne's kindly uncle, and schemes to enlist Theseus in a takeover of the rule of Crete when Ariadne's brother is made the Minos.

As the day of her ritual draws near, Ariadne fears that the court rumors of her birth may be true and that she will not be worthy of becoming Goddess. But as she emerges from the temple, deadly snakes secure in each hand, she feels that she indeed has become She-Who-Is-Goddess, and when the time comes to choose the man who is possessed of the spirit of the sacrificial bull, the god Velchanos himself, it is Theseus to whom she is drawn and Theseus whom she chooses as her husband. Theseus, learning of his imminent blood sacrifice to ensure the fertility of the harvest, determines that he will not give himself willingly to that fate, and as the ball of enchanted thread which holds the fate of Crete is unraveled, everything is changed.

Tracy Barrett's Dark of the Moon (Harcourt, 2011) is a gripping reworking of the legend of the Minotaur. Barrett is skillful in weaving into her own story of loyalty and love much of the mythology and history of Crete and ancient Athens, and makes of this legendary account a deeply personal coming-of-age human story, albeit one of a time long gone, the story of the flesh-and-blood mortals whose struggles with custom and fate have become the basis of the well-known mythic stories of Theseus and Ariadne.

Kirkus Reviews wrote "Ariadne weaves a new tale in a historically rich reworking of Theseus and the Minotaur... A world and story both excitingly alien and pleasingly familiar." and gives this forthcoming book a rare starred review rating.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Back to School for Skippito: Skippyjon Jones: Class Action by Judy Schachner

SKIPPYJON JONES WAS JUST DYING TO GO TO SCHOOL

And, of course, it's not just any school that the opinionated little Siamese kitty wants--it's the school where all the "Chi-wa-las" go! Mama Junebug says NO, but that's not an answer Skippy ever settles for, and soon he's dressed for the part and through the door of his imagining closet and into a school bus cram-jammed with scholastic canines.

"OH, I AM SKIPPYJON JONES, AND I DON'T GET THE FUSS.

IT'S NOT LIKE A PIGEON IS DRIVING THE BUS!"

MY NAME IS SKIPPITO FRISKITO

AND I'M OFF TO THE SCHOOL FOR PERRITOS!"

But dog school has its downside, with plenty of slobbery schipperkes and baying beagles. Skippyjon, however, soon finds his Chihuahua chums, los poochitos, led by Poquito Tito, and is set to realize his school dreams.

But this school has one student who seems not to be there for obedience training--the enormous, amorphous, and monstrous Woolly Bully, who barges through the lunchroom and scares the tiny chi-wa-las until their perky ears droop and even the intrepid-ito Skippito Friskito drops his snackito!

"GET YOUR DUDS, DUDE!" Poquito cries.

Climbing into his mask-ito and cape-ito, Skippy morphs into superhero El Skippito, and taking a page from the Wizard of Oz, "uncovers" the truth behind the terrifying Woolly Bullito of Barker Academy.

It's a classic Skippyjon, as our feline hero takes on the class bully in the lastest entry in Judy Schachner's best-selling series, in Skippyjon Jones, Class Action (Dutton, 2011), It's a rollicking tail-wagger of a first-day-at-school tale, dotted with Schachner's clever rhymes and hilarious Spanglish in this sure-fire back-to-school fantasy. "Skippyjon's world is as off-kilter, high-energy, and irreverent as ever," says Publishers Weekly.

Buenito, Skippito!

And for your viewing gust-ito, watch the dand-ito preview-ito for this little librito here.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New Girl at School: Hound Dog True by Linda Urban

It's good that they are here, inside Mitchel P. Anderson Elementary School, inside Ms. Morgan's fifth grade classroom, inside the room that Uncle Potluck says will be hers once school starts.

Mattie Mae reminds herself there is a whole week before this new school starts and she doesn't have to think about any of that yet.

She can just help Uncle Potluck fulfill his Janitorial Oath.

Mattie's mom has wander-foot, and she has stood in front of a lot of classes while a new teacher tells her to say her name and tell the class about herself. Mattie dreads that moment, and her familiar role as the lonely new girl, but this time she has a plan. She has her private silver notebook with her and intends to write down Uncle Potluck's janitorial maxims on the page titled "Custodial Wisdom," which she is going to memorize so well that Uncle Potluck will make her his Custodial Apprentice. With this title she hopes to be rescued from all those solitary lunch and recess periods she knows are ahead, times like those she has known so many times as the shy new girl. No use hoping for a friend, a real friend, one who is hound dog true.

But Uncle Potluck has more than custodial wisdom; he has an innate understanding of this quiet withdrawn niece and the harm her mother's gypsy ways has worked on her dutiful daughter. And as Mattie settles in to her life at her uncle's house, she begins to find some trust down deep.

"You've got to trust the moon if you want the moon to trust you," Uncle Potluck says as he takes her to the lookout rock by the apple tree to talk to the moon.

He wanted her to talk, Mattie knew. Wanted her to introduce herself, say something fine, but Mattie could not find a word in that dark.

But over that waiting week, that significant week before she has to stand in front by the teacher's desk and say something important about herself to her new class, Mattie comes to feels herself at home. Uncle Potluck sees how it is with Mattie and explains to her mother that all those different schools have not been good for Mattie. Mattie makes a friend with whom she can tell the moon something important about herself, and also finds a friend in her new teacher and new principal as well, She finds people and a place she can trust.

Linda Urban's forthcoming Hound Dog True (Harcourt, 2011) tells of Mattie's learning to do those "small brave acts" that begin a new phase in her life in this quietly told story of new beginnings and old longings met, bringing, as Publishers Weekly says, "poignant moments for readers."

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Monday, August 15, 2011

"Lights Out! Sweet Dreams!:" Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed by Eileen Christelow

"IT'S BEDTIME FOR MONKEYS! NOW TURN OUT THE LIGHT."
"OH, MAMA! OH, PLEASE! ONE MORE STORY TONIGHT!"

BUT MAMA'S TOO TIRED. SHE'S READ MORE THAN FOUR.
"LIGHTS OUT! SWEET DREAMS!" SHE CLOSES THE DOOR.

But there are lots of irresistible books left behind:

"IF MAMA WON'T READ IT, THEN MAYBE WE COULD!"

Five little monkeys take turns reading Where's That Puppy? First they weep and then they celebrate when the little lost puppy is found, bringing a grouchy Mama back to the door with a curt reminder: "What was it I said? No more reading in bed." But a scary ghost story beckons, and the monkeys can't resist making ghostly sounds to go along with the story, until something REALLY SCARY appears. It's MAMA, wearing bathrobe and slippers and a weary frown, and giving them a stronger still warning. But as the door closes firmly behind her retreating figure, one little monkey whispers:

"THAT STORY WAS SO CREEPY, I'LL NEVER BE SLEEPY."

And she has the perfect antidote to a ghost tale--a joke book. Soon the five little monkeys are trying vainly to stifle their snickers at the silliness until their giggles become a roar:

AND THEN CAN YOU GUESS WHO FLINGS OPEN THEIR DOOR?

Mama means business this time and to prove it she confiscates all their books and stomps out the door. But now he five little monkeys are too sleepy to protest and soon they are about to drift into dreamland at last when the sounds of weeping and then giggling from down the hall rouse them again. Of course, we can all guess who's reading in bed this time, and the five little monkeys finally get their turn to deliver that now famous line to Mama.

"OH, MAMA, WHAT WAS IT YOU SAID?
LIGHTS OUT! SWEET DREAMS! NO MORE READING IN BED!"

Eileen Christelow's storytime simian siblings are at the top of their game in this eighth installment in her best-selling Five Little Monkeys series, the forthcoming Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed (Clarion, 2011), a must-have bedtime story starring those irrepressible little monkeys. Christelow's trademark blackline and water-colored illustrations are exuberant, each of the five with a different expression and body language which provide lots of visual fun to fit with her fine versification. A not-to-be-missed story that puts in a plug for independent reading-- with even Mama unable to resist a good nighty-night tale and a promise that "tomorrow...we'll read more." To open and close the fun, Christelow's front endpapers feature the little monkeys reading everywhere--from the potty to the backyard swing--while her closing endpapers set the pace for snooze time with five snoring little ones surrounded by stars. A perfectly realized picture book!

Kirkus Reviews also gives this one a thumbs-up: "Christelow's silly simians are just as bouncy as they ever were.... Reading promotion at its best, with a little bit of bad behavior to spice things up!"


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Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Road Taken: Along a Long Road by Frank Viva

HIT A BUMP?

GET BACK ON TRACK!

REACH THE END? START AGAIN!

Getting there is half the fun!" is the colloquially stated theme of this striking picture book by Frank Viva, his just-published Along a Long Road (Little, Brown, 2011) In a graphic sort of tour de force, Viva's book is a spare but artfully-texted book taken from a thirty five-foot-long mural, executed on creamy paper in only four colors, in artwork which is both retro and avant-garde in execution. A bicyclist follows a supple, curving, yellow road beside the sea, and as the bike moves along, we see children playing, a Ferris wheel turning with a lone figure waving, ships and sailboats on the sea, and a small town flashing by soundlessly.

There is no "story" here, only the journey, a ride which ends where it began and starts all over again, a cheery testimony to the joy of bicycling and a possible metaphorical reference to the cycle of life all rolled into one. As Publishers Weekly puts it, "It's the kind of book that creates a mood rather than telling a story, evoking the freedom of traveling, the joy of movement, and the exhilaration of being outside."

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