Saturday, June 30, 2012

Big As Life! Real-Size Baby Animals by Marie Greenwood

AWWWWWW! Everyone loves charming pictures of young animals, and no one loves them more than people who are youngsters themselves!

Dorling Kindersley's new nature study book, Real-size Baby Animals (DK, 2012), with text by Marie Greenwood, takes advantage of the popular toy-and-movable-book movement in this handsome, large-format book which offers full-sized vertical and horizontal gatefold pages which open up to show a variety of young animals, in natural positions and in actual dimensions.

The lead-off chapter, "Chirpy Chimps," features an infant chimpanzee holding on to a tree limb in a full-length vertical fold-out photo executed in the publisher's signature spot-art style.

Following the big-eyed baby chimp, young readers will meet a tiny new penguin, only a double handful for its zookeeper, a baby crocodile looking almost cute, playful puppies, the head and forequarters of a newly foaled pony, and a fuzzy lion cub. Other smaller animals--owlets, kittens, goats, ducklings, and lemurs--fit onto the regular large-size page format and are shown in full color with their siblings or parents, often in their preferred habitats.

Each brief chapter includes the basics of the animal's characteristics, with heights in inches and centimeters, featured text boxes with salient facts and figures (e.g., baby rabbits are technically called "kits" or "kittens," not bunnies!) about each animal, and text describing habits, behaviors, and habitats. The book contains a very helpful glossary, with terms such as "down," "camouflage," and "burrows," and additional helpful resources.

All this comes, of course, with Dorling Kindersley's usual gorgeous color photography and realistic illustrations by Jenna Riggs of these babies at play and in sleep. A great "occasion" gift and a useful and educational book to share with preschoolers or for primary grade students who need report material or just want to read about these animal babies.

Labels: ,

Friday, June 29, 2012

Trucksation! Tons of Trucks by Sue Fliess



Millions and billions and trillions of trucks--all are on the move every day, and Sue Fliess' and Betsy Snyder's' forthcoming (July 3) interactive board book, Tons of Trucks, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) gives toddler's digits something to do as these big and little movers scoop and scoot, lift and load, honk and haul. There are fire trucks that squirt, tar trucks that spread, milk trucks that m-o-o-ve, bigfoot mud trucks, and little red lift trucks, with plenty of surprises for little fingers to find.

There is sticky tar from the paving truck, a fork lift that goes up and down, a fire truck that lengthens to show off its long ladder, a power shovel that swings back and forth, a car carrier that folds out to reveal even more capacity, and several whose loading doors open to show off their cargo.

Artist Betsy Snyders opts for the spot art technique as she sets her bright illustrations off against a bright white board background, and there are a variety of movable devices to let youngsters play with these trucks on the page--pull tabs on the army truck which open the sides to show their top secret contents, and a wheel to turn which makes the cement mixer tank turn and the sweeper truck's broom revolve. Numerous flaps open to show off monkeys, mice, and many other critters working and having fun with their vehicles.

And as parents prefer with any book for toddlers, the action slows down for bedtime as s final spread puts these truck friends to bed (hint hint). Snyder switches to a midnight blue background as the trucks park peaceably under a goodnight moon that actually rises, while flaps open to reveal the trucks'passengers readying themselves for snooze time. Ponies snuggle in their trailer, mice brush their teeth and literally hit the hay, while a lion reads a bedtime story to the croc snacking on popcorn in the scraper.


Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Too Much Pink: Deadly Pink by Vivian Vande Velde


When she is summoned out of her freshman math class to the principal's office, Grace cannot imagine anything good waiting for her there. But what she learns from her distraught mother is nothing that she could have imagined.

It seems her college freshman sister, Emily, the family superstar--brainy, pretty, and popular, with a prestigious internship programming computer games at Rasmussem Corporation--seems to have inexplicably entered one of her virtual reality projects, Land of the Golden Butterflies, from which she cannot be extricated, leaving behind only a cryptic note in her perfect handwriting:

Not anybody's fault.
This is MY choice.

In the Rassmussem lab, Grace and her mother find Emily, electrodes in place, pale and still on the gaming couch, eyes moving rapidly behind closed lids. Grace knows from her Rassmusem gameplay that this is normal for virtual reality games, but what she learns from the technical staff is alarming. Emily, the golden girl daughter, has programmed the game so that she cannot be exited from it, a game designed for a half-hour or so of immersion which becomes deadly for players to remain in it for many hours, as Emily obviously intends. Two hours have already passed, and her Rasmussem bosses and their lawyer seem very alarmed.

Mom is beside herself, and her total lack of gaming experience make it impossible for her to help her older daughter. Grace seems to be the only one with plenty of gaming hours who knows Emily well enough to try to go into the game and convince her to come out on her own.

A quick immersion into the game finds it a mystifying choice for the cerebral and practical Emily. Designed for elementary-age girls, princess wannabes who get off on sparkly pink and lavender wardrobes and Disneyesque landscapes with unicorns, wish-granting sprites and potential princes who seem to appear to meet every whim, this seems the last game she would choose. Once Grace makes her virtual way through the glitz, she finds Emily-in-the-game disgusted at the appearance of her little sister, sending her off on tasks which end with her "death" and instant emergence from the game

But the observant Grace notices something odd: all the endlessly compliant and impossibly hunky men in the game are either mute or speak no English, and Grace's hunch is that this silent role for men means that something has gone wrong with her sister's long-term relationship to her fiance Frank. Can all this digital drama be merely the result of the break-up blues?

Grace makes a few phone calls, from which she learns that Emily has apparently been living a different life from what her family thought, the friend-filled, romantically happy life of a care-free coed. Her old friends seem to have lost contact with her, and Frank reports brusquely that they are no longer a couple. Now Grace realizes that Emily's motive in imprisoning herself inside this virtual reality game is, in reality, a form of pink and lavender suicide.

Back in the game, Grace confronts her sister, and eventually the now-fading Emily confesses that she had used her computer skills to hack into college entrance records to alter some of her friends' SAT scores and that her dishonesty is about to be exposed to the world. Grace must convince her sister to give up her deadly game and return to real life. As her sister loses her real and gameplay strength, Grace realizes that it is up her, the average daughter, to outsmart her superstar sister's programming skills and gain exit for both of them before Emily's time runs out forever.

The third book in Vivian Vande Velte's series on virtual reality games is both witty and suspenseful, as the sisters ultimately team up to deal with the surreal Land of the Golden Butterflies, tricking gold-gathering dragons and outplaying the rapacious King Rassmussem himself before the deadly GAME OVER ends Emily's life, virtual and actual. Deadly Pink (Harcourt, 2012), forthcoming in July, utilizes the venerable "frame story" setting, in which characters living in the real world find themselves, through a fictional device (usually magic or a scientific device), suddenly interjected into another world populated with strange beings and its own set of rules and tasks. Although the game's setting is fluffy and girly, the danger becomes just as real as any alien warriors or sword-and-sorcery warlock warlords for the two teen-aged protagonists. Girl gamers in particular will go for this feminine-friendly fantasy fiction which racks up a high score at the virtual arcade. "... the author delivers another clever, suspenseful drama in the digital domain" says Kirkus Reviews.

Other books in this virtual reality game sequence by Vande Velde are Heir Apparent and User Unfriendly.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Lessons of History: OH, NO! NOT AGAIN! by Mac Barnett




Is our girl genius going to head off a world-wide disaster--an earthquake, a plague, an asteroid strike, maybe?

Well, no. Her personal disaster is missing the first question on her history test.

In what country do we find the oldest prehistoric cave paintings?

She said Belgium. Her teacher says France.

Undeterred by the old saw that you can't change history and the examples of those fictional characters who have run into difficulties back in time, our bespectacled supernerd quickly fashions a time machine from a discarded wading pool and a few knickknacks lying around the basement. The solution to her problem is simply to make a flying trip back to Belgium in 33,000 BCE with a few art supplies, leave a cave painting in an obvious spot, and voila! Instant A+ exam!

There are a few initial glitches. Our girl's first trial take her a lit-tle too far back in time, where she gets to witness the first fish crawling out of the sea and trading gills for lungs. Back to the old drawing board to calibrate the machine a bit. But, ooops! This time she lands in 1815 in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars.

But the third time is the charm. It's proto-Belgium: 33,000 BCE, and yay! There are two unemployed Neanderthal guys just hanging out around the cave. Our girl genius hauls out the art stuff and hands out paint brushes and a palette.

Hmmmm. It's seems that the ache to create has not yet appeared in these lads' genome. One goofs around for a giggle by sticking the brushes up his nose. (Apparently that elementary school gag gene had been expressed even back then.) The other Neander-artist tries a bite of the palette. After her inept cave dudes turn out to be duds, our girl genius grabs the spray-paint cans out of their hands and zooms inside the cavern to do the deed herself.

Mission accomplished, a stylish robot painted on the cave wall, she emerges, ready to fly back to the future where her A+ test will be waiting on her desk, only to find that her prehistoric pals have been taking her time travel trike out to tool around in time, returning with a few souvenirs of their sojourns with a Roman chariot and Napoleon's chapeau. OH, NO!


You know it!

As they did in their hit, Oh No!: Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World, (see my review here) Mac Barnett and Dan Santat combine talents to tell another far-fetched fantasy tale in hilarious cinematographic graphic style in their just published Oh No! Not Again!: (Or How I Built a Time Machine to save History) (Or at Least My History Grade) (Hyperion, 2012).

Our girl genius, like all time-travel protagonists, learns the trying truth that it's hazardous to history (and to your history quiz grade) to make even the tiniest change in old Father Time. The sight gags Santat adds to his bold illustrations (viz. the two Neanderthals pressing the enticing buttons on the spray cans, pointing them unfortunately to paint their own faces) set off Barnett's quirky tale to a T for Time. The imaginative design elements include endpapers showing the blueprints for the time machine, an appended map of The Loop Time Travel Service, and a dust jacket which reverses to reveal a movie poster.

"Barnett’s deadpan prose and Santat’s page-popping art hilariously reveal what happens when you mess with history, while delivering a light message about the perils of perfectionism," says the Publishers Weekly reviewer.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hire-A-Hero: The Superheroes Employment Agency by Marilyn Singer

We're B-list superheroes,
You've never heard of us.
We're B-list superheroes,
But our talents are A-Plus!

No task's too small or hard.
We're always on alert.
(Pay now by credit card--
you'll get a free T-shirt!)

The Avengers may be big box office, but if Spiderman and the Hulk are already booked, don't be bummed! There're always the B-listers, those alternative avengers. How about the super-spangled Blunder Woman?

Wherever I worked,
assisted, or clerked,
without lifting a hand,
by mental command,
I'd make hard drives expire,
and phones go haywire.

A one-woman stealth Stuxnet, Blunder Woman can cause industrial mayhem and electronic malfunction wherever she works. And if The Terminator is tied up elsewhere, there's always The Verminator.

For thugs, you've got the Terminator.
For rodents, me, the Verminator.

And then, if, er, Twilight sets in around the place, and things around the house begin to, um, bite, who you gonna call? Muffy the Vampire Sprayer!

When there's a lot at stake,
And a stake's not enough,
Call on Muffy.
She's got the stuff!

She's a specialist, a chosen one,
With a permit for a Guardian Gun,
Filled with secret garlic foam
To zap those stinkers in your home.

The Superheroes Employment Agency has just the cut-rate caped crusaders to meet your needs. Aging "Old School" heroes like The Masked Man and Sir Knightly are happy just to be employed and will courageously take on all school events and birthday parties. If Superman has gone out for some kryptonite, there's always Stuporman, who can subdue the most venomous villains with boring poetry readings, and The Hulk will be green with envy when he sees his alter-ego, the lacrymose Bulk, sink bad guys with torrents of sentimental tears.

Not-ready-for prime-time heroes are the spoofy stuff of Marilyn Singer's forthcoming The Superheroes Employment Agency (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). Veteran witty rhymster Marilyn Singer and comic illustrator Noah Z. Jones pair up to form a dynamic duo in this poetical parody of the paranormal heroes who have ka-powed across our pages and sha-zammed across our screens for so many decades. Their B-list budget heroes and heroines have got your back!

We've helped good folks everywhere,
On land, in air, at sea.
(Hire us eleven times--
The twelfth job's always free!)

"Using a free range of page designs from sequential panels to full-spread scenes, Jones reflects both the changing rhythms and the overall buoyancy of Singer's rhymes with simply drawn, brightly colored cartoon views of each S.E.A. member in action," says Kirkus Reviews.

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 25, 2012

Unto the Least of These: Martin de Porres--The Rose in the Desert by Gary D. Schmidt

Anna carried the baby into the cool dark of the cathedral. But when the priest unwrapped him, he frowned. "Is the child's father Spanish?" he asked.

Anna's heart beat quickly.

"And you are African?" he said. Anna nodded.

The priest frowned again. The baby's father was a royal conqueror. His mother was a slave.

"Who is this child?"

"He is a rose in the desert," said Anna.

Martin's mother struggled to raise him and his sister in deep poverty in sixteenth century colonial Lima.

Hunger lived in their home. Illness was their companion.

But even there, there was compassion. Martin's father took him into his household in Ecuador, saw to his education, and took him to a cirujano to learn the skills of healing and care, and soon his abilities began to amaze those whom he helped. One man whose grave wounds Martin healed gave him lemon seeds, and the tree that grew amazingly produced fruit in the first season and continued to bear the year around.

"Who is this strange boy," the neighbors asked.

Back in Lima as a young man, Martin presented himself for the brothers of the Monastery of the Holy Rosary.

"You are not of pure blood. You can never be a priest," they said.

But Martin simply requested a position as servant, and while he swept and cared for sick and hurt animals in the country round, his fame as a healer spread. Not only did Martin cure and tame the stray dogs in the area, but he also used his skills to cure the people, some in seemingly miraculous ways, until stories of Martin's powers took on legendary qualities. His lemon and orange trees bloomed and bore fruit all year, and the bread he brought to feed the poor never seemed to be gone until all were fed. Some even said they had seen him walking with angels. By the time he closed his dark eyes for the last time in 1639, Martin de Porres was venerated by churchmen, nobles, and poor alike.

Noted author Gary Schmidt and artist David Diaz have combined their considerable talents in a story of service and compassion in their forthcoming Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert (Clarion Books, 2012). Schmidt's narrative is lyrical, with repeated phrases which become more meaningful as the account progresses, and David Diaz's illustrations are lustrous and primitive in their power. Together the two build a powerful story of compassion, redemption, and caring which resonates with people of every faith and ethic. "A visual—and, it must be said, spiritual—delight," says Kirkus, and in their starred review, Booklist adds, "Schmidt's telling, touching in its simplicity, is well matched with Diaz's exceptional artwork, which is bold and referential in equal parts."

Gary Schmidt is a Newbery Honor, Michael Printz, and National Book Award honoree (for The Wednesday Wars, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, (Readers Circle (Laurel-Leaf)) and Okay for Now. David Diaz received the Caldecott Award for his illustrations in Eve Bunting's Smoky Night.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mermaid Magic: Three Little Mermaids by Mara Van Fleet


When adorable little mermaids--a blonde, a redhead, and a brunette--decide to invite friends for tea, it's a party that youngsters aren't going to want to miss.

Veteran author Mara Van Fleet's Three Little Mermaids (Paula Wiseman Books) (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 2011) has everything a board book needs to delight tots--very sturdy covers and pages, tear-resistant flaps which inspire guessing what's beneath, glowing colors, sparkly adornments, touchy-feely surprises for young fingers to find, a rubbery octopus with sticky treats, for example, and even a movable tab page in which four seahorses appear and disappear again in a kelp forest.

Add to these visual and tactile pleasures a set of rhythmic rhymes and a counting text which goes all the way up to ten sparkly jelly fish, and it's a seaside hands-on tale for tots. Pair this book with Van Fleet's equally delightful Little Color Fairies for merry mermaid and fairy fun.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, June 22, 2012

With My Little Eye: I Spy Under The Sea by Edward Gibbs



A picture-puzzle tempter to touch, pictures you can count on, and written riddles to tease the brain--that's what you can spy under the sea in Edward Gibbs tempting die-cut book, I Spy Under the Sea (Templar/Candlewick Press, 2012) with seven sweet seahorses with spiral tails to enumerate.

There are under-the-sea sightings with a "funny" name--clownfish, critters that walk "sideways"--crabs, and many-armed mollusks (yes, they are mollusks)--otherwise known as octopuses, as well as those popular denizens of the deep--dolphins, swordfish, seals, and, (YIKES!) one sharp-toothed shark looking back hungrily at the reader.

Kids can count down from eight, guess and then discover the critter hinted at and pictured in part through the die-cut circles on each page, and marvel at how the pictures on each double-page view reveal, through the opening, the hinted-at detail of the next picture's ocean resident. It is great vocabulary-building fun as well for the young, complete with engaging digital illustrations and sturdy board covers that finally offer the little reader a chance to view his or her own "habitat" through that magic circle in the back cover. Seaside fun without the sandy feet!

"A clever introduction to ocean life," says Kirkus Reviews.

Labels: ,

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Do It Yourself! Tyler Makes Pancakes by Tyler Florence

"I just had the coolest dream, and I was the captain of a pancake spaceship.

Now I'm hungry and there's only one thing I want for breakfast!" Tyler tells his dog Tofu.

Tyler is a kid who believes in doing things from scratch. So when he sets out to make himself a stack of pancakes, he goes back to the source--back to the Polly Petaluna's farm and right to the hen scratching in the barnyard for the eggs, for instance. Polly has buttermilk left over from churning the butter from her cow's milk, so Ty take advantage of that ingredient, too. He sets off to the mill for some flour, stopping by the blueberry bushes to pick a few fruits for the filling. He even gets in on the maple sap sugaring off, bringing back a bit of that golden brown syrup to top it all off.

With his pup Tofu in tow, Tyler heads home to stir up a bit of batter, getting it all together just in time for Dad to wake up to help with the skillet work and provide high praise the product:

Now that's what I call BREAKFAST!

Tyler Florence's Tyler Makes Pancakes! (Harper, 2012) will get any kid's tummy rumbling for pancakes, too. Craig Frazier's minimalist, stick-figure style fits right in with the back-to-basics premise of this text for a tasty little tale. Now, how 'bout that spaghetti for dinner, Ty?

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ocean-o-phobia! Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach by Melanie Watt

Scaredy Squirrel never goes to the beach. He'd rather vacation at home alone where it's safe from the wrong crowd.

Everyone's favorite phobic flying squirrel is back, just in time for the first day of summer!

Scaredy, who almost never leaves the security of his nut tree, certainly has no plans to go to the beach, where there are huge hazards--germs, lobsters and crabs, falling coconuts, predatory seagulls and jellyfish, not to mention sea monsters!

Scaredy opts for a safe stay-cation, his own surrogate beach constructed right at the foot of his tree in case of emergency evacuations. Kitty litter subs for sand, a sanitized plastic pool, plastic palm tree, and plastic flamingo add to the ocean ambience, a flashlight stands in for sunshine, and just in case a few rays of sunlight make their way through his fur, there's super-SPF sunscreen. Perfect! He stretches out on his beach towel to enjoy, uh, nature.

It looks like a beach and feels like a beach, but it doesn't SOUND like one!

What he needs, Scaredy decides, is a seashell, a big seashell, one of those that he can put to his ear and hear the roar of the ocean. A shell that has certain qualities: 1) germ-free; 2) shiny; 3) crystal-clear ocean sound. 4) NOT occupied. But that means--he must go venture forth to the real beach!


Obsessive as always, Scaredy equips himself for the dangers of the seaside. Haz-mat suit, check! French fry supply to distract scary seagulls, check! Self-addressed, self-sealing box in case Scaredy has to take refuge from attacking pirates and coconuts, check! But his plans fail to include that one unforeseen hazard--little kids equipped with pails and shovels! Scaredy falls back on the last resort of the flying squirrel!


The anxiously awaited next installment in Melanie Watt's sagas of Scaredy Squirrel is here, just in time for the seaside season. As in the earlier books, in Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach (Kids Can Press, 2012), our orignal nervous-nellie, Scaredy Squirrel, requires a bit of immersion therapy as he finds happiness, companionship, and fear-free fun at the beach at last. Kids who harbor a few reservations about the oceanside can't help but giggle at Scaredy's outsized anxieties and perhaps get a little insight into their own.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

BRUM, BRUMM, BRUMMMM! Woodie Guthrie's Riding in My Car, designed by Scott Menchin



A rubber-necking family of dogs sets out to see the U.S.A., fittingly making the tour in a three-dimensional "woody" convertible, as they take in such iconic scenes as Mt. Rushmore, the Stature of Liberty, The White House, the Golden Gate Bridge, and even Guthrie's hometown in Oklahoma.

The award-winning Scott Menchin has designed this "movable" book with winsome drawings, pull-tab and lift-the-flap action, and concealed historical and geographical notes (e.g., Route 66) of each landmark as the car rolls cross country, accompanied by part of the text of Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land." Little fingers can turn wheels to make desert critters cross the road, move the car through a cloverleaf exchange, pull in a catch on the Mississippi, and make a bronco buck a buckaroo in a corral on the Western plain. All along, Woody's rhythmic text keeps everything rolling merrily along:



Scott Menchin's latest, Riding In My Car (lb-kids,, 2012) is the way to see the U.S.A, with never a whine of "Are we there yet?" An appendix provides a link to the Smithsonian and a playback of Woody Guthrie performing this song as the soundtrack for this delightful and joyful trip of a book.

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 18, 2012

"My Friend Douglass": Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind An American Friendship by Russell Freedman

Heads turned when Frederick Douglass walked into the White House on the morning of August 10, 1863. It was still early, but the waiting area was crowded with citizens of all kinds, seeking an audience with the president.

Douglass was the only black man among them. The others seemed surprised to see him and some were none too pleased.

Douglass handed his calling card to a clerk and looked around for an empty chair. None was available, so he found a place to sit on the stairway crowded with other men hoping for a moment with the nation's chief executive.

Douglass had no appointment. He hoped "to secure just and fair treatment" for the thousands of black troops now fighting for the North.

Douglass and Lincoln had never met, but they had much in common.

A fiery and feared Abolitionist and a careful centrist President caught between clashing philosophies in his own party, facing a contentious campaign for re-election to the presidency of an already divided nation, the two men seemed unlikely to have ever crossed paths. Lincoln had managed to gain the nomination of his party by representing a compromise position aimed at preserving the union while allowing slavery to continue only in the original slave states whch ratified the Constitution. Forced into the war unwillingly, Lincoln had good reason not to receive the elegant and prepossessing Frederick Douglass who dared enter through the main door and seat himself among white men, into his inner office, a place where no black man save servants had ever entered.

But Douglass came prepared to wait, and Lincoln had never lacked for courage in reaching for new opportunities to learn.

"Mr. Douglass, I am glad to see you."

Lincoln's courage and Douglass' audacity likely changed the course of the Civil War and American history itself. Out of that meeting was forged a friendship and a mutual respect and understanding that led to the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which enabled the reconciled states to go forward into the future not as "a house divided" but as one nation of citizens with common liberties.

Newbery Award winner Russell Freedman's premise in his Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2012) is that despite their obvious racial differences, they shared a strangely common background. Both were self-educated: Lincoln had less than a year's schooling; Douglas had only a few lessons in reading from a kind mistress; but each had read the same works, even studying some of the same books at the same time--notably The Columbian Orator, which helped make them the best-known orators of their time. Both were raised on back-breaking work and rough living conditions, both losing a parent, and both rising to positions of national leadership through qualities of character.

Freedman explores the very roots of those characteristics which drew the two men to form a brief but deep friendship at a time of nation breaking and nation building unlike any other in our history. With his graceful style and clear narrative, in parallel and alternating chapters, the author manages to tell both men's life stories interwoven with the history of racial politics and policy from the compromises of the Constitution through the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, to the Thirteenth Amendment. Russell Freedman, author of the Newbery Award-winning Lincoln: A Photobiography, (Houghton Mifflin social studies) as well as Immigrant Kids, The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane, and Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott (see my review here) and other noted bio-histories, knows how to craft a spirited narrative, filled with primary-source photos and drawings, letters, and anecdotes, which provides for easy and compelling nonfiction fare for middle readers, a book which is not only informative but inspirational in its portrayal of how the character of two disparate citizens changed the course of history through the confluence of their ideas. With backmatter that provides ample sources for research and on-line references to cited texts as well as a full textual index, this book is must-reading for our times.

Kirkus Reviews adds, "...all of this in a lucid and fascinating narrative that never sacrifices depth and intellectual rigor. A marvel of history writing that makes complicated history clear and interesting."

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What Time Is It? Time for a Hug by Phillis Gershator and Mim Green



Phillis Gershator's and Mim Green's little book of hours, Time for a Hug (Sterling, 2012) keeps track of the time throughout the day as a charming Big Bunny and Little Bunny go through the day, punctuated by hourly hugs. With a clock visible on most pages, this parent and child premise tells, in charming rhymes, what they do all day--bake a pie, bounce a ball, take a hike, make and play with sock puppets--and soon it's getting late. What time is it now? That late? The clock says "Eight?"


Soft acrylic illustrations in primary colors and pastels by David Walker lend the right touch of cozy warmth between parent and child, with just a hint of the concept book in its subtle telling-time lessons along the way. Pair this one with Felicia Bond's latest, Big Hugs Little Hugs, for a sweet goodnight treat.

Labels: ,

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Doing the Zoo: Out and About at the Zoo by Jo Lindell


"What is so rare as a day in June," said the poet, and where better to go on a sunny summer day than the zoo? And that just what Mum and son do in Jo Lindell's newly-published Out and About at the Zoo (Create Space, 2012). The two make the tour, taking in all those must-see animals that preschoolers love:


Hippos plod and splash, lions and tigers tear into their lunches, kangas hop high, and elephants look as if they're ready for some water-squirting fun, as Mum and child make the rounds. All the animals wear big, welcoming smiles, except for one!


It's just a delicious little fright from safety outside the croc's enclosure, and this little zoo-goer is not in the least deterred by crocodile teeth, so that when when his mother notices it's time to go, he can't wait to invite the reader along on a return trip.

What this colorful little story has going for it is the simplicity of its illustrations and its easy-to-read rhyming quatrains which capture the essence of each animal. The simple black-line and flat primary colors of the pictures likewise capture a stylized, almost iconic, look of each zoo creature, making this book a good choice as an introduction to the zoo or as a reprise of a recent visit to relive the experience. This book is appropriate for lap-sitting toddlers just learning the names of the animals, and with its contextual cues built into the illustrations, even a good beginning book for the emergent reader for an "I can read it all by myself" solo session. The closing text even hints that there may be more "Out and About" books in the offing.

Labels: ,

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hitting the Limits: Ted and Me by Dan Gutman

"Let me get right to the point, Joseph," he said. We at the Bureau know all about your...uh,...shall we say, gift."

"We know that you can travel through time using baseball cards."

"How did you find out that Joey can travel through time?" my mother asked.

"It's our job to find things out." Agent Pluto leaned forward in the chair. He lowered his voice slightly, as if there was someone in the next room.

"Joseph, do you now what happened on December 7th, 1941?"

When the FBI comes calling and asks him to help prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor and perhaps avert World War II, Joey Stoshack pays attention, and as a baseball fan, he is more than thrilled at the prospect of recruiting the famous hitter Ted Williams to help him get to President Roosevelt and warn him of Japan's plan to launch a sneak air attack on the American Pacific fleet.

But it seems that the FBI is not infallible. The rare baseball card Agent Pluto gives Stosh is doesn't take him to 1941. It takes him to 1953, where he finds himself in the cockpit of a fighter-bomber being piloted by Ted Williams in the Korean War. A MIG manages to hit their plane, and Williams struggles to get back across the Yalu River into friendly territory before it comes down:

"Can you land it?" I asked.

"We're about to find out, now aren't we," Ted growled. "In case I can't, it's been nice knowing you, Junior."

Luckily for Stosh, Williams manages to crash-land his damaged plane in no-man's-land, but Stosh finds himself hiding in a ditch in North Korea, and is forced to use his rescue 2012 baseball cards to get himself back to the present.

Apologies are in order from the FBI, but Agent Pluto implores Stosh to try again, this time with the right card from 1941. This time Stosh finds himself in Philadelphia, just in time for the Red Sox' last game, with Williams' record-breaking season about to end, as the hitter, despite the Red Sox manager's offer to let him sit out the game to ensure his .400 average, goes four for six in a double header to end the season at .406.

Stosh finds the famous hitter a flawed hero. Williams curses like the sailor/Marine he soon will be, and his famous temper turns out to be no legend. Still, Stosh's ability to predict every hit in that last game convinces Williams of the truth of his mission, and at last the two set out in Williams' battered station wagon to drive to Washington. "I'm %*$#&$! Ted Williams!" Ted boasts, sure that Roosevelt will welcome them to the White House. Williams, however, is in no hurry to save the world. Along the way he stops off for a bit of fly fishing in a "borrowed" boat, and then near Washington, he pulls off the road as he spots a huge rally of the America First Party, headlined by hero Charles Lindbergh. Stosh has heard of "Lucky Lindy's" first solo flight across the Atlantic and goes happily along with the plan until Ted disappears into the crowd with a flirtatious girl and Stosh gets a earful of Lindbergh's personal beliefs:

So it was an antiwar rally. I had heard about the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War, but I didn't know they had them before that.

It took a minute for it to sink in that I was listening to a racist speech.

"There are three important groups who have been pressing this country toward war," said Lindbergh, "the Roosevelt administration, the British, and the Jewish. This tragedy is preventable if we can build a Western Wall of race and arms to hold back the infiltration of inferior blood."

"Judien schwein!" somebody hollered.

"Inferior blood?" I turned around and saw some people giving Nazi salutes.

"What are you talking about?" I asked the guy next to me. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground.

Stosh find himself forced to make a choice that could change history as he is battered by the angry crowd around him.

As usual, Dan Gutman's Ted & Me (Baseball Card Adventures) (Harper, 2012) is more than a light-hearted, baseball hero fantasy, as Stosh finds out that the heroes of history, and history itself, are as messy and complex as those of his own time. It's the classic time-travel dilemma that also engages our idea of what the world should be. What might have happened had America averted Japan's attack and stayed out of the war in Europe? Millions would have lived, but would the world, on balance, have been better with a Nazi-powered Europe?

Gutman knows how to write fast-paced page turners for reluctant readers and yet engage with some of the realities of history. Modern middle readers have gone back with Stosh to meet many of the realities of our history in Gutman's books about Honus Wagner, Satchel Paige, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Roberto Clemente, to name just a few. A enjoyable read for baseball lovers, but also a glimpse into past events and their influence on current times that gives fans something significant to take away with them.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why Do You Love Me? Just Because You're Mine by Sally Lloyd Jones



Little Red Squirrel and his dad are playing in the woods, and the little one is eager to show off his skills. He runs as fast as the wind. He climbs way up high in the tree. He knows just how to find super-secret berries.




In Sally Lloyd Jones' latest, Just Because You're Mine (Harper, 2011), the answer is predictable: Dad is proud of all his accomplishments, for sure, but they are not the reason he loves Little Red Squirrel. He loves him, not because he is fast and friendly, brave and handsome, although those are all good things. The answer, in the book's title, is the evergreen reason that parents love their little ones, "just because..." you belong to me and I belong to you. Frank Endersley's soft and soothing illustrations fit Jones' straight-forward text, making this one a great book for Fathers' Day or just any day that Daddy reads the story out loud.

Lloyd-Jones' previous books include the best-selling How to Be a Baby . . . by Me, the Big Sister (How To Series), Being a Pig Is Nice: A Child's-Eye View of Manners, Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story, and Time to Say Goodnight.

Labels: ,